'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
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Guests: Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Lauren Leamanczyk
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Article I, Section VII of the Constitution is about how a bill becomes a law. You know the whole, “I‘m just a bill and I‘m sitting here on Capitol Hill” thing? That is Article I, Section VII of the U.S. Constitution.
Article I, Section IX has all sorts of cool stuff in it, like “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States.” I‘m sorry, you cannot be a king or prince or a duke or an earl. You cannot even be king of the forest, not here. That is Article I, Section IX.
But in Article I, between the “I‘m just a bill” section, VII, and the “You can‘t be king” section, IX, is the section that is number VIII. And that is the enumerated powers of Congress. That‘s where the Constitution says that we should have, say, a Navy. It‘s where Congress gets the power to print money and to punish counterfeiting and to define and punish piracy. Arr!
This is also the part of the Constitution that explicitly creates a post office, like the census and the “You can‘t be king” thing—the Post Office is in the Constitution. Post Offices actually predate the country. Ben Franklin ran one in Philadelphia at the direction of the Second Continental Congress, which predated the Declaration of Independence. Then it ended up in the Constitution and the Post Office was a cabinet agency until 1971.
Since then, it is not in the cabinet anymore. But it is still part of what we do as a country. It is an independent agency. But it‘s the Constitution that says explicitly that we as a country shall have post offices.
Also, if you have a post road anywhere in your town, that‘s from the same part of the Constitution. Government has the power to set up roads for the use of moving mail around the country. And, boy, howdy do we? Six thousand seven hundred and sixty-one pieces of mail are processed every second by the U.S. Postal Service.
The single-biggest employer in the country is Wal-Mart. The second biggest employer is the U.S. Postal Service.
The post office operates the largest civilian fleet of vehicles in the entire world, and even though it doesn‘t necessarily look like it, they buy American. Most of their fleet are G.M.s and Fords. It is sort of confusing, because many post office cars look sort of foreign, because the steering wheel is on the right-hand side of the road or the right-hand side of the vehicle, but that is so as to better reach your mailbox. Even though they look foreign, they are almost all-American cars. And it‘s the biggest civilian fleet in the world.
Our U.S. Postal Service delivers 40 percent of all the physical mail that is delivered in the world, even though we are only about 5 percent of the world‘s population.
The post office has the power to negotiate postal treaties with other countries. Their post office police force, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, is one of the oldest federal law enforcement agencies in the entire nation.
You already know I‘m a geek about civic stuff. And I am sort of in love with all of the things that are quirkily and underappreciated about the U.S. Postal Service. I have long been.
But here‘s the thing. Don‘t be a hater about this. It turns out you love the post office, too.
Last year, the Pew Research Center asked people to rate their favorite federal agencies. The U.S. Postal Service, far and away the winner with an 83 percent favorable view -- 83 percent. Americans kind of love their letter carriers. They love the U.S. Postal Service.
Republicans and Congress right now, not so much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN MICA ®, FLORIDA: It looks like the post office is somewhat becoming a dinosaur. I didn‘t send any letters to my nieces and nephews today. I sent them an e-mail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can order your medicines over that, but you cannot get them delivered to your home. Well, the mail volume is—the type of mail is going to change.
MICA: That‘s true, and that‘s why I usually use FedEx or UPS.
REP. SCOTT DESJARLAIS ®, TENNESSEE: When you‘re talking about concerns about your employees losing their pensions and their benefits, what do we say to the private sector who faces losing Social Security and Medicare benefits?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel about this agreement?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like the agreement was a give and take.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you told your employees it‘s a pretty good deal, didn‘t you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have told my employees exactly what it is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think it‘s an excellent deal, so much so that you‘re going to pay your members to vote, are you not?
MICA: We produced in our committee a report called the federal government must stop sitting on its assets. I don‘t think we have a chapter in there for you, but maybe we could write one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Footage from a hearing today at which the postmaster general
yet again, something cool about the post office. It‘s the postmaster general. Yes, sir.
Today, the postmaster general and the head of one of the largest postal employee unions testified together about the contract they just collectively bargained for. It was a contract in which each side made compromises like layoffs and cost-cutting and they came up with a deal in which both sides, both employment and labor—both sides, employer and employee, felt was pretty fair, and pretty frugal.
But even though the post office gets no direct funding whatsoever, even though it does not receive taxpayer funding, the fact that it is part of the government, the fact that is—the fact that it provides a government service that Americans really like, means that by definition, Republicans hate it. And the fact that there is a good labor management employer/employee relationship there, a relationship that is seen as productive and constructive on both sides—in Republican eyes, that is not a good thing. That is something that Republicans in government would like to change.
