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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/18/12

Guests: W. Kamau Bell, Bob Herbert

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you, my friend. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. What you`re looking at right here is a live shot of an event that`s taking place about two blocks from here. ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, our program is about to resume. MADDOW: Our program is about to resume -- about to resume. This is the Al Smith Dinner. That`s the, you know, faceless emcee at this point. It is a tradition in American politics going back to the Second World War, this Al Smith Dinner. It`s a formal dinner, as you can see. It`s named after the former governor of New York, Al Smith, who is the first American Catholic to ever be a presidential nominee. Al Smith incidentally lost to Herbert Hoover in the 1928 election so Al Smith was not the first Catholic president but he was the first Catholic nominee for president. And this dinner, which is a benefit for Catholic charities here in New York City, has ended up becoming a really important thing in American presidential politics. Honestly, the biggest reason it is really important is because of its timing. There are other dinners like this. The Gridiron Dinner in Washington or the Alfalfa Dinner or the correspondence dinner. There are other dinners that are fancy politics proms, essentially, where you get a sitting president or very high-level politician showing up in tuxedos and gowns and telling jokes and sharing stages with people they otherwise would not be sharing stages with. That happens, right? There are those events in Washington and elsewhere around the country. But this one that you are looking at right here is different, because this one happens now, a couple of weeks before the election. And it`s always timed like that, every time. And traditionally, both presidential candidates go to these things. I mean, there are some years where the dinner conflicts directly with the debate or rarely one of the candidates will decide to blow this dinner off. Walter Mondale did that 1984. Bad move. Also because this is a Catholic dinner, every once in a while, the New York archdiocese is mad at one candidate or the other for a political reason. So neither candidate gets invited in those years. But most years, what you`re looking at here is what happens. It`s just a couple of weeks before the election and you get both sides. You get both candidates. So you get John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, both there in 1960. You get George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, both there in 1988. You get George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000, sharing a stage at the same event and appearing together in a way that they would otherwise never, ever make an appearance. Now, you have to have a certain amount of charisma to be a candidate at this level. So it`s not like these guys have never told a joke. But no presidential candidate is as funny naturally as these guys appear to be at this dinner. So, obviously, they are having people write stuff for them. They are doing comedy routines scripted by professional comedy writers. So, yes, at the base level, this just functions as entertainment because the speeches really are always funny and they are almost always well-delivered. But beyond just entertainment, there is also value for a country trying to make up its mind between these two men. There is value in seeing these guys talking in a way we would otherwise never get to see them talk. Because it is comedy, we get to see them sort of skirting the edge of propriety in a way you actually have to in order to be funny 90 percent of the time. I mean, there`s that joke about what did the zero say to the eight? Nice belt. Beyond that, like sometimes you have to get a little edgier than that to get a real laugh, especially in a room full of politicos. In an election this close, it`s possible us getting to see them like this makes a difference to the election. How a person tells jokes is part of his personality. And people really make personality-based decisions for voting. I mean, for example, 2008 -- John McCain at this point in the election in 2008 was probably so far behind that he was never going to win. But John McCain was legit funny at the Al Smith Dinner in 2008. And that made him more likable by virtue of being funny -- and in a close race, that kind of thing can make a difference. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats, I can`t shake that feeling some people here are pulling for me. (APPLAUSE) Delighted to see you here tonight, George. (APPLAUSE) When a reporter asked him if Senator Obama was qualified to be president, Bill Clinton pointed out -- sure, he`s over 35 years of age and a U.S. citizen. Florida, they even turned up an ACORN voter registration form that bore the name of one Mickey Mouse. We`re checking the paw prints, although I might let that one go, I`m pretty sure the big rats are Republicans. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was John McCain doing very well at this event in 2008. But both he and candidate Barack Obama were there and that was totally in the thick of the campaign, right? That was one night after their presidential debate that year at Hofstra. This year, we are right in the thick of it, we are two nights after the presidential debate at Hofstra. But again, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are both expected to be speaking there tonight. We`re going to be carrying their remarks live and uninterrupted unless the interruption is from Chris Matthews, who you can see there, I think his face, there at the dinner directly behind the president, sitting so close to the president that he could spill a drink on him. So, as colleague privilege toward Chris, if he does something to interrupt the proceedings, we`ll interrupt everything. Other than that, we will bring you President Obama and Mitt Romney, you can see there on the right side of your screen along with his wife. We`ll bring you those remarks as they deliver them. For what might be a preview of the president tonight, here is how then-candidate Barack Obama did in 2008, that same night with John McCain. