The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/04/08
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you.
And thank you for staying with us for the next hour, broadcasting live tonight from the great city of San Francisco. Tonight, they are back and this time they drove. But is mode of transportation enough to turn everything around for the CEOs of the Big Three in Washington?
(voice over): America imagines a very near future in which there are no more American-owned companies that manufacture cars. How did we get here? Why were the Big Three in Washington today begging for public money? Is it bad cars? Bad management? Those dastardly unions? Or could the auto industry’s problem be the banking industry?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS DODD, (D) SENATE BANKING COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: There’s no doubt that the automobile companies have done far more, far more-I would suggest-than the financial companies to show that they deserve taxpayer support.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown joins us to talk about the real problem in Detroit and whether it’s ultimately the American family, individual American citizens, who need a bailout.
And, could we just very quietly start to end the Iraq war? Finally? The new Status of Force Agreement is official, the beginning of the end in Iraq. It’s the opposite of shock-and-awe. NBC’s Richard Engel joins us.
And, Saxby Chambliss won re-election as a Republican incumbent in Georgia, deep red Georgia. Apparently, that means Barack Obama is a has-been. Karl Rove says Obama never was. The inadvertently funny instant Republican revisions of history, with Rosa Brooks of the “L.A. Times.”
And, speaking of revision, George Bush is back, after sitting out the last six months of American life, the still president reintroduces himself to the American people for the first time? Did you know, by the way, he’s happily married?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: For you’re just being able to share the moment with somebody you love is part of, you know, comfort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, it’s nice to meet you George Bush 2.0.
All that, plus-politics gone crazy in Canada. Do they have to be (ph) crazy in Canada? Oh, trust me.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.
(on camera): The Big Three CEOs of the American auto industry headed back to Washington again today. This time, they traveled there in a humble, contrite, pity convoy of hitchhikers, solar-powered cars, horse-drawn carriages, and bicycles built for two-not really. But they did drive this time instead of flying in corporate jets, capitulating to the common wisdom that the big problem here is car company CEOs getting bad public relations advice, messing up the symbolism, not understanding what is the appropriate conveyance for a CEO traveling to Washington to beg for his corporation’s life.
Well, today, the carmakers sat before Congress and ask again for many billions of dollars in loans and public assistance, to pull American auto-manufacturing back from the brink of extinction.
But how did G.M. and Ford and Chrysler get to where they are right now? The fashionable argument is to blame them. They built bad cars. They built the wrong cars, over-sized gas guzzlers for the short-term profit instead of fuel efficient, alternative energy cars for the long-term, long-haul sustainable market advantage.
And some people, many of them Republicans, like to fold the autoworkers into this argument. If only there weren’t unions, they opined. Those dastardly laborers, they have the temerity to unionize and earn too much money and have too much health insurance and get retirement funding. No industry can survive with greedy organized workers like the poor Big Three has to contend with. Well, never mind that a veteran UAW worker gets about $28 an hour at a Big Three factory, compared with $25 an hour at the non-union Toyota plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. Must find way to blame unions, somehow.
But there is another case to be made, even if you are mad at the management decisions, even if you’re mad at labor. You would be mad not to notice that nobody is buying cars right now. Maybe that’s the problem. Sales last month for the Big Three were down more than 40 percent compared to this time last year. Sales are also down for Toyota and for all the other carmakers. Nobody is buying cars. And in large part, that is because potential customers cannot get loans from the bank to buy cars.
Today, the Big Three CEOs made that case, that essentially, they would upright in making strides and not prone and clinging to life if American consumers could borrow a little money to buy the cars that the Big Three makes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT NARDELLI, CHRYSLER CEO: We have 240 dealers that have thrown their keys in because they have not been able to get access to financing. We have another 250 that have been put on credit holds. That’s impacted us. Another 63,000 units on annualized basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The banks have been the biggest recipient of the Bush administration’s bailout largess, so far. And, you know, you can actually spell largess without large. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson made the gamble that unlocking this whole credit freeze could be done by injective large, huge amounts of capital into the banks. Give the banks some cash and they’ll start lending again, right? Simple idea. Or maybe not.
