Guests: Eric Bates, Adam Green, Gov. Charlie Crist, Levi Johnston, Penn Jillette
RACHEL MADDOW, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Great to see you.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST: Rachel, I‘d be nowhere without my lead-in.
MADDOW: Good luck, Lawrence. Break a leg.
O‘DONNELL: Thanks, Rachel.
In the words of Deepak Chopra, when you struggle with your partner, you are struggling with yourself.
After months of distrust, suspicion, infidelity and lying, Democratic leaders push back against a loud, frustrated activist base and it turns out you really do hurt the ones you love.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You don‘t have to apologize for being emotional about your dad who served our country as a Marine, man. That‘s—I get emotional.
O‘DONNELL (voice-over): The president now comes face-to-face with the raw emotion of his base on the campaign trail—the base angry and fired up at the White House.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those who didn‘t get everything they wanted—
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: You guys beat up the base and browbeat them too much and didn‘t offer progressive enough agenda.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The base wants red meat.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don‘t want a lecture.
O‘DONNELL: With no read meat to serve between now and Election Day, the president‘s team, battle weary from fights on health care, Afghanistan, and now, tax cuts, has simplified its message to the left side of their party.
(on camera): Your base on the Democratic Party should, quote—
O‘DONNELL: -- “stop whining.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the left to be kind of frustrated at what they‘ve been able to do really is kind of extraordinary.
O‘DONNELL (voice-over): White House supporters insist it‘s not that bad.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: SCHIP, Ryan White HIV/AIDS—I can go on and on and on.
O‘DONNELL: Frustration on the left provokes an ultimatum.
BIDEN: It‘s time to just buck up here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About this disaffected base telling them to “come on, you got to get off it, you got to get out to the voting booth.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shake these base Democrats and trying to get them to pay attention.
O‘DONNELL: The White House message? Historic change has come and more change is coming, but not if you sit out this election.
TODD: Thirty-five days until Election Day.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: Voters still, to a certain extent, blame the former President George Bush for the recession. Seventy percent of the people on the NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll don‘t feel as though it‘s ended; 56 percent now say that President Obama inherited his problem.
O‘DONNELL: The challenge: bring back the passion—
OBAMA: Hello, Wisconsin!
O‘DONNELL: -- and get back into action and wake up to reality.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats rallying to present America with a choice, and there‘s a stark choice.
BIDEN: Understand that we can make things better, continue to move forward.
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: I feel like I‘m in the middle of a family feud.
O‘DONNELL: Good evening from New York. I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell.
Yesterday in New Hampshire, Vice President Joe Biden told liberals unsatisfied with the progress of the Obama administration to, quote, “stop whining.” Later, on this program, he changed his message to “buck up”—which put him in perfect sync with President Obama who, in a “Rolling Stone” interview out today, took his, quote, “irresponsible base” to task for their lack of enthusiasm and told them to, quote, “buck up.”
The progressive blog “FireDogLake” responded, “Really, dude? That‘s your message? I can‘t stand you, now go vote for me?”
And so, the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party is joined with just five weeks to go before a possible Republican takeover of Congress.
Joining me now to discuss the Obama interview that has driven today‘s news cycle is “Rolling Stone” executive editor Eric Bates, who was in the room with the president during that interview.
Also—we‘re also joined by one of the leaders of the people President Obama is telling to buck up, Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Thanks to you both for joining us.
Now, Adam, no whining, OK?
ADAM GREEN, PROGRESSIVE CHANGE CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE: OK.
O‘DONNELL: No whining.
GREEN: Good. That‘s a deal.
O‘DONNELL: We just don‘t whine. We‘re going to start with Eric.
Eric, let‘s start with another quote in your interview. It‘s the—where the president says, “If people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren‘t serious in the first place. If you‘re serious, now‘s exactly the time that people have to step up.”
Now, here we have another “Rolling Stone” quote that‘s causing trouble. This is after General McChrystal ended his career with “Rolling Stone” quotes—thanks to you guys. Was this one of those things like in the McChrystal interview where it‘s kind of seem like maybe he didn‘t quite realize what the impact would be when this was in print?
ERIC BATES, EXEC. EDITOR, ROLLING STONE: No, I think in this case the president knew exactly what he was doing. I think he‘s sending a very loud and clear message to voters, Democratic voters, that they need to get out to the polls this November. I think the White House position and the White House, and the president‘s own perspective, comes across very clearly in this interview that he feels that they‘ve accomplished a lot of their agenda, that the base needs to realize that, and that the alternative is a lot worse, and that it‘s just really not acceptable to sit on the sidelines.
The change, as he said, is very hard. It takes a lot of time. And if you‘re serious about it, you got to keep at it.
