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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/09/12

Guests: Nate Silver

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you, my friend. And thanks to you at home for staying with us this hour. So, there was this moment in 2008, on election night that year. I know you were watching our coverage here on MSNBC, but on election night in 2008, over on the FOX News Channel, the Republican politics guru Karl Rove in the middle of FOX`s election night coverage was on TV gaming out John McCain`s chances of pulling out a win that night. And he said during their election coverage, quote, "If Senator McCain loses Ohio, he goes from 286 electoral votes, which the Republicans carried in `04, down to 266 and that puts him below the 270 need to win the White House. So, he would not only need to sweep the rest of the states, which were won by Republicans in `04, he`d also need to pick up something as well." And at that exact moment as Karl Rove was saying on FOX News, on election night, as part of their election night coverage, that John McCain basically had to win Ohio or else, while Karl Rove was saying that live on FOX, FOX got word that the state of Ohio had not, in fact, been won by John McCain. It was won by Barack Obama. And Mr. Rove was right that night. That was game over for John McCain. By winning the great state of Ohio, Barack Obama won the presidency. Mr. Obama closed off John McCain`s path to the White House by taking that one giantly important swing state and it was all over. In presidential politics, Ohio is a must-win. For Republicans, winning Ohio, it doesn`t guarantee that you will win the White House, it`s not enough just to win Ohio, obviously, but it is necessary to win Ohio. If you lose that state, you will lose the presidency. It is the hinge. It is the glue. For every Republican presidential campaign in modern American history, losing Ohio has meant losing the White House. In 2004, the Democratic candidate John Kerry -- you might remember this -- he did not concede on election night. John Kerry and John Edwards were waiting in part on results from Ohio. When Ohio went to President Bush, the next day, the day after election night, that is when that race was over but not a minute before. Ohio is that important in modern presidential politics. Look at this, both the Romney and the Obama campaigns are out stumping now tonight in Ohio. Governor Romney and President Obama have 50 possible states to fight over, at least theoretically. They`ve got nine or so swing states that seem to actually be in play. But, tonight, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are both in just one state. Mr. Romney appearing with Chris Christie and Rob Portman in Akron, Ohio. The president showing up with from the Black Eyed Peas at Ohio State in Columbus. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Buckeyes, we need you. We need you fired up. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We`re going to do it. Ohio is going to elect me the next president of the United States. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: Now, all the interest in competing in Ohio, the desperate need to win the election in Ohio, the dueling rallies and the ground games and all of that, all that comes from the context of a big surprising decision in Ohio this afternoon, about how the election is going to be run there this year. Back in 2004, the night that the Democratic ticket decided not to concede the race on election night because they were waiting on these results from Ohio, part of what was happening in `04 was this -- these horrendous epic lines for Ohio voters cueing up to vote. They waited 10 hours and more in Ohio in 2004 to cast a vote, especially in precincts used heavily by African-Americans and college students. The polls were just not ready for everyone who wanted to vote. For voters likely to vote Democratic, casting a ballot in Ohio that year meant waiting all day and into the night in hallways and in the rain, just waiting and waiting and waiting, if you decided to stick it out. But maybe you didn`t, or maybe you couldn`t decide to stick it out and that line is why your vote never got cast and counted in Ohio that year. After that `04 election, Congress issued a special report about what had gone so wrong in Ohio. And Ohio responded. Ohio made voting easier. The state of Ohio expanded early voting starting the next year, starting in 2005. Every single Ohio election since then including the Republican presidential primary this year, Ohio has offered this expanded early in- person voting. The new system seems to be working just fine. But now, just in time for this election, specifically Ohio Republicans have been trying to cut early voting back, to go back to the old system, the way it was in `04 with the 10-hour lines. A federal court ruled on Friday that if Ohio has been to handle expanded early in person voting in every election for the past seven years since 2005, then Ohio Republicans cannot stop the counties from just using that same system just in time for this election this year. Ohio`s Republican secretary of state today said that he`s going to appeal that decision. He`s going to appeal it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. He`s so desperate to shut off early voting in this election, to go back to those 10-hour lines from `04. He`s so desperate to do that, he`s bypassing the next level of federal court review and he says he is going right to the U.S. Supreme Court. The practical result is that nobody knows how the election will be run now in the crucial beyond crucial swing state of Ohio. As of right now, no one knows yet how the election is going to be run there, when you`re going to be allowed to vote. If it`s going to