updated 4/3/2008 5:17:24 PM ET 2008-04-03T21:17:24

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

“3 a.m. phone call” credibility: Obama endorsed by 9/11 Commission Co-chair Lee Hamilton and by another governor, Mr. Freudenthal of Wyoming.  This, while President Clinton reportedly shouts at California superdelegates that Governor Richardson told him five times to his face that he would not endorse Obama.

And Richardson writes, “I never told anyone, including President Clinton, that I would do so.  Those who say I did are misinformed or worse.”

Is the conventional thinking misinformed on electability?  Polling Democrats who has better chance to beat McCain: 59 percent say Obama, 30 percent say Clinton.  Polling Republicans who does McCain have better chance of beating: 64 percent say Clinton, only 22 percent say Obama.

They have a nominee but do they really have any solidarity?  No evidence says televangelist James Dobson that McCain is successfully unifying the Republican Party or drawing conservatives into his fold, “To the contrary he seems intent on driving them away.”

McCain is seeking a V.P., but still seeking a kind word from him or Regnery or Norquist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If you‘re just going to have people who disagree with you.  I respect those disagreements.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Worse: Tony Snow claims Obama voted present 160 times in the U.S. Senate.  “Illinois State Senate,” corrects Dennis Miller.  “No, no,” says Snow, “the U.S. Senate.”  Dennis Miller knows more about American politics than Tony Snow.

And: American politics as we celebrate COUNTDOWN fifth anniversary week like the time the White House insisted the president had rarely ever said he would stay the course in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  We will stay the course—we will stay the course - we will stay the course—we just going to stay the course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And staying the course that has been COUNTDOWN Puppet Theater:

“Thank goodness, what a relief.  Now I can remove this stupid mask. 

Ah (ph).  (INAUDIBLE)  Whoa ho ho (ph)”

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Wednesday, April 2nd, 216 days until the 2008 presidential election.  If you can take Senator Clinton‘s 3:00 a.m. phone call commercial and multiply it by the Clintonian commander in chief threshold test, the product might be the endorsement of the ritual co-chair of the 9/11 Commission.

In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: Senator Clinton did not get that endorsement today.  Moreover, the magnetic polls of electability and non-electability have evidently switched.

One Democrat is thought by Democrats to be more likely to beat John McCain by nearly two to one.  One Democrat is thought by Republicans to be more likely to beat John McCain by nearly three to one.  And that Democrat is not Senator Clinton either.

The endorsement first from Lee Hamilton, not merely the former long time congressman from Indiana which votes on the 6th of May, but in this race, more likely to be identified as the official vice chairman, essentially co-chairman on both the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group.  And before that, the former chair of both the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees.

Mr. Hamilton, issuing a statement reading, quote: “Obama will strengthen our ability to sue all the tools of American power, and relentlessly promote the American values of freedom and justice for all people.”

And on matter of red states, on the premise that states have to be one shade or the other, another endorsement today.  This one from superdelegate, Wyoming‘s governor, Dave Freudenthal, praising Obama on key western domestic issues: energy and the environment; is suggesting also that already, Obama has demonstrated crossover appeal in his 65 percent Republican state.

More on overall electability in a minute but the issue of superdelegates we learned today, a testy one for a former commander in chief in this campaign.  The “San Francisco Chronicle” reporting that just before Bill Clinton spoke publicly in California on Sunday, telling Democrats to chill out about the race, he himself lost his chill backstage about the race.

“One of the worst political meetings I have ever attended,” says a superdelegate survivor when a Clinton superdelegate told him she regretted Clinton supporter James Carville having called New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson a Judas for endorsing Obama.

The former president was quoted as saying, “Five times to my face, Richardson said that he would never do that,” a red-faced, finger-pointing Clinton erupted, ultimately apologizing later the same day.

Richardson himself is denying ever giving Clinton any such guarantee in an update on the “Washington Post.”  It was however different former president who seemed to inspire Senator Clinton last night without mentioning his name, she repeated joke this former president sometimes shared with his audience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Man walks by the bar, sees a little boy in this room filled with manure.  And he‘s standing there he‘s digging and he‘s digging and he‘s digging.  The man says: son, what are you doing?  Up to your hips is manure with that little shovel.  The boy said, well, this much manure around there‘s got to be a pony and I‘m going to find it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The president, who used to tell that story all the time, of course, comes Ronald Reagan.

With us tonight, my pleasure to welcome in person: our own Richard Wolffe, a political analyst for us, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Good to see you.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK:  Good to see you.

OLBERMANN:  First off: the Hamilton endorsement.  Was it expected?  Is it measurable?

WOLFFE:  Well, I don‘t think a lot of people did expect it.  But more important than expected or not expected is what one senior aide told me was the validation question.  And this is really the impact of this.

