Guests: Thomas Frank
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: I do not envy the staffer on your show, to average them out every 19 seconds.
O‘DONNELL: I couldn‘t watch. I had to leave them alone in the room with that one.
MADDOW: I got to tell you, this—that was one of those interviews that I got, just anecdotally, I had a number of people in my life, like, not only relatives but like people that work at the doctor‘s office where I go and stuff, call me and text me and email me to say how angry watching that interview made them at Bill O‘Reilly.
O‘DONNELL: What‘s with that guy?
MADDOW: It was—he was—he raised blood pressure all across America. It was quite the accomplishment.
Thank you, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour as well.
Tonight, we have a recording of a political speech that really has to be heard to be believed and understood. It is about reproductive rights, it‘s by a Republican lawmaker in the great state of Wyoming. And if you assume that means that will boil your blood, stand by to be surprised and maybe even amazed.
Plus, we‘ve got a way-too-in-depth investigation off Alan Simpson‘s green weenie comment—an investigation that weirdly we‘re kind of proud of.
Plus, we have a giant former Senator Blanche Lincoln-sized reminder about bad ideas in Democratic politics. Literally, it is a—it is a reminder about that that is the size and shape of former Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln.
We have a big hour ahead.
But, first, when we learned tonight that the Patriot Act extensions that Republicans were banking on passing through the House with no problem, when we learned that the Patriot Act extensions had unexpectedly failed in the House, we learned again just how little we have learned as a country about what the Republican Party is turning itself into. As a country that is supposedly obsessed with our own politics, the unfinished business of remaking what it is to be a Republican in the post-Bush, post-McCain era, it‘s like it‘s still a surprise every time it manifests itself. We are a gold fish spinning around the bowl, every single time that little plastic castle. Wow, what‘s that? Wow, what‘s that?
This is an unfinished question that continues to be the most interesting unanswered question in American politics. It shouldn‘t surprise us any more, but it does. And it is one of the reasons that I‘m bummed that Rand Paul will, in all likelihood, never talk to me again.
Rand Paul is the new Republican senator from Kentucky. He announced his candidacy for the Senate on this program. I‘ve always had a cordial, I think, respectful relationship with him—a number of cordial and respectful interviews between both me and Rand Paul and me and his ideologically like-minded father, Ron Paul. It was all good.
But then this happened:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Do you believe that private business people should be able to decide whether they want to serve black people or gays or any other minority group?
SEN. RAND PAUL ®, KENTUCKY: With regard to racism, I don‘t believe in any racism. I don‘t think we should have any government racism, any institutional form of racism.
MADDOW: In terms of legal remedies for persistent discrimination, though, if there was a private business, say, in Louisville, say, somewhere in your home state, that wanted to not serve black patrons, or wanted to not serve gay patrons or somebody else—do you think that they had a legal right to do so, to put up a “blacks not served here” sign?
PAUL: Well, the interesting thing is, you know, you look back to the 1950s and 1960s, and the problems we faced. There were incredible problems.
MADDOW: But what about private businesses. I mean, I hate—I don‘t want to be badgering you on this, but I do want an answer. Do you think that a private business has a right to say we don‘t serve black people?
PAUL: Yes. I‘m not in favor of any discrimination of any form. We did some very important things in the ‘60s that I‘m all in favor of, and that was desegregating schools, desegregating public transportation, used public roads, had public monopolies.
MADDOW: How about desegregating lunch counters? Lunch counters?
Walgreen‘s lunch counters, are you in favor of that?
PAUL: Well, what happened—right. Well, what it gets into is that then if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And on it went, like that, for more than 14 minutes. I was -
that was the first question I asked him. I had—I had nine others. I had 10 questions.
What I wanted to ask him next that I didn‘t get to ask him that day in those 14 minutes because we went over and over and over and over again and he wouldn‘t answer the civil rights question, what I—what I wanted to ask him that day and what I still would like to be able to ask him right now, nine months later, is this—this was actually my next question: How can you believe in small government and believe in government big enough to monitor every single pregnancy in the country? A government that ensures that every single woman who gets pregnant is forced to bring that pregnancy to term? If you‘re such a small government guy, Senator Paul, why do you want to give the government power to compel the government‘s chosen outcome for every pregnancy in the country?
