updated 3/26/2008 11:14:06 AM ET 2008-03-26T15:14:06

KEITH OBLERMANN, HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Gallup, national: Obama 51, Clinton 39, Keith number 13.

Plus: Three out of four Democrats now predicting Obama will be the nominee.

Jumping the shark: When the Obama campaign protests the distribution of this photo, Clinton’s new campaign manager does not deny her camp did it, but shouts back only: Enough.  Enough.  After this train off the track weekend, the Clinton campaign is saying enough?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then, using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook.

The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing.

Shame on you, Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So, we are where, exactly?  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance?

Once again the media missed the message: The “Associated Press” with a hit piece that makes the “New York Times” on John McCain look like a love letter, quote, “Conservatives say Obama lacks patriotism”, complaining that he doesn’t wear a flag lapel pin, you know, like McCain sometimes doesn’t.

The first so-called Republican quoted, the fop who founded an anti-Hillary 527 Group called, quote, “And warning, the acronym he chose is very offensive, citizens united not timid.”  No reason to suspect that he would ever smear Obama.

John McCain says he needs to convince Americans we are winning in Iraq if not, quote, “Then, I lose. I lose.”  He promptly retracts the remark.  Plus: Now, the TV mogul who says never talked to him about the FCC says, he did, too.  And Vicki Iseman probably did, too.

And what was Jon Stewart doing at the Oscars?

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JON STEWART, ACTOR:  His middle name is the last name of Iraq’s former tyrant.  His last name rhymes with Osama.  That’s not easy to overcome.  I think we all remember the ill-fated 1944 presidential campaign of Gadolf Titler.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Why suddenly do I miss Craig Kilbord?

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Call it.

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(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Monday, February 25th, 253 days until the 2008 presidential election.  With wild eyed anger in Cincinnati on Saturday and then, condescending and cynical sarcasm in Rhode Island on Sunday, Senator Hillary Clinton may have written her own political obituary.  The corollary question: In so doing, did she also hand John McCain some of the paper and ink he will need to try to write Barack Obama’s?

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Whatever the Clinton campaign thinks it is writing, today, it may have supplied the accompanying illustration of Obama in traditional African robes.  Clinton’s people do not deny distributing the photograph, they say only that they have a lot of staffers and nobody authorized its release.  It is from a visit to Kenya, the senator participated in two years ago.  It was emailed to various media along with the plaintive whine about how if this had been Senator Clinton, the photo would have been on every front page in America.

The Clinton campaign would shortly on-the-record, twist the response from the Obama campaign which was: “Her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election”, wrote Obama campaign manager, David Plouffe, who added, “it’s exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect in the world.”

To which Clinton’s campaign manager, Maggie Williams replied: “Enough.  If Barack Obama’s campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed.”  Adding, “This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry.”  Clinton’s campaign later adding, that they did not know if one of their 700 campaign workers might have sent the original picture, that they think the media is biased against their candidate.

As for Senator Clinton, that conciliatory “I’m proud to be here with him” approach to her rival to end last week’s debate might as well have been said by a different person.  To recap, first, rage over an Obama mailer about her NAFTA record and health care plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Shame on you, Barack Obama.  It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public.  That’s what I expect from you.  Meet me in Ohio.  Let’s have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign.  Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then, using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Like blaming the media or praising FOX News.

Same day, same place, less heavily played, the tape of the senator moving to compare her opponent to President Bush himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Now, people talked a lot about change in this election.  Well, we have lived through some of the worst change that anybody can imagine in the last seven years.  Do you think people voting in 2000 knew what they were getting?  I don’t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Who knew which Hillary Clinton we would be getting?

A day later now in Rhode Island, mocking one of the primary complaints of most voters, the “take no prisoners” state of American politics and her opponent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Now, I could stand up here and say, let’s just get everybody together.  Let’s get unified.  The sky will open.  The light will come down.  Celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Always remember your hope that things might get better is utterly pointless.  The latest Quinnipiac Poll in Ohio shows an 11-point gap between the candidates: Clinton 51 to Obama 40, the Keith number 13.  The University of Cincinnati Poll narrows the gap: Clinton is up by eight, the K-number also eight in that one.  The latest Public Policy Poll wafer thin: A mere 4 percent lead, Clinton has 50, Obama at 46, Keith number 8.

Nationally, not only do nearly ¾ of those recently surveyed by “USA Today” and Gallup, believed that Barack Obama will be the nominee but 51 percent favor him among Democrats, 39 percent for Clinton.  The Keith number in that case is 13.  At a “New York Times” poll, just out tonight, has Obama at 54 percent, Clinton at 38 nationally, a 16-point spread which is actually larger than margin of error plus undecided which is 13.

We are joined now by our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is there anybody in Senator Clinton’s campaign saying, you’re not only destroying yourself with this, but you’re also writing some of John McCain’s speeches for him?

