Dan Rather Interviews Gore

Vice President Al Gore with wife, Tipper beside him.
CBS
As part of a special broadcast from the White House on its 200th anniversary, CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather spoke with Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper, who hope to make the residence their official home next January 20th. Correspondent Rather recently caught up with the Gores on the campaign trail in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Vice President Al Gore: Hey, Dan, how are you doing?

Dan Rather, CBS Evening News Anchor: I'm doing well. How goes the war?

Gore: What are you doing hanging out here in Green Bay, Wisconsin?

Rather: I wouldn't want to miss this race, you know that. Does this get tiring?

Gore: Not at all. As a matter of fact, it's exactly the opposite, because when they tell you what they're up against and why they believe in you and want you to fight for them. It really is a source of energy; it's not a drain of energy. I feel energized and stronger in meeting groups like this...

Rather: This is your classic ground war. Is it down to the ground war now, or is it air and ground?

Gore: Well, Vince Lombardi sometimes went to three yards and a cloud of dust. And that's what this one's all about.

Rather: I really appreciate your doing this today.

Gore: Of course. Delighted.

Rather: Well, how goes the war?

Gore: It's going great. You know, this is a close race. Anybody that tells you otherwise doesn't know what he's talking about. This is, this is a case where the outcome really is hanging in the balance. Essentially, the United States of America has not made her mind up quite yet. And anybody who tells you they have an insight into exactly what's happening, they don't know, because I'm out here talking to the undecided voters. And a lot of people these days are working really hard and they're stretched thin and they haven't really felt as if they've had time to tune in and listen to all this stuff, but now they are - and they're listening really carefully. And what I'm talking about is getting a good response.

We need to keep on creating more jobs and keep the economy moving in the right direction - and that means balancing the budget and paying down the debt, not squandering the surplus on a giant tax cut for the very wealthy. It means investing in schools and giving our kids the education they need for the future. Protecting the environment and really being serious about that in a way that creates more jobs, protecting Social Security - not playing roulette with it and promising the money out of the Trust Fund to two different groups of people. And it means expanding health care. So these are the issues that I think are really grabbing people's attention now.

Rather: Mrs. Gore, you've been in the headlines, not just in the news but in the headlines for the last few days. Tell me about it. One headline said, "Tipper Goe Attacks Her Husband's Opponent". True?

Tipper Gore: I have been saying the same thing all along. I think now we're just getting more coverage, because people are tuning in. What I'm talking about is that this is a serious decision that people have to make. I talk about my husband's experience, eight years in the House, eight years in the Senate, eight in the executive branch, overseeing the strongest economy and the fact that he's a Vietnam veteran, and that he's a great father, husband - and I think has a fantastic record on issues that are important to women in particular. I also have been saying all along that I think that this is a race - like John Kennedy's race in 1960 - every vote's going to count. He won by one vote per precinct. So I tell people, "Your vote matters, your voice matters in choosing the future, but your vote matters in choosing the next president."

Rather: Have you also been telling people that the other guy's a nice guy, but not quite ready yet for the presidency?

Mrs. Gore: I don't engage in any personal attacks. What I'm doing is saying that my husband is ready for the presidency because he's got 24 years of experience in public service. He's gotten up every morning not figuring out how much money he can make for himself, but figuring out how he can serve the public interest, working hard to make people's lives better. And I've been with him every step of the way and I'm proud of him!

Gore: And I think she makes a pretty persuasive case. (laughs)

Rather: Well I'm shocked, I'm totally shocked ... If God smiles - you're lucky enough, and the people decide, you are the next president of the United States - tell me the first thing you want to do in the first day in the first hour that you get to do something, what is that something going to be?

Gore: Make sure that our economic policy is in sound shape. Send the campaign finance reform bill to the Congress, because that'll help us get favorable action on education and health care and prescription drug benefits for seniors and a patients bill of rights and protecting the environment. The budget plan I send to the Congress will be in balance and will contain a surplus that we use to pay down the debt. Protect Social Security - I will not allow money to be taken out of the Social Security Trust Fund - and I'll cut taxes for middle class families.

