Skip navigation

'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

  Most Popular
Most viewed

Guests: Lawrence Wilkerson, Barton Gellman, E.J. Dionne, Arianna Huffington


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: We don`t need Maureen Dowd to compare Dick
Cheney to Darth Vader, he does it himself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: You`ve been called skillful, dynamic. You`ve
been called controversial and divisive.

DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: You left out Darth Vader.

O`DONNELL (voice-over): Dick Cheney relishes his ties with the dark
side.

LAUER: Waterboarding, torture.

CHENEY: Not to get caught up in a notion that you can only have
popular methods of interrogation.

VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA AGENT: He`s never once accepted any
responsibility nor regret.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Explosive interview this morning on "Today."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Totally unencumbered by any political nicety, by
any nicety frankly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dick Cheney`s new memoir hits bookstores today.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: The vice president (INAUDIBLE) claims that he
was the central figure in convincing president Bush to invade Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Critics have already called it a rewrite of
history

CHENEY: Pulling the strings behind the scenes.

O`DONNELL: President Obama is still working to fix eight years of
Republican mistakes.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The worst economic
crisis since the Great Depression.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a tough economy.

TODD: Key pieces of the president`s jobs plan are still being
debated.

OBAMA: We have to create more jobs, and we have to do it faster.

TODD: Does he go big, does he go tactical?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He needs to go big.

OBAMA: We got to get this done.

MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: You try working with Eric Cantor.

O`DONNELL: While the president is working to create jobs, the
Republican candidates were working to destroy them.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You won`t have
stimulus programs under Perry presidency.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will slice billions of
dollars.

REP. MICHELE BACHAMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m a person
who loves humor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here`s a line that came out his speech today.

ROMNEY: Career politicians got us into this mess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The career politicians.

PERRY: Inconsequential.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the trail lately, the only other guy in this
GOP field who`s not a career politician is Herman Cain.

PERRY: Inconsequential.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The big question from Rick Perry.

UNDENTIFIED FEMALE: He believes in evolution?

PERRY: That`s the way we do it in Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: Good evening from Los Angeles.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney`s memoir "In My Time" went on sale
today. In the book, Cheney expresses no regrets for the actions the Bush
administration took following September 11th, including authorizing the use
of waterboarding. Cheney writes, "The program was safe, legal, and
effective. It provided intelligence that enabled us to prevent attacks and
save American lives."

Cheney did an interview with "The Today Show" this morning. Matt
Lauer used the perfect frame for the waterboarding question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER: If an American citizen were to be taken into captivity into
Iran, for example, and the government looked at that person and said we
think you`re a spy for the U.S. and you`re here to carry out a covert
operation, would it be OK for the Iranian government to waterboard that
American citizen?

CHENEY: Well, we probably would object to it.

LAUER: On the grounds that it`s torture?

CHENEY: On the grounds that we have obligations to our citizens and
that we do everything we can to protect our citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Matt Lauer continued to press the point and Cheney was
incapable of answering the question if waterboarding is not torture, is it
OK for other countries to do it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER: So why was it OK for us to use what most people would say was
torture against terror suspects?

CHENEY: Remember, first of all, these were not American citizens. We
weren`t dealing with the American citizens in the enhanced interrogation
program. Secondly, it was people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were a
handful, two or three, for example, that actually got waterboarded. Third,
we had good reason to believe they had information that we could only get
from them and that they knew more than anybody else.

LAUER: But if the government of Iran were to capture someone and said
we have reason to believe that you`re a spy, you`re carrying out an
operation that could be damaging to our country, would you object or would
say, they did what they had to do to get the information they needed at the
time?

CHENEY: Well, I think we would object because we wouldn`t expect an
American citizen to be operating that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: On the Bush administration`s decision to invade Iraq,
Cheney writes, "When we looked around the world in those first months after
9/11, there was no place more likely to be a nexus between terrorism and
WMD capability than Saddam Hussein`s Iraq, with the benefit of hindsight,
even taking into account that some of the intelligence we received was
wrong, that assessment still holds true. The security of our nation and of
our friends and allies required that we act and so we did."

