The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 07/28/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Governor Dean. You made it look very, very easy. Thank you so much. Great to see you.
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: I don‘t know what you guys get paid, but you more than earn your money.
MADDOW: Thanks, Gov. We‘ll see you tomorrow.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Today, a new conspiracy theory got its wings. The president of the United States trying to talk about health care reform today but instead having to respond personally to a plot that is not quite “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” but it‘s pretty close.
Also tonight, we have the confluence of “Birtherism” with C Street and the Family. Jeff Sharlet will be here.
Plus, we got news from Cuba, we got news from Iraq, and we‘ve got some very dramatic news from a swimming pool in Italy.
It is all coming up over the course of the next hour.
But here‘s where we begin: If you thought it was a little weird that the White House press secretary had to answer a birther question at the daily press briefing yesterday, the question about whether the president was really born in America—well, today the lunatic fringe one-upped that weirdness by forcing not just the White House press secretary but the president himself, to have to answer a question from maybe even further out in right field. It was during a town hall meeting on health care today that was hosted by AARP.
Check out this question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have heard lots of rumors going around about this new plan, and I hope that the people that are going to vote on this is going to read every single page there. I have been told there is a clause in there that everyone of Medicare age will be visited and told how to decide how they which to die. This bothers me greatly and I want you to promise me that this is not in this bill.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, the—I guarantee you, first of all, we just don‘t have enough government workers to send—to talk to everybody. To find out how they want to die. I think that the only thing that may have been proposed in some of the bills and I actually think this is a good thing—is that it makes it easier for people to fill out a living will.
So I actually think it‘s a good idea to have a living will. I would encourage everybody to get one. I have one. Michelle has one. And we hope we don‘t have to use it for a long time. But I think it‘s something that is sensible.
But, Mary, I just want to be clear, nobody‘s going to be knocking on your door. Nobody‘s going to be telling you, you‘ve got to fill one out, and certainly, nobody‘s going to be forcing you to make a set of decisions on end-of-life care based on, you know, some bureaucratic law in Washington. That would be kind of morbid.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The president of the United States today answering whether or not he wants health care reform because it secretly a plan to kill old people.
This is one of those moments where you go, “Huh, any questions?” Most of all, it‘s just a big misunderstanding, right? It‘s like a “Three‘s Company” plot line. What‘s really going on, the government is encouraging people to get living wills, which they have been doing without controversy for 20 years.
But then Christie and Janet got it in their heads, that it‘s not about living wills. It‘s about killing all of the old people—panic, panic. And then we realize it‘s all just a big misunderstanding. We‘re all glad the president can play the part of, I guess, Mr. Roper here and clear up the misunderstanding.
But, you know, then it turns out that this isn‘t a “Three‘s Company” plot misunderstanding. This is not one isolated question from one confused, isolated town hall questioner. This is actually sort of a tip of the iceberg here. It‘s a whole new crazy conspiracy theory, unfolding where the craziest of them seem to be unfolding these days—among Republicans members of Congress speaking on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. I am not kidding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. VIRGINIA FOXX ®, NORTH CAROLINA: Republicans have a better solution that won‘t put the government in charge of people‘s health care, that will make sure we bring down the cost of health care for all Americans, and that insures affordable access for all Americans, and is pro-life because it will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Republican plan will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government. That‘s an advantage.
That was Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx of North Carolina on the House floor today. And it‘s not just Virginia Foxx with this crazy theory. Republicans across the country are running with this idea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL BROUN ®, GEORGIA: A lot of people are going to die. This program of government option that‘s being touted as being this panacea, the savior of allowing people to have quality health care at an affordable price, is going to kill people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Republican Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia.
Democrats want to reform health care because it‘s a secret plan to kill people. This is the kind of thing that when it shows up on the floor of the House or in a town hall with the president, you get a little glimpse of crazy. But the nest for this kind of crazy, where this stuff is hatched, it‘s among the conservative base and in the conservative media.
Conservative talk radio is really where they let it all hang out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: People at a certain age with certain diseases will be deemed not worth the investment, and they will just—as Obama said—they‘ll give them some pain pills and let them loop out until they die and they don‘t even know what‘s happened.
