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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, September 1, 2011

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Guests: Chris Hayes, Michael Scherer, Mark McKinnon, Richard Engel

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: Tonight, the president will show you how to
beat Republicans. No, not that president. The one who beat them four
times.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LUKE RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: The American public looks at and goes, are
you serious?

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is what people hate
about politics.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: God help us.

O`DONNELL (voice-over): After a day of petty bickering, the White
House wants to focus on jobs.

OBAMA: It`s time to stop the political gamesmanship.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The whole thing is silly.
Create jobs and get the economy going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make stupid Congress look even stupider.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Speaker Boehner. He could have said, all
right, I`ll take the high road.

MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: And now, he`s pushed the president around
again.

RUSSERT: Why are these people so delusional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who, if anyone, wins this political game of hard
ball?

O`DONNELL: The Republican snub may be historic, but Republican
obstinance is not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forty percent of those seeking work have found it.

BASHIR: It`s deja vu all over again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Imagine Congress telling LBJ, no, you`re not going
to give a speech here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me warn you --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same thing with Reagan, same thing with FDR.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cross our hearts and hope to die. We believe in
work for the unemployed.

O`DONNELL: But the ideas of the Republican candidates are historic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every idea being advanced by every Republican
candidate -

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Career politicians --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- has been tried before and failed.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I have a record,
and I`ve got a record I`m proud of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney or Governor Perry or Congresswoman
Bachmann.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under the leadership of President Reagan, our
country is prouder and stronger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cross our hearts and hope to die.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: The one-day controversy known as speech-gate is over. The
president has accepted an "invitation" to speak to a joint session of
Congress about job creation next Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That`s the
day after the first Republican presidential debate that will include Rick
Perry.

Next week will be the first opportunity for voters to hear directly
within a 24-hour period from presidential candidates and President Obama on
their ideas to create jobs and their visions for the country and the
future. Voters will be able, for the first time, to compare and contrast
those ideas and that is exactly what the Obama team is counting on. Making
2012 a contrast election with the Republicans.

That is the only way to win re-election during a time of unacceptably
high unemployment.

In an exclusive today, "Time" magazine reports that`s the conclusion
Obama`s chief of staff Bill Daley and his senior advisors came to after a
secret White House staff retreat in June. Historian Michael Beschloss was
invited to speak at that retreat about how other incumbent presidents, FDR
and Ronald Reagan among them, defied their economies and won.

"Time" White House correspondent Michael Scherer who broke this story
reports, "FDR and Reagan argued that the country, though in pain, was
improving and that their opponents anchored in past failures would make
things worse. The president`s aides all resigned to employment above 8
percent on Election Day, now see in Roosevelt and Reagan a plausible path
to victory. They intend to make sure that voters believe a year from now
that their fortunes are improving and that they plan to persuade the
American people that a Republican in the White House would be a step
backward."

Michael Scherer will join me in just a moment.

But first, a little history.

In 1936, when FDR was running his first re-election campaign, the
unemployment rate was 17 percent. That was down from 20 percent when he
first took office. Here is the case FDR made for his re-election in a
speech at Madison Square Garden October 31st, 1936, four days before the
election.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: For nearly four
years now, you have had an administration which instead of twiddling its
thumbs has rolled up its sleeves.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

ROOSEVELT: We will keep our sleeves rolled up. We have to struggle
with the old enemies of peace, business and finance and monopoly,
speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war
profiteering. Never before in all our history have these forces been so
united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in
their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That is the FDR voice that I have always known -- formal,
distant in its way, elitist-sounding in a certain kind of way.

Now, I`m going to show you a different tape of FDR. This is where he
was politically at home. This is a month earlier at a Democratic
Convention in Syracuse, New York state Democratic Party Convention. The
state Democratic Party that gave rise to FDR, that made him governor first
before becoming president.

These are his people. He`s talking to them. Warning them about the
dangers of electing a Republican.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROOSEVELT: Let me warn you and let me warn the nation against the
smooth evasion that says, of course, we believe these things. We believe
in Social Security. We believe in work for the unemployed. We believe in
saving homes.

