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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Adam Skaggs, Peter Shumlin


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening.  Happy Tuesday.  And thanks for staying with us for the next hour.

In the 2000s, there have been two amazing stories about voting in the great state of Florida.  One of those stories is very well known.  The other one is barely known at all but has just become really, really important.

The first one was in the year 2000 when this happened.  The nail-bitingly close race between Al Gore and George W. Bush resulted in the race being called and then uncalled.  And then a cacophonous, disorganized, politicized, intimidated counting process was ultimately called off in what was considered to be one of the most anomalous and partisan U.S. Supreme Court decisions of the modern era.  And so, George W. Bush became the president-elect.

And then a bunch of newspapers from Florida and nationally decided to commission a study—they hired a company to count all the votes that had been cast in that election in Florida.  By then, it was more than a year after the fact, but the study showed that if you did count all the votes in Florida that year, Al Gore won.  Incidentally, but by then it was 11 months into George Bush‘s presidency.

In 2004, when President Bush ran for reelection against Senator John Kerry, Mr. Bush clearly won Florida.  In fact, he won it handily.  He won by five points.  The electoral map of Florida that year looked like this, pretty red, right?

But then in 2008, the second amazing Florida voting story of the 2000s unfolded to much less national attention.  And that story is that between the election in 2004 and the election in 2008, the Democratic Party figured out how to win Florida again.  It showed on Election Day when the iconic swing state of Florida had swung decisively by almost a quarter million votes, there was no nail biting about Florida in 2008.

The state was called essentially as soon as the closed polls, Barack Obama had won the state and won it big.  And mainly, the Democratic Party achieved that over time in the lead-up to that election by registering a ton of people to vote in Florida.

In Florida, in the run-up to the presidential election, Democrats registered more than twice as many new voters as Republicans did.  The Democrats‘ registration edge over Republicans in Florida in 2008 was 660,000 people, up from 280,000 in 2006.  By Election Day, 2008, thanks to voter registration drives, there were 660,000 more Democrats registered to vote in Florida than Republicans.

Do you want to know why it was not close in Florida in 2008?  Look—look at this.  Here‘s how first-time voters in 2008 cast their ballots.  Newly registered first-time voters went for President Obama by a 19-point margin.  Clearly this must be stopped!

And so, now, the Republican legislature in the great state of Florida is fast tracking a massive overhaul of Florida‘s elections laws.  A massive overhaul that would make voter registration drives difficult to impossible to carry out in that state.  No more new voters, not with those kind of results.  Republicans can‘t afford it.

If you want to get people registered to vote in Florida right now, you can do so without much hullabaloo.  This is what the League of Women Voters does.  It‘s what church groups do.  It‘s what Cub Scouts do.  It‘s what college students do.  It‘s an accessible, across-the-board civic activity like it always has been.

Register to vote—register in either party, register as an independent, does not matter, but register.  Voter registration drives.  If you want to do a voter registration drive, you just pick up a stack of voter registration applications.  Get your card table.  Set up outside the grocery store, let people fill them out and then go turn them in.  That‘s how it works now.

Florida Republicans want to change the law so if you want to register people to vote, if you want to even volunteer with a group that is registering people to vote, this means you, Timmy the Boy Scout, you‘re going to have to register with the state in advance.  You have to register as—a citizen deputy assistant voter registrar or something—I don‘t know what they‘re going to call it.  But you have to register with the state in advance if you want to volunteer to work at voter registration drives under this Republican proposal that‘s moving through the Florida legislature.

Also, you have to take part in some as-yet unknown electronic voter information database upload system, Timmy.

And if you don‘t get those voter registration forms submitted from the people you‘ve gotten registered within 48 hours of the time they have signed them, not only are those voter registration forms automatically invalid, but you, Timmy the Cub Scout, you will be charged fines of at least $50 and up to $1,000 for each application you turn in past the 48-hour deadline.

If you‘re Timmy‘s den chief, would you let his Boy Scout troop register voters with that hanging over your head?

This seems to me be designed to end voter registration drives in Florida.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which is a non-partisan organization that studies this stuff—community-based voter registration drives are particularly important for low-income citizens, students, young voters, in other words, and minorities.  Those are the people who tend to get registered at voter registration drives.

So, those are the people whose voter registration Florida Republicans new law would have the effect of kyboshing on a large scale.

Here‘s how those groups voted in 2008.


Low-income Florida voters went for Barack Obama in 2008, 66 percent to McCain‘s 33 percent.  Young Florida voters aged 18 to 24 voted for Mr.  Obama 60 percent to John McCain‘s 39 percent.  Latinos in Florida voted for Mr. Obama 57 percent to John McCain‘s 42 percent.  Black voters in Florida went for Mr. Obama 96 percent to John McCain‘s—is that right?  Oh, yes, 4 percent.

