THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
September 17, 2012
Guests: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Rula Jebreal
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: The Romney campaign staff was leaking
stories about dissension in their ranks and pointing fingers at the man
responsible for Clint Eastwood`s performance at their convention. And
tonight, Mitt Romney has leaked what he really thinks about the American
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The surreptitious recording of Mitt
Romney at a private fundraiser has gone public.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Romney, behind closed doors.
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: He showed a lot of disdain and contempt for
his fellow citizens.
MATTHEWS: The poor of this country are just free loaders off society.
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: Something is wrong in the Romney campaign.
CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Fifty days before the election.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: Fifty days to go.
JANSING: Mitt Romney`s campaign is now recalibrating.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: A new article in "Politico" depicts a Romney
campaign`s inner turmoil.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Our campaign is doing well.
MITCHELL: The Romney campaign is coping with questions about its
ROMNEY: I`ve got a terrific campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who`s to blame for where the Romney camp is at?
WAGNER: Chief strategist Stuart Stevens.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC: Stuart Stevens.
WAGNER: Cobbled together a speech from scratch just days before the
governor gave it.
ROMNEY: Our campaign is doing well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans are baffled.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He hired Stuart Stevens.
BASHIR: He doesn`t seem to be a very good manager to me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So no changes in your campaign?
ROMNEY: No, I got a good team.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: This week, the Romney campaign is turning back
to the economy.
JANSING: This race would turn on the economy unless.
WAGNER: Foreign policy is front and center.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This foreign policy nightmare.
JANSING: Things happen abroad.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Romney has to be careful how he handles it.
ROMNEY: My foreign policy as it relates to the Middle East is to
stand firmly with our allies.
I think it`s a --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they`re in trouble.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s got a problem.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The candidate needs to take control.
BASHIR: Just 50 days left until the election.
JANSING: Fifty days before the election.
MITCHELL: Fifty days to go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has seven weeks to get things right.
BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: I actually think this is the week that Mitt
Romney cooked his goose as far as winning the presidency of the United
States. I do.
O`DONNELL: There are exactly 50 days until the presidential election
and the wheels are coming off the campaign with reports of disastrous
decision making and dissension among the Romney campaign staff. Tonight,
the Romney campaign is reeling from the leak of a secretly recorded video
of Mitt Romney speaking all too candidly at a campaign fundraiser where he
managed to insult and lie about 150 million Americans.
The video features Romney speaking at a fundraiser for wealthy donors
sometime after Romney clinched the nomination. It was record
surreptitiously and provided to the liberal magazine, "Mother Jones."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTIONER: For the past three years, all everybody`s been told is
"don`t worry, we`ll take care of it." How are we going to do it in two
months before the elections to convince everybody you`ve got to take care
ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people will vote for the
president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with
him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims,
who believe the government has the responsibility to care for them, who
believe they`re entitled to health care, to food, to housing. to -- you
name it. That that`s an entitlement and the government should give it to
them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.
And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49 -- he starts off with
a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven
percent of persons pay no income tax.
So our message of low tax doesn`t connect. So he`ll be out there
talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that`s what they sell every
four years. And so, my job is not to worry about those people. I`ll never
They should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
What I have to do is convince the 5 percent to 10 percent in the center
that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or
the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The Romney campaign responded to the video with this
statement. That wasn`t Mitt Romney speaking. Well, no, actually, they
couldn`t say that. They wish they could have said that.
But it very clearly is Mitt Romney speaking and the campaign confirmed
that by not contesting it in any way.
Here is the statement that the losing presidential campaign came up
with in response to Mitt Romney getting caught on tape. "Mitt Romney wants
to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy as the governor has
made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who
are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of
people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty and
the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work. Mitt Romney`s
plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves
Americans off of government dependency and into jobs."
Joining me now are: David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother
Jones," who broke the story today and the author of "Showdown." It`s out
in paper back tomorrow.
Krystal Ball, co-host of MSNBC`s "THE CYCLE."
And John Heilemann, national affairs editor for "New York" magazine
and MSNBC political analyst.
David, you were the first among us to hear this tape. Your thoughts?
