KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
First JFK‘s daughter, now his youngest brother. Two key Kennedys endorse Barack Obama.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that he‘s ready to be president on day one.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To have this man stand beside me today is more than just politics for me. It is personal.
OLBERMANN: Whether it‘s true or whether it will work, the analogy is under construction. Obama as the John F. Kennedy of the 21st century.
The Clintons counter with JFK‘s niece and with a push to recertify a decertified Democratic primary tomorrow. Do not recount but just count Florida.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will work to persuade my delegates to seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida.
OLBERMANN: What work on persuading will the other Clinton do? The Saturday sound bite that might be the last we hear from the former president for a while.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does it say about Barack Obama that it takes two of you to beat him?
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jesse Jackson won in South Carolina twice in ‘84 and ‘88, and he ran a good campaign. And Senator Obama is running a good campaign.
OLBERMANN: If that wasn‘t marginalizing Senator Obama or there wasn‘t a racial undertone to it, why did Mr. Clinton invoke Jesse Jackson, instead of another, perhaps more obvious choice?
This president‘s final State of the Union, a speech so overshadowed by the campaign that Senator McCain won‘t even be attending. He‘s in Florida, insisting the only issue now is terror, not the economy. Rudy Giuliani is there, too, and for the first time today suggesting he might drop out.
And the components of the State of the Union you will not hear about tonight, facts: like median income down; escape from poverty down; stock market, down. The only things up: how hard you are working, up; costs, up, the national debt, up; oh, and terrorism worldwide, up.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Monday January 28, 281 days until the 2008 presidential election and 47 years and eight days since John Fitzgerald Kennedy guaranteed himself, if he had not guaranteed that place previously, a place among America‘s greatest political speakers of all time.
“And so, my fellow Americans,” he said at his inauguration 47 Januarys ago, “ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
It can be argued that, since President Kennedy‘s assassination, this nation, a large part thereof, at least, has sought a successor. Some saw the late leader‘s younger brother as that man. For a time after his death in 1968, the last of the Kennedy brothers, Ted, was considered.
Today, in our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, accurately or not, successfully or not, this marked the second stage of a campaign to present Senator Barack Obama of Illinois as that successor.
Two generations of Kennedys, the Senator, Ted Kennedy, his niece, Caroline, and his son, Patrick, all joining Senator Obama on stage before a packed crowd at American University this afternoon. Those close to Senator Kennedy saying that, despite a long friendship with the Clintons, he had been frustrated with recent campaign tactics, appalled at what he saw as attacks on Senator Obama, especially by Bill Clinton.
In his remarks today, Senator Kennedy seeking to refute the distortions one by one, beginning with Senator Obama‘s stance on the war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: From the beginning he opposed the war in Iraq. And let no one deny that truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator Kennedy also taking on the charge of Senator Obama‘s perceived lack of experience, undercutting one of Senator Clinton‘s main claims in the process and doing so almost verbatim.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: I know—I know that he‘s ready to be president on day one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator Obama, meantime, drawing a link to the Kennedys that many had not known about before, making them responsible for his very existence, saying that his father never would have made it from Kenya to the United States, never would have met his mother, had it not been for the Kennedys philanthropic efforts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Part of what made him possible to come here was an effort by the young Senator from Massachusetts at the time, John F. Kennedy. And by a grant—and by a grant from the Kennedy Foundation to help Kenyan students pay for travel.
So it is partly because of their generosity that my father came to this country. And, because he did, I stand before you today, inspired by America‘s past, filled with hope for America‘s future, and determined to do my part in writing our next great chapter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: In other endorsement news, not as big a headline but perhaps greater symbolism, the author who famously named Bill Clinton the, quote, “first black president” is backing Senator Obama to be the second.
