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Debate Between the Presidential Candidates:
Al Gore and George W. Bush

Winston-Salem, North Carolina, October 11, 2000

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Analysis

Read the transcript

Mr. LEHRER: So what would you say, Governor, to somebody who would say, `Hey, wait a minute. Why not Africa? I mean, why--why the Middle East? Why the Balkans, but not Africa when 600,000 people's lives are at risk?'

Gov. BUSH: Oh, I understand, and--and--and Africa's important, and we've got to do a lot of work in Africa to promote democracy and trade. And there's some--the vice president mentioned Nigeria. It's a fledgling democracy; we gotta work with Nigeria. It's an important continent. But there's got to be priorities, and the Middle East is a priority for a lot of reasons, as is Europe and the Far East and our own hemisphere, and those are my four top priorities, should I be the president. It's not to say we won't be engaged nor trying to--nor--nor should we--you know, work hard to get other nations to come together to prevent atrocity.

I thought the best example of--of a way to handle a situation was East Timor when we provided logistical support to the Australians, support that--that only we can provide. I thought that was a good model. But we can't be all things to all people in the world, Jim. And I think that's where maybe the vice president and I begin to have some differences. I am--I am worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use.

You mentioned Haiti. I d--I wouldn't have sent troops to Haiti. I didn't think it was a mission worthwhile. It was a nation-building mission, and it--it was not very successful. It cost us billions--a couple billions of dollars, and I'm not so sure democracy's any better off in Haiti than it was before.

Mr. LEHRER: Vice President Gore, do you agree with the--with the governor's views on nation-building, the use of military--our military to--for nation-building as he described it and defined it?

Vice Pres. GORE: I don't think we agree on that. I--I would certainly also be judicious in evaluating any potential use of American troops overseas. I think we have to be very reticent about that. But, look, Jim, the world is changing so rapidly. The way I see it, the world's getting much closer together. Like it or not, we are now--the--the United States is now the natural leader of the world. All these other countries are looking to us.

Now just because we cannot be involved everywhere and shouldn't be doesn't mean that we should shy away from going in any--anywhere.

Now both of us are kind of, I guess, stating the other's position in a--in a maximalistic, extreme way, but--but I think there is a difference here. This idea of nation building is kind of a pejorative phrase. But think about the great conflict of the--the past century, World War II. During the--the years between World War I and World War II, a great lesson was learned by our military leaders and the people of the United

States. The lesson was that in the aftermath of World War I we kind of turned our backs and left them to their own devices and they brewed up a lot of trouble that quickly became World War II. And acting upon that lesson, in the aftermath of our great victory in World War II, we laid down the Marshall Plan, President Truman did. We got intimately involved in building NATO and other structures there. We--we still have lots of troops in--in Europe. And what did--what did we do in the--in the late '40s and '50s and '60s? We were nation building. And it was economic, but it was also military. And the confidence that those countries recovering from the wounds of war had by having troops there--we had--we had civil administrators come in to set up their--their--their ways of building their towns back.

Mr. LEHRER: You--you said in the Boston debate, Governor, on this issue of na--of nation building, that the United States military is overextended now. Where is it overextended? Where are there US military that you would bring home if you become president?

Gov. BUSH: Well, first let me say one comment about what the vice president said. I think one of the lessons in between World War I and World War II is we let our military atrophy. And we can't do that. We've got to rebuild our military. But one of the problems we have in the military is we're in a lot of places around the world. And I mentioned one, and that's the Balkans. I'd very much like to get our troops out of there. I recognize we can't do it now nor do I advocate an immediate withdrawal. I think that would be abrogation of our agreement with NATO. No one is suggesting that. But I think it ought to be one of our priorities to work with our European friends to convince them to put troops on the ground. And there is an example. Haiti is another example. Now there are some places where I think--you know, I supported the administration in Colombia. I think it's important for us to be training Colombians in that part of the world. The hemisphere is in our interest to have--to have a--a peaceful Colombia. But--go ahead.

