updated 9/24/2010 5:53:05 PM ET 2010-09-24T21:53:05

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Rep. Patrick Murphy

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  And now, that hint at privatizing veterans hospitals yesterday, it was no outlier.  The GOP seeming determination to mess with the vets—ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.

Good evening, Rachel.

           

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  I appreciate you taking a break from counting your rare gold antique coins to join us on TV today.

OLBERMANN:  Gold coins.  And you know what else?  They have chocolate in the middle.

MADDOW:  The great guilt line scandal of 2010.  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You‘re welcome.

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

We begin tonight with the great unveiling.  House Republicans held their big “take your jacket off” photo op today to present their agenda for this election year.  In terms of the reception, it was a bit of a flop.

Not in terms of the photo-op.  The photo-op looks awesome, right?  I mean, look at these guys.  The blue shirts, it‘s amazing.  No problem there.

But the reception that it received, that greeted it upon arrival, was blunt and not positive.  Their big election year pledge was called “Drek” and “Pablum” and full of “glaring contradictions.” Also, “Milquetoast.”  And those are just some of the things that were said about it from people on the right.  Those terms were from the most popular, heavily-trafficked right wing blog, “RedState.”  Also, from the Club for Growth.

But for all the criticism on the right, if you are in the business of trying to figure out what might happen if Republicans win the elections this year, the most important thing to note is that this pledge that they have released is of very little help for mapping out the impact on the country if all these Republicans running for office right now do get elected.  We see that with the Republican proposals to privatize Social Security, for example, which we talked about at the end of last night‘s show.  And, boy, did we get a lot of response to that.

If you look at what their individual candidates are pledging right now, even if it‘s not what is in the official party pledge, the individual candidates say they would like to privatize Social Security, to hand Social Security over to Wall Street.  That‘s what the top-tier Republican candidates running this year are promising to do.  Even if the party doesn‘t want to put it in their brand-new photo-op brochure manifesto.

But if you‘re willing to not just follow the photo-op brochure manifesto and instead follow what it is their candidates are promising to do, as they are running for office this year, it‘s not just privatizing Social Security.  For all of this brochures‘ florid language about patriotism and America keeping its promises, what their candidates are running on is the platform of privatizing everything.

I mean, right now, if you are over 65, you get public insurance in this country, it‘s called Medicare.  It works very well.  If you want to find out how well it works?  Tell an audience of people who are on Medicare that you would like to take their Medicare away from them.  See how they react.  See what happens.  I highly suggest you bring some sort of riot shield with you.

Also, if you are a veteran in this country, you don‘t just have public health insurance like Medicare recipients do.  If you are a veteran in this country, you have publicly provided health care.  The same way it‘s publicly provided care in England, for example.  Veterans have nationalized health care in this country.

For all the scariness of that term, that‘s what we do for veterans and that‘s what we have done for veterans for generations—as a way of making sure that we keep our promise to the people who fight for this country.  We take a national responsibility for them getting health care.  We fulfill that responsibility through the V.A. health system, a nationalized system.  And no, veterans care is not perfect.  But tell this nation‘s veterans that you want to get rid of V.A. and see what they tell you.

The University of Michigan surveys Americans on their satisfaction with various health care systems, they find routinely that veterans rate their experience with V.A. care above the rest of the U.S. health system.  The 2008 survey found that 85 percent of veterans were satisfied with their V.A. care compared with 77 percent of people treated in private hospitals.  And that‘s fairly typical.

A study in “The New England Journal of Medicine” compared veterans‘ health care to Medicare, which itself is highly regarded.  “The New England Journal of Medicine” study found that on 11 measures of quality, veterans facilities proved to be significantly better than Medicare.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance ranks health care plans. 

Who do they rank number one?  They ranked number one is the V.A.

Like Social Security, like Medicare, you want to find out whether or not V.A. care works, go tell the nation‘s veterans that you want to take the V.A. away.  Go talk to the veterans‘ organizations.  See what they think of privatizing veterans‘ care and ending the V.A.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA:  There‘s not a single veterans group in America from any side of the political spectrum that would support the privatization of V.A. health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOWE:  Paul Rieckhoff from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America speaking last night on “THE ED SHOW” here on MSNBC.

Despite what the Republican Party is advertising as its “We love mom, we love apple pie, there‘s nothing to disagree with here” agenda, here‘s what their candidates are actually running on.  And let‘s prove it.