WOLFFE:  No.  I don’t think there is, actually.  The different Hillary Clintons that we’ve seen over the weekend, it’s the contempt with which the campaign and I suspect the candidate, too, holds Barack Obama.  And their feeling, basically, is that he’s destined to fail.  He’s going to be a complete blowout and they’re really rescuing the party and the nation from this apparition that they think is on the other side.

So, almost anything is justified in a sense, and where there is a debate inside the campaign, it’s about can they go harder?  Should they go softer?  Should they think about Hillary Clinton’s reputation moving forward because clearly, there are also lots of realists in that campaign who know things are looking very, very bad?

But right now, it’s about convincing donors especially, that they have a future.  And in the process that means all these different tactics.

OLBERMANN:  Specifically, what is supposed to happen practically in terms of shifting votes if whatever these techniques actually are, if they work?  I mean, are Obama’s supporters are supposed to respond to her sarcasm by believing they can change things and they should vote for her because they really can’t change things or they’re going to respond to her anger by in turn being angry at Obama and changing their minds and voting for her?  What is the practical schematic here, if you will?

WOLFFE:  Well, you know, take it back to the start of this campaign.  I mean, we saw the Clinton campaign represented message discipline.  And what we’re seeing is a very inconstant, inconsistent approach.  And so, there is a certain amount of confusion here.  But at the moment, again, I think it’s matter of throwing anything at the wall, seeing what works.

He has been a very, very difficult candidate to run against.  Whether you think it is because of his tactics or because of the media, in the Clinton campaign’s view, they haven’t been able to hit the right note.  And so, yet again, it’s thrashing around seeing what works, what doesn’t and hoping that something can be pulled off to claim a psychological victory at least after March 4th.

OLBERMANN:  Do we know the real story about that photograph?  I mean, let’s assume the Clinton had nothing to do with it, why not come back and shock everybody and say, look, we know what the implications are in these things, somebody is trying to reinforce this image of him, Barack Obama, a Muslim.  It’s inappropriate.  If any of our people had anything to do with it, they’re out.  Wouldn’t that sort of response, not be just as useful as either engaging in a fight with the Obama campaign over this or even starting if they indeed started it?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think it would be, actually.  And remember, what was the big applause line coming out of that last debate in Austin?  It was that moment of party unity, of respect for each other.  That’s what the party wants to see.

I mean, you can have a civil argument, but, I think the Clinton campaign could have done itself a world of favor whether or not they wanted this photo out there to say, listen, this is not the kind of tactic that we Democrats stand for.  We’re all patriots here.  That’s not the thing we condone.  And let’s move on and discuss what really matters.  Instead of this idea of we didn’t sanction it, we didn’t know about it and the other side is behaving badly.  It just doesn’t seem to be rising above it, which again, that was got people applauding to their feet last week.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, the poll numbers, you know, as we look on the eve here of this probable last debate.  Ohio is double digits in some polls for Clinton.  This Rasmussen Poll, the latest in Texas is very tight and was not the premise of both Ohio and Texas that she really had to win to be competitive, not just to stay alive but to win.  Did she not have to win by more than 15 in each state?

WOLFFE:  Right.  And the latest CNN numbers are Obama up by four in Texas.  So, yes, she has to win both at least according to her husband and win big if she wants to close anything, like the delegate gap that’s now opened up.  And more than that—look, the national numbers don’t mean a whole lot generally, but they do a lot in terms of the superdelegates psychology.  That’s where this race is headed.  So, yes, she needs to win, she needs to win both and she needs to restore some balance to the poll numbers.  None of that is happening soon.

OLBERMANN:  Our own Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” magazine.  Great thanks for joining us, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Turning now to MSNBC analyst, Dee Dee Myers, former Clinton White House press secretary, author of “Why Women Should Rule the World”.  Well, thanks for your time tonight.  Good to see you in person.

DEE DEE MYERS, MSNBC ANALYST:  Good to be here.  Glad to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  I’m getting the feeling that one woman particular is not going to wind up running the world.  I made an earlier reference to this, sort of half jokingly, the five stages of grief.  Is that what we are seeing here why she seems to be strategically taking all the different avenues at once?

MYERS:  Well, I think it’s been a frustrating campaign for her.  She’s tried, and I think, you know, early on the campaign was praised for message discipline and strategic discipline and it turned out that the strategy didn’t work.  And all of a sudden, they are running against this phenomenon called Barack Obama.  And it’s really difficult to run against him and they haven’t figured it out.

So, I think what you’re seeing is them trying a bunch of different things to see if anything will land a punch.  I mean, she’s throwing punches but she’s not landing any.  But you know, I don’t think this is such a nasty—look, this campaign has been mostly incredibly civil on both sides.  I think the Obama campaign and Clinton campaign have run a largely civil campaign.  Yes, there have been dustup, this is a very competitive primary.

