updated 9/12/2008 2:15:23 PM ET 2008-09-12T18:15:23

Guest: Richard Clarke

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST (voice-over):  September 11, 2008. 

(BELL TOLLING)

MADDOW:  Seven years since this age began.  And today this age’s only president dedicated the first memorial to the Americans killed seven years ago today. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Seven years ago at

this hour, a doomed airliner plunged from the sky, split the rock and steel of this building, and changed our world forever. 

MADDOW:  The men who would succeed President Bush put down their rhetorical arms today and met at the site of Ground Zero in New York City to remember and to pay tribute. 

And this evening senators Barack Obama and John McCain met again in a civil setting to talk about public service. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  I think the best way

to commemorate and the best way to show our appreciation for and love and sympathy for their families, for those who have sacrificed, is to serve our country. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  We believe in individual responsibility and self reliance, but we also believe in mutual responsibility, in neighborliness, in a sense that we are—we are committed to something larger than ourselves. 

MADDOW:  On a day when political back and forth was suspended, there is news on one political story.  The Republican woman who would be vice president, Sarah Palin, saw her son off to war and met the national media face to face for the first time. 

With politics on pause for a few hours more, we reflect on the day: on the McCain/Obama joint appearance, on life during wartime since 9/11, and we look ahead to the resumption of the political campaign in the morning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  Good evening and welcome to MSNBC’s continuing special coverage of the presidential candidates at the service nation summit.  It took place earlier this evening at the end of a day when the nation marked the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a day when the campaign ads went dark and when the harsh speeches and the overt politics paused. 

But the campaigning did not stop altogether.  And tonight, John McCain and Barack Obama appeared sequentially at Columbia University to speak about public service and, yes, to score some political points. 

For the next hour, we will report on tonight’s candidates’ forum, on this nation’s remembrance of the September 11 attacks, on the continuing political resonance of how the government has and hasn’t responded to those attacks, and on the campaign, which in just a few hours will begin again in full force. 

We’ll also hear for the first time some of Sarah Palin’s first major interview since her selection to be Senator McCain’s running mate.  She was questioned about U.S. policies overseas, including Russia, Iran’s nukes and the meaning of the Bush doctrine.  Her answers are more than—more than a little interesting. 

But we begin with the presidential candidates at tonight’s candidates’ forum about service to America, especially since the 9/11 attacks.  Senator McCain was asked about community organizing after his running mate, Sarah Palin, specifically denigrated Barack Obama’s time after college as a community organizer. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, JOURNALIST:  Senator, at the Republican convention, a couple of speakers, most notably your running mate, vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, made somewhat derisive comments about Senator Obama’s experience as a community organizer.  I’ve heard you say—you haven’t taken that tone. 

So I guess my question is, are you saying to others in your campaign and your supporters that that’s not the kind of language you want to hear?  How do you—how are you approaching that?

MCCAIN:  First of all, this is a tough business.  Second of all, I think the tone of this whole campaign would have been very different if Senator Obama had accepted my request for us to appear in town hall meetings all over America, the same way Jack Kennedy and Barry Goldwater agreed to do so.  I know that, because I’ve been in enough campaigns. 

Look, Governor Palin was responding to the criticism of her inexperience in her job as a mayor in a small town.  That’s what she was responding to.  Of course I respect community organizers.  Of course I respect people who serve their community.  And Senator Obama’s record there is outstanding. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Let me interrupt here just for a second.  Here’s why this is important.  Here’s why this question was asked. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  I guess a small-

town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  OK.  So that’s the relevant context here.  Now, here’s the rest of Senator McCain’s answer tonight. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I praise anyone who serves this nation in capacities that, frankly, we all know that could have been far more financially rewarding to individuals, rather than doing what they did. 

WOODRUFF:  Less significant than the work of a small-town mayor?

MCCAIN:  I think a small-town mayor has very great responsibilities. 

They have responsibility for the budget.  They have hiring and firing of people.  They have great responsibilities.  They have to stand for election.  I admire mayors. 

I’m—listen, mayors have the toughest job, I think, in America.  It’s easy for me to go to Washington and, frankly, be somewhat divorced from the day-to-day challenges people have.  So I admire mayors.  I admire anyone who is willing to serve their community and their country. 

And that’s what this is all about.  And this is what today is all about.  And we should set aside this partisanship, at least for this day, praise one another for our dedication to this country.  That’s what I do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator McCain there, earning himself a big round of applause from the crowd. 

Senator Obama went second in this forum.  The two candidates did not share the stage.  McCain went first.  He left the stage.  Then Obama joined the stage. 

