'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, September 15, 2009
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Guests: Gov. Ed Rendell, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Kent Jones, Jonathan Alter
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.
Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania will be joining us this hour.
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski will be joining us as well. He was national security adviser to President Carter. But, of course, he‘s been known here at Rockefeller Center as Mika‘s dad. Dr. Brzezinski‘s old boss, former President Jimmy Carter, did tonight call much of the opposition to President Obama racist. That is just in tonight. We‘ve got the footage for you. It‘s all coming up.
Plus, I pledge that for the first time ever on this show, I will say something very important about Keanu Reeves. I promise.
That‘s all coming up at this hour.
But we begin tonight with a dramatic day in D.C. Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina officially reprimanded by the House of Representatives today for screaming, “You lie!” at President Obama as the president addressed a joint session of Congress nearly a week ago. By a vote of 240 to 179, the House passed a formal resolution of disapproval for Congressman Wilson‘s breach of decorum. Now, that‘s the mildest form of punishment the House can administer, and they did it not for what Congressman Wilson said to the president but for when and where he said it.
It was not a party line vote against Mr. Wilson. Five Republicans voted for the resolution. A dozen Democrats voted against it. And another five Democrats just voted present, including Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who said in advance of today‘s vote that, quote, “I think it is bad precedent to put us in charge of deciding whether people act like jerks.”
Beyond the disapproval vote against Congressman Wilson vote today in Congress, the political importance of this “You lie!” incident is probably more evident in the reaction to it outside the House chamber, where Joe Wilson is being hailed as a hero by a lot of the conservative movement right now. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota repeatedly telling a tea party crowd in Minnesota this past weekend, and I quote, “Thank God for Joe Wilson.”
Congressman Steve King of Iowa, circulating a letter of support for Joe Wilson, telling him, quote, “We, your colleagues in the House, stand beside you. We urge that you hold your ground against those who seek partisan advantage and reject all demands for additional redress. Like you, we will not be muzzled!” If there‘s one thing these folks are not, I would say it‘s muzzled.
Congressman Wilson has also been exulted by movement conservatives like Dick Armey, the former Republican House majority leader. Mr. Army‘s organization, FreedomWorks, organized the 9/12 march on Washington this weekend that at times seemed like it might evolve into singing for Joe Wilson‘s a jolly good fellow.
Conservative Web sites have taken up Wilson‘s cause as a merchandising opportunity. The Palmetto Scoop has made, “I‘m with Joe Wilson” t-shirts. The far-right Web site WorldNetDaily is peddling “You lie!” bumper stickers, quote, “With a rebel yell, Wilson fired off the shout heard around the world.” For just $5.95, you too can own the top-selling bumper sticker at the WorldNetDaily superstore and thereby yell “You lie” at everyone behind you in traffic.
By screaming at the president during a joint address at Congress, Congressman Joe Wilson—this previously unknown, backbench Republican congressman—has become sort of a mascot on the right for incivility. What‘s being celebrated is the extent to which he broke the bounds of heretofore acceptable civic behavior.
As the fringy and uncivil and at times unhinged character of the opposition to President Obama has not abated and has, in fact, intensified since the campaign, the White House has started making sort of a sotto voce argument, that this shouldn‘t be seen as unexpected. They started arguing quietly, that this sort of thing is just what happens in U.S. politics when you have a popular and relatively effective Democratic president.
And in fact there is historical precedent for what we are seeing here. In the 1930s, a little-known Catholic priest became hugely influential, a hero of the right, as well as of the Nazis and fascists who he rather liked in Germany and Italy at the time because his ruthless—because of his ruthless opposition to Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Father Charles Coughlin used his radio broadcast to inveigh against FDR as a great betrayer and as a liar.
Less than a generation after Father Coughlin, Democratic President Harry Truman saw the ascendants of Republican Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, who made headlines, of course, for accusing President Truman‘s state department of harboring commies and then seeing that get a rise out of people, he moved on to spotting communists everywhere in America.
John F. Kennedy‘s administration was met on the right by the rise of the Birchers, the ultraconservative John Birch Society, which said liberalism was treason.
During the Clinton administration, there was the vast right-wing conspiracy that held that Bill and Hillary Clinton secretly murdered White House deputy counsel Vince Foster, who actually committed suicide. The unhinged anti-Clinton right in the ‘90s also brought us the “Clinton Chronicles,” a film financed by groups with ties to evangelist Jerry Falwell, that purported to expose a whole lot of unexplained murders around the Clintons‘ political rise. The fringy mcfringerson opponents of President Clinton also accuse him of running an elaborate cocaine smuggling operation out of an airport in Mena, Arkansas.
