updated 9/28/2009 11:30:54 AM ET 2009-09-28T15:30:54

Guest Host: Lawrence O‘Donnell

Guests: Ron Mott, Sen. Ron Wyden, Clarence Page, Bobby Ghosh, Shannyn Moore, Chris Hayes

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

           

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Going public: The new CBS/”New York Times” poll, nearly half of Republicans favor the public option.  Then why are 100 percent of their senators opposed to it?  And could their obstructionist tactics actually be helping Democrats?

Democrat Ron Wyden of the Senate Finance committee is our guest.

Nuclear deception.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  The Iranian secret is out.  Details of an underground, nuclear-fueled manufacturing plant revealed at a Brown/Sarkozy/Obama joint press conference this morning.  Iran‘s president responds, “This is a mistake.  They will be sorry.”

Will China and Russia finally join the rest of the Security Council and impose sanctions on Iran?

Death of a Census worker: Still no classification on the hanging death of Bill Sparkman, but door-to-door canvassing in the area has ceased.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They knock on doors of saintly people and really horrible people.  Missing him is real for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joe the Heckler is the GOP‘s new Joe the Plumber.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  You lie!

(BOOS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Why do the Republicans continue to embrace and elevate their fringe elements to poster boy status?

Facebook foreign policy: Sarah Palin‘s latest attempt to prove she is up to speed on global politics.  Also, she changed her profile picture.

And how do you lampoon a human cartoon?  “Saturday Night Live” took their shot last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, Glenn, those letters don‘t actually rearrange to spell that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS:  I‘m the best damn actor on television.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann who has the night off.

Next Monday is Yum Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement on the Jewish calendar.  On the calendar of the U.S. Senate Tuesday, the following the day, the finance committee gets a chance to atone for its lack of public option in its health care bill.

Our number five story tonight: Supporters of a public option see glimmers of hope in new developments today, including a poll that puts Republican voters support behind a public option bill.  Last night, on COUNTDOWN, Senator Jay Rockefeller said he planned to bring the public option up for debate with the finance committee today, but with the committee strictly observing the Senate custom of half-day Fridays, the public option got shelved until Tuesday.

Tonight in the House, blue dog Democrat Stephanie Sandlin, who is a leader on health care for conservative Democrats, told “The Huffington Post” that blocking a public option is not a top priority for the blue dogs.  Quote, “The group is somewhat split,” she said.

This after words spread that the Congressional Budget Office believes the liberal version of a public option will save $85 billion more than the version preferred by the blue dogs, whose organizing principle is fiscal prudence.  Not to mention that 65 percent, almost 2/3 of the country, support a public option, according to a new poll out today.  In fact, more Republicans favor a public option than oppose it.  By a margin of 47 percent to 42 percent, with 11 percent still on the fence, and 51 percent, a majority of all Republicans say they would oppose a health care bill if it did not have a public option in it.  Only 30 percent are saying they prefer a bill with no public option.

And there is worse news for congressional Republicans in this poll—coming in behind President Obama and congressional Democrats across the board.  While 64 percent of the country thinks congressional Republicans are just playing politics with health care, less than half of their own party thinks Republicans are actually motivated by concern for the country.  A whopping 43 percent of Republicans say their own party is just playing politics.

We are joined tonight by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the finance committee.

Thanks for your time tonight, Senator.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON:  Thanks for having me, Larry.

O‘DONNELL:  I want to put up a couple of more poll numbers to get his in context.  Eighty percent of Democrats think Republicans are motivated just by politics.  But for some reason, more than half of Democrats, 54 percent still think that you, Democrats, should compromise enough to get Republican support.

How do you read those two polls that seem to be in conflict?  Overwhelming majority of Democrats believe that the Republicans are just stumping here, but they want you to negotiate with them?

WYDEN:  Larry, polls are fleeting.  And Tuesday is really when the test is going to be given.  The question is going to be, is the committee going to hold insurance companies accountable?  Is the committee going to take on what I call the status quo caucus?  It‘s led by the insurance industry.  There are some other powerful lobbies behind it.  They are slicing a fat hog.  And what we need is more cost and competition.  That‘s the way you hold insurance companies accountable and we‘re going to get on Tuesday.

