Debate Excerpts: Besides Sparring on Issues, Some Personal Glimpses

From a Times Staff Writer

Following are excerpts from Wednesday night’s debate between vice presidential candidates Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle:

Qualifications for Office

Quayle: Qualifications for the office of vice president or President are not age alone. We must look at accomplishments, and we must look at experience. I have more experience than others that have sought the office of vice president. Now let’s look at qualifications, and let’s look at the three biggest issues that are going to be confronting America in the next presidency. Those three issues are national security and arms control, jobs and education, and the federal budget deficit. On each one of those issues, I have more experience than does the governor of Massachusetts . . . And if qualifications alone are going to be the issue in this campaign, George Bush has more qualifications than Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen combined.

Bentsen: This debate tonight is not about the qualifications for the vice presidency. The debate is whether or not Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen are qualified to be President of the United States. Because . . . if tragedy should occur, we have to step in there without any margin for error, without time for preparation, to take over the responsibility for the biggest job in the world, that of running this great country of ours, to take over the awesome responsibility for commanding the nuclear weaponry that this country has. No, the debate tonight is a debate about the presidency itself, and a presidential decision that has to be made by you. The stakes could not be higher.


Social Security

Bentsen: . . . We have a contract with the American people on Social Security, and Social Security is an issue where Sen. Quayle has voted eight times to cut the benefits on Social Security . . . when you talk about Social Security, the people that are going to protect it are the Democrats who brought forth that program.

Quayle: Sen. Bentsen, you know that I did not vote to cut Social Security benefits eight times. What I have voted for, and what Sen. Bentsen has voted for, is to delay the cost-of-living adjustments . . . they use this for political advantage. What they try to do time and time again is to scare the old people of this country.

Environmental Protection


Quayle: If you bring up the environment, you can’t help but think about the environmental policy of the governor of Massachusetts. He talks about being an environmentalist. Well, let me tell you about his environmental policy. The Boston Harbor, the Boston Harbor which is the dirtiest waterway in America, tons of raw sewage go in there each and every day. What has the governor of Massachusetts done about that? Virtually nothing . . .

Bentsen: Well, this late conversion is interesting to me. When they talk about Boston Harbor, and he says he hasn’t done anything, the facts are he has a $6-billion program under way on waste treatment . . . And I’m the one who has just received the environmental award in Texas for the work I’ve done to clean up the bays, to clean up the water off the coast of Texas. Now I think we know well who’s going to help clean up this environment.

Aid to Nicaraguan Contras

Bentsen: Gov. Dukakis and I have disagreed on the Contra program, no question about that. But my big difference with this Administration is they look at the Contra aid program as the only way to resolve that problem. They concentrate on that. And I really think we have to give peace a chance.

Quayle: There’s no doubt, in a Dukakis Administration, that the aid would be cut off to the democratic resistance in Nicaragua and that is unfortunate. The reason it is unfortunate--because it is beyond me why it’s OK for the Soviet Union to put in billions of dollars to prop up the communist Sandinistas but somehow it’s wrong for the United States to give a few dollars to the democratic resistance.

Debt and Deficit

Bentsen: You know, if you let me write $200 billion worth of hot checks every year, I could give you an illusion of prosperity, too. . . . As an Administration that has more than doubled the national debt--and they’ve done that in less than eight years--they have taken this country from the No. 1 lender nation in the world to the No. 1 debtor nation in the world. And the interest on that debt next year, on this Reagan-Bush debt of our nation, is going to be $640 for every man, woman and child in America because of this kind of a credit card mentality.

Quayle: Sen. Bentsen talks about running up the debt. Well, the governor of Massachusetts has run up more debt than all the governors in the history of Massachusetts combined going back to the days of the Pilgrims. I don’t believe that that’s the kind of policy that we want. . . . We’ve got interest rates down. We got inflation down. People are working again. America is held in respect once again around the world. But we’re going to build on that change.


Breakfast Club for Lobbyists

Bentsen: I don’t make many mistakes, but that one was a real doozie. And I agree with that. And you know, I immediately disbanded it; it was perfectly legal. And you have all kinds of such clubs on the Hill. I still believe that the better way to go is to have a campaign reform law that takes care of that kind of a situation, even though it’s legal. So I would push very strong to see that we reform the entire situation.

Quayle: He disbanded the club but he’s still got the money. He is the No. 1 receiver of political action money. Now, Sen. Bentsen’s talked about reform. Well, let me tell you about the reform that we’re pushing. Let’s eliminate political action committees (for) special interest money. There’s legislation before Congress to do that.

First Actions if President

Quayle: I would make sure that the people in the Cabinet and the people and the advisers to the President are called. I’ll talk to them and I’ll work with them. And I will know them on a firsthand basis. . . . I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of vice president of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.

Bentsen: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Quayle: That was really uncalled for, senator.

Bentsen: You’re the one that was making the comparison, senator, and I’m the one who knew him well. And frankly, I think you’re so far apart in the objectives you choose for your country that I did not think the comparison was well taken.


Quayle’s Background

Quayle: The issue of releasing all my grades--I am, and I stand before you tonight, as the most investigated person ever to seek public office. Thousands of journalists have asked every professor I’ve had, all my teachers, and they know . . . I’ve never professed to be anything but an average student. I have never said I was anything more than that, but it’s not whether you’re an average student, it’s what are you going to do with your life.

Bentsen: I have absolutely no quarrel with Sen. Quayle’s military record, but I do strongly disagree with him on some of the issues. You make great patriotic speeches and I enjoy them. But I don’t understand your vote on veterans’ issues. Sen. Quayle has one of the worst voting records in the United States Senate on veterans’ issues, and one of them particularly bothers me, sponsoring legislation to put a tax on combat pay and disability pay for veterans, for fighting men and women of America.

A Formative Experience

Quayle: It’s the advice that my maternal grandmother, Martha Pulliam who’s 97 years old, we are a modern-day four-generation family. The advice that she gave me when I was growing up is advice that I’ve given my children and I’ve given to a number of children, a number of people and it’s very simple, it’s very common sense, and she said, “You can do anything you want to if you just set your mind to it and go to work.” Now the Dukakis supporters sneer at that, because it’s common sense. They sneer at common sense advice, Midwestern advice, Midwestern advice from a grandmother to a grandson.

Bentsen: I think being born and reared on the Rio Grande, to have spent part of my life seeing some of the struggles that have taken place in one of the lowest per capita incomes in the United States, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve worked so hard to try to assist on education. . . . It’s one of the reasons I’ve worked so hard to bring better health care to the people, because what I’ve seen in the way of poverty down there in that area, and the lack of medical attention, and trying to see that that’s turned around, why I worked so hard on the welfare reform bill, to give them a chance to break these cycles of poverty, the chance for a step up in life.

Final Statement

Quayle: Tonight has been a very important evening. You have been able to see Dan Quayle as I really am, and how George Bush and I want to lead this country into the future. Thank you America for listening and thank you for your fairness. Now you will have a choice to make on Election Day.

Bentsen: In just 34 days America will elect new leadership for our country. It’s a most important decision, because there’s no bigger job than governing this great country of ours and leading it into its future. Mike Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen offer you experienced, tempered, capable leadership to meet those challenges of the future. Our opposition says: “Lower your sights, rest on your laurels.” Mike Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen think America can do better.