The Green Papers: News

Steve Forbes Withdraws
Saturday, February 12, 2000

The article below was obtained from the Steve Forbes 2000 Web site and bears a Forbes2000 Copyright.

Farewell Press Conference By Steve Forbes
Thursday, February 10, 2000

(Applause, cheers.)

MR. FORBES: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Before I begin, I would like to introduce to you the national campaign chairman. He's an individual who I think typifies those who came to our cause in the last year. Even though he's involved in the public square, he's quite willing, when principle is involved, to go against the grain, to go against the conventional wisdom, to go against the tide. Ken Blackwell, you're a wonderful man, wonderful friend, wonderful American, and I wish we had more like you in the public square. (Cheers, applause.)

And I would also like to introduce to you some members of my family. Without them, this effort would not have been possible. They supported me every inch of the way. Two of our daughters are here: Catherine and Moira. (Applause.) They've put up with a lot. And they're probably more sensitive to what their father has done than probably anyone else. (Laughter.)

But as my father liked to say when he or my mother would do something that I or my siblings didn't like, my father would say "You're not a good parent if at some point you're not an embarrassment to your children." (Laughter, applause.)

And I'd like to especially introduce to you my wife of 28 years, who has been the real saint in this effort, my wife Sabina. (Cheers, applause.)

We just have another special guest, another individual who was willing to swim against the tide, but does so because of basic principles, basic American principles, the man who led the charge in the impeachment proceedings despite no support from the -- very little support from others. But he did it because it was right, and history will vindicate him, Georgia Congressman Bob Barr. (Cheers, applause.)

Well, my friends, as my father once said when he lost the governor's race in New Jersey, we were nosed out by a landslide. (Laughter.)

But I have no regrets, and you shouldn't, either, for together you and I have transformed the public agenda, the political landscape. Together we have created a new conservative agenda, and that agenda will come to pass. Mark my word. (Applause.) In 1964, Barry Goldwater lost his campaign for the presidency, but he made history, and he launched the great conservative movement of the 20th century and set the stage for Ronald Reagan.

Today, I am withdrawing from the presidential contest, but I'm not withdrawing from the public square. (Cheers, applause.) Thank you. (Continued applause.)

I don't believe in "business as usual" and I don't believe in "politics as usual."

With every ounce of energy and passion that I have, I aim to set the stage, with your help, for the next great conservative century, the greatest era of economic freedom and spiritual renewal this country has ever experienced.

As you know -- (interrupted by applause). As you know, America today is on the cusp of what should be one of the most extraordinary eras in human history.

No nation has ever occupied the position that we do today. We're the only superpower in the world, something that has never happened in 5,000 years of human history. And we achieved that position not by sending legions out on missions of conquest, we did it through the strength that comes from a free, vibrant, and moral people. But as you know, just because great opportunities are before us, they're not going to happen unless good people work to make them happen. It's true in raising a family, it's true in running a business, it's true in doing your civic activities -- you have to work to make good things happen, and the same is true in the public square.

On New Year's Eve, when it became clear that the computers were going to allow us to enter this new century, new millennium, you could sense around the world the excitement and anticipation of what should be an extraordinary new age. But we should also remind ourselves the optimism that greeted the 20th century. People 100 years ago thought this century would not only see great material advances, but they also thought that almost by effortlessness - they thought it would happen almost automatically, that the rule of law and democracy would advance.

After all, even Russia, under the autocratic czar, was beginning to establish haltingly a constitutional monarchy.

Then came a catastrophic and political failure of leadership with the First World War, with seemingly millions slaughtered senselessly on the Western front. That catastrophe undermined the faith of many and the tenets of Western civilization. The First World War led to the rise of Communism, then Fascism, Nazism, a Great Depression, another world war, followed by a 40-year Cold War.

Now we have an opportunity again to help create an environment here at home and around the world where our values can sink real roots in once barren and hostile soil. But it's not going to happen unless good people work to make it happen. To guide us, we need only look at the founding document of our republic, the Declaration of Independence, with those immortal words penned by Thomas Jefferson, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and what Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, when he said that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. Those words can guide us, just as surely as they've guided previous generations.

A new birth of freedom means the freedom to be born. Many in America don't share our goal of a human life amendment, but the ground is shifting. It is shifting in part because of the partial-birth debate, but also too because of technology, especially the sonogram, which vividly illustrates that the baby in the womb is a separate being with a separate soul, and therefore deserving of the full protection of the laws of the United States of America. (Cheers, applause.)

And that is why -- (applause continuing) -- and we must remind ourselves that life is a God-endowed right, not a state-endowed right; that when the least of us are vulnerable, ultimately all of us are vulnerable. And that is why we must engage in a national dialogue with those who don't yet agree with our goal, and try to persuade them each step of the way that life indeed does begin at conception and should end only at natural death. (Applause.)