O‘DONNELL:  And you are going to get two amendments to the bill on public option, one by Senator Rockefeller, which will be a public option very similar to what they‘ve done in the House.  You‘ll get another one by Senator Schumer of New York, with a somewhat modified version of a public option.  What is your sense of what will happen on both of those votes?

WYDEN:  First of all, Larry, we‘ll get another one, as well.  It‘s my “Free Choice” amendment, because I think it is critically important, whatever options there are, public or private, people ought to have choice.  And the Congressional Budget Office has indicated that under the earlier versions of the public option, you‘d only have about 12 million people able to get it, those who are unemployed or uninsured.

I think everybody ought to have a chance to have choice.  And I think my “Free Choice” amendment is compatible with the public option.  And I think, by the time we are done next week, we are going to see new policies that finally end the days when insurance companies can gouge people and they can rip ‘em off when they run this kind of cherry-picking system where they take just the healthy people and send the sick people over to government programs, more fragile there.  And I want to make sure that all Americans, not just a few, have access to public option so we can stop this abusive behavior and gouging.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Wyden, just to get your point clear for our audience.  When President Obama says, “If you like the health insurance you have, you can keep it.”  What you are saying is, he doesn‘t go—then go on to say, “If you don‘t like what you have, you can leave it and join the public option.”  And that‘s what you are trying to provide for in this bill, isn‘t it?

WYDEN:  Larry, I think the president is spot-on when he says you ought to be able to keep what you have.  But as far as I‘m concerned, if you are getting abused by your current insurer, you shouldn‘t be forced to stay with them.  You ought to be able to get access to another good alternative, the kind of alternative members of Congress have where the insurance companies can‘t discriminate against you.  You are part of a big group, you have low administrative cost, and you get a fair shake.

O‘DONNELL:  And you—do you think you can get some Republicans votes on your amendment to this?

WYDEN:  I don‘t see how Republicans can come out against competition and choice.  That is the bedrock set of principles of their party.  That‘s about as red, white and blue as you can get.

That‘s what the economy functions on is, real competition, real choice.  That‘s how you create a market.  That‘s how you hold insurance companies accountable.  That‘s how consumers get a good deal.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, when the Baucus bill was introduced, there were a lot of boos coming from the left and the right on it.  But in reality, the more I stare at this bill, when I—it‘s the only one that seems to fit the principles laid out by President Obama in his speech to Congress on what he requires to be in the bill.  So, is there any reason not to think of this bill, as it stands right now, as the Baucus/Obama bill?

WYDEN:  Larry, the bill has a lot of very positive features.  I‘m really pleased, for example, about what it does for low-income people.  But at this point, it still comes up short in terms of holding insurance companies accountable.  It comes up short in terms of cost and competition.

If you really want to hold prices down for consumers, you‘ve got to hold insurance companies accountable and give the consumer more choice.  If what we end up with, at the end of the day, is some kind of requirement where you force the consumer to go out and buy coverage and the coverage is kind of crummy and very expensive, people are going to come after everybody with pitch forks.

We‘ve got a lot of good features in this bill.  We‘ve got to add these key principles of cost containment and competition.  And that‘s how we‘re going to get the job done right.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, will you vote against a bill that requires people to purchase health insurance and not give them what you think are the adequate resources to do so?

WYDEN:  I got to tell you, I think you‘ve got to fit the pieces together.  I think people understand, Larry, that there is a requirement, a sense of personal responsibility that‘s appropriate.  We do have to appreciate that, a central part of American life, personal responsibility.

We ought to make steps to make coverage affordable.  The best way to do it is promoting cost and competition.  My “Free Choice” amendment will give every senator in the finance committee the chance to vote on that Tuesday.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and the finance committee—hang in there during the mark-up, Senator.

WYDEN:  Thanks, Larry.

O‘DONNELL:  Great thanks for your time tonight.

Now, let‘s bring in Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Clarence Page, also a member of the “Chicago Tribune” editorial board, and not a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Good evening, Clarence.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Good evening.  Thank you very much for having me, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  So, you can speak objectively about what you‘re seeing there in the Senate Finance Committee this week.  I mean, my point about referring to this possibly as what we are seeing as the Baucus-Obama bill, when you go back to the president‘s address to Congress and you look at, especially the section where he talks about paying for the bill—the only bill—the only committee bill that does what President Obama is willing to do in paying for this is the finance committee bill.  The House bills did things that the president has never endorsed at any point along the way.

