updated 4/9/2009 10:24:19 AM ET 2009-04-09T14:24:19

Guest: Arne Duncan, Mary Beth Maxwell, Kevin Madden, Jamal Simmons, John

Feehery, Jonathan Alter, Rep. Joe Sestak

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED SCHULTZ, HOST:  I‘m Ed Schultz.  This is THE ED SHOW.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHULTZ:  Good evening, Americans.

Live from 30 Rock in New York City, it‘s THE ED SHOW on MSNBC.

Thanks for joining us tonight, folks.  Great stories coming up.

Public education in America, it‘s going to be getting more money than it has ever seen before.  What does it mean to your child?  The secretary of education is going to be joining us on the program tonight.

Labor activists are back on the offensive with a new TV ad. 

And gay marriage is now legal in four states.  Does this issue set the stable for the conservatives to make a political comeback? 

In “Psycho Talk,” yes, a U.S. senator rips President Obama on foreign soil, kind of like the Dixie Chicks did.  You know?

We‘ll have a great panel to talk about that tonight.

But first, tonight‘s “OpEd.”

No Child Left Behind, near and dear to my heart.  I come from a family of educators.  And I can tell you, doing these town hall meetings all over America, No Child Left Behind is on the minds of family, but it‘s also on the minds of local school districts.  All across the country, local school districts have had to deal with budget cuts, because the last eight years, they didn‘t get the federal money they were supposed to get. 

Don‘t you remember this deal that Ted Kennedy and George Bush got together, the president, and the hawk in the Senate, the lion, the liberal lion, Ted Kennedy?  They got and came up with this No Child Left Behind, and Senator Kennedy said, OK, I‘m going to meet you on this if you fund it, if you promise to fund it. 

Well, it was a different story for school districts across America.  They‘ve had to do budget cuts.  Local school districts have had to do some really tough voting on issues to eliminate programs, eliminate school projects, eliminate building projects, because the federal money never showed up. 

Well, folks, that might change now.  You see, in 2008, the number that we spent on education was $60 billion.  And all of this change that we‘ve been talking about in America, now here comes the Obama budget in 2009, where the numbers are going to change dramatically. 

It‘s going to go to $135 billion.  That‘s in ‘09. 

In ‘10, it‘s going to go to $146 billion.  Your tax dollars. 

Is this what you want?  You better believe it, because school districts, having not gotten the federal money, don‘t want to be cutting teachers. 

This recovery and stimulus package and reinvesting in America, this is going to save a lot of jobs in education, and that affects your family, that affects your child.  But here‘s what we need. 

This is one of these American issues, the foundation of a great country.  We‘ve got to have public education.  We have to make this work.  It‘s just not money that we‘re going to be throwing at it.  We‘ve got to throw a lot of heart and a lot of desire. 

We have to communicate to people who are in education right now, I believe, in colleges, why would they want to be teachers if we‘re not going to pay them a living wage?  Why can‘t we have a federal law where every teacher in America gets at least $40,000? 

Young people spend a lot of money going to college, and they leave college with a lot of debt.  Of course they want to have the American dream of owning a home.  They want to have the American dream of having that nice car made in America.  And they want to be able to pay their debts. 

How can they do that with starting teacher salaries as low as they are across the country?  Well, this is supposed to take care of all of that. 

But the main thing is, I believe we have to make a plea to the younger generation on how important this is and how we value this as a country.  Because, folks, if we don‘t talk to those who want to go into education, this is the tsunami that is coming that we‘re going to have to deal with in the next decade. 

Fifty percent -- 50 percent of those who are eligible for retirement are going to be taking it.  How are we going to replace these people if we‘re not going to pay the new folks that are coming into what is a very rewarding profession? 

You know, when I was growing up, my mother was a high school English teacher.  And I remember my mother grading papers until 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. 

I said, “Mom, why do you do that?”  Then, of course, she‘d get us up at 7:30 in the morning, get us all ready for school, and we‘d be off and going.  I said, “Mom, why do you do that?”

It was for the reward of teaching.  That‘s what my parents taught me. 

It was the reward of helping other people out. 

And we can‘t lose that fire.  We can‘t lose that vitality.  We can‘t lose that real passion in this country if we‘re going to save public education. 

Now, the conservatives, they are all about school vouchers.  They think these numbers that I showed you a moment ago are just way off the chart, taxpayers should not have to put up with this Obama plan, this is all a fraud. 

Let me tell you something, the fraud has already been committed on the American people with No Child Left Behind.  We made a deal with the last administration, and then they didn‘t fund it.  Now it‘s going to be up to the Obama administration to keep its word to the American people so these school districts don‘t have to make these gut-wrenching votes to cut teachers and facilities. 