Mr. LEHRER: I was just going to--you know, the use of the military. Some people are now suggesting that if you don't want to use the military to maintain the peace, to do the civil thing, is it time to consider a civil force of some kind that comes in after the military, that builds nations or--or all of that? Is that on your radar screen?

Gov. BUSH: Well, I don't think so. I think--I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I'm missing something here. I mean, we're going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war. That's what it's meant to do. And when it gets overextended, morale drops. And I'm not--I strongly believe we need to have a military presence in the Korean peninsula, not only to keep the penise--peace on the peninsula, but to keep regional stability. And I strongly believe we need to keep a presence in NATO. But I'm going to be judicious as to how to use the military. It needs to be in our vital interest; the mission needs to be clear and the exit strategy obvious.

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, I don--I don't disagree with that, and I certainly don't disagree that we ought to get our troops home from places like the Balkans as--as soon as we can, as soon as the mission is complete. That's what we did in Haiti. There--there are no more than a handful of American military personnel in--in Haiti now. And Haitians have their problems, but we gave them a chance to restore democracy. And that's really about all we can do. But if you have a situation like that right in our back yard, with chaos about to break out and flotillas forming to--to--to come across the water, and all kinds of violence there, right in one of our neighboring countries there, then--then--then I think that we did the right thing there. And--and as for this idea of--of nation building, the phrase sounds grandiose. And, you know, we can't be--we can't allow ourselves to get overextended. I certainly agree with that, and that's why I've supported building--building up our capacity. I've devoted in the budget I've proposed, as I said last week, more than twice as much as--as the governor has proposed. I think that it's in better shape now than he generally does. We've had some disagreements about that. He said that two divisions would have to report not ready for--for duty. And that's not what the--the joint chiefs say. But there's no doubt that we have to continue building up readiness and military strength. And we have to also be very cautious in the way we use our military.

Mr. LEHRER: In the non-military area of influencing events around the world, the--the financial and economic area, World Bank President Wolfensohn said recently, Governor, that US contributions to overseas development assistance is lower now almost than it has ever been. Is that a problem for you? Do you think--what is your--what is your idea about what the United States obligations are--I'm talking about financial assistance and that sort of thing--to other countries, the poor countries?

Gov. BUSH: Well, I mentioned Third World debt.

Mr. LEHRER: Sure.

Gov. BUSH: And that's a place where we can use our generosity to influence in a positive way, influence nations. I believe we ought to have foreign aid, but I don't think we ought to just have foreign aid for the sake of foreign aid. I think foreign aid needs to be used to encourage markets and reform. I think a lot of times we just spend aid and say we feel better about it and it ends up being spent the wrong way. And there's some pretty egregious examples recently, one being Russia, where we had IMF loans that end up in the pockets of a lot of powerful people and didn't help the--help the nation. I--I think the IMF has got a role in the world, but I don't want to see the IMF out there as a way to say to world bankers, `If you make a bad loan, we'll bail you out.' It needs to be available for emergency situations. I thought the president did the right thing on--with Mexico and was very strongly supportive of the administration in Mexico. But I--I don't think IMF and our--ought to be a--ought to be a stop loss for people who ought to be able to evaluate risk themselves. So I'll look at every place where we're investing money. I just want to make sure the return is good.

Mr. LEHRER: Do you think we're meeting our obligations properly?

Vice Pres. GORE: No. I would make some changes. I think there need to be reforms in the IMF. I've generally supported it but I've seen them make some calls that I thought were highly questionable. And I think that there's a general agreement in--in many par--parts of the world now that there ought to be changes in the IMF. The World Bank, I think, is generally doing a better job. But I think one of the big issues here that doesn't get nearly enough attention is the issue of corruption. The governor mentioned it earlier. I've worked on this issue. It's a--an enormous problem. And corruption in official agencies, like militaries and police departments around the world, customs officials, that's one of the worst forms of it. And we have got to, again, lead by example and help these other countries that are trying to straighten out their situations find the tools in--in order to do it.

