THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
March 25, 2013
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Guests: Chris Murphy, Ana Marie Cox, Sam Stein, Dr. Anthony Fauci
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: Marriage equality`s day in court is
tomorrow and the next day. And suddenly, we`re hearing from a lesbian
cousin of the chief justice who seems to believe he is going to do the
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Supreme Court hears two days of arguments
over same sex marriage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The public and political mood is clearly
ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There`s no putting this genie
back in the bottle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have reached a tipping point on this.
NAVARRO: The shift is here, we`re not going back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This issue is dead for Republicans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are still a lot of Republicans against gay
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: You have a conservative bringing it down
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we have a compelling interest in strengthening
and supporting complimentary and procreative union of a man and woman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most ridiculous argument I`ve ever heard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tide has completely shifted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The party needs a more libertarian view on this.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: This country has shifted away from
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politicians are dumber than dirt sometimes.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Who would you rather fight, Wayne
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA: The whole thing, universal checks, is a
WAGNER: Or Mike Bloomberg.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: We have a lot of work ahead of
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest voices in the gun debates square off.
LAPIERRE: Criminals aren`t going to be checked. They`re not going to
ED RENDELL (D), FORMER PENNYSLVANIA GOVERNOR: Wayne LaPierre may not
know much, but he knows about insanity.
BLOOMBERG: This isn`t about Wayne LaPierre.
LAPIERRE: He can`t buy America.
BLOOMBERG: This is about a public wanting to be safe on their
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Background checks has pretty broad support.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ninety percent of the American people support
stronger background checks.
LAPIERRE: The NRA wants to do things that makes people safe.
HALL: Interesting remarks for many reasons.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor Bloomberg has the American people I believe
on his side.
PERRY: This country shifted away from conservative ideals.
ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: We have to win in 2014 and we
have to win in 2016.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remain haunted by the experience of the 2012
COULTER: Which is why I think Republicans should be focused like a
laser beam on nothing but getting elected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`ve got a long way to go, but we`re making
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Oh, my goodness! Yes!
O`DONNELL: When supporters of marriage equality go in front of the
Supreme Court to defend marriage equality tomorrow morning, they will have
three more Democratic senators on their side. Senator Mark Warner of
Virginia, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri both announced today they
support marriage equality, and Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia
that voted for the Defense of Marriage Act told "Politico" today that he
now thinks it is unconstitutional.
They join Republican Senator Rob Portman who announced his support for
same-sex marriage after he learned his son is gay. Today, Will Portman
wrote in the "Yale Daily News", "Some people have criticized my dad for
waiting for two years after I came out to him before he endorsed marriage
for gay couples. Part of the reason for that is that it took time for him
to think through the issue more deeply after the impetus of my coming out.
But another factor was my reluctance to make my personal life public."
A "Reuters"/Ipsos poll released in the past week found 63 percent
support gay marriage or civil unions.
Karl Rove was asked about Republicans and marriage equality this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Karl Rove, can you imagine the next
presidential campaign, Republican candidate, saying flat out I am for gay
KARL ROVE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I could.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Though some Republicans are softening on marriage
equality, Rush Limbaugh remains a valiant defender of the Defense of
Marriage Act, and of course, just as valiant a defender of divorce, Rush
Limbaugh who at this hour is not yet divorced from his fourth wife offered
this push back against Republicans supporting marriage equality.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: So why would the Republican establishment
be supporting it? Maybe that`s a question that I`m not supposed to ask.
But I`d like to know if the issue would lose, as it always has, if left up
to a vote of the people, then why are the Republicans for it? If it`s a
losing issue, why not let the Democrats own it? The Republicans are in a
totally defensive posture and they think that they`re losing because
they`re not enough like Democrats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now is MSNBC political analyst, former McCain
senior adviser Steve Schmidt, who is one of 131 Republicans to sign onto an
amicus brief supporting marriage equality, and MSNBC`s Karen Finney.
Steve, I have to ask you the Rove question off the bat. Can you
imagine the next Republican presidential candidate being in favor of
STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that the next
Republican candidate, Lawrence, could be in favor of marriage equality with
there being no consequence in the road to the nomination and no political
consequence for senators like Rob Portman who come out in favor of it, but
I doubt we will see it in the next election.
