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'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Tuesday October 14, 2008

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

Guest: David Sirota, John Kerry, Jonathan Alter, Kent Jones, Oliver Stone

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thank you, Keith.  Excellent “Worst Persons” tonight.  Thank you.


MADDOW:  And thank you for sticking with us at home this hour on what has been another warm and fuzzy, kumbaya day on campaign trail.  Kidding.

(voice over):  Another big day in the government‘s excellent adventures in trying to save the economy—means another new incarnation of the McCain campaign.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘re going the get government out of the business of bailouts in equity stakes and back in the business of responsible regulation.


MADDOW:  Today, the McCain campaign is an anti-bailout pro regulation campaign.  Tomorrow?  We‘ll have to wait and see.

What talk about the “guilt-by-association, Obama-hearts-terrorist” theme?  There‘s a new McCain proposal on the economy mean they‘re done within the Bill Ayers line of attack?  Apparently not.  And now it‘s because John McCain thinks Barack Obama is just asking for it.


MCCAIN:  I was just astonished to hear him say that he was surprised for me to have the guts to do that.  I think he‘s probably ensured it will come up by this time.


MADDOW:  Here comes the showdown.  Tonight, Senator John Kerry, who knows a thing or two about being on the receiving end of presidential political attacks, joins us to talk battleground states, the state of the economy, and John McCain‘s stated promise to bring the back-alley allegations from his campaign into tomorrow‘s debate.

And here comes the next GOP bogeyman—ACORN.  Community organizers currently accused of plotting to steal the election for the Democrats—except, ACORN can‘t steal anything for anyone.  And they don‘t work for Barack Obama.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They‘re not advising our campaign.  We‘ve got the best voter registration and turnout and volunteer operation in politics right now and, you know, we don‘t need ACORN‘s help.


MADDOW:  And the truly awkward fact that John McCain did his own palling around with ACORN.  “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter on the “I‘m rubber, you‘re glue” attack strategy.

And just in time to recall just how bad the last eight years have been before near gone, it‘s “W” opening soon at a theater near you.  Oliver Stone himself joins to us preview the review of the president who hasn‘t gone away yet.


(on camera):  A couple of weeks ago, John McCain‘s campaign aides conceded to reporters that talking about the economy was a political loser for them.  One adviser, Greg Strimple told the “Washington Post” that the campaign wanted to, quote, “turn the page on the economic meltdown” and instead, get back to talking about Barack Obama, about how risky Barack Obama is.

Try as they might, the McCainers have convinced neither economy nor the public to turn the page as is reflected at a pair of new national polls out tonight: The “New York Times” and CBS showing Senator Obama with a 14-point national lead over Senator McCain; and the “Los Angeles Times” showing Obama with a nine-point lead.

And so today, Senator McCain stopped trying to avoid the issue of the economy and instead, laid out his plan to rescue the country from our national high-dive economic belly flop.  We will have much more on that McCain proposal in just a moment.

But first, an observation about the riskiness of Barack Obama that Senator McCain and his partner in maverickiness, Governor Palin, have been hammering for the last couple of weeks.  Having turned to that page, the campaign seems unable or maybe unwilling to get off it now.

The “Scranton Times” reports tonight that during Governor Palin‘s rally today in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as Palin‘s opening act, Republican congressional candidate, Chris Hackett ranted against Senator Obama, a McCain campaign supporter in the crowd screamed “Kill him.”

Again, is this another isolated incident from a rogue nut?  Maybe, hope so—but maybe not.  A camera in the crowd at yesterday‘s McCain-Palin rally in Virginia caught another outburst that occur apparently within earshot of Senator McCain and Governor Palin.



AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Obama bin lying.


MADDOW:  “Obama bin lying,” he‘s saying.  An achievement in deliberate, creative, and offensive bad spelling as evidenced by this—another guy in the crowd holding up a sign bearing the same slogan.

And while Senator McCain appeared to put his foot down on Friday about these outbursts from the crowds on the scene, Governor Palin has yet to do so, even though this—the majority of the these incidents have been reported at her rallies.

On the bright side, if there is a bright side, there is now one similar incident we can report in which there was some punishment doled out.  A McCain volunteer in Florida advised an undecided voter against voting for Barack Obama because, quote, “he‘s a Muslim.”  That volunteer was dismissed.  Yehey, see how easy that is.

The aggressive comments overheard at McCain-Palin event and rallies have coincided roughly with the entrance of the phrase “William Ayers” into the McCain and Palin stump speeches.  No one is paying attention, thinks that this is a coincidence.

Today, in what seemed like a playground promise to meet after school, Senator McCain on the KMOX Radio in St. Louis, more or less guaranteed that he will bring Mr. Ayers‘ name up during the final debate tomorrow night.


