The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 07/30/09

Guests:
Tricia Rose, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Reza Aslan, Kent Jones
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Richard. Thank you so much for that. Appreciate it.

And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Besides the most famous four beers ever consumed at the White House, today featured dramatic action by liberals in the battle over health care reform, a Democratic congressman calling Republicans bluff on health care, renewed mass resistance to the government in the streets of Iran, and more news about the wing-nuttery that is the birther movement.

Professor Tricia Rose, Congressman Anthony Weiner and Reza Aslan will all be along tonight to discuss those stories and more. It’s all coming up.

But we begin tonight with what was perhaps the most anticipated, the most hyped, the most speculated about round of beers in recent American history. Tonight at the White House, President Obama welcomed the two men who found themselves at the center of a national debate about race this summer: Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Sergeant James Crowley.

The two men joined President Obama and Vice President Biden at a small table outside the Oval Office tonight to discuss the incident that brought them together: the arrest of Professor Gates inside his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, two weeks ago.

The event was held beyond ear shot of the press. Reporters were kept behind a rope about 50 feet away from the festivities, but they were allowed to shoot about 30 seconds of video.

We can report that President Obama, as expected, drank a Bud Light.

Vice President Biden enjoyed a non-alcoholic Buckler beer. He says he’s

never taken a drink of alcohol in his life. And let’s face it-frankly,

this would be a weird time to start. Professor Gates had a Sam Adams Light

Yay Boston! And Sergeant Crowley drank a Blue Moon with a slice of orange in it, which is how the company that makes that beer suggests that you drink it. I’m just saying.

White House aides tell NBC News that the interaction between Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley was friendly and warm. The two men both brought their families to the White House today and two men crossed paths briefly before their actual sit-down while they and their families were shown around the East Wing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. JAMES CROWLEY, CAMBRIDGE POLICE DEPT.: The professor and I encountered each other while we both on individual tours of the White House, and the professor approached me and introduced his family. I introduced my family, and then we continued on with the tour, but as a group. Two families moving together, and that was the start. So, it was very cordial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: When it was time for Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates to sit down with the president and the vice president, they headed outside with Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama while their families continued their tour over into the White House West Wing. Now, the Gates and Crowley families departed the White House a little over an hour ago. Sergeant Crowley did hold a brief press conference with reporters after the meeting was over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: We had a cordial and productive discussion today with the president, vice president and Professor Gates. We have all agreed that it’s important to look forward rather than backward. Issues important to all of us will form the basis of discussion between Professor Gates and me in the days and weeks to come.

Professor Gates and I bring different perspectives to these issues and have agreed that both perspectives should be addressed in an effort to provide a constructive outcome to the events the past month.

I think what we had today was two gentlemen agreed to disagree on a particular issue. I don’t think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future.

What was accomplished was, this is a positive step and moving forward as opposed to reliving the events of the past couple of weeks, in an effort to move not just the city of Cambridge or two individuals past this event, but the whole country, to move beyond this and use this as a basis of maybe some meaningful discussions in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Sergeant Crowley did add today that no apologies were given during the meeting, but the men do plan to meet again at some point in the near future.

And for his part, Professor Gates released a written statement about the event. It reads in part, quote, “Let me say that I thank God that I live in a country in which police officers put their lives at risk to protect us every day, and, more than ever, I’ve come to understand and appreciate their daily sacrifices on our behalf.

I’m also grateful that we live in a country where freedom of speech is a sacrosanct value and I hope that one day we can get to know each other better, as we began to do at the White House this afternoon over beers with President Obama.

Thank God we live in a country where speech is protected, a country which guarantees and defends my right to speak out when I believe my rights have been violated, a country that protects us from arrest when we do express our views, no matter how unpopular.”

“The national conversation over the past week about my arrest,” Professor Gates went on to say, “has been a rowdy, not to the say tumultuous and unruly. But we’ve learned that we can have our differences without demonizing one another. There’s to hope,” he said,” that many people have emerged with greater sympathy for the daily perils of policing, on the one hand, and for the genuine fears about racial profiling on the other hand.”

The full written statement is posted, as opposed to my herky-jerky reading of it here, is available at our Web site at Rachel.MSNBC.com, if you’d like to read it for yourself. It is considerably longer than the portion we just read.

President Obama himself chose not to talk to reporters after the event today. But the White House did release a written statement from the president. It said, quote, “I am thankful to Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley for joining me at the White House this evening for a friendly, thoughtful conversation. Even before we sat down for the beer, I learned that the two gentlemen spent some time together listening to one another, which is a testament to them. I have always believed that what bring us together is stronger than what pulls us apart. I’m confident that has happened here tonight and I’m hopeful all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode.”

