updated 7/31/2008 11:51:38 AM ET 2008-07-31T15:51:38

Guest: Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow, Harold Ford Jr., Pat Buchanan, Michael Smerconish

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, the unhappy warrior versus the presumptuous presumptive nominee.  Who‘s doing more damage as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory, happy to have you here.  Your stop for the fast pace, the bottom line and every point of view in the room.  Tonight, why is Obama apologizing for a rap stars lyrics tonight?  Is it simply guilt by iPod play lists?  Veepstakes tonight, Chuck Todd and I create the NCAA like bracket for the final four on both sides, in terms of the number two, the pros, the cons, and the timing.  And tonight, your mail, get in touch with us during the program to talk about what we‘re talking about. 

The bedrock of this program is, you know, a panel that always comes to play.  With us tonight, Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, also an MSNBC political analyst, Harold Ford Jr., chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and an NBC News analyst, and Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philadelphia and columnist for both the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and the “Philadelphia Daily News.” 

We begin, as we do every night, with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day.  It is the headlines. 

Big headline tonight.  I‘m going to get us started.  My headline, what‘s he for?  That was Senator Obama‘s back of the hand for Senator McCain‘s stepped up efforts to negative, big time, against the Illinois senator.  There was the claim, you remember, in an ad earlier this week by McCain that Obama snubbed wounded soldiers in Germany because he decided he couldn‘t bring cameras with him.  Well, that‘s been debunked by reporters who were traveling with Obama, as well as denied by the Obama team itself.   

And today, this new ad from McCain, attempting to use Obama‘s hype against him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  American technology protected the world.  We went to the moon, not because it was easy, but because it was hard.  John McCain will call America to our next national purpose, energy security.  A comprehensive bipartisan plan to lower prices at the pump, reduce dependence on oil through domestic drilling and champion energy alternatives for better choices and lower costs. 

Putting country, first; McCain. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m John McCain, and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Interesting ad, but not the one we were going to show you.  In fact, the ad we were going to show you shows all those fans out there for Obama on his recent Berlin trip, the 200,000 plus with the American flags.  It‘s the McCain team who is actually suggesting that he‘s this kind of international pop star, akin to Paris Hilton and that he‘s a celebrity.  But it asks the question, can he really lead, does he have the judgment? 

There‘s more in this memo from top McCain advisers who assert this:

“only celebrities like Barack Obama go to the gym three times a day, demand Met-RX chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars and bottles of a hard to find organic brew Black Forest Berry Honest Tea, and worry about the price of arugula.  Yet despite all the fans, paparazzi and media adoration, the American people still have questions: is Barack Obama prepared to lead?  Is being famous the same as being a credible commander in chief?” 

The memo mirroring the ad that we didn‘t show you, but we‘ll show you in a few minutes.  It said that campaigns are often about choices.  McCain, who can depend on his own biography, now seems intent on creating a biography for his opponent, one that borrows from themes raised successfully by President Bush against John Kerry in 2004.  Remember, Kerry seemed French, didn‘t support the troops enough, though he was a decorated Vietnam veteran, was weak and was so political, he was basically a politician before all else. 

Here, McCain goes a little bit farther and treads on some delicate territory.  McCain seems to be arguing that Obama is risky, that he lacks judgment, experience and, more to the point, is hiding something.  Who is he, anyway?  And, the argument goes. he appears to be more of a pop sensation, a celebrated citizen of the world, rather than an American leader.  Obama responded to all of this today this way. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You know, I don‘t pay attention to John McCain‘s ads.  Although, I do notice that he doesn‘t seem to have anything very positive to say about himself, does he?  He seems to only be talking about me.  We need to ask John McCain what he‘s for, not just what he‘s against. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  A McCain source recently told me McCain would only attack about something he really believes in, that he really believes about Obama.  That tells us there‘s something about Obama McCain has really come to dislike.  Or it means that making the campaign about Obama is the only way to win it, in their estimation.  It should also be pointed out that embedded in what some may condemn as baseless, negative advertising are some serious questions for debate in this campaign about Obama‘s judgment and his plans. 

It is ironic, however, that McCain, whose political career has been defined by his biography, has taken to playing on his opponent‘s turf.  A big challenge for the Arizona senator is this: Obama isn‘t alone.  There are Republican allies of McCain‘s who urge him to spend time spelling out indeed what he is for. 

Rachel Maddow, your take on all this tonight. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think this is kind of a sad commentary of what‘s happened to John McCain and his campaign.  I think that the John McCain of 2000 established in the mind of the American people as someone who was a principled guy, who wouldn‘t participate in the kind of mud slinging that was taking him down, even though it was taking him down, a guy who was going to rise above it, be about the country first and not just about party, not just about partisanship.  All the John McCain has a black baby stuff; he became identified as the guy who stood up in response to that and wouldn‘t get down in that mud. 