So, I mean—isn‘t this really the bill to watch?  And isn‘t this really where the president is going end up, is on this bill?

PAGE:  Well, the president also has very cleverly kept his parameters wide enough to allow for a public option, which is really the key issue of debate between both of these sets of bills really.  There‘s a real, obvious advantage in cost-savings now that you just mentioned the current Congressional Budget Office bought up, what, $85 billion of public options.

And the polls now are showing—this new “New York Times”/CBS poll

that‘s shows remarkably, 2/3 of the public favoring a public option.  I

think that‘s going to be the key issue that‘s going to determine what this

·         what the final bill goes down as something really serious—a real serious change or as something that‘s a large gift to the insurance industry.

           

O‘DONNELL:  Now, do you see what‘s going on in Senate Finance Committee having any real effect on the way the public views this?  It doesn‘t seem to be getting exactly gavel to gavel coverage.  And yet, there are some very harsh arguments being made by Republicans that I think they would want to have heard publicly.  They just don‘t seem to be getting the microphone for it, all these anti-tax arguments that they are making in there, for example.

PAGE:  No, they don‘t.  And I was quite surprised by this poll—maybe being immersed in the media and media coverage as I am, I was seeing all of the—those town hall meetings, all of the opposition we‘ve heard.  And, of course, Joe Wilson‘s dramatic “You lie” demonstration there in Congress, he‘s a member of the House, but I think he projected an image that a lot of people are seeing for Republicans in general in the House and the Senate; when you look at the poll that shows, even Republicans saying that they—the representatives seem to be motivated more by partisan concerns than concerns for the country.

Now, you know, as Ron Wyden said, polls are flexible.  They are day to day kind of thing.  But that‘s the kind of trending that tends to indicate that the public option side is winning.

O‘DONNELL:  One of the things that seems to hold fast in the polls, Clarence, is confusion.  The majority just do not understand what‘s being talked about, doesn‘t matter how many times the president goes out there and tries to explain it.  He still has not succeeded in delivering an explanation that voters, a majority of voters feel comfortable with.

And is there—is there anything he can do or anything you expect this process to do as the Congress moves on this that will help clarify for the public what it is that these guys are voting on?

PAGE:  The polls in the focus groups indicate that a lot of people, while they support the public option or oppose it, seem to be divided over exactly what it is.  They don‘t have a clear understanding of it.  Now, that appears to be gelling now.

But it‘s important that the president or anybody else who advocates it talk about that—it‘s a choice.  You are being offered a choice between the regular private insurance companies and a government-sponsored option, government-sponsored choice.  And that‘s the sort of thing that Americans tend to favor.

And we‘re talking about competition here, and only through competition, as President Obama has said, can you keep the insurance companies honest and be able to have the competition that keeps prices down or keeps costs savings down.

The blue dog Democrats are really crucial here, Lawrence.  They are divided, as we heard Congresswoman Sandlin say.  And they don‘t—but she did say that they also don‘t have the public option as their priority.  Their top priority is cost savings.  And it appears there‘s some wiggle room here that will enable the public options folks both in the Senate and the House to perhaps be able to gain some advantage next week.

O‘DONNELL:  Quickly, Clarence, is it your sense that the president getting out of town and getting up to the United Nations and going to the G-20 -- that that actually help somewhat on this health care crossfire, to get him out of the health care crossfire and to be shown as a world leader and to restore a little bit of confidence in his ability as a world leader that may then spill over into confidence as a health care leader?

PAGE:  It doesn‘t hurt, especially when he‘s being beat up by a lot of conservative pundits who still want to cast him as some kind of an alien outsider.  It‘s important that people—Americans tend to unify when we start talking about national security and foreign policy.  And President Obama hopes they‘ll unify behind him.

O‘DONNELL:  Clarence Page of the “Chicago Tribune,” thank you very much for your time tonight.

PAGE:  Thank you for having me, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Up next: The secret is out.  U.S. intelligence catches Iran building a new hidden Iranian plant.  President Obama announced the discovery today.  Now, the hard part—what does he plan to do about it?

And later, the GOP seems to have a new rising star in Congressman Wilson.  Looks like Joe the Heckler is well on his way to becoming the new Joe the Plumber.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Straight ahead: President Obama catches Iran red-handed. 

The Iranian president pushes back.  Now what?

