The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/08/09

Guests:
Robert Reich, Steve Clemens, Ana Marie Cox, Michael Isikoff, Kent Jones
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Keith, thank you very much.

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  You‘re the welcome.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  And thank you for staying with us at home for the next hour.

Tonight, the Republican Party has a terrible time trying to conduct its national leadership talent search in public.  The neoconservatives try to disavow—of all things—the Iraq war.  And British spies show themselves in public for the first time ever.  That is all coming up tonight.

But first .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT:  Throughout America‘s history, there have been some years that simply rolled into the next without much notice or fanfare.  And then there are the years that come along once in a generation—the kind that mark a clean break from a troubled past and set a new course for our nation.  This is one of those years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The man knows how to start a speech.  President-elect Barack Obama today pitched the country and the Congress on his plan to confront the economic crisis through a massive stimulus plan that right now features a price tag of about – $800 billion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Now, the very fact that this crisis is largely of our own making, means that it‘s not beyond our ability to solve.  Our problems are rooted in past mistakes, not our capacity for future greatness.  This crisis did not happen solely by some accident of history or normal turn of the business cycle, and we won‘t get out of it by simply waiting for a better day to come, or relying on the worn out dogmas of the past.  We arrived at this point due to an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington, D.C.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Profound irresponsibility.  A crisis of our own making.  Bush administration—that line‘s for you.

But the reason this speech today really matters, the reason I think it‘s going to be remembered is because Barack Obama signaled not just a break with the Bush years, he signaled a break with the Bush years and the Clinton years before them, and the other Bush years before them, and the Reagan years before them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 20, 1981)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades.  They will not go away in days, weeks or months, but they will go away.  In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem.  Government is the problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Government is the problem.  That‘s become the bumper sticker for the dominant governing American ideology of the last 25 years.  Government is the problem.

When Bill Clinton pronounced it, it came out sounding like the era of big government is over.  Today—well, let‘s let the president-elect speak for himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe.  Only government can break the cycles that are crippling our economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Take that, dominant governing, ideology bumper sticker from the last 25 years.  Government is actually for something.  It‘s not just a necessary or maybe even unnecessary evil.  Welcome to the Obama era.  It‘s different.

What does the Obama era look like in Washington?  Well, I can tell you who‘s on his team or who he wants to be on his team.

Today was the start of the sometimes grueling, often grandstand-inducing Senate confirmation process for the officials Obama wants running things in Washington from here on out.  Today, the Senate confirmation process started.

First up, presumably soon-to-be secretary of health and human services, Tom Daschle, Mr. Wacky Glasses.  Daschle faced the bright lights of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee in a generally uneventful hearing.  Notably mostly for a cameo appearance made by former presidential candidate-turned-Viagra pitchman, Bob Dole.  The Republican elders statesman was there in support of Tom Daschle.

Who‘s up next?  Well, behold.  Our quick RACHEL MADDOW SHOW viewing guide for the next week of constitutionally-mandated “Will Obama‘s team survive Senate melodrama?”  After Tom Daschle, the next person up on the schedule tomorrow is prospective labor secretary, Hilda Solis, a progressive favorite.

Then next week on Tuesday, would-secretary of state, Hillary Clinton -

obviously, the big kahuna in this cabinet; also, would-be education secretary, Arne Duncan—he‘s currently the Chicago schools chief; and would-be energy secretary, Steve Chu.  Like you and me and all of us here at MSNBC, Steven Chu won the Nobel Prize in physics.  Also that day, would-be Office of Management and Budget director, Peter Orszag—he‘s a key member of the economics team; and would-be EPA chief, Lisa Jackson.  It will be her job to remove the quotation marks that the Bush administration put around the word “protection” in the name of her new agency, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Moving on to Wednesday, would-be Veterans Affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki—famous, of course, for being right about troop strength in Iraq when all the Bush geniuses were wrong about that; and would-be agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack—former Iowa governor, a man who might himself have been presidential timber if he didn‘t have the word “sack” in his name.

And finally, on Thursday, would-be interior secretary, Ken Salazar—the Colorado senator.  No word on whether his cowboy hat will face a separate hearing.  Also on Thursday, would-be treasury secretary, Tim Geithner—another key economics guy; would-be secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano.  She intends to succeed Michael Chertoff.  She‘ll have to leave her job as governor of Arizona to do so.  Also, would-be U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, who unlike President Bush‘ former U.N.  ambassador, she apparently believes the U.N. should exist.