Cross our hearts and hope to die, we believe in all these things. But
we do not like the way the present administration is doing them.

Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them. We will do more
of them. We will do them better. And most important of all, the doing of
them will not cost anybody anything.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That is the tape that explains to me how FDR won elections
and re-elections. That smile, that FDR as almost stand-up comedian.
That`s about as jocular as he got in those days.

Joining me now is Michael Scherer, White House correspondent for
"Time" magazine. His piece on the Obama team`s secret retreat appears in
the latest issue on newsstands now.

Thank you for joining me tonight, Michael.

MICHAEL SCHERER, TIME: Thanks for having me, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: It`s an extraordinary piece. I just can imagine the scene
of Michael Beschloss showing up, and you stress he was not there as a
political adviser. He was there as a historian, a presidential historian.
They wanted to know how did these re-election campaigns work for presidents
in economic difficulty.

How did it go? How did the retreat go? And what did they get from
Beschloss?

SCHERER: Well, you know, the premise was at that point if you
remember a few months ago, there was a talking point in the press that the
unemployment rate in the spring of the election year is more or less
determinative of how the election is going to go. And that was getting a
lot of play at that time and it`s not exactly what the White House wanted
to hear. And Beschloss was brought in to explain the exceptions to that.
You had 7.2 percent unemployment for Reagan, unemployment in the high teens
for Roosevelt, and to explain how they pulled it off.

And like you said at the top, Beschloss made two points. He said
first of all, Americans have to believe even though things are bad, they`re
getting better. They have to have an optimistic vision forward, know
there`s a path forward. And secondly, they have to think that the
Republicans, the other side, or the Democrats, the opponents, are going to
make things worse.

And both of them used remarkably similar strategies. Reagan always
looked to Roosevelt as a model for himself. Both of them also had
economies growing much faster than Barack Obama is going to have next year.
No one is projecting the kind of growth in GDP that both Roosevelt and
Reagan had.

But you can see in the strategy already in the moves that Obama is
making right now. Next week, he`s going to lay out a jobs proposal that he
hopes will actually if it gets passed, get the ball rolling next spring,
get people feeling like there`s hope again, that they feel the improvement.
And no doubt Republicans will try and block some or all of that plan. And
it`s on that comparison that Obama will make the case that Republicans are
actually not what you want to fix this economy.

O`DONNELL: Michael, I think the single most important line or
principle outlined in your piece is that you say no iron law in politics is
ever 100 percent accurate. And that was Beschloss` piece. Because we have
been hearing this relentlessly now, as long as I can remember in the
discussion of this campaign, that, hey, the unemployment rate is above
eight, if it`s above nine, it`s hopeless, it`s over.

We had Allan Lichtman on last night saying, look, that`s important,
but it`s one of many things. He actually lists 13 other things -- 12 other
things in addition to that, that he actually weighs equally, including
things like scandal in an administration, and strength of the opponents.
Strength of the opponents is exactly now where the White House is focused.

Does that mean they`re planning on running in effect a negative
campaign on whoever that nominee is?

SCHERER: Well, there`s no doubt it`s going to be negative. The
question is whether it`s going to be a personally negative campaign or a
negative campaign built around issues.

It is true. You cannot talk to a Democrat in this town or even in
Chicago working on the campaign about this next election without them
volunteering information about what a lousy candidate they think Mitt
Romney is going to be, what a lousy candidate they think Rick Perry is
going to be, how that comparison that they`re going to be able to make,
especially given Republican positions right now, supporting unpopular
things like the Ryan budget, you know, will help them.

They also point to polling for the Republican Party. Generally,
Republicans in Congress is very low right now.

I`m not sure -- I`m not sure a lot of independent observers are
totally convinced that it`s going to be that easy.

You know, polling for the Republican Party was extremely low. Polling
for Republican leadership in Congress was extremely low. At the end of
2010, when Republicans took the House, the American public right now is in
the habit of turning the bums out of office, whoever they are, because they
have been angry now for three cycles. And there`s a real risk that could
happen again next year.

