updated 4/17/2008 10:28:00 AM ET 2008-04-17T14:28:00

Guests: Howard Fineman, Richard Wolffe, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow

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

The predicted poll hit hits: Honesty and trustworthiness plummets by 13 points.  Electability plummets by 16 points.  Favorability plummets by 14 points.  All those blows to the solar plexus of Senator Clinton?

The “Washington Post” Poll which last December showed Democrats thought her more electable than Senator Obama by 59 percent to 16 percent.  Now it shows Democrats think him more electable by 62 to 31.  Could it get any worse?

Naturally, yes.  Bruce Springsteen has endorsed Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In the middle of a primary contest against a very formidable candidate, you‘re going to take some dings and you‘re going, you know, get some nicks and cuts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The unkindest cut from a very unkind Joe Lieberman.  He might give the keynote at the Republican convention.  Zell miller of 2008 -only Zell Miller was kind of an interesting speaker.

Recipes retracted: Cindy McCain‘s family recipes shut down by the campaign Web site.  They were stolen word for word from the Food Network.  The McCains blame an intern.

Worst: A lunatic fringe radio host blames Obama for “that Harvard Law School stuff—it shows.”  The lunatic fringe radio host graduated from Harvard.

And: The commander-in-chief threshold test.  Senator Clinton speaks of.  We have found an actual copy.

Question 50: Can you name the new president of Russia?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  (INAUDIBLE). 

Whatever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Question 5B: Have you ever been tardy to a show on this network?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Thanks, Keith.  Sorry we‘re a little bit late.  Hope we don‘t mess up the COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Question nine: How often should the commander-in-chief joke about the nuclear holocaust?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Bomb, bomb, bomb. 

Anyway -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And today‘s extra credit question: How do you congratulate the pope after he speaks at your White House?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  Thank you.  An awesome speech.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All of that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good awesome evening.  This is Wednesday, April 16th, 202 days until the 2008 presidential election.

Three weeks ago, an unnamed Democratic Party official reportedly told ABC News that it was the “Tanya Harding” option, the idea that Senator Clinton‘s only path to the nomination would be for her to kneecap her competitor, Senator Obama.  Nobody in the Clinton campaign has used that term nor denied its use.

In our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN:  If it indeed had that dubious name, nobody in the Clinton campaign evidently remembered that the notorious figure skater, Tanya Harding round up pleading guilty to hindering investigation of a kneecapping, spent three days in jail for throwing a hubcap at a boyfriend and resorted to celebrity boxing on FOX against Paula Jones.

Dated tonight, that even if you believe Tanya Harding‘s name has no place in all this, whatever kind of campaign Senator Clinton has run, it is evidently hurt only her own candidacy.

Day six of bitter-gate, the controversy that still isn‘t, Senator Clinton staying above the fray in her remarks to an AFL-CIO legislative conference in Washington this morning, however, her husband alluding to Senator Obama‘s comments on the economic frustrations of Americans, telling a crowd in Indiana, Pennsylvania, that Benjamin Stewart‘s old home town, not both states at once, that small towns are, quote, “the backbone of this country,” as well as the heart of his wife‘s campaign.

Bruce Springsteen‘s “Promised Land” playing before the president took the stage today.  Too bad then that Springsteen himself, believes the candidate “that speaks to America I‘ve envisioned in my music for the past 35 years” is actually Senator Obama.  The boss, posting his endorsement on his Web site, is saying that in his opinion, Senator Obama stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Adding, quote, “Critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama to the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships - often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues.  Over on the E Street, we‘re proud to support Obama for president.”

The senator himself is talking about the price of distraction during a Q&A session in Philadelphia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  What we can‘t afford is the same old politics.  What we can‘t afford to be distracted by the same old things.  So, it‘s interesting just over the last couple of days, and me suggesting that, you know, people are bitter about the, you know, state of their economic lives, you know the Washington Beltway hall of mirrors has just gone nuts.  And then they open up the paper, you know, look at the polling on yesterday and it turns out that in most people, it hasn‘t had an impact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You‘re wrong, senator.  A new polling out today suggests that in weeks of negative campaigning has had a negative impact only on Senator Clinton.  By a two to one margin, 62 percent to 31 percent, Democratic voters nationwide are now seeing Senator Obama as better able to win in November.

According to the new Washington Post Poll, a stunning reversal from February, when Senator Clinton held a five-point lead on the same question.  Fifty-eight percent of those leaning Democrats not just actual Democrats are now viewing Senator Clinton as dishonest and not trustworthy, 16 points worse than her score in a pre-campaign poll two years ago.

Some more numbers in yesterday‘s poll in Pennsylvania from the “L.A.  Times”: 47 percent believing, Senator Obama has more honesty and integrity compared to 26 percent for Senator Clinton.

