updated 1/19/2011 1:36:50 PM ET 2011-01-19T18:36:50

Guests: Michael Moore, Meghan McCain, Michael Isikoff

           

(MUSIC)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening and thanks for joining us this fine Monday night.

Today at Arizona State University School of Social Work, a public memorial service was held for Gabriel Zimmerman, a 30-year-old congressional staffer in the office of Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords.  Mr. Zimmerman was one of six people, of course, killed in the mass shooting in Tucson last weekend.

Today, on the ninth day since the shooting, Congresswoman Giffords‘ physicians said they would no longer give daily briefings on her health status, saying that the congresswoman‘s recovery and progress after being shot in the head continues to be remarkable.  So much so that they said their next briefing will likely be to announce that the congresswoman is leaving the hospital to go a rehabilitation center, something that could happen in weeks but could—they stressed could—happen as soon as within a few days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. MICHAEL LEMOLE, NEUROSURGEON:  It could be a matter of days to weeks.  Again, it‘s a matter of getting all that information from our own therapist when they think she‘s ready to move forward with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Since the shooting, we‘ve also learned more about the moments and the pre-shooting behavior of the alleged killer in this case, 22-year-old Jared Loughner.  It is now reported Mr. Loughner had bought and loaded into magazines 90 rounds of ammunition prior to the shooting.  He fired 31 of those bullets into 19 separate people last Saturday morning in Tucson.  He stopped—he was stopped by heroic by standers who tackled him only when he emptied his 30-round extended magazine and it had to stop to reload.

At least some of his ammunition was purchased by Mr. Loughner at a super Wal-Mart store just before 7:30 a.m. last Saturday morning.  The shooting started that morning just past 10:00 a.m.

After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, it emerged that at least some of the ammunition that was used in that mass shooting had been purchased at a K-Mart store in Littleton, Colorado.  By the summer of 2001, Michael Moore was working on his film, “Bowling for Columbine” and he tried to get some of the ammunition that was fired to Columbine returned.

It was remarkable.  Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CASTALDO, COLUMBINE MASSACRE VICTIM:  I was shot with a TEC-9.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nine millimeter?

CASTALDO:  Yes.  Yes.  I guess it was supposed to be semiautomatic but it kind of seem like fully automatic to me, from what I remember.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER:  This Richard Castaldo and this is Mark Taylor.  Both of these boys were shot the day of the Columbine massacre.  Richard is paralyzed for life and then a wheel chair.  And Mark is barely standing after numerous operations.

MARK TAYLOR, COLUMBINE MASSACRE VICTIM:  The kids at Columbine had to pay a penalty.  We paid a penalty that day for this nation, the way we look at it.

MOORE:  Mark and Richard were disabled and suffering from the 17 cent K-Mart bullets still embedded in their bodies.  As they showed me the various entry points for the bullets, I thought of one way we can reduce the number of guns and bullets laying around.  I asked the boys if they would like to go K-Mart to return the merchandise.

Ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m (INAUDIBLE), director of human relations for K-Mart.

MOORE:  Oh, good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How can I help you today?

MOORE:  Well, I‘m here today.  This is Richard Castaldo and this is Mark Taylor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mark?

MOORE:  And they are students from Columbine High School.  They were shot at Columbine in the massacre with bullets from K-Mart.

(CROSSTALK)

TAYLOR:  I was thinking if they stopped selling hand guns and make sense to stop selling the bullets, too.  Our request is that you get rid of the 9 millimeter bullets that you don‘t sell on the store.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You are probably aware of K-Mart.  (INAUDIBLE).  We only carry, you know, sporting firearms and the accessories that go with hunting.  And we‘ll certainly take your message to our chairman and CEO who is not here today.

MOORE:  He‘s not here today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He‘s not here this whole week.

MOORE:  He‘s not at all during the week?  Do you have a limit on the number of bullets, ammunition that people can purchase?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You know, I can‘t answer these questions for you.  I‘m not the merchandiser who places those products, but I can get answers to those questions for you if you would like to leave your card and I get those answers.

MOORE:  We don‘t leave a card.  The reason why we can‘t take a card and come back because Mark here, he‘s got a K-Mart bullet just an inch away, right, from your aorta.

TAYLOR:  In between my aorta and spine.

MOORE:  In between his aorta and spine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE).

MOORE:  And I told him that somebody here would listen—would take the request seriously.  Not just a P.R. person, but somebody who has some authority and can answer some of the questions that they want answered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  K-Mart does care about this.  But I can‘t go any further right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   My name is Gloria McTavis (ph).  I‘m the vice president for K-Mart.  I‘ll deliver a statement on behalf of the company.