When Obama took part in the forum he was asked to comment about the same community organizer insult controversy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I was surprised by the—several remarks around community organizing and belittling it.  You know, when I think about the choice I made as a 23-, 24-year-old to spend three years working with churches to help people help themselves, no insult to the president of this fine institution, but it was the best education I ever had.  Because it taught me that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. 

There are so many ways of serving voluntarily.  You don’t have to take the same path I did.  But that’s something that—that’s a message that I think everyone should want to encourage, and I hope the Republicans want to encourage that, as well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  And that, folks, is about as heated as it got.  We saved the really cooking parts and brought it to you right there. 

So don’t be fooled into thinking that this was a totally nonpartisan, non-campaign event, though.  The candidates were trying to appear nonpartisan, but they both did try to score as many political points as they could. 

Joining us now is Chris Matthews, who’s the host of “HARDBALL” here on MSNBC.  Thanks for being here, Chris. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  The spat over community organizing, you just heard that—that tape there.  That’s become a flash point in this campaign.  Do you think it was resolved or do you think it was made worse?

MATTHEWS:  Well, it’s not any worse, but Rudy Giuliani was far worse than she was.  I mean, Rudy Giuliani ridiculed this from day one in his keynote speech. 

Clearly, it’s a way to connotate [SIC] to connect with inner city south Chicago neighborhoods.  It’s to make him somewhat remote from the voters they’re trying to read.  It’s clear politics, and it’s like the lipstick thing.  I mean, it’s clearly the kind of thing that wouldn’t happen if they’re sitting next to each other. 

You don’t shoot spitballs at a person a foot from you.  You don’t hang in effigy the guy having dinner with you.  Clearly, when they’re close to each other, people like McCain stop doing that stuff.  I mean, when you share a room with them...

MADDOW:  Do you think—do you think that attack, that community organizer reference, then, is an—sort of an oblique race reference or is it just a difference reference?

MATTHEWS:  No.  Well, it’s more complicated than that.  But let’s think.  We think Al Sharpton. 

MADDOW:  Well said.

MATTHEWS:  We think the kind of person that would not be appealing to the voter they’re after.  Let’s put it that way.  Let’s make it completely referential and relative, rather than calling it clearly what we don’t know. 

But the use of the lipstick thing was brilliant, because no one really thought that Barack Obama was taking a direct shot.  In fact, I wish that the—I like Richard Stengel and Judy Woodruff.  They’re great correspondents and journalists, but I thought it would be good if they had said to him, John McCain, when they had him in the hot seat there, “Are you saying that your opponent has called your running mate a pig?”  Just right to his face.  Because his ads say it.  His people say it.  His money says it.  Force him to say it.  Because John McCain would not say it.  He would never say Barack Obama called Governor Palin a pig. 

Yet all the time, the last two or three days have been focused on that very charge from that campaign, with his name and his money on the ad.  But make him say it. 

By the way, we should always do that.  When there’s some slime being thrown over the fence, we should go over the other side of the fence, grab the candidate and say, “Did you throw that slime, you personally?”  And that’s why I like these face-to-face.  They missed the chance to catch him on that. 

MADDOW:  Well, part of that is because this forum was supposed to be about public service.  It’s supposed to be a post-partisan, nonpartisan, let’s not draw contrasts with each other event.  I’m still not exactly sure about the connection between the 9/11 anniversary and the public service forum but...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, there is, there is, there is.  Let me tell you what it is. 

MADDOW:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  I was surprised by it, too.  But not only did 9/11 inspire a lot of high regard for public service that wasn’t there before.  And you remember, Rachel, back in—right after 9/11, when you’d go by a restaurant in New York, a firefighter truck would go by, a fire truck would go by, and people would all stand up and applaud.  They’d applaud police officers.  Anyone that served as first responders that horrible day received a level of recognition they’d never gotten before.  And I think that did stir us for a long time. 

My nephew called me this morning, at 7:30 this morning, saying how much the day meant to him, that he was so reflective on the day and the fact that he had gone back to teach at his high school, a simple course, a basic course in personal economics, just because he was inspired to give back because of this day.  So I think we have to notice that, that that’s going on. 

MADDOW:  Well, that’s—I guess that’s the real key here, to have had this forum on 9/11, to—and it is about public service.  And I think you’re right, that it is keyed to the respect that we had for both public service and the spirit of volunteerism in the country right after 9/11.  I think you’re right there. 

But have these campaigns made it clear how they would inflect Bush’s post-9/11 policies, how they would have responded to 9/11 differently?  Nine-eleven, it’s not just a spirit thing.  There are some specific things. 

