THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
February 4, 2013
Guests: Molly Ball, Jonathan Cohn, Paul Bledsoe
EZRA KLEIN, GUEST HOST: Good evening, Rachel. Good to see you, too.
And I`m excited about this world in which I look bad in a picture I have
RACHEL MADDOW, TRMS HOST: That`s exactly right. Also, I`m going to
start saying that all of my pot bellies in pictures ever, I have added
after the fact for leftist reasons.
KLEIN: Yes, my high school yearbook is all -- the Soviets made that.
Anyway, thank you very much.
MADDOW: Take it easy, Ezra. Thank you.
KLEIN: And thank you for being around tonight.
For years now, there`s been a war going on inside the GOP. But in the
last couple of months, the non-Tea Party guys have for the first time in a
long time begun winning.
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: It`s time for a new Republican
Party that talks like adults. We`ve got to stop being the stupid party.
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: And the Republican establishment striking
back against the Tea Party.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Karl Rove has the new super PAC.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Conservative Victory Project.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it`s not being used against Democrats.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re talking about extremists, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An organization with a goal of recruiting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most conservative candidate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Less extreme candidates.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who can win.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of Republicans who dislike each
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One possibility, though, is a civil war.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like we should say gone, gone, gone.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC ANCHOR: OK, then.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Karl Rove as the reformer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re talking about Karl Rove?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He built this thing.
HALL: Does he have clout?
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST: Karl is trying to unwind what he
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to go after these extremists.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Trying to prevent another meltdown.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there`s going to be some bruising changes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have a real problem.
JINDAL: It`s time for a new party to talk like adults, we`ve got to
stop being stupid party.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That there`s even one
thing we can do. We`ve got an obligation to try.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president heads to Minneapolis.
OBAMA: This came together. Progress is possible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To talk about gun violence.
OBAMA: Universal background checks are universally supported.
TODD: Passing background check legislation.
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA: It`s a fraud to call it universal. It`s never
going to be universal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The NRA`s argument.
LAPIERRE: Law abiding people don`t want that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their stupid argument.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The NRA is now revealed as an insane organization.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s run by lunatics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that matters quite a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate is poised to take action on gun
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I didn`t vote for the
assault weapons last time, because it didn`t make sense.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an emergency. So, let`s knock off the
OBAMA: If there`s even one thing we can do, we`ve got an obligation
KLEIN: I`m Ezra Klein, in for Lawrence O`Donnell tonight.
Richard Lugar was born in Indianapolis in 1932. He was an Eagle
Scout, and not just an Eagle Scout. He was distinguished Scout, which
turns to be an entirely separate award in, I guess, only to the very
In 1950, he graduated first from his class from Shortridge High
School, very nicely done. And then in `54, graduated again first in his
class again from Denison University. And then, of course, he won a Rhodes
scholarship. And he went to Oxford.
Richard Lugar was one of those guys who it was clear from a very early
age was marked for greatness. He did not disappoint. Lugar was mayor of
Indianapolis by 35, and a U.S. senator from Indiana at 44. In fact, in the
election when he first went to the Senate, he won by 19 points and he never
looked back. In 1982, won re-election by 8 points. In `88, by 36 points.
In 1994, again, lucky number 36 points, a huge landslide victory.
And then in 1996, he decided to run for president, but didn`t actually
win that race, perhaps because of ads he put out like this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK LUGAR (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I believe in the Second
Amendment and our right as Americans to own a gun, for self-protection, to
hunt and to collect. But there is no right to sweep a playground with an
assault weapon. I voted to ban 19 assault weapons. In this vote, I parted
company with Senators Graham and Dole. I did what I felt was right.
ANNOUNCER: Dick Lugar, everything a president should be.
LUGAR: You know, being a conservative doesn`t mean you have to lose
your common sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Not such a hot strategy in the Republican primary. "The
Pittsburgh Post Gazzette" said Lugar`s candidacy was, quote, "regarded as a
worthy exercise like Bruce Bobbitt`s, that may have prevailed in a more
sober era, but not in our own."
So, Lugar went back to Indiana and resumed his role as a kind of
political juggernaut in his state. In 2000, he won re-election by 35
percent. In 2006, the year of the big democracy takeover in both houses of
Congress, Democrats didn`t even bother to field a candidate against Dick
Lugar, and so, he won re-election with really, 87 percent of the vote, 87
percent, with the other 13 percent going to libertarian.
And through all the time, Dick Lugar was pretty reliable Republican.
Not the most conservative guy in the world, the guy who supports assaults
weapons ban, but a reliable Republican, the kind of guy who votes against
the stimulus and Obamacare and Dodd Frank and science and votes against tax
increases and all the rest of it.