O`DONNELL: Steve, I`ve got to tell you, I think Karen Finney and I
are sitting here both wondering please explain to us, Steve, how that
candidate would get through the Iowa caucuses as a first stop?
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
SCHMIDT: Well, look, Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses. Rick
Santorum wasn`t the nominee. Pat Robertson won the Iowa caucus, Pat
Robertson he wasn`t the nominee. Iowa doesn`t pick the Republican nominee
any more than it does in the Democratic Party.
But the Republican Party in 2016, 2020, cannot be held hostage to the
social extremism that some in our party have on all these issues because
the country is changing and voters in the middle won`t tolerate it.
O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, a striking quote Jean Podrasky. She`s 48
years old. She`s a lesbian who wants to marry her partner. And she also
happens to be a cousin of the chief justice of the United States Supreme
She has said -- let`s see, I got the quote right here -- "he is a
smart man, he is a good man. I believe he sees where the tide is going. I
do trust him. I absolutely trust that he will go in a good direction."
I guess it`s a question of how well does she know her cousin.
FINNEY: I -- you know, that is a fine question. I don`t want to
prejudge. I don`t want to jinx it. But I think it is the right thing to
do, but from a legal standpoint, I take the position as an interracial
person. When my parents were married in 1967, it was illegal in their home
states for them to be married. My own grandfather, you know, opposed their
marriage on moral and legal grounds.
So many of the arguments that we`re hearing now about why same sex
couples shouldn`t be married, were similarly -- they said, well, blacks and
whites can`t marry, that`s not a valid marriage. So, a lot of the same
kinds of arguments.
So, the law I think is there and the precedent is there to say, we
can`t create separate but equal classes. The very existence of those
separate groupings suggests that we`re treating separate but equal. So, I
feel that by the law, I hope these guys have made their case and the
justices will just need to follow the law, even if they`re not going to
listen to public sentiment.
O`DONNELL: Steve, I was thinking about the chief justice today in
light of his cousin`s comments which really stopped me. The more you think
about it, the more it would make sense for him to do what his cousin is
hoping he does.
He is a young chief justice. He knows what`s going on in this
country. He can see where the trend line is going. And I think he would
know that if the Roberts court found against marriage equality that that
would at some point be overturned by a future court not that far down the
SCHMIDT: One of the things I did in the White House, Lawrence, was
run the confirmation process for Judge Roberts at the time. He is a
brilliant man, a brilliant jurist. As you pointed, he is a young chief
And this case and the ruling that comes down from the Roberts court is
going to leave a huge imprint on history, and I suspect, that I have no way
of knowing, I have no inside information or details, but I suspect he is
not going to want to be on the wrong side of history and I suspect that a
number of the justices will fall into that category on this.
O`DONNELL: Yes, Karen Finney, it seems to me that would hold for
Anthony Kennedy. It`s just one of those cases where you can, unlike some
of the other bad decisions the court has made in the past that got
reversed, at this moment you could actually see that the right wing view of
this will not be able to hold in this country for another generation.
FINNEY: Well, I think that`s right. Again, both from a legal
standpoint, I think the justification is there, the history is there, the
law is there, and from the standpoint of, you know, this is where the
country is. We no longer in the same way that we no longer think that
interracial marriage is something horrible, a majority of Americans,
majority of young people agree with the idea of same sex marriage.
So I hope again that the justices will follow the law in this case.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what the fighters are saying. Ralph Reed
yesterday on "Meet the Press."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RALPH REED: The issue before the country is do we have a compelling
interest in strengthening and supporting the durable, enduring, uniquely
complimentary, procreative union of a man and woman.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: You look at divorce rates, I don`t know --
REED: The answer -- that would be an argument why we ought to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: So, Steve, there`s Ralph Reed saying this is about the
procreative union of a man and woman, which I guess makes Rush Limbaugh`s
first three marriages and so far his current marriage indefensible?
