The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/12/09

Guests:
Paul Hodes, Paul Rieckhoff, Edward Larson, Kent Jones
Transcript:

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

President Obama, as you know, just wrapped up his speech tonight in Springfield, Illinois, honoring Abraham Lincoln‘s 200th birthday.

Tonight‘s speech capped, actually, a full day of dare I say very thorough commemoration of our 16th president by our 44th president.  And the speech capped what has really been a campaign and a presidential transition, and an inauguration, and so far, even a presidency built on the idea of Lincoln the idea of Lincoln as the guy, the prime-mover—Lincoln‘s legacy as the defining narrative for who we are as a country.

“We are not enemies but friends,” “with malice toward none,” “with charity towards all,” “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” “a team of rivals”—it is not a numerological accident about when Lincoln‘s birthday is that explains why you have heard these words so much recently.

From the very beginning of his race for the White House, Barack Obama has evoked Lincoln time and time again.  And as Howard Fineman pointed out with Keith last hour, he appointed—he allied himself with Abraham Lincoln‘s legacy even before he started his run for the White House.  When then-Senator Obama—excuse me—announced his presidential candidacy two years ago, it was the weekend of Lincoln‘s birthday, and he made the announcement on the steps of the old Illinois State Capitol.  That is the building where, of course, Lincoln delivered his famous “House divided” speech.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.  I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

Wow.  Put yourselves on the steps of the building where that guy gave that speech to announce your own candidacy—gutsy, right?  Risky.  But from his arrival on the national political scene, Obama has borne that risk, invoking Lincoln overtly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 10, 2007)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  In the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.  That‘s what Abraham Lincoln understood.  He had his doubts.  He had his defeats.  He had his skeptics.  He had his setbacks, but through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was the start of Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign, a campaign he went on, of course, to win.  And on election night, the night that he won, Obama spoke to a huge crowd at a Chicago park named after our 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant, but—surprise—he chose to quote Grant‘s predecessor, again, Abraham Lincoln.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 4)

OBAMA:  As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies but friends.  Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”  And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices.  I need your help.  And I will be your president, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  House divided against itself anyone?  Once all of his inauguration festivities got underway, it was impossible to ignore the homage to Lincoln—from the whistle stop train ride than Barack Obama and Joe Biden took to Washington the weekend before the inauguration that mirrored the same route that Lincoln used in 1861, to the theme of Obama‘s entire inauguration weekend, “A new birth of freedom” that is a line pulled directly from the end of Lincoln‘s Gettysburg address.

The festivities were kicked off with a star-studded concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and when it was finally time for the actually swearing in, Obama chose to lay his hand upon Abraham Lincoln‘s Bible, the very same Bible that was used during Lincoln‘s inauguration in 1861.  After Obama lifted his left hand off of Lincoln‘s Bible, it was time for the inaugural luncheon attended by the new president and members of Congress.

The menu that day was modeled after—you guessed it—Abraham Lincoln‘s favorite dishes, like seafood stew and herb roasted pheasant.  The food was even served on replicas of the china that Mary Todd Lincoln chose for the White House.  All of these tributes to and commemorations of Lincoln inevitably wound toward today, what would have been Abraham Lincoln‘s 200th birthday.

The president and the first lady kicked off the commemoration last night attending the reopening of Ford‘s Theater in Washington, the site where Lincoln, of course, was assassinated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  But despite all that divided us, north and south, black and white, he had an unyielding belief that we were at heart, one nation and one people, and because of Abraham Lincoln and all who have carried on his work in the generations since, that is what we remain today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Obama continued his celebration of Lincoln today with a Lincoln bicentennial celebration at the U.S. Capitol rotunda and, of course, his speech just moments ago in Springfield, Illinois.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It is precisely when we are in the deepest valley, when the climb is steepest, that Americans relearn how to take the mountaintop.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  As one nation, as one people, that‘s how we will beat back our present dangers, that is how we will surpass what trials may come, that‘s how we will do what Lincoln called on us all to do, and nobly save the last best hope on earth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  President Obama has embarked on a clear, unambiguous attempt to make us think about our country through the lens of Lincoln‘s life.  It is kind of a Lincoln legacy project.  But unlike the very real Ronald Reagan legacy project or very funny Bush/Cheney legacy project of late, Lincoln himself doesn‘t really need a legacy project, in the sense that nobody really objects to the idea that Lincoln was a great president, a great American, a great man.  He does not need his image polished.