If you are a major political party, Dick Lugar is a first round draft
pick for you. He is the kind of guy you want in the Senate seat. You want
him in the Senate seat because he does a very important thing, he does not
lose Senate elections.
But in 2012, something really unexpected happened. And Dick Lugar
lost the seat. But he didn`t lose it to a Democrat. He lost in a primary
to this guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD MOURDOCK (R-IN), SENATE NOMINEE: I think even when life
begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God
intended to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: That is Richard Mourdock. He is the Tea Party anti-
establishment candidate. He had endorsements from Americans for
Prosperity, Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Citizens United, the Tea Party
Express, the National Rifle Association, Indiana Right to Life. He is the
Republican who knocked Dick Lugar out in the primary. And he also was the
Republican who lost the 2012 Senate race in Indiana.
He is part of why despite the Democrats defending 23 seats to the
Republicans` 10, increased their majority by two seats.
Over the past couple of things, this kind of thing happened to
Republicans an awful lot. The establishment has been getting routed by the
Tea Party. And very few members of the establishment have been willing or
able to fight back because they often don`t want to be the next one with a
target on their back. They don`t want to be the next Dick Lugar or Mike
Castle or Bob Bennett.
But since the election, they don`t seem so afraid anymore. In the war
for the Republican Party soul, the establishment, which is still a very
conservative establishment at this point in time, seems to be getting the
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has been a great example of this. He
voted for the fiscal cliff deal, which many hardcore conservatives opposed.
And then he helped talk Republicans out of their brush with the debt
Today, he firmly rejected the effort of some Wisconsin Republicans to
try to change the way electoral votes are won in Wisconsin, in order to
make it easier for Republicans to win presidential elections there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: So the way I look at it, principled
prudence. We have to exercise our principles in a prudent way, with
realistic expectations while being reasonable, and doing what we think is
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: We have to exercise our principles in a prudent way, with
realistic expectations, while being reasonable and doing what we think is
right -- is not exactly the insurgency talking. It`s not a very extreme
Similarly, Senator Marco Rubio, another Tea Party favorite, is
spending most of his time going from conservative talk radio show to
conservative talk radio show, trying to convince them it would be a really
good idea to get behind comprehensive immigration reform, bipartisan
Governor Bobby Jindal, the rising Republican star in Louisiana, has
been on the "you`re the stupid Republican Party and had been screwing this
up" on tour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JINDAL: We`ve got to stop being the stupid party. I`m serious. It`s
time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Not to make anything of this juxtaposition of evidence, but
speaking of that argument, but Sarah Palin has lost her contributor
contract at FOX News. She has been repudiated, you might say.
Jim DeMint, the top Tea Party leader in the Senate, he resigned to
head up the Heritage Foundation. And then, today, "The New York Times"
reported that, quote, "The biggest donor in the Republican Party are
financing a new group to recruit season candidates and protect Senate
incumbents from challenges by far right conservatives and Tea Party
enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could compromise the party to win
control of the Senate."
It`s not really a worry. It`s been happening now for multiple
But even with that group emerging, and that group is a big deal.
There`s a lot of money behind the group. It is a big deal that Karl Rove`s
group is turning its fire essentially on the Tea Party.
It is very clear about what is and is not happening in the Republican
Party right now. The Republican Party, which is again a very conservative
establishment is rejecting or trying to reject the tactics and rhetorical
approach of the Tea Party of the last couple of years. They`re not
actually changing their minds about important policy topics or announcing
In the sense, the Tea Party politics in the last couple of years were
playing a somewhat convenient role for the Republican Party right now,
because they`re there, and they`re something that can get thrown overboard
first. It`s kind of easy, you can get a lot of press, and so you can be
seen to be changing without actually changing your mind in a big way.
You see this a bit with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tomorrow at
the American Enterprise Institute. He is giving a much-hyped speech about
the Republican Party`s need to move past the kind of semi monomaniacal
focus on the deficit and towards a broader and more inclusive agenda about
the role that government and policy can play in improving people`s lives.
But "The Wall Street Journal" previewing the speech says, quote, "Mr.
Cantor plans to emphasize existing GOP policies."
Existing GOP policies -- so that, I think at this point in time the
great question for the Republican Party, at least right now. Can their
response to the 2012 election be to just change the tenor and temperature
of their approach to politics rather than the actually policies? Can they
just stop primarying guys like Dick Lugar but not rethink the approach to
That is a hope because changing your messaging is a lot easier than
changing your policies.
Joining me now, "Slate" political reporter Dave Weigel, and Molly
Ball, the national political reporter for "The Atlantic." It is great to
have you both here, thank you for coming on.
MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: Great to be here.
DAVE WEIGEL, SLATE: Thanks, Ezra.
KLEIN: Molly, so can they? Do they need to do more? Do they need to
sort of go back and look at policies, or can you actually get pretty far
just by changing the way your party acts in public?
BALL: I think the answer is yes. They have to do both. And first of
all, the Republicans find themselves in a situation that the Democrats
found themselves in maybe a decade ago, where they are on the wrong side of
every issue that people vote on. We saw with Mitt Romney, they were on the
wrong side of the tax issues. They are on the right side of spending in
the abstract, but whenever they talk about things like the Ryan budget or
getting rid of Social Security, people don`t want to hear that.
They`re on the wrong side of a lot of the sort of generational, social
issues now. So as the majority dawns in favor of things like gay marriage,
Republicans are being pushed to answer questions about women`s issues in
ways that make them very uncomfortable, and not to put too fine a point on
So they`ve got to find issues they can win on. But then, you know, as
Bobby Jindal saying, they also have to talk about the things they believe
in, in a dumb way. And they`ve got to find the right communicators.
You know, it`s really easy sort of -- as you were saying, its` really
easy to be against a Todd Akin or a Richard Mourdock or a Sharron Angle,
but they probably have to have some harder conversations with some people
who have more prominence in the party.
KLEIN: So, Molly brings up the last time the Democrats were in
somewhat similar position, which was essentially the late `90s and the late
`80s. They lost the popular vote in a number of elections. I think I look
at this was a while back and it was also five or six before Bill Clinton
won in 1992.
And the organization that came out of that`s really known is the
Democratic Leadership Council. And that was a policy organization. I
mean, it had a big messaging component. But the main work of that group
was to try to wrench the Democratic Party to what they felt was the center
on a variety of fairly significant policies, ranging from health care to
welfare, to how to deal with budgets and taxes.
There doesn`t seem to be at this point a deal on the right. There is
a belief that you need to talk to the center better, a belief you need to
reach out to more people. But it`s not a belief that sort of mirrors
reforming welfare, changing welfare as we know it, or ending welfare as we
know it, that Clinton tried to.
WEIGEL: Yes, quite the opposite. You mentioned Jim DeMint take over
the Heritage Foundation. DeMint, and I`ve heard him speak a couple of
times about what he wants to do. He is convinced that Republicans on
policy are completely right. He said in an interview today with Scott
Rasmussen, the pollsters, that it`s big business give most of their money
to Democrats, which isn`t quite true. He`s just kind of repeating what
happened in 2010 elections, what worked and trying to make sure, a think
tank turns them an action tank basically and runs on that.
The problem is Democrats at that point in time, too, did have
governors like Bill Clinton in the states. A lot of moderate Democrats who
were still coming up that way and building laboratories of democracy that
were not to the -- as far left as the natural leadership was. In the
Republican Party, one problem I have just for Washington reporters, is that
we`re near Virginia, and Virginia is run by Republicans, every way except
for the state Senate, which is split.
Since the start of the year, they`re pushing or reintroducing fairly
extreme legislation, social conservative legislation, the vaginal
ultrasound might come back. In reality, the states run by Republican are
passing very conservative bills, and that`s trickling back up to the
national party. You can`t just change that with a couple of campaign ads.
KLEIN: So this is the point, that it did come from the governors, a
lot of it, in the Democratic Party, in the `90s and the `80s. So, are
there -- are there either states or are there policy areas that seem sort
of ripe to play this kind of a role? Is there a place for the Republican
Party to maybe start if this doesn`t work in a couple of years?
BALL: Yes, absolutely. Right now, Republicans hold 30 governorships,
where they`re doing extremely well in the states. And a lot of these
governors are popular. People like Chris Christie are very popular. Bobby
Jindal is very popular in his state. Susana Martinez in New Mexico.
These are Republican governors in many cases in blue states who have
made themselves, who have made themselves popular because they have to
govern, they have to be executives, they have to propose policies. They
can`t just sit on the sidelines and throw bombs at Democrats the whole
time, which has been, you know, as an opposition party in Washington, it`s
hard to do anything else, that has been the Republican`s tactic since Obama
But at the state level, they have proved that they can be
constructive. And I think that probably it is the case if the future of
the Republican Party doesn`t come from super PACs, doesn`t come from think
tanks, doesn`t come from these feuds that we`re talking about. It comes
from leadership bubbling out of the states and compelling candidates
running at the national level and proving by their example that they have a
KLEIN: Dave, is anybody playing this from the other side? You have a
kind of clustering of Chris Christie and Jindal and Ryan and Rubio.
