PRESIDENTIAL DEBATEOctober 16, 1996
JIM LEHRER: The next question is for President Clinton, and in this section. Yes, ma'am. Yes.
COLEEN O'CONNOR: All right, I'd sort of like to - Coleen O'Connor. I teach history and political science at...right up that road here. And I'd like to tee off from the original question by another teacher and speak for those people that aren't here tonight. Sixty-three percent of the American people are not participating, that are eligible to vote, not even participating in the process. Several parties can't even get into the debate: The Green Party; The Reform Party; The Natural Law Party. All of these people have basically opted out of what we're still participating in.
And if we in fact are going to bring the country back together and be all faces around the table, the new American family, what do you see as something the president can do to begin that process to bring them back in?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, I think it's important to make voting more accessible. That's why I strongly supported the motor voter law. There was a big story, I think, in USA Today about the millions of people who've now registered because of it.
Secondly, I think we need to look at making the elections more accessible. You know, several states now are letting people vote over three weeks. A lot of people are busy, and it's hard for them to just get there and vote. The third thing I think we need is more forums like this, which is one of the reasons I have so strongly supported campaign finance reform. Because if you want to cut the cost of campaigns, you have to open the airwaves, because what drives the cost of a campaign are the costs of advertising on television, radio, newspaper, mass mailing.
And if you open the airwaves to more things like this - you see, it's not just you that are participating here. For every one of you who stood up here and asked a question tonight, I promise you, there's 100,000 Americans that said, "I wish I could have asked that question."
So I think we have to change the nature of politics. The last thing I think we should do is something I've been trying to do since I've been president, is every time I do something in a public way, I try to have a real American citizen there who is directly affected by it so that people can see the connection of what happens way across the country in Washington with more police on the street in San Diego, clean up the sewage here in San Diego, doubling the border guards here in Southern California, that there is a connection between what we do way back there and what we do here. Those are my best ideas about it.
MR. DOLE: Well, I don't know of any perfect solution. I've been in politics for some time, and I worry about people who don't vote. And I wonder if it's our fault, the candidates' fault, people say "I don't care," "One vote doesn't make a difference." I can give you hundreds of cases - you can probably give me 200 cases where one vote made a difference. I know it made a lot of difference many times in the Congress. Campaign finance might help, might help contributions coming in from Indonesia or other foreign countries, rich people in those countries, and then being sent back after the L.A. Times discovers it -- $250,000.
But maybe there ought to be more debates. I'd be willing to have another debate this year where we'd invite all of the candidates and talk about the economy. If we don't get the economy to grow, if we don't cut taxes, and give people child credits, and cut the capital gains rate, and get this economy growing, we're going to limp into the next century. If we grow the economy, it's going to help Social Security, it's going to help jobs, going to help everything.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let me make one other suggestion. As you're a teacher, you can have an impact on that.
One of the things I think that really frustrates people is that so often, political campaign seem to be more about the politicians that are running than the people. Now there is a connection, and I think what we have to do is convince people there's a big difference. If you vote one way, you will have a Department of Education in the 21st century; if you vote the other way, you won't. If you vote one way, you'll have an expansion of Family Leave; if you vote the other way, you'll be lucky to save it.
But these are important questions, and people have to decide. I think that the American people also need to be a little more responsible and think about whether there's a connection in their lives and what we do in Washington.