updated 9/17/2010 11:28:55 AM ET 2010-09-17T15:28:55

Guests: Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Chris Hayes, Richard Engel, Joe Biden, Paul Rieckhoff

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  And now to discuss why Republicans think a candidate like Christine O‘Donnell is to get women voters, to say nothing of those mice men out there—ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.

Good evening, Rachel.

           

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  The mice and men jokes write themselves.  It‘s almost impossible to avoid them.

OLBERMANN:  She is a gold mine, between that and the other jokes.

MADDOW:  I know.  I know exactly what you mean.  I thought Sharron Angle was as good as it got, baby.  Not true.  God is good.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Yesterday‘s news, Sharron Angle.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.  Appreciate it.

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

After a day or so of marching out of step and hating each other for it, Republicans today got in line right behind their Senate candidate in Delaware, Christine O‘Donnell—which means they are plating their political trough with Christine O‘Donnell just as the country is learning lots, lots, lots, lots, lots more about Christine O‘Donnell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE O‘DONNELL ®, DELAWARE SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  There‘s also the issue of murder with Vincent Foster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We‘ll also tonight have more of my exclusive interview with the vice president of the United States, Joseph Biden.

And there is a political mailer out there that smells like garbage. 

It has been sent to Republican voters.  I have a theory that it may be art.

That‘s coming up all this hour.

But we begin tonight with the Senate candidate who appears to be following the same trajectory that Sarah Palin went through in 2008 -- that trajectory from more or less profound political obscurity to instant nationwide conservative stardom.  I‘m speaking, of course, of Christine O‘Donnell, the Republican Senate candidate from the state of Delaware.  She is already scheduled for her first high-profile right wing event in Washington, D.C.  That will take place tomorrow morning at the Values Voters thingy.

When John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate right after the Democratic Convention in 2008, the national response was—let‘s let Meghan McCain say it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN MCCAIN, SEN. JOHN MCCAIN‘S DAUGHTER:  My initial response was:

who the hell is Sarah Palin, like everybody else, you know?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Right.  It was sort of a collective nationwide, who?

After we all figured out the answer to that question, and, boy, howdy did we?  The next thing that everybody realized, the sort of instant, real universal analysis of McCain‘s choice was that it would help the McCain campaign attract women voters.  And, of course, obviously, it would, right?  That‘s totally rational analysis.  You will get women voters because you are picking a woman candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Obviously, this is a signal to women voters in particular, because the McCain campaign has been trying very hard to attract women voters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  McCain is counting on the appeal of Palin‘s life experience to connect with women voters who care about breaking the elusive barrier.  The latest “Newsweek” poll shows McCain getting a big bounce with white women voters, nearly a quarter of those women saying they‘re more likely to vote for McCain with Palin on the ticket.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  That was a totally reasonable analysis of what was going on at the time.  It was also seemingly, as everybody reported it, a reasonable reaction, initial reaction, to the surprise choice of Sarah Palin at the time.

But how did it work out?  The assessment that it was going to help, was it based on Sarah Palin‘s stance on the issues?  The assessment that Palin would help with women voters was based specifically on the pact that she was a woman.

And for all the impact that the choice of Sarah Palin had had on the presidential election, on presidential politics that year, on Republican politics, since that election—for all of the impact that Sarah Palin had on everything in American politics, one thing the choice of Sarah Palin did not do was earn John McCain women voters.  I mean, to be fair, we can‘t say, historically, how many women voters he would have gotten without Sarah Palin.  But he did really poorly with women voters with her on the ticket.

For example, in the prior election of all the women who voted that day

the proportion of women who voted for George W. Bush was 48 percent.  He got 48 percent of the female vote.  In the following election, given the choice of John McCain and Sarah Palin, the Republican proportion of the female vote dropped from 48 percent to 43 percent.  The proportion of women who voted Republican dropped five points, despite the fact that Republicans had a woman on the ticket in Sarah Palin.

           

So, take heed, people analyzing this year‘s elections.  Although women candidates equal women voters seems to make sense.  Also, check the evidence that women vote for their own interests, not just for their own chromosomes.

As of this week, we now know what the matchups are going to be for this year‘s national elections.  And there‘s a huge number of women Republican candidates on the ballot.  This has led to lots of interesting questions about whether this means Republicans are going to attract a lot more of the female vote.

I recognize that it‘s easy to look at candidates and say, “Look, women, I wonder what the other women will do in reaction to the sight of these women.”  But you if past is any prologue about this specific phenomenon, this specific phenomenon of modern conservative Republican women drawing in women voters, we don‘t just have to speculate.  There is quantifiable information here and it suggests that the issues on which the candidates run can matter to women voters much more than the fact that the candidates herself is a woman.

