The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/13/15
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: So, it`s getting to be late summer. It`s
the August before a presidential election year. And country is figuring
out who`s going to run, who`s going to be a real contender.
On the Democratic side assuredly, there is going to be a Clinton on
the ballot. And that`s because in this story, it is 1995. And President
Bill Clinton is running for re-election.
Now, on the Republican side, it`s crowded. More candidates that year
than anybody could remember for years. They`re all vying for the
nomination. They`re all campaigning hard. They`re all doing what they can
to try to goose their poll numbers, try to stand out from that packed field
It is August of 1995. It is 20 years ago. And 20 years ago in
American politics, all anyone could talk about at that point in the
campaign, the scandal of the moment, the controversy in Republican politics
and in the country at large, the scandal, the uproar, was about the
president`s wife, and her ambitions.
MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Later today, California Governor Pete Wilson
will announce his entry into the already crowded field of Republican
Mrs. Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has decided to go to China next
month to take part in the international women`s conference, despite some
controversy. Do you think it`s a good idea?
THEN-GOV. PETE WILSON (R), CALIFORNIA: Not really.
REPORTER: Conservative leaders are still unhappy with the whole idea
of the United Nations conference, which is expected to draw about 40,000
women from around the world.
SEN. BOB DOLE (R), MAJORITY: I think this removes one barrier, but
she still has to face up to the agenda of the women`s conference. It`s a
very, quote, “left-wing agenda”, sort of an anti-family agenda. I still
think if I could give her any advice, she ought to stay here.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Handling the Chinese will be tricky
enough but the conference itself is controversial. Under attack from
conservatives who say it is radical, anti-family.
KRISTI HAMRICK, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, the conference is a
little bit of sugar wrapped around a big bitter pill of failed Western
MADDOW: In the middle of a presidential election race in which her
husband was the candidate to beat, everybody was talking about Hillary
Clinton. Specifically everybody was talking about Hillary Clinton`s
decision to attend the United Nations Conference on Women. And two decades
down the road, that doesn`t sound like a controversial thing to do. At the
time, there really was a political uproar, that the first lady of the
United States would dare to give a high-profile speech about women`s rights
anywhere, let alone Beijing, China.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re gathered here today to ask the United
States not to send a delegation to Beijing, China, for the Conference on
Father, we pray right now for the Clintons. We speak to them, that
they would not send this delegation, Dear Lord.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Conservative activists and conservative groups and
Republican candidates, they all went after the first lady specifically and
the whole Clinton administration on this. They prayed and protested
outside the White House. They asked God to please stop the first lady.
Don`t let the first lady get on that plane.
But even among some of her allies, even among some of the Clinton
administration`s allies, even just diplomatically, there was unease about
Hillary Clinton`s decision to go, widespread unease. Not just ideological
opposition on the right.
I mean, at that point in his presidency, Bill Clinton had yet to make
an official trip to China. But here was the first lady deciding that she
would go first.
In the lead up to the U.N. conference, China had also arrested and
jailed a prominent American human rights activist and critic of China, a
man named Harry Wu. China did release Mr. Wu a few days before the
conference was set to start, but that led to criticism that China had
traded him, that they had traded Harry Wu`s freedom for Hillary Clinton.
China wanted her in Beijing to legitimize that country`s terrible record on
human rights, and so, they let this American out of prison in order to get
her there for their own purposes.
I mean, some of the huge amount of pressure on Hillary Clinton to not
take that trip, some of that was we hate the idea of a conference on women.
Some of that was just the standard we hate the Clintons stuff from the
right – substance-free personal vitriol toward both President Clinton and
Mrs. Clinton, which was a hallmark of that political era.
But some of the criticism of that trip, the idea that China would be
using a visit from the first lady of the United States to validate them, to
validate their human rights track record, to excuse that government`s
behavior toward their own citizens, that was a really substantive worry,
and it wasn`t coming from a place of knee-jerk ideological opposition to
Of course, the way to beat that criticism is not necessarily to stay
home and not go. The way to beat that criticism is to go, but to make sure
you don`t legitimize their human rights record while you`re there. You do
the opposite, right? You confront them on it, out loud in front of
everyone, on their turf. And you make international headlines doing it.
And that is what First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton set out to do in
the late summer of 1995. And when she got to Beijing, the controversy
surrounding her trip only got worse. Turns out thousands of women who had
converged in Beijing, in part because Hillary Clinton was coming, thousands
of women convening for that conference, convening to hear Hillary Clinton
speak, thousands of women were hassled and roughed up by Chinese police.