O‘DONNELL: Well, in that—in that moment in the room, did you have that sense that in this particular statement, this is something he really meant to say? Or, you know, it wasn‘t some parenthetical to something else or he‘s making a larger point? What this—what about it made him feel like this is where he really wanted to go?
BATES: Well, I believe that statement was part of a statement he made where the interview had actually ended and he had left the Oval Office.
O‘DONNELL: Did he think then that this was not out on the record?
BATES: No, not at all. And then he called to us, and came back in the room and said, “There‘s one more statement I want to make for the record.”
BATES: We turned our tape recorders back on. And he made a very impassioned statement directed at voters, saying, “You need to get out and it‘s really important that you turn out this November,” and that was part of that statement.
O‘DONNELL: Adam, I got to tell you, if the president turns around and walks back in the room and says, “Oh, there‘s one more thing I want to say,” that‘s as deliberate as it gets—how does that statement land on you? Does that make sense to you?
GREEN: I believe it was intentional. And it‘s important for the White House to know that I‘m not aware of a single progressive leader who is telling people not to vote. I think we all acknowledge that having the Tea Party run Congress would be a disaster.
But we have been consistently telling the president and the Democratic Party that they need to learn the lessons of the last couple years. And the main lesson is: you don‘t give up a fight before having the fight.
And when someone like Joe Lieberman, whose constituents wanted a public option by three to one, is threatening to kill health care reform if it‘s not in there, you can either cut a deal with him behind closed doors, where the public is powerless, or go to his state, use the power of your bully pulpit against him and demand that he be accountable to constituents. And we never saw that fighting attitude from the president. And that‘s our issue with him. And that‘s, unfortunately, his failure to fight is depressing turnout this election, it‘s not progressive leaders.
O‘DONNELL: Adam, let me just quote aloud with you on something that “FireDogLake” blogger David Dayen said today, he asks this question about President Obama‘s intent. “I think you‘re seeing two years‘ worth of friction spill out right before an election. Either that or the White House has possession of some polling that says that browbeating works, it‘s one or the other.”
Adam, which does it feel like to you, that this is an emotional moment that the White House and the president are cracking a little bit under this pressure and they‘re saying things that come from an emotional place, or it‘s the you are a deliberate target of polling that says take a shot at the left, it will help you in the middle?
GREEN: I‘m pretty sure it‘s emotional. I mean, I know some folks in the White House and they‘re emotional about this.
But unfortunately, the critique is wrong. They keep saying that progressives want Obama to do everything and we want him to win 100 percent on every issue. That‘s just not true.
All we want is before you compromise, before you cave, you need to make the fight. And polling consistently showed during the public option fight, during the Wall Street fight, that if Democrats are willing to fight harder, not softer, that it would be more popular with the public, in addition to being good policy.
So, you know, we‘re saying to the White House—look, we‘re with you. Our group is making over 500,000 phone calls to voters to get out the vote for Democrats. You know, we‘re getting out the vote. But you need to learn the lesson that if you want to prevent this from happening again, you have to be willing to fight and make your former voters enthusiastic and come back out again.
O‘DONNELL: Eric, how did you get an interview with the president of the United States? That‘s not an easy get. And then, when you‘re done with a politician, you have to ask yourself, why did he decide to do it?
BATES: Sure. We asked that question before we went. But we called him up, called up the White House, told them we want to do this—had a series of conversations with him about timing.
And I think it‘s clear that they know the election is coming up. They know they need to turn people out and, especially, to fire up the young voters who came out in such historic numbers in 2008. And you see that with the president going to the University of Wisconsin and kind of beginning a campaign targeted at young voters. So, I think it‘s very intentional on his part.
O‘DONNELL: Did he—did he agree to do this interview after the McChrystal interview came out in the “Rolling Stone”?
BATES: Absolutely. This was probably, I‘d say three weeks or so ago that we finalized the arrangements for this interview.
O‘DONNELL: All right. He was out—the president has changed campaign styles as we all now know, from the town hall meeting stuff that wasn‘t going so well, especially the one on CNBC, where, you know, one of the women in the audience came up, got up and told him they were exhausted -- she was exhausted trying to defend him. He‘s now gone on to the road into big arenas.
Adam, he‘s trying to fire up supporters the way he did with you people in big arenas last time around. He was in Wisconsin tonight at a big rally. Let‘s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We are bringing about change and progress is going to come, but you got to stick with me. You can‘t lose heart. Change is going to come for this generation if we work for it, if we fight for it, if we believe in it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Now, that was just the rhetorical warm-up in the big arena. Then, Adam, he started talking directly to you and your troops. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: During the campaign, especially after we had already started winning, you know, the feeling was, well, this is just exciting. You got those, you know, nice “Hope” posters, and then there was the inauguration, and, you know, Beyonce‘s singing and Bono. And I know sometimes, it feels a long way from the hope and excitement that we felt on Election Day or the day of the inauguration.
