The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 07/29/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you for staying with us for the next hour.
The strangest politics story of the day is news that a car bomb in New Orleans has apparently targeted the campaign advisor to the porn star who is running for Senate against David Vitter. Hands down—that is the weirdest politics story of the day.
Hands down the most important politics story of the day—is the president trying for health care reform against a barrage of truly odd conspiracy theories and a barrage of attacks against him all based on race.
This is supposed to be the slow news days part of the year—yes, right.
There‘s lots coming up this hour.
But we begin with the confluence of wacky new conspiracy theories in U.S. politics and wacky old special interest driven D.C. tactics. In 1993, the last time a newly-elected Democratic president was pursuing health care reform, two of his most formidable foes were Harry and Louise, a fictional middle-aged couple sitting at a kitchen table talking smack about how dangerous it would be to reform the American health care system.
Harry and Louise, of course, weren‘t just a freelance actual middle-class couple concerned about cutting into the insurance industry‘s profit margins. They were actors. They were hired by the insurance industry to try to sink the reform plan.
Well, incidentally, the same actors who portrayed Harry and Louise back in 1993, this year, have been hired by pro-health care reform forces to try to sell the idea of reform.
So, the corporate interests opposed to changing the system they profit from so handsomely and their allies in the conservative movement have found new actors to sit at a fictional kitchen table and talk smack about how dangerous it would be to reform health care this time. Here they are. They‘re the new Harry and Louise. And this time, the reason they say changing the health care system is so scary is because—you guessed it—health care reform is really a secret plot to kill old people and to try to make people have more abortions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They won‘t pay for my surgery. What are we going to do?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But, honey, you can‘t live this way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And to think that Planned Parenthood is included in the government-run health care plan and spending tax dollars on abortions. They won‘t pay for my surgery but we‘re forced to pay for abortions.
NARRATOR: Our greatest generation denied care. Our future generation denied life. Call your senator. Stop the government takeover of health care.
Family Research Council Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You got that? The real agenda lurking behind health care reform is a secret plot to kill old people and to promote abortion. That ad was just released by the conservative group the Family Research Council.
Now, you know about the conspiracy theory that the president secretly isn‘t really the president because he‘s secretly foreign. Those conspiracists are called birthers, right? Well, Christopher Beam at Slate.com has christened the health care-reform-as-a-secret-plot-to-kill-old-people conspiracists as the “deathers,” which is sort of brilliant.
The deathers‘ theory is being advanced not only by far-right advocacy groups, like the Family Research Council. It‘s also being advanced in Congress by Republicans, like Virginia Foxx of North Carolina.
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REP. VIRGINIA FOXX ®, NORTH CAROLINA: It will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.
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MADDOW: The deathers‘ theory is also being advanced by Republicans, like Congressman Louie Gohmert on talk radio.
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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 and put them on lists and force them to die early.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: The deathers‘ theory is also advanced as of today on the editorial page of the conservative newspaper “The Washington Times.” It should probably be noted that the editorial cites as its sources right-wing talk show host Mark Levin, “The Red State” blog and FOXNews.com.
But as the deathers‘ theory leaches from the wing-nut fringe into the mainstream of efforts to stop health care reform, consider where it started, consider its source. When you start digging, it turns out that this theory all traces back to a single person—a person named Betsy McCaughey. She‘s a director of a medical device company called Cantel Medical Corporation. She‘s also a former director of a biotech company called Genta. She‘s also a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank funded by some of the biggest pharmaceutical giants in the country.
Betsy McCaughey is a person who started the whole conspiracy theory that the government promoting people getting living wills, which the government has done for 20 years, is somehow now a secret plot to kill old people.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BETSY MCCAUGHEY, HUDSON INSTITUTE: Congress would make it mandatory absolutely require—that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wrong. Not true. Not in the bill. Not there. Totally false.
But nevertheless, Ms. McCaughey has seeded that idea on the editorial page of “The New York Post” and in talk radio interviews with hosts, like Fred Thompson, and that‘s been enough for it to take root on the right.
Now, Betsy McCaughey has also done this before. In 1994, she wrote an attack on the bill Clinton health care reform proposal in a magazine called “The New Republic.” That article was so riddled with errors that the magazine ultimately distanced themselves from it even though they published it in the first place. But that didn‘t stop the opponents of health care reform back then from citing her disproven attacks over and over and over again. And so far, nothing is stopping the opponents of health care reform now from doing the same thing.
