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Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guest Host: Chris Hayes

Guests: Ari Berman, Adam Green, Roger Hodge, James Babb, John Gage

CHRIS HAYES, GUEST HOST:  I‘m Chris Hayes, in for Lawrence O‘Donnell tonight.

President George Washington t‘ granted the first presidential pardon in 1794 to leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion after they lead the first major challenge to presidential authority.  The government was compassionate even after a brutal fight.

Today at the White House, President Obama pardoned two turkeys before Thanksgiving.  They, however, were not the ones responsible for the president‘s greatest challenges.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  One of the most important duties that I carry out as president, before everybody heads home for Thanksgiving—

HAYES (voice-over):  The politics of air security haven‘t slowed holiday travel so far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t think anybody‘s going to miss Thanksgiving because of any sort of protest.

HAYES:  But when it‘s over, Washington goes from carving turkeys to debating ducks.

OBAMA:  It feels pretty good to stop at least one shellacking this November.

HAYES:  After the Republicans stood the president up for a first meeting to spend the day attacking the commander-in-chief—

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  We‘ve just come through a two-year period where we saw the government take over just about everything it could get its hands on.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, OHIO:  We think that Obamacare will ruin the best health care system in the country.

HAYES:  They will try again.

OBAMA:  I have the awesome responsibility of granting a presidential pardon to a pair of turkeys.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS:  His meeting with Republicans will, of course, take place next week.

HAYES:  Congress and the president will have to decide what to do about the expiring Bush tax cuts.

GUTHRIE:  What‘s still unclear, at least to me, what position he‘s going to take, what is the compromise position?

HAYES:  Democrats have to decide whether to force a showdown.

GUTHRIE:  I think there‘s a significant disagreement that feels like they‘re almost kind of waiting to see what the Republicans will do.

HAYES:  The White House reaching out to big business in the middle of record profits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I got people complaining over here, I got those same people investing like they never have before on the other side and I can‘t square the two.

HAYES:  In the Senate, John McCain is still threatening to filibuster the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  In my view, the policy has been working and I think it‘s been working well.

HAYES:  Harry Reid promises action on the DREAM Act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If Harry Reid wins re-election in Nevada, he‘d better start understanding how to say “muchas gracias.”

HAYES:  And all sides will have to agree on what to do about the growing crisis in North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The George Washington, that aircraft carrier, will be deployed to South Korea to join military drill, a military drill, military exercises scheduled to begin this coming weekend.

OBAMA:  We strongly affirm our commitment to defend South Korea as part of that alliance.

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  We stand with our North Korean allies.  We‘re bound to by treaty—


PALIN:  Yes. And—

OBAMA:  What I‘m saying is I don‘t think about Sarah Palin.

PALIN:  You need a little bit of levity in this job.


HAYES:  Good evening from New York.

This holiday season, American corporations have a lot to be thankful for.  They just had one of their best quarters ever, posting profits of approximately $1.6 trillion.

Despite the big numbers, the White House has signaled its concern about, quote, “strained” relations with the business community and wants to make itself more accessible to corporate executives when it rebuilds its economic team.

But as Americans continue to struggle with the threat of joblessness and foreclosure, should President Obama be more concerned about strained relationships with the mainstream?  And where will the White House stand in the fights over tax cuts and the extension of unemployment benefits when the lame duck session of Congress returns next week?

Joining me now are: Ari Berman, author of “Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics.”  Roger Hodge, author of “The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism.”  And Adam Green, cofounder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Gentlemen, thank you all for being here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thanks for having us.

HAYES:  So, let‘s start with this news about record profits.

And I want to ask you, Roger.  One of the arguments you make in the book is that, fundamentally, Barack Obama has always been a creature of business interests.  How do you understand the sort of—the corporate profits and the fact that the business people aren‘t happy with him?

ROGER HODGE, AUTHOR, “THE MENDACITY OF HOPE”:  Well, he hurt their feelings.  He said that they were fat cats, and that‘s got to hurt.  I mean, otherwise, I don‘t understand it, because he came into office, he had a major coalition of corporate backers.  These guys invested in his candidacy, and they‘ve gotten tremendous returns.

So, what are they unhappy about?  I don‘t get it.

