Guest: Barbara Boxer, Connie Schultz, David Frum
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Richard. Thank you, Keith.
And thank you for sticking around tonight at home. We've had another wild and, frankly, tremendous news day.
(voice over): Three weeks to go and more of the same for the Obama-Biden ticket. "Washington Post," up ten points, nationally. "Newsweek," up 11. Marist, up 12 in Pennsylvania, four in Ohio. NBC's new electoral count, the Democrats leading by more than 100 electoral votes.
Today in Ohio, Obama kept the pressure on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last week, Senator McCain's campaign announced that they were going to turn the page on talking about our economy so they can spend the final weeks of this election attacking me instead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator McCain, meanwhile, tries to turn the page-again. This time, he slips ahead to a mythical political story line in which being down by double digits with three weeks left to run is a good thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We got them just where we want them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Barbara Boxer tells us where the parties and candidates stand on how to save the American economy.
And that the McCain campaign flounders (ph), Republicans are turning on each other. Former George W. Bush speechwriter, David Frum is here.
And if John McCain really wants to turn the page on what has been his openly hostile and angry campaign, doesn't he first have to get all the openly hostile and angry people on his campaign to agree?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Time for someone to Talk Me Down about John McCain having his cake, his honorable, even dangerous cake, and eating it, too.
And speaking of cake and dishonorable, Sarah Palin takes the cake in
the face of the bipartisan report that she abused power as governor of
Alaska. She says -
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrong doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No, wait. That can't be right. What is that all about?
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
(on camera): So, it turns out the stock market doesn't have to crash every Monday. Some Mondays, it can post its biggest one-day point gain, ever. Hooray. The Dow, today, snaps a string of eight straight losing days, providing another opportunity for the two men vying for the presidency to talk jobs, business, and values.
Senator Obama gave a major economic policy address today in Ohio.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We'll create another 2 million jobs by rebuilding our crumbling roads, and schools, and bridges, our infrastructure. We'll also save 1 million jobs by creating a Jobs and Growth Fund that can provide money to state and local communities so that they move forward with projects to rebuild and repair our infrastructure. A lot of these projects and these jobs are at risk right now because of budget short falls. But this fund will make sure they continue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: One truism in American politics now is that Americans trust Democrats more than they trust Republicans on the issue of the economy. It's born out by the polls, by which I mean, that is observably true, but it's also a truism in the sense that it's taken for granted and often doesn't even get explained.
What Obama's proposal today on the economy, on the government taking action in hard economic times to create jobs by building infrastructure, if you want to understand why Americans broadly like Democrats on economic issues look at here.
This is the DNA of the Democratic Party on the economy. In a time of crisis, when the private sector is failing to do what the country needs it to do, use the public sector to help relieved the pain, to stimulate the private sector, and ultimately, everybody wins. Public works projects create job, people get hired to build those roads and bridges and schools. When those building projects are done, we all benefit from improved quality of life because our roads and bridges are improved, and they're safer, too.
And the cost of doing business in America goes down because the truckers and the shipping companies, and the widget makers all benefit as much as you do from fewer axle-breaking potholes on the highway.
It's yet to be seen whether America is ready for a new, new deal. But if we need one, economically, we will need a president who can make that case, that government got to have a role to play. That's why it's no accident that tough economic times turn American eyes toward Democrats.
Now, in this environment, how is Senator McCain holding up amid all this? Well, we were told to expect a big new economic idea from Senator McCain today. His friend, Senator Lindsey Graham, suggested as much on CBS yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION"/CBS/SUNDAY)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, ® SOUTH CAROLINA: That now is the time to lower tax rates for investors, capital gains tax, dividend tax rates, to make sure that we can get the economy jump started. It will be a very comprehensive approach to jumpstart the economy by allowing capital to be formed easier in America by lowering taxes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All right, a tax-cutting idea from the Republican candidate.
Not entirely ground breaking, but an idea, nonetheless.
That is until the McCain campaign was first to correct its own surrogate and announced that, actually, no such idea exists. Campaign spokesman, Tucker Bounds told the "New York Times" today, quote, "We do not have immediate plans to announce any policy proposals outside of the proposals that John McCain has announced."
McCain economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin adding, quote, "I have no comments on anything to anybody."
No comments on anything to anybody. Wow! So, inherent ideological disadvantage? Check. Lack of a new idea? Check. General fear of going on the record with reporters? Check and mate.
The campaign now is saying that they will have a new idea on the economy tomorrow, but I've been fooled by them before and I'm not holding my breath this time.
