updated 2/25/2009 12:24:55 PM ET 2009-02-25T17:24:55

Guest: Robert Gibbs, Senator Barbara Boxer, Howard Fineman, Howard Dean High: Analysis of Barack Obama‘s address.

Spec: Economy; Barack Obama; Politics

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Madam Speaker, the president of the United States. 

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We cannot afford to govern out of anger or yield to the politics of the moment.  My job, our job is to solve the problem.  Tonight I want every American to know this.  We will rebuild.  We will recover and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening, again, from New York. 

President Obama tonight, five weeks to the day after taking office, reporting to a joint session of Congress on the State of the Union he inherited from President Bush.  Technically, though, it was not the State of the Union Address.  That will await the new year.  But technicality sparing this president from having to elaborate on exactly how strong the state of the union currently is. 

It certainly looked and felt like a State of the Union Address, same presidential entrance, same special guests, same partisan applause breaks, although there were bipartisan ones as well.  The main topic of the address, of course, the economy, including a rundown of reckless behavior that led the nation to what the president described as, quote, “day of reckoning,” as well as the days plural of reckoning going forward that the president described for Wall Street. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I understand that on any given day Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives bank bailouts with no strings attached and that holds nobody accountable for the reckless decisions.  But such an approach won‘t solve the problem.  And our goal is to quicken the day. 

When we restart lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.  And I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive and this time they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars results in more lending for the American taxpayer. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  To the Republican critics in the House chamber who have found religion on deficit and spending after eight years of Bush spending, a reminder tonight about the deficit they created and what President Obama intends to do about that. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  With the deficit we inherited—the cost.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

The cost of the crisis we face and the long-term challenges we must meet it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.  That is critical. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And that possible new 19-month timetable for withdrawal that President Obama is considering for Iraq.  Tonight, one sentence on that. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Along with our outstanding national security team, I‘m now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars.  And I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A statement that brought no less a figure than Senator McCain to his feet with applause. 

We‘re joined now in the aftermath of the president‘s speech and the Republican response by the press secretary of the White House, Robert Gibbs. 

Mr. Gibbs, good evening to you. 

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Hi, Keith, how are you? 

OLBERMANN:  I‘d like to get a kind of response first to the Republican response.  If I heard correctly, Governor Jindal seemed to be, at least by juxtaposition in his speech, linking corruption to the passage of the stimulus bill.  Did you hear that too? 

GIBBS:  Well, look, what I heard tonight were two very different addresses.  I think you heard a command performance from this president who has a plan to lead us to a stronger economy, to a stronger nation, and I think that was reassuring for millions of Americans to hear tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  I did want to ask you one specific question about something that—that has been raised repeatedly by the Republicans, and Governor Jindal raised it again.  $8 billion in the stimulus package for high speed rail projects such as a magnetic levitation line from Las Vegas to Disneyland. 

Is there such a project in the stimulus bill? 

GIBBS:  Well, there is an investment in high speed rail.  I don‘t believe any path or route has been chosen.  I know there are routes in California and in Florida as well as in the Midwest.  They would like to see high speed trains. 

But what you saw the president talk about and what we did in the recovery act was invest in the long-needed priorities of this country in order to put people back to work, to get our economy moving again, and Keith, you heard him talk about tonight, one of the lines you just showed, which is making sure that we hold these banks accountable. 

And if they stand lending again to America‘s families and small businesses that‘s what we need to see to grow our economy. 

OLBERMANN:  The think that struck me about the president‘s speech, in terms of overall approach, and I‘m wondering how deliberate and how dictated by circumstances this actually was, was the premise that each of these crises, each of the issues that are being faced by the country at the moment, in fact, contain opportunities for—for want of a better term—greatness, opportunity to remake an economy, an opportunity to re-regulate industries that perhaps have been let go to seed, and an opportunity to reinvest in various natures, various aspects of the society, from education all the way through—to health care. 

Was that tone, was that theme intentional?  Or is it just circumstance that created the theme? 

