updated 9/11/2008 1:52:31 PM ET 2008-09-11T17:52:31

Guest: Ari Berman, David Corn, Jonathan Alter, Melissa Harris-Lacewell,

Matt Continetti

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST (voice over):  What does lipstick really have to do with politics?

Come on, I mean, it does have something to do with celebrities and actresses like say, Ann Hathaway, which brings us to her creepy ex-boyfriend, the conman who plead guilty today, which brings us to John McCain, who it turns out hung out with Ann Hathaway’s ill-gotten conman boyfriend on the ill-gotten conman boyfriend’s ill-gotten yacht.

Photographic evidence exists.  See it here.

And then, there’s that other “lipstick” political story.  Barack Obama fires back at the Republicans fake outrage.  Is this one backfiring on the McCain campaign?

And: Another day of vetting the truth about Governor Sarah Palin, another fishy situation.  Why would a maverick public official with nothing to hide, hide hundreds of her own official e-mails?  And why was Alaska’s self-described “first dude” all up in official state business?

Plus: The unity problem that threatens the November chances of the Republican Party.  Our favorite third party candidate of all time, my fake uncle, Pat Buchanan is here to tell us why I’m wrong about Ron Paul and Bob Barr reining on John McCain’s hope for Election Day.

Oh, what a news day.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

(on camera):  So, we’re on the air three days so far and we’ve already got ourselves an exclusive.  It’s a photographic image that appears to undercut the well-crafted focus group-tested image of John McCain being pushed on the American people by his campaign.  The next time you hear McCain described as anti-lobbyist reformer, the man fighting against entrenched interests in Washington, who rebuffed celebrity, perhaps this is the photo that should come to mind.

Now, this was obtained exclusively by the “Nation Magazine” which will publish the photo widely tomorrow in its new edition.  The magazine reports that it was taken on August 29th, 2006 in Montenegro.  It seems to be confirmation of an encounter that’s been reported on in “Vanity Fair” and the “Wall Street Journal.”  On the right hand side, that appears to be John McCain in the purple baseball cap.  Purple is the color of his beloved Arizona Diamondbacks, I’m just saying.

And you’re probably thinking to yourself, you know, that guy on the left looks kind of familiar and so doest the woman who’s with him.  The woman there is Hollywood star, Ann Hathaway—“Princess Diaries,” “Devil Wears Prada,” right.  The guy on the left is her then, boyfriend, Italian entrepreneur, Raffaello Follieri.  The reason that Raffaello looks familiar is because he pled guilty today to a conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud, and five counts of money laundering.  He is headed for the crowbar hotel, the pokey.

The feds busted Mr. Follieri because he posed as the CFO of the Vatican in order to win friends in high places and then take their money.  That takes us back to the photo.  Why exactly is the senior senator from Arizona apparently boarding this yacht in Montenegro on his 70th birthday with a soon to be busted Italian conman?

Well, despite marketing himself as the anti-lobbyist, John McCain, in fact, has a campaign run by one of the biggest names in Washington lobbying, Rick Davis.  And Davis has a rolodex full of high powered friends like Raffaello Follieri, the conman, who—“The Nation” reports—hired Rick Davis’ business partner shortly after this photo on the yacht was taken.

“The Nation” will print this picture which appears to be McCain getting on that yacht.  A new edition that’s out tomorrow, they also report that the guy walking the plank in front of McCain, shaking hands with Follieri appears to be McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, but we can’t confirm that.

The McCain campaign has confirmed to the senator’s encounter with the conman guy, telling the “New York Daily News” it was, quote, “entirely social and nothing came of it.”  Which, by the way, begs the question of how it is Barack Obama who is the celebrity, when McCain is the one spending his birthday on a yacht in the Adriatic Sea with the a fabu-movie star and her conman Italian boyfriend.

And yes, that’s the big point here.  While maverick McCain struck as a crusader against lobbyists, mocking Barack Obama as having celebrity status, this is the reality.  The guy who announced his presidential run on Letterman, photographed on a yacht in Montenegro, hobnobbing with a celebrity and a conman all because they share the same Washington lobbyist.

Joining us now is Ari Berman from “The Nation Magazine,” who co-wrote an article on this encounter with his colleague, Mark Ames, the article is due out tomorrow.

Hi, Ari.  It’s nice to see you.

ARI BERMAN, THE NATION:  Thanks a lot for having me.

MADDOW:  So, what was John McCain doing on that yacht?

BERMAN:  That’s a very good question.  John McCain was in Montenegro as part of a trip there with a bunch of Republican senators celebrating Montenegrin independence.  Montenegro has just become independent.  But he seemed to have found time while on that visit for a little birthday celebration.  And he chose to have his birthday celebration of all places, as you point out, with an Italian playboy and his movie star girlfriend on a yacht with champagne and cake.

And it’s kind of an interesting indictment of McCain because he’s been going around talking about what a celebrity Barack Obama is.  But, apparently, he has a bit of a celebrity fetish himself and a little bit of a taste for the glamorous as well.

