Guests: Melissa Harris-Perry, Gail Collins, Paul Rieckhoff
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: It is Christmas Eve eve. Thank you very much for joining us.
Do you want to know what political thing you should fight with your friends and family about over the holidays? Before the lame duck Congress, if you were a liberal, or a centrist or somebody who supported Barack Obama, you were probably going to fight with your friends and family over the holidays about whether or not Barack Obama could get anything done over the next two years—whether the Republicans are outplaying him in Washington.
But then Barack Obama spent 26 days running circles around the Republican leadership in Washington and getting stuff done, which means that question about the president‘s political skills is not as potent a field (INAUDIBLE) political combat as it might have been before the Democrats in Congress did all of these things that are now scrolling up the screen in the lame duck Congress. Barack Obama signed them. They got done. It if you were worried they couldn‘t get anything done before, you‘re no longer worried about those things.
So, if you are not going to fight about whether or not Barack Obama can get it stuff done in Washington, what are you going to fight with your friends and family about over the holidays? Believe it or not, you are going to fight with your friends and family over the holidays about the rules of the Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) in 1967.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hear me out. I swear you are. You really are going to fight about this. And here‘s why.
January 5th. Mark down January 5th in your calendar. January 5th is the first Wednesday of the year, right? All of this carping about how the Senate is broken, wonky people and young senators nobody has really heard of talking about this major problem with the Senate. That can all change on January 5th, because something conceivably might actually happen on January 5th.
On January 5th, which is the first day of the new Congress, it looks entirely possible that Democrats could come back to Washington and fix the Senate. They could come back to Washington and change the rules of the Senate. They can only do it that one day. They have a one-day window for a realistic shot at changing the rules. Then you don‘t really get another shot for two more years.
This might actually happen. They really could change everything on that one day, January 5th.
There are two things that used to be true about the prospects of fixing what‘s broken in Washington. Two things that used to be true that are no longer true. Number one: it used to be news of Harry Reid planning to do something. Harry Reid planning to outmaneuver Republicans in the Senate was greeted with smirks and snarks and dismissiveness. (INAUDIBLE).
After this lame duck Congress, where the Senate passed all these things everybody said could not be passed, nobody is being smirking and dismissive about Harry Reid‘s political powers anymore.
Today, Greg Sargent at “The Washington Post” quoted a senior Senate Democratic leadership aide saying Harry Reid is in active discussions with other Senate Democrats about how they‘re going to fix the Senate when they return in January. They‘re going to change the rules. Quote, “They are already talking it through and devising a plan.”
That sort of story before the raging duck, angry birds Congress would have been poo-pooed so much by the Beltway media that the FCC would be handing out fines for widespread scatological humor on the Sunday shows.
But now, after what Harry Reid pulled off in the Senate in the lame duck Congress, this reporting that he has a plan to fix the Senate, he has a plan to change the rules, which is actually a very simple thing to do, which is within his power to do, this is not being treated as a joke, nor do I think it is a joke.
So, that‘s one thing that‘s changed. Harry Reid—Harry Reid saying he is capable of doing this and wants to do it is a big deal. The other thing that‘s changed is the idea of who exactly wants to fix the Senate. The reason that plans to fix the Senate, to stop letting the Republicans have the run of the place, the reason this idea has been dismissed as a liberal pipe dream, some pie in the sky, never going to happen wish object of the liberal blogosphere is because everybody who thought wanted to fix the Senate were senators that nobody had heard of, the brand new senators, the one who just arrived in Washington, the fresh, young whippersnappers.
Well, it turns out, now, it‘s fresh young whippersnappers like this guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: This is not a farewell address but rather a closing argument to a jury of my colleagues and the American people outlining my views on how the Senate and with it, the federal government, arrived at its current condition of partisan gridlock. I would retain the 60-vote requirement for cloture on legislation with the condition that senators would have to have a talking filibuster, not merely present a notice of intent to filibuster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Democratic Senator Arlen Specter, who has been in the Senate since Senator Marco Rubio was 10 years old. Arlen Specter giving his farewell speech not about the friendships he made in the Senate during that time or about the landmark legislation he worked on, but about how far broken the Senate is now—a rip-roaring denunciation of how Republicans have broken the Senate. He called the usurping of the power by the minority tyrannical.
Everybody has been deriding the prospect of actually fixing the Senate by saying the old senators will never go along with it. The guys who actually have the real power in the Senate, they‘re never going to do it. It‘s only these young, new senators who want to do something about it and young new senators don‘t have any power to change an institution like the Senate.
But, I want you to look at this headline. Check this out. Print this out and tuck it into your January calendar. “The National Journal” yesterday headlined this story. “Senate‘s Returning Democrats Unanimously Favor Filibuster Reform.” Unanimously.
