'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, September 22nd, 2011, 8 pm show
Read the transcript to the Thursday show
Guests: Adam Smith, Jeanne Woodford, Levi Johnston
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: Will the execution of Troy Davis get a
cheer at tonight`s Republican debate?
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Location, location, location.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: President Obama heading to Ohio.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, kind of a two for one.
O`DONNELL (voice-over): The president takes his campaign for jobs to
a bridge in O and Kentucky.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It spans into two congressional leaders` states.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In front of the Brent Spence Bridge.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This bridge is decaying.
MITCHELL: Fifteen miles from House Speaker John Boehner`s district.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ohio is one of nine states that President Obama
won in 2008.
MITCHELL: Directly across the river from Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell`s home state.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, that`s just a
OBAMA: Purely accidental that that happened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Try to draw a line in the sand essentially
between himself and Republicans.
OBAMA: And I`m fighting hard to make sure that we get this bill
passed through Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think everything is hard to solve with this
O`DONNELL: But it`s Florida that has the Republicans` attention.
MITCHELL: Another battleground state, Florida.
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: The two-man race in the Sunshine State.
CHUCK TODD: Romney leads Obama. Obama leads Perry.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And governor Perry, who`s
also, as you know, running for president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s a low bar. But he has not met it.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Perry is up by six in Florida.
MITCHELL: Rick Perry has surged to first place in the state.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Polls don`t really mean
BUCHANAN: It`s going to be Rick Perry the pinata.
MITCHELL: Jon Huntsman`s got some traction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Romney`s naturally going to do
better in a state like New Hampshire.
BASHIR: Rick Perry calling Mitt Romney Obama-lite.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don`t need to
nominate Obama light.
ROMNEY: I can`t see anything which suggests it makes any sense
PERRY: The difference between the Republican nominee and President
ROMNEY: Thanks, sweetie. Thank you, sweetie.
O`DONNELL: It`s Florida week in the Republican presidential primary.
Tonight, nine Republican presidential candidates will debate in
Orlando, ahead of the Florida Conservative Political Action Conference
tomorrow and the Florida Republican Party straw poll on Saturday. The Mitt
Romney and Michelle Bachmann campaigns say their candidates will not
participate in Saturday`s straw poll events. But their names will be on
Unlike its Iowa counterpart, Florida`s straw poll actually has
demonstrated some predictive value. It`s been held three times in the
past. Reagan won the straw poll in 1979. George H.W. Bush won in `87.
And Bob Dole won in `95. All three went on to win the national Republican
A new Quinnipiac poll that assumes correctly that Sarah Palin will not
be on the ballot shows that among registered Florida Republican voters,
Texas Governor Rick Perry leads the field with 31 percent. Mitt Romney
trails with 22 percent. The rest of the candidates all poll in the single
One asked if the primary came down to a choice between Perry and
Romney, Florida Republicans prefer Perry 46 percent to 38 percent. When
Republican and Democratic voters in Florida were asked if the general
election came down to Perry and President Obama, Rick Perry, who called
Social Security a Ponzi scheme, trails the president 42 percent to 44
percent. Mitt Romney runs stronger one on one against the president,
leading President Obama in Florida 47 percent to 40 percent.
At the Faith and Freedom Coalition rally in Orlando today, the
Republican candidates reviewed how they will define their candidacies
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
PERRY: I`m proud to be the son of tenant farmers. And I can tell you
one thing. I wasn`t born with four aces in my hand. We weren`t wealthy in
material things. But we were sure rich in a lot of other things. We were
rich in spirit. We were rich in values.
ROMNEY: There are plenty of people who are running for president who
are politicians. Nothing wrong with that. But to beat Barack Obama and to
get America back on track to creating jobs and having a strong, stable
foundation that will rebuild our economy, I think it helps to have someone
who`s had a job to create jobs for the American people.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President
Obama`s approval numbers are at their lowest level. So we don`t have to go
to the side. We don`t have to sit on the back of the bus in this election.
We need to stand up and be counted and have a candidate this time that is a
true social conservative that will stand for our issues.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, former senior adviser to the McCain/Palin
campaign and newly appointed MSNBC analyst, Steve Schmidt. Thank you very
much for joining us tonight, Steve.
STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Great to be with you,
O`DONNELL: Steve, after that first debate that Rick Perry
participated in, you told me here on MSNBC that you thought the Obama
campaign after watching that first debate was hoping to get Perry as a
nominee rather than Romney as a nominee. That Florida poll, going one on
one, Perry against Obama, Romney against Obama, bears that out. There`s a
very significant difference there.
Are voters going to start making their decision here based on
electability, or when in the Republican primary do voters start turning in
the direction of electability?
SCHMIDT: I think that as long as you see two things, polls that have
Rick Perry ahead of Mitt Romney and polls that have Mitt Romney ahead of
Barack Obama, you`re going to see the Romney campaign making a really big
issue out of electability, saying that we`re the stronger candidate in the
race, that Mitt Romney`s the Republican who can beat Barack Obama.
Now, I think when you look at the Florida primary, which is a big,
important primary. It was four years ago. It will be very important in
the general election, the single most important influencer on that is the
outcome of the New Hampshire primary and the South Carolina primary. And
you saw polls today in New Hampshire that show Mitt Romney gaining in his
lead. And you show Rick Perry falling there.
So, I think the numbers in Florida, Lawrence, are an indication of
what we`re seeing at the national level, and we`ll see, you know, in the
debates going forward how Rick Perry continues to stack up. But for sure
this is going to become an increasingly big part of Mitt Romney`s campaign
so long as we see numbers like that.
O`DONNELL: Does Rick Perry have to find a way to back off, to
distance himself from his past statements on Social Security?
SCHMIDT: I think those statements on Social Security, there`s a
strong case to be made that they render him unelectable. And I think
there`s a strong case to be made that his statements on Social Security are
enormously problematic in a Republican primary. If you look at the
migration into South Carolina, the coastal areas, and Horry County among
northeastern retirees, and obviously, you look at the retiree population in
the state of Florida, many of whom will be voting and participating in a
Republican primary, a debate about Social Security as opposed to the
Republican candidate going and being able to talk about economic growth,
expanding the economy, keeping the focus on the president`s economic
record, Republicans clearly want it to be the latter, not the former.
So I think the Social Security issue is going to be a defining issue
not just in our general election, if Rick Perry were the nominee, but I
think it would be a big issue in the primary election.
O`DONNELL: Let`s bring in editorial director for AOL/"Huffington
Post," MSNBC analyst Howard Fineman.
Howard, thanks for joining us.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I`m glad we have Steve on
our side. We used to call him bullet during the campaign.
O`DONNELL: We`ve got someone who can guide me through Republican
politics. I need a guide.
Howard, on Social Security, for the Obama campaign, is it helpful to
them to watch Mitt Romney basically campaigning in effect, tonally anyway,
as a defender of Social Security against Rick Perry? Will that help Mitt
Romney going into a general election against President Obama, make it more
difficult for the Democratic campaign to say that this Republican candidate
is a threat to Social Security?
FINEMAN: Well, I think Mitt Romney has to hope that. I`m not sure
that the Obama campaign would agree with that. In fact, I know they won`t.
I think for right now President Obama can use all the help he can get
in defending the idea of the usefulness of government. And to the extent
that it`s kind of two against one here, meaning President Obama and Mitt
Romney against Rick Perry, that helps Barack Obama. But if Mitt Romney
were to get the nomination, you can be sure that whatever comradeship there
might have been will be over and that the Obama campaign, led by David
Axelrod, whose nickname was "Ax," by the way, when he was -- when he was
consulting in his earlier days, will go after Mitt Romney should he be a
nominee as a tool of the Tea Party, as somebody who really doesn`t have any
firm beliefs. They`ll separate him from Social Security as fast as they
O`DONNELL: Steve, I want you to listen to what Peggy Noonan said
today in the "Wall Street Journal" about Rick Perry`s statement about
Israel. She said, "In his first foreign policy foray, the GOP front-runner
looked like a cheap, base-playing buffoon. As I said, Mr. Obama can`t win
this election, but the Republicans can lose it by being small, by being
extreme, by being -- are we going to have to start using this word again? -
There`s Peggy Noonan calling the leading Republican presidential
candidate a buffoon on possibly the single most important foreign policy
issue for a candidate to get right -- Israel.
