Former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour has the answers to your questions. In 1994 as Chairman Barbour helped the G.O.P. win control of both the House and Senate for the first time in forty years. Veteran CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante brings a top political expert into the Smoke-Filled Room each week to answer your questions.
Plante: Our first viewer Lynn C. asks What are your thoughts on Dick Cheney being selected as George W. Bushs running mate?
Barbour: I think its a tremendous choice. I think theres two reasons well look back on this and see how important it was. One is that it shows Bushs commitment is to governing. Dick Cheney will be the best partner in governing youve ever seen. Hes not a flashy campaigner, and he doesnt bring any electoral votes. But Bush thinks governing is more important than politics. I think that the country is ready, after eight years of a perpetual campaign under Clinton and Gore, for somebody to put substance in front of spin, somebody who puts policy in front of politics. I think its a big statement by Bush.
The other thing is that it just reinforces Bushs commitment to a bipartisan approach to governing in Washington. The American people are sick of the poisonous atmosphere and the bitter partisanship theyve seen the last eight years in Washington. Bush has a great record of bipartisan governing in Texas. In fact the Democrat legislature passed his program in his first term.
Cheney is so popular and well received on both sides of the aisle that he will be a huge asset in Bushs approach to Washington being bipartisan. The public deserves this. People are sick of this, and they ought to be.
Thats what I think people will remember about this: commitment to governance and commitment to a bipartisan approach.
Plante: How much influence do you think the senior George Bush had in the selection of Cheney? How much influence will he have if George W. does win the election? Dave is curious.
Barbour: I think he had virtually no influence. Remember, the first President to pick Dick Cheney to be his White House Chief of Staff was Gerald Ford. Then Republicans in Congress picked Dick Cheney to be their number two leader and he was definitely lined up to be the leader and ultimately, the Speaker of the House under the Republicans. George H.W. Bush picked him after John Towers nomination cratered. Its not unusual for the leading Republicans in the country to turn to Dick Cheney. I think Governor George Bush came to the same conclusion that Gerald Ford, House Republicans and his dad had come to.
Plante: M. Barrywrites I am very concerned that Al Gore has stolen a lot of the momentum from .W. Is that what you are seeing in the polls? If so, how will GW respond?
Barbour: The Gallop Poll that was published today shows Bush up by eleven points thats about as big a lead as hes ever had. He had some polls last month that showed him up ten, eleven, twelve points. But the truth is, this race is going to get closer. Gore doesnt even have the Democrat base yet he will ultimately get that. This will be a close election. I am frankly surprised that Bush continues to enjoy these kinds of leads when you see the kind of money the Democrats have spent on television in the last few weeks, and Gore has been on the attack steadily. So far it hasnt really eaten into Bushs lead at all. But ultimately its going to be a close race.
Plante: How big an issue is abortion going to be during the election? asks J.C.Q.
Barbour: I dont think it will be a particularly big issue. The choices are very clear here. Bush is pro-life and Gores pro-abortion. I think more people in the country want a responsible policy toward abortion than the policy that Gore has, which is so pro-abortion that hes for abortion on demand, for any reason or no reason, at any time in the pregnancy right up until the ninth month, without any limitation or restriction whatsoever and paid for the by the taxpayers if necessary. Albert Gore has never seen or heard about an abortion that he would oppose. The American people dont want that.
Plante: Darlene Brainard writes I am getting right down worried about this election. The Republicans can't seem to even whisper a counter to Al Gore's harsh attacks on Bush and Cheney. The Democrats seem to have so many come out with loud, shrill voices that really articulate their negative feelings and arouse the same feelings in others. Where are the people in the Republican Party who could generate some excitement and enthusiasm for the ticket? I am afraid G.W. is getting too complacent and feels that he doesn't have to respond to these vicious attacks. Why can't he throw some negatives back their way?
Barbour: Darlene has put her finger on the Democrat campaign strategy and that is to run the most negative, ruthlessly negative, campaign in American history. The reason theyre doing that, is that Gores people understand that Gore will never be elected because the American people want him as President. The American people have already decided they dont. Thats why Bush has led in the polls for a year and a half. So Gores people believe that the only way Gore can win is to tear down Bush. So they will attack Bush on everything, everywhere, everyday. Theyll attack him personally, theyll attack his records, theyll attack his proposals, theyll attack everything. But the fact of the mater is, the American people are sick of that.
