The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/30/09

Chris Kofinis

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening from New York City, where preparations for the Times Square New Year‘s Eve ball drop are under way.

The crowds in the streets around Rockefeller Center and Times Square are, of course, evidence of the fact that we are now in full-on end of the year holiday mode—unless, of course, you are an elected Republican official.  They seem to be working harder now than they‘ve worked all year.  They‘re like a dog with a bone right now, working double-overtime to politicize the attempted terrorist attack on America on Christmas Day.

After days of essentially unanswered Republican political attacks against the Obama administration, finally, today, we got the big kahuna.  The white whale of Republican politics, former Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney, involved in this.

After five days of Republicans owning the airwaves on this issue, doubling and then tripling down on politicizing this thwarted terrorist attack, with almost no opposition from the Democrats, the maestro of terror politics, Mr. Cheney, gave a statement to today.  Not decrying the terrorist incident itself, but instead using that attack as an opportunity to bash the president, to accuse the president of not keeping America safe.

Now, as is often the case in politics, when attacks from one side go unanswered for a long time, when one side gets the platform all to themselves, that side can sometimes get over-exuberant.  They can overplay their hand.  Republicans, left to their own devices, have in this case excitedly launched a series of obviously baseless, factually incorrect, demonstrably untrue and hypocritical attacks.

Dick Cheney‘s comments today probably the worst among them.  He said, quote, “He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won‘t be at war.”

Remember Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber”?  Richard Reid was arrested December 2001, when a man named Dick Cheney was vice president.  The Bush Justice Department let him, as they say, “lawyer up,” and Mr. Reid later pled guilty in federal court.

Remember 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui?  Same deal.  Given American rights, tried in the federal courts and convicted, all while a man named Dick Cheney was vice president.

What President Obama is doing right now with this case is the same thing that was done with the same type of cases while Dick Cheney was vice president.  But Dick Cheney isn‘t letting anything like that hold him back, saying, quote, “Why doesn‘t he want to admit we‘re at war?  President Obama‘s first object and his highest responsibility must be to defend us against an enemy that knows we are at war.”

According to Dick Cheney, see, this has to be seen as a military issue.  This has to be seen as a war.  This can‘t be seen as law enforcement.  This is something—according to Dick Cheney—this is something that you handle with the Department of Defense, right?  Like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld did.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER:  Mr. Secretary, do you have any insights you can share with us about Richard Reid, the American Airlines shoe bomber?

DONALD RUMSFELD, THEN-U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  That‘s a matter that‘s in the hands of the law enforcement people and not the Department of Defense.


RUMSFELD:  And I don‘t have anything I would want to add.


MADDOW:  Where was Dick Cheney and his outrage when his administration was treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue?

But, wait, there‘s more.  Quote, “He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won‘t be at war.”

Like, for example, do you mean the Guantanamo prisoners your administration released to go to Saudi Arabia to be put in art therapy?  The guys who then became leaders of the al Qaeda chapter in Yemen that is reportedly behind the plot to blow up that flight on Christmas Day?  Did Mr. Cheney think that we weren‘t at war when that decision was made by his administration?  Where was his outrage over his own decision then?

We‘re hearing over and over and over again from Republicans how President Obama waited too long to comment on the Christmas bombing.


REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK:  Disappointed it‘s taken the president 72 hours to even address this issue.

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA ®, MICHIGAN:  The president has decided to stay silent for 72 hours.  That—he needs to explain that.

KARL ROVE, FMR. BUSH WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR:  It‘s over 72 hours from the time from the incident until the time the president spoke today.


MADDOW:  Seventy-two hours.  How could President Obama possibly wait so long to comment?

For the record, after the Richard Reid shoe bombing incident in 2001, President Bush was not seen or heard from for six days.  Count ‘em, six days.

Like President Obama, Mr. Bush was on vacation at the time of that incident.  He apparently did not see fit to comment on the situation until almost a full week after it happened.


GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT:  The shoe bomber was a case in point where the country has been on alert.  I‘m grateful for the flight attendant‘s response, as I‘m sure the passengers on that airplane, but we‘ve got to be aware that there are still enemies to the country.  And our government is responding accordingly.


