updated 3/2/2009 10:43:59 AM ET 2009-03-02T15:43:59

Guest: Eugene Robinson, Paul F. Tompkins, Matt Cooper, Thomas Ricks, Richard Wolffe

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The president confirms the reports from Tuesday: Withdrawal from Iraq in 19 months.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31st, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  However, up to 50,000 troops will remain, and Republicans, who had branded any timetable the end of the world as we know it, are applauding this one.  Richard Wolffe on the politics of the pullout; Thomas Ricks on the practicalities.

Bobby Jindal lied: A spokeswoman admits the “arrest me” story about the rescue boats took place, quote, “in the week after Katrina,” and was overheard by Jindal repeated by the sheriff who‘d actually done it days earlier.

Conservatives gone wild, day two: CPAC and Tom DeLay to the Limbaugh list—those Americans are now openly rooting for an American depression.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So you agree with Rush Limbaugh that we shouldn‘t hope for President Obama to succeed?

TOM DELAY, ® FORMER U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER:  Exactly right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

DELAY:  I don‘t want this for our nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And Tom DeLay may very well be the same one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE WURZELBACHER, “JOE THE PLUMBER”:  Back in the day, really, when people would talk about our military in a poor way, somebody would shoot ‘em.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And Joe the martial law advocate says, “Some congressmen and senators are talking about our military in a poor way.”

And the crazy woman off camera thinking she is helping the Republican chairman sell the GOP to hip-hop fans is none other than Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, ® MINNESOTA:  Michael Steele, you be the man.  You be the man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And finally, air travel has come to this.  No frills, no food, no movie, no extra bags, and now, one airline wants to charge you for using—the lavatory.  It brings a whole new means to Southwest‘s catch phrase.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  You are now free to move about the country.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Surely, you can‘t be serious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am serious, and don‘t call me Shirley.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening from New York.

It is a war that President Bush not only started but wanted to start and that made no attempt to stop.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN:

To paraphrase a number that I will still reserve for us at the end of this newshour, five years, nine months and 26 days after President Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq, today, President Obama announcing that the combat mission there would finally end by August 31st, 2010.

The bigger problem—the mission beyond that.  Author and “Washington Post” senior military reporter, Thomas Ricks, believing there‘s a good chance Obama‘s war in Iraq might last longer than Bush‘s war there did.  Mr. Ricks to join us presently; first, the details.

At Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the beginning of the end—maybe.  President Obama is setting a hard target of more than 90,000 troops out of Iraq in the next 18 months—from 142,000 troops now to between 35,000 and 50,000 by the end of next summer.  Under the security agreement negotiated by the Bush administration, all forces to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.  Secretary Gates is joining Obama for his announcement mission.  Onboard Marine One on the way to the base, the President notifying Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki, and minutes before taking the podium, placing a call to former President Bush.

Six years nearly after the beginning of the war he opposed, almost six weeks after taking office, President Obama is drawing a finish line for U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We have acted with careful consideration of events on the ground; with respect for the security agreements between the United States and Iraq; and with a critical recognition that the long-term solution in Iraq must be political not military—because the most important decisions that have to be made about Iraq‘s future must now be made by Iraqis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In marked contrast to the stimulus package, President Obama will not have to win over Republicans with his revised withdrawal timetable.  Leaders of his own party are resistant.  Earlier this evening, he was asked about that weird juxtaposition by Jim Lehrer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, PBS, “THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER”)

JIM LEHRER, PBS ANCHOR:  You‘re not the least bit uneasy over the fact as John McCain and John Boehner, the Republican leader of the House, have praised your plan while the Democrats are criticizing it?

OBAMA:  You know, I don‘t—I don‘t make these decisions based on polls or popularity.  I make the decisions based on what I think is best.  This is consistent with what I said during the campaign.  The fact—if anything I think people should be interested in the fact that there‘s been a movement in the direction of what I thought was going to be the right plan in the first place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s look at this from two angles, first with our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe.

Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  “I don‘t make these decisions based on polls or popularity.”  Does that sound as Bushian to you as it does to me, and can it possibly be a good thing when we‘re talking about anything, let alone about Iraq?

WOLFFE:  Well, it does sound Bushian.  But that‘s not necessarily in itself the reason to say everything is wrong with this position.  I mean, there was a lot in this Jim Lehrer interview that could never have come out of President Bush‘s mouth.  He said that the war was a huge strategic blunder, that it was a massive diversion from the real war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  He said the civilian leadership had failed where military personnel succeeded.

So, none of those things could ever have come out of President Bush.  But when it comes to the polls, look, there‘s something slightly disingenuous about both President Obama and President Bush saying those things because these are two White Houses that poll everything down to the grassroots here.

