'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Friday, August 5, 2011
Read the transcript to the Friday show
Guests: Jonathan Alter, Ezra Klein, John Harwood, Steve Krueger, Richard Belzer, Barry Levenson
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: It gets better. In fact, it got better
today. If you think 1/10 of 1 percent is better.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A better than expected jobs report.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Things will get better.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC POLICY ANALYST: Very, very, very slowly.
O`DONNELL (voice-over): The way Washington does its job in America is
making it hard to find a job in America.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We cannot just cut right now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unemployment ticked down slightly to 9.1
DYLAN RATIGAN, MSNBC HOST: Real unemployment is exactly double that
KLEIN: It`s amazing when we`re in this rough of a world how much we
are fooling around here at home.
RATIGAN: People in Washington, they think they are playing a game.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is such gridlock.
KERRY: The problem is not the institution, it`s the people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They`ll continue to bash Obama.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bureaucratic socialism is
centralized control by bureaucrats.
TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A private economy.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: Shiny balls of
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I`m pretty happy.
O`DONNELL: The job of presidential candidate is going to be harder
for Rick Perry after his religious revival.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Praying with Rick Perry.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: We need God`s help.
MITCHELL: Prayer rally in Houston.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: San Antonio to Dallas to Jesus.
PERRY: Calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did.
MITCHELL: There`s a lot of controversy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hitler homosexual soldiers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Harlot of Babylon to receive the antichrist,
Oprah. She is kind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Red meat for the Republican base.
O`DONNELL: A special guest will do my job and rewrite the most
powerful man in Republican politics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politicians are a lot like diapers, and should be
changed frequently and for the same reason.
ANNOUNCER: The director of "Rain Man," "Wag the Dog," and "Good
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The free world is now be led by a
O`DONNELL: And as long as Washington won`t do its job, late-night
comedy writers have easier jobs.
CONAN O`BRIEN, COMEDIAN: During the debt ceiling debate, Nancy Pelosi
said John Boehner had, quote, "gone over to the dark side." Yes -- which
for Boehner meant he fell asleep in the tanning booth.
O`DONNELL: Good evening from New York.
President Obama`s reelection got 1/10 of 1 percent easier today, which
is to say not easier at all, when the Labor Department released its July
jobs report showing the private sector added 154,000 jobs in July while the
government lost 37,000 jobs for a net gain of 117,000 jobs. That number
beat most expectations, but just to bring unemployment below 8 percent
before the 2012 presidential election, the economy would have to create
272,000 jobs a month.
Unemployment dropped from 9.2 percent in June to 9.1 percent in July.
No president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term with
unemployment on election day greater than 7.1 percent. President Obama
addressed the jobs report while speaking at Washington`s Navy Yard.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We have to create more jobs than that each month to make up
for the more than 8 million jobs the recession claimed. What I want our
American people and our partners around the world to know is this: we are
going to get through this. Things are going to get better. And we`re
going to get there together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The president then describes his jobs agenda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: When Congress gets back in September, I want to move quickly
on things that will help create jobs right now -- extending the payroll
credit to put $1,000 in the pocket of the average worker, extending
unemployment insurance to help people get back on their feet, putting
construction workers back to work rebuilding America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, "Washington Post" columnist and MSNBC
contributor Ezra Klein, also "Bloomberg View" columnist and MSNBC analyst,
Thank you both for joining me tonight.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: So, 1/10 of 1 percent. Help me be optimistic about this.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It ain`t much. And I think we`ve been
giving it too much credit there because we need 120,000 to keep up with
So, you`re not keeping up. You`re not adding 1 percent. We very
slightly, not by any almost measurable amount, but slightly fell behind
catching up today. We`re not recovering at the moment. That is a simple
O`DONNELL: Jonathan, we`re not catching up, keeping pace with
population growth. We`re obviously not up to the number we`d have to be to
get the unemployment rate down to a level of what we consider re-
What are the options here? Is this -- do you believe this
unemployment number is an electoral dictate, that you just can simply bet
around no reelect if you`re up in the 8s?
ALTER: No, those rules are made to be broken and there`s not enough
data over the last 75 years to establish that. And, by the way, when
Franklin Roosevelt had double digit unemployment, he carried all but two
states, so there`s a trend line that you have to watch.