If you are a Republican in Florida, wouldn‘t it be great to just be able to reduce the number of those people who are registered to vote?  To reduce the number of people who get registered in that way, by reducing the means by which they get registered?

The Obama reelection campaign has posted online a new strategy video.  They say it‘s their strategy for how they plan to win reelection for President Obama in this next election.  They posted it online yesterday.  President Obama‘s campaign manager is Jim Messina.  You can see him there.

In the video, he explains that the first thing, the first priority, step one of what President Obama‘s campaign needs to do to win reelection in 2012, step one, what do they need to do first?  Expand the electorate.  Meaning: register people to vote who aren‘t already registered.

How are they going to do that in Florida?

Joining us now is Adam Skaggs, senior counsel with the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Adam, thanks very much for being here.  It‘s nice to have you here.

ADAM SKAGGS, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE:  Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Is it—I guess I‘ll ask this bluntly—is it legal to make it this hard to register people to vote?

SKAGGS:  Well, I think if this bill passes the legislature and the governor signs it into law, we‘re going to find out because I‘m sure that this law will be challenged in court and we‘ll have a judicial decision.

I will say this, when the Florida legislature first tried to pass a law along these lines in 2005, the Brennan Center, on behalf of the League of Women Voters, and a number of other groups that registered voters, challenged the law in federal court and that law was struck down.  In that case, the court found that it wasn‘t legal, it was constitutional, to impose these kinds of restrictions on voter registration drives.

MADDOW:  I know that the Brennan Center is not partisan.  I know that you are not a partisan.  But in terms of the parties here, their strategies, their motivations—if as Mr. Obama‘s campaign manager said, the Democratic Party is counting on registering a ton of new voters again, presumably in swing states in order to win.  Could you see a way for them to do that in Florida if this bill were law?

SKAGGS:  Well, it‘s certainly going to make it a lot harder.  As you mentioned, this law would impose serious fines on groups if they fail to register, if they fail to turn in every single form within 48 hours.  Groups like the Cub Scouts, like Timmy Cub Scout‘s group, and even groups like the League of Women Voters, are going to have serious questions about whether they can comply with these onerous requirements and whether they can afford these fines.

There may be large unions that may be able to absorb $1,000 worth of fines as part of the cost of doing business.  But for community groups, student groups, school clubs, church groups—those kinds of organizations simply can‘t afford $1,000 worth of fines.  So, they‘re going to often make the decision they can‘t do these kind of registration drives.

MADDOW:  And again, the kinds of voters typically registered in drives like those are typically who?

SKAGGS:  Well, let me give you this statistic, African-American, Latino voters, voters from families whose first language is Spanish are more than twice as likely to register in vote in these sort of voter registration drives than white voters and voters who speak English as their native language.

So, it‘s exactly the group you identified in the introduction to the piece who are going to be most prevented from voting by this sort of law.

MADDOW:  One of the other provisions in the—not in the statehouse version, but in the state Senate version of this Republican proposal in Florida would quite dramatically shorten early voting in Florida, would take it from two weeks down to about one week.  Everybody on both sides seems to agree that that would pretty dramatically lengthen the lines at polling places on Election Day.

Is there any evidence out there—anecdotal evidence or statistically sound evidence about who that would most discourage from voting?

SKAGGS:  Well, it‘s going to have an impact across the board, obviously.  It‘s going to—as you said—cut in half the opportunity to vote early.  But if we look at the experience, take Ohio in 2004, where some of the worst issues with polling place lines are.  These lines are frequently in urban areas.  They‘re in less affluent neighborhoods.  So, the lines are going to grow in polling places associated with some of the same voters that often register to vote in these voter registration drives.

So, it‘s kind of a one-two punch that‘s going to suppress voting by these same communities.  You know—and you mentioned in the introduction that this is an effective strategy for preventing new voters for registering.  Well, there‘s another nefarious part of this proposal in Florida, which is going further than that and saying, “Let‘s not stop new voters, let‘s stop existing registered voters.”

This is a law that would make it impossible to change your address or change your name, for example, if a woman got married, to change her name and then cast a regular ballot.  Florida surprisingly, perhaps, is actually one of the best states in the country in terms of voters who change their addresses.

As the law stands in Florida now, if you‘re registered to vote and you change your address before the next election, you can go to the polling place, sign an affidavit, give your new address, show an ID as all Floridians have to do, a photo ID to make you‘re the same person and there‘s no risk of fraud, and you can cast a regular ballot and that ballot will count.

