Impeachment via the Internet

September 24, 1998|By Gayla S. McGlamery

President Clinton, our first cyber president, may also be the first president brought down by the Internet. Not the Internet used to broadcast the details of his affair and testimony to computer screens around the world. However lurid, those details do not appear to have moved the American people to wilder LTC strains of outrage or spurred a popular movement to impeach.

It's the E-mail to Congress that may cook Mr. Clinton's goose.

Recent polls have shown that a majority of Americans do not want the president to be impeached. Yet some commentators have suggested that members of Congress are more likely to count constituent responses than poll percentage points when it comes to deciding the president's fate. This may be the approach particularly of those not up for re-election this fall and those in "safe" seats.

Some constituents call; some constituents write letters; but increasingly constituents send E-mail.

A recent story on National Public Radio revealed that E-mail has been flooding into congressional computer terminals this past week, and, unlike the polls, the E-mail is running slightly in favor of bidding Mr. Clinton goodbye. One congressional aide reported that his congressman had received as much E-mail from constituents in four days as he typically receives in a month -- about 6,700 messages.

Cheaper than a long-distance phone call, easier than sending a letter, E-mail is the medium of the off-the-cuff response, the venue of choice for those who wish to state their views without the constraints of a formal letter. (Best of all, it's virtually a convention of cyberspace that you don't have to worry about spelling or grammar.)

Whether congressional E-mail spells disaster for Mr. Clinton or not, the rise of its use as a constituent tool raises concern about ease of access and who is most likely and able to participate in this aspect of the political communications revolution.

According to a recent story in The Sun, African Americans support the president much more strongly than the general population, with numbers of 90 percent or higher in favor of his remaining in office. But recent articles in other publications have reported that blacks, and indeed many minority groups, have much less access to the Internet than do white Americans. Where is this segment of our population when it comes time to count constituent E-mail?

And what of older Americans, those stalwarts of democracy who actually go to the polls in significant numbers to vote? For every "wired" senior citizen, there are 10 who have never touched a computer keyboard. We might ask how their letters and calls stack up against 6,700 missives from cyberspace.

As E-mail messages flood the terminals of congressional offices, we might ask where the cybertide is taking congressional

opinion, and us.

Gayla S. McGlamery is an associate professor of English at Loyola College.

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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