The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 07/23/12
EZRA KLEIN, GUEST HOST: Good evening, Michael, and thank you very
And thank you to you at home for staying with us for this hour.
Rachel has the night off.
In Colorado today, the suspect in last week`s mass shooting in the
Denver suburb appears in court for the first time. James Holmes had what
is called a first advisement this morning in county court. He sat with one
of his court-appointed attorneys while the judge ordered him held without
Reporters in the courtroom said his lawyer shielded him from victims
of the shooting and the relatives who had come for the hearing. He is not
expected to be charged formally in the case until next week. The trial
itself could be as much as a year away.
Prosecutors say the man stormed into a midnight premiere of the new
Batman movie last week in the city of Aurora. He came in with tear gas and
guns and wearing enough protective gear that police almost reportedly
mistook him for one of their own.
Though officers arrived within two minutes, he managed to kill 12
people and wound 58 others. He was armed, police say, with a pair of Glock
handguns, a 12-gauge shotgun, and an AR-15 assault rifle. All of them
appear to have been purchased legally.
Law enforcement in Colorado said he had stock piled bullets before the
massacre. They said he had stored up 6,000 rounds buying from ammunition
suppliers online. The list includes 3,000 rounds for hand guns, 3,000 for
the assault rifle, and 350 shells for the shotgun. Just like the guns used
in Friday night`s massacres, all of the bullets were also purchased
For the victims, the family and friends, for Aurora and the rest of
the country, the shootings were stunning, as horrible as the event can be.
To know about it is to be frightened and be full of grief. To be human
right now is to wish the survivors and the families and friends of the
victims comfort and healing.
But it`s also to wonder whether we could have done anything, anything
at all to stop it or whether there was something more we can do to stop the
next madman who wants to do something like it. But since the mass shooting
in Aurora, we have been told over and again we must avoid politicizing what
happened. What that means is don`t have that conversation. Don`t talk
about gun control.
Now, we should be clear. When one of the first things in a particular
set of politicians does after a tragedy is warn other political actors not
to talk about a certain set of policies, that is almost by definition
The arguments against politics here is itself a political argument,
made by political actors who are laying a kind of political trap for those
who would talk about gun control in the aftermath of Aurora. The basic
threat is if you talk about gun control, we`ll punish you. We`ll punish you
by accusing you of politicizing a national tragedy, of seeking to profit
from a horror.
That is not just a political argument. It is in fact a political
strategy, one that favors those who prefer the status quo to reform of the
nation`s gun control laws.
Max Reed, a writer at Gawker, had I think the right take about the
argument. He wrote, quote, “James Holmes did not materialize in a movie
theater in Aurora that morning, free of any relationship to law and
authority and the structures of power in this country, nor did he exit
those relationships and structures by murdering 12 people and injuring
several doesn`t more. Before he entered the theater, he purchased guns
whether legally or illegally under a framework of laws and regulations
governed and negotiated by politics. In the parking lot outside, he was
arrested by a police force whose salaries, equipment, tactics and rights
were shaped and determined by politics. You cannot politicize a tragedy
because a tragedy is already political. When you talk about the tragedy,
you`re already talking about politics.”
But for all that, we must be careful when a specific tragedy or event
leads to a broad national conversation. The thing about a horror like
Aurora, the reason the whole country is talking about it and grieving over
it, is that it is unusual. It is rare. And as such, it is dangerous to
generalize from it.
So, tonight on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, we`re going to try to step back
a moment. It will be some time before we truly understand what happened in
Colorado last week, if we ever do, but it is possible to understand broader
facts about guns, about gun violence, and about gun control in the United
States of America.
And one thing we can say for sure, to begin, is that America is an
unusually violent country. This chart comes from Kieran Healey, a
sociologist at Duke University. The lines all bunch together at the
bottom show the rate of deaths from assault in 23 develop nations, not
including our own. That line way up there, above all others, that line
shows deaths from assault in the U.S.
We are an extremely violent country, it`s true, but look at this.
We`re not nearly so violent as we used to be. Our assault rate peaked in
the late 1970s, and awful events like Aurora notwithstanding, has been
falling continuously ever since.
Within America, the South is by far the most violent region. It has
the most deaths from assault. Then comes the Wests where the shootings
happens followed by the Midwest and Northeast. Thanks again to Kieran
Healey for this chart.
Also, gun ownership is on the decline. The percentage of American
households that say they own a pistol or a shotgun is about half it was 30
years ago, according to the general social survey.