What happened in Columbine, Colorado, was truly tragic and touched every American.  We‘re sorry for the disadvantage to this young man.  K-Mart is phasing out the sale of handgun ammunition.

The business plan calls for this to be complete in the Continental U.S. within the next 90 days.  K-Mart representatives met with Mr. Moore and students from Columbine, Colorado yesterday and listened to their concerns about the product carried in K-Mart stores.  The company committed at the end of that meeting that K-Mart would have an answer for them within a week‘s time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  As you saw there, in 2001, K-Mart phased out selling handgun ammunition in its stores in the United States.  This was not a lifetime ago.  This was not an era of magically kinder gentler politics.  This was George Bush‘s first term.

This did not happen in the immediate aftermath of the Columbine shooting.  It was more two years after that massacre.

If you Google K-Mart hand gun ammunition today, you will find that indeed there was some gnashing of teeth about K-Mart‘s decision among the far reaches of the gun lobby.  But then you will also notice that there wasn‘t actually all that much of it.  And like all of the news coverage about K-Mart making that change, all evidence of the gun lobby complaining about K-Mart‘s decision is also dated 2001.  And then it‘s over.

Yes, there was a tiny kerfuffle about it and then the kerfuffle went away.  And 17 cent handgun bullets do not come from K-Mart any more.

In the wake of the Tucson shooting, we keep getting told any change in policy, that there can be no change in anything that affects access to guns or ammunition in our country in any way.  Any change in policy is off the table.  It‘s politically possible.  We‘re helpless to make any changes.

Why on earth would that be true now if that was not the case in 2001?

Joining us now is filmmaker Michael Moore, long time denizen of the K-Mart corporate office building in Troy, New York.  Michael, thanks for being here.

MOORE:  Troy, Michigan.

MADDOW:  Troy, Michigan.

MOORE:  Yes, yes.  Thank you for having me.

MADDOW:  “Bowling for Columbine” is a big deal and made a big impact.  It is not remembered either by the right or the left by its proponents or its detractors for the K-Mart handgun ammunition decision that you depicted there.  That is not a long standing source of controversy.  It just happened.

Do you look back on that proudly?

MOORE:  Yes.  I—as you can see in the footage, I was stunned when they came out the next day, day after I was there, and made that announcement.  And all it took was these two kids going there and making that request.

And you‘re right.  It‘s not what‘s remembered from the film.  Actually, what most people, I think if you go on YouTube, what‘s remembered is there‘s many cartoon that I wrote and put in the film about the history of the United States when it comes to guns and why we have guns, and our history of violence and fear.

But, no, the 17 cent, I was just thinking of this last week when the tragedy happened in Tucson.  And I‘ve been—I‘ve been hoping some journalist would pose the question to someone in power and just say, what is—what‘s the price, what‘s the cost of a life of a federal judge?  Seventeen cents.  That‘s all it takes.

If you got 17 cents in the United States of America, you can take the life of a federal judge and a 9-year-old child, and just about anybody else.

MADDOW:  Do you believe the common wisdom is true that no matter the shock, no matter the incident, it doesn‘t matter how people feel about what happened in Tucson or how long that feeling lasts, that we‘re really not capable of making any new policy about guns, that we just politically can‘t do it?

MOORE:  No, only the pundits say that.  I—if you just talk to people, I was talking to one of your producers who was out there in Tucson last week.  And he was saying, you know, everybody, including people who own guns, were saying that they—we need to tighten this thing up.  They do it in other countries.

They do it in Canada.  They have - they have strict gun laws in Canada.  And, of course, they don‘t have even a tenth of the murders that we have and yet they have a lot of guns in Canada.  There‘s something like over 7 million guns, firearms in people‘s homes in Canada, 7 million.  And there‘s about 10 to 11 million homes.  OK.  That‘s a lot of guns.

But they only kill a couple hundred people a year in Canada, gun murders -- 36 million people.  That‘s a lot of people, 200 murders.

Why is that?  What do they do up there?  Here‘s what they do, very simple.

To own a gun, it has to be licensed and registered.  You have to go through a safety course.  After you‘ve gone through the safety course, I don‘t mean this handgun, any guns, you then have to go through a 28-day waiting period.  During that 28-day waiting period, you have to have—you have to bring—if you are married or then married, you have to bring in a permission slip signed by your spouse or your ex-spouse saying that it‘s OK for him to have a gun.