“The National Journal” reporting, quote, “All Democratic senators returning next year have signed a letter to Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to consider action to change long, sacrosanct filibuster rules.” And suddenly, a whole new world of possibility opens up for American politics.
Listen, I know it‘s impossible to believe that the political thing you‘re going to be fighting with your friends and family about over the holidays is Senate rules. But this is the thing you‘re going to be fighting about. You‘re not going to be fighting anymore about whether or not Democrats can repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” or whether they can get that nukes treaty passed, or whether they can get health care for 9/11 first responders. Those things are done.
This is it. This is a big change that is suddenly possible. It‘s even suddenly probable. There‘s one day every two years when the Senate rules can be changed with just a majority vote. This year, it‘s the first day of the new Congress, it is January 5th.
The Senate is broken but it could be fixed. You want to see our newest version of how it‘s broken? This represents the number of times that the Senate was forced to have a super majority devote on something—meaning that if a majority of senators supported something, it couldn‘t necessarily pass. This is how the Senate broke.
The spike you see in the last four years, that is the Senate breaking. Up to this point, we‘ve heard lots of diffuse statements of support for maybe doing something about this someday. But now, all of a sudden, it is focusing like a laser on that date, January 5th. What happens that day is up to one man mostly, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Here‘s what he told me about it right before the election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This has to change. It‘s wrong what they‘re doing because it‘s never happened before. The Republicans just this time have abused the system and it‘s going to have to change. We‘ll have to look at ways to change that because there should not be 60 votes in the Senate.
MADDOW: So, would you—you would support efforts to change the rules around the filibuster so that there won‘t be a 60-vote threshold for every vote?
REID: Well, that‘s right, not for every vote. We‘re going to have to change some of the rules and I know how to do it and we‘re going to have to take a hard look at it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I know how you to do it. That‘s what Senator Reid told me in October.
This is what Democrats are going to be talking about between now and the start of the next Congress. The reason that you will fight about this with your friends and family over the holidays is because of the worry among Democrats that if they get rid of this 60 votes for everything rule, if they change the rules now, they will pay a price for it if and when they end up in the minority again—because I guess Democrats might want their senators to break the Senate, too.
Here‘s what‘s about to happen: Republicans are about to take control of the House. Republicans managed to turn the Senate into a Republican stronghold even when they were in the minority there because of the way they broke that institution. So, are we going to have a Republican stronghold in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House? Are Democrats going to give over the Congress to the Republicans or are they going to fight back and actually use the majority that they have in the Senate and not let Republicans run that House from the minority?
They can do that if they change the rules on January 5th. Should they do it? OK, everybody fight.
Joining us is “New York Times” columnist Gail Collins. She‘s author of “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.”
Hi, Gail. Nice to see you.
GAIL COLLINS, NEW YORK TIMES: I can‘t wait to go to Cincinnati—
COLLINS: And sit around the tree and fight about cloture.
COLLINS: You know, it‘s traditional to fight about cloture in most American Christian households around this time. O, filibuster.
OK. So, maybe not everybody is going to fight about this. But it is
it does seem like a big sort of structural important, who are we, are we mice or men question for Democrats, doesn‘t it?
COLLINS: Yes, two years ago when this sort of came up when they began their session, it was just—nobody was interested in it. You couldn‘t get—the vice president wasn‘t interested in it. Harry Reid wasn‘t interested in it. And the horribleness of the last two years really has changed beyond—although it‘s still like the Merkel plan we‘re talking about here.
COLLINS: It‘s the babies that started it.
MADDOW: It is the babies that started it. It‘s the youngest senators that started it. And everybody keep telling me, I keep doing segments about it, I keep doing shows about it saying this is the most important thing to know about Washington. And the line that I always get from people, especially people who like me and they‘re trying to do me a favor, they tried to talk me out of it by saying, listen, nobody is really into this who has any power. It‘s all these well-meaning, idealistic senators who don‘t have power.
Now, we‘ve got every single Democratic senator saying they‘re ready to change it and Harry Reid saying, “I know how.” I know how—and they can do it on that one day.
Do you think in the end, they‘re going to be afraid of their shadow and not do it?
COLLINS: I have a feeling they‘ll do something. I don‘t know if they‘ll get it as far—the point at which you want to get it is where you really have to do a Jimmy Stewart and hang around at least and be there physically when you‘re doing the filibuster. If you can get there, that‘s huge. At least they‘ll get to the point where they could be more efficient about having the filibusters.
COLLINS: Because, right now, you can‘t even do other stuff because everything gets backlogged into these long required waiting periods. And then, of course, when you do get your bill up, the other side will be arguing that there‘s not enough time to debate it and therefore, it should be held over until the next year, which we‘ve seen a lot of lately.
