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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Kent Jones, Ed Rendell, Nate Silver, Frank Rich

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  And now to discuss the guys on the Republican tickets, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.

Did you know throughout most of the 20th century, one of the great corny humor books that was in print for decades was called “Joe Miller‘s Joke Book”?

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  I did not know that.

OLBERMANN:  Well, there you go.


MADDOW:  Thank you.  That seems like that‘s going to come in handy this midterm season.

OLBERMANN:  I‘ll see if I can get you a copy.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

And thanks to you to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

There was no shortage of legitimately meaningful results from yesterday‘s primaries, but those legitimately meaningful results are not necessarily the ones you have been hearing about so far.  Stay tuned this hour for Nate Silver on yesterday‘s primaries.

Also tonight, the grossest idea ever for a reality show.  It is about the U.S. military.  “New York Times‘” columnist, Frank Rich, is here to talk about that and much more.

It‘s all ahead.

But we begin tonight with what you don‘t need to know—do not need to know about last night‘s Republican primaries.  Not.  That‘s not a type in my script.

We‘re not going to address the question of what last night‘s results tell us about the influence of the Tea Party Movement.  We‘re not going to weigh whether anti-incumbent fever is in fact sweeping the nation.  Quick, you may catch it.

And at least for the moment, we‘re not going to look at what this will all mean when the votes are eventually counted 69 nights now from in the big enchilada 2010 elections.  Not that yet.

Instead tonight, now, we‘re going to introduce you to the field of GOP nominees for 2010.  No longer mere candidates.  Because continuing our theme of “nots,” there‘s a lot about these folks that the people in charge now of getting them elected would prefer you do not know about them.

At this hour, the votes are still being counted in Alaska‘s Republican Senate primary, Senator Lisa Murkowski trailing the challenger, Joe Miller, by about 2,000 votes, with a few thousand absentee ballots still to be counted.  Mr. Miller having run against Senator Murkowski by, among other things, claiming that the senator appears to shed her conservative credentials much in the manner of—well, other types of Alaskans.


JOE MILLER ®, ALASKA SENATE CANDIDATE:  I‘m Joe Miller, the true conservative choice for the U.S. Senate in Alaska.  My opponent says one thing during the short election season here in Alaska, but then when she gets back to D.C., she sheds those views.  In fact, she sheds those views more often than a moose sheds its antlers.

Take Obamacare, for instance.  In Alaska, my opponent says she‘s against it.  She wants to get rid of it.  But just this past March, she says we shouldn‘t repeal it, it has good stuff in it.


MADDOW:  Subtle, right?  She‘s shedding her previous positions like a moose sheds its antlers.  Very subtle.  In case you missed it, because it‘s so subtle, Mr. Miller in the ad picks up antlers not once, not twice but a total of seven times in the one ad.  Eight actually if you count the double-fisted antlers in the closing shot.  Look, mom, both hands!

If you would like to learn more than just antlers about Mr. Joe Miller, his campaign has been directing people to its Web site where you‘ll find under the heading values, Mr. Miller has listed just one.  Just one value that he believes, quote, “life must be protected from the moment of conception.”  He wants to make it illegal for a woman to have an abortion in any circumstances even if her pregnancy results from being raped or from incest.

What will be fun to watch is how much of Mr. Miller‘s campaign Web site, one value in all, is allowed to survive now that he is not just a candidate but the Republican Party‘s official U.S. Senate nominee—provided that the counting goes the way it has been going up in Alaska.

The national Republican Party having already given an extreme makeover to another of its Senate nominees, of course, Sharron Angle of Nevada.  They overhauled her Web site, de-nuttified it, if you will, cleaned it up, certain items in the platform.

They took out the part about abolishing the Department of Education, for example.  All the GOP wants you to know is, quote, “There is no one more committed to education than Sharron Angle.”  She‘s so committed she will do away with the department of that thing.

As for Sharron Angle‘s belief that Social Security should be eliminated or privatized, the new and improved Sharron Angle Web site says, quote, “We must keep the promise of Social Security.”  Keep it how?  By creating personalized accounts for the next generation—personalized accounts that, of course, can be wiped out in a matter of hours by the stock market.  Yes.

Similar changes soon appear at

Spare a thought for whoever‘s job it is at the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee to make the Republicans who are winning Senate primaries this year seem like mainstream candidates for the general election.

Just as one example, Joe Miller in Alaska is now one of four Republican Senate nominees.  If he wins this over Murkowski, one of four Republican Senate nominees who has said they oppose abortion even in cases of rape or incest.  The others, of course, are Sharron Angle, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Rand Paul in Kentucky.  That would seem to make that among the top unifying positions for Republican Senate candidates this year.

It‘s not just that this year‘s crop of Republican top of the ticket candidates want to ix nay Social Security.  Good news for cat food makers.  It‘s also that they want the government to monitor every pregnancy in this country to ensure that it results—that every single pregnancy in the country results in a live birth.  They want the government to force every woman made pregnant by rape to give birth to her rapist‘s baby.  And that‘s just the candidates for the Senate.

