updated 1/21/2011 1:06:35 PM ET 2011-01-21T18:06:35

Guests: Kent Jones, Michael Steele, Bob Herbert

           

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, and thank you for joining us tonight.

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, when John McCain and Sarah Palin lost that election, the Republican Party lost more than just control of the White House.  The Republican Party went from down 31 seats in the White House to down 79 seats.  They went from down two seats in the Senate to down 18 seats in the Senate.

In terms of nationally known politicians, there was not a single seat that had been Democratic that went to a Republican.  No nationally known Republican figures changed jobs that year except by leaving office or by getting beat.

2008 was an electoral drubbing for 2000 -- for Republicans.  And then came inauguration day.  It was two years ago today.  Close to 2 million people turning out in Washington, D.C. to see Barack Obama get sworn into office.  At that time, polls showed 84 percent of the country approving of Mr. Obama‘s performance as he took over as president.  It was a very tough time for the Republican Party.

We debuted a new segment on this show around that time.  It lasted for months and months and months.  We called it “GOP in Exile.”  Remember that?  Even though lots of people tell us that we have cockamamie ideas about stuff that we do on the show all the time, nobody once told us it was a cockamamie idea to talk about the GOP in exile, because they plainly were in political exile.

But in that same month, when Barack Obama was inaugurated, the Republican Party elected their own national leader, chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele—a historic choice for the party, the party‘s first African-American chairman.  An important choice for the nation‘s media coverage of the two parties because Mr. Steele had long himself been a magnet for media coverage—the only nationally known Republican figure who was in the arena at the dawn of the Obama presidency.

The Republican Party got its own national leader.

           

And then out came the knives.  Out came the knives for Michael Steele from his own side of the aisle.  “The Washington Times,” the slightly wacky conservative newspaper that mystifies most of the rest of the country but is widely read by Republicans in Washington, “The Washington Times,” started running hit piece after hit piece going after Chairman Michael Steele.  Things like “Exclusive, ex-RNC chiefs rip Steele‘s speaking fees,” or, “Steele‘s side pursuits drive away big donors.”  Or this one:

“Exclusive, RNC members will urge Steele to end book tour.”  Or this one:

“Internal RNC probe finds financial controls in disarray.”  “Exclusive, GOP prepares as calls for Steele‘s resignation grows.”

All of these articles came from one paper, from the conservative “Washington Times” newspaper.

Then Tucker Carlson piled on.  Tucker Carlson‘s conservative Web site started going after Mr. Steele as well.

“High flyer: RNC chairman Steele suggested buying private jet with GOP funds.”  “Michael Steele dropped big bucks on bondage club.” “RNC staff: hard to deal with Steele.”  “Another RNC official disses Steele.”  “Should Palin take over the reins at the RNC?”

Michael Steele took five, six, seven, eight months of this constant criticism, these constant leaks, almost always from anonymous officials, almost exclusively from the right.  And he took this stuff for months before any mainstream media outlets really picked up on any of it.

When the criticism of Mr. Steele did finally break into the mainstream after incubating for months just on the right, it essentially opened up floodgates.  Instead of just anonymous quotes to “The Washington Times,” it started to be a at least trickle and then a significant stream of RNC staffers who left.  The RNC‘s political director resigned abruptly.  His four-page letter blasting Mr. Steele was leaked to “Politico.”  At that point people were beginning to openly campaign against Mr. Steele in the hopes of replacing him as party chairman.

And the charges against him became less snarky and personal and nitpicky and started to reflect what looked like problems, real problems at the RNC.  Instead of complaints about whether or not the party was being appropriately frugal and modest in its style as it tried to raise money, which was the angle on a lot of the early hit pieces, by election time, the complaints were that the RNC just didn‘t have enough money, that the money worries were bad enough that the party wasn‘t able to fully fund its vaunted 72-hour get-out-the-vote program, that the party‘s organization and financial weakness might have had an impact on how many seats Republicans were able to win, even in an election where they won a lot.

And so, we are left now with a chicken or the egg problem.  Did the RNC end up more than $20 million in the red and with some other significant problems because Michael Steele didn‘t do a good job running the party and that‘s why Republicans were talking so much smack about him for all two years he was chairman?  Or was Michael Steele never able to do right by the Republican Party because he was constantly undercut from the very beginning by constant criticism from his own side?  From the very beginning—from a Republican Party that did not want him to succeed and that would not let him succeed when he tried to do so?

In the era of the Obama presidency, I have felt for two years now, like that the single, most interesting question in American politics is about the fate of the Republican Party—how the party is rebuilding itself post-Bush and post-McCain.  It is an unfinished story.  It is still unfolding, and the man at the center of this most dramatic soap opera, this most interesting unanswered question in all of American politics, is our guest tonight.

Joining us now for the interview is the now former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele.

I have been dying to talk to you for so long.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  Finally.

MADDOW:  Thank you for doing this.

STEELE:  It‘s great to be with you.  I‘ve been trying to get here as well.  So, I‘m glad we could finally get together.

