'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Guests: Michael Steele, Phil Fairbanks, Lori Wilfahrt, Jeff Wilfahrt

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  We did a “LAST WORD” cocktail in your honor because of your pioneering work on the end of the world.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, “THE LAST WORD” HOST:  I greatly appreciate it, Rachel.

MADDOW:  I‘m really happy that I didn‘t get shown up by the world actually ending, too.  So, I want to thank you for whatever role you had in that.

O‘DONNELL:  Rachel, you‘ve got to have—you‘ve got to have faith in me.

MADDOW:  I do.  I do.  Thank you, Lawrence.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.


Twenty-four hours from right now, polls will have officially just closed in a congressional election that is more easily identified by one single photo than by any other description I can give it.

Ready for the photo?

Ding!  Yes.  It‘s Christopher Lee‘s district, the former Republican congressman who stepped down almost instantly after this shirtless photo of himself ricocheted from Craigslist to the front page at Gawker.com.  At this time tomorrow night, we will be finding out, we will be 43 seconds into finding out whether or not Christopher Lee‘s deeply Republican district will continue to be represented by a Republican in Congress or whether it will go to the Democrats.

Now, by rights, there should not be any suspense about this.  This is a rock-ribbed Republican district.  When New York state voted for John Kerry by a mile, this district voted for George W. Bush.  When New York state voted for Barack Obama by two miles, this district voted for John McCain.  When just about every sentient being in New York state voted for Democrat Andrew Cuomo for New York governor in the last election, this district is so Republican, they actually voted for Carl Paladino.


CARL PALADINO ®, FORMER NY GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE:  If we‘ve learned anything tonight is New Yorkers are as mad as hell.  We‘re not going to take it anymore.


MADDOW:  Even in a district so Republican that they voted for a candidate like that, he did have an “R” next to his name, the latest polling in this district.  The latest polling in New York 26 heading into tomorrow‘s special election shows that the Republican there may very well lose to the Democrat.

Over the weekend two separate polling firms Sienna College and Public Policy Polling showed the Democrat in the race, Kathie Hochul, beating the Republican in the race, Jane Corwin, by more than the margin of error.  The Democrat ahead in one poll by four points, and in the other poll by six points.

As Republican PACs like Karl Rove‘s group and the national Republican Party have dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into this district—in this district in which they shouldn‘t have had to spend anything, the Republicans have tried to blame their troubles here not on the Democrat making any sort of tracks here.  Not on the Democrat running any sort of campaign that‘s been effective against the Republican.  They tried to blame the whole thing on a third party candidate who is also in the race, the Tea Party candidate Jack Davis.

Here‘s the thing, though, if this Tea Party candidate were the real problem for the Republican in this race, then when his numbers submarined over time, the Republican would be picking up his support, right?  If he was just picking off what would otherwise be Republican votes, which has been the Republican story here, then when voters soured on him as they apparently now have, the Republican candidate would be collecting his lost votes.

She is not doing that.  Instead, it is the Democrat who appears to be picking up his fading support.  The Tea Party guy has lost 11 points over the last few weeks.  The Democrat has picked up 11 points.

Do we know why?  Hello, cross tabs.  Yes, we do.

The new polling that shows the Democrat ahead in this race heading into the election tomorrow also shows a high level of concern about Medicare in this district.  And of those potential voters concerned about Medicare, they are going overwhelmingly for the Democrat, of Kathie Hochul.

The Republican candidate in this race said early on that she would vote for the Republican Paul Ryan budget to kill Medicare.  And it turns out in this race, that‘s sort of all she wrote.  Whatever else is going on in this district, whatever the demographics, whatever the rock-ribbed Republican history of this district—saying that you will vote to kill Medicare is not something that is going to help you get elected.

Seeing what ought to be a game me of a race slipping away from her, the Republican candidate in this race has now essentially tried to undo her previous position that she would vote for the Paul Ryan kill Medicare plan.  She told a nursing home audience this weekend, quote, “I‘m not married to it.”  At that same event, the Republican candidate also brought in a heavyweight political activist from the shadowy but well-funded fake grassroots conservative seniors group that‘s called 60-Plus.

Politico.com reporting that the head of 60-Plus, quote, “reminded the elderly audience that Democrats have long played political games with entitlements.”  He mentioned the 1964 ad that Johnson ran against Goldwater that showed a social security card torn up.  Quote, “That was a canard as we used to say in the old days,” he said, “and it‘s still a canard.”

Have you ever seen that LBJ ad he‘s talking about?  Democratic President LBJ—Lyndon B. Johnson, running against the Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964?  Have you ever seen?  It‘s a famous ad.  Watch this.


