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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Friday, July 15, 2011

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Guests: Jonathan Alter, Wayne Besen

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST: The president does what he told Eric Cantor he was going to do—he takes his case to the American people.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
(MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let‘s finish this the way we started, together.
O‘DONNELL (voice-over): The president holds his ground as the Republicans search for a magical solution to the debt limit crisis.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am still pushing for us to achieve a big deal.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: We stand with the president of the United States in the hope that we could have a grand bargain.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The chances that a truly big deal will happen are becoming very slim.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We ask the president to lead, put forward a plan, not a speech.
JON ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It‘s not really a negotiation.
They won‘t budge a millimeter.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS: We don‘t believe we should default, and second we don‘t believe we should raise taxes.
O‘DONNELL: The president is willing to compromise, but the Republicans don‘t even know how to pretend to be willing to compromise.
OBAMA: If they show me a serious plan, I‘m ready to move.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: Cut, cap and balance bill.
BOEHNER: The cut cap and balance plan, the House will vote on next week.
LUKE RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: It allows House Republicans to get on the record as saying that they would oppose any debt limit increase unless there would be a balance budget amendment.
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: A plan House Speaker John Boehner knows it‘s not worth the paper it will be printed on.
O‘DONNELL: And now, Michele Bachmann‘s husband is trying to pray away his own words.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Michele Bachmann‘s husband, Dr. Marcus Bachmann, is playing defense over the family‘s counseling clinic, which critics say is trying to make gay men straight.
DR. MARCUS BACHMANN, REP. MICHELE BACHMANN‘S HUSBAND: Barbarians need to be educated.
MITCHELL: And he did call gay people barbarians.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He could have chosen his words more carefully.
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: FOX News motto, we don‘t touch it, you decide.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
O‘DONNELL: Good evening from Washington.
The president did it again today. And the Republicans knew the president was going to do it again today, so they did this first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER: After a whole lot of speculative questions, I don‘t need to repeat my often-said mantra, but perhaps I should. If cans and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: That was the Republican version of a press conference to discuss the budget and debt ceiling standoff. The Republican House leadership held their press conference an hour before they knew the president was scheduled to start his. Republicans had a few more things to say, but none more memorable or meaningful than Boehner‘s mantra of frustration about ands and buts.
As usual, they failed miserably at their attempt to sound more responsible and more open to compromise than the president, who, during his turn at the microphone, landed on a new, more effective way of describing the consequences of the failure to raise the debt ceiling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: These are obligations that the United States has taken on in the past. The Congress has run up the credit card. And we now have an obligation to pay our bills.
If we do not, it could have a whole set of adverse consequences. We could end up with a situation, for example, where interest rates rise for everybody all throughout the country. Effectively, a tax increase on everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: A tax increase on everybody. Clear, easy to remember, and easy to remember when Republicans try to accuse President Obama and the Democrats of being taxaholics because they want to raise taxes on the rich, they want to kill tax breaks for private jets.
Here‘s the president saying you want to talk about tax increases? If the Republicans block an increase on the debt ceiling, they are going to be imposing a tax increase on everybody. With Republicans now in full retreat knowing that they cannot get a deal done with the president on a large deficit reduction bill because the president remains unyielding in his demand to include increased tax revenues in such a deal, the president continued to emphasize to American voters that he wants to do something big.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now, what is important is that even as we raise the debt ceiling, we also solve the problem of underlying debt and deficits. You know, I‘m glad that congressional leaders don‘t want to default, but I think the American people expect more than that. They expect that we actually try to solve this problem, we get our fiscal house in order.
And so, during the course of these discussions with congressional leaders, what I‘ve tried to emphasize is we have a unique opportunity to do something big. We have a chance to stabilize America‘s finances for a decade, for 15 years or 20 years, if we‘re willing to seize the moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Remember, presidents do not have news conferences in order to talk to Congress or negotiate with Congress. When they are serious about doing that, as this president has been, they do it behind closed doors. They don‘t let you see that.
Presidents do not have news conferences to talk to the press. They don‘t miss reporters. They do not have news conferences because they are eager to answer reporters‘ questions.
