THE ED SHOW with ED SCHULTZ
September 12, 2012
Guests: Hillary Mann Leverett, Spencer Ackerman, Ben Smith, Rep. Keith Ellison, Lawrence Korb, Michael Medved
EZRA KLEIN, GUEST HOST: Good evening, Americans. And welcome to THE
ED SHOW. I`m Ezra Klein, in for Ed Schultz.
And there is 55 days until the 2012 election. The tragic events in
Libya today have turned into ugly politics in America. This has genuinely
been one of those 24-hour periods that could reshape not only the
presidential campaign, but American foreign policy going forward.
We`ll have all the details. As Ed would say, let`s get to work.
Today was an incredibly important day in the U.S. presidential race.
In response to the awful attacks in Libya, Mitt Romney said something that
was genuinely unbelievable. And then more amazing, he doubled down on it.
This is the kind of thing, it`s the kind of day we could look back on
the 2012 campaign and say, yes, Romney just never quite managed to recover
Here`s Romney and Obama today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I think it`s a terrible course
for America, to stand in apology for our values.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There`s a broader
lesson to be learned here, and you know, Governor Romney seems to have a
tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things
I`ve learned is that you can`t do that. You know, it`s important for you
to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts
and that you`ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: We will get into all of that tonight. I promise you will we
will do the campaign in detail.
But before we do, in an election year, presidential politics has a
tendency to overshadow everything else. There`s a tendency to only care
about real genuinely important events in terms of their effect on the
But what happened over the last 24 hours in Libya and Cairo needs to
be understood on its own terms first, because the ramifications could be
with us for quite a while, no matter who is president.
And so, we should start the show tonight on a note of humility. We
don`t yet know what happened. The information is changing almost hourly.
And we don`t know yet what it all means.
But here`s what we think we do know. Yesterday, on the 11th
anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. embassy
in Cairo released a statement that read, in part, quote, "The embassy
condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the
religious feelings of Muslims, as we condemn efforts to offend believers of
They released that statement because there was an angry mob gathered
outside, and that mob continued to gather as the day wore on. Nearly five
hours later, the State Department confirmed the embassy had suffered a
breach. Protesters outside the embassy were reportedly there due to anger
over a reported low-budget anti-Muslim film made in the United States and
posted on a YouTube account. More on that film in a moment.
By late afternoon, the embassy was reiterating its earlier statement
on Twitter, mostly in response to conservative criticism, that the embassy
was, quote, "apologizing for American values." One of the tweets read,
quote, "Of course we condemn breaches of our compound. We`re the ones
actually living through this."
A short time later, the State Department confirmed the U.S. diplomatic
mission in Benghazi, Libya, was under attack. Searches for the British
monitoring group Quilliam called it a well-planned assault that occurred in
two ways. The sources said the attack involved a group of about 20
militants and included heavy artillery, machine guns, and rocket-propelled
By morning, it was confirmed that four American diplomats, including
the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, were killed in the
attack. That makes Stevens the first ambassador killed in the line of duty
since 1988, when Arnold Raphel, the ambassador to Pakistan, died alongside
the president of Pakistan in an unexplained plane crash.
President Obama addressed the nation from the White House Rose Garden
this morning. About 50 U.S. Marines were deployed to Libya and two U.S.
warships are headed towards the Libyan coast.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the sad irony of the
attacks in the wake of the U.S. support of the Libyan revolution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Today many Americans are asking,
indeed, I asked myself, how could this happen? How could this happen in a
country we helped liberate in a city we helped save from destruction?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: So that is the chain of events, as best we can describe them,
as best we know them. Where it gets murky are in the details.
For instance, we know less about this anti-Muslim video today than
frankly we did yesterday. This morning, we thought we knew who was behind
that film. A California real estate developer named Sam Bacile. He`d even
given an interview to "The Associated Press".
But as Jeffrey Goldberg reported in "The Atlantic," the alleged
filmmaker does not appear to actually exist, at least not under the name
Sam Bacile. Previous reports that he is an Israeli national have been
disputed by the Israeli government. There are no records of film permits
or financial statements the to account for the making of the movie, and the
incendiary lines about the Prophet Muhammad appear to have been dubbed in
after the movie was made.
Earlier this afternoon, members of the casting crew of the film
stepped forward to release this statement. They said, "The entire cast and
crew are extremely upset and they feel taken advantage of by the producer.
We are 100 percent not behind this film and were grossly misled about its
intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script
and the lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the
tragedies that have occurred."
Further more, we do not know who instigated the attack on the Benghazi
compound. Was it in response to this film? Or was the film used as a
pretext to justify planned violence?