O`DONNELL: Michael, your last paragraph is the perfect antidote
anyone in the Obama side or the Democrat side who thinks it`s going to be
easy because the Republicans are going to nominate someone who`s easy to
knock over, you write , "In 1980, with the economy sagging, Jimmy Carter
imagined nearly to the end that Ronald Reagan was too extreme, and Reagan
won in a landslide." You say it`s dangerous to underestimate your enemy in
difficult times.

I` would never forget how in 1980 -- I mean, I was a kid who had
nothing to do with politics. But it was unimaginable that Ronald Reagan,
that this actor, this extremist, could win the presidency. He won 49
states in my unimaginable that he could win the presidency scenario.

And so, that is the other lesson they have to think about, isn`t it?

SCHERER: Yes. And what`s going to happen in this cycle like it
happened in 1980 is it`s going to come down to the final few months of the
campaign, it`s going to come down to whether the Republican opponent is
stumbling at that point, is able to offer a credible case. Or like Reagan,
appeared like someone who could be president.

Reagan at the very final months of that campaign, despite the fact
that he had done movies with chimps and had been, you know, a real
ideological activist for a long time, was able to make the case to the
American people that he could handle the job.

O`DONNELL: Michael Scherer, White House correspondent for "Time"
magazine, with the mandatory reading of the week -- thank you very much for
joining us, Michael.

SCHERER: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: How should President Obama convince Americans that he`ll
handle economic problems better than his Republican challengers? Chris
Hayes joins me next to help draw those distinctions.

And Mitt Romney decides it`s time to go after a voting bloc he had
given up, Tea Partiers. That has some Tea Partiers lining up to protest
Romney instead of listen to him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: One of our guests last night told us that polls don`t
matter, especially early polls of primary candidates. So, next, we will be
reporting to you the latest presidential primary polls and we`ll ask Chris
Hayes to outline President Obama`s best strategy against his Republican
challengers.

And later, one of those Republican challengers is suddenly getting a
surge in Tea Party support, and so, of course, Michele Bachmann is
attacking him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In a new Quinnipiac University poll that Allan Lichtman
assured us last night absolutely doesn`t matter, President Obama holds a
slim lead over new Republican front-runner Rick Perry, 43-41 percent, when
it comes to handling the economy. That`s, of course, a statistical tie
when you factor in the margin of error.

With Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, President Obama fares of course
much better. Despite or perhaps because of her promise this past Saturday
that as president she would turn things around within one economic quarter.
In that head-to-head economic matchup, the president has an 11-point lead,
48 percent to 37 percent.

But the White House has a problem when it comes to Willard M. Romney.
Romney edges out President Obama in this economic poll by four points, 46
percent to 42 percent. And with "Time" magazine reporting today that the
White House is eyeing a campaign like Reagan`s in 1984 or FDR`s in 1936,
Republican world is already working on its rebuttal.

"Weekly Standard" founder Bill Kristol blogged today in reaction to
the "Time" magazine reporting, "When Barack Obama took over, unemployment
stood at 7.8 percent. It`s now 9.1 percent, and GDP growth under Obama has
so far been running at about 1 percent a year. The bottom line, Obama`s
economic record is unlikely to look anything like that of Roosevelt`s or
Reagan`s. But if the analogy provided a lift for the Obama team, that`s
great. They undoubtedly need a little cheering up. The rest of us can
look forward to being cheered up in November 2012 by the change in the Oval
Office we`ve been waiting for."

Joining me now is Chris Hayes, MSNBC political analyst and editor at
large for "The Nation." His new weekend show premieres here on MSNBC later
this fall.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Chris.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you, Lawrence. Great to
be here.

Chris, I now have a new favorite FDR tape, which we have already
played once in the show.

HAYES: I love it.

O`DONNELL: I love it so much. I really want to see it again. This
is FDR -- a warning, warning against electing Republicans, and doing it
with a kind of charm, with this smile, with this attitude, that I hadn`t
seen before in the limited amount of FDR speaking stuff that I`ve seen.

