updated 9/8/2008 2:01:08 PM ET 2008-09-08T18:01:08

Guest: Howard Fineman, Paul Rieckhoff, Clarence Page, James Moore

RACHEL MADDOW, GUEST HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

And it’s on.  The day after John McCain takes centerstage, both sides hit the campaign trail, and the Democrats are not letting the GOP’s attacks go unchecked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  What do you talk about when you cannot explain the last eight years of failure?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We’ll surf through the spin from Saint Paul and the upstaging of John McCain.  Was this Sarah Palin’s party with John McCain just one of the guests?

Reality check.  The green screen backdrop showing John McCain in front of Walter Reed—Walter Reed Middle School.  And the patriotic “Pledge of Allegiance” video except that’s a staged military funeral with troops and a grieving widow played by actors.

“The War Within.”  Excerpts from the latest Bob Woodward book are out showing the president detached from making decisions about the war in Iraq.  When asked how he decided on a troop surge of five brigades, Bush is telling Woodward, quote, “OK, I don’t know this.  I’m not in these meetings, you’ll be happy to hear, because I got other things to do.”

Palin comparison.  While the McCain campaign attacks the media to stave off an examination of the vice presidential nominee’s record, it seems that Sarah Palin’s real adversary may actually be Sarah Palin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I got rid of a few things in the governor’s office.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  She took the luxury jet that was acquired by his predecessor and sold it on eBay.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MCCAIN:  And made a profit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Except she never actually sold it on eBay and she never made a profit.

The week that was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JO ANN DAVIDSON, RNC CO-CHAIR:  Governor Sarah Pawlenty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  My friends, if you’re going to talk about being a maverick, at least, make sure your sign is spelled right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, (D/I) MCCAIN SUPPORTER:  What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this?

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You tell us.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN:  He is the maverick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW (on camera):  Good evening.  I’m Rachel Maddow.  Keith Olbermann has a very well-deserved night off.  This is Friday, September 5th, 60 days until the 2008 presidential election.

Before we knew Karl Rove as Karl Rove when he was just a little known political operative from Texas, he once told reporters, quote, “Look, I don’t attack people on their weaknesses, that usually doesn’t get the job done.  Voters already perceive weaknesses.  You got to go after the other guy’s strengths.  That’s how you win.”

Well, in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Strategery and stagecraft, used to full effect both on stage at the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul and on the campaign trail on this, the first day after.

If you found yourself wondering why there was so little on-air analysis of the GOP convention as the convention was happening, that’s because it was artfully designed to squeeze out any room for such analysis.  The schedule was carefully arranged by the party with speeches and biographical videos back-to-back-to-back, all to prevent anchors and analysts such as, say, me, from having any time to comment on what they were doing.

Tonight, we are off their schedule and we will be making the time.  As it happens, Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, today, revealed a stump speech that repeats many of the charges from her acceptance speech on Wednesday, filling her prescription from Dr. Rove, perhaps.  Palin’s charges include the claim that her experience as mayor of a small-town in Alaska, but somehow more presidential-ish than Senator Obama’s post-college job as a community organizer in Chicago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Before I was governor, I was mayor of a small-town—and since our opponents seem to look down on that experience, I tried to explain what that job is all about.  I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer only you have actual responsibilities.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Remember when John McCain last night implored us all to work for the rights of the oppressed, perhaps Governor Palin was consulting her big book of demeaning insults against people working for the rights of the oppressed instead of enjoying that part of Senator McCain’s speech.

Here’s what the Republicans didn’t talk about at their convention -

the issues, like the economy.  Unless you count Senator McCain last night feeling the pain of those who have lost their real estate investments, instead of Americans who have lost their actual homes.

       

Senator McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, explained this week that the Republican plan is to make this election more about the personalities of the candidates than it is about the issues.  This afternoon, at a glass factory outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, Senator Obama dismissed the idea this election is about either him or his opponent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Personalities.  I mean, I think I’ve got a pretty good personality, but that’s not—that’s not why I’m running for president, I’m running for president to put people back to work, to give them healthcare, to make them have college that’s affordable.  This is not a personality contest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  In Philadelphia, Obama’s running mate, Senator Joe Biden suggested that perhaps the Republicans don’t have anything else to discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN:  What do you talk about when you have nothing to say?  What do you talk about when you cannot explain the last eight years of failure?

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

BIDEN:  What do you talk about?  What do you talk about?  You talk about the other guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Lots to talk about with MSNBC analyst, Howard Fineman, also, the senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Hi, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Just to make sure I’m getting the Republican spin right here, Senator Obama is a celebrity, Governor Palin is not.  She can be elevated and praised on the basis of one really good speech, but he should be teased and demeaned for giving lots of good speeches, and the media should not question her qualifications and experience but they should question his.  Is that about right—are these the ground rules for the next 60 days?