SCHMIDT: Well, this is exactly the point. When you`re talking about
civil marriage, marriage recognized by the state, whether it is the first,
second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth marriages for some of these people,
it`s a legal marriage in the eyes of the state. And there will be gay
people in happy marriages and there will be gay people in unhappy marriages
and there will be divorced gay people.
But what is necessary at this point now when you look at the
institution of marriage, the profound happiness it can bring to people, A;
and B, the fact that it strengthens society, it is an institution that
SCHMIDT: Civilly, we can`t live in a country where it is separate but
equal, where we can have some people who are gay who could be married and
other people who are gay who can`t be married, and some gay people whose
marriages are recognized in some states but not in the others.
It doesn`t make sense over the long term. I think that you will see
more and more Republicans, more and more Democrats as you saw come out
today saying we want fairness for our fellow Americans who are gays and
FINNEY: But, again, I think, you know, Lawrence, we saw that kind of
logic -- logic or weird logic across the Sunday shows yesterday,
questioning polls, even though they were citing polls to question some of
the polls, that says to me they know they`re losing, they`re losing this
argument. When you have to narrow down the argument, like communications
101, you know you`re losing. You know you`ve lost the broader audience,
If we are talking about pro-creation for a reason for marriage, you
lost the argument.
O`DONNELL: Steve Schmidt and Karen Finney, thank you both for joining
And, Karen, we`re going to see you all week at 4:00, filling in for
FINNEY: Yes, sir.
O`DONNELL: Great. We will be watching.
Coming up, the violent talking revolutionary that wants to overthrow
the American government, and why Republicans are palling around with him.
And a billionaire wants better condoms and he is willing to pay for
them. Bill Gates will actually give you a million dollars if you can come
up with a better condom. Seriously. That`s coming up.
O`DONNELL: She won the Iowa straw poll, then won exactly one
delegate, one whole delegate in her failed campaign for the Republican
nomination for president. And now, she has also won an investigation by
the Office of Congressional Ethics. The rise and very, very bad fall of
Michele Bachmann is coming up.
O`DONNELL: If you live in Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the
massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, you`re getting phone calls like
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
NRA ROBOCALL: This week, despite an outcry of public opposition,
anti-gun legislators are aggressively pursuing numerous proposals that are
designed to disarm and punish law-abiding gun owners and sports men. These
bills would ban commonly owned firearms, impose a gun rationing scheme and
mandate gun registration.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: One of the many that received that call last week was the
daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal who
was shot to death trying to protect her school from a madman who was very
well-armed -- thanks to the relentless lobbying efforts of the National
In a letter to the NRA`s Wayne LaPierre, Connecticut Senators Chris
Murphy, and Richard Blumenthal said the NRA stooped to a new low.
They wrote, "In a community that`s still very much in crisis, to be
making these calls opens a wound that these families are still trying hard
to heal. Put yourself in the shoes of a victim`s family member who gets a
call at dinner time asking them to support more assault weapons in our
schools and on our streets. We call on you to show some basic decency and
cease-and-desist these calls."
Joining me now, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy.
Senator Murphy, have you had any response to that letter?
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: No, we haven`t, and we likely
won`t because -- although I`d like to think that it was unintentional, it
wasn`t. The NRA are sophisticated political operators. They could have
put calls into Connecticut and avoided Newtown. They didn`t because they
have become fringe provocateurs. They enjoy reveling in ads, assaulting
the president`s children, and suggesting we put more weapons, not less in
our schools, and by opening this wound in Newtown, by sending phone calls
calling for more assault weapons to families of the victims.
I mean, this is who the NRA has become. They crossed the line over
and over and over again. It feeds this image that they have built over the
past several years. I don`t think we`re going to hear back from them. I
think this was absolutely intentional. I still think they should stop but
this is who they`ve become.
O`DONNELL: What are the politics of this issue in Connecticut? I
mean, those calls are calls to try to influence you and calls to try to
influence Senator Blumenthal. You`ll be voting on an assault weapons ban
when the amendment comes up in the Senate. Those calls are aimed at trying
to turn your vote.
MURPHY: Yes. Again, I think it is the NRA trying to show people that
they`re going to play everywhere and make their argument everywhere.
