updated 8/19/2009 9:13:43 AM ET 2009-08-19T13:13:43

Guests: Jane Hamsher, Kent Jones, Richard Trumka, Bill Maher, Kent Jones

           

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you very much for that.

And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

What a difference a day makes.  Yesterday‘s big, bad news for the prospect of health care reform was that the public option was dead—the idea that Americans should have the choice of joining a program, like Medicare, if they wanted to instead of private insurance.  It had run into Republican opposition and the Democrats looked like they have decided to fold.

Over the weekend, representatives of the White House and the president himself floated the idea that the public option would not necessarily have to be included in health care legislation in order for the president to sign it.  The president had previously described that as a must.

So, after this weekend, cue the howls of protests from Democrats, liberals and just from people who thought we were really going to get real health care reform this year.

Just one day later—hello, public option again.  Missed you while you were gone.

Take Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  Over the weekend, here‘s what she had to say about the public option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES:  I think what‘s important is choice and competition.  And I‘m convinced at the end of the day the plan will have both of those.  But that is not the essential element.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The public option, not the essential element.  That was on Sunday.  Secretary Sebelius today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEBELIUS:  Here‘s the bottom line: Absolutely nothing has changed.  We continue to support the public option that will help lower costs, give Americans and consumers a choice and keep private insurers honest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was easy.  Nothing‘s changed.  Forget what I said about the “not the essential element” thing.

Over the weekend, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered this wiggle room on the public option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  What the president has always talked about is that we inject some choice and competition into the private insurance market.  The president has thus far sided with the notion that this can best be done through a public option.

HARRY SMITH, ABC NEWS:  OK, thus far sided with.

GIBBS:  I think most of all.

SMITH:  Is that—is that a hedge?

GIBBS:  No, no, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  No, no, no.  The president has thus far sided with the public option—thus far.

Today, very different, even though he says it‘s not at all different. 

Check out the difference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIBBS:  I think the president has discussed the public option is his preferred method to add choice and competition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  . we are understanding.

GIBBS:  That is what we have said—that‘s what we said in June. 

That‘s what we said in July.  That‘s what we said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK.  So, working from that premise, which we all can agree on is the stated position today.

GIBBS:  We can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The stated position today.

And then there‘s the president himself.  On Saturday, President Obama seemed to be setting up the first nail for the coffin of the public option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The public option, whether we have it or we don‘t have it, is not the entirety of health care reform.  This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Whether we have or we don‘t have it.  That was President Obama speaking on Saturday.  Today, his communications director for his health reform effort put it quite differently—while again insisting that nothing has changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LINDA DOUGLASS, W.H. COMM. DIRECTOR FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM:  Nothing has changed.  The president has always said he wants to lower costs, choice and competition.  Public option is a good way to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Nothing has changed.  Nothing has changed.

OK.  So I guess the public option is not dead at all.  It was all just a big misunderstanding.  Nothing has changed.

Of course, in terms of what the White House is saying about the public option, things really have changed.  It‘s been quite a change over the last 24 hours.  The public option has been retrieved from under the bus where it was thrown this weekend.  It‘s been dusted off and the White House is now saying, let bygones be bygones.

Things really have not changed, however, in the U.S Senate.  Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat who‘s been at the center of the health care legislation debate, had this to say about the public option this weekend...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA:  There are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option.  There never have been.  So, to continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  No votes—never have been.  That was Sunday.

Senator Conrad today is actually saying exactly the same thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONRAD:  There have never been the votes in the United States for public option.  That‘s just a fact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The White House may be back to supporting a public option. 

But the key Democrats in the Senate, Democratic senators like Kent Conrad -

no.  They are not on board with the public option.  They are saying it‘s not even possible.  They do not seem to be changing their mind about it.  Not yet at least.

           

But behold, in the other house of Congress, in the House of Representatives, we have spotted that rarest of all political animals, long thought to have been extinct.  It is the liberal hard-liner.

Liberal Democrats in the House are now coming forward to draw a line in the sand to say no public option, no support from them.  No public option, no votes from them.  Sixty House Democrats have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that says, quote, “Any legislation that moves forward through both chambers and into a final proposal for the president‘s signature, MUST contain a public option.”  The all caps on “MUST,” that‘s their emphasis, not mine.

For the record, that is 60 Democrats in Congress, explicitly saying they will vote “no” on any legislation that does not include a public option.  Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York puts that number even higher, saying perhaps 100 House Democrats would be willing to vote against the bill that doesn‘t include public option.

Democrats drawing a line in the sand against conservatives in their own party.  Democrats playing hardball from the progressive side.  Pinch me.  I‘m dreaming.

