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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Beyond the Politics

Aired October 11, 2008 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BILL BENNETT, HOST: Bill Bennett here. I want to go beyond the politics. I want to ask the real questions. How's America doing? We talk about leadership and people don't have the confidence in Congress or the president. Do Americans still believe (INAUDIBLE)? Do you? Is your confidence in this country for yourself and your children as whole as you'd like it to be? Let's talk about that.
As we approach this election, we are gripped by worry. Our financial system has suffered a severe blow. The flow of wealth that kept America safe is at present a river of debt. An American president famously said the chief business of the American people is business. But in that same speech, Calvin Coolidge also said, "We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization."

So as we contemplate our financial and other institutional problems right now, we must ask, where are we going? A government growing by leaps and bounds every day steps in to address the crisis. Will it ever step back? Is this still a (INAUDIBLE)? What effect will this have on other institutions? And will peace and charity and honor suffer or be forgotten?

So let's go beyond politics in pursuit of these questions. I'm Bill Bennett. Let's meet our panel.

Tara Wall is a columnist and the deputy editorial page editor for "The Washington Times." She's also part of the best political time here at CNN. Andrew C. McCarthy is the legal affairs editor for "National Review." He's a former federal prosecutor and author of the book, "Willful Blindness." William Galston, a former policy advisor to President Bill Clinton. He's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. And Cornel West is a renowned activist and author. He currently teaches at his alma mater Princeton University. Movie star occasionally, too? Right?

This week, one headline in "The Washington Post" summed it all up. "Fears of Recession Deepen Rout."

Tara, what's the rout? What's the problem and what's the solution?

TARA WALL, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Well, I don't think the problem is the free market as some critics would suggest. I think it is government injecting itself in the free market. It started out innocuously enough as the government wanting to help people become homeowners. And I think it just continued to perpetuate until what we saw risky subprime mortgage loans. We saw lax oversight by Congress and collusion with Fannie and Freddie Mac. I think, so that perpetuated a host of problems.

And now, we find ourself where we are now, which again, the government is solving with more government intervention and interjection.

I think beyond that, as history has revealed, the economy has its ebbs and flows. It will correct itself. I think the bailout essentially was a bad idea and that at some point, the government has to put its foot down and say when do we stop. When do we allow the markets to correct themselves? As history has shown that it has, it will do. And I think moving forward, now that we do have this big bailout package, so many questions that need to be answered need to start with Congress, start with hearings, and more Congressional oversight about what took place and where do we go from here?

BENNETT: It will bottom out, though? You're confident we will hit bottom?

WALL: Well, I think it will take a while, but I think - look, why didn't we let these -- some of these companies fail. As we did with Lehman Brothers, we see the private market help itself. Why does government need to continuously be the solution to private, free market problems?

BENNETT: All right, other comments on this?

CORNEL WEST, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: You know, Shelley says that the poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. And by poets, what he meant was another person who write free verse. People who have imagination, bold, adventurous.

We are in the midst of a profound crisis. And it has much to do precisely with subscribing to a dogma of free market that does not correct itself sufficiently, especially in relation to public good. I say public good. That's the term of James Madison. (INAUDIBLE) and 45. We're going to back to a conception of what holds us together. Markets have their virtues. They have their limitation. We've got to be bold, we've got to be imaginative, adventurous. And most importantly, I think we need to be cool in the face of this catastrophe.

BENNETT: Well, the government's been bold. Right? U.S. -- here's another headline from this week. I don't want to interrupt you, Andy. "U.S. May Take Ownership Stake in Banks to East Credit Crisis." $700 billion perhaps ownership in banks. This is a big foot of government and I salute them...

WALL: Where was the government oversight? Big bold, where was the oversight?

ANDREW MCCARTHY, LEGAL AFFAIRS EDITOR, THE NATIONAL REVIEW: Markets are preferable, not because they're perfect. They're preferable because they're better than everything else. And I think what we're seeing, not just with the economy, but in a lot of government interventions across the board, you know, whether it's trying to create democracy in the world, trying to regulate speech codes in purges of terms like Islam or fascism or jihadism, such that we can sort of crank down on what our debate is. These all have consequences which are downside consequences.

And I think there's a lot to be said for the idea that you can't -- everything can't be a completely free market. But on the other hand, when we intervene, we have to recognize that we have unintended consequences that may be much worse...

