updated 9/10/2009 11:34:33 AM ET 2009-09-10T15:34:33

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Howard Fineman, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Valerie Jarrett, Elizabeth Edwards, Jonathan Cohn, Steve Hildebrand

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  A president offering an interim plan to prevent bankruptcy due to health care costs that would morph in four years into an insurance exchange containing the public option, holding as he announced this, the door open for bipartisanship, still crediting his election opponent for part of the health care reform plan he tonight endorsed, insisting no one will be forced to change insurance, no abortions will be federally-funded, there will be no death panels—calling that a lie—insisting that there will be no coverage for those here illegally, and then greeted by Congressman Wilson of South Carolina shouting from the safety of the crowd, quote, “You lie.”  That’s the state of health care reform, state of American health care, the state of American politics on the 9th of September in the year 2009.

Our analysis begins now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  With Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, staunch proponent of the public option in the Senate Health Committee; senior White House adviser, Valerie Jarrett on what the president sought to accomplish tonight; Elizabeth Edwards of the Center for American Progress, tireless public advocate for health care reform; Jonathan Cohn, the author of “Sick:

The Untold Story of America’s Health Crisis” on whether or not what the president outlined would really help; and Steve Hildebrand, the Obama deputy campaign manager in charge of field organization, the most senior campaign staffer to publicly express doubts about the White House’s leadership and prioritization in the current crisis.

And there are always “Worst Persons.”  Congresswoman Jean Schmidt is back and is a birther.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He can not be the president by our Constitution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I’m sorry.  I don’t think so.  I’m sorry.

REP. JEAN SCHMIDT ®, OHIO:  I agree with you, but the courts don’t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  This is COUNTDOWN special coverage in the wake of President Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress on health care reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I’m not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

“I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: That line from Obama’s second address to a joint session of Congress certainly to be remembered, whether in victory or in defeat, long after the current health care debate has been decided.

The president tonight urging lawmakers to enact sweeping health care reform, including a public option—what would be, he reminded both ends of the spectrum, only one part of his plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage available for those without it.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  The public option—the public option is only a means to that end.  And we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.

And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And yet, one of the president’s Republican friends identified by “The Associated Press” as Congressman Wilson of South Carolina, shouting, “It’s a lie” when Mr. Obama said the reforms he is proposing would not apply to those here in this country illegally.  Despite that, later, the president is still soliciting new proposals from anyone while simultaneously laying down the law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The plan will not add to our deficit.  The middle-class will realize greater security, not higher taxes.  This is the plan I’m proposing.  It’s a plan that incorporates ideas for many of the people in this room tonight, Democrats and Republicans.  And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead.

If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen.  My door is always open.  But, know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it is better politics to kill this plan than to improve it.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In the Republican response, the goal would seem to be delaying reform.  Congressman “Would-Be Lord” Boustany of Louisiana proposing that lawmakers chuck everything out and start over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY ®, LOUISIANA:  It’s clear—the American people want health care reform, but they want their elected leaders to get it right.  Most Americans wanted to hear the president tell Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid and rest of the Congress that it’s time to start over on a common sense bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality.  That’s what I’ve heard over the past several months in talking to thousands of my constituents.

Replacing your family’s current health care with government-run health care is not the answer.  In fact, it will make health care much more expensive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Even though that’s exactly the opposite of what the president had said.

Time now to call in Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio.

Senator, great thanks for stopping by tonight.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO:  Glad to be with you, Keith.  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Did you hear—did you hear what you needed to hear or wanted to hear from the president tonight?

BROWN:  Yes.  I’ve been here for a decade and a half—it’s the best speech I’ve ever heard to a joint session.  It was—it had a sense of history but a focus about moving forward.  It was specific as it needed to be.  It had a strong public option to keep prices down and to give choice and to keep insurance companies honest.  And he reached out—you know, he did reach out to Republicans as he had.

In our bill, Keith, as you know, in the Senate Health Committee, we incorporate 160 Republican amendments in.  This bill’s got bipartisan flavor to it.  But on the big questions, Democrats and Republicans have very different views—for instance, on the public option and a couple of other issues.

OLBERMANN:  The idea of the insurance exchange kicking in in four

years, with where the public option would be contained, do you have a clear

idea of what that means, and also what that immediately offer of low cost -

essentially bankruptcy protection—what that—what that means?  The president seems to make those key, and yet I don’t know that they were as clear as they might be.

           

BROWN:  Yes, that was some new information.  I think he’s open to that idea.  I think we can probably do it faster than four years.  I would like to.  But I like the sort of, you know, the assistance in the meantime.  Part of that will be providing Medicaid.  The president has some other ideas, too.