There I one other number that is very startling that we are going to have to turn around in this country, folks, and that is, nationally, there‘s a 9.3 percent dropout rate.  Now, if we throw a bunch of billions of dollars at that, is that going to turn around?  But the startling thing is, ironically, there are children that are being left behind in some portions of the country.  And isn‘t it interesting it‘s in our inner city schools?

In Cleveland, the dropout rate is 66 percent.  In Indianapolis, it‘s 70 percent. 

This is staggering to me.  In Detroit, when kids come into the high school in the ninth grade, three out of four do not get a high school diploma. 

This is not America!  We are better than this. 

It‘s going to take a generational commitment if we‘re going to turn this around.  And, of course, you can go through all of the statistics that if you have a more educated population, you‘re not going to have the crime.  And that‘s another story I‘m going to have to do, just how many prisons do we have in this country? 

This guy behind me has got some heavy lifting to do, and we‘ve got to help him out. 

His secretary of education is with us tonight, Mr. Arne Duncan. 

Mr. Duncan, I have not had an opportunity to meet you, but I am certainly excited to have you on the program. 

And you‘ve got some big shoulders, I see.  You‘re going to need them, because this is going to be a heavy lift. 

ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY:  Thanks so much.  I really appreciate the opportunity. 

SCHULTZ:  You bet.

Mr. Secretary, all this money, is this actually going to get to local school districts?  We‘ve heard that song and dance before. 

DUNCAN:  It already is.  And as you said, one of the big issues of No Child Left Behind is, guess what?  They left the money behind.  And this is an historic investment in public education.

As you said, over $100 billion -- $5 billion for early childhood, over $70 billion for K-12, and over $31 billion to increase access and opportunity for students going on to higher education and college.  So there‘s never been a bigger influx of resources. 

I‘m just so thankful for the president‘s absolute commitment.  He totally understands that we have to educate our way to a better economy.  That‘s the only way we‘re going to get there. 

Congress has been extremely supportive.  And as I said earlier, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to dramatically improve the quality of education. 

We were facing an education catastrophe.  We were anticipating as many as 600,000 teacher jobs being lost.  That would have been an absolute disaster, and we‘re going to save literally hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs around the country, and we‘re going to push a very strong reform agenda, because as you said, we have to get dramatically better.  The status quo isn‘t good enough. 

But this is a fantastic time to be working on public education in America.

SCHULTZ:  Well, I‘ll tell you what, it‘s an awful lot of money to follow, there‘s no question about that.

OK.  Do you believe that this is going to hold teachers in the profession that might be thinking about retiring? 

DUNCAN:  It will.  And as teachers retire, we have a chance—that presents some challenges, Ed, but it presents some huge opportunities as well.  And we can bring this next generation of young leadership into the teaching profession.

So teachers that want to keep teaching, we absolutely want them to do that.  But teachers who want to retire, we need to bring that next generation of talent in. 

And so we‘re going to work very hard.  The president, the first lady, the vice president, his wife and myself, starting this fall, traveling the country and really talking about, if you want to serve the country, if you want to make a difference in students‘ lives, there‘s no more meaningful profession, there‘s no more noble profession than teaching.  And actually, one of the few benefits from such a tough economy is more and more folks are looking at the teaching profession. 

SCHULTZ:  Well, you know, that‘s a key point.  I hope that‘s the case, cause the starting pay across the country is not very good. 

Now, I want you to address the dropout rates -- 75 percent in Detroit.  I don‘t mean to pick on Detroit, but that‘s a microcosm of what we‘re seeing in a lot of big cities all over the country, which brings us to curriculum. 

Are we going to see an easier curriculum to turn this around, or is it just putting money to it that‘s going to change it? 

DUNCAN:  No, you can‘t water down the curriculum.

What‘s gone on in Detroit—and I‘ve been talking about this since the day I started my job—has been an educational travesty.  The education there is perpetuating poverty and perpetuating social failure.

The education system is a big part of the problem.  That has to change in Detroit specifically.  I‘ve been pushing for mayoral control.

You need—when things are so tough, you need everybody, the business community, the philanthropic community, the religious community, nonprofit, social service agencies.  Everyone has to rally behind the school children of Detroit.  That leadership has to come from the top.  There has to be fundamental and dramatic changes. 

SCHULTZ:  Well, OK, fundamental and dramatic change.  This is the $64 question, Secretary Duncan: Will the Obama administration scrap No Child Left Behind and start over?  Because there are so many frustrated educators, professionals across the country.  They are just throwing their hands up, and that‘s one of the reasons why they are leaving the profession. 

Will you scrap the program and start over? 

DUNCAN:  Well, I‘ve lived on the other side of the program for seven and a half years as the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, so I have very strong feelings about what worked and what didn‘t work.  And a big part of what didn‘t work was the unfunded mandates.

And again, over $10 billion going in for Title I, over $10 billion going in for ADA, for special education students.  So unprecedented resources.

