The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/14/09

Bill Cosby, Jim Webb, Gene Robinson, Kent Jones, Alvin Poussaint

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Hello from Washington.  And thanks for sticking with us for the next hour.

The great Bill Cosby will be joining us tonight.  We‘ve got an update on a “people who lost their job” story that will actually make you happy, I think.  And, we‘ve got an exclusive interview tonight with the openly-gay Episcopal bishop who will lead a prayer of invocation that will precede Rick Warren‘s prayer at the inauguration.  There‘s a lot to come tonight.

But first, President Bush will deliver to the nation his big farewell address tomorrow night.  He wisely avoided going up against “American Idol.”  You can safely bet whatever remains of your life savings that the president will talk about the country being safe after 9/11, which will make a big proportion of everyone watching, and the same instant, say to themselves, “Yes, but what about 9/11?”

Dollars to donuts, he will also remind Americans that the threat against us still exists, and we must use every tool at our disposal to keep America safe, which will make, again, just about everyone watching at the same instant, say to themselves, “Yes, what about those threats we‘ve been painfully aware of since 9/11 that still exist?  What about bin Laden?”

Well, despite the obvious rejoinders, the “We have kept you safe since 9/11” theme and the “Threats still out there” theme, well, that have been two of the three main themes of the Bush/Cheney legacy project by the time it wraps up next week.

The third theme is the “no matter what you heard, we didn‘t torture anyone” theme.  That one was dramatically interrupted today by this headline on the front page of the “Washington Post,” quote, “Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official.”  The Bush/Cheney “We did not torture” legacy tour has taken a detour courtesy of Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the U.S. military commissions.  She decides which cases go to the military commissions and which do not.

Today, Crawford revealed to Bob Woodward of the “Washington Post” that the U.S. cannot prosecute Saudi prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, an alleged 9/11 plotter because, quote, “We tortured Qahtani.  His treatment met the legal definition of torture and that‘s why I did refer the case for prosecution.  It was abusive and uncalled for and coercive, clearly coercive.”  So, there it is, in black and white, from a Bush administration official, “We tortured.”

Carefully consider the source here.  This is not a disgruntled former administration official, this is not Qahtani‘s attorney, this is not a human rights watchdog.  Susan Crawford is a retired judge, a life-long Republican.

She served as general counsel for the army under Reagan.  She was Dick Cheney‘s inspector general when he was secretary of defense.  She is the first and last word in the Pentagon when it comes to prisoner charges, trials and sentencing.

And Susan Crawford, current Bush administration official, says Qahtani endured “48 of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20 hour interrogations, standing naked in a female agent, subject to strip searches, insults to his mother and sister.”  The treatment was physically harsh enough that he had to be hospitalized twice after his heartbeat dropped as low as 35 beats per minute.

Mr. Crawford says, quote, “The techniques they used were all authorized but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent.  This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him.  It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge.”

The end result of that treatment, quote, “Unfortunately, what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.”  Tainted everything going forward.  The case against Mr. Qahtani can‘t be brought.  This bell can‘t be un-rung, in other words.

Ms. Crawford‘s account comes just one day after a former Guantanamo prosecutor declared that the evidence being kept against Guantanamo prisoners is so disorganized that fair prosecutions going forward might be impossible.  He is now pushing for the release of the prisoner he was supposed to be prosecuting.

This is the Bush/Cheney legacy when it comes to fighting terrorism in a sustainable, effective way.  Their legacy is not tallying up the capture and prosecution of men like bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri for 9/11, it‘s wondering whether there will ultimately be prosecutions of Americans—of American officials of the administration itself for what they did to America after 9/11.


PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  Any activity we conduct is within the law.  We do not torture.

This government does not torture people.  You know, we stick to U.S.  law and our international obligations.

VICE PRESIDENT RICHARD CHENEY, UNITED STATES:  On the question of so-called “torture,” we don‘t do torture.  We never have.  It‘s not something that this administration subscribes to.

BUSH:  I don‘t get hurt because we don‘t torture.


MADDOW:  We do not torture.  We don‘t torture.  So, it‘s an awkward position when one of your top officials tells the “Washington Post” that actually, yes, you do torture.  Asked about today‘s bombshell from within, the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, added some nuance to legacy tour “We don‘t torture” language.


DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Let me just make sure it‘s clear and I‘ll say it on the record one more time that it has never been the policy of this president or this administration to torture.


MADDOW:  Oh, it is now not the policy of the administration to torture.  That‘s like a drunk driver saying, “No officer, you got it all wrong, it is not my policy to drive drunk.”