The deathers‘ theory is everywhere on the right. It‘s on the House floor. It‘s on talk radio. It‘s in TV ads. And it is a script, a nonsense, totally made up, totally disprovable script written by the corporate interests who have wanted to block health care reform forever because they‘re making a mint off of the way it is now.
Welcome back to 1993.
Joining us now is Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia. He‘s chairman of the Democratic Party.
Governor Kaine, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Good to be back, Rachel. Thanks.
MADDOW: You‘re the head of the Democratic Party. You‘re the governor of Virginia. You‘ve been stumping with President Obama about why we need health care reform.
Who do you think is the other side in this debate? And how do you think that you plan to beat them?
KAINE: Well, you put your finger on it. I mean, there are special interests inside the beltway and, I think, primarily, insurance companies who are doing great. They do better if they can kick people off insurance or not cover people who they say have preexisting conditions, and they‘ve been doing quite well even in a tough economy. And they fought against it very, very hard in the 1990s and are fighting against it now.
But what we see is the overwhelming majority of the American public see—think the system is broken and they want health insurance reform. They want a public option to put some real competition into the system so that these interests aren‘t running the show and basically controlling the dialogue.
And we‘re going to beat them with the American public. We don‘t have to hire actors. We‘ve had hundreds of thousands of regular citizens tell their own stories about what “no health care coverage” or inadequate health care—health insurance has meant. And we‘re going to use the stories and the experiences of real Americans to carry the day on this.
MADDOW: If this were going to be decided by referendum, if Americans were going to vote on how much they liked the current system, how much they would like to have a public option, some of the other reforms that have been proposed, I think that you‘re absolutely right that you would definitely win. But it doesn‘t happen that way. It happens through a representative democracy.
And it does seem like.
MADDOW: . in Congress, we‘re seeing some opposition from members of Congress. And I have to ask you if the opposition in Congress, even from conservative members of the Democratic Party, is because of pressure from industry.
KAINE: Well, I think that those pressures are some of the many pressures that people are feeling.
But let me just say this, Rachel. This is a heavy lift. Every president since President Truman has said, we need to find a health care future where we have a competitive insurance market and all Americans receive coverage.
What we‘ve seen happen in the last month or so is we now have bills that have passed through three different committees in the Senate and House. Two other committees are expected to take action very soon. We‘re farther than we‘ve ever been.
It‘s heavy lifting. It ain‘t easy. We‘re going to have to take the various bills and then make them into a workable plan.
But you‘re right. If we could have a referendum, the American public would overwhelmingly vote to significantly reform this system. But I think that the voices of Americans are being heard and will be heard, and that‘s why, we are going to make health reform happen this year.
MADDOW: In terms of some of the level of discourse that‘s happened around this issue, which I referenced in the introduction here, the level of what I consider to be wing-nuttery craziness in this debate is primarily of course an indictment of the wing-nuts themselves and the people in the mainstream media who are willing to give them a platform.
But is it also to a certain extent an indictment of those who are in favor of reform, that the message hasn‘t been clear enough, it hasn‘t been strong enough to drown out this conspiratorial nonsense?
KAINE: Well, I don‘t know that you ever drown out wing-nuttery from being wing-nut. You can‘t put duct tape over folks‘ mouths. They‘re going to say what they want. And especially if they‘re being encouraged to by people who have a lot of money and they‘re trying to protect themselves.
But, again, Rachel, you know, as we pointed out, all the polling I‘ve seen says the overwhelming majority of the American public wants to see significant reform to health insurance. They support the basic principles of lowering costs for families and businesses, preserving choices, and actually expanding choice with a public option and then finding a way to cover all Americans.
So wing-nuts will say whatever they‘re going to say. The American public isn‘t buying it. Congress is moving forward on these bills. And it is—it‘s a challenging process but we heard even today that the two committees that are still working are expected to put bills out and then we‘ll have to work to take those various bills in both houses and make them into a workable plan.
But this thing is moving. I think the insurance industry knows it. They‘re fighting desperately. They‘re lobbying hard against it. But the American people want this to happen and it‘s going to happen.
MADDOW: As head of the Democratic Party, you are a very important tent pole in a very big tent and there are a lot of Democrats in Congress right now.
MADDOW: To what extent—not to call you a pole or anything, although I don‘t think that would be an insult. But.
KAINE: Yes, right.