But what I‘m going to do, Ed, is to really travel the country to listen and learn and talk to teachers and hear their frustrations, and talk to parents and talk to students.  And we‘ll come back later in the year with a really thoughtful bill.  And quite frankly, there need to be some fundamental changes, but the name itself I think is toxic.  The No Child Left Behind name fundamentally has to change, as well as some serious substance behind that as well. 

SCHULTZ:  All right.  But it sounds like the standards that have to be met, the testing that‘s being taken place, that‘s all going to stay in place? 

DUNCAN:  Well, I think we actually have to raise the bar. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.

DUNCAN:  I would argue, Ed, that in many states, we have dummied down standards.  And that is hurting children.  And I think, actually, you have to raise the bar. 

Our children, as you know, are competing for jobs with children in India and China.  And those students are going to school longer, being taught to higher standards. 

So the answer to the dropout crisis, the answer to our economy, is not to water things down.  It‘s to challenge students to do more, to have the height of expectations, but to provide the resources and support to help them get there, and to support great teachers and great principals.  As you said, keep them in the profession. 

SCHULTZ:  All right.  Secretary Duncan, good to have you on the program tonight.  We‘re going to follow this story. 

This is one of the benchmark issues on the Obama campaign, and a lot of people are counting on this money making a difference.  And your leadership is going to be key. 

Good to have you with us tonight on the Ed program.

DUNCAN:  Thanks so much.  We have an extraordinary opportunity ahead of us. 

SCHULTZ:  I think we do. 

Next up, the labor movement is on the offensive.  A new TV ad goes over the front office. 

You‘re going to want to see this one.  It debuts right here on THE ED SHOW, next on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Up next on THE ED SHOW, greed versus a living wage.  Could a new TV ad turn the tide for wage earners in America?  You‘ll see their TV ad first, only right here on THE ED SHOW next.

Plus, I‘ve got some issues with Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe.  He‘s overseas in Afghanistan and he‘s bad-mouthing the president.  That‘s coming up next on “Psycho Talk.”  You want to miss it.

Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Welcome back to THE ED SHOW.

This week, big media declared the Employee Free Choice Act dead, thanks to big flip-flops by Republican Senator Arlen Specter and also Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln.

You know what, folks?  I think there is still hope. 

Mark Warner, who is a moderate Democrat, wants a vote to come to the floor.  He says it should be debated on and voted on in the Senate. 

I tell you what, labor just isn‘t giving up.  Their new TV ad focuses on greed in the front office. 

You‘re seeing it first on THE ED SHOW.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  It‘s the Wall Street way of doing business.  Getting rich is everything. 

Reward yourself for failure.  Employees don‘t matter.  Exploiting them is acceptable.  Don‘t let get workers ahead. 

That‘s why think they deserve bailouts and bonuses for bringing our economy down, and then turn around and try to keep workers from joining unions to earn better wages and benefits. 

Don‘t let them get away with it.  Tell Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act now.  It‘s time the economy worked for everyone again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  Joining me now is Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work. 

Ms. Maxwell, this is a pretty aggressive ad.  It does drive home the point that there‘s a real difference between pay in the front office and pay with wager earners in this country. 

First of all, I want your take.  Is this issue dead or is it over? 

MARY BETH MAXWELL, AMERICAN RIGHTS AT WORK:  Oh, far from it, Ed.  And good evening.  Great to be with you tonight.  And great to see you on television. 

SCHULTZ:  Thank you. 

MAXWELL:  You know, it is about greed, plain and simple.  And this debate about the Employee Free Choice Act makes really clear a choice between getting pushed around by some of these same greedy corporations and greedy CEOs that frankly got us into this mess and standing up for workers. 

SCHULTZ:  Yes.  You know, it‘s interesting you use the word “greed.” 

I mean, is the message just going to be that simple?

And the polls that are out there right now show that the American people are in favor of this.  It would seem to me that you would drive that home quite a bit.  Fifty-three percent of the American people say that this is the right thing for workers. 

So what‘s the game plan down the stretch? 

MAXWELL:  That‘s right.  I mean, the majority of the American people support the Employee Free Choice Act, the majority in Congress.  The White House supports the Employee Free Choice Act.  We need commonsense policies like the Employee Free Choice Act that level the playing field for working people. 

These working people are not getting billion-dollar bailouts and big bonuses.  Right?  And that‘s part of what this ad highlights, is that contrast.  Right?

We need to say to our senators and representatives, don‘t be intimidated and pushed around by this big business lobby trying to threaten you around this campaign.  Stand up for working people and make the economy work for everyone again. 

SCHULTZ:  You lost some support this week.  You lost a key vote in Pennsylvania, centrist Republican, I think, Arlen Specter.  He‘s not going to go along with it. 

