'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, April 16, 2012
Read the transcript to the Monday show
Guests: Garrett Haake, Jonathan Capehart, Ryan Lizza, David Cay Johnston, Michelle Goldberg, Karen Finney, Neil Franklin, Chares M. Blow
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: It was open mic night in Palm Beach. Mitt
and Ann Romney got caught telling their super-rich friends what they would
never tell you.
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: New reaction from the Romney campaign.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: Mitt Romney was at a big fund-raiser.
HALL: Comments made by Romney during a private fund-raiser.
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: Romney suggested he could gut all kinds
MITCHELL: Things like Housing and Urban Development.
BASHIR: Cuts to housing and education.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is so outrageous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Agencies like HUD provide some of the safety net.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m not concerned about the
very poor. We have a safety net there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For folks who are in the middle class.
ROMNEY: My campaign is focused on middle income Americans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the problem with Mitt Romney.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney, naked and unplugged, is kind of a
BASHIR: He was just throwing out ideas.
HALL: Ann Romney and Mitt Romney were described as giddy over last
week`s Hilary Rosen flap.
ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY`S WIFE: My career choice was to be a mother.
We need to respect choices that women make.
HALL: Giddy over what it.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Pretty much thrilled and saw it as a
ANN ROMNEY: I said it was my early birthday present. That`s how I
meant it. That was really a defining moment and I loved it.
That wasn`t how it meant it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was politically a gift.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were desperate for something, anything!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She took it, she ran with it, it was a victory
for her last week.
ANN ROMNEY: My career choice was to be a mother. We need to respect
choices that women make.
MITT ROMNEY: Even if you have a child two years of age, you need to
go to work. I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: Dignity of working.
BASHIR: It`s the dignity of work if you haven`t got any money.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn`t do any good to be malleable with your
principles, to be half measured with your principles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I placed your tip in this envelope. Make sure
you give it to your husband when you get home. He`ll know best what to do
O`DONNELL: Big surprise: the Romney campaign was faking it last week
when they pretended to be outraged over this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: What you have is Mitt Romney
running around the country saying, well, you know, my wife tells me that
what women really care about are economic issues, and when I listen to my
wife, that`s what I`m hearing.
Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life.
She`s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority
of the women in this country are facing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: We now know that Ann Romney`s secret reaction to that
was, quote, "I loved it." We know this because Mr. and Mrs. Romney were
caught on tape telling their rich Republican friends, things they would
never tell voters.
Last night, the secret Mitt Romney spoke openly to a $50,000 per
person fund-raiser at a Palm Beach estate in Florida. The secret Mitt
Romney made the mistake of speaking loud enough to be heard outside on a
public sidewalk where NBC News Garrett Haake heard this.
"I`m going to take a lot of departments in Washington and agencies
and combine them, some eliminate, but I`m probably not going to lay out
just exactly which ones are going to go. Things like Housing and Urban
Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later. The
Department of Education, I will either consolidate with another agency or
perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I`m not going to get rid of it
On that same NBC News tape, the secret Ann Romney exposed how phony
Republican outrage was over Hilary Rosen`s comment last week.
"It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as
a mother, and that was really a defining moment, and I loved it."
The secret Mitt Romney told his very rich listeners, that the public
Mitt Romney wouldn`t be saying the things that they were hearing publicly
because he learned a painful lesson about telling too much truth in his
first political campaign against Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: Mitt Romney opposes increased aid to education, favors
eliminating the Department of Education. Romney, out of step with
Massachusetts. Eliminate the Department of Education.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The public Mitt Romney has attacked President Obama
repeatedly for actually saying some things privately that he`d prefer not
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: We`ll give him the truth that he understands that he can`t
just blow things by people. And he does that. It`s a strange thing.
The truth came out the other day, as he spoke with President Medvedev
of Russia. He said, you know, wait until after the election. I can be
more flexible then. He`s clearly trying to hide from us what he intends to
You don`t say that to the head of Russia without making it very clear
to anyone listening that you have plans after your re-election that are
different than those that you`re willing to tell the American people. So
he`s going to hide.
And it`s my job to seek and our job to seek. It`s going to be a hide
and seek campaign and we`re going to -- we`re going to find out what he`s
going to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama election campaign
released a statement reading, "Apparently, Governor Romney believes only
high-dollar donors have a right to know which programs he will cut,
education, housing, to pay for $5 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthiest
Joining me now by phone, the NBC News campaign reporter who overheard
Mitt Romney speaking last night, Garrett Haake.
