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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Howard Fineman, James Rubin, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Jeff Greenfield, Kenneth Cole, Debbie Reynolds

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said late today that the quickest way to end military action in Libya is for Moammar Gadhafi to leave Libya.  Good luck with that.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  President Obama is headed back to Washington, D.C. early.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s going to start easing some of the tension coming from Capitol Hill.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  The president heads home ahead of schedule and is welcomed by this.

JIMMY FALLON, COMEDIAN:  President Obama is playing soccer in Rio with kids and Hillary Clinton seems to be weirdly stepping up.

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  This is about as badly run as any foreign operation we‘ve seen.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Together, we can repeal Obamacare and replace it.

O‘DONNELL:  The president on defense about the mission in Libya and his trip to South America.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS:  Very insistent that they could do both things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The president‘s doctrine, not an ideology—he‘s not an ideological guy.  He‘s very pragmatic.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  He‘s been judging diplomat efforts on this trip.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS:  We are now on the frontline on the outskirts of Ajdabiya.

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN:  What we are doing is supporting a democratic revolution there.

MITCHELL:  They‘ve got a political problem.

DYLAN RATIGAN, MSNBC HOST:  Today it looks like a war, sound like a war, people are dying, and it‘s costing an awful lot of money.  Isn‘t that a war?

JON STEWART, COMEDIAN:  America, at not war.


OBAMA:  We will continue to provide details to the American people.

STEWART:  You don‘t even seem to think enough of us to lie to us.

O‘DONNELL:  The administration is defending its biggest victory on its first anniversary.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  FDR went so far as to call it a fundamental right for all Americans.

BOEHNER:  In short, we‘ll do whatever we can to ensure that Obamacare is never fully implemented.

MITCHELL:  One year ago today—

OBAMA:  Health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America.


REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  It took a long time for us to get this passed.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Anthony Weiner joins us.

While some Republicans were attacking the president on Libya and the health care bill, two from Minnesota went to Iowa.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The RNC, of course, is trying to gear up for 2012.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST:  And Donald Trump, is he serious about running?

LEWIS BLACK, COMEDIAN:  Trump came out as a birther, which is Republican for “I‘m running for president.”



O‘DONNELL:  Good evening, from New York.

President Obama skipped a visit to the Mayan ruins in El Salvador today to return to Washington and address growing concerns over the Libyan war efforts.  The president‘s plan to transfer command and control to an international coalition in the next few days suffered a setback today when NATO failed to reach an agreement to assume that role.  All 28 NATO states must approve any agreement.

The Muslim nation of Turkey is dissenting.  Repeating a term used by

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the Turkish foreign minister told

reporters, “It would be impossible for us to share responsibility in an

operation that some authorities have described as a ‘Crusade.‘”

Speaking from Air Force One, Press Secretary Jay Carney reassured reporters an agreement was imminent.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  We‘ve made progress each day, and expect to have this transition in place in a matter of days.


O‘DONNELL:  In Tripoli today, allied aircraft fired on Gadhafi‘s compound, the same compound from which Gadhafi told supporters yesterday this assault is by a bunch of fascists who will end up in the dust bin of history.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took her turn at trying to undermine Gadhafi‘s remaining support.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  It will be up to Gadhafi and his insiders to determine what their next steps are.  But we would certainly encourage that they would make the right decision, and not only institute a real, comprehensive cease-fire, but withdraw from the cities, end military actions and prepare for a transition that does not include Colonel Gadhafi.


O‘DONNELL:  A doctor at Misrata hospital told “The Washington Post,” “This no-fly zone doesn‘t mean anything to us because Gadhafi only had a few planes and they were doing nothing.  We need a no-drive zone because it is tanks and snipers that are killing us.”

Joining me now, assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, “Bloomberg View” executive editor, Jamie Rubin.

Thanks for joining us tonight, Jamie.


O‘DONNELL:  How can the administration get unanimous agreement from NATO on this?

RUBIN:  I think they have to push a little bit harder.  I think one of the problems is they want the advantages of burden sharing—in other words, sharing the burdens with other countries, they spent a lot of time today talking about how we‘re sharing the costs.  But I think as a practical matter, if we‘re going to have NATO involved, the United States needs to step up a little bit more and take a leadership role.  I think we can get the Turks in the end, but it‘s been wrangling with the French, the British.