Here‘s Colorado Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN BUCK ®, COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE:  Would a Veterans Administration hospital that is run by the private sector be better run than by the public sector?  In my view, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Here‘s Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, being asked if V.A. medical care should be expanded to cover things it doesn‘t cover now.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SHARRON ANGLE ®, NEVADA SENATE CANDIDATE:  No.  Not if you‘re working toward a privatized system.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  And in an interview with “The New York Times” last week, Delaware Republican candidate Christine O‘Donnell said one of her priorities if she‘s elected to the Senate would be to, quote, “create health care vouchers for veterans.”  Vouchers.  Vouchers.

So, instead of the V.A., you can buy private care, veterans.  Good luck.

Here‘s the other secret about the agenda of Republican candidates that they‘re really not interested in advertising nationally this year.  It‘s not just the people who are running right now, the Republicans who are running to join the Congress that they don‘t already participate in.  The Republicans who are in Congress now, who are already there, who are in the minority because they lost seats in the last two elections and therefore can‘t get what they want by majority rules, Republicans who are already in Congress also want to privatize the V.A.

You‘ll recall that lots of Republicans said they were voting against “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” this past week because they wanted to get their amendments in to the defense bill.  It didn‘t have anything to do with the gays.  They just wanted their own amendments in.

Whether or not you believe that bullpuckey rationale, what were these amendments that they wanted to get into the defense bill?  Well, here‘s one from Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe.  He wants a five-year pilot program to study—privatized health care for veterans.

Republican Congressman Zach Wamp of C Street fame, you remember him from the C Street scandal?  Remember him?  Zach Wamp?

He said this back in 2008, quote, “The V.A. should look at new solutions to health care, like using the private sector without privatizing the system.  You know, privatize it without privatizing it.”  Personalize it maybe.

Republican Senator Richard Burr said “lawmakers should focus on boosting spending on private sector health care services for veterans.”

The reason Congressman Wamp and Senator Burr were even asked about privatizing health care for veterans is that the last time a Republican ran for president in 2008, the reason John McCain got a “D” as in dog rating from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is that one of John McCain a planks for running for president was that he wanted, like Christine O‘Donnell, a voucher system to privatize the V.A.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  My administration will create a veterans care access card to be used by veterans with illness or injury incurred during their military service and by those with low incomes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  John McCain, legitimate war hero with his incredible military experience, his gravitas on military issues, there is a reason that troops serving abroad donated six times as much money to Barack Obama as they did to John McCain in the past election.  John McCain, like many Republicans, has on his agenda to get rid of the V.A., to privatize the V.A.

Is there something wrong with V.A. care?  Not really.  Not when you compare it to the rest of the health care in this country.  Veterans like it.

This is true about them wanting to privatize veterans‘ care and Social Security and Medicare.  It is true that this is about policy.

And sometimes in elections, it is easier to cover the wacky factor of each individual candidate running in each individual race.  Sometimes it‘s easier to talk this as personalities rather than policy.  When Republicans want to talk about what they themselves are proposing for governing the country, they obviously want to stay very far away from all this stuff.

But this really is it.  This is what they‘re bringing to the table.  Joe Biden says, “Don‘t compare us to the Almighty, compare us to the alternative.”  This is the alternative.

All of their supposed free market ideology which they‘re happy to talk

about in the abstract, sort of, florid language that you‘ll find in their

pledge that they released today in their short sleeves photo op—all of

their free market ideology that they are so proud to brag of in the

abstract, it has consequences in the specific.  And specifically, what they

want to do is take apart Social Security and Medicare and care for veterans

which is all nationalized to a certain degree and which all works and it‘s all stuff that people really depend on in this country.  It‘s really all working pretty OK and they are running to dismantle it.

           

The Republicans do not put that sort of thing in their pledge.  But this is what their candidates are really running on.

Joining us now is Iraq war veteran, Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania.

Congressman Murphy, thanks very much for your time tonight.

REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Thanks for having me back on, Rachel.  I appreciate that.

MADDOW:  Is privatizing veterans‘ care as third rail of an issue as I think it is?  To me, this seems like a positively nuclear proposal.

MURPHY:  Absolutely.  And that‘s why they don‘t want to talk about it except in Republican circles.  And it is outside the mainstream.  I mean, this is not where the American people—and I can assure you: this is certainly not where the American veterans believe to privatize the V.A.—we need to make sure it‘s strengthened, not to privatize it and cut it loose.

MADDOW:  Who is out there in the government right now or, in politics really, who is—who is defending these programs?  Who is talking about how popular these are?  Who are their cheerleaders?  Sometimes, it seems to me that the people who receive this kind of care, who benefit from it, either as Medicare beneficiaries, Social Security beneficiaries or veterans getting V.A. care, they‘re sort of left on their own to defend this thing that they‘re benefiting from.