MCCAIN:  I was astonished to hear him say that he was surprised for me to have the guts to do that, because the fact is that the question didn‘t come up in that fashion.  So, you know, and I think he‘s probably ensured that it will come up this time.


MADDOW:  That‘s right, Senator Obama, apparently—you asked for it.  The only reason Senator McCain doing this is because you had the gall to be surprised that he didn‘t bring it up last time.

So, just to be clear about signals received today, the William Ayers attack is coming tomorrow in the debate.  The negative stuff is not stopping.  And the economy?  Sure, McCain will fix it, but not until he gets done playing Nixon‘s old B-roll about the ‘60s with scary voiceovers.

The question tonight is: How does Senator Obama best deal with this, both for his campaign and for the country?

Joining us now is former Democratic presidential nominee and Massachusetts senator, John Kerry.  He is campaigning for Barack Obama tonight in the battleground state of Wisconsin.

Senator Kerry, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS:  Well, thank you for having me. 

And congratulations on your early success here.

MADDOW:  Thank you very much.  It‘s nice of you to say.

Senator, you know something about viciousness in national campaigning.


KERRY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Was what you experienced with this Swiftboat attacks in 2004, do you think it was bad for the country as well as bad for your campaign?

KERRY:  Yes, of course, I do.  I think what happened then was bad because when campaigns become dominated by lies and very personal, and frankly, the focus is on conflict, not on the American people and their real concerns, I don‘t think it‘s good.

Just as right now, I think what John McCain and Sarah Palin have done at these rallies to kind of incite their troops and create this hate language out there, is very, very dangerous far all of us.

MADDOW:  Today, we heard Senator McCain, essentially say that he will, personally, bring up this Bill Ayers guilt-by-association connection at tomorrow night‘s debate.  How do you think that Senator Obama should respond that?  McCain is telegraphing his punch in this case.

KERRY:  Well I think that Barack—I mean, let‘s see what happens and, you know, you can never predict, but obviously, Barack Obama needs to be crystal clear as he has been, incidentally, every step of the way, about the really sort of slight contacts that have existed here.

And John McCain, you know, needs to be careful of his flank.  I mean, I read a story today that John McCain has—the head of his transition was lobbying for Saddam Hussein.  I mean, if this is what we want to debate about, John McCain really runs the risk here.

And Barack Obama, as we all know, never fired the first shots in this effort.  You know, John McCain advertised weeks ago that he was going to go after Barack Obama‘s character.  And that he was going to assault him on the very thing that is he‘s assaulting him on.

I think it‘s disgraceful to pretend that something that Barack Obama had absolutely nothing to do with, somehow has an impact on his judgment when he hasn‘t—this is not an advisor.  This man doesn‘t work for the campaign.  He‘s a citizen in the city of Chicago, who‘s crossed paths occasionally.

And John McCain has countless numbers of people in his campaign and around his campaign.  What about all the Republicans who have gone to jail, Duke Cunningham from the United States Congress?  What about Mr. Libby from the White House who was the chief of staff to the vice president?  Is John McCain therefore, guilty because of all of them?

I mean, this is ridiculous.  It‘s insulting to Americans.  And people want to talk about the economy, their jobs, their healthcare, about how you make America strong, get our troops home from Iraq in a responsible way, fight a more effective war on terror, pay for education, fix this economy.

Those are the real issues and John McCain can‘t talk about them.  His own campaign has said, “We don‘t want to talk about the economy.”  So they are trying to go out and attack Barack Obama.

I think Americans know better this time.  I think we learned a lesson in ‘04 and I hope that lesson will be profoundly registered on November 4th.

MADDOW:  I think the candor with which they have talked about their strategy this regard, as you‘ve been pointing out, has been remarkable.  We heard Governor Palin today with Rush Limbaugh talking about how she intended to keep on keeping on hitting Barack Obama on character issues.  The campaign aides speaking both anonymously, and putting their names to quotes saying, that they were going to try to get away from the economy and instead, attack Barack Obama.

I wonder, as you‘ve been campaigning in the battleground states for Senator Obama, people on all sides decry the negative attacks but what effects do you perceive them having among undecided voters?

KERRY:  Here‘s what we know.  We saw in ‘04 that attacks on your person, no matter how valid, the mainstream media deems them—if they are reaching people who have not made up their mind, and that‘s all they hear, that has an impact.  And that‘s why I think all of us need to be very careful and work extra time to make sure that these attacks don‘t settle in.

For instance, you know, when they announce what they‘re doing, they know they‘re talking to the elite media who follow that announcement.  The average American doesn‘t hear that announcement, all they‘re going to hear is the advertisement itself that carries that negative message, or the sound bite that carries it.

And their effort is to sow doubt.  Their entire strategy is: sow doubt, attack character.

And what we need to do is make certain that everybody understands that.  The bankruptcy of that and the bankruptcy, in effect, of the John McCain campaign.