In House races last night, Arizona Republicans elected Ben Quayle as their nominee in the Arizona 3rd.  He‘s marketing himself as a family friendly congressional candidate, so friendly, friendly that he took the extra step of making it seem like his nieces were actually his daughters in a direct mail advertising campaign.  He does not have children of his own, but he wanted it to look like he did.  He does not have kids, does not want you to know that.

Also, Ben Quayle—excuse me—wants you to know, though he is Dan Quayle‘s son and even though he made up a fake family for himself to campaign with, Ben Quayle wants you to know that he is very tough.  He is so tough, in fact, he swears.


BEN QUAYLE ®, ARIZONA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  I love Arizona.  I was raised right.  Somebody has to go to Washington and knock the hell out of the place.


MADDOW:  Ben Quayle, Dan Quayle‘s son.  Oh, please, may his ads stay that good.

And in Florida, Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson is now facing the prospect of running against a man named Daniel Webster, who in addition to having one of those amazing names in politics, is also famous for his support of covenant marriage.  He has sponsored and supported legislation that would make getting a divorce just about impossible.

So, meet the class of 2010 Republican party candidates—dumping Social Security, forcing rape victims to have rapist‘s babies, knocking the hell out of Washington and banning divorce.

These are not the things the D.C. spin guys want their crop of candidates this year to be famous for, but, oh, they are, they are, they are, they are.

Joining us now is Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell.

Governor Rendell, thanks very much for joining us tonight.


MADDOW:  All politics, of course, is local.  But should Democrats this year run against Republicans as a group, as a whole, given the crop of candidates that Republicans have nominated this year?

RENDELL:  Yes.  I think, Rachel, there‘s something out there that I would call the wacko or cuckoo factor.  And I think independents and swing voters have got to be scared to death hearing about all these Republican candidates, these extremist, these people who want to repeal the 14th Amendment, the birthers, you name it.  They‘ve got to be scared to death.

So, even if I was a Democrat running against a moderate or reasonable conservative, I‘d raise the picture in voters‘ minds: do you want this party—with all these wackos, with all these extremists—do you want this party in control of the Congress?

So, I think even in a local race, individual races, it‘s fair game to say, this party is getting more and more control by people who are whacked out, who are way extreme, and you don‘t want to give the reins of power to this party.  So, vote Democrat.

MADDOW:  Specifically on the issue of abortion.  Democratic politicians, of course, aren‘t uniformly pro-choice.  But I can‘t find any other time in history when so many top-tier candidates are running on an abortion position that is as extreme as Republicans this year.  Should that be a national campaign issue?  Are Democrats too afraid of that as an issue to make it a national issue?

RENDELL:  Well, I think it falls into, again, the wacko quotient.  I don‘t know anybody—I know a lot of good people who are pro-life, but I don‘t know anybody, reasonable person, who thinks that a woman who‘s raped should be forced to have the child of the rapist.

And that‘s just an extreme position that yes, I think that falls into all of these extreme positions, all of the hate, all of the divisiveness that many Republican candidates—not all—but many are bringing to the table.  That has to be an issue.  And we‘ve got to say, do you want to turn the government, or a good portion of the government, over to a party that has people like this in growing numbers?

MADDOW:  But isn‘t it true, though, that Democrats have been really afraid of talking about abortion?  Not only the national level, but even at the state level.  Democrats who are pro-choice almost never campaign on that.  They never bring it up.  It‘s become the new Democratic common wisdom that if you bring up the issue of abortion, it always works against you.  Isn‘t that true?

RENDELL:  Well, I think with many Democrats—again, it goes back to what I‘ve been saying all year, and I‘ve said it on this show.  We Democrats are too afraid of talking about the things we believe in.

A woman‘s right to choose is certainly something that most Democrats, not all, most Democrats believe in and I believe it‘s a position that the majority of Americans still believe is the reasonable position.  We ought to be talking about it, but we ought to be talking about the things we believe in.

Look, what worries me most about this election is the turnout factor.


RENDELL:  You saw “The Wall Street Journal” poll.  Among all voters, they choose Democrats by a slight majority.  But among voters who are likely to vote, it‘s 50 to 39 Republicans.  So, we‘ve got to do things to get our base to come out.  And that means talking about what we believe in, talking about health care.

Do you know in September in Pennsylvania, Rachel, I‘m doing three press conferences: one with the first child who was denied coverage because they had a pre-existing illness, who gets covered because of the health care bill.

Two, when our high-risk pool starts to enroll individuals.  And we‘ll be enrolling 3,000 people in September.

And three, when those $250 checks start arriving to seniors to plug the donut hole or at least plug part of the donut hole in Medicare Part D.