According to the carmakers, it’s just not happening. The public money has gone into the bank, sure. It’s just not flowing out of the banks in the form of loans. The blame the banks sentiment has apparently caught on with a number of senators who bashed the not-so-lendy money-lenders for hoarding billions of dollars that taxpayers have already given them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JON TESTER, (D) MONTANA: You guys have been put under far more scrutiny, far more scrutiny than the people up here on the board for far less money. And the fact, and that’s what you guys testify, that you can’t even get credit. And that’s what this was for. It’s nothing short of ridiculous and I would love to have those birds in here again because they need to be talked to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Those birds. If it is a credit problem, “no one can get loans” problem, not a management problem or a design problem or a labor problem that has brought us here, we could blame the banks for their current stingy lending practices, even after getting that public money. Some lawmakers like Chris Dodd are now moving away from the “We need to help the banks” camp and towards the “what the heck did Hank Paulson do with all the money?” camp.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DODD: The secretary of treasury is in China right now. It’s time to come home. We have a serious problem on our hands. And I realize he’s got a meeting over there but we need him here. I’m through with giving this crowd money to play with. So, I feel very strongly about it in terms of how they mismanaged a lot of this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It is easy and it feels reasonable to say with no small measure of disgust and contempt, “Hey, banking fat cats who screwed up, we nearly drowned you with our hard-earned bailout money. Dish it already.”
But, you know? To be fair, you could also make the case that it is not as simple as that. Right now, banks see us, Americans, who they might lend to, as a bad credit risk. They don’t think lending us money is a good investment.
One industry survey out today says that the number of American consumers with bad credit has risen sharply since last year, with more than 110 million Americans now dealing with having a bad credit history. And it’s easy to see why. It’s not an outbreak of bad values among Americans. It’s that, in the last eight years, median income has stayed flat, while the cost of just about everything, particularly higher education and healthcare, has skyrocketed. We got the same amount of money to spend pursuing the ever more expensive American Dream.
So, maybe Hank Paulson can give the banks as much as cash as he wants to. They are not giving it out to us, Americans, if they think they won’t get it back. If they think we’re not credit worthy. It may not be fair.
But this fundamental problem led Elizabeth Warren, the head of the congressional panel monitoring the bailout to offer a dire assessment this week to the “New York Times.” She said this, quote, “If the answer is that banks do not have money to lend, it would make sense to push capital into their hands. But if the answer is that their potential borrowers are getting less creditworthy with each passing day, pouring money into banks isn’t going to fix that problem.” That’s us-American citizens, American families less creditworthy by the day.
If the problem is that Americans and American families are hurting, that we are not a good risk anymore in terms of our future ability to pay stuff back that we borrow today, then, are any of these industry bailouts going to work if we don’t bailout the real economy which is based on the real American people?
Joining us now is Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. He’s a member of the Senate Banking Committee and he questioned the Big Three CEOs at the auto bailout hearing today.
Senator Brown, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN, (D) OHIO: Glad to be back. Thank you very much, Rachel.
MADDOW: Are the automakers in trouble right now, in part, because of the credit crisis? Because nobody can get a loan to buy a car?
BROWN: Yes, they are in trouble for a lot of reasons. And there, you know, there are certainly blame to go around on management, they’ve not done, perhaps, the greatest job in the last couple of decades. But more to the point, I think your point is exactly right, that consumers can’t get credit, not just consumers can’t get credit, but there’s not enough credit available back and forth among the auto industry and the suppliers and the car dealers. So, it’s just difficult to do business that way.
The second reason is people aren’t buying cars. As you say, it’s the recession. People either have lost jobs or their buying power is not what it was, or they are anxious about their job in the future. And if you’re not sure about what your job is going to look like, or what your pay is going to be, or if you’re not going to have a job a year from now, you’re not going to go out and buy a new car. You’re going to get the car fixed that you have, and try to put another 12,000 miles on it and hope that you can get up to 100,000 or 150,000 miles on that car. And that’s what American consumers are doing.
MADDOW: Well, if the consumer spending piece of this is part of the reason that what we spent thus far in the industry hasn’t helped us come out of this economic spin that we’re in-is there a case to be made that we need to do some bottom-up bailing out, that we need to dump some federal money on the middle-class, on the working class somehow?
BROWN: Yes, Elizabeth Warren is exactly right. We need to do a lot of things. We need a different trade policy. That’s hurt the auto industry, it’s hurt American manufacturing. You said something at the top of the show, which I really thought was important. You said imagine a United States where there is no domestic auto industry.
I mean, imagine the United States that continues to lose this much manufacturing, because to me, this is all about a manufacturing policy, all about Americans making thing because we have a middle-class in this country, because the backbone of this country has been-we make things, we sell them to each other, we export them. We’re a more prosperous country because we have a strong manufacturing base in most of the 50 states.
But directly to your question, now, we should follow what Sheila Bair wants to do. She’s a Bush appointee at FDIC. She used to work for Bob Dole. She wants to put money directly into helping modify loans so that homeowner, so we can keep people in their homes, we can stabilize home prices. That will make a big difference.