FMR. SEN. FRED THOMPSON ®, TENNESSEE: For all of those listening, you‘re hearing perhaps for the first time the dirty little secret about what‘s going on here. The elderly are going to be especially—especially hit on this thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You think Obama was secretly born in Kenya is a widespread conspiracy theory? Well, health care reform as a secret plan to kill old people is everywhere on the right. It‘s only starting to surface in mainstream politics because of the town hall, because some members of Congress are willing to say it on the House floor, but this is a wildly held, wildly propounded theory about health care reform.
Here‘s Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, he‘s the head of the House Republican Policy Committee. Here he was speaking on Friday.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REP. THADDEUS MCCOTTER ®, MICHIGAN: This is very dangerous. We, in Michigan, have already fought back in attempted assisted suicide several years ago. And yet you see that the people who support this are trying to use this bill to advance this agenda.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: See, health care reform doesn‘t have anything to do with the fact that our health care system stinks. It‘s secretly a way to trick people into killing themselves. That‘s the argument here.
And then there‘s Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas.
Here he was speaking on the “Alex Jones Talk Radio Show” on the same day.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT ®, TEXAS: We‘ve been battling this socialist health care, the nationalization of health care, that is going to absolutely kill senior citizens. They‘ll put them on lists and force them to die early because they won‘t get the treatment as quickly as they need. Once the government pays for your health care, they have every right to tell you what you eat, what you drink, how you exercise, where you live. Any time you have economic chaos, people are always willing to give up their liberty to get economic stability.
ALEX JONES, RADIO HOST: Look at Hitler.
GOHMERT: Yes, absolutely. One of the best examples, maybe the best example. This has been done throughout history.
JONES: Mao did it.
GOHMERT: Well, that‘s exactly what I was thinking of. But, this is the kind of thing we‘ve got to stop.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know, the Democrats may be fighting it out about whether they‘re going to be beholden to the insurance companies and whether there‘s going to be a public option in health care reform. But when it comes to the Republicans, this is the kind of thing they are bringing to the table: Hitler, Mao and secret plots to kill old people.
Joining us now is Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont.
He‘s a member of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Senator Sanders, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), HEALTH, EDUC., LABOR & PENSIONS CMTE.:
Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: There seems to be a gap between the seriousness of what‘s actually being fought over in Washington right now and the level of discourse about it. Why do you think it is that there‘s so much sideshow craziness about this issue?
SANDERS: Well, number one, it is an enormously complicated issue.
It‘s a personal issue. People feel strongly about it.
Frankly, I think, from our side of the aisle, we have not been as clear as we should be in what, in fact, we are fighting for. And one of the problems in that regard is—in my view, at least—if we are serious about trying to develop a universal, comprehensive, cost-effective health care system, the only way you can ring the hundreds of billions of dollars of waste in the system today is through a single-payer system. But that is off of the table because of the power of the insurance companies and the drug companies.
So, if you don‘t do that, then it becomes pretty complicated and it opens up opportunities for the extreme right-wing to come up with their crazy ideas.
MADDOW: They‘re sort of filling the vacuum of the lack of details that people don‘t understand with craziness that people are willing to.
SANDERS: Well, people do understand—what people do understand, Rachel, I think, is that our current system today is dysfunctional. You know, these guys are talking about, you know, Democrats wanting to kill people.
The reality is that 18,000 people die every single year in this country because they don‘t have access to a doctor when they should. Today, about 1 million families this year are going to go bankrupt because of medically-related costs. You have people who are staying on their jobs who would like to leave because the job provides them decent health care today.
So, we have a dysfunctional system. We have got to address it. But in fact once you don‘t do single-payer, it becomes pretty complicated.
MADDOW: As somebody who has been a long time vocal proponent of the single-payer health care system, what is your reaction to these reports out of the Senate Finance Committee that a bipartisan group of senators is moving forward on some sort of bill that doesn‘t even include a public option, let alone single-payer?
SANDERS: I‘m not happy about that at all. And at the very least, if we can‘t do a single-payer system—at the very least, you‘ve got to give the American people an option of choosing, being able to choose a public plan in competition with the private insurance companies.
And I think the insurance companies and their proponents in the congress, are very afraid and rightfully so, that if given the choice, the people would gravitate towards a public plan because a public plan will not have the administrative costs, the huge CEO compensation costs, and the general bureaucracy that a public plan will have.
But furthermore, if you want to do any kind of cost containment, you need to have the competition from a public plan because without that, the private insurance companies will be out there on their own, being able to raise rates as much as they have in the past.