Presidents have news conferences so they can use that forum to talk directly to American voters. And presidents who are in reelection campaigns design every word they say, every word, in press conferences for the benefit of their reelection campaigns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And so, during the course of these discussions with congressional leaders, what I‘ve tried to emphasize is we have a unique opportunity to do something big. We have a chance to stabilize America‘s finances for a decade, for 15 years or 20 years, if we‘re willing to seize the moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: What you are listening to there is a politician talking, the most effective Democratic presidential campaigner we have ever seen on television. Something to remember about politicians, every politician, no matter how honorable, is that no politician always means in the fullest sense every word he or she says.
The president knows that the opportunity to do something big has passed, if there ever was such an opportunity. He knows there is now no chance to stabilize America‘s finances for a decade, 15 years or 20 years, if we‘re willing to seize the moment. There is no moment to seize, Republicans have made sure of that, and the president knows that.
And by the way, we have never stabilized America‘s finances for 15 or 20 years, and the president knows that.
He is speaking there to voters. He is telling voters that even though the Republicans are saying through Mitch McConnell, let‘s just do an indescribably complicated way of raising the debt ceiling without any real deficit reduction legislated along with it, the president wants voters to think he is still fighting for major deficit reduction.
Having told voters he wants a big deficit reduction deal, he then goes on to tell the voters who want a big deficit reduction deal why that might not happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now, let me acknowledge what everybody understands. It is hard to do a big package. My Republican friends have said that they are not willing to do revenues, and they have repeated that on several occasions.
My hope, though, is they are listening not just to lobbyists or special interest here in Washington, but they are also listening to the American people, because it turns out poll after poll, many done by your organization show that it‘s not just Democrats that think we need to take a balanced approach, it‘s Republicans as well. The clear majority of Republican voters think that any deficit reduction package should have a balanced approach and should include some revenues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: OK, for people who want to believe every word Barack Obama is true, my Republican friends have said they are not willing to do revenues. My Republican friends—you know he doesn‘t have any Republican friends.
This press conference today is filled with language like that, political language, that isn‘t in any important way actually true.
So, there was the president telling voters, including Republican voters, that the only reason, the only reason they might not get a deal is that Republicans in Congress are listening to lobbyists and special interest here in Washington instead of listening to the American people.
But, of course, Republicans in Congress already know that their position in these negotiations is supported by only 20 percent of the people. There is nothing the president can say to suddenly make them listen to the other 80 percent of the people who support tax revenue increases and the president knows that. He knows what you know.
But nothing, nothing can get this president to publicly stand down from his quest for this so-called big deal—even though he knows it‘s hopeless.
He wants voters to believe, he needs swing voters to believe that unlike Mitch McConnell, he hasn‘t given up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So I am still pushing for us to achieve a big deal, but what I also said to the group is if we can‘t do the biggest deal possible, then let‘s still be ambitious. Let‘s still try to at least get a down payment on deficit reduction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: And then the president allows enough realism into his press conference to consider what happens if they can‘t even get a down payment on deficit reduction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The third option, and I think the least attractive option, is one in which we raise the debt ceiling but we don‘t make any progress in deficit and debt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: The president is now insisting to voters, that is the least attractive option, simply passing a debt ceiling increase as its routinely been done in the past, without linking it to anything else. But that‘s what the president‘s original position on raising the debt ceiling was. The president has now manipulated the process, manipulated the situation to the point where if he is forced, in the end, by the Republicans to accept an outcome which is actually his original position, he will go along with it with great reluctance and surely make a statement to the American voter about how disappointed he is that the debt ceiling is being raised without an accompanying deal, a big deal, a huge deal, just a gigantic deal, on deficit reduction.
The president identified the way he thinks such a deal could be done.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I think it‘s important for the American people that everybody in this town set politics aside, that everybody in this town sets our individual interests aside, and we try to do some tough stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: I don‘t even want to look at him when he‘s doing those Barack Obama is better than most politicians at making absurd notions sound possible. Everybody in this town, set politics aside? Well, if that‘s all the politicians in Washington have to do, then this will be easy.
Everybody in this town is never, ever going to set politics aside.
They never have, they never will—and the president knows that.
So everything this president says after having made that fanciful statement is based on nothing but political fantasy. But enough people are falling for it all, both Democrats and Republicans, that the total affect is working very well for the Obama reelection campaign. The president provoked protest from some of his supporters today with his answer to this question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Can you tell us one structural reform that you are willing to make to one of these entitlement programs that would have a major impact on the deficit? Would you be willing to raise the retirement age? Would you be willing to mean test Social Security or Medicare?