And it’s really is what we do next year, at the beginning of the year with President-elect Obama. We need to prepare a national economic recovery package, have it on his desk, I hope, about the time he takes office. Everything from employment-extending unemployment insurance to rebuilding infrastructure, to alternative energy, to all the kinds of things with the manufacturing policy that will put people to work and strengthen the middle class. Then, many of the problems that we’re dealing with now will begin to grow out of.
MADDOW: Senator Brown, your home state of Ohio, I think is second only to Michigan in terms of the number of jobs that depend on the auto industry in some way. It doesn’t seem like there’s an appetite in Congress right now, even in the Senate, to bailout the auto industry. I honestly, as an American, can’t imagine that we will let them fail. Do you feel like you know how this is going to end? Is this a game of chicken? Is this political posturing? Are they really going to let the industry fail?
BROWN: Well, I think, in the end, people didn’t want to vote for the bank bailout. I don’t want to vote for money for the banks, I want to vote for money for the auto industry. But we don’t have a choice. And I think, in the end, the same is what happened with the banks that most members of the House and Senate who want to act like grown-ups will think this is something we need to do for our country and for our economy.
But, you know what is-this is really kind of amazing, I sat in this hearing and what Senator Tester said-that you had on four or five minutes ago-is exactly right. That when we bring in the auto industry, we want to know exactly what they are doing, exactly how they are spending their money, exactly what workers are making. And we gave to the banks, $25 billion to three different banks, hundreds of billions dollars to Citigroup, tens of billions of dollars to AIG, we don’t ask how they are going to spend the money.
There’s a real sort of class difference here that Republicans really wanted to beat up on autoworkers. And there are a lot of union and non-union people alike in this industry, the suppliers, the autoworkers themselves, others-people working with their hands, making $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, $60,000, some are making $70,000, maybe even $80,000 a year, most are making $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year-good, solid middle class families.
But they don’t ask about AIG, where there’s not just the top executives, but you know, hundreds of mid-level executives making five and 10 times what automakers make. They don’t wear ties to work, maybe that’s part of the reason that they attacked the automakers and not the AIG people that dress more like we do. It was really-it was not a pretty sight, frankly.
MADDOW: Yes, we’ve seen two very different bailouts for the two very different Americas that divide right on class.
BROWN: Very different.
MADDOW: Yes. Democratic Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a member of Senate Banking Committee, thank you for your time tonight. Good luck. Thanks.
BROWN: Thanks, as always, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, let’s say an incumbent Republican senator in the Deep South defeats a Democratic challenger. Clearly, that means the Democratic president-elect who just won by an overwhelming majority, like four weeks ago, he’s already a has-been with no influence whatsoever, right? It means the Democratic Party is dead. Republicans are triumphant once again. And I see you have been reading Republican punditry this week, on the actually rather unsurprising victory of Saxby Chambliss over his Democratic challenger in Georgia.
Ahead: This desperate revisionism gets made fun of by me and legitimately analyze by the very smart Rosa Brooks of the “Los Angeles Times.”
And, Iraq’s presidential council approved the Status of Forces Agreement today, which, I think, means the Iraq war just started to end, didn’t it? NBC’s Richard Engel who has covered this war since before shock-and-awe joins us in a moment.
MADDOW: You might expect the head of government in a struggling, young, insecure democracy to try itself like suspending parliament, if that leader thought that might keep him in power, right? It’s kind of a banana republic sort of move, right? But in Canada? Our mild-mannered neighbors in the cold and metric north? What’s that all about?
Some members of the Canadian parliament are so unhappy with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s handling of the economy that they want to force him out of office less than two months after he was reelected. Sensing the worse, Harper has tried to pull the rug out from under his opponents, he, today, asked to suspend parliament and not let them back into session to try to fire him until the end of January.
Harper, as prime minister, is the head of the Canadian government, but technically, the queen of England, is head of state, and her representative in Canada, the governor general has the power to grant Harper’s dissolution of parliament request. And she did today. So, no Canadian parliament until January 26. In the 21st century in Canada, the way to fight for your political life is apparently to demand that the queen vanish your enemies. Oh, Canada, come on.
MADDOW: So, is it over? Did the Iraq war quietly start to end today? Maybe. Iraq’s three-member presidential council has approved the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement as of today. It’s sort of the last real procedural hurdle for this agreement to go into effect. Though there will be a referendum on it next year that will allow the Iraqi people to call for changes in it or possibly to rescind it at that time.