This little “Republicans hate the post office” hearing today was, of course, not the main event in Washington today. But this kind of thing is part of the regular background noise in D.C., all the time now.
With Republicans in control of the House, there‘s a constant drum beat of “we hate the government doing things that people like.”
And there‘s two things that are important about this for the other party, for Democrats. One, is that every time Republicans pop off about how much they hate something, there is an opportunity for Democrats to take the other side of that. Remember that Pew Poll, 83 percent of people dig the post office? Eighty-three percent of people love the proverbial mailman?
Well, here‘s Republican Congressman John Mica of Florida yelling at the mailman. Here‘s Republican Congressman Dennis Ross of Florida yelling at the mailman. Republicans are ideological committed to showing off for their base, their hatred of government services that people like. This is low-hanging fruit for Democrats, should the Democrats choose to pick it.
But the other reason this is important to notice—the reason it‘s important to notice this is going on in D.C. now, is because you can‘t really predict or understand what is going on in Washington right now in the big picture without understanding where Republicans are coming from, strategically and ideologically, what they are trying to prove, how they think what they are saying sounds at home to the people they hope are listening to them.
In all of the Beltway press coverage of this potential budget showdown in D.C. now, you read over and over and over again about how desperate both sides are to avoid a government shutdown, right? In “The Washington Post,” quote, “Republicans and Democrats are eager to avoid a shutdown.” At Slate.com today, quote, “No government shutdown. Why Republicans and Democrats will work to avoid the crisis.”
This is the beltway frame for what‘s going on in the government shutdown fight right now. And it sort of sounds right. Until you notice that Republicans don‘t seem that eager to be avoiding this shutdown. I mean, Republicans themselves keep saying, oh, no, no, no, we don‘t want a shutdown. It‘s the Democrats who are talking about that.
But then listen to what they have been saying about it. They have been promising a showdown since before the midterm elections. They ran for office in November in part by saying they would shut down the government. They love talking about this.
This is a montage recently put together by the Web site, “Think Progress.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REP. JOE WALSH ®, ILLINOIS: Or should I shut down government? And I‘ve got to tell you, most people in my district say shut it down.
SEN. MIKE LEE ®, UTAH: It‘s not a great thing. And yet at the same time, it‘s not something that we can rule out. It may be absolutely necessary.
JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS: And the American people can see, life would go on without the federal government for a little while.
REP. RON PAUL ®, TEXAS: I don‘t think it would hurt one bit.
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT ®, TEXAS: Even if it means showing how serious we are. OK? Government is going to have to shut down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you think even if that were to happen, theoretically, it wouldn‘t be as bad as people make it out to be.
REP. MIKE KELLY ®, PENNSYLVANIA: No, I don‘t think it would be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think shutdowns should be off the table?
REP. TOM PRICE ®, GEORGIA: Everything ought to be on the table.
WALSHI: We will do what we have to do to shut down the government if we have to.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Did they sound eager to avoid a shutdown?
Not only have Republicans been promising—promising by going—while going like this—promising to shut down the government for months now, rationally, strategically, there is no reason why they wouldn‘t. The Republican base is clamoring for a shutdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA: And if liberals in the Senate would rather play political games and shut down the government instead of making a small down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, shut it down.
CROWD (chanting): Cut it or shut it!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They have a song. It goes—cut it or shut it, cut it or shut it, I say shut it down! Does that sound like they are desperate to avoid a shutdown? Cut it or shut it, cut it or shut it. They have a song for this.
A recent CNN poll showed that 62 percent of self-identified Tea Party supporters, otherwise known as the Republican Party‘s base, say that a government shutdown would be a good thing. They are not hoping to avoid a shutdown. They are hoping for a shutdown.
Do you remember that really famous chicken scene in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause?” James Dean and the other guys are in two different cars, they‘re driving toward a cliff. They‘re each trying to win this game of chicken. And the way you win this game of chicken is that you are the last one to jump out of your car before the car goes off the cliff.
Would you still enter into that game, and how on earth would you try to win that game if you knew that the guy in the other car was desperately suicidal?
If winning is being last out of the car and you know the other dude is not going to bail out of his car ever, and doesn‘t even want to, how do you win this game?
“The Washington post” reports that last night when Republican House Speaker John Boehner went to go talk to his caucus about the negotiations, when he made it clear that it looked like a shutdown was coming, how did the Republican caucus in the House respond to that? Worry? They gave him a cheering ovation.
This is not a group of people who are eager to avoid a shutdown, no matter what you‘ve read. There is not a negotiation going on in Washington that is about avoiding a government shutdown. There is a reason that Speaker John Boehner keeps moving the goal posts in terms of what Democrats have to agree to in order to avoid this government shutdown.
