updated 9/30/2010 1:45:37 PM ET 2010-09-30T17:45:37

Guests: Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Arianna Huffington, Michael Barbaro

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  Good evening, Rachel.

           

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you very much for that.

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

We begin tonight with what they said could never be done.

They said that wedge issues only wedge one way.  If you are a Democratic politician, if you‘ve got a culture warrior opponent, you essentially just have to take it.  They can win points with their base for being super anti-abortion, super anti-gay and all the rest, but there is no way that you as a liberal, you as a Democrat can raise those issues from the other side.

Sorry.  You just can‘t do it.  Don‘t bother.  You can campaign against reproductive rights.  Republicans have made an art form out of that in recent years, but you can‘t campaign for reproductive rights.  That just can‘t be done.

This is how the culture war has settled out over the past decade or so: you can campaign all you want against all sorts of civil libertarian issues.  You can campaign against gay people.  You can campaign against religious freedom for anyone who‘s not your particular brand of Christian.  You can campaign against reproductive rights.  But you can‘t campaign for these things.  That‘s the common wisdom.  They say it couldn‘t be done.

They are wrong.  If you are a Democrat, you can in fact hit your opponent for being an extremist on those issues.  In fact, you can nail them to the wall for that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ELIZA BUYERS, OB/GYN:  As a doctor, I try to protect the health of women.  That‘s what I do.  That‘s why I‘m very disturbed by Ken Buck.

Ken Buck would ban common forms of birth control.  And Ken Buck wants to make abortion illegal, even in cases of rape and incest.  But that should be a woman‘s decision, not a politician‘s.

As far as I‘m concerned, Ken Buck is just too extreme for Colorado.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Too extreme for Colorado.  That is an ad being run right now

by Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado.

           

His opponent, Ken Buck, is one of at least five Republican Senate candidates that we know of who want the government to make abortion illegal, even in cases where a woman is pregnant as the result of rape or incest.  The federal government should monitor every pregnancy of every American woman everywhere in the country to ensure that it ends the way the federal government prefers.  No matter what the woman, herself, or her doctor thinks is best.  Even if she is raped, Ken Buck wants the federal government to force the rape victim to bear the child of the rapist.

Memo to Democrats: If your opponent has views that extreme, throw out the conventional wisdom.  You can run against someone on that basis.  They say it couldn‘t be done.  It can be done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  Ken Buck wants to make common forms of birth control illegal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s just ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I can‘t believe in 2010, Ken Buck wants to limit women‘s access to birth control.

NARRATOR:  Ken Buck also wants to make a common fertility treatment illegal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is reaching so far into people‘s private lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Who is he to make that choice?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ken Buck does not belong in my family planning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Women‘s rights should not be taken backwards.

NARRATOR:  The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  They said it couldn‘t be done.  It can be done.  Democrats take note.

Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle of Nevada, also a member of the “government should force women to bear their rapist‘s babies” caucus, here‘s her opponent, Democrat Harry Reid, running against Sharron Angle on that exact issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  What do you call a candidate who says the way things are going, the time may be coming for Second Amendment remedies, an armed response to our government?  Who says a teenage rape victim should be force today have the baby?  What do you call that candidate?

Extreme.  Sharron Angle.  Just too extreme.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  There‘s one other that I want you to see here, one other of these ads.  It is from the great state of Illinois.  This is Democrat Dan Seals going after his Republican opponent Robert Dold on essentially the same issue.

Check this one out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  So, who is for Dan Seals?  “The Sun-Times” says Seals has a strong business and policy background.  Newspapers call him independent, impressive.  Seals understands what small businesses need to grow and create jobs.

And who is behind Robert Dold?  Dold was recommended by Illinois Federation for Right to Life, a group that opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest.  And the Tea Party—Dold called them great.  So, that‘s behind Robert Dold.

Who are you behind?

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Here‘s the most politically salient thing about that specific ad and what that example means for Democrats running in this year‘s elections.  The Republican candidate who gets hit in that ad, Robert Dold, does not actually have a virulently anti-choice record that Dan Seals is hitting him on.  They‘re hitting him on the fact that he‘s been endorsed by a very anti-abortion organization.  He‘s not even an anti-abortion candidate, but this Democrat in this race is trying to make him pay a price for being associated with the super anti-abortion group.

Now, that‘s the sort of thing that Republicans do to Democrats all the time.  And which Democrats could have been doing to Republicans all this time, but in most cases they wouldn‘t because they were too skittish about abortion being the basis for doing that on this sort of an issue.

But here‘s Dan Seals showing how it‘s done, making his Republican opponent pay a price for the rights extremism this year, bringing the national dynamic of the Republican Party and the right going very far right this year, bringing that national dynamic home to an individual race and making a Republican answer for it who really doesn‘t want to have to answer for it.