It should be pointed out that 10 Libyan security guards reportedly
died defending the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Thousands of
Libyans staged counter-protests today in a show of support for the United
States. Many of them held signs thanking Ambassador Stevens for his
service, and the Libyan government was quick and forceful in its
condemnation of the attacks. That, at least, is the situation in Libya.
In Egypt, the conditions are much different. More protests against
the offending anti-Muslim film have been called for tomorrow. There have
been no statements by the transitional government in Egypt, not about the
protests or about the reaction to them. It`s also worth noting that the
president did not mention the protests in Cairo or the breach of the U.S.
embassy in his statement today, indicating the continued volatility of the
situation on the ground in Egypt.
All this is what my "Washington Post" colleague David Ignatius calls,
quote, "The fog of revolution." These are two countries transitioning from
decades of existence under despotic conditions to governments with at least
some foundations in representative democracy.
The balance there is delicate and it is very difficult to cut through
the motivations of the various factions and shadowy militant groups that
are currently vying for power. And the outcome, who wins and who loses
these struggles, could decide the very shape of American foreign policy in
the decades to come.
Middle East with an Egypt that is friendly to American interests is
very different than Middle East with an Egypt that is not.
Here to help us make sense of all of this is Hillary Mann Leverett,
professor for foreign policy at the American University and a former
Foreign Service officer, who was twice stationed at the embassy in Egypt.
She worked with a new ambassador, Chris Stevens.
And also joining us tonight is Spencer Ackerman, senior writer for
"Wired" magazine, and one of the very first persons I turn to on days like
But, Hillary, let me start with you tonight. Why was Ambassador
Stevens at the consulate in Benghazi and not at the embassy in Tripoli?
HILLARY MANN LEVERETT, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: It`s hard to know. I
wasn`t privy to his day-to-day schedule. I think he was opening a cultural
program. And it`s typical for ambassadors to go to other major cities.
For example, when I was posted in Egypt, it was typical for the
ambassador to go to Cairo to Alexandria pretty regularly. It would be a
normal thing to do.
KLEIN: It would be a normal thing to do.
KLEIN: And, Spencer, do we know anything, or anything we feel is firm
about the motivations behind the attack? Some people thought, at least,
initially, it was about the video. Then there seemed to be some
indication, maybe, that the protests over the video was cover for a attack
that had been long pre-planned. It`s not clear if they knew the ambassador
was going to be there.
What do you feel that we can actually say here if anything?
SPENCER ACKERMAN, WIRED MAGAZINE: We can say nothing in confidence,
but make some inferences based on what happened. This was a 4 1/2-hour
assault on a U.S. diplomatic compound. There was small arms fire, there
was reportedly artillery rocket fire, set the place ablaze.
That doesn`t happen from a spontaneous mob. That is an organization
that is in place, whether it`s some elements of some existing organization
or something that arose specifically planned for this attack, remains
unclear. But it was well-equipped, it was well-supplied, and it got its
LEVERETT: I mean, even from the social media, you see references in
the social media and the Arabic social media to anger and attempts to
protest at the embassy in Cairo, at the office in Benghazi and the embassy
in Tripoli, predating the film.
LEVERETT: And this certainly was a pretext for people`s anger or
maybe a cover for an operation, but the critical issue here is the deep-
seated resentment that people have for U.S. policy throughout the region.
And we have yet to come to terms with -- we have not even begun to grapple
with the enormity of the challenge we face as countries become more
politically participatory, and people have a voice and then they see in
different arenas, whether it`s Iraq or Libya, that the U.S. has chose to
deal with this in a militaristic way. It doesn`t leave a lot of options
for how people think the U.S. understands what to do.
KLEIN: But, Spencer, this group, there`s been particularly in Libya a
real sharp divide between how the elected government -- or how I`m sorry,
the transitional government has dealt with the attack on the United States
and obviously the attack on the United States.
Do we have a sense of what group carried it out, at all? I mean,
there are clearly factions vying for this, and there was a protest, as
Hillary mentioned, we knew at least something about. Do we know if it was
even the folks who were protesting?
ACKERMAN: We don`t. We don`t know specific organizations. None have
taken responsibility yet.
There`s been a lot of speculation, but I think it would be ill of us
to focus on things that we don`t actually know.
But something that really did come across from some of the details
that came out was that this wasn`t Americans versus Libyans. Libyan
security officials were helping guard the compound. There was apparently a
local militia that not only was around the gates as auxiliaries, but helped
get a bunch of Americans out from one part of the compound to another.
