'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
Guest host: David Shuster
watch whole playlist
#5 'Romney's Win', Tim Dickinson
#5 'Romney's Win', Rep. James Clyburn
#4 'In It To...', Matt Taibbi
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Clash Of Envy', Hendrick Hertzberg
#2 'Unfit To Print?'
#1 'Obscene on T.V.', Christian Finnegan
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
printable PDF transcript
On the show: David Shuster, Matt Taibbi, Christian Finnegan, Tim Dickinson, James Clyburn, Hendrik Hertzberg
DAVID SHUSTER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
(Excerpt from video clip) MITT ROMNEY: Thank you, New Hampshire. Tonight, we made history.
SHUSTER: Mitt Romney scores a double-digit victory in his backyard. So, it's time for the other candidates to accept their fate and drop out right?
(Excerpt from video clip) JON HUNTSMAN: Third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen.
(Excerpt from video clip) NEWT GINGRICH: And I think, as we do that, we will win the South Carolina primary.
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: On to South Carolina!
SHUSTER: What's keeping these guys around?
The politics of fairness:
(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: That's part of the responsibility that comes with being a leader in America - a responsibility, not just to the shareholders or the stakeholders, but to the country that made all this incredible wealth and opportunity possible.
SHUSTER: Versus the politics of envy:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I think it's about class warfare. I think - when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful - it's an envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach.
SHUSTER: A first glimpse at the differing visions that could define the election of 2012.
And - bring on the nudity.
The battle to regulate decency on TV rages on, until Justice Alito, of all people, questions if it's even worth the court's time: "Broadcast TV is living on borrowed time, it is not going to be long before it goes the way of vinyl records and eight-track tapes."
So, you're saying we can do whatever we want? About f---ing time!
All that and more, now on "Countdown."
(Excerpt from video clip) CHRIS PARNELL: You poop mouth.
SHUSTER: Good evening from New York. This Wednesday, January the 11th, 300 days until the 2012 presidential election. I am David Shuster, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.
The Republican presidential circus has moved from New Hampshire to South Carolina, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney having established himself even more firmly as ring master.
Our fifth story on the "Countdown" - Romney crushed his opposition in Tuesday's GOP New Hampshire primary. He won strong support from key voting groups, and he was all smiles as he announced his victory:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: Thank you, New Hampshire. Tonight, we made history.
SHUSTER: Before last night, only incumbent presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan succeeded in pulling off Romney's "two-fer" wins in both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
Ford, of course, lost his shot at re-election to Jimmy Carter. Romney is hoping for a better outcome, after winning last night with 39 percent of the total. Texas Congressman Ron Paul came in second at 23 percent, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman was third with 17. One-time House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator Rick Santorum tied for fourth with nine percent and Texas Governor Rick Perry rounded out the field with a little old one percent.
To the surprise of many political pundits, all of the GOP presidential candidates announced last night that their campaigns would go on, despite Romney's victories and his demonstrated strengths with key Republican groups.
Exit polls show Romney won the most Republican voters, 49 percent, and nearly took the most independents with 30 percent, a point behind Ron Paul. Romney also won 31 percent of evangelicals and 41 percent of tea party supporters. And better than four out of five voters who rated themselves as "somewhat to very conservative." Still, second-place winner Ron Paul seemed very unimpressed.
(Excerpt from video clip) RON PAUL: He certainly had a clear-cut victory, but we are nibbling at his heels.
SHUSTER: And despite his demurrals, Paul could go from nibbling at Romney's heels to eating his lunch. Many Republicans fear the Texas congressman may launch a third-party campaign and split their voters if, as expected, Romney goes on to win the nomination. Either way, Paul seemed to enjoy his moment.
(Excerpt from video clip) PAUL: I sort of have to chuckle when they describe you and me as being "dangerous." That's one thing - they are telling the truth, because we are dangerous to the status quo of this country.
SHUSTER: As for the other candidates, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum announced travel plans.
(Excerpt from video clip) HUNTSMAN: I'd say third-place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen!
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: We are going to go on to South Carolina. For those -
SHUSTER: Along with Newt Gingrich, who said - made this special request of his New Hampshire supporters.
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: In the next couple of days, make a list of every person you know in South Carolina and every person you know in Florida, because those are the next two great contests.
SHUSTER: South Carolina is in just 10 days. The Florida primary comes on January the 31st. Meanwhile, Gingrich is now getting pummeled by his fellow conservatives for this ad from his super PAC, attacking Romney's career at Bain Capital.
And the criticism of Gingrich has not stopped Rick Perry from doubling down on a similar line of attack against Romney. Here is Perry on the stump in South Carolina:
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK PERRY: Companies like Bain Capital could have come in and helped these companies, if they truly were venture capitalists, but they are not. They are vulture capitalists.
