An Inside Look

by Claire E. White

"Today's Ideas...Tomorrow's Policies": that is the motto of, the cutting edge online political magazine that is the brainchild of former Republican congressman and Delaware governor Pete du Pont. The concept behind is novel: use the Internet to create an ongoing worldwide interactive public policy debate. Updated every Thursday, features original columns from commentators ranging from the staunchly conservative to the radically liberal.
The columns are written by those in the know;'s 40 regular contributors include Washington Post columnist James Glassman, Economic editor for the BBC and former British Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Jay, former Illinois senator Paul Simon, former national security advisor to President Carter Zbigniew Brezezinski, ACLU President Nadine Strossen, former Senator and U.S. presidential nominee George McGovern and White House speechwriter and bestselling author Peggy Noonan. Each column has a bulletin board attached at the end for reader responses, which have proven to be quite popular with a broad spectrum of readers from all walks of life. By all accounts, the experiment has been a raging success. Celebrating its one year anniversary on the Web in June, 1997, this web magazine has attracted global attention with an ever-increasing viewership. The free-for-all style of the debates between the most liberal columnists to the most conservative mirror the style of du Pont himself, who is known for his candor and "no holds barred" approach when discussing policy issues. Pete du Pont spoke with us about his vision for, the role of the Internet as a force for political, economic and social change in today's world as well as serious issues affecting all Netizens such as encryption and taxation of the Internet.

What role do you see the Internet playing in the next election? graphic "The Internet will quickly become a significant campaign resource for candidates. Whether it will be by the election 2000 is unclear, but its importance will rapidly accelerate. It can be a tool for raising small amounts of money from a great many people, a tool for reaching out to new supporters, and for advertising on Web sites of important publications in a candidate's district."

"But perhaps its greatest use will be in energizing a candidate's base. When a newspaper covers a campaign debate it may cover a point or two of a candidate's comments. And the candidate's supporters may or may not read the next day's paper. The Internet will allow the candidate to instantaneously transmit transcripts of the debate, comments on his or her opponent's positions, and favorable analyses of the outcome."

"For example, in the 1988 presidential campaign, Jack Kemp and I had a debate on North Carolina public television. It was a lengthy affair - 90 minutes - and I doubt that many people inside North Carolina watched, let alone anyone around the country. In that debate, Mr. Kemp came out against school choice, against market accounts to replace Social Security for retirement savings, and against several other privatization ideas. That information was reported virtually nowhere. Had I had available the medium of the Internet, I could have immediately "broadcast" the difference between my position and Mr. Kemp's to my supporters across the country. This kind of use of the Internet will be the most important things candidates can use it for."

On September 3, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled that the Clinton Administration's new rules banning sales of encryption technology to foreign countries are unconstitutional. The government has appealed the decision. Where do you see this battle ending? What will be the effect on business and on everyday Netizens if the government is successful in its attempt to quash and/or control encryption technology?

"The Internet will have an even greater impact on events, making the Red terror of the Soviet Union or the Holocaust of Nazi Germany much more difficult to perpetrate upon their citizens. One laptop at Auschwitz would have indelibly changed the debate."
"The battle to protect the integrity of Internet transmissions is not ending, it is just beginning. Senator McCain's Senate Bill #909, if enacted into law, would require government agencies and people transacting business with government agencies to register their encryption codes with government data centers where the information would be available upon subpoena by law enforcement agencies. Likely this would soon spread to all individuals and is a dangerous infringement on both our freedom of speech and our civil rights."

"The problem with the Internet from the government's point of view is that it is unregulated and not centrally planned. By its very nature, government always wants to regulate new technologies (and everything else), so I expect this battle will be ongoing for some time."

Another issue threatening the economic future of the Internet is the issue of whether individual states may tax Internet sales. The present administration has made statements that a "hands off the Internet" policy is needed in the short term, at least, in order to allow the growth of Web commerce. How much control should the States have over electronic commerce?