OBAMA: We‘ve said that we are willing to look at all those approaches. I‘ve laid out some criteria in terms of what would be acceptable. So, for example, I‘ve said very clearly that we should make sure that current beneficiaries, as much as possible, are not affected. But we should look at what can we do in the out years so that over time, some of these programs are more sustainable.
I‘ve said that means testing on Medicare—meaning people like myself, you can envision a situation where for somebody in my position, me having to pay a little bit more on premiums or co-pays or things like that would be appropriate. And again, that could make a difference. So, we‘ve been very clear about where we‘re willing to go.
What we‘re not willing to do is to restructure the program in the ways that we‘ve seen coming out of the House over the last several months, where we would voucherize the program and you potentially have senior citizens paying $6,000 more.
I view Social Security and Medicare as the most important social safety nets that we have. I think it is important for them to remain as social insurance programs that give people some certainty and reliability in their golden years.
But it turns out that making some modest modifications in those entitlements can save you trillions of dollars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Outrage notes have been struck today in the liberal blogosphere and elsewhere at the idea that the president was entertaining modest modifications in Medicare and Social Security that could save trillions, even though liberal Democrats in the past have done exactly that.
The president‘s willingness to discuss raising the retirement age in Medicare or Social Security has met rage from some who don‘t know that the eligibility age of Social Security has already been raised, that a gradual increase of a retirement age was enacted in 1983, increasing the full retirement age from 65 to 67, and that increase had the support of liberals in the House and the Senate.
Now, if raising the retirement age is in principle bad, then it would follow logically that people who even oppose discussing it would be in favor of repealing the increase in the retirement age that has already occurred, yet none of them have ever proposed repealing the current increase in the retirement age.
Some of the newfound liberal defenders of Social Security that will reject any discussions of any adjustments in the program to maintain insolvency were voting Republican back in the ‘80s when the retirement age was raised or were not voting at all, not even bothering to register to vote. Some, of course, were not yet of voting age.
They are all capable of getting up to speed on these issues reasonably quickly, but until they know more history, until they know where we have been, they will not have any comprehension of where we might be going.
The president‘s been attacked today for considering the means testing of Medicare, as you heard him describe, the possibility of rich people like him paying a little more on premiums or co-pays on Medicare. As rich people on Medicare already know, that‘s nothing new, they already pay more. The president is willing to entertain a discussion in which they might pay even more.
And suddenly some liberals have found what is, in effect, a small tax increase on the rich that they can oppose. All such objections from the president‘s base of supporters are actually—this is a bit counterintuitive—they are actually helpful to the president.
Adam Green, the head of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and a friend of this show, has been among the loudest and most effective progressive objectors to the president‘s consideration of cuts in Medicare and Social Security spending. Today, his group delivered 200,000 petitions to President Obama‘s campaign headquarters warning about entitlement cuts.
These are 200,000 people saying they will not contribute money to or volunteer hours to an Obama reelection campaign if he agrees to any cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security spending during these debt negotiations with the Republicans, and these are people who have contributed to President Obama before and have volunteered for him before.
These protestors are actually helping the president‘s negotiating position, strengthening it, as well as his public appearance of being reasonable in the eyes of independence and swing voters by adding credibility to statements like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I‘ve, you know, already taken some heat from my party for being willing to compromise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: I‘ve been in the room, in the White House, in the capitol, with politicians who are the subjects of that kind of protest with their party when they are trying to compromise, and they always, always cite that protest when negotiating with the other side. They always say, in effect, look at how hard this is for me to do, look out there, look at the protest I‘m getting from my own party, my own people. They don‘t want me to do this.
And, in fact, in such meetings, I have heard politicians frankly admit that they cannot possibly compromise on a given point because of such protests.
Now, make no mistake here: I am not in any way demeaning these protests as some kind of stunt. I am telling you, I have seen these protests have their intended effect, and I have seen them have additional beneficial effects for the negotiating strength of the politician being protested against—the politician being pushed by his own supporters in a certain direction, publicly pushed.
The politicians of governing are far more complex than the politics of campaigning. Indeed, it is the unwritten volume. There are a few great books out there about the politics of campaigning. There is not one about the politics of governing.
