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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

Guests: Dahlia Lithwick, Noah Shachtman

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  And now anticipating Sharron Angle‘s first mainstream interview being done with our friend John Ralston, minutes hence, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.
Thank you for saying those nice things about Mr. King over at CNN.  He is not somebody who I have ever met, but through in the world that we all coexist in, he‘s always been both generous and sort of sweet-natured toward me and I think toward everybody in the business as well.  So, I share your sentiments.
OLBERMANN:  And you‘re absolutely right about him.
MADDOW:  Yes, thanks.  Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN:  And thanks to you at home for staying with us.
We begin tonight with a very unexpected development in American politics.  The top Republican in Congress has flunked politics 101 in public really badly and mostly on tape.  The whole ball game for the elections this year is whether or not voters will see them as a referendum on the Obama administration or whether they will see them as a choice between Democrats, the Obama administration, and Republicans.
If it‘s a referendum just on President Obama, then anything the American voter isn‘t happy about right now, hold it against Obama and the Democrats.  Elect Republicans by default.
I‘m hot.  I have poison ivy.  I hate the BP oil spill.  Throw the bums out.  You know, it could be anything.
That, of course, is the dynamic that Republicans are hoping to ride to big majorities or at least big gains this November.  That‘s the dynamic Republicans want, the referendum on the Democrats.
What Democrats want for these elections is that voters don‘t approach them just as a referendum on one guy or one party, but rather as a choice between the two parties.  The way opposition parties try to make an election more like a referendum and less like a choice is to not talk about what they, the opposition, have to offer in terms of policy.
It sounds cynical, but it is tried and true when you‘re in the opposition—you don‘t throw your policy ideas out there to get picked apart, you don‘t have to.  That‘s the one great thing about being in opposition.  You just hope when the other guy gets booed, you get ushered in as his replacement, regardless of what crazy stuff you believe in.  That‘s politics 101.  It is cynical, and I realize it sounds that way, but that really is how politics works.
And that‘s why Republican Senate candidate, for example, Sharron Angle in Nevada, who‘s running against Democrat Harry Reid, that‘s why Sharron Angle, for all of the political missteps she has made, for all of the amazing things about her as a candidate, that‘s why Sharron Angle says stuff like this when she‘s asked about her positions on the issues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARRON ANGLE ®, NEVADA SENATE CANDIDATE:  He is trying to make this a campaign about me, but where‘s Harry?  Go ask Harry.
REPORTER:  But your own Web site calls—
ANGLE:  Please go ask Harry about the EPA and why they have failed.
REPORTER:  And why you want to eliminate it.
ANGLE:  Why they have failed to do what they need to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW:  Don‘t ask me about my totally indefensible position on the EPA that I don‘t want to talk about, it‘s about the other guy, ask about the incumbent.  This isn‘t about me, it‘s about Harry Reid.
That‘s the way you do it.  You don‘t want to talk about how you are, you want to talk about the incumbent that you want voted out.  That‘s what it means to be an opposition politician.
Good job, Sharron Angle.  Textbook work there.  Lots more to say about Sharron Angle later in the show tonight.
Republicans in the Senate have also done opposition politics 101 pretty well.  If you notice, they‘re never for anything.  They don‘t introduce real amendments.  They introduce symbolic, gimmicky amendments about stuff like Viagra and porn.
I mean, Senate Republicans have this thing down to a science.  You keep the focus on the party in power.  You don‘t draw attention to yourself.
When people don‘t like how things are going in the country for any reason, it ends up being a vote against the party in power and the opposition just gets voted in.  Just keep your head down.  Don‘t draw fire.  That‘s how they do it.
Republicans in the Senate are good at it.  Republicans in the House under the leadership of John Boehner do seem to understand this basic principle.  It really is just basic politics.  But on the House side, they fall off the wagon a lot.  They have a really hard time adhering to this.
You may recall last year when President Obama‘s budget came out.  Instead of just taking pot shots at President Obama‘s budget—which is what even the cheapest political consultant in the world will tell you you‘re supposed to do when you‘re in the opposition—House Republicans for some reason at that time decided to introduce their own alternative budget.  But they hedged their bets, perhaps sensing they were doing something wrong.
They refused to put any numbers in their budget—a deft compromise that allowed them to lose twice.  They hurt themselves politically by publishing their own policy ideas and they still don‘t look like they have any real policy ideas.  Amazing.
Then trying to score a second own goal in the same game, House Republicans had their budget guy introduce what they called a blueprint of what House Republicans would do if they got back in the majority.
Now, honestly, Republicans were largely save the political consequences of that inexplicable blunder because nobody has ever heard of the congressman who put it together.  Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, anybody?  The most notable press coverage Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has received in the last year is not from his budget thing, his blueprint thing, it was from what his workout routine is like.
Honestly, “Politico” did a front page feature on Paul Ryan‘s amazing workout regimen.  He is ripped.  Thanks, “Politico.”