SCHMIDT: Well, the premise of the speech, of course, was that the
United States is appeasing the Palestinians in the same week where the
United States government will be vetoing, you know, the Palestinian
aspiration for statehood. So, you know, at a very basic level the speech
made no sense. And I think that she has called that out. And there has
not been great reaction to the speech.
And as we move forward into the campaign, I think expectations will
clearly, you know, continue to rise for Governor Perry to show that he is
able to perform at a presidential level. And there seems to be universal
opinion that he didn`t meet the bar when it comes to that speech.
O`DONNELL: Howard, how does a mistake like that get made? We kind of
presume that there`s enough talent on the bench in both parties staff-wise
for campaigns, that when it comes time for the candidate to give the Israel
speech, they just take, you know, every, you know, boilerplate statement
that works and has worked in the past, you plug it in there, you say it,
you just try to sound credible saying it. How can you go this far astray?
FINEMAN: Well, it`s because Rick Perry deliberately doesn`t want to
be nuanced. He`s proud of being unnuanced. He`s beyond unnuanced. He
wants to use whatever hot-button word he can use in any context he can use
Thus, the use of the word "appeasement" -- which was not only an
overreach rhetorically but missed the fundamental fact that Barack Obama
was going to pull -- the president was going to pull the rug right out from
under Rick Perry in a speech later that day.
So, it is -- I think it`s partly that Rick Perry is running on shock
value rhetorically. He`s done it from the very beginning. A lot of the
Tea Party really likes it. They wear criticism from people like Peggy
Noonan as a badge of courage. That works in some contexts.
But it certainly doesn`t work on complex foreign policy issues in
general, and it doesn`t work in the mine field of the Middle East issue in
O`DONNELL: Steve, let`s take a look at what the polls are telling us
about what Florida voters are thinking about the issues. There`s a
Quinnipiac poll that says they were asked: is it fair or unfair to describe
Social Security as a Ponzi scheme? That, of course, is Rick Perry`s term
for it. Fifty-two percent of Republicans said it was fair, 33 percent of
all voters said it was fair.
Obviously, there`s a problem there in a general election in Florida
with that Ponzi scheme phrase trailing him around. How much of a problem
does he have among Republican voters in Florida in a primary with that
Ponzi scheme label on him?
SCHMIDT: I think it`s a big problem because, you know, poll numbers
are moved by message and you`re going to see massive amounts of
advertisement that go after elements of Governor Perry`s book I suspect
both from the Romney campaign, maybe from other campaigns, and certainly
from a group of -- you know, certainly from the outside groups. At the end
of the day, the question of whether there should be a social safety net,
the question of whether Social Security is a good thing or a bad thing has
been settled largely since the 1950s.
There are debates about whether it should be reform, how should it be
reformed. You know, those debates color -- you know, midterm elections,
they color congressional elections.
But at the end of the day, what Rick Perry wrote about in his book
seems to be on the far side of public opinion in this country. And I think
that it`s going to be a very problematic issue for him as he proceeds
forward in the general election.
And I may add -- you have a lot of senior citizen voters in the state
of Iowa who are labeled as Tea Party voters who rely on and don`t want
tampering with their Social Security. And I think that as the debate
begins to boom around this, it`s going to be a hard debate for him.
O`DONNELL: Howard, does Rick Perry have to win this debate tonight?
He came out of the gate really running away with the polls but not running
away with the debates. I think Steve and I both scored Romney as the
winner of their first confrontation in a debate.
Does Perry need a clean debate win somewhere along the line here soon
FINEMAN: Yes, I think the expectations have risen for him, Lawrence.
The poll numbers bump up the expectations, the fact that he`s now been in a
A lot of people thought he would fall flat on his face the first time
he was out. He didn`t. He did pretty well. Better than expectations.
He`s got to keep meeting and exceeding expectations.
I talked to top advisers in both camps about the state of play these
days. The Romney people seemed very confident that over time, Rick Perry`s
going to wear out his welcome, that he`s not really ready for primetime,
that he doesn`t have the knowledge, he doesn`t have the ability. They`re
pretty confident to the point of quietly being cocky.
And on the Perry side, they`re saying that Mitt Romney just doesn`t
have a message, he has no message, and so, they`re willing to go pretty far
on the language that we were discussing because they`re confident that
Romney just doesn`t really stand for anything.
Those are the basic stances of the two sides. And if that`s the case,
you know, Rick Perry`s got to put up. He`s got to show that he does have a
message. That it`s clear and it`s not frightening. And it`s the kind of
message that can be a presidential one.