MADDOW:  Well, and that in itself is a question I want to talk to you about.  Decisions about how you dealt with media availability in your time as chairman and everything as well.

But I should start by letting you tell me what was wrong about my introduction because I bet I said things you disagree with.

STEELE:  I mean, I would disagree with the sense that there was something wrong at the RNC.  I think you nailed it pretty well that, you know, from the very beginning, literally within the first 30 days of my being on the job, there were calls for my resignation.

Now, I don‘t know how one does—how you screw up so badly in 30 days on a job that they want to get rid of you when you don‘t even know where the washrooms are.  But clearly, there was—there was a distinctive style issue for me.  I mean, I‘m a very, you know, grassroots guy.  I‘m very oriented on being in the neighborhoods and communities.

My first venture out of the Washington was to Harlem.  And I remember a member asked me, why are you going to Harlem as RNC chairman?  I said, because there are votes there.  Let‘s take our message to the people.

And so, there was a style issue.  There was the substance of how to run the building and how to manage a party that had been, you know, really on the rocks, as you said—you know, endangered, in trouble.

And my goal was, hey, let‘s just pick ourselves up and do it.  Let‘s go out and start talking about what we believe in, why we believe in these conservative principles, these ideals, why it matters to say to someone who may not be a conservative, you know what, there are some things about us that you may like, come and take a look at us.

So, that‘s how this thing, the story began and it ended with control of the Senate—I mean, of the House coming to Republicans and would pick up in the Senate, governorships.  So, I think we did the job.

I was asked to raise money.  We raised $192 million.  Albeit I didn‘t raise it the way you may have wanted me to raise it, but you can‘t snark at $192 million.  I mean, it‘s the most raised by a party out of power in a very, very long time.  It was 47 percent more than what the Democrats did when they were out of power in 2006 and took control.

So, how you manage resources was a big part of this.  How you engage voters was a big part of this.  I decided—look, let‘s go across America and talk about the Congress and the leadership of the Congress under Nancy Pelosi.  So, we got on a bus, we went around the country, we talked about making substantive change that will impact you, and that change began with changing the leadership.

So, we tried to engage a little bit differently and I think we had some success.

MADDOW:  But when you talk about you having a distinctive style that was different than maybe what the rest of the party wanted to do, and that might explain why people were criticizing you, what‘s the style of the Republican Party that your style was so incompatible with?  How did they want to do things?

STEELE:  Well, the style—well, the style of the party before was just “Let‘s put out a press release,” “Let‘s just say something, anything, but let‘s not back it up by actually connecting with people.”

We built a coalitions department that actually was grassroots-oriented.  We are a grassroots party.  We always have been.  That‘s been the strength of the GOP.

What we recognize in this new financial environment, for example, with the advent of 527s, McCain-Feingold pressures on committee—party committees, was we had to raise money differently.  Yes, we had major donors who left, but they had relationships with the Bush era, with Karl Rove and all those guys.  They followed them to their 527s.

God bless you.  Go have fun.  Be fruitful and multiply.  I love that.  I love being able to compete one on one with Democrats, not just at the committee level but beyond that at the 527 level.

MADDOW:  But isn‘t there a disadvantage to Republicans running for office if the party is—if the party isn‘t raising as much funds—as much money as it could because that money‘s being diverted to these outside groups?

STEELE:  Well, wait a minute.  I kept pace with the Democrats in my first year.  In the first 11 months I was in office, I outraised the democrats in seven out of those 11 months.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  But you ended $21 million in the red—

STEELE:  As did every committee including the DNC, including the Republican senatorial committee and the congressional committee have debt.

MADDOW:  But the RNC—everybody has debt.

STEELE:  Of course.

MADDOW:  It‘s part of spending money, right?

STEELE:  Right.

MADDOW:  But the RNC has never had more than $20 million in debt.  And, as I understand it, your projections for starting 2012 is that you‘ll still be $10 million in the red to start 2012 --

STEELE:  That‘s a very conservative approach.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  In a presidential election year, the party‘s never started that deep in debt.

STEELE:  Well, in 1996, after we got the drubbing in 1996 at the end of Haley Barbour‘s term as chairman, we entered the new 1997 with $10 million of debt, which is equivalent to today, $10 million in debt.  No wins under our belt, and no real way to raise those dollars.

This is a very different situation, which is what I explain to people.  When we went into these budget discussions I made it very clear, I don‘t want to incur the debt.  But the party wanted to make the leadership choice, and we did.

And we were all in it together to win.  That was the goal—to win.  And we‘re willing to put it on the table to do just that.  So, we took out the line of credit, just like the other party committees did, just like the DNC did.  We continued to raise our money.

And that extra—those extra dollars allowed us to go after certain targets around the country that we otherwise may not have been able to go after and it helped us get the 63 seats.

MADDOW:  Before the elections, though, there was—I remember the headlines.  And I‘ve talked about them recently when I spoke with Doug Heye the other night about these reported difficulties at the RNC—

STEELE:  Right.

