updated 9/18/2008 4:51:42 PM ET 2008-09-18T20:51:42

Guest: Claire McCaskill, Michael Isikoff, David Sirota, Bill Maher, Louise

Slaughter, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: I do have Mr. Maher on tonight.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR: OK.

MADDOW: He has a lot to say about Sarah Palin as you might imagine.

OLBERMANN: Oh, my, I bet he does.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: Thanks for joining us, Keith. I appreciate it.

OLBERMANN: Always.

MADDOW: And thank you at home or you watching on your crazy space age portable TV machine-which John McCain invented as well-for sticking around tonight.

Between the fast-melting economy, Barack Obama is back on offense, a really big new development on trooper-gate, Democrats voting to "drill, baby drill"-Democrats; John McCain inventing the BlackBerry; and Bill Maher.

We've got a lot to do in the next hour.

(voice over): Will these eight words go down as the "read my lips" of 2008?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Still, the fundamentals of our economy are strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: They are what? John McCain has fumbled. In fact, he's made that same fumble 22 times this year.

But Barack Obama and Joe Biden have finally recovered that fumble and now they're doing some open-field running.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am sick and tired of this Republican garbage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: How big is the Democratic opportunity here on the economy? How do they gain the most ground? And is this a turning point in the whole race to the White House?

Senator Claire McCaskill joins us live.

The trooper-gate investigation goes on. If by "goes on" you mean gets stonewalled by John McCain and Sarah Palin and company. Even though a 14 to nothing bipartisan vote launched the investigation, Republicans are now trying to shut it down, claiming it is a partisan witch-hunt.

"Newsweek's" Michael Isikoff's new reporting is now revealing who is actually pulling the strings in Alaska. He joins us with the latest.

And with the economy circling the drain, two wars in progress, and maybe three more wars on some people's agendas, with the Thrilla from Wasilla on the ticket and all of the attended prevarication, who better to comment than Bill Maher?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MAHER, TV TALK SHOW HOST: I think it's encouraging that you see a lot of conservatives now who are actually saying Sarah Palin is not ready for the job. That would be country first.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

(on camera): Remember back to one day ago when John McCain and Sarah Palin were pummeling Barack Obama? McCain/Palin had both the lead in some national polls and all the rhetorical momentum. Where were the Democrats yesterday until Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG took a wrecking ball to the previously slow-crumbling economic picture? And John McCain, once again, let slip the words, "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." If ever there was a stump speech line that needed revising in light of ongoing events, that was it.

And now, the Democrats are on the offense again. Americans essentially had forgotten what the Obama campaign looks like on the political offense because they've been playing so much "D" in the past two months. If you've forgotten what a Democratic campaign looks like on the offense, if you've forgotten what the defensive looks like when it's about something other than Paris Hilton or lipstick or Sex Ed for kindergarteners, then the Obama campaign would like to reintroduce itself to you.

Here's Joe Biden delivering the punch today in Pennsylvania.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: Where is the change? Folks, don't buy this malarkey. And don't let your friends. Don't tell me who's on the side of middle-class people trying to make it. It is not George Bush and it is not John McCain.

It's time for America to get up. It's time for you to get up. I'm ready to get up. Barack Obama is ready to get up. So let's get up and change this nation now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Speaking today, as well, in Golden, Colorado, Barack Obama hit his stride, too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Make no mistake, my opponent is running for four more years of policies that will throw the economy further out of balance. His outrage at Wall Street would be more convincing if he wasn't offering them more tax cuts.

What we've seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed. And I'm running for president of the United States because the dream of the American people must not be endangered anymore.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: For weeks, Obama and his campaign have looked slow to respond to McCain's campaign, but not today. Within hours of McCain's biggest gaffe of the campaign thus far, the fumbling repetition of the "fundamentals are strong" line, there was this from the Obama campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

CHYRON: September 15, 2008: Lehman Brother collapses. Markets in turmoil. Job losses at 605,000 for the year. Foreclosures at 9,800 a day.

MCCAIN: Our economy, I think, still, the fundamentals of our economy are strong.

CHYRON: The fundamentals of our economy are strong?

MCCAIN: The fundamentals of our economy are strong.

CHYRON: How can John McCain fix our economy if he doesn't understand it's broken?

