Guest: Ken Burns
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. I`m really glad that
you got that interview. That was awesome, man. Congratulations.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, "THE LAST WORD": She`s really written quite
an amazing report.
MADDOW: Indeed. Thanks.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
OK, quick visual test. Are you ready?
What is this a picture of? Look closely. What is this a picture of?
Is this is a picture of a vase or this a picture of two faces staring at
each other? Which one do you see?
All right. How about this one? What do you see here? Do you see a
little cartoony saxophone player guy with a big nose? Or do you see a
young woman`s face? Which one do you see?
For some reason, I can only see the images in white when I squint at
these things. I don`t know that means.
This one is a good one. It`s an artsy drawing of a man`s face with
kind of big eyes, or is this the word "liar" written in cursive if you look
at it on the diagonal?
OK, this drove our segment producer Mike Yarvitz absolutely nuts
today. He can only see the old woman in this image, the old woman, all
right? He can see. The young woman, however, he does not believe me that
Can you see the young woman in this picture or just the old woman?
How did when we put it next to the other version of the young woman,
does that help? Mike says he still can`t see it with that.
Here`s another one. This one is actually a video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I hear all this, you
know, this is class warfare, whatever. No, there is nobody in this country
who got rich on his own. Nobody.
You built a factory out there. Good for you. But I want to be clear.
You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You
hired workers, the rest of us paid to educate.
You all were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire
forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn`t have to worry that
marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire
someone to protect against us because of the work the rest of us did.
Now, look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific
or a great idea, God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the
underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for
the next kid who comes along.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You have seen that video of Massachusetts Democratic Senate
candidate Elizabeth Warren on this show before. Undoubtedly, you`ve seen
it a bunch of times on the Internet before as well. I just today had a
friend`s mom send it to me in this format, where the whole quote is printed
out in tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny inspirational, kitty hanging from a tree,
hang in there form. There is no "I" in team.
Elizabeth Warren is one of the nation`s most effective communicators
on economic issues and the economic interests of the middle class. And
that video of her, that clip of her using that skill, making that argument
in whoever`s living room she was in while campaigning for the U.S. Senate
in Massachusetts, that clip, it`s like the economic populist version of
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: Never gets old! God, I love that.
In the Republican mind, however, that clip of Elizabeth Warren in that
living room is not just a viral video sensation. In the Republican mind
this year, that clip of Elizabeth Warren making that case you just heard
her make, in the Republican mind, that Elizabeth Warren clip is the same
thing as this.
Sure, some people see a vase but it`s just as likely that you will see
this picture as two faces. Sure, some people see the young lady, but
people like Mike Yarvitz can`t see the young lady at all, they can only see
the old lady.
After that clip of Elizabeth Warren explaining in effect the "we`re
all in this together" idea of economic populism, after that clip got people
standing up and applauding their e-mail and cheering at their TV and making
GIF files like this, Republicans also started circulating that clip. But
Republicans` idea was that people would see this clip, they would hear this
message as articulated by Elizabeth Warren and they would be horrified by
"Elizabeth Warren puts those villainous job creators in their place,"
says the conservative Web site "The Daily Caller."
"Run-of-the-mill demagoguery from Elizabeth Warren," says the
conservative "Boston Herald."
Rush Limbaugh: "Elizabeth Warren is a parasite."
(BEGIN VDIEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those people who start those companies and those
factors are creating jobs. I mean, aren`t they giving back to the
community by creating jobs first?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s nothing in what she says that makes that
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: FOX News has been playing it over and over and over again.
The right seems to think people hearing Elizabeth Warren talk about the
middle class and talk about fairness in the American economy, that will
somehow hurt her -- might even hurt the whole Democratic cause.
Now, even the Republican senator who Elizabeth Warren is trying to
unseat in Massachusetts, he is sending around that video of her as a fund-
raising thing. Scott Brown`s campaign saying, quote, "Elizabeth Warren and
her inflammatory rhetoric will divide our country and our commonwealth."
Because nothing divides like a "we`re all in this together" economic
One of these things is not like the other. Republicans are banking on
people being turned off by a pro-middle class economic fairness message.
And maybe Rush Limbaugh and the "Boston Herald" and Scott Brown are
turned off by that message.
But the Elizabeth Warren thing is not so much a vase versus faces
thing, where two people can definitely be counted on to see two totally
different things when they look at it. Elizabeth Warren`s message, if you
look at the polling, is much more like dramatic chipmunk. I mean,
everybody is sort of into it, everybody likes it. It is not a polarizing
The tax millionaires Buffett Rule, for example, is polling this week
at 73 percent support. Seventy-three percent. It`s hard to demagogue a
message that popular.
