updated 3/27/2009 11:52:40 AM ET 2009-03-27T15:52:40

Guest: Ryan Grim, Ana Marie Cox, Jehan Sadat, Kent Jones, Jay Gray

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Yes, Governor Palin has re-emerged as has RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

Ana Marie Cox will be here to help us interpret.

There are also some amazing pictures from the emergency on the Missouri River and Red River in North Dakota—snow and ice and flooding and dynamite. Yes, we will have a live report from the banks of the Red River.

And the great state of New Mexico has a new official song. It‘s our cocktail moment tonight and it is excellent.

All that is coming up and much more.

But, first, if you open up your politics 101 instructional manual, to the chapter called “How to not fall for the oldest tricks in the book,” you will find there a line that reads, “When your opponent is baiting you to do something, at least consider not taking that bait.”

Today, with one hastily called afternoon press conference, Republicans in Congress flunked that portion of politics 101.

First of all, here was the bait.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: The critics tend to criticize but don‘t offer an alternative budget.

To a bunch of the critics out there, I‘ve already said, show me your budget.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Show me what you want to do and I‘m happy to have that debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: I dare you. I double-dog dare you. Go on. Do it.

Republicans, forgetting all the lessons of how to succeed in politics and the things that most people learn on elementary school playgrounds, chose to respond by doing exactly what the president was daring them to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, ® HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Two nights ago, the president said, “We haven‘t seen a budget yet out of Republicans.” Well, it‘s just not true because, here it is, Mr. President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: And with those words, the bait was officially swallowed and congressional Republicans found themselves officially on the proverbial hook.

Last week on this show, you might remember we hosted Lawrence O‘Donnell, a veteran of the Senate Finance Committee staff. I asked Lawrence if he thought that Republicans would take the bait and propose their own budget. His analysis was—no way, they‘d never be that dumb.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The normal minority tactic which you see Mitch McConnell basically is saying he‘s going to do is to try to pick apart the budget the president offers and that the Democrats bring to a vote in the Senate. And that, tactically, is normally the way to go because when—if the Republicans were to come up with their own budget, just as an example, there would probably be zero beside the words “health care reform.” And so, they would set themselves up for being criticized.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Right. That‘s the strategy here. Unless you are really, really, really confident that you can compete on policy, that when people compare the concrete things you are proposing with the concrete things that the party in power is having to propose, because they‘re actually responsible for having to govern the country, unless you are really sure that your ideas will look better in comparison, maybe just lie low. Get your own act together before you put anything out there to be criticized. That‘s the advantage of being in the minority and that‘s strategy 101.

But today, Republicans decided they just couldn‘t resist the dare.

They released an 18-page budget entitled the “Republican Road to Recovery.” It is their counterproposal to the president‘s budget. Where President Obama‘s budget aims to tackle that whole weaning ourselves off of oil thing, moving toward renewable energy, the Republican counterproposal is, quote, “Republicans support immediately leasing oil and gas resources in the outer continental shelf through and expedited and streamlined procedure.”

In other words .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: Let me make it very clear—drill, baby, drill. And drill now.

(CHEERS)

(CROWD CHANTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: But remember how awesome that worked out for President McCain and Vice President Palin.

On the economic crisis and the government‘s response to all these industries failing and the financial sector collapsing, Republicans say, quote, “The Republican budget ends this failed bailout strategy by refusing to assume additional spending for bailouts.”

Now that, you know, might actually get them some political traction. There is so much outrage about the bailouts. If the Republicans just defined themselves full stop as against all bailouts no matter what, that might have a political impact. If they were just full on, rock-ribbed, I-shall-not-be-moved against the whole bailout thing—it might work—right, Congressman Boehner?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As a party, are you continue to oppose anymore bailout money?

BOEHNER: Hmm, we‘ll see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Hmm, we‘ll see. Way to stand by those principles.

The single most detailed, concrete commitment in the Republican budget proposal is actually about taxes. They say, quote, “Republicans propose a simple and fair tax code with a marginal tax rate for income up to $100,000 of 10 percent and 25 percent for any income thereafter.”

What does that mean? It means the top tax bracket gets cut to 25 percent. In other words, their big, concrete idea, the only idea their supposed budget with an actual number on it is a massive tax cut for rich people.

You thought the Bush tax cuts were good for the richest people in the country—Bush set the highest tax rate at 35 percent. The Republicans want to drop that another 10 points. They want to triple down on what Bush did to the deficit and the economy. Triple down economics. Wow.

