Guests: John Weins, Mel Hilgenberg
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. I accept—
OLBERMANN: Your turn.
MADDOW: I accept the paper hat from you for this evening‘s toss.
OLBERMANN: Just like a baton. There you go.
The world‘s worst, most un-aerodynamic baton ever, but we love it.
OLBERMANN: There you go.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
The Tea Party Nation has taken the “scare white people for fun and profit” political move to the Internets now, and they have done so in a really, really blunt way. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, one of my favorite guests on any subject, is here in studio tonight to talk about that.
And in a very unlikely follow up to our story about tea partiers running amok with their 1700s aesthetic, trying to claim at Colonial Williamsburg as their very own mascots—in a weird follow-up, run of the Tea Party‘s own itinerant fife and drum acts has broken up because of a fight about politics. Both the fife player and the drummer will explain the situation in a ye olde exclusive interview coming up this hour. I‘m very excited.
But, we start—we start with the news that has captivated the nation
the news that has kept the political class on the edge of its seats: the battle royal in Washington that has kept the nation riveted. The political fight that has put C-Span ratings through the roof as kids skip summer and parents skip work because they cannot turn away from the televised drama in D.C. It is, of course, the epic battle over Elena Kagan‘s nomination to the Supreme Court. And it took an important turn today.
Today, the Senate started debating her nomination—sort of a done deal. She‘s going to get in. And, yes, that‘s it. The Elena Kagan battle turned out to be a bit of a bust in terms of the politics.
The people who are disappointed that it turned out to be a bit of a bust are the people who count on Supreme Court nominations being one of those big Washington fights that raise lots of money for the perceived combatants. The director mail, the TV ads, the “send us money now or the republic will crumble” appeals.
Despite what they said was some early promise in this Supreme Court nomination, the Elena Kagan battle seems to have turned out to be a financial bust for conservative groups that were hoping otherwise. It certainly wasn‘t as financially fruitful as, say, the health reform battle was a year earlier. Now, that was a financial winner.
Railing against Obamacare was a custom-built issue for Washington
political machines that existed to gin up outrage, and thereby raise some
money. It was so good that Republicans keep trying to go back to that well
by saying they‘re going to repeal Obamacare.
Now, are they actually going to repeal it or are they taking steps to try to repeal it? No and no. But saying that helps them raise money, and that‘s really the name of the game here.
But that health care issue is not going to last forever, and I think they‘re starting to realize that now, particularly because repealing it means things like repealing the pre-existing conditions ban, which Americans sort of like.
So, if Obamacare goes away as a fund-raising issue, what‘s next?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA: The American people strongly support the biggest positive impact that you could have on the economy, the so-called Bush tax cuts of ‘01 and ‘03.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Extend the Bush tax cuts.
Now, this is not just a call from elected Republican politicians. It‘s also now a call from the conservative political machine, which is hoping that this is the next political hot button they can use to fill their financial coffers. One group in particular has decided to enlist a little star power for their effort.
Former “Law & Order” star-turned-failed Republican presidential candidate, Fred Thompson. Check this out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRED THOMPSON ®, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Folks, America‘s economy is struggling, and Congress is about to make it a whole lot worse. Our nation faces a massive automatic tax increase at the end of this year when the Bush tax cuts expire. When that happens, your income taxes could increase by 10 percent or more. Capital gains taxes will jump over 30 percent. Taxes on dividends will more than double.
It‘s not a pretty picture. But taxes will increase, automatically, unless you act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “Not a pretty picture.” Not a pretty picture. Not a—that lusciously bearded, endlessly repeatable Fred Thompson ad directs you to a Web site called RenewTheTaxCuts.com. You see there? RenewTheTaxCuts.com.
If you actually go to RenewTheTaxCuts.com, you will find that it is a project of something called the League of American Voters. Now, if that sounds familiar to you, if that‘s ringing bells in your head as a legitimate respected organization, that‘s probably because you‘re thinking of the League of Women Voters. This is not that. This is the League of American voters, and their Renew The Tax Cuts Web site regurgitates all that stuff you hear Fred Thompson say on the TV machine.
But it urges you to—surprise—“help support the league financially so it can share this important message with American via TV commercials.” Yes, yes, extend the Bush tax cuts, sure, whatever, you know, but send us some money, send us whatever you can.
In addition to your donation, you‘re even invited to become a member for the low, low membership fee of just $25. The League of American Voters -- the League of American Voters, it‘s meant to sound grassroots-y, right? It‘s meant to sound like this organic movement of regular Americans out there who believes this thing. That‘s the way the group pitches itself on its Web site.