People who‘ve lived and worked within the politics of governing get it. We can speak in a short hand with each other. In fact, we get so used to out shorthand with each other that we often find ourselves tongue tied when trying to explain the politics of governing to civilians.
If you‘ve never been in the room where governing decisions are being
discussed, being negotiated, and finally sometimes being decided, if you‘ve
never been in the room while a presidential decision is being made by the
only person who can make that decision, the president of the United States
then try to make sense of governing negotiations while they‘re ongoing and while you‘re only allowed the occasional leak of what was said in the room, and the public statements of the players, which, I promise you rarely have any important linkage to what was actually said in the room or what is going to happen in the end, it is next to impossible to make sense of what you‘re seeing.

Coming up, more on what the president said today and why he said it.
Jonathan Alter will join me.
And later, 15 years ago on this day, MSNBC went on the air for the first time, and we‘ll show you tape of my first day on the job on this network.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL: The dominos keep falling in the Rupert Murdoch hacking scandal. Today, less hint in the publisher of “The Wall Street Journal” resigned after working for Murdoch for more than half a century. Hinton was in charge of Murdoch‘s British tabloids when the phone-hacking began. His departure came just hours after Rebekah Brooks stepped down as the head of Murdoch‘s U.K. newspapers.
Up next, here tonight, Jonathan Alter on the debt ceiling battle. A fight he thinks President Obama may have already won.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If you are a progressive, you should be concerned about debt and deficit just as much as if you‘re a conservative. And the reason is because if the only thing we‘re talking about over the next year, two years, five years, is debt and deficits, then it‘s very hard to start talking about how do we make investments in community colleges so that our kids are trained? How do we actually rebuild $2 trillion worth of crumbling infrastructure?
You should want our fiscal house in order so that every time we propose a new initiative, somebody doesn‘t just throw up their hands and say, ah, more big spending, more government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: That was the president today making the liberal case for deficit reduction.
Joining me now, “Bloomberg View” columnist and MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter. Thanks for joining me tonight, Jonathan.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hello, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Where do you see the state of play at now, Jonathan?
ALTER: You know, I‘m very much with your analysis. I think you‘re dead on. This is the president moving into campaign mode. I think he was genuine when he wanted a big deal because it would create a sense of certainty that could help boost the economy in the next several months, which would help his reelection. And he was right that it would make to other issues like jobs, if they could have a big deal.
But it‘s been clear now since Mitch McConnell‘s proposal that we are not going to get a deal. We‘re going to get what I call the “big fudge.” They essentially, you know, threw up the white flag of surrender.
It was clear to McConnell that this was a loser, that they had been outplayed by the president, that they had gone to the brink and blinked. And so, now, they are trying to find a way back. And the president will go along with that.
But, as you said, make it clear that he wanted to do something about deficit reduction and the Republicans stop him from doing it in order to protect corporate jets and tax cuts for the wealthy.
So, it allows him to say in the campaign, Lawrence, look, I wanted to cut $4 trillion from the deficit and the Republicans kept me from doing it. That‘s a great message to take to the independent swing voters who will determine this election.
O‘DONNELL: Jonathan, where we differ is I don‘t believe he ever wanted a big deal. I believe the whole thing was posture all the way through, because he knew that his big deal includes taxation—and I think when you get to govern with these guys up close, you get to measure them. I think they took the White House with their experience, with Boehner and Cantor took the measure of these guys and said they will never agree to $1 of tax increase. All we have to do is insist on taxes, it will never happen.
But I don‘t want to get bogged down on that.
ALTER: I think you‘re right that they were pretty sure that was the way it‘s going to go because of the Grover Norquist, you know, no tax pledge they have all signed. But there was an indication with the concession on ethanol in the senate where they got a vote to get rid of those subsidies, that there might be some cracking in that no taxes foundation of the Republican Party—so there was about a week there where they did think they‘d actually did think they might be able to get a significant deal. But that‘s been dead for a few days.
O‘DONNELL: Jonathan, the Republicans are starting to crack wide open. Some of them can‘t stand the crazy anymore. And amazing quote from Lindsey Graham today.
ALTER: Yes.
O‘DONNELL: Let me read it.
