The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/08/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Howard Dean is going to be joining us shortly. Also, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Ron Suskind. As well as Salon.com‘s Joan Walsh, she‘ll be here with us in New York.
We also have coming up: a rundown of all the things that Louisiana Senator David Vitter is famous for. I have to warn you, it‘s sort of a PG-13 list.
But we begin with the revenge of Richard Bruce Cheney. Since leaving office in January, the former vice president, who spent eight years saying very little publicly—since he left office, he has been a veritable chatter box. Over the past four months, Mr. Cheney has popped up in a number of different media venues to dispense his message, criticizing the sitting president, defending his role in authorizing torture, and in his latest appearance: offering deeply, deeply unsolicited advice for the struggling Republican Party.
For reasons known only to himself, Mr. Cheney, this time, chose AM 1100 in Fargo, North Dakota, to get his latest message out, specifically addressing a talk show host named Scott Hennen, who built himself as the chairman of the “Common Sense Club.”
Mr. Chairman asked Mr. Cheney whether there‘s any reason the Republican Party should moderate itself. This is asked, of course, in the context of only 20 percent of Americans currently identifying with the Republican Party, and officials like Mr. Cheney himself being down to an approval rating of roughly that of the black fly in spring.
Here is Mr. Cheney‘s response.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don‘t. I think—
I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate. This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas, and what the role of government ought to be in our society and our commitment to the Constitution and constitutional principles. You know, when you add all those things up, the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy. And I, for one, am not prepared to do that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, yes, the man who shredded his own visitor logs, waxed his eloquence on his commitment to the Constitution. Mr. Cheney then took the opportunity, as he often does, to accuse the current president, President Obama, of endangering the country.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHENEY: I watch what he‘s doing, and especially in the national security which is sort of my first interest. This whole question of detainees and interrogation of detainees and Terrorist Surveillance Program and so forth, closing Guantanamo—I don‘t think the vast majority of Americans support what he wants to do.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: For the record, 62 percent of Americans say they approve of the way President Obama is handling terrorism. That‘s according to the latest ABC News/”Washington Post” poll, 62 percent. That would compare to 47 percent who said the same thing about President Bush at the end of his term.
But overall, I thought Dick Cheney didn‘t care what people thought, didn‘t care about the polls. Remember the famous answer to defending the famous answer to Martha Raddatz when he was defending the war in Iraq?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Two-thirds of Americans say it‘s not worth fighting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So? Barack Obama better check his polling.
Finally, there was a defense of torture offered up by the former vice president, an admission that it was used, but he says it was not used too much.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHENEY: We resorted, for example, to waterboarding—which is the source of much of the controversy—with only three individuals. And in those cases, it was only after we‘d gone through all of the other steps in the process.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: We only use it on three guys. I mean, sure. One of them got it 183 times in one month, but still, we only did it to three of them.
Now that Dick Cheney is out of office and we get to see him on TV all the time, does it ever seem like he‘s sort of following a movie plot?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: If we‘re going to talk about “Star Wars,” we might as well invite Darth Vader.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The reason everybody‘s laughing is because that‘s an old joke at this point. Dick Cheney is starting to seem like he‘s trying to solidify the old-cliched Dick Cheney, Darth Vader, Darth-Cheney idea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We resorted to waterboarding with only three individuals.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Only you could be so bold.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate. This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas and the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Forgive us. It‘s Friday. We had time on our hands. We had an extra intern today. Sorry.
The obvious problem here is that the whole “embrace the dark side, never give in” strategy, it didn‘t really work out very well politically for the Bush administration. But admitting that is very hard. And so the former vice president is still advising the Republican Party to go with that same strategy, which they may yet do, but which is probably a political death wish.
MADDOW: Not to belabor the point.
Joining us now is Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist. He‘s author of the book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” which got its title from Vice President Cheney‘s views on the war on terrors. His most recent book is, “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism.” Ron Suskind is a much more serious person and journalist than that introduction would suggest.
And I thank you, Ron, for coming back on the show.
RON SUSKIND, “THE ONE PERCENT DOCTRINE” AUTHOR: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: You have covered the presidency extensively throughout your career. Is there precedent for what Vice President Cheney is doing right now, so recently after leaving office, taking this kind of role?
SUSKIND: Really none at all. You know, we have this confused situation where we had co-presidents under the Bush/Cheney era. Now, we have one of the presidents, retired to this next chapter of his life, Bush, and then the other president, Cheney, inactive. The vituperative attack on a sitting president during the first 100 days, it is without precedent, certainly, in our lifetime, for a president to engage this way.
You know, most presidents are mindful of the way the electoral process works. There is a new president, he should be respected. Dick Cheney obviously disagrees.
