Guests: Rep. Anthony Weiner, Mark McKinnon, John Henke
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you very much, Keith. That looks very, very, very nice on you. You know how hard I had to fight to make sure it wasn‘t going to be Yankee pinstripes?
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: Who wanted Yankee pinstripes as oppose to the gaudy, alternative Red Sox uniform color that you happen, by coincidence, to pick out?
MADDOW: See, I just said I want something that looks commie.
OLBERMANN: I notice I‘m wearing it and you‘re not. Once again, that‘s the story of my life right there. All right. Have a good show.
MADDOW: Thank you very much, Keith.
And thank you at home for staying with us for the last year and for the next hour, we hope.
We enthusiastically begin our second year on the TV machine with the story of the growing anticipation for President Obama‘s big speech before a special joint session of Congress tomorrow night. If there a way—if there were a way to judge the importance of a presidential speech based on its setting, the ranking would probably go something like—like midday speech in the Rose Garden, and then primetime conference in the East Room, and then primetime speech from the Oval Office and then we appear, primetime speech before a joint session of Congress.
This is a big deal. This is one of the president‘s biggest rhetorical guns. And it‘s probably the biggest opportunity that President Obama will have to sell the American people on health reform. And unlike the other settings at his disposal, the joint session of Congress offers the unique opportunity for the opposition, for the other side.
His last such address was his pseudo State of the Union address back in February. After that speech, the party out of power—as it always does—gets an opportunity to deliver an official response. So, the last time around, back in February, that honor went to Republican Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. And we know how that went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA: I‘m Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana. Like the president‘s father, my own parents came to this country from a distant land. When they arrived in Baton Rouge, my mother was already 4 ½ months pregnant. I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a “pre-existing condition.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: At least he foreshadowed the coming health care debate. Yes.
This time around, remarkably, Republicans have decided to go back to the Louisiana well. They have picked a Republican congressman who is also a physician, who happens to be a complete unknown on the national political scene.
America, meet Republican Congressman Charles Boustany of Louisiana. He has been tapped to deliver the response to President Obama‘s health care speech.
Now, aside from being one of 16 physicians in Congress, Doctor Boustany also may have fancied himself British royalty at one point in his life. Yes, in 2004, Congressman Boustany‘s Democratic opponent ran an ad against him mocking Boustany‘s unsuccessful attempt to purchase the British title “Lord Charles Boustany” from someone he thought he could buy that from—this is before he got into politics. According to court records reportedly filed by Mr. Boustany, he was conned by two Brits who made a nice living off of selling fake British aristocratic titles to rich, gullible Americans.
So it‘s nice to meet you, sir, Lord, Congressman. Good luck tomorrow night. America is getting—looking forward to getting to know you.
Awkwardly, Congressman Boustany also was a co-sponsor of legislation that would have reimbursed doctors for talking to Medicare patients about end-of-life issues. That‘s the type of provision in the proposed health—excuse me—House health care bill that Republicans demonized all through August as a death panel, the secret plot to kill old people.
So, Charles Boustany is one of the original Republican death panel endorsers, if you buy that conspiracists clop-trop about what used to be a totally reasonably total nonpartisan idea in health policy.
But, you know, August has been nothing if not unreasonable. It has been a month of politics in extremist on health reform. Two sides have emerged after this hot, long, weird month of congressional recess.
For Democrats, President Obama‘s speech tomorrow is obviously the very big deal this week. But it is part of a larger effort to show the American people which party is working towards trying to get something done.
August was the conservative movement‘s chance to try to make health care reform seem like communism or fascism or the plague or whatever.
Now, that August is over, the job of actually trying to legislate has begun again, and Democrats do appear to be re-energized.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I have every belief that when he finishes his speech tomorrow, the American people will be able to put aside some of the ridiculous falsehoods that have been perpetrated these past few weeks, and focus on what we‘re going to do that‘s positive for this country. We have a lot of work to do. We understand that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you don‘t know anything about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that‘s actually him ecstatic. He‘s never been more energetic than that on camera. That‘s him losing his mind. That‘s what for a calm guy.
Democrats definitely do have some intramural stuff to work out here. Will there be a public option? Will there be no public option? Will there be a triggered public option? What about the other aspects of health care reform that are still not worked out among Democrats?
Democrats are now having the internal debate about the best health care policies for the country. They are debating policy.
