The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/16/10
CHRIS HAYES, GUEST HOST: Hi, everybody. I‘m Chris Hayes. Rachel has the night off. Thank you for staying with us for the next hour.
We begin tonight with the country losing its freaking mind.
As you‘ve probably noticed, the biggest issue in America right now, eclipsing almost everything, is whether a private group can build a religious community center and place of worship on private property. That is the debate that has colonized our national conversation. Everyone, apparently, must choose a side. It is the most pressing issue of national importance.
Ever since the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001, we‘ve occasionally had these massive country captivating debates about topics that seem so insane that even stepping into the fray of debating them threatens one‘s own sanity. And here we are again.
The collective mass hysteria that has erupted over this particular issue is not first time something like this has happened. Remember this?
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REP. WALTER JONES ®, NORTH CAROLINA: It says, update: now serving in all House office building: freedom fries. And this is a real tribute. Whenever anyone orders freedom fries, I hope they will think about our men and women who are serving this great nation, who are willing to give their life for the freedoms that we all enjoy, so that now, we can come in here freely and say, “Freedom fries, please.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: You remember the brave legislators who decided to stick it to our allies in France back in 2003, because they wouldn‘t support the Iraq war? No longer does the House cafeteria serve French fries—no. They were renamed freedom fries.
Amazingly at the time, this seemed like a good idea to people.
Restaurants jumped on board and started promoting their own freedom fries.
And it wasn‘t just fries, it was also freedom toast.
The country was preparing for an unprovoked, ill-advised and ill-fated war, that‘s what we were discussing. All thanks to a collective freak-out against the French, who had the gall to oppose our planned invasion of Iraq. And let us also not protect the great duct tape freak-out that happened the very same year.
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TOM RIDGE, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Stash away the duct tape. Don‘t use it! Stash it away, in that pre-measured plastic sheeting for future—and I emphasize—future use.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Duct tape and plastic sheeting to guard against a chemical attack. People started running out to stores and stocking up on all of the duct tape they could get their hands on. Duct tape landed on the cover of “Time” magazine. It got so bad that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge had to essentially walk back his comments and calm everyone down.
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RIDGE: What they should do now, if they‘ve secured their supply kit is they ought to go pick kids up at school because it‘s Friday and they ought to go to the soccer games and they ought to go to work, because they‘ve done all we want them to do now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: For the love of God, people, enough with the duct tape!
It later turned out, of course, that none of this would have actually saved you from a chemical attack. It also turned out there was no genuine intelligence suggesting that such an attack was imminent. But the Bush administration said we should all be crazy about something, and somehow, we decided collectively—people, the media, politicians—that they were right.
We were all just going to be really crazy for a little while, together
crazy together. Last summer, the whole country decided to lose its mind again over health reform. We were having a serious national discussion over whether the government was going to pass a law that would mandate the execution of senior citizens. Politicians were going around the country and warning about the government, quote, “pulling the plug on grandma.”
I mean, when the death panel idea first came out, everybody thought it was laughably bonkers. And then somehow, we were all debating whether or not it was true. All these freak-outs were started by right-wingers, but they eventually managed to infect the entire media bloodstream. And after every one of these moments, when the country decides to go crazy together, we all just sort of wake up afterwards and look back and think, really?
There‘s a kind of shame-inducing hangover that comes from these things. I mean, freedom fries? History has not looked very kindly upon that whole episode. Even the guy who came up with freedom fries in the first place, Republican Congressman Walter Jones, later regretted having done so, saying, quote, “I wish it had never happened.”
This whole national freak-out thing is not new, either. This is not just a post-9/11 thing. We‘ve actually done this quite a bit in American history. We had the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1880s. We had Japanese internment after Pearl Harbor. We had McCarthyism during the heart of the Red Scare back in the 1940s and ‘50s.
Those were all far more destructive than this current unpleasantness. And what unites all these episodes is that in retrospect, we look back and think, you know what, that was a really bad idea. That was actually really embarrassing. It‘s like waking up from a really bad bender, when you‘ve done some really shameful things, and finding out the pictures of those things are all over Facebook.
Right now, the country is going through such a bender with respect to this community center in downtown Manhattan. This story elevated again to a national issue on Friday night when President Obama appeared to endorse the project at the White House. You know when one of these moments of national madness when the president is able to make news by affirming his support for the First Amendment.
Mr. Obama then appeared to walk back—walk that back the next day, which only served to further fan the flames of this invented controversy.