Now, John McCain‘s campaign manager is sending out nasty juvenile statements about what Barack Obama eats and why that makes him an untrustworthy American.  I think it‘s literally pitiful. 

GREGORY:  Let me get that ad that I was referring to.  This is a new ad that‘s out today and then I‘ll have Pat respond.  Let‘s roll it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s the biggest celebrity in the world.  But is he ready to lead?  With gas prices soaring, Barack Obama says no to offshore drilling, and says he‘ll raise taxes on electricity.  Higher taxes, more foreign oil, that‘s the real Obama. 

MCCAIN:  I‘m John McCain and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Pat, your take? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, where was Lindsay Lohan, for heaven‘s sake? 

GREGORY:  I knew that‘s what you would be thinking about first.   

BUCHANAN:  Look, this is not an effective ad.  I have to agree with Rachel to this extent; McCain has two or three problems here.  One, McCain is someone who comes deeply to dislike his opponents.  He gets very mean.  He did that certainly to Mitt Romney.  Secondly, to use your candidate for cutting is not a smart thing to do.  Third, this ad is not a KO punch at all.

However, there is a truth behind all this.  That is that Barack Obama, who is he and who the heck does this guy think he is, is becoming a real issue for Barack Obama.  This election is a referendum on him and, frankly, far more credible in the attacks on Obama are the national press attacks, including Milbank today, where this guy acts like he thinks the lord‘s gift to mankind.  I think those are effective and, frankly, this ludicrous thing that‘s coming up this afternoon, later, I think that‘s very effective.  That‘s right out of Barack Obama‘s own folks.  It‘s sort of in the Reverend Wright category.  That‘s where his vulnerability lies.

GREGORY:  We‘re actually going to take a break here.  We‘re going to have more on this theme as we keep going in the program.  Coming up next, a special Veepstakes, the final four.  Chuck Todd, our political director, and I look at the candidates who we believe have made the final cut for Obama and McCain, when THE RACE continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back on THE RACE.  Time to vet the Veeps, as we all hold our breath to find out when both McCain and Barack Obama make their final choices for a running mate.  We have made some of our own, narrowing it down to the final four on each side, based on our reporting.  Here with me to parse all the picks is NBC‘s political director Chuck T, Chuck Todd, just like we did, Chuck, online, on MSNBC.com.  We have the bracket set up, a kind of Final Four here, based on our reporting about who‘s on the list. 

Let‘s start with the Democrats, Barack Obama, who‘s the final four.  We‘re going to start with all the buzz about Tim Kaine, Virginia governor, again, 50 years old, first to endorse Obama back in January ‘07.  He‘s got background as a missionary.  He speaks fluent Spanish.  He‘s Catholic, long time.  A similar change message.  Why is this guy, do you think, in the final four? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  What‘s interesting about the four is you have two non-Washington folks, Kathleen Sebelius and Tim Kaine, and then the two senators, Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, and maybe we throw a third senator in there, Jack Reed, who is sort of Joe Biden without the charisma.  But, Tim Kaine is rising up because they look at the VP pick as the person who brings the least amount of controversy, the least amount of anything. 

They are not crazy about this idea of two senators on the same ticket.  They worry that‘s too Washington.  Kaine, they would rather reinforce the message and roll the dice on experience, because they assume, at the end of the day, nobody will look to the vice president to make the decision on Obama‘s experience. 

GREGORY:  Three and a half years ago, you have a guy who was a state senator, a guy who was the lieutenant governor of Virginia.  That‘s the experience problem.  But he could help him in Virginia, something that Sebelius—she was named one of the top governors in the country.  She‘s, what, 60 years old. 

TODD:  She still couldn‘t bring Kansas.

GREGORY:  Still couldn‘t bring Kansas, still out of reach.  But it helps what Obama said to Brokaw on “Meet the Press” over the weekend, the idea that I want somebody who reinforces.  Right, so he doubles down on inexperience, and goes for the change message. 

TODD:  He thinks he is the national security experience, that it‘s not experience, it‘s national security judgment.  Hey, I have the judgment.  You‘ve seen me handle myself overseas.  And, ultimately, they believe this, that this idea that somehow the vice president is going to give them extra experience and somehow fix that problem; it‘s not going to go away.  So, instead, reinforce the positive. 

GREGORY:  Because if you can hit McCain on the change message, day in and day out—you want more of the same, McCain is your guy.  You want a different look, different ideas, I‘m the one.  That‘s his biggest strength. 

TODD:  Here‘s the other fun thing for Kaine that they like selling:   his wife is a daughter of a former Republican governor of Virginia.  He loves the post-partisan message it sends.  Look, the downside of Tim Kaine is the guy‘s been junior Mark Warner his whole life.  He road the Mark Warner to become lieutenant governor and then he road Mark Warner‘s popularity to become governor himself. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about what‘s going on inside the Senate.  You have Evan Bayh, Indiana.  He endorsed Hillary Clinton.  Got some expertise on intelligence matters.  He‘s not Mr. Charisma, hasn‘t been close to Obama a long time.  But he could put Indiana in play.  It‘s already close because it‘s close to Illinois. 