And this wasn`t just like street protesters. This included women
from all over the world. It included high-ranking U.S. government
officials. It even included a cabinet member.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: We love Hillary! We love Hillary!
MITCHELL: Thousands of women trying to get into a small arena to
hear Hillary Clinton. And blocked by Chinese security guards, a recipe for
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who let them here? Why are they here?
MITCHELL: Hundreds of women outside Beijing have been waiting for
hours in a downpour. When rain forced organizers to move Mrs. Clinton`s
speech inside to a smaller space, mayhem.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are getting into a crowd control problem.
MITCHELL: The official U.S. delegation didn`t fare much better.
Health and human Services Secretary Donna Shalala was pulled through the
What happened when you tried to get through the gate?
DONNA SHALALA, HHS SECRETARY: They were lined up with their arms
SHALALA: When I go through a crowd, I`m going through this one.
The modern American women`s movement has been through more than this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There was every reason for Hillary Clinton to decline that
invitation to go to China to speak about women`s rights. She had every
political reason in the world to cancel that trip. There were legitimate
foreign policy reasons to cancel the trip. Her allies and her enemies were
telling her not to risk it.
Her husband`s re-election was absolutely no sure bet at that point.
The risks of legitimizing China`s human rights record were as big as the
risks of confronting China on its human rights record.
But, you know, she was kind of used to the pressure. She was already
under a microscope at home. This was after her unprecedented role in
trying to get national health reform and that stinging defeat when it
I mean she had a million reasons to excuse not going to China that
year. All the loudest voices were yelling at the top of their lungs for
her not to go. But she went. She went and she was not shy when she got
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, THEN-U.S. FIRST LADY: Voices of this conference and
of the women at Huairou must be heard loudly and clearly. It is a
violation of human rights when babies are denied food or drowned or
suffocated or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.
It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in
their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as
a tactic or prize of war.
It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to
plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions
or being sterilized against their will.
If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let
it be that human rights are women`s rights, and women`s rights are human
rights, once and for all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hillary Clinton`s trip to Beijing in 1995 was an unlikely
thing. But she went and she stood in the Chinese capital and she took the
Chinese government to task for how it treated women and girls. She took on
her critics. She admonished governments all around the world whose
policies hurt women.
And now this speech is remembered as a political turning point for
Hillary Clinton. Now that she`s running for president herself, the Beijing
speech is even in her campaign ads. I mean now, now, it seems obvious,
even inevitable that she would make that trip and give that speech in 1995.
But at the time, it was the most unlikely thing in the world. And she did
So, we`re doing something a little bit different on the show tonight.
We are looking at the presidential candidates in one specific way. We`re
looking at what happened in their lives, what happened to them, or what did
they do, that made them into a person who might conceivably be our next
president of the United States.
And this isn`t generic biography about these guys, like the
candidates all want to tell us in their campaign ads and their stump
speeches when they say I had to walk to school in the snow uphill both
ways. This is not what the candidates want us to tell you.
What we have done is that we have sort of had this project going on
behind the scenes to deep dive into the TV news archives, to find the
stories of where these people started, where they came from in political
And we`re starting with Hillary Clinton tonight because honestly
there`s nobody else like her. I mean, she has been on the national stage
for so long and in so many different ways. First lady of Arkansas, first
lady of the United States, U.S. senator, presidential candidate, secretary
of state, now the front runner for the Democratic nomination for president.
Hillary Clinton has done a series of things in public life that nobody else
has ever done before, and she has been under the national microscope in
public life for so many years that sometimes it can feel like we know
everything there is to know about her.
It turns out, though, there is stuff left to tell about how she
became who she is, about how she became this person who sometimes to her
own detriment, sometimes to a fault, she refuses to let one or two or 1,000
or 2,000 people stand in the way of the vision she has for herself. That
stubborn resolve has worked for her. It has worked against her. But it is
a defining thing about her as a political figure, and it came from
So, we`ve got “The Tale of the Tape” tonight. We`ve got stories
about Secretary Clinton and about other presidential candidates – stories
that I`m pretty sure you will not have heard before.