MADDOW:  Where was the Republican criticism of President Bush back then, for taking so long to make those comments?  Perhaps President Bush dodged criticism on matters of terrorism, because of the language he used to talk about the war on terror.  Remember, smoke ‘em out of their caves, bring ‘em on.  That was the type of language that President Bush chose to use when talking about terrorism.

Mr. Obama does it differently.  He has a distinctly non-cowboy rhetorical approach to this issue.  And that is one of the things that‘s also most rankling Republicans right now.


SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  The important thing now, Harry, is that the president has downplayed the threat of terrorists since he took office.  He doesn‘t even use the word anymore.


MADDOW:  He doesn‘t even use the word anymore.  That is true, only in Jim DeMint‘s mind.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Terror and extremism that threatens the world‘s stability.  Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world.  Suffering and civil wars that breed instability and terror.  New acts of terror.


MADDOW:  He never says the word “terror.”

Why let a 30-second Google search get in the way of your good sound bite, Senator?

But, you know, Senator DeMint is doing the country a service here—at least by clarifying things, by getting at the core of the conservative attack on President Obama.  It was the whole point of Dick Cheney‘s opportunistic statement today.  The whole point was that President Obama ought to talk more about war.

Vice President Cheney said, quote, “He seems to think if he gets rid of the words “war on terror,” we won‘t be at war.  Why doesn‘t he want to admit we‘re at war?”

Keep in mind—this is coming from the former vice president of the administration whose record of talking about war includes dandies like these.


BUSH:  Thanks to the United States and our fine allies.  Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terror.  The Taliban is history.  And the Afghan people are free!

Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.  In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

DICK CHENEY, THEN-U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  I think they‘re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.


MADDOW:  You know, talking about war incessantly, beating your chest about it, acting like a cowboy, making premature declarations of victory over and over and over again might feel good, but those things don‘t actually translate into effectively waging war, Mr. Chatty Cathy former vice president.

For the most part, Democrats are letting these charges from Dick Cheney and the rest of the Republicans go unanswered, even though these are charges that collapse very quickly in the face of even rudimentary fact-checking.

But even if you step back from the specific, ridiculous claims that they are making, consider what Republicans are trying to do here.  Republicans apparently think they can survive the fact-checking problems they will have here if anybody ever decides to look into these things they‘re saying.  They think they can survive the fact-checking because they imagine they have this transcendent credibility on national security matters.  A credibility on national security that, what, transcends the facts of their record?

The Bush/Cheney administration created the terror watch list system that theoretically should have flagged the Christmas bomber this past Friday.  As has been noted, this is a list that has more than 500,000 names on it.  That‘s handy.

It‘s a list that‘s full of so much noise, so much useless, incoherent junk that random people like the late Senator Ted Kennedy and the former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens‘ wife would get hassled at airports all the time because of their position on the list, even though that list could not function properly to keep actual terrorists off of actual planes.

That‘s their list.  It hasn‘t been changed since then.  Maybe the problem is that we haven‘t cleaned up after the Bush/Cheney administration fast enough.

The Bush-Cheney administration is, inconveniently enough, also on whose watch 9/11 happened—unless, of course, you ask them about that.


DANA PERINO, FMR. BUSH PRESS SECRETARY:  You know, we did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush‘s term.

MARY MATALIN, FMR. BUSH ASSISTANT:  I was there.  We inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation‘s history.


MADDOW:  Yes, remember how no terrorist attacks happened when Bush and Cheney were in office?  Remember when the nation inherited 9/11 from that incompetent Democratic administration that was in place in September in 2001 – in the Bush administration‘s own minds?

The rallying cry now from Republicans is that we shouldn‘t try the Christmas bomber in civilian court—that, instead, he should be tried in a military tribunal, declared an enemy combatant.  I mean, what‘s the value of a military tribunal here, other than trying to make political hay out of this case?  Really, what‘s the justice, anti-terrorist, counterterrorist value on this?

You really think this kid can‘t be convicted?  You really think we don‘t have enough evidence beyond the—beyond the, I don‘t know, 300 or so eyewitnesses who were on the plane?  The fact that we have the weapon that he tried to use?  The fact that he confessed?  You think that‘s not enough to get this kid convicted?

You have that little faith in our criminal justice system?  That little faith in the rule of law?  You don‘t believe that a supermax federal American prison is capable of holding this kid?  You think it might be cool, instead, to martyr this kid as some impressive soldier, instead of some idiot confused rich kid who couldn‘t even handle blowing up his own junk with a bomb that was secreted in his own underpants?

