updated 10/22/2008 11:05:28 AM ET 2008-10-22T15:05:28

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith, and thank you.

And thank you at home for sticking around for this next hour.  We have some breaking news, some surprising breaking news on Barack Obama getting off the campaign trail this week.  We‘ve also got a lot of other campaign news to get to tonight.

(voice over):  Your down in the polls, way down in fundraising, and your opponent is down in Florida with some of his very popular allies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK:  Tell them Hillary sent you to vote for Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If you were John McCain, with 15 days left, would the outlook as dire for you as it is for him right now, how would you try to win?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  He said to himself, we need to spread the wealth around.  Now, that‘s one of the tenets of socialism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The “Bolshevik in the bathroom, he‘s a commie” strategy comes out of retirement for what we hope is one last go round in American policy.

And special infliction (ph) he wants to put on it this time around?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It was totally about race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The elephant in every political scientist‘s living room this year.  Does the Bradley effect exist?  Is the predictive power of polling about black candidates smaller than it appears?

The Obama campaign says it does not believe there is a Bradley effect.  Tonight, the evidence that the McCain campaign not only believes in it, but is counting on it to win.

And: The Palin effect.  Apparently, just what the Democrats ordered.  A new poll has Palin shaking public confidence in McCain.  Add that to Colin Powell‘s assessment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  I don‘t believe she‘s ready to be president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  And add a little too much maverick to the campaign messaging and all the “Saturday Night Live” in the world may not be able to salvage the one decision that is sinking the McCain campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And you really have to work hard to violate Governor Palin‘s standards on negative campaigning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Ana Marie Cox on the latest Palin-tology.

Early voting is in effect.  But will everyone who wants to vote get to vote?  Young voters, whose number doubled as a voting bloc during the primaries, feel their votes are being suppressed all over the country.

Matthew Segal of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment is trying to sound the alarm.  He joins us live.

And the world‘s most mysterious celebrity, John Hodgman, joins us to ravel in the wonderful strangeness of his fame and expertise, and (ph) my serious talk about very serious things.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.

(on camera):  We start with breaking news tonight, that Senator Barack Obama has unexpectedly announced that he will suspend his presidential campaign on Thursday and Friday so he can be in Hawaii with his 86-year-old grandmother.  She is ill.  She has taken a turn for the worse.

The campaign is keeping the specific details of her medical condition private.  But they have said that her health has declined to the point of seriousness that Senator Obama believes he must suspend his campaign and go join her.

She is 86 years old.  Her name is Madeline Dunham.  She played a key role in raising him from the time he was born until the moment that he left for college.  He‘s spoken often and with a lot of emotion on the campaign trail about how important she has been in his life.  When Senator Obama took a week-long vacation earlier on the campaign trail, it was, in part, because he wanted to spend that time in Hawaii with his ailing grandmother.

This is an unexpected development on the campaign trail.  It‘s, of course, has huge implications for Senator Obama and his family and their personal life.

Of course, but we‘re all left to wonder for the country is, what this means for his political life as well?

Joining us now on the phone is NBC‘s Lee Cowan.  He has been traveling with the Obama campaign.

Lee, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

LEE COWAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (through phone):  Sure, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Did this announcement come out of nowhere?  Did you have an indication that something like this might be happening?

COWAN:  No, not at all.  In fact, it was about half way into the flight from Orlando tonight, after that rally with Hillary Clinton, that spokesman Robert Gibbs came back, pretty somber-faced and said that he was changing some of the campaign‘s plans, that we were supposed to be doing some campaigning swings in Wisconsin on Wednesday and on Thursday in Iowa.  Those have now changed.

He‘s still going to do a campaign rally in Indianapolis, but shortly after that, he‘ll be boarding his plane to fly to Hawaii.  It‘s going to be a long flight.  It‘s about eight hours from Indianapolis to Hawaii.  He‘ll spend Thursday evening and as much of Friday as he can in Hawaii, at the bedside of his grandmother.  And then fly back from Hawaii, presumably overnight to resume his efforts on the campaign trail on Saturday.

That‘s the plan now, although, of course, if this is serious as it sounds, perhaps that could extend even longer than that if the worst case scenario happens.  The campaign simply isn‘t sure yet.  But at this time, they think he will be back out on the campaign trail on Saturday.

MADDOW:  Have they given you indications that Senator Obama‘s grandmother is hospitalized?  Have they given specific information about what type of illness she might be suffering from?

COWAN:  No, they‘re still keeping pretty mum about exactly what her condition is.  Although she was hospitalized last week, we understand.  She was released late last week.  She‘s back home in her apartment in Honolulu, in Oahu.

That‘s where, as you said, Senator Obama went to visit her almost everyday when he was on vacation in mid-August.  We never saw her.  There were always, usually very private moments.  He would simply got to the elevator, which he then go up, he spend an hour or so and come back down.  But he did that almost every day, sometimes with Michelle and the girls, sometimes by himself.