MADDOW: Well, do you think that—obviously, Vice President Biden has to have a little bit of a role in this. In his role as president of the Senate on the first day of Congress, he‘d have to say, yes, you guys can go ahead and vote to change the rules. There‘s plenty of precedent for that. It would not be a controversial decision. But the vice president does actually have to do something there.
Do you think that what I imagine is the White House‘s natural inclination to steer clear of an issue like this might mean that they wouldn‘t even go along with letting the Democrats vote?
COLLINS: I don‘t know. I think Biden‘s kind of got his groove back right now. You know, he‘s feeling the power. He‘s ready to roll. He‘s like totally empowered. I could see him do it. I really could.
MADDOW: Yes. I wonder if in the bigger picture, though, if Democrats tend to get scared once they start to exert their own power, if they do start to get a little scared of their own shadow.
Clearly, the Republicans in the minority in the Senate, exerted more power with that minority, more obstructionist power. They broke the institution to stop it from passing things. While in the minority have no compunction about that whatsoever.
Democrats don‘t operate that way. They just don‘t have that kind of chutzpah if nothing else. And I wonder if does take a sort of soul-searching by the Democrats to decide that they really want to assert themselves.
COLLINS: Well, what they come back to all the time is the Republicans believe and a lot of Democrats believe that they‘re going to lose the Senate in the next election because there‘s tons of Democrats that are up for election, very few Republicans.
MADDOW: That‘s right.
COLLINS: So, do they want the possibility of totally bringing things to a screeching halt? If they‘re in the minority, do they want to be able to do what Jim Bunning did this time and stop a poor guy from getting to be a trade representative because you‘re ticked off about some Canadian law about the selling of flavored tobacco products?
I mean, anything can happen. They can stop you all the time. And maybe the Democrats are thinking back in their little riveting hearts, that they might want to do that, too. Maybe they‘ll need to do that next time around.
MADDOW: The desire to pursue something that‘s almost quixotic and personal and that you don‘t want to have to it explain and do it nonsensically—I can understand the entire to be able to do that, but I can‘t understand the desire to want to be able to do that at the expense of actually having a functioning legislature in the United States Senate. And it seems to like the argument for being—for everybody wanting to be able to be Jim Bunning every once in a while is not a pretty weak argument.
COLLINS: Well, it‘s true. I‘m not agreeing that it‘s a great argument, still, I‘m arguing and it might be the way they feel.
MADDOW: It is a fun thing to fight over though over Christmas. I swear. Try it. Try it, Gail. Cincinnati is waiting for you.
COLLINS: OK. I‘m good.
MADDOW: All right. Gail Collins, “New York Times” columnist and a person who is always a very welcome guest on the show—thanks a lot, Gail.
COLLINS: Thank you.
MADDOW: On the set list for tonight, I have been told I am still expected to introduce you to a whole bunch of boxes of frozen waffles, a spandex body suit and a giant, giant bald man. We‘ve got a lot still to do. I have to hurry so I have to go. I‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: In your last “Debunktion Junction” before Christmas, I discover a recently revealed truth that feels like a really good reason to start opposing the legalization of marijuana. Dude, put down the Funions, I‘m serious. Stay tuned.
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SAM ENGELHARDT, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY: I am Alabama‘s (ph) Sam Engelhardt, also executive secretary of the Citizens Council of Alabama. We are dedicated to the preservation of segregation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will segregate the buses. And if necessary, I shall arrest every agent of the federal government who attempts to conspire to put across integration of the races.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Those very old, very amazing clips live today in the NBC News archives. They‘re indexed under the term, “Citizens Council.” The old white segregationist group is in the news now in 2010 because now in 2010, a man who wants to be president in 2012 this week praised the influence of the Citizens Council in segregation-era Mississippi, where he was born and where he‘s now governor.
Haley Barbour telling “The Weekly Standard,” quote, “You heard of the Citizens Council? Up north, they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from, it was an organization of town leaders.”
Haley Barbour‘s spokesman initially tried denying that the governor had ever said the thing that he said. The spokesman said, quote, “Governor Barbour did not comment on the Citizens Council movement‘s history. He commented on the business community in Yazoo City, Mississippi.” And that caused coffee to shoot from the noses of blog readers everywhere and many keyboards were ruined.
Haley Barbour decided instead that he would eat crow. He said on his Web site, quote, “The Citizens Council is totally indefensible, as is segregation.”
Because Haley Barbour would like to be president, getting it on the record that he thinks the Citizens Council, as he said, is totally indefensible, that is probably mandatory for him. That‘s because the history of the Citizens Council in his hometown in Yazoo City is clear and it is ugly and it is all over the Internet.
In 1955, for example, there was a petition to the school board in Yazoo City for integration. In response, the Citizens Council you took out a big advertisement in the town paper. It listed the names of the people who signed the petition for integration.