And, in fact, when Americans seemed to be unable to stop the siege and
suppress the assault, it was Libyan security officials that actually got
the compound back under control. So it`s not as simple as saying that
Americans were under attack by Libyans.
LEVERETT: But there`s a critical difference, though, that we
constantly gloss over. In Egypt, what we have is the product of a real
revolution. This government really represents the people. It was a real
revolution, done over the objections, essentially, of the United States.
Mubarak was our true friend and ally for 30 years.
In Libya, what you had happen was, initially a revolution that then
was intercepted with a military intervention. And what was put in place is
largely a government of expatriates, who don`t necessarily represent the
country. And you`re going to have, inevitably, militias that come out and
internecine violence and factions that are contesting for power, because
that wasn`t a revolution that was let go forward.
KLEIN: One of the -- one of the responses you saw on the Hill today
was an effort by House conservatives to strip aid for Egypt and Libya out
of the continuing resolution, such that it would be cut off.
Spencer, given what we know about as Hillary said, the fragility of
the government there, what would that mean? Is that a good idea? Is that
an appropriate response? Would that just make matters worse?
ACKERMAN: The State Department and the White House really believe
that would make matter worse. There`s already a fragility in both
countries and there`s a sense at least from the administration that
stripping aid would just leave the U.S. with fewer cards to play. So, it`s
difficult to say whether that will happen.
On the other hand, as we`ve seen from a recent poll from the Chicago
Council of Foreign Relations, even though U.S. foreign aid is a relatively
minuscule part of the budget, it`s tremendously unpopular. And seeing
these scenes from Egypt and from Benghazi now, can only serve to strengthen
the hands of people who want to get rid of it entirely, and wonder what the
Arab spring actually meant for U.S. interests in the region.
LEVERETT: I think it`s a fantasy --
KLEIN: Real quick.
LEVERETT: It`s a fantasy to think that we have cards to play. The
president of Egypt, before he comes to the United States, his first trips
were to China and Iran. It is a fantasy to think that we have cards to
The train has left the station in these countries. And unless we
begin to figure out how to adapt, our strategic position in the Middle
East, and therefore, globally, will continue to erode.
KLEIN: Hillary Mann Leverett and Spencer Ackerman, thank you guys
both for coming here and trying to clear this up tonight.
Coming up on THE ED SHOW, when campaigns are desperate, they begin to
make mistakes, big ones. And the Romney campaign is desperate.
"BuzzFeed`s" Ben Smith will join me, next.
KLEIN: Coming up, Governor Romney`s rush response to the embassy
attack. Ben Smith is going to join us.
And later, relations with the Muslim community have not always been
And we`re learning more about the four diplomats killed in Libya. We
look at the Internet community that`s remembering their friend and fellow
gamer, Sean Smith.
We`ll be right back.
KLEIN: There is a saying in American politics -- no campaign is ever
as good as it looks when it is winning, nor as bad as it looks when it is
In Mitt Romney`s comments on Libya, you see part of the reason why
campaigns end up looking so very bad when they are losing. A few months
ago, the Romney campaign had a clear theory of the race, to keep the focus
on the economy. When other issues came up, they had a clear strategy for
dealing with them. You acknowledge the issue, you put out some restrained
comment, and then if possible, you end by saying, and we need to remain
focused on the economy.
Everything was about the Romney campaign`s prime directive -- it`s the
That Romney campaign would have known just what to do on Libya, a
simple restrained statement condemning the murders and expressing sympathy
and solidarity with the victims.
A few lines on Romney`s resolve to hunt terrorists like these down,
make Romney look presidential -- but whatever you do, do not interrupt the
underlying dynamics of the election. This is, by and large, actually, the
template that other major Republicans have followed in their responses to
Look at Speaker John Boehner`s statement, for instance. He said,
quote, "We mourn the families of our countrymen in Benghazi and condemn
this horrific attack. Eleven years after September 11th, this is a jolting
reminder that freedom remains under siege by forces around the globe who
relish violence over free expression and terror over democracy -- and that
America and free people everywhere must remain vigilant in defense of our
It`s simple, it`s classy, it doesn`t move the campaign too much.
And this strategy for Republicans, it makes sense. President Obama,
after all, has a wide lead in the polls on who is better on handling
foreign policy and terrorism. If the campaign turns to those issues, that
might help Obama. And that brings us to the corollary of Romney campaign`s
If the economy isn`t about the economy, then Obama might actually win,
stupid. But the underlying dynamics of the election are no longer seen as
being enough for Romney. He trails Obama in the polls and has for
basically the entire campaign. He received little to no bump from his
convention and then watched Obama enjoy a significant polling bounce out of
The economy just isn`t proving sufficient to beat Obama. That means
that the Romney campaign strategy isn`t proving sufficient to beat Obama,
which means they need to change it on the fly. When campaigns are losing,
they get a little desperate like that. And when they get desperate, they
begin making riskier decision.