It‘s true that both presidents actually don‘t make their decisions purely on polls.  They present their decisions and shape those decisions, presentations based on the polls.  But Bush‘s problem was not that he was led by polls, but that he made the wrong strategic judgments.  I think you have to look at what the substance is more than the expression in this interview.

OLBERMANN:  But as Jim Lehrer said in the clip we just played, and it‘s an obvious point, I guess, Republicans praising the plans and Democrats having the misgivings.  Politically, shouldn‘t the president be worried about that to some degree?

WOLFFE:  Well, he should be more worried about how he‘s going to get those 50,000 troops out of—out of Iraq in the end run.  But, you know what‘s interesting here is the Democrats are actually stepping up in Congress and doing what the majority party should be doing.  There isn‘t the knee-jerk “let‘s support the commander-in-chief” approach that we saw out of the Republicans.  That‘s exactly what Democrats should be doing.

Should the president be concerned?  Well, he should be actually questioned hard about what the purpose of those troops—those remaining troops are.  That‘s what Democrats are concerned.  What is their purpose?  And it needs to be as clearly defined as he is saying to himself the troops in Afghanistan need to have a mission that is clearly defined.  So, yes, he should be concerned about what they‘re asking about, not where the questions come from.

OLBERMANN:  Well, should this be the first, a question here, this emphasis on combat troops versus non-combat troops in a conflict where there really is no frontline?  Is the president guilty of mere semantics here?  I mean, any American in uniform on the ground there since 2003 has been at risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a roadside bomb explodes or any other element of war comes into play.

WOLFFE:  No question there is danger for every American troop there in Iraq.  But the dangers are much less than they used to be.  The rewards are potentially greater.

The question is: Is he staying true to what he was talking about during the election?  Yes, he is.  And in terms of what the Iraqis are expecting, this wasn‘t a Republican invasion of Iraq.  This was an American invasion.  Democrats need to understand that there is a moral responsibility for American troops whether they are led by a Republican commander-in-chief or a Democrat.  This war has to be ended in the right way.

And when there was a full-blown civil war, the arguments of pulling out were much greater than they are now.  The question is: When do they come out?  The president said there was a specific date.

OLBERMANN:  And, about that—lastly—about the specific date:

How much room did he give himself to change that if he feels circumstances warrant?

WOLFFE:  He has always given himself wiggle room.  But I think—the timing is very important here.  Both of these dates come just before elections.  If he doesn‘t stick true to those dates, and doesn‘t explain why he‘s bumping those dates around, then the voters will get the final say.

OLBERMANN:  A great point.

MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe—as always, Richard, thanks great.  Have a great weekend.

WOLFFE:  Thank you.  Thank you, Keith, and you.

OLBERMANN:  And his new book, “The Gamble,” in that, “Washington Post” special military correspondent Thomas Ricks predicts among other things that U.S. troops will be in Iraq for far longer than most Americans understand even when Obama leaves the White House—whenever that is—that today, we might be only halfway through the conflict there.  That, quote, “There is also the alarming possibility that years after a pullout, the U.S. military eventually would have to return to Iraq to fight another war or impose peace on chaos.”

And perhaps scariest still, that “the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened.” You recall that the last book from Mr. Ricks was the number “New York Times” best-seller, “Fiasco,” also about the U.S. military conflict in Iraq.  Thomas Ricks is joining us again from Washington.

Nice to speak with you again, sir.

THOMAS RICKS, AUTHOR, “THE GAMBLE”:  It‘s good to be back.

OLBERMANN:  Given your predictions, is the headline today not about the troops that are going to be leaving Iraq by 2010 but about those 50,000 or so who will be staying behind and the question of how long they might stay behind?

RICKS:  Exactly.  I‘ve got to say, I have a lot of respect for Richard Engel, but I disagree with almost everything he just said.  This was a terrific speech; it was the speech that George Bush would have given had he‘d been able to give good speeches.

It is a speech not about getting out of Iraq, it was a speech about staying in Iraq.  It was about “mission accomplished,” about standing down as they stand up, and having 50,000 troops there for many years to come.  And there‘s a lot of semantics in there.

They say, “We‘ll have the combat troops out.”  But actually, they‘re renaming two combat brigades as advisory units, but they‘re still going to be brigade combat teams.  And I asked the White House officially today, “After August of 2010, will American troops still be fighting and dying in Iraq?”  And he said, “Yes, they will.”

OLBERMANN:  You have said—

RICKS:  So, the war is not going to be over in 2010.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Well, and you have said previously, to that point, that Iraq is more likely to change Obama than Obama is to change Iraq.  With the revision of the withdrawal timetable and the caveats, I guess, you might describe them in today‘s speech, are we witnessing that change taking place already?