So, if things don`t seem like they are getting any better, which is
the situation right now, then he`s in terrible electoral peril. If they
seem like they are moving in the right direction if they are in the 8 or 9
percent range, then it will be a close election but he still has a decent
chance to win.
The question in terms of jobs programs is to distinguish between
things that really actually might create jobs and could get through the
Republicans in Congress and might actually add to some of the job creation
totals and other things that you could put in the category of posturing in
an important way for the electorate, to tell the electorate which side he`s
So, when he today said I`m for putting construction workers to work
rebuilding America, he`s essentially laying down the gauntlet to the
Republicans -- do you want to rebuild America and put people to work? If
you do, support me.
That`s pretty smart politically.
Same with the veterans` preference announcement today, which is to say
that you get a tax credit if you hire veterans. That`s also a crowd
pleaser and it will force the Republicans to answer why they don`t want to
go along with that..
O`DONNELL: Ezra, beyond the posturing, what can, Jonathan said, you
know, what can they do that the Republicans would go along with? Is there
anything on the menu?
KLEIN: There`s very little. And what`s worse than that is there`s
very little that would work quickly. I`d become increasingly convinced
that the only thing that would actually work fast and actually work in a
durable way is increasing inflation. If you talk to guys like Ken Groguff
(ph) or Herman Grinhart (ph), sort of the book on financial crisis, they`ll
tell you --
O`DONNELL: I would talk to them if I knew who they were.
KLEIN: They`ll tell you that this is all about debt. That the
problem the administration had, the problem we`ve all had is that we tried
to treat this like as a normal recession. We tried to se that we will just
get a quick recovery out of the business cycle and we`re not because
everybody is deeply indebted. We`re at 100 percent.
O`DONNELL: Consumer debt, we`re talking.
KLEIN: Consumer debt, when we began, now we`re at 90 percent. It`s a
drop. It`s not a huge drop.
And the question is, how do you begin to get that down? And the
administration -- inflation is for the Fed, but with the big failure of
the administration, I think what they need to get right and could have some
autonomous authority through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on is housing.
That`s where the debt. That`s where the hurt is.
And if they can be a little bolder on that, I think you might actually
see some action before -- action in the jobs numbers before 2012.
ALTER: By the way, that`s the way FDR did it, he inflated the economy
somewhat to bring down those unemployment numbers.
O`DONNELL: We have a just released CBS News/"New York Times" poll
which asked people what their priorities were. Creating jobs, 62 percent;
cutting spending, 29 percent, doing both of those if you can, magically, 8
percent. The magic crowd is 8 percent.
Creating jobs, Jonathan, 62 percent. The president today says he`s
looking forward getting to work on this when they come back to work. But
they`re not coming back to work Monday.
O`DONNELL: I mean, it sounds so hollow if you know he means in
September. He means we`re going to sit here. We`re going to do nothing
for the month of August on something that has this kind of urgency in the
ALTER: That`s right. And very possibly, nothing until the election
if the record of this Republican House is any indication.
But there are some other policy remedies -- for instance, a proposal
to essentially eliminate the payroll tax for a considerable period of time,
which would add to the deficit, of course. But the problem right now is
not cutting spending. This is why the debate of the last eight weeks has
been so preposterous, we need to increase demand and that might include
increasing spending in the short-term.
So, if you can put money in people`s pockets with another payroll tax
holiday, you could spur demand somewhat.
And there some series of other remedies, which the White House is
going to start unfolding, unveil over the next few weeks. I hope they are
creative. There`s been an creativity gap in job creation ideas but I`m
glad that at least they are finally, after promising for so long, pivoting
O`DONNELL: The poll has other good news for the president. It says
that -- and who do you trust on doing the better job with the economy, 33
percent trust the Republican Congress, 47 percent trust President Obama.
Ezra, what can he do with that knowing that he`s got their attention,
he`s got more of their trust than anyone else in this game does, what can
the president do with it?
KLEIN: You talk to pollster and they say this is the big mystery
right now. His approval ratings, given where the economy is, given where
they should be, given where the economy is, just sort of sit there in the
40 percent range and they don`t seem to be going down. That`s because
people really hate Congress and don`t like the Republicans. I mean, their
poll numbers have plummeted since the election.
