The Rachel Maddow Show | February 25, 2013
>> it easy. and thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. one of the major challenges that the republican party had this past election cycle was that their presidential candidate did not attract much interest. i don't mean that in a personal sense. i don't mean it to be mean. i mean it in a technical sense, in a measurable sense. if during this election cycle you gave people the option of clicking online on something that said barack obama or you gave people the option of clicking online on something that said mitt romney , more people would click on the thing that said barack obama . consistently. by a lot. in a controversial article last summer right in the heat of the campaign, an article that acknowledged what everybody else in the media already knew was true, but had not admitted outloud, the website buzz of feed finally put a headline on it and put it up in black and white . mitt romney is terrible for traffic. they mean web traffic . they did what essentially amounted to a control experiment in terms of people's interest online in the two candidates. look. 29 photos of baby barack obama versus 30 photos of mitt romney as a child. essentially, you're offering the same thing. reliably adorable childhood images of people you know now as full grown men. it's the same comparison, apples to apples. the photos of baby obama got just under 70,000 views. the photos of baby romney just over 6,000 views. that is worse than 10 to 1. okay, maybe it's a baby thing. how about if we age them a little. barack obama , i have to say, was not the world's most handsome teenager. those were kind of his awkward years, whereas mitt romney was quite possibly the world's best teenager. they both ended up as very handsome adult men, but they went through their awkward periods, their gawky periods at different ages. but even with that, again, the young man photos of barack obama get roughly 70,000 views. the comparable votes of young man mitt romney get less than 1/5 that number. this is not a republican versus democrat thing or a conservative versus liberal thing either. at the height of her powers, put sarah palin 's click per headline stats up against any democrat you can imagine or any combination of democrats you can imagine and she would blow everybody out of the water . conservatives can attract interest. just not this one, for whatever reason. the romney campaign even today is still trying to defend their online presence during the presidential campaign . the campaign senior strategist wrote in the op said in the " washington post " today that president obama did not win the election because he won the facebook wars. he won the facebook wars because he was winning the election. whatever you need to tell yourself, big guy . but regardless whether or not it was the fault of the romney folks, people's relative disinterest in him compared to his democratic opponent ended up being an important dynamic. it ended up being an important part of understanding how that campaign unfolded overall. well, that controversial but true story from buzzfeed about the relative online appeal of each candidate, that was last summer, june of 2012 . mitt romney is terrible for traffic. now buzzfeed has given us the sequel. now we must all admit that there is another thing that is terrible for traffic, a thing that i will not say outloud for fear that you will turn off this television show if i do. it is the thing going on in washington right now that is a crisis, a self-inflicted preplanned crisis that the white house and congress agreed ahead of time to inflict on themselves and on the country. it turns out it is the 2013 equivalent of a baby picture of mitt romney in 2012 . awww, yeah, not interesting. the pugh researcher is for the people in the press did a big research poll where they asked people what they're paying attention to in the news. it turns out that self-inflicted crises in washington aren't what they used to. they compared crises in the first big fight over the debt court of appealing that president obama had with congress in the summer of 2011 , they found half the country was paying a lot of attention to that crisis. compare that to the number of people paying attention to this crisis, which substantively is just as big a deal. it turns out it's only half as interesting to the country. only 27% of the country is paying a great deal attention to this current crisis. and honestly, you know what? you can see why. this is not the part where i'm going to give you some lament about the country being shallow or craven or easily distracted. i think actually we're smart, and we do not like falling for things more than once. and what they are pulling in washington right now is an old trick. for the first two years that president obama was in office, you will recall that democrats also controlled the house and the senate. and together they passed health reform , they passed wall street reform, they passed the lilly ledbetter pay act, they reformed credit cards , ratify start treatly. they got a lot done, which is what you would expect to when one party controls the branches. then in 2010 , as is wont to happen, the pendulum swung back in the other direction and the republicans took control of the house. once republicans got sworn in january 2011 , we started this new game that we do now as a country. republicans were sworn in the house in january. by early april, just a few short weeks later, a couple of months after taking over the house, they were already veering within less an hour of a government shutdown . house speaker john boehner announces the deal just before 11:00 p.m . the agreement comes together in a few frantic hours at the capitol with a mid light