Guest: Joe Cirincione, Chris Hayes, Connie Schultz, Kent Jones
High: Barack Obama closes his tour of Europe with a stop in Turkey.
Spec: Politics; Government; Policies
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening and thanks for joining us.
As the president‘s European trip comes to a close, his final day abroad included a stop in Turkey, his first trip as president to a majority Muslim nation. Although the White House says this was not the major address in the Muslim capital within the first 100 days that Obama had promised, that is still come apparently. The president did give a speech in Turkey, on the floor of the Turkish parliament, and he scheduled the trip to Istanbul‘s famous Blue Mosque before Air Force One starts the long trip home.
There has been a lot of symbolic importance in this trip. The new president‘s first trip abroad; the scrambling of other world leaders to associate themselves with him—I‘m talking to you, Nicola; the massive protests in multiple venues that weren‘t mostly against the American president for once—a lot of symbol and style to reflect on in this trip.
But in terms of substance, the big substantial policy news from this trip abroad—was made in Prague before an open-air crowd of 20,000 people, where the president, as promised, laid out his goal of a world with zero nuclear weapons. Because it was a real policies speech, the crowd in Prague stood politely through a lot of really detailed talk about treaties and start and sorts and proliferation security and international fuel banks before they got to the “I‘ll tell my kids about this, man, can this guy give a speech” part.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: We know the path when we choose fear over hope. To denounce or shrug off a call for cooperation is an easy but also a cowardly thing to do. That‘s how wars begin. That‘s where human progress ends.
There is violence and injustice in our world that must be confronted. We must confront it not by splitting apart but by standing together as free nations, as free people. I know that a call to arms can stir the souls of men and women more than a call to lay them down. But that is why the voices for peace and progress must be raised together.
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)
OBAMA: Those are the voices that still echo through the streets of Prague. Those are the ghosts of 1968. Those were the joyful sounds of the Velvet Revolution. Those were the Czechs who helped bring down the nuclear armed empire without firing a shot.
Human destiny will be what we make of it. And here in Prague, let us honor our past by reaching for a better future. Let us bridge our divisions, build upon our hopes, accept our responsibility to lead this world to a prosperous and more peaceful than we found it. Together, we can do it.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Prague.
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Prague goes wild. Prague goes wild.
All right. Back at home, here was the reaction from the right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)
NEWT GINGRICH, ® FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I just think it‘s very dangerous to have a fantasy foreign policy and it can get you in enormous trouble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Former Republican speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, given the honor of responding to President Obama on FOX News. This is a fantasy. He‘s living in a dream world. What a naive and wild and irresponsible liberal—you‘ve had to be to advocate a world without nuclear weapons. Who would ever say something so crazy?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 21, 1985)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We‘re not just discussing limits on a further increase of nuclear weapons. We seek, instead, to reduce their number. We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ronald Reagan, noted, naive leftist fantasizer.
For understanding the state of the Republican Party today and the conservative movement today, for understanding the state of the domestic opposition to Barack Obama‘s foreign policy and his counterterrorism agenda, it is perhaps impossible to overstate of irony that the argument that Obama is indulging in foreign policy fantasy is being advanced by Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich, the man who just last week proposed he would prevent the North Koreans from launching a missile by using a laser—or some other device.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: If I can‘t find a way to bribe somebody to blow it up, I‘d find a way to have either a small team go in or a way to deliver either a laser or another kind of device.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A laser. So the guy who says working toward a world without nuclear weapon is fantasy, his not fantasy is to destroy North Korea‘s missiles with (INAUDIBLE) of laser beams. If that doesn‘t work out, there‘s always Plan B.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “AUSTIN POWERS”/NEW LINE CINEMA)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with freakin‘ laser beams attached to their heads.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The real silver lining here, other than the fact that Newt Gingrich is not president, is that the North Koreans honestly are sort of really awful at launching missiles. This is their third attempt since 1998 and their third failure—or as ArmsControlWonk.com put it, quote, “Oh-for-three. These guys really suck.”
The rocket the North Koreans launched yesterday was a three-stage missile. The missile‘s first stage dropped into the Sea of Japan, the second stage dropped into the Pacific Ocean, as did the third stage, which of course included the satellite they were trying to launch into orbit. Before the launch, North Korea announced certain safety zones where they expected those first two stages to land.
According to Japan‘s “Yomiuri” newspaper, the first stage did splash down roughly where it was expected to. You can see that in the upper left-hand corner of the graphic there.
Stage two, not so much. The little parallelogram-looking box on the right, that‘s where stage two was supposed to land. That little dot way up to the left of it, that‘s where stage two actually came down.
