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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, September 11, 2009

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Mike Lux, David Sirota

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Coming up this hour, we‘ve got the latest on what may be the country‘s only known ideologically motivated murder of an anti-abortion protester.  It happened today in Michigan.  We‘ve got that story just ahead. 

Also Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania will be joining us this hour.  The great populist columnist David Sirota is on deck for us as well.  That is all coming up this hour. 

But we begin tonight with the eighth anniversary of the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.  This year, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is being marked by conservatives marching on Washington in what they‘re calling the 9/12 Movement.  The 9/12 Movement was conceived, and in a sense, is being led by this guy. 


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  You know, it took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 victims‘ families.  It took me about a year.  And I had such compassion for them.  I really—I wanted to help them.  I was behind.  Let‘s give them money.  Let‘s get started.  You know, all of this stuff.”

“And I really didn‘t—you know, all the 3,000 victims‘ families, I don‘t hate all of them.  I hate about probably about ten of them.  But when I see 9/11 victim family, you know, on television or whatever, I‘m just like, oh, shut up.  I‘m so sick of them.


MADDOW:  That‘s commentator Glenn Beck speaking on his talk radio show before he got his current gig as a TV host on the FOX News Channel.  Mr. Beck is now promoting the 9/11 anniversary as a rallying point for what he calls his 9/12 movement.

And at FOX News, he‘s using the imagery of the 9/11 attacks, the smoking towers and wreckage of the World Trade Center to promote a 9/12 March on Washington that is set to take place tomorrow.  In other words, Mr. Beck has decided to form a movement around 9/11, to try to capture what we as a country felt after 9/11, presumably, minus the whole hating the victims‘ families things.

While Mr. Beck and thousands of his followers march on D.C.  tomorrow, it‘s still a little unclear as to what exactly they will be marching against, or for.  Today, Dave Weigel (ph) at “The Washington Independent” reports that organizers hosted what they called an “intellectual ammunition pre-tea party strategy workshop,” which armed participants with quotes from Ayn Rand books.

So maybe this is a 9/11 march for Utopian capitalism based on books that even the most ardent conservatives usually grow out off after freshman year.  Beyond the laying in of intellectual ammunition, other kickoff events for the 9/11 march can give us a further sense of what it is these folks are marching about.


REP. ERIC CANTOR ®, VIRGINIA:  Last night, we heard our president address this country.

ALL:  Boo.  Liar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Liar, liar, pants on fire.

CANTOR:  We were listening for specifics.  We were listening to hear something new and we did not hear that.

ALL:  He lied.  He lied.


MADDOW:  The man at the podium there, not getting much of a word in edgewise between the screams of the president lied, lied, liar, liar.  That man was Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia.

The liar, liar, liar yelling, which I predict you will hear a lot of at the event this weekend, is, of course, a tribute of sorts to South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson.  His “you lie” outburst at President Obama during the president‘s address to Congress is apparently becoming the right‘s new drill, baby, drill, sort of.  As you can tell from the podium at which Mr. Cantor is standing, a main organizer of the 9/12 March this weekend is FreedomWorks.

FreedowWorks is the extensively grassroots corporate-funded organization headed up by former Republican House Majority Leader, and until very recently D.C. lobbyist Dick Armey.

The march is also sponsored in part by a group we touched on on last night‘s show.  They are the National Association of Rural Land Owners, or NARLO.  At NARLO‘s Web site, you‘re informed that the second American revolution has just begun.  Join it or buy a gun, because you are going to need it.

Just this summer, NARLO posted online a video forecasting massive civil unrest, secession of the states, and then, yippee, a new American civil war.

This is the way that the conservative movement is commemorating the anniversary of 9/11 this year.  For context and for contrast, this is the sort of thing that the administration is doing to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 this year.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES:  Every day, our brave troops and their families stand up for us.

JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:  For years, we‘ve asked so much of so few.

OBAMA:  Now we have a chance to serve these heroes.

BIDEN:  To give time, offer comfort, or lend a hand.

OBAMA:  To ease the burden on a military family.

BIDEN:  Let‘s honor their service by volunteering ours.


MADDOW:  In mainstream politics, that new PSA you just saw, that‘s the sort of thing that‘s considered an appropriate political act to key to the 9/11 anniversary.  There isn‘t much about 9/11 that‘s appropriate for politics, but that sort of thing, that‘s considered sort of an appropriate mainstream response.

But in conservative politics today, 9/11 is instead being seen as an occasion for a March on Washington that is co-sponsored by an organization that‘s calling for the violent overthrow of the U.S.  government.  It may sound like an extreme description in any rational understanding of the range of American politics.  It is quite extreme, but it‘s important to know about American politics right now that the conservatives attending these rallies aren‘t necessarily just the extreme.

That was Eric Cantor, who you saw addressing a kickoff rally for the 9/12 movement.  He‘s the second ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, standing at the FreedomWorks podium at the 9/12 March kickoff event, receiving the “you lie” serenade as he rails against the president.

In beltway common wisdom, Eric Cantor is supposed to be the poster boy for Republican reasonableness, the counterweight to the fringe.  Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana is seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012.  He is one of the scheduled speakers at the March on Saturday.

Now, Mr. Pence is considered to be one of the more conservative potential GOP presidential candidates in 2012, admittedly.  A man who is supposed to be the big moderate among the Republican 2012 hopefuls is Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.  Mr. Pawlenty is not scheduled to be at the 9/12 March, but he did make news this week for continuing to push the deathers theory about health reform on MSNBC this morning and for yesterday declaring himself a tenther (ph), arguing that maybe states should consider seceding for many federal health reform effort.

In a conference call sponsored by the Republican Governors Association last night, Governor Pawlenty endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry‘s call for state sovereignty in the face of horrible federal overreach, like health reform.  Like Mr. Cantor, Governor Pawlenty is the guy who is supposed to represent moderation in the current Republican Party.

Moderation in the current Republican Party, now, apparently, encompasses advocating or flirting with the idea of states seceding from the union, disestablishing the country, in other words.  If this counts as moderate, what counts as extreme now?

Actually, don‘t answer that.  Joining us now is Mike Lux.  He‘s the cofounder and CEO of a consulting firm that‘s called Progressive Strategies.

Mr. Lux, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

MIKE LUX, PROGRESSIVE STRATEGIES CEO:  Thank you so much for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW:  The reason I wanted to talk to you today about Congressman Joe Wilson yelling at the president and the March on Washington for the 9/11 anniversary this weekend is because you wrote at “Huffington Post” today that these developments on the right should be seen as sort of a modern variant of a specific kind of historical conservatism.  You called it “Calhoun conservatism.”  What do you mean by that?

LUX:  Well, John C. Calhoun, the senator from South Carolina, ironically, back in the 1830s, 1850s was the founder, really of this modern conservatism.  He married the idea of states‘ rights with a very virulent, racist, patriarchal conservatism and basically said states, you know, have the ability to do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it.  They can secede from the union.  They can nullify laws that are passed by the federal government.  They can ignore the bill of rights if they want to.  They can do whatever they want to do.

MADDOW:  Do you think that this enthusiasm for secession that we‘re seeing now, not just from Governor Rick Perry, but also from supposed moderates like Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, do you see it as not a random offshoot of other forms of extremism we‘re seeing right now?  Do you see it as central to this type of conservative philosophy?

LUX:  It is central to this type of conservative philosophy.  I mean, Ronald Reagan back in the 1980 campaign kicked off his general election campaign by going to Philadelphia, Mississippi, a tiny little town far away from a media market in a state that he was going to win easily, and that was the town where Chaney, Schwerner and Goodwin were murdered.  And he gave a speech on extolling states‘ right, the old John C. Calhoun states‘ rights.  His quotes could have come out of John C. Calhoun.  This conservatism is very much a part of the modern Republican Party.

MADDOW:  But in terms of trying—I think that states‘ rights—and you‘re right, that it does surface in conservatism over time and time again.  But what we‘re seeing right now, I‘m trying to—I‘m trying to tie together the different surprising and radical seeming things that we‘re hearing from conservatives right now.  It‘s secession, it‘s the tenth amendment stuff.  It is the birther thing, the idea that the president is not legitimately the president.

LUX:  Yes.

MADDOW:  And it‘s also a form of tactical extremism and sort of disrespect toward federal authority.  If there‘s a fundamental belief that secession is a good idea, the sort of extremism around states‘ rights, is there a connection between that and these other things.  A basic idea that the federal government is an illegitimate source of authority right now?

LUX:  Oh, absolutely.  We‘re not seeing this talk of secession come up by accident.  This is what these folks have always believed, but they‘re talking about it now with a new president, who they think is a terrible liberal and they‘re raising it right now because it really appeals to their base.

