|ONE-ON-ONE: AL GORE|
December 22, 1999
Vice President Al Gore talks to Gwen Ifill about his campaign for the presidency and his proposal to increase the number of Democratic Party debates.
IFILL: If history and pedigree were all it took to get elected President,
Al Gore, Jr., would have a lock on the job. In his family politics was
company work. His father, Al Gore, Sr., was a longtime Democratic senator
from Tennessee, and in 1976, the son was elected to the first of four
terms in the House and two in the Senate. Before he entered politics,
Al Gore earned degrees from Harvard and from Vanderbilt Law School.
After serving in the Army in Vietnam, he also spent seven years as a
journalist. Now, at the age of 51, Gore is in the middle of his second
run for the Democratic Presidential nomination. He was unsuccessful
in 1988, but four years later, Gore got to the White House anyway as
Vice President on Bill Clinton's winning ticket. They were reelected
Welcome, Mr. Vice President.
AL GORE: Thank you, Gwen. Good to be with you.
|A fight for the nomination|
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Vice President, why is it that an incumbent Vice President coming from an administration which has had record prosperity in this country over the last seven years, why are you now in the position of fighting for the Democratic nomination?
AL GORE: Oh, I think you always have to fight for the Democratic nomination -- if you're not an incumbent president. And I think it once it became a two-person race, it was almost inevitable that it would be a closer race and a tighter race. And, frankly, that's been a blessing in disguise. I would have preferred to run unopposed. I won't make no bones about it. But, truthfully, the competition has been good for me, and I know it's good for the democratic process. It has enabled me to dig deeper and put my keel deeper in the water. I've really been enjoying it a great deal, Gwen. And, a few months ago, I made a shift in response to the competition and the total immersion in the campaign and stopped running as a Vice President seeking promotion and started running, instead, as a candidate for President, fighting for the American people, reaching out to try to understand exactly what needs to be done to make our country a better place.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Vice President, let's talk about some of the administration's positions and where you stand now in this campaign. Starting with health care, in 1993, President Clinton identified or "candidate Clinton" identified health care as a number one priority. Since then, there are now 44 million people uninsured, according to the Census Department. And you have come up with a plan which would insure primarily or only children. Why the change?
AL GORE: No, that's not -- that's not correct. It focuses on insuring every single child in America; that part is true. But it also gives health insurance to the families of those children up to two and a half times the poverty rate and it gives a 25 percent tax credit on top of the deduction already available to individuals who buy health insurance on their own and to small business operators who now have more than half of all the uninsured work force and in a tight job market are now looking at ways to offer health insurance for the first time. It also implements a health care patients bill of rights for everyone. It also extends long-term care benefits for those who bear those expenses and it devotes 15 percent of the budget surplus to strengthening and safeguarding Medicare, while providing a prescription drug benefit to help seniors purchase those prescription drugs. I want to reach universal health insurance, Gwen. And I think the way to do it is to go step-by-step and focus primarily and first of all on those who do not have health coverage today until we get every last one into the system.
GWEN IFILL: You just talked about spending money from the surplus. That's also true of the education plan you announced today in Des Moines -- $50 billion for universal preschool -- at least universally accessible preschool, as I understand it. How does your desire to spend some of this money from the surplus square with the Clinton administration's desire to protect Social Security first, before touching the surplus?
AL GORE: Well, that's my position also. I've strongly advocated that position within the administration as well. I've put out a balanced budget plan. You can see the details on my Web site, if you wish: Algore2000.com -- it devotes $1.8 trillion of the unified budget surplus to Social Security, safeguards Social Security for at least 50 years into the future, and then after the year 2010, devotes the interest savings from having paid down the national debt by that amount to strengthening Social Security for the retirement of the baby boom generation. Now, that leaves $1 trillion in the non-Social Security part of the surplus, and it's 15 percent of that amount that I have said has to be set aside for Medicare. In contrast, Senator Bradley does not devote any of the surplus to Medicare, and I think that -- I think that's a serious issue in this campaign that we should debate. Now, as for the rest of the surplus, I think we should pay down the debt. I think that we should devote it to education and health care. And I think we can afford a targeted, middle income tax cut that is focused on the expenses that most American families have the most difficulty with: education, health care, and the rest. And most importantly, we've got to do this in a way that keeps our economic prosperity going, continues to create new jobs, and that means one of the issue is: how do we find someone with the experience to avoid the kind of blunders that have caused recessions in the past, and, instead, keep the economic prosperity going. I believe I know how to do that, and I'm asking people to support me.
|Taxes and the surplus|
GWEN IFILL: You just mentioned taxes. Let's talk about taxes. You have said that there should be no need for a tax increase, barring a drastic change in the economy. What does that mean? What would a drastic change be?