The failure of the launch has not stopped North Korea from bragging on
it any way. The official state media said not only that the satellite was
accurately launched, they also said, quote, “The satellite is sending to
the Earth the melodies of the immortal revolutionary paeans, ‘Song of
General Kim Il Sung‘ and ‘Song of General Kim Jong Il.‘”
So, the North Korean satellite is up there, in orbit, right now, converting us all to Maoism through song. Also, Newt Gingrich is president.
Joining us now is Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. He‘s the author of “Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons.” Joe joins us tonight from Denver, where he‘s attending my beloved Conference on World Affairs at Boulder.
Joe, thanks so much for being here.
JOE CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND PRESIDENT: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: Technologically, is North Korea just sort of bad at launching missiles?
CIRINCIONE: This was a major embarrassment for them. Not only did it demonstrate the limits of their Scud-based technology, but it certainly undercut any efforts they might have had or imagined of selling this technology to other countries. Even if this rocket had succeeded, if it had been a successful satellite launch, it is still woefully short of any major threat to the United States. For example, the payload of this rocket was estimated to be a satellite weighing about 300 pounds. It was supposed to go into low Earth orbit.
To deliver a nuclear warhead, you have to have a payload capacity of a ton, 2,000 pounds at a minimum. You also have to have a warhead small enough to fit. They don‘t have that. You also have to have a re-entry vehicle that can survive the stresses and strains of coming back into the Earth‘s atmosphere. They don‘t have that.
For them to have a real nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capability will require years of effort, years of highly-observable tests, they‘re nowhere near that.
MADDOW: So, Joe, we do know that North Korea has caused some sort of nuclear explosion. In the fall of 2006, they blew something up.
MADDOW: We know that they are starving their people in favor of feeding their own appetite for weaponry, and that the whole ideology of the regime there hinges on the idea of a militarized nation facing all enemies, most specifically South Korea and the United States. North Korea seems like an awful place. But how dangerous is it to the United States? Is the danger to us hinging totally on what you described as a sort of improbable threat from ICBMs?
CIRINCIONE: They do represent a threat and they do have a nuclear weapons capability. They are an exporter of missile technology and you don‘t want to see any of that happening. The major threat is not that if they get a nuclear weapon they would use it against us. For them, this is a defensive measure.
They may be a bully, but they are very insecure bully. They think of themselves as surrounded and besieged. They need a weapon to give them that kind of security.
The major danger from North Korea is actually what would happen in the neighborhood if they should consolidate as a nuclear weapon state, what would South Korea do? What would Japan do? You can imagine a ripple effect going through the neighborhood.
I believe that we are going to see in the next few weeks, the same pattern we‘ve seen in previous test, after they blow something up, succeed or fail, they can be brought to the negotiating table. It happened in 1996 after the first missile failure. It happened three weeks after 2006, after that missile failure when the Bush administration finally started negotiating with them.
I think this whole thing is basically about them increasing their negotiating value, putting bigger chips on the table.
MADDOW: And, of course, we had them launching this missile—however incompetently—within a day of President Obama giving his big and much-anticipated speech on proliferation and nuclear weapons and his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. And President Obama said in that speech, “I‘m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime.”
Of course, the right wing attack on him is that this is not only naive, that it‘s—that it‘s fantasy and it‘s a bad idea to even work toward it.
MADDOW: Joe, you‘ve been in this field your whole adult life. Do you feel what he‘s outlining here is an achievable goal and what he‘s proposing to do to achieve it is the kind of thing that might work?
CIRINCIONE: It is absolutely achievable. And, in fact, I believe it is the only security course a nation such as the United States can responsively take. I am flabbergasted at the—one, that people still listen to Newt Gingrich or John Bolton or people of that ilk; and the other is the nerve, as you pointed out, of them to declare this as a fantasy.
We just had eight years of a fantasy foreign policy—the fantasy that we promote democracy on the tips of our Marines‘ bayonets; the fantasy that we could overthrow certain regimes and that‘s how we would stop proliferation. Every single proliferation problem the Bush administration inherited got worse, not better, under this fantasy foreign policy.
Barack Obama did something in Prague that I‘ve been waiting my whole life to hear. He fundamentally transformed U.S. nuclear weapons policy. He took all those standard arms control planks that you detailed and fashioned them into a new framework.
