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Transcript: Presidential Debate, Winston-Salem, N.C.


___ Debate Referee ___

Referee Washington Post staff writer Charles Babington makes the calls, examining the candidates' claims and charges. Click on the "referee" icons in the text below to see Babington's analysis. Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this feature.

Missile Defense
Saddam Hussein
IMF Loans to Russia
Hate Crimes in Texas
Gay Marriage
Background Checks for Guns
Childrens' Health
Tax Cuts
Energy Taxes

Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Following is the complete transcript of the presidential debate between Vice President Gore (D) and Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R). The moderator of the nationally televised debate was Jim Lehrer of PBS.

First of three pages.

LEHRER: Good evening from Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I'm Jim Lehrer of The NewsHour on PBS.

Welcome to this second election 2000 debate between the Republican candidate for president, Governor George W. Bush of Texas, and the Democratic candidate, Vice President Al Gore.

These debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The format and the rules are those negotiated by representatives of the two campaigns. Only the subjects tonight and the questions are mine.

The format tonight is that of a conversation. The only prevailing rule is that no single response can ever--ever--exceed two minutes.


The prevailing rule for the audience here in the hall is, as always, absolute quiet, please.

Good evening, Governor Bush, Vice President Gore. At the end of our 90 minutes last week in Boston, the total time each of you took was virtually the same. Let's see if we can do the same tonight or come close.

Governor Bush, the first question goes to you. One of you--one of you--is about to be elected the leader of the single most powerful nation in the world--economically, financially, militarily, diplomatically, you name it.

Have you formed any guiding principles for exercising this enormous power?

BUSH: I have. I have.

The first question is what's in the best interests of the United States? What's in the best interests of our people?

When it comes to foreign policy, that'll be my guiding question: Is it in our nation's interests? Peace in the Middle East is in our nation's interests. Having a hemisphere that is free for trade and peaceful is in our nation's interests. Strong relations in Europe is in our nation's interests.

I've thought a lot about what it means to be the president. I also understand that an administration is not one person, but an administration is dedicated citizens who are called by the president to serve the country, to serve a cause greater than self. And so I've thought about an administration of people who represent all America, the people who understand my compassionate, conservative philosophy.

I haven't started naming names except for one person, and that's Mr. Richard Cheney who I thought did a great job the other night. He's a vice presidential nominee who represents--who I think people got to see why I picked him. He's a man of solid judgment, and he's going to be a person to stand by my side.

One of the things I've done in Texas is, I've been able to put together a good team of people. I've been able to set clear goals. The goals are to be an education system that leaves no child behind, Medicare for our seniors, a Social Security system that's safe and secure, foreign policy that's in our nation's interests, and a strong military.

And then, bring people together to achieve those goals. That's what a chief executive officer does. I've though long and hard about the honor of being the president of the United States.

LEHRER: Vice President Gore?

GORE: Yes, Jim, I thought a lot about that particular question. And I see our greatest natural--national strength coming from what we stand for in the world. I see it as a question of values.

It is a great tribute to our founders that 224 years later this nation is now looked to by the peoples on every other continent and the peoples from every part of this Earth as a kind of model for what their future could be.

And I don't think that's just the kind of an exaggeration that we take pride in as Americans. It's really true, even the ones that sometimes shake their fist at us, as soon as they have a change that allows the people to speak freely, they're wanting to develop some kind of blueprint that will help them be like us more--freedom, free markets, political freedom.

So I think first and foremost, our power ought to be wielded to--in ways that form a more perfect union. The power of example is America's greatest power in the world.

And that means, for example, standing up for human rights. It means addressing the problems of injustice and inequity along lines of race and ethnicity here at home, because in all these other places around the world where they're having these terrible problems, when they feel hope, it is often because they see in us a reflection of their potential.

So we've got to enforce our civil rights laws. We've got to deal with things like racial profiling.

And we have to keep our military strong. We have the strongest military, and I'll do whatever is necessary, if I am president, to make sure that it stays that way.