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is no other crowd in America that I`d rather be palling around with right now. John McCain is on to something. There was a point in my life when I started palling around with a pretty ugly crowd. I`ve got to be honest. These guys were serious deadbeats. They were low lives. They were unrepentant. No good punks. That`s right. I`ve been a member of the U.S. Senate. Some of the rumors out there are getting a bit crazy. I mean, Rupert the other day, FOX News actually accused me of fathering two African- American children in wedlock. It is an honor to be here with Al Smith. I obviously never knew your great-grandfather, but from everything that Senator McCain has told me, the two of them had a great time together before prohibition. So -- (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was Barack Obama in 2008 at the Al Smith Dinner which is happening tonight, right now about two blocks from here in New York City. We are waiting remarks from both Mitt Romney and President Obama. And we are supposed to say that they are expected to be comedic remarks which I always thought was phrasing that could suck the life out of any joke. There`s only one known instance that at least that I know of where a joke that was made by a politician at the Al Smith dinner ended up being used against that politician. It`s kind of amazing given that these guys do try hard enough to be funny at this event that their jokes very often push the edge of what is OK to say this close to an election. But I do think there`s only one case in which a joke made by a politician at one of these events came back to haunt him, and it was this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: This is an impressive crowd, the haves and the have mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Now, maybe he meant Manhattan Catholics? But when that ended up in Michael Moore`s film "Fahrenheit 9/11" and ended up in a John Kerry campaign ad, the white tie there said everything he needed to say about who this base was for George W. Bush. I think that is the only time that Al Smith Dinner remarks have been used against a politician, so far. We will continue to monitor this event tonight. Mitt Romney is expected to take the stage any moment now, followed by President Obama. We`ll bring it to you when he does. The Al Smith Dinner is one of those moments where it sort of feels like time stops because these guys get so far out of character that we -- far out of the character that we otherwise see them in, right? But this is the last frantic 2 1/2 weeks of campaigning before Election Day. And this sort of thing does usually have to be squeezed in to very tight campaigning schedule. Today was an intense day of campaigning and of public appearances and interviews, for one of the two campaigns. And this is a weird fact, but one of the strange things that nobody talks about, about the Mitt Romney campaign is that he takes a lot of time off. And maybe at this point, it is debate prep ahead of the foreign policy debate on Monday, but the campaign is not saying that. All we know is Mitt Romney had no public events today at all, other than this Al Smith joke speech that he`s expected to give in just a minute. Nothing. Nothing else on his schedule. His running mate, Paul Ryan, did do one event today in Florida. And Mr. Romney`s wife went on "The View" and talked about why Mr. Romney and all five of his sons never served in the military, but that was it for the whole Republican campaign today. On the Democratic side, most of the heat and light was generated outside the actual ticket today because it was former President Bill Clinton today campaigning with Bruce Springsteen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MUSICIAN: I came here today because I`m thankful for universal health care. You know, the lack of which, the lack of which was for so long an embarrassment to our country. I`m thankful for more regulated Wall Street. I`m thankful G.M. is still making cars. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: After that event in Ohio today, Bruce Springsteen then left to do another event for President Obama tonight in Iowa. But in terms of the actual candidates, Vice President Joe Biden held an event today, a ruckus event today in Las Vegas. President Obama held a very large event in Manchester, New Hampshire. Campaign said this is going to be President Obama`s last personal appearance in New Hampshire before Election Day. But they got 6,000 people to turn out today in the streets of Manchester, New Hampshire, for President Obama. The president then flew to New York and he taped a long interview on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. We`re showing this odd picture of it because it was very exciting for everybody at our offices when we saw the president`s motorcade go by from our window. We usually just have a great view of the crosswalk there and the delivery guys getting stuck behind that weird guardrail thing on the corner. But today we saw the president. It was very cool. And then president is expected to speak tonight after Mitt Romney`s remark at the Al Smith Dinner. Mitt Romney`s remarks are expected to go first then President Obama will go second. In terms of the polling today, here`s what it looks like at the national level. Mr. Romney now leading President Obama in the Gallup daily tracking poll by seven points. That is a poll of likely voters. That is understandably freaking out a lot of Democrats right now. But Democrats could take solace today in the Electoral College. Here`s how it looks in the states: In Michigan, a new poll by "The Detroit Free Press" shows President Obama with a six-point lead in Michigan. In Wisconsin, an NBC News/Marist poll shows President Obama with a six-point lead there, too. And in Iowa, NBC News and Marist have Mr. Obama with an eight-point lead. There`s lots more actually that`s of interest in those polls and we`ll be getting to those in a moment. But right now, as you can see, Mitt Romney is approaching the podium at the Al Smith Dinner in New York City. W. Kamau Bell is here on set here with me to do a little comedic strategic advice and criticism for these candidates after these speeches tonight. We`ll hear from Mr. Romney, and then we will hear from President Obama. Here we go. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Cardinal Dolan, Mr. President, Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer, Al and Ann Smith, thank you for your invitation. Thank you for your extraordinarily warm welcome. Ann and I appreciate your friendship very, very much. Thank you. (APPLAUSE) Now, Al, you are right. A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes. We -- blue jeans in the morning, perhaps. Suits for a lunch fund-raiser. Sport coat for dinner. But it`s nice to finally relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) I`m glad to be able to join in this venerable tradition. Of course, I`m pleased that the president`s here. We were chatting pleasantly this evening as if Tuesday night never happened. (LAUGHTER) And I credit that, of course, to the cardinal. It`s taken New York`s highest spiritual authority to get us back on our best behavior. I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening, because he`ll laugh at anything. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Of course, this isn`t a night for serious politics, and it was especially nice to see President Obama and Cardinal Dolan sharing the dais despite their differences. I`m sure the cardinal has no hard feelings and we might get an indication of that during dinner to see if the president`s wine turns into water. Or for that matter whether my water turns into wine. I`m pleased to once again have the chance to see Governor Cuomo who`s already being talked about for higher office, a very impressive fellow. But he may be getting a little ahead of himself. I mean, let me get this straight. The man has put in one term as a governor. He has a father who happened to be a governor and he thinks that`s enough to run for president. (APPLAUSE) Of course, we`re down to the final months of the president`s term. As presidents -- as President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he`s thinking. So little time, so much to redistribute. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) And don`t be surprised if the president mentions this evening the monthly jobs report where there was a slight improvement in the numbers. He knows how to seize the moment, this president, and already has a compelling new campaign slogan. You`re better off now than you were four weeks ago. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) You know, with or without all the dignitaries that are here, the Al Smith dinner surely lives up to its billing. Usually when I get invited to gatherings like this, it`s just to be the designated driver. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Your kind hospitality here tonight gives me a chance to convey my deep and long-held respect for the Catholic Church. I have special admiration for the apostle St. Peter to whom it is said, "Upon this rock, I will build my church." The story is more inspiring when you consider he had so many skeptics and scoffers at the time who were heard to say, if you got a church, you didn`t build that. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Of course, only 19 days to go until the finish line, campaign full of surprises. The debates are very surprising. Just the other night we had a fun debate. Candy Crowley was there and was happy to welcome us. People seem to be very curious as to how we prepare for the debates. Let me tell you what I do. First, refrain from alcohol for 65 years before the debate. (LAUGHTER) Second, find the biggest available straw man and then just mercilessly attack it. Big Bird didn`t even see it coming. (LAUGHTER) And by the way, and in the spirit of "Sesame Street", the president`s remarks tonight are brought to you by the letter "O" and the number 16 trillion. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Campaigns can be a grueling, exhausting. President Obama and I are each very lucky to have one person who`s always in our corner, someone who we can lean on and someone who`s a comforting presence without whom we wouldn`t be able to go another day. I have my beautiful wife, Ann. He has Bill Clinton. (LAUHGTER & APPLAUSE) We got a big dose of the Biden charm last week. I`ll tell you that, in his debate with Paul Ryan. I`m not sure that all that carrying on had quite the effect that Joe intended, because afterwards I heard from the Federal Election Commission, from now on whenever he appears on TV, there`s a recording of me afterwards that says, I`m Mitt Romney and I approve this message. Of course, rules of fairness have to be enforced because what other safeguard do we have besides the press? And -- (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Now, I never suggest that the press is biased. I recognize they have their job to do and I have my job to do. My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country. And their job is to make sure no one else finds out about it. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Let`s just say that some in the media have a certain way of looking at things. When suddenly I pulled ahead in some of the major polls, what was the headline? "Polls show Obama leading from behind." (LAUGHTER) And I`ve already seen early reports from tonight`s dinner. Headline, "Obama embraced by Catholics. Romney dines with rich people." (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Of course, the president has put his own stamp on relations with the church. There have been some awkward moments. Like when the president pulled Pope Benedict aside to share some advice on how to deal with his critics. He said, look, Holy Father, whatever the problem is, just blame it on Pope John Paul II. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Of course, the president has found a way to take the sting out of the Obamacare mandates for the church. For now on, they`re going to be in Latin. (LAUGHTER) We have very fundamental and sound principles that guide both the president and me. He and I, of course, feel the pressures and tensions of a close contest. It would be easy to let a healthy competition give way to the personal and the petty, but fortunately we don`t carry the burden of disliking one another. Our president has had some very fine and gracious moments. Don`t tell anyone I said so, but our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud. You can oppose -- (APPLAUSE) In our country you can oppose someone in politics and make a confident case against their policies without any ill will, and that`s how it is for me. There`s more to life than politics. At the Al Smith Foundation and the Archdiocese of New York, you show this in the work you do, in causes that run deeper, that allegiance to party or to any contest of the moment. No matter which way the political winds are blowing, what work goes on day in, day out by this organization and you, you answer with calm and willing hearts and service to the poor and care for the sick, in defense in the rights of conscious, and in solidarity with the innocent child waiting to be born. You strive to bring God`s love into every life. (APPLAUSE) I don`t presume to have all your support, and a night like this I`m certainly not going to ask for it. But you can be certain that in the great causes of compassion that you come together to embrace, that I stand proudly with you as an ally and friend. God bless you all. And God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (APPLAUSE) MADDOW: Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney addressing the Al Smith Dinner in New York City. Live. You see him there speaking with President Obama, who will be speaking in just a moment. Giving the same, we expect, type of speech that Mr. Romney gave in a sense that it will be funny and there will be some remarks that have less snark to them and are more kind and are less political. That`s the sort of speeches these are. The reason this is a big event on the political calendar is because it happens so close to the election. As we`re waiting for President Obama to start his remarks I should introduce W. Kamau Bell, the host of "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell" on FX which is brilliant. You are here as our comedic strategic adviser. W. KAMAU BELL, "TOTALLY BIASED WITH W. KAMAU BELL": Yes. MADDOW: Before we hear from President Obama, do you have any big picture reaction to how Mr. Romney did there as a comedian? BELL: I think he has to learn how to enjoy the joke telling process. MADDOW: Ah. BELL: He has that look on his face between every joke like he`s just been stabbed. MADDOW: The jokes worked well but looked unhappy even when they worked. Let`s go to President Obama. We`ll be back with Kamau after these remarks. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Everyone, please take your seats. Otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them. (LAUGHTER) Thank you to Al and Ann, Your Eminence, Governor, Mrs. Romney, Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer -- all the distinguished guests who are here. In less than three weeks, voters in states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida will decide this incredibly important election which begs the question, what are we doing here? (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Of course, New Yorkers also have a big choice to make. You have to decide which one of us you want holding up traffic for the next four years. (LAUGHTER) Tonight, I am here with a man whose father was a popular governor and who knows what it`s like to run a major northeastern state and who could very well be president someday and I`m hoping it is Andrew Cuomo. This is the third time that Governor Romney and I have met recently. As some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice, long nap I had in the first debate. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Although it turns out millions of Americans focused in on the second debate who didn`t focus in on the first debate and I happened to be one of them. I particularly want to apologize to Chris Matthews. Four years ago, I gave him a thrill up his leg. This time around, I gave him a stroke. (LAUGHTER) Of course, there`s a lot of things I learned from that experience. For example, I learned that there are worse things that can happen to you on your anniversary than forgetting to buy a gift. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) So. Take note, gentlemen. Now, win or lose, this is my last political campaign. So I`m trying to drink it all in. Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg will only let me have 16 ounces of it. (LAUGHTER) That`s OK. I`m still making the most of my time in the city. Earlier today, I went shopping at some stores in midtown. I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in midtown. (LAUGHTER) And it brought back some great memories because some of you know I went to school here in New York, had a wonderful experience here. (APPLAUSE) I used to love walking through central park, loved to go to old Yankees Stadium. The house that Ruth built -- although he really did not build that. I hope everybody`s aware of that. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) It`s been four years since I was last at the Al Smith Dinner. I have to admit, some things have changed since then. I`ve heard some people say, Barack, you`re not as young as you used to be. Where`s that golden smile? Where`s that pep in your step? And I say, "Settle down, Joe, I`m trying to run a cabinet meeting here." (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) He does smile when he says it, though. Tomorrow, it`s back to campaigning. I visit cities and towns across our great country and I hear the same thing everywhere I go. Honestly, we were hoping to see Michelle. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) And I have to admit, it can be a grind. Sometimes it feels like this race has dragged on forever. But Paul Ryan assured me that we`ve only been running for 2 hours and 50-something minutes. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Of course, the economy`s on everybody`s minds. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since I took office. I don`t have a joke here. I just thought it would be useful to remind everybody that the unemployment rate is at the lowest it`s been since I took office. (APPLAUSE) And we`re getting to that time when folks are making up their minds. Just the other day, Honey Boo Boo endorsed me. So that`s a big relief. (LAUGHTER) Ultimately, though, tonight`s not about the disagreements Governor Romney and I may have. It`s what we have in common -- beginning with our unusual names. Actually, Mitt is his middle name. I wish I could use my middle name. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) And even though we`re enjoying ourselves tonight, we`re both thinking ahead of our final debate on Monday. I`m hoping that Governor Romney and I will have a chance to answer the question that is on the minds of millions of Americans watching at home. Is this happening again? When are they putting on "The Voice"? (LAUGHTER) Monday`s debate is a little bit different because the topic is foreign policy. Spoiler alert: we got bin Laden. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Of course, world affairs are a challenge for every candidate. After some of you guys remember, after my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas. And I have to say, I`m impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem. (LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE) Just so everyone knows, in our third debate, we won`t spend a whole lot of time interrupting each other. We will also interrupt the moderator just to mix things up. And finally, let me say that I`ve been doing some thinking, and I`ve decided that for our final debate, I`m going to go back to the strategy I used to prepare for the first debate. (LAUGHTER) I`m just kidding. I`m trying to make Axelrod sweat a little bit. (LAUGHTER) Get him a little nervous. In all seriousness, I couldn`t be more honored to be here this evening. I`m honored to be with leaders of both the private and public sectors. And particularly the extraordinary work that is done by the Catholic Church. It`s written in Scripture -- (APPLAUSE) It`s written in Scripture that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character. And character, hope. This country`s fought through some very tough years together. And while we still have a lot of work ahead, we`ve come as far as we have mainly because the perseverance and character of ordinary Americans. And it says something about who we are as a people that in the middle of a contentious election season, opposing candidates can share the same stage. People from both parties can come together -- (APPLAUSE) Come together to support a worthy cause. And I particularly want to thank, Governor Romney, for joining me because I admire him very much as a family man and a loving father, and those are two titles that will always matter more than any political ones. So -- (APPLAUSE) We may have different political perspectives, but I think, in fact, I`m certain that we share the hope that the next four years will have the same decency and the same willingness to come together for a higher purpose that are on display this evening. May we all in the words of Al Smith do our full duty as citizens. God bless you. God bless your families. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. (APPLAUSE) MADDOW: President Barack Obama speaking at the Al Smith Dinner. This is an annual tradition in American politics. And importantly this is a tradition that happens right before the election in presidential election years and by tradition both candidates in that election appear and give essentially battling standup routine speeches that end nicely. Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have both concluded their remarks. Now, those were live, just a couple blocks from here, in New York City. I`m here with W. Bell from "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell" on FX. Is this the sort of thing you score and say who was better? Or is there something more important about their competing performances here? BELL: You know, it`s like any talent competition, you have to judge several different categories. MADDOW: OK. BELL: Both of them are funny, both of them can deliver a line. Barack Obama knows how to do this. I feel like Barack Obama is like a Swiss Army knife. He`s got several different settings. Funny Barack is a very easy setting for him. MADDOW: OK. BELL: Whereas Romney has awkward Romney and mean Romney which is why funny Romney is not a setting for him which is why he looked awkward when he was funny. MADDOW: He was very funny. He did have very good jokes. Opening joke where he was talking about wardrobe changes on the campaign, sports coat, suit and tie for an evening event, Ann and I can relax with what we wear around the house. BELL: Yes. MADDOW: Opening again, it was very, very funny. BELL: But then he reset to Romney face. MADDOW: Looked very stern while delivering that very funny joke. BELL: It looks like a guy in a movie who`s been stabbed and trying not to show it. The stern Romney face, why are you in so much