Toni Morrison explaining that her endorsement is based, not on Senator Obama‘s race, but rather, on his personal gifts, saying of Mr. Obama, quote, “In addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you [Obama] exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don‘t see in other candidates that something is a creative imagination, which coupled with brilliance, equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Wisdom is a gift. You can‘t train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace. That access can foster the acquisition of knowledge but not wisdom.”
Senator Clinton, brushing off the Kennedy endorsements today in a conference call with reporters, saying, quote, “At the end of the day this is not about anyone else other than the candidates.”
Her campaign, trying to blunt the impact of the endorsements by instructing surrogates in a memo of talking points to stress that three of Robert Kennedy‘s children are supporting Senator Clinton.
At a campaign event in Western Massachusetts, Senator Clinton shifting her focus from her chief rival in the race for the White House to the man already in the White House, President Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H. CLINTON: The day may be beautiful, and the heavens are smiling on us, because tonight will be the last time George Bush ever gives a State of the Union speech.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator Clinton also stressing those attributes that Senator Obama does not and never will have.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H. CLINTON: I will bring to the White House my perspective as a daughter, as a wife, as a mother, because that‘s never been in the White House before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: At this point let‘s call in our own Craig Crawford, also of course, a columnist at CQPolitics.com.
Craig, good evening.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, COLUMNIST, CQPOLITICS.COM: Hi.
OLBERMANN: Clearly, and again, who‘s to say now that the analogy will be ultimately apt or ultimately embarrassing? But obviously, this effort starting with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg‘s op-ed in “The New York Times” on Sunday, is to anoint Barack Obama as the heir to the Kennedys, specifically JFK. This is obviously underway.
Are there further steps? Is the goal here eventually, like, a “JFK would have voted for Obama” construction, as silly as that might sound, saying it out loud?
CRAWFORD: And what would Jackie say?
I think what‘s going to matter here, Keith, is when they take this road show out to the country. Do they have enough time for this to truly make a difference?
Obama could win this thing, but he might run out of time. It‘s short, the time is. And so getting them out on the road and with a very effective road show today, I though, if that‘s what we see in the coming days around the country.
Senator Clinton might want to get her buddy, the majority leader of the Senate, to keep the Senate very busy over the next few days and hope Ted Kennedy can‘t get out on the road too much.
OLBERMANN: Practically the endorsements are of use where? Blue collar Democrats, Hispanic voters? Is that the estimation?
CRAWFORD: Yes. Latino voters. When Hillary Clinton got the United Farm Workers‘ endorsement, which of course, goes back to Cesar Chavez, that was a very big blow to both Edwards and Obama. This might neutralize that to some—some extent.
The Hispanic, Latino voters, absolutely. Blue collar voters, older voters. I think the demographic that Ted Kennedy brings is Obama here is one that Senator Clinton has been getting, which is older voters, older women, in particular.
But I think what we have is a fascinating and very clear choice for Democratic voters. And the tension between the Clintons and the Kennedys, you know, the Kennedys—Senator Kennedy‘s the liberal lion, the liberal wing of the party, the idealist. The Clintons are the pragmatists. So—and they would argue, the winning wing of the party, who have won elections, the only Democrats to win two terms in the White House who are alive today.
So that will be the choice they make, and that‘s why Senator Clinton was talking so much about George Bush. He‘s trying to remind Democrats, “I‘m the one who can be elected here. Obama might make you feel good, but at the end of the day, I‘m the one who‘s going to get us all the way to the White House.” That‘s her message, anyway.
OLBERMANN: And the Kennedys‘ complaints about Bill Clinton. I know your perspective on this touchstone moment from over the weekend, the Jesse Jackson answer. I want that perspective. Then I have question for you. Let‘s play the tape first once more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does it say about Barack Obama that it takes two of you to beat him?
B. CLINTON: Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice in ‘84 and ‘88 and he won a good campaign, and Senator Obama is running a good campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Craig, you saw that as race-free?
CRAWFORD: Yes. I think the Clintons had every right to make an argument in that election in South Carolina that the black vote is the reason Senator Obama won that race. I thought Senator Obama directly appealed to black voters to win South Carolina, going back to when his own wife said, “Black America will wake up someday.”