So, what do the Obama administration and the Congress do with all of the torturees if their treatment precludes them from being prosecuted in anything other than a kangaroo court?  And what does the new government do about all of the alleged torturers?  The people who authorized the torture.

And how does the real fight against real terrorist networks look different in a new administration that pledges not only to close Guantanamo but not to torture and not to try to do everything with our military any more?

Joining us now is Senator Jim Webb, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, the Armed Services Committee and the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Senator Webb, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight.

SEN. JIM WEBB, (D) VIRGINIA:  Nice to be with you, I think.


MADDOW:  Well, we‘ll see.

WEBB:  That‘s a hell of a lead-in, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Well, I mean, it‘s the—unfortunately, it‘s the news we woke up to.  I have to ask what your reaction is to this news that the official in charge of deciding who goes to trial at Guantanamo says we tortured this guy?

WEBB:  Well, obviously, for people who care about our national security, this is a loss if this is an individual who really should have been prosecuted.  And, I think, on the one hand, it shows the fairness of our system that someone can come forward and say that because of those sorts of acts that the prosecution wouldn‘t take place.

And so, really, for me, having spent years in the military and in the Pentagon, and having spent time writing also on this issue at one point in my life, it‘s a very delicate balance.  And it‘s true that we do not condone these sorts of techniques as a matter of policy.  I think that‘s a fair thing for the White House to have pointed out.  And when we can clearly show that the line has been passed, then we do something about it because we believe in the integrity of our system.

So, you know, my biggest concern about the prisoners in Guantanamo is the length of time that people have been held without appropriate charges.  That is something that I believe goes against the grain of our system, and I think that‘s where we should be focusing our attention.

MADDOW:  Sheldon Whitehouse, your colleague, senator from Rhode Island has talked about moving forward on this issue regardless of whether or not the White House is looking at investigating—the old White House, the Bush administration, for any role they played on torture as a policy matter, Sheldon Whitehouse proposed that Congress should work on that, finding out if this a—this is something that was, indeed, sort of dictated from the top, and the people who did that at the top of the food chain are the ones who should be held accountable.

Do you think that Congress should work on that, regardless of what the Obama administration wants to do?

WEBB:  I think it‘s appropriate to examine whether those sorts of techniques were furthered as a matter of policy because what they do, in the end, is negatively impact the value of the information that you could obtained.  And, you know, there are a lot of people who were brought into the system after 9/11 who were really bad actors and who needed to have charges brought against them and have punishments put on them that are appropriate to the way that we conduct ourselves as Americans.

And when you use these kinds of techniques as people even like John McCain have pointed out, it taints the value of the information that you receive.  And at the same time, we can‘t forget that there are people who intended to harm the country who were brought into our system.  The question is: How long you hold them before you bring charges and how you obtain the information you use against them.

MADDOW:  Vice President Cheney, Senator Webb, did an interview with Jim Lehrer tonight, in which he, once again, made the case that Saddam Hussein had links to al Qaeda and that‘s why the vice president thinks it was a good idea to invade Iraq after 9/11.  The administration is still litigating this while they are on their way out the door.

Does it matter?  Is it worth rebutting them and fighting with them on this subject or do they get like, sort of maintain their own reality on that issue?

WEBB:  You know, it does matter in the sense that we find that there are significant percentage of people in the country who continue to believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to the events of 9/11, and as a result, that affects the way that we still look at what we did in Iraq.  What we did in Iraq was a huge strategic blunder.  It took our eye off where we needed to go in terms of international terrorism.

We see that now very clearly when the forces of international terrorism have re-centered their mass in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We have enormous strategic vulnerabilities in Pakistan, as you know.  And they affect what we are attempting to do in Afghanistan as well.

So, I think, President Bush has probably been a little more forthcoming on these types of issues of late than Vice President Cheney has.  And they ought to just admit that, strategically, we made an error that we are coming out of now, and that we need to focus our attention on stabilizing that region and examining what we can do, particularly with Pakistan.  It‘s a very fragile situation in Pakistan in many different ways.

MADDOW:  Senator Jim Webb, one last quick question before you, Eric Shinseki on the Hill today, the start of his confirmation process as V.A.  secretary.  Do you see any potential problems with his confirmation?  Or do you think that‘s going to go smoothly?

WEBB:  I‘m on that committee, as you know.  And I said my peace to General Shinseki today.  What the Department of Veteran Affairs desperately needs right now is the kind of leadership that understands how to eliminate the backlogs and administrative difficulties that stand between the benefits that the Congress votes for and the recipients of those benefits who are kind of clogged up in the system.

