'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, October 20, 2009
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Guests: Bill Wolff, Kent Jones, Dave Weigel, Jeff Connolly, Wayne Slater
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you very much for that.
Hi, Michael Musto! Hi!
It‘s always strange, that hand off, I have to say.
All right. Thank you for staying with us at home as well.
Hey, the culture war to revoke existing civil rights for gay people is back and raging in the state of Maine this time. It‘s like California‘s Prop eight, but this time with lobster.
The bellwether congressional race in this year‘s election cycle is turning into a proverbial blood bath, just among the conservatives. It will be news that will cheer the heart of the most pessimistic Democrat.
And George W. Bush has a new gig, a motivational speaker. That is not a typo in my teleprompter, nor am I making it up.
Plus, we will talk about spitballs, real spitballs. We will get to the bottom of it. You know you‘re wondering.
It‘s all coming up over the course of this hour.
But we begin tonight with three words that bring me an extraordinary amount of joy to be able to say, again.
Roll the animation.
MADDOW: Yes, it‘s that time of year, again. We are now precisely two weeks away from election 2009, when voters across specific parts of the country will take to the polls to vote in some local and statewide elections. And some of these elections have gained national attention, like the very highly-anticipated governor‘s races in New Jersey and Virginia.
For the country as a whole, these races are important to the extent that they are bellwethers, real world indicators of what‘s going on in American politics. And if today‘s crazy news about one of these bellwether races is anything to go by, what‘s going on here right now on American politics is absolute chaos on one side of the political spectrum.
The race in question is to replace the Upstate New York Republican Congressman John McHugh. John McHugh needs to be replaced because he‘s been appointed by President Obama to be the new secretary of the army. Mr. McHugh‘s district is described by the local papers there as one of the most reliably Republican seats in the nation. Parts of the district haven‘t been represented by a Democrat since the before the Civil War when Democrat Francis Spinner was elected back in 1854.
This year, this New York district which hasn‘t elected a Democrat since the Civil War era looks awfully close to electing a Democrat in 2009, in large part because of a bare-knuckled, hair-pulling, knockdown drag out intra-party fight that has broken out over this race on the political right.
When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed the Republican candidate in this race, the conservative Club for Growth went after Gingrich with both barrels. The head of the Club for Growth publicly snarking about Mr. Gingrich, quote, “Gingrich does this all the time. He likes to cultivate this image of being an innovator and a thinker and so on.”
When the conservative magazine, “The Weekly Standard,” sent a reporter to question the Republican candidate in the race, the candidate called the police to question the reporter, prompting “Weekly Standard” editor Bill Kristol to put out a snarky statement of his own, calling the Republican, quote, “desperate.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee and the House Republican leadership, like John Boehner and Eric Cantor, have come out in favor of the Republican candidate. The Republican Party has spent more than $300,000 in this race on her behalf. That caused Republican columnist Michelle Malkin to tell her readers, quote, “If you have given to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican National Committee, or Newt Gingrich, under the impression that they are using the money to support conservatism, you might want to ask for your money back.”
Even as the Republican Party and usual suspects, like the National Rifle Association, support the Republican running to replace a Republican congressman in this Republican district, the conservative movement is bolting. They are instead supporting a candidate who‘s running on the conservative party ticket. He‘s even got tea party support in the form of an endorsement from former lobbyist Dick Armey.
And the split isn‘t just between elected Republicans and the conservative movement. Even as the House Republican leadership endorses and funds the Republican candidate in this race, other ambitious elected House Republicans, people like Mike Pence, who appears to want to run for president and Tom Price of Georgia, they have refused to back the Republican candidate.
This is all regardless of the Democrat in the race. Essentially, the right has fractured over this one race. They are not only disagreeing about whether to choose the Republican Party candidate or the conservative party candidate, they are denouncing one another in the process, pledging the death of one another‘s political careers over this split.
Now, the local impact of this chaos on the right, the ultimate affect for the New York‘s 23rd district may very well be that the 23rd district of New York elects its first Democrat since around the time of the Civil War. With Republicans split over the two candidates on the right, the Democrat in the race is now ahead in recent polling.
Common political wisdom is that the first round of elections in the new president‘s first year are a referendum on that president. This year‘s bellwether looks a lot more like a referendum on the state of the Republican Party. And at this point, Democrats rejoice. It‘s a cage match.
Joining us now is Dave Weigel, reporter from “The Washington Independent,” who has been covering the Republican infighting in New York‘s 23rd.
Hey, Dave. It‘s nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.
DAVE WEIGEL, THE WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT: Oh, it‘s very good to see you. Thank you.
MADDOW: Is what we‘re witnessing in this one race in Upstate New York
· is it the tea party movement flexing its electoral muscles? Is that how we should see this?