TODD:  It‘s a very safe pick.  Look at all these things.  There‘s nothing controversial about any of these ideas.  Maybe Kaine is a little controversial simply because nobody knows him.  But Evan Bayh, very safe, great first day picture.  OK?  Bayh, the Bayh family, the two little boys that he‘s got.  The Obama‘s, the two little girls, a great first day picture.  If you say to yourself, you know what, you really only care about the VP on the first day, the debate and election day, Bayh helps you on two of the three.  We don‘t really know what kind of debater he‘s been.  He‘s never had a real race. 

GREGORY:  We keep talking about Joe Biden.  We know what his background is.  Also, Jack Reed in the picture.  He traveled with him to Afghanistan and Iraq, as we look at Biden‘s figures.  We know his background.  He ran for president, ran for president this time.  Might be a little bit difficult to control out there on the campaign trail.  Might be a little bit of drama there. 

TODD:  That‘s the nervousness, that somehow he might overshadow Obama.  Who overshadows Obama?  At the end of day, Obama is a unique central figure that we‘ve seen in presidential politics. 

GREGORY:  Jack Reed doesn‘t give him anything on the electoral map?

TODD:  No, but Jack Reed fits the Tim Kaine mold, which is he‘s comfortable with him.  He knows him.  He likes him.  I think that Obama loves this idea of having somebody like Dick Cheney was to Bush, somebody who is going to be your partner, but doesn‘t want to run for president. 

GREGORY:  Timing, you still think he still wants to go sometime during the Olympics?

TODD:  I think it‘s possible, if he makes a decision in the next 24 hours, they‘ll go next week.  But if he doesn‘t, and it looks like he‘s not going to, then it‘s going to be—

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about the McCain side.  Final four for McCain looks like this based on our reporting.  You have Pawlenty from Minnesota - I can‘t get that Pawlenty joke out of my head, that it‘s something you order at Olive Garden, that Jay Leno said.  It‘s not fair, OK.  Rob Portman, a former Bush administration guy, trade rep, congressman, in the leadership.  Mitt Romney, of course, and an unknown.  This is why we put this here for McCain.  Let‘s start there.  There could be a real dark horse here. 

TODD:  We‘re not weaseling out. 

GREGORY:  We‘re not weaseling out, you‘re right.  He could go in all kinds of directions, whether it‘s a Bloomberg choice, whether it‘s he wants to put a woman on the ticket, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Carly Fiorina.  There‘s lots of choices.  He needs a game changer here. 

TODD:  There‘s something—Instead of shaking up the snow globe, you actually break it.  That‘s what a Joe Lieberman would do, you say, I want to start the campaign over.  I want to reboot.  I want everybody to take a new look.  There might be some temptation there.  Look, the conventional assumption is that it‘s Pawlenty or Romney, one or the other.  Romney is a very conventional, calculating pick.  He might help in a state.  He balances him on the issue. 

GREGORY:  You look at Pawlenty, just to bring people up to date—again, this is a guy, Evangelical Christian, reelected in a tough year for Republicans in ‘06.  Romney, of course, was fighting during the primary, fought McCain, fought him to a tough contest in the end.  Didn‘t like each other very much.  He has got the executive experience.  He would be a good choice on the economy.  Stick with Romney here.  Where does he deliver value for McCain? 

TODD:  I think it‘s a simple one state strategy if you‘re picking

Romney.  You say to yourself, I want to go win Michigan.  The guy can help

Maybe a tad in New Hampshire, sort of the after glow of Massachusetts could help in southern New Hampshire.  There‘s two blue states that you‘re trying to turn red.  There‘s nobody else out there that‘s that precision like in the ability to help in a state. 

Tim Pawlenty could take a 15 point deficit in Minnesota and maybe turn it into a five point deficit.  But you got Mitt Romney could actually flip Michigan.  I think that if they worry about losing Virginia—look, if Tim Kaine is picked, say what you want about the other 49 states and how he plays, it‘s probably enough to flip Virginia.  I think the pressure on McCain to go pick a guy to help in a state --  

GREGORY:  Does McCain want to watch and see first what Obama does and then how they settle these themes coming out of the convention?  That‘s what my reporting tells me, that they really want to be reactive.  I think there‘s a real downside to waiting that long. 

TODD:  There are.  And there‘s also—being reactive all the time, which right now the McCain campaign—they‘ve embraced this idea.  They are going to be reactive.  Obama sets the agenda, the tone, fine, we‘ll do that.  The problem with that is this makes the assumption that somehow the vice president choice is going to be a big deal to voters.  It may be that if history is any guide, it‘s not as a big of a deal as we make it out to be right now. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Chuck T, Chuck Todd, thanks very much.  Coming up next, is it a bad rap?  The Obama campaign speaking out about the new Ludicrous song with some harsh lyrics about Hillary Clinton and John McCain.  THE RACE returns right after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back on THE RACE now.  Today, a bad rap, the Obama camp is condemning a new song called “Politics, Obama is Here” by Grammy award winning rapper Ludicrous.  It praises Obama and his historic bid to become the first African-American president, but includes some controversial, indeed offensive lines about painting the White House black.  The offensive lines including McCain being paralyzed, calls Hillary Clinton a certain five letter slur that begins with B. 

