Debate Between the Presidential Candidates:
Al Gore and George W. Bush
St. Louis, Missouri, October 17, 2000
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Part Three | Analysis
Read the transcript
Mr. LEHRER: ...and Governor Bush. We're going to--we're going to have to
move on. We're going to have to move on. All right, there were 12 questions
on foreign and military matters. And the first one that we're going to ask
will be directed to--to you, Governor Bush. And David Norwood is going to ask
Mr. Norwood, where are you? There you are.
Mr. DAVID NORWOOD: What would you make--what would make you the best
candidate in office during the Middle East crisis?
Gov. BUSH: I've been a leader and a person who has to set a clear vision and
convince people to follow. I--I got a strategy for the Middle East. And
first let me say that our nation now needs to speak with one voice during this
time, and I applaud the president for working hard to defuse tensions. Our
nation needs to be credible and strong. When we say we're somebody's friend,
everybody's got to believe it. Israel's our friend and we'll stand by Israel.
We need to reach out to modern Arab nations as well to build coalitions to
keep the peace. I--I also need--the next leader needs to be patient. We
can't put the Middle East peace process on our timetable. It's got to be on
the timetable of the--of the people that are trying--that we're trying to
bring to the peace table. We can't dictate the terms of peace, which means we
have to be steady. Can't worry about polls or focus groups. You've got to
have to have a clear vision.
That's what a leader does. A leader also understands that the United States
must be strong to keep the peace. Saddam Hussein's still--is a threat in the
Middle East. Our coalition against Saddam has--unraveling, the sanctions are
loosened. I--I--I--he's a man who may be developing weapons of mass
destruction. We don't know because inspectors aren't in.
So to answer your question, it requires a clear vision, a willingness to stand
by our friends, and the credibility for people, both friend and foe, to
understand when America says something, we mean it.
Mr. LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
Vice Pres. GORE: I see a future when the world is at peace with the United
States of America promoting the values of democracy and human rights and
freedom all around the world. Even in Iran they have had an election that
began to bring about some change. We stand for those values, and we have to
be willing to assert them. Right now our military is the strongest in the
entire history of the world. I will--I pledge to you I will do whatever is
necessary to make sure that it stays that way.
Now what can I bring to that challenge? When I was a young man, my father was
a senator opposed to the Vietnam War. When I graduated from college,
there--there were plenty of fancy ways to get out of going and being a part of
that. I went and I volunteered and I went to Vietnam. I didn't do the most
or run the gravest risk by a long shot, but I learned what it was like to be
an enlisted man in the United States Army.
In the Congress, in the House of Representatives, I served on the House
Intelligence Committee, and I worked hard to--to learn the subject of nuclear
arms control and how we can defuse these tensions and deal with
non-proliferation and deal with the problems of terrorism and these new
weapons of mass destruction. Look, we're going to face some serious new
challenges in the next four years. I've worked on that long and hard.
When I went to the United States Senate, I asked for an assignment to the
Armed Services Committee. And while I was there, I worked on a bipartisan
basis, as I did in the House. I sa--worked with former President Reagan
to--on modernization of our strategic weaponry. In the--in the Senate, I was
one of only 10 Democrats, along with Senator Joe Lieberman, to support
Governor Bush's dad in the Persian Gulf War resolution. And for the last
eight years, I've served on the...
Mr. LEHRER: Vice President...
Vice Pres. GORE: ...on the National Security Council. Could I say just one
other thing here?
Mr. LEHRER: No, sir. We'll get back with the--I'm going to hear--the next
question is to you and...
Vice Pres. GORE: Fine. I'll wait.
Mr. LEHRER: ...it's a related--it's a related question and it's going to be
asked by Kenneth Allen.
Vice Pres. GORE: All right.
Mr. LEHRER: Mr. Allen?
Vice Pres. GORE: I think that he--he gets an a--oh, I'm sorry, you're right.
Mr. LEHRER: Mr. Allen? Right there.
