1. Headline
  1. Headline

Video: David Plouffe, Rachel Maddow and a special roundtable on Meet the Press

updated 3/25/2012 1:56:53 PM ET 2012-03-25T17:56:53

DAVID GREGORY:
Here with me now, the President's top advisor, senior advisor, top political advisor, David Plouffe.  Mr. Plouffe, welcome back.
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Thanks for having me, David.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
I do want to start briefly on foreign policy, in light of the President's comments.  You face the prospect of a nuclear program in Iran, and an ongoing problem with North Korea.  As we listen to the president this morning, what is the "or else" for North Korea at this point?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, the president said we can't reward bad behavior.  You have a unified global community in terms of our approach to North Korea here.  Obviously, it's a country that has trouble feeding its people, so that's one issue, obviously, is the assistance in terms of food aid.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. What 'Wonder Years' taught us about life: Kevin, Paul, Winnie reunite, remember

      The stars of the iconic '80s show say it took growing up themselves to really learn the lessons they spent years teaching ...

    2. Watch this paralyzed groom walk down the aisle at his wedding
    3. Cobie Smulders expecting second child with husband Taran Killiam
    4. See the adorable way CaCee Cobb, Donald Faison announced baby No. 2
    5. Take a closer look at this lifelike Benedict Cumberbatch wax figure

But I think what's important here, and you see this in Iran, too, wasn't too long ago that Iran was unified and the world was divided in terms of our approach to Iran.  You now see a unified global community in terms of these crippling sanctions in Iran that are having a devastating impact on their economy.  You obviously, in-- in North Korea, have the same situation, where you have the world united.

So that's really our approach here is to make sure we have the global community united, and to make sure that, you know, if said, "North Korea," if they continue down this path, and it's a familiar path, this has been going on for decades, then things like food assistance could be at risk.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
There's a lot to talk about, whether gas prices or politics.  But Trayvon Martin is such a difficult story for the country.  The national outrage.  And the president talked about it, and he talked about it carefully, but also, very personally as we just showed in the open.  As protests go on around the country, I wonder, does the president believe, at its core, this case was about racial profiling?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well listen, I think the president spoke Friday very powerfully about this.  And I think he spoke as a father.  And obviously he said this is someone, if he had a son, would look like Trayvon.  But no matter the gender, no matter the race, any time you lose a long person, particularly a promising young person, it's a tragedy.  And so our focus needs to be on sympathy for the family in this instance.  There's investigations going on about the local level and the federal level.  And that's where the focus needs to be.  There's a lot--
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
But does he think race was a factor here?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Listen, we have to have the investigation here.  I don't think we want to get ahead of that.  I think everybody would be well served to let the investigation continue at both the local level and the federal level, and let that, you know, transpire in the right way, in the appropriate way.  And then we'll see where the facts lead us.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
But the country is having this conversation.  And obviously, there's violence that goes on in this country every day.  The president of the United States would not have spoken out about this, this personally with an African-American victim if he did not believe race was at the core of this.
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, I think the issue here is there's been a great deal of attention on this case, as there should be, obviously.  And I think that it has galvanized a lot of people to get interested in this.  I think, again, as the president said, we need to examine the causes that led to this.  But our focus now ought to be on the tragedy that befell this family, the tragedy of losing this promising young life, and make sure the investigation is done thoroughly.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Has the president called the parents?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
He has not yet, to my knowledge, no.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Would he like to speak to him?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, I think he spoke pretty powerfully on Friday.  I think that message was unmistakable.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
But he called Sandra Fluke, for instance, in that other issue about contraception.
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, he did.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
I just raise the question of whether he would do that here.
                             
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, you know, listen.  I think he spoke very powerfully.  That young woman was obviously under attack for a policy decision we had made, and was getting attacked in vile and really reprehensible ways.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Reverend Al Sharpton of MSNBC and the National Action Network is calling, this week coming up, for a national summit on race, which it seems, he would like the president to lead, as past presidents have done, around big national moments.  Is President Obama inclined to do that?  Does he think that should happen?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, I think working, obviously, perfecting our union, is a long-standing need and goal in this country.  And we've made a lot of progress, we have a lot more to make, obviously.  I think what the President's focused on right now is he's in South Korea right now, making sure that we continue to make progress on securing loose nuclear weapons.

We're going to continue to work on the economy, create jobs.  Making sure we continue to make progress in these issues of race relations is important.  Whether we're going to get involved in any particular summit, I don't have any (INAUDIBLE PHRASE).
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
But, you know, there's been some people who have made the observation, you know, back when Professor Gates at Harvard was arrested, and the president at that point thought the Cambridge Police acted stupidly, and he said so publicly, and there was a controversy, he ended up having that beer summit.  He-- he's been very cautious about talking about race.  As the country's first African-American president, it was an issue of sensitivity during the-- the campaign.  But some people question why he doesn't lead more forcefully and say, "This is a conversation we should have, and I should more directly lead it."  Why not?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, listen.  First of all, he's president of every American.  But I think whether you look at the comments he made when the MLK Memorial was established, if you look at some of the comments he's made throughout his presidency, he spoke very powerfully about the journey that the country's been on.  He's now a very important part of that journey, obviously.  His election made history in that respect.

So I think his leadership here has been profound.  I think he's definitely had a huge impact on African-American girls and boys thinking that they can do anything with their life.  But obviously, we've got to continue to make progress here.  And, you know, in these areas of race, in gender, we have too much inequality in terms of women wages, how are health care system treats women.  So we have a lot we've got to make progress on here.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
I want to turn to other affairs in politics, particularly the fight over who do you blame for high gas prices?  And I raised the question in our open, whether this is going to become even bigger than the jobs debate.  Here are some of the facts.  If you look at gas prices in the course of the Obama presidency, they have gone up from back in 2009.  Now, as an average, at $3.89, obviously, higher in some places.  And it takes a political toll.  All you have to do is look at any of the polls, how people approve or disapprove of the president on gas prices.  Disapproval at 65% in a recent poll in terms of his handling on gas prices.  Is he responsible?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well first of all, with the chart you just showed, you know, those gas prices were low because we were teetering on a great depression.  So there was a reason the gas prices, when the (UNINTEL PHRASE) were so low.  They had been not too, in the summer of '08, up over $4.