There‘s a case to be made that right-wing paranoid extremism rises in America to meet the challenge of effective, relatively popular Democratic presidents. And it‘s not just that it is a predictable pattern. It‘s also sort of a way of life for some conservative activists now. Some of the same people who were part of the conspiratorial wing-nut opposition to President Clinton are now doing it to President Obama. It‘s some of the same folks.
Take Joseph Farah, he‘s co-founder of the Web site WorldNetDaily, the one that‘s currently selling the Joe Wilson “You lie!” bumper stickers in their superstore; the Web site that is a prime mover in the birther conspiracy theory that President Obama is secretly a foreigner, who is therefore secretly not really president.
During the 1990s, Joseph Farah co-founded the Western Center for Journalism, which among other things pushed the “Bill Clinton killed Vince Foster” conspiracy theory.
And over at the conservative group FreedomWorks, we‘re seeing Dick Armey providing a big, well-funded professional P.R. platform for the relatively kooky fringe of the conservative movement right now—the folks who are calling for a civil war and for succession of the states, the folks who are proclaiming that President Obama isn‘t really president, that he‘s a Nazi, that he‘s a Marxist.
Back in the 1990s, that same guy, then-Republican Congressman Dick Armey, suggested it was Hillary Clinton who was the Marxist and who told Democrats at the time that Bill Clinton was your president. This sound familiar?
The same people crop up in these movements again and again. The same patterns emerge of extremism and right-wing opposition to Democratic presidents.
And those repeated patterns do tend to cause the same repeated problems among American conservatives. When Jon Henke at the conservative Web site NextRight.com said conservatives should unite against Joseph Farah‘s WorldNetDaily, the Republican National Committee should stop buying their mailing list, for example. What did he cite as inspiration? He cited conservative icon William F. Buckley, who railed against the John Birch Society‘s extremism back in the 1960s.
It was Internet signed (ph) warfare on the right then, and it may ultimately again be Internet signed welfare on the right now. The more extreme you get, the more emotionally satisfying you can be for very angry people who are opposed to whoever has won the last election. “You lie!” probably sells a lot of bumper sticks. Just like the “Bill Clinton murdered his way to the presidency” movie sold a lot of copies and made a ton of money for conservative groups.
But ultimately, in the big picture, look at how these things work out.
Father Coughlin, who went after FDR was disgraced, lost his radio show,
lost his reputation. Joe McCarthy, who went after Truman and lots of other
people to his side, he was disgraced and only ended lending his name to an
· ism, as well as a modern Ann Coulter-inspired fan club. But that‘s another story.
The John Birch Society, who went after JFK, they were dispatched to the luminal edge of American politics where they linger today on the overtly racist fringe of the very, very far-right.
And now, the anti-Clinton and anti-Obama fringe, they‘re trying their luck. And they‘ve got themselves a mascot in Congressman “You lie!” Joe Wilson.
The historical precedent—the historical precedent for their success overall is not positive. But how much damage can they do in the meantime?
Joining us now is “Newsweek” senior editor and MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter. He‘s author of the book, “The Defining Moment: FDR‘s Hundred days and the Triumph of Hope.”
Jon, it‘s been a long time. It‘s good to see you.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Do you agree with the premise here that there is a pattern of pretty fringe right-wing movements that arise during Democratic presidencies?
ALTER: No question about it. It actually goes back. The kookiness goes back to the 19th century. So, we‘ve had this with us for a long time.
But I think there are a couple of big differences today. First of all, you mentioned Dick Armey. He was not a fringe congressman when he was in the House. He was in the leadership.
ALTER: He was number two in the House of Representatives.
So what happened in the 1990s was that the fringe went right into the heart of the Republican Party, and you had extremism at the top of that party. And we‘ve also seen the decline of more moderate voices in the Republican Party. When McCarthy was censured, for instance, it was Republicans who were very involved in that. The motion to censure him was sponsored by a Republican senator from Vermont.
So, we had a different tradition there where there was—there was some disciplining within the Republican Party that‘s not taking place. So these folks can run hog wild now in ways they never have before.