Under this proposal, if you move outside of county as students often do, as less affluent voters who don‘t own their houses, that rent, and as more mobile parts of the population move, they will no longer be allowed to vote a regular ballot.  They‘d be forced to vote a provisional ballot and as we know, sometimes they count, sometimes they don‘t.

MADDOW:  In the last election, it was something like 48 percent of those got thrown out in Florida.

SKAGGS:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  Adam Skaggs, senior counsel for the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice—thank you for helping us understand this.  I feel significantly worse about it after talking to you than I did before.  Thanks.

SKAGGS:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Earlier this year, President Obama told all 50 states—you know, if you can do health reform better than I did it at the federal level, please have at it.  And a lot of the news media at the time reported that as a huge concession to the Republicans opponents.

That was wrong.  The analysis it was a concession that was wrong analysis.  The proof that President Obama was not conceding, that he was, in fact, playing offense happened today.  It is a very good news story for liberals for what it‘s worth.  That‘s next.


MADDOW:  A state legislator in Louisiana has just introduced a bill that would change the name of abortion in Louisiana to feticide, as in homicide of a fetus.  The bill says a woman shall be imprisoned for up to 15 years if she commits the crime of getting an abortion.  Details on that little Louisiana treasure are posted online at right now if you want to check it out.

Legislation that right wing, that radical is being introduced so frequently in the states now, it is sometimes hard to figure out what relative weight to give each of these stories.  I mean, the country gets shocked by SB-1070, by Arizona‘s “papers please” law.  But then afterwards, all the bills like that in other states don‘t really make the same ripple.

In Michigan—this massive radical Republican state government takeover of whole cities in Michigan and Wisconsin and Ohio and Indiana and Florida and a ton of other states, unilateral stripping of union rights by Republican state governments.  As we just talked about with Florida and we talked about with Kansas earlier, Republicans state governments making it dramatically harder to register to vote, just dropping the hammer on being any new voters in upcoming elections.

This is not just voter ID in Kansas, this is you can‘t register to vote without a passport or a birth certificate.  As we‘ll talk about later in the show tonight—Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, radically changing the whole idea of school.  Remember school?  I liked school.  I liked when we all agreed that school was a good idea, frankly.

State politics are astounding right now.  I mean, the federal story of the last election was Republicans taking over the House in D.C.  But coast to coast, the story of the last election is really what happened in this hard right turn in the states, in the state legislatures and in the governorships.

Probably more than any other national news outlet, we, at this show, confessed to being transfixed by what Republicans have been doing in the states this year.  It has been an amazing year of quite radical Republican state politics.

But very quietly, in the midst of all of the den of what the red states are doing, blue states have been sort of happily plugging along, making absolutely no national news at all, doing stuff that goes in a completely different direction than the red states that are getting all the attention.

Today in Vermont, for example, the state Senate voted 29 to nine to create a single-payer health care system for the state.  That has already passed the Vermont House.  It just passed the Senate.  There were different amendments in the two versions passed.  They‘ll need to work out a version between the two houses, but then, single-payer health care will be on its way to Vermont‘s governor who is also a Democrat and who campaigned on passing this.

Vermont would create a state-based exchange as imagined under federal health reform.  But at the same time, they‘d also work from a plan developed by one of the architects of Medicare to create in essence a Medicare for all system for Vermont.  It would cover everybody in the state.  It would take the insurance companies out of the driver‘s seat.

Vermont would need waivers in order to do this.  Vermont‘s governor told Congress a week and a half ago that he is already eager to start begging for those waivers so Vermont can go ahead.

It‘s really no other national attention other than—I mean, other than this.  It kind of seems like Vermont is really doing this.  I sort of feel like I should be quiet about it.  We‘ve got the governor of the great state of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, joining us live in just a moment.


MADDOW:  Joining us now by phone is the governor of the great state of Vermont, Peter Shumlin.

Governor, I want to thank you for making time for us.  I‘m sorry that we can‘t see you live as we had planned.  But I understand the weather gods are not cooperating with us tonight.

GOV. PETER SHUMLIN (D), VERMONT (via telephone):  Well, that‘s what I hear, but it‘s wonderful to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  I appreciate it.

The state Senate in Vermont has just voted overwhelmingly to pass what looks like a single-payer health care plan for the state of Vermont.  Is that the way that the country should understand what‘s happening in Vermont?  Are you moving toward single-payer?

SHUMLIN:  Absolutely.  We will be the first state in the country that passes a health care system that really does a few things.  First, treat health care as a right and not a privilege.  Second, we want health care to follow the individual and not be a requirement of the employer, which we think will be a huge jobs creator.  And, finally, we want an affordable quality care system where everybody is covered.