MADDOW:  Well, there’s the culture issue here and whether or not John McCain, really, is the man of the people, the anti-lobbyist crusader that he is portraying himself to be.  There’s also the evident—photographic evidence, contact with this guy who has just plead guilty as a conman, duping people out of money, misrepresenting his ties with the Vatican, of all places.  Do we know why Raffaello Follieri, this guy who plead guilty today, do we know why he hired Rick Davis’ lobbying firm and whether or not that connection had anything at all to do with John McCain?

BERMAN:  Yes.  Well, Rick Davis was clearly trying to make inroads with the McCain world.  He was tied with the Clinton world.  He was posing as a mega-donor to Bill Clinton’s foundation; he was tied with Bill Clinton’s aids.  He was in business with one of Bill Clinton’s big donors, Ron Burkle.

And so, he wants to do the same thing with McCain.  He was playing both sides.  So, McCain is in Montenegro, I’ll go to Montenegro.  It’s not the kind of place where Raffaello Follieri would normally hang out.  He’d probably find a more glamorous house.  So, we think he was there because McCain was there.

And what happened after that yacht party with McCain is he ended up, you know, sending Rick Davis of business information, trying to get an investment firm that Rick Davis represented to invest with his own investments.  And then, a month later, in February 2007, actually hired, according to “New York Daily News” actually hired Rick Davis’ business partner from his lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, a man named Rick Gates.  There are now two Ricks in the story.

MADDOW:  Just to make it that much more confusing.  Well, we here at the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, we here at MSNBC, called the McCain campaign for comment on this.  We have not yet heard back from them.  We’re still hoping that they will give us a comment or make somebody available from the campaign to talk about McCain’s involvement with this guy, especially now that he’s looking at five years in prison.  What did the McCain campaign tell you about this meeting?

BERMAN:  Well, they haven’t told us anything.  I talk Tucker Bounds very quickly on the phone today.  He told me to send him an e-mail.  I sent an e-mail, I have sent another e-mail, told him I was probably going to go on TV and talk about this.  I haven’t heard back.  Tucker, if you’re watching, give me a call.

MADDOW:  He’s very busy.

BERMAN:  I’m sure, I imagine.

MADDOW:  Ari Berman from the “Nation Magazine,” it’s great to have you here.  Congratulations on scoop.

BERMAN:  Thanks a lot.  And I should also thank Mark Ames who work with me on the story and actually obtained the photo.

MADDOW:  Very good.

Moving now from the gentle breezes to the Adriatic to the steep winds of Juneau, Alaska.  Today, to the chagrin of the McCain campaign, another big drip in what’s become the daily drip, drip, drip of Sarah Palin would-be scandals.  The latest—new information about trooper-gate.  That’s about whether Sarah Palin fired the top cop in Alaska to retaliate for his not firing Palin’s ex-brother-in-law.  It’s an investigation we reported last night, that the McCain campaign is actively trying to kill.

Now, “Newsweek” magazine reports that three years ago, an Alaskan judge warned Palin and her family to stop, quote, “disparaging the reputation of trooper Michael Wooten,” he is the ex-brother-in-law.  Court records obtained by “Newsweek” revealed the judge reprimanded Palin and her family, quote, “Disparaging will not be tolerated.  It is a form of child abuse.  The disparagement by either parent, or their surrogates is emotional child abuse.”

The trooper-gate investigation possibly now linked to a whole new Palin scandal.  So new, it doesn’t have a “gate” attached to it yet.  This new one involves official e-mails being withheld from public view by Governor Palin’s office, about 1,100 e-mails to be exact, being hidden from the public.  They are citing, stop me if you heard this one before, they are citing executive privilege.

Is it just me or is Sarah Palin starting to seem like she really might be very well qualified to succeed Dick Cheney?  You might remember Dick Cheney’s week of his missing e-mails, which happen to coincide with the opening of the Valerie Plame investigation.

Anyway, here’s the interesting and perhaps insidious part about Palins e-mail scandal.  Some of the e-mails in question, rather than addressing, you know, legitimate state business, these e-mails have subject lines addressing some of Palin’s biggest political adversaries including this series of e-mails on February 1st concerning her former gubernatorial opponent, Andrew Halcro.

Take a look at who’s copied on those e-mails.  That would be the self-proclaimed first dude, Todd Palin.  He’s also copied on e-mails relating to the Alaska State Troopers, trooper-gate, anyone.  And by the way, when you loop your husband into official state business, doesn’t that negate the whole executive privilege argument?

Joining us now is David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” magazine, which has been investigating Palin’s e-mails.

David Corn, it’s good to see you, thanks for joining us.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES MAGAZINE:  Good to be with you, Rachel. 

Congratulations on the show.

MADDOW:  Thank you.  We’re happy to have you.

So, how does the Palin administration explain why they’re not releasing these 1,100 e-mails?

CORN:  Well, to back up a second, what happened was that an independent watchdog in Alaska named Andree McLeod, who is a registered Republican and has held Republican jobs in the past, file with an Open Records Act Request for four months worth of e-mails pertaining to two top aides to Governor Palin.  Andree McLeod suspected that these people were doing partisan activity on official business hours.