They say that wedge issues can only go in one direction, that they only work for conservatives.  They are wrong.  They can go in both directions if Democrats are willing to do it.

The current crop of Republican congressional candidates are so extreme on even just this one issue of abortion that Democrats really can feel free to run on abortion rights if they want to, coast to coast.  And, no, maybe it‘s not wise to do that everywhere in every district.  But in a year when the Republicans are more extreme than they have ever been on that issue, those ads that we just showed?  That‘s what it looks like to hit Republicans in a place where they are a soft target.  That‘s what it looks like to use the culture war issue against Republicans, to use their own extremism nationally against them locally.

The other bit of conventional wisdom Democrats appear to be following en masse this year is that Democrats can‘t run on their own record.  Democrats can‘t run on what they‘ve accomplished in Washington over the last two years.  It can‘t be done.

Republicans said these elections should be a referendum on President Obama.  And the people are angry at President Obama and at the Democrats.  So, therefore, since Republicans said we should do it that way, I guess it will be that way.

By and large, Democrats appear to have bought into that Republican serving spin about these elections instead of fighting it and putting their own framing on things.  And that‘s why you see Democrats across the country doing anything they can to avoid acknowledging that their district is part of the country, that they are part of a party.  They‘re part of a party that the president is actually the leader of—and he‘s been doing stuff.

Democrats, they say you can‘t run on your record.  They say it can‘t be done.  It can be done.

Right now, the White House is trying to lead by example.  The White House is trying to encourage Democrats, I‘m guessing, by showing how to run on Democratic accomplishments.  That‘s why you‘ve got President Obama and Vice President Biden out there doing all of these campaign events.  They‘re talking about what they and the Democratic Congress have done over the past two years: Health reform, Wall Street reform, student loan reform.

Right now, the White House is modeling what they would hope other Democrats would be able to do—at least that‘s what it looks like.  But not very many Democrats are doing it.  As far as we can tell, two Democrats are doing it.

Today, we found exactly two Democratic ads, at least, in the entire country that we could identify in which the Democrat running against the Republican is essentially saying, “Vote for me because of what Democrats, we Democrats have done in Washington over the past two years.”  We found two instances of that: one in the House and One in the Senate.

In the Senate, it‘s Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington, running on the fact that Democrats passed Wall Street reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON:  I‘m Patty Murray.  I sponsored this ad.

NARRATOR:  The big banks and Wall Street didn‘t want financial reform.  They don‘t want to be held accountable.  They want someone who will repeal the tough new regulations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, yes, that‘s a repeal?

DINO ROSSI ®, WASHINGTON SENATE CANDIDATE:  I think we should.

NARRATOR:  And repeal Wall Street reform?

ROSSI:  I think we should.

NARRATOR:  Dino chose his Wall Street contributors over protecting our savings.  Rossi took the big bank‘s money then turned his back on taxpayers.  Dino Rossi‘s not on our side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We Democrats passed Wall Street reform, that ad says, and Republicans, this Republican wants to repeal it.  Vote for me, Democrats did the right thing.  This Republican wants to run the clock back for all the wrong reasons.

That is a Democrat running on Democratic accomplishments.

Here is Democratic Congressman Mike Ross of Arkansas doing that on the House side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE ROSS (D), ARKANSAS:  These are the brave men and women who

keep America safe.  And no matter how we feel about the war, it‘s our job

to be sure we keep our promises to those who have sacrificed so much for

us.  That‘s why I voted to take care of our soldiers in battle, expand the

G.I.      bill and make the largest investment in veterans health care in 77 years.

           

I‘m Mike Ross and I approve this message because our troops and our veterans deserve our support and respect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Every Democrat in the country who voted for that could be running on that.  Every Democrat who is trying to run for any federal office in the country could be running on that issue.  Any Democrat running for any seat, anywhere, dog catcher, state legislator, Congress, senator, governor—any Democrat could run on that as a Democratic Party accomplishment.

We Democrats led the fight to expand the G.I. bill.  We Democrats passed through historic funding for the Veterans Administration.  Vote for me.

Those are two very good examples of Democrats running on Democratic accomplishments.  We found two—two.  Maybe there are more out there but we spent all day looking and we did not find them.  If you know about more, we would love to hear about them.  You can let us know via our blog, MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.

This year‘s elections are now a little more than a month away.  The winds are certainly against Democrats this year.  No doubt about it.  So, is the idea, though—you know, bad economy, first midterm after a new president, oh, God we‘re going to lose, we better not even try—that‘s also running against Democrats.  Are Democrats actually going to try to win?

There are some good examples this year of Democrats trying to win, wrapping this year‘s Republican extremism around the necks of Republicans who do not want to answer for it to a general election electorate.  Democrats running on what Democrats have accomplished and selling the virtues of those Democratic accomplishments at the same time.  It can be done.  They said it couldn‘t be done.  It can be done.