When President Obama announced that this meeting would take place, which he announced last week, he explained at the time that he hoped the whole situation could be a “teachable moment.” Well, tonight, before the meeting took place, the president was looking to lower expectations a bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know this been called the beer summit. It’s a-it’s a clever term, but this is not a summit, guys. This is three folks having a drink at the end of the day, and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other. And that’s really all it is.

These are people involved, including myself. All of whom are imperfect, and, you know, hopefully, instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, you know, everybody can just spend a little bit of time with some self-reflection and recognizing that other people have different points of view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Joining us now is Tricia Rose. She’s a professor and chair of Africana Studies at Brown University.

Professor Rose, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

TRICIA ROSE, AFRICANA STUDIES CHAIR & PROFESSOR, PBROWN UNIVERSITY:

My pleasure.

MADDOW: Do you think that a teachable moment was the right thing for the president to try to go for here, and do you think it succeeds as a teachable moment?

ROSE: Well, I’m not sure it was teachable moment, but it was the beginning of a model for speaking about hour interpersonal communication and calm exchange of ideas-even when you disagree-is an important strategy for moving towards perhaps some other kind of consensus.

But for a real teachable moment to happen, you have to actually have data, facts, history, context and the knowledge. It can’t just be personal experience and perception. So, a teachable moment requires more than just personal opinion. And so, of course, you can’t do that over a beer with, you know, hundreds and hundreds of cameras in a brief exchange. But as a groundwork for a larger one-yes, it’s possible.

MADDOW: Do you think that this event and all of the attention that today’s photo-op and meeting brought to this event-do you think that it should be followed up at the presidential level by the administration in some way in order to try to make this a more constructive experience for the country?

ROSE: No. I don’t think the White House should be at the center of that.

I think we have an elaborate educational system. We have a system of higher education. We have departments such as mine that teach on race in the modern world and how it’s been constructed and the history of it-good, bad and indifferent-and we have experts who have studied racial profiling and studied issues of injustice or discriminatory practices and lending, and housing and all kinds of things-good intentions gone awry, whatever. We have experts for that.

We need to gather them. Resources should be provided to do more for that, and this information needs to be a part of our educational system.

It shouldn’t be a shock and a surprise and a personal insult that the data that supports, Rachel, structural forms of discrimination might still be going on. The fact that might be shocking or something that we can’t address, that’s where we need the “teachable moment.” It’s not really just about one professor and one sergeant. It’s much bigger, and our unity and our future really depends on confronting this, not terrorizing ourselves with the fear of being accused of one thing or another.

MADDOW: That said, this one president really has put himself quite personally into the middle of this today and over these last couple of weeks. I mean, after the president said that the Cambridge police “acted stupidly” in this arrest, the reaction on the right is that-they used that as an opportunity, in my opinion, to really race-bait the president, to overtly start calling the president a racist.

Can the president rebut an allegation like that or is that the kind of thing that you just leave to bleed to death in the gutter where it came from?

ROSE: Well, you know, I think to claim that an individual acted stupidly is not a racial comment. And to talk about the history of racial profiling as a potential context for an incident is not a racist thing to do. So, it seems to me that we might just want to let that one die on the vine-at the same time as we challenge the ease with which any criticism can be turned into race-baiting when the president’s black.

I mean-you know, I mean, how can it be calling an action stupid is race-baiting? Now, that doesn’t mean I’m supporting what he chose to say. I don’t think that was a good choice of words. I agree with many other people who said that.

But a bad choice of words does not equal a racist comment. And we don’t even have enough sophistication to discern the difference. We need many more teachable moments, clearly.

MADDOW: I think that’s right-and very good teachers.

ROSE: Absolutely.

MADDOW: The president is considered by-especially a lot of the punditocracy, especially is sort of beltway common wisdom that he is particularly facile and subtle and skilled in talking about race. And I don’t know if that’s because he is about in absolute terms very skilled at talking about race or it’s just a very low bar set by national-level American politicians for being able to handle this issue well.

Do you think that he deserves tougher scrutiny for the way he leads on issues of race and racism? Or do you think that he has been doing very, very well?

ROSE: I mean, I think it’s an impossible situation. We’ve had, you know, 43 presidents, almost all of whom have been unable to lead in the way we’re expecting him to lead on the question of race. And it’s an unbelievable standard given all else the president has to deal with.