And, in response to her request, the governor’s office turned over four boxes of e-mails.  And nothing in the e-mails that were turned over backed up the suspicions.  But, maybe we know why, because they also handed over, the governor’s office, a 78-page list of those 1,100 e-mails that were not being released.  And they cited this, you know, the executive privilege and the privilege of deliberative process.  They’re kind of the same thing.

Basically, it means, and this does—this is according to Alaska state law: If there are confidential deliberations amongst the governor and her aides about policy matters, and this is before decisions are made—they are called pre-decisional decision-making—then you can withhold those e-mails from the public.

Now, as you know, a lot of these e-mails have subject lines which indicate they may not be about policy, they’re about political foes, about journalist in Alaska, about the Alaska state troopers and other things.  And they also were “cc-ed” as you noted to Todd Palin who is not an official member of the Alaska state government.  That’s the, you know, question is—are they abusing these privileges or not?

MADDOW:  Right.

CORN:  It seems like a lot of e-mails to withhold and it seems like they are on pretty dicey ground.  I looked at the Alaska State Supreme Court decisions about these privileges and they say they have to be about confidential policy matters only among aides and the governor.  It doesn’t seem to be the case for a lot of these e-mails.

MADDOW:  It should be noted that even though Todd Palin doesn’t, from outside Alaska, seem like he has an official job in the government, I don’t think there’s anybody else in Alaska who would call themselves first dude.  So, he does exclusively hold that official title.

CORN:  And he is a close and very influential advisor to Sarah Palin.

MADDOW:  Sure.

CORN:  But if she’s sharing those e-mails with private citizen, Todd Palin, it’s hard to—I think she had to (ph) before court saying, I can’t show this to other citizens.

MADDOW:  Exactly.  And that’s the problem with the executive privilege claim here.  So, who gets to review these 1,100 e-mails that have been withheld supposedly because they involved protected communications—who gets to review them to see if they actually ought to have been protected or if they are just covering their own behinds by keeping embarrassing stuff or potentially incriminating stuff away from the public?

CORN:  Well, you’re going to like this one.  The first person who gets to review them is, I think, or the first entity is the office of Governor Sarah Palin.  I mean, the freedom, the Open Records Act Request went to her office and they fulfilled it, and partly and denied all those other documents.  And Andree McLeod is now, as of yesterday, filed an appeal of that decision which goes back to the governor’s office and is asking them to review these withholdings.

And what will happen next is, I mean, I assume they’re going to say, “You know what—we probably got it right the first time.”  And then, as in most cases in most states, the course of action would be to take it to a court where a judge would finally get to say—the interesting thing, I mean, I’ve looked the law on this, is that state supreme justices in the past in Alaska have said that the executive privilege, the deliberative process privilege, these are not absolute privileges.  There’s a balancing test against the public’s right to know.

And Governor Palin, at any time, on her own, can say, “I’m releasing these documents.  I think the public has a right to know.”  So, she can’t even, you know, use these privileges as a crutch and say I have no choice.  At anytime, she has the discretion to make them public.

MADDOW:  Sure.  If she’s going to campaign as a transparent, open government reformer, it will probably, politically (INAUDIBLE) for her to do that.

David Corn, Washington bureau chief from “Mother Jones Magazine,” thanks for your reporting on this.  Thanks for taking time to join us.

CORN:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  Before we give John McCain a medal today for defending the women of America from sexism—remind me senator what it was you once said about Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton and Janet Reno?  All right.  We can’t repeat that joke of yours during prime time.

And, while one presidential campaign was trying to get you to talk about lipstick today, actual maverick, Ron Paul, was busy getting on the Montana ballot.  Yes, the same Ron Paul who got more votes than John McCain in the Republican caucuses there, this year.  Our favorite third party candidate ever, Pat Buchanan will be here to tell us whether or not John McCain ought to be worried.

But first, one more thing, the Obama campaign announced today that it has put together its own a troop squad called the “Alaska mythbusters.”  The mythbusters are a group of Alaskan that the Obama campaign says will, quote, “set the record straight on Sarah Palin.”  I am automatically optimistic about anyone’s partisan fact-checking, I like the press.  I have to say, an Alaska mythbusters’ hockey jersey, it would probably be kind of awesome.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  One of the reasons the McCain campaign is painting outrage about things as frivolous as lipstick, it’s because real issues like—oh, I don’t know—the economy, the war, the budget deficit are just too hard to talk about.  The Congressional Budget Office has announced that the federal budget deficit will hit $407 billion this year.

So, the economic legacy of the current Republican administration now includes a national housing crisis, sky-high energy prices, and unemployment rate at a five-year high and a ballooning deficit that will, in all likelihood, be more than double last years.  If that’s what you got to run on, lipstick kind of does look like a winning issue, doesn’t it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It was widely foretold that the Democratic Party would be divided this year.  All that classic, fall in love, don’t fall in line Democratic discord could cost Barack Obama the election.  It isn’t really working out that way.  Instead, the unity issue may be a bigger problem for Republicans as third party and insurgent candidates today showed their stuff in Washington.