And by the way, what the president said then, he was running for president in the middle of a period of high gas prices, you know, as others were saying we ought to cut the gas tax and kind of short term political gimmicks, said, "No, what we need here is a long term energy strategy."  I think the American people are very smart about this.  They know there's no immediate silver bullet.  They know that, while we need to do as much as we can in terms of domestic oil and gas exploration and drilling, which we're doing, at an eight year high here, we are more energy dependent than we've been in over a decade.

But we also have to look at alternative fuels, use less, which is why the fuel efficiency standards the president arranged with the auto makers are so important.  56 miles a gallon, next decade.  It's going to save the average family $8,000.

So what we have to do is have an "all of the above" energy strategy where we utilize our resources here:  oil, natural gas, but we also-- and this is actually very sad for the country.  Things like bio-fuels, wind, solar, next generation autos, used to be generally a bipartisan issue, David.

Now those things are mocked by those in Washington in the Republican Party.  And we know that's where we need to go.  It's where the country needs to go.  So I think we're just going to be honest with the American people that the solution here, we need to do everything we can in the short term.  But the real answer, so we're not, you know, visited by this every summer for the next 25 years, is to continue on the path to an--

(OVERTALK)
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
All right, well, you talk about honesty with the American people.  One of the things that the president has said is that this is always used as a political club, and that all these Republicans are out there, just trying to blame the president and that, you know, it's politics, so they just go down to the gas station and complain about the price of gas.  Well, back in 2008, then Candidate Obama had a similar complaint.  And look where he is in this piece of tape.

(VIDEO NOT TRANSCRIBED)
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Is this a guy with a long term plan, or was he just playing politics?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Actually, he was responding to the political gimmick of the moment.  At that point in time in our campaign, our opponents in both the Democratic and Republican Parties were saying, "Suspend the gas tax," as if, somehow, that was going to do anything in the short term.  So he was standing up then and said, "No, what we need is a long term energy strategy."

And listen, gas has been high the last few years because of the demand in China and India.  That's going to continue.  So what we need to do here is have a long term energy strategy where we're producing as much as we can here, where we're diversifying, using alternative sources of energy, and we use less, which is why the innovations that are going to happen in the American auto industry-- by the way, an industry that would have been gone if others had their way, is going to be so important for our economy and for fuel prices.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
But I mean the president even gave an interview back in 2008 with Rolling Stone.  And I'll put it up on the screen, because this is something he said, "If I haven't," this is goals for the first term, "If I haven't gotten combat troops out of Iraq, passed universal health care and created a new energy policy that speaks to our dependence on foreign oil and deals seriously with global warming, then we've missed the boat."

Now, he has accomplished those first two things.  But energy is something that he hasn't been able to do, not even after the BP oil spill, where he said he will not tolerate inaction.  He still hasn't been able to accomplish that.  And then you see him playing politics, it appears, not only with a trip this week where he's going to swing states to talk about more domestic production, but on the Keystone Pipeline.  He first tries to please environmentalists by pushing this off until after the election.  And now comes out and says, "Well, now I'm for the southern portion of it."  Does that stuff ring true with the American people?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, I take issue with the whole premise of this.  You know, we are on track to meet a very aggressive increase in terms of dependence on energy goals.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Right.

(OVERTALK)
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
But to be fair--  Hold on.
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Yes.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
To be fair, a lot of that goes back to the Bush administration.  There is a lead time.  I've spoken to experts on this.  A lot of these increases in production went back to Bush era decisions.  And most of them, of course, were on private land.  So you're taking credit for this boost in--
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well--
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
--exploration, which is not really fair.
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, no.  We've had a lot to do with it, as did our predecessor.  But I was talking about diversifying our sources.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Okay.
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
In terms of wind, and solar, and bio-fuels, we're making great strides.  The alternative battery industry, which is going to be so important to the future of this country, we are at 2% when this president came in office, we're on track to be 40% by 2015.  So we are laying the foundation for a new energy economy.  So that's a promise that's been delivered with real, tough opposition.

On Keystone, we've approved dozens of pipelines.  By the way, Oklahoma's not particularly a swing state.  We don't think New Mexico's going to be, either.  So this was, last week, not about politics, it was about telling the country what a long term energy strategy looks like.  There is a glut, because we're doing so much production.  We need to get that oil to market.  That's what the southern half of that pipeline's going to do.

The Republicans in Washington played politics with the northern part.  There are real issues around the water supply in Nebraska.  So what the company has said is, "Listen, we're going to send in a new application, and that will be reviewed."  And that's what we ought to do.  Do it on the merits, not through politics.

But on energy, here's the question for the country:  who do you trust?  Who do you trust to have the kind of energy policy and energy strategy that's required?  The president, who's saying, "We need to do everything we can here to produce, but also, boldly double that on things like solar and bio-fuels," or folks that are running against us?  They think it's oil only.  And that's a terrible strategy for the country.  So this is going to be a big question for the American people this November.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Let me ask you a couple of other political questions.  Health care, big debate coming up in the Supreme Court this week.  It will become dominant again in the political debate.  Bottom line:  is health care reform that was signed by this president ever really going to be rolled back?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
We certainly don't think so, and shouldn't be.  Obviously, the court arguments are happening this week.  We're confident in the constitutionality of the health care law.  You had Republican and Democratic jurists at other levels of the court speak to that, two prominent conservative jurists upheld the law.

