(left to right:) Reuben Steiger, Wagner James Au, and former Virginia governor Mark Warner, in avatar form
Former Virginia governor and possible Democratic “fallback” candidate for president Mark Warner spoke to a crowd of about 30 avatars in the virtual world of Second Life this afternoon, in a live interview with journalist Wagner James Au of the New World Notes blog (Hamlet Au in SL). The event, which lasted about 45 minutes, marked the first appearance by a national political figure in the virtual world, and went off without a hitch. The governor appeared to respond “live” to Au’s questions in text chat, and used the space as a politician would use a physical space, walking through the crowd as he left the stage rather than simply logging off where he sat. The event was held in a model of the New Globe Theatre built by Reuben Steiger’s Millions of Us virtual-world services company, which produced the event. (Millions of Us is a sponsor of Au’s blog.)
Warner was apparently led to Second Life after one of the staffers at his political action committee, Forward Together (which is concentrating in part on taking advantage of the Internet as a promotional platform), met Au last spring. The result was the first virtual whistlestop on any national political tour, and — quite aside from setting a precedent — gave attendees a good look at what could form the planks of a future Warner campaign. 3pointD will save further commentary for a later post, but for now here’s a transcript of the interview (minus audience comments):
Reuben Tapioca (Reuben Steiger): Hello everyone and welcome to the New Globe Theatre. Today is a very exciting day for us all. As you all get seated I’d like to introduce a very special guest. Our guest is the former governor of the state of Virginia and the founder of the Forward Together PAC, a Democratic Group. Oh, yeah, he’s also the founder of Nextel. When they contacted us a few weeks ago, we were blown away that they were interested in Second Life. So, with no further delay, I’d like to introduce, Mark Warner! And the equally fantastic, Hamlet Au! Please give them a warm Second Life welcome, and enjoy.
Mark Warner: Thanks for having me here today!
Hamlet Au: Thank you, sir.
Mark Warner: It’s pretty wild!
Hamlet Au: Indeed! Thanks everyone for coming. Let me start with a quick introduction. A successful tech industry entrepeneur and the enormously popular former Democratic governor of Virginia, Mark Warner is many things to many people: To some Democratic party insiders, he’s among the best potential “fallback” candidates in the 2008 primaries, should he ever declare his candidacy, and should Senator Clinton’s star wane among the faithful. To many in the “democratic wing of the Democratic party”, to use Howard Dean’s term, his support for parental notification for teens seeking abortion and his courting of the NRA as governor are grounds for deep concern. To analysts who churn the raw demographic numbers and note that the only two Democrats to hold Presidential office in the last 35 years have been, like him, centrists from the South, he’s not someone to be taken lightly. Are we looking at the next President of the United States of America, in avatar form? But as was said, he has not declared his candidacy. Least not yet. So only time — and Governor Warner — will tell. For now, then, ladies and gentlemen, robots, aliens, furry animals, and other citizens of indeterminate origin, please join me in welcoming him to Second Life. Welcome, sir! Governor Warner everyone! Thank you again, sir.
Mark Warner: Thanks Hamlet
Hamlet Au: How are you today?
Mark Warner: Well this is my first virtual appearance, I’m feeling a little disembodied!
Hamlet Au: Heh. Since this is a very short initial appearance, we’ll hold off on audience Q&A for the Governor’s “town hall” appearance in late September/early October. Details on that to come soon! So, Governor Warner, welcome again. To start off, why don’t you tell us a bit about who you are in your own words, and the main message you want to convey with your political action committee, Forward Together?
Mark Warner: As a former high-tech entrepreneur and Governor of Virginia, I’m proud of the results we achieved in Virginia. We got named the best managed state in American by Governing Magazine. We were named the best place to do business in America by Forbes, and saw dramatic increases in our test scores, including the largest Math SAT score increase in the nation, and we finally started to crack the code on how to bring knowledge-based jobs to rural communities. Now, at Forward Together, we’re trying to advocate that politics in this country is less about left versus right, or liberal versus conservative, but more about the future versus the past, so it’s exciting for me to be here today
Hamlet Au: Tell us about your background as a high-tech entrepeneur, sir, and how it relates to your efforts now, with Forward Together, and your coming to Second Life.
Mark Warner: Clearly, how people communicate, what type of communities they form, is changing real time. At Forward Together, we want to use every tool — including virtual tools! — to communicate some of our ideas about how we get our country back on the right track.