Mr. KENNETH ALLEN: Mr. Vice President, today our military forces are
stretched thinner and doing more than they've ever done before during peace
time. I'd like to know what you--I think we'd all like to know what you
if--as president, would do to ensure proper resourcing for the current mission
and/or more selectively choosing the time and place that our forces will be
used around the world.
Vice Pres. GORE: Thank you, sir. I--just to finish briefly, I--I started to
say that for the last eight years I've been on the National Security Council
and last week I broke o--I suspended campaigning for--for two days or parts of
two days to go back and participate in the meeting that charted the
president's summit meeting that he just returned from earlier today. And our
team over--our country's team over there did a--did a great job. It's a
The United States has to be strong in order to make sure that we can help
promote peace and security and stability. And that means keeping our military
strong. Now I said earlier that we are the strongest military, but we need
to--to continue improving readiness and making sure that our--our military
personnel are adequately paid and that the combination of their pay and their
benefits and their retirement, as veterans, is--is comparable to the stiff
competition that's coming in this strong economy from the--from the private
And we--I have supported the largest pay raise in many a year, and I support
another one now. I also support modernization of our strategic an--and
tactical weaponry. The governor's proposed skipping a generation of
technology. I think that's--I think that would be a mistake because I think
one of the ways we've been able to be so successful in Kosovo and Bosnia and
Haiti and in other places, is by having the technological edge. You know, we
won that conflict in Kosovo without losing a single human life in--in combat,
a single American life in--in combat.
Now readiness. The trends before we--before I got my current job were on the
decline, the number of divisions were reduced. I argued that we should
reverse that trend and take it back up. And I'm happy to tell you that we
have. Now in my budget, for the next--for the next 10 years, I propose $100
billion for this purpose. The governor proposes $45 billion. I propose more
than twice as much because I think it's needed.
Mr. LEHRER: Governor Bush, two minutes.
Gov. BUSH: If this were a spending contest, I'd come in second. I--I
readily admit I'm not going to grow the size of the federal government like he
is. Here's--your question was deployment. It must be in the national
interest--it must be in our vital interest whether we ever send troops. The
mission must be clear. Soldiers must understand why we're going.
The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished and
the exit strategy needs to be well defined. I'm concerned that we're
overdeployed around the world. See I think the mission has--has somewhat
become fuzzy. Should I be fortunate enough to earn your confidence, the
mission of the United States military will be to be prepared and ready to
fight and win war. And, therefore, prevent war from happening in the first
There may be some moments when we use our troops as peacekeepers, but not
often. The vice president mentioned my view of--long-term for the military.
I want to make sure the equipment for our military is the best it can possibly
be, of course. But we have an opportunity--we have an opportunity to use our
research and development capacities, the great technology of the United
States, to make our military lighter, harder to find, more lethal. We have an
opportunity, really, if you think about it, if we're smart and have got a
strategic vision and a leader who understands strategic planning, to make sure
that our--we change the--change the terms of the battlefield of the future so
we can make--keep the peace. This is a peaceful nation and I intend to keep
Spending money is one thing, but spending money without a strategic plan can
oftentimes be wasted. First thing I'm going to do is ask the secretary of
Defense, `Le--develop a plan,' so we--making sure we're not spending our money
on political projects, but on projects to make sure our soldiers are well
paid, well housed and have the best equipment in the world.
Mr. LEHRER: Governor Bush, another kind of gun question. It'll be asked by
Robert Lutz. Mr. Lutz.
Mr. ROBERT LUTZ: Governor Bush...
Gov. BUSH: Yes, sir.
Mr. LUTZ: ...I would just like to know what is your opposition to the Brady
Gov. BUSH: I--could you--I'm sorry, I didn't hear that.
Mr. LUTZ: Would like to know why you object to the Brady handgun bill--if you
do object to it--because a recent TV ad i--shows that the National Rifle
Association says if you are elected that they will be working out of your
Gov. BUSH: Well, I...
Mr. LUTZ: I can just trying to...
Gov. BUSH: I don't think the National Rifle Association ran that ad, but let
me just tell you my position on guns in general, sir, if you don't mind.
