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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, January 12th, 2011, special show

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests:, Chris Jansing, Eugene Robinson, Chris Hayes, Welton Gaddy

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening.

President Obama and approximately 26,000 other people both inside and outside of the McKale Center at the University of Arizona gathered tonight in Tucson to remember the victims of Saturday‘s mass shootings in that city.  If the first four days following the crime felt as if they had been dominated by the suspect in the case, who he is, what might have motivated him to carry out this attack, if that was what the first four days felt like, this day, day five, saw the country turn entirely to the victims.

As we mentioned, President Obama leading mourners tonight in Tucson.  The city lost six of its own, a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge among them.  All day today outside the arena, students and hundreds if not thousands of others waited for hours for a chance do get into tonight‘s service, waited for a chance to pay their respects.  The line stretching several blocks long.

The president was accompanied to Tucson by the first lady, by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and by members of Arizona‘s congressional delegation.

The new speaker of the House, John Boehner, was also reportedly offered a seat on Air Force One to attend the event.  Mr. Boehner instead stayed in Washington.  He did not attend tonight‘s service.  The newspaper “Roll Call” reporting that Speaker Boehner stayed behind to host an event for the Republican National Committee, a cocktail party.  The party took place at the same time as the event in Tucson, an aide to the speaker said Mr.  Boehner planned to leave the party before the president began his remarks tonight.

Today was the day that Speaker John Boehner was to have led a debate on the Republican effort to repeal health reform.  Instead, House members passed a resolution to honor their colleague, Gabrielle Giffords.  The congresswoman from Tucson who held the community outreach event that was the scene of Saturday‘s attack.

Gabrielle Giffords remains hospitalized, of course.  Her physicians say they are optimistic for her chances of survival.  The president tonight in his remarks departing from his prepared speech to make news about some dramatic progress in Gabrielle Giffords‘ medical recovery.  We‘ll have that sound for you in just a moment.  It was greeted with almost ecstatic applause tonight at the University of Arizona.

In Tucson this afternoon, President Obama president and first lady did visit with Congresswoman Giffords and other wounded survivors at the University Medical Center.  Then it was on to tonight‘s service.

Tonight‘s service managed to reflect the fact that it took place in a sporting arena, down to the cheering crowds.  But it also honestly functioned as almost a thousand-strong support group.  Lots of people were hugging as they went inside.

“Nightly News” tonight interviewed people lined up before they went inside.  People talked about the need to participate in an act of emotional catharsis with other people who were feeling the same way they were.  Lots of cheering from the crowd tonight each time survivors or their families arrived.

Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, the former Arizona governor, you see her here sitting here with astronaut Mark Kelly.  Astronaut Mark Kelly is, of course, Congresswoman Giffords‘ husband.

The president hugged Captain Kelly when he arrived.  On the president‘s other side tonight at the event, the man sitting next to him, best seat in the house, was Daniel Hernandez, the 20-year-old intern in Congresswoman Gifford‘s office who ran toward the sound of gunfire and then administered critical first aide to the congresswoman until paramedics arrived.  He is credited with perhaps having saved Congresswoman Giffords‘ life.

The president‘s other side was—Mr. Hernandez‘s other side, excuse me, was former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor, who, of course, is an Arizona native and a former Arizona lawmaker.

When Daniel Hernandez was recognized tonight he received a huge standing ovation from the crowd, political dignitaries included.


DANIEL HERNANDEZ, JR., REP. GIFFORDS‘ INTERN:  Although I appreciate the sentiment, I must humbly reject the use of the word hero, because I am not one.  The people who are the heroes are people like Pam Simon, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Gabe Zimmerman, who unfortunately we lost that day, Ron Barber, the first responders, and also people like Dr. Rhee who have done an amazing job at making sure that Gabby is OK.  And those who were injured are being treated to the best of our ability.



