'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
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Guests: Ben Jealous, Dahlia Lithwick
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. I appreciate that. We‘re going to be having the head of the NAACP joining us this hour to be talking about just that story. Thanks very much.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Thanks.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home as well for staying with us for the next hour.
You know, today was supposedly just another slow dog day of summer with no news in it and it instead, of course, went nuts.
In addition to the NAACP/FOX News story attacking that USDA official, the Senate today got a new member which allowed the Senate to finally extend unemployment insurance—thank you very little.
The Judiciary Committee confirmed Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. The right-wing insisted that that nominee, who is a Jewish woman from Manhattan, is actually secretly a Muslim man who wants to impose Shariah law on our nation.
And Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle pronounced that she wants to go to Washington because she wants to be part of the problem.
There‘s a lot to get to this hour.
But we begin tonight with something that frankly we knew was coming—
something we knew was inevitable after right-wing activists and FOX News
destroyed the community organizing group ACORN last year with supposedly
incriminating videotapes that really weren‘t all that incriminating at all
that really weren‘t incriminating at all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is not meant to excuse what ACORN has done wrong in the past, but the huge tide of negative publicity that followed these videotapes and the coverage they got on FOX wall-to-wall for months was bullpuckey. It was a dishonest, political stunt that bears no resemblance to journalism and no resemblance to the actual facts of what happened in those offices.
But it worked. This organization has been shut down. Means be damned, in the end, it worked. Who do you think is next on their list?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today, we got an answer to that question, which I hoped at the time was just a rhetorical one. The same attack that helped take down ACORN last fall with supposedly incriminating videotapes has now claimed a new victim.
Next on their list? It turns out is this woman, an Obama administration employee named Shirley Sherrod. Up until yesterday, Shirley Sherrod was an official with the United States Department of Agriculture, with the USDA. She served as the USDA‘s world development director for the great state of Georgia.
Ms. Sherrod resigned from that post yesterday—she claims under intense pressure from the Obama administration, pressure that was apparently brought to bear after this. The same conservative Web site that posted the supposedly incriminating but, in the end, just massively misleadingly edited ACORN tapes now has posted what it claims to be cold, hard evidence of racism—racism shown by an employee at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The evidence was a video clip of Shirley Sherrod speaking at an NAACP event this March. And at that event she recounts this story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIRLEY SHERROD, USDA: The first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer needing to save his farm, he took a long time talking, but he was trying to show he was superior to me was I was trying to decide just how much help that I was going to give him.
I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So, I didn‘t give him the full force of what I could do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Damning evidence, right? A USDA official—a government
official admitting on tape to racial discrimination, to withholding
government assistance to white farmers, specifically because they‘re white
stop the presses! Within hours of that clip being posted online and billed as evidence of a racist within the Obama administration, FOX News—understanding their role in this delicate, well practiced dance—jumped all over it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Breaking news tonight about an Agriculture Department official caught on tape making racially charged comments to an NAACP audience.
BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS: Well, that is simply unacceptable and Ms. Sherrod must resign immediately. The federal government cannot have skin color deciding any assistance.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: And this is a FOX News alert. An Obama administration official resigned just a short time ago after she was caught on tape appearing to tell an audience that she had used her position to racially discriminate against white farmers.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: How‘s that for efficient? How‘s that for action? FOX News and conservative Web site uncover what they say is an admitted racist in the Obama administration and she is forced to resign immediately.
The problem? There are a few ginormous asterisks that were left out of the initial breathless FOX News coverage. The conservative Web site that posted the video presented it as if it were a real-time admission of racism—an admission of racism happening now, actively, within the U.S. Agriculture Department. And that‘s how it was covered initially by FOX News.
Here‘s how the video was set up. See this? Quote, “Ms. Sherrod admits that in her federally appointed position, overseeing a billion dollars, she discriminates against people due to their race.” Damning if that were actually true.
Shirley Sherrod joined the USDA in 2009. Now, it is clearly even from these edited tapes that what she was talking about here was a situation that took place a long time before that.
Check this out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERROD: So I took him to a white lawyer that had attended some of the training that we had provided because Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farm. Chapter 12 bankruptcy for family farmers was enacted by the federal government in 1986.