And so Tuesday night, the Romney campaign made a very, very risky
decision. They released this at the same time. "I`m outraged by the
attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt by the death of
an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It is disgraceful that the Obama
administration`s first response was not to condemn attacks on our
diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
Wednesday morning, given a chance to walk it all back as full details
of the attacks revealed themselves, the Romney campaign doubled down on
that statement, making clearly that it was not a mistake.
The Romney campaign isn`t run by amateurs. They knew this statement
was incendiary. They knew it would change the campaign, and presumably,
they knew it was wrong. It conflates a statement from a terrified staffer
in the Egyptian embassy, who was trying to calm a potentially angry mob
with the Obama administration.
It conflates unrest in Egypt with the murder of an American diplomat
among others in Libya. And it accuses the Obama administration of
something that they not only didn`t do, but that would have been
unbelievably, unimaginably horrific of them to do. To sympathize with
terrorists who had just murdered one of the ambassadors they named.
The backlash has probably, predictably, been brutal. "The Atlantic`s"
Jeffrey Goldberg called Romney`s statement a slander. "Times`" Mark
Halperin tweeted that it was, quote, "The most craven and ill-advised move
of 2012." Josh Marshall of "Talking Points Memo" wrote that it was, quote,
"reminiscent of the John McCain`s rush call four years ago to cancel the
presidential debates and the campaign itself to deal with the unfolding
Romney also got poor views from "Wall Street Journal" columnist and
former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PEGGY NOONAN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I don`t feel that Mr. Romney has
been doing himself any favors, say, in the past few hours, perhaps, since
last night. Sometimes when really bad things, when hot things happen, cool
words or no words is the way to go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Romney`s comments were to be sure unusually obnoxious and
indecent, even by the standards of risky campaign maneuvers, but this is
also what happens when campaigns get desperate. Like a gambler who has
already lost too much, they begin taking risks in the hopes of making it
all back. And then more often than not, they pay the price.
Let`s bring in my friend Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed.com,
who did a great piece on the backlash of Romney`s words in Republican
Ben, it is good to see you.
BEN SMITH, BUZZFEED.COM: Thanks for having me, Ezra.
KLEIN: I could have believed it was an overeager press staffer who
made a mistake. What I couldn`t believe was the campaign`s decision, for
Romney`s decision to double down on it in televised remarks today. Here`s
what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: The president takes responsibility not just from the words
that come from his mouth, but also for the words that come from his
ambassadors, from his administration, from his embassy, from his State
Department. They clearly -- they clearly sent mixed messages to the world
and the statement that came from the administration. And the embassy is
the administration, the statement that came from the administration was a
statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: You talked to them. What upside do they see here?
SMITH: That was a very strange moment. He was re-litigating this
very small thing in a statement that had been put out last night before I
think the scale of this disaster was clear. Before it was clear that the
ambassador had been murdered, that three other embassy staffers had been
murdered, that this was really a coordinated assault, not some sort of
random bit of mob violence, and he`s sort of re-litigating this, and this
has become a much bigger story, and one that it`s very hard to drag into
And when I talk to Republican presidential foreign policy hands this
morning, the universal take was, what is he doing? On campaign, there`s
always a tendency to jump into stories of this, when the reality isn`t
clear yet. It takes a while for this stuff to sort out.
And what the standard thing to do, reporters call you for comment, and
staffers know you have to wait, you have to hold your fire and wait until
you know what`s going on. And Romney last night that had this statement
that was embargoed -- was released earlier, but embargoed for midnight,
because they didn`t want to be seen as playing politics on September 11th.
They then changed their policy around 10:00 p.m. and thought, OK,
we`ll do a little politics on 9/11. But the statement was already slipping
out of date as the situation changed.
KLEIN: Just a little bit of 9/11 politics.
More on the kind of substantive side of this, what are we learning in
this campaign, there seems to be kind of a tough pattern emerging here for
Romney. His trip -- on foreign policy, his trip to the London Olympics
didn`t go very well, had a lot of gaffes. He went to Israel and
accidentally insulted the Palestinians, and now he jumped on the political
dimension of a national tragedy much too quickly, in a way that created a
really significant backlash.
He doesn`t come to the campaign with very much foreign policy
experience, so at what point is there a danger of having assigned a
narrative that he`s not -- to use Hillary Clinton campaigns` formulation --
the guy you want answering the 3:00 a.m. phone call?
