Imagery of Regent people and campus

Watch video: excerpts from Clash of the Titans

Humor and Heat Mark Debate

By Joan Benson | October 30, 2009

L-R: Howard Dean, Arianna Huffington, Joe Scarborough, Dick Armey and John Kasich.
Photo: Patrick Wright

The seventh Annual Clash of the TitansĀ® again packed Regent University's main theater as national leaders debated another weighty and relevant question: "America's Future: Can Capitalism Survive?" With economic and political change transforming the way America does business, the current trends lead axiomatically to a discussion of the future of capitalism in our nation.

The apt and often humorous moderator of this event, Joe Scarborough, is a former congressman, author and host of Morning Joe on MSNBC as well as The Joe Scarborough Showon ABC radio. Scarborough introduced the four leaders, who represented diverse perspectives from both the left and right, in a lively and occasionally heated debate. Each individual, unique in his or her experience and convictions, was recognized and credited as a loyal patriot, one who upholds our Constitution and democracy.

The four debaters were Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who served as governor of Vermont four terms before running for president in 2004; Arianna Huffington, a nationally syndicated columnist and author, known for her role on PBS's popular radio roundtable, Left, Right & Center and for The Huffington Post, a news and blog site that has become one of the most widely read, linked to and frequently cited media brands on the Internet; Dick Armey, author, outspoken defender of microeconomics and freedom from big government, and former U.S. House Majority Leader where he served until retirement; and John Kasich, a New York Times best-selling author, television host and former nine-term congressman from Ohio. Today he hosts Heartland with John Kasich on FOX News and holds staunchly to the view that bigger government is not the answer.

Scarborough jokingly insisted that enough positives had been pronounced in this debate in the introductory comments and drew laughter with the line, "Now, scratch and claw until blood is drawn."

The Clash of the TitansĀ® began with Dick Armey responding to the question at hand. He found the use of the term capitalism oxymoronic because it was originally coined by Karl Marx. No matter the initial disparaging intention, Armey stated that capitalistic systems simply propose that people take their individual resourcefulness to tend to their material needs. Citing the use of socialism, or communalism, tried in our first founding colony and deemed unworkable, Armey said the Founding Fathers understood government must be limited to its necessary role, to provide the rule of law. Noting how the early Founders assigned specific tasks to specific divisions of government, Armey said, "When government rejects that, it may perish."

Arianna Huffington responded vigorously, announcing that capitalism will survive only if we start practicing it again. She denounced the government intervention in business, picking winners and losers. Referring to the need for morality on Wall Street, she said capitalism should work in accord with the law of the jungle. "If you make a mistake, you fail," Huffington stated. Noting the lopsided economic recovery with Wall Street giving enormous bonuses while millions of families remained jobless with foreclosures, Huffington said, "This is a failure of the government-sponsored capitalist system!" She mentioned the recent event of the presumed missing boy, referred to as "balloon boy," and wished all the millions of homeless children were similarly highlighted in the news, bringing attention to the plight of many Americans.

Scarborough lightened the debate by humorously jumping in to commend Huffington on covering the balloon boy, capitalism and Wall Street all in four minutes.

John Kasich took the microphone and momentarily changed the tone. He applauded some of the good things that make America special, saying it has a "DNA of entrepreneurship." Kasich remarked, "Kids learn that if you have a great idea, you can be something. The DNA of America has made this country very successful." Adding, "Greed is not good. Profit is good," Kasich then stated that the government has been growing so fast and so large that it's choking small businesses, keeping us from moving forward. Kasich also highlighted the breakdown in the K-12 educational system, which is key to a productive capitalism.

Tweaking the topic to focus on the elephant in the room, the role of government in healthcare reform, Scarborough invited Howard Dean to weigh in. Dean set the stage for his answer by explaining how the past election shifted control of the country to a new, younger generation. Stating that more people under 35 had voted in the 2008 presidential election than those over 65, Dean remarked that the young think differently because they are more inclusive and desirous of working together.

After Scarborough invited the panelists to take off their debating gloves, Armey jumped in with, "Every serious scholar knows that there has to be government. It should be its essential task to stay out of things that are not its business. The government should restrain itself to, not dong anything unnecessarily."

Huffington punched back with a quote from Armey in July 1995 stating that he didn't support the Medicare program for the free world. Getting a rise from the audience, Armey chuckled, saying he expected Huffington to come prepared with such an infamous quote. He clarified his view by stating that it would be a great thing if people could choose whether to participate, without penalties for opting out.

Kasich, Huffington and Armey bantered back and forth about the viability of Medicare and Social Security. Armey dropped in some humor when he compared the recent scandal on Wall Street to the Social Security plight, paying for programs now with monies garnered in the future.

Dean and Kasich jibed each other in a lively debate about the current economic stimulus and the healthcare controversy. Kasich claimed the Republicans were shut out of the process, causing the extreme polarization. "The Tea Parties are telling us that people think the government isn't listening."

Dean cited more incidences of partisanship, tossing the ball back by pointing to Republicans who didn't want healthcare reform to be a trophy for President Obama. He countered that there was enough conspiracy of failure on both sides.

Kasich and Scarborough both chimed in that the panel could likely create a healthcare bill in a day with which 80 percent of Americans would agree.

Dean enlivened the debate again when he was asked why tort reform wasn't a part of the current healthcare reform plan. He candidly remarked that the trial lawyers support the Democrats.

The most heated part of the debate ensued when Armey began with an analogy about government control over the nutrition of senior citizens, making a point that people would not be happy with that kind of interference in personal lifestyle and choice. Huffington told him that he was wasting everyone's time with his story. "I'm here to debate. I'm not going to dignify your question," she said firmly. Armey cautioned that the analogy was true, and the principle could well be applied to government interference or control over our healthcare.

After the intellectual wrangling was brought to a close, each participant had an opportunity for closing comments.

Dean encouraged the younger generation to remain engaged, stating that politics is about organizing other people to do good.

Kasich concluded by saying, "Great leaders get us to raise our own game. If we all in our own way, with the groups we associate with, become great leaders, we can change the world."

Huffington shared, "Whatever we do, in our economy and in our democracy, has to be for the greater good."

Armey said his prayer for America is "that government would be smart enough to know the goodness of its people and decent enough to respect them."

The moderator, Scarborough, concluded with a moving story about Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, political opponents who, in the end, learned that their shared love of country was greater than even their most egregious differences. Scarborough encouraged Americans to live out the spirit of Jefferson and Adams for the future hope of our nation.

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