They`re sort of doing a little bit similar, not really moving the policy,
but they are trying to make a somewhat different way of talking about their
Is anybody actually sort of running significantly side to the Tea
Party side and trying to consolidate what`s left there?
WEIGEL: Well, no, but in the states, where they have the control,
they`re doing so. I mean, Arkansas is a state where Republicans took back
the -- I shouldn`t say take back. They didn`t control the legislature for
any time since the Civil War ended. They`ve taken it back now.
I believe the last bill they passed was legalizing hand guns in
churches. It`s not -- they`re not as loud about it. You`re not going to
hear the same Tea Party voices, even the voices they do have are people
like Ted Cruz who I think has not voted for anything -- affirmatively for
anything in the Senate yet. He`s voted against every bill.
So they don`t have those voices yet. But you`re going to see I think
more of the legislation coming from him, whether the leadership like it or
not. You`re not going to see the same kind of P.R. offensive you see from
Jindal, you`ll just hear the stories and have to explain them.
Molly Ball and Dave Weigel, thank you, guys, for being here tonight.
BALL: Thank you.
KLEIN: New gun legislation is beginning to take shape. Who is for
it? What is in it. And why even Chris Wallace has concluded that Wayne
LaPierre is a little bit crazy.
And a bigger story behind the giant power outage of the Super Bowl --
six words: if we only had a brain.
KLEIN: This picture of the president is now the subject of scrutiny
by the skeeters, people who think this picture of the president skeet
shooting is fake. I swear, sometimes politics -- I just can`t -- real
things, real things that are actually happening with gun control, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We don`t have to agree on everything to agree it is time to do
That`s -- that`s my main message here today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: That was President Obama today in Minneapolis, once again
urging Congress to make a move on gun control legislation.
But over the last 36 hours, we`ve seen some actual shifts within the
gun control debate. First, there was Chris Wallace`s kind of amazing
interview with the National Rifle Association front man Wayne LaPierre.
The 15-minute interview demonstrated that the NRA is not just out of step
with the center, but also some with the right.
Take universal background checks, for instance -- 92 percent of people
favor the background gun checks for all gun buyers. Among NRA households,
85 percent support the gun checks.
But LaPierre called the background checks a fraud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAPIERRE: I mean, I think what they`ll do is they`ll turn this
universal check on the law abiding on a universal registry of the law
abiding people. And law abiding people don`t want that. I mean, my God,
that`s the last thing want.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: They absolutely do not -- I mean, forgive
me, sir, you take something that is here and you say it`s going to go all
the way over there. There is no indication -- I mean, I can understand
you`re saying that`s the threat. But there`s nothing that anyone in the
administration has said that indicates they`re going to have a universal
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: That was really something. The NRA getting smacked down by
FOX News for spinning weird conservative conspiracy theories about the
Obama administration`s secret big government plan to track law abiding
citizens and undermine the Constitution. Huh! The times are changing.
In Congress, both the House and the Senate are working on the
bipartisan gun control bills that would include universal background checks
and limiting ammunition magazines and no universal registry of all
Tomorrow, a bipartisan group in the House will also introduce a bill
that will make the gun trafficking a federal crime and impose stricter
penalties on, quote, "straw purchasers" or people who buy firearms for
those who can`t.
Under current law, straw purchasers only get in trouble of law
enforcement was able to prove the straw purchaser knowingly bought a gun
for criminals. So, it is not enough to just bought a gun for somebody who
couldn`t buy one themselves. You had to have known they were a criminal.
The new law, which mirrors one already introduced in the Senate, would
make it illegal for straw purchasers to buy and transfer far firearms to
anyone banned from having one at all. But the outstanding question is,
where does Congress stand on passing an assault weapons ban?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: You should restore the ban on military-style assaults weapons
and 10-round limit for magazines.
OBAMA: And that deserves a vote in Congress, because weapons of war
have no place in our streets, or in our schools, or threatening our law
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Deserves a vote in Congress, those are important words. Many
looked at the quote and noticed that President Obama was using different,
arguably weaker language for the assault weapons ban portion of his agenda,
his gun control agenda, than he has been using for other parts of the bill.
That might be because if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid`s weak
answer is any indication, an assault weapons ban may essentially be dead on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: If Dianne Feinstein, by the
way, through the Judiciary Committee, if she doesn`t have the assault
weapons, at least let her have an opportunity to offer this amendment.
REPORTER: Will you vote for it?
REID: I don`t know, frankly -- and she knows I didn`t read her
amendment. I didn`t vote for the assault weapons last time because it
didn`t make sense, but I`ll take a look at it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Joining me now to take a look at it, Jonathan Cohn, a senior
editor for "The New Republic".