What‘s unprecedented is what Wilson did. We‘ve never seen that in all of American history, in all of the years since Woodrow Wilson and presidents have been coming up to deliver State of the Union addresses. We‘ve never seen anything like that.
MADDOW: Well, we have certainly seen vituperative language used against Bush and Cheney. We‘ve certainly seen members of Congress criticize them in harsh terms. But what‘s difference is the decorum breach.
MADDOW: What‘s different is the screaming “You lie!” at his face during a—during an address to Congress. That‘s never happened. And what I think we‘re all trying to figure out is sort of where to put that on the number line, whether this is an aberration or whether this is the new normal for the type of thing that‘s going to be considered acceptable in civic opposition to the president.
ALTER: What‘s scary to me is that there wasn‘t more condemnation of this within the Republican Party. There was some.
ALTER: . but that there wasn‘t more. Where do these folks draw the line? If you throw in a rotten tomato at the president, would they have criticized that? How about if he‘d thrown his shoe at the president, would that be OK?
They‘re basically saying, no, don‘t draw the line at heckling him.
So, where do they draw the line?
ALTER: And eventually, if you say, well, there is no line, that‘s when you get to what happened before the Civil War, when you had physical violence between members of Congress on the floor of Congress. And we don‘t—we want to put some limits on that. And that‘s why this reprimand was a good thing that the Congress took a stand, that this kind of behavior not only violates House rules—and, by the way, the Republicans often talk about the importance of rules. Not in this case, they just thought rules didn‘t matter.
ALTER: Not only did it violate House rules, but it ripped at that fabric of civility that has always been essential for democracy. That‘s why they call each other the “Distinguished Gentleman,” you know?
ALTER: Why did all of that start? It was because they realized that within the government, in the sacred halls of government, you don‘t act that way. You can say something on the radio or in a speech. You can call the president a liar, or whatever—free speech. But there, we need some decorum so that our democracy isn‘t ripped asunder.
MADDOW: In terms of how this works, though, in—in political patterns, what we—one of the things that we‘ve seen is Republicans in South Carolina starting to say, “Yes, you know bring it on. Joe Wilson‘s a hero. This is going to be great. Keep him in the spotlight. It‘s really working for him. This is going to be excellent for him. Democrats are making a mistake by letting this get a lot of attention and by saying this is a big deal.”
When you look back at FDR—who you have just written a book about—how did he deal with Father Coughlin? How do—how have presidents in the past dealt with more or less effectively their critics on the very far fringe?
ALTER: Well, mostly by ignoring them.
ALTER: Because if you engage them directly, you elevate them. And so, you don‘t see—you don‘t see President Obama, you know, going after Wilson.
Roosevelt used a lot of humor, and he would give these kind of joking speeches that made sport of them occasionally, the right-wing congressman. He wouldn‘t—he didn‘t attack radio host but he could go after members of Congress sometimes—Martin, Barton and Fish. And he just had a lot of fun attacking them playfully.
And I think Obama also realized you need a little bit of a light touch when you‘re dealing with some of this, even if there‘s an ugly subtext to it, as there is in this case.
MADDOW: I want to get your reaction, Jon, to what I view as a pretty remarkable comment tonight from former President Jimmy Carter. It was an interview with NBC‘s Brian Williams, and they‘re talking about the opposition to President Obama right now. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity towards President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he‘s African-American. And I think it‘s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people—not just in the South but around the country—that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It‘s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The implication being—from President Carter—you know, sure presidents all face opposition. A lot of them face unhinge opposition, but for President Obama, it‘s different because of race. What did you think about that comment and what the reaction to it will be?
ALTER: Well, I think he‘s right. Not in every case. It‘s very important to say that many—maybe most people who oppose President Obama do not do so on the basis of race.
But clearly, a significant number, there is a—for a significant number, there‘s a racial factor. And I think you have to include Joe Wilson in that. If you look at his background, he was one of the big advocates of the Confederate flag in South Carolina. He thought that it was wrong for Strom Thurmond‘s illegitimate daughter to come forward because it was something to be ashamed of.MADDOW: He said it was a smear, right?
ALTER: And—so there is some indication—I think Maureen Dowd was right that when he said “You lie,” it was almost like, “You lie, boy.” It does fit a certain pattern of southern racism in this particular case.
But it‘s important not to extrapolate that out to all criticism of the president. It clearly has added an intensity to this, though. If you‘re disagreeing with health care policy, this level of anger has to come from someplace deep and ugly and in our—in our history and that, of course, race is the great stain on our history.