WEIGEL: It absolutely is. The Dick Armey-Newt Gingrich split, I think, it‘s the most telling thing about this race. Dick Armey has been aligned with the tea party movement since the inception, since they split - - since conservatives reject the Republicans who voted for TARP.
And I—“The Weekly Standard‘s” role is the most interesting part to me, though, because this is a magazine that nine years ago was backing John McCain for president as a sort of center-left challenge to the Republican Party. Now, they are backing the third party, the conservative candidate, and it‘s in alignment with the tea party movement. They‘re saying that the Republican Party must not be allowed to come back to power with moderate candidate. They must—if they come back to power, be pure candidates approved with Dick Armey‘s rubber stamp and with the right statements on card check and ACORN and all the other litmus tests that have been created over this last year.
MADDOW: What are the forces that are weighing in against the Republican Party from the right here? There‘s Dick Armey. There‘s “The Weekly Standard.” It seems to me like there aren‘t a lot of local divisions that parallel the national division here. It sort of seems to me like this is a who‘s who of national conservative movement figures coming in and kind of big-footing this race.
WEIGEL: Well, that‘s the way—that‘s the way it looks. I mean, in D.C., I remember when Scozzafava was announced as the candidate, and the first Republicans I talked to said it‘s over. The Republican activists who knew about this said it was over.
But in the district, tea party activists are just working the phones getting local Republicans to diss her. The chairman of the Oneida County Republican Party spoke to one of the original tea party organizers, this guy, Michael Patrick Leahy and said, “I‘ve already written the race off. We lost this from the get-go. The conservative party can‘t be allowed to run our situation.”
It‘s a very organic fight. I mean, as much as national conservatives are organizing around this, the tea parties have always, you know, pounded their chests about independents and not Republican Party pawns. And this is the—this is the most extreme case you‘ve seen of that. They‘re willing to make a Republican go down with the ship, locally and nationally, if it proves the conservative movement is independent.
MADDOW: Well, what do you think the national waves of this would be? I mean, local Republicans in this district thought they needed a moderate Republican to win in this district. If conservatives—whether they‘d be local, as you point out, or national, as we‘re also seeing—if conservatives force that moderate Republican candidate out of the race who local Republicans chose, what‘s the—what are the ripples? What‘s the impact nationally?
WEIGEL: Republicans are pretty confident that they‘ve going to win the Virginia governor‘s race. They‘re going to sweep in Virginia, they think. So, they are ready to spin the day after the election that conservatism won.
If a Democrat picks up that seat in New York, they‘re going to say, “Well, look at the conservative vote plus the Republican vote. And then look at Bob McDonald in Virginia and maybe look at this election result in Maine.”
I mean, they view this as almost a free vote because if a Republican wins the race, all people who endorse the conservative party candidate tell me they are ready to go and mount a primary challenge to her. She‘d be spending 10 months as an incumbent member of Congress, getting beaten up by Michelle Malkin, by Dick Armey, by all these people, having trouble getting Republicans in Congress to endorse her.
I mean, the message—this is not so much a campaign about electing a congressman. It‘s part of the cause. In the run for 2010, they‘re willing to throw this Republican under the bus if it makes the point that the Republican Party cannot be allowed to send moderate liberals, supporters of abortion rights to Congress.
MADDOW: It‘s just fascinating because we‘ve been talking for the last year about how the Republicans are going to rebuild and whether or not they‘re going to be able to sort out amongst themselves whether or not the way forward is through moderation and trying to appear more centrist, or whether they‘re going to go into a sort of death spiral of ideological purism. And we‘re—it‘s no longer theoretical, we‘re actually seeing it happen right here. To see John Boehner and Eric Cantor and the other supposedly most powerful Republicans in the country just lose this fight is remarkable.
But, Dave, just as far as I understand your take on it, you think no matter what happens with this race, even if the Democrat wins, the Republicans will find a way to sort of take credit for it, despite this fight?
WEIGEL: They will. I mean, “The Weekly Standard‘s” role, again, is interesting because it‘s a conservative magazine. It made a lot of fun of liberals who supported Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman three years ago and said that was the death panel. The party—I think they are ready to see some blood in the water and say, “Look, this proves our point.” You know?
If the Republicans said, “Just listened to us and nominated a far right candidate who agrees with us to all the issues, we would have won, if just listen to us.” If they‘ll lose in New Jersey they‘ll say, “If you had listened to us and nominated a more conservative candidate, we would have won.”
So, this is—this really is seen as an opportunity to flex our muscles. And if you‘re a Republican who would like to get back into the majority someday, you—I think you look at the tea party movement that has given, you know, what you lack in 2008 -- a big, active electoral base that‘s ready to pound the pavement and elect the Republicans.
You look at them and you realize that you can‘t control them.
WEIGEL: These people have beliefs and they‘re going to act on, and sometimes, they‘ll burn you.