I`ve got to say when I was listening to it just now -- I thought I was
hearing a guy who is really kind of hateful about these people. He`s
saying these people -- 47 percent of the electorate, 47 percent of them are
dependent on government. They believe they are victims. He`s saying,
everyone who voted for Barack Obama believes they`re victims.
This is -- this is not a nice guy talking here.
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: There was a sweep of the remark that really
got me when I first heard it. And I kind of said, whoa, it`s not as if
he`s saying people who get handouts are going to vote for Obama because
he`s going to support them or protect them. People can just for themselves
the level of disdain, but he showed a sort of contempt there that anyone
who voted for Obama, half of the electorate, half of America, they all have
this image of themselves as being victims and they don`t pay taxes and they
And he set up this campaign we`re having now as this clash between the
strivers, those of us in the room who take personal initiative and have
made our own success and the rest of the masses who just want to grab what
they can from us via taxes. And for a guy who wants to be president for
all of America to sort of dismiss these people as not believing in personal
responsibility? I thought it was a tell. I mean, I don`t believe he would
say that if he didn`t somehow believe it.
O`DONNELL: David, how much more tape like this is there?
CORN: Well, this was a fundraiser that went on for about 70 minutes,
and talking and conversations. And there were a lot of other clips we put
out today in the same article, you can see it at MotherJones.com, when he
talked about his consulting team and why he treats Obama very gingerly
because he doesn`t want to insult the independent voters who supported
Obama four years ago.
But we`re going to have a piece out tomorrow with some new remarks
that Mitt Romney made that have not been reported anywhere yet.
O`DONNELL: You`re saving something. OK.
CORN: We have to.
O`DONNELL: Krystal Ball, we`ve just gotten word that Mitt Romney has
just suddenly decided to do a press availability tonight. This -- just the
fact that he`s doing to night feels to me like a sign of panic.
KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC HOST: I think that`s absolutely right. It was
not a good day in the Romney campaign between the "Politico" reports about
the dissension in the ranks. And then this, which I really these videos
are quite devastating, and they`re devastating because they`re actually not
Is anyone really surprised that this is the way Mitt Romney views at
least half the country? I don`t think so.
And that`s the problem here is it plays into exactly the narrative in
what people already suspect about Mitt Romney and his views towards the
American public. I have to say too. I want to address this 47 percent
number, because that gets thrown around a lot by conservatives. It`s a
favorite talking point that 47 percent do not pay federal income tax.
O`DONNELL: Well, they usually what they say is they don`t pay taxes.
O`DONNELL: -- which leaves out sales taxes, property taxes and Social
Security and payroll taxes.
BALL: Payroll taxes.
O`DONNELL: Seventy-five percent of taxpayers pay more in payroll
taxes than they do in income taxes.
BALL: That`s exactly right.
O`DONNELL: That`s the real --
BALL: So, of that 47 percent, you know, 28 percent of those, it`s
payroll. They pay payroll taxes, 10 percent are seniors, 7 percent are too
poor to be able to pay the taxes.
And then we also have 7,000 millionaires who don`t pay any taxes at
all. So, let`s leave that --
O`DONNELL: And Mitt Romney, John Heilemann, may very well be one of
those Americans who pays zero in income taxes in certain years.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I won`t speculate on
that, Lawrence, since we don`t have a chance to see his tax returns.
O`DONNELL: That`s for me. I do the speculating around here.
HEILEMANN: You know, just as a pure matter of politics, you know, 10
percent of those people are elderly. Those are the people the only age
demographic he`s had a lead over President Obama, he`s told all senior
citizens that are on Social Security that they`re lay-abouts and they are
too lazy and can`t be reformed.
The most devastating politically, the most devastating lie in the
video is the single line, I`ll never convince them they should take
personal responsibility and care for their lives.
The contentiousness, 47 percent of
O`DONNELL: Forty-seven percent of the population can`t be convinced
HEILEMANN: The contentiousness and the condescension in that line is
horrible and as Krystal said, it plays to the obvious stereotypes of him
as, you know, Gordon Gekko meets Thurston Howell III.