So let's talk.  Most of this law doesn't begin to take effect until 2014.  But there are important parts that are happening right now.  You have two and a half million kids between 18 and 26 who now are on health care on their parents' plan only because of this law.

You have over five million seniors saving over $600 a year on their prescription drugs.  You have pre-preventive care on things like mammography and cancer screenings.  Your children no longer can be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions.  Lifetime caps no longer in place.  Huge progress for the American people.

(OVERTALK)
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
All of that notwithstanding, you're not really winning the argument.  Do you feel like you're winning the argument in terms of public approval for it?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Here's what I think.  I guarantee you this, and I don't make many guarantees.  By the end of this decade, we're going to be glad the Republicans called this Obama Care.  Because when the reality of health care is in place, we're all health care consumers, what people like you and I say about it's not going to matter in a few years.  It's going to be what people's experience is.  It's going to be very positive, and not what people fear.

But what people don't want to do, they don't want to re-fight this political battle.  What they want us to do is implement this law smartly, make smart adjustments where we can, like giving states more flexibility.  But listen, Mitt Romney, by the way, Mitt Romney's the godfather of our health care plan, okay?  If he's president, remarkably, he's running away from that past, and he says he's going to try and throw all this away, we're going to have a big fight about health care again.  We know we have to do this for our economy, for our deficits, for the health and safety of the American people.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Mitt Romney's the godfather of the Obama Health Care Plan.  So will he get the credit if it all goes well down the line, as well?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, maybe in 2016, when he's a professor somewhere or whatever he's doing, he can remark on that.  But I think that there's no question that, you know, our health care plan, his experts were involved in it, it's a model that was utilized.  And listen, the president has said the goals of coverage, of cost savings, if individual states have a better way to get there, they should do that.  But we need this for the country.  And it's making profound impact already.  Again, most of the country's not experiencing it yet.  For those that are, it's having a profound impact.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
As you look at the Republican race right now, no doubt, you're licking your chops, as somebody who's running the President's reelection campaign, what is your assessment of where Mitt Romney is at this point, as he grinds his way toward what a lot of people will be his nomination?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, I'm not--
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Is he hurt by the length of this?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, I'm not running the campaign.  My friends and colleagues in Chicago are.  Listen, this is going to be a very close race.  I thought that last year, I thought that now, we'll think that in four months.  Presidential elections are close.  We won a big, what's considered a landslide in '08.  But we still only got 53% of the vote.  It's going to be a close race.

That being said, he's done great damage to us.  You know, the other day his top advisors said the general election would be like an Etch-a-Sketch, when you can just erase your record.  But here's what's etched in stone:  Mitt Romney will cut taxes for people like him, huge tax cuts, and thinks somehow that's the way to help the completely.

He'll add more to the deficit.  He'll try and outlaw abortion in this country.  Doesn't believe in a clean energy future.  Criticized the president for ending the war in Iraq.  Criticized us for having a timetable to end the war in Afghanistan.  Those things the etched in stone.  They're not going to be able to be erased.  And they're going to be seared in the public consciousness by this November.  So there's big differences.  So he's obviously quite unfavorably viewed right now, heading into the general election.  But I think the bigger problem is he's offering the wrong solutions to the American people.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
You said, I'm sorry, I want to make sure I heard you right.  Did you say he's done great damage to you, the president, to the White--
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
No, to himself.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
To himself, okay.
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
But the point is, and I think the fundamental question is, we just came through this great recession.  Do people want to go back to the same policies?  And that's what's being offered.  Let Wall Street write its own rules, cut taxes for the super wealthy and hope that trickles down, starve things like education.  That is not the recipe for an economy built to last.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Let me ask you a safe political question before I let you go.  New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said this week that she is already calling for Hillary Clinton to run in 2016.  Just as a strategist here, do you think that she's be A) the inevitable nominee, and a strong nominee in 2016?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Well, I'd say first we've got to get through the next seven months.  Let's make sure we reelect the president.  Obviously, there's a lot of people in our party who'd be a strong candidate.  She would be a very strong candidate.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Do you think she'll do it?
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
But I think what she's focused on right now is doing one of the best jobs we've ever seen in the country in terms of serving our country as Secretary of State.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
And here I thought I might just get you in a moment of weakness there.  Apparently not.  David Plouffe, thank you, as always.
                                 
DAVID PLOUFFE:
Thanks, David.

(LEAD-IN AND COMMERCIAL OMITTED)
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
We are back now with our roundtable.  Joining me:  New York Times columnist David Brooks, presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the book The Grace of Silence, NPR's Michele Norris, former Republican governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, and the president of the NAACP, Ben Jealous.  Welcome to all of you.  This has been a very difficult week.  I mean this Trayvon Martin story is so painful for so many people.  And the president talked about it, as we say, in such personal terms.  This is a portion of what he said on Friday.

(VIDEO NOT TRANSCRIBED)
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Ben Jealous, what does it mean that the president lent his voice to this in the way that he did?
                                 
BEN JEALOUS:
Well, look.  He spoke to the specific pain felt by the family.  When you look at the whole remarks, the universal pain felt by the human family.  But he also, I think, put out a call for us to really look at how this happens in our country.  And the reality is that, for too many years, in too many places, in too many cases, it's been the case that we've given permission to target and even kill black men.  I mean-- I held here (UNINTEL PHRASE) week.  And you heard two things.  You heard people talk about profiling, and you heard people talk about dead black men in their lives whose murders had not been properly followed up on.  Whether it was at the hands of bad cops, or whether it was at the hands of thugs.

And the reality is that there's a sense that black men's lives just aren't worth as much, and that we're almost born suspect in this country, that we're suspect just by virtue of being black.  And one thing that he said was if Trayvon was his, you know, son, he would have looked like Trayvon, right?  If this was his son, he would have looked like Trayvon.