The third party candidates’ press conference was led by Republican Ron Paul who not only held a shadow dissident Republican convention in Minneapolis last week, but confirmed today that he will not be supporting John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL, ® TEXAS:  They called and, it was a bit of a surprise to me because their request was that I endorse John McCain today.  And, I said, “Well, I don’t like the idea of getting about two to three million people angry at me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Add Ron Paul’s millions of supporters to the support for Bob Barr, our guest here last night, who’s actually on the ballot in 43 states including North Carolina, where he’s polling at 4 percent, and New Hampshire, where he’s polling at a whopping 11 percent in the latest Zogby Poll.  Barr is polling at about 3 percent nationally.

With this election as close as it looks like it will be with Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton onboard the Barack Obama train, with Bob Barr and Ron Paul making a much bigger splash on the right than Nader and McCain are making on the left, isn’t the sleeper issue here that the Republicans may have a divided party problem?

Joining us now: MSNBC political analyst, a former third-party presidential candidate, my friend, Pat Buchanan.

Hi, Pat.  Nice to see you.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Rachel, how are you doing?

MADDOW:  Great.  Pat, do you think the Republican Party is divided, they’ve got a unity problem this year?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think, if McCain had picked Joe Lieberman for vice president, I think the convention would have split wide apart.  But there’s no question about it.  Sarah Palin has brought home tremendous numbers of disaffected conservatives, evangelicals, Catholics, and otherwise.  After all, a lot of my people have e-mailed me and said, Rachel, we’re coming home, we got to come home for sister Sarah.

But there’s no doubt about it that Bob Barr in particular and Chuck Baldwin, whose Constitution Party, they could pick off hundred of thousands, maybe a million votes.  And in the kind of election we’re in right now, that could cost John McCain.

You know, in 2000, I got about just under 500,000 votes.  But my votes were the margin of Bush’s defeat.  I think it was Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Oregon.  Fortunately, we helped him out a little in Florida.

MADDOW:  I’m not sure who you mean by “we” there, unless you’re talking about whoever designed that ballot.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Me and my friends in Palm Beach County.

MADDOW:  Yes, you know what?  There are tinfoil hats that are lighting up all over the country right now because you just said that.

Well, Pat, let me ask you about Palin locking up the base issue.  If Palin locked up the conservative base for McCain more than he could have done alone, couldn’t the base also end up dumping her when they realize some of the fiscal stuff that’s coming out in her record?  She hired this Abramoff-link lobbyist to get $27 million worth pork for her city; the city had never had pork barrel projects before.  She raised taxes as mayor.  She raised taxes as governor.  She’s lying on this “Bridge to Nowhere” thing that she actually supported.  Couldn’t that support sort of soften up?

BUCHANAN:  I don’t think so.  I think these folks are wild about her.  Everybody in the country—let me tell you that if, you know, the people in the country, congressional districts and senatorial candidates, they don’t want John McCain in their district, they want Sarah Palin.  In the great battle she’s in, if you will, with the liberal media, they love her even more.  These things are fairly, you know, as mayor of Wasilla, raising taxes what—for a skating rink or something, that’s not going to do it.

MADDOW:  Well, what would do it?  I mean, they like her first impression, but learning that she’s not actually fiscally conservative, learning that she’s under investigation for abuse of power, and maybe that a more warranted investigation that it seemed like at first, what would turn conservatives off her?  Are they going to like her no matter what her record says even if it turns out in the record that she’s not all that conservative fiscally?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I don’t know.  She seems pretty conservative, 80 percent support up there.  She hammered the oil company, put taxes on them; gave $1,200 checks back to the citizens of Alaska.  This involves this trooper who apparently tasered her nephew.  And, you know, I’m astonished to see the liberals coming to the defense of a police officer who tasered a nine-year-old kid.  So, I don’t think those things are going to do it.

MADDOW:  Well, the liberals have not sided on the taser side of it, I think the liberals are thinking it’s not a good idea to judge an investigation based on what side tells you to believe about it.  People in Alaska, in a bipartisan way, take this very seriously.  It was a unanimous vote to spend state money investigating around this on the abuse of power.  I thought conservatives were against abusive power.  I thought they’d be mad at somebody for raising taxes.

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, (INAUDIBLE), I mean, it’s a bad incident in the family to understand it.  The kid was tasered, the guy was abusive to her sister, and she went after and said you got a rotten egg on the police force; you ought to get rid of him.

I mean, that’s just not national stuff.  There are things, I think, if they exploded could damage her.  We’ve seen things happen like that, but—

I mean, I don’t just think you got t yet, Rachel.  I think you’re all running up a dry creek.

MADDOW:  I just think that the depth to which conservatives will sink, in terms of saying that they’ve got principle stand in favor of someone, and nothing that they learn about that person violating those principles causing them to abandon them, it’s like—it’s a comedy.  It’s just a comedy.  Every year, we decide that all this stuff doesn’t matter even though it supposedly a principled argument.

BUCHANAN:  But, no, no.  I mean, as governor of Alaska, she clearly has been a conservative, 80 percent of the conservatives are with her.

MADDOW:  She raised taxes, Pat.  She raised taxes as a mayor and as governor.