It`s good to see you, my friend.
JONATHAN COHN, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Thanks for having me on the show,
KLEIN: So that didn`t sound enormously encouraging from Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid. It kind of sounded like the assault weapons
ban is going to get a bit of a pro forma vote and maybe that`s about it.
COHN: Well, I think everybody knew going into this fight that the
different elements of the gun legislation agenda, that the assault weapons
ban was the one that was going to the hardest road ahead, you know, in part
because you know you still need 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate,
and, in part, because the Republicans control the House, and, in part,
because the gun lobby has made this a very hard vote to have.
Now, I don`t think it is a lost cause. I think if you believe -- if
you`re a progressive, if you believe we need to take action to reduce gun
violence and you think the assault weapons ban can make a difference, and I
happen to think all of those things, then look, this is an opportunity.
There is going to be a vote.
I think right now if they had the vote today, it probably wouldn`t
pass. But that doesn`t mean it can`t pass in a week or two and three
weeks. You know, it`s really up to the people who care about this to
organize, to make something happen. You know, and it`s possible.
Is it likely to pass at this point? No. But, you know, I also, I
think, you know, you`re hearing reports it is dead on arrival, it`s not
going to happen. That feels a little premature to me.
KLEIN: For instance, it hasn`t even arrived yet.
And that gets to a big question about it. When we had the assault
weapons ban in the `90s, it was not an incredibly effective piece of
legislation. It was, I think, by wide consensus at this point, not
incredibly well-designed. The loopholes are very large.
You have been talking to a lot of folks about what a better assault
weapons ban would look like. So, what are the key features of that? If we
could do this, if it would pass, what would it take to do it right?
COHN: Right, so if you go back and history and look at the original
assault weapons ban, one of the things that`s really striking is that when
they put this together, they didn`t have a lot of experience writing these
laws. They didn`t know as much about gun violence.
And, you know, frankly, they didn`t write a very good law. It
included a few weapons by name.
And it also had this restriction that basically said, a gun had to
have two characteristics of an assault weapon. It could be something like
that a folding stock. It could be a flash suppresser. It had to have two
of those characteristics in order to qualify.
Well, the new gun law, you know, people have learned. And they said,
all right, we`re going to name a lot more guns by name. And now, instead
of, you know, a little over a dozen, we`re talking potentially over 150
guns. But also if the gun has just one of those characteristics, then it
And when you put those two things together and you put it in that
context of broader gun legislation, you know, I think most experts who have
looked at this, said, this is not by itself going to dramatically reduce
gun violence, but it could make some difference at the margins and make a
bigger difference than the last assault weapons ban did.
KLEIN: And the margins, we`re talking about lives here. So, it does
And the other thing I want to ask you about, there`s a nature of these
debates have where we get fixated on one thing and I think as there is more
consensus around the background checks, people have sort of written off
their importance. But almost every expert I talk to seems to think they`re
more important, that they are a huge deal if we could get background
legislations and more regulations on the straw purchasers. Where do you
come down on that?
COHN: I couldn`t agree more. I mean, usually, when we talk about the
legislation is the part that is easy to pass is the law that won`t do
anything. The part that is hard to pass is what you really need to do.
This is a nice, one of those rare occasions when the hard -- the part
that`s easy to pass, the background checks, are actually probably the most
effective. That`s what`s probably going to make the most difference.
KLEIN: Jonathan Cohn, that is very nicely put. Thank you for being
COHN: Thanks for having me.
KLEIN: Coming up, John Boehner`s House of Representatives is incensed
that President Obama will not give them a budget proposal they don`t like
and will vote down very quickly.
KLEIN: February first, 2009, Super Bowl XLIII, or as you probably saw
it written, Super Bowl XLIII, because, for some reason, when it comes to
the Super Bowl, we have all agreed that Roman numerals looks much cooler
than Arabic numerals. Anyway, Super Bowl XLIII, 2009, the Steelers versus
the Cardinals in the culmination of what the NFL had named the "believe in
We were in the midst of a terrible recession. The new President
Barack Obama had just been inaugurated. And there was a belief that this
was a time in which maybe we could do big things.
Corporations saw an opportunity to push for those big things,
particularly if some of them would be good for their bottom line too. And
so here is an ad GE ran during the 2009 Super Bowl XLIII.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smart Grid technology from GE will make the way we
distribute electricity more efficient, simply by making it more
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Cute, right? Here is the less cute full disclosure, GE is a
part owner of NBC Universal. But when we say Smart Grid, when we say if
our grid only had a brain, we are comparing it to what we have now, a very
And we say that not because our grid did poorly on its IQ test, but
because in an iPhone world, our current grid is Zach Morris` ginormous
brick cell phone. The dumb grid is big, and it is centralized. And when
outages happen, they affect vast areas.