At his no new economic idea speech today, Senator McCain did advance perhaps his most mystifying math equation yet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Let me give you the state of the race today. We have 22 days to go. We are six points down. The national media has written us off.
MCCAIN: My friends, we've got them just where we want them.
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I being this far down in the polls is just where you want to be, senator, where would you not want to be?
Rhetoric aside, I'm guessing that where the McCain-Palin campaign does not want to be right now-specifically, I mean, geographically, is campaigning in states that George W. Bush won easily, the Obama-Biden surge has McCain and Palin forced to defend their turf in fire engine red states across the country, rather than trying to pick off any of the blue states that John Kerry won.
A quick look at the map might tell you everything you need to know about the current state of the race. On Saturday, Senator McCain campaigned in Davenport, Iowa. Today, the McCain-Palin ticket campaigned in the red states of Virginia and North Carolina.
And Governor Palin will, reportedly, make a trip to the red, red state of Indiana on Friday. Chaos, confusion, and courting your own voters-is that exactly where you want to be? Really?
Joining us now is Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California. She is supporting Barack Obama for president.
Senator Boxer, thank you so much for joining us.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER, (D) CALIFORNIA: Thank you for having me on your show, Rachel.
MADDOW: The poll numbers certainly do look good for Senator Obama and Senator Biden right now. I know you were campaigning for them today in Florida, you're off soon to Minnesota and to Ohio.
MADDOW: What does the Obama-Biden campaign need to do for the next three weeks if they are going to have their best chance at winning those three swing states?
BOXER: Rachel, I think they have the winning formula. They're authentic. Barack is who he is. Joe Biden is who he is. They are looking at the American people straight in the eye and saying, "We know what you are going through and we're going to do everything to fix it."
I think Barack's new plan today just keeps moving forward. You know, yesterday's news was the bailout package. They've had a lot of problems. They're finally learning from England that they should go ahead and invest in the banks. Get an equity share for taxpayers instead of buying up those toxic assets, which I never supported that idea. They're doing that right.
But what's next? Rachel, what's next is making sure we avoid a deep recession. We are losing so many jobs. And Barack understands that and Joe understands that.
And so, they are way ahead of McCain. And I think the plan that Barack put out today, looking at the type of tax cuts that small business needs to create jobs, looking at this infrastructure program that you spoke about in addition to roads, and we know our bridges are falling down, our schools need to be made energy efficient and rebuilt. That's part of the plan.
At the end of the day, Barack is just way out in front, looking at the next problem and showing the American people his kind of leadership, which is calm, cool and collected, and smart.
MADDOW: That sort of idea of investing in infrastructure in schools, and I'm assuming, things like our transportation system as well as our communication system.
MADDOW: All of that reinvesting in the country as the immediate effect of creating jobs. It also, ideologically, will be a red flag to conservatives and to the Republican Party. Is the Democratic Party prepared to politically defend the idea of a new, new deal?
BOXER: Well, let me tell you why I don't exactly agree with you. I'm the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and every few years we write a transportation bill and infrastructure bill. It gets support across the board.
One exception, by the way, several years ago, was John McCain. He was one of four to vote "no."
But infrastructure programs are very, very popular among the people. Republicans and Democrats, alike, I would say, because we don't-we don't, it's not the government building the road, it's the private sector. We just fund the private sector. And so, it's a very popular program. So, no, I don't think we're going to run into trouble with independents or Republicans.
MADDOW: I have had a hard time figuring out what the Republican position is on getting out of this economic crisis. I know that Republicans in the Senate voted two to one for the bailout plan, Republicans in the House two to one against it. John McCain and the congressional leadership.
MADDOW: on the Republican side, they were for it. The RNC is running ads attacking Barack Obama for supporting it. From inside the Senate, do you have a sense of what the Republican Party's position is, on how to get out of this mess?
BOXER: It's a very good point. I would say to you that they're really leaderless. You know, the president and the vice president are yesterday. And, you know, every time the president comes out to address the people, the stock market goes down. So, there's no confidence there.
When Mr. Paulson comes out, he reads a speech. His assistant that he put in charge of the bailout, they read speeches. That is not what we need now. We need to have people who build confidence, who know what they're thinking.
So, I think the Republicans are leaderless. And you see many Republicans now abandoning John McCain's campaign. I'm not saying they won't vote for him, but, Rachel, I'm at the point-and I'm here in Florida, there are a lot of independents and a lot of Republicans.