MADDOW:  As Mr. Hernandez rejected the mantle of hero, so too did everyone inside the arena seemed to reject politicizing the event.  It was remarkable for a memorial service.  I think off-putting to some people at first, but it ended up becoming one of the more remarkable features of this event.  And I think an emotionally important part of it.

The crowd cheered loudly, not just the arrivals of the survivors and their families and the dignitaries, the crowd loudly cheered mentions of everything from the Mexican heritage of the Native American professor you see here who led the blessing at the beginning of the service.  They cheered that.

They also loudly cheered Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who, of course, has been a lightning rod for criticism of the anti-immigration law, SB-1070, that she signed as governor.  Of course, Governor Brewer herself has been fiercely critical of.  She‘s even been confrontational with President Obama on political matters, including that immigration bill.  Tonight, Governor Brewer was gracious and generous in offering the president thanks and recognition for his presence at the event.  Governor Jan Brewer and President Obama resembling nothing so much as a united front in offering leadership and comfort in the wake of this tragedy.

As I said, at times especially at first, I think the cheering—the sound of the cheering was almost unsettling, because this was a memorial event.  But once you realized that it was going to happen, ultimately I think the cheering—at least to me, was almost as moving as the sober and somber words that were said at the lectern—including the words, of course, from President Obama, here giving a description of exactly what it was that a gunman‘s bullets interrupted and took away on Saturday morning.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff and many of her constituents gathered outside the supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech.


OBAMA:  They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy and vision by our founders—representatives of the people answering questions to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns back to our nation‘s capital.  Gabby called it “Congress on Your Corner”—just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.  And that quintessentially American scene, that was the scene that was shattered by a gunman‘s bullets.


MADDOW:  The president today gave long, detailed descriptions of each of the victims.  We had heard from the White House that this might be the way the president‘s speech fit together, that he had spoken with families of the victim, had detailed personal conversations with them, and that we might expect some of those personal details to be conveyed tonight by the president at this service—on this day, this service, to remember those victims and to remember, of course, the families that they left behind.


OBAMA:  And then there is 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green.  Christina was an A student.  She was a dancer.  She was a gymnast.  She was a swimmer.

She decided that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the Major Leagues.  And as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her.


OBAMA:  She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age.  She‘d remind her mother, we are so blessed.  We have the best life.  And she would pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate.

Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing.


MADDOW:  Arguably the most moving moments were joyous moments when the president departed from his remarks, the president describing a scene today inside Congresswoman Giffords‘ hospital room.  Again, this was not in his speech, but the reaction tells you how important it was to hear this news that had never been heard before.


OBAMA:  Our hearts are full of hope and thanks for the 13 Americans who survived the shooting, including the congresswoman many of them went to see on Saturday.  I have just come from the University Medical Center just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover, even as we speak.

And I want to tell you, her husband Mark is here, and he allows me to share this with you.  Right after we went to visit, a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues from Congress were in the room, Gabby opened her eyes for the first time.


OBAMA:  Gabby opened her eyes for the first time.


OBAMA:  Gabby opened her eyes.


OBAMA:  Gabby opened her eyes so I can tell you she knows we are here, she knows we love her, and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey.  We are there for her.


MADDOW:  The president actually making news there, with news of progress in Congresswoman Giffords‘ recovery.  Those remarks, a departure from his prepared statement.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand later confirming that she was in the room along with Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.  And it was during their visit, along with Congresswoman Giffords‘ husband that Gabby opened her eyes for the first time.  Again, that from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

The crowd at the event tonight came to its feet again and again and again as the president singled out the heroes from the tragedy, all of them who stepped up and stepped forward that day.  He told Mr. Hernandez no matter how much Mr. Hernandez said he did not want to be considered a hero, he would be considered a hero.

The president said tonight that a national conversation has begun.  He said not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws, to the adequacy of our mental health systems, the president deciding not to weigh-in on the merits of those debates, at least not tonight and not in this setting.  But he called the debate itself an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

Of course, much of the national conversation has been about not just policy, not just politics, but how we debate those things.  How we talk, how we debate, how we fight politically, and whether or not the tenor of our debates is at fault.  Is it connected to violence like this?  To that debate, the president tonight added this:


OBAMA:  At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized.  And a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do, it‘s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we‘re talking with each other in a way that heals not in a way that wounds.



