July 23, 1999
JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, our special emphasis on what the 2000 presidential campaign should be about. We started asking individuals and groups that question four weeks ago. And we also invited viewers to participate via the online NewsHour. Kwame Holman has our report on that response thus far.
KWAME HOLMAN: Since last month, when the NewsHour first asked viewers to send in their ideas via the Internet, nearly 4,000 have responded. Some people sent a quick list of the topics they'd like presidential candidates to address. Floyd Keller of Bayport, Minnesota, wrote: "The coming and continuing problems all start with 'p'-- population explosion; power-- use and abuse of; pollution; poverty." Jane Lego of Norfolk, Virginia, said her main interests were: "The three 'e's'-- education, ecology, and election reform." In fact, election reform, especially changing the system of financing political campaigns, was the issue cited most often as needing to be addressed. The NewsHour asked several respondents to read their e-mail. Michael Murrell of Pensacola, Florida, said:
MICHAEL MURRELL, Pensacola, Florida: While there are my critical issues facing our nation on both domestic and international fronts, I would have to choose as the most important issue campaign finance reform. It goes to the heart of so many of our domestic woes. The solution would need to be multifaceted, but elements would include increased public funding of campaigns and much more free air time for political debate by the candidates.
KWAME HOLMAN: Bob Johnson is from Olathe, Kansas.
BOB JOHNSON, Olathe, Kansas: In the past few years, we have an instance of a foreign government trying to buy favoritism from the President; we have obvious and gross influence over Congress by the National Rifle Association, and now a blatant attempt by wealthy individuals and corporations to buy and elect a presidential candidate. When will this all end?
KWAME HOLMAN: Some, however, were wary of calls for campaign reform. Mack Rollie from Tucson, Arizona, wrote: "It is interesting to me that any politician who supports campaign finance reform is lauded with praise and recognition from the press. Upon reflection, it seems obvious that the effect of laws restricting campaign contributions and spending will be to increase the power of the major media, not the people." Frustration with the current political process was cited by many writers. Some said more attention should be paid to third parties in the next election. Ian Roberts of San Francisco wrote: "Is it democracy for a country of nearly 300 million people to have only two presidential candidates to choose from, both of which are chosen by big money, not the party faithful?" Nancy Erreca is from Santa Cruz, California.
NANCY ERRECA: The year 2000 should be a time to act on our beliefs that all people can contribute and have value. Open up the 2000 presidential debates to third-party candidates. The American people deserve to hear ideas from all qualified candidates. We need solutions. Let's expand where we look and not reject ideas because they are not labeled "Republican" or "Democrat."
KWAME HOLMAN: Health care was another frequently cited issue for the 2000 campaign. Barbara Coit is from Oxford, Maryland:
BARBARA COIT: Basically, the health care system in this country is a hodgepodge of uneven quality, serving some of us well and some of us hardly or not at all. Piecemeal reform of the system to date has not only not worked, but brought us to this current impasse, where large insurance companies have the greatest voice. A country with the strongest and the largest economy in the world must, and certainly can, do better. Are the candidates interested in more piecemeal reform, or broad-based reform that would provide health care service for everyone?
KWAME HOLMAN: Larry Sibelman is from Port Angeles, Washington.
LARRY SIBELMAN: Medicare needs to be expanded to become a universal system for all Americans, from the cradle to the grave. Income disparities should not open and close gateways to health care. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the modern world must include equal access to health care.
KWAME HOLMAN: Many viewers also said they want to hear candidates talk about strengthening families or communities. Janet Neidhardt is from Branchville, New Jersey.
JANET NEIDHARDT: I'd like the candidates to discuss ways to strengthen the family. Instead of putting more money into day care, let us find ways to help families meet financial obligations so that mothers can stay home to raise their children. Also, the candidates should discuss ways to influence the entertainment industry to produce uplifting and positive products for our youth. Our country should not be molded by violence and other negative influences.
KWAME HOLMAN: Dan Lewis is from Norfolk, Virginia.
DAN LEWIS: I believe the issue of community should be an important topic of debate in the next presidential campaign. Increasingly in our society, Americans are focusing on meeting their own individual needs instead of thinking about how they can participate and contribute as citizens in the communities in which they live. The erosion of civility in our public schools, on our roads, in the political arena and elsewhere, stem from our loss of civic identity.
KWAME HOLMAN: And James Ellard wrote from Newburgh, Indiana: "Our nation is in a moral and ethical free fall that can only be halted by a return to the Christian principles upon which our nation was founded." But for Elias Walsh of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, the most important issue candidates need to address is equality. He wrote: "An issue that cannot be ignored is the growing civil rights battle that is occurring in the nation today. The candidates must make it clear on which side they stand. Will they continue to allow gay and lesbian Americans to be discriminated against?"
JIM LEHRER: Our emphasis and our questions will continue for several more months, and you can participate by visiting our Web site, at pbs.org/newshour, and also by regular mail, by the way. Our address is: The NewsHour, Box 2626, Washington, DC, 20013.