Clearly, they`re not going to prevail in Connecticut. Clearly, Senator
Blumenthal and I are leading that effort to beat back the NRA in the United
States Senate. And in Hartford, they are on the verge of passing one of
the nation`s strongest gun violence bills. This is the NRA just being who
they have become.
You know, I mean, 10 years ago, they came to the U.S. Capitol and
argued for universal background checks. Today, they`re against those
background checks because they revel in feeding this paranoia about
government that causes a handful of gun owners to go out and buy more and
more of these assault weapons. That`s the industry model right now, and
because the NRA is essentially a captive of the industry, that`s what they
And the more outrageous things they do, the more they sort of feed
into this paranoia that they have helped very assiduously court over the
last several years.
O`DONNELL: Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz tried to grab some of the
limelight on this issue today, saying that they`re going to deliver a
letter to Harry Reid tomorrow that will -- in which they will oppose the
motion to proceed to any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any
additional gun restrictions.
We already knew it would take 60 votes to get past the motion to
proceed. So, there`s no real news there.
I want to listen to what the White House deputy press secretary said
today about fighting for the assault weapons ban and the rest of the
legislation. Let`s listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I think the
president could literally -- to paraphrase the vice president -- could
literally not have been any clearer when he talked about this in the State
of the Union address, in which he said he believed these measures,
including assault weapons ban deserves a vote. And that`s exactly what
it`s going to get.
And then the question is going to be, what members of the Senate are
willing to do? Are they willing to demonstrate political courage to take
the kind of step that we know would have a significant impact on getting
military style weapons off the streets of communities across the United
States of America?
O`DONNELL: Senator, you`re getting help from Mike Blumenthal who is
pumping money into states where these votes are crucial. What do you think
chances are in the weeks that we have between now and then for the
Blumenthal effect and pleas of constituents to those senators to having an
effect, that Mike Bloomberg -- I`m sorry -- is funding this campaign?
MURPHY: Listen, I think it`s going to be tough to get the assault
weapons ban over the finish line but there`s a really important component
of that. They were going to try to get a separate vote on, and that is ban
of high capacity magazines.
If we get that, along with universal background checks, that`s really
important, and the fact is, is that there are a lot of members of the
Senate who want to do the right thing but are scared of the NRA. And
Bloomberg`s efforts showed that if you do the right thing, if you cast a
vote with your heart and with you head, rather than with your political
tail, then you`re going to have somebody who`s going to get your back.
So, those ads are really, really important. And the president is not
turning around and heading for the Hills is important as well. If he
continues to lead, it is going to be hard for Democrats not to join him.
O`DONNELL: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, thank you very much
for joining us tonight.
MURPHY: Thanks a lot, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up. Where are they now? The Republican losers who
looked in the mirror and saw a president. We will show you what they`re
all doing now, which in Michele Bachmann`s case includes hiring lawyers to
save her career.
O`DONNELL: He signs his paintings 43. No, that`s not his prison cell
number, he is the 43rd president of the United States, and is now an artist
at work giving his friends truly priceless paintings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROVE: I have one. I have one of the original first 43s. He painted
my wife and our dogs. He is pretty good. Particularly I called him when
Barney died, and he had painted a picture of Barney which I thought was
really clearly from the heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: In the spotlight tonight, where are they now? The clown
car of candidates that ran for the Republican nomination for president.
We know what happened to the loser who won the Republican nomination
for president. He returned to his comfortable life with his wife and
secret tax returns. The loser he chose to run for vice president is now
wandering the halls of Congress, mumbling about repealing Obamacare while
no one listens.
Rick Perry has returned to his day job of Texas where he does so
little governing. He has plenty of time to do memory-building exercises if
he can remember to do them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: Commerce, Education, and the -- what`s the third one?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Rick Santorum let us know via Twitter that not all of his
days are idle. He Tweeted on March 22nd, "just spoke to 850 people at
Naples Town Hall Speakers Series about radical Islam."
Newt Gingrich stays in touch via Twitter too. Just this afternoon,
Newt Tweeted "Newt U course on driverless cars starts in 20 minutes. We`ll
take questions at the end of session."
Ron Paul seems to be settling comfortably into his retirement after 22
years in Congress and about 400 runs for president. He now writes columns
for his website.