I wanted to ask that. I do not think he will ever come on the show again. Common wisdom says my interview with him, right after he won that primary was bad for him electorally, even though he won election and he‘s not running again for six years.
But if I had the chance, I would love to ask him this next question I had to ask him, because this question—and the big government, small government conservative confusion idea that is behind it is getting more and more important in Washington all the time. And for all of the ink that we spill and time that we spend talking about Republican politics and Tea Party politics and what the parties are going to be like heading into the next election season, we‘ve never quite got at this. Republicans won a lot of seats in November, Rand Paul is among them.
And they did it by saying they were all in favor of smaller government, and more freedom, right?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: A limited government party, less taxes, less spending.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give voice to those Americans who haven‘t given up on our country‘s experiment in limited self-government.
REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN: Keep our government limited.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: We are a nation that loves liberty!
REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, OHIO: Economic freedom, individual liberty.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: That is the message they campaigned on in November—freedom, liberty, letting people do what they want!
And then they arrived in Washington and immediately started working on putting government in charge of every single pregnancy in America. Even as they slowed the legislative calendar way down, stopped doing much of anything else, they advanced not one, not two, but three super radical bills to restrict abortion rights.
One of those bills had a hearing in the House today. Another one has a hearing tomorrow.
And whether or not you care about abortion itself, and whether or not you care about abortion rights, this being the front page of the Republican agenda this year and this supposed small government, Tea Party year, it shows you the big ideological wobbliness, the big divided heart of American conservatism right now, and Democrats for once seem to know it.
Listen to Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York speaking today at one of these anti-abortion hearings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: It seems that many Republicans believe in freedom, provided no one uses that freedom in a way they find objectionable. That is a strange understanding of freedom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Exactly. Democrats are finally onto it.
I‘m going to stand for a moment. Won‘t you join me? Proudly speaking, do that thing.
All right. Proudly speaking, there are two strands of conservative thinking in America right now. There‘s libertarian conservativism on one side, and then there‘s authoritarian conservatism on the other side. There‘s small “leave me alone” government here, and big, intrusive government over here.
And, of course, nobody calls themselves an authoritarian conservative, right? That sounds awful. Nobody says, “I am for big, intrusive government, vote for me.”
They all say that they are on this side, right? They all they‘re on the libertarian side—no matter what kind of Republican is running on what kind of platform, they all say they‘re for smaller government, limited government, personal freedom. Those are their buzz words, right?
But look at the Republican policies over the last decade. Expanding the National Security Agency, NSA. So, it has the ability to wiretap phone calls without a warrant and sift through e-mails, and look through all sorts of library records. Is that small, “leave me alone” government? Or is that big, intrusive government?
In the last administration, with a Republican president and Republican-controlled Congress, they increased the size of the federal government by more than any other time since World War II when they created the Department of Homeland Security. Between 2001 and 2008, they double the Defense Department.
Small government conservatives, right, supposedly small government conservatives, they put in place a policy of indefinite detention, allowing an American citizen to be arrested and held without charges for years and years and years. I mean—I mean, they support the death penalty. The government‘s right to kill you. You want to talk about balancing the power of the individual versus the power of the government? Sort of doesn‘t get more fundamental than that.
Republicans all say they are small government libertarian conservatives. But what they have done when they have power is authoritarian big government stuff. And whether—that‘s true whether or not Democrats have gone along with them or whether or not Democrats have undone this stuff when they had the chance—this is all Republican initiated policy.
And it‘s not just on national security, it‘s culture war, too. The government stepping in to censor textbooks after the District of Columbia decided that they may want gay marriage to be legal. The Republican Congress is making it a federal priority to step in as the federal government and quash and overturn that local decision. Leave me alone, government.
And, of course, abortion. If you get pregnant, it‘s not—it‘s not you making the decision. It‘s not even you and your doctor making the decision, what you want doesn‘t matter. What your doctor recommends doesn‘t matter as far as these small government folks would decide, the government should be the one making that call, not you.
This is really big government policy, and Democrats going after Republicans today during that hearing—today at a press conference attended by a bunch of Democratic senators, Democrats going after Republicans on why they‘re focusing on abortion when they said they‘d be focusing on jobs and the economy and all these other things, that is a sign that Democrats are getting it. Democrats are recognizing that there‘s a difference between these two sides on this giant board. There‘s a difference between Republican claims that they are on this side, that they are all about small government, we‘ll let you do what you want, while really what they are pursuing is on this side.