O`DONNELL: Steve, quickly, before we go, who of the also-runs do you
think might cause the most trouble to the front-runners on the debate
tonight? Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul?
SCHMIDT: Well, any of them could cause trouble. But I think you`ll
see reliably going forward, you will see Michele Bachmann constantly
attacking Rick Perry from the right, trying to undermine his conservative
credentials, because she needs to do that in order to get some oxygen back
O`DONNELL: MSNBC political analysts Howard Fineman and Steve Schmidt,
thank you both very much for joining me tonight.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Lawrence.
SCHMIDT: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, a look at what`s possible for President Obama
in 2012 in Florida.
And in the "Rewrite" tonight, a look at why they were protests against
the execution of one of these men, and no protests for the other one.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, President Obama`s approval numbers in Florida
are low, really low. What can he do to win Florida again?
And later, Levi Johnston`s triumphant return to THE LAST WORD. He`s
got a new book. It is -- you`re going to have to hear what`s in this book.
We`re going to read it to you right here on THE LAST WORD.
O`DONNELL: President Obama spent the day in John Boehner`s home state
of Ohio, where he pushed the American Jobs Act in front of an aging bridge
that connects to Mitch McConnell`s home state of Kentucky.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There`s no reason for Republicans in Congress to stand in the
way of more construction projects. There`s no reason to stand in the way
of more jobs. Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge.
Help us rebuild America. Help us put construction workers back to work.
Pass this bill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The president also gleefully answered the Republicans`
accusation that his policy proposals are class warfare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: They say, well, this is class warfare. You know what? If
asking a billionaire to pay their fair share of taxes, to pay the same rate
as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare, then you know what? I`m a
warrior for the middle class. I`m happy to fight for the middle class.
I`m happy to fight for working people. Because the only -- the only
warfare I`ve seen is the battle against the middle class.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: There will surely be more talk of class warfare at the
Republican debate tonight in Florida. President Obama won Florida in 2008
with 51 percent of the vote. He beat John McCain by roughly 230,000 votes.
But it will be an uphill battle in 2012.
The unemployment rate in Florida is 10.7 percent, more than a point
and a half above the nationally average.
A new Quinnipiac poll out today shows President Obama`s approval
rating in Florida at just 39 percent, with 57 percent saying they
disapprove of the job the president is doing. And only 41 percent say he
deserves to be re-elected, while 53 percent say he does not.
Joining me now is Adam Smith, the political editor for the "St.
Thanks for joining me tonight, Adam.
ADAM SMITH, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES: Glad to be here.
O`DONNELL: Adam, is there any precedent in Florida for an incumbent
president with that kind of polling, approval polling, turning that number
around in a re-election campaign in Florida?
SMITH: You know, I am not aware of any precedents coming back from
that low a point, but it is very early. We`re more than a year out. And
it`s worth remembering that, you know, as late as April 2008 Obama was 15
points behind John McCain in Florida. So, he`s certainly got a lot of
O`DONNELL: Now, Florida gave President Obama 27 of the 365 electoral
votes that he won in 2008. When you look at the numbers that way, it looks
like he can get to an electoral majority without Florida.
Is there a possible Obama campaign strategy that doesn`t include
SMITH: You know, the rule of thumb has always been Florida is a must-
win for the Republicans. It`s not really a must-win for the Democrats.
And that`s -- Obama, really, if you looked at the overall electoral
map, he`s got a lot of flexibility there. He could lose Florida. He could
lose Indiana. I don`t think people know that`s in play. He could lose
North Carolina, Virginia. He`d still get past 270 electoral votes.
O`DONNELL: Where are the areas in Florida where you think the
president could gain ground? Certainly in the polling we were looking at
in Florida about Rick Perry, for example, and the Social Security issues,
it looks like the president -- certainly, if Rick Perry`s the nominee would
be able to gain ground on the Social Security issue in Florida. Is there
anything else he could do there?
SMITH: You know, elections in Florida really are won in the middle.
And it`s the I-4 corridor from St. Petersburg to Daytona, which is really
the swing voter area of Florida. And that`s really where Obama`s in
trouble. Those approval ratings among independent and swing voters are
just as bad as they are among overall.
