updated 8/19/2009 12:01:50 PM ET 2009-08-19T16:01:50

Guests: Lawrence O‘Donnell, Arianna Huffington, Jonathan Cohn, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Emily Heil

           

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

Political gamesmanship or the majority getting played like a three-dollar banjo?

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ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The president—his position, the administration‘s position, is unchanged.  The president prefers the public option.

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OLBERMANN:  And how does he prefer to get it?  Pass a bill with the public option in the House, pass a bill without the public option in the Senate, then retain the public option during the conference process between the two chambers and screw the Republicans?  Or continue to wait for the Godot of modern politics: bipartisanship?

Senator Kyl says, “There is no way that Republicans are going to support a trillion dollar-plus bill.”

Why is the public accepting the lies?

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DICK MORRIS, FOX NEWS ANALYST:  This thing essentially takes care from the elderly and gives it to the immigrants.

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OLBERMANN:  Neither is true, but 45 percent of Americans believe the lie about taking care from the elderly, 55 percent believe the other lie about giving it to immigrants.  The new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll out tonight—we know who‘s lying, but why are the lies being believed?

And why does the right continue to get away with threats of violence

by cretins like this one?

           

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JOE WURZELBACHER, JOE THE PLUMBER:  I‘m not the most civilized person.  Those kind of people, I usually took behind the woodshed and just beat the livin‘ tar out of ‘em.

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OLBERMANN:  Joe the bully is talking about beating up the speaker of the House of Representatives.

And another episode of Sanford and wife: The South Carolina governor‘s free pass depends on his wife conciliating with him.  “The person I‘m married,” she says, “was centered on a core of morals.  The person who did this is not centered on those morals.”

Governor, kiss your past good-bye.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s all relax.  OK.

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

“When a bully asks for your lunch money,” advises the letter writer, “you may have no choice but to fork it over.  But cutting a deal with the bully is a different story, particularly if the deal means helping him steal other‘s money as the price of protecting your own.”  Those words are from none other than House Minority Leader John Boehner.  He, of course, is casting President Obama as the bully and couples making more than $350,000 a year as those having their lunch money stolen.

But in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Yes, there goes pate de foie gras for lunch.

But Congressman Boehner‘s accidental brilliance—indeed brilliance -

is unintentionally counseling his perceived bully on the utility of negotiating health care reform with the Republicans.  Boehner‘s succinct advice: appeasement rarely works in conflict resolution.

           

Not that the president has stopped negotiating with the enemy, even if the enemy is now admitting on a daily basis that it is negotiating in bad faith.  The Senate Republican whip, Jon Kyl of Arizona today, is telling reporters he will not be whipping up any GOP votes.  Quote, “There is no way that Republicans are going to support a trillion-dollar-plus bill.”  Senator Kyl adding that at whatever cost figure, almost all Republicans are likely to oppose health care reform no matter how bipartisan the final bill might be.

Meanwhile, 60 House progressives—three more than last time—today warning the administration—again—in a letter, that they will kill any health care bill that does not include the public option.  Quoting from the letter, “To take the public option off the table would be a grave error; passage in the House of Representatives depends upon the inclusion of it.”

As we reported last night, the number of Democrats willing to kill health care reform that does not have enough—well, reform in it, likely to climb to perhaps as many as 100.  Pennsylvania‘s Democrat, Joe Sestak, now among those who saying he would have a hard time voting for a health care bill without a public option in it.

At the White House today, the press secretary, Mr. Gibbs, is admitting that the president still has not reached out to any members of Congress concerned about just the possible loss of the public option.  Meanwhile, Mr. Gibbs and others, like HHS Secretary Sebelius, still insisting that, quote, “nothing has changed about the administration support for a public option.”

Indeed, everything has changed.

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GIBBS:  As I have said now, yesterday and earlier today, the president, his position, the administration‘s position is unchanged; that we have a goal of fostering choice and competition in a private health insurance market.  The president prefers the public option as a way of doing that.  If others have ideas, we‘re open to those ideas and willing to listen to those details.

That‘s what the president has said for months.  Coincidentally, that‘s what the secretary of health and human services has said for months.  That‘s what I‘ve said for months.

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OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in our own Lawrence O‘Donnell, contributor to “The Huffington Post,” former chief of staff to the Senate Finance Committee.

Lawrence, good evening.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Senator Grassley said yesterday he can‘t deliver any Republican votes.  Senator Kyl said today he would not be whipping up any Republican votes.  Congressman Boehner is saying that appeasing a bully never works.

Remind us again, why is the White House still negotiating with Republicans?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, the question was always how many Republicans are they really negotiating with?  And they were hoping that the three they were negotiating with in the Senate Finance Committee—which included Grassley—represented a larger group.  How much larger—they weren‘t really sure.