GIBBS:  No, Keith, I think you picked up on something that‘s very important.  That was intentional.  You saw it in the recovery plan and you‘ll see it in the investments that this president will make in a budget that will cut this deficit in half.  And that is that we begin to address the many things that we need to have in our country that long-term sustainable economic growth, whether it is driving down the cost of health care, making our country less dependent on foreign oil, or finally giving our children the schools that they deserve and they need to compete in a global economy. 

All of those things are foundations of the recovery plan and what we need to get our economy moving again for the long term. 

OLBERMANN:  I know a lot of the president‘s opponents, Republican critics, if you will, or even Republican commentators, had suggested that it was—that the president was somehow talking down the economy in the last few weeks. 

Was there a conscious effort to try to be more upbeat about it and if so does the president think he succeeded in doing that tonight? 

GIBBS:  Well, I think what the president was trying to do tonight and, quite frankly, what he tried to do each and every day in the campaign and throughout the transition, was to provide the American people with a sober and honest assessment of the great and many challenges that our country face, primarily economically, but to demonstrate to the American people that there is a path forward that will lead this country to brighter days. 

I think that‘s why it was a strong night for America, because they saw a leader in the president of the United States who understands those challenges but also understands the path forward.  I think that‘s why it was such a command performance. 

OLBERMANN:  Robert Gibbs, let me give you one last question, that is, more.

GIBBS:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN: Take us inside, kind of the personal element here, the human equation.  Was I right about this?  Did the president begin to give this speech before the—before the Speaker had finished the introduction?  Was he that, to use his favorite term, fired up tonight? 

GIBBS:  Look, I think the adrenaline was rushing.  Obviously, when you‘re standing in front of, not just the full Congress, but tens of millions of Americans that are wanting to hear from their leaders about what the path forward is, I think he was a little bit excited, maybe fired up and ready to go. 

OLBERMANN:  The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, good enough to spend a few moments with us in the wake of the president‘s non-State of the Union speech tonight. 

Thank you, again, sir. 

GIBBS:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  An honor to be joined by our next guest in this post-speech edition of COUNTDOWN.  Senator Barbara Boxer of California. 

Senator, good evening. 

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘ve seen and heard a lot of these.  I‘ve give you the softball question off to start.  Rank this one. 

BOXER:  A homerun, a touchdown and a three-pointer.  I mean is that good for you for an analogy?  OK. 

OLBERMANN:  I think it works, yes. 

Specifically the point that I just raised with Mr. Gibbs, this idea that in difficult, challenging times, you can sell the challenge as much as be realistic about the emphasis.  It is a tough needle to thread, isn‘t it? 

BOXER:  Yes, but I think what Barack Obama did is, he suited up and he told it like it is.  I mean, it wasn‘t fancy language there.  Wasn‘t cute, you know, words.  It was just very direct.  And he talked about the suffering out there, the people who aren‘t sleeping at night.  They‘re fearful they‘ll lose their job.  You know the older person who‘s fearful that their retirement won‘t be there. 

He just addressed it.  And then he did what we do best in America, is we pull ourselves up and say, hey, this is America and we can do anything.  And we‘re going to do this.  And then by god, he laid out a plan to do it.  And it was really, to me, to my mind, a moment where he took yes, we can and said, yes, we will and yes, we started. 

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t know what you got to hear or aware of from Governor Jindal‘s response on behalf of the Republicans.  But towards the end of it, he said—Governor Jindal said, “Don‘t let anyone tell you that we cannot recover or that America‘s best days are behind her.” 

BOXER:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  And then explained this was the nation that cast off the scourge of slavery and discussed 9/11 and all the other traumatic events in our history. 

I‘m just wondering, was there any point that you had a sense in that chamber tonight that anybody there was saying that America‘s best days aren‘t behind her? 

BOXER:  Well, I think I didn‘t hear the whole Bobby Jindal speech, so forgive me.  But I do believe that that part had to be written before they knew what the president was going to say because it doesn‘t match.  It‘s kind of tone deaf to what he said.  And he basically was so can do in this speech and laying it out. 

We‘re going to be energy independent.  We‘re going to fight global warming, which to me, Keith, since I‘ve been trying so hard on this, was such music to my ears.  We‘re going to lead, we‘re going to lead by example, we‘re going to educate our children, you know—and we‘re going to also, in the course of time, get a handle on this deficit, which by the way, I‘m really pleased he talked about. 