RICKS:  I think we saw that today.  This was, in many ways, a Bushian speech in which I think Obama has recognized the grim reality.  He‘s inherited the worst foreign policy situation any new president has ever taken on.  But the scary thing is, it‘s not his number one problem.  So, he said, “OK, I‘m going to suck it up.  I‘m stuck in Iraq but I‘m going to try to get out.”

Well, that‘s exactly what George Bush did for several years. 

Bush‘s core mistake for several years in Iraq was being overly optimistic. 

And I fear that Obama is walking in his failed footsteps.

OLBERMANN:  Expand on that.  What exactly is—other than the idea that he has only 50,000 troops there as of August 2010 and then they‘re all out by the end of 2011, is there anything else specifically that he is being too optimistic about right now?

RICKS:  By my count, this is, I think, the sixth plan I have covered for getting U.S. forces out of Iraq.  George Bush did not invade Iraq saying, “I have a great idea, let‘s go get stuck in a quagmire for 10 years.”  His idea was to invade Iraq and get out quickly.  The original U.S. war plan originally had us down to 30,000 troops by September 2003.

Well, you just heard another president say, “I‘ll be down to 50,000 troops by August 2010.”  We‘ll see.  I doubt it.

OLBERMANN:  The fewer the troops that are there, are they at—is there a way to assess whether they are at greater risk both in terms of a shooting war, an insurgency, roadside bombs and even their own conduct?  Is there a temptation that if there‘s a smaller unit, a smaller force there, that they might be tempted to behave in a more hard-line fashion as self-defense?

RICKS:  I‘m not so worried about that—because U.S. troops really have embraced this mission under General Petraeus and General Odierno of counterinsurgency which means protecting the people.  But the fewer troops you have, the less able you are to do that.  Also, the less able you are to police your allies, to make sure that Iraqi forces are behaving.  And you also have less glue holding the country together.

And so, there is more chance of violence breaking out, American troops being overwhelmed by it, especially in Mosul and Kirkuk, the two most worrisome places in Iraq right now.

OLBERMANN:  “The events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened,” something you wrote in this book.  What sort of events were you imaging when you wrote that?

RICKS:  Well, it‘s actually the last line of the book.  It‘s a quote from Ambassador Ryan Crocker, our top diplomat out there for the last couple of years.  And what he was saying is that the prism through which we see this war, with the way we understand this war has not yet been built.  We don‘t know what those events are.

My personal view is that the Iraq we wind up with in five or 10 years is going to be a place that is not a democracy, not an American ally, and run by a strong man—probably tougher, smarter and more adept than Saddam Hussein.  So, when the Bushies say, “Well, at least we got rid of Saddam Hussein,” we may end up saying, “Yes, but you got an even worse guy in there.”

OLBERMANN:  A Shakespearian finish, if it comes to that.

Thomas Ricks of the “Washington Post,” whom much of his work has been truly prophetic and the rest of it has simply been great.  The new one is “The Gamble.”  Once again, great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

RICKS:  You‘re welcome.

OLBERMANN:  Not all the crises of America are crucial, some are not even real.  Consider day two of the conservatives‘ coven, CPAC, where we find symposiums which ask, “Are we all socialists now and will Congress take your guns”; where Michele Bachmann thinks she can help Michael Steele round up the hip-hop vote for the GOP by repeatedly saying to him, “You be the man”; and where Joe the plumber thinks he remembers a time when anybody who talked down American troops could be shot and nobody complained.

You know, Sloppy, that wasn‘t real.  You dreamt it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The new chairman of the Republican National Committee takes to the stage at CPAC, the conservatives‘ convention in Washington, to say of the last eight years, quote, “My bad.”  And that might have been the least goofy things said thus far at that event.

Bobby Jindal‘s story of risking arrest to help a sheriff cut through insurance red tape and get rescue boats going during Katrina, “Not exactly,” admits his spokeswoman.  In fact, her statement actually suggests he lied.

And in Worsts: When they tried to charge a rebooking fee to one of the survivors of the flight that splashed down in the Hudson River, you knew this had to be inevitable—charging you on the plane to use the toilet.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.  That will be $1.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The message emerging from this year‘s CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference—in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Republicans say George W. Bush got away from conservative values by increasing the deficit and expanding the size of government, and that Republicans must get back to the core conservative values like those of Ronald Reagan, who instead expanded the size of government while increasing the deficit.

The new Republican leader, RNC Chair Michael Steele, telling America, “Hey, folks, the last eight years were not the result of Republican values but merely a simple mistake.  Eight years, more than $1 trillion and untold lies worth of Republican oopsies.”  You can actually hear the conservatives laughing when he says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  Tonight, we tell America that Republican values, conservative values are right for America.  Tonight, we tell America we know of the past, we know we did wrong.  My bad.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As you will hear for yourself later in this newshour, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann responded by telling Steele, quote, “You be the man, you be the man.”  But who really be the man is far from clear.