Herman Cain is now dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HERMAN CAIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who is the president of
ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan, you know, I`m going to say I don`t know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: But seriously, folks, without having to do one more minute
of homework on the issues of the day, Herman Cain has launched a radio
show. Mr. Cain apparently figures, hey, if Rush can do it --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAIN: Welcome back to the new "Herman Cain Show," to our new feature
of the week, "Ask the Hermanator." Questions other than politics, other
than government, questions pertaining to business, pertaining to this thing
called success and prosperity as well as life itself.
Now, I will warn you, the questions may not always be exhaustive. I
mean, the answers -- the answers are intended to be more directional.
Because to get into an exhaustive answer with specifics, you need to
consult somebody who might be an expert in that particular field.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: He was actually the frontrunner for the Republican
nomination for president of the United States. Well, the winner of the
Iowa Straw Poll, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, she returned to Congress
where she has been shunning the national media she previously pursued.
Many thought she was shunning the national media to try to show her
Minnesota constituents she was more serious about them than she was about
pursuing the spotlight. But we now know that she has an even better reason
for not answering questions.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is under investigation by the Office of
Congressional Ethics for alleged federal campaign finance violations.
Bachmann`s national field coordinator for her 2012 campaign filed a
complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that a consultant
on Bachmann`s presidential campaign was paid with money from her
independent PAC, a violation. Bachmann`s lawyers responded today with this
very lawyerly statement, "there are no allegations that the congresswoman
engaged in any wrongdoing."
Oh, yes, there are.
"We are Constitutionally engaged with the Office of Congressional
Ethics and are confident that at the end of their review, the OCE Board
will conclude that Congresswoman Bachmann did not do anything
Joining me now are Ana Marie Cox, correspondent for "The Guardian,"
and Sam Stein, political editor for the "Huffington Post" and an MSNBC
contributor. Ana Marie, you are joining us from Minnesota. How has this
news rocked the state tonight, that Michele Bachmann may have dipped into
the wrong fund to pay for someone in her presidential campaign?
ANA MARIE COX, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, it made her -- it gave her a
head line, which she actually hadn`t had since earlier in the month when
she made announcement about some funding for roads in her district, which
is really kind of what she would rather talk about right now. You know,
she actually is in more trouble in her district than she has ever been
before. She almost lost to a Democratic challenger in the last cycle. And
the DCCC -- DCCC spent no money on that challenger and he came within two
points of beating her.
So she`s in trouble. I think she`s in trouble on a lot of fronts, not
just this investigation.
O`DONNELL: And Sam, these allegations are coming from within her
campaign, the people who are actually working on her campaign, revealing
that they believe she did this. And the FEC records are supportive of the
story that they`re telling, that money came out of her PAC to pay one of
these consultants who was working on the presidential campaign. And she
apparently, at the same time, had suspended payment to anyone actually
working on the campaign, everyone else working on the campaign.
So she created a little bitterness in her campaign staff among those
who were unpaid while one guy was getting paid a lot.
SAM STEIN, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": Yes. The lesson obviously is that
you have to pay your workers, otherwise they might turn on you. This is
sort of -- first of all, let`s establish that she is innocent until proven
guilty. Second, this is sort of a pattern for Michele Bachmann, in which
people who work under her have a very short shelf life in her office,
whether it`s because she sours on them or they sour on her.
Keep in mind, Ed Rollins, her campaign manager in the early stages of
her campaign, quit. Staffers in her New Hampshire office quit. Staffers
in her Congressional office have quit. It is just part of the routine I
guess of working with Michele Bachmann.
The only thing I would add, on a more serious note, is that we can
joke around about this stuff, but people gave -- real people gave to her
campaign. Real people gave to her PAC, people who don`t have money just
handy. She got them to give money to her political action committee and
her campaign, and then she potentially misused it. I feel bad for people
who were deceived if this is, in fact, true.
O`DONNELL: Come on. It is hard to feel bad for anyone who gave money
to Michele Bachmann to become president of the United States.
STEIN: Have a heart.
O`DONNELL: Those people are making mistakes with money all day long.
