Guest: Dan Choi
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thanks very much.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
While we wait and wait and wait and wait for a long promised policy change on civil rights in the military, some truly instructive research tonight about how exactly black Americans gained equal rights in the military in the era of President Truman.
Lieutenant Dan Choi, an Arabic-speaking West Point graduate, Iraq veteran, came out as gay on this show 16 months ago. Today, he has been kicked out of the military for it. Dan Choi will join us live.
Plus, incredible must-see politics, not at all as usual in the Senate races in Nevada and Colorado—a prime example of the only sure indication that a sitting politician is in deep, deep doo-doo.
And although this is the kind of thing I usually cover, I can‘t help myself, because Bill O‘Reilly has called me something I‘m not sure anyone has ever called me before.
That‘s all to come this hour.
But we begin tonight with Barack Obama lashing out publicly against bogus claims of racism leveled against an African-American woman who was associated with him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We‘ve seen this before. There is dirt and lies that are circulated in e-mail and they pump them out long enough until finally you, a mainstream reporter, asks me about them. My hope is, is that people don‘t play this game. It is—it is a destructive aspect of our politics right now. And simply because something appears in an e-mail, that should lend it no more credence than if you heard it on the corner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Barack Obama on board his campaign plane back in 2008, fiercely rebutting claims that his wife, Michelle Obama, ever used the term “whitey.” Remember the fake “whitey” controversy that turned out to be a made-up smear during the presidential campaign in 2008? No truth to it whatsoever. And that‘s how Barack Obama, the candidate, responded to it.
About a week later, another made-up controversy started to gain some traction in the mainstream media. The idea was that Barack Obama was secretly foreign. That Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya or Indonesia and he didn‘t have a legitimate U.S. birth certificate—the birther conspiracy, of course.
In order to debunk that one, the Obama campaign went on the offense in a big way. They launched a Web site called fightthesmears.com. Fightthesmears.com had a whole page dedicated to debunking the birther conspiracy. The page detailed the actual facts about Mr. Obama‘s citizenship complete with his certification of live birth.
But the Obama campaign wasn‘t satisfied with just debunking—with just answering the birther smear or the “whitey” smear. Their strategy was about more than that. It was about naming and shaming the people behinds those smears. Fightthesmears.com had a whole page solely dedicated to exposing the perpetrators of these smears, basically an interactive map listing various right-wing groups, Republican political operatives, even previous smears that these individuals had been involved in.
The strategy was not only to discredit the smear but also the smearer.
Here‘s how a campaign spokesman summed it up at the time. He said, quote, “The Obama campaign isn‘t going to let dishonest smears spread across the Internet unanswered. It‘s not enough to just know the truth. We have to be proactive and fight back.”
That was the strategy back then. And you know what? It worked.
The ultimate effect of this aggressive pushback against birtherism, right, was that birtherism became more of a liability for the birthers themselves than for the secretly Kenyan, Muslim-Indonesian guy they were trying to destroy. The birther thing was a totally dishonest, race-based stunt that had no basis in fact.
And because of the proactive fight-back strategy of the Obama campaign, it not only didn‘t succeed, it backfired. In fact, it‘s still backfiring. Late last night, a Kansas newspaper that had previously endorsed a Republican congressional candidate named Tracey Mann abruptly took back their endorsement because they learned that Tracey Mann is a birther.
“The Hutchinson News” editorial board wrote last night, quote, “We were wrong and we withdraw that endorsement. Quite simply, the reason is that it turns out Mann is what‘s known as a birther. That this even continues as an issue is appalling, which is why we didn‘t think to pose to Mann or any of the other candidates.”
Beyond full-blown birthers being full on rejected in mainstream politics, anyone even flirting with the birther wingnuttery, any politician who doesn‘t explicitly reject the birther conspiracy now gets saddled with the hilarious label, “Birther-curious.”
Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana got tagged as “Birther-curious” last week after he saddled up to the theory and winked. The resultant mockery and criticism forced the senator to say later explicitly, quote, “I‘m not a birther.”
Birtherism is now being used even by Republicans as a way to attack other Republicans. Check out this John McCain ad against his Republican primary opponent, J.D. Hayworth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUBTITLE: These are serious economic times. Yet some are consumed by conspiracies.
ORLY TAITZ: Obama is completely illegitimate for U.S. president for two reasons. Not only because he did not provide the place of his birth, but also because both parents has to be U.S. citizens.
PHILIP BERG: Obama knows he is not national born, as he knows where he was born and knows he was adopted in Indonesia.