And the point I'm making is, because they are saying, well, don't you think Barack is going to win. And I say-I'm too cautious to predict a win-but I will say this: what we need now is a Barack Obama big win and we need a big win in the Congress because this country has to, you know, get over these last eight years and begin investing in our country and rebuilding our nation and beginning to talk to the rest of the world so the rest of the world follows us, once again.
And this is that moment in history. It's exciting to be in these battleground states. And I'm very hopeful, after what I've seen today, doing about five different events.
MADDOW: Right now, just looking at a snapshot of where we are at in the presidential race, if the election were held today or tomorrow, we know that it would be a landslide for the Democrats and who knows what's going to happen over the next 22 days, but say, it is a big win, in November.
MADDOW: Would you support efforts to bring accountability on some of the constitutional issues, some of the potential war crime issues that do plague our ability to regain the moral high ground and to be a beacon of hope in the world? Would you see that as looking backwards at the Bush administration, or would you say that as a way to move forward?
BOXER: I think-I think it's a way to move forward, if it's done right. It needs to be done right. We need to look at what abuses of power took place, so that they don't have it again with future presidents, be they a Republican or Democratic or any other party, we need to take a look at that.
So, no, I think, if it's handled right, of course, we've got to keep our eye on the ball. First and foremost, we got to get this economy back on track. We have to end the war in Iraq in a responsible way. We have to continue in our fight against terrorism and Osama bin Laden. These are the things we must do but we also must take a look at, you know, these abuses of power.
One of my worst experiences as a United States senator was going up to some secret room and looking at pictures from Abu Ghraib, a lot of which the public has since seen. I don't think I've ever felt so lost for my country. And, I think, we need to take a hard look at that. As I said, do it in the right way so that this never ever happens again.
MADDOW: Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California. You are in Florida now, off to Minnesota and Ohio campaigning. Good luck with the campaigning and thanks for coming on the show tonight.
MADDOW: So, do we just close our eyes and pretend that last week's "ugly, divisive, palling around with terrorists," McCain-Palin campaign, didn't happen? Republicans are hoping our teeny tiny national attention span will fast forward to this week's incarnation of John McCain, the underdog. Sadly, a number of McCain supporters, apparently, are still stuck on last week's version of John McCain. And wow, do I need someone to Talk Me Down about the ugliness and divisiveness continuing.
Also, later on, if John McCain and Sarah Palin, really, are soul mates, as John McCain once claimed, then maybe they should take a minute and get on the same page policy-wise, like, for example, is it a good thing or bad thing that the U.S. took North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism? If your answer is both, you might need a new answer to that one.
One more thing, though, about the rigors of the campaign trail. Apparently, they make you really, really food focused. Campaigning in Philadelphia over the weekend, Senator Obama appeared fixated, obsessed, and downright amused with himself, for setting what maybe a new stump speech record for noun repetition. It may have been a challenge from his staff, maybe he was hungry, but the Illinois senator apparently had pie on his mind.
We now join Senator Obama, already in progress, at this point, he's already said the word pie five times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POWERHOUSE PICTURES)
OBAMA: I like sweet potato pie. I think about having a sweet potato pie eating contest. A lot of people have been saying they can make sweet potato pie. I'll put it against my mother-in-law's sweet potato pie. They did have sweet potato pie in South Ohio. I don't know why. So I had coconut cream pie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Obama mentioned pie another four times after that. Giving us a grand total of 15 mentions of the word pie in a little under two minutes. Your move, Senator McCain.
MADDOW: Just a couple of months ago, John McCain said at the Saddleback Forum that Georgia congressman and civil right icon, John Lewis, was one of the three wise men he would consult if he were elected president. Lewis later said that Senator McCain, in fact, had not made a habit of consulting him even though both men had been in Congress together for more than two decades.
Now, this particular wise man is calling out Senator McCain for his campaign's hateful tone. Senator McCain's response? He demanded that Barack Obama denounce John Lewis. Let me get this straight. John McCain wants Senator Obama to repudiate criticism from one of the three wisest men he says he knows. Does that mean that you would want John Lewis' advice in the White House only if he promised to tell you nice things you wanted to hear? That's not consultation. That's service.
MADDOW: Remember, way, way, way back, like six months ago, when John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, sent out that memo saying that John McCain was going to run a respectful campaign focused on the issues? How much of that stock did you buy? Too late, because it's trading at zero today.
This weekend, McCain, again, hit the reset button on his campaign, reconstituting himself as he was in March, telling a group of volunteers, quote, "I respect Senator Obama. We will conduct a respectful race, and we will make sure that everybody else does, too."