NARRATOR:  On at least seven occasions, Senator Barry Goldwater said that he would change the present Social Security system.  But even his running mate William Miller admits that Senator Goldwater‘s voluntary plan would destroy your Social Security.

President Johnson is working to strengthen Social Security.  Vote for him on November 3rd.


MADDOW:  The conservative activists are right, that Democrats have been making that argument for a very long time, that argument that Republicans want to kill Medicare and they want to kill Social Security.  I mean, that LBJ against Barry Goldwater ad from 1964 -- I mean, it is not a stretch to imagine that ad being run right now, is it?  Although, I mean, if it was running in the 2000s, it would have to have jump cuts and special effects and, of course, a different sound track.


MADDOW:  We have sort of upped the level of bombast, but not entirely. 

Mostly, it‘s just “O‘Fortuna.”  That‘s the difference now.

But that ad could basically run today.  The reason that Democratic ads attacking Republicans for wanting to kill Social Security and Medicare, the reason those ads and that ad concept seems so particular is because Republicans really have been trying to kill Social Security and Medicare for a long time.  And Democrats have been against them for a very long time.

And they‘ve been making campaign issues out of that for a very long time.  Barry Goldwater really did want to kill Social Security back in the ‘60s by turning it into a voluntary program, as in not a guaranteed program.  Ronald Reagan said Medicare was socialism.  Ronald Reagan said Medicare would be the end of freedom in America.  Georges W. Bush said he would use all the political capital he earned by winning reelection in 2004 to try to dismantle Social Security, to try to privatize Social Security.

Even the 60 Plus association, remember, the guy who was up in New York 26 today trying to save that congressional district for the Republicans by saying, Democrats are always accusing Republicans of wanting to kill these entitlements, but don‘t be fooled.  It‘s just a canard.  That conservative organization brags on its Web site that they‘re on the record for the privatization of the Social Security system.

Democrats really have been making political ads about this and winning elections over this ever since Democrat presidents signed these programs into law in the first place despite all the Republican fearmonger about them.  And Republicans and conservatives really have been trying to get rid of Social Security and Medicare.  So, it is a perpetual issue for Democrats.

And when House Republicans voted earlier this spring to kill Medicare, they created for themselves a very familiar, very well-focused group, time-tested, blockbuster Democratic campaign issue that may very well last right through the presidential election next year.  And it may on the way infect every single Republican versus Democratic race up and down the ticket everywhere in the country.

Republicans in the Senate are trying now to avoid making the same political mistake that Republicans made in the House, right?  Republicans in the House voted to kill Medicare.  But even as Republicans in the Senate are trying to avoid voting on it, trying to avoid whipping the vote on that, trying to avoid getting pinned down on it in the Senate—that Medicare issue is all that Republican senators are all they‘re being asked about now, which has led to genius, genius, messaging moments like this one from the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, yesterday.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  What Paul Ryan would do, would be to empower grandma in the private market, to shop and get the best possible deal.


MADDOW:  That is how they‘re trying to message it now, empowering grandma.  We‘re going to kill Medicare so grandma can be empowered, so grandma can be empowered to not have Medicare anymore.  So, she can feel the power of shopping on the open market as an elderly person for her own private individual grandma health insurance policy with no guarantees.

Good luck, grandma.  Are you grateful the Republicans took Medicare away?  Do you feel the power?

Twenty-four hours from right now, we will be getting in the first result from the first federal election since House Republicans voted for their budget to kill Medicare.  And even if the results do not follow the latest polling, even if the Republican wins, Republicans will have already paid hundreds of thousands of dollars they would not have otherwise spent in this district—defending a district they shouldn‘t have had to defend if it weren‘t for that Paul Ryan kill Medicare vote.

But the big national story is this—even as the toxic politics of killing Medicare bear that electoral fruit in New York 26, even before we have the results there, even as that happens the Republican Party and conservative establishment are even now insisting that all of their presidential candidates pledge that they too want to kill Medicare.

Newt Gingrich has now reversed his previous position criticizing that plan, saying this weekend that he would vote for the Paul Ryan plan to kill Medicare.  Jon Huntsman, the supposed moderate seeming former Utah governor, saying on Friday that he would vote to kill Medicare.  Tim Pawlenty officially announcing, Mitt Romney expected to announce—both have been trying to avoid getting pinned down on the question of whether they too would vote to kill Medicare.

But if you think the Republican establishment is going to let Pawlenty or Romney get away with saying they would vote no on the Paul Ryan kill Medicare budget plan?  Then I am going to need more popcorn than I thought I was going to need in order to cover politics this year.

