Guests: Eugene Robinson, Ezra Klein, Michael Almy
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: And now to discuss why Newt Gingrich is in his own personal battle with Islam—ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow! Good evening!
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: It‘s as if you‘re coming—
OLBERMANN: I was finishing my previous sentence.
MADDOW: It is as if you are on some sort of electronic server, my friend.
MADDOW: What? Yes. Thank you, Keith. I hope you have a relaxing weekend.
OLBERMANN: I hope so, too.
MADDOW: Thank you.
We begin tonight—we begin tonight with the president taking an unequivocal and impassioned stand.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will do everything that I can, as long as I am president of the United States to remind the American people that we are one nation, under God. And we may call that God different names, but we remain one nation.
We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam, or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts. And we‘ve got to be clear about that. We‘ve got to be clear about that because if we‘re going to successfully reduce the terrorist threat, then we need all the allies we can get.
The folks who are most interested in a war between the United States or the West and Islam are al Qaeda. That‘s what they‘ve been banking on.
We want to be clear about who the enemy is here. It‘s a handful of a tiny, minority of people who are engaging in horrific acts. And it killed Muslims more than anybody else.
The other reason it‘s important for us to remember that is because we‘ve got millions of Muslim-Americans, our fellow citizens in this country. They‘re going to school with our kids. They‘re our neighbors. They‘re our friends. They‘re our co-workers.
And, you know, when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I‘ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan, in the uniform of the United States Armed Services. They‘re out there, putting their lives on the line for us. And we‘ve got to make sure that we are crystal-clear for our sakes and their sakes, they are Americans and we honor their service.
And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don‘t differentiate between them and us. It‘s just us. And that is a principle that I think is going to be very important for us to sustain and I think tomorrow is an excellent time for us to reflect on that. Thank you very much, everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today was the president‘s first press conference since May. And it ended on that rather impassioned, rather pugnacious note. If some of that rhetoric sounds familiar, it may be in part because you‘ve heard that sentiment before, from President Obama, sure, but you have also heard it from previous presidents.
Most notably, you have heard similar sentiments from President Bush, just after the attacks of 9/11.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it‘s important for my fellow Americans to understand that.
The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends.
America is to understand, we fight not a religion. Ours is not a campaign against the Muslim faith.
Our war is against evil, not against Islam. There are thousands of Muslims who will proudly call themselves Americans. And they know what I know, that the Muslim faith is based upon peace and love and compassion—the exact opposite of the teachings of the al Qaeda organization, which is based upon evil and hate and destruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Strong parallels there between the words of President George W. Bush post-9/11 and the words of President Barack Obama in the first presidential administration after Bush‘s.
But here‘s what‘s different right now about hearing our president now make essentially that same case that President Bush made after 9/11. Now when you say, “Hey, we‘re not actually at war with Islam,” now when you say that, it‘s not just a rhetorical point. Those statements now don‘t begin with an implied, “We can all agree that.” It‘s no longer “everybody knows that we‘re not at war with Islam.”
It‘s not that way anymore, because now, there is a significant part of the mainstream conservative movement in this country that contests that point. That says, no, no, no, we are the at war with Islam. We are.
Saying we‘re not at war with Islam used to be a rhetorical flourish, almost a platitude. It is officially no longer a platitude, because the context now for this president making that point about the country not being at war with Islam, the context for that now is a chorus of people on the right saying, “Oh, yes, we are.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN FISCHER, PASTOR: We should not allow Muslims to serve in the U.S. military, and we have got to raise questions about whether we can afford to allow Muslims to immigrate into the United States at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s a man named Brian Fischer, a relatively fringe extremist American pastor emboldened by his own fantasies about holy war and how important they make him feel.
Who cares about a guy like Brian Fischer of the American Family Association? I mean, we have kooks galore in this country. Why care about him?
The reason we care about him and his oh, please, let‘s have a holy war
tripe is because Brian Fischer is also a man who will be sharing at stage -
as Justin Elliott at Salon.com reports today. He will be sharing the stage with lots and lots and lots of mainstream conservatives next. He is a featured speaker at something called the Values Voter Summit, along with Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, Senator Jim DeMint, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Virginia‘s governor, Bob McDonnell. I guess he‘s over that whole, hey, now, I‘m a moderate thing—also presidential hopeful Mike Pence.
