Guest: Howard Dean, Ana Marie Cox, Clifford Alexander, Erica Massa
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you at home for tuning in.
Dr. Howard Dean, Ana Marie Cox, and former secretary of the army, Clifford Alexander, will all be here this hour talking about the return of the Swiftboaters, the latest, greatest Republican hope for 2012. It will surprise you.
And, John McCain‘s support for “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” Yes. He‘s the one who‘s still supporting it.
But we start tonight with news on the fight for the political heavyweight championship of Washington, D.C. On the line, the future of the American economy, and control of D.C. in the meantime. Introducing—the combatants. In the blue corner, fighting for the Democrats, fresh of his first 100 days as president, entering the ring with already 66 percent approval rating, we have Barack Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: When it comes to health care spending, we are on an unsustainable course that threatens the financial stability of families, businesses and government itself. Getting health care costs under control is essential to reducing budget deficits, restoring fiscal discipline, and putting our economy on a path towards sustainable growth.
Reform is not a luxury that can be postponed but a necessity that cannot wait. It‘s a recognition that the fictional television couple, Harry and Louise, who became the iconic faces of those who opposed health care reform in the ‘90s, desperately need health care reform in 2009. And so does America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Learning from the mistakes of the defining first year political battle of the Clinton administration, Barack Obama is undertaking this massive political challenge with enough conservative pro-business rhetoric to start his own little West Wing chapter of the Chamber of Commerce if he wanted to. In a policy environment that is still soaked, thoroughly soaked in corporate money, that sort of thing packs a punch.
Now, we should introduce the president‘s opponent for this match. In the red corner, it‘s the Repub—actually, the Republicans didn‘t show, didn‘t make it to the weigh-in, didn‘t talk any pre-fight trash and don‘t seem to be here to fight the president on this one at all. Having defeated the Clintons on this issue in the 1990s, the Republican Party appears to be a late scratch for the match this time.
So, just who is opposing President Obama in the biggest fight yet of his political career? You might recognize their political resume.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: They served their country with courage and distinction.
They‘re the men who served with John Kerry in Vietnam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It‘s the Swift Boat Veterans for an unaffordable insurance.
Do you remember the Swift Boat guys?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: Eventually, Jane Fonda apologized for her activities, but John Kerry refuses to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I am not kidding when I tell you that the same public relations firm that brought you the sleaziest, lyingest, most memorable, most parody-ready attack ads of the whole 2004 election is coordinating a new multimillion-dollar “don‘t fix the health care system” campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SCOTT, CHAIRMAN, CPR: Deep inside this stimulus bill, Congress buried an innocent sounding board: the Federal Coordinating Counsel for Comparative Effectiveness Research. It‘s not so innocent. It‘s the first step in government control over your health care choices.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Actually, it‘s not at all the first step in anything like that. But what is more important than what this ad is making up about what happens to be totally run-of-the-mill comparative effectiveness research in the health sector, beyond what they‘re making up about that, is the importance of the guy who is making the allegation.
The man who is in these ads, his name is Rick Scott. He highlights himself by name there in the ad, as you can see. He‘s George W. Bush‘s former partner in the Texas Rangers. He‘s chair of Conservatives for Patients‘ Rights, and he is bankrolling the anti-Obama health care campaign, even as the Republicans are AWOL.
He‘s also the same Rick Scott who you might remember from the biggest health care fraud scandal in American history. In 1997, Rick Scott was forced out as head of the biggest hospital chain in the country amid a burgeoning number of criminal investigations. Scott‘s company ended up getting totally nailed for committing Medicare and Medicaid fraud they paid the largest fine ever paid to the government. They paid a fine of $1.7 billion.
Rick Scott himself never went to prison. He, in fact, made off with about a $10 million golden parachute even as he was being forced out. And now, he is spending some of his massive personal wealth to make himself the leader of the opposition to President Obama‘s efforts to reform health care. Having Rick Scott as your spokesman against health care reform is like having an E. coli bacterium as your spokesman against hand washing.
Health care is one of those issues that‘s supposed to be impossible to fix, right? Too many people are getting rich off the system being broken to ever allow it to be fixed. And, frankly, the debate is never really interesting enough for the public to insist on a good outcome.
But this time, even most of the business interests that sided with Harry and Louise in the ‘90s against health care reform are this time, so far, siding with the White House. The Republicans, for their part, appear to be sitting this one out, and the president‘s main opposition appears to be a man who is the poster child for greed and fraud in American corporate health care. This is going to be a really different kind of fight than we are used to.
Joining us now is the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean.
Governor Dean, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIR: E. coli against hand washing? Good Lord.
MADDOW: Took me all day to come up with that.
DEAN: That was a good one.
