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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: David Axelrod, Matt Taibbi


LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  Rachel, I never thought that I would be taking the volume down when we go—when we go from you to me.  But it just might happen tonight.

MADDOW:  It‘s the intimidation—it‘s the intimidation strategy of the Tea Party coloring book and I‘m so excited about it, I actually spent time coloring today.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, now, I‘m intimidated.

MADDOW:  See?  Sorry for the volume.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Bye, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Ten years ago, the Republicans set a tax trap and wrote it into law.  The Bush tax cuts are now set to expire at the end of the year, and today, that trap caught dozen of Democrats.



ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST:  Thirty-four days now to the midterms.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS:  Should the tax cuts for the wealthy to expire?

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  Democrats say yes; Republicans say never.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER:  Give the House an opportunity in a fair and open debate to extend all of the current tax rates.

O‘DONNELL:  Thirty-nine House Democrats defect today and join the Republican attempt to avoid tax cuts now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  On this vote, the yeas are 210, the nays are 209.

O‘DONNELL:  Speaker Pelosi has to cast the deciding vote to adjourn at the end of the week without a vote on a tax bill.

BOEHNER:  Irresponsibility on the part of this Congress.

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, PENCE:  And now, they‘re about to walk away without even voting to protect Americans.  Congress must not adjourn until we vote.

O‘DONNELL:  The president finally uses the bully pulpit to bully.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The same policies that we fought so hard for to change in 2008.

O‘DONNELL:  But in the politics of taxation, can reality trump myth?

OBAMA:  Somehow, there‘s a myth out there, I think, that we have raised taxes on small businesses.  In fact, we‘ve lowered taxes on just about everybody.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST:  He‘s pushed for progressive taxation.  He‘s going after the rich.  He‘s done what a progressive should have tried to do.


O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell.

In American politics, you can run, but you can never hide from the great, never ending tax debate.  Republicans will never let you.  They believe the “party of less taxes” will always beat the “party of more taxes” as long as the voters are listening to the debate.


WALTER MONDALE (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I.  He won‘t tell you, I just did.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  Because the deficit has increased so much, beyond my earlier estimates, and beyond even the worst official government estimates from last year—we just have to face the fact that to make the changes our country needs, more Americans must contribute today so that all Americans can do better tomorrow.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  Make the tax relief permanent.  Members of Congress should know, if any bill raises taxes reaches my desk, I will veto it.


O‘DONNELL:  Bill Clinton‘s tax increase, the biggest one of all time, was preamble to a Democratic loss of the House and Senate in 1994, Democrats had feared any form of tax increase since then.  Never mind that the economy soared to unprecedented heights after the Clinton tax increase helped put the budget back on track to balance, Democrats once again lost the tax debate to Republicans.

Barack Obama won the tax debate in the presidential campaign, arguing for an increase only for the top bracket.  But that was then, and this is now.

I discussed the current state of play with White House senior adviser, David Axelrod, in an interview taped earlier today.


O‘DONNELL:  David Axelrod, thanks for joining us today.

David, this afternoon—

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER:  Good to be with you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  -- the House of Representatives, they vote to adjourn in a shockingly close vote.  That‘s never a close vote, but it was today.  Speaker Pelosi had to break the tie, 39 Democrats voted against adjournment without taking action on the current tax rates.  We saw some Democrats eager to go home, but there are others eager to stay in Washington and fix this.

So, who‘s right, the “go home now” Democrats or the “fix taxes first” Democrats?

AXELROD:  Well, the question really is, what about the “hold the tax cut hostage” Republicans?  And that‘s really what this debate has been about from the beginning.  We all agree, Republicans and Democrats, that we ought to extend these tax cuts up to $250,000 a year.  That would take in 98 percent of the American people, would give the middle class the tax cuts that they really need after getting battered over the course of the last decade.

The Republican Party, Mr. McConnell, Mr. Boehner, have said, “No, that‘s not good enough.  We also want to spend $700 billion over the next 10 years to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, millionaires and billionaires.”

And our position is: we don‘t have $700 billion for that.  That‘s not going to markedly help the economy.  The Congressional Budget Office says it‘s the least effective form of stimulus.

And yet, Mr. McConnell said, if it wasn‘t in the bill, he would filibuster that, on the Senate side.

So, the real issue is, when are the Republicans going to sit down with us and say, “OK, we agree on this much, let‘s get this done, let‘s remove the uncertainty for middle class Americans, and let them know come January 1st, they‘re not going to see a tax increase”?