What is the purpose of our nuclear policy? It is not any longer to maintain indefinitely thousands of nuclear weapons, some ready to launch in 15 minutes. The purpose is to eliminate nuclear weapons, to get rid of them everywhere, starting with our own arsenals, starting with Russia‘s arsenals, then folding in the other nuclear weapons states and building the kind of international cooperation you need to stop terrorists from getting these weapons, to stop new states from getting these weapons, to make this a safer, more secure world. That‘s not fantasy; that is the new realism.
MADDOW: Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund—thank you so much for joining us tonight. Say hi to everybody in Boulder for me, Joe.
CIRINCIONE: I will, Rachel. We miss you.
MADDOW: All right. President Obama might earn praise for reaching out to the Islamic world. But does he have the guts to attack a 17-year-old boy in the pages of “People” magazine—after that boy said some stuff on “The Tyra Banks Show”? Sarah Palin has those guts, America. We‘ll have more on that coming up.
But first, One More Thing about America‘s defenses in the big, complicated and occasionally very dumb world that we inhabit. Defense Secretary Robert Gates today proposed a massive overhaul of Pentagon spending. Since year 2000, the already-huge defense budget has risen 72 percent. Gates‘ new budget would pry the Pentagon away from its preparations for big, conventional, you line up here, we‘ll line up here, wars with Russia or China; instead, investing in things like drones, other surveillance aircraft, and the number of troops in our Special Forces.
Anticipating criticism that he is making too big a change away from things that the Pentagon has traditionally loved spending money on, Mr. Gates said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Every defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk or in effect to run up the score in a capability where the United States is already dominant is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we‘re in, and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk I will not take.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And that was the head of the Pentagon, acknowledging that there isn‘t infinite money available for his department, that there have to be tradeoffs. And that thump, thump sound you heard in the distance while he was talking was the sound of executives of all the big defense contractors passing out.
MADDOW: After losing a World Cup Soccer qualifying match last week to South Korea, North Korea is now accusing the South of poisoning their players. In a statement, the North said three of their players have fallen ill because of, quote, “a deliberate act perpetrated by adulterated food stuff.” Perpetrated by adulterated food stuff—you know, the North may be led by a Looney Tune and it may be the case that they‘re really sore losers, but they can‘t turn a phrase.
MADDOW: Seven car bombs exploded today in Baghdad in what appears to have been a coordinated assault that may have been timed to this week‘s anniversary of the founding of Saddam Hussein‘s Baath Party in Syria in 1947. According to “Reuters” and the “Associated Press,” as many as 37 Iraqis are dead, more than 100 are wounded.
The surge in violence, a reminder, of course, of two things: First, the war in Iraq rages on, even as it falls from the American headlines. And guess which war-torn country that has 140,000 or so U.S. troops stationed there, still has no ambassador from the United States?
President Obama nominated this man, Chris Hill, to be our ambassador to Iraq on March 11th. That was 26 days ago. Mr. Hill is still waiting for confirmation, mainly because of Republican Senator Sam Brownback, heretofore best known for dropping out of the 2008 presidential race before it even was 2008, also for his campaign stump speech having a line in it about killing something with a dull ax.
Mr. Brownback does not think that Chris Hill is right for the job, apparently. But instead of just voting against him, Senator Brownback has been using procedural techniques in the Senate to hold up the vote on him altogether.
You know who else hasn‘t been able to take their appointed job in the administration? Tammy Duckworth. As we reported here on Friday, the helicopter pilot, decorated Iraq war vet, double amputee, who ran the Office of Veterans Affairs in Illinois and is renown for having done so, she was nominated on March 16th to serve in the Veterans Administration.
Ms. Duckworth, a nationally-known and respected veterans advocate—I shall reiterate—has not been able to get started at her new job because of little-known North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr. He has decided to delay a vote on Duckworth‘s nomination. We contacted Senator Burr‘s office today to find out if he was ready yet to explain publicly why he is holding up this nomination. Sadly, the answer is still no.
And, of course, while we‘re on the subject of people who are able to do the jobs they‘ve been nominated to do, let‘s not forget Dawn Johnsen, nominated to run the Office of Legal Counsel on February 11th but still facing Republican opposition—in part, supposedly, because she worked at an abortion rights organization at one point in her career, but also for her outspoken stance against the torture memos written by the previous inhabitants of the office that she‘s now been appointed to lead.
Also, Harold Koh, nominated late last month to be the State Department‘s legal counsel. Professor Koh also faces GOP opposition. He also, coincidentally enough, has been vocal in his criticism of the Bush administration‘s policies on torture.
So, is this just a collection of quirky individual Republican senators blocking nominations for their own quirky, individual Republican senator reasons—or is this a coordinated, quirky Republican Senate strategy? Are nominees being held hostage politically? And if so, what are Republicans demanding in return for releasing them?