Just a few simple rules like that, and—plus the magazines that you can‘t put, you know, you can‘t have 30 bullets.  Things like that.  That gun that was used in Tucson is illegal in Canada.  There‘s no way it‘s legal—no way you could do that in Canada.

MADDOW:  Even in a country where there are a ton of guns.

MOORE:  A ton of guns and where the number one sport is hunting.  There‘s more hunters in Canada than there are hockey players.  And yet, they don‘t kill each other, which really gets to my larger point that I really feel needs be addressed in the national discussion that‘s taking place right now, which is: why us?  Why us?  Why do we more than any other country do this?

I think it‘s more than just the laws.  There‘s a reason why we want to own these guns.  You pointed out last week that we‘re number one in gun ownership and then Yemen is—

MADDOW:  A distant number two.

MOORE:  A distant number two.

So why us?  Why do we do—why do we have this?  And the majority of these guns, I mean, the vast majority of these guns are owned by people who live in safe parts of town or mostly in suburbs and rural areas, places where there are very few murders.

And your producer was saying to me back stage here that he was talking to people there, he said everybody is packing there.  I mean, surgeons there at the hospital, they said they have guns.  Everybody has a gun.  Yet, they all said, we have a very low gun murder rate here in Tucson.

So, why do you have a gun then?  Why do you have a gun?  What are you afraid of?  What is that thing that we‘re afraid of that we want a gun in the house?

Because there‘s only something like 500 or 600 home invasion murders a year in this country.  I don‘t want to say only.  But in a nation of 310 million people, 500 people are killed through actual home invasion, the thing that we‘re all the most afraid of.

And of that 500, there‘s something—I don‘t have an exact number, but a very high percentage, I think almost a third of those, the people that are killed are killed with a gun that the criminal found in the house.  Or they have taken it away from the homeowner and killed the homeowner with it.  So—

MADDOW:  But when we imagine home invasions in the movies and our head, we‘re always not—we‘re never being disarmed of our own weapon and we‘re always being affected with it and it‘s never being used against us.

MOORE:  Yes.  I‘m loathed to bring up what is in our head because we don‘t like to talk about it so much, but on this particular day, on Martin Luther King Day, I think this needs to be said.  That imaginary person that‘s going to break into your home and kill you, who does that person look like?  You know, it‘s not freckle face Jimmy, is it really?  I mean, that‘s not really that‘s not what really people—we really don‘t want to talk about the racial or the class part of this in terms of how it‘s the poor or it‘s people of color that we imagine that we‘re afraid of.

Why are we afraid?  What is that?  And it‘s been a fear that ahs existed for a very, very long time.  And, you know, but I love this quote by Martin Luther King.  Somebody said to him one time, you know, why do we need to enact a federal anti-lynching law, you know?  I mean, you can‘t force information love each other.  You can‘t—you know, a law isn‘t going to not make someone not a racist.

And he said, yes, that‘s true.  You can‘t legalize us getting along with each other.  But I have a feeling if we pass an anti-lynching law, it probably is going to help.  And it did.

And we need these laws but we also need to address the larger issue of why are we such a violent people.  And not just personal domestic violence, but a nation that invades other countries that have such a huge weapons budget that just seems so intent on violence being the answer.  And I think that‘s the thing.  We don‘t we want to dance around here.  We‘re afraid of really talking about it.  If we can focus on something else, .we‘re going to be OK.

MADDOW:  What happens as we focus on it from tragedy to tragedy to tragedy.  The question is whether or not we stay focused on it enough to do something about it.

Michael Moore, I always feel like I‘m very lucky to have this much of your time.  Thank you for coming in here.

MOORE:  Well, thank you.  And thank you for everything that you do and the warm and fuzzy nature of everything that you create on this show and on this network.

MADDOW:  You‘re the only person who thinks of me as warm and fuzzy. 

And for that, I‘m doubly grateful for it.  Thank you very much, Michael.

MOORE:  Thanks.

MADDOW:  Good to see you.