I mean, we don’t need to talk about health care right here. We don’t need to talk about war. I mean, we could be here all night talking about all the rest of the things he really needs to do. Now, of course, that is an additional burden that he has to bear, but we have an equally important burden-which is that we have to take seriously that to really address race to get us in this idea of a post-racist or post-racial inequality society, we have to deal with those details together in community with knowledge, with background, with education and simple dialogue.

He can’t be asked to be the leader for that. I don’t think he should be held to any additionally high standards because I think the standards are already off the chart. As this incident shows, that we needed a beer, you know, not summit commentary moments, to discuss it. I mean, it’s a surreal to me that this is actually taking place, quite frankly.

MADDOW: And the images that we got on the screen right now showing this-showing this summit, I have to admit, are surreal. I find it surreal that I’m fascinated by what beers they drink, the whole thing.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSE: Exactly.

MADDOW: Tricia Rose, professor and chair of African Studies at Brown University-it’s really, really nice to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.

ROSE: My pleasure.

MADDOW: OK, Republicans. How much do you hate government-run health care plans? Do you hate government-run health care plans enough to kill Medicare? Hoping to force opponents of the public option in health care reform to, quote, “put up or shut up.” Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner of New York today sponsored an amendment to kill Medicare.

Go ahead, haters. Vote to kill Medicare. I’m sure you’re constituents will be really understanding in 2010.

Congressman Weiner joins us next to talk about calling the Republicans’ bluff.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The health care battle going on now in Congress is not fundamentally now a battle between Democrats and Republicans. It more closely approximates a battle between liberals and conservatives, which in today’s politics looks a lot like battle between those who represent corporate interests and those who represent a way more populist anti-corporate line.

In this health care fight, conservatives have cast their lot with the insurance and pharmaceutical and other corporate medical companies whose, even if the U.S. health care system is really failing a lot of the rest of the country, it suits those companies just fine, thank you very much.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl, for example, offered this vigorous defense of the health insurance industry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA: The health insurance industry is the most regulated or one of the most regulated industries in the America. They don’t need to be kept honest by a competitor from the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: They don’t need to be kept honest? They’re fine.

Here’s the main political battle line on health care reform: Should the government provide some competition to the health insurance companies to try to lower costs for the people, or not? Conservatives have, in large numbers, chosen: or not-siding with insurance companies to say that everything’s pretty much fine the way it is now.

Today, liberals in Congress loudly positioned themselves against that point of view, starting with the top Democrat in Congress, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Insurance companies are out there in full force, carpet bombing, shock and awe against the public option. These are initiatives that are very important in this legislation, and they are to correct what the insurance companies have done to America and to the health of our people over the years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Speaker Pelosi used even stronger language after that press conference, telling reporters, quote, “It is somewhat immoral what they are doing. Of course, they have been immoral all along how they have treated the people they insure. They are the villains in this. They have been part of the problem in a major way. The public has to know that.”

This attempt to make the insurance companies, the corporate interest in health care system the villain in this fight, was foreshadowed by President Obama yesterday, during a town hall event in Raleigh, North Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We have a system today that works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn’t always work well for you. What we need, and what we will have when we pass these reforms are health insurance consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and insurance company are held accountable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Lest you think it’s mere coincidence that Democrats are now putting the insurance companies right in the political crosshairs, standing up against the interests in Washington who are alive with those corporate interests, members of Congress’ progressive caucus came out in force today with a message that definitely sounds familiar to you by now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is the accountability for the insurance companies?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, it’s about insurance companies and what they need.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don’t understand what the insurers are afraid of. They’re afraid of the competition. The insurers believe in the market, we believe in the market.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Private insurance companies have had decades to provide meaningful reform to our system. They have failed, and Congress must now act boldly in order to save lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, that’s the liberal answer to the conservative argument that the health system is fine the way it is and the insurance industry, by the way, is awesome.

As for the many, many cries against a publicly-funded insurance plan, well, Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York is all over it. Congressman Weiner has cast himself as the health care version of Clarence the Angel, forcing everyone in Congress to think about what life would be like without a very popular, already existing, publicly funded health insurance plan. Congressman Weiner introduced an amendment tonight that would eliminate Medicare.

Of course, Mr. Weiner didn’t actually want Medicare to be eliminated but he did want to force every conservative on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to have to go on the record with their position on the government-run health plan upon which 43 million American voters rely.

In other words, really, Republicans? You’re against government-funded health care? Care to go on the real record with that? Care to vote to kill Medicare?