The questions: the 3:00 a.m. questions, however you want to phrase it. 

Who is Barack Obama?  Why does he think he‘s ready to be president?

This kind of endorsement answers that question, at least for some people.  Maybe some people will forget about it when the time passes by.  But for the moment this is important.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, you bring this man out and say, he‘ll answer that question for you.  He has some credibility in the area of 3:00 a.m. phone calls.

OLBERMANN:  Just a little.

OLBERMANN:  The former Montana senator, John Melcher also came out for Obama today as we mentioned the governor of Wyoming, are they saying that Obama can win these red states?  Are they implying that there‘s at least that chance of it that would not be there if Clinton is the nominee?

WOLFFE:  Well, you have to be a brave Democrat to say they can take Wyoming.  But Montana may be in play.  Remember, Democratic Governor Jon Tester won big in 2006 in that Senate race there.  So, there is a game plan there that could work in Montana.

But more important than the question of whether Obama can win for the superdelegates is: Am I going to win, are the folks on my ballot, my ally is going?  That‘s down ballot question that the Obama folks have played very well.  They got the numbers to back them up.

The Clinton folks have never really taken that argument head on and taken that down.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, there doesn‘t seem to be anything going on in the Clinton campaign right now that looks past this prize of getting the nomination.  All the terrain afterwards is a blank territory, is it not?

WOLFFE:  Well, they say it‘s just funny—it‘s not going to happen.  The campaign battleground will stay the same.  And this talk about expanding into these other states is ridiculous.  But that doesn‘t really address the question: Does the top of the ticket affect the bottom of it?  And in the minds of these superdelegates that‘s an important issue when it comes to deciding who should get the nomination.

OLBERMANN:  This report in the San Francisco in the “Chronicle” given Bill Clinton‘s apparent intensity, we‘ll use that about superdelegates, where are her superdelegate announcements and when she was asked about this the other day and actually answered, I don‘t keep track of those things.  What are we to infer from that?

WOLFFE:  Well, she doesn‘t keep track of them in the same way that President Bush doesn‘t read the polls.  You know, there is problem here for here in that Clinton—Bill Clinton took her to a plateau of superdelegate endorsements and she‘s been stuck there.  And really, if they had those people to wheel out, they should have done that already.

OLBERMANN:  And Obama got suitably whacked weeks ago including from this desk, for seeming to plat out compliment Ronald Reagan particularly his impact on history, particularly relative to Bill Clinton‘s presidency.  Now, Senator Clinton is using Ronald Reagan‘s manure jokes, are they policy previews?  Are they just pitches the independents?  What‘s going on here?

WOLFFE:  There is a horse manure joke in here and I‘m not going to go there.  What‘s going on here is, as Clinton folks like to say, it‘s just words.  I mean, look, when the came down to the Deval Patrick issue, about stealing someone‘s story and everything, without attributes.  Remember what that problem caused?

OLBERMANN:  I‘d forgotten that one.

WOLFFE:  You know, there is a track record here of maybe saying one thing doing another.

OLBERMANN:  But, am I seeing too much on this.  She‘s quoting Ronald Reagan; she‘s meeting with Richard Mellon Scaife; Ed Rendell is saying FOX News gave them the best coverage, the most balanced coverage of the entire primary; Bill went on Rush Limbaugh show, well, I have to mention this again, Limbaugh was not there at the time.  These are odd venues.  Is it any venue in a storm?

WOLFFE:  It‘s a sign of the apocalypse.  I mean, look, this people come together, Scaife having lunch with Bill Clinton.  That‘s enough to cause the fall (ph) up there of the horizon.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  And somebody needs to send me a check about 1998 if that is going to happen, if that‘s going to be resolved.

Richard Wolffe, MSNBC political analyst, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek,” as always, great thanks, especially in person.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And as promised electability: One candidate‘s presumption she alone has it, has been the cornerstone of her pitch to Democrats to eliminate the other candidate.  There are new poll numbers out today on the topic if they are not more wrong than Dewey beats Truman from 1948 on this topic, Senator Clinton would appear to be finished.

Gallup finding: 59 percent of the Democrats give Obama a better shot against McCain, almost twice Clinton‘s 30 percent.  And even Republicans by still greater margin: 64 percent of them, nearly 2/3, saying that McCain stands a better chance of beating Clinton than beating Obama.  Only 22 percent of Republicans saying McCain would do better against Obama.

This poll is coming the same week as top Clinton advisor Harold Ickes revealed to Talkingpointsmemo.com that he‘s telling Democratic superdelegates to vote for Clinton because Obama will have the electability problems in November.

Twenty days to Pennsylvania primary and a Quinnipiac Poll is showing Clinton now up by nine there with the Keith number of 10.5, and down from the 12-point margin she enjoyed in that same poll in the middle of last month.