And what I don`t really understand --
O`DONNELL: Or is that it also because they think this person, this
man, who goes to work every day is doing his best? I mean, this is part of
what was going on for FDR at the time. People understood, hey, this is a
worldwide depression, this is not just us. This is not something the
president did, but the president is going to work on them.
KLEIN: They do, but his numbers aren`t great either. They are in the
40s, they are not 60 or 70.
But what I never, what I don`t understand why the White House doesn`t
put out is this is the least productive Congress since the 1948 do-nothing.
In fact, in some measures, it`s less productive even than that. And they
don`t go out and say in a really clear way we`re not getting anything done,
not because we are not trying, but because they are not moving anything.
If you look at very historical measure, they are doing nothing. We are
grid locked in a way we`ve never been grid locked.
Tonight, rumors are flying that S&P will downgrade, because of
congressional gridlock, because of congressional posturing.
That strikes me as a not only fairly potent argument but actually a
true one. And yet, they don`t really make it. They don`t seem to an
interest or an attention in running against Congress despite the fact
they`re trying to play nice with Congress.
O`DONNELL: Jonathan, why haven`t they -- have they not made that
argument because, in effect, the president has been locked into doing some
kind of business with Congress at every stage, meaning he was trapped in a
tax rate negotiation with them last year, then he got trapped into -- not
trapped into, it was his job. I mean, he was in a deficit reduction and
debt ceiling negotiation with them and so, when you`re negotiating with
them, you can`t be condemning them. They`ve got another one coming up.
They`ve got a second -- they`ve got a few big negotiations coming up.
Is there a moment he can just say I`m going to go out there, I`m going
to talk about these people the way Ezra is saying I should talk about them
because it`s true and let`s just see what happens to negotiations?
ALTER: The problem he has is that the Senate is still controlled by
Democrats, so he has to be a little careful, he has to work with them. But
I think as the season heats up, he will go after the do-nothing Congress.
You will see this in the next 15 months before the election.
And if we do get downgraded, if he has any horse sense at all, he will
work overtime blaming that on the Republicans, and it will be justified
because S&P is not considering downgrading the United States credit rating
because Congress is just (INAUDIBLE). Their argument, as I understand it,
is that anybody in their right mind knows that you must raise taxes as part
of reducing the deficit.
So, the refusal of the Republicans, not Congress, the Republicans in
particular, to have some revenue increases there shows they`re not serious
about deficit reduction, and that is what could lead to the downgrade.
It`s the seriousness with which they approach deficit reduction that is the
standard that the credit ratings use, OK? It`s not how much you cut, you
know, in the short-term or medium term. It`s whether your basic plan for
reducing the deficit has intellectual integrity at all.
And anybody, including Tom Coburn who study this knows it doesn`t if
there are no revenue increases. So, he can`t blame them as being kind of
what Paul Begala calls, you know, banana republic - banana Republicans.
O`DONNELL: And the polls show the public agrees with that. That the
polling indicates the public believes yes, you do need responsible revenue
increases in order to this deficit reduction.
Jonathan Alter, columnist at "Bloomberg View," and "The Washington
Post`s" Ezra Klein, thank you both for joining me tonight.
KLEIN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, an Oscar winner will take over this chair to
rewrite -- I`m not going to tell you what he`s going to talk about. He`s
going to do a guest rewrite but I think you see a picture of someone out
there that`s a clue to what he might be talking about. It`s a LAST WORD
first. You got to see this -- the very first guest rewrite.
Plus, Governor Rick Perry`s prayer meeting puts him at odds with the
single largest religious group in the United States, Catholics.
And why is Jerry Lewis being let go from the telethon he created?
That`s coming up.
O`DONNELL: Coming up: Texas Governor Rick Perry is thinking about
jumping into the Republican presidential primary, but this weekend`s prayer
meeting shows he doesn`t have what it takes to play on the presidential
campaign field. That`s next.
And in the "Rewrite" tonight, our very first guest "Rewrite." I will
give the keys to the "Rewrite" desk to someone who`s not just an Emmy
winner, because frankly that wouldn`t be an upgrade. Tonight`s rewriter is
an Oscar winner, that`s right. Us Emmy winners, get out of the way for
O`DONNELL: Last night, we told you why Willard M. Romney can`t win.
