updated 3/26/2009 10:52:34 AM ET 2009-03-26T14:52:34

Guests: Jonathan Alter, Howard Dean, Bernie Sanders, Eugene Robinson,

Christian Finnegan

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

How far will the GOP go to sink the recovery in hopes of damaging the president?

The caller to C-SPAN says we are heading into fascism. House Whip Cantor responds .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR, ® VIRGINIA: I think what the public is doing they‘re finally waking up and everybody is realizing that checks and balances are part of the system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Cantor‘s “party of no” also compares the budget reconciliation process, simple majority passage of aspects of the budget in the Senate to “coating them in cement and dropping them in the river, “Senator Bond. Senator Gregg disagrees though, he thinks it‘s more like “running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River.”

Bond and Gregg and the Republicans, of course, themselves, used budget reconciliation three times to pass Mr. Bush‘s budgets and tax cuts for the rich.

Selling the spending to some of the Democrats: Obama today meets with the Senate majority. What happened? We‘ll ask Vermont independent senator, Bernie Sanders.

SATSQ: Snappy answers to stupid questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED HENRY, CNN: Why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage? It seems like the action is coming out of New York and the attorney general‘s office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we are outraged. Why did it take so long?

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I‘m talking about before I speak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: And whom was that aimed? Andrew Cuomo? CNN‘s Ed Henry?

George Bush?

Radio Blagojevich is on the air.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: Good morning. This is former Governor Rod Blagojevich. How are you? And—this is a time for a little more conversation and a little less action.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Governor, don‘t quit your day—oh, yes.

And Worsts: In the last year, Rupert Murdoch has lost more than half of his wealth, while Billo has lost all of his mind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, TV HOST: Bingo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

O‘REILLY: You pinheads—do it live!

(END AUDIO CLIP)

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

A president who was elected convincingly on a clear mandate of change, a president whose plans for economic recovery still enjoy broad public support, a president who, despite outrage over the AIG bonus scandal, is not being blamed for the AIG mess by American voters. So, when GOP poster boy Bobby Jindal tries to defend those who want President Obama to fail, when Republican House Whip Eric Cantor whips up opposition to Obama, quote, “try to bring this president back in the mainstream”—in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: This just in this, this president is already in the mainstream.

Mr. Obama is continuing to get high marks for his overall job performance and as well as for his handling of the economy. According to a new CBS News poll out this week, 64 percent of those surveyed approving of Mr. Obama‘s performance—the number is up two from last week.

His ratings on the economy up even more, 61 percent approving of how he‘s handling the crisis—that is a five-point gain from 56 percent last week. That number explained by the fact that most Americans believe there is nothing or not much the Obama administration could have done about those AIG bonuses, seeing how it inherited the mess and the bonuses from the Bush economic team.

The only drop at a major poll is one conducted for the Daily Kos Web site.

Yet these facts never standing in the way of Congressman Cantor, this morning—no exception. During an appearance on C-SPAN, a caller first thanking the House Republican whip and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann or mars, for doing such a great job before expounding on the, quote, “insanity of the Kool-Aid drinkers” who, quote, “seem to think that there is a magical tree of money in Washington.” The caller then talked about what‘s really scaring her: the fascism that is one-party control of our government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CALLER: But what really is scaring the rest of us, the other half of us, is the fascism. I mean, the true fascism that is happening in this country today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean by that, caller?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CALLER: The belligerent takeover of a one-party system.

CANTOR: Now, as far as the one-party government in here, I think what the public is doing they‘re finally waking up and everybody is realizing that checks and balances are part of the system and dividing government is something that is beneficial to a balanced debate and something that can produce a better outcome. Which is exactly why Republicans in the House have said, “Look, we want to work with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle. We want to try and bring this president back into the mainstream.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: That‘s Eric Cantor, minority whip, so concerned with imminent one-party rule and the mainstream that he skipped the president‘s news conference last night to watch and instead attend a Britney Spears concert. Yay!

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal meanwhile not only defending Boss Limbaugh and others for wanting President Obama‘s policies on the economy and in a number of other issues to fail, but blaming Democrats and, of course, the liberal media for focusing any attention on it, calling it political correctness run amok. The governor is enabling an audience of 1,200 Republicans at the party‘s biggest congressional fund-raiser of the year. Twelve hundred?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, ® LOUISIANA: I‘ll not be browbeaten on this. I won‘t kowtow to their political correctness. We will be the loyal opposition.

So, my answer to this question is very simple. When they ask, “Do you want the president to fail,” it depends on what he is trying to do. When he pursues policies that are akin to those of European socialism, policies that, taken too far, could cause America to fail, we will oppose, we will stand up and be counted, we will do so proudly. Not because we want the president to fail but because we want America to succeed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine. It looks like he is at the White House tonight.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That sounds like catch-22. The old Italian gentleman saying, “We will succeed by being defeated.”