Joining us now from Buffalo, New York, is Mr. Phil Fairbanks.  He‘s a political reporter with “The Buffalo News.”

Mr. Fairbanks, it‘s good to see you again.  Thank you for your time.

PHIL FAIRBANKS, THE BUFFALO NEWS:  Good to see you, Rachel.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  The national Republican figures who have been involved in this race have been saying very insistently that the only reason this race poses any trouble at all for the Republican candidate is because of Jack Davis, because of the Tea Party candidate.

What can you tell about Jack Davis‘ support and his effect on the race in the district right now?

FAIRBANKS:  I think he still remains a factor.  Certainly not the factor he was two or three weeks ago.  His poll numbers are way down.  So, his impact on the race has greatly diminished from a couple of weeks ago.

As you mentioned, I think Medicare has emerged as the premiere issue in this campaign.  And I think Republican Jane Corwin‘s early support of the Ryan budget, especially the Medicare changes, has probably hurt her among a lot of voters, particularly Republican voters.

MADDOW:  How much has the Democrat in the race, Kathie Hochul, stuck to that issue, stuck to Medicare exclusively?  Or has this been a more wide-ranging campaign?

FAIRBANKS:  She has raised a lot of issues.  But, certainly, Medicare has been the issue that she has exploited more than anything else.  She talks about it whenever she‘s on the stump.  She mentioned it in a lot of her ads.

I think she recognizes the kind of the popular appeal of her position in terms of kind of the status quo on Medicare.  So, she has definitely exploited the issue I think to her benefit.

MADDOW:  We know that there have been calls in the district by Bill Clinton.  We saw reports of a text message today by President Obama.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christy getting involved on the Republican side.  As I mentioned, Republican activists nationally and activists coming in on Jane Corwin‘s side—all of these national folks weighing in.

Do you think that is something that people in New York 26 are likely to resent or do you think that would be persuasive?  What do you think the impact will be?

FAIRBANKS:  Frankly, I think voters on both sides, Republican and Democrat, are tired of the robocalls.  I talked to a lot of voters over the last two weeks.  I would say, one out of every two tells me tell them to stop.  Please tell them to stop.

So, between the robocalls and the advertising, I‘m not sure that‘s benefiting any candidate at this point.  Whether a person like Bill Clinton has an impact, I think we‘ll have to wait and see until tomorrow.

MADDOW:  Based on the turnout that you‘re seeing at campaign events, and also what you know about each party‘s on the ground operations in New York 26, what are you expecting to see in terms of voter turnout and get out the vote efforts tomorrow?

FAIRBANKS:  Keep in mind—this is the only race that‘s on the ballot.  It‘s May.  It‘s not September.  It‘s not November.

I think if we have a turnout of 25 percent, that will be high.  A lot of it will depend on the weather.  It‘s been rainy here in buffalo the last month or so.

Most experts are saying 20 percent to 25 percent.  Whether that benefits the Republicans, I think, historically, this is a district—you have to keep in mind—that stretches seven counties, a lot of them rural counties where Republican organizations have traditionally been stronger.  So, you would think they would have the edge in terms of get out the vote.

But this is a different kind of year.  And Kathie Hochul is a much different kind of candidate.  She‘s a great campaigner.  She‘s well-organized, a lot of union support.  And all those organizations are going to be working tomorrow to help her get out the vote.

MADDOW:  Phil Fairbanks, political reporter for “The Buffalo News”—thank you for understanding this.  We really appreciate it.

FAIRBANKS:  My pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Again, the New York 26 special election is tomorrow.  Polls open at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.  They close at 9:00 p.m. Eastern -- 9:00 p.m.  Eastern also happens to be when this show starts.  So, we will have results for you as they come in from the first federal election since the Paul Ryan kill Medicare plan blew up right in the middle of Republican politics.  Looking very much forward to covering live tomorrow night what should be a really interesting set of special election results.

All right.  It was a big weekend in Republican presidential politics.  Former Republican Party chairman Michael Steele will be here to talk about that.

Plus, today‘s “Best New Thing in the World,” which is coming up at the end of the show.

Plus, some amazing politics happened this weekend in the great state of Minnesota.  We‘ve got some footage from the statehouse floor that will blow your mind.  That‘s all coming up.


MADDOW:  The former chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, joins us in just a moment.  We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  Now that Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour and Donald Trump and Mike Pence and John Thune—remember John Thune?  Now, that none of those guys is running for the Republican presidential nomination this year, the field of candidates now looks like this.

Ron Paul, commander in chief of the Ron Paul revolution.

Gary Johnson, the other libertarian guy.

Buddy Roemer, who once lost a Republican primary to David Duke, the Klansman.