MATTHEWS:  Rachel, you’re supposed to be tough.  That’s the lowest bar you’ve ever set.  It is impossible to fail as much as our president has. 

For a couple of days—in fact, for a couple of weeks, President Bush had—he had—he grabbed this country’s emotional—our nervous system.  He had us in his hands.  He was out there like—I don’t know—King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone.  He understood how angry we were about getting hit.  And this was across the ideological spectrum. 

We wanted to get people who were willing to make people decide, on the 100th floor of a building, whether to jump from that building or be fried like bacon.  Anybody that would do that to a human being, regardless of ideology or religion or fervor or any historic wrong done by the west to the east, anything doesn’t justify that kind of human—inhuman behavior. 

And he said, “Let’s go get the guys who planned this.”  The country was together.  Let’s go get them. 

And then somehow Dick Cheney and Wolfy and those guys and Hadley, and all those people around him, Addington, all those people, whoever it was—

I think it was Wolfowitz, primarily because he got to me with his harangue for three and a half hours at a lunch one day, we got to go to Iraq. 

He split the country in half right down the middle on an issue that could have divided—could have united us for years and years to come, the chance to have a united enemy and a united country and the call to arms for that. 

Instead, for ideological reasons, this drift of new conservatism, whatever it’s based on—I’ve never figured it out—to drive us into Iraq and put the American army in a defensive deployment for years and years to come.  And they’re still stuck there to the point they can’t—the president says they can’t spare a man or a woman.  They’re that stuck.  You know, as Keith points out every night, all these years after declaring victory. 

And he did it in a way that divided the country as a country.  I don’t think it was possible once we got in the Iraq war to get us all together in this national jamboree of purpose.  Once you divide us on a war issue, it’s very hard to say, “Oh, let’s together—let’s get together on this community action program,” or “Let’s get together on this cause in fighting a disease or something.” 

He divided us.  And I’m not sure what the motive was.  I think it was this ideology.  I’ll just call it that. 

MADDOW:  Well, but let me ask you specifically, though, how implicated John McCain is in that.  I mean, John McCain did an interview with you on September 12, 2001, in which he raised the prospect of going after Iraq.  He listed all these countries that he wanted to go after.  He said, “We’re taking about Syria, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and others” on the morning of 9/11, right after the towers fell he raised the prospects of... 

MATTHEWS:  Wasn’t it Michael Ledeen?  Didn’t he get it mixed up with Michael Ledeen, one of the real far-out whack jobs?  No, there are so many ideologues I’ve had on the show, I didn’t realize it was John McCain.  Your research is good. 

I mean, there’s so many of these guys wanted to go in, you know, Adelman.  All these neocons were, one after another.  Wolfy, let’s go, go, go.  Let’s get in there.  Kagan.  How many Kagans are there, by the way?  Ron Kagan, Robert Kagan, Kimberly Kagan.  There’s so many of these hawks out there that wanted to go one, two, three, to the Arab countries, yes. 

MADDOW:  Chris, is John McCain one of those guys?  I mean, John McCain raised the prospect of Iraq on 9/11, on 9/12, over and over again in October.  In January of 2002, he stood on an aircraft carrier and yelled, “Baghdad next.”  I mean, is...

MATTHEWS:  He’s had this strange affair, love affair with people like Bill Kristol.  He has been in the embrace of the neoconservatives. 

I’ll say in his defense, he’s no chicken hawk.  He served his country, unlike a lot of the academics around him who love this cause of war.  His kids served.  He served well and loyally. 

And John McCain has never held it against others like me for—I served in the Peace Corps.  And I’ve known John forever.  And he’s never given anything to me but high regard for that, shared regard for service to the country in different ways. 

So I’m not going to put on him the same onus I’d put on people who would send others to do their fighting for them, because John McCain sends his family to do his fighting for him.  So I put him in a different category, much different. 

But you’ve done great research there, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Chris, it’s great to have you talk with us about this. 

Thanks for being here. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks, and good luck on your show. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

On a day when both John McCain and Barack Obama took an off ramp from the campaign trail, at least sort of, two of the reporters who cover them every day, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and Lee Cowan, will be joining us next to give us their reaction to tonight’s forum. 

Later we’ll also be joined by former Bush administration anti-terror expert Richard Clarke. 

Seven years after September 11, the American government’s response to those attacks, as Chris said, remains unfinished business.  Two men are vying to inherit the presidential to-do list that has six years and 364 days now, has had—begun with get Osama bin Laden and destroy Al Qaeda.  Are we any closer?  Our special coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Tonight’s forum on national service marked a milestone of sorts in the 2008 presidential race: the first joint appearance of senators John McCain and Barack Obama since accepting their respective parties’ nominations for the presidency. 