We‘re supposed to take national security advice from you guys? 


Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra is still the captain of the team on this one, now raising money off of a terrorist attack on Americans, the attempted murder of 300 Americans—politicizing this issue by soliciting campaign donations for his run for governor of Michigan on the occasion of this terrorist attack.

We contacted Pete Hoekstra‘s campaign today.  They told us, we should expect to see more of this type of exploitive solicitation from them.  They told us that Congressman Hoekstra himself personally signed of on the “using a terrorist attack on Americans to raise money” effort, proudly saying they think they‘ve gotten a significant spike in donations as a result of it.  Though it‘s too early to tell, fingers crossed, maybe something else horrible will happen.

This is the Republican response to this terrorist attack at the end of 2009.

Again, my friends and colleagues in the media have two choices in covering this.  You can just copy down what the Republicans and Vice President Cheney are saying, and click “send,” call it journalism, or you can actually fact-check those comments and put them into context.  Your choice.  It‘s your country.


MADDOW:  So right on cue, old faithful, Dick Cheney, spouts off about Democrats being soft on terror.  There he blows.  Luckily, the Democrats have mounted a forceful response, which was—anybody?  I‘m sorry.  Is this on?  Is this on?  I‘m sorry, hello?  Hello?



REP. ERIC MASSA (D), NEW YORK:  I am sick and tired of the former vice president of the United States taking shots, not only at this administration, for problems that he was largely and personally responsible for.  This man suffers from a horrible case of political Tourette‘s.  And it‘s about time that we stand up and kick right back because I‘m sick and tired of him kicking us in our shins.  People like Jim DeMint and people like Dick Cheney need to go away so we can solve the problems they‘ve created.


MADDOW:  Savor that eloquent and rather righteous bit of indignation from Democratic Congressman Eric Massa of New York, speaking tonight here on MSNBC on “THE ED SHULTZ SHOW.”

Because Eric Massa appears to be the only Democratic member of Congress out there calling out the other side for cynical grandstandy smear tactics in the way of the Christmas Day underwear attempted bomb attack.

Where‘s the rest of the political majority?  Well, wherever they are, they‘re missing a political free play here, a fish in a barrel opportunity to fight fire with water or some other equally obvious, really effective fire retardant.  This is a gimme.  How long would it take if Democrats decided to fight back on the TV or the radio or the interwebs or cable?

Well—I mean, check this out, we put this together today with our skeleton holiday staff, we put it together in about an hour using a total of three people, including one very good intern.


NARRATOR:  The Republican Party uses a terror attack against Americans to raise money for their political campaigns.  But what are Republicans doing to actually keep America safe?

Are they funding airport screening, including $1.1 billion for explosive detection machines?


NARRATOR:  One hundred and eight Republican representatives voted against keeping America safe.

Do they support using whole body imaging machines on passengers?


NARRATOR:  Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah wants to ban all those machines that keep America safe.

How about getting someone to run the TSA?


NARRATOR:  Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina is blocking the nomination of this man to help keep America safe.

So have Republicans done anything this year to keep us safe?

REP. DENNY REHBERG ®, MONTANA:  The Second Amendment doesn‘t derail the right to bear arms if you happen to be on a train.

NARRATOR:  Guns on trains.  That‘s the Republican plan to keep America safe.

For a safe America, vote Democratic.  Keep America from heading off the rails.


MADDOW:  Guns on train.

All right, that‘s not a real ad, but all the facts in it are real. 

Are Democrats doing anything like that or even thinking about it?

It‘s not just the latest terror attack that leaves the Republicans ripe for some political point-scoring if the Democrats choose to do so.  It‘s also their record of incoherent flip-flopping on what to do with other terrorists or suspected terrorists.  When, for example, both the Republican president, at the time, and his attempted Republican successor supported closing Guantanamo, you might recall that there was a lot of silence on the right about that.


BUSH:  I‘d like to end Guantanamo.  I‘d like it to be over with.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I believe we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies.


MADDOW:  But when President Obama tried to make that a reality and close Guantanamo and bring some of those prisoners to a federal prison and try some of them in federal court—cue the fake right-wing outrage.


SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  The decisions to bring detainees to the United States and afford them civilian trials is highly questionable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s all we need, in northern Illinois, is to be known as the “Gitmo North.”

MCCAIN:  I do not understand why a war criminal should be able to have the same rights as a common criminal?


MADDOW:  Although the Christmas Day failed bombing and that bomber himself, apparently, has so terrified Republicans that they‘re now dropping their previously held policy positions on counterterrorism, the record shows a distinct lack of complaint from them about terrorists like the “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid, and the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel-Rahman, and the World Trade Center bomber, Ramzi Yousef, all being tried in the normal American justice system and all being sentenced to federal prisons.  There was no Republican outrage about those cases when they happened.

And yet, there‘s apparently no Democratic pushback on the Republicans‘ flailing incoherent counterterrorism hypocrisy right now.

Joining us now is Democratic strategist, Chris Kofinis.

Chris, thanks very much for being here tonight.  It‘s good to have you on the show.


MADDOW:  Are Democrats seizing the moral high ground here about not politicizing terrorism, because politicizing terrorism is bad for the country?  Or are they just losing by refusing to engage in this fight?

KOFINIS:  Well, I think they‘re trying to do both.  And it‘s a difficult one, just from a communications perspective.  You know, I think the DNC, the DCCC, the White House, you know, all pushed back and hit on some of the points you talked about earlier, as well as in the beginning of the show, and the hypocrisy of the Republicans and the blatant political partisan nature of their attacks.

But at the same time, I also think that they‘re playing it smart, in one respect, in that when you talk about national security and this attempted terrorist attack, you know, the right message is to go out there and say, “Listen, the Republicans want to sit there and make this about Democrats.  We want to make this about stopping terrorists and keeping American safe.  We want to focus on Americans.  They want to focus on partisan attacks.”

It‘s not always easy to do because the vitriolic nature of the Republican attacks gets attention, especially with someone like a Dick Cheney.  But, you know, the one thing to keep in mind—this is the good thing—is that they have lost credibility both as a party, as well as their key spokesman.  People like Dick Cheney do not have any credibility when it comes to national security because their hypocrisy as well as their failed policies have been exposed to the American people again and again and again.

MADDOW:  In a general rule, I feel like, if you‘re calling a fight—if you‘re calling an argument, I guess, the person who‘s complaining about the tactics is losing the fight.  And complaining about the Republican‘s politicizing this terror attack, I think, is a way for Democrats to show that they feel weak in this record—in this fight.

It seems like the position of strength for the Democrats is to go after Republicans on their own national security record, not just the historical record that undercuts Dick Cheney‘s arguments, but the current stuff that Republicans are offering.  That‘s actually what we were trying to get at with that fake ad, talking about their big transportation security plan for this year being guns on trains.

Are any Democrats stepping up to do that?  And do you think it would be a smart way to go?

KOFINIS:  You know, I think you‘re going to see a lot of Democrats do that, especially as this kind of moves forward.  But at the end of the day, when it comes to national security issues, especially like an attempted terrorist attack, you know, a lot of the pressure and the weight in terms of the response falls on the White House.

In terms of the politics, you know, you‘re seeing this, I think, you know, a lot of it coming from the DNC, you saw Congressman Massa, you‘re seeing, you know, Congressman Van Hollen, others, speak out about this.

But, you know, there‘s—you know, to step back and look at what the Republicans are trying to do here, the Republicans are trying to get the Democrats into a mud fight.  They‘re trying to basically make the issue of national security a partisan one.

And when it comes, I think, to the politics of national security, especially the politics of terrorism, the American people, I think, really do not look favorably upon anyone trying to, you know, lay partisan attacks.  And I think this is where the Republican attacks have backfired and are going to backfire miserably.

It is a terrible strategy, if for no other reason, that they don‘t have any credibility on the issue.  I mean, aside from the fact that when you saw, you know, President Bush and Dick Cheney basically ignore failure after failure—and let‘s not forget that Osama bin Laden is still out there.  Let‘s not forget that they went to war with a different country than the one that supposedly attacked us.

So, this notion that they are going to keep this country safe and have kept this country safe doesn‘t fly, I think, with the American people, they want to make this an issue.  And this is where the challenge is for Democrats: be strong, but don‘t play into this mud fight.

