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Larry King Live

Two Presidential Debates Down, One to Go: Veteran Panel Surveys the Political Landscape

Aired October 16, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, two presidential debates down, one to go. The polls show Bush and Gore neck and neck. Joining us to map the political landscape Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential candidate, Democrat Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York; George McGovern the Democratic standard bearer in 1972; Republican Congressman John Kasich, chairman of the House Budget Committee; Pulitzer Prize-winner Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of "The Washington Post;" and veteran journalist Sander Vanocur, who was a questioner in the first Kennedy-Nixon debate. They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening from Washington. A couple of quick notes. We won't be with you tomorrow night because of the debate. When we come back on Wednesday night, the debate moderator, Jim Lehrer, will be the special guest, and Dan Rather will host this program on Thursday night when we emcee the NAACP annual dinner honoring President Ford. And Dan's special guest will be Jay Leno.

And Bob Dole joins us for the umpteenth time. I think he holds, still holds the record, for the most appearances on LARRY KING LIVE. His book, "Great Political Wit," is now out in paperback.

How's the fund drive going for the World War II memorial?

BOB DOLE (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great. We're only about $3 million or $4 million short. We've raised about a 130-some million gross, and we'll have the groundbreaking this Veteran's Day. So anybody out there want to remember your father or grandfather, mother, grandmother, please send a choke to "Bob Dole, World War II Memorial, Washington D.C. We'll appreciate it.

KING: It's about time.

And you can call 1-800-639-4992. That's 1-800-639-4992, or 4WW2. Be helping a great cause and saluting some great people.

DOLE: You're going to have another great World War II veteran on the program, George McGovern.

KING: You and he are getting together on a concept, right?

DOLE: Well, we're working on an international school lunch program. It demonstrates how important bipartisanship is, even after your out of politics. He's the leader. I'm sort of the follower. But he's done a great job, and I'm honored to work with him on a very important matter.

KING: The idea is what? Feed every child?

DOLE: There about 300 million children around the world who don't have a good meal a day, and it's something that he's been working on and I've agreed to be of help. And it will take a while, you know, it's going to take a lot of doing, with the U.N. and working with other agencies and the Congress, but it's important.

KING: What a great country, huh? McGovern and Dole, two defeated candidates, combine together to feed children.

DOLE: It demonstrates we're really not losers.

KING: Damned right, if you can allow that term.

What do you make of what's going on now in Egypt? Apparently nothing this first day.

DOLE: Well, I've listened very carefully, and you know, I think everybody wants something, some breakthrough. But boy, the tensions, I think there are two words that sort of describe it: pessimism and extremism. I mean, there's a lot of pessimism on both sides, and it's caused by the extremism.

KING: On both sides.

DOLE: On both sides.

KING: So what does the 95 percent in the middle do?

DOLE: Well, they hope that President Clinton and other moderate Arab leaders can somehow get these two principles to at least agree to a cease fire, and maybe the Israelis pull back from the area, maybe they have some fact-finding commission, and then they agree to start the peace talks again. I mean, you look at the years that President Clinton has invested, plus the years that other president's have invested, and maybe it's not going to happen. I mean, this is something no one can control, and there's a lot of pressure on Arafat from outside not to make any deal with anyone.

KING: So he's in a bind, do you think?

DOLE: Oh, he's in a bind.

KING: But there are those who saying maybe we should be -- we being the United States -- should be more on Israel's side in this


DOLE: Well, what I think, I think there's a feeling of the Arabs that we are on their side. I mean, I listen to some of these people. I'm not certain that's the case. You know, Israel has been an ally forever -- as long as they've been there. I mean, it's an independent nation. And it's a democratic nation. And, of course, we have strong ties to Israel.

And it's bipartisan. It doesn't mean that we have any antipathy towards Arabs, but we do have them against those who cause violence. And I think Arafat lacks some leadership skills. I don't think he's -- and I doubt that he could say stop and everybody would stop. I think it's sort of gotten out of hand. And so I don't what -- you know, I wish President Clinton luck. He's the president of the United States. I hope he...

KING: He's tried awfully hard on this.

DOLE: He has tried hard. But it's not there yet.

KING: And what are the people running for president do with something like this?

DOLE: They're very cautious. I mean, obviously, it's -- there's an old -- you don't make politics out of people's misery, or you don't play politics. And I think, even in this case, it's about leadership. And it's about what would George Bush do or what would Al Gore do if they were in charge? And what is America's role?

You know, we can't just pound the table and say: This is going to be it, because there are other forces at work here. So I think, be very careful, don't interfere. But you can offer, you know, constructive thoughts.

KING: Do you think Governor Bush is handling himself -- equating himself well?