MADDOW:  After this vote today in the Senate, I realize the legislative process is not over.  There‘s still work to be done.  Are you confident that you will end up signing this bill?  That you‘ll get the kind of bill you campaigned on and it will be something that you will make into law?

SHUMLIN:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  OK.  In terms of getting the federal waivers that you need here in order to enact this, even if you do make it Vermont state law, President Obama told all the governors in the country, including you, that waivers would be available three years earlier than health reform originally promised if a state‘s plan covers as many people as federal health reform with at least the same level of coverage in a way that doesn‘t add to the federal deficit.

It‘s nice to have the option, I imagine, to do this early.  But are you confident that you can meet all of those standards?

SHUMLIN:  Well, I am.  And, you know, I keep telling folks here that I think that the waivers from Washington are the least difficult part.  Frankly, the difficult part is to design the first health care system in America that makes sense, that does treat health care as a right and not a privilege but also that is affordable.

And the story in Vermont is not unlike the other 49 states.  I just see this as a critical ingredient in creating jobs and economic opportunity.  Health care premiums are killing my businesses.  They‘re killing middle class Vermonters.

We have health care premiums rising at a rate that can‘t—is not sustainable.  And so, what we‘re trying to do is have an affordable system that applies to all Vermonters, gives us all quality health care, but spends our dollars on health care and not on insurance company profits, on waste, on collecting money, and the tremendous inefficiencies in the American system.

I‘m convinced that if we can design that system, we can get the waivers from Washington, and we will.  First of all, the president has been extraordinarily cooperative in saying, hey, I believe the states should be the laboratories for change, and I want you to be as long as you don‘t reduce standards, which we‘re not.

So, it‘s actually a fairly Republican argument that we‘re making, which is, hey, federal government, let us go our own way.  We‘re not asking for one additional dollar.  We‘re just asking you allow us to spend our dollars the way we wish.  And I think we can get there.

MADDOW:  Vermont already has better access to health insurance than most other states—thanks in part to government action to make sure that kids are covered, to make sure that people are covered based on their income more broadly than they are in many other states.  Is the way that you are explaining this to Vermonters, the way that this is being debated, what you think you‘re going to come up with, something that can broadly be understood as Medicare for all—will it be a familiar-seeming program for those who understand what Medicare is?

SHUMLIN:  Absolutely.  It really is Medicaid for all, publicly financed, following the individual—a right and not a privilege.

MADDOW:  Are you—I don‘t mean to be weird, but are you worried at all about talking about this out loud?  Has this been easier to do in Vermont because you have not been the focus of national attention for this so far?

SHUMLIN:  Well, you know, we haven‘t done it yet.  We‘re making great progress and we‘re beginning to get there.

But I think the story to tell when we get there and we will is that health care change.  We‘ll change to get America on the same footing as the other developed countries who are eating our lunch on jobs and other economic opportunities is going to come from the small states—for the simple reason that we don‘t have the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance companies, the folks that are making so much profit off our illness here in Vermont with huge lobbying campaigns.  They just don‘t really notice us all that much.

So, we‘re thinking that we can get this done, we know we can.  And I‘ve always believed that real health care reform will come from the smaller states who are not so beholden to these for-profit corporations, but who actually working for their citizens.  And, you know, health care is important.

But the other challenge here and the reason it‘s going to happen is our health care system in Vermont is not sustainable.  We‘re losing our rural health care providers.  They can‘t live under the reimbursement system where they get 40 cents on the dollar from one patient and 50 from another, and, you know, occasionally someone comes into the provider‘s office, to the doctor‘s office and gives them a dollar for dollar‘s work, you know, they ought to have halo on their head.

We‘re losing our smaller hospitals.  They‘re having trouble balancing their budgets.  So, we‘ve got to use our health care dollars for health care.  Get the insurance companies off our health care providers‘ backs.  We have a quality system.  We‘ve just got to make it affordable, and we think we can.

Now, the math works like this.  Ten years ago, this little state was spending $2.5 billion collectively on health care.  Today, we‘re spending $5 billion.

And my folks tell me that we‘ll be spending another $1.6 billion by 2015 if we don‘t make real change, if we don‘t go to a single-payer system.  That‘s huge money.  That‘s $2,500 every year out of the pocket of every single living Vermonter in a state where our incomes on average are stagnant.  They‘re the same as they were 10 years ago.

So, we‘ve got to get this done for financial reasons, for ethical reasons, and I think the Green Mountain State will be the first to get it done.

MADDOW:  Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont—I know this vote was important to you today.  Sir, congratulations on that, and thanks for taking time to discuss it with us.  Really appreciate it, sir.

SHUMLIN:  Well, thanks so much for having us on.