Joining me now, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin
Powell and current professor of government at William and Mary, Colonel
Lawrence Wilkerson.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Colonel.

LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN
POWELL: Thanks for having me, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Colonel, that seems like a redefined threshold of why we
invaded Iraq, because as Cheney says, it was more likely to be a nexus of
terrorism and a dictator capable of doing something with weapons of mass
destruction. That is not the way he talked ramping up to that invasion.

WILKERSON: Well, that`s not the reason at all either. The reason it
was a little hanging fruit. We went to the Pentagon before Donald Rumsfeld
cut us off from the Pentagon, we being the planning staff at State. I led
the effort.

And we talked with the Pentagon on a number of items, and we talked
about what would become the "Axis of Evil." We all agreed, the Pentagon
agreed, State agreed, I think the entire bureaucracy with regard to
national security agreed North Korea was the number one threat, and Iran
was a close second in terms of terrorism. Iraq came in third or fourth --
third if you`re going to count the Axis of Evil as being three.

So, it was low-hanging fruit. We`d seen the First Gulf War, we knew
the onslaught in Iraq would be short and sweet and we`d win, but we didn`t
think about the aftermath, though, obviously. And so, that`s the reason we
picked it.

So, Cheney is just putting forth a preposterous position with regard
to Iraq.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Cheney had to say when Matt Lauer
asked whether the Iraq war was worth billions of dollars in tax money and
the lives of 4,477 American soldiers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER: Given the fact it severely damaged our reputation around the
world and there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, you
still think it`s worth it?

CHENEY: Oh, sure. I don`t think that it damaged our reputation
around the world. I just don`t believe that. I think, you know, critics
here at home would argue that. But, in fact, I think it was sound policy
that dealt with a very serious problem and that eliminated Saddam Hussein
from the kind of problem he presented.

What would have happened this week if Moammar Gadhafi had still been
in power with a nuclear weapon in Libya? Would he have fled? I doubt it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: What did I just hear there, how did he just slide from
Saddam Hussein to Gadhafi without anything in between there, suggesting
what, that Saddam Hussein, if he stayed in power was going to have a
nuclear weapon and hand it to Gadhafi and Gadhafi could use it last week?

WILKERSON: Favorite Dick Cheney tactic: change the subject. His
philosophy is -- you pick the questions, I get to pick the answers. And
lots of times, there`s hardly any logic to it.

But his answers are the type that appealed to the cheerleaders that he
has in this country, amongst the neoconservatives and others who
disturbingly, in my mind, continue to show that they are in favor of
torture, they are in favor of anything that will protect their security.

We`re no longer, at least in part, a nation of Patrick Henrys who say,
"Give me liberty or give me death." We have a lot of people out there who
say protect my life at any cost, including my civil liberties and torturing
other people to do so.

O`DONNELL: Yes. He -- you can ask him a question and he will say
words after the question, but that doesn`t mean you`re getting an answer.

WILKERSON: Absolutely.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Matt Lauer asked Cheney about a
portion of his book in which he criticized your former boss, former
Secretary of State Colin Powell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER: One of your most pointed criticisms about him is this, quote,
"Time and again, I heard that he was opposed to the war in Iraq. Indeed, I
continue to hear it today. But never once in any meeting did I hear him
voice objection."

In an interview this weekend, I think you now know that Colin Powell
insists he told the president about his objections to the war in Iraq. And
in his memoir, President Bush specifically says he knew about Colin
Powell`s reservations. So, why are you barking up this tree?

CHENEY: Well, I wrote the events as I participated in them. The fact
of the matter is, if you look, for example, at my comments about General
Powell, I`ve got three chapters on my time as secretary of defense,
basically all very positive on General Powell. But a balanced account also
required me to put down what my opinion was, and that`s what I`ve done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Now, when historians write books, they are always aware of
what other historians have written before them. They always acknowledge it
where it necessary. I think the first book that entered our history in
this territory is Bob Woodward, where he has a lengthy and detailed account
of -- as you know -- Colin Powell`s meeting with the president that Cheney
was not present for in which Colin Powell made all the points about why you
want to be very careful about going into Iraq and maybe choose not to do
it.