MADDOW: Mr. Cheney has been famously dismissive of opinion polls, famously indifferent to any measure of his own popularity. Given that, provided those things haven‘t changed, what do you think the strategy is? What do you think is motivating him to speak out so frequently right now?
SUSKIND: Well, you know, I think to be fair, you know, Cheney always had his eye on history‘s ledger. Cheney has, of course, had a long, many decade term of service in government. Cheney, I think, was always working about how history would judge him.
In this case, what he‘s doing is what I call and a lot of people call false framing of the issue of the war on terror. He‘s essentially setting up a situation to say there‘s been a change of leadership from the Bush era to the Obama era. Thereby, if there‘s an attack and at some time there‘s going to be an attacks sometime, you know, in our lifetime clearly, Cheney or whoever represents Cheney at that point can claim causation—it‘s because of a change of tactics, it‘s because of whoever is sitting in office is not doing the extraordinary, and obviously conscience-crushing things that we did.
And I think that‘s a false framing based on the evidence and based on what people actually fight the so-called war on terror. Now, a battle against these terrorist cells, really, no one really understands, which is why they‘re upset to hear Cheney talk this way.
MADDOW: Strategically, though, I understand how he might think this will help him and his legacy. I think that framing point is compelling in terms of trying to cast the Obama administration as a rejection of everything that he and Bush did, and therefore, being able to blame them if something goes wrong. But, it‘s also true that him speaking out like this is, I think, really, is hurting the Republican Party, if only by reminding people that he is a very high ranking Republican official and the only one you can get an interview with right now.
Would he choose his own legacy over his party‘s legacy and his party‘s future?
SUSKIND: Well, you know, Cheney has always—has felt it‘s my way as the only way. And what‘s fascinating here is that the Republican Party, without, let‘s just say, a leading voice is kind of defaulting to the voice of Cheney. Many Republicans that I talked to, and, of course, many of my sources over the years have been Republicans—well, you know, they‘re just befuddled and livid about Cheney eating up so much air time.
Remember, that at one point, President Bush had an 89 percent approval rating, in February of 2002. He leaves office, Bush/Cheney, at 20 percent. That‘s 70 percentage points, unheard of, in terms of that span. And Republicans are saying, “Please go fishing, an extended fishing trip.
Someone do something.”
And I‘m surprised actually that a leading Republican, you know, Richard Lugar, let‘s say, the senator or others who have been longstanding Republicans don‘t stand up and say, “Please, Dick, stop doing this.”
MADDOW: Well, I don‘t want to be too totally self-referential here
but I have—I wanted to ask you this, knowing that you‘re going to be on
the show tonight. I have wanted to get an interview with Vice President
Dick Cheney forever, and I know I‘m not “Meet the Press” or anything, but -
I mean, he‘s doing local market mid-day radio in North Dakota.
Do you think that he would just never do an interview that he knows will be really highly critical?
SUSKIND: You know, I do wonder. You know, maybe he‘s afraid of you, Rachel. Maybe, he‘s afraid of the informed question. Clearly, he‘s not doing “Meet the Press.” I don‘t think he‘s being asked.
But it‘s interesting that he‘s out in Fargo. In some ways, Cheney is still in the bunker. Now folks are coming with microphones.
And it‘s really a kind of a lonely, one-man campaign. You know, team Bush, Condi, Karl and the rest, they‘re kind of in a different place.
And you‘ve got Cheney out there, co-president now after their era ends,
after the Bush-Cheney presidency is over. He‘s out doing his own thing as
well, something like a president, but not quite.
MADDOW: I have heard that Cheney may be doing one of the Sunday shows this weekend. And obviously, he still hasn‘t said yes to me. So I might just go lurk in the green room or something.
SUSKIND: You know, that sounds like a nice strategy.
MADDOW: All right. Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, Ron Suskind—thank you so much. Have a good weekend.
SUSKIND: My pleasure. You, too.
MADDOW: With hurricane season starting on June 1st, we still do not have a director for FEMA. That‘s because David Vitter, who you know of because of his hooker scandal, has put a hold on the Barack Obama‘s FEMA nominee. Just to recap, the senator from Louisiana is blocking the new head of FEMA three weeks before hurricane season. That is coming up.
MADDOW: Former President Bush‘s budgets allotted a lot of money for abstinence-only sex education programs. Tell kids that not having sex is a surefire way not to get pregnant, but don‘t tell them any other effective ways to avoid the same outcome.
Given the birds and bees and springtime and prom night and parents going out of town for the weekend, it has been proven anecdotally and scientifically to be not the most realistic approach to the problem of teen pregnancy.