This is the council‘s ad here. It was reprinted in a 1955 report about Yazoo City in the “Afro-American” newspaper. We saw this linked in the comments on “Huffington Post” actually.
When you‘re asking for integration in 1950s Mississippi and the Citizens Council posts your name all over town, one account says they even propped this list up in cotton fields around town—when you‘re one of those people who dared to ask for equal treatment and this is the response from those town leaders and the Citizens Council, what do you think happens to you if your name is on this list, huh?
Quoting from the article in the “Afro-American,” “Many signers have been penalized by loss of employment. Under this pressure, some have removed their names from the petition. J.H. Wright, a plumbing contractor listed above lost two construction jobs, was refused plumbing supplies by a wholesale house and his grocer told him a loaf of bread would cost him a dollar. He plans to move elsewhere.”
He plans to move elsewhere. Destination: unknown. Anywhere but Yazoo City, because that organization of town leaders Haley Barbour praises for helping Yazoo City integrate peacefully and all, that organization has run this man out of town.
By 1988, the Citizens Council had become the Council of Conservative Citizens. Their links to the anti-immigration people pushing SB-1070 in Arizona helped them make our TV show back in April.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We have the picture of the Web site here, Council of Conservative Citizens? Yes. “Erectus walks among us” is a sort of a mock-up between a black person and an ape. They also have this summary of a recent Al Sharpton interview, quote, “Sheriff Arpaio debates the nappy headed race hustler.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s the current incarnation of this Citizens Council Mr.
Barbour so fondly remembered before he then roundly condemned it.
The Council of Conservative Citizens is mounting a boycott of the movie “Thor” because the movie makers cast an African-American as a god. Fetishizers of Norse God will get you for that.
You might think Haley Barbour, defender of peaceful integration, would want nothing to do with a group like this, but you would be wrong. Here is Haley Barbour in 2003 making a campaign stop at a barbecue hosted by the Council of Conservative Citizens. That‘s him right there, third from the right. He‘s standing with the council‘s field director.
I‘d like to show you this picture as it originally appeared on the council‘s Web site. But as Dave Weigel reported this week, they actually replaced Mr. Barbour‘s photo on their Web site with this—the caption is still there from when they had the photo, at least in the old Internet archives. But now, instead of the picture of Haley Barbour, they‘ve just put up a big picture of a rebel flag and it says “Confederate Wave” on it.
And no, we did not PhotoShopped in this giant rebel flag. We did not make this up. This is what they replaced Haley Barbour with on their Web site.
The reason Haley Barbour was visiting with the fine folks with the Council of Conservatives Citizens at their barbecue is that it was a fundraiser. He was helping them raise money for a private academy that is sponsored by the council—a private school founded by the Citizens Council as an all-white, pro-segregation school. It was led for many years by the same Citizens Council field director that Haley Barbour was standing with in that disappeared picture.
I don‘t want to show you the faces of the kids who go to that school now because where they go to school is not necessarily their choice. But here‘s the faculty. This was founded as a segregated school in Mississippi, specifically to keep white kids safe from integration with black kids.
The latest figures from the U.S. Department of Education show that in 2007, this school had 403 students. Kindergarten through 12th grade. Two students were Asian. Every one else, the other 401 were white.
That‘s what Haley Barbour was raising money for in 2003. The Citizens Council all white school founded to keep black kids out, that today is still doing it.
How is it that Mr. Barbour phrased his clarification this week? “The Citizens Council is totally indefensible, as is segregation”?
As we reported on the show back in September, Mr. Barbour raised two sons in Yazoo City. They both went to this private school, this private school that admitted its first black student in 1996, when one of his boys was about to graduate.
Clearly, Mr. Barbour made some kind of peace with segregation, at least in his own family‘s life. This story is a bit about whether or not Haley Barbour is going to be the Republican nominee for president. I think he will not be.
But there are very powerful forces in Republican politics who really want Haley Barbour to be the party‘s nominee, or at least a serious contender. And part of the process of making Haley Barbour into a national candidate is making us believe the version of Mississippi, the version of Yazoo City that they have shined up for Haley Barbour‘s political resume, where the Citizens Council were the good guys, and white people didn‘t have a problem with integration. And the transformational social movement and the murderous conflagrations around it that fought segregation, those are just weren‘t that big a deal and everything‘s fine now.
The problem for Haley Barbour and the Republican Party that wants him to be their presidential nominee is that the rest of us get to refuse to go down that memory hole. It is our country and history is a real thing.
Joining us next is the wonderful Melissa Harris-Perry, Princeton professor who knows her Southern history and our American racial politics. And I suspect she is not buying Mr. Barbour‘s version of it.
We will be right back.
