Moderating a Debate About Size of Government, Amanpour Takes the Liberal Side

In her next to last week hosting This Week, ABC’s Christiane Amanpour moderated a show-long debate, touted as “The Great American Debates,” devoted to the proposition: “There’s Too Much Government.” George Will and Congressman Paul Ryan took up the affirmative case, squaring off against Robert Reich and Congressman Barney Frank. But Amanpour was hardly neutral.

She began by framing the debate around the “conundrum” that “people who oppose big government still want to collect their entitlements” and, without any matching ideological policy arguments presented to Reich and Frank, pressed Ryan and Will with liberal contentions, such as how “during the Great Depression the government did create big programs to get people back to work. Why shouldn’t they do that right now, why shouldn’t there be that kind of action?”

Later she laid out another liberal argument: “In 2007, the nation’s top one percent took home more after-tax pay than the total bottom 40 percent. And now, new reports show that at least one in fifteen Americans are living in extreme poverty. So the gap between rich and poor is widening. Shouldn’t the government do something to address that?”

When she did challenge Frank and Reich it was not to accept a conservative policy prescription but to address what she suggested was a public misperception. One example:

Let me ask you, Robert Reich, about the distrust and the fear of government, it’s at record highs right now. In a recent Gallup poll shows that about 64 percent of Americans, including 48 percent Democrats, feel that a big government is the biggest threat to the future of this country, as compared with only 26 percent thinking that big business is the biggest threat to the future of this country. Isn’t that your problem?

In returning from ad breaks, only once did the program run a video clip and that was a lengthy one of amateur video of a left-wing rant from months ago from Democratic Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there, good for you. But I want to be clear, you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of paid to educate. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Amanpour used that to segue into one of her liberal propositions:

Welcome back. And that is the essence of what we’re going to debate in this segment as our special edition continues here at the Knight studio at the Newseum. That, of course, was Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, defending the role of government. The resolution on the table today: “There is too much government in my life.” The hot topic on the campaign trail and on Capitol Hill. Let me ask you, in 2007, the nation’s top one percent took home more after-tax pay than the total bottom 40 percent. And now, new reports show that at least one in fifteen Americans are living in extreme poverty. So the gap between rich and poor is widening. Shouldn’t the government do something to address that?

At the top of the hour, Amanpour outlined the premise of the program:

And welcome to this special edition of the program. Today, we delve into the fundamental question that's facing American democracy at this pivotal moment. Has the federal government become too big, too sprawling? Americans have always been wary of Washington. But this year, that anger seems to be at fever pitch, with poll after poll showing trust in government is at an all-time low. But is this because it’s too bloated or too broken? And what about this conundrum, people who oppose big government still want to collect their entitlements? So today we put all these issues to the test.

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center