Democrats are onto it for once in their tiny lives. They have recognized this divide between what Republicans are saying and what they are doing, and Democrats are starting to campaign on it. Do you believe it? I know.
But, still, the most important question, the most interesting question at least in American politics, since the Republican primaries in 2008, I think—since in particular the rise of the Ron Paul phenomenon—is whether or not people who actually believe in the small government stuff, the true believers, the people who really believe in it, instead of just paying lip service to it, whether they have any hope of surviving in Republican politics.
Today, we may have gotten an inkling of an answer. Today, the Patriot Act came up for vote in the Republican-controlled House. It was a vote to reauthorize certain elements of the Patriot Act, including a provision that allows the federal government to go through personal library records. Ahead of vote today, my old friend, Ron Paul, Rand Paul‘s dad, he used to talk to me, too, Ron Paul announced his opposition to the Patriot Act on libertarian grounds.
And when the vote finally came up today, it was defeated, unexpectedly. There was a brilliant moment when Politico.com today had the biggie banner headline about how the Patriot Act extension was due to pass and then it failed. Twenty-six Republicans joined with 122 Democrats in voting against reauthorizing these provisions of the Patriot Act that were expiring -- 26 Republicans bucked their own party on this vote.
Now, Democrats voted against the White House on this as well. But that is sort of dog bites man. That‘s no surprise. The left has been criticizing the Patriot Act for forever.
The man bites dog news here is all of the Republicans voting against it from the right.
We‘ve also seen this year, some Republicans bucking their own party and coming out in favor of the prospect of cutting the size of the Defense Department. Kill (INAUDIBLE). They‘re even starting to make some very, very, very quiet noises about opposition to the Afghanistan war.
Everybody in Republican politics long ago learned to talk a fashionable, libertarian-ish line. Democrats are just learning to exploit the fact that Republicans talk a small government game but actually have a really big government agenda.
Well, what happens to U.S. politics now? What happens next if Republicans actually do start putting their money where their mouth is, if they do start supporting “leave me alone” government policies, instead of just saying that they do?
I think it would be the great American political realignment. Dick Cheney and John Boehner and the current White House working together—
Rand Paul and THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW together again on the other side?
Joining us now is Thomas Frank, columnist for “Harper‘s” magazine and author of “The Wrecking Crew.”
Mr. Frank, it is nice to see you. Thanks for being with us.
THOMAS FRANK, AUTHOR, “THE WRECKING CREW”: And how are you today, Rachel?
MADDOW: Well, I never get to stand up on my show, so I‘m very excited.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about whether or not what I was standing up for makes any sense. Do you think that there‘s a tension in modern conservatism between wanting the government to impose moral standards and be intrusive on security issues and everything they say about wanting a smaller government?
FRANK: Well, yes, of course, there is. I mean, you laid it out—you laid it out quite well. But I would actually go farther than that. I would say that the Republican Party, that the main divide—I wouldn‘t say authoritarian, libertarian, I‘d say you have pro-business conservatives or pro-market conservatives as they sometimes call themselves, and then you got your culture war conservatives.
And there‘s all sorts of tension between these two factions. The sort of the rise of the libertarians, where they had 26 of them bucking the party there, that‘s an interesting thing. It would have been awesome if the Democrats had figured that out a couple months ago, huh?
MADDOW: Hey, there‘s a giant split in our party. Do you want to do anything about it? No? OK. We‘ll let that go.
I know. Democrats can always be counted onto avoid any strategic advantage for themselves.
FRANK: But I‘m serious. I am serious about this, Rachel. When the Tea Party was going on last year, and, you know, they handed the Democrats world class shellacking. You could see this thing coming months and months and months away. It was back in 2009 that they said this is about freedom, you know, read your HIAC. Every time government takes over more power in the economy, they‘re going to have to crackdown on freedom of speech.
Wouldn‘t it have been the most amazing thing if—you know, if Barack Obama was saying, OK, we‘re going to have universal health insurance and I‘m going to repeal the Patriot Act at the same time? Just think how that would have confused them—the problems it would have caused for their world view. The party would have been—you know, we would have been a party pooper.
MADDOW: Do we know enough about how these two sides fight in Republican politics to know who‘s going to win? I mean, obviously, it‘s John Boehner and Eric Cantor and all of these guys who are much more traditional Republicans who are in the leadership—but with them being bucked by their own party on this, who eventually—well, how does the balance of power shake out here?