The right-wing Republican base which dominates the primary elections for the Republican Party, they love this stuff.  They love disrespecting the president.  They love disrespecting the federal government.  They hate the government, and it‘s become really almost sociopathic.

MADDOW:  It is—it is difficult, I have to say, to see this sort of anti-government, anti-U.S., in the sense of the secession stuff, being against the country, saying the country.

LUX:  Yes.

MADDOW:  . tied to the 9/11 attacks, which were an attack on the United States, an attempt to do as much harm to this country as possible.  It took more than 3,000 lives.  I can‘t see a link between the type of conservatism that you‘re describing.  I think Calhoun conservatism is a useful way to at least try to understand it.  I can‘t see a link between that and violence to the U.S. government that is anything other than the obvious scary threat or a link.  Do you see a connection?

LUX:  Well, I think what the connection is is that the folks who are pushing this idea, their vision of America is a vision where it‘s controlled by the old-time, you know, white people, white men, wealthy people.  I mean, that was John C. Calhoun‘s vision of America.  He didn‘t believe in democracy.  He thought Jefferson‘s idea of equality was a terrible idea and that‘s what these Republicans think of.

And so when they see a—I mean, frankly, when they see a black man as president of the United States, when they see immigrants coming into this country, they don‘t think of that as America anymore.  It‘s like the country‘s been taken away from them and it makes them prone toward this kind of violence.

MADDOW:  Mike Lux, co-founder and CEO of the consulting form Progressive Strategies.  Thanks for writing that thought-provoking piece for and “Huffington Post” today and thanks for joining us tonight, Mike.

LUX:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Appreciate it.

In order to punish South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson for screaming “you lie” during President Obama‘s health care speech, some conservative Democrats in the Senate have decided to change the health care bill to make sure the screaming guy‘s made-up concerns are addressed.

That will teach him.  And I‘m sure he‘ll vote for health reform now.  That and other head-shakingly dumb developments in the health care debate with columnist David Sirota next.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Today in Michigan, a 33-year-old man named Harlan Drake (ph) is in custody, charged with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder as well as weapons charges.  Prosecutors in Shiawassee County say that Mr. Drake is suspected of shooting to death a 61-year-old man who owned a gravel pit, as well as a 63-year-old retired autoworker, who was well known for protesting against abortion in this part of Michigan that‘s just outside of Flint.

James Pouillon was holding one of his graphic anti-abortion protest signs outside Owosso High School when he was allegedly shot several times from a moving vehicle.  Witnesses, including some high school students, took down the license plate number of the vehicle from which the shots were fired.  They reported it to police.  Police then found the suspect at home.  He then reportedly confessed to the other murder at the gravel pit as well as the shooting at the school.

Now, Shiawassee County prosecutor Randy Colbry told the local press in Michigan that the suspect had planned to kill a third man after the first two, a local realtor, but the suspect was arrested before he had a chance to carry out that third attack.  The prosecutor said, “The indication is that he had ill will, a grudge against these three individuals.”

As for the specifics of the grudge, well, we don‘t know for sure.  But “Detroit Free Press” is reporting that the suspect may have been the son of a former employee of the gravel pit owner who was killed.  That victim, Mike Fuoss (ph) is not thought to have had any ties to the anti-abortion movement or to any pro-choice group.

The Pouillon killing, according to prosecutors, may, indeed, have been connected, however, to Mr. Pouillon‘s anti-abortion activism.  An assistant county prosecutor tells the “New York Times” that the suspect disapproved of Pouillon protesting abortion in front of kids at Owosso High, saying, “There was some displeasure with how open he was.  He tended to carry big signs with very graphic pictures of fetuses.”

The chief country prosecutor told reporters “the defendant was offended by the manner of Mr. Pouillon‘s message.”

There is as yet no indication that the suspect in this case had any connection to the pro-choice movement.  If it does turn out that this murder was motivated by enemies (ph) toward Mr. Pouillon‘s anti-abortion views and his activism, I think that this would be America‘s only known ideologically motivated murder of an anti-abortion protester.  A horrible turning of the tables after the last 20 years saw murderers motivated by their own anti-abortion views kill eight abortion doctors and abortion clinic staff and security guards.

We will stay on this story.


MADDOW:  If I had to guess, I would say that Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina is probably about nine minutes into his 15 minutes of fame—the 15 minutes of fame he earned for screaming at the president this week.




OBAMA:  The reforms I‘m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

WILSON:  You lie.

OBAMA:  Not true.


MADDOW:  Congressman Wilson not only earned himself a death ray stare-down from the days for that, his mom—or, actually I‘m sorry, John Boehner did make him apologize for it.


REP. JOE WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I, last night heard from the leadership that they wanted me to contact the White House and state that my statements were inappropriate.  I did.


MADDOW:  The president, for his part, said that he was happy to accept the congressman‘s apology.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m a big believer that we all make mistakes.  He apologized quickly and without equivocation, and I‘m appreciative of that.


MADDOW:  And it all might have ended right there, except that ever since his official apology, Congressman Wilson has dedicated himself to making sure everyone knows he was only apologizing for his bad manners, not for actually being completely wrong.


REP. JOE WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I‘m very grateful that the White House, in talking with them, they indicated that they appreciated the call and that we needed to have a simple discussion about the health care issues.  I‘m happy to discuss the health care issues and in particular, on the issue which I think is very important of whether the bills cover would include illegal aliens or not.  Indeed, the bills that are before Congress would include illegal aliens.


MADDOW:  You know, I hate to rain on Congressman Wilson‘s me, me, me parade here, but the bills under consideration in Congress don‘t provide coverage for illegal immigrants.  They just don‘t.

And yet, two conservative Democratic senators, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana, said after Congressman Wilson‘s scream heard around the world that they want to reconsider language in the bill that concerns illegal immigrants.

According to reporting today in “Time” magazine, Senator Conrad said after a Thursday morning meeting, “We really thought we‘d resolved this question of people who are here illegally, but as we reflected on the president‘s speech last night, we wanted to go back and drill down again.”

We thought it was resolved by the language that says, and I quote, “No illegal immigrants will benefit from the health care tax credits,” that‘s on page four.  But after that guy screamed at the president, we thought we should do more to make sure he was getting everything he wanted.

Yes, Senators Conrad and Baucus are not only rewording the tactic that Joe Wilson used, they‘re also implying that Joe Wilson was right.  And Joe Wilson was not right.  What Congress—what Senator Baucus and Senator Conrad are doing here has a name.  It‘s called caving, caving to a hysterical, phony, alarmist guy who screamed at the president and is now using the fact that he screamed at the president to raise campaign funds on the Internet machine.

And the caving is not limited to the Senate, nor is it limited to the immigrant issue.  Why, for example, are the White House and Democrats in Congress now saying they would happily cave on the public option for health reform, agreeing without even a fight, including here on this show in my interview with David Axelrod right after the president‘s speech, agreeing that they would happily subject the public option to a trigger.


DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER:  I believe that there‘ll be some sort of public option in the final legislation, whether it comes with a trigger or not, I don‘t know.


MADDOW:  When you hear “public option with a trigger,” think we‘re never actually going to get a public option.  Why are they doing this?

Joining us now to explain is syndicated columnist David Sirota.  His Creators Syndicate (ph) column out today concerns the so-called “trigger mechanism.”

David, it‘s great to have you back on the show.  Thanks for coming back.

DAVID SIROTA, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So you make the case today in your column that adding a trigger mechanism to health care reform essentially means giving up on the public option.  Why do you make that case?

SIROTA:  Because we know that the history of triggers in legislation, both health care legislation and budget legislation, trigger is a euphemism for killing a bill.  The most recent example of this is actually on a health care reform bill, prescription drug importation, allowing Americans to import prescription drugs from other industrialized nations.  Every other industrialized nation has allowed its citizens to import prescription drugs.

What happened was this bill had wide, popular support, just like the public option.  And what ended up happening was the pharmaceutical industry convinced the leadership of the Congress and both the Clinton and the Bush administration to put in a trigger that basically said that the bill could only go into effect if the HHS secretary said that prescription drugs from other countries were safe.

Now, what ended up happening was, of course, the HHS secretary did not pull that trigger.  Not because the drugs aren‘t safe.  I mean, as Governor Tim Pawlenty, the Republican of Minnesota said, he was a backer of importation, he said if they‘re unsafe, where are the dead Canadians?

No, they didn‘t pull the trigger because the pharmaceutical industry, the health industry put the trigger in to make sure that it wouldn‘t be pulled.  Just like in the public option debate, the insane insurance lobbyists are working with the same White House and Democratic officials to put in a trigger to make sure that there is no public option.