We‘re going to talk a little bit about the actual arguments here, such as they exist. But before we even get into the substance, I want everyone watching this program just to take a deep breath and really think about what this is going to look like four years from now, or five years from now, or 20 years from now. Which side of this debate will come out looking good when history renders its judgment? You don‘t want to be on the side of freedom fries.
Joining us now is Princeton University professor, a columnist for “The Nation” magazine, and MSNBC contributor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell.
Melissa, thank for joining us tonight.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Hi, Chris. Good to see you.
HAYES: Good to see you, too.
So, we‘ve had these kind of moments before, and I guess you wonder what you think is the origins of this, both broadly as a kind of trend in American history, and right now, why is this able—I mean, is it just that it‘s August and there‘s no shark attacks?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: I guess there are probably a couple of things going on. Every example that you used in your introduction is an example about vulnerability and our sense of collective vulnerability. Perhaps nothing more clearly illustrates that than 9/11. That sense of being caught off-guard, that sense that something that we imagined could not happen in the United States, in fact, did happen here.
And so, the fact that the American public feels a sense of anxiety in the face of such vulnerability, I think, is not surprising. I mean, you could make a metaphor to your own life. Think about times when something has caused a sense of vulnerability in your own life, whether it‘s, you know, having your housebroken into or even, you know, having a car accident at an intersection that you then avoid.
You know, one of the things that we do as humans, then, is to try to, you know, build around ourselves a set of walls that will keep us from ever feeling that sense of danger and vulnerability again. But it‘s precisely because it‘s that kind of human reaction to behave in that, you know, really troubling way of building walls, that‘s why we need to have a Constitution –
HARRIS-LACEWEL: – why we need to have leaders—
HARRIS-LACEWELL: – why we need to have a system that doesn‘t allow us to do that.
HAYES: Right. And I think—I think that‘s a really important point. I don‘t want and just like—you don‘t want to get too snarky about this or too dismissive, because I‘ve looked at the polling and I know there‘s probably people watching this program, right, who are feeling conflicted about this.
I do think, though, in terms of the vulnerability argument—what‘s surprising to me are two things. One: that it seems to have gotten worse over time, that this is happening now in 2010 and not in 2002. And two: that it‘s being driven by leaders who are so, sort of, opportunistically and demagogically driving this. And that‘s what‘s really disturbing.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes. I think what we really need to be putting our finger on here is the question of leadership. Look, Americans have what we call a principle policy gap. You go out and do a survey, 90 percent of Americans will tell you, “I agree and support,” for example, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion. But ask them if a communist atheist should be able to hold a rally on their neighborhood street corner and they‘ll say no.
So, there‘s a gap between, on the one hand—
HARRIS-LACEWELL: – the principle, and on the other hand, the policy.
So, this is, again, why we need to recognize that as Americans, the thing that makes America unique and interesting and such a great project in world history is that we meet vulnerability not with this kind of terrorized anxiety, but instead, by actually opening ourselves up, by saying—our government, our nation is strong enough to manage dissent. We are big enough and bold enough to allow our citizens to freely assemble, to worship as they see fit, and, heck, to even—I don‘t know, zone locally.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: You know, these are the kind of American precepts that we need to be holding on to in this moment.
HAYES: You know, 9/11 has worked so well as a political wedge for Republicans over the past decades and they‘ve kind of gone to it again and again. I wonder if—I wonder if this is kind of, there‘s no more juice left in the orange and they‘re trying to, sort of, squeeze the last drops out of it, or is this something—is this a turn towards something darker? It seems to me like we‘ve crossed some sort of barrier with this, and this is that sort of qualitatively different than some of the terror, war on terror, or kind of culture war baiting that we saw, you know, over the last nine years.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Look, this is really ugly. And I‘ve got to say, I think it‘s really ugly in part because of the timing.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: I know that it‘s a midterm election. And so, yes, I think part of this is some GOP leaders trying to pull the last little bit of political capital they can out of 9/11. But it is Ramadan. It is a holy time for Muslims. And on top of that, in the Muslim world right now, there is an enormous tragedy. Fifteen million people in Pakistan are suffering.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: And one thing that we could do as Americans is to say, OK, rather than being exclusionary , rather than fighting over a piece of ground—as sacred and hallowed as it may be in our national understanding—that instead, we will reach out to the millions of Muslims who are currently suffering, through no faults of their own, as a result of this horrifying natural disaster during a high holy moment—what that might that say about who we are as Americans instead of having this fight over this little parcel of land.
HAYES: Princeton University professor, columnist and colleague of mine at “The Nation,” and MSNBC contributor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell—thank you so much for your time tonight. It‘s such a pleasure.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Always, Chris. Thanks.