This legacy project, however, is not to make us feel differently about the man in history, it is to make us feel differently about ourselves.  It is to make us feel differently about our country, about our politics today.  It‘s to make us see some types of problems as quintessentially American challenges, to see some solutions and approaches to problem-solving as quintessentially American and specifically, as the heritage of our American history.

Do we agonize about whether we‘ve got to resources to be who we think we are as a country in the face of financial crisis and scarcity?  Yes, we do worry about that.  And we know from Lincoln‘s life that we, as a country, have faced down much worse challenges of this kind before.  Financial crisis of the 2000s meet the unfinished Capitol dome.  The metal for that dome needed elsewhere for bullets during Lincoln‘s time in office.

Are we now divided against one another, politically and ideologically?  Yes, we are.  And we know from Lincoln‘s life that we have faced down much worse challenges of this kind before.  Partisan warfare in Washington?  Meet actual American Civil War.

Are we capable of reconciliation?  Are we capable of bridging the divide between ourselves as Americans?  Of course, we are.  And we know from Lincoln‘s life that we have faced down much worse challenges of this kind before.

Republican Judd Gregg backing out of Obama‘s cabinet—meet Confederate soldiers walking home free and unpunished in 1865.

The Abraham Lincoln legacy project is kind of put this all in perspective, right?  And the small ball political risk of there being so much Lincoln in the Obama presidency is that, sure, the new president is inviting comparison of himself to Lincoln.  And when you compare yourself to a giant of American history, it‘s hard to avoid looking small yourself.  That‘s the risk.

But the big picture, political reason to keep Lincoln in the forefront right now is to ask everyone else, to ask the whole country, to ask all of us, to keep Lincoln in mind as our own American inspiration.  It‘s essentially a value judgment.  This president is making a value judgment about American history, choosing Lincoln rather than lots of other worthies, Jefferson or Washington or FDR or Truman or Benjamin Franklin.

He‘s made a value judgment to use Lincoln to tell stories about Lincoln‘s life, to tell us about our own history, to try to inspire us, try to inspire the country about our own history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  In the war‘s final weeks aboard Grant‘s flagship, The River Queen, President Lincoln was asked, “What was to be done with the rebel armies once General Lee surrendered?”  With victory at hand Lincoln could have sought revenge, he could have forced the south to pay a steep price for their rebellion, but despite all the bloodshed and all the misery that each side had exacted upon the other, and despite his absolute certainty in the rightness of the cause of ending slavery, “No Confederate soldier was to be punished,” Lincoln ordered.

That was the only way, Lincoln knew, to repair the rifts that had torn this country apart.  It was the only way to begin the healing that our nation so desperately needed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Do you hear the allegory there to today‘s politics?  Wonder who Americans are now feeling some degree of malice towards?  Well, 2/3 of Americans say they now see it as necessary to investigate the previous administration.

You know, malice towards some does not seem to be President Obama‘s interpretation of Abraham Lincoln‘s message about reconciliation, much to the chagrin of many of us operating in the current contemporaneous political context.  You know, already in a presidency that is less than four weeks old, we are seeing this president‘s commitment to Lincoln‘s values being strained, maybe to the breaking point, maybe not.  We don‘t know.

Just yesterday, House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, labeled bipartisanship as so damaged right now that it‘s, quote, “on lift support.”  Obama‘s commitment to assembling a “team of rivals” bipartisan cabinet was dealt another blow today with the sudden withdrawal of Republican senator and would-be commerce secretary, Judd Gregg.

The president, of course, has jerks like me, telling him he ought ignore those on the other side of the aisle who are still peddling bad ideas when it comes to things like fixing the economy.  That bipartisanship is a waste of time, right?

So, what‘s the lesson here—the lessons to be learned from Lincoln?  We‘ve done this before as a country and it was way harder back then.  That is always the lesson when it comes to comparing today‘s current politics to Lincoln.

We have tons of news to get to in tonight‘s show.  We have lots to report, for example, about that Judd Gregg business.  Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still to come, we got an update on the $789 billion economic stimulus plan that is expected to be voted on late tomorrow.  But today brought more news on from, “Hey, could we get some infrastructure over here?”  Another big chunk of America is without electrical power right now.  Five hundred and fifty thousand customers are reportedly in the dark in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Michigan.  In Kentucky, where 30,000 customers are still without power from last month‘s ice storms, a new round of outages has put 120,000 people in the dark again.