For Republicans, health care reform is still today a plot to kill your
grandmother. It‘s an untenable situation that will leave us with no choice
but succession of the various states. The whole idea of health care reform
according to the Republicans now—is unconstitutional. Republicans are no longer fighting about what should be in any health reform bill. They‘re not fighting about health policy.
Republicans—a growing number of them—are now questioning the whole idea that government is allowed to have any sort of health policy at all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA: Where do you find the authority in the U.S. Constitution for the federal government (INAUDIBLE).
COBURN: Do you have some responsibility to be responsible for your health and your family? Or is the government responsible for everything associated with that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Republican Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma making the case to an exuberant crowd that the U.S. Constitution precludes the federal government from doing anything about health care at all.
It‘s an argument that‘s now being made by a number of Republicans in Congress. They have been nicknamed the “tenthers‘ because of their position that the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution prevents the federal government from enacting any health care programs at all or any other programs that are not specifically named in the Constitution. Sorry, Medicare.
For all of the conservative crowing about how great the August town hall meetings were for them, and how excited they were to get their freak on in such a public way about health care, if you were trying to get your head around whether or not health care reform is really going to happen in this country, whether we are really going to have a shot at it after some 60 years of trying, ask yourself this right now: which side of this debate would you rather be on right now? Actually, ask yourself if the Republicans even count as a side in what‘s being called a debate right now.
It was 47 days ago today that Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner said Republicans were putting the, quote, “final touches” on their own health care plan -- 47 days ago. Those final touches must be really, really touching. We‘re still waiting for them to even put forward anything that suggests they‘re participating in this as a policy debate.
And as the Republican Party continues to sustain from debating policy, Democrats are—as of today—back to trying to legislate. What they‘re able to achieve, of course, remains to be seen.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York.
Congressman Weiner, thanks very much for coming back on the show.
It‘s nice to see you.
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: It‘s my pleasure. Happy anniversary.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
President Obama on Labor Day spoke before a union audience in Cincinnati yesterday, offered up a relatively vigorous support for the public option during that speech. How important is that in terms of what is still possible for health reform?
WEINER: Well, it‘s very important. You know, frankly, during the month of August, there‘s been a lot of back and forth. But the president of the United States has yet to stand before the American people and say, this is why we need the public option and why it‘s so important to getting down costs and health care. That hasn‘t really happened.
To some degree, they have been all over the map on the public option. And I think, tomorrow night, at the building behind me, the president of the United States is going to do what only presidents can do, which is stand up and make the case.
But you are right about one thing—we should pretty much internalize, as a country, we‘re going to have to do this without the Republican members of the House and Senate. They have pretty much absented themselves from this entire discussion. Notwithstanding this “group of six,” they really do not have proposals that they are putting on the table for us to consider.
MADDOW: In terms of the president‘s leadership, have you been critical—as you are tonight—and you have been in the past, critical of his leadership on this subject. We have heard from the president, repeatedly, all through the campaign, and again and again since he‘s been president, about the need for health care reform, about what is broken in the current system. As yet he‘s not really defined in specific terms what he wants the character of reform to be.
How specific do you want him to get? Do you want him to draw a line in the sand? Do you want him to wave the veto pen? What—to tell you what would be acceptable in a health care reform proposal the way President Clinton did back in 1993?
WEINER: Well, I don‘t know if he has to do it in the negative or in the positive and say, here‘s why we need to control costs. I think it‘s very important—and I posted something in “Huffington Post” that made this case today. It‘s very important for him to dial this back a couple of years, 40 years when Medicare was created and explain the exact same debate went on then and there are a lot of people in the country who didn‘t think it would work and it did. The idea that the federal government can‘t administer a health care plan has to be rebutted forcefully by the president of the United States.
But he does have to say something else, in all of the proposals short of a public option, they all lack one important thing and that is how you contain costs. It‘s not just a matter of reforming insurance—whatever that means—it‘s trying to figure out a way to hold down costs. And, frankly, without a public option, just the same way the president said opponents need to stand up and say what their choice was, the president has to do that tomorrow night as well.
MADDOW: When conservatives both in your own party, the Democratic Party, and on the other side of the aisle, make the case that a public option—any sort of plan that they could term government-run, which is a moniker they‘ll put not only on the public option, not only on something like single-payer, they‘d even put that on nonprofit cooperatives, which is another one of the options that‘s being put forward—when they say nothing but government-run is acceptable politically, that that‘s ideologically unacceptable just in terms of the amount of involvement the government has in the health care system, what‘s your argument against them?