MCCAIN: The fundamentals of our economy are strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So that's Barack Obama and Joe Biden on offense-which raises the question: what do McCain and Palin look like on defense? It's the first time we have seen it since they have been a pair and fair warning, it is not pretty. After backtracking for two news cycles now on just exactly what a fundamental is in our economy, and how McCain can insist that things are going strong, John McCain tried to regain his footing today, by making a new suggestion about how to fix the economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "TODAY"/NBC)

MCCAIN: We need a 9/11 Commission and we need a commission to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Oh, a commission? Will it take months to offer recommendations? And will President McCain attend a fundraiser instead of voting to implement its blue ribbon recommendations? Because that's what Senator McCain did on the real 9/11 Commission.

Underwhelmed by McCain's big "let's form a commission" idea, the nation turned its lonely to the McCain campaign surrogates for more information.

McCain's chief economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin did speak with reporters today and told them this, quote, "There's no magic solution and I don't think it's at this moment imperative to write down exactly what the plan has to be."

Technically, we should note that Mr. Eakin is correct, it is not imperative to write down an economic plan or to be specific. It would be a good idea to do that if you're running for president, it might be reassuring to the country if you did, but true enough it is not actually imperative.

If the McCain campaign's proud absence of answers were not damming enough then they reach to "Al Gore invented the Internet" territory which we weirdly foreshadowed on last night's program.

Mr. Holtz-Eakin, McCain's top economic adviser, today, proclaimed his candidate's leadership in the Senate by holding up his BlackBerry and bragging, quote, "You're looking at the miracle that John McCain helped to create."

John McCain invented the BlackBerry-really? Even though he says he doesn't know how to use the email? I totally thought the BlackBerry was invented in Canada, very confusing. But somewhere I should say, Al Gore is smiling.

One last point, the McCain defense eventually got messy today, courtesy of McCain's other top economic adviser, Carly Fiorina.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED RADIO HOST: Does Sarah Palin-John McCain obviously thinks she has the experience to become president of the United States-do you think she has the experience to run a major company like Hewlett Packard?

CARLY FIORINA, MCCAIN ECONOMIC ADVISOR: No, I don't. But you know what? That's not what she's running for.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW: Wow, just to be clear, in the McCain campaign's reasoning, Sarah Palin is not experienced enough to run a company but could totally run the country. Ms. Fiorina then attempted to save herself by then proclaiming that John McCain isn't qualified to run Hewlett Packard, either. We may have just had a glimpse into just how sacred the McCain campaign holds the interest of corporations-company first.

Joining us now: Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

She's the national co-chair of the Obama campaign.

Senator McCaskill, thank you for joining us tonight.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) MISSOURI: Thank you. Congratulations on your show, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you. It's nice to have you here.

MCCASKILL: Thanks.

MADDOW: I will tell you honestly that the Obama campaign in my estimation has been ropadope lately, the daily attacks from the McCain side have left senators Obama and Biden with barely a word in edge-wise. Right now, it feels like all of that has changed, now that everybody wants to talk about the economy. Do you see this as day one of the rest of the campaign?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think a couple things happened. One, I think, the McCain campaign went too far and lost their vice grip on the notion of honor, because you can't have honor without honesty. And they began telling lies. And when you start telling lies, and the media-I mean, all kinds of media begin to circle the wagons and call you out on it, that, in fact, puts you on defense.

And then, of course, John McCain can't help himself, Rachel. He has to defend the status quo because the policies of the status quo are his. So, he has to say the fundamentals of our economy are strong because he can point to no difference in his economic plan than that of the guy who drove us into this ditch, George Bush.

MADDOW: Well, Senator McCain's campaign said that when he said the fundamentals of the economy were strong, what he really meant was that American workers are strong and, therefore, Senator Obama must be anti-worker. I have to ask for your response to that.

MCCASKILL: Well, he's been in Washington a long time and when you say something wrong, you're kind of taught not to say, I goofed up and said it wrong or, gosh, I shouldn't have said that. Instead, you try to make it into something else.

Everyone knows what he said. And everyone knows what it means when you talk about the fundamentals of an economy. You're talking about job creation. You're talking about commodity prices. How much people are paying for a loaf of bread. You're talking about the unemployment rates, inflation rates, the credit market availability, and frankly, none of those things are strong. They are coming unwound under the Bush/McCain economic policies.

MADDOW: We have seen greater and lesser degrees of message discipline from the McCain campaign. As I said at the top here, they have had a number of different attacks sort of new attacks every day, many of them personal and many of them disproven against Senator Obama, but they also have stayed on this message that an Obama administration would raise your taxes, that the big Obama/Biden plan for the economy is to raise taxes across the board.

What's the pushback against that from your side?