Congressman Anthony Weiner joins us now. He has just stepped outside the hearing room in Congress to join us.

Congressman, thank you so much for coming on the show.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D-NY), NAT’L. HEALTH CARE ACT CO-SPONSOR: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: How did the vote go in your amendment?

WEINER: Well, for some reason, I guess Republicans don’t like publicly funded, publicly administered health plans except for Medicare, and, I guess, except for the Veterans Administration and except for the health care that our military gets from the Department of Defense. The fact of the matter is, what we’ve learned is that government administered health care works pretty darn well. It’s got lower overhead and people like it.

So, when my Republican colleagues pound the drum and pound the podium about how they hate government-run health care, I guess they haven’t looked at what they get.

MADDOW: When you where deciding about what to do with this amendment, deciding what your role was going to be in health care, what you could do in this committee, did the Medicare idea come to you because you knew it would be an embarrassment? Did you think that any Republicans would actually vote against Medicare?

WEINER: Well, I did. And you should make note that this is the 44th anniversary to the day of the creation of Medicare. But it does lead us to the next logical step where I need colleagues on both sides of the aisle to start to come to. And that is not why have a public option, but why have a private option at all.

If we know, for example, the one experiment we have is very successful, the publicly funded health care through Medicare, why do we even need insurance companies? What constructive role are they playing? We know they’re taking tens of billions of dollars each year and putting it into profits that should be going into health care.

So, tomorrow, I’m going to be taking the next step in offering a true single-payer health care plan, and I want people today to start to think about, “Hey, maybe that’s the way we do it. It’s simpler and we know that it’s works.”

MADDOW: Why do you think that single-payer hasn’t been a prominent option in the table thus far in the health care debate?

WEINER: I think, to some degree, we, on the left, have been a little bit afraid of our own shadow here and we also forgot one thing from the ‘93-94 debates about health care. You know, people understand the things they have. They want this debate to be simple in the terms that they get.

People understand Medicare. They know their parents have it, their grandparents, they themselves have it. They know that it’s sufficient and they know it’s not perfect. They know there are gaps that need to be filled but they also know they’d much rather have government or their congressmen be able to call and make those changes than wait on an 800 number or go by shares of stock in order to influence policy.

But right now, we’ve got a cumbersome plan that is hanging by the thread because it’s built on the foundation of private insurance which a lot of people don’t like.

MADDOW: When you look at the opposition to moving forward on health care reform, not only just opposition to an idea like single-payer, but opposition to the very idea of significantly changing the system we’ve got now at all, that opposition is coming not just from Republicans but from conservative Democrats as well.

Do you think it’s an ideological liberal conservative split or do you think this is about the influence of the insurance industry and other industries that profit from the system being the way they are now on members of Congress?

WEINER: Well, invariably, in rooms like the one behind me, status quo is probably the most powerful force in Washington. That’s particularly true. And that status quo benefits a large industry like the insurance industry.

You know, this notion-and even President Obama says it sometimes, that people like their insurance policy. No, they don’t like their insurance policy. I don’t know anyone who wakes up in the morning and says, “Boy, I can’t wait to dial the 800 number from my local insurance company.”

I think what people realize, though, is that, frankly, it’s there. And the lobbyists around here work very hard to keep it there. And that’s a considerable force.

But there is something of a right/left divide here. I mean, mostly of the problems we have in the Democratic Caucus come from the right side. And, look, they’re getting leaned on pretty hard and they’re doing what they think is right. But I think it’s wrong for the country.

MADDOW: Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York-it was a bold move today in the committee. Thanks very much for joining us to talk about it. Appreciate it.

WEINER: My pleasure. Thank you.

MADDOW: The other big issue energizing the right, right now, is remarkably still birth certificates-specifically, a Hawaiian one that belongs to a Barack Obama, that they claim they still haven’t seen yet even though it’s everywhere.

Coming up: I’m going to delve into the birthers argument and try not to get too much kook on my hands.

Later on: Rallies, protests and mourning. The post-election outrage in Iran is not over. One of our favorite guests of the year, Reza Aslan, will be here, joining me right here in Los Angeles in studio.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Still ahead: A Pennsylvania congressman gets a letter from a constituent, asking for clarification about the wackadoodle birther movement. The said congressman sends back to his constituent a long, detailed explanation of all the wackadoodle birther conspiracy theories there are. That’s public service-and we have the letter.

Plus, today, there were huge demonstrations in Tehran. Reza Aslan will join us here in studio with the latest.