But I`ll tell you what his bigger problem is now --
O`DONNELL: John, I`ll let you finish. I just want to let you know,
we just got this in from the press availability he just did, he took three
questions. But this is clearly his version of an apology for this
statement. He said that the comments he gave at the fundraiser, quote,
"Were not elegantly stated and off the cuff."
John Heilemann, continue with your analysis of the damage if that`s
the best he can do.
HEILEMANN: Well, that will only exacerbate the damage on the one hand
that we were just talking about. But --
O`DONNELL: Surely there was an elegant way of phrasing that 47
percent of the population were bums.
CORN: Off the cuff means this is what I really think.
CORN: It wasn`t scripted. It wasn`t prepared. It was off the cuff.
I`m just telling you what`s in my head.
O`DONNELL: He meant to say from the heart.
HEILEMANN: He`s in a very tricky box right here and this is really
where his precariousness of the situation is, because this to the extent
that is even seen as a little bit of an apology, the right is already
reacting with total defiance on this issue. They are thinking that an
apology is the right thing to do. They don`t see this as a problem. They
want him to stand by these remarks.
So he`s in a position right now where his campaign because of things
that happened last week on Libya, because of the "Politico" story, the
sense of the campaign entering a death spiral is -- even before these
tapes, it was already -- we were on the cusp of that.
With this now happening, he`s got a problem with the middle of the
electorate. He`s also going to be pilloried from his right. If he seems
to back off from this at all, he`s in the worst possible box.
In some sense, the worst thing that can happen for Romney is if
Republicans just decide the moment has come where he has lost. We`re done.
It`s every man for himself, let him go, and focus on the House and Senate
and we`re not that far from that point right now.
O`DONNELL: David, you have more to come tomorrow. Can you -- I know
you`re not going to leak it here, but how bad a day is tomorrow going to be
compared to today for Romney on this story?
CORN: Well, let me help Mitt Romney sleep a little bit better
tonight. I`m not sure it`s as bad. But it will cause a problem and it
could cause a problem in other ways.
And, you know, I`ve watched the whole tape. You know, he didn`t seem
to be too tired. He wasn`t slurring his words. He said a lot of things
throughout the tape that were interesting. Some were just funny and not
And he was in his element, that`s the key thing here. He was in his
element, talking to people, and basically this is how we in the 1 percent
talk about the 47 percent and we try to get 50 percent fooled into backing
us. It was very -- it was a caricature of a conversation you imagine going
on at these fundraisers, and that`s exactly how it happened.
O`DONNELL: Krystal, I`ve been trying to pick the worst line he said
here, it may be, and we can argue about this for a long time, it maybe --so
my job is not to worry about those people. He`s saying my job is to be
president of 53 percent of the population at a maximum. That, in a
presidential debate, is a devastating thing to have to confront.
BALL: I mean, it makes you ask yourself, which I think a lot of us
have been asking ourselves already, why does this man even want to be
president? If he has such disdain for half of the electorate, why does he
even want to be president?
And conservatives frequently caricature liberals as being, you know,
these elite snobs. I think here we see who the real sneering classes are.
They look like they`re looking down at the rest of the public and live in a
totally different world.
And David was talking about the man who hosted the fundraiser who`s
also a private equity guy, who is -- has allegedly pushed one of the
companies that they took over into bankruptcy in order to avoid paying
those employees pension benefits.
So when you`re talking about the makers and the takers, and you`re
looking at the income tax, I think a lot of Americans feel like these are
the ones who are getting the real breaks and we`re the ones who are working
hard and playing by the rules.
HEILEMANN: Lawrence, the reason that comment is damaging, the reason
you`re right it`s damaging, it`s because it is the exact same -- in one
respect, it`s the exact same problem he had last week on Libya. Not
presidential, not serious.
For the middle of the electorate looking for somebody to -- who are
not convinced about Barack Obama, but they want to know if this guy is a
plausible, viable alternative, he continually is acting in ways are beneath
the way in which someone acts as president. Not talking about being
president of the whole country. Not taking dead Americans on foreign soil
These are -- he looks too small for the job.