He‘s very close to her, as he mentioned.  That‘s she‘s the person who credits largely with raising him, especially in his latter years in high school and before he left for college.  So, obviously, a tough, tough decision to make for him.  This is the heat of the campaign.  Clearly, this is a priority for him and his family.

MADDOW:  Lee, I‘m interested in the decision by the campaign not just to cancel the two events for, I believe it‘s Madison, Wisconsin and Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday, but also to try to squeeze in this Indianapolis event before he went.  Was that something that was on his schedule before, or has that been added to the schedule sort of to compensate for those other events that he will have to miss?

COWAN:  It wasn‘t on the schedule before.  Campaign spokesman said don‘t read too much into this.  I think they wanted to try as much as they could—Indianapolis is still relatively close to home.  It doesn‘t sound like he‘s leaving to go back to Chicago and then back to Hawaii.  However, it sounds like he‘s leaving directly from Indianapolis.

But, you‘re right, they are certainly squeezing it in on Thursday morning.  But the campaign says not to read too much into that.  They were planning to go Indianapolis anyway, they say, they didn‘t have a precise day.  It seems like it‘s pretty much day-to-day at this point exactly where they‘re going.  So, this is a last minute adjustment, but they said that it doesn‘t necessarily mean one thing or the other.

MADDOW:  Lee, do you get any sense from the campaign, either officially or, I guess, you know, in a more ambient sense, in terms of what they think the political cost of this is?  What they think the political risk here?  Obviously, they decided to do it, but they have to have some sense of how big a problem this might pose for them in terms of momentum and in terms of just how they‘re doing with just 15 days left before the election.

COWAN:  Well, I mean, they didn‘t say.  This is all happening relatively quickly, although it sounds like the senator had a pretty good sense of it late last week or, at least, the beginning of last week, that things had taken a turn for the worst.  As we said, she was taken to the hospital last week and just released.  And it sounds as if the news was bad enough that he had to make this decision.

I think, most have say that this is the clearly the priority, that this shows where his priority lies in terms of with his family, with the woman who raised him, with the woman who essentially he credits with giving him many of the credentials that he is so proud of, that he thinks will serve him well in the White House.

So, I think, even though they haven‘t said what they worry about the cost might be, clearly, this is not the time when you want to let down your guard.  I mean, all along, over last, really, five or six days, as you know, Rachel, he‘s been telling supporters—look, just because we are ahead in the polls, just because things seem to be going our way, it seems as though we have the momentum, he has two words for everybody: New Hampshire.  Everyone thought he was going to be ahead there, and that didn‘t happen that way.

So, they never were taking anything for granted.  So, clearly, this is something that may not stop their momentum, but two days off the trail this close to Election Day is a big blow.

MADDOW:  Obviously, an in-person appearance by the candidate is the “holy grail” of attention at this point in the campaign.  On the Republican side, it sometimes seems like an in-person appearance by the vice presidential candidate is the “holy grail” in terms of attention and in terms of press coverage, and in terms of crowd size.

I wonder, though, about efforts by the Obama campaign to continue the momentum in order to keep a sense that the campaign is still firing on all cylinders even while Senator Obama himself doesn‘t need to take himself offline for a couple of days.  Do you know, for example, if he‘s planning to bring any press with him to Hawaii?  Do you know if there are any efforts to sign up additional surrogates or to add any additional events by people other than Senator Obama while he‘s off?

COWAN:  Well, they said Senator Biden will certainly continue his campaign schedule, although, again, some of that later in the week hasn‘t been worked out.  They did say they thought that some of the surrogates would pick up where he left off.  It doesn‘t necessarily mean that he‘s going to be picking up rallies in place where he cancelled like in Iowa or Wisconsin.  But they think of it over the next couple.

They are not saying that this campaign is stopping.  Everybody is still going full force.  They just think the senator just needs some private time to go to Hawaii and spend sometime with his grandmother.  But the campaign as a whole, they say, is going full forward.  They are going to take, we call it a “pool in television,” for those who don‘t understand it, it will be a small group of us that travels with the senator, in case something happens, in case he has a statement to make so there will coverage certainly of him there.  But he‘s not planning on taking his entire staff and press corps (ph) as he‘s been doing all along in this campaign.

MADDOW:  NBC News correspondent, Lee Cowan, who has been covering the Obama campaign all year, traveling with the campaign now.  Lee, thanks for taking time to join us.  I appreciate it.

COWAN:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  The image that you see there is Senator Obama with his grandparents, with his maternal grandparents.  Obviously, the woman on the right hand side of your screen is his 86-year-old grandmother, Madeline Dunham.  She lives in Honolulu.

Senator Obama is changing his schedule to head to Hawaii on Thursday afternoon.  He plans to return to the campaign trail on Saturday after his grandmother‘s health has taken a turn for the worse.  He has referenced in the past year, over the course of this campaign, his concern to have additional time with his grandmother as she ages, and she has had some health concerns.