And the numbers from Gallup polling also show a decline, although a
smaller one. And the most recent numbers from Gallup which aren`t actually
on this graph have shown an uptick in gun ownership, although we don`t know
if that`s a tick or a blip or the beginning in the reversal in the trend.
In states where gun ownership is relatively high, so it turns out is
suicide. This map, which we made with data from the “New England Journal
of Medicine”, compares a number of suicides by gun ownership rates. It`s
four times as high in states with a lot of firearms, even when you factor
in suicide by other means, by any means at all, states with a high rate of
gun ownership still experience twice as many suicides.
Gun ownership and suicide are in the evidence linked. And so are gun
ownership and homicide. I don`t actually have a graph for this one, but
the Harvard Injury Control Research Center assesses literature on guns and
homicide and found that more guns tends to mean more murders. This holds
true whether you`re looking at different countries or states within this
country. It remains true after you control things for poverty and
As for the role of gun control laws, economist Richard Florida finds
in states with relatively strict laws, fewer people die from gun fire, like
in the Upper Midwest. States with relatively looser gun control like
Louisiana have a higher rate of death from guns.
Yet for all that, gun control is not popular. And it is getting even
less popular. Gallup has been asking people whether they want stricter gun
control laws since 1990. The number of people who favor them has fallen by
a lot. The number calling for either looser laws on the status quo has
nearly tripled, and in recent years has come to be larger than the number
calling for stricter gun laws.
So, that is some of what we know about Americans and guns and
violence. We`re not as violent a nation as we once were though we are
violent, and gun ownership tracks with violence and suicide and loose gun
laws which people say they prefer.
For all that, we should be clear: there are no easy answers to what
happened in Aurora. Not in why it happened and not in how to stop it.
James Holmes had no criminal record. So it would be difficult to deny
him weaponry under any gun control regime at all. He had a number of legal
explosives in his home. So, he could have turned to that method of murder
if he wasn`t capable of getting high-powered weaponry fast enough.
We must be humble when thinking about what in this particular case
could have been done. But we cannot be scared away from thinking about
what in the future we might yet do.
Joining us now is Michael Nutter, mayor of the great city of
Philadelphia and a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Mayor Nutter, today, announced a new partnership with the Department
of Justice for the reduction of violent crime in Philadelphia.
Mayor Nutter, thank you so much for joining me tonight.
MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER (D), PHILADELPHIA: Thank you, Ezra.
KLEIN: After this shooting in Colorado, you issued a statement that
was equal parts condolences and a call for stricter gun safety laws. So
did some other mayors like Mayor Bloomberg. Can these two ideas go
together? Can we have a discussion over gun control and over Aurora that
is not disrespectful to the victims?
NUTTER: Absolutely. And again, let me take a moment to just express
my deepest condolences to the family members who lost loved ones in that
carnage just a few days ago, and those who are injured and still
recovering. We wish all of them a speedy recovery and hopefully a healing
I have talked to the mayor out there, Mayor Hogan, as well as the
nearby mayor, Mayor Hancock, and anything that we can do from Philadelphia
or through the U.S. Conference of Mayors, certainly we extend ourselves and
just continue to pray for the people in that city and those who were killed
I think we have to be able to be mature enough to have a legitimate
non-hysterical, adult conversation about gun safety and violence
prevention. This is not a conversation about taking someone`s gun away.
I`m a big supporter of the Second Amendment, but as I have said on
numerous occasions, I also believe I have a First Amendment right not to be
shot. Those two ideas are not in conflict with each other. With those –
with any right comes a significant amount of responsibility.
Clearly, there`s something wrong with that individual. But beyond
that, we need systems in place to red flag, if you will, some of the things
we now know in the aftermath that apparently we didn`t know just in the
last – Wednesday or Thursday. Six thousand rounds, the purchase of an
assault rifle or weapon – for what reason would any individual, other than
law enforcement or military, need such weaponry? Body armor, again, those
are things that law enforcement and military use.
And so, I think that this issue, we have seen Aurora, the shooting of
a member of Congress, Representative Giffords, Columbine, Virginia Tech,
the list goes on and on and on. Just over the last 10 to 20 years, we go
through these situations, and much is talked about. We need some action –
we need reasonable, rational, gun safety regulations, procedures in place
for violence, prevention.
You said earlier that you almost can`t have a discussion, and it
becomes political. Well; no one thought that in the aftermath of 9/11.
