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Wednesday, Oct. 20th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Jackie Calmes, Dahlia Lithwick, Brent Wilkes, Joel Burns, J.D.

Angle, Dana Milbank


Let‘s say a woman said something nasty about your husband under oath.  Let‘s say some people believed it, some didn‘t.  You didn‘t.  But you were eager to set the record straight, so you called the woman and asked her to apologize for saying that nasty thing about your husband, even though that would be an admission of perjury.

Why would you make that call?  And why would you make it 19 years later?

Only the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas knows the answers to the questions everyone was asking today.



VIRGINIA THOMAS, JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS‘ WIFE:  You need to teach them enough is enough.  Can I hear it?  Enough is enough?

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  After 19 years, the Tea Partying wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—opens an old wound.

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST:  One of the most explosive confrontations in Supreme Court history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A voicemail asking for an apology has reignited the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas scandal.

MITCHELL:  “Some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t have any comment at this point.

O‘DONNELL:  The ugliest Senate confirmation hearing ever.

ANITA HILL, LAW PROFESSOR:  Went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”

CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE:  As a black American, as far as I‘m concerned, it is a high-tech lynching.

HILL:  He would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters.

O‘DONNELL:  Their privacy shattered.

HILL:  I was portrayed as crazy.

O‘DONNELL:  After 19 years, why is Mrs. Thomas calling Anita Hill now?

MITCHELL:  What is the back story here and do we even know it?  We don‘t know the back story.

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST:  I don‘t think this is something that really makes linear sense.

V. THOMAS:  I‘m here to tell you a couple of thing that they‘re not going to tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It will probably come out that she was in an ambient stupor or maybe she‘s taping a reality TV show.

V. THOMAS:  Are you going to be intimidated?  Me either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is weird.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Weird.  And it might be just come—

V. THOMAS:  And they‘re hiding from you.

O‘DONNELL:  Anita Hill concerned enough about getting a voicemail from Justice Thomas‘ wife that she called the police.

HILL:  And I‘d really like to you get out of the street.  But I don‘t want anybody gets hurt.

O‘DONNELL:  And the police called the FBI.

V. THOMAS:  There was a tornado over our wedding when we got married. 

God knew we were both troublemakers.


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

Nearly 20 years after the Supreme Court nomination hearings that brought Long Dong silver and pubic hairs on Coke cans into nightly broadcast, Brandeis law professor, Anita Hill, received a voicemail from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas‘ wife.

“Good morning, Anita Hill.  It‘s Ginni Thomas,” the voice said.  “I would love for you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”

The out of the blue phone call to her husband‘s sexual harassment accuser coincides with Ginni Thomas‘s ramped up Tea Party activism.  Thomas recently founded and heads up a new group called Liberty Central.  The group has received over $500,000 from anonymous donors to fight the Obama tax increase.

So, what‘s motivating Ginni Thomas?  Is she the loyal wife tortured by a 20-year-old drama?  Did that drama force her and her husband to retreat into a defensive bubble?  And is there something in that siege mentality that actually fits into the Tea Party‘s world view perfectly?

Joining me now are: “New York Times” reporter Jackie Calmes and‘s senior editor, Dahlia Lithwick.

Jackie, on the morning that Ginni Thomas left that voice message for Anita Hill, you had an article in “The New York Times,” that morning‘s “New York Times,” questioning the new organization Ginni Thomas is involved with, Liberty Central, and how that might or might not be appropriate to the wife of a Supreme Court justice—how it might or might not have an impact on the justice‘s thinking.

Do you think there was anything in that article that might have provoked such a phone call that morning?

JACKIE CALMES, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, it‘s hard to believe it was just a coincidence.  And people throughout the newsroom, you know, said today, it had to be something.  But there wasn‘t even a mention in that article about the, you know, Supreme Court confirmation hearings 19 years ago.

The story had gone up on the Web on Friday night.  I had gone to Richmond to hear her address the Tea Party convention for Virginia Tea Party members.  There has to be a connection.  But, you know, it‘s going to take somebody other than me to explain it.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, the one that I‘ve heard theorized today, that she was maybe trying to create a furor of some kind that would distract attention from your article and refocus attention on Clarence Thomas and Mrs. Thomas using whatever device she could—in this case, possibly the worst device: harkening back to the Senate confirmation hearings.