FINEMAN:  I think you have been well-briefed by Rick Davis and all the other people at the McCain campaign.  Sure, they’re going to try to get away with it if they can.  Every campaign from one degree or another does.  But what usually happens, unlike the case of Sarah Palin, campaigns start out needing the media.  They start out needing the media to communicate with the American public.  And so, they’re open to reporters and they’re open by necessity to the questions that reporters ask.

Most candidates start out on obscurity and need the attention.  And also, overtime, candidates get better, the way Barack Obama who was a new celebrity a few years ago has been thoroughly vetted over the last 18 months by Hillary Clinton, by the media, by everybody in the world.

The difference here with Sarah Palin is she was in virtual obscurity 10 days ago.  Now, she’s 60 days away, from a heartbeat away to the presidency and that’s why reporters need to do their job and ask the questions, but that’s why she’s not appearing on any Sunday shows this weekend.

MADDOW:  Howard, we’re looking at pictures right now of a campaign appearance of Governor Palin and Senator McCain out on the campaign trail today.  She did repeat word for word that community organizer mocking, sarcastic attack against Barack Obama.  What do you think is at the heart of that specific attack?

FINEMAN:  Well, I know what it is because I’ve covered conservative movement for decades, Rachel.  And what they’re saying to themselves, if not to the rest of America, is that community organizer is somehow about an extension of the government.  It’s about appealing from a street level to get the government to do things for you.  And that’s obnoxious to the conservative philosophy.

What they tend to forget, however—and they would rather have faith-based community organizing which, of course, they have gotten money out of the government to do.  The irony of it is that when Barack Obama was on the South Side, he was doing faith-based community organizing.  A lot of his action was in the churches of the South Side of Chicago.  He’s actually very much in their grain and they just won’t admit it.

MADDOW:  I feel like I’m seeing some parallels to the 1992 election, sort of a fire-breathing, “Us against the world” Republican convention that made the base in that room very happy, but may have alienated the rest of the country.  And the Democrats’ strategic opportunity being on the issues, the economy, really practical stuff—do you see it that way at all?

FINEMAN:  Yes, I think that’s an interesting analogy and there are some parallels.  I would caution you, though, because back in ‘92 in Houston and I covered that convention, the “Rock ‘em, suck ‘em (ph)” stars in Houston were Pat Robertson and one Patrick J. Buchanan.

Now, Pat Buchanan is a friend of ours and we know him well but he’s not Sarah Palin.  I mean, Sarah Palin is a rockstar who drew 40 million people and she does have a chance, at least the Republicans think so, to reach across.

Yes, but I agree the other part of your analogy, which is this is really all about the economy or should be.  The unemployment numbers today, the jitters on Wall Street, the concern about a global recession—this is what this campaign should be about and if Barack Obama over the next 60 days can’t make it about that, then he risks losing this election.

MADDOW:  Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” thanks.  Have a good weekend, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you.  You, too, Rachel.

MADDOW:  If we were to put a fine point on what was said at the Republican National Convention this week, we might describe the attacks made against Senator Obama and the immoderate praise given to Governor Palin as the “Associated Press” did.  They described those things as, quote, “stretching the truth.”

We’re going to go out on a limb here on COUNTDOWN and call them “lies.”  We’re also going to call the repeated telling of those lies, “lying.”  The charge that Senator Obama authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform—lying.  Senator Obama wants to raise your taxes unless you happen to be a corporation or the richest 1 percent of all Americans—lying.  Senator Obama has never worked with Republicans on bipartisan legislation—lying.

Senator McCain repeating that particular line on the stump today in Wisconsin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I worked across the aisle again and again.  I’ve reached out my hand to those on the other side of the aisle to work for a common good.  Senator Obama never has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I repeat—lying.

Let’s turn now to Clarence Page, the nationally syndicated columnist with the “Chicago Tribune.”

Thanks for your time tonight, Clarence.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Thank you, Rachel.  Good to see you.

MADDOW:  What happened in Saint Paul, apparently, will not stay in Saint Paul—because many of what I am saying are lies that were told there last night and over the last couple days in Saint Paul.  They’ve now been incorporated into the McCain stump speech and the Palin stump speech which means we could expect to hear these things again and again and again over the next 60 days.

PAGE:  That’s right.

MADDOW:  Does debunking not have any political impact anymore?  Is there no political risk for telling things that are demonstratively untrue about your opponent?

