Back in August, I was lucky enough to interview Rachel Maddow at the Democratic convention; now, 6 months - and one anchor chair - later, I got to check in and see how everything's going.
Thing is, having read all the other interviews Rachel Maddow has done recently so as not to repeat too much, I realized that everyone had pretty much already asked her just about everything anyone probably ever wanted to know about her and then some. Mostly "some".
Fictional character she identifies with: Wally Cleaver. Cause he is a dork.
Asked if her television career is the culmination of a plotted path, Maddow laughs. "You mean when I started working on AIDS in prisons, was this where I thought it would end up? Yeah. This is pretty much it. Phase forty-seven of my master plan."
LESLEY: Did you go out with boys in high school?
LESLEY: Spin the bottle, and all that kind of stuff?
RACHEL: Oh, yeah. My prom pictures are hilarious.
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"If I'm wearing a gray suit, people aren't going to talk about what I'm wearing," Maddow explains, "therefore, I will wear a gray suit every time I go on television. That was sort of the plan."
Mother Jones: You're TV's "It Girl." How does it feel?
Rachel Maddow: It doesn't feel like that.
It was going to be hard to find a question that someone else hadn't already asked her, and I am completely opposed to being unoriginal.
Last week, settled into a booth at a midtown Manhattan bar that serves classic cocktails with rummy deliciousness in my hand, I had a flash of inspiration. And so began our interview.
Megan: So, who makes your lip gloss?
Rachel: I don't know! It's provided to me by the very nice people who work in the MSNBC make-up room. The only thing I know is that one of them that they seem to use every other day makes my lips hurt. That's apparently on purpose? It has some sort of irritant...
Megan: It's a plumper!
Rachel: A plumper? That sounds like some sort of fetish.
Megan: Plumping, it's supposed to make your lips look biggers.
Rachel: Who's into plumping? Well, it's pain, which I don't like. They never warn me, and I can't identify it by sight because I don't watch what the products are as they approach my face. So, I don't enjoy the plumping. But that probably narrows it down as to what brand it is, right? Are there a lot of plumping glosses out there?
Megan: There are a lot of things that will make your lips really large.
Rachel: As make-up? It's a whole class of make-up, not just one brand? Well, then I can't help you. But there is one guy there who has mascara that has a motor in it!
Megan: Like, a vibrating magic mascara wand?
Rachel: You said it.
Megan: I do tend to say things like that. But, um, I've now officially run out of personal questions that no one else has asked you, so it's about to be the most awkward segue ever.
Rachel: It's okay.
Megan: Well, so, to get back to the plumping thing, I'm reminded of the word surge, and Obama has just announced a new Surge in Afghanistan, since the last surge was, like, so much fun.
Megan: So, like, the new Surge will be like twice the fun even though it's only half the people and doesn't involve anyone that attended the first Surge going to the second Surge. It's sort of all new people going to the new Surge and all the old Surge people kind of staying there.
Rachel: And it's not a Surge because they'll never leave. It's more like a swelling. A plumping! Rather that a surge. Because a surge would imply some sort of temporary rise and fall whereas I think an escalation would be a better word for what it is they want to do.
Megan: Well, they probably don't want to call it that.
Rachel: Right? Awkward. About the troop levels in Afghanistan, we're in year 8 already. So they're all like, we're going to need a 3 or 4 year commitment. No, no, no, what's you're saying is that we're actually going to need an 11 or 12 year commitment. What are years 11 and 12 going to work out better than, I don't know, years 3 and 4? 7 and 8? 1 and 2? Pick any. We've been there a long time.
Megan: Yeah, George Bush probably should have gone back and looked in Vladimir Putin's soul again and asked him, because the Russians probably know a little bit about that.
Rachel: General Gromov, who was the last Russian general who supervised their withdrawal and was the last person over the line when they left in 1989, said, "Yeah, what we learned is that you can't solve political problems though military means." Duh.
Megan: Wait, so the Russians in 1989 were the Republicans in 1998?
Rachel: Well, not anymore, because we're not leaving.
Megan: Well, so we'll gain Russian-levels of insight into foreign affairs in about 2015.
Rachel: Yes. Well, no, let's see, what year is it now? 2009. So in 2029, we'll be giving the Chinese this advice.
Megan: Sounds like a good plan! Speaking of China, Hillary Clinton went there having hit up Japan, Indonesia and South Korea. That's the same part of the world, right? They're all short and stuff.
Rachel: There is a geographic commonality in the broadest sense.
Megan: Sort of like Canada and Chile.
Rachel: Yeah, exactly, "The Americas." In the same way that Sarah Palin and Alberto Fujimori are representative of the Americas, also South Korea and China are.
Megan: So which leader will go to jail, then, like Fujimori?
Rachel: Which one will send dramatic faxes to his homeland from exile? Hard to say. But I think the amazing thing about Hillary Clinton in Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and China is that she timed it to Kim Jong Il's birthday. Kim Jong Il's birthday is a big deal. There has to be a lot of synchronized swimming, there has to be of course dancing, there has to be a costumed procession...
Megan: Sort of like prom?
Rachel: More crappy even then prom, the dancing on the occasion of the Dear Leader's birth. There was, apparently, a mysterious halo that appeared around the moon on the occasion of his birthday this year. Very unearthly.
Megan: Is that how he gets his golf skills? I mean, he only golfed the one time, but 18 holes-in-one, you really can't top it.
Rachel: It's a world record! It's almost as impressive as Pat Robertson holding the international leg press record. Pat Robertson said he could leg press 2,000 pounds, which meant that he would have won the Olympics. It's the same kind of thing. I don't know if they have a Regent University, I don't know if they have something that is as much a representation of the spiritual worthiness of that leader, but...