Later, the mysterious death of a Census worker found hanging from a tree with a three-letter word written on his chest.

And Happy New Year Sarah Palin-style.  The former governor of Alaska uses the Jewish holidays to weigh in on the Mideast.

That‘s next—and this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Only a few days before direct negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, that country has been called out for building another secret nuclear-fueled facility.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: President Obama and other western leaders today announced they knew what Iran was doing and demanded that Iran open up its nuclear-fueled plants to international inspectors.

President Obama, alongside Britain‘s Prime Minister Gordon brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the size and configuration of the newly-disclosed plant was inconsistent with a peaceful facility.

However, according to intelligence developed by U.S., British and French agencies, the site is not yet operational.  The U.S. has known about the development of the uranium-enrichment facility for several years, according to a senior White House official.  Since 2002, the U.S. has known that Iraq had a separate nuclear fuel facility, which Iran claimed was only for nuclear power.  Thus, today marks the second plant that Iran has tried to conceal.

In an interview with “Time” magazine this morning, Iran‘s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Obama‘s announcement was—today was, quote, “definitely a mistake.”  On Monday of this week, Iran actually disclosed the NRE (ph) site to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but it is widely believed that Iran‘s actions came only after it realized western intelligence discovered the site.

President Obama at the G-20 summit said this afternoon that China and Russia are united in calling for an investigation by the IAEA—all this just a few days ahead of the G-5+1 meeting on October 1st, which involves direct talks between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on October 1st, they are going to have to come clean and they are going to have to make a choice.  Are they willing to go down the path, which I think ultimately will lead to greater prosperity and security for Iran, giving up the acquisition of nuclear weapons and deciding that they are willing to abide by international rules and standards in their pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy, or will they continue down a path that is going to lead to confrontation?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s bring in the senior editor for “Time” magazine, Bobby Ghosh, who interviewed President Ahmadinejad this morning.

Thanks for your time tonight.

BOBBY GHOSH, TIME MAGAZINE:  How are you doing, Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL:  Now, if the United States knew about this for several years, why are they just disclosing it now?  Why are they acting on it now?

GHOSH:  Well, this is a big feather in the cap of the CIA.  They‘ve known for at least three to four years that was some kind of nuclear facility, but they were not absolutely certain.

Something happened this summer, we don‘t know for certain.  Human intelligence may have been involved, in the interception of some sort of conversation.  But something happened this summer to confirm what the CIA already believed late last year to be true, which is that this was a uranium-enrichment factory plant in the making inside of a mountain about 100 miles southwest of Tehran.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, at the same time you were interviewing Ahmadinejad today, President Obama was revealing this.  You had, I guess, the pleasure of revealing it to your interview subject, that this was about to happen.  What was his reaction when you—when you kind of laid this on him?

GHOSH:  He was pretty nonplussed.  You can see the video on Time.com and he came into the room and he took the first few questions.  He was a man in command of his environment.  He seemed very confident, very self-assured.  And when we pointed out to him that even as he was speaking to us, President Obama was making this announcement in Pittsburgh, he was quite nonplussed.

And he and his officials, who were slightly off the camera, were working very hard, looking at, make and writing notes to each other, and trying to come up with an answer.  It was the one unscripted moment of the interview.

He didn‘t have an answer prepared for it.  He was aggressive.  He said, “I don‘t have to give an explanation to the Obama administration for every nuclear facility we had.”  He was also defensive.  He said, “We will work—we have no secrets, we‘ve always worked with the IAEA.”  So, he was, I think, caught very much off-guard.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, President Obama had a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev the other day, in which there seemed to be some Russian movement toward consideration of sanctions against Iran.  Do you suspect that this information was something that President Obama shared in that meeting?

GHOSH:  Our understanding, actually, we don‘t know the exact timeline. 

·         or that statement from President Medvedev came before he was told about the new plant.  If that is true—and this needs to be confirmed—if that is true, then it indicates that the Russian position had begun to change even before they knew about the plant, and then we should expect maybe even further change now that they do know.  The crucial question, though, is what the Chinese are going to do about it.

           

O‘DONNELL:  And to that question, what do we know about it and what is the Obama administration‘s approach to the Chinese on this?

GHOSH:  I think, if you—if you have four people on one side of the table and then five, including Germany, taking one position, it would be hard for China to stay away from it because they don‘t want to seem like the one country that would tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon.  Although, I have to say, that I think a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry earlier today said China still does not really believe in sanctions.