I just think, Jim, that this is an absolutely unique period in world history. The--the world is coming together, as I said. They're looking to us, and--and we have a fundamental choice to make. Are we going to step up to the plate as a nation, the way we did after World War II, the way that generation of heroes said, `OK, the United States is gonna--is going to be the leader,' and the world benefited tremendously from the courage that they showed in--in those post-war years. I think that in the--the aftermath of the Cold War, it's time for us to do something very similar: to step up to the plate, to provide the leadership, leadership on the environment, leadership to make sure the world economy keeps moving in the right direction. Again, that means not running big deficits here and not squandering our surplus. It means having intelligent decisions that keep our prosperity going and keep--shepherds that economic strength so that we can provide that leadership role.

Gov. BUSH: Let me--let me comment on that.

Mr. LEHRER: Sure.

Gov. BUSH: Yeah, I'm not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, `This is the way it's got to be.' We can help. And maybe it's just our difference in government, the way we view government. Now I want to empower people. I don't--you know, I want to help people help themselves, not have government tell people what to do. I just don't think it's the role of the United States to walk into a country and say, `We do it this way, so should you.' And I think we can help. And I know we got to encourage democracy in the marketplaces.

But take Russia, for example. We went into Russia. We said, `Here's some IMF money.' It ended up in Viktor Chernomyrdin's pocket and others, and--and yet we played like there was reform. The only people who are going to reform Russia are Russia. They're going to have to make the decision themselves. Mr. Putin is going to have to make the decision as to whether or not he wants to adhere to the rule of law and normal accounting practices so that if countries and/or en--entities invest capital, there's a reasonable rate of return, a way to get the money out of the--out of the economy. But Russia has to make the decision. We can--we can work with them on security matters, for example. But it's their call to make. So I'm not exactly sure where the vice president is coming from, but I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American is for us to go around the world saying, `We do it this way, so should you.'

Now we trust--we trust freedom. We know freedom is a powerful, powerful-- powerful force, much bigger than the United States of America, as we saw in--recently in the Balkans. But maybe I misunderstand where you're coming from, Mr. Vice President. But I--I--I think the United States must be humble and must be proud and confident of our values, but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course.

Mr. LEHRER: Let's--let's move on. Oh, are you--are you--no, let's move on.

Vice Pres. GORE: Far be it from me to suggest otherwise.

Mr. LEHRER: First--first a couple of follow-ups from the vice presidential debate last week. Vice President Gore, would you support or sign as president a federal law banning racial profiling by police and other authorities at all levels of government?

Vice Pres. GORE: Yes, I would. The--the only thing an executive order can accomplish is to ban it in--in federal law enforcement agencies. But I would also support a law in the--in the Congress that would have the effect of--of doing the same thing. I just--I think that racial profiling is--is a serious problem. I remember when the stories first came out about the--the stops in New Jersey by the Highway Patrol there. And I know it's been going on a long time and in some ways this is just a--a new label for something that's been going on for years. But it--but I have to confess that it was the first time that I really focused on it in a new way. And I was--I was surprised at the extent of it. And I think we've now got so many examples around the country that we really have to find ways to--to end this. Becau--imagine what it--what it is like for someone to be singled out unfairly, unjustly, and--and feel the--the unfair force of--of law simply because of--of race or--or ethnicity. Now that runs counter to what the United States of America is--is all about at our core. And it's not an easy problem to solve, but I--if I am entrusted with the presidency, it will be the first civil rights act of the 21st century.

Gov. BUSH: Yeah, I can't imagine what it would be like to be singled out because of race and stopped and harassed. That's just flat wrong and that's not what America is all about. And so we ought to do everything we can to end racial profiling. One of my concerns, though, is I don't want to federalize the local police forces. I want to--obviously, in the egregious cases, we need to enforce civil rights law, but we need to make sure that internal affairs divisions at the local level do their job and be given a chance to do their job. I believe in local control of governments. And obviously if they don't, there needs to be a consequence at the federal level. But it's very important that we not overstep our bounds. And I think most people--most police officers are good, dedicated, honorable citizens who are doing their job, putting their lives at risk, who aren't bigoted or aren't prejudiced. I don't think they ought to be held guilty. But I do think we need to find out where racial profiling occurs and do something about it and say to the local folks, `Get it done, and if you can't there will be a federal consequence.'