But had anybody been able to pay attention to Paul Ryan for longer than it takes to say his name, for longer than one awesome P-90X workout, they would have seen this blueprint thing he put out called for, say, abolishing Medicare benefits, privatizing Social Security.
Every Democrat running for Congress in the country could hold up that blueprint and run against it if they wanted to.  It was a political gift for Democrats.  But Democrats weren‘t able to cash in on it, on that opportunity as much as they otherwise might have because Paul Ryan is utterly anonymous, because he‘s not a Republican leader, he‘s not recognizable.  He‘s more of a back bench Republican.
Despite those early missteps, House Republicans keep not figuring this out.  And now it looks like they may have finally really stepped on the rake and knocked themselves out.  They have put out the guy who would be the Republican House speaker, John Boehner—the most recognizable Republican in Congress who is not John McCain, and they had John Boehner talk about policy at length, and more, and further.
And again, I don‘t know exactly what Democrats are going to do with this.  Who knows if they‘re going to seize this opportunity?  But John Boehner, in the course of speaking with the editorial board for “The Pittsburgh Tribune Review,” has essentially just offered to forfeit the midterm elections this year.  Where do we begin?
OK.  Asked about the Wall Street reform legislation that‘s now making its way through Congress, Mr. Boehner told the newspaper that the reforms go way too far.  Quote, “This is killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.”  He‘s talking about the financial crisis.
Just to be clear here, the thing that is the tiny, harmless ant, the thing we shouldn‘t be bothering with trying to do anything about is—I mean, take your pick, here‘s some of our favorite visual summaries of what John Boehner is referring to as just a little ant.
There‘s this “New York Post” headline from October 2008 kind of summing up the mood of the country pretty well.  “Economic Crisis: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Then there was this front page from the “San Jose Mercury News,” the day the Dow had its biggest point drop ever, ever in history.
Or there‘s this graph which shows the millions upon millions of jobs lost.  Look at the green one there.  The millions of jobs lost as a result of this whole financial crisis.  What‘s the big deal?  Why is everybody freaking out?  A little ant, we need not respond to this.
Maybe John Boehner isn‘t focused on the financial crisis anymore.  You know, I mean, we do have a much more pressing crisis going on in the United States, the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, for example and the policy questions about what to do in response to that.
Here‘s how he feels about that:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER:  Have you been down there?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER:  No, but I‘m planning to go.
REPORTER:  Is a six-month moratorium a good idea?
BOEHNER:  I don‘t think so.  They‘re going to cause real havoc down there.  The deepwater drilling, maybe there‘s a reason there to pause until we know what happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW:  I mean, the deepwater drilling, maybe there‘s a reason to pause until we know what happened.  That‘s actually what the moratorium is.  It‘s the pausing of the deepwater drilling until we know what happened. 
That‘s quite literally the policy he was asked about.
So, you‘re in favor of that, sir?  You just said you‘re opposed to the moratorium and then explained how in favor of it you are.  Do you—do you understand what you‘ve been asked about here?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER:  The deepwater drilling, maybe there‘s a reason there to pause until we know what happened and we can make sure we can prevent it again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW:  Make sure we can prevent it again.
That one I don‘t know, I don‘t have any idea.  Sorry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER:  But all of the other drilling that‘s gone on down there in the more shallow waters, there‘s no reason to have this moratorium.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW:  Do you know what the moratorium is, sir?  Do you know that shallow drilling, as you put it, is not actually affected by the moratorium?  Not affected.  What the moratorium is, is actually just a pause in deep-water drilling—which you said you‘re for, while explaining how against it you are.
It sort of seems like you don‘t have any idea what this policy is, which is sort of okay if you‘re some random back bencher who nobody can remember except for your awesome workout routine profiled in Politico.com.  But when you are one of the most recognizable Republicans in the country who would be speaker of the House if Republicans won the election, this is amazing.
You got asked about the most debated top of the agenda policy issue in the whole country right now and you have no idea what it is.  You have no idea what you‘re talking about.  This is astonishing.
In this interview, John Boehner also said he wants to raise the age which people are eligible for Social Security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER:  We‘re all living a lot longer than anybody ever expected.  And I think raising the retirement age, going out 20 years and not affecting close to retirement, and eventually getting the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW:  Attention all 60-year-olds, attention all 50-somethings, John Boehner wants you to know that Republicans are going to raise the retirement age on Social Security.  OK, everybody good?  Don‘t forget to vote in November, you demographic that always votes, every single election, every single time.  You know you can register now.
Just amazing.  I mean, whether it‘s policy, the basic understanding of what‘s facing the country right now or basic politics, I mean, John Boehner is a little woolly on the political implications of what he‘s saying clearly.  He‘s a lot woolly on the basic policy of what he‘s talking about.
Consider also this final point, what he demonstrates in this interview about his temperament.  Everybody uses hyperbole in politics, right?  Everybody talks a little bit over the top.
I like hyperbole.  I use it all the time.  I talk over the top.  I recognize this, I enjoy this.