MADDOW:  -- a cash crunch, meaning that the party couldn‘t implement its 72-hour get-out-the-vote program.

STEELE:  Oh, yes.

MADDOW:  Were those reports wrong?

STEELE:  Yes, they were wrong.

MADDOW:  You could have done it—

STEELE:  Look, we did.  We did it.  That‘s the thing, Rachel.  We did it.

MADDOW:  And you didn‘t do it in places like Nevada.  I was in Nevada two days before the election.  There was no Republican Party in evidence.

STEELE:  We did—we did it in all 50 states and the territories.  What we did differently this time, again, which has stuck in the craw of the establishment in town, they‘re used to sending Capitol Hill staffers.  The RNC would take Capitol Hill staffers and send them around the country, paying a per diem, hotel and airfare, for up to a week.

Now, I have 200,000 volunteers around the country.  Why would I pay you to go someplace where I‘ve got someone doing the work for free?  So, we took the cost savings and we sent it to the states.  The states had the 72-hour programs, not the RNC.

So what did we do?  We turned the building into one big phone center.  We put in 100 phones and we invited those same staffers to come across the street, walk across the Hill to the RNC, get on the phones, and dial into those states, I don‘t have to pay for that.  And that was a big savings for us.  And the money went to the states.

The last two weeks of the campaign, we were cutting checks $50,000, $60,000, $100,000 in savings to the state parties.

But it didn‘t fit the model that everyone was used to.  People wanted to get on a plane.  They wanted to go see their friends.  They wanted to get in the way as some chairmen put it to me.  And they didn‘t want that.

Just give us the resource, we know what to do with it.  Very Republican idea.

MADDOW:  But if the state party chairmen were, though, happier with the way you were doing things, how come you lost the chairmanship after the election?

STEELE:  You know, I don‘t know.  You‘re going to have to poll them and find out.

MADDOW:  No, but I don‘t have to poll them.  They just voted.

And when you dropped out, you endorsed Maria Cino and then she went down in smoke and flames, too.

STEELE:  I know.  And I thought Maria would bring certain skills to the table that the party needed and I was hoping if I got elected to tap to her to help me with.

Look, the politics of the election is the politics of the election.

MADDOW:  You think you were misunderstood.  You think you did the right thing—

STEELE:  I don‘t think I was misunderstood.  I think people understood me very well.  They just didn‘t like it.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  All right.

STEELE:  I‘ve never made a secret of what I think and what I feel, as you probably well know.  And I‘ve seen quoted from time to time on this very program.

MADDOW:  All right.  Michael Steele, do you mind staying around for just a moment while we—

STEELE:  Sure.

MADDOW:  -- sell goods and services?

STEELE:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  We‘ll be right back.

STEELE:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Trying to do an entrepreneurial thing here.

STEELE:  Very, very capitalist of you.  I love it.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  The Republican—former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele will be back with us in just a moment, about which I am just as excited as I was before I started being able to talk to him.  Yes.

We also later on in the show have our first moment of geek of 2011 tonight.  Please stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead, more with former RNC chairman, Michael Steele.  Senator Joe Lieberman‘s no-mentum and the moment of geek, our first one of the year.

Plus, we‘ve got an update on the Spokane bombing or attempted bombing. 

Bob Herbert of “The New York Times” will be here to join us.

Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  To this day, if you go to atleastIamanerd.com, you get redirected to THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Web site.  We also redirect from empathizerightonyourbehind.com, which is a quote from Michael Steele.  But so far, us buying that URL hasn‘t been enough to get Chairman Michael Steele to agree to an interview .

Do you have any suggestions for how I can get Republican National Committee members and candidates to come on the show as part of their campaigning?

(LAUGHTER)

ANNA MARIE COX:  You might get Michael Steele.

MADDOW:  I‘ve been begging.  I will continue to.

We repeatedly asked the Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele to join us on the show.  We would love to have him at any time.  Michael Steele, you are welcome.  Quite literally anytime we‘d love to have you.  So far, he has not accepted any of those invitations.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  Until now!

Joining us once again to continue “The Interview,” former RNC chairman, Michael Steele.

Thank you.

STEELE:  We‘re in the house.

MADDOW:  We‘re in the house.

Why was it so hard for me to get you here?

STEELE:  You know, it‘s just the way the organization is structured in.  And I was talking with your producer and others in the set, I really wanted to dot show, and my friends will tell you, I‘m a fan.  I watch your show regularly.

MADDOW:  That‘s nice of you to say.

STEELE:  You know, it‘s always good to see and hear what people are thinking.  And—but it‘s just one of those things that people just got nervous.  They just didn‘t know what, you know, Maddow and Steele combination would look like.

MADDOW:  I remember in this studio I was here getting ready to do my show and you were at another camera in the studio and I just gestured at you like come on.  And you were like, “I‘d love, to they won‘t let me.”  And all this time, I‘ve been wanting to say, “Who‘s they?  You‘re chairman.”

STEELE:  Oh, yes, right.  Like that—

MADDOW:  Oh, yes, right?