HAYES:  I think also, I wonder, Adam—you‘re a pretty savvy political strategist and an organizer.  And I wonder also the degree to which this is intentionally sort of maximalism from the part of the kind of corporate American finance, which is to never be happy, right, to always have demands.  How much this is actually kind of a strategic game they‘re playing?

ADAM GREEN, BOLDPROGRESSIVES.ORG:  Yes.  I‘d be shocked if it wasn‘t a strategic game.  These are people who go ahead and negotiate.  And what we‘re seeing with President Obama is, despite the fact that we have corporations who have spent millions to crush him, and despite the fact that Republican leaders are saying, their number one priority is to beat him, he‘s weakly holding out his hand in compromise.  That‘s not how you negotiate.  That‘s not how you get respect.

So, if anything, they should take a lesson from them on this one front, which is to figure out how to be stronger in negotiation and actually fight.

HAYES:  There‘s a clip we have of John Boehner, actually.  And I think

I want to play this, because it‘s gotten lost in the whole tax cut debate.  This is what Boehner had to say about his openness to tax reductions.



BOEHNER:  The only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I‘ll vote for them.


HAYES:  Right.  So, Boehner actually said this back in August.  It‘s actually been lost to history bizarrely.  And now, the White House is saying, well, maybe, we‘ll do the same thing.

Ari, what do you—what do you think the White House has learned or mislearned from their shellacking?

ARI BERMAN, AUTHOR, “HERDING DONKEYS”:  Well, it doesn‘t seem like they‘ve learned a lot because you think they‘ve forced Boehner‘s hands and say, OK, vote on these tax cuts.  These are the core tax cuts that the American people, extending the middle tax cuts, that‘s what they have the upper hand on here, but they‘ve, for some reason, been boxed in by Boehner‘s subsequent statements, by McConnell, by the rest of the GOP, who say we have to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy even though the American public doesn‘t want to do it, Democrats don‘t want to do it, President Obama says he doesn‘t want to do it—so don‘t do it.  Actually have a vote on the middle class tax cults and let people decide.

HAYES:  Yes.  I mean, I should know, right?  I mean, there is a consensus position, right?  To the extent there‘s a bipartisan consensus, that he‘s voting on these tax cut that everyone agrees on, right?  The only polarizing thing.

I want to get to something that‘s, I think, really important in terms of understanding the president.

Roger, the argument you make in the book is that our understanding or this progressive understanding that they don‘t know how to negotiate, that there are all these strategic missteps that have led to this is fundamentally flawed, right?

HODGE:  Yes.  I mean, I think that Obama is taking care of his real constituency.  He‘s taking care of the people who voted for him in the only way that counts.  The only way that counts is monetary.  How much are you putting into the game?  How much—are you paying to play?  If you‘re paying to play, your interests will be served.  If you‘re just voting, there‘s nothing, you‘re not going to get anything.

HAYES:  Do you think that, Ari?


HAYES:  Ari, I don‘t know if you‘ve read Roger‘s book.  But, Ari, your books kind of sort of compliment each other in an interesting way because the thesis of your book, Ari, is basically that there was something there that was genuine and real and grassroots.


HAYES:  And it has been lost and perverted.  You have a piece on the “Huffington Post” saying that.  And Roger‘s book essentially argues there wasn‘t actually anything there, genuine, real and grassroots at the beginning.


HAYES:  So, what do you think about that?

BERMAN:  Well, I don‘t think Obama won because he was the candidate of Goldman Sachs.  I‘m not saying he wasn‘t, but I think what made his campaign unique was all these people and this amazing ability to reshape the electoral map and inspire all these people.  That‘s what really made him a unique guy because every politician‘s in the pocket of Goldman Sachs and these guys.

Obama differentiated himself by promising another way that all these people would be able to thwart the entrenched power of the corporate interests in Washington.  That was his campaign premise and he didn‘t do it once he got to the White House.

HAYES:  So, that‘s the question, is why didn‘t he do it?

Adam, you‘ve been on a lot of the fights, the places where the disappointment, I think, is the greatest from progressives, particularly on something like the public option which the DCCC worked on.  What is your sort of theory?  What is your kind of framework for understanding not waging those fights?

