updated 3/18/2008 12:11:20 PM ET 2008-03-18T16:11:20

Guests: Eugene Robinson

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  I‘m David Gregory. 

Tonight, our first edition of fast pace, the bottom line, and every point of view in the room.  This is an historic campaign and the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  This is the place for politics.  And our goal here is simple.  Be smarter, faster and better than any campaign coverage around.  The foundation of the show, a panel that comes to play.  Journalists, analysts, sharp political minds.  You know and trust even if you don‘t always agree with them. 

The panel tonight, “Air America‘s” Rachel Maddow, “The Washington Post‘s” Gene Robinson, NBC News political director Chuck Todd, and the host of “Morning Joe,” Joe Scarborough. 

We begin as we will every night with each panelist‘s take on the most important political story of the day.  “The Headlines.” 

Chuck Todd, you‘ve got more than a headline.  You got breaking news tonight.  What is it? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Yes, it‘s within the last 15 minutes.  Florida is one and done.  There will not be a revote with the Florida Democrats and a Florida Democratic primary.  The party announced tonight that there was just no appetite for this inside the Florida Democratic Party.  You had supporters of both Barack Obama in Florida and Hillary Clinton not wanting a revote.  They were going to try and mail-in primary. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

TODD:  Just was not going to work. 

GREGORY:  They didn‘t. 

TODD:  Democrats are really hurt, but. 

GREGORY:  They didn‘t want a repeat of 2000 at all.  They make

reference in the letter, the number 537.  That was the spread between Gore

and Bush.  They don‘t want any part of that business anymore. 

TODD:  Right.  They don‘t and you know, they didn‘t have the cooperation of the state government.  You have—the Republicans control everything in Florida as far as the state legislature‘s concern and the governor‘s office.  So unlike the possibilities of a revote in Michigan, where Democrats have some of the power levers, no power levers, no state funding, no cooperation and it was set up to be a fiasco. 

GREGORY:  And a fight about what happens to those credentials and those delegates whether they get seated. 

Gene Robinson, what‘s your headline of the day? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It‘s the economy again, stupid.  The fifth largest investment bank in the country Bear Stearns collapsed over the weekend.  A $20 billion company sold for—to JP Morgan for $300 million and change.  The—you know, the housing market is dead.  Oil is a thousand or $100 a barrel.  And the stock market is having a nervous breakdown.  The candidates would rather talk about racial sensitivities but I think what people want to hear about is the economy and how we get out of this mess. 

GREGORY:  Well, what are they talking about?  Is it empathy or policy? 

What are they—what are they going to do about it? 

ROBINSON:  We need policy.  We need—they both—Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have said that George Bush has shown a lack of leadership on the economy.  Fine.  What should he have done?  What should hay be doing now?  And what would they do if they were president?  I think they both could come up with answers.  They‘re smart people.  But they should focus on this rather than who might have been offended by what—who‘s minister. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  .had to say a few months ago. 

GREGORY:  Will get into that in a minute. 

“MORNING JOE‘s” Joe Scarborough is here. 

Joe, what do you bring into this? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, “MORNING JOE” HOST:  Well, let‘s get into it right now. 

I actually would pick the economy except for the fact that Wall Street

is so nervous, it finished up and their racing to zero in interest rates

cuts.  I mean this is a resilient economy so you do for Barack Obama have

to look at one issue and one issue at least.  He‘s going to make a major

speech tomorrow on race, a.k.a., his pastor.  His pastor, the same pastor,

who comes out and talks about how white people may have invented AIDS and

important drugs to inner cities to keep the black men down, how 9/11 may

have been just what America deserve.  This is the last thing that a unified

unifying candidate like Barack Obama needs. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  He is after all an African-American who is doing extraordinarily well in a lot of almost predominantly white states like Iowa.  And yet, he can‘t win the industrial swing states where blue collar, white voters are suspicious. 

GREGORY:  And isn‘t it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  He‘s got to close the deal with these Reagan Democrats and this doesn‘t help. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Is it a sign that the issue is getting away from him?  The pastor‘s comments, the issue of race in his affinity to this church? 

SCARBOROUGH:  What—you know, he did—Barack Obama showed what a great leader he was on Friday by getting out in front of the story, killing it.  And then yesterday the new pastor of his church went before the pulpit and said this with the audience filled with journalists.  Let‘s put up this quote. 

He said, “We have listened and watched the wonderful work of our church has been vilified this week.  This week should be special for us because we know a little something about crucifixion.” 

GREGORY:  All right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  “This is an attach on the legacy of the African-American Church.”  And he goes on and on.  That is the last thing Barack Obama needs right now.  He‘s got to get out in front of it tomorrow and bury it once and for all. 

GREGORY:  More on this to come. 

Rachel, what‘s your headline? 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My headline tonight is about Iraq.  We had this n incredible political tableau with Dick Cheney and John McCain both in Baghdad with their kind of rosy predictions about how well things have gone thus far in Iraq and how well they‘re going to keep going in the midst of this horrible suicide bombing in Karballah.  And then we on the home front we have Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sniping at each other about disclosing their tax returns. 

