PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think they are quite important. They force you to come to terms with what you really believe because if you get into a big fight in a debate, unless you are the world's greatest actor, it's hard to sit there and defend a position in a convincing way that you don't really believe. So even if these debates don't change many votes, having to do them and knowing that if you blow them you will change a lot of votes forces people who wish to be President to do things that they should do and I am convinced that the debates that I went through especially those three in 1992 actually helped me to be a better president.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think they should be a required part of the process?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Nope.
JIM LEHRER: No?
PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I think you ought to do what's best to get you elected. And if that's best -- that you have no debates -- too bad for you all debate-lovers because I really think a candidate should be entitled to that. If there was a guy that stuttered and couldn't say, couldn't finish a sentence and yet is a brilliant contribution to as a public servant or an academic or whatever. Why should that one thing be mandatory why should a person be burdened with that that decision to have to debate?
JIM LEHRER: It was television that made that first presidential debate possible 40 years ago. But it happened only because John Kennedy and Richard Nixon each believed he would benefit from a face-to-face meeting with his opponent.
The same was true for Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1976. And candidates in subsequent elections had their reasons to debate as well. But there is no requirement that a candidate for president or vice president debate. It's still done by mutual agreement. The reality, however, is that it would be difficult, and politically risky, for a candidate to refuse to go through a nationally televised debate. I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you for joining us.
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