But I don’t think there’s been any lasting damage done and I think having Barack Obama win a primary or two or three every Tuesday has done pretty good thing for his campaign.  So, I think to suggest that somehow, Hillary is damaging the party because she’s still in is kind of silly.  If she loses Ohio and Texas or Texas actually, either/or, that I think is time to reassess.  And I think she’ll do the right thing when the time comes.

OLBERMANN:  In one sense though, and this is going to really generalize and simplify, but just for the sake of argument, it seemed as if a nice and human Hillary Clinton got a better response every time she came out than tough person Hillary Clinton.  Why—what is the divisiveness, you know, I’m use that wrong term, what is the dichotomy of opinion in the campaign, if and which one would be argued for and one would be argued against and why isn’t a nicer person winning?

MYERS:  Well, I think a nicer person is definitely, the public likes that.  I’m not sure if it gets her any votes.  You know, the people who like Obama think, oh, isn’t not sweet, she’s saying nice thing about him, which she’s now (ph).  And I think the people who support here like it, too, but I don’t think it changes any minds.  And that’s the challenge for her.

And here’s the problem for Hillary Clinton though, I think it’s the problem and this is something that I do think a lot of women in public life face.  She has to be tough enough to convince people that she can be commander-in-chief and I think that’s one of the reasons why last year, the Clinton campaign settled on this kind of message of experience and toughness.  Because they knew they have vulnerability there.

They didn’t anticipate that Barack Obama would catch fire and raise millions of dollars and go speeding past them like a silver bullet.  And so, it turns out that, you know, he sucked up the change message and went running off to the races with it.  They didn’t expect that a year ago.  So, now, but I think women have to prove their toughness and to prove their bona fides in a way that men don’t.  And I think that’s been a challenge for her.

So, she has to be tough enough that people think she could have a finger on the proverbial button, but not so tough that, you know, she says mean things about her opponent.  Men are not held about that same standard and I think it’s been tricky.  And I think it’s interesting how people are so outrage about this picture of Senator Obama in Somali garb.  Look, that’s not a tactic I would ever support, I think it’s—you know, but I think the same kind of tactics have been used against Hillary Clinton and there’s much outrage about it.  And I think everywhere she turns, she just feels (ph) a lot of frustration.

OLBERMANN:  So, what do we get at the debate tomorrow?  Do we get “I’m honored to be you, Barack”?

MYERS:  No.  I don’t think too much.

OLBERMANN:  Do we get angry?  Do we get satirical?  What do we get?

MYERS:  I don’t think, I mean, I thought the satire stuff, you know, it’s hard to find, again, it’s hard to land a punch.  I think what you’ll see is her kind of sharpen the distinctions between them.  But that’s a danger for her.

When he is sitting right next to her, she’s a little more reluctant to do it because she understands that it doesn’t really work. But at the same time, if she doesn’t do it now, what’s going to change the dynamic in this race if she doesn’t say, hey, there’s a difference.  You know, and he has shown himself really effective at kind of sort of countering her attacks or anybody’s attacks, whether there coming from the McCain camp or from the Clinton camp.

OLBERMANN:  Back to that point, finally, about of her proving herself as any woman candidate would have to as being tough, has that point not been sold?  Didn’t she, in fact, win New Hampshire because she backed off that and everybody went - she is a human being with feelings?

MYERS:  Well, I think she had to establish it.  Yes, I do, I think that’s right.  I think, again, I think it shows how difficult walking the line is.  She spent the previous year establishing the fact that she was tough.  But you know, what was so frustrating for her and for people like me who are very sensitive, you know, write books called “Why Women Should Rule the World”, it’s the same people who attack her for being so tough called her phony when she showed any emotion.

So, you know, you get caught of this bale (ph) of vine.  And it’s very difficult.  I don’t mean to suggest by any measure that this is her only problem.  I think there are a lot of problems in the campaign with the way it’s been run.  It’s certainly by Senator Clinton’s approach to some of this, but I think there’s this an underlying dynamic that’s made it very difficult for her.  And I think we’ll look back at this and it will be one of the themes that people will analyze for many years coming.

OLBERMANN:  Dee Dee Myers’ new book is called, as she just mentioned—“Why Women Should Rule the World”.  Good to see you, thanks for coming up.

MYERS:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A programming note: COUNTDOWN to the debate and debate itself, tomorrow night in Cleveland.  That’s at 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.  Mr. Williams and Mr. Russert have the con for the debate itself and afterwards, Chris Matthews joins me for the analysis of what is in all likelihood, the last Democratic debate.  Thank you for your support.

Also: Tonight, the Obama patriotism question.  What Obama patriotism question?  He doesn’t wear lapel pins with flags on them.  Why the “Associated Press” actually run that as a story?

And: John McCain says that if he can’t convince Americans that Iraq is a success, he’ll lose the election.  Then, he tries to retract the comments.  That would be an election loss preceded by a flip-flop.

