Guests: Howard Dean, Michael Beschloss, Edward Norton, Chris Kofinis, Barry Levinson, Rev. Barry Lynn
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, COUNTDOWN ANCHOR (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? History on the Hill.
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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:
Today, we are about to deliver on the promise of making affordable quality health care available for all Americans.
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O‘DONNELL (voice-over): The public option lives, but it won‘t be the robust public option. Republicans still cry foul anyway.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go again. The American people have spoken, and it‘s pretty clear our Democrat colleagues have not listened.
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O‘DONNELL (voice-over): While the party of no objects, one liberal Democrat stands up and says we should be able to do better, much better.
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REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: If this is the best we can do, then our best isn‘t good enough. Health care or insurance care? Government of the people or government by the corporations?
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O‘DONNELL (voice-over): Reaction tonight from former governor Dr. Howard Dean. A solemn moment at Dover Air Force base in the dark of night as the long war in Afghanistan takes its largest toll of American lives this month. President Obama as Commander in Chief pays his respects as the fallen soldiers return home.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day.
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O‘DONNELL (voice-over): A story of change. A year after the groundbreaking election of Barack Obama, HBO gives us a riveting behind-the-scenes look at the historic campaign. One of the film‘s producers, award-winning actor Edward Norton, joins us.
Take the money then run? A story surfaces that Sarah Palin will
speak in Iowa next month in exchange for 100 grand. Her peeps deny it, but
even the suggestion of cashing in has upset the very Republicans in Iowa
Sarah Palin will have to woo if she wants to be President. >
And Blago may be gone from the Illinois state house, but he‘s not forgotten.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For far too long, Illinois has been ruled by the hair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL (voice-over): Tonight, an ad destined for the wacky political ad hall of fame. All that and more now on “Countdown.”
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re unhappy with that guy. >
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O‘DONNELL: Good evening from New York. I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell in for Keith Olbermann. The House of Representatives today released its health care reform bill including a public option, a government-run health insurance alternative for people currently without health insurance. President Obama praised the bill, but criticism from both the right, for how much it will cost; and the left for how little it will do.
Our fifth story on “Countdown” tonight, what Nancy Pelosi thinks she can get and not get in health care reform. The Speaker of the House today celebrating on the Capitol steps, listing what the 1,990-page bill accomplishes or will accomplish if something like it passes both House and Senate, including ending anti-trust protections for insurance companies and eliminating their ability to reject people for coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Between now and 2013, when the public option would kick in, a fund for a temporary high-risk pool would provide a stopgap for those unable to get private insurance. Speaker Pelosi also touted the bill‘s fiscal responsibility.
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PELOSI: It reduces the deficit, meets President Obama‘s call to keep the cost under $900 billion over ten years, and it insures 36 million more Americans. 36 million more. That said, the bill is fiscally sound; will not add one dime to the deficit as it expands coverage, implements key insurance reforms and promotes prevention and wellness across the health system. The bill will expand coverage, including a public option to boost choice and competition in the health insurance reform.
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O‘DONNELL: Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf several hours later, released the CBO‘s estimate of the bill‘s financial impact. The bill would make health insurance mandatory for most people and fine companies with payrolls over $500,000 that do not offer health care plans. It adds an excise tax for makers of medical equipment and raises taxes on individuals making more than a half a million and couples making more than a million.
Most notably, the CBO said the bill will cost more, over $1 trillion, but also offset more in taxes and spending cuts than speaker Pelosi estimated. The bill, however, would still meet President Obama‘s requirement that it not add to the deficit. The CBO estimating it would actually reduce the deficit by $104 billion over ten years. President Obama said in a statement, quote, “The House bill clearly meets two of the fundamental criteria that I have set out. It is fully paid for and will reduce the deficit in the long term.”
The most dedicated veteran of the health care fight, Michigan‘s John Dingell, who presided over House passage of Medicare in the 1960s, and whose father introduced the first universal health care bill in Congress in 1943, pushed back against GOP claims that the bill‘s Medicare cuts threaten seniors.
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REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: The only citizens who are going to have to worry about their participation in Medicare being cut are the insurance companies. Some of them are getting paid 150% of what they‘re entitled to. And that‘s being paid, curiously enough, by other American citizens who are retirees.
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O‘DONNELL: In response, Republicans seemed dumbfounded that Democrats were not cowed by the tea party rabble-rousers sent by Washington lobbyists to disrupt town hall meetings on health care reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, MINORITY LEADER: Over the last several months, the American people have spoken, and it‘s pretty clear our democrat colleagues have not listened. Through the month of august, September, the American people let members of congress of both sides of the aisle know that they wanted no part of a government-run health care plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: In fact, moderate Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana today, faced with a new poll suggesting voters would punish him for helping Republicans block a vote on health care, as well as a request for clarification of his position on this program last night, seems to take a clarifying step in Harry Reid‘s direction. Despite previously saying allowing debate on the bill would be equivalent to supporting it, today he released a statement saying he will support moving forward to a health care debate on the Senate floor. Bayh, whose wife sits uncomfortably, no doubt, on the board of health insurance giant WellPoint, has still not said whether he would help Republicans block a vote on health care; and still has not provided an answer to our question of whether he has ever voted to allow a vote on something he has opposed, and then voted against the final passage of the bill.