But our real power comes, I think, from our values.

LEHRER: Should the people of the world look at the United States, Governor, and say--should they fear us? Should they welcome our involvement? Should they see us as a friend to everybody in the world? How do you--how would you project us around the world, as president?

BUSH: Well, I think they ought to look at us as a country that understands freedom, where it doesn't matter who you are or how you're raised or where you're from, that you can succeed. I don't think they ought to look at us with envy.

It really depends upon how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy. If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation but strong, they'll welcome us.

And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power. And that's why we've got to be humble and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.

So I don't think they ought to look at us in any other than what we are. We're a freedom loving nation. And if we're an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way. But if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us as an honorable nation.

GORE: I agree with that. I agree with that.

I think that one of the problems that we have faced in the world is that we are so much more powerful than any single nation has been in relationship to the rest of the world than at any time in history--that I know about anyway--that there is some resentment of U.S. power.

So I think that the idea of humility is an important one. But I think that we also have to have a sense of mission in the world. We have to protect our capacity to push forward what America's all about. That means not only military strength and our values, it also means keeping our economy strong.

You know, in the last--two decades ago, it was routine for leaders of foreign countries to come over here and say, "You guys have got to do something about these horrendous deficits because it's causing tremendous problems for the rest of the world," and we were lectured to all the time.

The fact that we have the strongest economy in history today--it's not good enough, we need to do more--but the fact that it is so strong enables us to project the power for good that America can represent.

LEHRER: Does that give us--does our wealth, our good economy, our power, bring with it special obligations to the rest of the world?

BUSH: Yes, it does. Take, for example, Third World debt. I think--I think we ought to be forgiving Third World debt under certain conditions. I think, for example, if we're convinced that a Third World country that's got a lot of debt would reform itself, that the money wouldn't go into the hands of a few, but would go to help people, then I think it makes sense for us to use our wealth in that way.

Or do you trade debt for valuable rain forest lands? Makes some sense.

Yes, we do have an obligation in the world, but we can't be all things to all people. We can help build coalitions, but we can't put our troops all around the world. We can lend money, but we've got to do it wisely. We shouldn't be lending money to corrupt officials. So we got to be guarded in our generosity.

LEHRER: Well, let's go through some of the specifics now.

New question, Vice President Gore, the governor mentioned the Middle East. Here we're talking at this stage of the game about diplomatic power that we have. What do you think the United States should do right now to resolve that conflict over there?

GORE: The first priority has to be on ending the violence, dampening down the tensions that have risen there. We need to call upon Syria to release the three Israeli soldiers who have been captured. We need to insist that Arafat send out instructions to halt some of the provocative acts of violence that have been going on.

I think that we also have to keep a weather eye toward Saddam Hussein, because he's taking advantage of this situation to once again make threats. And he needs to understand that he's not only dealing with Israel, he's dealing with us if he is making the kind of threats that he's talking about there.

The use of in this situation has already--well, it goes hour by hour and day by day now; it's a very tense situation there.

But in the last 24 hours, there has been some subsiding of the violence there. It's too much to hope that this is going to continue, but I do hope that it will continue. Our country has been very active with regular conversations with the leaders there. And we just have to take it day to day right now.

But one thing I would say where diplomacy is concerned, Israel should--should feel absolutely secure about one thing: Our bonds with Israel are larger than agreements or disagreements on some details of diplomatic initiatives. They are historic, they are strong, and they are enduring. And our ability to serve as an honest broker is something that we need to shepherd.

LEHRER: Governor?

BUSH: Well, I think during the campaign, particularly now during this difficult period, we ought to be speaking with one voice. And I appreciate the way the administration has worked hard to calm the tensions. Like the vice president, I call on Chairman Arafat to have his people pull back to make the peace.

I think credibility is going to be very important in the future in the Middle East. I want everybody to know, should I be the president, Israel's going to be our friend. I'm going to stand by Israel.