We have found a very few examples of Democrats going for it using the best stuff available to Democrats in this year‘s elections, fighting the Republicans on the turf that Republicans do not want to fight on.  We have only found a very few examples.  Do those examples get copied now in these last, what, 34 days heading into the election?  Do they get copied?  And why aren‘t there more of them already?

We‘ll have some answers ahead tonight.  This is going to be a very fun show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Democrats heading back in a difficult political environment can be done, can also be done somewhat poorly.  Coming up, I‘ll have a couple of minutes to get explanations from the Democratic congressman who is in charge of getting Democrats elected to the House this year.  Please stay tuned for that conversation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The organization in charge of getting Democrats elected to the United States House of Representatives is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the DCCC.  They don‘t have an enviable job this year.

It‘s a tough election for Democrats, not only because the economy is bad, not only because it‘s the first midterm election for this administration, but also—as a lot of people have pointed out—

Democrats beat Republicans so badly in ‘06 and ‘08 that, right now, there are a lot of Democratic members of Congress representing pretty conservative House districts around the country, districts that have no real business being represented by an upper case “D” Democrat—districts that at least on paper are far more conservative than their having Democratic representation would suggest is sustainable.

So, Democrats in charge of getting their folks elected, they do not have it easy this year.  That said, somebody explain this to me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  Renacci tried to avoid paying his taxes.  Renacci is trying to raise yours with a new 23 percent national sales tax on almost everything you buy.

NARRATOR:  Nunnelee is running for Congress and signed up as a supporter of a 23 percent national sales tax on cars, groceries, appliances, even toys.

NARRATOR:  Benishek supported a new 23 percent national sales tax on almost everything we buy—clothes, groceries, even gas.

NARRATOR:  Andy Harris supports a tax plan that would impose a 23 percent sales tax on nearly everything you buy, while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  Twenty-three percent sales tax (ph)?

At the very glossy surface level, way up here, right, this sort of makes sense of the very meta level.  You know, if you don‘t—if you don‘t think about it too much.  The idea is to make it seem like the Democrat is running against the taxes guy, because the Republican is the taxes guy—a sort of very high level take on this.

On the other hand, does anybody have any clue what these ads are about?  What about these ads are about is Republicans who signed a fair tax pledge thing to replace the income tax system with a giant sales tax.  It is a wacky, far right economic scheme and, yes, some Republicans say this wacky, far right economic scheme to replace income tax with a sales tax, a giant sales tax is a good idea.

OK.  You ever heard of it otherwise?  Really?  Have you?

It is one thing to refuse to run on what you believe.  It is another thing to say, you know what?  I want to run on what the other guy believes.  I want to run on their talking points and their political one-liners.  Tax bad!

So, I‘m going to invent an issue out of whole cloth that has no national translation whatsoever, that won‘t resonate with anything anybody has ever read on the news, read on the blogs, seen on a cable TV or heard from their neighbor while mowing their lawn, something that has never appeared on any other ad ever.  I will pick an issue totally unconnected to everything else I know is going on in the country and try to make you, the voter, believe that everything you suspect is true about me is actually maybe true about the other guy?  Maybe we can deliberately sort of confuse the differences?

The other guy is most effective and cost efficient response is probably to laugh at this and wait until I run out of money in this campaign and then just blanket me with, “You want to talk about taxes?  Let‘s talk taxes, you Democrat.”

This idea—this strategy I do not understand.

Joining us now is the man most likely to be able to explain it to me is Congressman Chris Van Hollen, head of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.  He‘s the man in charge of getting Democrats re-elected to the House.

Mr. Van Hollen, thank you so much for your time tonight.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD), DCCC CHAIRMAN:  It‘s good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  I butted together there the segments from all of these different DCCC ads talking about Republicans as tax raisers.  I got to say this strategy makes no sense to me.

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, Rachel, as you know we‘re running ads all over the country.  We‘ve got more than 50 races where there are going to be different ads, and some are on Social Security and Medicare, some are on making sure that we call the Republicans out on their refusal to end tax breaks that support multinational corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

And some relate to this issue where Republicans have essentially said they want to reduce the taxes for the folks at the very top.  In other words, they don‘t want to have an income tax.  Instead they want to raise the sales taxes on everybody else.  So any time you go to the store and buy something, you‘re going to have to pay a tax, and at the same time, they would reduce the tax rates for the folks at the very, very top—which is clearly unfair.

Now, you—I heard what you had to say in your lead-in here.  I should say that both in 2006 and 2008, the election years where you said the Democrats win a lot of seats in those districts, that ad was used in a lot of those districts because it cut through some of the nonsense the Republicans were talking about where they said only Democrats were wanting to raise taxes.

And what this says, very clearly, is—no, Republicans want to raise taxes.  It‘s just they want to raise taxes in a way that hurts the middle class.  This is the way to raise taxes that hurts people where they go and buy goods at the store, as opposed to the Democrats who said, you know, you should do it based on your income.  If you‘ve got a lot higher income, you should pay more.