To a certain extent, partisan politics were set aside tonight in favor of a civil discussion on one of the ultimate feel-good civic topics: public service in America. 

Senator McCain using the opportunity to sing the praises of service but then pivoting quickly to criticize Senator Obama a second time for not accepting an invitation months ago to tour the country in joint town-hall appearances. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I’ve said repeatedly I think Senator Obama has inspired millions of Americans who otherwise wouldn’t have been involved in the political process.  That’s just a fact. 

But I think Americans would be helped enormously if we stood on this stage together tonight and talked about national service, all four of us, rather than three and one going on and then the other. 

And, again, I hope that Senator Obama will accept my request.  Let’s go around America.  Let’s listen to the hopes and dreams and aspirations of the American people and respond to them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator Obama passed up the opportunity to respond to McCain’s challenge, choosing instead to salute McCain’s record of service to the country. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Senator McCain’s service is legendary.  And one of the wonderful things about this campaign, I think, is his ability to share that story and, himself, inspire a whole new generation of young people to model what he did for this country. 

And so I think that one of the primary objectives of my presidency would be to lift up the opportunities for service in a bipartisan fashion so that we take it out of politics. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Tonight’s rare joint appearance by the candidates brings with it an equally rare occurrence for us at MSNBC: our intrepid, well-traveled campaign correspondents actually together in the same place at the same time.  The campaigns are essentially never together, so neither are NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell, covering the McCain campaign, and NBC’s Lee Cowan, covering the Obama campaign.  But tonight they join us from the same spot, from Columbia University, the site of tonight’s forum. 

Kelly and Lee, thanks for being here. 

LEE COWAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Thanks for having us.  The planets aligned.  We’re all in the same place for once. 

KELLY O’DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  We’re pen pals.  We’re finally

getting a chance to get together. 

MADDOW:  Plus, we’re saving a ton of money on the two different camera shots, which is very exciting. 

Let’s start with the obvious here.  I mean, what was—what was each campaign hoping to accomplish tonight?

Kelly, I’ll ask you to go first. 

O’DONNELL:  Well, this is an opportunity to sort of add some pacing to the campaigns.  Since your viewers are really into politics, I think they’ll understand that campaigns benefit from having some ups and some downs.  We’ve just had a series of very rough days. 

This is a day that much was devoted to the solemnity of the memorial, seven years after 9/11.  And this evening, allowing voters to see both of these candidates in a very civil, pleasant environment, talking about issues like national service, where really, everybody is behind that.  There’s no downside to it.  So it gives voters a chance to see a kind, pleasant side of both of these candidates. 

Now, we know the tough stuff is coming back again.  But voters often say that they don’t want to see an endless slog of negativity, even though it can be very effective.  So this is one of those pacing moments, where candidates are able to get out their views on an important topic like service, but they get to do it in a very pleasant way. 

MADDOW:  Lee, are you—go ahead.

COWAN:  I think from Senator Obama’s standpoint, I mean, this was—this was really—you know, there was very little political risk in this for him.  I mean, almost this was a platform to him—for him to essentially instill all the things that he’s been talking about on the campaign trail for the last 19 months.  I mean, national service, service to the country, community service, all those kind of things have been sort of the cornerstone of his campaign. 

So he came here to Columbia.  It’s his alma mater.  He’s on his home turf.  He’s talking about the things that he’s been talking about the whole campaign.  It wasn’t particularly—he didn’t have to go very far on a limb, really, to talk about any of these issues, because these are the things he’s been consistently talking about. 

It did give him a forum, though, to go into some more detail.  These are things that he talks a lot about on the campaign trail at some of these town-hall meetings that we’ve been to countless times.  But it’s not something that a national audience gets to see, at least in this—in this breath of time, really, for them to go into of the specifics of these ideas. 

O’DONNELL:  That’s a very good point, Lee, because we sit through this day after day, hearing the events which often take 45 minutes to an hour.  And we hear them talk about service pretty much on a day-to-day basis, but that often is not the topic that bubbles up into news coverage. 

And so viewers tend to hear more of the points of conflict or accusations between sides, whereas it was all very familiar territory for us, because both candidates obviously advocate service in different ways, but it’s something it’s easy for them to get behind. 

COWAN:  Yes, and I think it is something at these town-hall meetings that—those are the kind of questions that voters are asking these candidates a lot.  They are talking about what they’re going to do about education.