John McCain is running for the presidency and taking advantage of all the trappings he can to aggrandize the result. 

GREGORY:  And Rachel. 

MADDOW:  And they can see him that way where (INAUDIBLE). 

GREGORY:  He‘s actually there.  He is in Iraq.  He is in Iraq.  He‘s talking to the commanders on the ground. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  He‘s out there picking up the information about where the policy goes next.  Does it give him an advantage? 

MADDOW:  It makes him look presidential that he‘s there and the fact that he just happens to be there with Cheney certainly helps.  He‘s full on embracing Bush/Cheney on the war and everything else.  He has no shame about that whatsoever.  To have him abroad right now, to have him have the luxury of traveling abroad right now. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MADDOW:  .while Obama and Clinton squabble over something nobody cares about, only does him favors. 

GREGORY:  Joe Scarborough, why go there when Dick Cheney is over there?  Is that not too close proximity to Bush policy on Iraq? 

SCARBOROUGH:  No.  I mean this is the thing—this is how Republicans win every four years.  You have John Kerry in 2004.  Not sure whether he was for the war or against the war.  You have Al Gore in 2000, afraid to talk about his strongest suit, the environment. 

You know what we Republicans do?  We embrace an issue.  John McCain believes he was the only Republican in Washington, D.C. that believes the surge would work. 

GREGORY:  Now. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But I‘ll tell you what.  Military experts will tell you the surge worked.  He will win if he embraces this issue and Democrats run away from it.  They need to be aggressive. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to take a break here.  Up next, Barack Obama says he rejects and condemns inflammatory comments by his former pastor.  But the story is still in the headlines. Inside the war room, has the Obama campaign come up with the right response? 

And play with the panel.  E-mail us at Race08@msnbc.com or call us at 212-790-2299.  Our panel responds to your thoughts coming up on the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. 

Don‘t go away. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  From Geraldine Ferraro‘s gaff and the uproar over Reverend Wright, how well are the Clinton and Obama campaigns doing damage control?  That‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back with the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  It‘s time to take a look “Inside the War Room.” 

Here‘s our chance to bat around how the campaigns are or should be dealing behind the scenes with potentially publicity bombshells.  First, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, recently retired pastor at Barack Obama‘s church, the Trinity United Church of Christ.  Reverend Wright is under fire for his preaching and inflammatory rhetoric. 

Here‘s an example. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT JR., TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST:  We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuke far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye.  We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards.  America sickens.  Coming home.  To roost. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Questions “Inside the War Room” is about offense and defense.  How does each campaign play this? 

Gene Robinson, the speech tomorrow by Obama.  You‘re advising him tonight.  What do you say? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, I think he reiterates that Reverend Wright was his spiritual adviser, not his political adviser.  And I think he—you know, he tries to put race in a larger context than perhaps put the rhetoric of the black church into larger context.  It‘s a core preacher who‘s never uttered anything, you know, controversial enough to take a sound bite from and make it into something that might offend somebody.  So, you know, I think that‘s the only thing he can do. 

And look, if there are people out there who are go—who are not going to vote for Barack Obama because he is black, then they won‘t vote for him. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  .because he‘s black.  But he can‘t very well say that Reverend Wright was not important to him.  He has already said he‘s a. 

GREGORY:  Clearly he was important.  Clearly he was important. 

ROBINSON:  He kind of brought him to a spiritual awakening. 

GREGORY:  And Chuck Todd, what does he do?  What kind of defense are you seeing out of the Obama campaign? 

TODD:  Well, I think the fact they‘re doing this race speech shows you that they‘re trying to bring short-term closure.  You know, there‘s transcript floating around tonight of an interview Obama did with Gwen Ifill of PBS and there‘s a line in thee I want to read, because I think it‘s one we‘re going to hear tomorrow. 

He says, “Somebody who comes from a diverse background with a white mother and an African-American father growing up in Hawaii it is in my DNA to believe we have something in common.” 

So I think you‘re going to see him emphasize biography, that the whole DNA thing that really struck me as something he almost can tell he wants to have as a sound bite that comes out of the speech tomorrow and that this is probably one he‘s been working on for a while.  But I think he almost has to get biographical.  He needs to remind folks that he is not the black candidate, not the, you know, the white candidate, but that he is sort of this guy that is biracial, multiracial, multiethnic guy that a lot of Democrats fell in love with in the first year of this campaign. 

GREGORY:  But Rachel, if you hear that sound bite from Reverend Wright and one of the things that‘s important to hear is the applause that he‘s getting.  The mood in the room.  Does Barack Obama have to straddle a line here and try to explain to people who might be turned off by this kind of rhetoric that it comes from someplace real?  Inside the African-American community.  That he can represent the African-American community, can Barack Obama, while also being a kind of post-racial presidential candidate? 