Garrett, thanks for joining me tonight.
GARRETT HAAKE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Thanks for
having me, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Garrett, how did you do it? You were actually out on a
sidewalk and you were able to hear this?
HAAKE: Yes, sometimes they say a big part of success is just showing
up. I had been outside the fund-raiser, shooting some wide shots for NBC
to use. They were having a fund-raiser in a tent in the backyard and as I
was walking back towards my car, I could clearly hear the host of the fund-
raiser saying, you know, people would please take their seats, of chance to
hear from the next president of the United States.
So I took the opportunity to take my own seat there on the sidewalk,
just outside the area that the Secret Service had cordoned off. Secret
Service told me and another reporter we were in a public area and fine to
stay where we were, so we did and ran tape and listened to the entire
conversation, which was just really a fascinating experience.
O`DONNELL: So you were not the only reporter to hear this, but there
were just two of you who heard it?
HAAKE: That`s right. Yeah, just two folks. The fund-raisers that
Romney and really all the candidates in the primaries would hold are closed
to the press, traditionally, they`re not invited, they`re not on a public
schedule that the campaign releases, but we do the best we can to ferret
out when and where they`re going to be, and try to have a presence, just to
see what may or may not come down and occasionally get the opportunity to
get lucky and hear a little something.
I can`t tell you how many times I`ve stood on sidewalks outside of
hotels and things like that where you don`t see anything. You might see or
hear the candidate coming or going, but that`s about it.
O`DONNELL: So, Garrett, was it a big enough event under that tent
that they need a microphone?
HAAKE: It`s hard to say. I couldn`t see the entire crowd there, but
Romney took questions in sort of the same town hall format he might do with
voters, back and forth from some of the folks who were in attendance, where
you saw -- or heard, rather, the microphone being passed around between
folks asking him and back and forth from him. But very clearly heard from
the sidewalk a few blocks away.
O`DONNELL: And to the Ann Romney quote, where she said that she just
loved what was said last week about stay-at-home moms on CNN, was there a
crowd reaction to that? Did they share her delight in that?
HAAKE: Well, I will say this, Lawrence, I think that part of this
with Ann Romney may have been slightly overplayed today. I think Ann was
legitimately excited to have the chance to talk about her experience as a
mom from her issues, but it did get spun in such a political way.
Later in the event, Romney was asked a question, Governor Romney was
asked a question about media strategy and he came back and again used the
word "gift" to talk about the back-and-forth that happened between the
Romney campaign and Democrats, particularly over the Internet. He pointed
out that this is the kind of thing that allows them to really create
contrast with President Obama and the kind of issues that you might see
more of flaring up over the course of the campaign.
O`DONNELL: All right. Garrett Haake of NBC News, Garrett, I`m going
to start following you on Twitter right now. What is your Twitter handle?
I got to plug in here right now.
HAAKE: I am @GarrettNBCNews, two Rs, two Ts.
O`DONNELL: All right, I`m following you, as of tonight.
Garrett Haake, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
HAAKE: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Joining me, "Washington Post" opinion writer and MSNBC
political analysts, Jonathan Capehart, and "the New Yorker`s" Washington
correspondent, Ryan Lizza.
Jonathan Capehart, are you just shocked, shocked that Mitt Romney
would say something and Ann Romney would say things to the $50,000 a person
attendees at a Palm Beach fund-raiser, that they just might not say on TV?
JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the thing that gets
me, it`s Palm Beach. And you know what it reminded me of, Lawrence?
Remember when Mitt Romney did his interview with Matt Lauer a few months
ago, talking about, Matt asked him the question about income inequality and
what he thought about that and taxes and things -- and Mitt Romney`s taxes
-- and Mitt Romney said, well, these are the sorts of things you should
talk about, you know, we talk about in quiet rooms.
O`DONNELL: Yes! Yes!
CAPEHART: Well, you can`t get anymore quiet and more exclusive than
a Palm Beach estate, where you`re going to tell the people, your people,
your donors, your supporters, and particularly your very rich supporters,
exactly what you`re going to do.
And so if you`re going to talk about what you`re going to do as
president of the United States, with your very small group of rich
supporters, why on earth shouldn`t the rest of the American people expect
you to share that information with them, before they go into the voting
booth and vote for you or vote against you?