“We are America‘s voters,” they say. Right at the top, you can see a few dozen pictures of who they say we are—just your average businessman, businesswoman, doctor, grandma, all walks of life, all nationalities.
Now, if this construction guy looks familiar to you, it might be because he works at a construction site near your house, I don‘t know. Or it might be because you‘ve seen him in other “made to look like normal people places,” since you can purchase his photo at istockphoto.com—easy to find if you search under “construction worker portrait.”
In reality, the League of American Voters isn‘t construction worker guys like that. It‘s more this guy. That‘s Bob Adams. Bob Adams is the executive director of the group, as well as a longtime Republican Party activist. Back in the ‘90s, he was an aide to then-Republican Congressman J.C. Watts. He later launched his own failed bid for elected office as a Republican in West Virginia.
The League of “fake clip art” American Voters is also represented by the very, very able, very, very connected conservative P.R. firm of Shirley & Banister. Shirley & Banister, which howls like a wounded animal anytime we mention their existence on television and especially when we point out their other run-of-the-mill, just everyday average American clients include folks like the NRA, Citizens United—famous from their Supreme Court case -- and the ultraconservative Club for Growth—those are the drown government in the bathtub people.
Now, the League of American Voters is fairly new to the gin up anger for money game. But they did get in when the getting was good. According to records for the Web site, the group appears to have been launched in July of last year, which was, of course, smack dab in the middle of summer of Obamacare fight. They jumped right into that battle with this ad, this “Obama wants to pull the plug on your grandma” ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will hurt our seniors and Medicare as we know it, ration coverage and care. It‘s happening in England and in Canada. Don‘t let it happen here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I wonder if he came from istockphotos, too. Stop Obamacare, yes, yes, but also, send us money. This is how they do these things, right?
A really great investigation by “Huffington Post” at the time revealed in less than two months during the health reform fight, the League of American Voters managed to raise about $1.7 million in donations. Hot buttons work.
We tried to reach out to the group today to find out how much money they have now, where they get their funding from, conveniently, they do not list a phone number on their Web site, nor do they bother to respond to any of our e-mail requests.
But it‘s kind of what these groups do. They lurk underneath the surface. They latch on to a political issue—particularly one that scares the dickens out of people. They portray it in the scariest way possible and then line their pockets in the process. It is a cottage industry.
All of this is not to say that Bob Adams and Shirley & Banister and the fake construction clip art guy are bad people. I‘m sure they‘re very nice people. But this isn‘t about them as individuals.
It also isn‘t, by the way, about whether or not the Bush tax cuts expire. It‘s about this as a cottage industry. It‘s about groups like this raising money for the machine that exists for issues like this—groups that exist to turn political fear, to turn politics into fear into money.
It‘s about innocuous-sounding groups like the League of American Voters trying to pass themselves off as just like you and me, just your average Americans, when they‘re actually D.C.-based money-generating machines that quite literally feed off of Americans‘ fears. If you‘re not afraid, they don‘t make money.
These groups have every right to do what they‘re doing. But this should not be confused with politics. This is the feeder of politics. This isn‘t a real fight over a real thing. They don‘t care about whether they get the facts right. This is using politics as a platform for making money.
But can it do real harm, on what they‘re making money off of, what they‘re demagoguing is really expensive and really important policy?
Joining us now is Ezra Klein, staff writer for “The Washington Post” and MSNBC contributor.
Mr. Klein, thank you very much for joining us.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, Fred Thompson says this giant tax hike is coming! Ah! So send the clip art construction worker group your money in order to stop this from happening.
As a policy guy, Ezra, how do you evaluate Fred Thompson‘s pitch here?
KLEIN: It‘s a really neat trick they‘ve pulled. So, a bit of quick history here: In 2001, Bush administration wants to do tax cuts, but they don‘t have 60 votes in the Senate, which as all viewers of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW know is what you need to get anything done. So they used budget reconciliation and budget reconciliation was built to reduce the deficit. So, it has rules to make sure you didn‘t increase the deficit.
They got around that rule by creating a 10-year expiration. They did not increase the deficit outside of what‘s called the budget window. And what they understood quite well at the beginning of this was that after 10 years, nobody would want to allow a tax increase to come into being.
But it worked out even better than they thought, because at the end of 10 years, they were out of power, which is probably not actually what they wanted, but they could hammer the Democrats for what is now being called by Jim DeMint and others, the Democrat‘s tax increase.