And I think he is an inspired choice and I think that his experience as chief of staff of the army will really help him in terms of untangling the bureaucratic difficulties in the V.A.

MADDOW:  Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia—see, that wasn‘t so bad, sir.  Thank you so much for coming on the show.


WEBB:  Good to be with you.  Bye.

MADDOW:  Every time we hear the words “The Federal Reserve reported today,” we are trained to duck and cover.  And today was no different.  The economy started they year off in a very bad way.

So, what did Senator Webb‘s Republican colleagues do today?  Now, they forced a delay in the treasury secretary nominee‘s confirmation hearing.  He is the guy who is supposed to be getting the economy back on track.  Former top Senate staffer, Lawrence O‘Donnell, will be joining us to talk about that strategy next.

And later on, we host, exclusively, the openly-gay Episcopal bishop who will be giving the invocation at the first inaugural event.  Yes, before Rick Warren gets anywhere near the president-elect.  Bishop Gene Robinson will be joining us.


MADDOW:  Get ready for change you can look at in line at the post office or in the security line at the airport.  It‘s the new official portrait of soon-to-be president, Barack Obama.  Now, he did not choose to flash his zillion dollar smile.  Tough times, you know.

This is the first time that an official presidential portrait was taken with a digital camera.  After Inauguration Day, this portrait will go up around the country and all the places presidential portraits usually go up.

As a result, there will probably be a glut in the supply of these portraits.  So, if you are looking for something for the person who has everything, expect the prices on these babies to be dropping fast.


MADDOW:  Time for a Talk Me Down you might not see coming.  Retail sales plunged 2.7 percent in December.  You know, that month with all the holidays and the present buying?  That drop is more than double what Wall Street expected.  The Federal Reserve, whose statements used to inspire triple-digit stock market rallies, today stated that the economy starts the year on weaker footing and the outlook is ,quote, “dim.”  Cue today‘s triple-digit market dive and the Dow‘s worst start to a new year ever.

So, is this a Talk Me Down about the economy?  No, I need a break from that futile exercise.  It never works.  Instead, tonight, I need a talking down about Congress, about the Republicans in Congress.  What are they doing in the face of this daily diet of poisonous economic news?  Turns out they are playing the politics.

Tim Geithner, President-elect Obama‘s nominee to be treasury secretary, as you know, failed to pay some of his income taxes when he worked for the IMF and there are some questions about the work permit status of Geithner‘s housekeeper.  Democrats and the Obama team have gone into overdrive in their push to come clean on Geithner‘s mistakes and to get him confirmed.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT:  Is this an embarrassment for him?  Yes.  He said so himself.  But it was an innocent mistake.  It has been corrected.  He paid the penalties.

My expectation is that Tim Geithner will be confirmed and my expectation is that he‘s going to do an outstanding job on part of—on behalf of the American people.


MADDOW:  Among those who say they are ready to forgive Geithner‘s transgressions, Republican senators like Orrin Hatch and John Ensign.  So, a real issue?  Yes, a roadblock to a confirmation of a key member of President Obama‘s economic brain trust doesn‘t seem like it should be.  Except today, Senate Republicans objected to holding Geithner‘s confirmation hearing this week, instead they will hold his hearing after Obama takes office.

According to the Politico, the Senate Finance Committee‘s top Republican, Charles Grassley asked for a few more days to investigate Mr.  Geithner‘s taxes and his housekeeper.  And that means, so long, hit the ground running on the economy.

Now, with all due respect, we are not talking about who gets to be on the presidential physical fitness board or something, and that is very important.  What we are talking about here is the economy.  This is the treasury secretary, this is the guy who‘s about to get all of Henry Paulson‘s power.

Is this political holdup in Congress a really bad sign for what to expect from the minority party on economic issues in Congress—now, even when things are this bad?  This is the subject on which I need a talking down.

Joining us now to try to do so is MSNBC political analyst, Lawrence O‘Donnell, who worked on the Senate Finance Committee and knows a thing or two about confirmation hearings.

Mr. O‘Donnell, great to have you on the show again.  Nice to see you.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It is going to be so easy to talk you down on this one, Rachel.


MADDOW:  Go and make the case and then tell me why this is not annoying .