SHUSTER: For his part, Mitt Romney said conservative attacks on his business background helped him win New Hampshire.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: They tried it very hard, ran ads here, were up and down the state campaigning. I think it's working for my benefit.
SHUSTER: Which may be why Gingrich agreed with a supporter today that attacking Romney for his years at Bain was a mistake.
And wouldn't you know - somehow - President Obama was to blame? "It's an impossible thing to talk about with Obama in the background. He is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect."
Which isn't to say that Newt is going soft on Romney. His latest ad attacks the former Massachusetts governor on an issue dear to most South Carolina Republicans:
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: What happened after Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney changed his position from pro-abortion to pro-life? He governed pro-abortion. Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney - he can't be trusted.
SHUSTER: Ah, Newt.
For more on last night's New Hampshire primary and the GOP field going forward, we are joined by Tim Dickinson, contributing editor with Rolling Stone.
Tim, Romney's victory, nearly 40 percent of the total - a grand total of seven delegates. He called it historic, but given the big delegate states still coming up - starting with Florida on the 31st - just how significant was it?
TIM DICKINSON: Well, you know, it's important for Romney to hit his marks here. I mean, he's got a private beach on Lake Winnipesaukee, this is his backyard. And he performed well last night. So, give him some credit.
But, you know, I think the bigger story is that, you know, Jon Huntsman joined this scrum of anti-Romneys, who are jockeying for position to be that other guy. And as long as there is all of that fracturing going on, it seems hard to understand how they are going to trip up Romney in South Carolina or Florida.
SHUSTER: What about Ron Paul? His second place showing - an exit poll showing him getting the most independents and, by far, the larger share of voters under 30, 46 percent- what does that portend for Mitt Romney going forward?
DICKINSON: I think there is going to be, you know, a faction that's going to be there for Ron Paul wherever he goes, but I don't - I don't think the Ron Paul really poses a mortal threat to Romney's nomination, if he is the alternative.
SHUSTER: As we reported last night, Santorum doesn't have much organization. Huntsman doesn't have much money or organization in South Carolina. Gingrich has the super PAC which is helping him. And then there's Rick Perry, which spent $5 million in ads in Iowa, didn't get much. Spent nothing in New Hampshire and it's not clear what he is going to spend in South Carolina. Why are all these campaigns going forward?
DICKINSON: Well, they all have, sort of, just enough support to not be forced out of the race. The one guy, Perry, who doesn't have any support, well - at least he is an evangelical Christian, as opposed to the two Catholics and two Mormons who are in the race. So, he is a much better fit in South Carolina. All of these people have some sort of logic for staying in. It's hard to see how any of them wins if they are all in it together.
SHUSTER: And as far as the Bain attacks - the attacks on Mitt Romney and some of the mistakes and gaffes that he has made - Newt Gingrich seems to be backing off of his assault on unfettered capitalism. But Rick Perry is going in the opposite direction. Does this, sort of, populist play make sense for either candidate?
DICKINSON: Well, I think when you have a libertarian like Paul and then you have Romney as the establishment candidate, there is certainly, you know, a strain of populism that runs through the GOP that's anti-Wall Street and anti-Washington. So, I think there is somebody, you know, Romney - I mean, Gingrich and Perry - I think, are going to be exploiting that divide and I mean, this documentary that came out of the Gingrich super PAC, it's just unvarnished and really worth watching. I think viewers would enjoy taking the half hour to watch that.
SHUSTER: And how does it benefit Gingrich? He made the accusation that the super PAC helping Romney were, you know, obviously former Romney supporters. The super PAC helping Newt Gingrich, obviously Gingrich supporters, and yet - as you pointed out - there is this very harsh video that the voters of South Carolina are going to see. What does that do for Newt Gingrich?
DICKINSON: Well, I think it - it, you know, helps him trip up Romney. If people start to see Romney as - not somebody good who's for the economy, but somebody who's got a sort of predatory instinct when it comes to capitalism - then that helps him stumble. And if Newt can somehow rise then, you know, it doesn't - Romney's numbers are not strong in New Hampshire - I mean, in South Carolina - so it wouldn't take much to push him out of the way, if one of these other candidates can make a name for himself apart from the scrum.
Again, it's a tricky combination and it's hard to see how that all shakes out in 10 days to anybody's favor but Romney's right now.
SHUSTER: And the political terrain, though, very different in South Carolina for Romney than what he had in New Hampshire. How does that impact the next 10 days?
DICKINSON: Well, you know, I think Romney's got to go in and let his surrogates do the talking, let people like Nikki Haley come in and say, you know, "Romney, you may not know him. You may not trust him. But you trust me. And I can tell that you that this is somebody who is worth getting behind."
SHUSTER: And then, we have heard that Romney has a big ad buy going up in South Carolina, another in Florida. Does advertising tend, especially in a state like South Carolina, is it enough - because you can't crisscross the state with events - is it enough for Romney to respond in kind on the airways and essentially blunt these attacks?