But consider that this is the guy who wants to be speaker of the House.  This is just one more gem from John Boehner today.  The “Tribune Review” did not post the video of this comment—I don‘t know why, but they did put out the quote from him.
Quote, “The Democrats are snuffing out the America that I grew up in.  Right now, we‘ve got more Americans engaged in their government than at any time in our history.  There‘s a political rebellion brewing, and I don‘t think we‘ve seen anything like it since 1776.”
Remember that Civil War thing?  That was nothing.  What‘s going on right now is bigger.
In this same interview where he talks about the revolution that dwarfs the Civil War that‘s going on right now, it says—he says, quote, “Congressman Boehner stopped short of predicting Republicans would gain the 39 seats they need to retake control of Congress.”
So it‘s a world-changing once in 234 years dwarfs the Civil War fervor that won‘t result in Republicans picking up 39 seats.
Amazing.  Behold.  It turns out the midterms are going to be fun.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER:  Have you thought of a run for president or vice president?
BOEHNER:  No, no, no, no, no.  Listen, I don‘t have much of a life, but I have a little.  That little bit of life I have, I like to cut my own grass, wash and iron my own shirts, drink some red wine, smoke a few cigarettes from time to time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MADDOW:  Up until now, this is what an interview with Sharron Angle not conducted in the warm comfort of the conservative media looks like.  That changes tonight.  In about 15 minutes from now, to be exact, we have Sharron Angle‘s first real interview with a real journalist—coming up from Reno.  There will be popcorn.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MADDOW:  President Obama, not yet halfway through his first term, has been lucky enough as a president to have two opportunities already to nominate new justices to the Supreme Court.  For his first nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, all Democrats also got lucky when Republicans chose to attack her nomination for her having used the phrase “wise Latina.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  Many of Judge Sotomayor‘s public statements suggest that she may indeed allow or even embrace decision-making based on her biases and prejudices.
SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  Already prejudiced against one of the parties.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA:  Allow biases and personal preferences.
KYL:  The wise Latina woman quote.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS ®, ALABAMA:  A wise Latina.
GRASSLEY:  Your wise Latina comment.
SESSIONS:  Justice Sotomayor has said she accepts that her opinions, sympathies and prejudices will affect her rulings.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW:  When they tried to turn the phrase “wise Latina” into an epithet, it became a sharp reminder of Republicans deep-seated and deep, deep problems with minority voters.
Now, with President Obama‘s second Supreme Court nominee, Republicans have decided to go after her by attacking Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, and a civil rights hero to most Americans who aren‘t Republican senators on the judiciary committee.
Democrats cannot believe their luck.  They now eagerly await Republicans‘ next Supreme Court political move wherein they expected to wage war on baseball, beer and Betty White.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MADDOW:  A vapid and hollow charade.  The woman who now sits before the judiciary committee to see if she‘ll be the next Supreme Court justice, back in the early ‘90s, she was a staffer to that very same judiciary committee.  And in 1995, she famously wrote a book review deriding the confirmation process as “a vapid and hollow charade.”  She argued that Supreme Court nominees ought to stop pretending they don‘t believe in anything, that they don‘t have views on anything.  She said, they should talk openly during these hearings about who they are.
Well, now on day two of her own Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Elena Kagan is as clammed up as nominees ever are.  Forthcoming about her own views, she is not.  She says she has changed her mind about the wisdom of that.
But until today, the question remained unanswered.  Fifteen years later -- 15 years after she wrote the vapid and hollow charade thing, does she still think that confirmation hearings for the nation‘s highest court are vapid and hollow?  Does she still think the confirmation process, the one she‘s going through right now, is a dumb process?
Watch this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  So far, has the hearings been what you thought they would be?
ELENA KAGAN, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE:  I‘m not sure I had—I‘m not sure I exactly pictured it.  So—
GRAHAM:  Let‘s try to go back in time and say you‘re watching these hearings and you are critical of the way the Senate conducted these hearings.
(LAUGHTER)
GRAHAM:  Are we improving or going backwards?
(LAUGHTER)
GRAHAM:  And are you doing your part?
KAGAN:  I think that you‘ve been exercising your constitutional responsibilities extremely well.
(LAUGHTER)
KAGAN:  So it‘s all those other guys that suck, not us, right?
(LAUGHTER)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW:  He said “suck.”  For the simple reason that Senator Graham of South Carolina said the word “suck” during an official Senate proceeding, that was perhaps the most exciting moment from day two of the Elena Kagan Supreme Court confirmation hearings today.
But whether or not the Kagan hearings are vapid or hollow and whether or not they—to quote the senator—suck, both sides continue to use these hearings, not so much as a referendum on Elena Kagan, because everybody pretty much assumes she‘s going to get confirmed, but rather as a teachable moment—a chance to make a broader case to the country about the courts.
As we talked about on the show yesterday, Democrats are really desperately trying to make these hearings a showcase for how radically conservative the current Roberts Court is.