Now, we did a lot of things after 9/11, 11 years ago. We created a
whole new federal agency called the Department of Homeland Security, as
well as the TSA. Billions of dollars have been spent to make sure that
we`re safe, as we fly, no one has said that airplanes were not going to go
up in the sky. No one said that people couldn`t ride. But we put in
extraordinary measures to red flag and act as preventative measures to
insure airline safety and that everyone would be safe.
Well, we need the same thing, quite honestly, on the streets of
America, in our cities and metro areas all across the country.
KLEIN: Mayor, I have been struck by the difference between mayors of
cities like you and Mayor Bloomberg, and other members of your organization
who have been aggressive trying to talk about gun safety, gun control, and
national politicians like Mitt Romney and President Obama who have backed
away from such talk entirely.
What is different on the local level that accounts for the different
political approaches we`re seeing?
NUTTER: Well, I can`t speak to the moment, either Mr. Romney or the
president has spoken out, and I expect that he will do so again in the
future at an appropriate time. I think for mayors like Mayor Bloomberg, he
and Mayor Menino out of Boston, are co-chairs of mayors against illegal
guns. I see it myself.
Every mayor is really on the front line when it comes to public safety
issues. If someone is shot or killed in our cities, the public where we
live expect us to do something. And so that`s why you`re hearing a great
deal from the mayors. We have a duty and responsibility on the ground to
try to solve these issues, prevent tragedy, and we certainly need
additional help and resources.
KLEIN: Michael Nutter, mayor of the great city of Philadelphia –
thank you so much for your time tonight.
NUTTER: Thank you.
KLEIN: Presidential politics resume today with a note to Mitt Romney.
If you want to attack President Obama on a certain position, make sure
there`s no videotape out there that shows you endorsing the exact same idea
using the exact same language, proving the position you were attacking is
in fact one you also believe. Mitt Romney caught on tape, next.
KLEIN: A moment of geek tonight that is all at once a tragedy, a
comedy, a scientific mystery, and a self-help cautionary tale.
Also, it describes a practice, and I can`t emphasize this enough, you
should not try at home. or actually anywhere. Just don`t do it. And it
really doesn`t make sense to pay for the opportunity to try it, though some
actually do that.
Some very hazardous but very awesome geek-dom coming up.
KLEIN: Last week, the 2012 presidential campaign was dominated by one
remark that President Obama made at a campaign stop in Roanoke, Virginia.
“You did not build that.”
All at once, the entire Republican campaign apparatus mobilized itself
around the one comment from Obama.
Now, President Obama was saying something fairly clear. I mean, you
can listen to it yourself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you have been
successful, you didn`t get there on your own. You didn`t get there on your
own. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.
There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to
create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to
thrive. Someone invested roads and bridges. If you`ve got a business, you
didn`t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
The point is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our
individual initiative but also because we do things together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: In the annals of controversy political statements, this should
not be a particularly controversial one. It`s the idea that human beings
rely on each other as well as themselves, that they rely on the societies
as well in order to succeed. It is the idea that if you were born in North
Korea, you would not have the same career trajectory as if you were born
here in America. The idea that if you love math but got here before Isaac
Newton invented calculus, you would have had a tougher time of it.
The institutions that we have here matter, the roads we have here
matter, infrastructure matters, trains matter, the teacher you had in
eighth grade matters, the support your parents gave you matters. And you,
of course, matter.
As Americans we know all that is true, without a doubt true. It`s
part of why we call this the greatest country in the world.
If individuals were all that matters, why would you care which country
you were in?
Last week, for some reason, Republicans pretended not to know any of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He said this, “If you got a
business, you didn`t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
ROMNEY: To say that Steve Jobs didn`t build Apple, that Henry Ford
didn`t build ford motor, that Papa John didn`t build Papa John Pizza – to
say something like that is not just foolishness, it`s insulting to every
entrepreneur, every innovator in America, and it`s wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: I got to be honest, I tune out of these things sometimes, and
this is one of those times. I didn`t take any of it seriously when it was
unfolding last week, not a word of it, because the fact of the matter is
Mitt Romney is not a stupid man. He knows better.
I mean, Mitt Romney ran Bain Capital. It was a firm that went in and
tried to help different people helping other businesses become successful
again. And it did so in large part with help from the government. They
used government tax deductions to carry out essentially interest free
finance takeovers to bring them back to profitability or barring that to
strip them bare before they turn them out into bankruptcy.