MADDOW: Thank you very much. Coming from a doctor, I realize it‘s very important.
MADDOW: All right. Did you get some rich Democratic donor somewhere to pay for Rick Scott to be the face of the opposition to health care reform?
DEAN: It is pretty astonishing.
DEAN: But given the fact that the Republicans don‘t seem to have much to say about it, it makes any sense. I suppose it‘s inevitable. Maybe he‘ll be the vice chair of the Republican Party as Rush Limbaugh chairs it, right?
MADDOW: Well, is—I mean, are the Republicans going to come up with something here or is this one of the issues where it might rationally make sense for them to just say nothing, wait until there‘s a plan on the table and just—and just attack whatever the president comes up with?
DEAN: Well, they‘re going to come up with something, there‘s a very smart guy, Republican consultant named Frank Luntz, who did the Contract on America with Newt Gingrich and he‘s got—last week, he put out a 10-point paper on how to talk about health care, which said you‘ve got to be on the side of reform, among nine other things. And so, I think you‘re going to see the Republicans‘ language be very much in favor of reform. But, of course, what they‘re going to say about it is not going to be about reform at all.
MADDOW: President Obama today said that he wants health care reform this year. And I realize that the dynamics are really different this year than they have been in other years. But this is supposed to be one of the great impossibilities in American politics. I mean, health care reform is supposed to be nil and impossible. Is this year different enough that he could do it this year?
DEAN: He could do it this year. The big problem is going to be whether it‘s going to be real reform or just paper reform. If you want real reform, you‘ve got to allow ordinary Americans to have a real choice. Can they be in a public health insurance option like Medicare, or are they going to be forced to have the private system as they have today? And if you really have options, then it will be real reform, because you‘ll start to get cost under control. But if you don‘t have options, it‘s just putting more money into what we already have and that‘s a waste of money.
MADDOW: Well, who is going to make that—who is going to fight that fight against Obama?
DEAN: Well .
MADDOW: Who wants a public option and on all those things that you‘re describing, who‘s going to fight?
DEAN: The insurance companies are the lead fighters of it. They think they‘re going to lose money. Actually—I actually think there will be room for them in a new system. Because, first of all, people—some people like public insurance, a lot of people do and it‘s also—I mean, private insurance—and there‘ll also be an opportunity for private insurance to offer policies over and above what you‘re going to get in the public system, if you choose that.
So—but, you know, the private insurance companies really are worried about their quarterly profits. So, they‘re going to be the big fighters against this. And, of course, the Republicans fight against everything President Obama does. So, they‘ll be the—it will be the private insurance companies and it will be the Republicans that are fighting against health care reform.
MADDOW: But what do you make of the insurance companies and the other big health care interests standing there alongside President Obama today going to this meeting? I mean, those were the people who were on the other side of this in 1993. And at least in this early point in the schedule, they seem to be standing with the White House. Do you think that‘s going to fall apart?
DEAN: Well, I think their reason for all this movement is that they don‘t want a public option. They don‘t want Americans to have a real choice.
And so—you know, I think it‘s much better that they‘re at the table and I think it‘s much better that they have constructive things to say. Because we‘re going to not have any kind of—I mean, we‘re going to continue to have a public—excuse me—a private sector in our health care and we want the private sector to be helpful.
But, I think, the fault line is clearly going to be about whether we are able to have full choice to the American people or not, and that‘s where it‘s going to come down to. And I think the house will pass a real choice bill and so people can have the kind of health insurance that they choose, not the kind of health insurance the Republicans want them to have.
And I think that he Senate is going to be much closer. Senator Schumer is coming together—coming up with a compromise which may be what‘s necessary to get through the Senate. And we‘ll see.
MADDOW: When you talk about what sounds like your favorite outcome here, is that there‘s a public option but we‘ve still got a private sector, people get to elect what sort of .
MADDOW: . where they get their insurance from—you think about that as the desired outcome. Isn‘t it—wouldn‘t it make more sense strategically to have somebody at the table who is advocating for a single payer system?
DEAN: Sure, it would. I think people—you know, there‘s a lot of support for 676, which is a single payer bill. At the end of the day, Americans don‘t like to be told what to do. So, I think, at the end of the day, that Congress is going to let the American people decide what to do.
Right now, there are those who want to put everybody in a single payer and there are those who don‘t want anybody in a single payer. And my attitude is, if people want a single payer, let them choose. Let them make that choice. Everybody over 65 in America is already in a single payer, it‘s called Medicare. People ought to have a public insurance option and they ought to have a private insurance option.
One of the things that President Obama really got during the campaign was, to say to Americans, if you like what you have, you can keep it. That takes Harry and Louise off the table, because their whole shtick was—oh, the government is going to take away your choice of doctors. Well, that‘s not going to happen. The government is going to let you make more choices than the private insurance industry will let you make. And I think that‘s the right thing to do.