So, recapping here, “A,” the Republicans totally took the bait in proposing an alternative budget; “B,” their bait-taking let us see their plan in all of its glory, i.e., biggest tax cut for the rich ever; and, “C,” they‘re not even done yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: Today, we are offering our blueprint for where we believe we can help grow our economy again and you‘ll see the details of the budget portion of this next week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Next week. Oh, please, oh, please, oh, please, oh, please—more details coming. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan will reportedly present more details next Wednesday. And so, we officially unveil with baited breath, see that down there, our RACHEL MADDOW SHOW “Show us your Republican budget” countdown clock. Yay!

Joining us now is Ryan Grim, senior congressional correspondent for the “Huffington Post.” He was in attendance at the Republican Party‘s budget-unveiling today.

Ryan, thanks very much for joining us.

RYAN GRIM, HUFFINGTON POST: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Are there actually any spelled out, specific, numerically specific policies in the plan other than the big tax cut for the wealthiest people in the country?

GRIM: You know, there aren‘t. And the budget we are—the budget we‘re waiting for when we got into the room, underneath our desks. And reporters were pulling them out and looking through it. As you scan through it, you‘re looking for numbers. Every time you got to a number, when you read the context around it, it was attacking some Democratic plan. So, it‘s the only one you got, the tax cut—that was their actual solution.

MADDOW: So, once reporters had gone through it, I have to say, when I got it today, when I printed out the PDF, I did exactly the same thing, I was going through it, trying to find, you know, deficit projections, thinking that‘s how they‘re going to sell it. And that stuff just isn‘t there and it will probably happen next week.

But after reporters had done that, what was the reaction? How did the rollout go? How did reporters question them today at this press conference?

GRIM: Well, first they delayed the press conference for a half an hour which, you know, which annoyed the reporters. But then, once they saw what they had come for.

There was—there was—Capitol Hill press corps is a pretty steady bunch but it was a pretty hostile to this thing. They‘re peppering Boehner with questions. It‘s like, well, what about deficit projections? Are you going to—are you going to cut the budget? If so, how are you going to do it?

What are you going to cut in general? How are you going to do it?

And Boehner just kept saying, “Next week, next week, we‘ll give you more details next week.” The press corps was like, what are we doing here? And this was the conservative media, the liberal media; everybody there was like, what is this? What‘s going on here?

MADDOW: Ryan, there has been some reporting today that there may be some evident dissent among Republican leaders about whether or not this rollout was a good idea today, whether or not this whole plan is a good idea. Did it seem like a united front in person to you? I understand that Eric Cantor left and wouldn‘t take questions right after he made his initial remarks.

GRIM: Well, he left and his office tells me that he had to go down to the floor to make this, the end of the week speech with Steny Hoyer. But actually, while I was waiting to come on, I was flipping through the budget proposal, again, it‘s a thin little thing, so, I figure, you know, I got a few minutes.

I looked on the first page and actually, Representative Paul Ryan, who is writing the entire budget which he says he is going to release on Wednesday did not sign the document. It‘s signed by 10 Republicans, including all of the leadership except for Paul Ryan. They know where his office is, you know, they know where he is. The fact that he‘s not on there is interesting.

MADDOW: Another sign of dissent may be that questioning that we showed of John Boehner as he was trying to get out of the room today, essentially refusing to sign on to this commitment to zero further bailouts. I mean, that is in the document they released today and he is one of the people who signed it.

What do you make of that unwillingness to commit to what he had signed on to?

GRIM: Yes. That was bizarre because they voted against the bailouts in the past. Their votes aren‘t needed to pass the bailouts. The politically popular thing to do is to oppose the bailouts. So, why he didn‘t just come out and say, “Yes, that‘s right, no more bailouts,” is anybody‘s guess.

There‘s also a very interesting section about halfway through this budget where they decry socializing losses while privatizing gains. Now, you might think this is written by Noam Chomsky, but then .

MADDOW: Right.

GRIM: . the next line says: The problem with that is the gains might end up being privatized and then therefore, Americans would no longer be free to profit.

So, it‘s an interesting document. You know, I recommend giving it a read.

MADDOW: Ryan, one last quick question. It‘s sort of an analysis point, I guess.

Up until today, it seems to me like President Obama has been defending himself from attacks on his budget from fellow Democrats, the conservative Democrats and Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota—doesn‘t it sort of seem like the Republicans have done Obama a huge favor today by putting themselves out there as the opposition rather than his own party?

GRIM: Yes, I was speaking to a House Republican aide the other day and I said, you know, “Do you want to make any comment about this Obama budget?” And he said, “You know what, Kent Conrad is doing our job for us. We‘re just going step aside.” They should have taken his advice.