I just assume that the big government, intrusive national security guys on the right are the ones who are always going to win.
FRANK: Well, you know, I never thought of big government as being an end in itself. I think of it as just almost irrelevant to these guys. They talk about big government, little government, it means nothing.
The point that I tried to make in that book, “The Wrecking Crew” that you so kindly mentioned a second ago is that they don‘t care about that. It‘s what government does that intrigues them, right, whose side government takes in all the different disputes in American life.
And, look, at the end of the day, the Republican Party almost always, I‘m talking about their track record here, not their ideology—they almost, always come down on the side of business, almost always.
MADDOW: Is there a way that the Republican Party‘s efforts to push culture war issues, and I‘ve been focusing on abortion, but it‘s a lot of stuff. I mean, one of the first things they tried to do was say, let‘s defund the NEA, and let‘s defund Corporation for Public Broadcasting, all this stuff that really feels like Jessie Helms has risen from the dead. They are sort of front-paging all of these culture wars, of trying to undo D.C.‘s gay marriage laws and all of this.
MADDOW: Is there a possibility on the right that the fisher becomes electorally important? That that split where they say, you know what, stop focusing on the stuff, let the gays and the people who need abortions do what they want to do. Can‘t it become electorally important so it changes things maybe even for the next election?
FRANK: You know, Rachel, you‘re a nice person. I want to say what‘s going to please you, but the answer is no. It‘s not—that‘s not going to happen.
FRANK: You look at what‘s—OK, you look at what‘s happened to the last two years. The economy has just been in this disastrous state, a free fall, and the sort of natural thing happened. The culture war got pushed off the front pages, economic issues became the number one thing. It was the kind of situation where, you know, Democrats would have to be fools to lose in a situation like that where—I mean, the world needs, you know, Franklin Roosevelt at a time like that.
And yet, the Democrats did screw it up. They couldn‘t get it right, you know, to save their lives. OK. Now, the economy is recovering a little bit, and they‘re bringing back the culture wars. They‘re doing this because those are successful for them, because the culture wars win elections. That‘s why they‘re bringing it back, not—you know, not for any other reason.
So, I don‘t think they‘re going to abandon that strategy. And as for whether or not it‘s going to wreck the Republican Party, it‘s like oh, my God, the Republican Party should be wrecked right now after what they did, you know, with bank deregulation over the years, the way they—I mean, they caused—basically caused the financial crisis in 2008. And here they are back again promising to do more of the same, more deregulation.
A party that can recover from a disaster like that, you know, I wouldn‘t count on the split in the party being the thing that takes them down.
MADDOW: Oh, I never count on anything when it comes to them. But I think—I do think it‘s the most interesting question, and an open question in U.S. politics.
Thomas Frank, “Harper‘s” magazine columnist, author of “The Wrecking Crew,” which is great—thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
FRANK: Sure thing.
MADDOW: We are going to test that hypothesis that Thomas Frank and I were just talking about in just a moment, because the vast majority of self-proclaimed small government-loving Republicans frankly support the government‘s right to monitor every pregnancy in the United States. Really, really, really big government. Weirdly and totally logically, people who oppose that level of government intrusion do include some actual small government-loving Republicans, people who don‘t just pay lip service to it but who believe it.
And we‘ve got one of those Republicans who you have never heard of, but whose incredible speech in the Wyoming statehouse you will hear next—and whose speech may change your mind about how culture war politics may or may not split the Republican Party. You should hear this, next.
MADDOW: It turns out that the international news story that Americans got obsessed with last week, and rightfully so, even though they say we don‘t care about international news, turns out that story is not over.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: It is Egypt, it is totally on. More so than anybody thought it would be. The details, coming up.
MADDOW: It is tempting when you are considering the culture wars in America, to only look at the really extreme manifestations of them. That‘s especially easy to do if you venture out into the land of state legislatures because it almost doesn‘t matter at what level the national culture war is being waged on any given day—I promise you there‘s some wackadoo state senator or state representative in some state somewhere in our great nation proposing something that is just patently ridiculous.