So, that—and again, this was—this was the kind of ad that was played in those previous years as well.

MADDOW:  And, you know, I can‘t speak to whether or not this ends up working in individual districts.  What seems strange to me from a national perspective is that there‘s a lot of people in the Democratic Party right now focusing on messaging nationally, this idea that Republicans want to hold tax cuts for the middle class, 98 percent of the country, hostage, so that they can give extra tax cuts to rich people.  That the idea that Republicans want to hold out $250,000 of income and above for additional tax cuts and nobody else gets tax relief otherwise.  Sort of, Republicans looking out for the rich guys on these tax guys—on the tax issues.

This message bluntly, the way it comes across in the ads is—

Republicans want to raise the taxes.  It seems like it‘s just designed to obfuscate the differences between Republicans and Democrats rather than pushing a national message that might resonate coast to coast.

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, Rachel, as you know, under the Obama administration, we‘ve seen a series of tax cuts for middle class Americans.  In other words, as part of the whole recovery bill, about one-third was tax relief for 95 percent of working Americans.  We‘ve also seen tax relief for small businesses.

It is the Republicans, as you said, who are saying, you know, we‘re only going to allow tax relief for 98 percent of the American people to go forward if you guys give a tax break to the folks at the very top, even though it blows the $700 billion hole in the deficit.  And, by the way, the so-called “small businesses” that they say they‘re going to be helping are the big Washington law firms, the KKRs of the world, big leveraged buyout firms.  Those are the people the Republicans are trying to fool into believing they‘re small businesses.

These other ads, again, that were played in the past show how disconnected some of these Republican candidates are when they say, “Let‘s reduce taxes on the folks at the very top and we‘re going to compensate for that by raising taxes on everything else you buy”—a national sales tax which we all know is a very regressive form of taxation.

So, in many of these races, it‘s not clear where the other guy is on some of—on a particular issue, but we know where they stand on this one because they signed a particular pledge or form.  And again, we‘re now talking about a couple ads out of a whole universe of ads, many of which are on the Social Security issue, the Medicare issue, the question of making sure we don‘t ship American jobs overseas, what we‘ve done for veterans compared to some of the votes Republicans have taken that do not support our veterans in terms of health care.

So, you‘ve got a whole menu of ads and I will say what people look at is each of these districts and what they think is most effective in a particular district.

MADDOW:  I guess—I guess this is the not a national message strategy but district by district local messaging strategy at work for all of the confusion that it leads to.

VAN HOLLEN:  Rachel, let me just say, look, the national—the national message has been pretty clear.

The national message is this: that Republicans want to take us back to a set of economic policies that benefited a small group of special interests at the expense of consumers and taxpayers and workers.

They want to take us back to the days before we passed Wall Street reform, when the folks on Wall Street called the shots and it was everybody else who paid for their mistakes.

They want to take us back to a time when they‘re going to give tax breaks to those Washington lobbying firms and they want to keep in place these tax provisions, very perverse tax provisions, that reward multinational corporations for shipping American jobs overseas.  In other words, they have put the profits of overseas corporations above the interests of American workers and consumers.

So, the overall framework has been: Republicans want to go back to an economic policy that for eight years favored very narrow special interests, whether they were health insurance companies, big oil companies, or Wall Street firms, at the expense of everybody else.  And those are the kind of ads that you‘re seeing played around the country.

This is just one example that you‘ve picked out that deals with this fair tax idea, which is an example—is an example of Republicans saying, “Hey, let‘s shift the tax burden to the middle class and give the folks at the very top a break.”

MADDOW:  And honestly, the way it plays out on the ground is as an exception to the national message that you just laid out, but, you know, understanding that as the multiplicity of the ways that different Democrats can approach these issues is part of understanding what Democrats are doing this year.  And thanks to you for helping us understand that, Congressman Van Hollen.  Thank you.

VAN HOLLEN:  Good to be with you, Rachel.  Thanks.

MADDOW:  Congressman Chris Van Hollen, he‘s head of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.  He‘s also a Democrat, of course, from the great state of Maryland.

All right.  Arianna Huffington is still to come this hour.

My crazy conspiracy theory about crazy Carl Paladino seems to start to come to fruition.

And we have a very, very, very bad time coloring.

It‘s all ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  One of the reasons it‘s been so weird to watch as everybody tries to draw battle lines between the White House and the liberals, between the Obama administration and the lefty progressive Democratic base is because if you‘re looking for intra-Democratic Party battle lines, there‘s such an obviously better place to draw them.  Today, for example, you could have found one at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA:  Today, in my view, raising anyone‘s taxes, given our fragile economy, would be a move in the wrong direction.  I favor extending all of the expiring tax cuts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was Ben Nelson, a Democratic senator, who decided it would be a good idea today to drop by the Heritage Foundation to talk about how much he supports the Republican plan on taxes.  Ben Nelson is not even up for re-election this year.  He just, you know, randomly in the middle of a really tough election year headed down to the Heritage Foundation to see what he could do to help out his party—I mean the other party.