Herman Cain, the former head of a mafia-themed pizza chain.

Fred Karger.  Two things to know about Fred Karger, first, he‘s the one running on the pro-gay rights platform and second, he is Fred Frisbee.



FRED KARGER®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Don‘t be afraid?  I‘m Fred Karger.

I‘m Fred Karger and I approve this message.


MADDOW:  Right after Frisbee Fred Karger, the pro-gay rights candidate

I always like to mention Rick Santorum next, just because I assume it will bother Mr. Santorum.


There‘s also Michele Bachmann, maybe.  There‘s Newt Gingrich, for another (INAUDIBLE).  There‘s Sarah Palin, and there‘s three governors, of course, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Jon Huntsman of Utah, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.

It is a giant Republican field at this point.  And it is frankly hard to imagine at this point any of these folks going all the way.  I mean, really?  Getting the nomination, running against Barack Obama for president maybe winning and becoming president?

But if there‘s anything we have learned from recent presidential campaigns is that predictions about the eventual results that are made at this time of the year, those predictions mostly end up being embarrassing in hindsight.  In the last presidential election at this point in the race, remember it was definitely going to be Hillary Clinton for the Democrats versus Rudy Giuliani for the Republicans.

At this point in the campaign before that, Republicans, of course, knew it was going to be George W. Bush.  But the Democrats, it was definitely at this time of year, going to be Joe Lieberman.  And if not Joe Lieberman, then clearly it would be Dick Gephardt.

So, let us be humble about we can predict about the eventual nominee at this point in the presidential nominating process.  But with that humanity as the broader context, here‘s one thing to note here: Republicans who are uninspired by their illustrious field this year seem to be putting their hopes right now on somebody else, somebody new getting into the race in.

In 2004 and 2008, the polls and the pundits may at this point in the year have been wrong about who was eventually going to win.  But the candidate who did eventually win was definitely and clearly already in the race by this time of year.  So, if past is any prologue, the Republicans may not have made a clear decision yet on who they will pick.  But the menu of choices from which they will pick is probably set.

If past isn‘t prologue, and this is going to be the year when the eventual Republican nominee joins the field really, really late, then why is that?  The immediate past chairman of the Republican Party Michael Steele, has more insight into these politics than I do and he joins us next.


MADDOW:  MSNBC has just done something that I personally am very, very happy about it.  As we start an election season which we pretty much know what‘s going to happen in Democratic politics—hello, Mr. President.  At the start of an election season when we pretty much know what‘s going to happen in Democratic Party politics, at least at the top of the ticket, but Republicans tickets are like anarchist soccer when there‘s two teams and three goals and no rules and no favorite and no one knows what‘s going to happen, to put it extremely mildly—at the start of this particular election season of Republican awe and mystery, MSNBC has hired the immediate past chairman of the Republican National Committee as a political analyst for our coverage.  And I could not be happier about it.

Mr. Chairman, Michael Steele, congratulations on your new gig.  We are so happy to have you hear at MSNBC.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  Hey, Rachel.  Thank you so much. 

It‘s great to be on the team.  It‘s like my coming out party.  I‘m excited.

MADDOW:  How much grief are you getting from your former colleagues at the RNC about this?

STEELE:  None.  I mean, it‘s interesting.  I‘ve gotten a number of supportive emails.  The idea of being able to carry the conversation into various communities that are not Republican and not conservative, but we know our nominee is going to have to reach across and build some bridges in what will be a competitive campaign, this is a good opportunity.  It‘s sort of take the message out there and talk to folks and analyze the issues on how it impacts people‘s lives.

And you and I can go at it, and have some fun.

MADDOW:  Well, I can‘t tell you the number of conservatives that I hear from pretty regularly that they think I‘m absolutely wrong about everything, but they watch anyway either because they need to get their blood pressure up or because they just enjoy disagreeing with me.  And I think that we can only deepen that sense of discomfort in the audience.  So, I for one am glad you‘re here.

STEELE:  I know a few folks that have lost a few televisions from throwing stuff at them.  So, you know, I understand that feeling.

MADDOW:  Well, let‘s get right into it with the presidential field.

Mitch Daniels got out of the race this weekend.


MADDOW:  We have said lots of nice things about him in the past, including on this show.  How do you think Daniels‘ dropping out of this giant Republican field changes this field?

STEELE:  Well, I don‘t think it changes it that much.  I mean, from one perspective, there‘s not really that much new here other than—like you said, setting up who‘s not in the race.  A Mitch Daniels had a lot of considerations.  He‘s always been a little bit tepid about really putting his name out there and sort of testing the waters.  Everyone knew—or at least he knew—that a lot of people wanted him to be in the race.