WEINER: Well, I think that my argument and the president should be the same. We know, for example, that private insurance companies take up to 30 percent out of the pot and put into their pockets for overhead and for profits. We know that Medicare does the same exact job but only takes 4 percent. We know, for example, that you never heard the term “pre-existing condition” in Medicare. You only hear it in insurance companies.
And we also know something else. We know that we try to give private insurance companies the job of providing low-cost insurance in something called Medicare Part D. They‘ve broken the bank. They‘ve given us the doughnut hole and they showed that they can‘t execute.
So, I think, the president has to rise to this battle to some degree, vigorously defend what we know works as a Medicare system, and watch as the Republicans try to figure out whether they should applaud Medicare or boo it when it comes up before the joint session tomorrow night.
MADDOW: Republicans—as you know from my introduction—I believe, are not participating in this as a policy debate. They are certainly participating this as a political debate—the allegations about death panels, to the allegations about socialism, to calling the president a Nazi from time to time. The range of allegations that have sprung out of the health care debate that are not about health policy but are just about taking shots at the president has been remarkable. And this August has been very hot.
Should the president rebut those things? Should he name them and shame them? Or should he just ignore them?
WEINER: Well, I think the answer is yes. The only way is to push back.
Look, let me make a distinction here between Republican citizens of the United States who I don‘t think are in anyone‘s pocket. They are genuinely concerned.
But I‘ve got to tell you, the Republican members of the House and Senate that work in the building behind me are beholden to the insurance industry. That‘s the only way to interpret the way they‘re vigorously defending the insurance lobby.
I am here to try to advocate on behalf of Medicare that is a government program that I think works.
But there‘s no doubt about it—the insurance industry holds great sway with my Republican friends.
But what the president has to do tomorrow is say, you know, we, Democrats, who are trying to reform the system, we stand with taxpayers and patients. Let the Republicans stand with the insurance lobby.
MADDOW: Congressman Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York, thanks very much for your time tonight.
WEINER: You‘re welcome. I hope to be getting one of those jerseys Keith had.
MADDOW: I‘ll work on it. I think I‘ve got to make a few more.
MADDOW: All right. I am outraged—I have to tell you—that the president of the United States is trying to indoctrinate America‘s children with a partisan ideological message while they are at school. Don‘t think this won‘t go unnoticed, President Reagan.
We will revisit a classic moment in modern American political history from 1988. We will also be joined in just a moment by former George W. Bush and John McCain adviser, Mark McKinnon.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Opportunities for black and other minorities have not been—there hasn‘t been a great deal of them. And I want to know during your term in office, what have you done to increase those educational opportunities for us?
THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: One of the great things that our administration did when we came in here was immediately turn on to helping something that I think is historically wonderful in our country, and that is the Negro private colleges and universities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Imagine being that girl listening to your president answer that way. That was President Ronald Reagan in the last months of his presidency, embarrassingly using terminology from the imagined presidency of Strom Thurmond, while addressing schoolchildren back in 1988, more than 20 years ago. Not a lot of hue and cry about indoctrinations surrounded the great communicator‘s extra cringy school house appearance.
And yet, when it was announced this year that President Obama would give his announced his stay-in-school pep talk, the right, this year, went directly off the kook end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, TV HOST: People are yanking their kids out of school for Obama‘s unprecedented speech addressing pre-K through sixth grade children.
ANDREA TANTAROS, MEDIA CONSULTANT: It‘s historic in a sense that it‘s unprecedented. They do this type of thing in North Korea and the former Soviet Union.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Not only was President Obama‘s speech not actually unprecedented, it wasn‘t North Korean, and it wasn‘t a whole series of other horrible threatening things it was apparently supposed to be.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO HOST: It smacks of—of really underhanded attempt to influence the way these young people think about issues beyond just doing well in school.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Right. An underhanded attempt to influence these young people by saying, “I‘m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education and do everything you can do meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all of your homework, paying attention in class, or spending some time each day reading a book.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE MALKIN, CONSERVATIVE JOURNALIST: This is not merely a morale-boosting speech that he‘s giving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, they‘re secretly much more than morale-boosting going on when Barack Obama says, “Every single one of you has something that you‘re good at.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MONICA CROWLEY, MONICAMEMO.COM: This is what Chairman Mao did, Laura.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God.