And that brings us to what remains—I am stunned to say—what remains, the great, unacknowledged, big honking policy issue in this year‘s elections nationwide.  We‘re now able to add yet another Republican Senate nominee to the roster of truly radical, anti-abortion crusading candidates in this year‘s elections.

Now, just being anti-abortion is almost mandatory for Republican candidates across the board these days as the party continues its purge of its moderates.  But what we have this year is beyond just being anti-abortion.  There are now at least five Republican Senate nominees, five, who not only think that the government should outlaw abortion nationwide, that they think that there should be no exceptions made for anybody who‘s the victim of incest or who‘s the victim of rape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REPORTER:  How do you feel about abortion?  Are you for abortion, against abortion, for it?  In what instances would you allow for abortion?

KEN BUCK ®, COLORADO SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  I am pro-life and I‘ll answer the next question.  I don‘t believe in the exceptions of rape or incest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is there any reason at all for an abortion?

SHARRON ANGLE ®, NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Not in my book.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, in other words, rape and incest would not be something?

ANGLE:  You know, I‘m a Christian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

ANGLE:  And I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations.  So, we need to have a little faith in many things.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  I‘m not sure what you‘re supposed to have faith in, that you can get an illegal abortion if the government makes it legal—makes it illegal?  That God will help you in some other way?  I don‘t know what you‘re supposed to have faith in.

But that was Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle of Nevada. 

Before her, we heard from Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck of Colorado.  Both putting themselves in the “no exceptions” category when it comes to reproductive rights.

Then there‘s Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky.  Back in February, Rand Paul told the Kentucky Right to Life association that he opposes abortion even in the cases of rape or incest.

Earlier this month, Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller of Alaska was added to the list.  Miller has described himself as unequivocally pro-life, including cases of rape and incest.

And, now, we have Republican Senate candidate Christine O‘Donnell of Delaware.  Her campaign confirming to us today that she opposes abortion in all cases, including rape and incest.

Until recently, the position that those five Republican Senate nominees had, until recently, that was considered a fringe position, even in the anti-abortion movement.  Even super pro-life politicians, almost as a standard disclaimer would say that women who are pregnant because of a rape or pregnant because of incest should be allowed an exemption even as they wanted all other abortions illegal.  That exemption is apparently now over.

What these Republican candidates are talking about is the federal government not only monitoring every pregnancy in the country to ensure that it ends the way the government prefers—which is a live birth—but they‘re also saying that the government should force rape victims—the government should force rape victims under pain of criminal prosecution to give birth to their rapist‘s baby.  The government must force that income any time somebody becomes pregnant as a result of rape.

If you are a 14-year-old girl who is raped by your uncle or by your father, the government will force you, as a 14-year-old, to give birth to the child that is the product of that incestuous rape.

Remember, this is the year of small government conservatives—getting government out of your life, government just small enough to—yes.

This is obviously awkward for the whole libertarian character of this year‘s conservative uprising, the supposed libertarian character, the whole freedom thing, right?  But it also represents a historic swing of the pendulum in terms of emphasis on these culture war issues.

Yes, maybe women will be super enthused about the idea of voting for female candidates just because those candidates are female.  Maybe.  Maybe all sorts of voters will do like they‘ve done in the past and vote on abortion and other women‘s issues rather than just on which candidates are themselves women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I suppose Senator John Doe puts forth a constitutional amendment that would outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.  And he asked you to attend the announcement and support him in that.  Would you do it?

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I would.  I would.  Yes, a proposal like that, I would stand by it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Joining us now is Princeton University professor and MSNBC contributor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

Professor Harris-Lacewell, thank you for joining us.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Can we please have the whole hour, Rachel?  This one is really—there‘s a lot here.

MADDOW:  I‘m going to make my first question very short so you can just start.  Huh?  What do you—what do you make of this, Melissa?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, again, you‘ve got really a lot of complicated things going on here.  On the one hand, this kind of group of insurgent young women in the GOP who are doing something that, you know, scholars of women‘s politics would say is very unlikely.  They are running with little experience, with little name recognition, against incumbents.

I mean, this is precisely why we‘ve said we don‘t have many women in national government.  It‘s precisely because it is so hard to be a person of less experience running against an incumbent.

So, on the one hand, there‘s this little tiny bit of me that wants to cheer for the fact that you have women candidates willing to be sort of courageous enough to put themselves forward in this very tough political situation.

On the other hand, let‘s be completely clear about the facts here.  There is no place in the world and no time in history where restricting women‘s reproductive rights makes a people or a nation more free or more equal.  These extreme positions on abortion are without any question a war on American girls and women.  And the fact that there are women who are both complicit and participatory in it is really neither surprising nor unprecedented.

It has always been true and incredibly important that we recognize that despite the fact that we can be very proud of these women as women and as politicians, that the question is: how do women as citizens fare on the other side of them either be elected or not elected?