Those are all good things.  We should be proud of what we‘ve accomplished.  If we sit back and don‘t talk about the things we believe in, our base isn‘t going to come out just based on negatives.

MADDOW:  That‘s exactly the question that I wanted to turn it toward.  In thinking about sort of a Democratic prescription for driving turnout, obviously, the playing field right now is that Republicans are more motivated.  Doesn‘t the base—couldn‘t the Democratic base also be motivated essentially, though, by fear of what‘s out there among these Republican extremist candidates?


MADDOW:  Doesn‘t negative campaigning essentially motivate people?

RENDELL:  It does to a degree.  It does to a degree.

But as long as Democrats are not reminded about the things—I think the president has accomplished a great deal.  I don‘t think he gets credit for half of what he‘s accomplished.  I think we‘ve got to be reminded of the fact that we fought for principles.  The stimulus was a principle; of certainly health care was an important principle; Wall Street responsibility, an important principle.

We‘ve accomplished an awful lot.  And we have to say the positives, along with the negatives.  Sure.

The message to our voters are: look, we made progress.  It hasn‘t been easy because of the economic times.  We‘ve made progress.  We‘re going to continue to push the progressive agenda.

And in the meantime, worry big-time about the wacko factor in the Republican Party because that‘s not America.  That‘s not the America you and I want.

I think it has to be a duel message.

MADDOW:  I will say that the headline that‘s going to come out of this interview is “Ed Rendell coins wacko factor for midterm elections.”  That one‘s going to stick.

RENDELL:  Do you disagree?

MADDOW:  Not at all.

RENDELL:  Do you disagree?

MADDOW:  I‘m happy you said it here.

RENDELL:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, thank you for joining us, sir.  Really appreciate it.

RENDELL:  Thanks.

MADDOW:  So, we left out one member in our review of the Republican class of 2010.  Mostly, we left him out because he‘s in a league of his own.  One look at Rick Scott‘s record and you say, wow, there is no way somebody like that could ever be, say, the Republican Party nominee for governor in Florida.  But dream of all dream years in politics, Rick Scott actually is.

The Rick Scott phenomenon and other highly improbable election results with the extraordinary Mr. Nate Silver—coming up next.

And later on, “The New York Times‘” Frank Rich.

Please do stay with us.


MADDOW:  Frank Rich from “The New York Times” coming right up.


MADDOW:  As primary season winds down, the Republican task of giving moderate makeovers to all of the people who are extreme enough to have won Republican primaries this year is a tall order.  The Republicans are faced with a challenge of trying to seriously make over a lot of seriously conservative candidates.  I do not envy anyone that job.

But in one particular instance, not only is the makeover going to be difficult, Republicans have already tipped their hand that they don‘t really want to do it.  In the Florida governor‘s race, the man who won the primary, Rick Scott, is not only not the establishment pick, he sort of got into a fight with the Republican Governors Association during the primary.

The RGA chairman, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, publicly accused Rick Scott of distorting the facts.  In a political ad, Governor Barbour told Rick Scott to pull the ad and to move forward in the primary in a constructive manner.  Mr. Scott declined.  Meow.

But Rick Scott winning the Florida primary isn‘t just awkward for the Republican powers that be because of his bad relationship with the Republican powers that be.  Rick Scott winning the Florida primary and becoming the Republican Party‘s nominee for governor in that state is also a bit of a microcosm, a nutshell.  A “you can‘t make this stuff up” example of what‘s going on in Republican politics for this year‘s elections.

Rick Scott‘s main claim to fame politically is on the issue of health care.  Whatever you think about health reform, essentially, it was a project to expand the number of people in the country with health insurance, right?  Rick Scott did all he could to lead the opposition to health reform.  He even took credit for killing the public option.  His group, Conservatives for Patients‘ Rights, helped organize those “go scream at your congressman” events during the hot, shouty, town hall meetings last August.  Remember those?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What makes you better qualified to do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you going to vote for it?

CROWD:  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!


MADDOW:  To be clear about what this means, Rick Scott organized opposition to more people getting health insurance, while he was running a chain of for-profit walk-in clinics that depend for their profitability on people not having health insurance.  It‘s a chain of for-profit health clinics, many located inside Wal-Mart, that largely served uninsured.  In other words, Rick Scott makes money off people not having insurance and so, Rick Scott organized a political movement to keep people from getting insurance so they could go to real doctors‘ offices.

But that‘s not even the most incredible thing about Rick Scott.  Before Rick Scott founded his chain of for-profit health clinics that depend on people not having insurance in order to make money, what was he famous?  He was famous for incurring the largest Medicare fraud fine ever.  He headed up a health care company that systemically defrauded the government on Medicare charges.  In other words, stole money, to the point where the fine was $1.7 billion—biggest ever.

The fine for what happened at Columbia/HCA under Rick Scott‘s leadership was $1.7 billion.  Amid that scandal, he was quietly pushed out by the board of directors of the company and given a nearly $10 million golden parachute, leaving the company holding the bag for the fraud charges and leaving Rick Scott‘s own reputation apparently to be a great spring board to higher office.