But I have a feeling that a lot more would be discussed in Pittsburgh.  And I think the administration—the Obama administration is counting on the Chinese to come onboard.

O‘DONNELLL:  And finally, how is it that if the United States knew about it for years, we have intelligence assessments coming out saying that Iran did not pose a nuclear threat down the line?  That the nuclear threat seemed to be dissipating there?  While the intelligence community knew this was happening?

GHOSH:  Well, Lawrence, as I said at the beginning, I think the intelligence community knew something was amiss in that mountain.  They were not entirely certain what it was.  It could be any number of possibilities.

Keep in mind, Iran also has a missile program on the side separate from its nuclear program.  This could have been a nuclear—a missile facility.  So, I think until this summer, they could the not say for certain that this was a nuclear facility.

O‘DONNELL:  “Time” magazine‘s Bobby Ghosh, thanks for your time tonight.

GHOSH:  Anytime, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Up next: Breaking news in the death of Census worker in Kentucky.  Bill Sparkman was found hanging in the woods—and now, new details from one of the people who found him.

And later, is the Republican Party‘s little white tent big enough for Joe the Plumber and Joe the Heckler?

Stay with us.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  The cause of death was asphyxiation.  But as new information emerges on the tragic and gruesome death of a United States Census worker, officials aren‘t classifying it just yet, releasing very few details.  Bill Sparkman was found dead in the woods of rural Kentucky two weeks ago, tied to the tree with the word “Fed” scrawled across his chest in pen.

One of the witnesses who found Sparkman tells the “A.P.” tonight, Sparkman‘s body was hanging naked, his hands and feet bound by duct tape.  Jerry Weaver says he was among a group of relatives who discovered Sparkman and said Sparkman had something that resembled an ID tag taped to the side of his neck, with duct tape covering both his neck and eyes. 

Investigators have maintained Sparkman‘s death could be an accident, suicide or murder, and have not weighed in on Mr. Weaver‘s claims. 

More tonight on Bill Sparkman‘s life and the mystery surrounding his death.  Our correspondent is Ron Mott. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON MOTT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Published reports indicate the word “Fed” was marked on the chest of 51 year old census worker Bill Sparkman, found dead with a rope around his neck, tied to a tree, in the Danube National Forest in rural southeastern Kentucky. 

Friends became worried with fear when the reliable Sparkman, also a substitute elementary teacher, missed an appointment at school. 

GIL ACCIARDO, FRIEND:  When he didn‘t show up, we knew something was wrong.  He didn‘t call.  He didn‘t show up.  We said there is something bad wrong. 

MOTT:  The FBI joined Kentucky State Police, which is leading the investigation for now, to determine if Sparkman was targeted because of anti-government hatred. 

DAVID BEYER, FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  If somebody is killed because of their appointment with the federal government, that is a federal crime, and the FBI would take the lead in this investigation. 

MOTT:  The government has since suspended door to door census canvassing in the area, which Sparkman was conducting, until police uncover more clues. 

DON TROSPER, KENTUCKY STATE POLICE:  This is one of those investigation which is very difficult because we are unable to rule out or discredit any of the rumors that are going around about this. 

MOTT:  A resident near the scene said he told an investigator about ominous sounds coming from the woods days before Sparkman‘s body was found, September 12th

ELZIE WAGNER, RESIDENT NEAR THE SCENE:  I told them I heard hollering a few nights before that, 1:00 or 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. 

MOTT:  Sparkman so enjoyed teaching, friends say, he enrolled in college at age 47, hoping to land a full-time position.  Speaking to fellow graduates at commencement last year. 

BILL SPARKMAN, DECEASED:  For those of us who will become teachers, become a super-teacher and brick walls cannot hurt you.  It‘s too important in the life of a child. 

MOTT:  Ron Mott, NBC News, London, Kentucky. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Joe Wilson is being rewarded for his rude behavior, and how his outburst is paying dividends for the Republican party.  We‘ll see later.

It is a sign you have arrived in American pop culture.  That doesn‘t Glenn mean it will be pretty to watch.  Glenn Beck gets the “Saturday Night Live” treatment ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  The Republican party has found its new star, someone who can help raise money with his recently-raised profile.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN it is the gentleman from South Carolina, Congressman Joe Wilson.  Yes, Joe Wilson, the man who embarrassed the nation and his own party by heckling the president of United States. 