The media, in constantly talking about how historic it is for Senator Obama to be a viable African-American, that makes him the black candidate. So race was already injected into this race, in my view, Keith. The Clintons didn‘t put it there. It was a political reality that they were dealing with.
OLBERMANN: But why—why not play it safe there? Why no, instead of traipsing along that edge that so many people will, rightly or wrongly, interpret as a racial reference or an attempt to marginalize what Obama did in South Carolina, why not say, “You know, John Edwards did a great job here in South Carolina in 2004 and hasn‘t won a primary since.” Wouldn‘t that just have been safer and still gotten the point across?
CRAWFORD: You know, Bill Clinton is a very competitive man. He wants to win. He wanted to explain why he didn‘t win. And that goes back to what I was saying before.
The Clintons see themselves as the winners in the Democratic Party. The Kennedys are the idealists. And that tension is going to play out throughout this race. I think at the end of the day that‘s the choice Democrats have to make: the difference between idealism and pragmatism.
You know, pragmatists like the Clintons believe that what—what works is right. The Kennedys believe what‘s right works. And that‘s the choice Democrats have to make.
OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford of MSNBC, CQPolitics, as always, thank you, Craig.
For more on the Clintons, how they got here and what they do now, let‘s turn now to our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor of “Newsweek” magazine.
Jon, thanks for coming in.
JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK”: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: How did the Clintons manage to lose the Kennedys, and what do they do about it?
ALTER: Well, first of all, it‘s extraordinary that this happened, because there was no tension at all between these families for the last 16 years. They were quite close. They even, you know, went out on the boat off Hyannisport together and, until very recently, have been plenty close.
But what happened is that, when Bill Clinton described Barack Obama‘s position on Iraq as a fairy tale, that was offensive to Ted Kennedy on a couple of different levels. He thought it was simply untrue that Obama was a flip-flopper on Iraq, and he also thought that he was starting, with that and some other comments and what some of his surrogates had said, he was starting to introduce race into this.
So a couple of weeks ago, when Ted Kennedy got a call from Bill Clinton, I learned that he got an earful on the other end of the phone from Ted Kennedy.
OLBERMANN: This didn‘t come out of nowhere. This was—there was a warning.
ALTER: Bill Clinton was trying to keep him neutral. And Ted Kennedy gave him some indications on the phone that he might not be neutral and they might be moving this direction.
Meanwhile, his niece—and Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy are very close—is moving toward Obama with the help of her children. I mean, the unsung heroes for the Obama folks in this might be Rose, Tatiana and Jack Schlossberg, who are Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her husband, Ed‘s, three teenage children. And they got very enamored of Barack Obama, the same way that Senator Claire McCaskill‘s children helped bring her along for her endorsement. So that moved Caroline, who was neutral...
ALTER: ... toward Obama and that, I think, helped convince Ted Kennedy to make an endorsement.
OLBERMANN: But it‘s one thing to be off the proverbial boat, off the Kennedys‘ yacht and in the water, as the Clintons are tonight. It‘s another for Ted Kennedy to stand up and say, “I know—I know who‘s ready to be president on day one.” That is quoting Hillary Clinton and part of the sharpest edge of the Clinton campaign against Obama and grabbing it from them and sticking them with it. Why—there seemed to be venom in this.
ALTER: Well, I don‘t know about venom. But it was very strong. I was surprised by how strong it was. I think part of it is that, when he jumps into a debate...
ALTER: ... as we know from legislation over the years, he does it really vigorously. But I also think there are these, what Lincoln called mystic cords of memory. You know, there are connections here and—in the same way that Ted Sorensen, who was JFK‘s speechwriter, saw this in Obama. I think Ted Kennedy really does—he‘s a believer now that Barack Obama is the heir to his family‘s legacy.