That explained in part why he was willing to take a week-long vacation in Hawaii during the midst of this campaign.  He, obviously, took some criticism, some raised eyebrows there, can you afford to be in a state like Hawaii at a time like this and the campaign that is this fast-moving.  Part of his explanation for what he did that is that he felt that he needed to spend some time with his grandmother while he still could.

She, of course, had a pivotal role in raising him, from infancy until the time that he went to college.  He speaks often about his personal relationship with her and what she has meant to him over the course of his life.

We‘re joined now by Lynn Sweet, who is the “Chicago Sun-Times” Washington bureau chief.

Lynn, thanks very much for joining us.

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES (through phone):  Thank you, Rachel. 

Good evening.

MADDOW:  Lynn, is there precedent for other candidates, this late in the game, having to take time off the trail, in essence, for a personal matter like this?

SWEET:  Well, actually, yes.  Just recently, Joe Biden, the wife of Joe Biden, her mother passed away and Senator Biden took his time off on the campaign trail.  This happened just very recently.  Now, you know, he‘s the vice presidential candidate, not the presidential candidate, but that happened.

And actually, what this does is while Obama—the campaign is so big and so sprawling, it exists in so many places that for some practical purposes, you might not know that he is not on the trail.  The statement put out by the campaign which just came out doesn‘t preclude that he couldn‘t make statements from Hawaii, which is where he will be going to, to see his grandmother.  You have plenty of surrogates, plenty of ads.

So, as a practical matter, this might also, Rachel, disarm the McCain campaign a bit because it will be just harder to beat on him personally, if he‘s going through this difficult, personal time with the illness of his grandmother.

MADDOW:  Certainly, we saw that when Senator Biden did have to take time off the trail, when he lost his mother-in-law recently, there was a little bit of criticism of the McCain campaign for going after him during that time.  This occasion is probably going to be seen as more dramatic.  They will probably take closer note of him being off the trail.

Is there anything that the Obama campaign can do in terms of its logistics, in terms of the way it rolls people out there, way it deals with ads and surrogates to lessen the opportunity cost, to lessen the potential hit they‘ll take in terms of what they‘re doing (ph)?

SWEET:  Absolutely.  They have almost unlimited supply of big names,

of critical (ph) figures, entertainment figures, though I don‘t think

that‘s what you want here, figures on public life and they could put down -

right now, a lot of them are around the nation.

Everyday, there‘s the concentration, I know, on what McCain and Obama are doing, and some of the most senior people around them.  You know, there are surrogates well over the country all the time.  I would think that if they put to use together, that you easily could keep the momentum going because you don‘t need necessarily these big, dramatic rallies that Obama has in order to maintain a presence.  And if nothing else, you can deal with the hand you got, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Right.

SWEET:  You know, it‘s a resourceful campaign.  And like I said, I think the McCain people will have to stand down a bit.

MADDOW:  Lynn Sweet, “Chicago Sun-Times” Washington bureau chief, thanks for joining us on such a short notice.  Lynn, I appreciate it.

SWEET:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Next, joining us is “Newsweek” magazine columnist and NBC News analyst, Jonathan Alter.

Hi, Jonathan.  Thanks for joining us.

JONATHAN ALTER, NBC NEWS ANALYST (through phone):  Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW:  We just received word from the Obama campaign that as Senator Obama takes time off to go to Hawaii, Michelle Obama will hold events in place of him in Akron, Ohio and Columbus, Ohio on Friday.

When Senator Obama returns to the campaign trail Saturday morning, he will head out west.  They say we will have more information about the exact schedule and event details in the coming days.

Jonathan, obviously, this is a personal tragedy and a personal concern for Senator Obama.  That‘s why he is taking the time off.  What‘s the political risk here, if any?

ALTER:  Well, it‘s a significant amount of time, you know, four days, with 14 to go.  You know, that is, close to 1/3 of the remaining time that will be consumed by this personal matter.  So, it‘s obviously not something that you want to do this close to the end unless you have to, you know, for personal reasons.  But I don‘t think it‘s going to be a significant blow to his campaign because so much of the campaign nowadays takes place in cyberspace or, you know, on television and not necessarily at these events themselves in terms of, you know, changing people‘s minds, moving the needle on the polls.

The personal appearances are only part of what‘s involved in a modern day campaign.  And also, the particular nature of this visit is one that actually works well with something that he‘s been doing in his advertising which is—he‘s had a number of what they call bios pots in various states, including Pennsylvania, where he shows himself with his family the people who had a great influence on his life, including his grandmother, whom he called “Toot” and was a huge influence.

A very interesting woman, who started as a clerk in a bank, without much education and she was so competent, so capable as a person that she rose to a senior position in a bank in Hawaii.  And, clearly, a lot of his organizational skills that we‘ve seen on display in this campaign came from his grandmother.