If you missed that segment, it`s available on our Web site and will provide
you not just with proof that Romney can`t win, but a lot of historical
political facts that will help you win many a dinner table argument about
this presidential campaign.
Today, we`ll tell you why Texas Governor Rick Perry shouldn`t even
consider getting into the race for the Republican nomination. Governor
Perry will take the stage tomorrow at Houston`s Reliant Stadium for a
prayer event he called The Response. He created that event.
The event has been embroiled in controversy concerning everything from
whether Governor Perry is violating the separation of church and state to
the virtual exclusion of non-Christian groups. But it`s the inclusion of
this man, San Antonio mega church pastor, John Hagee, that clearly proves
Governor Perry does not have what it takes to play on the field of
In 2008, John McCain had to reject Hagee`s endorsement after the mega
church lunatic and hater insisted that Hitler was only fulfilling God`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HAGEE, PASTOR: Hitler was a hunter, and the Bible says, Jeremiah
writing, they shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill out
of the holes of the rocks -- meaning there`s no place to hide. And that
would be offensive to people, well, dear heart, be offended. I didn`t
write it. Jeremiah wrote it.
It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God
allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority
for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Yes, he`s right. That would be offensive to some people.
So, God decided Hitler should make European life really uncomfortable
for Jewish people, which, of course, Hitler did, big time. Because Rick
Perry has invited Hagee to his prayer event, the idiotic governor of Texas
now owns that Hagee quote. Rick Perry owns the idea that Hitler`s killing
6 million Jews was God`s idea.
John Hagee is actually not a member of any religion. He has a church,
which would be better labeled a theater where he performs, and his Web site
calls his performance art group, quote, "a non-denominational evangelical
church." Religiously, that means absolutely nothing. That means any fool,
like Hagee, can get up on his stage in his theater and say any foolish
thing, because there is no religious doctrine to be observed in Hagee`s
theater. The laws of gravity in that theater are whatever Hagee says they
Southern fake preachers like Hagee, vicious bigots like Hagee, have
problems with more religions than just Judaism.
Hagee has said this about Catholicism, which happens to be the single
largest religion in the United States of America. He has said Catholicism
is a false cult system -- and that was just him warming up. That was just
Hagee taking batting practice against Catholicism.
He has also said Catholicism is, quote, "a godless theology of hate."
Now, I`m not going to take time here to argue with Hagee on that, the
whole godless theology of hate. But Catholic voters would certainly argue
with Rick Perry for hanging with Hagee and Catholic voters are the single
largest religious voting bloc in America. Twenty-seven percent of American
voters are Catholic, and the Catholic vote has gone to the popular winner
in every presidential election since 1972.
Ridiculous Rick Perry is now married to the idea that Catholicism is a
godless cult. And if Rick Perry runs for president, I will see to it that
he stays married to that statement every day his hopeless campaign for
president is underway.
Joining me now, national director of Catholic Democrats, Steve
Thanks for joining me tonight, Steve.
STEVE KRUEGER, CATHOLIC DEMOCRATS: Thanks, Lawrence. It`s good to be
O`DONNELL: Steve, what does Rick Perry not understand about this
little, little insignificant voting bloc in America called Catholics?
KRUEGER: Well, I`m not sure I could have said it any better than you
did. One point of fact, Catholics comprise about 25 percent of the
population, and actually vote as a larger percentage than the overall
So, they comprise about 27 percent of the electorate. And a small but
important point, there`s about 20 million so-called lapse Catholics in the
country that still have a Catholic sensibility with a great appreciation
for the Catholic Church.
O`DONNELL: Well, they definitely have a -- a Catholic cultural
tradition going. They have certainly a comprehension of what it means when
some lunatic like Hagee says what he says about Catholicism. They know
where that`s coming from.
KRUEGER: That`s right. And I think -- you know, Catholics have not
forgotten the statement that he made, the statements that he made, and the
affiliation that the McCain campaign had with him back in 2008. It took
several months, but eventually John McCain had to distance himself from
that. And at the time, you know, those statements really struck a very
discordant tone with Catholics.