MADDOW: . to what extent is the prospect of getting health care really all about the prospect of holding the Democratic Party together, about having party discipline and party loyalty on this issue because it really is all on the Democrats‘ plate?
KAINE: Well, Rachel, I‘ve never been compared to a tent pole before, but I actually think that‘s a good comparison. I‘m a big camper. So, I‘ll take the—I‘ll take the analogy. We do have a big tent on the Democratic side.
Let me talk about Democrats and then I‘ll talk about Republicans. We are a very broad party. I like being a Democrat because of our diversity. And that diversity includes ideology.
So, there is a pretty wide expanse of Democrats and an awful lot of this debate is ultimately getting the Democrats to pull together and be results-focused rather than what has to be my plan or I‘m not getting onboard. But I see that happening even amidst the diversity and the breadth of ideas. I see it happening in these committees that are putting bills out on the floor for the first time in the history of this debate about how to reform our health insurance.
What I‘m looking for among Republicans is, you know, are there any Republicans who are going to stand up and say, “You‘re right, this system needs fundamental reform and change”? A system where 15 years ago, more than 60 percent of small businesses provided health insurance to their employees, and today, 38 percent do, and that number is dropping like a stone while the percentage of GDP that we spend on health care is going up. That system is broken.
You don‘t hear a single voice really among Republican leadership standing up and acknowledging that and saying we‘ve got to make some changes.
The president is right. We have to make some changes.
So, we‘ll do our best, and I feel confident that we, the president, the Senate, and House leadership will get Democrats behind a position. We‘re looking for any Republican who will just have the courage to admit what Americans understand, that this is a system that‘s broken and it needs change.
MADDOW: Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, chairman of the Democratic National Committee—thanks very much for your time tonight. I know we had a lot of logistical hoops to jump through to get you on the air. I really appreciate you bearing with us.
KAINE: Glad to be with you always, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right.
An amendment that would have stopped the implementation of the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy was yanked yesterday—reportedly under pressure from the White House? The sponsor of the amendment that was and then wasn‘t was Congressman Alcee Hastings and he joins us next.
And later, the latest attack against the president from the right is that he hates white people—you know, like his chief-of-staff, his press secretary, most of his cabinet, and his mom. The president is anti-mom. No word on apple pie.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said before, I‘ll say it again, I believe “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” doesn‘t contribute to our national security. In fact, I believe.
OBAMA: I believe preventing patriotic Americans from serving their country weakens our national security.
OBAMA: My administration is already working with the Pentagon and members of the House and the Senate on how we‘ll go about ending this policy, which will require an act of Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It would require an act of Congress, but then why would the White House be putting the kibosh on exactly that kind of act of Congress?
What you just saw there was the president speaking one month ago today about his long-stated opposition to the Pentagon‘s policy of kicking people out of the military because they‘re gay.
Congressman Alcee Hastings of Florida introduced an amendment this week to the Defense Appropriations Act that would have prevented the government from spending money on kicking gays out of the military. And then the next day, he withdrew that amendment, releasing a statement explaining that he withdrew it, quote, “due to pressure from some of my congressional colleagues and from the White House.”
Well, today the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network told us in response that, quote, “We hope it is not true the White House pressured Representative Hastings to withdraw his amendment to stop funding ‘don‘t ask, don‘t tell‘ investigations. Such a move would go against President Obama‘s commitment to end ‘don‘t ask, don‘t tell.‘ Now, we need to see some positive action, some follow through from this White House.”
Joining us now is Congressman Alcee Hastings, a Democrat of Florida, the man who was thwarted yesterday in his attempt to cut off funding for the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy.
Congressman Hastings, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. ALCEE HASTINGS (D), FLORIDA: Thank you, Rachel. I like that word “thwarted” because that‘s exactly what I was.
MADDOW: Well, tell me how that happened. What sort of pressure did you receive from the White House? How did it all go down?
HASTINGS: Well, certainly I didn‘t speak with President Obama. Let me get that very clear.
But how the process works is, there are liaisons that work here at the Capitol that come from the White House, and before the rules committee meets there is a meeting. In this particular instance, there were persons from the White House that were there, and when the discussion was had with reference to my amendment, they chimed in. And their thinking, Rachel, is different than I believe yours and mine would be. I have a different political calculus.
If something is bigoted and if your intent is to see to it that it does not continue, then I did not understand the leadership of Congress or the White House in saying that the time is not right.