MADDOW:  The president also saying tonight, what we can‘t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one other.  As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.  He said, “If, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths usher in more civility in our public discourse, let‘s remember, that it is not because of a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation in a way that would make them proud.”

We will be right back with Chris Jansing outside the memorial.



OBAMA:  We may not be able to stop all evil in the world.  But I know that how we treat one another, that‘s entirely up to us.


OBAMA:  And I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness.  And that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.


MADDOW:  Chris Jansing is at the McKale Memorial Center on the University of Arizona campus.  She joins us now from there tonight.

Chris, thanks very much for joining us.  What can you tell us about the scene tonight, the crowd, the feeling there?

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  What struck me so much, Rachel, is that the tone of that memorial was very much like what I felt over the last five days here in Tucson; that this is a community that is both sorrowful, and hopeful.  Obviously, they are devastated, understandably devastated by the violence that happened here.  They are asking, why?

It‘s a question that may never be answered.  But to have the president come and speak the words that he spoke.  To have Janet Napolitano, to have a Supreme Court justice, is in many ways a recognition that the country understands the depth and the breadth of what they are feeling here.

But you also mentioned the cheers and the standing ovations.  And that‘s about the hope, that moment when the president surprised everyone and said that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes.  And you saw the first lady hugging her husband, and that moment, that really sort of crystallized that everyone here wants to believe that things can and will get better.

It was a chance, too, for this community, almost 26,000 people inside and outside the McKale Center, to recognize their heroes, even if they don‘t want to be called heroes.  Daniel Hernandez, Patricia Maisch, to come together and say “thank you” in a way that they haven‘t been able to do so far.

You know, there will be a lot more tears here.  The funerals begin tomorrow.  But the local newspaper had an editorial.  And they addressed it to President Obama.  And it started by saying, “Despite tragedy, this is a good town.”  And I think that this memorial tonight was a chance for this community to affirm that—Rachel.

MADDOW:  Chris, I know you have been in Tucson since the day of the shooting.  I know you got there on Saturday.  When you‘ve been talking with people who live in Tucson about what happens next, and about coming to terms with the enormity of this tragedy there—is the memorial service itself a useful catharsis, a useful point of closure?

Everything that is sort of imposed on the timeline at this point is artificially imposed.  There‘s no—there will be no other event as grave as the one that caused this tragedy in the first place.  But has this—has this memorial been a real point of community focus, as people are thinking about how to move on to the next stage here?

JANSING:  You know, Rachel, “closure” is an interesting word.  And I don‘t know that I would use it in this context or any other when there has been such a devastating event.  But I had a chance to talk to Frank Keating today, who was the governor in Oklahoma City, when they had their devastating bombing of the Murrah Building.  And he said something that I‘ve heard from people here as well, that there is always a chance, at this stage, for when people have a sense of community.  When they feel like they‘re not alone, their city is with them, their state is with them, that they can, at least, begin so look for something good to come out of it.

Now, they may disagree about what that may be, although I have heard—many people I‘ve talked to talk about hoping this leads to a more civil discourse.  It may not lead to any agreement on issues that are roiling about, like gun control.  But I do think it is an important first step, a recognition of what happened here.  And the idea that there are so many people out there supporting them.

To a person, I will tell you, Rachel, and I‘ve talked to all of those people we‘ve called heroes, I‘ve talked to the victims, I‘ve talked to ordinary people who are grieving this, and they say that they have felt the support of the American people.  And it is what this country is really great at.

And so, in that sense, I think what happened here tonight is very important.  If it‘s toward closure, if that‘s the word you want to use.

MADDOW:  That is one of the most heartening things that I‘ve heard tonight, in a night that has been very heartening.