MURPHY:  That‘s right.  And that‘s because, you know, the veterans in America, they‘re the minority of the population.  And the fact is this, is that you talk to the veterans that I served back in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and northeast Philadelphia, they love their V.A. care and they want to make sure that they have more of it.

We went through years and years of the Bush administration short-changing the V.A.  And they were short-changed not by a little bit, by $3 billion.  We now get a Democratic president and Democratic Congress and we have increased the V.A. funding at the largest level ever to make sure that we take care of these heroes, especially the ones that are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

And to see the Republican Party try to privatize it and get rid of it is absolutely insane.

MADDOW:  Do you—do you agree with what I see as the big picture thing going on here, that Republicans are essentially this year trying to run on the abstract idea of free market ideology but they‘re really running away from what the specifics of that mean?  They‘re really not willing to spell out what that translates to in terms of specific policies.

MURPHY:  Absolutely.  You know, when I won a very close race in 2006, Rachel, I‘m the second Democrat ever to hold my seat, I talked—not just why the guy, the incumbent who by the way I‘m going against again, why he should be fired, I talked about why I should be hired, I talked about the timeline in Iraq so we could bring our troops home, which President Obama implemented by the way.  I talked about how we need to bring jobs here and make things in America and not outsource jobs, unlike my opponent when he was in—when it was Republicans in the House, the Senate and the White House, when they outsourced jobs and extended bad NAFTA, our trade deals to Central America and to the Middle East.

But this is their agenda.  They don‘t want to exactly talk in the specifics, because let me tell you what the specifics are, Rachel.  They are to privatize the V.A.  They are to privatize Social Security and put it in Wall Street and make sure you put that money, take it out of Social Security, and put it in Wall Street.  And what would have happened two years ago?  The seniors would have been devastated.

MADDOW:  Congressman Murphy, you‘re in such a difficult district, as you explained, difficult district for a Democrat.  You‘re in a tough race this year, right now.  The national conversation right now among Democrats is how they can close that enthusiasm gap, how they can get Democratic voters to be as enthusiastic and as likely to turn out on Election Day as the conservative voters who are so motivated this year.

What‘s your specific approach in your district to try to make that happen?  How are you trying to get out the vote?

MURPHY:  My race and the races across this country are about a contrast, you know?  If you want to privatize Social Security, I‘m not you were guy.  If you want to protect it, I am your guy.  And by the way, with Medicare, we extended an additional 12 years and closed the donut hole.

How about jobs?  If you want to lose another 8 million jobs, which we did it under the Bush administration—and by the way, with the majority of those years, we had a Republican House, Republican Senate and Republican White House, and they extended NAFTA to Central America and we lost manufacturing jobs, I‘m not your guy.

But if you want to make things in America again, I am your guy.  If you want to go fight unnecessary wars—and, you know, I was proud to serve in Iraq, but let‘s face it, the Iraq war was a diversion from our focus where it should have been, and that‘s Afghanistan.  But the Iraq war has cost the American taxpayer $3 trillion.  That‘s $10,000 per person, every man, woman and child.

And guess what?  We haven‘t paid off that $10,000 per person yet.  And that‘s wrong.

And we need to make sure when we talk about war fighting, when we talked about the wars going on, we‘re doing it in the right way, not the wrong way.

And I‘ll tell you, I hear the cheerleaders about Iran right now and other places, it‘s like—listen, you know, let‘s make sure we‘re doing all our diplomatic efforts before you start another war.  But that‘s what you‘re hearing from the far right.

And I will tell you, Rachel, you know, painting that contrast, showing people what we have done, like in my district, you know, we brought back 3,000 jobs in Bucks County, during a worst recession since the Great Depression.  For the last eight months, you know, we have had job growth in the private sector—every single month.

The last three months, by the way, of the Bush administration, we were losing 800,000 a month.  Now, a lot of folks in Bucks County will say, well, Patrick, let‘s not talk about the Bush administration.  I wish I didn‘t have to talk about the Bush, Fitzpatrick administration, except they‘re trying to reheat the same economic policies that got us into this mess to begin with.

We need to start making things in this country, not outsource them.

MADDOW:  Iraq war veteran and Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, giving a little bit of a master class there to Democrats looking at how they‘re going to run right now in tough districts and in tough races—Congressman Murphy, thanks for joining us.

MURPHY:  Thanks, Rachel.  You‘re a great American.

MADDOW:  It‘s very nice of you to say that.

All right.  The Republican Party‘s pledge to America was supposed to reflect the suggestions of America.  And it does if by America you mean one very specific lobbyist.  That embarrassing bit of fail is next.

