NEWSMAKER WITH ROSS PEROT
JULY 16, 1996
Reform Party presidential candidate Ross Perot talks to Jim Lehrer about the prospect of debating former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm at a state party convention later this month. Lamm is also running as a candidate for the party founded and funded by Perot in 1992. Among other topics discussed is Social Security, a system both Lamm and Perot feel is broken beyond repair.
JIM LEHRER: We go first tonight to a Newsmaker Interview with Ross Perot. Last week, he said he was running for President again, this time, if selected as the nominee of the party he created, the Reform Party. Mr. Perot, welcome.
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July 9, 1996
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ROSS PEROT, Reform Party Presidential Candidate: How are you, Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Just fine, sir. And you are definitely running for President, or at least for the nomination of your party, the Reform Party, is that correct?
MR. PEROT: Yes. The people who have created this party will make that decision. They wanted me to participate. I'm glad to participate. I've worked night and day on this since 1992. And the thing that I am determined to do with everything I can do to contribute is to make sure we pass on a better country to our children.
And right now, we're spending their money, as you know, and as I mentioned before, if I ever have a really bad day, all I have to do is go to page 25 of President Clinton's 1995 budget and read that the next generation to be born, a little baby born tonight, will pay an 82 percent tax rate, and that's a forecast by the President of the United States after the largest tax increase in history.
JIM LEHRER: And you believe, you as President of the United States can erase that page or erase that notation or do something about that?
MR. PEROT: I believe that the people, if they will reassert themselves as the owners of this country, if they will not allow themselves to be manipulated by little one-minute sound bites, if they will not cave into free candy just before elections, if they will act as the owners of this country, and if they will carefully vote their consciences based on hard facts and information, as opposed to sound bites, then in our party we will endorse in every House and Senate race in the country the candidates from the Democrat or Republican Party or other candidates who are committed to the reforms that are necessary to put our country's house back in order.
We can be the swing vote in about 100 percent of those races. If we do this properly, in 1997, we can have a House, a Senate, and a White House carefully, thoughtfully, and rationally working together as a united team to solve our country's problems, and that will be a big step forward over government shutdowns, train wrecks, fights on the floor of the House, and the kind of stunts that we've been watching for the last year or two.
JIM LEHRER: Where do you stand now on your personal desire to be President of the United States?
MR. PEROT: My desire is to do whatever I can to leave a better country for our children. I'm probably the luckiest man alive in this country when you look at where I came from, when you look at the parents I was lucky enough to have, when you look at the opportunities I've had, the family I have, the great children I have, the business success I've been fortunate enough to have, if anybody should work night and day during the critical period before we go over the edge of a financial cliff, and that day is coming, Jim.
If you drink too much, your liver goes. You don't know when. If you smoke too much, your lungs go, you don't know when, and if you spend too much and Lord knows, we are binge drinkers on spending, then sooner or later, you will pay the price and millions of people will be devastated.
I lived in the Depression as a child. The Depression I lived through will be a cake walk compared to the next economic meltdown because our government was in good financial shape when we went into the Depression and could be a positive force for getting us through it. This time around with a $5 trillion debt, with spending out of control, with the OMB forecasting one year increases in the deficit of $1.4 trillion by the year 2020 and up to $4.1 trillion increase in the debt annually by the year 2030, it's obvious we have got to take careful, thoughtful, rational action now to solve these problems. Stunts don't do it.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MR. PEROT: Jim--
JIM LEHRER: What do you--
MR. PEROT: Excuse me.
JIM LEHRER: Well, I was just going to say, what do you say to those like say Senator Dole and the Republicans in Congress and President Clinton and the Democrats in Congress who say, wait a minute, Ross, we heard you in ‘92, we passed deficit reduction, we've cut back on federal spending and all of that, what do you--how do you--what do you say to that?
MR. PEROT: I say, well, why do the numbers that you print that are the official government numbers, if they were on the instrument of an airplane, you would eject immediately because these numbers are so catastrophic, if you've solved all the problems, then why do all your numbers show that it's only a temporary solution, that after the year 2000, the debt takes off like a rocket, and literally, when you've got a forecast in the year 2050, you'll need 40 percent of the worker's paycheck just for Social Security from the federal government?
It's obvious we've got major problems that must be solved now. Our core problem, Jim, is that you get elected in America by being a good actor. It has nothing to do with substance, has nothing to do with results. But if you're a really good actor, you have a good chance of getting elected. That's the--the real bad news, though, is after you get elected at acting, you tend to just keep on acting after you get into office, instead of--
JIM LEHRER: Well--
MR. PEROT: --solving problems. We need action now, and it can't be this hit and miss sort of emotional thing they do. It's got to be carefully, thoughtfully, and rationally engineered, pilot tested, de-bugged, optimized, and these programs this time around have to work in a cost effective manner.
JIM LEHRER: Well, how would you solve these problems if you were President of the United States?