CROWLEY: This is like Max Headroom. This is going into every single classroom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is what Chairman Mao did. This is Max Headroom. Why, you know, when Genghis Khan spoke to Mongolian school kids—that‘s exactly what he told them. He sad, “Where you are now does not have to determine where you‘ll end up. No one‘s written your destiny for you because here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.”
Actually, that wasn‘t Genghis Khan. That must have been Chairman Mao.
I tell you.
None of history‘s authoritarian megalomaniacs went as far as President Obama did today with our precious American youth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope all of you are washing your hands a lot and that you stay home from school when you don‘t feel well so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What kind of power-hungry, subversive, fascist, communist bad guy would have our children wash their hands a lot? It‘s a good thing that we saw this coming.
Joining us now is Mark McKinnon, former adviser to President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain. He‘s now president of the Public Strategies and contributor to “The Daily Beast.”
Mr. McKinnon, thanks very much for coming back on the show. It‘s good to see you.
MARK MCKINNON, FMR. BUSH MEDIA ADVISOR: Hey, thanks, Rachel. You know, I‘m running point out here on the partisan patrol and I just had to blow the whistle today on the “Daily Beast.”
It‘s just—it‘s insane when, you know, a United States president can‘t deliver a simple speech to the students of this country without everybody going absolutely berserk, and, you know, I think it‘s bad for the country. But I also think it‘s bad for the Republican Party. It just—it makes us out to be incredibly partisan and out of touch.
And I think that if anybody actually saw that speech today, they‘d recognize that this is great for the kids of this country.
MADDOW: Well, you know, some of the people who had called the speech indoctrination said after they saw the text of it—hey, that‘s sort of a good speech. I‘m thinking specifically of the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, who had been very outspoken about this.
I wonder if there is a political cost for being seen to have sort of a “Chicken Little” reaction, being able to say, this is going to be the end of the world, going to be the end of the world, and then it turns out to be something you actually admire.
MCKINNON: Well, that‘s the problem, you know, in politics today. And it‘s both, you know, people on—partisans on both sides, they shoot before—they shoot at anything that moves and they shoot before they actually see what they‘re criticizing. In this case, people like Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, who‘s, you know, an early contender for the 2012 GOP nomination, who I like. He‘s a centrist and reformer.
And I was just shocked to see him jump out immediately. He questioned
the content before he saw it. He questioned the president‘s motives, and
he said that the speech was uninvited. Well, how many speeches are invited
by the president of the United States?
This was a great opportunity for the kids of the country. And so, I was very happy to see the first lady, former first lady, Laura Bush, come out today and strongly support the president. So, there are moderate, reasonable voices out there who recognize that this is good.
But, you know, listen, I think that—imagine if JFK had done this speech or Dwight Eisenhower. You know, we never would have seen this. So, it‘s a product of our current age. Even Ronald Reagan gave the speech. George H.W. Bush gave the speech, although he got—his officials got hauled in before a congressional committee for spending $26,000.
So, I‘m sure, now, Republicans will find out how much Obama spent on this. But it‘s really a product of our time, and it‘s very sad.
MADDOW: Do you feel like this is just an example of reflexive attack mode that you can sort of just attribute to the individual people who made these attacks? Or do you think that there‘s something going on in terms of the standards for what counts as an appropriate political attack? What counts as a smart political allegation right now that there‘s something wrong either on the right, or on both sides of this particular time?
MCKINNON: Well, I think it‘s reflexive and I think it‘s part of the proliferation of media and cable content, and I think people, like Pawlenty, saw it as an opportunity to get out there quickly before he‘d really been very thoughtful about it. He wanted to get points with the right, with the base, and he wanted to get on TV. And the way to do that was to jump out there early and that‘s the way you get on today.
But I—what I would say to people—and I said in my column today -
is, there are two scenarios that are possible here. There‘s scenario A, where you have David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel sitting around, plotting a way to indoctrinate the students of America to ensure the president‘s legacy.
Or there‘s scenario B, where you have that the education secretary going to the president and probably to Axelrod and Emanuel as well, and saying, “You know, I think it would be a great thing if we just had the president give a pep talk to the kids of this country, encouraging them to stay in school. No policy, just a nice, inspirational speech.”
So you can either believe A or B. Unfortunately—because I heard from a lot of them, a lot of people actually believe scenario A.