Secondly, that I think it's important to reach out to moderate Arab nations like Jordan and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

It's important to be friends with people when you don't need each other so that when you do, there's a strong bond of friendship. And that's going to be particularly important in dealing not only with situations such as now occurring in Israel, but with Saddam Hussein.

The coalition against Saddam has fallen apart or it's unraveling, let's put it that way. The sanctions are being violated. We don't know whether he's developing weapons of mass destruction. He'd better not be or there's going to be a consequence, should I be the president.

Debate Referee
But it's important to have credibility and credibility is formed by being strong with your friends and resoluting your determination. It's one of the reasons why I think it's important for this nation to develop an anti-ballistic missile system that we can share with our allies in the Middle East, if need be, to keep the peace; to be able to say to the Saddam Husseins of the world or the Iranians, "Don't dare threaten our friends."

It's also important to keep strong ties in the Middle East, credible ties, because of the energy crisis we're now in. After all, a lot of the energy is produced from the Middle East.

And so I appreciate what the administration is doing. I hope you can get a sense of, should I be fortunate enough to be the president, how my administration will react in the Middle East.

LEHRER: So you don't believe, Vice President Gore, that we should take sides and resolve this right now? There a lot of people pushing, "Hey, the United States should declare itself and not be so neutral in this particular situation."

GORE: Well, we stand with Israel, but we have maintained the ability to serve as an honest broker. And one of the reasons that's important is that Israel cannot have direct dialogue with some of the people on the other side of conflicts, especially during times of tension, unless that dialogue comes through us.

And if we throw away that ability to serve as an honest broker, then we have thrown--we will have thrown away a strategic asset that's important not only to us but also to Israel.

LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Governor?

BUSH: I do. I do think this, though. I think that when it comes to time tables, it can't be the United States time table as to how discussions take place. It's got to be a time table that all parties can agree to, other than--like the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Secondly, any lasting peace is going to have to be a peace that's good for both sides, and, therefore, the term honest broker makes sense. Whether it--this current administration's worked hard to keep the parties at the table. I will try to do the same thing. But it won't be on my time table; it'll be on a time table that people are comfortable with in the Middle East.

LEHRER: People watching here tonight very interested in Middle East policy. And they're so interested that they want to make a--they want to base their vote on differences between the two of you as president, how you would handle Middle East policy. Is there any difference?

GORE: I haven't heard a big difference right--in the last few exchanges.

BUSH: Well, I think--it's hard to tell. I think that, you know, I would hope to be able to convince people I could handle the Iraqi situation better. I mean, we don't...

LEHRER: Saddam Hussein, you mean?

BUSH: Yes.

LEHRER: You could get him out of there?

BUSH: I'd like to, of course. And I presume this administration would as well. But we don't know. There's no inspectors now in Iraq. The coalition that was in place isn't as strong as it used to be.

He is a danger.

We don't want him fishing in troubled waters in the Middle East. And it's going to be hard to--it's going to be important to rebuild that coalition to keep the pressure on him.

LEHRER: Do you feel that is a failure of the Clinton administration?

BUSH: I do.

LEHRER: Mr. Vice President?

Debate Referee
GORE: Well, when I got to be a part of the current administration, it was right after I was one of the few members of my political party to support former President Bush in the Persian Gulf War resolution.

And at the end of that war, for whatever reasons, it was not finished in a way that removed Saddam Hussein from power. I know there are all kinds of circumstances and explanations. But the fact is that that's the situation that was left when I got there. And we have maintained the sanctions.

Now, I want to go further. I want to give robust support to the groups that are trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein. And I know there are allegations that they're too weak to do it, but that's what they said about the forces that were opposing Milosevic in Serbia.

And, you know, the policy of enforcing sanctions against Serbia has just resulted in a spectacular victory for democracy just in the past week. And it seems to me that, having taken so long to see the sanctions work there, building upon the policy of containment that was successful over a much longer period of time against the former Soviet Union and the Communist Bloc, it seems a little early to declare that we should give up on the sanctions.