MADDOW:  So you‘re saying that the trigger is something that is sort of understood inside the beltway, understood in Washington, as a way to seem like you‘re saying yes to something, while you‘re also making sure that it never really has to happen and it‘s happened before on health care.

SIROTA:  That‘s exactly right.  What ends up happening is, again,

the public option is as popular, probably more popular than polls showed

drug importation to be.  And so what the trigger did on importation, like

it would do on the public option, it would allow legislators to say that

they‘re voting for the public option, but really voting for something that

·         whose language makes sure that what they say they‘re voting for, what their press releases say they‘re voting for, what they‘re going to be celebrating voting for, actually doesn‘t become a reality.

MADDOW:  It seems doubtful that any kind of reform is going to get Republican votes anyway, David.  So why do you think the White House is proactively offering up a compromise like this?  Why are Democratic senators proactively offering to do something like this?  Do they really not want a public option at all, or is this a preemptive caving to Republicans that aren‘t going to come their way anyway?

SIROTA:  Well, you‘ve got two messages coming out of the White House.  One, that the Democrats in the Congress should go it alone.  The other, that Democrats in the Congress should water down the bill to get Republican votes.  Obviously, those two messages don‘t make sense.  If you‘re going to go it alone, why water down the bill?

The answer is is because the White House and the Democratic leadership doesn‘t want to go after conservative corporate Democrats who are tied to the insurance industry.  The Max Baucuses of the world.  So while President Obama will sort of attack or criticize progressives a little bit in his speech and he‘ll go after Republicans in his speech, he doesn‘t seem interested.  He doesn‘t seem courageous enough to go after the real obstacle in this debate, which are the conservative corporate Democrats, the Max Baucuses who‘ve taken millions and millions and millions of dollars from the industries that don‘t want a public option.

MADDOW:  Syndicated columnist David Sirota, thanks so much for joining us tonight.  I feel like I understand better than ever why it is that progressives in Congress who‘ve taken a stand for the public option say they don‘t want a trigger.

Thanks for helping us understand it, David.  Appreciate it.

SIROTA:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  The nation‘s Capitol and everyone watching CNN‘s reporting about the nation‘s Capitol this morning, freaked out after really alarming reports that there were shots fired and a Coast Guard action on the Potomac, not long from the time and place that the president crossed over that river in a motorcade today.  It does turn out in the end, that all is well, except, of course, for the systems breakdown that caused the totally inappropriate freakout both in Washington and on the TV machine.

That story is next.  Stay with us.

But first, one more thing about Joe Wilson‘s newfound notoriety.  While blurting a fact-free insult at the president of the United States during an address to Congress has not led to Joe Wilson being censured or ousted from Congress or anything, there is a boomerang of sorts that is heading back toward him.  His opponent in the next election is a Democratic Iraq war veteran named Rob Miller.  And in the 48 hours since Joe Wilson survived the death stare from Nancy Pelosi and the president, Rob Miller‘s campaign reports that he has received more than 25,000 individual donations totaling more than $1 million.

Before all this happened, he had about $60,000-something in the bank.  Yes.  In Wilson‘s conservative South Carolina home district, a new poll also shows today that Mr. Miller is leading the incumbent, Wilson, by a single point.

You know, karma really is something that rhymes with itch.


MADDOW:  Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania joins us in just a few minutes.  He is just back from Afghanistan. 

Plus, a classical music moment of geek for your listening pleasure.  Music and lyrics inspired by Donald Rumsfeld. 

And Kent Jones has a special week in review investigative report. 

He lies!  All that is still ahead. 

First, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Earlier today in Washington, D.C., a suspicious exchange was heard over an open radio frequency, a frequency that can be picked up by any commercially available radio scanner. 

CNN was tipped off and they listened in.  Here‘s the transcript of that radio transmission as recorded by CNN, “You‘re approaching a coast guard security zone.  If you don‘t stop, your vessel will be fired upon.  Stop your vessel immediately.  If you don‘t slow down and stop your vessel and leave our zone, you will be fired upon.  Still in the zone, still in the zone.” 

And then, “Someone saying, bang, bang, bang.  We have expended ten rounds.  The vessel is operating at stern.  We‘re going to reassess the situation.” 

The security zone mentioned here is a section of the Potomac River in Washington, very near the Pentagon where the president had just attended a 9/11 memorial service.  Crucially, CNN says it contacted a spokesperson for the coast guard after hearing this and the spokesperson told CNN after hearing this and the spokesperson told CNN that she was unaware of any training exercise going on in the area. 

And yet, it was clear from this video that coast guard vessels were certainly doing something beneath the Memorial Bridge, over which the president‘s motorcade had recently passed. 

So CNN says they called again, and again a spokeswoman with the coast guard told them that its National Command Center and other command posts knew nothing about the exercise. 

So the network went on air, showing the video of those coast guard vessels and reporting what it had heard over the radio.  The Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA, because of those reports, grounded all flights at Reagan National Airport from about 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on September 11th

Yes, scary, right?  And ultimately, it was a false alarm.  This was a routine coast guard training exercise, one the coast guard apparently practices about four times a week.  No shots were fired.  Situation, normal. 

Communication, however, really, really, really, really, fouled up.  Yet despite the error, apparently originating inside the government, at least between government agencies, and not at all with the news media, which covered the story, it seems, responsibly, the White House responded by blaming the messenger. 


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Some of the people that reported that incident might have taken a little bit of time to check and see whether what they were reporting was accurate. 


MADDOW:  CNN says they did check.  CNN, in fact, says that they checked twice.  The exercise was ordered by the coast guard sector Baltimore.  It appears that coast guard headquarters was never informed; neither was the Secret Service, nor the D.C. Police department, nor the police department‘s harbor patrol, nor the FBI. 

Eight years ago today, a catastrophic breakdown in communication between government agencies led to tragically delayed responses to what was a very real terrorist attack.  We were supposed to have remedied the communication-between-agencies problem, in part by creating the ginormous Department of Homeland Security. 

Wasn‘t that supposed to have helped?  What we got, instead of a remedy today, was a promise from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that there will be a full investigation.  We all certainly hope so. 

And finally, I will admit that, constitutionally, I am better at finding clouds in silver linings than the other way around.  But some folks seem to have found the upside of the potentially apocalyptic dark cloud that is global warming. 

You know how the ice caps are melting and huge icebergs are breaking off from the coast and that may be causing sea levels to rise.  And you know how if this continues, it would be catastrophic to coastal regions around the world. 

Well, the other side effect of less ice and more open water is that it‘s totally going to be easier to sail between Europe and Asia.  Yes.  Two German ships are about to complete the first-ever voyage from South Korea to the Netherlands via an arctic shortcut called the Northeast Passage. 

These vessels were accompanied by a big Russian ice breaker ship.  But so far they haven‘t needed any help from the ice breaker.  This year is shaping up to have the third lowest amount of ice on record, just behind 2007 and 2008. 

That said, the Northeast Passage isn‘t quite ready to be a shipping superhighway.  It is still pretty icy, even if they haven‘t needed the actual Russian ice breakers.  But you know, if we do just commit ourselves to leaving our hummers running 24 hours a day and making competitive coal burning a national pastime, we could be traveling to China on jet skis in no time.  Eek.


MADDOW:  Tonight, we have an extremely specific update from the war in Afghanistan.  Four-and-a-half months ago, on this show, we did this next story in our “Miss Information” segment.  Check it out. 


(on camera):  The Ken Sunshine of Pakistan, but has a reputation for being about as well-informed as Baghdad Bob was.  Today, he blamed the Taliban‘s anger on, quote, “western white women who take up arms and come from 20,000 miles away to fight against us here.” 

Considering that the circumference of the earth is only about 25,000 miles and the distance from Ft. Reilly, Kansas, to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, even if you round up, is less than 8,000 miles, I‘m guessing that he thinks we take a very zigzag-y journey to get to Afghanistan and Pakistan. 


Well, we now have a big update on Mullah “I don‘t know geography.”  The military today announced today that he has been arrested.  His name is Muslim Khan.  He‘s a Taliban spokesman and he was apparently picked up by Pakistani forces along with four other Taliban commanders. 

And this announcement comes on the same day of this anniversary of al-Qaeda attacking America, which, of course, prompted our military action in Afghanistan that continues today. 

The top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen.  Stanley McChrystal, told reporters yesterday, quote, “I do not see indications of a large al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan now.  Which is good, but which also means that the one thing everybody pretty much agreed made the war in Afghanistan worth fighting doesn‘t exist now and we‘re still there. 