Rick Scott was not exactly expected to win this gubernatorial primary in Florida.  He was behind in most of the polls heading into yesterday‘s race.  But he won.

So, congratulations, Florida Republicans, you did it.  You really did.

Joining us now is Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog.

Nate, thanks very much for coming on the show.


MADDOW:  I have to tell you: congratulations for FiveThirtyEight moving over to “The New York Times” Web site.

SILVER:  Yes.  We got some really cool visual displays, the information, and it‘s, you know, a ton of work the last week or so for them to get together.  But it‘s really cool.  You should go check it out.

MADDOW:  It‘s totally worth checking out.  And I will say traffic will

follow wherever you go, but it is a credit to them that they stole you.  So



SILVER:  I hope so.

MADDOW:  -- I would just say congratulations.

SILVER:  Thank you.


Polling wise, Rick Scott was down in two of the major polls heading into the election.  But he was up in one of them—he was up in Public Policy Polling.  They had him up seven points going into the primary.

From a polling standpoint, a statistical standpoint, do you see the Scott victory as a surprise?

SILVER:  Not really.  If you look at what happens in polls of gubernatorial and senatorial primaries, the average poll has been off by 10 points, right?  That‘s not even the margin of error.  That‘s the average miss is 10 points.

So, basically, if you‘re within single digits, either candidate can win and you‘re not learning much, and especially when you have three polls that diverse so much, they‘re all pretty good pollsters actually, you know, people are having a real trouble honing in on which person cares, and which type of person cares to go about in Republican primary this year, you know?

In Public Policy Polling, it said it‘s not necessarily the 2004 kind of conservative voters, it‘s more kind of people who are kind of maybe Perot voters coming out of the woodwork and people who are not traditional likely voters, people who are motivated by the Tea Party, or by Obamacare and by all this kind of new and fresh concerns that are happening this year.

MADDOW:  So, polling is really off for the primaries this year.  You said average by—


MADDOW:  -- by 10 points.  And you think that‘s mostly because of sampling, because people are—when pollsters are trying to figure out whether or not people‘s preferences translate into election outcomes, they‘re not asking the right people.

SILVER:  Sure.  It‘s hard to figure out if someone is going to vote or not, who they‘ll vote for a lot of the time, right?  I mean, basically, you know, people don‘t lie about who they vote for.  But a lot of people say they‘re going to go and vote like, only when they don‘t, say they‘re going to go to yoga classes—

MADDOW:  Right.

SILVER:  -- and they don‘t.  You know?  And so, pollsters take educated guesses at what so-called “likely voters” are.

But it‘s really kind of a—you know, it‘s more an art than a science when only maybe 10 percent or 20 percent of the people in the state might turn out in a primary.  And if you get the wrong 10 percent or 20 percent, it might be the totally different segment of the electorate.

And that‘s what you had happening here is you have three smart pollsters making different guesses about who the voters would be.  And Public Policy Polling did well and got it right.

But it‘s not that surprising I don‘t think to see these polls be that far off.  You shouldn‘t think about general election polls, whether within three or four points, to apply to primaries—especially kind of—you know, especially a gubernatorial or Senate primary.  Presidential primaries are bad enough.


MADDOW:  So, you just wouldn‘t expect them to be that accurate?  So, it‘s not—even though they had been bad.

SILVER:  Anywhere—anywhere within the vicinity of making it close, and anything can happen.  Absolutely.  Yes.

MADDOW:  So, what—looking—how about looking up at the Miller/Murkowski race in Alaska?  I mean, very recently, Murkowski was up by very dramatic margins in those polls, like 20, 30 points.  And now, it‘s close enough that we can‘t call it and it looks like it‘s leaning toward Joe Miller.

SILVER:  Yes.  I mean—but let‘s be careful what we mean by very recently.  So, the last poll came out about six weeks ago.

And in a primary, when people don‘t even know who the candidates are often until a week before the election, in that poll that came out where she had a 30-point lead, half the people didn‘t know who Miller was, right?  In some ways that he had 30 percent support, with only 50 percent name recognition, is actually fairly auspicious in certain ways.  It said that, hey, people like him once they get to know him.

And so—you know, again, if we had the poll—or that race polled every week, we might have had him within five points or 10 points.  Or some polls might have him ahead.  But to have one six-week-old poll, it basically means that we don‘t really know anything from what the polling tells us.

And when you have a candidate who has $500,000 going into the race and the Tea Party Express and the market like Alaska, we can buy a whole TV station for half a million dollars practically.  And he‘s marketed as a likable kind of lumberjack, kind of every-man guy.  I think they ran a pretty good, smart television campaign.

It‘s not that shocking really, you know?  It‘s not the outcome you would expected yesterday morning.  But, you know, Scott Brown was 30 points down, you know, six weeks to go into the election.