So I don‘t know that Governor Jindal had really read Barack Obama‘s speech, President Obama‘s speech before he wrote his speech.  It just sounds off. 

OLBERMANN:  Something else that seemed a little bit off was in some of our commentary immediately afterwards.  I think it was Rachel Maddow who pointed this out and also Chris Matthews.  When everyone got up on their feet, when the president was talking about ending the Iraq war responsibly. 

BOXER:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  We saw Senator McCain rise to his feet.  When we talked about—when the president talked about reforming health care and everyone stood. 

BOXER:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  When the Republicans joined with you to cheer not—making sure that people incentivizing staying in high school.  Did you have a sense of how the Republicans wanted to cooperate or contribute to that?  Or were they just standing up because it seemed like the right thing to do? 

BOXER:  You know what, I think I want to believe the best.  I think this was the great speech.  And there were moments Barack Obama touched the heart of every American, and—including some of these guys that are pretty tough here.  And I think they—in a moment, they realized that they agreed with what he said. 

Now I‘m sure that they will say later it was a great speech but how is he going to get there and we don‘t agree with how to get there, but I think at the moment it was real and it made me happy, I have to tell you.  It made me happy.  Because President Obama said, we‘re in this kind of a time now where we have to pull together to get out of this mess. 

And you know, it‘s not that we need every Republican but by god we need a few.  And I was so happy when a lot of them stood up.  You know it made me feel happy. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question, Senator, doesn‘t really pertain to the speech tonight, but something that broke in the late afternoon about sources in the White House, administration officials that told NBC News and the Associated Press that there has been a decision made by the president about the time line for withdrawal from Iraq that it is not going to be the 16-month time line that he had spoken of during the campaign, but something approaching 19 months that would—at the end of 19 months get about 2/3 of the troops home leaving a force, perhaps, as large as 50,000. 

What is your reaction to that report? 

BOXER:  Well, I haven‘t read the details and I need to see why the president has changed his mind.  But for me, I think it is high time that the Iraqis stood up in their own defense.  The president said that tonight and I don‘t know why he feels he has to extend the time.  I get to give him a chance to explain it to me.  But if someone who voted no from the start, I think it is time to bring the troops home. 

And yes, we can train the Iraqis.  We can be their friends as long as they‘re moving forward.  But I‘m going to give the president the chance to explain to me why he‘s changed his mind on that. 

OLBERMANN:  Senator Barbara Boxer of California.  Great thanks for your forthrightness and great thanks for being with us tonight. 

BOXER:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  And ahead on this late special edition of COUNTDOWN, more reaction to the Republican reaction from Howard Dean, the head emeritus of the Democratic National Committee. 

Up next, the headlines that this speech will make as viewed by “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman.  Stand by. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this.  We will rebuild.  We will recover and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The president, in his non-State of the Union speech tonight, used the word economy 31 times.  We knew it was going to be the key issue going in.  The way he was able to sell it, if you will, as a rallying point may have been a bit of a surprise. 

Here‘s an excerpt of what the president said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility.  I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can‘t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can‘t get a mortgage. 

That‘s what this is about.  It‘s not about helping banks, it‘s about helping people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One of 61 occasions in which the president was interrupted by either or both sides of the aisle.  We‘re joined by Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC. 

Good evening, again, Howard. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Headline? 

FINEMAN:  Commanding performance as Robert Gibbs said.  He‘s right.  I‘ve seen a lot of these both in person and watching them on TV monitors and studios.  That was as commanding a performance, as confident a performance, as in control as I‘ve ever seen a president, let alone a new president. 

Joking with the people on the other side, utterly in control of his material with big hopes and big aspirations.  One of the things that impresses me about Obama is, even though he didn‘t use big language in most cases, he goes big.  When he‘s faced with a situation, his tendency is to go big.  To make it about even bigger things. 

You remember that race speech that he gave during the campaign in Philadelphia.  He talk a smallish crisis in his campaign and turned it into a great speech on the whole history of race in America. 