pain? You`re killing. Enjoy the moment. MADDOW: Here`s the thing. Because you said that about Romney right before we saw Obama let go, I was watching Obama`s facial expressions. When he says the joke, he does not smile his way through the joke, enjoying himself through the joke. He seems serious like Romney, beat, then big smile or laugh or self-deprecating laugh or some other show of emotion. But he does sort of look a little stabbed himself while he`s initially delivering it. BELL: That`s because they`re terrified. They`re not comedians. This is a ridiculous thing. It would be like you said, Kamau, you`re a comedian, now one day, you have to be president. I`d be terrified the whole day through. I understand why they`re terrified -- MADDOW: And your career as a comedian will be over unless you`re a great president. BELL: Yes. If you`re a great president for one hour you can continue your career as a comedian. I don`t understand how we do things in this country. MADDOW: I will -- it is weird, but do you feel like this is actually a healthy thing for the campaign season for the contest because they`re forced to at least sort of fake civility and say nice things about one another`s families and talk in this context? Or do you think that this is so fake in terms of how they feel about each other that it`s just too phony? BELL: I feel the latter. I feel like I don`t want you to pretend to be friends. I would like you to actually be friends in real life. You know, I`d like Republicans and Democrats to actually be friends and work some things out instead of pretending to be friends for an hour. MADDOW: Yes. Although I don`t think they were pretending to be friends. I think they were pretending to be civil which is nice. BELL: Yes. MADDOW: I mean, especially after this last debate which was rollicking and fun but they were all but grabbing each other by the lapels. BELL: Yes. MADDOW: All of the jokes, essentially all of the jokes were at each other`s expense. There was a few self-deprecating jokes. When President Obama said, please take your seat before Clint Eastwood starts yelling about it, that`s a nasty thing to say to Mitt Romney in a disastrous convention, but to end it saying, I think you`re an all right guy. I don`t know, part of me feels like that sort of fakery is just fakery and part of me feels like I`m glad they`re faking it. BELL: I`m glad they`re faking it. I guess on some level. I also feel like I`m happy to see them battle it out in a debate than I am to see them try to take my job. MADDOW: Yes, I don`t think you have any worries. Let me just ask one last thing which is the question of likability and its relationship to humor. Not every very successful comedian in America gets to be very successful because they`re the kind of person you would like to spend time with. BELL: Oh, no. MADDOW: Comedians do not cultivate an air of likability. But when politicians do comedy routines it`s seen as being key to whether or not they`re likable people, whether they can pass the have a beer with me test, which may be in part -- maybe this is a stretch -- but maybe in part why Mitt Romney I think made four separate jokes about the fact he does not drink because this is a likability gambit essentially for both of them. What`s the relationship between likability and ability to develop -- deliver a joke in this kind of context? BELL: I mean, you don`t have to be likable to be funny. A lot of comedians are horrible, horrible people. It`s about how comfortable you are in your own skin. MADDOW: Yes. BELL: And I think that`s the thing with Romney, like the jokes are professional jokes, comedians wrote them, but he still doesn`t seem to be comfortable in his skin. MADDOW: Yes, authenticity is everything on television and in politics, and in comedy, I think. I think that awkwardness is the thing he`s got to stretch on all of these. W. Kamau Bell from "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell" on FX which is a brilliant show, and you`re very smart guy. Thank you for being here. BELL: Thank you very much. MADDOW: Appreciate it. We needed a comedy expert. Had one. All right. There`s actually an important, more serious news today, including more serious news today on the campaign trail. We will get to it and we`ll do it with a straight face like this. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There are two things that are really interesting within the new NBC polls that just came out in Wisconsin and Iowa today. In Wisconsin, the overall top line of the poll was that President Obama is leading by six points. In Iowa, the overall top line was that President Obama is leading by eight points. But there`s two things within this poll that I`m not sure have gotten any attention yet but that are very important for the overall state of the race. The first is the gender gap. The second is what`s happening with the early vote. This is fascinating. This is from today`s NBC polling. Now, the Republicans were very excited when Mitt Romney took his jump in the polls after the first debate you`ll remember. One of the things inside those polls that they were very excited about was the fact that they had erased the gender gap -- the gap by which women were preferring Obama over Romney. And it had been a gap that was in the high teens for a long part of the early part of the race. When Mr. Romney took his jump in the polls, that gender gap went away. Well, in Wisconsin and Iowa, with the new NBC poll out today, the gender gap is back, and with a vengeance. Mr. Romney is losing women to President Obama in both Wisconsin and Iowa by 18 points. Now, Mr. Romney is winning men in both of those states. Losing women, but winning men. But his win with men is not by anywhere near as large a margin as he is losing women. He`s losing women really badly. That basically tells you why he is losing those two states. Strategically, though, here`s another really interesting finding in these polls today. One of the polls that came