be like it has been for the past seven years or for going back to the bad old days. We do not know how the election is going to be run in Ohio and we are exactly four weeks out from election night. Today is the last day to register to vote in Ohio before the election. Along with all these other states, today is deadline to register for all of these states. But in Ohio, Republicans say they are going to fight down to the wire, down to the bloody end, to stop Ohio voters from being able to early vote in the last few days before the election, which I should tell you is when nearly 100,000 people voted in Ohio last time. More than a third of the overall margin of victory by which President Obama won that state in 2008 were votes that were cast in those last three days. And honestly, it is not subtle why the Republicans are trying to do this, right? I mean, the chairman of the Republican Party in the county where Columbus, Ohio, is, he said he didn`t have an interest in, quote, "accommodating the urban -- read African-American -- voter-turnout machine in Ohio." He`s the one who said read African-American. I didn`t insert that there. And this guy is not just the chairman of the Republican Party in the Columbus area. He is on the county election board for the Columbus area. He will be running the elections there, all the while resenting the African-American turnout machine. In the city of Cleveland, Ohio, African-American voters are 26 times more likely than white voters to use early in-person voting as their preferred way of voting. So, for this election in particular, even though it`s been fine for every election in the past seven years, for this election in particularly, early in-person voting must be stopped -- to the point of taking it to the Supreme Court of the United States with 28 days left before the election and meanwhile leaving the whole state`s voting rules hanging. As Ohio hits its voter registration deadline today and so many other states do as well, what we know about how the parties have done on voter registration in the swing states actually opens a real interesting window into how the two parties are contesting these important states. And this is apparently a matter not just of national but of international importance. You can tell because, look, the "Guardian" newspaper from the U.K. has published a deep look into swing state voter registration numbers this past week. You can see their headline here. Democrats struggle to repeat 2008 voter surge despite registration push. In swing state Florida, where Republicans pass new rules making it much harder to register people to vote before those got blocked by the courts, they were in place for a long time, and you can see the results in Florida. New Democratic registrations are about a quarter of what they were in `08. Republicans in Florida, meanwhile, have registered about as many as they did the last time. In swing state Iowa, another example, the number of registered Republicans has grown by about the same amount in this election season as during the last. But the number of registered Democrats in Iowa has dropped by a jaw-rattling 45,000-plus. The Iowa Democratic Party is missing more than 45,000 voters as compared to 2008 -- if found wandering, please return to Big Bird. Where did those Iowa Democratic voters go? Were they purged from the roles? Did they move to another state? Did they change their registrations to being Republican or independent or another party? We do not know. Just as we do not know yet how the final registration numbers are going to shake out. It is a mystery, as yet. Ultimately, how things stand right now, four weeks exactly before election night is this -- Gallup`s daily tracking poll, this is their national poll, Gallup has President Obama up by 3 points among registered voters. But among the smaller group of people who are likely voters, not just registered but likely to vote, President Obama is not leading. It`s Romney leading by two points. The Pew Research Center has a similar result. Mr. Romney up nationally among likely voters by four points in the Pew poll. In the swing states, Mr. Romney leading in Colorado by four. Mr. Obama leading in Pennsylvania by two. The right-leaning Rasmussen poll showing a tie right now in Nevada. The president up in New Hampshire by six points. And really the one poll we waited on all day, the one poll that might matter more than any other single piece of data just in terms of political strategy, the one piece we got today, President Obama holding on to a four- point lead in Ohio. Let`s poll this one out because of its importance. This is a CNN number from this afternoon. Barack Obama with an edge of four points in Ohio, which is just outside the margin of error. It`s four-point lead, but it`s far less than the nine and 10-point leads he held there in this survey not long ago. I should say to Democrats and Obama supporters, I`m sorry if I unleashed those numbers on you without a mature content warning label. But my friend E.J. Dionne is going to be with us later on this hour today. He shares this from another friend of his. He says, "I was talking with an old friend who was with one of the nonpartisan polling outfits. We were discussing the large shifts in some of the polls on the presidential election and the feedback he receives whenever he puts out new numbers that make one side or the other unhappy. He offered an observation so priceless it needs to be shared." "He said, quote, `When you give conservatives bad news in your polls, they want to kill you. When you give liberals bad news in your polls, they want to kill themselves.