And Republicans are trying to make it about how liberals are scary.  In so, doing they seem to have given up on trying to make it seem like Elena Kagan alone is the scary great liberal threat to democracy.  Instead, they have decided to attack a judge she used to clerk for.  You might have heard of him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SESSIONS:  Throughout her career, Ms. Kagan has associated herself with well-known activist judges.  She clerked for Judge Mikva and Justice Marshall, each well-known activists.
KYL:  Justice Marshall‘s judicial philosophy however is not what I would consider to be mainstream.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS:  Thurgood Marshall was a famous lawyer for, among other things, having won the landmark civil rights case Brown versus Board of Education.  But it‘s more about his judicial philosophy that concerns me.
KYL:  He might be the epitome of a results-oriented judge.
CORNYN:  He considered himself a judicial activist and was unapologetic about it.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW:  Joining us now to discuss the Republican resistance to Thurgood Marshall joining the Supreme Court 17 years after Thurgood Marshall left the earth is our friend, Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for “Slate” magazine.
Dahlia, thank you for being here.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, SLATE SENIOR EDITOR:  Thank you for having me.
MADDOW:  What is the Republicans‘ beef with civil rights icon and legal legend Thurgood Marshall?
LITHWICK:  Unclear.  I mean, you heard a lot of it in those clips.  He seems to epitomize the sort of loosey goosey, make it up as you go along, fly by the seat of your pants, pot-smoking hippy judge that they want to suggest all liberal judges are.  I mean, certainly, today, in some sense was even worse.
Jon Kyl kept saying, you know, Marshall‘s whole judicial philosophy could be characterized by the notion that you, quote, “do what you think is right and let the law catch up.”  You know, it sounds so unrestrained and terrifying.
And so, I think because they can‘t figure out what to say bad about Kagan, they keep talking about Marshall as though she‘s the same hippie dippy, pot-smoking—she‘s not.  She‘s anything but that.  But I think they sort of feel like maybe people will confuse the two in their minds.
MADDOW:  The amazing thing, though, is that it does—I mean, even for people who don‘t pay attention to judicial matters—I mean, they renamed BWI, the Baltimore Washington International Airport after Thurgood Marshall.  He‘s a legitimate civil rights icon among the very small pantheon of civil rights icons in this country.
I mean, I know that you‘re not here to do political analysis, but it does seem weird that people would expect us—the Republicans would expect us to think pot-smoking hippie and not guy who airports get named after, right?
LITHWICK:  No, it‘s a very, very mysterious attack.  And for what it‘s worth, Rachel, it really ramped down today, whereas you had so many references to it yesterday.  I mean, many more references to Thurgood Marshall than Barack Obama.
Today, it was much milder.  I think already there‘s been some blowback in some sense that you maybe don‘t want to antagonize every African-American over a nominee who‘s a white woman, you know, who isn‘t even—there‘s no reason to go the “wise Latina” route with her because she‘s a white woman.  So, I think there may be some sense that this was badly, badly misplayed.
MADDOW:  But you do think that the questions about Marshall reflect a lack of a real beef with Elena Kagan on the part of the Republicans in the Senate?
LITHWICK:  I mean, she‘s been questioned about her relationship with Marshall, she was questioned about a judge, an Israeli judge, Aharon Barak, who she once—in an introduction to a speech he gave, she said he‘s one of my heroes.  She then said I say that a lot.
But, you know, she‘s been questioned about almost anyone she‘s ever said something nice about.  And I think you‘re right, I think it‘s a proxy for being able to question her about her own views.  You turn around and say, OK, we‘re going to run down the list of anyone she likes and figure out what‘s bad about them.
MADDOW:  What about Democrats‘ efforts in these hearings to try to make them about Democrats‘ judicial philosophy, at least to make them about Democratic critique of the Roberts Court—is that working?
LITHWICK:  Well, it‘s been—I will say they‘re much more coherent than they were last year.  You‘ll remember at the Sotomayor hearings, the Democrats had a tough time getting on the same page about what it is that they think the liberal judicial project is.
This year, I think they have at least from Leahy all the way down to Al Franken, you‘re hearing the same message which is: Roberts Court, out of touch, pro-corporate, anti-little guy, hates the environment, messing up your drinking water.  It‘s right down the line, whether it has anything whatsoever to do with Elena Kagan is not clear, but certainly to the extent that they‘re trying to message a coherent liberal message, which is, hey, the court needs to stand up for the little guy when the other more beholden branches of government are not doing that.
I think they‘re getting that message across, or at the very least they‘re certainly all doing it as a team—and that‘s much more effective than last year‘s kind of scatter.
MADDOW:  And how do you think that Kagan is doing, thus far, as a nominee?  Obviously, today was the first day she took questions.  It‘s clear that just from what I saw of the hearings today, that she seems very relaxed.
LITHWICK:  Relaxed, funny.  You know, she brought the room to a standstill, just gut-wrenching laughter.  At some point, Lindsey Graham asked her, what were you doing when the Christmas Day bomber was caught on Christmas Day?  And she said, like pretty much all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.