Democrats keep agreeing to everything he demands. But that just means he has to demand more because the goal is not to get Democrats to do anything in particular. The goal is the shutdown itself.
This is the party that has just proposed getting rid of Medicare, one of the most successful and popular government programs ever, other than Social Security. And—oh, wait until you hear what they want to do with that one.
When Republican Congressman Paul Ryan introduced his budget today, he said, “This is not a budget, this is a cause.” And I know it sounds like I‘m making that up. It turns out I‘m not.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN: This is not a budget, this is a cause.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is a cause. It is about seeking a shutdown. It is not about avoiding a shutdown.
It is about finding the most popular, most successful government programs, and shutting those ones down, privatizing them, hiving them off, because they‘re successful, because they‘re popular, because they remind people that there‘s a reason to have a public sector, and it‘s worth defending. And they like the mailman and teachers and firefighters and Social Security and Medicare. And, wait, hands-off.
It is not about a budget, it is for them about a cause.
BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: This is not a budget, this is a cause.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A wildly, wildly unpopular cause. The Democrats can either choose to win by championing the very popular other side of this cause. Or they can just keep on negotiating.
Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC contributor and associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton.
Melissa, it‘s nice to see you. Thanks for being here.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. Good to be here.
MADDOW: If they do not reach an agreement tonight, and the government shuts down this weekend—five years from now, why will Americans understand that this shutdown happened?
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, who knows five years from now? I mean, you know, seriously, part of the problem here is, I think, that Americans seem to have—despite the poll numbers that you‘re showing—Americans seem to have little understanding about what government is really doing for them on a daily basis. I mean, if you ask Americans, what has government done for you lately, you‘re likely to get a response like, well, not much. Or, you know, they have taken my whole paycheck, or something like that.
And, look, the Republicans are not a dumb group strategically. They know that most Americans have been doing what I‘ve been doing the past couple weeks, which fiddling with, you know, with our heads, in our hands, trying to get our tax returns in. And so, this is a moment where people have kind of the most anxiety about government, because they feel like they‘re paying in, and they don‘t have a clear narrative about what they‘re getting out.
MADDOW: But why then on something like Medicare would they be proceeding now? Why choose—why would the Republican choose to reveal their plan to kill Medicare now? The super, super beloved program. They announced it on the day the president announces that he is running for re-election. They announce it right on the eve of this potential shutdown.
Why Medicare? Why now?
HARRIS-PERRY: I think there‘s a lot of different things going on here. But at its core, what we see is really just the fruition of now 25, 30 years of public discourse that the Democrats have participated in, that says that government is bad. I mean, if you can remember the confusion that was occurring during the health care reform debate, where you had people at town hall meetings saying things like, “Keep the government‘s hands off my Medicare,” right? There was—there was clear confusion about who was providing these services, right?
I think, you know, even when you talk about something like going to the ATM and taking out $50, and knowing that that money is there, because it‘s insured by FDIC, you know, being able to eat an egg for breakfast and know that that egg doesn‘t have salmonella because it‘s been inspected by federal inspectors. You know, my mother‘s new hips, one on the left one on the right, both paid for by Medicare, which she paid into and which I pay into.
But if we—if we disconnect those things from our understanding that this is government provision, I think it‘s actually relatively easy to go after them individually, and to make a claim that private industry can do them better and more efficiently, because that‘s really been the discourse for 20 years.
MADDOW: Well, why are Democrats so shy about wanting to defend the basic idea of government from this, you know, the government is the problem? Conservatism. Letter carriers and firefighters and police officers and teachers are beloved national figures. Medicare and Social Security are beloved national programs. Why are Democrats so shy about making them their party‘s own symbols, even their mascots, for the Democratic Party?
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, you were talking about civics lessons earlier. And I have to say that part of what happened, and we can really trace this back to a very clear strategy on the part of Republicans after the end of the 1960s. And it was to take all of those beloved figures, and link them with figures that are less beloved.
So, for example, the growth of the African-American middle class in
the 1970s, that was mostly men working in post office, and women working as
teachers. The language of what government was doing for citizens got
linked to groups like African-Americans, poor people, new immigrant
communities. To the extent that Republicans have been very successful in
linking—in fact, very efficient, high-quality and broad-based programs -
or even things like, for example, public schools—two populations in communities that are less beloved, more stereotyped, more stigmatized, they have been able to lap those on to each other and sort of create these anxieties in populations that actually need and benefit from on a daily basis government actions.
MADDOW: And that‘s been a deliberate strategy. And it works, if nobody fights back against it—
HARRIS-PERRY: That‘s right.