Now, this was written by Republicans into law. If all Democrats died in a fire tomorrow, it would still be happening at the end of this year, absent legislative action. But it has become a very potent political issue for them.
MADDOW: And still Democrats, even—even if everybody in the country understood that background, and I think not many people do, I still think Democrats end up at this sort of massive disadvantage here. Because in order to explain why extending the Bush tax cuts beyond the date when they‘re going to expire is bad, you have to ask people to sort of hold on until the end of the sentence.
And if the first two words of sentence are “tax cuts,” that sounds so positive that nobody can sort of stand sticking through to hear the math about why letting them expire makes so much more sense for the economy, and particularly, for the deficit.
KLEIN: When you‘re explaining, you‘re losing. It‘s an old political truism.
KLEIN: And it stands here. And it‘s a remarkable trap the Republicans have sprung on the Democrats. I mean, it‘s a (INAUDIBLE). On the one hand, they get to hammer the Democrats for a tax increase if they let these tax cuts expire. On the other hand, if the Democrats do extend the tax cuts, that will add $4 trillion to the deficit, and then the Republicans get to hammer them for the deficit, which has been their other major potent political issue.
So, Democrats sort—it‘s a of bit heads you lose, tails you win, or a heads—
MADDOW: You lose.
KLEIN: You know what I mean.
MADDOW: Fool (ph) me once—yes, I know.
MADDOW: Yes, so given that—so given the fact that Democrats are sort of in between getting hammered for this supposed tax increase or hammered for increasing the deficit through the—if they go the Republicans‘ way on the tax cuts, what do you think Democrats are going to do? What do you think they‘ll do between now and November?
KLEIN: I expect them to fold completely—and for some sort of good reason, it‘s hard to increase taxes when you‘re in a horrible recession. What I would like to see them do is find their voice on this, to the Bush tax cuts are not a great way to stimulate the economy, to move at least the money that‘s going to tax cuts to the rich into something like a payroll tax holiday, which would be a much more stimulative policy, which would do a lot more to increase spending and help the right people. And then Republicans could decide if they‘re against the greatest Democratic tax cut in history, or whatever it would be.
But as it is, they seem to be sitting in this rhetorical trap that Republicans built for them. And so long as they‘re there, they have no choice but to lose. It was a design for them to lose.
And the only way they get out of it is to not play that game.
MADDOW: Ezra Klein, staff writer for “The Washington Post,” MSNBC contributor, and probably well called on Democratic strategist tonight with this discussion—thanks a lot, Ezra. Appreciate it.
KLEIN: That one‘s not for me.
MADDOW: The Tea Party Nation is soliciting stories right now of illegal immigrants doing bad things. Specifically, they said they want stories about illegal immigrants being bad, because immigrants can‘t all be decent people trying to scratch out a better life for their families, they can‘t, and the Tea Party Nation is out to prove it. Melissa Harris-Lacewell joins us on this exclusive and weird story—next.
But first, One More Thing about the spectacular Fred Thompson goatee infomercial about Bush‘s tax rates. I confess that in our news meeting today, when we decided what stories we were going to cover on tonight‘s show, I confess that the whole staff of this show was slightly more interested in this story leading our show than we would otherwise have been, because the commercial stars, you know—Fred Thompson. Fred Thompson being in any story makes it inherently more fun to cover.
Note to all Republican political operatives out there—if you are looking for coverage of your cause, liberals will talk about anything that involves Fred Thompson, because anything Fred Thompson does, anything he says, at some level, is inherently funny. Fred Thompson is inherently funny.
If you would like to learn more, please go to our new Web site we purchased today, it‘s www.fredthompsonisinherentlyfunny.com. Seriously, we own it now.
MADDOW: Turns out, unexpectedly, we have some advice for NATO. What to get for the Taliban fighter who has everything. That‘s ahead, but it involves a gift basket. It‘s coming up.
MADDOW: Last night on the show, we talked about how the right is making stuff up about illegal immigrants and immigration to scare people, especially those of us with not that much melanin.
Today, we have learned that scaring white people for fun and profit is not only politically expedient, it‘s also increasingly easy to do. Tea Party Nation, the for-profit ostensibly grassroots-y gang, which introduced America to what was written on Sarah Palin‘s palm during public appearances, that group sent out an e-mail this morning, directing all of their subscribers to their Web site, because, they said—the drum beat for amnesty is here. And you just thought you were hearing things.