MADDOW:  We now have at least five Republican Senate candidates on the record espousing this view of no exceptions to a nationwide abortion ban, even in cases of rape or incest.  This is—the reason I say that I‘m stunned by this not getting more attention, is this is unprecedented to have this many real anti-abortion radicals running for national office at this high a level.

           

But do you think that we got five of them, we got so many of them because that view is becoming mainstream in Republican politics or just because we just have extreme candidates running this year?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  You know, I don‘t have the evidence yet that this has become a mainstream view.  What I suspect is actually that it has more to do with kind of our ignorance of our understanding about women‘s life experiences, even as women.  When you talk about the rape and incest clause, I suspect that many Americans, maybe even many pro-choice Americans think that rape and incest and pregnancy resulting from it is a pretty unusual occurrence.  They suspect that, you know, that maybe there‘s a—there‘s a few dozen women for whom that would make a difference in any given year.

But the fact is that sexual assault is an embarrassingly common experience.  I don‘t mean embarrassing for those who are victimized, but rather embarrassing that in our country, it‘s still true that one in four girls and women is likely to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  And we know that particularly in cases of incest, the question of possible pregnancy—because incest is often a repeated violation and one that does not often include protection—that the possibility of pregnancy is very real.  We‘re talking about hundreds of women, thousands of women in pregnancies.

And, look, I‘m from a people who really did experience the need to hold on to a God who would see them through difficult times, including generations of black women who in slavery were forced to bear the children of their rapists.  And I do believe, because I‘m a person of faith, in a interceding God that can help people through difficult circumstances.  But I‘m also an American who believes that the point of government isn‘t to make life so hard for half of our citizens that the only force there to help them is God.  We, as a government and as a people, deserve and should do better.

MADDOW:  Princeton University professor and MSNBC contributor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who didn‘t write what she just said right there.  She just said it because she can do that.  You‘re amazing.  Melissa, thank you.

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, how are Republicans expressing their resentment over losing to this outsider who they campaigned against so hard?  Somebody who they derided as a fraud and a liar?  What are they saying now to that person who they fought against so, so, so hard in Delaware?

They‘re saying, welcome to the lodge, sister.  Here‘s the secret handshake.  Have some money.  That‘s coming up next.

And a week ago, we knew almost nothing about Republican nominee Carl Paladino.  We knew almost nothing about him a week ago.  But now, we are already on the verge of knowing way too much.  An adult-sized portion of Carl Paladino is worth sticking around for, I promise.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  More of my exclusive interview with Vice President Joe Biden coming up in just a few minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  There are two great liberal frustrations aphorisms in American politics.  There‘s the Will Rogers one.  “I am not a member of any organized party.  I am a Democrat.”

Then there‘s the election year truism that Democrats fall in love while Republicans fall in line.  That means that Democrats are always looking for perfection in their candidates because they want to believe that their candidates are as perfect and pristine as a sunset, and a rainbow and a cumulus cloud in the shape of a unicorn all in the sky at the same time.

While Republicans pick a candidate and get in line behind them no matter what their qualms are about this candidate.  Do you want to see this in action?

Well, on Tuesday night this week, the night before last, the Republican Party‘s election guru, Karl Rove, now famously called Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O‘Donnell “nutty.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH AIDE:  I‘ve met her.  I‘m not—I‘ve got to tell you I wasn‘t frankly impressed as her, you know, abilities as a candidate.  It does conservatives little good to support candidates who at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for.

There are just a lot of nutty things she‘s been saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  A lot of nutty things.

Karl Rove, like all the other conservatives who had similarly expressed doubts about Christine O‘Donnell, right after expressing them, making the mistake of expressing them, then got the memo.  And within 48 hours, they turned the “there are a lot of nutty things about this person,” they turned that right around and started saying things more like this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROVE:  I‘m also helping her.  I‘ve gotten so many people who‘ve written me an e-mail saying, “I‘m irritated with you saying what you said the other night.  I‘m giving her campaign contributions.  I‘m sending her a lot of Internet contributions.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Democrats fall in love.  Republicans fall in line and then they sign on the line.

And Republicans are all falling in line here.

The coming catastrophe is that as is clear from the initial criticism levied by many Republicans and conservatives against Christine O‘Donnell before they were all forced to get in line behind her, there are substantive reasons why folks were a little hesitant about Christine O‘Donnell as a candidate in the first place.  So, we got this coming catastrophe, right?  We got this incredible confluence of events around this woman‘s campaign.

