|DEBATING THE DEBATE|
October 18, 2000
RAY SUAREZ: Now the last Presidential debate: The fallout and a look at the road ahead. We begin with these excerpts from last night's town meeting style encounter in St. Louis.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: How do you feel about HMO's and insurance companies making the critical decisions that affect people's lives instead of the medical professionals? And why are the HMOS and insurance companies not held accountable for their decisions?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I think that the situation that you describe has gotten completely out of hand. Doctors are giving prescriptions, they're recommending treatments, and then their recommendations are being overruled by HMO's and insurance companies. That is unacceptable. I support a strong national patients' bill of rights. It is actually a disagreement between us. The national law that is pending on this, the Dingell-Norwood bill, a bipartisan bill, is one that I support.
JIM LEHRER: Time is up, Vice President.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: And that the governor does not.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Actually, Mr. Vice President, it's not true. I do support a national patients' bill of rights. As a matter of fact, I brought Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the state of Texas to get a patients' bill of rights through. It requires a different kind of leadership style to do it, though. You see, in order to get something done on behalf of the people, you have to put partisanship aside, and that's what we did in my state. We've got one of the most advanced patients' bill of rights. You know, I support a national patients' bill of rights, Mr. Vice President, and I want all people covered. I don't want the law to supersede good law like we've got in Texas.
JIM LEHRER: Governor...
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I think...
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore, is the governor right when he says that you're proposing the largest federal spending in years?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I'm so glad that I have a chance to knock that down. Look, the problem is that under Governor Bush's plan, $1.6 trillion tax cut, mostly to the wealthy, under his own budget numbers, he proposes spending more money for a tax cut just for the wealthiest 1% than all of the new money that he budgets for education, health care, and national defense combined. Now, under my plan, we will balance the budget every year. I'm not just saying this. I'm not just talking. I have helped to balance the budget for the first time in 30 years, pay down the debt. And under my plan, in four years, as a percentage of our gross domestic product, federal spending will be the smallest that it has been in 50 years. Now, because the governor has all this money for a tax cut mostly to the wealthy, there is no money left over no money left over, so schools get testing and lawsuit reform and not much else.
JIM LEHRER: Governor, the Vice President says you're wrong.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, he's wrong. ( Chuckles ) ( laughter ) Just add up all the numbers: It's three times bigger than what President Clinton proposed. The Senate budget committee...
JIM LEHRER: Three times? Excuse me. Three times?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Bigger than what President Clinton proposed...
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: That's in an ad, Jim, that was knocked down by the journalists who analyzed the ad and said it was misleading.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Wait a minute may... May I answer?
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: My turn?
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir. ( Laughter )
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Forget the journalists. He proposed more than Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis combined. This is a big spender, he is, and he ought to be proud of it. It's part of his record. We just have a different philosophy. Let me talk about tax relief. If you pay taxes, you ought to get tax relief. The Vice President believes that only the right people ought to get tax relief. I don't think that's the role of the President, to pick... You're right, and you're not right. I think if you're going to have tax relief, everybody ought to get it. And therefore, wealthy people are going to get it. But the top 1% will end up paying one-third of the taxes in America, and they get one-fifth of the benefits. And that's because we structured the plan so that six million additional American families pay no taxes. And I believe the people who pay the bills ought to... ought to get some money back. It's a difference of opinion. He wants to grow the government, and I trust you with your own money. Well, let... I wish we could spend an hour talking about trusting people, because it's the right position to take.
JIM LEHRER: Governor...
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Can we extend our time?
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Hold on one sec here, though. Governor, just to reverse the thing, what do you say specifically to what the Vice President has said tonight-- he's said it many, many times-- that your tax cut benefits the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans, and you've heard what he said.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Of course it does. If you pay taxes, you're going to get a benefit. People who pay taxes will get tax relief.
JIM LEHRER: All right, then what... Why shouldn't they?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: All right.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me finish, please. Under my plan, if you make... The top... The wealthy people pay 62% of the taxes today. Afterwards they pay 64%. This is a fair plan. Do you know why? Because the tax code is unfair for people at the bottom end of the economic ladder. If you're a single mother making $22,000 a year today, and you're trying to raise two children, for every additional dollar you earn you pay a higher marginal rate on that dollar than someone making $200,000. And it's not right, so I want to do something about that.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yeah, look...