CALMES:  Well, if that were true, it really back fired.  It‘s hard for me to believe it‘s true for that matter, but then it‘s hard for me to believe that she made this call and left this message after 19 years, because I covered those hearings 19 years ago, and, you know, I have a daughter since then who‘s now in college and who‘s going to vote in November, and probably knows next to nothing about those confirmation hearings.

And now, through shows like this, the network news, “New York Times,” this whole thing will be re-litigated and people who never really knew about the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas showdown are now going to be reading about it and I don‘t see where that helps the justice.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  I‘m not worried about my daughter finding out about it.  She never watches this show.


O‘DONNELL:  Dahlia, do you have a working theory about what that phone call was about?

DAHLIA LITHWICK, SALON.COM:  I‘m as baffled as everyone else.  I mean, my own sense is, it‘s again, hard to imagine even if she‘s confronting this “New York Times” piece that is raising questions, you know, ethical questions the financial relationship between her organization and her husband‘s role as a justice, how that would then vault her into making this very passive aggressive phone call.

I mean, this is a—it purports to be an olive branch, but it‘s kind of an olive branch in the eye.  I mean, it‘s not a phone call that is going to really work out well for her in the end.

And Anita Hill, I think, went out of her way to say, you don‘t sort of offer an olive branch and then say, but it‘s going to require to you admit that you‘re a big liar and a perjurer.

So, I don‘t see where re-litigating helps her.  I mean, all these years later, we‘ve got books that have come out, exhaustive studies.  Everybody at this point, I think, knows that Anita Hill was willing to take a polygraph test, Clarence Thomas didn‘t take one.  None of this nets out to his benefit.

And so, my working theory is: maybe in some bizarre theory, this is a spin on mama grizzlies.  It‘s a spin on the immigration fight.  This is a new way to reframe a really ugly conversation we‘re having about gender and race in America right now—so why not rip open the wound and have it—have the conversation we‘re having 19 years ago?

But it‘s not a good theory.  It doesn‘t work out well, and it doesn‘t net to her benefit.

O‘DONNELL:  Dahlia, Jackie‘s article certainly provoked a discussion of what is proper for Supreme Court spouses to be involved with.  There are no written rules that I‘m aware of, of what they can or cannot do.  Political advocacy, in this case, within the polls of our politics in this country, what would be called extreme political advocacy is in no way barred.

But is it wise?  Is this—does this make sense for a Supreme Court justice‘ spouse to be engaged in what Mrs. Thomas is engaged in?

LITHWICK:  Well, to be clear, to the extent that there are ethical rules, they bind Clarence Thomas, not Ginni Thomas.  So, he is the one, I think, who‘s staring down barrel of an ethical conflict when people who are making $500,000 donations to her group feel that they somehow have an in with him and then he has to respond.

And the standard is so mushy.  The standard is: is there an appearance of impropriety?  Usually, it only goes for financial matters.  And so, this political advocacy issue may not be an issue, although I think the financial question is an issue.

But at the end of the day, I mean, if your question is: is this smart?  Does this look good for the court?  Does this promote court is above politics?  No, it does none of that.

And that ultimately is why the justices have these recusal rules.  It‘s not anyone clear line in the sand.  It‘s just a sensibility that says the American public doesn‘t want to believe that their judge is biased, and this really raises questions about whether or not he can be perfectly unbiased when his wife is out there basically taking pot shots at the Obama administration.

O‘DONNELL:  Jackie, you‘ve been asking those questions and been reporting on this.  How different is Mrs. Thomas‘ political activities to other Supreme Court spouses?  And are there any other historical examples of this kind of thing?

CALMES:  This is really uncharted waters.  I mean, this—there is no close comparison to this.  And I talked to a number of scholars, legal scholars in some of the law school around the country, and none of them had much issue with her political activism.

And to be fair to her, this predated her meeting and marrying Justice Thomas.  He was—he hadn‘t joined the Supreme Court, of course, when she met him.

And the—you know, the problem isn‘t so much her advocacy but these contributions she took.  We know for a fact from IRS filings of Liberty Central that she accepted $500,000 -- a single $500,000 contribution and a $50,000 contribution.  That was in late 2009, basically the seed money for her group.

They‘ve acknowledged they‘ve received contributions this year and that she is compensated by the group.  Those things we won‘t know until they file their taxes next year.  And the IRS makes that information available.  But they redact.  They cover up the name of the donors.

So, unless they tell us the name of the donors, we‘ll never know them.