Finally, would-be attorney general, Eric Holder.  Now, you‘re going to want to put a big red circle around this one, a bull‘s eye, if you prefer.  The nomination of Eric Holder for attorney general seems to be the one that Republicans are huffing and puffing about the most.  The Republicans asked to delay the start date of Eric Holder‘s hearing to give them more time to review his record.

Holder‘s opponents are basically telegraphed the case they plan to make against him.  First, they are angry about Holder‘s role in Bill Clinton pardoning billionaire creep, Marc Rich, though Holder, himself, has said he made a mistake in recommending Rich.  He has apologized for that.

One other name from the past that you may hear the Republicans bring out in connection with Holder is Elian Gonzalez.  Seriously, not kidding.  Holder was deputy attorney general at the time of the Elian Gonzalez saga and Republicans have been digging into his specific involvement in that matter.

Now, whether or not Barack Obama‘s presidency really does turn out to be a start of a new political era, a “let‘s make government work” rather than insulting its very existence era, depends to a great extent on whether he gets to field the team he wants to field, whether he gets to build the federal government he wants to build.  And a big determinant of that will be the strength of Obama‘s opposition in the United States Senate and the tactics his opponents choose to use against him.

Joining us now is a man who knows from these things, having been through his own Senate confirmation hearings.  Former Clinton labor secretary, Robert Reich.  He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate back in January of 1993.  He‘s author of the new book “Supercapitalism.”

Secretary Reich, thank you so much for joining us.

ROBERT REICH, FORMER CLINTON LABOR SECRETARY:  Well, good evening, Rachel.

MADDOW:  How important is it that Barack Obama get all of his nominees confirmed?  How much does it hurt him, politically or policy-wise, if one or more of his choices gets turned back on Capitol Hill?

REICH:  Well, it‘s very important.  I mean, this is a very strong team.  He wants them confirmed.  And I think the Republicans are going to basic way say fine.

You‘re right, Eric Holder might get a little roughing up, but after all, the Republicans are aware that Barack Obama won by a very strong margin, stronger than anybody, any candidate won the presidency in some 36 years.  And also, the country is in very bad shape and people don‘t like partisan politics.  And so, the Republicans, although they may huff and puff a little bit are going to accept these nominees.

MADDOW:  I know you that wrote about your own confirmation process in your book “Locked in the Cabinet.”  When you were confirmed, how much did you know in advance about what your hearings would be like?  Do you have advice for Eric Holder about how to prepare?  How to anticipate what might be coming his way?

REICH:  Well, I wouldn‘t presume to give him any advice.  But I can tell you, as a nominee, I was coached.  I had my coaching team.  We had kind of mock hearing.

They brought out every possibly thing I had ever said or written, and

I had written a lot of controversial things.  And they said, well, you know

they played Republican senators and they gave me very, very cruel grueling at the time.  So, I was ready for almost anything.

The most important thing that my coaches told me, which I will tell any nominee right now who wants to know, is—these are not about policy, these nomination hearings.  They are about deference, they are about respect.  What you need to communicate this time to Republicans is that you respect them, you will work with them, you honor them and, you know, basically you will not ignore them.

MADDOW:  Well, how much latitude does the Senate, given that dynamic, how much does the Senate generally give an incoming president in terms of latitude with his initial cabinet appointments?  What I‘ve been wondering about the sort of telegraphing their punches on Eric Holder, as if they just feel like they need to draw a line under one nominee.  They need to give one nominee a really hard time just to show that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Senate.

REICH:  That‘s probably right.  You know, I remember John Tower.  He was given a very, very hard roughing up.  He was an appointee, or at least would-be appointee.  He‘s the last one that actually was rejected by the Senate.  This time around, let‘s say, within the Bush administration, the George W. Bush administration, John Ashcroft was given a roughing up.  He did not withdraw but the Democrats wanted to make sure that—they signaled to the Bush administration that they would not play patsy, they would not sit back with every nomination of the court.  And John Ashcroft seemed the most vulnerable.

So, there may be some picking on Eric Holder.  But again, I doubt very much that Eric Holder will, in any way, be forced to withdraw—or be rejected.

MADDOW:  On this—on the substance on what President-elect Obama today said in his economic speech, as you heard in the introduction, I hear an ideological signal, a “government can work, government must work” message from the president-elect that seems to me like a real break with what we have heard out of Washington, Democrat and Republican, over the last—really the last generation.  Do you hear that same signal?  Do you think that he‘s signaling a different ideological direction?