Well, you're off to a shaky restart, senator. How's this for a line from that same speech, quote, "After I whip his you-know -hat in this debate, we're going to be going out 24/7."
And where was the respect and civility in the campaign on Saturday when Reverend Arnold Conrad led McCain's supporters in prayer before the senator's speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SATURDAY)
ARNOLD CONRAD, PASTOR: There are millions of people around this world praying to their god, whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah-that his opponent wins for a variety of reasons. And, Lord, I pray that you would guard your own reputation because they are going to think that their god is bigger than you, if that happens. So, I pray that you would step forward and honor your own name in all that happens between now and Election Day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The invocation before a McCain speech, in which that guy was, maybe, talking about holy work for the White House, one where Christians are against the Christian Barack Obama and all the non-Christians are for him. Yes, that's very respectful.
The respect mandate, apparently, has also not made it to the Sarah Palin rallies, where a Palin supporter brought a stuffed monkey wearing an Obama sticker to an event in Pennsylvania. Which part of respectful is that, again?
Senator McCain had great opportunity to respectfully repudiate the words of the Virginia Republican Party chairman, who said of Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden, quote, "Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon. That is scary."
A Virginia TV anchor asked the senator about that quote, Senator McCain said he'd have to look at the context of his remarks."
You see, here's the real strategy as enunciated yesterday by a top McCain advisor, Mark Salter, quote, "I think there have been quite a few reporters recently who have sort of implied that somehow we are responsible for the occasional nut who shows up and yells something about Barack Obama."
OK. Now, I get it. Say you are running a respectful campaign to insulate your candidate from looking bad and desperate, but keep running the smear campaign while you say you're not. Blame it on the nuts. Senator McCain is respectful, he said he was.
Now, I know it's only Monday, but I already need to be talked down. Joining me now to try is Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Plain Dealer" in Cleveland, Ohio.
Connie Schultz, thanks for joining us.
CONNIE SCHULTZ, COLUMNIST, THE PLAIN DEALER: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Now is your chance to make your case to me, to Talk Me Down.
SCHULTZ: Or I can hope.
MADDOW: Is the strategy here-is the strategy here for McCain to let Palin and the TV ads and the supporters in the crowds do all the smearing, leaving McCain to hang on to his image as an honorable candidate?
SCHULTZ: Well, first of all, let's think about where this is happening. I believe the pastor was in Iowa, is that right?
MADDOW: Davenport, Iowa. That's right. Yes.
SCHULTZ: (INAUDIBLE). Yes, Iowa has already gone to Barack Obama. The party chair in Virginia, look at Virginia, I think it looks Barack Obama is going to win Virginia. These are desperate tactics by a desperate campaign.
And, you know, I keep thinking about how I was raised. I was raised that if you do something bad and if you misbehave in public, you are going to be reprimanded in public. I think what John McCain has not done, I think, you know, when that pastor did that, the thing to do is you get up on stage, and you renounce right then and there what that pastor did, and you're not going to have another pastor pull that.
And if you got people in the crowd screaming racial epithets, screaming that he is a terrorist, and you have them physically removed from the crowd, they're going to stop doing that in the crowd, that's what you got to do.
They created this mess, especially, I think, through Sarah Palin, and what I consider to be hate speech last week. They created this mess. They've given these people permission to behave this way. And the only way to you weighed it in now is to reprimand them publicly.
MADDOW: Do you think that is not..
SCHULTZ: That's the moment (ph).
MADDOW: Do you think that it's not a coincidence that this has started happening in the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, at the same time that Sarah Palin has been talking about palling around with terrorist? Is that what you are calling hate speech?
SCHULTZ: Of course not.
SCHULTZ: No, yes-absolutely not. And I have been a journalist for almost 30 years now. And I've covered a lot of political rallies in my career. I've never seen this before. I have never seen this, certainly not in Ohio. And it is occurring in Ohio now.
And-do I think this is the majority of McCain supporters? No. But I think that they were appealing to what they keep calling their base. And some of their base is behaving-grossly badly. This is scary stuff. And they've got to rein it in. The only way they can do that is to start making examples of them publicly in real time.
MADDOW: When I think of Cleveland journalism, I think of you because I think we're getting a column for a long time, I feel like, you sure (ph) sort of got your fingers on the polls of Cleveland. How do voters in Cleveland, how do voters in Ohio, generally, respond to seeing, I guess, an environment like that at the McCain-Palin rallies?