You’re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  The “Associate Press” actually runs a story headline: “Conservatives Say Obama Lacks Patriotism” based on flag lapel pins, photographs taken during national anthems and his wife saying, she was for the first time, really proud of this country.  Seriously.  This is a news story.  Lapel pins, like i-witness (ph) news lapel pins.  Rachel Maddow on that.

Later in Worsts: Comparing to Chairman Mao, itself compared to the totally Clinton out of glitch (ph) that kept viewers in Alabama from seeing accusations that Karl Rove tried to get sex photos of the former governor of Alabama.  Ahead here on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  George Washington never said the pledge of allegiance.  He wasn’t even born in the U.S.  So, what was he hiding?

In our fourth story tonight: Measuring a man’s patriotism by his allegiance to symbols.  The “Associated Press” reporting yesterday, the conservatives question Senator Barack Obama’s patriotism because he does not wear a flag pin and because he did not put his hand on his heart during the national anthem last September.  CNN.com aiding and abetting with a shocking online poll: Does Barack Obama show the proper patriotism for someone who wants to be the president of the United States?

Obama has already said he’s grandfather, a World War II vet thought to put his hand up for the pledge but stand for the anthem a common practice as you can see in any ballgame.  As for a flag pins, Obama stopped during in the run-up to the Iraq invasion when it seemed to become, quote for him, “A substitute for true patriotism”.

Yesterday, he challenged the Republican monopoly on supposed patriotism: “A party that presided over a war in which our troops did not get the body armor needed or was sending troops over who are untrained because of poor planning or not fulfilling the veterans’ benefits that these troops need when they come home or undermining our Constitution with warrantless wiretaps that are unnecessary?  That is a debate I’m very happy to have.”

Let’s bring in MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow whose show airs weeknights also on Air America Radio.  Good to see you again.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Obama is betting on America seeing through this.  And apart from the fact that John McCain also usually does not wear a flag pin, either, why is he betting that way?

MADDOW:  He’s doing something here that national level Democrats have either been too insecure or browbeaten to do in the last few years.  He’s not in hiding.  He’s not wishing this away.  He’s literally confident and calm in picking up this teargas canister and flinging it back from where it came.  He’s saying, you want to talk patriotism, let’s talk patriotism.  You want to talk American ideals, all right secret prison guys.  Let’s do it.

If this had happened in 2004, this would have seen as John Kerry taking those swiftboat veteran attacks and using them to say, all right, if you won’t denounce this George W. Bush, let’s talk about your Vietnam era service.  That’s what a confident candidate does with these kinds of attacks.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  The “Associated Press” story, why are the Democrats not erupting over this extraordinary and just thinnest tissue paper story from Nedra Pickler, the way that the Republicans did over the “New York Times” about McCain?  I mean, the first guy quoted in this is that crazy Roger Stone guy who started the 527 Group about Hillary Clinton whose acronym is so offensive even most Republicans are offended by it.

MADDOW:  Yes, does it count that I’m really mad about it?

OLBERMANN:  OK.

MADDOW:  I’m really mad about it.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I mean, this AP piece, it’s one thing to expect this from another regions of right wing media.  So, I’m not looking (ph) of this to be a wire service story.  The “AP” is something different.  And for them to just stovepipe the dirtiest stuff of the far reaches of right wing media right on to the home pages of every major news Web site in country, including MSNBC’s today, for this to be a wire service story today, is incredible.  Asking Roger Stone, whether Barack Obama has a patriotism problem, that’s like asking me Air America has any good radio host.  It sure like asking Adolph Coors if he can recommend a good weak beer.  You know, it’s unbelievable that that’s who they went to for this.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, a cut rate Gordon Liddy.  And you thought Gordon Liddy was the cut rate Gordon Liddy.  The CNN Poll, why not a poll that also question, you know, do you believe the far right’s charges that John McCain actually sold us out to his captors in Vietnam, I mean, that seems equally inappropriate.

MADDOW:  Yes, just because somebody makes a scurrilous political smear doesn’t mean you need in return (ph) to take down to your homepage and into your newspaper.  And you certainly don’t have to push poll their message for them the way that CNN did with this poll.  I mean, you don’t, if somebody calls you and says, you know, your mom is an ugly mug.  You don’t then go and talk to the rest of your family and say, would you like to comment on mama’s ugly mug, the ugliness of her mug?  I mean, it’s just totally out of line here.  They’ve totally missed the point.  And I think everybody who ran the story now has to deal with, how to get out of the mess that the wire service and CNN put them in.

OLBERMANN:  Last point here, “Politico” reporting, that Web site that the Republican National Committee is polling right now to find out how far they could go on attacking an African-American candidate.  This patriotism thing is the fig leaf to go racist?  Is that the idea?