MADDOW:  Hey, so, it turns out there is genuine grassroots fury at Republican members of Congress who voted a week and a half ago to end Medicare.  Welcome to your first town hall meetings, Republican class of 2010.  I‘m sorry it‘s so loud in here.

We have some kind of incredible new footage I don‘t think anybody else has shown nationally.  That is coming up next.


MADDOW:  When Republicans took control of the House this past January, they passed all of their new rules about how Congress was going to run.  One of the new rules was that they would take a full week off for every two weeks they worked.  Sweet!  Tons of time home in the district, which for a member of Congress must be awesome.

Unless, of course, the last thing you did before heading home to your district for your spring recess was voting to end Medicare, voting for the Paul Ryan budget plan—a budget which is making for lots of very uncomfortable encounters between Republican members of Congress and their now very angry constituents.

Paul Ryan himself, who represented the district in Wisconsin, you‘ll recall him getting booed by his constituents last week when he tried to defend the parts of this plan that call for really big tax cuts for the rich and an end to Medicare.  Well, today, Congressman Ryan held more town hall events in Wisconsin.

We got a heads up from one of our Wisconsin viewers that some of the Paul Ryan events this week were being moved to large venues in order to accommodate the number of people who wanted to tell Paul Ryan what they thought of his plan.  When we found out that one of those over-packed Paul Ryan town halls was happening today in Kenosha, I asked our producer Mike Yarvitz, who was watching the tape from that event, I asked Mike if there was any way to tell from the tape what the balance of the crowd was—whether it was a lot of people turning out because they supported Paul Ryan or whether it was a lot of people turned out because they were not supporting Paul Ryan.

Mike just turned to me after he saw the tape and said, “Do you just want to listen to the questions that Paul Ryan got asked once the mike was opened?”  “Yes, Mike.  Yes, I do.”


MALE CONSTITUENT:  You want to take a publicly administered program such as Medicare and turn it over to a private corporation.  Tell me how my grandma‘s going to benefit from that, please.

REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN:  It‘s a fair question.

MALE CONSTITUENT:  You‘re asking the elderly to take on the insurance companies when we can‘t take on the insurance companies.

MALE CONSTITUENT:  Do you know anything about Medicare?

RYAN:  Well, I‘m not on it, no.  So—

MALE CONSTITUENT:  That‘s what I‘m driving at.

MALE CONSTITUENT:  When I look at your budget, I see you cutting the things I agree with, entitlement programs, but I don‘t see you doing across-the-board cuts with the military -- 


FEMALE CONSTITUENT:  It‘s not that hard to find savings and cut programs on the backs of the poor, of the underprivileged, of those without lobbyist groups, and those without clout.

I read this piece of document, and I saw nothing that really speaks to helping those who are already not able to make ends meet.

MALE CONSTITUENT:  Do not renew the Bush tax credit for the wealthy.


MALE CONSTITUENT:  Tax corporations, and oversea profits and bring the jobs home.



MALE CONSTITUENT:  Place a windfall tax on oil companies and rescind the $4 billion subsidy.


MALE CONSTITUENT:  I‘ll debate these points any time with you, just call me.  My number‘s 262 (DELETED)

RYAN:  What was the last?  Ninety-seven—what?


MADDOW:  Welcome home, Congressman Ryan.

In terms of the size of the crowd at that event today, reported that, quote, “At least 200 people were left outside once the 300-seat auditorium filled to capacity.  Mr. Ryan himself said the crowds were larger than those during the infamous August 2009 health care town halls about health reform.”  Larger than 2009.

In the Paul Ryan case, you could hear that that earnest Wisconsin crowd could not have been more civil, even as they were being so very highly critical of him.

But if you‘ve been thinking that this might finally become a national story, these Republicans getting yelled at by their constituents that might finally become a national story, only if the town halls become rollicking, only if they become rollicking shout fests where people are visibly mad, that threshold too has been crossed in Florida today.

This is freshman Republican Dan Webster of Florida having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day with his constituents today in Orlando.


REP. DAN WEBSTER ®, FLORIDA:  Not one senior citizen is harmed by this budget.

CROWD:  What?  You‘re a liar!


FEMALE CONSTITUENT:  What insurance company is going to insure him? 

You tell me.  What insurance company will -- 

WEBSTER:  I promise you, not only will Medicare not go broke, which it will under the present—

FEMALE CONSTITUENT:  I don‘t have it.  Why does it matter?

WEBSTER:  I understand.  In nine years, it‘s going to go broke—

FEMALE CONSTITUENT:  Who cares when you don‘t have it?

WEBSTER:  You will have it if this plan‘s adopted.  You will.