And then in Arkansas, the two senators down there, Lincoln and Pryor, are certainly not going to support it.  I don‘t think Pryor is.  And, of course, we found out earlier this week that Blanche Lincoln isn‘t going to go along those lines.

What are you going to do to get these votes back?  Or are these just votes that you‘re not going to be counting on?

MAXWELL:  Well, Ed, it‘s not over until it‘s over.  And we are not ruling out any senator or any representative until we are done passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

SCHULTZ:  So how much pressure do you put on them to get them back in the family? 

MAXWELL:  Well, I‘ll tell you what, just this week, during this recess, thousands of activists are participating in hundreds of events back home in their states and in their districts—rallies, town hall meetings, lobby visits, leafleting, sending a really clear message to their elected representatives that, we need you to stand up for working people and we need to make this economy work for everyone again. 

What we‘re also doing, we launched another big ad campaign last week featuring the faces and voices of America‘s workers.  And I think this is part of it. 

We‘ve got to contrast the greed of Wall Street with the real working men and women, right, who are affected by this issue dramatically.  This is the case of Cory Creek (ph), who‘s a worker from North Dakota, actually.  You k now, he‘s not getting a bailout, he‘s not getting a big bonus.  He‘s trying to make ends meet and support his family. 

SCHULTZ:  Is there any compromise at all that can be reached here?  You know, the unions are pretty dogmatic about this.  I mean, they want it, they want it their way.  This is the biggest issue they‘ve had in 40 years.  You know, you talked about these town hall meetings that are going to be taking place, these marches that are out there, these community meetings.

They‘re throwing a lot of money at this.  But is there any room for compromise? 

MAXWELL:  Well, you know what?  You know, any single piece of legislation—it‘s very rare that any legislation gets passed exactly word for word as it was originally written.  Right?

And so will there be good-faith conversations with folks who are serious about addressing the fundamental flaws in this broken system?  It‘s not OK that every single day in America, someone gets illegally fired.

So call me dogmatic, right, but that‘s what we‘re going to stand up for.  We are not going to compromise.  We are not going to compromise on winning a level playing field and real fairness for working people. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.  There‘s no doubt that there is a real difference in what has happened with wages in the front office and also the wage earners of America.  It‘s very clear what labor did to get the Democrats in power. 

How strong is labor going to be, in your opinion, when it comes to going up on that Hill and telling them if it wasn‘t for labor, you wouldn‘t be in the majority?  Are you going to call in the markers on the Democrats?

If you get every Democratic vote and Al Franken gets seated into the Senate, you win this issue.  If you don‘t, you can do this without any Republicans.  I mean, it would seem to me that you would want to do some really tough talk on the Democrats starting at the top and all the way through the ranks.  What about that? 

MAXWELL:  Well, Ed, we are going to win this issue.  And I have to say, you know, the labor movement, and not just the labor movement, but an incredible amount of allies are really united around the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. 

But I will say this: We are going to lead with these workers‘ stories.

SCHULTZ:  OK.

MAXWELL:  We are going to lead with, this is not OK, what happens to people every single day in America.  And it is not OK for these Wall Street guys to be campaigning against the Employee Free Choice Act when they‘re getting billions of dollars of bailouts for themselves. 

SCHULTZ:  Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of the American Rights at Work.

Great to have you with us tonight.  I can guarantee you it‘s an issue that‘s got my passion.  I mean, I want this thing to pass.  We‘ve got to do this. 

Good to have you with us tonight. 

MAXWELL:  Thanks, Ed. 

SCHULTZ:  You bet.

Next up on THE ED SHOW, “Psycho Talk.”  Republican Senator James Inhofe plans the president on YouTube from Afghanistan?  He says the president is “disarming America”?

Buddy, you‘re criticizing the president on foreign soil. 

Congratulations, Senator.  That qualifies as unpatriotic “Psycho Talk.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Women welcome back to THE ED SHOW.

Have you heard some of the crazy things that are being said by conservatives? 

It‘s time for “Psycho Talk.”

All right.  Hold it. 

First of all, I‘ve got to clarify with my audience here tonight, there‘s so much material out there, we don‘t know where to start.  So this is just one of about 10 stories.  OK?

Now, in today‘s “Psycho Talk,” a member of our Congress going on foreign soil, slamming the president.  Real nice here, isn‘t it?

Now, it‘s not just any foreign soil, it‘s in a war zone.  Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe YouTubed from Afghanistan yesterday, accusing President Obama of “gutting the military.”

He spoke on the tarmac of an American military runway.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES INHOFE ®, OKLAHOMA:  I can‘t believe what we heard today.  Here we are in Afghanistan right now, with our men and women in uniform, in harm‘s way, and we hear an announcement we‘re gutting—and I would say gutting—our military. 