BENNETT: Are you with the view that we should not have -- the government shouldn't have acted here?

MCCARTHY: No, I think the government should have acted, but I think - I'm not satisfied that it acted the way it was appropriate to act. Some intervention was necessary.

BENNETT: Bill?

WILLIAM GALSTON, SENIOR FELLOW, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, there's another way of looking at it. And that is that, you know, everything made by human beings is imperfect in one way or another. That goes for government and it goes for markets. There are government failures and there are market failures. And prudence and judgment are needed in order to discern which failure is the graver threat to the common good at any particular point in our history.

In the early 1930s, we made a judgment that market failure was a more significant threat than the expansion of government. We appeared to be on the verge of another moment like that. And unless somebody here wants to take the position that the entire New Deal was a mistake, which I'll be happy to debate, then we cannot be dogmatic about this.

BENNETT: Tara?

WALL: Well, you know, again, you know, some of the failures include the failure of government to act where it should have acted. And that is in the way of oversight. When alarm bells were beginning to ring about the situation, where was Congress? Where were administration officials, not just with this administration, beginning in other administrations as well. I think when those alarm bells sound, you can't ignore them.

There were efforts as early as last year, two years, three years ago to sound the alarm.

BENNETT: Right.

WALL: And to -- and try to start reforming a system that was noticeably becoming out of control. Where was the government intervention and oversight?

BENNETT: Two things if I may quickly. But almost your settled wisdom at least appear to be this week, for what I'm hearing on television and reading the newspaper. One, there's enough blame to go around. People in both parties saying it.

WALL: Absolutely.

BENNETT: The other thing is the government is in and it's in big. I mean, there may be 30 or 40 years we've been debating the role of government, the role of private enterprise. Government budgets $3 trillion. We've just increased it by 25%. Bang, there it is. That argument is at least over for the time being. Cornel?

WEST: Yes, but I think the problem is is that the, those institutions that were supposed to regulate had been so stripped and evacuated and emaciated, they didn't have the power. And we're the tremendous reputation of the Federal Reserve bank, Alan Greenspan, tremendous reputation even of Robert Rubin and the Clinton administration. These folk were the experts. They were the ones calling for the abolition of glass (INAUDBIBLE) going back to '33, allowing for insurance companies and investment banks and commercial banks and security firms to become more and more less regulated.

So it was this dogma. And I think we have to be jazz like. We have to be improvisational. We have to...

(CROSSTALK)

WEST: Flexible, fluid. That's what I mean by having grace under pressure.

BENNETT: (INAUDIBLE).

WEST: Because I mean, but in instinct -- go right ahead.

WALL: I just - when does the bleeding stop, though? At what point do we put our foot down? I mean, I think that is a question that has yet to be answered by Congress, by the administration, by all these experts. When do we say no? When do we put our - when do we use the ethics that we've been trained with to put our foot down and stop the bleeding?

I think you have to look at a number of measures that can and should be put in place. I mean, after we had Enron collapse, we got Sarbanes Oxley. So I think we don't - that's one of the things - biggest things that are lacking right now.

I think that Congress is reticent actually to take this on. Why aren't we hearing - why aren't we having hearings? Why aren't we actually talking about it? Outside of all the rhetoric and the political discussions, why aren't we talking about what actually went wrong and how to fix it in the future?

BENNETT: I think we're going to have hearings. Go ahead, Andy.

MCCARTHY: Well, I just think this talk about government or not government. Should it intervene, should it not?

BENNETT: Yes.

MCCARTHY: You need to parse this. There are some things we need the government to do. It has some legitimate roles. Protecting the money supply, for example, is a government responsibility. The danger is government getting involved in things that oughtn't be government responsibilities. And that's what, I think, we need to watch here. At least when the market fails, it's a blind failure. When the government picks winners and losers, that's very difficult to unwind.

BENNETT: All right, other comments?

GALSTON: Let me offer....

BENNETT: Yes.

GALSTON: ...a medical analogy here. You know, Tara, you talked about stopping the bleeding. Well, I was a Boy Scout and a Marine. And I was told that that was the thing you had to do first before you could go on to anything else. Well, we are bleeding, right? And...

WALL: Where's the tourniquet?