Mr. LEHRER: And that could be a federal law?

Gov. BUSH: Yeah.

Mr. LEHRER: And you would agree?

Vice Pres. GORE: I--I would agree, and I also agree that most police officers, of--of course, are--are doing a good job and--and hate this practice also. I talked to an African-American police officer in Springfield, Massachusetts, not--not long ago who--who raised this question and said that, in his opinion, one of the biggest solutions is in the training, and not only the training in police procedures, but human--human relations. And I think that racial profiling is part of a larger issue of how we deal with race in America. And as for singling people out because of race, you know, James Byrd was singled out because of his race in Texas, and other Americans have been singled out because of their race or--or ethnicity. And--and that's why I think that we can embody our values by passing a hate crimes law. I think these crimes are different. I think they're different because they're based on--on prejudice and hatred, which is--which gives rise to crimes that have not just a single victim, but they're intended to--to stigmatize and dehumanize a whole group of people.

Mr. LEHRER: You have a different view of that?

Gov. BUSH: No, I don't really. On hate crimes laws? No, I--we've got one in Texas, and guess what? The three men who--who murdered James Byrd, guess what's going to happen to them? They're going to be put to death. A jury found them guilty, and I--I--it's going to be hard to punish them any worse after they get put to death. And it's the right cause, so it's the right decision. Secondly, there is other forms of racial profiling that goes on in America. Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what's called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we've got to do something about that. My friend Senator Spencer Abraham of Michigan is pushing a law to make sure that, you know, Arab-Americans are treated with respect. So racial profiling isn't just an issue with local police forces. It's an issue throughout our society. And as we become a diverse society, we're going to have to deal with it more and more. I just--I believe, though--I believe, sure as I'm sitting here, that most Americans really care. They're tolerant people. They're good, tolerant people. It's the very few that create most of the crises. And we just have to find them and deal with them.

Mr. LEHRER: What--if you become president, Governor, are there other areas, racial problem areas that you would deal with as president involving discrimination?

Gov. BUSH: Sure.

Mr. LEHRER: Again, you said, Arab-Americans, but also Hispanics, Asians as well as blacks in this country.

Gov. BUSH: Let me tell you where the biggest discrimination comes--in public education, when we just move children through the schools. My friend Phyllis Hunter is here. She had one of the greatest lines of all lines. She said `Reading is the new civil right.' And she's right. And--and--and the--to make sure our society is as hopeful as it possibly can be, every single child in America must be educated--I mean every child. It starts with making sure every child learns to read; K through 2 diagnostic testing so we know whether or not there's a deficiency; curriculum that works, and phonics needs to be an integral part of our reading curriculum; intensive reading laboratories; teacher retraining. And there needs to be a wholesale effort against racial profiling, which is illiterate children. We can do better in our public schools. We can--we can--we can close an achievement gap, and it starts with making sure we have strong accountability. Jim, one of the cornerstones of reform and good reform is to measure, because when you measure you can ask the question, `Do they know? Is anybody being profiled? Is anybody being discriminated against?' It becomes a tool--a corrective tool. And I--I--I believe the federal government must say that if you receive any money, any money from the federal government for disadvantaged children, for example, you must show us whether or not the children are learning. And if they are, fine, and if they're not, there has to be a consequence. And so to make sure we end up getting rid of a basic structural prejudice is education. There's nothing more prejudiced than not educating a child.

Mr. LEHRER: Vice President Gore, what would be on your racial discrimination elimination list as president?

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, I think we need tough enforcement of the civil rights laws. I think we still need affirmative action. I would pass a hate crimes law, as I said, and I--I guess I had misunderstood the governor's previous position. The Byrd family may have a misunderstanding of it in Texas also. But I--I'd like to shift, if I could, to the big issue of education.