Let`s just watch it and glory in it once again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROOSEVELT: Let me warn you and let me warn the nation against the
smooth evasion that says, of course, we believe these things. We believe
in Social Security. We believe in work for the unemployed. We believe in
saving homes.

Cross our hearts and hope to die, we believe in all these things. But
we do not like the way the present administration is doing them.

Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them. We will do more
of them. We will do them better. And most important of all, the doing of
them will not cost anybody anything.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Yes, that guy won.

Chris, President Obama we know doesn`t like that direct
confrontational language. But there`s FDR. I mean, there`s a Harvard man,
an Ivy League dignified guy, who it didn`t seem like mudslinging. It
doesn`t seem like he was getting his hands dirty.

It seemed like he was really telling the truth about the Republican
attitude toward all of these programs that FDR had created that they were
saying, oh, we can do that better.

HAYES: Well, there`s a few things about it. Aside from the sheer
awesomeness of Roosevelt sort of delight of baiting his enemies, there are
two things about that I find striking. One is that it`s important to
remember -- I was looking at the numbers today. GDP growth in 1936 was 13
percent, I want to say.

I mean, even though the economy was still mired in a horrible,
absolute position, the trend line was remarkable. And the trend line for
the duration of FDR`s first time was remarkable. Every year, there was an
average 7 percent or 8 percent GDP growth. The unemployment rate came
down. So, he was sort of rightfully boastful about his record.

And I think the other thing that`s so fascinating is the distinction
between FDR and now is that you can see from that clip the campaign was
being waged on his ideological turf. It was being waged on who can best
implement this host of programs that I have articulated.

That is not the case in 2012. It is not -- if it`s being waged on
anyone`s ideological turf at this point, it is being waged on the
ideological turf of the Republican Party, which is how much and how to cut
and how to restrain and how to deal with long-term deficits.

O`DONNELL: Now, Chris, what about the risk of underestimating the
Republican nominee that President Obama will be running against? There are
some seriously flawed possibilities out there in the Republican field.

But that 1980 example of Ronald Reagan just being unimaginable to many
of us -- I didn`t know anything about politics. I was just a citizen, a
recent voter, and I just thought, it`s impossible. Of course, living in
Massachusetts it was impossible for Reagan to be elected. And he was not
elected president of Massachusetts.

But, you know, look, he swept 49 states. And really a lot of
Democrats just never saw that as a possibility.

Are the Democrats and is the White House nervous enough that whoever
this nominee turns out to be, they`re going to see a possible Reagan who
they are going to have to turn into such -- create such negative imagery
around that person in order to beat him?

HAYES: Yes. I mean, look -- two things I would say. One is that the
beacon for the White House is that the president`s personal appeal remains
remarkably high. He outperforms the fundamentals on a whole lot of
dimensions about whether he`s trustworthy, knowledgeable, a good decision
maker -- all these things. On performance, job performance, his job
performance numbers are very low.

So, they have this sort of -- they feel they have a repository of
personal appeal they could bank on, and they could use to contrast with
whoever the candidate is.

The other thing I would say is having talked to some folks in the
White House in the last month or whatever, it`s fairly clear they are aware
that they are not in a great situation. I mean, they understand it is
rough out there right now. It is one of the roughest stretches in recent
memory certainly, and possibly in 70 years for the American economy, for
the American worker, and for the voter. And so, I think it`s very unlikely
they will take anyone for granted going into this election, because you
would have to be blind not to understand the way the deck has been stacked
against the president because of what the economic fundamentals look like.

O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes, we`re looking forward to your show on MSNBC
on weekend mornings starting in the fall. Thanks for joining us tonight,
and thank you for filling in for me the last couple of weeks.

HAYES: Of course. Anytime, Lawrence. Thanks.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, Michele Bachmann wants her Tea Party spotlight back from
the Texan who stole it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: When he was running for Senate in Massachusetts in 1994,
Mitt Romney actually tried to run to Ted Kennedy`s left. He told
Massachusetts voters he`d be more of a leader on gay rights than Ted
Kennedy. A month ago, Romney signed the pledge against marriage equality
that most of the rest of the Republican candidates signed, the one that
Rick Santorum signed. And now, the super rich Romney wants the Tea Party
to believe he`s unemployed and flies coach. That`s coming up.