We turn now to MSNBC political analyst and senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek,” Howard Fineman.

Howard, good evening to you.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If we stipulate that you can probably find any poll somewhere that will tell you anything you want, including the Dewey did beat Truman, is there solid evidence?  What kind of evidence did the Clinton camp offer to the superdelegates, to the people they‘re trying to convince who are not superdelegates, that she and not he can put the best fight up against McCain where there are poll numbers this broad is saying the opposite?

FINEMAN:  Well, in talking to them, it‘s less matter of solid evidence than the deep fears.  They say that Hillary‘s got the experience and that‘s going to be her calling card against John McCain who has oodles of that.  They try to point on the Clinton side to Ohio and New Hampshire and other swing states that Hillary has won in the Democratic race.

And they try to say that Obama support among Republicans and independents, which is strong in all these polls we‘re looking at, is going to fade away as the fall campaign begins.  So, they‘re really more arguing against Obama‘s electability in the face of all these polls than they are for their own candidate‘s electability.  It‘s more raising fears about Obama‘s strengths than about Hillary‘s.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, if a poll of Republicans suggest that only 22 percent think McCain will run better against Obama than he would against Senator Clinton.  Let‘s assume there are a lot of Republicans misleading the pollsters.  But to make that a completely invalid poll, it would have to be half or more of the respondents lying to the pollsters, would it not?

FINEMAN:  Well, Keith, to use phrase from the law, you know, if you have the evidence, you use it, if you don‘t, you pound on the table.  And that sort of what‘s going on here because Hillary‘s got to argue with the evidence that she has.  And the evidence she has is she did well in Ohio with traditional white blue collar Democratic voters and she did well among Hispanic voters.

So, she has to argue that Obama is not going to get those people in the end and that Obama is not going to get some of the people he has now.  That‘s the only thing she really can argue based on whatever evidence she‘s got.  And that‘s what she‘s trying to do.  That, plus the experience issue.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  And what are independent of the pitches.  What are the Democratic superdelegates are looking at in terms of trying to decide this question of the electability?

Is it that—those issues raised by Senator Clinton?  Is it Obama‘s ground game, registration, get out to votes, bring in new voters, fundraising, what is it that they are looking at?

FINEMAN:  I think what those superdelegates are looking at, even some of the Clinton people I‘ve talked to who are superdelegates are impressed with the skill of the supposedly novice but not actually novice Obama campaign.  Except for underestimating the power of Reverend Jeremiah Wright‘s remarks, the Obama campaign so far has been superbly run.

There are new paradigm of the campaign of a political organization.  It‘s the equivalent of distributed computing and computers.  They‘ve got a million people online giving money.  They work on their own.  There‘s a viral, to use another computer term, nature to what they‘re doing that‘s of great interest.

And time after time after time, I‘ve heard Clinton people say that their kids are for Obama.  And you had Bob Casey, the senator of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, who is very much helping Obama now saying, one main reason why he went for Obama that his daughters told him he had to do it.  Believe me that is impressing superdelegates in and including the undecided ones.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So, quickly, why then in this time when it seems like there‘s a steam roller in terms of endorsements and it‘s been a pretty clean slate in favor of Obama over Clinton?  Why are these superdelegates, why are the other Democrats still holding back on both sides?

FINEMAN:  Well, they‘re hanging back, number one, because they want to be influential, they wouldn‘t be politicians if they didn‘t want that.  They want to be with the winner.  And they want to see what shakes out.  Somebody like Joe Biden a superdelegate and he‘s waiting and watching because he wants to crown the winner.

OLBERMANN:  And wants to be the last guy, they all want to be the last guy on the train before it actually starts to move.  Not the second afterwards.

FINEMAN:  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, proving once again, timing is everything.  Thank you, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And you know, the standard line the Republicans are singing kumbayah, while the Democrats are staging a civil war, nobody told James Dobson, or Grover Norquist, or Alfred Regnery about that.  Each today slams John McCain as the specter of conservative rebellion arises anew.

And: There were these 17 different excuses for the war in Iraq.

As we look back at key moments in our five years of COUNTDOWN, we take you back to the night I got to rattle them all off in chronological order.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  John McCain is not only not uniting all Republicans as a prominent and influential figure from the religious right but he seems to be trying to divide them.  The conservative rebellion, it ain‘t over yet.

And later: A cornucopia in Worse, Dennis Miller, Tony Snow, Steve Doocy, and comedian Rush Limbaugh.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As per one flawed line of reasoning: Senator John McCain as the presumptive Republican nominee can coast towards the center and court independent voters, the conservative base his own party will necessarily fall in line.

But what if they don‘t?

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN:  A slew of key conservatives, including of the loudest and thus one of the most listened to, today is saying, they don‘t.  This in the odd context of the candidate himself is beginning the process of choosing a running mate.

