November 1, 2000
JIM LEHRER: And to a "one on one," our last-week debates about who should be the next President of the United States, and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Joining me tonight are two leading figures in the
entertainment industry figures: Rob Reiner, an actor, writer, and director
whose films include "Stand by Me," "When Harry met Sally,"
and "The American President." He supports Al Gore, and has
raised money and campaigned publicly on his behalf. And Ben Stein, a
lawyer, former Nixon speechwriter, and actor whose films include "Ferris
Bueller's Day Off." He's now host of Comedy Central's Emmy-winning
quiz show, "Win Ben Stein's Money." He's backing Governor
ROB REINER: Well, I think we can argue about the issues and who is on the right side of the issues and so on. But I think ultimately what it comes down to is who is more qualified and who has the experience. This is the single most difficult job on the planet: Being the President of the United States. Al Gore, if you look at his experience and his background, he spent eight years in Congress, eight years in the Senate, and eight years as Vice President and has had extensive foreign policy experience. If you look at Governor Bush, you see somebody who is basically been in government for six years and been Governor of a state who has a very weak Governorship. The legislature only meets once every other year, and the lieutenant Governor is the one who sets the budget agenda. So you've got two vastly different experiences. And I think the most important thing that you have to think about-- and I think the most important quality necessary for a President is intellectual curiosity. When it comes down to difficult situations and foreign crisis and so on, you better have done your homework and be understanding of the issues to be able to make an informed decision. And I don't see in Governor Bush that kind of intellectual curiosity. He almost disdains the interest in details, in wanting to read about certain situations. And I think that is... that can ultimately be deadly. I mean that in a literal sense of the word -- in a foreign policy situation. So that to me is the crux of this, and that's why I'm supporting Al Gore.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And, Ben Stein, what makes you believe that George Bush will be a better President?
BEN STEIN: I think it comes down to several things. One is character. It is vitally important that we have a President of good character, a President who knows who he is, who is not pretending ton one thing one day and another thing another day, a President who is relaxed and confident in his own skin. I think that's George W. Bush. Now, it is true, I suspect, that there have been Presidents who have had more national office experience than George W. Bush. In fact, I know there have been. But if you take some of our greatest Presidents, for example, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, these were people without much national government experience, in FDR's case no elective national government experience, but they had very good characters, and they could rely on extremely smart people to advise them. I keep thinking people say, well, George W. Bush doesn't have much experience, but he does have enough experience so that he's Governor of the second biggest state in America for six years and nobody has laid an ethical glove on him. He has enough intelligence so that Henry Kissinger supports him and Henry Kissinger is there to advise him, to be able to advise him; Milton Friedman, hands down, the leading living economist, supports him. He is a man of very good character, smart enough to know where to get the good advice he needs to make the right decisions.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Rob Reiner, does it make you feel any better about Governor Bush that he has all these advisors?
ROB REINER: No, because in a tough situation, you're going to get advice from very bright people that are going to be diametrically opposed to each other. I mean, if you look at the Cuban Missile Crisis and what Kennedy had to go through, he got advice from William Fullbright who was a brilliant foreign policy thinker. His advice was to go into Cuba and take those missiles out. He got obviously advice in other directions, but it is up to the President to make the final decision. And that decision has to be an informed one. It's not enough to have good advisors around you because you're going to get opposite, opposing viewpoints. You have to study. You have to read. You have to steep yourself in the details of all these situations, whether it be foreign policy or domestic policy, to really understand it. I will give you one example that was kind of very disturbing to me in the first debate. Governor Bush talked about his prescription drug plan, and he indicated that people making $25,000 a year would receive a prescription drug benefit under his plan. Well, that's just not true, and it took the Vice President to explain to him that that was not his own position. Now, to me, it's one thing to have advisors creating position papers for you, and that is often done. But I think at a minimum you should at least know your own positions and be able to articulate your own positions. It showed to me a lack of studiousness in really examining his own positions to be able to articulate it.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you say to that, Mr. Stein?
BEN STEIN: I would say that the last person in the world I would trust about whether George Bush knew his own positions would be Al Gore. He is a guy who came with no statewide experience to be one of the most widely liked and successful Governors in Texas. He knew exactly what to do. He has good character and good background in terms of knowing what is the common sense, smart approach. I have worked at the White House. Mr. Reiner has gigantically more experience in Hollywood than I do, but I have spent some time at the White House. And I have seen that every situation is new. Every situation has new details that you couldn't learn even at Yale and Harvard from which Mr. Bush has degrees. You have to study up on them at the last minute. You have to sort of cram for them. You have to let your good, common sense, honesty and decency carry you through them. In that regard it seems to me we are talking about a man with a great deal of experience but some kind of questionable ethical burdens that he's carrying versus a man of less, much less national experience but with a sterling character. Here's a guy nobody has even touched him with an ethical allegation that will stand up, and he's been Governor of a very, very vicious state in terms of politics. That's very impressive.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, Mr. Stein, what are you driving at? There was another quote, when you talk about character, another time you said he scares me to death, you were talking about Gore. You said he's a horrible, cynical person and he scares me to death.