And the premiere of Richard Engel`s and Rachel Maddow`s special report
on how America has changed since 9/11 premieres tonight after this show.
Richard Engel joins me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In tonight`s Spotlight, the Perry effect on the Republican
presidential candidates. The new Quinnipiac poll shows Rick Perry now
beating Michele Bachmann by more than two to one. Bachmann comes in third
now behind Mitt Romney.

The last Quinnipiac poll had her in second before Rick Perry jumped
into the race. And more importantly for Bachmann, Rick Perry trounces her
among Tea Party members, with a 17-point lead. Perry`s Tea Party polling
is better than both Bachmann and Romney combined.

Now Bachmann supporters are going on the offensive against Perry. A
pro Bachmann Super PAC will begin airing this ad on TV in South Carolina
next week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Perry says he`s one tough hombre on spending.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Number one is don`t
spend all the money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But what`s his record? Rick Perry doubled
spending in a decade. And this year, Rick Perry`s spending more money than
the state takes in, covering his deficits with record borrowing. And he is
supposed to be the Tea Party guy?

There is an honest conservative. And she`s not Rick Perry. >

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: This afternoon, Perry`s spokesperson, Ray Sullivan -- not
the Ray Sullivan I went to high school with, right? No. OK. Ray Sullivan
blasted the ad, issuing a statement that reads, in part, "Congresswoman
Bachmann`s front-group ad is patently and provably false."

Joining me now, Mark McKinnon, former adviser to the Bush and McCain
campaigns, and the Republican adviser for the NoLabels.org. Mark, thank
you very much for joining me tonight.

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER ADVISER TO BUSH AND MCCAIN CAMPAIGNS: Sure,
Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: You know Texas politics as well as anyone we can actually
get on the show, especially Texas Republican politics. What do you make of
the surge of Rick Perry?

MCKINNON: Entirely predictable, in my view. The only thing that
surprised me a year ago was that he wasn`t in the race already. As I
looked at the field and looked at where all the energy in the Republican
party was, it just seemed a complete natural for Rick Perry.

So the fact that he has taken off like he has is not a surprise to me
at all. I have watched Rick Perry for 20 years or more. And the notion
that somebody is going to attack him as not being conservative enough, that
dog ain`t going to hunt, I guarantee you.

People make a lot about the fact that Perry was a Democrat. Well, 20
years ago, there was -- Texas was a two-party state. But it was -- you
were either a Democrat or a conservative Democrat. There was no Republican
party.

O`DONNELL: Right.

MCKINNON: So Perry was a conservative Democrat. He became a
Republican as soon as there was a Republican party. And ever since, I
assure you, he has been very conservative. And there`s a lot of people who
will say that, you know, Perry makes George Bush look like George McGovern.
So proving his conservative bona fides is not going to be an issue.

O`DONNELL: Well, apparently, he is going to have to prove them to
Michele Bachmann, who has violated, to our delight, that Reagan rule of you
don`t fire at other Republicans; you just go after the Democrat.

I learned something that I did not know in Bachmann`s ad there about
Rick Perry doubling spending in 10 years and then also that he is running a
deficit now. I haven`t been reading, you know, the Texas press every day,
so I`m not that up on it.

And this is exactly what Reagan feared, is that information like that
and attacks like that will actually inform the Democrats about how to
attack Republicans.

MCKINNON: Well, listen, I think you have mentioned Ray Sullivan`s
response. And I read it. And I think it was a pretty credible response.
Of course there`s more spending now than there was. They have a bigger,
better economy. They have a lot more jobs.

Texas has created more jobs in the private sector in the last 10 years
than the entire country combined. That`s a fact. And at a time when the
issue is jobs, Perry is going to have a great case to make that he is the
jobs governor. And I think he has a real fight with Romney.

And I think it`s going to very likely be a contest between those two
and perhaps others. But Michele Bachmann fighting -- trying to take him on
as not conservative enough ain`t going to work.

