ZDNN Q&A with George W. Bush

Summary:Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. George W.

Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. George W. Bush sat down for a wide-ranging interview with ZDNet and ZDTV during a tour of Silicon Valley Tuesday. Bush was in town to promote a new education plan aimed at bridging the digital divide by encouraging students to study more math and science. During an interview with ZDTV's Danille Knox and ZDNN's Lisa Bowman, Bush revealed his penchant for Texas-grown PCs, his thoughts on how antitrust law applies in the information age and his opinions on protecting the privacy of U.S. citizens. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

ZD: Do you have a computer? How do you use it and the Internet?

GWB: I guess I'm not supposed to be talking about brands, but since Michael Dell is my good friend and Dell is a Texas company, I'm the owner of a Dell computer. I use it mainly for a couple of things. One, e-mail. I stay in touch with my family via e-mail. I've got a private address that I'd say maybe 50 people have with whom I communicate on a regular basis. I'm on my e-mail nearly every day. My mother and I were e-mailing the other day as a matter of fact. My father and I e-mail each other quite frequently. My brother Jeb, who is the governor of Florida, is a prolific e-mailer, and I hear from him quite often. I use the Internet for, well, I'm a rancher and I'm on a Web site that's got Doppler radar available at a touch, so I can see whether or not it's raining on my ranch. I know that sounds kind of weird, but nevertheless when you own the land and it's dry, it's interesting to watch weather patterns and whether or not they're going to affect my ranch.

I occasionally use it for research. Obviously in the campaign, which is a much broader issue, we use the Internet and the Web site to convince people to vote for me and to distribute information and speeches in both English and Spanish. It's an interesting tool for politics, but for me personally, it's a way to communicate with loved ones and close friends.

ZD: You sound pretty tech-savvy. Is there other technology you like to use, maybe a mobile phone or a Palm Pilot?

GWB: I understand technology, I respect technology, I welcome technology, but if you compare my level of knowledge with the people who are in the Silicon Valley, I'm a neophyte. As a potential president I welcome the technological revolution and understand that government's role is really to create an environment in which entrepreneurship flourishes. As opposed to a federal government that tries to guide an economy, I'd welcome change, have courage in opening markets and take a larger view really in how entrepreneurship works.

ZD: Are there any areas of technology that make you uncomfortable?

GWB: Yes, there are. I worry about the privacy issue. I think my information is my information, and I don't want anybody to have it that I don't want to have it, so I am concerned about that. I've expressed some concerns about my Social Security number just floating out there for somebody to get ahold of. I think people ought to be held accountable for the misuse of private information. I'm worried about pornography spreading its wing and getting into places it shouldn't, public libraries. I also know, though, that the people who are smart enough to create the industry are smart enough to deal with issues like proper screens and/or terrorism.

I'm worried about terrorism. I'm worried about the country becoming so dependent on the Internet that terrorists would be able to strike in new ways. And the answer to that of course is: get the brain power of the United States, get the best minds and have a debate. I think the president probably deserves credit for sort of an anti-terrorist focus, by calling on some of the best minds in the Silicon Valley and other areas to come help protect the security of the United States. Another interesting larger issue, what the Internet has done is create a very interconnected world.

It's a world that trades more freely and information moves more quickly and capital which can kind of race through economies based on information. I think that's a positive development, but it could create a backlash against America and American values that is, well, right now it's almost uniquely an American creation, and therefore it's as if a culture is racing through areas that resent our culture -- which could create a terrorist backlash, cause people to resent America more. We're going to have to be very careful as we go into the 21st century understanding what the promise and problems of the Internet are globally as well.

ZD: It seems the Internet has come of age during this campaign. How has the Internet or technology changed the way you run your campaign?

GWB: It certainly makes it a lot easier to communicate. We're constantly passing back and forth information, ideas and talking points, and other things that happen in a campaign that required much more tedious communications in the past. I think the great thing about the Internet is going to be able to connect with voters, and this is just the beginning of maybe a new style of campaigning, where much of it will happen over the Internet. After all, this is a conversation related to the Internet. Four years ago, I don't think campaigns were even talking about it. But time is precious in the course of a campaign, and here I am spending 30 minutes with you all because you're relevant and you're alive and you're real and you talk about a changing world. The whole point of the Internet is really to be able to connect the candidate with the voter in a different way and in a much more intimate way. Somebody can get on the Internet and say, "I want to see his speech." And right now the Web site is putting it out in written form, but maybe someday they'll be able to tap in and they'll be able to see my speech over the Internet in video.