ALTER: Right.

OLBERMANN: The GOP, again, embracing this role of party of Boss Limbaugh, or I don‘t know, maybe Father Coughlin. It didn‘t seem to go well for the Republicans the last 12 or 15 times. Why are they back to this as strategy?

ALTER: Well, you know, it reminds me of what somebody who once lived in this house, Ronald Reagan, said, “Go ahead, make my day.” This is all great news for the White House and the Democrats.

Earlier today, I saw a White House aide who had just seen on the wires that Karl Rove had called the president arrogant. And he was ecstatic about this. You know, they like Limbaugh, Rove, Eric Cantor, yahoos on the phone, all of that is good for them because it‘s Palookaville. You know, it‘s easy for them to contend with that kind of opposition since it‘s not fundamentally serious.

This goes back—this kind of talk, Keith, goes back a long way. You mentioned Father Coughlin in the 1930s, a Democrat, the leader of the labor movement said that Franklin Roosevelt‘s New Deal was Stalinism and Hitlerism combined. So, these charges of fascism that have just bounced off presidents go back a long way.

OLBERMANN: But, there‘s evidence it‘s having any impact. Obama‘s public support is not eroding. Even people who are not certain that these policies are going to work are still apparently certain about him. They want his policies to succeed. They do not want him to fail no matter what party they belong to.

How is it that Republicans—are they willfully not recognizing this? I mean, is this not the definition of that tragic image that they‘ve invoked here of drinking the Kool-Aid, which is to believe fervently that which is patently and probably untrue? Are they just, you know, using the Karl Rove math in all they‘re polling? Where do they get this idea that this will work for them, let alone the ethics of it?

ALTER: It‘s a great question because the first rule of holes is stop digging.

(LAUGHTER)

ALTER: You know, they need a—they need something else. They don‘t have anything to say as a party.

I think it‘s too bad. I believe in a strong two-party system. I wish they would come up with some fresh ideas. There are some out there, for instance, there‘s a fairly conservative idea that I like which would be to abolish the payroll tax—it‘s tax cuts and replace it with value added tax, carbon tax, and other kinds of things.

If they called for something like that, whether it‘s a good idea or a bad idea, at least it‘s something big that they can stand on rather than name-calling.

OLBERMANN: And where is the individual credibility here? Thirty-eight million Americans saw the president‘s news conference just on TV last night; it doesn‘t count radio; it doesn‘t count the Internet. People are supposed to take Eric Cantor seriously about finance or about fascism or about anything when instead of even watching it as it happened, he‘s at a Britney Spears concert? You know, oops, they did it again?

ALTER: Yes. That was pretty amazing.

I think, you know, his bigger problem is not what he did last night, but that he just doesn‘t break through as a good spokesman for their party. You know, he‘s getting some attention because he was willing in person to take on the president directly in the first few weeks of the administration. And he came up with a good idea, actually. The Recovery.gov Web site that the administration has adopted now as a way of providing some accountability for the Recovery Act was originally Eric Cantor‘s idea.

So, he‘s not a complete idiot but his political strategy right now is just not working for them. It‘s not breaking through. They need other spokesmen and other people to come up with some real fresh ideas.

OLBERMANN: Or we need to restart the Whig Party, see where Zachary Taylor is.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Jonathan Alter of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” at the White House

have a nice time there.

ALTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And great thanks.

For more on this, let‘s turn to Governor Howard Dean, of course, most recently, chairman—former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, now contributor to CNBC.

Thank you for your time, Governor. Welcome back to TV.

HOWARD DEAN, FMR. DNC CHAIRMAN: Keith, thanks for having me on.

OLBERMANN: The Republicans slapped anybody who questioned President Bush with—if not using the word treason, essentially the elements that make up treason for the better part of his administration, and yet we are now seeing this—I don‘t know—the sky is falling reaction to everything that President Obama does. Is there something of a double standard here or am I being a little—a little oversensitive?

DEAN: Well, I think the Republicans have a huge problem. They are trying to reorient themselves after three consecutive elections that were pretty disastrous for them or two consecutive elections that were pretty disastrous for them. And they‘re having a huge internal battle. And you‘re seeing the leadership continue to play to the hard right because that is their base. The trouble is that the hard right is not nearly enough to win an election.

So, every time they do that, as Jonathan pointed out, the people in the middle, moderates, even moderate Republicans are starting going—what? What are these people talking about? And that helps Obama.

So, you know, the Republicans are going to have a long way to go here if they—if this is their first tactic. They‘ve got to figure out how to reach the moderate middle. And you don‘t do it by calling people fascists and all this other kind of business.