Multilateralism is not only not easy to say, it‘s not easy to do. But it has advantages, great legitimacy, greater burden-sharing.  But it‘s not as smooth and as simple as, you know, the United States doing everything as quickly and easily as we‘d like to.

O‘DONNELL:  Is there any alternative to NATO?

RUBIN:  In this case, I think the alternatives would be a mistake because it is—NATO is very close to Libya.  NATO has experienced doing this.  Most of the NATO countries are on board.  I think it‘s just taking a little bit too much time.

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s listen to more of what President Obama had to say today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Land invasion is out of the question.  Absolutely.  And the exit strategy will be executed this week in the sense that we will be pulling back from our much more active efforts to shape the environment.


O‘DONNELL:  How do you engage in what is combat now, in effect, with a crazy dictator like Gadhafi while you‘re announcing what you will not do?

RUBIN:  Well, I think the administration is playing a little bit too much to those in the Congress and in the American people who are worried about us stretched too thin, and emphasizing a bit too much things like there won‘t be a ground invasion.  No one expects a ground invasion, or that other people will be paying for this.

I think you‘re right.  It is difficult to survive a war in a democracy where you‘re telling the public what you‘re doing when Gadhafi doesn‘t have that disadvantage.  But in the end, I think the public will stay with this.

The trick is for the administration to distinguish between short-term and long-term goals.  Short-term goal is what was achieved in the last few days, preventing a massacre in Benghazi and preventing and denying Gadhafi the ability to slaughter those who have stood up to his dictatorship.  We can do that from the air, we need to step up, perhaps a little bit more American airstrikes on ground forces, but we can do that.

And then say there‘s a longer term goal, which is to get rid of Gadhafi.  And there are other methods to do that, and don‘t let everyone mix these things up.  We are not getting rid of Gadhafi with air power.  Everybody knows that.  Let‘s distinguish between short and long-term goals.

O‘DONNELL:  John Boehner thinks he found a contradiction in his “Dear, Mr. President” letter to the president today.  He said, “You‘ve stated that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi must go, that‘s a U.S. policy goal, but the U.N. resolution the U.S. helped develop and sign onto makes clear regime change is not part of this mission.”  Boehner thinks that contradiction is irreconcilable.

RUBIN:  Yes, I think he is a complete straw.  These are not inconsistent.  The U.N. resolution is what turned this around, what got the world involved, what prevented a massacre in Benghazi, and I don‘t think the Republicans would have been quiet had Libyan leaders swept through the country and slaughtered so many people who were standing up to his dictatorship.

There‘s no inconsistency here.  It may not go as far as we want, and it may be—we have to address the issue of Gadhafi in other ways.  But what everyone is misreading about this resolution is it explicitly permits arming the rebels. It exempts them from the arms embargo.

So, in fact, it provides the tools in that resolution for the long-term solution, which is arming the opposition so that we don‘t have to do this, and we don‘t have to invade, and we have to be patient.  These things are not going to happen overnight.

We prevented a slaughter.  We can get rid of Gadhafi.  Maybe it would have been better if the president hadn‘t said it so loudly, but we are where we are.

And instead of being impatient and saying, why isn‘t everything resolved, why isn‘t this all going smoothly, it doesn‘t go smoothly if you want to do it with others.  It doesn‘t go smoothly, but it has greater legitimacy.  It avoids a lot of problems and allows us to share the burden.

O‘DONNELL:  Jamie Rubin, thanks for joining us again tonight.

RUBIN:  Nice to be with you.

O‘DONNELL:  On Monday, President Obama sent a letter to Congress that essentially said, “By the way, we‘re going into Libya.”

Today, House Speaker John Boehner, as I noted, responded with a letter of his own, reading additionally in part, “I and many other members of the House of Representatives are troubled that U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America‘s role is in achieving that mission.  A United Nations Security Council resolution does not substitute for a U.S. political and military strategy.”

Joining me now, “Huffington Post” senior political editor and MSNBC analyst, Howard Fineman.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Howard.


O‘DONNELL:  Howard, does Speaker Boehner have the pulse of the nation there in that sense of dissatisfaction with the way this has been explained?

FINEMAN:  I don‘t know that he has the pulse of the nation, but he has a point.  And checking with the Boehner staff a few minutes ago, they hadn‘t heard back from the president.