“Our problem is we made a big deal about this for three months. How many Republicans have been on TV saying, ‘I‘m not going to raise the debt limit.‘ You know, Mitch McConnell says, ‘I‘m not raising the debt limit unless we talk about Medicare.‘ And I‘ve said, ‘I‘m not going to raise the debt limit unless we do something about pending and entitlements.‘ So we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We shouldn‘t have said that if we didn‘t mean it.”
ALTER: Yes.
Jonathan, they took a political hostage that they didn‘t know how to control.
ALTER: Right, well, as “The Wall Street Journal” editorial page said, if you‘re going to take a hostage, you have to be willing to kill him. They weren‘t really ready to take the country all the way over the cliff, although there were an awful lot of people in the Republican Party, who do want to do that.
Even now, all the presidential candidates are on record wanting to take the American economy all the way over the cliff into default, as necessary. That‘s what they have to say in order to placate their base. It‘s a really pathetic state of affairs in our politics when you have politicians that are so wedded for tax cuts for the wealthy that they are willing to jeopardize the American economy.
The other thing that‘s clear about this, Lawrence, they don‘t really believe in deficit reduction. A lot of their base does. A lot of the Tea Party folks do, but Washington Republicans do not believe in deficit reduction. Otherwise, if they did, they would say yes, they‘ll take the deal, the $4 trillion in deficit reductions, but they don‘t.
O‘DONNELL: If Ronald Reagan could go along with raising taxes 11 times as president, these guys could go along with something for debt reduction. I think you are right, Jonathan, the president, through these months, has ended up proving that protecting tax breaks for the rich is more important to this Washington Republican group than everything they say about deficit reduction.
I wish we had more time. Jonathan Alter, columnist for “Bloomberg View”.
Thank you very much for joining me tonight, Jonathan.
ALTER: Thanks, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, Michele Bachmann‘s husband finally admits it. Yes, his psychology clinic does practice praying the gay away. And if anyone can find something funny about the debt ceiling, it‘s the late night comedians. The best of the week. That‘s coming up.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL: In the spotlight tonight. Last month, shortly before announcing for president, Michele Bachmann and her husband, Marcus Bachmann, renounced their membership in the Salem Lutheran Church in Minnesota. A church that has been criticized by some Catholics for declaring, quote, “We identify this anti-Christ with the papacy.
Mr. Bachmann defended his Christian counseling business against accusations that it practices controversial reparative therapy to turn gay people straight. Undercover footage shot by a gay activists revealed one of the Bachmann & Associates‘ therapists telling him he could be free of homosexual thoughts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is possible to be totally free of them. But the truth is, God, God has designed our eyes to be attracted to the woman‘s body. To be attracted to, you know, everything. You know, to b attracted to her breasts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Reparative therapy is opposed by the American Psychiatric Association, American Medical Association, and other groups. Mr. Bachmann responded that the clinic follows the leads of its patients and doesn‘t force treatment saying, quote, “This individual came to us under a false pretense. The truth of the matter is he specifically asked for help.”
Mr. Bachmann is also accusing a blogger of doctoring a clip where he seems to call gay people barbarians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: “Yesterday “The Wall Street Journal” came out with an article. What do you say when your teenager says she‘s gay? What do you say to Christian parents who come up with this?
MARCUS BACHMANN, SPOUSE OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think you clearly say what is the understanding of God‘s word on homosexuality, and I think that this is no mystery that a child or pre-adolescent, particularly adolescents, will question and wonder about sexuality. That‘s nothing new under the sun since the beginning of time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BACHMANN: But I don‘t think we should take that as because we wonder or we think or we question does that take us down the road of homosexuality.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could you add the word experiment to that?
BACHMANN: Certainly. There‘s that curiosity. But, again, we like, you know, it is as if we have to understand barbarians need to be educated. They need to be disciplined and just because someone feels it, or thinks it doesn‘t mean that we‘re supposed to go down that road.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Mr. Bachmann says he was calling children, not gay people, barbarians. And, of course, we all agree that‘s much better. Joining me now is Wayne Besen, founder and executive director of Truth Wins Out, a group that fights religious extremism and the ex-gay industry.
Thanks for joining us again, Wayne.
WAYNE BESEN, FOUNDER, EXEC. DIR. TRUTH WINS OUT: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: Wayne, they are accusing you guys who created that tape from the Bachmann clinic. They are accusing you of doctoring the tape in some way.