MADDOW: The reason that I ask that question is because, in my experience with politics when you‘ve got a whole bunch of people sitting around the table, you end up—you‘re likely to end up sort at the median position.
MADDOW: Particularly if the president takes the median position, the one in the middle. I don‘t know that there‘s anybody to the left of President Obama who is participating in these discussions. It seems like he‘s doing a lot of talking to the right, but the people who are advocating a more liberal position than he wants aren‘t necessarily being involved in the discussion. It makes me think that the solution eventually is going to more conservative, too.
DEAN: Well, let‘s see about that. I agree with that. I think it‘s a mistake to exclude the single payer people from the discussion.
But in the past, President Obama has been very accommodating. He wanted to listen to the people on the right, but the people on the right haven‘t contributed anything. And we‘ve ended up doing what President Obama wanted in the first place.
I‘d be very happy with Barack Obama‘s bill that he talked about in the campaign. I think it was a moderate, thoughtful bill which gives people maximum choice about what kind of health care they want. But we can‘t—it can‘t move to the right, because if it does, it‘s not really health insurance reform anymore.
So, I agree with you. I think, in order to balance this out, you ought to have single payer advocates at the table. And the other thing is, you know, that‘s a significant number of the American people. It‘s 15 percent or 20 percent of the American people want a single payer, and I think they ought to be at the table. That‘s a significant number of people.
MADDOW: Former DNC chair, former Vermont governor, Howard Dean, thank you so much for joining us tonight. Again, my offer for you to come co-host with me here in New York still stands.
DEAN: I accept.
MADDOW: Wonderful! Somebody lock them down quickly! Thanks, Governor.
MADDOW: A major surprise move in Washington today as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan gets fired quite publicly. David Petraeus tells an interviewer in the meantime that the whole reason we are in Afghanistan doesn‘t really apply anymore. And Dick Cheney decides to rather unhelpfully hop back into the whole Afghanistan debate as well.
That is all coming up. Stay tuned.
MADDOW: Remarkably, former Vice President Dick Cheney is still on TV. All appearances suggest that he did not enjoy appearing on television while he was vice president, but now, he‘s everywhere—except on this show, of course. Please? And I don‘t think he‘s done the food network yet, either. But I wait.
In his most recent sit-down with CBS‘s Bob Schieffer, here‘s what former Vice President Dick Cheney had to say about the war that his administration started more than 7 ½ years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: It became a sanctuary for al Qaeda and they used it to train terrorists to come to the United States and kill Americans.
We can‘t allow that to happen. We can‘t allow ourselves to go back to a situation where Afghanistan is out there operating—there‘s no U.S. presence, no foreign military presence—until we‘re convinced that the Afghans themselves can control all their sovereign territory. When that day happens, I think we‘ll be happy to leave. But that‘s how I would define success in Afghanistan is it no longer constitutes a threat to the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, as long as al Qaeda uses Afghanistan as its base of operations, we need to have boots on the ground in Afghanistan. That has been the rationale for the war there from the beginning.
And it‘s interesting. I think it‘s probably the one thing that Dick Cheney is sound off on, even now, without sounding all that different from politicians who aren‘t Dick Cheney. We are in Afghanistan to counter al Qaeda.
So, what if al Qaeda isn‘t in Afghanistan?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SUNDAY/CNN)
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CENTCOM COMMANDER: They do come in and out of Afghanistan. But al Qaeda—precise al Qaeda, if you will—is not based, per se, in Afghanistan. The federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan—that very, very mountainous, rugged terrain—just east of the Afghan border and in the western part of Pakistan is the locus of the leadership of these organizations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus confirming to CNN what the president of Afghanistan said last week and what Professor Juan Cole said on this show at the end of March: al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan.
And if al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan, what‘s the rationale for us waging war there now? Is it to prevent al Qaeda from relocating into Afghanistan again? If so, that means we‘re waging another preventive war, doesn‘t it? And does that mean that the Obama administration accepts the Bush doctrine of preventive war, waging war on a country, in a country to prevent it from becoming a threat in the future?
In the Afghanistan war, there was a huge surprise today as Defense Secretary Bob Gates announced that he has asked for the resignation of the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. He is General David McKiernan and he has been there less than a year. McKiernan is to be replaced by Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, who has been head of Special Forces in Iraq and who headed up a the Joint Chiefs of staff Afghanistan policy review.
Again, the replacement of the top general came as quite a surprise today. No one is quite sure what it means.