MADDOW:  I think he could do that.  But I think he‘s already tipped his hand that he‘s not going to.  He posted on “Huffington Post” on Friday night, Barack Obama did.  And very, very, very emphatically distanced himself from and condemn those remarks by his pastor.  He‘s not condemning the pastor, but his condemning those sentiments. 

If I could wave a magic wand and have Barack Obama do anything, I would have go on the offense about this.  I would have him play the comments from Pastor John Hagee where Hagee said that New Orleans deserves Katrina because they were going to have a gay pride parade. 

GREGORY:  You‘re talking about Joe Hagee who has endorsed John McCain? 

MADDOW:  John Hagee who has endorsed him and John McCain said he was honored by the endorsement. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MADDOW:  He distanced himself from Hagee‘s anti-Catholic on comments.  But Hagee said that New Orleans deserved what it got from Katrina, that God was smiting them essentially for having a gay pride parade.  I would play that clip. 

GREGORY:  Joe Scarborough, what‘s different?  Get in here? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I wouldn‘t even—I would make sure that people kept Rachel Maddow out of the room, because that is a fight that is good for “Air America” versus Rush Limbaugh. 

MADDOW:  Oh come on, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s a fight that‘s good for the “Huffington Post” versus “The Drudge Report.” 

What Barack Obama has done that‘s magical to his campaign season, and, yes, I will say the word magical.  He‘s unified people.  He‘s made white Iowa come out and vote for him.  He‘s made Republicans believe that even though he may disagree with him he doesn‘t hate them.  That is a change.  That turns our back on eight years of Bush wars, eight years of Clinton wars.  Barack Obama needs to remain the unifier and I will tell you tomorrow he does need to go on the offensive.  But he needs to go on the offensive against this speech which most white voters in the states that he needs—Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida—sees this as hate speech. 

He doesn‘t have to explain African-American churches.  He doesn‘t have to explain his pastor.  He needs to condemn this language, get it behind him, and say it doesn‘t matter whether it‘s from my church or a church in Texas or an Islamic mosque.  We need to bring America together.  That‘s his message.  He needs to distance himself from the speech as quickly as possible. 

MADDOW:  Joe, he‘s already condemned it and he‘s still getting hit on this thing.  I do not take your advice that Barack Obama should not hit John McCain and not hit the Republicans.  He‘s going to have to prove that he can do that if he‘s going to win. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what?  The difference between. 

ROBINSON:  One thing he could point out. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is Hillary Clinton and the Clintons would hit John McCain and Hagee.  Barack Obama won‘t do that because he‘s a new kind of candidate and he knows he wins if he can get independents and disaffected Republicans voting for him. 

GREGORY:  Gene Robinson, quick comment.  Is there judgment here as Obama‘s judgment on the line here? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you—it‘s being questioned here.  But one thing he can point out, you talked about the audience, for example, and the reaction to Reverend Wright.  He could point out that African-Americans are way over-represented in the U.S. military.  You know in that church there were many, many young men and women who have served this country in Iraq and Afghanistan very honorably. 

You know, to question the patriotism and the commitment to this country of African-Americans is simply historically inaccurate. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But Gene, nobody‘s—Gene. 

ROBINSON:  And that‘s something he can point out. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Nobody‘s doing that but that speech was given five days after 9/11.  What were you doing five days after 9/11? 

GREGORY:  All right. 

ROBINSON:  Five days, there‘s no. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I mean comparing Harry Truman to Osama bin Laden? 

GREGORY:  I‘m going to jump in here. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t think so. 

ROBINSON:  No.  No. 

GREGORY:  I‘m going to jump in here guys.  We‘re going to take a quick break. 

Three reasons to bet on Hillary Clinton victory and why Puerto Rico could be the deciding contest.  It‘s next in our “Smart Takes,” along with some surprising observations about race in the Democratic Party.  Why the dividing line between Clinton and Obama isn‘t as clear as you may think.  And take a look at this “SNL.”  Tracy Morgan hitting back at Tina Fey‘s comedic term for Hillary Clinton. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NBC‘s “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)

TRACY MORGAN, COMEDIAN: In conclusion, three weeks ago my girl Tina Fey, she came on this show and she declared that bitch is the new black.  And you know I love you, Tina.  I mean you know you‘re my girl.  You know? 

But I have something to say. 

Bitch may be the new black but black is the new president, bitch. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Now what we call “Smart Takes.” 

We‘re reading the papers, tracking the smartest columnists and bloggers, monitoring TV, you name it, we are always on the hunt for the smart take.  And back with us, of course, Rachel, Gene, Chuck and Joe. 

Our first “Smart Take” is Vegas style advice from “Real Clear Politics,” John McIntyre.  He gives three reasons to bet on Hillary, quote, “One, Senator Obama‘s problem in regard to his long-term—time pastor is a real issue.  The surfacing of the incendiary videos makes this an explosive subject that will not go quietly away.  Two, the very serious meltdown in the financial markets is likely to focus the country‘s attention on the health, stability and future of the American economy.  Fairly or unfairly, Senator Clinton will benefit from her association with Bill Clinton‘s administration in the prosperous Nineties.  And three, the mostly unnoticed switch of Puerto Rico from a caucus on June 7 to a primary on June 1, gives Hillary Clinton a very real opportunity to surpass Barack Obama in the popular vote count.” 