Mr. LEHRER: Well, hold on one second. What is the misunderstanding? Let's clear this up.

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, I had thought that there was a controversy at the end of the legislative session where the hate crimes law in Texas was--failed and that the Byrd family, among others, asked you to support it, Governor, and--and it--it--it died in committee for lack of support. Am I wrong about that?

Gov. BUSH: Well, you--you don't realize we have a hate crimes statute here?

Vice Pres. GORE: I'm talking about the one that was proposed to deal...

Gov. BUSH: Well, what--what the vice president must not understand is we've got a hate crimes bill in Texas and, secondly, the people that murdered Mr. Byrd got the ultimate punishment, the death penalty.

Mr. LEHRER: They were prosecuted under the murder laws--were they not?--of Texas.

Gov. BUSH: All--all--in this case, when you murder somebody, it's hate, Jim. The crime is hate. And they got--they got the ultimate punishment. I'm not exactly sure how you enhance the penalty any more than the death penalty. But we happen to have a statute on the books that's a hate crime statute in Texas.

Vice Pres. GORE: May I respond?

Mr. LEHRER: Sure.

Vice Pres. GORE: I don't want to jump in. I may have been misled by all the--the news reports about this matter, because the law that was proposed in Texas that had the support of the--the Byrd family and a whole lot of people in Texas, did, in fact, die in committee. It--there--there may be some other statute that was already on the books. But certainly the advocates of the hate crimes law felt that a tough new law was needed. And it's important, Jim, not only--not just--not just because of Texas, but because this mirrors the national controversy. There is pending now in the Congress a national hate crimes law, because of James Byrd, because of Matthew Shepard, who was crucified on a split rail fence by--by bigots, because of others. And--and that law has--has died in committee also because of the same kind of opposition.

Mr. LEHRER: And you would support that?

Vice Pres. GORE: Absolutely.

Mr. LEHRER: Would you support a national hate crimes law?

Gov. BUSH: I would support the Orrin Hatch version of it, not the Senator Kennedy version. But let me say to you, Mr. Vice President, we're happy with our laws on our books. That bill did--there was another bill that did die in committee. But I want to repeat, if you have a state that fully supports the law, like we do in Texas, we're going to go after all crime. And we're going to make sure people get punished for the crime. And in this case, we can't e--we can't enhance the penalty any more than putting those three thugs to death. And that's what's going to happen in the state of Texas.

Mr. LEHRER: New subject, new question, another vice presidential debate follow-up. Governor, both Senator Lieberman and Secretary Cheney said they were sympathetically rethinking their views on same-sex relationships. What's your position on that?

Gov. BUSH: I'm not for gay marriage. I think marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. And I appreciate the way the administration signed the Defense of Marriage Act. I presume the vice president supported it when the president signed that bill and supports it now. But I think--I think marriage is a sacred institution. It's--I'm going to be respectful for people who may disagree with me. I've had a record of doing so in the state of Texas. I've been a--I've been a person that would--been called a uniter, not a divider, because I accepted some--I accept other people's points of view. But I--I feel very strongly that--that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Mr. LEHRER: Vice President Gore?

Vice Pres. GORE: I agree with that and I did support that law. But I think that we should find a way to allow some kind of civic unions. And I basically agree with Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman. And I think the three of us have one view, and the governor has another view.

Mr. LEHRER: Is that right?

Gov. BUSH: I'm not sure what kind of view he's ascribing to me. I can just tell you I'm a--I'm a person who respects other people. I respect their--I respect--on the one hand, he says he agrees with me and then he says he doesn't. I'm not sure where he's coming from. But I--I--I will be a tolerant person. I've been a tolerant person all my life. I just happen to believe strongly that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Mr. LEHRER: Do you believe in general terms that gays and lesbians should have the same rights as other Americans?

Gov. BUSH: Yes. I don't think they ought to have special rights, but I think they ought to have the same rights.