DOLE: I thought he had done very well. There was a period there -- sort of -- a lot of Republicans sort of had a sinking spell. And it lasted for two or three -- about three weeks. But I think, in the last three weeks, there's been more confidence. He did a good job in the last debate. And I believe he has got a little momentum now. But it's still very close.

KING: And is he equating himself well with this Israeli-Arab...

DOLE: I think so.


KING: ... supporting the president and...

DOLE: Yes. What else -- you know, that's what you do. I mean, there is this bipartisanship. And it does stop at the water's edge, as far as partisanship. That doesn't mean you can't raise questions about it -- or you take the other thing -- you know, the other thing we are dealing with is the USS Cole. And, you know, how did this little boat get up against this billion-dollar destroyer? Was that something wrong with our security?

I think you can raise questions. But there, again, there are 17 young men and woman -- 15 young men and two young women -- who lost their lives. So, right now, our focus should be with their families with the injured and...

KING: Yes. All right. Debate tomorrow night is a town meeting. That's all the questions from the audience. How do you think that will go?

DOLE: Well, I always liked town meetings. I think others have been in politics. It's really an opportunity to see what you really know. And there are always some in the audience to go there for one reason: to get on television or something. But...

KING: Also, I understand the whole audience is people who say they are undecided?

DOLE: Well, yes, there are so many of them. But I guess there are some really undecided people. And hopefully they will be. But -- and I think both will do pretty well. I mean, they have been having town meetings -- Gore has probably had more...

KING: Yes.

DOLE: ... experience with town meetings. But you don't go to Iowa unless you go to a town meeting. You don't go to New Hampshire. And they ask you every conceivable question. So I can't think of anything.

KING: Can you think of why there are so many undecideds?

DOLE: Well, I don't know. I think, in '96, it was a bit different. The race was never that close near the end. And there were some undecided. In fact, one poll showed us losing by 19 points. We lost by about seven, I guess. So there must have been a shift. But I think there a lot of people who just haven't decided. I mean, even the Mideast flare-up, I think, put some people in the undecided column.

Now, which one of these two men do I want to entrust? Maybe I've got a young son who is 15, 16, 17, and I'm looking ahead. But I would say, you know, trying to be very objective, I think George Bush has acquitted himself very well. And I think he's going to win.

KING: More with Bob Dole on the election -- and then our panel. Don't go away.


KING: Everyone is saying this is going to be very close. You think Bush will win. But do you think it's going to -- we're going to be up late on November 7?

DOLE: I think we could be up late. I mean, you have to take a look at the electoral map, and again, that may tell you more than just looking at 48-43, 42-41. You look at these battleground states, and they're Michigan and Ohio, Missouri and maybe even Tennessee. And so even small states...

KING: Even Florida. DOLE: ... New Hampshire, Florida.

KING: Could we have an electoral winner as opposed to a popular winner?

DOLE: Could have, certainly, had that there the past. You could have, as I was saying, I think it was Polk who lost Tennessee and still became president. So Gore could lose his home state and become president. That probably doesn't happen very -- well, it's only happened once.

But again, there's still three weeks. It's three weeks from tonight, really. I mean, all campaigning's going to end that weekend before. If somebody would slip up tomorrow night or somebody makes some statement or look like they're interfering with what's happening in the Middle East trying to get the peace process back on track, that could offend the sensibilities of people. But I don't think that's going to happen.

KING: What do you make of the talk-show aspect of this campaign, "Oprah," "Regis," MTV, previously not involved in campaigns.

DOLE: Plus the late night shows. I mean, well, they've always been involved, "Leno" and "Letterman" and all.

KING: But now the guests are going on.

DOLE: Oh, they're going on. And I remember after I lost the election, I went on the "Letterman" show three days later. And I had hundreds of letters saying, if you had done that before the election I'd have voted for you.

KING: That's right. You showed your -- I told you. You didn't show your sense of humor.

DOLE: Yes, I didn't know you had a sense of humor. So I think it's good. I think the exposure, big audiences, probably people you're not going to reach in the newspaper, on the evening these, so you go out try to, you know, go hunting where the ducks are.

KING: How much does personality matter?

DOLE: A lot.

KING: Should it? I guess you can't -- it's moot, right? You can't do anything about it?

DOLE: No, you can't do anything. I guess your personality, it's pretty hard to change it. But I think it's important. I think another thing important, a lot of state's, the ballots are going to start being mailed out this week. Some people are going to start voting this weekend. Oregon, for example, the ballots go out Friday.

And I think the biggest issue in this campaign is finally going to be which one of these men can work with Congress. We're going to have a Congress that may be a one- or two-vote margin either way in the House, maybe two or three votes in the Senate. You're going to need a president who's able to reach across the Democrats, Republicans, bring them together for the good of the American people. And I think here again, I think Governor Bush has demonstrated in Texas that he could do that.

KING: What was Clinton like to debate?