`" Whatever your political persuasion, let that be a metaphor for you and also maybe a lesson. Information is always your friend. Joining us now is Nate Silver. He`s the founder and editor of "The New York Times`" "FiveThirtyEight" blog. He`s the author of the really excellent new book, "The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail -- But Some Don`t," which everybody I know who`s reading books right now is reading this. Nate, congratulations on the book. Thanks for being here. NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT BLOG: Yes. Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: This afternoon, you tweeted that we might be -- might be -- in the middle of one of the largest one-day swings in the polls all year. Did it work out that way? SILVER: Well, today, we had about 15 or 20 polls between national polls and state polls, although there were a few isolated good numbers for Obama, like that Ohio poll for instance. It`s becoming more and more clear that Romney got a big bounce from his convention, probably a three or four- point bounce, and really erased the convention bounce that Obama had gotten after Charlotte. MADDOW: So you mean to sigh he got a big bounce from his debate performance akin to the bounce that President Obama got from the conventions? SILVER: That`s right. So, the whole good month that Obama had in September between the debates -- excuse me, between the conventions and the 47 percent tape, you`re now seeing the race really as close as it`s been all year. I`m a little skeptical that`s actually tied right now based on the fact that Obama still seems to have a lead in the majority of swing state polls that we have seen. But Romney who looked like his campaign might be dead in the water, you need an October surprise, now it`s very, very close. Maybe the debate was the October surprise -- although it wouldn`t be the first time a challenger did really well in the first televised debate. MADDOW: What about the size and the speed of the swings that you`re seeing right now? Can you -- what can you tell us about the volatility in the race right now compared to what we`ve seen in previous elections? SILVER: So, there`s a lot of disagreement among the pollsters based in part on what their turnout models look like. Like the Gallup poll, for instance, has Romney doing five points better among likely voters than among registered voters. Others have that a little bit smaller. So it seems like Obama would even today win an election if everyone who are registered to vote turned out or certainly all adults. But based on the Republican enthusiasm advantage and, frankly, some Democrats I think feeling a little despondent after the president`s performance in Denver last week, that alone might be enough to push Romney over the top. MADDOW: Your -- the special way that you sort of I guess distill is the right way - distill the candidate`s chances at "FiveThirtyEight", your now cast, factors in not just polling but also economic data and other measures that you think give you essentially a percentage chance that one of the two candidates will win the election. What`s the percentage chance that you have right now for each of the candidates and has that changed less than we`re seeing in the national polls changed? SILVER: So, the percentage right now is about a 70/30 advantage for Obama, which by the way if you go to Vegas or offshore, versions of Vegas, you can bet at about those odds. Obama is about a 70 percent favorite. But my site and the bookies had Obama as an 85 percent favorite before the debate. Meaning Romney has gone from having a 15 percent chance to a 30 percent chance. So, double. I think people maybe read a little too much into the national polls. But even in the state polls, even in the cases where Obama was ahead by seven or eight points in the state before, that lead has been cut to three or four. In cases where he was ahead by smaller lead, maybe you have a tie now, or Romney ahead. There`s a sign that Obama`s problems were worse just after the debate on Thursday and Friday and he`s perking back up a bit. But we`ll see. This next round of swing state polls from NBC/Marist and their polls show the swing states tied. Then Democrats really will -- it will be appropriate for them to panic a little bit. Right now, I think trepidation is the most appropriate emotion for Democrats. But if you see Obama`s lead in the swing states evaporating as well, then it really is, I think, a toss up heading into the last couple of debates. MADDOW: Nate Silver, editor of "The New York Times`" "FiveThirtyEight" blog and author of the new book, as I said, "The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail -- But Some Don`t", which is in part about politics, but more broadly about the whole statistical universe and how to understand it and be better at predicting things. Nate, again, congratulations. And thanks for your time tonight. SILVER: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks. All right. Pop quiz: Paul Ryan has either, (a), just helped President Obama with the NRA, or (b), just destroyed President Obama with the NRA, or (c), both? Could he have done both? I think he just did both. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The campaign now has lots of references to Big Bird in it. Big Bird, like every day, every hour. But today, I think it`s possible that the campaign veered from mentions of Big Bird to what I think might have been a reference to Elmo and the O.J. Simpson case. I`m not sure, but hold on. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: With just a few day to go before the first and only vice presidential debate this year, Republican nominee Paul Ryan has been in Michigan. Michigan rapper, ex-husband of Pamela Anderson and now conservative activist Kid Rock introduced Paul Ryan at a rally in Rochester, Michigan, yesterday. I think we`ve got a shot of them here sort of hugging it out, right? Oh, yes, there we go. This was Paul Ryan`s second trip to the state of Michigan as the Republican vice presidential nominee. And even though Mitt Romney, the guy at the top of the Republican ticket has not visited Michigan since late August and the Republican Party has yet to run a single ad in Michigan, at this rally there yesterday, Paul Ryan was very enthusiastic and very optimistic about his Republican side`s chances. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It`s getting closer in Michigan. You can help push us over the top. You can deliver this. We can do it here. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If that was the high point of Paul Ryan`s day in Michigan, the low point definitely came earlier that same day in an interview with an award-winning local report from Flint, Michigan. It`s a reporter named Terry Camp, and Mr. Camp introduced his interview with Paul Ryan like this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TERRY CAMP, REPORTER: I wanted to ask him about the gun violence in our cities. Cities like Flint and Saginaw. Let`s listen. This did not end well. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Gun violence and gun policy have not been big issues in the presidential campaign thus far. And that probably makes sense. I mean, the incumbent president`s entire record on gun control legislation is signing a bill that allowed people to carry guns in national parks and another allowing people to carry guns on Amtrak, which might come in handy when you decide to go hunting in the quiet car for an Amdog. But other than that, it`s not been a policy focus of this president. And because of that, it has not been contested ground in the presidential race thus far. Despite that, though, this reporter in Flint, Michigan, really wanted to ask Paul Ryan about gun violence. And it makes sense. Last year, Flint, Michigan, was ranked the most violent city in the United States of America. Today, 70 miles south in Detroit, police staged a rally telling people to enter of Detroit at their own risk. Police saying they are understaffed, underpaid and the police themselves are in fear for their lives because of the city`s crime problems. So, this reporter in Flint, Michigan, sitting down with the vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party decided to ask Paul Ryan about whether or not the country has a gun problem. And as the reporter said, it did not go well. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CAMP: Does this country have a gun problem? RYAN: This country has a crime problem. CAMP: Not a gun problem? RYAN: No. If you take a look at the gun laws we have, I don`t even think President Obama is proposing more gun laws. We have good, strong gun laws. (CROSSTALK) RYAN: We have to make sure we enforce our laws. We have lots of laws that aren`t being properly enforced. We need to make sure we enforce these laws. But the best thing to help prevent violent crime in inner cities is to bring opportunity in inner cities, is to help people get out of poverty in the inner cities, is to help teach people good discipline, good character. That is civil society. That`s what charities and civic groups and churches do to help one another make sure that they can realize the value in one another. CAMP: You can do that by cutting taxes? RYAN: Those are your words, not mine. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much, sir. RYAN: That was kind of strange, you`re trying to stuff words in people`s mouths? CAMP: Well, I don`t know if it`s strange. RYAN: It sounds like you`re trying to put answer to questions. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Ryan folks putting the paper in front of the camera and everything. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan getting annoyed in this interview with reporter Terry Camp in Flint, Michigan, yesterday. The Ryan-Romney campaign even after the interview was over still went out of their way to trash the reporter that Paul Ryan walked out of that interview on. The campaign giving on-the-record quotes, calling the reporter an embarrassment. The city where that reporter works and where that interview took place does have the worst violent crime rate in the nation. God bless Flint, Michigan. So that line of questioning here for Mr. Ryan was understandable, maybe even predictable. But beyond the newsworthiness of Paul Ryan getting up and taking off his microphone and ending the interview that way when the questions went that direction and beyond the newsworthiness of the campaign going after this local reporter the way they have, there was also what that reporter was able to elicit from Paul Ryan, which is really newsworthy. I mean, first, there`s Mr. Ryan`s prescription for what it takes to get out of poverty if you live in the inner city. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: The best thing to help prevent violent crime in the inner cities is to bring opportunity in the inner cities, is to help people get out of poverty, is to help teach people good discipline, good character. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Are all people who are poor only poor because they have not been taught good character? Or only poor people in the inner cities who are poor because they don`t have good character? They don`t have good discipline. They need to be taught that. You watching at home right now, do you not make a lot of money? Was there a time in your live when you did not have a lot of money? Is that because you have bad character? If I were the Romney/Ryan campaign I, too, would probably try to trash the reporter who got my candidate to admit on camera that he thinks inner city poor people need to be taught good character, and that`s what will get them out of poverty. But that wasn`t all that happened here. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: If you take a look at the gun laws we have, I don`t think President Obama is proposing more gun laws. We have strong gun laws. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Well, that`s news too. It`s especially news in light of the fact that the NRA is currently running these ads in a bunch of swing states. It`s a huge ad buy too. Chipping -- where they say chipping away at your rights, chipping away at your freedom. Now, they are attacking our Second Amendment rights. You can stop them right now. Defend freedom. Defeat Obama. That`s what the ads say. But then there`s Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, saying, yes, President Obama is not proposing any attack on gun rights. He`s not proposing anymore gun laws. And that is true. The only gun-related changes in law that we have had from President Obama have been expansions of gun rights. But the Republicans are not supposed to admit that. Not when the NRA is running this scary ad campaign saying otherwise. It`s multimillion dollar ad buy. And not when the Republicans own candidate has a gun rights record that is so schizophrenic, it makes his policies on abortion look like a model of consistency. This is the assault weapons ban that Mitt Romney signed as Massachusetts governor. But apparently, the NRA doesn`t mind that because they are too busy endorsing this gun-banning guy over the other guy who has done no such thing but who happens to be a Democrat. So, yes, it is remarkable that the vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party sort of stormed out of this interview in Michigan this week. But, no, him storming out does not seem to have been because of the question about cutting taxes or this reporter embarrassing himself, which is the way the campaign tried to put it. This reporter from Flint, Michigan, Terry Camp, this reporter has nothing to be embarrassed about. He got a scoop here. He got two scoops here. After he got Paul Ryan to admit that he thinks poor people are poor because they have bad character and teaching poor people to have better character is how they can get out of poverty and after he got Paul Ryan to admit that President Obama is not actually taking away anyone`s guns despite all of the Republican campaigning to the contrary right this second, with those scoops -- I mean, isn`t it possible that the campaign pulled the plug because they were worried this interview was going to keep making this kind of news? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Yesterday, a British stem cell researcher named Sir John Gurdon won the Nobel Prize in medicine, which is an amazing thing for researcher, right? I mean, it is the apex of international recognition and honor for your work. Sometimes, it`s also a chance to get back at that high school teacher who said you would never make it, who you have been holding a grudge against ever since for 60 years. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SIR JOHN GURDON, NOBEL PRIZE LAUREATE: The main gist of it was that he heard that Gurdon was interested in doing science and that this was a completely ridiculous idea because there was no hope whatever of my doing science and any time spent on it would be a total waste of time, both on my part and the part of the person having to teach him. So that terminated my -- completely terminated my science at school. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: He wins a Nobel Prize in medicine, but his high school teacher says he shouldn`t bother with science. Do you want more than just anecdotal for this? Of course, you do. This is science. Sir John is also now provided a picture of his school report card from 1949, which reads in part, quote, "His work has been far from satisfactory. Several times he`s been in trouble because he will not listen but will insist on doing his work in his own way. I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist. On his present showing, this is quite ridiculous. It would be a shear waste of time both on his part and those who have to teach him." And then he becomes the first scientist ever to clone an animal and then he won the Nobel Prize in medicine. And that report card is now the picture in the dictionary next to the word P-O-W-N, which you have seen on the Internet but never before truly deeply understood before now. You know what? Stories about people who are bad at science do not always end this way. Sometimes people stay bad at science. And sometimes those people become congressmen. It turns out that has national implications. That story is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: It is probably the single most iconic piece of political campaign imagery in the last generation, the 2008 Barack Obama Hope poster. This very famous and at a time very ubiquitous Hope poster was created by the great Los Angeles-based artist Shepard Fairey during the `08 presidential campaign. Shepard Fairey ultimately got into some legal trouble for that poster when the "Associated Press" got assertive about the original copyright on the photo that they said was the basis for the image. But even though the image cost him lots of legal headaches, what Shepard Fairey created with that photo will go down in the history books as one of the most memorable pieces of political art ever. And after the `08 election that Hope poster, look, became sort of a generic treatment that you could do to anything. So, you can go to the Apple iTunes store and you can download the app for your iPhone that will Hope-posterize whatever picture you want. It`s essentially a photo filter for any portrait that you want to put in there. So it was probably inevitable that earlier this year, when Paul Ryan was tapped by Mitt Romney to be his vice presidential nominee, somebody immediately