MADDOW: It‘s very clear to me why the insurance industry wants to keep things the way they are, because they‘re profiting quite handsomely and doing quite well in the system the way it is. Their incentive here makes a lot of sense to me.
MADDOW: How does it work in Washington, though, in terms of how they get politicians to go along with them—politicians who represent Americans who are by and large completely dissatisfied with this broken system?
SANDERS: Well, Rachel, the gap between Capitol Hill and the rest of the country, I‘m afraid, is very, very wide.
And one of the areas that that gap is fed is the fact that, according to “The Washington Post,” the health care industry, if you can believe it, is putting $1.3 million into lobbying every single day, every single day—every single day. And then you‘ve got the drug companies and their advertising. So, with all of that money coming into Capitol Hill, I‘m afraid that too many of my colleagues look at the world from the perspective of the insurance companies, from the drug companies who are charging us the highest prices for medicine in the entire world, rather than from the needs of ordinary Americans.
The antidote to that—and what we have got to do as a nation—is we need a mass mobilization. Millions and millions of people have got to stand up and make it very clear to the president and to Congress that the status quo is simply not acceptable, that we have a dysfunctional health care system, that we‘re the only nation in the world that does not guarantee—industrialized nation that does not guarantee health care to every man, woman and child. And yet, we end up spending almost twice as much as any other country.
We need real health care reform, comprehensive health care reform, and we can do it if we can rally millions of people to help us stand up to the insurance companies and the drug companies.
MADDOW: Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont—thank you so much for your time tonight, sir. It‘s great to have you here.
SANDERS: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: In terms of the big American political picture, the roles of the two parties, the governing majorities of the future—because of how Republican senators have hammered away at Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor recently, you might think that mending fences with Latino voters would be a really high priority for the GOP right now. Actually, at this week‘s annual conference of the nation‘s largest Hispanic civil rights advocacy organization, the GOP dispatched no one. That will charm them, I‘m sure.
Stay with us for that.
MADDOW: There was sort of an Evel Knievel moment in the area of America‘s “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy today. No, gay soldiers didn‘t jump double-decker buses on motorcycles at Wembley Stadium. You wish.
It was actually that Evel Knievel, before doing his motorcycle jump, he would speed down the ramp and look like was going to jump and at the very last second he would stop. It was sort of a false start to build the drama.
Well, today, Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida had a false start when he introduced and then withdrew an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act that said that no more money could be spent to investigate or discharge American service members for being gay or lesbian.
Mr. Hastings issued a statement today explaining, quote, “Due to some pressure from some of my congressional colleagues and from the White House, I have withdrawn my amendment.” Pressure from the White House? Pressure from congressional colleagues?
Everyone keeps saying they want to get rid of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” but what‘s the strategy here? Do ask, do tell. We‘d love to hear it.
MADDOW: Today, the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thanks to every Democratic vote on the committee and just one Republican vote—that of Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The rest of the committee‘s Republicans hit the same hot button over and over and over again today, explaining why they voted no.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA: I can‘t vote for her not because she‘s a Latina woman and I can‘t vote for her because she said all of those things. I can‘t vote for her because she wouldn‘t defend what she said and stand up and say I really believe this but I can still be a great judge anyway.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH: Judges must self-consciously and deliberately set aside personal views, sympathies and prejudices.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA: She said that a wise—quote, “wise Latina” would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS: And that ethnicity and gender can and should have an impact on a judge‘s decision-making.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS ®, ALABAMA: It is her belief that, quote, “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male,” close quote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In other words, we‘re not racist. She is. It‘s not that we don‘t like her because she‘s Latina, it‘s that she doesn‘t like us because we‘re—white guys.
Today, as Republican senators explained their votes against the nation‘s first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee on the basis of the need to protect the interest of white Americans from her, the nation‘s largest Hispanic advocacy and civil rights organization was holding its annual conference in Chicago. The chairman of the Democratic Party, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, delivered a speech at the conference today, including a section that he delivered in Spanish.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The group also heard from senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Now, the National Council of La Raza says that they did not invite just Democrats to address the conference. They said they also extended invitations to Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, as well as to Republican governors Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Louis Fortuno of Puerto Rico. All of them were invited to speak.
Steele and all three Republican governors declined to the invitation and did so through the Republican National Committee. In other words, they did not individually turn down their own invites, the Republican Party turned down all of them.