We‘re now increasingly seeing as this comes more sharply into focus that they‘re representing themselves, and now, Grassley is saying, “If I can‘t get more than just the people I‘m negotiating with, than just two other Republicans, then I won‘t vote for what I negotiate.”

So this is—this is what happened in 1994.  Republicans just keep peeling off.  We started negotiating with Bob Dole.  We thought he could bring maybe 20 Republicans along.  He clearly peeled off.  He was running for president against Clinton by that point.

We started negotiating and ended up with only three Republicans in the entire Senate that we were negotiating with.  They were attacked by the right.  “The Wall Street Journal” called them the three blind mice.  And ultimately, we couldn‘t get them and we couldn‘t get all of the Democrats.

So, the support just keeps falling away as you negotiate with Republicans.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  More negotiators than potential Republican votes is a bad formula.  And speaking of which, Mr. Gibbs is saying at that briefing today that the president has still not made any kind of outreach to the 60 or so Democrats in the House who were upset about the possibility of no public option in the bill.  How is that good politics?

O‘DONNELL:  This is not good politics.  This is—in letting Anthony Weiner go out there and very cogently make his case on that side of the argument, must be driving the White House crazy.  But they‘ve got so many fingers in the dike at this point, trying to hold on to what they think they have that they‘re not working this side yet.  They have got to work this side.

This side is the side that actually prevented the House from voting at all in 1994.  No bill ever came to a vote in the House of Representatives because they said, “We want to see what the Senate can do.  We don‘t believe the Senate can pass something.”  So the Senate went first.  The Senate bill failed after about four or five days on the Senate floor, and the House never took it up.

And so, I would not be surprised if we see the same sequence this time where the House says, “We do not want to extend ourselves and vote on something.  If the Senate can‘t do it, let‘s see what the Senate does first.”  That didn‘t work in ‘94.  Let‘s see what happens now.

OLBERMANN:  The middle version (ph) of that, our Gene Robinson had a great quote in his column on “The Washington Post” today.  He wrote that, sure, giving up on the public option might be expedient.  We didn‘t elect Obama to be an expedient president.  We elected him to be a great one.

Has—have they forgotten that point at the White House?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I think 53 percent who voted for Barack Obama, I‘m not sure that more than a couple thousands of them knew the phrase “public option.”  They voted for him to clean up the mess in Iraq, get us out of there.  They voted for him for a lot of reasons—restore America‘s position in the world.  And what the White House knows is that they didn‘t all vote for him, or certainly not most of them voted for him for this particular element of the health care bill.

Having said that, the problem with health care legislation—what the White House has not understood from the start—is once you start picking at the threads, it can collapse completely very, very quickly.  When the Republicans kill the public option, the next thing that‘s going to go is the employer mandate.  They are going to go after that, after the public option is gone.  They will probably be able to destroy that.  Then they will go after the individual mandate, and that will come under tremendous pressure in both parties—and we‘ll see what happens.

OLBERMANN:  Last point, this is articulated by Ezra Klein in “The Washington Post.”  It‘s been noted elsewhere.  The House bill—if there were a vote today, and I wish there would be, because none of the politicians are involved if it then because they would be still out on recess—if there‘s a vote today, the House bill would have a public option.  The Senate bill would have a co-op compromise or just a piece of blank paper.

What would happen if those two bills pass and when they meet?  Is that where we get the public option slipped in during the negotiations?  Or where we bury the public option?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I would have to disagree that if there was a vote today, it would pass.  The reason they didn‘t have a vote before recess is that they didn‘t think it would pass.  And so—but let‘s assume for a moment that Ezra‘s right and the House can pass a public option bill.  If that goes into conference with the Senate, and the Senate doesn‘t have it, there is absolutely no way that the bill will move toward the left, that it will move toward the public option.

When they go into conference like this, all of the stuff on the left always falls out in favor of what the Senate has done.

OLBERMANN:  Well, crap.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Lawrence O‘Donnell of MSNBC and “The Huffington Post”—as always, great thanks.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For those who have feared that Republican lies on this occasion have been working, fresh evidence tonight of just how well the lies are resonating among some—especially those who get their news from FOX.  Looking at two of the most prevalent lies, a majority of those surveyed, overall 54 percent in the new NBC News poll out tonight—I misstated it earlier, it‘s not “The Wall Street Journal” just NBC—they believe that the health care legislation being debated would lead to a complete government takeover of health care.  Among FOX viewers, the number jumps to 79 percent, versus just 41 percent of those who watch MSNBC and CNN.

The fabricated “death panels” got the least amount of traction—again, depending on what you watch—less than half overall; 45 percent believing the “pull the plug on grandma” monstrosity.  Yet three out of every four FOX viewers believe this.  Seventy-five percent, hook, line and sinker, versus 30 percent of those who are not lied to on MSNBC and CNN.

Thus, lots to talk about tonight with Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of HuffingtonPost.com.  Once again, Arianna, good evening.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  On a certain level, is this survey—are these poll results tonight not a form of justification for the Republicans that their lies are working, that they should keep at it, that they managed to convince a certain part of the population to believe these terrible, untrue things that were never going to happen anyway?