Enter President Obama. His new budget proposes eliminating more than $100 million of Bush era abstinence-only programs while increasing the overall spending on teen pregnancy prevention to $178 million. Priority for the teen pregnancy prevention funding will be given to programs that have been actually proven to work.
Think of it this way. We dated abstinence, but we‘re marrying science.
MADDOW: The base of the Republican Party has a new plan to lead the party out of the electoral wilderness. Their plan is to not change at all. It‘s very crafty.
Coming up: Dr. Howard Dean joins us to discuss this bold new strategy of not changing—at all.
But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
Today was one of those days when bad news sort of secretly-
represented good news—sort of a bad news crust with a good news filling
which is a gross idea. But anyway, the bad news is that almost 540,000 people lost their jobs in April, pushing the unemployment rate up to 8.9 percent. That‘s the highest unemployment rate in this country since the year Nintendo first hit the market. That‘s the highest unemployment rate since the year that Vanessa Williams became the first African-American Miss America and “Ugly Betty” wasn‘t even yet a twinkle in anyone‘s eye.
When you factor in people who would like to be working but have given up trying to find a job, a metric we now called the “underemployment rate,” that‘s now almost 16 percent, which means that one in six Americans would like to have a job but can‘t find one.
So how do we know there‘s any good news here? Well, when the unemployment numbers came out this morning, Wall Street actually went up. Because losing 540,000 jobs in a month isn‘t actually that bad—relatively speaking, relative to how bad things have been.
In the last six months, every monthly announcement about job losses has just been an awful, bloody, kick in the teeth. This month, the kick was slightly less awful and bloody than it has been. What everybody‘s hoping that this means is that the rate at which things are getting worse is slowing down. It‘s a small comfort, I know, but it is comfort nonetheless.
During the Bush administration, reporting on the Interior Department was sort of like reporting on a multi-vehicle car crash combined with a competitive eating contest, combined with that lurid, pseudo-masochistic sex scandal involving the son of the famous fascist who now runs Formula One Racing, if you know what I mean.
The Department of the Interior under the Bush administration was ground zero for the Jake Abramoff, Republican uber-lobbyist corruption scandal. It was also the department where the inspector general says department employees had sex with and took drugs with not only each other but with employees of the oil and gas companies they were supposed to be regulating. That last scandal added the phrase “snorting meth off of the toaster oven” to the lexicon of things we‘ve ever seen in print about the actions of a government agency.
Now, the job of cleaning up the image of the Department of the Interior falls to Obama‘s Interior secretary, Ken Salazar. And it‘s already pretty clear that the department under his leadership is at least good at public relations.
Today, Secretary Salazar climbed up to the very tippy, tippy, tippy, tippy, tippy top of the Statue of Liberty to announce that visitors would once again be allowed into the statue‘s crown. The Bush administration closed the crown after September 11th for reasons that still remain sort of unclear. The reopening is scheduled this year for the Fourth of July.
The way you can tell this is a genius work of PR is because the Statue of Liberty photo-op and announcement were put out on the same day that the Interior Department also announced that they‘re not overturning a Bush administration rule about polar bears. It means that threats to polar bears—an endangered species—can‘t be used to justify big climate change regulations, under George W. Bush and now still continued under Barack Obama.
Consider this a failure to Scrub, Rinse and Repeat. But one that‘s been impressively covered up with ambitious public relations, though.
Finally—Happy Train Day eve, everyone. Tomorrow, May 9th, is the second annual National Train Day, a day that marks the anniversary of the golden spike getting hampered into the railroad tie that joins the two halves of the first transcontinental rail line in the United States. Now that we have a new administration that‘s loudly supportive of train travel, and, in fact, we have vice president of the United States who‘s nickname is Amtrak Joe.
How did Amtrak Joe celebrate himself train day? Well, we hear from one of our infallible RACHEL MADDOW SHOW sources that there was a delay at New Jersey‘s Teterboro Airport yesterday because Joe Biden was flying into New Jersey from Washington. The vice president was in New Jersey to visit construction sites funded with money from the stimulus.
Hopefully, some of that stimulus money will make it into high speed rail projects by the next time Amtrak Joe has to travel less than 300 miles on the northeast corridor. Train Day events will be held across the country from L.A. to Chicago to D.C. The Philadelphia Train Day event will offer tens of thousands of African-American men who worked as Pullman porters in the 1930s and 1940s. There aren‘t too many of them left but their story is incredible.
Google “Pullman porters” if you have a moment, you will not be sorry.
One of the best things about National Train Day this year is that organizers have finally recognized that there is a whole nation out there of people who are big dorks about trains, and I mean that in the best possible way. On the National Train Day Web site, there is a special trainiacs link where train geeks can connect with one another and share videos and photos.
