THE HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT OF THE NEW CENTURY
the first Presidential Debate of Election 2000
Thursday, October 5, 2000
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
At just after 9 o'clock P.M. EDT on Tuesday 3 October 2000 (0100 UTC, 4 October) the first of three Presidential Debates got underway with the moderator, Jim Lehrer of Public Broadcasting's News Hour (who sat at a modified news anchor's desk with his back to the audience, so that he could face the candidates), explaining the format for this evening's contest: there would be no Opening Statements by the candidates; they were not to question each other. Mr. Lehrer would put his question to a given candidate, the candidate would have no more than 2 minutes to respond and his opponent would have up to 1 minute for rebuttal; Mr. Lehrer would have the option of extending a line of questioning on a particular topic up to 3 1/2 minutes. Each candidate would have a 2 minute Closing Statement.
[NOTE: I have divided the Debate into "Rounds" based on the topic of the question asked by Mr. Lehrer and the subsequent "give-and-take" as a given topic unfolds under rebuttal and follow-up. Each "Round" will be scored under Boxing's "Ten Point Must" System, in which the winner of a round must be given 10 points (hence the name) and the losing opponent is then given a lesser number in relative comparison to the 10 always given to the winner of a particular "Round". The points from all the "Rounds" will be toted up at the end of the Debate in order to declare an overall Debate "winner".
My scoring will be based on how each candidate presented his case and- perhaps more importantly in Debates of this format- how each candidate handled the slings and arrows of his opponent in the course of a given "Round". Where a given "Round" is a very close call- virtually a tie (under "Ten Point Must", not only must the winner of a "Round" be given 10 points, the loser must not be given more than 9), I use the criterion that the candidate that most effectively- in my own humble opinion (for which I bear full responsibility)- appealed to his core base of supporters re: a given issue gets the 10 points and the other is, by rule, left with (sorry!) only 9.
I want to make it as absolutely clear as I can: I am NOT here judging the policy positions of the candidates nor am I going to be judging the relative veracity of the statements of the candidates themselves. WILL there be a $ 4 trillion surplus over the next 10 years as Bush himself claims? I have no idea. WILL Al Gore truly be able to sock two dollars away toward paying down the National Debt for every dollar he spends on Education and Health Care? Your guess is as good as mine... because your vote (at least that of those of you reading this who are eligible to vote for President of the USA come 7 November) is as good as mine! It will be the job of each of you reading this (eligible voter or no; American or foreigner) to judge from what each candidate said whether you believe them or not as to their policies and their overall truthfulness in promoting those policies. My job (self-appointed though it may be by definition) is to judge how each one presented their arguments... not whether the arguments themselves are valid!]
After Mr. Lehrer had outlined the procedure which would be followed in this opening Debate, the candidates came on stage in virtually identical dark suits, each with white shirt and red tie, and proceeded to make their way to podiums: Vice President Al Gore- the Democratic presidential nominee- taking the podium to the left relative to the audience and Governor George W. Bush of Texas- the Republican presidential nominee- taking the podium to the right. Mr. Lehrer put his first question and we were underway. Vice President Gore, you have questioned whether Governor Bush has the experience to be President of the United States. What exactly do you mean?
I have actually not questioned Governor Bush's experience, the Vice President claimed. I have questioned his proposals and here's why. Gore then went on to state that we were at a very important moment for our country, that in this election, America has to make an important choice: will we use our prosperity to enrich not just the few, but all of our families? I believe we have to make the right and responsible choices. Gore then promised that he would balance the budget every year and pay down the national debt, that he would put Medicare and Social Security into a lockbox and protect them and I will cut taxes for middle-class families. I believe it is important to resist the temptation to squander our surplus. He closed with references to his campaign themes of strengthening families by insuring that children can always go to schools that are safe, by giving parents the tools to protect their children against cultural pollution and making sure that we invest in our country and in our families and I mean investing in Education, Health Care, the Environment and middle-class tax cuts and retirement security. That's my agenda and that's why I think that it's not just a question of experience.
In his rebuttal, Governor Bush opined that he and Vice President Gore do come from different places. I come from West Texas; I've been a Governor. A Governor is the chief executive officer and learns how to set agendas and I think you are going to find the difference reflected in our budgets. Bush stated that he wanted to take one-half of the surplus and dedicate it to Social Security, one-quarter of the surplus for important projects and I want to send one-quarter of the surplus back to the people who pay the bills. I want everybody who pays taxes to have their tax rates cut. And that stands in contrast to my worthy opponent's plan, which will increase the size of government dramatically. He closed his rebuttal by arguing that Gore's plan empowers Washington. And tonight you're going to hear that my passion and my vision is to empower Americans to be able to make decisions for themselves and their own lives.
Jim Lehrer then put a follow-up to Mr. Gore: So I take it by your answer then, Mr. Vice President, that in your interview recently with the New York Times when you said that you question whether or not Governor Bush was experienced enough to be President, you were talking about strictly policy differences.
Gore responded: Yes, Jim. I said his tax cut plan, for example, raises the question of whether it's the right choice for the country... Under Governor Bush's tax cut proposal, he would spend more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent than all of the new spending he proposes for Education, Health Care, Prescription Drugs and National Defense combined... Now under my proposal, for every dollar that I propose in spending for things like Education and Health Care, I will put another dollar into middle-class tax cuts. And for every dollar that I spend in these two categories, I'll put two dollars toward paying down the national debt... I also think it is very important to go to the next stage of welfare reform. Our country has cut the welfare rolls in half... But now it's time for the next stage of welfare reform and include fathers and not only mothers.
Bush jumped in at this point: Obviously, tonight, we're going to hear some phony numbers about what I think and what we ought to do. People need to know that over the next 10 years there's going to be 25 trillion dollars of new revenue that comes into our Treasury. And we anticipate spending 21 trillion. And my plan says why don't we pass 1.3 trillion of that back to the people who pay the bills. Surely we can afford 5 percent of the 25 trillion dollars that are coming to the Treasury to the hard-working people who pay the bills. There's a difference of opinion. My opponent thinks... the surplus is the Government's money... I think it is the hard-working people in America's money and I want to share some of that money with you... It's the difference between the Government making decisions for you and you getting more of your money to make decisions for yourself.
The Vice President wanted to jump back in here but Jim Lehrer politely cut him off with a follow-up to the Texas Governor: When you hear Vice President Gore question your experience, do you read it the same way- that he's talking about policy differences only?
Yes, I take him for his word, the Texan emphatically replied. I fully recognize I'm not of Washington- I'm from Texas. And he's got a lot of experience- but so do I... I've been the chief executive officer of the second biggest State in the Union. I've had a proud record of working with both Republicans and Democrats, which is what our Nation needs. We need somebody who can come up to Washington and say: 'Look, let's forget all the politics and all the finger-pointing and get some positive things done... And so I take him for his word.
Now the Vice President jumped in: The Governor used the phrase 'phony numbers'- but if you look at the plan and add the numbers up, these numbers are correct... I agree that the surplus is the American People's money. It's your money. That's why I don't think we should give nearly half of it to the wealthiest one percent, because the other 99 percent have had an awful lot to do with building this surplus and our prosperity.