MADDOW:  Former Democratic presidential nominee and my senator, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, thanks so much for taking time to talk with us tonight.  I really appreciate it.

KERRY:  Good to be with you.  Thank you very much.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

John McCain has to talk about the economy now and he is so not happy about it and also not very good about it.  The random grab bag of the economic plan he threw out there today.

And a little later on on the show—ACORN.  ACORN—be afraid of the ACORN.  The Republicans are hoping this year‘s voter fraud bogeyman will scare voters away from Barack Obama.  We will talk about why this ACORN will be kind of like the one that famously bops “Chicken Little” on the head, causing much squawking but no real consequences.

But first, one more thing about the campaign and campaign promises.  Both candidates are promising us a lot, and if past is any prologue in politics, either candidate will likely fail us on one or another of those promises in time.  But Senator McCain has decided to fast-track the inevitable disappoint process.  At a rally yesterday in North Carolina, McCain told the crowd that after he gave his speech he would take some questions from the audience.


MCCAIN:  I‘d like to make some remarks to you and then, I‘d like to open it up for some questions or comments that you might have.


MADDOW:  McCain then went on to deliver his speech.  When he was done speech preachifying, the “Rocky” theme music started playing, he started shaking hands, and then, he left.  Exit stage, what?  What about the Q&A he promised?  Maybe he forgot?

And, you know, what were on the subject.  Maybe somebody should tip the campaign about the whole “Rocky” theme thing.  “Rocky” lost.


MADDOW:  Too busy playing video games to watch campaign ads on TV? 

And still you‘re playing (ph), and the Obama campaign apparently does, too.  It seems for the first time ever in major party presidential candidate, is buying ad space inside video games—nine video games ranging from “Madden ‘09 Football” to the street-racing game “Burnout Paradise,” feature in-game advertisements for Obama.

The ads appear on virtual billboard alongside the gaming action and the ads remind players that early voting has begun and give the URL for Obama‘s Web site.  Obama‘s campaign started running these ads earlier this month on the X-box Live versions of these games, the plan is to run them right through November 3rd.

Now, if only there was a way to get ads to this the elusive hungry, hungry Hippos demographic.


MADDOW:  First, the Republican nominee for president assured us that the fundamentals to have economy were strong, upon seeing coffee fly out of everyone‘s noses at that assertion, he changed his mind.  Then, the suggestion was to fire the chairman of the SEC.  Informed that a president isn‘t allowed to fire the chairman of the SEC, the candidate changed his mind again.

The next idea?  A blue ribbon commission to study the problem.  Thud.

Next idea?  Come out against bailout of AIG.  And when AIG was bailed out?  Changed, now it‘s time to be in favor of the AIG bailout.

Then, there was the fake suspension of the campaign to pass the Wall Street bailout.  Then, the Republican Party ran ads against the Wall Street bailout.

Are you confused?  You should be.

Now, we got a new set of plans from John McCain on the economy and I feel like we‘ve got to figure them out quickly because there‘s a good chance they will all be different tomorrow.

So, the new ideas, as I understand them, tax cuts for people who were recently laid off and are getting unemployment—Obama is for that as well.  Also, tax cuts for those people making money in the stock market now.  A capital gains tax cut.  Now?  Does that trickle down idea even apply during a meltdown?


OBAMA:  I will tell you that nobody really has capital gains right now.  So, if the idea is to cut capital gains taxes when—I don‘t know anybody, even the smartest investors, who right now are going to be experiencing a lot of capital gains—that probably is not going to be particularly useful in solving the financial crisis.


MADDOW:  Senator McCain is also proposing a tax cut for senior citizens who want to tap into their retirement accounts early.  His rationale?


MCCAIN:  Retirees have suffered enough and need relief.  And the surest relief is to let them keep more of their own savings.  It‘s essential.  It is essential we avoid an exodus of capital from the market.


MADDOW:  Now, I know I‘m not a Nobel Prize-winning economist like Paul Krugman or anything, but if you remove the tax penalty for people taking their money out of their retirement accounts doesn‘t that encourage them to take their money out of their retirement accounts, which is taking capital out of the market?

McCain also doubled down today on his push for the government to buy up bad mortgages, that off-altered wisdom (ph)-previously-iterated idea he surprised iterated at the last debate.

So, let‘s see.  There‘s something in there for senior citizens, for people struggling with their house payments, for the investor class, for people who are recently laid off.

Is there a plan in this plan?  Is this the economic plan of a guy who is trying to patch together a deeply-wounded economy, or is this the plan of a guy who is trying to patch together a whole lot of votes?

Here to try to Talk Me Down is syndicated columnist, David Sirota.

David, it‘s nice to see you.  Thanks for coming.


MADDOW:  You are much more of a populist, a policy guy than you are a partisan.  And I know that McCain is trying to sound more populist.

SIROTA:  Right.

MADDOW:  . when he talks about the economy now.  Is any of it resonating for you?