Republicans all falling all over themselves to get in line and endorse her as the new Senate candidate, the new Palin-esque star.  And the unstoppable flood now of information about who exactly it is that they are endorsing and how she has made her political living.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  I think it‘s very interesting that President Clinton has come on a lot more charges and a lot more serious charges than what Newt Gingrich is being charged on, yet we‘re not making as big of an issue.  We‘re not forcing that he‘d go to trial.  We‘re not giving the case of Vincent Foster a fair trial when there is a lot more empirical evidence that Clinton is involved in wrongdoing.  And there‘s also the issue of murder with Vincent Foster.  That‘s a much more serious charge than failing to seek legal advice, and yet we‘re all just blowing that off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Totally blowing off how Bill Clinton murdered Vincent Foster. 

You want to see me shoot a pumpkin?

Joining us now is the Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine and MSNBC contributor, Chris Hayes.

Mr. Hayes, it‘s nice to see you.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Nice to see you, too.

MADDOW:  The shooting the pumpkin thing, is the Vince Foster thing enough of a close enough in time as the conspiracy thing that the shooting the pumpkin, shooting the watermelon in the head to reference how Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster?

HAYES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Is that—is that a—does that date me?

HAYES:  No.  I mean, you—it‘s close.  And it does not—I will say that it does not date you as much as her hair cut in that clip.

MADDOW:  Well, but her hair looked very nice on that clip.  She was obviously fashionable.  I was obsessed with Republicans trying to make Bill Clinton out to be a murderer.  I mean—

HAYES:  No.  And that‘s—I mean, that‘s the thing, right?  Like what was so funny about that, that coming out today, was that, you know, Dave Weigel is like, oh, and we‘re done.  And then it‘s like, well, you know, Dan Burton were shooting pumpkins in his backyard and “The Wall Street Journal” editorial page was speculating on this, like that‘s the thing about Christine O‘Donnell, is that she‘s not—I don‘t think she‘s any crazier than your median Republican.  She‘s just spent 20 years on television talking about her views without any conception that someday she was going to like have to run away from them.

MADDOW:  But that‘s—I mean, that‘s I think the central issue right now.  Even in considering what kind of coverage the Christine O‘Donnell candidacy gets, because maybe she is a mainstream editorial page Republican, but then again, the government is secretly making mouse/human hybrids—mice that have full-grown human brains.  There‘s more scientific evidence for creationism than there is for evolution.  You spread HIV by using condoms?

I mean, I don‘t want to underestimate the craziness of the right over the last 20 years.  But I feel like—

HAYES:  Right.

MADDOW:  -- she‘s on even the fringe end of the crazy end.

HAYES:  Well, you know, I guess so.  I think in certain ways.  I mean, the mouse—the mouse/human hybrid.  I‘m now like defending Christine O‘Donnell on national television.  But I mean, look, here‘s, I guess, what I feel—I feel that there isn‘t that much distance.  And I mean that as a way of indicting the—where the Republican and conservative coalition is right now as opposed to exculpatory towards Christine O‘Donnell.  I think she has any business being United States senator and I think her views are completely zany.

But I think they‘re—I think they‘re zany in a way that is just kind of unvarnished and out there and sort of amateurily (ph) expressed over this long period of punditry as opposed to so far outside the realm of what, you know, your average—I mean, look at Republican House members.  They‘re saying things on the floor of the United States House of Representatives all the times that equal maybe not the mouse/human hybrid but other things.

MADDOW:  I will—I have to disagree with you, though, because I feel like—actually, this is true for Sharron Angle, too.  Both with Sharron Angle and with Christine O‘Donnell, when I hear their clips of them talking to the media about conservative hot button issues, I don‘t hear it as amateurish.  I mean, it seems to me like—

HAYES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  -- they—they actually both sound very media-trained, very savvy.  They get their—they get their subject/verb agreement right more often than I do certainly when I‘m speaking extemporaneously.  And I hear polished candidates.

HAYES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I hear polished candidates who have been culture warriors on issues that Republicans say they don‘t really want to run on.

HAYES:  Right.

MADDOW:  I mean, if you‘re talking about armed rebellion against the government, in the case of Sharron Angle, and you‘re talking about telling people that having sex by themselves is worth—is a form of adultery and condoms spread HIV, you‘re a culture warrior and this isn‘t supposed to be a culture war election.

HAYES:  Yes, I agree.  And—I mean, somewhere, first of all, Donna Shalala is smiling about the amount of masturbation coverage that‘s been in the national—

MADDOW:  La, la, la, la.

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES:  No.  But here—here‘s what I‘ll tell you about that.  And I think that‘s exactly right.  In terms of the culture warriors, I think that‘s exactly the point, which is that—I think what this shows or Sharron Angle shows or Christine O‘Donnell shows, there was a moment where I think the mainstream press fell for this notion that somehow the Tea Party was this totally new thing and it was all these new people, and this had never happened before in American politics.

But these are just the same culture warriors.  They‘re the same culture warriors—you know, in some ways, the exact same people, but the inheritors of 1964 Goldwater.  The people—the culture warriors that came to Washington under Ronald Reagan.  The culture warriors that pursued, you know, impeachment against Bill Clinton.  You know, Christine O‘Donnell got her start working for Phyllis Schafly‘s organization.