In response to the official collective snub, La Raza spokesperson Marie Watteau told Greg Sargent of “The Plum Line,” quote, “The Latino community is open to hearing from both sides, which is why both parties were invited. The Republican Party not being here may demonstrate a lack of commitment to our community.”
In an era of Richard Nixon, the Republican Party chose the southern strategy, led as much by MSNBC‘s own, Patrick J. Buchanan as by anyone else. The idea was to maximize the party‘s standing among white voters, by stoking the idea that white people needed to stand together against minorities, to exploit fear of and resentment of minorities among white people in order to maximize the Republican Party‘s share of the white vote, and to assume, along the way, that the Republican Party would never really compete for non-white votes.
Now, as the Republican Party is the smallest it‘s been in a generation, in the era of the first black president and the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, is it possible that we‘re looking at southern strategy part two?
Joining us now is Representative Loretta Sanchez, Democrat of California.
Congresswoman Sanchez, thank you so much for coming on the show.
REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: It‘s a pleasure to be here.
Thank you for inviting me.
MADDOW: The RNC is blaming the Republicans‘ La Raza snub on a scheduling conflict. Their summer meeting does start this week in California. But conservatives like Tom Tancredo and Newt Gingrich have been publicly attacking La Raza specifically over the summer in the context of Judge Sotomayor‘s nomination.
Do you think this was an important snub this week?
SANCHEZ: Well, I believe that it‘s important because the Hispanic vote is not in one party or another. It really is up for grabs in any election.
And so, I think that it would be good strategy for the Republicans to actually send somebody. It‘s amazing to me that they didn‘t have their chairman or any of their top governors able to attend. I would suggest to them if they were asking me that they should have sent somebody to address that audience.
MADDOW: Do you think that the treatment of Judge Sotomayor during the confirmation process either by Republicans in the hearing room or by the conservative commentariat in general, do you think it has been designed to stir up racial resentment?
SANCHEZ: Well, I would hope not. As an American, I hope not. Remember that Hispanics also—we‘re of all races. I mean, there are white Hispanics, there are black Hispanics, there are Asian Hispanics.
So, I mean, this is not about race for us. Hispanics is about a culture. It‘s about an identity that we bring. It‘s based in the language. But we transcend all of the races.
So, I would hope that, in particular, Republicans would understand that we‘re really not about that. What we wanted to see was a qualified—
I‘m happy that she‘s a woman, by the way, because I think we need more women on the Supreme Court. But what we wanted to see was a qualified Latina or Latino on there, and I believe we‘re getting that with this nominee.
MADDOW: Jeb Bush, the former president‘s brother, recently did sort of a—a bit of a soul bearing interview with Tucker Carlson, of all people, in “Esquire” magazine. And he essentially said that the Republican Party couldn‘t have an electoral future without coming up with a way to win back Hispanic voters.
How important do you think the treatment of Judge Sotomayor and the way that her nomination has been handled—how important is that for that task for Republicans?
SANCHEZ: Well, I know that some Republicans have discounted it and said that they really don‘t need the Hispanic vote. For example, you were mentioning Pat Buchanan‘s earlier op-ed.
What he doesn‘t understand or what he didn‘t state in there is something very obvious, and that is the states that make the difference, because of the electoral process, the college that we have, means that certain states really put you over, and that would be California. That would be New Mexico. That would be places like Florida. And these are places where the Hispanic vote would become even more pronounced in the near future.
So, any party who wants to have a president has to really pay attention to the Latino vote. And as I said, Latinos don‘t—are tied necessarily to one party or the other. But there are some things that push us into the arms of the other party, and things of that sort would be—for example, in California, where we saw Proposition 187, the desire so many years ago by the Republicans to take away public education from Hispanic—from immigrant kids in California.
MADDOW: In terms of the Republicans‘ hopes for turning this around, the reason that we‘re doing this is the story so high in the show today is because I, like you, was very surprised that the Republican Party didn‘t want to send somebody to the National Council of La Raza conference.
Just given the politics here, given what‘s happened with the Judge Sotomayor nomination, it seems like—it seems like a political move that‘s counterintuitive. If we assume that it was just a mistake and that they really do—the Republican Party really does want to go for Hispanic and Latino voters, what would you expect to see from them in coming months in order to start trying to win back those folks?
