updated 2/10/2010 10:58:56 AM ET 2010-02-10T15:58:56

Guests: Lawrence O‘Donnell, Jonathan Turley, Eugene Robinson, Bill Carter

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

Even as a prominent conservative commentator says GOP preconditions for the health care summit are silly, they get sillier.

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REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER:  So, why are we going to talk about the bill they can‘t have.  It really is time to scrap the bill and start over.

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OLBERMANN:  Yes, kind of passed already.

At the press secretary‘s daily press briefing—batting for the press secretary, the president, number 44.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I won‘t hesitate to embrace a good idea for my friends in the minority party, but I also won‘t hesitate to condemn what I consider to be obstinacy that‘s rooted in substantive disagreements but in political expediency.

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OLBERMANN:  And yes, it‘s official, everybody has now had a hand in it.

The Chilcot Commission wants him or people who work for him.  The startling news that England‘s formal inquiry into the Iraq war, which has already raked Tony Blair over the coals, is now seeking conversations with Bush administration figures.

The light bulb goes on over the heads of the near right.  Tom Tancredo‘s tea party reference to literacy voting test and people not speaking English.

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MEGHAN MCCAIN, SEN. MCCAIN‘S DAUGHTER:  It‘s innate racism and I think it‘s why young people are turned off by this movement.

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OLBERMANN:  Yes, it is racism.  Thank you, sincerely, Meghan McCain.

The comments: more from the reservations, and the insurance company will not pay for his life-saving drugs because, wow, gee, look at what they cost.

And one book, one movie, more late-night shows, and 113 network presidents and one joint Super Bowl commercial later, the war is over?

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JAY LENO, TV TALK SHOW HOST:  I walk in, I see Dave, he puts his hand on and I shake hands.  And, you know, whatever happened for the last 18 years, disappeared.

DAVID LETTERMAN, TV TALK SHOW HOST:  I just want to take a second here now to thank the actors who played Oprah and also, Jay Leno.

(LAUGHTER)

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OLBERMANN:  All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.

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LENO:  We lost touch.  He found me on Facebook.

(LAUGHTER)

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

When even the woman asking the questions for FOX News tells Minority Whip Eric Cantor that his letter to the White House won‘t—is not in the tone of bipartisanship, you know that the Republican Party seems to have seriously miscalculated in its attempt to deny the president bipartisanship and to protect our insurance companies from the dire threat of affordable health care.

The president is welcoming both the Republican leadership and Democratic majority to a meeting at the White House this morning, to talk about job growth and the economy.  The president already having invited lawmakers to the White House later this month for the full summit on health care reform.

Minority Leader Boehner and Minority Whip Cantor setting preconditions for this attendance at that health summit in the letter to the White House yesterday.  Among those preconditions, the Democrats scrap the current bill and start again.

After today‘s meeting at the White House, the Republicans are still advocating “do it our way” as the only course for health care bipartisanship.

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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  Why would they want to keep pushing something that the public is overwhelmingly against?

BOEHNER:  It‘s going to be very difficult to have a bipartisan conversation with regard to what 27 health care -- 2,700-page health care bill that the Democratic majority in the House and the Democrat majority in the Senate can‘t pass.  So, why are we going to talk about a bill that can‘t pass?  It really is time to scrap the bill and start over.

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OLBERMANN:  The bill passed in your chamber, Mr. Boehner.  Maybe you were in tanning bed number four at the time.

Say something like that on the lawn at the White House after you just met with the president of the United States, say something like that during a five-day span in which the president has already taken questions from both you and your Democratic counterparts in the Senate, needing neither teleprompter nor crib notes on his hand to do it, and odds are, you might prompt the president to step to a microphone once again.

The third installment of president‘s question time—a surprise appearance before the reporters who cover the White House at the daily briefing: beginning with the precondition that the health care bill be scrapped.

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OBAMA:  I‘m going to be starting from scratch in the sense that I will be open to any ideas that help promote these goals.  What I will not do, what I don‘t think makes sense, and I don‘t think the American people would want to see, would be another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months or eight months or nine months worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there‘s a lot of posturing.

Let‘s get the relevant parties together.  Let‘s put the best ideas on the table.  My hope is that we can find enough overlap that we can say, “This is the right way to move forward, even if I don‘t get every single thing that I want.”

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OLBERMANN:  The president defining bipartisanship how far he‘s willing to go, and what he expects in return when it comes to his proposed health care summit.

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OBAMA:  Bipartisanship can‘t be that I agree to all the things that they believe in or want, and they agree to none of the things I believe in and want, and that‘s the price of bipartisanship, right?  But that‘s sometimes the way it gets presented.  And I‘m willing to move off some of the preferences of my party in order to meet them halfway.