And here`s Cheney pretending that that sort of thing never happened.

WILKERSON: And also --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: The fact is it worked. We learned valuable, valuable
information from the process and kept the country safe for over seven
years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Sorry, Colonel. We put the wrong videotape. Go ahead
with your response.

WILKERSON: I was going to say that -- I mean, Dick Cheney didn`t go
to New York and give the presentation on the 5 of February, 2003, Colin
Powell did.

So, if Colin Powell was opponent to the wars, Cheney seems to say in
his book, or didn`t express his opposition to the war or someone who was
undermining the president`s position outside the government, he certainly
didn`t show it when he went to New York and gave that presentation on 5 of
February, 2003. And that`s the moment that he said publicly he will be
remembered for for the rest of his life.

We essentially presented in key areas some false information. We
didn`t know it was false, we`ve been vowed safe that information by the
DCI, George Tenet, and his deputy, John McLaughlin. But nonetheless, we
wound up presenting some false information about Iraq`s statues with regard
to WMD.

O`DONNELL: On Secretary of State Powell`s presentation at the United
Nations in February, Cheney actually writes, "When it turned out that much
of what Powell said about weapons of mass destruction was wrong, I think
embarrassment caused him and those around him to lash out at others.
Scooter Libby seemed to be a particular target of their ire, they
excoriated the material that he and the National Security Council staff has
provided while at the same time boasting that they had thrown it in the
garbage. As it happened, much of what they discarded focused on Saddam`s
ties to terror and human rights violations, charges that would stand the
test of time."

He`s talking about you there, Colonel. What do you make of that?

WILKERSON: Let me give you the facts there. On the very first day
that Colin Powell handed me the script done by Scooter Libby and John Hanna
from Vice President Cheney`s office, it was all about WMD -- nothing about
human rights, nothing about terrorism. The terrorism portion was to come
later from Phil Mudd at CIA, George Tenet`s man, and the human rights
portion came from the State Department.

We threw out Scooter Libby and John Hannah`s vice president-backed
script the very first day at Langley because George Tenet and I agreed it
was bull. And we went straight to the October 2002 national intelligence
estimate, and from that point on, that became the basis of our
presentation.

Unfortunately, it was wrong in key areas also. But we threw the
script out in the beginning and didn`t badmouth anybody about it. We
simply got to work using Tenet`s NIE as the support for our work.

O`DONNELL: And Cheney has not given up on insisting that there was,
indeed, a connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

In the book he says, "The terrorism experts would make their judgments
about a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. But then to
satisfy the regional analysts, a higher-up at the agency would intone
Saddam had no authority, connection, or control. The phrase turned out to
be handy for administration critics, because it seemed to say that Saddam
had no responsibility for terrorism while we were asserting he did. We had
the facts on our side, he harbored terrorists and he sponsored them."

What`s your reaction to that, Colonel?

WILKERSON: Well, unfortunately, the vice president sticks to that
even to this day as you pointed out, and he was saying it during the time.

I`ve since discovered in the summer of 2002, some of the enhanced
interrogation was being used not to gain information about a possible
another terrorist attack on the United States but to confirm these very
ties between Baghdad and al Qaeda. And the reason the secretary of state
did not throw the entire portion on terrorist contacts out of his script
for the 5 of February presentation was simply that once he decided to do
that and told me he was going to do that, about an hour or so later, George
Tenet shows up with his bombshell that they just interrogated a high-level
al Qaeda operative who revealed contacts, significant contacts.

So, Secretary Powell put it back in, somewhat reluctantly, but we put
it back in. Only later did we learn that that information was gained
through torture and was recanted by the individual that was tortured and
the DIA had issued a -- Defense Intelligence Agency had issued a dissent
within a week or two. We were never shown a dissent nor told that the
high-level al Qaeda operative had recanted nor told that it was done
outside the United States, principally in Egypt.

O`DONNELL: Well, let`s hope that no one makes the mistake of putting
the Cheney book on the history shelf in our libraries.