MADDOW: Jonathan Alter, “Newsweek” senior editor, MSNBC political analyst, author of “The Defining Moment: FDR‘s Hundred days and the Triumph of Hope”—it‘s always great to have you on the show. Thanks for coming in, Jon.
ALTER: Great talking to you, Rachel.
MADDOW: In boxing, if you‘re a tomato can, you are easy to beat. You get dented, you get battered in the ring, tomato juice, right? The case could be made that the Republicans keep putting tomato cans in the ring to fight President Obama on health care. Every time the guy gives a big health care speech—and we know he‘s good at speeches—the Republicans rebut or pre-but with—well, did you see who they put up against him today? Yes.
Stick with us. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell joins us to call today‘s big match-up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you go in to negotiate, you can‘t even think about negotiating for a salary—a wage increase because the whole negotiation is about trying to keep the benefits you already have. That‘s not just the fault of the employer, it‘s the fault of a broken health care system that‘s sucking up all the money. When are we going to stop it?
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)
OBAMA: When are we going to say enough is enough? How many more workers have to lose their coverage? How many more families have to go into the red for a sick loved one?
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)
OBAMA: How much longer are we going to have to wait? It can‘t wait.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Republican Party now facing yet another full court political press by health reform‘s most effective asset, President Obama speaking before big crowds. And so, once again, Republicans are faced with a question, who should rebut the president? Do you put somebody up against him or do you just do a press conference thing somewhere else? Do you actually have somebody else bookend the president‘s speech to look like they are the opposition to the president? On whom should they rely to counter probably the greatest public speaker of his generation?
Well, so far Republicans have proven that not all 0-for-2s are created equal. First they chose Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal for what came to be known as the Howdy-Doody speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA: I‘m Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana. Like the president‘s father, my own parents came to this country from a distant land. When they arrived in Baton Rouge, my mother was already 4 ½ months pregnant. I was what folks in the industry now call a pre-existing condition.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Next, the Republicans tap Louisiana Congressman Charles Boustany, a cardiac surgeon who seems a generally reasonable fellow except for the awkward trail of court records showing him falling prey to con artists who scam gullible, rich Americans into trying to buy English titles of nobility. That was awkward. That was 0 for 2.
Today, the Republican Party searched around for another elected official who could give rebutting the president a try. They looked around and looked around and looked around, and decided apparently they could not find one.
So, instead, they picked a Republican who is not an elected official anymore because he lost his re-election bid really badly three years ago. It‘s former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. He was asked by the Republican National Committee to pre-but President Obama‘s address today to the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh.
Now, this marks a return to the national stage for this former senator. He used that national stage to say today that he might consider running for president himself in 2012.
Senator Santorum‘s only real national name recognition outside the conservative movement, until now, has been because of his infamous “Associated Press” interview in 2003 in which he used the phrase, “man on dog” when talking about same-sex marriage. That prompted the classic response from the “Associated Press” reporter who was interviewing him, a response that—as far as I know—has never been equaled in any news transcript ever. Quote, “I‘m sorry, I didn‘t think I was going to talk about ‘man on dog‘ with a United States senator, it‘s sort of freaking me out,” end quote.
Well, now, Senator Santorum is being welcomed back to the national stage as the Republican spokesman against the president on health reform. Game on.
Joining us now is Pennsylvania—excuse me, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Governor Rendell, thanks very much for making time to be on the show tonight. Good to see you.
GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Good evening, Rachel.
MADDOW: Senator Santorum was not who I expected to be chosen by the Republican Party to pre-but or rebut the president today on health care. Do you think that his selection says anything about what the Republican Party‘s message is on health care right now?
RENDELL: Well, I think it says they basically have to message. When Rick Santorum was in the Senate, he voted against everything that was important to Pennsylvania to preserve or expand health care. We tried to work with him. We tried to persuade him that it was against the issue of Pennsylvanians, but he was always a “no” vote on expanding coverage in any way to children or to adults, number one.
Number two, as you pointed out, he was defeated for re-election by almost 20 points, which in a state as evenly balanced as Pennsylvania is, is a stunning landslide.
And number three, he‘s also very well known for one other thing, Rachel, that you didn‘t mention. The Republicans raised a specter of the government deciding who lives or dies, the so-called “death panels.” Well, Rick Santorum was the leading proponent of the government stepping in the Terri Schiavo case and passing legislation that would have taken the power to decide whether Terri Schiavo would live or die away from her family, and giving it to the government, giving it to the Congress of the United States.