But there‘s got to be some give from their side as well.  That‘s true on health care.  That‘s true on energy.  That‘s true on financial reform.  That‘s what I‘m hoping gets accomplished at the summit.

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OLBERMANN:  Republican obstructionism also leading to a log jam of administration appointments.  Senator Shelby of Alabama having now lifted some but not all of his controversial holds on nearly six dozen executive branch nominations.

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OBAMA:  I respect the Senate‘s role to advice and consent.  But for months, qualified, noncontroversial nominees for critical positions in government, often positions related to our national security, have been held up despite having overwhelming support.

My nominee for one important job, the head of General Services Administration, which helps run the government, was denied a vote for nine months.  When she finally got a vote on her nomination, she was confirmed 96 to nothing.  That‘s not advice and consent.  That‘s delay and obstruct.

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OLBERMANN:  Delay and obstruct, right up there with another favorite opposition tactic: lying.

The president is hoping to keep any fictional dramatics out of the health care summit as well.

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OBAMA:  My hope is that this doesn‘t end up being political theater as I think some of you have phrased it.  I want a substantive discussion.  I am reminded of the story that was told about Senator Moynihan, who was, I guess, in an argument with one of his colleagues and his colleague was losing the argument.  So, he got a little flustered and said to Senator Moynihan, “Well, I‘m entitled to my own opinion.”  And Senator Moynihan said, “Well, you‘re entitled to your own opinion, but you‘re not entitled to your own facts.”  I think that‘s the key to a successful dialogue on the 25th or on health care.

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OLBERMANN:  And another Republican precondition: no facts.

One of the non-elected leaders of the “party of no” having instructed fellow Republicans to go to the health care summit, William Kristol criticizing Congressman Boehner and Cantor for setting those preconditions to their attendance, calling their letter to the White House silly, adding, “Obviously, when the president invites you to the White House, you go.”  Of course, Mr. Kristol wants them to go there to continue what they have been doing all along, which is: keep trying to kill the bill.

By lunchtime, the minority whip backing way from his preconditions.

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REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MINORITY WHIP:  We‘re going to show up, because we want to continue to try and reflect what the American people are asking for.  And really, right now, it‘s up to the president and Speaker Pelosi to start listening to the American people.  If they don‘t, there‘s not much to talk about.

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OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, back at the White House, once the press secretary received the podium back from his boss, it seems he could not resist poking—oh, a little fun at Governor Palin‘s study methods.

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ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  And here are some in there party that want to do away with, as you saw during the presidential campaign, the entire—I wrote a few things down.  I wrote—I wrote—I wrote eggs, milk and bread.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS:  I crossed out bread, just so I can make pancakes for Ethan if it snows.  And then I wrote down “hope” and “change” just in case I forgot that.

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OLBERMANN:  Fastest root to the oldest joke in the world in history.

Time now to welcome our own political analyst, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Democratic Senate Finance Committee staff director during the ‘93-‘94 health care debate, now contributor to the “Huffington Post.”

Good evening.

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

OLBERMANN:  Minority Whip Cantor is saying Republicans are going to go to this health care summit now without its preconditions, but only so as we heard him say, they can speak up for the American people.  You know, I‘m thinking they really bought into the Supreme Court ruling that corporations are people, too.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, they‘re—you know, theoretically, they‘re going to go there to speak for the roughly 53 percent who show up at polls as being opposed to Obama health care reform or congressional health care reform.

What the Obama administration is looking at is another 65 percent in polls who say, “We want to see the president and Republicans, Democrats work together.”  That‘s the picture that President Obama is going for on February 25th.  And that‘s the picture he‘s going to get from his side very clearly, because you just look—you just look at this tape today.  There‘s no question.  Just contents aside, there‘s no question who is the most reasonable man after the meeting going to the microphone.  He‘s going to win that contest every time.

OLBERMANN:  The letter setting those preconditions backfire to the degree that Bill Kristol said it was silly.  That some woman reading a script at FOX News asked the question in which she said, it was not bipartisan in nature.

Why did the Republicans, who usually excel at the message war and are in this debate entirely because of the message war, because they don‘t really have any facts on their side, how did they - why did they write this?  Why did they make such a blunder?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I think this particular team of House leadership is the worst that I‘ve ever seen in the House of Representatives by far.  They should have absolutely have treated this respectfully as an invitation, because there‘s a serious problem inside this for the Democrats, which is that the Democrats plan is to come up with one bill, to somehow get the House and the Senate to agree on one bill before February 25th, and discuss that one bill at that meeting.  The Democrats might not be able to do that.

So, if you‘re the Republicans, just sit back right now and watch the Democrats fight for the next two weeks over what that one bill is going to be.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  And then what, come out of there going, well, we were prepared with our ideas, but they weren‘t?  They couldn‘t—they‘re the majority party, they couldn‘t even get the bill together?