WILKERSON: I think it will go on --

O`DONNELL: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson --

WILKERSON: I think it will go on the crime section.

O`DONNELL: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former
Secretary of State Colin Powell -- thank you very much for your invaluable
perspective tonight.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, we`ll examine Dick Cheney`s version of the
dramatic night when members of the Bush administration rushed to the
bedside of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to get him to renew the
terrorist surveillance program.

And later, Arianna Huffington will join me to discuss why politicians
ignore the single biggest voting bloc in American politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Vice President Dick Cheney tries to rewrite
history about his domestic surveillance program and why the fight at
Attorney General John Ashcroft`s bedside served to be a major turning point
in the relationship between Cheney and the president.

And later, as the Obama administration considers how big of a job`s
plan to unveil next week, it seems the president maybe gave us some hints
today. E.J. Dionne will join me to discuss that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: We`re back with more on the Cheney book with someone who
has actually read the whole thing.

Joining me now is Barton Gellman, the author of "Angler: The Cheney
Vice Presidency." Bart is also a contributing editor at large with "Time"
magazine.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Bart.

BARTON GELLMAN, AUTHOR, "ANGLER": Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Bart, on the John Ashcroft bedside scene, I want to read
you this passage from the Cheney book, Cheney writes, "The president called
the attorney general who was in George Washington University Hospital in
Washington, D.C, and explained that the program was going to lapse without
Department of Justice approval. The attorney general said that he would
sign the documents and the president asked Andy Card and Al Gonzalez to
take the package to him. Card and Gonzalez drove to the hospital and went
into the room where they found Deputy Attorney General Comey already
present. It became immediately clear that Ashcroft had changed his mind.
He said that he would not sign the documents. He also indicated that
because of his health issues, he had delegated all the responsibilities of
his office to Deputy Attorney General Comey. Card and Gonzalez departed
with the unsigned documents in hand."

Bart, that is the Cheney book account of what happened in what became
a defining moment in the Bush presidency. What do you make of that?
You`ve studied every step of that, of this, and everything that happened
that night.

GELLMAN: Well, I wrote two chapters on this in my book. There has
been a voluminous inspector general`s report, congressional testimony about
this event, and Bush`s own account in his memoir of the hospital visit.
And none of it supports almost any of that account. I can`t imagine what
Cheney`s basis is for saying either of the two biggest things in that
passage.

One is that Ashcroft agreed on the phone that he would sign the
document and the other is that Gonzalez, Card, and Cheney, for that matter,
were surprised to discover that Ashcroft had ceded his powers to the deputy
attorney general and that Jim Comey was acting attorney general. Those are
the two elements of the biggest indictment about that scene, which is that
the White House tried to circumvent the lawful attorney general and take
advantage of a sick man.

Now, according to the FBI security details contemporary notes of the
phone call, Janet Ashcroft, the A.G.`s wife, would not put him on the phone
with Bush, he was too sick to talk. He was slipping in and out of
consciousness.

O`DONNELL: In your writing, you described the phone call where it`s
actually the president, and I believe Andy Card, are actually on the line
trying to get to the attorney general, and the attorney general, he`s under
morphine and sedated in a hospital bed, and the attorney general`s wife,
with hearing the president`s voice, hearing him on the line, refuses them
to allow them to talk to him.

GELLMAN: That`s correct, and that`s what the contemporary notes say.
Now, Bush says in his memoirs that he did talk to Ashcroft, but all he says
is that he told Ashcroft he was going to be sending Andy Card and Gonzales
over with some important papers.

To believe Cheney`s account of it, you would have to believe that the
president of the United States talked about a code word classified
intelligence program on an open telephone line that Ashcroft was conscious
and coherent, and that he changed his mind twice within a period of
minutes, because as he lay in his bed, he had already a week before decided
he was not going to sign this document.

Allegedly, now, he tells the president he will, and as soon as the
president`s men arrived, he says, no, I won`t. There`s just -- there`s no
evidence whatsoever to support that account.