PAGE:  Well, things happen fast in this campaign.  Remember, it’s only two nights since we heard Sarah Palin, one night since McCain’s speech.  The Obama campaign right now is assessing just how to deal with Sarah Palin because she is a big surprise in a lot of different ways.  But there’s no question that the campaign has to respond.

This reminds me a lot of the swiftboating of John Kerry four years ago where they just kept piling on and piling on with statements, made them unsubstantiated but the Kerry campaign was too slow in responding and then it takes on the appearance and the feel of truth even if it’s false.  And the Obama campaign knows they got responses for those charges.  And I expect we’re going to be hearing them in future days.

MADDOW:  The Obama campaign has very aggressively pounced this week on the McCain campaign manager, Rick Davis’s statement that the campaign should be about personality instead of about issues.  I think that they’re pouncing on it because they see that declaration as a sort of “facts don’t matter, get out of jail free declaration.”  Do you think that’s behind why the Obama campaign has been so aggressive on that?

PAGE:  Well—yes, because it’s true that McCain campaign doesn’t want to deal with issues.  We did, as Howard just mentioned, the latest unemployment figures today are the highest in the past five years.  If you want to run on the record of what Republicans have had for the last few years, what do you have to run on?  President Bush’s approval ratings are extremely low.

So, John McCain and Sarah Palin are going to push their personalities and go after Barack Obama’s strength, which is his personality and it is the exciting oratory that has energized so many people over the last few years and dropped his campaign; and also, his campaign itself, an extraordinary organizing effort, an extraordinary executive skills set that he is showing.

And, so, what’s the McCain campaign doing?  They’re attacking Obama saying he’s not a leader, that he doesn’t have executive skills.  And they’re calling him a celebrity, as if building celebrity in the political world came as in the same way it does to a rockstar.  He hasn’t even sung a note that I know of.

MADDOW:  Well, even on their own terms, even on those personality terms, in the long run, which at this point is the next 60 days, do you think it helps or hurts John McCain’s chances in November that Sarah Palin really is upstaging him right now—that she really is getting more attention, bigger crowds, and more, sort of inspiring more enthusiasm than he is?

PAGE:  Well, McCain approached this like a jet fighter.  You know, he took that high-risk chance by dropping the Palin bomb and she has, indeed, changed the game right now.  But at the same time, she’s also made herself an issue.  It’s very risky for a presidential candidate to make his or some day her running mate an issue.

George McGovern, of course, had to drop his running mate when his mental healthcare record became an issue.  Sarah Palin has a lot of questionable controversies in her background that are starting to come out but, you know, a lot of reporters have only now landed in Alaska to look at her background.  McCain and his campaign may find themselves fending off a lot of embarrassing questions over the next couple weeks.

MADDOW:  Well, over the next couple weeks and over next couple of months, that’s the horizon that we’ve got here.  Looking up from now until the first week of November, these next 60 days, if you had to predict right now, who do you think is going to win this election in November?  How do you think it’s going to be won?

PAGE:  You want me to make it easy for you, huh, Rachel, to tell you right now?

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:   Bottom line it, right here.  We’ll take the next couple months off.

PAGE:  Rachel, I think—I think, it’s going to be close, Rachel.  I think it’s going to be close.  It’s closer than it ought to be considering how low the public’s approval of Republicans is right now, how John McCain has not dealt with us specifics as to what he’s going to do about it.  By making this a personality race, it becomes an unpredictable contest.

MADDOW:  Clarence Page of the “Chicago Tribune,” thank you so much for joining us.

PAGE:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  One programming note for you, Senator Barack Obama will be Keith’s special guest this Monday on COUNTDOWN at 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.

Following that, as if anyone will ever want to try to follow something like that, MSNBC will be debuting a little number called the “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”—oh, boy -- 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

Fake soldiers, a staged military funeral, a backdrop featuring Walter Reed Middle School—and this from the party that wants you to believe that they and only they support the troops?

Also, mother, moose hunter, misleader.  We’ll track the distance between Sarah Palin’s rhetoric and her record—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Quote, “I got other things to do.”  The words of the commander-in-chief on the subject of making decisions about how many U.S.  troops to put in the harm’s way in Iraq.

Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America joins us next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Sometimes, a political image and how very far it misses the mark actually helps us to understand political substance.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: One of the oddities from Senator McCain’s acceptance speech last night may have been a bizarre misstep.  There it is.  Senator McCain right after the initial thank yous were complete, standing before what appeared to be a green screen for the first five minutes of his speech.  That green screen recalled, of course, a very poorly received speech he gave back in June which used a line green backdrop that gave the senator a rather sickly pallor.

As the audience inside the Xcel convention center last night could see and the TV audience only glimpsed, that was a green lawn behind Senator McCain along with a mansion-like structure.  One of his many houses perhaps?  No, it turns out the image is the Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, California.

