'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, June 20, 2011
Read the transcript to the Monday show
Guests: David Axelrod, Bruce Bartlett, Meghan McCain
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST: On Friday night, Netroots progressives came here to this program to express their disappointment with President Obama. Tonight, David Axelrod is here to defend the president.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: And there hasn‘t been enough focus on jobs and job creation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president is expected to layout a plan for withdrawal this week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gay marriage on the brink in another bellwether state.
O‘DONNELL (voice-over): Jobs, Afghanistan, marriage equality—what‘s the president‘s message for 2012?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: The White House bracing for a major turning point on the war in Afghanistan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As the president has made clear in bringing our troops home. And that has to be stepped up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To end these wars and bring that money home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The single vote away from making New York the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
MITCHELL: Governor Cuomo has been trying to get this vote.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The real problem is a demand crisis in the economy.
SCHUMER: We Democrats are going to put forth an agenda this summer and this fall, jobs first.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the reason the economy has sort of stalled in its tracks is there‘s a demand crisis.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama needs to be pushed.
MIKE BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: President Obama‘s strategist, David Axelrod, is expressing confidence about 2012.
DAVID AXELROD, TOP OBAMA STRATEGIST: I don‘t think the unemployment rate will be 9 percent.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST: What‘s President Obama‘s winning playbook for 2012?
O‘DONNELL: Obama campaign senior strategist David Axelrod joins me.
AXELROD: I‘m very confident that we will be in the right place.
O‘DONNELL: And where are the Republican candidates? They‘re running as far right as possible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Huntsman, Rick Perry, one is called “too moderate,” the other “too extreme.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry says that the Republican is now 50/50 on making a run for the White House. I think he‘s coming in a little bit late.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, more motocross.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Get ready 2012, the Tea Party will be bigger than ever!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at the Newt Gingrich schedule for the week.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shortest presidential campaign ever.
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everything he‘s doing is nuts.
O‘DONNELL: And FOX News Chris Wallace doesn‘t know the difference between his show and Jon Stewart‘s?
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: You are not making a political comment?
JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: You really think that‘s a political comment?
STEWART: You‘re insane.
MATTHEWS: Wallace must have been playing rope-a-dope.
O‘DONNELL: Rachel Maddow joins me on Wallace versus Stewart.
STEWART: Being a comedian is harder than what you do.
O‘DONNELL: Good evening from New York.
President Obama and Vice President Biden spent their Saturday with Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich, appearing to be out of touch with the concerns of the 89 percent of us who never play golf and are overwhelmed with boredom at the sight of it.
The 11 percent of the adult American population that does play golf could not be more stacked against the president politically. Only 22 percent of them are women, 5 percent of them are African-American.
While the president was playing the game of choice of un-athletic white Republicans, in Minneapolis, a group politically stacked in the president‘s favor was meeting at the Netroots Nation convention. But according to a straw poll of the convention, approval for the president‘s job performance has dropped to a new low. “The Huffington Post” set up a camera at the conference and asked Netroots activists how they feel about President Obama now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He missed the moment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was a big supporter of Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I volunteered on his campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I saw the enthusiasm that he generated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ended up being pretty disappointed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A big let down, unfortunately.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He disappointed a lot of people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president needed to be bolder.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too much trust and too much caution.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He‘s got the bully pulpit. Get up there and be a bully.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very easy to try and gain credibility with the so-called center of the right of the party by holding the left side at arm‘s length, or honestly openly sliding (ph) them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama has really not bonded with his base. He‘s dissed his base.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He needs to use the bloggers, he needs to use the Netroots, use the progressive left.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
O‘DONNELL: While the Obama campaign tries to re-energize supporters from its headquarters in Chicago, the Republican field of candidates will officially add one new name this week. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who is also the former Obama administration ambassador to China, plans to announce his candidacy tomorrow.
Joining me now, senior strategist for President Obama‘s re-election campaign, David Axelrod.
Thank you very much for joining me tonight, David.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR STRATEGIST, OBAMA RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN: Glad to be here, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: David, I want to give you a chance to respond to something we did on the program Friday night. We had Lieutenant Dan Choi on, talking about what was going on on Netroots Nation, but also his disappointment with the president on the issue he cares about the most, marriage equality.