So, the notion that the Tea Party is some sort of brand-new phenomenon, this fascinating new thing—no, it‘s always been there.  And I think that Sharron Angle and particularly, Christine O‘Donnell demonstrate that.  They give lie to the notion that what we‘re seeing in the Tea Party is this totally new phenomenon in American politics.

MADDOW:  I think that‘s right.  And I think understanding the Tea Party less as a new thing and more as the latest iteration of—

HAYES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  -- the very healthy, very well-funded, long-standing conservative movement makes a lot of things make sense this year that otherwise seem like conundrums.

We figured it out, Chris.

HAYES:  Yes.  I know.  I‘m so glad we got to agreement before the segment ended.

MADDOW:  Thank, God.  Otherwise, we‘ve ended with bloodbath like it‘s usually been.

Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine and MSNBC contributor, Chris Hayes, thank you very much, Chris.

HAYES:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, I‘m having a feeling of ambivalence.  On the one hand, I feel like I really, really, really want to talk to you about Carl Paladino.  On the other hand, I‘m worried that once you know what there is to know about Carl Paladino, you will want to unlearn it and you will blame me for having exposed your mind in that way.  I will see to resolve this ambivalence before the end of the show this evening.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  America‘s economic crisis is talked about like it‘s essentially a business problem.  Like it‘s about getting the middle class back to work so they can start feeling secure enough to spend again so businesses will do better. 

Here‘s what it really is.  This is how many Americans are now living in poverty.  As of late last year—as of last year, nearly 44 million Americans are below the poverty line.  One out of every seven Americans.  That‘s the most people ever since the Census Bureau started counting in 1959. 

Looks awful, right?  The thing is, it could have looked worse.  More than 3 million Americans worse.  That‘s the number of people saved from poverty when the unemployment benefits were extended at the federal level last year. 

The social safety net that‘s functioning now more than ever as a real safety net, keeping quite literally millions of Americans out of poverty who would provably otherwise be there.  This happening at a moment when the whole idea of their being a social safety net is being derided as a foreign, Kenyan, communist plot by the sheer crop of conservative politicians. 

This is the policy issue looming behind all of the personality politics this year and it looms ever larger with each month that those job numbers stayed lock in first gear. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  He‘s the Obama administration‘s point man on Iraq.  Political crisis over the Iraqi election it was Vice President Joe Biden who flew to Baghdad to try to diffuse the crisis. 

When the Iraqi leaders dead-locked on creating a new government Vice President Joe Biden flew to Baghdad to talk to them.  When U.S. combat operations officially ended last month, Vice President Joe Biden flew to Baghdad for the official ceremony. 

He has been there six times since taking office.  While back in D.C., he runs the administration‘s monthly meetings on Iraq.  And when I spoke with Vice President Biden yesterday, he had just met with the president and with the former commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  I know you‘re just out of a meeting with General Odierno. 

JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  The departing commander of the U.S.  You‘ve been in Iraq a number of times including quite recently.  You told “The New York Times” last week—they published the transcript of you speaking with them about Iraq. 

And you said, “The bottom line is there are a lot of bad ass 50,000 troops that are left.  These guys can shoot straight.  Fifty thousand troops in country is still a big, big contingent.” 

With 50,000, as you put it bad ass troops -- 

BIDEN:  Guys who can shoot. 

MADDOW:  Guys who can definitely shoot. 

BIDEN:  And women who can shoot. 

MADDOW:  I was in there.  I know they are. 

BIDEN:  And the women can shoot, too.  By the way. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  And they are—they are in peril.  Since the handover, we have had U.S. killed in action.  We have had U.S. wounded in action. 

Does it undercut their service and their sacrifice to say this is no longer a combat mission?  Why do we need to use that phraseology when it seems like they‘re in combat? 

BIDEN:  No.  I‘ll tell you why we have to use the phraseology. 

Because the Iraqis—we‘ve trained up 650,000 Iraqi forces.  They actually

and here‘s the point, and I know you know this. 

They have been taking over since January of last year.  We have made a

we made a firm commitment to the Iraqi people and the American people. 

One, we get all combat troops out of the city last year.  We would get—we would bring down from 100,000 to 50,000 -- which we‘ve done—troops in the country this—by this end of this August.  And all 50,000 remaining will be out by the end of next year. 

We have fundamentally shifted our positions where we are located.  So we‘re in a very different role.  It‘s a support role.  But we are there in case the Iraqis need additional help to use our combat.  And by the way, it was used recently. 

You know, so—so it really isn‘t—the technical definition of the combat lead means that you‘re the commander out there, leading the troops, the Iraqis are behind you, and you‘re saying up over the hill and you‘re leading the way. 