And today marked an important milestone in this year‘s big campaign.  Democrats have avoided bragging about their truly profound achievements in, say, health reform for so long that Republicans are now claiming the Democratic record for their very own, despite having opposed it.

Through the looking glass, the political looking class, with Gene Robinson—coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Good news for Democratic candidates this year trying to figure out how to run on the Democratic record.  Today, Republicans started running on the Democratic record.  So, now, Democrats can just copy them.  That‘s coming right up with Eugene Robinson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  I want to say to every American that we believe in this contract and these reforms so deeply that we have not only put them in writing today, but that they will be in a full-page ad in TV guide that we encourage every American when that ad comes out, which I believe is October 27th, to tear that page out, to stick it on your refrigerator until January 3rd and then to join us—and I want to promise every American that we will have the same ad at the speaker‘s desk every day until we meet our obligations.  And we will begin the session every day by rereading the ad until we have met our obligations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We will reread the ad every day.

That was what it was like when the Republican Party unveiled their big legislative agenda back in 1994, the first midterm after Bill Clinton was elected president.

In this first midterm, after Barack Obama was elected president, unveiling the new GOP midterm agenda is a little different.  First off, no TV guide this time.  So, there‘s nothing for you to tear out of a magazine and stick on your refrigerator.  It‘s also much longer this time, about 45 pages.  So, if you want to stick it on your refrigerator, anyway, you‘re going to need a very powerful magnet.

Before Republicans got it printed up as this pretty brochure today, when the draft of it was sent out last night, it was sent out as a PDF document.  Now, the PDF format is a fairly plebian part of modern office life, modern academic life.  A lot of us deal with PDF documents all the time.

But there‘s one way PDF documents are uniquely suited not to being used in political life.  If you right click on the PDF and then you select document properties, the name that auto populates as the author of the document is the person whose document it was produced on.

Now, in politics, of course, whenever you‘re making one of your sacred pledges, you also, you know, want it to seem—you always want to seem like that God beamed this down to you and you were just the spokesperson, just the mouthpiece for the Almighty.  It wasn‘t authored so much as it was delivered.

Well, in this case, the right click trick shows that this document the GOP pledged for this year is less of a delivery from the Almighty and more of a delivery from AIG and ExxonMobil and Pfizer and Comcast.  The magic of right clicking the PDF revealed today that the listed author of the Republican Party‘s new “Pledge to America” is a fellow named Brian Wild, a staffer for John Boehner, who is also a former lobbyist for all of the aforementioned companies and more.

Mr. Wild worked for the Nichols Group, a lobbying firm that was paid more than $740,000 to lobby for AIG, more than $1.3 million to lobby for ExxonMobil, more than $625,000 to lobby for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

The reason that is particularly awkward for this particular political document is because Republicans went out of their way with this thing to make this particular pledge seem like it was just the voice of the people.

Republican Congressman Mike Pence said the effort would prove that “the Democratic majority isn‘t listening, but House Republicans will.”  House Republicans will, not like those rats.

House Republicans will listen and then we‘ll have an Exxon lobbyist write it down.

As part of that “we‘re listening to you” spin, the whole basis of the Republican campaign pledge was their big “America Speaking Out” Web site—giving the impression to anybody visiting that Web site, that whatever suggestion got the most thumbs-up votes on the Web site would become part of this Republican agenda.  Republicans were merely a vessel for the desires of the American people.

But it turns out the desires of the American people as expressed at AmericaSpeakingOut.com with those little thumbs-up, they were for legalizing pot and ending the outsourcing of American jobs to other countries.  Those are some of the things that turned out to be the most popular ideas, the most thumbs-up on the “America Speaking Out” Web site.

But those stated desires of the American people, that Americans weren‘t going to ignore like that Democrat majority does, those desires were not, in fact, beamed directly from AmericaSpeakingOut.com through the larynxes of the Republican leaders today and back out to the American people when these Republican leaders gather to unveil their new agenda.  Legalizing pot, for example, shockingly, is nowhere to be found in the Republican‘s new “Pledge to America.”

And Republicans say nothing at all about that other very popular idea of trying to stop the outsourcing of American jobs, which would seem to suggest two things.  One, who they say they‘re listening to doesn‘t seem to be nearly as important as who they actually let the write the thing.  And two, next time Republicans decide to come up with a pledge or contract or manifesto, wouldn‘t it be awesome if the pot lobby got a lobbyist on the inside who could secretly author the whole thing?  That I would pay to see in a full-page ad in TV guide.  That I would tear out and put up on the fridge.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Every election year has its characters.  This one, I think, has more than most.  This year, part of the country is having a really good exciting time.  And the rest of the country is having a—often hilarious and often alarming time getting familiar with the cast of anti-establishment Tea Party folks who have beaten the old guard Republicans in this year‘s primaries.