Honestly, this is going to be a really good show. I already want to
do another show like this already, even though this one is not even done
yet. We have found some really, really good stuff in the archives.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Don`t take this the wrong way, but there`s something that
I`ve never really understood about the way we talk about presidential
politics. If you listen to us talk about it, you would think that it is
possible in American politics for someone to look presidential. Right,
it`s a great asset for a politician running for the highest office in the
land that they look presidential, they look like they could be president.
So, everybody said for Mitt Romney in 2012, he looked presidential.
There`s a guy who looks like he could be commander-in-chief.
John Kerry got the same treatment in 2004. Look at how presidential
he looks. Look at that gravitas. It`s right there in his chin or
something. It sure looks like he could hold the job.
What does that mean? I mean, both of those guys, incidentally, lost
their elections and now they do other things with their presidential looks.
The way we talk about it, though, looking presidential is a thing.
It`s one of the things that we describe as an important variable in
presidential elections even if it`s not. But if there was ever a person to
challenge that made-up presidential metric, I would venture a guess that
it`s this guy.
How`s that for commander in chief ready? How`s that for looking
presidential? We`re about to go deep, deep, deep into the archives with
Bernie Sanders. That`s coming up next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. I just want you to listen to a piece of audio. I know
this is TV, we`re supposed to work in pictures, but I`ve never been great
at that. Listen to this audio clip. Tell me who the speaker is. That`s
going to be kind of easy. But also tell me roughly when you think the
speaker said this.
All right, listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The problem that
we have nationally in this country is that the two-party system dominated
by big money is not delivering for ordinary people, which is why people are
giving up on the political process, why they`re not voting and why there is
a great deal of anger and frustration at the political system as it now
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All right. Who is it? Not that hard. The distinctive,
Brooklyn accent gives away pretty easily that that is none other than
But if you thought that was a line from this year, if you thought
that was some recent campaign interview Bernie Sanders gave in Iowa or New
Hampshire or something, you would be wrong about that, because what you
just heard is from an interview that happened 26 years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV HOST: Mayor Bernard Sanders of Burlington, Vermont, how does a
socialist like yourself keep winning elections in a country we generally
consider that has a two-party system?
SANDERS: Well, I think we win in Burlington, I should point out that
in Burlington, I am the mayor and I won on four occasions, but we have 13
people on our city council. A board of aldermen and six of them are
progressive and so it`s not just me. We have probably the only strong
three-party city in the United States of America.
And I think that the reason we win and continue to win is that
increasingly people are frustrated and angry about a two-party system which
is dominated by big money and which does not pay attention to the needs of
working people or elderly people or poor people.
I think if you talk common sense to the people and say the government
is supposed to represent the needs of those people who today are not
getting a fair shake, you know what, they`ll vote for you. And the problem
that we have nationally in this country is that the two-party system
dominated by big money is not delivering for ordinary people, which is why
people are giving up on the political process, why they`re not voting, and
why there is a great deal of anger and frustration at the political system
as it now exists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was an interview that Bernie Sanders gave to C-Span all
the way back in 1989 when he was the mayor of tiny Burlington, Vermont.
But the themes that he hit in that interview, those are exactly the
same themes that he is now campaigning on for president nearly 30 years
Bernie Sanders has been on the national stage for more than three
decades. And maybe more than anybody else, he has held and espoused the
exact same beliefs. He has been driven by the exact same issues all that
time. And because he is a freaking socialist and he has called himself
that for a very long time – not freaking, but socialist – because of
that, he has been a consistent source of fascination for the national
media. Bernie Sanders was first elected mayor in Burlington, Vermont, in
1981. Then he was re-elected a few years later and then re-elected again a
few years later. And by then this guy who was apparently not a fluke in
this city in Vermont, he did start to get noticed nationwide.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: New England has a tradition of
political independence going all the way back to the Boston Tea Party. And
in Burlington, Vermont, tonight, one very independent Yankee is being sworn
in for his third term as mayor. Tradition or no, Fred Briggs reports that
some New Englanders find Bernard Sanders astonishing.
FRED BRIGGS, NBC NEWS REPORTER: They laughed at Bernie Sanders when
he ran for mayor, not just because he was a brash outsider from Brooklyn,
neither Republican nor Democrat, but because he was an avowed socialist.
SANDERS: To us what socialism means basically is a democracy. It`s
a society where you don`t have a handful of giant banks and corporations
controlling the economic and political life of the nation.