And the reality is that, even if you're the son of the president of the United States, if you're a black man walking down the street, you're just a black man walking down the street.  In too many instances, you're suspect because you're black.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Let me pick up on that point, though, Doris, which is, as personally as the president spoke about it, you heard David Plouffe here this morning.  The president seems very cautious or uncomfortable with leading this next conversation about racial attitudes, about what we've unearthed here, what we need to be focused on.  Why, do you think?
                                 
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:
Well, I think, as he has said, he knows that he has to be responsible for the country as a whole, for northerners, for southerners, for blacks and for whites, and wants to make sure that he's not looking out after a special interest, even though it is him.  But I think, by speaking as emotionally as he did, he gave a humanity to Tray that is what we need to go over the bridge of seeing him simply as a black kid, to see him as somebody that we might know.

And my own hope is that, somehow, this even is going to be one of those events in history that really, like Selma marchers were, as LBJ said, "It lays bear the secret heart of Americans."  And it makes us look at this situation, look at those stand-the-ground laws, revise those laws if necessary, look at racial profiling.  I hope it's not just one of those events that, once justice is done there, which it might be, the energy dissipates and we go onto something else because our attention span is so little.  There's something about the fundamental unfairness of this that I think has stunned the nation.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
And he--
                                 
FEMALE VOICE:
And I still think he gave leadership to it--
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Right.
                                 
FEMALE VOICE:
--by giving humanity to that child.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
It's an important point about elevating Trayvon.  And yet, Michele, the caution, the leadership caution about dealing with race.  He did it very powerfully in the course of the campaign.  After the Shirley Sherrod incident, where she was fired after, you know, some people thought she made racist remarks, and then she clarified those remarks, he said, "There should be a conversation."  But again, he seems reluctant to want to lead it himself.
                                 
MICHELE NORRIS:
You know, I don't know that I hear the reluctance, necessarily.  Because of the president, I think, we've probably heard this man talk frontally about race more than any other person who has sat in that office.  There's this expectation, though, that there's going to be this national conversation about race, that everyone's going to sit down on Tuesday afternoon, and everyone's going to talk about this all at the same time.

I think one of the more interesting things he said about race was when he spoke to The Urban League, and when he said the most production conversations you have about race are usually the ones that you don't hear unless you're party to them.  They don't take place on grand national stages.  They take place in church basements and in locker rooms and in private spaces and barber shops.

And so is the president the person who should lead that conversation?  And I think what we heard from him is calling on people to engage in the conversation and not necessarily expect him to lead that conversation but to participate actively in it.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
David?
                                 
DAVID BROOKS:
Yeah, I'm a little concerned it's going to get to the laws.  And we can talk about the stand-your-ground, all those laws.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Yes.
                                 
DAVID BROOKS:
But from what we know now, it seems to me the primary thing is we have to be careful of how we look at each other.  One of the things we know about how we study how we think is a couple things.  One, if you have a gun, you're more likely to perceive the other person having a gun.  And that may have been a factor here.  But the crucial thing is, when we look at people from other groups, we just tend to stereotype.  I'd invite viewers to go on a website called Project Implicit.
                                 
MICHELE NORRIS:
Uh-huh.
                                 
DAVID BROOKS:
And that gives you an unc-- it's a little online test, it'll take like five minutes, of you process people from your own group and people from other groups.  And what you'll find, if you're like the vast majority of human beings, is you process people from other groups differently, and you associate them with violence and other things.  And that means to say-
                                 
MICHELE NORRIS:
And you should say that that's just people of color--
                                 
DAVID BROOKS:
Exactly.
                                 
MICHELE NORRIS:
Or (UNINTEL PHRASE).
                                 
DAVID BROOKS:
Exactly.  So--
                                 
MICHELE NORRIS:
You take the test and you find that even people of color are more likely to ascribe negative attributes to darker skinned people.

(OVERTALK)
                                 
DAVID BROOKS:
If I could just finish one point, that-- I would say it means that racism isn't a disease, it's a natural sin that we're born into.  And therefore, we have to fight it through civilization and through artifice.  And by the way, it's one of the reasons, when you have somebody with the gun in a neighborhood, it has to be someone trained--
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Right.
                                 
DAVID BROOKS:
--and not somebody just floating around you.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Let me get Governor Barbour into this.  What do you make of all of this at the end of the week?  I asked David Plouffe, does the president believe this was racial profiling?  Do you believe it's anything other than that.
                                 
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR:
Well, I thought David Plouffe's answer was very rational.  We shouldn't decide what we're going to do until we know what happened.  And this needs to be fully investigated.  It's a terrible thing.  No matter what happened, no matter whether there's race involved, no matter whether it was whatever, when a teenager kid gets killed, it's a terrible thing, even if the person that killed him didn't do anything evil or didn't do anything wrong.

But let's find out what happened first.  That's what, if you're the governor, or if you're the president, your job is to make sure the laws are executed the right way, get to the bottom of this.  If there needs to be a prosecution, have a rigorous prosecution.  But let's just don't jump to the conclusion of stuff we don't know.
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Newt Gingrich spoke out pretty powerfully about this in the political realm.  This is how he reacted, in part, to President Obama's comments.

(VIDEO NOT TRANSCRIBED)
                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
Was that responsible, governor, what he said?
                                 
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR:
Well, I wouldn't have characterized it that way.  But look, he's right.  Any child, white, black, brown, red or yellow that gets killed, it's a tragedy.  And we need to get to the bottom of it.  Now there's-- he's absolutely dead right, there's no difference because of what race somebody is when something like this happens.
                                 