out last week that really upset the Republicans was a "Reuters" poll that showed the people who were voting early in this election were voting for President Obama by a huge margin. The Romney campaign`s polling guy just lit his hair on fire and stamped his feet and tried to tell everybody that that poll of early voters was nonsense. They put out a formal memo that they released on the subject saying there`s no chance that those numbers among early voters were real numbers. Looks like those numbers were real numbers. Check this out. This is Iowa. The NBC News/Marist poll asked people if they had voted already. Look at this. This is incredible. More than a third of people in Iowa who say they are likely to vote in this election at all, more than a third of them have already voted. It`s already over for more than a third of the voting population, 34 percent of people have already voted. That is a huge proportion in Iowa. Of those people who already voted, this is how they voted, a 35-point margin in favor of President Obama. So that`s Iowa. That is the payoff of Democrats stressing early voting so much and now you know why Republican state officials have been trying to hard to get rid of early voting everywhere they can. The other state where we got data on early voting today was Wisconsin. Now, in Wisconsin, here are the voter preferences of early voters in that state, right? Look at it in Wisconsin. Proportion is almost exactly the same. Among people who are early voting in Wisconsin, President Obama has a 29-point lead, a hugely disproportionate split for President Obama among people who are voting early. The difference, though, is that while in Iowa, more than a third of the electorate have already early voted, in Wisconsin, only 6 percent of the electorate have early voted. They`re voting for Obama by a huge margin, but there just aren`t have many of them. So President Obama is winning by a lot more in Iowa than he was winning in Wisconsin, but still he is winning in both states. That is some of the state of the race right now. But we`re going to be talking in a moment with Bob Herbert, talking about how the machinations of the elections are way more partisan than we expected them to be. That`s all ahead. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We are now 19 days out from the election. Close enough that the mechanics of voting are becoming as important as the political combat between the two parties. In Arizona, for example, you have to show ID in order to vote. But here`s a neat thing about that. One of the things you can present for ID is your voting registration card, issued by your local county. Your voter registration card comes on a form that includes a lot of information about the election, like you see here. Important election dates. Then it says, November 6th, 2012, which, of course, is the really important election date. Now, there are lots of Americans who speak Spanish in Arizona, and so the voter registration card form is also written in Spanish. "Fechas importantes de elecciones." And then what does it say is the date for the election day? The Spanish part of it, oh, ocho de November. Wait, wait, go back. It says right there in English that the election is November 6th, which it is. But in Spanish it`s November 8th. Seriously, Arizona? Right this way to the polls, Hispanic Americans, two days after the election. Seriously? This dark political art comes courtesy of the elections office for Maricopa County, Arizona, in Phoenix. That is the most populist county in Arizona by far. More people in the state live there than anywhere else in the state. In Maricopa County, their elections department handed out in their office voter registration cards with the wrong date for voting in Spanish only. They say they`re not sure how many voters got this wrong information. Maybe 50 people, maybe fewer, maybe more. They say they do not know. Will those people get the right information somehow? Nobody knows. Whether it`s by mistake or lack of effort or outright intent, creating confusion is its own form of voter suppression. Now check this out. In Pennsylvania on October 2nd, a judge ruled that Pennsylvania voters will not have to show ID in order to vote in November. He put that law on ice back on October 2nd. And look at this. Almost two weeks later, a billboard in Spanish in northeast Philadelphia, "Si quierers votar muestralla." If you want to vote, show it. Show ID, especially if you speak Spanish and live in the Latino part of Philly. Almost two weeks after the judge said no one needs ID to vote in Pennsylvania, this taxpayer-funded billboard in Spanish said otherwise. I know it takes time to update all the Web sites and pull down all the posters. But seriously, nobody in charge in Pennsylvania noticed that giant billboard, the one that could make people think they would not be allowed to vote, so maybe they shouldn`t bother? Did nobody notice that? Is it just that nobody cared? The billboard told "Bloomberg" that the ad won`t be changed for another couple of weeks. Meantime, too bad for anybody who believes what the state`s ad tells them. Confusion is its own form of voter suppression. And so is fear. A couple of weeks ago, a member of the Cleveland, Ohio City Council noticed this new billboard in the largely African-American, largely poor neighborhood in Cleveland. It reads, "Voter fraud is a felony! Up to 3 1/2 years and $10,000 fine." You can practically hear the gavel banging, right? The councilwoman wanted to know who pay for this billboard. The sign says only that the money came from something called a private family foundation. The councilwoman wanted to know if her poor neighborhood was the only one with the billboard equating with a lengthy prison sentence. The answer is no. The same anonymous scary billboards have since been spotted in poor and minority neighborhoods all over Ohio, dozens of them, in Cleveland and in Cincinnati, 30 of them in the hard-luck precincts of