HUFFINGTON:  It is, Keith, because the truth is that, whenever you leave a vacuum—as the administration has left—you leave the door open for all of these lies, all of these crazy allegations to actually gain ground.  That‘s exactly what is happening.  It‘s not surprising.  It should actually demonstrate to the administration that they need to draw some lines in the sand.  They need to define what they‘re asking the public to fight for or vote for or believe in.

OLBERMANN:  The believers, at least if we also believe the data that came out of that “Daily Kos” poll the other day about who is watching FOX News and who is watching MSNBC and who is watching CNN.  These believers would seem largely to overlap.  Those who did not vote for Obama would never vote for him and may still be viewing him as a non-citizen and/or as a Muslim.

Why is the administration even considering changes to the health care reform bill in order to appease these non-thinking people?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, unfortunately, it‘s not just the birthers and the deathers.  It‘s also the senators who they are negotiating with and continuing to want to negotiate with.  And Gibbs today, in fact, said that the administration has not yet given up on recruiting more Republicans, has not basically given up on this delusion of bipartisanship.

And that‘s the problem, Keith—because when are they going to give up on that?  Are they going to give up on that and when those who want real health care reform are down to 30 percent or under?  Because the trend is clear and the trend is downward.

And it‘s not just in this poll that we see what‘s happening.  There was an article in “The New York Times” about the grassroots, you know, the formidable Obama machine that we all marveled over during the campaign is not coming to the floor anymore.  Because what do you ask them to fight for?  What are you asking people to go and knock doors for?  They don‘t know.

The Obama plan has not been defined.  It needs to be defined.

OLBERMANN:  And also—this is kind of a role reversal of question—but should this be an instance in which this president might learn something from the previous one, that the Bushes, no matter what, were consistent in their message?  That they, you know, they might have been listening to devils and they might have been listening to voices, but they sure as hell never listened in the clinches to the other political party?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, remember Bill Maher said that about two months ago.  He said, “We want Obama ideas, but in the moral of that George Bush certitude.”  We absolutely need that, because otherwise, what‘s happening is what we have, as you said, Senator Kyl now doesn‘t even want co-ops.  He thinks the co-ops are the Trojan horse.  And Senator Enzi wants more incrementalism.

So, there had been—and basically strengthened, they have been emboldened.  And right now is the time for the administration to send out a very clear signal about where they‘re going to draw the line in the sand.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  And where is that, and how does it relate to knocking back these lies that are still believed by such large percentages on the right?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, the administration, first of all, has to make sure that everybody who speaks for it—whether it‘s HHS Secretary Sebelius or Gibbs or Rahm Emanuel, need to speak with one voice.  They can‘t allow what has happened to continue.  You can‘t have Sebelius going on the Sunday talk shows and saying the public plan is not essential; today, changing her mind.

Remember, it started in early July when Rahm Emanuel said, when the president was in Russia, that the public option was dispensable.  That has to stop.  The public option is essential and the president needs to make that clear.

OLBERMANN:  Arianna Huffington of “Huffington Post”—as always, great thanks.

HUFFINGTON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Fortunately, we have Democratic Senator Kent Conrad‘s magic bullet with which to sort all of this out, that insurance co-op which the GAO and most Democrats say will not lower consumer prices nor will it be able to muster any leverage against the private insurance giants—in which the Republicans today say, still counts in their books as a public option, a government takeover, socialism, fascism, despotism and “pulling the plug on grandma” and the sinking of the “Titanic.”

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OLBERMANN:  Conservative Democrats vote the idea of swapping in insurance co-ops for the public option—insurance co-ops that the Government Accountability Office reports can never be big enough to force insurance prices down; insurance co-ops that Republicans still brand as evil, socialist takeovers.  Great plan, Kent Conrad.

Later, polling proves the lies about health care reform are sticking and particularly sticking to people who don‘t realize FOX News is a product named like Virgin brand condoms.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  Before they sat down at the table, President Obama and congressional Democrats preemptively surrendered the one option that would guarantee every American health care without financial fear, government coverage.  The Republicans called that socialized medicine.  And then Democrats said they were willing to cave in even further, they gave up the public option, the federal health care plan to compete with insurance, after Republicans called that socialized medicine.

Tonight, our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Democrats are appeasing Republicans again, proposing private co-ops to compete with insurance, and Republicans are calling it—what is the phrase they just kind?  Oh, socialized medicine.

Virtually, as soon as Democrats began talking about Senator Kent Conrad‘s proposal to drop the public option and instead create privately owned co-ops to try to cover the uninsured and compete with for-profit insurance; despite the fact co-ops, like the size of a public option and therefore cannot negotiate lower prices, despite a 2000 GOA report which concluded that says co-ops will not lower costs; despite the fact health care co-ops already exist and have not lowered insurance costs—

Republicans say a co-op is the same as a public option.  So they will not vote for this, either.

Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl: “It is a Trojan horse—a step towards government-run health care.”  Senator Orrin Hatch: “Co-op is another way of saying a government plan.”  Senator Jim DeMint, “Government takeover.  So, any Republican now that helps them pass a bill is helping them pass a government takeover.”

In other words, Democrats, even if we give up co-ops next year, it doesn‘t matter.  Even if we give up everything, it doesn‘t matter.  And if we elect a 70-seat majority that won‘t use its majority, it just doesn‘t matter.  It just doesn‘t matter.  It just doesn‘t matter.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Even if we play so far out of her heads that our noses bleed for a week to 10 days; even if God in heaven above comes down and points his hand on our side of the field, even if every man, woman and child held hands together and prayed for us to win—it just wouldn‘t matter!  It just doesn‘t matter if we win or we lose!  It just doesn‘t matter!  It just doesn‘t matter!

CROWD:  It just doesn‘t matter!  It just doesn‘t matter!  It just doesn‘t matter!  It just doesn‘t matter!  It just doesn‘t matter!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining me and Mr. Murray tonight, Jonathan Cohn, senior editor of “New Republic” and author of “Sick: The Untold Story of America‘s Health Care Crisis and the People Who Pay the Price.”

Thanks for your time tonight.

JONATHAN COHN, THE NEW REPUBLIC:  Thanks for the Bill Murray introduction.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s a tough act to follow but a good one at least.

This GOP news release that says a public option by any other name is still government-run health care.  Can you explain why that‘s not true of co-ops?

COHN:  Well, I mean, the first thing to note is, we still don‘t know entirely what the co-ops are.  I mean, it‘s really—it‘s hard to say what they are.  What they are, what they aren‘t.  This is an idea that Kent Conrad invented at some point and we‘re still waiting to find out what it is.

But, you know, it‘s safe to assume, that given that Kent Conrad doesn‘t like a public option and that the conservative Democrats who keep talking up the co-op idea don‘t like the public plan option, that this is probably not a public plan option.  This is something considerably watered down from that idea.

OLBERMANN:  We hit the highlights before Bill Murray‘s appearance there.  Why in depth would co-ops do less than a public option to save taxpayers money?

COHN:  Well, look, I mean, the whole reason a public plan would save taxpayer money, right, is that it would look and act a little bit like Medicare.  It would have the same efficiencies as a government program and would have the same broad reach as a government program.  Now, if you‘re designing an alternative to that—that is watering it down—if the whole point of this co-op is not to be something like Medicare—well, great, you won‘t get something like Medicare.  You also won‘t get the cost savings.  I mean, that‘s, in some ways, sadly the whole point of these co-ops.

OLBERMANN: About what Senator Kyl said today—I always like to tell the story, going out to a ballpark early in April of 2003.  This show had been on the air exactly a week.  It had consisted of nothing but live reports from Iraq.  And there were these two drunken kids who came up to me.  And one started to ask for an autograph.  And the other one said, “No, screw him, he‘s a liberal.”

And I thought, what the hell—I mean, all we‘ve done on this show is live reports from Iraq.  Why are they yelling at me for being a liberal?  And as time went by, I thought—you know, there‘s license in there.  If I‘m doing my job and being utterly neutral and I‘m giving what was the Bush administration at the time a benefit of the doubt that it turned out not to have deserved and these drunken clowns were still dismissing me as a liberal, I could be a liberal.  They‘re going to dismiss me anyway.

Did Jon Kyl just do that?  If he‘s the party whip, he‘s in charge of wrangling Republican votes and didn‘t he just give Democrats license to do what they want by saying that even a co-op is something Republicans won‘t vote for?

COHN:  I think so.  I mean, look, every single time the Democrats make some sort of concession, like I said, they started single-payer.  Then they went down to a public option.  Now, they‘re down to a co-op.  It‘s not like the Republicans are friendlier to it.

I mean—look, back when the Democrats wanted to propose—all they want to do was expand health insurance for kids.  Remember that debate two years ago?  What was the charge against it?  It was socialized medicine.

I mean, I think by now, it‘s pretty clear.  Most of the Republican Party simply has no interest in health care reform, period.  End of sentences.  And if that is the way they believe, I don‘t really think you can negotiate with them in good faith.

OLBERMANN:  So—but they took themselves off the table.  I mean, don‘t we not now have to assume that if the Democrats themselves pass weak reform, it is now entirely of their own doing?

COHN:  Well, certainly mostly of their own doing.  Unfortunately, rules of the Senate may be such that they have to get 60 votes.  That may mean having to pull in a Republican or two, hopefully there are those two Republicans in Maine who actually are pretty reasonable on these issues.

