Interview: George W. Bush (1999)


By Scott Holleran

GETTING to know George W. Bush at a hotel in downtown Los Angeles isn’t easy.

A brief, 15-minute interview has been scheduled, taking place in the middle of a large, empty ballroom with two chairs and a couple of plants, while a team of assorted aides, performing a symphony with cell phones and pagers, watches and listens.

The interview is not intimate. Any spontaneity is suffocated by the precise staging. George W. Bush, the 2000 Republican presidential front-runner and governor of Texas, has achieved star status before even one vote has been cast. He has raised millions of dollars, garnered the endorsements of most GOP leaders, and he handily won the Iowa straw poll in August. Dominating the nomination process on an unprecedented scale, the son of former President Bush, and former owner of the baseball team, the Texas Rangers, has proved an elusive top contender.

Bush, who has served one full term as governor, refuses to discuss troubling aspects of his youth, and his call for what he dubs compassionate conservatism leaves many wondering what he really stands for: increased government intervention in the name of altruism or a gradually reduced role of the state in the individual’s life.

Scott Holleran: What is the core principle of the Republican Party?

George W. Bush: It ought to be that each individual matters, that each individual counts, that each individual has worth and dignity and public policy ought to work so that each individual has a shot at the American Dream.

Scott Holleran: Vice President Al Gore recently told the gay news magazine The Advocate that he wants to be more compassionate about implementing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy toward gays in the military. Are you concerned that Gore will engage you in a contest for compassionate government?

George W. Bush: I support the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. But it’s up to the military to implement it. After all, the military must make the decisions on training, war and peace. Micromanaging the military from the White House would be a mistake. So it’s not an issue of compassion, it’s an issue of whether someone can be a good president.

Scott Holleran: Gore has recently attacked your record on education in Texas . . .

George W. Bush: Why? We’re one of the best states in terms of improving education for African-Americans and Hispanics. I’m proud of the record. I look forward to debating Vice President Gore, should I win my party’s nomination – and should he win his – about my record of education in Texas. I would love for people to be focused on that and I appreciate him bringing that up.

Scott Holleran: Should an individual be permitted to invest his or her own Social Security money in a private account?

George W. Bush: Yes. People ought to be given the option of making that choice. In other words, it ought to be voluntary. The amount of payroll taxes diverted to personal savings accounts is up for debate. A lot depends on the economic forecast of how much money is going to be available to be able to make the transition from no personal savings accounts to personal savings accounts. There must be enough money so that somebody’s got enough money in there to take advantage of the compounding rate of interest. I have yet to settle on a specific number yet. But, yes, I strongly believe that people ought to be able to manage their own account within certain guidelines. I certainly don’t agree with the Clinton administration, who have ballyhooed some type of personal savings accounts, so long as the government manages the portfolio. That would be a big mistake.

Scott Holleran: Are you an environmentalist?

George W. Bush: Sure. I believe in clean air and clean water.

Scott Holleran: Do you support full, immediate tax deductibility of health insurance premiums for individuals?

George W. Bush: I do. As I understand it, the current GOP-sponsored tax bill has full, immediate tax deductibility.

Scott Holleran: Only for those individuals who are self-employed. Will you seek full tax deductibility for all individuals?

George W. Bush: Well, I support medical savings accounts for individuals. I support full deductibility for self-employed. I need to make sure I understand the full implications of total deductibility for all individuals.

Scott Holleran: As president, will you seek to expand medical savings accounts to all Americans?

George W. Bush: Yes. I will.

Scott Holleran: If conservatism means honoring the Founding Fathers’ view of absolute individual rights, what does compassion add and why is it necessary?

George W. Bush: If I may reframe the question for you, why does conservatism lead to compassionate results? That’s the way I like to put it. That’s what I’m trying to say to people. A conservative philosophy of heralding the individual recognizes that society is renewed from the bottom up, not (from) the top down. We yield to a more compassionate society than a society where the government dictates compassion from the top down. What I’ve tried to say to people is that you can be a conservative thinker and you can adhere to a conservative philosophy when it comes to government, but that doesn’t mean you don’t care about people.

 Published on September 26, 1999 in the Los Angeles Daily News; versions were also published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Arizona Republic, San Jose Mercury News, Birmingham News, Bangor Daily News, and the Casper Star-Tribune.