But barring something dramatic happening in that referendum, we now know what the end looks like in Iraq after these 5 ½ long years. By next summer, all U.S. troops have to be out of Iraqi cities and towns. So, then, where will they be? Then, by the end of 2011, three years from now, all U.S. troops, everyone really, everyone, no residual forces or trainers or whatever, all have to be gone, completely out of the country.
And in the meantime, all contractors are subject to Iraqi law for the first time. We have more contractors than troops in Iraq now. We have for a long time. No one exactly knows how those companies are going to handle their newfound legal jeopardy. It’s possible they will all just decide to leave in short order.
And if that doesn’t sound endy enough for you-well, check out how the still president, the almost president and the Iraqi counterpart talked about it today. President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama all, both called the Iraqi prime minister today to congratulate him. And the Obama team then issued a statement saying that he is, quote, “committed to a responsible redeployment of American troops from Iraq and to respecting Iraq’s sovereignty and that he looks forward to visiting Iraq as president.”
The approval of the agreement came on a day of widespread violence in Iraq this week, bombings in northern, and eastern, and Western Iraq today, claimed at least 22 lives, including two American troops in Mosul. But what does violence in Iraq mean for our American troops there now, I mean, other than risk to them as targets and risk to them as bystanders? What is the military mission for Americans in Iraq right now? Why are we going to keep our folks there under-another three years under these admittedly somewhat confusing terms?
Well, joining us now to maybe but probably not even try to Talk Me Down is NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.
Richard, thanks very much for being here.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It’s my pleasure. So, I’m supposed to try and talk you down about the SOFA tonight, the Status of Force Agreement?
MADDOW: Well, sort of. But nobody ever does. So, if you don’t feel like trying, you don’t have to.
ENGEL: The war is not over, but there is a new mission in Iraq. And the mission now primarily is to prevent the regime from collapsing and to try and train the Iraqi security forces. Those are the two primary goals. As you said, by the end of June, by next spring/summer, all U.S. troops are suppose to be back on their bases, out of civilian centers, where they will sit unless there’s a specific incident that they have to respond to and that response would be coordinated through a joint U.S. and Iraqi council. It’s a very different mission now.
Now, U.S. troops, while they operate with Iraqi forces sets a pace for the war. When they need to go out on a raid, they do it. When they need to secure a home or takeover a position, they do it. In the future, it will be a training mission, and they will go out as a rapid reaction force when the Iraqis feel they need to.
MADDOW: Richard, when you say that it is the job of the U.S. troops to support the Iraqi regime right now, does that mean specifically supporting Nouri al-Maliki? Does that mean just preventing an anti-democratic coup? Does that mean helping with day-to-day policing tasks? What does that mean?
ENGEL: It mean to prevent a regime collapse. If you have some U.S. troops still in the country, it will certainly stop Iran from invading-although nobody expects that would happen. Or prevent Syria from invading, although no one expects that. It could prevent a coup, if there were a coup, and then the U.S. would clearly try and intervene and prevent that from happening. So, a descent into regional chaos. So, that is their, I guess you could say, their primary mission.
This country has almost gone to war-and the U.S-repeatedly with itself and the U.S. has tried to prevent that from happening in the past. I’ll give you a very good example. You remember the Basra offensive? It was a big deal. It was the first time that Maliki really turned on the Shiite militias. He sent a lot of his forces to the south where Basra is, and asked the Kurds who are in the north to backfill some of his forces in a town called Khanaqin, it’s on the Iranian border. The Kurds believe that this is their territory.
And after the Basra mission was over, Maliki found that the Kurdish forces weren’t leaving and he almost ordered tanks, his tank division to attack the Kurdish north. And the U.S. troops who were on the ground had to come in and say, “Don’t do this.” Showing satellite photographs and said the Kurdish tanks and the Kurdish forces aren’t exactly where you think they are, and prevented what could have been a collapse, an internal civil war, from breaking out. So, they will also be doing that kind of mission.
MADDOW: If the role of U.S. troops-I mean, we’re talking about 146,000 Americans still stationed there right now-if their role does end up being intervening in Iraqi civil war, what side do we take?
ENGEL: We would take the side of the central government. And that is also somewhat problematic, because we’re there to-or U.S. forces are there to support this government which is considered internationally to be one of the most corrupt regimes in the world. There’s a group called Transparency International that ranked Iraq as the third most corrupt nation on the planet after Myanmar and Somalia. So, they are there on a training mission and one to support the Iraqi central government, which is deeply problematic.