MADDOW:  . and a bad signal about Republican behavior.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, first of all, there is a rule in the finance committee that you have to have seven days notice for any hearing.  And what Chairman Max Baucus was asking for in this case was to waive the rule.  And a couple of Republicans said, “You know what, we would like to use the rule this time,” and that‘s why it‘s scheduled for seven days from now, “so that we can actually do some homework on this new thing that we‘ve just been told about, you know, 24 hours ago.”

So, in my experience working on the committee, this is a perfectly reasonable response, perfectly reasonable thing for Max Baucus to, you know, happily allow them to do.  I, you know, we‘ve seen this before in Paul O‘Neill‘s confirmation as President Bush‘s first of many secretaries of the treasury.  He had, in fact, a small tax problem like this, a small tax problem involving a domestic worker which he had to get straightened out and paid back taxes on over a number of years, three or four years, as I recall.

This is routine stuff to go through on this committee.  You know, every year when I was working on the committee there, Chairman Moynihan used to traditionally have a hearing around April 15th about tax compliance, which would immediately turn to the extraordinary difficulty that the 30,000-page tax code has imposed on the IRS forms that are used to get us to file our tax returns.  And in those hearings, it was pretty much always revealed that not a single member of the finance committee was capable of filling out his own tax return.


O‘DONNELL:  And so, Orrin Hatch, who has been on the committee for a long time knows that.  That‘s why he‘s having a perfectly reasonable public response to all of this.  And Orrin Hatch is not some lefty Republican, as you know.  Orrin Hatch, when he speaks, represents a minimum of 20 other Republicans in the Senate.

MADDOW:  Well, that‘s part of the reason, though, why I think this is irksome—because nobody is actually making the case that this is a bigger deal than it seems, that this represents a real problem for Geithner.  Nobody on the Republican side is even saying that this is going to pose any sort of serious threat to his confirmation process but yet this delay has to happen.  When this initially came out, Republicans said, you know, “This is small ball.  We‘ve got bigger issues at stake.”

So, maybe the timing here that seems like the thing to worry about. 

Why the delay has now been put into effect.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I think what the Republicans see here is an opportunity, actually, to get a larger and more intense focus on the big issues.  I think they will actually use this delay to prepare a tougher set of questions for Geithner on his role on constructing the bailout that has become unpopular and was unpopular when it was moving through Congress to press him more sharply on the big issues of the future, in his role as treasury secretary with his jurisdiction over TARP funds.  So—and actually, having the hearing the day after the inauguration, I think, they expect will give that hearing more focus than it would have been able to get on Friday of this week, in the ramp up to the inauguration, and have the coverage of the hearing dumped into weekend coverage.

So, I actually think the Republicans hope that they can get a larger focus the day after the inauguration on their first business meeting in the finance committee on these very large issues.  So, I think you‘re probably going to see this, you know, this tax thing, this odd thing in his tax returns become something of the size of the, you know, Clinton financial conflict of interest issue in the foreign relations committee.  In other words, it just kind of disappeared in the foreign relations committee and the focus was elsewhere.  I think you‘ll probably see a very similar emphasis in the finance committee next week.

MADDOW:  MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell, you are officially the second person in the entire history of this TV show .

O‘DONNELL:  I will defend the finance—Rachel, I will defend the finance committee to you night after night.  They are a fairly reasonable group in the Senate.


MADDOW:  Yes, but nobody ever talks me down, Lawrence, that‘s the thing.  And you, I think, have done it, which means I have to come up with some weird prize for you or something.

O‘DONNELL:  Oh, thank you very much.

MADDOW:  Yes.  All right.  Thank you, Lawrence.

Apparently, I did win the guest lotto tonight.  Lawrence O‘Donnell who did Talk Me Down, that‘s big news; Senator Jim Webb.  Coming up: Bishop Gene Robinson, yes; and a little later, Bill Cosby will be here.  Bill Cosby, why I still think of Cliff Huxtable and Fat Albert and the Jell-o Pudding Pops guy, and the guy who made that incredibly controversial speech at the NAACP a few years ago.

There are so many different Bill Cosbys dancing in my head at any one moment, but I will have to chill out to make room for the real one—the real one here in a few minutes.


MADDOW:  Barack Obama made a good number of his supporters mad, really mad, by choosing Pastor Rick Warren, he of comparing homosexuality to incest and pedophilia, to give the invocation at Tuesday‘s inauguration.  And then, the president-elect invited the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, who is gay, to give the invocation at another inaugural event.

I wonder why—I wonder what Bishop Robinson thought about the Pastor Warren invitation.  Conveniently enough, Bishop Gene Robinson will be joining us exclusively here in just a moment.