O‘DONNELL:  The Republicans have done nothing right so far in the health care debate.  What has happened is, it has fallen of its own weight, it has fallen because of lack of cohesion among Democrats.  It‘s not that the Republicans have had any particularly great winning strategy going into this thing, and it would be better for them to hang back right now.  But their instinct is always wrong.  The Boehner/Cantor instinct is always wrong.

OLBERMANN:  And the McConnell/Boehner instinct, which we also saw coming out and misrepresenting what was going on on the White House lawn, provoking the president to take over the press briefing today, did they not get the message in the last couple weeks that the president and this administration were no longer going to simply sort of say, “Well, they‘re lying about us again,” but were, in fact, going to try to take direct action against those lies?

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s so clear that this president is looking for those moments—

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  -- to go to the microphone and they gave it to him today.  I have a suspicion he probably would have done it no matter what they said on the driveway, so that he could control what was coming out of that meeting, as he did so well in the briefing room today.  I mean, he really took care of every single question that came in, very smoothly, very easily, and really dominated what the message is coming out of that room today.

OLBERMANN:  The ranking Republican on the budget committee has issued a shadow budget.  We‘re talking parliamentarian now suddenly, we‘re in the British Parliament.  It eliminates Social Security.  It eliminates Medicare.  And this is the party that spent last summer claiming that cutting waste in Medicare was going to kill grandma?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, here‘s why the best plan for minorities in the Congress is usually to do nothing and offer nothing.

OLBERMANN:  OK.  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  This is—you know, for people who have been saying, “Hey, where‘s your plan?”  And you‘re wondering, why don‘t they come up with something, this is why.  I mean, this is—they will—they can come up with the craziest things imaginable and they‘re always better off—in the House especially, in the House especially—staying quiet.  Let the Democrats struggle among themselves.  They‘ve done a pretty messy job of that this year.

I‘m not one who‘s betting on the Democrats to pull the magic rabbit out of the hat by February 25th.  I don‘t know why the Republicans think they might.

OLBERMANN:  Two words: kill Medicare, might change the equation completely.

O‘DONNELL:  That could change things.

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

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You want to see an actual death panel in action?  Nice to see an insurance company basically come out and finally say, “Yes, it will save your life, but, no, we‘re not paying for it.  I mean, it just costs too much.  I mean, we have stockholders, buddy.”

A comment—next.

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OLBERMANN:  The startling word that Great Britain‘s formal inquiry into the Iraq war may seek evidence from members of the Bush administration -- next.

But now, tonight‘s first “Quick Comment.”  And sticking with obstructionism, a little picture from health care reform remains much bigger than the big picture.

Kyler Van Nocker has cancer.  It was in remission, it‘s back now.  The doctors have a do-or-die treatment that his insurance company considers investigational/experimental so it will not pay for it.  This is particularly odd because the insurer is HealthAmerica, covered two earlier investigational/experimental therapies for Van Nocker, stuff that had not been approved yet by the FDA.

Just a coincidence that the latest therapy for which it will not pay, costs $110,000 for two treatments.  Fortunately, Kyler Van Nocker‘s hospital is giving it to him free while he sues HealthAmerica, possibly because, otherwise, Kyler Van Nocker will give them his look.

That‘s Kyler Van Nocker.  Kyler‘s is five.  That‘s the look he gave the “Philly Daily News” photographer.  His disease is neuroblastoma, the childhood cancer that keeps creating new tumors throughout the body.  And HealthAmerica will not help him, nor his parents, nor the hospital pay for the drugs he needs to stay alive.

And there is your death panel, Bill Kristol.  There is your death panel, Betsy McCaughey.  There is your death panel, Senator Grassley.  There is your death panel, Sarah Palin.

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OLBERMANN:  There is, perhaps, only one scenario in which this nation might yet conduct something resembling of full inquiry into how we got into the war in Iraq and how pervasive the lying was: if a prominent figure of the Bush administration were to say something on the record or nearly so, factually indisputable or nearly so, and with the import of the proverbial smoking gun or nearly so.

Unexpectedly tonight, that scenario is still viable.  What we did not do, the British have, and now, those whom our leader did not question, the British want to.  The members of the Bush administration, U.S. military leaders, perhaps the former president himself, the head of England‘s official Iraq war inquiry recognizing, Sir John Chilcot recognizing that, quote, “We cannot take formal evidence as such from foreign nationals but we can, of course, have discussions with them.”

No specific Bush administration officials have yet been named.  Sir John did not say whether his panel hopes to interview the former president, a no comment from the former president‘s press people.  But the British panel already has details, a private correspondence between then-President Bush and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as tens of thousands of highly-classified documents from the British government.

Mr. Blair was questioned by this panel for six hours late last month on a host of issues.