HAYES: In this debate, conservatives find themselves wedged between Newt Gingrich, who said we shouldn‘t build a mosque here until there are churches in Saudi Arabia, and their beloved First Amendment which protects religion, no matter what. Paradox. Freedom of speech and who gets to enjoy it in America, circa 2010. That‘s up next.
HAYES: What is a substantive case against a proposed community center two blocks from Ground Zero? Short answer is: there isn‘t one. More detailed dissecting of pure political hooey is coming up. Stick around.
HAYES: If you found yourself wondering this weekend how we got to a point where every politician in America apparently has to weigh in on a single small development in Lower Manhattan, here‘s a quick flashback. Cue: “Wayne‘s World” montage effect. Exactly.
All right. Once upon a time, there was a totally standard, completely uncontroversial plan to build a community center and mosque in downtown Manhattan. Then, a handful of unhinged right-wingers decided it was time to gin up a controversy. Salon.com‘s Justin Elliott has meticulously traced the controversy myth back to its infancy at a handful of third-tier right-wing blogs. And eventually, like a vector of infection, this argument was able to jump the species barrier from the backwaters of the right wing blogosphere to the center of the national debate.
There are a few notable patient zeros in this false narrative epidemic, like Sarah Palin‘s Facebook page, of course, and Newt Gingrich‘s blog, where you‘ll find perhaps the most bizarre thing said about the Lower Manhattan mosque project anyone has ever said. Quote, “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”
That‘s what this argument was like in the beginning. As it was making its way out of the dark corners of the Interwebs, it was either a completely nonsensical, or disgustingly, maniacally hateful. Like this web ad put out by a political action committee called the National Republican Trust. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Yes, I just threw up a little in my mouth, too.
Again, that is what this argument looked like as it was making its way out of the super fringe and into the middle fringe. It was all hate-filled, logic-free advocacy for stopping the building of a house of worship in downtown Manhattan.
But then people started saying, hey, wait a second. Here in America, we have something called the First Amendment. And the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The First Amendment is pretty clear on this. In fact, some might say, as a friend of mine did, that the entire point of America is that you should be able to build a mosque in downtown Manhattan. This country was literally founded by people fleeing religious persecution.
And the history of religious persecution is always and entirely bound up with construction of houses of worship—always. That‘s what religious persecution is—stopping minority religious groups from building their churches. That‘s why some minority religious groups came to America, so that they could build their churches.
This fundamental principle, which Rachel talked about in the show last week, was affirmed quite courageously, I think, by President Obama on Friday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes—
OBAMA: – that includes the right to build a place of worship in a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The next day, when the president was asked a follow-up question about the statement, he said he was not endorsing or not endorsing the planned community center and mosque, he was simply affirming the First Amendment.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
OBAMA: I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HAYES: Now, some people have interrupted this second statement as the president walking back his earlier comments. But, meanwhile, in light of the First Amendment argument, the right has modulated their argument against the mosque.
So, the latest version of the anti-mosque argument goes a little something like this: No, no, no, no, we‘re not against the First Amendment. Remember, it‘s the 14th Amendment we want to change. Don‘t be confused about which aspects of the foundational architecture of American liberty we want to dismantle. We understand that building of a mosque in downtown Manhattan is a right under the First Amendment—we just don‘t support the building of a mosque in downtown Manhattan.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor summed it up this way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MINORITY WHIP: Everybody knows America‘s built on the rights of free expression, the rights to practice your faith, but, come on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Come on, dude.
Congressman Cantor is not alone on this. House Minority Leader John Boehner on the statement was similarly nuanced. Quote, “The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn‘t necessarily make it the right thing to do.”
And after the president‘s comments on Friday, Sarah Palin tweeted about the would-be mosque builders, quote, “We all know they have the right to do it, but should they?”
In other words, they‘re trying to support the First Amendment, but still be in favor of denying First Amendment rights to people they don‘t think deserve them. What they‘re really saying about the First Amendment is that they support it in theory, but not in practice.
When you think about it, this argument has a kind of seductive patina of nuance to it. After all, there are things that are constitutionally protected that you may like, especially when it comes to the First Amendment which protects all sorts of hateful and ugly speech.
In fact, even setting aside hateful speech, you might say to me, “Chris, do you support the conservative weekly magazine, ‘The National Review‘”? What would I say? I don‘t really agree with much of what they publish. In fact, some of it is downright awful. But I certainly don‘t want anyone attempting to stop them from publishing.
Support just isn‘t the right verb to use. Do I support Justin Bieber‘s musical career? Well, I‘ll tell you, I don‘t really like his music much, but I don‘t think the government should throw Justin Bieber in jail.