First, though, it‘s time for a couple of underreported holy mackerel stories on today‘s news.  In an awkward scene this afternoon, impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich made his first visit to his state capitol since he was arrested December 9th on federal corruption charges.  Why the journey out from under his rock?  Well, the man is still governor even if the Illinois House did just vote to impeach him.

And as governor, Mr. Blago-bleep was required to preside over the swearing in of the state Senate, and yes, that is the same state Senate that will be conducting his impeachment trial as one of its first duties.  Blagojevich was greeted by—silence.  He entered the chamber through a backdoor, he took the podium without introduction, and then he banged the gavel to call the session into order.

Despite his often demonstrated love for quoting dead British poets at post-arrest public appearances, today, the governor instead quoted Abraham Lincoln, asking senators to reflect on the idea of “Malice toward none, with charity for all.”  I sort of feel like I‘m always doing this with Governor Blagojevich and poetry, but I have to point out the “malice toward none” line is from Lincoln‘s second inaugural.

Mr. Blagojevich did not choose one of the other great lines from that speech, the part where Lincoln says, “It must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.”  Governor Blagojevich, Governor “Man by whom the offense cometh” stayed away from that part of Lincoln speech.

The impeached governor then exited the Senate chamber through the backdoor, and late this afternoon, the new Illinois House voted 117-to-one to reaffirm their impeachment vote against him from Friday.  The governor‘s sister-in-law was the only no vote this time.

We also have an update tonight on a story completely untouched by corruption or economic meltdown that we know of.  When we last saw Florida State University All American defensive back, Myron Rolle, he was winning a Rhodes scholarship in Birmingham, Alabama.  That made national news because Mr. Rolle, one of the top college football recruits in the country, had chosen to go to that interview in Alabama instead of to his team‘s big, big, big game in Maryland against the University of Maryland.

Mr. Rolle aced the interview, he raced to a plane, he flew over to Maryland, he was on the field before half time and FSU won.  Mr. Rolle finished his bachelor‘s degree in 2 ½ years with a 3.75 GPA in premed and he did independent cancer research as an undergrad and he set up a health and fitness program for Native American kids. 

And now, the update.  Myron Rolle did in fact win that Rhodes scholarship after that interview, naturally.  And the next big decision, of course, was whether he would choose to accept the scholarship or whether he would choose to enter the NFL draft.  That is studying a lot on scholarship in England versus probably being among the first 50 players to be picked in the NFL draft and getting hundreds of thousands of dollars to play football for a living. 

How many people have ever been faced with that decision?  Well, we have Mr. Rolle‘s answer now.  He text messaged the “New York Times” sports blog to say that he has decided to head to Oxford for a masters degree in medical anthropology.  The NFL can wait. 

So congratulations to Mr. Rolle and condolences in advance to anyone stupid enough to sign up and play intramural American football against him at Oxford next year.   

And finally, you may remember us reporting last month on a plucky group of employees of a Chicago company called Republic Windows and Doors.  Republic shut its doors very suddenly early last month.  But the 300 or so workers at the plant refused to leave the factory for six days.  They locked themselves in their former workplace saying mostly they wanted the company to stay open.  They wanted to keep their jobs.  But if they couldn‘t have that, they wanted the severance and vacation pay and health benefits that they were owed under federal law. 

After some national news coverage, after bankruptcy was declared, after negotiations with the company‘s creditors, the employees won.  They won the severance and the vacation pay which was certainly cause for their celebration.  But still, of course, they were all out of a job.  Until now. 

That‘s not a done deal but the story is not over.  And these workers are perhaps not yet done reaping the benefits of their decision to fight for their jobs and their rights.  The union representing the former Republic employees says they are in a final stage, get this, of a deal for a California company to buy the former Republic Windows and Doors company, including the factory and to put all its employees back to work. 

The company is called Serious Materials.  It produces energy efficient building materials.  They‘ve asked the bankruptcy court judge to allow them to purchase Republic.  We reached out to Serious Materials today and its CEO confirmed the story saying he felt bad for the workers after seeing news coverage of their plight.  He wants to employ as many of them as possible to turn their old blue-collar jobs into green-collar jobs. 

Now, the decision rests with the judge hearing the bankruptcy case.  The union and Serious Materials are both pushing for a quick decision because the quicker they can reopen, of course, the quicker they can get on to the task of holding on to their customer base.  Anybody need some energy efficient windows, union made in the USA? 