Britain‘s former ambassador to the U.S., Christopher Meyer, told the inquiry that Bush and Blair used an April 2002 meeting at Bush‘s ranch in Crawford, Texas, to, quote-unquote, “sign in blood an agreement to take military action in Iraq.”  That about one year before legislators in each country approved the actual war.

But Blair‘s former chief of staff has denied such an agreement.  One member of the inquiry‘s panel has indicated that Bush told Blair he planned to take out Saddam Hussein even if Saddam cooperated with U.N. weapons inspectors.

And what about weapons of mass destruction as the trumped up excuse for war?  No such WMD ever found, obviously.

What about the Downing Street memo which claimed that the U.S.  government fixed the intelligence and the facts around its policy?  The Iraq war inquiry‘s report is due by year‘s end.  Its scrutiny and analysis will not establish criminal nor civil liability, just to get the facts.

Let‘s bring in George Washington University law professor, constitutional law expert, Jonathan Turley.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What do you make of this interest in conversations with the American officials and will the Chilcot inquiry get them?

TURLEY:  Well, the British have this quaint notion, don‘t they, that their leader should have to explain decisions that have cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars.  Could you imagine George Bush being questioned for five or six hours?  The fact that we can‘t imagine that really says there‘s something wrong with our political system.

Ultimately, American citizens are likely to learn more from our British cousins than they are from our Congress or our leaders about a war that has cost us dearly.

OLBERMANN:  What have we learned so far in your opinion?  I mean, what is the Iraq war inquiry‘s biggest find or biggest amplification so far?

TURLEY:  Well, I thought you really isolated it well.  I mean, I think that the statement from Sir Christopher Meyer that there was an agreement signed in blood in April 2002 is very telling, particularly when you line that up with statements, for example, from the British/U.N.  ambassador, that Bush was, quote, “hell bent on war.”

We‘re getting a lot of these different accounts that indicate that the decision had been made, and the only question was the rationale.  But we‘re also getting the seam developed which is so disturbing.  It‘s like something out of the Ottoman Empire of absolute rulers deciding that they‘re going do package regime change and the rationale really doesn‘t matter much.

OLBERMANN:  And we have also heard, and it hasn‘t gotten any attention here, about how Blair purged his cabinet of anyone who was asking even, you know, the mildest of questions.  The big picture relative—

TURLEY:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  -- relative to us again, this formula that I postulated at the start of this story, that a bombshell revelation in this context, by an American, something of such import that Congress would have to start its own inquiry, and the White House be dammed.  I mean, I think it‘s plausible, but its realistic chance of happening is, what, less than 1 percent?

TURLEY:  Yes.  Well, you know, part of the problem here is that there is a collective interest in trying to keep history from knowing what happened.  The people that made these decisions have much to answer for.  There are—there are husbands and wives and there are fathers and mothers who have lost loved ones.  And they were told that their loved ones went off to war because of WMDs.

And now, we‘re hearing meetings occurring a year before even the resolution of the United Nations—I‘m sorry, six months before the resolution, a year before the war.  We‘re hearing different reasons that were put forward.  That‘s a lot to answer for.  And I think that you‘re going to find its going to be difficult to get the truth.

But I do think the truth is like water.  It tends to find its way out.  And eventually, it will.

OLBERMANN:  And how much of that water will find its way out through this British inquiry?  Because they have this access to their own classified information which—as we‘re beginning to understand—whatever information they had that they claimed was from other sources was made up here.  And it looks like whatever information we had that we claimed was from other sources was made up there.

TURLEY:  Well, we‘re not going to find clarity in the sense of a clear rationale.  I think we will find clarity into what really occurred.

I also think that we can come out of this, I hope, with an appreciation for what the framers said.  You know, in Article I, in Section VIII, the framers required a declaration of war.  And Congress has circumvented that obligation.

When you read the British accounts, it‘s clear that there was a genius in that, that we should have declarations of war, we should have the articulation of why we do things—because what we‘re learning is deeply disturbing.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Turley of George Washington University—as always, Jon, great thanks.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And here‘s a television and history tease for you.  Who was Margaret Chase Smith?  And what does Margaret Chase Smith have to do with the next two segments on COUNTDOWN, one of them about the “Tea Klux Klan”?

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OLBERMANN:  Conscience about the tea party, about this next anniversary in a moment.

First, 60 years ago today, the Republican Women‘s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, having settled for a nondescript senator from Wisconsin to speak at its Lincoln Day event got a little more than it bargained for.

Senator Joseph McCarthy looking for something, anything that might get him reelected in 1952, held up a piece of paper and intoned, “I have here on my hand a list of 205, a list of names that were made known to the secretary of state as being members of the communist party and who, nevertheless, are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.”  By the next day, the number was 57.  Within 11 days, he changed it again to 81.