MADDOW: It‘s not just that they don‘t believe it and they‘re pandering to it. You think they really believe it?
MCKINNON: Yes, unfortunately. I mean, you know, I got the Chairman Obama e-mails from a lot of my friends. So, you know, God forbid, if the president goes out there and proposes a speech to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America.
MADDOW: Yes. Well, I am—I am much happier believing craven than I am believing dumb. But—or gullible, because I don‘t like to think of my fellow Americans as dumb and gullible. I prefer to think of us as being taken advantage of by—you know, by unsavory characters from time to time. And at least those people we can make fun of. Your analysis is much darker, Mark.
MCKINNON: Well, you know, the other thing that I mentioned too is that, you know, I think if President Bush had tried to do a similar speech, I‘m sure there would have been similar criticism from the left. So, you know, I just—I just would encourage moderation and judgment from both sides of the aisle when it comes to something as simple as the presidential address to the schoolchildren of America.
MADDOW: Mark McKinnon, former adviser to President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain—it‘s always great to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us, Mark.
MCKINNON: Thanks, Rachel. Happy anniversary.
MADDOW: Thank you.
So, British police are really, really, really mad at Dick Cheney. And they‘re mad at him three years retroactively. This is a strange spy story.
Stay with us. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: WorldNetDaily, the extra right-wing Web site which banged the birther drum and sounded the “health care reform will kill grandma” alarm is itself the subject of a bullpucky alert from the right. Is there a battle going on for the soul of the conservative movement? What activist in the middle of that fight joins us next.
Plus, since the resignation of green jobs czar, Van Jones, this weekend, anti-Obama forces are very excited to go after other czars—which after all, do sound really Russian. And that‘s bad, right?
That‘s all ahead.
But, first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. If you want to know why it is that you can‘t bring your big toothpaste on board the airplane anymore, why it is that the airport concessions beyond the security gates are able to make a killing on bottled water since you can‘t bring any water from anywhere else through the security lines anymore—it is because of these guys. Three British men convicted yesterday in a plot to blow up planes flying between the U.K. and here. These men were first arrested back in 2006.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: British authorities announced they have broken up a major terror plot to blow up airliners flying from Great Britain to the United States.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Tonight, a total of 24 arrests have been made.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police officials here are saying that they believe they have picked up most of the masterminds behind this attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This supposed attack plot involved using soft drink bottles to bring onto airplanes homemade hydrogen peroxide-based bombs. Back in 2006, British police were al over this plot. They had more than 200 people under 24-hour, seven-days-a-week surveillance.
According to the Assistant Commissioner for Special Operations at the Metropolitan Police in London, who wrote about the investigation in “The Times of London” today, quote, “Key suspects in the airline plot were under intensive surveillance. We logged every item they bought. We sifted every piece of rubbish they threw away at their homes or in litter bins. We filmed and listened to them. We broke into their homes and cars to plant bugs and search their luggage when they passed through airports. We watched as they experimented with turning soft drink containers into bottle bombs. We listened as they recorded martyrdom videos.”
But what the British police hadn‘t yet done was arrest these guys. They wanted to suss out as much of this terrorist network as they could and they wanted to ensure they had enough evidence to get convictions of as many of these key players as possible on the most serious charges they could get them convicted on.
But according to British intelligence officials, who apparently feel free to talk about this case now, now that the men have been convicted, the Brits had their hands forced on these arrests when then-Vice President Dick Cheney allegedly ordered the early arrest of the bombing suspects‘ point man in Pakistan.
The U.S. was apparently prepared to kidnap this man in Pakistan and fly him out of the country to a secret prison for interrogation if the Pakistanis didn‘t arrest him themselves. The Pakistanis did arrest him themselves. The Brits were not notified of the Pakistani arrest.
That arrest would have tipped off the suspects in Britain that their plot had been found out. And so because of that arrest, because of the alleged U.S. actions to cause that arrest before the British investigation was complete, before British law enforcement had exploited that known terrorist cell to its best counterterrorism purposes, they were forced to act early, prematurely, because of the Bush administration.
This was three years ago and British law enforcement are clearly still really PO‘d about it. Stay tuned for more on this. It‘s not the last you will hear of it.
And today is the big day in the history of combustible engine-powered transportation. As it stands, about two-thirds of the world drives on the right. The other third drives on the left. In the past 40 years or so, only three countries have decided to change sides, all of them from left-side-of-the-road drivers to right-side-of-the-road drivers.