O`DONNELL: Well, Romney obviously realizes he has to join the fight.
And he has to join the fight over Tea Party voters. Romney`s heading to a
Tea Party event in New Hampshire on Sunday. Because he`s going to it, now
Freedom Works are -- and they were part of the vent. They`re pulling out
just to protest Romney coming to talk.

So Romney is going to have a tough time going into this fight over Tea
Party voters, it looks like.

MCKINNON: Listen, I almost feel sorry for the guy. It`s like 2008
all over again. He is trying to wrap himself into a pretzel. The thing
that I thought he was doing well so far was that he was being authentic.
He was being the real Romney, which is the jobs governor and talking about
his record as a governor and in the private sector as well.

But anytime he goes and starts kissing the rings with the Tea Party,
he`s going to get himself in trouble because, you know, the Tea Party folks
-- you know, they know who`s one of them, and Rick Perry is one of them.
And Mitt Romney ain`t.

This is like a race between Arthur Fonzarelli and Richie Cunningham.
And you know who Richie Cunningham is.

O`DONNELL: Mark, quickly before you go, predict for us Rick Perry`s
performance in his very first presidential debate, which will be on MSNBC
next week.

MCKINNON: You know, he hasn`t had that much debate experience. He`s
won nine races in Texas. And he`s won every one of them. He is a very
aggressive campaigner. But the reality is that through -- by being very
strategic in a lot of those races, he really didn`t debate that much.

So hasn`t had a lot of experience on the stage, and none on the
national stage. And Mitt Romney has become a very good debater. So it`s
going to be a high bar for Rick Perry. And there should be low
expectations, and probably will be, as there ought to be.

O`DONNELL: Mark, that was the perfect answer to build suspense for
what the Perry performance will be in the MSNBC debate. Thanks very much
for joining us tonight, Mark.

MCKINNON: Kick it, Lawrence. Thanks. >

O`DONNELL: Coming up, why we wish F. Scott Fitzgerald could meet
Warren Buffett. That`s in the Rewrite.

And later, is America safer than it was before September 11th? NBC
News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel joins me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: This is the Rewrite I never expected to do. The time has
come for me to Rewrite F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know there could be no
greater literary sacrilege than rewriting the greatest novelist of the 20th
century. OK, let`s not have that argument here. Let`s just say one of the
greatest novelists of the 20th century.

What we have to talk about now is too important for me to lose the
Hemingway crowd or the Nicholson Baker demographic. I think what we can
agree on is that, so far, Nicholson Baker is the greatest novelist of the
21st century.

Here is the 1926 bit of Fitzgerald that needs Rewriting.

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and
me. They possess and enjoy early. And it does something to them. It
makes them soft where we are hard and cynical, and cynical where we are
trustful, in a way that unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to
understand.

"They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are
because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for
ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they
still think that they are better than we are. They are different."

OK. Now that I have re-read it, I see that like the rest of
Fitzgerald, it really is perfect, especially because he was talking about
the people who were born rich.

Warren Buffett was born four years after Fitzgerald wrote that and he
was not born rich, which may be why he wrote an op-ed piece in "the New
York Times" last month in which he revealed exactly how much he paid in
federal income taxes: 6,938,744 dollars. And he advocated higher federal
taxes on himself.

Buffett pointed out that although the top federal income tax rate is
currently 35 percent, super rich people like him don`t pay anything close
to that percentage. He wrote, "what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my
taxable income."

He pulled back the curtain uncomfortably for some of his super rich
friends. "If you make money with money, as some of my super rich friends
do, your tax percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn
money from a job, your tax percentage will surely exceed mine, most likely
by a lot.

Buffett dismantled some Republican anti-tax arguments in his piece.
He said he paid a higher percentage of his income in taxes in the 1980s and
the 1990s, when tax rates were higher, and that according to Republican
theory, "I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the
elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends. I didn`t refuse, nor
did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years. And I have yet to
see anyone shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on
the potential gain."