Bushs message is optimistic, positive and bipartisan. Thats a breath of fresh air to the American people. The American people know we can do better than weve been doing with this poisonous atmosphere in Washington. I think they see the difference when Gore is always attacking and Bush is saying here are the things we can do better for America, our communities and our families.
Plante: How can the Republicans make character an issue when most of the finger pointers during the impeachment had no stronger character than the President? Shalafata wants to know.
Barbour: In the Presidential campaign the public is going to decide about the personal characteristics of the candidates. The Presidency is the most personal office in the world. I mean, hes in your den every night. A lot of the weight in voting goes to the personal characteristics. Bushs positive, optimistic, warm, and in fact regular, kind of personality has been one of the reasons hes enjoyed these leads in the polls. And Gores negative campaign, candidly, is going to make it a lot harder for the people to warm to him.
Plante: Jon Damascus comments that Candidate Gore talks about all the prosperity that has occurred under President Clinton during the two terms they have held the White House. He asks, If the Democrats ran the House and Senate, with a majority for approximately 43 years, and the Republicans the last eight, shouldnt the Republicans really get the credit for the booming economy?
Barbour: Interestingly, among the Americans who give government much credit for economic growth, most give the biggest share to Alan Greenspan, who is a Republican appointed by a Republicn. But when you get down to whos more responsible President Clinton or the Republican Congress the American people split about even. But I think, most importantly, most Americans dont think its the government whos responsible period. They see its the private sector. Technology. The things that have happened in our economy, they dont see as being driven by government. I think thats very healthy. And I think its one of the reasons Gore doesnt get much credit. The other reason is a lot of people in the country think the economy is good despite Clinton and Gore, rather than because of them.
Plante: Under your leadership the RNC broke all previous fundraising records. And new records have been set in this campaign by both parties. writes Julie. She is curious about your thoughts on campaign finance reform?
Barbour: There should be campaign finance reform. And the first campaign finance reform should be to prevent the labor unions from taking the dues money of their members without their permission and spending it on politics. The biggest and most egregious legal abuse of campaign finance laws is the unions taking the dues money of their members without their permission and spending it. If you dont change that, you shouldnt even have campaign finance reform. Why would you not address the worst problem first?
The only thing I would add about new records; the biggest new record set in this election, is that George Bush had more contributors to his campaign than other campaign in the history of the United States, and maybe the history of the world. I think thats very healthy.
Plante: Are conventions an anachronism that turn regular people off on politics? Why do American campaigns last so long? asks R.M.
Barbour: The conventions no longer have a role in the selection of President and Vice President in either party. Their relationship to the Presidential campaign is that its a launch pad. Its an opportunity for the American people to get a whole lot of information and a lot of chances to see our candidates and form impressions, images, to learn details and get a better feel for them.
But just because conventions have nothing to do with who our nominee will be, doesnt mean theyre unimportant. Its a chance where partys write their platforms, that say to the American people, in broad terms, This is where Republicans stand, this is what our partys trying to do. We set our rules on how were going to run our party for the next four years, about how were going to select our nominee four years from now. And, finally because we do have a two party system, which is a national system, thats really been great for America, its important that on a regular basis, large numers of party leaders from the different parts of the country come together, get to know each other, to network. Conventions serve all those purposes.
Campaigns last so long because the news media and the American people tolerate it. They do last too long. But you cant legally stop them under our system of government. I would certainly be against any law that says You cant campaign when you want to. Politicians have been trying to quell dissent and make people quit criticizing them since the Sedition Act of 1799. Youve got some people in Congress today who want that want to make it against the law for them to get criticized by negative ads and all that. Appealing as that might be to the politicians who get criticized, the folks who do the criticizing have every right under our system of government. Political speech is the most fundamental speech in our form of government.
Plante: Our final viewer, Tom M. writes Do you think John McCains appearance at the Shadow Convention Sunday night will hurt George W. and the Republican Party or will it hurt him?
Barbour: I think the Shadow Convention is a goofy idea. However, maybe Senator McCain will go over there are talk good sense. And its never a mistake to talk good sense to any group, especially one that needs some good sense talked to them.
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