Back to the big picture and that post national survey, a majority of Democratic voters wanting Obama to win the nomination now, 51 to 41, building slightly on his lead from a month ago.

Meanwhile, late word tonight that running for president can be good for a candidate‘s bottom line.  The Obamas are releasing their 2007 tax returns tonight.  Senator Obama having made $4.2 million last year, $3.9 million of which, coming from the sale of his two books, the rest in salaried income.  Of that $4.2 million, nearly $1.4 million went to federal taxes, $240,000 donated to charitable causes.

Let‘s call in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine, joining us tonight from Philadelphia.  Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  President Clinton seemingly to betray concern about those poll numbers in a fund-raising email sent over his signature today.  Let me quote from it.  “With the news media constantly poring over the minutiae of the campaign, I make sure Hillary never forgets to stay focused on what matters.  Let the press worry about the shifting polls and the daily back-and-forth.”

There‘s no back and forth.  There‘s just back.  With 58 percent of Democratic leaners, that includes a lot of independents and maybe some Republicans, but 58 percent now saying she‘s not honest, not trustworthy.

WOLFFE:  I‘m still just savoring the idea of Bill Clinton saying, “Don‘t worry about the polls.”  Yes, look, there‘s a reason why inter-party fights are not generally conducted in the way this particular contest has gone.  Why people inside the same party don‘t like going negative and do so reluctantly, rarely, carefully.  What you have now is proof of why people are cautious about it, because it can easily back fire.  People are very uncomfortable with it.

And I think there‘s also an insight here into how the Clintons have traditionally campaigned.  And maybe the fact they‘ve run national campaigns, that politics at a national level, very partisan, contested, very vigorous, and although Democrats like it, but against Republicans.  And when you use those tactics against a fellow Democrat, you run into this kind of trouble.

And for anyone in the Clinton camp looking at what happens beyond, whether they think they‘re going to win the nomination, or Hillary Clinton‘s beyond—her career beyond this point, those negative numbers are really troubling.

OLBERMANN:  And that suggests that whether or not she has rendered Obama unelectable, whether or not he might have damaged his own electability with the bitter stuff, with anything else, that she has turned herself from the first choice of 59 percent of Democrats four months ago, into the second choice of 62 percent of Democrats.  Back fire doesn‘t begin to describe that, does it?

WOLFFE:  No.  Well, I mean, look, there are only two choices.  So, I mean, if you‘re not the second choice, then, what are you?  But comparing her numbers to ‘92 for instance, I mean, of “Washington Post” analysis that this is as bad as it‘s ever been for Hillary Clinton.  I mean, she‘s got a career beyond this.  She‘s a senator, she‘s got a great record in the Senate, and she‘s a got a great position in the party.  The question is: Is it all worth it for this and what‘s the scenario that plays out for her?  Does she think that she can repair the damage, not just with the Obama supporters but with her own image even if she wins the nomination?  And those are pretty serious questions.

OLBERMANN:  And there has been no parallel collapse or drop in Senator Obama‘s Pennsylvania poll numbers.  No collapse in his national poll numbers.  The personal negatives for Senator Clinton clearly are rising.  At what point do we safely say that Senator Obama weathered the storm over the “bitter” remarks or does that wait for next week‘s vote in Pennsylvania?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think we can say that all the predictions about this flap, his numbers would collapse, that it would make the case why he‘s unelectable or a desperately flawed candidate.  Yes, he‘s got - he made a serious mistake and he‘s a flawed candidate.  But desperately flawed?  A complete blowout loser?  I don‘t think this particular twist of events really shows that and the polls certainly haven‘t mapped out in a way that 90 percent of the pundits thought they would.

But more broadly, you‘ve got to look all of this and say, you know, again, what is the argument the Clintons can make for why this guy shouldn‘t actually get the nomination.  They haven‘t made it so far.  He survived Jeremiah Wright as bad as that was, too.  And this is uncomfortable for him.  He doesn‘t like taking this kind of heat from a fellow Democrat, but he survived this so far.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” in Philadelphia tonight.  As always, great thanks.

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, a Clinton supporter having said just yesterday that the trailing candidate should drop out of the race no later than after the Montana and South Dakota primaries in June 3rd, two former Democrats who won the nomination, but not the White House, now joining in on that call.

Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis who lost the general election in 1988, former South Dakota Senator George McGovern who‘s failed bid for the White House in 1972 prompted the Democratic Party to create the superdelegates, telling the Boston Globe that all party officials need to make their preferences known shortly after those June 3rd primaries for the good of the party.

Quoting Senator McGovern, “We don‘t want an acrimonious battle all the way to the convention and maybe out onto the convention floor.  We had that in 1972, when I was nominated, and it was very damaging.”

For more on what begins to shake off on the horizon as the end game, let‘s turn to our own political director of MSNBC and NBC News, Chuck Todd.  Chuck, good evening.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Good evening, sir.