The Tea Party Nation has created a new online forum on which they‘ve asked tea partiers to post stories of illegal immigration. And not just any stories will do. Quoting from the e-mail here, quote, “If I—if have been the victim of a crime”—it‘s actually missing the “you” pronoun, that‘s actually what it say. “If have been the victim of a crime by an illegal, or if your business has gone under because your competition uses illegals, or if you have lost your job to illegals, we want to know about it. If you have photos and videos of illegals or their supporters doing outrageous things like burning the American flag or putting the Mexican flag above ours or showing racist posters, please share those as well. We need to get the true story out about illegal immigration and we need your help to do it.”
So, if you, say, know of an undocumented immigrant who has helped an old lady across the street or helped a stranger with a spare tire, or for heaven‘s sake, saved a puppy from drowning—oh, do not post that on the Tea Party Nation immigration forum. Acts of decency by people without papers are disqualified from this forum. Quick, someone save the puppy from the illegal Mexican drug cartel water in Laredo.
They only want stories of immigrants being bad. That‘s specifically what they‘ve asked for in this e-mail appeal to their supporters. They know that illegal immigrants being bad is the truth. Now, they just need to find some evidence of that to back up that truth—since they already know it‘s true, before they get the evidence.
Scaring white people for fun and profit is not a new idea. It is not a new goal, but its means have come a long way, baby. Remember the “white hands” ad from 1990, tapping white resentment about affirmative action to get North Carolina to vote for Jesse Helms against a black candidate? Well, now, they don‘t need slick commercials or TV time to get across that message. Now, the fact-free fear and loathing to make white people afraid of electoral purposes, now, it‘s user-generated.
Joining us now is Princeton professor, columnist for “The Nation,” and MSNBC contributor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell.
Very nice to see you. Thanks for coming in.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Good to be here.
MADDOW: Scaring white people for political profit is obviously a very old tactic. Does it matter that it‘s being done in a new way?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: I think it does. I think it shows that the right is collecting itself a little bit. Part of what happened in the 2008 campaign was that OFA, Obama for America, demonstrated a kind of nimble capacity relative to new media sources. They had the first iPhone application, they figured out how to use Facebook in the most appropriate ways, to get both their supporters and their detractors to put it all on the web and kind of leave it there. You know, they really developed new media in this profound way, that changed American elections.
And so, part of the question was: whether or not this party of old white guys was going to be able to—
HARRIS-LACEWELL: -- not exclusively, would be able to make use of new media in this way. And this is demonstrative of their ability to, again, be kind of nimble. Let‘s not, you know, hire expensive people to make up the commercials, like Willie Horton, let‘s just get them from user-generated media. Everyone‘s out there with their iPhone and taking the videos of it.
MADDOW: You know, the Obama campaign, even as they were better with this type of offense, just tactically, they also were better on defense. They seemed to be able to hand this kind of attack better than Democrats as a whole, as the Democratic Party handles it now. Do the Democrats know how to respond here? Could they model some of their response, especially talking about racial issues on the way the Obama campaign did it?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Did you just ask me if the Democrats know how to respond?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Come on!
MADDOW: We know the answer, yes.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: OK. So what I‘ll say is, I think part of what we‘ve come to learn about President Obama is that he is, in so many ways a policy wonk. He really, you can see that what he would prefer to be doing is kind of locked up, you know, in his study, writing big ideas, doing the legislative battles. You know, part of why he said he ran for president was because he was irritated about being unable as a senator to really move things along.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: What kind of person wants to be president in order to get things done? Right? Someone who is clearly imagining an America that was before one had to, at all times, always be campaigning.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: So, I think part of what‘s happened here is that the
Democratic Party hasn‘t quite taken on the capacity that OFA had in 2008,
but certainly is going to need to in order to be responsive to this sort of
MADDOW: Do you think that these particular racial appeals—and we‘ve seen this really a lot of it in conservative media, but among some of these organizing groups as well, this Tea Party Nation thing. I mean, they‘re specifically looking for scare stories. They say in their e-mail, we want horror stories.
MADDOW: Why do you want those? Because they want to use them for political gains.
We‘ve also seen with the sort of series of FOX News stuff—FOX News hyped—sort of conservative media hyped stories about scary black people, right? We‘ve had the Van Jones story, the ACORN story, the Shirley Sherrod story, the fake New Black Panther scare story. It‘s all about non-white people being scary in ways that take something away from white people.