Round One: Al Gore came back at the end and made his point that, unlike what the Texas Governor seemed to be implying, the Democratic candidate was NOT insensitive to the notion that the surplus was, after all, made up of money which had been put into the Treasury by the American taxpayers. However, Bush had already- by then- made his plan out as an interesting counterpoint to Gore's, putting his numbers out on the table while Gore was less specific at this point (telling he would use "so many dollars for every dollar elsewhere" but not, as the Texan did, giving the totals of his package [though he, too, was fuzzy on detail] and, thus, not confronting Bush's claim of "phony numbers" head on) ; Gore also failed- at this stage- to address the subject of why his plan was not merely one once again empowering Washington, thus failing to blunt Bush's notion that only the Republican candidate wanted to use the surplus in a manner beneficial to the average American.
Scoring: Bush 10, Gore 9
Jim Lehrer now asked the next question of Governor Bush: You have questioned whether Vice President Gore has demonstrated the leadership qualities necessary to be President of the United States. What do you mean by that?
The Texan responded: Eight years ago they campaigned on prescription drugs for seniors and four years ago they campaigned on prescription drugs for seniors. And now they're campaigning on prescription drugs for seniors. It seems like they can't get it done. Now, they may blame other folks- but it's time to get somebody in Washington who is going to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get some positive things done when it comes to our seniors... There's been some missed opportunities... They've had a chance to form consensus. To the older Americans he hoped to have as his supporters, he stated that if you're happy with Medicare the way it is- fine, you can stay in the program: but we're going to give you additional choices, just like they give Federal employees in the Federal employee health plan... This year- in the Year 2000- it's time to say 'Let's get it done, once and for all'. And that's what I have been critical about the Administration for.
Same with Social Security, the Republican candidate continued. I think there was a good opportunity to bring Republicans and Democrats together to reform the Social Security system so the seniors will never go without... but also to give younger workers the option of their choice of being able to manage some of their own money in the Private Sector to make sure there's a Social Security system around tomorrow. There's a lot of young workers at our rallies... they want a different attitude in Washington.
Gore rebutted: Under my plan all seniors will get prescription drugs under Medicare. The Governor has described Medicare as a Government HMO. It's not. The Democratic candidate went on to note that, under his Medicare proposal, a patient would go to your own doctor: any prescription you received from him could be filled at your own pharmacy and Medicare would pay half the cost (the entire cost if the patient were poor or if drug costs were inordinately high). Gore opined that these- combined with the $ 25 premium were much better benefits than you can possibly find in the Private Sector.
Now here's the contrast, the Vice President continued. 95 percent of all seniors would get no help whatsoever under my opponent's plan for the first four or five years. Now one thing I don't understand, Jim, is why is it that the wealthiest one percent get their tax cuts the first year, but 95 percent of seniors have to wait four to five years before they get a single penny?
Bush retorted: I guess my answer to that is the man's running on 'Mediscare' (the Governor's joke fell flat), trying to frighten people in the voting booth... that's just not my intentions and it's not my plan. I want all seniors to have prescription drugs and Medicare. We need to reform Medicare. There's been an opportunity to do so but this Administration has failed to do it. And so seniors are going to have not only a Medicare plan where the poor seniors would have their prescription drugs paid for- but there will be a variety of options.. There are a lot of procedures that have not kept up in Medicare with the current times. There's no prescription drug benefits, there's no preventing medicines, there's no vision care- I mean, we need to have a modern system to help seniors. And the idea of supporting a federally-controlled 132,000-page document bureaucracy as being... the only compassionate source of care for seniors is just not my vision. I believe we ought to give seniors more options. I believe we ought to make the system work better- but I know this: it is going to require a different kind of leader... You've had your chance, Vice President: you've been there for eight years and nothing has been done... My plan also says it's going to require a new approach in Washington, D.C. It's going to require somebody who can work across the partisan divide.
Gore jumped in at this point: Under my plan, I will put Medicare in an ironclad lockbox and prevent the money from being used for anything other than Medicare. The Governor has declined to endorse that idea... under his plan, if you work out the numbers, 100 billion dollars comes out of Medicare just for the wealthiest one percent in the tax cut... Some people who use the word 'reform' actually mean 'cuts'. Under the Governor's plan, if you kept the same fee for service that you now have under Medicare, your premiums would go up by between 18 to 47 percent. Gore than cited an elderly couple from Milwaukee who regularly travel up to Canada to get their prescription drugs. Under my plan, stated the Democrat, half their costs would be paid right away: under Governor Bush's plan, they would not get one penny for four or five years and then they would be forced to go into an HMO or to an insurance company and ask them for coverage- but there'd be no limit on the premiums or the deductibles or any of the terms and conditions.
I cannot let this go by, the Texas Republican said as he jumped in at this point. The old Washington politics of we're going to scare you in the voting booth. Under my plan, the man gets immediate help with prescription drugs... Instead of squabbling and finger-pointing, he gets immediate help.
They get 25,000 dollars a year income, the Vice President quickly noted. That makes them ineligible.
Bush seemed flustered at this. Look- this is a man: he's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math! It's... trying to scare people in the voting booth. Under my tax plan... the Federal Government should take no more than a third of anybody's check. But I also drop the bottom rate from 15 percent to 10 percent because by far the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder. If you're a family of four in Massachusetts making 50,000 dollars you get a 50 percent cut in the Federal income taxes you pay. It's from 4,000 to about 2,000. Now the difference in our plans is that I want that 2,000 to go to you and the Vice President would like to be spending the 2,000 on your behalf.
It's just clear, Gore responded... If you make more than 25,000 dollars a year, you don't get a penny of help under the Bush prescription drug proposal for at least four to five years and then you're pushed into Medicare, into an HMO or an insurance company plan... and the insurance companies say it won't work and they won't offer these plans.
Mr. Lehrer, trying to regain at least some control as moderator of the Debate, came in at this point: Let me ask you both this and then we'll move on... As a practical matter, both of you want to bring prescription drugs to seniors: correct?
Correct, both candidates answered- but the Democrat added The difference is: I want to bring it to 100 percent and he only brings it to 5 percent. The Texas Governor responded with an air of righteous indignation: That's just totally false!... It's just totally false for him to stand up here and say that. Let me make sure the seniors hear me loud and clear. They've had their chance to get something done... All seniors will be covered; all poor seniors will have their prescription drugs paid for. In the meantime, we're going to have a plan to help poor seniors. And 'in the meantime' could be one or two years- I don't know...
The Vice President jumped in: Let me call your attention to the key word there. He said all poor seniors.
No, wait a minute, the Republican protested. All seniors are covered under prescription drugs in my plan.
In the first year? Gore asked wryly.
If we can get it done in the first year, you bet! the Texan replied (even though the rules of this Debate were that the candidates not question each other) Yours is phased in in eight years. (I took this last statement of Bush's to be a veiled reference to the fact that Gore had been Vice President for eight years, another variant on the "They've had their chance" mantra- for it made no other sense otherwise)
No, no, no - now it was the Democrat's turn to protest. It's a two-phased plan (Gore was now clearly talking about Bush's plan, not his own)...For the first four years- it takes a year to pass it... only the poor are covered. Middle-class seniors... are not covered for four to five years.
I've got an idea, said moderator Lehrer. If you have any more to say about this you can say it in your Closing Statement. We'll move on. OK?