O`DONNELL: Ryan Lizza, it turns out it wasn`t a quiet enough room.
Garrett Haake could hear him out on the street, on the sidewalk.
RYAN LIZZA, NEW YORKER: Yes, great work by Garrett.
O`DONNELL: But, you know, these ideas of how he is actually going to
abolish these things, of course, he can`t do it. Every single thing he
said he was going to do, the Congress has to vote do and they would
presumably, even if Democrats were in a minority in the Senate, they would
have to somehow overcome a Democratic filibuster. It`s all impossible
But he, obviously, believes it`s what those people want to hear.
LIZZA: Well, that`s what I was going to point out, Lawrence. I
think, look, the ship of anti-government conservatism crashes whenever it
starts -- whenever conservatives gain power and start trying to end
departments or agencies. They just have not -- conservatives have not been
able to do it, despite the Reagan revolution, despite the eight years of
George W. Bush.
And now, Mitt Romney, who is the presumptive nominee for the
Republican Party, during one of the most conservative lurches in the
Republican Party`s recent history, and he can`t even publicly say that he
wants to get rid of HUD and downsize the Department of Education.
So in some ways, I think that he has to whisper this to a room full
of donors is something of a defeat for conservatives. Remember, Ronald
Reagan in `80 campaigned on far more dramatic cuts to government than this.
And like you said, Lawrence, if he wins the presidency, he is not going to
be able to get rid of HUD.
Put aside whether it`s a good idea or not, you know, a lot of people
argue HUD should be doing more, not less, even in the Obama years, given
the housing crisis. Put that aside. It just doesn`t get done in
Washington. There`s not the push in Congress for, you know, wholesale
dismantling of the federal government.
O`DONNELL: And, Jonathan, the one place where presidents should
actually not say every single thing that`s on their mind, publicly, is the
foreign policy, is interactions with other governments. And so, when
President Obama was caught in that whisper, to the Russians about, you
know, we`ve got an election and some of these things we`re talking about
are going to have to wait, that`s actually the area where -- whether that`s
the instance it should be done or not, but that is the area where you can
expect a certain amount of presidential secrecy.
But to play the Romney tape of him condemning that, when we also have
this audiotape of what he was saying, like, I`m not going to say any of
this stuff publicly, it is just the most -- I`ve said this before. The
Romney campaign is the most publicly cynical presidential campaign I have
CAPEHART: And it`s a campaign -- a campaign and a candidate who has
a unique and uncanny ability to stomp on whatever good news or good
momentum they have going forward. So we were all talking about this, I`m
speaking personally here, made-up mommy wars situation over what Hilary
Rosen said, and sort of how the Romney campaign got the upper hand in this
Today, we`re not talking about that anymore. Today, we`re talking
about how once again Mitt Romney has shown that he says one thing on the
campaign trail -- one thing publicly on the campaign trail, and then when
he gets behind closed doors, or in this case behind a not-so-closed tent,
among supporters, he`s willing to talk about things and say things that he
won`t say publicly.
And for him, you showed it at the top of this -- at the top of your
show, his criticism of the president, which at the time, I thought was a
pretty stinging rebuke of the president. But here we see him doing exactly
the same thing, and he`s not even president.
So can you imagine, you know, someone at home wondering, what would
he be like as president? And it`s not the fault what President Obama did,
as you`re saying, in the world of diplomacy and international relations,
the president does have to have flexibility to be able to say things to
another foreign leader that`s out of, you know, out of earshot.
But Mitt Romney, once again, is showing that he`s willing to be on
all sides of all things.
O`DONNELL: Ryan Lizza, it seems that this is yet another example of
how the Romney campaign is its own worst enemy. Here they were trying to
get away with this charade of outrage over what was said last week, and
it`s the Romney campaign itself that deflates all of its fake outrage.
LIZZA: Yes, it`s definitely a pattern. Just as they seemed to be
winning the mommy wars, we`re now all talking about what Mitt Romney says
It puts Mitt Romney in a strange position. He`s for the president of
the United States disclosing private negotiations with a foreign power, but
he`s against telling you what agencies he might cut. That`s a strange
place to be as a candidate.
O`DONNELL: Ryan Lizza and Jonathan Capehart -- thank you both very
much for joining me tonight.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Lawrence.
LIZZA: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, it`s time to file your tax return, but Mitt
Romney got an extension on his and he`s refusing to show us any more tax
returns. We`ll try to figure out what he`s hiding in those tax returns and
he`s hiding a lot. That`s next.