But I‘ve got to say, we always knew this was going to take time. We always knew this was going to be hard. I said it was going to be hard. Remember?
I said I was going to tell you some things you didn‘t want to hear. I said that we were going to have to make some difficult choices. I said not everybody was going to be happy with every single decision I make.
You did not elect me to do what was easy. You didn‘t just elect me to read the polls and figure out how to keep myself in office. You elected me to do what was right. You elected me to do what was right. That was change you could believe in, that I was going to do what was right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Adam Green, your response to the president of the United States.
GREEN: Look, I love the Barack Obama of 2008, the one who said in your own quote right there, “that he will actually fight,” quote, unquote. That‘s what we need.
And when he said, “I don‘t want to do what‘s easy,” well, that‘s exactly our point to him. You know, it‘s easy to go behind closed doors with Joe Lieberman or someone like Olympia Snowe, who are completely out of touch with their constituents and instead of saying, you have to do the will of the people and say, let‘s cut a deal, even though that caves to big corporations. That‘s the easy thing.
We need him to fight. Those people at that rally, they want him to fight. I‘m glad he‘s saying he will fight, but I‘m not truly sure that the White House has learned that lesson. We really hope they do.
O‘DONNELL: Eric Bates, did you—this president is known as the coolest customer you can possibly deal with. Was that your sense being in the room with him during this interview in both his conduct of the interview and the experiences in his presidency that he was talking to you about?
BATES: Absolutely. It‘s very poised, very in command, very confident, very articulate. No cracks in the facade, because I think that‘s who he is and how he conducts himself.
One of the frustrations I think that comes through in the interview that he feels is that he said, “Look, we often face a choice between what‘s going to work politically and what‘s going to work for governance and we try to make the choice over and over again that will work for governance.”
Now, you may disagree with that, you may feel he hasn‘t fought hard enough, but in a lot of cases, as with the public option, we said we could have had that fight, it would have pleased “Rolling Stone,” it would have pleased the “Huffington Post,” but in the end, we wouldn‘t have gotten health care reform. So, his judgment in a lot of these cases is that he has fought for what‘s gettable and he feels that people need to recognize how much actually has been won.
O‘DONNELL: Adam, how do you respond to the president on that point, specifically the public option as Eric summarized it?
GREEN: Yes, Eric, I thought that was one of the best questions you guys asked in that interview. And I thought his answer was very telling that, you know, he could have fought or he could have, you know, caved essentially.
Let me just give you one example, I think, is the response. When he actually wanted Dennis Kucinich‘s vote at the very, very end of the health care fight, what did he do when Kucinich was opposing him to the left? He flew to Cleveland. He held a big rally and he rallied Kucinich‘s constituents against him and the next day, he got Kucinich‘s vote.
Where was that mentality with Joe Lieberman and Olympia Snowe? If he has done that, and despite the fact that their constituents wanted a public option, and despite the fact that the president of the United States used at bully pulpit against them, they still were recalcitrant, I think a lot of progressives would have been like, “You know what, you tried your best.” But he didn‘t try. He cut a deal. The public was powerless in the back room deal.
And that‘s what we‘re upset about. We want this president to fight. We want him to succeed. We want the Barack Obama of 2008 to fight and succeed.
O‘DONNELL: Eric Bates of “Rolling Stone” and Adam Green of the Progressive Change Committee—thank you both for your time tonight.
GREEN: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: The Republican Party has its own ideological struggle. Florida Governor Charlie Crist who left the party to become an independent will tell us what he thinks will happen to the GOP after the midterms.
And later, Levi Johnston in the spotlight. We‘ll talk politics now that he‘s running for mayor. Stand by for breaking news with Levi Johnston.
O‘DONNELL: A Republican strategist says the party is acting like it is one big happy family until Election Day, and then the gloves are really going to come off.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist discusses the Tea Party versus establishment Republicans—next.
And Levi Johnston is in the building. He‘s running for mayor of Wasilla. Is he serious about trying to follow in Sarah Palin‘s footsteps?
This is THE LAST WORD on MSNBC.
O‘DONNELL: As the White House struggles to hold on to the hearts and minds of the Democratic Party faithful, the Tea Party‘s battle for the hearts and minds of the Republican Party rages on—at least until Election Day. And then maybe the battle will turn into a massacre.
The list of establishment Republican candidates for the Senate defeated by Tea Party candidates grew longer as the primaries wore on.
In Kentucky, Rand Paul beat Republican establishment candidate Trey Grayson.