My position is: The president has said he wishes that this matter be repealed. My colleague, Patrick Murphy, now has more than 170 co-sponsors on a measure to repeal it. Secretary Gates has said, I‘m glad he is now saying when we change our policy. Last year, he would have been saying “if.”
But my view is, that the time is now to eliminate this bigoted law once and for all.
MADDOW: When you are hearing that the time isn‘t right, when you‘re hearing from fellow Democrats, even from fellow opponents of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” that it‘s not—the time‘s not right for your amendment, that this ought to be delayed, that there is a more strategic way to do it, are you also hearing that there is a White House-endorsed strategy for when to get rid it—get rid of it, or is it just being put off indefinitely?
HASTINGS: Very good question. I have not heard anything other than the rhetoric. I wrote to the White House on June 22nd and had 76 other members of Congress to join me in a letter to the president, explaining what the president can do right now. And that‘s what I was attempting to do with the amendment and that‘s saying to the secretary of defense, “Stop it. Just don‘t put anybody else out of service.”
Rachel, I‘d be terribly remiss if I didn‘t take the opportunity to say how I came to this is the soldiers that we are forcibly separating are combat veterans. They‘re intelligence officers. They speak the languages we need on the battle field. So, aside from the absurdity of telling dedicated soldiers that we don‘t want them because they‘re gay, this law negatively impacts our national security and that‘s what your TV shot showed that the president was doing.
And let me just go one step further in saying, the last five years, we‘ve put out of the service under this policy, 59 Arabic speakers and nine Farsi linguists. I serve on the select committee on intelligence, and I‘m telling you, we cannot afford at all not to have language speakers with the paucity of language speakers we have in the intelligence community.
MADDOW: Congressman Hastings, as you know, the beltway common wisdom on this is that this is an incredibly sensitive issue that a lot of political capital needs.
MADDOW: . to be invested in this, that President Clinton was immeasurably hurt by the way that he pursued this issue at the start of his first term. Do you think that that‘s true? Do you think that that‘s true now that this would be incredibly risky issue for the president to take a leadership role on this?
HASTINGS: I really do not. The majority of Americans do not support “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” Without question, every poll has shown an uptick in favor of us getting rid of this policy. And the one that is particularly salient is that members of the military are in favor of getting rid of this policy.
It is shameful for us to continue to wait with reference to this matter. I keep hearing that we‘re going to do it next year. Well, in my view, that‘s ridiculous. If you know we want to do it, let‘s do it today and spare any more of our servicemen and women from the humiliation of being investigated for their sexual orientation.
MADDOW: Congressman Alcee Hastings of Florida, thank you so much for joining us tonight and for your eloquence on this issue. It‘s great to have you on the show, sir.
HASTINGS: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: OK. Still ahead: Do you remember the old Public Enemy record “Fear of a Black Planet,” “Fight the Power, “Welcome to the Terrordome”? Well, what‘s the likelihood that we could get Chuck D. and the rest of the band into a reissue? Except this time, it would have to be “fear of a black president.”
The attacks on President Obama turn explicitly racial—from even supposedly mainstream critics on the political right. Melissa Harris-Lacewell will join us to discuss that in just a moment.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Coming up: Our chief compelling video correspondent, Kent Jones, updates us on humanity‘s race to stay ahead of the robots we‘ve created. It turns out it‘s not actually going all that well. That‘s coming up.
But first, it‘s time for a couple holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
Here is a very strange story—about a very strange story, frankly. Most Americans were introduced to Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter back in the summer of 2007, when his name showed up on the client list of the D.C. madame.
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SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA: I am completely responsible and I‘m so very, very sorry.
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MADDOW: At that point, the common political wisdom was that Senator Vitter‘s career, at least his career as a more-moral-than-thou, family values-espousing, hypocritical politician was over. Of course, because I‘m calling it common wisdom, you know that things didn‘t work out that way.
Not only did David Vitter not resign, he‘s running for re-election next year, even today attacking a critic in his own party by saying, quote, “I am on the side of conservatives getting back to core conservative values. There are a lot of us from the South who hold those values, which I think the party is supposed to be about.”
Not sure where the whole repeatedly patronizing prostitutes while bragging about your own family value thing fits into those values, but there you have it.
Now one of Mr. Vitter‘s opponents in his race for re-election is a woman named Stormy Daniels. She‘s had a career as an adult film star. Ms. Daniels launched her campaign earlier this year saying, quote, “I guess the big question is not just why is David Vitter in office, but why is he not in jail?”