Same goes for Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.  Mary Landrieu is also a Democrat.  She‘s also not up for re-election herself this year.  But she is happily campaigning away on the Republican side against the Obama administration‘s offshore drilling moratorium.

In fact, she is blocking confirmation of the president‘s nominee to lead the office of management and budget because of the drilling issue, which is great news for her home state Republican colleague, Sen. David Vitter, who is not just a man with a hooker problem. 

He is also the man with the hooker problem who is running for reelection in Louisiana this year.  And he is, of course, totally onboard with Mary Landrieu‘s decision to hold up the president‘s budget director as retribution for the offshore oil drilling moratorium. 

So Mary Landrieu, again, a Democrat, not up for reelection this year, has somehow found the time and energy to provide political cover for a Republican senator who is up for reelection this year and to also stop the White House from getting a budget director all at the same time. 

Where is there a liberal I can yell at for this?  Then there are the Democrats who are up for reelection this year who have given the choice to defend their own record and stand up for the Democratic Party and what Democrats have accomplished have instead decided to run as Republicans.  Sort of.  Or at least to campaign on how much they voted with John Boehner. 

Oh, you think I‘m kidding. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BOBBY BRIGHT (D-AL):  I‘m the most independent member of Congress.  I try to bring people together to make good things happen for our country.  I‘m Bobby Bright.  I approve this ad. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Did you catch that at the end?  Democratic congressman showing you a picture of himself next to a picture of John Boehner bragging in giant yellow letters about how often he votes with the Republican leader.  Eighty percent of the time. 

That‘s Democratic Congressman Bobby Bight‘s campaign message, “Vote for me.  I‘m basically a Republican.”  Here is another ad by a Democratic Congressman trying to hold on to his seat this year. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  When President Obama and Nancy Pelosi pressured Chet Edwards, Chet stood up to them and voted no against their trillion dollar health care bill and no to cap-and-trade.  Chet votes with the conservative chamber of commerce 67 percent of the time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  What, no picture of Nancy Pelosi morphing into Saddam Hussein?  Congressman Chet Edwards campaigning for reelection as a Democrat by running against the Democratic Party. 

As Sam Stein pointed out on this show last night, it was only two years ago Chet Edwards‘ name was being floated by Nancy Pelosi as a potential vice presidential running mate for President Obama. 

And now, Chet Edwards is campaigning for reelection as a Democrat by campaigning against how evil the Democratic party is and how awful its leaders are.  So it‘s fine if you want there to be a little, you know, “Who feels enthused?  Who feels disappointed?  Who feels resentful?  How you feeling?” fight between the administration and the left, fine, if you want to talk about that. 

But the conservative side of the Democratic Party is waging full on electoral war against the Democratic Party, in effect, working to get more Republicans elected this year.  So why isn‘t that where the battle lines are being drawn? 

Joining us now is Arianna Huffing ton, cofounder and editor-in-chief of “Huffing ton Post” and author of the new book, “Third World America.”  Arianna, it‘s so nice to have you here. 

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, COFOUNDER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, “HUFFINGTON POST”: 

Great to be here, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Democrats seem to be OK with conservative Democrats sort of waging war against their own party.  Why is that? 

HUFFINGTON:  Because of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sort of hopes that one day maybe one of them will be the 60th vote on some compromise piece of legislation and therefore he cannot afford to really take them on. 

It‘s also something else which is that maybe progressives and the middle class need to sort of face up to the fact that the president is not that much into them.  That he would rather hang out with Larry Summers or flirt with Olympia Snowe or play war games late into the night with Gen.  Petraeus. 

And there is something about that, too, plus the fact that he has compromised his own arch narrative.  Remember, he set up the deficit commission before he set up a jobs commission. 

And we‘re not talking here about a marginal issue.  We‘re talking about the core issue of the Democratic Party, which is jobs and protecting the middle class and working people. 

So when you do that and when you go against your own campaign promise and allow offshore oil drilling just before the BP disaster, you don‘t draw a clear line in the sand.  I‘m not talking about absolute purity.  I mean, both parties need to be big tents. 

But when it comes to the core issues, of jobs, of protecting the environment, he hasn‘t been that clear. 

MADDOW:  But even in your response, which is about how the administration has approached these things, that‘s where I gravitate toward, too, is to say, you know what?  The president is not left enough.  The center is not left enough. 

But the people who are on the right of the Democratic Party pay essentially no electoral price for what they have done.  I mean, what ever happened to Ben Nelson for what he did?  What ever happens to Mary Landrieu for what she did? 