MADDOW: If I could invent a guest for this show and create a better than a computer or an iPad app or tinker toy set with the motor, if I could create the perfect person to discuss Haley Barbour‘s home cooking and his own version of the civil rights movement in school desegregation in Mississippi to prep his likely presidential run in 2012 against Barack Obama—that guest I invented would not be as good as the person at the other end of the satellite machine right now.
She is Melissa Harris-Perry, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton and an MSNBC contributor.
Melissa, thanks for joining us again.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, absolutely.
MADDOW: Does Haley Barbour‘s magical mystery tour of desegregation and Mississippi in the ‘50s and ‘60s, does this—does this lead us to Barack Obama versus Haley Barbour for the presidency in 2012?
HARRIS-PERRY: I don‘t think so. You know, whether or not Haley Barbour becomes the GOP candidate is a long and tortured couple of years yet. We‘ve got some time on that.
But I do think that there are some real dangers here that we need to pause and be careful about. One is that someone who is being this extreme about race—and it really is extreme to be romantic about segregation and about Jim Crow—can make an awful lot of room for folks who have very similar policy ideas but simply do a better job of talking race. And most clearly, that is Mike Huckabee.
So, you know, Mike Huckabee talks about race probably better than any other candidate in the ‘08 elections. Really only maybe Barack Obama during the Philadelphia speech and John Edwards with his two Americas—but other than that Mike Huckabee is kind of the straight shooting Southern white man who can talk about racial history.
The fact is, though, that when you looked at his policies in the contemporary moment, they are not that dramatically different than that of Haley Barbour‘s. And yet, my bet is that this kid of extremist on the right makes an awful lot of room for somebody like Huckabee to come right on through the center right.
MADDOW: Well, do you think it‘s sort of a deliberate effort to push the envelope, to try to make things that seem more extreme, seem not as extreme? I mean, we‘ve had the Confederacy commemorations without any mention of slavery. We have the reanimation of secession as an idea in conservative politics. We‘ve got, of course, Mr. Barbour saying, hey, I was there. Jim Crow wasn‘t so bad.
Do you think this is in force to try to clear some racial space in national politics?
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I got to say, I grew up in a media post-segregation Virginia. I went to college in—and graduate school in North Carolina. I now make my home in Louisiana.
And the fact is I always have a little bit of tension when I start talking about Southern racial history, because there‘s a part of me that wants to not let the rest of the country off the hook on race. I mean, the fact is that segregation, particularly the use of private schools to flee from black children integrating into them is certainly not an exclusively Southern activity.
On the other hand, the reality is that in former Confederate states, where there was a secession from the United States, we allow a revisionist history to enter in as quickly as a decade after the Civil War. What we are seeing now you is simply a reaping of ha continual whirl wind of this kind of misguided history.
I mean, I grew up in a school system that called the Civil War “The War of Northern Aggression” or “The War Between the States.” So, it‘s not necessarily some sort of deliberate process. It is, in many ways, just the Southern way.
I mean, Jim crow wasn‘t that bad if you are the powerful white privileged schoolchild. It, in fact, maybe is sort of invisible how much suffering is occurring as a result of organizations like the Citizens Council.
MADDOW: How do you—and I realize this is not something that is new, and as you say, this is something that has to get fought over constantly. And sometimes, it‘s won and sometimes lost, but the struggle never really stops on this.
How do you prevent a memory hold, right, about something like Deep South segregation when I think the right clearly wants a fight over it? How do you avoid historical fact becoming just another contested partisan point that people have a he said/she said debate about?
HARRIS-PERRY: It is weird that they really do want to fight. I mean, it would be easy enough, particularly as Republicans, to say, oh, look, that was a time in our past. It‘s all over now. Post-racialism and, by the way, that was the Democratic Party that was behaving that way.
I mean, that is bad history, but it‘s, you know, it pretty palatable -
to instead want to actually go in and recover, revive and tell us that this segregationist history is American and is appropriate and is reasonable in our contemporary era, from my perspective, it really is a kind of—and I hate to use this word—it‘s a kind of existential anxiety. It is a fear that the country is going to be so fundamentally different because of the realities of census changes, because of the realities of power changes, because women and people of color and now gays in the military, all have these sort of growing equal rights.
The fact is it‘s almost like there‘s such fear to go back and claim these white supremacist moments as though they are what really represents America. So, the thing that prevents the memory hold is that you fight back against those Texas and Arizona initiatives that start trying to strip ethnic studies from everyone from kindergartners to college students. The fact is, history, truth and the American way, kind of Superman way, really are on our side here. If we just tell the truth, the fact is we beat this rhetoric.
MADDOW: Melissa Harris-Perry of Princeton University and MSNBC contributor—thank you so much. I know you had to go a great distance from joining from the 92nd Street Y to joining us from New Orleans tonight. I am even more grateful than I usually am, Melissa. Thanks.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks. Happy holidays.