I think there are questions here because Barack Obama ran for president and won the presidency partly on the notion, as he said in 2002, that he wasn‘t against all wars, he was against dumb wars, and he wanted planning and he wanted forethought, and he wanted context, and he wanted a sense of why we were doing what we were doing, publicly debated, intellectually thought through and consistent.

I think, you know, if there‘s doubt in the minds of the American people, it‘s because there seems to be an ad hoc nature to this.  We‘re not clear how this fits into the overall theory of diplomacy and war in the 21st century.

And, you know, Boehner is doing it for totally partisan reasons, let‘s say that.  But I think he may have a point.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, especially when you get to that question of the mission not being clearly defined.  Boehner never had a problem with that in Iraq.

FINEMAN:  Of course not.

O‘DONNELL:  And, in fact, the American people—a majority of the American people did not have a problem with that in Iraq.

FINEMAN:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  So, we may be experiencing a little inconsistency both in political leaders and in the public.

FINEMAN:  Absolutely.  And the notion that the—on the other hand, the notion that the Republicans are saying, “We want to be informed, we want the clear plan, we want the rationale, we want the end game,” all the things that Boehner is demanding now are things that George W. Bush never provided.

Don‘t forget, Lawrence, it seems like ancient history that when we went into Iraq, there was talk of a quick solution, there was talk about the happy Iraqis, there was talk about all this—all of the nation-building happening almost overnight.  None of it happened.  And George Bush had pretty much nothing but contempt for Congress.

Now, it‘s interesting to watch the Republicans on the other side demanding the kind of accountability that they never asked of George W.  Bush.

O‘DONNELL:  And that‘s where politics is never fair, is that you can never get one party, especially in this case, the Republicans on this whole issue of clear military mission, to be in any way consistent when the shoe is suddenly on the other foot.  And so, we‘re seeing Newt Gingrich and the Republican candidates for president all trying to find their attack lines here, all being in some way inconsistent with themselves as they try to target Barack Obama politically, aren‘t they?

FINEMAN:  No, no, completely so.  Completely so.  I mean, they gave George W. Bush a complete blank check, and George Bush was heading into an adventure that we still haven‘t seen the end of.

Here the clear mission, the clear narrow mission if Barack Obama would only expand on it is that we‘re trying to prevent, we were—the United States and the allies and United Nations and Arab League were trying to prevent a humanitarian disaster in which, you know, Moammar Gadhafi, one of the craziest dictators on the planet, might have killed 100,000 people in eastern Libya.  That was the motivating force here, and that‘s the clearest mission one could possibly state.

But even if we prevent Gadhafi from doing that—and even if Gadhafi leaves, as Hillary Clinton is demanding he do, what happens next?  Who moves in?  Is it the United Nations?  Is it the Arab League?  Is it the rebels in eastern Libya?  Who‘s going to be doing that?

These are things that I think the president also needs to spell out. 

And I think he‘s missing a beat here not doing it.

Yes, there‘s the humanitarian mission, but he‘s got to put this in larger context, because what the American people expect of Barack Obama, what he was elected for was a sense of coherence and vision and diligence and intellectual coherence.  That we haven‘t quite seen here.

O‘DONNELL:  MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman—thanks for joining us tonight, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: will the Republican Party win the fight against health care reform only to lose the war?  Tonight, why Congressman Anthony Weiner says the public option could be coming back.  He joins me next.

Plus, Michele Bachmann celebrated home schooling day in Iowa by bragging about how she home-schooled five of her children for a time.  Let‘s hope the kids didn‘t listen when she talked about American history.

That and an unexpected name threw his hat into the ring to get the Republican presidential nomination.


O‘DONNELL:  She said once, I use my fame now when I want to help a cause or other people.  Her fame meant saving lives through AIDS research.  Elizabeth Taylor‘s humanitarian legacy coming up.

And one year ago, the Republican Party predicted the end of health care as we know it when the president signed the healthcare reform bill into law.  But might Republicans fight to dismantle reform actually mean the return of the public option?  Congressman Anthony Weiner is next.


O‘DONNELL:  The public option is back, maybe.  It‘s back in the news and back in the health care fight.  And, yes, the health care fight is, of course, still going on.

The health care law has had a rough first year.  The new Republican-controlled House voted to repeal it.  Twenty-seven states are currently challenging its constitutionality in court.

And polls show now that most Americans don‘t like it -- 59 percent of people, to be exact, according to a poll just released are against it.  Forty-three percent of them think it‘s too liberal, and 13 percent of us think it‘s not liberal enough.