Mr. LEHRER: I'm not--excuse me, I'm not sure he's finished with his
Gov. BUSH: Oh, I'm sorry.
Mr. LEHRER: ...Governor, I'm sorry.
Mr. LUTZ: Well, see that kind of bothers me, you know, when I see an ad like
that. I wonder if you could explain that ad to me.
Gov. BUSH: Well, I don't think I ran the ad. I think somebody who doesn't
want me to be president might have run that ad. It's--that wasn't my ad and I
think it might have been one of my opponent's ads. Here's what I believe,
sir. I believe law-abiding citizens ought to be allowed to protect themselves
and their families. I believe that we ought to keep guns out of the hands of
people who shouldn't have them.
That's why I'm for instant background checks at gun shows. I'm for trigger
locks. I think that makes sense. As a matter of fact, we distributed free
trigger locks in the state of Texas so that people can get them and put them
on their guns to make their guns more safe. I think we ought to raise the age
at which juveniles can have a gun. But I also believe strongly that we need
to enforce laws on the books. That the best way to make sure that we keep our
society safe and secure is to hold people accountable for--for breaking the
law. If we catch somebody illegally selling a gun, there needs to be a
consequence. If we keep--somebody, you know, illegally using a gun, there
needs to be a consequence. Enforcement of law. And the federal government
There's a great program called Project Exile in Richmond, Virginia. We
focused federal taxpayers' money and--federal prosecutors--and went after
people who were illegally--illegally using guns. To me that's how you make
society the safest it can be. And so, yeah, sometimes I agree with some of
these groups in Washington and sometimes I don't. I'm a pretty independent
thinker. But one thing I'm for is a safe society. And I'm for enforcing the
laws on the books and that's what's going to happen should I earn your
Mr. LEHRER: Vice President Gore.
Vice Pres. GORE: Well, wan--want to--it was not one of my ads, either,
Governor, but I--I am familiar with the statement and it was made by one of
the top-ranking officials of that organization.
Let me tell you my position. I think that some commonsense gun safety
measures are certainly needed with the flood of cheap handguns that have
sometimes been working their way into the hands of the wrong people. But all
of my proposals are focused on that problem: gun safety. None of my
proposals would have any effect on hunters or sports men or people who use
rifles. They are--they are aimed at the real problem.
Let's make our schools safe. Let's make our neighborhoods safe. Let's--let's
have a three-day waiting period, a cooling off, so we can have a background
check to make sure that criminals and people who really shouldn't have guns
don't get them.
But I'd like to use my remaining time on this exchange, Jim, to respond to--to
an exchange that took place just a moment ago because a couple of times the
governor has said that I am for a bigger government. Governor, I'm not. And
let me tell you what the record shows.
For the last eight years, I have had the--the challenge of running the
streamlining program called reinventing government. And if there are any
federal employees in this group, you know what that means. The federal
government has been reduced in size by more than 300,000 people and it's now
the smallest number that we have had since--the smallest in size since John
During the--the last five years, Texas' government has gone up in size. The
federal government has gone down; Texas' government has gone up. Now my plan
for the future--I see a time when we have smaller, smarter government where
you don't have to wait in line because you can get services online. Cheaper,
better, faster. We can do that.
Mr. LEHRER: Steve Luker has a question and it is for Vice President Gore.
Mr. Luker. There you are.
Mr. STEVE LUKER: Vice President Gore, the family farms are disappearing and
having a hard time even in the current positive economic environment. What
steps would you or your administration take on agricultural policy
developments to protect the family farms for this multifunctional service they
Vice Pres. GORE: We've got a bumper crop this year, but that's the good
news. You know what the bad news is that follows on that. The prices are
low. In the last several years, the so-called Freedom to Farm law has, in my
view, been mostly a failure. I want to change many of its provisions.