But since it seems unlikely that the McCain camp would show some random school during their candidate’s most important speech ever, and veteran bloggers are suggesting that the campaign actually meant to show this—that would be Walter Reed Medical Center.  That, of course, would also be baffling since McCain was not talking about veterans during that part of his speech and since, as veterans groups have pointed out today, Senator McCain has repeatedly voted against increased funding for military and V.A. hospitals.

The McCain camp called NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, saying that the Walter Reed Middle School image was a simply generic photo like others used and had no specific meaning.  It was just clip art, essentially.

Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the author of “Chasing Ghosts,” a memoir of his service in Iraq.

Hi, Paul.  It’s good to see you.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ & AFGHAN. VETERANS OF AMERICA:  Hi, Rachel. 

Good to be with you.

MADDOW:  So, on Tuesday night, the RNC ran a patriotic video that used fake soldiers, actors and a staged military funeral.  Now, we’re trying to make sense of the Walter Reed Middle School backdrop.  What do you make of all this?

RIECKHOFF:  I was at the convention last night with a few other vets and we were trying to figure out ourselves.  We thought it might one of Senator McCain’s seven houses.  But clearly now, we see it was a slip up.  I think it was sloppy.  It’s pretty pathetic.

And I think, honestly, that backdrop, whether it was Walter Reed Middle School or the actual Walter Reed, that’s about as close as Senator McCain got to veteran issues last night.  He didn’t mention veteran once in his entire speech, didn’t talk about post-traumatic stress disorder, didn’t talk about veterans funding, and, I think, he really forgot where he came from last night.

He had an epic, a historic opportunity to talk about not just his services as a POW but what he faced as a veteran coming home, and how he’s going to learn from that and institute policies and procedures and resources that would help a new generation of veterans coming home.  So, I was very disappointed.  I think, veterans around the country were disappointed.

MADDOW:  We did, very unexpectedly last night, see an Iraq vet and after this, disrupt the start of Senator McCain’s speech, holding up a sign that said, “McCain votes against vets,” before he was dragged out of the hall.  He yelled that McCain should be asked about his voting record.  Do you think that McCain is starting to pay a price for his not so great record on veterans’ issues?

RIECKHOFF:  Definitely.  He called that veteran ground noise and static.  That guy’s name was Adam Kokesh.  He is a sergeant in the Marine Corps, with Iraq Veterans Against the War.  And he’s calling Senator McCain out on his voting record.

I’ve been on this show for a few years talking about the G.I. Bill. 

We told America that if Senator McCain was on the wrong side of the G.I.

Bill, it was going to hang around his neck throughout this election. 

That’s exactly what’s happening now.

And I also want to note, Kokesh was only one of two veterans who actually got to speak at all during the convention that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There was one other guy, Charlie Summers who’s a Republican congressman, running for Congress in Maine, who spoke.

And the Democratic side, the week before, they had Tammy Duckworth, they had Patrick Murphy, and they had a number of vets from Iraq and Afghanistan who spoke on Thursday night.  It seemed like a deliberate attempt by the RNC not to put Iraq and Afghanistan vets out in front.

MADDOW:  And to have one of the two guys getting to speak at the Republican National Convention, having to speak essentially from the rafters while getting dragged out of the room.  That says something.

RIECKHOFF:  Right.

MADDOW:  Bob Woodward has a new book out on Monday that’s about the most recent stages of the Iraq War.  And in the book, he says that the reduction in violence in Iraq was partly a result of the surge but also because of the Mehdi army cease-fire, because of the “Sunni Awakening,” and because of—and this is the new part that we didn’t know about before the book, improved spying techniques essentially on the insurgency by the U.S.  military.

When John McCain talks about Iraq, he essentially exclusively talks about the surge, that’s all he wants to talk about when it comes to the war.  Do you think that our presidential politics on the Iraq war are too simple—that they just don’t take account of the complexity and reality of the war?

RIECKHOFF:  Absolutely.  It becomes so narrow (ph), and actually there was a “New York Times” piece about it today by Colonel Nagel who’s written extensively on counterinsurgency operations and what we would need to do to effectively pull out.

Senator McCain acts like the surge is the silver bullet that’s going to solve everything and he wants to credit for that being a victory.  And I just—I would urge him and everyone else, don’t claim victory just yet.  I think, Harry Reid was too early when he said things was done and it was over and I think Senator McCain is jumping on this and showing some political opportunism, quite frankly, by saying it’s all won and it’s his fault.

You know, victory has a thousand fathers, and failure is an orphan.  And, I think, the Republicans are quick to jump on this and  try to get you to vote that they have won the war, and therefore, you should vote with them and McCain’s the guy who won it.  And I think that’s a very simplistic understanding it’s going to come back to bite him in the next few weeks.