It is not dynamic. The dumb grid can`t reroute electricity
transmission around a problem. It is not consumer friendly or
environmentally efficient. And as we increase our use of electronics, it
becomes increasingly over burdened.
GE wasn`t alone here. The Smart Grid was the big get in the `09
stimulus. President Obama, according to folks who were in the room, wanted
it more than just about anything else. He saw it as his Moon shot, his
Hoover Dam, his Tennessee Valley Authority.
Quote, "President Obama had big dreams for a digital smart grid that
would self monitor and self heal, minimizing costly outages by diagnosing
problems electronically and rerouting power around them." He basically
wanted to merge the grid with the Internet so we could adjust our air
conditioners with our iPhones when we were out of the house, program our
appliances to save us energy and money, and sell power from solar panels
and electric cars back to our utilities.
But the president`s advisers told him it wasn`t possible, and for a
number of reasons. Utility companies own a lot of the grid. It would take
decades to convert from analog to digital, and to string miles and miles of
high voltage wires. And one of the main benefits of a smart meter is you
don`t need a human to read it. Not the best idea necessarily, at least the
quickest job creator in a recession with high unemployment.
The president did get some big improvements in energy investments and
sensors to help detect and repair problems before the lights go out, as
well as some grid modernizations and smart meters in select areas. But we
did not get the big, new smart grid. We did not get the brain. And during
last night`s Super Bowl, Super Bowl XLIII, we didn`t get commercials for
the smart grid.
We got this, 34 minutes of darkness in the third quarter of the most
watched television event in U.S. History. Now it wasn`t all bad. When the
lights went out, Twitter lit up, more than 231,000 Tweets a minute, and a
whole lot of snark. The Onion Sports Net Tweeted, "over 100 NFL players
without power in New Orleans right now, please help. Every donation
Nick Topless (ph) Tweeted "in hindsight maybe installing the Clapper
was a bad idea."
Spencer Ackerman, friend of the show, went all Batman bad guy Bane
with this Tweet, which I am going to speak into a mug because my Bane is
not very good. "People of Gotham" -- and the parody account Super Dome
Lighting Crew Tweeted "what people don`t talk about is how the lights were
on for the entire first half."
Never get that credit.
We don`t know yet the exact cause of last night`s power outage or if
it could have been prevented by a smart grid. Maybe it couldn`t have. But
blackouts in general and big ones, in particular, are becoming more common.
There were 349 power outages between 2005 and 2009. That is double --
double the amount of blackouts in the five years prior.
It is crazy. It is crazy that our technology continues to get better.
Our country continues to get richer. We are richer today than we were in
2009. But our capability to power our country, including our stadiums
during the Super Bowl, continues to get worse. And we become resigned to
There were no ads about infrastructure during last night`s Super Bowl.
No one thought the government was close enough to doing something big that
such an ad would be en even semi-reasonable investment. The problem is
that when it comes to big infrastructure investments these days, Moon
shots, Washington doesn`t just need a brain. Like the cowardly lion, it
needs a bit of courage.
Joining me now is Paul Bledsoe, the president of Bledsoe and
Associates, a public policy firm specializing in energy and climate change.
Paul also served as communications director at the White House Climate
Change Taskforce under President Bill Clinton.
Paul, it is good to have you here.
PAUL BLEDSOE, BLEDSOE AND ASSOCIATES: My pleasure.
KLEIN: So tell me, what do we need to get to a Smart Grid? What are
the big things between here and there?
BLEDSOE: Well, part of it is a vision for more decentralized power.
Right now, chances are when you turn on your switch in your house, you are
getting power from a huge power plant, maybe 700 megawatts, maybe 100, that
powers everybody around you. So everybody is reliant on one power source
and one set of lines.
And that is why we have these huge cascading outages. Now, as you
said, we don`t know what caused this problem. But what we do know is
extreme weather is getting worse because of climate change. And we`re
going to have more and more outages unless we create a more reliable
system. And creating a Smarter Grid, not the perfect one, but a smarter
one, can help do that.
KLEIN: And now explain to me a little bit, because this idea of Smart
Grid, right -- it sounds great, but it also sounds a bit vague. So you
were talking about, we all get our power from big power plant, a 700
Megawatt plant. What happens in the Smart Grid that is different from
that? Why do we want it?