Now, here‘s where things get weirder than weird. Ms. Daniels has a political advisor named Brian Welsh. And on Monday, someone allegedly threw an explosive device of some kind into Mr. Welsh‘s car while it was parked on a New Orleans street. He spoke to WGNO-TV in New Orleans and said that he would not jump to any conclusions but.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WELSH, ADVISOR TO STORMY DANIELS: It‘s too early for me to go pointing fingers. I‘d like to hear, you know, officially what happened, and then we can kind of take it from there. But in the meantime, you know, I want to—I want to be really careful about how we approach this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
WELSH: But, I mean, if somebody is trying to send me a message, you know, something like this is not going to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Welsh then followed up that statement today by telling us, quote, “Until we have more conclusive information as to the nature of this incident, the only thing I can say with any degree of certainty is that I need a new car.”
Footage from a security camera near the bombing shows an unidentified person opening the car door and throwing something inside just prior to the explosion. We promise to keep you posted on this story and any further developments—strange or otherwise.
And finally, a lot of what we know about the inner workings of the Taliban in Afghanistan is from documents and books and paraphernalia that are found with Taliban fighters when they are killed or captured in Afghanistan. Recently, coalition troops say they‘ve been finding copies of a new Taliban rule book on Taliban fighters and that‘s not a euphemism. The book is actually titled “Taliban 2009 Rules and Regulations Booklet.” It includes orders like: limiting suicide attacks and avoiding civilian casualties.
Something tells me if these really are their rules and not just a big propaganda effort, that the Taliban aren‘t very good at following their rules. Shocker!
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GLENN BECK, HOST, “THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM”: This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seed hatred for white people or the white culture.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Here you have a black president trying to destroy a white policeman. I think he is genuinely revved up about race. You know me. I think he is genuinely angry in his heart and has been his whole life.
MICHELLE MALKIN, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think he is a racial opportunist.
LIMBAUGH: Look, I had a dream. I had a dream that I was a slave building a sphinx in a desert that looked like Obama.
BECK: He has a problem. He has a - this guy is, I believe, a racist.
LIMBAUGH: And after that, they‘re going to go after Oreos. Might have to put that off until Obama is out of office, but they‘ll eventually go after Oreos.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Now, the racial divide in this country didn‘t disappear when Barack Obama was elected president. And no reasonable person has expected it to. But it is somewhere between eyebrow raising and breathtaking to have such blunt, unvarnished race-baiting so forward in the national discourse right now.
And the type of race baiting to which we‘re subjected is fairly specific and fairly consistent. The argument that the president hates white people, for example, which you just heard Glenn Beck make on Fox News, that it‘s he, the president, who is racist, that argument dovetails perfectly with the arguments made against Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor and the far more genteel setting of the United States Senate.
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SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ): Many of Judge Sotomayor‘s public statements suggest she may indeed allow or even embrace decision making based on her biases and prejudices.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): Her wise Latina -
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Your wise Latina comment -
SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): Already prejudiced against one of the parties.
GRASSLEY: Allow biases and personal preferences. She said that a wise - quote, “wise Latina would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.”
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): And that ethnicity and gender can and even should have an impact on a judge‘s decision-making.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The language of our Republican senators is less blatant than the language of professional conservative talkers. But the theme is the same. What we have here are ethnic minorities who can‘t be trusted to use their official power fairly because they‘re prejudiced against white people.
Now, with or without outrageous cracks about the biracial president being an Oreo, as we just heard from Rush Limbaugh, the conservative movement and the Republican Party are positioning themselves the same here. They‘re positioning themselves as defenders of the interests of white America against the threat posed to white America by people like Obama and Sotomayor.
Are white people in America enraged by having a black president, by the success of people like Obama and Sotomayor? Is there out rage that being white in America no longer guarantees you monopolistic access to the positions of greatest power in this country?
There must be some, certainly, but whether or not this race-baiting political tactic succeeds in the 2000s, depends on whether there is enough of that kind of tappable(ph) white rage out there to compensate for how bad it makes these guys look to be seen spewing this kind of overt racial invective.
Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton. Melissa, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
Apparently, your audio, I‘ve been warned, is a little hoopy so I hope you don‘t mind yelling about this topic.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: I can certainly yell, although - then I‘ll probably be called an angry black woman. And since I have a white mama, maybe an angry black Oreo, but I‘ll yell. It‘s fine.