MADDOW: Yes. And the sound that you hear in the distance beyond your earpiece there, Dave, is Democrats cheering and clapping and popping champagne bottles all over the country at this news.
WEIGEL: Not yet. They still like—they love to use that Civil War anecdote. Oh, we‘re not going to win this.
WEIGEL: It‘s very close. Just pay no attention to Democrat who is in this district where Obama beat McCain by three points.
MADDOW: Dave Weigel, reporter for “The Washington Independent”—thanks very much for your time and your reporting tonight, Dave.
WEIGEL: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: So, the passing of Proposition 8 in California did a few things. One, it restored the second-class citizenship of same-sex couples and gay people in that state. Two, it galvanized gay right activists like few other things have in recent memory. The next battleground is the state of Maine, where question one is the new Prop 8. That fight is upon us. It is apparently tied in the polls right. The story is next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Same-sex marriage has been declared legal in six states, five of them in New England plus Iowa, bless its cotton socks.
California also for a time issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but then, 50 weeks ago today, as progressives hailed the election of Barack Obama and a sweeping Democratic victory in the 2008 selection, conservatives‘ one bright spot for the evening was California‘s Proposition 8. Proposition 8 was an $83 million culture war, a valid initiative that rescinded the existing rights of California‘s same-sex couples to get married. The California Supreme Court ultimately upheld Prop 8, and you may recall that driving infuriated proponents of same-sex rights into California‘s streets.
Well, today, an analogous fight is under way in the great state of Maine, where the initiative to repeal existing same-sex marriage rights is called Question One. A vote yes on Maine‘s Question One would be a vote to revoke the rights granted by Maine‘s marriage equality law. It was passed by the state legislature and signed earlier this year by the state‘s governor.
The people leading the charge to revoke those rights are the same folks who worked to pass Proposition 8 in California. The Stand for Marriage Campaign in Maine hired the exact same conservative anti-gay marriage P.R. company that ran the campaign in California. They are Schubert Flint Public Affairs. And those professional P.R. guys are trying to eliminate gay marriage rights in Maine like they did in California are using exactly the same campaign—exactly.
Watch closely and see if you can identify the similarities.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s already happened in Massachusetts. Gay marriage will be taught in our schools unless we vote yes on Proposition 8.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. That‘s California. Here‘s Maine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s already happened in Massachusetts. Vote yes on Question One to prevent homosexual marriage from being taught in Maine schools.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You think the anti-gay marriage people in Maine got their money‘s worth paying these P.R. guys for a whole new campaign?
Yes. They did change the actors, some of them.
Right now in Maine, the latest poll numbers on Question One are dead even. The latest polling shows 48 percent of Mainers are in favor of the measure and 48 percent opposed.
Joining us is Jesse Connolly. He is the campaign manager for the “No on One” campaign in Maine.
Mr. Connolly, thanks for very for your time tonight.
JESSE CONNOLLY, NO ON 1/PROTECT MAINE EQUALITY: Hey, thank you, Rachel, for having me on.
MADDOW: Is it right to characterize the anti-gay marriage campaign in Maine as a tactical rerun of Prop 8 in California?
CONNOLLY: Yes, Rachel. I think that we are seeing here in Maine some very similar tactics that were put out in California by the same P.R. firm that you mentioned. But I think Maine people are fair-minded people that will hopefully see through these attacks and we feel really confident about where the campaign is headed as we head into the last two weeks.
MADDOW: What are you doing differently in Maine from the folks how lost on Proposition 8 in California? I know that you‘ve studied some of that campaign and the strategies on both sides.
CONNOLLY: Yes, Rachel, this is something that we haven‘t gone to overnight. This has been a multiyear effort by advocates that knew this was a two-pronged approach. They knew that there would need to be successful both on the state legislature and have the governor sign it, and then also simultaneously build for this people the referendum clause that we have in our campaign.
So, we‘ve been working very hard, advocates have been working very hard for over a year now to make sure we‘re in the best position to win this November 3rd.
MADDOW: In terms of your strategy, though, tell me how you‘re going to do it. I mean, I know the polling is tied right now. As far as I understand it, same sex marriage has a record of something like 0-30 at the ballot box. I know that you‘re an experienced Maine campaigner.What makes you think that your campaign could be the first to win?
CONNOLLY: Well, Rachel, I think a couple things are going on right now that we like to highlight. One, this is an off year election where turnout is going to be very critical. We feel that the field effort that we‘ve put on the ground that‘s been building for over the year, just second to none, and our organizers have been working day in and day out against everyone else. And we also have a really experienced team of seasoned political veterans that are putting forth some really messages that are going out on the air waves.
So, we feel that the combination of our field effort that‘s been going on for the past year and the paid media that we‘ve been pushing will really sort of make sure that Maine voters understand just how critical it is to vote no this November 3rd.
