MODERATOR: A few words as we begin tonight's debate, about the format. The position of the candidates, that is, who answers questions first, and who gives the last statement was determined by a toss of the coin between the two candidates. Mr. Mondale won. And that means that he chose to give the final closing statement. It means, too, that the President will answer the first question first. I hope that's clear. If it isn't, it will become clear as the debate goes on. Further, the candidates will be addressed as they each wanted and will therefore be called Mr. President and Mr. Mondale. Since there will also be a second debate between the two Presidential candidates tonight will focus primarily on the economy and other domestic issues.
The debate itself is built around questions from the panel. In each of its segments a reporter will ask the candidates the same general question. Then - and this is important - each candidate will have the chance to rebut what the other has said. In the final segment of the debate will be the closing segment and the candidates will each have four minutes for their closing statement. And as I have said, Mr. Mondale will be the last person on the program to speak. And now I would like to add a personal note, if I may. As Dorothy Riding's pointed out, I have been involved now in four Presidential debates, either as a moderator or as a panelist. In the past there was no problem in selecting panelists. Tonight, however, there were to have been four panelists participating in this debate. The candidates were given a list of almost 100 qualified journalists from all the media and could agree on only these three fine journalists. As moderator and on behalf of my fellow journalists I very much regret as does the League of Women Voters that this situation has occurred. And now let us begin the debate with the first question from James Wieghart. Mr. Wieghart.
REPORTER: Mr. President, in 1980, you promised the American people, in your campaign, a balanced budget by 1983. We've now had more and bigger deficits in the four years you've been in office. Mr. President, do you have a secret plan to balance the budget some time in the second term, and if so, would you lay out that plan for us tonight?
REAGAN: I have a plan. Not a secret plan. As a matter of fact, it is the economic recovery program that we presented when I took office in 1981. It is true that earlier, working with some very prominent economists, I had come up, during the campaign, with an economic program that I thought could rectify the great problems confronting us: the double-digit inflation, the high tax rates that I think were hurting the economy, the stagflation that we were undergoing. Before even the Election Day, something that none of those economists had even predicted had happened, that the economy was so worsened that I was openly saying that what we had thought the basis of our plan could have brought a balanced budget; that was no longer possible. So the plan that we have had and that we're following, is a plan that is based on growth in the economy, recovery without inflation, and reducing the share of the, that the Government is taking from the gross national product, which has become a drag on the economy. Already we have a recovery that has been going on for about 21 months, to the point that we can now call it an expansion. Under that, this year, we have seen a $21 billion reduction in the deficit from last year, based mainly on the increased revenues the government is getting without raising tax rates.
Our tax cut, we think, was very instrumental in bringing about this economic recovery. We have reduced inflation to about a third of what it was. The interest rates have come down about 9 or 10 points, and we think must come down further. In the last 21 months, more than six million people have gotten jobs. There have been created new jobs for those people to where there are now 105 million civilians working where there were only 99 million before, 107 if you count the military. So we believe that as we continue to reduce the level of Government spending, the increase, rate of increase in Government spending, which has come down from 17 to 6 percent, and at the same time as the growth in the economy increases the revenues the Government gets without raising taxes, those two lines will meet. And when they meet, that is a balanced budget.
REPORTER: Mr. President, the Congressional Budget Office has some bad news. The lines aren't about to meet according to their projection; they project that the budget deficit will continue to climb. In the year 1989 they project a budget deficit of $273 billion. In view of that and in view of the economic recovery we are now enjoying, would it make sense to propose a tax increase or take some other fiscal measures to reduce that deficit now when times are relatively good?
REAGAN: The deficit is a result, it is a result of excessive Government spending. I do not, and very frankly, take seriously the Congressional Budget Office projections because they have been wrong on virtually all of them, including the fact that our recovery wasn't going to take place to begin with. But it has taken place. But as I said we have the rate of increase in Government spending down to 6 percent. If the rate of increase in Government spending can be held to 5 percent - we're not far from there - by 1989 that would have reduced the budget deficits down to a $30 billion or $40 billion level. At the same time if we can have a 4 percent recovery continue through that same period of time, that will mean without an increase in tax rates, that will mean $400 billion more in Government revenues. And so I think that the lines can meet. Actually, in constant dollars, in the domestic side of the budget there has been no spending increase in the four years that we have been here.