Joining us now is Jane Hamsher, founder and publisher of Firedoglake.  She and other activists have spearheaded a effort to get Democrats to pledge to vote no on any health care reform that doesn‘t have public option.

Jane, it‘s great to see you.  Thanks for joining us.

JANE HAMSHER, FIREDOGLAKE.COM:  Thanks for having me here, Rachel.

MADDOW:  How many Democrats have pledged to make their vote for health care reform contingent on the public option?

HAMSHER:  Publicly now, I think we‘re at about 65.  We started our effort in June, on June 23rd, after it became clear that Rahm Emanuel and Max Baucus were trying to deal a public plan away to the AMA, the hospitals, pharma, in exchange for keeping the money out of Republican coffers in 2010.

So we said, “Look, we‘ve got progressive members of the House who were elected by, you know, 20, 30 points, who live in very strong progressive districts and President Obama ran on this.”  And we want them to commit to vote against any bill that doesn‘t contain a public plan.  And that means no co-ops and no triggers.

And it‘s been a long slog and it looks like this all just happened in the past 24 hours, but it didn‘t.  This is the result of thousands and thousands of people quietly calling their members, showing up at their events and in their offices, while the tea baggers were waving guns and screaming about birthers and “death panels,” progressive people who read our blogs, along with credo and democracy for America, showed up at these members‘ offices and said this is what we expect of you.

So when they tried to throw the public plan under the bus, we were ready.  They were ready.  It was a grassroots movement to push them and they said and did the right thing.  They stood by their districts.

MADDOW:  When you started this at the end of June, you called this the “Whip Count Project,” which implies that you think this is what Democrats ought to be doing on Capitol Hill so that people don‘t have to be doing it from the trenches and from the blog world.

Do you feel like you‘re sort of giving Democrats a lesson in leadership in terms of how to keep—how Democrats can get more of what they say they want from policy?

HAMSHER:  Well, I think that the blue dogs actually do this very well.  It‘s the progressives that haven‘t done this very well.  They sort of ceded control over their caucus to the White House, to Rahm Emanuel, and kind of fallen in line every time they said, you know, vote for some crappy bill, like Waxman-Markey, the big coal bailout bill.  And they‘ve had their arms twisted, and they got along, get along.

But progressives have come together and said, health care is too important.  People really, really care about this.  They really, really did go out and work to get Barack Obama elected because they want to be delivered from oppression to BlueCross and WellPoint.  They want to have a public plan where they can go and get reasonable insurance rates, and they want that plan to be able to negotiate at the federal level—just like Walmart does for drug prices—so that we‘re not forced to pay these outrageous rates to pharma and the hospitals and everything else.

And good on the progressives, they have stood up and they have stood together.  And the number they have come together can defeat a bill if it doesn‘t have a public plan.

You have to remember, the public wants this.  The president campaigned on it.  We have the majority in Congress.  We have 60 votes in the Senate.  There‘s no reason that we can‘t deliver this.

MADDOW:  How deep is this line in the sand, Jane?  Is it better to have, say—let‘s say, what‘s on the table is a big expansion of Medicaid, and a ban on discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions and private insurance, things like that, that progressives would agree would be some form of progress but no public option, no major reform of health care.  Some of those issues that were positive but would be fiddling around the edges compared to a wholesale reform.

Would it be worth saying no to those forms of progress in order to try to get a public option that may not come?

HAMSHER:  Why do we have to bailout BlueCross and WellPoint to do it?  It‘s the same thing that happened with the banks?  Why do we have to give AIG and Goldman Sachs all of this money as the price for bailing out the financial system for keeping it afloat?

These are the people who created this problem, who created a situation where Americans are denied medical treatment—even when they have full medical coverage.  They are forced to go into bankruptcy in order to be able to treat themselves.  That‘s not OK.

And we shouldn‘t be forced and mandated to buy insurance from these people as the price of having this happen.  That wasn‘t what the president campaigned on and people are very emotionally attached to this.  They are not going to give it up.

And the progressives in their districts know now that they have to vote to represent their constituents—just like we were always told, the blue dogs have to be allowed to vote their districts.  Progressives with the 30-vote, you know, majority in their district towards the Democrats need to know that they have to vote their districts, too.

MADDOW:  Jane Hamsher, founder and publisher of Firedoglake, tonight‘s representative of the supposedly mythical liberal base.

Jane, it‘s great to have you on the show.  It‘s nice to see you. 

Thanks for joining us.