And the greatest political movie of all time, the original

“Manchurian Candidate,” John Frankenheimer satirized the change by having the number changed so people would not ask if there were communists at the State Department, only how many worked there.  And had his version of John of McCarthy Senator John Irkis Iselan (ph), being unable to remember all the different numbers and his wife‘s handler permit him to pick one, 57 from that bottle of Heinz‘s 57 ketchup.

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

Sichuan Province, China, hello!  Where they have panda bears like we have, you know, squirrels.  This little fellow stuck on a cliff, too scared to come climb down, the panda remained on the steep face of the mountain for over seven hours as villagers tried to figure out what to do.  The plan: a banana on a stick.  It sounds like a “Python” sketch, it‘s just crazy enough to work, and it worked very well.  The panda swiped the banana and took off the way it came.

To Utah, where there‘s good news and bad news for former child actor Gary Coleman.  The bad news, yesterday on his birthday, he pleaded to guilty to a criminal mischief count related to a domestic incident last April.  The good news: Coleman stopped in front of cameras on his way out of court to address certain—rumors?

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GARY COLEMAN, ACTOR:  I wanted to let you know that without holding them up any more, there never has been and never will be any nude photos of Gary Coleman.  I don‘t care how much you wish it, and how much you want it, it ain‘t happening.  And unless you‘re really good at Photoshop and I find out about it, those aren‘t going to exist either.

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OLBERMANN:  So they won‘t have theirs; you won‘t yours; I won‘t have mine; but together we‘ll be fine? 

For nearly a week, some of us have said, if you invoke the literacy voting test to the Jim Crow south and you disparage voters who can‘t speak English and the crowd roars and cheers, and the guy who hired you to give the speech says it‘s great, a whole lot of you are racists.  Now, a prominent Republican has said, correct.  Innate racism, she says, next.

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OLBERMANN:  A startling assessment of the state of the GOP from one of its prominent members.  It was Maine‘s Republican senator who said—and I‘m quoting here—“I don‘t want to see the Republican party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of Calumny (ph), fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.  I doubt if the Republican party could, simply, because I don‘t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest.  Surely, we Republicans aren‘t that desperate for victory.” 

Unfortunately for the Republicans, unfortunately for the nation, the Republican senator who said that, while being from Maine, was Margaret Chase Smith, and she was speaking on June 1, 1950, delivering her historic declaration of conscience, pushing back against the fear and bigotry and smears and ignorance being practiced by her own party, by in particular, the Wisconsin Republican witch hunter, Senator Joseph McCarthy, who we mentioned, began all that 60 years ago tonight. 

Today, the GOP has plenty of McCarthys, an entire wing of them in the Tea Party.  But these days, the two Republican senators from Maine stand by quietly, bearing mute witness, apparently unconcerned with what Margaret Chase Smith would think of their silence. 

So we were surprised to discover yesterday that it is instead the daughter of a Republican senator who seems is to have taken up the mantle of Margaret Chase Smith.  Her name is Meghan McCain, guest hosting “The View” TV show.  She responded to the Tea Party Convention‘s opening speech by Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo.  While she might have been cheesed off that Tancredo, in his speech, thanked god that her father did not win, and she might have been cheesed off that an Arizona tea-bagger is about to announce his primary challenge to McCain, what she said was that she was cheesed off by Tancredo harking back fondly to the electoral strategies once used to keep poor people, specifically explicitly black people, from voting. 

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MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:  Congressman Tancredo went on TV—and he was the first opening speaker.  And he said that people who could not spell the word vote or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House.  His name is Barack Hussein Obama.  He went on to say that people at the convention should have to pass a literacy test in order to be able to vote in this country, which is the same thing that happened in the ‘50s to prevent African Americans from voting. 

It‘s innate racism.  I think it‘s why young people are turned off by this movement.  I‘m sorry, revolutions start with young people, not with 65-year-old people talking about literacy tests and people who can‘t say the word vote in English. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Tancredo, we should note, is still 64.  Theoretically, he has almost a year left in which he is eligible to start a revolution.  You‘re as young as you feel, congressman. 

Joining in with Tancredo‘s opening night race baiting and reality free xenophobia was Joseph Farrah, mastermind—that‘s the right word for it—of the political world‘s online Bigfoot and aliens tabloid, World Net Daily.  Farrah trotting out to Tea Party cheers the tired old canard of President Obama‘s birthplace.  Quote, “I say if it‘s been settled, show us the birth certificate.  Simple.” 

Here you go, Mr. Farrah.  Yes, simple‘s the word for it.  And, by the way, your own website proved it. 