GREEN:  Look, I think that the negotiating competence and the political competence of this White House is in severe question.  They‘re unwilling to step on toes.  When someone, like Olympia Snowe from Maine, a state that Obama won by 18 points, says that she would kill the public option which her constituents supported, if it was proposed in the health care bill, he could have flown to Maine, held a campaign-style rally, commanded local media attention, tell everyone to pick up their cell phones and call their senator—he didn‘t do that.  He invited her and Joe Lieberman to a backroom and said, what do you want?

Well, again, weakness begets weakness.  When you do that over and over again, no one will ever take you seriously.  So, what he needs to do in this lame duck session is say, I‘m going to draw a line somewhere, and actually pick a fight and that‘s how I‘m going to win a fight.

HAYES:  So, there‘s a few fights to pick, right, in the lame duck session.  In fact, there‘s a bunch, right?  There‘s DREAM Act, which is the bill that‘s been covered quite a bit on this program for students who are immigrants.  There is the repeal of don‘t ask, don‘t tell.  There‘s extension of unemployment benefits and there‘s tax cuts.

Do you foresee fights being picked on those?  I mean, are we going to run up into the same kind of structural impediments in the filibuster that we constantly run up to and have the same conversation again about whether Olympia Snowe is going to come aboard?

HODGE:  I think that if anything, Obama will probably pick a fight on the DREAM Act because it doesn‘t hurt his corporate backers.

HAYES:  Which is a good prediction.


HODGE:  I mean, it‘s a no-brainer.  He—I mean, he alienates the Tea Party, but so what?  I mean, that doesn‘t hurt him, that helps him.  And so, he can get some credibility by fighting on that—whether he‘ll do that or not, I don‘t know.  But just the logic of his administration points to that, because it‘s easy.

HAYES:  Well, and I think it would be the same thing on “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” right?  I mean, “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is another place where a fight could be picked that isn‘t going to necessarily—

BERMAN:  But I think that what people care about—

HODGE:  Yes, sorry.

BERMAN:  -- most now is the economy.  I think the tax cuts are really the crucial fight, because if he wants to reduce the deficit, and then he extends these tax cuts for the wealthy, and add $700 billion, his entire domestic agenda is completely boxed in.  So, that‘s why this fight is so important to lay a marker down.

If he doesn‘t, it‘s going to thwart his entire—the rest of his agenda.

GREEN:  Not just laying a marker, but also, if you will not pick a fight on an issue where you are clearly, mathematically on the side of 98 percent of the people, and the Republicans are clearly on the side of the wealthiest 2 percent?  What will you pick a fight on?

HODGE:  Yes.

GREEN:  This is the obvious way to get his mojo back, put John Boehner on the defensive and the Boehner honeymoon, and really kind of run into the new Congress with the wind at his back.

HAYES:  Do you think—what lesson do you think the White House has learned from their shellacking?  I mean, you have an understanding of it.  I think everyone at the table has an understanding of what created the, quote-unquote, “shellacking.”

What do you think the White House has learned from it?

GREEN:  OK.  I‘m kind of weeping as I say this.


GREEN:  But look, I think their lesion is people want us to compromise more, and we will get credit if we compromise more.  That is—if you were to take a poll, which I‘m sure they‘ve done plenty of, that is one of the least relevant questions in the poll.

Again, when people overwhelmingly want the public option, overwhelmingly tax cuts for the middle class not the rich, overwhelmingly want corporations held accountable and the Republicans are standing on the side of almost no one, except their corporate benefactors—you don‘t cut a 50/50 compromise, you fight.  That‘s what the American people want.

And, unfortunately, I don‘t see them learning this lesson.  I really hope they do.  If you‘re listening out there, learn your lesson, pick a fight.  We will get your back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- camera to David Axelrod.

HAYES:  Ari, what do you think?

BERMAN:  I think that if you listen to Obama‘s interviews, he said, I looked like too much of a tax and spend liberal.  But I actually don‘t think that was the mandate.  I think what happened in the last election is people were frustrated by the government.  It was the third straight anti-incumbent election, like in ‘06 and like in ‘08.

They wanted to see how government was helping them in their lives.  And instead, I think Roger probably agrees with this—they looked at government as being on the side of the bailout, for example, being on the side of these corporate profits and not really fighting for the little guy, not really fighting for Main Street.  And that‘s where Obama‘s message didn‘t breakthrough.