HAMSHER:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, exactly what role does the Republican Party want to play in health care reform?  To answer that question, we will have to use one of the most powerful metaphorical weapons in our metaphorical arsenal of metaphorical weapons.  It‘s RACHEL MADDOW SHOW political metaphor theater.  That‘s coming up.

And Bill Maher is coming up in just a moment.  He‘s here to talk about the extent to which the health care debate actually makes no sense.  Bill Maher will be joining us in just a moment.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We have breaking news tonight.  We have just learned from NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell that two diplomats from North Korea have been given special permission from the U.S. State Department to travel to New Mexico.  We don‘t have diplomatic relations with North Korea, of course.  So, usually, when their diplomats come to the United Nations headquarters in New York, they are explicitly prohibited from leaving New York City.

But over the next two days, two officials from North Korea have been granted permission to travel to New Mexico, in order to meet with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson at the governor‘s mansion in Santa Fe.  Governor Richardson, of course, has a history of diplomatic overtures to North Korea, many of which have been quite successful.

The implication here for the U.S. is that this may represent a really big thaw in the colder than icy relations we have long had with North Korea.

Again, Andrea Mitchell is breaking this news late tonight.  We look forward to her follow-up reporting about this very unexpected Santa Fe summit.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, Kent, it‘s Tuesday, you know what that means?  Staff wants pizza.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Very exciting.  They us want to order some pizza.  You are good with that?

JONES:  I want pizza, too.

MADDOW:  Yes, I‘m totally excited.  Let‘s order.  All right.  Let me.

(PHONE RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Blago‘s (ph) Pizza.  What do you want?

MADDOW:  We want to get five pepperoni.

JONES:  No pepperoni.

MADDOW:  OK.  Well, we don‘t have to get pepperoni.  You want to get some, like five sausages?

JONES:  No sausage.  No.

MADDOW:  How about mushrooms?

JONES:  No mushroom.  No.

MADDOW:  How about olives?

JONES:  No olives.

MADDOW:  How about ham?

JONES:  No ham.

MADDOW:  We can get pineapple.

JONES:  No.  No pineapple.

MADDOW:  Kent, do you even want pizza?

JONES:  Yes.  How many times do I have to tell you?  I want pizza.  I want pizza.

MADDOW:  I‘m sorry.  Just one second.  I‘m sorry.

What about—we can get green peppers.

JONES:  No green peppers, no.

MADDOW:  Garlic?

JONES:  No garlic.

MADDOW:  All right.  So, you just want plain cheese pizza.

JONES:  No cheese.

MADDOW:  You don‘t want cheese.

JONES:  No cheese.

MADDOW:  OK.  How about just sauce, Kent?

JONES:  No sauce.

MADDOW:  You know what, Kent?

JONES:  No, no.  How about we order some no?

MADDOW:  Kent, OK.  I‘m sorry, just.

JONES:  No.

MADDOW:  You know, hold.

JONES:  No.

MADDOW:  We‘ll take five pepperoni, one sausage.

JONES:  No.

MADDOW:  ... two plain, give us one Hawaiian and one mushroom and olive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  Five pepperonis.

JONES:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  . one sausage, two plain, one Hawaiian.

JONES:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  . and mushroom and olive pizza.  That will be 30 minutes.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That parable of the worst-ever pizza ordering experience in America is what‘s going on in the politics of health care reform.  OK, Kent said he wanted pizza, right?  And then he proceeded to demonstrate that he did not want pepperoni or sausage or mushrooms or onions or cheese or sauce or any of the other actual components of pizza.  Dude may say he wants pizza but he really, obviously, doesn‘t.

Republicans in the United States Senate are Kent, and we‘re trying to order pizza.  They do say that they want health care reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH:  We have a real need for reform and an opportunity on behalf of the American people to get it done.

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA:  In every one of my town hall meetings, I started out by saying that we absolutely have to do health care reform.  Republicans are committed to taking action.

SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  The fact is, is everybody wants to see some change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Because Republicans have said that they want health care

reform, Democrats have been trying to work with them, to come up with a

bill that both sides can agree on.  We can compromise.  Democrats took

national health care and single-payer off the table from the very beginning

because they were sure that Republicans wouldn‘t want those.  Then they

started negotiating down from there, trying to find something—anything -

that the Republicans would say yes to.

           

But just as national health care was unacceptable to them and single-payer was unacceptable to them, the public option is also turning out to be unacceptable to them, and now even the further watered-down reform of options of co-ops are unacceptable to them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  Whatever they call it, Neil, this is a government takeover.  They may try to call it a co-op.  They can call it a public option.  But, you know, they‘re all on record saying they want a single-payer government system.  So, any Republican now that helps them pass a bill is helping them pass a government takeover of health care.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  If you think this is a good deal, are you going to—and overall, because of the politics of the situation, you can‘t get more Republicans on board, you‘re going to go ahead and vote against it, even if you think it‘s a good deal?