Buffett noted that the tax burden on the super rich has declined
significantly in the last 20 years. In 1992, the top 400 American income
earners paid 29.2 percent in taxes. By 2008, that had dropped to 21.5
percent, while the overall income of the top 400 rose exponentially from 17
billion to 91 billion.

Buffett proposes, as I have for years, creating a new tax bracket for
incomes above a million dollars, and yet another top tax bracket for
incomes of 10 million or more. That means you, Bill O`Reilly.

The last line of Buffett`s op-ed reads, "my friends and I have been
coddled long enough by a billionaire friendly Congress. It`s time for our
government to get serious about shared sacrifice."

These days, the Oracle of Omaha is only ignorable in the House of
Representatives. In Europe, some of the super rich are joining Warren
Buffett`s call to action. This week, Maurice Levy wrote a companion piece
to the Buffett op-ed in "the Financial Times." Levy is the chairman and
chief executive of a giant French advertising company.

The headline for Levy`s op-ed is, "I Am Not a Masochist, But the Rich
Must Pay More."

The French, you see, must always make some kind of sexual confession
to get your attention, even when discussing tax policy. So, OK, he`s not a
masochist. But he is very rich, and he recognizes that something must be
done about the 35 years of French governments running a deficit.

And he says, "it seems to me the only fair" -- "it seems to me only
fair that the most privileged members of our society should take up a
heavier share of this national burden."

He mentions Warren Buffett in his piece, but he says he came to this
conclusion without any prompting from Buffett. Like Buffett, Levy is not a
free-spending liberal who just wants the government to have more money to
spend. Levy writes, "it should be clear that increasing taxes will not
resolve public deficits. Such a tactic would be futile and could only
encourage greater self indulgence."

He assumes, as Buffett does, that there will be some painful spending
cutting necessary to bring government budgets back toward balance. And
like Buffett, he understands most of those cuts in spending will affect the
middle class and the poor.

And so it is, in the Buffett spirit of shared sacrifice, that Levy is
willing and ready to pay higher taxes. He ends his piece saying, "if the
wealthy can endure higher taxes without complaint, the less privileged may
feel able to bear the pain that sharp-edged forms will entail. I never
thought I would find myself saying this, but it is time to increase my
share of taxes."

Now the top tax rate in France that Levy wants to raise is currently
41 percent. That`s six percentage points higher than the top tax right in
the United States. Levy and other rich Europeans who already live with
higher tax burdens than their American counterparts believe they can afford
to pay yet higher taxes and that it is simply the right thing to do.

We have on our hands now an entirely new phenomenon: Buffettism, the
super rich willing to pay more in taxes, the super rich with a sense of
responsibility, the super rich who believe in shared sacrifice, the super
rich who believe the rich should pay more, the super rich who believe in
progressive income taxation.

We don`t yet know how strong a political force Buffettism may become.
But it is entirely possible that on the campaign trail in the next year,
you will hear President Obama mentioning the name Warren Buffett even more
than the Republican candidates mention Ronald Reagan.

Warren Buffett and Maurice Levy are writing a new chapter in the
world`s history of the super rich. Ah, if only Scott Fitzgerald could have
met Warren Buffett.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: 9/11, 10 years later. We are now fighting wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan, and at a cost of 1.2 trillion dollars and at least 6,222
American lives, in addition to a truly uncountable number of Iraqi and
Afghani casualties.

After nearly 10 years spent hunting down the man responsible for 9/11,
the U.S. Navy SEALS shot and killed Osama bin Laden this spring. Despite
the weakening of al Qaeda, a recent review of the 9/11 commission`s
recommendations found that there are still gaps in our emergency
preparedness.

And while August 2011 marked the first month without a single U.S.
military death in Iraq, June was the deadliest month there in nearly three
years. As the nation pauses to mark the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 next
week, a new MSNBC documentary asks where have the wars, political battles,
and heightened security really brought us?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The
NYPD operates a separate air unit. We are taken up by detective Christos
Savellis (ph) in a surveillance helicopter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s the Statue of Liberty in the harbor.
that`s one of our security checks.