MADDOW:  Yes, especially when you realize that the postscript to that is—pay no attention to the 140,000 Americans still there, indefinitely.

RIECKHOFF:  Right, exactly.

MADDOW:  One last question on the Woodward book and that is his—

I think shocking quote from President Bush, Woodward asks Bush why the surge is going to be five brigades when the Pentagon had said they can only spare two for that sort of escalation, and Bush’s response is, “OK, I don’t know this.  I’m not in these meetings, you’ll be happy to hear because I got other things to do.” Any reaction to that?

RIECKHOFF:  It’s disgusting.  It’s really disappointing to hear that the commander-in-chief doesn’t know how many brigades are going over and isn’t involved on those conversations.  I think that that’s we need to have the political leadership involved in exactly how many brigades, what is our strategy, and how it’s going to be implemented.

That’s what we need Senator McCain and Senator Obama to show that they’re going be involved in going forward.  Whether it’s moving troops to Afghanistan, pulling troops out of Iraq, they need to be in the room.  And if you’re in charge, be in charge.  That’s what we learned in the military and I think that’s the commander-in-chief has to do going forward.

MADDOW:  Be involved and do not be afraid to tell the American people the reality and all of its complexities at best (ph).

RIECKHOFF:  Yes, absolutely.

MADDOW:  Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, great to see you.  Thanks for coming in.

RIECKHOFF:  Thank you.  Congratulations on the new show.

MADDOW:  Thank you very much, Paul.

All right.  Lesson number one—if you’re going to jump off a mountain, beware of nearby trees.

And, lesson number one if you want to be vice president of this country—we’re a democracy, which means you’re supposed to be in favor of a free and independent press, Governor Palin—a press free to ask you about your background and qualifications and free to expect answers.  That’s ahead.

But first, the headlines breaking in the administration’s 50 running scandals—Bushed.

Number three: Airport gate-gate.  Seven years after 9/11, on the same day the Republican party exploited 9/11 at McCain’s nominating convention with a graphic video, the “Washington Post” obtained an audit by the Government Accountability Office on the Bush administration’s so far failed attempts to improve America’s capacity for detecting radio active material coming into this country.  The findings—one contractor 23 percent behind schedule over-billed us by 25 percent.

Homeland Security’s office-in-charge misled Congress about the cost and effectiveness of the machines and told contractors not to cooperate with investigators.  And they’re still only in the planning stages for advance radiation detectors for cargo containers.

How will they screen rail cars, private vehicles, airport cargo, seaport cargo?  Homeland Security still doesn’t know.  No hurry, guys.  Really, I mean, what’s the rush?

Number two: McBush Onomics-gate.  The McBush economy has now been destroying jobs for eight months in a row.  The August employment number is at a five-year high.  Home foreclosures accelerated last quarter to the fastest pace in the 29 years the Mortgage Bankers Association has tracked these figures and the number of Americans with mortgage payments overdue is now at an all-time high.

No surprise then the Federal Reserve now calls the McBush economy weak, soft or subdued across the vast majority of the country.  Appliances, furniture, auto sales are all down.  Domestic tourism is weak, even in Hawaii.  So, who is doing well?  Well, international tourism, as in foreigners have enough jingle to visit us even if we Americans don’t generally have enough cash to even visit each other.

And number one: Pillow talk with terrorists-gate.  Who is holding talks in Libya today?  The highest ranking U.S. official to do so since 1953, that would be Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  In fact, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi calls her, “Leezza.”  Quoting him for real, “I support my darling black African woman.  I admire and am proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to Arab leaders.  She beckons to the Arab foreign ministers and they come to her, either in groups or individually.  Leezza, Leezza, Leezza, I love her very much,” end quote.

No comment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Bests in a moment, and another miraculous appearance of divinity in dessert.  But first, on this date in 1698, Russia’s Peter the Great imposed a tax on beards.  If you weren’t a member of the clergy and you wanted to wear a beard in Peter the Great’s Russia, you were required to buy a dispensation from government officials.  I can assure you that if such facial hair tyranny ever reared its ugly head in this country, Americans left, right and center they would stand united in Chuck Todd’s goatee. 

On that note, let’s play Oddball. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We begin in Rumsdalin (ph), Norway where base jumper Hanz Lung (ph) is flying through the air, having just plummeted off Byorkton (ph) Mountain, hurdling towards Earth at break neck speeds.  All seems to be going well until a conniving tree snags his parachute.  One short fall to the rocks below later, Hanz is left with a broken chute and a broken leg.  And yes, the precious memory stored on video forever. 