OLBERMANN:  Is this the so-called June solution and what does it take to get a June solution?  Is it a mini-convention of superdelegates or a poll or what is it?

TODD:  Well, it takes more folks like Barney Franks speaking out.  And why does Barney Frank‘s voice count a little bit extra?  Well, he is a Clinton supporter and by the way, the brother of one of the members of Hillary Clinton‘s kitchen cabinet, Ann Lewis.  So, having him say this and others that maybe support the candidate who‘s trailing, come out and say, hey, this is got to be resolved pretty quickly in June, I think, tells you that that‘s the most probable end game because, Keith, you‘ve got a calendar issue.

Remember, Howard Dean decided to put the convention as late into August as he could after the Olympics.  Well, you‘ve got two weeks of the Olympics in August and then, you get to the convention and then the Republican convention.  So, you wouldn‘t have any time to heal if this thing actually went to the convention.  So, you only have about six to eight weeks of, you know, Democrats uniting and trying to go after and define McCain before the Olympics start.  If the game ended on June 3rd, and you know, we‘re not guaranteed that it will end on June 3rd.

OLBERMANN:  And we are also not guaranteed, are we, that Senator Clinton will go along with the ending on June 3rd?  Because even if the superdelegates declared in early June that they don‘t vote, especially if there‘s not Michigan and Florida on the slate, they wouldn‘t until the convention, would she not get the hint at that point?  Could she campaign into August?

TODD:  Well, I think it depends on what happens over these next, frankly, over these next two weeks—two and a half weeks with these next big three primaries.  Look, if she goes on a roll and she wins say, you know, eight of the last 10 contests, then you‘re right, even if she may trail in popular vote and trail in delegates, she‘s not going to feel like she should get out.  She‘s going to say, hey, yes, he won those early contest, but I‘ve got the hot hand and I think now I may be more electable.

So, if the polls show that, then this thing will go to convention because Obama will have no incentive to somehow roll over for her and then this thing is going into an August/September convention scenario.  But short of her winning the North Carolina primary, frankly, and I really think that that is the linchpin - that she‘s got to beat him somewhere where he‘s strong.  Short of that, I think that she‘s going to feel a lot of pressure, frankly, before Memorial Day if she has not gone on a significant roll.

OLBERMANN:  And if she continues without winning, the media will do the job for Senator Obama.

TODD:  So will her donors.

OLBERMANN:  Right.  And just stop, both groups will stop showing up.

TODD:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  But beyond the poll numbers that I discussed with Richard Wolffe, there is a North Carolina superdelegate who endorsed Obama today, Congressman Mel Watt, who said that this drawn out campaign could be affecting her a lot more than it‘s affecting him.  The quote from Mel Watt was, “What I‘m hearing is a lot of disappointed of the negativity and I‘m jumping on this and taking the words out and trying to parse them that the Clinton campaign has done and that could have some adverse impact on the Clinton campaign in North Carolina.”

At some point, is that backlash against Senator Clinton and how that could impact future runs for the White House or even her immediate future in the Senate, is that the thing that might force her to get out of the current race?

TODD:  Look, it‘s what - it‘s my understanding and why Mark Penn isn‘t involved in this campaign any more is he was more of an advocate for a, you know, “do or die” scenario.  Go all out, do whatever it takes to win, even at the risk of hurting her further.  The whole idea of changing strategists, bringing in a guy like Jeff Garon, is that he doesn‘t - you know, his idea is to help fix some of these personal poll issues that Hillary Clinton has.

So, it would be shocking if she somehow went down a much more negative road if anything.  I have note today, there is a change in tone from the Clinton campaign even as they‘re up with negative ads.

OLBERMANN:  I thought Mark Penn left over the controversy over his stance on Colombia, but I guess that wasn‘t the case.

Chuck Todd, political director of MSNBC and also NBC News.  Thank you, Chuck.

TODD:  You got it, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And the keynote speaker of the Republican convention this summer could be Senator Lieberman.  So he could stand there and whisper factual corrections in the nominee‘s ear?

It‘s the recipe for disaster.  Well, if Cindy McCain‘s recipe for disaster, it came from the Food Network or in the latest charge about a recipe published last year under her name, people at Quaker Oats.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.  Bring your big hat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Zell Miller revisited, only without the interesting, you know, “this guy might vote off the stage crazy” quality.  Will Joe Lieberman give the keynote address at the Republican convention?

Later in Worst: A Harvard alum calls Barack Obama condescending because Barack Obama went to Harvard.

And we‘ll show tonight‘s extra-special credit question from the proverbial commander-in-chief test.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Imagine the scene, a ground-breaking candidate for national office accepting the nomination of the Democrat Party, saying, Republicans don‘t understand the value of seeing the world through other people‘s eyes, faulting the GOP for its policies for weakening America financially by giving tax breaks to the rich.  That speech is not coming later in 2008, but having already happened in August of 2000.  It was given by Senator Joe Lieberman.