J.D. HAYWORTH ®, ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: Questions continue. And until President Obama signs his name and, in fact, has the records revealed, the questions will remain.
ANNOUNCER: The only difference between these people? Only one is running for the U.S. Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s what happens now to birther politicians. Or even birther-connected politicians. Or even birther—non-birther politicians who sometimes say nice things or even vaguely encouraging things to people who may be birthers. You get linked with birtherism, you get linked with crazy people like Orly Taitz. I mean, think about your reaction when I even say the name Orly Taitz right now.
To be a birther is a huge political liability in the United States of America in 2010, because of the Obama strategy, as they said, to be proactive and fight back, because of that aggressive strategy against the birthers, that ridiculous smear has so back-fired on the people who push it that this is the reaction you get when you try to push it into the mainstream now. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESTER KINSOLVING, WORLD NET DAILY: Why can‘t the president respond to the petition to request of 400,000 American citizens by releasing a certified copy of his long-form birth certificate listing the hospital—
KINSOLVING: Four hundred thousand.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You‘re looking for the president‘s birth certificate?
GIBBS: It‘s on the Internet, Lester.
KINSOLVING: No, no, the long-form listing his hospital and physician.
GIBBS: Lester, this—this question in many ways continues to astound me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What‘s relevant about that is not just that the press secretary is laughing at the reporter who‘s asking it, it‘s that everybody else in the press room is laughing at the reporter asking it.
Barack Obama and his campaign team expertly diffused the race-baiting birther smear. The “any guy who looks like that can‘t be a real American” smear and turned it into a joke—turned it against those perpetrating it. It was textbook political savvy.
And then Barack Obama, the candidate, became Barack Obama, the president. And every subsequent race-based unsubstantiated smear perpetrated by right-wing activists, with the help of FOX News, has been met instead with submission by the administration. No aggressive pushback. No strategy to discredit those pushing the smears.
Did fightthesmears.com become fightthesmears.gov? Yes, right.
Out went Van Jones, out went ACORN, out went Shirley Sherrod. If the Obama administration recognized in these smears the fact that they are the same political attack that they were during the campaign, then the “Star Wars” bar scene cast of characters who pushed these ridiculous race-baiting smears would have the same reputation that Orly Taitz does today. There‘s all this lamentation right now about why the Obama administration did the wrong thing with Shirley Sherrod situation.
Why do they keep getting bullied like this? Why do they keep letting these people using these ham-handed totally disprovable race-baiting smears get what they want, thereby encouraging more of them and hurting themselves in the process? Why do they keep doing this? Why can‘t they stand up to this type of racial political bullying?
It turns out they can. They know how to do it. They have done it in the past. They have these muscles—atrophied since the campaign, surely, but they are there. Can they still flex them?
Joining us now is someone who disagrees with me about this completely.
My friend, “Newsweek” senior editor, and MSNBC contributor: Jonathan Alter.
He‘s also author of the new book, “The Promise: President Obama, Year One.”
Jonathan, thanks very much for joining us.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: So—all right. Tell me. I know that you think I‘m wrong about this. So, tell me what you think I have wrong.
ALTER: Well, first, I think you‘re right and everybody‘s right, that this was one of the most ham-handed, politically inept moments that I can remember, you know, that the White House and the Agriculture Department forced Sherrod to quit before they asked even elemental questions about this. And the NAACP was even worse. You know, the president of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, was twittering before thinking and actually said he was appalled by her behavior and she needed to go, and so forth.
So, this thing was a fiasco. But having said that, where you and I disagree, is on whether it‘s worth the time of the president and the time of the White House to take two, three, four news cycles to get into a fight with scorpions, with liars, sleaze artists, smear artists. I don‘t think it is. I think they can leave that to the Democrat National Committee. But that is a general proposition, during a campaign; you got to be engaged in that kind of hand-to-hand combat.
When you‘re president and you‘re worried about Iraq, Afghanistan, 10 percent unemployment, to get into the muck with this clowns is ill-advised.
MADDOW: But to let the scorpions just keep stinging them—I mean, the administration clearly willing to throw no-name people under the bus, people like Van Jones, people like Shirley Sherrod. But what about when it inevitably escalates? What about when it‘s Valerie Jarrett, when it‘s Patrick Gaspard, when it‘s Reggie Love, when it‘s some member of the Obama family? If we recognized the pattern that at work here—at what point do you have to say, “Oh, we can‘t keep taking this, this is actually taking chumps out of us”?
ALTER: Well, you know, I‘m not sure there‘s a pattern. The difference between the Sherrod case and Van Jones case, for instance, is, Sherrod turned out to be completely innocent of this smear.