Again, support is a verb that does not apply. And that‘s the point. You don‘t support the mosque or not—you support the First Amendment or not. You either support the part of the Bill of Rights that says that people on private property can build a house of worship or you do not. You don‘t get to say, I support the First Amendment, but.
That‘s what Eric Cantor and John Boehner and Sarah Palin are trying to say—and as of today, that‘s what Harry Reid is trying to say. Yes, just today, this Democratic Senate majority leader‘s office came out with its own Eric Cantor-style “but come on” argument. Quote, “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.”
What does it mean politically that that particular nonsensical, non-argument has migrated all the way from the dark corner of the all-caps conspiracy theory-wielding right-wing blogs to the office of the Democratic leader of the Senate? We‘ll do what we can to figure that out—coming up next.
HAYES: In saying that the planned downtown Muslim community center should be built somewhere else, Harry Reid casts his lot with his Senate race opponent and Tea Party darling, Sharron Angle. He also managed to validate the hysterical warnings of a terror-supporting 13-story mosque in the, quote, “shadow of Ground Zero.” Ground Zero doesn‘t have a shadow.
The proposal is a community center endorsed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a spot previously occupied by the haloed Burlington coat factory two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks.
But Harry Reid won‘t be the last Democrat to cave on this. I promise you.
Conservative demagogues and opportunist smell weakness and they are going to press this advantage. The issue is perfect for Republicans, because they are unlikely to actually win. There is no real policy solution. Instead, fearmongerers can keep going back to this eternal well of self-victimization again and again until Election Day.
Joining me now is Adam Serwer, staff writer for “The American Prospect.”
Adam, thanks so much for joining me.
ADAM SERWER, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT: Thanks for having me.
HAYES: Were you surprised by the restatement today, that came out, sort of, late in the day, I—it crossed my desk—I was actually kind of surprised. Were you?
SERWER: I wasn‘t surprised, because Reid‘s opponent, Sharron Angle, had already come out earlier in the day against the Ground Zero mosque. I‘m not sure why a Senate candidate in Nevada is weighing in on a land dispute in New York City. But she came out against it and I think the Reid campaign is really desperate to prevent Angle from gaining any ground on Reid. So, they wanted to neutralize a potential wedge issue.
But it‘s sort of amusing, because Reid has been attacking Angle for not really understanding the separation of church and state, and here goes Reid, you know, apparently showing everyone he doesn‘t understand it either.
HAYES: Yes. I mean, he was—that was actually one of the lines he was using. For the record, also, I‘m really against the new Arby‘s they‘re planning in Reno. So, just to get on the record with that.
But, no—I mean, that was one of the lines he was—he was using to, kind of, position her, I think, rightly and accurately, as a very extreme candidate, was a lack of appreciation for the separation of church and state. And he‘s now—he now has put himself in this box, hasn‘t he?
SERWER: Yes. I mean, it‘s, sort of, I think it‘s probably—what‘s most disconcerting for Democrats is you don‘t really get much more of a pat down the middle pitch than defending the First Amendment. It‘s the First Amendment. Everybody loves the First Amendment.
And if Democrats can‘t stand up for something that is a fundamental constitutional value, I think that says a lot about where the Democrats are as a party in terms of political courage. I mean, Americans aren‘t going to side with a weak party that doesn‘t stand up for principle, especially when the principle is so glaringly obvious.
HAYES: Yes. And the problem here, right, is that the polling is—I mean, the polling is a little confusing, right? Because the polling shows that people have these two, sort of, conflicting views. They support the First Amendment by large majorities, but there‘s also a very significant popularity of majority voters who don‘t, quote, “support the building of the mosque.” And with respect to that, you have President Obama coming out, you know, with his statement on Friday night.
You wrote a bit on your blog about whether you thought that helps or hurts Democrats politically—what is your sort of feeling about him choosing to enter the fray on the issue?
SERWER: Well, I think, it was—it was the right thing to do for the president, but it shouldn‘t have gotten to that point. I mean, the reason why the president had to weigh in is because all the New York Democrats, with the exception of Jerrold Nadler, had been really silent on the issue and hasn‘t taken strong stances.
Ideally, this would have been handled by local Democrats, but it wasn‘t.
SERWER: So, it got to the point where the president of the United States, who is the president for all Americans, Muslims, Jewish, Christian, whatever, has to stand up and say, look, we‘re not going to give rights to this group of people and deny them to this group of people. That‘s not how the United States works.