DICKINSON: I think so. I mean, he's certainly got the budget for it. He has to go all in here. This is a place where he can clear the field and really coast to the nomination. Otherwise, he will have to go on to Florida, which will be a much more expensive proposition.
SHUSTER: Tim Dickinson, contributing editor with Rolling Stone. Tim, great to have you on the program tonight. Thank you.
DICKINSON: Great to be here. Thanks.
SHUSTER: For some insights into South Carolina politics and the strategies the Republicans are running on each other, we are joined by a Democrat - Assistant House Minority Leader, South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn. Congressman Clyburn, good of you to join us tonight.
JAMES CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for having me.
SHUSTER: Of course. Gingrich's and Perry's stacks on Romney's leveraged buyouts at Bain Capital - will a populist appeal like that work with Republican voters in your state?
CLYBURN: Well, I think it could. Ordinarily, it may not. Except that - in this instance -Bain Capital operated here, in Gaffney, South Carolina. And the people in that community saw the worst of Bain Capital.
And as a result, I think that the ad that is showing these people - and they are all South Carolinians - folks are gonna look at it, they will see their neighbors, people that they go to church with. And they can remember what happened to them, so I think it has a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate what Romney was doing was - not creating 100,000 jobs, as he claimed - but what he was doing was creating wealth for some international investors whose money he used to buy that company and to bankrupt that company while they made a bunch of money.
SHUSTER: How familiar is the story line already in South Carolina? I mean, putting aside the story of Bain Capital, is this a story that the folks down there will essentially resonate to, that they have heard it before, therefore, perhaps, they can relate to it in some sense?
CLYBURN: Oh, absolutely. We have a high employment rate in this state, it's double digits.
People in this state know, full well, that the lower 20 percent quintile in this country, over the last 30 years, saw only a 16 percent increase in their household incomes and they know that the upper 20 percent had a 65 percent increase in their household encloses.
They know, full well, that a lot of their tax monies went to buy out - or bail out - Wall Street and other financial institutions, while jobs were being lost in their communities and on Main Street, and they know, full well, that there is something unfair about that.
And there's one thing you don't have to worry about convincing people of - and that is whether or not fairness took place in this transaction. And they see the backdrop to all of this. They remember Bernie Madoff and stealing $60 billion, and they know that a lot of pensions, funds and a lot of other wealth that have been created was lost. And many of these people have had these IRAs and they know what happened to the value of their holdings when all of this happened.
So, all of this plays into the fact that the very wealthy in this country continued to create wealth while the not-so-wealthy lost their jobs, lost their retirements, were not able to educate their children and they are going to take it out on the first person that they see at the polls.
SHUSTER: Given that, Congressman Clyburn, are you surprised at how well Mitt Romney has been doing so far?
CLYBURN: No, I am not. I think that those of us who have been involved in this process - we knew, full well, when the Supreme Court came down with that ominous decision in so-called Citizens United case, they were opening up the floodgates for money to come into these campaigns, money that was used to demonize Newt Gingrich.
Now, I served under him when he was speaker of the House and I can tell you, I was not all that enamored with Newt Gingrich, but I can tell you this - what happened to him in Iowa with all of that money that was poured in against him is just absolutely unfair, it's un-American and for this to be done in secret and nobody knows whose money it is? We say that criminals -
SHUSTER: But doesn't that then apply -
CLYBURN: That you've got the right to be confronted by your accusers -
SHUSTER: Doesn't it then apply, then, to your state - I mean, to South Carolina - given that it's a Gingrich PAC? Which is essentially - again, we don't know much about it. Given that they are filling the airways in South Carolina with this stuff against Romney, doesn't it also apply then?
CLYBURN: Sure it applies. But this is politics. And in politics, two wrongs sometimes make a right.
SHUSTER: Representative Jim Clyburn. Congressman, thanks for your time tonight. A pleasure as always. We appreciate it.
CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.
SHUSTER: You are welcome.
Now that we know what is waiting for Mitt Romney in South Carolina, what about - and even if it is an eye for an eye - what about his rivals who are wielding the buzz saw? What are they really after?
And later, the conservative National Review says some of the criticism of Romney is asinine. Asinine? The National Review should not be throwing around that term. I will explain. This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: Today in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich again portrayed Mitt Romney as a job-killing corporate demon and then he backed off. Is Gingrich now thinking about his future, and what does that mean?
At the White House today, President Obama gave a speech today about jobs that underscored the contrast he will seek if Romney is the Republican nominee. Plus, the justices at the U.S. Supreme Court just had a raucous discussion about indecency and the future of broadcast television.
And the future is bright for a fearless little girl in Australia, as long as she continues to embrace a screen known as Plexiglas.