SANCHEZ: Well, first of all, you know, if we make a gathering, if we throw a party, our culture is about—we‘d like you to come. If we invite you to come, we‘d like you to show up. We want you to see that you don‘t mind being with us or that you like being with us actually. That‘s the first thing. So, just showing up is a big improvement.
Certainly, I told you before that we‘re based not in a race but in a language—a language that‘s a very beautiful language. It doesn‘t mean we don‘t know English. It doesn‘t mean we don‘t want to learn English in this—and obviously, the United States, where jobs and everything else depend on how well and how articulate you are in English. But, you know, we also want to keep our language, our Spanish influence alive. And so, though, I have seen so many people, colleagues in Washington, of both parties, going and learning Spanish in the mornings, because they‘ve realize that this is important.
So, I think show up, care about our issues. By the way, the Hispanic agenda is a great agenda for America because it really is about education. It is about good jobs and about good benefits—everything that every American family wants and every immigrant population has wanted when they‘ve come to the United States.
MADDOW: Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, Democrat of California—thanks so much for taking the time to join us tonight. I really appreciate it.
SANCHEZ: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up: CNN‘s Lou Dobbs calls me names—names that I sort of don‘t really understand.
Senator James Inhofe opens up a whole new window on C Street and the Family that we didn‘t know about before.
And Michael Phelps actually lost a race at the World Swimming Championships today. Is it a super high-tech merman swimsuit that‘s to blame?
Stay with us.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Why did the secret religious group that runs C Street in Washington pay for senators and congressmen to take lots and lots of trips to foreign countries? Jeff Sharlet will be here in a moment to talk about that in a moment. That‘s coming up.
But first, it‘s time for a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is in Iraq today, meeting with the top U.S. commander there, Gen. Ray Odierno and Iraq‘s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Secretary Gates is there to assess the withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities, which is mandated by Status of Forces Agreement that was negotiated by President Bush last year.
Now, while U.S. troops have withdrawn from Iraqi streets and they‘re preparing to leave the country entirely by the end of next year, the remaining numbers of the coalition of the willing are preparing to withdraw, withdraw, capital W, capital withdraw, withdraw.
By Friday of this week, every last soldier from every remaining non-American contributor to multinational force Iraq will be gone. The Brits, the Romanians, the Australians, all gone, leaving the United States as the only member of the multinational force.
So clearly, a name change is in order. That will happen in January. Multinational force Iraq will become United States force Iraq. Between now and then, the name will continue to be only slightly more ironic than it was previously.
Since the initial invasion, U.S. forces have consistently made up more than 90 percent of the coalition. Very few countries with large militaries contributed to the coalition. And when they did, it was sometimes still awkward, like when Japan announced that they would send troops to Iraq, but their troops would not fight.
That then required a deployment of Dutch forces to protect the Japanese, who weren‘t there to fight, but were still there. Oh, coalition of the willing, we hardly knew you.
Next up, further proof that no matter how old one gets, no matter how nuclear armed the country is, no matter how intricate the parsings of a decades‘ long international feud, international relations can still sometimes best be understood as a bunch of complicated cases of sibling rivalry.
Back in 2006, the Bush administration, not a group of folks known for their subtlety in diplomatic matters, erected a very fancy LED sign in Havana, Cuba. We, of course, cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 so we don‘t have an actual embassy there.
The billboard went up at the U.S. interest section, which is kind of like our embassy light in Cuba. The billboard is 25 separate red light panels. And they‘re programmed like a ticker to display news and information, news like sports scores and headlines and denunciations of the Castro regime.
And you note that last one, the denunciations that really bothered the Cuban government. Castro hung big, black flags on 100-foot poles in front of the billboard to block it out. And they stationed guards in strategic positions to dissuade passersby from even looking up at it.
Well, we can now report that last month, the Obama administration quietly pulled the plug on the big thumb in the eye, bad news about Castro red light ticker in Havana. Presumably, this is only the start. Ultimately, we will stop teepeeing each other‘s houses and yelling neener-neener as well someday.
Finally from the wild, wide world of sports and the uniforms, there‘s news today of Michael Phelps, the indomitable winner of eight Olympic gold medals at last summer‘s games. This is one of the most recognizable images of an American in the world today, the tall, lanky Phelps standing there decorated like a Christmas tree in a very futuristic, fancy swimsuit.
Now, that suit was a new fangled device way back, you know, last year in 2008. It was something considered to be fairly revolutionary. That same suit today, the Speedo LZR RACER - L-Z-R, I don‘t know - it‘s sort of now the Model T of swim gear. It‘s outdated.