Chris Jansing, host of “Jansing & Company” which will continue coverage from Tucson starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow—Chris, thank you so much for helping us cover this.  I really appreciate it.

JANSING:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  The McKale Center in Tucson is usually the site of University of Arizona basketball games.  Tonight, it was the site of a massive memorial service attended by thousands.  More than 13,000 people inside the arena,  more than 13,000 people who showed up to attend the event and could not get in were accommodated in an overflow venue.

Our friend the Reverend Welton Gaddy joins us life next as our coverage continues.


OBAMA:  I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it.  I want America to be as good as she imagined it.  All of us, we should do everything we can do to make sure this country lives up to our children‘s expectations!




OBAMA:  What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other.  If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate as it should, let‘s make sure it‘s worthy of those we have lost.


OBAMA:  Let‘s make sure it‘s not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle.


MADDOW:  An incident like the shooting in Arizona is, of course, first an emergency.  The crime must be stopped, the killer must be subdued and apprehended, the victims must be saved.

Next, it is a tragedy for those victims specifically, and their families, for the survivors.  There‘s a reason that these faces are becoming as well-known to us now as that of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  We honor these people who lived through this, and those who did not survived this.  We honor the people who were there, the people against whom this crime was directly committed.

Today, with a resolution in the House condemning the tragedy and honoring the victims, and, of course, at tonight‘s memorial service, the memorial service you have just seen in Tucson.  Today was the day set aside to honor the survivors and those who were killed.

But for the rest of us who had the fortune to not be directly affected by Tucson, an emergency and tragedy like this becomes sort of a test.

For public figures, in particular, it is a test of whether or not they can get their eyes off their own feet, and up to the horizon—whether they can see past whatever‘s in the political foreground, to the big picture.  Whether they can ignore who‘s up and down in politics, and instead lead the whole country, and help the whole country, and earn their place in the public esteem by reconnecting us to the sources of strength that we can all call on—our shared values, the pillars of our democracy that endure in difficult times.  This is a test.  It is a hard test.

Joining us now is Reverend Welton Gaddy; he is pastor of the North Minster Baptist Church in Monroe, Louisiana.  He is head of the Interfaith Alliance.  And he is the man we have turned to on this show again and again to talk about leadership and responsibility, especially in times of crisis.

Welton, thank you—thank you for your time again tonight.

REV. WELTON GADDY, PRES., INTERFAITH ALLIANCE:  Thank you, Rachel.  Glad to be with you.

MADDOW:  What is the most important purpose of a memorial like this?  And did President Obama help achieve that tonight?

GADDY:  I thought President Obama was at his rhetorical best.  And when he‘s on, he‘s really on.  The speech that he gave was very personal, almost individual at times; it was also presidential; it was filled with reason and emotion in a proper balance.

He talked about the past and the future.  He comforted families.  He also tried to address the nation.

I thought he was very strong on the lines, and that he was powerful between the lines.  What he said was important.  What he implied in what he said may even have been more important.

Comfort is important in the time like this.  And he comforted the people, as Isaiah had called to be done.

But, Rachel, there‘s a difference between comfort and healing.  And the comfort came tonight.  What‘s between the lines has to do with the healing.

And the healing process is not an easy process.  It‘s filled with pain.  It‘s filled with difficulty.  You have to lance boils.  You have to heal sores.  You have to take medication that‘s difficult.

You have patients that say, look, I don‘t want to do this anymore.  But have you to do it, it takes discipline.

And I think the president comforted, put his hand on the shoulder of these people, and of the American people, and said, I‘ll walk with you, but the comfort is the beginning of the process, not the end.  He said, let‘s not turn on each other.  Right, but we have to turn to each other.

And when we turn to each other, to talk honestly with each other—that‘s not easy.  It‘s no easier today than it was before last Saturday.

So, I think what he did tonight was the right thing.  And it‘s still open for more discussion.

MADDOW:  Welton, I wonder specifically on that point, the difference between comfort and healing, and that healing often implies some discipline and some difficult things.  I wonder if—I thought about that myself, when the president said, “Our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American Dream to future generations.”