MADDOW: Richard Engel, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight. It’s always great to have you here.
ENGEL: All right. Next time, maybe you’ll be back from California.
MADDOW: Indeed, looking forward to it.
What is the opposite of a victory lap? Because that’s what President Bush is sort of taking right now, spending his last 46 days in office, trying to convince the media that his presidency was secretly awesome, no matter what you might have heard or what you might have lived through. Today, it was NBC’s turn to endure the president’s self burnishing. You are not going to want to miss tonight’s lame duck watch as the legacy turns.
MADDOW: According to the latest Republican spin, Georgia’s heroic reelection of Senator Saxby Chambliss is a steaming rebuke to that weak, unpopular, washed up Yankee, Barack Obama. Any coattails or influence or popularity the president-elect might have had, gone with the wind. The amazing and immediate revision of current events is under way. We will have more on that in just a moment.
First, though, it’s time for a few underreported holy mackerel stories in the news today. During the Bush years, being a retired general has turned out to be a more (ph) controversial job that it used to be. First, there is the consternation about retired generals as military analysts, both because Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon essentially treated them as a Psy-ops unit, to spread Rumsfeld’s talking points as if they were news and because so many retired generals and admirals have defense industry business contracts which create potential conflict of interest issues and disclosure issues for the TV networks that used the brass as experts.
But retired senior officers have also played a big political role in the Bush years as critics, as activists. Remember the generals’ revolt to try to get Rumsfeld fired? You might also remember that it was about 50 senior retired officers who banded together in 2005 to try to get the torture ban passed.
But pass was a bill that still lets the CIA waterboard people. And then Bush issued a signing statement to go along with it anyway that said if he doesn’t feel like following that law even without the holes in it, he reserves himself the right not to follow that law.
So torture, either by Americans or in countries to which we ship prisoners by the process of rendition, torture is still an expanding stain, a vile, sticky stain on our nation’s dirty laundry.
Here’s the good news though. Yesterday, 14 of the 50 retired senior military officers, though they tried to get the torture thing banned, they took a meeting with Obama’s nominee for attorney general and with the incoming White House counsel Greg Craig. That’s a good sign.
The current Attorney General Mike Mukasey yesterday told reporters that he does not think President Bush has to issue pardons before he leaves office for anyone who implements it or wrote out the justifications for the torture policies.
Why not? Mukasey’s explanation is going to slay you. He said that no pardons are needed because there was, quote, “Absolutely no evidence that anybody who rendered a legal opinion with respect to interrogation policy did so for any reason other than to protect the security of the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful. In those circumstances, there is no occasion to consider prosecution and there is no occasion to consider pardons.”
In other words, the people who wrote the torture policies did nothing illegal because they meant well. Defense attorneys nationwide, consider yourselves put on notice by Bush’s attorney general that you can start planning your bank robber with a heart of gold defense strategies now.
And there’s interesting polling data out about who voted for and against controversial Proposition 8 in California which rescinded same-sex marriage rights after 18,000 couples had already married here. What got initial attention for Prop 8 was the fact that the marriage ban was supported by a high proportion of African-American voters who also overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama.
That is still true, but quantitatively, if you really get into the nitty-gritty details, you can tell a lot more about how a person voted on Prop 8 by knowing their education level and income, whether or not they are a Republican, their religion and whether or not they voted for John McCain rather than just knowing their race.
A new survey for the Public Policy Institute of California says that college grads and upper-income voters, regardless of race, voted against the marriage ban. And non-college grads and lower-income voters, again, regardless of race, voted for it.
Other strongly correlated traits for Prop 8 voters - well, 77 percent of Republicans supported the ban; 85 percent of Evangelical Christians supported the ban and 85 percent of people who voted for John McCain supported the ban. Latinos and African-Americans were more likely to support the ban than white people were.
But if you’re looking to see who the ban could not have passed without, it’s Republicans, Christian Evangelicals and the poor and less-educated among us. You’ve got your work cut out for you, gay rights movement.
MADDOW: As we long suspected and finally officially learned this week, the Democratic Party will not be coasting into Washington in January on a filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate super-majority surrounded by rainbows and puppy dogs and Republican repellant force fields.
On Tuesday night, in the bright red state of Georgia, Republican incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss was reelected in a runoff election where he beat Democratic challenger Jim Martin by about 15 points.
So what does the Chambliss win mean for the Republican Party for the political landscape in general? In literal terms, it means there will be at least 41 Republican senators in the next Congress instead of 40.
But in GOP spin land, it means this clearly, Barack Obama is a washed up has-been and the Republicans are dominant once again.