The cause of these new mass blackouts—believe it or not—wind.  Yes.  Wind.  Who could have seen that coming?  Wind in the northern hemisphere in February.  Clearly, you cannot expect the richest and most powerful country in the world to have an electricity system that can stand up to something as unexpected as—wind.  The stimulus package allots $11 billion for a so-called smart electricity grid, you know what would be smart?  If Congress took that 11 and added a zero to the end of it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  A little breaking news for you tonight in our nation‘s melodramatic telenovella bipartisan, the breakup or they are just not that into you.  Late this afternoon, Republican Senator Judd Gregg, President Obama‘s pick to be commerce secretary, abruptly dropped out.  I would not describe Senator Gregg as a popular choice for commerce secretary, but still, Gregg‘s decision to withdraw was a surprise.  The timing seeming especially ungracious coming as the president has been sort of savoring his victory on the stimulus plan and as he prepared for his big Lincoln‘s bicentennial speech tonight.

So, there must be a reason for this, right?  A sudden something, a scandal perhaps, something that just came up, something big and newsy and dramatic, right?  Right?  No.  Not at all, apparently.  The news flash that required this announcement today was that Republican Senator Judd Gregg just doesn‘t agree with President Obama on basic economics—all of a sudden.

In a statement, Senator Gregg said, quote, “I have found on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census, there are irresolvable conflicts for me.  Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns.  We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.”

That much we knew before you got offered the job, big guy.  Democratic president is facing financial crisis, conservative Republican commerce secretary.  From the beginning, everyone knew the “functioning from a different set of views” thing was going to be an issue.  What seems weird here is the assertion that the stimulus is among their differences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JUDD GREGG, ® NEW HAMPSHIRE:  Actually, I have been supportive of a very robust stimulus package from day one.  I think this economy has to have a major stimulus initiative because as the only person has got—the only group that‘s got liquidity around here is the federal government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  President Obama is about to receive just about exactly what he asked for a month ago on the stimulus.  So, now, all of a sudden, Judd Gregg doesn‘t like the idea of what he asked for?

At a news conference tonight, Senator Gregg tried again to explain why he is backing out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGG:  The bottom line is this is simply a bridge too far from me.  The president asked me to do it.  I said yes.  That was my mistake, not his.  Maybe it was his.  But it was my mistake obviously to say yes because it wasn‘t my personality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  It wasn‘t my personality?  You‘ve just realized?  I‘m sorry to say this, but bottom line—Mr. President, you are in a nonreciprocal relationship here.  Sir, it is not you.  It is totally them.

And how did the White House respond to the “Dear John letter” from Senator Gregg?  They said, quote, “Senator Gregg reached out to the president and offered his name for secretary of commerce.”  In other words, he asked for the job, we didn‘t ask him.  Sorry.

Continuing: “He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the president‘s agenda.  We regret that he has had—that he has had a change of heart.”

Just before giving his speech tonight in Springfield, Illinois, honoring Abraham Lincoln‘s 200th birthday, President Obama credited Senator Gregg for searching his heart in this matter.  Now, Senator Gregg says his decision has nothing to do with vetting, which may be true.  To his credit, he did not say he needed to spend more time with his family.

But he also did make some news in his backing out today.  He said that

he will probably not run for re-election as a U.S. senator for the state of

New Hampshire.  As recently as November, he had said that he would run for

re-election.

One of the men who says he will run for Judd Gregg‘s Senate seat is Congressman Paul Hodes, who is a Democrat from New Hampshire.

Congressman Hodes, thank you for your time tonight.

REP. PAUL HODES, (D) NEW HAMPSHIRE:  Glad to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  You have already said that you will run for this Senate seat in 2010.  What is your reaction to this surprise withdrawal today?

HODES:  Well, it‘s certainly surprising.  And, you know, I‘m really disappointed.

First, I‘m disappointed for the people of New Hampshire who have been through a real rollercoaster, when we really need to be focusing on jobs.  The governor of New Hampshire announced that he will have to cut 300 state workers; that‘s 2 percent of our state‘s workforce.  And I think the people of New Hampshire expect their elected officials to be focusing on fixing things.

And I‘m disappointed for the president who reached out, as he said he would in the campaign, to build a new kind of bipartisan politics and has had this happen to him on the night before what will be a—I think, a real victory with a jobs and recovery program that is designed to put people back to work, to create jobs and as a down payment on the new infrastructure we need to build a working economy for the 21st century.

MADDOW:  The president has been overt about the fact that he wants to act in a bipartisan manner.  He wants to have Republicans involved in his cabinet.  Despite that expressed desire by the president, it is possible that Gregg right?  That it would have been a bad ideological match, that he is too conservative especially on matters that the commerce secretary touches, he‘s too conservative to fit well with President Obama‘s agenda?