Now many here will--will--who are not involved in farming don't--won't follow
this, so just forgive me, because the 2 percent of the country that is
involved in farming is important because the rest of us wouldn't eat except
for them. An--and you guys have been having a hard time and I want to fight
for you. I want to change those provisions. I want to restore a meaningful
And I think that you pointed the way in your comments, because when you say
there are multiple things accomplished by farmers, you're specifically
including conservation and protection of the environment, and, yes, farmers
are the first environmentalists. And when they decide not to plow a field
that is vulnerable to soil erosion, that may cost them a little money, but it
helps the environment. I think that we ought to have an expanded conservation
reserve program and I think that the environmental benefits that come from
sound management of the land ought to represent a new way for farmers to get
some income that will enable them--enable you, to make sensible choices in
crop rotation and when you leave the--the land fallow and the rest.
Now I'll go beyond that an--and say I think we need much more focused rural
economic development programs. I see a time when--when the Internet-based
activities are more available in the rural areas and where the extra source of
income that farm families used to have from shoe factories is replaced by an
extra source of income from--from working in the information economy. So we
need to do a lot of things but we ought to start with a better safety net.
Mr. LEHRER: Governor Bush, two minutes.
Gov. BUSH: I'd like our farmers feeding the world. We're the best in
the--we're the best--best producers in the world and I want--I want the
farmers feeding the world. We need to open up markets. Exports are down.
And every time an export number goes down, it hurts the farmer. I want the
next president to have fast-track negotiating authority to open up markets
around the world. We're the best. We're the most efficient--efficient
farmers. I don't want to use food as a diplomatic weapon from this point
forward. We shouldn't be using food. It hurts the farmers. It's not the
right thing to do.
I wan--I'm for value-added processing. We need to be mov--more work on
value-added processing. You should take the raw product you produce--I
presume you're a farmer--off your farm, and convert it. I think value-added
processing is important. I'm for research and development--spending research
and development money so that we can use our technological base to figure out
new uses for farm products.
I'm for getting rid of the death tax, completely getting rid of the death tax.
One reason family farmers are forced to sell early is because of the death
tax. This is a bad tax. The president shouldn't have vetoed that bill. It's
a--it's a tax that taxes people twice. It penalizes the family farmer. So
should I be fortunate to earn your vote, I also under--want to open up
markets, but I also understand that farming is a part of our national
I'm from a big farm state with the second-biggest state--farming state in the
country, and I hear from my farmer friends all the time. The vice president's
right. By the way, every day is Earth Day if you own the land, and I--I like
the--I like the policies that will encourage farmers to set aside land as well
for conservation purposes. Thank you.
Mr. LEHRER: A quick thing on the inheritance taxes. There is a difference
between the two of you on this. Vice President Gore, the...
Vice Pres. GORE: Yeah. I--I'm for a massive reform of the estate tax or the
Mr. LEHRER: Estate tax.
Vice Pres. GORE: ...and under the plan that I've proposed, 80 percent of all
family farms would be completely exempt from the estate tax, and--and the vast
majority of all family businesses would be completely exempt, and all of the
others would have sharply reduced, so 80 percent--now the problem with
completely eliminating it goes back to the--to the wealthiest 1 percent. The
amount of money that has to be raised in taxes from middle-class families to
make up for completely eliminating that on--on the very wealthiest, the
billionaires, that would--that would be an extra heavy burden on middle-class
families, and so let's do it for most all, but not completely eliminate it for
the very top.
Mr. LEHRER: What's the case for doing that, Governor?
Gov. BUSH: Eliminating the death tax...
Mr. LEHRER: Completely, for everybody.
Gov. BUSH: Because people shouldn't be taxed twice on their assets. It's
either unfair for some, or unfair for all. Again, this is just a difference
of opinion. If you're from Washington, you want to pick and choose winners.
I don't think that's the role of the president. I think if you're going to
have tax relief, everybody benefits. Secondly, I think your plan--there's a
lot of fine print in your plan, Mr. Vice President, in all due respect. It
is--I'm not so sure 80 percent of the people get--get the death tax. I know
this--100 percent will get it if I--if I'm the president. I just don't think
it's fair to tax people's assets twice, regardless of your status. It's a
fairness issue. It's an issue of principle, not politics.
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