Joining us now is Chris Hayes, Washington editor for “The Nation.”
Chris, thanks so much for coming on the show. Nice to see you.
CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION WASHINGTON EDITOR: Nice to see you, too, Rachel.
MADDOW: Is this a lot of high-profile nominees being held up at once?
It seems like a lot to me.
HAYES: You know, it‘s very difficult to make these apples to apples comparisons, because the political contexts change so much from, say, ‘92 to 2000. What, I think, is safe to say is that for very early in a president‘s term, particularly of a very popular president, there‘s a tremendous amount of resistance.
I mean, I think, if you go back to 2000, you‘ll see that despite the fact that progressive activists were really quite frustrated with the Democratic senators for allowing a lot of deference broadly to President Bush‘s picks, the Democrats really did allow a lot of those picks through, even when they had some fairly strong objections. John Ashcroft is the one that comes to mind. And I think we‘ve seen an evolution in that process such that we‘re seeing far more obstructionism now from the GOP.
MADDOW: Scott Horton wrote a piece on “The Daily Beast” today, Chris, that cites an anonymous Justice Department source saying that the Republicans are blocking Dawn Johnsen and Harold Koh specifically in order to try to give the Republicans leverage to stop the Obama administration from releasing more of these Bush torture memos.
Does that make sense to you as a strategy? Is that resonating with your reporting on what you‘ve learned about these obstructionists?
HAYES: Well, it‘s not surprising at all. I mean, I think it‘s outrageous, if I can editorialize for a moment.
HAYES: I mean, the fact of the matter is, you know, the Senate is entrusted with a constitutional duty to advise and consent. They are there to advise and consent on the qualifications of a nominee. That nominee is not there to be used as a pawn essentially to protect ex post facto the possible crimes of the administration that preceded it.
So, I don‘t see any sort of source in the Constitution for this kind of activity. But the fact of the matter is, the Senate imbues a tremendous amount of power and leverage in the minority and what we‘re seeing is that power and leverage being used maximally by the GOP members of the Senate to get whatever they can out of this administration.
MADDOW: Well, let‘s talk about the political cost of that, then. I mean, looking specifically, just as an example at Tammy Duckworth nomination. Richard Burr from North Carolina is holding her up. Literally, he‘s making no public statements about why he‘s holding her up.
What could possibly be the political advantage to him to holding up this nomination that would outweigh the cost to him of becoming known as the guy who held up Tammy Duckworth‘s nomination, this female Iraq vet, helicopter pilot .
MADDOW: . double amputee, veterans advocate legend? I mean, I don‘t even understand how the political calculus can work in his favor here.
HAYES: Well, I don‘t, either. I mean, broadly speaking, the reason that you see battles over nominees is the fact that it often offers a very cost-free way to essentially kind of throw some chits to members of your political coalition. So, you know, the neocons that are up in arms that Chris Hill has the temerity to actually negotiate as one would want a diplomat to do, they‘re essentially being satiated by holding up Chris Hill.
What ends up happening, is because these aren‘t issues that at the end of the day the voter, the average voter is going to go to the polling booth and vote on, it becomes a kind of interest group versus interest group battles. The fact of the matter is, if veterans groups in North Carolina make enough of a stink about Tammy Duckworth, then I think we‘ll see Richard Burr relent, ultimately.
But it really is—I think you put your finger on it, it‘s a cost-benefit political calculation and it‘s a fairly narrow one, because this is not something that‘s going to have kind of broad political resonance outside of a fairly small group of concerned parties.
MADDOW: And certainly, it won‘t as long as the Democrats continue their policy of not squawking about this at all.
HAYES: That‘s right.
MADDOW: Chris Hayes, Washington Editor for “The Nation”—thank you so much for joining us, Chris.
HAYES: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Coming up: Levi Johnston, Tyra Banks, “People” magazine, teen pregnancy, teen heartbreak—you know, not all one heartbeats away from the presidency are created equal. We will have much Palin-tology coming up in just a moment. Also, in a few moments, columnist Connie Schultz will join us to break down what might have been and what might still be for Sarah Palin, the national politician.
MADDOW: Coming up: Some of our fellow Americans have taken the time to prove that Barack Obama is an agent of Satan, and they say there‘s videotape that proves it. Oh, please, oh, please, oh, please. Yes, we have the tape. It‘s coming up.
But first, it‘s time for a couple holy mackerel stories in today‘s news, beginning with Lawrence Summers of the Obama administration. He‘s sort of the awkward uncle the family prefers not to talk much about right now. Summers is President Obama‘s top economic adviser.