Hamlet Au: Turning to political issues, we’re days away from the 5th anniversary of 9/11, and you have a major homeland security speech planned soon. What will you say then, and do you think it’s a message that can galvanize Democrats and Americans at large to fight violent jihadism, as the title of a recent book you discussed suggests, “with all our might”?
Mark Warner: Next week, I hope to lay out some immediate steps we can take to better protect our homeland and ensure that the resources we spent get real results But I also think the fifth anniversary of 9-11 serves as an opportunity to challenge Americans to remember that sense of civic engagement we all felt in the aftermath of that tragic day. As I’ve said elsewhere, the fact that the president didn’t call upon that spirit to take on some of the major issues, from our energy crisis to restoring America’s stature in the world, was a missed opportunity.
Hamlet Au: Thank you. Governor, during an Iowa appearance on Tuesday, you said, “My sense is we’ve got to make clear that we’re getting out of Iraq.” Do you think it’s possible to convey such a message, sir, without Tehran- sympathetic bad actors like Sadr and his Mahdi army seeing our withdrawal as an inspiring victory — with catastrophic consequences for a country already on civil war’s brink? Or to make the question more general, where are we in Iraq, and where can we go from here?
Mark Warner: The real question is, is our ongoing presence in Iraq making us safer? Of course, getting out of Iraq without a plan is as bad as going in without a plan. Our goals must be to ensure that as we redploy from Iraq, we ensure that it doesn’t become an even greater haven from Al Qaeda, or Iranian expansionism. And this has been made more difficult by some of the administration’s policies.
Hamlet Au: In Matt Bai’s [New York Times] profile of you, there’s a striking anecdote. You were at a party of Bay Area Democrats, and one of them lectures you about changing your opinions on abortion rights. Until finally you say, exasperated, “This is why America hates Democrats.” Assuming it’s an accurate quote, Governor, what did you mean, and what do you think Democrats need to do now, to win?
I think Democrats need to lay out ideas that can be competitive in more than 16 or 17 states, that doesn’t write off, particularly some of our rural communities. And by the way, I’ve always been supportive of a woman’s right to choose, and even vetoed a ban on late-term abortions.
Hamlet Au: But many in the Democratic party want no compromises from Roe v. Wade, yes? How do you speak to them?
Mark Warner: I support Roe v Wade, and I think the challenge from this administration goes beyond an attack on Roe v Wade to an attack on science, from the stall tactics at the FDA on Plan B, to failure to acknowledge global warming, or failure to unleash the potential of stem cell research. Now, I saw a question about Jim Webb
Hamlet Au: Please take it if you like, sir.
Mark Warner: I think he has a great chance to winning, and I look forward to campaigning with him and I’ll be out campaigning for him this Labor Day across Virginia.
Hamlet Au: Of course I have a million other questions, as I’m sure the audience does, but perhaps we should save that for future events. Speaking of which, what kind of activities in Second Life do you and your staff have planned, Governor?
Mark Warner: We formed the Second Life group, and I’ll be back later this fall to do a virtual town hall meeting, and folks like taking nap and whirling eddy can get their questions answered then.
Hamlet Au: Excellent!
Mark Warner: You’ve gotta cut me some slack, this is the first time I’ve flown onto a stage!
Reuben Tapioca shouts: go Guvna!!!!
Hamlet Au: You’ve performed quite well, sir. You are not a noob. Let me check with Nancy Mandelbrot your staffer if there’s any time for you to take a few audience questions… Nancy?
Mark Warner: I’ve got a video crew waiting to film some website spots — how 20th century… old school…
Hamlet Au: Indeed!
Mark Warner: Got to run, thank you all for appearing in all of your various forms!
Hamlet Au: Thank you governor! Thank you very much. I look forward to your next appearance.
Reuben Tapioca: Governor, thanks so much for joining us. You arre teh roxx0r.
Mark Warner: Thank you, Hamlet! Until next time!
Hamlet Au: Thank you, Governor. Good luck with your tour.
Reuben Tapioca: everyone, thanks so much for coming. Stay tuned for more.
Hamlet Au: The Governor may have a dropship waiting for him outside.
Reuben Tapioca: And again, thanks for coming.
Hamlet Au: Thank you all. There’s a group called Forward Together [in Second Life] that everyone’s welcome to join for more info.