deadline looming. that was the drama, remember? the first government shutdown fun times fight of the new congress . that's the one where just about the last republican demand standing which they ultimately let go of was shutting down funding for planned parenthood . they put the whole government hinging on that. that was april 2011 . three months after they got sworn in, they came within minutes of shutting down the government. and then three months after that, ding ding ding, time future a crisis again. july 2011 . it was the down-to-the-wire self-imposed hair on fire crisis of the debt ceiling. we might not make good on the country's debts. we're going the make this a crisis when we don't need to. but we're going to self-inflict this crisis. running up to that brink got our nation's credit rating downgraded. and that was so much fun, they didn't even wait three months for the next self-imposed crisis. they threatened another shutdown in september 2011 . this time shutdown averted with just days to spare. and then we took a break for the election. and as soon as the election was over, everybody rushed back to the brink. december 2012 , the fiscal cliff. self-imposed crisis. economic armageddon. everybody cancel your new year's plans. we have arranged a new crisis for ourselves. and as planned, we are on if brink. and now we're having another one. it's apparently our odd year cycle now. when we're in an odd year when there isn't an election going on, every two or three months, we put the country in dire economic danger on purpose. and the reason i me that that's the schedule is because after this current crisis whose name shall not be spoken on this television show , after this current crisis passes, however it gets resolved, the next two crises we're going to have are already preplanned. they're already on the calendar. we're going to be due for another government shutdown standoff, fun times crisis next month, and then the next debt ceiling crisis is already teed up for a short time later, roughly in may. president obama spoke to the nation's governors today gathered for the national governors association meeting. he asked governors to advise their congressional delegations about how this current crisis would hurt their state, how it would be a dumb and serious self-inflicted wound, and congress shouldn't do it. house republican leaders held a press conference today in which they each explained in term how bad this crisis will be if they do not fix it before the brink arrived a the end of the week, and they also announce they'd plan to do nothing to avoid it. their strategy seems to be yes, this will be an unnecessary self-inflicted wound to the country, but we plan to let it happen anyway, and somehow we plan to benefit from it politically anyway because we have genius political messaging around this self-inflicted wound. what is the all-healing republican messaging around this crisis? well, if you ask orrin hatch , he says it would lead to an economic disaster . if you ask his republican colleague tom price , congressman, it would get this economy rolling again. according to republican congressman jeff miller , this crisis will throw our nation into another recession. if you ask republican senator rand paul, this crisis, it's a pittance. it's just really nibbling at the edges. no big deal . republican house speaker john boehner says this crisis threatens national security . republican congressman tom cole says fiscal questions trump defense. i can totally see how they are going to win the message war on this thing, right? they just have to pick one of their seven messages on it before deciding to award the points here. how this particular crisis is fought over to some people i'm sure is politically fascinating. to most of the country, though, it is unfascinating. it is not fascinating at all. it seems like the inarguably important and interesting thing here is that we keep doing this. this is how we govern now. between president obama and the republican-led house of representatives , this is how the united states government works now. we're not lurching from crisis to crisis because crises keep arising naturally in the world and we have to respond to them, we're lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis to crisis because we keep creating new crises on purpose to lurch toward. this is a plan. the relationship between the president and congress has been purposefully structured now so they accomplish the basic questions of governing only threw supposed leverage derived from threatening the country and people feeling afraid of those cuts. but now wolf has been cried. this trick is old enough now that this may be a crisis in term of the harm that is about to be inflicted on the country, but it is not a crisis in the sense that anybody feels particularly crisisy about it. nobody feels any one way in particular about it. everybody is trying not to think about it, because this just keeps happening over and over again. this is a tactic. this is one way you can run a country. but if this tactic depends on us being riveted through fear or outrage or just interest or sheer deadline-driven drama, that's over. it doesn't work anymore. we have done this enough times now that we're inured. we're over it. so now what this tactic means is you are just wantonly proposing harming the country. and we are waiting without much interest to see whether or not you're going to do it. do normal countries do this? do normal countries govern this way? is this in any sense normal for us? has our country ever been run this way before for a significant amount of time? joining us now is michael beschloss , nbc presidential historian and author of nine books on politics and political figures. great to see you.