No country has made the switch since 1970 until yesterday. At 6:00 a.m. yesterday, the pacific island nation of Samoa made the historically unique switch from the right side of the road to the left. Nobody switches that direction.
The Samoan prime minister, a man who does not deserve to have his name mispronounced by me, but you can read it there. He thinks it will be cheaper for his country to import cars with the steering wheel on the right from New Zealand and Australia, rather than continuing to import cars with the steering wheel on the left from us.
In preparation for the big switch, the Samoan government set up a driving course at a sports stadium so people could practice driving on the left. They gave the people a two-day national holiday to prepare. And although this may have been a little rash, they banned alcohol sales in the whole country for three days prior to the grand move from right to left.
So at 6:00 a.m., the prime minister went on national radio and he told everyone in the country to bring their vehicles to a halt. Apparently, everyone did. And then he said, “After this announcement, you will all be permitted to move to the other side of the road to begin this new era in our history.”
After he said that, everyone did - moved to the other side of the road. And then according to the Associated Press, everybody who had stayed up late for the announcement or gotten up early for the announcement, honked their horns and clapped and cheered and started driving on the left without incident.
So far, no accidents. They can do that and we can‘t do health reform. Maybe if we banned the booze for three days.
MADDOW: It‘s now time for an official “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” conspiracy theory special report. By now, we are all familiar with the birthers who claim that President Obama is a Kenyan-born Manchurian candidate. Despite the release of the president‘s birth certificate, the birthers continue to demand the release of the president‘s birth certificate.
And, of course, we‘ve also become acquainted with the deathers, who claim the president‘s publicly-stated desire to reform health care is actually a front for his secret desire to kill everybody‘s grandparents.
Beyond promoting those two corrosive theories, the right-wing Web site “WorldNetDaily.com” has recently expanded its already extensive conspiracy repertoire by suggesting that a Democratic proposal to beef up relief efforts during natural disasters is actually a secret plan to set up, quote, “concentration camps for political dissidents such as occurred in Nazi Germany.”
OK, aside from the obvious, what is additionally annoying about this new achievement in excellence in wing-nuttery is that we now have to come up with a name for its adherence. “Concentration campers” does not really roll off the tongue like “birthers” or “deathers.”
What‘s different and potentially politically significant about this new, as yet unnamed concentration camp conspiracy theory is that it has prompted a forceful pushback from at least one prominent voice on the political right.
After “World Net Daily” published its concentration camp theory, conservative blogger John Henke responded on “The Next Right,” a Web site he co-founded, saying, quote, “This is just hideously embarrassing for the right. I think it‘s time to figure out what conservative libertarian organizations support “WND” through advertising, list rental or other commercial collaboration and boycott any of those organizations that will not renounce any further support for “World Net Daily.”
Inside America‘s conservative ranks, that call to action has thus far started something slightly bigger than a skirmish, but I would definitely say smaller than a war.
Here to find out more about it is John Henke. John, thanks very much for venturing across no man‘s land into what might be considered enemy territory to be with us tonight. I really look forward to the chance to talk to you about this.
JOHN HENKE, CO-FOUNDING EDITOR, “THENEXTRIGHT.COM”: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: You called the founder of “World Net Daily,” Joseph Farrah, a demagogue who appeals to our baser instincts. You‘ve described the site itself as the fevered swamps. What‘s your overall beef with “World Net Daily?”
HENKE: “World Net Daily is - they traffic in the paranoid conspiracy theories that take away from our ability to discuss more important issues. They feed people with perhaps what they want to hear instead of actual facts. And they justify it by saying, “We are just reporting what people are saying.”
Take for example, they say, “Well, we‘re not saying the birth certificate is actually fake. We‘re just saying that some people say the birth certificate is fake,” or that, “We‘re concerned,” or that, “We want to see more evidence.”
Of course, if you‘re not willing to listen to an answer, then even credible, legitimate questions cease to become credible and legitimate. And they have not listened to answers. They tear down the intellectual foundations of the right and they take away from our ability to discuss much more important things.
MADDOW: What do you think is their motivation for doing so? Clearly, they‘re getting attention for putting out this more outlandish stuff. But they are not seen as particularly credible.
HENKE: I think they probably genuinely believe in what they‘re doing, I‘m sorry to say.
MADDOW: That‘s scary.
