Interview with Senator Sherrod Brown

By Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow Show - February 11, 2013


Guests: Sherrod Brown, Victor Fehrenbach


THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you very much.

SCHULTZ: You bet.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining this hour.

To those of you who are still snowed in on the East Coast, I salute you, and I empathize, barely escaped myself. A big thanks to Melissa Harris-Perry for filling in for me on Friday when I was snowed in.

When Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he would resign as Pope, that he would abdicate the papacy, the move was greeted, frankly, with shock. That is something that has not happened in 600 years is happening right now.

But it was also clear immediately that even though nothing like this has happened in 600 years, or 598 years to be exact, the Catholic Church nevertheless had a plan ready to go. Even though no Pope has resigned his seat since the year 1415, and this resignation announcement today from Pope Benedict was totally unexpected, despite all of that, there is apparently an agreed upon protocol for what happens in an instance like this.

Once Pope Benedict leaves the Vatican on February 28th, the church says he will go live for a while in Castle Gandolfo, which is the Pope`s summer house in a small town outside of Rome. He will live at that castle while construction work is done on a cloistered monastery inside the Vatican complex. Then, when the construction is done, he will move back into the Vatican. And living in that cloistered monastery, provided that papal cloistering is like other kinds of cloistering, I think that means he will have no contact with the outside world while he lives there. He will be closed off.

In any case, the cardinals will then meet, they say before the end of March, to choose Pope Benedict`s successor. And then we will have two living Popes, or one living Pope and an ex-Pope.

But there is a plan. Before we goat the drama and the political and theological import of the choosing of the new Pope what is remarkable here just organizationally is that there is an agreed upon and accept wade forward in an instance like this. There is a plan for how this goes, this thing that last happened in the early 1400s.

Is this like plan X, plan Y? This can`t possibly be any plans listed at the beginning of the alphabet. But they have a plan.

We have only existed as a country since the late 1700s, which in world historical perspective is not long at all. Compared with the institutions and traditions of the Catholic Church, we as a nation are a spring chicken.

But within our own timetable of American history, our national history, one of the most ancient rituals and traditions that we have as a nation is something that will happen tomorrow night, the State of the Union address. The State of the Union is one of those very specific things like the post office or the census that is called for explicitly in the United States Constitution.

Article 1 in the Constitution is about the Congress, the legislative branch. Article 2 is about the presidency. Article 3 is the judicial branch. And the part of the Constitution that calls for the State of the Union message is in Article 2, Section 3. It says the presidential from time to time give to the congress information about the State of the Union.

And since it is in the Constitution, we have been doing this from the very beginning. The first one was January 1790, George Washington. He delivered his State of the Union address to congress. He made his recommendations to them for action.

George Washington was, of course, the first president. John Adams was the second president. By the time we got to the third president, Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson thought the whole speech to Congress thing was actually a little showy, made the president too king-like for his taste. So Jefferson decided to meet this particular constitutional obligation in writing, rather than by giving a speech.

That tradition held sway for more than 100 years until 1913, when the speaking tradition of the State of the Union was revived in what was a controversial move at the time by President Woodrow Wilson. So, Wilson`s innovation was really I guess the major innovation in this ancient ritual that we have as a nation. The return to it being delivered in speech form, which happened in 1913.

The only other major innovation that we have had over the centuries started in 1966. That`s when the party that is not the president`s party started giving, in effect, a rebut toll the State of the Union. The Republicans started it when LBJ was president.

They started it in 1966. The top Republican in the House and the top Republican in the Senate, Everett Dirksen and Gerald Ford, they wanted to critique LBJ`s State of the Union. So they went on television right after his speech, and they gave a Republican response.

They thought it was so successful that first year that the same two Republicans responded to LBJ`s speech again the following year. And then apparently drunk with their own success, the third year that they did it, they had 17 Republicans responding to LBJ -- 17.

When Nixon became president the following year, Democrats had their first chance to do their own party`s rebuttal. And in their first response, they had seven Democrats respond to Nixon.

Do you get the feeling that it was becoming a little bit of a circus, you are not alone. And the young tradition of the opposite party`s response to the State of the Union died after the first couple of years there. Apparently it died of its own top-heaviness. And it was dead for most of the next decade.

Eventually, though, the president getting all that unanswered air time and attention proved too much for Washington`s partisans, and the State of the Union responses started up again after the 1970s.

And now, it is well-established that every year, the party out of power, the party who does not hold the White House will offer a response. After more than a generation of doing it this way, it feels like almost as much as a tradition as the State of the Union itself. The rebuttal address or response address from the other party is carried by all of the networks that carry the State of the Union itself. It`s treated with essentially the same gravitas.

And to be named as the respondent to the State of the Union for your party, that is considered a real elevation within your party. I mean, you essentially bookend the president`s remarks. You alone are responsible for embodying and articulating your own party`s coherent unified alternative to what the country has just heard from the president. Or at least you used to be. Because now, Republicans have come up with yet another innovation for this most ancient American political ritual.

They were the first ones who came up with the rebuttal address in 1966. And now since Barack Obama has been president, they have come up with a new idea -- the idea of doing not just a rebuttal to the president`s State of the Union address, but also a rebuttal to their own rebuttal. What?

Yes. For the third year in a row now, Republicans are rebutting themselves as well as rebutting the president. What could possibly go wrong?

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