Widening the circle of concern—can you tell me your interpretation about that idea?  I think, arguably, that may have been the one political thing that the president said tonight, and I think it‘s a pretty—it‘s a pretty deep political statement.

GADDY:  Yes, I‘m not going to claim that I can interpret what the president meant by that, but I think a part of it is, is let‘s get our focus on a larger horizon, and look at more people than those to whom we‘ve been listening, mostly.

In other words, let‘s get outside our single issue, concerns, and advocacy.  Let‘s move beyond one political ideology and see if there‘s anything to be learned from other people.  If we‘re going to speak with other people, let‘s listen to them as well as speak to them.

I think it was—let‘s get off of the narrowness and try to look at the whole big picture of this government.

MADDOW:  The Reverend Welton Gaddy is head of the Interfaith Alliance and pastor of his own Baptist Church in Louisiana—Welton, as always, thank you so much for joining us.

GADDY:  Rachel, may I say one more thing to you?

MADDOW:  Please.

GADDY:  I think the great symbol—the great symbol of the evening was not at the lectern, it was saying that Gabby opened her eyes.  And what I thought was—given what she‘s been through, if she opened her eyes, maybe we can, too.

MADDOW:  Reverend Welton Gaddy, as always, sir, thank you.

GADDY:  You‘re welcome.

MADDOW:  We will be right back.


MADDOW:  The name of Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, former vice presidential candidate, now a FOX News commentator, Sarah Palin has been invoked frequently since news of the shooting in Arizona first broke on Saturday.  Critics have singled out Ms. Palin, at least specifically.  They had singled out her enthusiasm for gun-related rhetoric and her political action committee‘s use of crosshairs on a map, targeting congressional districts in the last election.

One of those crosshairs was on Arizona‘s eighth congressional district, Gabrielle Giffords‘ district.  Sarah Palin is not the only one to use bull‘s eyes or crosshairs to symbolize political targeting.  She is certainly not the only person to make frequent ballistic references in her rhetoric.  And there‘s no substantial evidence that the alleged Arizona shooter was even exposed to any mainstream political rhetoric of any kind, let alone motivated by it for his crimes.

Ms. Palin today posted a seven-minute professionally produced video on her own Facebook page to make her own statement about the Arizona shootings.  Palin‘s statement had two major points, two points that sort of cancelled each other out.

First in an argument I strongly agree with, actually, she argued that vigorous and spirited debate is in itself not a problem.  That incivility may not always be constructive, but it isn‘t without value.  It shows we are able to work even strong disagreements out, that even when we hate each other‘s political guts, we settle things through words, through the political process.


SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions.  And after the election, we shake hands and we get back to work.  And often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere.

If you don‘t like a person‘s vision for the country, you‘re free to debate that vision.  If you don‘t like their ideas, you‘re free to propose better ideas.  Public discourse and debate isn‘t a sign of crisis but of our enduring strength.  It is part of why America is exceptional.


MADDOW:  The second major point that Mrs. Palin made beyond that one, rather undercut that one—when she condemned criticism of herself and her own political rhetoric and her own political illusions.


PALIN:  Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn.  That is reprehensible.


MADDOW:  Ms. Palin contending that her spirited and vigorous criticism of other people is a sign of healthy democracy, but other people‘s vigorous and spirited criticism of her is a call to violence.

You know, it‘s OK to just admit you‘re wrong sometimes.  It is part of rising to the occasion at moments like this.

I do not want to make too much of this.  I think Sarah Palin wants to be compared to President Obama, which is why she released her video statement on the same day he travelled to speak at the memorial service tonight in Tucson.  But it should be noted just for the record that if Ms. Palin is not embarrassed, if she has no regrets and thinks she has nothing to apologize for in any of her gun references or that crosshairs map that‘s received so much attention—if she really thinks that it is reprehensible that anyone would even think to connect the implied gun violence of that map to what happened on Saturday, then why did Ms. Palin take that map down from her Web site hours after the shoot?