Here to help us sort some of this out is New York Congressman Eric Massa. He retired as a Navy commander after 24 years of service, including serving as special assistant to the supreme allied commander of NATO during the war in Bosnia. He currently serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
Congressman Massa, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
REP. ERIC MASSA, (D) ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Good evening, Rachel.
It‘s good to be here with you on such a serious topic.
MADDOW: Indeed. Thank you.
Were you aware that our top general in Afghanistan was going to be replaced or were you just as surprised as everybody else today?
MASSA: I think we all were, and, frankly, it raises a serious question. You know, this is the same secretary of defense who less than a year ago said we can‘t discuss repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” because that would be too much of a change. And yet, here he is firing his on-the-ground general which I quite frankly think will have one heck of a lot more impact on the morale of the troops, apparently for no reason at all.
Maybe the first time since World War II, and even before, that a secretary of defense has publicly fired a four-star commander in the field. It‘s very concerning to me.
MADDOW: Do you anything about what might have led to this? There‘s been reporting today about dynamics among the senior command, dynamics among the high-ranking generals that we‘ve got serving in CENTCOM and in other territories.
Do we know if there‘s anything specifically about General McKiernan which made him the wrong man for this job at this time?
MASSA: Nothing specifically except he was hand-picked for the job. He is a brilliant commander with an incredible combat record that we all respect. But you‘ve got to remember that this comes at a time when, frankly, we‘re all very concerned about changes of strategy.
When you have Dick Cheney on one hand saying that Rush Limbaugh is a better role model than Colin Powell, and then, on the other hand, tacitly, completely agreeing with President Obama about the fact that we need boots on the ground in Afghanistan, although goodness forbid, former Vice President Cheney would never praise President Obama for anything, you get a lot of mixed messages in the media and this is one of those mixed messages.
So, I, and, I believe, other members of Congress are very concerned about the fact that this very respected combat general, frankly, was publicly fired for what we believe to be no reason.
MADDOW: General Petraeus says that al Qaeda is no longer based in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai said the same thing, informed observers have said the same thing recently. If that‘s the case then, do you see what we‘re doing in Afghanistan right now as a preventive war? And does that mission seem appropriate to you?
MASSA: It causes into question an awful lot of issues. Now, remember, for a long time, those of us in Congress, whether we‘ve had military experience or those of us like myself who were privileged to serve in the armed forces, were told we must listen to the generals on the ground. General Petraeus, preeminent among them.
So, if we follow that logic that we must listen to General Petraeus, then we have to call into question the overall efficacy of the strategy that‘s being laid out, regardless of the president that‘s laying it out. So, I think there‘s a lot of work to be done here in justifying to the American people exactly what this strategy moving forward is, and many of us will express our concerns with the vote coming up on the 2009 leftover Bush war supplemental—which a lot of us are questioning, saying, “Wait a minute, why are we still dealing with supplementals at a time when we‘ve already have two budgets laid the table?” So there‘s going to be some public debate about this.
MADDOW: Do you think that Afghanistan is a threat to the U.S.?
MASSA: I don‘t have the intelligence information front of me that lays that case up, but I do have the senior most military commander telling us that al Qaeda is no longer stationed in Afghanistan and that Pakistan is now the center of the theater. At the same moment he‘s on the ground, a general gets fired. So, there are some questions here to those of us who have significant military experience.
MADDOW: Congressman Massa, I also have to ask you about this jaw-dropping news today from another theater that a U.S. soldier killed five other U.S. troops in Iraq today. As someone who is a veteran, someone keenly interested in military affairs now, I just have to ask what your thoughts are about this.
MASSA: This is a terrible tragedy. I heard about it while I was returning to Washington. Frankly, it causes me great heartache for the families and for the soldiers. This is, I think, a case showing very clearly or military is operating on the thin edge of stress, beyond acceptability, and I plan on offering whatever resources we need to offer to help our military in the field while offering support to get a strategy that gets us out of Iraq. I ran on a provision that we must return our forces from Iraq. I haven‘t seen enough movement in that direction yet.
MADDOW: Congressman Eric Massa from New York State and the House Armed Services Committee—thank you so much for your time tonight, sir.
MASSA: Thank you, Rachel. I appreciate you bringing this subject to the forefront.
MADDOW: Absolutely. Thanks.
So, we can finally put to rest all the controversy about the military‘s “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy. Why? Because John McCain says it‘s working just fine. Later on, we‘ll be joined by Clifford Alexander, former secretary of the army, who says—actually, not so much.
MADDOW: John McCain‘s presidential campaign spokesperson has a new name to throw into the mix for the Republicans in 2012. He is an actor and he is not Fred Thompson. Ana Marie Cox will join us in just a minute to assess.
And later, our chief Republican National Committee chairman historian, Kent Jones, takes a wistful look-back at the first 100 days of Michael Steele.