We‘re not doing that anymore.  But it was very important to—for the sovereignty of the Iraqis to let them know we recognize the fact they are now capable.  They are capable.  We‘ll continue to train them.  We‘ll continue to help them. 

But by the end of next year, we‘re out.  We‘re gone.  And so it may be, you know, a bit of a misnomer.  But in literal military terms, we are no longer in a combat position.  We are doing support.  We are protecting American facilities, the embassies.  We are protecting American personnel, American citizens and we‘re training Iraqis. 

MADDOW:  One last question.  I know your time is short.  But on the issue of Iraq, having come back from there, I felt like—if I forget all the history and I just think in very, very broad strokes about the fact that we have had 7 ½ years of American presence in Iraq, a trillion dollars, all of those lives lost.  All of the—everything that was spent there in every sense. 

To be leaving there with there being no electricity in Baghdad and the suffering that that causes the Iraqi people, the effect that that has on the prospects of stability and peace and civil society taking hold in Iraq after all those years, electricity seems to be not just one of a list of things.  It seems like the thing that we could most to do for the Iraqi people if we could do anything. 

Why hasn‘t that been the U.S. priority, to leave them with at least that to remember us by? 

BIDEN:  By the way we will.  By the time we leave, we will.  Number one.  Two, I‘ve been there 13 -- I don‘t know, 14, 15 times.  There is a great deal more electricity there was than when the war first started.  And when there was before. 

MADDOW:  In Baghdad. 

BIDEN:  Well -- 

MADDOW:  In Baghdad, Saddam gave back a lot of power to the rest of the country. 

BIDEN:  Yes—no, no.  No.  But nationwide.  Nationwide. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

BIDEN:  Thirdly, what‘s happened is, as we—as the Iraqi—as we, and now the Iraqis, when they go eliminate the al Qaeda that‘s left in Iraq as well as the—there‘s a difference between terrorism and insurgency. 

The insurgency was out there trying to form a new civil war.  It hasn‘t worked.  It hasn‘t taken root.  And—but they were also doing a great deal of damage to the electrical infrastructure and the electrical grid and the deliver of services. 

This is going to just get better and better and better, but it‘s a long process.  And we‘re going to—look.  When we leave Iraq next year, we are not—we are leaving militarily.  But we are significantly ramping up our civilian presence. 

I mean, significantly.  And we are working—I conduct a meeting once a month with the—our folks in Iraq as well as with our every Cabinet member.  I have the secretary of commerce, the secretary of education, the secretary of treasury, the secretary of agriculture. 

We‘re all there working now with the Iraqis.  Providing for the ability to help them build their institutions so they can function, including how to make the electric grid function.  So that is a process.  We‘re not walking away from that. 

We are—we are increasing our civilian commitment.  And we‘re trying to work out what they call a—you know, a strategic arrangement long term with them that is not military but it is on the civilian side. 

And look.  The Iraqis are not in a position now.  But by the year 2013, they‘re going to be in surplus.  By the year 2015, ‘16, ‘17 and ‘18, they‘ll—they have enough natural resources to be pumping as much oil as Saudi Arabia. 

So this is about stabilizing them, getting the functioning government in place, having eliminated the insurgency, putting the Iraqis in a position they can take care of their own physical security.  And now help them to build their institutions. 

This is going to work. 

MADDOW:  It‘s going to take a long time. 

BIDEN:  It is taking—absolutely.  Nothing easy about it.  But we‘re bringing those kids home including my son. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Mr. Vice president, thank you so much for your time. 

BIDEN:  Thanks. 

MADDOW:  It‘s a real honor to have this much time with you.  Thank you, sir. 

BIDEN:  Well, thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thanks. 

BIDEN:  Thank you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  The vice president telling me that what we‘re doing right now in Iraq is going to work.  The idea of getting electricity to Baghdad, going to take a long time. 

Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America joins us next.  And we are still due this hour to learn yet more about New York Republican candidate Carl Paladino.  After that, brain bleach will be offered by your ushers as you leave the studio. 

We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  So the biggest problem, the biggest difference by far in—for everyone in this neighborhood would be the services.  And if you look here, this is typical now.  Wires everywhere.  Baghdad and a neighborhood like this had 24-hour power before the invasion.  Twenty-four hours a day. 

MADDOW:  Not everywhere in the country but the places that Saddam wanted there to be power, they can get 24 hours a day? 

ENGEL:  The capital, the strategic place where Saddam—where he lived and all his buddies lived. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

ENGEL:  And his—you know, it‘s the capital. 

MADDOW:  So like Tikrit was golden. 

ENGEL:  No problem. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

ENGEL:  South, less so.  But—well, even in the south, they had more power than they do here now.  I mean -- 

MADDOW:  What the American officials say, though, is that overall there‘s actually more—there‘s power being generated in Iraq right now.  It‘s just about the demand. 