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA (via telephone):  Well, it isn‘t a good deal if I can‘t sell my product to more Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s a really important moment.  Senator Grassley is the top Republican negotiator in the Senate on health care, and he just admitted to Chuck Todd that even if he personally gets to draft a bill for the Senate to vote on, even if he ends up with a policy to vote on that he thinks is great, he himself might not vote for it.

Meanwhile, Jon Kyl, who is the number two Republican in the whole Senate, told reporters on a conference call today that dropping the public option still won‘t get any Republicans to vote for the bill.  No matter what is in the bill, Republicans are not going to vote for the bill.  No matter what is on the pizza, Kent doesn‘t want it.

Maybe it‘s time for Democrats to take the hint.  Republicans don‘t want pizza.  Order exactly what you want.  Put together the best possible reform bill—purely on the basis of what you think is the best policy for the country, and then forget the Republicans.  Focus on getting all of the Democrats in line to vote for it.  The Republicans are not here to help—and Kent is not here to help make a good pizza order.

Take the hint.

Joining us now is Richard Trumka.  He is the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.  He was a very early supporter of then-candidate Barack Obama.

Mr. Trumka, thank you very much for joining us.

RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO SECRETARY-TREASURE:  Rachel, thanks for having me on.  I really appreciate it.

MADDOW:  Sam Stein of “The Huffington Post” today posted an interview with you in which you said that Democrats who vote against a public option for health care reform shouldn‘t necessarily count on any support from labor when they were up for re-election.  Is the public option a do or die for labor?

TRUMKA:  Absolutely.  Without the public option, this bill instead of being health insurance reform, it will become health insurance company grab number two.  Look, insurance companies‘ profits were up over 1,000 percent the last five years, and working families have had their premiums increased 300 percent over the last couple of years.  Three times—they pay three times as much.

This is about holding them accountable to the working families of this country and getting a bill that actually works.  And without a public option in this bill, it‘s no longer health insurance reform.

MADDOW:  Do you agree with my dumb premise involving how to order pizza that.

TRUMKA:  It was—I sat here smiling because it was perfect.  That‘s what they always do.  They say, “We want reform.”  But what is their option?  What do they put forth?

They have not given a single concrete idea.  They‘ve said no to everything from single-payer to public option.  They said no to co-ops before they were even out of somebody‘s mouth.  And now they‘re saying, “We still stand for reform.”  It‘s the biggest bit of hypocrisy I have seen in a long time.

Republicans are out to protect the insurance industry.  They‘re not standing with the American worker, the American public.  The American public is demanding this bill, and any politician I think that votes against the public option does so at his or her own peril.

MADDOW:  Do you think that Democrats in the Senate—and it really is the Senate that we‘re talking about here with these negotiations—do you think the Democrats in the Senate should stop changing the bill?  Should stop negotiating from the—start negotiating the terms of health care reform in order to try to get Republicans votes?  Should they just concede there won‘t be any reasons who vote for this thing?

TRUMKA:  Absolutely.  We‘ve known that from the time and memorial, since they started this debate.  They‘ve said they weren‘t going to be part of the reform process.  They want to say no to everything.  They ought to come out with the best bill that we can get, one that actually does give us insurance reform, health insurance reform, takes care of some of the problems, holds down the costs, breaks the stranglehold of the insurance companies that they have around the throats of all of these markets.

Ninety-four percent of the health care markets, Rachel, are highly concentrated right now, with just one or two or three or four of the big insurance companies controlling the market.  We‘ll never be able to get prices down and quality up so long as they don‘t get some competition.  And the public option, by the way, will allow people to vote with their feet.  When these companies keep increasing prices and the quality goes down, they‘ll be able to walk away and go somewhere where they can get quality health care.

MADDOW:  When these 60 Democrats in the House today sent a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, saying that they would vote against any legislation without a public option, what they are threatening is that even if there are some progressive changes to the health care system, even if there are things that are—that they would agree would be things that would be moving in the right direction, if they don‘t include a public option, they‘re going to vote no.  They‘re willing to make their vote contingent on that one thing.  That means that there might not be health care reform this year because progressives are saying no to it, are saying no to a bill that‘s watered down.

Do you think that sort of high-stakes politics is appropriate here? 

Do you think that‘s what they ought to be doing?

TRUMKA:  I think, absolutely, they have.  They have been negotiating with themselves for far too long.  We‘re only going to get one bite at this apple.  And if we pass a weak bill that‘s not going to break the stranglehold that those insurance companies have over the health care industry, we‘re not going to get another shot at it for a number of years.