Ms. Sherrod on this tape was recounting a story that happened in the mid-‘80s, in 1986. More than 20 years before she took this job with the federal government. That reality, that never made it into screaming FOX News headlines, though, like video shows USDA official saying she didn‘t give full force of help to white farmer and government discrimination caught on tape, that‘s not actually at all what the tapes reveal. She wasn‘t working for the federal government in 1986 when this story took place.
So, that‘s the first thing. The situation she is discussing took place more than 20 years ago when Shirley Sherrod worked for a nonprofit organization not for the federal government.
But even more importantly, and you would never know this if you got all your information from FOX News—Shirley Sherrod never actually followed through on this idea of withholding help to the white farmer. The whole point of her telling this story was that in the end she decided that her initial reaction was wrong, having never been confronted with the opportunity or the possibility of helping a white farmer before having always worked with black farmers—her initial reaction to the first opportunity to help a white farmer was wrong. This is the point of the story.
The point of the story was that she should actually help the white farmers and that‘s exactly what she did—as the couple in question explained on CNN earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNN)
ROGER SPOONER, FARMER IN SHERRODS STORY: We were going to lose our farm and something had to be done and she—she jumped in there and she got everything lined up, and we went up there and she done her level best.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Had it not been for her assistance, would you have lost your farm do you believe?
SPOONER: I believe so.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe so.
SPOONER: I believe absolutely.
SANCHEZ: In all your time knowing Shirley Sherrod, has there ever been anything about her, either through her attitude, her words, her opinions, or her behaviors that would lead you to believe that she is in any way a racist?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
SPOONER: No way in the world. No way. No way. I don‘t—I don‘t even want to talk about it. It don‘t—it don‘t make sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, that‘s the aggrieved party. Those are the people to whom the racism happened.
Shirley Sherrod helped those white farmers keep their farm in Georgia after initially reacting negatively to them she explained in the story she helped them. She kept them out of bankruptcy. She recounted her initial negative reaction to explain why she‘s so glad that she did the right thing, that she helped those farmers. That‘s what happened—unless, of course, you watch FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because a farmer was white she doesn‘t extend the full helping hand to him and she‘s touting this in this anecdote as though this is, you know, a feather in her cap somehow for her to be congratulated. I mean, it‘s really a shocking admission—
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, right. Listen to her touting this as a feather in her cap and asking to be congratulated. Here is part of Ms. Sherrod‘s unedited speech. This is what she said right before recounting that story of the white farmers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERROD: I made a commitment on the night of my father‘s death, at the age of 17, that I would not leave the South, that I would stay in the South and devote my life to working for change. When I made that commitment, I was making that commitment to black people and to black people only. But you know, God will show you things and he‘ll put things in your path so that you realize that the struggle is really about poor people.
AUDIENCE: All right. All right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And that‘s what she gets the congratulations for, because that‘s the point of her story. That context—the whole point of her story about working for poor people, not just for black people, about working in a color blind way—that was left out of any of the clips posted of her speech and touted on FOX News.
What is not really that interesting about this whole situation is the fact that FOX News is doing this. This is what FOX News does. This is how they are different from other news organizations. This is why the White House argued months ago that FOX should be treated as a media organization but not as a normal news organization—because they don‘t treat news the way a normal news organization treats news.
Just like the fake ACORN controversy FOX News knows that it has a role in this dance. That‘s not new. That‘s not actually even interesting about this scandal. FOX does what FOX does. That is dog bites man. That is not interesting.
What is interesting about this story is that the Obama administration inexplicably keeps falling for it.
Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged he asked for and accepted Shirley Sherrod‘s resignation after this supposed controversy came to light on FOX News. But apparently, before anyone but FOX News and a conservative Web site got their say about what actually happened here.
Dear White House, dear administration, believing conservative spin
about what‘s so wrong with you and then giving into that spin is not an effective defense against that spin. Just buying it and apologizing for it and doing whatever they want you to do doesn‘t make the problem of them lying about you go away. In fact, it makes it worse.
After FOX News set its sights on the Obama administration official Van Jones—Van Jones was very quickly booted out of his job. After FOX News went on this fake crusade against ACORN, the Obama administration cut all ties with the group, didn‘t even bother to mount a defense or wait until they had been investigated properly—just let FOX News do it. They pushed an effort to defund ACORN.
And now, after FOX News totally misrepresented USDA employee Shirley Sherrod, she is cut loose as well before the story can even make it into the mainstream media.