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, there's a--there's a law pending called the Employment Non-discrimination Act. I strongly support it. What it says is that gays and lesbians can't be fired from their job because they're gay or lesbian. And--and it would be a federal law preventing that. Now I--I wonder if--it's been blocked by the opponents in the majority in the Congress. I wonder if the governor would lend his support to that law?

Gov. BUSH: That's a question that came in around here?

Mr. LEHRER: Well, but it--it's a logical...

Gov. BUSH: Well, I have no idea. I mean, he can throw out all kinds--I don't know the particulars of this law. I will tell you. I'm the kind of person--I don't hire or fire somebody based upon their sexual orientation. As a matter of fact, I'd like to take the issue a little further. I don't really think it's any of my--you know, any of my concern what--how you conduct your sex life. And I think that's a private matter. And I think that's the way it ought to be. But I'm going to be respectful for people. I'll tolerate people. And I support equal rights, but not special rights for people.

Mr. LEHRER: And so special rights, how does that af--affect gays and lesbians?

Gov. BUSH: Well, if they're given--if they're given special protected status, and that doesn't mean we shouldn't fully enforce laws and fully protect people and fully honor people, which I will do as the president of the United States.

Mr. LEHRER: New subject, new question. Vice President Gore, how do you see the connection between controlling gun sales in this country, and the incidents of death by accidental or intentional use of guns?

Vice Pres. GORE: Jim, I hope that we can come back to the subject of education, because the governor made an extensive statement on it, and I have a very different view than the one he--than the one he expressed. But that having been said, I--I believe that--well, first of all, let me say that the governor and I agree on some things where this subject is concerned. I will not do anything to affect the rights of hunters or sportsmen. I think that home owners have to be respected in their right to have a gun if they wish to. The problem I see is that there are too many guns getting into the hands of children and criminals and people who, for--for whatever reason--some kind of history of--of stalking or domestic abuse--really should not be able to get guns. I think these assault weapons are--are--are a problem. So I favor closing the gun show loophole. In fact, I cast a tie-breaking vote to--to close it. But then the majority in the House of Representatives went the other way. That's still pending. If we could get agreement on that, maybe they could pass that in the final days of this Congress.

I think we ought to restore the three-day waiting period under the--under the Brady law. I think we should toughen the enforcement of gun laws so that the ones that are already on the books can be enforced much more effectively. Some of the restrictions that have been placed by the Congress in--in the last couple of years, I think--in the last few years, I think, have been unfortunate. I--I think that we ought to--to ha--make all schools gun-free; have a gun-free zone around every school in this country. I--I think that measures like these are important. Child safety trigger locks on a mandatory basis, and others.

Mr. LEHRER: Governor?

Gov. BUSH: Well, it starts with enforcing the law. When you say loud and clear to somebody if you're going to carry a gun illegally, we're going to arrest you; if you're going to sell a gun illegally, we're going to arrest you, and if you commit a crime with a gun, there needs to be absolute certainty in the law. And--and that needs--the--the--the local law enforcement officials need help at the federal level. They need programs like Project Exile, where the federal government intensifies arresting people who illegally use guns. And we haven't done a very good job of that at the federal level recently, and I'm going to make it a--a priority. Secondly, I don't think we ought to be selling guns to people who shouldn't have them. That's why I support instant background checks at--at gun shows. One of the reasons we have an instant background check is so that we instantly know whether or not somebody should have a gun or not.

In Texas I tried to do something innovative, which is that--you know, there was a lot of talk about, you know, trigger locks being on guns sold in the future. I support that. But I said, listen, if you want a trigger lock to make your--your gun safe, come to--come and get one for free, and so we're distributing them in our state of Texas for free. I think we ought to raise the age at which a juvenile can carry a handgun from 18 to 21. I disagree with the vice president on this issue. I don't--he--he's for registration of guns. I think the only people who are going to show up to register or get a license--I guess licensing like a driver's license--of a gun, the only people who will show up are law-abiding citizens. The criminal's not going to show up and say, `Hey, give me my ID card.' It's the law-abiding citizens who'll do that and I--I just--I don't think that's going to be an effective tool that'll make the--make--make the--keep our society safe.

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