STEELE:  Oh, yes, that and a cup of coffee, right?  No.

MADDOW:  I mean, who do you answer to?  Donors tell you not to do it?

STEELE:  You answer to—believe it or not, you answer to a lot of people, number one.  But I think in this regard I think there was this—just this sense of, you know, there was a lot of noise and you don‘t want to create more noise.  Everybody‘s looking for the gotcha moment whenever I would do a show or say something because it became fodder out of Washington.  Let‘s go Steele, let‘s go after him.

And so, it made it very difficult.  So a lot of folks got nervous.  You know, the communications department and others around the city were saying, well, you know, I don‘t know.

You know, Bill Maher‘s another buddy of mine.  I‘d love to do the Bill Maher show.  I don‘t know if you—I‘ve been doing Bill Maher since it was “Politically Incorrect.”

MADDOW:  Yes.

STEELE:  So, I have a long relationship with my buddy Bill.

MADDOW:  But do you regret having made the—

STEELE:  Yes, I do.  Absolutely, because I believe and I still do believe that the chairman of the party has a unique opportunity and responsibility to take that message someplace it‘s never been before.  People will listen.  They will pay attention.

And if you do not engage, if I don‘t sit down and have an intellectual, stimulating debate with someone like you that says you know, we are philosophically about as apart as you can get, but the goal‘s got to be—let‘s find where there‘s that common ground, there‘s got to be a theme point, there‘s got to be an idea where we can begin to build.

And you talk about this on your show regularly—where the right and the left, the conservative and the liberal can begin to build a conversation.  Because that‘s what 2010 was about more than anything else.  It was the American people saying, would someone be a grownup here and focus on health care, focus on the war, focus on jobs, focus on being American, and what that means going forward.

And, you know, that‘s for me an important job description.

MADDOW:  Now, it was reported particularly about a year ago that you had conflict with Republican congressional leaders—John Boehner‘s office was mentioned specifically, saying that you shouldn‘t talk about policy, that as chairman, when you waded into policy, you were complicating their job.

Did that happen?

STEELE:  Yes, I did.  I did.  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  But you think that you should be out there talking about policy?

STEELE:  No, I don‘t think you should be out there leading the charge on policy because my job is political.  I‘m in the business of electing folks.  At least I was until last Friday.

But there is—there is a nexus there where you have to, as party chairman, carry the policy with you.  I can‘t go with no chairman.  The new chairman—no chairman can go into a conversation, whether it‘s a private setting or a public setting like this and not be prepared to talk about the policy and political impact on individuals and communities.  You‘ve got to do that.

Where the rubber kind of comes off the road a little bit, at least for me, was—yes, you know, earmarks, no, we shouldn‘t be doing earmarks.  Sorry, you know?  And, you know—

MADDOW:  Abortion?  Afghanistan?  Other issues—

STEELE:  Those issues—yes, those are important issues where you‘ve got to be able to wrap around an understanding for people to see it 360.  You just can‘t be so linear in your approach.

You‘ve got to understand, first, where people are.  That takes listening.  And then you‘ve got to be able to communicate.  And so, I love that type of communication.

MADDOW:  But when you talked, for example, about abortion rights—it was one of the issues where people said Michael Steele‘s talking policy and that upsets Republicans who are working on policy.  You said something about what you thought about whether—about abortion being an individual choice.  Were you reined in on that by other Republicans—

STEELE:  Was I reined in?  I was rained on.

MADDOW:  How does—how does that work?  They say don‘t articulate that position?

STEELE:  Well, it wasn‘t so much that.  But what—if you go back to that interview, and this was the “GQ” interview, and what—I was asked about my personal view on the subject, not my review as the chairman of the party or anything—my personal view.  I come from a very different place.  I‘m adopted.

So, I understand what it took for my mother to make that choice and to choose life as the book of Deuteronomy says.  So, I came at it from any perspective.

And that goes back to my point.  You‘ve got to understand how people get to where they are.  You just can‘t assume that they‘re there the same way you got there.

My journey to my view on the life question comes from the fact that, you know, but for a decision made the other way, I wouldn‘t be here having this conversation.  So, I appreciate it a little bit differently and I respect the fact, and certainly as a former seminarian—I was a monk for a while and had the good fortune of working with young women in that capacity, who in making those decisions, you‘ve got to respect that.

Then so, of course, you‘ve got to ask the legal question.  Yes, the law says—this is what the law says on this question of choice, Roe versus Wade, and the Supreme Court and all of that.  But it still doesn‘t diminish the fact that as individuals, you‘ve got to appreciate where people are going, how they get through their journey.

MADDOW:  Well, let me—let me ask you -- 

STEELE:  And that‘s very different than politics.

MADDOW:  Well, between that view of yours and where congressional Republicans are at right now, with some power in the House, HR1 was the Republicans‘ new rules.  HR2 was repeal health reform.  HR3 is no federal funding for abortion.

And they said they were going to come to Washington and work on jobs, jobs, jobs.  They‘ve got a purely symbolic anti-abortion bill as the first thing they‘re doing after their symbolic repeal of health care bill.