MADDOW:  At least one of Barack Obama‘s transition decisions has been very good for the business of dentistry.  Yes, dentistry.  Because at least one of the president-elect‘s decisions has left some of his more ardent suppers gnashing their teeth down to the roots.  It was the Pastor Rick Warren decision.

Pastor Rick Warren of the California mega-church, whom Barack Obama asked to give the invocation at the swearing in ceremony on Inauguration Day.  Rick Warren, you might remember, compared homosexuality to incest and pedophilia in a videotaped interview. 

And then in a 22-minute unscripted videotaped installment of Pastor Rick‘s news and views on his Web site, after he was announced as invocation speaker, he denied that he had compared he compared homosexuality to incest and pedophilia, inciting a whole new round of teeth-gnashing, garbage can-kicking and other forms of arrgh!. 

Haven‘t heard much from Pastor Rick since that last video missive.  He seems to be employing an official policy of laying low.  According to a note from Warren‘s publicist that was posted online by “U.S.  News & World Report,” the pastor is refusing all interview requests until after the inauguration. 

Instead, he will, quote, “let his prayer speak for itself.”  The statement also says that Pastor Warren hopes that he and President-elect Obama can model civility as men of consequence in these difficult times.  The two of them, men of consequence.  You know, the word “men” is plural.  Any idea of being of the same consequence in these particular difficult times as the president on Inauguration Day that‘s - never mind.  Sorry. 

In any case, there are six days until Rick Warren gives the invocation before Barack Obama is sworn in as president.  But do you want to know what is fewer than six days away?  The big inauguration kickoff at the Lincoln Memorial that is happening on Sunday, and it is a very big deal. 

This is the site of the customary free inaugural concerts.  And this year President-elect Obama and Vice president-elect Joe Biden will be joined by Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and pretty much everyone else who is alive and famous for singing and or acting well. 

Who is giving the invocation at that event, the kickoff to the entire inaugural event?  His name is Gene Robinson.  No, not that Gene Robinson, although I‘m sure that would have been a very nice choice, too. 

It‘s actually Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.  Bishop Gene Robinson is the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.  He is internationally known.  The Obama transition team insists that Bishop Robinson‘s invitation was long-planned.  It was not at all related to trying to win back the affections of Mr. Obama‘s erstwhile teeth-gnashing supporters who are alienated by the Rick Warren decision. 

Joining us now to talk about this and to talk about Rick Warren‘s invitation and to talk about this great honor is Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.  Bishop Robinson, thank you so much for coming on the show.  I know you‘ve decided to give us this interview exclusively and I really, really appreciate it. 

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON, EPISCOPALIAN CHURCH:  Well, I‘m delighted to be here, Rachel.  And I might point out that my teeth are totally intact. 

MADDOW:  Very good.  Well, but you did gnash your teeth a little bit even publicly over the Rick Warren decision, did you not? 

ROBINSON:  I did, indeed.  You know, being a supporter of Barack Obama doesn‘t mean that we don‘t critique certain decisions that he might make.  And so many of us in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, we‘re just stunned really by this choice. 

But I must say in the intervening days, it appears that Barack Obama is being the person he told us he was and that he intended to be, by including all voices in this inauguration and, indeed, in his administration. 

MADDOW:  As you can tell from my introduction, I am a little skeptical about the idea that your invitation and the Rick Warren invitation were totally uncoupled in the minds of the transition team.  But you have commented since the invitation that you really don‘t think that these were the same decisions.  You think your invitation was planned way ahead of time. 

ROBINSON:  You know, I had the great opportunity to meet then-Senator Obama early on in the New Hampshire primary.  And the thing that drew me to him was his talk of a vision of governing that was not about polarization, but about bringing us all together.  I think it‘s a message that America hungers for and it‘s certainly a message that religious people should support. 

And then I worked behind the scenes with the campaign, particularly advising Sen. Obama around gay and lesbian issues.  And so I think it is really based upon the brief but important relationship that he and I have been able to establish. 

MADDOW:  When you were invited to give the invocation at this first inaugural event on Sunday, how did they approach you and what are all of the events you are going to be taking part in? 

ROBINSON:  Well, they approached me by telephone.  It is a wonderful and long-standing custom.  And we even have telephones in New Hampshire.  It is quite amazing.  No.  I was invited to pronounce the invocation, which is just an amazing honor and then invited along with my partner to participate in the swearing in, in the national prayer breakfast and a number of other private events.  And I think gay and lesbian people everywhere should feel very much welcomed by this administration through that. 