The Service Employees international Union, however, told us they have researched this and turned up at least three such incidents in Bayh‘s voting record. Some intense and heart-felt opposition to the House bill came from the left today. Leaders of the progressive caucus meeting with President Obama today, urging stronger support from him for a stronger public option.
And Congressman Dennis Kucinich tore into the House bill, especially for forcing people to buy the health insurance industry‘s faulty product and fatten their profit margins, and for forcing the government to negotiate its rate of payments to providers rather than tie them to the lower Medicare rates, which would have saved taxpayers $85 billion.
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REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: Is this the best we can do, mandating private insurance, forcing people to buy private insurance policies or pay a penalty, guaranteeing at least $50 billion in new business for the insurance companies? Is this the best we can do? Government negotiates rates, which would drive up insurance costs; but the government won‘t negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies, which will drive up pharmaceutical costs?
Is this the best we can do? Only 3 percent of Americans will go to a new public plan. Well, currently 33% of Americans are either uninsured or underinsured. Is this the best we can do? Eliminating the state‘s single-payer option will force most people to have to buy private insurance. If this is the best we can do, then our best isn‘t good enough. And we have to ask some hard questions about our political system, such as, health care or insurance care? Government of the people, or government by the corporations?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Our guest tonight is the former governor of Vermont, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Dr. Howard Dean, currently a consultant to both Democracy for America and McKenna, Long and Aldrich, and less we forget, a contributor for CNBC. Thanks for your time tonight, Governor.
FORMER GOVERNOR HOWARD DEAN (D), VERMONT: Thanks for having me on.
O‘DONNELL: Governor, let‘s go to Dennis Kucinich‘s question right off the bat. Do you disagree with any of the points he made in that speech? And ultimately, is this the best we can do?
DEAN: it‘s not the best we can do, but it‘s a very good start. Look, when they were fighting uphill against a very well organized opposition, which has a lot of trouble telling the truth; and against an incredibly well-organized health insurance industry, which has given millions and millions of dollars to some of the people who are going to have to vote on this stuff.
So, I don‘t disagree entirely with Dennis, but the fact is, this is real reform. People are going to have a chance to get into a different kind of a system that doesn‘t take huge profits out and put it in their own pockets. And we‘re only -- 4 percent of all the money we put in is spent on things that don‘t have anything to do with health care. So, are there some things? Yeah.
The most important thing that probably needs to be changed in conference committee is more people need to get into this system before the 2010 elections. The only way to defeat all the things the opposition is saying that aren‘t so is to actually show them how the system works. It really is pretty good. It‘s going to be very good for a lot of people. I think this is going to work well. I think it‘s a great bill. I think the Speaker has a lot of courage. And I‘m very, very pleased. I think Senator Reid did a terrific job last week on the same thing. I think we‘re in good shape. We‘re going to have some bad days still, I‘m sure, but we are in very good shape now.
O‘DONNELL: Governor, the biggest difference between the House bill and Senate bill is now on the tax side. The Senate wants to tax union health care plans. That is opposed by over 170 Democratic members of the House. The House wants to tax rich people, wants to tax people above—individuals above $500,000 of income, couples above a million dollars of income. These seem like irreconcilable differences. One of those taxes has to win. Which one do you think it will be?
DEAN: Fighting over money is never irreconcilable. There is a number, and there is always a number in the middle to get to. I‘m not the least bit worried about that. What I‘m worried about is making sure the public option does well, and as many people can get to sign up for it as possible. I‘m worried about what‘s going to happen to the Democrats in 2010. The only reason - the only way we can show the country that the Republicans have just not been telling the truth for the last six or eight months about this bill is to actually have it put into effect. Once it goes into effect and people‘s - especially, people‘s kids start getting insurance, this debate is over. Instead of losing seats in 2010, we‘re going to pick up some seats in 2010.
O‘DONNELL: When Barack Obama ran for President, he said that on the taxation side, you could pay for health care simply by allowing the Bush tax cut on the top tax bracket to expire. We now see that the House has gone far beyond that. The Senate has gone beyond that and invented a handful of taxes we have never seen before. How do Democrats answer next year‘s obvious attack ads against them in the campaign, saying they voted for huge tax increases that none of them mentioned during their last campaign?
DEAN: You have to make sure people actually have insurance. You can‘t wait until 2013 or 2012. If you want to say the Congressional majority that we‘ve got, you‘ve got to have—some of this go into effect. The whole bill can‘t go into effect by 2010. But you‘ve got to get a significant number of people insured. That‘s why I think the best way to run the public option, I agree with having negotiated rates. That‘s a done deal. That was passed in the Senate—I mean, put out there by a leader of the Senate and by a leader of the House. So we‘re going to have negotiating rates. I don‘t think that is any big tragedy. I think some folks are concerned about it, but I think that‘s fine.