So, he`s got a lot of work to do in that range. And if you -- there`s
sort of a myth from 2008 that he won with a really hyped-up base and an
excited base. He really won because he won independents. He won
independents by 7 percentage points.
O`DONNELL: And I notice that the governor, Rick Scott, in this poll
is really in a bad position too. He has a 37 percent approval rating.
He`s a Tea Party Republican type governor, 37 percent approval rating, a 50
percent disapproval rating. So, this -- the approval-disapproval we`re
seeing on those two incumbents, the president and the governor of Florida,
in Florida is certainly a bipartisan disapproval. It`s not party-based, it
SMITH: It is. And believe it or not, Rick Scott`s actually come up a
little bit in his approval rating. So now, he just has lousy approval
ratings instead of absolutely terrible approval ratings.
O`DONNELL: And is there any indication that going forward, that in
general, the -- there`s a -- a condition in Florida that might change and
might change the voting landscape? You know, is there any hope for some
sort of economic surge in Florida that might be different from the national
SMITH: You know, I wish I could say there was because we are really
hurting in Florida and the anxiety here is very, very deep. And you just
don`t hear a lot of people expecting it to turn around in any significant
way over the next year.
So, if there`s hope for Obama, it`s like you were touching on, right
now, he`s not running against a person. Eventually, he`ll be running
against a person, a Mitt Romney or Rick Perry, and it may than that
O`DONNELL: Right, right. Adam Smith of the "St. Petersburg Times" --
thanks for joining us on debate night in Florida tonight.
SMITH: Thanks for having me.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, for every execution in America there is someone
who is the executioner, someone whose job it is to kill. That`s a
government job that we should not be trying to create.
And Troy Davis wasn`t the only person executed in America last night.
And there was an execution tonight that you`ve probably heard virtually
nothing about. That`s in tonight`s "Rewrite."
O`DONNELL: Tonight, Alabama executed a man who killed a store clerk
during a robbery in 1994, the third execution in this country this week.
What happens to the person whose job it is to execute someone on death row?
A former warden of San Quentin, who oversaw four executions, joins me to
discuss the people who do our killing for us.
And this man was executed last night. Why you didn`t hear much about
that. That`s in the Rewrite.
O`DONNELL: At 11:08 p.m. last night, this country`s most recent death
penalty debate climaxed in the execution by lethal injection of Troy Davis
in Jackson, Georgia. Most arguments raised against the execution of Troy
Davis focused on the particulars of his case, the possibility of his
innocence, the room for reasonable doubt.
But there is another problem present in every execution that is
usually ignored. And that is how can we as a society ask anyone to do this
kind of killing for us? What are we asking of the firing squad, that is
still an execution option in Utah? What are we asking of the people who
deliver the lethal injections, the people who`ve done that 36 times this
No one wants to grow up to be an executioner. But someone does.
Someone somewhere in a kindergarten class in this country today is going to
grow up to be an executioner. No one hopes that for any student in any
American classroom today. No one wants that.
We don`t know who the actual executioner of Troy Davis was last night.
That information is not released. That person lives with this knowledge,
goes home with this knowledge, goes home to his or her children with this
knowledge. What -- what are we doing to those people?
Joining me now, Jeanne Woodford, the executive director of Death
Penalty Focus, which opposes capital punishment. She is a former warden at
San Quentin Prison in California, where she oversaw four executions.
Thanks for joining me tonight, Jeanne.
JEANNE WOODFORD, DEATH PENALTY FOCUS: Thank you very much for having
O`DONNELL: Tell us about this job. We have a job in America -- we
have a government job in this country, executioner. We keep it secret. We
don`t want people to know who it is. It`s a combination of shame and the
safety of the person and just -- but we do -- after the execution, we send
that person home from their government job to just deal with this.
Who are we doing that to? What are we doing to those people?
WOODFORD: Well, I think that it`s a very difficult job. And you
know, I describe this job as starting far before that night. I ask people
to imagine waking up in the morning and going to work 30 or 60 days prior
to an execution. And that is about when you know there`s going to be an
And you go to work planning to kill a human being. And you go to work
to practice that and to plan for that. So it has an impact far before that
night. And certainly it has an impact after the execution.
