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Big Mother?

Aired March 7, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE: Arnold Schwarzenegger wants kids to eat better. The body-builder-turned-California-governor wants snack foods out of school vending machines and fresh fruits and vegetables in. That would go along with a ban on soft drinks in the state's public schools.

Arkansas' governor says he lost 110 pounds with diet and exercise and is going around the country pushing healthier living to fight obesity. Does the public need the government's help to get pumped up to fight back and live healthier lives?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: It looks like some state governments just don't have enough to do. So, now they want to dictate what you and your children eat. California Governor Schwarzenegger wants to stuff school vending machines with fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of snack food, prohibiting soft drinks. And instead of working harder on the very big problems of government, state governors run marathons against each other.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Yes, but what is wrong with leaders leading by example? After all, President Bush is workout devotee who encourages everyone to get fit. But corporate America is making billions by making kids fat and they're throwing their weight around to try to stop efforts to trim the fat in our kids' diet.

But we get into all that, we will begin today, as we always do, with the best little political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The Senate tomorrow is scheduled to vote on a bankruptcy bill that's nothing less than a declaration of war on the poor and the middle class. The bill is supported by the credit card companies. You know them. Those are the weasels who call you during dinner and then charge you outrageous interest rates. And the bill is opposed by consumer groups.

So, guess who is winning in George Bush's Washington? Republicans, and, I'm sorry to say, a few Democrats, beat back attempts to protect the elderly, the sick and veterans from some of the bill's more onerous provisions. The GOP is protecting one class, millionaires, allowing them to shield millions in assets, even as they gain bankruptcy protection. The middle-class families forced into bankruptcy by accident or illness will become indentured servants for credit card companies.

Once again, under the Republicans, the rich get the gold mine. You get the shaft.


NOVAK: Well, I know you like to preach class warfare all the time.

BEGALA: Yes, I do.

NOVAK: But let me tell you, this legislation, all it does is, it says that it tries to have restrictions, so that people who declare bankruptcy have to make an effort to pay back some of their money.

And as far as the rich, of putting all your money in one house, there's actually restrictions on this in this bill. They go pretty far toward correcting that abuse.

BEGALA: But they still allow what's called asset protection trust.


BEGALA: Which rich people use to protect their assets from bankruptcy. It's a...


NOVAK: Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is a distinguished Democrat who was his party's nominee for vice president in 2000. And he ran for the presidential nomination last year.

But Senator Lieberman does not believe, as our friend Paul does, that partisan politics should be waged between elections. He broke party ranks on voting for the well-qualified -- well-qualified Alberto Gonzales for attorney general. And now he wants to negotiate a solution to the Social Security problem, rather than just rant about it.

That has produced a backfire among the left-wing nuts, the followers of Howard Dean, who are passing out anybody-but-Joe bumper stickers and want to oppose him for a third term next year. Those are earmarks of a minority party digging its grave ever deeper.

BEGALA: This is going to be a fascinating story this year. You will recall, about a week or two ago, I slammed Senator Lieberman, worried that maybe he was going to try to save George Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. I heard from one of his close associates that, no, that's not the case.

And, in fact, Lieberman signed the Senate Democrats' letter that says we won't allow any privatization of Social Security. That's a good start. Now let's not let him help cut Social Security, which is the other part of the Bush agenda.


NOVAK: But what -- but what you have to do, you have to have some solution to this problem. And Joe Lieberman is not a partisan.


NOVAK: He wants to sit down and make some solution. I think that's worthwhile.

BEGALA: We shall see. Hopefully, Mr. Lieberman, come on the show any time you want, Joe. Be good to see you here again.

Well, President Bush received a very public spanking on the issue of global climate change the other day from a very respected former public official. This tree-hugger wasn't Al Gore or even Bill Clinton.

No, it was James Baker, the Republican former secretary of state, former White House chief of staff, former secretary of the treasury, no fool, he. Mr. Baker noted -- quote -- "When you have energy companies like Shell and British Petroleum saying there's a problem with excess carbon dioxide emission, I think we ought to listen" -- unquote.

Of course, it was Mr. Baker's legal maneuverings that allowed George W. Bush to claim the White House despite losing the 2000 election. So, why would Mr. Breaker -- Baker, that is -- break so publicly with his client? In his words -- quote -- "Maybe it's because I'm a hunter and a fisherman," he said. "But I think we need to pay a little more attention to what we need to do to protect our environment."

Well put.

NOVAK: You know, Paul...


NOVAK: Paul, Jimmy Baker is a very sharp lawyer and political operative. But nobody, nobody has ever called him a conservative. He's -- he's always been in the liberal wing of the Republican Party. He showed his true colors on this. And I would guess he knows even less about the global warming problem than you do.