BRIGGS: Burlington on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, was best
known as biggest of Vermont`s small towns and home of the University of
Then came IBM with 8,000 employees, General Electric, high-tech
yuppies and what a political scientist calls MARPies, middle aged rural
professionals, people who gave up big city money to enjoy Vermont`s small
town way of life.
These voters weren`t ready to elect the safe conservative kind of
mayor Burlington had been accustomed to for two centuries, but a socialist
like Bernie Sanders?
The establishment or what used to be the establishment here thought
that first victory was a fluke. Even though Sanders has won twice since
1981, the old guard can`t quite believe that Burlington isn`t what it used
A lot of new buildings now and a lot of old buildings gentrified into
bars and boutiques, unemployment down to 3 percent and the ultimate sign of
a boom, no place to park downtown.
Sanders has raised corporate property taxes, would like to impose new
taxes on the wealthy.
Sanders has a foreign policy, anti-nuclear, anti-intervention.
Burlington has even adopted a sister city in Nicaragua.
That riles the establishment.
WILLIAM PRESTON III, BUSINESS LEADER: Quite frankly, he should be
spending his time dealing with the problems of the city of Burlington and
not getting involved with national politics.
SANDERS: They say, don`t spend our money invading Nicaragua with the
people they are trying to establish their own life, give us a break, give
us some money for our cities and towns to lower property taxes.
BRIGGS: The establishment wishes he wore neckties but it knows he
won`t. Some day, the opposition will try to recapture city hall, but more
than half the voters like it the way it is and tend to think that Bernie
Sanders, as much as the boom, put Burlington on the map.
Fred Briggs, NBC News, Burlington, Vermont.
MADDOW: I wonder if he still has that sweater?
That was April, 1985. That was when the national media started to
discover this eccentric, confident, curly haired socialist mayor from
For a while, Bernie Sanders was just sort of an object of national
media fascination. Hey, are we doing a piece about all the yuppies from
the cities moving to New England? Call that socialist mayor guy.
BRIGGS: Rolling, rural, rustic and removed, for many Vermont is a
state of mind as well as a state if union, luring thousands from New York,
from Boston, from a nation that seems too much in a hurry.
FRANK BRYAN, UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT: They want to live slow, they
want to live quiet, they want to go to town meetings. They`re trying to
escape the fast lane and live the good life.
BRIGGS: Frank Brian, political science professor, Vermont native,
practitioner of hard scrabble life in the country and co-author of a tongue
in cheek book called “Real Vermonters Don`t Milk Goats” nor do they drive
Volvos, according to Bryan, and would never be seen with this on their
So what do real Vermonters do?
BRYAN: They want to do what they damn well please and they`ll let
you do what you damn well please as long as you don`t interfere with them.
BRIGGS: This is the town most people assume is quintessential
Vermont. Let`s assume it looks the way that it always did and the people
think like they always did.
But here and elsewhere, in roads from the outside world, videos in
the village store, cafes in former cornfields, factory outlets in farm
More than half the new immigrants live in Burlington, Vermont`s
largest city. Most adapted but some didn`t, wanted Vermont to adapt to
That worries Bernie Sanders who came here from Brooklyn and has been
mayor for six years.
SANDERS: People come up, they were all so smart, they know so much
and they want to show us how we can be just like they were back home.
Unfortunately, they left back home because they didn`t like it back home.
MADDOW: Bernie Sanders 1987 in that clip defending the honor, the
way of life of small town Vermont. But around that time Bernie Sanders
also started to show some political ambitions beyond just being a small
town mayor. Around that time he ran for governor of Vermont as a third-
party candidate, he lost that race with only 14 percent of the vote.
In 1988, he ran for Vermont`s open congressional seat. He narrowly
lost that race as well to a Republican named Peter Smith.
But when that Republican, Peter Smith, ran for re-election two years
later, Bernie Sanders smoked him, beat him by 16 points.
And Bernie Sanders from that point has never looked back. He held
that House seat in Vermont for the next 16 years. He was re-elected to the
house seven times. He then ran for the U.S. Senate in Vermont and you know
that he won. But do you know that he won by more than 30 points in that
And Bernie Sanders has used his position in congress, his national
platform in Congress and in the Senate to push for, honestly, the exact
same issues that he pushed for decades earlier in Vermont.
Mayor Bernie Sanders, for instance, traveled to Nicaragua in the
1980s to argue against Ronald Reagan`s military interventionism in Latin
Here`s how Congressman Bernie Sanders responded to the military
adventurism of a new president decades later in 2002.
