updated 9/30/2008 1:33:35 PM ET 2008-09-30T17:33:35

Guests: Laura Tyson, Chris Van Hollen, Eugene Robinson, Rosa Brooks

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Keith. And thank you for sticking with us this next hour on what has been a rollercoaster of a day, when the bailout bill went from "guaranteed done deal" to no deal at all, and then, Wall Street went down, down, down on this wild and not altogether pleasant in the news.

(voice over): So, what happens if that deal everybody agreed on doesn't get done?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Final vote: 260, 227 -- 227 nays. The bill has failed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: The biggest decline of the session (ph) was just moments ago at about 705.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The speaker had to give a partisan voice that poisoned our conference.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: Today, when the legislation came to the floor, the Democratic side more than lived up to its side of the bargain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: A fractured Republican Party begot a partisan meltdown in the House, begot 777 points off the Dow, a national run on over-the-counter antacids (ph) around 1:30 p.m. Eastern. How did the deal fall apart? Did those who voted against it think there isn't a crisis?And what happens tomorrow? Who's in charge here, anyway? President Clinton's national economic advisor, Laura Tyson, joins us with insight.John McCain says he knows who's to blame for all this. I give you one guess.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our leaders are expected to leave partisanship at the door and come to the table to solve our problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It was Senator Obama's fault? Was he the one who rode into Washington on a white horse saying he'd even fake call off his campaign in order to demand a bipartisan agreement, that whole "country first" thing? That was Obama? Maybe I'm confused. Eugene Robinson of the "Washington Post" will set us straight. And somebody better set Sarah Palin straight on John McCain's Pakistan policy. It's not what she thinks it is. Also, on John McCain's record of regulating Wall Street.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll try to find you some and bring it to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: With all the conservatives calling for Sarah Palin to step aside as John McCain's running mate, is she turning out to be the Obama campaign's secret weapon?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TINA FEY, ACTRESS (impersonating Sarah Palin): Well, on that case, I'm just going to have to get back to you.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: I think this means she wins the set-the-lowest-expectations contest for the debate, right?

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

(on camera): After we heard from congressional leaders this weekend that there would be a bailout bill today, a lot of us spent the weekend trying to figure out what would make a good bailout bill versus a bad bailout bill? It turns out, so we (ph), there's no bailout at all. Now, can I get my weekend back, please? It was on Friday night when Barack Obama and John McCain debated. Both gave their endorsements of the bailout. On Saturday, Congress rolled up its sleeves, ordered in pizza, and banged out a bill that supposedly worked for both Republicans and Democrats. They came out, met the cameras, and said they had a deal. The president is urging Congress to pass the bill, warning of dire consequences if they didn't. Even everybody's most trusted, obscenely-rich Midwesterner, Warren Buffett, warned that the bailout had to pass to stave off disaster. The tensions as today's 1:00 p.m. Eastern vote approached, the tally board appeared on television, and America counted the vote. And then it was clear, it wasn't happening. The votes weren't there. But wait, they wouldn't have had that vote if the bill weren't going to pass, would they? The bill was defeated. House Republicans voted against it by a two to one margin. The experts, the pundits and prognosticators, we found ourselves in a familiar uncomfortable position this year, dead wrong. The markets crashed, 777 points off the Dow by the time today's bloodletting ended, which translates roughly to a $1.1 trillion loss in the value of American stocks today. Which, if you are doing the math at home, it's not only the biggest one day point drop in the history of the market, but also about half as much money lost from the stock market today as the bailout plan at it's zenith would have cost us. And in Asia, where it's already tomorrow and markets are already open, stocks are down again. Let the finger-pointing begin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: I do believe that we could have gotten there today had it not been for this partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House. The speaker had to give a partisan voice that poisoned our conference and caused a number of members that we thought we could get to go south.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Poisoned? Not kidding. That's how House Republican Leader John Boehner's assessment of what happened today. He says this speech by Speaker Nancy Pelosi had such an inappropriate tone that it caused House Republicans to kill the deal. Apparently, the economic crisis is not so big that it can be outweighed by the need to tend to bruised feelings. Congressman Barney Frank, you want to take it from here?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARNEY FRANK, (D) CHAIR, FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE: Some said there was not a great crisis. If, in fact, that turns out to be the case over the next period, then we will-I will be carefully admit error and take the rest of the year off. I am not confident that will happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, here we are, politically teetering, at least, until Wednesday night or Thursday, when the House reconvene.