Eight years later, our fourth story tonight: The former Democratic vice presidential nominee, now saying, he might speak again this summer at the convention of the party he once correctly predicted would squander our prosperity, screw the middle class, and increase D.C. partisanship.

Lieberman telling the Hill.com that he is willing to speak at the RNC this September, quote, “If Senator McCain, who I support so strongly, asked me to do it, if he thinks it will help him, I will.”  An aide to Lieberman calling that a likely possibility and one that some Republicans told the Hill, they think, it will help convince pinch hitters and independents that McCain would be bipartisan.  Nothing yet on how such a speech might be viewed by the fundamentalist right wing Christian pastors for whose endorsements McCain grabbled.

Joining us now: MSNBC Political Analyst Howard Fineman, also, of course, columnist and senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek.”

Much thanks for your time, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What are the pros and cons of McCain of asking Lieberman to speak?

FINEMAN:  Well, I don‘t think there are that many cons for him.  Probably if he had a big choice to make, it would be for somebody who could help him more in the Bible Belt, perhaps, but Lieberman can help him there, too.  So, I think it‘s something he‘ll probably end up doing.  I think it will infuriate the Democrats, but I don‘t think it will help McCain all that much.

OLBERMANN:  And the downside here, I mean, is the instant video karma of today, snipers in Bosnia, et cetera, would not Lieberman be tempting everybody who has access to Youtube to mash-up his 2008 speech with his 2000 speech, or never mind, Youtube, just a 527 group sympathetic to the Democrat Party?

FINEMAN:  I agree with that and I think that McCain doesn‘t need any more weight on his shoulders from the war in Iraq.  That‘s why I find the whole thing a little bit improbable.  McCain‘s got enough problems on that front politically as he heads into the general election.  Why underscore it double with Joe Lieberman.  It doesn‘t make that much sense.  In a sense it‘s a poke in the eye to the Democrats, but not that much of one.  The Democrats don‘t really consider Joe Lieberman one of them anymore anyway.

OLBERMANN:  We don‘t have a lot of past information to base this on.  Obviously, if you‘re going to remember, Zell Miller crossing party lines and other boundaries to speak at the 2004 Republican convention and Jim Webb was once in the Reagan cabinet.  But, I mean, what lessons does that experience or the idea of going from one party to another, at least in a public sense like that, does it provide any guidance for the Republicans or for Senator Lieberman, about whether or not to do this?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think Senator Lieberman is a free actor of his own right now.  He doesn‘t have a lost of respect on the Democrat side and he‘s viewed as something of a curiosity on the Republican side.  The reason the Democrats aren‘t attacking him more frontally for this kind of playing around with the Republicans is, if Lieberman wanted to, he could turn the majority over the to the Republicans by switching parties.  That‘s why Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders haven‘t been attacking him frontally for this conversation today.

But Lieberman, to me, he‘s not and based on the people I‘ve talked to around town and around the country, is not all that popular a figure.  He doesn‘t move a lot of votes.  He doesn‘t move a lot of mountains.  So, I think it‘s interesting springtime speculation.  I think it will have some kind of roll at the convention, but not one that is going to create great ground swells or tumult either on St. Paul or anywhere around the country.

OLBERMANN:  Howard, what happened to him as a political entity?  I mean, I‘ve lived 41 years of my life in New York and Connecticut and I‘ve literally seen this with Democrats in this area and Republicans and political people since 9/11 reasoned out the window, much of their personality subsumed by blind fear of age of terrorism.  Even in just the political sense, not, we will leave the psychiatric sense, do you see some sort of victim of 9/11 post-traumatic disorder politically?

FINEMAN:  No.  I think he‘s been overcome not by fear but by bitterness, Keith.  I think he feels rejected by his party.  He feels dished by his party.  The primary that was run against him by Ned Lamont in Connecticut, he felt to be a personal affront.  And when politicians start taking it personally, they lose their way.  And that‘s, I think, the story of him, not fear, but to use a fashionable word of the week, bitterness.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  Thank you, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Can‘t you see I‘ve got a butter knife through my head?  A butter knife through my head, butter knife in my head, I‘ve got a butter knife through my head.  How he was OK?

And maybe something like that explains everything about comedian, Rush Limbaugh, returning after a long absence in the consideration for tonight‘s Worst Person derby.

But first: The headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandal - “Bushed.”

Number three: Domestic spy-gate.  The Justice Department‘s inspector general says, you know those national security letters which the FBI uses to get people‘s phone records and bank account info and Internet stuffs even without a warrant, there may have been a few instances in which they were abused.  Where, you know, the FBI needed somebody‘s personal e-mail history and wound up taking the records of everybody who‘d ever used that e-mail server.  Just a few of uses between 2003 and 2006, only like 6,400.