SMITH: I think that`s the narrative the Obama campaign is driving.
He doesn`t have less foreign policy experience than, say, Barack Obama had
before, you know, he worked in international business, he`s talked to
people at a high level in that world for a long time, as much as Bill
Clinton, as many presidents did, before taking office.
I think there`s a bind on Republican foreign policy right now, which
is that in their heart, what they want to say is that who lost Egypt, who
lost Libya. You know, we need to be in a muscular way retake control of
At the same time, anything that is a hint of American involvement
overseas polls terribly. They know they can`t reach the logical conclusion
of a lot of these arguments, which is some troops somewhere in the Middle
East. So you`re struck condemning Obama without an answer, without saying,
yes, let`s invade Syria.
KLEIN: So you spoke to a bunch of Republican foreign policy hands
today. What did they say the Obama campaign should do next? What did they
say the next move is?
SMITH: I mean, they were really shaking their heads with the last
move had been, calling it a disaster. One of them referred to it in a
Lehman moment, just this sense of a loss of a grip on the campaign.
I mean, it wasn`t so much that McCain was doing something immoral by
suggesting that the campaigning be suspended for this crisis, but the sense
that he had lost his grip of the thread of the thing. And that was what
was projected by Romney this morning.
KLEIN: Ben Smith, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
SMITH: Thank you.
KLEIN: Diplomacy as traditionally been a bipartisan effort. The last
Republican president understood that. Yet the party`s current presidential
nominee seems to be at a loss when it comes to the Muslim community.
Congressman Keith Ellison will join me to discuss the Romney response next.
And later, the Census Bureau has some good news when it comes to the
number of insured Americans. We`ll bring you all the details, coming up.
KLEIN: At the heart of the crisis in Egypt was this mysterious video
made by someone who may or may not be named Sam Bacile, who may or may not
be Israeli, who may or may not tricked his crew and dubbed in anti-Muslim
propaganda after the movie was done, and who is definitely really terrible
of making movies.
You watched the clip of this thing online. It is a low-budget, badly
acted, completely ridiculous amateur production. It`s a joke, a deadly
But at the heart of the political furor today is a 99-word statement
released by some terrified staffer in the American embassy in Cairo asking
for religious beliefs to be respected. Mitt Romney interpreted that
statement to be an apology from the Obama administration. An apology for
what, I`m not exactly sure.
Outreach to the Muslim world is not new. And it`s not been a partisan
issue. In fact, its history is bipartisan. And that history is a very
recent history. In 2006, protests across the Middle East broke out over
the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in European newspapers.
While the Bush administration defended the right to publish the
caricatures, rightly, it condemned the content. Quote, "we find them
offensive and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images
That was the Bush administration offering its support to the offended
protesters. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack elaborating, quote,
"anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-
Christian images, or any other religious belief."
As "the New York Times" reported back then, a central tenant of the
administration`s foreign policies is the promotion of democracy and human
rights, including free speech in countries where they are lacking. "But a
core mission of its public diplomacy is to emphasize respect for Islam in
the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
In May of 2008, President Bush went beyond just offering support.
After an American soldier used a Koran for target practice, President Bush
actually apologized to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He apologized for that in
the sense the that he said that we take it very seriously. We were
concerned about their reaction. We wanted them to know that the president
knew that this was wrong and that the commanders in the field had publicly
reprimanded the soldier and removed him from Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: This was always one of the most admirable dimensions of the
Bush administration, and a real achievement. After 9/11, it was entirely
possible that the country could have lapsed into anti-Muslim sentiment.
The Bush administration legitimately fought to keep that from happening,
and they largely succeeded.
Let`s turn to Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who was also the
first Muslim member of Congress. Congressman, good to have you here
REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
KLEIN: The Bush administration understood the value of diplomacy in
the Muslim world, and in particular of keeping relations with the Muslim
world strong, because of possible dangers to America of letting the country
fall into anti-Muslim sentiment or letting anti-American sentiment prosper
overseas. From your perch in Congress today, is what happened today an
aberration? Is it just part of the campaign? Or is that project of the
Bush administration`s being lost in our politics?
ELLISON: Well, I mean, I think that the Bush administration did do a
number of things that are commendable. President Bush even visited a
mosque, had Muslims at the White House, publicly stood up for Muslim civil
rights in the wake of 9/11, and said, look, this act was done by some
despicable criminals, not Muslims. And he even referred to Islam as a --
as one of the great world religions.
So, I mean, I think that President Bush has a lot of -- a lot of
credibility there. This other thing that came out is a little bit
disturbing. I think it has got to be chalked up to campaign rhetoric. And
unfortunately -- hopefully, folks will learn from it.