But at the crop of—let‘s call them characters in this year‘s elections, there is one Republican candidate who is in territory so uncharted that it makes me want to learn a new word that means more uncharted than uncharted.  The candidate‘s name is Jim Russell.  He is the Republican Party‘s nominee against Congresswoman Nita Lowey in New York‘s 18th district.

Jim Russell‘s occupation is described by Politico.com this week as a Christian conservative author and activist.  But what you really need to know about him is what he believes about you and, whether or not, according to Jim Russell, it is natural to have contact with people of a different race or religion than you.

Mr. Russell‘s views on race mixing are detailed in his 2001 essay titled “The Western Contribution to World History,” which was published in a white supremacist journal called “The Occidental Quarterly.”  In that essay he writes, quote, “While liberals and universalists constantly yammer about bringing us all together and how diversity is our strength, it may be suggested that the biological function of human culture is just the opposite.  That is to keep discreet groups apart.”

He also approvingly quotes old racist arguments from T.S. Eliot about what constitutes an optimum society.  Quote, “The population should be homogeneous.  What is still more important is unity of religious background; and reasons of race and culture combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.”  So, there‘s that.

And then Jim Russell gets even weirder—so weird that I tried sort of practicing today and found that I was unable to read the next excerpt without losing my composure.  And so, I enlisted our dubious racial allegories correspondent Kent Jones to read it for us. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  It has been demonstrated that finches, raised by foster parents of a different species of finch, will later exhibit a life-long sexual attraction toward the alien species.  One wonders how a child‘s sexual imprinting mechanism is affected by forcible racial integration and near continual exposure to media stimuli promoting interracial contact. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Yes, finches, the birds and interracial contact.  Major party candidate for Congress, ladies and gentlemen.  Mr. Russell also invade against, quote, “the culpability of media moguls who deliberately popularize miscegenation in films directed toward adolescents and pre-adolescents, in the midst of this onslaught against our youth, parents need to be reminded that they have natural as obligation as essential as providing food and shelter, to instill in their children an acceptance of appropriate ethnic boundaries for socialization and for marriage.”  It‘s 9:31 p.m., have you instilled your children with appropriate ethnic boundaries for socialization today?

In a year of extreme politics where in particular, there are a lot of extreme us versus them stuff, hi, Mr. Gingrich.  Jim Russell may have actually figured out what it takes to claim the label of extreme in conservative politics this year.  The Westchester County Republican Party says, it is doing all it can to get Jim Russell off the ballot, even though he is their nominee for Congress.  The State Party‘s director of communications in fact, openly called Jim Russell a racist and a kook.  It should also be noted however that that same Republican Party guy who called Jim Russell a racist and a kook, also said that the New York Republican candidate who sent out this e-mail to his friends and supporters, this e-mail photo-shopping the president and first lady to look like a black exploitation era pimp and prostitute, the same New York State Republican Party spokesman denouncing racist finch guy Jim Russell as a racist? 

Said of the New York Republican candidate who sent this out, quote, “The New York Republican Party fully supports Carl Paladino and stands behind his candidacy 100 percent.”  Hundred percent.  Now, we know, I guess where they‘re drawing the line this year. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Over the course of my lifetime I have noticed that Democrats tend to have an inferiority complex when it comes to the process of politics.  I mean, they definitely like their own ideas better than Republican ideas.  But they tend to admire the way Republicans campaign for their ideas, they tend to admire Republican tactics and messaging even if they don‘t like the Republican message itself.  And maybe that is the key to Democrats finally figuring out that they really could be campaigning on health care reform this year instead of hiding from it.  Because today, Republicans started campaigning on health reform. 

Yes, GOP lawmakers today pledged in that pledge of theirs to repeal the health care law.  Yes, that‘s true, it‘s plastered all over the document.  We hate Obama-care.  But then, they also pledge to institute a whole lot of health reform policies that they have ripped right out of the dreaded Obama-care.  GOP pledge, purchase health insurance across state lines.  That is already in the health reform law.  GOP pledge, ensure access for patients with pre-existing conditions.  Oh, you mean like, what‘s already in the health reform law?  GOP pledge, eliminate annual and lifetime spending caps.  Wonder where they got that idea?  That‘s not only in the health care law, the provision kicked in today.  Six months after Obama signed the dreaded ghastly Obama-care into law.  And there‘s more in the health reform law that Republicans want to repeal and then they want to get political credit for bringing it back again.  The single craziest thing about this is that Republicans will be able to claim credit for those good democratic ideas on health reform that they like and want to campaign on as long as Democrats stand aside and let them do it. 