And I think—you really have to question the judgment—and it‘s

not just me saying this, it‘s these scholars who would otherwise defend her

you have to question why the wife of a Supreme Court justice would take $500,000 from some secret donor.


OLBERMANN:  Dahlia, you saw Ginni Thomas speak at a Tea Party rally in Virginia.  She doesn‘t seem in the video we have to maintain a very dignified air about her public speaking appearances.  We have this video of her with the silly hat on.

Is that fair video or does she strike a—does she have a more, pardon the expression, judicial bearing in some of these speeches?

LITHWICK:  No, but I think that‘s her charm.  I mean, she‘s very bubbly.  She‘s very down to earth.

She—you know, this—I think Jackie and I were at the same Tea Party event in Richmond two weeks ago.  She is absolutely convincing in this message that is, yes, I‘ve lived in Washington for three decades.  I‘ve been involved in party politics for three decades.  Only my husband is a Supreme Court justice, but we‘re still outsiders and we‘re not part of the Washington elite.

And part of the way she does that, and it‘s very effective, is she‘s just very, very kind common sense—I think to the extent that you could almost say low brow and fun and girlish.  So, there‘s nothing stuffy or judicial wife about her.  She‘s very much in the model of a Sarah Palin or a Christine O‘Donnell.  She‘s just someone you‘d borrow a cup of sugar from.

But, I think again, it‘s a little bit in conflict with this idea that her husband is a Supreme Court justice, that he does have one of the most elevated jobs in the land.  That‘s a very, very tough sell to say, “We‘re outsiders.  We‘re not Washington elites.”  It doesn‘t get much more elite than a Supreme Court justiceship.

And so, I think it‘s a fun line and she walks it by being absolutely lovable.

O‘DONNELL:  Jackie, the Thomases seem from this distance to be a couple under siege.  They seem that way at the confirmation hearings and seem they may have lived that way since.

The Tea Party movement includes people who feel themselves under siege, who feel they‘ve lost the country and they now need to mount a rebellion to take it back.

Do you sense any spiritual connection between what you‘ve discovered about the Thomases as a couple and some of the sounds we hear coming from the Tea Party movement?

CALMES:  Well, they‘ve—you know, they‘ve been married now for 23 years.  By all accounts, you know, have a good marriage.  But, you know, who can say?

And I think, you know, they‘re very close.  And she has really gone out there for the past year and become really a part of the Tea Party.

And, you know, Lawrence, that there is a lot of suspicion among Tea Party members about people with a long time Republican pedigree and being part of the inside-the-Beltway crowd, as she has certainly been, even if she, you know, likes to put down the elites of Washington.  There is a sense of real suspicion in the Tea Party against people like that.  But she has succeeded.

I‘ve called all around the country to Tea Party members and they—most people were familiar with her.  A lot of them had talked to her.  And they said—one person in particular I quoted in my story said that she has managed to live inside the Beltway without being corrupted by it.  And I have no reason—you know, whatever that means, I—you know, I‘ve been inside the Beltway for more a quarter century, too, and I don‘t feel like I‘ve been corrupted by it.  But, you know, she might disagree.

So—but I—you know, she has been able to really, as she wants.  It‘s her goal, she says, to be a bridge between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party.  And that‘s what she‘s trying to do.

O‘DONNELL:  Jackie Calmes of “The New York Times” and Dahlia Lithwick of “Slate”—thank you for joining the guessing game on what was Ginni Thomas thinking when she made that phone call.  Thank you very much for you both.

Last night, we exposed an organization trying to convince Latinos to not vote on Election Day.  Tonight, Hispanic leaders join to us deliver the opposite message.

And later, Joel Burns‘ emotional effort to end gay bullying.  Today, the Fort Worth city councilman was on the Ellen DeGeneres show.  Tonight, he‘s on THE LAST WORD with his husband.


O‘DONNELL:  Last night, we exposed Republicans behind a new ad that encourages Hispanics to boycott this election.  Tonight, we‘ll talk to Latino leaders who are outraged at this attempt to suppress the Latino vote.

And the business of Glenn Beck: advertisers have dropped his show, but FOX News is standing by their man.  Now, a boycott campaign is underway against the entire network.  That‘s ahead on THE LAST WORD.


O‘DONNELL:  Last night, we showed you this political ad.


NARRATOR:  Don‘t vote this November.  This is the only way to send them a clear message.  You can no longer take us for granted.  Don‘t vote.