But I think that’s an example of how he still wants—even though the Republicans have rebuffed him and sent out all this misinformation about illegal immigrants and death panels, he still wants to reach out to them.  But, you know, Keith, I think, in the end, I look back to Medicare, a whole lot of Republicans voted against Medicare.  They found out two years, five years, 20 years later, they were on the wrong side of history.

And I think a number of Republicans, in the end, Keith, are going to vote for this bill because they don’t want to face their children and grandchildren a decade from now and say, “You know, we were on the wrong side of history on this one.”

OLBERMANN:  Well, that certainly was the intent, I guess, of citing Congressman Dingell, a man who has grown old in the service of his nation, as his father did before him, and pointing out that his father before him in the House had proposed legislation certainly reminiscent of the currently proposed reforms, but he proposed it in 1943.  And two generations of Dingells have gone through that House without getting anything seriously done.  That is—that was great symbolism I thought, and absolutely pertinent.

BROWN:  And that’s exactly right.  When I hear what Congressman Boustany from Louisiana said after the president’s comments that we need to go slow and do this again, you know, 12,000 people every day are losing their insurance in this country; 390 in my state of Ohio and Cleveland and Dayton and Mansfield and Sidney (ph) and all over.

And, you know, understand that we’ve been working on this for years starting with Teddy Roosevelt and then through John Dingell and FDR and Truman and Johnson and Kennedy and Clinton—Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton, all up until now and we’ve had very long, extensive debates and hearings on this.

We’re ready to do this and we need to do it before the end of the year.  And we will.  We’re going to get a bill with a good, strong public option to the president before the end of the year.

OLBERMANN:  There were two things in here that I wonder how Republicans can go out and say they oppose if these are final aspects of the final bill.  Number one, being malpractice reform which was something that Dr. Boustany mentioned and for which the Republicans stood and cheered and cheered and cheered.

But the other one, I imagine that out in the great American middle or out in the great American left or out in the great American right, it doesn’t matter.  If you hear a president say that it will be illegal to deny insurance for pre-existing conditions, I wonder if you couldn’t get everybody in the country to vote yes for that in a plebiscite of some sort.

BROWN:  Well, yes.  You know, pre-existing conditions—when you get

you get sick, your insurance company cancels your insurance because it costs too much, discrimination on gender and race, and discrimination on people with disabilities, and geography and all that.  We can—we can get good, strong support in the country but Republican members of Congress are on a short leash with the insurance industry, and the insurance industry pulls that leash, Republican members of Congress sit back.  And so, that’s harder than it looks, even though the whole country—even the most conservatives support that kind of consumer protection on these insurance policies.  You betcha.

           

OLBERMANN:  To that last point, did the—I don’t want to waste your time with too many psyche questions about the Republican Party, but did they do themselves favors by showing the minority whip, Mr. Cantor, sitting there texting during the message or this remarkable comment from Congressman Wilson that the president—he said it’s a lie when the president said this would not—none of this would pertain to people here illegally.  Is that—did they hurt themselves, or is Congressman Wilson going to be hero tomorrow morning in certain parts of this country?

BROWN:  Well, he might—he might be a hero in certain parts of the country and certain neighborhoods.  But they’re playing themselves out of this week after week.  Every week, whether it’s opposition to the president of the United States, this one, like the other, in speaking to students, whether it’s making up stuff about death panels and illegal immigrants, whether it’s saying there’s a lot of Republicans here feed into that the president wasn’t born into the United States.

Those things and their behavior tonight really isolates the Republican Party, and it really has made them into a conservative southern white party that the rest of the country is leaving behind.  It’s too bad for the country they’re doing that but it’s really bad politics for them.  And they’re going to continue to pay for it.  Unfortunately, as I said, for the country and I hope they get off of that and come to the table and work with us.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I think that combat against that is the phrase, “It will be illegal to deny insurance for pre-existing conditions.”  That may change the entire playing field.

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio—always a pleasure, sir.  Thanks for your time.

BROWN:  Thank you.  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  For more on the president’s speech and its intent, let’s turn to White House senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, who’s been good enough to join us from outside the White House.

Thank you again for that.

VALERIE JARRETT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR:  My pleasure.  Good evening, Keith.  How are you?

OLBERMANN:  I’m—I have some specific questions and I have a general question.  The president left the overall intent of this for last.  There were a lot of intriguing specifics and a lot of things that will sell well and extraordinary moments in the speech.  But the emphasis of this, the goal of this, if he’d to blow it down to a sentence was: this is a moral imperative?

JARRETT:  I think that’s exactly what he said.  And he says it was something about the character of our country that makes it so important for us to deliver on behalf of the American people right now.  For those who have insurance, they need additional safety and security and stability in the system.  For those who don’t, they need affordable health care and we have to reduce the cost for everybody.