Time now to turn to MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson, also, of course, associate editor, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist of “The Washington Post.”  Gene, thanks for being here tonight. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to be here, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  If you ever thought mainstream Republicans would openly reminisce about race-based election steeling, did you ever think that you would, as a grown man in the 21st century, see the once proud Republican party let it happen with the only kind of peep of integrity coming from the daughter of a senator? 

ROBINSON:  I hoped not.  Let‘s be clear, as you pointed out earlier in the program, this is naked Jim Crow racism of the kind that was practiced in this country, especially in the south, not just in the 50s, but for many decades.  People died in order that people who look like me would be able to vote without trumped up—facing trumped up literacy tests and poll taxes. 

And it—for Tancredo to say what he said is just outrageous.  It is a new low.  And I am not—you know, the Republican party does have a proud tradition.  There are a lot of Republicans who can‘t possibly believe this stuff.  But it is actually a new low in this political year.  And that is really quite something for me to say. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it fear or is it stupidity?  Fear of speaking out against this, what this mob means?  Or is it stupidity, because they haven‘t figured out a way to do it in a way that will benefit their own political aspirations, which would seem to be—there are probably 12 or 15 easy ways to come out against racism and race and ethnic baiting that might work to your benefit.  It‘s amazing they can‘t find it. 

ROBINSON:  Six of one, half dozen of the other. 

OLBERMANN:  I guess. 

ROBINSON:  I go with the profiles in cowardice theory, that they‘re afraid of offending the racist wing of the party, in violation of what I sincerely hope are their own principles.  But one has to question those principles if they won‘t stand up for them in the face of something like this.  Have we heard even from Chairman Steele, for example? 

OLBERMANN:  Meghan McCain is who we have heard from.  Now, politically, and practically speaking, is her saying this in that way, in that venue, no matter what her other complaints were about Tancredo being family in nature—is that going to cost her father votes in the primary?  And will her father care?  And are the forces of good going to defend John McCain, whether they‘re Republican or Democratic forces of good? 

OLBERMANN:  Arizona‘s a difficult state to predict.  In a real politics sense, have you to say that the racist wing of the party is energized right now, and maybe likely to turn out in the primary.  You could also point out that Arizona was a state that rejected the idea of a Martin Luther King holiday for a long time. 

On the other hand, I was out in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is something like the fifth whitest community in the nation, not long ago, delivering a speech.  They do a really huge and interesting and important Martin Luther King Day celebration every year now, that is bigger and more elaborate than most I‘ve seen in the country. 

So it‘s a funny state.  I‘m not sure that this actually will go over as well as Mr. Hayworth might want it to. 

OLBERMANN:  Briefly, Meghan McCain, Margaret Chase Smith, any similarities there? 

ROBINSON:  Well, we‘ll have to see in the fullness of time.  Maybe she‘ll run for the Senate.  But it certainly—hers is a voice of conscience and a voice of the future, what I hope would be the future for the Republican party.  And clearly the party needs such a voice right now.  It is ironic that it—that this voice comes comes not from one of the senators, one of the—or indeed anyone who has any sort of official position in the party, but from Meghan McCain.  May she continue to co-host “The View” as long as she wants. 

OLBERMANN:  They‘ll kick her out soon enough.  Not the view, the RNC. 

Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist of the “Washington Post,” as always, a great pleasure, Gene, thank you. 

Did Meghan McCain step in here too, the end of the late night wars? 

This promises to be a barren source of entertainment now.  >

The latest on the crisis in the South Dakota reservations and how you can help. 

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, why does the president call himself an eternal optimist today.  Why does he think he has ground to share with Republicans, who want him to start by killing health care reform?  Senator Ron Wyden is her special guest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The second of tonight‘s comments.  This is how bad the continuing latest humanitarian crisis has become.  At a college basketball double-header next week, they are asking fans to share your sole—S-O-L-E.  They‘re asking fans to bring shoes. 

Haiti?  South Dakota.  The shoe donations are being sought at the University of South Dakota.  And they‘re for the residents of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.  Two weeks ago, the reservations of the Dakotas were hit by blizzards and ice storms.  Twenty five hundred utility polls fell.  Electricity and water, and, thus, heat and light, were cut off.  And dozens are still cut off.  And the government has done next to nothing for the Native Americans, who, on a nice sunny spring day there, still face unemployment of 85 percent.

Doing nothing for these people, an American tradition since at least 1776.  I mentioned this in worsts last night, and many viewers advised us they were horrified.  It‘s not Haiti.  It‘s not three million people affected.  It‘s more like 50,000.  And it‘s 450 miles away from St. Paul, Minnesota. 

The most bang for your buck online source for donations we‘ve found is Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Storm Relief Emergency Assistance.  We‘ve linked to it from our website, COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com, principly because the address there is really long.  The gist is up to 25,000 dollars total, the Edith Bush Charitable Foundation will match your donations.  This is your starting point.  It‘s a two-fer if you want to help. 