Chuck Todd, what do you make? 

TODD:  I tell you, it is a media obsession that keeps this seeming like a 50/50 race, because the problem with this, and I agree with a lot of those things that John lays out in there, the problem is that Hillary Clinton‘s trying to woo superdelegates.  These superdelegates are going to have a hard time somehow voting to overturn the first African-American nominee in the Democratic Party.  They‘re are also going to have a hard time being convinced that somehow a Clinton-led Democratic Party is going to be better for them than Obama-led Democratic Party. 

Why?  Look at the Clinton record in the ‘90s when it comes to being leader of the Democratic Party.  Not president.  Leader of the Democratic Party.  They lost control of Congress.  They lost seats every time Bill Clinton was at the top of the ticket.  So I think Hillary Clinton is going to have a harder political argument to make to the superdelegates.  We know, we‘ve talked about pledge delegates, we‘ve talked about popular vote. 

But she actually has to get these superdelegates to somehow switch.  And the fact that a majority of them aren‘t already with her, I think tells you that there‘s a lot more hesitance with these folks. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

TODD:  .to go back to the Clinton-led days of the Democratic Party. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, what about the other point about Senator Clinton trying to own the economy as an issue?  Does that something that she has make a pivot on and say, “You want the ‘90s again?  You stick with me.” 

MADDOW:  Well, she‘s been uncomfortable making that point because the other half of the time she‘s been saying my husband isn‘t on the ticket.  You need to take me on my merit.  So it‘s a little bit of a delicate dance for her to do that.  But I think the association in voters‘ minds is there. 

Barack Obama does need to make a big stink on the economy.  He needs to show subject matter mastery.  That‘s place that John McCain is vulnerable.  It‘s a place where he could hit John McCain effectively.  He‘s already started to do that a little bit by taking on McCain‘s flip-flopping about the Bush tax cuts.  Obama has a real opportunity to step up and make himself known on the economy. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  But I think that analysis is right, that Clinton starts with the advantage there. 

GREGORY:  “Morning Joe,” is this a smart take overall? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, yes.  No, actually it‘s not.  It is not a smart take to admit that Hillary Clinton is smart money because as I learn every morning from Chuck Todd, didn‘t just the numbers are on Barack Obama‘s side.  And the fact you‘ve got to look at Puerto Rico and say, boy.  Now that Puerto Rico has been moved up, this is really going to swing the Clinton‘s way.  Just—it doesn‘t ring true to me.  This is still. 

MADDOW:  In June. 

SCARBOROUGH:  This is still Barack Obama‘s race. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  (INAUDIBLE) chances got anything that happens whether it‘s in Iraq or with the economy, it may hurt Barack Obama if there‘s a crisis.  But it‘s going to hurt him in the general election, not the primary. 

GREGORY:  OK.  Gene Robinson, you‘re on deck here.  I want to give you my next “Smart Take” here.  An excerpt from Matt Bai‘s article in the Sunday‘s “New York Times” magazine. 

Quote, this is, by the way, about politics of race in this campaign. 

Here‘s the quote. 

“Obama wins in major urban areas but can‘t seem to win in urbanized states, while Clinton wins in rural communities but consistently loses in rural states.  The disparity between Obama‘s performance in urban primaries and rural caucuses tell us something larger and counterintuitive about race in America.  Obama does best in areas that have either a large concentration of African-American voters or hardly any at all, but he struggles in place where the population is decidedly mixed.” 

What do you make of it, Gene? 

ROBINSON:  Well, that could be a smart take.  It certainly is counterintuitive.  What it is now, I think, is an attempt to draw lines between various data points.  The data points we have from the exit polls of the primaries and make sense of it.  I‘m not sure it coheres as a political theory of America in the 21st century.  I think you can find counterexamples.  Maybe not in this presidential contest but in—in municipal and state contest that would the indicate the opposite that places where blacks and whites live closely together and perhaps, you know, there‘s a history there, are not necessarily places where there‘s more racial polarization. 

But, you know, we‘ll see.  Let‘s see where we end up by the end of the primary season. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to take a quick break here.  But we want to tell you to keep those e-mails and phone calls coming.  A lot of you sounding off about the controversy surrounding Barack Obama‘s former pastor and one of those drove you to tears.  We‘re going to share some of those comments in just a couple of minutes. 

But straight ahead, who‘s steps up and resolves the Democratic race, the wrangling over the rules?  We‘re coming back, RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Now time for Three Questions, when I ask our panel to tackle today‘s biggest story.  Our panel is MSNBC political analyst and Air America host Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post,” and the host of “MORNING JOE” on MSNBC - - he is Morning Joe—Joe Scarborough. 