VETERAN:  Congressman, why did you vote for a budget to privatize Medicare, cut V.A. benefits, and turn around and give away tax cuts—not just to corporations—but to the highest personal rates?  You‘re not caring about the deficit, or you wouldn‘t have given away all the tax cuts!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because the county can‘t afford it!  We can‘t afford it you moron!

MALE CONSTITUENT:  The state of Florida had this policy for the last 12 years, and we have 11 percent unemployment.  So, when these stupid policies in 12 years have done nothing for the people of Florida, why would you go for the Ryan budget that will put the same policy in the other 49 states?



MADDOW:  Welcome home, Congressman Webster.

As we talked about on last night‘s show, this sort of thing is engendering a bit of a Republican freak out right now.  House Republicans held a conference call today privately to try to help their members have better messaging about how to discuss their vote for the Paul Ryan Republican budget with their constituents.

But beyond the Republican Party itself, the corporate-funded big money part of the conservative movement is not freaked out about the kind of thing you just saw.  They don‘t get freaked out.  They, rather, are mounting a counteroffensive—a big, expensive counteroffensive to try to quash the story of this grassroots‘ anger that you just saw expressed against Republicans who voted for the Paul Ryan Republican budget.

We‘re actually going to have a special report on that counteroffensive on tomorrow night‘s show.  We‘ve already started working on it.  I‘ve seen some of our preliminary findings on it.  It is mind bending.

When the right freaks out now, the right spends lots and lots and lots and lots and unimaginably lots of money in order to get their way.

Joining us right now is Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington post.”

Gene, thanks very much for being here.


MADDOW:  The Republicans decided to hold their vote for the Paul Ryan budget right before they went back home to their districts.  Did they think they would be greeted with a standing ovation?  Or did they know it would be more like this?

ROBINSON:  Maybe they envisioned rose petals being strewn in their path and leaves (ph) being placed tenderly on their heads.  But, you know, that was never going to be the reality.

This—what Paul Ryan‘s budget proposes to do to Medicare is wildly unpopular in the country.  And every poll bears that out.  We had a poll last week, “New York Times” had a poll last week, I think in our poll, 78 percent don‘t cut Medicare spending.  And so, this was never going to be a love fest.  If they thought it was, they were wrong.

MADDOW:  It has been interesting to see how this story has picked up momentum as a story every day over the last five days or so.  On Friday night, I had a sort of unhinged rant about how nobody was covering this because people only like to cover angry conservatives.  They don‘t like to cover liberals.

But I was proven wrong.  Over the weekend, there was a ton of national stories.  A bunch of Beltway stories.  And I feel like D.C. and the national media‘s sort of waking up to the fact that Paul Ryan‘s budget plan could be a big monumental liability even though the Beltway press praised it for so long as this wonderful, courageous, bold thing.

Does that change ultimately the politics of the Republican budget?

ROBINSON:  I think it substantially changes the politics of the Republican budget.  It certainly makes Washington understand the politics of the Republican budget a lot better.

I mean, this sentiment was always out there.  And in a sense, making Medicare a voucher program I think was also a non-starter.  It just was—that‘s not going to be popular.  You‘re going to have to find a different kind of fix.

You know, I don‘t know that that it‘s time to start talking about the Vermont route that you were talking about earlier, but it‘s got to be something to hold down medical costs as opposed to something to throw the seniors to the wolves—which is the way people correctly perceive the Paul Ryan plan.

MADDOW:  There does remain this question, even as we‘re seeing—I feel like we‘re sort of seeing blossom, the politics around here.  It‘s being—it‘s another case where the Democratic Party is being led by its own base.  All right.  We saw that a little bit in Wisconsin and some of these statewide fights where people had a legitimately organic grassroots response to something and then the party scrambled to catch up afterwards.

Can the—can the Democratic Party sort of follow this organic, unorganized grassroots anger at the Republicans into some sort of electoral benefit?

ROBINSON:  It certainly should.  The Democratic Party has been behind the base, I would argue, all along, and hasn‘t been listening to the base.

And here‘s something else the base is saying.  You know what?  The economy—Wall Street thinks it‘s getting better, but we don‘t.  The number—people are more pessimistic about the economy right now than they have been in two years, according to a “New York Times” poll last week.

And it‘s about jobs.  It‘s about the continuing epidemic of foreclosures.  It‘s about the depression in housing prices.  It‘s about people trying to wonder how their family‘s going to get to the end of the month.

Those are the issues the Democrats ought to be talking about and hitting home on.  I think—I think whoever does find an intelligent and effective way of talking about those issues is going to do really well in 2012.

MADDOW:  Did you hear an effective start of that message in President Obama‘s deficit speech and in some of the appearances that he has been doing since that deficit speech?  Was that the start of that discussion?