BROKAW: Good evening.
President Bush today sent to Congress a two-page indictment of Saddam
Hussein and asked Congress to approve a tough resolution that authorizes
the U.S. to disarm Iraq, which would lead to the overthrow of Saddam
Hussein by all means necessary.
On Capitol Hill, reaction to the proposed resolution was mostly
positive with a sprinkling of loud protests that the administration is way
Here`s NBC`s Lisa Myers.
LISA MYERS, NBC NEW REPORTER: Today for the first time, Congress`
anti-war movement mobilized, launching an extraordinary broadside against
REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON: The president of the United
States will lie to the American people in order to get us into this war.
SANDERS: Our moral authority will be shot. We are leading to
international anarchy. Any country at any time for any reason can attack
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: As you might imagine, he voted against the invasion of Iraq
in 2002. He voted no with an exclamation point.
But it has been his economic message. It`s been his message that
corporations and the banks and the wealthy are piling up too much power and
influence. The political system is rigged in favor of the wealthy. It`s
that economic message that he espoused when he was just the mayor of
Burlington, Vermont, doing C-span call-in shows. It was that unbelievably
consistent nuts and bolts populist message that has put Bernie Sanders in
the national spotlight.
Since he`s been a national figure, led to an eight and a half hour
long pseudo-filibuster on the Senate floor against the Bush tax cuts in
2010. Now, it`s leading to Bernie Sanders absolutely packing stadiums and
venues across the country this summer as he campaigns for president, larger
crowds than any other candidate in either party by a mile.
The Bernie for president campaign, as impossible as it would have
been to imagine even a year ago, Bernie for president, you couldn`t imagine
it a year ago, let alone 30 years ago. But his campaign is energizing
liberals in the blue states and in the red states. And he`s doing it in
big numbers, as he attempts to pull off what is still thought of as a
basically impossible task, the task of knocking Hillary Clinton off the top
of the Democratic field.
What Bernie Sanders is trying to do right now, his message across the
country, really is the exact same undiluted message you could have seen
coming from him if you had kept an eye out fully three decades ago for what
was going to happen next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: I would like to see somebody who speaks for the underdog,
for the people who don`t have decent health care benefits, somebody who
understands that in America today, 50 percent of the people don`t even vote
anymore and the vast majority of that 50 percent are poor people and
working people who have given up on the system.
So, essentially, I would like to see a candidate who has the guts to
have a vision that America could be a land for all people and not just the
land controlled by the super rich.
MADDOW: One of my favorite images from any American political
campaign at any point over the last generation is this image right here.
This was taken at a debate. It`s a picture of the candidates at the
debate, but specifically it`s a picture of their shoes, their boots.
This photo was taken underneath the table at a political debate
almost ten years ago now, but the story behind this image is now part of
this year`s race for the presidency, and that very interesting story is
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: Has the impeachment process hurt the
Republican Party, and does that influence your policy decision making as
you approach this impeachment trial so not to antagonize your potential
voters in the year 2000?
SEN. JOHN CHAFEE (R), RHODE ISLAND: Well, the first question is has
it hurt the Republican Party. I`m not saying it has. Some people have
said that, but that isn`t necessary. We`re not through this process yet.
It seems to me if you do what`s right, it`s going to work out in the end
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW There was a little cameo there from a very, very young
Senator Rick Santorum in that clip, but the older man there was Republican
Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island speaking on “Meet the Press” in 1999
about impeachment, talking about the ongoing impeachment trial in the U.S.
Senate against Democratic President Bill Clinton.
John Chafee was sort of a legendary figure in the Senate. He had
been secretary of the navy, he`d been governor of Rhode Island, he was one
of the last liberal Republicans in the senator, one of the last prominent
liberal Republicans anywhere in the country. John Chafee just had a
storied political career.
And when John Chafee died at the age of 77, his Senate seat in Rhode
Island had to be filled, and ultimately it was filled by his son. His son,
Lincoln. Linc Chafee was at first appointed to finish out his father`s
unfinished term in the Senate.
But then he was elected by the people of Rhode Island to fill in that
seat. And Lincoln Chafee went on to have one of the more unconventional
political careers out there.
He did serve as a Republican senator in the seat that had been his
father`s. He served in that seat seven years. But because he had
basically liberal politics, just like his dad did, much of that time was
filled with questions about whether he would switch parties and stop being
a Republican and instead become a Democrat. He did not do that while he
was in the Senate.