MADDOW:  Chris Kofinis, Democratic strategist and former communications director for the Edwards campaign—thanks very much for joining us, Chris.  Happy New Year to you.

KOFINIS:  Thanks, Rachel.  Happy New Year to you, too.

MADDOW:  OK.  It is the New Year.  This is our last live show of the year.

And looking back on 2009, do you ever wonder why we, on this show, spend so much time covering total wingnuts who love all the attention that we give them?  Well, one of the reasons we do that is because we love wingnuts.  Another reason, though, is that we think it might actually be helpful to the country.  Evidence for that hypothesis—coming up.

And later, the 2009 RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Moments of Geek—plural, “moments”—starring a parrot, a very, very dirty parrot.  The single funniest thing that happened on this show all year.

All of that—coming up.


MADDOW:  We have some breaking news tonight from one of America‘s war zones.  This has crossed the wire services within the last 90 minutes and we‘re still getting updates.  It is not good.

A roadside bomb in the area of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan has reportedly killed four Canadian troops and a reporter—reporter Michelle Lang who works for the “Calgary Herald.”  This comes on the heels of news today that eight Americans were also killed in Afghanistan today, eight of them.  It was a suicide bombing at a compound in eastern Afghanistan‘s Khost province.

The spokesman for the military confirmed with our producers today that while there are some U.S. military personnel involved in reconstruction projects stationed at this base, at Forward Operating Base Chapman where this incident occurred, no U.S. or NATO troops were involved in today‘s attack.

“The Washington Post” first reported a couple of hours ago—I think it was their first reporting—that the compound that was hit was being used by the CIA.  “The Post” is also saying, quote, “The bomber managed to slip past security before detonating an explosive belt in what one U.S.  official described as a room used as a fitness center.”

Now, two news services are reporting late tonight that the eight Americans who were killed at this facility that was used by the CIA, these Americans were all CIA agents.

NBC News is not yet confirming that reporting, but two other news sources are.  If this is correct, if these were all CIA officers, this would be the single deadliest attack on U.S. intelligence personnel in all eight years of the Afghanistan war.

Forward Operating Base Chapman, where this incident happened, the site of the bombing, it was named for Nathan Chapman.  Nathan Chapman was the first U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan all the way back in 2002.  This was also reportedly a former Soviet air base.

Stationing American troop and American civilians at an installation used by the last superpower to fight a war there is, of course, a stomachache-inducing reminder of the big-picture odds our military effort is up against in Afghanistan.

As America breaks for the New Year‘s holiday, but war does not, Richard Engel‘s reporting on this show and on “NIGHTLY NEWS” last night of a new military assessment expressing the futility, the impossibility of success in America‘s military mission in Afghanistan as we have thus far to find it, the mission to train up a new army and police force in Afghanistan. 

That assessment may yet change the politics of the war for 2010.  As we learned in Vietnam, if we are fighting a war that the military knows we can‘t win, either the mission of that war is going to have to be changed yet again into something we think we can win, or the pressure to get out is going to become a lot more intense in this next year. 

It is life during wartime.  We will keep covering it on this show and we‘ll be right back. 


MADDOW:  So, happy new year.  When this show launched in September of last year, there was absolutely no ambiguity about what we would be spending most of our time covering.  We started the show during the very last lap of the presidential election.

And we here at MSNBC and at this show, specifically, covered that election wall to wall for what sometimes felt like 25 hours a day.  There was election night coverage itself.  And then after Obama won but Bush and Cheney were still in office, there was the “Lame Duck Watch” to attend to.  Remember the “Lame Duck Watch” intro? 


I live and hope for there to be another duck-related presidential news item that would justify us using “Hail to the Chief” with the quack at the end of it.  We do have it on file in case that ever happens. 

After the lame duck period was over and the inauguration happened, this new young show of ours, along with everybody else in the media, settled into a year of covering this new presidency and the news and politics of our country this year. 

And we, pretty soon, found a very specific “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” niche.  We found what it is in news and politics that this show specializes in. 


(on camera):  Tonight, more in our continuing investigation into the witch hunt against the community activist group ACORN, the corporate roots of that witch hunt, its baldly dishonest tactics, and its ultimate dislocation from the warranted facts. 