REPORTER: Mr. Mondale, the Carter-Mondale Administration didn't come close to balancing the budget in its four years in office either, despite the fact that President Carter did promise a balanced budget during his term. You have proposed a plan combining tax increases and budgetary cuts and other changes in the administration of the Government that would reduce the projected budget deficit by two-thirds to approximately $87 billion in 1989. That still is an enormous deficit that we'll be running for these four years. What other steps do you think should be taken to reduce this deficit and position the country for economic growth?
MONDALE: One of the key tests of leadership is whether one sees clearly the nature of the problem confronted by our nation. And perhaps the dominant domestic issue of our times is what do we do about these enormous deficits. Respect for PresidentI respect the President. I respect the Presidency and I think he knows that. But the fact of it is every estimate by this Administration about the size of the deficit has been off by billions and billions of dollars. As a matter of fact, over four years, they've missed the mark by nearly $600 billion. We were told we would have a balanced budget in 1983. It was $200 billion deficit instead. And now we have a major question facing the American people as to whether we'll deal with this deficit and get it down for the sake of a healthy recovery. Virtually every economic analysis that I've heard of, including the distinguished Congressional Budget Office, which is respected by, I think, almost everyone, says that even with historically high levels of economic growth, we will suffer a $263 billion deficit. In other words, it doesn't converge, as the President suggests. It gets larger, even with growth.
What that means is that we will continue to have devastating problems with foreign trade. This is the worst trade year in American history, by far. Our rural and farm friends will have continued devastation. Real interest rates, the real cost of interest, will remain very very high. And many economists are predicting that we're moving into a period of very slow growth because the economy is tapering off and may be a recession. I get it down to a level below 2 percent of gross national product with a policy that's fair. I've stood up and told the American people that I think it's a real problem, that it can destroy long-term economic growth, and I've told you what I think should be done. I think this is a test of leadership and I think the American people know the difference.
REPORTER: Mr. Mondale, one other way to attack the deficit is further reductions in spending. The President has submitted a number of proposals to Congress to do just that, and in many instances the House, controlled by the Democrats, has opposed them. Isn't it one aspect of leadership for prominent Democrats such as yourself to encourage responsible reductions in spending and thereby reduce the deficit?
MONDALE: Absolutely. And I have proposed over $100 billion in cuts in Federal spending over four years. But I am not going to cut it out of Social Security and Medicare and student assistance and things that people need. These people depend upon all of us for the little security that they have. And I'm not going to do it that way. The rate of defense spending increase can be slowed; certainly we can find a coffee pot that costs something less than $7,000. And there are other ways of squeezing this budget without constantly picking on our senior citizens and the most vulnerable in American life. And that's why the Congress, including the Republicans, have not gone along with the President's recommendations.
MODERATOR: I would like to ask the audience please to refrain from applauding either side. It just takes away from the time for your candidates. And now it is time for the rebuttal, Mr. President: one minute of rebuttal.
REAGAN: Yes, I don't believe that Mr. Mondale has a plan for balancing the budget. He has a plan for raising taxes. As a matter of fact, the biggest single tax increase in the nation's history took place in 1977, and for the five years previous to our taking office, taxes doubled in the United States and the budget's increased $318 billion, so there is no ratio between taxing and balancing a budget. Whether you borrow the money or whether you simply tax it away from the people, you're taking the same amount of money out of the private sector unless and until you bring down Government's share of what it is taking. With regard to Social Security I hope there'll be more time than just this win it - minute - to mention that, but I will say this: A President should never say never. But I'm going to violate that rule and say "never." I will never stand for a reduction of the Social Security benefits to the people that are now getting them.
MODERATOR: Mr. Mondale.
MONDALE: That's exactly the commitment that was made to the American people in 1980. He would never reduce benefits. And of course what happens right after the election is they proposed to cut Social Security benefits by 25 percent, reducing the adjustment for inflation, cutting out minimum benefits for the poorest on Social Security, removing educational benefits for dependents whose widows were trying, with widows trying to get them through college. Everybody remembers that. People know what happened. There's a difference. I have fought for Social Security and Medicare and for things to help people who are vulnerable all my life, and I will do it as President of the United States.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
. We will now begin with segment No. 2 with my colleague, Diane Sawyer. Miss Sawyer.
