All-Star Panel: Obama sparks debate over size, scope of government

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 8, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Unfortunately, you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate sinister entity that's at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They'll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner.

You should reject these voices, because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can't be trusted. We have never been a people who place all of our faith in government to solve our problems. We shouldn't want to. But we don't think the government is the source of all our problems either.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama talking to graduates at Ohio State. It's the first of three speeches he'll deliver, commencement speeches, talking about government, the size of government, the role of government. We're back with the panel. Cato has an interesting graphic. It looks at federal spending per household looking back through the decades adjusted for inflation. You can look back to 1960, $11,900 per household. Then 2012, it's $30,015 and projected to 2022, $34,602. Again, this is federal spending by the government adjusted for inflation. We're back with the panel. Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, AT LARGE EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: To give Obama some credit, this has been one of his most consistent ideas of his public life. If you go back and read his speeches, something I have done for reasons stemming from original sin or something, you'll find he is constantly reiterating this basic idea.  Government is us, as he likes to say, that the biblical injunction to be our brother's keeper is why he got into politics. The Democratic convention opened with a video saying government is the one thing we all belong to.

Which to me -- to my ears is a complete inversion of the American founding, which said that the government belong us to, we don't belong to government. But be that as it may, this is his pitch is that he wants to erase what I think is the natural American tendency to fear tyranny, which I think is a very healthy because it keeps tyranny at bay.

BAIER: On the flipside of that, there is a -- obviously a cynical population looking at Washington, Kirsten, who probably a lot of people out there would say, I don't want to go into public service because these people here in this town can't get anything done and why would I do that?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: Wise people, I would say. This is just a philosophical argument.  It's what separates Democrats and Republicans. What is the role of government? Is government something that is a net good in the country? Is it someone that you turn to to remedy problems, or is it something that creates problems – same as gumming up the gears? And I think that's the argument Obama was making essentially.

GOLDBERG: Yeah but I don't know any conservatives who don't think government can do some good. What Obama's formulation is – is sort of the "life of Julia" formulation, that the government is going to take the role of essentially providing all of those functions that civil society, that family, that churches provided. It is the only thing. And if you listen to his second inaugural, basically his entire formulation is there is the government and there is the individual and there's nothing in between.

POWERS: But families and churches aren't providing for that. That's the fallacy in that argument.

GOLDBERG: In part, they're becoming enervated by government intrusion.

POWERS: If they had been doing what conservatives are always saying that they do then we never would have needed Social Security, we never would have needed Medicare. We never would have needed these things.

TUCKER CARLSON, EDITOR, THEDAILYCALLER.COM: Well, I would say, the idea that you only commit public service when you work for the government is ludicrous. You commit an act of public service when you build a company that employs people, when you raise decent children, when you marry the mother of your kids, whenever you do something that makes this a better society.

I think Obama's remarks today are Orwellian. He begins with saying I'm sorry you had to hear remarks that disagree with me, growing up. And then he goes on to say that an attack on government is an attack on the idea of self- rule. I would argue, and I think the facts are on my side, the behavior of the federal government in the last 10 years is an attack on the idea and the facts of self-rule. You have a government that reads your e-mail, that listens to your telephone conversations, that tells you what kind of soda you can drink, what kind of toilet you can put in your house, what kind of shower head you can use, what sort of light bulb you can illuminate your bedroom with. Those facts are an attack on the idea of free agency, of self-rule, period .

BAIER: Is this the battle line?

POWERS: The attack of the killer light bulb.

CARLSON: It's true. If you can't make that decision, what decision can you make?

POWERS: We live in a society, Tucker. Do you not want them regulating our water? Should we let them just put sewage in the water  --


POWERS: -- is that impinging on people's rights that we can't have lead in our paint? Come on.

CARLSON: Here's the line. Adults ought to be able to make mistakes, they ought to be able to take control of their own lives and to the extent that they're not hurting other people they ought to be allowed to stumble and fall if they choose, because that's what free will is. It's the right and the ability to determine the course of your own life. And increasingly that is under attack by the federal government. And you're not a wacko for saying that. Since when did the left become so trusting of authority? When I was a kid, growing up in a liberal community, it was the left who was saying don't trust big anybody. All of a sudden, now, they're on the side of the Leviathan. That's scary.

GOLDBERG: I think my big problem is this. It is a natural American tendency – a bipartisan tendency. The left tends to worry about the sort of -- too aggressive national security stuff, police power stuff. The right tends to worry too much about the nanny state stuff.  Libertarians tend to worry about both. It seems to me Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and all of these people who are now saying this sort of government is our keeper thing were at the forefront of saying we are giving up our liberties when President Bush was in office.


POWERS: That's a primitively fair criticism. But I don't why you would be criticizing it. Obama just took what Bush did and expanding it, and I've heard mostly conservatives defending it. And in defense of the liberals, there are plenty of people at the Nation magazine who are criticizing him; Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian is criticizing the president.

CARLSON: Yes, Glenn Greenwald is, that's true.

POWERS: I mean there are true liberals. You have a true criticism about the establishment for sure. There's a real problem there.

BAIER: For example, the New American Foundation says everybody loves to beat up on the government and sound like we can do more with less. Can't we do more with less?

POWERS: Probably. Look, I worked in the Clinton administration. I worked in the government. There's no question that there's places that can be cut. But there is also a very serious role for government in society.

GOLDBERG: I don't disagree that there's a role for government.


CARLSON: (INAUDIBLE) They're good at paving roads and winning wars. They're not good at anything that requires nuance.

BAIER: I've got to go. This is a very interesting panel discussion.


BAIER: That's for the panel, but stay tuned for an unexpected postgame visitor.

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