And, for example, Senator Obama tonight, when he outlined again his plan for the tax credit if you’re going to go to school.  And if you do get to go to school, you’re going to have to pay something back, go to the—go to the—go and do service in some other country, for example.  Those are the kind of things that voters are asking about.  And he doesn’t really get a chance to make the headlines very often.  Unless (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

MADDOW:  NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and NBC’s Lee Cowan.  Thanks for joining us, both of you.  We’re going to check back in with you in a little while. 

The attacks of September 11 made the world seem smaller, and at home, they made Americans ask how citizens of a country as powerful as ours could be unwarned and unprotected from the assault that we faced seven years ago today. 

Coming up, former security czar Richard Clarke on the post-9/11 to-do list, the candidates vying to be the next president of the United States are inheriting from the current one. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The first permanent memorial to 9/11 victims was dedicated today at the Pentagon.  Ground Zero is still a construction site.  Memorials in New York and in Pennsylvania are likely to be years from completion.

But at the quickly rebuilt Pentagon, a two-acre memorial site was dedicated today.  President Bush, on hand for the dedication, delivered a speech that presented the response to 9/11 as essentially a completed series of tasks, part of recent American history. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Since 9/11, our troops have taken the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we do not have to face them here at home.  Thanks to the brave men and women and all those who work to keep us safe, there has not been another attack on our soil in 2,557 days. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Leaving aside the anthrax attacks after 9/11, the fact that there was an attack on American soil 2,557 days ago is still to some extent an unanswered punch against this country. 

Two wars have been launched since 9/11, two wars with no end dates yet in sight.  But Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri and even Mullah Omar of the Taliban remain at large.  This despite the president’s vow in the days and weeks following the attacks to bring the responsible parties to justice. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.

I want justice.  And there’s an old poster out west, as I recall, that said, wanted, dead or alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  And yet it appears that it will likely fall to the next president, not this one, to hunt down Osama bin Laden to destroy the terror network that expert opinion says it’s back at the strength it had seven years ago today.  But even with the biggest job of the 9/11 era yet undone the president pressed on with a speech that took on the tone today of a victory lap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The day will come when most Americans have no living memory of the events of September 11th.  When they visit this memorial, they will learn that the 21st century began with a great struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror.  They will learn that this generation of Americans met its duty, we did not tire, we did not falter and we did not fail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Joining us now former White House national security official

and it should be noted Barack Obama campaign spokesman—also author of the new book “Your Government Failed You,” Richard Clarke.  Richard Clarke, thanks for joining us.

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL:  Rachel, great to be with

you.

MADDOW:  Was the president’s speech today sort of a defense, maybe even a preemptive defense of his post 9/11 legacy?

CLARKE:  Well, he said we did not tire, we did not fail.  We did, apparently.  Because here we are seven years after the attack.  And we have not succeeded in destroying al Qaeda or even capturing bin Laden.  That’s twice as long as it took America to defeat Hitler and the Nazis.  And with all due respect to the power of al Qaeda when they attacked us on 9/11, they’re not the Nazis.  They’re not Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  We were able to knock them both off in half the time.

MADDOW:  Putting the president’s assessment aside for a moment of his own legacy, what is at the top of the next president’s post 9/11 to-do list.  Obviously, it starts with Osama bin Laden.  It starts with destroying the al Qaeda terror network.  But what else does the next president need to have at the top of that list, things that could have been done since 9/11 but haven’t been done?

CLARKE:  Rachel, I think it’s important to point out that the reason al Qaeda hasn’t been destroyed is that people like George Bush and john McCain, who was egging him on, pulled our assets out of Afghanistan, pulled out the Special Forces, pulled out the intelligence assets, pulled out the Predators, and moved them to Iraq.  And then pretended and tried to bluff the American people into thinking that Iraq had something to do with it.  The first job of the new president is to get out of Iraq and simultaneously to destroy al Qaeda.

And those two are linked because we really don’t have enough troops to send to Afghanistan as long as we have the current force levels in Iraq.

But then we have a more important job in some respects, which is to do what we said we would do on the days after 9/11, to reduce our vulnerabilities here at home, to build up our homeland security capabilities.  Under this administration, homeland security has been a pork operation.  Higher percentage of political appointees in the Homeland Security Department than in any other federal department.  That has to end.  Security has to be given back to the professionals and we have to reduce our vulnerabilities here at home.

MADDOW:  The 9/11 Commission is now disbanded, but members of the 9/11 Commission who wanted to continue with their work formed a bipartisan working group that looked at weapons of mass destruction and how far we’ve come since 9/11 in making progress against the threat of a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.  This week they released a report which graded the U.S. government as having a “C”, sort of a gentleman’s “C” in how much progress has been made.  What should be the next president do that the last president has not done in terms of stopping the threat of weapons of mass destruction specifically?