The same public relations firm that brought you the sleaziest, lying-est, most memorable, most parody-ready attack ads of the whole 2004 election is coordinating a new multi-million-dollar “Don‘t Fix the Health Care System” campaign. 

These guys are the pros.  This is an industry.  Americans are showing up at these events to shout down the discussion and to chase their congressmen, and they are enraged. 

And they‘re enraged, at least in part, because they‘re being riled up by over-the-top, fabricated conspiracy theories about health care.  And they‘re being directed and orchestrated by the corporate interests that do this for a living and do it very well. 

You may wish you hadn‘t said that fluoridation was a secret communist plot, but you did, in writing, and we have a library card. 


Over the course of 2009, my hair has gone up and down and up and down.  And we‘ve spent a lot of time on this show talking about folks who were probably surprised to see themselves talked about on cable news.  People like The Family, the theologically extreme religious group that runs the C Street house, where conservative lawmakers live in Washington. 

It turns out The Family loves its secretive power and influence almost as much as it hates publicity about its secretive power and influence. 

We covered the PR firms and Republican operatives and corporate-funded, so-called nonprofits organizing the recess rallies against health reform back in August, which led to a lot of coverage about the corporate and Republican and professional PR outfits behind other anti-health reform efforts and behind the tea party movement. 

By the time the group Freedom Works was charging $10,000 for speaking slots from the stage of the supposedly grassroots 9/12 march, we sort of knew we were on to something with that. 

And then, when the head of Freedom Works, former Republican majority leader Dick Armey, got fired from the lobbying job he was maintaining while he was still running Freedom Works, we started to sense that we were really on to something. 

We covered the PR firm for evil, Burson Marsteller, after AIG hired them with public money to try to improve how we, the public, view them.  Hey, we‘re paying the bill for PR firms to spin us. 

We covered the spin doctor so evil he likes to be called Dr.  Evil.  Rick Berman - remember him?  We started covering him after we figured out he was part of the absurd right-wing outrage scam against the community organizing group, ACORN. 

And we found out that American religious leaders and politicians, including The Family, were involved in proposed legislation in Uganda to execute people for being gay.  We investigated the predatory anti-gay quack industry in America that claims to be able to cure people of the gay.  We looked into the huckster get-rich-quick high sales pressure revival meeting, motivational seminars that George W. Bush and Laura Bush decided to speak at in the former president and first lady‘s first year out of the White House. 

The most recent coverage like this that we‘ve done is about the John Birch Society.  When we found out that the John Birch Society would be cosponsoring the marquee conservative conference of the year, the CPAC conference, the Conservative Political Action Conference this year in Washington, we decided it would be useful to talk about who exactly the John Birch Society is. 


(on camera):  So imagine that the right wing is - it‘s like a rug, right?  And on the far edge of that rug is fringe.  Now, imagine that that fringe also has fringe.  The fringe on the fringe of the right wing of the American conservative movement, that‘s the John Birch Society. 


I have been thinking about this year of coverage that we‘ve done, this mini mission we‘ve taken on of talking about forces on the fringe of American politics, while we have been doing our latest batch of that coverage. 

And it turns out that the historical record we‘ve been looking into anyway in order to talk about the John Birch Society ended up being really clarifying for us, in terms of the value of doing this type of coverage as a show. 

Back in 1961, when the John Birch Society was probably at the height of its McCarthy-ite powers, the governor of California at the time tasked that state‘s attorney general to report on the John Birch Society and what kind of effect it was having on American life and politics. 

And the report turned out to sound like it came from the minutes of a “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” editorial meeting 48 years too soon. 

Check this out, “The cadre of the John Birch Society seems to be formed primarily of wealthy businessmen, retired military officers and little old ladies in tennis shoes.”

This is the actual California state government report on them.  It continues, “They are bound together by an obsessive fear of ‘communism,‘ a word which they define to include any ideas differing from their own, even though these ideas may differ even more markedly from the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Khrushchev.” 

“In response to this fear, they are willing to give up large measures of the freedoms guaranteed them by the United States Constitution in favor of accepting the dictates of their founder.  They seek by fair means or foul to force the rest of us to follow their example.  They are pathetic.”

And if this TV show existed in 1961, I can tell you, we would be trying to hire away whoever it was in the office of the California State Attorney General who was tasked with writing this report so that that person could work on this program.  It would be a natural fit.