Let‘s listen to what Dan Choi said here on the program Friday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN CHOI, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: If this president wants to get the volunteers that he had in 2008 I would ask him to go to universities and the ask the kids, the new first-time voters, 18 to 23, 24 years old, ask them what they think about marriage and the rights of gay people to live equality, and I think if he did come out and say yes, I believe gay people are equal, you would have a lot of volunteers. I would be out there. But, as of right now, no, I don‘t think that I should endorse a president that does not endorse my full personhood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: David, what prevents the president from endorsing full marriage equality?
AXELROD: Well, first of all, Lawrence, let‘s recap what the president has done on this issue. He‘s argued from the beginning for equal legal rights, equal benefits. He‘s brought that policy to the federal government. He obviously fought long and hard to end the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy.
He—it‘s been the policy of his administration, as you know, not to defend the DOMA cases moving forward, because he thinks there are significant constitutional issues. And he supported the rights of states to make—to make these decisions, as New York is doing probably even as we—even as we speak.
So, there‘s been significant progress under his administration. And he‘s pointed the way forward on this issue.
I understand—I understand the sentiment that was expressed and I understand why. But let‘s understand the progress that we‘ve made on this issue.
O‘DONNELL: Are you concerned with one of the things that Dan Choi points out there in his comment and others at Netroots Nation we‘re raising, which is that issue of enthusiasm of volunteers? Can you recapture that given they have the kinds of disappointments with the president on this issue and others?
AXELROD: You know, we‘ve made historic progress on this issue, Lawrence. And it may not be progress to the satisfaction of everyone, but we certainly made progress moving in the right direction. I think history is moving in a direction here.
And the question is, when faced with the—I mean, I heard a Republican debating in which there was discussion of a constitutional amendment on this issue and on reinstating “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” and so on. There‘s going to be a fundamental choice to be made in the next election. I think that choice will be clear to everyone, and will be a galvanizing choice for people across this country.
O‘DONNELL: There was a Netroots Nation straw poll that looks pretty good for you, that was taken last week, amidst all that negative talk about the administration. At Netroots Nation, President Obama got 80 percent approval and 20 percent disapproval. That‘s just last week, even though we had all that hot video coming out of Minneapolis indicating there was a lot of dissatisfaction.
But when you consider the previous Netroots Nation polls of approval for the president, you go back to 2009, in the first year of his presidency while you were working in the White House in August, not long into his presidency, he had 95 percent approval in that same poll at Netroots Nation. Last year, in July 2010, that had gone out 11 points to an 84. You‘re now down to 80 percent.
There‘s a 15-point drop of his approval at Netroots Nation over the course of this presidency. Can you reverse that? How important is that?
It seems to me that Netroots Nation is a big enough group to be an indicator of something larger than just how they themselves feel.
AXELROD: Well, I would venture to say that if you would—and they probably did take a poll 16 months before the last election. And I‘m not sure we would have gotten anywhere near 80 percent among that group.
So, you know, my view is, on this—like so many other things—let‘s focus on it in real time when the campaign is fully engaged, the choices are clear. I think sometimes people can be hardest on their friends and that there‘s something of that here. But I believe that when the race is fully engaged and when the choices are clear, that you‘re going to see people who care about this country step forward and participate in this campaign in an enthusiastic way.
And we‘re getting, by the way, a tremendous apartment of volunteer response. Already, as you know, the campaign kicked off officially on April 1st. And the volunteer activity—I just came from the campaign headquarters—the volume of activity, and people who are eager to get going and organize and take this fight to their communities and around their virtual communities, it was very, very—it‘s very, very strong.
So, I don‘t—I don‘t, in any way, doubt that there are those who don‘t feel like progress has been made fast enough. I have no doubt that there are people with particular issues of concern who feel that way. But, at the end of the day, I believe that people are going to be fully engage when this next election comes because they‘ll understand exactly what the stakes are.
O‘DONNELL: David, I just want to do one more thing on marriage equality before me we move on to the Republican candidates, I really want to get your take on.
But there‘s a story brewing today indicating that some of the political advisers to the president are thinking about what it would mean if he were to come out and actually say he‘s in favor of marriage equality, what it would mean politically.
He‘s for it. I can‘t believe he‘s not for it. I do believe that as a politician, there‘s a calculation that‘s being made for his election purposes where he should—that he should say what he‘s saying.
I think that‘s probably the same thing with the death penalty. I‘m sure he‘s not really in favor of the death penalty. But as a politician it become what‘s you have so say in Democratic circles now.
Is there something that would happen in the next 12 months, that could publicly change what is his public and what I personally believe his public position on marriage equality?