So, this is fraught with irony, and it shows just how bankrupt the Republican Party is when it comes to any cogent argument or any reasonable ideas of their own.
MADDOW: Do you think—when you think about the average Pennsylvania voters that you know and that you have campaigned with and alongside, and for, for their votes over all of these years and all of the campaigns you have been involved in—when you imagine average Pennsylvanians looking at the health care debate now, is there a sense that the Republicans refusal to engage on policy is going to hurt them? They have brought a lot of heat to this fight. They have not really brought policy proposals to it. Does that hurt them ultimately?
RENDELL: I think it‘s beginning to. I think at the early stages the heat was very effective. And I think it was effective—and you and I discussed this before—because President Obama sort of laid back and didn‘t get in there and fill the vacuum and answer the questions. I thought he did a great job in his appearance before the joint session of Congress. And now, the public is beginning to say, “All right, well, if you‘re not for this, what is the answer?”
The status quo clearly didn‘t work, and the president did a great job of explaining that. And as the Republicans fail to come up with any cogent response or plan, I think the tide is turning against them.
MADDOW: When you think about the health care needs of your state, the fiscal needs of your state, and, obviously, Pennsylvania has had nationally famous fiscal trouble this year in terms of dealing with your big budget crisis.
MADDOW: You—when you look at what you need in terms of health care reform at the national level, what‘s your bottom line? What is most important to you for a bill coming out of the Congress on health reform?
RENDELL: Cutting costs and increasing accessibility. You nailed it when you said people are losing their health care. In the last seven years, 560,000 Pennsylvanians have lost employer-based health care. Ten years ago, you could get a family plan if you were an employer for your employee for $5,500. Today, it‘s $11,400. And by 2016, if we don‘t do anything about it, it will be over $25,000. No one will be able to give health care to their employees, no one.
MADDOW: In the absence of price controls, how do you bring down health costs enough to make it affordable once again? Do you need a public option?
RENDELL: I think a public option would be the surest way to do it, but you can do it by a co-op. You can do it by setting tough standards, and you can also do it by saving money. I gave an example—in Pennsylvania, we passed a very strong bill to control hospital-acquired infections, which were costing us in Pennsylvania $3.5 billion a year to the system. In one year, we cut that cost by 8 percent, saved $358 million in charges to all of the people who pay for health insurance.
Just think, that‘s one state with one little aspect. We‘re not talking about controlling chronic care. The president is right that cost controls can bend back the curve and actually save us money. So, we don‘t increase the deficit but take money off of the deficit.
The problem is, the CBO will not count anything that they can‘t quantify. But we know from experience and state by state that we can reduce health care costs and that can pay for a lot of this—what‘s going to cost us to have universal accessibility.
MADDOW: Ultimately, the prospects for reform may rest on whether or not the president‘s able to make a credible case that reform will work. It will be more than just scary if those are prospects for working, and so, cases like that will be part of making that argument.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell—it‘s always great to have you on the show. Thanks for being here.
RENDELL: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Well, Vice President Biden was greeted in Baghdad today by
mortar fire. The growing question in Washington is, should American troops
leave Afghanistan? And if so, when? Former national security adviser
Zbigniew Brzezinski joins us in just a moment
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Still to come, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, plus a spectacularly weird story involving a prison investigation in New York state and Neo from “The Matrix.” Plus, Kent Jones marks the 40th birthday of the other, other huge human event of 1969, the birth of Scooby Doo. Uh-oh.
But first, it‘s time for a couple holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. While the 9/12 marchers were in D.C. this weekend, the president was in Minneapolis to give a speech about health reform.
And while the president spoke to the crowd inside the Target Center arena, outside was a man carrying two concealed guns, one on his hip under his shirt, the other in his back pocket.
His name is Josh Hendrickson and we interviewed him today. He told us that he was not outside the arena to protest, but he said, quote, “The Second Amendment isn‘t suspended just because the president‘s in town.”
In Minneapolis, a police officer spotted the outline of one of Mr. Hendrickson‘s weapons at the event and asked him to see his ID and his conceal-and-carry permit. Mr. Hendrickson provided both and he stayed at the president‘s event with both of his loaded weapons, not protesting.