REICH:  Well, to some extent, Rachel.  But I don‘t think the era of big government is back.  I mean, I think that almost everybody agrees and this is conservative economists as well, that government has got to stimulate the economy.  There is going to be a big stimulus package mainly because consumers are not buying.  Businesses are not investing because consumers are not buying.  And we can‘t rely on exports.  And so, there is a big gap in demand.

And so, regardless of your ideology, you‘re going to say yes, at least for the next two years, government is going to have to spend a lot of money so that we don‘t have massive unemployment and the kind of vicious cycle.  But beyond that, I think that we might see an administration that once the stimulus package is over and, hopefully, has had effect, then the order of the day is deficit reduction.

MADDOW:  So, but at least for the first couple of years, it may not be big government but it maybe big government action.  (INAUDIBLE)

REICH:  I think, the big government action is the best way.  Now, Rachel, it may be down payments on healthcare and on environmental protection, and on some very important things that need to be done.  But we‘ll have to wait to find out what those down payments ultimately result in.

MADDOW:  Robert Reich, labor secretary under President Clinton, author of the new book “Supercapitalism”—thank you so much for your time tonight.  It‘s nice to see you.

REICH:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Later on lame duck watch tonight, the Bush administration‘s latter day blizzard of history-revising hoo-hah continues.  Dick Cheney now claims he never exceeded his authority as vice president.  And—Iraq war architect, Richard Perle, disclaims all architectural responsibility for the Iraq war.

Joining me to graph the magnitude of today‘s quackitude will be “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff.  And Steve Clemens will join us new to burst that old “Iraq the bad war, Afghanistan the good war” bubble.  Sorry.

But first, just one more thing about the incoming Obama team.  Earlier this week, news a leak about the president-elect‘s intention to name former Clinton chief of staff, Leon Panetta to be CIA director.  Mr. Panetta has not been formally announced.  The president-elect is expected to do that tomorrow.  But this week, we saw concerns raised about whether Mr. Panetta might have a difficult confirmation process after Senator Dianne Feinstein who heads the intelligence committee publicly complained about Mr.  Panetta‘s lack of experience in the intelligence community.

Since we reported on Senator Feinstein‘s objections on Tuesday, she has warmed to the idea of Mr. Panetta at CIA.  She says she is confident he will surround himself with capable professionals.  Now, here‘s the part that specifically relates to this TV show: Senator Feinstein‘s staff contacted us, taking issue with me saying that the senator was essentially implicated in the Bush administration intelligence fiascoes like torture and rendition and warrantless wiretapping because she had a key congressional oversight role for intelligence during the Bush administration, and if she had effective congressional oversight of intelligence during the Bush administration, none of that should have happened.

Well, Senator Feinstein issued a statement to us saying in part, quote, “I have long opposed illegal detentions and coercive interrogation methods.  These activities have greatly damaged America‘s reputation around the world and made the war on terror harder to fight.  Ending these detention and interrogation practices are among my top priorities as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.”

The full statement also explains legislation that Senator Feinstein has introduced to further those goals.  It‘s good detailed stuff.  And we have posted it at Rachel.MSNBC.com.  It‘s worth a read.

This is the part where I once again repeat our invitation to Senator Feinstein.  We would love to have you here on the show to talk this through.  It would be fun.  We love to have you.  It would be even more fun than you e-mailing me a statement and me posting it on my Web site.  Promise.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  There is a congressionally-funded institute called the U.S.  Institute of Peace.  It is not a Dennis Kucinich‘s “department of peace” replacing the Pentagon thing.  It is essentially a think-tank, an independent, publicly-funded nonpartisan institution.  Congress founded it in 1984 to work on resolving conflicts, and preventing wars and promoting stability after wars, and stuff like that.

It was probably a good idea in 1984; it‘s probably a really good idea right now.  We could use that sort of thinking right now.

Well, the U.S. Institute of Peace has just issued a new report called “The Future of Afghanistan.”  It is an indictment of the Bush administration‘s conduct of the Afghanistan war.  They delivered the report today at a conference that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joint Chiefs chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen conveniently pulled out of, even though they had previously been due to address the conference.  But the man now in charge of both the Afghanistan war and the Iraq war, the head of CentCom did not duck out and was there to hear it.  The man is General David Petraeus.

The report accuses the president of seven years of short-term thinking, a lack of any coherent strategy.  It says that President Bush did not commit the soldiers‘ fund or political attention needed to win the war or even to really understand how Afghanistan works.  The report‘s main editor told the “Associated Press,” quote, “The Bush administration has had all but eight months of its entire tenure to stabilize Afghanistan and here it is January and one of the top foreign policy priorities for the Obama administration is to stabilize Afghanistan.”