And Romney is telling them if those businesses had not had access to
Romney and his team, they would have been in much worse shape. And in any
telling, if Romney and his team had access to outside financing and a tax
code friendly to debt, they would have been in much worse shape.
Romney knows that. He knows the government has a role to play in
helping businesses succeed, that other people have a role to play in
helping businesses succeed. So, his criticism to the contrary struck me as
ridiculous and insincere.
But Republicans this week are still pushing this thing really hard.
Today, the RNC held a conference call with a pair of small business owners
to highlight President Obama`s supposedly offensive comments. This was the
backdrop at a Mitt Romney business round table in California. “We did
build it,” it says. I bet Romney actually didn`t build the banner.
But whatever my suspicions, I didn`t have a way to prove that he knew
better. Actually, I didn`t have proof until today. Today, when video came
out of Mitt Romney telling Olympic athletes back in 2002, you didn`t build
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: You guys pushed yourselves, drove yourselves, sacrificed,
trained, and competed time and again, winning and losing. You Olympians
however know you didn`t get here solely on your own power. For most of
you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches
guided, communities build venues and organized competitions. All Olympians
stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We have already cheered
the Olympians. Let`s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Got that, Olympians? You didn`t build it. You couldn`t
possibly have achieved what you have achieved to this point without the
help of others. Without the help sometimes of even the government which
helped build the venues you compete in.
I couldn`t believe that quote when I first watched it, actually. It`s
like David Axelrod went back in time and put the precise words he needed
into Mitt Romney`s mouth. I mean, Romney even praises government in there.
He didn`t need to do that. He didn`t need to bring up venues, but he
But, you know, I mean, the reason he said it is it`s all true. You
could make a pretty good case that say a marathon runner did it mostly on
his own, but most athletes like most benefits benefit from the institutions
that exist in their societies. Mitt Romney knows that. He knows that when
it comes to Olympic athletes and he knows that when it comes to American
This gets to something larger that we are seeing a lot right now in
American politics, the effort to take relatively modest policy differences
and blow them up into gigantic yawning chasms of philosophical difference.
In reality, the difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in terms of
specific policy that comes from the idea you didn`t build that or you did
build that, is about a percentage point of GDP and taxes, maybe a little
more, or maybe a little bit less depending on how you score Mitt Romney`s
tax cut plan.
Mitt Romney doesn`t think that there should be no taxes, he doesn`t
think there should be no public investment, and Barack Obama doesn`t think
we should have a 100 percent tax rate and 75 times more public investment.
Both men think we should have taxes that people pay because in society,
we`re better off for helping one another out, and both men think we should
have public investment and public goods because there are things we all
need to band to together to do collectively if we`re going to succeed
The question is simply where to put the balance between the two.
Now, Mitt Romney may want to admit this, but he doesn`t really have a
choice anymore because the fact of the matter is he already admitted it.
He admitted it 10 years ago when he was kicking off one of the greatest
spectacles of individual achievement one can possibly imagine. And he told
those athletes at that time in effect, you didn`t build it.
Mitt Romney was right back then about those athletes. They were
helped even though they did much on their own. And he knows he`s wrong
right now as he tries to run against Obama`s comments on American
Joining us now is E.J. Dionne, “Washington Post” columnist, MSNBC
contributor, Brookings institution senior fellow, and the author of
“Divided Political Heart”, which I`m told Bill Clinton has been talking up
in political speeches.
So, congrats on that. That`s a lot to do all on your own. Busy guy.
E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: I didn`t build it myself. I had a
great editor, a lot of friend, great colleagues.
KLEIN: One of the things you talk about in the book, which is
wonderful, Bill Clinton is right, is that in American history, there have
been these competing threads between individualism and the emphasis on
community and what we need to do together. But it does seem, at least to
me, and I`m not the historian that you are, that in recent years, much of
that has been jettisoned by the Republican Party in an effort to paint
themselves as the saviors of free enterprise and the American system and
paint the Democrats and Obama in particular as something radically alien
and outside the American consensus.
Is that a fair judgment?
DIONNE: No, I think that`s a fair judgment. I think you had two
things happen at the same time. I think you had the Republicans entirely
abandon what had been for them and for conservatism, a very strong
communitarian commitment. Bill Buckley, shortly before he died, wrote a
book called –
KLEIN: The editor of “National Review”.
DIONNE: Yes, the founder of modern conservative.