BESEN: That‘s absolutely ludicrous. One thing I didn‘t think I‘d see were the Bachmanns running from their beliefs. But now that she looks somewhat viable for the presidency or vice presidential nod, they are going as fast as they can, and running away from this pray away the gay therapy that her husband does practice, or at least his clinic does.
They lie to the American people. He said that they did not practice ex-gay therapy, they clearly do. And I think he owes the American people and voters an apology for that. You know, it‘s amazing how they just keep running from their record. And they seem ashamed of who they are and what they believe. They ought to come clear and say this is who we are. We have this medieval mindset, vote for me.
O‘DONNELL: We do seem to be learning something about how the parenting works in the Bachmann‘s world. They have six kids of their own, and like another 20 they‘ve been foster parents to. He‘s trying to tell us now that he thinks of them as barbarians? I mean, I just listened to what he just said, he‘s very clearly talking about gay people when he uses that word, barbarians.
BESEN: She‘s saying to be a barbarian is to be a gay person who comes out of the closet. That is what defines you as a barbarian. You‘re not civilized enough to live the way the Bachmanns think you should live, which is as a heterosexual.
The spin is—I‘m getting dizzy listening to the spin. It‘s ridiculous. What I think this is, is all these political sultans have put her in a political straight jacket, and put her crazy back in the closet. And they don‘t want it to come back out to scare mainstream voters. It‘s important we put a spotlight on the Bachmanns and say this is who they have been. This is who they are and they can‘t run away from this reprehensible record.
O‘DONNELL: Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out. Thanks for joining us.
BESEN: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: Ahead, we go back in time to the first word I spoke on MSNBC in 1996. And later we‘ll show you the best of the late-night comedians and their writers taking aim at Rupert Murdoch exploding tabloid scandal.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL: 1996 was the last time a Democratic president was up for reelection. It was also the year this network began broadcasting, 15 years ago today, in fact. I was here then too. And in the rewrite, you‘ll see my first day on the job.
And later, the late-night comedy writers explain better than I ever could what‘s really going on in the debt ceiling talks. The comedians get tonight‘s LAST WORD.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL: Time for tonight‘s “Rewrite”: 15 years ago today at 9:00 a.m. from a news studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where it shared a home with CNBC, this network, MSNBC, began broadcasting. I‘ve been on the payroll here at MSNBC since that first day, which now, for better or worse, makes me the longest man in running in makeup on MSNBC.
“HARDBALL With Chris Matthews” was then actually a production of CNBC and would move to MSNBC two years later. MSNBC bought its way into the news cycle that first day as so many news organizations do during presidential elections, by commissioning its own poll, which showed Bob Dole trailing Bill Clinton by 20 points in Clinton‘s campaign for reelection.
In that first hour of the network‘s life, I was asked to opine on the new MSNBC poll, in a panel discussion, that included input from Tim Russert, who was asked if there was any way Dole could save his campaign by a selection of a running mate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT: Well, the only one is Colin Powell, but he‘s not going to do it. Now Bob Dole has reduced the field basically to Governor Voinovich of Ohio, Governor Ridge of Pennsylvania, Governor Whitman of New Jersey, former Secretary of State Jim Baker, as the token gray beard, if you will. But none of those candidates will give Bob Dole an immediate pop in the polls.
Bob Dole is going to have to win the race on his own, he is going to have to go to the country, lay out an agenda, a rational. I keep going back to that word. He has to convince the country that he has a reason to be president, other than it‘s just his turn.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, Lawrence, you are a former congressional aide to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Having worked in Washington for all those years, what‘s your take on all this?
O‘DONNELL: Well, it is surprising to see Dole losing Republican support. There is no particularly obvious reason for that in the last three weeks. But Tim‘s earlier point of this being a snapshot is very important.
Let‘s just remember where the current president was at this time four years ago. He was running third. He was running after Ross Perot and George Bush. This is a different dynamic and the gap between Clinton and Dole is really stunning at this point, but moving from 30 to 50 is possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Yes, it‘s wicked weird for me to watch that, too. It was a different world back then, and many of the familiar figures today were in different places then. Pat Buchanan was then the Ron Paul of the Republican Party, running hopeless campaigns for president that won him a lot more votes than Ron Paul could ever dream of.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tim, did we factor Buchanan into this at all? If Republicans abandon Dole, do they revive the Buchanan candidacy? Perhaps Tim is taking a coffee break. That‘s OK.