Just a couple of days later, they take Obama‘s bait. They come out with their own proposal. And while, you know, Conrad and the White House might be going after each other, they get in the middle and they get punched.

Now, Conrad and Obama are both united in just abusing this because when they finally do present their budget, it‘s going to look awfully strange because their tax cuts have eviscerated the revenue that the government takes in. So, what is there left to fund? They‘re going to have to eliminate almost everything.

MADDOW: Why do you think I got that countdown clock there in the corner of the screen?

Ryan Grim, senior congressional correspondent for “Huffington Post”—it‘s nice to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.

GRIM: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: So, the Red River in Fargo, North Dakota, is supposed to crest as much as 43 feet by Saturday, which means that city is on the precipice. We will go to the banks of the river live—next.

And later, Ana Marie Cox joins us to start designing our Palin/Steele 2012 t-shirts. We are going to make a mint.

First, though, One More Thing on budgets, they are on their stufficity, traditionally so boring as to make your eyes itch before causing you to fall into a deep, uncomfortable sleep. Occasionally, though, budgets have offered moments of political genius of one kind or another, including my personal favorite of the last 10 years.

Here is then-Governor George W. Bush offering this insight into what a budget is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: A budget with a lot of line items, there‘s a lot of pages, there‘s a lot of numbers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You know, it was a simpler time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The map of Europe is changing and without a single shot fired this time. Switzerland and Italy are peacefully redrawing their shared borders. Switzerland and Italy made a deal in 1941 that their border in the Alps near the Matterhorn would be defined by the tops of the glaciers there. The border would actually be the glacier ridge lines.

Now, thanks to global warming, the border is melting, which means it‘s moving—which makes for international awkwardness even if one of the two agreed parties is the Swiss. The new cognizant of global warming plan is to redefine the Swiss/Italian Alpine border so that it coincides with rock and not ice.

Next step for redrawing their borders because of global warming could be Italy‘s other Alpine neighbors, France and Germany. Now, they have quite a history of adjusting the border between them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In North Dakota and in Minnesota at this hour, Herculean efforts are underway to save lives and property as the Missouri River and the Red River get way too big for their bridges. The Red River is the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota, North Dakota‘s largest city, Fargo, is right on its banks. The National Weather Service says that within the next couple of days, the Red River is set to rise beyond the record flood level set in 1897, and it could stay that high for much of next week.

Volunteers from all over have filled millions of sandbags and are building dikes and levees to try to protect the city. The president declared a state of emergency in North Dakota on Tuesday. At least 50 staffers from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have already been dispatched. And emergency teams from the Coast Guard and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been deploying in airboats to evacuate people from already flooded areas.

Now, to the west of Fargo is Bismarck, North Dakota, the state capital, which is fighting not the Red River, but the Missouri River. Parts of Bismarck were under water today. Some neighbors in the capital city and nearby areas were evacuated.

Adding to all that drama is the specific way this particular flooding has to be fought in this particular area of the country at this time of year. Because these rivers aren‘t just rising, they are frozen and rising, which has created giant ice jams—three-foot thick blocks of ice, some the size of cars, piling up against one another like heck frozen over to make these ice jams the size of a football field. These jams effectively dam the river so it can‘t flow downstream, turning everything up stream from the jam into a huge reservoir, thus increasing the already massive flooding risk.

How do you handle a problem like that? Explosives, naturally.

The Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard and private demolition teams have been drilling holes in the ice and detonating explosions to try to break up the ice jams. This is where the Venn diagram of neat and scary intersect in today‘s disaster news.

Joining us now is NBC‘s Jay Gray in Moorhead, Minnesota, which is just across the river from Fargo.

Jay, thanks very much for joining us.

JAY GRAY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You bet, Rachel. Thank you.

A mess here as you described. Yes, they got a lot of work.

MADDOW: What‘s the status of the anti-flooding efforts right now?

What you can tell is being organized?

GRAY: Well, it‘s working around the clock right now. They are trying to raise those sandbag walls that you talked about, a foot higher with a new estimate that this river is going to crest this weekend at between 41 and 43 feet. They started with these walls at 41 feet, went to 42, and now they are going to 43 and hope to go higher.

The problem, obviously, they are running out of time. Really, just a day‘s work left and they really are just pushing as best they can.

This is what they are dealing with, Rachel. Take a look behind me. The water is moving up at a really fast rate and in to places it‘s never been. You see the bridge here, it‘s closed right now, but the waters move up, but below it, there‘s not supposed to be water here, it‘s a roadway. So, that‘s about 12 feet of water that‘s filling this right now.