Congressman Wilson has now written a fund-raising e-mail for the National Republican Congressional Committee.  It reads, in part, “there has been a lot of debate on what is true in the debate over government-run health care.  But Democrats continue to spin and mislead the public.  Will you follow this link immediately to support the NRCC as we work to retire Nancy Pelosi and return the people‘s house to you.”

It was in the people house that Wilson shouted you lie during President Obama‘s speech before a joint session of Congress.  Though Wilson apologized to the president, through his chief of staff, Wilson later refused to apologize to the House. 

Mr. Wilson has even been seen signing pictures of his outburst for constituents, and now he will be stumping for former Congressman Tim Walberg of Michigan.  On October 2nd, Wilson will attend a fund raiser for Walberg, who is trying to regain the seat he lost to Democrat Mark Schauer.  For 150 dollars, supporters get two tickets to the event and their very own photo with Congressman Wilson. 

The opposition has pounced.  A spokeswoman for Congressman Schauer saying, in a statement, “by embracing his former colleague, Tim Walberg made it clear that he embraces what is wrong with Washington, and is not serious about fixing our broken health care system.  If you are the company you keep, then Tim Walberg stands with Joe Wilson and the obstructionists.”

Let‘s bring in the Washington editor of “The Nation,” Chris Hayes. 

Good to have you with us tonight, Chris.

CHRIS HAYES, “THE NATION”:  Good to be with you, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  So, is the fair to say that the national Republican Congressional Committee has revealed itself by this choice, and is making a statement about who they believe their supporters are?  Their supporters are the people who think heckling the president is a great idea. 

HAYES:  Yes, that‘s exactly right.  I don‘t even think they are making a miscalculation, to be honest.  If you looked at the signs on the 9/12 march, it is clear he‘s become something of a hero among the right wing base.  Those are the people you are raising money from. 

So the sort of polarizing figures are always useful for both sides, actually, in fund-raising appeals.  You see that sometimes with fund-raising appeals that go out targeting some villainous character on the other side or some heroic figure on your own side, or coming from this supposedly heroic figure.

So there is no question that he has ascended to become an icon.  I think it is fitting.  He is very representative of the ethos of the House Republican caucus, particularly, but the current incarnation of the Republican party. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, how did it come to it that one party is represented by a learned former president of the Harvard Law Review, who is a scholar and is poised and is graceful, elegant, well-spoken, and the other party is represented by someone who you wonder if he needs a Breathalyzer before he goes into Congressional sessions where the president is speaking?  How did it come to this?  Republicans, it used to be an image of country club Republicans, well bread, waspy, dignified people, who just didn‘t like taxation.  What has happened here? 

HAYES:  I guess I should say, I wasn‘t crazy about that brand of Republicans either.  One can make a fetish of civility and manners, to the extent that there are a lot of very brutal union busters who I‘m sure had perfectly good manners.  But, look, I think at this point, the thing the Republican party is doing, they are being led—they are channeling the rage and alienation of a certain small percentage of their base, this backlash sensation. 

And they are making a political gamble that channeling that, embracing that is going to lead to some electoral success, in the short term in the midterms, and, more broadly, some resurgence of the Republican party. 

I don‘t think it‘s necessarily a crazy political tactical notion.  But I think it‘s really interesting to look at the polling recently, which is really suggesting—and I was agnostic on this point.  The polling is suggesting that it is, indeed, backfiring.  If you look at, for instance, health care, the point at which the slide in support for the president‘s health care plan stopped and began to reverse was right around the moment of the town halls. 

Joe Wilson is so linked I think in people‘s mind with this general acting out that the Republicans have been engaging in, that I think they are misplaying their hand.  I think they are embracing what is fundamentally going to be a poor strategy. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, you cannot win national elections with Republicans alone.  You might be able to do it in Joe Wilson‘s district.  But you can‘t do it nationally.  You‘ve got to be able to appeal to swing voters, independents.  It seems to me Joe Wilson just has to kill them with independents. 

HAYES:  That‘s right, exactly.  Independents are, generally, almost by definition, right, suspicious of people that are polarizing, polemical, and even overly zealous of any persuasion.  So I think he is going to be toxic for swing voters.  I think the press release you were just reading from indicates that that is the calculation being made by the Democrat in that district, that Wilson is toxic enough.  Presumably that‘s a swing district also.