There‘s no - the people who even have decided to run challengers against these folks in primaries get mostly denounced by mainstream liberals. 

HUFFINGTON:  You see, I think this is the wrong frame, because I don‘t see it as a left-versus-right or left-versus-moderate.  I think, when we present it that way, we marginalize basic, fundamental positions that are for the good of this country whether you‘re conservative or liberal. 

It‘s like a country without a middle class.  It‘s a third world America country.  You know, it‘s not good for anybody.  It‘s not even good for the very rich.  We‘re going to be behind Gates protecting their kids from kidnapping with armed guards.  It‘s not good for anyone. 

And he just presented - well, the left, you know, wants a jobs bill.  Oh, my god.  What an extreme marginal position.  Or the jobs - the left doesn‘t want to extend the Bush tax cuts to the richest Americans who have already gotten the bulk of the wealth creation since 1979. 

So I feel we need to stop presenting these as left-wing positions because I think these are really positions essential to the good of America.  And why is Ben Nelson always called a moderate by the media? 

What‘s moderate about him?  Wanting to destroy the middle class, thinking you can actually control the deficit without growing the economy? 

MADDOW:  Right.  Well, you look at the record of Ben Nelson and you look at what he, personally, maneuvered to get taken out of the stimulus, and you think about what that could have done in terms of economic stimulus to this country and what we really need, what it could have done for jobs, he had no rational economic argument for trying to make the stimulus smaller. 

He just liked the idea of it being smaller.  And who gets blamed for that?  President Obama. 

HUFFINGTON:  Right.  But then - but then -

MADDOW:  It‘s a Ben Nelson problem. 

HUFFINGTON:  But then, to also answer your question again about why

isn‘t he taking on Ben Nelson, why isn‘t the president doing that -

MADDOW:  Yes.

HUFFINGTON:  Remember, he also did not adopt Christina Romer‘s proposal for a bigger stimulus bid. 

MADDOW: Right. 

HUFFINGTON:  And Lloyd George, the British prime minister, said you

cannot jump across the chasm in two leaps and that‘s what he did with the

stimulus.  And now, the other side is using this as an example of

government not working -

MADDOW:  Yes.

HUFFINGTON:  Instead of government presenting an inadequate solution. 

MADDOW:  Do you think that in the immediate future, there will be consequences for Republicans - excuse me - for Democrats who veer too far right?  So far there are very few consequences for people who do that. 

HUFFINGTON:  There may be electoral consequences depending on what happens in November because I think candidates are really misreading the polls.  I don‘t really think that the public is angry because government is too big. 

I think that the public is angry because government has been completely incompetent and not standing up for the interests of the public. 

MADDOW:  Arianna Huffington from “Huffington Post” with the new book, “Third World America,” it‘s always such a pleasure to have you here. 

HUFFINGTON:  Thank you, Rachel.  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thank you for coming in, Arianna.  Great to see you.  So given his habit of forwarding rather viciously racist E-mails, his “Yes, well, I‘m in the construction business” defense of his racist proclivity, his campaign mail that smelled like garbage, and now, the amazing no longer secret lives of his campaign staff, I am increasingly convinced that New York‘s Republican candidate for governor, Carl Paladino, may be a performance artist, because this isn‘t really happening is it?  Oh, but it is.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARL PALADINO ®, GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE IN NEW YORK:  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. 

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was Carl Paladino‘s victory speech the night he was nominated by New York Republicans to run in what is the strangest governor‘s race in the country right now. 

Despite winning, Mr. Paladino was angry about something and he wants you to share in it, delight in it, swim in that anger until you‘re all nice and prune-y.  You think he wants you to get off his lawn?  Not crazy Carl.  He wants his anger on your lawn. 

This is a lawn sign, “I‘m mad, too, Carl.”  Very, very mad.  Before Mr. Paladino was nominated by New York Republicans. The thing that had a lot of people angry at Carl Paladino was his super racist E-mail forwarding habit. 

It wasn‘t just the one where the president and first lady were Photoshopped as pimp and prostitute.  It was also the one with the chimps doing the river dance labeled “Proof the Irish discovered Africa.”  That wasn‘t the last trash Mr. Paladino would circulate. 

After he was nominated, his campaign sent out a mailer which, again, we have in our possession that literally smells like trash, sent to 200,000 New Yorkers.  He is going to clean things up, see?  Perhaps starting with your mail box when a week after he sent that to you, you still had the scent of garbage stinking up your “Sports Illustrated.”

Today we learned from the “New York Times” that campaign manager

Mr. Paladino‘s campaign manager, Michael Caputo, failed to pay nearly $53,000 in federal taxes.  His campaign chairwoman, Nancy Naples, left a local government job after claims that she diverted $1 billion dollars to an investment manager. 