O‘DONNELL:  What do you make of the 39 Democrats who sided with the Republicans on this?  Does that spell trouble when the Democrats eventually do take up this tax question in the House?

AXELROD:  Lawrence, I don‘t think so.  I think among those 39, you‘re going to find people who are very eager to end this uncertainty, to vote on that middle class tax cut and they wanted to be able to take action on that before they left.  And I understand that.

But it‘s very clear that we would be enmeshed in a game of cat and mouse with the Republicans over this, because they‘re so committed to this.

The thing that makes this so interesting to me is that when they released their pledge last week and talk about the things that they would do if they had control, they said, “We want to end the end of the Recovery Act,” and half of that—half of those unobligated funds would be in something called the making work pay tax cut that we implemented that goes to the middle class.  So, 110 million families would see their taxes go up under the Republican plan, and yet they‘re fighting fiercely to take care of millionaires and billionaires.  And I guess that just underscores the difference of values.

O‘DONNELL:  David, you‘re trying to hold on to the House and the Senate in the midst of the worst recession since World War II.  There‘s an article in “The New Republic” this week that came out that says, during the transition, after a meeting about the economy, before the president was sworn in, you told the president-elect—you predicted—that his numbers would be in the toilet in 12 to 18 months and then, quote, “all of us who were geniuses are going to be idiots.”

Is this what you meant, that those economic numbers were going to control our politics and the Democrats and the president‘s popularity and polling numbers were going to sink because of the economy?

AXELROD:  Well, just to make one slight amendment, I‘m not sure if I said in the toilet.  But—

O‘DONNELL:  No, that was not in quotation marks.  That part‘s not in quotation marks, David.


AXELROD:  But I did say that they were going to be a lot different than they are—than they were right then because it‘s a—look, Lawrence, you‘re a student of this business.  You‘ve been around it a long time.

It‘s obvious, when you‘re sitting with your economists and they tell you, the president-elect, we are—we are in the midst of a recession that could be as deep as anything we‘ve seen since the Great Depression, and there‘s a one in three chance we might have a Great Depression, you know you‘re not walking into a great political environment.  And they always made clear it was going to take a long time to deal with the damage that this had done.

But, beyond that, we also knew that, in terms of the election itself, we had two bumper crops of wins legislatively in 2006 and 2008 -- 55 seats we won during those elections.  Midterm elections, as you know, traditionally, are tough for the party in power.

And so, for all those reasons, I felt it was going to be challenging, and it is challenging.

O‘DONNELL:  You know, David, you have the president out on the road and the “buck up and stick with me” tour, trying to hold on to Democrats‘ power in these congressional elections.  And we had on this show last night, one of the leaders of the groups that the president‘s talking to, Adam Green.  He‘s the leader of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.  And he was encouraged by what he heard in Wisconsin yesterday.  And primarily because he heard the president used the word “fight.”

His point was, he doesn‘t think that you and the president, when it comes to legislating, when it comes to governing, are fighting.  And I guess someone has to break it to Adam Green and others that no one fights.  These guys in neckties who go to work in the White House and Congress do not fight.  They ask each other to do things and they are empowered to say no and their outcomes are not controlled by a campaign rhetoric or by the image of the presidency.

Who‘s going to break that to the people who are disappointed in what the president‘s achieved?

AXELROD:  Well, Lawrence, let me say, first of all, that on the first point, we have achieved a great deal.  As I said, you‘ve been around a long time.

When you consider the things that we‘ve gotten done under very difficult circumstances over the last two years—health insurance reform, financial reform, landmark education reform, doubling the use of renewable energy, putting us on that path, raising fuel efficiency standards for the first time in 28 years, and a whole host of other things, we—you know, those are things that we ought to embrace, we ought to celebrate, and now, we have to protect, because the Republican Party wants to roll back all of that, and go back to the very same policies that punished the middle class, exploded the deficits and plunged our economy into the catastrophe that we faced when we walked into office.

So, we got a fight on our hands right now, and we need all hands on deck in that fight.  That‘s the point the president‘s making.  That‘s the point that the vice president made the other night on your show.

And, by the way, anyone who thinks that it didn‘t take a struggle to do some of these things wasn‘t paying attention.  Obviously, health care was an epic battle.  I don‘t think there‘s been a legislative battle like it in our generation.

Financial reform was an epic battle.  The Capitol was awash with lobbyists from Wall Street and it was an extraordinary victory that enabled us to move forward with the kinds of reforms that we did, that put Elizabeth Warren in the position to do the things that she can do for consumers now and so on.