I think the expansion of Medicaid is great. You‘ve got to hold the states harmless. But it‘s a very good thing to do. That‘s how we got universal insurance for all our kids in Vermont. But the one thing you‘ve got to do is get as many people as you can, particularly kids, into the system. And I think that probably means using Medicare as your basis with negotiating rates.
O‘DONNELL: Governor, you‘ve been adamant about the public option all year. I want to make sure I understand. You‘re endorsing here tonight the House version of the public option? Am I clear on that?
DEAN: Yes. I don‘t think either one of them is perfect. But I think both of them; both the House and Senate versions are good bills. And I‘d vote for either one of them if I were in Congress.
O‘DONNELL: Do you think the House version or Senate version, one or the other, seems to be better at the possibility of containing costs?
DEAN: I think the bigger the public option is, the better costs will be contained. Massachusetts has shown that you can get to—pretty close to universal insurance without using public option. But you can‘t control costs without using a public option. So, you look at these bills very carefully.
One of the big things I was shocked at in the bill, in House bill, they actually resurrected co-ops. Co-ops were in the House bill. I was stunned. I would love to know why that is, because they aren‘t going to work. But that‘s in the bill. I couldn‘t quite figure that one out at all.
But in general, they are both very, very good bills. I think it‘s not the kind of reform that I would have loved. Dennis Kucinich has some points there, but this is pretty good stuff, and it really is going to make a difference.
O‘DONNELL: Governor, I just want to take you back to the tax piece one more time. You have to indulge me. I used to be the chief of staff on the Senate Finance Committee where we do taxes, so it‘s one of the things I concentrate on here.
Which one of these tax approaches do you think is more politically viable and is the better one to defend in the campaign next year? The income tax on top earners, or the tax on health care plans?
DEAN: You know how this goes. What they‘re probably going to do is a little of each. And Rich Trunk, the head of the AFL-CIO the other day said that there was a possibility of taxing health care plans at a benefit level, but the benefit level had to be much higher than it was now because he didn‘t want the working people to get caught in that. They‘ll come up with a compromise and get money from both sources, but not as much as either source gives now in each bill. That‘s just a compromise. You know, you‘re experienced. You know very well that‘s an easy compromise. They might fight about it, but it‘s an easy compromise. There are some tougher things in there. The most important thing of all is moving that date of enrollment up to preserve the Democratic majority in 2010.
O‘DONNELL: Governor Howard Dean, thank you for finding the Solomonic solution to the tax dilemma in these bills and thanks for joining us tonight.
DEAN: Thanks for having me on.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, the solemn scene at Dover Air Force Base last night, the striking images of Barack Obama, Commander in Chief, saluting fallen soldiers. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss joins us. And later, someone in Sarah Palin‘s camp is creating problems for her in Iowa. Somehow, local Republicans get the idea the former governor wants $100,000 to speak there next month. Some Iowa Republicans say, “Sorry, Sarah. You do not get a paycheck for the privilege of building relationships with guaranteed caucus-goers.” Details ahead on “Countdown.”
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, the significance of President Obama‘s late-night visit to pay tribute to our war dead from Afghanistan.
Also, inside the election of Barack Obama. The HBO documentary “By the People” debuts next week. We‘ll talk to producer and award-winning actor Edward Norton. And later, Could Sarah Palin‘s second book be “How Not to Start a Presidential Campaign”? She‘s not even announced for 2012 yet, and she already has problems brewing in Iowa. That‘s next. This is “Countdown.”
O‘DONNELL: If you‘ve already caught a glimpse of it today, it may have stopped you in your tracks. The image of the American President attending the predawn solemn transfer of our nation‘s war dead from a military transport plane to the vehicle that would take those fallen soldiers on the final leg of their tragic journey home.
And in our fourth story on “Countdown,” part of the President‘s intent may have been to remind us of what war really is as he prepares to make the most difficult decision of his life, on whether to commit even more troops to the war in Afghanistan.
President Obama left the White House shortly before midnight and boarded Marine One for Dover Air Force Base, the nation‘s entry point for U.S. military personnel killed in action. The President met with families of 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan over two different incidents Monday and Tuesday. Fifteen soldiers and three drug enforcement agents lost their lives, making October, with 54 deaths, the deadliest month in the 8-year-old war. The President met with all the families of the fallen this morning, and later boarded the military transport plane each time for the Air Force chaplain‘s prayer over the bodies. One family, that of Sergeant Dale Griffin, had agreed to allow cameras for what is known as the solemn transfer of the coffin to the awaiting vehicle.