In Nevada, Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle took down former Nevada Republican Party chairwoman Sue Lowden.
In Utah, Mike Lee took the nomination, ousting incumbent Republican Senator Bob Bennett.
In Florida, Marco Rubio was beating Florida Governor Charlie Crist so badly in the polls that Crist dropped out of the Republican primary to run as an independent—that same night Joe Miller won a tight race in Alaska against Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski.
And two weeks ago in Delaware, Christine—no relation—
O‘Donnell, beat Republican Congressman Mike Castle.
Two of these losers have not given up. Lisa Murkowski is now desperately mounting a write-in campaign in Alaska, knowing full well the last time a senator won a write-in campaign was three years before the 53-year-old Murkowski was born.
Charlie Crist had to leave the Republican Party to get his name on the November ballot as an independent, thereby turning the Florida Senate race into a three-way.
Marco Rubio, an opponent of the president‘s health care plan, taxpayer-funded stem cell research and the confirmations of both Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, is running at 40 percent in the polls—while opposition to Rubio is running at 51 percent but is split between Governor Crist and Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek.
I spoke with Governor Crist in an interview taped earlier tonight.
O‘DONNELL: Governor Crist, thanks for joining us tonight.
GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: Lawrence, it‘s great to be with you. And let me publicly congratulate you on the new show. I think it‘s great and it‘s an honor to be on in your first week.
O‘DONNELL: Thanks, Governor. Great to have you.
You‘ve said that running as an independent now has liberated you. You feel that it‘s been a liberated feeling from being a Republican. What positions do you hold now that you could not hold when you were a Republican candidate?
CRIST: Well, nothing‘s really changed in that regard. It‘s just—it‘s a lot more quick to be able to give the response when you‘re talking about things of supporting education, supporting teachers, making sure that we protect the environment—these were always issues that have been important to me. But it is so liberating in terms of the context of this year particularly because, as you know, the Republican Party, or I should say some in the Republican Party, have taken a very hard turn to the right, like my opponent, Marco Rubio.
And as a result of that, I think it‘s very important to the people of Florida, I think the people of our country to have common sense candidates. And I‘ve always tried to take a common sense point of view regardless of what the issue might be, whether it‘s education, whether it‘s jobs, the economy, reducing taxes, standing up for the people of Florida, making sure that they‘re safe in their communities and homes, and that we fight for teachers and students. Those have always been issues that are very, very important to me.
And even as a Republican governor, I would reach across the aisle, work with Democrats, Republicans, independents, in order to try to improve the quality of life for my fellow Floridians. That‘s what I would like to do in the United States Senate, again, for my fellow Floridians and for America.
O‘DONNELL: Governor, are there any positions in the past that you took as a loyal Republican that you now would t no take?
CRIST: No, not really. Let me give you an indication of one that I think may be illustrative. I‘m personally pro-life, but this year in the Florida legislature, they passed a bill that would have required an ultrasound be performed on any woman who was contemplating such and also would require that she‘d have to pay for it.
I ended up vetoing that bill because, you know, when it comes to the overall spectrum of things, my view is: tax cuts, hell yes. Your government in your bedroom—hell no. And that sort of really defines Charlie Crist in terms of I‘m a frugal guy. I want to be as careful with the public‘s dollars as possible, especially in this economy.
But I don‘t want to impose my personal will on other people either. We‘re an independent people, we Americans. And I think that none of us like to be told what to do on any issue, and I think that we need to respect the rights of others. And I think that pretty much illustrates, you know, my point of view as it relates to an issue of social matters.
I‘m a fiscal conservative who‘s a social moderate who wants to respect all and make sure that the views of the people are put first rather than the views of the party.
O‘DONNELL: How about what you said in 2008 as a loyal Republican when Sarah Palin was on the vice presidential slot on the ticket and you said that she would do, quote, “a great job as president, not just as vice president.” Sarah Palin would do a great job as president. Having had some time to think about that, is that a position you would reconsider?
CRIST: Well, you know, my concern in this race are the Sarahs that live in Florida, to be perfectly candid with you. And I‘m fighting for them and to give them an independent voice so that, you know, in Washington, they can have an honest broker to try to move forward on jobs, on economic development, on reducing taxes.
I mean, we‘ve got a perfect example of how broken Washington is right now. You have a Democratic president of the United States who proposes tax cuts, and you have the Republicans who say no. I mean, you know, if that‘s not the town standing on its head, I don‘t know what is.
And that‘s why I think it‘s so important that we have people that go forward, you know, whether they‘re Michael Bloomberg or Joe Lieberman or Charlie Crist, who can be honest brokers and say, you know what, Republicans have good ideas about cutting deficits and reducing taxes, Democrats probably have good ideas in investing in a clean economy and technology to produce more jobs. Only I in this race can put that forward. I mean, I‘ve got two partisan opponents, one hard left on the Democratic side and one hard right on the Republican side.