I mean, here`s the reality, Ambassador Chris Stevens is not even
buried yet. He has a grieving widow, a grieving family. And the other
three persons who lost their lives, two of them haven`t even been
identified. One has.
And to start making partisan play out of this tragedy, at this point,
KLEIN: Going forward -- and as you say, it is a delicate moment.
What needs to be done under either president in terms of outreach to the
Muslim world? I mean, it`s -- there is an understandable tension here in
the foreign policy, where people look at things like this, and they look at
these mobs that gather for a Youtube video. And they say, how is it our
job to placate that?
But on the other hand, the commander in chief needs to worry about the
diplomats and the troops and the Americans out in the field. How do you
navigate that tension?
ELLISON: Well, the reality is that there were Libyans who were
helping to fight and defend the consulate. I mean, I`ve been to Libya
since the liberation. And the group -- the delegation I was with was very
well received. I mean, this is a -- it is a mob, but it`s not
representative of Libyan society. Neither is the mob in Egypt
representative of Egyptian society.
Now, we see that imagery on TV, and we think, well, this is the whole
country or this is most people. It really isn`t. And I think it`s
important, you know, for us to just acknowledge that, you know, if the rest
of the world judged us by recent events in Milwaukee and in Aurora, and in,
you know, in Tucson, when my friend Gabby Giffords was shot down, I mean,
they would judge us harshly, if that`s the only evidence they had to go by.
But we don`t have a lot of evidence to go by. But we`ve got to know
that those societies, particularly Libya, is not an anti-American society.
And in fact, Libyans fought to help defend the consulate when it was under
KLEIN: You were mentioning a moment ago that you were in Libya
recently. I know you have traveled in that region and followed it closely.
What is your sense of where the Arab Spring is going at this point? Both
Egypt and Libya are countries that had very, very dramatic changes of
regime. It`s not entirely clear how the political ground will settle.
What does today say about where it`s going? Or does it say really
nothing about where it`s going, as of yet?
ELLISON: Well, today`s events, you know, I think should and can only
be considered a setback, but I would say the overall trend, I would say, is
cautiously optimistic. There have been successful elections in Libya and
in Egypt and in Tunisia. And there has been -- and in Morocco. And we`ve
seen a number of positive developments.
Now, there will be fits and there will be starts. I mean, if we
examine our own history, it wasn`t a straight line toward democracy from
the moment of Declaration of Independence. There were bumps and bruises up
and down. But the reality is that they`ve gone through some pretty amazing
political changes, and I think are making steady progress towards free
Now, it`s not going to look just like in the United States. But I do
think at the end of the day, we`ve got to embrace the change and stay the
KLEIN: Congressman Keith Ellison, thank you very much for being here
ELLISON: Thank you.
KLEIN: Coming up, some Republicans are jumping to defend Mitt
Romney`s attack on the president. We`re going to talk to one of them and
debate the issue, next.
And later tonight, a gamer`s good-bye. Find out how one of the
Americans killed in Libya is being memorialized by hundreds of virtual
strangers. We`ll be right back.
KLEIN: As we`ve been discussing tonight, Mitt Romney`s being heavily
criticized for his response to the attacks on U.S. diplomatic installations
in Egypt and Libya, attacks that have left four Americans the dead. Romney
hastily released a statement late last night that read, quote, "I`m
outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt
and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It is
disgraceful that the Obama administration`s first response was not to
condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those
who waged the attacks."
As we reported earlier, Romney`s remarks were actually a response to a
statement from a staffer in the Egyptian embassy who was trying to calm a
potential mob. But while Romney`s statement was condemned by a whole slew
of Republican foreign policy officials, some Republicans have been quick to
South Carolina Senator Jim Demint released a statement today that
read, quote, "Governor Romney is absolutely right. There is no
justification for these deadly attacks and we should never apologize for
"The Weekly Standard`s" Bill Kristol also quick to jump to Romney`s
defense. He wrote on his blog today, "the facts remains that the events of
September 11th, 2012, represent a big moment for the country. Romney is
right to sense this and to seize on this moment as an occasion to explain
the difference between his foreign policy and President Obama`s. He`s
right to reject the counsel of the mainstream media, which is to keep quiet
and give President Obama a pass."
To try to get at this argument a little bit more clearly, let`s bring
in Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and
former assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, and Michael
Medved, syndicated radio talk show host, and the author of "The Odds
Against Obama, Why History and Logic Make the President a Likely Loser."