Is it just the same script over and over again, or is there something modern about it?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I mean, it‘s certainly modern in its technology, but it is old. But the fact that it‘s old is exactly the thing that makes it less scary to me.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Look, white voters are going to have to the prove to me that they deserve this label of racist and afraid—because the last time that they had an opportunity to vote nationally, they actually demonstrated great hope and got together in an interracial coalition across the country, including places like North Carolina, that went blue. So, they‘re going to have to prove to me, by demonstrating, that they‘re unwilling to look at a shrinking economic pie, right? I mean, this is old-fashion.
Shrinking economic pie, so what do you do? You claim that there is competition—
HARRIS-LACEWELL: -- for that shrinking economic pie and you claim that competition is racialized, because in that way, you can see who your competitors are. And you can look and say, these are the people who are, you know, against me.
But the fact is: Barack Obama won the U.S. presidency in the context of an economic recession. It‘s really one of the first times that we came together—in an interracial coalition, behind a person of color—in an economic downturn.
And so, I‘m not yet convinced that white people are this malleable, manipulatable—
HARRIS-LACEWELL: -- scare-able, that they‘re this afraid. My mom‘s white, I tried to scare her earlier today. It totally didn‘t work. She just kind of look at me and I said, boom, she was totally fine.
MADDOW: Every Tuesday, you‘ve been doing this to me, Melissa. Every Tuesday my whole adult life.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell, “The Nation” columnist, MSNBC contributor, Princeton professor—always a very, very welcome guest here. It‘s great to see you.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Good to see you.
OK. Fife and drum are a duo. One without the other like peanut butter without bananas. It‘s like akimbo without arms. Fife and drum—fife and drum, they‘re together.
So, when we heard that a Colorado fife and drum duo who gained popularity at Tea Party rallies had broken up over political difference, we felt we had to do something. So, tonight, for the first time since the split, after not speaking to each other for a month, each member of the duo joins us to tell us his side of the story. Please do not miss this.
MADDOW: Last night, we talked about the peculiar phenomenon of 18th century syndrome, whereby the tea party-affiliated facets of the moderate conservative movement have been trying to make the aesthetics of the revolutionary war their very own.
It‘s not just the double-breasted pants, the tricorne hats that are so in fashion at tea party events, or tea partiers pushing this year‘s conservative conspiracy theories on the poor, beleaguered, have-to-stay-in-character, historic re-enactors at places like colonial Williamsburg.
It‘s not just every other new conservative thing now being printed on fake parchment, so people might think it‘s time-tested. You guys, just because you named your thing after Thomas Payne or George Washington doesn‘t mean that actual historic feature approves of you. Step off. They‘re everybody‘s, not just yours.
Still, the tea party‘s 18th century affect, at times, is very literal right down to the fife and drum players, showing up in period costume at tea party events. You know, fife, right. And drum, right? Fife and drum. There‘s one fife and drum duo in Colorado that has been playing at tea party events for the last year and a half, until now.
Like Sonny and Cher, like Ike and Tina, like Lyle(ph) and Gallagher, like so many duos before them, the Liberty Leaders Fife and Drum duo have split up. They will be here live to discuss the tea party-related reasons for their breakup as well as their musical future. That‘s next. Seriously, I‘m so excited.
MADDOW: The Liberty Leaders are a fife-and-drum duo. For 16 months, they attended and performed at tea party events in 9/12 rallies in the great state of Colorado. Organizers said their music gave the events a certain feeling of historical resonance. Of course, during the real revolutionary war, both British and American armies had fife-and-drum players in their infantry regiments.
But now, however, the “Fort Collins Coloradoan” reports that the Liberty Leaders have split. There‘s only two of them, fife and drum, but they are fifing and drumming together no longer. They‘ve gone their separate ways because of politics.
Joining us now are the two members of the duo, formally known as the Liberty Leaders, John Weins who is the fife player, and Mel Hilgenberg, who plays the field snare. Gentleman, thank you so much for being here tonight. Really appreciate your time.
MEL HILGENBERG, FIELD SNARE DRUMMER, LIBERTY LEADERS: Thank you for having us.
JOHN WEINS, FIFE PLAYER, LIBERTY LEADERS: Thank you.
MADDOW: Mr. Weans, let me start with you. How did you two meet up and end up playing together?
WEINS: Starting with me?
MADDOW: Yes, please.
WEINS: We were both working on Rand Paul‘s 2008 presidential campaign, and that‘s how we met. I was fifing in a number of parades and other fundraising events of that nature. Then, I learned - somewhere along the line, I learned that Mel was also a drummer, so we began playing some other things at that time.