But, yes, I mean, you know, in general, this is now on the Democrats.  And the Democrats need to decide, look, they won an election.  They won a big majority.  Are they going to step up the plate, are they going to deliver health care reform or not?

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Cohn with “The New Republic,” author of “Sick”—many thanks for your time tonight.

COHN:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  Travis was enjoying his time in the big city but he to admit the intricacies of the automatic doors were still a total mystery to him.

As is the truce to Rush Limbaugh, insists he has never used the phrase “death panels” except when quoting Sarah Palin—except he used it and praised it as a description five days ago.

“Worst Persons”—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  “Bests” in a moment, and we interrupt this wedding to save two lives.

First, born on this date in 1750, the future composer and conductor Antonio Salieri.  Contrary to the play and later movie, “Amadeus,” he did not wind up in a mental hospital, the victim of his own envy of and attempts to kill the reputation of Wolfgang Amadeus, Mozart.  That is not to say he was not envious up nor did not attempt to thwart Mozart‘s career.  In fact, fictional works embellishing those efforts did not begin with that 1984 movie.  There was a play described as a little tragedy called “Mozart and Salieri” performed as long ago as 1831.

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin on the Internets with the all-timer.  The YouTube clip describes the scene as a university in Pakistan that involves a student and some sliding glass doors.  Closed-circuit security footage, there you see our hero in beige walking across the screen towards the exit, perplexed about the automatic nature of the glass door.  He approaches, standing just far enough away for the doors not to open.  After fiddling with some papers in his bag—hello!  Cleanup front door.

Really, he did not grasp that the doors is automatically when you get closed to them and he broke the glass with his head as he barged through.  Of course, that does not explain how he got into the building.  They were installed while he was in class—or it‘s a fake.

To Tampa in Florida, where the traffic copter of our NBC affiliate, WFLA, recorded this scene from high above the water.  It‘s a trio of spotted eagle rays frolicking in the summer sun.  Zookeeper, zookeeper!  Why are those spot eagle rays killing each other?  Yes, experts believe there‘s hanky-panky going on in the bay.  Spotted eagle rays didn‘t seem to mind the helicopter‘s intrusion into their private fandango, but like “McSteamy” from “Grey‘s Anatomy,” they are threatening a lawsuit if this tape gets out.

And lastly, to the Maple-Oregon Drawbridge in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, where this car appears to have a fully functioning emergency brake.  That is not photoshopped.  It is a car defying gravity on a drawbridge that is open to a nearly 45-degree angle.

According to witnesses, the car‘s driver was a young woman who simply drove off when the bridge came back down.  Police are now trying to find her so they can figure out what happened.  She‘s not guilty of anything.  The drawbridge operator who lowered the bridge when he spotted the car had no explanation, noting that he was not distracted by spotted Eagle Rays getting it on in the river below.

Conservatives claim they are being victimized, and there are death panels.  While Joe Wurzelbacher physically threatens the speaker of the House of Representatives. 

And he might want to revisit hiking the old Appalachian Trail.  if Mrs. Governor is his hope of retaining office, he‘s in big trouble today.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Dateline in the Philippines; number three, best recipient of a dubious compliment, British naturalist David Attenborough, brother of filmdom‘s Richard, now namesake to a plant found on Paloan (ph), now named by scientists Nepente Attenboroughee (ph).  And what kind of plant is the Nepente Attenboroughee?  A giant, carnivorous, pitcher shaped plant, so big that small rodents could get trapped inside and get dissolved.  And they named it after him.  Gee, thanks. 

Dateline, Baltimore; number two, best tone-deaf elected official, Jon Cardin, state delegate in Maryland, nephew of Democratic Senator Ben Cardin.  Decided he needed some extra drama before proposing to his girlfriend.  So he somehow got Baltimore Police to provide on duty Marine and helicopter officers, to say nothing of a police helicopter, to stage a fake raid on the boat on which he and the now fiancee were sailing. 

Just as the girlfriend was convinced she was about to be handcuffed, Cardin proposed.  How romantic.  How mindlessly wasteful when Baltimore is actually begging for private donations in order to keep its horseback patrol unit from the police department from going out of business. 

And dateline Lacrosse, Minnesota; number one, truly best marriage story, Adam Hatfield and his new bride, Julie.  As they were posing for their wedding photos in Riverside Park there, everybody heard a shout from the nearby waters of the Mississippi River.  The groom investigated.  A little girl had fallen in and her grandfather just jumped in after her. 

Both were foundering.  Hatfield and the wedding photographer managed to drag first the girl and then the man to safety.  With holes in the knees of his wedding tuxedo, Hatfield then got hitched, prompting the best man to coin the phrase, save a life, get a wife. 

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OLBERMANN:  Anyone could be forgiven the sick feeling at their very core while watching people with guns outside presidential events over the past two weeks.  The images are alarming, quite literally provocative and evocative of some of our nation‘s most grievous wounds.  So in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, it certainly does not help matters when the illusion to potential violence is buttressed by the outright endorsement of it, even when it comes from as a cartoonish bully as Joe Wurzelbacher. 