Round Two: Gore clearly had the upper hand here. The Democrat effectively pointed out the main difference between his Medicare plan and that of the Texas Governor and Bush never completely recovered from that comparison. The Republican ended up responding to Gore's clear-cut example of a middle-class senior couple not being immediately eligible for prescription drug plan under Bush's plan by going off- for a time- about how his tax cuts [!] would benefit a middle-class family: if this was intended to show that middle-class people wouldn't need prescription drug coverage if they paid less in taxes, the Texas Governor's argument on that score was largely ineffectual. Gore also did a good job in pointing out that Bush's plan was, in fact, fixated on poorer seniors and Bush did nothing to counter this (assuming he even could have countered it in the first place).
Scoring: Gore 10, Bush 8 [Bush might have even gotten as low as a 7 in this "Round" but for the fact that Gore failed to answer Bush's charge early in this segment that the Clinton Administration- of which Gore is, of course, a part- did virtually nothing for eight years (Gore could have conceivably used the argument that the Republican-controlled Congress was not cooperative with the Democratic Administration for six of those eight years but did not); Bush, thus, effectively pre-empted Gore with his comment that "they may blame other folks"] [cumulative: Gore 19, Bush 18 ]
Jim Lehrer asked the next question of Vice President Gore: How would you contrast your approach to preventing further future oil price and supply problems like those we have now to the approach of Governor Bush?
The Vice President responded: My plan has not only a short-term component but also a long-term component. And it focuses not only on increasing the supply, which I think we have to do, but also on working the consumption side. Now, for the short term, we have to free ourselves from the domination of the big oil companies that have the ability to manipulate the price, from OPEC when they want to raise the price. And, in the long term, we have to give new incentives for the development of domestic resources like deep gas in the western Gulf, like stripper wells for oil- but also renewable sources of energy and domestic sources that are cleaner and better. Gore also went on to propose tax incentives for rapid development of vehicles and furnaces that don't use as much energy or cause as much pollution as those currently on line, which in turn- would help us get out on the cutting edge of the new technologies that will create millions of new jobs- because when we sell these new products here, we will be able to sell them overseas and there's a ravenous demand for them overseas.
Now another big difference is Governor Bush is proposing to open up... some of our most precious environmental treasures- like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge- to the big oil companies to go in and start producing oil there. I think that is the wrong choice... I don't think it's a fair price to pay to destroy precious parts of America's environment. We have to bet on the future and move beyond the current technologies to have a whole new generation of more efficient, cleaner energy technologies.
Bush rebutted: Well, it's an issue I know a lot about- I was a small oil person for a while in West Texas. This is an Administration that's had no plans and, all of a sudden, the results of having no plan have caught up with America. First and foremost, we've got to make sure we fully fund... a way to help low-income folks, particularly here in the East, pay for their high, high fuel bills. Secondly, we need an active exploration program in America. The only way to become less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil is to explore at home. And you bet I want to open a small part of Alaska because, when that field is on line it will produce a million barrels a day. Today we import a million barrels from Saddam Hussein. I want to build more pipelines to move natural gas throughout this hemisphere. I want to develop the coal resources in America- clean coal technologies.... We better get after it and better start exploring it otherwise we're going to be in deep trouble because of our dependency upon foreign sources of crude.
Moderator Lehrer jumped in at this point: So if somebody is watching tonight, listening to what the two of you just said, is it fair to say, O.K., the differences between Vice President Gore and... Governor Bush are the following: You [indicating Gore] are for doing something on the consumption end, you're [indicating Bush] for doing something on the production and drilling...
The Vice President jumped in at this point: Let me clarify: I'm for doing something both on the supply side and production side. And let me say that I found one thing in Governor Bush's answer that we certainly agree on and that's the Low Income Heating Assistance Program and I commend you for supporting that. I worked to get 400 million dollars just a couple of weeks ago... to establish a permanent Home Heating Oil Reserve here in the Northeast. Now, as for the proposals that I've worked for for renewables and conservation and efficiency and the new technologies, the fact is for the last few years in the Congress we faced a lot of opposition to them... They've only approved about 10 percent of the agenda that I've helped... to send up there... I will tackle this problem and focus on new technologies that will make us less dependent on big oil or foreign oil.
Lehrer then asked Governor Bush how he would draw the difference. I would first say that he should have been tackling it for the last seven years. And secondly, the difference is that we need to explore at home. And the Vice President doesn't believe in exploring, for example, in Alaska. There's a lot of shut-in gas that we need to be moving out of Alaska by pipeline... My answer to you is that, in the short term, we need to get after it here in America. We need to explore our resources and we need to develop our reservoirs of domestic production... This is a major problem facing America. The Administration did not deal with it. It's time for a new Administration to deal with the energy problem.
Gore retorted: I strongly support new investments in clean coal technology. I made a proposal three months ago on this. And also domestic exploration: yes- but not in the environmental treasures of our country. We don't have to do that. That's the wrong choice... it is not the right thing for the future.
No, it's the right thing for the consumers, the Texas Governor chimed in. And we can do so in an environmentally friendly way.
Round Three: This was one of those "close calls" I mentioned when explaining my Scoring system at the beginning of this Commentary... In the end, I gave the "Round" to Gore because he fairly effectively expounded upon the environmental aspect of Domestic Energy Development in a clear effort to shore up his standing with environmentalists who might otherwise support, say, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader (the Texas Governor mentioned his "environmentally friendly way" too late in the "Round" to have it effectively blunt Gore's defense of not drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)... other than that, the only difference between the two candidates was merely one of substance which is not the subject of the "Ten Point Must" Scoring of this Debate: both candidates, I thought, stated their positions as regards this issue strongly and effectively. Had Bush stood up more to Gore's implication that he was environmentally "soft", this "Round" could very easily have gone the other way and we then would have had a 28-28 tie in the "cume"!
Scoring: Gore 10, Bush 9 [cumulative: Gore 29, Bush 27 ]
Jim Lehrer then asked the next question of Governor Bush: If elected President, would you try to overturn the FDA's approval of the abortion pill RU-486?
The Texan responded: I don't think a President can do that. I was disappointed in the ruling because I think abortions ought to be more rare in America and I'm worried that this pill will create more abortion- will cause more people to have abortions. This is a very important topic and it's a very sensitive topic 'cause a lot of good people disagree on the issue. I think what the next President should do is to promote a Culture of Life in America... I think a noble goal for this country is that every child, born and unborn, ought to be protected in law and welcomed into life: but I know we've got to change a lot of minds... before we get there in America. What I do believe is that we can find good common ground on issues like parental notification or parental consent- and I know we need to ban partial-birth abortions- this is a place where my opponent and I have strong disagreements... We've been battling over Abortion for a long period of time... As to the drug itself, I mentioned I was disappointed... I hope the FDA took its time to make sure that American women will be safe... who use this drug.
Gore rebutted: The FDA took 12 years and I support that decision. They determined it was medically safe for the women who used that drug... First of all, on the issue of partial-birth or so-called late-term abortions, I would sign a law banning that procedure, provided that doctors have the ability to save a woman's life or to act if their life is severely at risk. And that's not the main issue: the main issue is whether or not the Roe v. Wade decision's going to be overturned. I support a woman's right to choose; my opponent does not. It is important because the next President is going to appoint three, maybe even four, Justices of the Supreme Court... Here's the difference: he trusts the Government to order a woman to do what it thinks she ought to do; I trust women to make the decisions that affect their lives, their destinies and their bodies- and I think a woman's right to choose ought to be protected and defended.