In the meantime, the White House has just announced that President Bush will speak to the nation, again, early tomorrow morning about his financial rescue plan. Is this a crisis, or isn't it? Do the folks who killed the bailout deal know something we don't know that ought to be comforting?Joining us now is economist Laura Tyson. She was President Clinton's national economic advisor. She chaired the president's council of economic advisers. She's now at the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley. And she advises Senator Obama.Doctor Tyson, thank you very much for joining us.

LAURA TYSON, FMR. CHAIR, W. HOUSE NAT'L ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Good evening. Nice to be with you.

MADDOW: Let's play political analogy for a second. Is this global warming where it's really bad but there are some people saying, don't worry, don't worry, it's all fine or is this the Iraq war where there's widespread panic, but it's ginned-up and we shouldn't be falling prey to the hysteria?

TYSON: You know, this is not ginned up. I think, if you listen to voices from the economic community, you can hear sounds of great, great concern. You know, all along, this has been called a bailout bill. It's such a misnomer. We are in the midst of a massive credit contraction. It's strangling the economy. It's making it impossible for businesses to borrow, to keep their businesses going. It's making it impossible for students to borrow, to keep their loans going, and homeowners to stay in their homes.

And what we saw today on the stock market, that shows what the market is anticipating. The economy is being strangled by a credit contraction. The stock market is telling us we are going to have lost incomes, lost revenues, lost stubs (ph), lost production, a real severe slowdown, if we don't do something.

MADDOW: Should regular, non-Wall Street-employed folks be concerned right now about our retirement funds, about mutual funds, even our cash in the bank?

TYSON: You know, what people should be concerned about is their income and their jobs, because the credit contraction means that employers, companies, cannot continue operations at their current levels. They cannot get the credit they need to keep their operations moving. The greatest danger now is a real economy recession. Stock markets can go up and down over time, retirement accounts can go up and down over time. The key thing is to get the economy safe from what looks like to be a bit of a serious recession.

MADDOW: I feel like listening to you talk about this as a credit contraction, listening to you put at it in those kinds of terms, I feel like I'm hearing more easy to understand sense about how big the problem is than I have been hearing out of all the talk on Washington and particularly out of the White House.I wonder, if this is, in part, a communication problem on the part of people who are supposedly addressing the problem in Washington. Polls show that Americans really hate the idea of this bailout. Maybe it just hasn't been sold right?

TYSON: You know, I always thought of leadership as being partly educational, partly explaining to people. Now, I actually think if you look at what happened this week, the Democratic leaders did a very good job of talking about jobs, talking about mortgages, talking about employers, talking about investments, talking about recession. I heard silence on the Republican side. I heard arguments that the markets should be free of government intervention. The market is broken right now. This policy is meant to restore the market to some normal functioning. So, yes, we have to communicate this to the American people so the American people understand this is not about Wall Street. It's not about a bailout. It is about Main Street and jobs. And we see, you know, I go back to the Great Depression here. Great credit contractions in U.S. history if left unaddressed caused great slowdowns and great damage to American workers and factories. We need to make sure that a bill passes to address the credit contraction.

MADDOW: I will say, this is one area in which I feel like Democrats in Washington have not been good at communicating. And that is about, I guess, connecting with people's resentment towards Wall Street. For the past eight years, and even longer, I think, a lot of Americans feel like we've been mugged while Wall Street guys are hiring the Rolling Stones to play at their birthday parties.And so, while the Democrats did communicate that there's been a problem with regulation, with Wall Street being able to get away with non-commonsensical stuff, they never should have been able to get away with it. A lot of them made a mint doing it. The Democrats haven't followed through by saying, we are going to re-regulate Wall Street right now as part of this. And that's going to be the condition of them getting any of the money. They're trying to do that later on. Maybe they should be doing it first.

TYSON: Well, I honestly think, first of all, I think it's very important for people to recognize that this period of deregulation was a period of Republican control-Republican control of the presidency and Republican control of the Congress. And their position has been very clear. We deregulate, we let markets roar, and we don't worry about the consequences. We, now, see the consequences.

The Democrats have said very clearly that we need 21st century regulations. Senator Obama has said that again and again. But, you know? Right now, we have an emergency on our hands. We need to do something directly on the credit contraction. Yes, we need to change regulation. But if we sat down tomorrow and changed regulation, we wouldn't solve the credit contraction we are currently facing. So, we need to do both. Now, the other thing I would say to the American people, which is really very important, is, the Democrats work extremely hard all week. Senator Obama, a week ago, had a meeting where he enunciated some principles. He said, look, what we need in this bill is protection for taxpayers. What we need is to control executive compensation on CEOs. What we need in this bill is to help homeowners from foreclosure. We need a variety of things. You know, by the end, the bill that was presented for vote was a bill which has met all of those conditions. It protected the taxpayer, it controlled CEO compensation, it dealt with homeowners and foreclosures, and it did all of this in a way which would directly address the credit crisis. So, we missed an opportunity. What I hope sincerely, is because the danger to the U.S. economy is so great, that we will see a bipartisan effort to get something done.