If you keep falling for this sort of stunt, you are encouraging them. You are feeding a dog from the table and thereby encouraging that dog to beg at the table.
After all the damage was already done today, after FOX News managed to force out Shirley Sherrod with a totally out-of-context smear job that made white people feel aggrieved about racism in a way that helps FOX News‘ politics, here‘s how FOX News decided to cover the end of this story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FOX NEWS REPORTER: Did the White House essentially railroad an innocent woman in this because they are on edge themselves about the Van Jones controversy, the Black Panthers Party case, and other controversies?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: She was railroaded.
Given how the Obama administration has reacted to previous cooked up campaigns by FOX News and conservative activists, it was not impossible to see this coming.
So I say again tonight as I said back in April, the huge tide of negative publicity that followed these videotapes and the coverage they got on FOX wall-to-wall was a dishonest political stunt that bears no resemblance to journalism and no resemblance to the actual facts of what happened. But it worked—means be damned, in the end, it worked.
Like I said in April: who do you think is next on their list? I asked it months ago. And I‘m asking it again now: Who‘s next?
MADDOW: Joining us next on the show is the president and CEO of the NAACP, Benjamin Jealous. The NAACP has been right—been put right in the center of this latest FOX News campaign against a previously anonymous Obama administration official. Ben Jealous joins us next.
MADDOW: It was an NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner that Shirley Sherrod told her story at about working with white farmers to protect them from bankruptcy.
In the heat of today‘s totally contrived, right-wing maelstrom over this, the NAACP took the bait. They condemned Ms. Sherrod‘s widely circulated but completely out-of-context comments about withholding assistance from white farmers. The organization called Ms. Sherrod‘s comments shameful.
This afternoon, Ms. Sherrod was sharply critical of the NAACP for throwing her so fast and so hard under the proverbial bus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERROD: The NAACP has not tried to contact me one time and they are the reason why this happened. They got into a fight with the Tea Party and all of this came out as a result of that.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Your reaction to—
SHERROD: I would have appreciated when you look at my history of civil rights. I would have appreciated having the NAACP at least contact me—and Roland Martin, too—contact me to try to get the truth about what happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: After the story‘s full context and the meaning of Ms. Sherrod‘s comments came to light, NAACP president and CEO, Benjamin Jealous, issued another statement, a remarkable statement.
It reads in part, quote, “With regard to the initial media coverage of the resignation of USDA official, Shirley Sherrod, we have come to the conclusion that we were snookered by FOX News and Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias. Having reviewed the full tape, spoken to Ms. Sherrod, and most importantly, heard the testimony of the white farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans.”
Joining us now is the president and CEO of the NAACP, Benjamin Jealous.
Mr. Jealous, thanks very much for being here. It‘s good to see you.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS, NAACP PRESIDENT & CEO: Good to see you, too, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, your statement this afternoon indicated that you had spoken with Shirley Sherrod. What did you say to her? How did—how did that conversation go?
JEALOUS: Sure. Yes, I said that we were very sorry. My staff had already spoken to her. I had spoken to Secretary Vilsack. We had spoken to people who knew her and even some friends in common.
You know, we dug down deep into this and, look, you know—and most importantly, we got the full audio. And now, we have the full video that all can see up at NAACP.org and we compare what Mr. Breitbart was pushing to what she actually said. It is startling.
You know, we‘re forced in this line of work to make quick judgments about video evidence—video testimony all the time. It happens—it comes up a lot in cases involving the cops and, you know, allegations of mistreatment. Sometimes we comment. Sometimes we don‘t.
This one we kept playing over and over, and it seemed that she had withheld help from people because of the race with some people laughing, were very sensitive, it was at our event. And so, we got our statement in the wee hours of the morning—just to be very clear that we, you know, that we have a zero tolerance policy for racism. We believe civil rights should be judged by a single yardstick.
But when we dug deep—and we got access to things we couldn‘t get access to late last night, we realized that this evidence had been cut and sliced and diced in ways that were intentional and, you know, deeply, deeply troubling. And a good person had been wronged. And we, you know, first and foremost, we believe in the truth.
And so, we went right out there and said, you know, we made a mistake here. We have a very good batting average. You know, it is near a thousand, but sometimes we make a mistake and we made one here, and we thought it was important to reach out to her to apologize, to talk to her about the statement we were about to release, and then to get that statement out there as quickly as possible.