And look, one American declares bankruptcy every 30 seconds because of medical bills.  Health care costs—our wages are going down, our health care costs are going up.  Employers are shirking them.  They can‘t continue to pay for them so they‘re getting rid of health care coverage.

We‘re in a crisis and we don‘t have another five or seven years to wait.  The American public, Democrat, independent and Republican, wants action now and that must include a public option because without it, health insurance reform becomes a health insurance company grab for the insurance companies.

MADDOW:  Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.  Mr.

Trumka, thanks very much for making time for us tonight.

TRUMKA:  Thanks for having me on.

MADDOW:  Coming up: The high, happy horse jockey that is being foisted on us about health care reform, being, you know, “death panels” and mandated abortions.  This stuff appears to be working.  New polls tell us on whom this stuff is working, and which TV channel whom is watching.  It‘s all ahead with none other than Bill Maher from HBO‘s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead: Bill Maher joins us.  And, I take a look at what may be the best videogame ever produced based on a frightening global health endemic.  Plus, good news, underachievers—Kent Jones discovers there is now an academic grade below F.

That‘s all coming up.

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

Back in June, Senator John Ensign of Nevada came clean about an affair with his campaign staffer, a woman named Cynthia Hampton.  At that June announcement, Senator Ensign left out the fact that he put Ms. Hampton‘s son—teenage son—on the payroll of the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the affair.  He also helped her husband—who also work forward Senator Ensign—find a job.  And he convinced his own parents to give nearly $100,000 in gifts to his mistress‘ family.

Well now that the Fourth Estate, particularly “The Las Vegas Sun,” has helped Senator Ensign come more completely clean about this affair.  The senator is ready after 63 days of not being seen in public to finally be seen in public.  On Thursday, he will host the annual Tahoe Summit.  It‘s a summit focused on protecting Lake Tahoe.

Do you think he‘ll be taking questions from the media?  Please, please, please, please, please?

Speaking of Senator Ensign, the marquee slate of Republicans candidates for elections in 2010 and 2012 took sort of a big hit this year.  Ensign himself was supposed to be a presidential contender and so was South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, whose road to the White House apparently did not run through the Appalachian Trail, and former Alaska governor and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin—well, yes.  There‘s former Alaska governor and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

But whenever political gods close a door, they open a window.  And look who‘s climbing in.  Minnesota Republican Congressman Michele Bachmann is famous for, among many other things, telling our colleague Chris Matthews that Obama and members of Congress should be investigated for harboring anti-American views. 

And with an interview with the right-wing Web site “World Net Daily” this week, Congresswoman Bachmann said that she might consider running for president, quote, “If I felt that‘s what the Lord was calling me to do, I would do it.” 

Even better news for Democrats, in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, the creator of the “Obama was not born in the U.S.” conspiracy theory, the original birther herself, Orly Taitz, said that she, too, would consider running for office.  Yes. 

She said, “You know, I never ran for office but I would not exclude this as a possibility.”  It should be noted that while Orly Taitz could run for political office, she could not run for president, a fact she acknowledged because unlike President Obama, Orly Taitz really wasn‘t born in the United States, although we could start a rumor that she was.  “OrlyTaitzBirthCertificateGenerator.com” anyone?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The influential lefty Web site, “Daily Kos,” has recently commissioned some polling from a respected nonpartisan firm called Research 2000.  And the result, especially combined with new some hot new data that we just got from the new NBC News-“Wall Street Journal” poll, they‘re like a cipher machine for decrypting what has seemed like inexplicable, intractable ignorance on display in the fight over health care this summer. 

The poll asked people, for example, whether or not they believe that healthcare reform is a secret plot to kill people - this is the research 2000 poll.  And of the Republican respondents to this poll, more than one in four said yes.  Twenty-six percent of Republicans said healthcare reform is definitely a plot to kill people. 

Among Independents, only eight percent think that.  Among Democrats, it‘s only five percent who think that.  It‘s important to know when we talk about health care that way too many Americans believe these off-the-kook-end theories. 

But honestly, it‘s not that many Americans in general wildly believe these off-the-kook-end theories.  It really is specifically Republicans who believe this stuff and nobody else does.  There is a huge gap between what Republicans think is true, between what Republicans think are the facts at issue here, and what the rest of the country thinks. 

And why is that?  Well, back to the polls.  Another Research 2000 poll from earlier this month found that 59 percent of Republicans say they watch Fox News.  That‘s nearly double the proportion of Republicans who watch MSNBC and CNN combined. 