First up, the economy.  Let‘s listen to what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had to say about it earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  In my conversations earlier this morning, I raised my concern about the continuing numbers of foreclosures and my very strong belief that in the absence of addressing that aspect of this subprime mortgage credit crisis, we will not be able to make the progress that we have to make. 

OBAMA:  We can‘t just tinker around the edges.  We have to bring about a fundamental change to our economy, one that‘s not just about representing Wall Street but representing Main Street.  That means we are going to stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  First question; will the next president have to bail out Wall Street?  Joe? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I think right now it looks like that‘s what is—what‘s happening.  You have got—the Fed is pumping billions of dollars into the banking sector, helping them out.  But also, though, Main Street is being helped right now when you have the Fed continuing to cut rates.  We may be down to two percent.  You are going to see a stronger economy down the road. 

And just to put perspective here—because, yes, things are bad.  The financial sectors are weak.  Hillary Clinton‘s husband, Bill Clinton, got elected in 1996 by bragging about a low unemployment rate of 5.8 percent.  Right now it is 4.8 percent.  Interest rates are dropping.  And, again, you have Caterpillar, a heavy manufacturing company, saying they may be having one of best years ever.  The tech sector is strong and resilient. 

This is not the type of economy it was in 1992 when Bill Clinton got elected.  It‘s not the economy, stupid, yet for most voters out there. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, there‘s a big disagreement about that. 

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Yes, Joe, if you were running for

re-election on the basis of a platform right now that the economy is

actually secretly awesome, we just can‘t tell? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I didn‘t say that, Rachel.  But you know what, if you and Chuck Schumer want to go around saying it is the Great Depression, you are going to lose also.  Voters out there know it ain‘t 1929. 

MADDOW:  Joe, there is an ideological and political point to be made here.  Both Obama and Clinton have the opportunity to make it.  That is to say, listen, with the S and L scandal, which would have been a 450 billion dollar bailout in today‘s dollar, with the coming bailout that we are going to see of the financial sector because of the mortgage crisis, a lot of these things were precipitated by radical deregulation in these financial sectors. 

Yes, there is going to have to be a public bailout to save them probably. 

(CROSS TALK)

GREGORY:  Rachel, what‘s the consequence, even for the Democrats, of getting tax payers on board for what would be a very, very costly bailout of Wall Street and the banking industry alone. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”  It has already started.  The bailout has already started, 30 billion dollar guarantee to make the Bear Stearns deal. 

MADDOW:  That‘s right, 30 billion dollars slipped out the door on Sunday, with nobody commenting it.  I think the case for the bailout is going to have to be made by either president, honestly.  You could argue against it, but I think it is going to have to be made.  Will it come with conditions that will change this, so that we don‘t have another one of these bubbles, followed by another bubble? 

GREGORY:  Let me stop it there.

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ve just go to say, really quickly, this did not happen because deregulation.  This happened because homeowners got more homes than they could afford.  They got interest only loans.  They gambled wildly because they wanted to turn it around and make hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Guess what, the market changed. 

MADDOW:  You hear that, greedy homeowners. 

(CROSS TALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what, no consequence, gamble.  Go to Vegas, lose your money.  You know what, we are going to blame it on George Bush. 

GREGORY:  We are going to go on to the second question.  Let me read something from Bill Kristol‘s column in today‘s “New York Times; “the more you learn about him, the more Barack Obama seems to be a conventionally opportunistic politician, impressively smart and disciplined, who has put together a good political career and a terrific presidential campaign.  But there‘s not much audacity of hope there.  There‘s the calculation of ambition and the reconstruction of artifice, mixed in with a dash of decent, all covered with a great conceit that the campaign and candidate are different.” 

So, from the difficulties explaining his relationship with Rezko, and Reverend Wright, to claims like Kristol‘s that he is the construction of artifice, is Barack Obama losing his luster as a candidate?  Rachel?

MADDOW:  Do you think that Bill Kristol ever thought that Obama really had any luster? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think he actually did, to be fair. 

ROBINSON:  I don‘t think so.  

MADDOW:  No, I think that Bill Kristol has become a professional anti-Democrat on the pages of the “New York Times” op ed page.  What he says about Barack Obama for me is like the opposites game.  I mean, I—if Barack Obama is losing his luster, it probably means he‘s becoming more credible as a national political figure.  It‘s probably a good thing.  Any criticism by Bill Kristol probably should be worn by any Democrat as a badge of honor.  

ROBINSON:  Also, let me point out that that column had a huge error in it, what looks like an error.  Kristol claimed that Obama was present for one incendiary Reverend Wright sermon.  Obama was actually in Miami at the time, says he wasn‘t there.  So there is—there is a credibility problem there with the column. 

What I think has happened with Obama though is—you know how when you get a new car and it has that new car smell, you know, that‘s the thing that is really excites you about the car.  Eventually, that wears off.  You still love the car‘s features.  It has a Nav system and it has surround sound.  I think Obama, if anything, has gone into the phase where he‘s got sell his new and improved features, rather than just the newness. 