MADDOW: Could we get wise in there somehow? Wise as an insult?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Wise angry black Oreo. I can do that. Yes.
MADDOW: All right. Well, let me ask you here. What do you think the strategy is behind so many figures on the right calling the president racist?
MADDOW: Well, you know, as a political scientist, you always want to start with the assumption that a political party, whatever choices it‘s making are trying to seek office, right?
So we‘ve talked about this a couple of times, trying to think about how this is somehow a strategy of the right or strategy of an element of the GOP to somehow gain office either in the mid-term elections or more long term for the presidential race.
But the other part, I think, that I have maybe not been thinking about as carefully is that when we think about the history of race in America, sometimes we have to put aside the notion of strategy and just embrace the reality that race in this country has often brought out irrational anger, fear, anxiety, emotionalism.
So it is possible that this is not actually a GOP or a conservative strategy but is instead really kind of an emotional tantrum on the part of some members of the conservative wing who really just are floundering as they look at a world that is changing so dramatically around questions of race.
MADDOW: I am with you to the - I guess I could say I was with you on it being an irrational tantrum until I started to see the same very specific tactic used in very different venues about very different subjects, this idea of the person who is not white being the problem racist, being used against Sotomayor, being used in so much of the discourse about the Gates arrest, being used against the president now, inexplicably, unrelated to any policy issue but just as a free floating critique of the president.
And it does make me wonder about this as an overt political strategy. And if it is one, do you think it‘s right to sort of use a white outrage-o-meter to try to measure tappable white outrage to decide whether or not it‘s going to work as a strategy?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, you know, if we can remember that President Obama paused in the middle of the primary race to speak in Philadelphia about the question of race in America. And he set up sort of two possibilities, black anger rooted in a history of African-American inequality and white resentment rooted in a sense of kind of a loss of racial privilege.
Now, I think in many ways it‘s a very accurate assessment of sort of the ways that blacks and whites, not completely and not perfectly, but often perceive things quite differently. So I spent the month in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of this.
Everybody in the country was mad but African-Americans saw the failures of the federal government around Katrina as a race issue. White Americans who were still angry about the failures of the government saw it primarily as a bureaucratic issue rather than a race issue.
So here, you have these two groups with very different perspectives. Now, that made all the difference in being able to make policy. So I think that they‘re hoping that these differences in how blacks and whites often see the world can be a perfect kind of wedge to use on health care, to use on education, to use on a wide variety of issues that, in fact, really - if we don‘t fix health care, it is bad for all Americans.
But if we can somehow kind of suggest that the president is just trying to do things that are good for black people and bad for white people, then it opens up that kind of possibility of anxiety, distrust, and different perceptions.
MADDOW: Melissa Harris Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, I think that‘s tremendous insight. That sort of insight is the whole reason that I sought you out in the first place and had you back on the show so many times. It‘s really invaluable. Thanks, Melissa.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: I love being here.
MADDOW: Thanks very much. All right. Coming up next, we welcome Sarah Chayes back to the show. She went to Afghanistan in 2001 to cover the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan for NPR. But then, she decided to give up being a reporter and just move there and live there.
Now, eight years later, she has decided to start working with the U.S. military in Afghanistan - the last person in the world you‘d expect to be doing that. Her reasoning about it will blow your mind. Sarah Chayes, next.
MADDOW: On Monday‘s show, we brought you some footage from “Firedoglake‘s” Mike Stark, footage in which he asked Republican members of Congress on Capitol Hill whether they were birthers, essentially, or whether they were willing to say that the president was, in fact, born in the United States and isn‘t secretly foreign and therefore secretly not really president.
Well, Mr. Stark has now gone back at it for round two, patrolling Capitol Hill to ask still more Republican members of Congress whether or not Barack Obama, is as the Constitution requires, a natural born citizen of the country of which he is president. The results were alarmingly similar to round one of Mr. Stark‘s effort.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE STARK, “FIREDOGLAKE”: Do you believe he was born in America, And anyone who believes otherwise is a little bit cuckoo?
REP. NATHAN DEAL (R-GA): I wouldn‘t say that. I have no idea where he was born.
REP. JEAN SCHMIDT (R-OH): I‘d love to talk to you, but I‘m -
STARK: I‘ll run with you.
SCHMIDT: No, no, no, no. I‘ve got to -
STARK: Quick question -
SCHMIDT: No, no.
STARK: Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States?
