NEW ORLEANS -- Bill Clinton, shunning discussion of the Marc Rich pardon, told business software and Internet specialists Monday he was fortunate to be president while their industry blossomed.
With about two dozen demonstrators gathered outside the hall protesting the Rich pardon and other of Clinton's recent political troubles, the audience of nearly 10,000 inside the convention hall gave Clinton a standing ovation before and after his speech.
Larry Ellison, Oracle Corp. CEO, introduced Clinton as a courageous leader whose aggressive moves to foster global trade -- while unpopular in the former president's Democratic Party -- gave America's technology leaders unprecedented opportunities to tap world markets.
Ellison invited Clinton four months ago to speak at this week's Oracle Appsworld Convention, a massive gathering of the company's software developers and trading partners. Clinton was paid for the speech, but the fee was not disclosed. He was paid $100,000 for his first speaking engagement after leaving the White House.
Clinton praised his audience for taking a leading role in America's prosperity during most of the past decade, and said, despite the recent downturn in technology stocks, the Internet would remain central to economic growth.
"I know there have been a few dot-COMs falling on the NASDAQ for the last several months, but don't kid yourselves, the Internet is still our future," Clinton said.
Clinton told the technology leaders it was up to them to use their new political influence to support international trade, debt reduction and "dramatic" increases in spending on research and development.
Clinton also called on the industry to join government in exploring ways to make key consumer technology more available and easier to use for the poor and less educated.
"I think it's insulting to poor people to say they ought to have to make a choice between penicillin and Pentium," Clinton said. "I don't think you have to patronize people by saying they can't take advantage of 20th century opportunities."
The former president's recent problems didn't seem to phase some of the technology crowd.
"I was filled with unbelievable excitement when I saw him, and I didn't think I would feel that," said Christina Baab.
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