This report went on to note some of the kookiest stuff about the John Birch Society, like accusing President Eisenhower of treason and the society‘s founder saying that the U.S. had only a few short years left before we, quote, “became four separate provinces in a worldwide communist dominion ruled by police-state methods from the Kremlin.” 

Only a few years left.  Remember when that happened?  So the big question is why talk about the nonsense being spewed by these folks, either today or then?  Back in 1961, the California attorney general thought that it was worth it for this reason, quote, “The Birchers have an equal right with the prohibitionists, the vegetarians, the Republicans, the Democrats, or for that matter, with any Americans acting singly or in a group, to an expression of their views.  And no official, no matter how highly placed can say them nay.  In America, preposterousness prevents the acceptance, but not the expression of ideas.”

Isn‘t that perfect?  In America, preposterousness prevents the acceptance, but not the expression of ideas.  Exactly.  You have the right to say anything you want to say or espouse anything you want to espouse.  But we also have the right to report on it. 

And if what you‘re espousing is - we‘re going to report that what you‘re espousing is -.  In 1962, the editor of the “Santa Barbara News Press” won the Pulitzer Prize for editorials that he wrote against the John Birch Society after his paper did an expose of that group‘s disruptive would-be secretive efforts to find commies under every rock in Santa Barbara. 

Thomas M. Stork wrote about his editorials and his local paper‘s decision to give exposure to them by saying this, quote, “In the end, the only protection against such aberrations as the John Birch Society and such ridiculous leaders as Robert Welch lies in the informed good sense of the people.  Air the ideas of the radical extremists and you will find in a hurry, as we did in Santa Barbara, that the moderates - conservative and liberal - are in control.”

What‘s happened on the far right fringe of American politics in 2009 has a lot of parallels to the paranoid tennis shoe tyrants that Thomas Stork won the Pulitzer for expose back in 1962.  Calling people communists and socialists and Marxists, no matter what those people actually believed, just as a handy catchall insult. 

The deliberate planned MO of disrupting public meetings, of preventing civil discourse, even the deliberate obfuscation of funding sources and the use of front groups, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works and all the Rick Berman front groups, they don‘t disclose their funding today. 

Back in the day, the John Birch Society was even proud about that.  They used to publish in their monthly bulletin at the time, quote, “We shall not go into any detailed accounting about the funds.”

These tactics don‘t go away.  The fringe doesn‘t go away in American politics.  American politics have always run all the way through the margins, right to the edge of the page and beyond.  We always have been like that as a country.  And bully for us. 

2009 proved that as the Republican Party sought its path out of the political wilderness, the Republican Party was going to look to the right-wing fringe for help.  And we decided on this show to help America take a good look at that fringe. 

And we have had a really good time doing it.  When then 85-year-old Thomas Stork, the Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote about this 50 years ago, he captured my feelings about this exactly. 

He said, quote, “Merely exposing such monstrous ideas, merely ventilating them in the public breeze is enough to bring sanity, and sometimes laughter, to be sure, into the discussion of political issues.  The absurdities fall of their own weight, or continue to be held dear by a minority so minute that it is more troublesome than dangerous.”

That‘s the hope at least, right?  It‘s optimistic.  It‘s born of a faith in the fundamental reasonableness of the vast majority of the American people.  In my case, it‘s also born of the desire to have a really good time on television. 


(on camera):  Having Rick Scott as your spokesman against health care reform is like having an E. coli bacterium as your spokesman against hand washing. 

When evil needs public relations, evil has Burson-Marsteller on speed dial.  I don‘t want to help promote you, Tim.  I don‘t.  I think what you‘re doing is you‘re getting fat, literally, financially fat on Americans‘ fears. 

I‘ve got to ask you, every single one of those ideas is insane to me.  I mean, the idea of the divorce mix you gave, for example, is insane to me.  You‘ve described it as a factor that contributes to homosexuality desire, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re taking it out of context, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  No, I‘m reading it from your book, dude. 


MADDOW:  I‘m proud of the investigatory work that we have done on this show and the great producers and staff here who work their butts off that allow us to do it.  In 2010, we‘re going to keep shining a light on the preposterousness in our political mix because we think it‘s the right thing to do for the country.  And because it‘s really, really fun.  We hope you‘ll keep enjoying it, too.  And we will be right back.