JIM LEHRER: All right, Vice President Gore?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Look, this isn't about Governor Bush; it's not about me. It is about you, and I want to come back to something I said before. If you want somebody who believes that we were better off eight years ago than we are now, and that we ought to go back to the kind of policies that we had back then, emphasizing tax cuts mainly for the wealthy, here is your man. If you want somebody who will fight for you, and who will fight to have middle-class tax cuts, then I am your man. I want to be. Now, I doubt anybody here makes more than $330,000 a year. I won't ask you, but if you do, you're in the top 1%. If you don't...
JIM LEHRER: It would be a violation of the rules. They couldn't...
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I'm not going to. (Chuckles) I'm not to ask... (Laughter) I'm not going to ask. But if everyone here in this audience was dead on in the middle of the middle class, then the tax cuts for every single one of you all added up would be less than the tax cut his plan would give to just one member of that top wealthiest 1%. Now, you judge for yourselves whether or not that's fair.
JIM LEHRER: A quick... And then we're moving on.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Good. 50 million Americans get no tax relief under his plan.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: That's not right.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: And you may not be one of them. You're just not one of the right people. And secondly, we've had enough fighting. It's time to unite. You talk about eight years. In eight years they haven't gotten anything done on Medicare, on Social Security, a patients' bill of rights.
JIM LEHRER: All right, we're going to...
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: It's time get something done.
JIM LEHRER: Hey, we're going to move on now.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I've got to answer that, Jim. Medicare...
JIM LEHRER: What...
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I cast the tie-breaking vote to add 26 years...
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: ...to the life of Medicare. It was due to go bankrupt in 1999, and that 50 million figure, again...
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore...
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: The newspapers, I said... You said forget the journalists, but they are the keepers of the scorecard and whether or not you're using facts that aren't right.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: And that fact is just not right.
RAY SUAREZ: And Gwen Ifill takes it from there.
GWEN IFILL: Now, political analysis with Shields and Gigot. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot. So Mark Shields, let's look back over these last three debates and sum them all up for us. Did we find out anything new about these two men?
MARK SHIELDS: I think we found out a lot about them, certainly about, I think, Governor Bush. We have more people... people have a lot more solid sense of who he is, what he's like. We saw certainly the change... the campaign strategies of the two candidates emerged very, very clearly. We saw it probably most dramatically last night. Al Gore concluded he wasn't going to run as Mr. Affability. He wasn't going to win that way. I mean, if was that sort of contest, that George Bush was going to win, and he acknowledged that the only way he was going to win was on the basis of issues, and very specific positions on issues whether it's patient bill of rights or prescription drugs or whatever else. And he finally identified and associated what he's been doing for the past eight years. I thought he'd been in the federal witness protection program, but it turns out he's been Vice President during eight years of economic prosperity and world peace, and he made that argument about continuity. So I think we did learn a lot about both candidates.
GWEN IFILL: He made the argument about continuity, but is it too little too late?
PAUL GIGOT: Oh, I don't know that. It's a powerful argument to make, and particularly as the election closes. There's the inertia, the status quo that asserts itself. In history, sitting Vice Presidents who run as candidates, tend to close well. Nixon in 1960 almost caught up. Humphrey in 1968 almost caught up. So I don't think you can write off Al Gore.
GWEN IFILL: That said, did George W. Bush do what he needed to do in these debates?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think you saw a very clear contrast. I think these debates helped him, no question about it. I don't know why in the world they ever decided they didn't want to debate or even toyed with that idea. These introduced him to the American public in a way he needed to be introduced, and they helped him a lot. He showed he could debate and master certain subjects and go head-to-head with Gore on issues that Republicans haven't addressed in a very long time. This is one of the strengths. I mean, Gore thought, and most Democrats thought and most us frankly -- us in the press thought that he was going to dominate on Social Security and on Medicare, on prescription drugs and education. Bush has fought him to a draw on a lot of those issues, particularly Social Security and education. That's one of the reasons I think that he is ahead. The other thing we saw yesterday was the very different leadership styles. Gore is the fighter. He mentioned it a dozen times, 15 times. I think that is who he is. He is an authentically more partisan figure for better or worse. Bush is more conciliatory. His Texas record was like that. He mentioned bipartisanship. And we're going to see in three weeks who better captures the current public mood.