Now, the common wisdom on Afghanistan from President-elect Barack Obama to staying on Defense Secretary Bob Gates, and on down the line, is that more American troops in Afghanistan are the answer.  Democrats and Republicans all together now—Iraq war, bad; Afghanistan war, good.  Pour in more troops to Afghanistan and all better real quick, definitely not a Soviet-style empire-ending quagmire.

Now, the more experts I talked to about Afghanistan, the more I am starting to realize that this common wisdom about Afghanistan might be becoming less common.  Maybe there is not a consensus about what to do in Afghanistan.  Maybe there is no good war here.

Here to try to Talk Me Down is Steve Clemens of the New America Foundation.  He writes the influential blog, “The Washington Note.”

Steve, it‘s nice to see you.  Thanks for being on the show tonight.

STEVE CLEMENS, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION:  Great to be with you, Rachel. 

It‘s going to be tough to talk you down since I largely agree with you.

MADDOW:  You know, I keep running into that problem.

CLEMENS:  Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Tell me this, though.  Is there a Republican/Democrat split on what to do about Afghanistan?  Is there a political divide on this issue or is there a political consensus that sending more troops is the right next move?

CLEMENS:  Among strategic elites in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, there is a consensus that throwing a few more brigades or more is what both parties would like to see done.  Under his breath, Bob Gates has sort of often said the costs of Iraq are the mess in Afghanistan.  And he and others have been talking in military terms.

I think, Gates has begun to shift.  But a number of them have been talking about applying more military pressure to try and solve the problems of Afghanistan.  I think what‘s happening is, other analysts are beginning to say this is looking a lot like LBJ and the buildup into Vietnam, and it‘s a replay in some sense of what the Soviets went through with Afghanistan.  And so that—there is some erosion in that group.

MADDOW:  I know that when you talk to the Russians now about their experience in Afghanistan, they will admit, yes, they were there for 10 years, but about six years in, they started to think about leaving.  We are in year-seven and we‘re thinking about escalating.

But when you describe a split here between elites and sort of other non-elite analysts, it makes me wonder as we have this change of government, change in administration, are some of the non-elite analysts who are questioning this common wisdom getting elevated into decision-making positions in the Obama administration?

CLEMENS:  Well, I hate to separate between non-elite.  I think it‘s more of the people who are part of the traditional strategic crowd that had been advocates of applying more military pressure because it was a narrative that they felt that, you know, we went to war in Afghanistan to try to go after bin Laden and al Qaeda, and then we got distracted and withdrew forces and resources and moved those into Iraq.  And thus, lo and behold, the stability we fought within Afghanistan fell apart.

So, it lends itself to a narrative that only returning troops back to this mess will solve it.  And that‘s just, unfortunately, not true.

I think what‘s happening is people are saying logically, this is a nation with a lot of feudal tribes that had been for thousands of years governing and managing their situation in sort of a consensus-driven arrangement and we‘ve been trying to apply a framework of democracy there and of change that the place isn‘t ready to accept yet.  And we‘ve been neglecting—and the other thing people don‘t understand is, this country is about 2 ½ times the landmass of Iraq and has more than 50 percent more population.

And so, there‘s a real chance that the hope and dreams of the Obama administration, as one friend of mine said, and Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote about could be buried in Afghanistan.  And somebody needs to begin blowing the whistle on this.

MADDOW:  What‘s the goal in Afghanistan?  I mean, not the pie in the sky goal, not the—you know, I imagine that, you know, it looks like a Jeffersonian democracy and everybody rides a Unicorn.

CLEMENS:  Right.

MADDOW:  Well, what‘s the—what‘s the actual on-the-ground achievable this generation goal that the United States has for Afghanistan?

CLEMENS:  Well, as many of these post-modern challenges in the 21st century we have, the goal keeps changing.  I think it used to be to go after radical Arab jihadists and al Qaeda.  Increasingly, you see other people now talking about challenging the Taliban.  The Taliban are enormous part of the population of Afghanistan.  And, I think, the government large has been careful of identifying them as the real enemy.

But I think it raises the real question of which army, which forces are we really trying to topple in our NATO deployments there?  I think, for other people, it‘s trying to build civil society, a rule of law, a functioning democracy, rights for women, and there‘s, you know, a big agenda there.