O‘DONNELL:  I discussed the ad with the man who made it, Robert De Posada, the head of an organization he calls Latinos for Reform.


O‘DONNELL:  Now, the League of United Latin American Citizens is a much bigger organization than yours, LULAC.  We reached out to their national executive director today, Brent Wilkes.

He issued this statement to us today in reaction your ad: “We‘ve been working for years to increase the Latino vote.  I am shocked and outrage that Robert De Posada would release these ads.  It‘s a cynical effort that is designed to get Sharron Angle elected in Nevada.”

Now, Robert, you used to work at the Republican National Committee. 

So this is really all about—


O‘DONNELL:  -- it‘s really all about suppressing the Latino vote to help elect Republicans, isn‘t it?  This is just a Republican charade.

DE POSADA:  It‘s about making people accountable.  It‘s about making people accountable for their promises.  And that‘s what we‘re not doing right here.  You‘re focusing on something 20 years ago in my career.

Right now, we‘re trying to make sure that people start respecting the Latino voters, that people stop taking us for granted and telling us we have no option but to vote for the people who are promising everything every two years.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Brent Wilkes, and executive director of Voto Latino and MSNBC contributor, Maria Teresa Kumar.

Brent Wilkes, who does Robert De Posada really represent?

BRENT WILKES, LULAC NAT‘L. EXEC. DIRECTOR:  Well, he represents himself, and he represents a group of people who are trying to suppress the Latino vote and keep Latinos at home.  And to make sure they don‘t have a voice in our electoral process, which is really disconcerting to us because we‘ve fought for many years to make sure that Latinos were engaging, were voting and were part of our political process.

And this is a fundamental undermining of the American democracy.  And we‘re very concerned with this step by Robert De Posada and his group.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, Maria Teresa, he says he‘s not alone.  Let‘s listen to what he said about that.


DE POSADA:  It was not only me.  Many officials and many grassroots organizations across the country that are supporting us in this effort are outraged of the fact that they completely ignored our people.

O‘DONNELL:  Robert—


O‘DONNELL:  Maria Teresa, are any other legitimate Latino organizations telling Latinos to not vote?


Let me just be clear: is it democracy when someone tells you not to vote?  I‘ll go (INAUDIBLE).  Something is fishy.  Something smells bad.

And what‘s he‘s trying to do is trying link immigration as the number one priority for a Latino voter and he clearly doesn‘t know the Latino voter.  The American Latino voter says that the number—two things they care about, one is jobs.  One is staying in their homes.  And it‘s immigration ranks fifth on their list of priorities.

The issue is that Nevada -- 17 percent of all eligible voters are Hispanic and people are afraid of them actually going out to the polls because, unfortunately, they are being squeezed far more than the rest of the country, and they‘re going to participate.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, Brent, these don‘t vote ads seem to be targeting just Democrats, especially in Nevada where it‘s neck-in-neck between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle—very, very large Latino vote in Nevada.  And the images in the ads are all about Democratic politicians who have failed Latinos, all in marginal races.

Is that why you said this is really just a tactic to get Sharron Angle elected?

WILKES:  Well, yes.  And I think, on top of that, Sharron Angle has run some extremely divisive ads where she‘s portrayed Latinos as the enemy.  And the “us” in her commercial, the good guys, are white people exclusively.  It‘s very frightening.

So, she‘s basically tossed in the towel with the Latino votes.  She knows she‘s not going to get any support from the Latino community.  So, their goal is to get them to stay at home and not come out.

And I really agree with Maria Teresa—Latinos are much smarter than what this ad portrays.  They aren‘t going to be fooled by this.  They‘re going to vote and they‘re going to be mad, too, because they see this as just another one of those efforts to try to keep them from having their voice in American democracy and they‘re being rejected.

O‘DONNELL:  And, Brent, LULAC, your organization, has come out against the kind of thing that Sharron Angle has been doing in the campaign, running ads like this one.  Take a look.


NARRATOR:  First, Harry Reid votes to give special tax breaks and Social Security benefits to illegal aliens.  Then, Reid cheers as the president of Mexico slammed Arizona‘s tough illegal immigration law.

Now, Reid has introduced a plan that gives illegals a path way to amnesty and even special colleagues‘ tuition rates with the money coming from Nevada taxpayers.

Harry Reid, the best friend illegals have ever had.


O‘DONNELL:  Maria Teresa, there is no doubt about what the message is in that ad, is there?