AXELROD: Well, first of all, Lawrence, I want to stipulate to everybody that you say. You have a show and on that show, one of the beauty of it is you offer analysis and opinion. But I don‘t—you know, I‘m not climbing into the president‘s head here and telling what he thinks versus what he says.
I think he‘s made very clear his view that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to their legal rights. He‘s fought for those legal rights. And he said recently that, you know, his position as evolved on this over the years.
But I‘m not going to project ahead or consider hypotheticals as to what may happen here or there. All I know is that a lot of progress has been made on the issue of civil rights as it relates to gay and lesbian couples because of the leadership that he‘s providing.
O‘DONNELL: David, earlier in the month, “The New York Times” reported that you had only two names up there in the board terms of who you had to worry about: Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. Then 10 days later, a third name got added: Jon Huntsman. But there‘s really only three names up on your board, according to reports, about who really looking at as possible candidates.
This show has officially declared Tim Pawlenty to be the nominee because there‘s just too much wrong with every other Republican in the field, Republican primary voters will, through a process of elimination, be left with Pawlenty as the last man standing.
What—tell me how you would campaign against Tim Pawlenty. Tell me what I don‘t yet see are his vulnerabilities going into a general election if he‘s the nominee that you‘re campaigning against.
AXELROD: Well, first of all, I wish I had your clarity.
O‘DONNELL: It‘s so easy when you‘re sitting here, David. It‘s really easy when you‘re sitting here.
AXELROLD: You can save me a whole lot of trouble if I—if I could just bank on that.
Look, I don‘t know—first of all, let me just say, not to challenge your theory, but you know, what I see in terms of the Republican field is that, you know, you have two essential races going on. One is the Tea Party race and the other is what I call the martini party race. You know, the regular Republicans versus the Tea Party Republicans, candidates coming up, both lanes.
One of the challenges for Governor Pawlenty is he‘s tried to straddle that line. But in order to get nominated, you‘ve got to win somewhere.
And, you know, there are strong candidates in both of those primaries in Iowa, you know, Michele Bachmann is a strong candidate. If Governor Perry gets in, he‘d likely be a strong candidate. So, I think Governor Pawlenty has some challenges there.
You get to New Hampshire and Romney is a very strong candidate there.
Governor Huntsman is staking his climb there.
If you don‘t win either of those places, South Carolina becomes difficult.
So, the question for him is, how do you get nominated if you don‘t win anywhere?
But you‘ve taken care of that. You‘ve awarded him nomination. So, let‘s talk about him as a candidate.
You know, I‘m a little confused as to how you square the record with the pronouncements. He‘s made a major large piece of fiscal integrity. He‘s going to restore fiscal integrity and deal with the federal budget issues that we‘re working hard to deal with right now.
And one thing he‘s going to have to explain is, if he feels so strongly about fiscal probity and fiscal responsibility, then why did he leave this state with a $6.2 billion deficit? That‘s going to be tough issue for him to explain.
He‘s introduced an economic plan that would have four times the amount of tax breaks for the very wealthy, that the Bush economic plan did, at a time when we have these gigantic deficits. And in order to accommodate that and balance the budget, you just have to wreak havoc on education, on innovation, research and development—on virtually everything that we need to bring about a better future.
So, that would be a debate that we would welcome. And, you know, if he should get there and if the O‘Donnell crystal ball is as clear and as vivid as it seems to be to you, and he makes it, then, we‘ll look forward to having that debate.
O‘DONNELL: All right. And, David, stick around in the studio and watch what‘s coming up on the show. I‘m going to have a Republican who work for Ronald Reagan come on here and dismantle the Pawlenty economic plan as how—to show exactly how ridiculous it is and this whole Republican theory about how tax cuts actually pay for themselves. We‘re going to rip apart that lie, in a way that I hope you might find effective or maybe usable going forward.
AXELROD: I‘ll be talking notes, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: David Axelrod, thank you very, very much for joining us tonight.
AXELROD: Thanks for having me.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, Jon Stewart‘s devastating take on FOX News while appearing on FOX News.
And Meghan McCain joins me to talk about the 2012 Republican candidates. We‘ll see if she agrees with me that Tim Pawlenty has the big shot at the nomination and tell us the biggest mistakes the candidates have made so far.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, the big Republican lie. Cutting taxes raises more money for the federal government. Bruce Bartlett is here to demolish that lie more powerfully than I ever could because Bruce Bartlett is a Republican who worked in the Reagan White House. Who better to kill an Republican lie than a Reagan Republican.