But I‘ll repeat something that Dana Priest of the “Washington Post” wrote today.  On an online Web chat, she said, you know, she is increasingly of the view that we‘re going to probably have to come to terms with the Taliban and just find a way to tunnel out women—because it will be an awful reality for them.  But otherwise, this is going to be a never-ending war.

Richard Holbrooke, who is going to be Barack Obama‘s envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan gave a speech this last year called “America‘s Longest War” and saw it going on indefinitely.  That ought to concern us.

MADDOW:  This is not a time for consensus, in other words.

Steve Clemens of the New America Foundation, he writes “The Washington Note” blog, which everyone should read every day.

Steve, thank you for coming on the show tonight.  I really appreciate it.

CLEMENS:  Always great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  If you had to pick the most daunting job in politics right now, how about head of the Republican National Committee?  It would have to be right up there, right?  The GOP is going through Jerry Springer-worthy public eruptions in its efforts to pick a new leader for its national Republican Party.  Ana Marie Cox will be along shortly to discuss the contenders, including one guy who had to quit his membership at a whites-only country club in order to run.  That‘s nice.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Tonight on Lame Duck Watch, with only 11 more days to go, the White House‘s legacy-revising tour escalates to new plateaus of quackery.  Dick Cheney says the idea he ever stretched the powers of the Office of the Vice President is an urban legend.  Actually, urban legend is like alligators in the sewer, Chihuahuas cure asthma.  Those are open legends.

Dick Cheney—he is a legend in the fields of stretching the powers of the vice presidency.  We will have more on that in just a moment.

First, though, it‘s time for a couple of underreported holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  In Illinois tonight, the vote of the special impeachment committee in the Illinois Statehouse was unanimous.  Twenty-one Democrats and Republicans all voted that Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois should be impeached.

Next up: The articles of impeachment against Blagojevich will go to the full House, which is expected to vote on them tomorrow.  If they vote to impeach—as they are expected to do—the state Senate will then try Governor Blagojevich and decide whether he should be removed from office.  The committee has been investigating the Illinois governor since December 16th, a week after he was arrested on federal criminal charges. 

Earlier today, the committee released a 69-page draft report filled with alleged abuses of power.  The report found that, quote, “the totality of the evidence warrants the impeachment of the governor for cause.”

In the hot seat in front of the committee today was Governor Blagojevich‘s pick for that vacant Senate seat that caused all this excitement in the first place, Roland Burris.  Burris testified today about how he ended up with the appointment.  Burris said he spoke to Blagojevich‘s former chief of staff in the Fall, and told him of his interest in the Senate seat, should Obama win the presidency.  Burris also said he was not aware of a quid pro quo to get the appointment, and would not have participated had one been offered. 

Meanwhile, attorneys for Governor Blagojevich asked a judge to kick US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald off this case, off the Blagojevich corruption case, because of Fitzgerald‘s big Blagojevich December 9th news conference, where he called the governor‘s conduct appalling.  They‘re objecting to him calling the governor‘s conduct appalling.  He did what?  No. 

Finally, Hats off to Al Kamen, columnist for the “Washington Post” today.  He has apparently been trolling through the Department of Justice‘s official list of asset forfeitures for the year.  That‘s the kind of a mind numbing fine print reading that can be a rather thankless task for reporters.  It can be rather thankless until you come across something like this; this asset forfeiture tally is a list of all the items that were confiscated by the Justice Department in the course of their crime fighting duties. 

These are the things that the DOJ didn‘t just sell or put up for auction.  These are the things that some government agencies decided to keep for themselves to put to their own federal agency use.  The current list includes $120,000 worth of jewelry and $134 worth of porn.  Federal agency are using, somehow, 120 grand worth of jewelry and some porn. 

Can I ask which agency is using the porn?  I have a theory. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK:)

MADDOW:  Good advice I got from a fortune cookie once: think carefully before you snicker at once powerful folks who are down on their luck.  Really, you wouldn‘t want them to do that to you, first of all, and they won‘t be down on their luck forever.  Engage in schadenfreude at your own risk.  It was a very large fortune cookie. 

That said, have you been paying attention to the Republican party lately?  The one national leadership job available in the Republican party is chair of the Republican National Committee, chair of the national party.  It is Mike Duncan‘s job, right? 

Not traditionally a very big, important job at all.  But for a GOP living in the post-George Bush age, RNC chairman fight is kind of the main event.  They have decided to stage it this year in public, as much as possible, to highlight what post-Bush, post-McCain Republican leadership looks like in America.  And so far we‘ve learned that it looks like one candidate for the big job having to quit his membership at a whites only country club.  Oops.  Another candidate sent a Christmas package to RNC committee members, including a CD of the song “Barack the Magic Negro.” 