And I think if he had been more populist, if he, in fact, had gotten that tax and spend again, but had really done it in tangible ways that benefited people‘s lives, I think he would have been better off.

HAYES:  Do you agree with that, Roger?

HODGE:  I do agree.  But, I think that, again, going back to what made his candidacy special, it was so cynical.  I mean, looking back, I just think there‘s no question that he identified his gift, he identified his angle.  He came up with this beautiful rhetoric, but it was ultimately empty.

And if he does pick a fight on the tax cuts, I will be blown out of my chair.  I just don‘t believe he will do it.

GREEN:  And the one difference I have with Roger is, he‘s saying essentially that Obama is very competent and very strong and is actually doing what he intended to do.  And I‘m arguing that he might have had a good vision in the future, might have actually believed it, but kind of his unwillingness to fight has essentially sabotaged his ability to fight (ph).

HODGE:  I don‘t think he‘s competent.  I think he‘s politically incompetent.


HAYES:  You actually think he has ill-intent and is incompetent?

HODGE:  Well, I don‘t think his—I don‘t think his intent is malignant.

HAYES:  Right.

HODGE:  I think it‘s just conventional.  He just wants to succeed.  He doesn‘t—at least that‘s the way I see it.  Doesn‘t really care what it is that gets passed as long as he gets the mark on the board.

BERMAN:  Well, I think that was the Rahm Emanuel school of politics that he ended up following.  I guess Roger forced me into the position of Obama defender.


BERMAN:  I—just like you, Chris—from being in Chicago, I mean, we followed Obama pretty early on, and he was—must have been incredibly cynical from a very, very, very early moment because people really gravitated toward his campaign early on without him really doing anything.

HAYES:  Even the Senate campaign.

BERMAN:  In the Senate campaign, very early on, he became this vessel for all these students and all these people that were inspired by him.  And I think that was real and it was organic and you couldn‘t just cynical manufactured it.  I don‘t think it wouldn‘t have happened.

HODGE:  Well, I think the movement around him was real.  I think people actually saw that there was a possibility there.  But I think ultimately, he didn‘t care.  He came in and he—once he got in, it was just like the door shut.

GREEN:  I‘d like to mention one thing here.  There were several hundred former Obama campaign staffers that joined our group through the process of the public option fight.  I e-mailed them just two days ago, saying, hey, I‘m curious, what are you thinking on this tax cuts issue?

I was shocked by the responses I got.  People writing back saying, if he caves on tax cuts, this is not the person I campaigned for.  This is not change we can believe.

HAYES: It does seem like the tax cuts is a kind of real marker, right?  I mean, it‘s a real kind of center of the caucus kind of issue, the way the Social Security privatization has been in the past.  OK.  So, let‘s say that is the case, the tax cuts fight is going to be the biggest one.

How do you see—where‘s the daylight in terms of moving this in the right direction?  I mean, if what Roger‘s saying is right—I mean, I‘m curious to hear this from you first, Roger, where do you see the flexibility in the system at this point for people to have an impact on a fight like that, if the sort of ending has already been written?

HODGE:  I think it‘s hopeless.


HODGE:  I mean—in a way, it‘s hopeless.  I mean, it‘s hopeless with this administration.  But I think people have to let go of their desires and their wishes and their hopes and their dreams about Obama and just get organized and say, OK, Obama‘s what we have to fight.

HAYES:  Right.

HODGE:  And we have to fight it.  We have to create an organized movement on particular issues, most importantly money in the system.  If we can‘t get the obscene quantities of money pushed to the margins, the rest of it‘s not going to happen.  If we can‘t pass something like the Fair Elections Now Act, if we can‘t get even Disclose Act, which is just lamentable.

HAYES:  Yes.

HODGE:  If we can‘t even get Disclose Act through, then nothing‘s going to happen.

And somebody came up to me after a debate in October and said that every public interest group in the country should spend a third of their budget focusing on campaign finance because no other cause can possibly succeed as long as we live in this absolutely corrupt system.

HAYES:  I‘m going to give you each 15 seconds to say a pro-hope message.