As the 20th century has taught us, bloodily and tragically, a new birth of freedom means America keeping faith with those who defend our freedom. To have young people don our uniform, to put their lives on the line to defend us and then not give them everything they need to do the job, that is a dereliction of duty. This is not a money issue, this is not a military issue, this is profoundly a moral issue. We must keep faith with those who are defending our freedom, and we must keep faith with those who have defended our freedom in the past, with their benefits that have been promised and that have been taken away. (Applause.)

And a new birth of freedom means freedom from fear of the Internal Revenue Service. After all, we are overtaxed in America. And who is hurt most with the kind of horrible system that we have today? It's those who begin life with the least, those who are struggling to get on their feet. This is an opportunity issue. This is a quality of life issue.

And we should start, as I've said, by taking this abomination known as the Federal Income Tax Code and finally doing to it what Hollywood used to do to monsters in its movies before they discovered sequels, and that is to take the beast, kill it, drive a stake through its heart, bury it and hope it never rises again. (Cheers, applause.)

And a new birth of freedom means allowing working Americans to be in charge of their Social Security. This is a fantastic opportunity, having those tax dollars go to their own personal accounts, where every American can partake in the growing bounty of America. And we should work to make it happen.

A new birth of freedom, too, means allowing you to choose your own doctors and your own specialists. We, the people, should be in charge of health care, not third parties. This is America. (Applause.)

And a new birth of freedom means the freedom for parents to choose schools that work for their children, not for bureaucracies or special interests. (Applause.) No mother in America should be forced to send her child to a bad school, especially as we go in this Information Age.

So, who will now pick up this banner of freedom and march on to victory?

This year I do not know.

But let the contest begin.

In the meantime, I want to thank all of you who have been part of this effort. You did it for the right reasons. You did it selflessly for what is good for America.

Today I am here to thank you, to everyone who has believed in our cause and worked in our cause. And I leave this campaign, using Lincoln's words again, with malice towards none and with charity for all. (Applause.)

The Good Book says "To whom much is given much is required." And that's sound advice for all of us. My family and I at least up to now have enjoyed every minute of the campaign trail. It's been a phenomenal experience.

We've had the opportunity to meet literally tens of thousands of Americans, a chance to talk to them, learn from them, have a dialogue with them.

I've gotten to know this country in a way that few have the privilege to know her. And for all of our frailties, for all of our shortcomings, together we are a great people and a great nation. And I've come to appreciate that in words -- in a way that words can never express, meeting people like the Daley family in New Hampshire -- mom, dad, three kids, with a fish market. They told me that my flat tax would enable them to buy family health insurance, real help for real working Americans.

Or like Doubting Tom Savage in Delaware, who fought the IRS for years, despite their attempts to oppress him. Boy, there's a man who shows real courage.

Or such as the Hispanic small business leaders in Miami that I had a chance to meet and discuss health care with a few months ago.

Or the African American ministers at the National Baptist Convention in Tampa, where we discussed expanding economic opportunity and economic freedom as the basic civil rights issues in the 21st century.

We've made so many friends and drawn together such a remarkable campaign team.

No one said that this fight would be easy, but in life, nothing important ever is.

But you, my friends, rose to the challenge. You've fought the good fight, you've kept the faith, and I urge you: Don't give up now. If we give up, then this American experiment will be in peril.

Our message is a good one. It's the right one. And even though the messenger has been a bit mussed up and bruised, we must continue the fight. This is more important than a single individual.

And so, from the depths of our hearts, I want to thank you.

Remember, we have cause to be optimistic. Others are beginning, however haltingly, to take up our themes. So I'm an optimist, and you are, too, in your hearts. We are an optimistic people. And I believe that the American people ultimately will rise to the challenge, and they will vindicate the faith of previous generations, and we, the people, will be an inspiration to future generations. And I believe that when historians look back on this era, they will conclude once again that the American nation will have resumed their place, the rightful place, as the leader and inspiration of the world.

Thank you very much, and God bless you. Thank you. (Cheers, applause.) Thank you. (Applause continues.) Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.

We do have time for some questions. Yes, sir?

Q: You have studied Governor Bush and Senator McCain. You have debated them....If it comes down to those -- a race between those two for president, which of the two would be the best?

MR. FORBES: Well, concerning John McCain, George Bush, Alan Keyes, they're all good people. I've gotten to know them. I'm not going to endorse right now. As I told some people earlier, this year endorsements have become sort of a debased currency in the political square. The voters usually make up their own minds. And so I'm going to work to wind down my campaign in the right way and put off making a decision on an endorsement, if I make one, until a few weeks from now.