I think it‘s important to note here that Wilson is, as you said, coming from a very safe district.  There is this misalignment right now between the people that have the highest—the largest platform in the Republican party, who are emanating from very, very safe conservative areas, and the interest of the national party, which is going to have to win in places that aren‘t as friendly to that kind of world view. 

O‘DONNELL:  Chris Hayes of “The Nation” magazine, many thanks for being with us tonight. 

HAYES:  Thank you.  Have a good weekend. 

O‘DONNELL:  Up next on COUNTDOWN, Facebook foreign policy.  Governor Sarah Palin posits by posting.  We‘ll see what her writers came up with this time.

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, the Republicans‘ fight against Acorn backfires.  Turns out the Defend Acorn Act would also defund most defense contractors.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Her coming out speech in Hong Kong was just a warm up.  The ex-governor of Alaska has more stuff to say about other countries.  But first, on this day in 2008, an exercise in foreign policy turned televised disaster.  Frost/Nixon had nothing on Couric-Palin. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FMR. GOVERNOR OF ALASKA:  Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land boundary we have with Canada.  It‘s funny that a comment like that was kind of made to—I don‘t know.  You know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And so, in our number two story, what has Sarah Palin learned in a year?  Back from her big money speech to investors in Hong Kong, Ms. Palin perhaps deciding she‘s getting the hang of this foreign policy thing.  Her latest Facebook posting, a note on the Jewish high holidays. 

But after the perfunctory well-wishes, Palin‘s Facebook writers took the opportunity to weigh in on Iranian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s speech to the UN, issuing the standard denunciation of his anti-Semitism.  “A speech was given at the United Nations General Assembly that was full of hateful, anti-Semitic rhetoric.  It was a shameful display before a body whose very charter is premised on the need for cooperation and harmony in pursuit of peaceful coexistence between nations.  Such talk was especially abhorrent coming, as it did, during the Jewish High Holidays.  The world community must speak with one voice in declaring anti-Semitism and all forms of intolerance and racism utterly unacceptable.  There is no place in the community of peace-loving nations for those who traffic in hate or deny the terrible atrocity of the Nazi Holocaust.” 

Words we can all for once agree with from Sarah Palin.  Joining me now from Anchorage is radio host and “Huffington Post” contributor Shannyn Moore.  Good evening.  This seems like Sarah Palin may be trying to step into a larger role, delivering a straight, boiler plate denunciation of all things Iranian. 

SHANNYN MOORE, “THE HUFFINGTON POST”:  Yes, it does.  I wish she would maybe speak to some of her supporters, who have felt really free to put the Hitler mustache on Obama‘s picture at their tea bagging rallies.  Yes, she is definitely out there.  I think she‘s trying to make a big comeback. 

O‘DONNELL:  How do you figure the Hong Kong speech fits into that?  Was that just, let‘s go make some money; I‘m going to have a lot of tuitions to pay with this kids and move on from that?  Or did she think there was going to be some political benefit from that? 

MOORE:  I think she was trying to get some political benefit.  I think whoever is handling her right now was particularly concerned about making those political hits that she made at her hour and a half long speech.  I don‘t know if she thinks that she has to talk longer for that amount of money.  I certainly sat through some of her speeches before.  And I can‘t imagine an hour and a half of it.  I really can‘t. 

O‘DONNELL:  The beauty of Facebook and these posting‘s she‘s done on China, Afghanistan, these kinds of things, now Iran, is that there is obviously no tricky questions from Katie Couric or anybody like that.  Isn‘t that the safest environment for her to be operating in right now? 

MOORE:  There is not a lot of gotcha in Facebook.  I know that she had people post things in opposition to her on Facebook before.  She just defriends them.  I think that is probably a lot easier than defriending Katie Couric.  It is a safe place for her to be right now. 

Frankly, people repost and they comment and they write articles and they report on her Facebook.  So it‘s working for her right now.

O‘DONNELL:  Where does she go from here?  Are we going to say more paid speeches?  is there going to be any point, do you see, in the remainder of 2009, 2010, where she takes a question from a reporter? 

