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'I Am Going to Take a Risk'

August 15, 2000

Vice President Al Gore spoke with Times Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus and Times staff writer Edwin Chen late Sunday in Kansas City, Mo. Here are excerpts of their conversation.

Question: Is this going to be the best speech of your life?

Gore: Well, I've probably put as much into it as any. But I don't want to set the bar too high because it's hard for me to judge. But it's getting in pretty good shape now. I'll tell you a few things about it. It's going to be very positive. There will be no negative personal attacks on my opponent. There'll be some presentation of a contrast on particular issues. But it's a positive speech.

I am going to take a risk in the speech by talking about specifics and substance. And in this day and time, that's considered to be the wrong approach.

But I think that the American people deserve to know what the specifics of my proposals are and, in a few cases, how they compare to what we know of my opponent's proposals.

Q: Give us an example.

Gore: Social Security. Also middle-class tax cuts. Those are two examples I will spend some time on in the speech.

Q: On Social Security, you've already been pretty specific during the campaign. Are there more details you're going to put forward in the speech?

Gore: It will delve into the reasons why the specific plan I'm offering is best for the American people. . . . I think the people deserve to know the details. And I think that this campaign is an opportunity to make some clear choices about what we're going to do for the next four years. And some of those have to do with Social Security and tax cuts.

And I rather doubt that my opponent can make it to the end of the campaign without answering questions about where this trillion dollars for privatization will come from, and other questions of that sort. But that's his decision to make. For my part, I will offer specifics.

Q: Are they new proposals?

Gore: Well, on Social Security, a new way of comparing and contrasting it with the approach recommended by Gov. Bush. But the entire speech will have lots of specifics . . . Just putting it in clear, stark terms and showing the effect on working families in comparison to the effect of my opponent's proposals.

Q: Any brand new policy proposals?

Gore: Well, I haven't finished writing the speech yet. But you'll see some freshness, you'll see a lot of freshness.

Q: Do you worry that by being so specific that will bind you once you are in office?

Gore: I think that's one of the reasons why people have traditionally stayed away from it. I think another reason is that they don't want to be pinned down, and it's easier to be all things to all people if you're not specific.

I think people are kind of tired of that approach myself. And I hope that I'm proven right. But that's why it's a risk.

Q: One perception some voters express, to put it bluntly, is that they're not sure whether you've got a core--whether you are a panderer. How do you deal with that?

Gore: Well, when the other side spends $100 million promoting that idea, they'll get some takers . . . I'll just present myself as I am. And the people can react as they will.

Q: Do you think personality should be a factor that voters ought to consider?

Gore: Inevitably, yes, people vote for a president for a variety of reasons, including what kind of person they think he is, or she is, including whether or not that person shares the voters' values, opinions on the issues. Sometimes the issues are a lens through which they learn more about the person. Sometimes it operates in the opposite direction.

A person is evaluated as a way of guessing what kinds of decisions that person will make on important issues. It's not a process that's ever been figured out by political scientists because its always changing and it's a human process. I don't, can't, give you a precise definition. Nobody can.

Q: You've said in recent days that you're taking risks in this speech.

Gore: It's a risky speech scheme.

Q: Do you see yourself as a risk-taker? Is that a good quality in a president?

Gore: [11-second pause] I'm pausing on this answer because I don't want to risk a mistake. You know I think that, I think that if you don't make some mistakes, you're not trying hard enough. You've got to try new things in public policy in order to push the boundaries of what works.

But I think the risks you take should be reasonable and considered. And I've never--although, you know, I have done that in a number of policy areas. But I try to line it up in my sights before I pull the trigger.

Q: Are you going to talk at all about the Clinton record?

Gore: I will talk about the achievements of the last eight years.

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