MADDOW: On Proposition 8, the—some of the common wisdom and it‘s common wisdom actually that I share, was that the anti-gay marriage forces knew exactly what they were doing, and that the pro-gay marriage forces were slightly blindsided by that loss. And more importantly, perhaps, gay rights supporters nationwide, both gay people and people who support gay rights, were taken aback by Prop 8, somewhat galvanized by it.
And I wonder if you have benefited from that, if gay rights supporters around the country have decided to support Question One in Maine, the No on One effort because they frankly feel guilty that enough wasn‘t done to stop Prop 8.
CONNOLLY: Well, you know, I can‘t really talk about Prop 8, but I‘m really—I‘m very excited about the levels of support we are seeing both from Maine people but also from folks around the country. They are donating their time. They‘re coming here on what we‘re calling a volunteer vacation to come and volunteer on this campaign, to do the hard work that we need to do in the field.
And I think, Rachel, it‘s also critical that, you know, we‘ve looked at the playbook of the other side. As you said in your opening, these are the exact same ads that are putting forth. And we think our ads that have been done by a great firm, McMahon Squier, really put these guys back in their box.
And we‘re not going to let anything go unchallenged. We push back very hard. We push back very quickly. The combination of those ads along with our field effort is critical for our success. And we think we‘re going to be very, you know, hopefully, be very successful this November 3rd.
MADDOW: Jesse, one last question. I understand that the Catholic Church, particularly the Portland diocese, has been—played a major role on the other side, including sort of passing the collection plate for donations against gay marriage.
MADDOW: What—are there religious dynamics at work here and has that complicated the effort at all for you guys?
CONNOLLY: You know, there are, but I think they are on both sides of the issue. We have a very active Catholics for Marriage Equality effort that‘s going on in our campaign. When the Catholic diocese went out and did a second collection at the parishes, we had our supporters that were out there, really, you know, making sure that the message of full equality is not something that one side of the religious podium gets to claim for themselves.
And we‘ve really looked at putting people of faith in front of this campaign, as leaders of this campaign, as spokespeople for this campaign. And it‘s really important that that message that, you know, full equality is something that people of all faith deserve. It‘s really resonating here in our state.
MADDOW: Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for No on One/Protect Maine Equality—I can tell just from looking at those very sober, serious people behind you, that this is—you guys are waging a very serious effort there. So, feel free to tell them that they can smile and laugh now that the segment is over.
CONNOLLY: Thanks, Rachel. We‘d love to have you come in Maine as well. So thanks so much for having us.
MADDOW: Thanks, Jesse. Appreciate it. Good luck to you.
All right. The upcoming Get Motivated Business Seminar in San Antonio, Texas, boasts quite a lineup of guest motivators. They include Hall of Fame quarter Terry Bradshaw, Tony Parker from the San Antonio Spurs, a minister named Dr. Robert Schuller, and, also a guy who‘s billed as the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush. He‘s doing motivational speaking now. This is an amazing story I promise you—next.
MADDOW: Tonight, we have a little new insight into how the Republican Party is dealing with life in the political minority. On the same day we got the news about the post-electoral career paths of the two biggest names in Republican politics. Come December, the erstwhile future of the party, former half-term Alaska governor and vice president candidate Sarah Palin will be speaking in front of a sold-out crowd at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri. It‘s a private Christian school that is now most famous for hosting Sarah Palin, as well for its official policy on lifestyle/sexuality.
Posted at wonkette.com today, the college policy prohibits sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assaults and also homosexual conduct—because, you know, it‘s all basically the same thing.
But the bigger Republican scheduling surprise of the day comes to us from the Bush family, with news that both former President George W. Bush and former first lady, Laura Bush, will be doing stints as motivational speakers, headlining multiple events for this couple, Tamara and Peter Lowe. They are described on their own Web site as the dynamic duo who create and produce the Get Motivated Seminar. It‘s also described them as having been married for 20 years. To add punch to that statement about their marriage, they have posted a picture of themselves online kissing at Getmotivated.com.
The event at which George W. Bush will be speaking is described online as a “motivational mega-show that packs more inspirational firepower than a stick of dynamite!” Because dynamite is very inspirational. These are some of the promotional materials that are being put out here. You‘d se here, that‘s our 43rd president.
And it said there, right between Tamara Lowe, the motivational speaker, and Dr. Robert Schuller, who is described as best-selling author of more than 25 books. Dr. Schuller‘s motivational speech promises online to teach you, among other things, the skill of assessing good and bad ideas. He says it‘s not as obvious as you think. I don‘t know if that one will be before George W. Bush‘s speech or after, but I‘m guessing before.
The former president will be speaking at the motivational tour for two of their dates in Texas, one in October and one in December. For the December event, look who he appears to be replacing. If you go to the Corpus Christi event for December 1st, you‘ll see that among those speakers listed there is Dr. Earl Mindell—described as the ultimate authority on vitamins, fitness and nutrition.