Q: Mr. Forbes, can you explain what you think accounted for what seemed to be the decreasing resonance your message had in this campaign?

MR. FORBES: One of the things you learn, Gene [Randall of CNN], in the public square - and Lincoln, during the crucible of the Civil War, put it very well. He said, and I paraphrase it, he said, "I confess that events have controlled me more than I have controlled events." Right now, after what has happened in the last seven years in this town with the Clinton-Gore administration, people are looking for biography, for character. In a few weeks, I think they'll start to focus more on principle, on issues, particular issues. So in that sense, our timing was off.

And also, too, I think that people are, as I said, at least beginning to pick up the themes that we introduced in 1996. You certainly see it on the tax side.

George Bush and John McCain have come out with tax plans. I honestly don't think they would have done it if I hadn't been in this race and done what I did in '96 and what we did in the year 2000. And I'm heartened that even though they have a ways to go, that John McCain, for example, is making nice words about, talking nicely about the flat tax and raising the 15 percent bracket as a first step to something resembling a simplified tax code.

You see it, too, in the life issue, which many Americans wish to avert their eyes from. And that's why I called in '96, and I think people see more merit in it today, of recognizing we must engage in a dialogue and bring our fellow citizens step by step towards the goal. And now they're beginning to say the same thing. And you see it, too, in other issues such health care and Social Security, touching the third rail.

So as I say, the messenger may have gotten a bit tripped up, battered in the electoral process, but if the message is good, then you can't regret making the effort and you hope that others will do it with a clear voice, a principled voice, and perhaps not have the charismatic challenges that I had -- (laughter) -- and be able to carry it further.

Q: Mr. Forbes, is there any chance that you will enter the -- (off mike)?

MR. FORBES: No. I've done enough running this year. (Laughter.)


Q: (Off mike.)

MR. FORBES: Well, you have to weigh whether your staying in the race will enhance the cause or end up hurting the cause, where people focus more on the messenger rather than the message.

And Delaware, yes, it's a small state. It didn't get as much publicity as, say, Iowa or New Hampshire, or certainly what South Carolina is getting now, and Michigan. But not winning there, as I did in '96, I could just -- I asked myself, "How can we now make this thing work? Where can we find an opening to make a breakthrough?" And with considerable reluctance, I concluded the opportunity did not appear to be there.

So rather than have you and others focus on me -- How long is he going to stay in? Why is he staying in? -- I wanted to focus on the message. It was not an easy decision. When you pour heart and soul for months and months and months into a cause, it is very hard to have yourself step back and say is this the time, should you continue? I don't mind going against the odds, but I mind profoundly hurting the cause which brought me into the contest.


Q: (Off mike.)

MR. FORBES: I wouldn't presume to speak for them. I think they will make up their own minds and do their own reasoning, so you'll have to ask them.


Q: There must be some reasoning why the issue with which you have so closely associated -- and that's tax reform -- has not caught on with the American people, just as the Republicans on Capitol Hill found that out during the recess last year, that Americans are not -- (off mike)?

MR. FORBES: Well, I think what you have here today is the American people have been betrayed so often on the tax issue, they almost regard it like the weather; you can talk about it, complain about it, but at the end of the day, you can shake a fist at it, it's just going to take its own course.

But when people do believe that they can make a real difference on the tax issue, by golly, they rise up and do it. And you see it in referendums all the time. Most anti-tax referendums go down to crashing defeats. Ken Blackwell -- just a little over a year ago, in Ohio, the whole political establishment proposed a 20 percent increase in the state sales tax. He was the only major figure in the state who said, "No, this is wrong."

Thankfully, they put it up to a vote; 81 percent agin, only 19 percent in favor.

So the tax issue is there. And I hope that we can have the American people recognize that, if they get involved more in the public square, they can make real reform. And the fact that some of others in the Republican Party are now at least starting to move towards genuine tax reform, I think, shows that the ground is shifting, positively.


Q: (Inaudible) -- plank in this campaign. I'd like to ask, though, you work towards those who want to maintain the platform plank on abortion. And which of the two remaining -- or three remaining candidates is closest to you on that issue?

MR. FORBES: Well, concerning the life issue, if you look at what I actually said in '96 -- and I'll even give you a source -- L.A. Times, February -- I came out in favor of the life amendment. But what I tried to do in '96, and tried to do since, is try to find ways to bring people who are not with us on this issue, towards the goal, make them see it differently than they might have done before.

And of the three remaining candidates, obviously Alan Keyes is four-square on the life issue. And I would urge the other two candidates, if one of them becomes the nominee, to leave the Reagan pro-life plank in the platform alone.

You can acknowledge that many Americans don't agree yet with that goal, but I don't think you win respect of the American people by abandoning such a basic principle for political short-term expediency. They have no respect for that, none whatsoever. And I think that, with patience and with compassion, we try to engage in that dialogue.