GALSTON: Well, we are looking for the tourniquet, but one of the consequences of the bleeding is that the economy's blood pressure is dropping alarmingly. And only the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury working together can perform the kind of emergency action that will get the blood pressure back up so that the blood of commerce can start flowing again. If we don't do that, everything else is moot.

BENNETT: This is interesting. It seems to me people coming from different perspectives, people different - perhaps different governing motivating principles. But there seems to be common ground here. Stop the bleeding. There is some role for government. We have to do something. We hope this will stop the bleeding, but we're not sure when.

WEST: Well, there is an unintentional element here, Bill, very important. And the sense in which economic realities are catching up with American literature. You go back to Herman Melville's "The Confidence Man: A Masquerade", his last major prose fiction. What was he talking about? Trust. And now trust is a nonmarket value. Confidence in government. Confidence in markets. Confidence in citizens vis a vis citizen...

WALL: I don't have confidence.

WEST: ...we - well...

WALL: Not much.

WEST: But that's part of the problem because if you have a dogma free market, then you end up demeaning government to such a degree that you downplay the contributions the government has made.

BENNETT: Sure.

WALL: Sure.

WEST: Safe water, safe food, access to education, research and so forth. We have to have trust across the board. We're lacking trust right now across the board.

BENNETT: I have a brief comment from Andy and then go to break.

MCCARTHY: I have confidence in government as long as it's divided government. You asked me before what I didn't like about the intervention? I think there had to be government intervention. What bothers me about it is that there was so much power reposed in the Treasury in terms of - especially valuing the bad paper that it may have to buy. That makes me nervous, when government has that kind of authority without checks and balances.

WALL: The government that should take more of a passive role than in consistently interjecting itself. I mean, how much is the government going to own? Are we - are they going to buy up everything on Wall Street? Are they going to own all of mortgages? I mean, this is, there has to be a limit to the role that government plays.

BENNETT: Good questions, all. I'm going to appeal to a higher authority in the next segment and see if they can help us settle it. Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, we'll see what they have to say and get your reactions. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BENNETT: I read you, Bill Galston, on a lot of things. One of the things I used to say as drug czar, after having been Secretary of Education, was give me back stronger churches, stronger families, stronger schools, and I will give you back 80 or 90% of the pathology of American life.

My worry about bigger government is that it begins to crowd out other institutions. But let me appeal to higher authority as I've said I would.

"We have also gotten away from the debilitating concept of the all- powerful state which takes too much from you to do too much for you, constantly substituting the politicians' view of what the people should have for the people's own view of what they want." Margaret Thatcher.

And I know you know this from Bill Clinton. "We know big government does not have all the answers. We know there's not a program for every problem...The era of big government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves."

All right. We got to put a tourniquet, government has a role, but do we worry here about the crowding out of other institutions?

GALSTON: We should always worry about the health of civil society of America because it's so important and has been historically to everything we care about.

The question is whether the relationship between government and civil society is hydraulic. As one goes down, the other goes up and vice versa. And I think history tells a more complex story from that. For example, we talk about the greatest -- the greatest generation, the people who came to maturity in the Depression, in World War II, and then who came home to start families, and become the pillars of their local communities.

Well, this was also a period when government got a lot bigger for economic reasons and military reasons. So I don't think history suggests that civil society is necessarily crowded out by larger government. It depends on what that larger government is doing. Whether it's doing what it's supposed to do, or whether it's invading spheres where it's less confident and frankly, you know, less welcome.

BENNETT: All right.

WEST: I think part of the problem is it's not either/or in terms of individual initiative and activist government. They actually can reinforce each other if it's done right. We can have a strong civil society if you have the right kind of government intervention in terms of infrastructure, health care, child care, quality schools, skill acquisition. That makes people stronger. It builds people up. It doesn't make people depend on government. It makes people better citizens in that regard.

But that's why we have at the moment an impoverished conception of public good. And we need a leadership that is steady, that is sturdy, that has grace under pressure, not frenetic, and tries to let people know we can get through this like Lincoln attempted and did in the 1860s.

BENNETT: Well, I got one smile and one shaking head. We'll go to shaking head first.

MCCARTHY: But I just don't think we ought to be looking to government to figure out how to get out of our problems. Most of our problems are ground up problems. We don't need government leadership. What we need is government to keep us safe, to keep the money supply secure, to do the things that we need a government to do well to unleash the energy of freedom.