OLBERMANN: So, is Jon Alter right, every time something like this happens, you and the other leaders of the Democratic Party sit back and try to stifle a loud, braying laugh?

DEAN: Well, I don‘t laugh at the Republicans because they were pretty effective in winning elections for a long time. But I just scratch my head and think, you know, what are they—obviously, polling does not tell you to call the president of the United States a fascist. So, they must be doing something very peculiar at the RNC. And I‘m not sure what it is. But I think their problem is that they‘re just in disarray.

The other thing is they don‘t dare offer their own solutions, their own budget because they know these are really tough times and no matter what you do, it‘s not going to be good medicine to swallow. So, they criticize President Obama but they have nothing to say for themselves. And until they do, they really have no message.

And that‘s—that‘s a big problem. And they‘ve got to fight through this in order to get back to being a competitive party again. And right now, they are not.

OLBERMANN: And to the point of the moderates—last night on Jay Leno‘s show, the former secretary of state, Dr. Rice, who, I guess, we‘ve never previously considered to be a moderate, refused to criticize President Obama. He said—or she said that we owe him our loyalty and our silence.

Is there a split here, people who are, you know, looking at some of this commentary now and saying that there is no time for this right now—listening to Dick Cheney coming back from his undisclosed location to say all the things he‘s been saying, and saying, you know, this is—this is the wrong strategy and the wrong thing for the country at the same time?

DEAN: Well, you know, there were not a lot of grown-ups in the Bush administration. But Condi Rice was most certainly one of them along with Hank Paulson and Colin Powell and so forth.

And, you know, those—we may have our disagreements—but I would long for a Republican Party that was full of people like Condi Rice where you can disagree on legitimate policy issues and still work together for the country. And that‘s class. That‘s what I consider to be class. She has it and I appreciate it.

OLBERMANN: Instead of—when that call took place on C-SPAN today, with the minority whip, Mr. Cantor, listening as this caller attempted to demonize President Obama and his agenda and throw everything ism she could think of except Nazism, I suppose. The congressman certainly by proxy embraced her attack. There‘s .

DEAN: That‘s the problem that they have.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

DEAN: It‘s the same as Michael Steele apologizing to Rush Limbaugh.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

DEAN: If you are willing to—look, the right thing to have said, which is I would have said; if somebody called President Bush really dreadful names like that, I have would say, look, we disagree with President Bush strongly, and he‘s wrong about the war in Iraq, for example, or the huge deficits that he run up, but he is the president and we are going to be respectful of him. And that—you know, Eric Cantor would have grown dramatically in his viewers‘ eyes simply by saying that.

You don‘t have to insult your base. But when your base goes too far, you need to remind people that that is not where you stand.

OLBERMANN: Or if you have a case to call somebody a fascist, lay it out, define your terms and say where you—I mean, you may be crazy and you maybe wrong, but at least put some meat on the bones. And just don‘t throw the word out, right?

DEAN: Well, look—I mean, even in the darkest days of the Bush/Cheney administration, I don‘t think there was any reason to call George Bush a fascist nor do I think it‘s—I think it‘s patently ridiculous to call President Obama a fascist.

And I—you know, ordinary people get mad and they use that kind of language. And OK, fine, they are not in politics. But if you are in politics and you aspire to be the leader of your party, you can‘t let that kind of stuff pass because it diminishes you and it diminishes the Republican Party when you don‘t correct it.

OLBERMANN: Howard Dean, former head of the DNC, former governor of Vermont, and now a contributor to CNBC. Congratulations on that, sir. Thanks for your time.

DEAN: Thanks. Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The real problem for the Republicans though is not “Obama the fascist, socialist Martian.” The real problem is: The Dow Jones went up again today about 90 points after news that new housing starts have rocketed up more than 20 percent in the first full months in the Obama administration. Today, there‘s news that new home sales were even up last month, nearly 5 percent. Thus, he makes his arguments, past hysterical Republicans and two moderate Democrats, today, meeting with the whole caucus. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders was there—he‘ll fill us in in a moment.

But perhaps the president‘s best arguments are now being made for him by the very villains of this whole crisis, the inexplicably optimistic denizens of Wall Street.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: President Obama tries to win over moderate Democrats in the Senate to his way of budgetary thinking. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont would not match that description, but he was at the meeting today and will give us some sense of it next.

Later in Worsts: The FOX out-of-business channel analyst who compares taxing AIG to sexual assault. And Billo the clown announces he has bankrupted NBC in primetime even though as it is revealed that Rupert Murdoch lost 57 percent of his net worth in the last year.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN—arr, matey!

(COMMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: All the things America voted for, all the change and hope and “Yes, we can,” America wanted when it elected Barack Obama, do not come magically with his inauguration. They come only with a fight.