GREEN:  OK.  This is where writers and activists might disagree.  I mean, I think there‘s room for activism here, over 140,000 people have to, our Web site, and signed a petition telling President Obama to fight, don‘t cave.  “The Washington Post” has been covering groups like ours, the AFL-CIO, Howard Dean‘s group, all coming out in this public clamor saying dare Republicans, dare them to vote against these middle class tax cuts.  And I‘m hoping the clamor is actually going to result in at least the Congress taking the lead, even if the president won‘t.

HAYES:  Ari Berman, you got the LAST WORD in here.

BERMAN:  I think that Obama‘s a reasonably progressive guy who‘s very conciliatory.  He‘s being pushed to the right by almost everyone, and we‘ll see if some people on the left, some in the Democratic coalition, like Adam, for example, can push him to do the right thing on the tax cuts and going-forward.

HAYES:  That was a great conversation, guys.  Ari Berman, Roger Hodge, and Adam Green—thank you so much for joining me.  I really appreciate it.

BERMAN:  Thanks a lot for having us.

HODGE:  Thank you.

HAYES:  Still ahead, we were promised chaos.  The naked airport scanners were supposed to ruin holiday travel.  So, without airport anarchy, what‘s the real aversion to the new TSA rules?  That‘s next.

And Sarah Palin says she wouldn‘t sit down with Katie Couric again. 

Could it be because of Levi Johnston‘s performance with the same questions? 

Decide for yourself who answered it better?


HAYES:  Protesters threatening disruptions over new TSA rules must have gotten sidetracked.  Even the flying Scotsman who threatened to request enhanced pat downs while wearing a kilt in true Scottish form sans underpants, did not show.  So, is the debate over the new TSA rules over?  Don‘t bet on it.

And later, why the president‘s turkey pardon is a good place to start.


HAYES:  Happy national opt out day, everyone.  For your history buzz, the holiday dates all the way back to last week when a loosely organized Internet campaign encouraged the 1.6 million passengers estimated to fly this Thanksgiving to opt out of a screening by the TSA‘s new advanced imaging scanners.  Or as the Web site wewon‘ calls them, “porno scanners.”

The co-creator of that site, which gives passengers tips on how to travel with dignity joins us later.

The opt-out day‘s organizer‘s goal was to encourage passengers to opt in to the TSA‘s time-consuming enhanced pat downs complete with groin inspection.  That would jam checkpoints, force the TSA to reconsider its policy, and so on and so on.

The TSA‘s goal was to prevent the next underwear bomber from taking down a flight.  Well, it appears that getting home to grandma is more pressing than protesting the TSA.  Despite the calls for opt-out day, no serious disruptions were reported at the major airports on the busiest travel day of the year.

Joining me now: president of the American Federation of Government Employees, a union that protects TSA officers, John Gage; and the co-creator of, James Babb.

Gentlemen, thank you for both joining us.



HAYES:  All right.  James, how do you feel that national opt-out day go?  Do you feel it was a success?

BABB:  Absolutely.  For three weeks, we‘ve been recommending to travelers to avoid the airports today.  Avoid the radiation nude photography, and also to avoid the enhanced pat down, which most people would consider to be a sexual assault.  So, we‘ve recommending that travelers opt out of both those things and find another way to travel.

From what I‘ve heard, the airports have been very quiet today.  The AAA has announced that a record number of travelers are traveling by car.  It‘s up to 94 percent, which is a significant increase over last year.

So, it seems to me that a lot of people have said, no, we will not be abused for the privilege of purchasing air travel.

HAYES:  John, I wonder how you have from your perch as the president of the union kind of how you understand this backlash that‘s developed.  Were you in a position in which the Department of Homeland Security came to you and your members knew these new policies would be coming out?  Do you have a position as union president whether they‘re a good idea or not?

GAGE:  Well, obviously, the transportation security officers knew the new policy was coming out.  They had been trained on it.  But, you know, anyone who, you know, intentionally wants to delay or disrupt air security, that‘s the craziest idea in the world.  There‘s going to be technological advances, evolution of technology, metal scanners just don‘t make it any more.  And I think most people will be very realistic about this thing, and they are going to be giving thanks that our—the flying public is secure.

And I do want to say this—that I think the flying public really owes a lot of thank you and appreciation to the transportation security officers.  They put up with a lot of abuse this week.  I think they handled it very professionally, very courteously, and the flying public simply ignored this opt out.