DOLE: I thought he was all right. George Mitchell, of course, played me in the debate preparation, and he knew more about me than I did. But he had a lead. He was sitting on his lead. He didn't do anything to upset me, and so I -- we had a good exchange. I thought we made our points, he felt he made his points. Did they make any difference? Probably a little bit.

KING: But the country seems quite content with things. Why hasn't Gore gained from that?

DOLE: Well, you'd think with the economy as good as it is and...

KING: No war.

DOLE: No war, except now you've got this flareup. But no...

KING: But there's no American boys except the sailors.

DOLE: Right. We're strung around a lot of places in the world, but I think again, the American people, after three or four years, I think it was a factor in '96. But it's now been eight years. The economy's good. It started in the last quarter of the President Bush administration, and people sort of expect it. So what's new about that? Let's look at something else.

And I do think the vice president's had a few problems on exaggeration. And I think that's hurt his credibility some. Now -- but it's going to be a close election.

KING: Big turnout or not?

DOLE: 'Fraid not. It was dismal in '96...

KING: Debate, it was terrible.

DOLE: ... less than half the people. And that was either us, the candidates, or the media or cynics out there who just say, it doesn't make any difference. They're all alike. And I know better. They're not all alike. I mean, we're different, and we have different ideas and philosophies. I mean, we're all good people, don't misunderstand me, but their -- politics is competitive. And you need competition for better ideas for the American people.

But I'm afraid if we get 50 percent we'd be lucky.

KING: What does that say about us?

DOLE: Well, it says we don't want mandatory voting, obviously. But somehow, we just have it -- I know they used to tell me when they were getting ready for debates, don't worry about the moderator, don't worry about the crowd, don't worry about your opponent. Just look into the camera and talk to that family out in Topeka, Kansas. Now apparently I didn't do it very well, but I think maybe, you know, you just have to keep talking to that family.

KING: Well maybe they didn't vote.

DOLE: And now we're doing Bugs Bunny commercial, things like that, for the kids. So they'll go home and say, you know, I voted. Mommy, are you going to vote? So maybe you do it through the young people.

KING: You're a good man, Senator Dole.

DOLE: Good luck.

KING: Bob Dole. Now if you want to help the World War II memorial, they're going break ground on Memorial Day...

DOLE: Veterans Day, rather.

KING: On Veterans Day. The phone number is 1-800-639-4WW2. That's 1-800-639-4992.

Next Mario Cuomo, George McGovern, Congressman John Kasich, Bob Woodward and Sander Vanocur.

Don't go away.


KING: Welcome Back to LARRY KING LIVE.

And we now welcome a distinguished panel to join us as we talk about politics 2000. The election is three weeks from tomorrow. It is finally upon us.

In New York is the former Democratic governor of New York, three- time Governor Mario Cuomo. Here in Washington is George McGovern, former United States senator and the 1972 Democratic standard bearer. Also in Washington, Congressman John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, chairman of the House Budget Committee, who leaves the Congress voluntarily this year. Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of "The Washington Post," the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. His newest book, "Maestro," about Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve will be out in a couple weeks. And in New York, one of the great names in American journalism, Sander Vanocur, in print and broadcast journalism. Sander was a panelist in the first Kennedy-Nixon debate back in 1960, and he now hosts "Movies and Time" on the History channel.

Sander, what was that like 40 years ago?

SANDER VANOCUR, JOURNALIST: No one was prepared because it had never been done before. We had a clambake in Chicago on the 26th of September at WBBM where the debate was held. And before we went on the air, my old friend Bernie Shaw asked me, what thoughts did we have when we went in that night. I said, Bernie, in those days we weren't paid enough to have deep thoughts.

We just came in, Don Hewitt, director, producer, who was there that night, he just had us practice our turns. Nixon came in, Kennedy came in.

And we didn't see the debate on television, we saw it with our naked eyes. So what America saw, we couldn't see. And we didn't know at the end who won or lost because there weren't any spin meisters in the studio, there weren't any talk shows afterward to tell you who won.

KING: Were you shocked that the reaction was so in favor of Kennedy?

VANOCUR: It wasn't so much in favor of Kennedy. He had just leveled the playing field. He was no long considered a callow young man. But I didn't know who won or lost until about two days later, I caught up with Kenny O'Donnell, who was with Kennedy. They went to Painesville, Ohio, the Tuesday -- Monday night. They got there Tuesday morning. I got them on Wednesday. I said, what happened when you got to Painesville? He said Frank Lausche was beating on the door at the motel at 6:00 in the morning.

Now Frank Lausche was our mayor in Cleveland, Ohio -- marvelous man. He cried on command. He could cry at Christenings, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, wakes. He was terrific -- ran as a Democrat for governor, ran as a Democrat for the Senate, and voted as a Republican. So when I heard Frank Lausche was knocking on Kennedy's door, I figured Kennedy had done pretty well.