I’m still scared about the idea that the smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud.  I want to know that the government is doing something to make that less of a threat.

CLARKE:  Well, that phrase you just used, the smoking gun, mushroom cloud, that was what the president and Condi Rice said about Iraq where there were no nuclear weapons.  Unfortunately there are in other countries and nuclear materiel that could be made into a radio logical bomb.

And as the commission report indicates, that material has not been secured.  There are hundreds of tons of unsecured nuclear material around the world.  And the president has to go after that.  He has to find an international movement to lock down nuclear materials so that even when al Qaeda is destroyed someone else could build a nuclear bomb or radiological dispersal device if this material isn’t controlled.

They said they really cared about the threat of a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists but then did nothing to control the materials that terrorists could use to make such a weapon.

MADDOW:  It is incredible that seven years after 9/11 we are having this conversation right now about what needs to be done to protect us from the possibility of a terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction.  It’s literally not credible to me, but here we are.  Richard Clarke, former White House national security director, thank you so much for joining us.

CLARKE:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Coming up, today’s other big political event.  Governor Sarah Palin’s first face-to-face meeting with the press.  Was it good politics or a bridge to nowhere?  We’ll hear what Sarah Palin has to say.  We’ll break it down with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Though the politics of this day were appropriately less public and about 500 degrees less heated than the breathless last three weeks, the campaigning never really was completely on hold today.

In New York City Barack Obama sat down for lunch with former President Bill Clinton, their first private meeting since Obama defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.  And here’s the news flash, Bill Clinton says Obama is going to win handily.

Meantime Sarah Palin was back on her home tundra, the Alaska governor spent part of the day sitting down with ABC’s Charles Gibson for the first part of her first national television interview.

Gibson spent part of the interview on foreign policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS ANCHOR:  Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?

GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In what respect,

Charlie?

PALIN:  In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON:  The Bush—well, what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN:  His worldview?

GIBSON:  No, the Bush doctrine, annunciated September 2002, before the Iraq War.

PALIN:  I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell-bent on destroying our nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Charles Gibson later explained the Bush Doctrine, what it is, to an apparently flummoxed Sarah Palin.  He then turned to Russia, Georgia, NATO and America’s role in European conflict.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  And we’ve got to keep an eye on Russia.  For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country unprovoked is unacceptable and we have to .

GIBSON:  You believe unprovoked?

PALIN:  I do believe unprovoked.  We have to keep our eyes on Russia under the leadership there.

GIBSON:  Favor putting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO?

PALIN:  Ukraine definitely, yes.  And Georgia.  Putin thinks otherwise.  Obviously he thinks otherwise.

GIBSON:  Under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN:  Perhaps so.  I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  War against Russia, perhaps so.  Palin later addressed the fight against terrorists and her view of unilateral intervention in places like Pakistan.  Quoting, she said, “We must do whatever it takes and we must not blink.  I believe that America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hell bent on destroying America and our allies.”

It remains to be seen what her opponents will do with this assertion, which appears to contradict her running mate’s position and to agree with Barack Obama’s call for limited unilateral strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan.  That is an Obama proposal which John McCain assailed.  Joining us now is Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent.  Andrea, it’s great to see you.  Thanks for being here.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  It’s great to be here. 

Congratulations on the show.

MADDOW:  Thank you.  It’s very exciting.

MITCHELL:  Yeah.

MADDOW:  I do went to talk to you about Governor Palin’s interview.  That was fascinating.  First, do you have any thoughts on tonight’s forum, any news made, any big political impact you see coming from it?

MITCHELL:  Well, I think the impact is that voters, viewers were able to see these two candidates talking substantively about community service, not disagreeing a whole lot and, in fact, it was a laying down of arms.  It was a serious conversation with smart people, exactly what the voters have been asking for, many people believe, after 48 hours or longer of some of the most combative, angry, misguided attacks and counterattacks and poorly defended positions of this entire campaign season.

MADDOW:  It was, I think, fascinating to see the candidates stay away from contrasts, but yet still try to show the sides of them we would see them as president.  You don’t see presidents in verbal combat very much.  You see them in conversation more often.

MITCHELL:  And they both agree on community service.  They agree really on the role of government in community service.  You heard John McCain, a war hero, veteran, talk a bit about the way he kind of developed through osmosis that family tradition which goes all the way back to the Revolutionary War practically.  But believing very much in Peace Corps and Americorps.  And Barack Obama, I found interesting, praising Bill Clinton as one of his role models.  That’s not something you would have heard back during the New Hampshire primary.