I mean, you know, people were applauding.  She‘s very funny, Rachel. 
She‘s very disarming.
But at the same time, I think she does a good job of saying, look, I take the law very seriously.  At one point, she was questioned about her passions and she couldn‘t get passionate about anything but the law.  So, she‘s doing a good job of balancing seriousness and levity and humor, and I think real charm.
The thing I really am enjoying this time around is it sometimes feels like these hearings shrink the nominee down to a smaller version of who they are.  This is actually letting someone who looks good on paper but it‘s hard to love in paper become quite human and warm and big luminous smile. 
And so I don‘t know if that‘s working for everyone, but it‘s quite clear that the senators are finding her disarming and charming and kind of likeable. 
MADDOW:  A likeable liberal.  Dear me, I know.  She won‘t call herself liberal but the press is going to have a hard time understanding how to report on this.  Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for “Slate” magazine, I always really appreciate your insight on days like this.  Thanks a lot, Dahlia. 
LITHWICK:  Thank you for having me. 
MADDOW:  So Nevada‘s Sharron Angle is my nominee for the mascot so far for this year‘s elections, mostly because she says things like this about issues like unemployment. 
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARRON ANGLE ®, NEVADA REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL NOMINEE:  That‘s what‘s happened to us is that we have put in so much an entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry and said, “You don‘t want the jobs that are available.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW:  Spoiled, spoiled, unemployed people.  Yes.  But Sharron Angle hasn‘t had to answer any real journalist‘s real questions about her amazing views until tonight.  It is show time for Sharron Angle right now in the biggest little city in the world.  And we will bring you her sitdown with an actual journalist for the first time ever, John Ralston, tonight.  Do not miss this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MADDOW:  Surprising absolutely no one, the Senate Armed Services Committee today voted to confirm Gen. David Petraeus as the new top commander in Afghanistan.  Gen. Petraeus now needs approval from the full U.S. Senate and from NATO, both are which expected to grant it within days, if not sooner.  The new commander should be in Afghanistan by the end of the week. 
Also surprising no one today, the man who will be the new top military commander in the Afghanistan war steadfastly refused any suggestion that he disagreed with the White House at all about what to do in Afghanistan, to the point of evening using some of the president‘s exact words to describe how and when U.S. troops will leave. 
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND:  It is important to note the president‘s reminder in recent days that July 2011 will mark the beginning of a process, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits and turns out the lights. 
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW:  Turning out the lights might not be the best metaphor considering a lot of Afghans only get a couple hours of electricity a day, but point taken. 
The war strategy is not changing.  The deadline for leaving is as squishy and contested as ever.  What‘s new is that the “Rolling Stone” Michael Hastings experience that led to the quick departure and retirement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal is bringing to the fore the weaknesses in the strategy that the president and Gen. Petraeus are sticking to. 
Take, for example, the issue of the training of Afghan troops and police.  We‘re not supposed to be defeating the Afghan military.  You‘ll recall we‘re supposed to be standing them up, recruiting and arming and training them so they can handle their own country‘s security needs without us. 
A new report today by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says, quote, “Even top-rated Afghan units could not operate independently and that the ratings of many security forces overstated their actual capabilities.” 
The report also says, quote, “The report said some parts of the country were so dangerous that assessment teams could not rate the security forces in those areas at all.” 
If in our current strategy we need those forces to be stood up before we can leave, doesn‘t this imply that in year nine of the war our strategy maybe isn‘t working?  Gen. Petraeus‘s explanation, his response was that this report was outdated.  But in recent months the Afghan forces are getting better.  Honest. 
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETRAEUS:  I recognize that enduring success in Afghanistan will require the development of Afghan national security forces in sufficient numbers and sufficient quality.  Our efforts in this important area have been overhauled in the past year and those efforts are now broadly on track. 
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW:  We all know exactly what happens between now and when Gen.  Petraeus gets to Afghanistan to take up this new command.  There will be no daylight between him and the administration on policy.  There will be no surprises. 
What we don‘t know is what happens once Gen. Petraeus gets there.  Does he change the rules of engagement for the troops?  Does he have some magic bullet for standing up Afghan capacity?  Since that‘s a thing that can‘t really be done with bullets. 
Does he know something no one else does about why the Taliban might ever consider a negotiated political settlement to this conflict, which everyone keeps saying that‘s the only way we really can leave? 
Joining us now is Noah Shachtman, editor of “Wired.com‘s” “Danger Room” and a fellow at the Brookings Institution.  He spent about a month in Afghanistan last September.  Noah, thanks very much for being here. 
NOAH SHACHTMAN, EDITOR, “DANGER ROOM”:  Thanks for having me. 
MADDOW:  In terms of political engagement with the Taliban, it‘s clear that everybody is starting to realize that, yes, this is something that the public needs to be talking about, not just the military, not just the strategic thinkers who are behind this sort of - behind the big picture stuff about what we‘re doing in Afghanistan. 