KING: How are they doing, Senator McGovern so far in these debates? How critical is tomorrow night?

GEORGE MCGOVERN (D), 1972 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think the debates have been pretty fair. I would like maybe a little more bluntness and straightforward talk than we've seen...

KING: On both sides.

MCGOVERN: On both parts, yes. I say that kindly, because these guys are under terrific pressure. To be in one of those televised debates and to realize the whole campaign might turn on how you do is enormous pressure on candidates. But I have read, since I came back here from Rome, a number of columns and commentaries indicating that the vice president has slipped, because he is being charged with being for big government.

I don't understand that. How can you run for the most powerful political office in the world and then be against big government? This is a big, powerful country. And it's getting bigger all the time.

KING: We've been asking that for years, George. MCGOVERN: Well, I know. But you have got to have -- I think that both these candidates ought to recognize they're running to be in the government. And they ought to let us know where they stand.

KING: Congressman Kasich, how important is tomorrow night?

REP. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Well, I think it's very important, Larry.

KING: The race so close -- and undecideds.

KASICH: Yes. Although I tell you, after the last debate, I think it's pretty clear George Bush has some momentum. He's tightened things up in Michigan. They're about even. He's ahead in Ohio. He's now ahead in Missouri. And they're saying he's regained the lead in Florida.

And he's ahead in, of all places, Bob Woodward, West Virginia. So I think that what George Bush has been able to accomplish is his likability has been preserved. And, Larry, I think, at the same time, he's been able to show people he's up to the job. And I think, with Al Gore, everybody always believed he was very competent. The question is: how likable?

And I think that first debate set him back in terms of likability. And then, in the second debate, he wasn't himself. So I think...

KING: But he was likable.

KASICH: Yes, but there was something missing. And I think everybody said: Look you can't -- you have got to be who you are. And this debate tomorrow night, if there's a big gaffe, it could be costly, because the race is so close. If there is no gaffe, then I really think that George Bush now has the momentum.

KING: Governor Cuomo, how do you see it?

MARIO CUOMO (D), FMR. NEW YORK GOVERNOR: I think I see it pretty much the way the congressman saw it, only my -- I regret seeing it that way. He made the point that George Bush has come off more likable. But we are not electing a head waiter. You know, we are electing a president. And he is more likable. I thought he was terrific in the second debate, because he went unchallenged. I mean, any high school senior could be prepped for a foreign policy debate. You memorize the dates. You memorize the three objectives of your policy, the two places the other guy went wrong.

And if you're allowed to recite it without anybody interrupting you and saying: You know, Nigeria is not a continent, then you're going to look good, and he looked great. And this, frankly, is frightening to me that we didn't have an answer to his Social Security problem. We didn't get a...

KING: But are you saying, Mario... CUOMO: I'm saying that the idea that he has forged ahead because he looks nicer and is more pleasant than the vice president -- who to me, is more intelligent, more experienced, and better on all the issues according to all the polls -- is somewhat disturbing. And I hope that changes after the debate tomorrow.

KING: Mr. Woodward -- Mr. Woodward, what's your read after hearing these disparate opinions?

BOB WOODWARD, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, they are that. First of all, I think Gore really had a good second debate. He was a gentleman. He was direct. People say...

KING: You're the one.

WOODWARD: No. I really think that Gore did a very credible job. It had no impact or aftertaste simply because the Mideast crisis erupted the next day, and people didn't get a chance to look at him. But the significant thing that slipped by in that second debate is that Al Gore realized he made a mistake in the first debate, not just the sighing, but the agitation.

The whole projection of his personality was not good. And, in the second debate, he did something most presidential candidates and politicians never do. He said: I'm sorry. I made a mistake. I shouldn't have done that. And I'll try better.

Now, you've got Senator McGovern here, who remembers the Vietnam War very well, Senator Dole, who remembers Watergate very well. The road to Vietnam and Watergate is having a leader who cannot realize when he's made a mistake and backtrack, and by Gore projecting and saying, hey look, I learned, I'm a smart guy, I think showed one of those attributes of self-awareness that is critical to being president.

KING: We're back with more of the panel, your calls as well. Don't go away.


KING: Sander Vanocur, now we ask you how important tomorrow night is?

VANOCUR: I can't tell you, because I don't know what the questions will be like. It's been my sense for some time that Americans have forgotten how to ask questions. They make speeches. So it may be the audience is the principal tomorrow night, and the two others are supporting actors.

KING: Are you worried about tomorrow, John?

KASICH: No, I'm not worried at all, Larry, because, you know, I think Governor Bush knows what he believes in. You know, you had an unbelievable thing happen in the second debate. And I could not, first of all, believe how Al Gore ran away from the issue of gun control. He was like he was muted on that. And he was always out there, firing out, talking about how important it was. Then he claimed to be for small government. He actually made the statement he's for small government.