ZD: According to a recent CNN poll, 90 percent of the Americans on the Internet are registered to vote and 78 percent voted in the last election. How are you specifically addressing the needs of what is becoming an online constituency?

GWB: I will be successful if people figure out where I want to lead the country, people get a sense of my heart and my concerns and my compassion. The Internet is a much more direct access. Sometimes people are kind of told what to believe over the air. I'm not suggesting all the time, but occasionally a reporter might not give an objective analysis, and I have a chance to make my own case via my Web site. People have a chance to come and find out exactly what I did say. I presume most sophisticated people will put a certain balance to what they read because I'm obviously going to put out the positive side of things, but there is a way to directly relate and there's a way to get questions answered. We have a whole Internet team answering questions on our Web site.

ZD: The Federal Trade Commission said recently it's time to create legislation to protect consumers' online privacy because companies aren't doing a good job. Should the government legislate online privacy?

GWB: I think there ought to be laws here that say a company cannot use my information without my permission to do so. And I believe we can have a private world.

ZD: What could this legislation look like?

GWB: You'd better leave it up to the lawyers, and I'm not a lawyer, maybe one of the reasons I'm going to win. I think the principle ought to be that people should not be able to use your information, or mine, without your permission.

ZD: There was a Bush parody Web site created that you called "garbage," and you insisted that it be taken down. In situations like that, how do you balance a person's right to free speech.

GWB: That's a big challenge, but I'll tell you what got my attention. It's when the person used my name, and people clicked on the Web site, and there was pornography. It's one thing to make fun of me. I'm used to it. It's quite an art for some. I'm sure there's a new Dana Carvey in the waiting should I win, but this was a case where I thought the person stepped over the line. If some innocent person were to type in my name -- I don't even remember what the name of that site was -- if you wanted to hear what he (Bush) stands for, they clicked on, and there were nude people. I just thought that was over the line, and I told the guy that. I didn't appreciate that. It's the age-old question about privacy and freedom of speech.

ZD: And you said there ought to be limits to speech.

GWB: I said some limits. I don't think a guy ought to be able to use my name to promote pornography. He claims he wasn't doing that, but he did it, and that's what I think.

ZD: You're in Silicon Valley talking about education, specifically your plan to get more students interested in math and science. Let's talk a little about the digital divide. What are your thoughts on bridging it?

GWB: First of all, we have to recognize that there is a digital divide, that people who make a living with their brains, they are the future, and therefore every child's got to be educated. The great danger is that as technology continues to race off, like it's going to in the future, that fewer and fewer people will be able to realize the promise of where the economy is heading. There's the digital divide. There's also the gap of hope. Two kind of nice phrases to sum up what I worry about. I worry about some people saying, "This American experience isn't meant for me. Why do I need an education? This American dream isn't meant for me." I believe that education will solve both. Create a more hopeful society that's more able to take advantage of the opportunities that'll exist.

It starts with educating every child. The cornerstone for education reform as far as I'm concerned is threefold. One, high standards. It's saying every kid can learn. It's what I call challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations. When you lower the standards, when you lower people's expectations, you're going to get bad results or low results or mediocre results. Second is to have local control of schools. It's so important to devolve power away from centralized authority so as to encourage educational entrepreneurship. The best reforms in education bubble from the bottom up just because people grab the moment, seize the opportunity, use money provided by government, and they're able to chart their own path to excellence. Finally, accountability is very important. It's the cornerstone of education reform.

If you don't measure, you never know until it's too late. And measuring and holding people accountable is part of a way to say that every child not only can learn, but will learn because a measurement system, particularly when it's applied early, will be able to show what problems need to be corrected early. And it's that reform, the system reform that we've put in place in Texas, that has made a huge difference in the lives of children.

ZD: You've said the answer to the digital divide isn't just putting a computer in every classroom but educating students and teachers in terms of how to use computers.

GWB: The problem with e-rate is that it's all focused on hardware and access to computers, and that's fine. But there needs to be a lot of flexibility in e-rate money because each district has got different needs, and I think if you apply for e-rate money and get e-rate money you ought to be able to use it for software development, or teacher training, just besides access. The e-rate program is now in the FCC, which is a regulatory body, and it's no wonder that the regulations associated with applying for the money are very stringent. It takes hours for the districts to apply. I think we ought to have a very simple formula as to what schools are first priority in accessing the money and send the money down with broad criteria, with as much flexibility as possible. As a matter of fact, the program ought to be run out of the Department of Education, not the FCC.

ZD: Why do you support the moratorium on Internet taxation?

GWB: Because I think it's too early to make a solid determination as to what will work and what won't work, what makes sense and doesn't make sense, and therefore I want to have a period of time for us to see the evolution of e-commerce and how it affects local jurisdictions and states before there's a national reaction.

