THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
January 11, 2013
Guest: Steve Clemons
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Do you have a big football
watching weekend ahead of you?
ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: I`m all in for the Packers. We`ll
see you in the Super Bowl, Rachel.
MADDOW: I hear you. Once we get through the Texans, we`ll see you
there. Thanks, man.
SCHULTZ: You bet.
MADDOW: Have a great weekend.
SCHULTZ: You too.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us this fine
Friday night. On the night of August 31st, 2010, which was a Tuesday
night, statistically speaking, if you were planning to watch TV that night,
you were probably planning to watch a show called "NCIS" at 8:00 p.m. that
If you were not planning on watching "NCIS" that night, the next most
likely according to the ratings was a show called "Wipeout." Those shows
on CBS and ABC were scheduled for 8:00 p.m. that Tuesday night on August
31st, 2010. But those shows did not air as planned that night, at 8:00
p.m. Because at 8:00 p.m. that night, this is what was on TV on all of the
networks at the same time, an address to the nation by President Obama
announcing the end of something that for a very long time had felt like it
was never going to end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening.
Tonight I`d like to talk to you about the end of our combat mission in
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The time difference between Washington, D.C. and Baghdad is
eight hours. So when President Obama started speaking in the United States
at 8:00 p.m. on that night, August 31st, it was after midnight in Baghdad.
It was already September 1st in Baghdad.
And so, what is recorded as the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq
gets listed in the history books as September 2010. It was not the end of
everything in Iraq for the United States when we went through that
transition, but it was really when what started in 2003 finally started to
end. The page was turned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have
lead responsibility for the security of their country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When President Obama spoke that night, there were still
50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and 50,000 Americans stayed in Iraq after that
night for another 14 months until everyone finally left the following
December, December 2011.
But when the mission changed from a combat mission to the train,
advise, assist mission, then it wasn`t Operation Iraqi Freedom anymore. It
wasn`t that same war. It was the way that war came to an end, and that`s
why it was worth interrupting "Wipeout" and "NCIS" that night and all the
other 8:00 p.m. programming.
And that`s why it was worth -- at least for me I thought it was worth
-- flying out to Baghdad to be there for that historic ending as the combat
mission ended. That was what happened on August 31st and September 1st,
And today, that`s what the president said is going to happen this
spring in Afghanistan, that same transition. In a surprise announcement,
the president today announced a newly sped-up timetable for how the war is
going to wind down in Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Today, we agreed that as Afghan forces take the lead, and as
President Karzai announces the final phase of the transition, coalition
forces will move to a support role this spring. Our troops will continue
to fight alongside Afghans when needed, but let me say it as plainly as I
can. Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission --
training, advising, assisting Afghan forces. It will be a historic moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It will be a historic moment. Coalition forces will move to
a support role this spring. Now, like we saw in Iraq, this does not mean
that everybody is going to come home immediately this spring.
Remember, 50,000 Americans stayed on in Iraq after the announcement in
September 2010. And it wasn`t like the danger level for those Americans
dropped to zero. Just being there was still dangerous, and we did still
have some Americans killed and some Americans wounded in that last year of
being there after the change in mission. But this is what ending it looks
President Obama today saying today that it will still be a dangerous
environment, that we will still need to do force protection. But the
mission is going to change. This is how we start to leave. And it`s going
to happen as of this spring, which is a surprise, which is faster than
anybody said it was going to happen.
Now, the justification for speeding up the way out, I have to admit,
is a little holey, holey with an E, not holy as in ahh.
President Obama saying today what he called the acceleration was
possible in part because of the progress that`s been made in terms of
Afghan security forces, their capacity to take the lead. Now, I don`t
really know anything about the strength of Afghan security forces, and
neither do you, unless you`re just back from the war, in which case,
But the Pentagon`s report on that suggest which was reportedly ready
before the election this year, but did not get released until after the
election for some reason, the official U.S. Pentagon report on the
readiness of Afghan security forces says far from Afghan security forces
being ready to take the lead, it says out of 23 Afghan army brigades, only
one of those 23 brigades is capable of operating independently, without
support from international or U.S. troops.
This is the graphic in that report that says that -- brilliant
graphic, right? This is how the Pentagon presents data that it doesn`t
really want to make headlines. But I can interpret it for you.
You see the 23 that I`ve circled there? That`s the number of
brigades. How many brigades can operate, you see there, independent with
advisers? Well, oh, one -- one of 23. Even if you`re bad at math, you can
tell that`s not good.