A little later the secret service followed up with a similar chat. The Minnesota state representative who sponsored the state‘s conceal-and-carry law said that Mr. Hendrickson‘s actions were, quote, “silly.”
Also, they‘re now part of a pattern of people opposed to the president‘s policies bringing guns to his public appearances. Anyone with leadership cred with these folks maybe want to stand up and say this is a bad idea? Anyone? No, seriously, anyone?
Finally, the Senate healthcare bill everyone‘s been waiting for is due out tomorrow. So, of course, it‘s been mostly leaked today. Amid widespread descriptions of the Max Baucus-helmed bill that includes no public health insurance option, relatively-weak subsidies to help out people who, under the bill, would be forced to buy insurance, bizarre extra double bans on health care for illegal immigrants and funding for abortion, amidst all of the concessions, in other words, that Sen. Baucus and his bipartisan gang of six made to weaken the bill in search of Republican votes, it is reported today that none of the Republicans in the gang of six actually plan to support the bill.
Even after Democrats promoted them from the minority in this committee to decision-making positions, even after spending hundreds of hours negotiating with them, the votes from the three Republicans in the Senate gang of six right now are apparently no, no, and no.
So that was fruitful. Since all of the compromising didn‘t earn Republican votes anyway, Democrats will put back in the public option and all of the other stuff they negotiated away now, right? Right?
MADDOW: With the notable exception of everything Dick Cheney did while he was in office, most of the things vice presidents do don‘t make much news. Vice presidential responsibilities aren‘t usually a big enough deal to make the front pages.
Unless like Mr. Cheney, you put your vice presidential responsibilities on a diet of rage-inducing steroids. Then, you make the news a lot. But now that we‘re back to the usual state of vice presidential affairs, you might not have noticed that Vice President Joe Biden has become the government‘s new point guy on Iraq, secret missions and all.
The vice president‘s public schedule, for example, for yesterday looked totally normal. It said that Vice President Biden would be in Washington, that he wouldn‘t be holding any public events. But in reality, on Monday night, Joe Biden was secretly leaving Andrews Air Force Base for Baghdad. He arrived in Iraq today.
It is his third trip to Iraq this year. He was there in January and he was there in July and he‘s there now. Not long after his arrival at about 4:20 this afternoon, local time, four mortars were fired at the Green Zone.
Vice president Biden had just met with the U.S. ambassador and with Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq before the mortars hit. Now, of course, the vice president is safe. He‘s in an undisclosed location.
But two civilians were killed and five others wounded in these mortar attacks today. It‘s a stark reminder that Iraq is not over, that we‘ve still got 130,000 American troops stationed there, double the number we‘ve got in Afghanistan, even as the debate over the Afghanistan war starts to take up more and more of the metaphorical oxygen in the room.
During confirmation hearings for his re-nomination as chairman of the joint-chiefs-of-staff today, Admiral Mike Mullen said that the military will probably say it needs more U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan if we are to succeed there.
Meanwhile, Russ Feingold is no longer in lonely political territory in the Senate in expressing reluctance to see this war up-scaled. Senator Carl Levin, chair of the Armed Services Committee, says now that we should be focusing on beefing up the Afghan army and police before we think about sending more U.S. troops.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Intelligence Committee, said this weekend that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan should be, quote, “time limited.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she doesn‘t think there‘s very much support either in Congress or in the country at large for sending more American troops to Afghanistan.
President Obama tried to address some of this mounting concern in an interview with CNBC‘s John Harwood yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Over the next several months, what people need to do is to not expect a sudden announcement of some huge change in strategy, but rather, that this is a continuation of the approach that we have taken from the start, which is, we‘re going to make our decisions based on the facts on the ground and the primary goal of keeping the American people safe.
And it‘s going to be amply debated not just in Congress but across the country before we make any further decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So he expects an ample debate. And in the meantime, we‘ll just keep plugging away. At least that was my takeaway from that quote. You know, year nine of the war in Afghanistan starts in less than a month.
Joining us now is Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski. He was national security adviser to President Carter. Dr. Brzezinski, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT
CARTER: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: You said in a speech in Geneva last week that we are running the risk of replicating the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. I was desperately hoping you would be able to come on this show tonight so that you can tell us what makes you say that.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I shouldn‘t be smiling, actually. It‘s a sad state of affairs. You know, the Soviets went into Afghanistan and within the first year, most Afghans were against them. And they stayed for about 10 years and they lost.