And, has anyone complemented you today? Kent Jones can help. Plus, he looks great. That’s coming up.

But first, it’s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today’s news.

First up, today, we saw one of the stranger moments in American journalism about our war in Iraq. “The New York Times” Web site, for a large portion of the day, front-paging a story about a memo written by an American military adviser in Iraq named Colonel Timothy Reese. He said U.S. forces should plan to come home sooner rather than later, that it would be a good idea to leave next year instead of the year after that.

Quote, “As the old saying goes, ‘Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.’ Since the signing of the 2009 security agreement, we are guests in Iraq and after six years, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose.”

Now, at roughly the same time “The New York Times” was putting this on their front page, Spencer Ackerman of “The Washington Independent,” and shortly after, Zachary Roth at “Talking Points Memo,” were looking into this story as well, pointing out that the Army officer who authored this memo appears to have first posted it on his personal blog-which is titled “Tim the Enchanter,” and it’s at a right-wing Web site known as Townhall. That’s where the Colonel Reese has also posted a rather unhinge screed health care reform that the government will start controlling all the grocery stores in America.

Now, looking at colonel’s Iraq memo itself, it does seem like the kind of thing that might be more appropriate for a place like “Tim the Enchanter” at Townhall, rather than the front page of “The New York Times.” Quote, “The government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces will continue to squeeze the U.S. for all the goodies that we can provide. They will tolerate us as long as they can suckle at Uncle Sam’s bounteous mammary glands.”

You may be relieved to hear the head of the U.S. military force in Iraq says the bounteous mammary-glanded, old fish-smelling memo isn’t actually the official stance of the U.S. military. It’s just this one right-wing blogger colonel’s opinion, which is neat. But it’s also on the front page of the “New York Times?”

And finally, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian award. Its recipients have traditionally been distinguished men and women who have contributed to the greater good in the worlds of sports and music and medicine and activism, diplomacy, literature, et cetera.

For example, today, President Obama announced his administration’s first 16 recipients. Among them, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, tennis champion Billie Jean King, physicist Stephen Hawking, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Harvey Milk, the late and lamented first openly-gay elected official from a major city in the United States. Also, Nancy Goodman-Brinker, the founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Breast Cancer Foundation.

Under George W. Bush, dare I say in contrast, recipients included former CIA director George Tenet who famously said the faulty intelligence upon which war in Iraq was based was a quote, “slam dunk.” He also gave one to Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq during the post-invasion phase of the war that is essentially universally acknowledged to be a complete bureaucratic, moral, military and strategic disaster.

Presidential Medal of Freedom, it’s nice to have you back and to have you no longer be ironic.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Forty days ago, a young woman named Neda was killed on the streets of Tehran in a shooting that was captured on videotape and was uploaded surreptitiously and it then rocketed around the world online.

Neda’s killing galvanized Iranians themselves and people around the world in solidarity with the opposition movement that had sprung up in Iran after the disputed presidential election there on June 12th.

The fact it’s been 40 days since the date of Neda killing is important symbolically and politically. In Shia Muslim tradition, the dead are mourned in a cycle of three, then seven, then 40 days. Forty days marks the end of the period of mourning for someone who has died, and today, the end of the period of mourning for Neda.

It brought the Iranian opposition movement back into the streets and back into the headlines at a time when the regime against which they are protesting has never looked weaker. At the cemetery where Neda and other protesters are buried in fresh graves, police used tear gas and batons to disperse the crowds that had gathered despite the government banning public displays of mourning.

Mir Hossein Musavi, whose suspicious supposed defeat in the June 12th election sparked the mass demonstration seven weeks ago, attempted to join the protesters at the cemetery. But when he arrived, he was surrounded by police and forced to leave before he could address the crowd.

In the backdrop for this dramatic persistent defiant resistance in the streets of Iran is, of course, the government that these protesters decry. The President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, due to be sworn in next week, even as he has split in some senses from the country’s religious supreme leader and from many the country’s senior clerics, and as most of the Iranian parliament wouldn’t even show up for his supposed victory party after he was declared winner of the election.

Today, at the cemetery where Neda is buried, the “New York Times” reports that some protestors were chanting, “Neda is alive. Ahmadinejad is dead.”

Joining us now is Reza Aslan. He is contributing editor at “The Daily Beast” and he’s author of the book, “How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror.” Reza, thanks very much for joining us. Nice to see you.

REZA ASLAN, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, “THE DAILY BEAST”: Thanks, Rachel.