MADDOW: Laura Tyson, former chair of President Clinton's council of economic advisers, now, a professor at Berkeley, thank you so much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.

TYSON: Thank you very much.

MADDOW: Now unto the politics of the bailout, or the non-bailout, as it turned out. It's blame game time. And everybody gets to play. Was it Nancy Pelosi's fault for not delivering 10 or so more Democrats? Was it John Boehner, or Roy Blunt's fault or John McCain's fault for barely delivering any Republicans? John McCain said it was Barack Obama and Democrats in the House to blame for injecting partisanship. Then, McCain said it was no time to affix blame. Thanks for suspending your campaign, senator.

We reached out to numerous Republican members of Congress today, to talk about the bailout bill. Sadly, none of them would come on the show tonight to talk with us. We are now joined, though, we're not all disappointed by Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland. He's chairman of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And he's voted for today's bill.

Congressman Van Hollen, thanks for joining us.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D) MARYLAND: Rachel, great to be with you on your new show.

MADDOW: Thank you.

MADDOW: Before the vote on the bailout today, it looked like congressional leaders thought they have the votes to pass the bill. Did you think it would pass and why did it failed?

VAN HOLLEN: Yes, I did. We did think we had a bipartisan compromise. Look, nobody liked this bill. Everybody had something else that they either wanted in it, or they didn't like it. It was a compromise.The president had sent a bill to the Congress. It was a blank check request for $700 billion. We said no. We worked with our Republican colleagues to put the restraints on that Laura just talked about. And we thought we had an understanding, a bipartisan understanding that given the fact that this is a difficult bill and we need to make sure we come together, Republicans and Democrats alike, to do the right thing for the country-that both the Republicans and Democrats would come up with their share of the votes. And what happened is, as the clock ticked down, it became very clear that the Republicans just do not hold up their end of the bargain. And what was interesting was that, even before this vote, John McCain issued his press release taking credit for getting the Republicans on board. But when the hour clicked, you know, when the final vote was tallied, those votes weren't there.

MADDOW: I feel like I understand the biggest picture perspective on what you're saying. But then I look at 95 Democratic votes against this bill. And sure, in retrospect, you can see that, had there been a dozen fewer Democrats voting against it, it would have passed. But, are you saying that the Republicans didn't hold up their share, their end of the bargain, that the Democrats were sort of cleared by negotiation to allow 95 Democrats to vote against it? There was a sort of math done in advance that that would still be OK for the bill to pass?

VAN HOLLEN: No, nobody was cleared. But, Rachel, as you well know, there are a lot of people that don't like this bill. There are lots of members of Congress, who, in talking with their constituents, don't think this bill went far enough. There are things that I wish were in the bill, with respect to bankruptcy protection. They are not in this bill. And so, there are a lot of Democrats who said, we want a better bill, and voted against it. But, at the same time, we asked the Republicans to see what they could do to come out with some of their members because their members also had some misgivings on the bill. And so, the question was, whether for the good of the country, we'd be able to put together a majority. And to hear of them after the vote suggests that they wanted to do the right thing for the country, but some of their members got nipped by what Speaker Pelosi said, I think, really will cause their constituents to question their judgment. I mean, in other words, they were saying, yes, I would have voted for the bill for the good of my community, for the good of my country, but because Speaker Pelosi said that President Bush's economic policies were to blame for the crisis we find ourselves in, they decided to punish their constituents and punish their country. We've challenged to-have one Republican member of Congress come forward and say that was the reason that he or she changed his or her vote.

MADDOW: Representative Chris Van Hollen, let us know if you hear back from any of them on that. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat of Maryland, thank you for coming on tonight. Appreciate it.