MADDOW: And Mel, Mr. Hilgenberg - what used to happen when you, guys, would show up at political events and rallies and you‘d start playing a fife and a drum - fife and drum, what sort of effect would it have on people there?
HILGENBERG: Well, it really had a good effect. We‘ve had an excellent tea party and 9/12 group here in northern Colorado. And it was really very motivational, going both ways because people got pretty pumped up. And I speak for myself and I think John would agree that it‘s a reciprocal kind of motivation.
MADDOW: Let me - Mr. Hilgenberg, let me stick with you for a second. I know a little bit about the story about why you, guys, decided to break up as a duo. I think it has something to do with the shirt that John is wearing there, the Carl Bruning, your constitutional sheriff candidate shirt there. Is that behind why you guys decided to break up?
HILGENBERG: Yes, that was the major thing. I‘m backing a guy named Justin Smith, and I‘m also pushing for clear the bench, sweep the boards, dump the dams, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the bureaucracy, Republican renaissance and tea for 2010.
MADDOW: Now, Mr. Weins, you‘re supporting, obviously, the candidate whose name is there on your shirt for sheriff. Why did that become an important issue between you two?
WEINS: Well, Carl Bruning is a constitutional candidate for sheriff.
He is - of course, the constitution is his main platform, liberty, standing
up for citizens‘ rights. And the other candidate is -
MADDOW: I‘m sorry, go ahead, sir. I didn‘t mean to interrupt. I was going to say - this is the way it goes with a satellite delay. I‘ll just bully you and get in there and say - I‘m sorry for interrupting.
Not so much in terms of why specifically you‘re supporting that individual candidate, but I‘m wondering, if you guys were working together so closely for 16 months for a long time, why is this so divisive between you?
Can‘t you guys sort of live and let live and each support a different candidate? Both candidates are on the conservative side of the spectrum, aren‘t they?
WEINS: Well, well in - on the last parade, both candidates had their own - their own contingency, and so I was with one group and Mel was with the other group, so never the twain shall meet, I guess.
MADDOW: Now, Mel, your response to that is, yes, this shouldn‘t be that big an issue between you. Do you think that - does this have a broader political resonance for you? Do you think this is the sort of issue that shouldn‘t split up friends, fellow conservatives? And John, do you think that this is irreconcilable? Is that - Mel, am I right in sussing that out?
HILGENBERG: Well, I don‘t think it‘s irreconcilable. And no, I don‘t believe that politics, if it‘s between a couple of two different sexes or between a partnership like John and I have had, that that should be the deciding factor on it.
MADDOW: The reason that I wanted to talk to you guys tonight is, A, because I think fife and drum bands are really cool.
And B, because I just wonder if there is a bigger story to tell here about - I guess, about whether or not the tea party politics and the sort of idea that there are irreconcilable differences is a microcosm. Whether what‘s going on between you two guys is what‘s going on in the movement in general. Whether or not you can be flexible or whether or not this is a real time to demand purity.
HILGENBERG: Well, actually, it‘s not, because recently, we‘ve had an issue with both of our Republican candidates for governor. And the tea party 9/12 groups have shown a great amount of maturity and a great amount of growth.
There were a lot of people initially involved that hadn‘t been involved politically before, and they are signing in and saying, “Look, we‘ve got to get behind Republican candidates across the board from sheriff down to United States Senate, because to do otherwise really puts our freedom/liberty in this state and in this country in jeopardy.”
MADDOW: John, do you disagree with that strategy?
WEINS: Oh, I guess, yes and no. Well, liberty is very important. And I know, at least in the sheriff‘s race, that the other candidate running is representing the current regime, sheriff‘s regime. And there are certain things that need to be looked at and probably cleaned up.
And you know, that can‘t happen if you just continue on the same
path. You need somebody new like Carl Bruning to kind of clean things up
and get things back on track. So -
MADDOW: All right, well -
WEINS: So what I mean -
MADDOW: Go ahead, sir.
WEINS: Well, both, yes, both candidates are Republican, but there‘s
an awful lot of differences. So -
MADDOW: All right. Well, John Weins and Mel Hilgenberg, between you, sort of acting out the compromise is OK versus compromise is not OK fights happening within the conservative movement right now. They happen on the left as well.
We don‘t get to see a lot of each other across the partisan divide, but it‘s been a real pleasure for me to have you guys here on the show to talk about what‘s happened between you.