Is political engagement with the Taliban possible?  And is it the only way out? 
SHACHTMAN:  Well, first of all, there‘s not the Taliban.  There‘s actually lots of different Talibans.  There‘s a whole bunch of different insurgent groups.  Some are kind of just local rebellions against, you know, what they see as foreigners.  And some are more hard-core Islamic types.  There‘s all types of competing interests there. 
So I think there‘s probably going to be an opportunity to pick off small groups here and there.  But Petraeus has been pretty clear that this isn‘t going to start with a negotiation, it‘s going to start with, as he put it, hammering them.  And then, we‘ll have a little negotiation or maybe both at the same time. 
MADDOW:  if there are - if there is a big new uptick in, as they say - well, if there‘s a big new uptick in contact, if there is a lot more fighting - obviously there‘s a big offensive today on the border, on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. 
We‘re expecting some sort of initiative in Kandahar, although we don‘t know exactly how Connecticut is going to be in military terms.  If there‘s a lot more fighting, does that, in any case, run the risk of making a political settlement less likely? 
SHACHTMAN:  I‘m not sure.  Petraeus at least sees counterinsurgency, not as kind of like counterinsurgency over here - not as separate from war.  It‘s kind of like something that happens simultaneously in different places. 
You can have like really active fighting in one place and sort of more negotiated political settlements in another.  You can have school building over here and you can have kind of, you know, real active fighting in another place. 
MADDOW:  On the issue of the engagement rules, rules by which U.S.  troops are allowed to shoot, call in air support and those sorts of things, one of the things that Hastings highlighted in his article for “Rolling Stone” was troops‘ dissatisfaction with - feeling like they can‘t defend themselves, that they are not able to finish firefights, that they‘re not able to adequately keep themselves safe once firefights start.  Do you think that those rules are likely to change, and how important will that be? 
SHACHTMAN:  Well, Petraeus said today in his hearing that he‘d reconsider at least some of the applications of the rules.  And you know, my gut feeling is they‘ll change a little bit.  You know, we‘re not going to go all of a sudden to all-out crazy World War II-style conflict in Afghanistan.  That‘s not going to happen. 
But there could be a little bit more flexibility, I‘m guessing, in the number of air strikes that are allowed to be brought in.  Just take this data point, for example.  In Iraq, once Petraeus took over, sorties with munitions dropped air strikes went from 229 in 2006 to over 1,400 when he was taking over in Iraq. 
So it‘s not like David Petraeus‘ counterinsurgency master is opposed to having stuff getting blown up.  Quite the contrary. 
MADDOW:  Noah Shachtman of “Wire.com‘s” “Danger Room,” also a fellow at the Brookings Institution, thanks.  I feel like the national conversation on Afghanistan is restarting in a sort of intense way.  And I look forward to having more of this conversation with you.  Thanks, Noah. 
SHACHTMAN:  Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW:  Appreciate it.  I‘ll be getting a firsthand look at the situation on the ground in Afghanistan in a few days when we take the show there.  And we‘ll travel to several parts of the country with NBC‘s Richard Engel before broadcasting our own show, live from Kabul, next Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.  We hope very much that you will tune in. 
Coming up on “COUNTDOWN” tonight, forget all of the rules that BP might have broken before its blown oil well started destroying the Gulf of Mexico.  BP appears to have broken its own rules in a multimillion dollar effort to buy political influence.  Imagine that.  Keith‘s on it. 
And coming up on this show, Nevada‘s Sharron Angle finally agreed to an interview outside the cocoon of the right-wing media, within which she is so comfortable.  It‘s happening now.  We will bring you John Ralston‘s much-anticipated Reno sit-down with the “let‘s ditch social security and look for Second Amendment remedies to our problems” candidate in just a moment.  Please stay tuned.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MADDOW:  This year‘s most interesting candidate, Nevada Republican Senate candidate, Sharron Angle, has played hard to get with most of the media since her nomination.  No, seriously, she‘s played really, really hard to get. 
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why do you want to eliminate the EPA when we‘re in our worst environmental disaster in this country? 
ANGLE:  Where are you getting these questions? 
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW:  Tonight, Sharron Angle is no longer running away.  She has, in fact, taken a seat across from Nevada political reporter, John Ralston, and is facing his questions.  We have that long-awaited exchange hot off the satellite machine from Reno coming right up.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MADDOW:  Things have not gone down the way they were supposed to this year in Nevada.  The Republican Party was hoping to make a huge national issue, a huge national story, to lead the political news all year long by winning Harry Reid‘s Senate seat, by making the majority leader of the Democratic Party lose his seat at home. 
Then, the Republican frontrunner, Sue Lowden, turned into the “pay your doctor with a chicken” lady.  Her campaign imploded and Nevada Republicans ended up instead with Sharron Angle. 