Number two: The surge isn‘t working-gate.  More facts getting in the way of the rosy bull crop from President Bush and McCain, the company commander of the Army 25th Infantry confirming to reporters that during a fight in Sadr City in Baghdad, a company of Iraqi soldiers supposed to hold back the Mahdi army instead split.  He was calling the major and his 50 men cowardly and accusing them of tucking tail and running away.  The sergeant says, “They ran away,” or the major said, “They ran away.”  As we stand down they‘ll—where did they go?

And number one:  De facto draft-gate.  There is no draft, no force service, right?  Tell that to the kids who are stop-loss into their third, fourth, fifth tours in Iraq.  Tell that now again to the State Department for the second consecutive year, the State is warning its diplomats that there are about 300 openings in Iraq and apparently the number of volunteers is down to roughly zero.

They may be forced to go there or quit.  Secretary of State Rice said that those staffers who have protested the involuntary assignments are offensive to her and cast a very bad light on the Foreign Service.

Well, here‘s the suggestion, Madam Secretary, your term is expiring in no more than nine months and four days, why don‘t you show your devotion to the country and that department you‘ve headed and show those who‘ve made those offensive remarks what you‘re made of.  Why don‘t you ask the next administration to let you continue serve at State at one of those great jobs in Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In a moment, best person‘s and the voter who ate his ballot.  But first, on this date in 1918, Terrence Allen Patrick Sean Spike Milligan was born in India.  Shell-shocked in World War II, his early professional life was as a jazz guitarist.  Then for the decade starting in 1951 with Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers as his fellow performers, he created and wrote on an almost weekly basis a radio series the likes of which had not been heard before on the Earth, “The Goon Show.”

Its humor, an endless series of Milligan‘s surreal puns and satires, was perhaps best summarized by one exchange of dialogue.  Sellers as a German zeppelin pilot tells Secombe, with increasing fury and rage that the vehicle is inflammable, so no smoking.  “Rauken ist verboten (ph).  Defence de fumez (ph).  Nicht fumez (ph).”  And finally, a scream that lasts four full seconds of “Rauken verboten (ph)!” 

Secombe blithely responds, “cigarette?”  Sellers issues a militarily sharp, “thank you,” and then there is a sound effect of a huge explosion.  He inspired the Monty Python boys and rather incongruously Prince Charles.  He died in 2002, and four of his kids promptly produced a program called “I Told You I Was Ill, the Life and Legacy of Spike Milligan.”  On that note of a memory of a man who cherished oddity, let‘s play Oddball. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We begin on the Internets, where a couple of guys have combined their childhood obsession with Nintendo and toy cars with their adult obsessions with heavy drinking and a creative and ridiculous musical performance.  The whole theme to Super Mario Brothers played with a remote control car on semi-empty bottles of wine. 

And that‘s just level 1-1.  The guys say they hope to complete a Mario orchestra, sober up and then do an RC car booze bottle score for Mike Tyson‘s Punchout. 

Let‘s head to Vancouver in Washington, with before and after pictures of 11-year-old Tyler Hemmert (ph).  These are the after pictures.  These would be the before pictures.  You can see better in the cat scan.  That is a butter knife protruding from his head. 

Hemmert and a friend were outside playing when another kid chucked the utensil at Mr. Hemmert.  His friend ducked.  Mr. Hemmert did not.  The knife struck him and it was lodged between his scalp and his skull.  Luckily, the object was removed without incident.  Hemmert said the kids at school called him butter head for a while.  His family is happy to call him alive. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And that was Cindy McCain‘s recipe for Butter Nut Squash.  How the Republican campaign turned an embarrassing but trivial act of plagiarism into a question of ethics.  And the new report tonight that this wasn‘t the first time somebody else‘s recipes have turned up attributed to Mrs. McCain. 

And the commander in chief test, complete with tonight‘s extra credit question; should you say anything to the Pope anything that sounds kind of like, you rock, you dudeness?  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best prank, our sometime guest, humorist Andy Borowitz.  The “Boston Herald” ran a story earlier this week about Vice President Cheney going on “Meet the Press” Sunday and doubting that Senator Clinton really like guns, “she really wants to show that she knows how to handle a rifle,” the Herald quoted Mr. Cheney, “there‘s an easy way to do that, meet me in the woods.” 

The source of the story also quoted a retraction from Senator Clinton, quote, I fired a gun once but I didn‘t like it and I didn‘t recoil.  The Herald still didn‘t suspect a think.  While Cheney was not on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Borowitz had written a satirical piece for the “Huffington Post” on Sunday and the Herald thought it was real. 

Number two, best dumb criminal, Maria Garcia from McCallan (ph), Texas.  Once again, bank robbers, please check your stationary.  The threatening note she allegedly handed to a teller, it was on the back of an application form on which she had written her name and address. 