MADDOW: -- which is—which is the on going task of the Democratic Party in my lifetime, which means I‘ll never have anything to stop talking about, because they never seem to make progress on this.
Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC contributor, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton and very smart person—thank you for being here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Ooh, ooh, ooh, big important election in the Midwest tonight in Scott Walker-ville. Polls just closed. We will tell you what happened, next.
MADDOW: Breaking news tonight out of the great state of Wisconsin, where polls closed approximately 21 minutes ago in an election that is consequential in its own right locally, but also serves as the very first test of how Wisconsin feels about the huge national hullabaloo its governor caused these past couple of months.
After weeks and weeks of protests and outrageous and inventing political processes no one knew existed before, Governor Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in Wisconsin stripped union rights in that state, which happens to be the state where a lot of union rights in this country were born.
We know how people in Wisconsin and across the country people feel about this. They have spent the better part of 2011 showing us in scenes like this. Less colorfully, they have also told the pollsters. Since he started the union-stripping thing, Governor Scott Walker‘s approval ratings continue to be in the basement. Scott Walker is now, roughly speaking, less popular than paper cuts.
But does that disapproval of Governor Walker and the outrage over his union-stripping stuff translate to electoral outcomes that otherwise would have gone the other way?
Today‘s election in Wisconsin is the very first opportunity we have to answer that question. On the statewide Supreme Court ballot today, the incumbent conservative Justice David Prosser is associated with Governor Walker, and is a former Republican from the state legislature. His challenger is a woman by the name of Joanne Kloppenburg, who is supported by Democrats, union groups and others who are opposed to the union-stripping measures in Wisconsin.
If you feel oogie about the fact that justices got elected and what
that means for judicial impartiality, you are not alone, not even just
between you and me. But just because it‘s creepy doesn‘t mean that this
isn‘t a political proxy war. It‘s a proxy war because not only is the
incumbent conservative justice associated politically with Governor Walker
Governor Walker, for example, said he would vote for that justice.
But the state Supreme Court on which that justice sits and would like to continue to sit may ultimately decide whether or not Governor Walker‘s bill is legit. Whether or not, for example, it was passed legally.
So, who sits on the state Supreme Court is a big Wisconsin deal.
And because this race is getting national attention, this race may determine some national momentum for the union-stripping, right versus left fight, for the whole country. Perhaps cognizant of that, outside groups are pouring millions of dollars into this debate.
As Dave Weigel points out at “Slate” today, right wing groups are outspending liberal groups on this, three to two.
And it is not just the Supreme Court race that is a proxy war for Governor Walker and union rights. There are also some county executive races.
Before becoming governor, Governor Scott Walker was the county executive in Milwaukee. There, the Democrat in the race has run a series of attack ads against his opponent, Republican Jeff Stone. They are ads that use Governor Walker‘s name as if it is a four-letter swear word, painting mister—painting the man‘s opponent as a Walker twin, a clone, a facsimile. Oh, yes, you heard me, a facsimile.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUBTITLE: “Dramatic Change.”
NARRATOR: Jeff Stone wants to follow in Scott Walker‘s footsteps.
NARRATOR: Jeff Stone and Scott Walker will do almost anything to stay in power.
SUBTITLE: “Same Old.”
DAVID CROWLEY: Jeff Stone? I thought he was Scott Walker‘s twin.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He sounds like more of the same.
NARRATOR: Stone praised Scott Walker as a template for county executive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mismanaged county government.
CROWLEY: Jobs have been lost. And stone wants more of that?
NARRATOR: Worse, Stone even said he stands with Walker‘s unfair plan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You‘ve got to be kidding me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff Stone?
CROWLEY: Jeff Stone is Scott Walker.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think eight years of Scott Walker is enough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Republican Governor Scott Walker and his union-stripping adventure did more to unify and energize Democrats on the left than anything Democrats on the left have done for themselves in recent memory. Can they turn that unity and energy into votes at the polls into election night victories?
Well, so far we have got 1 percent of the results from Wisconsin‘s state Supreme Court election tonight, with 1 percent in. So do not extrapolate from this. With 1 percent in, Joanne Kloppenburg, the challenger, is leading David Prosser, the incumbent, 60 to 40. I say again, that is with 1 percent of the vote tallied. So, it means precisely nothing.
We will keep you posted over the course of this hour, as more results come in.
But we are joined now from the Milwaukee headquarters of the incumbent Supreme Court Justice David Prosser by Lauren Leamanczyk of NBC‘s Milwaukee affiliate WTVJ.
Lauren, thank you so much for helping us with this tonight.
LAUREN LEAMANCZYK, WTMJ REPORTER: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: I know that during this campaign, you have spent some considerable time with the incumbent in this race, with Justice Prosser. Are he and his campaign aides and his volunteers feeling optimistic tonight? Do they feel like they have a good shot at holding on to this seat?