O‘DONNELL: It has been only six months since the Pentagon changed the policy imposed under President George H.W. Bush that banned media coverage of the arrival of fallen soldiers. The new policy allows each family to decide whether to allow cameras. In this instance, 11 of the 18 families had made a choice against coverage before they were notified that President Obama would be there. The President returned to the White House before 5:00 a.m. And he later acknowledged that the grim ceremony will inform his decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Obviously, the burden of that, what our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts, and it is something that I think about each and every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: President George W. Bush often met privately with grieving military families, but he did not go to Dover for the transfer of bodies.
Let‘s bring in NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
Good evening, Michael.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Hi, Lawrence. How are you doing?
O‘DONNELL: Obviously, this was powerful imagery made available to us because of one family‘s choice to allow media there. What other recent precedents do we have in the modern media age for this kind of thing?
BESCHLOSS: Well, you know, one thing I think we have to say, Lawrence, is this really tells us a lot about a wartime commander in chief. For instance, Richard Nixon, when he was waging the war in Vietnam, he didn‘t want to go to ceremonies like this because he wanted it to be abstract. He didn‘t want to be swayed by the emotion of seeing what was the cost to American men and women he was sending off to die.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can go all the way back to Abraham Lincoln who went to a summerhouse during the summers of his presidency. Across the street from his house was a new cemetery. Every week there were 30 to 40 Union graves dug there. So when Lincoln got up in the morning, looked out the window and saw graves being dug of soldiers who had died at his order, he hated it. It pained him, but he felt he could make better decisions because he‘d had that experience. And I wouldn‘t be surprised if when we read a Barack Obama memoir years from now, if what we saw at midnight last night didn‘t turn out to be a big moment in his life at a moment that he‘s making some pretty big decisions about Afghanistan.
Now, his predecessor, George W. Bush, who made the first big decisions about Afghanistan I know visited families with wounded in hospitals. Bob Woodward has accounts of that sort of thing in his books. What else did George W. Bush do that is comparable to this? We know he didn‘t do precisely this, but what else?
BESCHLOSS: He met with a lot of families, but tended to distance himself from ceremonies like this. Of course, Dover was off limits all the way back to 1989. His father, George Bush, ‘41, just after the invasion of Panama, was giving a press conference, was chuckling, and on the only cable news network at the time. They did a split screen. The other half of the screen showed coffins coming into Dover from Panama. People found that very strange. And so that led to a policy that prevailed for a long time, which was that these things were off limits. The government would say it was to preserve the privacy of the families. But of course, a lot of people in the Pentagon worried that if you had these kinds of images, it would reduce the support for various wars that we were fighting.
O‘DONNELL: Now, obviously, the President did not do this in a political vacuum. What are the political risks for this kind of imagery?
BESCHLOSS: You might say one risk might be that he‘s identified with a war in Afghanistan that might be unpopular, but this war has gone on from the moment he came in, so he is identified. I think much more important than the risks are the way it enhances what we know Barack Obama, that while he‘s making these decisions about Afghanistan, he wants to confront the reality of what a decision to continue this war five or ten years with conceivably tens of thousands of American casualties, he wants to see the cost in person.
O‘DONNELL: What about the possibility that some would argue this is exactly the image that maybe some of our enemies want to see? They want to see that they have delivered something that lands heavily and personally on the President?
BESCHLOSS: They might. But, I think what I would reply is that this is the strength of America. We‘re a democracy. We are proud of what we do. We don‘t cover it up. And you know, Lawrence, during World War II, for a while there were censorship rules waged by the Franklin Roosevelt administration saying that news reels and newspapers could not show the corpses of Americans who had been killed in World War II. FDR actually repealed that censorship. He felt if Americans saw the cost of war, these men and women who had been killed by the enemy, it would actually strengthen American support for what we were doing.
O‘DONNELL: Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, thanks for joining us tonight and providing invaluable historic perspective on what we‘ve seen today.
BESCHLOSS: It‘s my pleasure, Lawrence. >
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, the groundbreaking election of Barack Obama. A year after Election Day, a new documentary takes us behind the scenes in the historic campaign. Award-winning Actor Edward Norton, a producer of the new documentary, joins me in studio next.
And later, Sarah Palin‘s Iowa problem. Her team denies ever asking for 100 grand to speak in Iowa next month, but even the thought of it has local Republicans upset. Howard Fineman on the obvious, why this is not a good way to start a possible presidential campaign ahead on “Countdown.”
O‘DONNELL: Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign officially began February 10, 2007, and officially ended November 4, 2008. As you recall, a whole bunch of stuff happened in between. Our number three story on “The Countdown,” we know the story of the Obama campaign looking from the outside in. On Tuesday, the world will get a look from the inside out.
The HBO documentary “By the People,” the election of Barack Obama, is the story of the Obama campaign from before it was a campaign. Filmmakers had unprecedented access to everyone from Candidate Obama and his top campaign advisers to staffers knocking on doors in Des Moines. “By the People” provides insider accounts revealing how the campaign dealt with everything from victory in Iowa to the Reverend Wright controversy, to the McCain/Palin ticket.