Rather: Now when I ask your opponent what's the first thing he would do, he said concentrate on education. You've said something different. What have you said on education - he considers education the strong suit for him.

Gore: Well, the Rand Corporation study of what he's done in Texas kind of undermines that, saying that the claims of success there were false. In every speech I make, including the one you just attended, I say that our top priority has to be to bring major improvement in our pubic schools. But that's not going to be accomplished with one bill sent to the Congress. That's going to be accomplished with a daily focus on how to bring changes.

I will propose a budget for education that enlarges the amount of help that local school districts get to keep local control and to have new accountability for schools, but to give them also the new resources that are needed to recruit more teachers, test new teachers. My opponent won't go along with that, but I think we ought to test all new teachers to make sure that they can teach the subjects they're going to be teaching. I want to test all students and have new accountability, but my plan doesn't end there. I want to reduce the class size. When you get more teachers and build new schools, then you can reduce the average class size: One of my signature commitments in this campaign is to make college tuition mostly tax deductible: ten thousand dollars a year for every middle class family.

Mrs. Gore: He's the only candidate proposing universal preschool for all children.

Gore: Right, right.

Rather: No wonder you bring her along ... I want to talk about Social Security. I know you are always reluctant to talk about Social Security. (Gore laughs.) I quote The Washington Post directly - I know you can't read everything - but over the weekend, The Washington Post, while I may not have the words precisely there is no question The Washington Post says, "Listen, any candidate who tells you that he'll fix Social Security without being willing to either raise taxes or to cut benefits is kidding you." They were critical of Governor Bush's plan, but they were critical of you saying in effect neither candidate really has a plan.

Gore: I disagree.

Rather: Are you prepared to cut benefits? Do you think it necessary?
Gore: No, I don't think we should cut benefits and I will tell you why. There are millions of seniors who are living just about hand to mouth who rely totally on Social Security. And it is all too easy to sit in some ivory tower and say, "Let's cut Social Security benefits," when these people are people are being paid more than a hundred thousand dollars a year and they don't have to worry about this and seniors are out there having to pick between their meals and their prescription medicine and they are not - they are having to fall back on their families and that hurts their dignity and pride. And Social Security was supposed to stop all that. This is not right to cut Social Security benefits.

Rather: Are you prepared to raise taxes then?

Gore: Look, I am proposed to do the following - to put the Social Security trust fund in a lock box and protect it from being used for anything other than Social Security. And then when that results in reductions in the public debt and saves us money in the form of interest payments on that debt, I am prepared to put those saving back into the Trust Fund. In a sense, that is a way of putting some general revenue into the Social Security Trust Fund. It is not exactly the same, because we wouldn't have that money except for the sound management of the Trust Fund. It is a bonus that comes from fiscal responsibility. That proposal extends the life of the Social Security Trust Fund out to 55 years.

Now what you are talking about is the view that if you don't extend it 75 years, then it is not good enough - you have to cut benefits. But if we extend it 55 years, that will be a longer period of time than Social Security has ever turned out to have been solvent. It has sometimes been projected to last longer than that, but this will be the longest time ever. Now, I think that is an excellent start. I want to give young workers a new incentive to save in the form of a tax credit. Now here is the contrast with what Governor Bush is saying. He is proposing to take a trillion dollars out of the Social Security Trust Fund and sharply reduce its life solvency and he has promised that money to two different groups of people: young workers in the form of a savings incentive and seniors in the form of no benefit cuts.

Rather: You know he flatly denies that. He says it isn't double promising the same amount of money.

Gore: It is though. The 20th Century Fund put out an independent study documenting this and the American Academy of Actuaries just confirmed it within the last few days.

Rather: There is a lot of ground I want to cover and I don't want to get hung up on Social Security, but I think you will agree it is worth hanging just a minute on the subject. Again, I come back to The Washington Post - not that they are the great fount of wisdom on Social Security - but why would they say that neither candidate is telling the truth?

Gore: Because the standard that has been used in the past is whether or not you can keep it solvent for a period of 75 years into the future.