O`DONNELL: You`ve read the whole book. Is this characteristic of the
book? Because what I`m getting here is Cheney -- when he comes to a scene
that`s already been dealt with others, who are in other books and with all
sorts of other supporting information, that Cheney will find the weakling,
the weak character, the person who got in our way who didn`t let us do this
the right way, the way us real men of the Bush administration wanted to do
it. And in this instance, it happens to be Ashcroft who`s playing that
role for him.

GELLMAN: I actually think in this case he`s pinning it on Comey,
right, because he has Comey also essentially misleading FBI Director Bob
Mueller into opposing this thing.

Look, what Cheney cares about most of all is his view of the world --
his believes, his idea that the world`s a dangerous place, that hard men
have to do ruthless things to protect us even if we don`t understand the
threats ourselves. And so, when he gets down to the facts of important
cases, they are not always right, because the facts have to serve as
narrative.

O`DONNELL: Bart Gellman, thank you very much for reading the book for
us and for joining us tonight.

GELLMAN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up: no matter what the president chooses to do on
jobs, a fight with Republicans in Congress is inevitable.

And in the "Rewrite," why Rudy Giuliani is the single biggest fraud in
American politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: David "Honeyboy" Edwards, the last of the Mississippi
Delta bluesmen, a musician whose work spanned nearly the entire recorded
history of the blues, died yesterday at his home in Chicago at the age of
96. "The New York Times" reports that his first real exposure to the blues
was in 1929 when the famous bluesman Tommy Johnson came to pick cotton at
wildwood plantation near where Edwards grew up.

Edwards wrote in his autobiography they`d pick cotton throughout the
day and at night, they`d sit around and play the guitars. David "Honeyboy"
Edwards was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996, named a National
Heritage fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002, won a
Grammy for his last album in 2008, and a lifetime achievement Grammy last
year.

Failing health from a weakened heart forced him to cancel show
beginning in May of this year. David "Honeyboy" Edwards titled his
autobiography "The World Don`t Owe Me Nothing."

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In tonight`s Spotlight, the debate inside the Obama White
House about how big the president should go with his job`s plan. The
president will outline his proposals for job creation in a major speech
next week. But "the Washington Post" reported today "it remained unclear
whether the president was looking for narrower ideas with a realistic
chance with passing the Republican-led House or more sweeping stimulus
proposals that would excite his liberal base and draw contrasts with the
GOP."

The president himself hinted today that he may actually be ready for a
fight with the Republicans. In a speech to the American Legion, the
president took aim at Congressional inaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re still digging out
from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It`s taken
longer and it`s been more difficult than any of us had imagined. And even
though we`ve taken some steps in the right direction, we have a lot more to
do.

Our economy has to grow faster. We have to create more jobs. And we
have to do it faster. And most of all, we`ve got to break the gridlock in
Washington that`s been preventing us from taking the action we need to get
this country moving.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: That`s why next week I`ll be speaking to the nation about a
plan to create jobs and reduce our deficit, a plan that I want to see
passed by Congress. We`ve got to get this done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The president had more to say about Republican resistance
in a radio interview on "The Tom Joyner Show."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: These folks so far have not been, you know, very responsive to
public opinion, and -- which is why they are very unpopular right now. But
they are speaking only to a narrow segment of the population, their base.

We`ve just got to keep on putting the pressure on them. My attitude
is that my job is to present the best plans possible. Congress needs to
act. If Congress does not act, then I`m going to be going on the road and
talking to folks. And this next election, you know, very well may end up
being a referendum on, you know, who`s vision of America is better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The president also pointed out that simply passing the
proposals already being considered in Congress could create between half a
million and a million jobs, and grow the economy by at least one percent.

Joining me now is "Washington Post" columnist E.J. Dionne. He`s also
a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thanks for joining me
tonight, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Good to be with you.

O`DONNELL: E.J., I am among those who have to laugh when I read lines
in places like "the Washington Post" or anywhere else that suggest that
there is some area where the Republicans might be reasonable and reach some
agreement with the president, that there`s some legislative target of
compromise for the president to aim at.

Do you think he should be aiming at this theoretical space where the
Republicans might be able to agree with him, or should he be going for the
best policy?