OLBERMANN: By no means is any of this over. This is not Obama the nominee, because Ted Kennedy has said what he has said today or what Governor Sebelius is going to say or what anyone else has said.
ALTER: Keith, the likelihood is that this is going to convention.
OLBERMANN: But what happens between now and then, regarding Bill Clinton, who clearly was the lightning rod for all this, if not the cause. Indeed, if you entirely take Craig Crawford‘s premise of all this, he‘s still the lightning rod on this. Do they have to put him in the shed? Do they have to keep him under—under a tarp until the convention?
ALTER: Well, they can‘t really control the big dog on the porch. I mean, it‘s not going to happen. And actually, the guy who led his impeachment defense, Greg Craig, who now works for Obama, he raised the question in “Newsweek,” which is if Hillary‘s campaign can‘t control him, how would Hillary‘s White House be able to control him?
But I do think you‘re going to see him tone it down. Because the polls are now showing that he hasn‘t become a liability, but he hasn‘t been helping in the last week to 10 days.
OLBERMANN: No. And that picture of President Clinton meeting as a boy President Kennedy will be of less use now, apparently.
Jonathan Alter, of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, as always, our thanks.
ALTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: One note: the Democrats face off in L.A. for their final debate for Super Tuesday, the first time since the Kennedy endorsement. This Thursday, we will have a special edition of COUNTDOWN at 10 p.m.
Eastern for complete analysis.
There‘s a good chance a hate e-mail being circulating about Barack Obama will or already has landed in your in-box, alleging that the Senator is really a militant Muslim who refuses to swear on a Bible or pledge allegiance. A Web site that tracks the popularity of urban legends puts this at the top of its list right now.
Today, “The Boston Globe” reports three federal employees in two different unidentified agencies are now under investigation for forwarding it from their government computers, a violation of a law banning civil servants from engaging in politics while on the job.
Nobody knows where the Obama smear began, but it has been promoted on right-wing Web sites. At least one official Republican Party Web site pulled it down only by the Clark County GOP in Washington with an admission that they thought it was true.
The e-mail has also spread across the globe via military e-mail, with some U.S. Army members admonished by superiors for having forwarded it. An almost literal version of an aphorism usually credited to Mark Twain but probably actually said in an 1855 sermon by Baptist preacher Charles H. Spurgeon: “A lie will go around the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”
Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani linked together, possibly for the last time. She‘s trying to make a primary out of Florida. He‘s giving hints that he is bowing out after Florida.
And speaking of bowing out, the seventh and final State of the Union address by President Bush at the top the hour here on MSNBC. Seven of them, and yes, all seven, were focused, to a degree great or small, on Iraq.
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The Democratic Party decided to strip its delegates away five months ago, and the candidates promised not to campaign there, so why is Hillary Clinton now focusing on Florida? That‘s a rhetorical question.
And how long can Rudy Giuliani last if he doesn‘t get the Sunshine State? That also is a rhetorical question. He gives a hint today, through autographed baseballs. Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Hints tonight from Rudy Giuliani that he could pack it in as early as Wednesday after the Florida Republican primary. Part of our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN. The first part, the other Florida primary. Huh?
After losing South Carolina Saturday night, Senator Clinton declared she was looking ahead to the 24 different primaries and caucuses happening over the next nine days, but she only singled out two by name: America Samoa, which has a grand total of three delegates, and Florida, which has none. Or 210.
Senator Clinton‘s push to put the 17 and a half dozen disenfranchised delegates from Florida, plus 156 more from Michigan back in play, even though the Democratic Party has repeatedly stated that won‘t happen unless there‘s already a nominee decided upon.