BLEDSOE: So think about the current system like a bicycle wheel, that
you have a huge power source at the hub, and the spokes are the
transmission hubs, and everybody is around the rim and they get the power
that way. Now think of a smarter grid as a map, a whole complex of smaller
power systems that are interrelated and yet can be isolated if there is a
problem in one.
It is a much more sophisticated system. It is much more reliable. It
turns out there are many other things you can do with it. For example, it
allows for much more generation of renewal energy in the United States.
And by the way, we`re the ones who innovated all of this. Our engineers,
our technologists came up with almost every one of these technologies.
You know where they`re being implemented? Europe and Asia.
KLEIN: Well, at least we`ll get to export some of it. Very quickly,
can the private sector do it on their own?
BLEDSOE: No, they can`t. They need help with the initial investment
from Washington. But also, we have to understand that every state
regulates power in their own way. We have 50 little fiefdoms of regulatory
commissions. And it`s a crazy patchwork. It doesn`t make any sense. And
it really hurts our ability to make investments.
Interestingly, I think some of the states are going to take the lead
in updating these technologies. States like California and Massachusetts
are already beginning to do this.
KLEIN: Paul Bledsoe, thank you so much for being here tonight.
BLEDSOE: My pleasure. Thanks.
KLEIN: Millions saw this ad last night about the evolution of
football. It is all about what has changed, how the game has gotten safer.
Or at least it says it is. But it shows the opposite.
KLEIN: Today was the day the White House was supposed to submit its
budget for fiscal year 2014 to Congress. It did not happen. So Speaker
John Boehner did some finger-pointing on the House floor this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Mr. Speaker, President Obama
missed a great opportunity to help the economy. This was supposed to be
the day that the president submitted his budget to the Congress. But it is
not coming. It is going to be late. Some reports say that it could be as
long as a month late.
I think that it is too bad. Our economy could use some presidential
leadership right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Fox News also pretty angry about it this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Well, thanks, Shep. The nation`s debt
blowing past 16.5 trillion dollars today. Is this any time for the
president to be blowing another budget deadline?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He will never stop trying to raise taxes.
Whether or not he can succeed, I don`t know. But he comes out of a far
left ideology that believes in class warfare and radical wealth
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: And possibly a half percentage point higher in revenue, GDP-
wise. Look, the White House should get a budget to Congress on time. That
is a good thing to do. You should do it.
This president, in fact, has needed an extension more than his
predecessors. He`s missed the deadline four out of five times since he
took office. President Clinton missed his deadline twice. Presidents
Reagan and Bush all missed it once.
This evidence, while of course true, was collected by the Republican-
led House Budget Committee. And it does ignore a bit the financial
disasters we`ve had and the various near shutdowns and fiscal cliffs and
different things that have made our budgets unusually unpredictable. And
it is not like the president is the only person to blow past the deadlines
in D.C. these days.
Congress has to pass 13 appropriation bills October each year just to
keep the government running. And over the last few decades, as this chart
I put together recently shows, Congress has had a pretty dismal record on
Tonight, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan issued a statement
blaming the White House and Senate Democrats. He wrote, "I`m disappointed
the president has missed his deadline, but not surprised. In four of the
last five years, he has failed to submit his budget on time. We still do
not know when we will receive the president`s request. And for nearly four
years, Senate Democrats haven`t passed a budget at all. We deserve
Of course, Paul Ryan`s statement leaves out a little something. The
White House Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to House Budget
Committee Chairman Ryan three and a half weeks ago which said, quote, "as
you know, the protracted fiscal cliff negotiations created considerable
uncertainty about revenue and spending for 2013 and beyond. And because
these issues were not resolved until the American Taxpayer Relief Act was
enacted on January 2nd, 2013, the administration was forced to delay some
of its fiscal year 2014 budget preparations, which in turn will delay the
budget submission to Congress. The administration is working diligently on
our budget request. We will submit it to Congress as soon as possible."
So that is the real reason Paul Ryan shouldn`t be surprised the White
House`s budget was late. The White House said to him they would be late.
They said it nearly a month ago.
Now look, that doesn`t mean the White House shouldn`t, in general, get
their budgets in on time. And they have not been good about that. And
they should be better. But let`s also be clear that every year they have
turned in a budget, usually a couple weeks late, but they have done it.
And every year, Republicans hate it. They hate their budget. Last
year, for instance, here`s Paul Ryan`s response, quote, "president`s budget
ensures debt crisis and decline." Decline, that is pretty big.