Here he‘s saying, look, we‘re in the middle of a crisis in the economy, but it is a great opportunity for us to move forward, to do fundamental things, and he was very convincing about that tonight.  And I think one great applause that was—a measure of respect, not only from the Democrats, but most of the Republicans in the room who I think realize sitting there in that chamber what a political talent they were dealing with. 

OLBERMANN:  If he had a perceived vulnerability going into this, and perhaps this is drummed up somewhat by the talking points from the right, but if there was one, it was the idea that if you‘re in the middle of an economic meltdown, crisis, recession, something that people are suddenly optimistic about when they hear it might be over by this time next year, that you‘re going to be a little down, you‘re going to be a little negative, and yet, this was a rousing kind of upbeat speech to the point where as, not to pat myself on the back for a good prediction, but Bobby Jindal‘s response came across, to some degree, as a buzz kill. 

How did he pull off an optimistic speech in the middle of a—the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression? 

FINEMAN:  Well, first of all, that‘s what the American people want. 

And I‘m told that Obama was spending a lot of time reading about Franklin Roosevelt and reading speeches of Franklin Roosevelt, reading the fireside chats, thinking through how Roosevelt did it in the depths of the Great Depression. 

And you saw a measure of the jauntiness of a Roosevelt and the scope of a Roosevelt in—in what he was trying to do here tonight.  And—and Jindal totally missed that, because, right at this moment—I think Bobby Jindal said, you know, there‘s no hope in government.  I think Jindal said, the strength of America is not found in our government.  It is in the compassionate hearts and enterprise of our citizens. 

Now, yes, compassion and enterprise of our citizens, but this happens to be a moment in our history when the American people want government, and want government to succeed, government to be good, to be properly motivated, to be free of scandal, to be run by smart people, who understand the real lives of real people. 

That‘s what they are hoping for right now.  And that‘s what Obama is trying to reach.

On one level, this was just a budget speech, Keith.  He has got a budget to present.  And he talked about how they already sound—found $2 trillion worth of savings.  He talked about how he‘s going to raise taxes on—on the wealthiest Americans.  He talked about the programs he wants to put forward. 

But this was the best darn budget speech anybody ever gave...

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  ... because he gave it a sense of lift and drive and—and competence about it.

I mean, the guy just has an ability to exude a sense of confidence in very tough circumstances.  And, to me, that‘s the biggest headline, leaving aside all the little details. 

The theatrics of this matter.

OLBERMANN:  Mm-hmm. 

FINEMAN:  They matter to the American people watching on television. 

They matter to people around the world. 

Some of the details of the programs may be wrong.  Not all the ideas are right, but this is a guy who is determined to move forward.  He‘s not letting this thing get in the way of his plans for health care, for education, for—for energy.  He‘s going ahead with all of what he wanted to do and tying it into the circumstances of the moment. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  It was as if, after that last news conference, somebody said to him, great on the content; you need to liven up the entertainment factor a little bit. 

And that is exactly, I think—I think we agree on this—that‘s what he did—what he did tonight.

FINEMAN:  Yes, he did.  He did.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—as always, Howard, great thanks.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Still ahead: the reaction from former DNC Chair Howard Dean and the history of this night as seen through the eyes of Michael Beschloss.

Our special post-speech edition of COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the wake of President Obama‘s first speech to that joint session of Congress tonight, let‘s bring in the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Governor Howard Dean. 

Good evening, sir. 

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Hey, Keith.  How are you? 

OLBERMANN:  I imagine you enjoyed that speech.  I would like to know why. 

DEAN:  First of all, he—he really is a masterful politician. 

I mean, he has the American people really in the palm of his hand.  I thought he had a terrific note of optimism, of specificity.  I, of course, have seen lots of these.  The thing I frankly liked the best was his commitment to the agenda that he laid out in the campaign. 

There was no slippage.  He‘s going to do health insurance this year.  There‘s been a lot of gossip in Washington that won‘t happen.  Well, it is going to happen.  It‘s very, very important that we do health care reform.  It‘s the one tangible thing the American people are going to see between now and the midterm elections.  And I think it‘s terrific. 