So, from my perspective, it‘s really not surprising that he‘s not doing it.  And I appreciate the family perspective on these things.

What for me is really kind of the dynamic that I‘d like to see Republicans get a grip on is this whole idea that we‘ve got to have a front runner right now.  When I was chairman, we—you know, at the request of the convention of 2008, took a look at the primary process for the sole purpose of making it more competitive, inviting others, and as many people who could be in it, to be a part of this as possible, drawing out the time, so that everyone would have a chance to have a good long look at the candidates.  Folks are very frustrated.  The grassroots that is, and having this sort of decision made by February of the election year.

And so, we‘ve designed a system that I think in the candidates have stepped to it and sort of taking their time to lay out their case over a period of time and then we‘ll see.  I don‘t need to have a nominee right now.  I don‘t need to have a number one going against Barack Obama right now.  We‘ve got a lot of talk about.  The Senate and House Republican leadership have their work to do.  And it gives our nominee a chance to sort of build the relationship to be competitive in what will be a tough race.

MADDOW:  But let me ask you about one other—sort of the other side of that dynamic.  I mean, in a normal year, if a Mitch Daniels type candidate dropped out, you‘d expect that to be followed by a few days of coverage about which of the people that are running will benefit the most from him being out.  But instead, all the noise today was about how Republicans are really hoping that somebody else will start running.  Isn‘t that out loud wishing and hoping that somebody else will get into the race, isn‘t that kind of insulting to all those who already in the race?


STEELE:  I think it‘s very insulting.  I think comments about—you know, that I‘ve heard some of my friends say, you know, about a Herman Cain, for example, that, you know, that he‘s entertainment to me is highly insulting.  And I think, you know, Herman Cain brings a lot to the table.  And he has, you know, a sharp business acumen, reviving a business that was on death‘s door, and making it a multibillion dollar success, and now, out here running for president.  It is an American made story.  It‘s a Republican story if you want to go down that road.

And I think that it‘s something that all of these individuals bring to this campaign.  Look, we can nitpick these guys to death.  And trust me, I know you will Rachel over the next, you know, 12 or so months.

MADDOW:  Tada!

STEELE:  But the fact of the matter is, they‘re there and they‘re in this race, and they‘re going to make this case not to you, but to Republican activists around the country who in February of next year will start the process of voting for them, and one of them will emergency as the eventual nominee.  And, hopefully, we will not have tattered and torn ourselves up enough or so much that our nominee is weakened coming out of the primary process that should actually strengthen him.

MADDOW:  Well, in terms of who the intended audience is here, you‘re obviously right about the activist.  You think about the early party, the early decider states like Iowa and new Hampshire.

STEELE:  Right.

MADDOW:  And we all learn on a first name basis the important Republican activists and the important counties there.  But there‘s also the GOP establishment.


MADDOW:  And my sense is that the Republican establishment was either polling for Haley Barbour and then, he got out and then it was Mitch Daniels.  “A,” is that sense right?  If it is right, where is the establishment money going to go if it doesn‘t go to any of those guys now?

STEELE:  I think “A,” you‘re absolutely right.  Haley Barbour was the favorite son that pulled out.  The relationship between Barbour and Mitch Daniels is very close, you know?  So, you figure one doesn‘t get in, the other one does in.

In this case, Mitch Daniels decided not to.  So, the establishment, which had clearly over a period of weeks if not months begun the process of unloading, you know, a Mitt Romney, for example, is now sort of sitting there and saying where do we go to next?  Which is why you hear this moaning and gnashing of teeth.

And what I say to them is just chill out.  You know, just relax.  Let these individuals get their legs underneath them.  Go out there and communicate to the base.  The national party and local parties have enough to do to get organized, to get people fired up.

And the establishment—I think the days of controlling these types of outcomes are over.  You‘ve got the dynamics of a Bachmann plus, you know, Herman Cain, a Pawlenty, a Newt Gingrich, and, of course, there‘s the ambassador, Mr. Huntsman, who will always very much have an impact on the conversation among Republicans and who looks to be making that move.  I think it will be a very interesting candidate to watch.

MADDOW:  Briefly, though, if the Republican candidates at this point are left to sort of their own devices to make their case to primary voters, they‘re mostly going to be talking to Iowa.  And the Iowa Republican electorate is pretty specific.  I mean, it‘s hardcore social conservative and specifically really hardcore anti-gay and hardcore abortion politics.

So, if you sort of leave them to their own devices and there‘s no moderating force of the rest of the party, don‘t you end up with Michele Bachmann as the nominee before anyone‘s noticed that she‘s up with it?