O`DONNELL: We`re waiting to get video of Mitt Romney`s little apology
moment tonight. As soon as we have it in, we will roll whatever there is
David Corn, John Heilemann, Krystal Ball -- thank you all for joining
BALL: Thanks, Lawrence.
CORN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, we have more from the Romney secret video, the
single craziest thing he said on the secret tape is being saved for the
And next, there are new reports of dissension in the Romney campaign
and finger-pointing at the man who is responsible for Clint Eastwood`s
performance at the Republican convention, and big surprise, it turned out
to be the guy I said who was responsible for it that night on the
And later, the author of this week`s cover story on "Newsweek". Ayaan
Hirsi Ali will join me.
O`DONNELL: Mitt Romney has just spoken to reporters in California.
He is now desperately trying to write his campaign after the leaked audio
of what he said at that fundraiser. We`ll have the video of Mitt Romney
with the reporters, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And on the Clint Eastwood thing, Rachel, I just have to
tell you, the mastermind of this campaign and this convention, is a guy
named Stuart Stevens, everyone knows about him. What people don`t know
about him, Stuart and I haven`t discussed this, I hired Stuart 10 years ago
to write for me on a television drama about politics. He loves show
Clint Eastwood was Stuart`s idea. Stuart is way too wedded to show
business. Now they are disowning Clint Eastwood saying, oh, he was ad
libbing. We didn`t get him a script. Clint Eastwood was a disaster. For
a final hour of a convention, to include what Clint Eastwood did up here
was absolutely disastrous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: I may have been the first to criticize Stuart Stevens for
letting Clint Eastwood on the convention stage, with just an empty chair no
script, but I am not the last.
Today in "Politico," Romney campaign staff revealed, off the record of
course, on background, that Stuart Stevens bypassed Romney`s speechwriting
staff and hired an outside speechwriter to draft Romney`s convention
speech. And then, Stevens junked the entire thing sending off a chaotic
eight-day scramble that would produce an hour of prime-time problems for
Romney, including Clint Eastwood`s meandering monologues.
Stevens and his team loved the idea of the tough-talking American
icon, greeting the millions of viewers tuning in to the main event.
But Eastwood, unlike every other speaker at the tightly controlled
convention, had free rein to say or do whatever he wanted without the
"Politico" says team Romney is now turning on Mitt Romney. Romney
associates are baffled that such a successful corporate leader has created
a team with so few lines of authority or accountability, blamed goes
straight to Romney himself, according to a number of people in and out of
A new "Reuters" national poll of likely voters shows that President
Obama leads Mitt Romney by five points tonight, 48 percent to 43 percent.
Tonight, Nate Silver of "New York Times" FiveThirtyEight blog
forecasts that as of tonight, on November 6th, President Obama will win 305
votes electoral college votes, Mitt Romney will win 233. That is called a
landslide in American presidential elections. And President Obama has a 75
percent chance of winning the election. Mitt Romney has a 25 percent
Let`s listen to Mitt Romney taking questions in California tonight.
REPORTER: -- saw themselves as victims or weren`t willing to take
responsibility for their own lives and their own future. Do you have any
response to that? What did you mean by that?
ROMNEY: Well, you said a number of things there. And the answer is
that I`m talking about the political process of drawing people into my
Of course, individuals are going to take responsibility for their
life. And my campaign is about helping people take more responsibility and
becoming employed again, particularly those that don`t have work. This
whole campaign is focused on getting people jobs again, putting people back
This is ultimately a question about direction for the country. Do you
believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more
benefits, or do you believe instead in a free enterprise society where
people are able to pursue their dreams? I believe the latter will help
people get good jobs.
This is a campaign fundamentally about how to help the middle class in
America and how to bring people out of poverty into the middle class. And
we`ve seen the results of the last three, four years, and it has not
My approach will get 12 million new jobs and rising take-home pay.
REPORTER: You`re not stepping away from anything you said in this
video? Or you`re no backing away from it. And do you worry you`ve
offended this 47 percent who you mentioned?
ROMNEY: Well, you know, it`s not elegantly stated, let me put it that
way. I`m speaking off the cuff in response to a question and I`m sure I
could state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting
like that. And so I`m sure I`ll point that out as time goes on.