You can`t start -- Ana Marie, the staffer who revealed this has said to me
that was unconscionable. That`s his quote, you know, that she was
refusing to pay the staff but the consultant, she was dipping into the
other pot to pay big time. And as the details of this come out, it is
going to get more and more specific. And it seems to me that Michele
Bachmann is going to have a lot of local coverage of this there in
COX: I think she probably will. Not only did she pay that
consultant, she actually paid him twice. And also this holiday, this pay
day holiday they were on actually occurred over Christmas. That`s when she
wasn`t paying her staff, was over the Christmas holidays. So she`s quite
STEIN: Maybe they were Jewish.
COX: I think this really violates kind of Minnesotans` sense of
fairness, if nothing else.
O`DONNELL: Sam Stein, we`re done with this segment, but I want you to
help me lead into a later segment with the answer to this question.
How much would you pay for a better condom?
O`DONNELL: Bill Gates -- I`m going to help you out. Bill Gates has
offered to pay a million for a better condom.
STEIN: Hey, if he has the money, why not, right?
O`DONNELL: If you stick around in the green room and watch the final
segment tonight, you will know why.
STEIN: Why are those questions coming to me?
O`DONNELL: Well, I just think it`s generally men who pay for condoms.
Bill Gates is willing to pay a million for a condom. So I was trying to
figure -- see if you had a price.
STEIN: I appreciate it. Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: OK. So stick around and watch what this is all about.
It`s in the final block of the show, coming up.
And the Rewrite is going to come up before that. We`ll be right back.
O`DONNELL: Politics is one of those areas where the so-called experts
don`t always have the best vantage point. You can be too close to a
subject, too enmeshed in its details to see some of its larger truths. And
that is definitely true of politics. I have never thought more clearly
about politics than when I knew nothing about it.
In 1988, I was absolutely certain of one thing. Michael Dukakis would
never be president, never. It didn`t matter when he became the front
runner for the Democratic nomination for president. I knew that he would
never be president. And it didn`t matter that he eventually had an 18
point lead over the Republican candidate, then incumbent Vice President
George H.W. Bush. I knew Michael Dukakis would never be president.
I could see that very clearly. And I didn`t care what the
professionals thought. I didn`t care what the experts thought. That was
the year that I lost my amateur standing and got my first paycheck in
politics, even though I still knew nothing about it. I found myself
drafted into Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan`s election campaign by his
wife and campaign manager, Elizabeth Moynihan. They didn`t need me. They
were going to win with more than two-thirds of the vote no matter who
worked on that campaign. But I needed a paycheck, and so there I was at my
very first political convention, the Democratic National Convention,
knowing full well what no one else there seemed to know, that their
nominee, Michael Dukakis, would never be president.
It`s like football. The view is better from the seats way up high
over the 50 yard line than it is down there where the coaches are standing
on the sidelines. And when you`re sitting way up high in the grand stand,
you have a chance to see things that the people down there on the field
could never, ever see.
Tonight`s Rewrite is a perfect case in point. Someone sitting up
there in the grand stand of American politics has spotted something in our
politics, actually spotted the way one of the most powerful players in our
politics is playing the game, something we professional political analysts
LAST WORD friend and one time cast member of THE LAST WORD, Barry
Levinson, the Academy Award winning director, screen writer and producer,
is a wise and generous man. He spotted something from up there in the
grand stand about our politics and has generously given me permission to
steal it for tonight`s Rewrite, in which we, Barry and I, will Rewrite the
political media`s view of Grover Norquist.
In a recent "Huffington Post" article from which I am about to
liberally borrow, Barry points out that anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist`s
first and most important tactic in his war on taxes is, quote, to devalue
the English language. He continues to say his goal is to shrink government
and then drown it in the bathtub. But what he is really saying is, I want
a revolution, I want to overturn this democracy and create a new
This is a crucially important and downright brilliant perception and
revelation. Grover Norquist is not a conservative. Repeat, Grover
Norquist is not a conservative. Tell all your friends, he is not a
conservative. He is a revolutionary.