KUMAR:  It‘s shameful and it‘s divisive, as Brent said.

But more importantly, I think what we have to look at is: there are ads being place in the Nevada that talked about the issues Latinos care about.  Voto Latino works very close with individuals, Tim Daly, Rosario Dawson and Eva Longoria, to talk about the issues we care about: jobs, immigration, natural security, the environment.  Those are the ads we should be highlighting.  At the end of the day, that‘ what—again, an American Latino voter cares about.  We‘re very issue-based, much more so because we‘re a new electorate.  We‘re not either Republican or Democratic.  We‘re still trying to get someone to compete for our vote.  And the best way to do it is to talk to us about the issues.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Maria Teresa, let‘s look at that Voto Latino, that you‘re running.  Let‘s take a look at that one.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- are considering laws—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  -- that would condone racial profiling—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- under the guise of immigration reform—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  -- eroding our rights—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- attacking our values.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Take history‘s lesson.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  -- we need a united voice—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- to demand solutions—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  -- to our country‘s toughest problems.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And national security.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Live your legacy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  -- the united—






O‘DONNELL:  Brent, how do you counter a last-minute surprise in an election campaign like this coming from Robert De Posada, a message telling Latinos: don‘t vote?

WILKES:  Well, I think we use it actually.  We tell Latinos, look, here‘s what we‘ve been saying.  There are forces out there that don‘t want you to have a voice.  There‘s big money behind it.

But they‘re not their true voices.  We know this isn‘t coming from our community.  We know it‘s coming from the outside.  We‘ve even seen that the same folks that supported the Swift Boat Veterans and other really conservative, extremist groups are supporting Robert‘s group.

So, clearly, this isn‘t the Latino effort.  This is outside the Latino effort, to try to keep Latinos from voting.

They‘re going to reject this and they‘re going to vote in a big, strong way.  And I think the fact that Robert is running these ads is a sign that they‘re worried in Nevada that the Latino vote is going to come out strong.  It‘s going to help re-elect Harry Reid and it‘s going to be the Latino vote that makes a big difference in this election.  I think the polls are starting to show that.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you, Maria Teresa Kumar of Voto Latino, and Brent Wilkes of the League of United Latin American Citizens.  Thank you both for joining me tonight.

KUMAR:  Thank you, Lawrence.

WILKES:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  As Joel Burns‘ powerful message about teen bullying approaches 2 million on hits on the Internet, he‘ll join me to talk about the response he‘s gotten from around the world, and introduce us to his husband.

And later, the C-Span moment you have to see to believe.  A boring panel discussion suddenly turns into a live public spat between former lovers.  That‘s tonight‘s “Rewrite.”


O‘DONNELL:  In the spotlight tonight, Ft. Worth City Councilor Joel Burns and his message to bullied gay teens considering suicide: “stick around.  Life gets better.”  Joel Burns will join us in a moment.  But first, in another look at the video we showed you last week of Joel delivering his message of hope in a city council meeting. 


JOEL BURNS, FT. WORTH, TEXAS CITY COUNCILMAN:  One day when I was in the ninth grade, just starting Crowley High School, I was cornered after school by some older kids who roughed me up.  They said that I was a faggot and that I should die and to go hell where I belonged.  That erupted the fear that I had kept pushed down, that what I was beginning to fell on the inside must somehow be showing on the outside. 

Ashamed, humiliated and confused, I went home.  There must be something very wrong with me, I thought, something could I never let my family or anyone else know. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Catch your breath. 

BURNS:  If I could, I would take the 13-year-old me by the hand and take him to the campaign office in 1992 of then Governor Clinton where for a very speechless moment, my now partner, J.D. Angle and I saw each other for the first time.  I would take that 13-year-old me to the first day of Spring in 1999, on a West Texas ranch hill top, surrounded by a dozen head of black Angus cattle who thought we were there to feed, and as the sunset, turning the sky pink and purple and orange in a way that only a West Texas sunset can, I jabbed my hands into my jeans pocket and pulled out two rings I had literally spent my last dollar on and slipped one on to J.D.‘s hand and asked him to spend the rest of his life with me. 


O‘DONNELL:  The 12-minute speech has been viewed over 1.9 million times.  You can watch it on our site,  Joining me now, Ft. Worth City Councilman Joel Burns and his husband, political consultant J.D. Angle. 

Joel, what reaction have you gotten from this video going worldwide? 