MCCASKILL: Another lie. Barack Obama's tax plan cuts taxes. It also cuts spending. We have ways to pay for the economic incentives that are going to go to the middle-class which deserved it. John McCain wants to cut more taxes for the same people that George Bush cut taxes for-those guys on Wall Street that are having a hard time today.

On the other hand, Barack Obama will cut taxes for the vast majority -

95 percent of working Americans.

So, it's another lie. And what I love is every time someone catches John McCain and says, "You know, hey, aren't you lying about this?" He says, "Well, if only Barack Obama would come to my town hall meetings," like somehow Barack Obama not going with the schedule John McCain wanted, is why John McCain can't control his campaign and run it with honor and honesty.

MADDOW: Last question, after eight years of Republican rule, we are in the midst of what maybe the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we are in two deeply unpopular endless wars. How is Senator Obama not soundly trouncing Senator McCain in the polls right now? Why is it as close as it is?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think we need to be realistic about that this is all kinds of change. This is a special leader that came literally, from obscurity just a few years ago, to break on to a national scene and inspire millions of people. And I think it is in a state like mine, that is, you know, moderate to conservative, they want to get to know him. And as time goes on, not only are they getting to know him and feeling more comfortable with the fact that he's going to be their champion, but they also are getting to know John McCain better and that will also work to our advantage.

MADDOW: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, national co-chair of the Obama campaign, thank you very much for you time tonight.

MCCASKILL: Thank you.

MADDOW: Another lesson the McCain campaign is learning today, when you're running on a decade-long record, dramatically changing a staunchly-held position that you had for all those decades doesn't go unnoticed. Amid the current economic meltdown, Senator McCain is calling for regulation in Washington and on Wall Street.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Under my reforms, the American people will be protected by comprehensive regulations that will apply the rules and enforce them to the fullest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It sounds a little like what Barack Obama was saying back in March when he outlined a plan for revamping the regulatory system. But John McCain, a man who once supported a moratorium on almost all federal regulations, he's been in Washington for 26 years, and he's only supported increased regulation now for about 26 hours.

The "New York Times" calling him out today said, quote, "John McCain has sold himself to many voters as an agent for change, despite his party's unpopularity after years of dominating in Washington, and despite his own antiregulation stances of past years."

We would like to have welcomed a McCain campaign representative to address today's news, but our request for a top economic advisor, Carly Fiorina, senior policy advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin, or national co-chair Meg Whitman, found them all unavailable. We do sincerely hope that they'd be able to join us another time soon.

Joining us now, now that I've sort of made him feel like a second choice, and I'm sorry for that is syndicated columnist, David Sirota, who's known for his outside the beltway coverage of politics and economic issues.

You know I mean that in the best way, right, David?

DAVID SIROTA, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I do. I don't take it personally.

MADDOW: All right. The "New York Times" says that John McCain seems to be, quote, "scrambling to adjust his position on regulation to the current political climate." What has been John McCain's position on regulation, on regulating business, regulating the markets?

SIROTA: Well, John McCain's own words, he says "I'm fundamentally a deregulator." That's a direct quote and he says, "I'm always for less regulation." This is a person who is a Reagan conservative, an ideological conservative who is against regulation. So for him to run out there and say that he's suddenly the guy who's going to regulate the economy and regulate Wall Street is beyond absurd.

And I think we have to look at his history. Let's remember that McCain's formative economic experience was in the last crisis, the S&L crisis where he was one of the Keating Five in that scandal. He was somebody who used his Senate position to effectively intervene and press regulators to not get involved and regulate that scandal.

MADDOW: Well, is there a risk as this economic debacle that we're involved in right now starts to resemble the S&L scandal that the Keating Five issue is actually going to be on the table? Obama and Biden have stayed away from it thus far. Some outside groups have touched on it in a minor way but, I think, 99 out of 100 Americans would have no idea what the Keating Five was or what John McCain's role was on it?

SIROTA: Well, I'm not sure about that. I mean, I think older Americans might remember the S&L scandal. I think, explaining that McCain was involved in that scandal, used his office in that scandal, again, to press regulators to get out of that scandal, to not, essentially, regulate the financial industry. It's completely relevant. It's completely important because it's the last example that we have. It's actually the only example that we have of what John McCain would do with a public office with a crisis like this.

MADDOW: David, what is the biggest barrier to better oversight of Wall Street in the financial firms? What has stopped there being good oversight in recent years? What is it that needs to change?