MADDOW: When you watched the full tape, when you consider her remarks in context, when you look at them in a more holistic way than the way they were chopped up and edited to be shown on FOX News—what do you think the point was that she was making with that anecdote about her initial discomfort with the prospect of helping this white couple?
JEALOUS: Well, first and foremost, she goes on to talk about how she helped them and as they said, you know, she helped them save the farm and they‘re deeply grateful to her.
But most importantly, I think, to the country, at this moment, when people feel so torn asunder by the climate in the country, about the antics of some of the parties we‘ve talked about—this is a story of transformation. It was a story of healing. It was a story about a woman whose father had been killed by a Klansman learning to—how to traverse old lines in a Deep South town and county and ultimately realizing they were all in this together, that we are one nation—and that was the message.
It was a message about pulling this country back together. It‘s a message that‘s integral to the NAACP, the work that we‘re doing right now, the One Nation Campaign, us planning for this big march on Washington tend to demonstrate to the country that the majority of this country still believes in hope, still believes that we can work together, still believes that more than anything else in tough times, you got to pull together, not let yourself be torn apart.
MADDOW: It seems to me, Ben, that it‘s clear that somebody was going through NAACP event videos specifically because of what else is going on with the NAACP in politics right now. The issue that your organization has raised with elements of racism, within the Tea Party Movement—Mr. Breitbart, who is the activist who posted this initially, specifically cited that as sort of his justification for promoting this, wanting the NAACP to be seen as a racist organization.
Do you think there is an extent to which you‘ve been targeted—your organization has been singled out here in order to make a broader political point and undermine what you do?
JEALOUS: Well, certainly. Certainly. I mean, we‘ve had—we have had quite a week and a half, and we‘re eager to get back to the big issues of jobs and fixing schools and pulling this country back together. We received over 100 death threats. I‘ve had to sit down and cancel 19-year-old interns about—you know, talking about the first time I received death threats as a 20-year-old organizer in Mississippi and counsel them through them.
You know, we‘ve had—somebody was just actually picked up today in Florida for saying that they were a Klansman and threatening the lives of NAACP members.
And in the midst of this, we‘ve seen lie and a lie—after lie come out of FOX News and come, you know, come from Sarah Palin. For instance, you know, funny she said it was a false argument, the NAACP claiming that the Tea Party was racist and she was right. I mean, it was like (INAUDIBLE) on her part, it is a false argument. We never made that argument.
We said and we still say, you‘ve got serious white supremacist and racist elements in your ranks. You have the Council of Conservative Citizens. You have Stormfront.org.
We‘ve been researching this for months. We know what we‘re talking about and that‘s why you guys imploded last week and Mark Williams, you know, just came all out of his skull and had to throw out the entire Tea Party Express and now, you‘re stumbling saying, you know, they never belonged in the first place. Well, golly, gee, how can you throw them out if they never belonged in the first place?
So, you know, clearly, look, they got their dander up. They were caught, you know, flat footed by their own member. They got serious problems to deal with.
They‘ve elevated in the midst of this—the good news is—they‘ve elevated some people with common sense, like David Webb, you know, who‘s been very clear about he will not tolerate racism and seems to be pushing the Tea Party Federation in some very positive ways. And, you know, people who would rather engage in half-truths and lies come after a venerable multiracial, multi-faith group that has done more to get rid of caste systems in this country but to also inspire movements from Europe to South Asia to Africa than, you know, attempt all that than deal with the issue.
But, you know, we‘ve been around for 101 years. We have dealt with much bigger foes. We always get stronger for it and I would advise them: just get back to the big issues. Let‘s get back to talking about tax policy and jobs. Let‘s get back to talking about our school kids and how we ensure they have a good future.
MADDOW: I think that—I agree with what you‘re saying in terms of this being political combat. And that was sort of the premier I was the question I asked you. But I do also think there‘s sort of a broader racial agenda with this attack to try to stoke, essentially, white racial resentment to make—tell white people that they are the victims of racism, that anybody standing up for civil rights is out to take rights away from white people. That it‘s a zero sum game that white people must be harmed in order for nonwhite people to be treated as equal citizens in this country.
And that‘s something—I mean, that‘s as old as the sun. And you‘re sort of the channel through which that is happening right now, but I think that‘s—I think that‘s a real white supremacist, racist tactic people use for political gain and that‘s something that, you know, not just the NAACP is going to have to respond to, but I think that progressives are going to have to respond to across the board. Won‘t they?