ROBINSON:  Maybe, sort of, kind of, I think.  It wasn‘t full-throated. 

It wasn‘t necessarily full-blooded.

But I do see some signs that the White House kind of gets it.  The White House gets the political implications of the Ryan plan.  The White House gets that people really want to hear about jobs and the economy and, you know, deficit reduction is something, yes, we have to think about, but we don‘t have to do something draconian right now.

I think they get that.

I think the rest of the Democratic Party may take a while to catch up. 

But gee, what if they did?

MADDOW:  Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post,” if they did, you and I would probably come up with some sort of really stupid prop-based skit to celebrate onset and I‘d convince you to come here to do it, right?

ROBINSON:  Absolutely.  I‘m there.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Gene.  It‘s great to see you.  Thanks.

ROBINSON:  OK, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  We‘ve got a piece of tape to play tonight coming up at the end of the show that involves something about a rabbit and an old man.  It comes from “Saturday Night Live.”

I had to beg our executive producer Bill Wolff to let me play this piece of tape on the air because he was disinclined to do so once he had seen it.  He was disinclined to let me play it for what you will see are obvious reasons.

But I think I was right.  I think it‘s important.  I think it helps make a point.  I hope my mom doesn‘t get mad.  In any case, it‘s coming up.


MADDOW:  Do you remember the grumpy old man character from the old “Saturday Night Live”?


DANA CARVEY, COMEDIAN:  I‘m old and I‘m not happy.  Everything today is improved and I don‘t like it.  And I hate it!


MADDOW:  We‘ve had to call on the grumpy old man to help us understand what is going on right now in the great state of Maine.  The governor there is not Dana Carvey, he‘s not even Carl Paladino, but he is pushing the envelope on figuring out what is real politics these days and what could conceivably be a “Saturday Night Live” rerun from the 1980s.  That‘s coming up.


MADDOW:  When Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans turned that state upside-down and inside-out with their big union-stripping adventure this year, one of the consequences of that huge upheaval was recall elections.  Even though only four officials have ever been recalled by Wisconsin voters in the whole history of that great state, the Republicans union-stripping adventure this year prompted recall threats against a dozen currently serving state senators.  If Governor Walker himself were eligible for recall this year, you can bet that he would be facing one too.

Now, the ostentatiously, even-handed, fake balance way to report on Wisconsin politics since then is to say that there is—there is anger on both sides.  That sure, there are these recall elections against Republicans who voted for union-stripping, but there are also recall efforts against Democrats who fled the state to try to block it.  There‘s anger on both sides.

That description of what‘s happened in Wisconsin, which I‘ve heard so many times, it‘s become a caricature in my mind.  That is technically true.

But the whole truth is that the grassroots fury that made Wisconsin want to recall Republicans does not have a mirror image on the other side.  Wisconsin is mad at Republicans.

And while conservative groups had said they had just as many Democrats targeted as liberal groups had targeted Republicans, the fact is the conservatives cannot get it together.  They cannot get these recall efforts off the ground.  They cannot get the signatures on their side.

Conservatives said they want to recall Democratic Senator Lena Taylor. 

Yesterday, they missed the deadline to get in the signatures against her. 

They needed 13,000 signatures.  They say they got a few hundred.

They said they wanted to recall Democrat Fred Risser.  Yesterday, they missed the deadline to get in the signatures against him.

Conservatives also tried to recall Senator Spencer Coggs in Milwaukee. 

Today, they missed the deadline to get in the signatures against him.

They also tried for a recall against Senator Mark Miller.  Today, again, the conservative groups missed that deadline against that Democrat as well.

There is no mirror image.  There are no two sides to this.  The right is having a really hard time getting Wisconsinites to sign their petitions against Democrats.

Meanwhile, liberals‘ efforts to recall Republican senators in Wisconsin—so far, they‘re five for five.  And say they will file number six tomorrow.

Whenever anybody tells you about this story that really everybody is equally mad and equally motivated and equally fired up and equally organized?  You‘ll know better.  We‘ll stay on it.


MADDOW:  Before there were thousands of different get-off-my-lawn grumpy old man jokes, before there was that movie “Grumpy Old Men,” before all of that there was the Dana Carvey character on “Saturday Night Live” who was the all time, iconic, back in my day grumpy old man.  And that character launched a thousand imitators.


CARVEY:  In my day, we didn‘t have hair dryers.  They wanted to blow dry your hair, you stood outside during a hurricane.

Your hair was dry but you had a short piece of wood-driven clear through your skull.  And that‘s the way it was and you liked it.  You loved it.  Whoopie!  I‘m a human head kabob.