And I think that‘s fundamentally what Republicans wanted, right? I mean, what they wanted—what this has been about from the beginning is trying to force Democrats into a position where they would have to defend an unpopular group of people. Americans are very anxious about Muslims. I think something like 40 percent of Americans admit that they have some feelings of intolerance towards Muslims. So, this is—this is a transparently political maneuver.
The problem is, is that the Democrats could have stood on principle, they could have said something like, look, Republicans want to tell you where you can build your churches, your synagogues—
SERWER: – your mosques, and we‘re saying, no, the government can‘t tell you that. And they could have made a stand on principle and reversed this issue. But instead, they waited until the last minute, and now, the issue has been defined by the opposition.
HAYES: Yes. And I think it‘s a really important point that Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, Anthony Weiner, that these have been profiled in cowardice on this issue. They—and had they stepped into the breach—I think you‘re right—it probably wouldn‘t have gone to the White House.
In terms of the White House, I also wonder if you think there is a foreign policy aspect to this. I mean, I was going through al Jazeera, both al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English, and this is getting play, understandably. And, you know, the world is watching this sort of thing. And I think—I wonder how much you think there‘s a foreign policy implication that weighed into the president‘s decision in terms of coming out and making the statement on Friday.
SERWER: I think there is - there are foreign policy implications. But I think what‘s ironic is that previous - prior to this happening, the Arab world is - the Arab and Muslim world is actually very disappointed with President Obama.
They feel like he hasn‘t met up with the expectations set in his
Cairo speech, which is really ironic, because here, Republicans portray the
president as being too sympathetic to Muslims -
SERWER: Where most Muslims abroad don‘t actually see it that way. But I do think it‘s actually very problematic when you‘re talking - I mean, it‘s certainly not sustainable as a governing philosophy, right?
I mean, one of the most remarkable things about this is that it‘s a break from the Bush administration, which did its best to marginalize extremists rather than allowing them to be able to claim the legitimacy of the entire religion of Islam, to which 1.5 billion people in the world adhere to.
And Republicans, at this point, are saying, no, we don‘t just want a war with al-Qaeda, we want a war with Islam. That‘s actually not something that can happen or is in the interest of the United States.
HAYES: Yes. Geostrategically, I don‘t think that‘s a good bet. Morally, obviously, bankrupt as well. Adam Serwer - you can read his work at “TheProspect.org.” He writes for the “American Prospect.” Thanks so much for coming on.
SERWER: Thank you.
HAYES: Gen. David Petraeus is in command of the international military effort in Afghanistan, a big and important job it is. But not bigger or more important than his boss‘ job, which is commander-in-chief.
And all that makes Gen. Petraeus‘ weekend media tour and the things he said weird at best and maybe worse than that. That‘s just ahead. Stay with us.
HAYES: At this point in time, when the country‘s trust in its leaders, institutions, and in some circles, government itself, is at historic lows, there is one person in the political landscape that stands alone.
He is the paragon of restraint and focus. He is not Morgan Freeman nor is he Alex Trebek. He is, of course, Gen. David Petraeus. If you don‘t believe me, just look at what happened when President Obama nominated Petraeus to his current post as top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
You‘ll recall, Obama had to call on Petraeus‘ services after Gen. McChrystal talked smack about his civilian superiors and got himself canned. But when Obama tapped Petraeus to step in for the dismissed McChrystal, it took the U.S. Senate all of seven days to confirm Petraeus‘ nomination by a vote of 99 to zero. Here‘s what they had to say about him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-IL): You‘re not allowed to assume confirmation, by the way, but I am allowed to assume confirmation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: I‘m not sure if Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, or Hammering Hank Aaron would get those kinds of accolades or that kind of vote margin, particularly if nominated by a Democratic president.
Now, just he did under President Bush with Iraq, Gen. Petraeus is using that reputational capital to convince the American public of the idea that the war we are fighting is winnable and worth the cost.
Just in the last few days, Gen. Petraeus has given interviews to the “New York Times,” “The Washington Post,” and NBC‘s David Gregory. He pushed back against the one assurance President Obama has given the American people about the war in Afghanistan, that by next summer, we will start to withdraw our troops.
The conditions on the ground, Petraeus says, will determine the withdrawal date. The conditions on the ground, meaning his assessment of the conditions on the ground.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: What the president very much wants from me and what we talked about in the Oval Office is the responsibility of a military commander on the ground to provide his best professional military advice.
Leave to politics to him. Certainly, I‘m aware of the context within which I offer that advice, but that just informs the advice. It doesn‘t drive it.
We have recommended the strategy and the resources that are required for that strategy. And as there are changes in any of that, that obviously I would communicate that to him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: July 2011, went forces are supposed to begin to come out, is your job here now as commander to try to slow down that Washington talk?