STEELE:  Let me put it this way: look at—look at the group we are talking about, this is a very diverse and eclectic group of candidates.  You know, you‘ve got a woman, you know, women, African-American, you‘ve got, you know, those who come from elected office, those who have not been elected.  I mean, it‘s a cross section in ethnicity.  It‘s the first time we‘ve had this kind of diverse pool of candidates.

And I think, you know, sort of the Iowa politics that you described, yes, it will be a factor.  Folks will play to it to some extent.  But, right now, folks are talking about jobs in.

In the poll that you cited earlier, yes, you know, 21 percent were talking about, you know, Medicare.  But 20 percent were naming jobs as the issue that was important to them.  So, the economy jobs, Medicare, Medicaid -- all those things that impact people‘s lives, their wallets and livelihoods are going to be the issues that folks will talk about.  And that will be integrated into the social context, if you will, for a lot of the folks in Iowa and maybe in South Carolina.

But, at the end of the day, folks are going to vote their pocketbook and which of these candidates can best speak to that issue—and I think you saw, for example, today, Mr. Pawlenty come out very strongly and say, “Look, I‘m going to be straight up about it.  These are some hard choices.  You‘ve got to make some touch decisions.  And as president I‘m prepared to do that.”

And if people begin, these candidates begin to move in that direction, you‘re going to see the dynamics I think open up much more than they have so far in this race.

MADDOW:  I think what you said make sense, except I think that Iowa is insane.  So, we will have to find out.

STEELE:  That sounds like a personal issue.  I can‘t help you there.

MADDOW:  Michael Steele, former RNC chairman, now an MSNBC political analyst - Mr. Steele, thank you again for signing up with us here at MSNBC.  I think thing is a going to be a really fun year.

STEELE:  Thank you, Rachel.  Looking forward to a great year.

MADDOW:  Thank you, sir.

All right.  Politics in Minnesota this weekend took a turn to the jaw-dropping.  We‘ve got some incredible footage from that to show you.

Plus, “The Best New Thing in the World Today”—it is a painting—a politics painting that I desperately want and when I show it to you, I think you will, too.  That is coming up at the end of the show tonight.

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  This was the scene around 5:30 p.m. local time yesterday in southwest Missouri.  This monstrous tornado slammed directly into the town of Joplin, near Missouri‘s borders with Kansas and Oklahoma.  National Weather Service said today that wind speeds reached between 190 and 198 miles per hour in that storm.

Reports are that at least ¼ of Joplin, Missouri, has been damaged.  In some areas the damage can only be described as absolute.  At this point, 113 lives are thought to have been lost in the Joplin tornado, making it the ninth deadliest tornado in U.S. history and the deadliest single tornado since 1947.

Also, yesterday, another tornado swept through north Minneapolis.  One death and dozens of injuries attributed to that storm.

Here‘s how to help, for Missouri disaster relief specifically, the American Red Cross has set up a Web site.  We have listed some additional charities and local organizations in both Missouri and Minnesota at our own Web site, which is MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.  It includes information on getting in touch with the Red Cross, also how to donate, also how to volunteer, also how to give blood.  Just tremendous devastation to deal with here.  MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.

We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  The great state of Minnesota has contributed two things to national politics so far this year.  First, they have contributed Republican presidential contenders, former Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, who declared his candidacy today.  And current member of Congress, Michele Bachmann.  Ms. Bachmann making a cameo appearance in Mr.  Pawlenty‘s roll out article in “Time” magazine today.

In that article, Mr. Pawlenty‘s former chief of staff says quote, “Michele Bachmann is going to be a pain in the ass in Iowa.”  Nice!

So, that‘s one thing that Minnesota has contributed to our national politics this year.

Two, Republican presidential contenders whose campaigns curse each other out to the press.  Thank you, Minnesota.

The other thing Minnesota has contributed to our nation‘s politics this year is a new way of looking at Republican anti-gay politics.  Even though Minnesota is thought of as being Minnesota nice, even though it‘s thought of as a bluish tinged state and Minneapolis was ranked this year by “The Advocate” magazine as the gayest city in America—the religious right is alive and well in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and they decided to take advantage of big Republican majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate this year to push through an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.

And that push has produced Minnesota‘s other big contribution to national politics this year.  The viral video nationally resonant of street people, straight legislatures, in some cases even straight Republican legislatures making an impassioned case against conservative anti-gay policy being turned into law in Minnesota.


STATE REP. STEVE SIMON (D), MINNESOTA:  We have to be careful about trying to enshrine our beliefs, however religiously valid we believe them to be, in the Minnesota Constitution.  And what I‘m hearing today and what I heard on Friday was largely a religious justification for a change in the Minnesota Constitution.  And I don‘t think that‘s right.  I don‘t think it‘s fair.  I think it departs from our tradition.