MADDOW: You too.
Still to come, something to be psyched about that just happened in Washington that nobody really knows just happened in Washington. Good cheer without cynicism and it has already happened. It gets a high five.
That‘s coming up next.
MADDOW: The president‘s last words to reporters before leaving for his family vacation, already in progress, were these.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mele Kalikimaka.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He said, “Mele Kalikimaka”—Hawaiian for “Merry Christmas.”
Also my favorite Christmas song in national lampoon‘s Christmas vacation. This family Christmas where the president grew up in Hawaii, I‘m telling you now, will be one of the only recent vacations taken by any president in which no one complains that the president left town when he was supposed to stay in Washington to get stuff done—because that‘s what the opposition party always says, right, when presidents go on vacation.
But in this case, Republicans, I am guessing, will want Mr. Obama to stay away as long as possible because in the lame duck period, he got a lot of stuff done.
Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, the president, elected Democrats generally saw their stars rise over the past 26 days because of this flurry of getting stuff done. But you want to know who had a stupendous month as well? Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. In the words of the largest organization of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, IAVA, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, quote, “lame duck comes up big for new vets.”
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America wanted “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” repealed. They got “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” repealed. They want the new G.I. bill updated—they got the new G.I. bill updated. They wanted fraud investigated at Arlington Cemetery—they got fraud investigated at Arlington Cemetery.
They wanted compensation and health care for 9/11 first responders. They got compensation and health care for 9/11 first responders. They wanted the veterans preference in federal hiring extended to hiring in Congress. They got the veterans preference in federal hiring extended to hiring in Congress.
They wanted the defense authorization act passed even after “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” was split off from it. They don‘t the defense authorization act passed and it‘s got a ton of important stuff for veterans in it—veterans health care, traumatic brain injury, dealing with the problem of military sexual assault and a lot of stuff that veterans really wanted.
They rolled into the lame duck session with all of those things still on their “we need to get this done” list and they are rolling out of the lame duck Congress with all of those things done. It has been a huge, huge month for December—it‘s been a huge month this December for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, which is worth a high-five.
Can I reach you?
PAUL RIECKHOFF, IAVA: Yes, absolutely.
MADDOW: New desk. I can barely reach you for the high-five, Paul.
RIECKHOFF: I‘ll reach over.
MADDOW: Paul Rieckhoff is the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, himself a 9/11 first responder. So, doing double duty here tonight.
Paul, congratulations, first of all.
RIECKHOFF: Thank you.
MADDOW: Why do you think you were able to run the table like this?
RIECKHOFF: You know, it was a team effort. And I think what we saw -
a lot of talk has been around politicians and how politicians led in this fight. But I think what you saw in the last couple of weeks especially is the power of activism and the power of the American people getting behind educated, informed, coordinated activists and activism, and especially the use of social media. I mean, we wouldn‘t be able to mobilize this many people behind these many issues this quickly 10 years ago.
So, when all that comes together and we make the media pay attention and we make the American public pay attention, we can put pointed pressure on the right politicians at the right time and get things done.
MADDOW: How does the social media translate to political pressure? Is it because it then gets picked up in mainstream media and that‘s what politicians are still paying attention to? Or are they directly watching what‘s happening in the social media world when they‘re looking for, honestly, advice on what they ought to do in an issue?
RIECKHOFF: I think it‘s both. But you can also go to the average American and say, hey, if you can take five minutes, you can make an impact in the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan vets. If, you know, call your congressman in one of these issues, if you email five of your friends, if you donate some money and that kind of grassroots mobilization I think was critical in all the major issues.
And you saw that throughout these issues. I mean, look at ‘don‘t ask, don‘t tell” as an example. I mean, it wasn‘t just veterans groups involved. All the gay rights groups involved. All the other groups like banded together and really focused like a laser on Congress at a critical time and I really think that that‘s going to be the unsung story, the unsung heroes of these last couple of weeks for all those activisms, all those activist groups in the last couple of weeks..
MADDOW: On “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” specifically, you were—you were the only major veteran service organization to endorse repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”
That—and your organization tends to be mostly younger vets compared with the other major VSOs. Did that cause any friction? Do you anticipate that causing any friction in the future between your organization and other vets groups?
RIECKHOFF: I hope not. I mean, it‘s a generational divide, the average IAVA member is in their 20s. You know, the average member of the American Legion or the VFW is much older.
So, you know, we approach all these issues much differently, not just “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” but traumatic brain injury, women‘s issues. There‘s a huge generational divide. And I think that our generation of veterans looked at “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” as kind of something we need to get done. We‘ve served with gay people. Many of our members are gay.
You know, of course, there were folks who did oppose it, but there was a clear majority of our members who wanted to take a stand on there. I think we‘re on the right history and I think our military‘s better off and I think America‘s better off.