You can call it the Russell Pearce rule. If he‘s not introducing the “papers please” laws, he‘s cosponsoring a law that says Arizona should get to ignore federal laws. Meanwhile, the guy who helped write the “papers please” law for Arizona is now the secretary of state in Kansas, where he is proposing that he should get prosecutorial power to stop voter fraud—secretary of state‘s prosecutorial power. Perhaps he‘ll also want to impose the sentence himself. They‘ll rename the position grand inquisitor.
It is easy to fall off the kook end of state politics when you start looking out there. But because it‘s a rule, because there‘s always somebody doing it somewhere, you sort of learn over time not to read too much into it, right? Not to make these folks famous. Not to make it extrapolate the kookery of the moment in the states into something important about national politics.
But sometimes within parties, or within the various movements that make up the constituent parts of our American policy, sometimes what happens in the states can almost be a point of light, a point of illumination.
There is a conflict nationally within the Republican Party about weather Republicans are going to be big, intrusive government conservatives like they have been mostly, particularly in recent decades, or whether they‘re going to be small government conservatives—the way some of the libertarian and some of the Tea Party folks purport to want to lead things. It is fascinating struggle to watch it play out on the national stage.
But it is more fascinating struggle to watch it play out in the great state of Wyoming. Yes, Wyoming. This is a story that is not going to go the way you think it is—I can almost guarantee you that.
First of all, there‘s something you should know about the state legislature in Wyoming. This is why the struggle in Wyoming can be seen as a sort of point of illumination for the Republican Party.
Here‘s what the seating chart looks like, look at this, in the state legislature in Wyoming. This is the House and Senate combined. There are 90 legislators in Wyoming, 76 of them are Republicans. This is whatever is about three steps bigger than a super majority. So think mega majority, almost one party rule here.
And in steps, a culture warrior—a big, intrusive government statehouse member by the name of Bob Brechtel. Representative Brechtel introduced a bill apparently called the Abortion Available Information for Decision Bill.
And this awkwardly titled bill calls for some fairly extreme restrictions on abortion. It mandates that doctors “inform the pregnant woman that she has a right to view an active ultrasound.” It also requires doctors to tell women lots and lots of things, most of which are not supported by the preponderance of medical evidence about fetal pain, and when and how and to what degree a fetus feels pain. It requires all that information to be delivered to a woman 24 hours before an abortion. In other words, there‘s a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion.
So big, intrusive bills introduced in the very, very, very Republican legislature in Wyoming. This sort of thing is happening in a lot of states right now.
But in Wyoming, there is a conservative rejoinder, an actually conservative rejoinder to this big, intrusive government bill. There is a volley from the other side of the Republican Party, as in—hey, you guys, actually, we meant that small government thing. And a pair of Republican legislators got up in the east wing of Wyoming state capitol building in Cheyenne and they made the case against this guy—this guy from their own party, in terms that would lift the roof off the U.S. capitol in Washington if any self-proclaimed conservative did it there.
We do not think it has been broadcast nationally as far as we know. We think this is something of a RACHEL MADDOW SHOW exclusive. So, listen to this. This happened recently. This happened late last month, in the statehouse in Wyoming.
Here is a Republican argument against a Republican anti-abortion measure. Listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
STATE REP. LISA SHEPPERSON ®, WYOMING: When I go to the doctor, it is the most private thing you can imagine. I want myself, I want my husband, and I want my doctor there. And I don‘t want any government.
STATE REP. SUE WALLIS ®, WYOMING: What this bill does is say that, as a woman, that I‘m not smart enough to know the decision that I‘m making -- that somehow the state is required in this particular decision where they are required in no other medical decision.
SHEPPERSON: The doctors don‘t need to be told by us, and we don‘t even know what the heck we‘re talking about. We don‘t even know what‘s in the statutes. All I‘m asking is we keep government where it should be. And that‘s out of the doctor‘s office.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Keep government where it should be, out of the doctor‘s office.
What you just heard were Republican lawmakers making conservative arguments against the tightening of abortion rights. The tightening of abortion rights has been spreading across the country, state legislature by state legislature.
One of those lawmakers you just heard, State Representative Sue Wallis, went on to tell a deeply personal story about her own decision to have an abortion years ago as she explained to her colleagues on the floor of the Wyoming house, she had a brush with cancer which had already complicated previous pregnancies and caused her to miscarry once. She was a single mom separated from an abusive partner at that time when she made the difficult choice to have an abortion. She told all of that to the Wyoming House of Representatives.