The same report, the Pentagon`s own report shows after the U.S. troop
surge in Afghanistan, violence in that country was actually higher than it
was before the surge, not lower than it was before the surge.
So, in what case was the surge a success? So, yes, it is a bit rich
that the reason we can afford to speed up the ending of this war is because
things have worked out so well in this war. It`s a bit rich, right? But
you know what? The supposed reason we could leave Iraq is because of the
stable democratic Iraqi government we left behind, right? Success of the
surge and all that.
Well, the day after we left Iraq, the prime minister of Iraq issued an
arrest warrant for the vice president of Iraq, the very next day after we
left. So, that little story we told ourselves on the way out of that war,
that was pretty rich, too.
But knowing that, do you wish we were still in Iraq? Do you wish we
hadn`t left? More importantly, even we do not hit any of the supposed
benchmarks that we tell ourselves irrelevant for why and when we can leave,
peace in the provinces, or the Afghan government getting less corrupt, to
development of trustworthy and capable Afghan security forces, even if we
have not met any of those benchmarks, do you believe that the U.S. fighting
there longer, the U.S. fighting this war for a 13th year, a 14th year, a
15th year would get us closer to those benchmarks than 12 years of fighting
have gotten us thus far?
Will staying longer help? You really believe that? Or do you stay as
long as you can and do what you can, and then do you go?
Today, quietly and without much ceremony, today, President Obama
announced that we will go, sooner than we had been led to believe we could
hope for -- in a way that felt familiar for a reason.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
OBAMA: Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission
-- training, advising, assisting Afghan forces.
Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq
with a different mission, advising and assisting Iraq`s security forces.
Afghans will have full responsibility for their security.
And the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of
We still face significant challenges.
Many challenges remain.
But because this progress, our transition is on track.
This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: President Barack Obama is still in his first term as
president. He`s not been inaugurated for a second term yet, right.
President Obama`s predecessor started two of the longest wars in U.S.
history and never finished them.
In this president`s first term, he has already ended one of those
wars, and he is now ending the second one. And he is doing it in the same
way that he ended the first one. It has been a long time coming.
For America`s military families who are in their 12th straight year
now of multiple deployments, years of deployments in support of two wars,
two of the longest wars in this country`s history that 99 percent of this
country has not fought in? For Afghanistan, for America`s military, for
America`s military families, this is a long time coming. This is a long
time coming. This is a very long time coming.
Joining us now is Steve Clemons from the New America Foundation.
Steve writes at "The Atlantic" magazine, where he is Washington editor-at-
Steve, thank you so much for being here.
STEVE CLEMONS, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: President Obama`s announcement today that U.S. troops are
going to change mission, move to a support role this spring. We had known
that it was possible maybe as early as this next summer before today.
Do we know why the president felt he could accelerate the pace today
and do it by this spring?
CLEMONS: Well, I think that the president has looked at the -- he
just won election. He has looked at the political tea leaves in the United
States, and there is not very much support for this. And I think he is
making a very important strategic judgment that the timing, that you`ve got
American men and women still on the front line. They`re going to still be
in danger, but there is nothing strategically achievable in the spring that
is different than what`s strategically achievable in the summer or fall.
And I think for those people who thought that Barack Obama was going
to acquiesce to an era of permanent war, they`re totally wrong. This is a
very important day. I was reading a book called "Drift: The Unmooring of
the American Military Power" written by one Rachel Maddow today, and in
that, you just -- you just see the remarkable change in what happened in
the decisions to raid Iraq and Afghanistan, and what was set up. Just one
year ago, the Pentagon was simply whispering. Generals were simply saying,
Steve, this is Korea, we`re never really going to leave.
So, what Barack Obama has done is extraordinary today.
MADDOW: How was President Obama able to change that common wisdom, at
least that common sort of Beltway defense wisdom that we would maintain a
large troop presence in Afghanistan forever? I mean, he is seriously
talking about the possibility of having zero troops left behind. And
President Karzai has not said whether he will give the kind of immunity
which we know is the foundational -- the foundational thing that has to
happen in order for that to be true.
CLEMONS: When President Obama came into office, he did a deal with
the military. And at that time, it reminded one of the Cold War where if
you were at the highest lad of the foreign policy sphere, you had to be a
Soviet expert or a weapons expert. When you wanted to be a big cheese in
the foreign policy environment, you did Afghanistan. And that`s what the
generals did. That`s what Richard Holbrooke, that`s what others who were
involved in drew their power from. And he did a deal with the military,
and particularly David Petraeus.