During the second term of Bill Clinton‘s presidency, when President Bill Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, the law that deregulated huge aspects of the financial industry and arguably got us into the financial disaster we‘re in today, the biggest Clinton administration cheerleader for that legislation was then-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. See him over there in the corner?
Yes. That was the ‘90s. In the 2000s, Mr. Summers expanded the peanut gallery of people who root against him no matter what he does when he served as president of Harvard. First, he publicly chastised Cornel West, head of the African-American studies department, eventually causing Harvard to lose Professor West to Princeton.
And then, at a conference, Summers famously hypothesized that maybe there were fewer women than men in the sciences because men were willing to work harder than women, and maybe men were just innately better at math and science, you know, they‘re going to dump (ph) all the girls. Then Larry Summers had to resign from Harvard.
Now, White House financial disclosure forms reveal that after leaving Harvard, Mr. Summers was paid millions of dollars in speaking fees by financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. All of those institutions paid him for speaking gigs just in the year 2008, in fact.
Since coming on board at the White House, Mr. Summers, of course, has been a chief architect of the financial industry bailout that has shoveled hundreds of billions of dollars to firms like the ones that we‘re, you know, paying him for stuff until about five minutes ago. The White House says that Mr. Summers stopped taking paid speaking gigs once he signed on for the White House transition team. They also say he is in compliance with the White House‘s admittedly strict ethics rules.
Still, though, this revolving door between Wall Street and regulating Wall Street, not only feels really Bush-y, it‘s starting to feel not just like the foxes are guarding the henhouse, but that the foxes are both guarding the henhouse and consulting with the wolves and Colonel Sanders on how to do better. Not inspiring confidence.
Next up, sports fans- baseball. It‘s opening day, kind of great recession-style this year. Pay rolls across the major leagues are being slashed. The San Diego Padres cut $40 million off their books this season. Another 13 teams are spending less this year than they did last year.
The one big exception to the recession rule? The New York Yankees who predictably spent like drunken sailors this winter. As a result, the average ticket to a Yankee went up by about 75 percent this year to a whopping $73 for one seat, to one game. That‘s the average. There are 81 games - 81 games times $73 is a lot.
Tickets for premium seats at the new $1 billion Yankee Stadium have not sold out, nor have they sold out at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, nor have tickets sold out at the new New York Mets‘ Citi Field, as in Citigroup, as in, dude, think about the karma there. Change the name.
There‘s one bright spot, though. The long tradition of the ceremonial first pitch was alive and well today, in Texas where the Texas Rangers played the Cleveland Indians. Former owner of the team George W. Bush wound up and fired a strike. Million dollar arm. The rest of them still being assessed.
In Baltimore, Vice President Joe Biden toed the slab and threw the ceremonial first pitch before the Orioles season opener against the aforementioned Yankees. And the mighty and thoughtless Boston Red Sox reportedly asked Sen. Ted Kennedy to do the honors, but the game was rained out. Sen. Kennedy will hopefully take to the mound tomorrow when the Sox hosts the Tampa Bay Rays.
And finally, in GOP in exile news, this is Jeffrey Frederick, and he is no longer the Virginia Republican Party chairman. How did Mr. Frederick lose his job? Well, it could have been that Virginia voted for Barack Obama while Jeffrey Frederick minded the Republican store. Could have been the time that Jeffrey Frederick publicly compared Barack Obama to Osama Bin Laden in front of a reporter. Or maybe it was Jeffrey Frederick‘s beyond-the-cutting-edge buffoonery.
Democrats have a one-seat edge in the Virginia State Senate. A few weeks ago, one of the Democratic State senators was apparently about to switch sides, going to the Republican side, which would then split the Senate down the middle. That would give the Republican lieutenant governor of Virginia the deciding vote. They‘d be giving up control of the Senate. It would really hurt the Democrats.
Before the deed was done, though, before the Republicans were able to gain this effective control, Mr. Frederick spilled the beans. He used his Twitter account to announce, quote, “Big news coming out of the Senate. Apparently, one dem is either switching or leaving the dem caucus. Negotiations for power sharing underway.”
And that was really, really dumb. Because Democrats have computers. And even Twitter accounts. The Tweet tipped off Democratic leaders to what was supposed to be a secret Republican strategy. The Democrats adjourned the session before the switch could happen and they blew the big Republican plan.
