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

St. Louis, Missouri, October 17, 2000

Part One | Part Two | 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 it.

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:'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. Go ahead.

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 difficult situation.

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 sector.

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 place.

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 the peace.

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 gun--handgun bill.

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 office.

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 question...

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 can help.

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 confidence.

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 Kennedy's administration.

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 perform?

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 safety net.

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 security.

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 death tax...

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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