HODES:  Well, you know, it‘s certainly true that it‘s always difficult to bridge philosophical gaps—as you were talking about before I came on, that seemed to have been discussed in the run up to the announcement that he was appointing Judd Gregg, and I‘m sure that the president hoped that bringing Senator Gregg in would help him reach out to the business community and show folks that he really is committed to bridging the gap and bringing us to a new era to work together in the interests of America.

So, there were things to be gained.  But apparently, it was just not to be.

MADDOW:  When you run for this Senate seat, will you run against Judd Gregg‘s record or will you run, or will you run—I mean, obviously, you are going to run on your own record, but do you think that Judd Gregg has been a good senator?

HODES:  You know, when I ran in 2006 and was elected, I ran because we needed change in this country.  When I ran again in 2008 and supported President Obama, I ran because we needed a new direction and change.

New Hampshire deserves a senator who puts people first, who understands that we need to create jobs in this country.  We need to save people‘s homes.  We need to create opportunities with new kinds of educational opportunities.

We have a lot of work to do.  I‘m running for the future of New Hampshire and the future of this country.  I‘m not running against anybody.

MADDOW:  Do you think that the Republicans have the wrong idea about how to fix the economy?

HODES:  Well, I think we‘ve already seen where the Republicans have brought us.  They have been the architects of a failed economy.  It‘s time we got to work to turn things around.  That‘s why I‘m so excited about working with President Obama on the jobs and recovery program that I expect to pass tomorrow to create jobs and help struggling middle class families and help the folks in New Hampshire who want jobs, they want homes, they want opportunity and we are going to give it to them.

MADDOW:  On the issue of bipartisanship, as we all try to figure out what the new Washington is like in the Obama era, we do hear this repeated insistence from the White House that they are not giving up on the bipartisanship.  But what it looks like when we watch the back-and-forth in Washington is that the president is reaching out again and again and again, and the Republicans are saying no.  And sometimes it happened in the form of a unanimous vote by all Republicans against the stimulus bill in the House and sometimes it happens by Republicans nominated for cabinet positions rather ungraciously backing out at the last minute without a great explanation and embarrassing the president.

Is the fight over bipartisanship just a fight about understanding that Democrats and Republicans think about it in different ways?

HODES:  Well, what I think is important is, that we have a president who spoke again and again during his campaign of his deep desire to bring the American people together.  And that‘s in large part what I think the American people responded to.  They want to see us working together, with different ideas and different philosophies, but doing the hard work of dealing with those different ideas and different philosophies and then coming to a consensus.  That‘s what eventually happened on this jobs and recovery package.

I don‘t think the president is through with bipartisanship.  I‘m not certainly through with bipartisanship.  It‘s important to make the effort.  I have good relations with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.  I value their ideas, and in the end, we‘ve got to keep on working at it to serve the American people and serve them well.

MADDOW:  New Hampshire Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes, thank you so much for your time, sir.

HODES:  Glad to be with you.

MADDOW:  You know, it‘s not just Lincoln‘s bicentennial.  Today is also Charles Darwin‘s 200th birthday.  And to celebrate, we are going back to science class.  A new polls says only 39 percent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution by natural selection.  Shouldn‘t we be walking upright by now and like eating with tools and stuff?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Happy Birthday, Abe Lincoln.  Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin.  And all hail to his noodliness, the flying spaghetti monster.  We‘ll have details in just a moment.

First, though, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Today is the first day in a long time that we did not have the political wrangling over the economic stimulus package right at the top of the show.  Did you miss it?

The reason the stimulus package got bumped off A1 at long last is because it seems to be just about a done deal.  And what we‘ve got, it‘s hoped, will result in between 3 million and 4 million new jobs being created.  After all of the compromising and the voting no, anyway, and the pie charts and the moments of pure economic incoherence, the deal appears to be set.

The big picture here—the biggest picture away to understand what just happened here politically, is to consider that a month ago, President Obama‘s economic team said that what the president wanted was a bill that totaled roughly $775 billion.  And because he wanted Republican support, he said he wanted about 40 percent of that to be tax cuts.  So, he wanted 775 with 40 percent tax cuts.

What did he get—after these whole crazy weeks at a time on the rollercoaster with no sick bag process?  The bill is $789 bill with 36 percent of it as tax cuts.  In other words, the bottom line here—the president got just about exactly what he asked for.  The only thing he didn‘t get that he said he wanted was Republican votes—duly noted.