O`DONNELL: And do we have any programs that deal with what the
executioners go through? This is not easy for them. Even if they think
it`s easy for them, they are suppressing all sorts of feelings and have to
manage all sorts of feelings before and after the fact. What treatment do
we -- counseling of any kind do we provide for them?
WOODFORD: Well, I can speak for this state, California. And in this
state we do provide pre and post counseling for everyone involved in the
execution process. We really do try our best to help people through the
process. And I want to tell you that, for all intent and purposes, it is
the warden who is the face of the execution.
It is the warden that people believe carries out the execution. And
that is done to protect the staff who are involved in the process.
O`DONNELL: Exactly. And we protect it because we`re at some level
not proud of what we`ve done.
WOODFORD: Well, I think that`s certainly true. You know, many people
don`t want their families to know that they`re involved in this process.
They`re concerned about what their children might think of them. And I
don`t -- I agree that it often doesn`t hit people right after the execution
and sometimes it`s years later.
And I do know that it has an impact on people. And that is why I`m
with Death Penalty Focus, seeking to abolish the death penalty in this
O`DONNELL: When we think about the inhumanity of the death penalty,
we ignore the people we`re asking to do this for us.
WOODFORD: I agree. We are ignoring the people that we ask to do
this. And is it right to ask a public servant to kill out -- the killing
of a human being? In my mind, it is not. And certainly, I have been
involved with capital punishment for over 30 years. So I know it from all
points of view.
Not only are we causing harm to the staff, but I do not believe that
it brings any kind of remedy to the victims` families. It is a costly,
ineffective process. And that`s why we`re going forward to try to end
capital punishment in the state of California.
O`DONNELL: Jeanne Woodford, thank you very much for joining me
tonight. And thank you for the work you`re doing.
WOODFORD: Thank you so much for having me.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, the execution of Troy Davis drew an
unprecedented amount of media attention. But where was the outrage over
Derek Mason, who was put to death in Alabama just over an hour ago? That`s
next in the Rewrite.
O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s Rewrite. America had its annual media
spasm over the death penalty yesterday. And now it`s back to business as
usual. At 6:49 p.m., central time this evening, in Atmore, Alabama, Derek
O`Neal Mason was executed. And no network shifted to live coverage of the
event or even bothered to report it.
No coast-to-coast expressions of outrage. There was no argument over
Derek O`Neal Mason`s guilt or innocence. He confessed and was found guilty
beyond reasonable doubt of the execution-style shooting of a convenience
store clerk in the store that Mason was in the process of robbing.
Before shooting 25-year-old Angela Kagel (ph) in the face twice, Derek
o`Neal Mason forced her to take off all of her clothes. How am I doing on
eliciting your sympathy for Derek O`Neal Mason? How about outrage over the
I know what you`re thinking. You`re thinking Derek O`Neal Mason is
not the case to use to build outrage over the death penalty. Nor is the
case of Lawrence Russell Brewer (ph), who was executed at 6:21 p.m.,
Central Time, yesterday in Huntsville, Texas.
Many of you will remember his crime. He was found guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt of the 1998 hate crime murder of 49-year-old James Byrd
Jr. Lawrence Russell Brewer and two of his friends chained James Byrd to
the back of a pickup truck and then drove along a bumpy asphalt road at
2:00 in the morning.
They drove for at least three miles with James Byrd dragging 24.5 feet
behind them at the end of that chain. Six hours later, when what was left
of James Byrd`s mangled body was found, the sheriff who found him at first
thought he was looking at animal road kill.
Lawrence Russell Brewer`s execution yesterday passed virtually
unnoticed by the national media at the very moment when they were covering,
minute-by-minute, developments in a possible stay of execution for Troy
Davis, which was then followed by Troy Davis`s actual execution at 11:08
p.m. in Jackson, Georgia.
Many death penalty protesters were heard on this network and others,
all focusing on the injustice being done to Troy Davis. But the legendary
civil rights hero Dick Gregory, who has been protesting the death penalty
longer than anyone you heard from yesterday, was not one of the voices of
protest heard in that coverage of Troy Davis.
Yesterday, Dick Gregory was in Huntsville, Texas, protesting the
execution of hate crime murderer Lawrence Russell Brewer. Dick Gregory
knows that there will always be unjust executions. There will always be
some executions of the innocent as long as there is a death penalty.