MADDOW:  You were an early supporter of President-elect Obama, I know.  And one of the things that I have talked to a lot of gay activists about since the Rick Warren invitation was issued is that when you compare the Obama -the experience with Obama to the experience with the Clinton administration - as you know, the Clinton administration in many ways threw the gay and lesbian community under the bus, politically. 

Since the Warren decision, a lot of activists I have spoken with have expressed the idea that President Clinton‘s reputation was somewhat redeemed in the gay community because he did keep so many gay people in his inner circle.  There were openly gay people around him.  He was known to be personally comfortable around gay and lesbian people.  Do have a sense of that same personal or personnel inclusiveness from Mr. Obama? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I do feel very confident that this president-elect understands us and stands with us in the issues that are important to us.  Of course, we are going to hold his feet to the fire about that. 

But, you know, as a religious person, no one had a bigger tent than Jesus.  And I must say that I think that the whole notion of a big tent where every human being is acknowledged as being a child of God and frankly as worthy of our respect and concern.  That sort of vision, I believe, is Barack Obama‘s vision as well.  And I long for a government that respects the dignity of every human being, especially those who are less-fortunate. 

MADDOW:  One last quick question for you, Bishop.  The “Windy City Times” has published documents this week that indicates that President-Obama‘s current opposition to same-sex marriage is not a position that he has always held.  In 1996, they have found a document that he signed, that he typed, that said that he supported the legalization of same-sex marriage. 

If it does turn out he has dramatically changed his position on that subject, how do you feel about that? 

ROBINSON:  Well, that would be wonderful.  As you know, all the Democratic candidates virtually stopped short of endorsing gay marriage.  What I do believe about this new president is that he believes in equal rights for all American citizens. 

And in the end, I hope that that‘s where America will move in terms of gay marriage.  Certainly, as a religious person, I will support anything that shows us to be equally valuable to each other and to our government. 

MADDOW:  Bishop Gene Robinson, it is such an honor to have you on the show and I know this has been a great honor for you to get this invitation.  Good luck on Sunday and thanks for joining us tonight. 

ROBINSON:  You‘re very welcome.  It‘s great to be with you. 

MADDOW:  Thanks.  Coming up next, the man who spent the ‘80s in your living room, Bill Cosby, will be right here.  He and I will talk about the man who spent 2008 in your living room.  His name is Barack Obama.  


MADDOW:  Starting in about February of 2007, there was a whole lot of hand-wringing and head-scratching and cocktail party-talking and column-writing and cable TV-yapping about presidential candidate Barack Obama‘s race.  Is the country ready for an African-American president?  Is Obama black enough?  Is Obama too black?  What about the Bradley effect? 

And then, well over 65 million people voted for Barack Obama on November 4th which sort of settles it.  Better than 70 percent of the country approves of the way Mr. Obama had handled the transition period, and he is going to be president in six days. 

So while the swinging and missing in the pre-election analysis, what did the pundit class miss about Obama and race in America?  Could it be the Cosby stuff?  The “Cosby Show” as they say? 

Some sociologists argue that big political sea changes often happen 20 years after big changes in culture.  Accordingly, the theory goes, America was ready for President Barack Obama in part because people like Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington and Bill Cosby broke racial barriers over the last 20 years by appearing regularly in America‘s living rooms and theaters.  They culturally sort of mentally for us broke those glass ceilings. 

Writer Alicia Valdez-Rodriguez calls her theory about this “The Huxtable Effect” after Mr. Cosby‘s famous TV family from the 1980‘s and the 1990‘s.  When Mr. Cosby himself was asked by the Associate Press about “The Huxtable Effect,” he declined to take any credit for Obama‘s ascendance. 

But he did say this, quote, “I‘m just waiting to see what Bart Simpson‘s people are going to do with the next election.”  Personally, I would totally vote for Boobarella or Krusty the Clown in a minute.  But let‘s take one big social breakthrough at a time. 

I recently sat down with the man who created the mythical but powerful Huxtables, Bill Cosby, and his long-time colleague and collaborator, Dr. Alvin Poussaint who is a professor of psychiatry and associate dean at Harvard Medical School.  Their latest book is “Come On, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors.” 


MADDOW (on camera):  Gentlemen, it is so nice to meet you both.  Thank you both for coming on the show. 

BILL COSBY, ACTOR:  I told you we were going to get on. 

MADDOW:  This counts among your many achievements.  We should talk about your achievements.  

COSBY:  No, no.  There are specials and then there are specials.  And this is special. 