AL GORE: Oh, if we had a world war, a national crisis, obviously then that's a different set of circumstances. But at a time when we have the largest surpluses in the history of the United States, I don't think it's responsible or practical or feasible to be talking about raising taxes when we have these big surpluses. I think that we ought to be talking about targeted and affordable tax cuts, but, first and foremost, I think we ought to use our prosperity to keep the economy going, to pay down the debt, to stop the transfer of all these -- all this money to bond holders from taxpayers, and, instead, invest in people, invest in education and health care and the rest.
GWEN IFILL: On the environment, President Clinton called for a moratorium on oil and gas drilling off the California coast. When you went to California, you called for an outright ban. Why the distinction?
AL GORE: Well, I think that by the time the new presidential term begins in January 2001, we're going to have gone far enough down the road to -- in these procedural steps that are underway right now -- that we are going to be able to stop drilling in the tracks that were leased in previous administrations. What President Clinton announced sometime back was a ban on any new leases for drilling. Presidents Bush and Reagan had given leases previously, and I don't think -- I'm for a ban on drilling wherever, off the coast of California, or the East Coast, off the coast of Florida. I don't think that it's environmentally sound; I don't think it's worth the risk; and I think we ought to protect the coast, and that's my position.
GWEN IFILL: Labor leaders, who are among your staunchest supporters in this campaign, have said that they had sensed an effort for deliberate -- in their words -- disengagement from the Clinton White House on matters that they are interested in, including especially focusing on labor's lack of support for the entry of China into the World Trade Organization. They basically feel like they gave you a pass on that one because they disagreed so strongly with the Clinton administration. Is there an effort underway for a deliberate disengagement from the White House on matters like this?
AL GORE: No. No, of course not. There have been some differences of opinion between the President and organized labor and between me and organized labor on the extent to which we should open new markets overseas. I'm honored to have the support of a great many unions and organized labor leaders, in spite of that difference of opinion. Frankly, I think that they are right on many points, namely that we should include labor protections and environmental protections and more into the negotiations on trade agreements in the future. I think there's a growing consensus to that effect, and not only in the United States but in many other countries as well, because the new agreements that we will enter into are not neutral where labor rights and the environment are concerned, but I do favor expanded free and fair trade. I think it's good for working people. I think it's good for our economy. But we have to do it in the right way.
GWEN IFILL: When you took this job, you said that you became the most involved Vice President in history. Now that you're running for President I think your last lunch with the President was -- one of your weekly lunches -- was in August -- you are -- you have a balancing act, which you're trying to keep managing. You don't want to seem disloyal on one side, but you want to be independent of the White House on the other side, or of Bill Clinton or whatever. How do you keep that balancing act up?
AL GORE: Now, I don't find it to be a balancing act at all. I don't find it to be difficult. It was earlier in the year. I said earlier in this interview that when I started running for President in January, I kind of had the approach, I think, looking in retrospect at it, that I was running as Vice President looking for a promotion to the next level up. I changed that. And for me, Gwen, for six and a half years, I devoted everything I could to being the best Vice President possible, helping the President to be the best President he could be, and I think I did a good job, and I still discharge the responsibilities of the office. But I came to a belief in the summer -- toward the end of the summer -- in response to being immersed in the campaign and also experiencing the competition and connecting with the American people -- I came to believe that running for President of this great country is far more important than being the best Vice President that I can be. And so I'm concentrating on speaking directly from my heart to the American people, responding to any question that you or others have about what I believe, what my plans are, what my vision is, and if that is inconsistent with some position of the President or a priority of the administration, then so be it. I'm not searching out ways to demonstrate differences. I'm not looking for differences. I'm just telling you what my agenda is and what my vision for the future is. And I'll tell you what. It's an awful lot easier to campaign that way. It feels better. It's a very enjoyable experience. And I think people are responding to it.
|Working with President Clinton|
GWEN IFILL: How often do you -- I'm just curious -- how often do you speak to the President a week on campaign or other matters now?
AL GORE: I hardly -- I hardly ever talk to him about the campaign, but we consult frequently on foreign policy issues, matters pending before the Congress before they adjourn, other issues in the administration -- we communicate several times a week.
GWEN IFILL: But you don't talk about the campaign?
AL GORE: Not very much, no. Not very much, because I mean, like right now, for example, I'm sitting here in Des Moines, Iowa. He's at work in the White House. I spoke with him on the telephone last night about pending budget issues but not about campaign strategy.
GWEN IFILL: You issued a challenge earlier this week to your Democratic competition, Senator Bill Bradley, to suspend the airing of all 30-second political ads and substitute them with debate. A Republican -- you'll not be surprised to hear -- had this response. He said, "For Al Gore to condemn 30-second political commercials is like Santa Claus condemning the toy industry." Your response?