And later, should the Democrats drop the phrase "war on women"?
Karen Finney will answer that question for us.
And in the "Rewrite," should we drop the war on drugs? Finally, we
have a president who thinks we should legalize marijuana. That`s coming
O`DONNELL: Last night, Ann Romney inadvertently exposed just how
fake Republican outrage was last week in defense of stay-at-home moms. And
Michele Bachmann actually said on "Meet the Press," with a straight face,
that Republicans are the real supporters of a woman`s right to choose her
health care options. That`s coming up.
We`ll show you, also, how reasonable Mitt Romney was on both of those
things, just 18 years ago when he was running for Senate.
And then, in the "Rewrite," reason number 204 why to vote for
president this year, ending our war on drugs -- a war that is actually more
harmful than the drugs themselves.
O`DONNELL: The deadline for revealing your income to the IRS may be
tomorrow at midnight, but Mitt Romney is going to get to keep his secrets
for several more months after getting a time extension for filing his next
$20 million tax return, assuming it`s roughly the same size as his last tax
return. And he is also keeping secret what he really wants to do to the
tax code if he becomes president.
Another thing, the secret Mitt Romney was caught on tape talking
about last night at that $50,000 per person fund-raiser in Florida. He
said, quote, "The top rate I`m going to bring that to 28, but I`m going to
limit deductions for second home mortgages, I`m going to probably eliminate
for high-income people the second home mortgage deduction. Probably limit
or eliminate deductions for state income tax, state property tax -- by
virtue of doing that, we`ll get the same tax revenue, but we`ll have lower
A pro-Obama super PAC thinks the IRS tax filing deadline is the
perfect time to remind swing voters in the key battleground states of Ohio,
Virginia, Florida and Iowa just how different Mitt Romney really is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: Mitt Romney, he made millions off companies that went
bankrupt while workers lost promised health and retirement benefits. His
own tax return from last year reveals he made $21 million, yet paid a lower
tax rate than many middle class families. Now Romney`s proposing a huge
new $150,000 tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent, while cutting Medicaid
and education for us.
Mitt Romney, if he wins, we lose.
Priorities USA Action is responsible for the content of this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Senate Republicans with the exception of Maine`s Susan
Collins did their duty in the service to the super rich by blocking
majority rule in the Senate today and preventing a vote on what the
Democrats call the Buffett Rule, which would raise Mitt Romney`s future
taxes from 14 percent to a minimum of 30 percent, which would still be 3
percentage point los lower than what I`m paying this year, and a full 5
percentage points lower than the top federal tax rate, which really,
virtually, no one actually pays.
A new CNN/Opinion Research poll released this afternoon shows just
how wildly out of step congressional Republicans are with voters. Seventy-
two percent of voters support the President Obama-endorsed Buffett Rule, 69
percent of independent voters support it, and a full 53 percent of
registered Republican voters support increasing taxes on the super rich.
Joining me now, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, David Cay Johnston, a
columnist for "Reuters" and professor at Syracuse Law School.
David, Mitt Romney`s secret tax plan, where he`s going to drop the
top tax rate all the way down to 28, he`s talking about some interesting
limits on deductions, limiting the deductibility of state and local taxes,
and then also limiting the mortgage deductibility for second homes. What
do you make of the secret Romney tax plan?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, REUTERS: Well, he`s going to try and invoke that
he`s Ronald Reagan. Twenty-eight percent is not very far from the Buffett
Rule`s 30 percent and I don`t think voters will be swayed much by this.
And there`s not enough money to get where he wants to go with what we
know of what he said. So I want to see the numbers and where the red ink
is being dealt with.
O`DONNELL: And on Romney`s tax returns, he has now said he`s not
going to release any of the past tax returns that people have been asking
for. He had given, I think, over 20 of them to the McCain campaign four
years ago when he was being vetted for vice president, but he`s refusing to
release anymore of the past returns.
What are the things that we would find out if we could get those tax
returns that we won`t find out any other ways, especially on these so-
called disclosure forms that he has to file as a candidate?
JOHNSTON: Well, Lawrence, I think that`s the question. I`ve been
calling him to release his returns back to 1984 consistently, and I think
we`ll probably find out that he did some things offshore that will be
uncomfortable. They may be legal, but may be uncomfortable for him.
We certainly won`t learn anything other than he`s a very rich man,
which we knew beforehand. So why won`t he come clean?