I will give you 30,000 troops on top of what is already there to gut
punch the Taliban and try to soften up the system. And that`s all you get,
if you can change the circumstances. The military overpromised and under-
And I think that the resolve of not only the president, but Joe Biden
having always been in that view in coordination with others on the team,
like Dennis McDonough and Tom Donilon, really recall the deal and the terms
of the deal and they took the troops back. And that broke the back of a
notion that a large military footprint delivered automatically the kind of
security deliverables that the military was promising.
It actually created blowback and counter reaction much like the lines
that you showed in that Elizabeth Miller piece that there`s more violence
after the surge than before the surge.
MADDOW: That I think is the key conceptual transition that we went
through, is that decoupled in our minds the idea of security advances from
troop numbers. When you had the troops numbers, we didn`t get the advances
that you said would come with those troop numbers. So now, you don`t get
troop numbers indefinitely because they haven`t been proven to have the
strategic effect that you said they would. That breaking in that logic
train has happened in the national security establishment in the Obama
The question is whether it has happened in Congress. Do you
anticipate a conservative congressional freak-out here, other than from the
predetermined one from John McCain?
CLEMONS: Well, I think John McCain and Lindsey Graham and a few
others may say it. But, listen, very important to go back to the debt
ceiling debate, which we came to the edge of real financial crisis in this
country. Guess who was on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in saying we`re
spending $120 billion in a country with $14 billion of GDP and it`s not
good for America. Grover Norquist.
Grover Norquist was out educating conservatives that this Afghanistan
war was not in their interests from a financial perspective. Forget the
strategic questions. And from his work, I think, you really begin to see a
quick collapse of conservative support.
Progressives and I think most independents already had a great deal of
skepticism about Afghanistan. But it has been these debt issues that have
really driven a real collapse of interest and support for Afghanistan. So
anyone that comes and radically supports an ongoing troop presence in
Afghanistan is going to look very, very much out of the mainstream -- to
use some of the comments lately that folks have tried to rile up about
MADDOW: Well, let me ask you one last question briefly about Chuck
Hagel. You and I have talked about him before since he`s been nominated.
What do you know about how things are going for Senator Hagel in terms of
trying to win over his critics? What is happening with that nomination?
CLEMONS: I have communicated with him, and he is off meeting members
of Congress. Over 24 senators in the last couple of days. He`s got a lot
of other senators. And he is communicating to them that he is strongly
supportive of the Shaheen Amendment to the National Defense Authorization
Act that provides support for women in the military who have been raped,
He is saying that he is really going to be a strong leader inside the
military of really dealing with something which is a taboo and horrible
subject, which is rape in the military of American servicemen against
American servicewomen, and also indicating that he is going to be a strong
and adamant advocate of continuing the process of aligning with the repeal
of "don`t ask, don`t tell."
So I think all of those messages he is communicating very solidly,
and, you know, he is working senator through senator. I`m hearing it`s
MADDOW: Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, "The Washington
Note" and "The Atlantic": magazine -- fascinating stuff, Steve. Thank you
very much. Great to have you here.
CLEMONS: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Before the president can deliver his annual State of the
Union Address to Congress, he`s got to get invited to Congress by Congress.
And today, President Obama got his invite from House Speaker John Boehner.
So, now, we can all mark our calendars. February 12th, that`s when we`ll
get to see President Obama`s first State of the Union of his second term.
What does he want to happen in the second term? How does he plan to
get it done?
We already had a bit of a preview. Last week, once the fight over the
Bush tax cuts deal was finished, the president gave a speech in which he
laid out five issues he said he was ready to move on with the new Congress.
The first was ending the war in Afghanistan. We found out today how the
president plans to move forward on that plan with a surprise announcement
that U.S. troops are going to have a mission change, that they`ll be taking
on a supporting role starting this spring. Surprise.
As for immigration reform, well, back in November, it was during his
first press conference after being reelected that President Obama said he
would push comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to legal
status for people without criminal records and citizenship for the so-
called DREAM Act kids, the DREAMers, who are brought here illegally as
kids, but who have grown up here and they want to be citizens.
On gun violence, we will find out what the White House is pushing for
very soon. Vice President Biden was put in charge of the issue by the
president. Vice President Biden says he`ll be ready with his
recommendations on Tuesday. Again, surprise. This is weeks ahead of the
deadline that was given to him by the president.