But in the Republican mind this year, they think that they can.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee put out a big announcement
today that they have already raised $375,000 for Elizabeth Warren`s Senate
race in Massachusetts. And while that is exciting news for Elizabeth
Warren`s supporters, if you take the big picture view of this, this
announcement from the PCCC is sort of the financial equivalent of damming
with faint praise, because here`s the big picture.
In total, liberal activists say they have raised about $915,000 for
Elizabeth Warren. Here`s that in context against what Scott Brown has
raised. There`s Elizabeth Warren`s known money on the left there, in the
blue bar. And then -- actually, you know, the bar looks like it goes off
the top of the screen. I think we have to pull back a little more here.
Can we pull back? Yes.
OK, I guess we have to pull back a little bit more. A little bit.
OK, still just runs off the top of the screen. Pull one more out. Can we
-- yes, there we go.
All right. See, the problem with getting the graph to scale here is
that you can`t even really see the Elizabeth Warren money on here when you
pull back to see all of Scott Brown`s money. Maybe if we do it as a pie
Yes, there we go. See? This is Elizabeth Warren`s known money as
compared to Scott Brown`s money. See, it`s that tiny, teeny, tiny little
blue sliver. That`s the big picture.
Why does Scott Brown have this much money? Why does Scott Brown have
rocky mountain high, light your cigars with $100 bills, make furniture out
of your cash bundles money like this lying around?
He`s got that kind of money because of Wall Street. Among all 100
United States senators, Scott Brown ranks number one right now in
contributions, campaign contributions, from hedge funds, as well as the
venture capital industry. Scott Brown has taken the second most money of
all senators from private equity and investments firms, and the securities
and investment industry.
Scott Brown ran for Senate as the normal guy who drives a truck,
right? But at this point, Scott Brown is essentially a hedge fund who
drives a truck.
But as long as we are talking big picture here, the very big picture,
the globally big picture, is this. When Wall Street imploded at the end of
the Bush presidency and our financial system collapsed because of its own
malfeasance, because Wall Street made themselves rich playing insane clown
casino with other people`s real money -- when all that came crashing down,
we were able to keep this country out of Great Depression. But not out of
the massive recession from which we have not yet recovered.
And the way we kept ourselves out of that great depression was by
rescuing Wall Street, which means that we do still have a financial system
in this country. We do still have a banking system. But it didn`t exactly
fix the problem that got us there in the first place, nor did it stop the
repercussions of that collapse that we barely lived through in 2008.
In the big, big global picture right now is that the next
repercussion, the next thing about to collapse is Europe. Europe is a
third of the world`s entire economy. Right now, European banks and
European countries are going through the same sort of trauma that we went
through in 2008. They do not know if they`re going to be able to save
their financial system or if there`s going to be calamitous, uncontrolled
defaulting and chaos.
The way we saved our banking system, of course, was TARP, the bank
bailout. And that did save us from going into a Great Depression and kept
us out of calamitous default, but it also let those Wall Street banks, the
people who caused the crisis get away effectively scot-free. They quite
literally never paid for what they did to the country. And now, those
banks are back stronger than ever, behaving essentially just like they did
before, and making tons of money, which is why almost all of the TARP money
has been paid back because Wall Street is doing so great right now.
One of the things they are doing with their not-so hard earned gains
right now is that they are pouring money into the American political system
to make sure the Elizabeth Warrens of the world never get anywhere.
Their investment in Scott Brown last time around, after all, paid off
in a Scott Brown brokered deal to keep the banks from paying for the
implementation of Wall Street reform. Scott Brown intervened to make sure
taxpayers would have to pay that instead of the poor, poor, poor banks. He
saved them $19 billion.
Goldman Sachs, which has a starring role in the European collapse
because Greece is going to be the first country to go, and Greece has paid
Goldman Sachs to hide their debt problem, Goldman Sachs here at home, we
just learned this week, that they spent over 1 million bucks lobbying in
the last quarter alone against Wall Street reform.
Wall Street money is flowing hand over fist to the Republican
presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney promising a wholesale
repeal of any major regulation of Wall Street that has been implemented
since the financial collapse.
And so, in this big picture, in this environment, frankly, some sort
of inchoate, bottom-up, indefinite expression of anger at Wall Street,
anger at their control over our lives and our country now, is probably a
The "occupy Wall Street" protests in New York have been going on for
12 days now. Most of the media attention they have received thus far has
been because of violent and rather outrageous police tactics used against
the protesters. But the reason this movement is growing, and in fact
spreading to other American cities now is not because of some message about
police tactics toward protesters. That is not the larger point.
The larger point is the basic message, the basic point about who
caused the mess the country is in right now. Who has figured out how to
benefit from it and who is stopping us from fixing it?