Finally, 101 years ago, in the summer of 1908, there was a two-day race riot in Abraham Lincoln‘s hometown of Springfield, Illinois.  The black business district in Springfield was destroyed.  A poor black residential neighborhood was also destroyed.  Several people were killed by lynching, many others were injured. 

In response, a group of about 60 liberals, only seven of whom were themselves African-Americans, issued a public call for a summit, a meeting to discuss racial justice.  That public call was proclaimed in writing on the 12th of January after those riots which made it the 100-year anniversary of Abraham Lincoln‘s birth.  Which means in addition to today being Abraham Lincoln‘s 200th birthday, in addition to it being Charles Darwin‘s 200th birthday, today is also the centennial, the 100th birthday, of the NAACP. 

Within 10 years of its founding, the group 90,000 members.  By the mid ‘40s, they had 600,000 members.  In the 1950s, the head of their Legal Defense and Education Fund successfully argued Brown versus Board of Education before the United States Supreme Court, ending legal segregation of the races in American schools. 

That lawyer, the guy you might have heard of, named Thurgood Marshall, went on to become the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court.  The NAACP is the nation‘s oldest and largest civil rights organization.  It is currently led by a 36-year-old man named Ben Jealous, of whom I‘m very fond. 

So happy centennial birthday, NAACP.  We would not be the same country without you. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Dennis Blair the new director of National Intelligence delivered a report to Congress today that said, and I‘m paraphrasing here, you think Afghanistan is bad?  It is.  It is really, really bad.  But you think that‘s bad?  Consider how scary the global financial meltdown is, the meltdown that is currently destabilizing countries around the world. 

Tadah.  Just in case you were sleeping too well these days, how many of us have been thinking about the economic meltdown as the potential cause of a global international security meltdown like countries-go-away meltdown. 

Wow.  In the meantime, though, we‘ve got our own - our very own security instability meltdown to contend with in Afghanistan where tens of thousands of Americans in uniform are awaiting tens of thousands of more Americans in uniform as well as a new direction, a new set of military goals from the new commander-in-chief and his advisers. 

The new Intelligence Director, Admiral Blair, today highlighted Afghanistan‘s out-of-control drug trade and in sort of unprecedented-ly blunt terms, the corruption and fecklessness of the Karzai government we‘re supposedly propping up there. 

His written testimony included this quote, “Kabul‘s inability to build effective, honest and loyal provincial and district level institutions capable of providing basic services and sustainable, licit livelihoods erodes its popular legitimacy and increases the influence of local warlords and the Taliban.” 

The first question you should ask yourself after reading that is, so our military mission isn‘t propping up that dishonest and disloyal government, is it?  Is it? 

The city of Kabul itself was a giant visual aid for Afghanistan‘s deteriorating security on Wednesday when the Taliban carried out coordinated attacks against government buildings, attacks that killed 20 people. 

Richard Holbrooke, the State Department‘s new envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, arrived in Kabul today.  We wish you all the best, Sir.  Really.  We really need you to be a diplomacy superhero, OK? 

Over in Iraq, which is now swapping places with Afghanistan in Americans‘ minds as the thing we call the other war.  For the second day in a row in Iraq, Shiite pilgrims were attacked, this time in the Shiite holy city of Karbala with a combined death toll of 20. 

Meanwhile, on the home front, Bombshell reporting about the toll of all of these years of long, repeated deployments for our soldiers and what happens when they get back here. 

Mark Benjamin and Michael de Yoanna(ph) have a reported series in “Salon.com” this week about the shocking rise in the Army‘s suicide rate.  It is now at its highest level in three decades.  The series investigates the number of military deaths, suicides, overdoses and murders.  And it finds, quote, “In most cases, the deaths seemed avoidable if the Army had better handled garden-variety combat stress reactions.” 

Avoidable by the Army.  It is a problem that “Salon” describes as, quote, “unaddressed madness and despair coming home with U.S. troops.” 

There is some good news to report and it comes in the form of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans taking matters into their own hands.  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, in their words, stormed the Hill this week, lobbying Congress on veterans‘ healthcare issues and getting results. 

Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff who is founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  Paul, thanks very much for coming on the show. 

PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN

VETERANS OF AMERICA:  My pleasure, Rachel.  Great to be with you.

MADDOW:  I want to hear about these results from storming the Hill this week.  What did you, guys, accomplish?