Lehrer then followed up: Governor... make sure I understand your position on RU-486. If you're elected President, will you not throw appointments to the FDA- you won't support legislation to overturn this?
The Texan replied: I don't think a President can unilaterally overturn it. I think the FDA's made its decision. Lehrer followed up some more: You wouldn't throw appointments to the FDA and ask them to reappraise this? No, Governor Bush responded. I think once the decision's made, it's been made- unless it's proven to be unsafe to women.
The Vice President jumped in: The question you asked- if I heard you correctly- was would he support legislation to overturn it. And if I heard the statement the day before yesterday... he said he would order his FDA appointee to review the decision. Now, that sounds to me a little bit different- and I just think that we ought to support the decision.
Bush clarified his stance: I said I would make sure that women would be safe who used the drug.
Lehrer went on: All right... on the Supreme Court question, should a voter assume you're pro-Life?
I am pro-Life, the Texan emphatically declared.
Lehrer continued: Should a voter assume that all judicial appointments you made to the Supreme Court or any other court- Federal court- will also be pro-Life?
Voters should assume I have no litmus test on that issue or any other issue, Bush replied. But the voters will know I'll put competent judges on the bench- people who will strictly interpret the Constitution and will not use the bench to write social policy. And that's going to be a big difference between my opponent and me... I believe that judges ought not to take the place of the legislative branch of Government- that they're appointed for life and that they ought to look at the Constitution as sacred... They shouldn't misuse their bench. I don't believe in liberal activist judges... I believe in strict constructionists- and these are the kind of judges I will appoint...
Lehrer then put a similar question to Vice President Gore: What kind of appointments should they expect from you?
The Democrat responded: Both of us use similar language to reach... an exactly opposite outcome. I don't favor litmus tests but I know that there are ways to assess how a potential justice interprets the Constitution and, in my view, the Constitution ought to be interpreted as a document that grows... with our country and with our history... when the phrase 'a strict constructionist' is used... those are code words and nobody should mistake this for saying that the Governor would appoint people who would overturn Roe v. Wade...it's very clear to me- and I would appoint people who have a philosophy that I think would make it quite likely that they would uphold Roe v. Wade.
Lehrer turned back to Governor Bush: Is the Vice President right? Is that a code word for overturning Roe v. Wade?
Sounds like the Vice President is not very right many times tonight, the Texas Governor opined. I just told you the criteria on which I'll appoint judges. I've had a record of appointing judges in the State of Texas- that's what a Governor gets to do: a Governor gets to name Supreme Court judges... He also reads all kinds of things into my tax plan and into my Medicare plan- and I just want the viewers out there to listen to what I have to say about it.
That's a yes, Gore intoned. It is a code.
Lehrer turned to the Vice President: Reverse the question: what code phrases should we read by what you said about what kind of people you will appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court?
Gore responded: It'd be very likely that they'd support Roe v. Wade but I do believe it's wrong to use a litmus test. But if you look at the history of a lower court judge's rulings, you can get a pretty good idea of how they're going to interpret questions... this is a very important issue, because a lot of young women in this country take this right for granted and it could be lost. It is on the ballot in this election- make no mistake about it.
Bush jumped in: I'll tell you what kind of judges he'll put on there; he'll put liberal activist judges who will use their bench to subvert the legislature: that's what he'll do!
That's not right, intoned the Vice President.
Round Four: This was a tough "Round" to score because the Abortion issue is the most divisive issue in United States Politics today (as it has been for more than two decades). It is divisive- at least in part- because it "reverses roles": so-called "pro-Choice" Liberals, normally in favor of activist Government, are here forced to urge the Government to stay out of the lives of ordinary citizens; while "pro-Life" Conservatives, normally trying to get Government bureaucracy out of the ordinary life of "Main Street USA", are here promoting that same Government telling someone what they can or can't do within the privacy of their own bodies. The best way to score this "Round" is to note that Bush pretty much did a number on Gore regarding the appointment of "liberal activist judges"- to which Gore responded somewhat effectively but not altogether convincingly, but that Bush stumbled a bit in his original answer regarding the RU-486 decision (I personally find it hard to fathom that he "didn't think" a President could overturn an FDA decision, either directly or indirectly... didn't he even bother to check before he began discussing this issue in the immediate aftermath of the FDA's decision... I could imagine more than a few pro-Life voters wincing at his fumbling around as to whether he could strongly oppose the introduction of RU-486 and the pro-Life voter is a part of the Texas Governor's key voter base). Since the Abortion issue per se (that is, the legality or illegality of Abortion) is most certainly more important to the average voter than the rather arcane (if not abstract) issue of Judicial Appointments (which includes many areas outside of how a judge would rule re: Abortion), my gut feeling is that Bush's "muddy" response to the RU-486 decision in this Debate hurts him more among his core support than Bush's scoring Gore on judicial appointments helps him among that same support. "Round" to Gore, though- as in "Round Three"- it's a "near thing" and, on another "card", Bush could be ahead 38 to 37 right now... just not on MY "card"!
Scoring: Gore 10, Bush 9 [cumulative: Gore 39, Bush 36 ]
Lehrer asked the next question of Vice President Gore: If President Milosevic of Yugoslavia refuses to accept the election results and leave office, what action- if any- should the United States to get him out of there?
The Democrat responded: Well, Milosevic has lost the election... It's overwhelming... I think we should support the people of Serbia and...Yugoslavia, as they call Serbia plus Montenegro and put pressure in every way possible to recognize the lawful outcome of the election... Now we've made it clear, along with our allies, that when Milosevic leaves, then Serbia will be able to have a more normal relationship with the rest of the world. That is a very strong incentive that we have given them to do the right thing... Now we have to take measured steps because the sentiment in Serbia is, for understandable reasons, still against the United States because... even if they don't like Milosevic, they still have some feelings lingering from the NATO action there. So we have to be intelligent in the way we go about it. But make no mistake about it, we should do everything we can to to see that the will of the Serbian people, expressed in this extraordinary election, is done- and I h ope that he'll be out of office shortly.
The Texas Governor rebutted: Well, I'm pleased with the results of the election... it's time for the man to go and it means that the United States must have a strong diplomatic hand with our friends in NATO... to keep the pressure on Mr. Milosevic. But this'll be an interesting moment for the Russians to step up and lead as well... The Russians have got a lot of sway in that part of the world and we'd like to see them use that sway to encourage democracy to take hold- and so it's an encouraging election: it's time for the man to leave.
Lehrer redirected the topic to Vice President Gore: But what if he doesn't leave...? What if... all the diplomatic efforts, all the pressure from all over the world and he still doesn't go- is this the kind of thing, to be specific, that you- as President- would consider the use of military force to get him gone?
In this particular situation: no, Gore replied. Bear in mind that we have a lot of sanctions in force against Serbia right now and the people of Serbia know that they can escape all of these sanctions if this guy is turned out of power. Now I understand what the Governor has said about asking the Russians to be involved and under some circumstances that might be a good idea- but being as they have not yet been willing to recognize Kostunica as the lawful winner of the election, I'm not sure that it's right for us to invite the president of Russia to mediate the dispute there because we might not like the result that comes out of that... I think the Governor's instinct is not necessarily bad because we have worked with the Russians in a constructive way... but I think we have to be very careful before we invite the Russians to play the lead role in mediating.
Governor Bush now jumped in: Well, obviously we wouldn't use the Russians if they didn't agree with our answer...