KLEIN: Premiere conservative general.
DIONNE: Right. And Bill Buckley wrote a book called “Gratitude”,
where he talked about what we owe back for growing up in this society, for
being nurtured by it, for being protected by it. We didn`t do the on our
If Bill Buckley tried to run on that book in a Republican primary now,
he`d lose. In the meantime, Obama and the Democrats are really just
talking about the traditional American balance between our love of
community and liberty, between our respect for the role of private
enterprise and of government, in building up the country. And so, they
have to invent a whole tale in order to cast the traditional American idea
as some form of socialism. It`s exactly what they did on the health care
bill, as you know better than anyone. It was a Heritage Foundation idea,
Republican ideas –
KLEIN: A Mitt Romney idea.
DIONNE: A Mitt Romney idea. He was really –
KLEIN: He didn`t build that on his own, though. The Heritage
Foundation and all those others helped him.
DIONNE: Right. And the state of Massachusetts, my state, he doesn`t
want to talk about much.
And, you know, they have just walked away from all that. And Mitt
Romney has sounded consistently better 10 years ago than he did once he
decided to run for president.
KLEIN: One of the things I thought has been an interesting thread in
this primary is it`s completely normal to paint the opposing party`s
candidate as more extreme than they are. You want to do that.
What isn`t quite as normal is to spend so much time painting yourself
as more extreme than you really are. But there really hasn`t been a pivot
as far as I have been able to tell from primary election Mitt Romney to
general election Mitt Romney. He sort of – a lot of things that I think
people assumed would fall off as you stop running in Republican primaries
have remained and a lot of the arguments have remained the same.
In that way he has been consistent, but somewhat unusually. He`s been
DIONNE: Precisely, good word. I mean, it`s like the etch-a-sketch is
jammed. He was signaling, his campaign aide was signaling, well, we`re
going to do an adjustment after the primary. I think that he`s decided
that you can flip or you can flop, but you can`t flip and flop and flip and
flop. So I think there`s some reluctance to change again on his part, but
this is what the Republican Party has become.
In my book, I talk about people like Jacob Javits, a very progressive
Republican. Could you imagine someone like Javits who`s – you know, I
quoted him in the book partly because he sounds so much like President
Obama. President Obama in so many ways sounds like a moderate or liberal
Republican from 20 years ago right now.
DIONNE: So Romney is occupying this space, and I guess the
Republicans figure he doesn`t want to run too far away from Congress. He
doesn`t want to blow up his party. And so he is sticking with positions
that I think really are way to the right of where conservatives and
Republicans used to be.
KLEIN: E.J. Dionne, “Washington Post” columnist, MSNBC contributor,
Brookings Institution senior fellow and author of “Our Divided Political
Heart” – wonderful book he didn`t do all his own, but it`s wonderful
nevertheless – E.J., thank you for your time tonight.
DIONNE: Thank you.
KLEIN: Congrats on all the success of the book.
DIONNE: I appreciate that. Thank you.
KLEIN: Tonight, as part of my career as a cable television daredevil,
I will make my second attempt at something that has never been attempted
before. I tried it the first time on this show. I survived my first try
and I`m back tonight to defy the odds again. This time, with even more
spectacular result – maybe, possibly. That is next.
KLEIN: On June 14th, I was lucky enough to be sitting in this chair,
hosting this great show. And what was more remarkable is what the staff
here let me do. They let me do a whole segment on Spanish bond yields.
Spanish bond yields.
Where else on TV you sit around in prime time and talk Spanish bond
yields. Where else but THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW?
Anyway, we called it the Ezra Klein challenge. The challenge was
this, could I make you care about Spanish bond yields in under two minutes.
And my argument was simple, if you`re picking one indicator to watch to see
if the euro was going to survive or fall, you would pick Spanish bond
yields because Greece – it would be bad if Greece had to leave the euro,
terrible even, but it would be survival.
There is no world in which Spain goes down however and the euro
endures. If Spain goes down, then Ireland is going down, and Portugal is
going down, and Italy is going down, and France is going down, and the euro
is going down.
So, Spanish bond yields, the thing you need to remember is the higher
a bond yield is, the more a country is having to pay when they borrow
money. If Spanish bond yields keep going up, that means Spain can`t afford
to borrow the money necessary to finance itself, and the eurozone is going
down. And that means our economy might be going down, too.