Perhaps most damning is that the people it was intended to help are not eager to make it work for them.  The administration had anticipated 375,000 people joining the high risk insurance pool, but just 12,000 have enrolled.  Perhaps they want it, but can‘t really afford it because premiums in some states can cost more than $1,500 a month.

But Congressman Anthony Weiner, who will join me in a just moment, thinks there could be an upside to the beating that the health care law is taking, especially in court.  He believes that the Supreme Court will rule against the individual mandate requiring everyone to buy health insurance, and then in a fit of optimism, Congressman Weiner says having the mandate declared unconstitutional would be a good thing because it would open the door for the public option.

Joining me now is Democratic congressman from New York, Anthony Weiner

ever the optimist who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens.


Thanks for joining us tonight, Congressman Weiner.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  Thank you for that gloomy introduction.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Walk me through this.  So, let‘s assume that the—by the way, first of all, why do you think the Supreme Court will find that mandate unconstitutional?

WEINER:  Because, recently, they‘ve been an extension of the corporate ring of the Republican Party, because despite the clear letter of the law that you and I‘ve spoken about before, Clarence Thomas, who literally, his household is making money off trying to defeat health care, I believe that, you know, this is the same—this is virtually the same Supreme Court that ruled in Bush v. Gore and Citizens United.  I think that they‘re going to do whatever the Republican moment tells them to and that‘s going to be to strike this down.

I just should caution your viewers, I don‘t think it‘s that big a deal in one respect.  Very few people, when given the option to buy health insurance, given subsidies to buy it say no.  In Romneycare in Massachusetts, only 0.67 percent said no and chose not to get it when they were forced to so.  So, I‘m not terribly concerned about it but I do believe that the handwriting is on the wall that the Supreme Court is going to do that.

O‘DONNELL:  What do you make of the current implementation of the bill, and it‘s not exactly—you don‘t see consumers actually rushing to afford themselves of its benefits.  We have 3 percent of the number that the administration anticipated using the high risk pool are actually using the high risk poll -- 97 percent who could use it are just saying, no thanks.

WEINER:  Yes.  Well, this—I mean, the overall, you know, on the one year anniversary of the bill, the overall numbers are very good.  Millions of seniors are getting help with their prescription drug coverage.  Millions of family members that are younger Americans are getting care, people getting preventive service that didn‘t get them before.

The high risk pool is a little complicated because people have to wait six months after lose their job or start looking for work in order to be eligible for high risk pools.  And as you pointed out, they are still expensive.

Look, I think that, frankly, when you separate out the rhetoric of this fight, and a lot of the things my Republican friends are saying are simply not true, and the actual substance of people getting care, the substance of the bill is just doing fine.  But there‘s no doubt about it, we are losing the rhetorical battle.  And to some degree, we‘re losing it because many of my colleagues aren‘t even bothering to fight it.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, before you go, I just need to turn you to Libya quickly.  Your colleague, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, has said he thought the president has done here verges on or may be an impeachable offense.  What‘s your reaction to that?

WEINER:  Well, he is going too far, but his overall premise is right, that the president should have come to Congress and gotten approval for this.  I‘ve generally been supportive of what they‘ve done.  I think he‘s trying to strike the right balance.  We shouldn‘t take the lead of every effort and I don‘t think we are here.

But there‘s no doubt in my mind that we in Congress are not potted plants.  Constitutionally, we should have been asked for the OK to go into what is essentially an engagement of war.  I don‘t believe it‘s impeachable offense because frankly, this is a tough call.  I mean, at what are you just defending the national interest in a short-term engagement or what party you‘re going into war.

But I certainly don‘t think it‘s impeachable.  But I do believe that Dennis is right, that the president should have come to Congress and asked for permission.

O‘DONNELL:  And John Boehner‘s letter to the president today saying, how dare you set us off in something with objectives that aren‘t 100 percent clear to every one of us at this exercise?  That‘s a little, what, hypocritical coming from the speaker?