And what I worry about is with all this intervention, two things will happen. Number one, we'll choke off the energy of freedom. And secondly, there simply is a finite limit to what government can do. And the more things it gets into, the less things it does well, and as it sprawls, I worry that it snuffs out everything.

BENNETT: Yes, a quick response? Go ahead.

WALL: And I would also disagree with the fact that people don't become dependent on government. I think we have seen that. That's why we've seen reforms and welfare reforms and education. People can become dependent on government. It can become cyclical what you expect from your government. And it makes people less responsible for themselves, for their well being, for their families when you have too much government intervention. I think we've seen that.

I also believe that if you look at what we spend on this bailout alone, $700 billion. For as much that's been talked about this war, with the stroke of a pen, $700 billion we've spent - we've barely spent that in Iraq in six years in this war.

BENNETT: Bill, your quick response for Bill? Go. You had - just that last point?

GALSTON: Look, there's something that the two candidates in this year's presidential election agree on. And that is that President Bush's faith based initiative ought to be continued.

And what is President Bush's faith based initiative? It is very simply an organized way of allowing civil society institutions that have a religious foundation to use public resources in order to do more and better what they're already doing. There can be a cooperative relationship between government and civil society, not just a competitive relationship. I would be the first to admit that programs that began during the Great Society invaded the social and civil sphere in a way that was not effective, and arguably was morally inappropriate as well, but I cannot draw any blanket conclusions from that.

WALL: I would also say though, you know, in a scope of when we're talking about government programs, there is - there still seems to be a vacuum in talking about cutting spending. And when you're talking about an administration who believes in being more fiscally responsible, cutting taxes, alleviating the burdens on some of these agencies, eliminating agencies versus bigger government, more spending, capital gains taxes on people's investments, and raising taxes, I think that that does more harm to the economy overall than allowing these free market ideals to exist.

So I think, you know, you have to balance these things. I'm still not hearing within the discussion of how great government is, and what it can do. We need to also be talking about...

BENNETT: Right.

WALL: ...what it can't and it shouldn't do, and where cuts can be made.

BENNETT: Brief comment on this, Andy?

MCCARTHY: I just think, you know, part of the reason that you need government assistance or the candidates think you need government assistance to these faith based organizations is because of big government, they've had to compete in a way that they shouldn't have to compete.

Again, the plan always seems to be let's extend the tentacles of government . And then, in order to relieve the inevitable burdens that caused, we'll have some government assistance. Where I think the solutions ought to be to have government step back and get out of the way.

BENNETT: All right, that's an interesting thing to say now at this time, you know, in the situation we're in. I mean, we hear enabling government. We hear tentacles of government, two very different views of government.

We'll continue this discussion when we come back. There's a lot more to say. There's a lot of time. We'll have plenty time to hear all these folks out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BENNETT: However we sort out the size of government, the crowding out of other institutions, the American people's moral sense has to be satisfied it seems to me. And they're mad. They're mad about Wall Street. People say I pay my debts, I don't get bailed out when I'm in trouble. And what about people being able to get these deals that I wasn't able to get? What about the old virtues, if I may use that term? Who wants to pick up on that?

WALL: Well, if I could.

BENNETT: All right.

WALL: And then I will defer because I'd like to go to a virtuous book that I is by someone I know very well.

BENNETT: Yes, yes.

WALL: That I - you know, I've learned much from. But there are a couple of virtues in addition to self responsibility. This one, I have to read this because it's a passage I think that could be applicable to, not only ourselves as individuals, but to government. And it was...

BENNETT: Quick, quick, I really...

WALL: Very, very quick. It was Abraham Lincoln who was denying a loan to his brother. His brother had consistently asked him for a loan. And this time, he says your request for $80, I do not think it best to comply with now. At various times when I have helped you a little, you have said to me we can get along now. But in a very short time, I find you in the same difficulty again. Again and again, this sounds familiar. Now, this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. So we have to ask ourselves what defect...

WEST: I'll say...

WALL: ...did the conduct of government...

WEST: ...precisely because of the greed, the arrogance and the incompetence and ignorance of elites at the top who've been having a party.

WALL: And consistent bailout...

WEST: That's lack of individual virtue, is it not?

WALL: We were here this summer with the economic stimulus package. What did that do for us? Where are we now? Are people...