Welcome to Los Angeles, or as we Iranians call it, “Tehrangeles.”

MADDOW: “Tehrangeles?”

ASLAN: Yes.

MADDOW: That’s very nice. You know, it is amazing. Part of the thing that’s great about being in L.A. is you see, compared to the rest of the country, the disproportionate coverage of Iranian events here.

ASLAN: Yes, we take it very seriously over here. There’s actually about, I think, eight or nine Iranian-Persian satellite stations coming out of L.A. That’s more than there’s network TV.

MADDOW: Wow.

ASLAN: So yes, we take it seriously.

MADDOW: Wow. That’s’ amazing. Well, I am no expert on matters Iranian or on Shia Muslim tradition. But am I right in terms of the symbolic importance of this being day 40 since June 20th, the day that Neda and others protestors were killed?

ASLAN: That’s right. You said it just right. So in Shia tradition, there is a cycle of mourning that takes place primarily on the 40th day after a death. And this was the 40th day after the death of Neda Agha Soltan as you’ve mentioned. But it was an opportunity for all of the protesters who have died and who are still in prison, for all of them to be remembered in an active religious devotion.

And in many ways, this was really a challenge to the regime. What the protesters were saying is that, “Look, we’re just here to move forward on our religious obligations. If you want to stop us, then it’s you who’s being irreligious.”

MADDOW: So it’s a way to use religious doctrine to shame the government that prides itself, in part, on its piety.

ASLAN: Yes. And in fact, this is part of the grand strategy of the protestors. And the entire anti-Ahmadinejad coalition has been using one to work within the legal framework of the government.

So, for instance, a few days ago, former President Khatami declared that we should have a referendum in Iran to, once and for all, decide this election. And that’s very clever, because the constitution of Iran actually allows for referenda. Whereas, you know, in many other cases you really - your hands are tied.

And then, now, using these kinds of acts of religious devotion, again, trying to say to the regime that, you know, we are the ones who are being true to the idea of the Islamic republic. You are the one who is betraying it.

MADDOW: In that vein, there was a report today that some of the chants today at the cemetery - and I mentioned one of them, “Neda is alive. Ahmadinejad is dead.” But there are also reports that protestors were chanting, “Independence, freedom, Iranian republic.”

And that would be a pointed contrast to the slogan from Iran’s revolution 30 years ago, which was “Independence, Freedom, Islamic republic.”

ASLAN: Yes.

MADDOW: If that indeed happened, and again, we can’t confirm this because there are independent reporters that we can call about this sort of stuff, if that is true, what would that mean?

ASLAN: Well, look, there is a very large and diverse coalition forming against Ahmadinejad. And some of them are what we would call secularists who want to remove religion from the state altogether.

There are those who want to work within the system in order to reform it little by little. There are those who feel that we - what we should do is go back to the original vision of Khomeini that somehow, you know, Iran has moved away from that.

It’s not what binds - it’s not what they have in common that binds this coalition together. It’s what they don’t want. And what they don’t want is the kind of militarization of Iranian politics, this sort of police state that Ahmadinejad represents.

MADDOW: And in terms of Ahmadinejad’s strength or weakness, he is due to be sworn in on August 5th. What do you think we should be looking for in terms of the strength of the opposition movement, his own strength and the future of the regime?

ASLAN: Well, there’s no question that August 5th is going to be another massive day of protest, both in Iran and throughout the world. Last Saturday, you had 100 cities around the world protesting in solidarity with Iran.

You’re probably going to see something close to that. But really, what you’re going to see from here on out after August 5th is that now, Ahmadinejad is in charge of this mess. And so, at this point, he’s been sort of in this (inaudible) stage, where he hasn’t really been in charge of anything, per se.

But now, he’s going to have to figure out a way most importantly to get the economy back on track. The protesters have become very sophisticated. They are now attacking the government where it hurts, in their pocketbook, by taking money out of banks and not buying products, boycotting products that are advertised on state-run television.

This is how you get this government to pay attention. And somehow, Ahmadinejad is going to have to figure out a way to fix this in the midst of this whole illegitimacy issue that he’s dealing with.

MADDOW: Right. And in the midst of every time anybody blinks, people being out in the streets in open defiance to the government.

ASLAN: This - as I’ve said, every time I’ve appeared on the show, this is far from over.

MADDOW: Yes. Reza Aslan, contributing editor - congratulations on the promotion - of “The Daily Beast” and author “How to Win a Cosmic War:

God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror.” It’s great to see you, Reza. Thank you.