BURNS:  Well, the reaction I‘ve gotten is one that I never would have expected a week ago.  It has been an amazing experience.  I have both people who are adults who have gone through similar experiences, from literally every continent on the planet.  I have had Australia, South Africa, you name it, from all over. 

And then in addition to that, we‘re getting quite a few kids who are emailing, who are texting me.  They found my cell phone number and I‘m getting text phone messages from them.  They find me on and on the Facebook.  They‘re sending messages sometime when they‘re in a bad place. 

So fortunately, with this onslaught of now more than 20,000 e-mails and Facebook messages, I have a small little army of friends and family who are helping me make sure that each one of those messages gets seen in a timely manner and responded in the case there is a potential crisis. 

O‘DONNELL:  J.D., did you consult with Joel, talk to him about this speech as he was working on it, and considering talking about painful details of his life struggle that he had never talked about before? 

J.D. ANGLE, JOEL BURNS‘ HUSBAND:  No, not at all.  I didn‘t know that Joel had even crafted this speech until shortly before he delivered it there at the council.  I was—frankly, by the time it was being delivered, I was still in the impact of having seeing the words written for the first time.  I received a text message from Joel letting me know that he had talked to the mayor about taking a moment of personal privilege at the beginning of the council meeting.  And I asked him a little bit about what he was going to say. 

And frankly, there was a little bit of time before he answered me.  And he mentioned that he was going to talk about the bullying episodes and the suicides that had happened.  And I knew that this had been on Joel‘s mind, and that we had talked about it a little bit.  But certainly nothing about his personal experience.  I didn‘t know any part of this story after 17 years of being together in our marriage.  I had never heard this story. 

O‘DONNELL:  J.D., were you there for the speech? 

ANGLE:  No, I wasn‘t.  Part of that exchange was me asking him whether should I come.  And my concern for him being able to deliver this, because, again, I was still in the impact and just amazed by the courage to go forward with saying these words.  And I thought it would probably be very difficult for Joel, and even myself to be there and watch him say these words. 

So I wasn‘t in the council chambers at the time of the meeting. 

O‘DONNELL:  Joel, were you surprised by the supportive reaction of your fellow city council members? 

BURNS:  No, not really.  Actually, it was the support that I got—I‘m very happy to have received that support.  But we have a fairly functioning city council.  I think that you see a lot of divisive counsels around the country and mine is certainly not like that.  I have a lot of support.  And even those that I politically may not see eye to eye with have a very good relationship with. 

The surprise came in the outpouring from people around the world.  I remember the morning—it was posted on Wednesday morning.  I remember seeing at I believe around noon or so that 5,000 people had seen it.  I was just dismayed.  I thought how could there be more than 5,000 people to ever see this video.  Of course it grew much, much beyond that. 

O‘DONNELL:  J.D., do the thought experiment where you are not Joel‘s partner, but you are his political consultant.  And he comes to you, as a politician, and says this is the speech I‘m thinking of giving.  You read that speech.  As a political consultant only, what would you have said to him? 

ANGLE:  Well, I‘ll tell you.  As Joel‘s husband and him being elected and me having done this so many years, I have found that I fail over and over again at being his political consultant, because I am certainly his husband first, and it is hard not to be emotional.  I think I would have cautioned him.  And in retrospect, that would have been perhaps not the best advice. 

And I find that when our elected officials and our public servants act with courage and integrity, they‘re almost always right.  And this was certainly something that Joel wasn‘t doing as part of thinking about politics.  And we didn‘t spend much time considering that in the brief moments that I knew, again, because you‘ve seen the video and the delivery of those words.  There is something so powerful in their clarity and their honesty that it is obviously the right thing to say. 

And I think what people see is the Joel that I know and love, and that I get the chance to be with all the time.  And it is very gratifying. 

And you know, it is painful to watch.  It hurts me to se Joel hurt and to see him be very present to those painful moments.  But I also think that that‘s what is so powerful for the teens that may be there, to see that you can survive that hurt with love and support. 

O‘DONNELL:  Joel Burns, did you have any final doubt as you were approaching the microphone to whether you should or shouldn‘t do it? 

BURNS:  A little.  I knew that—I had actually written this on Tuesday during a lunch break.  I went home because I knew that I would cry when I wrote it.  So I figured I needed to be somewhere where could I do that.  I knew that it was going to be hard to deliver.  J.D.—I could tell he was very worried during our brief phone conversation between pre-council and council meeting, that he was worried about me being able to do that. 