MR. PEROT: First, educate the American people with the facts, explain to them what the problems are. For example, when I go into Home Depot, folks will stop me and say, Ross, what's wrong with Social Security, and I say, well, what do you think it is? They say, every two weeks I send money out of my paycheck, my employer sends money to match it, it goes to Washington, goes into a retirement fund for me, they invest it, and when I retire, I get it. And say, no, when that money hits Washington, faster than Domino's can deliver pizza, it goes out the door to people who are retired now.
And then they ask me a very logical question, say, how did it ever work? When we put Social Security into law, we had retirement at 65, but life expectancy was 63. Let's go up to 1940. We had 40--in '45--we had 40 people at work for every person retired. In 1950, we had 16 people at work for every person retired. So we had to raise the rates. We had expanded the benefits. Now today we have three people at work and in the year 2020, we will only have two people working for each person retired.
We've got to transition from the program we have to a new program. We will--
JIM LEHRER: A new Social Security?
MR. PEROT: Nobody would consider not protecting the retirees, then re-transition it, but the longer you delay that transition, the tougher it is to make.
JIM LEHRER: So you need a new program of Social Security?
MR. PEROT: You have to.
JIM LEHRER: You can't fix the one we have?
MR. PEROT: The existing program cannot work because the increase in life expectancy, which is wonderful, but when you only have two people at work for each person retired and it's pay-as-you-go, it doesn't work. But in Washington, they keep talking about the Social Security Trust Fund. Let me--watch my lips, folks--there is no money in the Social Security Trust Fund.
If you go up there, there's a piece of paper. They've borrowed all the money to make the deficit look smaller, and they don't even pay the interest. They roll the interest forward, and you pay interest on the interest. But you say, well, it has the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government. Sure, it does, but where does the government get its money--from you. So every time they do something really dumb like this, you finally have to pay for it. We've got to stop this.
I want to make sure the American people understand it. Neither party will explain it to them in plain language. We will, and I am convinced that there are millions of people who love this country, who are dedicated to their children and grandchildren, and they will do what it takes to make the 21st century the greatest in our country's history. That's what we were trying to do.
JIM LEHRER: Richard Lamm, a former governor of Colorado, also wants to run as a Reform Party candidate. He says that what the Reform Party needs is a fresh face, and you're not a fresh face. What do you say to that?
MR. PEROT: Well, that's--he's certainly entitled to his point of view. I will not ever say a critical word about Gov. Lamm. I'm thrilled that he is participating in helping us build a party. It takes great courage for him to come in and do this. There are a lot of people who want to sit on the sidelines. They'll encourage you, but they don't want to get in the ring and get cut up, and I certainly commend him for his courage. We're delighted to have him involved. And I just--
JIM LEHRER: Are you really delighted?
MR. PEROT: --want to thank him publicly.
JIM LEHRER: Are you really delighted to have him in the ring?
MR. PEROT: Yes, I am. Ask him if he doesn't think so.
JIM LEHRER: Most of the conventional wisdom--we--everybody has their opinion of the conventional wisdom--is that he doesn't stand a chance of getting this--because you've created this party, you financed this party, this is your baby. There's no way in the world Richard Lamm is ever going to be the nominee of the Reform Party.
MR. PEROT: Your problem is you're in the box, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
MR. PEROT: You're in conventional wisdom, see.
JIM LEHRER: I got you. I got you. I hear you.
MR. PEROT: Conventional--inside the beltway wisdom--
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
MR. PEROT: --which is a total disconnect from the real world.
JIM LEHRER: I hear you. I hear you.
MR. PEROT: Did you ever hear of anybody in politics trying--working night and day and spending money so that he could transfer $32 million to another candidate? Did you ever hear that before?
JIM LEHRER: Never.
MR. PEROT: I'm working on that night and day. You're aware of that, aren't you?
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir. I mean--
MR. PEROT: Okay. The point being--
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me--
MR. PEROT: The point being--
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me one minute. Wait a minute. Let me explain to the audience who doesn't follow the federal election laws very carefully, $32 million is what you're entitled--what you're entitled to under federal matching funds because of where you scored four years ago as a presidential candidate. The issue is there was no Reform Party then, so now you're trying to make sure that that money could get transferred if--whether it's you or anybody else who's a Reform Party candidate. Okay. I just wanted to make sure we explained that.
MR. PEROT: Here's the fun part.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Okay.
MR. PEROT: Clearly under the law we're supposed to be able to do that, but another thing the American people don't know is the Federal Election Commission commissioners are half Democrats and half Republicans. Our biggest problem in being successful in what we're doing is that it's human nature to try to protect the status quo even if it's not working. That's just as old as man. It's human nature.
We're trying to make constructive change for the future of our country, so the FEC commissioners are trying to protect the Democrats and Republicans. They don't want change. I think if you talk to Gov. Lamm, he will tell you that we have done everything we can do to be helpful and supportive to him, to give him a voice, and to make sure that he can have as much as visibility and as many appearances with the people in this party as possible.
JIM LEHRER: Are you all--I noticed that the two of you are going to be over the weekend, this coming weekend, you're going to be at the Augusta, Maine convention of the Reform Party, and in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the Virginia Reform Party Convention. Are you all going to have a debate, or a joint appearance of any kind?