As we absorb that rather incredible assessment from Gen.  McChrystal, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who has just returned from Afghanistan - he took at the Senate floor today and offered this assessment of how the U.S. might establish a viable national government in Afghanistan. 



supporting a far more rapid growth in the Afghan army and police, by providing more trainers more quickly, by a rapid infusion of two Afghan units of equipment no longer needed in Iraq and by rapidly adopting a plan for the reintegration of lower-level Taliban fighters into Afghan society that we should implement those steps before considering an increase in U.S.  ground combat forces beyond what is already planned by the end of the year. 


MADDOW:  Sen. Levin‘s position that the U.S. should pause before committing more troops on the ground, that we should invest in Afghanistan‘s forces rather than adding more of our own, it coincides with recent calls, specifically from Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin for the establishment of a time line for U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. 

What we‘re doing there either isn‘t working, in terms of the central government and the Taliban, or it has already worked, in terms of al-Qaeda no longer being there.  The U.S. military command, including President Obama, now follows the task of justifying continued military presence in the country that‘s considered the graveyard of empires or coming up with a way to bring our troops home. 

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.  He‘s chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, which has jurisdiction over Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Sen. Casey, thanks very much for being here. 


NEAR EASTERN AND SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIAN AFFAIRS:  Rachel, thank you.  It‘s great to be with you tonight. 

MADDOW:  You were in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the August recess, I know.  In very basic terms, what do you understand our military mission there to be right now? 

CASEY:  Well, fundamentally, I think, Rachel, you saw it in Sen.  Levin‘s great statement today and you saw it in what President Obama said a couple of months ago, which is, first of all, to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda. 

I know we can get to that discussion in terms of the interplay between both the presence of al-Qaeda in the region, in the border regions, especially between the two countries.

But also to focus on turning over the responsibility of governance and also security to the Afghan forces, both the police, the Afghan national police, as well as the Afghan army.  But especially, the Afghan government in terms of their ability to control and govern their own country. 

So that‘s - I think that‘s a fundamental mission.  I think we‘re just at the beginning of it in terms of what Gen. McChrystal is trying to do, the counterinsurgency part of this, which he‘s only, I guess, about two to three months into right now. 

MADDOW:  When I look at the proposals for what would be needed in terms of Afghan security forces, both police and border and military forces in order to really maintain control of that country so that it‘s not taken over by what we would consider to be insurgent forces that would have the power to project their wishes internationally, it‘s hundreds of thousands of security forces that we‘re looking at needing to be sustained in Afghanistan. 

I think about that number next to what I imagine is the budget of a country like Afghanistan and it seems like there‘s kind of a mismatch there.  How is Afghanistan ever going to be able to sustain what we think they need in order to keep themselves and ourselves safe? 

CASEY:  Well, one thing I learned in the time I was in both Pakistan and Afghanistan on this trip, and I was also there in May of 2008, with Carl Levin, was that despite the criticisms - I‘ve leveled some of them against President Karzai, and we can talk about that as well. 

Despite that, some of his main line ministries, in other words, the defense minister, Mr. Wardak, who was a commander in the Afghan army over the years and is a leading military figure there, as well as Mr.  Atmar(ph), who heads the interior which has the police.

They feel confident that they can get to these numbers.  Now, the debate now - and you can see it in Carl Levin‘s statement today - the debate to get to 240,000 Afghan national army and 160,000 Afghan national police force.  To get to those numbers won‘t be easy, but they believe they can get there. 

The question is, can they get there in 2012 like Carl Levin wants them to and thinks they can?  Or will it be 2013, as they would assert?  I agree with Carl.  I think before any consideration of a troop increase, we should make sure that we accelerate and use every possible resource to get the Afghan national army up, to get the police number up, and to help them with training and equipment. 

I think Carl Levin made a very important statement today in terms of giving us the kind of policy we need to go forward. 

MADDOW:  Briefly, senator, just to be clear, if they weren‘t able to meet those goals, if they weren‘t able to get those numbers to what you would be comfortable with, would that mean that we wouldn‘t send more troops? 

CASEY:  Well, we have to assess that as we go. 


CASEY:  And I think sometimes the debate in the last couple of weeks has been about troop levels.  It‘s kind of premature in this sense.  We don‘t have a proposal yet from the administration for more troop increase.  I know there‘s speculation. 

Neither do we have it from Gen. McChrystal.  So in terms of what‘s before the American people, I don‘t think we‘re there yet.  But I think Carl Levin made a great statement today and we should use his wisdom and experience and integrity to inform this debate. 

MADDOW:  Sen. Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, thanks very much for joining us tonight.  I always enjoy discussing these issues with you, sir. 

CASEY:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Joe Wilson, were the known as, “You lie” - his outburst is inspiring a new rallying cry among many Republicans.  Ahead on “COUNTDOWN,” is rudeness the new civility?  Our friend Melissa Harris-Lacewell will weigh in. 

And next on this show, you ever listen to Donald Rumsfeld and heard music?  You will, next.  Trust me.


MADDOW:  There‘s plenty of popular art about politics from rappers like Eminem criticizing George W. Bush to street artists like Shepard Fairey, extolling Barack Obama.  Far less common, though, is high art derived from American politics. 

And that is tonight‘s “Moment of Geek.”  We came across one example of high political art a few weeks ago.  That was the “Gonzales Cantata,” an opera composed of the transcripts from Alberto Gonzales‘ testimony to the Senate and his resignation in 2007. 




recall.  I don‘t recall the conversation.  I don‘t recall whether I was present.  I suspect that I probably was.  I don‘t recall.  I don‘t recall.  I don‘t recall. 


MADDOW:  The young composer behind that masterful aria, 29-year-old Melissa Dunphy, lists among her musical influences the composers John Adams and Phil Klein, both of whom have used politics to make high art of their own. 

In 1987, John Adams composed an opera called “Nixon in China” portraying President Nixon‘s 1972 peacemaking trip to China, complete with an Air Force One on stage. 


MADDOW:  It was very pleasant.  Back in 2004, Phil Klein released a trilogy of Rumsfeld songs making music from the inadvertent poetry of Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  Like Rumsfeld‘s most famous assertions that were made when reporters asked questions about the links between Iraq‘s alleged WMDs and terrorism. 

We took the liberty of splicing Klein‘s music to the original sound bites of Mr. Rumsfeld. 




there are known knowns.  There are things we know we know.  There are no unknowns.  That is to say, there are things that we now know we don‘t know.  There are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don‘t know we don‘t know.  And each year we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.  And it sounds like a riddle. 


MADDOW:  Still inscrutable, even six years later, but brilliant.  That‘s tonight‘s “Moment of Geek,” low politics and high art.  We put links to Phil Klein‘s songs, John Adams opera, and Melissa Dunphy‘s cantata on our Web site “”  We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  Here now is my friend Kent Jones with the “Weak in Review.” 

Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  Well, Wednesday night, I think we experienced what could be accurately called a classic for “Weak in Review.” 

MADDOW:  Yes, seriously.

JONES:  Let‘s look at it again. 


BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  The reforms - the reforms I‘m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally. 

REP. JOE WILSON (R-SC):  You lie! 


JONES (voice-over):  Joe Wilson.  Weak. 


JONES:  There it is.  Now, we did some investigating and it turns out Joe Wilson has been doing this way more than we thought. 

MADDOW:  Really? 

JONES:  Yes, here we go. 

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. 

WILSON:  You lie! 

JAMES EARL JONES, ACTOR(as Darth Vader):  I am your father. 

WILSON:  You lie! 

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country. 

WILSON:  You lie! 

JACK NICHOLSON, ACTOR, (as Col. Nathan R. Jessep):  You can‘t handle the truth. 

WILSON:  You lie! 

LOU GEHRIG, BASEBALL LEGEND:  Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. 

WILSON:  You lie! 

MEL GIBSON, ACTOR (as William Wallace):  They may take our lives but they‘ll never take our freedom! 

WILSON:  You lie! 

JIMMY SWAGGART, TELEVANGELIST:  I have sinned against you, my Lord. 

WILSON:  You lie! 

LEONARD NIMOY, ACTOR (as Dr. Spock):  I am and always shall be your friend. 

WILSON:  You lie!


WILSON:  You lie!  You lie!  You lie!  You lie! 


MADDOW:  That last one cuts close to the bone. 

WILSON:  Oh, yes.  There it is. 

MADDOW:  It‘s almost like he‘s that squirrel that pops up in everybody‘s snapshots from vacation. 

JONES:  He will be from now on. 

MADDOW:  He will be, indeed.

JONES:  Yes.  Yes.