In the Van Jones case, which I think is the relevant history here, this was a mid-level White House aide in charge of—or involved in—not even in charge of, you know, certain energy policies, weatherization and the like—who it turned out that he had signed a petition which basically said that 9/11, you know, might be a conspiracy, that we had it coming on 9/11. And that the U.S. government might or might not be involved in 9/11.
Can you have somebody like that on your White House staff? Obviously, no. If you have any regard, you know, for protecting the president.
So, was there a racial dimension to sliming Van Jones? No doubt about it. Should Van Jones have been kept at the White House? Absolutely not.
And when they look back at that episode, they say, “Did we really have to get beat up for days on end in the conservative media over this case?” Maybe we should have cut our losses earlier and gotten Van Jones out of the White House much earlier in this process.
So, they over-learned that lesson. They were fighting the last war. And I think that‘s what contributed to this almost pathetically inept response to the Sherrod case.
MADDOW: But you go back and you look at it and I think—I take your point about them overlearning that lesson. You go back and you look at the allegations about Van Jones. You read the transcripts, you look at the tape of Glenn Beck saying he was a convicted felon who organized the Rodney King riots and did six months in prison and—I mean, those were the allegations against him. And then Van Jones gets canned without those things ever having really been rebutted without Glenn Beck never becoming the story.
And instead, we get Shirley Sherrod fired under—she says because they said, “We don‘t want you to end up on ‘Glenn Beck‘ tonight.” They‘re collecting scalps and thereby sort of getting more powerful.
ALTER: But do you really—do you really think that Robert Gibbs or much less, President Obama, should have been out there defending Van Jones? Well, this thing he said about him was a lie, but this other thing about how he signed this petition saying 9/11 was a U.S. conspiracy—that might be true. You can‘t do that politically, Rachel. You‘ve got to cut your losses. You‘ve got to protect the president.
There are important issues that are happening every day that this is distracting from. And the thing that is the backdrop for this, that I really learned when I researched “The Promise,” is that they have an unofficial policy that is sometimes called “No Distractions.” It particularly applied during the health care debate.
This is one of the reasons that they didn‘t tackle gays in the military in 2009. They thought that this would distract from health care and get them caught up in a series of flaps that would alienate various people in Congress and cause them political problems. I think they were right about that. Not to delay forever. So this year they are taking up “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” But there are times when, politically, you have to keep your eye on the ball.
Obama is less interested in scoring points and making gestures and having conversations about race that somebody else is dragging him into than he is in getting stuff done and things passed. And I think that‘s legitimate, even though he messed up badly in this particular case.
MADDOW: It‘s a totally cogent argument. I think the cost of it, though, and I think the reason that it‘s wrong is because they do put those points on the board legislatively. And then they wonder as they‘ve taken these hits over and over and over again, and then empowering the people, hitting them, their political enemies, taking these hits and never punching back, never going after the people who are smearing them—while they‘re doing that, they‘re wondering why these legislative points on the board don‘t translate into anything other than a huge portion of the population thinking that the president is corrupt and feckless and a redistributionist and a socialist and there to take stuff away from white people and give it to black people.
It‘s doing real damage—which is why he‘s got no political—nothing political show from his policy gains.
ALTER: Well, I take your point. I agree with that. I just think they need to be more skillful politically, get better surrogates at the Democratic National Committee or others outside the White House to fight these fights. They don‘t have to have the president doing it.
But you‘re absolutely right. They need to do a much better job in the cut and thrust of politics.
Politics has always been and always will be a contact sport. And you get a sense that even though a lot of these guys are from Chicago, they don‘t quite get that.
MADDOW: And if Ed Rendell‘s ears are burning right now, then he‘s thinking what I‘m thinking as you say that.
Jonathan Alter, “Newsweek” senior editor, MSNBC contributor, and with a super interesting and well-informed take on this thanks a lot, Jonathan.
ALTER: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up: I get shouted at by someone who usually only shouts at Keith. It was fun, though. That‘s next.
MADDOW: A host at the FOX News Channel named Bill O‘Reilly accuses us of, quote, “howling” with left-wing indignation over the Shirley Sherrod affair. We respond with subdued, dignified barking and yipping—next.
MADDOW: So, I have to tell you, I showed up in the weirdest place last night. It was almost like a dream. I was on TV talking about Shirley Sherrod and that phony reverse racism story and FOX News—except I was on FOX News. I was on “The O‘Reilly Factor.” It was very spooky.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: This is what FOX News does. This is how they‘re different from other news organizations. Just like the fake ACORN controversy, FOX News knows that it has a role in this distance. That‘s not new. That‘s not actually even interesting about this scandal. FOX does what FOX does.
BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS: Which has kicked your network‘s butt every single night, madam. And you have to be kidding with this fake ACORN scandal stuff. Unbelievable. Did you live in this country?
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: If by this country you mean is my office right across the street from yours? Yes. Unless there‘s an unguarded border down the middle lane of Sixth Avenue, yes, I live in what you call this country.
And, no, though, I sometimes kid, I‘m not kidding—as Mr. O‘Reilly asks—when I say that FOX News manufactured the outrage over ACORN as surely as they manufacture the outrage over Shirley Sherrod. By playing over and over and over again the same very selectively edited tape that it made it looked like night was day and up was down.
In the case with ACORN, it was a tape designed to make it looked like an outlandishly dressed pimp got advised from ACORN workers about this underage brothel. In fact, the activist/entrapment guy wasn‘t dressed as an outlandish pimp. He did not get advice on his fake brothel. And in fact, what FOX said with him getting advice on his fake brothel was actually tape showing an ACORN guy collecting information on the alleged fake brothel to turn it over to the police.
And you can trust me that I‘m kidding because ACORN has been exonerated by prosecutors in New York City and by the attorney general of California and by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Not that you‘ve heard any of that reported on FOX.
But let‘s get back to the really important of Mr. O‘Reilly‘s show last night. His message to madam, by which he means me, which is so awesome, I can‘t believe it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: FOX does what FOX does.
O‘REILLY: Which has kicked your network‘s butt every single night, madam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, here, Mr. O‘Reilly has a point. Mr. O‘Reilly, you and FOX get great ratings. It is so awesome how great your ratings are. You have very big ratings this year.
Here‘s the score card from last night. It is in TVRatingsSpeak, but I think it will be clear enough. Here‘s Mr. O‘Reilly and “The O‘Reilly Factor.” That 757 would be him at 8:00. And that 245 would be me at 9:00. Different hour. But, you know, same point.
And don‘t tell Susan‘s mom, who‘s very sensitive about these things, but we are actually—this show is actually out-rated by all kinds of shows. “Deadliest Catch” kills us, head to head. That‘s about fishing, which makes me think sometimes we should run more photos like this on our show.
We also get killed by a show called “The Closer,” about which I know nothing except that it also kills us in the ratings.
We also get smaller ratings than WWE Wrestling, which is apparently on the USA Network, which means that they‘re corporate cousin of ours. So, goodie for the shareholders even if it‘s not goodie for us.
Of course, all of those shows also kill Mr. O‘Reilly‘s show in the ratings, as well as everything else on FOX, as well as SpongeBob, reruns of “NCIS” and “Hannah Montana, Forever,” which is totally understandable. They are more watched than “The O‘Reilly Factor,” my lord—which have which is totally immaterial to the discussion at hand, because when you got all kicked your network‘s butt, and madam on me, you weren‘t really trying to tout your network‘s ratings. You were trying to take the attention off me saying that your network, FOX News, continually crusades on flagrantly bogus stories designed to make white Americans fear black American, which FOX News most certainly does for a political purpose even if it upends the lives of individuals like Shirley Sherrod, even as it phrased the fabric of the nation, and even as it makes the American Dream more of a dream and less of a promise.
You can insult us all you want about television ratings, Mr. O‘Reilly, and you‘ll be right that yours are bigger for now and maybe forever. You are the undisputed champion. But even if no one watches us at all, except for my mom and my girlfriend and people who forgot to turn off the TV after Keith, you are still wrong on what really matters and that would be the facts, your highness.
MADDOW: We have a correction of sorts to make tonight. It was believed both by us and by guests who have appeared on this show and, frankly, by lots of other people, that the survey the Pentagon is doing right now to determine how members of the military feel about the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” was an unprecedented thing. We and others believed that when the military had gone through other forms of desegregation either by gender or by race, but they didn‘t conduct this kind of a survey, that prior moves to desegregate the military were top-down decisions that were just made without asking the average infantrymen what he thought about the policy change.
It turns out that‘s not true. Earlier this week, a Pentagon spokesperson told “The Advocate” magazine that Defense Department historians have found evidence that the military did, in fact, conduct surveys about racial integration in the military prior to changing the policy in the ‘40s. Armed with that clue, the folks at “Think Progress” deserve props for actually trooping down to the National Archives and digging up some of the surveys that the military conducted around racial integration in the 1940s, ahead of President Truman‘s 1948 order to desegregate.