Here’s what RNC chairman Mike Duncan wrote today in an op ed on “Politico.com,” quote, “Chambliss won in spite of strong support by President-elect Obama and Democrat organizations for Jim Martin. Georgians clearly sent a message that any rhetoric about a liberal mandate is nothing but hot air.”
It’s as if holding on to their Senate seat in Georgia has suddenly convinced Republicans that they didn’t already lose last month. John McCain was the secret winner all along. And Congress - super, super red.
As for Senator Chambliss himself, well, in GOP spin land, he didn’t just hold on to his Senate seat in a runoff race, he re-branded and refocused the entire Republican Party.
In his post-runoff election victory lap, Chambliss is casting himself as the hero, not just for Georgia, but the entire GOP. He told reporters yesterday that his less-than-a-month-long campaign for the Senate runoff was effectively the first campaign of 2010, one that Republican candidates can use as a model in the next election cycle.
Then he went on the TV machine and took it one step further. He said he didn’t just beat Jim Martin effectively; he says he beat Barack Obama. And he would have beaten him even harder if Obama would have just shown up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA): I have no idea why he didn’t come down, but his people were here. His organization was here, and we knew that. If he had been here, I have no idea whether it would have worked better. But I know this, Dave, that if he had come down, it would have fired up our base even more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. Just back up for a second. Senator Chambliss perhaps is forgetting that he didn’t actually win on Election Day. He didn’t get 50 percent of the vote and was forced into a runoff. Because by my calculations, if you’re a Republican incumbent senator in the Deep South, you should probably win on November 4th if you want something to brag about.
First, there is the small matter of the power of incumbency. Sitting U.S. senators win reelection about 80 percent of the time. In other words, holding on to your Senate seat is not remarkable accomplishment. You know what else is not remarkable? Winning a race after the polls predicted you would win it, which is exactly what happened in Georgia.
Saxby Chambliss was ahead going into the actual election, and he was ahead into the runoff. And then he won. Breathtaking.
Look, there was no way that the Republicans were going to sit around feeling sorry for themselves for too long. And they were always going to come out swinging against their vanquishers in this last election.
But are they really hanging their opposition on Saxby Chambliss’ stunningly predictable, surprisingly difficult defense of one Senate seat in this House? Really?
Joining us now is Rosa Brooks, columnist for the “Los Angeles Times.” Rosa, it is always a pleasure to have you on the show. Thanks for being here.
ROSA BROOKS, COLUMNIST, “LOS ANGELES TIMES”: Yes. It’s a pleasure to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Didn’t we sort of see this in 2006 as well when the Democrats won the midterms and the right tried to spin it like it had effectively been a tie?
BROOKS: Absolutely. When Democrats win, it’s at best a tie and at worst, it’s some kind of weird piece of trickery. When Republicans eke out a narrow victory, it is a mandate as of 2004 when Karl Rove was quick to turn George Bush’s two and a half percent popular vote margin into a mandate for the GOP.
MADDOW: Do you think that they will be effective? I mean, I think the Chambliss hook is sort of a laughable thing to hang it on. But they are trying to say that Barack Obama has got no mandate. It’s still a center-right country, that the country is obviously still very conservative and Democrats are obviously still greatly disliked. Do you think it’s getting any traction?
BROOKS: Well, I will hand it to them. This is the party of positive thinking. This is the party that brought us mission accomplished. This is the party that brought the economy has strong fundamentals in the middle of the economic meltdown.
And now, this is the party that is managing to turn Obama’s seven percent popular vote margin into strangely a Republican victory. No, I don’t think it’s going to work any better than any of the previous two examples worked for them.
When things are genuinely close, that’s when you’ve got some room for spin. You know, there is some genuine ambiguity about how to interpret something that’s close. And you can make lots of different kinds of arguments. When things are not close in this election - and November 4th was obviously not close at all, as you said. It doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot for a Georgia Republican incumbent to hang on to his seat as he was expected to do.
You know, when you’ve got that situation of a massive Democratic victory nationwide, and then one tiny little thing happening as expected, it’s not a big ray of light. You can’t do a whole heck of a lot with it. I can’t blame him for trying.
MADDOW: They are certainly trying. But impotent attempts at spin aside, more substantively, Senator Chambliss is trying to brand himself as the guy who knows how to win in the Republican Party right now. He’s not afraid to take on President-elect Obama. And you think about that substantively and strategically.
I know where Obama’s left flank is, because I’m sort of on it. That’s the way that I look at his transition period thus far. Where is his right flank? Do we know yet what Republicans are going to go after him about?
