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After Newtown, Will Obama Take Cue From Clinton?

By Alexis Simendinger - December 19, 2012

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“He will . . . in coming weeks engage with the American people; engage with lawmakers, with members of his administration, with mental health professionals, with law enforcement officials, with parents, communities, to try to find answers to this problem,” Carney said. The president’s spokesman declined to discuss timelines or Obama’s preferred format to try to harness the national conversation raging since the deaths in Newtown.

One of the initiatives Clinton pursued to address school safety during his second term remains in operation under the auspices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The School Emergency Response to Violence program, as Clinton proposed it at his White House conference in 1998, is today known as FEMA’s Multi-Hazard Emergency Planning for Schools program. FEMA has published an active 2013 calendar to train visiting school and local personnel who receive grants for its four-day sessions.

Many of the issues that demanded Clinton’s attention years ago remain in the national conversation after Friday’s killing of 20 children, seven adults, and the suicide of 20-year-old shooter Adam Lanza.

“I think that we have got to, all of us, keep working until we remove any last vestige of stigma that attaches to getting treatment for children who have troubling mental problems,” Clinton said in October 1998. “We know that most of them, the vast majority of them, can be treated successfully. And we know that it is not a cause for shame or denial among families.”

Connecticut law enforcement officials said Tuesday they are exploring whether Lanza’s motive for the murders was tied to steps his mother may have taken -- or that he believed his mother was preparing -- to seek professional help for him at a new school setting or possibly with state-ordered psychiatric care.

Clinton convened at least 23 White House conferences during his two terms in office -- on subjects that included climate change, aging in America, corporate citizenship, hate crimes, philanthropy, childhood development and learning, and “raising teenagers and resourceful youth.”

As a former governor who once chaired the National Governors Association, the format appealed to Clinton because it blended policy, problem-solving, coalition-building, and salesmanship.

George W. Bush followed with 10 White House conferences as president, including sessions devoted to “Helping America’s Youth,” “Character and Community,” and “Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children.”

But Obama -- drawn to results and control, and worried that task forces and conferences can fall short in both categories -- convened just one White House conference designed to engage the broader public, and that was in 2011. The prevention of bullying was his topic.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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