Number one, best metaphor, unnamed 41 year old voter from Naples, Italy, under arrest for destroying election materials.  He was handed his paper ballot for the parliamentary elections and he promptly ate it.  He then said Italian politicians, quote, are crap.  Unfortunately, this will encourage politicians everywhere to believe that voters just eat up this crap anyway. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, the day after for Cindy “I Read Rachel Ray‘s Recipes So You Don‘t Have To” McCain.  The explanation, it was the intern‘s fault, the intern.  Don‘t blame the recipe plagiarism on the campaign of John “The Buck Stops Here Except When Underlings Screw it Up” McCain.

You may recall that Cindy‘s recipe‘s on the McCain campaign website included three that were verbatim rip-offs from the Food Network and a forth one basically the same as Rachel Ray‘s Rosemary Chicken Breast.  And now the serial comic mess has been explained by a McCain spokesman, quoting, “Apparently a web intern added Rachel Ray to our policy team without her knowing it.  He was swiftly dealt with”—that‘s kind of ominous—“and the page is down for revision.”

That spokesman, Tucker Bowns (ph), also telling the “New York Times,” quote, “we took away his zero pay.”  But freelance writer David Wiener (ph), who broke the story on “Huffington Post,” said, quote, I‘m not sure how an intern can be responsible for messing up the McCain family recipes.  Did the intern lose Cindy‘s recipe box, only to haphazardly try to replace them with Food Network recipes? 

And what about this: the plagiarized Passion Fruit Mousse recipe, not elitist at all there, also appeared under Mrs. McCain‘s name in the “New York Sun” on January 16th of this year.  Did the intern do that, too? 

Let‘s bring in Air America radio host and MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow.  Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Where is your intern?  The devil‘s advocate question here, and I think I know the answer in advance, but why does this matter? 

MADDOW:  This isn‘t “War and Peace.”  This isn‘t McCain not supporting the GI Bill.  This is not a policy issue, but this exactly the kind of culture and authenticity issue that Republicans have pushed to the fore in so many recent elections.  They are the ones who have been raising the alarm that John Kerry knows how to wind surf, that John Edwards combs his hair, that Barack Obama is bad at bowling. 

If this stuff is seen as salient for understanding Democratic politicians‘ character, then it ought to apply to Republicans too. 

OLBERMANN:  She can‘t cook, but somebody can plagiarize for him.  This could have been a silly one-day story, but for it happened the same day as McCain‘s speech on the economy and but for this explanation.  Has the McCain campaign proverbially cooked itself up an actual mess here?  Is this going to last? 

MADDOW:  Whether or not you care about whether it‘s Napa Cabbage that Cindy McCain puts alongside her Ahi tuna, whether or not you care about the specifics of this, you might care that things being put forward as stuff passed down through the generations as McCain family treasures are actually made up or plagiarized off the Internet by interns, and you might care that when called out for this, they blamed the interns and didn‘t apologize.  You might care about the way they functioned around this.  They handled it kind of poorly. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, of course, is still, theoretically, the literal chance that it‘s true, because his mother, who always brings out on stage, 97 years old, or whatever the number is.  She could have seen it on the TV Network, or Food Network, given it to Cindy and that‘s generations right there.  That‘s a couple of generations. 

But this got worse today.  The Cindy McCain thing, as noted by Wonkette, the Three-Minute No Bake Cookies in Yankee Magazine of December 2007 -- so now this goes back to December—that is right off the Quaker Oats website.  It could have been worse.  She could have attributed these recipes to Sunni when she meant Shia.  But are we going to have a vetting, and is it symbolic of anything—are we going to have a vetting of every recipe that has never been put out on Cindy McCain‘s name? 

MADDOW:  She could have said this is David Petraeus‘ job description, and not hers. 

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t know a lot about cooking.  I didn‘t mean I don‘t know a lot about cooking.  I meant, I never took a quiz about cooking.  I‘m sorry, I interrupted you. 

MADDOW:  Republicans have decided that culture really matters in politics.  So they create these very intricate, masculine patriotic characters for their politicians to in habit.  And every once in a while the costume slips, the mask kind of slips, like George W. Bush‘s early presidential bios didn‘t mention where he was born because the character George W. Bush was from Texas, so it was awkward that real George Bush was born in New Haven when his dad was at Yale. 

Same thing with the ranch in Crawford.  They built that on the occasion of Bush‘s run for the presidency.  Now that his run for the presidency is over, he and Laura, who have never lived there, are not moving there.  They‘re moving to Dallas. 

There are all these things that show this stuff to be fake.  They‘re characters.  The question is whether or not voters feel duped when they learn these things are fake.  This whole Republican idea of the masculine character running for office is the whole justification for Fred Thompson‘s candidacy.  He already looks like the character.  He didn‘t really bring anything else to the table.  They have invested a lot in this pattern of getting elected. 