In our fourth tonight: The main event—the reason for President Obama‘s big publicity push, the battle over the budget, which if it fails to pass Congress, takes with it change, hope and “Yes, we can.”

Today, the president went to Capitol Hill to meet with members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, one of whom will join us momentarily, some of whom are not 100 percent onboard with Mr. Obama‘s plans. Many of whom concerned about the recent congressional estimate, that the Obama budget will deepen the deficit worse than originally thought.

One of the main players, Senate Budget chairman, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, defending the Senate version of the budget, pointing out that it keeps Obama‘s big priorities alive. But as you‘ll notice, he says his budget makes them possible as opposed to say, makes them happen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KENT CONRAD, (D) BUDGET CMTE. CHAIRMAN: We have attempted to

preserve and I think have preserved the president‘s key priorities. That‘s

what he asked me to do when we got the reforecast of reducing our

dependency on foreign energy, excellence in education, health care reform -

all of those are possible to move forward in the budget resolution that I have written. They are all in deficit neutral reserve funds, which means those initiates will have to be paid for. But, that was always the president‘s intention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Obama‘s budget director, Peter Orszag, declared the Senate and Obama budgets if not twins, then at least blood kin. But the White House, nevertheless, is now e-mailing supporters to get them to push Congress.

Liberal progressive groups pursuing the same goals: Move On with the radio ad, Americans United for Change is paying $700,000 for an ad pressuring Congress to back Obama‘s budget. The ad does not name names but if the gentleman from North Dakota, Senator Conrad, had any question who that ad is targeting, it will air in 11 states and in major markets in those states such as Fargo and Bismarck.

As promised, now, one of the senators participating in today‘s meeting with President Obama, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, also a member of that budget committee.

Much thanks for your time tonight, Senator.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: Great to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: First, if you would give us your read on this meeting today with the president. What is his approach here?

SANDERS: Well, I think the president was very thoughtful and what he said basically is, “I ran to change America. I‘m going to keep the promises that I made to the American people. We are going to provide health care to all people. We are going to become energy independent. And we all are going to make sure that we reform education and make sure that all of our kids are able to get into college.”

You know, I find it interesting, Keith, that Obama is being criticized day and night for the crime of keeping his campaign promises.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: And I guess people aren‘t used to that. But I think it‘s a good idea and I‘m strongly supportive of what he is trying to do.

OLBERMANN: Senator, the reporting on this varies widely. Can you characterize what the gaps are between the Obama budget and the Senate Democratic budget proposal?

SANDERS: Well, I think the key issue here is going to be the issue of what‘s called reconciliation. And bottom line, what that means, Keith, is whether we can pass important legislation with 50 votes or that we have to go to 60 votes, which means we need—the Republicans can filibuster and defeat us or they‘re going to water down any substantive piece of legislation. I think that‘s the key issue.

OLBERMANN: David Axelrod was on last night, right after the president‘s news conference, and at Chris Matthews‘ behest, I asked that very question about budget reconciliation. And he said this is a process question, it‘s not foremost on the minds of Americans. But essentially, as you suggest, it precludes a Republican filibuster.

In the House, Congressman Spratt made his successes on health care using it in the same way. So, the same question that I ask Mr. Axelrod, I‘ll ask you, Senator. Is the Senate going to wind up using the reconciliation version or the straight 60-39 vote version?

SANDERS: Well, if we have to go to 60 votes, either nothing happens in terms of health care or it is a very weak proposal which may not be worth even doing. And I would say the same thing with regard to global warming.

My hope is, we will use reconciliation, I think, in the House. At least, in health care, we are expecting to see reconciliation. And I find it interesting that our friends in the Republican Party are saying, oh, reconciliation, it‘s terrible, the idea of 50 votes and a majority actually carrying major policy. Well, you know, when they passed Bush‘s tax breaks for billionaires, you know what they used? Reconciliation.

OLBERMANN: Yes. And they‘ve been using it off and on since 1980. So, we‘re going to go into that in-depth later in the program. But something else, there is a quote in “The Atlantic” magazine from unnamed White House official who says these pro-budget ads won‘t hurt, won‘t help.

I mean, what do you think on this? Should the president‘s supporters be calling their congressmen and senators‘ offices and saying, “Look, this is what I voted for, don‘t screw this up”?

SANDERS: I think so. I think what we need to never forget, Keith, is that here in Washington, we have enormously powerful special interests. You know, the financial institutions in the last 10 years spent $5 billion so that we can deregulate Wall Street, and that got us to where we are today. The insurance companies and drug companies spend huge amounts of money keeping us the only nation the industrialized world without a national health care program.