Here again to talk about it, Pat, Rachel, Harold and Michael.  Obama told “Rolling Stone” last month that Ludicrous is one of his iPod favorites.  He obviously wasn‘t referring to the rap stars latest song, “Politics, Obama is Here,” which has just hit Youtube this week.  Listen to a portion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Obama is more than just a fan of Ludicrous.  He met with him in November of ‘06 when he was still contemplating a presidential run.  Ludicrous told the “Chicago Sun Times” they talked about empowering the youth.  That meeting could be one reason why the Obama camp moved quickly today to issued a response to the new song saying this, “as Barack Obama has said many times in the past, rap lyrics today too often perpetuate misogyny, materialism, and degrading images that he doesn‘t want his daughters or any children exposed to.  This song is not only outrageously offensive to Senator Clinton, Reverend Jackson, Senator McCain and President Bush, it‘s offensive to all of us who are trying to raise our children with the values we hold dear.  While Ludicrous is a talented individual, he should be ashamed of these lyrics.” 

Back with the panel now.  My question on this Harold is does he seem overly sensitive with this response.  Do people really think that he somehow has to answer for what Ludicrous or another rapper puts in his songs? 

HAROLD FORD JR., CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL:  We‘re talking about it tonight and we‘re asking the question.  It‘s ridiculous that anyone running for president can be held accountable for what a rap artist or a music artist or writer do.  I thought it was unfair even when John McCain was asked about a pastor.  I thought it was important to denounce that.  The more important things are the issues that people are concerned about. 

GREGORY:  He‘s drawing attention to it, Harold.  Yes, we‘re talking about tonight.  But he‘s the one who drew attention to it by issuing this statement here. 

FORD:  I can assure you two things, Ludicrous will come off his iPod or he won‘t talk about him much anymore.  Two, I can assure you, he wouldn‘t be responding to this if we hadn‘t raised it. 

GREGORY:  I‘m not so sure.  He‘s the one who was pretty proactive in putting this stuff out there.  Pat, your take on it? 

BUCHANAN:  I think this is raw, ugly, racial and menacing.  I came over here to the studio and I cut it on.  It‘s on Drudge.  Drudge gets 20 million hits a day.  They played this thing.  I was jolted by it.  I called a couple other fellows in who hadn‘t heard it.  I think they were jolted as well.  This is really courting a backlash, I‘ll tell you.  It revisits all that stuff of Reverend Wright and Reverend Pfleger and all those comments that we heard that Barack Obama had gotten up and away from with this foreign trip.  I think it‘s really bad news because I think Republicans and conservatives and talk shows and others, they will have this going constantly in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, where Barack was hurt so badly because of the Reverend Wright stuff. 

GREGORY:  Does it stick at all?  Does anybody really buy it, Smerc? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Unfortunately, I think it‘s a story with legs, because it‘s got the elements.  It‘s capable of being played on radio or capable of being played television.  I think Senator Obama‘s statement today said all the right things.  I choose to believe that which he offered on Fathers Day on these all important issues and not the garbage that we heard there.  What it‘s going to do, and Pat is making reference to this, is it‘s going to perpetuate some of that Internet lore as to where the guy really stands and what he‘s coming from.  Ludicrous did him no favors today. 

GREGORY:  We‘re going to take a quick break here.  We‘re going to come back at the half, talk about a developing story; Barack Obama is responding to some of the attacks leveled at him by John McCain.  A new ad by Obama is coming out late today.  We‘re going to have it for you coming up after the break. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now on THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory, good to have you here.  It‘s getting ugly out there.  We‘ve got new information at the half hour here, as the Obama campaign just now fires back to McCain‘s fourth consecutive attack ad.  Has the straight talking maverick turned into the unhappy warrior?  We‘re back talking about it.  Taking it on, back with us, Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America and MSNBC political analyst, Harold Ford Jr., chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and an NBC News analyst, and Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philly and columnist for both the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and the “Philadelphia Daily News.” 

First up, big controversy today, ad wars between McCain and Obama heating up.  It all started with this ad from the McCain campaign attacking Obama as an empty celebrity.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He‘s the biggest celebrity in the world.  But is he ready to lead?  With gas prices soaring, Barack Obama says no to offshore drilling and say she will raise taxes on electricity.  Higher taxes, more foreign oil, that‘s the real Obama. 

MCCAIN:  I‘m John McCain and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Now the Obama campaign has just responded with a new ad of its own.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He‘s practicing the politics past.  John McCain, his attacks on Barack Obama, “not true,” “false,” “baloney,” “the low road,” “baseless.”  John McCain, same old politics, same failed policies. 