SIROTA:  I don‘t think so.  I mean, I think, if you look at his plans, and they‘re not really populist.  I mean, if there‘s any ideology here, let‘s go back to the Ronald Reagan old conservative playbook of packaging tax policies, most of which are bad for regular people and which favor wealthy as sort of a populist plan that‘s good to everybody.

I mean, you look at capital gains tax cut.  Now, beyond the fact that nobody has really made many capital gains right now, those who typically do, I mean, 2/3 of capital gains taxes are paid by people making over $1 million a year.  So, if you reduce the capital gains taxes, you are cutting taxes for people making over $1 million a year.  This is not—this is a rigged tax plan that‘s rigged for the wealthy.  And we‘ve heard this for the last—what is it?  Eight years now with George Bush.

MADDOW:  It‘s always the solution, whatever is going on on the economy, it‘s always cut the capital gains tax and it will help.

SIROTA:  That‘s right.

MADDOW:  The plan also that McCain is putting forward, at least the hot-issue policies McCain is putting out also includes a pitch for seniors, lowering taxes for people who want to tap into their retirement accounts early.  The thing that I caught, as somebody who is, I think, sort of a generalist on economic issues, is that he‘s immediately then asserting that he wants to keep capital in the markets while, obviously, encouraging people to take capital out of the markets.

Is this a political to sound like he‘s doing something good for seniors, or is there logic here?

SIROTA:  It‘s a total political move, and I think you‘ve nailed it.  You can‘t argue that we can‘t take capital out of the market and then create, essentially, a tax incentive to take capital out of the market.

MADDOW:  Right.

SIROTA:  And the other thing is that he says that, you know, I‘m going to allow people to keep their money in their IRAs and in their stock portfolios after they turn 70 ½.  What he‘s not saying is that you only, by law, right now, have to take out 4 percent of that money.  Most people are not 100 percent invested in the stock market.

So, in other words, what he‘s doing here is painting his economic package with the veneer of real policy, but it‘s not real policy.  The only real policy in here is that capital gains tax cut which is, as I said, nobody is making capital gains right now and it‘s paid mostly by millionaires.

MADDOW:  It seems to me like what‘s happening here is that there are a number of policies that the Republicans or the conservative movement, more specifically, has wanted to make happen.  A number of changes about the tax code and about other things they‘ve wanted to make happen.  And what McCain has now come up with on his campaign is a way to put forward that existing, pre-existing agenda that‘s been around for a long time and just say that it will help the crisis?

SIROTA:  That‘s exactly right.  And I don‘t think we should be surprised.  And this was what the Wall Street bailout was about.  They used the crisis to pass a bill that was aimed at giving away $700 billion of taxpayer money, no strings attached, to Wall Street.  Now, they are trotting out their out old tax ideas as the fantasy for a very new crisis, this is the conservative play book.

MADDOW:  David Sirota, syndicated columnist, it‘s nice to have you here.  Thanks for coming in.

SIROTA:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  When psychologists talk about the idea of projection, they‘re talking about the tendency to ascribe to another person, feelings, thoughts or attitudes present in oneself.  It‘s also John McCain‘s current campaign strategy.  Psychologists call it “projecting.”  I call it “I‘m rubber, you‘re glue,” because I‘m incredibly, incredibly immature.  More to come on rubber, glue, et cetera, in a moment.

Closing the offshore American prison at Guantanamo, however, is one of the good ideas that both presidential campaigns embrace.  Yehey.  If you are not crazy about Guantanamo, and why would you be?  A misinformation today, later on the show, we got some sprinkles for your indignation Sunday, it involved American paid interpreters at such quality that they interpret the word “driver” as the word “lawyer.”  Huh?  More in a minute.


MADDOW:  Coming up, Academy Award-winning director, Oliver Stone, joins us here in the studio to talk about his new film “W” or “double-u” if you‘re one of those east coast media elitists.  Hopefully, I can persuade Mr. Stone to share his opinions about the life and career of President George W. Bush, but you know how shy Mr. Stone is.  I will do what I can.

First though, it‘s time for a few underreported holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Ready for the first one?  Quote, “In the beginning of the timing of the laws, I said there is no difficulty‘s base.”  What?  Huh?  What I said was, “In the beginning of the timing of the laws, I said there is no difficulty‘s base.”

Does that make any sense to you?  Yes, me neither.  And neither did it make sense to the judge, the military officers, or lawyers working one of the tribunals at Guantanamo recently, when an American paid Arabic translator dictated to them that nonsense sentence, as if it made sense in English.

Does the phrase “lost in translation” spring to mind?  Five key defendants charged in conjunction with 9/11 are moving towards jury trials.  The U.S. military lawyers assigned to defend them say that translation services have been done so on the cheap that they estimate about half of what a defendant stated in the hearing room was mistranslated and a ¼ of what was said in English in the courtroom never made it back to the defendant.  There are standards for these sorts of things, you know, at, say, federal courts or the international criminal courts but at Guantanamo, apparently?  Not so much.

