Fair Weather Compassionate Conservatism?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Aug. 31, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Education Secretary Rod Paige will take the convention stage to talk about the administration's accomplishments and future plans. Secretary Paige joins me now from Madison Square Garden. Secretary Paige, compassion, a day or so ago former President Bill Clinton (search) said the Republicans only bring out compassion every four years for the convention. How would you answer the former president?

ROD PAIGE, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: Well, the facts would be what would tell the story. Let's examine the education achievements over the last eight years. You'll find some parts of it where many minority communities actually lost ground. So there's a big difference between what is said and what is real. And so what we have to do is examine the facts and they'll tell the story. And they'll also tell the story of the progress that's being made since 2001.

GIBSON: Mr. Secretary, we all know what the administration has been doing the last few years. It has been in the news and in before our faces every second. Compassion is not it. It's been war. So what's been going on in the background that maybe I haven't noticed in the way of compassion?

PAIGE: Have you noticed the No Child Left Behind Act (search)? The bipartisan bill that is designed to close the achievement gap between the minority communities' children and the majority communities' children? (INAUDIBLE) towards educating all of its children.

GIBSON: Mr. Secretary, I'm glad you brought that up because what we're hearing from the Democrats is the No Child Left Behind Act is a false front. It looks good on the outside but the federal government is not funding it and it's not working. Are they wrong?

PAIGE: Well, you don't even have to ask that question because the facts are right out there. For elementary and secondary funding the president has increased funding by 49 percent. You know, they continue to make that claim because they can depend on certain people not examining the facts to see if it's right or it's wrong and they depend on the idea that if they have high volume, it turns into truth. But volume does not make truth. The truth is the president's been very aggressive about funding education. He's been very protective about that.

GIBSON: All right. There's also the issue, as you well know, the economy and a certain number of people who have been falling back into poverty. I know it's not your direct area. But what is the administration planning to do about people who have slid back below the poverty line?

PAIGE: Well, you know, the way I approach that is education is one of the strongest ways to improve a poverty situation. That's what I was taught when I was a kid. My parents drilled that into me and that's what I believe now. Education is an economic development tool. If we can improve the education in our communities, we will also improve our earning opportunities as well.

GIBSON: Secretary Paige, is the Republican Party under George W. Bush (search) a place that welcomes African-Americans? I mean, I know it welcomes you. It welcomes Colin Powell. It welcomes Condi Rice, but we hear from lots of African-American leaders who say beyond that, it doesn't.

PAIGE: Well, I'll tell you what. Go past those leaders and ask the people and look for yourself. You can see the face of the administration has great representation from the African-American community as well from the other communities as well. The president is very aggressive about that as well. That's a false charge and anyone who wants to get the truth of that can simply examine it.

GIBSON: All right, secretary of education Rod Paige joining me now from Madison Square Garden. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming on. Appreciate it.

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