Dick Gregory knows that as long as you protest the death penalty only
-- only when you think it`s being applied against an innocent man, or if
you protest the use of the death penalty only because you believe there is
reasonable doubt, and you don`t protest the cases where there is no doubt,
you don`t protest tonight`s execution of Derek O`Neal Mason, or yesterday`s
execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer, you are in effect saying there are
right and wrong ways to administer the death penalty, and we should just do
It`s all we have to do, just do it right.
But as long as we have Derek O`Neal Masons and Lawrence Russell
Brewers, we are going to have Troy Davis`. The death penalty is a human
system created by human beings, run by human beings. That means there is
human error built into it. A human system is not capable of perfection.
Government does nothing flawlessly. Government cannot flawlessly kill
people. If you give government the power to kill people, you are giving
government the power to make mistakes killing people. And government will
make those mistakes. The protest against Troy Davis` execution was the
largest protest against the death penalty in 11 years in this country.
In those 11 years, we have executed 672 people, including Derek O`Neal
Mason earlier tonight. No more than one or two of those executions a year
got national media attention. This year, 34 people were executed in this
country before Troy Davis, including Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was
executed three hours and 47 minutes before Troy Davis, over the protest of
You couldn`t stop Troy Davis` execution by just protesting Troy Davis`
execution. The only way to stop Troy Davis` execution is to stop all
executions. If you`re outraged at Troy Davis` execution but weren`t
bothered by Derek O`Neal Mason`s execution tonight in Alabama, weren`t
moved to protest the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer last night, then
you`re sure -- you are absolutely sure to find yourself outraged and
protesting another execution, maybe not for another year or two, but surely
another one will come along where you`re convinced that the condemned man
or woman is actually innocent or at least had a grossly unfair trial that
leaves any reasonable person with reasonable doubt about the guilt of the
person to be executed.
If you save your outrage for that execution, if that`s the next one
you`re going to protest, then you will probably have Troy Davis deja vu.
The time to fight that next unjust execution that`s going to happen in the
next year or two is right now.
O`DONNELL: Despite 72 percent of Republicans saying they do not want
Sarah Palin to run for president, Sarah Palin`s political action committee
is at it again. They`re teasing her supporters with a potential Palin 2012
run. The "Des Moines Register" obtained a fund-raising letter sent Tuesday
that reads in part, "Governor Palin is on the verge of making her decision
of whether or not to run for office. Someone must save our nation from
this road to European socialism. Do you think it should be Governor Palin?
If so, you can send your best one-time gift to Sarah PAc today to help her
elect more common sense conservatives and show her that we support her if
she decides to run."
We have new guidance here at THE LAST WORD on the future of Sarah
Palin in the just released book written by her almost son-in-law, "Deer in
the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin`s Cross hairs," Levi Johnston
writes about Sarah Palin as governor of Alaska.
"I hate this job," she used to say. "I could be making money
joining me now is friend of the show Levi Johnston. Making money is
what she`s up to, right, Levi?
LEVI JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, "DEER IN THE HEADLIGHTS": That`s what it`s all
O`DONNELL: That`s what I`ve been calling all along. I`ve been saying
no chance of running for president. She`s making money. This is working
for her. And to make more money, she wants to tease people into thinking
she`s a factor in presidential politics.
JOHNSTON: Definitely. As long as she can milk it, you know, make
people think that she`s going to run, she`s making a lot of money off of
O`DONNELL: That`s it, America. Case closed. Levi Johnston says
she`s not running for president, right? It`s ridiculous.
JOHNSTON: Yeah. I mean, there`s times I think she will. But the
more I think about it, I just -- I don`t think she`s quite dumb enough to
O`DONNELL: Now, last time you were here, you were, speaking of dumb
enough, thinking about running for mayor of Wasilla.
O`DONNELL: Did you smarten up and rethink that?
JOHNSTON: You know, yeah, I actually smartened up real quick. After
they started throwing all the books and everything at me, you know, I
quickly realized that I was not qualified for it. And you know, in years
to come, I might try it. But as of right now --
O`DONNELL: Let someone who desperately needs that, you know, do that.
And besides, it would cut into your nightclub time, this mayor thing. You
don`t want that.