MADDOW:  Briefly, Nate, on the issue of turnout—are we getting turnout figures from the primary season so far that‘s politically significant in terms of predicting stuff for November?

SILVER:  You never know.  It depends on particular contingencies.  But, you know, Marco Rubio was the first ever primary candidate in Florida for the Senate to get more than 1 million votes.  He didn‘t really have much opposition.  So, clearly, I think, there‘s more enthusiasm on the GOP side.

But also, the races tend to be more competitive.  I mean, you know, any time a party is kind of on the rise, right, people want in.  And that‘s why you have candidates like Rick Scott, I suppose, who think, you know, why not?  This is kind of—if I‘m never going to get elected, it‘s going to be a year like this one.

And you do see that, by the way, when you have years like 2006, like 1994.  When you have wave years, you sometimes get people elected who, you know—

MADDOW:  Otherwise—

SILVER:  Yes, otherwise wouldn‘t.  And they go out in the next wave.  It‘s one reason why there are waves because you have people who don‘t really meet the definition of a great candidate but who get caught up in the storm and some of them adapt and some of them don‘t.

MADDOW:  Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, the  That‘s the way to say it?

SILVER:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  All right.  Nate, thanks very much for joining us. 

Appreciate it.

SILVER:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is an up-and-comer in the Republican Party.  He is the anti-incumbent tidal wave.  Go to higher ground.

But Chris Christie has just made a big mistake, a really big mistake, a multi-hundreds of millions of dollars mistake.  Actually, it was sort of a multi-hundreds of millions of dollars typo.  But don‘t worry—he has an excuse.

Please stay with us.



RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST:  Governor Chris Christie, this guy needs a lot more attention.  He needs a lot more attention.  People need to listen to this man, the governor of New Jersey, what he is doing, how he‘s going about it.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST:  Chris Christie‘s going to be on everybody‘s short ticket in 2012.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST:  Chris Christie is one of the only guys I see that I would, today, vote for for president of the United States.  This guy has courage beyond belief.


MADDOW:  High words of conservative praise for New Jersey‘s freshman Republican Governor Chris Christie.  He‘s been one of the Republican Party‘s leading lights since he beat an incumbent Democrat for that job last November. 

But Chris Christie has just made a big mistake - a big, big mistake.  He was forced to admit that his administration screwed up in an almost clerical fashion on an application for some federal education money.  The snafu cost New Jersey $400 million of money from the federal government. 

The Obama administration yesterday awarded more than $3 billion to nine states and the District of Columbia, states in the D.C. who applied for the race to the top grant.  New Jersey came in 11th.  So 10 of them got money, anybody after that didn‘t.  New Jersey was 11th.  They lost to Ohio by just three points. 

It turns out New Jersey lost nearly five of those points for answering a question about education funding in 2008 and 2009 by giving information for the wrong years.  That basic error in reading comprehension, that basic lack of attention to detail, cost New Jersey $400 million. 

How has Gov. Christie responded to this?  At first it seemed like he was accepting responsibility for his own administration‘s clerical error.  He said, quote, “We‘ll take the responsibility we need to take for putting one wrong piece of paper in a thousand-page application.  If you want to take shot, take shots at me.” 

And in the meantime, I‘m going to take shots at you-know-who.  Gov.  Christie, in the course of manly taking responsibility then immediately blamed Barack Obama for New Jersey‘s loss.  Quote, “Does anybody in Washington, D.C. have a lick of common sense?  Pick up the phone and ask us for the number.” 

“Are you guys just down there checking boxes like mindless drones, or are you thinking?  When the president comes to New Jersey he‘s going to have to explain to the people of the state of New Jersey why he‘s depriving them of $400 million that this application earned.” 

As opposed to you explaining why you lost $400 million because you didn‘t read the question right?  Using my powers of reading comprehension, I find the following three excuses in Christie‘s response.  Number one, it‘s Obama‘s fault. 

Number two, I should have gotten a do-over.  And number three, there were so many pages.  There was too much paper, a point handily emphasized by Gov. Christie‘s use of props at the press conference, those big race-to-the-top application binders filled with a lot of papers. 

See, it was a ton of pages.  Even while talking about the application process Gov. Christie has still been making some basic mistakes as evidenced by his appearance on this network this morning.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ):  We came at 11th.  Ten people won and we lost them by 2.2 points. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Next year.  Next year. 

CHRISTIE:  If there‘s more money.  I doubt there will be. 


MADDOW:  Two point - according to the Department of Education, Ohio got 440.8 points in the final phase and New Jersey got 437.8 points which is not three points.  It‘s 2.2 points.  I don‘t know if there‘s a math section.  But if there is, I bet that‘s Obama‘s fault, too.


MADDOW:  In reality TV, what you‘re waiting for, what you‘re sometimes even rooting for, the scenes that make it on to the highlight reels and go viral online, they‘re not necessarily the plot points that fit the conceit of the show. 