BROOKS: Well, you know, I think we’re going to see the Republican Party splitting into the more pragmatic, moderates. We’re going to look at Obama and say we can work with this guy on a lot of issues where there shouldn’t be as much partisan rancor as there has been.
And they’re going to say this is - we’re in the midst of crises on every possible front. We’ve got security crisis. We’ve got an economic crisis. You name it, we’ve got a crisis for it.
So you know, I think the pragmatic Republicans are actually going to do their best to work with Obama as Obama is sending out signals through keeping on Gates at the Defense Department and so forth that he is trying to work with them.
On the other hand, you know, the far right Republicans - you know, they have been on the right flank of everybody, frankly, including most people in the country for a long time. They are going to stay there. They are going to do exactly what they have been doing, lo, these many years. I think the only real question for them is the degree to which they are going to just find themselves more and more marginalized as moderates within there.
As Obama creates a greater, more of a place for moderates within the Republican Party to go to. You know, can Obama create a new center, pulling in a lot of the moderates and GOP?
MADDOW: Karl Rove, in “The Wall Street Journal” today argued that Obama beat John McCain because he outspent him, sort of implying that if Obama had stayed on the public finance system, then maybe McCain could have won. It has made me think that Democrats fall all over themselves to trash their candidates and themselves when they lose. It seems the Republicans will blame anything but their candidates and themselves. Does that tell you anything about the sort of lessons learned that the Republicans will take away from this last election?
BROOKS: If they take that lesson away, it’s not going to help them very much to win next time. You know, I think that the smart Republicans, the thoughtful Republicans, are recognizing this last election for the defeat that it was. And they are trying to draw the lessons of, “What did we do that screwed things up for us. How did we lose people?” rather than trying to pretend it was, you know, somehow maligned fate or an accident.
You’re not going to do any better next time if that’s your theory. But you know, the Rove idea that Barack Obama only won the election because he had more money is kind of strange when it gets the causation absolutely backwards.
I mean, Obama didn’t win the election because he had more money. He had more money because more Americans wanted him to win the election and therefore more Americans gave him more money.
On the other hand, when it came to the GOP ticket, there just wasn’t that much enthusiasm and not many people wanted to put their wallets on the line for a ticket they didn’t care that much about.
You know, I think that the thing that the Republicans are going to have to learn from and others have to learn from is his incredible success at getting so many small donations from so many people.
MADDOW: Rosa Brooks, columnist for the “Los Angeles Times” with that crazy liberal biased math, again. Thank you for coming on the show tonight, Rosa.
BROOKS: Thanks a lot, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up next, it’s time for another edition of the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW’s patented “Lame Duck Watch,” the real estate edition this time. With his lease at Pennsylvania Avenue up in 46 days, President Bush has reportedly purchased a retirement home worth over $2 million in a toney neighborhood in Dallas. Show of hands. How many people think Bush wrecked the housing market just so he could get a bargain? That many? Wow.
But first, one more thing. The nation’s capitol is going to historic lengths to accommodate the more than a million expected to come see Barack Obama’s inauguration. The inauguration set to take place on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, there on the right side of the map.
Back in 2005, 100,000 turned out for President Bush’s swearing in, filling the area from the Capitol’s stage to Third St. In recent years, the mall was used as staging rails for the inauguration parade, but with massive crowds on the way. For the first time, the entire length of the mall is going to be opened up this time past the Washington monument all the way to the Lincoln Memorial with big screens set up to see and hear it all.
You know, then again, since Saxby Chambliss won, this guy clearly is a has-been. Right?
MADDOW: You know what they say, behind every great woman is another woman and another one and another one. So it seems in the great state of Maine, where in addition to two U.S. senators, the state for the first time has a woman heading the state Senate and a female State House speaker.
The estrogen-rich legislature seems to be following a trend started in another New England state, New Hampshire, which this year became the first state in the country to have more women than men in the state Senate. And it only took, what, like 300 years?
MADDOW: President Bush made a big executive decision this week. He purchased his post-presidency/retirement home. The president will be spending his golden years in a cul-de-sac, in the upscale Dallas, Texas neighborhood of Preston Hollow, the White House confirmed today. Nice house.
It has a cabana and servants’ quarters. I’m sure he will be very happy there. And I’m sure many will be very happy to have him there instead of in that other big White House he’s been living in Washington recently.
With 46 days left in the Bush presidency, it is time, once again, for
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW’s “Lame Duck Watch,” because somebody’s got to do it.