And again, attention to that feels a little overdue.
Joining us now is Chris Hayes, host of the new and already great "UP
WITH CHRIS HAYES" airing weekend mornings on MSNBC. Chris is also editor-
at-large of "The Nation."
And, Chris, I have never seen your sailor shirt before. It`s
CHRIS HAYES, "UP WITH CHRIS HAYES": Thank you. Adorable is what I
was going for.
MADDOW: It is. It`s fetching, is that better?
HAYES: That`s great.
MADDOW: All right. Whether or not most people agree with direct
action as a political tactic and I think that`s something you either are
inclined toward or you`re not, do you think the occupy Wall Street folks
are tapping into what is in effect a very mainstream sentiment that hasn`t
had a political outlet yet?
HAYES: Yes, that`s exactly what I think what they`re doing. I think
that the part of the kind of cognitive dissidence people experience for
seeing occupy Wall Street, and I saw it myself, was the disconnect between
the way we couch these issues in mainstream American politics, middle
class, et cetera, and the image of direct action, of kids sleeping in
sleeping bags in a park.
And those two have somehow become desperate in our imaginations
because we have this sort of political discourse about middle class and
Main Street is getting screwed. And we have lost I think in some ways the
conception of politics outside of those channels. And I think what is
exciting about occupy Wall Street and I think what has captured people`s
imagination is the feeling that the normal channels don`t feel like they`re
working. That I think is really the thing that is most powerful about it.
And the thing people share is that people feel like the normal
challenges -- the normal channels of sort of feedback into the system
aren`t working. Their voices are being ignored. And that they don`t have
And even if this is credo core (ph), even if this is inchoate or
unfocused, it feels like some sort of voice in the wilderness saying, look,
everything is broken right now. And I feel that way every day waking up
and coming into this building to go read the Internet or talk to people as
a reporter, things are not working. And just the basic truth of that and
the basic unfairness in the disparate impact of the way things are not
working is so essential to our experience of Americans at this moment that
I think there`s something powerful about it.
MADDOW: And within the system -- I mean, most of what we cover as
political news is actors by people who are within the political system.
And right now, one of the two parties in the form of President Obama and
this high profile Senate candidate, Elizabeth Warren, in particular, are
trying to say the system shouldn`t be so broken. The system can be fixed
so that it does address mainstream Americans concerns and not just the
concerns of the people who are doing great right now and the people who
screwed us over, i.e., Wall Street.
Is the message itself important that they are even trying or do they
need to be offering something very concrete that will make a difference in
people`s lives in order to connect people back to the political system?
HAYES: That`s it. I go really back and forth on this, right?
Because at a certain level, that message is diluted because we know Barack
Obama raises tons of money from Wall Street. And Nancy Pelosi, God bless
her, who love, I think he`s a great politician and has great politics, also
raises a lot of money from Wall Street.
They all do. They all have to. That`s the way the system works.
MADDOW: That`s where all the money is.
HAYES: That is where the money is. And the point that you made
actually in the opening is a really important one. The very perverse and
vicious cycle of the disparate sort of recoveries we have is that they`re
even more money in Wall Street now and politicians are growing more
dependent on fundraising from Wall Street, which is really, really
So, I think that that message is diluted by the campaign finance
system we have where it is harder for people to credibly believe the
distinction is as great as they want it to be and then it`s partially a
product of the fact that Republicans are able to obstruct and subvert and
destroy a lot of the initiatives that really would help working class
MADDOW: What`s going do happen with this protest movement? It`s
starting to spread around the country. It is starting to -- people are
starting to move beyond, I think, the frustration, the perceived, I think,
impotence of direct action politics which I think is just a class -- which
just -- about that as a political tactic as a class, as it doesn`t go away
and as it spreads to other movements, do you see the political movement on
the left embracing it all? Or do you think it stays outside the system?
HAYES: I think, you know, so there was a report today about a bunch
of New York City unions going to join the protest on Wednesday, which I
think was a major step, the transit workers, in particular, the transit
workers, militant union, they had a strike in New York a few years ago.
So, I do think people understand that even if they felt some misgivings at
the beginning or these -- I don`t know what the demands are.
I understand those. I mean, I have those same feelings in the
beginning. There is some genuine energy here.
And you know what? At the end of the day, I was having this
conversation with somebody else, what else is working right now?
HAYES: Honestly, look around you, what else is working? What`s --
you know, people feel like, well, let`s take a fire in something else.
MADDOW: Direct action for all the frustration it causes very often
gets the goods. It really does --
MADDOW: -- in a way that doesn`t get much credit.