So, I think that -- you know, one of the things that this shows, aside
from however you may want to cast this as a political event in and of
itself, this is an exclusionary event that is being led by some of the most
conservative ideologues with Republican affiliations.
For Governor Perry not to have the sensitivity to realize that this
was going to not be well-received by Catholics, I think really puts into
question his judgment. And it calls into question what kind of a vetting
process he would have when he was going to appoint judges, you know, as
he`s out on the campaign trail or, you know, for that matter when he`s
putting together a budget.
So, you know, it was -- an event that I think is really going to leave
a bad taste in the mouth of Catholics.
O`DONNELL: Steve, I think navigating religious politics in America at
the presidential level is actually pretty easy -- some pretty half-witted
candidates have managed to do it without any strain in presidential
campaigns. I think the whole point of this is if he can`t get it straight
at this stage, this guy does not belong in a presidential race.
Steve Krueger, national director of Catholic Democrats -- thank you
very much for joining me tonight.
KRUEGER: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, no matter what you think Congress has done, it
is not the end of the world, because whatever stupid thing Congress does,
it can undo.
But Jerry Lewis being bumped off the telethon? That is the end of the
world as we know it. Jerry`s friend, Richard Belzer, is here.
And as usual this Friday night, the late night comedians will get the
O`DONNELL: Breaking news: the United States has just lost its top-
notch AAA credit rating from Standard and Poor`s. S&P just cut the long
term U.S. credit by one notch AA-plus about concerns about growing budget
deficits. U.S. treasuries, once seen as the safest investment in the
world, are now rated lower than bonds issued by the United Kingdom,
Germany, France, and Canada.
Rejoining me now is MSNBC contributor Ezra Klein.
Ezra, I have refused to believe this was going to happen. I`m
virtually speechless on this. What does it mean to the consumer out there
and what does it mean to our politics? There`s going to be a blame game
KLEIN: Here`s the first thing you need to know, they did not
downgrade our ability to pay. Nothing changed in our economy this week,
this month, three months, nothing significant.
They downgraded our political system.
KLEIN: Congress just got downgraded is what happened here today. And
what it means for politics and I have not have to time to the report (ph),
but the rumor today is they would mention the resistance of Republicans to
revenue specifically, their willingness to put the U.S. credit and default
on the table to keep tax increases from coming on the table.
O`DONNELL: We`ve been hearing that all day.
KLEIN: If that happens, people keep saying Senate Republicans want an
opening to make a compromise, want an opening for a grand bargain, that
they can out-plank House Republicans. This would give them that opening.
O`DONNELL: And so, this is the one thing that we can see in our
landscape that may shake up Republican solidity in the anti-tax position
KLEIN: Absolutely. Republicans do listen to markets. They do have a
lot of friends, and particularly donors in markets.
So, when a lot of these guys like Tom Coburn, but much more to the
point like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner begin hearing from managers of
hedge funds, managers of investment banks and saying, what are you doing?
It is time to stand. You have taken it too far. We are now facing
consequences. This is going to get more significant.
Remember too a lot of other types of bonds are linked to the national
credit rating -- municipalities, states, hospital bonds, a lot of different
thing that rely on American federal payments.
So, you could see this rippling further down throughout the credit
structure, depending on how S&P decides to play.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to go to John Harwood who`s -- he`s joining us
John, has the administration acting to this yet?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC (via telephone): I just got off the phone with an
administration official who said it`s amateur hour at S&P because of the
back-and-forth, the ratings agency informed the government this afternoon
it intended to downgrade provided the computations that were underlying
that decision. They were shown, officials showed computation errors in the
debt to GDP ratio apparently involving the confusion about the proper
baseline to use. S&P then went back and reconsidered. Now, they are going
ahead and downgrading. That is not sitting well with the administration.
O`DONNELL: John, what do you expect to hear from the administration
about this? They surely have to -- they`ve had some hours to anticipate
it. They must have a position that they are going to stake out on it.
HARWOOD: I think what they are likely to say, Lawrence, is that two
of the three major agencies have maintained AAA. Secondly, they`ll say
that U.S. treasury securities are the most familiar financial instruments
in the world and so, what the rating agencies themselves say doesn`t matter
because investors already know the product. And I think they are also
going to, in effect, say it`s not going to make much difference.