And I also thought about my own parents.  As you saw in the video, I really considered—I got to the point of having to really talk about the specifics of that day.  And I just had this realization, this vision of my parents listening to the specifics of that.  And I‘ve since had a conversation with them and they said I was right.  It would have been almost too painful for them to bear, to actually hear it. 

And the other nice thing about my hesitation was that it allowed me to really focus on what happens after that, and that you get to this better place out of the darkness, where you realize that there is this full life of wonderful memories that you can make. 

O‘DONNELL:  Joel Burns, thank you for the message you delivered last week.  Joel and J.D., thank you very much for joining us tonight as a couple. 

BURNS:  Thank you very much. 

ANGLE:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, C-Span gone wild.  A book discussion veered wildly off course on live TV when one of the panelists decided to delve into the romantic life he shared with one of the other panelists.  That‘s tonight‘s Rewrite.. 

And Dana Milbank‘s “Tears of the Clown, Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America.”


O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  Poor Jonah Goldberg.  The conservative columnist and Fox News contributor was just trying to have a civil panel discussion about his new book, “Proud To Be Right.” a collection of essays by fellow conservatives with such titles as “Pursuing Happiness,”.”the conservative gene,” “Choosing Freedom or Chains,” “The Girls I Knew at Yale,” “The Consistency of Gay Conservatives,” and “Why I‘m Glad All Liberals Are Bullies.” 

Those are the real titles of the essays in the book.  One of the book‘s essayists on Golberg‘s panel, Todd Seavey, calmly and logically took a discussion with another panelist, Helen Rittelmeyer, where Goldberg never dreamed it could go. 


TODD SEAVEY, COLUMNIST:  I think you‘ll find a lot of Helen‘s positions are actually guided by the desire to increase suffering. 


SEAVEY:  That might explain it.  She is almost always defending something that most of us would find horrific, whether it is corrupt politicians over reformers or bar brawlers.  She‘ll defend, say, Catholic moralists one moment, but defend prostitutes and bad girls the next. 

Could there be something much darker going on in Helen‘s thinking?  I mean, I know that the gamesmanship within the party of the right has sometimes taken brutal forms that went far beyond just political sparring. 

RITTELMAYER:  Fight club. 

SEAVEY:  You know, you‘re not supposed to talk about party of the right fight club.  But I probably should confess that Helen and I dated for two years.  So we‘ve sparred about many things.  It might come as a surprise to some of you that we dated for two years, not just because we have ideological differences, but because there are probably some people in this room who also dated Helen during those two years, given how tumultuous things got.  It was sort of on again, off again. 

RITTELMAYER:  No.  I‘m in fare of combativeness. 

SEAVEY:  And at time her gamesmanship would even include thing like coldly saying at one point that she was going to play match maker and set up a couple—


SEAVEY:  -- and then seduce the man away to play with his mind and hurt the woman, which when you think about it is pretty creepy, kind of disturbing. 

RITTELMAYER:  Is all this going on C-Span? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is all on C-Span.  This is—

RITTELMAYER:  For the record—

SEAVEY:  I believe five months later, she made good on this somewhat disturbing promise. 


SEAVEY:  And I doubt anyone here who knows me well really thinks I‘m making this up. 

What is it you don‘t want people to do to each other?  What sort of evils are beyond the pale, when you‘ve encouraged the world of this sort of boxing and brawling and fighting and hurting each in other an almost sadomasochistic way? 

RITTELMAYER:  Off the top of my head, what do I think is off bounds? 

I don‘t know, spilling your heart out on C-Span? 


O‘DONNELL:  To Helen‘s first question, yes, it was all going on C-Span.  To her second question, yes, spelling your heart out on C-Span is out of bounds.  But Seavey‘s heart felt case against gamesmanship and intimate relations, though a bit harsh on prostitutes and bad girls, is well argued.  The bad girl in question, Helen, doesn‘t dispute that.  She simply makes the point that context is everything. 

And nothing could be more wrong, more out of bounds, more out of context than spilling your heart out on C-Span.  Everything Todd wanted to say to Helen either really shouldn‘t have been said, because he recognizes the hopelessness of saying it—why say anything to a former love if not to get her back—or if he absolutely had to say this, had to make her hear this in order to get to with his life, and needed to say it on TV so that we could all be warned about or attracted to Helen.  Then this was the place to say it. 