REPORTER: Mr. President, Mr. Mondale. The public opinion polls do suggest that the American people are most concerned about the personal leadership characteristics of the two candidates, and each of you has questioned the other's leadership ability. Mr. President, you have said that Mr. Mondale's leadership would take the country down the path of defeatism and despair and Vice President Bush has called him whining and hoping for bad news. And Mr. Mondale, you have said that President Reagan offers showmanship, not leadership, that he has not mastered what he must know to command his Government. I'd like to ask each of you to substantiate your claims. Mr. Mondale first. Give us specifics to support your claim that President Reagan is a showman, not a leader, has not mastered what he must know to be President after four years, and then second, tell us what personal leadership characteristics you have that he does not.
MONDALE: Well first of all, I think the first answer this evening suggests exactly what I'm saying. There is no question that we face this massive deficit. And almost everybody agrees unless we get it down the chances for long-term healthy growth are nil. And it's also unfair to dump these tremendous bills on our children. The President says it will disappear overnight because of some reason; no one else believes that's the case. I do and I'm standing up to the issue with an answer that's fair. I think that's what leadership is all about. There's a difference between being a quarterback and a cheerleader and when there's a real problem, a President must confront it. What I was referring to, of course, in the comment that you referred to, was the situation in Lebanon. Now, for three occasions, one after another, our Embassies were assaulted in the same way by a truck with demolition. The first time, and I did not criticize the President because these things can happen once, and sometimes twice, the second time the barracks in Lebanon were assaulted as we all remember. There was two or three commission reports, recommendations by the C.I.A., the State Department and the others, and the third time there was even a warning from the terrorists themselves. Now I believe that a President must command that White House and those who work for him. It's the toughest job on earth. And you must master the facts and insist that things must be done, are done. I believe the way in which I will approach the Presidency is what's needed. Because all my life that has been the way in which I have sought to lead. And that's why in this campaign I am telling you exactly what I want to do; I am answering your questions; I am trying to provide leadership now before the election so that the American people can participate in that decision.
REPORTER: You have said, Mr. Mondale, that the polls have given you lower ratings on leadership than President Reagan because your message has failed to get through. Given that you have been in public office for so many years, what accounts for the failure of your message to get through?
MONDALE: Well, I think we're getting better all the time, and I think tonight, as we contrast for the first time our different approach to government, to values, to the leadership in this country, I think as this debate goes forward, the American people will have, for the first time, a chance to weigh the two of us against each other. And I think as a process, as a part of that process, what I am trying to say will come across. And that is that we must lead, we must command, we must direct, and a President must see it like it is. He must stand for the values of decency that the American people stand for, and he must use the power of the White House to try to control these nuclear weapons and lead this world toward a safer world.
REPORTER: Mr. President, the issue is leadership in personal terms. First, do you think, as Vice President Bush said, that Mr. Mondale's campaign is one of whining and hoping for bad news. And, second, what leadership characteristics do you possess that Mr. Mondale does not?
REAGAN: Well, whether he does or not, let me suggest my own idea about the leadership factor, and since you've asked it. And incidentally, I might say that with regard to the 25 percent cuts of Social Security before I get to the answer of your question the only 25 percent cut that I know of was accompanying that huge 1977 tax increase was a cut of 25 percent in the benefits for every American who was born after 1916. Now, leadership. First of all, I think you must have some principles you believe in. In mine, I happen to believe in the people and believe that the people are supposed to be dominant in our society. That they, not government, are to have control of their own affairs to the greatest extent possible with an orderly society. Now, having that, I think also that in leadership, well, I believe that you find the people - positions such as I'm in - who have the talent and ability to do the things that are needed in the various departments of government. I don't believe that a leader should be spending his time in the Oval Office deciding who's going to play tennis on the White House court. And you let those people go with the guidelines of overall policy, and not looking over their shoulder and nitpicking the manner in which they go at the job. You are ultimately responsible, however, for that job. But I also believe something else about that. I believe that - and when I became Governor of California I started this and I continue it in this office - that any issue that comes before me I have instructed Cabinet members and staff they are not to bring up any of the political ramifications that might surround the issue. I don't want to hear them. I want to hear only arguments as to whether it is good or bad for the people. Is it morally right. And on that basis, and that basis alone, we make a decision on every issue. Now, with regard to my feeling about why I thought that his record bespoke his possible taking us back to the same things that we knew under the previous Administration, his record is that he spoke in praise of deficits several times. Said they weren't to be abhorred. That as a matter of fact he at one time said he wished the deficit could be doubled because they stimulate the economy and help reduce unemployment.