Barack Obama supports a 1,000 dollar middle class tax cut, an energy plan that takes on oil companies, invests in alternative fuels and breaks the grip of foreign oil.  That‘s change we can believe in. 

OBAMA:  I‘m Barack Obama and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel Maddow, let me start with you in terms of response.  We are dealing with a couple of different things here.  It‘s the politics of the moment, but it‘s also an emerging narrative and debate in this campaign.  Another first, by the way, is Britney Spears being mentioned in the same context as offshore drilling. 

MADDOW:  Yes, exactly.  That‘s why everybody hates Britney.  It‘s her foreign oil dependence. 

GREGORY:  Exactly.  It‘s easy to say this is just the back and forth.  What does it mean?  There‘s a larger narrative here and a debate that‘s going on.  Your take on it all. 

MADDOW:  The larger narrative, I think, here is that Barack Obama is sort of an empty suit, that Barack Obama sort of doesn‘t deserve this.  I think we heard Pat articulate some of this at the top of the show today as well, this idea that Obama doesn‘t really know his place, that Obama is being presumptuous.  We saw that certainly with Dana Milbank‘s, I think, very over the top column today in the “Washington Post.” 

Honestly, I‘m troubled by this being sort of run with the way it is broadly in the media, in all quarters of the media, left, right and center.  Frankly, it‘s John McCain who‘s been running weekly radio addresses, as if he is president.  He literally ran two ads in May that both described him as President McCain.  In terms of who is acting like he is already president, he gave speeches talking about what the world is going to be like at the end of his first term.  Nobody said, who does John McCain think he is?

People are willing to say that about the young candidate, the black candidate, in a way that I think is not at all driven by the facts of how these candidates are behaving, but by who they are.  I think it really reflects a national prejudice, not that campaigns. 

GREGORY:  Pat, go ahead. 

BUCHANAN:  Look, Rachel‘s reaction and the fact that Barack Obama is himself responding now to this ad of McCain‘s, which I didn‘t think was that effective, tells me two things.  One, it‘s getting under his skin.  And secondly, it is having an affect.  Now, the issue in this campaign is not the economy and everything.  The issue is Barack Obama, should he be president of the United States.  The McCain people, ineffectually, are going right at him.  But the response from Obama tells me he know that‘s the problem they got.  Frankly, it‘s working to some degree.  I think the Milbank, the more effective, more credible people are people like Milbank and journalists and others from Barack‘s own camp who put this stuff out there. 

MADDOW:  What about the—I‘m sorry.

GREGORY:  Let me just bring in Harold on this point.  Harold, you‘ve seen the good, bad and the ugly here as a politician running campaigns.  You certainly know the issue of defining your opponent and rather defining yourself before your opponent does it.  There‘s a contest on right now between McCain and Obama to define Obama, which, as I said at the top of the program, is ironic, given that McCain is always politician who has relied on his own biography.  What do you make of all that?

FORD:  I think two things.  One, John McCain has decided to hire the worst elements of the Bush operation and some of the worst elements and unseemly elements of the Republican party to now come in and run his ads.  That was always expected.  I‘m sure the Obama—I would hope the Obama campaign is not surprised by it. 

If I were giving him advice on how to respond, I would not follow Pat.  I agree with Pat a lot, but I think you have to respond to this.  They are making a direct and obvious and concerted effort to define Senator Obama for many Americans who have only heard of him, who only know that he speaks well.  If I were advising the campaign, I‘d urge them to find third party validators on the foreign policy side, some of the esteemed and distinguished members of his foreign policy team now to come forward and talk about Barack‘s ability and experience and the confidence they have in him.  I would even reach out to some on the economic team, and have them talk about why Bush and McCain‘s policies don‘t work and won‘t work going forward. 

Otherwise, you‘re going to find McCain continuing to walk down this path, and it‘s something that I know the Obama campaign is very sensitive to, smart about.  With all respect to Rachel and Pat, as someone who has run for statewide office back in Tennessee, I can tell you, the national Republican Party and John McCain will become one.  John McCain, as Rachel was saying, John McCain‘s above the board 2000 image, his straight talk express will all be shoved to the back seat or shoved over board.  Their only purpose now is to win this race.

BUCHANAN:  You are suggesting that McCain‘s stuff is working.  You don‘t respond to somebody if it‘s thrown at that if it didn‘t hit you.  Barack Obama is responding like a guy who‘s been clipped in the jaw, and is angry.  He‘s coming back.  You don‘t get angry if you‘re winning.  This stuff has got to be working.  Barack Obama‘s campaign is responding as though it is working, Harold. 

I‘m not giving him advice, one way or the other.  By what he does, you can tell what his campaign is thinking. 