WEINER:  Well, first of all, let‘s remember what that speaker put on the floor of Congress last week while this Libya thing was blowing up.  He decided what we should vote on is de-funding National Public Radio, OK, rather than using the floor to do something important, like maybe bring the Republican idea for health care to the floor or maybe have a legitimate debate on what we should be doing in Libya.  But for John Boehner to suddenly starts wringing his hands about how there hasn‘t been congressional—there hasn‘t been congressional consultation is really outrageous, considering that he rolled over for eight years of President Bush doing much, much worse.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

WEINER:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  A new report shows most American Catholics favor gay rights.  That shouldn‘t come as a surprise to anyone that has listened to me about American Catholics.  That‘s in tonight‘s “Rewrite.”

But, first, another Republican you‘ve never heard of announces he is running for president, as a new poll puts Romney at the top of the list of potential candidates.  Who‘s really getting into this race?  Coming up.



DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST:  We are attacking Libya and Moammar with bomb to his tent.  How does—how you get Odyssey Dawn out of that?  And for the mission and they say there‘s a way they come up with random words that put together for the mission.  I thought, well, that‘s fascinating.  Here, watch, I think you‘ll find it fascinating as well.


O‘DONNELL:  We asked last night and you delivered.  In the last 48 hours, you have come up with hundreds of names that are better than Operation Odyssey Dawn.

A reminder of the absurdly complex rules of naming this operation as laid down by the Pentagon.  The first word in this case must begin with O.  The second word must start with the letter A through F.  And you posted more than 800 of these ideas on our Web site.

Tonight, we feature some of the most positive takes on what President Obama is doing, including this from GWood in Hawaii, who before renaming it asked this question of her fellow viewers, “How else would anyone with a sense of decency want the president of the United States to have responded in this particular situation?”  Her choice?  Operation Obama Cares.

Among the best of the rest, Tom gave us Operation Oasis Dawning.  Operation Oppression Denied came from Dave.  Anita submitted Operation Opportunity Freedom.  And Drifhorn naming it in honor of the military men and women, chose Operation Overwhelming Courage. 

You can read more of them at our blog, 

Still to come, Tim Pawlenty, my pick to be presidential nominee has some catching up to do, as a new poll has Timmy coming in sixth in the Republican field. 

And at a time when prejudice and fear dominated the conversation about AIDS, at a time when the American president would not say the word AIDS, Elizabeth Taylor bravely changed that conversation.  Her legacy coming up. 


O‘DONNELL:  The republican party finally has its first official candidate running for the 2012 presidential inauguration.  Fred Carter, a former adviser to Presidents Ford, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, filed his papers with the FEC today.  He is also the first ever openly gay major party presidential candidate. 


FRED CARTER, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT:  I am pro-choice.  I am for immigration reform.  I want to be a different kind of Republican, the kind of Republican I grew up with. 

I consider myself progressive.  The last progressive Republican president was 100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt. 


O‘DONNELL:  OK, so now we know who is going to lose the Republican nomination.  But who has a chance of winning it? 

Joining me now, CBS senior political correspondent and author of “Then Everything Changed, Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics,” Jeff Greenfield. 

Jeff Greenfield, for the younger demographic out there, they‘re not going to know this.  You were television‘s first liberal on Bill Buckley‘s TV show decades and decades ago.  At the end of 45 minutes of him giving America everything it needed to know about the conservative perspective, Jeff Greenfield would be given, what, five, seven minutes to change our minds? 

JEFF GREENFIELD, CBS NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  It was interesting.  First of all, younger.  You can see how long ago that was.  And a different voice, at the time, I suppose, having just come off Robert Kennedy‘s tragic campaign, I qualified. 

He was a great fellow.  He was just a wonderful guy, and—

O‘DONNELL:  Buckley? 

GREENFIELD:  Buckley.  If you start your television career debating William F. Buckley, it is like pitching little league and you‘re hitting against Sandy Koufax. 

O‘DONNELL:  Speaking of little league, I, sir, have a few questions.  The Republican standings in the poll, let‘s take a look at where they are right now.  We‘ve got that on a screen somewhere.  There it is. 

Mitt Romney 21 percent, Mike Huckabee 20 percent, Sarah Palin at 13 percent, Newt Gingrich at 11 percent, Ron Paul at eight percent.  All of them are going to lose.  What‘s the next screen we got here?  There‘s more of them. 

Tim Pawlenty, who I think is going to get the nomination, at three percent, Mitch Daniels two percent, Rick Santorum two, Haley Barbour two. 

I, of course, looking at that poll, at this distance from the nomination, am perfectly comfortable picking the winner.  Here is the easiest question you ever had on TV.  Am I crazy? 