The chorus of conservatives expressing their frustration in interviews with the “Wall Street Journal” like Alfred Regnery, publisher of “American Spectator” magazine, quoting him, “I hear good deal of rumbling from conservatives about McCain.

Others are not even that generous, in particular, James Dobson from Focus on the Family, quoting: “I have seen no evidence that John McCain is successfully unifying the Republican Party or drawing conservatives into his fold.  To the contrary, he seems intent on driving them away—fracturing an increasingly divided constituency.”

McCain needs to talk more about core values, according to know Tony Perkins, president of the so-called Family Research Council, and David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union says that McCain, quote, “hasn‘t really made conservatives believe they‘re involved in a common enterprise.  He‘s sort of reaches out to conservatives on Monday and evidently feels bad about it and slaps ‘em on Tuesday.”

But McCain‘s merry way includes no apparent concern about conservative support asked directly about that by David Letterman last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I‘m proud to be a Republican in the Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan tradition.  And I‘m proud of that, I‘ll present those credentials to the American people.  You‘re just going to have people who disagree with you.  I respect those disagreements.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  President Roosevelt has just sent him a telegram from wherever he is right now.  Meanwhile, McCain said this morning in radio interview, that he‘s begun compiling a list of vice presidential running mates but he reportedly startled his aides when he said, quote, “I‘m aware of the enhanced importance of this issue because of my age.”

Let‘s bring in Air America Radio host and MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow who have dealt with this issue of increasing age yesterday on her birthday.  Rachel, good evening.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Sorry about that.  Talk about this wondrous gift to Senators Clinton and Obama from Doctor Dobson, this reminder, that whenever the Democrats are ready to go after McCain, the conservatives are, too.

MADDOW:  Yes.  I mean, if we take Dobson at face value, this seems great for Democratic chances of defeating McCain.  But I don‘t think we should take Dobson at face value.  I don‘t think there‘s any risk that Dobson is really not going to support John McCain.  He‘s not going to support a Democratic opponent to a Republican presidential candidate.

So, I think what he‘s trying to do here is he‘s trying to get his way on policy issues.  He‘s trying to nudge John McCain saying, you know, I will make sure that the base is not enthused for you, that you‘re not able to turn out religious right voters unless you start saying more of the things that we‘re used to hearing from candidates at this point in the campaign.

I think he‘s trying to win some concessions on things like stem cell research and some of the other issues that Dobson likes to campaign on.  So, we‘ll have to see how McCain responds to this.  But I think Dobson‘s just trying to get as much as he can out of McCain before he, inevitably decides to support him.

OLBERMANN:  But as we know from Mr. Kuo‘s revelations, no pun intended about the religion rights reaction to how they were treated by the Bush administration, does McCain believe like Bush that he can fool all of the conservatives especially, the religious right all of the time?

MADDOW:  The hallmark of Bush/Rove Republicanism in terms of dealing with the religious right is that they kind of poke the beast and they run every election cycle as if the whole election is about issues those voters care about.  They run as if the whole purpose for their campaign is to get abortion banned or to make gay people‘s lives miserable or whatever it is they think they can get people excited about.

And then, once they‘re in office, they retire those issues until they need to trot them back out for the next election cycle.  And we know from David Kou‘s book, you‘re right, and from other sources that the religious right is—they‘re not dumb.  They know this is happening.  They know they‘re being used.

The problem is, that even if the rank and file know that they‘re being used and they‘re getting resentful about it, people like Dobson, people like Pat Robertson, people like Tony Perkins of the world, these so-called leaders, this is a great system for them.  They get fed monetarily and in terms of attention and in terms of the sort of king-maker attention and they get paid to them every two years and they love it.  This system worked very well for them.

So, as long as we only ask the leaders, I think they‘ll hope they get the same treatment from John McCain that they got from George W.

OLBERMANN:  But does this reaction that we‘re seeing today, this is tie into this other story about him looking at this list supposedly including all names known to man for running mate, does the running mate have to be from the lunatic fringe to silence the lunatic fringe and engage them?

MADDOW:  He‘ll get the lunatic fringe no matter what he does.  I mean, James Dobson is trying to make it seem like that somehow in doubt and McCain has to work for it.  But they‘ll support him regardless in the end.

And Dobson would love to make it seem like McCain had to choose a Christian conservative as his running mate.  But McCain‘s got a lot of other options in terms of that choice as well.  He could pick Condoleezza Rice or he could pick a retired military officer if he really wanted to go with the war president angle that he‘s been pushing.

He could pick a member of the Cheney family.  He could pick Jeb if he really wanted to go whole hug with the Bush third term idea.  He has a lot of different options in terms of what constituencies he wants to sledge and what message about his candidacy he wants to promote.  And I think Dobson is only one smart part.