In a moment, one of the movie‘s producers, Edward Norton. First, a clip from the documentary. The scene is backstage at Invesco Field in Denver, just before the candidate‘s speech accepting the nomination for President of the United States. The candidate is clearly feeling the pressure of the moment and the weight of history.
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OBAMA: When I was practicing the speech for the first time and I came to the end where I talked about King speaking in the Lincoln Memorial, and I choked up and had to stop. Dr. King‘s speech happened when I was 2 years old. So, you know, anybody who is 60 or over remembers it vividly. And the majority of African-Americans at that time couldn‘t vote, much less run for President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Edward Norton‘s HBO documentary, “By the People, The Election of Barack Obama” appears Election Day, next Tuesday, November 3rd. Edward Norton, welcome to the “The Countdown” set.
EDWARD NORTON, PRODUCER, ACTOR: Thanks.
O‘DONNELL: The first obvious question, how did you get this kind of access in a political campaign that has every incentive in the world to keep you out when they‘re managing their secrets backstage?
NORTON: I think the simplest answer to that is get in early. And in our case, that actually meant proposing this project before he was a presidential candidate. We actually initially suggested to him that what we wanted to do was a long-term political diary of his first term in the Senate. We were interested in looking at politics and government through the experiences of a new, young, you know, Senator of the next generation in American politics.
And because we began that process with him and his staff almost nine months before they declared his candidacy, I think that we were able to have time with them to define what we were actually doing and earn a kind of a trust on their part.
O‘DONNELL: Now, the first time I saw Barack Obama was in the hall, Boston Garden, 2004, John Kerry‘s convention, keynote speech. And I say after I see that speech, this is the first real black candidate for President, the first one with a shot at a nomination. This is also the best, most magnetic star the Democratic Party has. Were you looking at him that way? Even though you were going to track a Senator, were you looking at someone who.
O‘DONNELL: . he will probably be headed toward the White House?
NORTON: Definitely. And a lot of credit goes to one of our directors, Amy Rice, who absolutely was the one who came in the door to me and my partners and said, “This is clearly a person who is going to run for President some day. Wouldn‘t it be fantastic to chronicle from a very early phase, his journey toward that kind of historic candidacy?”
And we all had been struck by him, just as you were. And clearly, whether you were a Democrat or Republican, clearly, this was a figure of potential historic importance. So Amy really pushed to me and my producing partners the idea that it would be worth starting now. But I don‘t think any of us, as excited as we were by the prospect of engaging with him, I don‘t think any of us thought it would actually kick off within that year.
O‘DONNELL: Now, the movie captures the emotions of campaign life like nothing I‘ve ever seen. You come from a world where very high-priced and talented directors do an awful lot of work with good screenwriters and brilliant actors like yourself to try to get that kind of emotion on screen. In this documentary, were you just lucky to be in the right place at the right time with these cameras, or did you go into this with a shooting strategy to find that?
NORTON: We did have strategy. There was no way to predict the roller coaster of this campaign, and certainly not the outcome. But we had what we called kind of an operating set of principles. I mean, we were very committed to a nonpartisan archivist‘s approach. We weren‘t trying to make a film celebrating Obama or his campaign or staff. We wanted to record, just as you said, what were the emotional experiences, what was the ethos? What did it feel like to be inside the people who were actually making that piece of history? And we tried to draw them out on the emotional experiences they were having, not just kind of the clinical strategy of it all.
O‘DONNELL: And just quickly, was there any moment where they said, “Okay, that‘s it. Turn off the cameras. No more of this”?
NORTON: Actually, it was only when they declared his candidacy. Dave Axelrod, in particular, sage political guru that he is, he got wind of the fact that we had been doing this for nearly a year and immediately said to us, “This isn‘t going to continue as this turns into an actual campaign. And it took us a while, I think, to convince him that we were not the media. We were not the short news cycle press that was looking to exploit what we were getting, that we were—we were in it for the long haul and trying to make a document of how this history, how this took place for the long view.
O‘DONNELL: And an amazing documentary that it is. Edward Norton, producer of “By the People.” Thank you for joining us tonight.
NORTON: Thanks very much.
O‘DONNELL: Debuts next week on HBO, “By the People.”
Coming up, if Sarah Palin has aspirations of running for President, she needs to rethink the notion of trying to make money on her campaign appearances in Iowa. Even the suggestion of paying Palin to speak has some Iowa Republicans up in arms.
And if that‘s not weird enough for you, how about announcing in your candidacy for Governor of Illinois and then unveiling an ad in which you run against Blago‘s hair. We‘ll show it to you. Ahead on “Countdown.”
O‘DONNELL: The battle between the Republican and Conservative Party candidates for Congress in New York‘s 23rd district is not just the epicenter of Republican party chaos. It has also become the latest litmus test for conservative bonafides. In our third story on COUNTDOWN, former Arkansas Governor and current TV host Mike Huckabee may be showing confidence or possibly even playing out a grudge by not endorsing either candidate.