All right.  The thing about baby steps, you know, steps taken by a baby, is that they are still steps and sometimes they even go forward.  Far be it for me to be optimistic about anything ever.  The feeling that politics might be changing for the less horrible in our country after the shock in Tucson, that feeling is not only fading, it is gaining strength.  I know.  I‘m trying to maintain my usual dark cloud viewpoint in the midst of this oppressive silver lining, but it‘s getting harder.  For some perspective on this, the very reasonable Meghan McCain will join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Blogger, author, eyewitness to a presidential campaign and unwilling irritant to her own beloved Republican Party, Meghan McCain joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Tomorrow afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives will officially return to regular session in Washington.  The House returns 10 days after the shooting in Arizona, not only shocked the country but knocked American politics at least temporarily off its axis.  As the political world rights itself again, despite all of the cynicism everyone feels about the prospect of things changing for the better for the long haul, American politics does feel a little bit different now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  Here‘s a mentally deranged person who

had access to a gun that shouldn‘t have had access to a gun.  Now, what is

how do we stop that, and there‘s a hole in what we need to do.  And I‘m willing to work with Senator Schumer or anybody else who wants to make sure that people who are mentally ill cannot get and use a gun.

           

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of the most—if not the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate indicating a willingness he says to work with Democratic Senator Charles Schumer or anybody he says on at least that one aspect of gun control.

Now, it‘s also true that Tom Coburn was also asked if he‘d consider reinstating the ban on high-capacity magazines, like the ones used in Tucson.  He was not willing to go that far.  But Senator Coburn did suggest some grounds on which to move forward on a gun control issue.

This is new.  That‘s taking place in the Senate.

Over in the House, Republican Congressman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and Democratic Congresswoman Grace Napolitano of California who jointly founded the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, these two now say they want to lead a bipartisan effort on their side of the Capitol to look at some of the same issues.

I realize it‘s early yet, but nobody thought this whole constructive spirit of working together thing was going last this long after this tragedy.  So, it is worth noting that it is still happening.

Here‘s another instance: a small step—a symbolic step but a step nonetheless and one that deserves some attention, here‘s how the newly empowered Republican leadership in the House had been talking about their goal of repealing health reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:   We‘re taking these first steps to repeal the job-killing health care law.  The job-killing health care law.  The job-killing health care law.  The job-killing spending binge.  This is a job-killing bill.  Job-killing health care law.  Repeal this job-killing bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I do not think that John Boehner watches this show.  I should preface this by saying it.  But we did actually note on this show on Friday night that it might be a nice thing if they dropped the whole “killing” thing out of the health reform repeal effort for this week.  They appear at least in part to be doing that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  In the last few days, Speaker John Boehner has tempered his language, calling the health care law, job-crushing and job-destroying instead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Now, granted crushing and destroying versus killing—it‘s a small step but it is a step.  Of course, the actual title of the health reform bill does still that have phrase “job-killing” in it.  That bill is expected to be debated on Wednesday.

But if you take a look at the bigger picture here, the vitriol around this whole issue of health reform, the vitriol that caused them, I‘m sure to call it job-killing in the first place, that vitriol has dissipated somewhat.

Check out this headline today.  “Opposition to healthcare law eases, poll finds.”  Nobody should base a political decision or even a political analysis on one poll, but this “A.P.” poll does show something interesting in the politics here.  The “A.P.” says its poll shows the nation is still divided about health reform but, quote, “the strength and intensity of the opposition appears diminished.  Only about one in four respondents say they want to do away with the law completely.

Even among Republicans support is dropping for health reform repeal.  Less than half of Republicans now say to repeal health reform compared to 61 percent just few weeks ago.

Now, granted this is just a snapshot of a few different things that are going on in American politics right now, but things do feel different.  Policy ultimately matters more than politics, gestures I think matter less than votes do.  But as we get further away from the events that shocked the country in Tucson, symbolic gestures of, I guess, fellowship among people in public service seem to be gaining more momentum.  They do not seem to be losing momentum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  My colleague, Senator Mark Udall, called for Democrats and Republicans to sit together at the State of the Union.  I called up Tom after he did that and he graciously agreed we‘re going to sit together Wednesday night at the State of the Union and we hope that many others will follow us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Now, having members of the Congress of different parties sit together at the State of the Union address, rather than divided along partisan lines, that is not the sort of thing that alone heals the nation, but it is a sign that something has happened in the nation.  And that idea is becoming more popular not less with each passing day and that want seems important.  At last count, 22 senators have signed on a letter saying they support this effort.  They plan to break the partisan line at the president‘s State of the Union address.

Today, the “Boston Herald” reports that Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts is signing on as well.  At a Martin Luther King, Jr.  breakfast in Boston this morning, Senator Brown said, quote, “I‘ll sit wherever they put me.  I don‘t care.  People need to forget about the little itty-bitty letter behind my name and other people‘s names.”