BUCHANAN:  She raised taxes as mayor of Wasilla.  She gave back $1,200 to every citizen of Alaska, got it from the oil companies.  She did that pipeline which is a terrific deal, $40 billion, that’s big stuff.  I mean, this is all Mickey Mouse you’re working on.  You got to get on the main—you got to do better than this, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Yes, you know.  I just feel like as soon as I see the conservative movement stand-up for a windfall tax on the oil companies because Sarah Palin did it, that’s when I’ll believe this is a principled argument and not just a partisan line.

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know listen—if she came out -

MADDOW:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  Let me say this—if came out and said, “I’m not for life” or something like that or “I’m for open borders” or, you know, something like that, some big issue, “I’m for NAFTA and the WTO, I’m really crazy about these,” I think she would have problems then.

MADDOW:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  But you can’t do it with this stuff, Rachel.  You need to get out there.  Get her hunting wolves from plains and stuff like that.

MADDOW:  Oh, we got her on that, too.  Pat Buchanan, it is always great to see you.  Thank you for joining us, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  Hunting wolves now.

MADDOW:  Well, you know, hunting the wolves from plains and then hacking off their forearms to get your bounty.  That is some juicy stuff.

Pat Buchanan, thanks for joining us.

BUCHANAN:  Did you see what the wolves do to mooses?

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  We’ll demonstrate next time you’re here.

BUCHANAN:  OK.

MADDOW:  All right.

Since John McCain has turned his fake outrage amp up to 11.  Here’s what we are hearing about McCain’s plans for Iraq.

Yeah, that’s it.  No, technical glitch there.  We’re just not hearing anything.  McCain’s silence about his once signature issue, the thing he’s supposed to be so good at—he’s freaking me out, frankly.  Doesn’t he have to talk the future in Iraq?  Somebody needs to Talk Me Down about this.  And maybe they will.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You’ll notice we haven’t substantively discussed the lipstick story you’ve been hearing all day.  That’s because I think it’s a made up story.  But Barack Obama is punching back at it anyway.  And frankly, as long as we’re talking about sexism, we will be hearing a few choice words on the subject from that famous brow-burning feminist crusader, Sen. John Sidney McCain.  That’s ahead. 

MADDOW:  First, though, it’s time for a few underreported “holy mackerel” stories breaking today.  First up, more oversimplified fuel for the “Drill, Baby, Drill” crowd.  Last night, OPEC oil ministers said the market is oversupplied with oil due to the slumping energy demand in a weakening economy so they decided to self-impose a quota on production that may cut out a half million barrels a day.  They want to stop the current slide in oil prices. 

The White House naturally opposed the decision and is asking Congress to expand domestic oil production and open up the outer continental shelf to drilling.  That’s your “drill, baby, drill” cue.  Less oil from the Middle East means we need to make more oil here, right?  Except that oil supply isn’t the big problem. 

Members of Congress who have been investigating speculation in energy markets released a study today which asserts financial firms have largely caused the price drop off by selling off $40 billion worth of energy positions since July 15th.  In other words, if you want lower oil costs, “Regulate, baby, regulate.”  Not nearly as good as a bumper sticker, but it would actually address the problem.  Well, they ponder all of that at the Department of Energy.

Here’s something you don’t hear every day - sex and drugs at the Department of the Interior.  Investigators from the Interior Department’s Inspector General Office revealed today that government officials in charge of collecting billions of dollars in oil and gas royalties were accepting gifts from those companies and having sex with their employees, along with the occasional shared marijuana and cocaine use. 

In a report, investigators said they discovered a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity at the Department of Interior.  These are the people who decide which companies get the contracts to “drill, baby, drill” on federal and Indian lands, as well as to drill offshore.  Can you imagine the party these people would have if we opened up Anwar for drilling?  Woohoo!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  OK, the lipstick story.  Have you noticed this isn’t at the top of our news?  Thank you, you’re welcome.  So Barack Obama said yesterday that John McCain will continue the policies of Bush and Cheney.  Then he said, quote, “That’s not change.  That’s just calling the same thing something different.  You can put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.” 

Are you outraged yet?  No?  That’s because you’re a rational

human.  The McCain campaign, however, thinks you can be ripped into a

hysterical belief that Barack Obama was calling Sarah Palin a pig when he

said that.  I’m not sure if they are saying that every lipstick-pig

reference is a Sarah Palin putdown.  But if they are, then someone’s got

some explaining to do. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You can put lipstick

on a pig, it’s still a pig in my view.  You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.  The latest proposal I see is putting lipstick on a pig. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  It’s hard for the McCain campaign to play the sexism card honestly at all, when McCain, himself, is on the record for making a cruel joke about then-teenage Chelsea Clinton’s looks.  It’s hard for the McCain campaign to play the sexism card honestly when we saw how he treated Sen.  Clinton’s presidential candidacy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How do we beat the (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?

MCCAIN:  Can I get the translation?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I know why the McCain campaign is playing the sexism card here.  It sure is easier than talking about staying in Iraq indefinitely, the mortgage crisis, oil speculators, Phil Gramm, Rick Davis - bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.

I know why they would rather talk about lipstick.  I just can’t believe they think we will go along with it.  Let’s call in “Newsweek” senior editor and NBC analyst Jonathan Alter.  Hi, Jonathan.  Nice to see you.

JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi, Rachel. 

Congratulations on the new show. 

MADDOW:  Thank you very much.  Does the lipstick scandal essentially boil down to the McCain campaign getting another day off from talking about Iraq and Afghanistan and the economy and all this other stuff?

ALTER:  No question about it.  I mean, when talking about lipstick,

you’re not talking about something serious that the voters really do want

to hear about, but are easily distracted from.  I mean, just a little more

background on the thing.  Not only did McCain use that expression a number

of times, but he used it in reference to Hillary Clinton, in reference to a

woman.  And you didn’t even mention his even more outrageous joke about

women enjoying being raped by somebody -

MADDOW:  Yes.  I know that story.  I couldn’t bring myself to say it. 

ALTER:  The hypocrisy level in this is off the charts.  The crocodile tears are beyond belief.  And it’s a question of whether the sense of faux outrage, exactly the sort of silly PC response that conservatives have spent generations decrying.  Is it going to play?  I don’t think so.  I don’t think this actually helps McCain.  I don’t think there are a lot of women out there who are going, “Oh, I was going to vote for Obama, but after he called Sarah Palin a pig, I’m not going to vote for him anymore.”  But what it does do is it runs down the clock and makes it harder for Obama to focus on other more important things. 

MADDOW:  Well, the question though is whether it does cost them something for having so overplayed this card, overplayed their hand in this regard?  I mean, Mike Huckabee said that Obama was definitely not talking about Palin.  John McCain’s own daughter, Meghan, said her dad uses that phrase “lipstick on a pig” all the time.  Obama himself is on his own accord bringing this up on the campaign trail today, as a way of making the case that Republicans don’t really care about the country, that they would rather just engage in this sort of gutter politics so that they can avoid talking about the hard issues. 

Is it possible that this actually is going to hurt the McCain-Palin campaign more than it could benefit them by running off the clock?

ALTER:  Yes.  It’s what we call jujitsu.  You know, sometimes, it does backfire on you.  And the danger for McCain is that pretty much every day, they are coming up with something about Obama that’s just untrue or bogus in some ways.  They said, for instance, that “FactCheck.org” had said Obama was dumping on Sarah Palin.  “FactCheck.org,” which is one of the most reliable, neutral referees, actually issued a statement saying that what McCain was saying was not the truth, did not represent their position. 

They tried to say that Obama was siding with child predators in

Illinois.  It reminds me a little bit of what the intellectual writer, Mary

McCarthy once said about an intellectual writer, Lillian Hellman where she

said, “Every word out of her mouth is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” 

So, you know, you’re in a little bit of danger if you are throwing out so many untruths ...

MADDOW:  Yes.

ALTER:  ... that people can’t separate fact from fiction anymore.  And you lose that credibility that actually John McCain had when he was on the “straight talk express.” 

MADDOW:  And that is the political bottom line here.  That’s how you know who is ultimately benefiting or losing here.  Rather, the story is why is John McCain lying all the time, rather than the media jumping - in the political cycle, jumping from lie to lie to investigating (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

ALTER:  That really might be happening, because this thing with the bridge to nowhere, the fact that Sarah Palin continues to distort the truth about her position on that, even when she’s been called on it over and over again, I think, by the end of the week, it’s going to become a negative for the McCain campaign.

MADDOW:  “Newsweek’s” Jonathan Alter, great to see you.  Thanks for joining us. 

ALTER:  It’s to see you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Moving now from the absurd to the downright slimy in this campaign.  We arrive at John McCain’s new ad in which he accuses Barack Obama of thinking inappropriate things about sex and kindergartners. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OVER:  Obama’s one accomplishment?  Legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergartners.  Learning about sex before learning to read?  Barack Obama, wrong on education, wrong for your family. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The legislation in question was not sponsored by Barack Obama.  It never became law and it was actually designed to warn young children about sexual predators.  There’s something wrong with that? 

And also using that piece of legislation, the one that wasn’t Obama’s and never passed, and distorted to get into truly vile attack.  It’s a strategy stolen from the playbook of Alan Keyes who used it in his landslide loss to Barack Obama in the 2004 Illinois Senate race. 

So John McCain, who in 2000, was victimized by dirty, dishonest character-assassination style politics, is he paying it forward here? 

Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Lacewell who is a political science professor at Princeton.  She’s the author of “Barbershops, Bibles and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought.”  Professor, thanks very much for joining us. 

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR:  It’s terrific

to be here. 

MADDOW:  What’s the strategy behind a smear campaign like this?  Is it just the mention of Barack Obama’s name in the same sentence as kindergartners and sex?  Is that enough for McCain to win over some undecided voters regardless of whether or not this is true?

LACEWELL:  Well, it certainly is, as you pointed out, part of what Alan Keyes did when he was losing, knew he would lose, but particularly when he had no money.  In other words, when he couldn’t buy advertising, he would do just sort of outrageous things in order to keep his name out there. 

When you said Sarah Palin - oh, I don’t know, a million times over the past 45 minutes, right?  And in so doing, there’s a way in which what this campaign needs to do is simply to get us to focus on McCain-Palin rather than talking about Obama-Biden. 