But Huckabee‘s far right friends are not happy. A quick reminder that the Conservative Party candidate is supported by the likes of Alaska blogger Sarah Palin and rabid Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Mr. Hoffman, unlike the Republican candidate for New York‘s 23rd district, is socially conservative.
But Mr. Huckabee has not formally endorsed Mr. Hoffman. Quote, “it‘s very disappointing,” said the vice president of the Family Search Council. Quote, “you have names out there like Sarah Palin, Fred Thompson, Tim Pawlenty. You would think that would have pushed him to make a decision,” end quote.
From New York‘s State Conservative Party, its president telling “Politico,” quote, “when you are the leader of the conservative movement, as Mike Huckabee is, you should make a bold statement.”
Mr. Huckabee has said this: quote, “well, I think Doug Hoffman—certainly his views represent more closely to mine. He represents not only what the conservative party stands for, but what most Republicans stand for.”
But one conservative blog has mused that Huckabee holds a grudge against former presidential candidate Fred Thompson and did not endorse Hoffman because Mr. Thompson did. And a conservative magazine noted that Hoffman is the choice of the anti-tax Club for Growth, which criticized Huckabee sharply during his presidential run.
Let‘s bring in Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, also the former communications director for the presidential campaign of Senator John Edwards. Thanks for joining us tonight, Chris.
CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Good evening.
O‘DONNELL: Chris, it doesn‘t get any more fun than this. New York‘s 23rd is the gift that keeps on giving. Here was Huckabee holding back, trying to play it safe. Does it look to you, Chris, like he was trying to, in effect, play it the way leaders play it? When you are out in front, the front-runner for the endorsement, the front-runner for the nomination, you start to play it safe. Is this the first evidence that Huckabee thinks he is the front-runner for the nomination and is trying to play it safe?
KOFINIS: Yes. I think he was clearly keeping his eye not on the special election in New York, but the eye on the presidential Republican primary that‘s coming up in a couple of years. So I think he had endorsed Rubio, who is kind of the conservative challenger in the Florida Senate race. So following in New York may have been a bridge too far for him.
You know, he may have—you know, tried to come across maybe a little
bit more independent, a little bit more moderate. But neither event what -
· you know, what this has done is just expose this incredible civil war that‘s broken out over this, you know, pretty anomalous situation in New York. Why fight over a seat that you were going to win? But it has exposed, I think, a real division within the Republican party, between the conservatives and the even ultra-conservatives.
O‘DONNELL: My sources in the district, Chris, which is the largest by square miles east of the Mississippi, are telling me that it now looks like Hoffman is pulling ahead. Now, if the conservative wins, is this a win for those who endorsed Hoffman? And what happens to those who didn‘t?
KOFINIS: Well, you know, they are going to believe it is a win. They are going to go out there and crow about how the Republican party came home to its true conservative roots. What the—the various grassroots groups that are backing this, like Club For Growth, as well as these various Republican activists, whether it is Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh—what they don‘t understand is this is a lose-lose-lose scenario. Even if they win this seat with Hoffman, they are going to lose, because what they will basically have done is declared war on every moderate Republican out there.
And the conservative factions within the Republican party are going to be emboldened. They‘re going to go out there and they‘re going to want to attack Republican candidates who don‘t fit their ideological view. Unfortunately, I think what the Republican party has to come to terms with is that they need an ideological vasectomy. It is that brutal. This notion that somehow you are going to define what a party is based on the extremes just ignores political calculations. It just ignores the fact you can‘t win elections that way.
O‘DONNELL: Chris, just quickly now, going to election night. If the Democrat cannot pull this one out as a win, pull it out of the middle of the Republican civil war, what should people be rooting for? What will Democratic strategists like you be rooting for as the second best outcome in that district?
KOFINIS: Well, you know, if the Democrat—if Owens doesn‘t win, my preference is that Hoffman wins, because it will embolden the conservative right, like I said. And that will spill over across the board. Let alone what is going to happen in 2012 and what New York—the special election really is a preview of the 2012 civil war that is going to break out between the various factions like Huckabee and like Palin. It is going to be something to watch.
O‘DONNELL: Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, try to contain your glee. Many thanks for joining us tonight.
KOFINIS: Happy Halloween.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, the convergence of Hollywood and politics. How star power is impacting which candidates rise to prominence and how Hollywood star power plays into it. Our guest is Academy Award winning director Barry Levinson.
Is Pat Robertson trying to kill Halloween? One of his writers claims witches have prayed over the nation‘s candy supply in an effort to curse it. No joke. Have no fear; COUNTDOWN will explain why you don‘t have to cancel your trick-or-treating plans.
O‘DONNELL: He calls it “Pollywood.” It‘s documentary from Academy Award winning director Barry Levinson. You are about to have a front row seat and a backstage pass to it. The film covers the most important and cinematic presidential campaign of our time. Profiling politically active actors, powerful political figures, and the media that cover it all. Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Is there a line between politics and celebrity or just a big circle around both of them?