So, what we need to combat that enormous power of the big money interest is a strong grassroots movement.

OLBERMANN: Is it ironic that perhaps one of the benefits here right now or one of the things that might tip this in the balance of the forces of good is that Wall Street is, in fact, showing a few signs of life? Could that make an argument for Senator Conrad that nobody else could?

SANDERS: Well, I think it is. And I think—by the way, these things are going to go up and down. And I think that anyone who thinks that we are in the midst of clear-sailing is wrong. We have an enormous crisis on Wall Street, major economic problems, terrible health care problems, et cetera, et cetera.

But I think what people respect about President Obama is that he is willing to deal with the real issues facing our country, unlike Bush who pushed them under the rug and kept telling us to recall how strong the economy was just before it collapsed or else took us in the wrong direction. And I think people respect Obama is willing to be straight with them.

OLBERMANN: Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont—a pleasure to see you last week in Los Angeles, sir, and great thanks for your time tonight.

SANDERS: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: (INAUDIBLE) do you see anything unusual here? You mean, like a dog up in a tree.

And the reason nobody watches the FOX out-of-business channel, one of its commentators compares taxing the AIG bonuses to sexual assault.

Worst Persons in the World—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Bests in a moment, and if the Japanese are right, you‘ll soon be able to keep your underwear on for a week.

First, on this date in history, one of the dangers of saying, “First, on this date in history,” far and wide on the Internet is this fabulous typo celebrating today the centennial anniversary of the birth of baseball pitcher, Dutch Leonard. March 25, 1909, Dutch Leonard born, had a record earned run average of 1.01 in 1914. When he was 5 years old?

There were two Dutch Leonards: Emil “Dutch” Leonard, born 1909, debut 1933. Hubert “Dutch” Leonard, born 1892, ERA of 1.01 in 1914. So there.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Knoxville, Tennessee, where times are so tough that after his doghouse went into foreclosure, old Buford here was forced to live in a tree. Hey, get out of my tree.

Actually, we are not sure why Buford ran away from home and climbed on to that branch. What we do know is the dog found getting down a whole lot more difficult than getting up was. Buford‘s family had to call in the utility company which brought the cherry picker and a brave man in a hard hat, and coaxed the dog into the bucket.

We would have prefer the trampoline rescue, but anyway, once on the ground, Buford was reunited with his owners and he promised never to make on the carpet again.

To Florida, and a little Broward County justice caught on tape. This is the courtroom of Judge Ian Richards during a domestic violence hearing yesterday. The defendant on the left lunges at a witness during her testimony. So Judge Richards pops off the bench, springs over his desk and joins in with the attorney and the bailiffs to stem the attack.

As we watch this again, it‘s worth noting that Broward County was also the home of the infamous Anna Nicole Smith judge Larry Seidlin, who did not allow this kind of circus in his courtroom. He would have diffused this whole thing with some orange juice and a story of tennis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: “I like to know what I‘m talking about before I speak,” the president says. Well, first of all, this represents a sea change from the last administration. Second, was this a shot at somebody? The questioner seems to think he won.

And Rod Blagojevich on the radio in Chicago. You thought Vaudeville was dead. These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best real indicator of the world economy, the government of Finland. It is selling off to a private holding company its one third ownership of the winter wonderland in Helsinki called Santa Park. That‘s right, the Finish government sold off Santie.

Number two, best chicken salad out of you know what, Ralph Amendolaro of Queens, New York, one of at least 622 people to win 1,500 bucks or more each in the state lottery, by playing the numbers zero, five, four, the last three digits in the prisoner number of Bernie Madoff.

Number one, best new science, Japan Women‘s University in Tokyo. Scientists there adapting technology designed for space and creating underwear that they say can for a week remain stink free.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: And the next day not a word was uttered by any politician in the land, having decided to try out the new president‘s new maxim, know what you‘re talking about before you speak. So they all, each and every one of them, shut the hell up. That fable obvious hyperbole. But in our third story in the COUNTDOWN, the line at its center does deserve some attention.

Was President Obama setting a refreshing new standard or merely deflecting a tough question he did not want to provide a more detailed answer for? Or like a skillful politician, doing both? Might he have been taking a swipe at somebody? The answer came in response to question number seven of the evening last night, when CNN‘s senior White House correspondent Ed Henry actually clumsily asked two intertwined questions, the first about why it took Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner a few days to express outrage over the AIG bonuses, particularly compared to New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who seemed to be, quote, getting more actual action on it, per Mr. Henry.

The other question about whether the president was concerned, quote, that your daughters, not to mention the next president, will be inheriting an even bigger fiscal mess if the spending goes out of control. the president gave a lengthy answer about the deficit, its reduction and his budget priorities. Then Mr. Henry hit him again with that unanswered part of the questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage. It seems like the actions coming out of New York and the attorney general‘s office—it took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we are outraged.