All of those folks, all of those relatively mainstream conservative folks speaking alongside a guy who not only says we are at war with Islam, but Muslims should not be allowed to serve in the United States‘ military. If you are a Muslim and you want to move to this country that should preclude you from being able to do so. Now, of course, a man like Brian Fischer is entitled to his own kook opinions, but at some point, is there any political accountability for people who are mainstreaming him? By appearing with him at a political event? People who are running for president in 2012, in all likelihood, are appearing alongside the no more Muslims in America guy. There ought to be a religious test, and if you are a Muslim you ought to not be allowed to serve in the U.S. military guy. If you are a Muslim and you want to move to this country, that should preclude from being able to do so.
Now, of course, the man like Brian Fischer is entitled to his own kook-pinions. But as some point, is there any political accountability for people who are mainstreaming him, by appearing with him at a political event? People who are running for president in 2012 in all likelihood are appearing alongside the “No more Muslims in America” guy—the “There ought to be a religious test and if you are Muslim you ought to not be allowed to serve in the U.S. military” guy.
Are there any political consequences for mainstreaming and appearing alongside a guy doing that?
When President Obama gets up and says we are not at war with Islam—of course, we are not at war with Islam. But that does not mean there are not a whole lot of people of the mainstream of the right, mainstream of the right wing in this country who are trying to create the impression that we are.
As we talked about on this show last night, Newt Gingrich has put together a hooky 9/11 exploitation movie to argue and convince us all that we are at war with Islam.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: And many of our elites are afraid to even identify our adversaries by name.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we used to call the “war on terror,” we are clearly losing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This war will go on until the whole of the world either embraces Islam or submits to Islamic law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Newt Gingrich choosing the anniversary of 9/11 this year to launch his “It‘s a war on Islam” movie.
But he‘s not the only one in the “It‘s a war on Islam” caucus. You may recall our earlier reporting on members of Congress this year convincing themselves that they had uncovered a vast Islamic conspiracy, on the part of the Council on Islamic—American-Islamic Relations. The conspiracy was that this mainstream Washington pressure group was allowing Muslims, actual Muslims, to be interns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: About a year ago, I learned that CAIR was trying to infiltrate the offices of members of Congress by placing interns in the offices.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Planted spies in key national security related congressional offices.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is unnerving, to say the least, that there would be members of groups catalyzed by CAIR coming into congressional offices to try to change our public policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, that was a real thing that really happened. Three actual members of Congress, Congresswoman Sue Myrick, Congressman Paul Broun, Congressman Trent Franks—a group of people who are actual members of the United States Congress publicly demanding that the House sergeant-at-arms investigate the crime of being an intern while also being a Muslim.
It sounds like all-American rhetoric when a president, any president, makes the case that Muslim-Americans are Americans, too. That we are at war with terrorists, we‘re not at war with Islam. That religious freedom wasn‘t just a founding principle of this country. It is a living principle of this country. It sounds like Americana, political rhetoric.
But at some point, the politics surrounding this issue are probably going to have to change, to reflect the fact that what President Obama is saying about religion now, the same thing President Bush said about religion after 9/11, is no longer a consensus statement of what we all believe in America, or even of what we all in mainstream politics believe here in America. There is a hard, focused campaign on the relatively mainstream right in this country to make those self-evident truths seem false.
Joining us now is Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post” and MSNBC political analyst.
Gene, thanks very much for being here.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Great to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: The president is impassioned today on this issue of separating terrorism from religion. But is there—is there something missing here? It isn‘t a faceless hoard pushing this idea that those things aren‘t separate, that there really is a war on Islam. It‘s specific, noble people.
ROBINSON: Well, yes. The specific people who we know, and—look, I wonder, Rachel, how much of this has been kind of out there under the surface all along. And I wonder if, now, perhaps, it is—it is somehow permissible to say these things, rather than just kind of think them or keep them bottled up inside.
I—so, I guess I wonder if there was a day when the rhetoric of George Bush and the rhetoric of Barack Obama was just, well, this is something we all believe. Maybe we didn‘t all believe it as a nation, and that‘s a—that‘s a disturbing thought. But, you know, something we have to consider.
MADDOW: I wonder if because there is an identifiable relatively mainstream group on the right, people like Gingrich, for example, pushing this line now, openly, not just—not just hinting at prejudice, but really trying to make this a mainstream point in conservative America. I wonder if there is some percentage, some political percentage, in naming the people who are pushing this idea. I guess it‘s the same decision the president had to make about the people who were saying he didn‘t have a birth certificate or he was secretly Muslim.