SIROTA: Well, first and foremost, there's a huge amount of money going into both parties from Wall Street. And that tends to buy the policies behind the rhetoric or the lack of policies behind the rhetoric. So what we all should be watching for is not what the candidates, both of them, are saying, but what they're actually specifically proposing because money, again, huge amounts of money, Barack Obama has taken $9.8 million from Wall Street, McCain has taken $6.8 million from Wall Street.

The question is: What are they going to specifically propose. That's the real question.

MADDOW: It also helps to note that lobbyists for AIG, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and Bank of America are all on John McCain's campaign staff. Whereas Barack Obama, as far as I know, doesn't have any lobbyists working as paid staff for him. That seems fair (ph) into this point, too.

SIROTA: That's absolutely true. And remember, John McCain's top economic adviser, at least, was, and still an advisor of his, Phil Gramm, is the guy who pushed through legislation through the Senate to essentially gut the Depression era regulations that would have prevented or, at least, lessened the impact of this financial crisis today.

MADDOW: Syndicated columnist, David Sirota, thank you so much for joining us.

SIROTA: Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: Remember when Sarah Palin said she would cooperate with investigators looking into trooper-gate? You can press the "delete all" button on that one because today, some of her fellow Alaska Republicans went into the full lockdown mode to try to quash that investigation. New details in the Palin mess ahead with Michael Isikoff.

And later, we will get Bill Maher's take on Governor Palin. It is as good as it sounds.

One more thing, though, about the current economic crisis. John McCain was not exaggerating apparently when he said he doesn't know much about the economy. In a speech today in Tampa and then, again, in Vienna, Ohio, McCain repeatedly referred to the Securities Investor Protection Corporation as the SPIC, yes. He called it the SPIC, over and over again. Wow.

Besides the obvious problem there, McCain also did not seem to know the purpose of the SIPC, since he called the organization a regulator and it actually isn't that.

Today was what you might call a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day on McCain's campaign trail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: For an investigation that Sarah Palin originally welcomed, because she said she had nothing to hide, trooper-gate is looking more and more like an investigation Republicans led by the McCain campaign are trying to bury.

Today, five Alaska Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit to try to derail the investigation into Governor Palin's firing of former Public Safety commissioner, Walter Monegan. Today's lawsuit calls the trooper-gate investigation, quote, "unlawful, biased, partial, and partisan." Well, something sure has changed, since it was a bipartisan oversight committee that earlier this summer, unanimously, like 14 to zip, unanimously, approved the investigation of whether Palin fired the commissioner because he wouldn't fire Palin's ex-brother-in-law, Alaska state trooper, Mike Wooten.

At first, Palin said she would cooperate with the investigation. She said, quote, "Hold me accountable." But last night, the McCain campaign quashed that idea saying, quote, "The governor is not going to cooperate with that investigation so long as it remains tainted and run by partisan individuals that is have a predetermined conclusion."

Partisan individuals? Predetermined conclusion? What part of the 14 to nothing bipartisan vote to investigate welcomed by Governor Palin is suddenly partisan and predetermined?

Joining us now to explain is "Newsweek's" investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff, who has been all over the story like white on rice.

Hi, Mike. Thanks for joining us again.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK: Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW: This lawsuit filed today, is the McCain campaign behind these five Republican lawmakers suing to stop the investigation?

ISIKOFF: Well, they say not but it's very interesting if-you quoted before, Ed O'Callaghan who is identified, who emerged yesterday for the first time, publicly, as a spokesman for the McCain campaign in Alaska. He's actually a lot more than that. And we report on this tonight on Newsweek.com.

He is a former Justice Department prosecutor, top guy. He was, until very recently, the chief of terrorism and national security unit at the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York. He left the Justice Department at the end of July and was flown to Alaska as part of a McCain campaign rapid response team, to deal with the trooper-gate investigation.

I spoke to him last night and today, and he did acknowledge he is serving as a consultant adviser to the lawyer hired at state's expense, to represent Governor Palin on this. And has been helping to devise and direct the legal strategy, essentially, to shut down this investigation or any investigation into these allegations. His position and the McCain campaign's position is-they are unwarranted, it's a biased, tainted matter, there's nothing here to investigate.

MADDOW: I know that O'Callaghan was out today making the rounds, arguing that this shouldn't be before legislature at all, it should be decided by the personnel board, this board of people who Governor Palin, herself, appointed. It seems to me like this shouldn't be greeted as a serious proposal. It seems like the kind of thing that doesn't pass the laugh test.

But if nobody is there from the Democratic side or from legislature's side, arguing publicly against it, they're arguing publicly for it in the national media, it seems like they're going to get away with arguments like this.