But I think, really, what Florida wants is a common sense approach and a little Florida common sense in Washington on behalf of our people.
O‘DONNELL: Governor, it seems what you‘re caught in the middle of is the fight over the soul of the Republican Party with Tea Party candidates coming in from—as you put it correctly, I think—the extreme right, challenging you, challenging other more establishment Republican candidates around the country. You‘re one of the few establishment Republican candidates, at least previously establishment Republican, still on his feet in some way. You‘re running second in the polls in Florida right now, but within striking distance.
Is there a real fight over the soul of the Republican Party in the outcomes that we‘re going to see in this election, especially in the Senate races with the Tea Party candidates?
CRIST: I don‘t think there‘s any question about it, Lawrence. In fact, you know, I enjoy being a Republican of the Party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, common sense people who cared about the environment, cared about fundamental fairness to people, talked about the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, and somebody who was always civil to others, Ronald Reagan.
What we‘ve seen, at least in some areas of the Republican Party, the most active areas of the Republican Party, is more of a shrill tone, if you will, and I think it‘s unfortunate. Instead of the big tent that Jack Kemp used to talk about, it seems to be a shrinking tent. And, you know, some of these people have been nominated around the country, I don‘t know, you know, in five weeks from tonight how they‘re going to be doing. But my guess would be, not so well.
I think that, you know, especially in Senate races, you have an entire state that‘s going to weigh in on a race rather than just a district, and that‘s a much broader audience, if you will—a bigger jury, so to speak. And I think that because of that, you‘re going to see a different turnout in the United States Senate than I think you might in the House of Representatives—but only time will tell. You know, five weeks in elections is like five years.
So, we‘ll know—we‘ll know when November 2nd comes.
O‘DONNELL: Now, Republicans are unifying around their nominees, even around Christine O‘Donnell in Delaware and some of the flakier nominees that they‘ve ended up with this year. But longtime Republican strategist Richard Viguerie said something very interesting in the Sunday “New York Times” this week. He said, “We‘re all on the same page until the polls close November 2nd. Then a massive, almost historic, battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party begins.”
Is that the way you see it, that this unity that the party is pretending to have around some of these nominees is a—is a mirage and no matter what the outcome, whether those nominees win or lose, the Republican Party is going to have to figure out what it really stands for after this election?
CRIST: I don‘t—I don‘t think there‘s any other way to put it. I think that‘s exactly right. I think that, you know, once it becomes November 3rd, the day after the election, it‘s off to the races as it relates to the presidential campaigns. And it‘s in that structure that you‘ll see, both on the, you know, Republican side and what‘s going to be the future.
You know, is it going to be a party that Jack Kemp used to talk about that had a big tent, that wanted to be more broad in its appeal? Or is it going to be what we‘ve seen this year, a steadily shrinking party that said, you know, you have to be, first, conservative enough, but then it went to the next level—which really turned me off—you have to be pure enough? And I‘m not sure I know what that means. I just know I don‘t want to be a part of that.
I think that, you know, America is a place where we respect independence. We respect the fact that you ought to have the freedom to determine your own destiny and your own future. And what we‘ve seen in a segment of the Republican Party does not embrace that. I think that‘s unfortunate.
I mean, there‘s a lot of good, reasonable Republicans that are still left. My mom and dad are still Republican. My wife is still Republican. But I can tell you, I‘ve got a lot of Democratic friends in Florida these days and I‘m grateful to them, particularly Robert Wexler, who just—former congressman—endorsed our campaign on Sunday. I was very pleased and honored by that.
O‘DONNELL: Governor, quickly, before we go—if you are lucky enough to be sworn in as Senator Crist by Vice President Joe Biden, will you then, on your very first vote, vote for the Democrat as majority leader or the Republican as majority leader?
CRIST: Well, first, I hope I have that dilemma to face and I believe I will, because, you know, Floridians are a common sense bunch of people. But I think that the truth is, I want to ask tough questions about the Republicans and the Democrats if I have the honor of winning. Who‘s going to help fight for more jobs for the people of Florida? Who‘s going to work hard to improve our economy? Who‘s going to protect the Florida environment and help us to do that, the Everglades, and make sure that we have, maybe, a national catastrophic fund?
Those are the kind of things and the answers I need to get before I decide one way or the other, or to just remain an independent United States senator and fight for the people of Florida as best I can.
O‘DONNELL: All right. So, still undecided on your first vote in the Senate.
Governor Crist, thank you very much for your time tonight.
CRIST: Lawrence, it‘s great to be with you.