Today, the very day that insurance companies can no longer stop covering Americans because of pre-existing conditions.  Today, the day that if you are up to the age of 26, you can stay on your parents‘ health insurance.  Today, the day that health insurance companies could no longer tell you you‘ve exceeded the company‘s cap of what your life is worth.  Today, on that day, on the day that all those things became true because of the democratic health reform law, Republicans were the only lawmakers in the country campaigning on health care reform.  And there short sleeves that are hard restoring Virginia.  Republicans campaigning on the Democrats‘ health reform plan and all the good stuff that‘s in it.  Democrats, it‘s your choice.  You can campaign on your accomplishments or you can let Republicans campaign on your accomplishments.  Your choice.  Forty days until Election Day. 

Joining us now is my friend, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Washington Post and then MSNBC contributor.  Hi, Gene.  Thanks for being here. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Great to be here Rachel but I have to confess, I‘m still struggling to get past miscegenation among finches but we‘ll move on.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  See the finches and their inappropriate sexual desire for other wrong finches tells us that it‘s bad to watch the remake of a fellow. 

ROBINSON:  Rachel, you know you can‘t go there.  So, let‘s just move on. 

MADDOW:  He‘s the candidate, you know.  Anyway, sorry.  All right.  Common wisdom is that health reform is toxic.  It‘s this third rail Democrats won‘t run on.  The only Democrats won‘t run on health reforms are those who voted against it.  If that‘s true, then why are Republicans running on health reform?

ROBINSON:  Well, that would be the question.  And maybe, the answer would be that there are many of the elements of the health reform package, in fact, most of the elements of the health reform package, are popular among Americans and have always been popular among Americans.  If you ask throughout the entire health care debate, if you asked people, you know, do you want the pre-existing conditions like this?  Do you want children to be able to stay on their parents‘ policies?  Do you want no lifetime caps?  Do you want this, do you want that?  They all said, yes, of course they want it.  This would be great advances and would make the system so much fairer than it is.  So, the Democrats give them—give people all of this.  And now are afraid to talk about it.  And the Republicans who must have been paying closer attention to those polls, say, here‘s something people like.  Let‘s put it in our pledge to America.  It‘s kind of crazy. 

MADDOW:  Well, do you think then, it‘s not a coincidence that House Republicans chose today of all days to unveil this big pledge to America in their shirt sleeves at that lumber yard in Virginia, is it a coincidence that they have picked for the big unveiling, the same day that all these very popular health care provisions went into effect?

ROBINSON:  Well, I‘m not sure whether it‘s a coincidence or not.  I mean, you know, I think their timing actually was really pretty bad.  Because at the moment they were unveiling their pledge to America, President Obama was speaking to the United Nations and everyone was could have gone that live.  So, they didn‘t even get live coverage for their big announcement.  So, I‘m not sure I‘m as in awe of their scheduling prowess as I am of the kind of political jiu-jitsu that they‘re doing with health care.  It‘s amazing.  And you‘re exactly right.  Because what they say, we want to get rid of, you know, this big government takeover but we want to put all the good stuff back in.  Of course, we don‘t want to fund it.  But, you know, whatever. 

MADDOW:  We want to get rid of the dreaded Obama-care and then put all of the components of Obama-care back into effect.  But we want to call them ours. 

ROBINSON:  Right.  Because you like them.  You like them.  We know you like them.  The Democrats don‘t know you like them, but we know you like them. 

MADDOW:  It‘s amazing to me.  The thing that is not amazing to me is that Republicans are doing this, the thing that is amazing to me is that Democrats are not, and even refusing to follow the president‘s lead and really rolling out ineffective campaigning on health care this week.  Eugene, let me also ask you about Democrats‘ reported decision today to not force a vote on middle class tax cuts, to not force a vote in which Republicans would presumably vote no on middle class tax cuts because they wanted them for the richest people in the county, why not force that vote before the election?

ROBINSON:  Well, good question.  Why not force that vote?  The whole build-up of the last several weeks has been to force that vote, which seems to me from that point of view of the Democratic Party to be very good politics.  You either have to put the Republicans on record as saying, you know, we specifically want to preserve tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  And so, we‘re not going to, you know, not going to vote for your version of this bill or you make them go along with it.  And you go a long way toward solving some huge, long-term fiscal issues.  It seemed to be—but Democrats of course are always nervous now individually and nervous about keeping their majority together.  And I suspect there was a lot of concern about how many Democrats might just kind of wuss out. 