OLBERMANN:  In other words, the entire primary process was a casting call and this is what they came up with, Mr. and Mrs. presidential candidate, with a little help from the net.  Rachel Maddow of Air America and MSNBC, thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  For the third time, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones gives a bizarre answer to the question, whatever happened to your dad? 

The bizarre answer to this question, if Hugh Hewitt says Barack Obama is condescending because he went to Harvard.  What college did Hugh Hewitt go to?  Worsts next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Did he or did he not snort some of his father‘s ashes.  We begin Keeping Tabs with Keith Richards‘ latest version of events and the answer is yes, by a nose. 

Last year, Richards told a reporter that the strangest thing he had ever snorted was his father‘s cremated ashes, mixed with a, quote, little blow.  Then he said he was only joking.  Now he tells the music magazine “Blender” that he did accidentally spill the ashes, didn‘t want to desecrate them with a broom, so, quote, I wet my finger and I shoved a little bit of dad up my hooter. 

The rest of dad is sprinkled around some trees, perhaps becoming wood pulp some day, then Kleenex, completing the miraculous Keith Richards circle of life. 

Making the rounds on the “Colbert Report,” Michelle Obama, who was gracious when compared to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and pragmatic about the daunting length of the Democratic contest.  She said she thought either her husband or Senator Clinton would be fully vetted by the primary battle and more prepared to take on the Republicans. 

She had no response to Colbert‘s question about why she would want to be first lady when the phone keeps ringing at 3:00 a.m., but she was prepared for the most recent controversy.   

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Tell me about your elite upbringing on the south side of Chicago.  How many silver spoons in your mouth? 

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SEN. BARACK OBAMA:  We had four spoons. 

COLBERT:  So there were spoons. 

M. OBAMA:  There were spoons.

COLBERT:  So that tag still sticks. 

M. OBAMA:  Then my father got a raise at the plant and we got five spoons. 

COLBERT:  If he becomes the next president of the United States, eight years from now will you be the president after that?  I understand that‘s the way it works. 

M. OBAMA:  I think one Obama in the White House will be enough.  For the eight years that Barack is going to be in the Oval Office, he is going to change the face of this country. 

I am hopeful this will be over before the convention.  I think—

COLBERT:  Those of us in the media aren‘t. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Speak for yourself.  Could you be commander in chief?  Could your favorite candidate stand up to the rigors of that job?  The commander in chief threshold test we keep hearing about.  We have an actual copy of the test, including a late edition, bonus points questions about how to handle a Pope.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to comedian Rush Limbaugh, judging by his absence from this list of late, he seems to be fading.  This constitutes something a comeback; “liberalism is the greatest threat this country faces, not Islamo-fascism, because if the liberals dominate and win, and are in power for four or eight years or more, they won‘t take Islamo-fascism as a threat, and we know this because Islamo fascists are actually campaigning for the election of Democrats.” 

Yes, like Zawahiri last week saying he hopes the Bush administration attacks Iran because this country would be then doing al Qaeda‘s work for it.  By the way, comedian, the Democrats don‘t take Islamo fascism as a threat?  Who was it again who ignored that presidential daily briefing titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.?”  Was that President Kennedy maybe, or FDR?  Which president attacked the wrong Islamo fascist country?  Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter? 

Runner up, Sheppard Smith of Fixed News.  When an interviewee mentioned that John McCain had conflated Sunni and Shia, Smith said, you can‘t make an argument that he misspoke.  It is not as if he misspoke three times about the exact same thing.  Correct, he misspoke about it four times and blurted out a correction between times two and three, meaning times one and two might have been misspeaking, but times three and four had to be either lies or, as Brit Hume put it, senior moments. 

But our winner, lunatic fringe radio host Hugh Hewitt, blasting Senator Obama on Fixed News for being an elitist, “he‘s so condescending and it shows.  That Harvard Law School stuff, it shows.” 

For God‘s sake, these guys are such zealots, they don‘t even stop themselves from saying things that instantly destroy their own credibility.  That Harvard Law School stuff it shows, Hugh Hewitt went to Harvard.  Hugh, “No One Will Ever Know I Went There Too,” Hewitt, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was Senator Clinton who revealed the existence of a commander in chief threshold on the sixth of last month.  It was her adviser, Howard Wolfson, four days later, who let the ultimate cat out of the bag that there is a key commander in chief test.  Get a pen and some paper ready to find out if you or your favorite candidate are presidential timber. 

Seventeen questions, plus, tonight only, the special extra credit question about how to properly congratulate a Pope after he speaks at the White House.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, our exclusive copy of the original, actual commander in chief threshold test. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Question one, where does the Green Bay Packers football team play its home games?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  An indifference to Lambert Field and Vince whom I‘ve quoted a few times, I have to go to this Packers fan here.