Mr. Phelps wore the very same model of suit at the world championships in Rome this week, the LZR or laser. And he was beaten soundly by a German guy named Paul Biedermann.
Paul Biedermann beat Mr. Phelps in the race that is Phelps bailiwick. It‘s a 200-meter freestyle. Almost everyone, including Mr. Biedermann, the winner himself, says that his victory was due in large part to what he was wearing, a 2009 model, 100 percent polyurethane suit made by Arena.
Swimming‘s governing body announced today that the suit would be banned but not until next spring which will give the swimming world willing to shell out for cheater suits like that about six months of a chance to beat Mr. Phelps again. And then, it‘s probably back to total Phelpsian (ph) world domination.
MADDOW: Today, on his radio show, CNN host Lou Dobbs called me a tea-bagging queen because I made fun of him on this show for helping into the mainstream the off-the-beat and wing-nut racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama is secretly foreign, and, therefore, secretly not really president.
Mr. Dobbs continues to demand that the president produce his birth certificate, even though the president already has. Whether or not Mr. Dobbs will continue tracking in this conspiracy theory on CNN, or whether he‘s been busted at CNN for it and can now only do it on his radio show, remains to be seen.
In the meantime, we‘re all left to sort out the deeply confusing nature of what it means to be called a tea-bagging queen by Lou Dobbs. A tea-bagging queen? What kind of queen would that be, exactly? And can a female person beat that kind of queen?
Anyway, some members of Congress are distancing themselves from the birthers now, clarifying to news organizations, including ours, that whatever their apparent flirtation with the birthers, they now want to be on record as stating the president of the United States really is president.
Some very conservative members of the Republican Party are still encouraging these folks. Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma was asked by his hometown paper, “The Tulsa World,” whether there‘s a chance that president Obama isn‘t really a citizen, and therefore isn‘t really president.
Mr. Inhofe said, quote, “You know, I have never gone through and read all of the stuff on that, so I don‘t know. I just haven‘t taken that one on.” Inhofe‘s staff then followed up with a written statement from the senator which said, quote, “I‘m not a legal expert on this subject. If there are legal experts who have concerns, I would encourage them to continue looking into it.”
Keep looking into it. Don‘t let the truth hold you back. Sen. Inhofe is also a long-term associate of the secretive religious organization in Washington that‘s known as The Family. The Family, among other things, provides well-below-market-rent housing for a select group of members of Congress at its tax-exempt church on Capitol Hill. It‘s called C Street.
We first started discussing C Street and The Family on this show when it emerged as a key player in, not two, but three Republican sex scandals this summer, those of Mark Sanford, John Ensign and former Congressman Chip Pickering.
But The Family‘s links to these sex scandals proved to be an alarming window into the other aspects of The Family and C Street that were frankly even more surprising - the fact that members of the group not only confessed their misdeeds to one another, but that they then apparently swear themselves to secrecy about the group to the outside world.
The theocratic vision of the group which holds the powerful men, and it is almost all men, are God‘s chosen and they‘re not bound by the same morality and responsibility to others as normal people are, that Hitler and Mao and Osama Bin Laden should be studied and considered as models of power and leadership by members of The Family.
Well, now, thanks in part to Sen. James Inhofe, there is something new to consider about C Street and The Family. Why are they sending members of Congress on foreign trips? Here‘s Sen. Inhofe speaking about The Family dispatching him to Africa. The person, Doug, who he mentioned in this clip here, is Doug Coe, who‘s been the longtime leader of The Family.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-OK): Doug has always been kind of behind the scenes and very quiet. He talked me into going to Africa. I had no interest in going to Africa. At the same day, after 10 years of saying no to him, I said, “All right, I will.” I never will understand why I said it, but I did. But I felt the political philosophy of Jesus was something that had kind of been put together by Doug and this is my interpretation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doug Coe, by the way, of the National Prayer Breakfast Movement and other things.
INHOFE: Oh, yes. And it‘s all spiritually based. Acts 9:15, what did Jesus say to Paul in Damascus? He said, “Take my name, Jesus, to the kings.” And, of course, if you‘re a member of the United States Senate in Africa, they think you‘re important so you always get in to see the kings.