On the eve of the debut of this ad blasting comedian Rush Limbaugh for hoping that President Obama restores America‘s economy or hoping he doesn‘t restore America‘s economy and criticizing Republicans for making Limbaugh and not Michael Steele their de facto leader, former House Speaker Tom DeLay, at CPAC, was repeating Limbaugh‘s talking points.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DELAY:  The enemy is the left.  Not other (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So you agree with Rush Limbaugh that we shouldn‘t hope for President Obama to succeed?

DELAY:  Exactly right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

DELAY:  I don‘t want this for our nation.  That‘s for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Covering CPAC for TalkingPointsMemo.com is TPM editor-at-large, Matt Cooper, also, contributing editor and columnist for “Conde Nast Portfolio.”

Thanks for your time tonight, Matt.

MATT COOPER, TALKINGPOINTSMEMO.COM:  Hey, thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is that the message of CPAC this year, “A,” Bush made us do it, and then “B,” no, wait, I don‘t know Bush and then “C,” Bush—

Bush who?

COOPER:  There was a lot of putting distance between themselves and Bush, Keith.  You know, it‘s interesting.  There was no John McCain bashing that I heard of in the two days I‘ve been there.  But there were a lot of shots at Bush.

This morning, Newt Gingrich rocked the place with his attack on the Bush/Obama regime.  He attacked Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner as a stooge of both Bush and Obama, and lots of other speakers took their shots at Bush, too.

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  With polls showing that mainstream America wants the Republican Party to help Obama pursue his policies, at least in the short term, does CPAC, overall, give you the sense of a realistic plan to regain the trust of the nation or is it just some sort of plan to take this old message and rebrand it somehow and make it magically fresh and new looking.

COOPER:  Keith, there wasn‘t a lot of self-flagellation or self-doubt among the people I spoke with at the meeting.  You know, I think, as you said in the introduction, they‘re really saying, well, let‘s go back to tax cuts and Ronald Reagan and all that.  I think the only time I heard any sort of rethinking was that one sparsely attended seminar about the Hispanic vote in which all the speakers admitted that the bashing of Hispanics and the opposition to any kind of dealing with these immigrants who are legally here was killing the party.  But that was about the only time I heard any sort of rethinking basic principles.

OLBERMANN:  On the subject of bashing or rethinking or just thinking, along with the anti-evolution bumper stickers, there was actually a crowd that booed down our old friend, Tucker Carlson, when he was advocating—and I‘m not exaggerating this in the slightest—that conservative media should pursue actual facts the way, say, the “New York Times” pursues actual facts.  That should be a goal on which any kind of ideology might be built.  But you first have to get the facts right.

Is there evidence here that CPAC is less the fringe or the extreme of a mainstream party and now the sort of mainstream of a fringe or extreme party?

COOPER:  Well, it is definitely the mainstream of the Republican Party.  And there was a lot of shouting down of different things.  I did hear the Tucker Carlson remark in which he was attacking the “New York Times” but he did, at least, give them to this conservative audience that they were in the business of fact gathering.  And that concession itself was enough to arouse the ire of the crowd.

But earlier today, I heard Ron Paul attacked America‘s entry into World War I.  So, there were no shortage of things that were attacked at this conference.

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t vote Democrat because Woodrow Wilson lied in the 1916 campaign, he didn‘t keep us out of war.

COOPER:  He did talk about that.

OLBERMANN:  Last point—somebody who makes Ron Paul seem, I guess, a little less out there, Rush Limbaugh, he speaks tomorrow.  Is he in the position to claim “mission accomplished” in sort of owning the GOP?  Did CPAC reveal any signs that the fringe sanity wing of the party might still prevail against him?

COOPER:  Well, he is—he is an extremely popular voice and he is the final speaker of the conference and will probably get the biggest crowd.  So, you know, I think the idea that they are in revolt against their talk-radio wing is far from the case.  I mean, he remains just as popular as he was a year ago.

OLBERMANN:  I for one would like to welcome our new radio overlords.  Matt Cooper of “Talking Points Memo” and “Conde Nast Portfolio” -- thank you, Matt, have a good weekend.

COOPER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Of course, the mudslinging has now infected every corner of the globe.  And in one places, they don‘t understand it‘s just a metaphor.

And, one airline‘s possible new slogan, “I told you should have gone before we left,” charging to use the toilet, seriously.

Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Bests in a moment, and in Hitchcock, it was birds.  In Santa Monica, it‘s octopuses.

First, on this night in 1860, an obscure ex-congressman from Illinois gave a speech about three miles from here, in New York City.  What he said is careful, personal research on the opinions of a majority of the framers of the Constitution that slavery should not expand as the nation did, vaulted him almost overnight into contention for that year‘s presidential election.  It was Abraham Lincoln‘s speech at the Cooper Union.