Bill Schneider today on his report said that 65 percent of the people surveyed today think that they Gore will say anything to get people to like him. That's not the case...

KING: Then why is it close?

KASICH: Well, I think it is moving in George Bush's direction, not just because he's likable. If he has just likable and hadn't performed in these two debates -- look, in the foreign policy section of that last debate, I think George Bush did a great job.

So what your going hear tomorrow is you're going to run America from the bottom up; government ought to have a role, but it ought to be limited; we ought to have broad-based tax cuts, and we ought to have...

KING: Same thing we've been hearing.

KASICH: Yes, and I don't think it's going to change.

KING: Do you expect anything new tomorrow, senator?

MCGOVERN: Well, I think we may get some different insights tomorrow. That's going to be a format that lends itself to someone who is well informed on the issues. We don't know what questions are going to come in tomorrow. Bush and Gore don't know what questions are going to come and why.

KING: Supposed to be undecided voters.

MCGOVERN: That's correct.

But I think you're going to see a broad range of questions, and as Governor Cuomo said so well, Al Gore is the more knowledgeable of these two candidates. George Bush is a congenial, likable man, but he's had no experience at all with national and international affairs, and I think that may show up tomorrow. It may show up in various other ways before the election.

KING: Before we get to Mario, Bob, these debates have had terrible viewership, the vice presidential very low, the last one horrible. The first one, they thought there'd be 80 million; there were 46 million.

WOODWARD: That's right.

KING: Are we saying that this race, while it's in the papers, it's on all the shows, ain't caught the imagination nation of over 50 percent of the public?

WOODWARD: Well, it's not the Super Bowl in people's minds, but 46 million people is a lot of people, and I think people...

KING: It was 92 million in '92.

WOODWARD: That's right. It could be more, and it should be more. But I think this idea -- I mean, maybe the polls are right the momentum is in Bush's direction, but I am very skeptical of the polls, and I just wonder what they're measuring. If you look at some of them, they suggest that millions of people are changing their minds in he course of a week, or two weeks, and I don't believe that people are that fickle. And I think lots of people are open to be persuaded, so it's an important debate.

KING: We'll get Mario Cuomo's thoughts on that right after the break. We'll be taking your calls as well.

Don't go away.


KING: We're back.

Governor Cuomo, your thoughts on polls as we go into tomorrow night.

CUOMO: Well, the polls are foolish, because they're not picking a president now, they're not paying a price.

KING: But you're getting a thought.

CUOMO: Well, yes, you can complain about Al Gore's this or George Bush's that, but you don't have to vote. You vote and you pick a president, you invest in it.

Let me say about who will say anything to win. I thought it was kind of offensive for the congressman to say that the vice president will say anything. The litany on George Bush hasn't been written. George Bush said he spent $4.9 billion on getting health care for children in Texas. That's a lie. Two-thirds of that money was not state money. George Bush said that he's responsible for the education reforms in Texas. That is simply not true. Ask Mark White. Ask Anne Richards. Ask Ross Perot. Ask the court that ordered them to spend money. And finally, the hypocrisy of anybody saying, any Republican saying, he's against or she's against big government, was George Bush against the biggest infrastructure bill in our history that John Kasich and the other Republicans and Democrats just passed? Is he against Social Security? Is he against Medicare, two of the biggest programs? Forget about defense. He obvious is not against that big government. Nobody is.

But what about these other elements? Is he against the Resolution Trust Corporation that bailed out the Savings & Loans, the largest bureaucracy since Roosevelt? What is this talk about big government?

KING: John.

KASICH: First of all, Larry, look, I...

KING: You're in big government, John.

KASICH: Mario and I ought to have a debate. I asked for it the last time. I'd love to debate him. Here's the thing about health care. First of all, Governor Bush asked for a waiver from the federal government, begged the federal government to say, I want to cover more people who don't have health insurance under Medicaid, give me flexibility. You know what the federal government said? Forget it. They gave them out sparingly. States that got the waivers were able to cover more people. Governor Bush asks for waivers to cover children and the elderly. It was rejected. He came back. He said, I want a waiver to cover children, and it was blocked for political reasons in this city.

Secondly, the governor went forward with this program to cover children, a provision in the '97 budget act that I helped to write. Well, it took the federal government six months to approve the Texas legislature's let plan to treat these people who don't have health insurance.

So what Mario's saying about the fact that George Bush hasn't been concerned about health care is bogus.

CUOMO: I didn't say is that.

John, did he spend 4.9 billion, or didn't he?

KASICH: Yes, but I can tell you this...

CUOMO: You can't say yes..

KASICH: The total amount of money spent on health care during that period was about four and a half billion, Larry. And let me say...

CUOMO: That was not George Bush.