John Haggerty, another adviser, has been indicted on charges that he stole more than $1 million dollars from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s reelection campaign last year.  And an aide, Russ Thompson, who often serves as Mr. Paladino‘s driver, has served jail time for a hit-and-run he committed while driving dunk. 

You now see why with each new thing we learn about Carl Paladino, my theory, my crazy thesis about him is becoming more and more convincing.  I have believed for a while now that Carl Paladino is sort of pulling a walking phoenix here. 

This is an awkward, horrible, wonderful, performance art as political campaign stunt to dramatize to all of us who are unafraid to pay attention that there is no such thing as too crazy in conservative politics this year.  Not anymore. 

Joining us now is the “New York Times” reporter who brought us the story today, Michael Barbaro.  Mr. Barbaro, it‘s nice to meet you.  Thanks for being here. 

MICHAEL BARBARO, REPORTER, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Nice to meet you. 

MADDOW:  The reporting on this in itself seemed to be interesting.  The candidate, who you called about the hit-and-run, Mr. Paladino‘s driver, was quite hostile to you when you contacted him. 

BARBARO:  Well, he wasn‘t happy to be asked about a drunk-driving incident, but I wouldn‘t be either.  We had a brief, unpleasant conversation and he cursed several times.  It might have seemed like the story that he was threatening me.  It didn‘t feel that way during the conversation, but he wasn‘t happy about it. 

This is a guy who, like many people in the Paladino campaign, does not have a conventional resume at all.  And that‘s what has made the Paladino candidacy seem so authentic and has allowed it to really connect with people in a visceral way. 

But there is a lot of baggage there that when a light is applied to it, it does not look like other campaigns and it‘s going to raise a lot of questions and could have given a lot of ammunition, I think, to his opponent, Andrew Cuomo. 

MADDOW:  I think the particular concern with these new allegations about - these new revelations really about the aides is that so much of Mr.  Paladino‘s direct appeal is that he is going to clean up Albany to have aides who have both - not just tax problems but allegations about stealing funds that they came across in the pursuit of political aims. 

It seems to directly contradict his message.  What is the substance of the allegations about the aide whose charge was stealing funds essentially from Michael Bloomberg? 

BARBARO:  Well, this was a Republican aide to Mayor Bloomberg in his last reelection campaign.  And money was put into a fund.  It was supposed to be used to police polling places, to make sure things went well on Election Day.  And $1 million dollars went missing.  Some of which was traced to the purchase of a home of this aide.  You know, he bought his father‘s house out. 

But you know, what‘s interesting, you raise this question of hypocrisy but what‘s - there is sort of a subtle genius to a lot of these tea party candidacies because the whole architecture and framework of them is outsiderism(ph).  We are not the establishment and we are not polished.  So they can sustain a lot of chinks in the armor that I think a traditional campaign, perhaps, could not. 

MADDOW:  There is the issue about whether or not Mr. Paladino is temperamentally fit for office.  And I joke about him seeming so angry he might hawk out dangerously at any moment.  But I think he is sort of cultivating that impression, almost.  “Yes, I‘m unpredictable.  I‘m going to have a baseball bat with me at any moment.” 

The E-mails that he forwarded were not just sort of these racist things, also some very, very hard core pornography which, I think, a lot of people see as almost assaultive(ph) when you actually - when you see the images of what it is that he forwarded. 

Is it possible that that is also cultivated from your reporting on the campaign?  Does it seem like that is part of the campaign message?  Or is that just who he is?

BARBARO:  I think it‘s pretty authentic.  I think Carl Paladino is a regular guy who can‘t suppress his anger.  And tonight, there was an incident with a reporter where there was a screaming match between he and a colleague of mine at the “New York Post.”  That is authentically Carl Paladino from what I‘ve seen. 

I mean, being on the phone with him is very surreal as a political reporter.  Being with him is unlike being with any other candidate because he is just not polished.  It‘s just this guy, a businessman from Buffalo.  I don‘t think that that part is cultivated. 

And the reason I don‘t think it‘s cultivated is because it is proving to be pretty dangerous, too, and it may be the thing that undoes his campaign.  I mean, to be in a screaming match with a reporter while cameras are going off and cell phone video cameras are taping - that‘s not what anybody, I think, wants their candidate to be doing. 

MADDOW:  Let alone their governor.  Michael Barbaro, reporter for the “New York Times” on this story, thanks for helping us explain this.  I really appreciate it.  Nice talking to you.

BARBARO:  Nice to talking to you. 

MADDOW:  Coming up on “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell, Lawrence interviews White House senior adviser, David Axelrod, as the White House asserts itself in the 2010 campaign. 

Next on this show, the tree of liberty must be refreshed with crayons.  Coloring book time is nearly here.  It is a doozy tonight.  Stay tuned.  We‘ll come back from recess in just a moment.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  When I was a kid, coloring books involved drawing a fire truck or a unicorn and doing crossword puzzles.  Maybe if I was feeling ambitious, completing a connect-the-dots and ditching the whole enterprise to go play Risk with my brother, David.