SHUSTER: Some surprising news from the Republican presidential candidates: none of them have dropped out.
In our fourth story - unlike after Romney's razor-thin victory in Iowa, none of the other candidates seemed to even consider dropping out after his decisive win in New Hampshire.
Ron Paul and his supporters appeared to take a second-place finish as a victory, drawing chants of "President Paul." His campaign chairman went as far as to call in the other not-Romney candidates to drop out and get behind Ron Paul. "It's been our goal to consolidate this into a two-man race and we are there now."
After skipping Iowa and moving his campaign headquarters to New Hampshire, Jon Huntsman finished a disappointing third. With the exception of his super PAC funded by his billionaire father, the Huntsman campaign lacks the money that other candidates have at their disposal. All of this would have an ordinary candidate reconsidering his run. But not Jon Huntsman.
(Excerpt from video clip) HUNTSMAN: Third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen. Hello, South Carolina.
SHUSTER: Finishing fourth, Newt Gingrich vowed to push forward, not for his own benefit but the good of the Republican Party.
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: The last thing Republicans ought to do is nominate somebody who has not been thoroughly vetted.
SHUSTER: He did, however, leave the door open for his departure after South Carolina.
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: If Romney can win South Carolina, he is probably going to be the nominee.
SHUSTER: After his near-victory in Iowa, Rick Santorum's fortune changed drastically in New Hampshire. Of the candidates actively running in the Granite State, he finished last. But Santorum somehow saw last night's outcome as a decree to - move forward.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: We came where the campaign was and we delivered a message - not just for New Hampshire - but we delivered a message for America, that we have a campaign here.
SHUSTER: As for Rick Perry, after spending $4.5 million in Iowa, the Texas governor skipped New Hampshire all together. Instead, he focused energy on South Carolina, seeming to make that his make-or-break primary. That is, unless Rick Perry goes jogging again.
Let's bring in Rolling Stone contributing editor and "Countdown" contributor, Matt Taibbi. Matt, thanks for your time tonight.
MATT TAIBBI: How are you doing?
SHUSTER: Good. Mitt Romney kind of wins in Iowa - Bachmann drops out and Perry considers dropping out, until a inspirational jog. Romney wins big in New Hampshire. Why didn't anyone even think about leaving?
TAIBBI: Well, not to lapse into sporting metaphors, which are all, you know, all-too-common in campaign seasons, but I think everybody feels like they have a puncher's chance in this race, just because Romney is such an uninspiring candidate.
And the general field is just so wacky and unpredictable this year that you just never know when Republican voters might decide to coalesce around an anti-Romney candidate who could be anybody - it could be Huntsman this week, it could be Perry next week. Nobody really knows.
SHUSTER: The Ron Paul supporters, though, will privately acknowledge - away from the cameras, as you know - that they don't really believe that Ron Paul's got a great chance. Even Ron Paul, when he was asked, "Do you envision yourself in the Oval Office?" He said, "Not really."
What does Ron Paul want?
TAIBBI: Well, you know, I wouldn't take Ron Paul too lightly. I think, you know, the polls show that he actually does better against Barack Obama than any of the Republican candidates. If you think about it, if he were to be the Republican nominee, he would probably do better than Mitt Romney, because he has much more appeal among independents and young people than a Mitt Romney would.
The problem is that the Republican Party will never coalesce around Mitt Romney. The money people in the party will never get behind a guy who, you know, advocates the dissolution of the Federal Reserve system. That's just not going to happen.
So, his problem is - he can't capture a major party on either side, but he would be a very plausible candidate, I think, if he were somehow to manage, to hornswoggle the nomination.
SHUSTER: Do you sense that Ron Paul has any interest or desire in a third-party campaign?
TAIBBI: I think it's possible. I think he has got to be thinking about it, he's got to be looking at the field, he's got to be looking at the weakness of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and thinking, you know, "There is an opportunity here."
But meanwhile, he's sort of like, you know, it's sort of like the movie, "How to Get Ahead in Advertising." He's sort of like a boil on the shoulder of the Republican Party who just won't go away. He is growing but it's a malignant growth and nobody really knows what to do with him.
SHUSTER: Nice image there. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, they have not been much of a factor in either of these early events. What do you make of their altruistic claims that their continued campaigning and the attacks on Romney will actually help the GOP in the general election?
TAIBBI: Well, obviously, it's self-serving. I don't think that that's true. I also think it doesn't matter. I think both of those candidates are irrelevant at this point.
You know, Newt Gingrich has had, you know, not just a second and third chance to be an impact politician at the national level but, you know, he has to be on his 9th or 10th life at this point. And clearly, voters have rejected him overwhelmingly and he is not going to be a factor in this race, no matter what he does in South Carolina. Despite his claims that there is an "Armageddon" of negative attacks coming.