Do you just describe that as a rumor that exists in the ether and address it that way or do you name and shame the people who say it?
ROBINSON: Well, you know, I think if I‘m right and there is more of this “We‘re at war against Islam” sentiment out there than perhaps we realize, I think you probably have to attack it, you know, frontally and massively and talk about the phenomenon and talk about the people.
I mean, I—you know, I‘ve been thinking about this, obviously. But I think there are—there are, like, three at least strains of this sort of—this sort of sentiment, this kind of a visceral, paranoid, you know, “they attacked us, it‘s us versus them,” as if Islam was some sort of, you know, supra nation as opposed to a faith, and they‘re the enemy. There are the religious fundamentalists who have the theological dispute with Islam, and who—for some of whom, that leads them to say, therefore Islam is the devil.
And then there‘s the ideological pseudo-intellectual kind of clash of civilizations idea. And I would put something like Newt Gingrich in that category because he has—he has talked about this sort of idea that there is something—there‘s something special, unique about Anglo-American culture and heritage. And I suppose you would have to call it Anglo-American-Judeo-Christian. And that it is under threat from these other cultures and civilizations around the world and we‘re being threatened by Islam and so, he really does see it as—if not a holy war, then certainly a civilizational war.
And I think, you know, there was a kind of different people and
different impulses that lead—I‘m afraid a substantial number of people -
to roughly the same place.
MADDOW: And the frontal—taking it on in a frontal way, as you say, may require a lot of different types of arguments in order to address those different strains of this prejudice.
Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning column for “The Washington Post,” and MSNBC political analyst—thank you for joining us tonight, Gene.
ROBINSON: Great to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: OK. So, do you remember when President George W. Bush said this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was meant as a joke. And it was a good one. It was a -
it was good in the same way that many jokes are good because they are awkwardly, uncomfortably true at their core. A picture-book story about that and its implications for how broke or rich you are right now with my pal Ezra Klein coming up in just a moment.
MADDOW: You may remember Tea Party Senate hopeful Christine O‘Donnell for suggesting that abstinence includes abstinence when nobody else is anywhere around you. Well, you can now remember her for something else. Beating her Republican opponent, who is a man, for being so unmanly as to not be wearing man pants. Yes. The legitimate contender for U.S. Senate who is mired in a lot of worrying about pants and where everybody‘s hands are.
That‘s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I ran for president because I believed the policies of the previous decade had left our economy weaker, and our middle class struggling. We came into office with a different view about how our economy should work. Instead of tax cuts for millionaires, we believe in cutting taxes for middle class families and small business owners. We‘ve done that.
The policies that the Republicans are offering right now are the exact policies that got us into this mess. A perfect example is the debate we‘re having on taxes right now. And what I‘ve got is the Republicans holding middle class tax relief hostage because they‘re insisting we‘ve got to give tax relief to millionaires and billionaires.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Here‘s the difference between us and them, he is saying. Here‘s the difference between the parties: If you think the government should be giving billionaires more money and making all the rest of us pay for that, there is a party for you. That‘s the other guys.
If you think government should instead prioritize the needs of the middle class, you think maybe billionaires are doing OK for themselves, then you want to vote Democratic.
Oh, election season. Election season—the time when someone reminds Democrats to do what Republicans do all year long, every year; the time to make the distinctions between the parties sharp; the time to make clear and stark the choice between voting red and voting blue.
Now, you can do this locally, for any individual political race, by talking about the difference between two candidates. He‘s a bad person, she‘s a good person. She‘s dishonest, he‘s honest.
But at the national level, when you are a national leader, it‘s not just one race. And if you have any appreciation at all for national dynamics driving local races, which they totally do, you‘ve got to make clear the difference not between two people, but between two political parties, between the two parties‘ approach to the country, what each party stands for. And sometimes, pictures help with that.
I will now show you the prettiest picture that Democrats could ever hope for this election season. It was done by Catherine Mulbrandon of Visualizing Economics.
On the left, we will see here—there they are. Those numbers represent percentile of wealth in this country for families, how rich you are in other words. At the bottom, you see the 20th percentile, it‘s like the Tom Joads, the bottom of the heat, the have-nots. At the top, the 95th percentile, that‘s like Daddy Warbucks, right? Richie Rich. That‘s them, that got.
Across the bottom, the X-axis there, yes, those are the percentages for annual growth in income. And it turns out that your financial health really does depend on who‘s in charge. Because look at this—these lines represent the growth in income for each different economic group.