He‘s going to give you everything you will ever need to win the tax cut argument with your family, your friends, your co-workers—anyone else who buys that Republican lie. You need to see this. You and I are going to both learn a lot from Bruce Bartlett.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM PAWLENTY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Once we unleash the energy of America‘s businesses and families and individuals, as we did in the ‘80s and ‘90s, a booming job market will reduce demand for government assistance and rising incomes will increase federal revenues. In the 1980s, revenues to the federal government increased by 99 percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Tim Pawlenty, like all the other Republican presidential candidates, pushes the great Republican tax lie, that tax cuts actually increase the amount of money the government collects in taxes. Republicans say the federal government will get more by taxing less because lower tax rates will make everyone work harder, they‘ll want to work harder, they‘ll make more money than before, the economy will be stimulated, and there will be more money in the total economy, subject to taxation.
This is now a Republican article of faith.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: You cut taxes, and the tax revenues increase.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: The fact is the tax cuts have dramatically increased revenues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has said, quote, “There‘s no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy.”
Much ignored by Republican politicians is what Republican economic experts actually think about this. Here is George W. Bush‘s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson during his confirmation hearing in 2006.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANK PAULSON, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY: The general rule, I don‘t believe that tax cuts pay for themselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: President Bush‘s chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers was completely ignored when he said this in testimony to the Senate Budget Committee in 2006. Quote, “As a general rule, we do not think that tax cuts pay for themselves. Certainly, the data do not support this claim.”
And Alan Greenspan, who was first appointed to the Federal Reserve by President Reagan, said this David Gregory last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: You don‘t agree with Republican leaders who say tax cuts pay for themselves?
ALAN GREENSPAN, FORMER FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: I do not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Joining me now, returning from the show, is Bruce Bartlett, who served as executive director of the Joint Economic Committee as a senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House, and as a treasury, deputy assistant secretary for economic policy during the first Bush administration. He is now a columnist for the “Fiscal Times” and a contributor to “The New York Times.”
Bruce, thanks for joining me again tonight.
BRUCE BARTLETT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Happy to be here.
O‘DONNELL: Tim Pawlenty recently told Dave Weigel, “Slate” reporter, he said, when Ronald Reagan cut taxes in a significant way, revenues actually increased by almost 100 percent during Reagan‘s eight years as president.
You were there. What happened during the eight years of the Reagan presidency after the Reagan tax cut? What happened to how much revenue we collected?
BARTLETT: Look, what Pawlenty said is just factually untrue. And anybody who wants to find out can just go to CBO.com and look up the data at the Congressional Budget Office Web site for themselves.
The fact is that between fiscal year 1981 and 1989, revenues increased in nominal dollar terms, only 65 percent. But almost a good chunk of that was inflation. If you simply took the 1981 numbers and inflated them to 1989 numbers, the increase was only about 25 percent. And, of course, the population increased so—on a per capita a basis, revenues were only up about 15 percent.
But, at the end of the day, what really matters is revenues as a share of GDP and they were down about a percentage point, which means revenues were about $66 billion lower than they would have been if they had simply stayed constant as share of GDP.
O‘DONNELL: Bruce, we searched and searched, couldn‘t find any anybody in the Reagan administration, couldn‘t find any videotape of anyone in the Reagan administration saying these tax cuts will increase revenue to the federal treasury.
BARTLETT: Well, that‘s because nobody in the administration ever said that.
O‘DONNELL: Oh, OK. We‘ll stop searching then.
BARTLETT: If you go back to the documents that the administration sent to Capitol Hill in February 1981 they showed massive revenue losses based on standard revenue-estimating methodology. And if you check the CBO reports that came out around the same time, you will find that the CEO, which was then under Democratic control, had almost the same identical estimates.
Now, it turned out that revenues came in much lower than anybody expected, but that was mainly because inflation came down much more quickly than anybody expected, and inflation increases the size of the tax base. So, lower inflation reduces federal revenues.
O‘DONNELL: We—the studies that you have pointed out in your writing and others have indicated show that there is an effect, there is a stimulative effect to a tax cut. So, if you say, if you do, say, $100 billion in a tax cut, it will not generate $100 billion in new tax revenue, but it might generate as much as $30 billion, maybe $15 billion. There will be some stimulative effect to it.