Then if you go to the San Antonio date, the next day, December 2nd, you‘ll see in Dr. Earl Mindell‘s place, it‘s George W. Bush. He has replaced the vitamin guy.
Laura Bush will be speaking for the same series, but she‘ll be speaking in separate cities from the former president. She‘s described on the motivational Web site as having been, quote, “recognized by Gallop Polls as one of the most popular and beloved first ladies in American history.” They spelled Gallup wrong, which makes me sort of sad. As you explore the Web site a bit further, you will find a list of frequently asked questions for potential attendees of these motivational events including this one that caught my eye just because it was unexpected.
Quote, “I‘m being pressured to attend. I don‘t think I need to be fixed.” The answer posted on the Web site to this frequently asked question is, quote, “Neither do we. The get motivated seminar is designed for anyone who‘s interested in continuing to grow and achieve new levels of success. This is the perfect opportunity obtain even more of what you want in your life and less of what you don‘t.”
Unless, of course, what you don‘t want is to be pressured to go to a motivational seminar. One other frequently asked question that they answer on their “Get Motivated” Web site is this, “Can I get the same information from reading books?”
The “Get Motivated” answer is, “Not even if you read a billion books.” And this is really just the beginning of the George W. Bush legacy speaking tour. Who knows what kind of sales conferences and corporate team building excursions he might one day book. The future looks very bright.
Joining us now is Wayne Slater, senior political writer with the “Dallas Morning News” and co-author of the book, “Bush‘s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.” Wayne, it‘s nice to see again. Thanks for joining us.
WAYNE SLATER, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”: And
it‘s great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I‘m going to disclose my feelings about this if they are not already clear. This seems like a strange signal to send for the president‘s first big American multi-occasion speaking gigs. What signal do you think he‘s trying to send?
SLATER: Look, this is the granddaddy of the sales motivation seminars. This is Babbitt(ph) meets the Super Bowl. I mean, this is about everybody you‘ve ever thought you wanted to see, if you were sort of a middle-level salesman trying to sell stuff to people who don‘t want to buy what you‘re selling.
It‘s like - I think part of what George W. Bush is doing and you were alerted to it, this is really an introduction to the George W. Bush legacy project of which we are going to see a lot. Karl Rove is putting together a book. It‘s finished. It actually will be out early next year, explaining the Bush years.
Bush himself is going to prepare a book. There‘s a library being built, of course, in Dallas. This is part of the legacy tour. George Bush, who left office, as you may remember, with a couple unpopular wars and an economy going down the tubes, is going to be on the stage with winners, not losers. They are all winners up there.
MADDOW: But he‘s going on stage at an event. I mean, spent so much time on this Web site today. Some of the things they promise people are going to learn at this event are how to irate customers into lifelong fans, the eight keys to communication and captivating public speaking. How to get your ideas accepted, acted upon and accomplished. It‘s seems like an odd thing for a very recent president to be aligning himself with.
SLATER: Well, yes.MADDOW: It‘s in terms of the tone, doesn‘t it?
SLATER: These are George Bush‘s people. Zig Ziglar is sort of a master of ceremonies of this event, besides Peter Lowe(ph), the master salesman, is a motivational legend in the sort of latter-day Dale Carnegie ranks. And George Bush, I think, feels comfortable with a number of these folks. But you‘re right. It‘s not the counsel on foreign relations. It‘s not that kind of speech.
MADDOW: It‘s interesting to me that Laura Bush is doing more of these events than her husband, George W. Bush. He‘s doing two events in Texas. She‘s doing a sprinkling of event including some outside of Texas. Do you think there‘s a Texas dynamic at play here?
SLATER: Well, there is a Texas dynamic. Laura Bush has already done a couple of these even though George Bush just left the White House. This is George Bush‘s first time on the motivational speaker circuit.
The Texas connection - Zig Ziglar is kind of a legend around Dallas, Texas although this is not where he‘s from. There is a kind of upbeat, up, up with people‘s spirit in Texas, certainly around Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Antonio and, I guess, Corpus Christi.
And so I think the idea that you have the president of the United States who, here in Texas, in many circles, remains fairly popular, really kind of points to the optimism, even the sales craft of a place like Texas.
MADDOW: I love the way you sell Texas. You could sell Texas to anybody. You don‘t need to be inspired by one of these seminars. Let me ask one last question here and I don‘t mean to crass. But is this likely to be a financial decision for the former president as well? Is this that sort of thing that pays very well for the people who are brought on as speakers?
SLATER: This pays very well. My sense is that George W. Bush gets at least $100,000 for about 40 minutes of work, for one speech. They don‘t talk about how much they pay these people, but this is a big event that makes a lot of money.