ISIKOFF: Well, actually, the interesting wrinkle there, and this is

sort of, you know-a fascinating legal maneuver, two weeks ago, Tom Van

Flein, the public lawyer for Governor Palin, filed a motion with the

personnel board to ask them to investigate this matter. The argument was -

that's the appropriate forum to investigate any ethical wrongdoing by the governor, not the legislative council.

You know, they were saying, "Look, the governor's not afraid of an investigation. But we don't want it being done by legislature. We want it being done by the personnel board," which critics point out which is ultimately answerable to Governor Palin herself.

But what was really interesting is, less than two weeks later, i.e., yesterday, Mr. Van Flein, the governor's lawyer, with the assistance of Ed O'Callaghan from the McCain campaign, filed a new motion with the personnel board, saying there is no probable cause for the personnel board to conduct this investigation and, therefore, the motion to investigate should be dismissed. They filed a motion to dismiss their own motion to investigate.

So, I thought that was-you know, if nothing else, a rather interesting legal maneuver.

MADDOW: Michael Isikoff, investigator and correspondent with "Newsweek" magazine, I have a feeling we're going to be seeing more of you and talking to you about this more. Thanks for joining us.

ISIKOFF: Sure enough.

MADDOW: I'm having flash backs to Florida in 2000 with Republicans having their heavies there, right? And the Democrats playing nice. Wow.

All right. Later on, we're going to play congressional "Jeopardy". The answer is "The Democrats." The question is: Which party's spineless capitulation on offshore oil drilling, in face of the facts, is exactly why even voters who like them on policy sometimes hate them on politics?"

Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter will be here to Talk Me Down on this one. She voted today to expand offshore oil drilling. I promise to be nice.

And: Bill Maher will be here soon to talk politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Still ahead, I'll talk with Bill Maher about Governor Sarah Palin. He's an independent. I wonder if she's won him over to the Republican side.

First, though, it is time for a few underreported holy mackerel stories today. One of our allies on the war on terror has ordered its troop to open fire on U.S. troops. Yes, you heard that correctly. Pakistan says its army will shoot at American troops if U.S. forces launch another ground raid or air raid across the Afghan border in the Pakistani territory. This after local officials in Pakistan say there was a border standoff between American troops and those armed soldiers and tribesmen in Pakistan on Sunday.

The Pentagon says it never happened. But local officials of the BBC and other news outlets that in South Waziristan, very near where U.S. troops are confirmed to have made a ground incursion into Pakistan two weeks ago, Americans trying to cross the border into Pakistan were turned back by a whole lot of warning shots fired from the Pakistani side.

Now, again, the Pentagon said this did not happen. But just a recap - nuclear-armed Pakistan, likely haven of Osama Bin Laden, tenuous U.S. ally since 9/11, has ordered its soldiers to fire on our soldiers if they cross a border that we know they have recently been crossing.

Pakistan's new prime minister did not exactly calm the shtukus (ph) on this today when he told the local press in Pakistan, quote, "We are a nuclear state. We cannot act irresponsibly." Right, thanks for the reminder, and for the reassurance.

Finally, the House of Representatives has passed legislation about the aftermath of the First Gulf War. The 1991 Gulf War was a short conflict, but there were American POWs and civilians who were tortured or held hostage by Saddam's regime during that war. The most senior American officer among the U.S. POWs in the Gulf War lost 45 pounds and was near starvation after 47 days in Saddam's care. The POWs and their families want to sue Iraq for damages. A U.S. law passed under President Clinton in 1996 says they can't.

But the White House is fighting them. The White House is fighting the American POWs and threatening now to veto the newly passed legislation that would clear the way for the lawsuit. When our government signed the Geneva Convention, we pledged never to absolve any country of any liability for the torture of prisoners of war. Many of the POWs were American pilots who were tortured by Iraqis in the same Iraqi prison that is now notorious for how our forces treated Iraqi prisoners, Abu Ghraib. Does the administration have its liability in mind when it tries to prevent American veterans from suing a foreign government for torture? Where would this fall on supporting the troops scale?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Financial meltdown with 49 days until the election. Obama offers a six-point plan while McCain's campaign says he invented the Blackberry, and his plan for the economy is a commission to study it. Neat. Who better to comment than Bill Maher, host of "Real Time With Bill Maher" on HBO. Welcome, Bill Maher.

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Good to see you, again, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, economic crisis - Wall Street is like Thunder Dome at this point. John McCain has reacted by saying he wants a 9/11 commission for the economy. Your thoughts on that?