GREENFIELD:  No.  But putting those numbers on shows that you are a victim, as most people in this business all—I have forums call these things the crack cocaine of political journalism.  I know.  If it were October—

O‘DONNELL:  Can‘t get enough of them.

GREENFIELD:  If it were October, then you would be perfectly justified in clicking your computer every five minutes to see the latest numbers from Ohio.  This is march of 2011.  This is nonsense.  This is a name recognition poll.  They mean nothing. 

I will say to you what I said on my former network, CNN, if you are a network, you have 24 hours to fill seven days a week.  So you might as well cover this.  It keeps people off the streets.  You know, it increases unemployment.  Somebody has to make these graphics.  It is meaningless. 

O‘DONNELL:  Here‘s my agreement with you that it‘s meaningless.  My guy, who I‘m picking to win, is at three percent.  So I am ignoring the poll.  I‘m looking at it and I‘m saying Pawlenty has no prohibitive negatives.  And all the rest of them have serious prohibitive negative that they won‘t be able to get past. 

GREENFIELD:  Fine.  Except look, 30 seconds, I‘ll get in 30 seconds worth of book bugging.  The premise of this book -- 

O‘DONNELL:  “Then Everything Changed” by Jeff Greenfield. 

GREENFIELD:  The point about it is history turns on a dime.  Over and over again, these little twists of fate have given us different president instead of another.  Given us living instead of dead people.

I mean, the first chapter in here is John Kennedy came seconds away from being killed in Palm Beach as president elect by a suicide bomber.  That is true. 

So the idea that in March of 2011, we are going to look and say well, yes, I think 16 months from now this guy has a shot.  You know what, it‘s what HL Mencken used to say to his critics, you may be right, but I just find the need to know this before we can possibly know it a debilitating sin or whatever is.  I don‘t know.  You‘re the Catholic.  What‘s less than a sin? 

O‘DONNELL:  We‘re all sinners. 


O‘DONNELL:  Mr. Donald Trump, if he takes the Republican stage in a primary debate, how does anyone else get any coverage? 

GREENFIELD:  What I will say is this: I would pay to cover the debates between Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann.  Now the one thing about it you have to remember is if all these people come in, Fred Carter, Herman Cain, John Bolton, the only time they are going to have to debate, they are going to have to Tweet.  You‘re not going to have a minute for an answer.  You‘re going to have 140 characters. 

That is where that first—you know, or a Haiku, something.  This is what I mean.  We are in the silly season right now, when the political press, and even as estimable as yourself can‘t wait for this to begin.  That‘s why I once proposed that the February of the first year after the election should be called National Governing Month.  For one month, people actually have to think about public policy, which you do better than most people. 

But I just find this need to hurry up and figure out who‘s got the advantage kind of wacky.  I do agree with you, though, that most of the Republican potential wannabes, whatever you call them, do have individual serious debilitating problems. 

But you know what?  I think if you go back in history, you might have been able to say that about some people that wound up in the Oval Office. 

O‘DONNELL:  I am banning any negative comment about Trump on the show until he declares his candidacy.  I don‘t want anyone to discourage him to run.  It would ruin what we do here. 

GREENFIELD:  As I say, there are some things that we just feel blessed that you get to cover it for a living.  And the Michele Bachmann/Donald Trump is definitely going to be one of them. 

O‘DONNELL:  Jeff Greenfield knows more about politics than I ever will, which is why I am going to read “Then Everything Changed” by Jeff Greenfield.  Jeff Greenfield, the author of “Everything Changed,” CBS News, thanks for joining us tonight. 

GREENFIELD:  A pleasure. 

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, a new study shows that American Catholics are more supportive of gay marriage than the general public.  Then why do political pundits think Catholicism is the beacon of conservatism.  That‘s in tonight‘s Rewrite.

And though it was Elizabeth Taylor‘s acting and stardom that made her famous, it was her 25 years of activism in the fight against AIDS that made her a genuine American hero.  More on Elizabeth Taylor‘s humanitarian legacy coming up.


O‘DONNELL:  In the Rewrite tonight, it is time to Rewrite political pundits and perhaps your understanding of American Catholics.  Political pundits everywhere, including on this network, are constantly talking about the so-called Catholic vote, as if it is more conservative than the norm, as if it is somehow different than the norm, a subset worth describing in and of itself, the Catholic vote. 