OLBERMANN:  Jeb, the other white Bush.  What about McCain bringing up the issue of age, reminding people not just of, you know, the serious sober discussions of man in his 70s running for the presidency, the life-death question, but when you bring up the age thing you bring up the age-related infirmity question, don‘t you?

MADDOW:  That‘s right.  And we talked about this before and my initial analysis of McCain reminding people of how old he is, you know, he‘s been doing a lot of it, I remember Pearl Harbor, you know, I was the class of 1954 when he just took a trip to his high school.

He‘s been doing that and I‘ve seen that as a sign that he doesn‘t have strong Democratic opposition and that he‘s just running a flabby campaign.  But now I wonder, because he‘s doing this so frequently, I wonder if he is trying to lay the ground work for announcing that he‘s only going to run for one term—that he only intends to serve one term as president.  That would be very bold thing to do but it‘s possible.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I heard the same thing ask questions about was told, no, nobody could ever run for president on that because there‘s no check and balance that the whole essence, the only way you can restrain a president is that you know he‘s going to try to run for re-election.

MADDOW:  But at the same time, what else explains why he keeps bringing this up over and over again?

OLBERMANN:  The conservative Grover Norquist says the process of McCain unifying the party is still happening, Dobson said, the plan is to go - what the right goes its own way while McCain attracts moderates and crossover Democrats.  Those are seen to be two different plans.  Is there no coordination between these guys?

MADDOW:  I think that this is just pure spin from Norquist.  I think this is absolutely not the case.  John McCain has now ceased being John McCain the man.  He‘s now “John McCain incorporated.”  And the job of “John McCain incorporated” is to get a Republican into the White House.  The Republican machine will gear up into figuring how they need to do that.

That involves mobilizing the base the way that they did under George W. Bush that involves, sure, trying to win crossover voters the way they have from time to time in elections.  But they‘re going to proceed with every strategy all at once in terms of trying to maximize his vote.  He‘s not going to be allowed even if he personally wanted to.  He‘s not going to be allowed to write off any Republican constituency and pursuing this.  In this kind of year, he‘s going to need every Republican that he can get, left, right, and center.

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

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And: What on earth do we have for you tonight?  Jesus Christ on a spoon.  Aren‘t these images wonderful?  I can say that and nobody—not James Dobson can complain.  Jesus Christ on a spoon.  I said it twice.

And: Comedian Rush Limbaugh explains that it‘s the thrice divorced who believe they are owed a Hillary Clinton nomination.

You want to guess how many times comedian has been divorced?

Those stories ahead but first: The headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandals—Bushed.

Number three: Domestic spy-gate.  The Pentagon has reportedly going to dismantle or at least downsize its counterintelligence field activity office.  The brainchild, so to speak, of former Secretary Rumsfeld after 9/11, which wound up gathering information on anti-war protests being held in places like, churches, schools, Quaker meeting halls.  It‘s on the recommendation of DOD senior intelligent official, James R. Clapper.  Clap on, clap off, clap on, clap off, says Clapper.

Number two: Conscience-gate.  Former Rhode Island Republican senator, Lincoln Chafee has new book coming and he claims the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans.  He has two headlines for us about the Bush administration.  The president has, quote, a pugnacious and intractable attitude and is a, quote, “school yard tough.”

And in December of 2007, Chafee says, he and other moderates met with then vice president-elect Cheney to flesh out unifying middle of the road course on which Bush and Cheney had just run.  Chafee quotes Cheney as saying, “The campaign is over and our actions in office will not be dictated by what had to be said in the campaign.”

Number one: Wrong enemy-gate.  The undersecretary of the Treasury Stewart A. Levey told a Senate committee that one nation, quote, “remains the location where more money is going to terrorism, to Sunni terror groups, and to the Taliban than any other place in the world: Saudi Arabia.”

Well that can‘t be right.  Surely he meant Iran or Iraq or the Democratic Party.  Saudi Arabia?  But if Saudi Arabia is the world‘s leading source for money for al Qaeda and terrorism that means our whole foreign policy has been wrong.  That we‘ve been defending the terrorist for seven years and launching stupid wars that have only helped them further by disguising the real enemy.  Nah!  Idiots.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1914 was born perhaps the most versatile of all great actors of the 20th century.  He played everything from the head of the Russian Secret Service in “Dr Zhivago” to the head of the British agency spying on the Russian Secret Service in “Tinker Taylor, Soldier Spy.”  He played eight members of the same family in a movie called “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” a Saudi prince in “Lawrence of Arabia,” the leader of the British prisoners of the Japanese in “Bridge on the River Kwai,” and four years after that a Japanese millionaire.  Hitler, Fagan, Freud, Disraeli and a Pope. 