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MADDOW: You always get in to see the kings. Well, in December, “The Oklahoman” newspaper reported that Sen. Inhofe‘s trips to Africa have cost taxpayers more than $187,000 in the past decade.
In other words, Sen. Inhofe is representing U.S. interests on trips paid for by U.S. taxpayers. But by his own admission, he‘s using that time abroad to talk about The Family‘s theology with foreign leaders. And he isn‘t the only one.
Joining us now is Jeff Sharlet, contributing editor at “Harper‘s” and “Rolling Stone,” also author of the book, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” He‘s also got an excellent new article on “TheDailyBeast.com.” Jeff, thanks very much for coming back on the show.
JEFF SHARLET, AUTHOR, “THE FAMILY”: Hi, Rachel. Thanks for having me back.
MADDOW: Why is The Family sending members of Congress to foreign countries?
SHARLET: Well, as I first reported in “Harper‘s” magazine, their local, their long-term goal is 200 world leaders that are God-led and united to The Family. They‘re not like the rapture Christians you might be familiar with.
They have this idea that Christ can‘t come back so they can build a worldwide movement that they call “invisible” - that‘s their word - of strong men, authoritarian leaders on that Hitler/Stalin/Mao model that they are linking together and that they have access, the leader says, with Washington as the capital of a worldwide spiritual offensive.
MADDOW: So what kind of places then do they dispatch members of The Family to? And what do those Family members do once they get there?
SHARLET: Well, some real bastions of democracy. Sen. Inhofe has traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan. Other members have gone to Serbia, Sudan, Belarus, Albania. Sen. Coburn, who has been in the news for his role in the C Street house, was actually very clear what he was doing in Lebanon.
He was trying to set up Christian prayer cells in the government of Lebanon - prayer cells just like the one that helped cover up his pal Sen. Ensign‘s scandal, and this in a country that‘s long been torn by Christian-Muslim tensions. Everywhere they go, as he said, it‘s the political philosophy of Jesus, but what they understand that to mean is not democracy, but rule through an iron fist.
MADDOW: So when Sen. Inhofe used that phrase, “the political philosophy of Jesus,” something put together by Doug, what he‘s talking about there is The Family‘s essentially foreign policy as driven by this sort of theocracy of power that we talked about so much in learning about C Street?
SHARLET: It really is. It‘s a faith-based foreign policy. It‘s not a faith I think any Christians out there would be comfortable with. This goes back to the beginning of this group and how they‘re so much different than other Christian groups. They‘re concerned at what they call biblical capitalism, and their model many years is worldwide spiritual offensive, working with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
I was able to discover that they have taken that spiritual offensive to countries like Poland, Czech Republic, really, all over the world, every country in the world.
MADDOW: When these trips are paid for by Senate committees, when they‘re taxpayer-funded, there‘s obviously a concern as to whether or not that‘s legal. As I understand it, the legality of groups like this funding foreign trips for members of Congress has changed in the past few years, hasn‘t it?
SHARLET: Yes, there was. There was an open government act in 2007, following the Jack Abramoff scandals, designed to prevent just the kind of travel that The Family was funding. That travel may even have been illegal even under the old rules, because some of these groups were saying that they were going for one Christian right group, the Christian embassy, but it was actually being financed by this other group, The Family.
More recently, as you mentioned, Inhofe, Congressman McIntyre, Congressman Crenshaw - these guys have been traveling, using money from the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. Two of them were actually using American military transport planes.
They are diverting their planes from the proper missions to go and spread their very unorthodox political philosophy of Jesus to foreign leaders who might not think that that‘s a real solid basis for foreign policy.
MADDOW: Jeff, sometimes these trips are initiated by The Family but paid for by taxpayers as you described. But sometimes The Family pays for them directly. You‘ve reported that The Family spent more than $95,000 on foreign travel for 20 lawmakers since the year 2000.
Who are they sending on these trips? And when The Family funds stuff directly, how do members of Congress explain who it is that dispatching them to these other countries?
SHARLET: Well, what was fascinating, Sen. Ensign was one of them. And Sen. Ensign, when challenged by the “Las Vegas Sun” to explain this, said he had no idea. He just took - you know, can you imagine, Rachel, someone says, “Here‘s $10,000, why don‘t you take a trip to the Middle East,” and you say, “Sure. I‘m not going to ask who‘s sending me.”
Of course he understood what he was doing. He‘s been a part of the group for a long time. Congressman Frank Wolf, Congressman John Carter - all of these guys have been traveling on the International Foundation, which is one of The Family‘s nonprofits.