DIONNE: You know, my award for the best cheeky headline of the day
goes to the "FireDog Lake" website. Their headline was "Obama Unsure on
Whether to Propose Jobs Ideas That Can`t Pass or Jobs Ideas That Can`t
Pass."

The point being that if he proposes something really big, the
Republicans will reject it. But if he proposes something small, tailored
to them, maybe even their own ideas, they are probably going to reject it
too. And so I don`t see any reason why he shouldn`t go out there and be
bold.

And there are a lot of reasons why he should be bold. In the first
place, look at what the Republicans have done so far. If you approach
someone in the schoolyard in a nice way and he knocks you down, and then
approach you him a second way and he knocks you down, and you approach him
a third time and he knocks you down, unless you`re as gentle as say Francis
of Assisi, you don`t do that a fourth time.

So I think a tougher position might get actually him something. But
the other thing is the country wants to know what he wants to do. They
want the president to look strong and to be strong. So I think he ends up
better on the politics, but he also might get a better deal in the long run
if he just lays out what he wants to do and goes big.

O`DONNELL: He`s not easy to read ahead of time in these situations.
But on Tom Joyner`s show, it sounded like he`s talking the way you would
advise him to talk. He`s saying my attitude is that my job is to present
the best plans possible. Congress needs to act. And then he says this may
end up being a referendum, meaning I may offer the best plan possible. It
may not get anywhere. Then we will take that to the polls in November.

If you go by what he said on "The Tom Joyner Show," it sounds like
he`s ready for a fight.

DIONNE: It does sound that way. And I hope that`s right. I think
there are two sides to him. There`s the kind of conflict avoidance side.
He really would like everybody to get along. But then there`s a
competitive side. And I think what`s happened to him in the course of this
year and facing an election next year, possibly against somebody like Rick
Perry, who really does stand for just about everything he doesn`t, and is
against everything he`s for -- I think that competitive instinct comes out.

And I think the Obama folks have to think about something. They are
obsessed with the political center. And mathematically I agree with them.
A Democrat or a progressive cannot win with only liberal votes. They need
moderates and independents. But those middle of the road voters, they are
not just concerned with ideology or exactly how the numbers add up on these
plans.

They also care a lot about strength in leadership. And I think that
that is something that didn`t come across to people over the last couple of
months. And this is his opportunity finally to get a handle on that aspect
of people`s views of their president.

O`DONNELL: E.J., the voters you`re talking about tend to be middle
class. We`re going to be talking with Arianna Huffington later about how
politicians tend to ignore the middle class. Is there something the
president should be saying in this job`s speech next week that addresses
specifically middle class worries about job insecurity?

DIONNE: I think there are a couple of things. One is if Democrats
don`t take this payroll tax cut fight to the Republicans, they ought to
find another line of work. I mean, by Republicans` own standards, if you
let a tax cut expire, that`s a tax increase. This is going to be a tax
increase on tens of millions of people.

They ought to be able to win that fight. The other place where I`d
like to see more focus is on the long-term unemployed. There are a lot of
middle class people who have been out of work for a long time. And even
when the economy comes back, they are still going to have a devilish time
to find a job. And so I hope he does something in that area and talks to
them.

O`DONNELL: E.J., you, in a recent column, mentioned it`s not just
liberals who are looking for big movement on the economy, but that it`s
actually big bankers, big industrialists, people who need more stable
economies in which to get their giant corporations moving in one direction
or the other. Is that something that`s going to somehow create some kind
of pressure on Republicans to come to the table?

DIONNE: Again, I hope so. And I think it`s something that if Obama
puts something on the table, he can call them out or call them in as
allies. I`ve been so struck on your sister network, cNBC, of how many
really conservative business guys say look, people need more money in their
pockets if we`re going to have the economy move. And the government can
put some money in people`s pockets.

They can get money in circulation again. If you have state
governments laying off all these people, those are folks who can`t buy
things, who can`t buy services. So they believe that stimulus works. The
numbers show that stimulus works. And they are going to be far better
advocates for it than liberals like me. So I hope they are out there doing
it.