Chris Hayes, editor-at-large of "The Nation," host of MSNBC`s new
weekend morning show "UP WITH CHRIS HAYES," which is great and I think
everybody should watch it no matter what time you go to bed on Friday or
Saturday. Chris, congratulations thus far. And thanks for being here.
HAYES: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. There are events in history about which one can
know all of one`s life and still sort of struggle to comprehend. A man
walked on the moon, for example. Man on the moon, up there. You know?
America`s unofficial documentary laureate Ken Burns has tackled one
such eternal gobsmacker. It`s not walking on the moon, but it`s rather
prohibition. And it is just as gob-smacking. America once outlawed booze
for a really long time. And then we un-outlawed it and survived to tell
Ken Burns is here tonight for the interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should gay marriage be banned in North Carolina?
It could be up to you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Voters will decide if a ban on gay marriage should
go into North Carolina`s constitution.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Carolina is a very sexy destination for
transplants, just not same sexy -- at least not yet. The N.C. House passed
the bill to ban same sex marriage. Today, the state Senate followed suit
and the end result, you and I will make the final decision inside the
voting booth next May.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: That may be the year`s nominee for most unexpected moment in
a local news lead-in. The FOX affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina,
lamenting while North Carolina is undeniably sexy, it is not necessarily
same sexy. That`s the chyron up there, same sexy, on local news, all hail
the WCVB in Charlotte, North Carolina. You win.
In terms of North Carolina`s same sexiness, gay couples marrying is
illegal in North Carolina, just as it is in 44 other states. But at the
moment, same sex marriage is nothing more than illegal in North Carolina.
It`s just against state law. It`s not unconstitutional. North Carolina,
the only state in the south that has not amended its state Constitution to
ban gay marriage over and above the ban on it in just normal state law.
After the big conservative sweep of the 2010 midterm elections, which
in North Carolina meant Republicans taking control of the legislature for
the first time in more than a century, the new Republican majority in North
Carolina`s legislature decided that this was the year they would add to
their existing legal ban on same-sex marriage by trying to doubly,
constitutionally, extra-ban it.
And so thanks to the legislature`s actions this month, citizens of
North Carolina will be asked during next year`s primary to vote on whether
or not to change their state`s constitution -- to doubly, constitutionally,
extra ban same-sex marriage that`s already banned.
We, of course, don`t know what North Carolina voters will decide on
this issue, but more than two dozen other states have put gay rights to a
vote in the last decade, and every single one of those more than two dozen
other states has voted to amend their constitution to ban gay marriage.
When we vote on minority rights of many, if not all stripes in this
country, we tend to vote no. It`s part of the whole concept of rights.
They are not supposed to be up for a vote. They are supposed inalienable,
even by majority vote, inalienable, or as the Declaration of Independence
put it unalienable.
All men endowed by their Creator, unalienable rights. Among them,
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- even if your particular brand
of happiness is same sexy happiness.
In Mississippi, this number a different right will be up for vote.
Voters there will be deciding if they want to change their state`s
constitution as a person starting at, quote, "the moment of fertilization,
cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."
Obviously, the intended effect of this legislation is about abortion.
It`s to take away women`s right to have an abortion. And again, when you
vote on rights, anywhere in this country, generally you get reminded of why
there is a need to call some things rights to protect those rights from a
vote, to protect them from majority rule. But particularly in Mississippi,
when you poll Mississippians on social issues, you get fairly predictable
In 2004, for example, when Mississippi voted on an amendment to their
state constitution to ban gay marriage, it won with 86 percent of the vote.
It won in every single county in Mississippi.
In 2001, Mississippi voters were asked if they wanted a new flag, one
without an image of the Confederate emblem on it. Mississippi voted to
keep the Confederate flag by more than two to one.
In March of this year, Mississippi Republicans were polled on whether
interracial marriage should be legal. This is in 2011. Mississippi
Republicans saying interracial marriage should be illegal, 46 percent.
Another 14 percent say they are not sure.
So, if you ask Mississippi Republicans about interracial marriage in
2011, 60 percent of them think interracial marriage should be illegal or
they`re not sure. Only 40 percent think it definitely should be legal.
This is the political environment in which abortion rights are going
to be voted on in November in Mississippi. But here`s the thing: it is not
necessarily a sure thing that this will pass in Mississippi. Not
Here`s why. Here again is that language they`ll be voting on,
changing the state constitution to define a person as starting at the
"moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."
The way the most widely used forms of birth control works that
sometimes they stop the fertilization of an egg. Sometimes they stop the
implantation of an egg that has been fertilized.
So, if a fertilized egg is now going to be a person in Mississippi,
does that mean using birth control is going to be committing murder in
Mississippi? Birth control is going to be illegal?