Columbus. Also in Wisconsin, another swing state, where these billboards have been popping up in black and Latino sections of Milwaukee, 20 of them. Twenty "voting is scary" billboards at least. Voting in this country is not supposed to be scary. It is not supposed to be confusing. You were not supposed to have to guess when you vote, or how you vote, or whether there might be different days for Hispanic Americans ands non-Hispanic Americans to vote. And you have to figure out which day you should show up. You should not be pressured into believing that someone would try to spend you to jail for voting. That is what it is coming down to though, which would probably make you more determined to vote than ever. Joining us now is Bob Herbert, distinguished senior fellow at Demos, also contributor at Bob, thanks for being here. BOB HERBERT, DEMOS: Hi, Rachel. MADDOW: I feel like those examples are so blunt and so brutal that they`re almost unbelievable. But we -- and I didn`t -- when we first started hearing that that stuff existed, I almost thought that it was a photoshopped hoax. HERBERT: No. MADDOW: It`s really happening. HERBERT: No. I have been covering this since 2000. We all remember what happened then. And the Republican Party and the conservatives in general have been on this voter suppression, voter intimidation kick ever since then. They are on the losing side of the demographics in this country and they are on the losing side when it comes to the issues. But what they are trying to keep as many of their opponents away from the polls as possible. And I think they`ve been doing a very effective job of it. This should be a much bigger story. MADDOW: It should be a bigger story. There`s frustration I think I know from a lot of people who want this to be the bigger story in the country. But I think a lot of the reason that people get so stymied in trying to report on it as you get as far as paid for by a private family foundation and you don`t know who to be mad at. You just think it`s gross, but you don`t know how to trace anywhere. That`s why I think the Pennsylvania story itself ought to be of national significance because it`s the state of Pennsylvania that is still intimidating people into thinking they`re not going to be able to vote. HERBERT: I completely agree. And these issues that you`re talking about tonight actually be a bigger national story as well. But also, you`ve got these campaigns going where they are going to send poll watchers out on Election Day and to intimidate voters showing up at the polls. And you mentioned that chaos equates with voter suppression. So they try to foment as much chaos as possible so that if Election Day comes and you`re in line for two or three or four hours, a lot of people will decide to turn around and go home. A lot of people have been intimidated by things like that billboard sign, but also just the word going out that something is going to happen to you and might happen to you if you show up at the polls. And you don`t know whether you`re committing a crime or not, when in fact, all you want to do is cast a ballot. So, what`s happening is that, you know, voters by the scores of thousands are being intimidated in this country. In an election as close as this one, that could end up being a determining factor. MADDOW: This to me could be a strategic explanation for why the Democrats have pushed so hard on the idea of voting early, right? Because one thing that it does, it lets you bank votes. It`s a sort of small C conservative approach to the election. No October surprise because you have your vote in. So, it doesn`t matter if anything is happening later on, toward Election Day. HERBERT: Right. MADDOW: But the other side of it is that there will be shorter lines, there`s more potential to make it up and actually get your vote cast in the way that it`s going to be counted if you give yourself some leeway. You don`t push it until election. HERBERT: No question about that. But I also think that the Democratic Party and also a lot of progressive groups should have fought harder. Now, they fought the legal battles and they were very important and they won several of them. MADDOW: Very successful, yes. HERBERT: But I think they should have fought more on the ground to press back on this voter presentation which is really voter intimidation. MADDOW: Yes, and we are seeing -- yes, that is what we are seeing now after all the legal battles went the Democratic way, we are still seeing Republican officials on the ground pushing it to the limit, in some cases beyond, in terms of what they can get. HERBERT: Right. MADDOW: Bob Herbert from Demos and "Policy Shop" -- thank you very much for being here. HERBERT: Great to see you. MADDOW: Appreciate it. All right. We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) ROMNEY: We are chatting pleasantly this evening as if Tuesday night never happened. And I consider that of course to the cardinal. He is -- it has taken New York`s highest spiritual authority to get us back on our best behavior. I was actually hoping to the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening because he`ll laugh at anything. OBAMA: This is the third time that Governor Romney and I have met recently. As some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy after our second debate. I felt really well-rested after the night`s long nap I had in the first debate. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: President Obama and Governor Romney speaking earlier this hour at the Al Smith Dinner in New York City. The next in fact is the foreign policy debate, which is on Monday. Do you want to know what we are doing on this show tomorrow to prep for the foreign policy debate on Monday? We`re having Kofi Annan here, who used to run a little something you might have heard of called the United Nations. He is our guest or the interview tomorrow. We will see then. But now, it`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