So, I think we have a lot to be proud of.  And we have a lot of work ahead of us.

What we can‘t afford now is to have these intramural debates, while there‘s so much at stake.  And that‘s the point the president is trying to make all over this country.

O‘DONNELL:  David, it seems to me what you‘ve come up against is the conflict between the politics of campaigning and the politics of governing.  And in the politics of campaigning, you can say anything, and you can use the word “fight” and you can say, “I‘m going to provide health care to all Americans.”  And the politics of governing are limited by other people‘s interests.

For example, in the campaign where I never second-guessed you once, people say—people would criticize the Obama campaign at different points, I never did.  I was watching a flawless campaign that was running better than I could have ever imagined.

In the politics of governing, I think there have been some mistakes.  And one of them is overpromising.  You know, during the campaign, people would say to me, “Who‘s right on health care, Hillary or Obama?”  And I‘d say, “Ignore them.  It is not up to them.  It‘s up to a guy named Max Baucus who you‘ve never heard of,” and that turned out to be true.

And so, what I‘m thinking—what I‘m feeling is that there was an overpromising in the campaign, heated rhetoric in the campaign, which can never ever be delivered in the processes of Congress, and the disappointed base has yet to come to terms with that.

AXELROD:  Yes, Lawrence, and you speak for experience, because you worked for the chairman of the finance committee in the Senate.

But, the truth is, that I think the emphasis is in the wrong place.  I don‘t think the surprising thing is what we haven‘t gotten done.  The surprising thing is how much we‘ve gotten done.

I don‘t think—you know, we‘ve been working on, for example, that health care issue for a century in this country.  You were around for some of those fights.  The degree to which we were able to move on that issue, to the point where we have what I would call a patient‘s bill of rights on steroids, to keep people from preexisting conditions, from being discriminated against, people being seriously ill from being thrown off their insurance, kids up to 26 on their parents‘ insurance, seniors more prescription drug protection, all of that—and the ability for people who don‘t have health insurance to be able to buy it at a price they can afford.  All of that as part of this.

That to me is something to feel very positive about.  And, you know, I think it‘s a mistake to say—but, it wasn‘t—it‘s 80 percent of what we‘ve been fighting for for a century.  We didn‘t get 100 percent, and, therefore, it‘s not quite right.

That‘s not—you‘re quite right about one thing, that‘s not governance.  Governance is about make compromises, but compromises that don‘t compromise your fundamental goal or principle.  And, you know, you have to do the first in order to get things done.  If you do the second, then it‘s not worth getting things done.  I think the president did it the right way.

O‘DONNELL:  White House senior adviser, David Axelrod—thanks for your time today.

AXELROD:  Thanks for having me on, Lawrence.


O‘DONNELL:  How will Tea Party candidates fit in on Capitol Hill?  Matt Taibbi previews his “Rolling Stone” piece for us, including his answer to the question, “Are Tea Party members racist?”

And in an audience-demanded follow-up to Levi Johnston‘s appearance last night, we will compare his answers to Sarah Palin‘s answers to the same questions.


O‘DONNELL:  Can the Tea Party survive?  Matt Taibbi of “Rolling Stone” takes us inside the movement to see what is really motivating Tea Party supporters.

Bob Woodward will be here for his inside look at the Obama White House.

And we‘ll have an exclusive preview at how the writers at are handling the debate over “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”


O‘DONNELL:  The relationship between the Tea Party and the Republican Party establishment has so far been awkward at best.  But with just 34 days until the midterm elections, the party leaders, both Tea and Republican, are at least pretending that they have taken Rodney King‘s moving message to heart and they do indeed get along.

Republican strategist Richard Viguerie, who‘s allied with Tea Party activists, told “The New York Times,” “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.”

So, who‘s going to win that battle?

The latest NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll found that 71 percent of people who call themselves Republicans are also supporters of the Tea Party -- 71 percent.  That‘s a far cry from the Tea Party‘s humble beginnings on the Republican Party‘s fringe well outside that so-called big tent.  So what changed?

The radical transformation is the subject of a new “Rolling Stone” article called “Tea and Crackers: How Corporate Interests and Republican Insiders Built the Tea Party Monster.”  The author of the piece is “Rolling Stone‘s” political reporter, Matt Taibbi.

Matt, before we get to the transformation, one of the central questions about the Tea Party, and one of the accusations that flies around, is that this is a racist group—predominantly racist group, partially racist group, or more racist than your average collection on a subway car in New York City.