Think, just think! Think how the media and the Republican party would
treat Grover Norquist if they saw him for what he really is, a
revolutionary. All American revolutionaries since our first successful
revolutionaries have been concerted crazies. There are revolutionaries in
this country right now. There always are Americans who want to overthrow
this government. But they are few and harmless and unable to build
followings because, among other things, we don`t book that particular kind
of crazy as guests on our TV shows.
Grover loves the idea of drowning the government in a bathtub. He has
said it repeatedly over the years. He once said "our goal is to cut
government in half as a percentage of the economy over 25 years, so that we
can get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
At another moment, he said "I don`t want to abolish government, I
simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom
and drown it in the bathtub."
Now I know some of you are saying oh, come on, drowning in the bathtub
is just a metaphor. I think Grover does use metaphor frequently. This
might be an example of it, for example: quote, "bipartisanship is another
name for date rape."
But when it comes to the bathtub, Barry Levinson and I have trouble
seeing the metaphor. Barry writes "what is the metaphor? He said he wants
to kill the government in a bathtub. The only substitute is overturn the
government. He is a revolutionary like Lennon or Mao. He doesn`t believe
in the system. He just doesn`t want to say it with as much clarity as they
did. If you just want to lower taxes, is it necessary to drown the
government in a bathtub? Simply say you want a lower tax code, period.
Drown the tax code, if you will. But he wants to drain the government of
the United States, kill what the Founding Fathers fought for.
"It is not only about taxes, he is opposed to this government, the
U.S. government. He is a new kind of revolutionary, a 21st century
He is the kind of revolutionary that Sarah Palin would like to pal
around with. Sarah Palin thought she could crush presidential candidate
Barack Obama by talking about him palling around with terrorists.
Virtually every Republican elected official in Washington has palled around
with Grover Norquist, with a revolutionary, with someone whose goal is to
destroy the federal government, destroy the Founding Fathers` creation. If
Republicans take Grover Norquist`s goal so seriously that they are willing
to sign a pledge to him to follow his dictates on taxation, why don`t
Republicans take Grover Norquist`s words seriously?
When Jane Fonda was protesting the Vietnam War, if she said she wanted
to drown the American government in the bath tub, would conservatives have
laughed and cheered the way they cheer Grover Norquist for saying exactly
that? Jane Fonda never said anything as revolutionary as Grover Norquist.
Jane Fonda simply wanted her government to stop doing something. She
simply wanted her government to stop wasting American lives and Vietnamese
lives in an unjust war that we never should have entered and from which we
Vietnam protesters simply wanted their government to stop doing
something. Grover Norquist wants his government to stop. He wants
government to stop. He wants to replace the government we have with some
undescribed alternative government that will have either ultra low taxation
or no taxation at all. We really have no idea what kind of government
Grover Norquist supports, because he doesn`t really ever describe that. He
is not very clear about that.
What he is clear about is how much he hates the American government.
And I, for one, completely support his right to express that hatred in
whatever homicidal terms he chooses on any given day. But think, please,
just please think what it would be like if someone else tried to use the
words of Grover Norquist publicly, someone, say, who is not white, someone
who did not work for Newt Gingrich in the Congress, someone who had not
worked for the Reagan campaigns.
Barry Levinson offered this thought exercise in his article, "Grover
and the Bathtub." "Let`s say his name is not Grover Norquist. He is a
black man or a Latino or, for that matter, any minority, and he says, as
Norquist did, `our goal is to inflict pain. It is not enough to win. It
has to be a painful, devastating defeat, like when the king would take his
opponent`s head and spike it on a pole for everyone to see.`"
What if this guy had said that, "our goal is to inflict pain?" What
if this guy talked about spiking his opponent`s head on a pole for everyone
to see? What`s the difference between Van Jones and Grover Norquist?
Grover Norquist went to Harvard College and Harvard Business School. Van
Jones went to the University of Tennessee and Yale Law School. Not much
Grover Norquist worked for the Reagan administration. Van Jones
worked for the Obama administration. Not much difference there. But there
is a difference. There`s a big difference. If Van Jones had ever said
"our goal is to inflict pain. It`s not enough to win. It has to be a
painful, devastating defeat, like when the king would take his opponent`s
head and spike it on a pole for everyone to see," what would O`Reilly say
that night? What would Sean Hannity do that night? Sean would devote the
entire hour of his show to condemnation of Van Jones, which I believe he
has done from time to time.