Remember the case there about Osama bin Laden‘s alleged driver?  That actual phrase, “bin Laden‘s driver” was repeatedly translated as “bin Laden‘s lawyer.”  What‘s the difference?

And time is running out for American troops to be in Iraq legally.  The United Nation‘s mandate that allows our troops to be there expires at the end of this year.  What happens when that mandate expires?  Well, the Bush administration has long expressed confidence that the Iraqi government and the White House could sign a status-of-forces agreement—a country-to-country, one-on-one plan for keeping our troops there.

But after months of a stalemate and trying to reach such an agreement, one of the Iraqi vice presidents this week finally said that he doesn‘t think it‘s going to happen in time.  So, that means after December 31st, it will be illegal for American troops to be on Iraqi streets.

Karen DeYoung from “The Washington Post” reports today that American officials are looking for a plan B if the status-of-forces negotiations really don‘t work out.  What is plan B?  Apparently, the Bush administration might try to get that U.N. mandate extended.  That would require a vote in the U.N. Security Council where Russia holds a veto and Russia, you may recall, would just love an opportunity like that to shove us our locker and steal our lunch money. 

So that makes me think “B” in that plan stands for “bad,” as in if that‘s your only plan, that‘s a bad plan.  Karen DeYoung suggests that a few other plan Bs might be in the works as well, though Plan B-1 - I guess we‘d call it.  A plan B-1 would be, quote, “a simple handshake agreement between Bush and the Iraqi prime minister to keep troops around until the next president takes over and starts negotiating again.” 

A handshake deal?  You would ride 150,000 American lives on a handshake deal?  Maybe I could suggest a plan C, “C” as in “see you.”  If the Iraqi government doesn‘t want us to stay enough to sign a deal for to us stay, how about we leave? 


MADDOW:  Of all the jujitsu campaign tactics attributed to master sensei Karl Rove, the one that protege Steve Schmidt perfected for John McCain is to attack your opponent at your own weak points.  Got a campaign staff stocked with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lobbyists and operatives including your campaign manager, Rick Davis?  Then charge Barack Obama with links to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 

While you‘re at it, tell those lobbyists in Washington that their days of running Washington are over - over, I tell you - except seven of McCain‘s top advisers and reportedly 177 people working at aides, policy advisers or fundraisers are former lobbyists. 

And now, of course, there‘s the latest boogeyman, ACORN, a national network of community groups some of whose individual members are currently accused of voter registration fraud.  Oh, they‘re stealing the election.  They‘re stealing the election and it‘s Obama‘s fault, somehow. 


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This ACORN voter registration fraud - I mean that deprives America of the most precious right.  I‘m very worried and I‘m worried about Sen. Obama‘s connections with ACORN, and those should be fully explained as well.  


MADDOW:  OK, forget that voter registration fraud is very different from actual voter fraud and voter suppression which is what happened in Ohio and Florida when those state‘s elections happened to be run by Republicans, I‘m just saying.  Just for a moment, focus, instead, on this picture.  This is a picture of Sen. McCain in 2006 at a rally co-sponsored by - say it with me now - ACORN.  John McCain was the keynote speaker at the ACORN event.  I‘m not kidding.  Listen.  


MCCAIN:  What makes America special is what‘s in this room tonight.  That‘s what makes America special.  


MADDOW:  That‘s John McCain talking to the same group he and his campaign and the right are now accusing of trying to steal the election for Barack Obama.  Why the change of heart?   Well, the chief organizer of ACORN said in a press release, quote, “We are surprised at McCain‘s efforts to vilify an organization that, until recently, he saw as an ally.” 

In contrast, Obama had there to say about his connection to the group.  


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  First of all, my relationship to ACORN is pretty straight forward.  It‘s probably 13 years ago when I was still practicing law.  I represented ACORN and my partner in that representation with the U.S. Justice Department in having Illinois implement what was called the Motor Voter Law to make sure people could go to DMVs and driver‘s license facilities to get registered.  It wasn‘t being implemented.  


MADDOW:  So John McCain is calling out Barack Obama for stuff that John McCain hadn‘t explained about himself.  Who‘s rubber and who‘s glue again?  How does that thing work? 

Joining us now is “Newsweek” columnist and NBC analyst, Jonathan Alter.  Jonathan, thanks for coming in.


MADDOW:  So it seems to me like McCain‘s attacks on Barack Obama have really frequently been on topics on subjects where he‘s got bigger political vulnerabilities or at least the same-size political vulnerabilities that Obama has.  Is that on purpose or is that an accident? 

ALTER:  Well, I guess you could say “chutzpah” is Yiddish for “maverick.”  You know, they want to confuse voters so they throw up a lot of chaff.  The problem is, they might confuse the voters about McCain own record with lobbyists or what he‘s done in the past with ACORN. 