Finally to Nehapa (ph), El Salvador, where every year locals like to commemorate their survival of a 1922 volcanic eruption by throwing fireballs at each other.  There are no rules here.  All you have to do is soak a rag in some gasoline, light it up and chuck it towards your beloved neighbor.  If it smacks your beloved neighbor in the face, well, all’s fair in gasoline soaked flaming rag dodge ball war. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, she sold the governor’s plane on eBay, except when she didn’t.  She was against the Bridge to Nowhere, except when she was for it.  She was against wasteful spending, except when she took earmarks.  Just who is Sarah Palin and what is she for? 

And her teenage daughter gets some unexpected gifts for her expected baby from a celebrity.  Those stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN’s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best Hollywood screen play come to life.  During a routine check of an Air India passenger jet, crew members were startled to find a snake coiled up under a seat.  After slithering into an air vent and evading capture, the reptile was nowhere to be found, even after panels were removed and the plane was fumigated.  If you are planning on flying Air India any time soon, you want to think about bringing Samuel L. Jackson along for the ride. 

Number two, best cautionary tale about what to teach your bird.  Police officers in South Trenton, New Jersey got a call to respond to cries of a woman, apparently in distress inside Evelyn Deleon’s (ph) house.  After busting down the door and storming the place, they found the cause of their concern.  It was Luna, the owner’s Cockatoo, perched in its cage crying out, “help me, help me.”

Number one, best Virgin Mary sighting this week, Becky Ginn of Arlington, Texas found a visage of the mother of God, where else, but on the skin of a grape.  Ginn said I haven’t made a shrine to it nor prayed to it nor done much of anything, except e-mailed the picture to a few friends and roll it around the bowl in the fridge.  When reached for comment, the blessed mother on a grape said, hey, cold.  Not really about the comment.  Sorry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  A week ago today, Senator John McCain, the experienced Washington wise man of this race, decided that no one in the country was more qualified to serve as president in the event of his demise than Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska for 21 months, 16 hours and 35 minutes, Eastern time.  Our number three story tonight, what we’ve learned in the last week about who John McCain would put a heart beat from the presidency, mother, moose hunter, Bridge to Nowhere supporter before she was an opposer, Abramoff associated earmark lobbyist hirer, more earmark pork barrel money than any other state getter, ethics committee dodge, media dodger, Alaska secession booster, would-by hypothetical book banner, loyalty test wholesale staff firer, 527 of indicted Senator Ted Stevens director, seeker of 15 million bucks from Washington to build a train from her town to Ted Stevens’ ski resort, Alaska National Guard not a single order issuer, sermon about Israel having terrorism because Jews won’t accept Christ attender, vendetta with official powers pursuer, and poor eBay seller. 

Governor Palin did list the state jet on eBay three times.  But despite her claim that she sold it at a profit, it turns out that the state paid 2.7 million for it, and Palin sold it at a loss for 2.1 million through a broker.  She did list it on eBay unsuccessfully three times first, which I think means she probably cost the tax payers 12 bucks in listing fees.  That’s just some of what we know as of—never mind. 

We’re joined now by “Huffington Post” contributor James Moore, who has covered presidential campaigns since 1976, and who co-wrote “Bush’s Brain.”  Hi, Mr. Moore. 

JAMES MOORE, CO-AUTHOR, “BUSH’S BRAIN”:  Hi, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Palin’s stated view that God preferred her particular Alaska pipeline plan, her encouragement of an openly anti-American political party, the statements about God directing the Iraq war; I feel like Sarah Palin has some views that are very outside the American mainstream.  Do you think that was an accident of the short vetting process or do you think that was on purpose by the McCain campaign? 

MOORE:  I actually think that they didn’t care.  I think their calculus in all of this was, guess what, folks, we have found somebody who will be attractive to disaffected Hillary voters.  That’s what they think.  And it will also rally the Christian fundamentalist, the pro-life people.  And on top of that, their goal is to offset the candle power of Barack Obama.  And they feel like they’ve done that. 

The politics, her time in office, all of those things that she has done that are so obviously hypocritical and controversial, they feel like they can deal with that.  And they, obviously, are saying, we are not going to talk to reporters.  They will find reporters and offer friendly fire, but they’re not going to march her out and let her explain herself because, frankly, she can’t. 

MADDOW:  They’re being very overt about that.  McCain’s campaign today said they will decide whether Palin is made available to the press based on, quote, what we think is in our best interest.  Is there a national interest more important than the campaign’s interest in having someone up for such an important job subjected to independent, aggressive questioning? 