And, yes, I‘m a little bit of a train dork, too. So if you attend any Train Day events, e-mail us a picture at Rachel.MSNBC.com.
MADDOW: If you are not a resident of the great state of Louisiana, and you have heard of Senator David Vitter, it‘s probably because of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JULY 16, 2007)
SEN. DAVID VITTER, ® LOUISIANA: I am completely responsible and I‘m so very, very sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Most Americans were introduced to Senator David Vitter for the first time when he wound up on the client list of the D.C. madam. That was back in the summer of 2007.
And even though he had made a name for himself as a family values politician, who quite literally ran for office on the basis of the strength of his devotion to his family, and even though he publicly put his wife front and center before the cameras as he put his hooker problem in the public record, and even though he has never responded definitively to substantive reports of other patronage of prostitutes not just in D.C. but also in Louisiana.
Despite all of that, David Vitter has not resigned and he is, in fact, running for re-election next year. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, he has got a few potential challengers. The one who has received the most press attention thus far is an adult film star named Stormy Daniels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNN)
STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM STAR: And I guess the biggest difference is, I‘m open with my sexual activities. And I might be a porn star but I haven‘t done anything illegal. And I guess, the big question is—not just why is David Vitter in office, but why is he not in jail?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In addition to the adult film star, Mr. Vitter is facing more traditional challengers in his re-election as well. Plus, a persistent head wind in making any sort of national political news that doesn‘t cause people to snicker. Mr. Vitter, for example, was probably not the best choice to have introduced the national holiday proposal for the Tax Day teabagging protests.
Senator Vitter now thinks he has found an issue on which he could get some attention and maybe raise some money for his re-election effort. On his Web site, right next to the photo of him and the family and the “donate, donate, donate, donate, donate, donate, donate right here, donate, donate” button, Senator Vitter is promoting the fact that he‘s put a hold on the nomination of the man nominated by President Obama to be the new director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
That nominee is Craig Fugate. He‘s an experienced emergency management pro. He‘s been in charge of Florida‘s emergency management through at least four hurricanes. Fugate was appointed to the job in Florida by Republican Governor Jeb Bush. His appointment was applauded, not only—his nomination, excuse me, was applauded not only by Bush but by other hurricane belt Republicans like Congressman Jeff Miller and Senator Mel Martinez.
Reacting to the news that his Republican colleague, Senator Vitter, was putting a hold on Fugate‘s nomination, Senator Martinez told the “St. Petersburg Times,” quote, “He needs to be in there. Some people utilize the nomination process as a way of making a point or getting attention.”
Or maybe in this case, raising money and getting people to talk about something related to David Vitter that isn‘t also related to hookers.
Joining us now is Christopher Tidmore, associated editor for “The Louisiana Weekly” and a radio host on KKAY. He also ran for Louisiana state legislature in 2007 as a Republican.
Mr. Tidmore, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
CHRISTOPHER TIDMORE, LOUISIANA WEEKLY: Rachel, it‘s always—I‘m a great fan. It‘s great to be on your show.
MADDOW: Thank you very much
Hurricane season less than three weeks away. The capability of FEMA
MADDOW: Twenty-one days, that‘s right. Capability of FEMA, for obvious reasons, is a very important issue in Louisiana. Are there any substantive objections that you know of to Craig Fugate being head of FEMA?
TIDMORE: Craig Fugate is the GOP anti-Brownie. He‘s about the most qualified person in America, and what I find kind of astonishing and what many local Republicans in Louisiana find perturbing is he‘s studied what happened after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in Louisiana. He knows the situation. He knows the problems and he‘s eminently qualified, and heck, he was Jeb Bush‘s emergency director.
So, what Mr. Vitter‘s objections are I don‘t think it has anything to do with Mr. Fugate. I think it has to do with his re-election chances and trying to make a little news here in Louisiana against Barack Obama.
MADDOW: Senator Vitter claims that he‘s blocking the nomination because he wants answers from FEMA on some rebuilding projects in Cameron Parish and Grand Isle. Has Senator Vitter been known for being an outspoken champion for those projects before this?
TIDMORE: Rachel, there have been many Republican members of the Congress that have fought for dollars, Steve Scalise, Joseph Cao. In the Cameron Parish area, the congressman from that area, you got Democrats like Charlie Melancon. Frankly, David Vitter has not been very vocal on the issue of needing to get more money.