VAN HOLLEN: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Over the weekend, John McCain and his supporters ran a victory lap or two, having saved the Wall Street rescue plan, oops. A new plan now. Now, they are saying it's Obama's fault.In a moment, Gene Robinson and I will talk, amid the saddling (ph) political depth about how this thing played out between the two candidates and their campaigns. Later on, I'm going to figure out who's in charge of the Republican Party now. I don't have the answer right now, but I'm working furiously on it during the commercial breaks. And: Sarah Palin responded tonight to the growing chorus of conservatives who say she is not ready for the White House or even for prime time. Are the Republicans seriously thinking of replacing her? Or is that maybe that they are holding stock in "Saturday Night Live"?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Boy, howdy. Thank goodness John McCain fake suspended his campaign last week to get this economic rescue plan sold to his Republican colleagues in Congress. Can you blame him and his campaign surrogates for crowing just a little about the big rescue plan he brokered selflessly instead of campaigning?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 12:20 P.M.)

MCCAIN: I put it on hold last week to fight for a rescue plan that puts you and your economic security, and your family, and working Americans first. Senator Obama took a very different approach to the crisis our country faced.

(CROWD BOOING)

MCCAIN: At first, he didn't want to get involved. And then he was monitoring the situation.

(CROWD BOOING)

MCCAIN: That's not leadership, that's watching from the sidelines.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "TODAY"/NBC)

MITT ROMNEY, ® FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This bill would not have been agreed to, had it not been for John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS"/NBC/SUNDAY)

STEVE SCHMIDT, SENIOR MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: What Senator McCain was able to do was to help bring all of the parties to the table, including the House Republicans whose votes were needed to pass this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: And just how was it that John McCain exerted his unparalleled crisis leadership skills, that Barack Obama did every bad thing a person could do in such a situation?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, ® SOUTH CAROLINA: John didn't phone this one in. He came and actually did something. You can't phone something like this in. Thank God John came back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: McCain returned to Washington Thursday and had a few meetings, including one with President Bush and Barack Obama at the White House. That's not phoning it in, literally, he was there in person, although he is reported to have sat silently through almost all of that White House meeting. After that in-person meeting, he retired to his condo in the early evening to make phone calls, as in to phone it in, from one of his houses. Friday morning, McCain went to Capitol Hill for less than two hours, then flew to Mississippi for the first presidential debate. Over the critical weekend, he made more phone calls from his home and his campaign headquarters. Asked why he wasn't making the trip to Capitol Hill, McCain senior advisor, Mark Salter, said, quote, "Because he can effectively do what he needs to do by phone." OK, two points here. First, if you're going to phone it in, literally, make sure your top surrogates don't brag that you're not phoning it in. Second, if you crow before you really achieved anything, and then it all goes horribly, horribly wrong, you're going to wind up eating crow. Lots to talk about with my pal, the "Washington Post" columnist, Eugene Robinson. Hello, Mr. Robinson. It's great to see you.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Rachel, great to be here on your new show.

MADDOW: Thank you. So, John McCain loves gambling. Was this "I all rescue the bailout" stance a gamble and did he lose?

ROBINSON: Well, yes. I mean, it was a big gamble. And, you know, to get away from the gambling metaphor, it's like he shot himself in both feet, to tell you the truth.I mean-you know, he ended up making a very big deal of claiming credit for something that didn't happen. You know, he came in, he got the negotiations back on track, he got the bill passed, except, he didn't get the bill passed. It didn't pass. And-so, that's one problem. The other problem is that, in the process, he kind of took ownership of a deeply, deeply unpopular piece of legislation that, you know, the right doesn't like and the left doesn't like. You started to find a lot of people who really like this bailout plan. Yet now, it's associated with John McCain and that's entirely of his own doing. So, you know, I think

MADDOW: Gene, I wonder, though, if he can sort of shed the ownership of the bill. I mean, it did take a long time before he actually said he was going to support it. He has been relatively muted in his support for the bill, even though he said that he was fake calling off his campaign to return to Washington to make sure that some sort of rescue happens. If this bill continues to be very unpopular with the American people in terms of the polling numbers, if it turns out to be something that is seen as a political negative, I wonder if McCain will be able to, somehow, take credit for scuttling it and nearby benefit?

ROBINSON: Well, now that would be a neat trick, if he could take credit for scuttling it at this point. You know, what he can do is, you know, is back away from the bill, you know, very slowly, but, deliberately. And I think, you know, I think lot of people may do that in the end because, you know, the American people-look at how many progressive Democrats voted against this bill. And they were hearing from their constituents as well. So, you know, it-but I don't think you can take credit for scuttling something that, you know, this morning you were taking credit for bringing about.

MADDOW: I guess, if you're going to be all logical on me, I can't argue with you.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: McCain-stop that, Gene. McCain's top economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin said today, quote, "This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country."

Do you have any sense of what the argument is there?