So, in other words, the Fox News channel is absolutely dominant as a source of news for self-identified Republicans.  That itself is not exactly a surprise.  Are you ready to crack this thing open?  Of course, you are.  The latest NBC News-“wall street journal” poll asked respondents whether they believed four big myths about healthcare reform.  And then they asked those same respondents what their usual source of news is. 

The poll found that the gap between Fox viewers and MSNBC and CNN viewers who wrongly believe healthcare reform will give coverage to illegal immigrants - it‘s a 31-point gap. 

The gap between Fox viewers and MSNBC and CNN viewers who wrongly believe reform will lead to a government takeover of health care - that gap is 40 points.  The gap between Fox viewers and MSNBC and CNN viewers who wrongly believe that healthcare reform assures taxpayer-funded abortions - it‘s a 29-point gap. 

The gap between Fox viewers and MSNBC and CNN viewers who wrongly believe that the government will decide when to stop providing medical care to the elderly - it‘s a 45-point gap. 

In other words, we‘re trying to have a debate in this country between two groups of people who have two totally different sets of facts.  We like to think of the political universe as all one thing, as a place where, sure, everybody has different opinions but we all at least agree what it is that we‘re fighting about. 

It‘s just not true.  Americans who are members of the Republican Party, who identify as Republicans, they have a different set of facts from the rest of the country.  Their understanding of what we‘re fighting about when it comes to health care is not only different than the rest of the country, it‘s wrong. 

They believe things that are not true about what‘s being proposed for healthcare reform.  They exist in their own fact-impaired mini-verse inside what we thought was a universe.  No wonder we‘re not getting anywhere. 

Joining us now is the host of HBO‘s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”  Mr. Maher, thank you for having me on your show a couple of weeks ago and thanks for being here now. 

BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”:  Always, Rachel.  How are you doing? 

MADDOW:  I‘m weird-ed out by this, honestly.  There‘s this huge disconnect, not in opinions about what to do, but in beliefs about what is true.  What is going on? 

MAHER:  Well, you know, you‘re right that the Republicans have a more casual relationship with the truth.  I have always believed that.  I mean, I don‘t think they care as much about what is really true.  It‘s more about what the feeling is, what the spirit of the truth is. 

Reagan, you know, used to tell a bunch of whoppers, you know, ketchup was a vegetable and, you know, trees cause pollution and, you know, anecdotal stuff about welfare, queens and the Cadillacs, and you know, ball games he saw that he never really saw.  They didn‘t care. 

It was the idea, the big idea behind it.  So I‘m not surprised at that.  You know, it is all about feeling, I think, with those people, which is ironic, of course, because they accuse of liberals of being naive and not steely-eyed. 

But really, they‘re the ones, you know, who don‘t really care about what the actual truth is.  They think, you know, like the torture debate.  They were all about, “Oh, yes, those naive liberals.  We know what the real truth is because we watch ‘24.‘  You know, we have the real truth.”

MADDOW:  Well, do you fight -

MAHER:  You know, and the health care -

MADDOW:  Go ahead.  I‘m sorry, Bill. 

MAHER:  No, no.  You go ahead. 

MADDOW:  Do you fight feeling with feeling?  Do you say, “All right, we have facts,” on one side of this debate and you believe things that are not true on your side of the debate.  So since we can‘t agree on the facts, let‘s just try to make you have a different feeling about the myths that you believe?  How do you actually move people?  How do you fight? 

MAHER:  No, I don‘t think you can do that because, again, feelings are very - are stronger than facts.  You know, these people who are so exercised now about the healthcare debate, I don‘t know if it‘s always about health care.  You know, it seems a lot of it to be about this “I want my country back.”  We hear that a lot. 

And I always want to say to them, from what?  Who‘s taking your country away?  Name one thing in your life that is different now that Obama is president.  So I don‘t know if you can fight it on that level.  But you can certainly could.  The president, I think, could do a better job of, you know, getting a little Harry Truman on these people.  He‘s just a little too nice about calling a liar a liar. 

You know, when somebody says government takeover, he should just say that‘s a flat-out lie.  There is no government takeover.  Stop lying.  Stop lying about my record.  A little Bob Dole in there. 

MADDOW:  But the way that that would be fought back against, the way that people would respond to that is by saying, “What‘s he covering up?  He‘s telling us we‘re lying but he‘s the real BS artist.”  There is so much more energy than there is factual basis for that energy. 

And it‘s one thing if you‘re just fighting about whether or not you feel bad for the country or good about the country, whether you like Obama or you think he‘s a bad guy.  But this is, you know, should we have a public option in healthcare reform? 