Also, for the record, “blood libel” is not a generic term.  It is not a tough, vivid way of saying, don‘t say that mean thing about me.  Blood libel is a specific historic thing.  Maybe the less said about that the better, though.

In political terms, one remarkable turn of events today is that Ms. Palin‘s statement in some ways was upstaged by another conservative Republican political figure who is not a national figure, who lost her election, who isn‘t considered to be nationally influential, but who put out the same type of defensive and angry statements using the same venue, using Facebook.  And it is another statement which is, in one very important way at odds with her on record.

Sharron Angle‘s name has been in the news since the shooting on Saturday—not because of her rhetoric or analogies or unfortunate metaphors or graphics choices, not even because she‘s an important politician heading toward 2012.  Sharron Angle‘s name has been specifically and repeatedly referenced because she explicitly and repeatedly referenced something that she described as Second Amendment remedies in her Senate campaign against Harry Reid.

She said during that campaign, quote, “What is a little bit disconcerting and concerning is the inability for sporting goods stores to keep ammunition in stock.  That tells me the nation is arming.  What are they arming for if it isn‘t that they are so distrustful of their government?  They‘re afraid they will have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways?”

Sharron Angle made that reference a number of times.  She did not mean it as hyperbole.  Her “Second Amendment remedies” phrase was literal.  She was talking about actual guns, not metaphorical firepower.

On a conservative talk radio show and in two Nevada newspapers, she shared an analysis that conservatives should be expected to turn to guns to get their way if they didn‘t get what they wanted from the elections.  She was not lobbying for this prospect and saying it was a good thing, but she repeatedly raised this prospect over and over and over and again.

And again, it was not rhetoric.  It was hyperbole.  It was literally about guns.

In her statement today, like Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle lashed out angrily to anybody who dared connect her political record to the shooting that happened in Nevada.

She said, quote, “Expanding the context of the attack to blame and to infringe upon the people‘s constitutional liberties is both dangerous and ignorant.  The irresponsible assignment of blame to me, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party movement by commentators and elected officials puts all who gather to redress grievances in danger.  I have consistently called for reasonable political dialogue on policy issues to encourage civil political education and debate.  Inappropriately attributing blame of a singular tragedy to achieve a political agenda is contrary to civil discourse, and is a media ploy to which I refuse to belong.”

Sharron Angle, of course, is right that there is no apparent connection between anything in her political career and the killings in Tucson.  But like Sarah Palin, there is a big headline-worthy disconnect between this angry statement today and this thing in the record.  You cannot deny having made any connection between politics and violence when you still refuse to explain and account for what you meant by Second Amendment remedies, by the threat that conservatives would turn to guns to get what they want if he they didn‘t get what they wanted from the election.

Similarly, Sarah Palin wants to argue that nobody in their right mind would connect that map she posted with a shooting.

But we are left with the unexplained fact that Ms. Palin took that map down as soon as the shooting happened.  So, she connected the two.

Sharron Angle‘s statement angrily denouncing the idea that anybody would ever connect her to the shootings, saying it is a danger to all who gather to redress grievances, to have her political record questioned in light of the shooting.  Well, she has still never explained what it was that she meant by the threat of taking up guns if elections didn‘t go your way.

It‘s OK to admit you‘re wrong.  Like I said, cases like this, it is part of rising to the occasion.

Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post” and, of course, an MSNBC analyst.

Gene, thank you so much for being here tonight.


MADDOW:  Gene, what would rising to the occasion look like here for the politicians who have been criticized for violent rhetoric after these shootings?  There is no direct connection between anybody‘s violent rhetoric as far as we can tell, and these shootings.  How could they rise to the occasion given the criticism they‘ve received?

ROBINSON:  Well, as far as I could see, Rachel, they had two choices.  They could have not said anything, number one.  I mean, Sarah Palin could have not issued a seven-minute Facebook, professionally-produced video on the day that President Obama was going to the memorial service, and Sharron Angle didn‘t have to venture into social network either.  They could have just remained silent.