But we don`t even have the question given the snippet there nor the
full response, and I hope the person who has the video would put out the
full material. But it`s a message which I`m going to carry and continue to
carry which is, look, the president`s approach is attractive to people who
are not paying taxes because, frankly, my discussion about lowering taxes
isn`t as attractive to them and therefore I`m not likely to draw them into
my campaign as effectively to those in the middle.
This is a really discussion about the political process of winning the
election. And of course I want to help all Americans -- all Americans have
a great and prosperous future. And I`m convinced that the president`s
approach has not done that and will not do that.
REPORTER: Governor, this is now the second time where you`ve made
comments at a fundraiser to donors that are different from what you say on
the trail in terms of policy at least in this case in terms of tone. What
assurances can you give the voters that you`re not saying different things
to people who spun your campaign and what you`re saying to them in public
and on the stump?
ROMNEY: You`re coming to my fundraiser and this the same message that
I give to people which is that we have a different approach, the president
and I, between a government-dominated society and a society-driven by free
people pursuing their dreams. I`m talking about the process of campaigns.
Typically I don`t talk about process in speeches because I think
candidates are wiser to talk about policy and their vision than to talk
about how they`re going to win an election at a fundraiser. You have
people say how are you going is to win this, and so I respond, well, the
president has his group, I have my group. I want to keep my team strong
and motivated and I want to get the people in the middle.
That`s something which fundraiser people are interested in, knowing
can you win or not and that`s what this was addressing.
REPORTER: Are those things you said in the video are things you
believe? Are those core convictions?
O`DONNELL: Steve Kornacki, that was a desperate man in a desperate
He`s not really addressing what he said there. Let`s remember what he
said. There are 47 percent of Americans who are with him, with President
Obama, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are
victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.
That man believes that 47 percent of America thinks we are victims.
He also said about those 47 percent, so my job is not to worry about
those people. I`ll never convince them that they should take personal
responsibility and care for their lives.
There is no more insulting thing that a presidential candidate, and
it`s a lie, by the way, that a presidential candidate has ever said about
47 percent of America.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Two things jumped out listening to that.
One is first of all, the policy idea that he`s trying to get across by
saying this and what he`s trying to refocus this on now is the idea that
there`s this stark choice between Obama`s government-dominated society and
Mitt Romney`s free enterprise-driven society. I would just say that in
President Obama`s society, how has the stock market done for the last four
I just wondering that listening to him right here. But the big thing
to address what you`re saying here, here`s the big problem. What he gave
in that off the cuff -- in that fundraising spiel earlier, is a crude
version of what is the dominant-driving philosophy on the right today.
There was a movement last year in this country, response to the
statistic, that 47 of the people do not pay federal income taxes right now
basically because of the great recession, basically because of a tax policy
that has Republican origins, or income tax credit.
O`DONNELL: And Mitt Romney may be one of him.
KORNACKI: He may represent an entirely different thing. But there
was a movement on the right last year to really build resentment against,
you know, the 47 percent, this we are the 53 percent movement. And they
were all of these sorts of conservative people posting messages and telling
their story how they were the makers, you know, they produce goods. They
work their jobs. And one of the things you found out is these people would
post their stories and they weren`t even aware of it, but they were
actually part of the 47 percent. They would tell their stories and talk
about what their income level is and what kind of work they do and you
could run the numbers and you could see they actually don`t pay federal
income tax either they`re just not aware of it.
But they have this mentality they`re part of the makers and the Obama
supporters and the Democrats are part of the takers.
But the problem for Romney is, from a policy stand point, he was glued
in what he said. But from a policy stand point, he can`t walk away from it
because that`s dogma on the right, right now.
O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, I have to say -- listening to him there at
the fundraiser, that did sound like it comes from his heart. That did
sound like a core belief. And it is inconceivable to me that he can get
through the first five minutes of the first presidential debate without
being asked about his attitude toward 47 percent of the people and his
statement that his job is too not worry about 47 percent of the country.