SCHULTZ: It's made me really proud to be in Ohio, to be honest with you, because, of course-as you know, being a woman with an opinion, you're going to get some hate mail just because of that. And some have certainly disagreed with my opinions that I've been writing about Sarah Palin, but the overwhelming majority, including a lot of Republicans I've been hearing from are saying, this is not the party I recognize, this is not the candidate I remember in John McCain. And I find that quite heartening.
I also think it's interesting. We just had a letter to the editor from a mother in Strongsville, Ohio, wrote on our Sunday paper because she was outraged at the behavior of the crowd in an event in Strongsville-and very courageously, very publicly said, you know, this is not how you lead. This is appalling behavior.
And that takes a lot of guts when, you know, you're not use to putting yourself out there in a regular basis. I'm seeing more and more of that. And people who are telling they're having these difficult conversations with family members at home. I'm hearing it.
You know, the other thing is, people in Ohio, a lot of them are working class. And they are really getting tired of being depicted as jukes-I think of my brother-in-law, Dave Pikowski (ph) who's married to Leslie, he works in a chemical plant in Nashville (ph) County and he's been for Barack Obama from the very beginning. And he is one of those people who's been very outspoken with this. He's really tired of having people like him depicted as stupid enough to fall for these tactics.
MADDOW: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Plain Dealer" in Cleveland, thank you so much for joining us tonight. You didn't Talk Me Down, but made me feel better in an effusive way.
SCHULTZ: OK, good.
MADDOW: Thanks, Connie.
SCHULTZ: Good enough.
MADDOW: All right, fall is here. And conservative supporters are dropping off the McCain-Palin maple and they need immediate raking. For instance, the once McCain-friendly "New York Times" columnist, David Brooks called McCain's campaign, quote, "toxic," and suggested a big Columbus Day sale at McCain headquarters because his staffers are blowing it for him. Republicans, it is getting cold out there.
We'll have more on that in a moment.
MADDOW: Here is the conclusion of the official report about whether Sarah Palin abused her power as governor of Alaska by firing that state's Public Safety commissioner after he wouldn't fire a state trooper she wanted fired. The conclusion? Gov. Palin abused her power.
OK. Here is what Sarah Palin says about that report, quote, "I'm very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing, any hint of any kind of unethical activity. Huh? Hold on, wait a minute. Let us put some truth in it.
First though, it's time for some few underreported holy mackerel stories in today's news, starting with news from Afghanistan and life during wartime. Hundreds of Taliban fighters staged an ambitious multi-pronged assault over the weekend in capturing the capital city of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.
Gen. David McKiernan told reporters that NATO forces fought off the attack, killing over 60 Taliban fighters. But the take-away here is decidedly scary. It used to be that insurgents avoided direct confrontations at well-guarded sites. Now, they are apparently eager enough for the propaganda victory, and sure enough, they have plenty of fighters to spare, but they're going for big, high-profile goals like attacking capital cities.
In terms of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, Julian Bonds at the "Los Angeles Times" reports that U.S. military leaders are not considering a U.S. troop surge for Afghanistan, no matter what Sarah Palin and John McCain say to the contrary.
U.S. forces, however, are reportedly considering arming Afghan tribal militias in Iraq. The Sunni awakening, you might remember, started among tribal groups before and totally independent of the U.S. troop surge. That's the factor that's considered to be strongest explanation for why violence declined in Iraq - the so-called Sunni awakening. In Afghanistan, the same kind of thing does not appear to be happening on its own.
But if "The L.A. Times" is correct, the U.S. military is thinking about trying to start the same sort of ball rolling in Afghanistan by arming the warlords' fighters, the tribal militias.
If you feel like you are having a weird flashback to the '80s and the Russians, and us arming guys like - oh, I don't know - Osama Bin Laden and the Mujahideen, you are not flashing back alone. Isn't that amazing how, if you asked the question the right way, the answer always seems to be send more weapons?
Speaking of more weapons, what ever happened to Paul Wolfowitz? After Paul Wolfowitz sold us the war in Iraq as an easy-peasy, pay-for-itself, weapons of mass destruction pick up that would take like five minutes and five soldiers and five bucks, then he was off to the World Bank where he came in within about five inches of being the first World Bank president ever to be fired.
Well, guys like Paul Wolfowitz have a way of failing up in this world. And thanks to his awesome track record on international affairs. The State Department now has him running the International Security Advisory Board to give our government advice on weapons of mass destruction.
Wolfowitz was really the best guy for this job? Are you sure? It's like hiring Cousin Itt to cut your hair. Anyway, the International Security Advisory Board under the leadership of Paul Wolfowitz has just recommended that we really ought to consider scaling up our atomic arsenal to make sure we are keeping a nuclear arm to China on its toes, quote, "The U.S. must undertake the development of new weapons to convince China that it will not be able to overcome the U.S. militarily."