I talked to locals here who said two or three days ago, they were driving on this road. Now, it is the Red River that‘s moved in and continues to move further into the city.

MADDOW: Jay, I know that in terms of sandbagging, one of the things that—one of the ways that sandbags work is that they are flexible enough to essentially give with one another .

GRAY: Right.

MADDOW: . to form an impermeable barrier. It‘s part of the issue with these cold temperatures now, that the sandbags are frozen and therefore rigid and they might not do the job?

GRAY: Yes, absolutely, Rachel. In fact, they‘ve gone to great lengths to heat the sand, heat the bags, working in warehouses with huge heaters to make sure they‘re pliable and getting them out right away and getting them in place.

The other problem is, they are laying some of these sandbags on ice, on sheets of ice, so it‘s shifting as well, which is causing some holes in some of the dikes. We saw that here today in Moorhead. We saw some water pouring through because things are shifting, because of that ice. That‘s going to continue to be a problem.

MADDOW: Jay, this is not something that‘s happening all of a sudden. The National Weather Service has been predicting what was going to be happening all along the way. There were huge floods in this area in 1997.

GRAY: Right.

MADDOW: What do you see in terms of how well-coordinated and well-organized the response effort is?

GRAY: I think it‘s been tremendously well-organized. And the effort here has been outstanding. We‘ve seen thousands of volunteers from all around the area, moving in and helping out wherever they can.

The problem is, they are simply running out of time. And with these revised estimates going upward, they have to build the walls higher, but you can‘t just go straight up. You got to support them from behind with those sandbags because the pressure is going to be intense.

And remember, it takes about twice as long for flood waters to recede as it does for them to build. So that pressure is going to continue for six or seven days. So, what they need to do is have a backlog of sandbags ready for these holes that pop up, problems, so they can move in and take care of things. It‘s just a really difficult time right now, but they are going around the clock and doing everything they can.

MADDOW: NBC‘s Jay Gray, very cold in Moorhead, Minnesota, on the banks of the Red River—thank you for joining us tonight, Jay. Appreciate it.

GRAY: You bet. Thanks.

MADDOW: While President Obama does an end run around the news media, his potential rivals are doing media their own way. Michael Steele is using the press to put out word about his secret master plan to deceive the press. Sarah Palin says she sees the media as the villain—again. Ana Marie Cox joins us in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: So, on the one hand, you have President Obama on a nonstop media blitz, promoting his budget. On the other hand, you‘ve got Sarah Palin and Michael Steele, talking about how the media just doesn‘t understand them.

As a member of the media, I hereby seek to understand. As long as it means I get to watch a lot of Michael Steele and Sarah Palin all the time. Ana Marie Cox joins us shortly with popcorn.

But, first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

Expectations are high for tomorrow‘s presumed announcement from President Obama about what it is we are doing in Afghanistan. Anonymous sources are telling the “Associated Press” that the president will unveil 20 strategic recommendations, including adding another 4,000 military trainers in addition to the 17,000 new troops President Obama has already ordered deployed to Afghanistan. That‘s all unofficial, of course.

If and when the president makes his Afghanistan announcement, you can be assured that we here at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW will cover it with an almost ridiculous, over-the-top obsessive interest in the details. I‘m sorry. I can‘t stop myself.

Meanwhile, as American attention turns toward Afghanistan, Iraq has sort of slipped from the headlines—which is why, today, the “New York Times” was able to bury an incredible new development about Iraq, eight paragraphs into a totally unrelated story about Iran. Literally, there‘s a headline about Iran dissing Obama and seven paragraphs about that.

And then, here‘s paragraph eight, quote, “Meanwhile, in Baghdad on Wednesday, Iraqi officials announced that work had begun to convert the city into a modern version of a walled fortress town.” Meanwhile? Yes, apparently, the capital city of Iraq, home to, roughly speaking, about 6 million people, is getting a new wall built all the way around it, medieval styley.

A spokesman for the Baghdad operations command of the Iraqi military says the plan is for there to be only four main entry points to the city at which people passing through will be systematically searched—you know, just like every other Jeffersonian beacon of the democracy in the world that is also a medieval walled city.

And a follow-up story for you. In February, Marisa Taylor at “McClatchy” newspaper has reported that the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Agency, spend over 100 grand chartering a private plane to fly its director to Bogota last year.

Why was that news-worthy? Well, the DEA has over 100 planes of its own, in its own little air force—which makes it a little strange that on top of those 100 planes, they would need to pay six figures to charter yet another one to fly their director somewhere.