I mean, I think he clearly has positioned himself by not being able
to meet his father`s own standard on disclosure, that one year is a fluke,
to raise the questions what is it you got to hide?
O`DONNELL: David, your latest column is one of my favorites of all
time. You have exposed a form of tax socialism, tax corporate socialism in
this country that many people didn`t know about and I certainly didn`t know
how widespread it was.
And I believe you found that in this particular form of corporate tax
socialism, the king of all the political socialists on this one is
Republican Governor Chris Christie.
JOHNSTON: Well, New Jersey is certainly the absolute king of this,
which is hundreds of thousands of workers in 16 states, especially New
Jersey, are having the state income taxes withheld from their pay never go
to the government. The money, instead, is kept by their employers.
Twenty-seven hundred companies do this. Every big, brand name
company you know -- Goldman Sachs, General Electric, Procter & Gamble.
They are all doing this.
And you want to know why your state government is in trouble, why
your kid`s education is in trouble? Because of all these hidden programs,
in this case, one that Good Jobs First dug out, that take money away from
the tax system, and do it in a way that workers don`t even know that
they`ve had their taxes diverted to their boss. They`re being taxed by
O`DONNELL: Everyone has to read David Cay Johnston`s about this.
David, thanks very much.
And, by the way, I just want to mention, you won your Pulitzer Prize
for tax reporting at "The New York Times" in 2001, and today, "The New York
Times" has won its second Pulitzer Prize for tax reporting by David
Kocieniewski, did I get close on pronouncing that one?
JOHNSTON: David Kocieniewski, David K.
O`DONNELL: There you are. I wanted to get that in. Thanks very
much for joining us tonight, David.
JOHNSTON: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, our longest, most expensive, and most
disastrous war -- the war on drugs. Decriminalizing marijuana could be
reason number 204 to vote for president this year. Charles M. Blow joins
me on war on drugs.
And the war on women. Should Democrats drop that phrase? Democratic
strategist Karen Finney gives us the answer.
O`DONNELL: Last week`s fake political war over stay-at-home moms did
nothing to improve Mitt Romney`s position with women voters. And some
Democrats now think they should drop the phrase "war on women." Democratic
strategist Karen Finney will tell us if that phrase helps or hurts with
voters. That`s next.
And later, how President Richard Nixon`s attempt to deflect attention away
from the unwinnable war in Vietnam gave us the unwinnable war on drugs, and
how this president might rewrite it. That`s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Women don`t need anyone to tell
them what to do on health care. We want women to have their own choices,
their own money. That way they can make their own choices for their future
on their own body.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Yeah, that`s right. That was the relentless opponent of a
woman`s right to choose, Congressman Michele Bachmann, lying on "Meet the
Press" yesterday. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, appearing with
Bachmann, chose to sidestep the abortion question that Bachmann seemed to
be raising, and instead focused on the most recent round of Republicans
interference with women`s choices.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: What`s insulting to women is
that the Republican Party in the House of Representatives made it part of
their agenda that they want bosses to tell women what medicines they`re
eligible to take. Nothing could be more insulting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: As we reported a little earlier, Ann Romney told a private
audience of rich Republicans this weekend just how fake the war on
Republican moms was last week when she said, "it was my early birthday
present for someone to be critical of me as a mother. And that was really
a defining moment. And I loved it."
And then there is this acknowledgement of reality from Mitt Romney`s
1994 failed Senate campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a different world
than it was in the 1960s, when I was growing up, when you used to be able
to have mom at home and not at work. Now mom and dad both have to work,
whether they want to or not. And they usually one of them has two jobs.
And if that`s the case, we`re going to have to have good child care in
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now are Michelle Goldberg, senior write for
"Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast," and Karen Finney, former DNC
communications director and current MSNBC political analyst.
Michelle, why isn`t that guy, Romney, a United States senator? How
could he have -- I mean, what a reasonable thing to say about, you know,
it`s not the 1960s anymore and mom and dad both have to work.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, "THE DAILY BEAST": You know, the interest thing is
that the reason that Romney is not a United States senator is because he
got killed among women in 1994, right? When he was running against Ted
O`DONNELL: Saying those things?