O‘DONNELL:  You‘ve been in and among them.

TAIBBI:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  What‘s the answer to the Tea Party racist question?

TAIBBI:  My answer is it‘s not so much about hating black people for these people.  I think it‘s more about believing in this preposterous fantasy that white people are some kind of oppressed minority in the age of Obama.  And I don‘t know whether that‘s racism, but it‘s just incredibly stupid.  And that‘s really my answer.

I think there‘s not that much overt racism.  Clearly, race is a factor in almost all of their political views.  But it‘s really more like a collective narcissistic—


O‘DONNELL:  They‘re working without a historical framework for anyone else‘s experience except their own and their own families.

TAIBBI:  Right.  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  And that‘s—that‘s what you‘re calling the kind of narcissistic view of our politics?

TAIBBI:  They really believe in the sort of idea that they‘re this persecuted, oppressed people, and they have no frame of reference about anybody else‘s experience.  And they also don‘t have any sense of how their rhetoric is received by the rest of the country.  I mean, just think of the whole idea of the Tea Party.  If they‘re the Tea Partiers, you know, people like you and me are Redcoats.

O‘DONNELL:  Right.

TAIBBI:  You know, we‘re literally not Americans, we‘re un-American. 

And it‘s—they really believe that.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the narcissism is why we‘re playing the Carly Simon -



TAIBBI:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  It had nothing to do with you.  That is not our view of Matt Taibbi.

So, how does this movement change?  In describing, let‘s get to the core of this history question of where it started.  There‘s a reporter at CNBC who claims, and some people claim he started the Tea Party.

TAIBBI:  Rick Santelli.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  But was there something of a Tea Party before his outburst on CNBC?

TAIBBI:  Yes, and it was directly in line with the Ron Paul presidential campaign in 2008.  In fact, I remember some of those gatherings.  They were sort of informally called Tea Parties or money bombs at the time.  And what we have now is sort of Tea Party 2.0.  It‘s a second kind of wave of Tea Partiers that coalesce after that sort of infamous Rick Santelli broadcast on CNBC.

And it‘s two separate and distinct groups of people who are now attempting to merge.  And it‘s interesting, because I remember during the 2008 campaign when I covered it, that very frequently, the people who are now Tea Partiers were barring Ron Paul supporters from their events.  They were very separate groups of people then and now, they‘re the same.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, you argued that the case of Rand Paul as a candidate and as a nominee shows how the Republican special interest and the Republican Party has now co-opted the Tea Party, beginning with an incident that occurred in this very studio where Rachael Maddow interviewed Ron Paul back in May.

We‘re going to take a look at that.


MADDOW:  I don‘t want to be badgering you on this, but I do want an answer.  Do you think that a private business—


MADDOW:  -- has a right to say we don‘t serve black people?

PAUL:  Yes.  I‘m not in favor of any discrimination of any form.  But I think what‘s important about this debate is not written into any specific gotcha on this, but asking the question, what about freedom of speech?  Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent?  Should we limit racists from speak something?

I think there was an overriding problem in the South that was so big it did require federal intervention in the ‘60s, and it stemmed from things that I said, you know, that have been going on, really, 120 years too long.  And the southern states weren‘t correcting it and I think there was a need for federal intervention.


O‘DONNELL:  What a difference a day made in that response.  What happened overnight?

TAIBBI:  Well, from what I understand, right after that appearance, the Paul campaign was contacted by people like Karl Rove, and there was influence from Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul was asked to cancel some upcoming media appearances, including “Meet the Press.”

And—which was interesting because before that moment, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell had been distinctly separate, they have been political enemies.  But suddenly, McConnell had this and Karl had this influence over the campaign.  And before you knew it, McConnell was doing fundraisers for Rand Paul and you see the change in position, and that‘s the effect.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, quickly before we go, you do strike a note of sympathy in here when you say, “At times, their desire to withdraw from the brutality—brutally complex global economic system that is an irrevocable fact of our modern life and get back to a simpler world that no longer exists is so intense, it breaks your heart.”  It also strikes me that it is similar to the feelings on the left when you see protests of every World Trade Organization meeting, protests against the brutally complex global economic system.

TAIBBI:  Right.  Well, that‘s the key appeal of the Tea Party, that it provides simple solutions for incredibly complex problems.  You know, it—the solution to everything in the Tea Party ideology is market good, government bad.  And that‘s the thing that everybody can understand.  And that‘s what the appeal is for these people.