But the net loss is overwhelming. We just heard Mitch McConnell say about the 21st century Bush tax cuts, that that same magic trick occurred, that we—that Bush cut taxes and we increased revenue. Where would he get that idea?
BARTLETT: Well, that‘s just complete nonsense. I really have no idea of what basis he‘s making that claim. Look, some very special type of tax cuts such as a cut in the capital gains rate can come very close to paying for themselves because taxpayers essentially decide for themselves whether to realize income or not. And in across the board tax rate reduction, may only lose 70 percent or so of the revenue that a static estimate would show.
But there are lots and lots of tax cuts and there were plenty of them in the Bush tax cuts, refundable child credits and things of that sort that just lose dollar for dollar revenue and have no feedback effects whatsoever.
O‘DONNELL: Feedback effects or what economists call that effective stimulative return to the Treasury, very small. There‘s a huge difference between what Republicans are saying is there‘s 100 percent or more feedback effect and what we found is way, way, way down into tiny numbers and then in many, many cases zero.
Bruce Bartlett, I can go on and on about this. I cannot thank you enough for coming on tonight and ruining this Republican lie. I hope you can still find some Republican friends in Washington to have dinner with tonight.
BARTLETT: All right. I will.
O‘DONNELL: Thank you very much for joining me tonight, Bruce.
Coming up: why Ron Paul is the most important Republican candidate for president who will never be president. That‘s in “The Rewrite.”
And the showdown between “The Daily Show‘s” Jon Stewart and “FOX News Sunday‘s” Chris Wallace. Joining me for analysis, Rachel Maddow.
O‘DONNELL: In the Spotlight tonight, the Republican presidential primary candidates analyzed, for once, by an actual Republican. It‘s time to analyze my theory that Tim Pawlenty has the best shot at the Republican nomination with someone who has actually ridden the campaign plane all of the way to the Republican nomination.
Joining me now, “Daily Beast” contributor and author of “Dirty Sexy Politics,” Meghan McCain. Meghan, thanks for joining me tonight.
MEGHAN MCCAIN, AUTHOR, “DIRTY SEXY POLITICS”: Thank you so much having me on, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: So Meghan, my theory is just process of elimination. It‘s just there‘s something wrong with Romney, the health care thing. There‘s something wrong with Gingrich, obviously. There‘s something wrong with all of them.
And the only one left standing, with the fewest problems in trying to appeal to Republican primary voters, is Tim Pawlenty. Am I missing something here?
MCCAIN: Well, I think you‘re missing two things. The first thing is that Republicans have a history of electing people that have sort of waited their turn. My father is a great example of that in the last election. I also think if anyone watched the Republican debate last week, you would see that he has a problem even confronting his own candidates that he‘s running against, let alone the actual president.
So he is someone I don‘t see as the strongest candidate. If I had to bet my money today, it would be Romney or Governor Huntsman.
O‘DONNELL: But on Pawlenty confronting Romney, what is that Republican commandment, that Reagan commandment, you know, we don‘t attack each other? And what about Pawlenty keeping his vice presidential ambitions alive? You don‘t want to hit a possible nominee like Romney too hard in the debate?
MCCAIN: That‘s true. But I never understand these candidates that are running to sort of have their own television show or just run for vice president. I think if you are going to run for president, you should run for president.
O‘DONNELL: Now we know that the Obama campaign only takes seriously Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman. So will just limit ourselves to them.
MCCAIN: You don‘t think they are taking Sarah Palin seriously?
O‘DONNELL: No. They know she‘s not running. I‘ve told them on this show that she‘s not running, and they take notes when they watch this show. It‘s out of the question. They don‘t have to worry about her.
You‘ve written in “the Daily Beast” some tips for Republican candidates. One of them is very specific. Don‘t use Fred Davis, the man responsible for viral political commercials such as—and who is using Fred Davis in this campaign?
MCCAIN: I think Governor Huntsman is using him right now.
O‘DONNELL: He is?
MCCAIN: But politics is very incestuous. And there tends to be one person working for many campaigns. I do know the semantics of what‘s going on inter-campaign. But I do know that these ads have historically been a mockery and gone viral for the wrong reasons.
If you‘re running for president in a very serious way, you just can‘t have videos going viral for the wrong reason. You need to have a strict message that‘s too the point, and stop using gimmicks, as you have seen with Fred Davis with the infamous demon sheep add and Christine O‘Donnell‘s now infamously parody I‘m not a witch ad.