MADDOW: Paul, one of the things that you have talked about on this show in the past is with this White House, even though you have felt broadly supported on policy issues, you‘re not at loggerheads with them necessarily on big policy issues. You have not felt like you had anybody to call in the White House. You didn‘t necessarily have great access, great advocates very close to power.
Has that changed at all?
RIECKHOFF: I think it‘s changing. I still we still have—we still have ways to go. And I want to see the president lining up things on veterans issues every month when we come into the new session. We need to focus on unemployment. Our membership has a 20 percent unemployment rate.
RIECKHOFF: The suicide rate is really accelerating at a scary rate. The Air Force numbers just came out this week, the highest rate of suicide on active duty in the Air Force in decades. So, the president can do a lot with the bully pulpit.
If you look at the suicide issue as an example, he can deal with stigma. He can encourage people to get help and he can issue a national call to the American public and say, if you‘re a qualified mental health professional, your country needs you. Step up now and help us reduce the suicide rate.
So, he‘s done a lot—believe me—and we give him a lot of credit.
But there‘s a long way to go.
MADDOW: I expect to be hearing the number of unemployment, specifically that you mentioned, 20 percent unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, ought to be a national screaming headline. And I think the next time we are fighting about unemployment benefits, which I‘m sure will be soon, that‘s going to be a major issue.
Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of IAVA, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America—again, congratulations, man.
RIECKHOFF: Thank you. We‘re proud of it.
MADDOW: Thanks a lot. Yes.
RIECKHOFF: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Coming up, green spandex head to toe body suits, hockey and waffle tossing—and no, waffle tossing is not a euphemism or a term for something else. I mean, actual waffles, literal tossing. It is a certifiable news story that requires a certifiable news story to tell it. We are certifiable.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: Can a godless, communist state threaten the holy war? A Steven Wright one-liner disguised as an actual and moderately frightening news story coming up.
MADDOW: “Debunktion Junction,” what‘s my function? Ready?
True or false? In the midst of what is a potentially very serious mess that might become a war, the weird isolated dictatorship in North Korea has now threatened to start a holy war. North Korea is threatening to start a holy war.
Is that true or is that false?
True. The official state news agency of Kim Jong-il‘s tyrannical little regime responded to military drills conducted by South Korea today by putting out this statement from the North‘s minister of armed forces. Quote, “Our revolutionary forces are making preparations to begin a sacred war at any moment necessary based on nuclear deterrent.”
Sacred war—hard to believe coming from any country, particularly hard to believe coming from a country that is officially atheist.
Keep in mind also that North Korea in 2003 threatened Japan by saying they would turn the Sea of Japan into a nuclear sea of fire. And last year, they threatened South Korea with, quote, “the calamitous situation of having a fire shower of nuclear retaliation,” end quote. And the “Associated Press” says North Korea threatened last year, threatened to wipe out the United States you once and for all. Yo, cue evil laughter.
So, yes, North Korea is threatening sacred war, holy war. But they always say crazy stuff like that.
Next up, true or false? Televangelist Pat Robertson says that marijuana should be legalized. Pat Robertson, yes, that Pat Robertson says, dude, legalize it. Is that true or is that false?
True. In comments widely believed today to be a hoax but which he did actually say, the televangelist and former presidential candidate and guy who said he broke the world record by leg pressing 2,000 pound at the age of 72, remember that? Pat Robertson who blamed Hurricane Katrina on abortion and 9/11 on gay people and the ACLU, that Pat Robertson has now also said this—
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST: I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot and that kind of thing—I mean, it‘s just—it‘s costing us a fortune and it‘s ruining young people. Young people are going to prisons. They come—they go in as youths and they come out as hardened criminals, and it‘s not a good thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, after Pat Robertson said that, Pat Robertson‘s spokesman
apparently he has a spokesman—apparently, Pat Robertson‘s spokesman put out a statement saying Mr. Robertson wasn‘t actually criticizing the criminalization of pot. He was just calling for lighter sentences. Pat Robertson‘s spokesman is, of course, full of it because as you just heard the original comments are on tape, remember?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: Criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot is not a good thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There are only two things I know of that make the decriminalization of pot not seem like a good idea. One is reading the nutritional value chart on a package of Funions, and, two, is hearing arguments for the decriminalization of pot articulated by Pat Robertson. The man has a way of tainting even the sanest idea. We‘re two for two on “Debunktion Junction” tonight.
We will be right back.
MADDOW: RACHEL MADDOW SHOW viewers, I require your assistance. We have a semi-regular feature on the show that‘s called “Today in Cheating.” “Today in Cheating” is generally about interesting and newsworthy ways that people cheat in sports.