The only thing in the budget that‘s being cut is the military.  The announcement today that we‘re not going to be able to carry through with the responsibilities that we have to these guys right here in Afghanistan.  We owe it to these guys right here in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  And Inhofe took “Psycho Talk” to even a further level on his Web site, saying that President Obama is “disarming America” to support his welfare state?

Senator, a lot of Americans, especially me, consider that a real cheap shot. 

Now, we should point out that Oklahoma stands to lose a lot of money if the Pentagon goes through with this, and it would end up cutting the future combat system that Oklahoma‘s connected to. 

Now, you have to point out, folks, and you have to realize that this is all part of a pattern that the antis like Inhofe, Cheney and Giuliani have tried to come up with to make the case that America is less safe with President Obama.  Inhofe‘s claim, it‘s a budget cut.  That is absolutely false. 

Folks, it‘s a budget increase by four percent. 

Anything that‘s false on my show qualifies as “Psycho Talk.”

Vermont has become the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriages.  How many more states are going to follow?  Is this an opening for the conservatives that they need to jump-start their political comeback? 

We‘ll talk about it up next on THE ED SHOW.

Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Welcome back to THE ED SHOW.  This month, two more states have legalized same-sex marriage, including Iowa, the first state outside New England to do so.  Conservative forces are already sounding the alarm that if you love America, if you love your freedom, you better watch out for gay marriage, the gay marriage monsoon.  It‘s coming, complete with dark skies and lightning, all of that stuff.  We should all be afraid, be very afraid of ads like this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s a storm gathering. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The clouds are dark and the winds are strong. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Some who advocate for same-sex marriage have taken the issue far beyond same-sex couples. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They want to bring the issue into my life. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My freedom will be taken away. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m a California doctor who must chose between my state and my job. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m part of a New Jersey church group punished by the government because we can‘t support same sex marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am a Massachusetts parent, helplessly watching public school teach my son that gay marriage is OK. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  Well, Republicans and scare tactics seem to go hand in hand.  The GOP is looking for something to help bring them out of the political wilderness.  Will they go back to rallying against gay marriage?  Let‘s put it to our panels tonight, Jamal Simmons, Democratic strategist and former DNC communications adviser.  Also with us tonight, Republican strategist John Feehery, founder and CEO of the Feehery Group.  And Kevin Madden joins us tonight, former senior adviser to Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaign and managing director at the Glover Park Group. 

Kevin, let‘s start with you tonight, if we may.  How big of an opportunity is this for the conservative—the social conservatives of this country to get back on their game? 

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, I think social conservatives within the Republican party structure are always looking to cease on issues that can help draw the contrast between the major parties rather than muddy them.  Obviously, this is one of those issues.  Many conservative, those are where there is a great deal of voter intensity on this issue—many conservatives feel that this is an issue that clearly defines us from the Democrats. 

They also believe that it is one that there is an opportunity as the rallying point to make the case for stronger families.  So I think that you‘re going to see a greater degree, a calcification around this issue, once again. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.  Jamal, you know, the Democrats, it didn‘t seem to hurt them in the last issue and everyone knows where they stand on this issue.  How would the Republicans turn it to their favor to bring new people to their party? 

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I‘m not sure there‘s really going to be able to do that.  Gay marriage is one of these issues that people are against a lot more in principle or philosophy than they are in reality.  The minute you start talking to them about their barber down the street or their neighbor or somebody at the church who wants to be partnered, they sort of lose some of the heat around this issue of whether or not two people ought to be together. 

The real problem here though is that you‘ve got one group of people who want to make sure that they have the same legal rights as everyone else in America.  Then you have another group of people who think that, well, maybe marriage is a religious institution that is between a man and woman, and you‘re going to tell them that you have to make it legal. 

I think maybe the answer is the government should be out of the marriage business altogether.  Government should legalize unions.  Churches can marry whoever it is they want.  Get the government out of legalizing a religious ceremony. 

But let‘s figure out—I think the Republicans are kind of on a little bit of a witch hunt here that I don‘t think Americans really care about, when their wallets or 401(k)s are being damaged. 

SCHULTZ:  John, are you concerned about this from a political stand point?  Four states, there‘s probably going to be more coming.  What do you think?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I would disagree with you, Ed.  I don‘t think it‘s a Republican issue.  I think it‘s a grass roots conservative issue.  It‘s not only an issue of marriage, but it‘s also an issue of the courts and the courts deciding over the American people and having the American people make a decision. 

This is where Democrats are concerned about this issue, because it‘s a grass roots issue.  If you look at what happened in California, that is a pretty liberal state.  But what happened, Barack Obama won the state, but conservatives, not only white conservatives, but African American conservatives and Hispanic conservatives all said that this was not a legitimate right for people.  And they voted against gay marriage. 

So for the Democrats, I think they are very concerned.  This is a conservative grass roots issue, and not necessarily a Republican issue. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.  Kevin, obviously—

SIMMONS:  You come on here every—

SCHULTZ:  Go ahead.  Respond to it. 