My friend Barry Levinson will join us. But first, a glimpse into the world of “Pollywood.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politics and celebrities; some folks complain they don‘t belong; they shouldn‘t be intertwined. Why are you compelled to speak up and make your opinions known?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you think it is important to lend your celebrity here, especially at the DNC?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the way out from Hollywood? What drew you to come out here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will you be doing on the convention floor and during the convention?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a funny thing. I have been getting that question a lot. I think people have become kind of cynical about politicized celebrities.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do have a skill or a credential. It is being able to communicate people. I want to learn what it is. And hopefully communicate it to, you know, regular folks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Joining me now is Oscar winning film maker and the director of “Pollywood,” airing on Showtime next week. Barry Levinson, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
BARRY LEVINSON, DIRECTOR, “POLLYWOOD”: Hi. How are you?
O‘DONNELL: Barry, I watched you at a lot of these events, the Democratic convention, running around with the film crew to all of these different things. I couldn‘t figure out what you were shooting. I couldn‘t figure out what you were getting. Did you know what you were getting when you were shooting it? Or did you have to find it in the editing room?
LEVINSON: I think, as it progressed, you began to see this collision of things that I was than necessarily prepared for. So I think you see how powerful the media is and the concept of celebrity and politics, and how it becomes confusing and turns into the circus.
O‘DONNELL: And you were not exactly thrilled with the circus. Having watched “Pollywood” now, myself, you have many complaints in every direction, including the media. I‘m going to give you a very short time. This will be the shortest answer. OK? Take your best shot at us. Take your best shot at us, the cable news focus on the campaigns, and what our influence is or should be or—
LEVINSON: It is the good and the bad of it all. What happens is the
· the frivolous nature of it is what basically comes to the top. It is the—it is the circus atmosphere, as opposed to the substance. Both conventions, in many ways, are just kind of—you know, people writing and grabbing things. And all of this nonsense begins to bubble up, which is unfortunate.
In it, there is some great substance and there are quite a—some serious issues that have to be addressed. But there‘s way too much kind of, you know, three-rings going on.
O‘DONNELL: Now, most of the movie stars in your film, many of whom I know, you know. We know that they would be there no matter what their occupation is. They are dedicated and interested citizens, who re very much interested in politics. But they are there as celebrities. Anne Hathaway cannot walk into a stadium without all eyes turning to her. What does that do to these kinds of events, to have people like Anne and others showing up there?
LEVINSON: Well, what happens is, you know, some of them—they point the finger about the—that it is all wrong, because they are actually concerned citizens that want to attend some of these events. And sometimes, you know, they are—they are really as a spectator. Some have specific kinds of cause that they care about, issues that they feel they want to spotlight.
But what happens in the times we are in a polarization, we keep pointing fingers and how dare you talk about this, and, you know, you shouldn‘t do this, et cetera, et cetera, which, in fact, is, I think, misleading. We are talking about responsible citizens, some of which want to be just spectators, and some of which feel strongly about certain issues.
O‘DONNELL: When the credits are rolling on this documentary on Showtime next week, what are you hoping the audience is thinking?
LEVINSON: Well, I don‘t—I always—never really kind like to go down that road. I think you just get a little bit after look and you can draw your own conclusions from what you see. And what changes do we have to make? The irony is that television is still very new. And we begin to learn and adapt to what goes on. That‘s the good and the bad.
If you go back to the very beginning of film and the movie “The Great Train Robbery,” the bad guy points a gun at the audience and fires it, and the audience actually ducked, because they were afraid of that. Now, of course, now we don‘t pay any attention to that. We understand it. We move on. And we begin to evolve and we understand some of—the way the games are played and how language is used and misused.
And it is an ongoing process begin to make sense out of, many cases , the nonsense of it all.
O‘DONNELL: We don‘t let great artists come on COUNTDOWN, even to talk about just politics. You are going to have to tell us something about your art. What is the difference, Barry, between a documentary like this, working with no script, working without lighting crews and all of that stuff that creates the magic in real, big budget movie making? What‘s the difference between these two ways of approaching material?
LEVINSON: When you approach a written script, you are trying to basically get all the elements out of each particular scene, and the evolution of the characters throughout. In a documentary, it is a constant discovery. Rather than trying to do an agenda, you are trying to make sense out of what is going on. You are talking to people who will say things that will surprise you at times. That‘s part of it.
O‘DONNELL: We were rolling some film, Barry, beside your image as you were talking. And I think I saw a shot of me in there somewhere. I want to warn the audience, we have no makeup in this thing, OK. So please. Barry Levinson, director of “Pollywood,” which makes its television debut on Showtime next week. Thank you very much for joining us this night.
LEVINSON: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, the great candy caper of 2009. Witches have cursed all of the Halloween candy. That‘s the actual message from Pat Robertson‘s website. Or at least it was the message for a short time today.
When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, the latest outrage from Senator Joe Lieberman. Now that he‘s threatening to campaign for Republicans, is it time for the Democrats to play hardball with him finally?