MADDOW:  It‘s no secret that the staff of “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is full of wonks.  We live for infrastructure.  We read the forecast discussion at “”  We revel in sending ourselves down endless rabbit holes of news minutia. 

We, and we know it - we are geeks.  And occasionally, we proudly let our geek flag fly with a segment we call “The Moment of Geek.”  Over this past year, we have covered everything from UFO spirals over Norway to the first ever close-up view of a single molecule, to the strange sport/art beloved in Germany that is called artistic bicycling. 

Great geek moments all.  But now we bring you what we think are the top three “Moments of Geek” from 2009.  In third place, a tiny little wheeled robot that‘s called the precision urban hopper.  Watch what it does when it confronts an obstacle like a curb.  Watch this. 

Back in September, we showed you that little dude.  Go on.  Go on.  Do it.  Go on.  It did it already?  I looked away.  All right.  We showed you that little guy along with some of the freakier cousins of this guy, like the big dog that walks on all fours, the RiSE robot that climbs walls like a scary gecko.  We did that one, too, remember?  And then there was Israel‘s snake robot, too.  It‘s a little scary.  So cool.  Robots.

That was number three.  In second place, we had our snuggliest moment of geek.  In October, we reported on 82 brand-new, cute baby sea turtles that had just been born at Sea World in San Diego.  And that was great news, not just because it allowed us to show these little cuties, but also because sea turtles are on the endangered list.  So having 82 more of anything that could die out is more than just geeky.  It‘s very cool.

But finally, our most geek-tacular moment of 2009.  I‘m so excited to see this again.  Here it is, the number one “Moment of Geek” of 2009. 

Here‘s British actor Stephen Fry and Mark Cawardine, as seen on the BBC documentary series that‘s called, “Last Chance to See.”  Please watch this. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over):  A typical male, Sirocco is clearly only interested in one thing. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, look at that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Gosh, he‘s got sharp claws. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s getting a bit frisky. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ow, ow!  Do you think it is - he‘s actually attempting a sort of mating ritual.  He is.  Look, he‘s so happy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One of the funniest things I‘ve ever seen.  You are being shagged by a rare parrot.  He thinks you are - he‘s really going for it.  Actually, you‘re in pain, aren‘t you? 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, his neck -


MADDOW:  “You are being shagged by a rare parrot,” words never spoken before or since that moment.  The very reason the letters “OMG” were ever put together in the first place.  And I promise you in 2010, part of our mission at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW will be to find some science-y mathematical, astronomical nature or something rather that tops that.  Tops that!  Get it? 



MADDOW:  Before time expires on us for 2009, there is one story we‘d like to recall, if only for how different it was from everything else we did this year.  We called it “Operation Iraqi Baseball.”  McClatchy News Service reported in mid-July on the Iraqi national baseball team which, at the time, had one bat, one jersey, a few beat-up baseballs and no money. 

We picked up McClatchy‘s reporting that night and, boom.  You guys responded.  Without any prompting from us whatsoever, hundreds of our viewers contacted the show with offers to help this fledgling baseball team on the other side of the world. 

In short order, a company called CTG Athletics from here in New York City, from the Bronx, had provided brand-new Verdero brand bats and gloves and cleats.  Another company, Ebbets Field Flannels, made custom uniforms to the Iraqi team‘s specification. 

And Star USA Shippers had, at no charge, shipped the gear to that team, which was not an easy thing to do.  Our colleagues at McClatchy helped us negotiate the logistics of getting the team the gear. 

Now, you know, 2009 is probably going to be remembered as one rough year for the world, and it was.  But there were some nice, small things that happened along the way. 

To McClatchy, for their reporting and for helping coordinating “Operation Iraqi Baseball,” to CTG Athletics, to Ebbets Field Flannels and to Star USA and to you and our audience, this is your big fat RACHEL MADDOW SHOW thank you, sincerely, for turning a simple interesting story into a really cool thing that happened and that we got to be part of.  We truly do appreciate it.  And we can‘t wait for Iraqi national baseball season. 

That‘s that for us in 2009.  Thank you so much for tuning in all year.  We will try to make it worth your while every night and we will keep trying to do better in 2010.  We want you to have a great New Year‘s Eve, to be safe and the people you‘re about to see and I - we‘ll see you back here on Monday night.  



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