O‘DONNELL: Levi Johnston has already announced he‘s running for mayor of Wasilla. Tonight, on THE LAST WORD, let‘s see what else he has to announce.
And more saber-rattling from Iran. Wait until you see the latest and greatest weapon it has acquired.
O‘DONNELL: Tonight on THE LAST WORD, let‘s see what else he has to announce.
And more saber rattling from Iran. Wait until you see the latest and greatest weapon it has acquired.
O‘DONNELL: In 2008, 18-year-old Levi Johnston was dragged into the national spotlight as the would-be son-in-law of then-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Like the Palin campaign, Levi‘s engagement to Bristol Palin did not achieve its intended result. Levi and Bristol went their separate ways in 2009.
In a bad economy, with few marketable skills, Levi found ways to market his celebrity and his genetic gifts. He posed for “Playgirl” became a tabloid perennial, briefly reunited with Bristol, which reignited his celebrity heat. And now, bitten by the politics bug, he is a candidate for mayor of Wasilla, a job once held by Sarah Palin.
In our Spotlight tonight, Levi Johnston. Levi, thanks very much for joining me, coming all the way across the country to be in our new studio here. You‘re now planning to run for mayor of Wasilla. It‘s—the election is next year, right, 2011. So will you be running as a Tea Party Republican or as an establishment Republican?
LEVI JOHNSTON, CANDIDATE FOR MAYOR OF WASILLA, ALASKA: That‘s actually undecided. I‘m registered as a Republican. There‘s been—you know, most of my family‘s Republican, I do, however, have one Democrat in my family.
O‘DONNELL: You do?
JOHNSTON: I do. I do.
O‘DONNELL: Ooh, what‘s that like on Thanksgiving with the Democrat at the table?
JOHNSTON: He actually lives in Colorado. He doesn‘t come around much.
O‘DONNELL: So no problem.
JOHNSTON: Yeah, I‘m not sure on that yet. But there‘s some talk about what I‘m going to do still.
O‘DONNELL: All right. Now, Bristol had something to say about you running. Let‘s hear what she had to say with Jay Leno.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”: Let me ask you a question.
BRISTOL PALIN, DAUGHTER OF SARAH PALIN: Yeah.
LENO: Would you vote for him?
PALIN: Well, he needs to move to Wasilla, to the city limits. And he needs to get his GED.
LENO: He‘s got to get a GED.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: So how are you doing on the GED?
JOHNSTON: You know, it‘s ready to go. I imagine here in the next month, it will be done, wrapped up.
O‘DONNELL: You‘re working on it.
JOHNSTON: Oh, yeah.
O‘DONNELL: All right. Now, next time you get that GED question, between now and then—
JOHNSTON: I can‘t wait to get it.
O‘DONNELL: I have two words for you, Abraham Lincoln. OK? That puts it away. You‘re done. Never graduated from high school. Now, you have actually set a record. Did you know you have set a political record already. You are officially the most unpopular person ever polled by Public Policy polling in any state. What they do is they poll politicians within their state for popularity.
The previous holder of this title was John Edwards. He held that title with a 15 percent favorable rating and a 72 percent unfavorable rating in his home state of North Carolina. Your unfavorable rating is tied with that. That‘s good news. Didn‘t do any worse than him on that. But in Alaska, six percent—you have a six percent favorable. Now, your election is not until 2011, so there‘s time to turn this around. You got to turn that six percent into a 56 percent. How are you going to do that?
JOHNSTON: I—those numbers don‘t surprise me. I‘m 20 years old. I‘m new to politics. I don‘t know a whole lot, you know? But this is by far the biggest challenge in my life. And I‘m looking forward to it. I have a whole year to study up on it. I mean, it‘s going to be hard work. And you know, going around talking to people. This time next year, I will be ready. And I promise you those numbers will be good.
O‘DONNELL: You‘re studying up. Let‘s talk about how you‘re studying up. When it comes to establishing your world view, I‘m just curious. What newspapers and magazines do you read regularly?
JOHNSTON: I read “Frontiersman” every once in a while.
JOHNSTON: “Frontiersman,” Wasilla. Always at the office. I‘m not going to sit here and tell you I read a lot of newspapers. I don‘t get “the New York Times,” I don‘t watch a whole lot of news. I don‘t watch TV that often.
O‘DONNELL: OK. And what‘s your position on global warming? Do you believe it‘s man made or not?
JOHNSTON: No, I don‘t.
O‘DONNELL: You don‘t believe it‘s man made? Or you do believe it‘s man made?
JOHNSTON: I don‘t believe it‘s man made.
O‘DONNELL: Now, some people have credited the morning-after pill with decreasing the number of abortions. How do you feel about the morning-after pill?