GODLBERG: Well, because he was OK on the social issues, although
there was some doubt, Ted Kennedy famously called him multiple choice. But
he also -- Ted Kennedy really hammered him on the economic impacts that his
fiscal policies were going to have on women, and also on kind of how his
record at Bain had impacted women, both his kind of -- the very few women
that he had at the upper levels of Bain and also the women who had been
impacted when Bain took over factories and kind of imposed Draconian cuts
or shut them down.
O`DONNELL: And Teddy had to go in that direction because Romney was
basically trying to be identical to him on these other policies. Let`s
listen to what Mitt Romney said back then about Roe versus Wade.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: As a nation, we recognize the right of all people to believe
as they want and not to impose our beliefs on other people. I believe that
abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time
that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate
I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that
we should sustain and support it. And I sustain and support that law and
the right of a woman to make that choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, it`s a completely different person I`m
watching there. He actually -- and this is a hard thing to say about any
politician, but he actually looks like he means what he`s saying, which you
don`t ever get that feeling in this presidential campaign.
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I`m sure he practiced,
Lawrence, so that he would look like he meant what he was saying. You know
what I love, is that women were not fooled in 1994, and so far they have
not been fooled in this election. They can see right through it, whether
it`s his economic ideas or on the social issues.
And on Roe v. Wade, frankly, women on all sides of this issue are
going to have to ask themselves, do they trust him? Because you don`t
really know where he is on the issue, at this point.
O`DONNELL: So a new CNN poll shows that President Obama still has a
commanding lead over Mitt Romney with women. They show President Obama at
55 percent with women voters, 39 percent choosing Romney with women voters.
Michelle Goldberg, you are now a war correspondent. You are covering the
war on women.
GODLBERG: Yes, I didn`t mean for this to be my full-time job, but the
Republican party has kind of made it a full-time job.
O`DONNELL: And are they going to -- do they think -- does the
Republican party think this is going well for them?
GODLBERG: Well, it`s interesting. They clearly know it`s not going
well in the poll numbers, but they don`t seem to think that that`s a reason
to change their policies. Or they can`t really change their policies,
because this is the party they have.
You know, that`s why they`ve adopted this kind of tremendously cynical
strategy of trying to change the subject instead and try to gin up this
idea of a war on mothers.
But they`re not going to stop trying to restrict abortion rights.
They`re not going to stop trying to pass personhood amendments. There`s
going to be a number of personhood amendments on the ballot this fall.
They`re not going to stop going after equal pay rights. You know,
Wisconsin, under the leadership of Scott Walker, who Romney praises to the
skies, just repealed equal pay laws. Equal pay laws that were working to
close the kind of -- to close the gender gap in that country -- or in that
And Romney also won`t even really come out and say that he supports
the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The best he`ll say is that he`s not
planning to try to change it.
O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, you wrote a piece today saying "recently
some Democrats have backtracked on the phrase, "war on women."
Why have they backtracked and should they backtrack?
GODLBERG: You know, Martin -- I mean, Lawrence -- so sorry. I`m not
sure exactly why they`re backtracking. I surmise in my piece for "The
Hill" that there`s perhaps there`s some polling that suggests that phrase
is too harsh for voters in the same way that some thought that culture of
corruption was too harsh at the time.
They definitely shouldn`t. And I think it`s very important that they
pay close attention to the fact that this is how a lot of women feel, under
siege and disrespected. And to the point that Michelle was just making,
it`s not just because of the economic conversation that we`ve been having.
It`s because of these measures at the state level that are just very
disrespectful, that suggest women will use exceptions for rape as a
loophole in order to get -- have access to abortion care.
I mean, on and on and on, having men tell us what medicines we can
take or whether or not we`ve been raped, despite our own personal
experience. It has been an erosion, I think a lot of women feel, of their
rights and liberty in this country. And we will pay attention to who`s on
our side in November.
O`DONNELL: All right. We`ll have to leave it there for tonight.
Karen Finney and war correspondent Michelle Goldberg, thank you both very
much for joining me tonight.
Coming up, reason number 204 to vote for president, the possible
decriminalization of marijuana. Charles M. Blow will join me on the
complete and utter and continuous failure of the ridiculous war on drugs.
O`DONNELL: Tonight, a president tries to rewrite a trillion dollar
failed policy that has produced murder and mayhem here and abroad for over
40 years. When this guy, friend of the show, Bill Maher, and this guy, the
dean of smart American conservatives, George Will, agree on something, it`s
time to listen to at least one of them.