MAHER: Well, you know, commissions are always something that politicians bring up when there's a crisis. They don't usually solve a heck of a lot. The 9/11 Commission - I mean, I'm glad we had it. But, you know, what did it do? It created a lot more bureaucracy.

I always thought that was sort of ridiculous and counterproductive to take all these agencies and put them under one roof to create more bureaucracy, you know, like somebody was going around saying, "Gosh, if we only had some sort of Central Intelligence Agency." You know, the trick is to get the stuff that's there working the right way.

And somehow, John McCain, whose number one economic adviser was Phil Gramm - I mean, he's the guy in 1999, who undid the law, the Depression Era law, the Glass-Steagall Act, that really led the way for a lot of this meltdown that's happening. But he's the guy that's McCain go-to man on the economy. And Alan Greenspan, another one of gurus in the McCain camp who lowered interest rates continually that allowed a lot of this lending to take place that's caused so much of this economic pain.

Somehow he's able to now charge in and present himself as the guy who's going to - the sheriff who's going to clean up this western town? It would make you laugh if you didn't think people would believe it because he's a maverick, and mavericks are exactly what we need. Mavericks. They'll fix it.

MADDOW: The other McCain economic adviser who I have to say mystifies me and I probably shouldn't admit that because we've been trying desperately to get her to come on the show and she keeps saying no. But that would be Carly Fiorina - Carly Fiorina who got, I think, $42 million when she left Compaq (sic) even though Compaq (sic) was rather a shadow of its former self after she got done with it. Sarah Palin - sorry, Hewlett Packard. Sorry.

Sarah Palin said that - her first specific comment on the economy was that we ought to have no more golden parachutes for CEO's. I don't understand what Carly Fiorina brings to the McCain surrogate world. Why are we hearing so much about her and why do they want to brag on her experience?

MAHER: You're asking me? I'm on the other team. I don't really know. But how about the idea that - the idea that Sarah Palin is going to be on the case economically? This is the person who didn't know what the Bush doctrine was, the one who said she understands foreign affairs because she could see Alaska (sic) from her front porch. You know, you wonder, at what point will it sink in, if ever, to the American public, or will they care, about a complex issue and bringing someone to a complex issue who's not a complex thinker?

You know, when I heard people say, "Oh, that was sort of a 'gotcha question' that Charlie Gibson asked her about the Bush doctrine." Yes, it's a gotcha question if she's trying to become Miss America. If she's in line to be the second most powerful person in the world, it's not a "gotcha question." It's a reasonable question.

MADDOW: Yes. And there remains, still, this big from the push back though from the McCain-Palin campaign that if you ask any hard questions, really, on anything, it's because you're out to get her and because you don't think she's going to know the answer and you're, in a sexist way, underestimating her.

I don't know how long that lasts or if Joe Biden will be put on the spot as a sexist if he asks her any hard questions during the debate.

MAHER: Right.

MADDOW: But I feel like that's not a long-term strategy for marketing your vice president.

MAHER: And somehow if you - you're caught between a rock and a hard place with Sarah Palin as a critic. Because if you describe her accurately, there's no way you can do that and not sound condescending because she's not very bright about matters that a person in this position should be bright about. And she's completely not ready to take over this job.

I think it's encouraging that you see a lot of conservatives now who are actually saying Sarah Palin is not ready for the job. That would be country first, admitting that, not just closing ranks with the other conservatives and getting behind whoever they put up.

The Republicans have put up now in the last 20 years, Dan Quayle, George Bush and Sarah Palin. Those are three absolute ciphers who have no place in a national election. And, yet, these are the people running under the banner of country first.

So, you know, I read David Brooks' column today in the "New York Times" and I thought it was an excellent piece. But he does seem to want it both ways. He's willing to say she's not qualified. She's not qualified and yet, somehow if you criticize her, you're being condescending. Well, I don't know where to find the place in between there.

MADDOW: The Republican conservative base, particularly sort to have intellectual conservative base, the Republican Party, forever and a day hated John McCain. And you cited David Brooks there. It's also Richard Cohen. It's George Will. It's David Frum. There's a whole bunch of other conservatives that are now coming out and remembering that they used to hate John McCain even though the last six months they were nice to him. I wonder if you think the Republican Party is going to have some unity problems come November.

MAHER: No. I don't really think so because that's what they're good at. They are exceptionally good at getting behind the guy on their team, no matter who it is. This is what the Democrats are not - have never been that very good at. It's sort of just closing ranks and making sure that we all, you know, get together on this thing and make sure the outcome is the one we want. So I wouldn't count on that with the Republicans.