HENKE: And let me add, my point is not so much to say that people should boycott “World Net Daily” or that they should be shut down. I don‘t think it‘s very fruitful to argue with people who are wrong on the Internet. There is no end of those people.
What we need to argue with are the credible organizations, the credible people or the people who should be respected, who are associating with them and urge them not to be associated with the disgraceful organizations.
MADDOW: Among the groups that you have urged to at least disclose its full association with “World Net Daily,” if not cut ties with them all together, is the Republican National Committee.
You have raised concerns that they are - they appear to be purchasing E-mail lists from “World Net Daily,” essentially targeting their message to “World Net Daily‘s” audience and paying the organization, paying the Web site money in order to do so.
How has the Republican Party responded to your charges in that area?
HENKE: They, in response to repeated inquiries, responded once and then blew me off after that. Their one response was to point to a news article weeks prior that did not address this whatsoever. They have been completely silent and I‘m very disappointed about that.
MADDOW: Your concern about the Republican National Committee and other purportedly mainstream organizations, right, sort of flirting with or making alliances with, what you see as this fringe group because you think that undercuts the legitimacy of these mainstream groups or because you think it elevates the fringe?
HENKE: Actually, both would be true. I think we have a problem where the Republican Party - the economists made this point late last year. The Republican Party has abandoned the intellectual foundation, has abandoned intellect and the elites that actually deserve to be elites because they are the credible thinkers, the Buckleys, the Kirks of our side.
And they have turned to the “World Net Dailies” and the people who sell conspiracy theories and fear and, frankly, the fevered swamps.
MADDOW: I will say that as a liberal, I was interested in your critique. I will tell you honestly because I feel like it‘s really important for our country to have a good, solid, honest, left-right debate and a good, solid, honest partisan debate.
And I‘m concerned about what I see as the devolution of the craft argument and adherence to the facts on the right. And that‘s why it resonated with me. But I‘m wondering what sort of reaction you had on the right from fellow conservatives to your critique?
HENKE: I‘ve had mixed reaction. Probably a third of people, mostly
privately, unfortunately, have told me they support it. They think this is
we‘re going God‘s work. We‘re doing the important thing in rescuing the party from those lunatic fringes, from the fevered swamps.
A third of people have said, yes, they probably agree but it‘s not their fight. They want to focus on Democratic issues right now - and fine.
And perhaps, a third of people have actually taken what I think is a no-enemies-on-the-right stance and said, “They‘re on our side. They‘re taking shots at the Obama administration. Lay off.” And I‘m very disappointed by that.
But actually I‘m disappointed by that in every respect. The left has certainly not buried their truther fringe. The left has not turned on them. Who on the left was supporting Van Jones being removed from the White House or resigning from the White House?
I‘m part of the problem because before the Iraq War, I was focusing on the truthers and the war for oil crowd and forgot to focus on some of the more important issues. You‘re part of the problem because instead of focusing on the important entitlement issues and fiscal issues, you‘re focusing on “World Net Daily” and the birthers.
And so the right needs to clean its own house. So I‘ll tell you what. I‘ll make you a deal. I will stop talking about truthers and worry about cleaning the right‘s house if you‘ll stop talking about “World Net Daily” and the birthers and support Van Jones‘ leaving.
MADDOW: A, I don‘t make deals with anybody about what I cover. And, B, my position on Van Jones is irrelevant because I have never covered him at all, because I never thought that he was of interest until he resigned under pressure from what I see as the unhinged right.
Your activism against the unhinged right is what your point of view of interest and what makes me hope you‘ll come back on the show and have another good, long civil debate with me, John.
HENKE: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. John Henke, co-founding editor of “TheNextRight.com,” much appreciate your presence on the show tonight. Thank you.
OK. Yes, there will never be a so-called death panel in any healthcare reform bill. But never fear, Sarah Palin will still try to claim that there is just like she did today. That‘s ahead on “COUNTDOWN.” Keith will talk all things Palin with Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore. We will be right back.
MADDOW: Do you remember Gilda Radner‘s brilliant “Saturday Night Live” character, Emily Litella? Our culture‘s best-ever human demonstration of the art of misunderstanding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GILDA RADNER, COMEDIENNE: What‘s all this stuff I keep hearing about violins and television? Now, why don‘t parents want their children to see violins on television? Why, I thought the Leonard Bernstein concert was just lovely.