PETRAEUS: Well, I think our job is, again, to show those in Washington that there is progress being made.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Our job is, again, to show those in Washington that there is progress being made. Really? That‘s the job of the top commander in Afghanistan? Sounds like he‘s saying it‘s to make the case for war.
That is true, if the commander‘s job is to make the case for the war, then Gen. Petraeus can never, ever say, “Hey, guys, this isn‘t working.” Because he‘s both personally, by the very nature of he is, and institutionally duty bound to see the war as a project that is redeemable, worth pursuing, and ultimately can be won.
So to the extent to which Gen. Petraeus is the salesperson for the White House, or the person we all hitch our wagon to, is to the extent which we make it impossible to actually end the war.
Joining us now is Rajiv Chandrasekaran, associate editor for “The Washington Post.” He interviewed Gen. Petraeus this week. Rajiv, thanks so much for joining us.
RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”: Good to be on with you this evening.
HAYES: OK. I have to ask this as a personal question. I have never interviewed the general myself. Is he this towering, colossally awesome dude that everybody pictures him as?
I wonder the degree to which his public image is a product of his actual competence and how much of it is a product of very shrewd management of said image?
CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, he‘s undeniably a very smart, driven individual. You know, when you sit down with him, it actually isn‘t like sitting down with a number of other generals, where you just sort of either pummeled with facts or meant to sort of just kind of cower in the presence of him.
He actually has a little bit of an academic side. And he, of course, is a PowerPoint geek. So he will sort of display lots of slides in trying to make his points. But it is a good back-and-forth conversation. I mean, I found it to be a pretty enlightening discussion that I spent with him last week for over an hour in Kabul.
HAYES: So there seem to be two theories what exactly the kind of thrust of what he‘s saying about the 2011 drawdown, either he‘s undermining that deadline or he supports it with certain preconditions.
I wonder what your interpretation of this is. It seems to me that he‘s kind of laying the groundwork for us not getting - beginning the drawdown when we said we would.
CHANDRASEKARAN: You know, I think he‘s playing a sort of - a shrewder, longer game than either of those. And that is, he‘s not trying to litigate it shall of July 2011 right now. He recognizes that that is an issue that will be dealt with after the December White House review of Afghan strategy. It will probably be, you know, hashed out some time next spring.
Right now, I think Petraeus‘ focus is the flagging American public support for the war in large part because, you know, obviously, the conflict has gotten more violent. There are real significant questions about whether President Hamid Karzai and his government are true partners of the Americans. And a whole host of other questions about the effort over there.
And so I think what Petraeus is trying to do is address some of those issues right now, as opposed to trying to deal directly with the July 2011 drawdown as he‘s starting to take command.
HAYES: What is your sense from the reporting you‘ve done? I mean, there‘s been cases in which it has appeared, particularly with Stanley McChrystal in the past, in the policy review of Afghanistan leading up to the Afghanistan surge that essentially McChrystal and others within the military were attempting to use leaks to the press, public statements as a means of boxing the White House into something policy-wise.
Is your sense that these interviews being given by Petraeus are him free lancing and he is taking this on? Or is he doing this at the behest of the White House?
CHANDRASEKARAN: I think this is a coordinated campaign that is obviously being done with coordination with senior officers of the Pentagon and, obviously, at the White House. Petraeus went into a period of media silence as soon as he took over for about five weeks. And there is now going to be sort of a calculated rollout that will involve a number of television news programs, other print interviews, and the like.
He‘s very comfortable with the media. He, of course, used his ability to engage with the press to great affect in Iraq. And I think the White House as well as senior officials at the Pentagon are hoping that he can do some of the same things in Kabul, trying to help effectively sell the war, sell the president‘s own strategy.
So I don‘t see him, at this point, freelancing. I see him actually getting out there and conveying what has been approved by the president and by his national security team.
Interestingly, you know, the president doesn‘t give a whole lot of speeches about Afghanistan, not like his predecessor did about Iraq.
CHANDRASEKARAN: And so it may well fall to Gen. Petraeus to be a little bit more of the front man for the strategy in the coming months.
HAYES: I wonder what you think about where he stands in this kind of nexus of politics and sort of professional military duty. I mean, what makes him a useful spokesperson is a sense that he‘s kind of above politics.
And yet, he seems to me inextricably bound up in politics, insofar as he cannot be a neutral adjudicator or observer or a sort of advocate about whether the war should continue or not, right?
I mean, he seems boxed in. To the extent that we‘re listening to him seems like we‘re never going to get Gen. Petraeus saying, “You know what, guys? This isn‘t working.”
CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, you know, he wasn‘t set out there to be a neutral observer of the strategy and to sort of report back as a completely disinterested party. He was sent out there because he was an architect of the strategy that General McChrystal was pursuing. And so he‘s come and picked up the reins and has carried it forward. So he‘s a true believer in the counterinsurgency strategy.
CHANDRASEKARAN: And it was a strategy and is a strategy that has been approved by President Obama. So he is doing what his commander-in-chief wants him to do.
All that said, I don‘t think Petraeus is a guy who is going to sort of blindly rush off and continue on with the counterinsurgency strategy if he believes after a period of some months that there are real, significant problems with it.
He‘s a guy who comes into Afghanistan with this great one and zero record after, you know, being seen as the victor in Iraq. And so if he thinks that things aren‘t working, I think we could expect to see him essentially try to define downward what it means to sort of prevail there.
I just don‘t see him as the guy who will say, “You know, look, even though everything is broken here, I‘m going to rush off in the direction of continuing to do this.”
HAYES: I will note that the definition of prevailing has already been defined pretty far down at this point. I‘m not sure how much room there is left.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, associated editor for “The Washington Post,” author of the masterful “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” which I couldn‘t recommend more highly, thank you so much for joining us this evening. It was really great to talk to you.
CHANDRASEKARAN: Good to talk to you too.
HAYES: Faced with a full-blown unemployment crisis, one government agency that could be a huge help has responded by sitting on its hands. No, not the executive branch, and not even the obstructionist minority in the Senate. Some well-earned rage, coming up.
And our own Kent Jones makes some new friends at the “Star Wars” convention, because making friends is Kent‘s business. Stay with us.
HAYES: The Senate Republican filibustering of job bills and jobless relief boiled your blood. Stay with us to hear about the secret villain of the unemployment crisis. Here‘s a hint. You can‘t vote these guys out of office. Stick around.
HAYES: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is not afraid of embracing its inner dork. Remember this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST (on camera): And now, a quick check of our viewer mail bag. Viewer Wyatt writes, “Dear Rachel, you don‘t ever seem to use the highlighter that‘s always visible on your desk during the show. Is it just a prop”?
The highlighter is not a prop. I keep the highlighter here because if you put two highlighters together, it makes a light saber. It‘s not a prop. It‘s my light saber. Thanks for writing, Wyatt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: You think that was dorky? Consider the trip from which Kent Jones has recently returned. Kent?
KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Chris. Yes, I went to the “Star Wars” celebration five in Orlando over the weekend. And the dork we‘re talking about, just to be sure, that would be me.
Yes, I noticed you were admiring this. This is a Darth Vader t-shirt. And yes, it does this. Can you tell? Yes.
(on camera): How much memorabilia do you have?
STEVE SANSWEET, LUCAS FILM DIRECTOR OF FAN RELATIONS: Well, we inventoried about half of it. We‘re up to about 75,000 individual items.
JONES: How do you explain all of this?
SANSWEET: I think the original love for “Star Wars” - that came out of the time of really depressing news (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to create heroes for those fans at that age. They grew up with it. People have passed along their love for “Star Wars” to their kids. And now, we‘re into a third generation.
JONES: How do you feel about the commitment ceremony?
SANSWEET: Well, I love the commitment ceremony.
We are gathered here today to celebrate the strongest force of all.
The majority of our fans that are coming here are coming to renew their vows.
I now pronounce you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the force.
JONES: Do you still love it?
SANSWEET: I wouldn‘t be here dressed like this if I didn‘t love it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You must learn the ways of the force.
JONES: I‘m here with Jolly(ph). How long have you been a Jedi?
JOLLY(ph), “STAR WARS” FAN: About a year and a half.
JONES: Training was tough, wasn‘t it?
JOLLY: It was very tough.
JONES: What did you have to do?
JOLLY: Oh, a whole bunch of stuff, like break eggs and make things levitate.
JONES: How do you like me now, huh? How you like me now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will be a day long remembered.
JONES: Incriminating photos, right here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These helmets are for the Make-a-Wish Foundation auction that we‘re going to be doing on Sunday. They‘re done by various artists, celebrities, all kinds of members from the “Star Wars” community that have helped us to raise money for Make-a-Wish.
JONES: Rachel has a light saber, you know. Do you think she should be a Jedi knight?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A Jedi knight? Well, no, I think Rachel‘s probably a Jedi master.
MADDOW: It‘s not a prop.
JONES: My favorite thing so far, right here - the Lando Calrissian disguise kit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, what have we here?