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, remember he also said
he`s not worried about the very poor, because they have social safety net
programs, which he wants to get rid of. So he`s really not worried about
those people. And as Major Garrett, I think that was who asked the
questioned, pointed out, this is not the first time that behind closed
doors, Mitt Romney has, you know, been more willing to give more details.
We saw that during the primary.
It`s also, frankly, though, Lawrence, and this is why I don`t buy this
spin that they`re trying to push that this is just about the bigger
argument about the role of government. This is not the first time that
we`ve heard Governor Romney talk about free loaders and people wanting free
stuff, right? I mean, he talked about that before and he`s said you want
the other guy if you want free stuff.
So there`s this pervasive false attitude and mythology to what Steve
was just saying, where these guys just convinced themselves, right, they`re
the makers, they don`t -- you know, they`re the hard workers and everybody
else, we`re just lazy -- you know, we`re just turning off the alarm clock
in the morning trying to avoid going to work, trying to avoid working hard.
It`s incredibly insulting. And again, this campaign has the same
problem they have time and time again.
Even if you buy their spin, let`s say you do, what they don`t
recognize is that that 47 percent, that would be, you know, half of the
American population. The very people you`re trying to lead. Essentially,
you`re completely dismissing who they are, how they live their lives and
the relevance of their lives.
And most of this group of people are people who either have worked
very hard in their lives or are trying to work very hard in their lives to
move forward. And it`s such a sign of disrespect.
You know, my old boss Howard Dean used to say, it`s a sign of respect
to show up and ask people for their votes. Clearly, Mitt Romney doesn`t
think he needs to show anybody that kind of respect.
O`DONNELL: Steve Kornacki, I think those of us who follow campaigns
professionally are going to remember where we were at 10:25 p.m. on Monday,
September 17th, when we saw Mitt Romney standing up at that podium to give
his response to getting caught at saying the stupidest thing, the worst
thing that any major party nominee has ever said while running for
This is worse than Fritz Mondale saying I will raise taxes. That was
an honest policy statement. This is a man saying he has disdain, he has
resentment, he has something that seems to boil close to hatred for 47
percent of the America. And that was the best he could do at that
I think what we just saw was part one of Mitt Romney`s concession
speech of defeat of this campaign. And we will see the rest of it on
KORNACKI: I was trying to think of an analogy, of a previous example
in American politics, where you had some kind of incident like this that
rose to this level, at the height of a presidential campaign.
O`DONNELL: It goes to Nixon "I`m not a crook." It goes to things
like that. We don`t have anything like it in a campaign.
KORNACKI: The closest thing I could think of was think of Britain two
years ago and Gordon Brown, where you had that hot mic incident at the
height of the -- he`s the underdog and he gets caught calling this woman he
just met a bigoted woman. And it set off this whole firestorm that
confirmed all sorts of perceptions about Gordon Brown and his supposed
arrogance and those sorts of things.
That was just couple of weeks before the election in a critical time
for him. It had a devastating effect over there. That`s the closest
analogy I can think of right here.
O`DONNELL: Karen Finney and Steve Kornacki, thank you very much for
joining me on what turns out to be a historic night in the campaign. Thank
Coming up, Mitt Romney spoke to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce today
and asked them for their vote. Mitt Romney, however, did not repeat the
joke that he made at a private fundraiser about Latino voters. That`s
going to be next in the Rewrite.
Later, an exclusive interview with the author of the "Newsweek" cover
story that seeks to explain why the protests have erupted around the world
at our embassies. That`s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I have spoken often about how proud I am of my father. He
was born to American parents who were living in Mexico. When he was five,
they left everything behind and started over again in the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Mitt Romney loves to use that old my father was born in
Mexico line to try to appeal to Latino voters. And you just saw him using
it today with the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Mitt doesn`t
talk about it quite the same way when he is speaking to his fundraising
audiences which are not exactly heavily Latino.
Here is how he talked about his Mexican adventure at a fundraiser.
"My heritage, my dad as you probably know, was the governor of
Michigan and was the head of a car company. But he was born in Mexico.
And had he been born Mexican -- of Mexican parents, I would have a better
shot at winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in
Mexico. He lived there for a number of years, and uh -- I say that
jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino."