The actual night that they have them at a football stadium or a big soccer arena doesn‘t make a lot of money. But they also sell - people associated with this sell everything from DVDs, inspirational tapes to weight loss programs and make a lot of money. So for George W. Bush, that‘s not his first motivation, I‘m confident. But it sure doesn‘t have to put $100,000 in your pocket that night.
MADDOW: Wayne Slater, senior political reporter with the “Dallas Morning News.” Thanks for your time and your insight tonight, Wayne. It‘s good to see you.
SLATER: Glad to be with you.
MADDOW: OK. So New York Yankees pitcher, Mariano Rivera, appeared to spit on a baseball during yesterday‘s playoff game against the L.A. Angels. There are people in this room right now, including some operating cameras standing quite near them who are very angry with me for even bringing this up.
Rob, calm down. Now, that would seem to create a spitball, if you spit on a ball. And you know, I would happen to say that‘s cheating.
Here to talk about that story and here to sort of talk me down about it is Bill Wolff, who happens to be the head of primetime programming at MSNBC. Bill Wolff also struck out against all sort of pitches in his prime. He still pays a lot of attention to baseball. He rarely spits anymore. And he assures me the Yankees don‘t really cheat as much as I think they do. Stick around.
MADDOW: I‘m not crazy about the New York Yankees baseball team. Notice that I‘m here doing the show and not watching them right now. As a Red Sox fan, in fact, I will admit, I am hard wired to believe that Yankees cheat.
After a purported spit ball last night in the play-offs, I will ask baseball obsessive Bill Wolff to talk me down in just a moment.
But first, a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. Somali pirates have taken a Chinese cargo vessel and its 25 crew members hostage. This is the first successful attack since China sent three naval warships to the area last year.
A Reuters reporter was actually able to call one of the pirates on board the ship. He said the ship is carrying fuel and that they will be bringing it back to Somalia. Now, a lot of ships have been hijacked off the Somali coast. But as far as we can tell, this hijacking is record breaking, and therefore it‘s making tonight‘s news because of where the ship was when it was attacked.
The ship was attacked and boarded about 350 miles north of Seychelles - 700 miles from Somalia. That is the farthest a field any pirates have struck in modern pirating history - 700 miles, which I think means - it‘s hard for me to take it back.
There was no hijacking off the coast of Somalia. That would be like saying in late January, Barack and Michelle Obama picked up the kids and moved to the outskirts of Chicago. If you define the White House in Washington, D.C. as being on Chicago‘s outskirts - 700 miles.
And the new U.S. Navy amphibious assault vessels about to be commissioned, the size of two football fields. It‘s called the USS New York and it‘s currently on its way to New York from New Orleans where it was built.
For parts of the warship, however, you could more accurately describe the trip to New York as a return home. 7.5 tons of the steel used to build the ship‘s forward hull were taken from the wreckage of the World Trade Center buildings that were knocked down on 9/11.
And the unusual relationship between the USS New York and the metal in it doesn‘t stop there. In the Navy, there‘s a tradition of what‘s called ship‘s silver. It‘s like the china your grandmother would only bring out for special occasions, except instead of your grandmother, it‘s the captain of a billion-dollar amphibious assault vehicle carrying U.S. Marines.
The ship‘s silver is often handed down from ship to ship in the Navy. So for example, on the USS New York, this sugar bowl and this punch bowl will be passed down from a previous ship of the same name.
Here is the part of the story we have to check to make sure it wasn‘t sourced to the onion. Beyond the fancy silver being inherited from previous ships, the way they are trying to outfit the USS New York with the rest of its silver is that they‘ve registered the USS New York at Tiffany‘s, as if it‘s a bride.
Yes, if you‘re motivated, you could buy this billion-dollar amphibious assault vehicle a $4,200 silver teapot or you could buy them a $2,000 tray. If the recession has taken its toll and you are having a rough year, we might also suggest this fork, which is only $250. You know, that $600 Pentagon hammer is starting to look like a real steal.
In the big picture in American politics, Republicans are now a pretty small minority. A new “Washington Post” ABC News polling out today, only 20 percent of the country identifies as Republicans. In Washington, that is translated into the Republican Party losing control of the House and the Senate in 2006, then just getting even further clobbered in the next election, plus losing the White House, too.
In the Senate, in particular, it‘s been a rough few years for Republicans. They were in the majority in the Senate through the 2004 election. In the next election, Democrats took the Senate majority by just one seat, but then, last year, the Senate just blew up for the Republicans.
2008 was a Senate disaster for them. They lost eight seats in one election. They gave Democrats not just a majority, but a supermajority. But to be fair, a lot of political winds were blowing against Republicans in the ‘08 Senate races when they got clobbered.But it cannot have helped that the man in charge of the
Republican Party‘s Senate Campaign Committee, the man in charge of electing and reelecting Republican senators in ‘08 was Nevada‘s John Ensign.