He then left the Senate after that one term and a bit, and then once
he was out of the Senate, eventually he did change parties. He got himself
elected governor of Rhode Island. Again, just like his dad, except he got
elected governor of Rhode Island as an independent.
During his time as governor, Lincoln Chafee then switched parties
again and he did become a Democrat in 2013. Now two years after that, he
is running for the Democratic nomination for president of the United
Lincoln Chafee`s political path to this moment has been not just
unpredictable, it`s honestly been a little weird. But weird is good.
Americans like weird. Nonetheless, Mr. Chafee now occupies, let`s call it
a deep second tier on the Republican side, maybe a third tier, if there is
room for one.
He`s there alongside former Maryland Governor Martin O`Malley. If
Lincoln Chafee`s path has been long and winding, Martin O`Malley`s has been
straight as an arrow. In 1999, as the young telegenic mayor of Baltimore,
Maryland, almost immediately he started getting future of the Democratic
Party sort of attention, before he had even been on the job as mayor for a
REPORTER: In Baltimore, there`s a bold, brash new beat.
Believe it or not this hunk with the bulging biceps, part rock star,
part rebel, is also Baltimore`s new mayor.
MARTIN O`MALLEY, THEN-BALTIMORE`S MAYOR: I, Martin Joseph O`Malley.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Mayor.
O`MALLEY: How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for you.
REPORTER: The 37-year-old lawyer is different. A white mayor in a
city that is largely black. A politician who gets his hands dirty,
climbing aboard and helping out on a city snow plow, pitching in on a
garbage truck, sending a message –
O`MALLEY: That there`s somebody, you know, who cares at the helm.
MADDOW: Martin O`Malley served as Baltimore mayor for seven years.
He then turned that job into a bigger job in the state when he was elected
governor of Maryland in 2006. In that job, he kept his shirt on more often
and he started sowing the seeds for a future presidential run.
He signed a law legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland. He signed
a law making undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state college tuition.
And after serving as the mayor of a big city and the governor of a medium-
sized state, Martin O`Malley, naturally, is now doing the next thing. He`s
now running for president, even if so far at least he cannot seem to get a
headline to save his life.
So, at least for now, it`s Martin O`Malley in that second tier of
Democratic candidates and it`s Lincoln Chafee. But it`s also in addition
to those guys, it is one of the most interesting candidates of all from
either party – a guy for whom the tale of the tape is probably the most
surprising of anyone, in part because he`s a candidate who got his start in
the unlikeliest of all places for a Democratic contender for president.
He`s a guy who got his start as a Democratic contender for president.
He got his start by being to the political right of the Ronald Reagan
administration. And that`s next.
MADDOW: So when you do a deep dive into the news archives to find
the backstory on Democratic candidates for president, you don`t necessarily
think you`re going to end up in the section of the archives that`s marked
the Ronald Reagan administration. But politics is full of surprises,
always has been.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: Navy Secretary John Lehman officially announced his
resignation today. He said he wants to get a job in industry and Pentagon
officials say his successor will be James Webb, a best-selling novelist,
Vietnam veteran and until a few days ago, an assistant secretary of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: James Webb, otherwise known as Jim Webb. Jim Webb has been
involved in politics in government in some form or another since the 1980s,
since he was Ronald Reagan`s Navy secretary. He came to that job as a
decorated Vietnam War veteran.
Jim Webb had a hard war in Vietnam as a U.S. marine. When he came
home and he wrote about it, his Vietnam books were really, really good and
His novel “Fields of Fire” I will tell you is a masterpiece. Really,
if you have not read it, you should read it, it is worth it. It is an
So, Jim Webb came home from Vietnam. He became a prolific and very
accomplished career as a novelist. But in 1987, Jim Webb was tapped by
Ronald Reagan to become secretary of the Navy. And for Jim Webb, that
lasted all of about a year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: Good evening. Who would have believed it. President
Reagan`s defense secretary being criticized by one of his own for not
spending enough on defense. Navy Secretary James Webb, a decorated Vietnam
War veteran, best-selling author and one of the brightest young stars of
this administration, resigned in protest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Resigned in protest. That is sort of how it`s gone for Jim
Webb on the national scene. He has been more than a little unpredictable.