Most of you already know Bill Maher`s thinking on America`s longest
war. No, not that one, the war on drugs. Richard Nixon declared the war
on drugs in 1971 while he was already in the process of losing the war in
Vietnam. Nixon, of course, lost the war on drugs, as has every president
since Nixon, but no president has the courage to admit defeat in that 41-
George Will is one conservative who knows the war on drugs is
hopeless. And in a recent column, he tried to turn conservative opinion
against the war on drugs by showing it is a big government program that
costs too much money and doesn`t work.
George Will writes, "imprisoning low-ranking street corner dealers is
pointless. A 200 dollar transaction can cost society 100,000 dollars for a
Will points out that keeping drugs illegal helps keep the price of
drugs artificially high, and that amounts to, "a policy that gives hundreds
of billions of dollars a year to violent organized crime."
George Will doesn`t just bring a budget hawk`s eye to the war on
drugs. He also brings what his conservative friends might call a bleeding
heart, when he says, "imprisoning large number of dealers produces an army
of people who, emerging from prison with blighted employment prospects, can
only deal drugs."
This weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia,
when he wasn`t answering questions about Secret Service agents behaving
badly, President Obama was being politely nudged by Colombia`s president,
Juan Manuel Santos, to surrender to the reality on the war on drugs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUAN MANUEL SANTOS, PRESIDENT OF COLOMBIA: Colombia has been one of
the countries that has suffered -- of all the countries on the planet,
Colombia is the one that has suffered more in this war against drug
trafficking. It is a war that was declared by President Nixon in 1971, but
that goes way back.
And we`ve been fighting. We`ve been struggling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: President Santos wants the USA, the world`s biggest
consumer of illicit drugs, to move toward decriminalizing, if not fully
legalizing, marijuana and possibly cocaine. This was President Obama`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: In terms of legalization of drugs, I think that the battle,
the war on drugs has been an utter failure. And I think that we need to
rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws. But I`m not somebody -- but
I`m not somebody who believes in legalization of marijuana.
What I do believe is that we need to rethink how we are operating in
the drug wars. And I think that currently we are not doing a good job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Yeah, you figured it out. That was the wrong tape. That
was Senate candidate Barack Obama back in January of 2004. And what he
actually said this weekend in Colombia really wasn`t that different.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about
whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in
certain places. I personally, and my administration`s position, is that
legalization is not the answer, that, in fact, if you think about how it
would end up operating, the capacity of a large scale drug trade to
dominate certain countries, if they were allowed to operate legally,
without any constraint, could be just as corrupting, if not more
corrupting, than the status quo.
Nevertheless, you know, I`m a big believer in looking at the evidence,
having a debate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Although President Obama thinks it`s entirely legitimate
to have a conversation about whether our drug laws are doing more harm than
good, he, of course, has absolutely no intention of having that discussion
in the United States until after he is re-elected to a second term, which,
with exactly 204 days remaining until the election, makes possibly ending
the war on drugs the 204th reason to vote for president on November 6th.
Coming up, I`ll discuss the failed war on drugs and possible
decriminalization or legalization, and what`s the difference between
decriminalization and legalization, with Charles M. Blow of "the New York
Times" and one of the soldiers in the war on drugs.
O`DONNELL: There`s Hillary Clinton in Cartagena, Colombia, this
weekend, enjoying her drug of choice, perfectly legally. While alcohol,
which George Will calls the only addictive intoxicate currently available
as a consumer good, continues to wreak havoc in America, supported by a six
billion dollar a year alcohol industry advertising campaign, extolling the
joy of inebriation, the far less harmful drug of marijuana remains illegal
and continues to ruin people`s lives, only if they are caught possessing it
and convicted of that crime.
"New York Times" columnist Charles M. Blow noted in a column last year
that despite the facts that whites engage in drug offenses at a higher rate
than African-Americans, African-Americans are incarcerated for drug
offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that of whites.
Joining me now is Charles M. Blow, opinion writer for "the New York
Times." First of all, Charles, would you like an Aguila?
CHARLES M. BLOW, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I want to see one of these.
O`DONNELL: That`s Hillary`s beer. I -- my confession is, I can`t
stomach -- I`ve never had a beer in my life. I have -- this is my darkest
secret. I`ve never been drunk in my life. I`ve never been high in my
life. So I am the least qualified person to talk about the effects of
drugs and --
BLOW: You`re shifting the qualifications to me?