ROBINSON: No, I don't know what he means. I mean, look-you know, everybody is playing politics on Washington. I'm shocked, shocked. But to say that Obama and the Democrats somehow put politics ahead of country in a way that Republicans didn't, you know, the fact is, nobody liked this bill.

The Democrats thought they corralled enough members to, you know, to pass it, but they weren't going to pass it without Republicans joining in. They weren't going to take the entire fall for this. They thought Republicans had enough, you know, their share of members to make up a majority and it turned out that they didn't. So, you know, that's all politics, but it's certainly not being played exclusively by one side. Barack Obama, meanwhile-while, I'm not going to argue that he covered himself with glory in this because neither candidate, you know, offered a new way forward or, you know, really new ideas or, you know, a new bailout bill that would be better than this one, but he did, politically, manage not to become as indelibly associated with this bill as John McCain did.

MADDOW: "Washington Post" columnist, Eugene Robinson, thanks for joining us, Gene. Nice to see you.

ROBINSON: Great to see you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Three immutable and arguable facts of life. The sun rises in the east, Sean Connery was totally the best James Bond, and Republicans hate big government, right? Or you might want to cross that last one off your list because President Bush and John McCain are pushing hard for the $700 billion government bailout of Wall Street. So, are they still Republicans? Is anyone? What does that word mean anymore? We'll get in to that shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Gov. Palin, maybe you should sit for this. There a growing number of conservatives who - how to say this - want to move on. They want to go in a different direction, find a better fix. OK. They want to dump you from the ticket. It's not you, it's them, in part. OK, no, it's you. Some of them are even peer-pressuring John McCain to make a move right now. Boy, that one turned quickly, didn't it? More about that in a just a moment. First, though, it's time for a few underreported holy mackerel stories in today's news. There is a very tense stand-off underway between some number of American Navy ships and pirates. Yes, pirates. Pirate seized a ship last week off the coast of Somalia. This isn't actually as weird as it ought to sound. Somalia hasn't had a functioning government for the last, oh, say, 17 years. But they do lead the world in one industry, piracy. About once a week or so, on average, they seize a ship off their coast or in the Gulf of Aden, which is the main shipping route between Asia and the Middle East. Usually, they demand a ransom. Last week, it appears they hit the pirate booty big time. A Ukrainian ship supposedly bound for Kenya, maybe more likely bound for Sudan - scary - carrying rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns and more than 30 tanks. If you're a Somali pirate, it probably seems like your lucky day. The U.S. Navy, however, has decided to send a destroyer to try to make this a significantly less good experience for the pirates. The pirates are demanding a $20-million ransom and promising to fight to the death. The U.S. Navy is promising to not reveal exactly how many ships they have gotten nearby with the destroyer. But they are pledging a vigilant and visual watch while negotiations take place.

David Axe, writing at "Wired.com" today says that French commandos figured out recently that one way to beat the pirates is to have snipers shoot out their speedboat engines from helicopters. This is the kind of thing that would be rejected as farfetched if you pitched it as a screenplay. Stay tuned.

MADDOW: And the purge of insufficiently loyal Bushies from the ranks of federal prosecutors is a scandal that's received on and off attention since the prosecutors got fired in 2006. Today, the Justice Department inspector general finished its 18 months of investigation into the matter. What did they find? Quote, "substantial evidence that partisan political considerations played a part in the removal of several U.S. attorneys." The report says the partisan purge was carried out by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff. But that primary responsibility for the firings belonged to Alberto himself. An independent prosecutor was been appointed. And this time, Karl Rove and Harriet Miers and Josh Holton(ph) and the White House presumably will have a harder time wriggling out of the subpoenas. Thinking ahead, the current Attorney General Michael Mukasey asked the new prosecutor to provide her first report on the investigation well, after the election in November. Things will just be so much calmer then, right? Finally, one hint that you live in a dictatorship - when you're parliamentary election is a shut-out. The country of Belarus wants to look less dictatory(ph) these days because they want to join the European Union. So Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for 14 years decided to throw an election - 110 seats up for grabs in the parliament. And after Lukashenko got through counting the vote, wouldn't you know it, politicians opposed to him, won precisely zero of the 110 seats. Opposition leaders called on western nations not to recognize the results after international election observers the election was significantly flawed. You think? The bright side here is that the shut out, 110 to zero election may actually represent progress in Belarus. The last time they held elections, four years ago; the opposition wasn't even allowed to run.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: If you listen really, really carefully, if you go to the right parties and fundraisers and troll the right blogs, you might hear what I think are the beginnings of a Republican freak out about vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. Three days until the vice presidential debate and with polls slipping away like sand through their fingers, the GOP's Palin problem appears to be getting worse and not better. Crisis prevention is underway. According to the "Wall Street Journal," McCain's own top two advisors, Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis are decamping to one of John McCain's houses in Sedona, Arizona for a couple of days with Sarah Palin doing debate camp. That's like band camp with no music. According to the journal, the move comes after Palin, quote, "flubbed quasi-mock debates in New York City and Philadelphia." The problem became clearer than ever this week when a "Saturday Night Live" parody came really, really close to a verbatim reenactment of a Sarah Palin network news interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE COURIC, ANCHOR, CBS EVENING NEWS: You cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That Alaska has a