What I want to get at here, gentleman, is this has become a very, very
heated argument. I feel like folks are talking past each other. So I want
to try to get at the issues kind of behind the debate. Michael, you say it
was appropriate for Romney to be critical of the State Department`s
statement today. This was a statement, as far as we know, by a mid-level
embassy official trying to disrupt the ongoing siege.
So from your perspective, what is the actually foreign policy argument
being made here?
MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, the actual foreign policy
argument is that we don`t preemptively attempt to avoid some kind of attack
on the embassy that we know is coming by condemning a film that nobody has
seen, that has nothing to do with the United States, and nothing to do with
our government. To even condemn it seems to suggest to the rest of the
world that somehow the United States government is responsible for free
speech in this country. And it was a mistake for that to be issued by the
And by the way, the Obama administration says so too, because they
made it clear that they did not clear this statement from the embassy in
advance, and that statement was a mistake. And I believe that Governor
Romney is entirely correct to crises it.
It`s part of a general pattern. And this is what Bill Kristol said as
well. It`s part of a general pattern of trying to placate some of the most
implacable enemies of the United States of America.
KLEIN: Lawrence, what`s your take on that? Has the Obama
administration had a general pattern of trying to, as Michael put it,
placate the most implacable enemies of America?
LAWRENCE KORB, FORMER REAGAN ASST. DEFENSE SECY.: Absolutely not. As
you just showed before, President Bush was even more apologetic after an
American threatened to desecrate the Koran in Iran. You may remember that
General Petraeus condemned Pastor Jones, who was part of this video here.
He condemned him when he was threatening to burn Korans, and that would
cause damage to the troops he was commanding in Afghanistan.
President Bush himself explained that he didn`t support what was in
the cartoons, the Danish cartoons, because of the problems that they would
I have no problem with the statement. I wish Obama had not, you know,
distanced himself from it, because, basically, what they were saying is
that we don`t support what`s in there. They didn`t say he has no right to
And don`t forget, this is the person on the ground who is worried
about the lives of the people in the embassy. So I think it was completely
appropriate for him to do that, and inappropriate for somebody in Lakeland,
Florida, thousands of miles away from Cairo, not knowing what`s happening
on the ground, to condemn it.
KLEIN: So, Michael, I think that`s kind of the key point for -- yeah,
MEDVED: If I can, the idea here is, take a look at how all those
other instances worked out. It has not helped make Americans more secure
when we issue these statements. One of the things that President Obama
criticized President Bush for a great deal was our low standing in the
Islamic world. In other words, by taking an apologetic tone for even
disgusting expressions of free speech, that`s not the job for the
government or for governmental authorities.
I talked on my radio show today. There was a play in 1998 called
"Corpus Christi," which was very offensive to Christians. I mean, very
offensive. It involved a Jesus figure in homosexual situations and men`s
room. It was disgusting. But it would have been totally inappropriate for
any governmental authority to condemn it.
We don`t do that in the United States. It`s not the role of
government. And frankly, anyone in an embassy -- and you can see how
poorly it worked out, by the way. It didn`t make anyone safer when that
statement was issued.
KLEIN: Let me ask you something about this, Lawrence, because I think
one of the things that`s somewhat confusing to me when I hear some of these
arguments is that I don`t -- the Obama administration continued for --
brought us out of the war in Iraq, but has continued -- did the surge in
Afghanistan, although it`s beginning to draw that war down. They
significantly stepped up drone attacks in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.
They did end up killing not just a large slew of al Qaeda number twos, but
also in the end, Osama bin laden.
It feels strange to say, or it feels -- it`s hard for me to see this
as sort of an apologetic approach to the war on terror.
MEDVED: What a lot of people are referring to is the Cairo Speech
that President Obama launched his reset with the Islamic world with. That
speech was a disaster. And it was wrong. And what you`re saying, giving
President Obama credit for his success, he has been successful in following
the policies of George Bush.
KLEIN: But I assume he did follow those policies. Lawrence, you get
the last word, because we`ve got to go to commercial.
KORB: First of all, President Obama has been much more active in
using the drones than President Bush did. He has killed many more al Qaeda
leaders. And in fact, President Bush toward the end said, well, he wasn`t
worried about just getting one person.
President Obama, when he came in, got then-Director Panetta to focus
exactly on going after Bin Laden and risked his presidency by undertaking a
mission which if it hadn`t worked, I`m sure a lot of people would be
criticizing him for, including Governor Romney.
KLEIN: Lawrence Korb and Michael Medved, thank you guys for coming on
and debating this tonight.
Next, new information from the Census Bureau on the poverty numbers in
America. And the rich are getting richer, but what about the rest? All
the details are coming up. You are watching THE ED SHOW. It is on MSNBC.