                                                      DAVID GREGORY:
09:30:29:00          The heart of the matter here, Ben Jealous, is what initially happened in this case.  Yes, there are a lot of answers.  We're learning more about Zimmerman's side of the story, that there apparently was a fight of some kind.  But it seems to me the most charitable interpretation here is that, if there was a fight between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, in the end, Zimmerman stepped back and shot this kid dead.
                                                  BEN JEALOUS:
09:30:49:00          Well, and he also-- we have an audiotape that strongly suggests that he tracked him down on the street, pursued him with a gun in his hand.
                                                  DAVID GREGORY:
09:30:58:00          And used a racial epithet.
                                                  BEN JEALOUS:
09:30:59:00          Right.  And so when you actually read the stand-your-ground law, what it says is that if somebody runs you down in the street, if somebody pulls out a gun on you, if somebody tries to kill you, you have the right to use equal and opposite force to defend yourself.  In each instance, that would be Trayvon.

09:31:18:00          And what it does not say is that, if you chase somebody else down, pull out a gun on them and try to kill them and they swing at you, trying to defend themselves, then you have a right to kill them.  And that's the part that we cannot get distracted from here.  George Zimmerman needs to be locked up.

09:31:30:00          And no matter how we feel about these laws, this law isn't what gave permission for him to do this.  What gave permission that a chief and a force in that town that was willing to misconstrue this law to the benefit of somebody who they had talked to 46 times in 56 days, they should have known something was off with this guy when he called the cops 46 times just this year.
                                                  DAVID GREGORY:
09:31:53:00          With, we are going to learn more about the facts, Michele.  But one of the things that really caught my attention this week was getting to the bottom of attitudes and suspicion.  And Charles Blow wrote about that in The New York Times.  I'll put a portion of it up on the screen.  "The curious case of Trayvon Martin.  As the father," Blow writes, "of two black teenager boys, this case hits close to home.  This is the fear that seizes me whenever my boys are out in the world, that a man with a gun and an itchy finger will find them suspicious."  It's the point that David raised about how do we feel as we encounter young black men in a neighborhood anywhere?
                                                  MICHELE NORRIS:
09:32:30:00          Well, you know, to the extent that this is about race, there are all kinds of law enforcement officials who will investigate this and determine how or if race played a factor in what happened in Sanford, Florida.  But race is certainly a part of the reaction to this.  And what you see is a case that touched many people in a deep way.

09:32:47:00          A lot of people look at this picture of this kid and see the humanity, see a kid who maybe looks like one of their kids, looks like someone who sits at the table with one of their kids, even if it doesn't look like a member of their family.  And it really touched many African-Americans very deeply because it went to this talk that people still have, even with a black man sitting in the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that, when they send their sons out into the world, that they sometimes have to tell them that the world will look at you and will see suspicion, will see someone who's young, black, and suspicious, simply because of the color of your skin.

09:33:19:00          And it went to this thing that a lot of people knew about, but we don't talk openly about, this thing called "the talk" that people have with their sons and sometimes with their daughters.  And, you know, the fact that this is still happening in this moment, I think what you see on the streets in the marches that you participated in this week, was not just anger, but anguish.
                                                  BEN JEALOUS:
09:33:38:00          Yes.
                                                  MICHELE NORRIS:
09:33:38:00          And a sense of vertigo.  That how can we still be in this moment that we send our sons and our daughters out, and we assume that people will look at them and see someone who has the potential to be harmful, as opposed to someone who just has potential.
                                                  DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:
09:33:51:00          You know, and I think that one of the reasons why that picture of the innocent (UNINTEL) pictures may make Tray Martin this generation's Emmett Till is because Emmett Till was a young child, 14 years old, who was lynched by a group of white men in Mississippi for having whistled at a white girl.

09:34:09:00          And the mother kept his casket open so that you could see the contrast between the innocent child that he was and what has happened to him after he was beaten, his eye gouged, and his face come in.  It sparked the civil rights movement.  Suddenly, New York reporters came down.  The New York Times was the only guy covering the south at that time.  But then 70 reporters came down.

09:34:29:00          Three months later, after the trial, where the four guys were acquitted within an hour, it produced outrage.  The good thing that's happening now, compared to then, then, Mississippi acted defensively against the north.  Now you've got at least the people in Florida, in Sanford, they're marching.
                                                  BEN JEALOUS:
09:34:44:00          Yes.
                                                  DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:
09:34:45:00          You've got the governor saying, "Maybe I'll look at a revision of these laws."  We have come somewhere.
                                                  BEN JEALOUS:
09:34:48:00          You have the mayor of that town--
                                                  DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:
09:34:50:00          We've come a long way.
                                                  BEN JEALOUS:
09:34:51:00          --who's a white, southern Republican, saying, "DOJ, please come in."
                                                  MICHELE NORRIS:
09:34:54:00          Right.
                                                  BEN JEALOUS:
09:34:55:00          "Please look at my department."  I mean there's a-- I think one of the most important things this week that I read was from Ms. Roseanne Barr, who talked about the fear that she feels for her son's friends.  Her son's black friends.  I think the reality is the difference between now and 50 years ago is that, you know, look, you know, George W.  Bush has a nephew who is Latino.  Roseanne Barr's son has friends who are black.  That anxiety about young black men, young brown men, being misperceived is more universal than it ever has been.  And yet, it's been ten years since we've had an honest conversation about racial profiling in this country that--
                                                  DAVID GREGORY:
09:35:34:00          Right.
                                                  BEN JEALOUS:
09:35:35:00          --George Bush was campaigning against in 2000.
                                                  DAVID GREGORY:
09:35:37:00          And isn't this the point, governor?  I was talking about this at the dinner table with my children, the oldest of whom is nine, who has come of age understanding something about politics with the first African-American president.  And he doesn't even think that's that big of a deal.  And who has no frame of reference why he, as opposed to his black friends at school, would be viewed differently on the street.  I mean the juxtaposition of the first black president, you know, we still look suspiciously at young, black men, how does that compute?
                                                  GOV. HALEY BARBOUR:
09:36:05:00          Well, I'll tell you, in my state, Doris has touched on it, it computes as huge change from, really, two generations ago, we were talking about Emmett Till, and what Ben said about the mayor of Sanford, is what you should want.  This is a guy who is saying, "We want to make sure this is an actual, full-blown investigation.  So we're going to bring in the best to help us do this, or to do it for us," rather than somebody saying, "Sanford's wiping this under the rug, or Sanford's trying to keep from getting a bad reputation."