The university is asking for shoes for these people.  The local energy companies are accepting donations so they can buy more propane for those people who are still without heat, for god‘s sake, in America, tonight.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Bill Carter of the “New York Times,” who has only been covering the bloodshed for 20 years, on the apparent outbreak of peace in the Jay Leno/David Letterman wars.  That‘s next, but first tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.  You‘ll remember, the record setter for longest monotone question to the president at their meeting.  Her new debt solution?  Allowing younger Americans to privatize their Social Security accounts, where they can get wiped out the next time the mortgage industry or some other form of legalized gambling wipes out another chunk of the economy.  By the way, federal budget debt is a good thing in a recession.  It‘s not a bad thing.  As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, it‘s about the same as it was in 1970, as it is right now, far less than it was throughout the Reagan administration. 

The runner up, Molly and Jimmy Rapert, daughter and son in law of Senator James Inhoffe of Oklahoma, and also their four children.  After the DC snowstorm, they happily built a big igloo at 3rd Street and Independence, South-East, with a big sign reading, “Al Gore‘s new home” and “honk if you heart global warming.” 

Well, obviously that‘s funny during a storm that killed people.  To the political statement, you do realize that it‘s climate change, where when it‘s supposed to get warm, it gets warmer, and where it‘s supposed to get cold, it gets colder.  You got that, right?  It isn‘t a freaking‘ weather forecast from Channel Four?  Grandpa Inhoffe is a cheesy politician and he doesn‘t understand this complicated stuff, right?

But our winner, David Steiner, commissioner of the New York State Department of Education.  His organization has invalidated the regent‘s exam score, the mandatory test for all high school seniors, taken by Rosa Brassero (ph), who was all ready to graduate early and go on to a technical school and then get a job as an automobile technician, but then had to miss the scheduled exam and take a make-up. 

Commissioner Steiner‘s department has thrown out the score of the make-up because it doesn‘t accept Rosa Brassero‘s excuse for missing the regularly scheduled test.  Her excuse was she had to be at a family meeting.  The meeting was at the New York City Central Intake Center.  Those bureaucrats insisted that Rosa and her mother and her brother and her sister-in-law and her two infant nieces all had to show up for a seven-hour meeting at the same time Rosa was supposed to take the Regent‘s exam or else.  The else?  They would have been homeless again.  The meeting was at the Central Homeless Family Intake Center. 

So Rosa Brassero either skipped the meeting and her family, all of them, would have been denied shelter, or she skipped the test and didn‘t graduate from high school.  There are 16,000 homeless kids in New York City.  This one just worked her way through that, a semester early.  And you clowns just told her to go jump in the river.  David Steiner, commissioner of the New York State Department of Education, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Last month, when “The Tonight Show” landed back in Jay Leno‘s lap, David Letterman was merciless, as only he could be, savaging NBC management, past and present.  Letterman took Conan O‘Brien‘s side and pummelled Leno so badly that Leno felt compelled to respond. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE LATE SHOW”:  Jay Leno said that this NBC “Tonight Show” mess is not his fault.  It‘s not his fault.  I said, I know.  I know it‘s not his fault.  But isn‘t it funny that he always turns up at the scene of the crime. 

JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  Letterman‘s been hammering me every night.  Going after me.  Kev, you know the best way to get Letterman to ignore you? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s that? 

LENO:  Marry him.  OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It was that kind of back and forth, with most of the broadsides coming from this neighborhood, that made what we all saw during the Super Bowl that much more surprising.  Letterman, in his Art Donovan (ph) jersey, and Leno in his denim shirt, flanking Oprah Winfrey on a couch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LETTERMAN:  This is the worst Super Bowl party ever. 

OPRAH WINFREY, “OPRAH”:  Now, Dave, be nice. 

LENO:  He‘s just saying that because I‘m here. 

LETTERMAN:  Oh, he‘s just saying that because I‘m here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Last night, both expanded on their brief reunion during their shows.  Leno getting a little touchy feely.  Letterman using the interlude has fodder for new material.  In a moment, Bill Carter of the “New York Times” will join me to discuss whether or not there‘s a late night truce.  First the hosts in their own words. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LETTERMAN:  We put some thought to it, and we decided maybe it would be entertaining—we get Oprah back here, and we‘re like at a Super Bowl party, the way we were before, and this time we‘ll invite Jay Leno to be on the show, because nobody will expect that it will be Jay Leno. 

Well, I mean, people thought this really was big time stuff.  I just want to take a second here now to thank the actors who played Oprah and also Jay Leno. 

LENO:  This was Dave‘s idea, and I thought, that is great.  No matter what animosity there is among comedians, a good joke is a good joke.  I thought, you know, it just makes it all go away. 