KLEIN: Welcome back to THE ED SHOW. I am not sure how to sell this
next segment to you, exactly. It doesn`t exactly scream great television.
But we`ve got some, I think, exciting new economic numbers for you today.
After three consecutive years of increasing poverty rates, new data
released by the Census Bureau finds the poverty rate remained unchanged at
15 percent in 2011. That`s better than going up. That means 46.2 million
Americans are living at or below the federal poverty line.
But, and this is important to remember, that`s before you take into
account all the anti-poverty programs, like Food Stamps and the Earned
Income Tax Credit that we have going. When you bring those into the
calculation, the number is probably lower by many millions of people. So
While the poverty levels held, the census did find a rise in income
inequality. The income of the highest quintile of earners rose 1.6
percent, while the middle income quintiles fell. So the rich are getting
richer and the rest of the country is not.
But we do have some genuine good news here tonight. The number of
uninsured Americans, which usually goes up in bad economies, is dropping.
About 1.4 million more Americans have health insurance than had it one year
ago. After three years of rising uninsured rates, the percentage of people
without health insurance coverage dropped from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7
percent in 2011.
And for the first time in a decade, the percentage of people with
private insurance did not drop. Some players are not throwing people off.
Census officials cited two major factors driving down the uninsured rate.
The number of young adults ages 19 to 25 without insurance dropped two
percent, the largest of any group. That is largely because health reform,
the Affordable Care Act, allowed kids up to age 26 to stay on their
parents` insurance, which has kept an estimated three million young adults
And the number of Americans covered by government programs such as
Medicaid has expanded. There are a lot of things government doesn`t do
well. But one thing it does know how to do, which you can see here, and
you can see, frankly, in every other developed nation on Earth, is give
people health insurance.
Coming up, one of the Americans killed in Libya spent his spare time
making peace among virtual strangers. More on the diplomat who shaped a
universe you have probably never even heard of, when we come back.
KLEIN: finally tonight, one more word about the attack on the U.S.
consulate in Libya, and more than that, the people in the attack. Behind
the presidential politics and the geopolitics, we lost four very real
Americans. It`s easy to forget, even when we`re remembering it. It`s easy
for people to become headlines or symbols, to become the diplomat killed in
Libya, all capital letters, bold print.
But these were folks you could have known. Folks, in fact, that you
might have known, even if by a different name. Sean Smith was a husband
and father of two. He`d served with the State Department for a decade, had
been stationed all over the world. This is how he looked in real life.
But this is how he looked in his other life. See, Sean Smith was
known as Vile Rat, an influential online gamer in his cyber community with
almost half a million members. This is how Smith kicked back. It`s how he
relaxed in the middle of a political powder keg in Benghazi.
The game is called Eve Online. It`s a massive multiplayer game that
lets thousands of people from all over the world interact in real time.
Despite the wicked sounding name, Vile Rat was a diplomat for one of the
game`s biggest alliances. So he`s a guy who loved his job so much that
when he went home at night, he turned on his computer and did it all again
In fact, Vile Rat was gaming when the consulate came under siege. He
wrote, quote, "assuming we don`t die tonight. We saw one of our police
that guard the compound taking pictures."
Within hours of making that joke in the cyber world, Smith was killed
in that very real attack. But while flags fly at half-mast and families
mourn Sean Smith, Vile Rat is being remembered too. Thousands of gamers
are writing tributes like this one. Most just say, "RIP, vile rat."
Others say they`ll pull out a 40 in his name.
Some are pushing a petition to change his name from Vile Rat to a more
dignified VR. Still others are naming cyberspace stations after him.
There`s actually a movement -- and I kind of love this -- for the webmaster
to create a permanent virtual monument for Vile Rat somewhere in the Eve
Another gamer put together this tribute video. It`s making the rounds
on Facebook. The video is set to the song "Mad World" and it thanks Vile
Rat for his role in shaping the massive Eve Online universe. The video
ends with a call for peace.
One longtime gamer calls Vile Rat one of the most influential
diplomats in any online game ever. A blogger named Nimidity (ph) turned
his site black in Vile Rat`s honor, posting his birth and death dates on
the masthead. He wrote, "it seems kind of trivial to praise a husband,
father, and overall bad ass for his skills in a Internet spaceship game,
but that`s how most of us know him so there you go."
Another gamer summed it up with this post, quote, "through the B.S.
media circus, we will know that was Vile Rat and he was actually way
That`s THE ED SHOW tonight. I`m Ezra Klein, in for Ed Schultz.
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