BEGALA: Well, what president did he serve as chief of staff for?

NOVAK: But that was a broad-based administration. (LAUGHTER)


NOVAK: I mean, do you think he's a conservative? If you do, you're...


BEGALA: He was Ronald Reagan's chief of staff, man.

NOVAK: I didn't ask you that. Was he a conservative?

BEGALA: Ronald Reagan wasn't a big liberal.

NOVAK: The hoity-toity Council on Foreign Relation is looking like just another left-wing pressure group.

The CFR's guidelines suggest quality, diversity and balance as the key objectives for new members. Not anymore. Included in the new list of members are these Hollywood liberals, Michael Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss and Warren Beatty. How are these glitzy actors possibly classified? Well, Douglas once played the role of a president who carried on an affair inside the White House. Dreyfuss played the dual roles of a Latin American dictator and somebody who impersonated him. And Beatty played a presidential candidate and also the communist journalist John Reed.

On second thought, these leftist actors fit right in on today's CFR.


BEGALA: Well, just for the record, the people who run the Council on Foreign Relations, the chairman is Pete Peterson, a respected former Nixon Cabinet member.

NOVAK: I don't respect him.

BEGALA: Well, OK. I do.


BEGALA: He was in President Nixon's...


BEGALA: He's a Republican.

NOVAK: He's not a conservative either.

BEGALA: And Richard Haass, who was in President Bush's administration in the State Department, is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. It's not a left-wing group, Bob. It's a bipartisan group.


NOVAK: Why would you have -- why would you bring these glitzy Hollywood actors? They don't know anything about foreign policy.

BEGALA: They're smart. Ronald Reagan was a glitzy Hollywood actor. He learned something about foreign policy.



BEGALA: These actors know a lot about it, too. They're smart people.

NOVAK: Why do people in government feel the need to tell me what to eat and how much I should sweat?

Up next, should we just -- should we get fit just because some governor from a little backwood state says we should? Next, we'll ask a suddenly thin governor what he thinks.

And, later, a behind-the-scenes bedtime story from the tsunami relief trip of former Presidents Bush and Clinton. It's really a sweet story.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



BEGALA: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was at a body- building event named after him this weekend, where he said he wants to ban the sale of junk food in California schools. Also, over the weekend, two other governors, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Tom Vilsack of Iowa, ran marathons. Governor Huckabee is pushing fitness in a big way after he dropped 110 pounds through diet and exercise.

So, what is the government's proper role in encouraging you to be fit?

Today, in the CROSSFIRE, joining us from Arkansas, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, complete with his medal from the Arkansas marathon, where he had a smoking good time. And here in Washington, Fred Smith, the president and founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Thank you guys, both.

(APPLAUSE) NOVAK: Governor, if you want to abuse yourself by eating greens and drinking orange juice and running marathons, this is a free country. You can do it. But why do you -- why do you want to press it on me? I haven't exercised in 50 years. I have -- I eat no vegetables and no fruit.

Why do you -- I'm -- just had my 74th birthday. Why do you want to make this life unpleasant for me?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), ARKANSAS: Bob, I don't want to be your sugar sheriff and I don't want to be the grease police for what you eat or don't eat.

But we have a serious health crisis in America that is costing you as a taxpayer billions and billions of dollars. I know you don't like to pay high taxes. Neither do I. And so, as a conservative, I think it's not government's place to tell you what you can eat, but it is government's responsibility to try to create a culture of health, so that people will make choices and those choices would be health choices.

And so it's not about the government forcing people to do things. It's about the government not only leading by example, but by creating incentives, so that people's choices bring for a healthier civilization.


NOVAK: Well, sir, the governor is already make those suggestions. The department of HHS has a long list of suggestions. Let me just read a few of them to you. And I'm not making this up, folks.

This is really on the HHS Web site. Get a dog and walk it.


NOVAK: Drink diet soda. Skip seconds.


NOVAK: More carrots, less cake. And here's my favorite. Stop eating when you're full.


NOVAK: Now, I mean, is that -- is that -- isn't that -- I mean, Governor, you're a reasonable man. Isn't that silly?

HUCKABEE: You know, it probably sounds silly on surface. And I agree that to tell somebody to stop eating when he's full is probably unnecessary.

But, after all, that gave some government employees some exercise in typing that out that whole quotient on the page.


HUCKABEE: But we do have -- I want to go back to this. Obesity is epidemic in proportion in the United States. It's creating an enormous health crisis, particularly among children where, in Arkansas, we became the first state to do body mass index testing of the school kids in our state.

We anticipated that 30 percent were overweight or obese; 40 percent are overweight or obese. We're now seeing type II diabetes in kids as young as 7 and 8 years old. These are kids that are going to have vision problems when they're 20, heart attacks before they're 30. They'll be on full dialysis by the time they'll 40. And they'll never live to see a 50th birthday, the first generation of kids in American history who are expected to live less than their parents or grandparents.