Now, Jeff Frederick is out a job as party chairman, making him the sixth party chairman fired by the state Republican Party of Virginia in six years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Some people have asked me if I chose to continue my travels to Ankara and Istanbul to send a message to the world. And my answer is simple. Evet. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Evet. President Obama spoke to the Turkish parliament in Turkish. On Sunday, in Prague, the president spoke to some Czechs in Czech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
B. OBAMA: Sametova revoluce. The velvet revolution taught us many things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK, now he‘s just showing off. His Berlitz guide tour of Europe, of course, follows his Spanish message to the audience at the Latin Music Awards and his happy new wish to the Iranian people which was partly in Farsi.
President Obama is kind of poly-lingually impressive. But why point it out tonight? Well, for comparison sake, honestly. While the person who won the 2008 presidential election is, I guess, wowing the world in its native languages, the person once expected to be the strongest challenger to him in 2012 is fighting really awkward sad private family battles in public.
The 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate and still Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has joined in a rhetorical battle with the father of her grandchild. Now, in truth, it was Levi Johnston who started it. He chose the daytime talk show “Tyra” to say what he wanted to say and to talk specifically about whether or not Sarah Palin knew what was going on between him and Sarah Palin‘s daughter, Bristol.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TYRA BANKS, HOST, “THE TYRA BANKS SHOW”: Did she think you were abstinent?
LEVI JOHNSTON, BRISTOL PALIN‘S EX-BOYFRIEND: No.
BANKS: OK. So she knew that you guys were active?
BANKS: Do you think she knew?
JOHNSTON: I‘m pretty sure she probably knew.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Uh-oh. That piece of daytime TV history led a spokesperson for Gov. Palin to issue a formal anti-Levi Johnston statement to be printed on the pages of “People” magazine. Quote, “Bristol did not even know Levi was going on the show. We‘re disappointed that Levi and his family, in a quest for fame, attention, and fortune, are engaging in flat-out lies, gross exaggeration and even distortion of their relationship. Bristol‘s focus will remain on raising Tripp, completing her education and advocating abstinence. It‘s unfortunate that Levi finds it‘s more appealing to exploit his previous relationship with Bristol than to contribute to the well-being of their child.”
It‘s a fair point, but it doesn‘t seem like the sort of thing leading politicians speak about in glossy magazines. There was a time when Sarah Palin was throwing Levi Johnston into the middle of the presidential campaign. You will recall him on a tarmac to shake hands with candidate John McCain. Him, in the fancy seats, and on TV screens across the country during the Republican convention.
But since the election, the picture of Sarah Palin‘s family constructed for the TV cameras, formed in essence to be part of her political platform, has become far more complicated and sad. Sad, that it is being played out now in public.
Her daughter Bristol and Levi Johnston broke up. Their impending marriage, which was announced during the campaign, was called off. Levi‘s mother was arrested on drug charges reportedly linked to OxyContin. Last week, Todd Palin‘s half sister was arrested on burglary charges.
And not just the personal stuff. Gov. Palin stumbled through the stimulus fight, rejecting federal money for Alaska before backtracking and taking it. Last week, she got precisely zero support for her call for Alaska‘s Democratic Senator Mark Begich to resign because Ted Steven‘s corruption conviction was overturned.
And in his most recent public appearance, her former patron, Sen. John McCain essentially said that if Sarah Palin runs for president in 2012, she should not automatically count on his vote.
Joining us now is Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the “Cleveland Plain Dealer.” Connie, it‘s great to have you back on the show. Thanks for joining us.
CONNIE SCHULTZ, COLUMNIST, “CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER”: Thank you, Rachel. Hello from Cleveland.
MADDOW: Hi. Is this - do you think this is sort of the ugly side of the decision to run your family as if they are part of your political platform?
SCHULTZ: You know, I have to say I respond to this, first and foremost, as a mother. And parents make mistakes and you would like parents not to keep making the same mistakes. And she I think erred when Gov. Palin first felt the need to trot her daughter out in public and talk about her pregnancy, made her part of the campaign.
I never saw a happy moment with that child and her boyfriend. I feel really bad for these kids. And now, the governor is - let‘s keep in mind, she is bashing the family of her grandson. These are relatives of her grandson, including his father, and this is so inappropriate.
There‘s a part of me that thinks, “Whew. Thank god she‘s not vice president.” But on the other hand, I wonder how much of the country is going to be paying attention to all this.
I‘ll tell you, here in Cleveland, I hear a lot from not just liberal leaders. I hear a lot from conservatives and this is one thing that‘s not playing very well particularly with mothers here. They‘re really tired of it and she needs to stop.