MADDOW: Well, we shall see if there is a giant groundswell for Bob Barr. You never know. He could always surprise us at the last moment. Bill Maher, host of "Real Time With Bill Maher" on HBO, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it.

MAHER: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: How can Democrats rightly portray the GOP as a bunch of jonesing oil junkies for their misguided and opportunistic "Drill, Baby, Drill" mantra? How can those Democrats cave on a bill that would expand offshore oil drilling? In a few minutes, Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter will be here to talk me down. Seriously, I need talking down on this one.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: If you're unhappy with the idea of a Barack Obama or John McCain presidency, there's hope. Sort of. If you live in Pennsylvania, you will be able to cast your vote for Bob Barr, who after winning a legal battle there, will now appear on the Pennsylvania ballot. It was a bit of a battle even to get him on his own party's ticket. Six ballots and five hours of voting, yikes!

Libertarians are not exactly known for their willingness to follow the leader. But if nothing else, the former Republican is realistic. Unlike the mainstream candidate, Bob Barr is not counting on winning over any disaffected Hillary Clinton voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB BARR, LIBERTARIAN NOMINEE FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I

don't think the disgruntled Hillary supporters will be big on Bob Barr.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Really?

BARR: Probably not.

COLBERT: You underestimate your mustache, sir.

BARR: Well -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Congratulations, offshore oil drilling. You've become just the newest symbol of the Democrats in Congress caving on yet another important principled issue. That's right, oil drilling. You join an impressive list of issues like the war in Iraq and warrant-less wiretapping the Democrats have been scared into supporting despite having facts and common sense on their side. Sure, the "Drill, Baby, Drill" mantra has become one thing that the McCain crowds get excited about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. LT. GOV. MICHAEL STEELE (R-MD): Let me make it very clear.

Drill, baby, drill, and drill now.

RUDY GIULIANI ®, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Hey, you guys are ready to break out?

CROWD: Drill, baby, drill. Drill, baby, drill.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I want to tell

you - right. Drill, baby, drill. That's the -

(CHEERS)

CROWD: Drill, baby, drill. Drill, baby, drill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That festive, yet oddly Neanderthal chant should not have been enough to spook the Democratically controlled House into abandoning that party's long standing opposition to expanded offshore oil drilling. But that is what appears to be happening tonight in Washington with Democrats looking likely to pass an energy bill that includes offshore drilling.

The package gives states the option to allow drilling between 50 and 100 miles off their shores and the areas further than that in the outer continental shelf would be completely open to oil exploration. Supporters of the bill say it would also repeal an estimated $18 billion in tax breaks for oil companies in an effort to help fund alternative energy.

But here's what the Democrats apparently don't understand. When you've got the facts and common sense on your side and you're in the majority in Congress, caving is not necessary. Drilling literally will not bring down gas prices, won't happen as far out as government projections on the subject exist.

Standing united behind sound energy policy and arguing against the "Drill, Baby, Drill" guys who are wrong doesn't make you look weak. Caving because you're scared for your political life even when right on the issues - that makes you look weak. Can anybody talk me down on this?

Joining us now is Representative Louise Slaughter of New York who voted for today's bill and who is here to try to talk me down. Congresswoman Slaughter, thank you so much.

REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER (D-NY), NEW YORK CONGRESSWOMAN: Hey. It's so good to see you, Rachel. But listen, we haven't really voted yet, but I'm going to try to talk you down and then you've got to give me my grade.

MADDOW: OK.

SLAUGHTER: We're not afraid of anybody. The biggest issue here that has gotten almost no currency at all is that every president since Bush 41 has extended the moratorium on offshore drilling except his son this year, George W., lifted it this summer, as you know, which means it expires on the 30th of September. And at that point, anybody can drill anywhere they want to, offshore for three miles. We are not going to - obviously can't renew that moratorium. And so maybe we can next year.

But right now, we want to make sure that there will be no drilling unless a state opts in. The state has to say by legislation that it will do it and it has to be 50 to 100 miles offshore. Now, let me tell you, I'm a crowd of one that believes this. I understand that. But I don't believe anybody wants to drill anywhere. I can tell you that throughout this entire debate, I never heard from an oil company saying, "For heaven's sake, let us drill." I don't think they're going to do it.

They claim they have no bits, they have no drills and we know we're at refining capacity. I would bet you anything - if my husband would let me, I'd bet my house and lot that there will be no drilling. Even T. Boone Pickens says this is the silliest idea there was. And Bridge Petroleum - God bless them - has been saying for over a year now that this is not the way to go.