You just ask yourself: not now in glare of the capitol and caucuses and interest groups., but ask yourself: if it‘s true that sexual orientation is innate, God-given, and what does it mean to the moral force of your argument?  And I guess to put in the particular, what I would ask is: how many more gay people does God have to create before we ask yourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Please keep applause to yourselves.

SIMON:  And I truly believe that in a generation, maybe not even a generation, but certainly many generations from now, if we pass this, if we put it on the ballot, if this becomes part of our constitution, history will judge us all very, very harshly.


MADDOW:  Representative Steve Simon, a Democrat in Minnesota, making the case earlier this month against the proposed anti-gay constitutional amendment in that state.  That speech has been viewed more than a half million times on YouTube.  And how many state assembly speeches can you say that about?

There‘s one other statement I want you to see before we bring out our guests for the interview tonight.  This is state rep from Minnesota named John Kriesel.  Staff Sergeant John Kriesel, he lost both his legs in an IED blast in Fallujah.  He is a Republican.

And I think what he said about this is really, really worth seeing.


STATE REP. JOHN KRIESEL ®, MINNESOTA:  I went to Iraq.  I was in an incident and nearly died.  I remember laying there and seeing my legs mangled and pretty much guaranteeing that I was done—I was a done deal.  I thought that‘s where my life was going to end.

I remember thinking of my wife and my kids.  That‘s what crossed my mind.  And that‘s what kept me fighting.

This amendment doesn‘t represent what I went to fight for.  This doesn‘t represent that.

Hear that out there?  That‘s the America I fought for.  And I‘m proud of that.

A little bit earlier I had this passed around.  It‘s a photo of a gentleman named Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt.  He gave his life in Afghanistan on February 27th of this year.  He hit an improvised explosive device, while keeping us safe, protecting our freedoms, giving us the right to have this debate tonight.

He was gay.  He was gay.  I don‘t know about you guys, but I cannot look at this family and look at this picture and say, you know what, corporal, you were good enough to fight for your country and give your life, but you were not good enough to marry the person you love.

I can‘t do that.  I cannot do that.  And I won‘t do that.

If there was a “hell no” button right now, I would press it.  Years down the road, this is going to be—people are going to look back on this and know this was a pivotal point in history for our state, for our families, for communities, for people‘s happiness and freedom.

And when my grand kids look at me and they say, “Grandpa, where‘d you stand on this issue?”  I‘ll be proud to look at them and say I was on the right side of history.  I was on the right side of history.


MADDOW:  It‘s one of the only Republicans who voted no on the anti-gay rights Minnesota constitutional amendment.  His name is John Kriesel.  He‘s an Iraq veteran who lost both his legs to an IED in Fallujah.

The man whose picture John Kriesel handed out to the whole state assembly before he made that speech, which you saw him referenced there, that man who was pictured in the picture that he handed out was Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt of Rosemont, Minnesota.  Andrew Wilfahrt‘s parents have been a force of nature in this fight in their home state.

Joins us now for the interview tonight are Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt, the parents of Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt, who was killed on February 27th in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Mr. and Mrs. Wilfahrt, thank you both so much for being with us.


JEFF WILFAHRT, FATHER OF CPL. ANDREW WILFAHRT:  Thank you for having us on, Ms. Maddow.

MADDOW:  How important was it for you to have an Iraq veteran, this Republican representative, Mr. Kriesel, taking the stand he took in your son‘s name, distributing his picture as part of what he was explaining as his stance on this issue?

L. WILFAHRT:  Well, it was very important.  It was really impactful I feel, and it was nice to have someone on that side, take our side.  I think military people stick up for each other.  They understand things that the rest of us don‘t.  And as our experience with our son and the stories that we‘ve heard about him is different things matter to people in the military, things like sexuality aren‘t important.  It‘s the friendship and the trust, loyalty that they have for one another, the willingness and ability to protect each other.  That is what is important.

And it‘s a loyalty maybe the rest of us don‘t understand.

MADDOW:  Mr. Wilfahrt—

L. WILFAHRT:  So, it was very important that he spoke up.

MADDOW:  I‘m sorry.  Excuse my interruption.  So, Mr. Wilfahrt, I understand that you testified in both the House and the Senate against this anti-gay rights constitutional amendment.  I know that—from reading your testimony, I know my you referenced some of what your wife just described about how veterans view this issue differently.

How was that experience of testifying for you?

J. WILFAHRT:  Well, I‘ll go to that in a second.  First I want to say that the United States Army treated this family very well.  Other people had other experiences.  I can‘t say that we experienced.  They were very dignified and very good to us.