LEAMANCZYK: You know, I think tonight, they feel like this is anybody‘s race.
Before this whole union battle started in Wisconsin, they were very, very comfortable with where they stood in this race. Internal polls showed that Prosser was way up. But ever since that battle, the left and unions have organized and have tried to make this race into a referendum on Governor Walker, and on this union policy. And now, tonight, they believe that this really is anyone‘s race. It will be very a close race, and it could be late tonight before we actually know who wins.
MADDOW: We also have seen so much outside spending in this race. I saw some reporting today that suggested that this may be the most expensive state Supreme Court race in Wisconsin history. I guess we‘ll have to wait for the final tally to really know that.
But in terms of the conservative spending in particular, has that helped David Prosser distance himself from the governor, or has that been more directed toward defending the governor‘s policies and David Prosser along with them?
LEAMANCZYK: Where the ads have been for Prosser in the last few weeks is really trying to say that he is an independent justice, the justice with a lot of experience in this race. Early on, there were a lot more Kloppenburg ads, pro-Kloppenburg ads and anti-Prosser ads that we were seeing. In the last several days, Prosser ads have really started peppering the airwaves, and we‘ve heard more from the incumbent justice.
But, in fact, most of the spending is really from outside groups. Prosser and Kloppenburg on their own have not spent that much money. But the outside groups certainly have spent millions to influence this race.
MADDOW: And I know in part because they accepted public financing. You could almost see the shift in tax tactics in this race once those union-stripping thing went forward and it made this race into such an obvious proxy war. I wonder if you were seeing that proxy war dynamic, that effect, also in the county executive races or any of the other races on the ballot tonight in Wisconsin.
LEAMANCZYK: Well, absolutely. You are showing some of those ads from Milwaukee county—from that county executive race. Jeff Stone, the conservative challenger, it is a nonpartisan race. However, clearly, there are two parties in this election.
But Jeff Stone is a Republican member of the state assembly. He did vote for that Walker bill, which stripped public unions of most of their collective bargaining rights. And that has certainly been used against him.
Milwaukee does have a considerable union membership and a union history, and his opponent, Chris Abele, who is a political newcomer, has really tried to link Stone and that vote to Scott Walker in hopes of garnering that union support and really sort of energizing that effort to get people out to the polls.
MADDOW: Were you or anybody else covering this race for WTMJ—was anybody able to really determine anything, I guess, anecdotally important about turnout in this race? Seeing any kind of either anti-Scott Walker effect, or response to the big spending effect? Is there any evidence of larger turnout than you would normally expect on either side for this kind of a local spring election?
LEAMANCZYK: Absolutely. I mean, spring elections are not generally very well attended. If you get 25 percent turnout, that‘s considered a victory in a spring election. Today, we are seeing areas with 45, 50 percent turnout, almost governor‘s race or presidential race type numbers.
In Wisconsin, turnout is always a huge part of the game, because it is such a swing state. We‘re seeing high turnout in Dane County, which, of course, is very left-leaning. It‘s the home of the University of Wisconsin and state capitol, a lot of public workers there.
We‘re also seeing high turnout in Waukesha County, which is probably the most populous country that leans very Republican.
So, those two counties are really key ballots grounds in this state to see which one turns out in higher numbers.
Milwaukee County is seeing turnout around 35 percent right now.
And in some areas, like Fond du Lac, they‘ve actually run of ballots and maybe keeping the polls open later tonight, because there are such long lines.
So, we are hearing anecdotally that counties are running out of ballots because the turnout has been so overwhelming. But we‘re hearing that from both conservative and liberal-leaning districts. So, it will be interesting to see which side wins out and did a better job of turning out their base.
MADDOW: Do you have any sort of educated guess on when you think we‘ll have extrapolatable results in terms of tonight‘s vote?
LEAMANCZYK: Well, I don‘t know if I‘m so good at guessing this. But no one from either campaign seems to think it‘s going to be before 10:00 p.m. tonight. I just think both sides—if it is as close as everyone is expecting, are really going to want to wait until all of those numbers trickle in. Certainly, this is a state-wide race so some of the smaller counties and more rural areas at times do take longer to report. And both sides are going to want to wait for every single vote.
MADDOW: Laura Leamanczyk of the NBC Wisconsin affiliate WTMJ live from Milwaukee, you have one of the best jobs in reporting tonight, covering a race like this. I envy you and grateful to you for your help. Thank you.
LEAMANCZYK: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: If the soon to be George W. Bush Library in Dallas builds an exhibit about Bush‘s attempt to privatize Social Security, they would probably call it something like political capital squandered or I have some regrets.