And so, it is that the man whose election was cheered as a more partisan victory than any other election victory now says he doesn‘t want to you think of him as a Republican anymore.  Just think about him as an itty-bitty senator from Massachusetts.

I‘m kidding.  I‘m kidding.  I kid because I love.  You‘re enormous, Senator.  I kid.  I mean it in a nice way.

Tomorrow, the House is back in session.  On Wednesday, Republicans are going to try to repeal health reform and as far as we know, killing is still going to be in the title of that bill.  The cynicism that has been widely expressed about the improvement in the tone of politics is a cynicism that frankly is hard-earned and well-earned.  But still, it is true that change is possible and I swear I am seeing some signs.

Joining us now is Meghan McCain, columnist for “The Daily Beast” and author of “Dirty Sexy Politics.”

Meghan, it‘s great to have you back on the show.  Thank you for joining us.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, THE DAILY BEAST:  Thank you so much for having me on, Rachel.

MADDOW:  You, of course, are an Arizona native, born and raised there.  Do you think what happened in Tucson changed the country?  Do you think that politicians will not only talk about point differently but also talk to each other differently in any sort of sustainable way?

MCCAIN:  Well, I certainly hope so.  I mean, I think what we‘re seeing now is a cultural shift.  And all of these things that a lot of us have been saying about the rhetoric in politics has really come to a fever pitch right now.  Even though it‘s a horrible tragedy, I think it‘s very healthy that this discussion is taking place right now.

MADDOW:  I saw after President Obama‘s speech at the public memorial in Tucson, you were public in your praise of President Obama‘s speech.  Is it as somebody who is one of the most outspoken, most recognizable young Republicans in the country—is it OK among Republicans for you to have done that in that moment?

MCCAIN:  You know, I did praise President Obama‘s speech.  I thought it was very presidential.  And although I obviously disagree with him politically, very inspiring.  No one makes a speech like President Obama, we know this.

But you have to give him credit where credit is due.  My father wrote an op-ed today or yesterday in “The Washington Post” saying the same thing.

The sad thing that happens there was a lot of sort of pushback online, calling me a Republican in name only and, of course, she supports Obama and I think this is what is really completely dangerous that‘s going on in politics right now is you can‘t support another side without being called somehow unfaithful to your own party.

MADDOW:  Do you see any hope for that changing?  I feel like that‘s something that you and I have talked about before, even just on this show about that prospect that I wonder if this tragedy in Tucson and the dialogue that it has inspired might weaken that at least, or make the people who engaging that demonization at least feel stupid about it?

MCCAIN:  You know, I get up every morning and I believe in idealism in politics and I believe in coming together and I wouldn‘t be able to do what I do every single day if at the very core of this believed in this.  I grew up in politics.  I‘ve seen the worst that politics has to offer, the most disgusting behavior and what it does to people.

And I still wake up every day thinking that politics can be a more inclusive place, and what I dedicate my entire life to.  If I didn‘t believe hat, then I wouldn‘t be able to sit here right now.

MADDOW:  Crossing from that sentiment about politics into the thing about how that might work out in policy, gun control is getting a national discussion again in the wake of the shooting.  I know you are a strong Second Amendment supporter.  You‘re a member of the NRA, I think remember.

MCCAIN:  I am.  And I‘m a member of the NRA.

MADDOW:  My first date with Susan was at a NRA lady‘s day on the range event.  That‘s as close I‘ve ever gotten to the NRA, but I‘m still very proudly of that today. But like there is that tiny bit of common ground between us on this do you think there‘s common ground—

MCCAIN:  You can come with me to the next NRA convention.  I‘ll take you with me.  How about that?

MADDOW:  Yes, I accept.  Absolutely.

MCCAIN:  We‘ll go together.  OK.

MADDOW:  If we—if we can have that common ground on that issue about which I bet we have al sorts of different opinions, politically, do you think there‘s common ground for Republicans and Democrats to talk about at least around the edges of gun control, talk about extend magazines, talk about tightening up the records around mental illness and background checks?

MCCAIN:  Of course.  And when it comes to extended magazines and things like this, I mean, I am an NRA member, but I don‘t think that anyone really needs to be walking around with a semi-assault rifle on the street which in my state is legal.  I am familiar with guns, not as familiar as my brothers, and I just think that we definitely need to re-analyze the gun laws in this country.

I mean, somehow this lunatic slipped through the cracks and was able to get a hold of this gun and shot a 9-year-old girl point blank in the face.  I mean, I am a strong Second Amendment supporter, but I also think that there‘s obviously room for analyzing the kind of gun laws in this country.