Well, they don't was the Vice President's terse retort.
Bush did his best to recover: But let me say this to you, I wouldn't use force... because it's not in our national interest to use force in this case: I would keep the pressure- I would use diplomacy.
Lehrer then asked Governor Bush a related question: How would you go about- as President- deciding when it was in the national interest to use U.S. force?
Bush replied, If it's in our vital national interests... whether or not... our territory is threatened, our people could be harmed, whether or not... our defensive alliances are threatened. That would be a time to seriously consider the use of force. Secondly, whether or not... it was a clear understanding as to what the mission would be. Thirdly, whether or not we were prepared and trained to win, whether or not our forces were of high morale and high standing and well-equipped and- finally- whether or not there was an exit strategy... I would be guarded in my approach. I don't think we can be all things to all people in the world. I think we've got to be very careful when we commit our troops. The Vice President and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation-building... I believe the role of the military is to fight and win war and, therefore, prevent war from happening in the first place... Morale in today's military is low... Some of our troops are not well-equipped. I believe we're overextended in too many places and, therefore, I want to rebuild the military power.
The Vice President rebutted: First of all, I want to make it clear: our military is the strongest, best-trained, best-equipped, best-led fighting force in the world and in the History of the World. Nobody should have any doubt about that, least of all our adversaries or potential adversaries... Now I think we should be reluctant to get involved... someplace in a foreign country- but if our national security is at stake, if we have allies, if we've tried every other course, if we're sure military action will succeed and, if the costs are proportionate to the benefits, we should get involved... I think there are situations... where there's genocide, where our national security is at stake there.
The Governor responded: I agree that our military is the strongest in the world today: that's not the question. The question is: will it be strongest in the years to come?... if we don't do something quickly, we don't have a clearer vision of the military, if we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road and I'm going to prevent that. I'm going to rebuild our military power- it's one of the major priorities of my Administration.
Rounds Five and Six: The above segment was really two interrelated "Rounds"- the first being the portion answering the question about dealing with Slobodan Milosevic, the second being that portion related to the question of when and when not to use military force. As for the first portion, the Vice President had the clear advantage of being a member of the Administration currently dealing with the problem and, thus, spoke from a position of working "on issue"; Governor Bush stumbled quite a bit with his call for the Russians to "step up and lead" which the Vice President was quick to seize on, putting the Texan quite on the defensive (though Gore inadvertently helped Bush out by suggesting the Governor had good instincts). Round Five: Gore 10, Bush 8 [cumulative: Gore 49, Bush 44 ] In the next round, however, Bush effectively scored Gore on the issue of the use of military force and military preparedness, giving the Texas Governor his first clear "Round" victory since the very first one; yet the Republican did not further put away his Democratic rival- as he might easily have- in this "Round": his redundant claim that he would consider "vital national interests" to be national interests didn't help him much and he did very little to back up his claim that the U.S. military even needed revitalization other than to cite anecdotal evidence provided by military families and to quote the opinions of former Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell, neither of whom are on the National GOP Ticket (I found it rather curious that he didn't quote his own running mate, a former Secretary of Defense) Round Six: Bush 10, Gore 9 [cumulative: Gore 58, Bush 54 ]
Jim Lehrer put the next question to Al Gore: How should the voters go about deciding which one of you is better suited to make the kind of decisions... in the military or foreign policy area?
The Vice President replied: Well, they should look at our proposals and look at us as people and make up their own minds. When I was a young man, I volunteered for the Army: I served my country in Vietnam. My father was a Senator who strongly opposed the Vietnam War... but I went anyway because I knew, if I didn't, somebody else in the small town of Carthage, Tennessee would have to go in my place. Gore then cited his service on the Intelligence Committee in the House and the Armed Services Committee in the Senate and his position- as Vice President- as a member of the National Security Council. And when the conflict came up in Bosnia, I saw genocide in the heart of Europe- with the most violent war on the continent of Europe since World War II. Look- that's where World War I started: in the Balkans... We have to be willing to make good, sound judgments and, incidentally, I know the value of making sure our troops have the latest technology. The Governor's proposed s kipping the next generation of weapons: I think that's a big mistake because I think we have to stay at the cutting edge.
The Texan rebutted: I think you've got to look at how one has handled responsibility in office... whether or not you've got the capacity to convince people to follow... We've got too much polling and focus groups going on in Washington today: we need decisions made on sound principles. I've been the Governor of a big State. I think one of the hallmarks of my relationship in Austin, Texas... is that I've had the capacity to work with both Republicans and Democrats. I think that's an important part of leadership- I think of what it means to build consensus: I've shown I know how to do so... And so the fundamental answer to your question: who can lead and who has shown the capacity to get things done.
Gore jumped in: I think one of the key points in foreign policy and national security is the need to re-establish the old-fashioned principle that Politics ought to stop at the water's edge... I think bipartisanship is a national asset and we have to find ways to re-establish it in foreign policy and national security policy.
Lehrer turned to Bush: In a word: do you have a problem with that?
Retorted the Texan: Yes, why haven't they done it in seven years?
Round Seven: This "Round" goes to Governor Bush because he effectively put forth the traditional argument of the challenger to an incumbent Party, that new leadership is needed and he cited his assets. Gore grabbed onto the bipartisanship theme put forth by the Texan and deftly linked it to the original question: however, Gore was still following Bush in this "Round". Bush, however, did not mention the fact that the Vice President served in Vietnam as a military journalist, not in combat per se and couldn't very well dispute Gore's citing his own experience as a Public Official, meaning that- as in his two previous winning "Rounds", the Governor may have won but failed to win big. Scoring: Bush 10, Gore 9 [cumulative: Gore 67, Bush 64 ]
Lehrer then asked the next question of the Vice President: Should the voters in this election... see this... in the domestic area as a major choice between competing political philosophies?
Oh, absolutely! replied the Vice President. This is a very important moment in the history of our country. Look- we've got the biggest surpluses in all of American History- the key question that has to be answered in this election is: will we use that prosperity wisely in a way that benefits all of our people and doesn't just go to the few?... I think we have to make wise and responsible choices. Gore then pretty much repeated the litany of the basic tenets of his campaign, much as he had at the start of the debate. Now the priorities are just very different- I'll give you a couple of examples: for every new dollar that I propose for spending on Health Care, Governor Bush spends 3 dollars for a tax cut to the wealthiest one percent. Now for every dollar I spend on Education, he spends 5 dollars for a tax cut for the wealthiest one percent. These are very clear differences.
Bush rebutted: The man's practicing fuzzy math again. There's differences: Under Vice President Gore's plan, he's going to grow the budget to the largest increase since Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1965. We're talking about a massive government, folks!... He says he is going to give you a tax cut: 50 million of you won't receive it. He said, in a speech, he wants to make sure the right people get tax relief: that's not the role of a President, to decide right and wrong. Everybody who pays taxes ought to get tax relief! After my plan is in place, the wealthiest Americans will pay a higher percentage of taxes than they do today and the poorest of Americans, 6 million families- 7 million people, won't pay any tax at all. It's a huge difference: it's the difference between big, exploding Federal government that wants to think on your behalf and a plan that meets priorities and liberates working people to be able to make decisions on their own.
Gore retorted: You haven't heard the Governor deny these numbers. He's called then phony- he's called them fuzzy: but the fact remains- almost 30 percent of his proposed tax cut goes only to Americans that make more than 1 million per year.