Speaking at the conservative Right Online Blogger Conference in Pittsburgh, his verbal target was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

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JOE WURZELBACHER, JOE THE PLUMBER:  When Pelosi and all of those others talk about it being un-American and disrespectful, I tell you what, I respect nobody who lies to me, manipulate me, takes my money, puts my children in debt.  They want me to be respectful towards them?  Please. 

You know, I‘m not the most civilized person.  Those kind of people I usually put behind the woodshed and just beat the living tar out of them.  I don‘t like being lied to. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, you, sir, are un-American.  There‘s no question about that.  But besides the fact that Wurzelbacher, like so many before him, was incorrect about what Speaker Pelosi said in the first place, he was quick to reiterate his main point, after the pro forma caveat.  Quoting, “let me start off by saying that I don‘t advocate the violence.  However, that being said, Congress has been lying to us for years.  They take advantage of us.  They manipulate us.  And years ago, people like that would have been taken behind the woodshed and slapped upside the head a couple of times.” 

Now we know about your childhood.  “I‘m not telling people to go out and do that.  And I don‘t advocate that, if we can make our point through facts.”  That ship has sailed. 

Meanwhile, we have been seeing things like this in Phoenix yesterday.  About a dozen protesters carried guns, one a semi-automatic rifle, outside the convention center where the president was giving a speech to the VFW.  Of course, protesters are fond of Thomas Jefferson‘s Tree of Liberty quote. 

Timothy McVeigh was arrested wearing a water the tree of liberty t-shirts. 

But Jefferson was referring not just tyrants when he said that, but also to ignorant people.  In referencing Shay‘s Rebellion, which was put down by the lawful government, Jefferson did say “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  But one line before that he said this, too, “the remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them.” 

Let‘s turn now to the associate professor of politics and African-American studies of Princeton University, Melissa Harris-Lacewell.  Good evening, professor.

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

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Wurzelbacher also said a few months ago that anybody who criticized the military would have been shot back in the day.  But when he is cheered, does it not—do the two synapses—do they not reach that those words could be taken by somebody as an endorsement of violence?  And could, in fact, be taken by somebody as an endorsement of violence against anyone, against him, against conservatives, against anyone? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, it certainly is true that political violence is not the exclusive domain of any political party, or any particular political ideology.  We are seeing it emerging in the most troubling ways, right at this moment, among these particular element of the conservative wing of the GOP. 

But, you know, I heard you say earlier that it‘s deeply un-American.  I want to suggest that actually it‘s actually an enormous part of the American story that we can simultaneously be willing to think about pushing our country forward, through non-violent action, and simultaneously be engaging in violence. 

So quickly, if you think about the 1960s, here we have Americans engaged in changing the trajectory of our national history, through nonviolent direct action, and simultaneously, we‘re engaged in the Vietnam War.  At this moment, we have an administration asking us to think about our best selves, in terms of compassion and collective responsibility around health care.  Simultaneously engaging in drone attacks in Pakistan, continuing the war in Iraq, which is clearly misguided, amping up the war in Afghanistan. 

So there is violence everywhere.  I think the key for us is to state as Americans that, although that‘s part of our history, that it‘s part that we reject, and that we can have civil discourse. 

OLBERMANN:  I was calling him un-American.  I was suggesting that a man suggesting he was going to beat up a woman is un-American.  I know that has far too much of a history in our country.  But perhaps I should just say it should be considered un-American and unmanly as well. 

Let me go to that Phoenix event.  Even though the man carrying the automatic rifle had actually called the cops ahead of time to let them know and to let them know it was legal, there was a police detective in Phoenix, who monitored that man, who said, very, very I thought thoughtfully, just by his presence and people seeing the rifle and people knowing the president was in town, it sparked a lot of emotions.  We were keeping peace on both ends. 

Isn‘t that the point, the provocation of carrying a rifle in that climate; that‘s much more practically damaging than some threat of someone actually taking action against the odds that they would face in a protected setting like that? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Absolutely.  I mean, the move to violence tends to go around three things: a kind of certitude about one‘s own position.  Sometimes that is attached to kind of religiosity, a belief that you know what is the one right way to do things.  The second thing is a belief that you are—your family or your way of life is under attack.  The third is your capacity to dehumanize your enemy, your belief that they are not as good as you. 

So part of what happens in this kind of dehumanizing discourse of the shouting at the health care reform rallies, this willingness to carry a gun, as though one must defend themselves against their own elected officials and fellow citizens, is that it sets the stage for the possibility of violence that I think would make all of us absolutely sick as Americans. 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s another level to this.  Senator Tom Coburn was asked Sunday on “Meet the Press” about the tone of the health care debate.  And there were specific references in the question to the death threats, to the Nazi references, to the tree of liberty quote.  And instead of simply denouncing that kind of thing, he said he was troubled any time when we stop having confidence in our government, but we‘ve earned it. 