OLBERMANN:  And, given the—in the wake of news developments this afternoon about a decision being made on an extended, or slight extension, perhaps is the best way to describe it, of the withdrawal timetable for Iraq to about 19 months, in a little slower fashion, that commitment to ending that war, which was phrased in such a way that it even brought Senator McCain to his feet, there were a lot of—a lot of complicated tasks that seem to have been done fairly effortlessly by this president in this speech tonight, like that one. 

DEAN:  Yes. 

Well, from a—obviously, from a craft point of view, it was terrific.  As the—I think the first Democrat who opposed the war, I would say that doesn‘t bother me a bit to extend 16 to 19 months.  He‘s there.  He‘s got the intelligence reports.  He wants to get out. 

We‘re going to get out anyway by 2011, under the agreement that—that President Bush got to with Prime Minister Maliki.  So, if he can move it up, I think that‘s great.  And I don‘t think most Americans are going to quibble about three months.

I think, obviously, we need to get out of there.  And I think that‘s what most Americans believe.  But I thought it was a pretty masterful performance.  I really did.  It was all the things that the American people need to hear and enough specificity so there‘s a timetable that he will be held accountable to—for, and that the good thing about that is, he knew very well what he was getting into when he laid out a timetable like that and specificity. 

I thought—I thought it was a pretty courageous speech. 

OLBERMANN:  How important was it, was the presentation, the—the—the theatrics, for want of a better word?  Because, going into this, there was a backlash, a pre-backlash to this speech, that suggested, oh, the president has been talking down the economy, and part of the reason Wall Street hasn‘t responded so well is this, that or the other thing relating to his demeanor.

And he came out—roaring would be the only way to describe it, and roaringly optimistic.  We will—this economy—our economy, he said, will recover, with that emphasis being close to what I just repeated there. 

DEAN:  Well, you know, he has got a problem, like every president does, which is, you have got to play the inside-Washington game and the outside game to the public. 

Tonight, he was talking to the outside public, the people who—the 99.7 of Americans who don‘t live inside the beltway.  A lot of times, when he talks about the toughness of the situation, he‘s talking to lawmakers who are reluctant to support the program, and urging them on.

I think this was really a speech to the American people, and it was the right speech to give. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question, purely from that neutral position that perhaps all politicians can occupy very briefly. 

If you had been advising Governor Jindal about his response, would you have suggested to him that it was a good idea for any Republican, even one from Louisiana, to twice invoke the response to Katrina as something positive for his party? 

DEAN:  Well, you know, the Republicans are in trouble, I‘m not in the business of trying to resurrect the Republican Party. 

But we had our problems, and we made some really big changes.  And it took a while to do that.  The first big change they have got to make is to get away from this idea that the only way they can win is to appeal to their hard-core right-wing base.  It‘s just not going to happen. 

And they have just got to broaden their reach and talk to all the Americans that they left behind over the last eight years.  And they have not made any progress on that at all.  And they have got to do it.

They are smart.  They work very hard.  They have—at least they did have—I don‘t know anything about it now—had a good operation at the RNC.  But they cannot talk to 15 or 20 percent of the American people and expect to win presidential elections.  And we haven‘t seen them change that.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Dean, the chairman emeritus of the Democratic National Committee and governor emeritus of Vermont, of course, great thanks.  And great thanks for that little...

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN:  Very emeritus here. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, what the heck. 

DEAN:  That‘s right. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s better than saying “ex,” isn‘t it?

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN:  That‘s right.  That‘s right.  It is.

OLBERMANN:  Emeritus.

Thank you, sir.

DEAN:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Historian Michael Beschloss joins us next in our late-night special, a remarkable night, and the remarkable image of President Obama standing behind the podium addressing the joint session of Congress, and starting off with a shout-out to this first lady. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight as history.

We will get to Michael Beschloss and his perspective as a presidential historian in a moment.

First, the idea of presidential history and this moment in history from a president himself. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  History reminds us that, at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. 

In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. 

From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. 

In the wake of war and depression, the G.I. Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As promised, NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss joins us. 

Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  My pleasure, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Exploiting crisis, trying to transform it into opportunity, obviously, Lincoln went for that at Gettysburg, not to compare this speech to that one. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  FDR went for that in the—in the “the only thing we have to fear” speech at his inauguration. 

Obama clearly tried for that.  Do you think he succeeded, and to what degree?

BESCHLOSS:  Yes, I sure do, because, you know, what he‘s saying is, we‘re spending an awful lot of money in the stimulus program, but, in the course of that, we are going to do things that we might have wanted to do anyway, for instance, you know, liberating ourselves from the tyranny of Middle Eastern oil, for instance, or education, or health care, that this doesn‘t need to be seen only in a negative way. 

OLBERMANN:  Did this, thus, elevate this speech, in terms of—of potential for being memorable?  Is this going to be a landmark speech in presidential history, or just a great start? 

BESCHLOSS:  I thing it will be a landmark, because he did what a great president does, and that is, not only say what he‘s going to do at a time of crisis, but also give it philosophical framework.

He‘s saying, this is a moment where we‘re not saying, the era of big government, the era of small government is over.  We‘re going to use as much large government as we can to get out this situation.  Plus, we‘re going to do things over the long term that would have been in our interests even if this crisis had not come along. 

OLBERMANN:  As political craft, there was a lot of talk in there of bipartisanship.

And I thought that, in fact, just the politics of this, there was—there was something of a checkmate made against the Republicans, that, if you approach these crises optimistically, you do create a situation in which anybody who is opposed to you must be heavily negative, must really go for the downer element.

As a—as a bait, kind, of towards that, did—did that speech rank in terms of historical gamesmanship from one party to the other? 

BESCHLOSS:  Very much so. 

And the ironic thing—and I think you‘re leading to this, Keith, is that, who did he take that tactic from, but Ronald Reagan in 1981.  When Reagan was saying, you know, our best days of ahead of us, we can be a city on the hill, if you were against that, you looked negative. 

But, even more than that, you were talking a moment ago about Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s.  You know, Roosevelt gave that speech in his inaugural, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Well, that—that was really wrong.  We had a lot more to fear that fear itself.  But the speech was so great, it made people feel a lot better. 

Then, when he ran for reelection in 1936, the Great Depression was a long way from being over, but people voted for Roosevelt because the Republicans, instead of saying, you know, we agree with Roosevelt, the government has to get moved involved in the economy, we can‘t go through a depression like this again, Social Security is OK, instead, they say, this is all terrible.  We want to take you back to the days of Herbert Hoover. 

Had they instead said, you know, we agree with Roosevelt, but we can handle this more carefully and efficiently and revise it, they would have done a lot better than they did in 1936, was, as you know, to get two states against FDR.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  They don‘t want to trot out Alf Landon again in 2012.  But...

BESCHLOSS:  I would not recommend that as a tactic.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s try to contextualize, finally, in terms of the history we knew going in.  This is February 24.  This is Black History Month in this country.  That was also American and African-American history tonight. 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes, that‘s exactly right.  And the whole idea of people like Martin Luther King and others, who fought so hard for civil rights, was that, one day African-American history would merge with American history. 

And it‘s happened in a lot of ways, but one of the ways that what we have seen tonight, that Americans are looking at a president who is an African-American, but I think that fact was about as far from most of our minds as it could have been. 

OLBERMANN:  And, ironically, that was the starting point of the response, again, putting the Republicans in an awfully tough position, to try to look other than patronizing when addressing that. 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes, that‘s—I think that was a little off-key. 

I think, if he had wanted to say that two months ago, that would have been one thing.  But, tonight, I think we‘re all thinking about something else. 

OLBERMANN:  Or something very brief maybe. 

Well, there‘s a lot of ways to nitpick that speech.  We will drop it for the time being, with great thanks to Michael Beschloss. 

I like to think of myself as a well-informed amateur in your profession.  And, as ever...

BESCHLOSS:  You sure are. 

OLBERMANN:  No, I have learned something again from you tonight.

Thank you, sir.

BESCHLOSS:  Thank you, sir.  Be well, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 2,117th day since the previous declared mission accomplished in Iraq.

I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night, and good luck. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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