Do you think Buchanan can go to the convention now and say I‘m still here?
O‘DONNELL: Well, Buchanan is doing that. He‘s in the newspaper today says Ross Perot can take my voters. What he means by that is Republican Party had better pay attention to me, Pat Buchanan, or all my voters are going to go to Ross Perot. That‘s a pretty strong argument at this point. And the Republican Party has to desperately figure out what to do with Buchanan.
RUSSERT: Well, it is interesting, Pat Buchanan is going to look at these numbers and say wait a minute, if Bob Dole drops down to 25 percent, in a three-way race with Ross Perot, what difference would a four-way race make? Maybe I should jump into this thing as well. I don‘t think that will happen in the end. Pat Buchanan wants to be president of the United States. He‘s going to run for the Republican nomination in the year 2000. He doesn‘t want to antagonize people by being disloyal, but with Bob Dole perceived as a quote, “weak nominee,” Pat Buchanan is going to give him a very hard time at the convention in San Diego in a few weeks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Yes, Tim was not taking a coffee break. We had a few technical problems on that first day.
In the end, Bob Dole came in 9 points behind Bill Clinton, but Clinton, once again, did not get over 50 percent of the vote. In his election in 1992, Clinton won the presidency with only 43 percent of the vote thanks to a three-way race that included Ross Perot, who got nearly 19 percent of the vote. And the first President Bush who got 37 percent in his failed reelection campaign. In 1996, the combined Dole and Ross Perot vote against the Clinton reelection was actually 49.1 percent, just one-tenth of a percent behind bill Clinton‘s reelection vote total.
Launching a new cable news network in the middle of a presidential campaign was good timing for MSNBC, but we would have been luckier if we‘d have had a presidential campaign where there was at least one day of suspense in it. We‘ve gotten a lot luckier since then.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL: Rupert Murdoch, Mr. and Mrs. Michele Bachmann, and the debt ceiling gave the writers of the late night comedy shows everything they needed to work with this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY FALLON: If this isn‘t good you guys, the U.S. is now in serious danger of defaulting on our foreign loans, which explains why China showed up and broke the Statute of Liberty‘s kneecaps.
JON STEWART: We are like children. That‘s why yesterday once again, Dad, much to his chagrin had to come home early from work and give us a talking to about not cleaning our budget.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We‘re going to meet every single day until we get this resolved. We‘re going to get this done by August 2. We might as well do it now, pull off the band-aid, eat our peas.
STEWART: Who keeps peas under their band-aids? You know, you get the sense that Obama is the first president in history that begins every press conference with a heavy sigh. He just comes out and goes—wait, I‘m being told his peas mention was not a metaphor. During budget negotiations, apparently, Speaker of the House John Boehner was literally not eating his peas. I didn‘t realize that was the case.
JAY LENO: Seems a Christian counseling clinic owned by Michele Bachmann and her husband is being accused of trying to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality by praying away the gay. That is what they call it. Praying away the gay. Their slogan, think outside the bun.
It was so hot in England, Rupert Murdoch was hacking Eskimo phone calls. That is how hot it was.
DAVID LETTERMAN: It was so hot that Rupert Murdoch has been, instead of tapping phones he has been kegs.
CRAIG FERGUSON: Murdoch runs his empire with his son. Do we have a picture of Rupert Murdoch with his son? There they are, yes. The irony, of course, he owns that.
STEPHEN COLBERT: To get to the truth of this story, I hacked the messages left by Rupert Murdoch on his attorney‘s cell phone this week.
Jim, (BEEP), Henry, this is Rupert, this thing is gone out of control. I‘m Australian for (BEEP). Call me back as fast as a wallaby up a eucalyptus tree.
Henry, Rupert, God damn it, I had to close the paper. I‘m angrier than a blooming onion. I want to buy stuff. See if Colorado is available. Call me, bye.
(BEEP) call back. (BEEP) I want a Barbie. I want to buy Hugh Jackman and make him breed with Kylie Minogue. Call me back.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
O‘DONNELL: The late-night hosts get the LAST WORD this Friday. You can have the last word online at our blog, “TheLastWord.msnbc.com. And you can follow my Tweets @Lawrence. The Rachel Maddow Show” is up next.
END
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