So here is where we are. Republicans spent all day slamming Obama for
not bringing out a budget for them to reject quickly enough. This is time
every one involved could have spent working on things they might actually
be able to forge an agreement on, like immigration or maybe even gun
So, yeah, White House, you guys are late. Republicans, you guys are
petty and just scoring ridiculous political points at this point. As for
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got to get out of here. I think I`m going to
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uh oh, sounds like somebody has a case of the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Pop Warner, high school, college, I want to make sure that
we`re doing everything we can to make the sports safer. That means that
the game is probably going to evolve a little bit. And for those of us who
like to see a big hit and enjoy, you know, the rock `em, sock `em elements
of the game, we`re probably going to be occasionally frustrated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Like millions of other Americans, I spent Sunday night
watching the Super Bowl. And like millions of other Americans, I did so
with a bit of a pang of guilt.
Football is a cruel sport. We know that now. It permanently injures
the brains of many of its players. A great hit, the kind of hit that makes
you go oh, and gets you the instant replays, the kind of hit I always
dreamed of delivering and always completely failed to pull off when I was a
high school nose guard, it is a trauma. The brain slams into the skull.
It hits it hard.
This happens again and again and again to football players. And as
the brain heals from these hits, it degrades. A protein called Tau begins
to loop through it. It is a protein we associate with Alzheimer`s and
dementia. Now we also associate it with something called Chronic Traumatic
Encepalopothy. That is a dementia that often afflicts football players,
It`s a dementia many of us now think of when we see the big hits, the
great tackles, the huge sacks. The NFL does not want us to watch the game
thinking of that dementia. They want to assuage our guilt. So they`ve
begun a campaign called NFL Evolution. And they aired this ad during last
night`s Super Bowl.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Didn`t look like much, bunch of guys running
around in a pile of mud. So we introduced a few rules, just to keep the
peace. Suddenly, we had a game on our hands. Then, something more than a
game. And so we swore to protect it, this thing we couldn`t be without, so
we would have it forever.
Learn how we`re working towards a safer, more exciting NFL at
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: This ad is supposed to make us feel safer about watching
football. It`s meant to show us how the game has gotten better, safer.
Instead it shows how it has accidentally gotten much more dangerous.
The ad, it takes you through time. It begins with a bunch of early
football players. The shots are black and white. There are no pads and
helmets, a bunch of guys in the mud running around. Then the ad goes into
color. Now the players have pads and hats. The hits, they get harder. We
see the runner crash into a would be tackler at full speed.
Then they add the face mask. And immediately, a defender lunges
horizontally across the field, grabbing the runner`s the face mask,
attempting to drag him down head first. All that pressure on the neck and
the spine. So they pass a rule against that.
Of course, even with the rule against grabbing the face mask, it
happens all the time. It happened on Sunday night at the Super Bowl.
By the time the ad comes to a close, the players look like they do
today. They`re armored. And they`re fast. And they hit each other like
trucks on the highway.
A defender pulls up behind the runner. He clamps down on the collar
protecting his neck, the collar on the back of his pads. And he uses it to
try to pull him straight backwards on to the ground. The announcer says
"learn how we`re working towards a safe, more exciting NFL at
The ad is meant to make you feel better about watching football. It`s
meant to show the NFL has made the game safer with its pads and its helmets
and its rules. Instead, it shows how it`s made the game more dangerous,
making it easier for the players to hit harder, to last longer, to endure
more trauma again and again.
And it shows a little bit how we are complicit too. Even as the ad is
meant to assuage our guilt about the game`s violence, it is all about the
game`s violence. It is one big hit after another, because those hits are
why a lot of us tune in. It`s why we like to go watch. The NFL is what we
like to see and it is what will make us feel protective of and connected to
football, seeing those hits in this ad.
The NFL hasn`t evolved to be safer. Is has evolved to be more
lucrative, which means being more fun to watch, which means having bigger
and more spectacular hits.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers` receiver Hynes Ward recently said, quote,
"if you want to prevent concussions, take the helmet off, play old school
football with the leather helmets, no face mask. When you put a helmet on,
you are going to use it as a weapon."
It`s an interesting idea, because you don`t hit as hard without the
pads. But you don`t want to romanticize those days either. People got
hurt and they died then too. Football isn`t going to be safe so long as it
is a game built around hits, built around giant men colliding into one
another with as much force as they can muster.
But early in the ad, you see those sidelines. There`s almost no one
on them. It didn`t look like much, the announcer said. It`s only late in
the ad, when the field is full of armored gladiators jackknifing over one
another that the stands are full. No one wants to watch a game that
doesn`t look like much.
That is THE LAST WORD for Monday. I am Ezra Klein in for Lawrence
O`Donnell, You can read more of my work at the "Washington Post" Wonkblog
at WonkBlog.com. "THE ED SHOW" is up next.
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