They had been traveling on the dime of that organization and yet, not really being very forthright with us about what they‘re doing.
MADDOW: The International Foundation is the name of the one that usually - is that what you said, the International Foundation?
SHARLET: Yes. The Family believes, as David Coe, one of the leaders, the son of Doug Coe, once explained - he says, “We operate like the Mafia.” And one of the ways they do that is, just like the Mafia has shell companies, the family has multiple nonprofits, the International Foundation, the Fellowship Foundation, the C Street foundation.
And they use these to sort of move money around and to support projects that they‘re interested in without building a big institutional image. And I think that‘s why they‘re actually teaming up with other Christian right organizations, like Christian Embassy, Youth with a Mission - these kind of organizations to use congressmen essentially as their missionaries to and for the powerful.
MADDOW: I can hear the sound of enterprising bloggers putting those names into search engines of FEC filings right now. Jeff Sharlet, contributing editor of “Harper‘s” and “Rolling Stone,” author of the book “The Family:
The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” currently selling out at a book store near you. Jeff, thanks very much for coming on the show again.
SHARLET: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Gov. Howard Dean guest hosts and does a very good job of it. Very exciting.
And next on this show, an update on the birther‘s caucus in the United States Congress. We‘re sort of becoming the place that keeps track of these people for some reason. Stay tuned.
MADDOW: Last night, on this show, we played excerpts of a video produced by Mike Stark of Firedoglake and “The Huffington Post” in which Mr. Stark himself asked members of Congress whether President Obama is a natural-born citizen.
We played the tape because answers, and even better, the non-answers from members of Congress about this fringiest of Fringy McFringerson(ph) conspiracy theories sort of had to be seen to be believed.
Well, one of the members of Congress that you saw on the tape was Republican Congressman Tom Price of Georgia. He was seen on the tape doing this.
Representative Price‘s communications director contacted us today to say that, his boss, quote, “was simply running to catch a vote and has no questions about the president‘s citizenship or status as a natural-born American.” Fair enough. Delayed comment trumps no comment at all.
Another Republican who made our birther caucus list was Republican Representative Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska. We didn‘t air this portion of the video. But here‘s the part of Mike Stark‘s interview that we analyzed.
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MIKE STARK, “FIREDOGLAKE”: Do you have some evidence that he is or isn‘t (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
REP. JEFF FORTENBERRY (R-NE): Chris Mathews held up his birth certificate on “HARDBALL” the other night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today, the press secretary from Rep. Fortenberry‘s office told us that the congressman, despite asking Mr. Stark what the evidence was in the matter, does believe that President Obama was born in the United States. Good times.
And so we may now remove Congressman Price and Congressman Fortenberry from our list of birther‘s caucus and implicitly welcome them back to the reality-based community.
Any other representatives or representative of representatives wanting to unequivocally state their fact-based position of President Obama‘s legitimacy? You can please E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We‘re keeping a tally. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: We turn now to our not-quite-Olympic correspondent Kent Jones.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel in L.A.
JONES: The second sumo suit athletics world championship took place in London recently. Not sumo - sumo suit. Big difference and way stupider (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
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(voice-over): For thousands of years, man has competed in track and field events without putting on a sloppy rubber sumo suit and a matching hair helmet. But now that we can, doesn‘t it seem wrong not to?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe it was because Beijing Olympics were on at the time and we wanted to do something in the same vein to a certain extent. But something that laymen in the street with no training might actually have a chance of winning, so the Sumo Suit Athletics was born out of that really.
JONES: Pity the ancient Olympian sprinters who were denied this spectacle of rough poetry. A gaggle of pale English folks scrambling toward the finish line in the 100-meter dash who say (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Or facing the bar in the high jump. Oh, bad luck. Nice effort.
And he‘s over - in your face, gravity, or putting the shot. How about those guns? Or stretching their limits in the long jump. Stick the landing. Stick the landing.
And finally, the true test of an athlete, the 400 meters, ¼ mile of pure ego-shredding absurdity. So can one lose one‘s dignity and yet gain athletic glory? Evidently, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A little under ruse under the belt, very distracting.
JONES: Yes, that may be illegal. They‘re looking into that.
MADDOW: Thanks, Kent.
MADDOW: Thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you again tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN” starts right now. Good night.
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