GREGORY:  Joe, is it just that or is Obama now in a spiral where he‘s got to engage Clinton in a way that ultimately hurts his brand of politics? 

SCARBOROUGH:  No.  Again, I—this is what I said earlier in the show when Rachel said he should go after John McCain—He is ahead.  He has the delegates on his side.  The math is on his side.  The excitement is on his side.  He does not need to get down in the mud.  Yes, what will we find out between now and November?  We will find out that Barack Obama is opportunistic.  We will find out that he is ambitious. 

We will find out that he probably did want to be president since he was five years old.  But who cares?  We want that in our president.  And one other thing about this Reverend Wright deal, I‘m sure there were many times he sat in the pew and he cringed.  Guess what.  There were 8,000 members of that church.  I can tell you as a reformed politician, if I‘m joining the church in Chicago, I‘m looking for the one with 8,000 members. 

And that is not necessarily an evil thing.  He is just opportunistic. 

All politicians are. 

GREGORY:  Finally, question three of the Democratic delegate mess in Michigan and Florida drags, as has the competition over super delegates; is there a Democrat with the standing to settle all of this?  Gene?

ROBINSON:  No.  I don‘t think there is one.  Who would it be?  Al Gore?  I don‘t think Hillary Clinton going to listen to Al Gore.  Howard Dean?  Nobody listens to Howard Dean, neither of the candidates.  They are going to have to make a deal.  There is going to have to be a deal now, at least in terms of Florida.  Looks like Michigan there may be a redo. 

In Florida, the Clinton people and the Obama people are going to have to sit down and work something out.  That will not be an easy process. 

GREGORY:  Joe, let‘s remind people of the news tonight.  That is Florida has said no way, no redo.  We are not going to vote again.  What is going to happen? 

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s bad news for the Democratic party this fall in Florida.  A lot of Democratic activists are very upset.  I talked to Phil Alandri (ph) this morning, who actually has spent a lot of time on the ground down in Florida.  We all know Phil.  I heard the same thing over the past year.  That is a problem in the fall. 

To answer your question, no, the “New York Times” had this on the front page of “Week in Review” about a month ago.  There are no power brokers.  There are no grown ups.  The only senior statesman of the Democratic party that could do this is Bill Clinton.  But because he is so involved in this campaign, it wouldn‘t be Bill Clinton.  It may be Bill Clinton four years from now.  But certainly not now. 

You know how this is going to be resolved?  This is going to be resolved how the 2000 election was resolved; the last man or woman standing wins.  There is going to be no brokered deal.  This is going to Denver.

GREGORY:  Rachel, let me ask you this; is there a group of Democrats who come together, maybe Dean is involved, Gore, maybe yes, maybe no?  Is John Edwards involved?   You got John Edwards and Nancy Pelosi and Gore; those are the big names who are uncommitted right now. 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think there are big names in the Democratic party that Democrats line up behind.  Everybody always says, Democrats fall in love or Republicans fall in line.  There is nobody to fall in behind in Democratic politics.  It‘s not the way the Democrats work. 

What I want to do is I want the Clinton staffers and the Clinton advisers and the Obama staffers and the Obama adviser to like get drunk together and go on a retreat and decide for the good of the party and the good of the country.  They‘ve got to figure out a way to not have these guys beat each other to death.  Each passing day, each passing week, it is closer to a McCain presidency. 

(CROSS TALK)

GREGORY:  Let me get Chuck in here.  Chuck, you were off doing some reporting.  Come back and talk about Florida, but also who settles this thing. 

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  What‘s interesting is I do think Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi settle it.  While we know on the inside here that Al Gore is no friend of the Clintons, I think he has the standing inside the Democratic party that if he says, you know, for a guy—particularly a guy that feels like he was wronged during a vote dispute back in 2000 -- if he says this is the way it should resolve itself, you are going to have a lot of super delegates using him as cover. 

I think Al Gore has much of a powerful hand here than we give him credit for. 

As for what do about Florida and Michigan, Howard Dean, the campaigns are begging Howard Dean to say; come to the DNC, each of you send a representative, David Plouffe from the Obama campaign, Maggie Williams from the Clinton campaign.  Let‘s sit in a room and let‘s figure out this Florida and Michigan thing just the three of us, period.  But Howard Dean has yet to apparently issue that invitation. 

MADDOW:  I agree.

GREGORY:  We are going to take a break.  When we come back, it is your turn.  You want to play with the panel, you are going to play with the panel.  You have sent literally hundreds of e-mails to the panel.  Find out why THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE is keeping one of you up at night. 

Plus, our panel makes its predictions for one of the most unpredictable primaries in Democratic history.  Will the Clinton/Obama contest get even more heated?  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Now, we‘re giving you a shot to play with the panel.  Still joining us, Rachel Maddow, Gene Robinson, Chuck Todd and Joe Scarborough. 