They said, we have to do this in complete secrecy.  I walk in.  I see Dave.  He puts his hand out and we shake hands.  Whatever happened for the last 18 years disappeared.  It was great to see my old friend again.  He was very gracious.  We talked about the old days.  We told some jokes.  And it was really good to see him. 

So we shoot the commercial with Oprah and everything.  And then I put my disguise on.  We sneak back.  Nobody knows.  Next day, NBC executives come to see me, “Jay, we have a problem.”  Last night, I got word Dave Letterman shot some kind of secret show.  I said, what happened? 

Well, what happened was, we know a black SUV pulled up.  There was security, a hooded figure, with a thing over his head, came in the side of the building.  They had massive security.  Who do you think it was?  We think it was President Obama. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, that tells you everything about this place.  Bill Carter, of course, is the national media reporter for the “New York Times,” also the author of the 1994 Leno/Letterman book “The Late Shift,” which turned out to be only the beginning.  He‘s good enough to join us from Burbank.  Good evening, Bill.

BILL CARTER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Was this just a good joke, as Leno put it?  Or some sort of peace offering by Letterman?  Put this in context.

CATER:  I think, certainly from Dave‘s point of view, it started as a good joke.  He liked the idea.  I think when they got together, probably there was a little raproachment in the air.  They got along.  It was a good scene.  Look, it wound up really good for all the parties, I think.  You know, 100 million people watching them on a couch together.  It was fun. 

OLBERMANN:  It was 18 years ago, though.  That‘s a great deal of time.  People have almost forgotten that Leno‘s really big first national exposure was Letterman, in a motorcycle jacket, totally counter-culture, as funny as he‘s ever been, probably as funny as any regular guest of Letterman‘s has ever been.  And I‘m including myself in that group.  I remember videotaping those appearances in the early ‘80s, to watch them again and again.  Does this raproachment mean anything, in terms of the playing field in late night? 

CARTER:  I think it doesn‘t—you know what‘s going to happen next is that Jay‘s going back.  “The Tonight Show‘s” going to be back against Dave.  And the games will be on again, in terms of them being measured against each other.  I think it‘s interesting when you talk about Leno‘s career was made really by appearing with Dave.  But Dave really became a stand-up by learning from Jay.  So they kind of have this mutual thing going on from the beginnings of their career. 

OLBERMANN:  The lumps—most of the lumps in this process, at least the public ones, have been taken by Jay Leno.  And Letterman ripped him.  Jimmy Kimmel was merciless.  The media made him the scapegoat.  And  it seems like that was, in some big totality, not entirely fair to Leno or was it? 

CARTER:  Well, look, you know, at the bottom line of this is that a network wanted to make a change.  I think, in this case, the reason there was a lot of resentment is that somebody was forced out of a job.  And all of his fans are upset. 

I think you have a real interesting generational thing going on here.  A lot of the reaction that I got to these stories came from Conan viewers saying, we‘re sick of the Baby Boom generation getting everything they want, and forcing us out.  And they want them off the stage.  And they see Jay as some kind of symbol of that.  So he‘s got that baggage that he‘s carrying.  I think it‘s going to be interesting when he goes back on the air to see if young viewers are going to abstain from watching him. 

OLBERMANN:  But do young viewers see anything still special about, A, the broadcast networks, B, that time slot?  Or is it really kind of an almost an artificial thing? 

CARTER:  Well, it‘s certainly true that the young viewers, a lot of them, watch whenever they feel like it, and they watch online, and they don‘t watch on the air.  You could say they really cost their guy Conan by not watching him on television, to a certain degree.  There‘s still a portion of the audience that‘s young and watching TV.  And whoever wins that, when they get—assuming Conan goes on, you‘re going to have a three-headed monster there.  That‘s going to be a big economic factor in this time period. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question: obviously, if not the centerpiece, certainly the most memorable thing in your book, and the movie they made out of it, was that image of Leno eavesdropping on the big conference call with al the NBC executives, some of whom I work for today.  Is there any—do you know of anything that even resembles that, in terms of pure theater, that has gone on in this whole process in the last six months at NBC?  Just tell me.  I won‘t tell anybody at home. 

CARTER:  If I did tell you, what would I put in my next book. 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s a sequel going? 

CARTER:  It‘s in the works, Keith, yeah. 

OLBERMANN:  Excellent.  That‘s the best news we‘ve heard out of the whole thing.  It really is one of the great television books, and I can only wish that everyone got to work in television, so they could have that inside appreciation for what it really means.  Good luck on the second project, and great thanks on your time here tonight, Bill Carter. 

CARTER:  Thanks a lot, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  My pleasure.

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 2,476th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. 

And now to discuss what on Earth the president could be eternally optimistic about, about bipartisan health care reform, with her guest Senator Ron Wyden, here is Rachel Maddow. 

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

END   

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