And then she said this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
STATE REP. SUE WALLIS (R-WY): And the thing I want to make sure you understand is that‘s just one story. There‘s a zillion variations out there. And we, as a state, should not be interfering with those very personal, very private, very - that our ability as free moral agents cannot justify these broad strokes.
So should this go forward, I would hope to amend it by taking out all of those things that are not true and are misleading, which there are many in this bill. I know that some of you, maybe many of you, feel like you have to vote one way or another on this bill to make some broad statement.
But I just ask you as a human being, as a friend, and as a colleague, not to pass mass judgment on your fellow human beings.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was January 25th. That bill, that anti-abortion bill she was arguing against, was defeated. But the fight is not over, far from it, because the original bill sponsor - remember him?
Bob Brechtel has introduced another one. It‘s called the Abortion Ultrasound Information Bill, very similar to the old bill, the one that got killed, except he took out all the super scientifically dubious stuff about fetal pain.
The new bill, again functionally very similar, is inching towards passage. But as promised, Rep. Sue Wallis is offering amendments trying to change it as much as she can, trying to make it less intrusive, making a small C conservative Republican argument against a big government Republican proposal in the culture war.
We will keep you posted on her battle against this bill and this most fascinating battle within the Republican Party.
MADDOW: If you had wondered if the whole Egypt thing was winding down, the answer is no. More specifically, the answer is this. This is - look at this. This is Tahrir Square, Liberation Square in Cairo today.
This is not our file footage of protesters on the big protest days last week. This is how many people were out in the city‘s main protest area today. “The Washington Post” reporting that, quote, “hundreds of thousands gathered in what witnesses estimated was the largest crowd in the downtown Tahrir Square since protests began two weeks ago.”
The BBC concurring, saying, quote, “Correspondents say it is the biggest demonstration since the protests began on the 25th of January.”
Even after sundown, thousands of people stayed in the square. They are not going home. This is as big as it has been. This weekend, the government met with protesters and political opposition groups.
They offered some concessions. The Constitution would be amended so the opposition can run in elections. There would be expanded freedom of the press. “Prisoners of conscience” - political prisoners would be released.
The 30-year-old state of emergency, which frankly calls into question the whole concept of the word “emergency” - that will finally be lifted sometime eventually.
In other words, the government conceded just about everything they could, except the biggest and loudest and most insistent and consistent demand of the protesters, that the president, Hosni Mubarak, step down.
They conceded everything up to that. Would those concessions be enough to stop the energy from the protest movement? Would people, by and large, think they had gotten enough from the government, and stay home the next time the protesters hit the streets?
No. Emphatically no. The crowds in the street today bigger than they have ever been. The concessions from the government not cooling the protest movement down. This thing is getting bigger, not smaller.
The next major protest is scheduled for Friday. Friday protests, as you know, generally are larger than those on any other day of the week. Anything could happen.
But right now, this appears to be snowballing. NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, tomorrow Cairo time. So in just a few hours, he‘s interviewing the new vice president of Egypt, the new guy sort of in charge there, the man whose concessions have apparently failed to stop the protests.
That interview between Richard and Omar Suleiman is tomorrow. We will then have Richard live here on the show to report back.
MADDOW: I have an update for you on a story we addressed on last night‘s show. Former Senator Alan Simpson, one of the bipartisan co-chairs of the president‘s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, a.k.a., the cat food commission, a.k.a. the thing a lot of people are worried will be the vehicle for cutting back social security, which is among the most beloved of American institutions for a reason.
Former Senator Alan Simpson, because of his key rule on the “oh, god, please don‘t cut social security” commission, pretty much everything he says in public now is closely scrutinized, because people want to figure out what he is going to do to this revered institution, this thing that most Americans feel very strongly about protecting.
To that end, last night on the show, we delved into the mystery of Sen. Alan Simpson‘s recent comments concerning a mysterious green weenie. This, on Sunday, is what Mr. Simpson had to say about said green weenie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. SEN. ALAN SIMPSON (R-KY): I‘m waiting for the politician to get up and say there‘s only one way to do this. You dig into the big four - Medicare, Medicaid, social security, and defense.
And anybody giving you anything different than that, you want to walk out the door, stick your finger down your throat and give them the green weenie with oak leaf clusters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So goodness, that‘s quite a -
SIMPSON: Well, get the green weenie.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get the green weenie. That‘s terrible.