MADDOW:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” magazine and NBC News, thank you for that background information—a reminder about his grandmother and what sort of life she‘s had, in addition to influencing Senator Obama.  Thanks, Jonathan.

When we come back, among the new buzz words coming out of the McCain campaign about Barack Obama are the words “socialist” and the word “welfare.”  Could they be banking on this so-called and much-debated “Bradley effect” as a last ditch effort to divide and conquer the electorate?  We will analyze it, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  On the Internet machine, there‘s something called “Godwin‘s Law.”  Godwin‘s Law holds that roughly speaking, the longer an online discussion goes on, the more likely that it is that someone is going to compare something to Nazis.  The principle is that when you run out of substantive things to say, but you still feel very strongly about something, you embarrass yourself and spoil your own credibility by making a totally over the top, predictable, inappropriate accusation.  It‘s like Hitler.

I hereby propose a similar adage, not for online discussions but for American politics.  I hereby submit, that the longer it‘s clear that liberals or Democrats are going to win an election, the longer it‘s clear that liberals and Democrats are winning an argument, the more likely it becomes that someone is going to get called a “commie,” “socialist,” “Bolshevik,” “commie,” “pinko,” “comrade,” “five-year planner.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Taking more from the small business, or from small business owner, or from a hardworking family, and then redistributing that money according to a politician‘s priority.  There are hints of socialism in there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Hints of socialism.  With 15 days to go, the best thing they can come up with is Barack Obama is a socialist.  He‘s a commie.

Here‘s the thing about Godwin‘s Law with people invoking Hitler online.  And it‘s just as true as the communist accusation in American politics.  It is, most of all, an embarrassment to the person making the accusation.  No one who‘s not an actual Nazi is like a Nazi.

Barack Obama is not a communist.  Cutting taxes is not a socialist plot.  You‘re just embarrassing yourself now.

So, most of all, it‘s sad and funny that the McCain campaign is resorting to calling Barack Obama a commie.  But maybe, there is a method to this madness.  Maybe they are willing to risk embarrassing themselves like this because they think they are on to something.  This is from Senator McCain‘s weekly pseudo-presidential radio address this past weekend.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives.  Barack Obama‘s tax plan would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  “Welfare,” where that come from?  Welfare?  Yes.  The great racially-divisive code word from the ‘80s and ‘90s that has no bearing whatsoever on Barack Obama‘s tax policies.  But that word does create a vague impression that this candidate might want to give out welfare handouts.

You‘ve heard of the phrase the “Bradley effect,” right?  The “Bradley effect” describes a scenario in which more voters tell pollsters they are going to support a black candidate than actually do cast a vote for that candidate.  It means polls might be misleadingly high for an African-American candidate.

The Obama campaign says that they do not believe that Bradley effect exists.  There is legitimate difference of opinion about whether it exists.  There‘s good evidence, for example, that it didn‘t exist in the 1982 California governor‘s race, for which it was named.

But the evidence from the campaign trail suggests that the McCain campaign believes in the Bradley effect.  They believe it‘s real.  You could write a textbook about how to summon and stoke the Bradley effect based on McCain-Palin campaign‘s tactics.

Here‘s Governor Palin campaigning today in Colorado.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Barack Obama claims that he will cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans.

(CROWD BOOING)

PALIN:  But, the problem is—the problem with that claim is that 40 percent pay no income tax at all.  So—so how can you cut income taxes for folks who don‘t pay them?  His plan is to cut them a check and call that a tax credit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, a tax cut for rich people is conservative, but a tax cut for the middle class and poor people is—welfare?  A government handout?  Socialism?

It‘s ridiculous, but it makes the right, vague impression.  If the Bradley effect is there to be stoked, if it is to be believed as a political science phenomenon, then could it swing North Carolina, say, Ohio, Florida, anywhere else where the polls are close?

Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Lacewell.  She is an associate processor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.

Melissa, thanks for coming on the show tonight.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Absolutely, happy to be here.

MADDOW:  You and I talked a lot about the Bradley effect this campaign season, what it is, whether it‘s real.  The reason I wanted to talk with you about it again tonight is because I feel like we‘ve seen a drastic turn toward the kind of campaign tactic you would expect the campaign to use if they wanted to exploit this effect.

So, help me out here.  Describe what the theory of the Bradley effect is, how it works.

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, let‘s be clear.  The Bradley effect means specifically, that white Americans who should be supporting a black candidate, say, because they are in the same party that he is, claimed to pollsters that they are going to support him, and then choose not to vote for him on Election Day.

What that would mean, in this case, to induce a Bradley effect, would mean that somehow, John McCain‘s strategy has to be appealing to white Democrats.  The white Democrats would be harboring in their heart and unwillingness to vote for Barack Obama while telling pollsters that they would.