I know the governor's not necessarily saying that. But, you know, all of these flights that have come in? All of them have been in accordance with the sanctions regime, I'm told, except for three where they notified. And they're trying to break out of the box, there's no question about it. I don't think they should be allowed to.

LEHRER: Are you--did he correct you--did he state your position correctly? You're not calling for eliminating the sanctions, are you?

BUSH: No, of course not. Absolutely not. I want them to be tougher.

LEHRER: Let's go--move to Milosevic and Yugoslavia. And it falls into the area of our military power.

Governor, new question, should the fall of Milosevic be seen as a triumph for U.S. military intervention?

BUSH: I think it's a triumph; I thought the president made the right decision in joining NATO in bombing Serbia. I supported them when they did so. I called upon the Congress not to hamstring the administration and--in terms of forcing troop withdrawals on a timetable that wasn't in necessarily our best interests or fit our nation's strategy.

And so I think it's good public policy. I think it worked. And I'm pleased I took the--made the decision I made. I'm pleased the president made the decision he made, because freedom took hold in that part of the world.

And there's a lot of work left to be done, however.

LEHRER: But you think it would not have happened--do you believe--do you think that Milosevic would not have fallen if the United States and NATO had not intervened militarily?

Is this a legitimate use of our military power?

BUSH: Yes, I think it is, absolutely. I don't think he would had fallen had we not used force. And I know there's some in my party that disagreed with that sentiment, but I supported the president. I thought he made the right decision to do so.

I didn't think he necessarily made the right decision to take land troops off the table right before we committed ourselves offensively, but nevertheless, it worked. The administration deserves credit for having made it work.

It's as important for NATO to have it work. It's important for NATO to be strong and confident to help keep the peace in Europe. And one of the reasons I felt so strongly that the United States needed to participate was because of our relations with NATO. And NATO is going to be an important part of keeping the peace in the future.

Now, there's more work to do. It remains to be seen how or whether or not there's going to be a political settlement to Kosovo. And I certainly hope there is one.

I'm also on record as saying, at some point in time, I hope our European friends become the peacekeepers in Bosnia and in the Balkans. I hope that they put the troops on the ground so that we can withdrawal our troops and focus our military on fighting and winning war.

LEHRER: Mr. Vice President?

GORE: Well, I've been kind of a hard-liner on this issue for more than eight years. When I was in the Senate before I became vice president, I was pushing for stronger action against Milosevic. He caused the deaths of so many people. He was the last Communist Party boss there. And then he became a dictator by some other label, he was still essentially a communist dictator. And unfortunately now, he is trying to reassert himself in Serbian politics already.

Just today the members of his political party said that they were going to ignore the orders of the new president of Serbia, and that they question his legitimacy. And he's still going to try to be actively involved. He is an indicted war criminal. He should be held accountable.

Now, I did want to pick up on one of the statements earlier. And maybe I have heard--maybe I've heard the previous statements wrong, Governor.

In some of the discussions we've had about when it's appropriate for the U.S. to use force around the world, at times the standards that you've laid down have given me the impression that if it's--if it's something like a genocide taking place or what they called ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, that that alone would not be--that that wouldn't be the kind of situation that would cause you to think that the U.S. ought to get involved with troops.

Now, have to be other factors involved for me to want to be involved. But by itself, that, to me, can bring into play a fundamental American strategic interest because I think it's based on our values. Now, have I got that wrong?

LEHRER: Governor?

BUSH: OK, yes. I'm trying to figure out who the questioner was.

If I think it's in our nation's strategic interests, I'll commit troops. I thought it was in our strategic interests to keep Milosevic in check because of our relations in NATO, and that's why I took the positions I took. I think it's important for NATO to be strong and confident. I felt like an unchecked-Milosevic would harm NATO.

And so it depends on the situation, Mr. Vice President.