Our first e-mail on the economy comes from Betty in Illinois; “I live in Southern Illinois, where gas, food, insurance premiums, housing costs, clothing, college costs are all at an all time high.  Talk about a squeeze.  Plants are closing, i.e. Maytag, coal mining companies benefits‘ cut.  Yes, there are jobs if you want to work at Wal-Mart, service stations, aids in hospitals and nursing homes.  Ask a Maytag worker or a coal miner in southern Illinois how this economy is working for them.  Ask a student who is trying to get through college.”

Let‘s talk about it to the panel.  Rachel Maddow, this is not just about banks collapsing here.  This is about people really feeling it at all levels. 

MADDOW:  That‘s right.  We have seen this happen gradually over time with the decline in wages, with the decline in buying power, even as productivity has gone up.  We have seen a real hollowing out of the middle class in this country, over the past decade, but particularly over the Bush years.  It has started to hit people in a way that is—the exclamation points on the business pages are starting to match the real pain that the middle class has been feeling gradually over time, over the past seven years. 

I think we are entering a very negative period in terms of the economy, and the candidate who can best explain that they will be the ones who will get us out of it is going to win a big political benefit. 

GREGORY:  So Joe, if you are a candidate running for office right now, do you want just connect with the middle class, or do you want to get into the mode of teaching them about what‘s happening in the banking system, where the potential collapse is, and trying to own that part of the issue? 

SCARBOROUGH:  No.  I—I would be the last person that you would want teaching economics to anybody.  You certainly wouldn‘t want to do it as a politician on the campaign trail.  If I were out on the campaign trail, I would talk about how, you know what, the economy goes up, the economy goes down.  We need to be aggressive while unemployment is at a historically low rate.  All we can do is we can keep taxes low and we need to keep interest rate low.  And we need to invest in our new economy. 

And I would about that, and I would also talk about what happened in 1990 and 1991.  We invested in—we saw technology explode.  That led to a boom in the 1990s.  I would talk about alternative energy.  I would talk about the need to get away from a petroleum based economy, because so many of the problems that that e-mail writer was talking about was based on rising oil prices.  Talking about how we are going to get aggressive and we sent a man to the Moon; we certainly invest in alternative technology, regarding energy. 

And if we do that, then we—we may have the economy in the future. 

GREGORY:  Switching gears; an overwhelming amount of correspondence was on the controversial sermons by Obama‘s pastor Jeremiah Wright.  We start with a voice mail from Roslyn in New York.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Obama is absolutely lying that he doesn‘t know what Wright has said.  If he doesn‘t know what‘s happening in his own church and neighborhood, how could he run a country?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  On the same topic, Sharon in Minneapolis writes this; “How can NBC, in the name of good reporting, crucify a black church in a 30 second sound byte?  I cried in a fetal position the entire weekend hearing the ignorance from the pundits and so-called reporters disrespect Senator Obama and the black church and its role in helping heal the wounds of our nation‘s tragic history.”  Gene Robinson?

ROBINSON:  Look, you know, it—let‘s be honest, what Reverend Wright said sounds incendiary.  I know it must be offensive to a good number of people.  These are sound bites from a 20-year career, you know.  The man put together an 8,000-member church, by all accounts, has done an awful lot of good, in terms of economic empowerment, spiritual empowerment in the Chicago area.  And it certainly does not take the measure of the man.  It does not take the measure of he meant to Barack Obama. 

So while Obama I think did what he had to do politically and what was right in saying, I condemn those remarks; they were offensive.  Equally, I think that it is—it is right to say well, but, you know, let‘s put them in context. 

GREGORY:  Chuck Todd, what does it say to you that the Clinton campaign has been silent on this? 

TODD:  Well, it says that they have been burned so much on this race

issue from this campaign.  They are not touching it at all.  I mean, in

conference call after conference call over the last three, four days, as

this Reverend Wright stuff has heated up, they have had plenty of

opportunities to comment.  They are not touching it.  They are afraid of

it.  They see that this may be one of those ways when your opponent is

having a tough time, you get out of the way and let them deal with it, but

particularly when it comes to race, because anything they say at this point

they know is going to get construed as being racially biased

SCARBOROUGH:  Also, though, this is such a bad issue for Barack Obama. 

They don‘t need to say anything.  John McCain doesn‘t need to say anything.  I‘m sorry the viewer was curled up in a fetal position all weekend, but there were people curled up in a fetal position five days after their relatives died September 11th.  And that‘s the day that this pastor said that America got what it deserved.  That‘s hard—Rachel, what‘s so funny about that? 

MADDOW:  It is not funny.  I‘m exasperated.  I‘m not laughing.  I‘m exasperated, because I‘m identifying with the caller who is saying that they are pissed about the media coverage here.  To have—listen, in September, the values voter debate with seven presidential candidates at it; that debate started with a choir singing “Why Should God Bless America,” where all the versus were about how America is not worthy of god‘s blessings because abortion and prayers in school rulings from the Supreme Court.  It never went anywhere. 