O`DONNELL: Now, normally, when we have book authors on the show, we
frequently will read passages of the books. But I realized you`re here,
you can -- why not just let you do the reading? Can you do this passage
here that gives us a little bit of a flavor of what your life was like in
and around the --
JOHNSTON: I don`t have to read it out of the book. I can just tell
O`DONNELL: Why don`t you just read that passage so viewers and book
buyers will know what they`re in for on this book? Just the highlighted
JOHNSTON: "That night, Sarah went out to a meeting. We were upstairs
in Sarah -- or Bristol`s room, when Todd`s diesel truck came up down the
driveway. So we decided to chance it and take a shower together."
O`DONNELL: It`s in the book.
JOHNSTON: You would pick this one.
O`DONNELL: It`s in the book.
JOHNSTON: "We were in the middle of shampooing each other`s hair when
we heard the truck came back. I freaked. I was drying off my hair with
one hand and hers in the other. As we pulled our clothes out of a pile on
the floor, I tried to make it downstairs before he got inside, but it was
slow. We listened to Todd coming through the open -- coming in and opening
the fridge. Then I heard the creak in his recliner. When I snuck on my
cap, we rolled downstairs, I had to look to -- I had to look like most
obvious perp in Wasilla. None of it mattered. Bristol`s dad was asleep.
We were more careful when we went to a bubble bath downstairs in Sarah`s
O`DONNELL: We can cut it right there on the Jacuzzi. Thank God for
that recliner, huh? He just would fall asleep right away. Once you heard
the creak in the recliner --
JOHNSTON: We knew we were good.
O`DONNELL: You knew minutes away, he was going to be snoring, right?
JOHNSTON: That or watching a basketball game.
O`DONNELL: Levi, this was risky business for you in that house.
JOHNSTON: It was, yeah. I mean, that -- I could have been dead right
O`DONNELL: OK. So what would Todd have done if he caught you? Is he
an angry guy? Does he have a temper?
JOHNSTON: Well, I imagine. If I had a daughter and I`d come home and
the boyfriend --
O`DONNELL: Wait a minute. If Levi Johnston has a daughter, if he
comes home to that scene, isn`t he going to be a little more understanding
since he lived through that himself? Come on.
JOHNSTON: We`d be out back, I think.
O`DONNELL: Now, this is a little part that surprised me here. If you
could just read that highlighted section there.
JOHNSTON: "I`m the one," Bristol said, "who should be having the
baby, not Sarah." The Palin kids call their parents Todd and Sarah when
they`re tense. Bristol looked at me, "let`s get pregnant." That`s it.
O`DONNELL: Yeah, that`s it. That`s how it happened?
JOHNSTON: That`s pretty close. You know, we had talked about a baby.
After Sarah got pregnant, had Trig, that`s when it really -- we really
started going for it.
O`DONNELL: But didn`t you think, wait a minute, I don`t have the
income for this? How are we going to -- I mean, no thinking at all?
JOHNSTON: I`ll tell you, I started thinking my -- it didn`t work
because, I mean, it hadn`t happened yet anyway. So I was just young. I
didn`t -- if it happens, it happens.
O`DONNELL: You had run the risk before?
JOHNSTON: Yeah. We had. Yeah. And I mean, it never happened. So I
was like, you know -- I was young, I was like whatever, let`s -- let me
tell you, it happened real quick.
O`DONNELL: But now that you are a father, there`s nothing to regret.
When there`s a baby there and there`s a kid in your life, there`s nothing
to regret about that.
JOHNSTON: Nothing. That was -- Trip being born was the happiest day
of my life, and I wouldn`t change it for anything.
O`DONNELL: And if we sell enough of these, "Deer in the Headlights,"
on sale this week, we`ve got a college education right here.
JOHNSTON: College education. I can go back home and get my pilot`s
license and become a guide in Alaska.
O`DONNELL: What are you doing? Tank is here tonight. He takes you
everywhere you go in New York City. He`s there with my guy Anthony, who
takes me everywhere I go in New York City. I told Anthony to find out from
Tank where you guys are going tonight, so we can all hang together. Where
are you going after the show?
JOHNSTON: I don`t know where we`re going.
O`DONNELL: All right. I`m following Tank. Levi Johnston, thank you
very, very much for coming back and joining me this evening.
You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog, TheLastWord.MSNBC.com.
You can follow my Tweets, @Lawrence. A special edition of THE LAST WORD is
coming up at 11:00 p.m. tonight. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" is up next.
Good evening, Rachel.
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