JEALOUS: Yes. And for that matter moderates. You know, the reality is, that the majority of people in this country believe in an inclusive, multiracial democracy. You know, that‘s why you saw—so many what we used to call liberal Republicans, I call moderate Republicans—you know, the Tea Party calls them RINOs—you know, voting for Obama because they said, my God, here‘s a moment for us to all come together and focus on the big issues.
And the reality is that there is an element out there, it has gotten smaller over the years. But, right now, it is fighting for its life and it‘s fighting very dirty. That has been afraid of the, quote-unquote, “rising colored tide” since the—you know, since the late 19th century.
JEALOUS: And math is catching up with them. And the reality is, that this could be a real opportunity and should be a real opportunity. We‘re all becoming minorities in this country. It‘s a moment to really get focused on the humanist principles of this country, get focused on the promise of the pledge that we say to our flag that we are one nation with liberty and justice for all and seek together to live up to that.
That‘s what we are inviting people into with the One Nation Movement. That‘s what we‘re seeking to do on 10-2-10. You know, and that‘s what we hope, quite frankly, that—you know, in all of this, you know, Rachel, comes the funny thing is if we‘re successful in getting racist elements out of the Tea Party, the Tea Party gets better. The Tea Party becomes more attractive because, you know what, when the Democratic Party harbored racist black folks—stayed away from that party and when the Republican Party opened the door for the ones pushed out of the Democratic Party—black folks got out of that party, at our lowest levels ever.
And then, you know—and so, the Tea Party, as a group—it‘s not quite a party but aspires to be one here in the 21st century, should embrace the moment. And as David Webb is trying to do and say, we‘re open to everybody, there‘s no space for bigotry in our ranks. Stormfront, good-bye. David Duke, good-bye. You know, all these other groups who are hanging around the fringe and trying to get into the middle of this—get out, because we want to make space for the people who look like this country, people who invested in this country, and people who want to build this country up.
MADDOW: Benjamin Jealous, the president and CEO of the NAACP—thanks very much for joining us tonight.
JEALOUS: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I know it‘s been a wild ride these past few days for you, Ben, thanks.
JEALOUS: Thank you.
MADDOW: By far, the most entertaining conservative attack on Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan who is a Jewish woman from the upper west side of Manhattan—by far the most entertaining attack against her was that she is secretly a Muslim man who wants to impose strict Islamic Shariah law on America. This is so farfetched and ludicrous and kuku-lala (ph) that the right-wing is doing it again. I‘ll have that coming up in just a moment.
But next, good news—the Senate passed an unemployment extension today. The bad news? Forty U.S. senators voted to stop extending unemployment -- 40 senators who have jobs.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: File this one under good news, bad news. After two months of deliberate and costly delays, Senate Democrats finally managed to get around the Republicans and Ben Nelson today.
Literally minutes after the Democrat appointed to temporarily replace the late senator Robert Byrd was sworn in, the Democrats plus the two main Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, voted to end the long standing Republican and Ben Nelson filibuster on extending unemployment benefits, an extension very badly need by 2.5 million Americans who have lost their jobs and cannot find new ones.
That‘s the good news. There is an unemployment bill. The bad news? It‘s not a jobs bill. It used to be a jobs bill. Once upon a time, our fearless Senate leaders saw that the economy was still in very bad shape, that the unemployment rate in this country was still above nine percent.
So they got to work on the jobs bill, a bill designed to create jobs and stimulate the economy. But as the Republicans and Ben Nelson were delaying the jobs bill and blocking it from getting a vote, they were also busy whittling that legislation down into a teeny, teeny, teeny, tiny little sliver of a jobs bill.
It‘s as if Senate Democrats told us they were preparing a delicious Thanksgiving dinner for us all. And then a couple months later they proudly presented us with a single cold processed chicken nugget.
Here‘s what the jobs bill was supposed to look like. Here is what was originally being proposed to create jobs and stimulate the economy.
There is of course an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed which is the most efficient way for the government to stimulate the economy because it puts money into the hands of people who need it badly and will therefore spend it right away putting it straight back into the economy.