You know what? If they're going to try to sell us on a new Cold War and a new nuclear arms race with China, you might want to invest in a better salesman. If Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and all the rest of the horsemen from these past eight-year apocalypse were selling a no-calorie, bacon-flavored aphrodisiac, nobody would buy it. Come on, you guys. Geez, come on.
MADDOW: How big a deal is it, really, that the two candidates on a presidential ticket agree with each other, or that they even have any idea what the other one is doing?
Late last week, the Bush administration decided to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terror. On Friday night, John McCain responded by releasing a statement, expressing disappointment with the decision. He said he was not at all convinced that the decision was good for America's interests.
Apparently, Gov. Palin didn't get the memo about that, because by the following day on Saturday, Palin had this curious exchange with reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Do you have any reaction to the decision to take North Korea off the list of terrorist states?
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Condoleezza Rice, of course, having worked on this strategy for quite sometime - I have faith in her that they are making this wise decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wise decision? Palin spokeswoman Tracie Schmidt earned her keep this weekend during the necessary gymnastics to explain the apparent total 180-degree difference in position between the two candidates. Quote, "Gov. Palin's position is identical to Sen. McCain's. She believes Secretary Rice and the Bush administration are wise to pursue diplomacy and that is what she meant."
Except that McCain's rejection of Rice's decision was just about the opposite of "safe in her wise decision." Good marks for effort, poor marks for believability. Add that to Palin's contradiction of McCain on the Pakistan policy and her response to McCain's pulling out of Michigan, which was an E-mail reportedly asking, quote, "Oh, come on, do we have to?"
But it all adds up to the GOP having a maverick problem on their ticket. Calling this, Bill Kristol suggested in the "New York Times" this morning that said McCain should quote, "fire his campaign and junk the whole thing and start over."
Start over, with all the repair the campaign apparently needs? How do you immediately regain the unconditional support of Republican intelligentsia like George Will, David Brooks, Mike Murphy, Charles Krauthammer, Kathleen Parker. And what about the rank-and-file party officials who are running a little tepid lately?
Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson was asked this weekend if he was happy with the McCain campaign in his home state. Thompson responded, quote, "No. I don't know who is."
Florida Governor Charlie Crist skipped the McCain football rally to go to Disney World and told "The Miami Herald" that when it comes to getting McCain elected, quote, "When I have time to help, I'll try to do that." Ouch.
Even McCain's favorite surrogate, Mitt Romney now says that McCain needs to quote, "establish an economic vision that is able to convince the American people that he really knows how to strengthen the economy." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Do you want more? One more. Redstate co-founder Joshua Trevino says that he just took a pass on voting for McCain-Palin as well. He wrote, quote, "Do I believe in the national Republican Party? Not in the slightest."
Joining us from Washington, David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, columnist for "The National Review Online" and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Frum, it's a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for joining us.
DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT BUSH AND COLUMNIST FOR
"THE NATIONAL REVIEW": Thank you.
MADDOW: You have publicly stated some reservations about John McCain and some criticisms of the way his campaign has run, and even though you've also said you will vote for him. One quote I wanted to ask about, you said that those who press this Ayers - William Ayers line of attack are ripping Republicans and conservatives into a fury that's going to be very hard to calm after November. What do you mean by that and that word "fury?"
FRUM: Well, I think you were talking through much of the show about the matter of tone in our politics. And yet, I think, we are seeing an intensification of some of the ugliness of tone that has been a feature in American politics in the last eight years. And this show, unfortunately, is itself an example of that problem, its heavy sarcasm and smearing and its disregard for a lot of the substantive issues that really are important.
And I would hate to see Republicans go probably into opposition sustaining this terrible cycle of un-seriousness about politics, turning it into a spectator sport. The party is going to have some important rebuilding to do. It's going to do that in an intelligent way and we're all going to have to do better than we've been doing, including in the past 40 minutes.
MADDOW: Do you think that my tone on this show is equivalent to people calling Barack Obama somebody who pals around with terrorists, people yelling from the audience at McCain-Palin rallies, "Bomb Obama. Kill him. Off with his head. Traitor." Are you accusing me of an equivalence in tone?
FRUM: I don't think that's an important question. I think the question is, given the small plate of responsibility that you personally have, how do you manage that responsibility? The fact that other people fail in other ways is not an excuse for you failing in your way.