MOORE:  Well, there obviously is a national interest, but it’s not what the McCain campaign sees.  Their primary interest is in winning.  And they will only let her talk to people who help them to win, not to understand Sarah Palin.  So, all of these sort of hypocrisies—you know, I’m from the south.  And in the south, teenage unmarried pregnancy is still a scandalous thing down here.  And to say that that is a private, personal family matter, and then to march your child out in front of a national audience seems hugely contradictory, and it goes to the whole question of, if you’re family values person and you pay attention to raising your child, how doe these things happens. 

Those are the kinds of difficult questions she would have to answer from people with a little bit of gray hair and smiles on them in the press corps. 

MADDOW:  In terms of how she was chosen by John McCain, it seems to me that there are two possibilities.  If they really did only meet once before the choice was made, then either somebody else made the decision and John McCain did what he was told in that regard, or he made a relatively impulsive pick after meeting her just once.  If it is the latter, if it was an impulsive pick, does that mean that maybe John McCain’s age isn’t the issue, but his maturity is, his decision making capacity is. 

MOORE:  I think, actually, Rachel, in my estimation, this highlights both of those issues.  It shows a lack of maturity in terms of judgment.  He, obviously, wanted Joe Lieberman and Karl Rove said, no, you can’t do that to the campaign.  You can’t do that to the party.  But when it comes time to choose Sarah Palin and say, I’m going to have this youngish, sort of inexperienced person, who has run a small municipality, and has run a state of less than a million people, to be my vice president, it accentuates the issue of his age. 

This man will be the oldest person to ever raise his right hand and take the oath of office.  And if we think that his health is questionable, we have to believe that Sarah Palin is very healthy and capable and experienced to do this job.  She clearly does not have the experience and that’s why this highlights his age and scares a lot of people. 

MADDOW:  James Moore, author of “Bush’s Brain” and “The Architect,” thanks for joining us.  Have a good weekend. 

MOORE:  My pleasure, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Did Sarah Palin get bumped by Oprah Winfrey against the wishes of half the Oprah staff?  Or is that just more right wing, attack the media spin about Sarah Palin. 

And the Republican Convention 2008 highlight reel is on the way.  All the hair-licking, hair-raising moments condensed for you by COUNTDOWN ahead. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  From the obscene to the ridiculous.  In our second story on the COUNTDOWN we’re keeping tabs on politics, given no shortage of material from this past week.  First up, making Sarah Palin scarce, even on the talk show circuit, unless it is helpful to her and John McCain’s campaign.  Well, Obama supporter Oprah Winfrey is now in the mix, but do not rush home to set your DVR.  The story is not about what Palin will or will not say to Oprah Winfrey.  Rather today’s dust up is over whether Palin will be invited to Oprah’s show at all. 

According to a, quote, insider who blabbed to a blogger, Oprah’s staff is deeply divided over the issue.  At press time, the story being shot down by Miss Winfrey herself.  She tells TMZ that the item is, quote, “categorically untrue and that there has been absolutely no discussion about having Sarah Palin on my show.  At the beginning of this presidential campaign, when I decided that I was going to take my first public stance in support of a candidate, I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates.” 

Accordingly, says Winfrey, once the campaign is over, the hot seat will be wide open.  Yay. 

Next up, the answer is a collection of rags valued at 60 dollars, designed with the sole purpose of wiping up vomit.  The question, name the gift ordered for 17-year-old Bristol Palin by the mother of teen tabloid baby bearer Jamie Lynn Spears.  On Wednesday “Access Hollywood” reported that Lynn Spears, on behalf of her daughter, sent out a set of Plain Mary white burp cloths with pink writing from the L.A. Boutique Petite Chasseur (ph).  The enclosed note read, “dear Bristol, hang in there, XO XO, Jamie Lynn.” 

By yesterday, Momma Spears was denying the donation, though she does support the Palin women, saying she, quote, empathizes with their situation.  I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t cut into our regular programming with that news when it first broke. 

So, the balloons are gone.  Andrea Mitchell has been rescued and is now back safely in D.C.  But the magical memories remains.  COUNTDOWN’s recap of the Republican convention next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The Republican convention this week was condensed because of Hurricane Gustav.  But even on a shorter time frame, the GOP gave our tape cutters and guys in charge of looking for the funny lots to be happy about, even before Andrea Mitchell bravely faced down thousands of angry balloons.  Let’s take a look back at some highlights from St. Paul. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Coming ashore right now and the winds are howling up the street here. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Gustav may be hitting the Gulf Coast, but it’s also raining on the Republican’s parade up in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In light of these events, I will not be going to Minnesota for the Republican National Convention. 

MCCAIN:  We will put aside our political hats and put on our American hats. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The convention’s first day has been cut back. 