But it‘s just not that simple.  The world has gotten too big and there‘s so many rules now, it‘s just—there‘s no way to waive that magic wand.  And that‘s part of where the frustration comes from.

O‘DONNELL:  Matt Taibbi, another great piece on “Rolling Stone”—thanks for your time tonight.

TAIBBI:  Thanks for having me on.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: Author Bob Woodward joins me to describe the behind-the-scenes power struggle between the commander-in-chief and his generals as they try to plan a new way forward in Afghanistan.

And we‘ll have more on the worldwide reaction to my interview last night with Levi Johnston.  Yes, we‘ll show you the reaction from “The View.”


O‘DONNELL:  Levi Johnston, the almost son-in-law of half-term Governor Sarah Palin joined me on this show last night.  Now, I for one think Levi is a nice, straightforward guy, really good sport about coming here.  And, yes, he‘s very good looking.  I like him a lot.  I have no doubt why Bristol was so smitten.

But I wasn‘t at all so sure that America would care that I got him to sit down and answer some political questions.  I was wrong.


ANNOUNCER:  Live on “The View,” Levi Johnston‘s first interview since announcing he‘s running for mayor of Wasilla.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”:  Barbara, I‘m going to turn this right over to you because you have something going on with Levi Johnston.

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”:  I was, shall we say, concerned last night to see an interview that Lawrence O‘Donnell did.  He has a new show at 10:00 at night, and I stayed up and watched it.  And he was interviewing Levi Johnston.  A little knowledge, a little background.  (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can you really take it seriously?


MITCHELL:  You can‘t make it up.


O‘DONNELL:  You really can‘t make it up.  And I didn‘t make up those questions.  They were actually Katie Couric‘s questions to Sarah Palin.  Later, we‘ll go to the videotape, so you can see Sarah and Levi go head-to-head against the same questions.  It might just change your opinion of Levi‘s performance. 

Also ahead, author Bob Woodward.  “Obama‘s Wars” is his latest inside the White House.  This one the definitive picture of Barack Obama as commander in chief. 

And later, a Funny or Die world exclusive.  We‘ll preview its upcoming sketch on Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.


O‘DONNELL:  In one scene from Bob Woodward‘s new book on the Obama administration‘s struggle to find an exit plan in the war in Afghanistan, then Vice President Elect Joe Biden makes the rounds with the troops, asking everyone from colonels to sergeants to the guys on the front lines, what are we trying to do here? 

Almost everyone, he said, gave him a different answer, or just replied simply, I don‘t know.  The Obama war plan in Afghanistan is the subject of Bob Woodward‘s 16th book, “Obama‘s Wars.”  In our spotlight tonight, Bob Woodward. 

Bob, can you imagine Vice President Cheney in that same scene of yours that I just recounted about Joe Biden? 

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, “OBAMA‘S WARS”:  Probably not.  He wouldn‘t go around and ask that question.  That wasn‘t necessarily his style.  At the same time, it‘s conceivable.  But, as you know, Biden has this curiosity and this drive and this kind of soulful engagement with people.  And so he goes out and says, hey, what are you doing here? 

And he was very—this was at the beginning of the administration, actually before they took office.  He made the trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And it upset him deeply, and rightfully so, that the soldiers on the ground didn‘t exactly know what the mission was. 

O‘DONNELL:  It really strikes me in this book what a big presence Biden is, and how open he is with you.  I couldn‘t help but compare it to the Cheney presence or non-presence in your four-book series inside the Bush White House, where Cheney was one of the people who refused to cooperate with you in any way, and ever submit to—

WOODWARD:  That‘s not true.  Actually, there‘s a good deal of Cheney in those books.  Cheney is a hold it tight.  So, as you point out, Biden is the opposite, let it go. 

And one of the interesting parts here is the relationship between Obama and Biden.  And I asked Obama about this.  And I said, you know, don‘t—isn‘t Joe a little heavy handed here?  Doesn‘t he go too long, too far?  No.  Obama said he‘s doing exactly what I want.  I want him to push in the strategy review sessions.  And during this whole process, up to a couple months ago, as I report, Biden is asking the questions, worried profoundly about getting into another Vietnam. 

And he‘s 19 years older than Obama, remembers Vietnam.  Gets in his face about it. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, every one of these books provokes a round of apologies in Washington.  There‘s the famous now Biden quote about Dick Holbrooke—Richard Holbrooke being egotistical.  But as you continue the quote in the book, but not every press account continues it—but he is probably the best guy for the job. 