MADDOW:  Amazing to me.  Let me ask you one last brief question about this, Gene.  The Republican pledge is very clearly supposed to be this year‘s version of 1994‘s contract with America.  Interesting that it got a very hostile reaction from a lot of the right, from places like the Red State blogs and Club for Growth.  How important is that?  Is that just a sign of sort of healthy division on the right as the different factions try to fight it out?  Or is that sort of mean something more important about how this moves forward?

ROBINSON:  You know, that—for the Red State people, I mean, that kind of confirms what they always thought about the Republican leadership in Washington which is that they‘re much more interested in getting re-elected than in serving what Red State and those groups would consider bedrock conservative principles.  What I think it does though—again, if the Democrats will take advantage of the opening is instead of just being the party of no, the Republicans have come out with all the stuff that if you try to parse it, makes no sense. 

You know, it makes no fiscal sense.  It doesn‘t make sense in terms of the deficit.  You can‘t make this ad up.  And so now, the thing to do would be to make them defend it and explain how you extend—make the tax cuts all permanent and still fix the deficit.  How do you do that?  And if Democrats don‘t start—now they have a blueprint on, you know, from which to press Republicans on all these issues.  And they have to be able to gain ground that way.  So if they don‘t do that, then we give up. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Yes.  Sometimes we give up every day and then we press on through the course of the day and get our hope back.  Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post.  And I‘m proud to say an MSNBC contributor.  Thanks for joining us tonight, Gene.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” more of Keith‘s excellent, don‘t miss it special report on the very large businesses that qualify for so-called small business tax breaks.  Michael Moore joins Keith in the next hour. 

ROBINSON:  And ahead on this show, the man who sold you the bright shiny happy side of mercury in your fish and transfats in you fast-food, he‘s back, this time with a shot at First Lady Michelle Obama.  That‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Now it is First Lady Michelle Obama who is in the particularly creepy right wing cross hairs this week and seemingly more to come.  We‘ve got details ahead on that. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Did you see what happened at the U.N. today?  This is the Americans.  The American delegation that was representing us at the U.N.  today, getting up, taking off their translator ear piece thingies and walking out in the middle of the speech by the president of Iran.  At one point, you can see they actually sort of do a little awkward turn in their walk-out so they can be sure everybody sees them storming out.  They don‘t want to go out at the back of the room, they don‘t want to go out at side door near their seats, they want to as ostentatiously as possible walk out in a way that everybody can see them on the Iranian president.  And then everybody else starts walking out too.  Canada‘s guys walked out, New Zealand, Australia, Costa Rica, the European Union, the U.N.  representatives from 27 countries in Europe all pied-pipered out behind the Americans while Iran‘s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kept talking from the little step stool they presumably put up behind the podium for him. 

They all walked out when his speech got to the 9/11 theory part.  When he started to say how most of the world knows that 911 was an inside job by the U.S. government.  And a lot of times, diplomacy is so subtle, international relations turn on, you know, whether you‘re guy‘s dinner at the White House is a state dinner or something that is not technically state dinner but that totally looks like a state dinner, anyway.  Who bows to who and how deeply and what you‘re wearing when you did it.  It‘s all these minor subtle points of protocol, these imperceptible slights and flattery.  Except when it‘s not.  Except when people just get up and storm out right in front of you because you are freaking nuts inoffensive, which is what happens today at the U.N.  And it was as satisfying as it was blunt. 

For all the drama today of walking out on little Mahmoud, what got less coverage was something almost as blunt and almost as satisfying but without the dramatic visuals.  Four years ago, our frienemies in Russia said they were going to sell Iran nearly a billion dollars worth of missiles, anti-aircraft missiles that Iran said, they wanted to use to defend its nuclear facilities.  There‘s a ban on anything high tech at all being sold to Iran and Russia wants to give them this huge state of the art advance missile system.  Not helpful, right?  The decision happened during the Bush administration in 2006 and ever since then, Russia has been hemming and hawing about whether or not it‘s really going to do it, whether or not it‘s really going to go ahead with selling Iran these missiles. 

Last night, the U.S. announced that President Obama secured a clear unequivocal agreement from Russia‘s president that definitively, those missiles are not going to Iran.  Medvedev said it in public.  Obama got him to call off the deal.  No missiles for Iran.  Not exactly as visual as throwing down the ear piece and storming out while little Mahmoud pounds the table about Zionism, whatever.  But any truly substantive insult to that little holocaust denying 9/11 tyrannical creep is deeply satisfying.          