RIECKHOFF:  Well, we took dozens of veterans from around the country and brought them to Washington for a week of meetings.  We met with 100 lawmakers.  We held two press events to tell lawmakers what our veterans, troops and military families need. 

We highlighted the need for focus on the new G.I. bill‘s proper implementation and the need for mandatory mental health counseling.  And we called for advanced funding for the VA, which is critical. 

Every year, the VA budget is late and VAs around the country are forced to ration care.  So we‘re happy to see that Congressman Filner and Sen. Akaka stepped up today and introduced a new piece of legislation that has bipartisan support.  They will provide advance funding for the VA and give veterans hospitals, hundreds of them around the country, the support they badly need. 

MADDOW:  So the idea is that whatever the veterans health funding is going to be, you decide it a year in advance, just so that you can plan better so you can have a more ration system.  Are there other parts of the government that are funded this way? 

RIECKHOFF:  Yes.  For example, PBS.  So if it is good enough for Big Bird, it should be good for our sergeants in the Marine Corps.  It is very difficult for these VA hospitals.  I was there with a guy named Sergeant Reneal(ph).  He was a lance corporal the Marine Corps, a Bronze Star with V device recipient.  He has to drive five hours to his VA hospital to receive care. 

When he gets there, the psychologist is only available two days out of the week.  And it is not because of a lack of folks needing care.  It‘s because his hospital has to ration care because they don‘t know their budget will be for the next year. 

It is like trying to plan your family‘s budget if you don‘t know what your next paycheck is going to be.  So this is really a historic piece of legislation.  Every major veterans group in the country is behind it.  And we need the rest of the American people to ensure that every member of the House and Senate is on board in supporting our veterans in this very critical way. 

MADDOW:  This is why people support vets groups like IAVA because you are taking a problem that has headline consequences and figuring the super-boring bureaucratic thing that would actually fix it and then taking time to educate your members on that so that you guys go fix the boring bureaucratic thing.  It is not just headlines.  It is making government work right.  Congratulations to you guys on that. 

RIECKHOFF:  It is.  And it‘s also about taking care of our own.  You mentioned the suicide numbers last month. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

RIECKHOFF:  In January, we lost approximately 24 folks, soldiers in the Army, to suicide.  That‘s more folks than we lost in combat.  So in January 2009, we lost more soldiers to suicide than to al-Qaeda. 

I mean, that is a really, really troubling number.  We‘ve got to get ahead of the curve.  The Army needs mandatory mental health counseling by qualified mental healthcare professionals.  There is a shortage of them at the DOD and at the VA. 

And we need the American public to really rally behind us.  We lost that many soldiers to an enemy weapon system.  The entire country would be outraged.  The Pentagon would be scrambling to do something about it.  We need the same level of urgency around these suicides. 

MADDOW:  Well, Paul, reading Mark Benjamin‘s reporting in “Salon.com” this week - in this incredible reporting, he consistently reiterates that the Army feels like they‘ve got stuff to brag about in terms of how much they have improved on mental health issues. 

They‘ve got a 24/7 hotline.  They‘ve hired more people.  They think in terms of they way they‘ve handled this stuff that they‘ve improved.  But the outcomes just keep getting worse.  Does that mean that the mental health situation among veterans - among recent veterans is just so bad that no matter what the Army does, they can‘t keep it up with it?  Or what‘s going on here?

RIECKHOFF:  Well, they are definitely playing catch-up.  I think the Army realized they‘ve got a very serious situation here.  Tomorrow, they‘ll be doing a stand-down around the country for every Army recruiting station. 

They will take a day-off, do some suicide prevention training because suicide has been very high in the recruiting command. 

They need to get ahead of the curve here.  Gen. Corelli(ph), on a recent press conference call, admitted that they need help.  They need mental health care counselors. 

This is a place where President Obama can step up.  Michelle Obama has also talked about focusing on military families.  He could issue a national call to service and say if you are a qualified mental health care official, your country needs you.  Help our soldiers.  Help our veterans.  It doesn‘t matter how you stand on the war.  You can step up and make a difference here. 

MADDOW:  Paul, last question for you.  Last week, on this show, we talked to Michael Hastings.  He‘s a journalist who has just been in Afghanistan.  He was embedded with U.S. troops on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.  And he talked about spending a night on the border, watching the Afghan border guards who were with U.S. troops there, smoking hash all night waiting for the Taliban to attack and cross back over the border into Pakistan. 