JONES: Security. Millennium Falcon, check this out. Come on. Come on. Yes.
I‘m working, reporting. It‘s a difficult job. Hello, everyone.
HAYES: Thank you, Kent. May the force be with you.
JONES: And you.
HAYES: Still ahead, the little engine powering our economic recovery is running out of steam. And what‘s worse, the government agency that could be doing something about it, isn‘t. I kick their caboose, next.
HAYES: Remember the bikini graph? It‘s a real favorite on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. Displays job losses and gains by months. And fittingly, it had been looking really good until lately. There‘s that terrifying plunge during the last few months of the Bush administration, then a nadir under Obama followed by a gradual reduction in the rate of job losses and finally, actual job growth.
So far, so good. Except recently the trend has changed in the wrong direction. Job growth has diminished, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high. And the policies that were put in place to help job growth, chiefly the Recovery Act, are running out of steam.
Republicans should get the lion‘s share of the blame for this miserable state of affairs. It is their caucus that has filibustered and obstructed just about every single attempt to stimulate demand and aid recovery.
Some of the blame goes to the White House, which proposed a stimulus that its own economic analysis suggested would be too small.
But there‘s a third culprit, one which has escaped the public‘s well-earned ire and one which may be the single most powerful actor in this entire drama.
And unlike the executive and legislative branches of government, which are caught in a death lock between nihilism on one side and wimpiness on the other, this culprit has the power to do something about the problem, the independent power to make things better.
I speak, of course, of the Federal Reserve. But wait, cable news substitute host, the Federal Reserve confuses and bores me. Of course, it does. But perhaps it doesn‘t have to.
The Federal Reserve controls the nation‘s money supply. And to understand what it is doing that‘s so wrong, and why I‘m so exercised(ph) about this, we‘re going to use an analogy.
Now, let‘s say you‘re a farmer - maybe not this farmer, but a farmer. Your neighbors, co-workers and perfect strangers - they‘re all farmers on this vast stretch of farmland that is the American economy.
It is fertile land, but it needs water to grow crops and rain is irregular and unpredictable. Sometimes it rains too much, sometimes hardly at all. Enter the Federal Reserve. That‘s the entity that‘s in charge of irrigating the fields.
The Fed manages a big old dam and its job is to regulate the flow of water into the farmland. Now, it has to be careful because it has two somewhat opposing goals. One hand, it has to maximize the amount of food grown on the land which, in our little analogy is jobs, while at the same time minimizing flooding, which is in this little allegory, inflation. Enough water but not too much.
Now, at this moment the economy is in the worst drought since the Great Depression. The fields are barren and dry. Crops have withered from the vine and vast stretches of land look like the dust bowl. Epically, historically dry, as dry as it‘s ever been, more or less, with the exception of the actual dust bowl and the unemployment that era endured.
Yet in the midst of this drought, the Fed and its chairman, Ben Bernanke, sits there with the gates to the dam partially closed, an anemic trickle of water flowing into the fields. And it watches the suffering and refuses to throw open the spigot.
We understand things are bad, they say, but it might rain in the future. We need to conserve water. Someday, years from now, there could be flooding. It is illogical and it is cruel.
And at this point, you might be asking yourself, how can they get away with this? Why are they doing this? Well, you see, in our fictional farmland, not all farms are created equal. Some of these farms had their own special pipes that run directly into the dam.
They have more or less all the water they need. Let‘s call those farms - oh, I don‘t know - banks. Banks. Banks have all the money they need. There are also big wealthy farmers are personal reservoirs that are nice and filled and they‘re not much worried about the drought that others are suffering through.
So while you and your neighbor try to scratch a few potatoes out of the stone-dead earth, the banks are having water fights and the big wealthy farmers are installing slip and slides. It‘s enraging but it‘s also fixable.
All that needs to happen is for the Fed to open the gates in the dam, fire up those pumps and do what it takes to get money circulating through this economy.
As a matter of law, the Federal Reserve is required to pursue full employment and low inflation. Well, we‘ve got low inflation. In fact, we‘ve got inflation so low it‘s almost nonexistent.
But we are a long, long, long way from full employment. I‘m not suggesting Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve do anything special. I‘m simply suggesting they do their jobs. If they won‘t, I think it‘s time for those drought-stricken farmers to get organized and raise hell and grab their pitchforks until they do.
That does it for us tonight. I‘m Chris Hayes, in for Rachel. You can read more of my work at “TheNation.com” or follow me on Twitter, user name ChrisLHayes. Meanwhile, there‘s lots to add to what you see on the show. Our blog is at “MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.” “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts now. Good night.
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Copyright 2010 Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>