Remember, the basic history here is that in 1948, after generations of African-Americans had served in separate all-black units in the U.S. military, President Truman, as commander-in-chief, made the decision to end legal racial discrimination in the military.
Now, remember, this was 1948, six years before the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education mandating that schools be integrated, seven years before the Montgomery bus boycott, 15 years before Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, 16 years before the Civil Rights Act passed.
Interracial marriage was illegal in more than two dozen states in 1948. In other words, ending racial segregation in the military was a very big deal in 1948. But the military did ask the troops what they thought about the issue beforehand. And the results were—I mean, on the one hand, astonishing, and on the other, weirdly, totally what you‘d expect.
Here‘s what I mean: a 1942 -- a November 1942 survey of white enlisted men‘s feelings about African-Americans in the Air Force found that, quote, “An overwhelming majority of the men feel that Negro and white soldiers should be separated both during and after training.”
Check out the bar graph on this one. Eighty-two percent of enlisted thought African-Americans should attend separate training schools. Seventy-six percent of them wanted them in separate combat crews. And 74 percent thought there should be separate all-black ground crews as well.
Here‘s another survey from 1947 cleverly titled, “Attitudes of Officers and Enlisted Men Toward Certain Minority Groups.” And when they say “certain minority groups,” what they mean is Jews. It was a survey of how members of the armed forces felt about serving not just with black men but with Jewish men.
It turns out they were not thrilled about it. When presented with the statement, “There is nothing good about Jews,” 86 percent of the enlisted men surveyed agreed - 86 percent.
Also, who wrote this freaking survey anyway? As for the question of racial integration, quote, “Four out of five white enlisted men are opposed to the idea of having Negro and white soldiers in the same unit even if they do not eat in the same mess or sleep in the same barracks.”
Do you know how many officers and enlisted men thought black and white soldiers should work and train and live together? How many people were actually in favor of integration? A grand total of seven percent. Seven percent of officers and enlisted men thought the military should be integrated.
So given that - given that these were the views of the troops in 1947, what did President Truman do the following year in 1948? He ordered that there be desegregation. He said to the military essentially, “Deal with it,” and they did. And frankly, that‘s the American way.
We‘re not just a democracy. We‘re a constitutional democracy. There are rights guaranteed to us all by the Constitution. Those rights are not up for a vote. And the reason that‘s truly important, the reason it‘s not just a romantic sepia-toned flashback to the founding of this country is because people always want to vote on rights. They always want to vote on minority rights.
And whenever they do, whenever you put the rights of a minority up for a vote, it almost always fails. On gay rights, for example, the issue of gay marriage has been put to a vote in 31 states.
And all 31 of the states have voted it down. But because this is America, rights are not supposed to be put to a vote. That‘s why they‘re called rights. That‘s why we have a Constitution and why we struggle every day to prove that we still honor it.
Opinions, surveys, polling be darned; this is America and the rights of man are inalienable no matter what skeeves you out. And so now, the Pentagon is surveying the troops on what think about serving with openly gay people. The results may very well be as reactionary as what we saw in those surveys from the 1940s.
And if we are still a constitutional republic, if the concept of inalienable - inalienable equal rights - inalienable equal rights still means something, the results of that survey will be interesting. They will also be completely irrelevant to the question of whether or not this policy should and will be changed.
MADDOW: It started here on this show. And now, it doesn‘t end here, but it does take a very sharp turn. Sixteen months ago, West Point graduate, Arab linguist, Iraq veteran, 1st Lt. Dan Choi made this very dramatic news right here on our air.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
1ST LT. DAN CHOI, UNITED STATES ARMY: I am an infantry platoon leader in the New York Army National Guard. And by saying three words to you today, I am gay, those three words are a violation of Title 10 of the U.S. Code.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today, nearly a year and a half after that announcement, Lt.
Dan Choi has been fired from the U.S. Military.
Quote, “Based on the approved board findings that 1st Lt. Choi did publicly admit on more than one occasion in person and through the media that he is a homosexual, such conduct being in violation of 10 U.S. Code Sections 654, Subsection B-2, I direct 1st Lt. Choi be discharged from the New York National Army National Guard with an honorable characterization of service.”
Ironically, the adjutant general signing off from Lt. Choi‘s discharge is Brig. Gen. Patrick Murphy - a coincidence. No relation to another Patrick Murphy, also an Iraq veteran, now, a congressman, who bas led the way in Washington for the repeal of the “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” policy, a policy that has now claimed Dan Choi‘s career.