SIMMONS:  Every Democratic nominee for the president has been against gay marriage.  Pro civil union, but not for gay marriage. 

SCHULTZ:  Right. 

SIMMONS:  So it‘s hard to draw that line, because most Americans are also in that same position. 

SCHULTZ:  Kevin, I want to ask you, though, is a wedge issue still going to be a factor at the midterm? 

MADDEN:  You know, I don‘t see it as a wedge issue.  I see it as a values issue.  And John is right.  I think the way it activates grassroots conservatives in many of these states, it‘s going to have a factor on possibly some congressional races, but also I think it has to do with the issue matrix. 

There‘s a great risk if Democrats go too far ahead on this, by championing it.  As well there‘s a great risk by Republicans going too far ahead on championing it.  The reason being is that economic anxieties are what is driving voter sentiment right now, rather than a lot of these issues like social issues. 

SCHULTZ:  Fellows, stay with us.  We‘re going to come right back and talk more about other issues. 

Tomorrow night, folks, you won‘t want to miss the debate.  The maker of this ad will be here on THE ED SHOW to square off against the Human Rights Campaign. 

Up next, wait until you hear this.  Vice President Joe Biden swings back at Dick Cheney.  Biden says Cheney is dead wrong criticizing President Obama.  I think Biden is right on this one, and I‘ll tell you why, next up on THE ED SHOW, on MSNBC.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Welcome back to THE ED SHOW.  Time for the playbook.  Time for the play book.  All right?  Now, I‘m a guy that played football and I kind of knew the rules.  This is a guy that has always played by a different set of rules, Dick Cheney.

Folks, there‘s a pattern with the anti‘s in this country, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani.  They have really been propping themselves up as the security hawks in America.  They try to make the case that America is less safe under President Obama. 

Let me make one profound point here.  There are some people who have access to the information and others who do not.  On this issue, Dick Cheney is an all-American nobody.  He‘s not speaking from a factual basis.  He doesn‘t get the CIA briefings.  He doesn‘t get the intel briefings.  He doesn‘t get the counter-intelligence briefings.  He doesn‘t know what operations are going on.  Here is just flat out wrong.

Here is Vice President Joe Biden speaking about Cheney on CNN‘s “Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Was Dick Cheney out of line? 

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t think he was out of line, but he was dead wrong.  This administration—the last administration left us in a weaker posture than we‘ve been any time since World War II, less regarded in the world, stretched more thinly than we ever had been in the past, two wars underway, virtually no respect in entire parts of the world. 

So we‘ve been about the business of repairing and strengthening us.  I guarantee you, we are safer today; our interests are more secure today than they were any time -- 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We are more safe? 

BIDEN:  We are more safe.  We are more secure. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  You know, as Americans we‘re getting better at identifying rhetoric.  Who has the information?  It‘s not Dick Cheney.  Joining me now is Jonathan Alter, senior editor of “Newsweek Magazine.”  Jonathan, great to have you with us on THE ED SHOW tonight.

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  Thanks Ed, congrats on your new show. 

SCHULTZ:  Thank you and thanks for being here. 

Should the administration even pay attention to what Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani and, in this case, Dick Cheney has been saying? 

ALTER:  I think you have to.  These guys still have a pretty big microphone.  They can go to the media.  They can get attention.  And it can‘t be left unanswered. 

But to me, there is something that is really perverse about this particular charge that they are making, that we are less safe because Barack Obama is president.  What they are essentially doing, Ed, is they are doubling down on the idea of another attack.  They are putting a lot of chips on this, so that if there is another attack, suddenly they look like prophets.  They were right about Obama; he was weak; everything that they predicted came true. 

And I think it‘s kind of sick to bet on another terrorist attack, and a little bit un-American, actually. 

SCHULTZ:  Are they going too far?  They don‘t have the information.  They are not in on the latest briefings.  They don‘t know what the Obama administration is doing tactically? 

ALTER:  They are entitled to have their own views about the utility of torture.  We know that Dick Cheney believes that they get actionable intelligence out of enhanced interrogation techniques, out of torture.  There are an awful lot of other people, including an awful lot of people in the military, who think he‘s simply wrong about that. 

SCHULTZ:  But this is his opinion? 

ALTER:  That‘s his opinion.  That‘s his opinion.  He‘s entitled to his opinion.  What he‘s not entitled to do, which former President Bush has not done, is to say that Barack Obama makes you less safe.  That is a toxic charge.  And it‘s really out of bounds. 

SCHULTZ:  Do you see former President Clinton getting in the mix or Jimmy Carter?  I mean, it‘s Partisan divide?  Do you think anybody will come to the administration‘s defense outside of the administration? 