ASLAN: It’s good to see.

MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Rush Limbaugh called “Salon.com’s” Joan Walsh, something that is so lame and so gross I’m not going to repeat it here. But “Salon.com’s” Joan Walsh will join “COUNTDOWN” with her reaction.

Next on this show, the birther movement having been smacked like a fly by the big swatter of reality is proving to be amazingly resilient. Exclusive new weirdness this time from a congressman in Pennsylvania who is about to be famous for something he really doesn’t want to be famous for. That’s coming up next. Stay with us.

But first, one more thing about Iran. As the U.S. tries diplomacy to curb Iran’s nuclear program, a cadre of top U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Bob Gates, Middle East envoy George Mitchell, national security adviser James Jones and senior aide Dennis Ross have all dropped by Israel for a little stop - a little stop threatening Iran with military action powwow.

Well, despite that diplomatic full-court, Israel-Iran press, “Newsweek” magazine published genius op-ed with this breathtaking suggestion. Why not make George W. Bush America’s new Middle East envoy? Because nothing says peace in the Middle East like George W. Bush? I wish somebody would have warned me in advance that it was going to be opposite day because I would have worn my prom dress.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: What you are about to see is a test of the emergency broadcast hysteria system. This is a test, only a test. If this were actual emergency broadcast hysteria, I wouldn’t be saying the crazy shynola I’m about to say.

My fellow Americans, Sen. John McCain of Arizona came within a few million votes of getting elected president the United States even though he was not born in the United States. You feel yourself hyperventilating? Do you need to breathe into a paper bag for a second?

It’s true. John McCain, who came in a close second in the last presidential election, was not born in the United States. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 while his father was stationed there with the U.S. Navy. And you know, Panama is a different country than the United States.

Now, as the voices stream to your brain through the metal fillings in your teeth constantly remind you and they are correct, Article 2 of the Constitution says that in order to qualify to be president of the United States, you have to be a natural-born citizen.

So oh, my god! How can the Republican Party who brought us to this brink of this constitutional crisis by running John McCain for president in full knowledge of the fact, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the fact that he was born outside the United States. Crisis, crisis!

OK. Actually, not a crisis at all. Test over. Because when that sort of idiotic hysterical argument started bubbling up when it became apparent John McCain might be a presidential nominee, it was Democrats in Congress who put a stop to it.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the Democratic chair of the Judiciary Committee and other Democrats in the Senate all introduced legislation declaring that the natural born citizen clause in Article 2 of the Constitution did include John McCain being born on that Navy installation in Panama.

Now, these folks height have been opposed to the idea of John McCain being elected president. They were all campaigning against him. Barack Obama was running against him. But they weren’t going to let the wing nuts run off with this tinfoil-hatted idea that McCain somehow wasn’t eligible to be president. Fake, hysterical constitutional crisis averted.

Now, wouldn’t it be awesome to see the Republicans doing the same sort of thing right now? In reality, the number of Republican members of Congress signing on to the birther legislation about presidential birth certificates is growing.

The latest is Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas. There’s one very small, small silver lining here, which is that at least these Republican members of Congress coming out as birthers is starting to become locally embarrassing to them. “The Houston Chronicle” today, in an editorial, lamented that five of the birthers who were signed on to that legislation are Texans.

The editorial says, quote, “The whole thing is getting weirder

than those old tabloid stories about house cats giving birth to space

aliens. It’s time to say, ‘Enough already.’”

It’s not just Texas. In Oklahoma, maybe the only state in the country more aggressively conservative than Texas, the conservative paper, “The Tulsa World,” is also editorializing against Republican Senator James Inhofe who has said that he thinks the birthers ought to keep looking into their crazed fantasies about the president’s citizenship.

Sen. Inhofe’s hometown paper is having none of it. They say, quote, “Oh, senator, you could have done the right thing and dismissed this goofiness for what it is.” The paper then goes on to compare the birthers to, quote, “alien abduction believers, Kennedy conspiracy adherents, Big Foot hunters and those who believe in the bogeyman.”

And then, down in Florida, even as the author of the birther legislation Bill Posey says that he only introduced that legislation because his constituents wanted him to, the “Orlando Sentinel” is calling on Congressman Posey to withdraw what they call his “ridiculous bill latched onto by tin-hatters.

Even though some Republicans have, this week, belatedly started to come out against the birthers, including Michael Steele, the party chairman, the damage may have already been done here.