The example I‘ll use is one in the New Orleans area, where there‘s a hospital called Charity that was completely devastated by the storm. It needs a half billion dollars to become a university medical center. Without it being repaired, a lot of people aren‘t getting health care in the New Orleans area, David Vitter was asked to participate and talk to FEMA about this money, he did nothing, when a lot of other Republican congressmen, members of the House, were very vocal on this issue, mainly Joseph Cao, most recently, with President Obama.
What you‘ve got to remember about what Vitter is doing, Rachel, is the fact that frankly, not only is he looking to face Stormy Daniels, there are several other Republicans looking to run against him in the GOP primary here in Louisiana, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, potentially others in the field—even John Kennedy has made a few noises about potentially getting back into it.
What you‘ve got to do is - he‘s trying to raise money. And the E-mail that he sent out that said, “I‘m not playing politics. I‘m not doing that. I‘m worrying about the people of Louisiana,” he put on the side of it, putting Louisiana first.
There was just one problem, if you click that hyperlink, it went to the campaign fundraising site of his campaign Web site. It was mendacious politics.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: James Lee Witt, who was the very respected director of FEMA under Bill Clinton - he sent a letter to Mr. Vitter suggesting that confirming Craig Fugate(ph) might actually help address the issues in Louisiana that he has concerns about. James Lee Witt is obviously a very influential figure in this field.
Is that reaction to this sort of shared? Or do you think that Vitter actually is getting some traction out of this? Because as you‘ve noted, there is some popularity to be found in Louisiana Republican circles at just taking on Barack Obama in some way or another.
TIDMORE: Of course. I mean, this is very attractive to Republican primary voters, and particularly to the very contributors, the small contributors that they‘re shooting at.
But what you‘ve also got to remember is around Louisiana, even in senior Republican circles, the question has been asked, “Well, if we need to get the money, wouldn‘t it make more sense to have Mr. Fugate show up before a committee hearing and ask him, ‘Well, we need money for Grand Isle(ph). We need money for levees. We need money for hospitals. We need money to rebuild Cameron Parish,‘ and actually see if we can get these dollars that have been held up for so long?”
What I worry about, Rachel, as a Republican, is how this is affecting the Louisiana Republican Party, but also the national GOP. Because this is reminding people of how badly a Republican administration communicated across party lines, across elected lines, and the total breakdown of communication that existed at Hurricane Katrina.
It‘s basically a very negative flashback. And David Vitter is not doing his party, much less his state, very much of a helping hand.
MADDOW: Christopher Tidmore, associated editor for “The Louisiana Weekly,” radio talk show host in Louisiana, thank you so much for joining us tonight, Christopher. It‘s nice to meet you. It‘s nice to have you on the show.
TIDMORE: Pleasure, Rachel. Thank you much.
MADDOW: Coming up, every time a Republican leader gets a twinkle in his eye about maybe getting less super-duper socially conservative in order that they might get more people to vote for them, the super-duper socially conservative crowd hits them across the nose with a rolled up newspaper pull them over the right.
Dr. Howard Dean is coming up to talk about radicalization and the Republican Party.
MADDOW: I only got as far as high school physics, which I regret. But I do remember even from high school physics that gravity, the earth‘s gravitational pull, causes things to accelerate downward at a rate of 9.8 meters per second - per second. So in other words, you accelerate at 9.8 meters per second squared. It‘s just one of those numbers that I remember, like pi, right?
Well, given Arlen Specter and New York‘s 20th Congressional District, and every poll taken since the election, the Republican Party appears to be in the grips of a force stronger than gravity. It‘s going more poorly, more quickly every day.
The unanswered question on the Republican political physics exam has been to pull out of their straight down, doom dive. Should they turn to the left and toward the middle? Or should they turn to the right and toward the way right?
OK. Pencils down. Republicans have answered. The Republican Party chooses the right turn. When house minority whip Eric Cantor rolled out the National Council for a New America this past week, a new Republican working group that did not include abortion or gay marriage in its press release platform, the Family Research Council‘s Tony Perkins responded by striking out at them, saying, quote, “The effort only underscores the Republicans‘ present identity crisis as the GOP leadership kicked off the campaign devoid of the values that once caused voters to identify with the party. Too many Republican leaders are running scared on the claims of the left and the media that social conservatism is a dead-end for the GOP.”
2008 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also accused the Eric Cantor group of summarily dismissing values voters. Well, now Mr. Canter appears to be answering his critics. But he‘s not defending the effort to build a new Republican brand around issues other than, say, abortion and opposing gay rights. Rather, he says he agrees with those who are criticizing him.
We called congressman cantor‘s office today and his spokesperson told us, quote, “Values issues and social issues are woven through everyone‘s daily lives and are certainly topics of discussion here. That was made very clear from the outset.” In other words, I think - “Right-wing base, please don‘t go away.”