O`DONNELL: I`m shifting the -- no, I`m shifting the worry to the
father of teenage boys. Because that`s really where the biggest worry is,
is parents of teenagers. I`m the parent of a teenage daughter. And that`s
the center of worry in this country about legalization or
decriminalization, simply saying, you won`t go to jail for this.
Legalization would be, you can now have, you know, marijuana sold at
7-Elevens. That`s different from just decriminalizing.
BLOW: Right, right, right. So what we have now is a -- what you were
mentioning before is a racialized weapon. The war on drug has become a
racial weapon used against mostly black and Hispanic young men, mostly for
the possession, not the sale of marijuana.
And that is not even, I don`t think, the intent, the original intent
of the war on drugs. And it is a real life ruiner for these kids. And so
the question is not whether or not they will ruin their lives if they have
a joint, the question is whether we as a society will ruin their lives if
they have a joint.
O`DONNELL: And they -- you know, youth in America has survived for
quite a long time with exposure to a much more dangerous drug. I`ve had
friends drink themselves to death as very young people. And there seems to
be no ability to recognize how dangerous alcohol is, where we think that
marijuana is the end of the world.
BLOW: And I don`t think we even think that. I just think that it has
become part of the culture, that we have now embedded this idea that
marijuana is a pathway to more illicit drug use. And so you know, it`s a
stepping off point.
So now we are incarcerating people at a staggering rate. Since 1971,
there have been 40 million drug arrests in America. That`s just a
staggering number of people. And that means that those people are now
disenfranchised. If they had a kid, they can no longer support that child,
so now that child is on the public dole, possibly, because the parent, the
mother can`t support the child by themselves.
They are taking it out of the community, so people complain about, you
know, too many young black women having children out of wedlock. Well,
they take out a lot of the guys that would be marriage material if they
didn`t get caught with one or two joints or something in their pocket,
which is not that big of a deal, if they were going to go to work or were
working at the time.
Or what happened, you know, in -- under Clinton was the signing of
this law that basically said you couldn`t get federal financial aid to go
to college if you`d ever been arrested for a drug offense. So you had this
kind of imbalance of people not being able to go to college and become
O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Neil Franklin, executive director of
LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. And he`s a retired Maryland
state police major, where he also served as a narcotics agent. Neil,
what`s your experience with this and where should we go from here?
NEIL FRANKLIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LAW ENFORCEMENT AGAINST
PROHIBITION: Well, Lawrence and Charles, glad to be here with you guys.
Where should we go? Well, you mentioned decriminalization. You talked
about legalization and the difference between the two. There`s a lot of
talk for decriminalization.
I don`t think that`s the way to go. We need to go for legalization.
We need to have regulation and control. And here`s why. We, crime
fighters, we in the law enforcement community, you know, we will figure out
a new strategy for targeting young black and Latino men with
decriminalization. Instead of arresting people for possession, we`ll just
figure out a strategy for charging them with intent to distribute and other
So it`s important that we go for legalization, regulation, and
O`DONNELL: What was your experience that turned you against the war
on drugs that you were a soldier in for so long?
FRANKLIN: Well, Lawrence, it was the violence. I wear this badge
here on my lapel. And I usually wear a shroud over it, because I lost a
dear friend, a comrade, to this craziness, to this senseless war on drugs.
His name was Ed Totely (ph) in Washington, D.C. He was working
undercover with the FBI in 2000. And he was assassinated, making a mid-
level drug buy. That woke me up. And many people are waking up today to
this nonsense. Unfortunately for me, it was that violence.
O`DONNELL: Charles, do you sense a possibility in President Obama`s
second term on this front? You have George Will in agreement with Neil, a
former Narc, based on his experience out there in the field, and the
president saying he`s open to a discussion that the law is doing more harm
BLOW: I hope that President Obama moves in this direction. I think
that the president has some making up to do on this front. That this law -
- this war on drugs is financed on the local level, largely through grants.
Whatever George Bush`s reason, he had almost starved that program to death.
In his last year, it was 170 million dollars.
President Obama campaigned on the concept that he would raise -- would
restore that money. And in the stimulus package, it went back up to two
billion dollars, 12-fold increase. I want President Obama to come back
with a better approach tot his issue.
O`DONNELL: Charles M. Blow of "The New York Times," and Neil Franklin
of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, thank you both very much for
joining me tonight.
FRANKLIN: Hey, thanks, guys.
O`DONNELL: "THE ED SHOW" is up next.
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