WEST: But what about the greed and the...

WALL: ...and another, two bailouts...

BENNETT: All right.

WEST: Working people need to be virtuous. Well to do need to be virtuous.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: Go ahead, Bill.

GALSTON: Well...

BENNETT: Put the book away. Bill?

GALSTON: We have met the enemy and they is us. It is very easy to project and say, you know, all of the evil, all of the greed is, you know, over there on the government side. And we the people have no complicity and no responsibility.

BENNETT: Or the Wall Street side.

GALSTON: Yes, or the Wall Street side.

BENNETT: And it's every day.

GALSTON: Right. And you know what? You know, that is the easiest and cheapest thing that can happen in a democracy. And it's never right. Let me just, you know, put a few facts on the table.

When I was a boy, which wasn't so long ago, the personal savings rate was 13%. As recently as 15 years ago, it was in double digits. Personal savings has been negative...

WALL: Yes.

GALSTON: ...for the past three years. Families are spending $1.01 for every dollar they're taking in. And we have been on a national consumption binge.

WALL: That's right.

GALSTON: And the result has been that not are our institutions increasingly leveraged, but our families are increasingly leveraged. And I know, you know, that incomes have stagnated for quite some time.

BENNETT: (INAUDIBLE) point.

GALSTON: But do you respond to that stagnation by overleveraging your household? Or do you respond by looking for ways of cutting back?

BENNETT: But don't still -- most people watching this show say, fine, I do that, maybe I have too much debt, but I'll pay it off. By gosh, I will pay it off. Most will, won't they? GALSTON: Most will, but the rate of personal bankruptcy has been rising very rapidly. And I'm not saying that people who do that, you know, do it gladly or as the first choice, but it's happening. And...

WEST: Fifty percent of those are because of health care challenges.

WALL: But this was - but also...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY: But you can't repeal greed. You know, no matter what you do.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY: No, because of - no, but - not, but if we actually recognize the fact that you can't repeal greed in a system of divided government, and in a free economy, we rely on greed, but always know we have to cut the cards.

GALSTON: That is a terrific Madisonian point. You can't repeal greed. You can't repeal self-interest and vice. Absolutely right. So you then need to construct institutions, including lending institutions that are cognizant of that fact.

I'll give you an example. I'm not saying that we should go back to the 1920s when you had to save all the money, you know, the full value of the house in order to be able to buy one. That was the - that was unbalanced in one direction. But to be able to buy a house putting nothing down, not having to save to start? That's wrong. And so, you can construct institutions. I'm aware of that.

MCCARTHY: I agree that that's wrong. However, I insist that we recognize that to the extent people were greedy and gained the system, they gained a system that was designed by the government. It changes government policies if they...

WALL: (INAUDIBLE). Consistently giving loans to people who can't -- knowingly can't afford them. Encouraging loans for people who can't afford them, then bailing them out.

BENNETT: If I can hear in the air, I think there is some agreement. Go ahead, go ahead.

WEST: Predatory lending. You got predatory activity at the top with these carrots of these poor working people trying to gain a home before they die.

WALL: And for people who preyed upon...

WEST: I mean, my God.

WALL: ...we have sympathy, but that's this amount.

WEST: Where are the indictments...

WALL: For everyone else...

WEST: Where are the indictments of the senatorial lenders who had tremendous power?

WALL: (INAUDIBLE) and the second home buyers in...

GALSTON: What would you charge them with then?

WEST: What would I charge them with?

GALSTON: Yes, what would you charge them with?

WEST: First you would say, as a fellow citizen, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. And secondly, they're going to be charged for fraud. They're going to be charged for fraud.

WALL: And they should be.

WEST: That's illegal.

WALL: If we were enforcing...

BENNETT: Wait, wait, wait.

WALL: If we were enforcing...

MCCARTHY: If you had to enforce these laws, they're almost impossible to enforce the way you think so. And I must tell you, you think being ashamed of yourself is being indictable now, there's an awful lot of people who are going to be on the Justice Department...

BENNETT: Go ahead, Sarah.

WALL: Well, you know...

BENNETT: Great moral sense here.

(LAUGHTER)

WALL: I also think, you know, the more -- there are also, though, there are also very good points made about where we've come as a country. You know, we talk about the Great Depression, of course which I was not here for. But listen -- look at where we are now in relation to what we consider a crisis, an economic crisis, because people can't buy a second car?