It’s a very simple, distinct message.  And I think any American out there who was listening tonight knows where the president stands.  And I also think that by the nearly 30 standing ovations he received from Congress, we have a good sense of momentum there as well.

OLBERMANN:  On a subject of the public option, which the president wants to pin as about 10 percent or 15 percent of the reform here, it is contained—as I understood it from what he said and I will not say that I’m automatically right because I’m reading the president’s speech and his words may mean something else.  Correct me if I’m mistaken.  But I gathered that the insurance exchange which would contain the essence of the public option would not take place for four years.

Is there a trigger system involved in this?  Is there a phase in?  Or is there flexibility on that point?  What are specifics you can tell us about that?

JARRETT:  Well, sure.  Of course, it’s open.  I think what he said tonight was, also, he’s interested in other ideas.  His plan is—let’s take four years and make sure we put it in place and get it right, but that we have a safety net, suggested originally by Senator McCain in the meantime.

OLBERMANN:  And that safety net, where—anything more specific about that?  Or that is being built as we speak?  Because it seems that’s a new concept or at least a new—as you said, Senator McCain’s campaign to some degree on it, but it’s a new component or essential component to this final version of what the president wants, is it not?

JARRETT:  It is new.  And I think that what it shows is that the president has been listening over the months just as he said he would from the outside.  He’s received a lot of terrific ideas from Democrats, Republicans—everyone across the aisle and what he tried to do this evening was incorporate the best of what he’s heard, and he considers that to be a good alternative until we can get the exchange up and running.

OLBERMANN:  And the idea of that interim solution that emergency care would be to specifically focus on people who were threatened with bankruptcy because of the sudden onslaught of insurance expenses—or is it wider than that?

JARRETT:  It’s wider than that.  It’s people who currently don’t have coverage.  And there are many, many Americans—millions—who cannot afford coverage right now.  And so, if you lose your job or for whatever reason you don’t have the coverage, and you are in dire straits, you should be able to have a safety net.

I think, Keith, what he was talking about, going back to the character, is the importance in our country to make sure that we’re taking care of our citizens.  When you’re sick, you should not have to worry about going bankrupt and pay for your health care.  And so, until we have an exchange up and running, he’d like to have the safety net in place.

And there are a lot of great ideas that he received in the course of this process that we’ve been going through, and I think that he also said quite clearly, 80 percent—there’s an agreement on 80 percent across the aisle.  And so, let’s focus on just closing this out once and for all.  Let this be the time that we deliver on behalf of the American people.

OLBERMANN:  Is there—I think no one would ever look at the president’s attempts for bipartisanship on this as anything less than sincere and admirable.  Is there—even in the context of what he was able to achieve and address tonight—is there something over-prioritized about that if when he says, “Look, this is a lie, there are no death panels,” and he says, “Look, there is not going to be coverage provided for illegal aliens” or people who are in this country illegally, and someone to turns out to be Congressman Wilson of South Carolina shouts from the safety of the crowd, “That’s a lie”—is bipartisanship feasible when there’s this kind of almost blind reaction from the other side?

JARRETT:  I believe there is.  I believe what the president, such as President Barack Obama, we can certainly achieve that kind of bipartisan support.  And the fact that he was able to take an idea that came from his opponent, Senator McCain, and incorporate it is a very simple gesture and a way of showing what his character is all about.

And so, I think the measure of a person is whether or not they continue to reach out, they continue to listen.  And, Keith, most importantly, he’s focusing on what’s best for the American people.  And he’s going to debunk anything that he hears that’s nonsense—because the times are too important.

There are too many people who, each and every day, are losing their insurance.  They’re losing their jobs and they’re having to choose between paying rent, sending their kids to college, and paying their medical expenses.  And in this country, a country as great as our country, we deserve better than that.  And so I think his call tonight was a call to appeal to the better in all of us.  Stop this all this nonsense.  Stop all this terrible rhetoric and remember who elected you, who sent you to Congress.  The people of this country did. 

OLBERMANN:  To that point, last question, something very important.  When the president said he will call people out who continue to spread lies about health reform no matter where they come from, did he mean that literally? 

Will he be standing there reading a list of the people who are spreading this stuff the way so many others have had to do in the last six weeks? 

JARRETT:  Well, I think the president is a man of his word.  I think what he’s saying very clearly is that let’s stop scaring the American people, particularly our seniors.  Let’s not do that.  They don’t deserve that.  Let’s have an honest debate about the issues. 