Under all the Democratic presidents since basically the end of World War II—if you are further down the ladder, if you have less money, your income grows a little bit more than if you were at the top under Democratic presidents, but only a little. Everybody grows by pretty similar amounts, OK? So, this is—this is blue, under the Democrats. Under Democratic presidents in aggregate since the end of World War II.
Now, let‘s look at what happens when Republicans are in charge. Oh!
This is what happens. Just look at that.
When Republicans are in charge, people at the bottom of the economic scale hardly get anywhere. Their incomes grow at an aggregate of 0.4 percent. But the top bracket, the Daddy Warbucks bracket, their incomes grow nearly five times faster than that. In the middle, they‘re muddling along, wishing Bill Clinton would come back.
And this is not, you know, rich versus poor. This is not a class war thing. People in every income bracket do better, as you can see, when Democrats are in the White House—the richest, the poorest, the middle class, whatever. Between World War II and 2005, which is what this graph represents, everybody did better under Democratic presidents.
Under Republicans, if you‘re rich, you did pretty great, particularly compared to everybody else, because if you‘re anybody but the rich, eh!
This graph covers 1948 to 2005. It is actual, observed performance. It is not what the parties are pledging to do. It is what they have done economically.
So, when you hear the fight now over whether we ought to spend $700 billion as a nation, giving more tax cuts to the richest 2 percent of people in the country—which Republicans want to do, and Democrats don‘t want to do—here‘s why we‘re having that debate. Here‘s why. Here‘s how.
They mean it, man. They are committed. The picture is worth 700 billion words.
Joining us now is Ezra Klein, staff writer for “The Washington Post” and MSNBC contributor. It was on his excellent blog at “The Washington Post” where I found this graph this week. It‘s from Timothy Noah‘s epic series on Slate.com about income equality in America.
Ezra, thanks for joining us.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.
MADDOW: This has long been a dream of mine to animate and act out graphs.
MADDOW: You think—
KLEIN: I dress up—I dress up as a graph on weekends. There‘s nothing to be ashamed of here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Yes, but you always dress up as a pie chart. I know your kind, Ezra.
MADDOW: Do you feel a graph is important in terms of understanding the difference between the parties were at large?
KLEIN: Of course. I mean, the easiest way to deal with it is to look at what we are talking about right now, the Bush tax cuts. There are two plans on the table.
Barack Obama says, you know, we should have the tax cuts. Except that we should let the part for people over $250,000 expire.
The Republicans say, absolutely not. There is no way we can let massive tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 expire. That is a critical part of our economic agenda.
And that really matters. Early this year, part of this George Steinbrenner died here in New York—you know it. He didn‘t have to pay or his heirs didn‘t have to pay any estate tax at all, any at all, because of the Bush tax cuts.
Democrats don‘t believe that. They think enormous wealth gets taxed when it moves from one generation to the other. And as you would expect, when you make massive decisions like that, people become richer and poorer at different rates.
MADDOW: What is—what are the kinds of policies that have the biggest effect on whether there—whether there is a middle class, or whether we‘re just very rich and very poor? Is it tax policies mostly that make the biggest difference?
KLEIN: We‘re going to need so many graphs. A lot—look, there‘s a long-term stuff, right? Education, things like that.
And then there is the stuff that is in policy, right? The tech boom helped make people richer, did a lot in the ‘90s.
But yes, tax policy is a huge part of this. I mean, it really is.
Everybody knows, they pay taxes and it matters. It changes their income.
And what‘s important here is that, particularly, in the last 30 years as Timothy now points out, the rich have gotten richer. The top 1 percent now get 18 percent of the nation‘s income. So 18 out of every $100, this country gets an income, goes to 1 percent of the people.
And if you decide to lower their tax rates at the same time they‘re incomes are racing up, and they‘re raising up to 18 percent of every $100 of income, that really changes the income distribution. It has an enormous impact, not a small one.
I think people sort of shove this off to the side a bit. They don‘t imagine the numbers are this big. Sort of really appreciating inequality is hard for people to do. But we are really unequal and when we decide to make those folks richer, they then get more power to affect the political system and it happens again and it becomes something of a cycle.
You see this in countries that are usually not America. But, right now, we‘re seeing it here.
MADDOW: We did see a fight at one point in the last presidential debate about whether or not it‘s kosher to even care about economic inequality—the whole brief fight that we had about redistribution of wealth and how that this horrible idea. It hasn‘t actually been the argument as—in as overt a way I think from the right since Obama has been president. But I imagine it will come back at some point in this tax fight.