So now Republicans are trying to do the same thing with Medicare.
Fail to learn, doomed to repeat, et cetera, et cetera. Just ahead.
MADDOW: Last week we talked about, and I mispronounced something called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Why was I talking about a conservative think tank from Midland, Michigan? Because they‘ve been talking about me.
They are the folks that filed the Freedom of Information Act requests through e-mail so professors at public universities in Michigan. The search terms they specified in their requests were Wisconsin, Scott Walker, Madison, and Maddow.
When the story broke at “Talking Points Memo” last week, we called the Mackinac Center to ask why they were looking for my name in the e-mail accounts of state university professors. They said publicly and they told us directly that they would not explain themselves.
Then today, unexpectedly, they did explain themselves. So we now have their explanation. We now have the explanation, I guess, of why professors who have ever put my name in an e-mail are going to get their e-mails combed through by a conservative group. That explanation is coming up. I advise you to make popcorn.
MADDOW: Right after he won re-election in 2004, right after he beat John Kerry and got elected to a second term as president, George W. Bush made a horrible political mistake. At the end of his presidency, looking back, he identified this really big mistake he made as president.
Not Iraq, not torture, nothing like that. No, the thing he regretted that even he acknowledged was a mistake. It was the post election road show tour that he went on in 2005. After George Bush won re-election in 2004, remember he said that he had also won political capital?
Remember the first thing he said he was going to spend that political capital on? Let us refresh our memories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That‘s what happened after the 2000 election.
I earned some capital. I‘ve earned capital in this election, and I‘m going to spend it, for what I—what I‘ve told the people I would intend it on, which is you‘ve heard the agenda, Social Security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Social Security. President Bush after the ‘04 election tried to convince America that Social Security should be privatized. He went on a post election national road show to talk all over the country in places like Arkansas and Nebraska, all over the country to try to convince audiences that Social Security was not the most popular and successful government program of all-time.
It was, rather, a problem. And frankly, it needed to be dismantled and Wall Street needed to be put in charge of that money because Wall Street would be able to take better care of it than the evil government program that had been handling it all along.
As President Bush traveled the country, right after winning re-election, trying to convince the American people that Social Security should be privatized, the American people became more and more horrified by this idea. The more he talked about it, the more people were sure they did not want that.
Check it out. Here‘s what the American people thought about President Bush‘s handling of Social Security in March 2001, 49 percent of Americans thought he was doing a good job. Just to give you an idea of where his support was on this issue before he started the big privatization push.
Roughly half the country was with him, only 31 percent of people actively against him on the issue. Cut to the beginning of February, 2005. This is when the privatized Social Security spend my political capital road show gets under way. President Bush is touring America‘s heartland, pushing for privatization.
And suddenly, only 43 percent of the people approve of the way he is handling Social security and 48 percent disapprove of what he is doing. By late April and early May, once the word got out on the president‘s privatization plan, yes, this is not going the right direction. Only 35 percent of Americans approve of his handling of Social Security, and the percent of people disapproving goes up to 58 percent.
Privatizing social security is an idea that people don‘t like. It has never been a particularly popular idea. But once President Bush got done campaigning on it all over the country, not only was the idea itself less popular, President Bush had less credibility with the public for having even suggested it.
By the time the politics of this were becoming clear to the Republicans, they tried to salvage it by changing some of the nouns. They got Frank Lutz, the Republican spin doctor guy to tell everybody urgently to never call it privatization.
Instead he said they should call it, wait for it, personalization.
You remember that? They even stopped calling them Wall Street accounts. President Bush first wanted to funnel everybody‘s money into private accounts. Suddenly they were called personal accounts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I believe that younger workers ought to be able to set aside some of their own payroll taxes in what‘s called a personal retirement account. I think it‘s important to gradually phase in the idea of personal accounts. A personal retirement account that will earn a better rate of return than the current Social Security trust earns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know, to be fair, when I say, that‘s personal, what I mean is, that‘s private. So—maybe it was just a thesaurus thing. In any case, you permissive or not, people liked Social Security and they did not want Republicans messing with it, privatizing it, personalizing it, whatever you want to call it, do not mess with Social security.
Flash forward five years and the Republicans are trying it again, this time with the only program that competes with Social Security, in terms of popularity and success and efficiency. Republicans had Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin introduce their budget this week, a budget that will privatize Medicare. It will get rid of Medicare.
It will instead make the elderly try to buy health insurance on the open market. For trying to figure out how this is going to work out for the Republicans politically, don‘t forget how it worked out for George W. Bush in 2005. There was his 35 percent approval, 58 percent disapproval on his signature issue, Mr. President, followed by this for his party the following year.