I had the vice president on Monday night.  It was his first interview since that quote came out.  And he was dealing with me with that quote, while Dick Holbrooke was in the green room here, having just completed an interview with “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” before this.  So I talked to Dick Holbrooke about it, too. 

When you actually to both of them about it, neither one of them really cares.  Do you feel that the press will grab little nuggets like that out of this book, which is about something so much more important than an individual‘s ego or adjectives used about an individual—do you find the press seizes on those things because they‘re so easy? 

WOODWARD:  Sometimes, but it‘s part of the story.  And the relationships in this book and the national security team are key, like any team.  And there is antagonism, and there is name calling, and there is distrust.  And when you look at it, try to step back, what does this show?  It shows many unsettled areas in the war in terms of this strategy. 

What are we really trying to do?  What is July of next year mean in terms of draw down?  Does the president—I pose this as a question—have the will to win?  Does he not use that kind of yes, we can language about the war, as he did when he was seeking the office of president. 

O‘DONNELL:  And he certainly doesn‘t use the certainty that appears in President Bush in your earlier books on this same war.  It‘s so interesting the difference between these approaches, as your books reveal.  President Bush very decisive at many stages in your books, where when we look back on it, we can think, ah, I wish he had maybe had one more meeting on that one, especially maybe weapons of mass destruction.  Gone over that information one more time. 

This is the president, it seems to me, who does have the extra meeting and does take into full consideration all of the variables. 

WOODWARD:  He does.  And it‘s—and this is the conflict within Obama, quite frankly.  He‘s commander in chief.  He knows and he committed himself in the campaign to make this the war we were going to pay attention to.  Intellectually, he looks at the data, the intelligence on the Afghan war, and there‘s a lot of dreary, negative news.  In fact, just back in May, he came out of one of the monthly reviews, the top secret kind of assessments they make in the Situation Room at the White House, and said, given this definition of the problem, I don‘t know how we come up with a solution. 

So this is a war that hangs in the balance.  It‘s not clear where it‘s going.  And this is the portrait of him, unvarnished, unspun, detail after detail, meeting—there are thousands of words where he is talking, where he‘s asking questions.  And you‘re absolutely right, it‘s different from Bush. 

Bush‘s meetings were essentially, my gut tells me we should invade Iraq.  How are we going to do it?  Now, he did have lots of meetings about how.  And I think as Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks convinced Bush was going to be easy—Paul Wolfowitz said it would take seven days, the war.  It looked easy.  And so we had a launch.  And, of course, we‘re still there. 

O‘DONNELL:  Ultimately, the picture that emerges in your series on the Bush administration war making machine, operation, it became a truly dysfunctional system, with generals afraid to say exactly what they thought to Rumsfeld, with people wondering, exactly what is Cheney saying privately to Bush after we leave the meeting that‘s supposed to be about this subject, circumventing national security process.  I mean, really kind of an out of control process that ends up being the sum effect of the picture described in those volumes. 

How does it compare to the process that we see of the Obama administration? 

WOODWARD:  Well, this is much more systematic.  You know, look, Obama, law professor.  What would you do as a law professor?  You give A‘s to people who can identify the most issues.  What are the questions here?  And if you come up with the list of 23, and everyone else comes up with six, you win the prize.  You get—

So it is very cerebral.  And this has been and now is very much the debate about the president.  Is there a little bit of a detachment, emotional detachment, a withdrawal?  Not because he doesn‘t care.  I mean, I‘m convinced he cares.  I think this is—he sought the office and he lives it.  But by being so cerebral, he puts himself—people—he‘s not grabbing people.  He‘s not like Joe Biden going around, hey, what are we doing here?  What do you think? 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, I had the chance to ask David Axelrod today in an interview I taped earlier today about a line in this book.  Let‘s hear what he had to say. 



O‘DONNELL:  I just want to ask you, one line in Bob Woodward‘s book where General Petraeus is quoted, after being in a briefing with you, a briefing about doing a television appearance, by the way.  And he‘s quoted as calling you a complete spin doctor.  Did you take that as a compliment? 

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER:  I did, indeed, because as I‘ve said before, General Petraeus is probably as good as they come on television.  And you‘ve seen him.  You have probably interviewed him.  He‘s masterful.

so if he‘s bestowing that mantle on me, I take it as a compliment. 


O‘DONNELL:  Bob, quickly, before you go—

WOODWARD:  One spin doctor to another. 