Now, I don‘t think that that‘s going on.  I do think that John McCain and Sarah Palin are clearly, as a context of their campaign, trying to use race as a wedge issue.  That‘s what welfare is, as a code word.  It‘s not quite the same thing as trying to induce a Bradley effect, but it is hoping that there‘s enough latent racism left in the system that they can use that to defeat Barack Obama.

MADDOW:  I know that you have said that we didn‘t see a Bradley effect in the primaries this year.  We didn‘t see Barack Obama underperforming his poll numbers.  What kind of races do we see that effect work, if it ever does?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Look, this is upside-down world, where the candidate who has built a 50-state strategy for the Democrats, who has the broadest multiracial coalition in Democratic Party history, who has people canoeing, you know, out to see him in Oregon and 100,000 of them standing at the St.  Louis Arch, is somehow are going to be victimized by this latent white racism.

I think it‘s maybe a little bit unfair to think of white Americans as all being represented by the folks that are showing up at the Palin rallies.  I just—there‘s very little evidence, we had such a long primary season.  And sometimes Barack Obama underperformed and sometimes he overperformed with white voters.  But there was nothing consistent to tell us that white voters are overwhelmingly making this decision about Barack based on race.

MADDOW:  Do you see a specific strategy from the McCain campaign in using this “welfare” term over and over again now, and talking about redistribution of resources toward minority communities?  The reason it‘s so striking to me is because they really had to go very far out on a limb to come up with a way to talk about middle class tax cuts as welfare?  It seems like they were deliberately trying to come up with some excuse for using that word.

Do you think it‘s on purpose?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, let me first say that my pink ribbon today is for breast cancer awareness month, not for some sort of communist plot.  Just in case anybody‘s watching.  And again, this is upside-down bizarre world where the GOP, which has, you know, overseen the massive redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest smallest percent of Americans, who are engaged in a kind of corporate socialism that is buying out, you know, Wall Street.  For them to then called the candidate most interested in creating a sort of equality, a sharing of the goodies of the American system.

I mean, right now, Americans are sharing the burden of the American system.  Poor people and middle class people are taking the brunt of bad decisions made by the very wealthy on Wall Street.  Why shouldn‘t they also benefit when things get a little bit better?  It‘s just a very strange thing to watch a very wealthy candidate could have laughed about the idea of sharing, you know, a few of his seven houses with the rest of the country.

MADDOW:  Even if it wasn‘t him, I would think it was funny to have them yelling “Bolsheviks, Bolsheviks,” it just implied a certain hilarious desperation at this point.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton, it‘s always great to have you on the show.  Thanks for your time tonight.

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Thanks.

MADDOW:  An old joke says that America and England are two countries separated by a common language.  You could say the same about John McCain and Sarah Palin.  Are they for robocalls or against them?  The senator is for them.  The governor doesn‘t seem like she is, but, how can you really tell?  Does anybody here speak Palin?  We‘ll ask Ana Marie Cox next.

But before we go, a little bit more on the breaking news tonight that Barack Obama is leaving the campaign trail on Thursday of this week to spend time with his ill grandmother in Hawaii.  This is dramatic and unexpected breaking news tonight from the Obama campaign. 

We now have a statement from Obama‘s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, quote, “Senator Obama‘s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham has always been one of the most important people in his life.  Along with his mother and his grandfather, she raised him in Hawaii from the time he was born until the moment he left for college.  As he said at the Democratic convention, she poured everything she had into him.  Recently, his grandmother has become ill and in the last few weeks, her health has deteriorated to the point where her situation is very serious.  It is for that reason that Sen. Obama has decided change schedule on Thursday and Friday so that he can see her and spend some time with her.  He will be returning to the campaign trail on Saturday.” 

We‘ll be right back in just a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  John Hodgman is going to be here tonight.  You may know him as PC from those Mac ads or from “The Daily Show” or from “This American Life.”  We will be musing about politics, his new book and how bad it‘s going to be for comedians if Barack Obama wins.  Because seriously, does that mean the end of saying, “Thanks, but no thanks for everything?”

First though, it‘s time for one underreported holy mackerel story in today‘s news.  In Iraq tonight, a proposed deal between America and Iraqi officials appears to be going nowhere fast due to Iraqi domestic politics.  The proposed deal would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq after the United Nations legal mandate expires December 31st of this year. 

So many Iraqi‘s want U.S. troops gone now.  The Iraqi politicians are finding themselves hesitant to have their fingerprints or their signatures on any agreement that extends the U.S. stay.  And so, there is no agreement.  Political parties in Iraq are fleeing from the proposal and tens of thousands of Shiite and Sunni Iraqis marched against it in Baghdad this weekend. 