Well, since I did that segment, Spanish bond yields have kept going
up. This graph may not look so scary, those two lines, but it is actually
terrifying. It`s Spanish bond yields at record highs. This is way above
the level which the euro, which Spain and the euro can survive.
So, tonight`s Ezra Klein challenge is to explain why this happened.
Have we got the clock here? All right. Ready? Set, go.
Austerity isn`t working. We could actually just stop the clock there,
but I have 1:55. Tons of time.
So, look, Spain has been doing what the eurozone has asked them to do.
They`re doing austerity. They`re cutting budgets. They`re trying.
Everybody agrees they have been a good faith actor. But that
treatment is driving them deeper and deeper into recession, and these bond
yields are the market, the market saying this is not working. This is the
wrong medicine. Something else needs to be done.
And you know what else? It`s no mystery what needs to be done. The
eurozone has a central bank. That central bank could stop their run
tomorrow if they`re willing to commit to backing Spain up. But they
haven`t been. The eurozone has plenty of money, as a whole, it`s got less
debt than we do. This whole thing could end if they tied themselves
together fiscally the way we in the United States have done, but they
haven`t been willing to do that.
So, here they are and there Spain goes, and wow, I still have a lot of
We got through the fact that a high Spanish debt yield is a terrible
and scary number that should concern you. So, maybe we go back through
credit default swaps or Glass-Steagall or maybe LIBOR.
KLEIN: All right, you want the truth? I don`t like scary movies or
scary books or scary television shows. It`s just not my thing.
The one scary thing I am into, scary political science, and one of the
scariest political scientists around is Princeton`s Martin Gilens. And
Gilens has done is pore through hundreds and thousands of polls, looking at
what Americans of different economic levels wants to happen in politics.
And then he looks at what really happens. The story he tells isn`t
that scary. In fact, it`s probably what you expect. The political system
is likelier to listen to the affluent than to the poor or middle class.
What I didn`t expect and maybe I`m just naive is what happened when
the affluent disagreed with the poor and middle class. According to Gilens
data, the political system tends to at those moments ignore the poor and
middle class entirely.
Joining me now so he can scare you the way he has scared me so many
times is Martin Gilens, the author of the new book, it just came out
Sunday, “Affluence & Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in
Professor, thank you so much for being here.
MARTIN GILENS, PRINCETON: My pleasure.
KLEIN: First, I want to make sure I understood this right. Your
research shows essentially that when the affluent disagree with the poor
and middle class, the opinions of the poor and the middle class basically
cease to matter, is that correct?
GILENS: In ordinary circumstances – which is to say most of the time
– that`s exactly right. When preferences diverge across income levels,
the government responds pretty strongly to the preferences to the affluent
and not at all to the preferences of the middle class or the poor.
KLEIN: So, the follow-up question then is how can that actually be
sustainable? When we talk about the affluent here, we`re talking about the
top 10 percent of the income distribution. That is a lot of people but it
is not enough people to win an election.
So, how can politicians be ignoring the opinions of so many folks
lowered on the income scale and keeping elected?
GILENS: Well, that`s a good question. And that does have to do with
the exceptions to this pattern. So, there are political circumstances
which force policymakers, officeholders, to respond more fully to what the
public wants and more equally to what low and high income Americans want.
And those circumstances are the proximity of an election, especially a
presidential election, and circumstances where the control of government is
uncertain or divided.
And in those cases, parties will be unwilling to pay the price that
pursuing unpopular policies would exact.
KLEIN: So this I think sounds really bad to folks, but one argument
you hear people make, I have heard people make, anyway, is that it doesn`t
really matter. We`re looking at the wrong thing, that what voters want
isn`t for politicians to follow their opinions on policy but for
politicians to deliver a rising standard of living. If that comes from
choices that are different than the ones the voters would have made, then
so be it.
GILENS: Well, there certainly are voters whose primary concern in an
election is how either than their own household is doing or more commonly,
how the country is doing economically. But there are many voters, most
voters, who take into account a much broader segment of issues and set of
considerations, and for them, where a politician stands on a variety of
things are important and voting is sometimes a matter of balancing economic
performance against other kinds of considerations.
KLEIN: So one of the findings in your book that I really found
fascinating, I wouldn`t have expected, is that you say gridlock makes
parties more responsive because it kind of acts as a filter, because only
popular policies can get through gridlock. You also say that extremely
competitive elections make parties more responsive because again they have
more reason to only let popular policies go through because they don`t want
to cede any ground to the other side.