Only essential party business will be conducted. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is my honor to call to order the 39th Quadrennial Republican National Convention!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The president might not want to show up, but that shouldn’t prevent festivities from going forwards and speeches from being made. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is day two of the Republican convention. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  A lot of the buzz is focused

on VP choice, Sarah Palin. 

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Many questioning now, is she experienced

enough? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We are holding a convention that will nominate a Republican woman, Governor Sarah Pawlenty, our next vice president. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Of the four candidates, she has the most executive experience.

RUDY GIULIANI ®, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  She has considerably

more executive experience. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Somebody with executive experience. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Governor with executive experience. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Tremendous executive leadership. 

FINEMAN:  She’s a moose hunter. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Because of the hurricane, an act of God, they did not have a whole night devoted to George Bush and Dick Cheney. 

MADDOW:  Cindy spoke last night.  Laura spoke last night.  Where was Dick? 

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  The president of the United States, George W.

Bush. 

BUSH:  The man we need is John McCain. 

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:  The presumptive nominee,

John McCain.  I don’t think we have to say presumptive anymore.  He’s going to accept it this week, unless something goes terribly awry. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator McCain has a record of a maverick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The maverick. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is a maverick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Former Maverick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Maverick. 

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  He is the maverick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator McCain’s maverick style.  Do you need to go to this?

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  John McCain said we are all

Georgians.  The Republicans are in there saying we are all maverick. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ladies and gentlemen, Fred Thompson. 

FRED THOMPSON ®, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you. 

Thank you very much. 

Thank you. 

Exotic dancer. 

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Joe Lieberman will address this crowd

in one of the great reversals of American political history. 

LIEBERMAN:  What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this? 

TODD:  John McCain may be the presumptive nominee, but tonight it’s the Sarah Palin party. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Is there any way she could not look good tonight? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Only if the media piles on.

NORAH O’DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The McCain campaign is calling media

questions about the vetting of Sarah Palin outrageous. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I thought much of the treatment of her has been sexist. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Many times you’re going to have the media try to diminish your record. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The media did something to this family that I’ve never seen before in my life. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You think they’ve piled on the media on Palin?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They’ve gone the Palin to her family.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Who’s done that?  Who’s done that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would say that “US Weekly.”

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, when she is a called a cheerleader of the west, that’s sexist. 

OLBERMANN:  One note in there, I have to defend the president of the United States.  He was a cheerleader once.  Here’s Governor Romney. 

MITT ROMNEY ®, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Yes.  If America really

wants to change, it’s time to look for the sun in the west, because it’s about to rise and shine from Arizona and Alaska. 

(SINGING)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I would like to thank

the elite media for doing something, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure could be done.  And that’s unifying the Republican party and all of America in support of Senator McCain. 

GIULIANI:  We, the people, the citizens of the United States, get to decide our next president, not the left wing media, not Hollywood celebrities, not anyone else, but the people of America!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ladies and gentlemen, the governor of Alaska, and the next vice president of the United States, Sarah Palin!

SARAH PALIN, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I was mayor of my home

town.  And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves.  I guess a small town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities. 

OLBERMANN:  That eternal question tonight for Senator McCain, Chris, what do you do for an encore? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Future president in waiting John McCain.

BROKAW:  Why wouldn’t the American people say, look, they had their shot.  We’re going to change. 

TOM RIDGE ®, FMR. GOVERNOR OF PENNSYLVANIA:  Because John Bush—

because John McCain is very much his own man. 

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF JOHN MCCAIN:  A loyal and loving and true husband and a magnificent father.  This is a good man, a worthy man.  I know.  I have loved him with all of my heart for almost 30 years.  And I humbly recommend him to you tonight for nominee for the next president of the United States. 

MCCAIN:  Stand up for each other.  A beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.  Stand up.  Stand up.  Stand up.  Stand up and fight.  Nothing is inevitable here.  We’re Americans.  We never give up.  We never quit.  We never hide from history.  We make history!

OLBERMANN:  Let’s go elsewhere on the convention floor, Andrea Mitchell reporting for us now. 

MITCHELL:  I am somewhere—somewhere on the floor of this convention, surrounded by balloons—

BROKAW:  Brian and I feel very, very privileged to have reserved seats for Andrea “boom boom” Mitchell and the dance of the Republican balloons. 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  A bunch of balloon wielding thugs

down there.  Free Andrea Mitchell.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  That’s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,955th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I’m Rachel Maddow.  Join Keith Olbermann back here on Monday.  He will be interviewing the Democratic nominee for president, Senator Barack Obama.  Then stick around for the debut of my news hour, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW,” right after COUNTDOWN at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.  Have a good night and a great weekend.

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

BE UPDATED.

END   

Content and programming copyright 2008 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2008 ASC LLC ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user’s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and ASC LLC’s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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