But they‘re not advancing the ball by doing this.  So it‘s really a short sighted political tactic.  It‘s not a strategy.  It‘s an example of where they‘re off base because they‘re fighting everything off at a tactical level.

And by the way, if they are assuming people‘s stupidity, which is behind this - you know, if you try to accuse somebody else of something you‘re guilty of yourself, you‘re assuming that the public is dumb.  If the public is that dumb, then they think ACORN is something that falls from a tree.  You know, they are not going to really get the point.  So all of it is just a lot of activity to no particular end. 

MADDOW:  But if you look at the way that ACORN has been blamed not only for voter fraud - I‘m not even talking about voter registration fraud, but also the way ACORN has even been implicated by the right by having caused financial crisis in some way.  They caricature the group in a way that makes a very blunt point that is a racial point.  The implication is that Barack Obama becoming president would mean an American government invested in moving political assets and money and favors to black people at the expense of white people.  

ALTER:  That is true.  And that‘s why you saw Palin at the Republican convention use “community organizer” as a dirty word ...


ALTER:  Almost as a code word for those poor people of color who are trying to get organized.  And partly, they‘re afraid of ACORN.  ACORN has registered millions of Americans.  And at a time when nobody else was really looking out for poor people, in communities across the United States, ACORN was doing so. 

Did they have some bad apples in ACORN?  Absolutely.  They had people who, as Obama said today, in order to get the paycheck from ACORN, they would fill out the cards, you know, just to get the work done in ways they were not accurate. 

MADDOW:  Which happens any time you pay somebody to register people, right? 

ALTER:  Of course.  And the important thing is - and I discussed this yesterday with the head of ACORN yesterday - is that it was ACORN that brought this to the attention of election officials.  It‘s not like ACORN was caught out doing this. 

ACORN doesn‘t want bad registration cards because then those people can‘t vote.  So, you know, this whole thing is just another one of these ridiculous tempest in a tea pot.  But I think you‘re quite right that there‘s a race and class subtext to this that‘s of a piece with a lot of the rest of their tactic on this.  

MADDOW:  Right, because the political salience of this depends on getting the point that this is somehow black people, poor people, intercity people, up to no good in a way that has something to do with the election.  That‘s the blunt point that they‘re hoping, I think, comes across.  

ALTER:  That and those people.  

MADDOW:  Yes, that‘s exactly right.  But in order to punch back against it, in order to explain what‘s wrong with that tactic, you have to understand the difference between voter fraud and voter registration fraud.  The idea that if you do sign up Mickey Mouse to vote, Mickey Mouse won‘t then turn up to actually cast a ballot.  So there‘s no incentive to steal the election with registration fraud.  

ALTER:  Also, there‘s a bigger thing going on here.  Since 1964, when large numbers of African-Americans were allowed to vote for the first time, the Republican Party in every election since then, has been dedicated to trying to suppress turnout on the theory that the more turnout, the worst for Republicans. 

Democrats have tried to expand turnout and as they‘ve done that, of course, the Republicans have charged voter fraud.  The Republicans have had the upper hand in this because of some important Supreme Court decisions including one that requires - that allows states to require you to have a driver‘s license or a non-driver‘s license equivalent in order to vote. 

If that gets widespread, it will be very hard for a lot of people like those you saw during Katrina who don‘t have driver‘s licenses.  It‘s almost like a latter-day literacy test or these things that were done during Jim Crow segregation to keep people from voting. 

So, that‘s the real story - is the advances that the conservatives have made in recent years in keeping people from voting.  The cases of actual old-fashioned vote fraud where, you know, somebody is trying to vote when they shouldn‘t be.  Very, very few of them. 

And when asked, you know, it‘s like impossible for them to come up with very many examples of this happening at the polls places.  

MADDOW:  Which was one of the important subplots in U.S. attorney scandal.  U.S. attorneys‘ federal prosecutors being directed by Republican political operatives, in essence, to find voter fraud examples, not being able to find them, running up against political frustration. 

One last quick point, Jonathan.  The Federal Appeals Court has just ruled that Ohio‘s top elections official has to verify all new voter registrations.  Do you have any sense of what that might mean in Ohio on November 4th

ALTER:  Well, the important thing for Democrats is that the secretary of state and the governor are now Democrats.  In 2004, both were Republicans and dedicated in a very obvious way to trying to suppress the vote.  These Democratic officials are dedicated to trying to allow as many people to vote as possible. 

So they have control of the machinery as we found in Ohio in 2004 and in Florida in 2000.  The party that controls the machinery of election process has the upper hand.  So I wouldn‘t - if I were a Democratic candidate in Ohio, I wouldn‘t get too worried about this.  