MR. PEROT: Each one of us will make a speech.
JIM LEHRER: Are you going to have a debate at all during the, during the--between now and your party conventions?
MR. PEROT: Not to my knowledge. If that's a good idea, we'll consider it.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it's a good idea?
MR. PEROT: Well, I really haven't thought about it. The main thing I want to do is try to get information out and I know Gov. Lamm is deeply committed to educating the American people. He has done a lot of work in this area for years, and I expect that he will make a huge contribution in making sure that when people go to the polls this time, they have the facts. One of the best kept secrets in America are the exit polls from the 1992 election. The big media paid for all of it, and then when they saw it, they never wanted to announce it.
Go to the library, folks. Get the exit polls, and you will find that they asked the voters a question, they said, who would you have voted for had you voted your conscience? Leaving the polling booth, 40 percent of the people said they would have voted for me, 31 percent for President Clinton, and 27 percent for George Bush. Then they said, well, why didn't you vote your conscience? They said, we were talked out of it by non-stop propaganda during the last few weeks of the campaign saying, don't waste your vote on Perot, he can't win.
That has nothing to do with solving problems. That has everything to do with playing emotional games and sadly enough, that's how we got in this mess. We're going to have to go back to careful, thoughtful, rational action to assure a bright future for our children.
JIM LEHRER: You raised the subject. Let me ask you--do you believe you can win--this time?
MR. PEROT: That's up to the American people.
JIM LEHRER: No. But do you believe you can win?
MR. PEROT: I know--the point is we are working night and day for our country. If the American people want these things, we will work night and day to make these things happen. If the American people want free candy, they've got two great choices. They've got a 5 cent gasoline tax reduction which has nothing to do with anything, or they can get something on the other side which has nothing to do with anything, but guess what? We've got a $5 trillion debt. We're going to have to pay it, and these little nickel and dime reductions just to get the people's votes just before a campaign--or during a campaign are American politics at its worst, and we're dedicated to changing that.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Perot, what about the negatives that turn up? You mentioned polls. The opinion polls show a lot of negatives about you now.
MR. PEROT: What would you expect, Jim? Night and day they spew all this stuff out.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Are--
MR. PEROT: The point being--the point being Hitler's propaganda chief, Goebbels, said that if you tell an untruth often enough, it becomes the truth. Now you just get a steady stream of this stuff. We ignore it. We stay on the issues, and I--one of the things we've decided to do in our party is we're not doing any negative campaigning. We're not going to attack other people. You wait till this fall, the personal attacks that they'll make one another and whoever else gets in their way--you see, one of your problems with politics is if your mother got in your way, you'd run over her with an 18-wheeler. See, war has rules. Mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no ethical rules. Politics desperately needs those.
If what we had worked, after spending $5 trillion in debt and having the huge taxes that our people pay, we would all be living in Utopia and the only problem we would have is too much debt. In fact, the standard of living is down for two out of three working Americans. Big government has not benefited the people, and we have got to change that now before we have a financial crisis. You watch the stock market in the last couple of days--in plain talk, folks, you got too much money chasing too few stocks because interest rates are down, and you got goofy stuff happening in the stock market. Interest rates are down because when you run interest rates down, you can finance the $5 trillion debt cheaper.
Now, only in America would you have 70 percent of the $5 trillion debt financed five years or less short-term, short-term, 70 percent. That's like financing a house mortgage short-term--you wouldn't think about it. These are the kind of unbelievably stupid things our country does, and guess who picks up the tab--the American people. The end result, as Paul Harvey would say, the end of the story, Jim--I have some interesting news for the American people--we've got a new No. 1 growth industry in America today. The number one growth industry in America today is government.
Well, the first reaction is, gee, it's great to have a big new growth industry. Then the second question is: What is the product? There is no product. Where does it make the money? You and I have to pay for it. There is the trap. And until the American people understand that all of these problems are interrelated like pieces of a puzzle and have to be solved that way, we won't get them fixed.
And finally, even though we redesigned, reengineered everything, did it right, had a growing, expanding job base, we then have to look at the foundation of who we are as a people because that will determine the future of our country. If we are a strong, loving, caring people, our country will have a great future. If we're a selfish people, we won't.
JIM LEHRER: Is this message that you have just given us tonight, is this one that you feel strongly about, that you are going to do anything that it takes to get this message out over the next several months between now and November and hang in there till the very end, and--I mean, is this a serious matter for you this time?
MR. PEROT: I'm amazed you'd ask the question. Who else do you know that night and day has worked on this and these very issues since 1992? That's--this is all I do. And I do it because I feel an obligation to do it, because this country has been so good to me, and I feel so fortunate to be here. I could be starving on the streets in India, right? But I'm here. And I--I couldn't force that. That just happened.
I feel an enormous obligation to do everything I can to make sure we pass on a better country to our children and grandchildren--all of us love our children and grandchildren--most all of us would live under a bridge or sleep in the snow, just for them. That's--we don't have to do that, but we cannot continue to mindlessly spend their money.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Perot, thank you very much.
MR. PEROT: A privilege to be with you, Jim.