MADDOW:  Thank you very much for that, Kent.  Appreciate it.  Have a good weekend. 

JONES:  You, too.

MADDOW:  Thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you again on Monday, “COUNTDOWN” starts right now.  Have a great night. 



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Guests: Lincoln Chafee, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Sen. Mark Begich, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you very much for that.

And thank you at home for tuning in tonight.

President Obama followed up on last night‘s speech with a personal visit with 16 conservative Democratic senators today.  One of them, Mark Begich of Alaska.  He‘ll be joining us live this hour to tell us how that all went.

But we begin tonight with what could fairly be judged as a distraction from the president‘s health care message last night, but it is a distraction that‘s also turning out to be a very clarifying look at American politics.  The South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, who yelled “You lie” at the president in the middle of his address to Congress last night, today felt himself on the receiving end of support and congratulations for that outburst.

While many of his Republican colleagues in Congress express their disapproval of what Congressman Wilson did, a steady stream of well-wishers descended upon the congressman‘s office in D.C. today to say quite the opposite.  Among them were radical anti-abortion activist Randall Terry and members of the Montgomery, Alabama Tea Party Patriots.  Congressman Wilson also found a wealth of support from conservative outposts on the online machines.

Today, the conservative Web site Palmetto Scoop began giving away “I‘m with Joe Wilson” t-shirts.  The RedState blog dubbed Congressman Wilson, quote, “A great American hero,” urging its readers to “open our wallets for Joe.”

For his part, Congressman Wilson released a YouTube video tonight incredibly trying to raise money off his newfound notoriety saying, “I will not be muzzled,” and railing against, quote, “the liberal who is want to give health care to illegals.”

The groups that have come to Congressman Wilson‘s defense over the past 24 hours, that have even literally come to his office to show their support can help us understand the state of American politics right now, at least the state of Republican politics right now—the extent to which the Republican Party has integrated itself with its own fringe extremes.

Joe Wilson is not a well-known congressman.  And he‘s not a well-known congressman for a reason.  He‘s not considered to be an extremist in his party.  He‘s considered to be a typical back-bench Republican congressman.

And right now, in American politics today, being a typical back-bench Republican member of Congress means doing things like opening the doors of your congressional office to participants in the 9/12 March on Washington, which Congressman Joe Wilson is planning to do this Saturday.  The 9/12 March on Washington is essentially a national tea party, a big organized ostensibly grassroots march on the nation‘s capital.

If you go to their Web site, you‘ll see that, quote, “We‘ve had enough of the out-of-control spending.  We are gathering on 9/12/2009 to deliver our message in person that we‘ve had enough.” The “we” here is actually the Republican-run corporate-funded organization called FreedomWorks.  FreedomWorks is charging some groups tens of thousands of dollars to take part in these grassroots events.

Today, during the kickoff event for this whole weekend of 9/12 things, the head of FreedomWorks, former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, came to Congressman Joe Wilson‘s defense, arguing that we should, quote, “cut Mr. Wilson a little slack.”

The crowd of several hundred people who were listening to Mr. Armey at that rally reportedly shouted “You lie, you lie!”—not because they thought Dick Armey was lying but because they liked that Congressman Joe Wilson yelled that last night at the president in the middle of his address to Congress.

If you look at 9/12 march Web site, you can see the organizations who are sponsoring the event.  One group that‘s listed as a bronze co-sponsor of the event is called the National Association of Rural Landowners, or NARLO.

If you surf on over to the NARLO Web site, it turns out that they‘re calling for violent revolution.  They‘re calling for the overthrow of the United States government.  The government and the media both described as, quote, “our enemy within.”  “Unless we come together in a cohesive, fighting unit, our freedoms and liberties shall fade into the dark chasm of socialism and radical environmentalism.”

Included on the Web site of this group that, again, is a bronze sponsor of the 9/12 march on Saturday, is an ominous warning that, quote, “a day of reckoning is at hand.”  They also encourage people who are visitors to their Web site to buy guns now.  They also posted a video that forecasts massive protests followed by the rapid secession of states, followed by a new civil war.

Congressman Joe “You lie!” Wilson is opening his congressional office to these nice folks for the 9/12 march.  The march will also be addressed by Republican members of Congress, including Tom Price and Mike Pence and Marsha Blackburn.  Also, Republican Senator Jim DeMint will be speaking.

It doesn‘t make sense anymore to talk about the relationship between the extreme fringe of the conservative movement and the modern Republican Party, because you can only discern a relationship between two things if you can tell those two things apart.

About half an hour ago, the top-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives—not some anonymous back-bencher nobody‘s ever heard of until he had a tantrum on television—the top-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, the minority leader, John Boehner, appeared on a webcast organized by the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council.

This is an anti-health care reform webcast.  It features the top Republican in the House of Representatives and it is hosted by a group that describes health reform as, quote, “Obama‘s tax-and-death power grab” which will, quote, “produce a moral disaster and enable the Washington liberals to use your taxes to turn their entire anti-life agenda—from unrestricted abortion on demand to euthanasia—into national health care policy.”

Getting called a liar was a distraction from President Obama‘s speech on health care last night.  It created a circus-like spectacle last night and, frankly, all day today.  And, it was also a clarifying moment about who the opposition is right now, for the president and for Democrats—and maybe for some moderate Republicans.

Joining us now is former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.  He left the Republican Party.  He‘s now an independent.  He‘s exploring a possible run for governor in the great state of Rhode Island.

Senator Chafee, thanks very much for joining us tonight.



MADDOW:  Let me ask you about the premise here of this—of the introduction that I just did.  Do you agree that the fringe of the conservative movement has really been invited into the mainstream of your former party?

CHAFEE:  Absolutely.  And we certainly saw it with vice presidential pick with Sarah Palin.  It‘s that same population within the party that revels in driving out moderates such as myself, more mainstream Republicans.  And the ramifications, of course, are that the Republican Party is in an ever-shrinking minority.

And you mentioned Minority Leader John Boehner.  And that‘s the problem with this strategy, if you will, by the Republican Party.  They‘re going to keep losing seats.  They‘re down to 40 in the Senate.  It‘s 60/40.

And although the money is pulling in to Mr. Wilson, Congressman Wilson, around the country, in states such as Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Oregon, people are embarrassed and appalled by this behavior.  And that causes any Republicans that are left to have a harder time winning.  So, it‘s the ever-shrinking Republican Party.

MADDOW:  When we look ahead to a Republican Party‘s future that obviously, right now, the Republican Party is not in good electoral shape.  But when we try to forecast the future of the party, what do you think is more likely?  Do you think it‘s more likely that the fringe continues to be courted and welcome within the mainstream, or do you think other forces within the Republican Party decide that there needs to be a more moderating influence?

CHAFEE:  Well, I think the former.  And that is, after losing all the seats in 2006, and me being the victim of that, having high approval ratings in Rhode Island but still losing my seat just because I was a Republican, and then in ‘08, again another big wipeout, nothing has changed.

And so, I think that the fringe is still going to dictate the agenda in the Republican Party.  And I do think that that means that there‘s going to be an opening such as I‘ve stepped into to run as an independent.  I think things are going to change, that people are going to look at running on something different.

In Massachusetts, there‘s a former Democrat that‘s running, former attorney general elected statewide, Cahill, running for governor as an independent.

So, even from both parties—I, as a former Republican, Cahill as a former Democrat—looking at running in a new third party, if you will, independent.  I think that‘s going to be something—a tectonic shift in American politics.

MADDOW:  Wow.  A major legislative issue on the table right now obviously is health care.  There are a handful of Republicans—mostly Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins we‘re talking about—whose support the White House is hoping for.

Let‘s say they did—those two senators did vote for health reform, they did vote with an overwhelming number of Democrats and they were the only Republicans who did it.  What do you think the reaction would be from the Republican Party and from party activists to them voting for health reform?

CHAFEE:  Well, you always worry in those circumstances of having a primary.  And I‘m sure that that‘s what Senators Collins and Snowe definitely worry about.  The right will challenge them in a primary and the money will pour in.

That‘s what happened to me as a moderate Republican in a very, very—maybe the most Democratic state in the union, Rhode Island.  And here I was a Republican having a Senate seat from this Democratic state, yet I was primaried.  And the money poured into my primary opponent.  I was able to defeat him, but it cost me in the general, definitely.

So, that‘s what you worry about if you step out of line.


CHAFEE:  And it doesn‘t make any sense.  As I go back to what I first said, the Republicans are losing seats, it makes no sense.  You want to win elections.