FORD:  Hold on one sec, I‘m not suggesting—my only point is third party validators.  Can you imagine a David Boren or Richard Holbrooke or Madeleine Albright or Bob Rubin making the case.  I would agree with you on one part, Pat, while Barack doesn‘t want to seem defenseless, that certainly wouldn‘t be the route to go.  If you allow this impression to lay out there and to go unchallenged—

BUCHANAN:  Brush it off.  Brush it off, Harold.  You‘ve said the guy has got nothing nice to say. 

FORD:  Pat, we‘ve been on shows together and you remarked how many Americans view Barack as perhaps a risky choice.  He has to understand that‘s an issue.  The polling suggests that.  Even though some polls show Barack ahead by as many as five to eight points, the reality is a majority of Americans believe Barack may be a more risky choice than John McCain.  So Senator Obama has to be mindful of that.

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  I‘m saying John McCain ads, I don‘t think these McCain ads we‘ve seen have great credibility or great fight at all, quite frankly, everything we have seen here.  I think, frankly, the Ludicrous thing is a real problem for Barack Obama, because it‘s credible from some guy in his camp. 

FORD:  Ludicrous is not in Barack‘s -- 

BUCHANAN:  That is what people are concerned about, Barack.  Let me tell you this, Harold, that‘s what folks in West Virginia and others, they are says this guy is a really polite, neat guy, a good sense of humor. 

He‘s smooth.  This raw stuff comes right in your face from Reverend Wright, from this guy who is on his iPod.  It comes from all these other folks, Reverend Pfleger.  They are saying, wait a minute, has this guy got one foot in this cookie radical left, anti American, racially hyped campaign

GREGORY:  I want to get in.  I want to go to Smerc on this point, which is this issue of whether you respond or not.  I do think that Obama has to respond.  I see a contest here between the two.  There‘s for both of them an acceptability threshold.  Obama has to be sensitive to being defined in a way that makes him risky, or risky in a sense of do we know where this guy‘s coming from?  Do we know what his judgment will be like on foreign affairs, domestic affairs.  Do we trust him as a leader or is all hype?  This is what, of course, the Clinton campaign started against him. 

Obama, by the way, as well—excuse me, I mean McCain has to fight the charge, as the Obama team brought up today, which is; is this the same McCain that we always knew?  Which is a way of saying he‘s not the maverick of 2000.  He sold himself out to George Bush.  Or he‘s just losing it, that he‘s past his prime politically.  Smerc, your comment. 

SMERCONISH:  My comment is you absolutely have to fight this.  A, you have the money to fight it.  And B, you have to attack the credibility of it.  My initial reaction was the same as what I‘m hearing from Pat, which is essentially to say, it‘s so sophomoric, it‘s so simplistic, who in the hell could believe any of this stuff.  On the one hand, you are saying that Barack Obama has such a thin resume, and on the other hand, you‘re blaming him for 4.25 gas prices.  Then you‘re saying he wouldn‘t go visit the troops who were wounded in Germany, and then it becomes this issue of he‘s Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan. 

I think there‘s a pattern to it, Pat.  I think you‘re not the intended audience.  I think the intended audience are non-college educated folks who are out there.  They are half paying attention.  This sort of thing, interspersed between “Wheel of Fortune” and “American Idol,” resonates with people.  So Barack Obama has to take it on for that reason.

GREGORY:  Hold on one second. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s engaging on his character and personality.  I‘m not sure that‘s what he wants to do. 

GREGORY:  Let me get a break in here.  I want to come back and continue this discussion.  Rachel, I want to come to you next over the break, this issue of whether Obama is hurting himself by presumptuousness as a presumptive nominee.  You have already alluded to it and we‘re going to take it on in more detail when we come back.  A special war room from the Obama side when we come back after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now on THE RACE.  Going inside the war room for Barack Obama.  Back with us, the panel tonight, Pat Buchanan, Rachel Maddow, Harold Ford Jr., and Michael Smerconish.  This debate continues about whether Obama‘s problem at this stage is he acting too much like president.  Is there a presumptuousness about him as the candidate that may be hurting him?  This is how Dana Milbank reported it in his column today, to the quote board, “Obama has been outdoing the president in ruffles and flourishes lately.  As Bush held quiet signing ceremonies in the White House yesterday morning, Obama was involved in a more visible display of executive authority a block away when he met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani at the Willard.  A full block of F Street was shut down for the Prime Minister and the would be president.  Some 40 security and motorcade vehicles filled the street.

“Later, Obama‘s aides issued an official signing statement, borrowing language of the White House communiques; ‘I had a productive and wide ranging discussion.  I look forward to working with the Democratically elected government of Pakistan.”