O‘DONNELL: And now, if you think Dick Cheney isn‘t scary enough, something truly scary: a Halloween public service announcement from Pat Robertson. Not only is the devil in the details, he may be lurking inside your Kit Kat. Our number one story, beware of demonic candy.
Pat Robertson‘s Christian Broadcast Network website is alerting the masses on the dangers of goblin infused M&MS. In a posting titled “The Danger of Celebrating Halloween,” guest writer Kimberly Daniels offers this timely advisory: “most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches.”
And what makes Ms. Daniels such an authority on the inherent evil of Reese‘s Peanut Butter Cups? She tours the country in a 30-foot Winnebago called the Demon Buster, and has been known to tell witches they serve sissy-punk gods. In the article, Ms. Daniels warns of a demonic trinity praying over unsuspecting Halloween revelers. “The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist. I have prayed for witches who are addicted to drinking blood and howling at the moon.”
Ms. Daniels elaborated on the possibility of vampire Gummy Bears on “Charisma Magazine‘s” prophetic Insight blog. Apparently too frightening for even Pat Robertson, it was not included in her Christian Broadcasting Network article. “I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent, whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.”
For those laughing off Ms. Daniels‘ sound advice, she has a warning for you, too. “While the lukewarm and ignorant think of these customs as just harmless fun, the vortexes of Hell are releasing new assignments against souls.”
Not to mention teeth. Joining me now is the Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Good evening, Reverend Lynn.
REV. BARRY LYNN, AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE:
It‘s nice to be here.
O‘DONNELL: Now, is this just a way of getting good Evangelical Christian children to not eat too much candy on Halloween?
LYNN: No, as far as I know. I only come on these shows when I have real evidence. There‘s no conspiracy between Ms. Daniel and the American Dental Association. This is just about a very strange view of Halloween held by some of these fundamentalists.
Lawrence, they‘re not just worried about candy. She also warns that tomorrow night you have to be concerned about having sex with demons, which I think is a warning to anybody who gets really bored during the third game of the World Series. Be real careful what you do afterwards. Make sure you know who you might be doing another physical activity with.
There‘s nothing that these folks will stop at. They don‘t like orange and brown colors, because they say that that is coded to demons. Most of us just think it‘s coded to the fact that the ground is brown and the leaves this time of year are orange.
But we live in one world and they live in another.
O‘DONNELL: I just want to get the sex part of this clear. Is it only tomorrow night we have to be careful of sex with demons?
LYNN: No. In fact, I‘m glad you brought that up. It‘s also not only tomorrow. If you follow her logic, then you have to worry about candy. Think about this, if you had really clever demons, wouldn‘t they be inside Candy Canes by now, so that they could really trick you and get into your body around Christmas-time? So all demons probably aren‘t that smart, but I think it is something to be concerned about.
O‘DONNELL: Now, here you are, a thoughtful, religious man. And you get these kinds of stories thrown at you by us. And leaving you in the position of having to defend, I think, not just this kind of craziness, but just the world of religion in general starts to shake, doesn‘t it, when these kinds of things go out there?
LYNN: No, of course it does. I mean, the fact is—and the serious fact here—is that, in this case, Robertson and company are demonizing people who are Wiccans and pagans, who are very spiritual people, very decent people. I have represented them. I‘m also a lawyer, as well as a minister. I‘ve represented them in a number of cases. They‘re good people. A lot of them serve in the United States military.
But he wants to create this warped impression that they‘re in league with the devil, and they‘re poisoning your children and they‘re also involved tomorrow night, allegedly, in something called Released Time Curses, which sound to me a lot like perhaps a cold medicine in a capsule that has a really, really strong bite.
So they‘re worried about everything. They see the world as a dangerous place. They don‘t want any of us to have any fun. And this is just one more sad example of how they do it.
O‘DONNELL: Now, it seems that someone at the Christian Broadcasting Network‘s website, on second thought, has had the good sense to remove this post. But just take us back. I remember something from my Catholic school education about Halloween being derived from both Christian and pagan harvest rituals or something.
O‘DONNELL: How do we get to this place with Halloween?
LYNN: Well, we have commercialized this in the same way that we‘ve
commercialized Christian events like Christmas. You know, it‘s more about
· less about Baby Jesus every year, and more about how many dolls that you can sell at the mall.
So the truth of the matter is, we‘ve managed to merge Christian and pagan rituals together. Even the so-called Christmas Tree really has nothing to do with the Bible.
But what—these folks are really specific. They just don‘t like anybody that‘s different from them. And that means they don‘t like the pagans, the Wiccans, the witches. They want to connect them to the devil.
O‘DONNELL: Reverend Barry Lynn of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Thank you very much for making the nation aware of no sex with demons tomorrow night.
LYNN: Thank you. I‘m leaving you a Snickers bar here in Washington.
O‘DONNELL: Thank you very much. That will have to do it for this night before Halloween edition of “Countdown.” I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann. Have a good weekend. Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Good evening, Rachel.
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