If you guys end up going out for a beer tonight because you like each other now that you‘ve seen each other again, if you send me the bill, I will happily pay for a reconciliation round between you. Is that OK?
WEINS: Oh, thank you.
HILGENBERG: That‘s great. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: All right. I absolutely will. John Weins and Mel Hilgenberg of the Liberty Leaders, thank you very much.
All right, I understand that - coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle will explain. Keith has the tape of her explaining that she wants a press that asks the questions that she wants to answer. Wow.
Coming up on this show, Republicans in the Senate take a brave, brave stand against their own policies. Again, this is getting a little bit weird. Before we go, I‘m just wondering, hey, John and Mel, do you guys mind playing us out a little bit before we go to the commercial break here?
WEINS: Oh, yes.
MADDOW: Oh, I got them back together.
All right. Two beers. Two beers. I‘ll go for two rounds now.
Thanks, you guys, so much. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: The House Ethics Committee decided yesterday that California Congresswoman Maxine Waters will face a trial on charges that she violated ethics rules by using her position on the Financial Services Committee to help a struggling bank.
It was a bank in which her husband was a significant shareholder.
The 10-term Congresswoman has denied violating any rules, saying, quote,
“No benefit, no improper action, no failure to disclose, no one influenced
The charges come nearly a year after the Office of Congressional Ethics sent Ms. Waters‘ case to the Ethics Committee. And that‘s because the Ethics Committee move so slowly, they make tai chi look like Bruce Lee. They are slow. They take forever. And we have no idea what they do.
The Office of Congressional ethics was set up in 2008 by Democrats to make the ethics process slightly less opaque and ridiculous. Of course, what that transparent, nonpartisan ethics office does, though, is ultimately they turn stuff over to the Ethics Committee, which then does what appears publicly to be nothing for months and months and months at a time.
Which means these things take forever. Which means we all have a sense that there are people are in trouble for stuff we don‘t quite understand who are still serving in Congress, and that bums us out about Congress in an inchoate way.
And it also means that Democrats get none of the credit that they want for improving ethics procedures, even though they sort of did improve ethics procedures. Tada. It‘s a total, total mess.
MADDOW: There are not that many different varieties of political campaigns. I mean, sure, every candidate is different, every race is unique, every election turns on its own issues. But you know, basically, if you‘re running for public office, you‘re going to employ one of three strategies.
You‘ll say, “My opponent is a bad person. I, comparatively, am a good person.” Or you‘ll say, “My opponent has bad ideas. I, comparatively, have good ideas.” Or “My opponent has changed his or her mind about his or her ideas.” That‘s otherwise known as the flip-flop offense.
And those, right now, are sort of the three-standard garden varieties for political campaigning. Democrats this year, though, are confronted with the need for a fourth one. This is a strange one and I‘m not sure how they should use it or, for that matter, what it should be called.
I mean, what‘s it called when your opponent takes strident, ostensibly principled, table-pounding stances against themselves? It‘s not necessarily that they‘re bad people or that they have bad ideas. They‘re not really changing their minds either. They‘re just fighting against the policies they agree with and they‘re doing it vehemently.
We have been seeing a lot of this lately. It happened during health reform with the debate over the individual mandate, whether or not people should be required to buy health insurance.
Here, for example, is a debate over the individual mandate, a debate between the 2009 edition of Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and the 2010 edition of Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): But when it comes to states requiring it for automobile insurance, the principle then ought to lie the same way for health insurance, because everybody has some health insurance costs and if you aren‘t insured, there‘s no free lunch. I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates.
I personally think, and I think constitutional lawyers think, that the mandate, in itself, is unconstitutional, because never before in the 225-year history of our country has the federal government said you had to buy anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I wonder who won? I think Chuck Grassley won. But it‘s not just that the Republicans were once in favor of the individual mandate before suddenly deciding it was unconstitutional as exemplified by Senators Grassley. It‘s that the whole individual mandate idea was a Republican idea in the first place.
It was conceived by a group of conservative economists and health policy wonks for the first President Bush back in the late 1980s. The same Republican senators introduced it then who came out vehemently against it in the 2,000s. We saw the same sort of Republican attack on Republican ideas in February of this year when President Obama tried to create a bipartisan commission to cut the deficit.
The six Republican senators, these here, were all - show them. Go on. We don‘t have it. All once co-sponsors of a bill to do exactly that, to create a deficit commission.
But then, President Obama decided that he agreed with those senators who had introduced it. And so all those senators who had supported it in the first place all voted against it. It was their idea and they voted against it.