Let‘s play Oddball.

And we begin near Tokyo, it‘s not Thunderdome, these men are honoring the gods of rice with a gladiator-style festival in a rice paddy.  Uncle Ben never had it so good.  The loin cloth participants toss around mud to usher in good health and good fortune.  And there mudslinging spares no one.

Right to the face, grandma.  After hurling mud at the elderly, opportunity strikes for this time-honored cliche, targeting tourists.  Next up, the village‘s infants.  Spare the mud, spoil the child.

In Clifton Forge, Virginia, the continuing trend involving snakes and modes of transportation.  Meet Jojo, the boa constrictor, and his owner Sheldon Washington.  They are modern day Lassie and Timmy.  They are inseparable.  They‘ve taken the sights and sounds of the old dominion by bike.  Jojo even waits patiently for Mr. Washington as he parks and does errands.

But the residents of Clifton Forge are not taking this laying down; they won‘t rest until Jojo is in a cage to which Mr. Washington responded, “What do you mean you the think is eventually going to eat me one day?”

And finally, to northern Italy, where the rhythm is going to get you frostbite.  Putting a literal spin on cool jazz, these musicians are performing with instruments made out of ice.  The melody (ph) sound evokes more than just goose-bumps, think hypothermia.  Concert-goers get the privilege of lowering their body temperature by watching the recital inside an igloo while sitting on an ice block.  But the evening‘s highlight came after the extended trumpet solo and the soloist was forced to walk around the town with the trumpet attached to his lips until somebody found a hair dryer.  Lick, licko (ph).

The mayor who sent out the e-mail with this in it is now an ex-mayor.  And, Joe the ex-plumber says it‘s to start shooting congressmen and senators.  These stories ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s Top Three Best Persons in the World.

Number three: Best delusion.  Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas is saying on C-SPAN, “I don‘t think we can figure how to outlaw recessions anymore than we can outlaw tornadoes or outlaw hurricanes.  It‘s a part of freedom.  Sometimes freedom can be messy.  Sometimes, freedom has reversals, but it certainly beats the alternative.”

So we have to have recessions to be free?  So when Venezuela and Iran had cataclysmic recessions when oil prices fell, that was because, why, congressman?  Because Chavez and Ahmadinejad had offered up too much freedom there? 

Number two, best wrong answer, Joseph Takesgun of Buena, Washington, arrested for DUI and a revoked license.  Takesgun was being followed by a state trooper named Trevor Dosney when he suddenly turned into a driveway and parked in his car in a garage.  Trooper Downey asked Takesgun, what are you doing.  Takesgun said, I live here.  Trooper Downey said, no, actually you don‘t.  I live here.  The DUI drive had somehow managed to park in the trooper‘s garage. 

Number one, best wool pulled over the eyes of the humans, Flo the octopus.  Overnight at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California, a valve in the octopus tank was opened, flooding the floors of the offices with 200 gallons of water.  Flo did it, used her eight arms to pull the valve open. 

Spokeswoman Randy Parren (ph) said octopuses, especially Flo, are notorious for fooling around, messing with things.  Sure, that is what Flo wants you to think.  Grow up, obviously this was the first try at an escape attempt. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When legitimate political discourse slides towards the extreme and then just keeps going until it parks somewhere between crazy and scary, it becomes our third story in the COUNTDOWN.  Joe, not Joe, the plumber, not really a plumber, warmly reminisces about a time when lawmakers could be shot.  And Senator Jim Demint thinks his fellow extremists should take to the streets to stop all that socialism. 

Joe Wurzelbacher first.  At CPAC, Mr. Plumber said that if he were a Congressman, he would, quote, probably be in jail, because he would be, quote, slapping some member.  Nice, but there is more.  Now stop that.  He explained that he would be doing more than just slapping a member who spoke badly of the troops.  Quote, “back in the day, really, when people would talk about our military in a poor way, somebody would shoot them and there‘d be nothing said about that, because they knew it was wrong.” 

What day was that, Joe?  44 BC?  Yet, there‘s another CPAC contender for the most out there award, Senator Jim Demint, Republican of South Carolina, told his audience that President Obama is, quote, the world‘s best salesman of socialism, and conservatives might need to, quote, take to the streets to stop America‘s slide into socialism. 

Meanwhile, back at the be careful about certain e-mails ranch, there is Mayor Dean Gros (ph) of Los Alamedos, in California, having apologized for sending around this racist watermelon joke.  The mayor has now announced his resignation, effective the 2nd of March. 

Let‘s call in “Washington Post” columnist and also an MSNBC political analyst, Gene Robinson.  Good evening, Gene. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Part one of what are they thinking, to whom outside this core of extremists do they think they are appealing and they think believe them with some of this stuff, particularly Wurzelbacher, about the good old days when you could just shoot a Congressman for talking bad about the troops? 