MADDOW: But you did just say it's the same thing, that you're seeing
the same thing on this show in a lot -
FRUM: I worry about that. No, and I think we all - so I hope that my party, as it probably goes into opposition, will do better. And I hope that when we are looking in the next cycle of politics, that we will that the quality of discussion is more thoughtful, that the substance is more important, and that questions like whether or not North Korea is a terrorist state and belongs in that list, can be discussed on their merits and not on what they tell us about the games in the shift of politics.
MADDOW: The thoughtfulness issue, though - I wonder if part of the problem, in the way that we haven't moved through these things - we decry them on all sides, people, left, right and center, complaining about the tone in politics.
But I sense also that there's a devotion to coming up with a sort of false equivalence, the idea that bringing up John McCain's experience in the Keating Five, for example, is somehow equivalent to calling Barack Obama somebody who pals around with terrorists.
You're saying that my tone on the show, sarcasm, being playful, the way that I approach issues, would be somehow equivalent to McCain, I'm guessing, saying that I want to talk about the economy. I don't see those two as equivalent.
FRUM: I'm suggesting - the line is often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. I don't know if it's really his - that we should be the change we want to see or that we say we want to see. And so if we want to have a more intelligent, more grown-up politics, and I think we all say that, then we ought to do it.
And if we're given the opportunity to do it, we should do it. I mean, you raise a very interesting point about the question of arming these militias in Afghanistan. I was just there for a little more than a week within date of the mission. We spent a lot of time talking about that question. It's a really important question and a really hard one.
And it does demand some of the best thinking we can do because there is a war going on that the United States has a commitment. It's a war that's not going well. We've got a major financial crisis. And I absolutely am concerned and unhappy with the kind of campaign my party has been running. And I'm doing my best to try to raise the tone, my little best, and urge that we do better. We're talking more substantively. I think we should all do that. It would be better for everyone.
MADDOW: I didn't intend for my interview with you to be about this.
But because you raised it, I feel like I've got to talk to you about it. And I guess when you say that you want the discourse to be more grown up and more intelligent, I agree with you on intelligent. I don't necessarily agree with you on grown up. I think there's room for all sorts of different kinds of discourse including satire, including teasing, including humor.
There's a lot of different ways to talk about stuff and Americans
absorb things in a lot of different ways. But I do think there's something
qualitatively different about threats of violence and about accusations
that people are un-American or that they would sell out their country -
FRUM: If John McCain were making threats of violence, that would be
really bad. But if -
MADDOW: Does a candidate, standing at a podium - when somebody in the audience at a political rally responds to their rhetoric by saying, "Kill him," does the candidate not have a responsibility to stop, mid-sentence, whatever they're doing and say, "You know what? This is America and we don't do it that way. And where is the Secret Service?"
FRUM: Well, here's what I would guess. I wasn't there and as you know, there's some controversy about whether that was exactly what the person said. But you're the candidate. You're in this huge bowl of 16,000 people or whatever it is. You can't hear what they are saying. You read about it in the newspapers the same day as anybody else.
And I think, you know, John McCain, you know, has tried to dial it back. I agree, a lot of unfortunate things have been said by people associated with the campaign. There have been indications. And the McCain campaign is doing a non-substantive job and doing a lot of politics of cultural resentment. That's all true. And they are going to pay a heavy price in November.
But unfortunately, when you run a bad campaign, it isn't the candidate - the candidate does pay, but the country pays. And we are going to be moving into a situation where we are likely going to have a Democratic president. We are certainly going to have a Democratic Congress, maybe with an expanded majority. And that opens the way to some potentially very destructive changes, both at home and abroad.
There is a financial crisis that can be used as an opportunity to build a much bigger state that most Americans I think want. They are signing up for something quite blind. And in the same way, internationally, there are some real dangers out there that are real whether we (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
You know, I complain to a lot of people in my party that they don't want to see the truth about the party's problems. But, it's also true that there are people on the Democratic side who don't want to see the truth about the threats to America in the world.
MADDOW: Well, I couldn't disagree with you more about the Democrats
not seeing threats in the same way that Republicans do. I think that
that's been an accusation sort of leveled at liberals specifically and
Democrats for a long time without much evidence. But -
FRUM: Well, look, if you took it seriously, you'd invite Paul Wolfowitz on to talk about why does he believe that indeed America has to reinvest more in modernizing his nuclear arsenal rather than just making jokes about it.
MADDOW: Well, you know, making jokes about it -
FRUM: If it were important to you.
MADDOW: Well, making jokes about it -
FRUM: If it were important.