He would call Van Jones a revolutionary. Those guys have demonized
Van Jones for nothing. And they cheer on the revolutionary, the enemy of
the government, Grover Norquist. And now we know how an American
revolutionary can be championed by the right wing media and welcomed into
the halls of power by Republicans in Congress. Two things are necessary.
First of all, be white; be very, very white. And second, pretend to be a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States will
join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two
decades by connecting more people to the global economy, and by realizing
the promise of an AIDS free generation, which is within our reach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: With that AIDS free generation in mind, the Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation is offering up to 1.1 million dollars to anyone
with a promising idea for a better condom. Their website notes "the
primary draw back from the male perspective is that condoms decrease
pleasure as compared to no condom, creating a tradeoff that many men find
unacceptable, particularly given that the decisions about use must be made
just prior to intercourse. Is it possible to develop a product without
this stigma, or better, one that`s felt to enhance pleasure? If so, would
such a product lead to substantial benefits for global health, both in
terms of reducing the incidence of unplanned pregnancies and in prevention
of infection with HIV or other STIS."
And here is the challenge. We are looking for a next generation
condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure in order to
improve uptake and regular use.
Joining me now, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who advises the White House on
global AIDS issues. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his
Doctor, this is an issue with condoms that I have not heard publicly
discussed before, that may be involved in them not being used as much as we
need them to be used around the world in this AIDS fight. What do you
think the hopes are, the possibilities are, for what Bill and Melinda Gates
are trying to advance here?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATL. INST. OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES:
Well, as in all Challenge Grants, the way the Gates Foundation has put
forth here, there`s a possibility that someone will come up with a good
idea, a good product that would remove some the reluctance on the part of
people to use condoms. Condoms is one of the most effective ways to avoid
HIV infection, no doubt about that.
And one of the things we need to do much better on is in the area of
prevention. Condom use is one of the real weapons that we can use in
prevention. So the idea about getting over that hump of reluctance that
some people have -- and there`s no doubt about that, there is a reluctance
because of the real or perceived issue that there may not be as much
physical pleasure when you use a condom. And the challenge to people who
can make a product is, can you make a product that actually would at least,
if not make it less, perhaps even enhance the pleasure.
And that`s the challenge that the Gates Foundation is giving to people
who might be able to invent this.
O`DONNELL: This is a deadly subject around the world; 69 percent of
the people living with HIV worldwide right now are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This seems to me to indicate a range of difficulties with this particular
product. What I`m wondering about is, aren`t the companies -- it is a four
billion dollars industry or so right now, the condom industry. Aren`t
people in that industry working on exactly this challenge already that Bill
Gates has proposed?
FAUCI: I think there`s enough use of condoms that there may not be
the incentive on the part of companies to do something even better.
There`s an incredible amount of use of it. As you say, billions of condoms
are used each year. But when you are looking at the target population that
you want to get to, the people who have that reluctance to use it, then an
idea like this is not such a bad idea.
When you`re the CEO of a company that`s making an extraordinary amount
of money on what you`re doing already, there`s not that great incentive on
the part of the company itself to do what Bill and Melinda Gates are trying
to get people to do, to come up with some new, creative ideas to make an
even better condom.
O`DONNELL: Well, it is an interesting way around the companies in
that sense. And it is such a simple product, in a way, that you would
imagine that somewhere in the world there are some pretty brilliant and
clever users out there who may very well be able to come up with something
like this. And Bill Gates seems to hope anyway that he can reach those
FAUCI: Indeed, and that`s the whole purpose of these. They`re called
Challenge Grants. In other words, they`re getting people to think out of
the box. It is not an awful lot of money for an individual. It`s 100,000
per clip. But that`s something that could get some bright person to get an
idea that might actually be translated into a product. And that`s what the
Gates Foundation is hoping for.
O`DONNELL: Dr. Anthony Fauci gets tonight`s LAST WORD. Thank you,
FAUCI: Good to be here.
O`DONNELL: "NOW WITH ALEX WAGNER" is up next.
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