On the fourth issue, climate change. We really do not know what the
president has planned. Back in November all he really promised was a wide-
ranging conversation on the issue.
Same goes for his fifth and final stated priority: education.
The president said last week it would be one of his second term
priorities, but we do not yet know how it will take shape in his second
term, other than the kinds of things he talked about on the campaign trail.
That is the broad outline of what we know is on deck. Plus, I think you
can add election reform to it. That`s probably also on deck.
But now we know when we know we are going to know about this agenda
for sure, and when we`re going to get the details about it. It is February
12. You can mark your calendars. That is also Abraham Lincoln`s birthday,
and it is also that day that we will find out what happens next for our
We will find out at least where the conversation what should happen in
our country for the next four years is going to start. It`s also happening
to be my favorite day of the year, State of the Union, yes.
MADDOW: Programming note: there is no bigger, bolder, or less
apologetic advocate of gun control in the entire country than New York City
Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He is also really hard to book for an interview.
But Mayor Bloomberg is going to be our guest here on this show on Monday
The politics of gun reform have never been more promising in this
country in modern times, and he is the most aggressive, most strategic
proponent of that reform in the whole country, and he is here with us
Monday night. I hope you will watch.
MADDOW: Part of what you and I pay for as American taxpayers is the
cost of a whole bunch of other Americans living in foreign countries. We
pay for their housing. We pay for their paychecks. We pay for their
health care. We pay for their day care for their kids. We pay for their
kids` schooling, all while they live in other countries.
And the reason this is not denounced in Washington as commie wasteful
spending on foreign foreignness is because those Americans who we the
American taxpayers pay to live abroad are members of U.S. military and
I think we have shown this map before. This is the online interactive
modern version of the age old Army recruiting pitch to join the Army and
see the world. And, indeed, the U.S. military stations people all over the
world in ways that are not nearly as controversial as the controversy
around deploying people for specific wars.
Now, often, American military posts overseas are the long-term result
of a war that we fought once upon a time. The major U.S. Navy presence and
Air Force presence in Japan, for example, started off as an outgrowth of
the surrender of Japan in World War II.
The big U.S. military presence in South Korea is originally an
outgrowth of the fact that big war we thought there and did not end one
side surrendering, but in a cease-fire, a tenuous cease-fire, one that we
still help keep decades later water tens of thousands of American forces.
One of the longest wars in history, though, did not result in U.S.
troops staying there for after the war and keeping some big U.S. presence
in that country, on bases, and that was the Iraq war. When we left Iraq,
after eight and a half years of war there, no American bases were left
behind, and no major U.S. presence is in Iraq at all other than the embassy
and the consulates, our giant embassy and three other consulates.
And that is because the Iraqi government would not agree that if U.S.
service members in Iraq got into some kind of trouble or were accused of
some kind of crime, that they should be subject only to American military
justice. Iraq would not agree to that. They wouldn`t agree that Americans
shouldn`t be hand over to Iraqi courts if they committed a crime in Iraq.
Iraq would not agree to give up that criminal jurisdiction over U.S.
service members staying on in the country. And so, President Obama said
no. President Obama would not agree to subject U.S. troops to Iraqi
jurisdiction. And that stalemate, that inability to come to an agreement
on that issue is why we left zero troops behind in Iraq.
Well, today when President Obama announced his speed up timeline for
ending the current U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, he raised the
prospect that we may not leave any American troops behind in Afghanistan
either, if the Afghanistan government insists that U.S. troops would have
to be subject to Afghan law and Afghan courts in the event that they got in
trouble. The same way that Iraq insisted on that.
This is not an issue that is unique to our latest wars. Or this
latest decision about where troops are going to be stationed and for how
long. What you`re looking at here is footage from protests against U.S.
military personnel in Japan and in South Korea after U.S. military
personnel stationed there committed high profile crimes there, and the
local population was angry with how the issue was handled in terms of the
criminal liability of those U.S. soldiers.
This is a sensitive thing. This is a sensitive thing in any part of
the world for any country for any leader. And right now, it is a sensitive
thing for all of us, because our president just told us today how our
longest war in American history is going to end.
The combat mission changes to a train, advise, assist mission this
spring, which is faster than we thought that was going to happen. But how
long will Americans be in Afghanistan at all in any capacity?