We got a lot of response from serving members of the military to that piece.  Do you think that there is still a big gap between the reality on the frontlines, what is known by the people who‘ve got boots on the ground and the perceptions of the people in the government and at the top levels of the Pentagon who are running the war? 

RIECKHOFF:  I think there is always a gap.  There is always a gap between the policymakers and what we call in the military, the ground truth, what the grunts are seeing on the ground. 

But I do think that is changing.  I think we‘ve got a much more sophisticated conversation going on this town than we did a few years ago.  People are finally starting to understand that troops alone are not the answer.  It is not an antidote to violence. 

You don‘t just drop in 30,000 troops and wave a magic wand and call it democracy and make it look like New Jersey.  It‘s going to take comprehensive effort that include micro-financing.  The State Department has got to get involved.  Secretary Gates deserves a lot of credit for - well, he leads the Defense Department, calling for more State Department resources. 

There are also folks here on the Hill now who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan, congressmen like Patrick Murphy who sits on the Armed Services Committee, Congressman Sestak and others.  And Obama deserves some credit, too.  He‘s put a lot of folks in the new DOD that have served on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I think that will help us understand these issues. 

MADDOW:  Paul Rieckhoff, thank you for helping us make sense of what sometimes feels like a very overwhelming topic.  Paul, thanks a lot.

RIECKHOFF:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Paul is founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  You should check out their Web site, “IAVA.org.” 

Coming up next, we will celebrate Darwin‘s 200th birthday and talk about the flying spaghetti monster, because I like my evolution reporting with a side of carbs. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In London today, they threw a big party at the Natural History Museum to commemorate Charles Darwin‘s birthday.  Men in beards got in for free.  That was just one of some 600 Darwin celebrations around the world.  No special treatment for men with beards around here.  Sorry.  But we are commemorating Darwin‘s day. 

Darwin‘s pesky theories of evolution continue to make for contentious political arguments here in this country.  In 2005, you‘ll recall the Kansas State School Board made national news for its decision to teach intelligent design alongside evolution in public school science classes. 

That debate spawned a third theory to explain why things are the way they are.  It was the doctrine of the church of the flying spaghetti monster.  The theory, the religious belief that a big spaghetti monster, and he alone, created mountains and trees.  And sorry, I‘m quoting from scripture here, a quote, “midget.”

The monster made the trees and the mountains and a midget.  The guy who brought this religion to light was a man named Bobby Henderson, then a 25-year-old student at Oregon State University. 

In a letter to the Kansas School Board, he insisted that if intelligent design was to be made a part of the curriculum, then the church of the flying spaghetti monster had to be there too. 

He said, quote, “We have evidence that a flying spaghetti monster created the universe.  None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it.”

Henderson also gave specific instructions on how his church‘s beliefs were to be taught in schools.  He said, “It is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing his chosen outfit, which of course is full pirate regalia.” 

Mr. Henderson even offered an explanation for some of the woes that afflict mankind, “Global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of pirates since the 1800s.” 

It is all very funny.  A satire, of course, but as good satire is, it was also a sort of perfectly brilliant challenge to the notion that if you are going to say science doesn‘t matter, science is not more valuable than religion, science not more provable than religion, science is just one belief among many.  If you are going to say that religion has to be taught alongside science, then who can judge what counts as worthy religion? 

The whole spaghetti monster theory sort of caught on.  Just last year, siblings in Tennessee built this statue of the flying spaghetti monster and got permission to put it in front of a courthouse in a free speech zone alongside a statue of Jesus and Moses and some chain saw carved bears like the ones I have in my yard. 

What‘s the reason to bring up the spaghetti monster today, other than the fact that I like pasta along with my evolutionary discussion?  Well the new Gallup poll shows 39 percent of Americans say they, quote, “believe in the theory of evolution;” 25 percent say they do not believe in it; and 36 percent say they do not have an opinion.  What would Charles Darwin think of all this? 

Joining us now, is Edward Larson, professor of history and law at

Pepperdine University.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for “Summer for the Gods:

The Scopes Trial and America‘s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion.”  Prof. Larson, it‘s a pleasure to have you on the show.  Thanks for joining us.  

PROF. EDWARD LARSON, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR, “SUMMER FOR THE

GODS”:  Thank you for having me on.  

MADDOW:  From your own research, what do you make of Americans‘ widespread resistance to a belief in evolution? 

LARSON:  Well, this has been true all along, as long as they‘ve been doing polls.  The results come about this way.  About 40 percent of the people believe in evolution and the rest have their doubts. 