Even a prominent Republican congressman running for office, Roy Blunt, who wants to be the next U.S. senator from the State of Missouri, is now refusing to bat this conspiracy down. Mr. Blunt telling Mike Stark of “Firedoglake” this week that questions about the president’s citizenship are legitimate.

And a viewer just forwarded us a spectacularly kooky constituent letter from her Republican Congressman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania. Now, I kid you not, this was nuts enough that RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff members spent way too much of the day today doing melodramatic readings of this letter to each other in order to crack ourselves up.

Therefore, I asked our executive producer, Bill Wolf, to read the thing on tape so that we would have it to use at our Christmas party this year. He’s part of it.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BILL WOLF, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Before being elected president, then-Senator Barack Obama was plagued with questions about whether or not he is a natural-born citizen of the United States as the Constitution requires. To refute these claims, the Obama campaign in June of 2008 released a certification of live birth stating Barack Obama was born in the State of Hawaii in 1961.

Before giving birth, the suits claim, President Obama’s mother traveled to Kenya with his father, but was prevented from flying back to Hawaii because of the late stage of her pregnancy, and therefore, gave birth to the president in Kenya.

At the time of birth, the suits contend, President Obama’s father was a Kenyan citizen subject to the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, thus handing down British citizenship to the president, while his mother was a minor at the time of birth, too young to confer American citizenship.

Moreover, critics argue, his grandmother claims to have been present at the birth in Kenya. Other suits claim that even if the president was born in the United States, he lost his citizenship when he was adopted in Indonesia.

As a historical matter, U.S. citizenship can be forfeited upon undertaking of the various acts including naturalization in a foreign state.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW: RACHEL MADDOW SHOW executive producer Bill Wolf with a dramatic but verbatim reading of excerpts of the birtherist nonsense an actual Republican member of Congress is sending his actual constituents.

Now, Pennsylvania’s Tim Murphy does go on to say that he is essentially just keeping an eye on these developments. But he is willing to detail them at that great a length to his constituents in order to keep them informed, too.

Now, while Congressman Murphy is willing to mail this out to his constituents, which Mike Stark of “Firedoglake” tried to ask Congressman Murphy about his beliefs about birtherism on tape, Congressman Murphy was the one who kept himself busy looking at pens for a really long time, really intently for like, a lot of minutes. That was him, yes, presumably just trying to avoid getting cornered on tape.

When the birtherism nonsense rose up very briefly on the left against John McCain, Democrats in Congress decided to be the adults in the room and they quashed it decisively. Since the exact same nonsense has risen up on the right against Barack Obama - Republicans? No, seriously, Republicans, come on!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We turn now to our random benevolent correspondent, Mr. Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. You know, times are hard. People are grumpy. Goodwill can be in short supply. But two sophomores from Purdue University may just have an antidote.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): They are called the compliment guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looking sharp today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a good day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cool shades. I like those.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for what you do, sir.

JONES: Cameron Brown and Brett Wescott have had so much fun distributing random compliments in Indiana that they are on a 10-city joy-spewing tour of America. Warning, the following is optimistic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I woke up with it one day. I was like, “I want to go give free compliments.” I was like, “What did you do?” He was like, “I went and brought a sign and wrote free compliments.” I was like, “I’m doing it with you.”

JONES: It takes a bold spirit to try to scrape away the thick layer of irony we pour over every transaction nowadays. Go ahead, try saying to a stranger, “Nice haircut.” And not, “Nice haircut.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are looking professional day and I like your glasses.

JONES: Then there’s the, “Are you talking to me?” factor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looking good today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you talking to me?

JONES: A stranger compliments us and immediately it’s, “I have a boyfriend, OK?” Or, “Where is my pepper spray?” Undaunted, Cameron and Brett say it’s worth it. It’s about finding the good in people even when it’s hard.

OK, I’ll try it. Hey, birthers, I like the energy out there. Mahalo. Sen. Jeff Sessions, nice suit, buddy. Roll tide. Michele Bachmann, love the pearls. OK. It’s going to take some work. But let me just say, you’ve been a tremendous audience and I love what you’ve done with your apartment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW: “Roll tide” is very nice, Kent. Thank you.

JONES: Everyone feels better, right?

MADDOW: I do. Thank you, Kent.

JONES: Sure.

MADDOW: And I thank you at home for watching tonight. And I want to say a big thanks to the excellent crew here at the MSNBC bureau in L.A. who helped us put on the show these past three days and has been so kind us. “COUNTDOWN” starts right now. Have a great night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END