'This Week' Transcript: The Battle for the Constitution

AMANPOUR: Let me go back to George, then. You say that it's become so important right now, because of what you think is the excesses of the Obama administration. So you both are saying that it's because of Barack Obama, but from different positions.

WILL: Yes, that indeed, Mr. Obama has claimed for the federal government the power to do things that are simply unprecedented. Even the people who say that the mandates require American citizens as conditions of living in America to buy health care, no one denies that that's an unprecedented expansion of federal power.

STENGEL: George, you look at -- I mean, every president expands federal power. Their view is from where they sit, and the Oval Office looks pretty great.

George Bush was the greatest exponent of the expansion of executive power probably in American history, you know, with the exception of course of FDR and Abraham Lincoln.

So I think the idea that Obama is somehow exceptional in this regard rather than just a continuation of what the tradition has been is kind of crazy to me.

I mean, one of the things that the founders did, which I think we sometimes forget about in this discussion of the founders, you know, didn't actually create a large federal government. They didn't. What they created was a very weak executive. I mean, Article 2, about the -- about what the president does is about half the size of Article 1. They didn't want a very strong executive, because they feared kings. But pretty much every president since then has been expanding executive power, and there are all kinds of reasons, both good and bad, for it, which we can discuss.

AMANPOUR: Jill, as a historian, Rick Stengel brought up the idea of big government or small government. Didn't the Constitution actually give more power to a federal government, to a centralized government after the Articles of Confederation?

LEPORE: It's suggested it's centralized and strengthened the role of the federal government, especially in reference to the Article of Confederation, which was a very loose confederation of states, 15 separate currencies, and each state could have its own Navy.

We talk about big government and small government. It's a little bit hard to do that in the abstract. I mean, the Postal Service in 1790 was six people. I mean, I think it's really easy to get kind of tangled up in the intensity of our own modern political rhetoric.

WILL: Yes, yes, the framers of the Constitution wanted to strengthen the federal government, but they knew that government is, A, necessary, and B, inherently dangerous. And therefore, in the act of creating a more competent federal government, they sought to limit it.

James Madison, the architect in the definitive commentary on the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, specifically in Federalist 45, said, the powers delegated to the federal government by the proposed Constitution are few and defined. That's either true or it's not.

STENGEL: That is the continuing shift in balance that's been going on throughout our history.

AMANPOUR: You just raised this. Obviously, two different held views on the size of government and the strength of the central versus the state. So, the question then is, is it an absolutist document? Is it open to interpretation? Is it something that the letter of the law and the actual words have to be followed today, 200 years later?

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