ROBINSON:  I‘m thinking maybe this is all directed at the suits at Comedy Central.  And this is all some sort of giant appeal for a show, you know, CPAC live.  This is getting really bizarre and entertaining, in a sense.  It would be more entertaining, I think, if there weren‘t this sort of sinister edge to it, you know, about shooting and the good old days and, you know, that awful racist e-mail that got sent around. 

This is some sort of psychic implosion, I think, that is taking place in one of our two major parties. 

OLBERMANN:  Plus taking to the streets.  I suppose, if you said it mildly enough, it is just protesting.  But that doesn‘t sound like what he is talking about, just protesting, when Demint says that.  That leads to what are they thinking, part two.  In some private moment, has it occurred to anybody in there that these remarks are, in fact, bordering on the incendiary, that between this and a poll at the Sean Hannity website about which kind of revolution you would like, that there might just be an incitement to violence here? 

ROBINSON:  You have to hope that this has occurred to somebody that this is way out of line beyond the pale.  So far, I have got to say, there is no evidence of that.  We‘re not hearing respected figures in the Republican party coming out to denounce this sort of—I was going to say loose language, but really insane language and ahistorical language and just general craziness. 

We‘re not hearing that.  Maybe it is not occurring to people.  Maybe the elders of the party are just kind of worried about trying to get their act together and not paying such close attention. 

OLBERMANN:  When you are paying attention to somebody like Joe Wurzelbacher, who was plucked out of the middle of nowhere as a campaign stunt, and is suddenly being given voice, when he seems to have genuine delusions about American history.  It is something he might have seen in a movie somewhere.  I don‘t know where he gets some of this stuff.  But when you are going to him for guidance, shouldn‘t there be somebody in the back of the room going, I don‘t think this guy knows what he is talking about? 

ROBINSON:  Everybody should be.  I was going to make a crack about Joe longing for the days of the Alien and Sedition Acts or something like that.  But he wouldn‘t have a clue what I was talking about, so it would be a complete loss.  The guy is an idiot.  And the fact that he gets this sort of forum to be, frankly, an idiot—and I think I‘m speaking objectively here—is truly amazing and speaks to a certain—

You know, you could say that conservatism was the fountain of ideas for 20 years in this country.  They might have been bad ideas or good ideas, but they were ideas.  This is incoherence.  These are not ideas.  This is just blather and it is kind of dangerous blather. 

OLBERMANN:  And he shows up to a book signing the day before CPAC opens and sells five books in Washington, D.C.  There is at least—it appears—this is the weird thing about this, in light of my next question, it appears the public is, as usual, well ahead of the politicians, particularly well ahead of—the more politicians you get in one room, the more likely it is that the average American is five years ahead of them, rather than four years one at a time. 

In the campaign cries of socialism and sometimes socialism married to racism, these things failed and now the socialism charge is back.  It is only four months ago that it failed, and yet they returned to it.  Is that desperation, stupidity, brain damage, short-term memory loss?  What causes that? 

ROBINSON:  Well, if you listen to the words of Albert Einstein, who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then I suppose it would be insanity.  The socialism thing they tried when he was a candidate.  It didn‘t work.  It is certainly not going to work when he is president. 

Somebody in that movement needs to think of something new to say that fits today‘s reality, and people‘s vision of what is actually happening in the world, as opposed to what is happening inside these fevered rooms at CPAC.  Until that happens, more insanity. 

OLBERMANN:  That sentence might have ended after the word think.  They need to think.  Gene Robinson of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC, as always, Gene, a pleasure.  Have a good weekend. 

ROBINSON:  You too, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The votes are in.  The winner of your 2009 Defender of the Constitution Award is comedian Rush Limbaugh.  One question about this, which Constitution?  Rush‘s or the one belonging to the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks? 

The Wil-E-Coyote of talk radio again denouncing something the Democrats put into the stimulus that he himself previously denounced Democrats for not supporting.  Worst persons ahead. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, why all this talk at CPAC of socialism is really code for Obama means the rapture is coming and thus the end of the world.  Bring a hat. 

But first, because they may be gone, but their deeds outlive them, the headlines emerging from the previous administration‘s 50 running scandals, expanded tonight to include new scandals, honoring the spirit of the 43rd president, Still Bushed.

Number three, bail out-gate.  The Bush bank bailout is turning out, indirectly, to be the Bush basketball bailout.  The “Forbes Business Journal” reporting that several weeks ago, two banks went to the National Basketball Association and said, if any of your franchises are in a little trouble, we can offer you a loan to you of 175 million dollars at attractive rates.  The banks are J.P. Morgan and Bank of America. 