When the defense secretary was on his way to Afghanistan last month
and he was taking questions from soldiers on his way there, a master
sergeant asked him if in five years, 10 years, all those soldiers who had
served in Afghanistan should expect that their kids would be serving there
too, maintaining stability in the region.
The defense secretary`s response to that master sergeant was
essentially, yes, probably. But it depends on President Karzai.
The question of whether American kids born today have some kind of
tour of duty in Afghanistan in their future is basically in the hands of
President Hamid Karzai right now. And the only person outside the U.S.
government who has talked to him at length on this subject any time
recently is now our guest.
Joining us is Atia Abawi. She`s an NBC News foreign correspondent and
our Afghanistan bureau chief. Atia had an exclusive and extensive sit-down
interview with President Karzai in Kabul just last month.
Atia, it`s great to have you here. Thanks.
ATIA ABAWI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Great to be on. Thank you,
In terms of a potential agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan,
for a long-term presence for U.S. troops, what -- from talking to Karzai,
what matters more to him, the number of Americans who are still in the
country or the circumstances under which they`re there, where they are and
under what law they`re subject to?
ABAWI: I think what matters to President Karzai most from our
interview was the circumstances, really, that he wants the Americans there
in a training role. And on the outlier, he does want them to fight the
insurgency, which he says in Pakistan. That he hopes the Americans will be
able to their special operation trainings -- special operations missions to
get the insurgency, the Taliban that won`t talk to the Afghan, a government
and some of those -- and he says most of those are actually across the
He also mentioned that he will think about the immunity, that he needs
to talk to the Afghan people. But in the end, it`s the Afghan people that
are going to decide whether or not they will be willing to give the
American troops that immunity.
MADDOW: The U.S. government insisted both starting with leaks and
then publicly from the White House and then personally from the president
today that there will be zero troops if there isn`t an immunity deal. Do
you get the sense that President Karzai believes that, or does he think
that this is something that can be bargained?
ABAWI: I do think that President Karzai believes that. I think
people around him may not believe that. In fact, his chief of staff
earlier this week said that America needs Afghanistan more than Afghanistan
needs America, which many of us here would say that`s not the case. If
anything, we`ve heard more and more and more Americans wanting to pull out
completely, seeing this really as a failed mission in Afghanistan.
President Karzai knows that there is a possibility that America can
and will leave Afghanistan if they don`t get what they want. And in fact,
President Karzai`s trying to put his ducks in a row just in case America
He is talking to other governments. He is talking to Russia. He is
talking to China. He is talking to countries that don`t necessarily have
great relationships with America. And those countries are trying to take
advantage of the situation as well.
When I talked to some of President Karzai`s officials on background,
they`ve told me there have been governments that have been showed satellite
images of the various bases, American bases, and saying because of these
bases, that America is not planning to leave, and that has angered Afghan
officials. But President Karzai himself, he does know there is a big
possibility that America could abandon Afghanistan.
MADDOW: When he is talking to China and Russia and other countries,
he is talking to them about bringing their own security forces into
Afghanistan to supplant a U.S. presence that might leave?
ABAWI: He knows they`re not going to bring their own security forces
MADDOW: That I can`t imagine.
ABAWI: Absolutely. But he is looking for other things, including
airplanes, helicopters, support for the Afghan forces. President Karzai
knows that he is no longer going to be president in August of 2014, that he
is going to allow another elections. He won`t change the constitution.
But, right now, he is thinking of his own legacy, and really, he is
thinking about the Afghan people, no matter what the Afghans or we may say
about him. What I have noticed is he does care about the future of
Afghanistan. And he even said during our interview, he wants his own
children to grow up in the country.
MADDOW: What do you think it would look like logistically in
Afghanistan, not in the long run, but this year, starting this spring when
the president says the mission will change, it will become train, advise,
assist. He didn`t say it will be the end of combat operations, the same
way he said that in Iraq. But he did say it`s going to be a change in
What do you think logistically that will be like in Afghanistan? How
do you think it will affect daily life?
ABAWI: I think it`s going to be similar to what we`ve already been
seeing. A lot of the country has already been handed over into Afghan
hands. And they need their hand-held right now. And basically, when
America goes to the train, advise and assist role, they`re going to be
holding Afghanistan, the Afghan security forces` hands. They`re going to
be sitting in the background, waiting for the Afghans to ask for help. And
they do eventually ask for help.
In 2012, we saw a decline in NATO casualties, a decline in U.S.
casualties in Afghanistan. And that was great news. But we also saw a
sharp rise in the Afghan casualties and deaths in the country.
