REPORTER: Mr. President, I want to raise an issue that I think has been lurking out there for two or three weeks, and cast it specifically in national security terms. You already are the oldest President in history, and some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall, yes, that President Kennedy, who had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuba missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?
REAGAN: Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience. If I still have time, I might add, Mr. Trewhitt, I might add that it was Seneca or it was Cicero, I don't know which, that said if it was not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state.
REPORTER: Mr. President, I'd like to head for the fence and try to catch that one before it goes over but - without going to another question. The - you and Mr. Mondale have already disagreed about what you had to say about recalling submarine-launched missiles. There's another similar issue out there that relates to your - you said at least that you were unaware that the Soviet retaliatory power was based onland-based missiles. First, is that correct? Secondly, if it is correct, have you informed yourself in the meantime and, third, is it even necessary for the President to be so intimately involved in strategic details?
REAGAN: Yes. This had to do with our disarmament talks and the whole controversy about land missiles came up because we thought that the strategic nuclear weapons - the most destabilizing are the land- based. You put your thumb on a button and somebody blows up 20 minutes later. So we thought that it would be simpler to negotiate first with those, and then we made it plain, a second phase, take up the submarine- launched - the airborne missiles. The Soviet Union, to our surprise and not just mine - made it plain when we brought this up that they placed, they thought, a greater reliance on the land-based missiles and therefore they wanted to take up all three and we agreed. We said all right, if that's what you want to do. But, it was a surprise to us because they outnumbered us 64 to 36 in submarines and 20 percent more bombers capable of carrying nuclear missiles than we had. So, why should we believe that they had placed that much more reliance on land-based? But even after we gave in and said all right, let's discuss it all, they walked away from the table. We didn't.
REPORTER: Mr. Mondale, I'm going to hang in there. Should the President's age and stamina be an issue in the political campaign?
MONDALE: No. And I have not made it an issue nor should it be. What's at issue here is the President's application of his authority to understand what a President must know to lead this nation, secure our defense and make the decisions and judgments that are necessary. A minute ago, the President quoted Cicero, I believe. I want to quote somebody a little closer home, Harry Truman. He said the buck stops here. We just heard the President's answer for the problems at the barracks in Lebanon where 241 Marines were killed. What happened? First, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the President, said don't put those troops there. They did it. And then five days before the troops were killed, they went back to the President, through the Secretary of Defense, and said please, Mr. President, take those troops out of there because we can't defend them. They didn't do it. And we know what's - what happened. After that, once again our embassy was exploded. This is the fourth time this has happened - an identical attack in the same region, despite warnings even public warnings from the terrorists. Who's in charge? Who's handling this matter. That's my main point. Now on arms control - we're completing four years - this is the first Administration since the bomb went off that made no progress. We have an arms race under way instead. A President has to lead his Government or it won't be done. Different people with different views fight with each. For three and a half years, this Administration avoided arms control, resisted tabling arms control proposals that had any hope of agreeing, rebuked their negotiator in 1981 when he came close to an agreement, at least in principle, on medium-range weapons and we have this arms race under way. And a recent book that just came out by, perhaps, the nation's most respected author in this field, Strobe Talbott, called "Deadly Gambit," concludes that this President has failed to master the essential details needed to command and lead us both in terms of security and terms of arms control. That's why they call the President the Commander-in- Chief. Good intentions, I grant, but it takes more than that. He must be tough and smart.
REPORTER: This question of leadership keeps arising in different forms in this discussion already. And the President, Mr. Mondale, has called you whining and vacillating, among the more charitable phrases - weak, I believe. It is a question of leadership. And he has made the point that you have not repudiated some of the semi-diplomatic activity of the Rev. Jackson, particularly in Central America. Do you, did you approve of his diplomatic activity? And are you prepared to repudiate him now?
MONDALE: I, I read his statement the other day. I don't admire Fidel Castro at all. And I have said that. Che Guevara was a contemptible figure in civilization's history. I know the Cuban state as a police state. And all my life, I've worked in a way that demonstrates that. But Jesse Jackson is an independent person. I don't control him. And, let's talk about people we do control. In the last debate, the Vice President of the United States said that I said the marines had died shamefully and died in shame in Lebanon. I demanded an apology from Vice President Bush because I had instead honored these young men, grieved for their families and think they were wonderful Americans that honored us all. What does the President have to say about taking responsibility for a Vice President who won't apologize for something like that?
MODERATOR: Mr. President, your rebuttal.
REAGAN: Yes, I know it'll come as a surprise to Mr. Mondale, but I am in charge. And as a matter of fact we haven't avoided arms control talks with the Soviet Union. Very early in my Adminstration, I proposed - and I think something that had never been proposed by any previous Administration - I proposed a total elimination of intermediate range missiles where the Soviets had better than a, and still have better than a, ten-to-one advantage over the allies in Europe. When they protested that and suggested a smaller number, perhaps, I went along with that. The so-called negotiation that you said I walked out on was the so-called "walk in the woods" between one of our representatives and one of the Soviet Union and it wasn't me that turned it down. The Soviet Union disavowed it.
MODERATOR: Mr. Mondale, your rebuttal.
MONDALE: There are two distinguished authors of arms control in this country. There are many others, but two that I want to cite tonight. One is Strobe Talbott in his classic book "Deadly Gambit." The other is John Newhouse, who's one of the most distinguished arms control specialists in our country. Both said that this Administration turned down the "walk in the woods" agreement first and that would have been a perfect agreement from the standpoint of the United States and Europe and our security. When Mr. Nitze, a good negotiator returned, he was rebuked and his boss was fired. This is the kind of leadership that we've had in this Administration in the most deadly issue of our time. Now we have a runaway arms race. All they've got to show for four years in U.S.-Soviet relations is one meeting in the last weeks of an Administration and nothing before. They're tough negotiators, but all previous Presidents have made progress. This one has not.
Debates & Campaigns . Interviews . Behind the Podium . Teacher Guide . Site Map . Home
Copyright 2000 MacNeil/Lehrer Productions