MADDOW: Can you hold on a second, just one second? Making jokes about it is part of the way that I am talking about it. If I believed that Paul Wolfowitz would come on the show, I absolutely would ask him. At your suggestion, I will. The fact that the John McCain campaign in all of the weeks that I've been on the air has made one person available once for three minutes to me doesn't make inspired about these prospects. But I understand that you feel frustrated.
FRUM: Well, you guys have a symbiotic relationship.
FRUM: You guys have a symbiotic relationship of negativity.
MADDOW: I just don't think that what we're doing in the show is at all equivalent to people yelling, "Kill him" from the audience of political rallies. But I appreciate that rhetorically, you're trying to make the point of equivalence. I just couldn't disagree with you more strongly. I hope you enjoyed being on the show anyway, and thanks for doing it. .
FRUM: Thank you.
MADDOW: David Frum is a former speechwriter for President Bush and a columnist for "The National Review Online." He joins us tonight from Washington. Very glad to have this opportunity to have him here on the show tonight.
The report on troopergate scandal said in no uncertain terms that Sarah Palin abused her power. The governor's response was essentially, "No. Did not." I will explore what kind of person says that sort of thing, coming up next. At least she didn't refer to herself in the third person.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: See, as a senator, John has confronted the corrupt ways of Washington and the wasteful spending and the abuses of power. As president, he's going to end those once and for all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Did she just say "abuses of power?" That's awkward. Friday night, as you know, we all got the troopergate report. And you know the story of troopergate, right? Head of the state troopers in Alaska, Walt Monegan got fired by Sarah Palin after she and the first dude and people who work for her spent months leaning on Monegan, trying unsuccessfully to get one of his troopers fired.
Monegan says he felt he got canned because he wouldn't fire the trooper who Palins had the beef with. Palin said, "No, no, no. That wasn't it at all. I fired Monegan because he was a bad Public Safety commissioner. Well, Republicans and Democrats in the Alaska State Legislature - actually, mostly Republicans - voted unanimously to investigate the issue.
And on Friday, we got the report. It turns out Monegan was right. The investigator found that his refusing to fire the trooper was, quote, "likely a contributing factor to his firing." The investigator found that Palin can legally fire who she wants to, but she did abuse her power as governor. She did violate the State Ethics Act by, quote, "knowingly permitting a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda."
So the independent report is in. Palin broke ethics laws and abused her power by pressuring Monegan about that trooper. The headline in the "Anchorage Daily News," quote, "Palin abused power." Gov. Palin, would you care to comment on the report that found you abused your power as governor?
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PALIN: Well, you know, I'm very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing, any hit of any kind of unethical activity there. Very pleased to be cleared of any that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wait. I'm sorry. We're actually wondering about the report that didn't clear you of unethical activity. We're wondering about your response to the report that found you violated state ethics laws.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Governor, finding number one on the report was that you abused your power by violating state law. Do you think you did anything wrong at all in this troopergate case?
PALIN: Not at all.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, wait. What about the part where it says you abused your power?
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PALIN: So no, not having done anything wrong, and again very much appreciating being cleared of any legal wrongdoing or unethical activity at all.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Not true. You were not cleared of any unethical activity. You really weren't. Do you want to see the headline again? "Palin abused power." That's what the report found. That's what the investigator found. That's the finding, abused power.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The report shows that you did abuse your authority in trying to get Officer Wooten fired. How do you respond to that charge?
PALIN: There was no abuse of authority at all in trying to get Officer Wooten fired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Actually, yes, there was. Are we in an alternate universe or is she?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: I don't micromanage my commissioners and ask them to hire or fire anyone. And thankfully, the truth was revealed there in that report that showed that there was no unlawful nor unethical activity on my part.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And by truth, you mean what exactly? The report says Palin violated the Ethics Act. Palin says, "I'm glad the report cleared me." Also, day is night, up is down. This isn't one of those difference-of-opinion things, a question of interpretation. The report says she broke ethics laws, and she says the report doesn't say that. She is lying.
This is a person running for office who has been confronted with an uncomfortable and inconvenient fact and her response to that is to look into the camera and lie to you enthusiastically and repeatedly. I know I'm not supposed to use that particular "L" word, the "liar" word in politics. It's considered impolite. But sometimes, the most important thing you need to know about a politician is the frequency and enthusiasm and skill with which they lie to you.
Saying a politician is a prevaricating, mendacious truth-stretcher or whatever other thesaurus words we can come up with for lying is just far less efficient than calling a lie a lie, and a liar a liar.
That is all the time that we have.
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