SHUSTER: Is there something to be said, though, that putting the negative attacks out there now essentially takes some of the gas out of them, if the Obama campaign decides to focus on Bain Capital in the fall?
TAIBBI: Yeah. I don't recall believe that. I think those attacks are going to come now. They are going to come later. They are going to come constantly throughout this campaign. Mitt Romney, for all intents and purposes now, is the Republican nominee, and, you know, it starts now. He is going to be taking all of that heat from now until November. So, it doesn't really matter whether it comes now or later. It's going to come.
SHUSTER: As for Jon Huntsman, he put everything he had into New Hampshire, skipped Iowa and he still came in third last night, and now a recent poll has him even behind Steven Colbert in South Carolina. What does Huntsman see that is keeping him in this race? 2016? An opportunity just to raise his profile?
TAIBBI: You know, I don't know. I mean, when I saw that Jon Huntsman today was defending Mitt Romney and saying people shouldn't - other candidates shouldn't gang up on him for his work at Bain Capital, my immediate thought was that he was campaigning for the running mate slot by warming up - cozying up - to Romney at least a little bit. But who knows?
But he's not going to do well in South Carolina. He has zero name recognition anywhere outside of New Hampshire, unless the media decides for some reason to put him forward as a prominent candidate, the way they did with Herman Cain earlier this year.
SHUSTER: Rick Santorum has also backed up a little bit on the criticism of Mitt Romney over Bain Capital, although there has been some jabs. What do you make of Rick Santorum and his possibility of, perhaps, being the conservative representative on the ticket if, in fact, Mitt Romney is the nominee?
TAIBBI: I just don't see it happening. Rick Santorum is a completely incompetent candidate at the national level. He had a brief, flash-in-the-pan showing in Iowa that was driven almost entirely by evangelicals in that state. He doesn't really have any broad-based appeal, despite his attempts to portray himself as the working-class candidate of the Republican Party. I just don't think that's going to happen. And he's just not a plausible candidate at that level.
SHUSTER: Matt Taibbi, contributing editor for Rolling Stone and a "Countdown" contributor. Matt, thanks as always, we appreciate it.
TAIBBI: Thanks very much.
SHUSTER: Just ahead, National Review Online, a leading conservative publication, should apologize for the whopper they served up. What is wrong with them?
Up next, there is nothing wrong with the former Prime Minister of Australia. He is just thirsty, in "Time Marches On!"
SHUSTER: Coming up, we examine the potential Obama versus Romney match-up. And Romney's love story with capitalism.
But first, the "Sanity Break," and it was on this day in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument.
A strong advocate of environmental conservation, the Republican President also established the National Wildlife Refuge to protect the nation's animals, fish, and birds. Or, as today's Republicans would call it, "typical liberal, big-spending, wasteful government."
"Time Marches On!"
VIDEO: Former Australian PM Hawke chugs a beer at a cricket match.
We begin, as we always do, with a former Australian prime minister chugging a beer.
At an Australia versus India cricket match last week, former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was handed a beer by some rowdy fans. Always the crowd pleaser, Mr. Hawke drank the beer down like a Waltzing Matilda.
Hawke, Australian for awesome.
VIDEO: Meet JR, the Texas longhorn with the world's longest horns, in - Australia.
We remain in the land down under, where we meet JR, a steer with the longest horns in the world.
Bred from Texas stock, JR's horns measure an incredible nine feet, 10 inches long. Observers say it's the oddest thing to come out of Texas since Rick Perry.
Perhaps the horns grew thanks to electricity, raising the question - who shocked JR?
JR, who now holds the Guinness Record for world's biggest set of longhorns, says he plans to celebrate by watching his favorite movie, "The Horn Ultimatum."
VIDEO: The world's bravest three-year-old girl stares down a lion at the Wellington, NZ zoo.
Finally, we stay in the same region and travel to New Zealand, where we meet three-year-old Sofia Walker, possibly the world's bravest three year old.
While visiting the Wellington Zoo, Sofia gets involved in a bit of a staring contest with a lion, and the lion looks like he wants to win. But Sofia stands her ground, barely even flinching.
This is what it must be like to debate Newt Gingrich.
"Time Marches On!"
Just ahead - today, President Obama and Mitt Romney showed us a key part of the clash they will have in a general election.
And the ironic obsession at the conservative National Review with the word "asinine." You don't want to miss that one.
SHUSTER: We bring you "Countdown," live each night at 8pm Eastern. Primary replays at 11pm and 2am Eastern.
You could call it a fall preview of sorts - the politics of free enterprise comes face to face with the politics of equal opportunity.
In our third story on the "Countdown" - the economic debate that seems destined to shape the general election has begun to emerge. Mitt Romney is slamming the "politics of envy," while President Obama today - in a subtle jab at Romney - slammed U.S. firms that buy U.S. companies and ship jobs overseas.