JOHNSTON: I feel that‘s a girl‘s decision. Same with abstinence. I don‘t believe in abstinence. I feel like if you‘re having unprotected sex, you get the girl pregnant, you should have the baby. Tripp was the best thing that ever happened to me. But at the same time, I was young, you know, and I imagine where my life would be without him. But at the same time, you know, I wouldn‘t trade it for anything.
O‘DONNELL: Do you believe evolution should be taught as an accepted scientific principle or one of several theories?
JOHNSTON: You are kind of getting over my head on these things here.
Yeah, I don‘t know how to answer that question.
O‘DONNELL: All right. That‘s an answer. And that‘s what I like, is an honest politician, who is willing to say, I don‘t know when he doesn‘t know. Would you support a moratorium on foreclosures to help average Americans keep their homes?
JOHNSTON: I believe I would.
O‘DONNELL: OK. In Afghanistan, do you believe additional troops, U.S. troops will solve the problem there?
JOHNSTON: I have no idea.
O‘DONNELL: OK. Again, that‘s the kind of honesty that—maybe Alaskans will start to turn your way with that kind of honesty. You are of what used to be called draft age, military service age. So—and you probably have friends who have been in Afghanistan or people you know from Alaska who have gone there. But you haven‘t thought about yet what you would suggest as the best way to go forward there?
JOHNSTON: No, I have not.
O‘DONNELL: The United States, as you know, is deeply unpopular in Pakistan. Do you think the Pakistani government is protecting al Qaeda within its borders?
JOHNSTON: Like I said, I don‘t watch a whole lot of TV.
O‘DONNELL: “Frontiersman” doesn‘t have a whole lot to say about that, when you‘re reading “Frontiersman?”
JOHNSTON: Apparently not because I‘m not brushed up on that.
O‘DONNELL: Just one more of these political things. Do you believe the U.S. should negotiate with leaders like President Asad and Ahmadinejad?
JOHNSTON: Yeah, I do. I think that we should reason with everybody.
O‘DONNELL: All right, there you go. That‘s the Obama position on that. You got that one—for a lot of people out there, you got that one right. All those questions are exactly what Katie Couric asked Sarah Palin when she was running for vice president. And let me tell you, she struggled. If you think they were tough, you‘re not the only one who struggled with those. So the question America wants to know—and by the way, relax.
JOHNSTON: I‘m good, I‘m good.
O‘DONNELL: I‘m done with the politics. Have you been watching “Dancing With the Stars”? I can‘t because I‘ve got this show I‘ve got to do. So I can‘t watch it.
JOHNSTON: To be honest with you, the only time I watched it was back there in the green room. I‘ve seen it a couple of times.
O‘DONNELL: Come on, only time.
JOHNSTON: That‘s the only time. I‘ve seen it on Youtube once, like her first—the first dance she did, two days afterwards. I Youtubed it. As far as actually watching the show was a couple minutes ago.
O‘DONNELL: So what do you do? “Dancing With the Stars” is on, what are you doing instead?
JOHNSTON: Better things to do. I‘ve got my son to worry about. I‘ve got family. I‘ve got stuff to do around the house. I got my friends. I got reading up on all this stuff, trying to become mayor. I got a job. I have much better stuff to do than sit around watching TV.
O‘DONNELL: By the way, where is Tripp during the whole “Dancing WIth the Stars” thing. You‘re in New York. Bristol‘s in L.A. most of the time now.
O‘DONNELL: According to the tabloids, you got a new girlfriend. Do you want to confirm, deny? You want to just—
JOHNSTON: We did a music video together. And we kicked it off. We had fun.
O‘DONNELL: Kicked it off.
JOHNSTON: Hanging out. We hung out. We did great, made a great video together. And that‘s it.
O‘DONNELL: All right. Levi Johnston, can‘t thank you enough for coming across the country and taking on this first national grilling on your political positions.
JOHNSTON: I‘ll be better next time, I promise.
O‘DONNELL: Hey, read a couple more things than “Frontiersman.” The
“Frontiersman‘s” going to help with the Alaskan voter, OK, but an
occasional glance at “the New York Times,” they cover some of that
Ahmadinejad stuff. Three days, you‘ll be up to speed. Five days, you‘ll -
certainly, in less than a week you‘ll be up to speed with Sarah Palin.
JOHNSTON: Yes, all right.
O‘DONNELL: Levi, thanks again for coming in. Levi Johnston. The reality show is “Loving Levi: The Road to the Mayor‘s Office.” Thanks, Levi.
We‘re supposed to be very, very afraid of the threat from Iran. The next generation of military might for that country has been unveiled. And somehow that makes tonight‘s Rewrite.