MADDOW:  And when I go to my happy place, my small (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Democratic happy place, the process of voting is not a partisan thing.  It hasn‘t been politicized and elections officials are not partisan positions.  But that‘s just fake and in my head.  

ALTER:  In your world.  Rachel‘s utopia.  

MADDOW:  That‘s right.  You should visit sometimes.  

Jonathan Alter from “Newsweek” magazine, thanks for being here.  

ALTER:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Coming up, I‘m going to talk with Oliver Stone who‘s new movie “W” opens up on Friday.  You know, Oliver Stone and George W. Bush were in the same freshman class at Yale at the same time.  Which one do you think is more full of boula-boula(ph)?


MADDOW:  Hey, pop quiz.  Who‘s president?  I know we all know, but there is actually a thought process that has to kick in before we can answer that question now since Obama and McCain are just looming so large in our consideration of the presidency now.  And, frankly, because the only response George Bush can force out to have electorate in these last hundred days of his presidency is that just about every time he speaks publicly to try to calm our fears about financial meltdown, the stock market tanks. 

But hey, “W” is the president and the most important initial thing defining the 44th presidency of the United States will be the imperative of cleaning up the wreckage of the 43rd.  It‘s kind of a good mnemonic, actually - wreckage, the “W” is silent. 

Academy award winning director Oliver Stone‘s new movie is called “W.”  It hits theaters this Friday just before we collectively decide who should be in charge next.  Some put a cultural capstone on Mr. Bush‘s legacy.  Here‘s a scene where top administration officials discuss the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 


RICHARD DREYFUSS, ACTOR (AS DICK CHENEY):  My office sent to you spy satellite photos that showed that WMDs could be hidden in caves that you never responded to. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  We analyzed those photos, Mr. Vice President, and they are actually trenches, watering holes for cattle.  Not caves.  

DREYFUSS:  That‘s not what my people told me.  

JOSH BROLIN, ACTOR (AS GEORGE W. BUSH):  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you grew up in Wyoming, you should damn well know cattle.  There you go, you fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice and - you can‘t get fooled again.  


MADDOW:  That was, of course, Josh Brolin as president George W. Bush and Richard Dreyfuss as a terrifying accurate Dick Cheney. 

Joining us now is Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Oliver Stone.  Mr.  Stone, congratulations on the successful reception of “W” thus far.  It‘s nice to see you.  

OLIVER STONE, FILMMAKER:  Thank you, Rachel.  Nice to be here.  

MADDOW:  It is clear that this film is not a simple criticism of George W.  Bush.  Watching it, I felt like it was a narrative, complicated character study.  Do you think that we need to understand George W. Bush, the man, in a deep, complicated way in order to understand how he has functioned as president? 

STONE:  I don‘t think he‘s deep and complicated.  I think he‘s a profoundly narrow-minded and provincial man.  But I do think we need to understand him because I think we need to understand why we elected him, how we got to where we are at these crossroads and what we‘re facing.  And frankly, if we don‘t look back at the recent past, how do we learn from it? 

MADDOW:  Does the fact that we did elect him more or less twice and does the way that he has governed tell us tell us something about important who we are as a country, where we are as a country? 

STONE:  Absolutely.  I think it‘s a mindset that we elected, and I think a mindset of force and muscularization, militarization of our policy.  I think that George Bush represents a cowboy ethic, and I think John Wayne comes to mind.  When I was - I don‘t know if you remember, when I was a kid, he was a big movie star.  I think he was - his politics were reprehensible to me and to many people. 

But he was endearing and warm and charming on the screen.  Even when he was wrong, he would never back down.  Americans kind of liked that.  In films like “Red River,” dead-wrong, but he stuck to his guns.  And Bush has maintained that kind of denial. 

Richard Nixon was never able to do that.  Bush was always, “What did I do wrong?”  And that attitude of the unexamined life, I think, is astounding to me. 

MADDOW:  One of the things that I found myself thinking for the first time when I was watching the film that I‘d never really thought before was about what “W” might do after the presidency.  And watching the film, I almost felt like maybe he‘s going to be one of those former presidents that does want to sort of go away, that does want to get out of the public eye. 

In terms of the way that you really portray his character, he wanted to be president because he wanted to win.  Because he wanted to avenge his dad and because of all these other personal factors that you don‘t necessarily get the same satisfaction from as an ex-president. 

STONE:  A very good question.  You know, he‘ll build a library and there

will be nothing it.  But -

MADDOW:  But maybe he won‘t want to be in politics anymore.  Maybe politics was about winning. 

STONE:  No.  Seriously, I do think he will be a force.  Even Harry Truman, when he left office, had very low polls.  But Truman reemerged as a very significant figure.  He spoke out.  And I‘ll remind you, Harry Truman had a fairly same attitude as George Bush which is, you know, he dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he said never lost a night‘s sleep over it. 

MADDOW:  As far as I understand, you were in the same freshman class at Yale as George W. Bush. 