They have taken on the lead. They`re working hard to take on the
lead. But the question is can they really handle it? We have to remember
when we look at security forces, when we look at the Army, the Marines, the
Navy, when we look at them, they`re fighting for America. They look at
that American flag, and they see this country that they`re fighting. They
have a sense of nationalism.
When an Afghan soldier looks at an Afghan flag, he doesn`t see that.
The country is so divided right now, they`re not thinking about Afghanistan
as a whole. They`re thinking of their family, they`re thinking of their
village, they`re think of their ethnicity.
Afghanistan is too divided at the moment to have a security force
that`s going to be able to stand on its own two feet without assistance.
MADDOW: And that is something the U.S. aimed to change over 12 years
there, 11 1/2 years there. I`m not sure that America ever could.
But the kind of help we lend in the long run is really going to be
substantially determined by this very important president for the
Atia Abawi, your interview with Karzai was seminal in terms of me at
least, understanding where his mind space is, heading to these discussions
with the president. But you just done great work there. Thank you so
ABAWI: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: Thanks, Atia Abawi.
The difference between a hawk and a peacock, it`s pretty much the
story of the Republican Party right now. And it will be told with real
life evidentiary facts. Plus, lots of pictures of peacocks, coming up.
MADDOW: If you go for the kind of heroism that is just regular folks
heroism, just kindness and decency to a heroic degree, then stay tuned. We
have a tribute to exactly that. And frankly, a really excellent way to
wrap your week of news on a Friday night.
That`s coming up.
MADDOW: At the White House this week, President Obama had to bid his
official goodbye to the only treasury secretary he has ever known as
president, Tim Geithner. And in so doing, President Obama uttered a phrase
that I have never heard before. I definitely never heard it in Washington.
But this saying is apparently common inside the U.S. Department of the
Treasury, and it has now been liberated outside of its walls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There is an unofficial saying over at Treasury -- no peacocks,
no jerks, no whiners. That would be a good saying for all of Washington.
No peacocks, no jerks, no whiners. Few embody that ideal better than Tim
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Tim Geithner looks like he is about to explode with laughter
listening to the president say that, but the phrase is no peacocks, no
jerks, no whiners.
I mean, jerks and whiners, we all get that. But the peacocks part
here I think is a term of art. I don`t think they mean peacocks in a
generic way, I think they mean in a way that is specific to the Treasury.
And here`s what I mean -- peacocks as birds are strutters, right? They
puff their chests out. They like making a big show of their big fantastic
feathers. And no offense to our corporate overlords, I`m aware that you
can see one particular tiny little peacock often at the top of our screen
right now while I am talking.
In politics, the peacock metaphor means you are talking about somebody
who struts and doesn`t deserve to be strutting. Someone who talks the
talk, but doesn`t really walk the walk. And in the case of the Treasury,
in particular, the president`s no peacocks line was put into further
context when he went on in his remarks to introduce the new treasury
secretary nominee just a few moments later.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: As a congressional staffer in the 1980s, he helped negotiate
the deal between President Reagan and Tip O`Neill to save Social Security.
Under President Clinton, he presided over three budget surpluses in a row.
So, for all the talk out there about deficit reduction, making sure our
books are balanced, this is the guy who did it, three times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He didn`t just talk about balancing the budget and tackling
the deficit, he did it, three times. The president, seeming to take a
certain amount of pleasure in being able to describe his Treasury nominee,
Jack Lew, that way, given the deficit peacockry which pervades Washington -
- honestly, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle. Republicans
really like to talk about cutting the debt and cutting the deficit, as if
that is the long-standing prerogative of their party.
But it was under Republican leadership that we passed two debt
exploding rounds of George W. Bush tax cuts, as well as two wars without
any plan to pay for any of it. In the process, Republicans took a massive
budget surplus that they inherited in 2001 and they turned it into a
massive budget deficit eight years later.
The person that they inherited the surplus from, that would be a guy
by the name of Jack Lew.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: For all the talk out there about deficit reduction, making
sure our books are balanced, this is the guy who did it, three times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Three times. Jack Lew`s job in the Clinton administration is
that he was Bill Clinton`s budget director in the final three years of his
presidency. And it was during those final three years of the Clinton
presidency when the U.S. government for the first time in over a generation
ran surpluses. Washington took in more money in those years than it spent.
Take a look at this chart. You see those years in which the deficit
stopped being a deficit, and instead became a surplus? Those were the Jack
Lew years. Those were the years that Jack Lew was in charge of the budget.