And so, I also want to ask you about that fight, about the top 2 percent in those Bush tax cuts. There is also this argument that‘s coming down about those, that it‘s not just about the effect on income and equality. The rich should have tax cuts. The rich should have as much money as possible, because that‘s really good for the economy overall. That‘s stimulative of our bad economy.
What do you make of that argument?
KLEIN: Well, there are two parts to that argument. One is false, that that‘s a great way to do stimulus. It is—very few people seriously think it is, and ones who do aren‘t terribly serious people.
But what people do say is that in the absence of Republican party willing to allow better forms of stimulus, maybe we just need to do what they will let us do, even if it‘s a really bad way of doing stimulus, because that will help. And that‘s rougher. I mean, what they‘re basically saying is, give us what we want or we shoot the economy. So, we get bad stimulus and it makes the rich richer, but it‘s better than nothing.
People have to decide that.
Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post,” helping us with pictures and with words—thank you very much, Ezra. Appreciate it.
KLEIN: Thank you.
MADDOW: It turns out the billionaire Koch brothers, financiers of the Tea Party Movement, are not happy with the fact that they are financiers of the Tea Party Movement being reported everywhere all of a sudden. It must be super-annoying. It‘s also true.
So, apparently, they find it rude for people to talk about it. I find it fun to talk about and because it‘s true, we will keep doing it. Stay tuned for more of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Who is funding you?
TIM PHILLIPS, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY: We have a number of Americans across the country who are funding us. I tell you, you mentioned Art Pope and you mention in pastimes David Koch, who is our C-3 Chairman. They‘re great Americans. They love their country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Tim Phillips, president of the group Americans for Prosperity, speaking on this show last year, proudly acknowledging that David Koch, half of the billionaire Koch Brothers team of David and Charles Koch, helped pay for Americans for Prosperity.
Americans for Prosperity, who organized the fake grassrootsy stuff like the big bloody hand print buses, Tea Partiers who used to go around the country to protest health reform last year.
But apparently the Koch Brothers rather prefer not being known for
their role in financing that movement. In the “Daily Beast” today, David
Koch responded to a recent profile on him and his brother in the “New
Yorker.” He said, quote, “no one from the Tea Party Movement has ever
approached him for money. And when I asked him straight up if he is
funding the Tea Party, all he says is, ‘oh, please.‘”
Oh, please. Congratulations, David Koch, you have bought yourself an excellent argument.
Here‘s the thing. Press coverage of your political activities must be annoying if you prefer to be a behind-the-scenes kind of political guy.
But if the reporting is true, the reporting is true. How annoying. David Koch funds and has chaired a group that organizes and funds the Tea Party Movement. He does not want people to keep reporting that, even though it‘s true. This is a man who is used to getting what he wants. This after all, is a man who—who made gold dimes with his own head on them when he ran for vice president.
For all the gold dimes in the world, though, sir, here in America you still cannot buy the free press. No matter how many times you say “Oh, please.”
MADDOW: A federal judge in California yesterday struck down as unconstitutional the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy, the military‘s ban on gay people serving openly in the military. The judge ruled that the policy violates service members‘ First Amendment Rights to free speech, as well as their Fifth Amendment Rights to due process.
Judge Virginia Phillips also said she would issue an injunction to keep the government from enforcing what she ruled as a due process denying free speech-violating policy.
Now, the Justice Department has not yet said whether it will appeal the judge‘s decision. The Justice Department spokesman did say that lawyers are reviewing the ruling. As for the Commander-in-Chief, well, he didn‘t have to say anything about it today.
President Obama was not asked a single question about the ruling at today‘s press conference, which, frankly, I thought was weird. But the Justice Department may have for its part already tipped its cards a little bit on this issue. The Justice Department mounted a really, really, really bad defense in this case; so bad as to be almost nonexistent.
We learned this today, not from the Justice Department, but from are Judge Phillips in her 85-page decision. She noted on page 20 of that decision, quote, “apart from the act itself and its legislative history, defendants”, meaning the government, “admitted no evidence, and produced no witnesses”.
No witnesses. Not a single one, except for the policy itself and its legislative history. That‘s the—if it please the court equivalent of, “hey, so we have this thing, and here‘s how we got this thing. And that‘s all we have to say about it”. No witnesses, no we don‘t have any other defense.