very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our

other side, the land boundary that we have with Canada -

AMY POEHLER, ACTRESS: I want to give you one more chance to explain your claim that you have foreign policy experience based on Alaska's proximity to Russia. What did you mean by that?

TINA FEY, ACTRESS: Well, Alaska and Russia are only separated by a narrow maritime border. You've got Alaska here and this right here is water, then that up there is Russia. So we keep on eye on them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: More significant than their Tina Fey problem is the campaign's conservative problem after George Will and David Fromm(ph) got the ball of Palin skepticism rolling, which Lowry of "The National Review Online" wrote this weekend of Palin with Katie Couric, quote, "I thought Palin was dreadful. She had better be better prepared for next week or she risks damaging her political brand forevermore."And that ringing endorsement follows conservative columnist Kathleen Parker's call for Palin's resignation. Quote, "Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first."

MADDOW: So is this the part where we start to take the resignation talk seriously. Or are we media elitists, left and right, missing her down-home appeal with the voters who will really decide this election, voters who presumably don't think "Saturday Night Live" is funny. Joining us now is "L.A. Times" columnist, Rosa Brooks. Hi, Rosa. Nice to see you.

ROSA BROOKS, COLUMNIST, "L.A. TIMES": Hey, Rachel. It's good to be here.

MADDOW: First, reaction to Sarah Palin's pick as vice presidential nominee was that it nailed down the conservative base for McCain. Is that still true or do these conservative intellectual defectors represent a big problem for her?

BROOKS: It nailed it down though I think a lot of the conservative base are certainly feeling like they've been hit over the head with a hammer at this point by Sarah Palin and with Sarah Palin. They are not having a good week. God help me, I am actually beginning to feel sorry for Sarah Palin. I am not feeling sorry enough for her to feel willing to see the country handed over to John McCain and Sarah Palin, let them make as much of a mess of the country as they've made with campaign. But it is actually painful to watch their campaign imploding like this. It actually hurts to watch. It's just so awful.

MADDOW: Well, we know that John McCain likes big dramatic surprise moves at awkward times within the campaign. What do you think the odds are, seriously, that McCain figures out a way to drop her as his vice president nominee before the election somehow?

BROOKS: Make her walk the plank. You know, I don't think so, Rachel, because who would they replace her with? There's nobody waiting in the wings unless they figure out a way to sort of crossbreed Warren Buffett, you know, with Gen. David Petraeus and throw in a little bit Batman or something. You know - what are they going to do? Are they going to suddenly pick, you know, Rudy Giuliani? He's going to pull the election out of a hat for them? You know, I think she's a disaster. I also think that at this point, frankly, she's a side show. You know, the spotlight is - the damage is already done. You know, the damage is to John McCain's judgment. It's to his reputation as a guy with integrity. It's his reputation as a guy who puts country first instead of just saying, you know, "Let me just kind of close my eyes and kind of point to a random governor. And what the hell, let's hope she can be good enough to be vice president. Oops, it didn't work out?" So you know, whatever they do, it's only going to make it worse.

MADDOW: I wonder though, and I don't mean to be the sort of contrarian here, although I get that's what I am. Heading into Thursday's debate, are the expectations now so low for Sarah Palin, that if she turns up and correctly pronounces the word "and," people will proclaim her the winner?

BROOKS: I don't think so because I don't think - I think the damage is done, you know, that even when she was in tiptop form, she briefly managed to catapult John McCain into a tiny, tiny little lead over Barack Obama. You know, and that's when everything was going great and nobody knew a thing about her.

You know, ever since then, we've seen the race back to where it was before she entered the scene. Obama's lead has actually expanded. I think, you know, if she manages to string together a few coherent sentences, and frankly, for her sake, I hope she does. It's not fun to watch somebody suffering that much up there on stage. You know, I hope she'll manage to pull through, not embarrass the country. You know, but even if she does, I think it's already too late. People will say, "Good for Sarah Palin. You know, she seemed moderately coherent this time. That was a plus." But we're in the middle of the worst economic crisis we've had since the Great Depression if not even worse. And I think we're at a point where people are saying, "One good debate performance is not enough to make us feel very reassured about whether this ticket is going to set the country to rights again."