STONE:  I didn‘t make it, though.  I didn‘t finish.

MADDOW:  Well, your paths diverted famously.  I mean, you ended up going to Vietnam and he (UNINTELLIGIBLE) did not end up going to Vietnam.  In some ways, when you look at the films, the historical films that you have made, do you feel like you‘re sort of an archaeologist of your own era, of your own lifetime, that you are telling your own life story through the cultural and political touchstones of your time? 

STONE:  You know, what else can I do?  That‘s my minor contribution as I go through my life and respond the way I do viscerally and emotionally and somewhat intellectually to the issues of my time - Vietnam and the Kennedy assassination. 

What else do I know?  You know, I do know Vietnam and have a sense of these presidencies.  This has been extremely difficult eight years for me and many Vietnam veterans because I did three movies about Vietnam and none of them worked in the sense of stopping us from repeating very much the similar pattern in Iraq. 

MADDOW:  Well, I would say that I was born in 1973, “Platoon” came out in 1987? 

STONE:  Eighty-six. 

MADDOW:  1986.  So I was 13 when it came out, and it was formative for me in terms of understanding what shaped the world that I‘d been born into.  So it‘s not just your life, it‘s the American life. 

STONE:  I really believe in America, and I love the sense of initiative and freedom.  And at the same time, I just wish we - sometimes we‘re a little bit more conscious about what we‘re doing, and I think we may made a vast mistake in the last eight years - I really do. 

But I think - I pray that with Mr. Obama, or whoever wins, Obama or McCain, they will have a hell of a hard time changing the direction of where we are.  We have still a preemptive policy in place, which declares basically that we have the dominant military presence in the world - economic, and we will take on any rival that emerges. 

MADDOW:  Even a preventive war - to prevent rivals from Iran. 

STONE:  There‘s no way we can afford to with this present situation.  I think the economy will speak for us, and you know, everyone is seeing such bad news.  But you know, it might lead to some belt-tightening and perhaps some restraint in foreign policy. 

MADDOW:  The changing of our horizons and what we think we can accomplish.  One last question on that.  I imagine it is no coincidence that you made this film very quickly and that it‘s got a release date before the election.  You are hoping that this is on people‘s minds as they vote? 

STONE:  You know, look, I did three movies about Vietnam and didn‘t do much good.  So what can you say?  If you don‘t do a movie for that reason, short-term, I‘m making a movie for 20 years.  I‘m more worried about what‘s going to happen in 2020, 2040, and who we are going to elect next. 

MADDOW:  Well, it‘s a thin and fuzzy line between changing the world and changing people‘s minds.  Oliver Stone, it‘s a great pleasure to have you.  Congratulations. 

STONE:  Thank you very much. 

MADDOW:  Oliver Stone‘s new film, “W” opens this Friday. 

Coming up next, get just enough pop culture from Kent Jones, enough of what the grown-ups think.  How are the kids voting this year?   


MADDOW:  Now, it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend Kent Jones who force-feeds me just enough pop culture so I can be allowed out in public.  Hi, Kent.  What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hey, Rachel.  So who is winning the kids‘ vote?  250,000 patriotic Americans from grades 1 to 12 voted for president this in the scholastic presidential election poll.  And the winner is - Barack Obama over John McCain 57 percent to 39 percent.  Youth-quake. 

Here‘s an interesting stat.  Since 1940, the kids‘ vote has been the same as the general election result every time but twice.  In 1948, kids voted for Tom Dewey over Harry Truman, and in 1960 they picked Nixon over John Kennedy. 

Yes, I can see that, you know.  Yes, there you go.  Nothing more kid friendly than that.  Next, a new study in the “American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry” - I‘m subscriber - says that middle-aged and older adults can keep the brain from atrophying by searching the Internet. 

So for instance, John McCain could get the neurons firing by searching for the words “message” and maybe “coherence.”  And then, if there‘s time maybe “concession.” 

Finally, the fashion cops have struck.  The Virginia State Board of Elections voted today to ban voters from wearing shirts, hats, buttons, vest, shoes, bustier, any and all partisan political clothing to the polls on November 4th

So your First Amendment rights?  I guess you can‘t wear those either.  So Democrats, that means you can‘t wear this.  You know, that thing with all the stuff, all the bad stuff on it.  And Republicans, you can‘t wear this - this is the other smutty visual that we have on the program. 


JONES:  But you can‘t wear any of that stuff ...

MADDOW:  No, we can‘t wear any of that stuff.

JONES:  ... because it‘s illegal now. 

MADDOW:  Yes, that‘s true.

JONES:  Because it would influence the voting. 

MADDOW:  Somebody has broken into the Rachel Maddow studios and stolen those things. 

JONES:  Yes.  They were really much too funny.  So we had to get rid of them. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  And thank you for watching tonight.  “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now. 



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