I talked to an administration official last week who said if you
really look at how many institutions have to divest because of the decision
by one rating agency is very small.
So, the projection that I`ve gotten is that the impact on interest
rates, on U.S. borrowing costs is likely to be small from this, but, of
course, so we`ll see and we`ll see how the market reacts. And in a market
with a psyche as fragile as this one, you don`t know whether this would be
a blow that`s consequential.
O`DONNELL: CNBC`s John Harwood, thanks for joining me on this
breaking news event. And Ezra Klein, thanks for rejoining us this evening.
In the "Rewrite" tonight, our first ever guest rewriter. Have I
mentioned that it`s an Oscar winner?
You want to know how you become a guest rewriter here? First you win
And it`s the end of show business as we know it, if not the world.
Jerry Lewis will not -- I repeat -- will not do the telethon this year.
The after shocks are still shaking all of us. Jerry`s friend, Richard
Belzer, joins me.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
O`DONNELL: In tonight`s spotlight, Jerry Lewis, the legendary
comedian who for 44 years hosted the only telethon worth watching, his
Labor Day weekend muscular dystrophy telethon has ended -- Jerry`s run as
the king of telethons. Jerry`s telethon stage has played host from acts
ranging from the Jackson 5 to John Lennon to Jerry Seinfeld. It was an
occasional venue for the Rat Pack and it was where Frank Sinatra brokered
the reunion live on television of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, who started
out as show business partners and hadn`t spoken to each other in 20 years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you send my friend out, please? Where is
he? Come here.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Oh, let`s just keep rolling that tape. I could watch that
all night. But all of that has now come to a very abrupt end. After
announcing in May that Jerry would step down from hosting but still appear
on the telethon, the 85-year-old Lewis has now been removed completely from
the telethon, after raising nearly $2.5 billion through the show, the
Muscular Dystrophy Association issued a two-paragraph statement saying
Lewis had, quote, "completed his run as its national chairman. He will not
be appearing on the telethon."
Joining me now, actor, comedian, author, and co-star of "Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit," Richard Belzer.
Richard, thank you very much for joining us tonight, over the
announcement we have had your Twitter picture up there of you and Jerry.
And I got have to say for the kids out there who don`t know Jerry`s work or
have not read a Jerry Lewis biography, that picture is pretty much all you
need to know about Jerry Lewis.
It was never about the worth of physical comedian, but fix his place
in American comedy if you can.
RICHARD BELZER, ACTOR/COMEDIAN/AUTHOR: It`s not a hyperbole to say
Jerry Lewis is clearly the greatest living performer -- he maybe the
greatest performer that lived in modern American show business by
definition when you consider he went from a comedian up in the cat skills
in Atlantic City to becoming a film maker, writer, and an author, and a
philosopher and philanthropist.
But the most amazing -- I mean, he`s a Nobel Prize nominee. He`s got
the Jean Hersholt, Oscar. I don`t think there`s anyone in the business who
has been so beloved and so vilified at the same time.
O`DONNELL: There are people who hate his comedy, make fun of it, hate
BELZER: It`s kind of an irrational, that`s another discussion. The
important thing now is the reverberations of what`s happening to this great
man, this man who is a force of nature.
O`DONNELL: You talk to Jerry all the time. What is this about?
BELZER: Well, that`s for him to say. He will make a statement. I
greatly admire his restraint.
Certainly, this is a shock to the world. People are stopping me in
the street, I`m getting phone calls from wire services and magazines, you
know, because people know I`m close to him, but I know nothing about the
kind of Shakespearean event that went on where there are so many ways to
say good-bye to someone.
O`DONNELL: Oh, yes.
BELZER: This could have been one of the greatest events in the
history of the median.
O`DONNELL: If you billed to me that this was going to be that this is
going to be Jerry`s appearance at the telethon, there`s no way I would miss
BELZER: Right. Or anyone, or any great start would be there and --
O`DONNELL: They could have booked an amazing telethon.
BELZER: Yes. And the indignity, the disrespect is so profound, and
I`m still -- I mean, you know me, I`m a pretty cynical, tough guy.