(AUDIO BREAK) last few years of gridlock and fierce party competition,
I see a political system being badly governed and much more to the point, I
see a polity that is really, really unhappy. Right now, the parties are
very closely matched. There`s tons of gridlock, and Congress is at its
lowest approval rating since we began surveying that.
So doesn`t that kind of call in the question the idea the
responsiveness is the goal that at least voters are rewarding, or even that
a wise goal for us to strive for?
GILENS: Well, it`s only one element of what we would want from the
government. It`s true that gridlock has negative consequences, and they`re
very evident, but it also has this positive side which I think has gone
unrecognized previously. And that is under the circumstances, when not
much policy is adopted, it doesn`t mean that government is doing better,
but it does mean those policies that are adopted do tend to be more
So, if you want – it`s a bit of a silver lining to an otherwise
rather gray cloud.
KLEIN: All right. See, you`re not – you`re not that scary after
Martin Gilens, professor of politics at Princeton University and
author of the new book, “Affluence and Influence,” which is terrific. And
you guys should take a look. Martin, thank you very much for being here.
GILENS: My pleasure, Ezra.
KLEIN: Attention cartographers, if a certain Republican congressman
has his way, the world`s maps will need to be redrawn to honor the star of
the movie “Cattle Queen of Montana.” That is straight ahead.
KLEIN: In August of 1961, the government of East Germany began
construction on a giant wall around the city of West Berlin, which happened
to lay in the middle of East Berlin. You got that?
It was as cold as a Cold War could be. And it stayed that way for
more than 25 years. Complete with proxy wars, missile threats, nuclear
arms build-ups and John le Carre spy novels.
Then in June of `87, President Ronald Reagan visited the Berlin Wall
and said these very dramatic and very famous words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: The wall did come down about a year later. And it made Ronald
Reagan look pretty good.
But Reagan was just a man, right? And he`s not even with us today, so
how does he help us now?
Well, it appears some Republican politicians believe there`s some kind
of problem solving nation protecting magic power in invoking the very name
Ronald Reagan, in uttering the words Ronald Reagan. You can`t just say
Ronald Reagan like a spell, and wonderful things begin to happen.
In the 2008 presidential campaign, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt
Romney introduced his Reagan zone of economic freedom, not the Romney zone
of economic freedom. Mr. Romney does not have that sort of power yet. It
was the Reagan zone of economic freedom.
President Obama in his foreign policy team have pursued a policy of
aggressively taken China`s misbehavior to the World Trade Organization to
try to stop China from cheating wherever possible and pressure them on
But Governor Romney thinks that turns America into a door mat. Mr.
Romney thinks President Obama is letting China walk all over him and give
the WTO too much authority. Mr. Romney would not push China on that WTO
His solution instead is to create a Reagan zone, a Reagan zone for all
of the countries around China. While it is extremely unlikely China would
join the Reagan zone, our offer to allow China to join the Reagan zone
would modify China`s trade and industrial behavior.
Seriously, that`s the plan. It`s up there on the current campaign Web
site. We create the zone, China says no to the zone, but to the zone still
gets China to participate in free trade on fair terms because, you know,
But Governor Romney`s Reagan zone has been badly outdone in their
devotion to those two magical words that solve problems by their very
incantation. The prize for most spectacular assumption around the power of
Reagan currently goes to Republican Congressman Darrell Issa.
Mr. Issa is probably the most famous for holding all-male hearings
about contraception and charging the attorney general of the United States
with contempt. But Congressman Issa recently found time in his schedule to
introduce the prize-winning entry in the President Reagan “can still solve
all of our problems” sweepstakes.
Mr. Issa`s new bill would rename the waters off the coastal U.S.,
pretty much all of those waters, actually, after Mr. Reagan. You heard me
right. All of America`s coastal water would be renamed “Reagan water.” It
would all be the wet Reagan zone.
This slice of the world right here includes the United States and its
territories. They`re in the dark green. And the areas in blue extending
from 3 to 200 nautical miles offshore are something called the exclusive
economic zone. Mr. Romney wants to rename them the Ronald Wilson Reagan
exclusive economic zone.
President Reagan established the so-called EEZ in 1983, with a
proclamation that declares that the United States has, quote, “sovereign
rights for exploring and exploiting, but also as if these actions are not a
little bit intentioned, conserving and managing natural resources of the
So, naturally, Mr. Issa wants to name 4.5 million square miles of the
ocean after Mr. Reagan, because the natural wonder of the ocean is a lot
like a D.C. airport, maybe. And it turns out that Darrell Issa tries to
sell the country on its Reagan waters bill at regular intervals, having
introduced it multiple times in past sessions of Congress.