BEGALA: That' a good point, Governor.

And let me bring Fred Smith in this to respond to that.

First, let -- I -- of course, Governor Huckabee is a Republican. And I worked for his predecessor, who also had his own battle of the bulge down there in Little Rock, Bill Clinton. And let me show you the photograph of Mike Huckabee before and after he took on running and eating better.

There he is on the left. It's a -- he's a new man. Look at that. Now, he did that by diet and exercise. He's leading by example. I applaud that. And he mentioned the cost, $75 billion. Governor Huckabee and the other governors who are running states are spending $75 billion of our money treating people who are fat, when we could prevent them by following Governor Huckabee's example. Why not do that?

FRED SMITH, PRESIDENT, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Let's go back to -- let's go back to the line you all had earlier. The role of leadership in government is first to control the things they're responsible for.

Obesity in government is a much more serious problem. If government wasn't so overweight, it wouldn't be impressing citizens and taxpayers so much. If Huckabee and other governors were spending as much time trying to reduce taxes and control spending, we'd be better.

But obesity, it's a serious problem. We ought to look at that problem. But, remember, it's a problem that comes about because we've solved a much more serious problem of starvation. We talk about the problems of obesity. And we should worry about those. But every solution to one problem...

BEGALA: We've created the wheel and we've mastered fire. But...


SMITH: That's right. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Those are fine accomplishments, Fred, but what I'm talking about is a new one.


BEGALA: Which is obesity. And it's costing us money. It's feeding the biggest part of state budgets.


BEGALA: I don't mean to speak for the governor, is Medicaid costs, which are rising in part because of obesity costs.


SMITH: Yes, but starvation cost us a lot of money, too, Paul.

And we solved starvation. And now we have the obesity problem. But the challenge of our educational system is to train people to be responsible adults. To go in the schools and say, we're talking away all those painful choices, we're going to make sure you face a risk- free environment where all the painful choices we'll remove from you by the benevolent state, how are these people ever going to grow up to be responsible adults if we make them irresponsible children?


BEGALA: That's an argument for putting drugs in the schools, too. Let them choose. Let's have a crack cocaine machine.


NOVAK: In your state of Arkansas, you've gone pretty far in measuring people and weighing them. You know, if I were a liberal Democrat, if I were -- and I'm not.


NOVAK: I would -- I would say, that reminds me of Nazi Germany. They use to take measurements like that. But I'm not a liberal Democrat, so I won't -- I won't do that.

HUCKABEE: No, Bob, Bob...

NOVAK: But, instead, I'm going to quote -- I'm going to quote Arkansas State Senator Kim Hendren, who I'm sure you know. He's a Republican.


NOVAK: And he says: "These teachers are not all school nurses and health professionals that are supposed to get us on Weight Watchers. Give them a break, man, and let them start teaching the kids and get all this stuff all of them." Senator Hendren has it right, doesn't he?


Let me tell you something, Bob. You know, you made the quote, why should we test them? We test their vision, because, if they can't see, they can't learn. We test their hearing, because, if they can't hear, they can't learn. And kids who are inherently obese, who end up with type II diabetes in a preteen area, these are kids who have serious health problems. And they can't learn because they're sick.

We're talking about kids who are seriously ill, who have millions and millions and millions of dollars worth of diseases, that, as a conservative, you're not going to want to pay for, but you are going to have to, because the Medicaid rolls in my state, like every other state, are doubling. And it's no longer infectious disease. It's clonic disease.

Eighty percent of the nursing home beds in Arkansas are Medicaid; 77 percent of our Medicaid clients are there for a chronic disease. And here's what's really frightening. When you look at what's happening to the typical American, we are -- as the name of my book that's coming out this spring says, we are digging our graves with a knife and fork. And it's something that we can change, not by government edict.

And I agree with Fred. This is not government's role to tell people the size of the cheeseburger they can eat. I don't believe we ought to put an extra tax on a steak. But I do believe that government has a responsibility to try to save money by insuring that its citizens at least understand the basic consequences of an epidemic of obesity.


SMITH: But, Governor...

BEGALA: Fred, I'm sorry. We're going to have to you -- Governor, we're going to let Fred Smith respond after we take a quick break.


BEGALA: Probably sell some fatty foods in the commercials.


BEGALA: And just ahead, the Terminator himself weighs in. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger throws his considerable muscle behind a controversial nutrition program. We'll tell you about it when we return.

And then, just ahead, Martha Stewart addresses her company and her customers. Wolf Blitzer tells us what she said right after the break.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, thousands turn out for the state funeral of an Italian intelligence officer killed by U.S. fire. We'll tell you what the Pentagon has to say.