Lt. Dan Choi joins us now. Dan, thank you very much for joining us. It‘s a real honor to have you back on the show.
CHOI: Great to be with you. I hope the audio doesn‘t cut out this time.
MADDOW: Yes like it did that very dramatic first night. Dan -
CHOI: We can‘t blame the government because there‘s no conspiracy this time, right?
MADDOW: Right -
CHOI: There‘s no reason why they‘d cut me off.
MADDOW: At this point - yes. At this point - at this point, you are a civilian. I mean, this must be a very hard day for you, Dan. How are you doing?
CHOI: It‘s the first time I‘m a civilian since I was 18 years old.
It‘s, you know, as much as you can prepare for this kind of consequence. And I knew exactly what I was getting into when I appeared on your show the very first time.
As much as you build up your armor and get ready for those words, saying that “you‘re fired,” you can‘t deal with that pain and the emotion. I mean, I think back on my entire time in the military, from the days that I was at West Point to getting ready for deployment, infantry training and even the activism.
All of it comes up and it‘s a big emotional roller coaster. It‘s painful and it hurts. I mean, right now, my career is over, but I know there are still hundreds of other people that are going to be fired and go through the same thing throughout this year.
MADDOW: When you look back on these 16 months after coming out, all the activism you‘ve engaged in, getting arrested, protesting this policy, serving with your unit while being openly gay, do you feel regret? Do you wish you had stayed in the closet longer and waiting for the policy to end?
CHOI: Absolutely not. Being in the closet is a poison. It‘s a deadly toxic disease that people don‘t even realize how difficult that is until they‘re finally out. There are a lot of times when I look back at my time in service and told myself, “Why didn‘t I come out?” or “Why did I join?”
I mean, I knew I was gay. I didn‘t want to come out to my parents. My dad is a minister. He‘s affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. He didn‘t want to know that his son, who went to West Point and went to Iraq, is an infantry man is also gay. He just wouldn‘t know how to deal with that.
There are so many people who have “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” in their own hearts and in their own homes. And they deal with that same kind of enforced shame and that kind of enforced hatred of themselves. And it really tears away at the very fabric of who they are.
MADDOW: Do you think, Dan, that your civil disobedience efforts, getting arrested over the course of the last year and a half, do you think that activism contributed to you being discharged now? Do you think that was part of it?
CHOI: Well, it would be very difficult for me to say that since the charges were dropped at the very last minute by the federal government and by the D.C. government for whatever reason. A lot of people have seen that actions, not only in achieving LGBT rights, gay and transgender rights, is effective but it‘s been effective.
Throughout our entire history from the time of the Boston Tea Party and throughout American Revolution, we‘ve seen military officers get on up and act up because they know that the meaning of service and the meaning of our country is not wrapped up in a sentiment or an emotion or an argument about what the uniform signifies.
That uniform that I put on, that uniform I‘ve worn since the very first days at West Point, that stands for fighting from freedom and justice. And if there is no fight for freedom and justice, then nobody deserves to wear that uniform.
MADDOW: Dan, if the policy is repealed and sources do say it could happen in the spring, in less than a year, do you think you would sign up again? Do you know what‘s next for you?
CHOI: Well, I don‘t base a lot of my timelines or I don‘t think anybody should base their actions on a political guesstimate. I think that if we were to do that, then we wouldn‘t be where we‘re at today.
But I know for sure that if the law is repealed, and President Obama finally takes action and we can go back, of course, in a heart beat. There‘s nothing that I should be afraid of. I‘ve been serving openly in my infantry unit. And there‘s been nothing but positive impact.
There‘s no reason for anybody to be afraid. There‘s no need for a survey. There‘s no need for a poll. There‘s no need for people to put up shower curtains because they‘re afraid of what might happen.
I‘ve been serving for 17 months quite openly. And I‘ve seen nothing but positive impact when you tell people around you, people who you work with the truth about who you are. There‘s nothing but an increase in unit cohesion, in team work, in trust. Honesty is the fabric, the foundation of all of that.
MADDOW: Lt. Dan Choi, I know you had a million choices of who to talk to on TV tonight. And I want to thank you for choosing to be with us here. And as always, thank you for your service.
CHOI: Rachel, we wouldn‘t be here with “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” if it wasn‘t for people like you who stick to the facts and tell them unashamedly. So I have you to thank and I believe all of America owes you a debt of gratitude. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: You‘re way too kind. Thanks, Dan. Good luck to you, man.
Stay in touch, OK?
CHOI: I will.