ENGEL: The cameras can see a lot more than the Statue of Liberty.
They can read license plates, see in infrared, and take thermal images so
precise, they can pick out a single squirrel in Central Park.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This camera can pick up the heat of a lit
cigarette about a mile away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and
MSNBC`s Rachel Maddow debut their three part documentary, "Day of
Destruction, Decade of War" tonight at 9:00 pm, Eastern, in never before
seen interviews with intelligence officers, a former al Qaeda operative and
others.

The documentary explores America`s response to the attacks on 9/11 and
what progress has been made since. Joining me now is co-host of that new
documentary, "Day of Destruction, Decade of War" and NBC News chief foreign
correspondent, Richard Engel.

Richard, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

ENGEL: It`s a pleasure. The documentary is starting just a few
minutes. So I hope people will stay tuned and watch. Three hours long,
one hour tonight. We could have had 10 hours.

O`DONNELL: Don`t scare them off with the three hour thing.

ENGEL: It could have been 10.

O`DONNELL: Tonight it`s an hour. That`s all I`m asking.

And then there`s tomorrow night. Richard, what -- do you get to a
conclusion about the net value of all of the measures that have been taken
since 9/11 versus their net cost? I mean, there is some cost to the things
that we`ve imposed. What have we gained?

ENGEL: Well, there has been a huge cost to what has been imposed and
what has happened. I think what has been gained is that physically, the
United States is probably safer. Airports are safer. Al Qaeda has been
weakened. The infrastructure is, to a degree, safer.

So that is what has been gained. But what has been lost is, well, two
million troops -- more than two million troops, in fact, have been sent
overseas on combat tours. More than 6,000 of them never came back. Ten
times that many came back injured.

Over a trillion dollars has been spent. And because of all of this,
intelligence officials, counterterrorism officials will argue that while we
may be safer and al Qaeda is weaker, we are also weaker as a nation. And
that has a huge cost, and has a huge cost in terms of security as well.

Our position vis-a-vis China, for example, isn`t as strong. So how do
you balance these competing things? Being safer against some physical
threat, which is never going to go away, versus potentially losing a rung
on your position in the world.

O`DONNELL: And I would imagine that evaluating what actually works,
what has been most effective, or what has been overreaction in the last 10
years, is a very difficult thing. Overreaction, in particular. I mean,
you know, was the war in Iraq an overreaction to 9/11? Is that helicopter
we just saw an overreaction?

Have they actually found anything with that camera that can look at
squirrels in Central Park? I mean, from the grand to the --

ENGEL: Well, they`re seeing which squirrels are stealing their nuts,
and which ones are not. And they are compiling a large list. And we`ll be
reading that tomorrow on this air. No, what works --

O`DONNELL: How do we measure overreaction?

ENGEL: Overreaction, I think you can measure in war. You can measure
in actions. That Iraq, for example, the more you think about the decade,
the more you come back to Iraq. And the fact that it is still a mystery to
most Americans why we went to war in Iraq is a gaping hole in this decade
that remains unanswered.

Some people talk about overreaction; 19 people attacked the United
States with box cutters. And the United States, in the name of
counterterrorism, launched two ground wars. So I think it is possible, and
many people do in this documentary, talk about overreaction.

What seems to work are small, focused administrations or small focused
organizations, like the Navy SEALS, like the NYPD, actually. It`s not a
very small organization, but relative to national and international
counterterrorism bodies, it is fairly small, and has a specific objective,
which is to protect New York, compared to a much more abstract objective
like sending the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division to
Iraq to spread democracy, so that they can dry up frustration which leads
to terrorism.

That is a much more nebulous goal. And I think people that we
interviewed say that kind of thing is not nearly as successful as a -- a
smaller group with a specific goal.

O`DONNELL: All right, you`ve cued it up perfectly. Richard Engel,
the documentary is "Day of Destruction, Decade of War." Part one of that
special is up next.

Richard, thank you very, very much for joining me tonight.

ENGEL: Thank you. I hope people watch.

O`DONNELL: They are going to watch right now. You can have THE LAST
WORD online at our blog, TheLastWord.MSNBC.com.

END

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