MADDOW:  That’s exactly right.  In Governor Palin’s first interview tonight with Charlie Gibson, it is those answers on foreign policy, some of which we just highlighted that are sort of rocketing across the blogosphere tonight raising a lot of eyebrows.  Did something important politically happen in that interview?

MITCHELL:  I think so.  I think, first of all, sometimes it is a good idea to blink.  I mean, that’s what diplomats do is do a lot of blinking.

MADDOW:  There was a lot of blinking in 1963 around Cuba, I seem to recall.  Yeah.

MITCHELL:  Yeah.  You kind of try to avoid going to war when you can.  Sort of a first option.  But at the same time, she seemed uncertain.  She didn’t clearly know about the Bush Doctrine.  There is a possibility that the impact of it to viewers, to the people out there who find her very appealing will be different, that perhaps the male interviewer looks down condescendingly at her, that it was patronizing.  I looked around and I talked to some of the women in our newsroom and I think that there could be a different impact that we have to take a step back.

On the nuts and bolts of foreign policy, not ready for primetime, and it was a pretty good road map for Joe Biden and the Democrats in how to prepare for the debate.

MADDOW:  Do you think there’s—there will be political hay made of the difference between Palin and McCain, apparently on Pakistan?  I mean, McCain and his surrogates have gone very hard against Obama on this idea he would support unilateral strikes in Pakistan.  Palin essentially said tonight she’d support the same thing although she didn’t seem confident in that answer.

MITCHELL:  I think you’re going to see a lot of women surrogates for Barack Obama because he’s not going to take her on.  They have decided, Rachel.  You can see with Hillary Clinton—by the way, the only woman surrogate who is not going to take her on—Obama called Clinton Monday night for thanking her to go to Florida.  There’s been a decision made not to go after Sarah Palin because it’s elevating her, making her the focus.  They have to get back on message.

I think very soon you’re going to see maybe even by tomorrow in New Hampshire you’re going to see them get back on the offense and try to go after John McCain.  They know that they have to do that.

MADDOW:  Even if Senator Clinton and you’re saying the rest of the Obama campaign is not going to go after Sarah Palin, should we expect to see more Bill Clinton, more Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail for Obama in the days and weeks ahead?  We certainly saw that, saw some very—a couple of very happy politicos at that sandwiches meeting today in Harlem.

MITCHELL:  I think they—first of all, that some surrogates will have to go after Sarah Palin.  This is an opportunity and they do need to do that, not Hillary Clinton.  One has to think after watching the dynamic up in Harlem at lunch today, what if Barack Obama had picked up the phone and called Bill Clinton and made peace a lot earlier, Hillary Clinton might have been the running mate and we would not be talking about Sarah Palin.

MADDOW:  NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, great to see you.  Thanks for being here.

MITCHELL:  You too.  Great to be here.

MADDOW:  Tomorrow the presidential campaign resumes with a vengeance.  Next, NBC campaign correspondents Lee Cowan and Kelly O’Donnell look ahead to where the Obama and McCain campaigns are headed next.  It is game on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  For most of the day, John McCain and Barack Obama put their presidential ambitions on hold.  No stump speeches were given.  No radio or TV ads ran and there was no talk of lipstick or pigs.  But today’s day of unity is done.  Playing nice is over.  Game back on at midnight tonight.  So what can we expect from the campaigns tomorrow?

Back with us from Columbia University, the site of tonight’s presidential forum, our Kelly O’Donnell with the McCain campaign and Lee Cowan with the Obama camp.  Thanks for joining us again, you two.

LEE COWAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Sure.

KELLY O’DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good to see you.

MADDOW:  Lee, what’s on the schedule for the campaigns tomorrow?

COWAN:  Well, for Barack Obama what they’re suggesting is they are going to strike back hard and it’s going to be all about the economy, the economy, the economy.  That’s the issue that they think is really in their corner.  They’ve had a bit of trouble, lately, they’ve seen John McCain’s numbers go up in the polls in terms of people thinking he has a better hand on the economy than Barack Obama does.  They want to start hitting that again and they want to start drawing those comparisons.

We’re going to see him in New Hampshire tomorrow which is one of the states they think will be a very key state and we’ll also see on Saturday - - they’ll still be in New Hampshire but Joe Biden will be joining them—that is the first time they’ve been together, actually out campaigning together in quite some time and then later on in the week they are going to be going out west talking about energy and the economy in some of those big western states that they really think are back in play this time around and so does the McCain campaign as well.

MADDOW:  Kelly, what’s on .

O’DONNELL:  And for John McCain tomorrow will be—you know, we’ve been talking a lot in recent days when we looked at the polling about what’s happened among white women voters who have been responding to John McCain and Sarah Palin with a big swing.  So feeding into that a bit more tomorrow, John McCain will appear on a couple of shows that have large women audiences, “The View” and Rachael Ray.