The DEA special agent in charge of their aviation division said at

that time, quote, “Was it excessive? I guess you could look at it that

way, but I don‘t think so.” That same agent now appears in a new Marisa

Taylor “McClatchy” story about the DEA‘s air force, because he has apparent

he is apparently the guy who decided to buy the DEA three new planes—three new planes that were considered experimental by the FAA. It‘s like buying a t-shirt from the irregular bin if you were planning on flying that t-shirt somewhere at 30,000 feet.

Quote, “On the way from the manufacturer to the agency‘s aviation headquarters, one of them veered off a runway during a fuel stop. A month later, the windshield unlatched in mid-flight and smashed into the engine. Then, in a third incident on the same plane, a connection between the propeller and the engine came loose and forced an emergency landing.”

Wow! The planes have now been grounded and have reportedly been scheduled to be cannibalized so the DEA can sell them for parts.

This genius purchasing decision was reportedly made through the mysterious black earmark process that allows certain agencies to keep portions of their budget secret, usually for reasons related to spying. Apparently, these dodo bird planes were purchased for the State Department and then repurchased by the DEA.

We don‘t know more about this story yet because—you know, it‘s all secret.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In his first nine weeks in office, President Obama has made it clear that he intends to use the same media savvy he was famous for as a candidate to advance his policy agenda as president.

And lately, he has been everywhere. Today, the “Obama is everywhere” list got longer. More than 90,000 people submitted questions for an online presidential town hall today. More than 3 million people voted on what questions they wanted him to answer.

After that, Mr. Obama landed himself on Univision through a taped bilingual speech which was played during an awards show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: So enjoy the show, y para los nominados que se preguntan si esta sera su noche, les digo, si se puede.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: First, Farsi; now Spanish. The dude is everywhere and he is even there in the native languages. Now, to assess the political impact here, it is only fair to also look at how the president‘s perspective rivals are competing with his multilingual, multiplatform well-lit pitch-perfect talk to the men on the moon strategy.

Here, for example, is vice presidential nominee and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, starring in a handicammy YouTube speech she gave last week for her state‘s Republican Party. The state party just posted the video online. Here she is her describing the scene before her big vice presidential debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK): So I‘m looking around for somebody to pray with, I just maybe need a little help, maybe a little extra. And the McCain campaign, love them, you know, there are a lot of people around me, but nobody that I could find that I wanted hands with and pray.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The McCain campaign unable to meet the vice presidential nominee‘s prayer needs. News.

In totally unrelated news, did you see today that the McCain-Palin campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, just came out in favor of gay marriage, just like McCain‘s daughter, Meghan? Yes, he said he voted against Prop 8 in California on Election Day. But I digress.

Would-have-been vice president Palin also made clear that she thinks that she was not treated fairly during the campaign by the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: There was an unprecedented level of media slant, media involvement this go-around. And unless things change, the GOP had really better can stand together because we‘ve got that on the battlefield also.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So in terms of the competition here, there is Obama, president of all media; Palin, governor of no-media; and then there‘s also Michael Steele who I think of as the chairman of punk-the-media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I‘m very introspective about things. I‘m a cause-and-effect kind of guy. So if I do something, there‘s a reason for it. Even if it may look like a mistake, a gaffe, there is a rationale. There is a logic behind it.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Even with the current events and news?

STEELE: Yes.

LEMON: There‘s a rationale behind Rush and all of that stuff.

STEELE: Yes.

LEMON: You want to share with us?

STEELE: Sure. I want to see what the landscape looks like. I want to see who yells the loudest. I want to know who says they‘re with me, but really isn‘t.

LEMON: How does that help you?

STEELE: It helps me understand my position on the chess board. It helps me understand, you know, where the enemy camp is and where those who are inside the tent are.

LEMON: It‘s all strategic.

STEELE: It‘s all strategic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: See, on the landscape, there‘s the yelling into the chess board upon which is a tent for the enemy camp. Master plan.

Joining us now Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for Air America and columnist for “The Daily Beast.” Ana Marie, thank you for coming on the show.

ANA MARIE COX, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, AIR AMERICA: Always good to be here.

MADDOW: Is Michael Steele punking us right now? Am I falling victim to his wily, on-purpose media trap right now?

COX: It is a trap - I guess it is a trap to make us think he has a plan. I was thinking to add to the many metaphors that you have unearthed from his little speech that it is sort of like setting yourself on fire because you need to see better. Like it is that kind of strategy, I guess. I don‘t really understand it.