MADDOW:  It must be.  I mean, I am incredulous that we’ve actually found out that they’re thinking about going real racist in this election.  They’ve decided to poll and see how far they can go.  If you wrote this in your screen play, it would be rejected as too cartoonistly evil.  I mean, I guess, they’re going to try to wrap up some racist thing along or maybe anti-mix race thing, I don’t know, along with their patriotism thing.  The depths of this remained to be plumbed.  But I hope that Obama keeps responding the way he is, because, so far, he’s counterattacking well..

OLBERMANN:  Miscegenation or a pro-slavery platform.

MADDOW:  We love milk (ph), Keith, and it will happen.  It will happen.

OLBERMANN:  And just remember, the only person that should be quoted then, would be Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, in fact, the first Republican president.

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Air America, always a pleasure, thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  By the way, don’t you think this president deserves a little credit for this country safe for six years from further zebra attacks?  The guys at the Tokyo, man, they’re just prepare for everything.  And nothing says responsible journalism by comparing Barack Obama to Chairman Mao.  Ahead in Worst.

But first: The headlines breaking in the administration’s 50 other scandals—Bushed.

Number three: Culture of corruption-gate.  No, we’d check that, it’s fight until you drop-gate.  I’m sorry, I got my scandals confused.  Joint Chiefs chair, Admiral Mullen, saying he’s top priority is to give our heroes two years of rest time for every year or 15 months they’d spend on the combat zone, adding though, I don’t see that happening in the next year or two.  So, good luck out there, brave soldiers.  And the administrations so ostentatiously exploits that they don’t really support.

Number two: No bid-gate.  This is about John Ashcroft’s golden parachute after he left the Justice Department.  He got a no bid contract with at least 28 million from the Justice Department for his law firm to negotiate a settlement with a corporation on behalf of the Justice Department.  The bad news is: Mr. Ashcroft maybe called to testify to the House Judiciary Committee this week.  The good news is: If everything falls correctly, he might get sometime having all his expenses paid for by the Justice Department while he stays at one of walled (ph) facilities scattered across the wide prairie.

And number one: Nexus of politics and terror-gate.  Here we go again.  If you will recall that on Friday, Attorney General Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence McConnell wrote to congressmen saying with the House not yet immunizing the telecom giants, the intelligence agencies have, quote, “Lost intelligence” because the phone companies were now refusing to cooperate with the government for fear of those lawsuits.  Hours later, Friday night, after all the networks went home, an administration official admitted that the last hold out (ph) among the telecoms had relented and agreed to continue to fully participate in the surveillance anyway.

So, naturally, given that Mr. Mukasey and Mr. McConnell and Mr. Bush all made is huge scary speeches about how the Democrats were endangering Americans and are throwing the Constitution under the bus and then, it turned out the telecoms are cooperating anyway.  Now, obviously, Mr. Mukasey and Mr. McConnell and Mr. Bush, they will all make big speeches saying, they were wrong and they shouldn’t have unnecessarily alarmed the public and - right.

I forgot for a moment what kind of presidency we’re living through.  Sorry.

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OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1830, Julius Caesar was born.  This seems to refute what you were taught about ancient Rome.  This is not the Julius Caesar emperor guy.  This is the Julius Caesar, the seventh of seven children, born to Benjamin and Ann Caesar in Goblding (ph), in Suri, England.  George, Richard, Lawrence, Ann, Benjamin Jr., Frederick and Julius.  Julius Caesar grew up to be a professional cricket player.  And in 1850, he and 11 of his brothers and cousins played a cricket match against the county team from Goblding, billing themselves as the 12 Caesars. 

Everything was going well for this Julius Caesar until the arrival on the British cricket scene of a rival player named Fred Brutus.  I made up that.  On that note, let’s play Oddball.

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OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Speaking of spots, this is the third annual world pillow fight, held across the globe, from Sidney to Beijing to Vancouver.  These are the New York scenes.  The stuff in the other cities looked pretty much like this.  Oddly, in Beijing, it’s the policemen who are doing this to people. 

It has absolutely no purpose except to encourage some serious down on down violence, and increase the sale of allergy remedies. 

To Tokyo, where they don’t need no stinking pillows for their fights.  They have robots instead, 112 of them to be exact, battling it out for dominance at the Robo-One Championships.  The goal, to maim and kill your mechanical opponent.  Some of them are seriously missing the point.  Designed as dolls or designed as robot chickens.  Seth Green’s cut of the profits presumably is in the mail.

You see, Seth Green’s show is called “Robot—OK, never mind. 

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OLBERMANN:  For Senator McCain, a triple-header of campaign calamity, bad news from the economy, potentially bad news from Iraq, and he and the teleprompter operator break stride. 

Plus, we got our hands on that commander in chief threshold test and, sad to say, there is a physical exam involved. 

These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN’s top three best persons in the world.  Number three, best new gift for the convenience store in your life—convenience story clerk in your life, courtesy of the Nihon Uni Concern of Osaka in Japan.  Its new t-shirts are made of fibers three times as strong as the usual material.  Doesn’t sound like much.  It turns out that the t-shirt is then as strong in equivalency as body armor.  It will stop a knife. 