For example, the boxer Antonio Margarito putting plaster in the tape on his boxing gloves. Or that coach from the Jets—I‘m not talking about the foot thing, the other coach from the Jets who tripped that other team‘s player as he ran down the sidelines, remember?
On this segment today in cheating, we cover cheating in sports.
Now, though, there is an interesting story, and maybe an important story that we think might be about cheating in sports, but we can‘t tell. We don‘t really understand it well enough to know how the cheating works in this instance or even if it is really cheating at all.
Two weeks ago, a hockey team called the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to another hockey team called the Philadelphia Flyers. I know it is safe for me to say statistically speaking that you probably do not follow hockey but still, help me out here.
At the end of the game when the Maple Leafs were just about to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers, a Maple Leafs fan, disgusted with his team‘s performance, threw a bunch of waffles onto the ice. This is supposedly video of the incident supposedly showing the waffles on the ice. But as you can see, it‘s kind of tough to tell exactly what is happening here.
But this apparently was a premeditated thing. The guy who hurled the waffles set up a Twitter account under the name Eggo Bomber. He gave himself a waffle-throwing pseudonym Jack M. and he did an interview with “The Ottawa Sun” in which explained why he threw the waffles.
He said, quote, “They need to wake up and eat some breakfast. I love them, but somebody has got to say something.”
Have you ever had one of those things where like in your family, the saying is just slightly wrong? Like instead of six of one half dozen of another, it‘s six halves of a dozen. Or it‘s easier than a barrel full of monkeys and more fun than taking candy from a baby. It‘s almost right but it‘s not quite right?
In this guy‘s family, my theory is it was: you need to wake up and eat some breakfast. For everybody else, it‘s wake up and smell the coffee. But in this guy‘s family, the idiom was slightly wrong, wake up and eat some breakfast. It‘s their idiom. So, he thinks it makes sense to everybody that he would throw a breakfast food at this hockey team. They need to wake up and eat some breakfast. That‘s not what other people say.
But then we go from confused, explicable waffle-throwing guy to copy cat waffle-throwing guy. This was Monday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A shot in line to the goal and—
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Waffles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And some fan has decided to throw something on the ice and it will be scooped up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An idiot and he‘s being ushered out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody could have slipped on that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. The waffles are on the ice again, whatever that means.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven‘t figured that out either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, this person clarified that he was not the original waffle thrower, he was a copy cat—but a copy cat who was also using waffles to express his frustration with the Maple Leafs. Why waffles?
He said, quote, “I didn‘t mean to cause no trouble.” The man who was arrested said he threw the waffles, quote, “just to say wake up or something. Stop treating your fans like Eggos.”
Stop toasting them and enjoying them with Mrs. Butterworth‘s? What is this about?
But now, it‘s not just Maple Leafs fans who are throwing waffles at the Maple Leaf. Now, it is fans of the opposing teams who are brandishing waffles at the Maple Leafs players. For example, there are some Vancouver Canucks fans who like to wear green suits because of something I think having to do with the TV show called “It‘s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” maybe, I don‘t know. I don‘t even know it from hockey, I don‘t know.
But people who like to wear green suits at hockey games are not just wearing green spandex suits at hockey games now. When their team is playing the Maple Leafs now, they‘re showing up in the grown spandex suits but then, look at this, frantically throwing waffles at the Maple Leafs guy in the penalty box.
So help us, RACHEL MADDOW SHOW viewers, help us understand what this all means. I get that the Maple Leafs are not a very good hockey team and that their fans are mad at them for not being very good. I get that.
I get that people who like this other hockey team, the Canucks, they like to dress up in green spandex suits that even cover their face. I even get that that is tangentially related to a television show that is called “It‘s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” It‘s like all of those dots, those individual dots, I understand the dot, but I cannot connect the dots.
Here‘s the thing—unlike the original wake up and eat some breakfast waffle thrower guy and the green men waffle-throwing guys, the copy cat waffle-thrower guy is now banned from all Maple Leafs facilities and events. He was arrested. He has to go to court next month.
This could be because the copy cat waffle-thrower guy did his waffle-throwing in the middle of play during the game so the game had to stop so that some hockey rink worker people could remove the waffles from the rink. Maybe also because he was easier to catch because he was wearing a Santa hat and he stuck around the scene of the waffle toss to gloat about the fact that he‘d thrown the waffles.
Is this a form of cheating? Is this a radically sophisticated form of heckling that‘s too complicated to understand if you‘re not a hockey fan?
RACHEL MADDOW SHOW viewers, can you help us understand this? If so, we are eager to hear your explanations, please help us at Maddowblog.MSNBC.com. As of yet, this cannot be filed under today in cheating but we reserve to reclassify it once we understand what throwing the waffles means. That does it for us tonight.
Now, it‘s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell.
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