MADDOW:  I think that what you just said is spectacularly uncontroversial every where except among the people who usually debate gun laws.  I think that‘s—I think that‘s why the common wisdom on that is wrong.

I have one last question for you.  There‘s this movement for Democrats and Republicans to sit together at the State of the Union, to get rid of that, the—really a convention by which they divide themselves by the aisle of the House of Representatives.

Do you think that is a meaningful gesture or do you think that is sort of nice but meaningless?

MCCAIN:  No.  I think it‘s a meaningful gesture.  Where it goes from there, I‘m really curious I think as you are to see where all of this pontificating goes.  I really hope that politics in the Senate can actually become a more inclusive place.  Is this going to happen?  I certainly hope so.  We‘ll see.

MADDOW:  Meghan McCain columnist for “The Dirty Beast,” the author of “Dirty, Sexy Politics” and the person will take me to the next NRA convention that will have me, which is very exciting.  Thank you, Meghan.   

MCCAIN:  I‘m going to hold you to that.  You think I‘m not going to take you?  I‘m bringing you.  We‘ll see. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Next time I see you in person, we‘ll shake hands. 

MCCAIN:  Thank you for having me on. 

MADDOW:  Thanks a lot, Meghan.  All right.  As you‘re probably aware, today marks the 25th consecutive year that we, as a country, have celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a federal holiday. 

For 25 Januarys in a row now, MLK Day has been recognized as a federal holiday in this country.  And that means two things.  First, it means a whole generation of Americans cannot remember a time when there was not a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Secondly, the gargantuan struggle that occurred to get this country to get this federal holiday for Dr. King in the first place has started to be forgotten.  Consider that history recovered from the memory hole tonight.  Please stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We introduced on this show a stupidity test about two weeks ago.  We issued an open invitation for members of Congress to take part in this test. 

The test involves what is sort of the military‘s version of the printer/scanner/fax/copier all in one, the military‘s version of an all-in-one office machine that does everything but does nothing well. 

It‘s a tank boat called the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  It‘s supposed to be a tank that swims.  But in order to swim, it doesn‘t really function very well as a tank.  It doesn‘t do a good job protecting folks on the inside from anything that is exploding on the outside. 

So instead of spending $13 billion more on this no-good, very bad tank boat, on top of the $3 billion that the military has spent on it already, the Pentagon now wants to get rid it. 

The Pentagon now wants to scrap the whole thing.  Enter the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s stupidity test.  Now that the military wants to kill this super-expensive, failed, falls-apart, breaks-down paper weight of a poor excuse for a nonmilitary vehicle, who is against letting them kill it? 

The results of this stupidity test, it turns out, are surprising, and they‘re in.  And they‘re next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The top lawyer at the Pentagon last week hit a nerve that nobody really knew was as raw as it was until he hit it when he said this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEH JOHNSON, GENERAL COUNSEL, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE:  I

believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world and that our nation‘s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  A lot of people, particularly people on the left, have interpreted that comment from Jeh Johnson as the Pentagon trying to get a posthumous endorsement from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for America‘s currents wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

I personally do not think that Jeh Johnson was saying that.  But the fact that his comment was greeted that way, greeted furiously that way, shows you how the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is still, in some ways, unresolved. 

The legacy of Dr. King, Jr. as an American giant for civil rights, but also one against poverty and for peace - these are still contested grounds in which Americans are really emotionally invested. 

Given all that, consider also that when we had the first federal holiday marking Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s birthday 25 years ago, that was the 25-year anniversary of the most famous speech about war and peace in America in the last 100 years. 

Today, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is 25 years old.  Today, Dwight Eisenhower‘s farewell address to the nation, the famous military industrial complex, that speech today is 50 years old. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DWIGHT EISENHOWER, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armament industry.  American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. 

But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense.  We have been compelled to create a permanent armament industry of vast proportions.  Added to this, 3.5 million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. 

We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.  We recognize the imperative need for this development.  Yet, we must not fail comprehend its grave implications.  Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved. 

So is the very structure of our society.  In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. 

The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.  We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Here‘s what‘s astonishing about that speech even today, 50 years after it was delivered.  As astonishing as it was the day it was given, there‘s Dwight Eisenhower, right, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II, a five-star army general who more Americans think of him as man in a military uniform than a man in a business suit, a man who took a nation from 1,000 nuclear bombs when he started as president to 18,000 nuclear bombs when he left as president. 