Then, to make matters worse, Politico.com reported after that scandal that the “Barack the Magic Negro” thing might have actually helped that candidate‘s chances at getting the job.  Yes. 

Most recently, this week, it‘s sort of gotten worse.  A public debate for RNC chairman on Monday spiraled into the pressing issue of which candidate has the most Facebook friends.  Really. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  I do twitter, but let me just say I have 4,000 friends on Facebook.  That‘s probably more than these two guys put together.  But who is counting, you know. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ll meet you on Facebook any day. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Meet you on Facebook any day?  Meet?  Yes.  The next day, on Tuesday, select members of the Republican National Committee were going to have a straw poll to determine who the best conservative successor to old Mike Duncan would be.  When it appeared old Mike Duncan was going to win that straw poll, they canceled the straw poll, democracy. 

Yesterday, Wednesday, there was supposed to be another public forum.  Except, when the secretary called the role, they realized they did not have a quorum.  Not enough Republicans had bothered to show up for this event, so the RNC had to ask all the outsiders, including the TV camera people, to leave so they could discuss it privately.  What did the private conclave decide? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is a rather unusual situation.  We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused all of you.  We know you‘ve had an opportunity, at least on Monday many of you who have joined us, to hear these candidates.  This is going to be a members only and proxy certified discussion.  And we will proceed with our candidate forum once we have cleared the room. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Because we couldn‘t get a quorum.  Experience schadenfreude at your own risk.  You have been warned by the fortune cookie.  Joining us now is Ana-Marie Cox, a contributor to “The Daily Beast,” and Ken Blackwell‘s Facebook friend.  Hi Ana-Marie, thanks for coming back on the show. 

ANA-MARIE COX, “THE DAILY BEAST”:  At least I know I‘m not alone on Ken‘s Facebook page. 

MADDOW:  You have 3,999 friends there. 

COX:  That‘s right. 

MADDOW:  I don‘t want to get personal, but he hasn‘t given you any sort of inside scoop on what‘s going on through your Facebook relationship, has he? 

COX:  Unfortunately, no.  I have updates where he posts things to his website.  In fact, I know for a fact that he put up the video of our discussion of his attempt to friend me on Facebook last week.  So I think he is hurting for material. 

MADDOW:  OK. 

COX:  As with the entire Republican party, really. 

MADDOW:  Hello, Mr. Blackwell.  If this ends up on your Facebook page, I want you to know I thank you for doing it.  Hello, Facebook pals. 

Is this really going as poorly as it seems?  It seems like this is a process normally done in private.  They decided to do it in public this year, I think for obvious reasons.  They want to highlight Republican leadership.  Are we seeing why this is usually done in private? 

COX:  Well, I actually—to say they decided to do it in public this year isn‘t quite it.  They were sort of pushed into doing it in public.  Of all people, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, the disarmingly charming, extremely right wing guy, the one who came up with the idea of the public debate on Monday.  He really wants to drag this out in the open.  But the RNC did go along with it.  They are really heartened by the 400 people who turned out for the debate on Monday, which was a fairly big crowd for such an obscure position. 

However, yes, the turn out on Tuesday, incredibly disappointing.  And also, I think that does hint at why it is usually done in private, which is usually the RNC members that vote on this, only 168 of them that do, don‘t really need to know the candidate.  Outsiders don‘t run for RNC chair.  They already know everybody.  And the way they decide their vote is through horse trading and not through presentation of policy or presentation of ideas. 

MADDOW:  Since they are having to publicly present policy and ideas, though, and we are seeing more of this process than we ever did before, does it tell us about the Republican party, about what Republican politics are going to be like moving forward to see on what grounds the candidates are competing, how they are representing themselves to try to win votes? 

COX:  Like who has more friends on Facebook?  If that‘s the future of the Republican party, like I‘m not scared.  I welcome our Democrat majority overlords, you know.  I think that—I mean, it is instructive to look back four years ago when Howard Dean won the DNC chair in a somewhat similar position.  That did signal a big change for the Democratic party.  Although, he was very loudly criticized for a while because of his strategy, but his strategy turned out to work. 

So yes, it could be that whoever comes out here turns out to save the Republican party.  But looking at these candidates, it is hard to really find a lot of differences among them when it comes to strategy or policy.  A few of them are more socially moderate than others.  A few of them are much more socially inept than the others.  But mainly, they talk a lot about technology and talk a lot about getting back to Republican and conservative ideals. 