There may be differences of opinion on substance and he said he welcomes new and exciting ideas.  But let’s just not try to scare people to keep the status quo because, what everyone has heard around this country is that status quo is no longer acceptable.  And he intends to move our country forward. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, I hope he does the calling out because all of us

calling out at the same perhaps will get the job done.  Valerie Jarrett,

senior White House adviser -

JARRETT:  Thank you, Keith.  And we know we can always count on you to call people out, so thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  I appreciate the way that was phrased.  Thank you kindly. 

JARRETT:  Take care. 

OLBERMANN:  Not all those who campaigned so hard for then Sen. Barack Obama have been so sanguine about his vision of healthcare reform.  His deputy campaign manager for field organizations, Steve Hildebrand, was the senior Obama campaign staffer who publicly questioned that vision in a full page ad in the “New York Times” today.  Let’s see if his opinion has changed.  He’ll join us for reaction. 

And next, Elizabeth Edwards here on “COUNTDOWN.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The author of “Sick,” Jonathan Cohn on whether what the president spelled out tonight particularly the four-year delay he proposed for an insurance exchange will constitute meaningful reform of the nation’s healthcare system now.  And a senior member of the Obama campaign staff to raise doubts about that - they join me.  First, Elizabeth Edwards next on this special post-presidential address edition of COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Why do so many Americans go without health care?  Why do so many go bankrupt paying for it?  Tonight, as in the past, we were told, blame the insurance companies.  But in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to run a countdown, if they are problem, what is the president actually going to do about them based on what he just told us?

Americans who cannot afford health care will not get health care.  They will somehow, though, be able to buy insurance.  There will be an exchange in four years.  Americans who do have insurance get to keep their insurance or go for some other alternative form of insurance. 

Health insurance, in other words, for everyone which amounts to pretty good news for the people the Democrats told us were the bad guys, the insurance companies.  Is that a fair tradeoff? 

We’re fortunate tonight to have with us, Elizabeth Edwards, now scholar and participant in the U.S. healthcare system, author of “Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities,” and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.  Hello, my friend.  How are you tonight? 

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, AUTHOR AND SENIOR FELLOW AT THE CENTER FOR AMERICAN

PROGRESS:  I’m doing all right.  Pretty pleased with the speech. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, let’s expand on that.  What pleased you about it?  Was there a change in the president’s position?  Or were you just reinforced by this?

EDWARDS:  Well, you know, I was watching MSNBC earlier today.  Ed Schultz had done a survey, “Are you hopeful or worried?”  And I think 22 percent of the people were hopeful.  But 22 percent were worried.  And there’s always a little bit of worry when the press plays something up as a crucial speech.

And I think the president met and exceeds people’s expectations.  And those people who were worried listened to the speech and felt, I think ebullient about both the chances for healthcare reform and the direction in which the president seems to be leading the country. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you think that encouragement stems from the imperative that he presented, that this is less about as much as it may benefit the economy?  He’s talked about how the deficit is, simply put, the question of insurance and health expenditures.  But that larger than that is this call to the memory of Ted Kennedy, that this is a moral imperative. 

EDWARDS:  Well, I certainly think that was an enormously powerful part of the speech and may actually vault that speech into one of the greatest speeches to joint sessions of Congress that we’ve ever heard. 

But I think that the big thing that happened was - and we’ve been

we spent the summer at the circus where we were hearing all sorts of nonsense.  And it was constantly this road show that was going on orchestrated to derail the healthcare reform.

And the president basically came back in as the adult in the room and said, “You know, there’s no more talk of, dare I say it, death panels or Nazis and we’re through with all of that nonsense.” 

And now, we have to go about the serious business of addressing a real crisis both in the American economy and in American families and even in the American character if we’re going to continue to allow the kind of injustice, social injustice, that occurs in our healthcare system to continue. 

OLBERMANN:  And not to waste more time on that reality of the circus, as you so aptly phrase it, always you aptly do.  This was, nevertheless, followed by the congressman from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, saying either - I heard, “You lie” or the AP heard, “It’s a lie” on the subject of health care for people who are in this country illegally. 

I’m wondering if the answer, as much as the president promised to call people out who do things like that, I think that’s great.  But I’m wondering if the answer of all of this is contained in one small sentence that he did not spend an awful lot of time on, but that he said it and made it a centerpiece of this bill might be the sales tool to cut through all of the other noise and to get the circus to leave town finally. 

And that would be simply this - that it will now be illegal to deny insurance for preexisting conditions.  That would seem to be a universal message. 

EDWARDS:  You know I have to tell you, over the past years as I’ve crisscrossed the country, not just campaigning politically but also, in conversations I’ve had with people in health care - and I spend a lot of time doing that - that is perhaps the number one issue. 