But I also don‘t understand it because all those so-called gaffes

I actually just - I kind of liked him, you know. The stuff he said in “GQ” article about people not being able to change the fact they‘re gay, about abortion being an individual choice.

I thought, “OK. Well, this is someone who actually wouldn‘t be a good leader for the Republican Party, who is saying things the Republican Party needs to hear. I thought they were gaffes in the classic Washington sense that he saying some things.

He was telling - actually telling the truth. But it turns out he

didn‘t mean that stuff either, so the stuff that I sort of liked he didn‘t

mean at all. And now what does he mean? I‘m very confused. I don‘t want

to drag us further into this sort of whirlpool, but -

MADDOW: It does seems like that it is an interesting strategy to imply that everything you have been doing thus far is part of a strategy, because then you can at least convince your opponent that you can bamboozle them at any moment just through the sheer complexity of your thinking?

COX: Maybe. I am confused if that is his goal. I admit total confusion. But also now, I don‘t know if I should believe anything he says. Apparently, it is part of preplanned strategy.

MADDOW: Yes.

COX: Whereas Sarah Palin - I don‘t think she is following any particular strategy. She seems to - and also, I didn‘t know the Alaskan Republican Party was small. But is it true they meet at the bottom of a well? I didn‘t see the video, but from the way it sounded, it was really kind of lonely.

MADDOW: Yes. We put subtitles on it so that you could tell. That is part of the amazing contrast here, just thinking about Democrats and Republicans in the country right now and who are the big recognizable, you know, household names.

You‘ve got Barack Obama literally speaking in Farsi in Iran and in Spanish on Univision and doing - I think 3 million for vote for his online chat. And then you‘ve got the Alaska Republican Party posting a handicam video of Sarah Palin complaining about the media. And those are sort of the two biggest names in politics.

COX: That‘s right. I thought it was cell phone video or something. Yes, I really didn‘t understand that. I also think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what there - the substance to what Sarah Palin was saying. I frankly don‘t believe her that she couldn‘t find anyone to pray with in the McCain campaign. Because believe me, towards the end, there was a lot of praying. There was a lot of praying happening.

MADDOW: You were on the campaign trail for a significant portion of the campaign. And she is essentially describing almost a culture clash between her and the McCain campaign people, this idea that they didn‘t have enough overtly religious people around, that anyone come to meet her prayer needs. But it is a strange tale to tell other Republicans about the campaign. But do you think there is any chance that that is true?

COX: I think that is not true. I have no personal recollection that would give that any support whatsoever. In fact, a couple of very senior McCain advisers are Evangelical Christians. And I also know that I‘ve heard from a few staffers recently - today, as a matter of fact, that said they‘re personally offended by her saying this.

It is not as though like she was alone. I think that if she wanted to pray, again, divine intervention was the only thing that was really going to work for them if they really wanted to win. So I think there was probably support for prayer.

It is true McCain himself is not a very overtly religious person. But I think it is just a weird slap in the face for her to say that about the people that she was working - supposedly working very hard to elect.

MADDOW: In terms of the people that you know from the campaign, too, let me also ask your reaction to this interview that Steve Schmidt did with the “Washington Blade” where he came out in support of gay marriage. Him holding that view isn‘t necessarily surprising. I don‘t think I thought that I knew anything about his personal political moves.

But it is an interesting move for him to have decided to do this interview with a gay paper and to come out on this policy issue in this way.

COX: Well, actually, immediately after the election, I did an interview with him where he talked about his support for gay marriage. And his sister is gay, actually, and lives in California. He lives in California. He feels very attached to this issue.

I do think it is interesting, you know, Republican consultants, win or lose, can go out and make a lot of money if they want to, give a lot of speeches. It‘s interesting Steve Schmidt has chosen to spend whatever political capital he gained from running the McCain campaign which - maybe it isn‘t a lot, but he has some. And he‘s chosen to spend it on this particular issue.

And his first big public appearance after the campaign is going to be at the log cabin Republicans convention here in Washington next month. I think it shows how strongly he feels about this issue. And I hope that it means something good for the Republican Party.

MADDOW: Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for Air America, columnist for “The Daily Beast.” Great to have your insight. Thanks for joining us.

COX: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Having tried to brand Barack Obama as a pal of terrorists and then as a socialist and then as a fascist, his political opponents appear to have now settled on a new catch-all condemnation. Oh, yes, the GOP in exile is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: As the Republican Party struggles to find its own meaning in the political minority, it is having a lot of fun coming up with dramatic labels for its opposition. Monday, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley calls the president‘s budget a, quote, “big trend toward socialism.” Tuesday, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal calls the president‘s policies, quote, “akin to those of European socialism.” Wednesday, Republican Minority Whip Eric Cantor doesn‘t dispute a suggestion to him that the country is in the grips of fascism.