Really, not much of a defense and that not much of a defense did not really fly with Judge Phillips who also in her ruling pretty much eviscerated the government‘s premise, the upon which “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is based, specifically the part of the policy that contends that it would create an unacceptable risk—an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.
In other words, the law‘s purported justification is that the military would become incapable of getting things done if it were known, even merely suspected, that somebody in uniform might not be straight.
To that purported justification for “don‘t ask, don‘t tell”, Judge Phillips essentially said hogwash for the simple fact that the military continues to send service members who are under investigation for violating “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” into combat while their cases are being investigated. Then statistically, it tends to wait until they get back from combat before concluding that they‘re such a danger, “Oh my gravy, they‘re so dangerous,” they must kick them out.
On page 64 of the ruling, quote, “It defies logic that the purposes of the act could be served by sending the investigation during overseas deployments only to discharge a service member upon his or her return to a noncombat station. The effect of the act has been not to advance the government‘s interests of military readiness and unit cohesion, much less to do so significantly, but to harm that interest.”
If it‘s so dangerous to have openly gay people in combat, why when we suspect people of being openly gay do we stop trying to kick them out so they can go participate in combat?
Judge Phillips‘ ruling is that gay and lesbian service members are not a threat to the military. They already serve in the military and in combat. The policy itself of kicking out capable men and women for no reason other than their sexuality, the rulings says that is actually the threat to America‘s military.
In presenting its case, the plaintiffs called among their many witnesses Major Mike Almy. Major Mike Almy was discharged from the Air Force under “don‘t ask, don‘t tell”, even though he was asked—he was asked, and he never told.
After Major Almy‘s unit left Iraq, someone in the unit that replaced his discovered some of his private e-mails. Those e-mails then formed the bases of the Air Force‘s case against him. Major Almy shared his story with Judge Phillips at trial. She concluded in her ruling, quote, “The court found Almy a credible, candid and forthright witness.”
Mike Almy has also been generous enough to share his story with us on this show and he joins us again tonight in the wake of this historic ruling. Mike, thanks very much for being here.
MAJ. MICHAEL ALMY, FORMER AIR FORCE OFFICER: Thanks for having me, Rachel, it‘s good to see you again.
MADDOW: You too. And I know you were only one witness, but Judge Phillips writes about how losing you impacted your unit, how the squadron - - in her words—fell apart without you. How important you were not only to the mission but your troops. Do you feel any small piece of ownership for this big ruling?
ALMY: Just one small part. Mine—mine was just one of the stories.
It—it certainly highlights how horrible this law is. My unit was—we
I had a great squadron, and a fantastic team, and they were very, very capable, functioned very highly.
And the unit cohesion and the morale suffered. The mission suffered after I was fired from my duty, because it just had a—it had a very negative effect on the unit. And that just goes to highlight all the other stories, the 14,000 or so service members, men and women, who have been thrown out under this law and how—and how much that has harmed our national security.
And I think Judge Phillips has really picked up upon that, and really showed that in her decision.
MADDOW: Mike, there was one—one part of the ruling and one part of this overall case that I wanted to ask you, but it‘s not one that we have talked about a lot, because I find it so distasteful that it‘s even being brought up.
But Judge Phillips essentially debunks in her decision the idea that we can‘t have straight and gay people living and showering anywhere near each other. She wrote in her ruling, “The act is not necessary to protect the privacy of service members because military housing quarters already provide sufficient protection for this interest.”
I know a large part of being cross-examined by the defense in this case meant you were asked to detail your sleeping arrangements throughout your military career.
MADDOW: What was that like?
ALMY: I was kind of shaking my head in wonder. This has—this is what the Justice Department‘s argument was. They wanted to know how I showered and how I slept throughout my entire military career. And it just goes to highlight the paranoia and the outright homophobia that was evidence in 1993 when Congress passed this law, and that was the sole point of their argument was the privacy and the dreaded shower issue.
And the Justice Department brought this up again, which really quite surprised me. And I think you highlighted this in your intro quite well. Their argument has not changed in 17 years. They did not call one single witness. They have not changed their arguments.
And yet how much has American culture and certainly the military culture changed in 17 years? There are so few private shower situations like that in the military. There are—there are very rare instances of that. There are great amounts of privacy for the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that serve today.
It‘s just such a nonissue, that I—I am quite surprised that this same argument—this tired argument keeps being brought up again and again.