We went in about nine years ago with just 300 special forces. We overthrew the Taliban regime and most Afghans greeted us. Now, it‘s eight years later. We‘re beginning to have close to 100,000 troops, U.S. and NATO, and that tells you something, namely, that the Afghans are increasingly beginning to see us as foreigners, infidels, people who are interfering in their internal affairs.
So while I sympathize with the president‘s dilemma, it does seem to me that if we‘re going to put more troops in there, we have to ask ourselves very seriously, for what purpose? To implement what strategy? What is our definition of success?
And that can‘t be done too soon, especially if, in the meantime, we have to make some decisions about troops, so I think we‘re over a barrel. And my own view is that we cannot save Afghanistan from the Afghans. They have to be willing to do it themselves.
We should be willing to support the government but the fight has to be Afghan. We can back them and support them. We need to give them economic assistance because the Russians destroyed the country. But we can‘t take over the fight from the Afghans. And I‘m afraid that‘s what we have been doing.
MADDOW: When the president defines what it is that we are doing in Afghanistan and what requires the number of troops that he thinks we need to have there and he says it‘s for America‘s national security interest and al-Qaeda not having safe havens there from which they could project international force like they did against us on 9/11.
Do you think that worthy goal is in any way meaningfully connected to having tens of thousands of U.S. troops in that country? Is that the best way to achieve that goal?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, that is precisely the problem. You put your finger on it. The more Americans troops engaged in the heavy lifting in the fighting, the more we are there, the more we are evidently the foreigners and infidels with guns, the more the Afghans gradually will begin to resist us.
Right now the Taliban is supported only by a minority. And incidentally, not all of the Taliban formations are hooked up with al-Qaeda. But the more our military effort escalates, the more the chances are that Afghans will be turning against us.
So my very simple proposition is let‘s clearly define the goals we have in mind, let‘s define the strategy, and then on that basis, decide how many more troops we need and should have there.
Insofar as al-Qaeda safe havens are concerned, you know, they can relocate from Afghanistan to Pakistan, which they have already done partially. They can relocate to Somalia. They can perhaps relocate to some other countries.
Are we going to be invading and trying to, in effect, occupy militarily every possible safe haven that al-Qaeda is going to seek? Or do we have to have a strategy in which we cooperate with the governments involved and also engage in effective strikes or punitive missions to take out al-Qaeda if we know where it is?
But simply pouring troops into Afghanistan, potentially Pakistan, perhaps others, is hardly, in my mind, a rational solution.
MADDOW: When you look at those - the range of potential, realistic goals, things that the administration might say are their goals for what we‘re doing in Afghanistan, and it is, I think, everything from counterterrorism across the spectrum - narrowly targeted counterterrorism across the spectrum to full-scale nation building.
I would describe those as sort of the outer edges of what they might consider reasonable American goals there. Is there - I‘m sorry. Go ahead.
BRZEZINSKI: I‘m sorry. I wouldn‘t agree with you about nation-building. You know, nation-building is not done from the outside and by itself ultimately. Nation-building is an authentic organic process. There is such a thing as Afghanistan, historically. It doesn‘t need to be built by us.
But we have to understand what its essence is. Afghanistan is a multiplicity of ethnic groupings and tribes and even different regions united under something called Afghanistan, but governed in a variety of ways throughout the country.
And we have to accommodate to that complexity, make deals where we can, especially with those Taliban formations that are not hooked up with al-Qaeda. And we have to help the people in the cities who are more modern, more advanced, to develop instrumentalities of power. And we have to help them to develop economically.
But we can‘t do that simply by saying we‘re going to increase the troop levels. For what purpose? To fight where and how? For the sake of what goals? These are the big issues that haven‘t been answered.
You know, our European allies are there now, too - not in sufficient numbers, but they are there. And the European leaders have just called for a major strategic conference on the future of Afghanistan. I think we should grab that proposal and engage with them in a serious discussion which then will have the effect that whatever is decided involves, not only just us, but also the Europeans.
MADDOW: Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter and, as you know and around here, Mika‘s dad, sir, it‘s always a real honor to have you on the show. Thank you for your time tonight.
BRZEZINSKI: Nice to be with you, Rachel. Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith investigates reports on what President Bush really thought about his administration‘s would-be successors, including those in his own party. What he reportedly said about Sarah Palin is very sad.