SCHMIDT: You know, I‘ve got to go right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘ll tell you what. She has to get to vote - do have you a card?
STARK: This is a yes or no question. Are you still looking forward to seeing more documents?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me get your name and number.
DEAL: You know, the best way to do that, I think, is to produce the birth certificate and let that be the end of it. I don‘t think that‘s been done yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I don‘t think that‘s been done yet. Real stunner came from the former number two Republican member of the House, Roy Blunt of Missouri. Mr. Blunt is running for Senate in 2010. Surely, Mr. Blunt would therefore want to knock down any remnant of a doubt about this disproven bit of paranoid hysteria, wouldn‘t he?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): What I don‘t know is why the president can‘t produce a birth certificate. I don‘t know anybody else that can‘t produce one. And I think that‘s a legitimate question - no health records, no birth certificate.
STARK: He has produced a certificate of live birth, right?
BLUNT: I don‘t believe so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: People with TV machines or computer machines or 15 seconds of free time all believe he has produced it because there it is. Can you imagine, Sen. Blunt, the birther? Behold the modern Republican Party.
MADDOW: Here is something awkward. You know James Carville? Besides Karl Rove, James Carville is probably the closest thing in this country to a political consultant who is a household name.
Mr. Carville made his bones running Bill Clinton‘s campaign for president. He‘s gone on since to be a very successful campaign guy, a very successful media guy, and a guy who is a Democrat who is very famously married to a Republican who does the same job as him.
Well, now, the new presidential campaign that James Carville is working on is for a guy who‘s running for president of Afghanistan. He‘s running for president of Afghanistan against Hamid Karzai.
James Carville is the political consultant for Ashraf Ghani. He used to be the finance minister of Afghanistan. Mr. Ghani is running against Hamid Karzai. And James Carville has been doing things like saying in interviews that Karzai is incompetent.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is Secretary of State. How‘s that for an awkward moment the next time Secretary Clinton is supposed to meet Hamid Karzai? Madame Secretary looking forward to these negotiations. Perhaps you could first remove the teeth of your consigliare from my ankle.
Well, the elections in Afghanistan are in less than a month. And because this is Afghanistan, there are some pretty amazing details about just what it takes to get a national election done there. The AP reporting this week, for example, that 3,100 donkeys are being dispatched to deliver ballots to remote villages that are inaccessible by any kind of vehicle.
The official American line on what we‘re doing in Afghanistan now is that we‘re using our troops to protect the civilian Afghan population from insurgent fighters, to keep the Taliban from coming back to power.
Meanwhile, we‘re supposed to be trying to build up the capacity of the Afghan government to actually provide services and be seen as the legitimate source of authority in that country by their own people.
Does that mean the U.S. wants Hamid Karzai to win the election and stay in power? That is a very good question. Another question, how good an idea is this whole American strategy now? How long are we expecting this war to go on and how winnable is it?
We‘ve got nearly 60,000 Americans there now, almost double the number from a year ago and still more on the way. Top commanders now requesting even more troops than were initially planned. U.S. casualties stand at 40 for the month of July alone which makes this month the deadliest yet for Americans since we invaded nearly eight years ago.
Yes, we invaded nearly eight years ago, and we‘re still there. Tonight, we ask an American who has lived in Afghanistan for more consecutive years since the war began than anyone else I know of if the U.S. is fighting the same war we started eight years ago. Or if we really are doing something new now, something that might some day both work and have an end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Joining us now is Sarah Chayes, special advisor to Gen. Stanley McCrystal who is the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Sarah went to Afghanistan eight years ago as a reporter for NPR. She remained there after the fall of the Taliban to help rebuild the country.
She‘s kind enough to join us from Washington on this very short trip but she‘s on back to the States. Hi, Sarah. Thanks very much for making time to be with us.
SARAH CHAYES, SPECIAL ADVISOR TO GEN. STANLEY MCCRYSTAL: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the elections on August 20th. Should we be watching those elections as an important metric how Afghanistan, overall, is going, how our goals are - whether or not we‘re achieving our goals?
CHAYES: It‘s really problematic. Because to be quite honest, we did lose some time in between the U.S. elections and the Afghan elections, to be honest. And the problem is that a lot of Afghans really feel that the whole process is rigged and that President Karzai has kind of taken advantage of all of the levers of power that he controls as president to try to fix the election.
