So you're staring out at the camera people, watching the looks on their faces when you said this?
The people on that show felt like they'd been hit by a storm out of nowhere. Many of them sensed there were going to be changes, but they certainly didn't think it would be announced like that. It didn't have to be that way. It wasn't because of faults on my end of the deal, but I still feel as if I did that to those people. There was a lot of emotion and a lot of regret.
What were your initial discussions with Al Gore like when he called?
"Would you like to do Countdown on Current?" and I said, "Yes. Can you afford to do it?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Who's going to be in charge of it?" He said, "You are." Then our people just went in and built the damn thing in two weeks. It was that quick.
You didn't have time to grow a beard or be depressed.
No, and I didn't have time to sit around going, "Gee, I wonder if there's a better environment for me." No, Al Gore's going to be my boss! I slept on it overnight, and we started going with it on Sunday. Everything since then has been like that. "What do you need?" We're not doing this new show to find a place for me to have a home—we're going to do this right. We're going to take MSNBC's business away from them—that's the idea, to do it better.
Let's talk about politics. Do you think the Republican push for cutting the budget is going to blow up in their faces?
This is about the nature of the authoritarian mind. Once the Republicans get rolling, they assume they're going to win everything. They are zealots, and zealots assume the last five percent of whatever their plan is will be taken care of by their own greatness or momentum or divinity. They never sit and think, "We got 95 percent of what we want, let's quit and solidify what we have." They always overreach. Do you really think Barack Obama would have been elected president of the United States if George Bush had been a moderate?
What's been your biggest disappointment with Obama so far?
The night before the inauguration, I wrote a "Special Comment" criticizing him—it was obvious that he was not going to hold the Bush administration accountable. He said, "We don't want to waste this administration playing politics." I said to myself, "OK, that's you—but the Republicans want to waste your administration playing politics."
We had laws broken in this country that involved the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in another country, and more than 4,000 people from our country. Not acting against Dick Cheney or John Yoo or Alberto Gonzales indemnifies the next president, Republican or Democrat. It lets them know exactly what they can get away with. To me, that remains a cloud over Obama's entire administration.
Everything else, particularly on health care reform, he was right and I was wrong. I thought he needed to be in there with a mallet, pounding away from Day One. Instead, he came in at the end and saved it. His health care reform wasn't sufficient by any stretch of the imagination, but he was right—it's a start, and it will grow as years go by.
He's good at the rope-a-dope.
He's very good. Two years ago I attended an off-the-record lunch he held for columnists. It was two hours, unplugged, no restrictions on what he couldn't say. It was like watching a great play—just masterful. I was thinking, "Bottom line is, this is one of the 1,000 smartest guys in the country." And how many of those have we ever elected president?
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