That‘s an establishment illusion to violence.  Is that enabling the actual violence? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, as far as I can tell, you know, as misquoted and out of context as the Bible is frequently taken in politics, now the founders are going to be equally taken out of context.  I am a great fan of Thomas Jefferson in many ways.  I teach the Declaration of Independence with a great deal of enthusiasm.  But let‘s be careful about using the language of a man who held dozens of people in inter-generational chattel bondage as our only statement about what would constitute liberty and freedom. 

Come on, Americans.  We are capable of using both our history and our contemporary understanding of what is right and wrong to have a civil discourse about things we disagree about.  This level of implied or possible violence should be making all of us, no matter what our political ideologies, absolutely sick. 

OLBERMANN:  Especially considering Jefferson was talking About Shay‘s Rebellion, in which, in fact, the government used violence, at least the threat of it, to sublimate the rebellion.  It‘s a two-way street, unfortunately, and people seem to be forgetting that.  Melissa Harris-Lacewell of Princeton, as always, great thanks for your insight.  

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  The psychology behind saying, if she‘ll take him back, the citizens of South Carolina should take him back, too, when it appears now she‘s not taking him back. 

And how can ABC News take him back, after a lobbying outfit funded by big tobacco, big oil and Richard Mellon Scaife‘s Family want to MC phony health care town halls in Wisconsin. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, her special guest, Bill Maher on how Republicans are living in their own world when it comes to this health care debate. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Portrait of Jenny Sanford; somehow her willingness to reconcile with her governor husband is described as his one way to retain office.  Based on what she now says, he may have a lot of trouble retaining office.  That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze shared by Fixed News vice president Bill Salmon and Fixed News‘ news model Bill Hemmer.  This exchange today, Hemmer with the setup quote.  “ABC news did a poll.  They wanted to figure out whether or not you think a government-run option would give you higher quality care or lower quality care or no difference at all.”  On the screen, 76 percent said it would make no difference at all or lower quality care.  And then Salmon with the payoff, “people are saying they don‘t want the public option, as that poll demonstrates.” 

Yes, except that poll actually asks, if it was necessary to create a public health insurance plan; 52 percent said it was; 44 percent said it was not.  Just to add to the credibility here, the poll, you buffoons were quoting, was in fact an Ipsos Poll from McClatchy news, not an ABC News poll.  ABC has its own program. 

Our runners up, ABC News.  The “Milwaukee Journal Sentinel” reports that John Stossel of ABC News is going to moderate town hall-style health care meetings in Wisconsin.  Sounds nice.  He has covered this stuff.  He co-anchors “20/20.”  Except these town halls are hosted by Americans for Prosperity, and they are to be held in districts represented by Democrats like Congressman David Obey. 

Americans for Prosperity is a mega-lobbying group, funded largely by big tobacco, the oil industries and the Family foundations of uber right winger Richard Mellon Scaife.  Americans for Prosperity not only set up a thing called Patients‘ First Project, to help disrupt actual town halls.  But it was its nut job who famously stood up before a gullible crowd and told hem that health care reform involved end-of-life orders and then he invoked Pol Pot, Stalin, Mugabe, and Hitler and the Final Solution.  Americans for Prosperity hired him and now they‘ve hired John Stossel.  And by extension, they‘ve hired ABC News. 

Stossel, you can‘t do that.  The moment you do that, you cease to be journalist.  And the company you work for ceases to be a news organization. 

Our winner, Boss Limbaugh, taking time out from the vitally important work of lying about health care reform to instead lie about Boss Limbaugh.  Yesterday, August 17th, denying he had added his own line to the death panel crapola. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I have not used the word death panels except in quoting Sarah Palin. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

But just last Thursday, August 13th, he said—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH:  This story in Oregon involving Barbara Wagner—again, it‘s in Mark Levin‘s book “Liberty and Tyranny”—illustrates that they are death panels.  It‘s a great way to phrase the end-of-life counseling and so forth. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I mean, it‘s one thing to lie about or just forget something you just five years ago or a year ago or a week ago.  But five days ago?  And you‘re citing Mark Levin as a source?  Why?  Because there were no comic books lying around to quote?  Rush Limbaugh, lying or suffering severe short-term memory loss, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  After Governor Mark Sanford admitted to sparking with an Argentinean soul mate, it was Senator Lindsey Graham who said, as long as he reconciled with his family, Sanford could finish his term as governor.  Well, Mrs. Sanford and the kids have since moved out.  Now the first lady of South Carolina says it‘s up to the governor to save their marriage.  Quote, “the person I married was centered on a core of morals.  The person who did this is not centered on those morals.” 