And it feels like something about which all of this fact-free emotion is - it‘s stymieing our ability to move forward or even have a smart discussion about it. 

MAHER:  True.  But where are all Obama‘s people to help him with this, by the way?  You know, I mean, he is Michael Jordan on a very, very, very bad team.  Where are all the people who were so enthused during the campaign?  You know, that was the fun part, the election. 

Now comes the hard part.  You know, where‘s Oprah?  Where are all of the people who were out there on the campaign trail?  We need them now.  This is the actual hard work of government. 

MADDOW:  Maybe people will be mobilized by the extremism of the people who are calling Obama Hitler and calling him a Nazi and bringing their AR-15s to the town halls.  Maybe the Obama-ites who came out in such numbers in the election will be turned out specifically because they‘re so horrified by the atmosphere that‘s happening whenever Obama does one of these town hall meetings and people show up with guns. 

MAHER:  Well, you think it would have happened by now, because this has been going on for weeks and weeks at this point - the guns in the town hall meetings.  You know, I think people figure it‘s just a tiny fringe and it‘s inflated by the media.  And that‘s not entirely untrue. 

There are people out there who are scary and nutty.  I don‘t know how much a part of the larger population they represent - certainly, a good chunk of it.  But, you know, again, it‘s not the Republicans - I mean, of course, it is the Republicans who are holding this up. 

But that‘s the given.  You know, the real death panel is that Senate Finance Committee.  It‘s these Democratic senators, the Kent Conrads and the Max Baucuses from these tiny little states that represent one or two percent of the population.  That‘s holding up the works. 

You know, I guess the days of arm-twisting are over within your own party.  I don‘t know, maybe I‘m just remembering finally my image of Lyndon Johnson and people like that doing that.  You know, you wake up and there‘s an intern‘s head in your bed or something.  I don‘t know. 

They used to be able to corral the members of their own party to get behind the business of that party.  I don‘t think that‘s something that‘s gone away.  I mean Bush did it only a few years ago when he was president.  He seemed to get his puppies in a line.  Why can‘t Obama do that? 

MADDOW:  Well, you are seeing a little bit of an uprising right now of some angry liberals, particularly in the House, saying, “You know what, we‘re not going to vote yes for this thing unless it doesn‘t have a public option.  We‘re liberals, we‘re mad and you can‘t count on our votes.”  We haven‘t seen that in a long time. 

MAHER:  Yes, but that‘s not really going to be there at the end of the day.  At least, I hope not.  I mean, I hope they don‘t split along those lines because as Paul Begala wrote so effectively the other day - boy, he‘s a smart guy. 

He was writing in “The Washington Post” about the fact that, you know, when FDR was passing social security, it did not include domestic workers.  It didn‘t include farm workers.  It didn‘t include the disabled, government workers, who are now, you know, the first people to get an entitlement.  Lots of categories that were excluded. 

And if people back then had said, “Come on.  This is not a very good bill,” nothing would have gotten passed.  What happened was they got something through and then, over the years, they improved it.  And you know, unfortunately, it looks like that‘s the best we can do with this health care thing. 

MADDOW:  It‘s the best we can do with 60 seats in the Senate, 80-vote majority in the House and a brand-new, popular president. 

MAHER:  Yes.

MADDOW:  My expectations are shrinking all the time - yes.  Bill Maher, host of HBO‘s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” it‘s great to have you on the show.  Thanks for joining us tonight, Bill.

MAHER:  Thanks, Rachel.  Appreciate it. 

MADDOW:  OK.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith looks at the deepening culture of violence in the conservative movement.  An officially stomach-turning up next on “COUNTDOWN.”

Next on this show, what do Dick Armey, swine flu and video games have in common?  We have a very special report next that explains it all. 

But first, one more thing about the Republican mini-verse when it comes to health care.  In addition to opinions on death panels, abortion funding and government takeovers, the same Research 2000-“Daily Kos” poll that found such a big partisan disparity about who believes the myths about health care show something else that is maybe even more worrying about what Republicans specifically believe today. 

The latest Research 2000 poll that‘s just out finds that 14 percent of self-identified Republicans think that Medicare is definitely not a government program.  Who do they think does run Medicare?  Presumably it‘s the same Keebler elves that tidy up the national parks and deliver your mail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  And since there has been so much misinformation out there about health insurance reform, let me say this - one thing the reform won‘t change is veterans‘ health care.  No one is going to take away your benefits and that is the plain and simple truth. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The president addressing the VFW yesterday, promising that health reform won‘t change the cherished nationalized health system that‘s operated by the V.A.  The president also told the VFW that when we remove U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, quote, “For America,” he said, “the Iraq war will end.” 