It is common for presidents who are about to leave the White House to get a bump in their job approval ratings. The last three presidents and four of the last five who departed at the end of a term saw significant rises in their ratings.
President Clinton received a nine-point bump. President Bush number one received a 22-point bump. Yet, this Bush has so far only seen a four percent bump in his job-approval rating. Of course, there is still time and he’s probably still hoping his exit interviews, two already this week, will help.
On Monday, President Bush kicked off what seems to be his PR legacy campaign with ABC’s Charlie Gibson. And it continued today with NBC’s John Yang.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We’ve had a lot of fun in this experience. We had a lot of friends and family here in the White House and it’s been really a lot of fun. And it’s been a fabulous experience, by the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It’s been fabulous, fun. Fun and fabulous. Wow. Here, John Yang asks the president how things will be on his first day as a civilian.
JOHN YANG, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Have you thought about what it’s going to be like to wake up on January 21st? You won’t have the daily brief awaiting you. You won’t have to worrying about what the economy is doing. Well, it won’t be on you. The pressures won’t be on you.
BUSH: No, that’s right, and I won’t wake up and read the incident reports out of Afghanistan and Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What a relief that will be to stop paying attention to the wars you started. Those wars, of course, are the source of some regret by our president, a regret that other people made him accidentally start those wars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: And the biggest regret of all of the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said, you know, the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein.
It wasn’t just people in my administration and, you know, that’s not a do-over. But you know, I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In other words, it’s not my fault. Don’t blame me for that one. I just work here. No idea why that intel was screwed up. I’m having fun. Fabulous. How about the economy, Mr. President?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I’ve been president during this period of time. But I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over, you know, a decade or so before I arrived as president, during I arrived as president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Again, how many times do I have to tell you? I just work here. I’m sure if anything’s wrong with the economy, it’s because of something that happened more than 10 years ago.
And the election, Mr. President? What do you make of the people expressing themselves at the polls at the end of your two terms at the helm?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YANG: Was the election in any way a repudiation of the Bush administration?
BUSH: I think it was a repudiation of Republicans. And you know, I’m sure some people voted for Barack Obama because of me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Sure, some people don’t like me. I don’t know why. I just work here. But mostly it was those Republican people, whoever they are. Yes, they got spanked this time.
President Bush refuses to take responsibility for a single thing that went wrong on his watch, the worst presidency in at least 50 years, if not the entire republic. He just worked here, after all. The bush legacy revisionism project is in full effect. I’m guessing his approval ratings will go up some during his lame-duckitude because they do. But if they do, I hope it is because he owns it somehow and just not because he accurately assessed our great capacity as Americans to forget.
MADDOW: Now, it’s time for “Just Enough” with my friend Kent Jones. Hi, Kent. What have you got?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, the world’s last reliable revenue stream, has a new book out today. It’s called “The Tales of Beedle the Bard.”
Expecto long linum. There is a midnight unveiling party in London for the book which is a collection of five fables mentioned in the last Potter novel. The proceeds are going to Rowling’s charity which helps vulnerable children in Eastern Europe. Well done.
Slight sad note, the two dudes dressed up like Dumbledore and Hagrid still can’t get married in California. I know, muggles, right?
Next, the Associated Press reports tonight’s NFL match-up between the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers will be the first live football game to be broadcast in 3D.
MADDOW: No way.
JONES: The screenings are only for team owners, producers and journalists in theaters in L.A., New York and Boston. Mostly it’s just a test drive of the 3D technology and the attendees have to wear those dorky polarized lenses to get the full effect.
The NFL promises, quote, “up close, personal, visceral experience.” So realistic, viewers will feel every sack and touchdown dance and pistol discharging in a wide receiver’s pocket.
And finally, the pirates scourge continues. More than 130,000 inflatable breasts - you heard me - have been lost at sea en route to Australia. An Aussie men’s magazine called “Ralph” was planning to include the fake hooters as a fun, free gift with its January issue.
A spokeswoman said the container left docks in Beijing two weeks ago but turned up empty in Sydney this week. “Ralph’s” editor urged anyone with information to give them a shout. He said, quote, “Unless Somali pirates have stolen them, it’s difficult to explain where they are. If anyone finds any washed up on the beach, please let us know.
The coastguard says to be on the lookout for a strange-looking home-made raft filled with giggling 12-year-old boys. Rachel?
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent.
JONES: Thank you.
MADDOW: And thank you at home for watching tonight. We will see you tomorrow night from San Francisco again. Until then, check out our podcast. Go to iTunes or Rachel.MSNBC.com. “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.
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