And while they talk about geothermal and solar and all the great things that we're going to get in this bill and it's going to be paid for by taking away the tax subsidies of the major oil companies who are swimming in money. And also, we're going to make them pay up their royalties that they should have paid us in 1998 and '99.

Now, you know that the Interior Department was far too busy to collect royalties. They were having a big time over there with their orgies and we've got to call that to account. Now, we're not afraid of anybody. We've done a darn good bill here. I want to tell you, I am so taken with algae. Did you know - how am I doing so far?

(CROSS TALK)

MADDOW: Wait. No, I definitely want to hear why you're taken with

algae. That's the best lead-in ever. I have to tell you -

SLAUGHTER: Because -

MADDOW: Hold on. It is assuring to hear you say that you would bet your house and your lot, if your husband would let you ...

SLAUGHTER: Yes.

MADDOW: ... that they're really not going to drill. But why not fight for the moratorium? Why fight right now for a bill? Why Democrats introduce a bill that would allow drilling? Why not instead say drilling is a bad idea for all the reasons it's been a bad idea.

SLAUGHTER: It's as simple as this - we can't get it done in two or three weeks. It expires at the end of the fiscal year which is the 3rd of September.

MADDOW: But you are in the majority.

SLAUGHTER: Well, so to speak. But we do have a lot of oil patch people as well. So there was a lot of work done. Nancy Pelosi did the most incredible job on this. She does almost all of the whipping by herself. There's a little compromise - I don't want to drill anywhere. Frankly, if you'd ask me, I think petroleum is getting too important for us to burn. It's the basis of the petrochemical industry, a lot of health industry and there isn't enough left.

I want us to go to alternatives. We don't want to keep going back to the same thing that we've done for centuries here. We want to be in the 21st century and start all these new processes. I've put a lot of money in fuel cells up in my district and we're seeing that we may have them ready in about a year and a half. I have a school in my district that heats the whole complex with fuel cells. I mean, we need to concentrate on that, forget about oil drilling, because there isn't enough out there. All together, we've got less than three percent and I think we have much less than that.

MADDOW: You make a great case against oil drilling ...

SLAUGHTER: One more thing -

MADDOW: ... which is a very hard thing to have done ...

SLAUGHTER: One more thing -

MADDOW: ... on the day that you guys are trying to pass the oil drilling bill. I just think you could make a principled case to the American people that the "Drill, Baby, Drill thing is stupid and the American people will side with you.

SLAUGHTER: It is stupid. It is stupid. And we need an oil change. But the most important thing is if they wanted to drill, they've got 68 million acres of federal land that already is zoned for drilling. I think all the permits are there.

MADDOW: Yes.

SLAUGHTER: Thirty-three million, Rachel, offshore. They don't want it.

MADDOW: Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter.

SLAUGHTER: How did I do?

MADDOW: You have not talked me down ...

SLAUGHTER: Rats.

MADDOW: ... but I have so enjoyed having you on the show. Thank you so much.

SLAUGHTER: Thank you.

MADDOW: Great to see you. Thank you.

SLAUGHTER: Right.

MADDOW: Coming up, Kent Jones gives me just enough pop culture to go out among other people in public. Tonight Barbra Streisand sings for Obama. Oh, yes, she can.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Now, it's time for "Just Enough" with my pal, Kent Jones, who force feeds just enough pop culture that I can be allowed out in public. Hi, Ken. What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. Barack Obama is in Beverly Hills tonight at a fundraiser featuring a performance by Ms. Barbra Streisand. Ms. Streisand was a hardcore Hillary Clinton supporter but now has shifted her allegiance to Obama. And on her Web site, she had this to say about Sarah Palin.

"This calculated cynical ploy to pull away a percentage of Hillary's women voters from Barack Obama will not work. We are not that stupid!" End quote. Now, Barbra has mellowed, right?

And finally, Internet social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have become so big that one expert said they are now more popular than porn sites. The general manager of Internet tracking company says surfing for porn has dropped about 10 percent from a decade ago.

Also the 18 to 24 age group in particular seems far less interested in the spicy stuff. Said one analyst, "My theory is that young users spend so much time on social networks that they don't have time to look at adult sites." Back in my day, we made the time. Rachel?

MADDOW: Uphill, both ways, baby.

JONES: We made the time, OK?

MADDOW: Thanks, Kent. And thank you for watching tonight. We'll see you here tomorrow night. "COUNTDOWN" with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Good night.

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