I have for years avayed (ph) against this thinking, pointing out that American Catholics support abortion rights in the same proportion as the rest of the country does.  By—but getting political pundits to use facts instead of cliches has been no easy task. 

So the cliche remains in our political discussion that Catholics are more conservative than the general population.  Please know from this point forward that every time you hear a pundit say that, he does not know what he‘s talking about, does not know who he is talking about. 

A valuable addition to our understanding of the thinking of American Catholics has arrived in the form of a new study about Catholic attitudes on gay and lesbian issues.  The big finding here, according to Robert Jones, one of the authors of the study, is that American Catholics are at least five points more supportive than the general public across a range of gay and lesbian issues. 

Let‘s begin where any study of Catholics must, sin.  A majority of Catholics, 56 percent, believe that sexual relations between two adults of the same gender is not a sin.  Repeat, not a sin.  That‘s ten points more than the general population. 

Catholics also score higher levels of support for these issues: nearly three quarters, 73 percent, favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people against discrimination in the workplace; 63 percent of Catholics support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, 63 percent of Catholics; 60 percent of Catholics support allowing gays and lesbian couples to adopt children, 60 percent of Catholics in favor of gay adoptions. 

Now, you would never, ever know this listening to the way Catholic voter attitudes are erroneously discussed by political pundits.  And Catholics are more supportive of recognition of same sex relationships than any other group of Christians, and the general population.  Nearly three quarters of Catholics support allowing gay marriage or same sex civil unions.  Only 22 percent say there should be no legal recognition of gay couples‘ relationships. 

And Catholics don‘t like the way the Catholic Church and other religions treat the issue of homosexuality; 70 percent of American Catholics say that messages from America‘s places of worship contribute to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.  Seventy percent of Catholics think that messages from our churches actually contribute to the suicide rate of gay and lesbian kids. 

Well, what is this Catholic group?  Is this some weird subset of the population, some little cult?  Did I forget to mention that Catholic is the largest single religion in the United States?  The largest! 

So the people we‘re talking about here, as much as Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter might want to deny it, are real Americans.  They are liberal Americans.  They are liberal Catholic Americans. 

They‘re not some weird lefty cult.  Seventy percent of the people in the biggest religion in America believe that America‘s places of worship contribute to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth; 56 percent of the people in the biggest religion in America believe that homosexuality is not a sin. 

And 74 percent of the biggest religion in America supports marriage or civil unions for gay people.  When Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin say people who think that are not real Americans, understand that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are slandering three quarters of American Catholics.  And when Glenn Beck slanders those millions and millions and millions of liberal American Catholics, he does so because he believes he is religiously superior to them. 

He believes he achieved this superiority by becoming a Mormon, a religion founded in upstate New York by a polygamist who insisted that every known branch of Christianity, including Catholicism, is simply wrong. 

So Beck did not invent his no-it-all religious superiority.  And what Beck clearly knows nothing about is what real Americans actually think. 


O‘DONNELL:  “It is the end of an era.  It wasn‘t just her beauty or her stardom.  It was her humanitarianism.  She put a face on HIV/AIDS.  She was funny.  She was generous.  She made her life count.” 

Those are the words of Barbara Streisand today, mourning the loss of Elizabeth Taylor.  After her long ride as the world‘s most famous movie star, in 1985, Elizabeth Taylor helped create the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or AMFAR, after her close friend, actor Rock Hudson, died of AIDS. 

Since then, AMFAR has raised more than 325 million dollars for research.  Elizabeth Taylor traveled the world, calling attention to the epidemic.  She made repeated visits to Congress, pushing for more federal funding for AIDS fighting efforts. 


ELIZABETH TAYLOR, FOUNDER, AMFAR:  I‘m here to speak about a national scandal, a scandal of neglect, indifference and abandonment.  Yes, we have made some progress in developing treatment, but nowhere near enough. 

People still get sick.  People die in droves.  We need more basic research.  And God, we need a vaccine. 


O‘DONNELL:  I first met Elizabeth Taylor at a small family dinner party at Gregory Peck‘s house.  To my luck, he sat me beside Elizabeth.  The next couple of hours was the most fun I have ever had sitting beside a dinner companion I had just met. 

She didn‘t make small talk.  She was blunt, sharp, funny, and, of course, mesmerizing.  When she discovered I worked in the Senate, she immediately went to her memories of life as a Senate wife, the only movie star who ever had such memories. 