SIMPSON: In the army, we used to say that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When Alan Simpson said “stick your finger down your throat and give them the green weenie,” what exactly did he mean? And why the thumb with it? Is that significant?
Yesterday, before show time, we called Mr. Simpson‘s office for a definition. And still, today, we had no call back. While we waited for his call, we started investigating on our own.
Someone named Harriet wrote into our blog that “green weenie” refers to a fly-tying pattern for fly fishing. This green weenie is very, very tiny and very, very cute and irresistible, if presented properly, to the appropriate trout.
Someone named Sean tweeted us this possible explanation, quote, “Green weenie is a green scrubbing pad like on the back of a dish sponge. We still use the term in the Navy.”
We also learned in our investigation that this awesome muscle car is named “The Green Weenie.” And Pittsburgh Pirates fans, reportedly in the 1960s, used green rubber hotdog-like rattles to shake hexes at the opposing team and shake good luck at their own team.
Those were some good times with those Pittsburgh Pirates green weenies. In the name of full disclosure, I should let you know there is another definition of green weenie, one that is mentionable on television.
It is helpfully explained here by “Urban Dictionary.” We have, however, redacted that for the sake of mostly my mom and our executive producer, Bill Wolff, who is easily embarrassed.
So those were all the green weenie explanations we were able to find in our quest to parse exactly what cat food commission co-chair Alan Simpson was talking about when he cited the green weenie and cracked up Candy Crowley.
Now, none of those green weenies made sense in the context of what Alan Simpson was talking about when he said it, which was the idea of two small budget cuts.
Then we realized this is not the first time Alan Simpson has talked about green weenies, so we can other mentions to our contextual analysis of what he meant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMPSON: From my army days in the infantry, when someone would make a statement as bizarre as that, we would confer upon them the order of the green weenie with oak leaf clusters. From then on, I have received the order of the green weenie from the AARP.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: See, this was an important term to our investigation, because hearing him describe it not just as the green weenie, but the order of the green weenie, and the order of the green weenie with oak leaf clusters made us realize we had to go back and give the tape from this weekend a closer listen.
At a relevant point, it is a little hard to hear, but we were able, we think, to write it out verbatim.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMPSON: You want to walk out the door, stick your finger down your throat and give them the green weenie with oak leaf clusters. In the army, we used to say that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So it is more than just a green weenie. It is a green weenie with oak leaf clusters, which sounds very much like a military word.
So then we did what anybody would do in this situation at this point in this investigation. We contacted the awesome reference librarians at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to help us.
Thanks to them, and they were truly awesome, we can tell you with some confidence that Alan Simpson‘s use of the term “green weenie,” which so upset Candy Crowley this weekend, was probably him employing a slang term for the army commendation medal.
Why is that called a green weenie? Well, the “Dictionary of Soldier Talk” says, quote, “The army commendation medal was about the only decoration for meritorious service or achievement that most enlisted men and junior officers could hope to win.”
“The cynical nickname probably arose among soldiers who didn‘t get a medal to show their disdain toward those that did. Later, when the decoration passed out indiscriminately, the term ‘weenie‘ began to make sense.”
“Green is from the basic color of the service and suspension ribbons, while ‘weenie,‘ a frankfurter sausage, may have a phallic significant.”
Don‘t look at me. I did not write it. So now, we know what a green weenie is. And it would make sense. You know, I mean, think about what‘s going on here, giving out a green weenie for not cutting very much spending.
That would be consistent with its slang meaning as a sort of undeserved anti-award that you get for nothing. It makes sense. But there is still something wrong here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMPSON: Walk out the door, stick your finger down your throat and give them the green weenie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I still need to know from Alan Simpson why the whole “stick your finger down your throat” part. And man, what‘s with the thumb? Sen. Simpson, you have a really important job in our country. We would love to hear from you. We have so many questions for you.
I don‘t know if you E-mail, but if you do, it‘s email@example.com.
MADDOW: Much to my chagrin, the second time the today‘s show plan calls for me to stand up in front of the camera is still ahead. It‘s for a good cause. It involves Blanche Lincoln, a life-sized but fake Blanche Lincoln. Also, a really nice senator who is making a really bad decision. That‘s coming up.