But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
First, we are very happy to report that Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi has been released from custody after two months in a notorious Iranian prison. Saberi was first arrested in January for allegedly buying a bottle of wine in Tehran, which is illegal. She was then accused of working as a journalist without a press card. She was then accused of espionage on—accused of spying on behalf of the United States.
In a one-hour trial in April, Saberi was found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison. Today, an appeals court reduced that sentence to a two-year suspended term and she was released. Saberi‘s family says she is due to be flying home in the next few days. Saberi‘s family, Saberi‘s father—excuse me—is Iranian. She was born in the United States and grew up in North Dakota.
Her father, Reza Saberi, did speak with reporters today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REZA SABERI, ROXANA SABERI‘S FATHER: The court of appeals, they were called (ph). For five hours, they consulted and worked very hard and the lawyers attended and Roxana herself made statements. And it was a—the procedure was quite satisfactory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Roxana Saberi‘s release, of course, is great news and it reminds us that there are still two more American journalists being held about 4,000 miles east of Iran—in North Korea. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were working for Current TV along the border between North Korea and China when they were captured on March 17th. In April, North Korea said it would put them both on trial for hostile acts but a trial date is yet to be set. We, of course, don‘t have diplomatic relations with North Korea. So, Sweden has been negotiating on our behalf for the release of the two journalists, although their ambassador hasn‘t been allowed to meet with them since March.
The families of these reporters, their employer, Current TV, even our own government, has been really, really tight-lipped about the fate of these two young women, which we hope means there are some incredibly promising secret back-channel negotiation going on. We hope.
And finally, remember the story about the Republic Windows & Doors factory in Chicago? Just before Christmas last year, the employees at that factory were given three days notice that the plant was being shut down. The company told the employees the reason the factory was closing was that Bank of America had cut off the company‘s line of credit. Employees then staged a six-day sit-in at their workplace to get the severance pay and health benefits they were owed under federal law. They eventually won a settlement with the companies‘ owners. A month later, the factory was bought by a California company called Serious Materials that manufactures energy efficient windows. Serious Materials now has an agreement with the union to hire back all of the laid-off workers.
So that was back in December and in January. Now in May, deja, meet vu. I‘d like to introduce to you the employees of Hart Schaffner Marx, or Hart Marx, as it‘s known. Hart Marks is a clothing manufacturer also based in Chicago. They have quite famously sold suits to one Barack Obama.
But in January, the company filed for bankruptcy. The employees contend that the company‘s largest creditor, Wells Fargo, is going to liquidate the company instead of trying to reorganize it or sell it, putting 3,500 people out of work.
The employees are pointing out that Wells Fargo has taken $25 billion in bailout money and paid multimillion dollar bonuses to its executives. Congressman Phil Hare told the union at the company, quote, “Wells Fargo has received $25 billion in taxpayer assistance through TARP. In other words, the workers Wells Fargo may throw out on the street have been subsidizing its operations during these tough economic times. So much for returning the favor.”
Today the Hart Marx workers voted to stage sit-ins to try to save their jobs. They protested today holding signs that said, “Banks get bailed out. Workers get sold out.” If you manufacture the president‘s suits, shouldn‘t your continued operation fall under some sort of national security clause? When you think about it, technically, a single purchase does literally constitute an executive order.
MADDOW: If you happen to be channel surfing the Sunday talk shows this weekend, you are forgiven if you thought the networks had decided to just mail it in. They were just running an old show from like 1994 - maybe even 1984.
The Republican Party, which is currently in search for new fresh ideas and new fresh faces decided to get its message out this weekend with Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich and John McCain. The irony of that was not lost on the Democratic National Committee which whipped up a Web ad mocking the Republican Sunday guest list before the day was even out.
To keep up the Republican greatest hits vibe, the big scandal from the Sunday shows was Dick Cheney picking a fight with Colin Powell. For the record, that is President Gerald Ford‘s chief of staff going after Ronald Reagan‘s National Security Adviser.
Even their intra-party squabbling is really old. But fear not, Republicans. One Sunday morning does not a party make. Yours is a party with plans, a party that is thinking about the future, thinking about 2012. Who would be best to run against President Obama? Who will be the next Ronald Reagan? How about Gary Sinise?
Now, you can laugh, but he is apparently an affable actor who stands firmly on conservative principles. And if you look at his qualifications based on the roles that he has played - well, he did play Democratic President Harry Truman, which means he dropped the atomic bomb and desegregated the army, so he‘s got the full-on commander-in-chief experience going for him.
He played a disabled Vietnam War vet, Lt. Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump.” So he‘s got veterans issue covered. And now, on the hit show, “CSI,” he plays greedy New York City detective Mac Taylor. So he‘s got the whole law and order thing covered, too.