And those doubts rest squarely on religion.  It comes from a couple of different sources.  One source is the literal reading of the Genesis account which talks about God creating the earth and all of the animals, all the different kinds and doing it in six days. 

And so if you want to take a literal reading of the Bible, the evolutionary account contradicts it.  But then, even a broader extent, people wonder that if you‘re - if it‘s going to be all chance and all Darwin, then, you know, it questions a person‘s worth.  So people perceive it that way. 

So if they hear from their churches and their ministers and the books they read written by creation scientists or some intelligent design people that evolution has its faults and it undercuts religion.  Well, if they are given - if people are given a choice between God or Darwin, most of them will choose God.  

MADDOW:  In terms of efforts to debunk Darwin or to rebut Darwin, I‘m familiar with those existing efforts right now.  But your search shows that there have been aggressive efforts and organized efforts to rebut Darwin ever since Darwin was around. 

Is there anything that‘s different about the character of them now?  Now, it‘s just we‘re redoing the same thing we have the same anxieties about? 

LARSON:  Well, the anxieties are basically the same.  But if anything, there‘s a growing fundamentalist impulse in America.  So if you go back, the complaints were more that  this undercuts the meaning of humanity.  And there was an attachment to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, and that Adam and Eve were created. 

But there was general acceptance the earth was very old.  Now, there‘s a growing interest reflected in that quarter or more that reject evolution, that they don‘t just reject that humans evolve.  They reject the whole kit and caboodle.  And they believe that the earth was literally created in six days. 

So actually, there‘s a narrowing in the sense that more people are holding to a literalistic belief in the Bible than in the past.  

MADDOW:  Wow.  What do you think that Darwin would make of this debate?  I would think of it as the devolution of this debate.  But that‘s probably loaded. 

LARSON:  Darwin would understand it.  He knew his ideas were very controversial from a religious point of view.  That‘s why he waited so long to publish it.  He came up with the idea 20 years before he published and he worked 20 years to perfect it. 

Not only did he try to perfect it, but he was dealing with a sort of a disputed home because his wife was an Evangelical Christian, who‘s a very conservative Christian, and he loved her dearly.  And he didn‘t want - he feared contradicting her or undermining her or making her feel bad. 

And so he held back for a long time out of respect for her.  So he knew firsthand the sort - from his own family and from the people around him, the sort of opposition this would raise.  And that‘s why he tried to get his powder dry and present it clearly. 

He knew it would face religious opposition.  He was opposed by his early teachers like Adam Sedgwick, one of his geology teachers.  There was concern right away.  So he knew there was concern.  He knew it would take a long time. 

Just think - it took Copernicus 300 years before the church dropped its ban on the Copernican theory of the earth goes around the sun.  And so, I think Darwin knew it was in for the long haul.  

MADDOW:  Edward Larson, professor of law and history at Pepperdine University, thanks very much for your time tonight.  Happy Darwin day.  

LARSON:  Well, thank you.  It‘s been a great day.

MADDOW:  Thank you.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith looks at the anatomy of a smear and how the right wing is trying to scare Americans away from the stimulus plan using the same old tactics. 

Next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend Kent Jones.  Did you know today is also Arsenio Hall‘s birthday?  Swear to God.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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.  While it‘s true that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin share a birthday today, let‘s give a shout-out to some of the other people born on February 12th.  Happy birthday to the pride of St. Louis, sportscaster Joe Garagiola, 83.  Sen.  Arlen Specter is 79.  Rock on.  Celtics great Bill Russell is 75.  Ray Manzarek Doors is 70, break on through.  Arsenio Hall, 54 years old for Arsenio today.  And Michael McDonald is 57.  A hardy “yes, we‘ll be there” to one and all. 

Next, a store in Eau Claire, Wisconsin is offering this irresistible Valentine‘s Day deal - if you buy a $400 pair of diamond earrings, you get a gun for free.  Aww. 

Finally, mark your calendars, this is huge.  February 27th, MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice will perform live in concert in at the McKay Event Center in Orem, Utah, Family City, USA.  The tickets range from $29.50 to $35.  Ice ice baby?  No, it‘s really happening.  Now, wait, no satire here.  No passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. 

Can‘t touch this.  Rachel?

MADDOW:  Are you going to be taking some time off work to head over there, Kent? 

JONES:  I am not saying I‘m not.  Let‘s put it that way.  Once in a lifetime.  

MADDOW:  That is fair enough.  Thank you, Kent.  Appreciate it.  And thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you here tomorrow night. 

“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Good night. 

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