Then of course there‘s RNC chairman Michael Steele, who many thought would be a moderating force for the party. Not only has he not yet been that force, he has developed a very, very, very bad sales pitch for anyone who is moderate, recently saying, quote, “All you moderates out there, you all come. The message of the party is this is a big table for everyone to have a seat. Understand that when you come into someone‘s house, you‘re not looking to change it. You come in because that‘s the place you want to be.” In other words, I think, “You can be here, you should just expect to have no impact on what here is. Welcome.”
The Republican Party is taking what appears to be a very hard right turn right now. But the grades on this physics exam, of course, won‘t officially be out until 2010.
Joining us now is Howard Dean, former DNC chair and former governor of Vermont. Gov. Dean, thank you so much for coming on the show.
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION CHAIRPERSON: Thanks for
having me on, Rachel.
MADDOW: When you took over the DNC, when Democrats were way, way, way out of power in Washington, did have you this same fight inside the Democratic Party about whether or not to make the party smaller but more pure? Or is this specifically a Republican dynamic?
DEAN: Well, to defend the Republicans for half a minute -
DEAN: That fight had already been had and Bill Clinton‘s presidency solved that problem. We were pretty cemented to a more moderate, center-left kind of position. The problem we did have - we had two problems. One was we didn‘t have a message. And Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and I worked very hard to get one. And we worked very hard on that.
Two, there were an awful lot of Democrats who thought the way to win elections was to behave like Republicans. And that really was proved repeatedly that that didn‘t work.
The Republicans are not there yet. They‘ve got enormous problems. Here‘s the really bad part for all this. Every time Eric Cantor or Michael Steele tries to stand up and exercise their leadership - and these are elected leaders of the Republican Party - they immediately apologize abjectly to people like Rush Limbaugh and Tony Perkins who haven‘t been elected by anybody.
So I know the Democrats had a lot of fun with Rush Limbaugh as the party chair. But he appears to actually be the party chair. It‘s an embarrassment. Cantor did the right thing. He said, “We‘re going to go on a listening tour.” Limbaugh comes out and says, “Oh, no. We should be on a teaching tour.” And the next day, Cantor says, “That‘s what I meant, a teaching tour.”
That is not leadership. If your elected leadership behaves like that, nobody is going to believe the Republicans are ready to lead the country if they can‘t get Rush Limbaugh and Tony Perkins to follow. It‘s crazy.
MADDOW: What are they so afraid of? I mean, it seems from the outside, and I‘m very much outside that world of course. It seems the right wing has more bark than bite. But I think Eric Cantor and guys like Michael Steele are smart, and that they must be afraid of something, if they‘re caving so quickly and so embarrassingly on all these statements.
DEAN: Look, politicians in Washington are what I call risk aversive and rapid adapters. Somebody‘s going to come along and face down Rush Limbaugh and Tony Perkins. But until that person, whoever it is, does and it‘s probably not likely to be somebody from inside Washington, everybody in Washington is going to be kowtowing and afraid.
The way you get not to be afraid is to stand up and say who you are. And there is no willingness in elected officials in the Republican Party to do that yet. They know what they should be doing but they just don‘t have the you-know-what to do it. And that‘s a prescription for somebody who‘s going to get elected to much.
MADDOW: One person who has stood up recently and hasn‘t caved despite being attacked for it and actually being told to get out of the party this week by Rush Limbaugh is COLIN POWELL. Colin Powell obviously doesn‘t seem to be running for anything, has never seemed to be running anything, doesn‘t seem to be looking to get back into Washington politics anyway, but he‘s not backing down.
And I cite him specifically because I literally know of no one else so cite. Is he a potential path through this for them. Does he represent anything, either by example or in fact, that they could follow?
DEAN: Well, he represents - by example, he represents a great American, whatever his party is, who has, of course, served America with a great deal more valor than Rush Limbaugh ever has. But he is not the way out for the Republican Party because he voted for Barack Obama for exactly the reason that he was tired of kind of the hate and bigotry approach to getting votes.
That is a very quickly shrinking base, but it is a very powerful base inside the Republican Party. And they seemed absolutely destined to march to the abyss. Look, I served with Mike Huckabee and I personally like him. But Mike Huckabee is interested in getting the nomination. This nomination is not going to be worth having if you have to get it by catering to people like Rush Limbaugh and Tony Perkins. It‘s just not going to happen.
MADDOW: Gov. Dean, one last quick question. Chuck Hagel, Kit Bond, Mel Martinez, Arlen Specter, Chris Shays, Lincoln Chafee - thinking about all these somewhat moderate Republicans that have either jumped or been pushed or opted not to run again. What does that mean for people like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe? Is there any future for moderate Republicans? Or are they going to get pushed out of the party?