I mean, there isn‘t federal funding for abortion, but they want to doubly, triply ban it.

STEELE:  That‘s right.

MADDOW:  That says to me that the anti-abortion movement, or at least the social conservative part of the Republican Party, is really driving the agenda more than the rest of us appreciate.  Is that right?

STEELE:  No.  I don‘t think—no.  They‘re not driving the agenda more than any—

MADDOW:  Well, how are they front-paging that issue?  It‘s ahead of jobs and everything.

STEELE:  Well, I don‘t think it‘s ahead of jobs in—I mean, in terms of, yes, bill number one versus bill number three versus bill number seven.

MADDOW:  What they‘re doing first, yes.

STEELE:  Well, it‘s not what they‘re doing first.  At the same time, that‘s one track.

The other thing you‘ve got to keep in mind that you‘ve got, you know, Eric Cantor and the leadership also putting in place the next piece.  What‘s happening is they‘re waiting to see where the president is going to go with the State of the Union.  There are—you know, for the Republican leadership to get out in front and start trying to drive the agenda, which is arguably going to be set by the president, it‘s not going to be set by Mr. Boehner.  It‘s going to be set by the president of the United States.

MADDOW:  Mr. Boehner says it‘s going to be set by Mr. Boehner.

STEELE:  But at the end of the day, the president when he gets in that pulpit and he‘s in the well of the Congress and he‘s looking America in the eye and he‘s looking Mr. Boehner in the eye, well, he‘s kind of behind, and he‘s saying what the agenda is going to be for the next year, that is setting the pace and the tone.  I think what you‘re seeing right now is a couple of steps taken by Republican leadership that says to their base and to a lot of Americans that supported them, we‘ve heard and you we‘re taking these first initial steps.

MADDOW:  We‘re putting the base stuff first.

STEELE:  But—

MADDOW:  That‘s tough to hear out of this election for the rest of the country.

STEELE:  But it‘s politics—but it‘s politics.

MADDOW:  Yes.

STEELE:  But also, the job creation portion I think is going to come in and wrap around what the president does next week.

MADDOW:  After they get to abortion.

STEELE:  Oh, please.

MADDOW:  Can we keep talking -- 

STEELE:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Can we keep having these conversations now that nobody‘s going to give you the hook for even thinking about it?

STEELE:  Absolutely.  And it was really nice to come on and just help you temper it a little bit.

MADDOW:  Yes.  Well, yes, you know, we‘ll do this in togas next time. 

It will be even more relaxed.

STEELE:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Mr. Chairman, thank you.  Good luck to you.

STEELE:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

All right.  It is a good thing for Senator Joe Lieberman that he announced his retirement yesterday, because he said stuff on national TV today that could have got him fired from a lot of jobs.  The cure for any warm feelings you might have been having for Senator Joe Lieberman recently as presented by Senator Joe Lieberman today—that is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Two corrections we need to make.

First, last night, we cited Congressman Dennis Kucinich as one of the list of Democratic congressmen who voted against passing health reform in the House.  Mr. Kucinich, in fact, did vote against passing health reform.  When the House passed it in November 2009, he voted no.

Mr. Kucinich‘s office, however, wants to be sure that he gets credit for later changing his mind.  He voted for it when the measure passed the House again four months after he first said no.  So, that‘s one.  Credit where credit is sort of due.

Second—our second correction concerns another Democratic congressman, Steve Cohen of Tennessee.  Congressman Cohen last night in the House said that when Republicans call health reform a government takeover, that‘s like the Nazis.  What?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE:  Just like Goebbels, you say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it.  The Germans said enough about the Jews, and the people believed it, and you had the Holocaust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Congressman Cohen apologized for that tonight on “THE ED

SCHULTZ SHOW.”

I said this was a correction, and it is.  Let me just correct it right here.  Nothing is just like Goebbels.  Nothing is like the Nazis.  Nazi Germany is not available for analogies.  Please.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  A bomb was placed inside an innocuous-looking black backpack.  It was then left on a bench along the parade route for Spokane, Washington‘s Martin Luther King Day parade on Monday.  Law enforcement sources have described it as a sophisticated device capable of inflicting multiple casualties.  They say it was packed with shrapnel and it was set to a remote detonator.

The bomb was discovered before it went off.  City workers saw something and said something.  They alerted police, who then called in the bomb squad.  They rerouted the march.

The bomb squad disabled the device.  And now the hunt is on to find out who is responsible and what this attempted bombing means.

The FBI is now confirming that its investigation into this intended bombing will focus on two things.  One, of course, is forensics.  They have the bomb.

The other is the often violent history of the white supremacist movement in this particular part of the country.  The special agent in charge of the FBI‘s Spokane office tells the “Spokesman Review” newspaper that much will depend on what it finds out from the FBI‘s lab in Quantico, Virginia, where the backpack bomb was sent for analysis early this week.