Now, we didn‘t have hair weaves.  In my day, if your hair started falling out when you were 16, by 19, you were a bald freak.  There was nothing you could do about it.  Children would spit at you and no woman would mate with you so you couldn‘t pass on your disgusting baldness genes.

You‘re a public menace at age 20 and that‘s the way it was and we liked it.  We loved it.  Hallelujah.  I‘m a bald freak oh, happy day.


MADDOW:  Oh, happy day.

I‘ve always thought that one of the great under-appreciated things about Dana Carvey‘s grumpy old man character is that he is such a New Englander, right?  He has a Maine accent.  I‘ll just say it.

For comparison purposes, I present to you the Republican governor of the great state of Maine.


GOV. PAUL LEPAGE ®, MAINE:  I went to work at 11 years old.  I became governor.  It‘s not a big deal.  Work doesn‘t hurt anybody.


MADDOW:  I went to work at 11 years old, back in my day.  That was Maine Governor Paul LePage defending his proposal to roll back Maine‘s child labor laws to worse than what they were back in my day.

Paul LePage and the Maine Republicans really do want school kids working longer hours, later at night.  They want to drop the limit on the maximum number of hours kids can work during school. And, incidentally, they want kids to be working for less than minimum wage.

The last time we covered this, we talked about how Maine got its child labor laws in the first place, starting in the 1840s.

The argument for restricting child labor for stopping kids from working as much as adults could was not just that kids were being exploited as a particularly powerless class of workers.  The idea was that kids should be doing something else while adults were working, that kids frankly had something else to do, something else they were supposed to be doing.  Kids were supposed to be learning.  We decided as a country that kids should not be in factories.  They were supposed to be in school.

That was the argument for restricting child labor in the first place.  It was all tied up with schooling.  And so, we have rules that say, you‘ve got to go to school.  We have rules that say you can‘t work when you‘re supposed to be in school.

We have as a basic American value that before this year, I sort of thought was agreed upon, we sort of have as a basic American value the idea of school.  American kids go to school or in Maine, we have the 2000s version of Dana Carvey.


LEPAGE:  I went to work at 11 years old.  I became governor.  It‘s not a big deal.  Work doesn‘t hurt anybody.


MADDOW:  In Michigan, I don‘t think they are trying to rollback the child labor laws there—but, you know, actually, it reminds me, somebody should check into that.  I have not checked to see if Michigan Republicans are also trying to roll back child labor laws.  I mean, you did see that there‘s a Republican state senator in Michigan who wants to mandate that foster children only be allowed to buy clothes from thrift stores.  Yes, that‘s a real thing.  And if that is a real thing, we should probably check on whether Michigan Republicans are also against child labor laws.

But in Michigan, I do know that the Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, is due to give his major education address tomorrow.  One of his big ideas for education this year is that his state will do away with the mandatory number of hours that kids need to be in school.  He wants to do away with the minimum number of hours kids spend in their classrooms.

In a preview of Governor Snyder‘s speech in “The Detroit Free Press,” Governor Snyder indicated that the old idea of schooling, that old school idea of the way we think of school, that was designed for agrarian or heavy industrial societies.  And now, I guess we need a new approach that doesn‘t require kids to be in school for any specific amount of time.

In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker announced today that he would be giving a national address on education to a pro-vouchers group next month.  Wisconsin already has a school voucher program.  Mr. Walker has long promoted the idea of vouchers instead of public schools.

A pilot program he pushed for in Milwaukee has been—technical term for it is a bummer.  Kids in the program are performing the same or worse than kids in Milwaukee public schools.  But, of course, Milwaukee public schools are being starved to pay for it.

Based on that performance, Mr. Walker is expected to announce two things.  One he wants to expand the awesome program statewide and two, he wants the voucher schools run by private companies, private groups, to be exempt from any further state achievement testing.  So, when he expands the program and it fails statewide, the way it‘s failed in Milwaukee, we‘ll never know about it because there won‘t be any testing.  But at least there will be less of those creepy, commie, pinko public schools around and you‘ll like it.


CARVEY:  In my day, we didn‘t have these thin latex condoms so you could enjoy sexual pleasure.  In my day, there was only one kind of condom.  You took a rabbit skin and wrapped it around your privates and tied it off with a bungee cord.


CARVEY:  And you couldn‘t feel nothing.


CARVEY:  Half the time, you didn‘t even know if your partner was there.  And we used the same one over and over again because we were morons, just a bunch of hairless head kabobs standing around with rabbit skins on our dinchs (ph) and that‘s the way it was and we liked it.


MADDOW:  And we liked it.  And now, I have to say good night and pause for a moment so I‘m not going directly from that into “THE ED SHOW.”  Good night.



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