Senator Clinton, following up her shout-out with two fundraisers in the Sunshine State last night, where she is polling double digits ahead of Senator Obama. Then promising to return to Florida but only after the polls close tomorrow night, thus avoiding breaking the letter, if not the spirit of a promise she and the other Democratic contenders had made to not campaign in Florida after that state was stripped of its 210 delegates for having moved its primary up without the consent of the national party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H. CLINTON: The votes of the people of Florida and, of course, Michigan really matter to me. I‘m running to be the president of our entire country. I will work to persuade my delegates to seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida. A Democrat has to win Michigan and has to try to win Florida. And I intend to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The Obama campaign crying foul, accusing the Clintons for using Florida for political gain and saying in a statement, quote, “It seems like Hillary Clinton will do or say anything to win an election.” Not the first time they‘ve used that phrase.
Joining us, the political editor of NBC News, Chuck Todd.
Chuck, thanks again for your time tonight, sir.
CHUCK TODD, POLITICAL EDITOR, NBC NEWS: Good evening, sir.
OLBERMANN: Does the Obama campaign have a legitimate point on this? Did Senator Clinton ever mention the Florida vote until it became obvious that the competition is now perhaps a fight for every last delegate for months to come?
TODD: Well, what‘s interesting is that, quietly, the Clinton campaign had always been hoping Florida would count. There had been a lot of negotiations behind the scenes months and months ago, and it was always well known that the Clinton camp wanted this Florida primary to count.
They always felt good about it for the same reasons why Rudy Giuliani thinks that he was going to do so well in Florida, because there‘s a lot of New York transplants there. There‘s a heavy Hispanic population. That‘s something that Senator Clinton believes she can do well with.
So I think they‘ve always wanted to figure out a way to make Florida count. Now they really would like to, simply because they‘d like to stop some of this momentum.
But you know, the problem she has now is she‘s running against herself in Florida. She and only she is taking—wants these results to count. Well, OK. But what if she doesn‘t win by double digits? What if there is an Obama surge? I mean, you know, it‘s one of these things that the media is only going to pay attention if she doesn‘t win big.
OLBERMANN: To Mr. Giuliani in a moment, but regarding these delegates in Florida and the ones in Michigan, are they actually worth it? Are they worth what you know you‘re going to get in—I mean, it‘s in block letters now the impression being...
OLBERMANN: ... left here that the ruling—changing these rules after a game has started and is in the middle somewhere. Is the assumption in the Clinton campaign not that we‘re not going to—this awful phrase, “ends justify the means,” but instead, that ends make people forget the means?
TODD: Well, I think, look, they would hope to leave the impression that somehow maybe the vote will eventually count, which is what I think she was trying to say.
But I can tell you, the way DNC internal politics work, there is no way these delegates are going to have a vote. They may be able to get a pass to the parties at the convention, but they‘re not going to get a vote and—because they are going to—and this is really about Michigan.
I mean, the irony is I think the DNC would have let Florida be in some way, had it not been for Michigan trying to get in here. But that—that again, is way inside DNC politics there.
OLBERMANN: All right. To RNC politics. The second part of this segment, Florida, and while John McCain and Mitt Romney are each calling each other too liberal and going after each other in a way that makes the Democratic complaints look like, you know, just a gentle slap across the face from one to the other.
Rudy Giuliani finally gets the spotlight back and probably not the way he wants it. Two things from the campaign trail. He‘s in third in the polls in Florida. He would not seem to have any chance of being the winner, realistically, in Florida. And he says on the campaign plane the winner of Florida will win the nomination.
And also, when reporters got on the plane today, they found a baseball on every seat, autographed by Mayor Giuliani. Read the tea leaves here. Is he done, or did he just have a lot of baseballs left over?
TODD: Yes. Not so subtle reminders. It feels like this is—they know this is the swan song. And they want to—look, he has spent this last week wanting to be a candidate who doesn‘t leave a bad taste in the mouth of Republican voters, who still will get speaking gigs, who still will get his calls returned when he goes back to his business dealings.
This is a guy who didn‘t want to go down in a blaze of glory. He clearly was trying to, you know, get out—get out with his dignity intact. And it seems to be that that‘s how he‘s conducting himself over the next 24 hours.