The special agent said, quote, “A lot of this is going to turn in part on results of the lab analysis.”  As for where investigators may hope that evidence will lead them, the FBI in Spokane is confirming to the “Spokesman Review” that two recent protests by white supremacists in nearby Coeur d‘Alene, Idaho, will be part of the bureau as attempts to identify potential suspects, motives and leads.

Quote, “‘We will examine every avenue.‘ Special Agent Harrill said.  ‘We are reaching far and wide in terms of what we are looking at.  That‘” - - meaning the protests in Coeur D‘Alene, certainly will be one of them.

It‘s about 25 miles as the crow flies from Spokane over Washington state‘s eastern border to city of Coeur D‘Alene, Idaho.  The white supremacist movement in the Pacific Northwest has long centered on that region, on the Spokane valley and northern Idaho.  In Coeur D‘Alene in 1973, a man named Richard Butler founded a compound for his white supremacist group, known as Aryan Nations.

A local task force that tracks hate crimes in the region says after Aryan Nations set up camp, it tracked more than 100 felonies committed by hate groups in the region throughout the 1980s and 1990s.  They included that four-month crime spree in 1986, we told you about last night, in which a pipe bomb was detonated at Spokane City Hall.  The men indicted for that pipe bombing in Spokane were convicted ultimately of triple murder—prosecutors describing what they said was a plot to overthrow the government and set up a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest.

Incidents of violence across the region died down after Richard Butler was bankrupted in a civil lawsuit brought against him in the year 2000.  And Aryan Nations lost its miserable little Idaho home base.  Mr. Butler died in 2004.  And as the “Spokesman Review” reported today, much of the hate-motivated crime spree in that region ended with him—until recently at least.

The police chief in Spokane, Anne Kirkpatrick, says her department has recorded an increase in white supremacist activity over the last two years.  Nothing, she says, that she or her department can pinpoint as a precursor to Monday‘s attempted bombing at the Martin Luther King Day parade.

But the chief described a definite uptick in incidents overall over the past two years—a trend that is backed up by the task force that tracks hate crime activity in that region.  The leader of that task force calls what they are seeing there a re-emergence and something that is not to be taken lightly.

It‘s been three days since someone failed in their attempt to set off a powerful bomb along the route of a Martin Luther King Day march in a part of the country that has a violent history with extreme racism.  National news coverage of this attempted bombing is still sporadic.  There has been an uptick today, but still sporadic.  That‘s even after the FBI confirmed it was focusing its investigation at least in part on the potential that this is domestic terrorism committed by presumptively homegrown extremists.

Joining us now is “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert.

Mr. Herbert, thanks for coming in.

BOB HERBERT, NEW YORK TIMES:  Hi, Rachel.  How are you?

MADDOW:  I‘m OK.  I do continue to be surprised that this thing in Spokane is not getting more attention.  Are you surprised by that?

HERBERT:  I‘m not surprised.  This is such a violent country.  And most of the country is in denial about the scale of the violence.

So, when you consider that tens of thousands of people are murdered in this country every year, since Dr. King was killed in 1968, Bobby Kennedy in 1968, more than 1 million Americans have died from gun violence.  That includes homicides, suicides, accidental shootings, and that sort of thing.

We more or less take this stuff in stride.  Most people won‘t say that.  But we do.

So, here you have a situation, potentially incredibly serious obviously, but no one was killed, and it‘s not an attempt—a failed attempt by foreign terrorists, which really does get our attention in this country.  And so, I‘m not surprised at all at the lack of attention to it.

MADDOW:  Do you think there is, at least in—you can make sort of an analytical extrapolation between the level of person to person violence in this country, the level of even just gun violence used to settle things, commit crimes, or get people to get their way in this country, and the idea that political groups, hate-motivated groups, ideologically motivated groups will also use violence to try to get their way?  Do you see those things along the same continuum?

HERBERT:  I do.  And the thing that links it al up to me is this sense of denial.  So, you know, we‘re talking about gun violence.  But in this case, it was a bomb.  But we had the Oklahoma City bombing.  We‘ve had terrible tragedies like Columbine and Virginia Tech.  We‘ve just gone through the Gabrielle Giffords situation.

So, shock and horror when the mass murders take place, no attention at all when the individual violence that you‘re talking about, you know, one or two people killed, that sort of thing.  So, it‘s just, to me, more a sense of denial.

So, now, you‘re talking, for example, about the white supremacist groups and the anti-government groups that profess violence on their Web sites and in their publications and stuff.  I think we‘re in denial about that.  I think we‘re in denial about the extent to which there‘s still an awful lot of race hatred out there, anti-Semitism, violence directed toward gays and that sort of thing.  We‘re not paying the kind of attention to that sort of thing that we should.

What I think we really need in this country is sort of a change in the culture.  We have to recognize sort of the extraordinary, I think, insane levels of violence in this country, and do the very hard work of actually changing the culture.

You know, listen to the message of Dr. King.  We still have—I think you mentioned it earlier in the week.  We have a holiday to celebrate Dr.  King, and we have marches and gatherings and that sort of thing.  We don‘t pay attention to his message.  And his message was about non-violence, and it was about fighting hatred in awful of its forms.