He personally is very diverse. The reason Gary Sinise is on the radar is because he is being recommended for the part of presidential candidate, party leader, by no less of authority than the McCain-Palin campaign spokesperson, former White House communications director, Nicolle Wallace.
She wrote glowingly of Mr. Sinise and his political potential on “The Daily Beast” Web site. If Mr. Sinise does decide to take Nicolle Wallace up on her suggestion, we have tried to get the party started a little bit. We‘ve put together a little campaign ad. Gary Sinise, 2012. Go, go, go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gary Sinise in 2012, because America needs a new hero, one who already has led this country through crisis.
GARY SINISE (as President Harry Truman): The war can‘t last that much longer now that America is in the fight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A man who served his country honorably.
SINISE (as Lt. Dan Taylor): I‘m Lt. Dan Taylor. Welcome to the Fourth Platoon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A man who has committed his life to the rule of law and justice.
SINISE (as Detective Mac Taylor): This detective - Detective Mac Taylor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gary Sinise in 2012 - a hero for a country that deserves a hero. Paid for by Citizens for Gary Sinise in 2012.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is the national correspondent for Air America Radio and contributor to “The Daily Beast,” Ana Marie Cox. Ana Marie, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
ANA MARIE COX, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, AIR AMERICA RADIO: Again, always, always, always good to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Gary Sinise, 2012 - does that say a lot about Gary Sinise or a lot about the Republican Party, or both?
COX: I think it says a lot about the Republican Party, because as far as I know, although Gary Sinise is reportedly a conservative, he hasn‘t actually made a stand on any particular issue except for supporting the troops which - you know, I don‘t think that‘s partisan. I‘m pretty sure we all support the troops.
And actually, I mean, I do admire him. He does USO tours all the time, and that‘s fantastic. It‘s not really a resume builder for the presidency.
MADDOW: It has been fun to watch John McCain‘s inner circle since the
presidential campaign ended. I mean, campaign manager -
COX: It was fun to watch them during the campaign, Rachel.
MADDOW: Exactly. Which is why I wanted to talk to you about this, because you reported on the campaign. You know all these guys. But since the campaign is over, I mean, we all know what John McCain is doing everyday.
But Steve Schmidt is criticizing the Republican Party on social issues coming out for gay marriage. Meghan McCain criticizing the party for being homogeneously right wing, Nicolle Wallace promoting Gary Sinise for president - are they trying to tell the party something?
COX: I think that they are, but I also think it‘s really interesting that they‘re doing all these things publicly and not privately. I don‘t - McCain has never had a very good relationship with the party as an institution.
And I think he‘s sort of proud of that. I think those of us that like him as a politician - that‘s one of the reasons we like him. And the people that were on his campaign had that same conflicted relationship.
Although I think Nicolle, having worked in the Bush White House, probably was a little less conflicted about it. I think that the fact that they‘re going public about it suggests that perhaps they don‘t think their council would be paid attention to if they just took it to someone privately.
And also what I think they‘ve decided is that, you know - I know, having talked to Steve a lot about this, is that if the party decides to turn their back on him, he‘s OK with that. He feels like he‘s made the decision. He knows what he thinks the party should do. If the people in charge disagree, well, then, fine.
And I think that there‘s something admirable about that. And I also think it‘s true that if the Republican Party doesn‘t listen to these people, they are in trouble. You and I both know that.
MADDOW: You were at the White House Correspondents‘ dinner this weekend, and I know because I saw the picture of you and Tom Cruise. Everybody did.
COX: The one with me and Ed Westwick was actually - and also Orszag.
MADDOW: I know. Orszag with a bow tie.
COX: So cute.
MADDOW: I know. Did he have the thing in his pocket with the -
COX: The dual berries?
COX: I totally felt his berries.
MADDOW: You can‘t say that on television. All right. I know that you‘ve talked to Michael Steele as well because you were spotted. How did Michael Steele feel about getting the - about getting joked about by the president?
COX: Well, I think he took it in very good humor. He gave me his business card which I think speaks to an enormous amount of optimism on his part that he had business cards printed. Who knows how many, but, you know, some.
And also, what was interesting, talking to him, is he seemed to acknowledge that there was a difference - I think the word I probably would use is “temperament” between him and the core group of people that form the Republican, you know, National Committee.
I think he‘s struggling just a little bit. I don‘t think - I needed to have talked to him to tell you that, that he‘s struggling just a little bit to try and figure out what he wants to do versus what the people that are in the party that feel like what the - the people that run the RNC feel that the problem is that they didn‘t have an attractive enough messenger, right?