BEN STEIN: I don't think I said he's horrible, cynical person. He certainly scares me to death. Here's why he scares me to death: He walked around the stage at the second debate, sorry, the third debate, looking like he was either going to kiss Mr. Bush or hit him. That doesn't seem to me to show a person who is emotionally ready to take on a giant challenge. As you would say about a small child, he does not play well with others. What scares me even more is this. He is a man who, when he doesn't like someone, as he said about drug companies or HMO's, he says, I'm going to call them into my office and I'm going to say to them, look, I'm the President, you better do what I like. He didn't say I'm going to say the law is X, Y, and Z, obey the law. He says by the brute force of my office and personality I'm going to push you around. I want a person who respects the Constitution, not who is a tough guy -- love of the Constitution. That's everything. I which we see that in Mr. Bush.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Reiner, what do you say to that?
ROB REINER: Well, I think, first of all, Al Gore was correct when he corrected George Bush about his prescription drug plan. So let's be clear on that. Secondly, you know, Ben has spent some time in the White House, but I have been running a $700 million program here in California. I was appointed by Governor Davis to oversee the implementation of a $700 million a year program for young children, prenatal to 5. I'm the chairman of the California Children and Families Commission. I can tell you based on only my only two years of experience-- because I've been in the government job now exclusively for two years. I haven't been doing my things in show business. And I can tell you based on my experience of two years, you better know about policy. You better know about the specifics and the details of what goes in to policy because you are not going to be able to make good decisions when it comes to allocating funds and things of that nature. This is something that I, you know, talk about being frightened -- I am frightened about Governor Bush who has shown a complete disdain for anything intellectual. And I am very frightened of that when it comes to overseeing policy.
MARGARET WARNER: Ben Stein, do you think that Governor Bush has either a disdain for things intellectual or, as Rob Reiner said earlier, at least a lack of intellectual curiosity?
BEN STEIN: Not at all. Here's a guy who has a degree from Yale and a degree from Harvard Business School, has had all different jobs, made a small fortune, at least by Hollywood standards, and one of the jobs -- he has undertaken a job that requires intellectual curiosity every day about what to do in a whole variety of government questions for the second biggest state in America. He's a guy who has enough intellectual curiosity to have briefed himself very well by asking people who know a heck of a lot more than he does about what to do. You know, there's a famous saying by an extremely famous English philosopher named Isaiah Berlin, which is that the advisors know many things, the king knows one great thing. It also has to do with the fox and the hedgehog. But anyway - and the idea is that the king knows one great thing, and that is great common sense and great decency. Bush, it's true, Bush is not Madison. He's not Thurow. He's not Jefferson. He is an honest, decent man with extremely good instincts, surrounded by very, very capable people. Most of all he has respect for law.
MARGARET WARNER: Last question to both of you: Rob Reiner if your candidate is so great, why is the race this close?
ROB REINER: I think it's close for a number of reasons. I think that we as a nation have become a little bit complacent. We've had a great economy now for eight years. And I think that quite frankly we don't think that there really is that big a deal and there's not much of a difference and what does it matter? But the fact of the matter is there is a big difference between these two candidates: On choice, on the environment, on, you know, a woman's right to choose, on campaign finance reform, on health care, on prescription drugs, there is a huge choice and I urge people to really look at this and notice this choice because this is an important election. There's the Supreme Court that is at stake here. It's going to affect our lives for 30 or 40 years.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Let me get Ben Stein on this last question. If George Bush is so great, why do you think the race is so close?
BEN STEIN: Well, any Republican has to run against a democrat and against the media. He has to run against liberal shibboleths and sacred cows like a woman's right to choose. With all due respect to my learned colleague, a woman's right to choose in reality means an abortionist's right to kill an innocent child. I think it's a sign of the greatness of Mr. Bush's character that he is able and willing to stand up to this liberal sacred cow and say if he is President he's going to be solidly pro-life, he is going to take care of the most innocent and weakest among us, the unborn and the aged. That to me is a sign of great character, but he's taking on the liberal establishment by saying it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Ben Stein and Rob Reiner, thanks both very much.