And I wish I had brought them with me but I bought five - no, 10 voter registration cards. You can buy them like I could have bought 1,000 if I had wanted to. And I could take those or somebody could take those into a polling place, you know, one of the more remote ones, and just fill out ballots in the names of those people whose cards you have and fill out the numbers - you know, fill in the numbers of the cards.
And you see, I‘ve seen police officials who have knocked on people‘s doors and kindly suggested that they not run for provincial council, for example. I have heard of a couple of opposition rallies being broken up.
And you know, I mean, I would say on that kind of international and historic scale, the abuse of the electoral process may not make a huge splash. But to Afghans, it really does. Number one, because they‘re traumatized and it doesn‘t take a lot of intimidation to cause them to change their behavior.
And number two, they see that there are 42 countries, you know, in their country supposedly trying to ensure free and fair elections. And so when this kind of thing goes on, they assume that it‘s all of our - the international community‘s deliberate policy.
MADDOW: You have been through a number of transformations in terms of your own role in Afghanistan over the last seven or eight years, starting as a reporter, moving on to work directly with the Afghan people in Kandahar.
Now, I understand you‘re in Kabul and you‘re working as a special advisor to the top U.S. military commander there. Why did you make a decision to start working with the military? It didn‘t seem like that was the obvious next thing for to you do there.
CHAYES: I felt like this was a way to make a difference. I felt like this was, first of all, the organization that‘s got the biggest footprint in Afghanistan. And second of all, I‘d have to say somewhat to my surprise, given my own background, I assessed over the course of the seven years that I have been watching that actually the U.S. military is incredibly public-spirited in Afghanistan.
And to some extent, even more so than a lot of the folks that you would have expected to be public-spirited, like humanitarians and maybe civilian officials and things like that, that I was really seeing the U.S. military doing its darnedest to do the right thing.
And so it seemed to me when I got the invitation that this was - if I was going to try to put my experience to use to make a difference, this was how to do it. Now, there‘s always the issue of how do you stay honest? You know, how do you not get co-opted or whatever it is.
And I think that‘s the balance that I have to fight to maintain, and that means getting back out into the countryside as often and as seriously as possible and then just getting in there. And even when it clashes, which it does sometimes, or even when it is disharmonious, always inserting this Afghan perspective.
And I‘m very fortunate in that, for the moment, that‘s really been welcome, even when I‘m a lone voice, which sometimes I am.
MADDOW: It says a lot about the intention of the mission that they extended the invitation, and it says a lot about you that you said yes. So Sarah, thanks for your work. Thank you for making time to join us. I know this is a real quick trip. And have safe travels back to Kabul.
CHAYES: Thanks so much for having me. It‘s really an honor.
MADDOW: My interview with Sarah Chayes recorded earlier this week. Sarah is a special advisor to the top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McCrystal.
OK. Coming up on “Countdown,” Sen. Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Edwards will join guest host Dr. Howard Dean.
Next on this show, Kent Jones has a RACHEL MADDOW SHOW exclusive about our new robot overlords. I, for one, welcome them. That‘s next.
MADDOW: We turn now to our robot resistance correspondent, Kent Jones.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. You know, a group of brilliant computer scientists got together to discuss the future of technology. Is it going to be good? Is it going to be evil? What I want to know is, are the machines about to take over?
(voice-over): This “New York Times” headline implied, yes - yes, they are. It‘s a worse-case scenario. Our laptops and ATMs and iPhones are catching up to us. And now, they want payback. And after that, terminators.
Is this is just my carbon-based lizard brain overreacting? Or is some super-smart Hal about to lock the pod bay doors on humanity.
DOUGLAS RAIN, NARRATOR: This sort of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due to human error.
JONES: No, the brain trust says relax. We‘re a long way from super-evolved master hard drive controlling everything. Also, they say there‘s not much chance of artificial intelligence springing up spontaneously from the Internet. Given the stuff clogging the Web these nowadays, why would it?
However, the experts say robots are getting scary smart and, in time, will become more and more like us. There have been some experiments with machines that simulate empathy. Yes, empathy from a machine. It sounds like we‘re closing in on a mythical robot friend with benefits.
And the wonks won. Sophisticated machines are going to absorb more and more jobs that used to be done by humans. At first, it will be the un-sexy ones no one wants to do. But as they evolve, machines will start taking the cool jobs, too. And then, we‘ve really got problems.
MADDOW: No union problems there, I guess. Thanks, Kent.
MADDOW: And thank you at home for watching tonight. “COUNTDOWN” starts right now.
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