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  If the culture wars are back in time for this year‘s elections which I think they are, here‘s a prediction.  The next target, the next non-story that nonetheless induces Republican base outrage.  The next cultural touchstone that shows how the liberal elitist want to ban fishing on Mother‘s Day and cut some pie and all things American and conservatives need to stand as bull work against that anti-American elitist, I think, the next big fight is coming.  So, on its way and it is about Michelle Obama and her campaign for healthy eating and exercise.  I don‘t want to give anybody on the right any ideas or encouragement.  But the next round in the culture wars probably sounds little something like this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Get away from my French fries, Mrs.  Obama.  First politician that comes up to me with a carrot stick, I have a place for it. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

And it‘s not my tummy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was FOX News host Glenn Beck last weekend at the Right Nation Conference in Illinois making his first day came for the French fries joke.  It was the second time in a week that he rolled that out, in a week when all others on the right all seem to get that same idea at the same time. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BECK:  Get your damn hands off my fries, lady.  If I want to be a fat, fat, fatty and shovel French fries all day long, that is my choice.  But oh, no, not so fast any more.  Because now we have the new fact whether you like it or not, we have government health care now. 

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, “THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW”:  Taking the nanny state at a new level, Michelle Obama is suggesting what you should feed your children. 

JOHN STOSSEL, HOST, “THE JOHN STOSSEL SHOW”:  It‘s fine if she wants to jobber all about this and try to talk people into eating well, spend her own time and money but I think she wants to spend our time and our money. 

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It won‘t be long after that call, she talked about what food she‘s going to fix and how she‘s going prepare it and where she‘s going to get it.  That woman will be reported to Michelle Obama. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  See, haven‘t you heard now, about how your cooking behavior gets reported to first lady?  This is their conspiracy theory.  What you cook gets reported to the president‘s wife.  Some kind of tyrannical food hotline.  That‘s their theory.  Also, presumably something about Muslims.  If you want culture war politics again, if you want pure us versus them that is un-solid by actual policy, this is rich territory for the right.  This past week, we also spotted this little tweet basically a redirect to an article headlined Michelle‘s war on fat.  You‘ll have to pry these French fries from my cold dead hands.  This is war.  The tweet that led to that article comes from the center for consumer freedom which has a hit piece on Michelle Obama‘s obesity campaign right there on the front page of its own website. 

The Center for Consumer Freedom ring a bell, ring bell for Center for Consumer Freedom?  It‘s Rick Berman.  Rick Berman, of course, the lobbyist/pr guy who makes up fake non-profit groups that promote stuff like tanning beds are good for you and don‘t worry about mercury in fish.  You can use that tuna to take your temperature one day.  That‘s meat, don‘t worry.  Berman has also tried to sell the idea that upping the minimum wage is bad for people who make minimum wage, somehow.  He also hates the humane society, yes, the humane society.  Rick Berman‘s m.o. is to create fake citizen groups that are really just this pr firm and to make Muddy the waters fake science to give the impression that maybe transfats, actually clean out your arteries. 

Also, second hand smoke is delicious.  Drunk driving, not that bad.  And by the way, Happy 30th birthday, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, may you be a thorn in Rick Berman‘s side for decades to come.  If there were a corporation that benefited from people pounding nails into there foreheads, Rick Berman would be the pr guy that that corporation hired to promote the healthiness of pounding nails into your forehead.  Given what Rick Berman‘s m.o. is, you are forgiven if you thought of Rick Berman and his black is white, day is night down the rabbit hole corporate pr strategy last week, when you heard that the Corn Refiners Association was trying to change the name of high fructose corn syrup into instead, corn sugar.  Because corn sugar sounds delicious. 

Right on cue, Rick Berman joined in pushing the let‘s call it, corn sugar argument this week on the conservative website, “The Daily Caller.”  And he‘s pushing it even though there‘s a different thing that already exist, that‘s already cold corn sugar, but why let facts get in the way of what your possibly shady certainly undisclosed most likely big agribusiness clients want.  Another campaign Mr. Berman is working on now is sticking up for factory farmed chickens.  After the recent giant salmonella outbreak attributed to eggs from chickens whose life conditions do not bear event the slightest weak stomach contemplation.  Who is to say those battery cages do anybody any harm?  Want to slick for profit opportunist like Rick Berman, starts taking on the first lady‘s nutrition campaign.  Honestly, it smells like money. 

But when Glenn Beck and a lot of the FOX news lineup accidentally or on purpose teams up with him, it‘s almost like you can feel them sending a little pin, a little test to see if they can get something started, maybe launch a new talking point for the election. 

TeaParty.frenchfrywar.US/firstladytyranny (ph).  You can feel it coming, can‘t you?  In three, two, one—that does it for us tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” with Chris Olbermann starts right now.   

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