Megan: I'm pretty sure there's some goosestepping in both places. I can see it.
Rachel: Was it Regent University where Mitt Romney gave the speech about how France limited its marriages to seven years? Or was that Liberty University? I get them confused.
Megan: I think it was Liberty [Ed: Rachel was right, it was Regent]. Liberty's the one that advertises on Washington's subway.
Rachel: Wow. I love that. I love that you can just make a university! I love that! It's accredited.
Megan: I'd bet I could accredit myself.
Rachel: At Hampshire College every year they spray paint quotation marks around the word "College" on the sign out in front of the school.
Megan: I know someone who got kicked out of Hampshire College for doing too many drugs.
Rachel: You know someone who's dead!
Megan: No, in fact, we had drinks about a year and a half ago!
Rachel: "Drinks" you said?
[We order another round of drinks.]
Megan: So back to Hillary Clinton and the catfight she's about the get in with Tim Geithner over China, since I'm sick of catfights only being girl-on-girl. Have you heard about this?
Rachel: The Eyebrows of Doom! His hair is perfect, but his eyebrows are like Eliot Abrams style. His eyebrows are Richard Perle quality.
Megan: Are they Jim Gilmore quality?
Rachel: No, no, no, they're bigger! They're better! They're not reach out and grab you eyebrows, they're Eyebrows of Doom! They're like lifted eyebrows. The whole like crazy arch, death ray eyebrows. Geithner should not be messed with.
Megan: Well, so, the catfight. In the Bush Administration, Henry Paulson since he was like BFF with Wu Yi, and Sue Schwab ended up at USTR but had no power and Condi Rice was all over Middle East policy at State, Paulson got the Strategic Economic Dialogue with China which became sort of the place where most China policy ended up.
Rachel: Right, because his relationship preceded his Treasury Secretary-ness because of his time at Goldman Sachs. Ugh.
Megan: Right, so, Hillary Clinton is all up in China's business on economic policy, taking bits of what turf on China policy got passed to Geithner, going to Asia, taking advantage of Geither pissing off the Chinese during his confirmation hearing and Geithner's need to fix the economy.
Rachel: Hillary Clinton is ready to take up a lot of room! The amount of room there is to be taken up is finite. And somebody is going to take it up. It's exciting to imagine the changes that might happen in our own government and in the world, the range of options that we have as an economy and a military and a government operating in the world, if our State Department matters. And she's grabbing power and installing loyalists, she's completely filling up the policy space and taking over the State Department. It's great!
Megan: And Gates is getting out of her way, too.
Rachel: Exactly, and she can say, well, the Secretary of Defense agrees with me. We haven't been here in a long time. It's exactly the thing I want us as a country to be trying, I don't know exactly how it's going to work out. But the thing that's going to happen is that, when agencies do stuff, they get good at that thing. And when they don't do stuff, they don't know how to do that thing anymore. And so the State Department hasn't taken up this room in a long time, so it's a big calling out of the diplomatic corps. Like, are you capable of taking this stuff on? Are you capable of taking over the primary mission in Afghanistan? Not like support, but are you going to be the front line of what America is trying to accomplish there? Can you? Do we know how? Can we manage our own security? And all this stuff. And it's asking a lot of an agency that has suffered in not silence in exactly, but in quietness for a really long time. And now they're front and center, and they need to step up and build capacity really quickly. Great! It's exactly what I want. But I actually have a question for you, going back to Afghanistan. Who is against it? The war, I mean, not the escalation.
Megan: Besides Barbara Lee? And Sean Penn, I guess.
Rachel: Yeah, who's arguing that we should get them all home?
Megan: Nobody. But who knows that we lost more soldier in Afghanistan in January than we lost in Iraq? What are we there for? What are we fighting for? Are we fighting the Pakistan-Afghanistan border war? Are we trying to stabilize the Pakistan government? Keep the Taliban from coming back? In a very realist sense — and not that I'm a realist in terms of foreign policy — but what was our major foreign policy problem with the Taliban other than that they gave Osama bin Laden safe haven when he decided to blow our shit up?
Rachel: I mean, that was a problem, but Sudan also gave him a safe haven.
Megan: But those were black people.
Rachel: So we didn't invade them?
Megan: Yeah, why would we want to get involved in a morass there that already proved unsolvable when we can prove the Russians were just not doing it right. Like, Africa is such a mess!
Rachel: That's okay, AFRICOM has got it under control, man.
Megan: The whole continent!
Rachel: Yeah, it's AfricCOM. It's not SenegalCOM. It's not Cote d'COM. It's AfriCOM
Megan: It's not CongoCom. Or ZimbabweCOM.
Rachel: That whole country!
Megan: Isn't that how we deal with it?
Rachel: It's easier than learning the boundaries. I don't think we're very far away from the American religious right picking some new obscure opposition movement in Africa to privilege as some sort of religiously-inspired freedom fighter sort of thing.
Megan: You mean, when they're done with Israel?
Rachel: No, like, the new Janjaweed. We're due for that. For American evangelicals to decide on a new mascot.
Megan: Are they allowed to have black people as a mascot?
Rachel: You know, that will be really fascinating to find out.
Megan: I mean, other than Michael Steele.
Rachel: Yeah, he's going to make over the RNC. It's gonna be all hip hop over in the RNC now.
Megan: Maybe he can get Eminem to help.
Related: A Pundit in the Country [New York Times]
Rachel Maddow's Life and Career [The Nation]
The Dr. Maddow Show [New York Magazine]
Lesley Stahl Asks Rachel Maddow: What Do You Do at 7 on Sundays? [wowOwow]
Rachel Maddow's Star Power (Extended Interview) [Mother Jones]
Earlier: Rachel Maddow: "I Need To Focus On What I Think, So That I Can Stay Original"