"Virtually every one of the 50 states today taxes radio and television stations, telephone companies, and businesses operating within their jurisdictions. An Internet company operating in California or Texas would be taxed under existing corporate and individual tax laws, which is fair and expected."

"The difficulty occurs when an effort is made to tax each Internet transmission moving in commerce. This would be a lucrative tax for state and local jurisdictions. It would seem very clear that the Internet is by definition interstate commerce, so that constitutionally the states would not be permitted to tax it. That does not mean that they will not try, nor that the Federal government won't try to impose its own taxes on Internet transmissions. Maintaining a tax-free internet should be one of our primary goals."

You have stated that American liberty and ideas of freedom will be the legacy of the Internet. Is this already happening? How so?

"Already the ideas and ideals of the American Revolution of 1776 are being felt around the world, even in such nations as Russia and China. Tianenamen Square is an early example of the use of technology to change political dynamics. The fax machine allowed Chinese citizens to tell the world what was happening in Beijing. That brought the television cameras and we are all familiar with the resulting film footage of the massacre."

"The Internet will have an even greater impact on events, making the Red terror of the Soviet Union or the Holocaust of Nazi Germany much more difficult to perpetrate upon their citizens. One laptop at Auschwitz would have indelibly changed the debate."

"The point is that once the genie of liberty is out of the bottle, it is almost impossible to get it back in. The ideas of liberty, of rights individuals are granted by our Creator, and limited government are very appealing notions, especially in totalitarian nations around the world. These ideas will spread rapidly through the use of the Internet and that will change the way the world works."

In a recent Editorial, you commented upon Wired magazine's cover story about the "Long Boom": the predicted sweeping global changes that the world will undergo in the next 25 years because of the electronic revolution, described by Wired as resulting in a prosperous, harmonious society. Is big government the "spoiler" for this utopian vision?

"It certainly could, and undoubtedly governments will try to control events.
"The problem with the Internet from the government's point of view is that it is unregulated and not centrally planned. By its very nature, government always wants to regulate new technologies (and everything else), so I expect this battle will be ongoing for some time."
It is in the nature of government to attempt to expand its control over individuals and institutions."

"Economic growth, though, is turning us all into individualists. As more and more people have economic power, they will have the ability to make choices they may not have had before, and so society will become more individualistic as the economy expands.

The greatest threat to this kind of growth is regulation - of trade, incomes, social structures, and individual opportunities. As the world witnessed in the 1930s, governments have the power through their policies to destroy opportunities, economies, and societies."

As the Editor in Chief of, you have conduct interviews with high-profile personalities ranging from Michael Kinsley, editor of Slate magazine, to Russian General Aleksander Labed. As a prominent political figure you have been interviewed hundreds of times. What is it like to be on the other side of the interview process?

"Ironically, whether you're the interviewer or the interviewee, the pressures are very much the same. When one is being interviewed the goal is to give clear and understandable answers, and to reflect ones thoughts and opinions on the topic involved. As an interviewer, one wants to ask the questions that both draw out the person being interviewed and force him or her to focus on the substance of the questions involved. Both require preparation, some thought, and clarity of both vision and language."

Looking back on its first year, what has accomplished?

"First, we have successfully published an original opinion public policy magazine on the Internet. Or growth has been rapid and substantial. There are not very many such publications in existence, so I believe we have been one of the most intellectually successful."

"Second, we have increased both the quantity and I hope the quality of debate on public policy matters. At the end of the week, more than half the content of has been written by our readers. A column requiring two pages of space may have four or six pages of comment and discussion by our customers. In a sense, IC has become the medium by which individuals can exchange opinions, debate the issues, and reach a better understanding of public policy. The quality of the discourse has been extremely high and we are very happy with both the progress we have made and the extent to which we have contributed to the debate."

"Ideas do have consequences. We believe has helped thousands of people better understand both the ideas and their consequences."

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