Now, if they only sold violins after 10:00 at night, the little babies would all be asleep and they wouldn‘t learn any music appreciation. They‘ll end up wanting to play guitar and bongo drums and go to Africa and join these rock ‘n roll outfits. And they won‘t drink milk. I say there should be more violins on television and less game shows. It‘s terrible the things - what, what?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Ms. Litella - Ms. Litella, that was violence on television, not violins. Violence.
RADNER: Oh, well, that‘s different.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes.
RADNER: Never mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Emily Litella railed against violins on television, against the endangered feces acts, against the eagle rights amendment. She thought we shouldn‘t worry so much about youth in Asia. Then all her skits ended with “never mind.”
Of all the millions of reasons to miss the great Gilda Radner, the most recent is that that character, Emily Litella, may be really the best way we have to understand the current right-wing connection about czars in government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, HOST, “THE GLENN BECK SHOW”: President Obama has 15 advisors who fill his cabinet. But as we‘re learning, they may be the most ineffective group ever assembled by our president in our nation‘s history.
The reason? Because he has 37 czars to oversee and advise him directly. What‘s the danger of czars and other special advisers? Never before have there ever been so many executive posts that were not confirmed by Congress and who answered only to the president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the so-called mainstream media ignoring the questionable backgrounds of some of the other 30-some-odd czars.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, “HANNITY”: A select group of unconfirmed, un-vetted individuals are now at the helm of a shadow government right here in the U.S. So without further ado, well, let‘s take a trip to the land of the czars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The land of the czars? That sounds so Russia 1916. Who are these czar people and where did they come from? Well, at least, partly, they came from Richard Nixon.
Nixon appointed John Love and then William Simon to be his energy czars. Ben Zimmer reported at “Slate.com” last year that Nixon actually used the phrase “energy czar” when he offered Mr. Simon that job as in, “Wouldn‘t you like to be my energy czar?”
But despite the fact that Nixon actually used the term, the word “czar” wasn‘t actually in the job title. This revelation may bring out a little Emily Litella in all the conservatives going crazy about President Obama‘s czars right now.
But people who have jobs in the administration that are called “the something-czar” aren‘t actually czars of anything. Czar - sorry to say, it‘s a nickname. The drug czar is actually the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Poppy Bush created that job in 1989.
The intelligence czar is the Director of National Intelligence,
created during the George W. Bush administration in 2005. The AIDS czar -
that‘s the nickname for the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy
that job created in 2001.
The border czar, that‘s another one created by George W. Bush. It‘s the nickname for the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs in the Department of Homeland Security.
The job the right is now calling the science czar, that‘s the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The regulatory czar is the nickname for the Head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which Dave Weigel notes at the “Washington Independent” today is an office that was created back in 1980.
So take your pick, America. Either these are the czars who are turning America into imperialist Russia, as Emily Litella might say. Or these are people with specific policy jobs and long awkward job titles.
So the press calls them czars even though they‘re not actually 19th century Russian autocrats. Bush and Cheney created administration jobs that were nicknamed the food safety czar, the cybersecurity czar, aforementioned regulatory czar and the AIDS czar. They created a bird flu czar and a manufacturing czar and more.
And the right did not freak about those like Bolsheviks in St. Petersburg. But President Obama? Clearly his hiring practices are evidence of him forming a communist-fascist-czarist-Kenyan-Martian shadow government here to take away your guns.
Or he‘s doing what American presidents have done without controversy for generations. In which case - never mind.
MADDOW: Here at the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW today, we would be remiss to not admit that we are celebrating. We are celebrating the 94th birthday of my grandma Trudy(ph) in southern California. Happy birthday, grandma. We‘re celebrating the 43rd birthday of “Star Trek.” Live long and prosper.
And we‘re celebrating our own birthday. This show launched a year ago today. So thank you to MSNBC for giving me the best, hardest job I have ever had by a mile. Thank you to everyone here who works so hard to make this show something we‘re proud of every day.
And thank you to you for watching. I literally would not be here without you. If you‘re a fan of the show, a nice birthday present might be for you to ask someone who‘s not already watching the show to check us out for a couple of days. Thank you for considering that.
Year two of the show begins tonight. And to celebrate year one, I‘m going to go with Kent to go shoot champagne corks at the lovely and talented and hard-working RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staffers you will see coming up right here now. Thank you. And stay tuned for “COUNTDOWN.”
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