LEHRER: Well, let's keep--let's stay on the subject for a moment. New question, related to this. There have been--I figured this out--in the last 20 years, there have been eight major actions involving the introduction of U.S. ground, air or naval forces. Let me name them: Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo. If you had been president, are any of those interventions--would any of those interventions not have happened?

GORE: Can you run through the list again?

LEHRER: Sure. Lebanon.

GORE: I thought that was a mistake.

LEHRER: Grenada.

GORE: I supported that.

LEHRER: Panama.

GORE: I supported that one.

LEHRER: Persian Gulf.

GORE: Yes, I voted for it, supported it.

LEHRER: Somalia.

GORE: Well, of course, and that, again--no, I think that that was ill-considered. I did support it at the time. It was in the previous administration, in the Bush-Quayle administration, and I think in retrospect the lessons there are ones that we--that we should take very, very seriously.

LEHRER: Bosnia.

GORE: Oh, yes.

LEHRER: Haiti.

GORE: Yes.

LEHRER: And then Kosovo.

GORE: Yes.

LEHRER: We talked about that.

Want me to do it with you? Go through each one?



LEHRER: ... be Lebanon.

BUSH: No, I'm fine. I'll make a couple of comments.

LEHRER: Sure. Absolutely. Sure.

BUSH: Somalia. Started off as a humanitarian mission then changed into a nation-building mission, and that's where the mission went wrong. The mission was changed. And as a result, our nation paid a price.

And so I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building.

I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war. I think our troops ought to be used to help overthrow a dictator that's in our--and it's in our--when it's in our best interests.

But in this case, it was a nation-building exercise. And same with Haiti, I wouldn't have supported either.

LEHRER: What about Lebanon?

BUSH: Yes.

LEHRER: Grenada?

BUSH: Yes.

LEHRER: Panama?

BUSH: Yes.

LEHRER: Obviously, the...

BUSH: Well, some of them I've got a conflict of interest on, if you know what I mean.

LEHRER: I do. I do.


LEHRER: The Persian Gulf, obviously.

BUSH: Yes.

LEHRER: And Bosnia. And you've already talked about Kosovo.

BUSH: Yes.

LEHRER: But the reverse side of the question, Governor, that Vice President Gore mentioned--for instance, 600,000 people died in Rwanda in 1994. There was no U.S. intervention. There was no intervention from the outside world. Was that a mistake not to intervene?

BUSH: I think the administration did the right thing in that case, I do. It was a horrible situation. No one liked to see it on our--you know, on our TV screens. But it's a case where we need to make sure we've got a, you know, kind of an early warning system in place in places where there could be ethnic cleansing and genocide the way we saw it there in Rwanda.

And that's a case where we need to, you know, use our influence to have countries in Africa come together and help deal with the situation. The administration--it seems like we're having a great love fest now--but the administration made the right decision on training Nigerian troops for situations just such as this in Rwanda. And so I thought they made the right decision not to send U.S. troops into Rwanda.

LEHRER: Do you have any second thoughts on that based on what you said a moment ago about genocide and...

GORE: I'd like to come back to the question of nation-building. But let me address this question directly first.

LEHRER: We'll do that later.

GORE: Fine.

We did actually send troops into Rwanda to help with the humanitarian relief measures. My wife, Tipper, who's here, actually went on a military plane with General Shalikashvili on one of those flights.

But I think in retrospect we were too late getting in there. We would have saved more lives if we had acted earlier.

But I do not think that it was an example of a conflict where we should have put our troops in to try to separate the parties for this reason, Jim: One of my--one of the criteria that I think is important in deciding when and if we should ever get involved around the world is whether or not our national security interest is involved, if we can really make the difference with military force, if we've tried everything else, if we have allies.

In the Balkans, we had allies, NATO, ready, willing and able to go and carry a big part of the burden. In Africa, we did not. Now we have tried--our country's tried to create an Africa crisis response team there, and we've met some resistance. We have had some luck with Nigeria, but in Sierra Leone. And that, now that Nigeria's become a democracy--and we hope it stays that way--then maybe we can build on that.