It‘s really the incidental disasters.  On the “Bachelor” or the

“Bachelorette,” one of those dating shows you‘re interested in who the hunky single person is going to choose at the end of the show.  But on the way, what you‘re really watching for is things going horribly awry.  The date when somebody gets super drunk at dinner and ends the night not very smooth - yes - smoothly.  Bah, yes. 

On “Jersey Shore,” it‘s the big muscle-y guy, Ronnie, getting mad and punching a guy out and going to jail.  On one of the “Real Housewives” shows, it‘s the longstanding argument blowing up and somebody flipping the table over and cursing a blue streak.  

It‘s stuff going wrong.  You‘re waiting, if not rooting, for the incidental disasters.  That‘s how that kind of drama, that kind of entertainment works.  There‘s nothing wrong with it.  It‘s just the way it works. 

The network known for airing shows like “Whacked Out Videos” and “Ninja Warrior” and “Cheaters,” which is about people cheating on their wives and husbands, the network G-4 has just announced their latest reality show.  It‘s called “Bomb Patrol Afghanistan.”

I‘m not kidding.  The U.S. Navy has given them permission to shoot 10 episodes with American troops on an explosives ordinance disposal team at war in Afghanistan.  And then, they‘re going to show it on American TV starting sometime this spring. 

The company‘s breathless press release about it says, “While one day‘s patrol could result in the successful disarmament of a 50-pound roadside bomb via remote-controlled robot, another could put an EOD tech wearing a 70-pound protective bomb suit in direct contact with the potentially deadly IED. 

Pop some popcorn.  A G-4 spokesperson told “” today that she didn‘t know how the company would handle the issue of casualties among the soldiers on the show.  The companies has thus far provided no details about their plans for dealing with that, though, certainly, the prospect of those American casualties is what they think is going to make people tune in. 

It is already what they are already marketing about the show.  Remember, the U.S. Navy has given this the green light and is facilitating the camera crews‘ access.  Maybe the thinking is that if you can‘t keep the American people supporting the nine-year war in Afghanistan, at least if you let in the right camera crews then killing American soldiers over there can make for some good home-front entertainment. 

Joining us now for the interview is Frank Rich, award-winning columnist for “The New York Times.”  Frank, thanks very much for coming in.  It‘s good to see you. 


MADDOW:  Does packaging the war as entertainment get Americans to like the war more?  Do you think? 

RICH:  I don‘t think so.  You know, no one - this war has been going on for so long.  No one remembers, including possibly the Pentagon, that when the Afghanistan war began they did exactly the same thing. 

They made a deal with ABC, with a very successful producer, Jerry Bruckheimer of “Top Gun” and “Black Hawk Down” to do a show - a reality show from the Afghanistan War. 

MADDOW:  Oh, my god. 

RICH:  It was called “Tales from the Front.”  And it was a much more popular war then because it was in the aftermath of 9/11 and the show still bombed. 

MADDOW:  Wow.  Why - I mean, they‘ve done it before, which I didn‘t know

before you said that, but why would they OK it then?  Why would they OK it

now?  What‘s -

RICH:  Well, first of all, there‘s probably two issues.  You know, this war is going on for so long and no one - who would remember it was the Rumsfeld regime back then. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

RICH:  So no one remembers.  But also, I think that government really doesn‘t understand show business.  No part of it and certainly not the Pentagon.  So it‘s sort of desperate.  It‘s almost poignant.  I feel sorry for these men and women who are going to be portrayed in a kind of a snuff movie quality that‘s depressing. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  In your most recent column, you wrote, “Poor Gen. Petraeus over the last week, he‘s been ubiquitous in the major newspapers and on television as he pursues a publicity tour to pitch the war he‘s inherited.”

“But have you heard any buzz about what he had to say?  Any debate.  Any anything?  No one was listening, no one cared.  Everyone was too busy yelling about the mosque.”  Is the real 9/11 story, the Afghanistan War, being pushed out by the mosque story as a sort of a more politically convenient 9/11 proxy? 

RICH:  Well, what‘s bizarre about it - yes, and what‘s bizarre about is the fact that the people who are demonstrating against the so-called mosque are probably supporters of the war in Afghanistan.

And yet they‘re completely undermining it, not only because they‘re giving al-Qaeda the story line it wants for propaganda of Americans hating Islam, but also because we‘re fighting as allies with a Muslim nation, Afghanistan. 

We‘re fighting for a nation that has mosques, has a lot of mosques and the whole point of Petraeus‘ counterinsurgency strategy, as you know, is to win the hearts and minds of Afghanis, Muslims.  And we‘re trashing them and calling them Nazis in New York. 

So it‘s really defeating for Petraeus.  It drowned him out.  It also undermines his whole strategy and the whole argument for pursuing this even further. 