MADDOW: All right. On “COUNTDOWN,” Congressman Barney Frank on the deficit-exploding Bush tax cuts and Republicans wanting to extend them while all the while saying they‘re against the deficit.
First on this show, though, there is one surefire, airtight, lead pipe cinch of a way to tell when a politician is in serious trouble. A prime example of one of your elected officials staring a huge problem right in the face caught on tape, next.
MADDOW: And you thought the mid-terms were boring this year. Amazing, amazing campaign action including weird sexism, dirty words, Tom Tancredo and John Ensign‘s legal defense fund, all coming up.
MADDOW: Want to know how you can tell a politician is in real trouble, facing something really bad? When asked directly about that trouble, the politician will change the subject to anything but the answer to that question about that trouble. Anything.
See if you can identify which person in the following exchange on Capitol Hill this afternoon is in real trouble. And don‘t worry, this is a test you will pass.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LUKE RUSSERT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Are you worried about losing your job?
REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL (D-NY): What are you talking about? Are you just trying to make copy? What job? The one I got?
RUSSERT: Yes, these are potentially very serious violations.
RANGEL: How do you think I got my job? I was elected. How do you think I lose it?
RUSSERT: There are two ways, you can lose it if your colleagues voted you out of here because of ethics violations or if your constituents don‘t support you.
RANGEL: What station are you from?
RUSSERT: NBC, MSNBC.
RANGEL: Well you‘re young, I guess you do need to make a name for yourself, basically you know it‘s a dumb question.
RUSSERT: How is it a dumb question?
RANGEL: It‘s allegations made by some people.
RUSSERT: Sir, you did not file taxes on your properties in the Dominican Republic, allegedly. If that comes to be true, is that not a problem?
RANGEL: It doesn‘t really sound like NBC asking these dumb questions.
It just shows what happened to a channel that did have some respect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wow. That was Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York, a congressman since 1971, completely blowing off a legitimate question from our own Luke Russert by insulting Luke Russert and our own fair news division.
What prompted such a classic “attack the messenger” maneuver from the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee? It was a House investigative subcommittee concluding today that Mr. Rangel likely violated a whole slew of ethics rules.
And now, the committee hasn‘t formally released their conclusions. It had been investigating allegations of everything from improper use of four rent-stabilized apartments in Harlem, to protecting a Caribbean tax shelter for an oil drilling company, who is chief executive was a top donor to Rangel‘s foundation, to using corporate money to pay for two trips to the Caribbean, to using official congressional stationery to raise money for a center named after him at the City College of New York, to failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and assets from an IRA mutual funds stock and Mr. Rangel‘s partial ownership of a yacht club in the Dominican Republic.
The list goes on and on. Next week, a new subcommittee from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will rule on today‘s findings. The last person to face such actions from the Standards Committee was the bouffant Ohio Congressman James Traficant.
He was expelled from Congress only after his conviction on 10 felony counts of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. Mr. Traficant only got out of jail last year. So Congressman Charlie Rangel is probably a little tense today, which may explain his answer to Luke Russert‘s direct, straightforward question about his problems.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RANGEL: It doesn‘t really sound like NBC asking these dumb questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you translate that from politician-in-deep-trouble-ese into English, it translates as, “I‘m obviously in deep trouble, kid.”
MADDOW: Nicole Wallace, who worked for John McCain‘s 2008 presidential campaign and who served as communications director for President George W. Bush has a new novel coming out this fall. It‘s called “Eighteen Acres” which is an insider-y name about the White House.
The book is about America‘s first female president, a centrist in the first term. And things are not going well for her and her administration. She might not run for a second term. Her husband is having an affair. She‘s got mid-term elections are coming up.
At the beginning of the book, everybody around her is trying to lift her spirits about her political prospects, because they keep telling her everybody knows the party in power, in this case her party, always loses seats in the mid-terms.
Her aides and staffers keep saying, “Don‘t worry. It‘s not your fault. We‘ll lose seats. It‘s not that big a deal. It‘s not you. It‘s history. This is the way it always goes. Don‘t worry. The party in power loses seats in midterm elections. That‘s an axiom.”
That is just one way we know that that political axiom is so well-understood, so accepted and so true that it even shows up in subplots in political fiction. You don‘t even have to prove it. Everybody just knows it. It just happens.
But in real life, for these midterm elections, when you look at how this inevitable thing is really going to happen, it sort of feels less inevitable. Take the states of Colorado and Nevada, for example. These states should be ripe for the Republican Party picking. Both went for George W. Bush in 2004, and then to Barack Obama in 2008.