This unemployment extension alone is expected to stimulate - to support 800,000 jobs through economic stimulus. But there were going to be so many other things in the jobs bill, too. Aid to state governments so that states don‘t have to layoff teachers. An extra tier of unemployment benefits so when people have used up their benefits and still don‘t have a job they don‘t immediately fall off the financial cliff and become homeless and a giant strain on the economy.
Or extra Medicaid funding so that state governments don‘t have to make big budget cuts and layoffs to pay their Medicaid bills. Or more funding for the small business administration which makes loans to the all important small business owner who then creates jobs by hiring people. Or bonds to fund infrastructure development.
All of those job creating economy stimulating things were removed so that all we‘re left with is this tiny little piece of a jobs bill. That‘s all we get. Our response to the economic crisis and the limping-along recovery and the horrible unemployment rate is to extend unemployment benefits. That‘s it.
Ask any politician. Jobs are the number one priority right now, right? Jobs, jobs, jobs and then jobs and then jobs. It took the new appointment of a new senator just to get this close to passing the most crucial sliver of a jobs bill because Republicans and Ben Nelson have filibustered every other component of a jobs bill.
They say it‘s the most important thing in Washington. This is how they act. They‘re still filibustering it in fact. The majority leader saying now that even now Republicans are making him wait the required 30 hours before calling for a vote on this bill even though that 30-hour rule is very often waived.
And even when the filibuster is finally completely defeated, probably tomorrow and the “not really a jobs bill anymore” bill is passed, it‘s still not going to be the Thanksgiving-dinner style jobs bill that we want and that the economy needs.
It will still be a legislatively disappointing processed chicken nugget jobs bill. Please pass the little tub of honey mustard sauce because I think there is only one nugget there.
MADDOW: Less than halfway through his first term, President Obama is past the doorstep and halfway over the threshold to getting confirmed his second nominee to the United States Supreme Court.
Earlier today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13 to six to send Elena Kagan‘s nomination to the full Senate. Pretty much everyone agrees she will be confirmed probably sometime next month despite some particularly condescending remarks today to Elena Kagan, to the solicitor general and former Harvard Law School dean, from failed judicial nominee and now Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): When the president nominated Elena Kagan, I expressed my concern with her lack of experience, not simply a lack of judicial experience but lack of a robust legal experience. Ms. Kagan does not have that kind of experience. She just does not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Again, solicitor general, former dean of Harvard Law School. But never mind. Nobody really cares what Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is complaining about in Elena Kagan‘s resume at this point because everyone essentially concedes that she is on her way to being confirmed.
Broad agreement about the likelihood of Kagan‘s confirmation is, though, having a fascinating effect on the far right wing which wanted Elena Kagan‘s nomination to be a fight to the political death and which now has but a short desperate time to make a short, desperate case against her.
This is what the short, desperate case looks like. Yes, that is what you think it is. It‘s Elena Kagan centrist judicial nominee, solicitor general of the United States and incidentally orthodox Jew caricatured as a Muslim man wearing a turban. You stay classy “Washington Times.”
This is actually the second time the conservative newspaper, the “Washington Times,” has run a picture of Elena Kagan in a turban. They‘ve done so twice now. Yes. There it is again. Both times alongside columns lambasting Elena Kagan by a man named Frank Gaffney.
Mr. Gaffney has decided that Elena Kagan is part of the secret conspiracy to impose Shariah law on the United States. You know, like all the Jews want. The “Washington Times” has actually run two versions of Frank Gaffney‘s “Elena Kagan is part of a secret plot to impose Shariah law” column.
Both times, they illustrated those columns with Elena Kagan in a turban. If the name Frank Gaffney is ringing a bell for you, it‘s because he‘s made a little bit of a name for himself constructing all kinds of awesome conspiracy theories many of which involve logos and secret symbolism and Muslims.
It‘s like the “Da Vinci Code,” only even more fake. When President Obama gave a little nod to the Saudi king last year, Frank Gaffney was there to expose the true meaning behind the otherwise totally standard gesture of respect.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK GAFFNEY, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY:
When he uses the word “respect” in the context of a waist bow to the king of Saudi Arabia, for example, and talks about respectful language, which is code for those who adhere to Shariah that we will submit to Shariah.
I‘m telling you the code is they receive it in the Taliban headquarters and in al-Qaeda‘s caves and in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, if Frank Gaffney knows so much about Taliban HQ in the al-Qaeda caves he maybe should tell the United States military. Mr. Gaffney, I‘m sure, is far too busy for that because there is Muslim infiltration to be ferreted out. He was also the guy behind the missile defense secret Muslim thing, too. Remember that?