And here he was, talking about defense spending becoming its own engine.  Here‘s Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Eisenhower, warning us that defense is taking over the lion‘s share of every American budget, leaving every other priority in this country, everything else we want to do in this country fighting over the scraps of what‘s left after defense gets what it wants. 

Ike said that in 1961.  One of the great unanswered questions of 2011 is whether or not the new supposed anti-spending zealotry in Washington this year means that defense will be cut, too or whether defense gets to keep growing indefinitely - indefinitely, inexorably because we‘re all still living in the world Ike described 50 years ago. 

Michael Isikoff, NBC‘s national investigative correspondent, has been looking into the new Congress and its approach to historically untouchable, uncuttable(ph) spending.  Mike, thanks very much for joining us.  What have you been finding? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Rachel, what I‘ve been finding is the military industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned about is as awesome and as powerful as ever.

And we‘ve seen some pretty dramatic examples in just the last two weeks.  Secretary Gates announced that he wanted to cut some $78 billion from the Pentagon budget, unnecessary, unneeded programs.

And you would think in this current environment in which cutting discretionary spending has been identified across the board as the absolute number one priority in Washington, he would get a receptive hearing. 

In fact, what he got was a ferocious pushback from members of Congress who have gotten generous campaign checks from defense contractors who would be identified for cutting and/or who have defense plants in their district which would lose jobs. 

It‘s the military industrial complex in full play.  Two examples that really left out - one is that Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle for the Marines that you mentioned, and we‘ll get to that in a moment. 

Another one that‘s pretty interesting is the alternate engine for the joint strike fighter brought to you by General Electric, which, of course, owns this network for at least currently, and Rolls Royce. 

In both cases, and certainly in the joint strike fighter case, both the Bush administration and the Obama administration targeted this for elimination saying we don‘t need two engines for the same airplane.  It creates all sorts of logistical problems.  It‘s a waste of money. 

And in fact, Congress consistently has pushed back, both getting

both because of large campaign checks and also a ferocious and awesome lobbying campaign by General Electric and Rolls Royce. 

In fact, one kind of an example that I thought was kind of fun is, right now, everybody in Washington reads that “Politico” Mike Allen‘s playbook every morning.  Well, all last week, the week after Gates made his announcement, you would have gotten that playbook sponsored by GE and Rolls Royce plugging the alternate engine for the joint strike fighter. 

Who is for the joint strike fighter?  Well, let‘s start with the Speaker of the House, John Boehner.  He said in an interview with Brian Williams two weeks ago that cutting defense spending would be on table. 

But he‘s a big supporter of the alternate engine.  Why?  The Evendale, Ohio plant where the engine is primarily made, right outside his district.  Who else?  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.  He‘s got a Rolls Royce plant in his district. 

Who else?  Mike Pence, the deficit hawk, arch-deficit hawk, got a Rolls Royce plant in his district in Indiana.  Now, it‘s one to be bipartisan about this. 

Among those who are trumpeting pushing hard last week, writing the White House letters on this to release funding for the joint strike fighter, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio, trying to protect those jobs in Ohio.  It‘s the military industrial complex at work. 

MADDOW:  But Mike, you mentioned the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle as well.  We highlighted that as a stupidity test for Congress.  Who is going to fight to safe this very expensive, over-budget thing that doesn‘t really work, that the military doesn‘t want?  Do we have results yet on that stupidity test? 

ISIKOFF:  Yes, we do.  And I‘m afraid some of the very same characters, Sherrod Brown, Democratic senator from Ohio.  Why?  Lima, Ohio has one of the plants that the EFV is being made. 

But who else?  The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Howard McKeon, and the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees it, Aiken of Missouri, both got maxed-out contributions from the maker of the EFV, General Dynamics. 

And by the way, if you were looking for any better example of the military industrial complex, take a look at General Dynamics, a company that spends millions on campaign contributions, millions on lobbying Congress. 

And just for fun, I looked at its board of directors the other day.  And of the 10 board of directors, at least five former admirals, former generals, top Pentagon officials, the revolving door from the Pentagon and the military to the defense establishment helping to keep those defense dollars flowing. 

MADDOW:  Michael Isikoff, NBC‘s national investigative correspondent, I‘ve been looking forward to getting your report on this for a very long time since I knew it was coming.  Mike, thanks a lot.  I really appreciate it.