And then Republican former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich says we are moving, quote, “towards a political dictatorship.”

So just this week, we‘ve had socialism twice, fascism and dictatorship. Also, he has huge ears. Those have to be tyrant ears, ears of doom. We must stop the evil Obama ear-size disaster.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In the category of phrases most likely to inspire the American people to say, “Yes, right. Sure, whatever,” the nominees are - number one, “You may already be a winner.” Number two, “Fair and balanced.” And number three, “Middle East peace process.” All phrases that we hear all the time. All things we don‘t believe will ever come to anything remotely like what they literally promise.

But here is something that might puncture the understandable cynicism here. Once upon a time, every Arab country in the world was in a state of war with Israel. And it wasn‘t just theoretical. The Arab-Israeli War, the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, war, war, war, war, war.

And Israel is not exactly at peace now. But in the first 30 years of its existence as a country, Israel fought full-on, army-to-army, hot wars with countries like Egypt and Syria and Jordan over and over and over again.

And then something remarkable happened. The leader of an Arab country, for the first time ever, took a trip to Israel and spoke at the Israeli parliament. And after a whole lot of negotiating and cajoling and according, much of it by Jimmy Carter, an Arab country signed a peace treaty with Israel.

Every other Arab country in the world had been in a state of war with Israel at that point for 30 years. And one leader, Egypt‘s Anwar Sadat, said he would sign the treaty. He would make peace. It took another 15 years until even one more Arab country would do that, and that was Jordan in 1994.

The original Egypt-Israel peace deal is 30 years old today and it is still in effect. So yes, Americans are cynical about this idea that there could ever be peace in the Middle East. Even the phrase “Middle East peace” makes us glaze over.

But when you get specific, when you think about how what happened 30 years ago today so unlikely, so incredible when you think about it, all the more so since that deal has held up for 30 years even while everything else that‘s happened in the Middle East has happened. It‘s got to kind of upset your sense of what is possible, right, of what might conceivably actually happen in our lifetimes.

Dr. Jehan Sadat is the widow of Anwar Sadat, the late president of Egypt who was assassinated by religious extremists in 1981. Mrs. Sadat has just written a new book called “My Hope for Peace.” I spoke with her earlier here in our studio.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW (on camera): Mrs. Sadat, thank you so much for joining us.

It‘s nice to meet you.

DR. JEHAN SADAT, WIDOW OF ANWAR SADAT: Thank you.

MADDOW: Americans do not hold out a lot of hope that there could ever be normal relations among the countries in the Middle East, not in our lifetimes. But you think there is reason to hope?

SADAT: Yes. I‘m very optimistic and I believe, because when you think when Sadat went to Israel, which is 30 years ago now, nobody could believe. Nobody believed him. Not in our country. All over the world, they couldn‘t believe that he is going to Israel and going to make peace and he did.

But he was such a very courageous leader who led in peace, who put the people above himself, who thought of the new generation to come and to be in a peaceful atmosphere. And he wanted to put an end to the bloodshed. He wanted to save his sons and Israeli sons also. He was ahead of his time.

MADDOW: Do you see parallels between the decision-making process that he had at that time and the debates that happened now about whether or not countries would engage with people who they see as their enemies. We had a big fight over that in American politics about whether or not Barack Obama should engage in diplomacy with countries like Iran. Do you see parallels?

SADAT: I think we can do - I think President Obama can do a lot. Because when you see President Carter did help in the peace process between Egypt and Israel, President Obama could do something also. I believe if wants - if he is sincere for making peace in the Middle East, he can do it.

MADDOW: In addition to the direct plight of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian cause is also a rallying point for all sorts of different Middle Eastern, Arab and Muslim politics. It‘s also a rallying point for religious extremists in the Muslim word.

One of the men incarcerated in conjunction with the assassination of your husband was Ayman al-Zawahiri who is the number two man in al-Qaeda. What is the future of religious extremism in Egypt? What is the future of religious extremism with relationship to the Middle East peace process?

SADAT: Believe me - believe me, if there will be peace between Palestinians and Israelis, all these extremists will not have any excuse to talk about. They are using this. They are using the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

And they are using it, but if there will be peace between them, I believe - we cannot say we are going to eliminate the terrorists. But they will come down completely.