Those were also the years in which debt clocks had to be unplugged
because they had never been programmed to run backwards. Of course, it was
not Jack Lew alone who led us to that fiscal breakthrough as a country.
But he was budget director, and with success comes bragging rights.
And even though the Obama administration kind of declared war on
peacocks in this announcement yesterday, it is worth wondering if they
might not actually be better off if they did strut on these issues a little
bit more than they like to, because you would never know it from the way
the deficit peacocks are crowing against this administration, but the
deficit is now more than $200 billion smaller than it was when President
Obama first took office.
We are currently witnessing the fastest deficit reduction in this
country since the end of World War II. The alleged big spending liberal
Barack Obama has already signed into law approximately $2.4 trillion
deficit reduction measures over the next decade. And that total could be
even higher, except that the deficit peacocks on the other side of the
aisle in Congress keep balking at ideas like cap and trade and the DREAM
Act and closing tax loopholes, all of which would reduce the debt and the
deficit. And all of which are policies that Republicans used to like until
President Barack Obama said that he liked them too, and then they turned
against their own ideas.
Even the dreaded Obamacare was one of the biggest debt reduction
proposals considered in Washington since the Clinton era. And Republicans
hate that with the heat of a thousand suns. So some talk the talk, and
others walk the walk. All right?
There is a school of thought that says that deficit reduction
shouldn`t actually even be a national priority right now, as we slowly
recover from the most brutal recession since the Great Depression, there is
a strong case to be made that the government should just borrow away. The
government should take advantage of how low interest rates are, should take
advantage of a market in which the world is eager to loan us money.
We could borrow like crazy right now, invest that money in job
creation and infrastructure and economic growth. We could worry about debt
creation when we are full by back on our feet. If we took that strategy we
could get back on our feet faster, and frankly, in a more sustainable, if
we use that spending to invest in our economic strength.
But the political world is going to reject -- if the political world
is going to reject or ignore that school of thought, if we are going to be
all ringing our hands about the debt and the deficit about the debt all the
time, we should at least get our facts straight about who has been better
for the deficit and who has been worse. No peacocks, no jerks, no whiners.
It sounds good in English, but it`s going to sound even better when
they put it in Latin on the back of a quarter.
MADDOW: Republican House Speaker John Boehner sometimes gets
criticized for being a crier. I think he gets criticized for that because
some people see crying as a sign of weakness.
But honestly, if you are a crier, it is not a sign of weakness or
strength or anything else. You are just a crier. It is just a thing about
you. You are just wired that way. I think it find that crying to be
actually endearing, because I, too, am a crier. The national anthem, for
example, I cry every single time I hear the national anthem.
I mean, unless you do a really atrociously bad job, I am going to cry,
when you sing the national them, even if you sing it poorly. Also, buskers
in the subway, I don`t care if you`re doing aha remixes on a pedal steel, I
Also, really good political speeches -- even if I cannot stand you as
a politician I may still cry at your speech. I cried a lot at the George
Bush inaugural address, and I could not stand that guy.
If you are a crier, you`re just a crier, God made you that way. Don`t
even get me started on those sad puppy commercials, right? Am I right?
One of the ones that I`m particularly bad about has to do with the
fact that I`m an openly gay person. I have been out since I was a
teenager. And that means I have done my share of time at gay pride
parades, which every year, all over the country in May and June.
And even though I have been to roughly a gazillion of these things,
and even though in some way, they`re all the same, and I have seen them all
over, I`m here, I`m queer, I`m used to it -- honestly, the mere idea that I
might see something like this again at a gay pride parade, one particular
thing about gay pride parade makes me replicate the dickens every time I so
much even think about it.
These are the parents of gay people marching in gay pride parades,
just to say they love their kids, basically. It makes me cry every time.
And my parents love me. This is not borne out if a personal hardship or
But seeing those straight parents out there on the streets saying,
yes, I`m here in this parade because I love my kid and I am not ashamed --
kills me every time. Anyway, the reason this exists, the reason, this
phenomenon exists in America, the reason there are all of these totally
normal average moms and dads out there with this dignified, remarkable
tears-inducing public proclamation of love for their kids is because of
this specific incident -- this moment in time.
This is the first time it ever happened. This is 1972. The woman at
the front there and sort of the center of your screen on the left side,
that`s Jeanne Manford. Her son Morty was gay, she made that sign herself.