MADDOW:  You are both role models.  And in addition to you and in addition to the many other role models among African-American men in this country, we now have the ultimate role model.  We now have a black president of the United States.  Does that mean that it‘s time to move beyond the idea of singular, individual models of personal success, that there has to be some other way that we think about how to inspire wholesale change beyond role models? 

COSBY:  I think that that‘s already happened.  People not only saw the victory, but they saw the march toward the victory.  They realized in the speeches that they heard from Barack and from Michelle, talking about their families, talking about their fathers, their mothers, how they achieved through not being born with a lot of money but working educationally, putting it first - those wonderful stories. 

And I think an awful lot of young males and females see this and they really realize, “OK, man, I don‘t have to play basketball.  I don‘t have to be a rapper.  I don‘t have to be a comedian.  I don‘t have to be an actor.”  There it is.  It‘s about college. 

And I don‘t even - I don‘t even think they think, “I can become president of the United States.”  I think they say, “You know what, he looks good.  He sounds good.  And I want to be strong like Michelle.”  

MADDOW:  Were you two actively trying to change the cultural perception of what it meant to be a black family in America when you created “The Cosby Show?”  Was that part of it - of the idea?

POUSSAINT:  Well, I think we were very conscious of that at the time.  This is 1984, and a lot of other black sitcoms on TV were very stereotypic, if you remember some of them.  And we were trying to create a different kind of image of the black family, one that was positive, one that was loving, one where there were family values. 

We stayed away from stereotypes.  We promoted education.  It was very deliberate because that‘s what you told me you wanted me to help do with you with the show.  

COSBY:  Why are you touching me? 


MADDOW:  You were the number one primetime show in America for five years.  

POUSSAINT:  That‘s right - five years.  

COSBY:  And all I wanted to do was put that show on the air and have enough people so I could stay alive on TV telling the story.  

MADDOW:  I have one last question for you in the brief amount of time that we have left.  About the book, “Come On, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors,” about the speech to the NAACP in 2004, about your work since you have started an entire industry of criticism and debate, especially among black intellectuals, about your arguments. 

Michael Eric Dyson wrote an entire book rebutting you.  Melissa Harris-Lace well, who is a professor at Princeton, gave you a tongue-in-cheek award this week for quote, “mounting his unearned moral high horse and throwing darts at black folks.” 

This is the debate you have sparked - criticism of you that has sparked, but also debate about your ideas.  Do you think this is healthy, intellectual debate, vibrant black intellectual commentary, or is this painful to you?  Does this criticism hurt? 

COSBY:  The debate is not about me.  It‘s about the 35 percent of the people who need to have help that we don‘t help, the people I‘m talking about, whether I‘m on a high horse or not.  Those people are not listening to what I‘m saying. 

And so whether or not I‘m on this high horse, or whether someone is writing negativity, the problem still is, as we speak, some youth in this United States, in some city, is confused and depressed and feeling abandoned because he doesn‘t have a father.  He doesn‘t have enough money to live off of.  Things don‘t look good and he doesn‘t feel good.  

POUSSAINT:  No education and often end up in jail.  

MADDOW:  Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint, it is so nice to meet you both.  Congratulations on the book.  Thank you for coming in.  

POUSSAINT:  Thank you, Rachel. 


MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith asks former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan about the success of Bush‘s magical legacy tour. 

Next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones.  Is Beyonce bad for the economy?  Wow, I really, really hope not.  


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, in Washington.  The Senate passed the legislation introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that would make it a federal crime to scalp tickets to Barack Obama‘s inauguration next week. 

Prepare for a fine and/or a year in prison if you‘re caught reselling or counterfeiting the extremely scarce inaugural ticket.  So if you‘re on eBay and you see two prime tickets from someone in Illinois named Claude Blagojevich, don‘t bid!

Finally, lots of theories out there about what went wrong with the economy, but only one of them implicates Beyonce.  Professor of finance at NYU, Phil Maymin, studied decades of Billboard Hot 100 hit songs and found that the more regular the beat on the Top 10 singles, the more volatile the American market. 

So according to Maymin‘s theory, the success of Beyonce‘s mega hit, “Single Ladies, Put a Ring on It” with its steady four on the floor beat is actually bad news for the stock market. 

America, what we need right now is a number one hit polka.  Do a club mix of “The Chicken Dance” and slow it way down in the end.  The market will thank you.  

MADDOW:  So psychotic beats mean more market regularity? 

JONES: Absolutely.  Yes, we need more of this.

MADDOW:  Spectacular.  Thank you, Kent.  And thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you from Los Angeles tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Good night.  



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