He also had meetings on the economy as well with the Fed chairman, with Hank Paulson, things that have the earmark of a guy who is not only trying to shore up some inexperience but project executive experience.  Here‘s a counter response to that.  It comes from Paul Jenkins—Rachel brought this to our attention today—on the Huffington Post.  He argues this, to the quote board: “what angers John McCain and bemuses many traditional observers is how unflappable Barack Obama remains in public.  No matter how condescending the attacks, there is little doubt that the thick skin he grew over decades came in handy as he started to run for president.  The past 18 months surely were not the first time Obama was baited for being black, for being white, for being Muslim, or for not being from here.  It must be fascinating, although not unexpected, for him to see these patronizing attitudes resurface at this stage of his life for the rest of us.  What is fascinating is to witness how these old school mindsets are back-firing on those who hold them, making them look less wise, more prejudiced, less fit to lead, and altogether completely unappealing, and to witness that in America in 2008, it is perhaps not a bad thing not to know your place.”

Rachel, take it on. 

MADDOW:  I think this issue of presumptuousness is weird when you look at the facts on which it is based.  When you look at that quote that Dana Milbank attributed to Barack Obama today, there was no direct quote.  He was quoting a paraphrase of hearsay from another “Washington Post” reporter.  People who were at that meeting say that what Barack Obama was actually saying there was, I‘d love to take credit for those huge crowds in Berlin.  I‘d love to take credit for the kind of reception that I got.  But actually, it‘s not about me.  It‘s about America.  It‘s about the hope that America could have, essentially post-George W. Bush return to our American values.  It‘s not about me. 

He‘s actually making a very humble point.  People are very ready to jump on it, take it out of context and run with this idea that he doesn‘t know his place, that he‘s uppity, that he‘s arrogant.  John McCain has done a lot of things that look really presumptuous too.  He has ran ads calling himself President McCain.  He did give a speech talking about what the world is like at the end of his first term.  He‘s doing weekly radio addresses, as if he‘s a fake president. 

But nobody says, you don‘t know your place, John McCain.  I think it has a lot of racial overtones and ageist overtones of the opposite kind that we‘ve been talking about so far. 

GREGORY:  Let me get Harold in on this.  Do you hear that?  This is something that I don‘t think we talk about enough.  Do you hear racism in this experience of Obama, these questions about—it‘s hard to argue that he went over and staged a trip that was very presidential looking.  That was the point. 

FORD:  Senator Obama—

GREGORY:  Because the Clinton‘s also started this in their attacks against him.  It was Bill Clinton who said this is a fairy tale campaign.  Do you see racism in this. 

FORD:  Campaigns, people are trying their hardest to win.  I don‘t blame John McCain for trying to win.  What Senator Obama has to do is to beat him.  Remember, no candidate for president running as a Democrat has won a majority of the working white votes since Lyndon Baines Johnson, not Gore, not Kerry, not Clinton, not Carter.  What Senator Obama is attempting to do is to put together a wide cross section of voters, a coalition of voters in order to win. 

I don‘t hear any of that right now.  I think what Senator Obama needs to do is stay focussed.  He‘s going to hear this attacks.  If the best attack or one line of attack or prominent line of attack from John McCain and the Republicans against Barack Obama today is he‘s trying to act like a president, then Barack should be pleased and encouraged.  He should continue behaving like a president, continue reaching out to voters.  If I have another piece of advice on that; I‘d lose the suit.  I‘d put on a pair of khakis, and I‘d walk through some of these communities. 

GREGORY:  Harold, you‘re not answering the question—

FORD:  The answer is no.  No, I don‘t.  I thought I said that.  No. 

GREGORY:  I‘m sorry. 

BUCHANAN:  Look, Rachel said there was humility, real humility here.  Let me read you his direct quote, according to Dana Milbank.  He‘s telling the Congressional guys, “this is the moment the world is waiting for.  I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”  Upon what meat has this our Caesar fed.  He‘s sounding like America‘s hot dog really. 

MADDOW:  Pat, the issue here is that that quote has been disproved today.  That quote has been contradicted by multiple other sources, talking to “Time Magazine,” talking to other reporters, explaining that he did not say that at all. 

GREGORY:  Let me break in.  Smerc, you‘re coming.  The actual quote, as Politico reported on this—this is what Obama reportedly said, according to Politico: “it‘s becoming increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, it‘s not about me at all.  It‘s about America.  I have just become a symbol.”  Smerc. 

SMERCONISH:  All right, nobody was in the room from a journalistic standpoint when that statement was offered.  But, the “New York Times,” I‘m amazed nobody has brought this up so far, June 4th, 2008, a direct quote from Senator Obama: “I love when I‘m shaking hands on a rope line and I see a little old white lady and a big burly black guy and Latino girls and all their hands are entwined.  They are feeding on each other, as much as on me.  It‘s like I‘m just the excuse.” 

In other words, he‘s said it before in the proper context.  It‘s a feel good statement about the country and what he represents.  We don‘t have to debate what he said behind closed doors, because we have him on the record.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he said the same thing yesterday that he told the Times on this day. 

MADDOW:  Which I would argue is a symbol of humility and not hubris, but people want to run win the hubris line, I think for prejudiced reasons. 

BUCHANAN:  Is Dana Milbank doing this for prejudice reasons?  Come on. 