It has been exactly 2000 days since President Bush declared that we had prevailed in major combat operations in Iraq in front of that infamous “mission accomplished” banner.  It has been 2000 days.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Smart money says the Obama-McCain race is going to tighten up over the next two weeks.  That is a pretty safe bet.  But how exactly did the race get here?  What is the biggest drag on McCain‘s numbers right now?  General Powell, a little help here?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  I don‘t believe she‘s ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president.  And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Sen. McCain made. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s right.  Perhaps the single biggest anti-buoyancy agent of the McCain-Palin campaign is - Sarah Palin.  There, I said it.  I‘ve been thinking it for a long time and there‘s me saying it.  Palin‘s prospects hinged and hinged on the absence of crisis, like, say, the economy curdling like milk in the sun. 

You need some evidence?  A new Washington Post-ABC News poll out today finds that 52 percent of likely voters say that McCain‘s pick of Sarah Palin has made them less confident in the kind of decisions that he would make as president.  That‘s up 13 percent since just after McCain picked her. 

A recent “L.A. Times” poll finds that voters are now less likely to vote for McCain because of Palin, especially independent voters who once loved John McCain and his mavericky, mavericky, maverickness. 

In September, 38 percent of independents said they were more likely to vote for McCain because of Palin.  Now, just half that number say that.  That‘s 19 percent of independent voters lost in a month. 

And lately, Gov. Palin seems out of step with her campaign.  Here‘s Sen. McCain on FOX NEWS yesterday defending his use of robo-calls, specifically the one his campaign is using to try to link Barack Obama with Bill Ayers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I care about everybody knowing the relationship between the two of them.  That‘s legitimate.  We need to know the full extent of that relationship.  That is an accurate robo-call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  McCain is OK with robo-calls, as long as he feels they are accurate.  So that‘s the campaign line, right?  Sure, Palin feels the same way, right?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If I called the shots and if I could wave a magic wand, I would be sitting at the kitchen table with more and more Americans, talking to them about our plan to get the economy back on track and winning the war and not having to rely on the old conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robo-calls. 

MADDOW:  So, Gov. Palin, you‘re against robo-calls. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PALIN:  All right.  This is Sarah Palin.  One of our local campaign volunteers just called you and I wanted to follow up and ask for your support. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If only she had that magic wand or even just the gall to say no. 

How much less can you ask for from your running mate, anyway? 

Joining us now is “Time” magazine contributor and “Radar” magazine‘s Washington editor, Ana Marie Cox.  Ana Marie, thanks for joining us again. 

ANA MARIE COX, “TIME” MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR:  Good evening, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Conventional wisdom says vice presidential picks do not matter, but who has been worse for a presidential pick than Sarah Palin?

COX:  Well, it is hard to look at the numbers and say that she hasn‘t done a terrible job, although if you look very closely at the numbers, McCain is still outpolling the number of people who are very disappointed in the Palin pick.  So he‘s getting those numbers from somewhere. 

But then again, Barack Obama is also picking up more numbers than the polling than simply Palin would suggest.  So he‘s picking up people even who think the Palin pick was not disastrous.  So she‘s - actually, I would say while very, very, very bad news for McCain, somehow not the worst. 

MADDOW:  Right.  So does that mean people who are disappointed think it reflects poorly on the candidate, but they are willing to go there anyway?

COX:  You know, we have what we call low-information voters out there, Rachel.  Perhaps, that‘s what we‘re talking about when we talk about them.  I actually find this whole drama of the Sarah Palin pick to be - well, I think I even told you that I find the McCain campaign to be a sort of fascinating tragedy, Shakespearean in its own way. 

But I think the problem is that McCain and Palin are in two different Shakespeare plays.  I think that McCain is perhaps in “King Lear,” sort of the troubled, you know, patriarch who‘s made a lot of mistakes, but you don‘t quite want him to die quite yet.  And then Sarah Palin is the villain in “Titus Andronicus” which is I‘m quite willing to let her go off stage as soon as possible. 

I talked with a friend of mine and I offered out Lady Macbeth, but he pointed out that Lady Macbeth she goes off stage and she is here for the long haul possibly even 2008.

MADDOW:  Well, that‘s what I wonder - if that‘s what‘s going on right now with these public disagreements within the campaign on where the campaign.  Her saying, “We shouldn‘t get out of Michigan.”  Recently, the federal ban of gay marriage - she expressed a difference in opinion with Sen. McCain on that.  Now, on robo-calling.  Is this “maverickiness” or is this her saying that she ought to be the one running for president?

COX:  I think there are a few different things.  Let‘s not also sort of write off the possibility that this is simply ineptitude which could be happening right here.  You know, I have a friend on the campaign who once compared the McCain campaign itself to a plane on fire looking for a landing.  And I put this to another staffer once and he said, “That may be true, but if that‘s true, the McCain campaign is a different plane than the Palin campaign.” 

And I think that‘s what you are seeing here.  I think there are two different sets of pilots, perhaps even two different command towers.  I think that there‘s kind of a lack of communication.  And let‘s see, to put it quite generously, the McCain plane is - and the Palin plane are not looking for the same landing place. 