MADDOW:  How does America go about pursuing cultural change?  One of the things that has happened in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, the mass shooting in Tucson, is that we‘ve had what is now a pretty sustained conversation, even for us, about why that happened, what can be done to prevent something like that from happening again, who is to blame for better and worse—I think that conversation.

Is that potentially constructive?

HERBERT:  I think—it doesn‘t hurt to have that conversation.  But I don‘t think that‘s the kind of thing that is really helpful long term.

What you need long term is a sustained effort by both public officials and activists in the private sector that will not let these things go away even when they leave the headlines.  I mean, that‘s why Dr. King and the others in the civil rights movement were so important.  They just kept pounding away, pounding away.

That‘s why in the early days of the women‘s movement, when the leaders

when feminist leaders were being ridiculed, when women talked about changing the ways in which they were viewed by the society, they were laughed at, scorned, and that sort of thing, but never gave up, just kept pounding away.

           

And that‘s what we would need to do, both in the area of violence in general—which I think is a profound problem—and in the continuing problems of race hatred, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hysteria, and that sort of thing, which we try in our denial to pretend—we have made great strides, but we try to pretend that those problems are still not very big problems.  They are.

MADDOW:  That‘s the difference between activism and news coverage. 

It‘s the difference between organizing and interest.

HERBERT:  I think a good example, if I have a quick second, is the way you pursued on the air, for example, the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” issue and all the other people that were involved in that, they would not let that go.  And then something big got done.  That‘s really important.

MADDOW:  Bob Herbert, columnist for “The New York Times” and smart

guy.  We—I should say—you know, I want to be clear.  We know so

little about what happened with this event on Monday.  We don‘t know—we

don‘t think it was a foreign terrorist.  We don‘t know if the FBI‘s pursuit

--

           

HERBERT:  Yes.

MADDOW:  -- of these white supremacist groups is going to lead to anything.  We know so little at this time.  But if it can be a constructive part of a continuing discussion about violence, as you‘re pointing out, I think we will learn a lot more than just about the individual perpetrator.

Thank you, sir.

HERBERT:  Great.  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

All right.  Coming up on “THE LAST WORD”: Lawrence O‘Donnell talks to Republican Congressman Steve King from the great state of oh, my God, did he really just say that.  He will be weighing in on Michele Bachmann‘s presidential ambitions.

On this show, just when his work on civil rights issues was starting to color the reaction to his retirement, independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut goes on TV to remind us what made everybody so irretrievably mad at him all the time.  That‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

VOICE:  Very interesting.

MADDOW:  Since we started doing “Moments of Geek” on this show, there‘s been sort of a quest among our producers to find atypical forms of geek-dom.  Sure, you know, you want to geek out about astronomy or giant drills, two stories tall, burrowing under living cities.  Or human systems engineering for land aircraft on giant moving boats.  Sure, science, engineering, systems management—those of us who like to occasionally geek out expect to be able to geek out about stuff like that.

But it is perhaps more perfectly geeky to find those among us who get their geek on who have developed high-level and intricate and even inaccessible levels of knowledge about stuff that isn‘t usually thought of as the realm of geeks.  About stuff that‘s thought of even as cool.  We have found the nest of that.

This is not North American water fowl.  This is not first editions of the “Green Lantern.”  This is not the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.  This is guitars.

Kent Jones reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  We came to California looking for guitar geeks, and we found one.  His name is Deke.  I know.

(on camera):  You know that guy who brings his guitar to school every day?  Draws Stratocasters all over his notebooks?  And names his dogs Gibson and Fender?  Deke Dickerson is the king of that guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is guitar geek heaven.  You have come to the place.

JONES:  For eight years now, this six-string Renaissance man has hosted Deke‘s Guitar Geek Festival in Anaheim, one of the most mind-blowing collections of rock, country, surf, and funk ax-wielders ever to blow off English class.

For those about to geek, we salute you.

(MUSIC)

JONES:  Thirty-five years ago, the man responsible for all of this twangy goodness was a 6-year-old kid in Missouri, watching Chuck Berry duck-walk on TV.  That did it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   This is a guitar I made when I was 10 years old in my dad‘s shop.

JONES (on camera):  You made this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I did.  I grabbed some 2x4s and blocks of wood and made this primitive caveman guitar because I was so obsessed with guitar.  But this proves I‘m an OGG.

JONES:  OGG, original guitar geek?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Absolutely.

JONES:  What‘s the first thing you ever learned to play?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When I finally got a guitar in my hands, I got it and the first day I learned “Louie, Louie.”

JONES:  Oh, great.

(singing):  Hey, Mr. Tambourine, man, play something for me.

(voice-over):  Even though sometimes it felt like it, Deke wasn‘t the only guitar geek out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And that‘s when I found out there‘s actually tons of these guys.  It‘s a huge underground thing.  They‘re all obsessed guitars, they‘re guitar geeks, and there was absolutely no one to unite them.