Next on this show, the man who brought us Ted - Theodore Logan and the worst British accent ever heard on the screen in 1992‘s “Dracula” gets to go where the federal government isn‘t allowed to go. It‘s weird and it‘s ahead.
MADDOW: This is a story that starts one way and ends a whole other way altogether. Here‘s how it starts. Conditions at two prisons in Erie County, New York, have prompted a two-year long investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice‘s Civil Rights Division.
A 50-page justice report alleges that prisoners‘ civil rights in Erie have been violated to the tune of improper housing, inadequate supervision and sexual abuse. The prison has an alarming rate of suicides and suicide attempts.
And the Justice Department alleges the prison has failed to take the constitutionally-mandated steps it needs to take to attend to suicidal inmates. Oh, and there are also allegedly things called “elevator rides” which entail prison guards taking prisoners into elevators out of the range of the security cameras and, to use a technical term, beating them senseless.
None of this is to mention the allegation of guards pitting inmates against one another in forced combat. Officials in the Erie County, New York are denying most of these charges, right? They point out that the evidence against their jails is almost entirely the result of interviews with prisoners.
The county attorney, Cheryl Green, says, quote, “Much of what they have is nothing short of hearsay. First of all, this isn‘t the Hilton Hotel, let‘s be honest.” No, it‘s definitely not a Hilton. But it is definitely a place protected by the Constitution‘s prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Awkward.
As for the mainly-hearsay evidence, the feds have not been inside these two jails in Erie County to see for themselves because the sheriff of Erie County, Tim Howard, and his fellow county officials will not let the feds in to investigate, because the feds, according to Erie County officials, are just looking to find the problems.
Now, of course, when the feds have been advised of problems, looking at whether or not those problems can be substantiated is, in fact, what they generally want to do. Now, it‘s important to know that it‘s not that the sheriff of Erie County. It‘s not that the sheriff of Erie County won‘t allow anyone inside his jails.
The sheriff‘s office in Erie County, New York did, for example, this weekend, allow one outsider to visit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEANU REEVES, ACTOR: Bodhi, this is your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) wake-up call, man. I am an FBI agent.
Pop quiz. You have a hair trigger aimed at your head. What do you do? What do you do?
Party on, dudes.
MADDOW: Dude, Keanu. Yes, even as the federal government is being blocked from inspecting Erie County‘s jail, Keanu Reeves was invited inside them this weekend to prepare for a role in what is reportedly a romantic comedy called “Henry‘s Crime” where he will play a toll taker wrongly accused of robbing a bank in Buffalo.
Here he is - a footage here of him arriving in Buffalo for the weekend on embark on yet another excellent comedic adventure.
The County Attorney‘s Office says they were not informed of the Keanu Reeves cameo visit to their facilities and they wouldn‘t allow it had they known. Meanwhile, Keanu Reeves has seen more of the Erie County correctional facilities than your Department of Justice.
So the moral here? There‘s no moral. It‘s just the weirdest story ever about Keanu Reeves, and a very, very weird indictment of the Erie County Sheriff‘s Office. Tada.
MADDOW: We turn now to our mystery machine correspondent, Kent Jones.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. There‘s some major cultural anniversaries that have just not gotten the attention they deserve, like, at all. Check it out.
(voice-over): Woodstock was OK. The moon landing, eh. But for me,
the most significant cultural event from 1969 was this -
This week marks 40 years since four crime-fighting hipsters and their Great Dane debut on American TV.SCOOBY DOO, CARTOON CHARACTER: Scooby Doo!
JONES: Now, people my age can‘t find Belgium on a map, but they can recite, chapter and verse, the adventures of Fred - nice scarf, Dude. Bold choice.
Daphne - Velma, who I can imagine watching this show, Shaggy, who every guy turns into at some point in his early 20s; and of course, Scooby Doo who, quite sensibly, runs from ghosts.
Every episode was the same. Gang meets ghost. Gang gets chased by ghost. Gang traps ghost. Ghost confesses. Shaggy and Scooby eat. And after that, I would take my nap. Was it a good show? No. But when you‘re seven, anything with a talking dog is good.
But looking back, the central metaphor of the show remains sound. Things that look like scary monsters turn out to be some mean old rich guy putting on a show. Thanks, Scooby. Meddling kids rule.
MADDOW: That was the meddling kids.
JONES: Yes. Yay!
MADDOW: Thank you very much, Kent.
MADDOW: You made my night. Thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you again tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Lucky you. Good night.
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