ALTER:  Well, if they are asked, they will say that—the same thing the vice president said, that this is dead wrong.  I hope they are strong about it.  It‘s not just dead wrong.  It‘s garbage in our politics, because what it does is it takes us into that zone where we actually have—I‘m not saying that the Republicans want there to be a terrorist attack.  But they are positioning themselves so that they benefit from a terrorist attack.  That‘s wrong. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.  We all know that the techniques, in the view of this administration, totally different from the last administration.  We have a situation unfolding right now in Iran.  There is a hostage.  There is an American woman who is being charged with espionage.  Does it matter that we don‘t torture anymore?  Does it matter that the Obama administration has made it very clear how we are going to respect human rights and the rule of law? 

ALTER:  Does it matter in terms of—

SCHULTZ:  Yes, I mean—you know, I hope the Iranians treat Roxana Saberi with a great deal of respect. 

ALTER:  Yes.  I don‘t have a lot of confidence in the Iranian government right now.  I don‘t think that we can necessarily figure out the way the signals that we send play in Iranian politics.  It was smart of the president to send a conciliatory message.  And Giuliani was completely wrong when he said it was a weak message.  It was a simple and effective and diplomatic message to try to give the moderates in Iran a little bit of breathing room. 

There‘s a very important election coming up in June in Iran.  It‘s quite possible that Ahmadinejad will be out, and that a more moderate leader will come into power in Iran, which would be a great day for the world.  And I think you‘d see their prisoners treated much better if that took place. 

SCHULTZ:  Jonathan, good to have you with us tonight. 

ALTER:  Thanks, Ed. 

SCHULTZ:  Thanks so much.  MSNBC political consultant and also with “Newsweek,” Jonathan Alter.

March Madness isn‘t all about men.  I want to take just a second to talk about the women, the ladies of U-Conn, went to the NCAA playoffs undefeated.  They didn‘t settle for anything less against Louisville.  U-Conn won 76-54.  What an amazing season.  They went 39 and zero, winning every game by double digit margins. 

It‘s the third perfect season for the U-Conn women, and their sixth national championship.  Way to go, ladies. 

Coming up, Iran‘s president says he welcomes talks with the United States.  Can we honor a conversation with Iran?  Up next, the answer from Congressman Joe Sestak.  He used to be a three star admiral.  Now he‘s a Congressman from Pennsylvania.  This is THE ED SHOW on MSNBC.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Welcome back to THE ED SHOW. Iranian President Ahmadinejad said today that he welcomes talks with the United States that are based on honesty.  He also threw down the gauntlet, saying “if, god forbid, the extended hand has an honest appearance, but contains no honesty in content, it will meet the same response the Iranian nation gave to Mr. Bush.” 

The Obama administration announced today that it will engage with Iran in a new way.  The United States will be at the table when the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany talk to Iran.  That‘s a reversal of the Bush policy.  Here‘s the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Undersecretary Bill Burns is now participating in the P-5 Plus One as a full participant, not just as an observer.  There‘s nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its effort to obtain a nuclear weapon. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  Are honest discussions possible with Iran?  Joining us now is retired Admiral, now Congressman Joe Sestak from Pennsylvania.  Congressman, great to have you with us tonight. 

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Thank you, Ed.  Good to be here. 

SCHULTZ:  How serious is this from the standpoint that we do have a reversal?  Do you anticipate anything can change in dealing with Iran? 

SESTAK:  I think we‘ve got a good probability that things may work out for our betterment.  Here‘s why: I have seen no reason why we could not sit down with this nation, Iran, and discuss things.  That doesn‘t mean having a cup of tea.  It means sitting down, laying out what our goals, and having sanctions, carrots and sticks, as necessary.  We‘ve done it with the Soviet Union.  How can we not do it with Iran.

Second, there are common interests that we have.  General Eikenberry, when he was the three star military commander in Afghanistan, and left there two and a half years ago, came before the Armed Services Committee.  And I asked him, general, does Iran have common interest as ours in Afghanistan?  He said absolutely. 

They don‘t want the Sunni al Qaeda there.  They don‘t want instability.  So if there are common interests, and that‘s why the president has made, as part of the compact groups on Afghanistan—Iran, he said, will be a member.  He will invite them—that we can work towards common interest. 

But then you come to the big issue.  How can we work to make it a common interest that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon?  And that‘s where the conundrum begins.  But not sitting down and discussing it means not trying to resolve it peacefully. 

SCHULTZ:  Congressman, don‘t you think the Russians play a big role in this?  They have a lot of deals cooking with the Iranians.  And there‘s a long history here. 

SESTAK:  Absolutely.  That letter that President Obama reportedly wrote to Russia, to say, look, we may rethink our posture on missile defense in Europe if you will put pressure on Iran and not have it pursue a nuclear weapon, was also seen in his proposal by Secretary Gates the other day, kind of hidden within it. 