MADDOW:  Do you—when we look at what happened last night with Congressman Wilson shouting at the president in the middle of that speech, and that‘s what caused the whole circus of coverage and everything today—is that a canary in the coal mine sort of moment?  Is that an indication that it‘s not just that the fringe is being welcomed into the mainstream, but their tactics are, as well, the types of destructions we saw at town hall events, for example, may be seeping into mainstream elected Republicanism?

CHAFEE:  Absolutely.  The canary in the coal mine.  Absolutely.  Address to the joint session of Congress, the House and the Senate, gathered there to talk about an important issue, reforming our health care system, a very, very important issue to all Americans, having the best health care system, and we cannot have that conversation without the president of the United States being heckled by a major party member.

Yes, definitely a canary in the coal mine moment I think, as we see the Republican Party just shrink down into South Carolina and Alabama, Idaho, whatever.

MADDOW:  Former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, now an independent, and always a very welcome guest on this show—sir, thanks very much for your time tonight.

CHAFEE:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Tomorrow is the eight-year anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  Some conservatives plan to honor this somber event by cutting loose in Washington a tea bag rally sponsored by Glenn Beck—a movement that they are branding September 12th.  That‘s a way to camouflage the cynicism, right?  Make it September 12th, not September 11th.  Right.

More on that next with Melissa Harris-Lacewell.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  No right-wing fury over anything President Obama does is complete until we‘ve heard from former half-term Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin.

Her take-away from last night‘s speech on health care reform, according to her Facebook page, was this—quote, “President Obama delivered an offhand applause line tonight about the cost of the war on terror.  As we approach the anniversary of the September 11th attacks and honor those who died that day, and those who have died since in the war on terror, in order to secure our freedoms, we need to remember their sacrifices and not demonize them as having had too high a price tag.”

OK.  Never mind that the president‘s remark was a cost comparison between health reform and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and never mind that the Iraq war and 9/11 still have nothing to do with one another despite how inconvenient that is, Sarah Palin is staying in the news now by using 9/11 to try to score political points against President Obama on the eve of the anniversary of the attacks.

But that cynical patriotism, it turns out, is merely an appetizer before the main course of exploiting a national tragedy that this year has been prepared for September 12th by the sous chef of politics as performance art, Mr. Glenn Lee Beck.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST:  And the answers have never come from Washington.  We weren‘t told how to behave that day after 9/11.  We just knew.  It was right.  It was the opposite of what we feel today.

Let us find ourselves and our solutions together again with the nine founding principles and the 12 eternal values.  This is the 9/12 Project.

Are you ready to be that person that you were, that day after 9/11 on 9/12?

I launched a project back in March and it comes together Saturday, September 12th, 9/12.  Thousands of people are going to gather in Washington, D.C., and around the nation to stand up for the principles and the values that have made America great.


MADDOW:  So, it‘s called the 9/12 Project.  It‘s not the 9/11 project

·         presumably because 9/11 falls inconveniently on a Friday this year, not a Saturday.


Joining us now is Princeton University politics and African-American studies professor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

Professor, thanks very much for joining us.  Nice to see you.


MADDOW:  Is there a statute of limitations or something on when it‘s OK to start being really blatant about exploiting a national tragedy for other purposes?  Did that statute expire this year, do you think?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, you know, interestingly, our friend Keith was very critical about how the GOP deployed 9/11 even in the context of the RNC‘s nominating convention last summer.  So, it‘s possible that this is already expired, that it‘s already been used in some blatantly kind of personal political ways.

But I think what I want to say here—it‘s not necessarily wrong to take a moment of great national tragedy in order to reflect on who were we, what does it mean, what was that moment of possibility.  That, in and of itself, is not exploitive.

But the idea that who we were on September 12th, 2001 is who we want to be right now—people who were terrified, people whose cities were burning, people who had a vague sense of an enemy but not knowing who that enemy was, mothers and fathers still waiting for their children to come home and spouses hoping that their partner would call—I mean, is that really what Glenn Beck is calling us to be again?

MADDOW:  I was struck today when I was reading about the kickoff events for the 9/12 weekend.

And Dick Armey, who‘s the head of FreedomWorks, which is a corporate-funded group that‘s organizing the march, and that is charging groups a lot of money to participate—even though it‘s supposedly a grassroots group - - he was speaking at a rally.

And at that rally, he defended the congressman who shouted down the president last night during his speech to Congress, Congressman Joe Wilson, and then the crowd, which was reportedly about 800 people, started yelling “You lie, you lie, you lie,” not because they thought Dick Armey was lying but because they thought that was a good chant to support that member of Congress who had interrupted the president.

What‘s the connection between disrupting the president in a speech to Congress about health care and the day after 9/11?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, it‘s a particularly odd connection, because if there‘s anything that we all were on September 12th, it was rallied behind our president regardless of ideology, regardless of party.  You know, I sometimes mention that African-American men were in the city of New York while Rudy Giuliani was still the mayor and they were wearing NYPD hats, right?

So, despite everything that had happened on questions of race and that mayor, people were willing to, you know, really look to our national leadership.  If there‘s a connection to be made between 9/12 and our current situation—it ought to be that our health care crisis is similarly facing down our country, that we are in a serious time of crisis, and so, so it‘s a time for kind of somber reflection and for supporting your president regardless of your ideology, finding the common ground on which Americans stand.

MADDOW:  When we look at—ahead to this weekend, and there‘s going to be a weekend-long celebration of these events, or I would usually call it a commemoration, but it does seem quite celebratory in terms of their tone—do you think that when we look at those crowds, we should expect that they‘re really only speaking for themselves?  Or is this one of those incidents where a protest movement actually reflects a larger group that sympathizes with them but is not interested in getting to Washington on the weekend to be there themselves?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  You know, it‘s really hard to tell.  I mean, that—you know, as we would say in the academy, that‘s an empirical question, and I‘m not—I‘m not sure I have the answer yet.  It does seem, as your first guest said, that this is a shrinking party, an exceptionally vocal, incredibly well-organized faction, but still a minority faction, even relative to what we know about the strong support for the president‘s health care plan after his speech last night.

So, I‘m going to say that for now, let‘s take it as just a group of individuals who apparently are as terrified today as they were the day after our country was attacked on September 11th, 2001.

MADDOW:  And they want the rest of us to feel that way, too.

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  And you‘re a truth teller, by the way.  Sorry.


MADDOW:  You lie!

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of politics and African-American studies of Princeton University—it is great to have you on the show.  Thank, Melissa.


MADDOW:  After last night‘s epic health care address, President Obama zeroed in today on his real audience.  He had a sit-down audience with 16 moderate Democrats at the White House.  Were ears bent, were arms twisted, what happened?  Alaska Senator Mark Begich was one of Democrats who was there.  He will join us live in just a moment and I will try to get him to tell us what happened.


MADDOW:  President Obama summoned 16 conservative Democrats to the woodshed—sorry, White House today to have a friendly chat about passing health care reform.  Alaska Senator Mark Begich was one of those senators there this afternoon.  He will be here with us in just a moment.

But, we begin with news of life during wartime.  On Friday, German NATO troops in Afghanistan called in American aircraft to drop bombs on two fuel tankers that had been hijacked.  Afghan officials say those bombs ended up killing 70 people.  That would make the bombing the deadliest incident initiated by the German military since World War II.  The Germans initially insisted that all those killed were insurgents.  The Afghans said, no, the casualties were civilians.  And NATO says that it is now investigating the incident.

But the day after the bombing, a “New York Times” reporter named Stephen Farrell and his interpreter, Sultan Munadi, headed out to the site to interview villagers there, despite being warned that was Taliban-controlled territory, that the villagers were angry about the bombing and that it wasn‘t really safe at all to travel there.  Sure enough, scarily enough, Farrell and Munadi were both kidnapped by the Taliban at the site of the bombing.

But here‘s where this story changes from a war movie script to a Steven Soderbergh war movie script, and one with a brutal ending.  Stephen Farrell, “The New York Times” reporter, is Irish.  He‘s a dual Irish/British citizen.

By 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, which is the day that Farrell and Munadi were kidnapped, a Web site called IrishCentral had already broken the news about the abduction.  Then, right away, IrishCentral un-broke the story.  They erased the story from they‘re Web site.  They erased it from the other Web sites they share content with, and erased it from all their news feeds.  They disappeared the story after “The New York Times” called them and told them they wanted to keep the kidnapping under wraps because they thought that would be in the best interest of the hostages.

We‘ve seen this before, sort of.  Current TV, for example, wouldn‘t tell us anything about Laura Ling and Euna Lee when they were being held in North Korea.  At first, “Newsweek” magazine wouldn‘t say anything about its reporter, Maziar Bahari, when he was first being held in Iran, though they have since changed their mind and are publicizing his case.