Yet, to millions, he will remembered simply as Obi-wan Kenobi.  Sir Alec Guinness, born on this date, would have been 94 today.  Let‘s play Oddball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  We begin in Guinness‘ Great Britain, where a splendidly created April Fool‘s day spoof pervaded on the BBC.  It‘s a fictional documentary entitled “Evolution,” about the humble penguin.  The fact that the narrator and host was Monty Python immortal Terry Jones should have been your first hint. 

TERRY JONES, MONTY PYTHON:  This recently discovered colony of penguins is unlike any other.  They don‘t need to huddle together every winter for protection against the cold, because these little fellas do something no other penguins can. 

Amazing. 

How do they use this incredible ability?  Well, they fly thousands of miles to the rain forests of South America, where they spend the winter basking in the tropical sun. 

OLBERMANN:  Next week, flying sheep.  To Marshal County, Kentucky, where Jesus has apparently risen again in a spoon.  That‘s what the owners of the saintly silverware are claiming.  It‘s a little bit like Che Guevara actually.  Anyway, if you‘re a fan of Christ, or for that matter of Che, get thee to eBay and start bidding.  Or just say it with me one more time, Jesus Christ on a spoon. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Why has a president never used that as a rallying cry to war; Jesus Christ on a spoon.  As we reflect back on five years of this newscast, the day the White House claimed Mr. Bush had only said he would stay the course in Iraq eight times, and we found 30 times. 

The lighter side of these five years, how desperation over covering and disgust at having to cover the Michael Jackson saga led us into a whole new world of journalism involving not spoons but popsicle sticks.  Back into the toilet COUNTDOWN goes. 

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OLBERMANN:  This news hour debuted 12 days after the U.S. invaded Iraq.  Five years later, it is with anger, sadness and sheer disbelief that we find ourselves and our country still there, in the middle of deadly and volatile battleground.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, as we continue to look back at the last five years of this program, two reminders tonight of the lies, misdirection and mis-truths that got us into Iraq and keep us there. 

In a moment, the incredible changing laundry list of excuses for this war, but we begin in October 2006, when the administration tried for umpteenth time to persuade the American public that what had happened had not happened.  There was a difference defense secretary, a different press secretary, but the same attempt to obfuscate the truth. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  You‘ve probably forgotten this, because it stuck about as well as did the New Coke.  But just last year, the Pentagon tried to change the language.  We were no longer fighting a war on terror, we were fighting a global struggle against violent extremism.

But despite Donald Rumsfeld‘s endless repetition of the new phrase, the effort failed, because the commander in chief refused to call the global struggle against violent extremism anything but the war on terror.

Now in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, that message miscommunication is happening in reverse.  On Monday, the White House fired the underproducing catch phrase “stay the course,” and apparently nobody told the secretary of defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, HOST:  A lot of debate has now emerged over the phrase “stay the course,” and what that actually means.  Well, the president is backing away from staying the course.  He‘s not backing away from staying the course.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Of course not.  You know, I suppose the concern was that it gave opponents a chance to say, Well, he‘s not willing to make adjustments, and, of course, just the opposite is true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The problem arises when you can‘t make adjustments even about the language of making adjustments.

The White House press secretary is now revising his revisionist history on that phrase, and still coming up short, first saying that the president never said “stay the course,” then yesterday saying this to Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN GIBSON, HOST:  So is it true the president has abandoned the line, We‘re staying the course, and the new explanation of Iraq is, there is a timeline in place?

SNOW:  You know, this is a great story, John, because the president—we went back and looked today, and we could only find eight times where he‘d ever used the term, the phrase “stay the course”—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, sure, to be fair, the president did say “stay the course” eight times.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BUSH:  This country will stay the course.

My message is that, is that, we will stay the course.

And that‘s why we‘re going to stay the course in Iraq.

If we don‘t lose our nerve, if we stay the course—

would have the nerve to stay the course, and—

And we will stay the course.

We must stay the course.

And I told him and assured him that the United States would stay the course.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  So there they are, the eight, and the only eight times President George W. Bush ever said the phrase “stay the course.”  The only time—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BUSH:   -- stay the course in Iraq.

And it‘s very important for us to stay the course.

And we‘re going to stay the course.

And America will stay the course.

We will stay the course.

We will stay the course.

We will stay the course.

We‘re just going to stay the course.

We will, we will stay the course.

We will stay the course.

We‘re there to stay the course—

And we‘ll stay the course—

stay the course.

stay the course.

stay the course.

stay the course—

stay the course—

We sill stay the course—

And yet we must stay the course.

And we will stay the course in Iraq.

And that‘s what we‘re doing, and we‘ll stay the course.