MADDOW: And also—it‘s quite clear that there are a lot of gay people in the military and have been throughout the 17 years of this policy. And—
ALMY: And we‘re already there. Yes. Yes.
Let me ask you about the Justice Department‘s defense here, because a lot of people are trying to figure out now if the Justice Department is going to appeal the ruling.
If they didn‘t, it would be a huge deal, because Judge Phillips says she would issue an injunction to keep the government from enforcing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell”—
MADDOW: -- on the basis of this ruling.
Was there anything about the Justice Department‘s rather weak defense in this case? As you say, no witnesses, not much of an argument. Was there anything that you think tipped their hand about whether or not they might make a decision here to not appeal?
ALMY: I don‘t know. That‘s certainly the speculation and the guessing game that we‘re all participating in right now. It does put the administration and the Justice Department in a rather awkward position right now.
The President—the Pentagon have all said—well, the Pentagon is studying how to implement repeal of this law. The president has publicly stated he wants to repeal it. That it harms national security. And he‘s directed his Pentagon to study this.
The House has voted upon it. The Senate should vote upon it this month, hopefully. And yet the Justice Department now has the un—the unenviable position of having to defend this law.
So it will be interesting to see how the administration and the Justice Department responds to this, if they let the decision stand, if they—they appeal it, it‘s—it‘s rather interesting.
MADDOW: At this point, they don‘t have to appeal. They had to defend it, but they don‘t have to appeal.
ALMY: Exactly. Like there‘s—
MADDOW: Yes sorry, go ahead, Mike.
ALMY: -- there is absolutely no reason for them to do so, yes.
MADDOW: Major Mike Almy discharged from the military, because of the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy. But his testimony helped convinced a federal judge in California that the law is unconstitutional, harmful and, in the judge‘s words, one that defies logic.
Thank you for your service, Mike. Your testimony in this, thanks a lot.
ALMY: Thanks for having me again, Rachel.
MADDOW: Today a brand-new catch phrase entered our political lexicon. The phrase is, “Get your man pants on.” The origin of that zinger, plus Tea Partiers, Republican primaries, Sarah Palin and this small government candidate whose government would be big enough to prevent you from doing something I can‘t say on TV, but that rhymes with cast your bait.
Please stay tuned.
MADDOW: Coming up at 10:00, it‘s the premier of Brian Williams report: “NEW ORLEANS, AN AMERICAN STORY”. Hosted by Brian Williams, the never before seen footage and interviews, New Orleans five years on from Hurricane Katrina. That is right after us at 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.
But first on this show, the word man pants enters American politics. Man pants. I—I think it‘s one word. It might be hyphenated I‘m not sure. Maybe it‘s a phrase? Man pants?
MADDOW: There was a full moon. It was October 25th, 2007. The platoon was walking single-file about 10 or 15 yards between each of them, the way you‘re supposed to. They walked into an ambush. Three enemy fighters in one direction, another ten enemy fighters parallel to the trail that the platoon was on; watching them coming, waiting under full cover, heavily armed with belt-fed machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
When the ambush started, when the Americans started taking fire, the men shooting at them were no more than 15 or 20 feet away from them.
Sebastian Junger wrote about this ambush in his book “War”. He wrote that within seconds of the ambush starting, every single American in that lead squad took a bullet, every one. Their medic was shot through the femur. A staff sergeant took a bullet to the helmet. The lead man, the man walking point sergeant was hit eight times. The man behind him carrying a heavy machine gun was shot through his thigh and his calf.
The man walking fourth, 22-year-old Army Specialist Salvatore Genta dove into a ditch when the ambush started. He got up to try to figure out the direction from which they were taking fire. He himself was shot right in the chest. His body armor saved his life.
He was knocked down, he got back up. Then he ran into the hell that was raining down on them. He pulled two wounded soldiers to safety. He grabbed and threw three hand grenades. He ran up the trail toward the wounded lead man on his patrol, found two enemy fighters dragging the wounded men off into the brush.
He emptied the clip in his M-4 rifle, killing one of the enemy fighters and forcing the other one to drop the wounded American. Genta then dragged the wounded soldier to cover and provided medical help until his squad caught up to their position.
When it was all over, that wounded American who had led point, Sergeant Josh Brennan, died from his wounds as did the medic, Army Specialist Hugo Mendoza. Five more men, nearly everybody else on the patrol, were severely wounded.
You can only say it‘s a miracle that more Americans were not killed in that ambush, if you consider heroism to be miraculous.