You can read the sign. It says, "Parents of gays, unite in support of our
children." And she held that sign and marched with her son in this parade
She did not belong to any group. She was not there with anybody other
than her kid. But she did not like the way her gay son was treated in
public and she was not ashamed of him and so she decided to make that sign
and appeal to other parents who she know were out there. She just marched
alongside him in that parade in Greenwich Village in 1972.
Now, Jeanne Manford, when she did that, she later said that she
thought that the screaming and cheering that she was hearing from the
crowd, as she went down the parade route, she thought the cheers were for
the famous Dr. Benjamin Spock, who marched behind her in the parade.
But as the cheering people screamed and crowded around her, she
realized the screaming and cheering was for her. As we marched in the
parade, she said, so many people came up and hugged me and cried and talked
about their own parents.
After that parade, Jeanne Manford said her phone rang and rang. She
got calls from gay people who wanted her to talk to their parents. She got
phone calls from other parents of gay kids who just wanted themselves to
talk with her.
And in 1973, she convened the first meeting of the group that was
later become known as PFLAG, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and
Gays. Jeanne Manford marched alone in 1972. She formed the group in 1973.
And by 1978, Jeanne Manford found herself unwittingly the leader of a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANNE MANFORD, FOUNDER OF PFLAG: The most important thing is
communication, love and family, understanding and respect. And, of course,
when the parents come, they`re full of guilt. There is shame. They don`t
want to tell the neighbors.
And we try to relax them. We can understand their initial trauma, the
surprise. And -- but we try to let them know that homosexuality is just
another shade of sexuality. It is no better nor worse or anything else.
Our children are as good as anybody`s. And we love our children. And
all the parents love their children. And there is certainly the most
important thing in our lives is to see that our children are happy
And I don`t care if anybody know -- what people know, personally,
because my son is more important to me than the gossip that might go around
the neighborhood or among people. And people, my friends, I have many who
respect me and understand. And they feel as I do. They respect my son,
and they, in fact -- when they see things that are not right, they will
write to protest, because they realize that I have helped educate them, and
they are educating other people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Jeanne Manford speaking on the "Today" show in 1978.
The organization that she founded in the `70s is a national nonprofit, with
150 affiliates, it started with this one lady carrying a sign in public to
support her son. And it became a powerful thing. It became a big cultural
advance in our country on this as a civil rights issue, an advance that`s
widely credited as a key development in this movement for the civil rights
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Soon after the protest at Stonewall 40 years ago, the phone
rang in the home of a soft-spoken elementary school teacher named Jeanne
Manford. It was 1:00 in the morning and it was the police. Now, her son,
Morty, had been at the Stonewall the night of the raids. Ever since he
felt within him a new sense of purpose, so when the officer told Jeanne
that her son had been arrested, which was happening often to gay
protesters, she was not entirely caught off guard.
And then the officer added one more thing, and you know, he is
Well, that police officer sure was surprised when Jeanne responded,
yes, I know. Why are you bothering him?
OBAMA: And not long after, Jeanne would be marching side by side with
her son through the streets of New York. She carried a sign that stated
her support. People cheered, young men and women ran up to her, kissed her
and asked her to talk to their parents. And this gave Jeanne and Morty an
So, after that march, on the anniversary of the Stonewall protests,
amidst the violence and the vitriol of the difficult time for our nation,
Jeanne and her husband, Jules, two parents who loved their son deeply,
formed a group for parents and other children, as well.
At first meeting Jeanne held in 1973, about 20 people showed up. But
slowly, interests grew. Morty`s life, tragically, was cut short by AIDS.
But the cause endures. And today, the organization they founded for
parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays has more than 200,000
members and supporters. It made a difference for countless families across
OBAMA: And Jeanne would later say, I considered myself such a
traditional person. I didn`t even cross the street against the light. But
I wasn`t going to let anybody walk over Morty. That`s the story of
America, of ordinary citizens, organizing, advocating for change, of hope
stronger than hate, of love more powerful than any insult or injury, of
Americans fighting to build for themselves, a nation in which no one is a
second class citizen, in which no one is denied their basic rights, in
which all of us are free to live and love as we see fit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was President Obama speaking at the Human Rights
Campaign dinner in 2009. This week, Jeanne Manford, the founder of
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, passed away. She was
92 years old. And everybody cried, including me on TV. Like usual.
All right. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again on
Monday. But now you get to spend Friday night with the Reverend Al
Have a great weekend.
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