While Sen. Ensign was supposed to be in charge of, say, Republicans not losing eight seats in the Senate, we know he was also doing elaborate damage control about his extramarital affair, which had, at that time, become known.
That damage control included putting his mistress‘ teenage son on the Republican Senate Campaign Committee‘s payroll. It involved having his parents pay off his mistress‘ family to the tune of almost $100,000.
And we now know that it involved Sen. Ensign having the political director of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee in the heat of the lead up of ‘08 elections stop working on electing Republican senators that year and instead, start working on finding a job for the husband of John Ensign‘s mistress.
That apparently was pressing national Republican Senate Campaign Committee business under John Ensign‘s leadership. The effort to elect Republican senators in ‘08 failed miserably under that leadership. They lost eight seats.
Now, we know why that effort might have been a little distracted. As both parties gear up now for the next elections in 2010, we have just learned from “CQPolitics.com” that the Ensign family has found a new way to add further insult and injury to what they have already done to the Republican Party‘s chances in Washington, specifically in the Senate.
According to new fundraising reports, John Ensign‘s parents, famous for paying off his mistress, have also just maxed out their personal donations to Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate Democrats. Ouch.
MADDOW: The last time the New York Yankees baseball team was as good as they are now, the owner of the Boston Red Sox described the Yankees as the evil empire. And you know who bought in? Me.
So imagine my indignation when woke this morning to headlines screaming “Angels Fans Cry Foul over Mariano Rivera‘s Spitball Video.” “Mariano Rivera‘s Spitball Video.” “Mariano Rivera‘s Spitball Video Evidence?” And “Is Saliva the Secret to Rivera‘s Cutter?”
Mariano Rivera, of course, has been and remains the star relief pitcher of the New York Yankees. The cause of the controversy was nine seconds of TV footage from the 10th inning of last night‘s Yankees Angels playoff game when, frankly, it looked like Mariano Rivera cheated by spitting on the baseball.
Angels Fans called foul. If you spit on the ball, it‘s a spitball. Spitballs are illegal, right? He‘s a cheater. At least that‘s what Yankees haters decided to think.
However, the officials of major league baseball reviewed the video, frame by frame. Seriously, they had to look at Mariano Rivera hocking a loogie, frame by frame and they concluded, quote, “We have found no evidence that Mariano Rivera spit on the ball.”
What, he just spit near the ball? The Yankees ended up losing the game five to four in the 11th inning, I‘m delighted to tell you.
Joining us now is the vice president of primetime programming at MSNBC and the executive producer of this show, Mr. Bill Wolff. Bill is also a guest columnist for the “Philadelphia Enquirer.”
BILL WOLFF, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Don‘t forget that part.
MADDOW: A sports expert and, full disclosure, a quasi-religious St.
Louis Cardinals baseball fan. Mr. Bill, thank you for being here.
WOLFF: It‘s always a pleasure, Rachel. I‘m busy booking my flight to Ft. Worth. I‘ve got a motivational seminar to get to.
MADDOW: It‘s going to be a blockbuster.
WOLFF: Yes. I‘ve got to get motivated, Rachel.
MADDOW: Tell me your take on the controversy. You don‘t think he cheated?
WOLFF: Total nonsense. Utter nonsense. In order to believe it, you would have to think two things. One, Mariano Rivera is really literally the greatest pitcher who ever pitched. He has one pitch that he does. It‘s called a cutter. It does the same thing every time.
So you would have to believe that he used a spitball to do that every single time for the last 13 years. And a spitball, unlike a cutter, is unpredictable. What he does is mystifying but predictable.
Number two, you would have to believe that he had a brain cramp and thought that this would be a great time for the first time, in 13 years, to hock the loogie on national TV in the middle of a playoff where everyone could see it. So you‘d have to think that, A, he was able to control an uncontrollable pitch and B, he was full enough to hock a public loogie on the ball.
MADDOW: But you know what? People who rise to great heights who get caught for stuff could always be excused by saying, “Oh, he can‘t have possibly been this successful if he had done something this dumb when he got caught.” Couldn‘t this have been a one-time thing?
WOLFF: No, absolutely not. No, it couldn‘t have. Because how you throw a spitball isn‘t by hocking a loogie on the ball. That‘s not how a spitball works.MADDOW: Why is it called a spitball then?
WOLFF: Because back in the day when loogies were more viscous - I didn‘t mean that. Back at the beginning, they would, in fact, hock a loogie. I guess they were more viscous back in the olden days.
But for the last, like, 80 years, the way they do it is totally different. They don‘t actually spit. They put some other substance on the ball.
MADDOW: What are your props here? Are you going to show me a spitball?
WOLFF: These are other props for doctoring a baseball.
MADDOW: All right.
WOLFF: The spitball can best be explained like every other question in the history of humanity by Walter Matthau. Here he is explaining the spitball.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)UNIDENTIFIED MALE CHILD: What‘s he doing there, uncle?