As a matter of fact, we will win in Iraq, so long as we stay the course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And now you know tomorrow‘s headline for Mr. Snow, I never said he only said it eight times; I said we could only find eight times.  Evidently somebody at the White House needs a little help with the Google.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Parenthetically, some addictions are never truly shattered.  On the 12th of last month, the president speaking to the National Republican Congressional Dinner insisted, quote, you might even say that when it comes to withdrawing from Iraq the Democrats policy is -- 

Stay the course. 

The next bit of Orwellian language approach came two and a half months after the alleged passing of stay the course.  Mr. Bush decided to announce what he would call a surge, something known in English as a troop escalation.  In the hour immediately prior to his announcement of his decision to again, stay the course, we look back at what he and his course had to that point achieved. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Any meaningful assessment of the president‘s next step in Iraq must consider his steps and missteps so far.

So, let‘s look at the record.  Before Mr. Bush was elected he said he was no nation builder.  Nation building was wrong for America.  Now he says it is vital for America.  He said he would never have put U.S. troops under foreign control.  Today U.S. troops observe Iraqi restrictions.

He told us about WMDs, mobile labs, secret sources, aluminum tubing, yellow cake.  He has told us the war is necessary because Saddam was a threat, because of 9/11, because of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, because of terrorism in general, to liberate Iraq, to spread freedom, to spread democracy, to keep the oil out of the hands of potentially terrorist controlled states, because this was a guy who tried to kill his dad.

In pushing for and prosecuting this war, he passed on chances to get Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Moqtada al Sadr, Osama bin Laden.  He sent in fewer troops than recommended.  He disbanded the Iraqi army and de-Baathified the government.  He short changed Iraqi training.  He did not plan for widespread looting, nor the explosion of sectarian violence.  He sent in troops without life saving equipment, gave job to foreign contractors and not the Iraqis, staffed U.S. positions in Iraq based on partisanship, not professional experience.

We learned that America had prevailed, mission accomplished, the resistance was in its last throws.  He has said that more troops were not necessary and more troops are necessary, and that it‘s up to the generals, and then removed some of the generals who said more troops would be necessary.

He told us of turning points, the fall of Baghdad, the death of Uday and Qusay, the capture of Saddam, a provisional government, the trial of Saddam, a charter, a constitution, an Iraqi government, elections, purple fingers, a new government, the death of Saddam.  We would be greeted as liberators with flowers, as they stood up, we would stand down.  We would stay the course.  We would never stay the course.  The enemy was al Qaeda, was foreigners, was terrorist, was Baathists.

The war would pay for itself.  It was cost 1.7 billion dollars, 100 billion, 400 billion, half a trillion dollars.  And after all of that, today it is his credibility versus that of generals, diplomats, allies, Republicans, Democrats, the Iraq Study Group, past presidents, voters last November, and the majority of the American people. 

Let‘s turn to MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, “Newsweek‘s” senior Washington correspondent.  Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Wow, hi Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Thanks again, Howard.  Not every minute of the last five years has been spent on the inanity of the administration.  Some have been devoted to the inanity of celebrities and of media coverage of celebrities and of puppet theater journalism. 

Brand new tonight, which of these conservatives knows less about the facts?  Worst persons next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve used it to take you inside the supreme court, to give you the you are there feel for Dingus Day with Bill and Chelsea Clinton.  Tonight, as we continue anniversary week here at COUNTDOWN, we salute the highlights of the new journalism of the 21st century, COUNTDOWN puppet theater. 

That‘s next, but first time for our number two story, the nightly police blotter of humanity, our worst persons in the world.  The bronze to Steve Doocy of Fixed News, trying to hold back reality as man might stand at the shore and hold back the ocean with a spoon; “We‘re not technically in a recession, yet we hear politicians and people in the TV and radio and paper talk about recession.  Don‘t you think what‘s at the core here are that there‘s some liberal elements to the media?  They‘re trying to get a Democrat in the White House?” 

Even the right wing guest from the Media Research Center laughed at him, and said, I don‘t think it‘s as conspiratorial as all that.  Second point, these people supposedly have business channel, for crying out loud. 

Runner up tonight, comedian Rush Limbaugh.  Trying to explain the Democratic nominating process to his robot listeners; saying Hillary Clinton‘s female supporters, quote, think they‘re owed this.  These women have paid their dues.  They have been married two or three times.  They‘ve had two or three abortions.  They‘ve done everything that feminism asked them to do. 

That‘s comedian Rush Limbaugh saying that after being married three times and having had no children.  Apparently, he‘s done everything feminism asked him to do.  Second point, President Clinton went on that show one day that comedian had a guest host. 

But the winner, Tony Snow, once again of Fox Noise, visiting on Dennis Miller‘s radio show, and declaring that, “to do what looks to be respectable and to avoid trouble, Senator Obama, in the United States Senate has voted present, what, 160 times.”  Dennis Miller interjected in the Illinois Senate, I believe. 