ENGEL:  I would invite them to live in an Iraqi‘s house for 24 hours.  And just—it‘s hot.  Just do that.  Just stay in an Iraqi‘s house for two days and see if you still say the same thing. 

Oh yes, the power situation is better now than before.  That is ludicrous and wrong. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

ENGEL:  Maybe the total wattage is up, the quality of life, the quality in terms of power and services are abysmal right now. 

When it comes, by the way, it blows out all of your appliances. 

MADDOW:  Right. 

ENGEL:  So -- 

MADDOW:  Because you haven‘t had -- 

ENGEL:  Because you haven‘t had it for a while. 

MADDOW:  It‘s—I mean you just think about that.  This is the country with the second-largest oil reserves in the world that does not have enough energy to have power even for an hour at a time all over the country even including in the capital city. 

And—and on top of that America is in year nine of a full-scale, massive occupation and war here.  And we‘re leaving with that being the circumstances. 

ENGEL:  That‘s—that‘s the—especially since it‘s hot, since it‘s Ramadan, people are fasting, that is the taste that people have in their mouth right now. 

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and I talking about the primacy of the issue of electricity for Iraqis.  An issue that Vice President Biden told me will get solved in Iraq before Americans leave there. 

All U.S. troops are due to be gone from Iraq by the end of next year.  There are 50,000 American troops there now on an ostensibly noncombat mission.  The vice president is saying the non-combat designation may be a misnomer, which seems fair. 

Two U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, nine wounded since Operation Iraqi Freedom—technically a combat operation—became Operation New Dawn, which is technically not a combat operation. 

Joining us now is Iraq war veteran, Paul Rieckhoff.  The founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. 

Paul, thanks for being here. 

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN VETS OF AMERICA:  My pleasure, Rachel.  Good to see you. 

MADDOW:  The vice president says it can‘t be called a combat mission anymore because essentially U.S. troops don‘t serve foreign commanders.  And if Iraqis are leading in the fighting then we have to say we‘re just there to support so we can‘t call it a combat mission. 

Is that a dissatisfying explanation to you? 

RIECKHOFF:  Yes.  It‘s absolutely a political spin.  Combat operations are not over in Iraq.  The president needs to stop saying it.  The vice president needs to stop saying. 

We‘ve got almost 50,000 troops on the ground there right now who are getting combat pay, who are getting shot at, who are getting mortared. 

Combat operations are now over.  And the military community is upset about this thing.  They need to stop saying it.  It does a disservice to the military.  It does a disservice to the American people.  It does a disservice to the Iraqi people. 

And try telling the families of Sergeant Phillip Jenkins and Private 1st Class James McClamrock who died last week the combat operations are over.  It‘s garbage. 

MADDOW:  So even if it has to technically, legally be considered not a combat mission, we shouldn‘t be using that term colloquially at all? 

RIECKHOFF:  I don‘t think so.  No.  There‘s probably a high percentage of American people who think there are zero troops in Iraq right now. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

RIECKHOFF:  And that‘s because the White House is pushing this message.  It‘s just flat-out wrong.  They‘re trying to keep a campaign promise.  And I also think that‘s what a lot of this is about. 

And I‘ve spoken to people on the ground in Iraq who said to me if combat operations are over why did I just get shot at?  If combat—combat operations are over, why did my son just get deployed over there yesterday?  It‘s untrue. 

MADDOW:  I think, though, that a lot of people in America probably think that there hasn‘t been a war in Iraq for a long time since it left the news, since people started—stopped talking about it. 

RIECKHOFF:  Right. 

MADDOW:  And the question that we have, our moral responsibilities, what‘s the right way, best way and maximalist way to support the troops that are still there in danger.  That‘s what we still have to deal with at home. 

RIECKHOFF:  Yes.  And part of it is recognizing that they‘re there. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

RIECKHOFF:  And when you say that combat is over, people think there‘s no one there.  Most people don‘t know how many troops are in Afghanistan, most people don‘t know that 2.2 million people have been through Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. 

We‘ve got this massive disconnect between the military and the American people.  And messaging like this only perpetuates that and makes it worse. 

MADDOW:  Paul, I know right now you‘re working on a GI bill, essentially GI Bill 2.0.  Trying to update the GI bill.  Historic that was passed within the past few years. 

What‘s the update? 

RIECKHOFF:  Right now the GI bill does not cover vocational schools. 

Amazingly.  Doesn‘t cover distance learning. 

Congress hasn‘t really gotten a lot done for veterans this year.  They haven‘t gotten jobs progress done.  They haven‘t really dented the disability reform that was necessary.  The claims backlog keeps going up. 

We can get GI bill progress done in the next nine days if everybody focuses on it.  We need these upgrades.  We need Senator Reid to get it to the floor immediately and we need the American people to tell them that. 