The pricier model goes for about 590 bucks.  If you don’t care about your arms, there is a short sleeved job for just under 200 dollars. 

Number two, best bonus frequent flyer miles granted by an unnamed pilot for the Dutch airline KLM.  In charge of the Amsterdam to Hyderabad, India run, apparently no one told him that the new airport in Hyderabad had just opened.  So he went to the old one, except it wasn’t there anymore.  Ignoring the explanation from air traffic controllers, he flew across India to New Deli, where controllers told him to get lost.  He finally had to land in Mombai. 

Number one, best bad impression of the movie, “Caddie Shack.”  Two Carl Spaklers in Spring Bank, Alberta, Canada, just outside Calgary.  They decided they had to kill those gophers.  They jammed a device called a rodentator (ph) into the gopher holes in a field.  It pumped a mixture of propane and oxygen into the holes, collapsing the tunnel system, sending a shock wave that killed the gophers, and then, since it was over-used, exploded and set fire to the entire 160 acres, because it is drought season. 

It could that I’m wrong, Sandy, but if I kill all the golfers, they’re going to lock me up and throw away the key. 

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OLBERMANN:  It is remarkable that during the wild west saloon riot that has broken out in place of the Democratic primary season, the presumptive Republican nominee could stumble at home and abroad, literally and figuratively.  In our third story, Senator John McCain, also the ranking Republican on the Commerce Committee, speaking today on the nation’s mounting economic crisis, and he had no suggestions as to what to do now. 

Instead, he said he will consider other people’s ideas, calling for financial professionals to meet and presumably sort things out.  McCain did say he wants to make more down payments more expensive for American home buyers, and, in a stunning turn, called for reform to provide transparency and accountability.  And then actually said, the way to prevent this kind of thing in the future is to remove what he calls regulatory impediments on financial institutions. 

This perhaps no surprise from the man who said in January 2000, quote, “I didn’t pay nearly the attention to economic issues in the past.  I was probably a supply-sider, based on the fact that I really didn’t jump into the issue.”  Then said on November 2005, “I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues.  I still need to be educated.”  And then said in December 2007, “economics is something that I never really understood as well as I should.  I never have been involved in the financial workings of the country,” perhaps explaining the senator’s apparent trouble explaining a basic economic fact today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Already tight household budgets are getting tighter. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Glad they called them that.  The senator’s mastery of foreign policy also in question now, after his claim Monday that, quote, we are succeeding in Iraq, the same day Muqtada al Sadr’s forces shut down sections of Baghdad, the same day Mr. Bush’s generals advised delaying future returns of troops until after July, returns Mr. Bush himself had said would indicate success in Iraq, and just three days after leaders of the 80,000 Sunni militia there threatened to stop helping the U.S.

With us now, MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow, also host of her own program on Air America Radio.  Rachel, good evening. 

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  McCain’s major economic speech today; I’m paraphrasing, I have no ideas at the moment.  Please leave a message after the beep. 

MADDOW:  John McCain has brought a football and shoulder pads to a baseball game and he knows it.  He has repeatedly proclaimed his own ignorance on the subject of economics.  He is the—a major party’s nominee for president in an election that will turn, for many Americans, for most Americans, on the fact that we’re in the worst economic crisis we’ve been in probably since World War II. 

This is actually kind of an interesting political science study in what a candidate does when they have to campaign on an issue they know they don’t get.  What we learned in the speech today is that a candidate in that situation essentially says nothing.  There was no new proposals, no concrete plans, no commitments to existing plans.  This speech he essentially proved that he can pronounce the word liquidity and that was it. 

OLBERMANN:  But why would you—as a political science study, why you would keep saying—apparently every two years or so, on a regular basis, I don’t understand economics.  I need to be educated on this.  Why you would emphasize this point, then, of course, deny you ever said anything like this, and then make a speech about economics?  Why not—it’s a crazy idea.  I know I’m calling for—I’m against the politician here who admitted he doesn’t know something, which normally I would applaud.  But why not—I don’t know, maybe you could ask somebody.  Somebody in the Republican party who understands economy. 

Is that problem?  Is it a macro-issue rather than a micro-issue? 

MADDOW:  He could say that he is working on it, that he’s taking night courses.  He has enough time to travel abroad.  When you and Jonathan Alter talked about this the other night, I thought you guys kind of hit the nail on the head, in terms of talking about the I’m a dummy strategy.  It does lower expectations.  It does soften the blow of anybody who wants to punch you on this issue.  It does make you seem cute and self-deprecating. 

But don’t forget that John McCain also, in the Florida debate back in January, denied that he ever said he didn’t know anything about economics.  So he’s trying to play it both ways. 