This used to be the logo for the Missile Defense Agency, an agency within the Department of Defense. When the old missile defense logo was updated to this new logo, that caused Frank Gaffney to lose his ever loving mind.
He said, quote, “The new missile defense agency shield appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo.” See a conspiracy, the old logo under the Bush administration was the pictorial embodiment of patriotism and capitalism and apple pie. The new logo is clearly an Islamo-fascist plot to undermine America through graphic design.
The problem with this theory is that the new logo was actually commissioned the year before Obama was elected when noted Islama-fascist George W. Bush was still president.
When Mr. Gaffney learned that he retracted the missile defense agency conspiracy theory, all the better to start working on his Elena in a turban conspiracy. Elena Kagan‘s nomination was supposed to be the big political fight of the summer, the battle royale of 2010.
Instead it is inevitable confirmation and Jeff Session‘s substance free whining and Frank Gaffney raving conspiratorially from the sidelines about the dreaded Muslims. What happened here?
Joining us now is Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for “Slate” magazine. Dahlia, it‘s great to see you again. Thank you for not finding a stunt turban for this segment. It‘s OK.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, SENIOR EDITOR AND LEGAL CORRESPONDENT, “SLATE” MAGAZINE: I didn‘t even know they make stunt turbans.
MADDOW: They do only in Photoshop at the “Washington Times.” But what did happen here? What - I mean, did other politics crowd out the big expected fight here? Was Elena Kagan just not the nominee to fight over? What happened?
LITHWICK: I think it was a little bit of both. I think, you know, for one thing someone quipped to me very early in the summer unless Elena Kagan started gushing, you know, thousands of barrels of oil from her head a day, she was just never going to be an A-1 story this summer.
There was just too much else going on that was really riveting. And I think your second point is really more almost to the point, which is we‘ve constructed a confirmation system that rewards people who are utterly uninteresting.
And so she really I think did a very, very good job of creating an entire career for herself that made absolutely certain there was going to be no scandal, no smoking gun, nothing of any note or interest.
And so beyond the invented turban stories, there was just nothing to ferret out and so there was really never going to be a gotcha moment. And as soon as there was no gotcha moment America sort of yawned and turned the channel.
MADDOW: And that may be a - that may be a sad story for people who make money on the amount of ink that is used in headlines. There‘s not going to be any three-inch headlines about this.
But it is also a sad story for - really, for the right-wing cottage industry of groups that focus just on judges, that exist solely to both move the courts to the right and to raise a lot of money for conservative causes by doing that.
That cottage industry exists because they‘ve been successful even with this nomination process in the past. Why isn‘t it working anymore?
LITHWICK: Well, again, in part because I don‘t think they ever got any traction with any of the various narratives they tried to trot out, you know, the “Thurgood Marshall is bad, therefore Kagan is bad” Marshall - narrative, kind of died on the first day of hearings after the opening statements.
The “Kagan hates the military” narrative which, at some point, became clear was the only game they had left to go. Still, I think nobody really believed that her military recruiting policy at Harvard reflected this deep-seated animosity toward our men and women in uniform so what they were left with was crazy stuff.
It was turban stuff. It was NRA, you know, she once said, you know, “I‘m not sympathetic to that.” And so for not being an empathetic person, she is now condemned by the NRA. It‘s batty. And so I think they sort of tried to cycle through various iterations of things that make you terrified about Kagan.
And nobody felt terrified, so I think you‘re quite right. At the end of the day you have a nominee who just utterly slid under the radar. And I don‘t know how the fundraising went but I know that the narrative was she‘s fine, yawn. She‘s fine.
MADDOW: Yes. Well, should liberals look back at this experience? I mean, we‘re not out of it yet but should they essentially look back and say, “An actual liberal, a real - a more liberal justice could have gotten through here?”
LITHWICK: I think so. It seems to me that to the extent that Obama
had a moment to put someone a little bit more - a little closer to a
Stevens legacy or a Brennan legacy, a little closer to a passionate
firebrand, this would have been the moment to put them up if the rumors are
and they‘re only rumors - true that Ginsburg is going to leave while Obama is still in office.
I don‘t think Obama is going to have the maneuvering room to put someone to the left of Elena Kagan up next time.