I actually had a discussion with one of the RNC members at the debate, where he very passionately explained to me that the real problem, the real reason why Republicans lost in ‘08 is because they didn‘t stick to conservative principles.  But I wondered, but wasn‘t the election of Barack Obama a rejection of conservative principles?  And he insisted there were 10 percent of Americans out there that would vote Republican if they stick to their principles.  I said, again, good luck with that. 

MADDOW:  Well, the “Washington Times” reports today that insiders are expecting either the South Carolina party chairman, Katon Dawson, or the Michigan party chairman to be the winner.  We don‘t yet know.  We will be watching. 

COX:  That‘s insiders—Katon Dawson is the one who had to quit the country club, by the way. 

MADDOW:  Yes, that would be awkward.  “Daily Beast” contributor Ana Marie Cox, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight. 

COX:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  President Bush may be packing up book boxes at the White House, apparently„ but his administration‘s legacy polishing never rests.  Tonight‘s lame duck-itude includes Iraq war architect Richard Perle‘s claim that invading Iraq had nothing to do with the neo-cons.  Get me re-write.  Another chapter of lame duck watch coming up next.

But first, one more thing, Vice President Dick Cheney serving in his role as president of the Senate stood before Congress and read the official results of the 2008 presidential election this afternoon.  After reading the total number of votes and with the date the term begins, he got a little surprise. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And shall be entered together with a list of the votes on the journals of the Senate and the House of Representatives – 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That look is priceless.  Cheney was about to move on to other business, but Speaker Pelosi felt like savoring the moment.  And he just had to stand there awkwardly and take it.  Your time is up, big guy.  New sheriff in town.  Sorry. 

Was this Pelosi‘s way of telling Cheney the same thing he once said to Pat Leahy.  No, you didn‘t. 

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Had I been chosen perhaps to run as a reformer on the Democrat ticket, you would have seen an absolutely different and, I think, if you will, a much prettier profile of Sarah Palin and the Palin family and my administration. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That really just happened.  That wasn‘t a puppet.  That was her.  Governor Sarah Palin said things would have been different if she ran as a Democrat.  I don‘t know why, but I believe her.  Things would have been totally different if she ran on issues completely opposite to the that ones she ran on.  It‘s probably true.

With 11 days left in the Bush presidency, it is time for the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s lame duck watch, because somebody‘s got to do it. 

The Bush Legacy Project has been in full swing the past couple of months, with exit interviews from President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney, who yesterday claimed he never exceeded or stretched his authority as vice president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  There was never any question about who was in charge.  It was George Bush.  That‘s the way we operated.  This whole notion that somehow I exceeded my authority or was usurping his authority is simply not true.  It‘s an urban legend.  It never happened. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Urban legend.  Whenever you hear that, what do you do?  You check Snopes.com.  Not an urban legend, it turns out, Mr. Cheney.  These are things you can actually prove.  You expanded the Office of the Vice Presidency more than any other vice president in American history.  You, in fact, tried to create a new branch of government somewhere between the Executive Branch, and its responsibilities, and Congress, and its responsibilities, to avoid, in the middle, being held responsible for anything. 

Urban legends are stories about people dying from mixing soda and Pop Rocks together, or the idea that Marilyn Manson played Pal Pfeiffer in the TV show the “Wonder Years.” 

Also playing the urban legend card, Iraq war idea man Richard Perle.  He tries to claim, in a recent 4,000 plus word manifesto, that the neo-conservative push to invade Iraq never happened.  He says, quote, “about the many mistakes made in Iraq, one thing is certain, they had nothing to do with ideology.  They did not draw inspiration from or reflect neo-conservative ideas.  They were not the product of philosophical or ideological influences outside the government.”

Really?  That wasn‘t the neo-conservatives, it was those darn liberals with another one of their let‘s invade a sovereign nation moments.  Yes.  In reality, the neo-conservative influence on the Bush administration regarding Iraq has been very, very, very, very, very well documented.  Like, for example, in books such as the one our next guest, Michael Isikoff, co-wrote.  It‘s called “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War.”