KASICH: Mario, on several occasions, George Bush tried to get flexibility from this federal government to do something we all believe in: to cover people who need health care. He didn't get it.

KING: I have other guests here. I'm not going to let these two dominate it. But one night, we'll just have the both of them, and I won't even be here. It will be easier.

CUOMO: Larry, please, let's make it clear. I said George Bush lied when he said he spent $4.9 billion, and you didn't here a contradiction of my statement.

KING: John said he did spend it.

CUOMO: No, no, no, he said money was spent.


KING: All right, I want to show you an example of political humor in this campaign and what our guests think of it. Here, watch this from last week's "Saturday Night Live" their takeoff on the debate.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: There's been a great deal of agreement between of two of you tonight?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I agree on that.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Is there anything that comes to mind where you might disagree?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, no -- you go ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I really don't mind.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: No, no, no, I insist, please. I was rude. I've had my turn -- you go.


KING: Senator McGovern, humor in the politics.

MCGOVERN: Yes, well, it's all right. I wish we had more of it. I wish I were better at it than I am, but I think humor is always a good thing.

I want to go back to a point I've been trying to make here tonight. Congressman, you know I like you as a person, no question about that.

KING: Here it comes.

MCGOVERN: But one of the things that bothers me about Republicans, including George Bush, the governor, who is running for president, is this apparent disdain that they have for government, you know, somehow your kind of not quite an American if you want to have the government do something that can help us. There's a kind of a contempt for our government that to me is almost unpatriotic.

KING: First, let me ask Sander and Bob what think of political.

Sander, what part does humor play in politics now?

VANOCUR: None. Because television doesn't allow you to be funny.

KING: Yes, but what about the takeoffs on this?

VANOCUR: Because it's easy to takeoff. Look, the issue in this country which Senator McGovern just brought up, is what role do we want government play in our lives? The best political speech I ever heard was given by Dale Bumpers in 1983 in Atlanta, when he was thinking of running for the presidency. What do want to do with the government in our lives? He talked about his father poor in Arkansas, getting water and electricity. Dale went to Northwestern Law School on the G.I. bill. Americans are schizophrenic. We're against every known government program except that benefit each and every one us. Let's have a debate about what role government should play in our lives.

KING: And there's nothing, Bob, funny in that?

WOODWARD: There shouldn't be anyway. But what happens when "Saturday Night Live" does a skit, and in the last debate, there were a number of agreements, but in fact there were many more disagreements. But by taking that and making it funny, which they do exceptionally well, that leaves the impression with people that, gee, there really isn't that much difference and they do agree. Well, they don't agree. And I think tomorrow night, because of the format, could really be a significant debate, for this reason: It is a town hall where citizens can ask questions. If someone blows a question, if Bush or Gore does not do well on a question and misses the point, as President Bush did in '92.

KING: The question on how the tax thing affects me.

WOODWARD: And then Clinton jumped in and moved forward, and said, now tell me what you're thinking. Really gives each of the candidates an opportunity if the other stumbles to kind of say, hey, wait a minute, we didn't answer ask -- we didn't answer this question here.

KING: Are we looking for stumbles?

WOODWARD: Sure, sure, because they are addressing the question.

KING: We'll pick it right up with more. We'll include some phone calls, too.

Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And she tells me that some weeks she has to choose between eating or treating her Lyme Disease. Now under my plan, Etta's prescription drugs would be covered. Under my opponents plan, her house would be burned to the ground. And that is wrong. That is just wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Governor Bush, response?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I believe that some of his figures may be inaccurate.


KING: You were going say something, John.

KASICH: Larry, thank you very much.

I wanted to say, Senator McGovern and even Governor Cuomo wonder why people cringe when they talk about government. It is really, first of all, Americans have always been suspicious of government because it could violate their freedoms. Americans like to be very independent.

But, Senator McGovern, the issue is: Do we run America from the top down or do we run it from the bottom up? In other words, take education, should mothers and fathers have the power to pick the schools where their kids go? Right now, they're very limited on that, and there is a lot of kids not getting a good education.

Take Social Security: There are more kids that believe in unidentified flying objects that the Social Security check.

KING: One has never been missed. What do we base the belief on? No Social Security check has ever been missed by this big government.

KASICH: Well, because, Larry, everybody knows that Social Security is going to have to be rejuvenated, and people are going to have to be able...

KING: But they have said that since 1960.

KASICH: Even the actuaries just came out just a week ago.

KING: The checks keep coming.

KASICH: The checks keep coming, but when the baby boomers are retiring, Larry, we are in trouble. The alternative to that is to allow people to have a little piece of their payroll taxes.

KING: Is the government us or them? isn't it us? who is the government?