OBAMA: It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I‘m talking about before I speak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Oh, snap.

Let‘s call in the associate editor and columnist of the “Washington Post,” And MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson. Good evening, Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: “I like to know what I‘m talking about before I speak.” Doesn‘t that make the president some kind of heretic by almost any political standard? And if applied across the nation, would it lead to like three days of utter silence by every citizen?

ROBINSON: It certainly would. Here in Washington, frankly, it is an affront to 200 years of tradition. I mean, will the man stop at nothing? Has the man no shame? Or I guess that should be has the man shame? What is shame? It‘s a novel approach to politics in these parts.

OLBERMANN: Was this a swipe at somebody, maybe somebody not in that room? It could have been Mr. Cuomo, who is referenced in the question, or it could have been George Bush. Or was this sort of more generally directed intellectual smack down of the premise of shoot first from the mouth, and then analyze what you just said and apologize for it later?

ROBINSON: I think it was more generally directed. Clearly, there was a degree of annoyance in the president‘s reaction. But I think he is a thoughtful guy. And he does like to know what he is talking about, I think, before he runs off at the mouth about it. Not everybody in Washington does. In fact, nobody else in Washington does.

And so it must be frustrating at times to hear this cacophony of voices talking about things they don‘t know that much about. And he found a pithy way to express that and quite a moment to do it, too. It was the oh, no, he didn‘t, moment of the news conference.

OLBERMANN: I repeat, oh, snap. This is somewhat reminiscent of that time during the campaign when he went in front of the editorial board of the “New York Times” and said—when asked a detailed economic question, he allowed for the possibility that he was mistaken about something. But he said, I do hope you guys will give me at least a chance that I might know what I‘m talking about. The same vernacular as that.

But of all the analysis of this that I heard last night and today, there‘s only one thing I have not heard repeated anywhere else. This is how the correspondent who asked those questions thought it played. Ed Henry wrote, “the president, like any good politician, decided to pick and choose what to answer. So he swatted away the budget question and ignored the AIG stuff. So I waited patiently and then decided to pounce with a sharp follow up. From just a few feet away, I could see in his body language that the normally calm and cool president was perturbed.”

So Mr. Henry has a rather sanguine view of himself and the results. Is it shared by anybody? Did he win that battle of wits and we didn‘t notice?

ROBINSON: You know, I just don‘t think you‘re going to see that analysis being picked up very widely, Keith. It is like guarding Kobe Bryant, right. He comes down, he does a reverse 360 windmill Tomahawk jam in your face. The ball actually hits you in the face on the way down. And then picking yourself up off the court and acknowledging the cheers of the crowd.

Dude, you just got owned. The guy just made you his companion. Shut up and let‘s trundle back up the court and try to get him next time. Nobody else is—

OLBERMANN: Kobe appeared shaken during the basket. Last point here, on the merits, right after the AIG bonuses became public knowledge, Mr. Obama‘s chief economic adviser Lawrence Summers was giving this legalese response to it about not being able to abrogate those bonus agreements. If you ever use the word abrogate in a public statement, it is over. It didn‘t fly. Was the president—just on the facts, was he being honest in that reply last night or just whitely defensive?

ROBINSON: I think mostly honest, in this sense: Geithner and Summers knew about the stuff before the president was clued in. He couldn‘t be expected to have paid attention to this detail, even though it was an important detail. Somebody else should have caught this for him. They hadn‘t handled it very well up to the point where he became involved.

I think he genuinely felt that he needed to know a bit more about it and ask some questions before he started talking about it and potentially making things worse. That is a reasonable way to react. I think it was mostly honest. He could have given an honest answer that had less bite. There was an intentional zing there and the zing hit home.

OLBERMANN: And, as you put it, made him his companion. Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC, our chief euphemism director from the Washington bureau, thank you, sir.

Blago on the radio. Quack, quack, Blago news time 6:29.

Bill-O announces he has personally destroyed NBC‘s prime time profits. We made three quarters of a billion last year, while Rupert lost half of his net worth next year. Worst persons coming up.

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, her special guest, the former senator who a decade ago warned that this financial crisis would happen.

But first, because they may be gone, but their deeds out-live them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration‘s 50 running scandals, Still Bushed.

Number three, torture-gate. Two former top administration figures have written in the “Washington Post” that a presidential commission on torture is critical to American security. They eloquently advance the now standard argument about formal review of the Bush torture policies, that, quote, “detainee mistreatment flies in the face of American ideals. It strengthens the case of those who fight against us. These methods yield suspect information. They put our troops and, indeed, all Americans at greater risk of torture and abuse if they are captured by our enemies.”