When I testified before the Senate committee, I try to use reason, logic, heartfelt.  I described the events of that day.  It was pretty obvious watching most of the Republican members of that committee fiddle with papers and otherwise be distracted that they were not listening.

When I came to the House, I decided that there was no point in making an appeal directly to these people because their minds were set up.  They‘re in lock step.  Most of them are freshman class, far right.  They don‘t want to hear the arguments.

So, in that case, I geared my speech specifically to speak beyond them to the veterans of Minnesota, to indicate somebody was toying with the Constitution and treating it in what I felt was an unfair way.  As it turns out, that really got me nothing.  I have had little or no response from the veterans societies of the state of Minnesota, at least so far.

The only positive feedback I‘ve gotten from veterans has been from gay veterans who are unidentified but are in the metro area community, and they‘ve reached out to me and given me support.

So, I‘m a little disappointed I guess I wasn‘t able to connect with them.  Maybe I said something to alienate them.  If I did, I apologize to them.  It wasn‘t my intent.  I was only trying to reach out to people who have actually taken an oath to the Constitution and been willing to shed blood for it.

MADDOW:  Mrs. Wilfahrt, can I

J. WILFAHRT:  And all of things I‘ve said.

MADDOW:  I‘m sorry, again.

Mrs. Wilfahrt, can I ask you about some of the items that I can see in the shot with you two there?  I understand that some of those items there with you came from the soldiers who served with your son in Afghanistan.  Is that right?

L. WILFAHRT:  Right.  The flag you see behind us was signed by everybody in his unit, notes to him, and so, they brought—they sent that back with one of the soldiers that was able to be at the funeral at Fort Snelling the day that Andrew was buried.  So, that‘s the flag.

And the boxes you see behind us are all of Andrew‘s possessions that came from Hawaii where he was based.  So, they came about three weeks ago and as of yet, we haven‘t gone through them waiting for that moment I guess when we can.

MADDOW:  Because of this vote that happens in the legislature this anti-gay rights measure and anti-gay measure you‘ve spoken out against in your son‘s name is going to be on the ballot next year.  It‘s next November.  And that means a year and a half of campaigning in Minnesota before a vote on people‘s rights in the state.

What are you two expecting in terms of how Minnesota is going to deal with a year and a half of those kind of politics around this issue?  And do you expect to stay involved in Andrew‘s name?

L. WILFAHRT:  I expect we will stay involved.  I‘m not sure yet how or with what organization, but I know that we will.  I think it could be 18 months of ugliness.  There‘s going to be a lot of money coming into this state  to—on both sides, hopefully, not just on one side.  And I think it could get really nasty.  I wonder if Minnesota has the stomach for it.

J. WILFAHRT:  As I understand it the Minnesota Family Council is trying to drum up roughly $4.7 million to promote the amendment.  This money is of unknown source, nothing is being disclosed.  Everybody‘s icon of marriage, Mr. Newt Gingrich, was just here.  For a thousand bucks, he could attend.  You may recall that he got glittered.

I have no idea what kind of money the National Organization for Marriage is bringing in, but it‘s big.  And again, we don‘t know where the money is coming from.

Times are rough here.  The gay community is large but I don‘t think they got the kind of money to fight it alone, whether or not other Minnesotans will step up and help push money back at them, because it‘s going to come down on nasty stuff on TV, misrepresentations, characterizations, false religious doctrines.

It‘s going to be ugly.

MADDOW:  Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt

J. WILFAHRT:  We could use -- 

MADDOW:  Go ahead, sir.

J. WILFAHRT:  Well, we could use some help from anybody out there who‘s listening.  There‘s a lot of good organizations here in the state.  I think there‘s a lot of decent humans around here and I think Representative Kriesel is a number one.  Also, I‘d like to thank Representative Kelly, Representative Murray, and Representative Smith, all Republicans, who I think stood up and did the right thing.

MADDOW:  Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt, the parents of Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt, thank you for being willing to join us tonight, sharing your story with us, and thank you for your activism.  I really appreciate it.

J. WILFAHRT:  Not a problem.  Speak the truth.

MADDOW:  We will be right back.

L. WILFAHRT:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thank you.


MADDOW:  “The Best New Thing in the World Today” is this painting.  Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, in a suit of armor, on a white horse.

In the Tim Pawlenty “I‘m running for president rollout” interview in “Time” magazine today, we learned that Mr. Pawlenty when he moved into the governor‘s mansion had this painting taken down, which requires an explanation as far as I‘m concerned, Governor.  It‘s “The Best New Thing in the World Today.”

Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”  Thanks for being with us tonight.



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