First, to Romney. Following his victory in New Hampshire last night, the GOP front-runner took to the stage and defended his capitalist past:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. And in the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him. This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation. The country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We have to offer an alternative vision.
SHUSTER: This morning, Romney was given the opportunity to clarify those remarks.
(Excerpt from video clip) MATT LAUER: I'm curious about the word "envy." Do you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or is it about fairness?
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: You know, I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare. I think - when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent - you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of "one nation under God." Everywhere we go - or he goes - we hear him talking about "millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street." It's a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.
SHUSTER: Meanwhile, President Obama spent his morning today with a group of business leaders, holding a forum at the White House on "insourcing" - which is encouraging job creation in this country. The president says he wants to reward companies that invest in America and punish those that do not.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: In the next few weeks, we're also going to put forward new tax proposals that reward companies that choose to bring jobs home and invest in America, and we're gonna eliminate tax breaks for companies that are moving jobs overseas.
SHUSTER: Let's bring in Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor and staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, also a contributor to their new political website politics.newyorker.com, and he's also author of "Obamanos: The Birth of a New Political Era." And Rick, thanks for your time, as always. We appreciate it.
HENDRIK HERTZBERG: Good to be here, David.
SHUSTER: How fundamental are the differences between Romney and President Obama on the economy?
HERTZBERG: Well, they are pretty fundamental, and the way that Romney is now framing those differences is a real stroke of luck for Obama. It couldn't be done better if he had written Romney's statements himself.
SHUSTER: Essentially by pivoting and having Romney have to defend the one percent and putting Obama on the side of the 99 percent, I guess, you know, the question is - has Romney walked into a trap here? And is it his own fault, or have the Democrats been able to set this for him?
HERTZBERG: Well, Occupy Wall Street, actually, did a lot of the groundwork, laid a lot of the groundwork for this. And the Democrats are very happy to see it happen.
I mean, in that interview with Matt Lauer this morning, Romney said, for example, that "the one percent are the most successful." The suggestion there is that - if you are an ordinary person or if you are a cop or a schoolteacher - if whatever you do doesn't get you in the one percent of income, then you are not successful. I don't think that's a winning strategy for Romney. And he really plays the part of the detached one percenter.
SHUSTER: How much of this are you detecting that the Obama re-election campaign is picking up on? And, I suppose, just sort of storing away for advertisements or for the campaign in the fall?
HERTZBERG: If they are not doing that, then they are not doing their jobs. I trust that they are doing it.
SHUSTER: Is each as liberal or conservative as the other side would have you believe?
HERTZBERG: Well, Obama really isn't as liberal as the other side would have you believe. He is not a socialist. That's kind of their line. He is a - he is a center-left, moderate liberal. That's what he was when he was running for president. That's what he has been as president.
Romney, well, we don't know how conservative or un-conservative he is. He's - it depends upon what year it is. It depends upon what office he is running for. Of course, it's a great strength of his that nobody believes that he believes what he is saying, in any fundamental way. Just that he thinks that's the most advantageous thing to say at that particular moment.
That's a strength, in a sense. But it's a - it's a weakness, too.
SHUSTER: Is it also the possibility that maybe Romney is trying to - his rhetoric is far more conservative than he might be in a general election? That he simply - until he has the nomination wrapped up, until he gets through South Carolina and Florida - he going to be the, sort of, hard-line conservative on economic issues and he'll move back to, perhaps, more-familiar territory in the center once he gets the nomination?
HERTZBERG: He will probably try to do that. That's the usual - that's the usual thing that Republican nominees do. And it's been greatly, greatly exaggerated by - by the atmosphere in the Republican Party nowadays.
SHUSTER: If Romney is, in fact, the nominee and it's Romney versus Obama and the key issue is the economy - the way things are playing now, what are the strengths and weaknesses for both?
HERTZBERG: Well, the strengths of Obama are going to depend largely on how the economy does in the months approaching the election. That's going to be more important than what either candidate has to say.
Romney's weakness is also his strength. It may take people awhile to understand this, but the talents you want for a corporate-raider CEO don't have a lot to do with the talents you want and need to be President of the United States.
Obama's strength, as always, is his reasonableness, and his calm and his clarity.
It's going to be quite a contest, and it should be one where the battle lines are drawn very clearly and where the public has a chance to actually think about which of these two approaches that it really wants.
SHUSTER: Rick, what do you make of what Frank Luntz said last night on Fox News, that conservatives should not be defending capitalism, they should be defending what they describe as "economic freedom?"
HERTZBERG: Well, Frank Luntz is certainly an expert on what the emotional valence of various terms is. I mean, he's the guy that gave us the "death tax." And if he thinks that capitalism is becoming a toxic word, that's a surprise.
And it's a surprise that's probably a welcome one for Obama and an unwelcome one for Romney.