What is news here is who co wrote that, Thomas Pickering, the elder George Bush‘s ambassador to the U.N., and William Sessions, the FBI director under the first Bush and under Ronald Reagan.

Number two, Iraq-gate. The thing that made it look like the surge worked when maybe it really didn‘t may be unraveling. Thomas Ricks blogs at ForeignPolicy.com that the so-called Sunni awakening, the 100,000 politically and militarily active Iraqis who suddenly switched to our side in 2006 and 2007 has had another one of its member attacked just west of Baghdad.

Mr. Ricks also notes a report from yesterday‘s “New York Times” that promises to members of the awakening that they would get permanent jobs in the Iraqi security forces have gone almost entirely unfulfilled, that only five percent of them have gotten those jobs. If the Sunnis now lose patience, change sides again or strike back, we are screwed. Thank you, President Bush.

Number one, Gitmo Jr.-gate. Imagine the Bush government having instituted a system of near Gulags and other detention centers so vast that it can hold not a couple hundred people, but rather 400,000 foreigners and even Americans of foreign birth. They don‘t get to see lawyers. They don‘t their detentions individually reviewed by judges. They don‘t get supposedly minimum standards of jail, cleanliness or hygiene. They don‘t get out for at least ten months. And ten months is considered lightning fast.

Some new piece of nightmare reporting by Seymour Hirsch? Some fantasy of the far left? No. These are the ICE facilities courtesy of George W. Bush. Amnesty International out with its report our immigration detention centers in this country, in which are stored thousands, some Americans pulled off the streets, who, because they did not have their naturalization papers with them, stayed in there for months. Stories of people as innocent as a Tibetan monk fleeing the Chinese, tortured twice by the Chinese, arriving in New York, seeking political asylum, and instead being sent straight to an ICE detention facility, even with a lawyer and an affidavit, and a pledge from co-religionists that he had a place with them.

ICE never even responded to any legal attempts to free the man for ten months. Falsification of records by the Bush appointees still running ICE last year; a claim that the average detention is just 37 days. But a new study proving that about 10,000 people are or were detained for more than that claimed average. The most recent comprehensive study from 2003 saying the average is, in fact, ten months.

The most startling fact about Amnesty‘s report, nobody at Immigration, nobody at the horrifically acronymed ICE, nobody hearing the details of this American Gulag is denying anything.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Morning Rod? No, it‘s Chicago‘s latest radio sensation, former Governor Rod Blagojevich. That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

Number three, Dagen McDowell, news actress with the Fox out of Business network. Echoing the reactionary protest against taxing AIG bonuses by comparing it to sexual abuse. Quote, her, “you don‘t want to think if you get in bed with Uncle Sam, he is going to strip you naked, chain you to the bed, leave you there and then take nasty pictures of you and put them on the Internet, because that is what has been happening,” unquote.

Now you know what kind of images are conjured up in the minds of those who have to work at the Fox out of Business channel.

Number two, Senators Kit Bond of Missouri and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, reacting to the deduction of Chris Matthews that Mr. Obama might have to use the voting rules of budget reconciliation to get some aspects of his spending plan fast. Budget reconciliation can be done in a straight majority vote, not the veto proof 60-vote style.

Says Senator Bond, “in this post-partisan time of Barack Obama, we are seeing a little Chicago politics. They steam roller those who disagree. Then, I guess, in Chicago, they coat them in cement and drop them in the river.”

But Senator Gregg said it was, instead, like, quote, “running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River.” Nice job on talking points, boys. Also nice amnesia. Since 1980 Republican Senate majorities have used budget reconciliation to pass things like Bush budget cuts by that simple 51-49 vote a couple of times, like in the spending and budget bills in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2005. A lot of Democrats you threw in the Chicago River, senator.

Our winner is Bill-O, still in full naked panicky fear about being eclipsed by Glen Beck‘s success at Fixed News. You heard about his delusion that MSNBC News somehow got ThinkProgress.org to blog about his hypocrisy in speaking at a rape victim‘s fund-raiser after having repeatedly blamed rape victim. Naturally, Joe McCarthy Jr.‘s response was to stalk Amanda Terkel, the woman who had written the blog post. Now he has expanded on his fantasy that MSNBC chairman Jeff Zucker wrote the post for Ms. Terkel, reading on air what he claims was a viewer e-mail. “Why did the far left and NBC attack your support of a charity, Bill?”

“Well,” he answered, “the Factor has destroyed NBC‘s cable operations in prime time, Michael. That is their motive over there.”

The “New York Times” just reported that the news operations over here, MSNBC, MSNBC.com, NBC News, CNBC, Weather Channel and Telemundo News, that combined we had a profit of 775 million dollars last year. How much you make, buddy?