AL GORE: (laughing) I hadn't heard that one; that's a good one. I made the offer in all sincerity. I mean, after he refused my challenge to debate regularly before, I wasn't totally surprised that he turned down the challenge, but the challenge remains open, and I will renew it right here during this interview. I think that part of what's wrong with modern campaigning is that the majority of the money that is raised and spent goes to these 30-second television and radio ads. And, sure, they play a role, but it's not the best way to communicate because they are filled with fuzzy images and little, short slogans, and I think that if we use the money instead to purchase time on primetime evenings, to have debates twice a week and focus on specific issues in each debate, or if he wanted to have them on general topics, I wouldn't make that a sticking point, but I think ideally we would pick different issues for each debate and really dig in, tell people in advance what issue was going to be debated the next time out, and give them our positions on the Internet and let them send in questions, and really lay before the American people what we want to do. What is wrong with that? Why wouldn't -- see, I think that would lift our democracy. I think people are sick of these old advertisements and the old approach to campaigning. I think they'd like to do it differently, and I think one of the best ways of all to do it is to have face-to-face debates about specific issues. I renew the challenge. I hope that Senator Bradley will change his mind and accept. I'll debate on your show. Would you guys host one of the debates?
GWEN IFILL: Well, you're always welcome here, Mr. Gore. On a scale of one to ten, what do you think your chances are that Mr. Bradley was ever going to accept that offer?
AL GORE: I don't know. I don't know. I think that people want him to accept it. Whether they want to do away with the ads or not, I think most people do, but regardless of their position on that, I think that they think it would be a good thing to have twice weekly debates. I think if he's asked about it enough and receives enough encouragement to do it, he may throw caution and timidity to the wind and say, okay, let's have at it. I think it would be good. I promise this: I'll never personally attack him in a debate, in a commercial, or in any other way.
GWEN IFILL: That's my very next question, Mr. Vice President. What are the chances that this primary campaign between you and Mr. Bradley will turn into a version of Democratic fratricide and giving whoever the Republican nominee is an upper hand in the general election?
AL GORE: I don't think he's that kind of person and I renew my --
GWEN IFILL: The Republican nominee or --
AL GORE: No. No. Senator Bradley. I don't think that he's going to do that kind of thing, and I certainly will not. I've pledged and renew my pledge never to launch a personal attack against him and -- either in a commercial or in a debate or whatever. I think that discussions about differences on the issues, it's good for our democracy, and I think you can have a vigorous discussion about differences on the issues and have it be healthy.
GWEN IFILL: Is there such a thing as a policy attack, as opposed to a personal attack?
AL GORE: Sure. If you want to attack somebody's position on an issue, there is such a thing. I'll give you -- I'll give you an example. He has supported vouchers for private schools to drain money out of public schools for 18 years. And he still seems to be intrigued by it, although he says that he's technically opposed to it now. I -- I think it's fair to say that's a bad policy if you believe, as I do, that it would hurt public schools. But there's nothing wrong with -- with making the case against vouchers. In fact, I defend higher levels of funding for public schools. I'm going to defend Medicaid against his proposal to eliminate Medicaid and put in its place entirely inadequate vouchers that are capped at $150 a month. You cannot buy Medicaid-style benefits for $150 a month, and if you're one of the 7 million disabled Americans or one of the 50 percent of people with AIDS, or one of the 2/3 of nursing home residents who depend on Medicaid, I'm going to defend you against that kind of policy. And I think that's good for our democracy and good for the campaign.
|Are people looking for a change?|
GWEN IFILL: Final question, Mr. Gore. It seems that one of the things you have to struggle most with in this campaign is the peril of familiarity -- the idea that people who want a change look at you and say, but haven't we seen this before? How do you sell yourself as a candidate of change for voters who want that?
AL GORE: Well, my policies are, in fact, based on calls for sweeping changes, universal preschool, the boldest and most sweeping new health care proposal since the -- if it passes -- since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid -- new proposals to clean up the environment, to create more jobs. These are the kinds of changes that build on the economic prosperity that, I assure you, people are not tired of. You know, we've got 20 million new jobs. People are not tired of that. We've seen a tripling of the stock market. People would like to see that kind of economic prosperity going. And, frankly, one of the issues, Gwen, is how can we have sweeping change from a President who has the experience to avoid the economic blunders that have caused recessions and downturns in the past and, instead, have sweeping changes based on continuing the economic prosperity that's been so good for our country. That's what I'm offering. I've got a 23-year record of fighting for working men and women. I want to fight for you.
GWEN IFILL: Vice President Al Gore, Happy Holidays, and thank you very much.
AL GORE: Happy Holidays to you, Gwen. Welcome to PBS.