They feel like the problem is the messenger. They feel like they need Gary Sinise. I think that some people - and I would hope that Michael Steele is one of them - realize that the problem is not the messenger. The problem is the message that Americans do not want to hear the party of no right now.
MADDOW: Briefly, even though we‘re out of time, do you feel that he thinks he‘s getting pushed out of the party?
COX: No, I think that he believes in the Republican Party. And I think he should. There is actually, as I‘m sure you know - you‘re a history person yourself - there is a grand tradition to that party. And there‘s a role that conservatism should play in American culture and politics. And I hope that there are people that want to actually like do something about that and not just stamp their feet and whine.
MADDOW: Well, there‘s always Gary Sinise. National correspondent for Air America Radio, contributor to “The Daily Beast,” Ana Marie Cox. As always, thank you.
COX: Thank you.
MADDOW: In his first 100 days, RNC Chairman Michael Steele redefines the term “off the hook.” He redefined the term “cutting edge,” and he said baby a lot.
Our chief RNC chairman historian Kent Jones will put it all in perspective in just a moment.
MADDOW: As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, the head of the House Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Pete Sessions, is denouncing the president as a saboteur, “Obama is trying to destroy the country, don‘t you know?”
Congressman Sessions tells the “New York Times” country that rising unemployment is on purpose. He says that current economic indicators are a sign that the Obama administration intends to, quote, “diminish employment and diminish stock prices as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy to consolidate power.” He says Obama‘s agenda is, quote, “intended to inflict damage and hardship on the free enterprise system, if not to kill it.”
What Congressman Sessions didn‘t say is that President Obama is planning to steal a sample of Willy Wonka‘s top-secret, everlasting Gob Stopper and give it to Wonka‘s evil rival Arthur Slugworth. I‘m sure that‘s next.
MADDOW: After publicly announcing on this show that he was gay, New York Army National Guard Lt. Dan Choi was told last week that he will be discharged from the service. Mr. Choi is a Westpoint graduate, an Arab linguist. He‘s an Iraq War veteran. Nobody asked, he told. And now, he‘s out - both out of the closed soon to be out of the military.
When 2nd Lt. Sandy Tsao faced discharge from the Army for being gay, she wrote President Obama. And he hand-wrote her back personally to say, among other things, that he is, quote, “committed to changing our current policy.”
Is there anyone who likes “don‘t ask don‘t tell” at this point, a policy which has cost the military nearly 13,000 service members since 1993 at a cost of hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars? Why, yes, there is one at least - Sen. John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): The policy has been working and I think it‘s been working well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The follow-up that is begging to be asked is, of course, working well for whom, Senator?
Joining us now is Clifford Alexander. He was secretary of the Army under President Carter and chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Johnson. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
CLIFFORD ALEXANDER, FORMER SECRETARY OF THE ARMY: Thank you, Rachel.
Good to be with you.
MADDOW: Thank you. Do you perceive any perspective from which “don‘t ask don‘t tell” could be described as a policy that is working well?
ALEXANDER: Absolutely none. I can see several reasons why it does not work. First of all, when John McCain says this, how would he know? The hypocrisy of this is that you ask people to act as if they are not what they are.
I said at one point that it‘s a little bit like asking a Jewish person to pretend to be a Muslim during his or her service or during life generally. When people who are asked to risk their lives, asked to provide certain services for this country and we tell them that because of their sexual preference, don‘t tell us if it‘s a certain sexual preference, that runs against any democratic principle that we can think of.
And the no-necks who keep pushing this policy really do need to have it changed. Not studied, not long hearings, but changed. And I do think that it needs legislation. It needs people in the House and in the Senate to come forward and say, this is time to make America be what America says it is.
MADDOW: In terms of the strategy for moving forward and for changing this, you say that legislation would be the way forward. It is possible that the president could, by executive action, just stop implementation of the current policy - just say, you know, “We‘re going to review it. We‘re going to try to come up with something new. In the meantime, stop kicking people out.” Would that be an appropriate executive action?
ALEXANDER: If that is an executive action that is possible, indeed, it would be appropriate. I‘ve known this president for 15 years. Our son was his policy adviser for 20 months. He‘s a law professor. Our daughter was his inaugural poet.
I love him. I love his family and he knows and should know that the principles that say “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” are not in conformity to what he believes in or why he was elected.
I do think that he will remember and should remember that you get a certain time on this earth, and particularly as president, to do those things that are in the best interests of this country, in the best interests of what we believe in and, if it is possible to do that, stop listening to the people who say, “Oh, you can wait 10 months because if you wait a few months, then you can get such-and-such passed.”
I do think it is something that presently is embarrassing thousands upon thousands of individuals serving in uniform. It‘s also saying to other people, who are not in uniform and do not want to be hypocritical and say that there‘s something that they‘re not, that they don‘t even consider the military as a possible service to their country.