In the next couple of days, call Congress.  Tell them to send the new GI bill to the floor and vote on it.  That‘s what we need. 

MADDOW:  When you and I last talked you were expressing frustration about access to the administration, specifically access, and who to call and whether you get your names—your phone calls back—your phone calls returned. 

Is there an improvement on that?  Do you feel like they‘re listening to you now? 

RIECKHOFF:  We had a good meeting with the White House this week and I think that‘s progress.  But we need points on the board.  The suicide rates continue to skyrocket.  The unemployment rate continues to go up.  The backlog is still about a million claims at that time VA. 

So they can‘t keep talking about stuff they did a year and a half ago.  People are fighting and dying now and coming home in record numbers and we need points on the board. 

MADDOW:  Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  It‘s always good to see you.  Thanks, man. 

RIECKHOFF:  You, too, Rachel.  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Good to see you. 

Full disclosure.  I am a supporter of IAVA as an organization.  They are a non-partisan group.  You can learn more about them at IAVA.org. 

All right.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN” the austere voice of reason that is Glenn Beck is asking tea partiers not to dress up in an undignified or goofy way at their rallies. 

Coming up on this show, one candidate decides that the way to voters‘ heart is by stink bombing their mailboxes.  This year‘s elections are fun to cover.  Also they are sometimes a little scary. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  What if someone is purporting to run for office but is really doing elaborate performance art about how to run for office?  What if that person then accidentally actually gets elected or at least gets close? 

Is the Republican nominee for governor in New York pulling a Joaquin Phoenix?  Seriously.  That‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARL PALADINO ®, NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE:  If we‘ve learned anything tonight, it‘s that New Yorkers are as mad as hell.  And we‘re not going to take it anymore. 

They say I‘m too blunt.  Well, I am.  And I don‘t apologize for it. 

They say I‘m an angry man.  And that‘s true.  We‘re all angry.  Not just because we woke up on the wrong side of the bed. 

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Carl Paladino introducing himself to American voters after New York voters overwhelmingly voted to make him their Republican nominee for governor. 

If you were intrigued by that, if you were intrigued by Carl Paladino‘s primary night victory speech, if you wanted to learn more about what more there is to Carl besides the whole “I‘m an angry guy” thing, visiting his Web site is not going to help you. 

When you write on the Internet in all capital letters, that is the equivalent of shouting as if you are very angry.  And so Carl Paladino‘s victory speech printed in all capital letters on his shouty Web site does not offer much insight into what else might be going on with Carl besides the whole mad, mad, mad thing. 

Except did you notice that little black square in that column over there?  It says, “The last New York governor from Buffalo became president of the United States.”  Grover Cleveland, 1883. 

So Carl Paladino is yelling at you on the Internet in all caps that he not only wants to be your governor in New York.  He has already charted that as a path to the presidency, or rather as a path to the presidency—in all caps. 

Mr. Paladino‘s first campaign salvo was directed—I kid you not—against the Statue of Liberty. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALADINO:  Here‘s Bloomberg down there saying, “America, give us your poor.”  We don‘t want them.  Let them stay where they are.  Stop inviting them to our state to come on the backs of our taxpayer. 

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. 

Not if Carl‘s in charge! 

It may be that Mr. Paladino talks like this because he can afford to not be embarrassed.  He‘s a multi, multi, multimillionaire who was self-financing his campaign and whose fortune largely comes from being a landlord for government offices. 

Awkward with the whole “I hate the government” platform that he‘s running on. 

So it may be that this is what he‘s really like and he‘s so rich that he doesn‘t care and darn the consequences. 

Or the “Carl Paladino angry man for governor” campaign could be just incredibly intricate performance art about how it is simply not possible to seem too crazy in conservative politics this year. 

It‘s not impossible, is it? 

Exhibit 68 in support of this performance art theory of mine.  This mailer sent out by the Paladino campaign today to 200,000 addresses in New York state.  It is a mailer that has been doused in the smell of garbage.  On purpose. 

Mister Paladino‘s campaign telling the AP today that the mailer is, quote, “scented with a landfill odor.”  The ostensible idea is that government is trashy or something.  That‘s the ostensible idea. 

Of course the idea could also be that this year at least, if your goal is to excite conservative voters, it is simply not possible to seem too—prove to me that this is not performance art. 

Although we know about this flyer because the Paladino campaign is bragging about it, we do not yet have this flyer in our possession to verify its reported smelliness.  The good news is we have spoken to the Carl Paladino campaign and they‘ve assured us that they put one in the mail to us. 

We are eager to receive it and when we do we will show it to you in smell-o-vision.  Angry, angry smell-o-vision.  Argh, (INAUDIBLE), smash. 

That does it for us tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night. 

“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.

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