MADDOW: Your perceptions - you're describing to us your feelings for Sarah Palin, your perceptions of her changing over time, is borne out in the polls a little bit. The latest "New York Times-Wall Street Journal" poll shows Palin is losing ground with voters. More than one in three now say they are not at all comfortable with the idea of Sarah Palin as vice president. That's up just five points in the same polls just from earlier this month. Do you think it's one thing in particular? Is it the interview specifically? Is it "Saturday Night Live?" Is it the cumulative effect?

BROOKS: I think it's the cumulative effect. Plus, obviously, you know, she had the bad luck to have a huge crisis unfold just at the very same time she was revealing herself as somebody who had turned out - you know, apparently had never read a newspaper from beginning to end. You know, and I think a lot of Americans are feeling like, "Look, if everything was going really well in this country right now, maybe we would think this was cute and charming and she could learn on the job." But you know, I think a lot of people are probably having the reaction I have. I feel sorry for her. It's cringe-inducing. All of us think of the terrible moments, you know, in eighth grade or something, when you're up there in front of the whole class and you just can't remember a thing to say, and it's mortifying and it's horrible to watch.

But you know what? Sorry, sorry, Sarah. You know, this is too important for her to be learning on the job. We just, you know - we can't take that chance. The country is in a mess. We need somebody who knows what they're talking about. Or failing that can learn fast and she doesn't seem to be able - she doesn't seem to have either of those things. She doesn't know what she is talking about and she's not learning.

MADDOW: Rosa Brooks, columnist with "The Los Angeles Times," thank you for joining us tonight.

BROOKS: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: When the Republican Party looks in the mirror lately, what does it see? The two-term, Harvard MBA, CEO-style president pushing for a $700 billion bailout deal for Wall Street? Or do they see their mavericky 2008 standard bearer doing the same thing? Or do they see a bunch of congress-folks killing that very deal? I think I have determined who their leader is and he's a little sensitive. I'll tell you who it is, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Where would Barack Obama be without Bill Clinton? OK. We know he is where he is without Bill Clinton. But come on, Mr. Former President. Do you have to make it so darned obvious?

President Clinton has been all over the airwaves recently, talking and talking and talking about everything, from his presidency and his current work to Hillary Clinton and her current work. On "Meet the Press," he went to great lengths to describe what a great man John McCain is. But he could not muster the same enthusiasm to use the same phrase to describe Sen. Obama. The former president is set to campaign for Obama in Florida on Wednesday.

Here's a tip, Mr. President. The change the Obama campaign needs might be from you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Who is the leader of the Republican Party right now? Is it the president? Is it John McCain? Is it John Boehner? Maybe it's - who is that guy that's the party chairman again? Mike Duncan?

Who's the leader of the Republican Party? I ask because I'm trying to figure out where the Republican Party stands on the Wall Street bailout. Because if the Republican Party is against the wall street bailout so much so that a big majority of Republicans are going to vote against it and kill the bailout, say?