O`DONNELL: You are, really?
BELZER: No, I am so deeply, emotionally disturbed and heart broken
that people would conspire to do this, not at the cost of this amazing
charity, which is, it`s 40 different neuromuscular diseases, and they have
You know, people say, where is the cure? They have breakthroughs of
identifying genes -- I mean, it`s astounding what they do, I`ve been there,
I`ve been at the telethon, I see what he does, I see what he knows, I see
how he enables these people that are afflicted. They have made more
stronger by his very existence.
And just to summarily issue a two-paragraph, one-paragraph statement
is absolutely -- I`m speechless.
O`DONNELL: You know, in any criticism I`ve heard of Jerry Lewis and
any people who don`t like this particular aspect of his work or other
things, I have never heard anybody try to say he doesn`t care. He doesn`t
care about those kids.
This is the one thing where no one doubts that commitment -- and
there`s never been a commitment like it in show business.
BELZER: No, and in the history of show business. Another thing about
Jerry is, I`ve been with him where people, old people --
O`DONNELL: Can you show us your Jerry tattoo as you`re saying this?
BELZER: I`ve been with him where people of every age, people his age,
60, 70, they come up to him and say, hello and they say I`m 11 again.
Everybody becomes -- I have a tattoo.
O`DONNELL: Oh, it`s harder than I thought. We`ll take a picture of
it during the commercial. It`s right in there where I can see the bow tie
on. Yes, there`s Jerry right there.
BELZER: But let`s just say this is the most beloved, most talented,
most admired, every comedian whether they do him or not loves him, admires
him and are in the business literally because of him.
O`DONNELL: We got to wrap this up. We are running out of time.
BELZER: You have an Oscar winner tonight who wouldn`t be who he is
O`DONNELL: I believe that. Richard Belzer, actor, comedian,
activist, his latest cause is the push to ban large capacity ammunition
clip, something I care about a grate deal.
Please, go to our website, the lastword.MSNBC.com to view Richard`s
PSA and find out more about how to join this cause.
Richard Belzer, thank you very much.
Coming up, I`ll hand the rewrite honors over to an O winner.
O`DONNELL: One of our perennials is in the "Rewrite" tonight, Grover
Norquist. But that is not the only reason to keep watching tonight. The
big reason to watch, we have our very first guest rewriter. That`s right,
our first guest rewriter and he`s like a way better writer than I am.
O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s "Rewrite," and our first-ever guest
He`s been nominated for every award a writer-director can be dominated
for and he`s won Emmys and an Oscar. The Oscar is for directing "Rain
It is my honor to hand over THE LAST WORD rewrite desk tonight to
Barry Levenson -- Barry.
BARRY LEVENSON, EMMY-WINNING WRITER: Thank you, Lawrence. It`s a
Grover Norquist is an old-fashioned name. Sounds like something from
"Our Town" by Thornton Wilder, but don`t be mistaken, because nothing old
fashioned about Grover Norquist.
No, he`s a very modern man. In a time of recession, when jobs are
hard to come by, Grover has invented a job for himself.
His job is to make sure that those in Congress take a loyalty oath to
say they will never raise taxes ever.
Tonight, enough for members of Congress to vote for or against a
particular piece of legislation, there needs to be an oath. He believes
why be something just for today when you can be against it forever?
That`s the brilliance of Grover. He saw the need and where there`s a
need, there`s a job to be had. I`m not sure there`s another job like that
in the United States of America. I`m not sure who pays him, but let`s not
haggle over small details.
A job is a job and Grover is in the loyalty business.
See? Grover discovered a flaw in man`s thinking process. He realized
that something and sometimes, we will change your mind. Sometimes, we
think one way and then we realize there`s another way.
He spotted that flaw. He realized that no one had come up with the
idea to curb that kind of behavior before. You only have to go back four
or five centuries to the folks who believe the earth was flat and not
round. If Grover was around back then and had taken a loyalty -- excuse me
-- had taken a loyalty oath, things would have been a lot different today
and now, we`re stuck with the idea the world is round, and there are people
on the other side of the world, different people.
If the flat-earth theorists only had a loyalty oath, everything would
have been much more simple today.