OLBERMANN: Plus, he gets, then, to do fan appreciation day and hand out the autographed baseballs on the last day of the season.
Chuck Todd, political director of MSNBC and NBC News. We‘ll talk to you later, Chuck. Thanks.
TODD: OK, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Programming reminder: our coverage of the results in Florida begin Tuesday night at 6 Eastern, tomorrow. The Republican primary and the Democratic whatever it is. Chris Matthews and I at the desk, along with a cast of thousands, 6 Eastern, 3 Pacific tomorrow.
Well before that, tonight‘s State of the Union from President Bush, and before that, a number of pertinent facts you will not hear the president mention.
The Florida Republican primary is heating up. I‘m sorry—this is apparently the Tough Guy race in Staffordshire, England. The Republicans, of course, throw more mud on each other.
But first, the headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 other scandals, “Bushed.”
No. 3, Freedom of Information is Not Free-gate. Two Senators have warned that the administration plans to switch funding for handling freedom of information requests by individuals, by the media, by lawyers, from the National Archives to the Department of Justice. The problem is they have not budgeted any money in Justice to pay for that department to handle freedom of information requests, so they‘ll all just vanish.
One of the senators nothing this, Pat Leahy. The other, hard-line Republican John Cornyn.
No. 2, Torture-Gate, a lengthy analysis on the morals of advanced interrogation in the “Washington Independent” suggests that, even bigger than the question of ethics or of whether or not information revealed under torture is useful or accurate, they‘ve overlooked the bigger question. One of the creators of the CIA‘s interrogation program saying that often, interrogators didn‘t know who the detainees were.
Quote, “You don‘t know if you have Osama bin Laden or Joe Expletive the Rag Man,” unquote.
No. 3, waterboarding—No. 1, Waterboarding-Gate. Last week, he hinted his answer was finally coming, but now Attorney General Michael Mukasey suggests he may not declare waterboarding is torture or is not torture. Quote, “I didn‘t say I wouldn‘t answer it. I didn‘t say that I would.”
Mr. Attorney General, you can take down that portrait of George Orwell from your office wall now. Whether it‘s up there because, as you say, you really like his clarify of his writing or because his work serves as a cautionary reminder of the dangers of excesses by government or even if the photo just reminds you to be more like the institutionalized dictators Orwell prophesied. You‘re not in his league. Try putting up a picture of Mr. Magoo.
OLBERMANN: Yesterday, January 27th, was the 49th anniversary of the birth of one of America‘s greatest and most versatile broadcasters. Most recently from NBC‘s “Football Night in America,” Chris Collingsworth. I always like to salute Chris‘s big day because it turns out, I‘m about three hours older than he is. And we share the birth date with such notables as the German Kaiser who started the first world war, singer Margot Timmons, manager Eric Wedge of the Cleveland Indians and the guy who invented “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
On that note let‘s play “Oddball.”
That was not my impression of Chris. We begin in England where 1,000 people apparently had nothing better to do than run, crawl, climb, squelch and wade their way through the annual tough guy race, a grueling eight mile course with ice, burning tires, smoke bombs and gallons of glorious mud. And just in case all that was not enough, they had to deal with a guy wearing a “Borat” thong running alongside them.
Back to the gold old USA where our contestants wear full bikinis, unless they‘re also wearing dresses while doing push ups. That was Miss Utah‘s response to being eliminated from the Miss America contests. As a National Guard veteran, she did a better job of it than most of her fellow contestants who also felt compelled to drop and give us 20. And then she added, “I drink the milk shake, I drink it up.”
President Bush‘s last State of the Union address. He has just left the White House and is entering into the motorcade. And the states of union he will not be mentioning, Americans living in poverty up by 13 percent since 2000. Americans monthly utility bills up since 2000 by nearly a third.
And the lunatic fringer from the right wing who believes the trouble with Bill Clinton is he think he still gets the free pass from the media and the politicians that he got while president. The free pass that of course included impeachment.