Rather: So your point is that is the break-off point...

Gore: That is right and what I have done is propose a plan that would keep it sound for 55 years into the future.

Rather: And you can pay for that without increasing the taxes?

Gore. That is correct.

Rather: Or cutting benefits?

Gore: That is correct, but understand it is a significant change because it would take the interest savings that would other wise go into general revenue and pump that back into the Social Security Trust Fund.

Rather: And you think we can afford it?

Gore: Yes, sir, we have the largest surplus ever. Now here is the reason you can afford it under my plan. This is a candid distinction between myself and Governor Bush. My tax cut plan is smaller than his - five hundred billion dollars compared to 1.6 trillion dollars - he has got 1.6 trillion dollars as a tax cut, almost half of which goes to thwealthiest one percent. He also has another trillion dollars that finances his experiment in privatizing a big part of Social Security.

Rather: The clock runs and the bus rolls, so I need move on for a second. China. There is a school of thought that says we need a containment policy vis-à-vis China now, because China's driving to become first a world economic superpower and then a military superpower. Do you agree or disagree that we need a containment policy?

Gore: I would not call it a containment policy - and I do not think that is the appropriate approach to China, because I don't think that it has given reason to believe that it is an expansionist power threatening its neighbors - I mean, other than Taiwan, which is a special case.

Rather: Mr. Vice President, you've been in public life for most of your adult life. You were a newspaperman, you served in the Army, but mostly in public life. You've been part of an administration that one could argue has presided over the greatest economic - sustained economic boom in the history of the country. But here you are in the last week of the presidential campaign, in which even by your own estimate it's - you're locked neck and neck with the other guy. Why is that? Why have you not broken through, particularly on the economy? Why don't you have a long and fairly comfortable lead at this stage?

Gore: Well, I overcame a 20 point, 15 to 20 point deficit during the last year - and we have the momentum and that's very exciting, even though up until recently we were outspent two to one with a constant stream of negative attacks financed by the special interest money that's flooded into the other side of the campaign.

Rather: But surely sometime at night the two of you talking - you must have said, maybe one to the other, "Why is this happening to us?"

Gore: This is a great privilege to be involved in a close race for the future of this country, Dan, and to have the opportunity to go out here and present a vision that I sincerely believe is going to make our country a stronger and better place. I'm so optimistic about, I'm optimistic about the election. I'm even more optimistic about the future of our country if we make the right choices in this election. This is a big choice election. This is a fork in the road - and the special interests have weighed in heavily against me, because they know that I know where the rats in the barn are. And I've got the experience to do something about it.

Rather: Mrs. Gore, does it, does it irritate you when people say, "Look, it's a race between likeability and experience, and likeability is winning."

Mrs. Gore: I think that the American people are going to tune in in the next week. People are busy, people are working several jobs to make ends meet. I mean, you and I have been following this race a long time, particularly me. (lughs) But for a lot of people, they're really just beginning to say, "OK, the election's coming up on November 7, I've got to decide between these two people." I have faith that they are going to consider experience and judgement and a record of accomplishment for working people in this country, which Al Gore has. And a vision for the future that talks about prioritizing education and health care. And it's a serious decision. They're gonna tune in, they're gonna make it.

Gore: Three times when people pay attention: primaries, conventions, final week of the election campaign.

Rather: Describe to me what your relationship to President Clinton is. Are you gonna call him in the last few days of the campaign. Has he offered to come in?

Gore: We're not gonna campaign together, because I'm determined to campaign as my own man and present my own vision. And that's not based on polling or advisers, that's just my own compass. I think that that's the right way to do it. Now he's gonna help to get out the vote, and to communicate with people, sure. But I have not asked him to campaign with me, because I am campaigning on my own presenting my own vision for the future.

Rather: Mrs. Gore, can I ask you what people ask me: "Is it Mrs. Gore? Does she have a thing about President Clinton? Does she not want him to come into the campaign?" You're the reason he's not coming in? (Gore laughs.) I want to let you address that directly.