I was born a few generations too soon, it seems, because today‘s coloring books are better in that they allow for the possibility that the federal government is tyrannical and should be removed.  Story part ahead. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Remember when President Obama spoke to school kids at the start of the school year last year?  He gave his “work hard, stay in school” pep talk and the right freaked out and said it was indoctrination, a socialist mind control plot.  They could hear them through their fillings whenever a helicopter flew by.  They went totally nuts.

This year, when the president did another start-of-the-school year pep talk, the reaction was much more muted, I think, largely because the Republican official who was most rabid about it being indoctrination, socialist mind control and all that, this year, he‘s maybe about to go to prison now for something totally unrelated, of course. 

But it has made him feel very sorry, ex-Florida Republican Party chairman, Jim Greer.  But there‘s more a specific indication that the right may have gotten over any concern it once voiced about the indoctrination of American school kids. 

Have you seen the new tea party coloring book?  It‘s for kids.  It‘s got a lot of neat, just plain old Americana stuff.  In it, there‘s an American flag crossword puzzle.  There are lyrics to patriotic songs.  There‘s a map of the United States.  A word search for phrases and words like “Constitution,” “White House” “cap and trade.” 

I found “cap and trade” to be particularly hard to find in the word search.  It is vertical, backwards.  It‘s backwards - it‘s almost cheating - on the far right-hand side.  I had trouble with that. 

The tea party coloring also invites you to get creative and draw a tea party sign and a tea party flyer in case you, as a coloring-book-aged kid, want to attend a tea party rally and hold a sign maybe against cap and trade, maybe by writing it backwards on the far right. 

Or in case, if you were a coloring-book-aged kid wants to organize a tea party rally and make flyers to do that.  I don‘t know.  But the bulk of the book is big pictures to color with explanatory captions for the kids, like on this page with the picture of the presidential seal and the Statue of Liberty. 

It starts, “Government for the people, by the people, and of the people.  The purpose of the American government is to serve and protect the American people and work with other governments from around the world.” 

“The entire government is paid for by the American worker from taxes taken away from our paychecks.  And businesses also pay taxes to the government.  When the government does not do its job properly, we may have a tea party and fire or replace the people that run the government.” 

Now, color it in.  That‘s the first chapter.  It gets very intense very quickly.  Here‘s another chapter, “Keep government responsible.  The tea party wants a good life for all Americans.  In helping to create and maintain a better life for all people, the government must maintain a limited role and the government must follow and abide by the U.S. Constitution.”

“Sometimes the people will get upset because the federal government wastes money and will not keep good records on how the tax dollars we pay are being spent.”  Color it in.  Color it in. 

OK.  Now, health care, “Good health care for all Americans.  The tea party wants all Americans to have good health care choices and wants health care to be affordable and available to everyone.” 

Not really all that sure about that, kids.  Ask Dick Armey.  I think the whole “available to everyone” thing is supposed to be a communist plot.  Anyway, where was I?

“The government-run health care can really help people in different ways, but it cannot be the only choice.  And the people cannot be required to purchase health care from the government.” 

So says the coloring book.  I told you, for a coloring book it gets very intense very quickly.  This is a very exciting section, “What is a tax?  What is a tax?  A tax is a sum of money demanded from our government that all -“ from?  Yes.  “That all people will pay and it will use this money to support our nation.” 

“All branches of government and all politicians are paid by our tax dollars and they are supposed to use our tax dollars and help guide our country and keep our country safe from people around the world that do not like us.” 

Taxes can also be a burden.  When taxes are too high, the high tax takes away jobs and freedom.  In 1773, we had a tea party and this led to freedom from high taxes.  Today, we‘re having another tea party and this leads to freedom from high taxes again.” 

“Ask mom and dad what this means.  Ask grandma and grandpa what this means.  Ask your friends what this means.  Are you going to have your own tea party?” 

That was just the section on what is a tax?  Wait until you get to the section called “No More Taxes.”  This is a coloring book.  This is the section called “No More Taxes.” 

Under Mt. Rushmore - I wonder what those guys would think of “No More Taxes.”  “No more taxes.  The tea party will help make sure the government and politicians do not overtax and overburden the people.” 

“The purpose of our government of the people, for the people and by the people is to serve America, its citizens and businesses.  If or when the government becomes a burden or tries to control its citizens beyond reason, we have a tea party movement.” 

The tea party coloring book, ladies and gentlemen, striking revolutionary fervor into the hearts of America, one terrified anti-tax - anti-tax five-year-old at a time.  Wait, it says no more taxes, Timmy.  You color that in. 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow night.  Meanwhile, lots to add to what you‘ve seen on the show tonight.  We‘re very proud of our blog at “MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.” 

Now, it‘s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell.  Mr.

O‘Donnell, good evening.

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