This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", May 6, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: Judging by the e-mails that have poured into Fox News on the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, there are basically two views on the matter. One is that the behavior shown as deplorable, inexcusable and incomprehensible. The other is that the behavior is wrong, but war is hell, and this is nothing compared to the atrocities carried out regularly by the enemy and by the regime our forces have upended.
The two views might be described as those of hard America and soft America, which just happens to be the title of a new book on this country by Michael Barone, Fox News contributor and senior writer for U.S. news and world report.
Welcome, Michael. Tell me about the thesis of your book.
MICHAEL BARONE, SENIOR WRITER, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, "Hard America," Brit, is the part of America life where you have competition and accountable. And soft America is where you don't. So examples of hard America include high-tech private sector. Examples of soft America include high school for most students.
HUME: How so?
BARONE: How so, because in the high-tech you are accountable and competitive in the marketplace. You have got to come forward with something. And if you don't measure up, you're not going to do well. And if you do measure up, if you show competence and performance, and creativity, there are great rewards.
HUME: But there are enormous risks. And the risks can't be dodged. At least not indefinitely.
BARONE: Yes, that you're there. High school, our public schools in many ways have been softened. Some of our private schools as well. Basically for many years starting with the late 1960s there was resistance to demanding test scores, results, accountability. Teachers have been shielded by union contracts and other agreements from accountability by having tenure, not paid according to performance. And you have a system that too often has been -- we pretend to teach and they pretend to learn.
And the whole thing is prompted by my observation that American 18- year-olds are in many ways more incompetent than 18-year-olds from many other countries. We see this in test scores; you see it in other areas of life.
But American 30-year-olds are the most competent in the world. And that's because ages 6 through 18, most Americans live in soft -- primarily in soft America. From 18 to 30, they're launched into hard America. You have competitive colleges. You have community colleges, where Latinos tend to learn -- to master the English language in a way that enables them to get good jobs. You have the private sector and jobs.
It begins to be apparent to young people that what is going to happen to them in life depends on what they do. That they're in hard America, that they better produce, and they produce and are more creative than anybody imagined.
I think one of the good examples of that has been the American military. In Afghanistan and Iraq. Notwithstanding the current episode of abuse in the prison in Abu Ghraib, the fact is that these young people have been performing in absolutely a splendid way.
Showing all sort of resourcefulness, creativity, getting those precision weapons in right on target. Really amazing performance, and this is on the part of many of these young people. If you had seen them when they were 15 years old in high school, you'd say they can't, you know, can't run the little machine at McDonald's, which automatically puts in the prices without having you know them.
HUME: Now, what about the attitudes in America that produce these two sort of different sectors of the nation's life?
BARONE: Well, a lot of the softening projects in America, the softening of crime and welfare and education...
HUME: Softening of crime?
BARONE: Crime. Treatment of crime; in other words, we gave people during the mid 1960s -- we had an increase in crime, we had a decrease in prison population. These tend to be sparked by sort of centralized elites. I mean if you go to Yale Law School, which I did, you often have a feeling that anybody that didn't go to Yale Law School is just not very competent. You can't expect much of them; they can't really live up to competition and accountability. So you have to be soft. You have to enable them to go on and live in a soft niche. They'll get their salary whether they produce or not, that sort of thing.
And we saw that in the education of schools, as I mentioned. We saw it in not holding criminals account, but letting them off again and again, paroling them early and so forth. We saw it in welfare, where basically you got this money for indefinitely, and you didn't have to do anything about it.
But those were the projects in many ways that sort of centralized elites. The hardening impulses generally come from people at the periphery. People -- in the case of welfare politicians like governor Tommy Thompson. In the case of crime, politicians like Rudy Giuliani. He's in New York, but he was not -- he was not following the program of the centralized elites, the criminal departments in the great universities. They all said you have to be soft. If you let people out of prison, you'll get less crime and so forth.
They adopted different procedures, and they were so very successful that they were imitated by many other people in different parts of the country. And there were other politicians who embarked on similar projects also with some success. Most of them Republicans, some of them Democrats, and ultimately you had some federal legislation. But the real reform, the re-hardening of America came from outside. And I'll give you another example.
HUME: When you say outside, so what do you mean ... 9/11?
BARONE: Well, people who were not part of a centralized universities, the central federal government, the sort of central often but not always liberal elite's. .
BARONE: Corporations, very soft in the '50s. Didn't think they had any competition hired people for how well they got along with each other. When things went bad in the '70s, innovators like Sam Walton and Fred Smith changed the private sector.
HUME: One last quick question. Which America is in the ascendancy now? Hard or soft?
BARONE: I think hard America is in the ascendancy in many of our institutions. The schools are still too soft, even though there's efforts to harden them.
HUME: Michael Barone, "Hard America, Soft America," interesting book.
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