MADDOW:  Well, last question for you Ana Marie and that is ...

COX:  OK.

MADDOW:  ... I wanted to get your reaction to tonight‘s breaking news that Sen. Obama is unexpectedly going to call off his campaign on Thursday and Friday.  He‘s going to be leaving the campaign trail to go be by the bedside of her ailing grandmother.  Obviously, this is a first, second and first - this is a personal tragedy and we hope for the best for his family.  This also has some political consequences, does it not?

COX:  Of course, it does.  And of course, we all, you know - all our prayers go out to Barack Obama‘s grandmother on this count.  And I wouldn‘t want to make light of this situation, but I think that for Barack Obama, the important thing, the only risk he has is that McCain‘s suspends his campaign again.  Then things could go badly for Obama. 

But I think, you know, he could probably just take the rest of the month off if he really wanted to.  But of course, he won‘t and I know that actually, no one in Obamaland is taking this lightly and no one there is unfurling the “mission accomplished” banner quite yet. 

MADDOW:  Ana Marie Cox, “Radar” Washington editor and “Time” magazine contributor, it‘s always great to have you on the show.  Thanks. 

COX:  Always good to be here. 

MADDOW:  Coming up, “The Daily Show‘s” John Hodgman is here.  He is an expert on everything.  He has just written a book full of expertise.  Can‘t think of a more valuable guest during these times than a man who knows absolutely everything about everything. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:                  With the prospect of our nation‘s first African-American president or the first female vice president at hand, we think it‘s a good idea to take a look back at another history-making presidency, that of our first white male president, and by that I mean the first president.  Gather around.  It‘s story time. 

Tonight‘s story comes from the book, “More Information Than You Require,” the latest in fake trivia from the illustrious, mysterious, enigmatic and very good-looking John Hodgman. 

We‘ll pick up the story after an effort has been launched to make Gen.  George Washington, king of America.  But Washington would not be king.  He was at once a Virginian aristocrat and a toothless farmer.  And so the nation would find in him the compromise they sought - a bewigged, half-sultan whose powers would be carefully checked and balanced by those of Congress and the Supreme Court, but who would all the same wear white pancake makeup and have hemophilia.  John, you make up great stuff. 

JOHN HODGMAN, AUTHOR, “MORE INFORMATION THAN YOU REQUIRE”:  Oh, I didn‘t make any of it up, though.  That‘s right.  It‘s true there was a movement to make a king of America, you know. 

MADDOW:  There‘s just enough true in the book to be very alarming in things like that. 

HODGMAN:  That‘s true.  I aim to alarm.  It‘s very nice to see you. 

MADDOW:  It‘s nice to see you, too.

HODGMAN:  You did a wonderful reading.  Will you read on my book tour?

MADDOW:  I would love to. 

HODGMAN:  Because I would like to stay home. 

MADDOW:  John Hodgman is the author of “More Information Than You Require.”  You may know John as the PC from “I‘m a Mac and I‘m a PC” ads.  He‘s also “The Daily Show‘s” resident expert on everything from elitism, to oil addiction to spirituality.  You may also know him from the public radio show “Juggernaut,” that is “This American Life,” and the new book “More Information Than You Require.” 

John, you essentially have made a living being sort of a fake expert. 

HODGMAN:  Yes, that‘s correct.  It‘s a good job, too, let me tell you.  It requires very little research. 

MADDOW:  How much real goes into being fake so that your fake trivia and your fake expertise alarms people about the real world.  

HODGMAN:  Well, The first place you look for fake expertise is in your own brain.  All the half truths and received wisdom that have sort of gotten in there through people telling you things that aren‘t true and stuff you maybe learned in school like legends, for example, about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree.  That was the beginning of fake expertise in this country. 

It was all a complete fabrication by partisan wings, his fake biography, which is now a part of the American biography as it were.  So you start by saying, “What is it that I think I know,” and you say that with a very straight face.  But often, it‘s just bogus, of course.  And then, when you run out of stuff to fake stuff in your own head, that‘s when you turn to the Internet, of course.

MADDOW:  I feel like what you‘ve just done is you just impersonated a 2008 campaign consultant.  What do people believe that is totally untrue but they‘ve got sort of a prejudiced inkling toward it that I could say with a straight face and capitalize on politically? 

HODGMAN:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  That seems like the same way of thinking that drives us to what this fact-free campaign we‘ve had.

HODGMAN:  It‘s storytelling, you know.  And jokes are perhaps the shortest stories that there are in the canon of fiction.  But then, you know, political smears are probably the longest lasting.  We will remember them forever.  

MADDOW:  Yes, if only because we can‘t get the smell of them off our clothes. 

HODGMAN:  Yes indeed. 

MADDOW:  Did Sarah Palin‘s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend do her some good politically, do you think?