DEAN: No, I think there‘s a future for moderate Republicans. One thing about ideologues, eventually, people in Washington realize what they have to do to win, and politicians want to win. And they‘re pretty much, unfortunately, willing to say whatever it takes.
And eventually, it‘s going to become plain to the Republicans, as it became plain to us in the 1970s, that if you‘re too far to one side or the other, you just can‘t win.
I think we‘re in a great place. We‘ve got a great president that is incredibly articulate. He gets that he has to be the president of all the American people. But moderates and liberals in our party are pretty happy with him 90 percent of the time. He‘s doing exactly the right thing. And eventually, the Republicans will find somebody.
But the far right is making it very difficult. And the inability of the elected leadership to stand up to the far right is only going to postpone the ability of the Republicans to come back.
MADDOW: Former Vermont Governor and DNC Chairman Howard Dean - Gov. Dean, you‘re a great guest and a real trouper for coming out on Friday night to be on the show. Next time you‘re in New York, come co-host with me, won‘t you?
DEAN: I‘d love that. And it is a fun show. I particularly enjoyed Stormy Daniels‘ remarks.
MADDOW: I think a lot of people feel the same way. Thank you, governor.
See you soon.
DEAN: I bet she gets a lot of votes in Louisiana, too.
MADDOW: If she can make it there, she‘ll make it anywhere, right? Thanks.
DEAN: That‘s right.
MADDOW: Good night. All right. Someone in the Bush White House massively screws up, say, the war in Iraq, right? They get the Medal of Freedom. Someone in the Obama White House massively screws up a photo op. That guy hits the bricks within two weeks. A fairly dramatic resignation at the White House today - stay tuned for that.
MADDOW: As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, RNC Chairman Michael Steele filled in for Bill Bennett on his radio show today, in which he delivered a message for President Obama‘s still nonexistent but presumptively way too empathetic nominee for the Supreme Court.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION: I don‘t need some judge feeling bad for my opponent because of their life circumstances or their condition and short-changing me and my opportunity to get fair treatment under the law. This crazy nonsense, ‘empathetic.‘ I‘ll give you empathy, empathize right on your behind.”
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Empathize right on your behind. I have registered that domain today - “empathizerightonyourbehind.com.” Now, I will be rich, rich at last.
MADDOW: The White House today released a photo of the ill-conceived, low-over-lower-Manhattan Air Force One fly-by two weeks ago. Pictured, the beautiful and once again fully-open to visitors Statue of liberty and always open New Jersey.
Not pictured? Terrified workers and residents in lower Manhattan and Jersey City having traumatic associative reactions to seeing a jumbo jet accompanied by an F-16 buzzing essentially Ground Zero.
President Obama put out word that he was furious when he heard about that extra stupid gaffe. He called it a mistake. He said it wouldn‘t happen again. He ordered an internal review last week.
That review was completed Tuesday. It was released publicly today accompanied by the resignation of the White House aide who authorized the stupidity, Louis Caldera. President Obama accepted the resignation.
And now, a moment of gratifying contrast. President Obama rewards a complete snafu by showing the culprit the door. When then FEMA director Michael Brown was in the process of botching the federal response to Katrina, how did President Bush respond?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And after covert CIA officer Valerie Plame‘s identity was leaked
to the press -
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: If there‘s a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. If the person has violated laws, the person will be taken care of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He meant taken care of, literally, in the sense that he would have his sentence commuted. Elections have consequences, all kinds of consequences.
Joining us now to discuss this, Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of “Salon.com.” Joan, it is great to see you. Thanks for coming in.
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, “SALON.COM”: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Am I being too Sally Sunshine here about this accountability contrast?
WALSH: I don‘t think so. I felt the same way. I mean, you and I have both been critical of Obama when he deserves it, certainly on torture. But this was a great contrast. You know, Alberto Gonzales also kept his job way too long, Donald Rumsfeld - you go down the list.
This is a terrible mistake. It scared a lot of people. It‘s also crazy. I mean, you know, he has great photo ops - Obama. We didn‘t need this one.
WALSH: So I think it was great. The head did not roll the first day.
They did an investigation. I‘m sure you read the report.
WALSH: It is really kind of embarrassing. But I think it was a good thing for the administration.
MADDOW: Does this experience tell us anything larger about how Obama handles governing in the inevitable mistakes that happen in government?
WALSH: I think it does. Because I think, you know, he could have scapegoated Caldera the first day. And Caldera did come out and say - you know, he took responsibility which was good. But I think it was important to have the inquiry, you know. And we got to read the incredible snafus and back and forth and Caldera didn‘t get the E-mail because it went to the wrong account. And those things shouldn‘t happen at that level.