09:36:39:00          That's what leaders are supposed to do.  Even if it's not proper at home to say, "Guys, it's in our interest, it's the right thing for the city, the state, let's bring the F.B.I. in here.  Let's bring the Florida State Police in here.  Let's do whatever it takes to get all the cards on the table, face up, and then we'll figure out what to do."
                                                  DAVID BROOKS:
09:36:57:00          I have a little concerned this is going to become a very easy and comfortable conversation that we all condemn some racist out there.  And, you know, there are people shot every day.  And the causes for most of those shootings are incredibly complicated, having to do with economic problems, having to do with family problems, having to do with drug and gang culture.  And some of the people I've mentioned and some of the rallies we've got broadened out to those shootings, the shootings of that in every day.  And that's a much more difficult conversation because it involves a lot more complicated issues.
                                                  DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:
09:37:25:00          But we may not be able to do much about family breakdown issues or those kind of issues.  Maybe we can do something about vigilantism or these laws that may have--
09:37:33:00                                       (OVERTALK)
                                                  BEN JEALOUS:
09:37:33:00          But we also can do about how the cops respond to any murder of a black man.  Because when I sat there in a church for hours listening to the pain of people in this community, the sharpest pain was about black men being killed by whomever, some of them were by thugs, some of them were by bad cops.  And it's just not being taken seriously.

09:37:50:00          And the killer's not being caught, and the killer's still being out there, presumably, able to kill somebody else.  And the other piece in all of this is, when the loudest applause (UNINTEL PHRASE) into the night were when people talking about the way that black cops in their own community discriminate against black children.

09:38:05:00          And so it would be a mistake for us to say this is simply about some lone racist or it's just about racists.  This is about a culture in which black men are seen as more suspicious sometimes by other black men who are carrying guns intersection badges.
                                                  DAVID GREGORY:
09:38:17:00          Final point on this, before I move on, Ben.  Are you concerned about violence?  The Black Panther Party issuing a bounty for George Zimmerman.  Are you concerned about how volatile the situation is?
                                                  BEN JEALOUS:
09:38:27:00          The town there is very tense.  The Ku Klux Klan is very active in that town.  There have been incidents this week that we generally don't talk about the specifics of, of not trying to encourage other copycats.  The reality is I've seen that town (UNINTEL) the beginning of the week, and it was terrifying how tense it was.  It was teetering, felt, between a riot and a race war.

09:38:50:00          By the end of the week, DOJ had opened an investigation.  The state's attorney has set a date certain for the grand jury.  It's longer than anybody would like, but it's a date certain.  A new state attorney was appointed.  The police chief was forced aside.

09:39:05:00          And there was a sense that the wheels of justice were starting to move.  And when you looked out into the crowd of 30,000 people in a town of 50,000 who was there that night, there were white people, there were Latino people, there were Asian people, there were black, there were a lot of black folks.  But the reality was that it felt like the town was coming more close together.

09:39:22:00          And you saw, again, a very tense situation with a white Republican mayor standing up and pushing out the chief, casting down the votes, and saying, "Come in, DOJ."  So there was a sense of, yes, this town actually can be stabilized, can move closer together.
                                                  DAVID GREGORY:
09:39:38:00          All right.  I want to get to a couple of other matters here, as we talk.  I want to look at our trend tracker, the hot political stories that we're watching.  Santorum, which I talked a little bit about earlier, winning Louisiana.  The president in North Korea.  And one that I wanted to highlight, former Vice President Cheney has had a heart transplant.  We have a live picture, in the Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia, where he is still recovering in intensive care, a history of heart trouble, of course, for Mr. Cheney.  And we wish him all well.

09:40:06:00          Let's come back and talk about some of the big issues driving this campaign.  And Doris, you heard me talk about it with David Plouffe.  And that is the energy crisis in America, and this fight over who do you blame for high gas prices.  We were talking, nothing hits a President's approval harder.  Who is going to win the blame game argument this year?
                                                  DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:
09:40:23:00          Oh, there's no question that presidents lose popularity with gas prices.  I mean housing issues, health issues all appear pretty vague.  You know every time you're at the gas pump that it's going up, you think, "Oh my god, he's responsible!" even if he isn't responsible.

09:40:36:00          But the difference may be, I mean Carter definitely got blamed.  But it was partly the way he handled it by telling people heating oil was going up, just put on a sweater in your house.  It made him seem like he wasn't on your side.  So I think what the President's trying to do now is to fight on behalf of people, talking about energy independence, talking about price gouging, talking about the need for more exploration.

09:40:58:00          But there's no question that gas prices hit home more than any-- there was a funny thing, in World War II, they rationed gas, so ordinary people only had five gallons.  Really important war workers had maybe ten gallons.  And then the most important people of the country had unlimited.  Congress voted themselves unlimited.  The most important people got-- they got slammed!  (LAUGHTER)
09:41:19:00                                       (OVERTALK)
                                                  DAVID BROOKS:
You know, in 2006, Democrats were asked, "Is Bush responsible for gas prices?"  And back then, 73% said yes.  Then they were asked, "Is Obama responsible?"  Now only 33% said yes.  So if everyone's a hypocrite on this, the Republicans are a little less hypocritical.

I don't think presidents are responsible for short term gas prices.  But the president does have a bit of an energy problem in that we're in the middle of this tremendous opportunity because of new technologies to expand our oil and gas exploration.  And he has not been bad, but he's not been great.  He's been sort of cagey on this.