People are afraid - most Americans do have insurance coverage.  But they’re afraid that when the time comes that some condition that is enormously important in their lives is not going to be attended to because it’s going to either be deemed a preexisting condition or deemed some reason for rescission. 

So the kind of imperative that all preexisting conditions will be covered is I think enormously important to every American family.  As you pointed out earlier with Sen. Brown, that is an absolute winner across this country. 

OLBERMANN:  And in addition to that, rescission would also be illegal, or as the president phrased it in a much more intelligible to people besides you way, no watering down, no denying of care when it is time to pay up. 

I mean, this is the contract nature I would think that would appeal to people crossing party lines as well. 

EDWARDS:  I think so.  You know - and the stories that he told about the Illinois man who was denied coverage in the middle of chemotherapy or the Texas woman, I think, that the sister of the Illinois man testified, that the Texas woman testified about just those kinds of insurance company abuses. 

It’s one of the reasons why it’s so important that we have something that people, I think, think that exist but does not.  And that is national guidelines for what insurance companies can and cannot do. 

Right now, you know, I think there’s been this threat of government control of your health care.  So I think Americans today think they have insurance company control of their health care. 

OLBERMANN:  As you know, I lost my mom this spring.  My dad is sick. 

EDWARDS:  So sorry.

OLBERMANN:  My dad is sick.  Fortunately, I think he’s going to be OK.  But I was in the hospital with him and in a rehab facility with him.  And I was thinking about this today when I was in there with him.  If I didn’t have the money to spread around where it was necessary, what in God’s name would I do? 

EDWARDS:  I thought that was - in fact, you could see Nancy Pelosi having a little bit of trouble ...

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

EDWARDS:  ... containing herself when he said, you know, for a family to say, “The answer is out there.  I just can’t pay for it for you.”  And a child that they love or a spouse that they love not getting the care that they need, when you talk about a moral imperative, that’s something that Americans understand.  That’s one of the things that made this speech so incredibly powerful. 

OLBERMANN:  Agreed.  Elizabeth Edwards of Center for American Progress, always a pleasure to speak with you and always a great point of pride to be able to say thank you, my friend. 

EDWARDS:  Back to you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Take care. 

EDWARDS:  So long. 

OLBERMANN:  Is what we heard tonight real reform?  Or does it funnel money to insurance companies?  Is the delay too much?  Is that negotiable or is the big point that it would be illegal to deny insurance for preexisting conditions or cut off insurance when you need it?  Some answers from an expert on this - Jonathan Cohn, the author of “Sick.” 

Late news on Sen. John McCain’s reaction to Mr. Wilson’s actions shouting “lie” at the president saying that Wilson should apologize and do so immediately at a full page ad in the “ New York Times” signed by volunteers and contributors to the Obama presidential campaign critical of his leadership on the subject of health care. 

The senior campaign staffer whose name is on that ad - has his mind been changed tonight?  He will join us.  You’re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  That four-year delay in an insurance exchange.  Jonathan Cohn, the author of “Sick,” tries to explain the details we heard tonight from the president. 

Then, Steve Hildebrand, the deputy campaign manager for then candidate Obama, one of the signatories in the ad in the “New York Times” today - is he back on board with the president’s leadership on the subject of healthcare reform?  And we will need them as diversion tonight.

Congresswoman Jean Schmidt, birther.  The editors who wrote a sports column about the backyard kidnapping, rape victim Jaycee Dugard ending with a reference to her having left the yard, get published in what is essentially her hometown paper. 

And the, quote, unquote, “gentleman” from South Carolina.  Congressman Joe “It’s a lie” Wilson.  Hey, apologize, resign, leave the country.  It’s your choice, goober.  Tonight’s worst persons and the rest of our analysis of the Obama speech, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The president spoke loftily and appropriately about the moral imperative of healthcare reform this evening, movingly of the letter he received from the late Sen. Kennedy, terrifyingly of the man who died because he did not report to his insurer gallstone that he did not know he had. 

But on our third story on COUNTDOWN, what about the specifics, and where does the public option stand as of tonight, as of the president’s speech practically and as a priority? 

The president did, in fact, pitch it tonight, but contained it within an insurance exchange that itself will not begin for four years.  He also said he’s open to better ideas, if any. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  The public option is only a means to that end.  And we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.  And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead.  If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen.  My door is always open. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let’s turn now to the senior editor of “The New Republic,” author of “Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Healthcare Crisis,” Jonathan Cohn.  Thanks again for your time tonight, sir. 

JONATHAN COHN, AUTHOR, “SICK”:  Happy to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  What seems to be the practical centerpiece of the president’s proposal tonight?  What is the insurance exchange?  Why will it not kick in for four years?  Is it a co-opt?  Why is the public option seemingly buried within it? 