I know the idea is to get credit flowing again.  But right now, what is flowing is our money through Citibank into a new baseball stadium in New York and through Bank of America into the Sacramento Kings and the Orlando Magic. 

Number two, Jindal-gate.  You will recall in his Republican response to President Obama‘s speech on Tuesday night, the governor of Louisiana implied that right after Katrina hit, he was helping the Jefferson Parrish Sheriff, the later Harry Lee, fight red tape to get rescue boats out to those stranded by flooding.  Both of them risking arrest by standing up to the man. 

The story fell apart when researchers reminded us that Jindal was 75 miles away in Baton Rouge at Katrina time.  Today, a Jindal spokesperson changed the time frame.  It was days later, she said, in the week following Katrina.  Then she changed the immediacy of the event.  Now the sheriff is yelling on the phone about a decision he‘s already made, not one he is making as Jindal is shoulder to shoulder with him, holding back the waves with his bear hands.  In other words, the governor lied like hell on Tuesday. 

Number one, contract-gate.  The Government Accountability Office is out with a new internal report saying that during the Bush administration a group of companies which had been banned from receiving federal contracts because they defrauded the nation or put American lives at risk got new contracts anyway.  One company had been banned after it was found to have installed faulty, potentially fatal fasteners on steam pipes on board the Aircraft Carrier USS John F. Kennedy.  They continued to get contracts anyway.

A manufacture of body armor was banned because its body armor simply did not work.  Not only did it keep getting contracts, but during its investigation, the GAO was still able to place orders with that company.  Companies got contracts after being banned for falsely labeling chemicals, banned for massive tax fraud, banned for false filings with the SEC, banned for Medicaid fraud, banned for using insider information, banned for illegally selling materials to North Korea. 

So how did the Bush administration do this?  Some of it was accidental, a computer search engine glitch.  But also, there was the time the Bush Veterans Administration just didn‘t bother to use that computer search engine, and the time the Bush Pentagon simply ignored the conviction of the company that tried to sell stuff to the North Koreans.  The stuff, by the way, was aluminum tubing, the same stuff, when it turned up in Iraq, that Mr. Bush used as a reason to claim that Saddam Hussein was ready to produce a nuclear bomb. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann responds to Republican Chairman Michael Steele‘s plan to look for votes among hip-hop voters by saying to him, “you be the man, you be the man.”  Did you ever get the feeling that if somebody went into that conservative convention swearing only to talk to the sane people, he would never have to open his mouth? 

That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Bill-O the Clown.  For the first time since he implied they might have been fixed to make him look bad, he is lying about the ratings again.  “As Americans become more fearful about the economy and the drastic changes at the federal level, they are increasingly watching Fox News.  In fact, at 8:00 MSNBC has collapsed, down almost 50 percent in the key 25-54 demo since the October run up to the election.” 

Call Andrea Mackris, Bill is fantasizing again.  Compare the 17 weeks since the election to the 17 week run up to the election, we here are down 17 percent and B.O. is down 15 percent.  Compare the 17 weeks since the election to the same 17 weeks this time last year, we are up 62 percent since last year and B.O. is only up 40 percent.  Seriously, Bill, don‘t try to cook the books.  We‘ll make you look stupid every time, like right now. 

The runner-up, Glenn Beck.  We all laughed the first time he attacked the carbon capture projects in the stimulus package, branding them earmarks, and saying, I don‘t even know what the hell that is.  He has done it again, derisively saying, “the spending bill, clean of earmarks, has 800 million dollars for carbon capture projects.” 

Glenn, carbon capture projects, that‘s clean coal technology.  Last June, you claimed the Democrats, “controlled by the radical environmental special interest groups,” were blocking clean coal technology.  You support clean coal technology, nit wit. 

But our winner, Michael O‘Leary, chief executive officer of Ryan Air of Ireland, Europe‘s biggest budget airline.  It already charges for beverages, boarding first, overhead stowing of bags, checking bags and checking in.  There was only one thing left.  “One thing we have looked at in the past, and are looking at again is the possibility of maybe putting in a coin slot on the toilet door, so that people might actually have to spend a pound. 

So if you are on a Ryan Air flight and you have to blank, you might as well go blank on their carpet, because clearly Ryan Air is ready to blank on you.  Michael O‘Leary, CEO of pay toilet airlines, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s just say this plainly, the nut jobs have really been coming out of the woodwork and heartily marking their territory.  Our number one story, at CPAC, which is clearly providing more material than can be crammed into one news hour, a prize will be given out tomorrow, the Defender of the Constitution Award.  The recipient, comedian Rush Limbaugh.  You mean his personal constitution, like in his overall health?