O‘DONNELL:  Helen‘s essay in the Goldberg collection is entitled “The Smoker‘s Code.”  Todd‘s essay title is “Conservatism For Punks.”  Helen, you should have known.


O‘DONNELL:  Glenn Beck has called President Obama a racist, the Antichrist.  He has even mocked the president‘s 11-year-old daughter.  He has railed against nonexistent FEMA concentration camps and secret one world government conspiracies.  Beck has also admitted on “The View” that he does not check his facts. 

All of that coupled with his constant accusations of Marxism, Socialism, Fascism and Nazism running wild in the White House make Beck rantings very difficult to keep up with.  But our next guest has done the work for us. 

Joining me now, “Washington Post” columnist Dana Milbank, whose new book, “Tears of a Clown, Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America.” 

Dana, first of all, how did you get that Glenn Beck picture on the cover of your book, which is the least flattering Beck picture I have ever seen?  I have a feeling he didn‘t sit down and pose for you. 

DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Au contraire.  Not for me, but he did sit down and pose for “GQ.”  Do you think these tears are genuine?  He had menthol put under the eyes and it produced the tears.  There‘s a video of it online, in fact.  But those are genuine chemically induced tears. 

O‘DONNELL:  What is the most—I just want to go right to the Cliff Notes version of this book for our viewers.  What is the most disturbing thing you learned about this very strange man? 

MILBANK:  Well, it is a very difficult thing to say, because one chapter after the other is—presents you with things more disturbing than you can imagine. 

You mentioned a couple, the idea of floating the notion that our government is operating a concentration camp in Wyoming, calling the president a racist.  I think perhaps the most damaging thing that Beck is doing is his Hitler tick, as I call it.  I did an updated tally for you tonight; 640 mentions on his show since the beginning of the last year of Hitler, Nazis, Fascists.  This on the average twice per episode. 

Bringing Hitler and Nazis into the debate as a way of labeling your opponent is something that is done in the most extreme of situations, because it essentially shuts down the debate.  You can‘t have any reasonable discussion.  So it speaks volume that Beck does this on average twice a night. 

O‘DONNELL:  You‘ve found some connections between Beck‘s on air rhetoric and the language of his Mormon faith.  What did you find there? 

MILBANK:  Right.  It is a controversial area, because certainly some of the fundamentalist Christian followers that Beck has, they find appealing his end times philosophy.  But they don‘t necessarily agree with his Mormon theology. 

He speaks in what I think you would call a coded language, so that people of—who subscribe to these Mormon theories—they‘re pretty obscure Mormon theories.  For example, one is called the White Horse Prophecy that has been kicking around for 150 years or so.  And it says that there will be a time when the Constitution is hanging by a thread.  The leaders of the Mormon church will step in and save the Constitution. 

Beck, of course, doesn‘t say the Mormons will step in and save the Constitution.  He doesn‘t mention the White Horse Prophecy.  But frequently brings up this reference in a sort of a coded way to his viewers on air.  In fact, occasionally with Mormon guests who repeat the phrase back to him. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now how did Glenn Beck become Glenn Beck?  His resume, which I‘ve kind of glanced at in certain forms over time, includes stand-up comedian, radio shock jock, alcoholic, a reformed alcoholic.  I mean, he rattles this stuff off.  I‘m trying to remember things he has said about himself.  How does that biography take shape over time? 

MILBANK:  Well, he‘s very much used it to his advantage.  It is a compelling story, even if you hate Glenn Beck.  He turned his life around maybe about a dozen years ago, and gave up the cocaine, gave up the alcohol, got himself a new wife and found religion.  Now he is proposing sort of a 12-step program for America.  That‘s part of his success, is he can speak in the language of this 12 step program. 

I think what is interesting to note is that before all of this, Beck was a self-described liberal.  He had a pony tail, supported abortion rights.  It seems that he got out in front of what he saw as this growing conservative movement.  You can‘t know exactly what is in the guy‘s head.  But we do know that he has changed his views when it is convenient. 

O‘DONNELL:  None of us knows more of what‘s in his head than Dana Milbank.  Dana, thank you very much for doing this work so the rest of us don‘t have to.  The book is “Tears of a Clown.”  Thank you, Dana. 

You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog,  And you can follow my occasional Tweets @Lawrence.  That‘s tonight‘s LAST WORD.  “COUTNDOWN” is up next. 


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