If they didn‘t want to do that, then the thing to do was to speak in the kind of terms that President Obama spoke, that Speaker Boehner spoke, that other politicians of stature have spoken since the tragedy and talk about finding common ground and disagreeing without being disagreeable.

I agree with you that Sarah Palin‘s actually right when she says vigorous debate is a good thing.  And you can‘t—and you don‘t have to whisper when you disagree in American politics.

But to say that, which was fine and then to immediately jump into this, you know, “blood libel” thing was not only weird but I think a real mistake and demonstrated, it—I think it kind of says to people that she really isn‘t ready for prime time, whatever you think of her politics.  That just isn‘t the way you handle a day like today.

MADDOW:  Gene, after five days of debate about whether or not political rhetoric is relevant to this crime in Tucson, does it seem like we‘re closing in on an idea that there is—there is a line that is worth not crossing?  Even if you‘re legally able to do it, even if using exclamation points and typing in all caps is sometimes appropriate in our political fight, that there is some rhetorical territory that is irresponsible to go into?  Is there something that people might have felt OK about that they don‘t feel OK about after this incident?

ROBINSON:  Oh, I think, definitely.  I think the line has shifted.  Now, this line can shift back, certainly, and with the passage of time.  But I think for the foreseeable future, a lot of this gun-related rhetoric and imagery is absolutely going to be unacceptable.

And it‘s not—it‘s going to strike people as inappropriate.  I think—I think everyone has got that message with a couple of possible exceptions.

It will be interesting to see going forward if Sarah Palin is essentially proved to the spirit of what she did today, which is, you know, we‘re going to have this vigorous debate and, by the way, how dare you suggest that there was anything untoward with my map with the crosshairs?

So, logically then, is she going to put up another one with more crosshairs next time?  Or is she going to adopt some of Sharron Angle‘s language about Second Amendment solutions?  You know, or is she—or will cooler heads prevail?  And I don‘t know what‘s going to happen.

MADDOW:  Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post” and MSNBC analyst—it‘s great to have you here tonight, Gene.  Thanks a lot.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here, Rachel.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up on “THE LAST WORD” tonight with Lawrence O‘Donnell, there will be more on the Arizona memorial, including analysis with NBC‘s Tom Brokaw.

And on this show, Chris Hayes joins me on the subject of gun violence, what a government can do to do about the problem of gun violence and whether some politicians have the will to make a stand and whether others have the brass to oppose them.


MADDOW:  At 8:44 last night, “The Hill” newspaper published an article about the fate of new gun control legislation in Congress in the wake of Saturday‘s shootings.  Earlier in the day, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York had announced his intention to introduce legislation to ban anyone from carrying a gun within a thousand feet of a federal official.

At 8:44 last night, here‘s what “The Hill” newspaper reported about how that was being received among Republican Party leadership in the House.  Quote, “The office of Congressman Cantor said the majority leader is reserving judgment until the bill is finalized.  Quote, ‘Mr. Cantor believes it‘s appropriate to adequately review and actually read legislation before forming an opinion about it,‘ Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring stated in an e-mail.”

The Congressman Cantor reserving judgment, wants to read the legislation before coming out before or against it.  That was Mr. Cantor‘s spokesman at 8:44 last night.

Fourteen hours later, at 11:18 this morning, here was “The New York Daily

News,” quote, “Brad Dayspring,” same guy, “spokesman for Representative

Cantor told ‘The Daily News‘ the majority leader is against the proposed

legislation.  Quote, ‘The proposal wouldn‘t have prevented this tragedy.‘”

Ta-da!  Within the span of 14 hours, the second-ranking Republican in the House goes from being open-minded about this legislation and wanting to read it to being totally against it.

Keep in mind that Mr. King‘s legislation was to create a 1,000-foot legal force field around all members of Congress and other federal officials, preventing anyone from having a gun 1,000 feet near them as they moved about their daily business.  Anybody else—you‘re on your own.