Moderator Lehrer broke in to give the Texan a chance to respond: I just want to see if he buys that.
No, responded the Texas Governor. Let me just tell you what the facts are... Let me give you one example: the Strunk family... they make a 51,000 dollars combined income: they pay about... 3,500 dollars in taxes. Under my plan, they get 1800 dollars of tax relief. Under Vice President Gore's plan, they get 145 dollars of tax relief. Now you tell me: who stands on the side of the rich?... He would rather spend the Strunks' 1800 dollars and I would rather the Strunks spend their own money.
Jim Lehrer cut in: Do you see it that way, Vice President Gore?
No, I don't, Gore responded. The analysis that he's talking about leaves out more than half of the tax cuts that I have proposed. And if you just add the numbers up- he still hasn't denied it... Every middle-class family is eligible for a tax cut under my proposal.
Governor Bush retorted: Let me talk about tax cuts one more time. This is a man whose plan excludes 50 million Americans.
Not so, the Vice-President answered.
Bush went on: Take, for example, the marriage penalty. If you itemize your tax return, you get no marriage penalty relief. He picks and chooses- he decides who the right people are. It's a fundamental difference of opinion... This man's been disparaging my plan with all this Washington fuzzy math. I want you to hear a problem we've got in America: if you're a single mother making 22,000 dollars a year and you've got two children- under this Tax Code- for every additional dollar you make, you pay a higher marginal rate on that dollar than someone making 200,000 dollars a year and that is not right! And so my plan drops the rate from 15 percent to 10 percent and increases the child credit from 500 dollars to 1000 dollars to make the code more fair for everybody, not just a few... Everybody who pays taxes ought to get some relief.
Round Eight: Bush did even better in this "Round" with his forcefully enunciating his tax cut proposal than he had when he had first mentioned it earlier in the Debate, when he won "Round One". While it is true that the Texan did not deny Gore's numbers, neither did the Vice President deny the Governor's- at least not specifically and effectively. Scoring: Bush 10, Gore 9 [cumulative: Gore 76, Bush 74 ]
Moderator Lehrer asked the next question of the Texas Governor: Both of you have promised... to change dramatically public education in this country- but of the public money spent on education, only 6 percent of it is Federal money... you want to change 100 percent of public education with 6 percent of the money: is that possible?
Bush replied: Well, I tell you, we can make a huge difference by saying: if you receive Federal money, we expect you to show results. After describing the KIPP Academy in Houston, Texas (which was highlighted during a segment of the Republican National Convention two months ago) and its work, the Texan added: Many of you viewers don't know- but Laura and I sent our girls to public school: they went to Austin High School. And many of the public schools are meeting the call but- unfortunately- a lot of schools are trapping children in schools that just won't teach and we'll change that... What I care about is children... and you know what? It can happen in America with the right kind of leadership.
Gore rebutted: Look, we agree on a couple of things on Education: I strongly support new accountability- so does Governor Bush; I strongly support local control- so does Governor Bush. I favor testing as a way of measuring performance: every school, every school district- have every State test the children. I've also proposed voluntary national tests in the fourth grade and eighth grade and a form of testing that the Governor has not endorsed: I think all new teachers ought to be tested- including in the subjects they teach... I want the Federal Government, consistent with local control and new accountability, to make improvement of our schools the number one priority...
The Texas Governor responded: The difference is: there are no new accountability measures in Vice President Gore's plan. He says he's for voluntary testing: you can't have voluntary testing, you must have mandatory testing! You must say that if you receive money, you must show us whether or not the children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. That's the difference... Testing is the cornerstone of reform. You know how I know? Because it's the cornerstone of reform in the State of Texas... and the cornerstone is to have strong accountability in return for money... I believe if we find poor children trapped in schools that won't teach, we need to free the parents. I think we need to expand education savings accounts: that's something the Vice President's vice-presidential running mate supports. Now, there's big differences of opinion: he won't support freeing local districts from the strings of Federal money.
The Vice President retorted: Well, first of all, I do have mandatory testing... The voluntary national test is in addition to the mandatory testing we require of states... Here are a couple of differences, though, Jim: Governor Bush is in favor of vouchers, which take taxpayer money away from public schools and give them to private schools that are not accountable for how the money is used and don't have to take all applicants. Now, private schools play a great role in our Society... 90 percent of our children go to public schools... if it's a failing school, shut it down and open it under a new principal with a turnaround team of specialists... The Governor, if it's a failing school, would leave the children in that failing school for three years and then give them a little bit of money to the parents- a down payment on a down payment for private school tuition- and pretend that that would be enough for them to go out and go to a private school.
Wait a minute, wait a minute, Bush protested. First of all, most good governance is at the State level. See- here's the mentality: I'm going to make the State do this; I'm going to make the State do that. All I'm saying is: if you spend money, show us results and test every year, which you do not do, Mr. Vice President. You do not test every year. You can say you do to the cameras- but you don't, unless you've changed your plan here on the stage.
Now it was Gore's turn to protest: I didn't say that, I didn't say that!
The Texan continued: One of the things that we've got to be careful about in Politics is throwing money at a system that has not yet been reformed. More money is needed- and I'd spend more money- but step one is to make sure we reform the system- to have a system in place that leaves no child behind... if you don't know what you're supposed to know, we'll make sure you do early and before it's too late.
Round Nine: Governor Bush clearly won this "Round", forcefully pushing the Education issue. Gore held his ground as regards his own vision re: Education but he was clearly- for the most part- bested by Bush on the main thrusts of reforming the public school system. Scoring: Bush 10, Gore 9 [cumulative: Gore 85, Bush 84 ]
Lehrer asked the next question: It's often been said that, in the final analysis, about 90 percent of being the President of the United States is dealing with the unexpected, not with issues that came up in the campaign. Vice President Gore, can you point to a decision- an action you've taken- that illustrates your ability to handle the unexpected, the crisis under fire, et cetera?
Gore responded: When the action in Kosovo was dragging on and we were searching for a solution to the problem... I invited the former prime minister of Russia to my house and took a risk in asking him to get personally involved... but it was a calculated risk that paid off... I have been in Public Service for 24 years... and, throughout all that time, the people I have fought for have been the middle class families. and I have been willing to stand up to powerful interests like the big insurance companies, the drug companies, the HMOs, the oil companies.. I cast my lot with the People even when it means you have to stand up to some powerful interests who are trying to turn the policies and the laws to their advantage.
Bush rebutted: Well, I've been standing up to big Hollywood, big trial lawyers- what was the question? It was about emergencies, wasn't it?... You know, as Governor, one of the things you have to deal with is catastrophe... that's the time you're tested... it's a time to test your mettle. It's the time to test your heart when you see people whose lives have been turned upside down... But that's what Governors do. Governors are oftentimes found on the frontlines of catastrophic situations.
Round Ten: Bush clearly won this "Round", too- giving him a streak of 5 in a row: Gore's citing his role in getting the Russians involved in forcing Serbia to surrender as a "risk" was rather lame (especially in light of the trouble Governor Bush got himself in earlier in the Debate when he suggested getting the Russians involved in pushing Milosevic out of power) and the Vice President's recitation of his campaign litany of all the special interests to which he stood up was well punctured by Bush bringing the question back to its original intent. Bush citing his own experiences handling the unexpected as Governor of Texas was much more to the point. Scoring: Bush 10, Gore 9 [cumulative: tied once again at 94-all ]
Jim Lehrer then asked the next question of Governor Bush: There can be all types of crises... There could be a crisis, for instance, in the financial area... The stock market could take a tumble- there could be a failure of a major financial institution. What is your general attitude toward government intervention in such events?