The folks behind this personhood bill have said right on their Web
site, they have explained that, yes, they are, in fact, opposed to certain
forms of birth control, including the forms of birth control that,
statistically speaking, you probably use. The folks behind the proposed by
the way control ban and total abortion ban, they have edited the FAQ
section on their Web site since we took this screen shot, this excerpt,
about two weeks ago.
They`re now a lot more careful about it. Now, instead of listing all
the different kinds of birth control methods they are opposed to, they just
say, well, we don`t advocate the use of contraceptives. Maybe somebody got
to them with some of the numbers on popularity of birth control in the 21st
The campaign appears to be adopting its message to something in any
case. Maybe it was the comparatively smaller group that has formed to
campaign against this personhood amendment in Mississippi. They`re called
Mississippians for healthy families. Their Web site calls the amendment,
quote, "out of control government that puts the health and safety of
Mississippi women and families at risk."
The number one potential consequence they list is that it could ban
commonly used forms of contraception, which it very well could.
Whatever the reason, it appears the ban birth control and ban abortion
folks in Mississippi are trying to get people to stop talking about the
banned birth control part of their campaign. It does remain a very
aggressive campaign. They`re going all out for their kickoff banquet.
They got former Arkansas governor and FOX News TV personality Mike
Huckabee to be their keynote speaker. They also got the wife of football
player Brett Favre to sign on. And the people behind the Mississippi birth
control ban and total abortion ban, they`re also the people who campaigned
earlier this year using something called the Conceived in Rape tour. The
message for their proposal, for -- not against -- is that they would be
forcing women who have been raped to bear the child of their rapist against
the will of the rape victim. That is the case they are making for the
personhood bill in Mississippi.
The personhood bill is not native to Mississippi. The folks who
helped get this measure on the ballot have efforts under way to get it on
the ballot in all 50 states. The only place they`ve actually got it on the
ballot other than Mississippi, so far, is Colorado.
And even though, as they say, Americans generally love to vote against
rights, particularly controversial rights, this thing tanked when they got
it on the ballot in Colorado. Colorado voted this thing down 73 to 27 back
in 2008. Then they got it back on the ballot in 2010 and Colorado rejected
it again, 71-29.
But, remember, they`re going after all 50 states. The quest for
conservative government control of every uterus and fallopian tube in
America continues. The same anti-birth control activists and anti-abortion
activists behind the Mississippi thing and the Colorado thing say they are
gathering signatures right now to put it on the ballot in Ohio.
In Nevada last year, they tried to get it on the ballot but they
couldn`t get enough signatures. Now, another group is trying again in
Nevada this year. In Alaska this year, the state rejected a petition to
get a personhood-style abortion ban on the ballot before the signatures
were even collected because the state`s Republican attorney general found
it to be unconstitutional. In Iowa and in Maryland, conservatives in the
legislature tried to get the birth control and abortion ban on the ballot,
but they didn`t get anywhere with it yet.
In Montana, a plan to put the birth control and abortion ban up for a
vote actually passed the Montana house, but then didn`t come up for a vote
in the Senate.
So, even in a country that loves to vote against each other`s rights,
anti-abortion activists trying to ban the pill, these personhood bills, so
far, these things are not flying. They`re not flying anywhere.
In November, we will find out if that anywhere extends also to
Mississippi. And tonight, America`s preeminent documentarian, Ken Burns,
is here to talk about the most successful campaign ever in American history
to convince Americans to vote to take away their own rights.
That`s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: In mid- 1920s, the pace of change in America was steadily
accelerating. Big cities grew relentlessly bigger. Women found themselves
going places they had never gone before. An unprecedented, unbroken
winning streak on Wall Street seemed to suggest that the good times would
go on forever.
And then exciting new music seemed to capture it all.
Prohibition had been enacted to forestall change, to put an end to
alcoholism, to safeguard the American family, to re-establish the moral
supremacy of small town Protestant America. Instead, it had helped fuel
the very transformation its champions feared.
Somehow the same country that had banned the sale of alcohol had
become the biggest importer of cocktail shakers in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: As host of the only cable news show in the history of
anything, to have its own branded cocktail shakers, I am delighted to
welcome to the show the great Ken Burns, America`s documentarian. He`s
here for "The Interview" about his new documentary on prohibition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Men and women almost never drank together for
prohibition, maybe occasional dinner parties, and because the saloon was a
male-only institution. But the speakeasy, where there was no law enforced
of any kind, became different than if you have a little jazz band and
somebody`s -- you know, they play the Charleston, you`ll have men and women
together. There`s a real liberation for women and liberation of behavior
that takes place then.
And independents have said, you know, if he can drink, I can drink,
too. That wouldn`t have happened before prohibition.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now for the interview is the great Ken Burns. His
new documentary "Prohibition" premieres this Sunday, October 2nd, on PBS.