Today, the president informed now 25-year-old Staff Sergeant Salvatore Genta that he is being awarded the country‘s highest military award, the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is an award that we are used to hearing as being awarded posthumously. Sergeant Genta‘s will be the only Medal of Honor awarded to a living soldier since the end of the Vietnam War.
MADDOW: So in the year 2000 there was a press conference in Washington, D.C. to promote the breathless right wing fantasy that anybody who is gay can be cured of the gay, if they just try hard enough.
Groups like Americans for Truth about Homosexuality and the Family Research Council still today push this idea that being gay can be cured.
But at this one press conference in D.C. they rolled out a fresh new featured speaker to proclaim that he himself had been cured of the gay, and he had been cured of the gay because he attended an Exodus International boot camp which claimed to offer quote, “the message of freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus”.
The featured “I was cured of the gay” speaker was a man named Wade. I will not tell you Wade‘s last name because it doesn‘t matter to the story and the poor guy does not deserve it.
And his first name was Wade. And after explaining that he had been cured of the gay, he also explained that his current job was that he was the spokesman, a spokesman for a group called Savior‘s Alliance for Lifting the Truth.
One year after the press conference, Wade told the magazine “The Advocate” that he had been uncured of the gay and that he had frankly found a boyfriend and he was much happier now, thank you very much.
The founder of that Christian group that Wade was the spokesman for in his brief time as a publicly ex-gay person, the founder and president of this group, The Savior‘s Alliance for Lifting the Truth, S.A.L.T., the founder and president of that group is now trying to become the Republican nominee for Senate from the great State of Delaware.
She has Sarah Palin‘s endorsement not to mention money and support from the organized Tea Party Movement. Her name is Christine O‘Donnell. And she was running against long-time Republican Congressman Mike Castle.
The primary is this upcoming Tuesday in Delaware.
In a year of pretty extreme candidates—hi, Sharron Angle—
Christine O‘Donnell stands out from the standouts in part because of her work with this group, the Savior‘s Alliance for Lifting the Truth. Her work with this group S.A.L.T. At S.A.L.T., Christine O‘Donnell was so aggressive in her position on abstinence that in an interview with MTV she preached that just practicing abstinence with other people was not sufficiently abstinence.
She took her commitment to not “you know what-ing” so far as to damn anyone who even chose to “you know what” while they were alone with themselves. What Woody Allen described as “sex with someone you love”.
But you know, gay issues have also been an undercurrent in the O‘Donnell for Senate primary campaign. A political consulting firm hired by Christine O‘Donnell produced this video a little more than a week ago with this bizarre out of the blue accusation that her primary opponent, Mike Castle, is secretly gay.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Isn‘t Mike Castle cheating on his wife with a man?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That‘s the rumor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s the rumor. That‘s the rumor because you just said it is. Yes. The people who created this video were not still working for Christine O‘Donnell at the time they made the “That‘s the rumor” video but O‘Donnell has distanced herself from the accusation by bringing it up over and over again. Even as she denounces those dirty tactics, she just keeps going out of her way to repeat the accusation, both in a written campaign statement and multiple times when she was asked about it on talk radio.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHRISTINE O‘DONNELL, RUNNING FOR SENATE IN DELAWARE: I think that that‘s a very tacky approach. I never said that Mike Castle was gay. I don‘t endorse putting out rumors that Mike Castle is gay.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, did you want to ask me about whether or not Mike Castle is gay? Is that what you‘re asking? I never said Mike Castle is gay. The Mike Castle is gay thing? Is that what you‘re asking about? I would never say that Mike Castle is—it‘s kind of obvious what you‘re doing.
Christine O‘Donnell has now outclassed even herself on this subject. Making clear if they weren‘t before, the grounds on which she really is trying to run a U.S. senate campaign against Mike Castle.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: You know, these are the type of cheap, underhanded, unmanly tactics that we‘ve come to expect from Obama‘s favorite Republican, Mike Castle. I released a statement today saying Mike, this is not a bake-off. Get your man pants on.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, Christine O‘Donnell has got Sarah Palin‘s endorsement. And she got the Tea Party endorsement and the out of state money that goes along with it. And this year in this Republican Party, that puts you in reasonable standing to win a Republican senate primary.
I keep hearing that the Republican Party is now really progressive on gay issues. Wishful thinking? I would like you to meet Christine O‘Donnell. And no, there is no cure.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday. Have a great weekend. Good night.
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