It turns out, though, the Iraq war might actually end earlier than that.  In an important bit of news from Iraq in “Life During Wartime,” Iraq‘s prime minister has announced plans for a referendum in January that would allow Iraqis to vote for U.S. troops to leave a year early. 

The deal that George W. Bush signed with the Iraqi government allowed a referendum like this to supersede the plan for our troops to leave more than two years from now.  The Iraqi parliament still needs to sign off, but if this happens, it could mean that a lot of Americans come home from Iraq a lot earlier than anyone planned.  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Former House majority leader Dick Armey, the head of the corporate-funded but ostensibly grassroots conservative organization, Freedom Works, is warning that swine flu is a hoax. 

Mr. Armey tells the “Financial Times,” quote, “In September or October, there will be a hyped-up outbreak of the swine flu which they‘ll say is as bad as the bubonic plague to scare the bed-wetters to vote for healthcare reform.”

I kind of like the idea of healthcare reform and I‘ll have you know I haven‘t wet the bed in weeks.  But while Dick Armey is telling us not to worry about swine flu, there are real scientists and public health officials who are trying to keep it from killing thousands and thousands and thousands of people.  If you want to get a sense of just how hard their jobs are, you can do so from home in the comfort of your Cheetos-flecked PJs because Dutch researchers have created a video game about it.  Oh, yes, a game about a worldwide pandemic which probably because of the subject matter should not be awesome, but it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The great flu.  In 1918, the outbreak of an unknown influenza virus caused the loss of 40 million lives.  Later, this was called the Spanish flu.  Now, you are the leader of the world pandemic control and a new pandemic has happened. 

It‘s up to you to prevent the serious threat to the world population, fight the outbreak of a dreadful virus and even try to prevent it.  Assign research teams to infected areas.  Distribute anti-viral.  Close schools and markets and finally, find a vaccine.  The fate of the world depends on you. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  That‘s how it starts.  You start the game by choosing a virus

the deadlier the virus, the more difficult the game.  The Broadway virus is apparently the worst one.  You have a budget.  You have policy options like distributing face masks, and stockpiling vaccines, sending research teams to infected areas - stuff like that.

So you‘re forced to make strategic decisions about how to deploy your limited resources.  But sometimes, your decisions backfire so you decide to close down all the airports in China.  The Chinese government can just refuse to go along with you. 

Meanwhile news headlines pop up reporting the latest on new outbreaks around the world.  And as the number of people infected and dead goes up on a terrifying little ticker, the urgency of your mission to save the world goes up with it. 

This game is not easy and it might scare the daylights out of you, too, but it is free.  It‘s at “TheGreatFlu.com.”  When contacted by the AP for comment on this, the actual World Health Organization told the AP they were very busy and had not had time to play The Great Flu, which, now, that I know what they do all day, is actually really, really good news. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We turn now to our academic excellence correspondent, Mr.

Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent. 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  Big news in academia today. 

We could be seeing a big shakeup in the way courses are actually graded. 

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Mr. Dorfman(ph) -

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  0.2 -

JONES (voice-over):  Did you ever get an F in a class and think, “Come on, I tried.  I‘m not a bad person.  I‘m not a failure.”  Well, now, a college in Canada has helpfully introduced a grade lower than F.  They‘re calling it the FD for dishonesty and would be dispensed in egregious cases of cheating. 

It‘s like an F-shot with a shame chaser.  Getting an FD lets the world know you are not just a failure, you are also illegal. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my name is legal. 

JONES:  Now, I think FD is a genius addition to the language.  We

should start using it all the time.  Why wait?  Let‘s revise some permanent

records

FMR. GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Our next door neighbors are foreign countries.  They‘re in the state that I am the executive of. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  FD -

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R-SC):  I have been unfaithful to my wife. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  FD -

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN:  I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  FD -

ALBERTO GONZALES, FMR. UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I do not recall, senator, I don‘t recall.  Senator, I have searched my memory.  I have no recollection of the meeting. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  FD -

JONES:  And perhaps most deserving of all -

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Fool me once, shame on you.  If you fool me, you can‘t get fooled again. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  FD.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  I feel like all week long, we‘ve been talking about something that is worse than having a difference of opinion.  Having a difference of opinion is OK.  It‘s when you don‘t even believe what you are saying is your opinion ...

JONES:  Right.  Yes.

MADDOW:  ... that‘s an FD.

JONES:  FD -

MADDOW:  It‘s beautiful.  Thank you, Kent.  Very useful.  Thank you for watching tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” with Mr. Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Have a good one. 

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

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