“The Times” kept the Taliban abduction of another one of its reporters, David Rohde, under wraps for the full seven months—Mr. Rohde was in captivity earlier this year—until Rohde escaped.

The reason we know about and can talk about the abduction of Stephen Farrell and Sultan Munadi now is because it‘s over.  At 7:30 on Tuesday night, Mr.  Ferrell called his editor and said, “I‘m out.  I‘m free.”  Despite some reports that quiet negotiations had been happening behind the scenes for their release, ultimately the way that Stephen Farrell was freed was by a British commando raid on the compound in which he and Mr. Munadi were being held.

Now, in the resulted chaotic firefight, Mr. Munadi was shot dead, as was one of the British commandos, as was one local woman and one child.  The reporter, Stephen Farrell was unharmed.  The media embargo was ended, and now, a new association of Afghan journalists who work with western reporters is protesting both that military raid and the fact that Mr.  Munadi‘s body was left behind on the scene afterwards.

Now, here in the U.S., “The New York Times,” having had two of its marquee name reporters abducted in Afghanistan this year alone and having one of its longtime translators killed, “The New York Times” now says it is reviewing security procedures, reviewing the dangers that it‘s willing to have its reporters face in Afghanistan in order to cover what it is that western troops are doing there.  Just as we here at home are reviewing the danger we are willing to put our troops in eight years into this war in order for us to be there at all.


MADDOW:  OK.  This is going to end one of two ways - either the president and the Democrat leadership in Congress are going to agree on a relatively conservative health reform bill, a conservative bill that would dare liberal Democrats to vote no on health reform on the grounds that that bill wasn‘t reforming enough.  It could go that way. 

Or the president and the Democratic leadership in Congress could agree on a relatively progressive health reform bill.  And a progressive health reform bill would put conservative Democrats on the spot, daring them to vote no on health reform on the grounds that the bill was just too Democratic-y. 

With Republicans largely out of the legislative equation except to the extent they make news by walking out in the middle of the president‘s speech to Congress or by screaming at the president in the middle of that speech, the distance between liberal Democrats and conservative Democrats is really what defines the range of potential outcomes for how the battle to finally get America a healthcare system is going to end. 

Today, Mr. Obama asked 16 conservative Democrats and Joe Lieberman to meet with him at the White House.  Don‘t you wonder how it went? 

Joining us now is Mark Begich of Alaska.  He is one of the Democratic senators who met with the president today.  He‘s the first Democrat that Alaskans have sent to Congress since 1981.  Sen. Begich, it‘s great to have you back on the show.  Thanks very much for taking the time. 

SEN. MARK BEGICH (D-AK):  Thank you very much, Rachel.  Now, you‘re not going to beat me up tonight, are you? 

MADDOW:  Well, it depends on what you say, sir, of course.  And I assume it would be mutual. 

BEGICH:  It‘s always a pleasure to come on your show.  I mean, last time, we had a little back-and-forth on a Mr. Bill and how to write a bill.  Oh, I hope you got the book I sent. 

MADDOW:  I did get the book.  It‘s awesome.  Thank you.

BEGICH:  It‘s a great book.  We had the author sign it, too, to boot.  So I thought it would be a great future for you there to read that book there. 

MADDOW:  Now, I‘m worried that you didn‘t get my thank you note and it‘s stuck in some anthrax-free zone in Ohio somewhere.  I‘ll redouble my efforts. 

BEGICH:  You know, the amazing part - let‘s talk about this for a second - the mail system in the Capitol is outrageous ...


BEGICH:  ... because you never get anything because they sanitize it to death.  There‘s nothing left except maybe the postage stamp that maybe someone put on it, and that‘s it.  So - well, I appreciate again being on here.  It‘s a pleasure.

MADDOW:  Absolutely.  And with that important ground covered, I have to just ask you how the meeting went today with the president.  I don‘t know how much of it was - you‘re able to communicate to us.  But I‘d love to hear how it went. 

BEGICH:  Well, there are some obviously I can talk to you about.  First, I have to say last night, the president‘s presentation, his speech, was incredible.  I think he put to rest a lot of concerns that I know the public has called our office about and set the pace of what we need to do in the next couple months.  I think they‘re as clear as you said last night, 80 percent, you know, of the issues we agreed upon.  It‘s just the last 20 percent. 

And I heard your opening and I want to say that I think it‘s a little bit of both on both ends of within the Democratic Party that will get to a solution here with regard to health care. 

And I think today‘s meeting was an opportunity to be blunt with the president but also talk about the concerns we have on how to sustain it fiscally, whatever healthcare plan we have.  I was very pleased and I know members who were there today were very pleased about the point that the president made about deficit neutral, but not only for today but into the future. 

That last part we really hadn‘t heard.  So, that was kind of new information last night, and we were able to discuss it a little bit more today. 

He had his OMB director there to kind of lay out some of the issues and get our questions on what we were concerned about, which was, you know, the financial costs, making sure that whatever bill we come up with that we can financially support it, not only today, but for generations to come if we truly want health care. 

But I thought it was a very cordial, positive meeting.  I think your point was well taken that it‘s time that all the Democrats sit down and resolve their differences and move forward.  I think the president sees that as an opportunity to get this on the road and get this show on the road and get it done. 

MADDOW:  I looked at the statement that your office released yesterday about how congruent your goals are with the president‘s stated goals now.  And it seems like you are very much in line with one another, things like covering preexisting conditions has been a real priority for you. 

BEGICH:  Yes, absolutely. 

MADDOW:  You can keep your coverage if you want to.  Increasing the number of people with insurance, as you mentioned, not adding to the deficit.  If all those things are preserved, those things you‘ve campaigned on, that you‘ve defined as your real priorities - if all that is preserved and there is a public option - public insurance option included as part of this bill, would you be able to vote yes? 

BEGICH:  Well, let me - can I define it a little bit further?  There are two other pieces.  One is, and the president talked about it today and of course last night, and that is the important impact on small business.  He has, I think, a plan that‘s going to save small business folks future costs in regard to insurance and make sure that they have access, which is important from Alaska‘s perspective and I know across this country. 

I guess I don‘t want to put the word “public option.”  What I‘d rather say is that there‘s going to be some mechanism, I guess, at the end of the day to ensure that insurance companies are held accountable, that they are not going to be able to jack up rates and have changes in their formulas in the future that cost American taxpayers and rate payers. 

What I don‘t want to have happen is that the bill lives or dies

by that issue, that we have to get healthcare reform, we have to get

insurance reform.  And if it means that that‘s part of the equation, we‘ll

deal with that at that time.  But it shouldn‘t be the item that makes it

live or die.  And we have to -

MADDOW:  It‘s not the basis on which you‘ll make your own decision about how to vote, in other words. 

BEGICH:  Exactly.  It‘s a combination of the things you just mentioned as well as - you know, I have to say last night, he helped at least from an Alaskan perspective the issues he laid out on the seniors. 

He really hammered down that seniors are not going to lose benefits.  They‘re going to gain from this, that - he did a lot of things that I was looking forward to.  But now, it‘s about fiscal discipline on it and making sure that it has long-term stability and that it can be paid for and do it with the savings and the efficiencies that he talked about. 

MADDOW:  Sen. Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska, thanks very much for joining us tonight.  A lot of people curious about your exact position on this.  It‘s great to have you on the record.  Great to have you here. 

BEGICH:  Thank you, Rachel.  Always a pleasure. 

MADDOW:  Just ahead on “COUNTDOWN,” Congressman Joe Wilson is the subject of a very special, special comment by Mr. Olbermann. 

Next on this program, it‘s the intersection at last of Barack Obama and the L-word.  Hold on - different L-word.  Sorry, not at all what you‘re thinking right now.  Totally different idea all together.   



MADDOW:  Senator, you criticized the Bush administration frequently. 

But you almost never criticized the Republican Party itself.  Other

Democrats -


MADDOW:  Well, yes, actually.  I mean, other Democrats, you will hear them talk about the GOP as the party that‘s been wrong in all the big stuff, creating social security, civil rights, the war in Iraq. 

OBAMA:  Right. 

MADDOW:  But you don‘t really do that.  Do you think there is a stark difference between the two parties? 

OBAMA:  Well, I do think there‘s a difference between the parties.  But here‘s my belief, that - I‘m talking to voters.  And I think there are a lot of Republican voters out there, self-identified, who actually think that what the Bush administration has done has been damaging to the country. 

And what I‘m interested in is, how do we build a working majority for change?  And if I start off with the premise that it‘s only self-identified Democrats who I‘m speaking to, then I‘m not going to get to where we need to go. 