O‘DONNELL: Yes, the Demon Sheep was a thing for Carly Fiorina in California, which you and I saw, but not everyone else did. But the I am not a witch is—it has its place in the hall of fame of bad campaign ads.
But Huntsman is going with this guy, which adds to my betting against Huntsman. The other thing is I don‘t know how Huntsman overcomes having worked in the Obama administration. How does he explain that to Republican primary voters?
MCCAIN: I don‘t know if that‘s necessarily going to be the biggest issue. I think it‘s something that he has explained, saying that when his president asked for him to work for him, he said yes.
For me, it‘s not the biggest issue at all. I think he‘s fluent in Mandarin and served his country. What I think is going to be most important for him is coming and staying true to his more moderate stance, which as well know in the primaries, can oftentimes—you can get away from that and sort of go towards the right.
O‘DONNELL: Meghan, quickly before we go, you‘re most surprising tip for Republicans candidates. It‘s tip number six, make friends with Rachel Maddow.
MCCAIN: I just don‘t think you can‘t run for president only doing interviews with Greta Van Susteren. Unfortunately, this is becoming a very strict trend. I think it‘s just lame and you‘re not going to get anywhere, or reach out to any other voters. You have to do interviews on every network, MSNBC, CNN, everything in between. You just can‘t placate to Fox.
O‘DONNELL: Meghan McCain, contributor to the “Daily Beast,” thank you very much for joining me tonight. Keep an eye on Tim Pawlenty, Meghan.
MCCAIN: I will. Thank you so much for having me.
O‘DONNELL: OK. Coming up, “the Daily Show”‘s Jon Stewart corners Fox‘s Chris Wallace while on Fox turf.
And Ron Paul will never get the Republican presidential nomination. But I‘ll tell you why we need him to stay in the race for as long as possible. And it‘s not what you think. That‘s in tonight‘s Rewrite.
O‘DONNELL: Time for tonight‘s Rewrite. Perennial presidential candidate Ron Paul is trying to spin the success he had this weekend in one hotel ballroom in New Orleans into success as a national candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Congressman Paul won the straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans on Saturday with 612 votes.
Jon Huntsman came in second, which will surely be the high point of the Huntsman campaign when he writes his memoirs. Michele Bachmann came in third. Herman Cain was fourth. And the front-runner in all of the polls, Willard M. Romney, came in fifth.
Tim Pawlenty, who has a better chance than any of them of actually getting the nomination, came in dead last. Any poll, straw or otherwise, that indicates Ron Paul has a better chance of becoming president than Tim Pawlenty is, of course, an ignorable absurdity.
Experienced election observers are not prepared to change Ron Paul‘s status from fringe candidate to contender. But all of us should be very glad that Ron Paul stays in this race. Here‘s why.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Congressman Paul, you say that the federal government should stay out of people‘s personal habit. You say marijuana, cocaine, even heroin should be legal if states want to permit it. You feel the same about prostitution and gay marriage.
Are you suggesting that heroin and prostitution is a an exercise of liberty?
REP. RON PAUL ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIATE: You know, I would probably never used those words. You put those words someplace. But, yes, in essence, if I leave it to the states, it‘s going to be up to the states.
Up until this past century, you know, for over 100 years, they were legal. What you‘re inferring is, you know what, if we legalize heroin tomorrow, everybody is going to use heroin.
How many people here would use heroin if it was legal? I bet nobody would—oh, yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don‘t want to use heroin, so I need these laws.
WALLACE: I never thought heroin would get applause here in South Carolina.
PAUL: It‘s more typical of an authoritarian government to have secret prisons. Therefore, I don‘t think it serves our purpose. We have tried nearly 300 suspects in civilian courts. And hundreds of them have been convicted and put away.
So why are we afraid of openness? We should treat people the way we think we might be treated under dire circumstances.
WALLACE: So just to be clear, the three of you, under individual case-by-case basis, would support waterboarding. Congressman Paul, you would not?
PAUL: No, I would not. You don‘t achieve anything.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congressman Paul, in 2007, in an interview, you were asked should gays be allowed to marry. You said, quote, “sure. They can do whatever they want and call it whatever they want.”
Are you advocating legalizing gay marriage in this country?
PAUL: Well, as a matter of fact, I spent a whole chapter in the new book I‘ve written on marriage. I think it‘s very important, seeing that I‘ve been married for 53, 54 years now.