Ken, it is so great to have you back here. Thank you for coming in.
KEN BURNS, DOCUMENTARIAN: It`s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: You know -- you know from our off-line relationship that I`m
vaguely obsessed with "Carry Nation."
MADDOW: "Carry Nation" and "Prohibition," this idea that there could
be a big, successful American political movement based around their
supposed superior morality and everybody else in America having bad
morality. How do you win a majoritarian fight when that`s your basic
BURNS: Well, you start off with a real social problem, which is
drunkenness, alcoholism we call it today, and we were drinking five, six
times more than then than we did now. People would drink it for breakfast
like John Adams and it was a big social problem. People wanted it. It was
agency for women outside the home that they could talk about it.
But then it got hijacked by this incredible organization called the
Anti-Saloon League. And they are the single greatest lobbying organization
in the history of the United States. They make the NRA look like they`re
still in short pants and need a lesson or two.
It`s a phenomenal thing. We`re not told about that. We`re distracted
by flappers dancing on table tops. We`re distracted by an interest in the
gangsters. When, in fact, this was the first culture war.
And they amassed this strange alliance so that by the time prohibition
went into effect, there were progressives as well as conservatives
supporting it for all sorts of reason -- the NAACP, but also the Ku Klux
Klan, the Wobblies and the industrialists.
And what they all saw was that banning alcohol would be this panacea,
this magic bullet that would cure all of society`s ills. And, of course,
it wasn`t -- the exact opposite thing. Billy Sunday, the evangelist, said
that if we pass this thing, if he gets pass, hell will forever be for rent.
And, in fact, they were lining up SRO to go into hell as a result of that.
I mean, I think it was always prohibition for somebody else, as our
film begins with this great quote from Mark Twain, "Nothing so needs
reforming as other people`s habits."
MADDOW: As other people`s habits.
And there are two sides to this. One of the interesting things about
the political dynamics here is that nobody is standing up for the bad --
the people of bad morals, right?
MADDOW: People who want to drink in as powerful a ways to people who
are standing up as the moralists here, as the dries. There are, of course,
like the brewers association --
MADDOW: -- who are trying to make a case for their own industry.
It`s clearly self-interested case.
BURNS: That`s the problem when you have moral authority on one side
saying, let`s improve society, let`s get rid of the evil drink, the evil
saloons and you`re saying, I kind of like to take a drink now and then.
And this is my business; don`t take it away from me.
And for a while, the brewers held their own because upwards of 70
percent of internal federal revenues to Uncle Sam came from taxing beer and
liquor. And so, the conservative Anti-Saloon League shrewdly aligns
themselves with the progressive movement who are seeking a redistribution
of wealth because of the imbalance to pass an income tax amendment. And
then all of a sudden, you disconnected Uncle Sam from the booze industry.
And then if you got the convenience of World War I where all Germans
are enemies, beer equals treason, we change the name of sauerkraut to
liberty cabbage. Sound familiar?
MADDOW: I was going to say, freedom toast. I can feel it right now.
BURNS: It`s just -- it`s what happens. And it tumbles in. And we
have it, and we wake up and it`s -- we wake up with a hangover because most
people think, well, I`ll still have my beer and wine. I`ll be able to do
But the draconian law that was passed, the Volstead Act, to administer
the amendment was defining alcohol as one-half of 1 percent, and then it
had other places where there were loopholes that gave the opportunities to
criminals who were disorganized until prohibition to become organized and
create the worst unintended consequence of this all, which is the existence
of organized crime.
MADDOW: On the issue of organized crime -- I mean, I feel like when
we talk about prohibition now -- there has been more talk about it recently
because I think there`s been a cocktail renaissance and it`s a popular time
in American history right now.
BURNS: It`s fashion. Yes.
MADDOW: But everybody who always tries to make prohibition of alcohol
an allegory for some other things that it bans now, but if you take on its
own terms without making it a metaphor --
BURNS: That`s right, for marijuana or anything.
MADDOW: Taken it on its own terms, are there things now in our
culture and our politics that are direct legacies of prohibition itself? I
mean, you mentioned organized crime.
BURNS: Yes. I think organized crime is the biggest and loudest one.
I think female alcoholism, because women, as you said in your lead, you
know, didn`t drink in saloons. And so, all of a sudden, they were
certainly drinking in speakeasy and alcohol consumption in women went up
significantly in the course of it and stayed up. So, these are the
The good thing that came out of this is that we have a healthy
suspicion of that group that`s saying, hey, I`ve got the solution again.
If you just do this blankety-blank amendment, everything will be all right.
The sun will shine and everything will be fine again.