WALTER MATTHAU, ACTOR: That‘s a spitter, wets her fingers, you see, and then she appears to dry them on the peak of her cap. But she‘s not really drying them because she has Vaseline on it. Watch this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Strike three.
(END VIDEO CLIP) b
WOLFF: So what happens -
MADDOW: Even in “Bad News Bears,” it‘s Vaseline. It‘s not spit.
WOLFF: Exactly. And the reason is a baseball is essentially a perfect sphere. The way you get it and if it flies through the air if it‘s thrown without any special spin, it flies straight.
In order to get it to curve unpredictably, you just have to change how round it is, make it less perfectly spherical and then aerodynamics will cause it to break, to curve in unpredictable ways.
So that requires Vaseline or soap or something like that. Not a
loogie. Mariano Rivera‘s loogie - unless, again, it was extraordinarily
viscous. Maybe he‘s got the flu. It wouldn‘t have worked. There are
other ways to do it. You could use a thumb tack. You start scratching in
the side of the ball and that causes an imbalance in the -
MADDOW: It‘s like hiding a tack in your glove.
WOLFF: You hide a tack in your glove. You hide an emery board in your pocket and you shave on the ball. You have your catcher rub the ball against his pads and that cuts a hole. Or he rubs it in the mud and it becomes a spot of mud on it.
Anything that causes imbalance in the ball will cause unpredictable break in the ball. The principle is the same as the whiffle ball. You know whiffle ball?
WOLFF: It‘s unbalanced. Half of it is solid, half of it has holes in it. The principle is, when it‘s lopsided, it‘s not completely spherical. So aerodynamics causes it to break.
Every day as you know, Kent Jones and I take a couple of hours - whatever, 2 ½ hours, whatever, in the middle of the day. Motivational speech - and we play whiffle ball here in the studio.
Today, we happened to videotape it. And I can show you exactly what I mean if you just watch this videotape of me. You‘ll see how the whiffle ball breaks. There it is. That‘s me pitching - oh, with that jersey. And then, a swing and a miss.
And that is the result of the whiffle ball breaking because of the imbalance in the ball. And that is what a spitball does. And it takes something more than spit ...
MADDOW: Than just spit -
WOLFF: ... to make it happen. So you saw the videotape of Kent and me doing it. That is how it happens. Mariano Rivera did not cheat. So here it is again in slow mo.
MADDOW: In slow mo.WOLFF: Right. He missed very badly because of the break and - yes?
MADDOW: I still - I want to believe that there‘s cheating but you sort of talked me out of it.
WOLFF: Look, so do I. Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the Soviet hockey team in 1980 against the USA. It‘s like rooting for the casino against the gambler. It‘s like rooting for like, the Chinese government against the dissidents.
It‘s not very fun like they‘re going to win. So there‘s no joy in it. I wish I could tell you that I though he doctored the balled. He didn‘t. He hocked a loogie. It was disgusting but it was not illegal.
MADDOW: Bill Wolff, vice president of MSNBC primetime programming, executive producer of this show and a geek, thanks for joining us, Bill.
WOLFF: Yes. My pleasure as always.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith is joined by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island on the Obama White House‘s fight with FOX News.
Next on this show, the Irish twins taking England by storm. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We turn now to our Hibernian balladeers correspondent, Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. There is a show in England called “X Factor” which is produced by Simon Cowell of “American Idol” fame. And they may have found the next great/truly horrible/great singing sensations. Take a look.
JONES: If there‘s one constant in pop music, it is this - there will always be pale young dudes with big teeth who dance with each other.
Now, right on schedule come John and Edward Grimes, 18-year-old identical twins from Dublin. And when it comes to singing and dancing, John and Edward have great hair. Think ‘N Sync without the “sync” part. No matter, John and Edward are stars. Deal with it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHERYL COLE, JUDGE, “X FACTOR”: Where do you see yourself in 15 years from now?
UNIDENTIFIED GRIMES TWIN: I see myself being older.
JONES: On Saturday night, John and Edward unveiled their magnum opus a Vegas-worthy staging of Britney Spears‘ “Oops I Did It Again.”
JONES: You know, I don‘t think I truly appreciated Britney until right now. Afterward, Simon was Simon.
SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “X FACTOR”: My initial reaction was, “What the bloody hell was that?” I didn‘t like it, but I wanted to watch it again.
JONES: Nonetheless, John and Edward seem unstoppable. With no irony whatsoever, “The Guardian” newspaper enthused, quote, “It was utterly majestic. It was life changing. It was the sort of the performance that, if it was projected on to the side of the moon, would stop all global conflict and unite mankind in an instant.” Hey, whatever it takes.
MADDOW: Or they could do a motivational speaker with the president.
JONES: I‘d go.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. Thank you for watching tonight.
“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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