O`DONNELL: So we may see some more Warren Buffet pals joining his
calls that suggests that Democrats have pretty good ideas.

DIONNE: I think that even people who can`t stand Warren Buffet`s
ideas, God bless him, of taxing the rich more would still like the
government to do more to get this economy moving.

O`DONNELL: "Washington Post" columnist E.J. Dionne. Thank you so
much for joining me tonight, E.J.

DIONNE: Great to be with you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, what should the president do to support the
middle class in this country? Arianna Huffington will join me on that
later.

And in tonight`s Rewrite, why New York firefighters think Rudy
Giuliani is not one of the heroes of 9/11. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s Rewrite. Rudy Giuliani is back. To
keep his lecture fees up, he told the Associated Press, in an article
published today, that he`s seriously eyeing another run for the
presidential nomination, despite the spectacular failure last time. He`s
critical of President Barack Obama, saying the Democrat has made a
faltering economy even worse.

Of course, it remains impossible for Rudy Giuliani to speak to a
reporter or the public without mentioning 9/11. The AP article quotes him
as saying "we`d handled everything, airline crashes, building collapses,
fires, hostage situations, other terrorist threats." Giuliani says now,
"but this was so far beyond what we`d contemplated."

Well, it certainly was beyond anything Rudy Giuliani had contemplated,
which is why Giuliani made the worst tactical decision in the history of
the city of New York. It was at Giuliani`s insistence that the emergency
command and control center designed to coordinate police and fire
department responses to, among other things, a terrorist was located by
Giuliani at the World Trade Center.

Giuliani was advised by the professionals in his administration that
the emergency command and control center should be located in Brooklyn
instead of at an obvious terrorism target. But the mayor insisted that it
be located within walking distance of City Hall, which, of course, meant it
would within walking distance for the City Hall press corps, so moving
their cameras to keep Giuliani`s face on camera during any crisis would be
so much the easier.

Lou Animone (ph), then the highest ranking uniformed officer in the
New York City Police Department, was shocked at Giuliani`s decision. "I`ve
never seen in my life walking distance as some kind of a standard for
crisis management." Animone said later, "I guess you had to be there in
1993 to know how strongly we felt it was the wrong place."

Wayne Barrett reported in "The Village Voice" that the police
commissioner at the time told Rudy Giuliani, you can`t put it in Ground
Zero. Police commissioner called it Ground Zero then because the World
Trade Center had already been bombed by al Qaeda.

Giuliani`s ego-driven decision, based on his craving for media
attention during any possible crisis, meant that when they needed it most,
on 9/11, the command center was useless, because Rudy Giuliani had decided
to locate it at Ground Zero.

That Giuliani decision cost lives, which is why the International
Association of Firefighters vehemently opposed his candidacy for the
president in 2008. The Firefighters Association reports that 121
firefighters in the North Tower didn`t get out on 9/11 because they didn`t
hear evacuation orders.

They didn`t hear those orders because Rudy Giuliani learned absolutely
nothing from the first deadly attack on the World Trade Center.
Firefighters` radios failed to work back then when they responded to the
bombing of the World Trade Center. And they failed to work again, years
later, on 9/11.

Even if the inadequate fire department radios had worked on 9/11, they
were not connectable in any way to the police department radios or police
department communication of any kind, even though the city had obtained
additional radio frequencies from the federal government in 1995
specifically to make that kind of communication possible.

Mayor Giuliani`s failure to do anything about the primitive fire
department radios meant that on 9/11 fire chiefs had no idea that police
helicopters were predicting the collapse of both towers long before they
fell. The 9/11 commission concluded that the, quote, "technical failure of
FDNY radios was a contributing factor of the many firefighter fatalities in
the North Tower."

Despite the painful truth of these details, which showed Rudy Giuliani
to have been an ego-driven incompetent in dealing with the threat of
terrorism in New York City, as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches,
most of the media will continue to portray him as one of the heroes of
9/11.