KASICH: Well, that's the problem. Whenever you run the country from the top down, when you tell people: We will plan your retirement, or we're not going to give you a tax cut unless you do what we want you to do, then you have elites running it. And I think the frustration in America that results in low turnout is the fact that people are frustrated. They want to have more responsibility and they want more power, and they want to have more impact.

And now they feel very frustrated by a group of elites that run the country from the top down.

KING: George.

MCGOVERN: If we're going to run the country from the ground up, maybe Bush and Gore should both become precinct committeemen and forget about running for president. Now, in the 19th century, when your -- the founder of your party, Abraham Lincoln, was president, he undertook the biggest federal enterprise in the whole 100 years of the 19th century, and that was to raise armies -- the union armies that kept the union together.

And that had to be done by a strong president at the top who wasn't afraid to use the power of the national government.

In the 20th century, the two biggest things were the Roosevelt New Deal and the winning of World War II. We didn't come up to World War II and say: I'm sorry, this is going to cost some money, we better surrender to the dictators. We did what we had to do to win.

KASICH: Senator, everybody believes in a strong defense, but the question is: Should government try to be all things to all people? I think we learned in the 20th century that big government, run from the top down, doesn't work.

KING: Senator, you said earlier that this debate is the most important. Hasn't it been the most important since we've had Republicans and Democrats? This has been the basic philosophical argument from time immemorial.

CUOMO: It has been the most important.

KING: I asked that of Sander. Then you Mario.

CUOMO: I am sorry.


VANOCUR: I think the issue is the character of these two men. In my lifetime, the two presidents who have had the most character have been Roosevelt, FDR, and Ronald Reagan because they are both magicians. We are always thinking this issue, that issue. William Luftenberg (ph), who was formerly at Columbia, and has just retired from Chapel Hill, wrote an article in "American Heritage" many years ago quoting Henry Agard Wallace, not a man ever known to say anything funny. He says, "Roosevelt's genius was his ability to have everyone's balls in the air except his own."

Recently, Ronald Reagan -- I said this at the Reagan Library -- John Sears, who Mrs. Reagan fired after the Iowa Caucus defeat, said Ronald Reagan is a man who believes reality is an illusion that can be overcome.

Woodrow Wilson said, "A president is at liberty both in law and in conscience to be as big a man as he wishes to be." I think that's the issue. Character is the issue. And these debates, I don't think give us a glimpse into their character.

KING: Do you agree, Mario, or not?

CUOMO: Well, I would like to get back to John's point, if I may. He says that...

KASICH: I knew he would get there, Larry.

KING: We are just going to have John-Mario show.

CUOMO: No, no, no. It's -- you said, John, that your point was that the people ought to be allowed to make their own judgments, presumably using the market system. Instead of government raising money for a program for prescription drugs, the people ought to be told: You use your own judgment. We trust you. You go to the pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies and you go buy affordable drugs.

That's the Bush position. But if the market system...

KASICH: Well, that's not my position, Mario. So, I don't know, it might be his. But it isn't mine.


CUOMO: Then I -- then I don't what -- I don't what know your point is.

KASICH: Well, my point is -- I'll tell you what my point is.

CUOMO: With the public schools -- the public schools, for example...

KASICH: Right.

CUOMO: You say you have an objection: that the parents aren't given an opportunity. They are given an opportunity to go to a public school, which, incidentally, Abraham Lincoln favored, and Adam Smith favored -- even before there was a United States of America -- but they're given the ability to do that, or, if they have the money, to go to a private school. What do you suggest then?

KASICH: You see -- see, Larry, this is -- there's -- we ought to have a debate on this.


KASICH: Let me just say to you quickly: If you have your child in a public school that isn't safe and where the kids are not learning, you, as a parent, who may not have a lot of income, ought to be able to get the money that's going into that public school and put your kid in a school where they can be educated and be safe.


KING: We are going to take a break. We'll be right back.


KING: We've got a caller hanging on.

Roscoe, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Hello.

I have a question for the panel. Does the panel think that the press is focusing too much on the candidates' performances in the debates instead of substance, and, as a result, undecided voters are looking mostly at performance? And isn't that a pretty shallow way to pick the president of the United States?

KING: Excellent question -- Mr. Woodward.

WOODWARD: Well, I think it's both. I mean, I think there is a real serious discussion after the debates about the issues. And there is a discussion about performance. But again...

KING: But isn't performance weighed more by the media?

WOODWARD: Well, but -- but Gore, to his detriment, in the first debate, made performance an issue by sighing and doing all the things he did in showing that -- I mean, if anyone needed to gargle with Valium before the debate, it was Gore. And he did not. And so people picked on it. I mean, we talked about it at some length on this show -- and I think, rightly so.

KING: Performance has always counted, Sander, you said it is character. I heard the Nixon-Kennedy debate on the radio. I thought it was even. When I got back, everybody told me Kennedy won. That had to be performance.