But because we had no allies and because it was very unclear that we could actually accomplish what we would want to accomplish by putting military forces there, I think it was the right thing not to jump in, as heartbreaking as it was, but I think we should have come in much quicker with the humanitarian mission.

LEHRER: So what would you say, Governor, to somebody who would say, "Hey, wait a minute. Why not Africa? I mean, why the Middle East? Why the Balkans, but not Africa when 600,000 people's lives are at risk?"

BUSH: Well, I understand. And Africa's important, and we've got to do a lot of work in Africa to promote democracy and trade. And there's some--the vice president mentioned Nigeria. It's a fledgling democracy. We've got to work with Nigeria. That's an important continent.

But there's got to be priorities. And the Middle East is a priority for a lot of reasons, as is Europe and the Far East and our own hemisphere. And those are my four top priorities should I be the president. It's not to say we won't be engaged nor trying--nor should we--you know, work hard to get other nations to come together to prevent atrocity.

I thought the best example of a way to handle the situation is East Timor when we provided logistical support to the Australians, support that only we can provide. I thought that was a good model.

But we can't be all things to all people in the world, Jim. And I think that's where maybe the vice president and I begin to have some differences. I am worried about over-committing our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use.

You mentioned Haiti. I wouldn't have sent troops to Haiti. I didn't think it was a mission worthwhile. It was a nation-building mission. And it was not very successful. It cost us billions, a couple of billions of dollars, and I'm not so sure democracy is any better off in Haiti than it was before.

LEHRER: Vice President Gore, do you agree with the governor's views on nation-building, the use of military, our military to--for nation-building, as he described it and defined it?

GORE: I don't think we agree on that. I would certainly also be judicious in evaluating any potential use of American troops overseas. I think we have to be very reticent about that.

But, look, Jim, the world is changing so rapidly. The way I see it, the world's getting much closer together. Like it or not, we are now the--the United States is now the natural leader of the world. All these other countries are looking to us.

Now, just because we cannot be involved everywhere, and shouldn't be, doesn't mean that we should shy away from going in anywhere. Now, both of us are, kind of, I guess stating the other's position in a maximalist, extreme way, but I think there is a difference here.

This idea of nation-building is a kind of pejorative phrase. But think about the great conflict of the past century, World War II. During the years between World War I and World War II, a great lesson was learned by our military leaders and the people of the United States. The lesson was that in the aftermath of World War I we kind of turned our backs and left them to their own devices, and they brewed up a lot of trouble that quickly became World War II.

And acting upon that lesson in the aftermath of our great victory in World War II, we laid down the Marshall Plan, President Truman did.

We got eminently involved in building NATO and other structures there. We still have lots of troops in Europe.

And what did we do in the late '40s and '50s and '60s? We were nation-building. And it was economic, but it was also military. And the confidence that those countries recovering from the wounds of war had by having troops there--we had civil administrators come in to set up their ways of building their towns back.

LEHRER: You said in the Boston debate, Governor, on this issue of nation-building, that the United States military is overextended now. Where is it overextended? Where are there U.S. military that you would bring home if you become president?

BUSH: Well, first, let me just say one comment about what the vice president said. I think one of the lessons in between World War I and World War II is we let our military atrophy, and we can't do that. We've got to rebuild our military.

But one of the problems we have in the military is we're in a lot of places around the world. And I mentioned one, and that's the Balkans. I'd very much like to get our troops out of there. I recognize we can't do it now, nor do I advocate an immediate withdrawal. That would be an abrogation of our agreement with NATO; no one's suggesting that. But I think it ought to be one of our priorities, to work with our European friends to convince them to put troops on the ground. And there is an example. Haiti is another example.

Now, there are some places where, I think, you know, I supported the administration in Colombia; I think it's important for us to be training Colombians in that part of the world. Our hemisphere is in our interest, to have a peaceful Colombia. But...

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