The possible implications of renaming America`s ocean waters Reagan
zones are many and varied, we should say. For instance, I went to the
beach this weekend. How was the Reagan zone? Oh, it was cold, but you get
used to it after you`re in it for a bit.
And then there is this. Before he was Congressman Darrell Issa, he
was extremely rich businessman Darrell Issa. And when that was his title,
Darrell Issa owned a car alarm company called Viper. If you had a Viper
car alarm and somebody tried to mess with your car, they were warned
explicitly to cut it out by a loud voice – the voice, in fact, of Darrell
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Protected by Viper. Stand back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Which means that Congressman Darrell Issa`s proposal for the
waters off our coastline comes with the possibility of extra security for
our great nation.
VOICE: Protected by Reagan power, stand back. Stand back.
KLEIN: Meet the star of tonight`s “Moment of Geek”, motivational
speaker Tony Robbins. He has the tens of millions of personal power
audiotapes sold and of the being really tall and of the speaking really
loudly into a headset microphone while pacing energetically across a stage
for hours a t a time. He of the inspiring his followers of walking through
fire, to unleash their inner awesomeness and live living prowess, which
apparently looks something like this, according to a cell phone video
posted on YouTube.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
KLEIN: So I don`t know if that was a bona fide Tony Robbins event as
was labeled on the video. But it`s basically the idea, chant “yes, yes,
yes” a couple of times. You have some drumming in the background, and end
with whoops of excitement from people who have walked over hot coals,
heated in fact to a temperature of more than 1,000 degrees. And they do it
without getting burned.
Whoo! Mind over matter, baby.
That actually is going to be the end, I fear, of my career as a
motivational speaker. As I said, the event usually ends with huge whoops
of excitement and empowerment. Last week in San Jose, California, however,
the jubilation was punctuated by screams of pain as 21 people ended up
being got burns on their feet. Some of the burns are serious enough to
require a trip to the hospital.
Tony Robbins has been doing this stunt with audiences for decades.
But apparently, the hubbub led his company to say they are working with
authorities to improve safety. Now, I have a suggestion for them right now
about how to improve the safety of the hot coal thing.
Step one, do not do the hot coal thing anymore. But if they`re going
to do it, perhaps instead of imagining you`re walking on cool moss, as Tony
Robbins exhorts you to, why not visualize the science of why walking on
coals does not have to hurt. It basically has to do with the fact that
charcoal, which is made off wood, is a poor conductor of heat.
As an “A.P.” medical writer who tried fire walking in 2005 put it,
quote, “That is the reason it is possible to hold a wooden match and not
feel the heat through the wood while the tip burns. It`s why cooking pots
used to have handles made of wood.”
The amazing myth busters tested this back in `08. They looked at the
surface temperature of a piece of charcoal from a bed that was heated to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently, charcoal and ash are four times better
at insulation than wood. So in theory, I should be able to pick up one of
these coals, which on one side is 900 degrees, and on the charcoal and ashy
side, it`s 300 degrees. So I should be able to put this in the palm of my
hand without injury.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Even so. So reason one the coal ash acts as an insulator,
making a thousand-plus degree fire significantly less hot to the touch.
Still hotter than you might like, I don`t think I`d put that in my palm,
but not as hot as advertised.
Then, there`s your rate of speed as you walk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the first set of results up for analysis is
the high-speed camera shots, showing exactly how much toe-touching time
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So it turns out that my foot was only in contact
with the hot coals from heel to toe for 9/10 of a second and my full weight
was only on it for 5/10 of a second. So right there, it shows you that
might be one of the reasons you don`t get burned when you walk across hot
coals, is you`re not touching the coals for very long.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: So the trick for walking through fire is basically don`t worry
very much and walk through it very, very quickly. Like, get out of the
Now, I`m not trying to take anything away from the people who have
walked through Tony Robbins` fire and come out of it feeling like their
lives have changed. Who am I to say they haven`t? But I am willing to say
that it may have more to do with physics than your inner awesomeness or
your personal super power to have a better life, which are great, but not
connected to the soles of your feet or the coals beneath them as it turns
Anyway, just one more time, do not try this coal walking thing at
That does it for us tonight. Now it is time for “THE LAST WORD” with
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