HAYES:  James, do you think—one of the things that I read about what you guys were organizing was sort of was wondering if the actions that you were advocating was going to end up bringing the brunt to bear on the people implementing the policy as opposed to the people that crafted it, do you make a distinction in your mind between those two?

BABB:  Well, first I‘d like to clarify that our goal was never to bring any type of chaos or delay to any traveler.  This has been an educational campaign to let people know about the dangers and policies that have been in place.

We‘re talking about detailed scans that are so detailed they can supposedly tell if a man is circumcised or not, or if a woman is menstruating.  And we‘re talking about pat downs where they are putting hands between legs, pressing against genitals, putting hands between buttocks, feeling around breasts.

The American public has definitely said that this is unacceptable.  The new Zogby poll says 61 percent of travelers are against it and 48 percent are saying this is seriously affecting their travel plans.

So, I think this is something that we really need to understand that what we‘re talking about is not a minor infraction on privacy.  We‘re talking about some very, very, serious issues.  And I am sensitive that TSA employees maybe haven‘t received very much respect.  I think they—every person deserves respect.

But I think that many TSA people are questioning the assignments that they‘ve been given.  To their credit, they seem to have been on their best behavior today.

HAYES:  John, you sound like you want to respond to that.

GAGE:  Yes, Chris.  You know, people have to realize that there are individuals out there who want to take our airplanes down.

Now, to say—you know, I hear this strong criticism, but very weak alternatives and very weak solutions.  The people at TSA are dedicated public servants and are experts in the security field.  And when they‘re putting up this new technology, I think you can believe them that it‘s necessary, and it works.

So, to say that these—this security is evasive—well, maybe it is.  But it also is what we have to do if we‘re going to have air security.  And I just don‘t think the flying public—and I fly a lot, I just don‘t think they care about this.  I think they‘ll get used to the rules.  Perhaps, it could have been communicated a little better to the flying public.  But I think now it‘s been very—it‘s been communicated pretty strongly through all the press on this thing.

And, you know, it—go through security as today showed, people went through very smartly, very quickly.  And it‘s only people who won‘t go through the new imaging unit—

HAYES:  John, I‘m going to have to cut you off there, I‘m sorry. 

We‘re out of time here.

John Gage, James Babb—thank you so much for your time tonight.  I really appreciate it.

BABB:  Thank you.

GAGE:  Thank you.

HAYES:  Still ahead: when Sarah Palin talked about her experience in the private sector this week, she meant her job as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.  So, what are the qualifications?  Levi Johnston reminds us—next.

The two turkeys who got a presidential pardon got to spend last night in a posh hotel near the White House.  Unfortunately, not everyone who deserves a pardon gets the same treatment.


HAYES:  The Texas jury deciding the case against former House Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay apparently did not want to take the decision home over the holiday weekend.  Today, jurors found Delay guilty of money laundering for illegally funneling corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002.  Delay now could face up to life in prison. 

Still ahead on this Thanksgiving eve edition of THE LAST WORD, go gather the family.  We‘ll have an encore presentation of Lawrence‘s exclusive interview with Levi Johnston, in which Lawrence puts Levi to the test using the same questions that stumped Sarah Palin in her interviews with Katie Couric.  Who answered the questions better?  We edit.  You decide. 


HAYES:  Sarah Palin‘s ex-future son-in-law, Levi Johnston, is back in the Spotlight tonight.  Although Sarah Palin has no problem with her daughter Bristol, Johnston‘s former fiancee, appearing on “Dancing With the Stars” or starring in her very own reality show hammering halibut, she apparently does take issue with Johnston sharing the spotlight. 

Palin writes in her new book, “of course, we all had to bite our tongues more than once as Tripp‘s father went on a media tour through Hollywood and New York spreading untruths and exaggerated rhetoric.  It was disgusting to watch as his 15 minutes of fame were exploited.” 

Johnston, who‘s running for Palin‘s former job as mayor of Wasilla, said last month he wasn‘t doing any more interviews for a while.  Luckily, Lawrence O‘Donnell had the privilege of talking with him just as his campaign was getting underway.  And just for you, Sarah Palin, we decided to extend Levi‘s 15 minutes by several more. 


LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  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. 


JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  Let me ask you a question. 


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. 


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. 

O‘DONNELL:  “Frontiersman?” 

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.


HAYES:  Since Lawrence‘s interview, Levi has finally come up with a platform.  His rep told TMZ, Johnston would focus on bringing, quote, “better schools, less crime and more jobs for the citizens of Wasilla and neighboring Palmer, if he becomes mayor.” 

Who handled the Couric questions better?  Levi or Palin?  The mash-up you don‘t want to miss is next, along with the announcement of the winner. 

And later, the presidential turkey pardon.  It‘s a light hearted moment every Thanksgiving.  But today‘s event has triggered a serious comparison between President Obama and President Bush. 


HAYES:  When Lawrence O‘Donnell interviewed Levi Johnston in September, some of the questions may have sounded a bit familiar.  That‘s because they came from Katie Couric‘s memorable 2008 interview with then vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.  We know we enjoyed the Couric/Palin interview.  But would Palin ever do it again? 


SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA:  With a reporter that already has such a bias against whatever it is that I would come out and say, why waste my time, no. 


HAYES:  Palin may want to rethink that if she plans to run in 2012.  Meantime, here‘s a reminder of how both Palin and Levi responded to the same questions two years apart.  Who‘s the better candidate?  You be the judge. 


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

PALIN:  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? 

JOHNSTON:  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? 


HAYES:  LAST WORD viewers went to the show‘s blog on to vote for who performed better.  Not even close, Levi walked away with 97 percent of the vote. 

The Thanksgiving spirit hit the nation‘s capital today, with First Family volunteering this afternoon as the president faced some criticism for people he isn‘t helping.



JIMMY KIMMEL, “JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE”:  This morning the governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was in downtown Los Angeles handing turkeys out to needy families.  This is why I‘m going to miss having him in charge of our state. 


I‘m working my pectoral muscles and my biceps.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How would you say Happy Thanksgiving in Austrian? 

SCHWARZENEGGER:  We don‘t have a Thanksgiving day. 

KIMMEL:  And there‘s no such language as Austrian. 


HAYES:  True, there‘s no such thing as Thanksgiving, as we know it, in Austria, where they speak German, by the way.  So presumably there‘s no need for either Austrian‘s president or its chancellor to pardon any turkeys.  Here in the states, that‘s critical business for the commander in chief on the day before Thanksgiving.  This year, of course, was no exception.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Good morning.  I have my two trusty assistants here, Malia and Sasha, for one of the most important duties that I carry out as president.  Today, I have the awesome responsibility of granting a presidential pardon to a pair of turkeys. 

Now, for the record, let me say that it feels pretty good to stop at least one shellacking this November.  This year‘s national turkey goes by the name of Apple.  And his feathered understudy is appropriately named Cider.  And after today, Apple and Cider will spend their retirement at the same beautiful place our first president spent his, Mount Vernon, Virginia. 


HAYES:  The president went on to give a reminder, Thanksgiving is a day of compassion and generosity toward your fellow man.  To that end, after the pardoning, the first family volunteered at Martha‘s Table, a D.C.  based charity dedicated to helping those in need. 

Let‘s consider those two things for a moment, compassion and generosity.  Admittedly, this is a slightly jarring transition from a light hearted poultry pardoning, but on a day when the president grants clemency to a pair of turkeys, it‘s worth pointing out this fact: President Obama has yet to pardon a single human being.  As the “Huffington Post” reported today, it‘s not just that he hasn‘t gotten around to it either.  In October, he formally denied 71 pardon requests and 605 commutation requests sent over by the Justice Department for his consideration. 

President Obama fails to use his power to pardon by December 20th, he will have the slowest record of any modern president, even surpassing the current champion, George W. Bush.  Thanksgiving is a day about appreciation for all that we have, a day to help those who are without, and to show our friends and family our love.

But it is also a national holiday, a time that should be used to contemplate the fact that we are a great nation, but not perfect.  Perfect is unattainable, but better—better is always within reach.

That will do it for tonight‘s LAST WORD.  You can follow the show on and Facebook and Twitter.  You can read my own work at, or follow me on Twitter, username @ChrisLHayes. 

Have a great, great Thanksgiving everyone.  “COUNTDOWN” is up next.


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