But I think it was good to know that‘s what happened, that some flunky wasn‘t being scapegoated. I think it sets a good example and a good precedent.
MADDOW: We know from that report and - we should say, it is only about seven pages long. Anybody can read it.
WALSH: Yes. It‘s easy to read.
MADDOW: Well, I‘ll post a link to it at “Rachel.MSNBC.com” tonight so people can find it. But the deputy director of the office in question wrote in an E-mail to Caldera that the operation would probably get some local press, but also said the White House shouldn‘t catch any questions about it, which obviously was completely wrong.
MADDOW: But it does raise the issue of how the White House is handling this as a Pr nightmare. We‘ve talked about how it handled it as a personnel matter. As a PR matter, did they do enough right?
WALSH: Well, I think - I mean, if you read the memo, they were supposed to notify local authorities and actually have a PR strategy that this is going to happen. There was supposed to be, you know, warning to citizens. It looked like in the memo.
And because of the failure to communicate between the director and deputy director, nothing really happened. My favorite part, I think, of the memo is when they say Rahm Emanuel walked into the room and asked if the White House has been notified and you know that‘s not how he exactly said it.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly.
WALSH: So it‘s been a tough couple weeks over there.
MADDOW: On PR issues, Joan, do you think that the White House should be responding to some of the extremist claims about the president? You know, he‘s a socialist, that he‘s not American - all of these things. They came up in the campaign. There is a different calculus about what to respond to and what not to respond to when you‘re president as opposed to when you‘re running.
WALSH: Absolutely -
MADDOW: Do you think he should respond?
WALSH: I think he should respond to some things. But I think he shouldn‘t dignify the idiotic claims of socialism. But, you know, in this case the right-wing blogosphere went nuts about this. This is just a big terrible snafu for this guy who thinks he‘s a celebrity and everything else. But we did need to know who was responsible and there just needs to be accountability.
MADDOW: Which he found out and it was resolved.
WALSH: It‘s done.
MADDOW: Yes. I guess that‘s how it works.
WALSH: I think so. It‘s new.
MADDOW: Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of “Salon.com,” it‘s great to see you here in person. Thanks for coming in.
WALSH: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up on “Countdown,” Mr. Olbermann previews this weekend‘s White House correspondents‘ dinner. Next on this show, my friend Kent Jones gives us the “Weak in Review.” It‘s really good tonight, I promise.
MADDOW: It is time to make sense of the most senseless in public lameness, to make clear the unclear of the last seven days. As always, our chief absurdity and schadenfreude correspondent, Kent Jones, has the story.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Why, thank you, Rachel. Spring is in bloom and there is much weakness afoot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES (voice-over): First up, “hard ball of the weak.” Tom Hanks was in Tokyo promoting his new movie “Angels and Demons” and asked to throw out the first pitch at a Yomiuri Giants baseball game.
So here is Tom Hanks on the mound representing America‘s favorite national pastime and - oh! Come on, Tom. There‘s no crying in baseball. Weak!
Next, “rationalization of the weak.” Insurance behemoth/uber-flop AIG filed a report with the SEC yesterday. And guess who they blamed for its epic fail? The media. Who else? Quote, “Adverse publicity and public reaction to events concerning AIG has had and may continue to have a material adverse effect on AIG.”
Aww. Adverse publicity? And what kind of publicity were you expecting after sponging up $182 billion in federal bailout money? I‘ll see your adverse publicity and raise you one. Weak!
Finally, “fashion cops of the weak.” In New Orleans, this man, Jeremy Kerr, is suing the police department saying a cop harassed him for wearing a skirt to court.
JERRY KERR, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: He yelled, “You stop now! You stop right now!” He came up behind me and grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me around. And he says, “You‘re going to tell me right now why you‘re wearing a skirt or I‘ll place you under arrest.”
MADDOW: A straight photographer with a PhD - he says wearing a skirt is part of his Scottish heritage. And plus, the chicks dig it. Persecuting a man for being comfortable down there - weak!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Spectacular. Spectacular. I can‘t believe you have footage of him on a motorcycle.
JONES: Very comfortable.
MADDOW: Oh, yes, I imagine.
JONES: Very comfortable.
MADDOW: All right. Cocktail moment is brief and perfect today. Kent, from “Wonkette.com” today, we have inexplicable video of Bill Richardson dancing this week.
JONES: At last!
MADDOW: Yes. It‘s him. I believe it‘s Monday night.
JONES: Oh, yes.
MADDOW: I can‘t explain it. There it is. Just because.
JONES: Work it.
MADDOW: Thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you again Monday.
“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>