There's a...

WEST: No, no, no.

WALL: There's a difference between people not being able to put food on the table and people - you know, some of the things that I've heard during -- from news reports across the country when we were going through this economic challenge, is I heard some - one man say well, I guess I just can't buy organic eggs now. I have to buy regular eggs.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: Go ahead, go ahead, go ahead.

WEST: Your focus in the wrong place. We got 20% of our children living in poverty. The crisis was already in place in working people and poor people's community. You're talking about somebody who doesn't have access to organic X or Y, you're not focusing on the working people and...

WALL: Absolutely.

BENNETT: Compared to what the...

WALL: What it used to be? Poverty - most people...

WEST: We know the statistical category for the government, but outdated for years. Isn't that right, brother Bill?

GALSTON: These are people...

WEST: They've been outdated for decades.

MCCARTHY: Are people in poverty with color TVs and?

WEST: Have at least two TVs in their homes. That's a different poverty now than it was during the Great Depression.

BENNETT: We're going to get back to discourse...

WALL: And the VCRs.

BENNETT: ...after the break.

Stay with us, folks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BENNETT: Welcome back. We did this over the break. We'll stay at it. I'm Bill Bennett. And we're discussing the deeper issues that are too often neglected in this election season.

Once again, I'm joined by four exceptional thinkers from very different fields. Bill Galston is with the Brookings Institution, Tara Wall with "The Washington Times", Cornel West, professor at Princeton University, and Andrew McCarthy with "The National Review".

This week, a federal judge ordered the release of 17 Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Why do I bring that up? "The New York Times" headline said, "In Blow to President, Judge Orders 17 Detainees at Guantanamo Freed."

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court halted that plan for at least a week. Were we conveying more rights to alleged terrorists while government is growing? And while it's growing, does it lose focus? This is one of the things we conservatives worry about that we say we like limited government, the government that does a few things and a few things well. As we're seeing the expansion of this government, we're wondering about whether government's doing its first job.

MCCARTHY: And we're also seeing that when you allow your national security issues to be delegated to courts, which is a vast departure from our founding idea, which is that national security decisions are the most decisions made by a political community, they're made to be made by the political branches, not by the courts, this is what you see when you have your most unaccountable officials making these very important decisions.

And it actually seamlessly, I think, fits into a lot of our other discussion because here you have government colliding with itself to fairly well. We have a treaty that says that you can't send people back to a country where you have reason to believe that they'll be persecuted, which is why we can't send these - repatriate these guys back to China.

We have two statutes that say if you have received paramilitary training, or you have been involved in the promotion of terrorism, which there is indication that these guys have, the government says they're a threat to the Chinese, not to us. But under our law, they shouldn't be allowed to be brought into the United States. It's actually a violation of congressional statutes. And you have a federal judge who thinks he's not limited by any law whatsoever. So you have all these things combining in a perfect storm. And what it means to the American people is less security.

BENNETT: One of the things I found on talk radio before this economic punch hit was that people were saying a big topic, one big topic was going to be immigration. I haven't heard a thing about it.

WALL: Nothing.

BENNETT: Another topic was going to be the courts and the role of the courts, which you just talked about. Boy, this economic thing can take a lot of things off the table that are very important.

WEST: But I think we can't deny, though, that as we approach the end of the age of Reagan, the end of conservative rule, in addition to the economic catastrophe, you've got...

BENNETT: You're sure it's over?

WEST: I think it's - I think we're reaching an end. I mean, I think it's a good thing, but we're reaching the end.

BENNETT: Well...

WEST: But let's be honest about it. I mean, we know torture is a mark of uncivilized behavior. Any country associated with torture will have their image besmirched around the world. That's part of our challenge, too.

In addition to that, we had Katrina. So you got these three pillars, as it were. So that when we're talking about strong government, tapping people's phones, strong government, promoting torture under some kind of other language, this is something that can never be morally justified.

BENNETT: Was there torture at Guantanamo?

WALL: Yes, I mean...

WEST: From what the evidence...

WALL: There's - what evidence? There's no...

WEST: There's no evidence, no torture has ever taken place whatsoever?

BENNETT: Guantanamo?

WEST: Is there any evidence, any torture taken place in the last ten years by American authority?