>> good to see you, rachel , of course.
>> the last question there, does this happen at other times in american history where the president and the congress function this way?
>> not quite like this. you know, this was james madison 's idea, that you would have a presidency and a congress opposing each other. that way no one would get too much power. but if madison came back tonight, i think he would tear out what little hair he had. and the reason is that you saw someone like andrew jackson or harry truman campaigning against congress well and good. but it's only in recent years that you've had this almost nuclear game of chicken that we're seeing now. and we also saw in 1995 with bill clinton and newt gingrich . and i think one dangerous thing about right now is that on both sides, people tend to be a little bit sanguine in remembering 1995 . through a political lens, there may even be some democrats who say it turned out to be good for the democrats because clinton was able to position himself as a moderate, keeping the barbarians from the gate. and on the republican side they can say yes, we took some heat for being confrontational, but didn't we win both houses of congress in 1996 ? so i think that memory is a very dangerous thing. and it certainly isn't a break on this rush to the edge of destruction that we're seeing right now.
>> because the fights are over fiscal issues and economic issues broadly speaking, i have to ask about how much of a threat to the country we are seeing and how much actual damage we are seeing inflicted. i mean republicans in particular have argued a lot about the idea of economic uncertainty.
>> that we should pursue governments in a way that we don't put too many question marks ahead of the american people and business in terms of what is coming down the pike. is harm being done, is there a historical lens we can tell whether or not it's being done?
>> i think bill clinton would have said that in 1993 . he had a deficit reduction plan that he sent to congress with an effort to give people an idea of what they could expect from this economy. and if he were here, he would complain that not a single republican on either side voted for his plan. so that would have been against the idea of economic security . but at the same time, there may be some republicans, and i hope there sure are not, but some of them may ebb the fact that when there is a recession, it usually isn't named after someone in congress . it's usually named after a president. and i hope that some are not cavalier than idea. that.
>> has been alleged off and on over the past few years by democrats talking about republican obstruction in the congress .
>> and they've always resisted it. but that has to loom over this. in terms of strategy, both sides have been talking about, and in some cases complaining about the outside game, whether or not it is appropriate to try to be engaging with the american people through the media, through political events rather than negotiating, rather than working in washington . what do you see -- how do i don't see the white house 's effort to try to take its message on this directly to the states and the people?
>> i think it will help, but it won't help in the way that it helped bill clinton to do that in 1995 , because in 1995 , a president's voice was a lot more dominant than it is right now. there was only one cable television network. the internet was primitive. a president had a lot bigger role in the national dialogue than a president does now. so i think barack obama cannot depend on his ability to frame this in a way that he would like to see it frapd.
>> one last question for you, and this may be prescriptive in the way i ask it, in which case you can scold me or not answer.
>> i would never scold you, rachel .
>> when presidents have had particularly difficult relationships with congress in the past, what are the ways out of that for presidents? obviously, part of it is blunt force, just win further elections.
>> by increasingly bludgeoning numbers and overwhelming your opponents. that's one approach. everybody wants to do that, but not everybody can.
>> how else have presidents gotten themselves out of messes like this?
>> hate to say it, rachel , but one way they did it is to say we're in a cold war , and if we do not make it up with our opponents in congress , it's going to be a danger to national security . if we don't have money going to military bases, that might invite the soviets to attack. one reason you have seen these confrontations in '95 and now now, you wouldn't have seen it during the cold war . now there is no longer that kind of overwhelming threat. and so i think congress feels and presidents, people around presidents sometimes feel it's not as dangerous.
>> michael beschloss , nbc historian. i both feel smarter from talking to you and i feel lucky to have you here.
>> thank you, rachel . thanks very much.
>>> all right. former white house press secretary robert gibbs turned a lot of heads over the weekend when he spoke out recording the obama administration's controversial drone program. he did that on chris hayes ' show yesterday, and it was kind of a blockbuster. robert gibbs is here tonight to talk about the implications of what he revealed.
>>> and later on, an oscar fashion story from me, which is awkward for obvious reasons, took the government of iran to make it possible on this show. stay tuned. [