This is what happened to all that Republican political capital after President Bush decided to spend it on privatizing Social Security. Now Republicans are trying to privatize Medicare, but Republicans know that recent history, too. They remember 2005 and 2006. They remember President Bush‘s Social Security privatization road show, and what happened to them in the mid terms.
And yet here they are in 2011, suggesting that we privatize/personalize Medicare. The Republicans did not lose this fight in 2005 on their own. Privatization did not necessarily start off as the most humiliatingly unpopular concept it became by the time bush was done making his pitch.
It became that, because in part, Democrats explained what it meant to people. And in bringing this idea to the table again, Republicans do have a strategy. It appears to be to present this idea of privatizing Medicare, as if it‘s not that same idea everybody has hated forever.
And especially in 2005, when Bush talked about privatizing Social Security, they are trying to present this now as if it‘s some brand-new idea that nobody has ever thought of before, nobody has ever been disgusted by before, and one not called privatization. And while we‘re on the subject, you know what else it‘s not called?
Vouchers or coupons. Congressman Ryan has suggested a Medicare voucher program before. It did not go well for him. The idea is that elderly people do not get guaranteed health insurance anymore. They have to buy it on the open market from private health insurance companies. But don‘t worry, you get a coupon for a discount.
Now Democrats say this new plan does the exact same thing. It is vouchers. It is coupons for health care, sink or swim, good luck, hope you can afford it. Congressman Ryan is already recognizing his messaging mistake here. He is countering that no, it‘s not the case, it‘s not a voucher system.
He would prefer for you to call it a premium support system, which sounds like it‘s great for your back. Also, President Bush just wanted to personalize Social Security. In the end, how this all works out politically for Republicans? Likely will come down to which party learned the most from the last fight over this exact same thing. It is a bad idea for the Republicans to be pursuing this politically, but it is a worse idea for the Democrats to not fight them on it.
MADDOW: Maine Governor Paul LePage has been on vacation this week in Jamaica, much warmer than it is in Maine‘s state capitol at the start of mud season. Governor LePage I‘m sure appreciates the break from what has been a very long first winter of being Maine‘s governor.
Remember when he had workers tear down a mural at the State Department of Labor because he didn‘t like all the labor in it? All those forlorn child laborers of Maine‘s past can be a bummer while you‘re actively trying to roll back Maine‘s child labor laws, for example.
Turns out that when Maine moved its Department of Labor into a new consolidated headquarters a few years ago and they commissioned that mural for their lobby, they tapped some federal funds for setting up that new headquarters. That‘s what paid for more than half the mural and a lot else besides at the new State Department of Labor HQ.
Since the federal government only paid for that mural because it was supposed to be part of the new State Department of Labor HQ, the governor ripping it down means that Maine has got to pay the federal government back. Because the state is no longer using that money for what they said they would use it for.
So when Governor LePage gets back from Jamaica, one of the unopened pieces of mail on his desk will be this letter letting him know that Maine either has to put that thing back up in the State Labor office somewhere or send the federal government its $38,000 back.
The funny thing about trying to sensor ideas or books or music or a 36-foot long labor mural is that the world has a way of finding those things anyway. Finding them and making them bigger by virtue of your attempt to make them go away.
A couple days ago, it seems like somebody had the brilliant idea of projecting the mural Governor LePage wants to hide directly on the Maine State capitol building. Look at this.
Drove up with a laptop and they turned the labor mural into a giant fantastic slide show right on the outside of the people‘s house, the Maine State Capitol. And then because this is also the way of the world, they got run off the lawn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putting the mural back up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putting the mural back up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope not. Because if you do, we‘ll have APD right out here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOFF: Get off my lawn. We don‘t yet know who pulled off this particularly wondrous bit of direct action. We have been asking around in Maine. We think at least one of them is a student, but so far that‘s all we‘ve heard and that‘s not very specific.
I realize, this probably makes me a hippie, but I love this thing that you guys did, this non-destructive, nonviolent art confrontation you did at the state capitol. Get in touch, you guys, it‘s email@example.com. Please. Come on.
MADOFF: Returns in Wisconsin‘s election slowly coming in right now in the state Supreme Court race with 8 percent of precincts reporting. Incumbent David Prosser and his challenger Joann Kloppenburger dead even 50/50. May be a long night in Wisconsin. We will stay on it.
MADDOW: Thank you for watching this TV show. Whether you are a regular viewer of the show, hi, dad, or someone who watches every once in a while, have you ever mentioned to anybody else in your life something that you saw on this show? Have you ever sent anybody a link from a clip to this show or made a comment like, yes I saw that on Maddow?