MOORE:  She‘s been able to be pretty successful in avoiding reporters to date.  She certainly was able to do that during the election, which would be a really crucial time for people to ask her some pointed questions and see what she‘s really thinking.  It seems, from what she is coming out and talking about, for instance—she is weighing in on Afghanistan right now.  All people have to do is look at what her rhetoric was and what she was saying a couple years ago, and now that she is palling around with some chicken hawk neo-conservatives right now, the likes of Bill Kristol and Dick Cheney.  So, you know, where she is going politically is suspect.  But she definitely has a platform still.

O‘DONNELL:  Does she—Are you aware of any plans she might have to get some tutoring in these subjects that she tends to be kind of weak on?  

MOORE:  I don‘t know.  I haven‘t known Sarah Palin, when she was governor or a citizen here in Alaska, to really be happy to take advice from anyone.  I know that right before she resigned, the one phone call she made was to Dick Cheney.  The other was to Rudy Giuliani.  So if those are the tutors that she‘s taking right now, then we have a few indicators of what her priorities are and where she is going. 

O‘DONNELL:  Shannyn Moore of the “Huffington Post,” thank you very much for joining us tonight.

MOORE:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  No crying, but they seemed to have captured everything else.  “Saturday Night Live” tackles the psychosis that is Glenn Beck.  Yes, the children can stay and watch this one, when COUNTDOWN comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  A lot of stuff has happened in the weeks since Barack Obama‘s five Sunday morning interviews.  A Beduin tent came up and went down at Donald Trump‘s house.  We found water on the moon and secret nuke plant in Iran.  And a former exterminator turned former politician danced his way into Americans‘ heart. 

In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, as those Obama interviews disappear into your rear view mirror, last night‘s “Saturday Night Live” finally got its first crack at the interview merry-go-round.  In their take on the wall-to-wall nature of Obama‘s media blitz, the writers of Thursday night‘s special edition of SNL imagined what would have happened if the White House considered reaching far beyond the list of regular Sunday morning interviews, way out there, all the way out to Mr. Conspiracy theory, Glenn Beck. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. President, we are ready for the interviews. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  Ready to go.  Who is up first?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  On Sunday, we did NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and Univision. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s right.  I want to get the health care out to as wide an audience as possible.  I don‘t want to shut anyone out of this debate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How about Fox News? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nope. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Today we have some cable channels. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Great, let‘s do it. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Next up is ESPN. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Boo-yah, Stuart Scott here.  Mr. President, you‘re on the Coors Light hot seat.  Now, your health plan, would you say it‘s strong like Shaq or smooth like Kobe? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would like to think it‘s the best of both, like Lebron. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Holla at a player when he‘s fixing health care. 

Mr. President, you‘re off the Coors Light hot seat. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you.  Who is next?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We have the Bravo Network. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kathy Griffin here.  OK.  Here we go.  Will there be health care for my gays? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I certainly hope so. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK.  Can you not give it to three specific gays who I hate?  Perez Helton, my ex-stylist Julio and Spencer Pratt.  Yes, he is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kathy, my bill could cover all Americans, even Spencer Pratt. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Get a room. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who‘s next? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you sure you don‘t want to speak to Fox News?  Who knows, maybe they can be fair and balanced. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Really?  Let‘s check in with Glenn Beck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If I write down the name Obama, we can rearrange the letters and spell Aroma.  I don‘t like what I‘m smelling. 

For those you saying, hey Glenn, those letters don‘t actually rearrange to spell that, well, to you say, in mother Russia they do. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Next? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The Food Network.  It‘s Guy Fiueri. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Here is my health care plan.  Two beef patties, buttermilk onion ring, chili cheese fries, and piled on top of tortilla chips. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That doesn‘t seem like a viable plan. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You didn‘t let me finish.  We top it all off with a little liquid Queso. 

I‘ll show myself out. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Next? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There is someone from CW.  it‘s a teenage vampire. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, Obama. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m sorry, what show are you from again?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t know, one of the vampire shows.  Give us some blood, dude.  Or don‘t.  Whatever.  You‘re not the boss of me. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Finally NBC. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I thought we did NBC. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s someone else. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Please, god, don‘t tell me it‘s Brian Williams.  I give that guy one day of access and now he acts like we went to camp together. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Worse.  It‘s Keith Morrison from “Dateline.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Tell me more about these death panel.  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Umm—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  That will do it for this Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.  Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”  Good evening, Rachel.

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

END   

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