And we don`t do that because we know, we`ve got this built-in memory
of this time. But if you think about prohibition, it just -- it echoes
with everything single issue campaigns -- demonization of immigrants, loss
of civil discourse, smear campaigns and presidential election cycles, a
whole group of people who feel like they`ve lost control of their country
and want to take it back, warrantless wiretaps.
What`s the correct role of government? I mean, stop me. You can go
on and on and on.
And this is not a rehearsal. This is human nature. We are imbedded
in us this impulse to control.
But in our country, in which most amendments, all amendments, are
expanding human freedom, besides the ones that tinker with the mechanics of
the Constitution, how long you can serve, you know, when you take office,
this one is the only one that narrowed it, that restricted it and the only
one, thank goodness, that got repealed.
I mean, the good news is, 13 years, almost 14 years sounds like a long
time. And everyone was stunned as how quickly the ratification of
prohibition came in. But it went out even faster.
The repeal was just even more swift because we just had run up against
the inherent hypocrisy of people who believed in absolute moral certainty.
It may have worked at the edges in the single issue wedge campaign because
that`s the purpose of a wedge issue is to divide. But once it`s
practically applied, then the emperor has no clothes anymore.
It`s the poor and the working class that are -- and the recent
immigrants that are being unfairly targeted. The rich can stockpile their
own booze and have it for as long as they want. People are being killed
with shootouts with federal agents, innocent passers by. There`s organized
crime and all the attendant corruption that comes from that.
The president of the United States, Warren G. Harding, who`s for it,
nevertheless has a bootlegger coming to the White House.
So, you know, at the end, the combination of the depression and
hypocrisy we said, so why did we end the fifth largest industry?
MADDOW: It is such a radical -- such a radical social experiment to
even conceive about this country but to have done it for 13 years --
MADDOW: -- is astonishing. Now we know more about it than we ever
otherwise would had you, Ken Burns, not decided to take this on.
Thank you for doing this documentary on this subject. I`m so
fascinated by it. I couldn`t be happier that you`ve done it. I think it`s
great and so entertaining. Thank you.
BURNS: Well, you know, I also have to shout out, Lynn Novick, who`s
the co-director and co-producer in this, who`s been my long-time
collaborator. And this is equally hers. And she added an interesting
dimension trying to tell this story and getting it right. This a kind of
fever dream of 14 years of, this is us?
Ken Burns, director and producer of the new documentary "Prohibition,"
the first episode airs this Sunday 8 p.m. on PBS. I can personally
recommend it. It`s awesome.
Ken, thanks very much. Good luck.
BURNS: My pleasure. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. When info bunk needs debunking, it is time for a
trip, naturally, to "Debunktion Junction." That is coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We`ve raised this ugly
unfortunate incident to the highest levels of the Syrian government. We
continue to call for an end to the violence and we`ll continue to speak
out. And I think Ambassador Ford`s courage and clarity is, you know,
making the point that the United States cannot and will not stand idly by
when this kind of violence continues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When countries have really serious disagreements over really
serious issues, one of the ways countries will resolve those issues is war.
We fight it out physically. But if we`re not going to fight it out
physically, the other means by which our governments try to get our way in
the world, other than by using force, is by using diplomacy -- or should I
say, diplomacy, hi-yaa!
In 2005, after years of conflict with the nation of Syria, the Bush
administration got so angry with Syria that they decided to call home
America`s ambassador. When the Obama administration took over, they were
no less angry with Syria and had no fewer disagreements with that country.
But the Obama administration decided to deal with their disagreements, they
would send an ambassador back there, an am-badass-ador actually back to
The Senate would not confirm him. So, President Obama had to give him
a recess appointment. But we did send this man, Robert Ford, to be
America`s man in Syria.
And the American position toward the government in Syria right now is
roughly that we are against it.
This summer, President Obama called on the president of Syria to step
down saying, quote, "We have consistently said that President Assad must
lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For
the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to
Now, if the president says that and you`re America`s guy in Syria,
you`re America`s man in charge of staying in touch with President Assad at
a time like that, what do you do? Well, if you are Robert Ford, America`s
am-badass-ador, you defy the Syria government telling you that you need
their permission to leave the capital city and you instead just go on your
own, to go see the anti-government protesters where they`re able to protest
outside the state`s capital, like he did in July.
Ambassador Ford and the French ambassador went to the city of Hama.
The protesters there are greeting the ambassadors, as you can see, with
rose petals. The tree limbs you see them carrying, you can see that, those
are olive branches, yes, as in the metaphor.
After Ambassador Ford took that visit in July to the central Syrian
city of Hama, a major focal point of the anti-government protest movement,
he got slapped with travel restrictions from the Syrian government. Then,
regime loyalists in the capital attacked the American and French embassies.