This is a profound mistake that we made and it‘s a profound mistake that ought to be changed as quickly as possible with a lot of who-struck-john left on the sideline and a lot of no-necks not saying, “Oh, gosh we‘re going to be embarrassed because we‘re going to be doing this or that.” Or, “We‘re going to have to investigate this or that in the service.”
We ought to spend much more time worrying about the injustices that take place in the service today and not so much about making people hide what they are. That‘s just plain, if you want to put it in the corny terms, the good corny terms, it‘s un-American.
MADDOW: Mr. Secretary, West Point grads who are fighting against “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” this including this group that 1st Lt. Dan Choi help found, a group called Knights Out - they‘re are asking people to flood the White House switchboard with calls tomorrow to say get rid of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,” move on this now, making some of the same arguments you are making tonight.
Strategically, politically, do you think that is an effective way for a grass roots campaign like that? Is the White House the place where pressure should be paid at this point? Or should pressure be paid right now at the Pentagon to try to stop some of the resistance to any change?
ALEXANDER: I do think that pressure is the American way. So whenever it is done, I do think it is very important that people who are not gay get into this fight. And it is a fight for an equality of opportunity for people without hypocrisy.
So, I think many of us who have not said as much as we should have should start speaking up, should start demanding of this country the kind of equity that we should be continually demanding. I do think that are techniques -and I won‘t pretend to be politician here - that get the attention of people.
But, I do think that it is at every level. It‘s in the legislative branch. It is in the military branch. But, let‘s remember this - the military is not political, or shouldn‘t be political.
The military serves at the pleasure of the commander-in-chief. It is not the job - in the four years I was secretary of the Army, I never once asked the politics of any given person in uniform, man or woman, nor should I have. So they can have their opinions but their opinions aren‘t, in this instance, what we should be thinking about.
We ought to be thinking about the people who are the victims of a very misplaced policy. That is what we are talking about. And it shouldn‘t be people who are just gay and lesbian who are doing this. It is all of us who ought to be thinking about it and doing it.
And just because somebody says, as I read in the paper the other day, some adviser to the president that we don‘t want to poke a finger into somebody‘s eye and move this too fast. Well, too fast is yesterday. And too fast today is not too fast.
It is the kind of approach that we have to take that must engage us in seeing to it that people who are willing to risk their lives at least have the dignity of being themselves.
MADDOW: Clifford Alexander, former secretary of the Army, it‘s an honor to have you on the show tonight, sir. Thank you so much.
ALEXANDER: Thank you very much. Be with you.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith takes on Bill O‘Reilly‘s latest twisting of the history of torture. We will be right back.
MADDOW: Hello, Mr. Jones. What have you got, Kent?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: It‘s been 100 days for Michael Steele.
Let‘s take a look back, baby.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(voice-over): 100 days ago, the Republican Party was reeling. Luckily, they chose the right man at the right time for the far right - Michael Steele. Overnight, this remarkable leader stretched the GOP tent to embrace urban, suburban hip-hop settings and one-armed midgets.
MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: You wear your hat one way you like to wear it - you know, kind of cocked to the left. Yes, because that‘s cool out west.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
STEELE: In the Midwest, you guys like to wear a little bit to the right. In the south, you guys wear it - the brim straight ahead. Now, the northeast - I wear my hat backwards, you know, because that‘s how we roll in the northeast in Southbury. But, what do you recognize? We all are wearing the hat that says “GOP.”
JONES: That‘s how Michael Steele rolls. His ideas, visionary.
STEELE: Not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job.
We‘re cooling, we‘re not warming. Greenland, which is now covered in ice - it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? OK. Iceland, which is now green - oh, I love this. I love it.
JONES: Often, his ideas were too advanced to be immediately understood.
STEELE: You have absolutely no reason, none, to trust our words or our actions at this point.
So if I do something, there‘s a reason for it, even it may look like a mistake, a gaffe, there‘s a rationale. There‘s a logic behind it.
JONES: Throughout, Steele kept it real, mighty real.
STEELE: Not me, baby. No. Not happening. No way. No how.
JONES: Faced with a Steele juggernaut, how could President Obama possibly respond?
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Michael Steele is in the house tonight. Or, as he would say, in the heezy.
STEELE: Any time you get called out by the president of the United States, it‘s pretty cool, right? Because look, his worm will turn. My time will come. Trust me.
JONES: This worm will turn. Trust him.
STEELE: Crazy, nonsense, empathetic. I‘ll give you empathy.
Empathize right on your behind.
JONES: 100 days later, America empathizes with you, Michael Steele, right on your behind. .
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Thank you very much, Kent. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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