OLBERMANN:  And I guess Joe Lieberman was not there to whisper in his ear.  We’re using dollars now, not pounds.  On the subject of Lieberman’s favorite topic, Iraq, McCain seems to be in a bind here.  If things get worse, his expertise, of course, then becomes suspect, because he has been saying, it’s been getting better.  And if things get better, there is actually less rational for a president to invest longer in Iraq and the due date for getting everybody out would seemingly go faster.  How do you get out of that conundrum? 

MADDOW:  I think McCain will make the case that if things get better, we have to stay.  If things get worse, we have to stay.  He has already kind of done this.  He said, for example, that we can’t reduce troop numbers in Iraq if we’re still incurring casualties.  He’s also said that if we’re not incurring casualties, we can stay forever.  So casualties or no casualties, we’re there forever. 

I think we read too much logic into this idea about what might be working or not working in Iraq, and how that affects our politicians.  I mean, McCain was an original true believer in invading Iraq, which never had a strategic point that they have leveled to the American public about.  We didn’t go into Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction or links to 9/11.  And we’re not staying in Iraq because having U.S. troops on the streets of Iraq is somehow making political reconciliation more attainable there. 

The point is whatever the eventuality is, he will spin it.  It will say to him that we need more troops for more time, more troops for more time.  It’s been the Cheney-Bush-McCain mantra since the very beginning. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, Nancy Reagan has endorsed McCain today.  Is this pro-forma?  Is it meaningful, too late to matter?  Has Senator Clinton appealed and asked for a recount? 

MADDOW:  I was holding out hope she was an Obama girl.  But I guess not.  I think this is pro forma.  I think this is—It is very nice of her.  It helps Obama make the past versus the future case that he’s been making.   

OLBERMANN:  Rachel Maddow of Air America and MSNBC, thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Britney Spears not removed from a sitcom in the middle of an episode, either by police or by lawyers.  Well that is actually news.  And it’s hard to say who sounded more like Senator Joe McCarthy threatening others, even as his life was crashing down around him, or Shakespeare’s King Leer vowing vengeance, even though he couldn’t think of anything he could do.  Bill-O tries to blackmail the “Washington Post.”  Worst next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The good news, Britney Spears got through it.  The bad news, it was on tape.  If she hadn’t gotten through it, it would have been erased for all time and nobody would have seen it.  Seventy five seconds of our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Keeping Tabs, Miss Spears making a guest appearance on “How I Met Your Mother” last night, playing a dorky, somewhat dim receptionist.  Against type?  Not necessarily. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRITNEY SPEARS, SINGER/ACTRESS:  Don’t yell at me, because when people yell at me, I have a tendency to start crying. 

Oh, wow.  Thank you.  It’s so nice.  You’re like a knight.  I should call you Sir Ted. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And that concludes another edition of “Masterpiece Theater.”  Actually, Spears did receive kind notices for her performance and Mother got a rating boost.  What’s more, Miss Spears reportedly showed up for work on time, learned her lines easily, probably just grateful to get out of the house. 

And in the case of never should have left the house, Priscilla Presley, determined to recover from a botched job of faux-botox performed by a man known as Dr. Jiffy Lube.  That should have been your first hint.  Miss Presley will reportedly undergo surgery.  Her precise problems unclear.  Others have suffered lumps or holes following so-called miracle injections at the hands of an Argentinian doctor, Daniel Serano (ph). 

Instead of botox, Dr. Serano would allegedly use a low-grade industrial silicone, similar to what is used to lubricate automotive parts in his native country.  Serano treated a bevy of Hollywood A-listers, who might now have ushered in a new meaning to that plastic surgery term, a little tune-up. 

Memo to candidates, do not tank the exam.  We have gotten a sneak peak at the proverbial commander in chief threshold test that Senator Clinton is talking about.  That is next, but first time for COUNTDOWN’s Worst Persons in the World. 

The bronze, the fine folks at “USA Today’s Sports Weekly.”  For at least a week, the readers who participate in rotisserie or fantasy baseball leagues have been waiting the March 19th issue, the special annual fantasy extra issue, values and protections for all Major League players, the ones the fans in these leagues buy or draft the rights to and compete against other fantasy teams. 

The 19th passed and no copy appears and the 20th, none, not in New York City anyway.  Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.  What today suddenly appeared on New York news stands?  The fantasy extra.  You know what today was?  Opening day in Major League Baseball.  Most fantasy league drafts were last weekend or earlier.  Thanks!  Thanks a lot. 

Our runner up, John Ewe (ph), former Bush Justice Department official, complaining in a “Wall Street Journal” op-ed that the Democrats super delegate system is, quote, un-Democratic, that this isn’t anything the framers of the U.S. Constitution dreamed up. 

Number one, the framers also did not dream up political parties.  And in his farewell address, George Washington pleaded with us not to have them.  So if you’re going by that standard, buddy, the Democrats and the Republicans have to disband tomorrow. 