Sharron Angle has been the Republican nominee for three weeks now.  And so far, she has pursued a phenomenal campaign strategy of only talking to super right-wing media.  She has talked so far to “Fox and Friends,” to “Human Events,” to “The National Review,” to Roger Hedgecock, to “The Rush Limbaugh Show” - with a guest host because Mr. Limbaugh was off that day. 
She‘s talked to Lars Larson and she‘s talked to local conservative talk radio.  That‘s it.  She hasn‘t talked to anyone outside the conservative bubble, anyone who might threaten to ask her a real question. 
And not just on the national level.  Sharron Angle won‘t even talk to journalists in Nevada.  This is what Nevada voters, and by extension, a national audience, have seen so far of the great Republican hope for 2010.  This is Sharron Angle meeting the press, running through a parking lot pretending that Nevada reporter isn‘t there and isn‘t talking to her. 
Sharron Angle‘s media strategy might make sense if she were still running a primary campaign among Republicans, if she were only trying to engage and energize her base.  But this is the general election now.  Her unwillingness to talk to anyone outside the conservative echo chamber has become the national story about her. 
That‘s not the national story that Republicans thought they would be getting out of this race.  So tonight, it is finally happening.  Sharron Angle has finally agreed to do a real interview with a real journalist, the dean of Nevada political journalism, John Ralston, a frequent guest on this program, is tonight getting the first chance to question Sharron Angle since she won the Senate nomination. 
Oh, please, oh please, oh please.  I mean think about what Sharron Angle has already admitted, even just in the interviews with people who already agree with her, just from talking to people who won‘t confront her.  Remember the Second Amendment remedies thing? 
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ANGLE:  You know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around. 
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW:  That‘s not something she said because she panicked, because she got asked a hard question.  She volunteered that.  She said if conservatives don‘t get what they want from the political process, they‘re going to turn to Second Amendment remedies. 
They‘re going to use the right to keep and bear arms to get what they want.  Yet that‘s going to need some explaining.  She said it at least three times on the record.  And then, there are her plans to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education and she wants to privatize social - I‘m sorry, oh, no, I‘m being told she wants to personalize social security, totally different, if by different you mean exactly the same. 
That‘s the stuff she has admitted to when talking to friendly interviewers.  What would she say to a real journalist?  Now, Nevadan Democrats are circulating an interview that Sharron Angle did back in January on “The Bill Manders Radio Show” about whether a woman can get an abortion in the case of rape or incest. 
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BILL MANDERS, HOST, “THE BILL MANDERS RADIO SHOW”:  I, too, am pro-life but I‘m also pro-choice.  Do you understand what I say, what I mean there? 
ANGLE:  Well, I‘m pro-responsible choice. 
MANDERS:  Right. 
ANGLE:  You know, there‘s choice to abstain, choice to do contraception.  There‘s all kinds of choices. 
MANDERS:  Is there any reason at all - is there any reason at all for an abortion? 
ANGLE:  Not in my book. 
MANDERS:  So rape and incest would not be something? 
ANGLE:  You know, I‘m a Christian. 
MANDERS:  Right. 
ANGLE:  And I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things. 
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW:  Let‘s just be clear.  What Sharron Angle is saying is that for women who are raped, who, by definition, don‘t have a choice about, like she says, abstinence or contraception - well, that‘s all part of God‘s plan. 
It‘s part of God‘s plan for the government to force you to bear your rapist‘s child.  Oh, please, can I ask a follow-up question?  This is what Sharron Angle has been saying among friends, in conservative media. 
And tonight, for the first time since she won the nomination, she‘s going to be asked actual questions about her actual views.  It‘s happening right now.  Sharron‘s Second Amendment remedies Angle and John Ralston.  And we‘re going to bring it to you next.  I cannot wait.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MADDOW:  Nevada‘s Republican nominee for Senate, Sharron Angle, has avoided all interviews outside the confines of the conservative media until tonight.  As we speak, she‘s being interviewed in Reno by veteran political reporter, John Ralston, on his program, “Face to Face with John Ralston.”
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JOHN RALSTON, HOST, “FACE TO FACE WITH JOHN RALSTON”:  My intention here tonight is to clear up some of the muddiness that‘s occurred since the primary.  So what we‘re going to start with is talking about social security, because there‘s been a ton of media written about and paid media from your opponents. 
First, let me show people what you said about social security when you were interviewed on KMPR before the election. 
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ANGLE:  Whenever I say “privatize,” I don‘t mean governmental privatization.  I mean actual free market privatization.  There is a place where you present your idea and you say we‘re going to privatize over a period of years.  Help me out there.  What is that period of years that you think that we should have? 
Those are things that are up for grabs.  Now, are we going to privatize?  That‘s not up for grabs.  The idea of privatizing and getting out of Medicare and social security is not up for grabs. 
(END AUDIO CLIP)
RALSTON:  So that‘s what you said before the primary.  And then, just last Friday, on a radio program, here‘s what you said. 
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ANGLE:  I‘m here to save social security but we have to get someone in that understands that the salvation of social security is to lock the lock box and keep the government from raiding it as well as put some real money in there, not IOUs. 