REPORTER: As a follow-up, let me draw in another specific if I could, a specific that the Democrats have claimed about your campaign; that it is essentially based on imagery. And one specific that they allege is that, for instance, that recently you showed up at the opening ceremony of a Buffalo old age housing project when in fact your policy was to cut Federal housing subsidies for the elderly, yet you were there to have your picture taken with them.
REAGAN: Our policy was not to cut subsidies. We have believed in partnership and that was an example of a partnership between not only local government and the Federal Government but also between the private sector that built that particular structure. And this is what we've been trying to do is involve the Federal Government in such partnerships. We are today subsidizing housing for more than 10 million people, and we're going to continue along that line. We have no thought of throwing people out into the snow, whether because of age or need. We have preserved the safety net for the people with true need in this country and it has been pure demagoguery that we have in some way shut off all the charitable programs or many of them for the people who have real need. The safety net is there and we're taking care of more people than has ever been taken care of before by any administration in this country.
MODERATOR: Mr. Mondale - an opportunity for you to rebut.
MONDALE: Well, I guess I'm reminded a little bit of what Will Rogers once said about Hoover. He said it's not what he doesn't know that bothers me, it's what he knows for sure just ain't so. The fact of it is, the fact of it is the President's budget sought to cut Social Security by 25 percent. It's not an opinion; it's a fact, and when the President was asked the other day, 'What do you want to cut in the budget?' he said, 'Cut those things I asked for but didn't get.' That's Social Security and Medicare. The second fact is that the housing unit for senior citizens that the President dedicated in Buffalo was only made possible through a Federal assistance program for senior citizens that the President's budget sought to terminate. So if he'd had his way, there wouldn't have been any housing project there at all. This Administration has taken a meat cleaver out in terms of Federal-assisted housing, and the record is there. We have to see the facts before we can draw conclusions.
REAGAN: Well, let me just respond with regard to Social Security. When we took office we discovered that the program that the Carter- Mondale Administration had said would solve the fiscal problems of Social Security for the next 50 years, wouldn't solve them for 5. Social Security was due to go bankrupt before 1983. Any proposals that I made at that time were at the request of the chairman, a Democrat, of one of the leading committees, who said we have to do something before the program goes broke and the checks bounce. And so we made a proposal. And then in 1982 they used that proposal in a demagogic fashion for the 1982 campaign. And three days after the election in 1982 they came to us and said, Social Security, we know, is broke. Indeed, we had to borrow $17 billion to pay the checks. And then I asked for a bipartisan commission, which I'd asked for from the beginning, to sit down and work out a solution, and so the whole matter of what to do with Social Security has been resolved by bipartisan legislation and it is on a sound basis now for as far as you can see into the next century.
MODERATOR: We begin segment No. 3 with Fred Barnes.
REPORTER: Mr. President, would you describe your religious beliefs, noting particularly whether you consider yourself a born-again Christian and explain how these beliefs affect your Presidential decisions?
REAGAN: Well, I was raised to have a faith and a belief and have been a member of a church since I was a small boy. In our particular church we didn't use that term born- again so I don't know whether I would fit that - that particular term. But I have, thanks to my mother, God rest her soul, the firmest possible belief and faith in God. And I don't believe - I believe, I should say, as Lincoln once said, that I could not - I would be the most stupid man in the world if I thought I could confront the duties of the office I hold if I could not turn to someone who was stronger and greater than all others; and I do resort to prayer. At the same time, however, I have not believed that prayer could be introduced into an election or be a part of a political campaign, or religion a part of that campaign. As a matter of fact I think religion became a part of this campaign when Mr. Mondale's running mate said I wasn't a good Christian. So, it does play a part in my life. I have no hesitancy in saying so. And as I say, I don't believe that I could carry on unless I had a belief in a higher authority and a belief that prayers are answered.
REPORTER: Given those beliefs, Mr. President, why don't you attend services regularly, either by going to church or by inviting a minister to the White House, as President Nixon used to do, or someone to Camp David, as President Carter used to do.
REAGAN: The answer to your question is very simple - about why I don't go to church. I start - I have gone to church regularly all my life. And I started to here in Washington. And now, in the position I hold and in the world in which we live, where embassies do get blown up in Beirut, we're supposed to talk about that in the - on the debate the 21st, I understand. But I pose a threat to several hundred people if I go to church. I know the threats that are made against me. We all know the possibility of terrorism. We have seen the barricades that have had to built around the White House. And therefore, I don't feel - and my minister knows this and supports me in this position. I don't feel that I have a right to go to church, knowing that my being there could cause something of the kind that we have seen in other places; in Beirut, for example. And I miss going to church but I think the Lord understands.