But I think the government should just be out of it. I think it should be done by the church or private contract and we shouldn‘t have this argument. Who is married and who isn‘t married. I have my standards, but I shouldn‘t have to impose my standards on others.
Others have standards and they have no right to impose their married standards on me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Ron Paul should rewrite his bumper sticker. It shouldn‘t say Ron Paul for president because he‘s not really run for president. What he‘s running for he‘s actually succeeding at. What he‘s running for is American political myth buster.
He is showing us, to Chris Wallace‘s amazement and to mine, that heroin can get applause on Republican presidential debate stage in South Carolina. And without Ron Paul in this race, we would never hear one sensible thing said about marriage equality on a presidential debate stage.
Ron Paul is wrong about the debt ceiling. He‘s wrong about taxation.
He‘s wrong about government spending. He‘s wrong about many, many things.
But he‘s right about some very important things. And no American politician is in a position to change more minds about marriage equality than Ron Paul.
He is not speaking to the converted. He is speaking to conservative Republicans. He is speaking to evangelical Christians. He is going into the halls of the staunchest opponents of marriage equality in this country and he is telling them a truth so clear and so powerful that he is surely changing minds.
He may not be changing minds instantaneously. That‘s not the way we change our mind. But he is planting the seed. He is putting memorable words into the most resistant minds. His audiences may not be able to admit it right away. But he is surely shaking the confidence of some—some in their rigid, inhumane, opposition to marriage equality.
Ron Paul is an imperfect man, as are we all. But he is the perfect
messenger to deliver the marriage reality message to the least willing to
hear it, to those who would never listen to what a liberal has to say about
marriage equality, or what a Democrat has to say about it,
I, for one, hope Ron Paul is the last man standing against the eventual nominee in the Republican campaign. As soon as his presidential campaign microphone is turned off, he will return to the quiet life of an ignorable member of Congress. And eloquence, decency and political bravery on the issue of marriage equality will disappear from the presidential campaign.
O‘DONNELL: “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart appeared on “Fax News Sunday” with Wallace. Not surprisingly, the best question was asked by Jon Stewart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW”: You believe that Fox News is exactly the ideological equivalent of NBC News?
WALLACE: I think we‘re the counterweight.
STEWART: You believe that—
WALLACE: I think that they have a liberal agenda and I think we tell the other side of story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Wallace didn‘t notice that he was contradicting himself by saying, quote, “we tell the other side of the story.” At other moments, Wallace tries to claim that Fox News is fair and balanced, meaning it doesn‘t tell any side of the story; it actually just tell the story.
But Wallace was trapped in the—the box that Jon Stewart put him in for the rest of the interview. Wallace goes on to maintain that ABC News and “the New York Times” are full of liberal biased and that Fox News is neutral.
He also insists that Fox News doesn‘t ever pick sides, even when he‘s talking about things outside of his show. I just think Wallace never should have tried to defend anything outside the borders of his own show, because Wallace‘s confusion and his defensiveness just held up throughout the whole discussion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: I don‘t think our viewers are the least bit disappointed with us. I think our viewers think finally, they‘re getting somebody who tells the other side of the story.
STEWART: In the poll, who is the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox. Fox viewers, consistently. Every poll.
My beef isn‘t with you.
STEWART: But I believe you exist as—I think that Mr. Ailes has very brilliantly put you on. I think that you are here, in some respects, to bring a credibility and an integrity to an organization that might not otherwise have it without your presence.
So you are here as a counterweight to Hannity, let‘s say, or you are here as a counterweight to Glenn Beck. Because otherwise it‘s just pure talk radio, and it doesn‘t establish the type of political play that it wants to be.
WALLACE: But there‘s not a single marching order. There‘s not some kind of command. There‘s not—
STEWART: Here‘s the difference between you and I. I‘m a comedian first. My comedy is informed by an ideological background. There‘s no question about that.
But the thing that you will never understand, and the thing that in some respects conservative activists will never understand, is that Hollywood, yeah, they‘re liberal, but that‘s not their primary motivating force. I‘m not an activist. I‘m a comedian.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Wallace‘s most revealing personal moment came when he revealed he does not know the meaning of the word comedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Can we talk about your network?
WALLACE: Can we talk about Comedy Central?
STEWART: Be delighted to.
WALLACE: Case in point.
STEWART: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did you physically have sex with Tommy Lee? He has a huge (EXPLETIVE DELETED). If he put that thing in front of my face, I wouldn‘t know whether I should (EXPLETIVE DELETED) it or feed it a peanut.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: It‘s not exactly “Masterpiece Theater‘ you‘re working for.