MADDOW:  Is there any reason to believe that McCain, with this specific type of attack, would be able to succeed against Obama with this in the way Alan Keyes so miserably failed?

LACEWELL:  Sure, there’s reason to believe it.  I mean, the question is, in part, the question about how race and sex and sliminess all get connected in the American imagination.  I know that folks like you and folks like me are spending all of our time thinking about politics, you know, figuring out the difference between the distortions and the truth. 

But you know, ordinary Americans are like balancing their checkbook and figuring out how to send their kids to school because it’s after Labor Day.  And you know, they just sort of look up from dinner and see this commercial and may not, in fact, know much more than that.  So there’s ways in which just kind of creating these little anxieties, things that people may not even remember later, but they go, “You know what?  That Barack Obama - he worries me.  I’m not sure that he’s safe.” 

MADDOW:  Even just the image of Obama that they use at the end of the ad, with his suit sort of rumpled and him looking down with almost a leer on his face, when you just heard the words “sex and kindergartners.”  I mean, even if you only get that impression out of it, regardless of the facts, some damage is done. 

Melissa, when Obama’s campaign responded to this ad, his spokesman Bill Burton said it was shameful and perverse to use this legislation which was designed to protect kids, as an attack against a father of two young girls.  That counterattack could have been stronger, but it did remind everyone that Obama is a father.  Should that be part of the way he responds here?

LACEWELL:  I think it’s actually the core of how he needs to respond.  So bringing Sarah Palin into this race, part of what she’s done is make a claim that being a parent is part of her job qualifications for the vice presidency, you know, that she knows things because she’s a self-sacrificing parent. 

Well, if that’s the terrain on which we’re going to battle this out, we have another parent of young children - Barack Obama.  And I still think the single most powerful image from the DNC was at the end of Michelle Obama’s speech when she talked about Barack Obama driving her home with their newborn infant daughter in the car, through the snow in Chicago and kind of looking back over his shoulder and making sure she was OK and that the daughter was OK. 

It was not only kind of a powerful image about his domestic position, his role as protector and father, it was also a powerful metaphor for the idea of a strong leader navigating us through, you know, difficult terrain as a country and kind of trying to keep us safe.  So I think they should, you know, continuously revisit that image which I think was exceptionally powerful and very well done by Michelle. 

MADDOW:  Melissa Harris-Lacewell, political science professor at Princeton University, thank you so much for joining us tonight. 

LACEWELL:  Absolutely.  It’s a pleasure. 

MADDOW:  One reason John McCain and Sarah Palin may be busy trying to get us to focus on lipstick is it gives them a good reason to not focus on, say, Iraq.  Well, it sure looks like their plan is to stay indefinitely.  The folks hunting Bin Laden say they still have not recovered from the diversion of resources from Bin Laden to Baghdad.  What’s McCain’s plan for Iraq, anyone?  Somebody needs to talk me down about this, maybe by telling me what the plan is. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Credit where credit is due.  The Republicans manufactured a fake outrage distraction in this lipstick story that almost bought them a whole day of avoiding issues that matter.  Here’s Sen. McCain’s stump statement on one of those issues that matter, the war in Iraq.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Sen. Obama said - he said the surge wouldn’t succeed.  He said, “He couldn’t succeed.”  He still fails to acknowledge that he was wrong.  My friends, he’s wrong on national security, and he has a record.  This person is right on national security and she’s been right and she understands those issues and I’m proud of her. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  After President Bush announced yesterday that troop levels will stay the same through the end of his presidency and that he proposes that the next president bring home just 8,000 troops next February which would leave more American forces in Iraq indefinitely than were there before the surge. 

John McCain didn’t go on camera to comment on the subject, opting instead for a short, written statement, quoting, “Today’s announcement of additional withdrawals of American forces in Iraq demonstrates what success in our efforts there can look like.” 

Success means more troops there indefinitely than before the surge started?  Here’s what works me up.  A guy with a roughly 50-50 shot at being president will only talk about the surge which is over, and not about the war, because he would rather talk about lipstick and celebrities than explain to the American people that his vision of success in Iraq has American troops there until the end of time.  That’s what works me up. 

Here to try to talk me down is Matt Continetti, staff writer for the “Weekly Standard.”  Matt, delighted to have you here.  Thanks for joining us.  

MATT CONTINETTI, STAFF WRITER, “WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Thanks for having

me, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  I’m hoping you can talk me down.  Tell me that John McCain is willing to talk about the war in Iraq instead of only about the surge, which is over.  

CONTINETTI:  No, I partly agree with you.  I think neither candidate is really talking about Iraq these days because the polls show that the most important issue for the electorate is the economy.  And so, understandably then, both of them are trying to talk about the economy.  But I think there’s a reason that ...

MADDOW:  Well, there is a difference - I mean, Obama’s -

CONTINETTI:  ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) candidates focusing on the surge.  

MADDOW:  Obama does say he wants that within ...

CONTINETTI:  There’s reason ...

MADDOW:  Wait, hold on one second.  Obama does say he wants out within 16 months.  McCain will put no horizon like that on leaving, right?

CONTINETTI:  No.  But you’re misrepresenting Obama’s position, Rachel. 