MODERATOR: May I ask the audience please to refrain from applause. Can we have your second question?
REPORTER: Mr. Mondale, would you describe your religious beliefs and mention whether you consider yourself a born-again Christian and explain how those beliefs would affect your decisions as President.
MONDALE: First of all, I accept President Reagan's affirmation of faith. I'm sure that we all accept and admire his commitment to his faith and we are strengthened all of us by that fact. I am a son of a Methodist minister, my wife is the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and I don't know if I've been born again, but I know I was born into a Christian family, and I believe I've sung at more weddings and more funerals than anybody ever to seek the Presidency. Whether that helps or not I don't know. I have a deep religious faith, our family does, it is fundamental, it's probably the reason I'm in politics. I think our faith tells us, instructs us about the moral life that we should lead, and I think we're all together on that.
What bothers me is this growing tendency to try to use one's own personal interpretation of faith politically, to question others' faith, and to try to use instrumentalities of government to impose those views on others. All history tells us that that's a mistake. When the Republican platform says that from here on out we're going to have a religious test for judges before they're selected for the Federal court and then Jerry Falwell announces that that means they get at least two Justices of the Supreme Court, I think that's an abuse of faith in our country. This nation is the most religious nation on earth. More people go to church and synagogues than any other nation on earth, and it's because we kept the politicians and the state out of the personal exercise of our faith. That's why faith in the United States is pure and unpolluted by the intervention of politicians, and I think if we want to continue as I do to have a religious nation, let's keep that line and never cross it.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Mr. Barnes, a question? We have time for rebuttal now.
REPORTER: I think I have a follow-up.
MODERATOR: Yes, I asked you if you did. I'm sorry I thought you waived it.
REPORTER: Yes. Mr. Mondale, you've complained just now about Jerry Falwell, and you've complained other times about other fundamentalists in politics. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall your ever complaining about ministers who are involved in the civil rights movement, in the anti- Vietnam War demonstrations or about black preachers who've been so involved in American politics. Is it only conservative ministers that you object to?
MONDALE: No. What I object to - what I object to - what I object to is someone seeking to use his faith to question the faith of another or to use that faith and seek to use the power of Government to impose it on others. A minister who is in civil rights or in the conservative movement because he believes his faith instructs him to do that, I admire. The fact that the faith speaks to us and that we are moral people hopefully I accept and rejoice in. It's when you try to use that to undermine the integrity of private political - or private religious faith and the use of the state is where for the most personal decisions in American life - that's where I draw the line.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Now, Mr. President. Rebuttal.
REAGAN: Yes, it's very difficult to rebut, because I find myself in so much agreement with Mr. Mondale. I, too, want that wall that is in the Constitution, separation of church and state, to remain there. The only attacks I have made are on people who apparently would break away at that wall from the Government side using the Government, using the power of the courts and so forth, to hinder that part of the Constitution that says the Government shall not only not establish a religion, it shall not inhibit the practice of religion, and they have been using these things to have Government, through court orders, inhibit the practice of religion. A child wants to say grace in a school cafeteria, and a court rules that they can't do it. And because it's school property. These are the types of things that I think have been happening in a kind of a secular way that have been erroding that separation, and I am opposed to that. With regard to a platform in the Supreme Court, I can only say one thing about that. I don't - I have appointed one member of the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor, I'll stand on my record on that, and if I have the opportunity to appoint any more. I'll do it in the same manner that I did in selecting her.
MODERATOR: Mr. Mondale, your rebuttal, please.
MONDALE: The platform to which the President refers in fact calls for a religious test in the selection of judges. And Jerry Falwell says that means we get two or three judges. And it would involve a religious test for the first time in American life. Let's take the example that the President cites. I believe in prayer. My family prays. We've never had any difficulty finding time to pray. But do we want a constitutional amendment adopted of the kind proposed by the President that gets the local politicians into the business of selecting prayers that our children must either recite in school or be embarrassed and ask to excuse themselves? Who would write the prayer? What would it say? How would it be resolved when those disputes occurred? It seems to me that a moment's reflection tells you why the United States Senate turned that amendment down. Because it will undermine the practice of honest faith in our country by politicizing it. We don't want that.
MODERATOR: Thank you Mr. Mondale.
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