“No, no, in the United States Senate.”  Dennis, flashing back to his reasonable days, assumed, as would you or I, that a veteran columnist and former White House press secretary would know more about that stuff than he would.  He said, I thought when he was down in the House of Illinois that he voted present, cha-cha. 

Snow again, “he‘s done both.  He‘s done both.  He has cast more present votes in the United States Senate over the last three years than anybody else in the chamber.” 

No, Obama never voted present in the U.S. Senate, not once.  Dennis Miller was right.  The present votes were in the state Senate in Illinois and there were 130 of them, not 160; 130 out of 4,000 separate times Obama cast a vote there.  So about three percent of those votes were present. 

There you have it.  Tony Snow, having retired from being George Bush‘s press secretary, now lying recreationally to strangers and passers by.  Tony Snow, today‘s worst person in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It all began in the dark, dark days of 2005, the trial that seemed destined to tear the nation apart, and no cameras recorded for posterity.  Being a television show and somewhat obligated to that vision part of that word, we here at COUNTDOWN despaired of ever providing the kind of coverage such a monumentally important event certainly deserved, or the kind of annoyed satire that it certainly demanded. 

But then a light in the darkness, and ideal so journalistically innovative, so perfect, so pure, it has since become a staple of this show, and has inspired lesser programs to imitation.  We salute it as we continue to celebrate anniversary week here in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, puppet theater, the first five years. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  The very first episode centered on the colorful nickname Jackson gave the plaintiff in his child molestation trial. 

Why did I call him doo-doo head?  Well, you know, these things happen. 

There was an accident with bubbles.  Woo-hoo-hoo.

With that woo-hoo-hoo, every courtroom moved Michael Jackson would make was accessible, using cruddy puppets that would have made Jim Henson cringe. 

I remember, it was yesterday. 

So we could bring all the courtroom drama into America‘s living room. 

How come the date of this magazine is August 2003? 

No detail too bizarre. 

You the man, dog. 

No scenario too gross. 

I‘m having such a good time, Michael. 

Feel free to pet the monkey.

We‘ve all seen Jackson in pajamas walking into the courtroom, but how did he arrive at the decision to wear those P.J.s? 

You do understand that if you are not here by 9:35, the judge will put you in jail and he will forfeit your bond of three million dollars? 

It‘s a miracle.  I‘ll be right over, Mr. Mezmo (ph).  Tito, get me some jammies. 

On location, the puppets were there, too. 

You thought I liked meeting men in bathrooms? 

We had presidential flashbacks. 

Why does Reggie Jackson need a letter from me again? 

Well, then can I have presidential letter praising Bubbles. 

Just when the puppetry was getting a little too bizarre—

I only lick children‘s heads to help them stay clean. 

the celebrity appearances kicked in. 

I want you to come and perform at my new hotel in Las Vegas. 

How are we on time, your honor?  Ten seconds.

Judge, hello, what‘s your question? 

What would your reaction be then to all these witnesses here, who say they saw him touching you? 

Ah!

Man, that was predictable. 

Looking back, not all of it makes sense even to us. 

My chimpanzee housekeeping staff has escaped.  They love carrot cake. 

The puppets may not have always made sense, but they did make us some dough. 

It‘s the Michael Jackson puppet theater home starter‘s kit.  COUNTDOWN‘s puppets are only the highest quality.  Just watch it slice through this ripe tomato. 

We sold the original Jack-O puppet online and made a good chunk of change for charity. 

Finally, the end of the trial yielded one of the most shocking revelations in the history of puppetry. 

Thank goodness.  What a relief.  Now I can remove this stupid mask! 

Tito, hand me a loofah.

With that, COUNTDOWN‘s puppet theater had run its course.  Until Mel Gibson got arrested. 

You can take our licenses, but you‘ll never take our freedom. 

When Burt Reynolds slapped a guy, the puppets were there. 

What the hell kind of guy are you? 

During the Papal conclave, when Pope Benedict was elected, there were no cameras, of course, but there were puppets. 

OK, no pope today.  Make with the white smoke.  No, black smoke, black smoke.  That was a close one.   

Paris Hilton, Karl Rove, Bob Novak, Saddam Hussein; we even had exclusive coverage of America‘s rose, the late Anna Nicole Smith and her Supreme Court trial. 

This guy—this guy is a freaking genius. 

What could be next for the COUNTDOWN puppets?  Maybe a movie.  Maybe we‘ll ship them off to the popsicle factory. 

Don‘t tase me, bro. 

One thing is for sure; as long as there are stupid people doing stupid things without any stupid cameras around, the puppeteers and the singular talent voicing those puppets will be there. 

Woo-hoo-hoo. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  I was very proud of the fifth anniversary until then, weren‘t you?  Woo-hoo!  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,798th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, thanks for being with us; good night and good luck.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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