O‘DONNELL:  Exactly.  I‘m not going to ask you the question about how do you do it?  I know how you do it.  I was the subject of the Woodward interview back during the Clinton administration.  I was working in the Senate when you were doing your first Clinton book.  I got that phone call, the message Bob Woodward wants to talk to me.  There was no question—no question I was going to talk to you.  Because I know everyone else is trying to sell you their version of events.  I‘ve got to get in there and sell you my version of events.  That‘s why we all do it. 

WOODWARD:  It‘s not just selling. 

O‘DONNELL:  I was selling you the truth. 

WOODWARD:  You were—I came in with information, specific data points, memos, and so forth.  Senator Moynihan, who was your boss at that point, what‘s he thinking?  What‘s the road he‘s traveling, and so forth?  And so, look, there is—this is the wonderful, good news part about this country, is there‘s a little bit of the secret chair in everyone who wants to believe in the First Amendment, and kind of tell their story.  And so all we do as reporters, book authors, is sit there and listen. 

O‘DONNELL:  And you came in with more ammunition than any reporter I have ever met.  Your first question, 30 seconds in, you were at the meeting in the cabinet room on May 7th with the president, and everybody says you were taking notes.  Can I have your notes?  I was completely off balance.  I had no idea what to do next.  Completely intimidated by the Woodward method.   

WOODWARD:  We did go through your notes. 

O‘DONNELL:  We did, indeed.  We did, as you always get the notes.  Bob Woodward, thank you very much for your time tonight. 

WOODWARD:  Thanks. 

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, the latest shot in the battle over Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell comes from Sarah Silverman and the comedy writers at Funny or Die.  They‘ve given us exclusive permission to give you a sneak preview.

And Sarah Palin called them gotcha questions.  Levi Johnston barreled through them as best as he could.  Tonight, you get to decide who handled them better, the governor or the high school dropout? 


O‘DONNELL:  Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell, the law remains in effect despite the eloquent opposition of President Obama and Lady Gaga.  But nothing they say seems to impress Sarah Silverman and her friends at  Here now, in THE LAST WORD exclusive world premier, is their message. 


SARAH SILVERMAN, COMEDIAN:  I don‘t think you can fit in the cockpit of an F-16 if you‘re wearing a tutu.  And I don‘t think it‘s safe.  My tax dollars paid for that jet.  And I don‘t want some gay flying it in his little pink tutu. 

You probably think that means I don‘t want ballerinas in our military?  Not true.  I actually think there are scenarios, especially like espionage type assassination missions, where we need ballerinas behind enemy lines.  I just don‘t want them to be weird gay fruits. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re fighting two wars.  All right?  We got a stack a mile high of intelligence.  We don‘t have enough people translating.  Our country‘s in a recession.  And investigating and discharging gay soldiers, and recruiting and training their replacements has cost us 363 million dollars.  Two guys kissing is gross. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nightmare scenario: I have Osama bin Laden in my sites.  The openly gay guy next to me catches a whiff of my Axe Body Spray and can‘t help but kiss me. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  If we let gays serve their country, are we all going to have to start taking showers with our clothes on?  I, for one, do not want to see a naked gay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m in the shower with a straight lady, it‘s like hey, whatever.  I‘m in the shower with and gay, and all of a sudden, it‘s like, your body is so soft.  I don‘t want a gay lady making me think like that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  First, let openly gay people into the military.  Next, Chihuahuas wearing sequin vests.  That‘s just math.  OK?  What‘s next, unicorns wearing capri pants? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Army uniform on a gay?  I‘m sorry, but that would be like—that would be like this mustache on a gay guy, or this motorcycle jacket.  It would be wrong, and weird. 

SILVERMAN:  While none of us have actually served our country -- 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- we know exactly who we don‘t want doing it for us. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are Guys Against You Serving. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And we are proud. 


O‘DONNELL:  To see more Guys Against You Serving, head to or, where part two, with even more celebrities, will be posted soon. 

Coming up, two interviewees, two interviewers, one set of questions. 

Who did better?  Levi Johnston or Sarah Palin?  You decide after the break.   


O‘DONNELL:  Last night, Levi Johnston joined me to talk about his campaign for mayor of Wasilla.  Turns out, Levi and I have a lot in common.  We both hate homework.  When my boss, LAST WORD executive producer Isabella Povich (ph), ordered me to prepare for the interview, I closed my office door, went online and stole all my questions from Katie Couric‘s brilliant 2008 interviews of Sarah Palin. 

I leave it to you to decide who had the better answers. 


KATIE COURIC, CBS ANCHOR:  When it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read? 

SARAH PALIN, FMR. GOVERNOR OF ALASKA:  I read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media. 