The Declaration of Independence is very clear; "life," then "liberty," then the "pursuit of happiness." And our founders understood that order. If you put "liberty" before "life," that's a license to kill. They understood it, and we have to recognize those words again and try to bring people along. And I have faith that hearts and minds and consciences can be changed. And I have faith that, ultimately, it will come to pass.

Q: John McCain actually seems to be opposed to supply-side economics. He is against reducing the marginal tax rate that you talked about. He attacks the wealthy. I don't see how any way that your type of approach is somehow similar to what John McCain is talking about? (Inaudible.)

MR. FORBES: Well, I am one who, if I see an opening, I will try to drive a truck through it. And with John McCain -- yes, it was not the tax plan I would devised obviously, nor was George Bush's -- but John McCain acknowledged the need for tax simplification. He acknowledged the need to get people in a single simple tax bracket, which is why he proposed raising the bands for the 15 percent bracket. So to me, that's the opening to urge him: Push it to its logical conclusion.

And also, John McCain has come out four-square for allowing people to have at least part of their Social Security tax go to their own personal retirement account, 20 percent. And to me, that's a fantastic opening.

So even if he doesn't use the words in the way I might use them, even if he uses language that I might not use, I see some real possibilities here, and I intend to exploit them. (Laughs.)

Q: (Off mike) -- that there's a huge difference between the two on this issue that you're -- (inaudible) -- John McCain on. I don't understand that. I really don't.

MR. FORBES: Well, let's look at it again. John McCain has come out for the concept of the flat tax. He has proposed, he says, towards that end -- it's small step, but I'll take any step I can get -- to raising the brackets on the 15 percent bracket as a means to achieving tax simplicity. He wants to throw out what he calls corporate welfare. The flat tax gets rid of all of that. You don't have to pick and choose. It just sweeps the whole thing away. So it is a step in the right direction.

Now, George Bush's plan, complicated though it is, does reduce marginal tax rates. And I've said that's a step in the right direction.

Neither one really tackles the capital gains tax. And you can find other shortcomings. But again, again, where you see an opening, try to bring them along, push them to their logical conclusion. That's what participation in the public square is. You may not get what you want initially, but if you see others, or even if they may not realize they're moving your way, nudge them towards that way.

And the greatest nudger - which is why I'm spending more time and will spend time talking to the American people -- Reagan was right - he liked to say, on Capitol Hill, "the best educator is not sweet's the heat from an aroused and informed public." And I intend to do everything I can to raise heat levels on Capitol Hill to where they'll think that Al Gore is right, that global warming has arrived. (Laughter. Applause.)

MR. FORBES: Two more. Yeah.

Q: Even Reagan didn't jump straight from Hollywood into the White House. He went -- first, he was governor of California. Do you have any interest -- you've got a 2001 race in New Jersey and possibly a 2002 Senate race. Any interest in doing that sort of step, and then going for the White House?

MR. FORBES: I've never ruled out, today, another foray into elective politics, but I made it clear I'm not going to run for the Senate.

And in terms of New Jersey's gubernatorial race in 2001, an individual who backed me for president against the establishment, Brett Schundler of Jersey City, I think he may run, and that's the kind of individual I want to see in the public square. I can't foresee the future. And certainly what's happened this year should give a dose of humility to all of us who try to predict the future.

I can just say I will stay involved and play whatever role I can to bring about this new birth of freedom.

We have one more question. Yeah?

Q: Let me ask sort of related questions, then. One, would you ever run for the presidency again? Two, what are you going to do now immediately? Are you going to go back to Forbes, or are you going to the public sector? And three, do you think that the advertising of four years ago hurt you in terms of this year?

MR. FORBES: Well, in terms of what I do now, yes, I will be going back to Forbes Magazine. In fact, tomorrow I've got to write some editorials. Deadlines are deadlines. They spare no one.

I will stay involved in the public square. I'm not going to rule anything in, I'm not going to rule anything out. Being in the public square makes you realize what a humbling experience life is, and you do what you can, but you're not master of the universe. That's a colossal conceit, and certainly one, when you're in the public square, you're reminded of each and every day.

So let me say again, it's been a fantastic experience.

I'm deeply, deeply grateful for the support of my family, for principled friends, such as Ken and Bob, who went against the grain to do what they thought was right, and for all who helped out in this campaign.

There's no way to say an adequate thanks for the countless hours you've put in, for doing those extra-special things that really, even though we didn't win, we helped get the message out there. And that's how you build for the future; you build on the foundations.

Life never goes in a straight line. But if you keep building and you have that sense of direction, eventually you or your successors will reach the destination.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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