He has been prone to do things like resign in protest over Ronald Reagan
not spending enough on defense.
That`s the – that`s the rough equivalent of somebody resigning over
Dick Cheney being too much of a humanitarian, right? But Jim Webb sees
things his own way, he always has. That has led to some decisions that are
as inexplicable in hindsight as they were at the time.
It has also led to some pretty grand principled leadership decisions.
Over the last decade of his career, Jim Webb, the Democrat, has not just
made his life – put his life as a combat veteran and a marine at the
center of his politics, he has put at the center of his politics his life
as a combat veteran and a marine, but one who is willing to stand against
U.S. military intervention around the world, in part because he knows what
he`s talking about on those subjects – even when everyone else is
clamoring for U.S. military intervention or saying it would be easy, Jim
Webb has been willing to be very loud and very aggressive in opposing it
when he thought he ought to.
In 2006, Jim Webb ran for the U.S. Senate in Virginia. He ran to
unseat an incumbent Republican senator, George Allen. During that campaign
he traveled the state wearing his 24-year-old son`s combat boots. His son,
Jimmy, was serving in Iraq at that time, was a lance corporal in the Marine
Corps. This was 2006, three years into the disastrous war in Iraq.
Jim Webb, this decorated Vietnam vet, he campaigned on his opposition
to the ongoing war. A Democrat in deep red Virginia, in George W. Bush
country, campaigning against the war. And Jim Webb wore his son`s combat
boots all across Virginia during that campaign. He even wore them during
the debates against George Allen.
And then the night that he won that Senate race and defeated
incumbent Senator George Allen, he held those boots up in victory.
Jim Webb`s opposition, Jim Webb`s opposition to the war in Iraq
essentially defined his time in the Senate. He was more than unapologetic
about it. He told anybody who would listen, and that included the
commander-in-chief, George W. Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: At a post-election White House reception,
President Bush spotted Senator-elect James Webb of Virginia and according
to “The Washington Post” the president asked about his son, a marine
corporal serving in Iraq. “How`s your boy?” said Mr. Bush. “I`d like to
get them out of Iraq,” answered Mr. Webb. “That`s not what I asked you,
how`s your boy?” Webb shot back, “That`s between me and my boy, Mr.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL: Let me ask you about your meeting with the
president at the White House during the Christmas break. What did you make
the president asking you casually about how your boy was doing over there
in the military capacity over in Iraq right now? What did you make of
THEN-SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Well, my feeling about that, first
of all, it`s been kind of a bit overblown. But I think when people are now
seeing how John McCain is handling the situation with his son being in the
Marine Corps, perhaps they can understand a little bit more what I was
having to go through during the entire campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Jim Webb eventually did mend fences with President George W.
Bush, who brought his son, Jimmy, to the oval office to meet with the
president in 2008.
But Jim Webb`s staunch opposition to the war in Iraq is the thing
that has motivated this whole stage of his political career. It`s what
made it go.
Six months before the invasion of Iraq in September, 2002, Jim Webb
wrote an op-ed in “The Washington Post” warning the country not to go along
with President Bush`s war. The title of that op-ed was “Heading For
Trouble.” Do we really want to occupy Iraq for the next 30 years?
Jim Webb was right about the war in Iraq before it was even launched.
It remains to be seen what will be the basis for his campaign for president
in 2015 and 2016. But if history is a guide, that particular issue, the
Iraq war issue, can be a potent one in a Democratic primary, at least
against this particular front runner.
If you see Jim Webb reviewing old 2008 debate tape, you`ll know why.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On what I believe
was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation,
whether or not to go to war in Iraq, I believe I showed the judgment of a
commander-in-chief that I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her
Senator Clinton mentioned the issue of gravitas and judgment. I
think it is much easier for us to have the argument when we have a nominee
who says, I always thought this was a bad idea, this was a bad strategy.
I think we are going to have an easier time making if they can`t turn
around and say, but hold on a second, you supported this.
And that`s part of the reason why I think that I would be the
strongest nominee on this argument of national security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Behold the 1970s. A member of Congress savoring a drag on a
cigarette during a House committee hearing on the impeachment of President
Richard Nixon. Ah, the 1970s when you could smoke in a confined space with
tons of other people, men mostly, except for one.
See her there? One of the first jobs out of law school is helping to
impeach the president of the United States. How does that change the way
you see politics?