VANOCUR: Abe Ribicoff, the first major governor to endorse Kennedy from Connecticut, was driving from Sacramento to San Francisco, heard it on the radio, he thought that Nixon had won, but it was the perception that Kennedy was not this callow young man that turned it for him. But listen, the one thing that was not mentioned in all four debates was Catholicism. And that was the biggest issue that year.

KING: Good point.

Senator McGovern, performance does count.

MCGOVERN: Yeah, I think it does. In a way, it's probably a little sad that it counts as much as it does. Take, for example, Thomas Jefferson. He was said to be a very soft-spoken man. He didn't like public speaking.

KING: He was shy.

MCGOVERN: He was very shy. He wouldn't have done well in these televised debates. How Lincoln would have done, I don't know.

KING: Lincoln had a high, sing-song voice; didn't he?

WOODWARD: But at least Kasich and Cuomo aren't shy.

KING: That we know. In that regard, we are going take a break and come back and get some final comments from each, including Mario and John. And then we are going to book a Mario and John show, in which I will just -- as Woodward says -- sit back. Maybe not even be here. We will be right back.


KING: Before you get all crazy, Kasich and Cuomo like each other. They just disagree. But they do like each other. John was just telling me what you think of him as a debater.

KASICH: I think he is one of the smartest politicians I've ever seen.

CUOMO: John, you are wrong. I lost.

Let me make a point about performance, if I may.

KING: OK, go ahead.

CUOMO: I think the young woman's question is exactly right. The suggestion that we give too much attention to performance regrettably, performance is performance, and people are going to react to the sighs and the mahogany makeup or whatever it is, but it is ridiculous when you consider. What's important? The decision this man is going make in terms of tax cuts, and whether to intervene overseas or not intervene, or the fact that he sighed while doing it? It should be utterly insignificant compared to the substance. That's what I hope happens tomorrow, substance.

KING: Sander?

VANOCUR: never knew when I was starting out in journalism that if I kept to it I'd wind up one day as a drama critic. That's what journalists have become. We are all drama critics.

KING: Frank Rich front and center, right? OK, what's going to happen, George, in the next three weeks?

MCGOVERN: Well, I heard my friend, Bob Dole, say earlier tonight that he thought Governor Bush would win. I just would like to end my part tonight by saying, I predict with some confidence that Al Gore is going win this election. I think the voters are going look at his experience and his knowledge of national and international issues; and, secondly, they're going to look at an economy that's very prosperous and he's a part of the incumbent administration. I think those two factors are going to give him a victory in November.

KING: John.

KASICH: I think that Bush is ahead, but they can't get cocky. If they get cocky, they'll lose. I think it will be a very close election, Larry, like you said during the break, we will probably be up very late. But I do think that if George Bush makes no stumbles that I think he's going to cross the finish line.

I will say one thing about this whole discussion about performance and all this, and Sander Vanocur made the point about character. I don't people really make decisions that much on the basis of this issue or that issue, or this tax cut or that tax cut. They try to get the measure of the person. And I think that that's what these people have to project, who they are, open their hearts, let people know what they're all about.

Sure, give us your philosophy, but at the end of the day, people are making a judgment about the kind of a person you are, and they make it in a variety of different ways.

KING: And they've been wrong, the people, haven't they, Bob?

VANOCUR: But, Larry, the most illustrious best political line I ever heard because it fit to whom it was directed, Ronald Reagan said, "There you go again." That was a shot that was heard round the world because people suddenly decided they don't want a to hear that again. And I think Ronald Reagan was ahead in '80, whatever the polls said, but I think that just nailed it down.

KING: Woodward, you are going to get to close.

WOODWARD: I think neither Bush nor Gore will go to the debate tomorrow night wearing a watch for fear that they might look at it, like Bush's father did. It hurt him very much in the '92 debates.

KING: And still thinks that debates are boring and wrong.

WOODWARD: And are too performance oriented or a bunch of crap, which they are not. They are serious undertakings, and people ought to watch.

KING: Do we know why people vote for certain people? Do we really know?

WOODWARD: No. I mean, we were talking last time about trust. There is something, you know, I trust that person. That person has got what it takes, and I agree with the congressman. It's not going to be about issues, as much as somebody saying: The issue that's not on the table that person will act appropriately.

KING: And I understand when "Maestro" comes out, we are going to know Alan Greenspan.

WOODWARD: I believe so.

KING: That's his newest book, "Maestro," coming shortly. We thank all of our guests: Mario Cuomo, George McGovern, Congressman John Kasich, Bob Woodward, and Sander Vanocur.

Always good seeing you, Sander.

We are not with you tomorrow night because of the debate. Watch it here on CNN. Watch the complete wrap up as well. Analysis into the night.

We will be back Wednesday with the moderator, Jim Lehrer. And don't forget on Thursday night, Dan Rather hosts Jay Leno.



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