HODGMAN:  Well, I don‘t know.  I only watched little snippets.  I turned it on for a second and I couldn‘t watch anymore. 

MADDOW:  Why not?

HODGMAN:  Well, I feel like I have been asked to watch her reinvent herself a couple of times now.  I‘ve been asked to see her finally show who she is.  But I saw someone who‘s very comfortable in front of the camera.  She can do this very well, you know.  But, you know, I feel like I‘ve had her - she‘s had her chance to show me who she really is and I‘m not seeing any more at this point.  So I didn‘t want to see another reinvention necessarily. 

MADDOW:  One thing that has struck me about Sarah Palin‘s, I guess, introduction to the American people, introduction to the polity, is this idea that her own belief and insistence that she is qualified ...

HODGMAN:  Yes.

MADDOW:  ... for the job that she is seeking is itself supposed to be evidence that she is qualified. 

HODGMAN:  Well, I mean, that‘s been a hallmark of the past eight years of polity, exactly.  It‘s this magical thinking.  If I say it‘s so, it must be true.  If I say that I am - I mean, look.  She‘s a capable governor, it would seem.  She won that election.  She‘s very well supported in Alaska. 

But just because of that, it does not automatically make her a national figure.  The biggest failing of course is her inability to speak on a national media stage.  She had no experience.  It‘s nothing against her.  She‘ll probably get the experience eventually and be very good at it. 

But That Katie Couric interview revealed what was irredeemably true about her, which is she hadn‘t done it before.  You can‘t pretend that you‘ve done it and fake you way into the job of that caliber. 

MADDOW:  And it is sort of part of the job.  You have to be able to explain yourself in cogent terms to members of the media in order to be an effective president. 

HODGMAN:  One of the reasons I find this election so exciting as a fake expert is that it‘s a referendum on reality.  You know, obviously, there‘s a lot of fiction telling and storyline spinning going on out there.  But for the most part, what Barack Obama‘s message is, “You know what‘s going on.  I‘m not going to try to tell you different.”

And in the meantime, you have the other campaign quite surprisingly tossing out conspiracy theories ...

MADDOW:  Yes.

HODGMAN:  ... you know, from the top of the campaign.  This has happened forever, of course, but never really from the presidential and vice presidential candidate so strongly.  Because you have to believe Barack Obama must really love terrorists and any reasonable person knows it‘s not true. 

MADDOW:  John Hodgman, author of the new book, “More Information Than You Require,” thank you so much for being here.

HODGMAN:  Thank you.  Next time with cocktails, please. 

MADDOW:  I‘m sorry.  I‘ve been working on that with the FCC. 

HODGMAN:  On you fancy new TV show, it‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE) anymore. 

MADDOW:  Coming up next, I get just enough pop culture from Kent Jones. 

Will Barack Obama get a Mohawk?  Maybe just a little one?     

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Now, it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent.  What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Good evening, Rachel.  Last night, at the American League Championship Series, the Mohawk-wearing Rays closed out the Red Sox - sorry, Rachel. 

So today, in Tampa, Barack Obama tried to glob on to some of that World Series mojo. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Congratulations to the Rays.  Those are just some wonderful young men, and I had a chance to meet their families.  And they‘re just outstanding people.  I was going to cut my hair in a Mohawk in solidarity. 

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

But my political adviser said they weren‘t sure how that was going to play with swing voters. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES:  Now, if John McCain‘s political advisers told him he could steal five points from Obama in Florida by getting a Mohawk, McCain would say, “How high and what color? You want spikes or hedge?  You want the Mr. T. or Joe Strummer in “Combat Rock?  Bring me a razor.” 

Next, along Utah-Arizona border, researchers have found more than 1,000 dinosaur footprints with tail drag marks.  This is so cool.  This cluster of tracks likely belonged to at least four different species of dinosaurs.  Said one a researcher, quote, “There must have been more than one kind of dinosaur here.  It was a place that attracted a crowd, kind of like a dance floor.” 

The dance floor theory was confirmed when paleontologists found a fossilized red velvet rope, presumably to keep out the Neanderthals.  Clubs. 

And finally, the economy is tanking.  What should we listen to?  The “New York Times” reported yesterday that a study of Billboard number one songs from 1955 to 2003 found that in shaky economic times, people tend to prefer songs are longer, slower and have more meaningful lyrics. 

Said Professor Terry Pettijohn, quote, “It‘s ‘Bridge Over Troubled

Water,‘ and ‘That‘s What Friends Are For.‘  In better times, it‘s more

likely to be faster, upbeat songs like ‘At the Hop‘ or ‘My Sharona.‘”

So buy some American stock right now, everyone, or we‘re looking at the return of Air Supply and “I Will Always Love You.”  Not on our watch.  Not on our watch. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent. 

And thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you here tomorrow night.  Until then check out our new podcast on iTunes or at Rachel.MSNBC.com.  “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.  Good night.

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