Clinton talks to the MTV set, in person

June 17, 1992|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Gov. Bill Clinton, continuing his strategy of addressing voters directly through popular television shows, invaded the airwaves territory of the hip young adult yesterday by taking questions from under-30 viewers at the studios of Music Television (MTV).

Although most of the questions were not much different from those repeatedly asked by their elders this year, the rap-and-roll set did smoke Mr. Clinton out on two matters of relative importance. He said that if he had the chance, he would appoint Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York to the Supreme Court and, yes, that he would have inhaled that infamous marijuana joint had he known how.

Mr. Clinton and the other 1992 presidential candidates have all been accused of not being tuned in to the concerns of these particular viewers and listeners. But they queried the prospective Democratic nominee about all the old standards: his views on Ross Perot and the federal deficit, on parental notification of a teenager's impending abortion, his environmental, health care, education and economic-recovery proposals -- and he served up all his familiar refrains.

He told one questioner, who said he was leaning toward voting for Mr. Perot because the Texas billionaire was focusing on the deficit "first and foremost," that as governor of Arkansas he had balanced 11 state budgets and had cut the budget twice this year. But he acknowledged later in the 90-minute show, which aired last night, that he doubted the federal deficit could be eliminated in four years, although he said it would go down each year in a Clinton administration.

Mr. Clinton admitted to a slight change in his position on parental notification, which has been to favor it with a provision for obtaining a judge's approval in cases where notifying a parent was not practical. He said his main concern was that a teen-ager have "some care-giver" who was a responsible adult to counsel her in the sensitive post-abortion period.

The question came from Denise Monroe, 25, who identified herself as a stand-up comedian, adding that it was "kind of a similar career, I guess," to the presidential candidate's. The remark drew a ripple of laughter in what generally was a serious but easygoing show. Mr. Clinton pledged at the close that he would appear again on MTV if elected.

The Democrat used the show not only to reach out to the under-30 age group and to urge its members to reverse the trend of poor voter turn out within it, but to mend some fences with Mr. Cuomo, with whom he has had differences in the past.

Asked how his support of "family values" differed from that of Vice President Dan Quayle, who has made them a prime campaign theme, Mr. Clinton charged that Mr. Quayle "uses these themes to divide." He said that Mr. Cuomo, who had been identified by the vice president as one of the "cultural elite" he has been deriding, was "an American dream personified," as the son of an immigrant grocer who worked his way up.

Later in the show, asked about appointments he might make to the Supreme Court, Mr. Clinton without hesitation mentioned the New York governor.

While lauding the New Yorker, the 45-year-old Mr. Clinton did not fail to identify with the young audience before him. Commended on his saxophone playing on the recent Arsenio Hall TV show and asked what band he would play with if he had his choice, he said immediately, "Kenny G" -- a popular saxophonist -- "so I could learn something."

What Mr. Clinton learned in his MTV encounter is that at least some members of the youngest voting age group, criticized for not voting, are paying attention -- and to more than his saxophone tooting.

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