OLBERMANN:  Miss this one, as that gentleman did, and your marginal victory in Wisconsin is reduced to 12,000 votes.  Lambeau Field.

Question two, there‘s a guy you don‘t like with a camera at a campaign spot.  Do you call him, A, our young visitor or, B, an obscure racial term from North Africa?

GEORGE ALLEN, FORMER SENATOR:  Let‘s give a welcome to Macaca here.

OLBERMANN:  Question three, the commander in chief physical challenge.

Question four, have you ever hosted a failed show on this network?

Question five, are there still air check tapes of these shows?

ALAN KEYES, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Welcome to Making Sense.

I‘m Alan Keyes.

OLBERMANN:  A yes to question four or five, and you have failed the commander in chief test.  Question 5a, have you ever been tardy to a show on this network?

OBAMA:  Keith, sorry we‘re a little bit late.  I hope we don‘t mess up the COUNTDOWN.

KEYES:  The very thought sickens me.

OLBERMANN:  Question six, the biathlon event, just like the Olympics, a combination of cross country and shooting.

Question seven, military experience.  If you have any, make sure you bring documents. 

Question eight military experience, if you have any, even if you served in Korea, do not pose in a tank if you look funny in a helmet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  America can‘t afford that risk.

OLBERMANN:  Question nine, what is the correct way for a commander in chief to address the subject of the presidential inseam?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  See if you can‘t leave me about an inch from where the zipper uh ends round under my - back to my bung hole.

OLBERMANN:  Question 10, how often should the commander in chief joke about nuclear holocausts?

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘ve signed legislation that would outlaw Russia forever.  We begin bombing in five minutes.

OLBERMANN:  Let me repeat question ten.  How often should the commander in chief joke about nuclear holocaust?

MCCAIN:  Bomb Iran.  Bomb, bomb, bomb.  Anyway—

OLBERMANN:  Question 11, which previous commander in chief should you invoke most often during your campaign?

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR, NEW YORK:  Ronald Reagan.

MCCAIN:  Ronald Reagan.

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  President Reagan.

MCCAIN:  Ronald Reagan.

ROMNEY:  Ronald Reagan.

MIKE HUCKABEE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Ronald Reagan.

ROMNEY:  Ronald Reagan.

OLBERMANN:  Question 12, how close should you claim your relationship to that commander in chief was?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘ve had triumphs and made some mistakes.  We‘ve had some sex—setbacks.

OLBERMANN:  Question 13, are you now or have you ever been confused about who will be your right-hand man when you are commander in chief?

BUSH:  Left-hand now knows what the right hand is doing.  The left hand now knows what the right hand is doing.

OLBERMANN:  Question 14, the lightning round.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can you name the president of Chechnya?

GEORGE W. BUSH:  No.  Can you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can you name the president of Taiwan?

BUSH:  Yeah, Lee (ph).  The new Pakistani general who has just been elected—not elected, but took over office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can name him?

BUSH:  General?  I can‘t name the general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the prime minister of India?

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

OLBERMANN:  Question 15.  Who is the new president of Russia?

CLINTON:  Medvedev, whatever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

CLINTON:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Question 16, explain the fallacious reports of an interaction between secular groups of 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.

MCCAIN:  Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT:  You said the Iranians were training al Qaeda.  You meant to say they were training extremists, terrorist.

MCCAIN:  I‘m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaeda.

OLBERMANN:  I said no help.

MCCAIN:  Bomb bomb bomb, anyway—

OLBERMANN:  And question 17, the commander in chief field danger assessment.  Watch this sample videotape carefully.  Is this a dangerous situation on the front lines somewhere, requiring the commander in chief to run to his or her vehicle, or is this a meet and greet photo op at an airport?

Question 17a, is that a little girl with a poem or a sniper?  Very short sniper with a poem? 

And today‘s special extra credit question, what are the diplomat particular manners with which to congratulate the Pope when he comes to the White House and you are the commander in chief? 

BUSH:  Thank you, your Holiness.  Awesome speech.  We‘re going to sit down and sing one more song.

OLBERMANN:  Zero points on the extra credit. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  If you got between zero and four answers correct, you are not only not qualified to be president, you should not even be allowed out of the house by yourself.  Five to eight right, it probably wouldn‘t hurt you if you visited Washington, but please do not stay even over night.  Nine to 14 right, we have done worse, but if you are going to run, we recommend you try to seek the nomination of the Whig party or perhaps the Federalists. 

Fifteen or more right, congratulations, you are qualified to be president.  Why on Earth are you wasting your time watching this? 

Speaking of commanders in chief and their tests, a reminder, we will rejoin you with special coverage as soon as the Democratic debate in Philadelphia tonight ends, about a half an hour from now.  Watch it there, understand it here.  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,812th 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   

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,