GWEN IFILL: I want to posit the Vandrilli thesis to you; that's David Vandrilli, from the "Washington Post," but now even Al Gore is saying it, in his first debate, he was too hot. In his second debate, he was a little too cold. In this debate, he was just right. Is he deluding himself?
MARK SHIELDS: The Goldilocks theory of debate. I think there is something to say to that, Gwen. One Democrat said to me today, "I turn to the debates now to see which Al Gore will be there." There's no question. I mean, George Bush was basically the same all the way through. In addition to Goldilocks, Goldilocks was eating porridge, if I'm not mistaken, and follow the food metaphor, Winston Churchill is credited with the greatest description... he said once when he rejected a dessert put before him, this pudding has no theme. Last night as I watched that debate, it was a pudding, and Al Gore was all pudding, with very specific ingredients, but very little theme. There was very little sense of overarching direction. George Bush was all theme and no pudding. Paul's right. He said bipartisanship. I believe in you, not the federal government -- smaller government. I'm from outside of Washington, no bickering, no wrangling, and so they're very different styles. Where Gore had tried to get as close as he could to Bush in the second debate, I agree, I agree, last night it was... George Bush was closer. No, I've got a patients' bill of rights. I love that issue - you know - and all the rest of it. So he was trying to close the differences last night, and I found that revealing.
PAUL GIGOT: I thought the Goldilocks problem fore Gore-- his showing up as three different Gores is a problem in this election, because he comes across as not an authentic individual in a race in which honesty and trustworthiness and personal characteristics of leadership are so important, because the issues aren't as large and dominating as they have been in some past elections. I think that has... if he got it right the last time, a lot of voters will still say, "who were those other two guys?"
GWEN IFILL: Let's stay with the food thing for a moment, the pudding. Does that kind of vagueness, if that's what it is, help George W. Bush?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think he was vague. He was certainly more thematic, no question about it. Bush, when it got to some specifics, death tax, Social Security, he was willing to put very specific things on the table. I mean, he was trying to... Gore is trying to sharpen differences, because if this is about issues, Gore-- Democratic issues-- Gore thinks he's going to win. If Bush can fight Gore to a draw more or less on the issues, then where he's strongest, which are character, trustworthiness, honesty, those likeability, those likeability, those things dominate. He can win. He's trying to look... He's trying to strike that difference. So I don't think Bush wants to get down into the weeds of detail, because frankly, nobody is going to remember what the Dingle-Norwood bill is.
GWEN IFILL: The Dingle-Norwood bill. My favorite thing from last night - so tell us what these candidates have to do. Map out the next three weeks for us, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Just to pick up briefly on what Paul said, I think... I thought that Bush was very much on the defensive that night on both the tax cut and on Social Security. I thought it was the best indictment that Gore had made in the three debates on all three. And I thought he did sharpen the differences. The problem with Al Gore is that the pedal is always to the floor. I mean, there were no 20-second answers. If you ask him about library cards, he will say, "that is the most important question. I'll give you my eight-point program." The next three weeks this race is enormously close, but it's not enormously exciting or passionate. There's very little passion on either side. So the next three weeks are about inspiration and organization to a considerable degree for the campaigns themselves.
GWEN IFILL: For both campaigns?
MARK SHIELDS: For both campaigns, especially the Democrats have to inspire and their core constituencies, particularly in the cities, especially among minority voters, and I think you'll see Bill Clinton pressed into duty on that role.
GWEN IFILL: Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I would agree with that. Both sides have thought for a long time it's going to be a turnout election, where the swing voters, some of the indifferent voters don't care that much. But the bases, therefore the turnout really matters. And I think you're going to see both sides turn to more ideological pitches, more emotional pitches; they're going to say how vital this election is, and particularly so on the Democratic side, because I think right now the intensity rests more with Bush and the Republicans.
GWEN IFILL: If Bill Clinton is their big gun, does that hurt or help the Democrats, and does it hurt or help the Republicans?
PAUL GIGOT: It's a wonderful gamble. I don't know. He motivates people who love him, and he motivates people who hate him. And that's a real question, Mark. No question he would help with the Democratic base, but some Bush strategists think, "please, please, please, come on out, because we'll focus on that and make that an issue, too."
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Mark, Paul, thanks a lot.