Know this, there is no more fraudulent public image in our politics
than Rudy Giuliani, hero of 9/11.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: The single biggest voting block in American politics is,
obviously, the middle class. So why do our politicians ignore them?
Joining me now, Arianna Huffington, president and editor in chief of the
AOL/Huffington Post Media Group, and the author of the best selling book
"Third World America, How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class
and Betraying the American Dream," which debuted today in paperback.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Arianna.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Your book came out in hard cover about a year ago. And
I`m just wondering how our politicians have changed, if in any way, their
approach to the middle class since you first had this book came out and
you`ve been dealing with these issues?


HUFFINGTON: Well, actually, Lawrence, in a way, things are worse off.
Unemployment is a little lower. It`s 9.1 as opposed to 9.6 when the book
came out in hardback. But the numbers of unemployed and underemployed are
higher because of the numbers of people who are too discouraged to look for
work. About 25 million people are now unemployed and underemployed.

But beyond the numbers is the fact that this has been a wasted year
when it comes to saving the middle class. Not only have we done almost
nothing, we`ve taken measures that are going to make it much harder to turn
things around. And we`ve done things, like extending the Bush tax cuts for
the wealthiest Americans, that are detrimental.

And above all, the whole conversation has changed. So instead of
focusing on jobs, over the last two years, we`ve actually seen a decrease
in the amount of time we`ve spent discussing the jobs crisis and the
skyrocketing increase in the amount of time we spent discussing the deficit
crisis.

O`DONNELL: Arianna, how does our politics miss them? I mean, there`s
nothing bigger and more obvious to go to as a rich source of votes than the
middle class. Why would our politicians choose not to address them?

HUFFINGTON: Well, I think what has happened is that Republicans, at
the moment, under the influence of the Tea Party, have decided that the
biggest crisis we`re facing is the deficit, period. It doesn`t matter how
much data you produce that contradicts the decision, doesn`t matter how
many economists, including Republican economists, come out and contradict
that claim. That is the position.

And unfortunately, Democrats, starting with the president, have gone
along with conceding the principle and then basically negotiating about the
detail, trying too mitigate the damage to the middle class, but having
already considered that the most important crisis we`re facing is the
deficit.

And, you know, when you look how we acted around Hurricane Irene, you
see what is possible. You know, the president really has this speech
written for when he gives his jobs speech after Labor Day. He can let his
speech writer take a vacation and just give the same speech that he gave
around Hurricane Irene about the fact that we are going to be there for you
in your time of need.

We`re going to act effectively and quickly. All the things that were
not done around jobs are the things he took credit for when it came to
dealing with the hurricane.

O`DONNELL: Arianna, do we end up, intentionally or not, in our
politics addressing the middle class basically by trying to appeal to them
on issues, on single issue items like let`s get the pro-choice voters or
let`s get the anti-abortion voters or let`s get the anti-immigration
voters. Let`s go after them, but they aren`t actually, as politicians,
going in to address the real economic conditions and the real life issues
of the middle class?

HUFFINGTON: Yes. And what is staggering is that this is an area
where what is right for the country, intersects with what is good for the
politicians self-interest, what is good for their reelection prospects.
After all, the greatest vulnerability for the president is the unemployment
rate, and the impact this is having on the middle class.

And beyond unemployment, of course, is foreclosures. It`s the way
that middle class families have been affected by the ongoing housing
crisis, which, once again, is not really part of the national conversation
the way it should be.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, it seems like we never came out with the real
national plan to address what happened in the housing crisis. So even if
you are still employed, your insecurity level can be astronomically high
under a burdensome mortgage.

HUFFINGTON: And also, your insecurity around your children, which is
so critical. What it means to -- what it means to be middle class, the
fact that you expect your children to be better off than you are, not just
financially, but in every way, security, including in terms of security
about the future. And that`s not the case.

If you look at the over a trillion dollar debt that college kids are
stranded with, their declining job prospects, all that is affecting the
middle class in a profound way.

O`DONNELL: Arianna Huffington, the book is "Third World America," now
in paperback. Thank you very much for joining me tonight, Arianna.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: 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. And filling in again tonight,
Melissa Harris-Perry. Hi, Melissa.

END

<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2011 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>




Watch The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell each weeknight at 10 p.m. ET


Sponsored links

Resource guide