He's been helping the fracking while getting the regulations right.  But the pipeline decision, the Keystone Excel Pipeline was, I think, a horrible decision.  So he's tried to straddle the issue.  I think people want somebody to lead from the front on energy, they realize the incredible opportunity we have in front of us.

(QUESTION NOT TRANSCRIBED)
                                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
One fact on this: the AP had a story this week, more drilling does not actually reduce the price of gasoline.  Does more U.S. drilling ease gas pump pain?  Mav (PH), history showed that hasn't happened.  So that was a blow to that--

(OVERTALK)
                                                 
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR:
The big problem that the president has here is his rhetoric and his policies are very different.  I mean first of all, he's got a secretary of energy who said in 2008, "What we really need to do in the United States is get the price of gasoline up to where it is in Europe."  Now why would somebody say that?

Well, you heard David Plouffe talk about it, so people will use less of it.  And that's been their policy.  Today, you're getting about half as many permits for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as you got during the three years before the BP deal.  I can remember President Clinton, when we passed to drill ANWR, he vetoed the bill and said, "Well, we wouldn't get any of the oil for ten years."  Well--
                                                 
BEN JEALOUS:
But governor--
                                                 
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR:
--wouldn't we liked to have had two or three million barrels a day out of ANWR starting at 2006, 2007, and two or three million barrels of oil coming down from Canada in the Keystone Pipeline?  Three years of bad policy cannot be made up by a silver bullet.  He's right about that.  But he needs to be held accountable for the three years of bad policy.
                                                 
BEN JEALOUS:
But I mean look, we had George Bush who actually said that cheap gas was a bad idea.  And then we had, you know, gas at four bucks, you know, in the summer of 2008.  I mean it just seems like we need to be honest here that gas prices go up and down, and that, quite frankly, we had politicians in the Republican and the Democratic Party say that cheap gas was a bad idea when they were in power.
                                                 
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR:
Well, for those who want higher gasoline price, they've got to be happy.  It's about the only Obama policy that's worked so far.

(OVERTALK)
                                                 
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR:
I mean it's double the price.
                                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
We're running out of time.  Here's beyond gas prices, this is how things look in the Republican race:  Mitt Romney, according to Gallup this week, is at 40% in the polls, first time he's hit that, Santorum at 26%.  Governor Barbour, is it time for this race to end, for the party to fall in behind Romney?
                                                 
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR:
Well, that's for the primary voters to decide, primarily.  And they voted for Santorum in Louisiana yesterday.  Romney had a big victory in Illinois on Tuesday.  I'm not one of those that thinks that you should say to people, "You've got to get out."  These guys have made huge sacrifices.  They've run hard.  They've got a lot of people supporting them.  But this will wind down.  It has a natural pace that it's going to wind down.  And unless something unusual happens, unless Romney steps on a landmine, he looks like he's going to be the nominee.
                                                 
DAVID GREGORY:
All right.  I'm going to leave it there.  Thank you all very much.  Covered a lot of ground.  Appreciate it very much.

                              (Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  Joining me now, host of MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" and author of the new book, "Drift:  The Unmooring of American Military Power," Rachel Maddow.

Welcome.  It's good to have you here.

MS. RACHEL MADDOW:  Thanks, David.  It's great to be here.  Thanks.

MR. GREGORY:  I am so interested in this book and I read it and as I sum it up, it is about the idea that somehow America got comfortable with the idea of being in a perpetual state of war.

MS. MADDOW:  Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY:  And have we really debated that and can you dismantle what you call this military super structure?  I have to ask you, of all the topics I thought that Rachel Maddow would take on, this was not the one that I put on top of my list for your first book.

MS. MADDOW:  Yeah.  You know, I--when I got the contract to write this book I had a radio show and I since have a TV show and I get to talk about whatever I want.  And I wanted to write a book because I felt like I couldn't talk about this in the other things that I did for a living.  I feel like this is a longer idea.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MS. MADDOW:  This is not a sound bit thing, this is not a between-the-commercials idea.  I felt like I needed to lay it out long form. It's been bothering me for a very long time, this idea that we've made a series of changes over time, over the course of my lifetime, I think, that in all cases have made it easier, made it a little friction--less--given us less friction toward using war.  Less political friction, less public disconcert--less public discomfort with it in a way that we have gone to war so frequently and felt it so much less.  It bothers me emotionally and so I wanted to treat it in a long form way so I could really lay out the case.

MR. GREGORY:  There's a lot to this and as I was reading it, I got out the black pen and underlined this particular section of the book that I'll put on the screen.

"While America has been fighting two of its longest ever boots-on-the-ground wars in the decade following 9/11," the fighting then--"fighting them simultaneously, less than 1 percent of the adult U.S.  population has been called upon to strap on those boots.  Not since the peacetime years between World War I and II,' according to a Pew Research study, has a smaller share of Americans served in the armed forces." You write, "half of the American public says it has not been even marginally affected by 10 years of constant war. We've never in our long history been further from the ideal of the citizen-soldier, from the idea that America would find impossible to go to war without disrupting domestic civilian life."

That carries a high cost.

MS. MADDOW:  Yeah.  That has a, that has a moral cost to us as a country. And you can talk about the strategic costs, too.  I think there is an argument to be had.  It's not necessarily the argument of this book that if the public doesn't feel it, we use more--we use war more.  I think that's sort of the implicit case that we found ourselves in.  But ultimately, I mean, what we decided to do as a public, as a country, through our democratic process, was give ourselves a giant multitrillion-dollar tax cut just before 9/11 and then their--the Afghanistan War.  That was not rescinded once we started the Afghanistan War.  And then right after we started a second simultaneous giant land war in Iraq, we gave ourselves another round of tax cuts.  That is a symptom of something wrong.  That is a symptom of a country that doesn't feel it, that we're at war.  We feel like the military goes to war, the country doesn't go to war.  When the Iraq War ended, after eight and a half years, more than 4,000 American lives lost, I mean, St.  Louis threw a parade.  New York decided not to.  Civilian population didn't much notice.  Think--I feel like the overall feeling among the civilian population was, oh, was that still going on?  We ought to be a country that goes to war when we go to war if only so we do not become so separated from our military that they're not effectively fighting in our name anymore.  They're fighting on their own.