Joining us now is “Newsweek‘s” investigative correspondent and author Michael Isikoff.  Michael, nice to see you.  Thanks for joining us tonight. 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good to be with you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  First of all, just for background here, what‘s a neo-con? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, it is a bit of a mushy term, and it can mean different things to different people.  But in the context of the Bush era and the run-up to the war in Iraq, it‘s generally described a group of people who argued, rather vociferously, that the assertion of U.S. military power in the Middle East, and elsewhere around the world, could help spread Democratic values and impose American interests throughout the world.  It‘s the use of military means to achieve diplomatic ends that most Americans might agree with in an abstract.  But the question is, means and ends, often. 

MADDOW:  Richard Perle is saying that neo-conservatives had nothing to do with the war in Iraq.  It wasn‘t their idea.  Had they designed that war, it would have been totally done differently.  There should be no historical connection drawn between that movement and what happened in Iraq.  What do you think of that? 

ISIKOFF:  Some of what Richard Perle writes is totally bizarre.  It is consistent with what he has been saying for some time.  But when you look at some of what he said in the article, it sort of makes no sense, at least when you know the historical record.  He suggests, for instance, that he knows of no statements by any neo-conservatives that argued that the war in Iraq would help spread Democratic values, that this was never a part of the case for war in Iraq. 

Well, he forgets, for instance, a speech that‘s prominently quoted in “Hubris,” which was when President Bush went to speak to the American Enterprise Institute in February 2003, AEI being the command/control center for neo-conservatives.  It was sort of where Richard Perle and a lot of others used as a forum to argue many of these cases.  The speech was principally about how if we overthrew Iraq, Saddam‘s regime in Iraq, it would bring Democratic values to the world.  “A new regime in Iraq,” the president said, “would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations.” 

That was a principle theme that the president used in his speech to the neo-conservatives.  There‘s one other document I brought along, which I thought you‘d find particularly interesting, Rachel, which is something that has only become public in the last year or so.  It was a presentation that Doug Feith, Dough Feith being Richard Perle‘s protege, somebody who he was a close ally with and who he helped put in the Bush administration.  He was under secretary of defense. 

It‘s called the Case for Action.  It was a presentation that Feith made to the National Security Council in September of 2002, the Case for Action.  And it argued how “regime change in Iraq could transform the Mideast.  It will remove the incitement to terrorism among Palestinians and will help convince Palestinians that there is no alternative to peace.” 

That was the argument that neo-conservatives were using to advance a war in Iraq and, I guess, in that case, alone, we can see, with some hindsight, just how inaccurate it was. 

MADDOW:  What I thought these guys would do was say, I was never a neo-conservative.  I never in a million years thought they would say, we neo-conservatives never said all these things that you‘ve documented us saying.  They‘ve chosen the tougher denial road to hoe here.  “Newsweek” investigative correspondent and author Michael Isikoff, thank you for your time tonight, and for selecting specific historical documents you think I might like. 

ISIKOFF:  Anytime. 

MADDOW:  Coming up on COUNTDOWN, Keith Olbermann takes on Sarah Palin‘s latest accusations against the media, including what she called the Keith.  

Next on this show, I get just enough from my friend, Kent Jones.  Coming up, Elvis, love potions and the existence of god.  Just another Thursday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Now it‘s time for Just Enough with my friend Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent.  What have you got. 

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Evening, Rachel.  Most of the time bus advertising just sort of washes over people.  Not this one.  Check it out.  It reads “there‘s probably no god.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” 

Wow, this is one of a series of ads being run in Britain by atheists in response to a set of Christian ads damning in non-believers.  Though, if you‘ve ever ridden on one of those buses in London traffic, some belief in a higher power becomes mandatory.  Got to. 

Next, could science some day invent a love potion?  In the magazine “Nature” neuro-scientist Dr. Larry Young writes about studying hormones and mating in rodents and says it may be a similar biochemical chain of events as humans in love.  Says Dr. Young, quote, as we get to know more about chemistry, if we could get the right mixture, we could enhance love or turn it off.  Great.  There will be potions and then anti-potions and you‘ll never know which one to wear or which one they‘re going to wear.  Might as well go back to drinking too much and lying about your job. 

Finally, happy birthday Elvis Presley.  Fans of the King gathered at Graceland in Memphis today to sing Happy Birthday and get a piece of this birthday cake full of millions and millions delicious Tennessee carbs.  Elvis would have been 74 years old today.  Friends say, if Elvis were still alive, he would have looked around at our dire economic situation and bought every American a Cadillac and a pistol.  Problem solved, everybody. 

MADDOW:  And a sandwich. 

JONES:  And a sandwich, yes. 

MADDOW:  And some dope.  All right, thank you for watching tonight. 

“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews is up next.  Good night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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