MADDOW: One last question for you, you write in “My Hope for Peace,” in your new book, that the idea that there‘s a clash of civilizations, that‘s the west against Islam, that that is not true. It‘s not clash of civilizations, but you say that that misconception could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. What do you mean about that?

SADAT: I believe that there is misunderstood about Islam in the west, the whole west, not only in America - in Europe and everywhere, especially after 9/11. You think that most of the Muslims are - and I can see it and watch it on the TV here.

When they say Muslims, they are terrorists and things. We are 1.2 billion in the world - Muslims. If there will be 1,000, let us say even 5,000, 10,000 terrorists, well, the rest are very good Muslims, you know.

Islam is not a religion for revenge or for killing. It‘s forbidden in our religion to kill. And there are these terrorists - they use Islam but they are not Muslims. They don‘t belong to any religion, believe me.

MADDOW: Dr. Jehan Sadat, it is wonderful to meet you. Thank you for coming in.

SADAT: Thank you.

MADDOW: It‘s nice to meet you. Dr. Jehan Sadat is a tenure professor at the University of Maryland. Her latest book is called “My Hope for Peace.”

Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith Olbermann takes on Bill O‘Reilly and his conspiracy theories about the National Broadcasting Company.

Next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones. Plus, a cocktail moment about the first state to adopt an official cowboy song. And it‘s not Texas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Hi, Kent. What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. Well, “The Three Stooges” movie by the Farrelly Brothers is finally getting off the ground.

Here who‘s they are trying get for the roles - Benicio del Torro to play

Moe -

MADDOW: Yes.

JONES: Sean Penn as Larry, and Jim Carrey to play Curly. Now, Carrey is going to have to gain about 40 pounds to play that role. Box office analysts say this film is eagerly anticipated by millions of men and 12 women.

MADDOW: I would be one of them, I have to admit.

JONES: Yes, 13.

MADDOW: Surprise. I‘m the outlier.

JONES: Well, how would you like two more NFL games per season? League big shots are talking about this. And even better, to make room in the season, two lame-o preseason games would have to be cut. Here‘s Commissioner Roger Goodell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER GOODELL, NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE COMMISSIONER: I think there‘s a very strongly-held view internally. And I believe with our fans that they don‘t believe the preseason games are up to our standards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Really? I don‘t know. I kind of enjoy watching backup quarterbacks throw incomplete passes to rookies for a month. But then again, I like beer ponds.

MADDOW: What‘s the purpose of the preseason game? It‘s just like warming up - is that the thing?

JONES: I think it‘s to whittle down the team to the final roster.

MADDOW: They should do that privately.

JONES: Yes. And to bore us.

MADDOW: Yes.

JONES: So there‘s that. Finally, the old one-finger salute which I will not do - turns out it is legal. A federal judge this week ruled that a Pennsylvania man did not violate the law when he flipped up a motorist and a Pittsburgh cop who cited him for disorderly conduct. U.S. District Judge David Cercone said, quote, “The expressive use of the middle finger is protected speech under the First Amendment.”

And apparently, it‘s no barrier to stardom either. Except for - OK. That‘s not very nice. And Federline here in the end. From that guy, it is just rude.

MADDOW: It‘s just rude.

JONES: Don‘t do that.

MADDOW: I particularly like the happy face as the appropriate black eye box for the one-finger salute.

JONES: Completely legal.

MADDOW: Well done. All right. Kent, cocktail moment for you.

JONES: Yes.

MADDOW: It‘s sort of a follow-up cocktail moment. Last night, we talked about - my cocktail moment about Maryland maybe changing the lyrics of its state song.

JONES: Yes. Right. Right.

MADDOW: Gory stuff about northern scum.

JONES: A lot of Civil War anger in there, yes.

MADDOW: We had a huge response to that, interestingly. All over Twitter in terms of people writing about it online. So people were very into the state song issue.

JONES: OK.

MADDOW: And not coincidentally, another state song story for you tonight. It‘s actually about New Mexico. New Mexico has an official state song, the “Oh, Fair New Mexico.” The have an official Spanish-language state song. They have an official bilingual state song.

JONES: Good, good.

MADDOW: They have a state ballad. And now, they are the first - I think the first state in the country to adopt an official state cowboy song.

JONES: Yay!

MADDOW: Yes. It‘s called, “Under the New Mexico Skies” by a guy from Edgewood, New Mexico named Syd Masters who plays with The Swing Riders.

(MUSIC)

OK. I think it‘s awesome. Can we just - enjoy. Thanks for watching. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann is coming up right a few more seconds. The cowboy song of New Mexico.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END

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