Mrs. Gore: That's absolutely not true. That's just ridiculous. We are personal friends. As Al just said, the president has been and will continue to campaign for all Democrats across the board. He has worked very hard and we appreciate that.

Rather: The subject is religion. Do you pray every day?

Gore: Yeah.

Rather: You pray to win?

Gore: No, I don't think that's a - I don't think that's a worthy object of prayer. You pray to be a worthy person, to find the courage to continue growing and learning and being up to the challenge that you face and to make your heart right, that kind of thing. But I don't think it's right to pray for a goal like that.

Rather: Mrs. Gore, it's a personal question, but you know, a lot of wives would be praying at this point, "God, I know you're a god of all people, but if you could sort of lean our way it certainly would be handy just now." (Gore laughs.)

Mrs. Gore: I agree with Al. Even in some of the most difficult moments in our lives together, I've always prayed for God's will to be done, whatever that is.

Rather: Made any mistakes in the campaign?

Gore: Sure, yeah, you don't learn if you don't make mistakes. I campaigned for almost a year more or less as a vice president looking for a promotion - and that was the wrong way to campaign. I took several days off and climbed a mountain with my young son - and having the oportunity to completely get away from it all and come back to it with a fresh outlook enabled me to see that running for president is completely different from being the best vice president that you can be.

Rather: How about on the debates? The debates that weren't actually debates, but let's don't go there.

Gore: Well, I'm with you on that...

Rather: On the so-called "debates", on the so called "debates" - mistake in the first debate and then the second debate to change your approach to it, giving an opening to people to say, "Well, here's a guy who doesn't really know who he is."

Gore: Well, the formats were very different, and I think the format I liked the best was one they called "town hall meeting". And I pledge that if I am given the opportunity, I'm gonna have an average of one town hall meeting a week all over the United States as president. I think that's not only a good format for discussing issues in a campaign, but a good way to keep in touch with people after the election. I did that as a congressman.

Rather: Now back to the question. Taken as a whole, the three joint appearances with George Bush. Mighta-coulda-shoulda, would you do it differently today?

Gore: I enjoyed 'em, I think they were good for the people, I think they gave a good opportunity.

Rather: Don't think they were a mistake?

Gore: Oh, no.

Rather: Let's move on...

Gore: Could I do better? Sure, sure.

Rather: There are those who say, "Look, the Gore campaign has had to make so many adjustments as it goes along, (it) hasn't been all that well organized, what does that tell us about Al Gore's leadership capability, his decisiveness?" I want you to answer the question: what the campaign has told us about your decisiveness?

Gore: I think we have the best campaign ever put together. I think Bill Daley is a superb campaign. I think Donna Brazile is a great campaign manager. I think we have a great team. I think it's hitting on all cylinders.

Rather: Again on the question of leadership - you consider yourself a decisive person?

Gore: I do.

Rather: Do you listen to advice?

Gore: Yeah, sure.

Rather: Everyone would expect you to say that. But, you know, in fact someone did a profile this last weekend, saying, "Al Gore's a smart person, but he doesn't always take advice very well." Do you agree with that assessment?

Gore: Not really. I think that you have to be willing to reach out to get the best advice that you can and I do that. But if somebody gives you advice that you don't think is sound, you have to be willing to say, "Well, thank you very much, but I don't agree with that." That's part of leadership, too.

Rather: Both you and Mrs. Gore are people who've been around the White House quite a bit, not just in th last eight years. Give me some sense of what you think the historical symbolism of the White House is to us as Americans.

Gore: Well, it's a symbol of our young nation maturing over time and becoming the leader of the free world. I'm particularly fond of the two large trees on the south side that were planted by Andrew Jackson, the greatest president from my home state of Tennessee.

Rather: Two magnolia trees.

Gore: Big ones.

Rather: Mrs. Gore, you still get a thrill going in it or has it become routine?

Mrs. Gore: It's always an honor and a privilege and I think of it as the house of all the people of the United States.

Rather: Thank you very much, thanks for taking the time.

Mrs. Gore: Thank you, Dan.

Gore: Thanks for coming out on the trail.