There`s Mitt Romney wishing he could Rewrite his family`s Mexican
history and his Republican audience actually found it pretty funny. They
laughed at him saying it, jokingly, that it would be helpful to be Latino.
Would that same Republican audience laugh if Barack Obama was
reminiscing about how his family fled the United States of America to go to
Mexico because his great-grandfather found American law limiting him to one
wife at a time to be just unbearable? Would those same Republicans be
laughing if this was a story about Barack Obama`s family temporarily living
in Mexico for no other reason than his great grandfather`s desire to
continue his polygamous marriages with five wives?
That`s why the Romney family was in Mexico. But Mitt didn`t include
that in his bit about wishing he was Latino, because then his audience
wouldn`t get that joke.
O`DONNELL: Diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Beirut have started to
destroy classified material as a security precaution as anti-American
protests continued today in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East and
Africa, according to the Associated Press.
And in the Spotlight tonight, this "Newsweek" cover story about the
protests and attacks on the U.S. embassies. Joining me now by phone for an
exclusive interview, the author of that cover story, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She
is the author of three books, most recently "Nomad, From Islam to America."
In 2005, she was named by "Time Magazine" as one of the hundred most
influential people in the world. Ayaan, thank you for joining me tonight.
In your piece, you recall your experience in these kinds of protests this
way. You say, "in 1989, when I was 19, I piously, even gleefully
participated in a rally in Kenya to burn Salmon Rushdie`s book, "The
Satanic Verses." I had never read it."
When I read that, it made me wonder what I`ve been wondering all
along, is how many of the people out there in these kinds of protests,
including the violent protests, have actually read the material or looked
at the material that is supposedly provoking these kinds of protests. I
don`t suppose there`s any way we can find that out, is there?
AYAAN HIRSI ALI, AUTHOR, "NOMAD": Well, it`s very difficult to find
that out. But what we know is that the brother of Ayman al Zawahiri, the
current leader of al Qaeda, confessed in an interview today that he has not
seen the film and that it`s enough for him -- the name of the film was
enough for him to appeal to people that he thinks follow him.
And what I`m confessing in 1989 is similar to what I think a number of
people in those crowds, motivated by which is sadly the madness of crowds.
From the time that we understand our religion -- I was five years old when
I first went to Madrassa -- Koran School -- I was taught to be loyal and
fanatically loyal to the Koran and the prophet Mohammed.
So at the age of 19, regardless of my education and regardless of the
fact that I had lived in four different countries and I was introduced to
multicultural settings, I understood one thing. And that was anyone who
offended or said anything insulting about the Prophet Mohammed should die.
And I did that unthinkingly. I think that huge mob that we`re seeing are
doing this unthinkingly. But that does not excuse the individual
responsibilities, once they leave the company of the crowd.
O`DONNELL: And when we look at the videos, we see, in some cases,
hundreds of people. In others, we see thousands of people. But these are
countries that have very big populations, where it -- if you`re judging by
video, certainly 99 percent of the population ignores these kinds of
ALI: Well, we don`t know if it is 99 percent of the population. What
we know is that 99 percent of Muslims are brought up with the idea that the
Prophet Mohammed and the Koran cannot be criticized or ridiculed or
satirized by human beings. Now there`s a small minority who is willing to
engage in violence and in murder, you know, to the logical end of that
But the vast majority of Muslims, even though they may condemn
violence -- they may condemn murder. They haven`t somehow found a way to
bring themselves to understand that it is -- they may be offended, but
somehow human life is more valuable than offense taken in the name of
O`DONNELL: You say in the piece that you refer to the homicidal few,
that there`s just few who would actually be moved to kill for this in the
case we saw in the Libyan embassy, which may have been a more organized
attempt to assassinate that ambassador.
But you do go on to say that the point you`ve just made, that there
are plenty of Muslim men and women who support -- I`m quoting you now, "who
support, whether actively or passively, the idea that blasphemers deserve
to suffer punishment."
But the punishment could be something minor, couldn`t it? When you
use the word punishment, that would include something far less than the
violent things we`ve seen.