MR. GREGORY:  We've talked about this off the air.  What strikes me about this, even as a progressive and somebody who knows your program, obviously knows your views, your analysis here and your criticism is distinctly bipartisan.

MS. MADDOW:  Yeah.  This is not a problem that emerged because one party did something wrong and one party had the right idea but they lost.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MS. MADDOW:  This is something that emerged over multiple administrations with people not acting in a conspiratorial way.  I mean, there isn't a lot of George W. Bush in this book.  There isn't a lot of Barack Obama in this book. I think a lot of these changes that we went through happened post-Vietnam and leading up to 9/11.  And the Clinton administration bears some responsibility, certainly the Reagan administration bears a lot of responsibility, the George H.W. Bush administration, as well.  We went through these changes over time.

Rational political actors, presidents trying to get around these political problems that they had, made rational decisions about how to get around them. And so we didn't want to upset the public.  OK.  We figured out ways to go to war in ways that don't upset the public.  We had a political constraint the from the Congress.  We figured out ways to go to war around the Congress.  All of the things that we've done have been decisions that moved us in the same direction, to make war easier, to make it less upsetting.

MR. GREGORY:  But there are threats that still face the United States...

MS. MADDOW:  Sure.

MR. GREGORY:  ...from terrorists and others in the age of 9/11 that we still live through.  You, you concede that point in the book, but you make the point, as well, to be, to use your words, the military superstructure is going to be really hard to take apart.

MS. MADDOW:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  That's what you think is critical.

MS. MADDOW:  We need a, we need a great military and we occasionally need to fight wars.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MS. MADDOW:  I don't think we need 1800 deployed nuclear weapons right now, with thousands more ready to be deployed and thousands more in reserve beyond that.  Because the military has become sort of isolated from our political processes, because we find it awkward to fight about them, so we've made it easier for it to sort of go on on its own, we have ended up with a military superstructure that isn't something that anybody argued for, that nothing goes away.  One senior defense official told me, the only fights we have with Congress are over problems--or over programs that the Pentagon doesn't want that the Congress wants us to keep.  Right now there's a fight between the Pentagon and Congress over tanks that Congress wants the Pentagon to have that the Pentagon does not want.  What other part of our, what other part of our government works that way?

MR. GREGORY:  I want to mention something that, in addition, in this book and one of the area--you talk a lot about our returning troops and the, and the issues that they're going to face...

MS. MADDOW:  Yes.

MR. GREGORY:  ...because of long deployments.  One of the things NBC News is doing, and we're starting it this week, is in conjunction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is Hiring Our Heroes.  We're launching it today.  It'll be on the "Today" program, across all of our platforms, and a big job fair on Wednesday.  The notion that these returning soldiers, these men and women,, should be hired.  America should have the emotional investment to say they have had this incredible experience and sacrificed so much, now what do we do for them when they come home?

MS. MADDOW:  And it's--it is a little--focusing on veterans this way, in some ways, and calling them our heroes, is a thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MS. MADDOW:  But I also think, I mean, of my generation of veteran--of veterans of our generation of veterans, I know, I know of nobody else in my age cohort who is more impressive.  I know of nobody else who has worked harder, done more complicated things and accomplished more...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MS. MADDOW:  ...in my age group than the people I know who have been to these wars.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.

MS. MADDOW:  And so they're a really impressive group of people.  They are absolutely leaders for our civilian life going forward.

MR. GREGORY:  And what they learn, I often, you know, talk about my wife who was ROTC at Princeton and a captain in the Army and the daughter of a nuclear submarine captain, and she says that she learned as a professional to be decisive because of her military training.

MS. MADDOW:  Mm-hmm.  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  That decisiveness and some of those skills that are battle tested literally are of tremendous value back in civilian life and in the private sector here.

MS. MADDOW:  That's right.  But we have had nearly two million Americans who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, and their lives and their families' lives have been so different than civilian American families' lives.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.

MS. MADDOW:  And bridging that divide, which is a cultural divide and an experiential divide, is something that I think we have a moral responsibility to pursue as a country.

MR. GREGORY:  The book is "Drift." Rachel, thank you very much.  Best of luck with it.

MS. MADDOW:  Thank you, David.  I really appreciate it.

MR. GREGORY:  And before we go, a quick programming note.  You can watch our Press Pass conversation on our block.  This week I sat down with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  That's at presspass.msnbc.com.

That is all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Frank Ryland

    Watch this paralyzed groom walk down the aisle at his wedding

    10/21/2014 11:00:13 PM +00:00 2014-10-21T23:00:13
  1. Courtesy of Beau Coffron

    This dad's spooky Halloween lunches will wow you

    10/21/2014 7:31:19 PM +00:00 2014-10-21T19:31:19
  1. Jason Merritt / Getty Images

    Jennifer Garner: No one asks Ben about work-family balance

    10/21/2014 8:58:13 PM +00:00 2014-10-21T20:58:13
  1. Tim Rooke/rex / AP

    Kate's back! Duchess Kate appears for first time since pregnancy news

    10/21/2014 11:57:43 AM +00:00 2014-10-21T11:57:43
  1. Ebola outbreak: West Africans must arrive at 5 US airports

    All travelers from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa must pass through one of five major U.S. airports with heightened entry screening before entering the country, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.

    10/21/2014 4:22:36 PM +00:00 2014-10-21T16:22:36