COURIC:  What ones specifically, I‘m curious—

PALIN:  All of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years. 

O‘DONNELL:  When it comes to establishing your world view, I‘m just curious, what newspapers and magazines do you read regularly? 

LEVI JOHNSTON, CANDIDATE FOR MAYOR OF WASILLA, ALASKA:  I read the “Frontiersman” every once in a while.

O‘DONNELL:  “Frontiersman?”

JOHNSTON:  “Frontiersman,” Wasilla.  (INAUDIBLE) is 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:  What‘s your position on global warming?  Do you think it‘s



COURIC:  -- man-made or not?

PALIN:  There are man‘s activities that can be contributed to the issues that we‘re dealing with now with these impacts.  I‘m not going to solely blame all of man‘s activities on changes in climate, because the world‘s weather patterns are cyclical. 

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:  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, you know—that‘s a girl‘s decision, same with abstinence.  I don‘t believe in abstinence. 

COURIC:  How do you feel about the morning after pill? 

PALIN:  Well, I‘m all for contraception and I‘m all for any preventative measures that are legal and safe and should be taken.  But Katie, again, I am one to believe that life starts at the moment of conception.  And—

COURIC:  Ergo, you don‘t believe in the morning after pill. 

PALIN:  I would like to see fewer and fewer abortions in the world. 

Again, I haven‘t spoken with anyone who disagrees with my position on that. 

JOHNSTON:  I feel like if you‘re having unprotected sex, you get the girl pregnant, you should have the baby. 

COURIC:  I‘m sorry.  I just want to ask you again, do you condone or condemn the morning after pill? 

PALIN:  Personally, and this isn‘t a McCain/Palin policy—

COURIC:  No, that‘s OK.  I‘m just asking you. 

PALIN:  But personally, I would not chose to participate in that kind of contraception. 

COURIC:  Do you believe evolution should be taught as an accepted scientific principle or one of several theories? 

PALIN:  I think it should have be taught as an accepted principle. 

O‘DONNELL:  Do you believe evolution should be taught as an accepted scientific principle or one of several theories. 

JOHNSTON:  You‘re kind of getting over my head on these things here. 

Yes, I don‘t really know how to answer that question. 

COURIC:  Would you support a moratorium on foreclosure to help average Americans keep their homes. 

PALIN:  That‘s something that John McCain and I have both been discussing, whether that—that is part of the solution or not.  It‘s going to be a multifaceted solution that has to be found here. 

COURIC:  So you haven‘t decided whether you‘ll support it or not? 

PALIN:  I have not.

O‘DONNELL:  Would you support a moratorium on foreclosures to help average Americans keep their homes? 

JOHNSTON:  I believe I would. 

COURIC:  I know the McCain campaign has called for a surge in Afghanistan, but that country is, as you know, dramatically different than Iraq.  Why do you believe additional troops—U.S. troops will solve the problems there? 

PALIN:  Because we can‘t afford to lose in Afghanistan, as we cannot

afford to lose in Iraq either.  These central fronts on the war on terror -


O‘DONNELL:  In Afghanistan, do you believe additional troops—U.S.  troops will solve the problem there? 

JOHNSTON:  I have no idea. 

COURIC:  The United States is deeply unpopular in Pakistan.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you think the Pakistani government is protecting al Qaeda within its borders? 

PALIN:  I don‘t believe that new President Zardari has that mission at all. 

JOHNSTON:  Like I said, I don‘t watch a whole lot of TV. 

O‘DONNELL:  “Frontiersman” doesn‘t have much to say about that, right, when you‘re reading “Frontiersman?” 

JOHNSTON:  Apparently not. 

COURIC:  Do you believe the U.S. should negotiate with leaders like President Asad and Ahmadinejad? 

JOHNSTON:  Yeah, I do.  I think we should reason with everybody. 

PALIN:  You can‘t just sit down with him with no preconditions being met.  Barack Obama is so off base in his proclamation that he would meet with some of these leaders around our world who would seek to destroy America. 

JOHNSTON:  I‘m new to politics, I don‘t know a whole lot, you know? 


O‘DONNELL:  OK, I‘m voting for Levi, but it‘s up to you.  Who handled the questions better, Levi or Sarah?  Go to our blog at to vote.  We‘ll have the results tomorrow. 

Also tomorrow, we‘re joined by Meghan McCain and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Hey, has Katie interviewed Bloomberg? 

That‘s tonight‘s LAST WORD.  Thank you, Katie.  Nice working with you again.  “COUNTDOWN” is up next. 


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