Democrats trying to hold on to major offices in these states have had really soft polling numbers, and we‘re supposedly in this political climate of anti-incumbent rage.
If the Republicans are indeed fixing to take our country back, Colorado and Nevada are the “our country” that they‘re talking about on paper, in theory. But look at how it‘s playing out in real life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEN BUCK ®, CANDIDATE FOR REPUBLICAN SENATE NOMINATION IN COLORADO:
Why should you vote for me? Because I do not wear high heels.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Let us take a moment to appreciate this. This is a lawyer named Ken Buck, running against another Republican named Jane Norton for their party‘s nomination for Senate in Colorado.
And what Ken Buck just did there on tape is not something that happens really often in politics. If you‘re running against a Ken Buck, it doesn‘t get this good. You don‘t just get handed something this spectacular to work with in your campaign.
Not willing to miss this double rainbow of an opportunity, Jane Norton‘s campaign against Ken Buck immediately fired back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUCK: Why should you vote for me? Because I do not wear high heels.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Play that again?
BUCK: Why should you vote for me? Because I do not wear high heels. I have cowboy boots. They have real (EXPLETIVE DELETED) on them. That‘s Weld County (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So that‘s how the Republicans are handling their Senate primary in their prime opportunity pickup state of Colorado, by out-dueling each other with weird sexism and references to feet and animal poop. I can‘t wait for the general election.
In Colorado‘s Republican primary for the governorship, you‘ve got six-term Congressman Scott McInnis. Now, “The Denver Post” reported last week that Mr. McInnis plagiarized an essay about water rights back in 2005.
The foundation that paid the Congressman for his plagiarized material wants its money back, thank you very much. Mr. McInnis agreed - last week. He has yet to pay back that $300,000 fee, but it‘s pretty clear that most political observers in Colorado expect his unforced and super-expensive error to potentially terminate the McInnis 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
According to strategically leaked E-mails, a Republican operative not working directly for McInnis reports that the scandal has had a very not-positive effect on fund-raising, quote, “We have no money right now. At this point, I am telling everyone don‘t expect to get paid for your work.”
My guess is those people do want to get paid for their work, that‘s why they‘re leaking those E-mails and they don‘t have a faith that their guy will be sticking around for much longer so they‘re trying to get paid now.
But even if Mr. McInnis exits this race stage right, the void left in his wake will not go unfilled. Cue Tom Tancredo, famous anti-immigrant crusader and hilariously bizarre presidential candidate who told February‘s national tea party convention that it was high time for literacy tests to be revived so as to thin the ranks of the voting eligible.
Tom Tancredo says he is standing by. He would like an existing independent candidate to drop out so he can get that spot on the gubernatorial ballot to become the next distinguished governor from the state of “ain‘t never going to happen.” Tom Tancredo, always just what the doctor ordered, provided the doctor is a Democrat.
That brings us to Nevada, again, another state that should be turning up red Republican roses right now. But look at the state of Republican principles in Nevada. Incumbent Senator John Ensign famously had an affair with his staffer, who was married to another one of his staffers.
He may or may not have violated all kinds of ethics rules by trying to get the husband of his mistress a job, which is why he is now the subject of a Senate ethics probe and, bingo, an FBI investigation.
And that is why Sen. Ensign would like your money. He would like your money for his legal defense fund. The combined contributions from last month and this month to the save “John Ensign from jail” fund - $10. Ten total dollars - that‘s what he‘s raised for his legal defense fund.
So he‘s not up for reelection for another couple years but he sure is sitting $10 pretty in terms of helping out this year‘s Nevada Republican hopefuls who include incumbent Republican Congressman Dean Heller. Dean Heller now taking shots at Republican Senate candidate, Sharron Angle.
Heller and Angle are fighting over the question of who is more insulting to people without jobs. And this is honestly a hard one for me to answer. On the one hand, you‘ve got Sharron Angle calling unemployed people “spoiled.”
SHARRON ANGLE ®, REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL NOMINEE: We have put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So Republican Sharron Angle says the unemployed are spoiled.
Her home state Republican colleague, Congressman Heller, disagrees.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEAN HELLER (R-NV): Those are her words and I think she ought to explain more what she meant by that. But they wouldn‘t be a way that I would characterize unemployment benefits.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Of course, the way Dean Heller would characterize unemployment benefits is quote, “The government creating hobos.” Honestly, that‘s what he said about unemployment benefits. Is the government now creating hobos? That‘s who wants Sharron Angle to explain her insensitivity to the unemployed. The midterms are turning out to be way more fun than anyone expected.
“COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.
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