And later, today‘s big study. Religious people are surveyed to see how much they know about religion. They all would have done better on a sports quiz. We‘ll hear from THE LAST WORD‘s religion analyst, Penn Jillette.
O‘DONNELL: Time for tonight‘s Rewrite. It‘s no secret which nation poses the gravest threat to the safety of Americans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Repeated threats, Ahmadinejad, Iran, that they want to wipe Israel off the map.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran has been building a covert uranium enrichment facility near Qom.
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Iran successfully launched a rocket into space. Iran needs to be paid attention to.
JOHN BOLTON, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Obviously, he has threatened Israel with being wiped off the face of the earth.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: The list goes on and on of the threats that we have—that we have made to the Iranians. And so far no action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Not only has Iran refused to curb its nuclear efforts, despite repeated sanctions by the U.S. and United Nations. But now they have publicly raised their threat of military aggression with a provocative announcement earlier today. The Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Rahidi (ph) unveiled three squadrons of the Bavar-II.
In the Iranian government‘s typically boastful style, the defense minister described his new noisy war-making asset this way: “the flying boat is equipped with a machine gun as well as night vision and daytime cameras, and is capable of capturing and transmitting images and data.”
Now, I know Iran doesn‘t get MSNBC. So you guys in embassy need to let the defense minister know that under no circumstances should he call this a flying boat. You‘re not going to keep fear alive with flying boats. You‘re not going to scare a country that flies these things with an announcement that you can now fly these things.
And who told you that a single engine propeller driven sea plane with a machine gun could scare any American president since Woodrow Wilson?
See this? We all have one of these. Our kids have these. So don‘t think for a minute that you can scare Americans by saying your flying boat is capable of, quote, “capturing and transmitting images and data.”
What happened to you guys? You used to be so good at scaring us. And you‘ve always known that we scare easily. Now you‘re getting lazy. We don‘t scare that easily. So if you still want to keep fear alive, stick with nuclear.
Up next, Penn Jillette on the religion disconnect revealed today. Those who know the most about religion are those who—well, come back and we‘ll tell you.
O‘DONNELL: When it comes to questions of God and faith and religion, who should you turn to if you need guidance? The answer might surprise you. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that most Americans are deeply ignorant about religion. More than 3,400 people were asked 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, along with the principles in the Constitution governing religion.
And it turns out the Americans who know the most are atheists or agnostic. Jewish people came in second, followed by Mormons, white Evangelical Protestants and white Catholics there, followed by white mainline Protestants, black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics.
Dave Silverman, president of the American Atheists, told “the New York Times” “atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That‘s how you make atheists.”
Joining me now is THE LAST WORD‘s religion analyst, atheist Penn Jillette, whose show in Vegas is performed at the Rio. And you can watch his video blog, Penn Point. Penn, what do you make of atheists knowing more about religion than the people who are supposed to be studying it on a daily basis.
PENN JILLETTE, COMEDIAN AND MAGICIAN: Well, it‘s a little bit of a cheat, because if you look at other studies, people that are more educated are more apt to be atheists. So you don‘t really need that connection. They just know more.
So you‘ve got that problem. It makes the study a little bit of a cleat. It is not that atheists know more about religion. It‘s that they‘re better educated in general.
O‘DONNELL: All right, let me try to take you through the quiz.
JILLETTE: I‘m an exception. I‘m not educated.
O‘DONNELL: Here we go. You‘re stuck. Which of the following is not one of the Ten Commandments? A, “do not commit adultery,” B, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” C, “do not steal,” D, “keep holy the Sabbath?” Did you hear them all?
JILLETTE: Yes, I did. But it‘s B, do unto others. That‘s not a commandment.
O‘DONNELL: You know what? You‘re good. I got another one for you. Is Ramadan the Hindu festival of lights, the Jewish day of atonement, the Islamic holy month?
JILLETTE: It‘s the Islamic holy month.
O‘DONNELL: C, there you go. Third, which Bible figure is most closely associated with remaining obedience to God despite suffering. A,Job, B, Elijah, C, Moses, D, Abraham?
O‘DONNELL: These are easy. How could anybody get them wrong? Next, according to rulings by the Supreme Court, is a public teacher permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature? A, yes, B, no.
JILLETTE: If it‘s literature, yes.
O‘DONNELL: You got it right. I actually got that one wrong. What was the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation? Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, John Wesley?
JILLETTE: Martin Luther.
O‘DONNELL: You‘re right again. Amazing. Penn Jillette, that‘s why you are THE LAST WORD‘s religion analyst. Thanks, Penn, for your time tonight.
JILLETTE: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog, TheLastWord.MSNBC.com. That‘s tonight‘s LAST WORD. Tomorrow night, more politics. Among our guests, White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod and author Bob Woodward. “COUNTDOWN” is up next.
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