He says he wants to try to get the combat troops out in 16 months. 

MADDOW:  Right.

CONTINETTI:  He still reserves a special reaction force there to which he doesn’t specify what exactly how many troops are going to be there.  And, in fact, when you look at what his advisers are saying publicly, they’re roughly going to have the same number of troops in Iraq at the end of that 16 months as probably would be there if you followed the Bush-McCain plan which is have this conditions-based withdrawal. 

So what we’re seeing when it comes to going forward in Iraq to my mind, anyway, is an actual convergence between the candidates, not a diversion.  Now, McCain is talking about the surge.  

MADDOW:  When does the Bush-McCain plan have troops out of Iraq by?

CONTINETTI:  Well, it doesn’t, clearly.  But Obama is not going to have the troops out of Iraq either.  Let’s get real, right? 

(CROSS TALK)

MADDOW:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) except a reaction force out within 16 months.  The thing that I’m trying to get at, Matt, and the reason I asked you join us, for which I’m grateful, is that I feel like McCain’s plan here is that troops don’t leave, this whole 100 years controversy. 

CONTINETTI:  Right.

MADDOW:  What he was saying, if you take him in context, was, “If they stop shooting at us, we have won the opportunity to stay there 100 years, 1,000 years, 10,000 years. 

CONTINETTI:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  Why would you want to keep Americans there indefinitely?

CONTINETTI:  No one wants to be there for 100 years.  McCain doesn’t want to be there for 100 years.  The aforementioned “FactCheck.org” which was just cited on your program has said that that’s a slander against McCain to say that he wants the war to go on for 100 years.  The point is now we’re all coalescing around this specific policy.  It’s a conditions-based withdrawal policy, Rachel.  Even Barack Obama now says that he wants to be a slow getting out of Iraq as we were hastily getting into Iraq.  

MADDOW:  The word would be “careful” not “slow.”  Not actually if you’re going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CONTINETTI:  “Careful” and “slow” basically amounts to the same thing, right?

MADDOW:  No, there’s actually a difference on the time frame here. 

CONTINETTI:  No, absolutely.  I think it’s very particular -

MADDOW:  Matt, I’m sorry that we don’t have more time to go through this.  We’re going to have you back to get into this in more detail in the future.  Thank you for joining us.

CONTINETTI:  I hope so.  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Matt Continetti from the “Weekly Standard.”  Thanks for joining us tonight.  

In just a moment we’re going to get just enough pop culture from Kent Jones so I can be allowed to interact with other people outside news-land.  That’s coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Now it’s time for “Just Enough” with Kent Jones who force feeds me just enough pop culture so that I can be allowed out in public.  Hi, Kent.  What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  It’s fashion week here in New York City. 

MADDOW:  Traffic.  That’s what I know.

JONES:  The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and lovely amassed in Bryant Park to preview the spring designer collections like these.  Like we’re seeing here.  

MADDOW:  She wasn’t allowed the pants.  

JONES:  Apparently not.  It doesn’t come with pants, not that one. 

And like this. 

MADDOW:  They have no pants there either.  

JONES:  Yes.  Very nice.  

MADDOW:  They are cutting back, saving fabric money.  

JONES:  Experts agree that for spring, 2009, the two accessories that everyone is going to want are a job and affordable healthcare.  And one of those asymmetrical one-shoulder goddess dresses.  I get that. 

In music, our increasingly contentious presidential campaign has spilled over into the world of Puerto Rican hip-hop stars.  Last month, after reggae eminent Daddy Yankee threw his support behind John McCain, rival superstar Fat Joe who has Obama’s back, called Yankee a sellout.  And today, he told the “New York Post,” quote, “I am still disgusted and grossed out by Yankee’s endorsement of McCain.  Yankee is not only a sellout but also naive on where McCain stands on the issues.  Any way you look at it, McCain’s position on the inner city, on universal healthcare, the economy, war, immigration and the housing crisis will not help our people in urban communities or the working class and poor folk in America.” 

Bam! This isn’t over, everybody.  Fat Joe said he is willing to debate Daddy Yankee on the issues and, quote, “educate him.” 

MADDOW:  Wow.

JONES:  So, who do you like in the Fat Joe-Daddy Yankee debate, Rachel?

MADDOW:  You obviously have to like whichever one can rhyme stuff with NAFTA, that sort of thing.

JONES:  NAFTA - very nice.  

MADDOW:  Interesting.  That’s kind of a blistering tirade for Mr. Joe.  

JONES:  Absolutely.  We should have him on.  

MADDOW:  Daddy Yankee is very strong on the trade agreements, but I would go with Mr. Joe on that one.  

JONES:  OK.  You could moderate.  

MADDOW:  I could.  Oh, my god.  That would be awesome.  Thank you, Kent.  I appreciate it.  

And thank you at home for watching tonight.  You can E-mail us at rachel@msnbc.com.  And you can hear my radio show at 6:00 p.m. Eastern coast-to-coast on Air America Radio.  “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN,” including a special comment tonight, starts right now.  Good night.  

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.

WATCH 'THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW' WEEKDAYS AT 9:00 P.M. ON MSNBC.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,