ALI: Oh, yeah. You know, some of my Muslim friends, their way of
punishing me was to simply not talk to me or to say you are a liar and a
traitor and call me names. So there is a whole range of things that you
can do between, you know, disapproving of an act to engaging in murder.
But how can we make the vast majority of Muslims who do not want to
murder -- how can we make them conscious of the fact that the punishment of
murder and violence is absolutely wrong?
O`DONNELL: You are optimistic in this piece in the long term. You
basically say that if these governments get controlled by -- become
theocracies, that they will then fail as governments, because they will
strip women of their rights, murder homosexuals, constrain the freedoms of
conscience and religion of non-Muslims, and that will ultimately destroy
these governments of their own weight.
But that sounds like a 30-year plan for getting to some safer place
for the world.
ALI: Well, Lawrence, it`s not a plan. It is an expression of hope.
It is based on the analysis of what happened in Iran, where a large, middle
class, educated crowd were enticed by Ayatollah Khomeini. And those people
have lived under Sharia Law. And in 2009, we have seen demonstrations
saying we don`t want this anymore.
It is unfortunate that Egyptians and Tunisians and maybe if the
Yemenites are given the opportunity -- and the Libyans and even the
Syrians, that they will probably vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, who will
then implement a Sunni version of what the Iranians have gone through.
But what we know from human history -- and we, you and I and everyone
else has assumed that the Muslim world is human -- is that totalitarian
ideas have a very short life span. It can be ten years in one country. It
can be 40 or 50 years in another country. But it`s going to soon expire,
because people will not be able to live with the abolition of their human
The next thing is what is going to come next. So I celebrated the
fall down of the dictators in the Middle East, of Mubarak, the president of
Tunisia, Yemen. I am celebrating. I celebrate with everyone the desire
for freedom in the Arab world.
But that desire for freedom must come with an understanding of the
fullness of freedom, all of it. And the foundational basis of freedom is
the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, the freedom of the press,
the right to associate. So it`s only a matter of time, in my view, that
this world is going to embrace freedom as we understand it in America. And
I find it very sad that in America and in the western world, we keep
qualifying the First Amendment. We should not.
O`DONNELL: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, thank you for joining us. And thank you
for giving us that note of hope. Thank you very much.
ALI: You`re welcome. Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up tomorrow night, author Salmon Rushdie will join
me for a cable television exclusive interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: My position is not one penny more for
Libya or Egypt or Pakistan until they act like our allies. Some say we`ve
got to keep sending it. Fine. Let`s send it when they act like our
allies. Let`s send it when they start behaving like civilized nations and
come to their senses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, Rula Jebreal, an MSNBC contributor, author
and Middle East expert. Rula, Rand Paul, if we go with the Rand Paul view
of the world, what happens?
RULA JEBREAL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, then the extremists will win,
very simple. The more you challenge these countries actually to
democratize and to reform their countries and push a set of conditions
together with this aid -- I`m not sure what he said is true. I`m not sure
that we give Libya anything actually.
Pakistan, yes. Egypt yes. But we always gave them that in condition
of protecting the peace treaty with Israel. We gave the Pakistani in
condition to follow al Qaeda and allow us our drone attacks. In these
countries, these reform we`re asking will take time. They`ve been used to
be run by dictators for decades.
Five American presidents supported these dictators. So to turn the
history around and to turn everything upside down, it will take time. It
takes education and it takes more than that. The American government is
well seen today in Arab countries. I was in Beirut in June, and the
scholarship that were given there, they were celebrated. For the first
time, you see President Obama seen as a person that actually pacified the
western world, America, with the Arab world.
And -- but today, let`s look what`s happening in the United States.
Some people are telling --
O`DONNELL: We`re going to have to --
JEBREAL: -- don`t vote because he`s secretly a Muslim. Is there a
war on Islam or not here? Is there some kind of hostility or not? This
cover of "Newsweek" is an attempt to explain that part of the narrative.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to break it here. We`re going to continue
this discussion online, on our website. We`ve got a lot more to discuss.
So Rula, thank you very much for joining me tonight. We`ve got to go.
"THE ED SHOW" is up next. Stay with us and watch this online.
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