Then you'd think that leaders of the Republican Party would muster an argument against the bailout. But instead we heard from the Republican candidate for president, John McCain, and the Republican President George Bush and the ranking Republican in the House, John Boehner, that they are all in favor of the bailout. So their party's negotiators headed into talks with the Democratic Party's negotiators to come up with a bipartisan plan to save Wall Street. An announcement was made this weekend they've made a deal, they've come to agreement. They recognize it's controversial, not everyone will be able to do it. But they figured out how to get a majority from both parties. It will pass, they've got a deal, huesa(ph). So what happened? When they voted today, am I allowed to do a Bronx cheer on television? I don't know. I'm going to assume that I can't. Let's say fail, no deal. A majority of Democrats voted for it, a big majority, two-thirds of Democrats, no surprise. Democrats said that would happen. That's what their leadership said and that's what the members of their party did, very simple. But the Republicans? Their leadership said they were for it but Republicans voted two to one against it; 133 Republicans voted no. Only 65 voted yes and the bailout failed. What does this mean? It means that the Republican Party's leadership apparently doesn't speak for the Republican Party, which means it's not really leadership. Think about this for a second. As rank in file Republicans were about to sink the bailout, the leadership was bragging on John McCain's leadership.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This bill would not have been agreed to had it not been for John McCain. If people want to get something done in Washington, they just watch John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was Mitt Romney on the "Today" show this morning. And do you remember the Republican congressman Trent Franks who we had on this show in the dead of night after the debate on Friday? Do you remember what he said about McCain?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TRENT FRANKS (R-AZ): He met with the House Republicans today and he really did empower us. And it was a pretty amazing display of leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Yes. After saying that, Trent Franks voted no on the bailout today, just like the entire Republican congressional delegation from Arizona voted no. John McCain is such a leader of the Republican Party that he couldn't convince even a single member of the congressional delegation from his home state, from his own party to go along with his position on the bailout. President Bush didn't do so well either. Of the 19 Republicans from Texas and Congress, only four took Bush's position and voted for this thing. Not only do John McCain and President Bush not look like leaders of their party in a national way, they don't even look like block captains right now. Who do they speak for? Who do they represent? Who does what they say? Who follows their lead? If we can identify leadership in a political party according to who gets paid attention to, who actually leads his or her fellow party members into doing one thing versus another, who drives votes, I guess we'd have to say that the leader of the Republican Party now is Eric Cantor maybe? He's the Virginia Republican who led the "we hate the bailout" brigade in the House. While all the other guys with big titles said they were for the bailout, Republicans should vote for the bailout, when everybody else was being ignored by Republicans in congress, they ended up following Eric Cantor's lead. So I guess he's the leader. Let's ask him. Why is the Republican Party against the bailout? Why did you, guys, just vote two-to-one against it, Mr. Cantor?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA): Right here is the reason I believe why this vote failed. And this is Speaker Pelosi's speech that frankly struck the tone of partisanship that frankly was inappropriate in this discussion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That's apparently the Republican Party's position against the bailout, spoken by the man who's apparently their party's leader. The position against the bailout is based on the tough minded principle that everybody should keep a nice tone. Bad tone, no policy, meow. If they don't disagree that the country's economy is melting down, they don't disagree that something should be done. They don't disagree this is an urgent matter that requires urgent action. They frankly just need to be spoken to in a more pleasant manner. As is often the case it's hard to beat Barney Frank for a response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA): Give me those 12 peoples' names and I'll go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them and tell them what wonderful people they are. And maybe they'll now think about the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Like the bailout or hate it, who leads the Republican Party right now? And why would the Democrats bother negotiating with Republicans again at all on round two, when apparently the Republican Party's leaders don't represent anyone?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Now, it's time for "Just Enough" with my friend Kent Jones who force feeds me just enough pop culture so I can be allowed out in public. Hi, Mr. Jones. How are you?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. Well, the TV ratings are in for Friday night's presidential debate. And according to Nielsen, the metropolitan area that had the fewest viewers where only 24.8 percent were watching was Phoenix, Arizona, where they have a senator named John McCain.

Why such is a low number in Arizona? One resident said more people in Phoenix tuned out McCain because, quote, "We've had to sit through his show for years and, trust me, it gets old really fast." Plus, "Stargate Atlantis" was on Sci-Fi that night. Duh. In California, Gov. Schwarzenegger is vetoing a bill that would fine motorists $35 for driving with a dog or other pet in your lap. The governator says he's only signing bills that are, quote, "the highest priority for California." And apparently the "poodle bouncing unprotected on the laps of the stupidest drivers in the world" bill isn't one of them. Now, before it was vetoed, a group of the bill's opponents said they would stage a protest by driving around the State Capitol with their heads dangling out their car windows. And finally, attention would be James Bond's and Jane Bond's. MI-6, 007's employer and Britain's spy elite is recruiting for new agents on the Web on Facebook. MI-6 launched a Facebook job ad a few weeks ago and are trying to reach a larger variety of potential turncoats and deep-cover moles. But why Facebook? Said one rep, why? Millions of people creating plausible lies under assumed names. Fish in a barrel, really. Why not? Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you very much, Kent. I know you picked the spy things ...

JONES: You love the spies.

MADDOW: ... because you know I have a pop culture weakness.

JONES: Yes.

MADDOW: I'm so bad at pop culture, generally, but it's like the one area in which I have a slight entree.

JONES: Oh, you do.

MADDOW: I know.

JONES: You could be in MI-6 if you wanted to.

MADDOW: Sort of. All right. Thank you, Kent. I appreciate it.

And thank you for watching tonight. We'll see you here tomorrow night. Until then, you can E-mail us, rachel@msnbc.com . You can also hear my radio show at 6:00 Eastern, coast to coast, on Air America Radio. "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN" starts right now. Good night.

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