MADDOW: Conservative Democrats, broadly speaking, fared poorly in the last election. On Monday, November 1st, there were 46 conservative Democrats in the blue dog coalition.
By the next evening there were not 46 of them anymore. There were 24. Their number cut almost in half. Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, a conservative Democrat in the upper chamber in the Senate became a poster child, literally. See? Here is the poster. For the futility of Democrats running for office in conservative places by pretending they weren‘t really Democrats, for the futility of running against Democratic policies and Democratic ideas in the hopes that people might mistake you for a Republican.
When you have - if voters have a real Republican they could choose instead, you think you‘re going to fool them? By the time that she made it to November, Sen. Blanche Lincoln had come out against health reform, against cap and trade, against saving the American auto industry from extinction, against saving the American economy from extinction, against making it easier for unions to organize, and all of her ads bragged essentially about how horrible the Democratic Party was and how Blanche Lincoln didn‘t agree with them on anything.
Vote for Blanche Lincoln, Democrat. Yes. Blanche Lincoln lost her seat by more than 20 points. If you were a Democrat and you had strong Republican opposition, everything you do to paint your own party as irresponsible and wrong will produce additional votes for your opponent.
Primary politics are different and blue state politics are often different, but if you‘re running in a red state everything you say against the Democratic Party conservadem can and will be used against you.
They would not be conservadems if they didn‘t refuse to learn that though. In an article at “Politico.com” today, a quartet of conservative Democratic senators enthused about their sympathies for the Republican attack on health reform and their own willingness to weaken it.
They were Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, Ben Nelson, and Claire McCaskill. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill used to come on this show, but she won‘t anymore, although we called again today and asked, but she was unavailable.
Without being able to talk to her on TV, it is hard to know how to communicate with Sen. McCaskill anymore. But because when she did come on the show everybody on the staff, including me, really liked her and thought she was a hoot and thoroughly enjoyed her company, we have come up with a plan to try to help.
We have turned this poster child into a postage child. Guys, would you mind helping me out for a minute? Sen. McCaskill, you are always very welcome to come back on the show. We‘d love to have you. We miss you.
Until then, as a gesture of good will, we are going to mail you this life-sized cutout of Blanche Lincoln to serve as a - hook your hand in there, Blanche - serve as a friendly reminder of the consequences of the giant electoral mistake that you are thinking about making.
We hope you like it. Also, our interns are very skilled at paper arts. Thanks, you guys.
MADDOW: On October 25th, 2007, in the Korengal valley in northeast Afghanistan, 22-year-old army specialist Sal Giunta was with his platoon when it was ambushed, ambushed by an enemy raining hell down on the Americans in the form of rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire.
According to Sebastian Junger‘s account in his book “War,” within seconds of the ambush starting, every single American in the lead squad took a bullet.
Their medic was shot through the femur. The lead man, the sergeant walking point, was hit eight times. Sal Giunta was walking fourth. He was shot in the chest and knocked down, his life saved by his body armor.
He got back up and weighed in toward the enemy fire. He pulled two wounded soldiers to safety. He grabbed and threw three hand grenades. He ran up the trail toward the wounded lead man on his patrol, found two enemy fighters dragging the wounded men off into the brush.
He emptied the clip in his M-4 rifle, killing one of the enemy fighters and forcing the other one to drop the wounded American.
Specialist Giunta then dragged the wounded soldier to cover and provided medical help until his squad caught up to their position. In the end, two of the soldiers in his unit Sal Giunta had been killed, five more severely wounded, but Sal Giunta‘s valor prevented an even more horrible outcome.
On November 16th, Sal Giunta was at the White House and he became the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAL GIUNTA, MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT: Although I am the one standing here wearing this medal right now, I want to make it be known that this represents all service members from all branches that have been in Afghanistan since 2001, Iraq since 2003, who were there yesterday, are there today, and will go again tomorrow.
This is an incredible time, but it‘s also kind of a bittersweet time. Times like this, because of this day, I lost two dear friends of mine, Specialist Hugo Mendoza and Sergeant Joshua Brennan. And although this is so positive, I would give this back in a second to have my friends with me right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today a U.S. Army spokesman revealed that Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta will retire from the military mid-June. His plan, it‘s reported, is to move with his wife to Fort Collins, Colorado to continue his education with the G.I. Bill to carry on with the rest of his life, which is as it should be.
Now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.” Thanks for being with us tonight.
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