What he said in his speech also, when he was Prague, is that we will look for a cost efficient, as well as an effective missile defense, if needed, there.  That could mean that we could trade off—this is my example—the missiles that are sitting in Poland, were to sit in Poland, and place them on Aegis ships at sea that have a similar capability. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.  I want to ask you about military procurement, if I can.  First of all, the budget.  Are you OK with the Obama budget?  There‘s a four percent increase.  And you see Republican Senator from Oklahoma, Inhofe, he‘s attacked the president‘s budget, saying we‘re disarming America.

SESTAK:  Far, far from it.  This is something that should have been done years ago.  In fact, Secretary Rumsfeld was bent upon the needed transformation of our military before we went into this tragic misadventure in Iraq.  This is the exact change we need. 

Why?  From the beginning, we are starting to say military prowess is no longer going to be measured in how many ships, planes you have, but in the ability to know where the adversary is.  Imagine if we had pursued over the past couple of years the unmanned air vehicle that the Navy has just about ready to come out, that could dwell over the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia, that could look down and see those pirates before they got to that merchant ship out there today.  What a change we could have. 

SCHULTZ:  Congressman, great to have you with us.  We love you brining you on the program, former admiral, three-star.  I think you know what you‘re talking about.  A lot of people listen to you.  Thanks so much.   

SESTAK:  Thanks for having me, Ed. 

SCHULTZ:  Let‘s bring our panel back in for this, Jamal Simmons, John Feehery and Kevin Madden.  Kevin, is there hope with the Iranians at all?  What do you think?  

MADDEN:  My biggest worry here, Ed, as a conservative and as a Republican, is that we are engaged in a bit of one-way diplomacy here.  We are making concessions to the Iranians when they haven‘t made any concessions towards us.  Just the language that—

SCHULTZ:  But do you go along with the change?  Do you go along with this change, a new strategy?  Would that work, do you think? 

MADDEN:  Well, look, I think the best way to force Iran to comply with the international community is to bring the full force of the diplomatic Corp of the international community to continue to enforce very strong requirements on them that they disclose what they are doing with their nuclear capability, and that we have a greater—rather than having—sitting with them at a table and making concessions on a one-way street. 

SCHULTZ:  Jamal, this is a big play by the Obama administration early on, talking about reducing nukes and talking to the Iranians.  How big of a play is it, do you think, politically? 

SIMMONS:  You know, Barack Obama has been running—actually, ever since he gave the speech in 2004, he‘s been talking about the same platform.  There is more that unites us than divides us.  He‘s looking for common ground with people. 

Now, I don‘t think he‘s naive.  And everybody that says O-Bambi and all those things that people call them—listen, Barack Obama has won every tough fight that he‘s been faced with.  I think this guy is very smart.  He understands how to engage people.  And he wants to make sure that we are going to open the door to real talks and negotiations, because the United States cannot be at war with everybody in the world.  They have tried that for the last eight years and it hasn‘t worked. 

SCHULTZ:  John, you get the final word on this tonight. 

FEEHERY:  It‘s very difficult to negotiate with a regime that wants to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth and wants to build nuclear weapons to do it.  I think it‘s very risk for Barack Obama.  If he doesn‘t stand tough against the Iranians, I bet you the Israelis do. 

SCHULTZ:  But as a conservative, John, do you agree with this shift in policy, how we‘re handling the Iranians? 

FEEHERY:  I think it‘s very risky.  And I think that we ought to think twice if we want to trust the Iranians, because I don‘t think that they are trustworthy. 

SCHULTZ:  Gentlemen, good to have you with us, tonight.  Thanks so much, Kevin Madden, John Feehery and also Jamal Simmons. 

Finally, tonight, an update on Roxana Saberi, a Fargo woman, who was arrested in January in Iran, where she has been working as a freelance journalist for the BBC and NPR.  Roxana was an honor student at Fargo North High School.  She‘s a former Miss North Dakota.  Roxana‘s parents were allowed to meet with their daughter on Monday in Tehran‘s prison, where she has been held, accused on being a spy.  Her attorney says her case will be heard likely next month by Iranian Revolutionary Corp. 

Roxana‘s father Reza says he‘ll stay in Iran until her case is resolved.  I just hope the Iranians treat Roxana Saberi with respect.  The new way this administration views captivity and the rule of law should definitely be considered. 

That‘s THE ED SHOW TONIGHT.  I‘m Ed Schultz.  Thank you for joining us.  For more information on THE ED SHOW, go to Ed.MSNBC.com, or check out my website for the radio show, syndicated nationally, WeGotEd.com.  We have a great show for you coming up tomorrow.  Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut will join us live.  Looking forward to the conversation on the finances of this country, and what he thinks we have to do moving forward when it comes to regulation. 

“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now.  Sitting in for the vacationing Chris Matthews, my good friend, David Shuster.

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