ZD: What about the local and state entities that say they're losing money, traditional brick-and-mortar companies that say it's not fair?

GWB: I'm concerned about that. I'm from a state that relies on the consumption tax, but I think it's too early to tell. There's an argument that actually says that e-commerce will enhance sales at brick-and-mortar institutions. To me, the world is evolving so rapidly that it's too early to react with a national tax policy until we've had some time to gather facts.

ZD: Any ideas about what you will do when the moratorium ends?

GWB: Analyze the situation, take a good look, and determine what's best for the nation.

ZD: If you were president, and the Microsoft case came your way, would you urge the Department of Justice to be more or less aggressive?

GWB: I'm not going to talk about the Microsoft case. I made a comment early on that said so long as the case is in the courts, I'm not going to talk about it.

ZD: How about some other potentially monopolistic scenarios on the horizon. We've got AOL/Time Warner. This is a very general question: Is it in the consumer's best interest to have a merger between the company that delivers the content and the company that makes the content?

GWB: That's the question: Is it in the consumer's best interest? Will the consumer be hurt? In the past, it's interesting, a hundred years ago, when John B. Rockefeller became the first monopolist, the question then asked was, were prices going up or down? And were people being hurt and was innovation being stifled? And Teddy Roosevelt came to the conclusion they were, and the antitrust laws came into being. One hundred years later, to me, the same standards ought to apply: Are people being hurt or is innovation getting stifled? Let me give you a general statement of principle. I would rather innovate than litigate. I made a reputation as a tort reformer in the state of Texas. I do believe that lawsuits can have the tendency to dampen innovation. Lawsuits raise the cost to consumers. Lawsuits affect the flow of capital, these are frivolous lawsuits. In that spirit, I'm going to enforce the antitrust laws, but I'm not going to be litigation happy. Let me put it to you that way.

ZD: You support the R&D tax credit for the private sector. As we've seen from Dolly, genetic engineering and other things like that, sometimes the public can be a little skittish about the unfettered advancement of science. Do you think government has a moral and ethical responsibility to regulate the development of new technology?

GWB: No. I don't think the government ought to regulate the development of technology. I think the government though ought to ask some questions. I'll give you one: genetic engineering. There's going to be some very interesting questions facing America. What do we do with the information? If you look at my genome and determine whether or not I have a certain illness, should the insurance companies get that information? What's the definition of privacy? There's going to be a lot of ethical issues faced with cloning. Those are going to be issues that our society, that our government, is going to have to deal with. But in terms of whether or not the government ought to prevent technology from developing, I think government ought to encourage technological development. Some cases, the Internet being one, are the result of government research. I'm a big believer in research. Your question is should government prevent technology. I don't think so.

ZD: Or regulate the development of technology.

GWB: I don't' see how it can regulate the development. I think it can help encourage the regulation of technology is the way I like to put it.

ZD: How do you satisfy Wall Street and protect the public interest at the same time?

GWB: I don't think you try to satisfy Wall Street. I'm not running to satisfy Wall Street. I'm running to create an environment where entrepreneurship flourishes and let Wall Street make its own decisions.

ZD: There are a number of similarities between your technology positions and Al Gore's -- the moratorium on Internet taxes, the R&D tax credit, raising the cap on H1-B visas. How would you differentiate your technology platform from his?

GWB: That's going to be up to the pundits to differentiate. I pretty much want to talk about what I want to talk about. The only question I think people are going to ask is, who's going to implement? The H1-B visa is a very interesting issue. The administration has dragged its feet on H1-B visas, and I think we need a president to work with Congress to increase H1-B visas and get it done. An interesting issue that's going to confront the nation is whether or not we're a protectionist nation -- an isolationist nation -- or whether we're a free-trade nation. I'm committed to free trade because I think it's right for America first and foremost. I thought the reaction by the administration in Seattle, about setting an agenda for GATT, was indicative of people being cross-pressured, that they let the politics of free trade affect their willingness to fight for a free-trade agenda.

People are going to draw their own conclusions, if they're free traders, to say which one of us has got the political will and the ability to get something done. And one example is whether or not the president has got fast-track negotiating authority, which the president doesn't have but the next president should have, so that we can expeditiously negotiate fair-trade agreements in our own hemisphere, for example, with market-oriented economies so as to expand the hope and promise of NAFTA throughout the hemisphere, and it's to the advantage of the high-tech world that that be the case. People will be able to draw their own conclusions when it's all said and done.

Topics: Government, Dell, Legal, Privacy

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