Have you ever for any reason typed the word “Maddow” in an e-mail? If so and you are employed in any part of the public sector, a group of very well funded conservatives in Michigan would like to cull your e-mails out from everyone else‘s and comb through them to see if they can catch you having done anything illegal or improper.
They would like to use the power of open records laws to make public the e-mails of anyone who has put in print my name or the name of this here liberal TV show for any reason. Last week, Evan McMorris at “Talking Points Memo” reported that an anti-union rights conservation think tank in Michigan, a multimillion dollar outfit funded by one of the Koch brothers and by the family that owns Wal-Mart and by the parents of the guy who founded Black Water and by a bunch of undisclosed funders beyond that.
“Talking Points Memo” reported last week that a conservative organization in Michigan, the Mackinac Foundation, had demanded to see e-mails from professors at three Michigan public universities, Wayne State, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan.
The Mackinac Center demanded that any e-mails be turned over to them that mentioned Scott Walker, Wisconsin, Madison, or me, Maddow. Maddow is one of their search terms. Our show contacted the MacKinac Center when this news broke. They told us they did not have to explain it and would not explain it.
But now out of the blue they have explained it and if a person who watches this show you or a person named Maddow me wasn‘t weirded out by this demanding the e-mails thing before, then behold. Here is their explanation.
Quote, “we asked for these e-mails first because Ms. Maddow had recently criticized at length Michigan‘s governor and his labor related legislation in a TV segment virally circulated on the web and second because FOIA requests are an inexact art much like a Google search. You can ask for everything and get everything but not only is it timely to do so, it is both time consuming and needlessly intrusive on the activities of public employees.
Hence by including e-mails referring Ms. Maddow, we were aiming to generate a more narrowly targeted set of e-mails.” More narrowly targeted to what? What exactly are you zooming in on by including my name in this search? It‘s because I reported on Michigan‘s republican governor? That helps narrow down your search?
Here is a long segment on Fox News last month about Governor Snyder and his labor force policies in Michigan. It involves a Fox Business Channel anchor named Varney and a Fox News host whose last name is McKlum. Why not put Varney and McKlum on your demand to see professors‘ e-mails?
They‘re talking about Rick Snyder.
Here‘s a pretty brutal piece on Governor Schneider on doing a state initiative that got over a hundred movies filmed in Michigan over the past three years. Why not put CNN Money or Fortune or the name of this reporter from this story on your demand to see professors‘ e-mails? They are talking about Rick Snyder.
Here is CBS News headlining Governor Snyder‘s financial martial law bill. CBS News, the CBS News. Stephanie Comden wrote that piece. Why not include CBS or Comden or financial martial law on your demand to see professors‘ e-mails? They were talking about Rick Snyder.
Why are none of those people listed in the conservative group‘s demands to see professors‘ e-mails? Because they say they are looking for specificity. Quote, “by including e-mails referring to Ms. Maddow, we were aiming to generate a more narrowly targeted set of e-mails.”
This conservative group is not demanding to see professors‘ e-mails narrowly targeted to discussions of news coverage people have seen about Michigan‘s governor, Rick Snyder. They could have done that with any number of search terms that make more sense like say financial martial law or say the name Rick Snyder even.
Instead by making one of the search terms my name the name of the show singling out only me and the media, this conservative group narrowly targets its demand to see professors‘ e-mails so it only applies specifically to professors who saw my coverage, our coverage about Michigan politics. Who saw something on this show on this TV show hosted by this liberal.
According to the Mackinac Center‘s explanation today, quote, “at a minimum, we thought a FOIA investigating professors‘ e-mails on these subjects might demonstrate whether state officials should ask questions about this use of tax dollars for public universities.”
In the worst case scenario, we knew these e-mails might suggest that the faculty had acted illegally. So again I want to say thank you to you for watching this show. Thank you for watching this show this year in this era of big, intrusive government conservativism.
Because what big intrusive government conservatives think that open records laws are for is for finding out which public employees, which university professors watch this show or discuss things that happen on this show. Those professors who ever mentioned the word “Maddow” will now have their e-mails gone through with a fine tooth comb by conservatives who say they will go through them to try to find something that could be used to embarrass you.
Embarrass you enough to jeopardize state funding for your employer or maybe if they hit the jackpot maybe they‘ll be able to find something in your e-mails that could put you in jail. If you have used the word “Maddow” and they can use government power to get enough leverage over you in Michigan you are on their list and they are coming after you.
Watching this TV show and discussing its content should not be an act of bravery. The conservative movement is making sure that you know it is. If it feels cold all of a sudden, if that gives you a little shiver, it is supposed to. That‘s how they roll. Now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.” Good night.
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