These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.
The best movie scene reenactment. Angelica Ayala of Ybor City, Florida. After a large altercation outside a club, she allegedly had a “Blazing Saddles” moment. Apparently, she punched a police horse.
Number two, best way to guarantee you‘ll get yourself arrested, Ann Marie Linscott of Michigan allegedly tried to hire a hitman to kill her lover‘s wife. She offered $5,000. She prepared the name and address of her intended victim. Unfortunately for her, she was neither smart nor subtle about it. She posted the offer and the info on Craigslist.
The number one best miracle and or best recovery from worst doctors. Jerome Bartens of Great Britain diagnosed at age 2 with partial deafness in his right ear. Now at 11, he was shooting pool the other day when he suddenly heard a pop in that ear and immediately thereafter could hear perfectly. Just as soon as he pulled out from his ear something the doctors had evidently missed each time they examined him since 1978, the cotton end of a Q-tip.
OLBERMANN: As we watch Vice President Cheney arrive at the Capitol to preside in part over the State of the Union address at the top of the hour here at MSNBC. According to Republicans—there is Senator Harry Reid of the Democrats—when the current law defining federal wiretapping authority expires on Friday, it will unleash the terrorists.
But today Senate Republicans voted against pushing that day back to March in the foreign surveillance or FISA battle. Democrats wanted to extend the FISA authority another 30 days, seeking time to block immunity for the telecom companies who had helped Mr. Bush with his warrantless wiretaps.
Republicans in the Senate today joining the president in saying they would rather lose the ability to protect us than the ability to protect the telecoms and themselves. A stark statement of priorities, a historic statement about the believability of threats foreign and domestic.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the true state of the union. In all this, are we in any sense safer? The number of significant terror attacks worldwide tripled in 2004 up to 655 from the previous record of 175 the year before. Deadly terror incidents rose from 5,1000 in 2005 to 7,300 the next year. Violence in Afghanistan rose 27 percent in the same period.
In nuclear Pakistan, the State Department says the U.S. lacks sufficient information about Taliban or al Qaeda infiltration. A 2007 NIE warned al Qaeda is regenerating attack capability thanks in part to its free reign in the safe havens of Afghanistan.
Also still free today, whoever carried out the deadly anthrax mailing of 2001. And Jamal al-Badawi, the recruiter and planner of the bombing of the USS Cole. Until his death in the Iraq war, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had free reign in northern Iraq where Saddam lacked control.
The White House three times rejecting Pentagon plans to kill him. And of course Ayman al-Zawahiri and his boss Osama bin Laden, both presumably in or near Pakistan where neither U.S. nor Pakistani troops pursue them tonight.
According to the national threat advisory, our threat level today is yellow, elevated, unchanged from the day it was introduced in March of 2002 by Washington‘s own measures. This is the state of our union.
Joining us now our chief White House correspondent David Gregory.
David, thanks for being with us tonight.
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sure, good to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If you kick the tires on the FISA issue, on terrorism, counterterrorism as a whole, the car largely collapses. But the administration answers what? Go ahead, try to disprove our proving the negative? No matter what else you say we haven‘t been attacked therefore all of this has worked?
GREGORY: Well a couple of points on this. I think the argument they would make is that the United States has become a harder target for terrorists because of some of the steps that the United States government has taken post 9/11.
All of those facts that you lay out about the state of terrorism in the world are true and a lot of critics of this administration would say that judge the administration on its own record, on its results, particularly in the Middle East which they have decided to make the central front on the war on terror.
It has gotten more dangerous and indeed U.S. interests are more imperiled. As we look at Senator Barack Obama now entering the chamber, Claire McCaskill behind him has endorsed him, from Missouri. A big entrance for him after getting Ted Kennedy‘s endorsement today.
OLBERMANN: Who is standing by Senator Obama.