Bush responded: Well, it depends- obviously. But what I would do, first and foremost, is I would get in touch with the Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to find out all the facts and all the circumstances... I would come up with a game plan to deal with it. That's what Governors end up doing. We end up being problem-solvers: we come up with practical, common-sense solutions for problems that we're confronted with. And in this case- in case of a financial crisis- I would gather all the facts before I made the decision as to what the government ought or ought not to do.
The Vice President rebutted: My friend Bob Rubin, former Secretary of the Treasury, is here. He's a very close advisor to me and a great friend in all respects. I have had a chance to work with him and Alan Greenspan and others on the crisis following the collapse of the Mexican peso, when the Asian financial crisis raised the risk of worldwide recession that could affect our economy... and now, of course, the euro's value has been dropping but seems to be under control. But it started for me- in the last eight years- when I had the honor of casting the tiebreaking vote to end the old economic plan and put into place a new economic plan that has helped us to make some progress- 22 million new jobs and the greatest prosperity ever. But it's not good enough- and my attitude is: you ain't seen nothing yet. We need to do more and better.
Jim Lehrer then asked Governor Bush: So... would you agree there is no basic difference here on... Federal government intervening in what might be seen by others to be a private financial crisis, if it's that?
No, there's no difference on that, the Texas Republican responded. There is a difference, though, as to what the economy has meant: I think the economy has meant more for the Gore and Clinton folks than the Gore and Clinton folks has meant for the economy. I think most of the economic growth that has taken place is a result of ingenuity and hard work and entrepreneurship. And that's the role of government... to encourage that. But in terms of the response to the question: no.
Gore jumped in at this point: I think that the American People deserve credit for the great economy that we have- and it's their ingenuity: I agree with that- but, you know, they were working pretty hard eight years ago. The difference is: we've got a new policy- and instead of concentrating on tax cuts mostly for the wealthy... I want tax cuts for the middle class families- and I want to continue the prosperity and make sure it enriches not just the few, but all of our families. Look, we have gone from the biggest deficits to the biggest surpluses... but it's not good enough: too many people have been left behind. We have got to do much more- and the key is job training, education, investments in health care and education, the environment, retirement security. And, incidentally, we have got to preserve Social Security and I am totally opposed to diverting 1 dollar out of every 6 away from the Social Security trust fund, as the Governor has proposed, into the stock market. I want new incentives for savings and investments for the young couples who are working hard so they can save and invest on their own on top of Social Security , not at the expense of Social Security as the Governor proposes.
The Governor retorted: Two points- one: a lot of people are still waiting for that 1992 middle class tax cut... they've had their chance to deliver a tax cut to you. Secondly, the surest way to bust this economy is to increase the role and the size of the Federal government... This is a plan that is going to increase the bureaucracy by 20,000 people- his targeted tax cut is so detailed, so much fine print, that it's going to require numerous IRS agents. No- we need someone to simplify the Code, to be fair, to continue prosperity by sharing some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills, particularly those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
The Vice President responded in kind: As for 20,000 new bureaucrats- as you call them- you know that the size of the Federal government will go down in a Gore Administration. In the Reinventing Government Program, you just look at the numbers- it is 300,000 people smaller today than it was eight years ago. Now the fact is that you are going to have a hard time convincing folks that we were a whole lot better off eight years ago than we are today- but that's not the question; the question is: will we be better off four years from now than we are today? And as for the surest way to threaten our prosperity,having a 1.9 trillion dollar tax cut- almost half of which goes to the wealthy- and a 1 trillion Social Security privatization proposal is the surest way to put our budget into deficit, raise interest rates and put our prosperity at risk.
Bush jumped in once more: I can't let the man continue with fuzzy math. It's 1.3 trillion, Mr. Vice President. It's going to go to everyone who pays taxes. I'm not one of these kinds of Presidents that says ' you get tax relief and you don't ' - I'm not going to be a pick-and-chooser!
Round Eleven: This was a most interesting "Round" because it went back and forth- Gore had the upper hand at first with, again, his being part of the Administration in power already dealing with financial crises. Bush came back in the middle with his talk of simplifying the Tax Code and claiming that the Vice President would increase the size of the Federal government but Gore skillfully parried that by pushing his core issues, leaving Bush to complain- once again- about "fuzzy math". The Texan came back a bit with his claim that his tax cut would go to everyone and that he would not be a "pick-and-chooser" but I think Gore won this "Round" by appealing better to his core of support than Bush did to his. Scoring: Gore 10, Bush 9 [cumulative: Gore 104, Bush 103 ]
Jim Lehrer then asked a question of Al Gore: Many experts... say it will be impossible for either of you, essentially, to keep the system viable on its own during the coming Baby Boomer retirement onslaught without either reducing benefits or increasing taxes- do you disagree?
Gore responded: I do disagree- because if we keep our prosperity going, if we can continue balancing the budget and paying down the debt, then the strong economy keeps generating surpluses... I will keep Social Security in a lockbox and that pays down the National Debt- and the interest savings, I would put right back into Social Security: that extends the life of Social Security for 55 years... the Governor wants to divert 1 out of every 6 dollars off into the stock market, which means he would drain 1 trillion out of the Social Security trust fund... over the next 10 years. And Social Security, under that approach, would go bankrupt within this generation...
Bush rebutted: Well, I thought it was interesting on the two minutes he spent about a minute and a half on my plan, which means he doesn't want you to know that what he's doing is loading up IOUs for future generations. He puts no real assets in the Social Security system... For those of you he is trying to scare into the voting booth to vote for him, hear me loud and clear: a promise made will be a promise kept. And you bet we want to allow younger workers to take some of their own money- see, that's a difference of opinion: the Vice President thinks it's the Government's money; the payroll taxes are your money... He keeps claiming it is going to be out of Social Security. It's your money- it's part of your retirement benefits: it's a fundamental difference between what we believe... I want you to have your own asset that you can call your own; I want you to have an asset you can pass on from one generation to the next- I want you to get a better rate of return for your ow n money than the paltry 2 percent that the current Social Security gets today... There's 2.3 trillion of surplus that we can use to make sure younger workers have a Social Security plan in the future- if we're smart, if we trust workers and if we understand the power of the compounding rate of interest.
The Vice President retorted: Here's the difference: I give a new incentive for younger workers to save their own money and invest their own money, but not at the expense of Social Security- but atop Social Security. My plan is ' Social Security plus'- the Governor's plan is ' Social Security minus' . Your future benefits would be cut by the amount that's diverted into the stock market- and, if you make bad investments, that's too bad...
The Governor came back with: Let me tell you what your plan is: it's not 'Social Security plus' - it's Social Security plus huge debt, is what it is. You leave future generations with tremendous IOUs. It's time to have a leader that doesn't put off, you know, tomorrow what we should do today...
Gore answered: When FDR established Social Security, they didn't call them IOUs- they called it the full faith and credit of the United States. If you don't have trust in that, I do...
The Texan replied: This is a Government that thinks a 2 percent rate of return on your money is satisfactory- it's not. This is a Government that says younger workers can't possibly have their own asset. We need to think differently about the issue. We need to make sure our seniors get the promise made...