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So we have one national office in this country that you
campaign for in its own right. Of the five candidates in the Democratic
primary this year, only one of them has tried to win this national office
before. Hillary Clinton made her first run for president in 2008 as the
former first lady, as the second-term senator, the establishment candidate,
ready to lead.
And we often talk about elections as fights, but that 2008 Democratic
primary in political terms that was an all-out war. I mean, at one level,
the two leading candidates were both able to enter the race as not just
candidates but as a moral and historical cause. Barack Obama wanted to be
the first African-American president. Hillary Clinton wanted to be the
first woman president and because of that the race was wrapped in moral
But at another level, inside of that contest, fighting it out were
two candidates from very, very, very bare knuckle Democratic traditions.
Barack Obama came from Chicago politics where a punch is as good as a kiss,
right? Hillary Clinton brought with her years of not just surviving but
thriving and winning with her family`s political machine.
We remember it was hard fought between these two in 2007 and 2008.
We remember it was hard fought. Looking back at the archives of what it
was like, you forget how amazing it was to watch it unfold.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I was working on the streets watching those folks seeing
their jobs shift overseas. You were a corporate lawyer fighting for
CLINTON: I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing
law and representing your contributor Rezko in his slum landlord business
in inner city Chicago.
You talk about Ronald Reagan being a transformative political leader.
I did not mention his name.
OBAMA: Your husband did.
CLINTON: I`m here. He`s not.
OBAMA: OK, well, I can`t tell who I`m running against sometimes.
CLINTON: I think if your candidacy is going to be about words than
they should be your own words. That`s I think a simple opposition. And,
you know, lifting whole passages from someone else`s speeches is not change
you can believe in. It is change you can Xerox.
He`s very likable. I agree with that. I don`t think I`m that bad.
OBAMA: You`re likable enough, Hillary.
CLINTON: Thank you.
CLINTON: I appreciate it.
REPORTER: You don`t believe Senator Obama is a Muslim?
CLINTON: Of course not. There`s no basis for that. I take him on
the basis of what he says. And, you know, there`s no reason to doubt that.
REPORTER: He said you take Senator Obama at his word that he`s not
Muslim, you don`t believe that he`s not a Muslim, or implying, right?
CLINTON: No, there`s nothing to base that on, as far as I know.
MADDOW: As far as I know. You are likable enough. I take him at
Heading to the 2008 election, Hillary Clinton was the obvious and
unquestioned front runner for the Democratic nomination. Starting in
October of 2007, Senator Clinton led in basically every poll. She led in
dozens and dozens of polls in a row, by commanding margins, not just
double-digits but some case by over 20 points.
Right out of the gate, Hillary Clinton ran as the candidate who could
win the presidency and she was on track to win the nomination in poll after
poll after poll after poll, until suddenly she was not.
On the eve of Super Tuesday, with delegates from 24 states and
American Samoa up for grabs, Barack Obama grabbed the lead, he basically
took the lead and Hillary Clinton went from inevitable and unstoppable to
playing catch up.
She started to trail in the polls and the delegate count. She tried
the unusual strategy of lining up super delegates. Remember that? Members
of the Democratic Party elite who could vote for her regardless if she had
won their state. If she could get enough of those super delegates, maybe
she could win that way.
Hillary Clinton tried just about everything in 2008. She fought so
hard and on so many different fronts, I thought there was with every chance
the Democrats would not have a nominee for president when their nominating
convention started in 2008.
But in the end, in the very end, the Obama campaign pulled it out.
The Clinton campaign lost. She had gotten this close to the presidency and
no closer. This close.
Now, true to form. She`s back. She`s running inevitably as the
establishment candidate again. And yet, this also has been an election of
unlikely candidates pulling in huge crowds in surprising numbers.
I mean, can Hillary Clinton turn seeming inevitable in to a win this
time? How far is Bernie Sanders going to go with his underdog momentum?
How hilarious is it that in the national polls either of them, either of
them, either Bernie or Hillary beats Donald Trump.
It`s been an unexpected race so far. The candidates are more
fascinating than they look on the surface. That`s our “Tale of the Tape”
tonight. That`s our “Tale of the Tape” tonight look at the primary but I
want to do a Republican one.
The Republican field has a supposedly inevitable candidate and it
also 15 other people besides that guy and it has a front runner named
Donald Trump. You realize what`s in the tape, in the deep archives tape on
This election, I`m telling you, it`s a gift from God.
Watch this space.
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