MADDOW: Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for “Slate” magazine, thanks a lot for being here tonight, Dahlia. Good to see you.
LITHWICK: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So coming up on “Countdown,” Julian Bond is on to talk about the USDA worker who was fired supposedly for racism but really because Fox News said she should be fired.
Coming up on this show a teen whose ancestors invented a game are not allowed to participate in that game‘s world championships. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Their ancestors invented the game. They proudly played the game and played it well. And this year, they are not allowed to play in the world championships of that game. Irony and indignity converge as sports and politics do, too. That‘s next.
MADDOW: What you‘re looking at here is lacrosse. Specifically, it is a U.S. versus England men‘s lacrosse game played yesterday at the World Lacrosse Championships. You see men in shorts running around on a field holding sticks.
They‘re not scooting the ball around on the ground like in field hockey. The sticks are up in the air to catch the ball in a little net that‘s on the end of the stick so they can try to wing the ball into a skinny little goal.
If you have heard of lacrosse, you probably associate it with prep schools today. But lacrosse was actually invented not by preppies but Native Americans. Exactly who did it and how happened before westerners started writing down Native American history.
But the six nations of the Iroquois confederacy deserve, if not all, of at least a big part of the credit for coming up with the whole idea of lacrosse. In the 1800s, in the 19th century, when a lot of non-Native Americans started playing the game, they changed it.
They made up some rules. They limited the amount of time it took to play a single game. They changed the lacrosse ball from deerskin to rubber. And they banned Native American teams from international competition.
Why they did that last part depends on who‘s telling the story. Either they were banned because Native Americans were taking money for playing an amateur sport - that‘s one accusation. Or the white teams didn‘t want to compete against Native American teams because the Native American teams were really, really good at the game.
Or maybe it‘s some combination of both. In any event, in 1983, the Iroquois decided they wanted back in to international competition in their national sport. So they formed an Iroquois national team.
They played exhibition games. They worked really hard to get a shot at competing internationally against the other best in the world teams. That shot came in 1990, when the Iroquois nationals traveled for the first time to the World Lacrosse Championships that that year were held in Australia.
The World Lacrosse Championships are essentially the World Cup of lacrosse. The tournament happens every four years, it‘s international and winning is a big international hairy deal.
Politically, it was also a landmark. The Iroquois were the first Native American team to compete internationally in any sport in the modern era. Since Australia, since 1990, the Iroquois nationals have competed in every World Lacrosse Championship and have done pretty well. They placed fourth in 1998 and in 2002 and in 2006.
This year, the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships are happening in Manchester, England and they are going on right now. But the Iroquois nationals are not there. They‘re not there because of a passport dispute.
The Iroquois are a sovereign people. They have treaties to back that up. Members of the six Iroquois nations live mainly in the northeast on both the U.S. and Canadian side of the border.
Because they are a sovereign people, Iroquois issue passports to their own people. They have been traveling on these passports since 1977. And even in the new high security passports era since 9/11, the Iroquois nationals team, the lacrosse team, used their passports, their Iroquois passports to travel for tournaments to Australia in 2002 and to Canada in 2006 with no problem.
But this year, the U.K. said they found those passports to be too controversial. This is what the passport looks like. The names are handwritten in ink. It‘s not very high tech. There‘s no security chips, for example.
The U.K. says it now does not recognize these documents as valid in the post-9/11 world. The U.S. State Department did try to intervene on behalf of the team. They offered the team expedited U.S. passports that they could travel on to the tournament.
Of course, that sort of undermines the whole sovereign nation thing which the Iroquois understandably take very seriously. And just on the level of sports, the team professed, also understandably, to being rubbed the wrong way by the idea of traveling on the passport of a nation they are trying to beat in competition.
They wouldn‘t be traveling as Americans. They are going to beat Americans. So after days of back and forth and lots of waiting in hotel lobbies, the U.S., U.K. and Iroquois did not work it out.
The Iroquois nationals went home, and the U.S. and English teams went on to compete. The U.S. beat England 17 to five for the record. So go, USA. But when the U.S. team gets home, A, can we sort this passport thing out with the British and everybody else is going to hassle these guys.
And B, how about an exhibition game, the U.S. and the Iroquois nationals. I promise you we will cover it as news on this show. Kent is already badgering me about it. Come on, you guys. Come on. Come on. Come on. Come on.
MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
“COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now. Good night.
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