MADDOW:  For all the bad decisions made post-9/11, we really didn‘t see a national, like, open partisan two minutes hate toward Muslims the way we are seeing now about this mosque debate.  Why is it happening now? 

RICH:  I think - I think it‘s happening now because of Obama.  I mean, go back to right after 9/11.  Bush, for whatever reason, did the right thing.  Very quickly, he went to an Islamic center in Washington.  He said Islam is a religion of peace, we‘re not out to get Islam. 

Why is it starting up now?  Well, I think it fits into, if I may say so, the Fox right-wing strategy of trying to portray Obama as a, you know, closest terrorist basically, and a practitioner of Islam. 

And so it has a synergy in a campaign year.  And this whole thing has been ginned up and it‘s depressing.  It‘s undermining the war.  It‘s - it‘s doing nothing but spreading bad feeling. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the other war, why do you think the ending of the Iraq war is passing so quietly? 

RICH:  I think the country is tuned out of the whole region.  I think another indicator besides the fact that no one seems to be paying attention to the mission being semi-accomplished again in Iraq is the incredible humanitarian disaster in Pakistan. 

That is an enormous thing.  It‘s gotten plenty of press coverage.  But Americans are really sort of unaware of it.  The contributions don‘t compare to those with Haiti.  It‘s because people just - they‘ve - they‘re depressed about the economy. 

They don‘t really know what our strategy is in Afghanistan.  Iraq is sort of out of sight, out of mind.  And both wars are incredibly unpopular. 

Even as we leave Iraq with some, at least temporary, measure of stability

or sort of stability until today, 69 percent in the last poll oppose that

war.  Sixty-two percent oppose the Afghan war.  So -

MADDOW:  Frank Rich, award winning columnist for the “New York Times.”  It is always a really big pleasure to have you here.  So thanks for coming in. 

RICH:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  Nice to see you.  We have a new winner in the contest of the most ostentatiously masculine politician photo op.  It‘s the same guy who won before, actually.  That‘s next.  


MADDOW:  Former President Jimmy Carter today arrived in human society‘s equivalent of the Galapagos Islands.  I mean, of course, North Korea, which is to isolate what tortoises are too slow. 

A couple of days ago, we told you about the report in “Foreign Policy” magazine that Mr. Carter was on his way to North Korea.  He‘s now there on a private humanitarian mission to try to negotiate freedom for an American English teacher who North Korea has imprisoned. 

The 30-year-old man crossed into North Korea earlier this year.  He was sentenced to eight years hard labor.  Press reports say Mr. Carter is expected to have the young American free and with him when he flies back to the U.S. tomorrow. 

If past experience with this kind of thing is any prologue, it is likely that the North Koreans will report Jimmy Carter‘s visit as if it‘s got nothing to do with the American guy in prison. 

They‘ll make it seem like Carter was just dropping in to Pyongyang to tell Kim Jong-Il what he likes what he‘s done with the place.  That will be bull pucky, of course, and no one will believe it, but that will be the price of getting this American man free.


MADDOW:  One of the things that the George W. Bush administration was much better at than the Obama administration is the art of the fake candid photo of the president doing something vaguely manly. 

Our nation‘s current president is a tall, very fit, athletic guy who plays basketball very well and he comes across in person as sort of a tough guy.  But from all the rainbow shaved ice and ankle socks pictures that we‘ve seen of him, you would never know these things about him. 

The George W. Bush White House, on the other hand, had comparatively little to work with.  President Bush was certainly fit but his sport of choice was bicycle riding and he was prone to fall off his bike. 

He did have what they called a ranch, but the president was quite famously afraid of horses and can‘t be near them.  Still though, the George W. Bush White House found ways to get out photos of the bicycling-accident-prone, horse-phobic president in ways that made him look like John Wayne. 

But even the mucho macho manliness spin doctors of the George W. Bush White House must concede that when it comes to looking tough in photos, there is one world leader who puts all Americans to shame. 

And now, that world leader has topped even himself.  We asked our own staff He-Man to look into the story and that, of course, is Kent Jones.  Hi, He-Man. 

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  He-Man, wow.  Vladimir Putin has chosen a nautical setting for the latest action movie that is constantly playing inside his brain.  Take a look. 



(voice-over):  Creepy horseback guy.  Creepy judo guy.  Creepy wing man for Jean Claude Van Damme guy.  Creepy armpit stains guy.  Creepy swimming guy.  Creepy swimming with dolphins guy.  Creepy pseudo-biker guy. 

And now, from the man who gave us creepy polar bear tranquilizing guy and creepy Siberian tiger tranquilizing guy, here is Russian strongman Vladimir Putin as creepy whale-shooting guy. 

Flanked by scientists, Putin fired darts from a cross bow to collect skin samples from a gray whale swimming hear the Kamchatka Peninsula.  It was for his own good and by his, I mean Vladimir Putin‘s. 

Putin admitted it took four shots to hit the whale which might be embarrassing if embarrassment were a concept remotely familiar to him. 