JONES (on camera):  They were all in their bedrooms, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Exactly.

JONES:  Deke hope to pry his geek brethren out of their bedrooms, but most guitar festivals at the time were a bunch of serious, long-haired guys playing 30-minute solos.  Bummer, dude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you‘ve ever seen any “Revenge of the Nerds” movie—

JONES:  I live that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know—you know that the geek will always triumph with his superior intellect and sense of humor, and that‘s exactly what we‘re doing here.

You know, we‘ve got such a bias in the modern media culture of just what‘s happening now, what‘s happening now.  It‘s that whole “American Idol” way of thing, and my whole thing is, yeah, I want to have stuff that‘s current, and we‘ve had punk rock and heavy metal type acts here.  But I also want to keep reminding people that the most amazing players were guys that were back in the ‘30s and the ‘40s and the ‘50s and the ‘60s, and try to keep that sort of tradition alive and that music alive.

JONES:  Wow.  1956 Bigsby.  Look at that.  That‘s incredible.  Can we

--

           

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, absolutely not.  No, no, no.

JONES:  Really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Actually, you can‘t even look at it.

JONES:  I can‘t—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, you can‘t even look at it.  Please.  This way.

JONES:  All right.  Geeks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  We have posted links to all those very cool bands that Kent saw on the Maddow blog.

In other news, Joe Lieberman is retiring.  If you had mixed feelings about that announcement, perhaps you missed the good senator‘s performance on TV this morning—a reminder of what used to really, really bug you about that guy.  Coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announced yesterday that he‘s not running for re-election, putting a cap on a long career and a complicated legacy.  Mr. Lieberman was, of course, Al Gore‘s running mate in 2000.  His own run for president in ‘04 was a disaster.  He peaked at fifth place in New Hampshire before the nation collapsed in a fit of giggles over him trying to get people to talk about Joe-mentum, then he quit.

By ‘06, Democrats in his home state did not want him anymore.  They picked someone else in the primary for his seat.  Joe-mentum had to run as an independent to keep his job.

By the next election in ‘08, Mr. Lieberman functioned not even as a conservative Democrat but politically as a Republican.  He campaigned not only for the Republican in the race—he did so as one of the most shrill voices against the Democratic Party in that entire campaign.  That ‘08 edition of Joe Lieberman was a political Republican and an economic and national security neocon, a man with an approval rating among liberals somewhere between paper cuts and rotten head cheese.

But then last year, Joe Lieberman took a leading role in the effort to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  He was instrumental in getting that repeal through the Senate—delighting most liberals with that legislative result and simultaneously robbing many liberals of what had become the very satisfying act of loathing of Mr. Lieberman himself, complicated!  Complicated!  At least, it was, on his self-congratulatory, valedictory media tour.

Now, that he‘s announced he‘s retiring, Joe Lieberman is making it all easy again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  Saddam was threatening the stability of the entire region.  He‘d shown that by his actions.  I believe that the evidence is very clear that he was developing weapons of mass destruction.  Obviously, we don‘t have evidence that he had a big program, but the most official and comprehensive reports show that‘s true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator Lieberman on the show “MORNING JOE” on this network today saying the Iraq war was the right thing to do because of clear evidence of Saddam‘s weapons of mass destruction tiny program.  The smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud tiny program or something.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN:  He was also, the evidence shows, beginning—really tactically—to support the terrorist movements that had attacked us on 9/11.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  No, he wasn‘t!  Really, no.

If hearing all again—all over again that those things that were not true, that were used to start that war in the first place, if hearing those things all over again isn‘t enough to remind the nation why Joe Lieberman‘s political legacy is even so miserable that even Al Gore will never live down almost making that man vice president—then wait because there‘s more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  I‘m starting to hear you say that there was evidence that Saddam Hussein was working on weapons of mass destruction, given that even President Bush himself has now accepted that there had been no evidence.  So, on what basis are you saying that?

LIEBERMAN:  Yes.  I‘m basing it on the so-called Dulfer report.  Charles D-U-L-F-E-R conducted the most comprehensive report on behalf of our government.  Go read the Dulfer report.

HUFFINGTON:  There‘s nothing in the report.

LIEBERMAN:  I don‘t think you read, sweetheart.

HUFFINGTON:  Good luck to the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Hey, sweetheart, do you need me to spell it out for you?  No, seriously, believe it or not, I am condescending enough that I will literally spell the name of the report and then I will call you “sweetheart.”

Joe Lieberman almost ended up interesting.  Is he to be remembered as the most insufferably and inexplicably arrogant senator of his generation, a man who self-regard is match only by the magnificent scale of his lack of any legislative achievement of note in a very, very long, long legislative career—plus, taking inexplicable and wrong potions he refuses to climb down from?  Or did the way he helped out on “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” at the end round all that out and make people forget?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUFFINGTON:  So, good luck to the next—

LIEBERMAN:  I don‘t think you read it, sweetheart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Joe Lieberman was almost complicated on his way out.  Almost, sweetheart, almost.

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

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