MCCARTHY: What are you talking - what do you mean by torture? I mean, are you talking about water boarding? We've water boarded three guys so far as we know.

WALL: I also think the...

MCCARTHY: I don't think it's trivial at all.

WALL: (INAUDIBLE) water board these detainees.

WEST: Torture is taking place.

WALL: ...is astonishing, the liberties we afford these detainees. We had...

WEST: With no...

WALL: We had...

WEST: No habeas corpus.

WALL: We had...

MCCARTHY: Do you want no intelligence?

WALL: Our board actually had some of these military experts, our editorial board had some of these military experts and that - that oversee these military courts and the due process. And it is astonishing to hear the liberties that are afforded to these.

I mean, they get more liberties quite frankly than American citizens who are represented. And in fact, when what has happened with the Supreme Court, I think not only does it put in balance or it weakens our own security as a nation...

BENNETT: Right.

WALL: ...I think it sends a message to terrorists, particularly in a time - and Homeland Security experts will tell you, particularly -- this is a time that these terrorists, al Qaeda, and others, are paying very close attention to what is happening during the election.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: I want to interrupt you here because I want to go back to...

WALL: And with these decisions. And with these decisions...

WEST: You're claiming that torture has not taken place whatsoever?

GALSTON: You think water boarding is taking place. I don't think water boarding is torture.

WEST: You think water boarding is the worst thing that has taken place?

GALSTON: I do.

WEST: We need another session, though, brother. I mean...

WALL: Well, if you have the actual means to prove that...

MCCARTHY: No, you want to see torture, they have films of what Saddam Hussein did and what went on in his prisons. Now if you're suggesting...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY: Right, but if you're suggesting...

WEST: ...Saddam Hussein's told...

WALL: (INAUDIBLE).

MCCARTHY: Trying to nail down what you mean by torture?

BENNETT: I can guess. Go ahead, Bill.

WALL: And what examples?

WEST: Amnesty International has laid it out. Let brother Bill, say what you're going to say.

GALSTON: You know, the problem with legal questions is that they are indeed fact driven, which is their great virtue. You know, it is one thing to say should we give rights to terrorists. That's when did you stop beating your wife formulation, right?

The real question is whether so and so is actually a terrorist because of course, if so and so is a terrorist, then various things ought to be off the table.

The problem with these particular detainees, they are weegers (ph), you know, a Muslim group that has been oppressed by the Chinese government for a very long time. I'm opposed to the idea that we ought to be jailers for the Chinese. And in fact, the government has pretty much admitted that the factual predicate for its identification of these people as terrorists is extremely weak. And that's why they're being...

BENNETT: And that's a quick comment...

MCCARTHY: That's because the government's tried to purge any consideration of jihadist ideology. These guys were actually trained in al Qaeda camps. And contrary to what the State Department may think, al Qaeda doesn't recognize the difference between China and the United States. They think the world is divided up into the world of Islam and what they regard as the world of war.

BENNETT: We've got to cut it there. We'll come back, Bill, continue the discussion. We'll be back after a short break. I'm Bill Bennett. We are going beyond politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are peacemakers, and we're peace keepers. But the challenge is is to know when the United States of America can beneficially affect the outcome of a crisis. When to go in and when not. When American military power is worth the expenditure of our most precious treasure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENETIAL CANDIDATE: When genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world, and we stand idly by, that diminishes us. And so I do believe that we have to consider it as part of our interests, our national interests in intervening where possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT: We're talking about -- we were talking about cruelty or alleged cruelty in the last segment.

Now we're talking about compassion. And the U.S. military as an instrument of compassion in a Darfur or some place like it. Appropriate role for government as we are discussing the role of government?

GALSTON: Well, a government is not a charitable institution. You know, it has to put the interests of the people it serves first. Having said that, Americans have always understood their identity in part in moral terms.

I was in Bill Clinton's administration. And he has said publicly as well as privately that the mistake he reproaches himself most for is not doing more to stop the genocide in Rwanda.

Now, obviously, you have to allow prudence to govern your decisions here. You cannot intervene to halt or thwart the ills of the world everywhere. All right, you have to pick your spots. That's bound to be a controversial process, but the argument that we have no stake in the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens is one that I think few Americans will accept once they stare it in the face.