Now, John McCain likes to say that he’s a great barbecue chef, so I believe with Rachael Ray he’ll be doing a bit of that.  So it’s a bit of that looser, lighter, non-traditional news audience that they’re trying to reach.  And they feel that that’s very valuable because it allows voters to see John McCain and I’m sure when Senator Obama goes on those as well.  You see them in a slightly different way.  They can joke a little bit.  They might have a couple of questions that are on the news of the day but it allows more of the personality to come through.

And that’s something we’ll see tomorrow.  Now, staffers and surrogates won’t be in that nice venue necessarily.  And so they will certainly be ready to respond to whatever the Obama campaign puts forward.  They have always at the ready ads ready to go, points ready to dismiss to all of us, to send out to all of us if things bubble up.  So it’s into that rapid reaction time.  But on the planned scheduled, tomorrow looks like a nice day, if you will, for John McCain.

MADDOW:  Lee, in terms of the non non-traditional forums, that looser, lighter setting we’re hearing some noises that Barack Obama may be making an appearance on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend.

COWAN:  It is.  They were keeping it hush-hush but the campaign confirmed he will be on “Saturday Night Live” on Saturday.  He’s not hosting it.  It is going to be one of those sort of walk on cameo appearances like he did during Halloween, the last time he was on—I think that was the last time he was on—anyway, it was a very brief appearance.  This comes right after he did David Letterman was sort of a way—I think when the lipstick comment came out, it was a way to defuse that in a way that was a little bit light-hearted.  He was able to get his point across but to do it with someone like David Letterman made it seem for the Obama campaign anyway not quite as serious.  It was a little lighter.  He could sort of brush it off, this is silly season in politics.

And so I think that’s going to be some of the things you may see on “Saturday Night Live.”  We don’t know.  They’re still saying they are not exactly sure what the skit is going to be.  It’s undecided at this point.

MADDOW:  Kelly O’Donnell and Lee Cowan, thanks for joining us.

COWAN:  You bet.

MADDOW:  On a day that should always be bigger than politics, there was politics today.  When we come back, some final thoughts on September 11th, 2008.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The president of the United States and the men who want to succeed him all expressed their thoughts publicly on the meaning of this anniversary today.  Among other things President Bush exalted America’s response to 9/11.  Senator McCain, the country’s sacrifice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  There has not been another attack on our soil in 2,557 days.  We did not tire.  We did not falter.  And we did not fail.  They will learn that freedom prevailed because the desire for liberty lives in the heart of every man, woman and child on earth.

MCCAIN:  No American living then should ever forget the heroism that occurred in the skies above this field on September 11th, 2001.  They and very possibly I owe our lives to the passengers who summoned the courage and love necessary to deprive our depraved and hateful enemies their terrible triumph.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Barack Obama turned to the fight that continues saying, “On 9/11, Americans across our great country came together to stand with the families of the victims.  Let us renew that spirit of service and that sense of common purpose.  Let us remember that the terrorists’ responsible for 9/11 are still at large and must still be brought to justice.”

Today will likely mark the last moment of pause before we choose the next president of this country.  Until November 4th we’ll no doubt be overwhelmed by poll numbers, political attacks and speeches and gaffes and counter gaffes and outreaches real and contrived and we will even have moments of substantive discussion of the issues.  So take this last moment’s pause before the bruising sometimes mindless campaign starts again in about an hour to note the lessons about government and country that the horror of 9/11 and the difficult aftermath taught us.

Today we’re embroiled if two wars our government has no annunciated mission to complete in order to end either.

Osama bin Laden, whose nihilist madness orchestrated the most tragic day in this country’s history is assumed to be living in nuclear-armed Pakistan in an ungoverned wilderness where we can’t find him.

This week, the Partnership for a Secure America which grew out of the 9/11 Commission gave the U.S. government a “C” grade on the effort to protect America from chemical, biological and nuclear threats, a “C” after seven years of urgently work.  The Rand corporation estimated al Qaeda, America’s greatest enemy in the world has restored its strength to pre-9/11 levels.

As we turn our attention back to the presidential campaign, to the choice we will make in November, let September 11th, 2008 remind us of what we require from our leaders and our government, competence.  Our choice isn’t about language or personality or how well we relate to a politician.  This date reminds us that our choice in November is about the competence of the government we will elect.  That is our special coverage for this evening.

Coming up next, “9/11 as it Happened,” a presentation of the events of that day as they unfolded on NBC News.  Thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Have a 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.

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