MADDOW: It has seemed to me like kids get a lot of leeway to screw up, especially when their parents are in the public eye. That kids who do things wrong or do things that are uncouth in some way, I feel like we sort of as a country ought to make a decision, just a values-based decision, to cut them some slack.
The hard thing for me to imagine is being an official, on-the-payroll spokesman for Sarah Palin and choosing to wade in there and go start a fight and engage in this fight with Mr. Johnston and his family.
I mean, he is, what, 18 years old. Whatever meant for his decision to go on this TV talk show, to have then decided to wade in there and be there with him and fight it out in “People” magazine, to me, it‘s political malpractice and it‘s a remarkable decision.
SCHULTZ: It‘s inappropriate to have a staff person on government payroll to be giving any sort of explanation for this. Look, we‘re all - as we‘ve established before on the show, my husband is in the Senate. We have four children. We would never, ever feel that we have any obligation to explain to the public some of the difficulties that our own children have had or will have in the future.
And isn‘t it interesting that perhaps the wisest, if not the most articulate voice in this has been Bristol Palin, when she went on television last month, I believe, or perhaps it was even February and said abstinence, as an education model, does not work.
And she said she wished she had waited 10 years to have this child. Her mother barged in, in that interview, as you recall, and immediately said, “Well, what Bristol is trying to say is that it‘s hard but you can get through it.”
No, that‘s not what Bristol Palin was saying. She was really trying to appeal to her fellow teenagers, please wait. And if you don‘t wait, please use protection because you don‘t want to be in this situation. I feel really bad for her. And I know the publicity has been incredibly difficult for her.
And I think what my former colleague, Karen Sandstrom(ph) when she interviewed the African-American poet Lucille Clifton. She shared two lines with me that I‘ve never forgotten from that interview, “What they call you is one thing. What you answer to is something else.”
And I think, at a very young age, Bristol Palin needs to figure out who she is and how to decide for herself what she will answer to. And unfortunately, that may require ignoring some of the baloney that her mother is throwing out there right now.
MADDOW: Connie, do you think that the way this is playing out and the fact that it is playing out publicly is going to have a material effect on Sarah Palin‘s political fortunes?
SCHULTZ: I certainly hope so. Because, you know, you and I, I think, talked about it when she was first nominated. There are good candidates that are women and bad candidates that are women - the same with men. And she is a poor candidate in so many ways.
I would not want her representing my city, you know, my state, certainly my country. And I say that in part because I don‘t like what she‘s been willing to do with her children. But also, you look at the stimulus package, “I‘m taking only half. No, wait a minute. I‘m only going to take - I‘ll take two-thirds. No, wait a minute. I guess I‘ll take it all but I‘m not going to say the amount.”
That is not decisive leadership. And frankly, that should be the focus. But we keep getting distracted by these theatrics that she‘s producing about her own family. And I feel bad for these two kids. And they are kids. I don‘t know if you saw the interview with Levi, but he‘s a kid.
That‘s a long list - young men who want to get a little bit of attention so they go on TV. I don‘t hold him responsible for this. And he didn‘t bad-mouth her.
MADDOW: And I was struck by the fact that he refers to himself as a kid when he was talking about himself, which I thought showed some - yes.
Connie Schultz, columnist for the “Cleveland Plain Dealer,” Pulitzer Prize winner and, as it is relevant, materially to the discussion of this issue, the wife of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. Connie, thank you so much. Have a good night.
SCHULTZ: Thanks. You, too, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” an 18-year media blackout at Dover Air Force Base finally comes to an end.
Next on this show, what do Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway to Heaven” and President Obama‘s speeches have in common? Hidden satanic messages, duh. That‘s next.
MADDOW: As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, one of the men who put them in the political minority, Dick Cheney, does not want his records out of his clutches. Especially if they were to go to the George W. Bush presidential library in Dallas any time soon.
The former vice president says he is working on his memoirs in Washington D.C. And he needs his records to stay at the National Archives so he can have access to them, along with all his vice presidential artifacts. This means that the space set aside for Vice President Cheney‘s official and personal records in the Bush library will remain empty, a void, where information should be. You know, that‘s how I‘ll always think of him.
MADDOW: Did you know that if you play selected portions of Barack Obama‘s speeches backwards, you can hear the real truth about him? Which is, of course, that he has pledged himself to Satan. It‘s true. It has to be. I saw it on the YouTube.