Round Twelve: Another difficult "Round" to score. Neither Gore nor Bush really addressed the fundamental idea- behind the original question- that neither candidate would, in reality, be able to save the Social Security system in the long run, though the Vice President did try to do so- to an extent and not very well- at the very beginning of this segment before launching into a parsing of the financial aspects of the Texas Governor's Social Security plan. What one was left with- at the end of this "Round"- were, in the main, the fundamental differences between the two candidates on this issue and little more. Bush, in my opinion, more appealed to his core constituency in this "Round" than Gore did... but not by much! Scoring: Bush 10, Gore 9 [cumulative: tied, 113-all ]
Moderator Lehrer asked the last question: Governor Bush, are there issues of character that distinguish you from Vice President Gore?
The Texas Governor responded: Well, the man loves his wife! And I appreciate that a lot and I love mine. And the man loves his family a lot and I appreciate that because I love my family. I think the thing that discouraged me about the Vice President was uttering those famous words 'no controlling legal authority'. I felt like- that there needed to be a better sense of responsibility of what was going on in the White House... I believe they've moved that sign 'The Buck Stops Here' from the Oval Office desk to... the Lincoln Bedroom and that's not good for the country. It's not right! We need to have a new look about how we conduct ourselves in office. There's a huge trust... and we can do better than the past Administration has done... it's time for a new look- it's time for a fresh start after a season of cynicism... I don't know the man well- but I've been disappointed about how... his Administration has conducted the fund-raising affairs: you know, going to the Buddhist temple and then claiming it wasn't a fund-raiser is just not my view of responsibility.
The Vice President rebutted: I think we ought to attack our country's problems, not attack each other: I want to spend my time making this country even better than it is- not trying to make you out to be a bad person. You may want to focus on scandals- I want to focus on results. As I said a couple of months ago: I stand here as my own man and I want you to see me for who I really am... I may not be the most exciting politician but I will work hard for you every day; I will fight for middle-class families and working men and women- and I will never let you down.
Lehrer asked a follow-up of the Texas Governor: So.. what are you saying when you mention the fund-raising scandals or the fund-raising charges that involved Vice President Gore? What are you saying that the voters should take from that that's relevant to this election?
Bush replied: I just think they ought to factor it in when they make their decision in the voting booth...
In what way?, Lehrer asked pointedly.
The Republican continued: I think that people need to be held responsible for the actions they take in life... I think that that's part of the need for cultural change: we need to say that each of us need to be responsible for what we do- and people in the highest office in the Land must be responsible for decisions they made in life... That's the way I've conducted myself as Governor of Texas- and that's the way I'll conduct myself as President of the United States, should I be fortunate enough to earn your vote.
Lehrer turned to the Vice President: Are you saying all of this is irrelevant... to this office?
Gore responded: No... I think the American People should take into account who we are as individuals, what our experience is, what our positions on the issues are, what our proposals are... I'm offering you my own vision, my own experience, my own proposals- and, incidentally, one of them is this: this current campaign financing system has not reflected credit on anybody in either Party. And that's one of the reasons that I've said before... the very first bill that Joe Lieberman and I will send to the United States Congress is the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill- and the reasons it's that important is that all of the other issues... all of these other proposals are going to be a lot easier to get passed for the American People if we limit the influence of Special Interest money and give Democracy back to the American People. And I wish Governor Bush would join me this evening in endorsing the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill.
Bush retorted: You know, this man has no credibility on the issue: as a matter of fact, I read in the New York Times where he said he co-sponsored the McCain-Feingold campaign fundraising bill- but he wasn't in the Senate with Senator Feingold... What you need to know about me is that I'm going to uphold the law: I'm going to have an Attorney-General who enforces the law- that... the time for campaign funding reform is after the election: this man has outspent me, the Special Interests are outspending me and I am not going to lay down my arms in the middle of a campaign for somebody who has got no credibility on the issue.
Jim Lehrer followed up: Senator McCain said last August that it doesn't matter which one of you is President of the United States in January, there's going to be 'blood on the floor' of the United States Senate and he is going to tie up the United States Senate until campaign finance reform is passed that includes a ban on soft money. First of all, would you support that effort by him or would you sign a bill that is finally passed that included soft [money]?
The Texas Governor responded: Look- I would support an effort to ban corporate soft money and labor union soft money so long as there was dues checkoff- I've campaigned on this ever since the primaries. I think there needs to be instant disclosure on the Internet as to who's given to whom- I think we need to fully enforce the law... Be strict about it- be firm about it.
The Vice President rebutted: Look, Governor Bush- you have attacked my credibility and my character and I am not going to respond in kind... One of the serious problems- hear me well- is that our system of government is being undermined by too much influence coming from Special Interest money- we have to get a handle on it. And, like John McCain, I have learned from experience- and it's not a new experience for me; 24 years ago, I supported full public financing for all Federal Elections- and anyone who thinks I'm just saying it'll be the first bill I'll send to the Congress, I want you to know I care passionately about this and I will fight until it becomes law.
Bush retorted: I want people to hear what he just said- he is for full public financing of congressional elections; I'm absolutely, adamantly opposed to that: I don't want the Government financing congressional elections.
Time up, said Moderator Lehrer. I would just say: on that wonderful note of disagreement, we have to stop here.
Round Thirteen (Final Round): I don't consider the Closing Statements made by either candidate to be part of the Debate: they were, in my opinion, a variant of the themes already enunciated by the candidates during the Fall campaign so far and primarily in their respective Acceptance Speeches before their respective Party's National Convention this past Summer. The substance of the Debate was in the back-and-forth of the Debate itself; therefore, the segment above is that which determines the Final Score of this first of three Presidential Debates. Governor Bush, in my opinion, badly fumbled the ball on the last scoring drive of the game: he properly scored Gore on the character issue but failed to follow through- offering no specifics; his assumption that everyone knew what he was talking about when he offered veiled references to "the Buddhist temple" and an Attorney-General who, by implication, was not enforcing the law was compounded by his use of sardonic humor (for example, the reference to "the man loves his wife"- clearly a reference to "The KISS" on the stage of the Democratic National Convention) which simply made Bush out to be the "Texas Bob Dole". This allowed the Vice President to well play the "let's talk about issues, not scandal" card and the "I'm my own man" (code for ' whatever Bill Clinton did in the Oval Office has nothing to do with me') theme; in the end, the Texan ended up finishing the (well... sort of) "debating" portion of this Debate as something of a whiner (complaining about how much he has been outspent). Bush forcefully declared his opposition to publicly financed Federal Elections but it was too little, too late: he had already allowed Gore to stay above the fray. Scoring: Gore 10, Bush 8
FINAL SCORE: Vice President Gore [DEMOCRAT] 123;
Governor Bush [REPUBLICAN] 121
Al Gore won this first Debate... but not by as much as his
supporters clearly hoped: George W. Bush did not- as his opposition clearly
hoped- self destruct. If I were the Gore/Lieberman campaign, I would be somewhat
concerned that Bush did as well as he did; if I were the Bush/Cheney campaign, I
would be concerned at the not-quite-so-subtle "unraveling" of their
candidate near the end as well as any of the "Rounds" in which I gave Bush
an 8 to Gore's 10 (and one of the
8s I gave Bush was a rather generous one: it COULD easily have
been his only 7!)