(END AUDIO CLIP)
RALSTON:  OK.  You have to explain this.  It seems like a contradiction to me.  You want to phase it out.  You want to privatize it.  That‘s the only thing you‘ll consider.  And suddenly, you want to save it. 
That‘s a contradiction, isn‘t it? 
ANGLE:  No, I don‘t think so.  You know, we have seniors that are counting on social security.  They have paid in good faith into a social security lock box, figuring that there would be money there to pay for their retirement as they go forward.
And yet, we know that that lock box has actually been raided and pillaged by Harry Reid and his cronies there in Washington, D.C. so that all that is left is IOUs.  So what I want to do. 
RALSTON:  But that‘s not true.  There‘s plenty of money left in social security, at least - I just read the report of the trustees - I‘m sure you have, too - until 2037.  You want to take it out of the lock box and throw it into the free market, without any government involvement at all. 
ANGLE:  No, I didn‘t say that. 
RALSTON:  You said no government involvement. 
ANGLE:  I said the money - the money that‘s in the lock box needs to stay in the lock box for senior citizens.  And I have to disagree with you.  I think those are IOUs, not cold hard cash that‘s in that lock box. 
But going forward, we know that that is not going to be available to younger workers and we need to allow them to personalize.  And that‘s just kind of an expanded way of saying that sometimes you can do it through a privatized manner. 
Or sometimes, you can do it like they did through the federal government.  You know, all of Harry Reid‘s employees have a Gerda(ph), which is a personalized account that doesn‘t allow the government to come in and raid the lock box.  And that‘s really what all of us should have, is something we can count on. 
RALSTON:  You‘re saying lock box more than Al Gore ever did.  But the point is, is that you want to throw this into the private sector.  You want the private sector to rule.  Now, if that had been enforced, if the Sharron Angle plan had been enforced a couple years ago, millions of seniors would have lost all their money. 
ANGLE:  No, that‘s not true, because -
RALSTON:  Of course it is. 
ANGLE:  No, it isn‘t, because once we go forward with this thing of personalizing those accounts - and I‘m not the only one who feels this way.  Paul Ryan has his roadmap that he feels this way. 
RALSTON:  Wisconsin congressman? 
ANGLE:  Yes.  Somehow, we need to offer to younger employees something that‘s not - that, really, everyone admits isn‘t going to be around in 27 years. 
RALSTON:  Let‘s talk about jobs. Let‘s clear this up, because, you know, this has been controversial.  It‘s the biggest issue in the campaign, maybe.  Here‘s what you said at a campaign event.  And now, this is being featured in an ad from the Harry Reid campaign.  Take a look at this. 
OK.  This is what you said - we don‘t have the tape of this, “People ask me, ‘What are you going to do to develop jobs in your state?‘  Well, that‘s not my job as a U.S. senator, to bring industry to the state.  That‘s the lieutenant governor‘s job.  That‘s your state senators and assemblymen‘s job.  That‘s your secretary of state‘s job to make a climate in this state.  You all come.” 
All right.  I can understand that argument.  Yet, here‘s how you blamed Harry Reid for jobs on this program. 
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGLE:  Harry Reid has been burning our economy with high unemployment, with high foreclosure rates, even to the point where the Obama whispers agreed with Harry Reid said.  If you come to Las Vegas, you‘re coming on a junket.  What really matters to Nevadans is they need jobs.  They need to know that they can stay in their homes. 
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RALSTON:  Well, here again, you want to have it both ways.  You say it‘s not the job of U.S. senators to create jobs, and then you blame Harry Reid for not creating jobs. 
ANGLE:  Certainly, the job of the U.S. senator is to create a climate that will be conducive to creating jobs, which means lower taxes and less government regulation. 
But what Harry Reid has been doing is putting forward those policies that actually put more regulation on business.  Obama-care, for one, has put in so many regulations now that they‘re having to choose and they‘re choosing that they cannot provide jobs. 
So what has happened is he has been the point.  Remember that the president can only propose.  Harry Reid has disposed of all this legislation, the stimulus that was supposed to keep unemployment down below eight percent if we went along with it.  Well, it‘s now over.
RALSTON:  It‘s now 14 percent. 
(CROSS TALK) 
ANGLE:  That‘s right.  And we‘re deeper in debt.  So really, I lay
that all at Harry Reid‘s footstep because he‘s been the one that has been
pushing -
RALSTON:  You‘re saying he hasn‘t brought any jobs back to this state, assemblywoman.  Harry Reid has created all kinds of jobs.  You see these press conferences all the time - local government, state government.  Who brought those jobs?  And you‘re not going to give him credit for that? 
ANGLE:  Not much, because government doesn‘t really create jobs.  In a sense, a part-time job is not a job.  People want a job that really has benefits, that has a future, that really is something that they can count on to pay their mortgage. 
(END VIDEOTAPE)
MADDOW:  John Ralston ending Sharron Angle‘s political career in Reno tonight.  Much more tomorrow.  “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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