SHUSTER: Rick Hertzberg, senior editor and staff writer at the New Yorker. Rick, thanks as always. We appreciate it.
HERTZBERG: My pleasure.
SHUSTER: Just ahead, the raucous arguments this week at the Supreme Court. Justice Alito let it rip about the future of television.
But up next, basic fact checking no longer seems to be a concern for the National Review, a leading conservative publication. And ironically, they are the ones throwing around the word "asinine."
SHUSTER: Any time justices start talking about nudity and dirty words, well, that's not a discussion one should miss. We will talk it over with comedian Christian Finnegan.
Next, perhaps the editors at the conservative National Review Online are spending too much time doing research on nudity and too little time fact-checking political reporting.
You are watching "Countdown."
SHUSTER: I've long believed that all of us become better citizens when we get our news from multiple sources. It's why I encourage folks not just to watch me, but to watch other programs, read several newspapers, and consider analysis from across the spectrum.
The problem comes when part of that spectrum throws basic facts out the window. And that takes us to the National Review, a leading conservative publication. Yesterday, the editors of National Review published an online column praising Mitt Romney's profitable past at the Bain private equity firm. The column hammered New Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Jon Huntsman for comments like this:
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: Why did Bain make so much money out of companies that were going bankrupt?
(Excerpt from video clip)PERRY: There's a real difference between venture capitalism and vulture capitalism. Venture capitalism, we like. Vulture capitalism, no.
SHUSTER: According to National Review, these candidates were engaged in a "perverse contest" and that their criticism of Romney was "asinine." The National Review Editors then wrote, "Mitt Romney ran a firm that invested in struggling businesses, made money, and never asked for a bailout."
Yes, according to the National Review - which is throwing around the word "asinine" - Romney never asked for a bailout.
The Boston Globe on October 25, 1994, "Republican Senate nominee Mitt Romney's rescue of a business consulting firm was achieved, in part, by convincing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to forgive roughly $10 million of the company's debts, according to sources close to the deal and federal records obtained by the Boston Globe."
In other words, not only did Romney ask for a bailout, he received one. And let's be clear - when any institution lets you or your company forgive and forget a ten million dollar debt, that is a bailout.
And this, by the way, isn't the only bailout in Romney's past. Romney's Bain Capital took over a steel mill. When the mill collapsed, every employee lost their job. And who bailed out the mill's pension plan? The federal government, not Bain. That bailout cost U.S. taxpayers $44 million. And yet, despite the mill's failure and the government having to step in to cover pensions, Bain still pocketed nearly $10 million.
To my friends at the National Review Online, if you want to carry water for Mitt Romney and his brand of capitalism at Bain, that's fine. I'm sure other establishment conservative media will soon follow your lead.
But all news publishers, even you, have an obligation to be honest and truthful. Using Nexis or Google is not difficult. Basic fact checking is not difficult.
And if you really care about the things that are asinine - your word - look at your own approach.
SHUSTER: The hallowed halls of the United States Supreme Court are not the usual locale for discussions of sex scenes, nudity, and four-letter words. But in our first story on the "Countdown" - the session of the high court on Tuesday was described as "rocking" and "rollicking."
In a case brought by the Federal Communications Commission against Fox Television Stations for broadcasting fleeting expletives by celebrities at awards shows on the channel, the justices considered whether the government can regulate content deemed indecent on the public airwaves.
In a 1978 case, FCC versus Pacifica Foundation, the court ruled that the FCC can require broadcasters to restrict George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" routine. For a quarter-century following that ruling, the FCC narrowly enforced the "indecency" precedent. That is until 2004, when the Commission ramped up its enforcement of forbidden expression - so that even one transgression, if vulgar enough, would bring a hefty fine for the broadcaster.
There seems to be little interest on the bench in overhauling the current system and overruling its own previous precedent.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr. suggested publically during oral arguments that the court should not even bother if the whole medium is just going to fade into oblivion soon anyway. The rookie said, "Broadcast TV is living on borrowed time. It is not going to be long before it goes the way of vinyl records and eight-track tapes. So why not let this die a natural death?"
The decency caucus on the bench - made up of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Anthony, Kennedy, Alito, and Scalia - didn't feel much friction from the other justices on the indecency issue - while Justice Sonia Sotomayor recused herself.
In a telling slip, Chief Justice Roberts said, "All we are asking for," before correcting himself, "What the government is asking for, is a few channels where you are not going to hear the S-word, the F-word."
For more on all things indecent, let's bring in comedian and actor Christian Finnegan. Christian, thanks for your time tonight.
CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN: Hi, David.
SHUSTER: Justice Alito, during discussion in court on Tuesday, questioned that - if the court allows the First Amendment to trump decency - what will people who watch Fox be seeing between 6:00am and 10:00pm? Are they going to be seeing a lot of people parading in the nude and a stream of expletives? Could you have envisioned that Fox content would get any worse? And, by the way, thanks to Justice Alito for the mental image.