If I can describe it as not a blanket indictment of the Republican Party but instead describe it as the Republican Party having been kidnapped by an incompetent highly ideological subset of the Republican Party, then that means that I can still reach out to a whole bunch of Republican moderates who I think are hungry for change as well. 

MADDOW:  Now, they did not see you the same way when they talked -

when John McCain calls you a socialist -

OBAMA:  Right. 

MADDOW:  This “redistribute the wealth” idea.  He calls you soft on national security. 

OBAMA:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  That‘s not just an anti-Barack Obama script.  He‘s reading from an anti-Democrat and specifically an anti-liberal script.

OBAMA:  Yes.  Absolutely. 

MADDOW:  And so you have the opportunity to say John McCain, George Bush, you‘re wrong.  You also have the opportunity to say conservatism has been bad for America, but you haven‘t gone there either. 

OBAMA:  Yes.  I tell you what, though, Rachel.  You notice I think we‘re winning right now, so maybe I‘m doing something right.  I know you‘ve been bruising - you know, cruising for a bruising here for a while, looking for a fight out there. 

But I just think people are tired of that kind of back-and-forth, tit-for-tat ideological approach to the problems.  Now, there is no doubt that there is a set of premises in the reigning Republican ideology that I just think are wrong. 

The important thing, though, is I just want to make sure that I‘m leaving the door open to people who say to themselves, well, you know, I‘m a member of the Republican party and I remember people like, you know, Chuck Percy in Illinois or Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, a pretty good Republican, that there are - that there are some core values that historically have been important in the Republican Party but just have not been observed over the last several years. 


MADDOW:  That was then-candidate Barack Obama last October, just five days before he was elected president, refusing to take the bait from me, right?  Overtly declaring his disinterest in talking about ideology in America, the really big picture of political disagreement that exists among American, the philosophical divide that separates the American right from the American left. 

Since then, in his acceptance speech the night of the election, in his inaugural, in his not exactly state-of-the-union address, in his press conferences and his town hall meetings, even in his legislative strategy as president, President Obama has kept to that same course, calling for bipartisanship time and again, even as it‘s become clear that the hand he is reaching for across the aisle is actually a closed fist. 

Speaking charitably of individual Republican members of Congress, even those who have made wild accusations against him and leaving his own most ardent supporter, liberals, to argue among themselves as to whether they should trust that this president isn‘t just above the fray. 

But this president understands that the fray is there for a reason, that his election was not just about him seeming like a competent guy.  It was also a rejection of the proud and professed conservatism of the last president and the last vice president and their whole proudly conservative administration and their party. 

The election of Barack Obama and the landslide victories of Democrats in Congress in the last two elections weren‘t just about all those individual candidates seeming like nice, competent people.  They were a national endorsement of doing things differently than conservatives. 

And in America, doing things differently than the conservatives has a name.  It‘s a thing.  It‘s got a long history.  It‘s got a cogent world view.  It‘s got a track record of bringing us advances that Americans have come to sort of like, such as the weekend, civil rights, Medicare, social security. 

Last night, for the first time in his presidency in a high-profile setting, President Obama talked liberalism.  He did so in the context of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, a man as proud of his own liberalism as he was vilified for it by conservatives. 


OBAMA:  Figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and, yes, sometimes angry debate.  That‘s our history.  For some of Ted Kennedy‘s critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. 

In their minds, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.  But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here, people of both parties, know that what drove him was something more. 

Ted Kennedy‘s passion was born not of some rigid ideology but of his own experience.  It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer.  He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick. 

And he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance, what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent, “There is something that could make you better but I just can‘t afford it.” 

That large-heartedness, that concern and regard for the plight of others is not a partisan feeling.  It‘s not a Republican or Democratic feeling.  It, too, is part of the American character.  Our ability to stand in other people‘s shoes.  A recognition that we are all in this together, that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a there to lend a helping hand. 

A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play.  And an acknowledgment that sometimes the government has to step in and to help deliver on that promise. 

This has always been the history of our progress.  In 1935, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that social security would lead to socialism, but the men and women of Congress stood fast.  And we are all the better for it. 

In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans did not back down.  They joined together so all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind. 

You see, our predecessors understood that government could not and should not solve every problem.  They understood that there are instances when the gains and security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. 

But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little.  That without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopoly can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited. 

And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn.  When any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American, when fact and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom that we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter, then at that point, we don‘t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges.  We lose something essential about ourselves. 


MADDOW:  The White House also released the letter from the late Sen.  Ted Kennedy that keynoted that passage in the president‘s speech from last night.  And the letter may give some insight as to why the president was moved at last, last night, to talk in those philosophical terms that he has so studiously has avoided from so long. 

The letter of the late senator to President Obama in part says this, “When I thought of all the years, all the battles and all the memories of my long public life, I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the president who, at long last, sings into law the healthcare reform that is the great unfinished business of our society.” 

“There will be struggles - there always have been - and they are already underway again.  But as we move forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat - that you will stay with the cause until it is won.  I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity.”

“But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is, above all, a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.” 

Moral issue.  Fundamental issues of social justice.  The character of our country.  Them‘s liberal fighting words, the kind that made people call the senator who wrote them “the liberal lion.” 

Was last night‘s speech by the president a tribute to another man‘s liberalism?  Or was it the first public sign of his own?  Tell me what policy does this president really fight for, for health reform and we will be very close to answering that question. 


MADDOW:  We turn now to our popular diversions correspondent.  Hi, Kent.  I don‘t know what that means. 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Popular diversions. 


JONES:  Huge “American Idol” news is what that means.  Ellen DeGeneres is going to replace Paula Abdul as a judge this season.  Breathe, take a minute, allow the enormity of the news to sink in.  There you go. 

MADDOW:  OK.  All right.


ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, “THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW”:  I am going to be the new judge on “American Idol.”


JONES:  Fox made the big announcement last night because obviously there was nothing else going on that might command the public‘s attention.  That aside, hiring Ellen was a savvy show business move.  Who doesn‘t love Ellen?  Of course, when you sit next to Simon, everyone‘s likeability quotient kicks up a notch or two. 

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL” JUDGE:  I thought your performance was robotic.  It was a little bit like a Chihuahua trying to be a tiger. 

JONES:  And clearly, Paula Abdul had been in the fridge past her expiration date. 

PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL” JUDGE:  It‘s a wild party where you are. 

JONES:  But Ellen as a judge of vocal quality?  I don‘t know.  Now, I‘m not saying she isn‘t qualified.  OK, I‘m saying she isn‘t qualified.  What do you say to your kids, “If you work your heart out and sing for hours every day, someday you‘ll get a shot at being judged by a comedian”? 

And I don‘t buy the whole “a performer knows performance” argument.  I mean, I wouldn‘t hire Chris Angel to judge “Larry the Cable Guy‘s” jokes or vice versa. 

Is Ellen psyched about music?  Sure, lots of people are.  A lot of people cook, too.  That doesn‘t make everyone Julia Childs.  Sure, she‘ll know when it‘s bad.  But will she be able to tell good from great?  Color me skeptical.  It‘s a little like trusting health care to these guys. 


MADDOW:  You know, the Ellen dancing with the other people. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  It was a little flashing back to “Star Search.” 

JONES:  A little bit, yes.

MADDOW:  “Star Search” was roughly the last time I had a television, so that‘s why that‘s my flashback. 

JONES:  Not the precious reference. 

MADDOW:  No.  I‘m sorry.  That‘s why we have you here, Kent, thank you.  I have a cocktail moment for you. 

JONES:  Great. 

MADDOW:  Remember when it was floated that maybe Mitt Romney should be the replacement for Sen. Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts? 

JONES:  Right.

MADDOW:  A lot of coffee flew out of a lot of noses when that was announced. 

JONES:  Influence -

MADDOW:  Yes, exactly.  If you‘re drinking coffee, right now might be a good time to put it down. 

JONES:  Right.

MADDOW:  The latest Republican leading light to continue throwing their hat in the ring for the Ted Kennedy seat?  George W. Bush‘s chief of staff.  Yes, in Massachusetts. 

Yes, Andy Card says the chances of him running are much better than 50 percent, but he has to talk it over from his wife who‘s a minister at a church where they live, which is Virginia. 

Let‘s talk with her before moving to Massachusetts.  Yes. 

JONES:  Sounds good. 

MADDOW:  George W. Bush‘s chief of staff wants Ted Kennedy‘s Senate seat in Massachusetts. 

JONES:  No coffee, no spraying. 

MADDOW:  I have nothing else to stay. 


JONES:  Wow.

MADDOW:  Thank you at home for watching.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. 



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