ISIKOFF:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  So I don‘t know if the civility trend is going to last in politics.  But I know someone in politics picked a bad time to debut the phrase “kiss my butt” in making his latest political point.  Today‘s Mr.  Classy Pants award, coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Programming note.  Tomorrow night, on this show, we are pleased to have as our guest, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  That‘s tomorrow night, right here.  Please cancel your other plans.  I can write you a doctor‘s note if you need me to.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  On the 25th anniversary today of there being a federal holiday in honor of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the news gods today decided to remind us of the importance of this holiday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. PAUL LEPAGE (R-ME):  They‘re special interests.  End of story.  I‘m not going to be held hostage by any special interests.  And if they want, they can look in my family picture. 

My son happens to be black.  So they can do whatever they‘d like about it.  But the fact is, there are only so many hours in day, so many days in a week and so much that you can do. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER:  And what‘s your response to them saying this is more than just one instance, but rather a pattern. 

LEPAGE:  Tell them to kiss my butt.  You know, this is not about - if they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Gov. Paul LePage of Maine there, talking about the NAACP.  To his credit, the family picture to which Gov. LePage of Maine refers to there includes a young man who is a Jamaican immigrant, who was informally adopted as a teenager by the LePage family after the young man‘s father caddied for Mr. LePage on a golf trip to Jamaica. 

Also to Gov. LePage‘s credit, he did attend a King Holiday breakfast today in Waterville, Maine, where he used to be the mayor.  The governor has agreed to meet with the NAACP at a later date.

But today, at least, whoever it is at the NAACP apparently can still kiss governor LePage butt.  In the Charlotte Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina, kids today had to go to school today despite the holiday in order to make up a snow day. 

Some parents held their kids out of school in protest.  The local NAACP organized a march.  You may also have read reports today about a Colorado radio station owner who, four times a day, is playing an anti-Martin Luther King editorial on his radio station.  The editorial accuses Dr. King of being a plastic god, a sexual degenerate and America-hating communist. 

The reason I am on camera right now, reading you the quotes instead of showing you a picture of the radio station owner or showing you anything about the radio station is because I‘m sure that would satisfy this radio station owner way too much. 

He is in Greeley, Colorado.  If you are curious, you can look him up.  Congressman John Conyers is the man who first introduced legislation providing for a federal holiday to honor Martin Luther King.  Conyers did that on April 8th, 1968, four days after Dr. King was assassinated. 

The legislation creating the federal MLK holiday did not even get a vote in the House of Representatives until 11 years after Mr. Conyers first introduced it.  And when it did come up for a vote, it did not pass.  It lost by five votes. 

The first time a King Holiday Bill passed the House was in August, 1983.  Ninety members of the House voted against it.  When it passed the Senate later that year, 22 senators voted against it. 

Despite the fact he had originally opposed the idea of a King Holiday, President Reagan did sign the bill establishing it to begin in 1986, eighteen years after Dr. King was killed. 

Even after that date, only 27 states and D.C. observed the holiday.  In Arizona, a Republican governor named Evan Mecham fulfilled a campaign promise by immediately rescinding the holiday once he was inaugurated. 

Arizona didn‘t recognize it officially until 1993.  New Hampshire first adopted something they called Civil Rights Day in place of the MLK holiday until 1999 when then governor, current U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen officially decided to change the state‘s day - the name of the state - the name of the day in the state to Martin Luther King Day. 

South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges made Martin Luther King, Jr.  Day a paid holiday for all state employees in his state as of the year of 2000 - South Carolina, the last state to make it so. 

Prior to that, South Carolinians were given the option of honoring Dr. King that day or honoring a confederate general.  Seriously?  Seriously.  And it‘s not as uncommon as you might think. 

As many as five states, at one time, honored both Confederate General Robert E. Lee whose birth date is January 19th and Dr. King at the same time on the same third Monday in January. 

Virginia upped the ante by celebrating those two together along with Confederate General Stonewall Jackson whose birthday was January 21st.  So in Virginia, it was all one same day, Lee-Jackson-King day. 

But now, today, all 50 states and the federal government recognize Martin Luther King‘s birthday as a federal holiday.  It was not ever thus.  This was something that was hard to do and only recently achieved.

And as today‘s headlines attest, the holiday is something that is still contested, still being fought over, still worth fighting for, which is the point. 

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

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.  All materials herein are protected by

United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,

transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written

permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,

copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>

PASTE THE TRANSCRIPT HERE, LEAVE THE BELOW PART ALONE

WATCH 'THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW' WEEKDAYS AT 9:00 P.M. ON MSNBC.