STEWART: You‘re damn right. And I think I‘m perfectly placed.
O‘DONNELL: I had to prepare. I had to go through episodes of “South Park.” I had to see “Cartman‘s Mom Is a Slut,” Parts one and two. I had to look at “Reno 911.”
STEWART: Can I tell you something, though, about those guys. They are brilliant guys.
Did you really have to watch all those “South Parks”? Because they are funny. Those guys are brilliant.
WALLACE: I disagree with you again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Joining me now, Rachel Maddow, host of “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.” Rachel, thanks for coming in a little bit early tonight.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: I am happy to be here. It‘s so satisfying to see Chris Wallace self-inflict that Tommy Lee joke on himself and on all of Fox News. That was amazing.
O‘DONNELL: Well, he doesn‘t—I mean, he was comparing Fox News to Comedy Central. That was his choice, Rachel, to do that comparison, not understanding that the word that Fox needs to defend in its tight is news, and the word that Comedy Central needs to defend in its title is comedy. And everything he showed was comedy.
MADDOW: Everything he showed was comedy. And it was clearly just a play to get that kind of stuff on Fox News in order to entertain their viewers, thereby using Comedy Central‘s—they‘re using their own accomplishment to make Fox‘s own point.
It was such a strange interview. I can‘t believe that that went the way that Chris Wallace intended it to.
O‘DONNELL: Well, I think, you know, Jon Stewart‘s point about Fox News has Chris Wallace on there just so they can say they have him, just so they can say they have a reasonably fair Sunday morning show. It comes in dead last in the ratings. David Gregory just kills it by a million miles.
So it isn‘t there as a real business. It‘s just there as a fig leaf for the Fox News people to claim there‘s a news show Sunday morning.
MADDOW: Well, I think it was a smart move sort of tactically by Jon Stewart at that point, too. Because he‘s sort of playing to Chris Wallace‘s sense of self. He‘s saying to him implicitly, come on, Chris Wallace, you know that what you do every day is not the same thing as what Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck does.
He‘s both making the point and he‘s also driving a wedge right down the middle of Fox News and their marquise talent. I think that Jon is very, very good at these things, just tactically as an arguer. I really think that‘s why that particular point landed like a ton of bricks on Chris Wallace.
O‘DONNELL: Well, that‘s why you are here, Ms. Maddow. you are our resident expert on Jon Stewart, because you‘ve had one of these long conversations with him on your show about what is it that you‘re doing, what are you intending to do, what are you trying to do.
You didn‘t seem terribly confused by the presence of Jon Stewart in our culture. Chris Wallace seems to pretend there never was a Mark Twain, there never was any predecessor to someone who is able to make jokes and be funny and comment on current events.
MADDOW: And the other amazing thing—yes, that‘s totally true. Complete, I don‘t believe that “South Park” is funny. Come on, there‘s nobody in America who doesn‘t believe that “South Park” is funny.
Also, I don‘t think that people broadly think of Chris Wallace as being as ideological as many of the other hosts in the Fox lineup. But to hear him go straight out of talk radio with this liberal media biased, NBC is liberal media bias, to hear him sound like a daytime talk radio host and say that, have him caricature not only the rest of the media but Jon Stewart that way, I just—I took a step back and thought, oh, Chris Wallace is not actually the guy that I thought he was.
He‘s a lot more like the other Fox News hosts than we knew, and not in a way that I think flattered him.
O‘DONNELL: You could smell whiffs of the Fox Kool-Aid on his breath, right through the TV, Rachel. It was hugely revealing. Here‘s what I think. I think it‘s really sad. I think he actually doesn‘t think that—that Comedy Central stuff is funny. He attacked “Reno 911.” How dare he?
MADDOW: How dare he? In fact, that makes me want to go organize a protest.
O‘DONNELL: Yeah, it‘s crazy.
MADDOW: Admit it‘s funny. Admit it‘s funny.
O‘DONNELL: Comedy Central has the perfect defense. This is funny.
This is a joke. It‘s comedy. That‘s what we do?
Rachel, thank you very much for coming in early. I actually squeezed some stuff out of the show so we had more time to talk to you. So my viewers can go to our LAST WORD website, LastWord.MSNBC.com, to check the material that we cut so that we could give you Rachel early.
And now, Rachel, it‘s officially yours. Take it away for “THE RACHEL
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