All right. Here‘s how it goes. In his acceptance speech when he won the presidential nomination, Obama repeated a phrase twice so as to be heard over the cheering.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
B. OBAMA: I accept your nomination for presidency of the United
States. Let me express - let me express -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. Hold it right there. This is the part he pledges himself to Satan. If you play back that line, “Let me express - let me express,” if you play it back, backwards, it‘s just too dramatic. It‘s too dramatic. You have to hear it yourself. You will be shocked, shocked, I say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
B. OBAMA: Let me express - let me express.
(OBAMA‘S VOICE PLAYED BACKWARDS)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes. That certainly is creepy. I found this online at YouTube today, thanks to “BoingBoing.net” who pointed to this clip online as an example of the “Obama is the antichrist” stuff that has persisted remarkably since the campaign.
And it‘s true. If you are willing to slog through YouTube and online right-wing world, there is a ton of this Obama antichrist stuff, way more than you would think there would be. Did you did know, for example, that “Yes, we can” is really just backwards speak for “Thank you, Satan”?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
B. OBAMA: Yes, we can.
(OBAMA‘S VOICE PLAYED BACKWARDS)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Thank you, Satan. Intrigued by this obviously irrefutable evidence that the president is secretly inducing America to accidentally give backwards verbal shout-outs to Satan, we here at the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW applied this “I can play it backwards” technique to see what else we could learn about the secret plots and schemes and musings of important public figures.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That attitude created the unresponsive bureaucracies of big government in the first place. And that‘s - and that‘s not change we can believe in. .
UNIDENTIFIED: Whoever picked the green backdrop is not picking my running mate.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Read my lips. No new taxes.
UNIDENTIFIED: Pick Jeb, not George W.
MADDOW (on camera): It‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
UNIDENTIFIED: Johnny Damon, you broke my heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Happy opening day, everyone. And remember, Paul is dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Kent‘s back. Kent‘s back.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: I‘m back.
MADDOW: Welcome back, Kent. What have you got for us?
JONES: Thank you very much. Right now, Michigan State-North Carolina are going at it in Detroit for the men‘s NCAA basketball title. Now, here‘s the thing I like about Michigan State. Their up uniforms just say “State.” You‘re supposed to know it is Michigan State, not some other state.
But whenever I see that jersey, I think of one opponent for state that really should be on their schedule but isn‘t. Yes, that one.
MADDOW: Very nice.
KENT: Yes. That one. One of those things -
MADDOW: Who would win? I‘d be so stressed out.
JONES: I don‘t know. I don‘t know.
MADDOW: Always be tie.
JONES: Always. Next up, this August is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Promoters are hoping to stage an anniversary concert possibly in Brooklyn‘s Prospect Park for up to 150,000 people. Their dream lineup would be Woodstock‘s 69 alums like Crosby Stills and Nash plus newer bands like Dave Matthews and Fish.
Officials say this Woodstock should be safer than 40 years ago because so few people now can afford drugs. It should be fine, really. It‘s all about the music now. Totally different.
Finally, speaking of the ‘60s, Mr. Bob Dylan shared his thoughts about Barack Obama with the “Times of London” recently, saying quote, “He‘s like a fictional character but he‘s real. First off, his mother was a Kansas girl, never lived in Kansas, though, but with deep roots. You know, like ‘Kansas, Bloody Kansas.‘ John Brown, the insurrectionist, Jesse James and Quantrill. Bushwhackers, guerillas, Wizard of Oz, Kansas. I think Barack has Jefferson Davis back there in his ancestry someplace.”
OK, Bob. Once again, you‘re way ahead of me. I‘m still trying to figure out the “vandals took the handles.”
MADDOW: Yes, exactly.
JONES: I‘ll understand it eventually.
MADDOW: And he just ripped on that, too.
MADDOW: Beautiful stuff. Thank you very much, Kent.
MADDOW: I have a cocktail moment for you.
MADDOW: You and I have known each other a long time.
JONES: We have.
MADDOW: For the entire time that we have know each other, I have been slightly obsessed with the fact that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch writes and sings patriotic music.
JONES: He does and wears beautiful clothes.
MADDOW: Oh, yes.
JONES: Very natty(ph).
MADDOW: “Let the Eagle Soar.” I‘ve got “Heal Our Land,” which is Orrin Hatch‘s special.
MADDOW: I have just been alerted by “Politico.com” that he has sent out a new CD that includes four of his songs not sung by him. Sung by a guy named Steve Amerson(ph). But this is a brand new Orrin Hatch original.
JONES: New Hatch.
MADDOW: New Hatch - “Amazed by America.” Check it out.
MADDOW: It goes on like that for a while. You sort of get the point.
JONES: We wait for the dance remix?
MADDOW: No. Thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you again tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Good night.
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