Back on shore, journalists asked Putin whether it was dangerous.  He told them, quote, “To live, in general, is dangerous,” said the guy with the cross bow. 

Meanwhile spokesman for the whale said, quote, “Vladimir Putin‘s virile masculinity is equally impressive on land and sea.  It is an honor to sacrifice my pitiful skin samples to such a magnificent creature.  Truly the food chain ends with him.”  Like the man said, to live, in general, is dangerous. 


MADDOW:  Thank you very much, Kent. 

JONES:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  Terrifying.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith deals with former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson‘s sort of, kind of not really apology for his weird anatomical gaffe attacking social security. 

Next on this show, the connection between being 2,000 feet underground and crying at the national anthem.  That is next.  Stay with us.

MADDOW:  I am a crier.  Some people cry at the sound of Harry Chapin‘s “Cats in the Cradle,” others at “Old Yeller” or the end of “Where the Red Fern Grows,” where Billy visits his dogs‘ graves.  I cry at those things, too. 

But the one surefire way to see tears streaming down these cheeks is a live rendition of our nation‘s national anthem.  It doesn‘t matter if it‘s a baseball game or an ad for a pickup truck, or god forbid, a bus (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the subway.  It‘s just one of those things. 

Some people like me are hard-wired to sob by the time the broad stripes and bright stars are so gallantly streaming.  As you can see in this video, these men are criers too at the sound of their national anthem and with very good reason. 

You may have heard of the 33 men, 33 Chilean miners who were trapped half a mile underground in a chamber of 20 feet to 30 feet with little food and temperatures well into the 90s.  It is an amazing story.  Something is going on down there that has never before happened in the history of the world. 

It is amazing simply from a technical standpoint.  But it is the human aspects of the story that honestly are the most jaw-dropping.  From a sheer survival standpoint, the miners managed to make two days with the food last until day 17 of their ordeal when they were discovered. 

Their ordeal is now 20 days long and climbing.  The discovery came after seven failed attempts to drill bore holes down into the collapsed mine.  And then, finally, rescue workers broke through to where the miners were sequestered. 

When they pulled that drill back out, there were letters from the miners to their families that everybody was OK and they had faith they would eventually be rescued.  Now, communication with the miners has been established, we know one of the things they have been doing is singing, including singing the Chilean national anthem on Monday. 

Hearing that rendition of their national anthem through the intercom into the mine, they are criers, too.  Through the six-inch wide bore hole, rescuers are maintaining communication with the miners. 

They‘re pumping oxygen.  They‘ve also sent down an asthma inhaler, playing cards, even dominoes to try the miners‘ minds occupied.  They‘ve also sent down sugar water and gels to fortify the miners and otherwise keep them alive for the next few days. 

Plans are in the works to eventually get them solid food when they think the miners will be able to handle them.  And also a tape measure so that they wouldn‘t get too fat on all that solid food they‘re not yet eating. 

At some point, those guys are going to have to fit through a 26-inch wide rescue tunnel.  There are conflicting reports about whether the miners have been told exactly when they might be rescued, possibly three to four months from now. 

The psychological impact of knowing a thing like that is an unknowable thing.  As far as anyone can recall, 25 days is the longest that anyone has ever been trapped in a mine, meaning there are no survivors of similar incidents, no guide book to advise authorities on what to do or what not to do. 

How do you prevent illness or infection?  How do you keep them from going mad?  What about sewage disposal?  We don‘t know any of this stuff.  There are not experts in this field. 

Chilean officials have now actually called upon NASA for help, because astronauts on long trips in outer space are the closest approximation to what these men are going through. 

There are two rescue options on the table to reach the miners a half mile deep.  A huge drill that can dig between 30 and 60 feet per day.  It will enter either at a diagonal from a hillside or dig straight down.  Digging at a diagonal will be faster, but less stable. 

Families have reportedly set up schedules, taking turns talking to their loved ones in the mines.  They‘ve set up a temporary camp near it - Campamento Esperanza - Camp Hope. 

You know, it seems as though we have heard from every interesting party this story.  We‘ve heard from the miners‘ families.  The Chilean president, when the first letters came up from the miners, the president waved them on national television and read them, right? 

We even heard from the miners themselves half a mile underground.  But the group we haven‘t heard much from at all is the company that owns and operates the mine.  Perhaps because the owners of the mine were supposed to install an emergency escape ladder after a similar collapse killed a mine worker two years ago. 

When these 33 men sought out the emergency ladder, they thought would be there, it was not there.  Had it been installed as inspectors ordered, the miners could have gotten out from where they are now in less than 48 hours.  Instead, as plans are right now, they will be lucky to be rescued by Christmas. 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow night.  Meanwhile, there are lots to add to what you see on this show.  We are very proud of our excellent blog at “”  Our E-mail address is  We do actually read your E-mails and we like them. 

“COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts now.  Good night.



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