MADDOW:  I‘m not accusing him of being racist. 

(CROSS TALK)

MADDOW:  Pat, how could you look at—

BUCHANAN:  Everybody that‘s critical of Obama, when he‘s in a rough patch, to which he‘s responding with angry ads which show these attacks are working. 

MADDOW:  Whether or not they are working, I think we have a responsibility to talk about whether or not they are deserved, Pat.  I think when John McCain doesn‘t speak to Pat Buchanan as being presumptuous, when he calls himself President McCain, but Barack Obama speaks to you as presumptuous for doing something much less damning, that says more about you than it does about the candidate.

GREGORY:  Got to take a break here.  Coming back, your play date with the panel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Your turn to play with the panel.  The panel back with us.  I want to go first to Mary in Michigan, who is apparently no fan of McCain, but raises an interesting point.  It goes like this, “how does John McCain expect us to make a decision about his ability to become president when his entire campaign is based on bashing Obama?”   

Pat, no fan of McCain, this voter.  Nevertheless, it‘s the question of, and we saw this back in ‘04, if you make a campaign a choice, that‘s important.  It‘s a contrast.  It‘s a choice.  What about filling in the what are you for part?  In going after Obama, making this a referendum for Obama, does McCain get lost, especially when he is tarred by the status quo, whether it‘s George Bush or just the direction of the country. 

BUCHANAN:  If you make Obama unacceptable to middle America, McCain is going to be the president of the United States, no matter what kind of campaign he runs.  But I do agree with Mary to this extent; McCain should not be doing the attack work.  He should have capable surrogates out there doing it, not the candidate himself.  Secondarily, when you‘re in this kind of scrap with bare knuckles, you get your face cut, as well as the other fellows.  I think that‘s happening to McCain. 

Frankly, if he doesn‘t take Obama down, he‘s not going to win this election, anyway. 

GREGORY:  But we saw this, Harold.  We saw almost a replica of this between Obama and Hillary Clinton.  That may have been different because it was just Democratic primary voters, but you saw how it was trending at the end of the primaries.  Is this a winning strategy?

FORD:  I think there are differences between what happened with Hillary and Barack.  Where we are right now, Pat has a point.  I do think the country saw two elections like this with George Bush, the way he went after Al Gore and certainly the way he went after John Kerry.  I think if you poll the country, and we have, 80 percent of the country says George Bush‘s leadership is bad; we don‘t want it. 

John McCain is heading down that path.  If he wants to travel that path without laying out a positive, clear set of goals, he will lose.  Pat is right in this regard though; Barack is viewed as a riskier choice.  McCain‘s got to figure out he creates a balance.  If I‘m Barack Obama, I continue taking my message right to people, right to people, right to people.  The more he does that and the more he talks about change, the more likely it is he‘ll be taking the Oath of Office come January of next year. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, if you‘re inside the war room of Obama, you have plenty of money to spend.  You can go positive on biographical ads, and you can also take on anything that McCain throws your way and respond to it, as he‘s done.  Do you want to get involved in that?  Do you have to go toe to toe?  Does the intention, the desire to define yourself get lost if you‘re spending so much time doing that? 

MADDOW:  Yes, I sympathize with the competing demands on the Obama campaign.  On the one hand, I think they do have to respond to these sort of attacks from McCain.  I think the John Kerry Swift Boating lesson of 2004 has been drilled into Democrats and they know they have to respond and respond quickly.  On the other hand, the Obama campaign is not doing a good job trying to make this election a referendum on the George Bush years, which is their sure fire plan for victory.  Obama, today, said we can‘t afford more John McCain/George Bush economics.  But it sort of drifted into the ether because that‘s not the overall narrative of the campaign.  They haven‘t been successful making that the big picture of what people vote on. 

GREGORY:  Smerc, you were going to talk about this earlier.  Let‘s put up the map of where McCain is spending his money on campaign ads.  It says something that Pat just brought up.  Look at those states.  These are key battlegrounds, including the industrial Midwest, upper Midwest, also the Rocky Mountain West.  It shows that McCain is trying to undermine Obama‘s credibility and narrow the scope of the election.  So whether he‘s appealing to people who just think he‘s risky—there may be racism there motivating some voters, or maybe people who just say, I don‘t know if I can accept this guy.  There‘s a point to narrow the field. 

SMERCONISH:  We‘ve prognosticated here in the past as to what would the real battleground states consist of.  By way of example, David, the south.  We have talked extensively about the south.  When you look at that map, you see that John McCain hasn‘t spent a dime in Florida on television, frankly, nor in the remainder of the south, for that matter, while Barack Obama has.  Does that mean John McCain is secure in how he stands in those particular states?  Does it mean that Obama is not going to mount the kind of challenge we expected there?

GREGORY:  All right, we‘re going to leave it there.  Thanks to the panel.  That‘s THE RACE for tonight.  We‘re back tomorrow night.  “HARDBALL” is up next.

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

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