This afternoon, former Speaker of the House and head of the group American Solutions for Winning the Future, Newt Gingrich spoke briefly and answered questions from an audience of 50-some avatars in Second Life. Located appropriately enough on the steps of the virtual Capitol Hill (teleport SLURL), Gingrich spoke about a number of issues, including the environment, relations with China, social conservatism, and the upcoming elections. He seemed quite interested in the idea of a "3D web" and seemed fairly well-informed and jazzed about Second Life.
UPDATE 9/27, 8:30PM: Steve Nelson posts a link to an MP3 recording of Gingrich's speech. Thanks, Steve!
A bit more after the jump...
When pressed about any future in-world engagements, he noted that he was most interested in Second Life being used to bring together Republic and Democratic candidates. "I'm concerned that we are going too far on partisanship," explained Gingrich. "We are maximizing the Red / Blue Divide. I would rather have a dialogue with Democrats (Hilary, Obama, Edwards) than an inside party debate." I have to admit, I think this is a fabulous idea.
Newt talked about creating a "Second Legislation" sim where legislators from the national and state levels could come together to share views on important subjects and bills, without the need for expensive travel. This was pretty far-fetched, but definitely interesting.
It was a packed sim at 50-some avatars, including five friends of mine protesting. It seemed to me to be a good balance between conservative supporters of Gingrich who were able to hear his talk uninterrupted, and protesters who were able to "shout" their message via text chat. Newt got to have his say, and the opposition was able to be present and vocal as well. A real life event would not be quite so inclusive.
On the one hand, I found his views about finding common ground among Dems and Reps and Blue and Red states compelling. And I am always interested in policymakers using technology to connect better with citizens and each other.
But as a political activist of a certain age, I remember well when Newt was at the height of his powers and how polarizing and vindictive he was in the House. His sanctimonious and hypocritical attacks against Clinton for his infidelities while he himself had a long history of cheating on his spouse still galls me.
I am as a Quaker always open to the possibility of redemption and growth. But given his history, position and reputation, is Newt Gingrich well positioned to be much of a "uniter"? I don't think any amount of eloquent rhetoric, Web 2.0 or virtual world technologies are going to make that possible.