COHN:  The insurance exchange - this is the heart of all of the healthcare reform proposals, including the bill that’s have already gone through Congress. 

This is basically setting up a marketplace where people who don’t already have access to insurance through their employers can shop around from among a group of plans and they can get any plan they want. 

They can’t be denied because they have a preexisting condition, that sort of thing.  It’s really very similar to the way members of Congress get health insurance and the way most people who now work for large corporations. 

Now, why is it going to take four years?  Well, you know, there’s a lot of pressure to keep the cost of this bill down.  If you want to get an exchange up and running right away and get everybody into it, it’s going to cost more. 

On the other hand, if you wait three or four years and you slow down the implementation, well, that brings down the cost.  And this is basically a compromise that Obama and all of the bills that have already gone through committee - they all do the same thing. 

There’s basically a compromised made so that they can keep the costs down because, frankly, to be quite honest, I think Congress doesn’t have the guts to raise enough money to do it right away so they’re slowing it down a bit. 

OLBERMANN:  And the idea that he attributed to Sen. McCain, the short-term emergency funding program that would prevent you or protect you against, as he put it, financial ruin if you become seriously ill.  It didn’t seem to have much more detail to it than that. 

Is there anything to infer from what the president said as to what this is?  Is it a long-term process or a short-term process?  Do you know anything more about it than what we heard from the president? 

COHN:  Yes, I checked into that little bit on the way over here.  It sounds like what they’re talking about.  As you may recall, during the campaign, Sen. McCain proposed these high-risk pools which basically say that if you are somebody who has preexisting medical conditions and you can’t buy insurance yourself, they’ll create this special pool, this special class of insurance just for you and people like you to give you coverage. 

Now, the downside is not much of a long-term solution.  Typically, these policies are very expensive.  They have pretty high deductibles. 

You may have to wait a while before you get your preexisting conditions covered.  So it’s really not much of a long-term solution.  It is a band-aid, and that’s why, I think, you know, people like me criticized it as a long-term solution. 

But is it better than nothing for the next three or four years?  Well, yes, probably.  It’s a little expensive.  But is that the most we can do for a few years?  I think there is a sense from the White House, from Congress that if they are going to roll this out pretty slowly, it is important that people see some benefits right away. 

And I think that is important.  This is one way of giving them that.  This is one way of giving, you know, in effect what they’re calling a deliverable, a benefit people will see up front so that they know this plan is working, and that they feel like they’ve gotten some benefit from it. 

OLBERMANN:  Understanding where this could have begun if the president had started with single payer and negotiated down to public option, rather than starting at public option and negotiating down from there.  Understanding it in that context, are you satisfied with what you heard from the president?  If that’s the final bill, is that good enough for the time being? 

COHN:  You know, I do think it is.  I mean, look, my ideal bill would look a lot more like a single-payer system.  It would look a lot more like some of the systems they have in other countries that work really terrifically. 

But I am also a political realist.  I understand we have the United States Senate with a lot of senators from conservative, small states.  We have some very powerful special interests. 

And the fact of the matter is, these plans are not perfect, but boy, they make a big difference in the lives of a lot of people.  And we’re talking about getting insurance to tens of millions of people, you know, protecting these people from financial catastrophe, from medical catastrophe. 

We’re talking about giving a lot of other people - people who are currently insured, making sure their insurance actually works for them.  And you know, there’s nothing to prevent us from coming back in a couple of years and building on this system and adding the parts that people like me, people like you, think are important. 

Do I wish the plan were better or do I wish it looked more like a single-payer plan?  Absolutely.  Do I think that what we’re talking about now will make a dramatic difference in people’s lives?  Absolutely. 

OLBERMANN:  Couldn’t say it fairer than that, as they say.  Jonathan Cohn, the author of “Sick,” many thanks as always. 

COHN:  Thanks. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Mr. Cohn’s perspective is one thing.  Yours is another.  Mine is a third.  But what about the perspective of those Obama campaign staffers who took out a full-page ad in the “New York Times” today, critical of the president’s leadership and position on healthcare reform?  The senior-most of those staffers joins me next.  Is he converted back tonight? 

And when Rachel you at the top of the hour, our special coverage in this critical night, the healthcare debate continues.  Among her guests, White House senior adviser David Axelrod, Sen. Boxer, Rep. Frank. 

And ahead of that, a month ago she announced the president is a natural-born citizen.  Now, Congresswoman Jean Schmidt of Ohio has apparently changed her mind if she has one.  “Worst Persons,” including Congressman Wilson, ahead on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Full-page ad in the “New York Times” decrying the president’s priorities and leadership in healthcare reform from hundreds of his campaign volunteers and donors.  The senior-most of those campaigners next on whether or not they’re all back in the fold tonight.  Are they mollified after what the president said? 