No, listen there is double standard.   It is outrageous here.  Ron Parsley is campaigning with John McCain, saying that Allah is a demon spirit and America is supposed to be—America is designed to be destroying Islam.  You hear nothing about that.  You hear nothing about that.  The double standard on religious extremism is absolutely over the top. 

GREGORY:  Quick response, Joe.  Wrap it up here. 

SCARBOROUGH:  John McCain was not the director of that choir that sang that.  Barack Obama named a book and said this guy was his spiritual adviser five days after September 11.  Five days after September 11, he compares America‘s actions in Hiroshima to what Osama bin Laden did. 

GREGORY:  I‘m going to cut it off.  You can play with our panel every week night here on MSNBC.  E-mail us at Race08@MSNBC.com.  You can also call 212-790-2299.  Still to come, our panel makes its predictions, and Chuck Todd tells us what the Big Dance has to do with the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  He can always find a way to bring sports into the conversation.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to the RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE, where our panelists—maybe you didn‘t know—are trained in the dark arts of telling the future.  So let‘s put those skills to the test in panel prediction. 

Gene, you are up first.  What‘s your crystal ball tell you tonight? 

ROBINSON:  Barack Obama is giving a big speech on race tomorrow.  I predict that that speech will not end the race debate.  I think success from Obama‘s point of view would be to change the terms of the debate and put it on perhaps a higher plane than he said/she said. 

GREGORY:  Chuck Todd, what does Obama do, not just to get beyond the Reverend Wright issue, but try to take Clinton on when it comes to the issue of race in this campaign. 

TODD:  I think he puts it generational terms.  He tried that a little bit on Friday when he was doing those things.  But I think he talks about how Reverend Wright comes from a generation that‘s been fight these wars on race, and that this is now a new generation of leaders.  What that will subtly remind folks is that maybe the Clintons are part of this Baby Boom generation who went through this.  The whole point of Obama‘s turning the page argument is that he‘s part of this next generation that‘s in charge and ready to lead. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, you are up next? 

MADDOW:  John McCain spent the day in Baghdad with not only Dick Cheney, but the Cheney family, because Dick Cheney brought wife and his daughter with him there.  I think if there was ever a day when the Democratic candidates were going to sharpen their critique, sharpen their criticism against McCain on the war, it has to be in response to seeing those pictures of him today in the bulletproof vest in Baghdad.  I think we will particularly see it from Hillary Clinton tomorrow after her speech this morning, because Obama will be focused on that race speech tomorrow. 

I‘m looking to hear something anti-McCain and anti-war from Hillary Clinton. 

GREGORY:  It‘s specifically tied to the fact he goes there the same day Dick Cheney is there.  In other words, this is the continuation of the Bush war policy. 

MADDOW:  I think it would be dumb to ignore that symbolism.  I think that‘s a political gift.  I think it is probably no accident that it worked out that way.  I don‘t think the scheduling happens that way by accident.  I think that John McCain is really running as a Bush/Cheney inheritor on the war and he is proud of it.  It is up to the Democrats to make that something that he ought not feel proud of. 

GREGORY:  Joe, what do you see? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Usually the Democrats—well, they should be able to exploit this failing economy.  Usually at times like these, they would be do it, but they can‘t, because, in the end, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama will seem just as out-matched by the economic woes that we are facing as Senator John McCain.  For the Democratic party, they need to be scratching their head and asking, where is a good governor when you really need one? 

GREGORY:  How much good—how much good does the Bush administration have to do not just for the economy, for the country, to either neutralize this issue or take it off the table completely? 

SCARBOROUGH:  There‘s no doubt that we are—we remain in transition, like Rachel said.  Wages continue to go down, even as production continues to go up.  The best thing that the Bush White House can do and that John McCain can do is talk about what they have always talked about, low taxes, low interest rates, low tariffs lead to a strong economy.  That‘s worked over the 25 years for the economy and for them.  We will see if it works again. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Chuck Todd, finally, what have you got? 

TODD:  Good news for those folks that hate silly politician bets about sports.  None of the three presidential candidates have a snowball‘s chance of seeing home state teams make it to the Final Four.  In Arizona, there is just the University of Arizona.  They didn‘t belong in the tournament anyway.  They will be out, one and done. 

In New York, Sienna and Cornell are representing New York.  Maybe one of them gets a win, won‘t make it out of the weekend.  Poor Barack Obama, not a single member of the 64 teams in the NCAA tournament hails from the state of Illinois.  He‘s got no rooting interest. 

GREGORY:  Who is there—for me and Betsy Fisher, Go Eagles, AU, in the big dance for the first time. 

ROBINSON:  I don‘t think so, David. I don‘t think so. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Go Big Blue. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Thanks to everybody.  I‘m David Gregory.  That does it for our maiden voyage, the very first RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Thanks very much for watching.  We‘ll see you right back here tomorrow, same time, 6:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC.  You want to stay right here.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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