And then, "The New York Times" reporting it was not just the embassy
that was attacked, but also Robert Ford`s house several blocks away.
How does Robert Ford respond to all this? He leaves Damascus again
and goes to another city that had been central to the anti-protest
movement. He traveled to the city of Jasum (ph) in August.
Then this month, he attended the funeral of a Syrian human rights
activist who was killed while in Syrian security force custody. That
funeral not long after Ambassador Ford was there was itself attacked
violently by Syrian security forces.
Today, when Robert Ford went to meet with an opposition leader in
Damascus, Robert Ford`s convoy was attacked, physically attacked by regime
loyalists. Pro-government activists reportedly stoned his convoy. The
"A.P." saying they pelted him with eggs and tomatoes and then tried to
break into the building where his meeting was being held.
"The New York Times" reporting that Ambassador Ford was then
essentially trapped inside that building for about 90 minutes. U.S.
government officials now say that Ambassador Ford is fine. He`s physically
OK after today`s attack on him.
Robert Ford`s boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is not happy
about the attack. And also, she clearly understands that Robert Ford is
not just an ambassador. He is an am-badass-ador even if she put on exactly
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Ambassador Ford has shown admirable courage, putting himself
on the line to bear witness to the situation on the ground in Syria. He is
a vital advocate for the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, now
under siege by the Assad regime. I encourage the United States Senate to
show our support for Ambassador Ford by confirming him as soon as possible,
so he can continue fully confirmed his critical and courageous work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, right, right, after all this guy`s been through, after
all this guy has done, after everything he`s doing in Syria -- Republicans
in the United States Senate have not been able to bring themselves to allow
him to be confirmed. Seriously? No, really? Seriously? Come on!
MADDOW: "Debunktion Junction" -- what`s my function?
All right. True or false -- Republican presidential candidate Jon
Huntsman is polling so low right now that he is at risk at getting cut from
the future debates. He could be locked out.
Is that true or is that false?
False, at least for now it`s false. The next debate is going to be on
October 11th. That`s "The Washington Post"/Bloomberg debate in Dartmouth
College in New Hampshire. Now, weirdly, "The Washington Post" and
Bloomberg are not saying what the criteria are for being included in their
debate. So, I can`t speak to that.
But the next debate after that is on CNN, October 18th. And CNN has
made their criteria known publicly and well in advance. And according to
their criteria for who can be in their debate, Jon Huntsman for most of
this month was actually in danger of getting cut.
Their criteria, quote, "A person must receive an average of at least 2
percent in at least three national polls released between September 1st and
Dave Weigel of Slate.com has dubbed this the Gary Johnson rule after
the former New Mexico governor was only been allowed on stage for one of
the debates so far.
Keeping in mind the exacting stands of that rule, here`s how Jon
Huntsman did in the first six national polls conducted in that time frame
starting September 1st. The most recent CNN/Opinion Research poll,
Huntsman got 1 percent. "USA Today"/Gallup, 1 percent. McClatchy/Marist,
1 percent. CBS/"New York Times," 1 percent. Bloomberg, 1 percent.
Trouble for Jon Huntsman here, right? One percent is not enough. You
need to get an average of at least 2 percent in at least three polls.
But he has been saved by the bell. In the previous CNN poll conducted
earlier in September, Mr. Huntsman did get the required 2 percent. And in
the new FOX News poll released just last night, he spiked and saved his
average. He was up to 4 percent in the FOX poll which means it is possible
to come up with an average of three polls that put Huntsman above the 2
percent cutoff, right? Four plus two plus one is seven, divide that by
three -- that is more than two.
And that is not exactly crack open the champagne news for the Jon
Huntsman for president campaign. But it`s not turn out the lights news for
that campaign either.
Next up, in the 2008 presidential election, the first nominating
contest was held in Iowa on January 3rd, right after the New Year, which
means we spent a full 11 months voting in order to pick a new president in
`08. As weird as that was, that is the new normal.
So, true or false, the astonishingly early start to the primary
calendar in 2008 is about to happen again for 2012? Is that true or is
True. Looks like it at least. Florida poised to move its
presidential primary to the last day of January. The speaker of the
Florida statehouse telling NBC News he expects the 31st to be the date when
Florida formalizes it tomorrow.
If that happens, it means South Carolina will move its primary date
up, which means Nevada will move up its caucus state, which means New
Hampshire will move up its primary, which means Iowa will be holding the
Iowa caucuses just after the New Year again. And there would be five
nominating contests just in the month of January, which would be just like
2008 but way more boring.
Do it later, you guys. Come on.
That does it for us tonight. Now, it`s time for "THE ED SHOW." Have
a good one.
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