And in “Worsts,” something in another newspaper, the worst sports column ever. 

Plus, six weeks after denying that she is a birther, Congresswoman Schmidt reveals she’s a birther.  You’re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  His winning campaign was run on grassroots support and groundwork.  But now those very supporters and ground workers today challenged the man they helped get elected.  Progressives told Barack Obama health care reform without the public option is not change we can believe in. 

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, the president got an ultimatum

support the public option or we’ll support somebody else in 2012. 

The question tonight, did he change their minds back? 

One of Mr. Obama’s deputy campaign managers said he’s losing patience with the White House joins me imminently.  But first, as an overture to the president’s speech, the group Progressive Change Campaign Committee taking out this full-page ad in the “New York Times,” and signed by 400 Obama campaign staffers, 25,000 volunteers, 40,000 donors, all echoing the same sentiment. 

“We did something for you, now you do something for the country.” 

The group’s co-founder noted the president needs to do more than just express preference for the public option, quote, “He needs to draw a line in the sand and fight hard for it.”  This on the heels of former Obama campaign supporter protesting outside the White House, desiring bold leadership from the president. 

One former campaign organizer telling “Politico” that the president drops the ball on health care reform, quote, “I would have to work for someone else who would support a public option in a primary in 2012.” 

Joining me now, as promised, former Obama deputy campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand. 

Thank you for your time tonight, sir. 

STEVE HILDEBRAND, FORMER DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  Absolutely, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Did he do enough? 

HILDEBRAND:  Absolutely.  He—I think tonight was a game-changer for this health care reform debate.  And I do think he really hit this out of the ballpark.  He explained in very clear terms what he stands for, what he believes, and the principles that he’s going to fight for, continue to fight for in this health care reform debate, so, yes, I’m very pleased, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Did you have the sense going into this, as I did, that this was even larger than health care?  This was about where the president’s priorities, where his presidency would tilt, more towards citizens or more towards corporations and special interests, not that there seemingly was any doubt about that at any point up until the last three or four weeks, but that that somehow, that question was back on the table? 

Was it on the table?  Has it been taken off the table tonight? 

HILDEBRAND:  Well, I never had any doubt in my mind, Keith, that this president is squarely on the side of the American people, and not, you know, in bed with the special interests, as too many politicians are. 

He is a very principled person.  He believes in the need for health care reform as deeply and as principled as anybody in this country.  He just has to fight hard to make sure that it happens.  He needs to invite the American people to take control of this debate. 

To make sure that he calls on politicians and folks in the media when they tell lies about his health care plan and all of us, you know, who believe in him, who believe in his plan for health care reform, Keith, need to get really active. 

People need to call Senator Ben Nelson in Nebraska, Senator Max Baucus in Maine.  Call Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins in Maine—I’m sorry, Max Baucus in Montana.  Get on the phone and tell these folks we need health care reform that’s principled, that stands by the very ideals that President Obama laid out tonight in his speech. 

OLBERMANN:  Steve, when he said—I asked Valerie Jarrett the same question nearly an hour ago.  You were integrally associated with this man.  When the president said he will call people out who tell lies about health care reform, do we take him literally at that? 

Is he—are we going to see the president come up and shout back, or not shout back, but answer back? 

HILDEBRAND:  Well, he is a person who—as I know him—cares a lot about political discourse.  One of the reasons he ran for the presidency was to try and change political discourse in Washington.  I don’t think that he’s going to be irresponsible in how he might call somebody out, but I do think he is going to make very clear what the truth is and what the truth isn’t. 

And for those people who are distorting his plan and his ideals, he should be very forceful in pushing back, just as he did tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  I was going to say, is that the—is that what we should expect, something like a simple statement about the death panels, that’s a lie? 

HILDEBRAND:  Well, you know, I can’t—I don’t know for sure exactly how they, you know, would implement this.  I think, you know, they will make sure that, you know, the army out there knows the marching orders. 

And to make sure that all of us, not just the president, but all of us who are fighting for health care reform behind his principles are also, you know, standing up and making sure that the truth is told. 

OLBERMANN:  Steve Hildebrand, former deputy campaign manager on the Obama campaign, and tonight closer to back to the fold, if that phrase can be used in this equation.  Great thanks for joining us tonight. 

HILDEBRAND:  Keith, I’m always in the fold with this president. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Here we go.  All right. 

HILDEBRAND:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir. 