But for sheer hilarity, what rivals Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, turning to the podium after Michael Steele, wherein she tries to get down with it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN:  Michael Steele you be the man.  You be the man.  Michael Steele, you be the man.  You be the man. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Congresswoman Bachmann also wants to reinvent that whole Boston Tea Party Thing. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN:  You may have noticed in the last three weeks or so, Congress decided to spend about 1.5 trillion of your dollars?  Anybody notice that?  Did a little bit of spending.  I just wondered that if our founders thought taxation without representation was bad, what would they think of representation with taxation?  I don‘t know what is going to happen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Briefly, they rebelled against taxation without representation.  As you just noted, congresswoman, today we have taxation with representation.  So the—listen to me trying to talk sense to an android.  Bachmann was serving as the MC last night.  But the pinnacle of CPAC festivities arrives tomorrow, when, as in years past, the organization will conduct its presidential preference straw poll, and the nail biting results will be unveiled right before comedian speaks. 

He‘s actually delivering the conference‘s final remarks.  Paging Joe the slapper, Joe the Slapper to the podium, please.  Let‘s bring in the host of VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” comedian Paul F. Tompkins.  Good evening, Paul. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, VH-1:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s toss in another layer of context here, the RNC chair, Mr. Steele, has said that he wants Republicans to appeal to “urban, suburban hip-hop settings.”  So suddenly Congresswoman Bachmann‘s you be the man thing makes perfect sense? 

TOMPKINS:  It makes a ton of sense if you remember that Michelle Bachmann is the godmother of suburban hip-hop.  What I love about that appealing to urban, suburban hip-hop types—in the comma between urban and suburban, you can just hear him say, we already lost those people.  It goes so fast.  Urban, forget about it.  Suburban hip-hop. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course, she is also known as Left Eye Bachmann.  Goodness knows, the RNC outreach program to African-Americans, to gays, to lesbians, to Hispanics, this has gone really well, right? 

TOMPKINS:  Oh yes.  Between African-Americans, gays and Hispanics, at this point, they only consider one of those people abominations before God.  That is progress in a way.  Hopefully, in the next century, maybe CPAC will consider gay people to be three fifths not abominable. 

OLBERMANN:  Very nice.  Which brings us to full abominability (ph) and comedian Rush Limbaugh.  Honestly, I had to wonder if the award is actually about his physical constitution, because if someone actually thinks he is defending the paper one on which the government is based, there is no hope for that bunch.  There may be no hope for this country. 

TOMPKINS:  For me, it is not so much that they are giving Rush Limbaugh bogus awards.  It is more, how is Rush Limbaugh still around?  It is 2009.  Even Art Bell had the sense to reduce his radio presence. 

OLBERMANN:  Reduction has never been number one on Rush‘s list.  Never mind.  I can‘t throw that argument out too long, without getting trapped in it myself here.  Let‘s move on to the idea—this is apparently the only award they are giving out.  What other ones could they be considering here for CPAC? 

TOMPKINS:  Probably stuff like whitest patriot, or most flag fetishizing.  If they had some self-awareness, they could give out fun awards like screwiest ball or crackedest pot. 

OLBERMANN:  And best Sarah Palin impression, without the glasses, Michelle Bachmann, and with the glasses, Tina Fey.  Joe the slapping Plumber, much like former Senator Zell Miller, it sounds like he is hoping to challenge somebody to a duel.  Is he helping?  He has talked about running for office.  And the book has already sold five, ten copies.  Do you hurt your political chances in the conservative movement by going around saying, I want to shoot people? 

TOMPKINS:  Yes, I want to say this to Joe: Joe, nobody is talking bad about the troops, nobody.  I‘m in show business.  I‘m not hearing anybody talk bad about the troops.  You can‘t just set up straw hippies that are going around bad mouthing the troops.  It is not happening.  I know you want to shoot people.  But you can‘t. 

OLBERMANN:  It is possible Joe falls asleep a lot during the day and what he dreams he thinks actually happens, because none—there‘s a huge disconnect going on.  Ultimate commentary on this, Paul, CPAC, clearly, the first two days have been epically off the deep end.  But Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal were not there.  That is, in its own sort of counter-intuitive way, impressive, is it not? 

TOMPKINS:  Oh, yes, absolutely.  I‘m sure—I think this is sort of like when Shelly Long left “Cheers.”  People thought, how are they going to continue without her.  But look, these people are absolutely out of their minds. 

OLBERMANN:  How do you top a week like this?  What could they possibly do next, secede? 

TOMPKINS:  If they don‘t like the way things are going, it‘s possible they may have to submit themselves to the rule of Shaquille O‘Neal and emigrate to the land of Twitter-onia. 

OLBERMANN:  Paul F. Tompkins, host of VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” and former ambassador to Twitter-onia, great thanks.  Have a great weekend. 

TOMPKINS:  You too, Keith.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 2,120th day since the previous president 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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