FINNEGAN: David, if you want to know what an uncensored version of Fox News would look like, all you have to do is read my dream journal. Of course, it wouldn't all be sexuality. A lot of it would just be profanity. Most of the programming during the day would just be Sean Hannity screaming expletives at an immigrant.
But then, there would be some adult content as well, of course. We would start off with "Fox and Friends - With Benefits." And then we would end the night with Bill O'Reilly's "Tales of the Golden Loofah." And who is that peeking in from the bushes? Ooh, it's Judge Andrew Napolitano. He doesn't just like to watch. He likes to "Freedom Watch." I'm telling you, David, it's going to be a slippery slope. A very slippery slope.
SHUSTER: Clarence Thomas, as usual, said nothing yesterday. If we could read Clarence's mind, what would he be thinking about indecency on TV?
FINNEGAN: Well, I was hoping that now, if the indecency laws get changed, maybe we could finally learn what that whole "pubic hair on a can of Coke" joke was. Twenty years I've been wondering - like, is it a funny "you had to be there" joke? Or is it, like, a joke joke?
I think Clarence Thomas is smart enough to know, "Okay, indecency, I am going to keep my mouth shut. There is nothing to be gained by me talking." But I do have a friend who was in court and peeked behind the bench today. That was not a gavel. And yes, he was very happy to see you.
SHUSTER: Former Solicitor General Seth Waxman, who represents ABC in this case - he argued that the "indecent" policy is too vague. That, for instance, the FCC has taken action against ABC for its opening coverage of the last Olympics, because ABC's coverage included a statue that had bare breasts and buttocks. Do you, personally, find bronze parts of the human anatomy offensive?
FINNEGAN: Well, I think we all know that bronze is the sluttiest of all precious metals and alloys. Think about it. You hear the word "gold," you think of, like, Betty White and the "Golden Girls." You think of bronze, you think of, like, the cast of "Jersey Shore," and that is much skankier.
A lot of those statues in the Olympics are very slutty. Have you ever been to a courtroom lately? It's hard not to get turned on with all the exposed bosoms and all that.
By the way, I didn't know - you just mentioned that Justice Sotomayor recused herself
FINNEGAN: From the indecency trial. Kind of makes you want to party with her, doesn't it?
SHUSTER: Well, why do you think she recused herself? I mean, other than the obvious?
FINNEGAN: I am not entirely sure. I am going to jump on the Google machine and select "private browsing."
SHUSTER: Maybe it was not about case law. In any case, do you think the Supreme Court will - will actually relieve the FCC of its responsibility to patrol the air waves? And would we start seeing, for instance - I mean, what would we see on Sesame Street, if that happened?
FINNEGAN: David, I see what you are trying to do right now. You are trying to get me to speak ill of a cherished children's television landmark. Yeah, sure, I could make some crass joke about "What's Oscar doing in his trash can?" Or I could talk about, "What part is Elmo going to want you to tickle now?" Or I could say that today's episode is sponsored by the letters "F" and "U" and the number 69. I am not going to do that, David. And you should be ashamed of yourself.
SHUSTER: The Supreme Court should be ashamed for not allowing us to actually see televised broadcasts of their court hearings - the oral arguments, as they like to say.
FINNEGAN: Oh. I - eee -
SHUSTER: Maybe oral is not such a good word. But if we saw the justices in person - for those who were not actually in the Great Hall for the arguments - what kind of, like, facial expressions - or, how do you think they were sort of handling what, to some of them, must be icky stuff? Right?
FINNEGAN: I imagine there was a lot of kind of, like, clearings of the throats, a lot of funny - "Well, I am not interested in this kind of thing. I am just asking theoretically, you know. If I was going to turn on, like, something uncensored, what kind of things would I see?" But I - we will all have to wonder. We are going to have to wait for the, you know, dramatic readings.
SHUSTER: Yeah, or - the Supreme Court does release audio recordings. Maybe we will have to see - have to listen to them and see if there is any heavy breathing.
FINNEGAN: Hopefully set to some sort of, like, hip-hop beat, if possible. It would be quite a mash-up. That's what the kids call them, right? Mash-ups? I think so.
SHUSTER: Maybe even mash-up is not the right word we should use for this story.
Christian Finnegan, comedian, actor. Christian, thank you so much for your time tonight. We appreciate it.
FINNEGAN: No. No. No. Thank you.
SHUSTER: Good to see you. And that is our show for tonight. I am David Shuster and, of course, stay with us for all of the latest political coverage. The mash-up, in Christian's words, that is the Republican caucus and primary system - that continues and, of course, we will have another full report on that tomorrow night.
Thank you for joining us, everybody. Have a great night.