Peter King‘s idea in response to this tragedy was to keep guns 1,000 feet away from Peter King, and Republican leadership is against that idea anyway.

But there is a different and utterly enforceable and very, very narrow gun control provision that will be introduced soon by Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York.  It is a simple fix of something that used to be the law that was allowed to expire.

When George W. Bush campaigned, he said he would renew the assault weapons ban.  When he was president, he broke that promise.  He let it expire.  As part of letting it expire, he also let expire the type of specific ban on the type of high-capacity magazine that was used in the massacre in Arizona.

The McCarthy bill will simply just reinstate that specific provision.

Everyone says that America is incapable of tackling any problems for which the solution has anything to do with guns, that we‘re incapable of making any policy, solving any problems as long as this—if the solution touches on guns whatsoever.  This bill, though, this fix of this one specific thing that used to be law that was allowed to expire—this one thing, this seems doable.

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

Chris, good to seed you.  Thanks for your time.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  You bet.  Good to see you, too, Rachel.

MADDOW:  The common wisdom, even in the wake of this shooting, is that nothing can get passed in D.C. if it has anything to do with guns.  Why does that common wisdom exist?

HAYES:  Well, unlike most pieces of common wisdom, it exists because it‘s grounded in a lot of reality, which I think there are two aspects of that.  One is that the NRA, the National Rifle Association, you know, is every bit as powerful as its played up to be.  I mean, it has 4.3 million members and those members are active in the organization and bound to the organization.  They pay dues, in a way that is very rare in this day and age.

I mean, you‘ve seen this kind of proliferation, particularly in the last 10, 20, 30 years of organizations in D.C. that are, in the words of political scientist, associations without members.  The NRA is very different from that.  Those members are real folks and they will really call up their Congress people and they really vote and they really come out to town halls.  So, they‘re able to mobilize that membership extremely effectively.

The second plank, I think, is that the sort of political gains Democrats were able to gain from gun control in the last decade of the ‘90s particularly, were among largely women voters, suburban woman particularly, and I think the gains they were able to make among that demographic kind of ran their course—which is to say that people were able to attract are essentially Democratic-leaning now and they don‘t see any marginal benefit of pursuing the issue among that constituency.

MADDOW:  But, you know, if you just poll gun owners.  I mean, I talked about this with Cory Booker last night, you polled gun owners, they say, you know what, people in the terrorist watch list shouldn‘t be able to buy guns.  People on the terrorist watch list right now can.

HAYES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  But conceivably, you could craft legislation narrowly enough to close that loophole, for example, or to say—get rid of high capacity magazines for some automatic handguns, like we saw in this massacre.  You could craft things tightly enough that even the majority of gun owners would support them, couldn‘t you?

HAYES:  You could.  But then here‘s the problem—in the abstract, the majority of gun owners might support it, right?  But then what happens, the NRA is going to go against it.

The NRA is going to lobby against it for two reasons: one, they‘re a maximalist organization.  They take a no holds barred approach.  They are extremists.

I mean, they‘ve killed completely unrelated legislation whether it‘s, you know, D.C. getting a vote or some animal cruelty criminalization bill they manage to kill because some provision they thought was going to be a threat to gun rights.  So, the NRA will go against it.

And then you enter into this sort of situation which: who are gun owners going to trust?  Are they going to trust the people that crafted this bill?  Are they going to trust you and me and a million other—you know, the editorial pages, “The New York Times or Democratic politicians, or are they going to listen to the NRA?  Which is going to be whispering in their ear, saying they want to come and take your guns.  And that‘s why it‘s so hard to pass these bills.

MADDOW:  I refuse to believe it.  I believe your arguments and I refuse to believe your conclusions.

Chris Hayes, the Washington editor of “The Nation,” MSNBC contributor—thank you, sir.

HAYES:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  Thanks for being with us here on MSNBC on this extraordinary night in America.  Our coverage continues with “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell.



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