Two days after its publication, it is already considered the worst sports column ever printed in an American newspaper.  Who wrote and who published, more importantly, an essay on what, while she spent 18 years of hell at the hands of a pedophile, kidnap and rape victim, would have missed in the world of sports, in the world of sports? 

“Worst Persons” next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In a moment a special edition of the “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”  First, we close with that happy reminder that the world keeps spinning despite some of its people.  Time for COUNTDOWN’s number one story tonight.  Tonight’s “Worst Persons in the World.” 

Guess who the winner is?  The bronze to Congresswoman—yes, she’s still a congresswoman—Jean Schmidt of Ohio, whose smearing of Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania as a coward on the House floor was pretty much the high water mark for the Bush administration’s controlled society.  A tea party event Monday in Cincinnati. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He cannot be a president by our constitution. 

REP. JEAN SCHMIDT ®, OHIO:  Ma’am, I agree with you, but the courts don’t. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If it were not bad enough that Schmidt is a mean-spirited, unhappy person who seems bent on spreading those emotions, she’s also a complete hypocrite.  In July, amid rumors that she was a birther, she released a statement saying she believed the president was a natural born citizen of the United States. 

So she was either lying then or she was lying at that fool at that tea party.  Either way, she’s a pandering, manipulative liar and she should resign from the House of Representatives. 

Runners-up, David Bean, Todd Harmanson, Keith Sharon, sports editors of the newspaper, “The Orange County Register.”  At least once a career, no matter how good every columnist, every commentator will write something so bad, so inappropriate that the editor will just have to kill it. 

Mr. Bean and Mr. Harmanson and Mr. Sharon failed to do this.  The usually thoughtful Mark Whicker, 22 years at that paper, went totally tone deaf.  He wrote a sports column about the kidnapping of Jaycee Dugard, who had been held in captivity in the backyard of a pedophile since 1991. 

The column begins, “It doesn’t sound as if Jaycee Dugard got to see a sports page.  Box scores were not available to her from June 10, 1991 until August 31 of this year.  She never saw a highlight, never got to the ballpark for beach towel night.  Probably hasn’t high-fived in a while.  She was not allowed to spike a volleyball or pitch a softball or smack a forehand down the line or run in a five-footer for double bogey.  Now, that’s deprivation.” 

No, deprivation is being held prisoner for 18 years, raped repeatedly, forced to bear the children of a psychopath.  It is not, not knowing the Angels won the World Series during your ordeal. 

The rest of the column was just a list of all the less likely sports results since she was kidnapped as an 11-year-old.  And somehow it got worse.  Remember where this woman was held in a family backyard and ball players who always invent the slang no matter what ESPN would have you believe, came up with an expression for a homerun that you might appreciate. 

“Congratulations, Jaycee, you left the yard.” 

Mark Whicker will take his lumps for this, deservedly so, it might cost him his job, he has tonight apologized and objectively so.  He wrote, “It’s impossible to unring a bell or to bring back a column that has already been transmitted.  In many ways the damage is done.  I’m hopeful that I can be forgiven for this lapse of professionalism.” 

But you’re the guys reading this, deciding whether or not it gets published, and you say great.  You are in over your head, gentlemen. 

But our winner, and speaking of that, Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, not only interrupting the president of the United States during his joint address to Congress and to the nation on this extraordinarily important subject, but interrupting the president of the United States to call him before the eyes of the world a liar. 

It is bad enough that Mr. Wilson was factually wrong, Mr. Obama was not lying when he said health care reform will not pay to cover illegal immigrants.  That’s why section 246 of the bill is called, “No federal payment for undocumented aliens!” 

Bad enough that Mr. Wilson lowered the level of discourse at a moment when the country hungers for a higher level of discourse, except that moron, Karl Rove, who laughed at this on FOX and thought it was really funny that Wilson said it. 

But it also turns out that Mr. Wilson is himself not telling the truth here.  Not merely about the immigrants but about, yes, the lie that Mr.  Obama called out, death panels.  An op-ed column he wrote on August 27th, Wilson wrote that reimbursing doctors for counseling patients at the end of their lives, quote, “has been correctly highlighted by former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as a program which could lead to seniors being encouraged to seek less care in order to protect the government’s bottom line.” 

No, sir, nothing in that bill leads American doctors to encourage seniors to seek less care.  As even Republicans have affirmed, end-of-life counseling leads to better care and patients who are less anxious, less scared, less confused. 

In other words, Mr. Wilson, you lie. 

Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, today’s “Worst Person in the World” in a landslide. 

That’s COUNTDOWN for this, the 2,223rd day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  I’m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck.  And now to resume our analysis of the president’s address to Congress tonight, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow. 

Good evening, Rachel. 

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