She told delightful, self deprecating stories about her life as a politicians wife that respects for privacy does not allow me to repeat. 

I am certain that everyone who had a moment with Elizabeth Taylor has similar fond memories.  Two people who have spent much more time with Elizabeth Taylor are joining me now, AMFAR‘s chairman of the board, fashion designer Kenneth Cole, and on the phone, a dear friend of Elizabeth Taylor, Academy Award nominated actress, the one, the only, Debbie Reynolds. 

Debbie Reynolds, tell us what you‘re feeling tonight, looking back on the career of Elizabeth Taylor? 

DEBBIE REYNOLDS, ACTRESS:  Well, it was an extraordinary career.  I have known Elizabeth since we were both 17 years old.  Went to school on the MGM lot together.  Kind of grew up together.  Well, she, of course, was always a big star when I was just beginning.

And we became good friends and were for many, many years.  And then she was always a great beauty of our time, of our generation.  There was no one more glamorous and sexual than Elizabeth.  Women loved her and men loved her.  And I know because my husband did, too. 

And her love for the children—her children is endearing.  She was quite a girl.  She was a great girl. 

O‘DONNELL:  Debbie, the great beauties and sex symbols of cinema are not often taken seriously as actresses.  But here was Elizabeth Taylor that delivered performances at certain points in her career that, especially in “Virginia Woolf,” that nobody expected of her earlier in her career. 

REYNOLDS:  That‘s right.  And “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.”  She came through with that one.  I think that Elizabeth—she began so young, and then she grew up.  And not every woman—female star can overcome her great beauty. 

You know, she was so gorgeous.  Her eyes were mesmerizing.  You could hardly—you said you had dinner with her.  You could hardly take your eyes off her.  Besides being funny—because she was funny and cryptic and really a great character. 

Elizabeth was a lovely actress and she worked many years to be good. 

She was very talented. 

O‘DONNELL:  Kenneth Cole, she cashed in her chips.  She used her fame for money, but it was not money for herself, to help collect money for AMFAR.  Tell us where they would have been without Elizabeth Taylor at the outset? 

KENNETH COLE, AMFAR CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD:  AMFAR didn‘t exist before Elizabeth Taylor.  She came along.  She founded AMFAR along with Dr.  Mintaal Krim (ph).  But she—even before that, she found her voice, which she so articulately did so often in her career. 

She said things that others wouldn‘t.  She did thing that others hadn‘t.  She was very unique and very profound always.  She was so compelling.  People paid attention when Elizabeth spoke. 

She had a very important message to say when few were.  Nobody was speaking about AIDS in the mid ‘80s, because Ronald Reagan didn‘t mention the word publicly until ‘87, in fact,  at an AMFAR event, and 40,000 people had already died. 

But she did.  And she inspired others to find their way, to find their voice, and in very compelling ways.  The biggest problem with AIDS then, and not that different today, was the notion of stigma, the fact that you couldn‘t speak about. 

The reason no one spoke about it then is because if you did, you were presumed to be at risk, which meant you were either gay or you were an IV drug user.  Maybe you were Haitian.  I was a single male designer, as I often joked.  Everybody probably just assumed I was Haitian. 

But the fact is maybe because I wasn‘t, I was comfortable.  But what she did was extraordinary.  And she did it throughout her career.  She did it as an actress and she did it as an advocate.  She raised a lot of money for AMFAR and we‘ve raised a lot of money since. 

We‘ve changed our mission since.  We were the American Foundation for AIDS Research.  She believed in the notion of a global crisis.  This wasn‘t an American pandemic.  This was a global crisis.  And we dropped American.  And now we are the Foundation For Aids Research because of her—the notion is that if it exists anywhere, it exists everywhere.  If anyone is infected, we are all affected. 

O‘DONNELL:  An amazing contribution to the arts and to this cause.  Debbie Reynolds, thank you very, very much for joining me tonight.  It is an honor to have you on the phone. 

REYNOLDS:  Happy to have been here and happy to have represented Elizabeth for a moment.  She‘s in a better place and she‘s out of pain.  That‘s the main thing. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you very much.  And Kenneth Cole, chairman of AMFAR, we‘re sorry to—for your loss and sorry we don‘t have more time to discuss this tonight. 

That is all the time we have for this Wednesday edition of THE LAST WORD.  “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next.  Good evening, Rachel.


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