Martha Stewart back at work. She says she's learned a lot in prison.

Walter Cronkite was replaced by Dan Rather. Now that Rather is stepping down, what does Cronkite think? My exclusive interview with Walter Cronkite, that's coming up.

All those stories, much more, only minutes way on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Welcome back.

George Orwell warned a half-century ago about a governmental Big Brother controlling our lives. It didn't happen. Instead, we have big mother telling us what to eat.


NOVAK: In the CROSSFIRE to talk about government's role in fighting fat, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. He's in Little Rock. And in Washington, Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

BEGALA: Fred, I don't know if we've got big mother, but it's like that new Willie Nelson song. We have got big booty. That's the problem here.


BEGALA: And someone who is saying -- someone is taking on big booty. Let me read you a quote I saw in "Runner's World." I am a runner, like Governor Huckabee. And I saw a quote there recently. I agree with every word of it. Let me read it to you.

"Exercise is so important that corporate America should help their employees make time, offer flex time. There should be flex time for families and flex time for exercise. A healthy work force is more productive work force. We've got to do a better job of encouraging that in America." You know who said that? George W. Bush, our president. I rarely agree with him on this show, but he's exactly right, isn't he?

SMITH: But, you know, you look at this kind of thing. We have billions of dollars in the health food industry, billions in our exercise classes. There are more unoccupied exercise machines in homes and offices across than ever -- we're learning how to deal with the problem that we have -- that we've encountered, because we've solved the problem that, for 10,000 years, affected mankind. We now have to worry about having too much food in our lives, rather than too little. That's a success story that we have got to live with. It takes a while to learn to overcome 10,000 years of training.

And one thing you don't do, is by rushing in with a government solution and say, let's ban soda machines. Let's make sure that we drum it into our kids to do things that we as adults don't do. The governor's solution is the right one, personal responsibility for his own weight and his own health. Unfortunately, the governor has not been as responsible with his own government, where he really has a much more responsible leadership role.

If he were cutting spending, if he were holding down taxes in his state, then we would have a real leadership role and a role that a politician should be playing. Running in marathons is fine, but running in the democratic race for responsible government is a lot better.


HUCKABEE: Let me respond, Fred. Let me respond.

NOVAK: Go ahead.

HUCKABEE: Fred, here's the deal. We've cut taxes in Arkansas, the first tax cut ever in the history of our state.

We've done a number of things to try to shrink government. But the truth is, we can't shrink it enough, as much as it's growing, because of the poor health of our citizens, who have eaten themselves into a financial crisis call Medicaid, health insurance for employees. It's a national disaster. And, no, I don't want to tell you what you can eat. But you're talking about schoolkids. We don't let schoolkids get married. We don't let them drive. We don't let them join the military and do contracts, because they're kids. And they don't have good judgment. We ought to make some decisions for kids.


NOVAK: Governor -- governor, we got less than 30 seconds. I thought that kids went to school to learn.

And the figures show that -- that the children in Arkansas, only 40 percent of them are up to the national average. Shouldn't you worry a little bit more about the poor education children are getting in Arkansas?

HUCKABEE: Since 1988, Bob, we've had increases in every test score because we have improved academic standards. And they're doing better than they ever have. We've got more kids going to college.

I'll put our education progress up to anybody's. But I'm also interested in the total child. I don't want him to be a smart kid, but so fat that he dies before he's 40 and we never get the full benefit of all those moneys we're spending on his education.



NOVAK: That's going -- that's going to have to be the last word.

Governor Mike Huckabee, thank you very much.

Fred Smith, thank you very much.

Life as a former president isn't always a bed of roses. We'll tell you how former Presidents Clinton and Bush solved one potential nightmare on their recent tsunami trip. I have told you before, it's a sweet story.


BEGALA: Welcome back.

Here is another example of the remarkable and developing friendship between former Presidents Bush and Clinton.

There was only one bed on the plane the two former presidents used for the long journey to tour Asian countries which had been devastated by the tsunami. President Clinton, who is 58, insisted that the 80-year-old first President Bush take the bed. The next morning, Mr. Bush says he woke up and found Mr. Clinton asleep on the floor of the plane. Former President Bush says the gesture meant a great deal to him.

Strange bedfellows, indeed, Bob.

NOVAK: You know what the -- you know what the problem is, that anybody who spends any amount of time with Bill Clinton, man or woman, falls in love with him.


NOVAK: And that is -- that is a -- that's a huge problem.

BEGALA: What happened to you?

NOVAK: I never spent much time with him.

BEGALA: He wrote you a long letter recently, I know. No, he likes you a lot, Bob.

Well, anyway, from the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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