I swear to uphold that the world is flat today, tomorrow, and forever.
Grover could have picked another time to enforce his never raised
taxes ever loyalty oath pledge. He could have done it during the Clinton
years or before the tax Bush cuts. But he didn`t feel the timing was
right. He waited until taxes for the wealthiest hit rock bottom. Only
then was Grover was ready and he knew few in Congress would be against the
After all, who`s going to complain? Poor people? They don`t have
anyone representing them anyway. They don`t contribute to any political
The middle class? They`re too busy keeping homes off the foreclosure
market or trying to find money to send their children to college or just
maybe trying to stay above water.
May be a few naysayers who say tax cuts don`t help stimulate the
economy, but a little controversy is always good. In fact, it only helps
Grover`s loyalty oath business. See, it`s a fine business that he`s
It`s not a seasonal business as far as I can tell. You don`t need to
own a store. There`s no inventory. So, no Wal-Mart can come along,
undercut you, drive you out of the loyalty oath business.
There might be some who object, you know? Some who basically think,
you know, that the loyalty oath business is, you know, caught up in a
pledge to be against certain things. But we can always be against
Why, you know, if you give me about five minutes, I could come up with
half a dozen loyalty oaths right off the top of my head. It wouldn`t
require much thinking, that`s the beauty of the loyalty oath business.
Anybody could go down to Kinko`s, get some loyalty oath pledge forms,
fill in what you`re against, and just head over to Congress and you`re in
business. It`s that simple. Never bet against American ingenuity. We can
turn this recession around in no time.
O`DONNELL: The ugly fight over round one of the debt ceiling came to
an end this week. The only winners: late night comedy writers and
comedians. Here`s the week in comedy.
DAVID LETTERMAN, LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: Great news for
American taxpayers, President Obama and Congress have reached a deal.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
LETTERMAN: Well, that was easy. Oh, boy.
JON STEWART, THE DAILY SHOW: Oh, my God, it`s a Ramadan miracle.
CONAN O`BRIEN, CONAN: During the debt ceiling debate, Nancy Pelosi
said John Boehner had, quote, "gone over to the dark side." Yes, which for
Boehner means he fell asleep in the tanning booth.
JIMMY KIMMEL, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: You know, the bill got support from
both side of the fence, neither side seems to be happy at all about it.
Liberals say it gives Republicans everything they wanted and the Democrats
laid down and let the Republicans roll over them. But Democrats -- they
disagree. They say, they didn`t lay down, they were planking.
STEWART: The president has got to be pretty upset about what`s taken
OBAMA: I want to thank the American people. It`s been your voices,
your letters, your e-mails, your tweets, your phone calls that have
compelled Washington to act in the final days.
STEWART: Let me just stop you right there. You`re not pinning this
turd on us.
STEPHEN COLBERT, THE COLBERT REPORT: This is the best kind of deal,
the kind Democrats hate.
REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: This is a Satan sandwich.
COLBERT: Yes. For the Democrats, this is a Satan sandwich. A bills
President Obama signed the debt ceiling compromise and America
narrowly avoided a catastrophe, giving the Democrats anything they want.
Because the only way this bill was two-sided was that the Dems had to take
it at both ends.
STEWART: Isn`t it possible that our political leaders, whether they
be Democrat, whether they be Republican, oh, yes, that they can come
together in a shared -- no, what are you doing? No -- no!
O`DONNELL: And tonight, a fond LAST WORD farewell to our class of
2011 summer intern team. Let`s see what their names are. Oh, yes -- Pete
Carroll (ph), Harry Grava (ph), Deirdre Cayanaga (ph) and Noor Garziden
(ph) . Thank you.
Noor can`t be here, rights? She`s off somewhere, right?
So thanks for putting in such long hours for no pay. I really
appreciate it. It leaves a lot more money for me, and I`m sure someone
here, it`s going to be someone, will write you a recommendation to
somewhere you want at some point.
Please, do not ask me to do that. I`m much busier -- when you see me
on the sofa, that is actually show prep. I cannot be distracted from that
to then right resume, building recommendations, so, you know, thanks,
great. Love to have you.
Now, altogether --
CROWD: "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" is up next.
O`DONNELL: Good evening, Rachel.
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