Number two, whatever means the parties use now, they are four million times more Democratic than half a century ago, when primaries were beauty contests, and the bosses still decided every nomination. 

Number three, John Ewe is talking about democracy?  This is the guy who wrote Bush the memo saying interrogation is like torture only if there is organ failure or death.  This is the guy who wrote Bush the memo telling him he could ignore the Geneva Conventions.  This is the guy who wrote Bush the memo saying he didn’t have to get the consent of Congress before he invaded Iraq. 

Nevertheless, our winner tonight is Bill-O.  Simply put, he lost it.  The “Washington Post” Sunday Magazine wrote of the, quote, cruel and usual punishment inflicted on a writer who tried to listen simultaneously to the radio programs of Bill-O and comedian Rush Limbaugh.  Bill-O’s response, “perhaps Post editor Leonard Downy is too busy allowing personal smear attacks in his publication.  Mr. Downy might rethink that policy, as some post employees have significant personal situations of their own.  They’re using their magazines and their book review to smear people in very, very ridiculous and unprofessional ways.  Mr. Downey better knock it off or we’re going to have to start to take a look at him and his people.  I’m as serious as a heart attack.  If the ‘Washington Post’ keeps it up, there are going to be some pretty interesting things being reported on them.” 

Blackmail; he is trying to blackmail the “Washington Post” into not criticizing him.  He it with NBC and got knocked flat on his ass.  Those quotes could have come straight from Joe McCarthy just before he was consumed by the delirium (INAUDIBLE). 

You know what the “Washington Post” should do?  It should do a multi-part series on whether or not any right-wing cable show hosts have gone crazy, clinically insane.  A couple of articles exploring this topic, like 32 or 33 of them, quote a lot of shrinks and psychologists and clinical psychologists and communication professors.  Never mention Bill-O’s name.  And body language experts, quote a lot of body language experts too.  It will drive him right out of his capsule. 

Bill “Don Quixote” O’Reilly, today’s Worst Person in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I think it’s imperative that, Senator Clinton said, each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander in chief threshold.  I believe that I have done that, certainly.  Senator McCain has done that.  You’ll have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy. 

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, what is this threshold test of which you speak?  Well, COUNTDOWN has exclusively obtained a copy of set exam.  On our fifth anniversary special Sunday night on NBC, we’ll bring you the entire test, all 17 questions, plus the grading scale in which you can find out for yourself whether you or a presidential candidate near you has in fact passed the commander in chief threshold. 

To night, a preview, the prep course, if you will, for Sunday night’s final.   

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If you don’t know where the Green Bay Packers play their home games—

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  In deference to Lambert (sic) Field and Vince, whom I’ve quoted a few times, I’ve got to go to this Packer fan. 

OLBERMANN:  -- you failed the test.  Senators suspected of eyeing the White House can’t get racial. 

GEORGE ALLEN ®, FORMER SENATOR:  Let’s give a welcome to macaca here. 

OLBERMANN:  You have to be able to take the extreme physical challenge.  And every host of a failed show on this network can put his pencil down. 

ALAN KEYES ®, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The very thought sickens me. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course, Dick Cheney may never take the test, but firing a deadly weapon at your buddy guarantees a failing grade anyway.  But if you worry the test is graded harshly, fear not.  There is a lot you can flub and you can still get away with a passing grade. 

For instance, the candidate can say anything they want on the phone with his tailor and get passed. 

LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You can’t leave me about an inch from where the zipper ends, right on under my—back to my bung hole. 

OLBERMANN:  Caught on tape joking about a nuclear holocaust, we’ll not take off any points. 

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.  We begin bombing in five minutes. 

OLBERMANN:  Invoking your relationship with that great communicator may get you bonus points, at least for the first election. 

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We have had triumphs.  We made some mistakes.  We’ve had some setbacks. 

OLBERMANN:  And if you’re not a detailed person, big whoop. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Doing a better job of talking to each other.  The left hand now knows what the right hand is doing. 

OLBERMANN:  Because it turns out, some candidates get a butt load of credit just for signing their name. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can you name the president of Chechnya?   

BUSH:  No, can you? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can you name the president of Taiwan? 

BUSH:  Yes, Lee. 

The new Pakistani general has just been elected.  He’s not elected.  This guy took over office. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can name him? 

BUSH:  I can’t name the general. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the prime minister of India? 

BUSH:  The new prime minister of India is—no. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And lastly, here is the actual wording of question 16 of the commander in chief threshold test, quote, explain the fallacious reports of any interaction between secular groups amid the 90 percent Shia population of Iran and the violent groups of extremists in 40 percent Sunni Iraq, identifying themselves as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and no help from the other students. 

Again, the entire test, all 17 questions, on Sunday’s special fifth anniversary show on the NBC Television Network.  In the interim, that is COUNTDOWN this for the 1,790th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I’m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

END   

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