Oddly enough, this is just in from the Australian financial magazine “VRW,” Rupert Murdoch is now worse 57 percent less than he was worth this time last year, from 7.9 billion dollars Australian to 3.4 billion. Bill, with ratings like Beck has been getting, Rupe is not going to wait that long to move him into prime time, maybe into your time slot. Arrgh, maty. Bill-O the sad clown, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: He didn‘t quote Rudyard Kipling, nor liken himself to Gandhi, nor even, for you Chicagoans, to Steve Daal. But he did discuss his hair. He did invoke Elvis. And he did play the theme from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Our number one story, Rod Blagojevich, radio host. The former governor taking your calls this morning on WLSAM in Chicago, filling in on the Don Wade and Roma morning show.

In between traffic and weather updates, Blagojevich used the mic to multi-task, complaining he was hijacked from office, while railing against his successor, new Governor Pat Quinn.

All in a day‘s work. Among those who dropped by the studio, the cast of the second city production of “Rod Blagojevich Superstar.” Upon introduction, the actor who plays Blago remarked, quote, I feel like Lawrence Olivier meeting Hamlet. With that. I give you the best of Morning Rod.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: If you just tuned in, this is not Elvis. This is Rod Blagojevich.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are those headphones going to mess up your hair?

That is my concern for you.

BLAGOJEVICH: I brought my brush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The football is here? I‘m very excited.

BLAGOJEVICH: Somebody asked me when I walked in, how is the book coming. I said, I‘m doing pretty good. I‘m on page three. Let‘s see, this is harder than being governor. I was hijacked from office, not allowed to bring in witnesses, bring in evidence to show that I did nothing wrong. It was a political fix. I predicted that.

Hi, this is Rod Blagojevich. And I got to tell you, I sure do love Elvis.

Man, did I screw up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Time now to call in comedian Christian Finnegan. His Comedy Central special “Au Contraire” debuts on May 9th. Good evening, Christian.

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, COMEDIAN: Nice to see you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: It is radio and it‘s not a telethon for fund-raising. Is that a career surprise?

FINNEGAN: I think maybe he has a career in media in general, maybe on some sort of cooking show. That way, as the viewer, when your head explodes from irony overloads, you can still find out how to make a nice sauce or something. I think radio is too free form for Blagojevich. Don‘t get me wrong, I enjoy a good Blagojevich-ing as much as the next guy, possibly more. But I just think, you need something with a little more structure.

It is just the same stuff over and over again. It was a back room deal. They didn‘t allow me to bring witnesses. He is kind of like a musical artist who has one great song and releases it over and over again. He is like Meatloaf with a Christ complex.

OLBERMANN: Or just trying to do a concert by playing the same song for three hours. Shifting gears a little bit, the president, in his news conference last night—we learned today that the House minority whip Mr. Cantor went to this Britney Spears concert. Is this stimulus, the stimulus package there? How many whips does a Britney concert really need?

FINNEGAN: I see what you did here. You have to love this new generation of conservative heavyweights. Between Eric Cantor, Bobby Jindal and John Boehner‘s ridiculous spray tan, the Republicans right now have about as much gravitas as, I don‘t know, a Britney Spears concert. I was actually hoping there was going to be some cell phone footage of this. But then I realized, no one would know who Eric Cantor is.

I feel actually bad for Britney Spears. This poor women is trying to make a comeback, trying to prove she is still credible. And then it leaks that her audience is comprised of Republicans. Ouch.

OLBERMANN: That is about a next step, Hee Haw. Another ethics complaint against Sarah Palin. The charge was that she wore gear at a public event displaying the name of the company that sponsors her husband‘s Iron Dog team. The governor has called this allegation bogus. Todd Palin finished sixth. Is she right? Is it bogus?

FINNEGAN: I don‘t know if it‘s bogus. I support Governor Palin here. Let‘s be honest, Todd Palin—I want to make sure I choose my words properly here. Todd Palin is a buffoon. Not a whole lot to brag on as a wife. So by putting on his snowmobile gear, that is basically her equivalent of putting a five-year-old‘s drawing up on the fridge. It is a nice gesture.

As liberals, we have to pick our battles wisely. I have a question for this woman who lodged the complaint. You looked at Sarah Palin and this is what you decided to protest? Did you have somewhere to be? Did you have an appointment. Give it a little time. There‘s going to be plenty of ethics violations for us to get upset about.

OLBERMANN: An excellent point on which to conclude. Comedian Christian Finnegan, the new Comedy central program is shown for the first time on May 9th, “Au Contraire.” Thank you, sir.

FINNEGAN: Thank you, sir, for the merriment.

OLBERMANN: That is COUNTDOWN for this the 2,146th 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.

END

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