So there‘s this strange political phenomenon that‘s been happening over and over and over again. But in the last week, it has really blown up. First, there was the issue of campaign cash. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell led the filibuster against his own ideas on campaign finances last week.
He helped block a vote on a bill that would have required, say, unions and big corporations to disclose their funding of political ads, this after years of speaking out for and co-sponsoring legislation that would have enacted exactly that.
“The Lexington Herald Leader,” one of the senator‘s home state newspapers, kindly pointed this out in a weekend editorial that in 1989, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid together introduced legislation that would require groups and individuals making big donations to give up their anonymity.
But now - now, Mitch McConnell is against his own idea. After decades of talking about how important it was for donors to disclose who they were making political - who they were when they were making political contributions. When presented with a bill that does just that, that endorses his own ideas, Mitch McConnell leads the charge against himself.
Then there was aid for small businesses. If you have ever heard a Republican office holder speak about the economy, you have probably heard a Republican public office holder talk about how much our economy depends on small businesses and how badly small businesses need government help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Until we get small businesses working again, we‘re not going to get the economy working again. That‘s why we ought to be promoting policies that will help small businesses.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Nearly every major piece of legislation this Congress has considered has had painful consequences for small business.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: House Republicans believe in our hearts that the core business of America is small business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So propping up small business is really important to Republicans, right? I mean, if Republicans could do one thing to fix the economy, it would be to help small businesses. They keep saying so.
As luck would have it, Republicans got just what they wanted, a bill that would not only help small businesses, but a bill that would do it in the way Republicans want it to be done, with expanded loan programs and with tax cuts.
So what do you suppose the Republicans did to these small business loans and tax cuts bill? They filibustered it. They blocked it. They prevented aid to small businesses from even coming up for a vote. They are vehemently opposed to themselves, vehemently opposed to their own ideas now.
But perhaps the crowning weirdness of all of this weirdness is the energy bill. We learned today that the Senate is shelving the energy bill at least until after the recess - the August recess because Democrats can‘t find even a few Republicans who are willing to support it.
This is now the wussy little bill that once upon a time was the Comprehensive Energy Reform Bill that included a cap-and-trade system for cutting down carbon emissions. Why was that in there? Because everybody agreed they wanted to do it. John McCain and Sarah Palin campaigned on cap-and-trade not that long ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Joe Lieberman and I - my favorite Democrat and I, have proposed legislation which is called cap-and-trade.
FMR. GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:
He‘s got a good cap-and-trade policy that he supports.
MCCAIN: This cap-and-trade that there will be incentive for people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It‘s a free market approach.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John McCain proposed legislation calling for mandatory caps on global warming gases or CO2 emissions. Do you agree with that?
PALIN: I support his position on that, absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s what they were for in 2008. They ran on cap-and-trade. Cap-and-trade was a Republican idea. It‘s what the Republican ticket ran on in 2008.
Now, that it is also something the Democrats want, well, here‘s what your presidential and vice presidential runners-up have to say about cap-and-trade now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: I have to address a little bit of the cap-and-tax what is I call it, not cap-and-trade, and the devastation as was already suggested that it would have on our country if it were to pass.
MCCAIN: I will not and cannot align myself with a giant government slush fund.
PALIN: Even worse than the financial hits that our country and we as individuals would take with cap-and-tax, it would so dis-incentivize work ethic and industry and production because we are so reliant on our energy source.
MCCAIN: It‘s cap-and-tax. It‘s cap-and-tax.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: How do you campaign against people who are simultaneously both for and against every major policy issue facing the nation? This is not a rhetorical question. I do not know the answer to this question.
But it is how Republicans are running and this is an election year. So Democrats are going to have to figure it out.
MADDOW: So this thing happened. It‘s called “Arirang.” North Korea has been doing it as a propaganda exercise every year since 2002. And if there‘s one thing a totalitarian dictatorship likes to show off, it‘s their ability to compel lockstep obedience from their citizens. Literally, they are in lockstep.
So “Arirang” is essentially something like 100,000 North Koreans made to do things in rigid unison to show off the rigid unison-ness in the mind of Kim Jong-Il that‘s apparently supposed to impress the world enough to overshadow the whole “government starving its own people to death while hosting ridiculously over-the-top expensive festivals to honor itself” thing. And it‘s true, mass synchronized movement is distracting, but it‘s not that distracting.
Thanks for joining us tonight. “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.
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