BENNETT: How much traction do you get for an argument like that given the current circumstances we're reading about in the papers?

MCCARTHY: Well, I mean, the traction you get depends on how coherent you think the argument is. You know, some of the people who are now saying we should intervene in Darfur are the same people who said we should pull out of Iraq because it's all sectarian violence and there's nothing we can do about it. Now they want to go in and invade a Muslim country in order to stop genocide.

You know, look, I think the bottom line is if there is an atmosphere in the community of nations, if there is such a thing, where rampant violence, where genocide is permissible, that makes all of our security less. It makes the international order less secure. And we have a national interest in preventing that from happening.

But how much we should intervene and how much our military should be the instrument of that intervention is a function of how much our national interests, our other national interests...

BENNETT: Let me just follow quickly again for a quick answer. You're a limited government guy. Your guy's not in favor of everybody going everywhere...

MCCARTHY: Right.

BENNETT: ...and you know, holding the flag every place, every country in the world. Would you be in favor of some limited engagement in the air, cruisers, battleships off the coast in Darfur?

MCCARTHY: Yes, if it was in and out quick and we didn't delude ourselves into thinking we're now going to move in and create a democracy in Sudan, sure?

BENNETT: Because for the reasons you mentioned earlier?

MCCARTHY: Because I think you'd have to stabilize -- it's in our national interest to have a stable international environment.

BENNETT: All right, Cornel?

WEST: You can't be a world power and be a force for good and become so obsessed with your national security that you're downplaying the suffering in other parts of the world. The United States government had a weak response to the Holocaust vis a vis our Jewish brothers and sisters. Weak response, null and void, vis a vis Rwandan brothers and sisters.

Darfur's been going on for a long time. Give President Bush credit. He called it a genocide. Give Condoleezza Rice credit. Call it genocide. Where's the action? Where's the execution? Nothing really going on on the ground. So when we're talking about our international reputation, already besmirched by Guantanamo Bay and other issues, this is one in which we can actually make a difference, even if it's symbolic. We no longer have the global power to mobilize other countries to have impact on the U.N. and say, let's make an intervention. So we want to hold on to some moral dimension of who we are as a people.

BENNETT: Keeping count, limited intervention, Bill?

GALSTON: Well, obviously limited. I mean, nobody's talking about intervening everywhere.

BENNETT: Yes.

GALSTON: And nobody's talking about taking the full force of the U.S. military and devoting it...

BENNETT: But yes...

GALSTON: Absolutely yes.

WALL: Yes, speaking of morals, the Bible says there's a time for peace and there's a time for war. And we should be able to have the judgment to make those distinctions. I think both candidates in those sound bites acknowledge the fact that it is a balancing act. And I think the difference is voters need to decide who they believe has the better judgment to make that distinction. And with the number one priority of keeping our own security in mind.

BENNETT: All right. Well, any one of these questions, folks, we could have taken an hour on. And maybe we'll have that opportunity some day in the future, giving you an idea about what smart people think about the headlines of the day and what's underneath, what's beneath and beyond those headlines.

I want to thank this panel very much for its engagement, for its energy, and for its intellect. Thank you so much. I'm Bill Bennett and this is BEYOND THE POLITICS. I'll go beyond even this discussion in a minute with a little thought about hard America and soft America. Which are we? I'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BENNETT: The political historian Michael Betterrone said there's a hard America and a soft America. Hard America is the part of American life subject to competition and accountability. It's where the military trains under live fire, where companies rise but also fail and fall.

Soft America is something else. It seeks to instill self-esteem. It seeks to shield people from the rigors of the market. It seeks to combine compassion with government. Soft America is an America that helps people buy houses, but it may also be a place where that help proliferates into loans to people who cannot afford them.

Hard America is a place of competition on Wall Street, but it may also be a place where that competion is not overseen, or where the rules of fair competition are not followed, and where greed can overrun normal ambition.

Are we going toward a hard or a soft America? This election may shape some of that answer. But the cultural definition of who we are and whether we are and ought to be a hard or soft America will shape it even more.

We've begun that discussion here. And I hope to continue it further. In the meantime, radio shows, other television shows, dinner tables and various gatherings of friends and neighbors will be the mediums that matter most in defining that country. Until next time, I'm Bill Bennett, thinking BEYOND THE POLITICS.

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