Our number one story, Jenny Sanford turns up the heat as the governor moves from lame duck over towards Cooked Goose.  How do you solve a problem like Maria and your husband‘s obsession with her?  By appearing in the current issue of “Vogue.”  In candid and detailed interview, Mrs. Mark Sanford said she is willing to forgive her husband‘s affair and is open to reconciliation, but the ball is in his court.  “Over the year of both pastoral and marriage counseling, it became clear to me he was just obsessed with going to see this woman.  I have learned these affairs are almost like an addiction to alcohol or pornography.  They just can‘t break away from them.” 

Turns out the governor is not the only one with the desire to hike the old Appalachian Trail.  “Everybody would like an escape sometimes,” she says.  “I would like somebody 5,000 miles way I could e-mail.  It‘s not exclusive to men, but I know that isn‘t realistic.” 

Jenny Sanford, who ran her husband‘s political campaign, says male politicos don‘t always their actions have consequences.  Quoting, again, “politicians become disconnected from the way everyone else lives in the world.  I saw that from the very beginning.  They all say they need something and ten people want to give it to them.  It‘s an ego boost and it‘s easy to drink your own Kool-Aid.” 

Joining me now with that point in this conversation is staff writer and columnist for Roll Call is Emily Heil.  Thanks for your time tonight, Emily.  

EMILY HEIL, “ROLL CALL”:  Glad to be here, Keith.  

OLBERMANN:  Even presuming that they left anything remotely conciliatory on the proverbial editorial cutting room floor, does this interview mark the end of Governor Sanford‘s free pass? 

HEIL:  Well, he did say very recently that his political days were over.  If that‘s the case, and he really does plan to sort of just slink away, maybe serve out the final year and a half he has left in his term, then I don‘t know that this interview really has a lot of consequences for him.  After all, he could be working or trying to work it out for a while. 

But if he does have any inkling of a second act, I think this interview really threw down a gauntlet.  First of all, it made her really sound very sympathetic, very classy, handling what‘s a pretty tawdry situation with about as much grace as you can imagine someone mustering.  But it throws down a gauntlet.  If any of his political allies were willing to support him if he worked things out with his wife, that‘s up to him.  That‘s his decision.  He can‘t ever blame her for whatever direction his career takes. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, but unfortunately, that puts him in that position, I guess, Lindsey Graham put him in, which is it was up to her to decide whether or not he stays.  And she has now turned that in some undescribed, imprecise way back over to him.  What does he do now? 

HEIL:  Well, without the very convenient excuse of an unwilling or unforgiving wife, it really is up to him.  It‘s unclear what‘s going to happen with him.  That‘s a very personal thing.  But it‘s unclear what the political consequences are at this point. 

Certainly, it will be much easier for him to have a second act in politics with a forgiving, lovely wife at his side.  But bear in mind that even if he had that, it would be very difficult.  This was a doozy of a scandal.  This wasn‘t just about the sex and the tawdry sort of escapades.  This was about deception and the financing on the public dime of said deception. 

OLBERMANN:  And governors disappearing without telling anybody where they went, which is really the ultimate issue to this. 

HEIL:  Or telling them that they went somewhere where they didn‘t go. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there a spillover here?  Could this wind up touching other careers?  I mean, Senator Graham got so involved in this, basically laying out this, if not marriage counseling, then how to restore your governorship counseling.  Does he have to, at this point, get as far away from Governor Sanford as possible, because the hot potato has been handed back by Mrs. Sanford to the governor? 

HEIL:  I think people have already done a pretty good job of running as fast and as far away from Mark Sanford as they can.  People do tend to do that when a messy scandal erupts.  They tend to run for cover.  You haven‘t seen Lindsey Graham hanging out with Mark Sanford recently, and there‘s probably a reason for that.  I don‘t know that this is going to mark any new chapter in his relations with other folks.  I think they‘ve kind of already made their peace with that. 

OLBERMANN:  A positive one to this.  Jenny Sanford has, as you suggested, portrayed herself, through actions and words, not just words, in a very sympathetic way.  She didn‘t cover for her husband.  She moved out.  In the “Vogue” interview, she admitted to feeling sorry for the other woman.  Is she the new model for political wives who find themselves in this type situation or could someone in South Carolina be saying, you know, I think we‘re looking at our next governor right there in the dress? 

HEIL:  You know, it‘s sad that there have been so many instances recently that it looks like we might need a model for how to handle something like this.  And it seems like if she wrote a book on how to handle a scandal, and emerge from it looking as well as you can, then it might have a market.  So, yes, you would probably want to take out a page out of her book, rather than say Wendy Vitter‘s or even Elizabeth Edwards. 

OLBERMANN:  You can sell a lot of copies of this, unfortunately, in our political climate today.  Emily Heil of “Roll Call,” great thanks for your time tonight. 

HEIL:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,301st day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good news. 

And now to discuss Republicans living in their own universe when it comes to health care reform, with her special guest, my old friend Bill Maher, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.  Good evening, Rachel.

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

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