launched a poster of Paul Ryan in the look of the `08 Obama Hope poster. Except underneath Paul Ryan, it did not say H-O-P-E. It instead said M-A-T-H, math. Paul Ryan equals math. It`s kind of genius, right? The message is we understand the emotional importance of your hope thing, but we do not need that kind of soft, naive, hopey-changey thing as a country. We need math. If you know nothing else about the Republican side, this is the thing they want you to know, particularly about their vice presidential choice. Look at this big debate on Thursday night. They want you to think we need math. We need hard-nosed, practical numbers. This is not an ideological statement. It`s a technocratic one. They`re saying this country`s technocratic need is, of course, cutting spending. Let`s get real about cutting spending. OK, let`s get real then. Last night, we started talking about this startling new graph that was published on the Web site of "Foreign Policy" magazine. The blue line shows what we as a country have been spending on our military overtime. This is the overall defense budget. Over the last 60 years, our military spending has spiked during times of conflict. During the Korean War in the 1950s, during the Vietnam War in the late `60s, the arms race build up for the Cold War, and, of course, the war on terror over the last decade. This does not -- the post-9/11 spending here does not include spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan specifically because that was done as emergency spending. So, this is just the base military budget. But minus those two big wars, the blue line right there is where U.S. military spending is right now. The Obama plan, when it comes to the Pentagon, what the president has campaigned on is to have military spending go like this from here on out. He would essentially maintain our current level of defense spending over the next eight years. He would spend way more than a Cold War-style drawdown. He would spend way more than the sequester, but he would essentially treat today`s budget as the new normal with slight increases over time. That`s the Obama plan, spending-wise, for the biggest single thing on which we spend discretionary money. Now, Mr. Obama`s opponents, on the other hand, the math ticket, right, the hard-nosed, practical numbers guys who want to cut everything -- their plan for defense spending looks like this. Tada! Boing! That`s what Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are proposing when it comes to military spending, an otherwise enormous amount of money, right? But this is what they are planning on doing. The highest level of military spending since the Korean War. Because, you know, forget your hope and change. What the country needs right now is math, math, math. How does the Romney-Ryan ticket plan to balance this giant plus sign that is contained in their plan -- this massive increase in government spending? Where exactly does the minus come from to make the math work if they want to increase spending by that much? Well, this was the scene today in a place called Van Meter, Iowa, just outside Des Moines. This is what greeted Mitt Romney today as he campaigned in Van Meter. You see the signs there. "Fight big banks, not Big Bird," "99 percent of cookies are eaten by 1 percent of monsters," "Make Wall Street pay, not Sesame Street." Members of an Iowa citizens group dressed in Sesame Street costumes. They were in Romney even today to protest. Actually, more to just laugh at Mitt Romney`s suggestion during last week`s presidential debate that his plan to cut the deficit is to cut off funding for PBS. This has become a full-fledged, forgive me, a full-fledged thing in the campaign now -- the Obama campaign today releasing this 30-second ad specifically on the issue of Big Bird. It`s kind of a sarcastic ad hitting Mitt Romney for being tough enough to take on this yellow-feathered fellow. And then President Obama has now fully incorporated the Big Bird line into his stump speech. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: For all you moms and kids out there, you should have confidence that finally somebody is cracking down on Big Bird. Elmo is -- has been seen in a white suburban. He`s driving for the border. Oscar is hiding out in his trash can. We`re cracking down on them. Governor Romney`s plan is to let Wall Street run wild again, but he`s going to bring the hammer down on Sesame Street. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama now having lots of fun with this out on the campaign trail. But as a policy matter, it`s sort of a serious thing. I mean, when Mr. Romney was asked during the debate how he would make the math work, he wants to be seen as the math ticket, right? Well, how would you make the math work? How would you pay for the massive increase in defense spending that he`s proposing? How would you pay for this huge round of new expensive tax cuts that would be even more expensive than the defense spending? And when he was asked for ways that he would pay for that in the budget, he gave two examples. First, he said he would repeal Obamacare. Repealing Obamacare, it should be noted, would actually add more than $100 billion to the deficit. That would not make things better, it would make things worse. So Mitt Romney says he`ll cut the deficit by doing something that will actually add to the deficit. That`s not a great start. But then there was the other thing he suggested. The other thing he brought up unprompted, PBS -- the only specific that Mitt Romney gave in terms of how he will cut the deficit. The only detail he provided was that he would eliminate 1/100th of 1 percent of the budget that goes to public broadcasting. There have been lots of attempts over the past week to put the number in perspective. Here`s some more perspective. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The federal share of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is about $450 million this year. That $450 million is about what the Pentagon spends every six hours. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Six hours. So, to be clear, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan`s big idea when it comes to the deficit, their big idea to save the country from impending fiscal disaster and to pay for all of the stuff they want to do that`s really expensive that they haven`t figured out a way to pay for, their plan is to eliminate six hour`s worth of defense spending. One- fourth of one day`s worth of defense spending. At the same time, to make overall defense spending go like this -- because, you know, they are the numbers guys. Math. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KEVIN MADDEN, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: I just find it troubling that the president`s message -- the president`s focus -- 28 days from Election Day is Big Bird. ROMNEY: These are tough times, with real serious issues. So you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Now, dude, you`re the one who brought it up. When asked at the presidential debate how you`d cut enough out of the federal budget to accommodate the trillions of dollars in new spending and tax cuts that you say you are planning, you are the one who brought up Big Bird by name. If you did not intend for that to be your answer, if you be had a better answer, you should have used it. But now, you`re troubled by people talking about Big Bird? Joining us is now E.J. Dionne, "Washington Post" columnist, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and author of "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Ideal in an Age of Discontent." E.J., it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here. E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you. MADDOW: So, E.J., you write today, traveling the swing states, talking to people on both sides who are very focused on how that first debate went. The Big Bird detail is a strange detail. It sort of seemed like at first it was going to a pop culture reference. It has turned into a larger thing. Is that actually the line from the debate that people are quoting back to you? DIONNE: People aren`t quoting that back to me. I mean, in a lot of cases, I was talking to moderately or very disheartened Obama supporters on those states who wish it would have gone better. I think the Big Bird line is effective against Romney if you put it in the context you put it in. That it`s 1/100th of 1 percent of the budget. But I think the fact that we`re focusing on that underscores the things that weren`t picked up in what Romney said. In preparing for this show, I notice the something that I hadn`t noticed before. Romney said in the debate, I`m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. Now, that`s exactly what George W. Bush said in the 2000 debate. You can cut rich people`s taxes by a whole lot of money and still have them pay the same share of the total. So that`s what he was really saying. He was also -- he said he`s going to cut everybody`s taxes by 20 percent. And then he said in the debate, we`re not going to have tax cuts that add to the deficit. Now, if this is math, it`s math on meth. I mean, it just doesn`t add up at all. And I think that`s the issue that has to be raised over and over again. And then Big Bird is really a good illustration of how -- in addition to all these tax cuts, in addition to all the military spending, all he talks about is Big Bird, and it`s got to be turned on him. MADDOW: In terms of the way the president tried to make that case during the first debate, that is what the president returned to over and over and over again. That`s why he kept saying $5 trillion, talking about the extra trillion of dollars in defense spending and how expensive the tax cuts were going to be. The president, I think, was trying to make that case but wasn`t able to connect with it. Is there a way that he -- in your view, he should go back trying to make that case about the bad math here, but doing it in a way that will stick better? DIONNE: Well, you know, they did it -- they were doing it in their campaign and in the commercials, which is -- you can`t make any of this add up unless you cut an awful lot of very popular deductions. And that you`ve got to force Romney and Ryan, and I hope Biden does this, to say, all right, what deductions will you get rid of? My friend Bill Gale, a colleague at Brookings, had a great analogy. He said, it`s as if Mitt Romney said I`m going to drive from Washington, D.C., to California in 15 hours. That means you`ll have to go 200 hundred miles an hour. And Romney said, I`m not going to break the law. But then how do you square these numbers? So, you`ve got to throw the math word back at them, maybe with the pretty colors if you want. MADDOW: Do you think that -- do you expect Joe Biden to be able to make that point or to do anything else that`s going to significantly change the Democrats` prospects from these debates so far. Do you have high hopes for Biden`s capacity? DIONNE: I do have high hopes for Biden. I mean, I watched the debates in the 2007-2008 campaign and Biden beat both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in a number of debates. And everybody talks about Biden`s gaffes. They forget that he is a good debater and he has a capacity for empathy with average people, I guess we`re all average people. And, you know, he can just explain stuff quite well. So I think he will put Ryan on the griddle and really take the interview with Chris Wallace and say look, you`ve got time. You said the math is too complicated. Don`t give us talk about base lines. Tell us how you`re going to do this. MADDOW: E.J. Dionne, "Washington Post" columnist, senior fellow at Brookings, and an MSNBC contributor -- E.J., thanks for being here. I appreciate it, man. DIONNE: Good to be with you. MADDOW: All right. Up next, the grave international implications of having people in our American Congress who hold elaborate conspiracy theories about dinosaur farts. I`m sorry. That`s next. Seriously. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This time every year, it`s the same good news/bad news, high/low kind of feeling. It`s the day that we learn there are super smart people in the world winning Nobel Prizes for their super smartness. But most of the time, we also learn that we are not smart enough to really get exactly what it is they are winning for. So, this year, it`s a French physicist and an American physicist who won the Nobel Price in physics for work that, quote, "enable scientists to directly observe some of the most bizarre effects like the sub-atomic analogue of cats who are alive and dead at the same time - predicted by the quantum laws that prevail in the microcosm and could lead eventually to quantum computers and super accurate clocks." In between dead cats make clocks more accurate. If that is not working for you -- me neither. Here`s the Nobel Committee explaining why these guys won. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This year`s Nobel Prize in physics is about interaction between light and matter, for groundbreaking, experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. When you take cats who are alive and dead at the same time out of the equation, that explanation for the prize in physics this year is closer to graspable. And that is one level of science that is going on in the world and being recognized right now. Here is another. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PAUL BROUN (R), GEORGIA: I`ve come to understand that all the stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology, and the Big Bang Theory -- all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it`s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are told that from understanding that they need a savior. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. The pit of hell guy there is Congressman Paul Broun. He represents the 10th district in Georgia. And in the House of Representatives in Washington, the Republican leadership there saw fit to put Congressman Broun on the committee that is responsible for science, the Committee for Science, Space and Technology. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BROUN: I`ve come to understand that all the stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology, and the Big Bang Theory -- all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it`s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are told that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually showed that this is really a young Earth. I don`t believe that the earth`s but been 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That`s what the Bible says. And that`s the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I`ll continue to do that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This is a person who is actively involved in shaping science policy in America. Congressman Broun`s office responded to this video being circulated this week by saying, quote, "Dr. Broun was speaking off the record to a church group about his personal beliefs regarding religious issues." It is the office`s statement, but that actually what you heard the congressman say there was that those personal religious beliefs are determinative of how he votes in Washington as a congressman. had a nice feature on this today, on who else the Republicans have serving on the House Science Committee, along side Paul Broun. Like, for example, there`s Missouri Congressman Todd Akin. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: If it`s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut the whole thing down. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Legitimate rape Todd Akin is not just running for Senate in Missouri against Claire McCaskill, in the meantime, while he`s doing that, House Republicans have assigned him to make federal U.S. policy concerning science. Also on the Science Committee, Maryland Republican Roscoe Bartlett who insisted earlier this year, ala Todd Akin, that rape really doesn`t get you pregnant, almost never. Also on the Science Committee for the Republicans is Texas Congressman Randy Neugebauer, sponsor of House Resolution 254 which sought to ease the drought in America through prayer. He`s on the Science Committee. And for the win, there`s California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who once suggested that the Earth`s temperature fluctuated millions of years ago because of dinosaurs farting. He`s on the Science Committee, too. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: We don`t know what those other cycles were caused by in the past. It could be dinosaur flatulence, you know, or who knows, you know? But we do know the CO2 in the past had its time when it was greater as well. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Who knows? Maybe it was dinosaur farts. We don`t know. How could it be? Today, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded scientists for discoveries in physics. Tomorrow, they`ll announce the winners of awards for chemistry. Meanwhile, our American elected federal officials on the Republican side of the House Committee on Science will keep our nation on the cutting edge of scientific and technological breakthroughs through the magic of farting and the pits of hell. Now it`s s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END