GREGORY: Right. The debate that indeed it is a big part of this campaign is again a question of is the U.S. safer? So again to answer your question is, they would make the argument that the United States is harder to hit. That is something.
This issue about FISA is also the ugly underbelly of process here, but the Republicans will make the argument that they want to win the war here, which is to get long-term coverage and immunity from the telecom companies and not just the 30-day battle. It doesn‘t come out very pretty when you look at the internal dynamics of it.
OLERMANN: What is the rationale? What is even the stock answer when you say we are going to take a 30-day extension and give you what you want for at least another 30 days while we continue to battle this out, when somebody points out the expiration of FISA means America is in pearl, but they would rather have it expire on Friday than extend it a month over the issue of the legal protections and the telecommunications companies? What is the actual, even the boilerplate answer to that?
GREGORY: It is interesting, Keith. I think this is part of a larger theme that we‘ll even hear more of tonight. The president on that issue, Republicans on that issue will do as they try to do on Iraq, and try to frame the debate that goes beyond this presidency. Trying to secure a FISA law that is in keeping with what the president wants and Republicans want that extend not only the FISA, the ability to get these warrants and to wiretap, but to make the telecommunications companies immune so they can try to set the argument for the president‘s successor and not just win it in short order. So this is a legislative battle that goes back and forth over attempted filibusters.
I also think you‘re going to see this on Iraq, again playing out on the campaign trail. The president tonight is going to talk about Iraq as an argument that a presence in Iraq needs to be sustained post his presidency if the United States is going to make any headway there. This after all is his legacy whether the Democrats are sort of arguing against it or not.
OLBERMANN: The vestigial element of the Bush presidency. We will have to time‘s sake David, postpone the ain‘t we got fun question, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. David Gregory at the White House. Thank you, David.
GREGORY: Sure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A state of the union without precedence since 1928. Both the president who will speak and the vice president who will sit behind him not candidates in the presidential campaign that swirl about them both.
And you booked Karl Rove for a speaking engagement and you expected him to give you the non-political speech? Might as well have asked him for a speech in Mandarin, ahead in worst persons.
OLBERMANN: As we ticktock up towards the state of the union, there is still the state of the worst persons in the world. Karl Rove in the mix tonight. Plus, the people who thought they could get Karl Rove to give a non-political speech. And then there‘s the right wing pundit who believes the only president impeached since 1968 got a pass and never had to deal with the 24-hour a day news cycle. That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Coming up to the last State of the Union address by the 43rd president of the United States, George Walker Bush. Chris Matthews joins me. And the president breaks some kind of record by devoting a large part of his speech to the subject of Iraq for the seventh consecutive State of the Union. That‘s next.
But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world. The bronze shared by the well-publicized Choate Prep School in Connecticut and Karl Rove, who had to cancel Mr. Rove‘s scheduled appearance as commencement speaker this year. He will come to campus and give an address next month instead.
But the mind boggling part of it, Choate‘s director of strategic marketing and communications Mary Verselli said Mr. Rove had been invited to talk about broader issues, not deliver a political speech. What in God‘s name made you think Karl Rove has ever thought about broader issues?
Our runner-up, Glenn Beck. On TV last Friday after somebody referenced the is Obama black enough nonsense. He says, can you imagine a white commentator saying that? Can you imagine if I had said, is Barack Obama black enough? I mean, I don‘t see that man as black.
On February 12 of 2007 on the radio he said, Barack Obama is quote, “very white in many ways. He is colorless. As a white guy you don‘t notice he is black. So he might as well be white. Do you know what I mean?”
Yes. Sometimes it is not just the dumb, it is the hypocritical.
But our winner, Mary Katharine Ham, the managing editor of the Web site Townhall.com. So lost in radicalism that its headline today insists Senator Joe McCarthy was really great and he got slandered in everything. She was on CNN over the weekend saying former President Clinton‘s controversial role in the campaign owes to the fact that is just quote, “getting used to the 24-hour news cycle. When he was president, he wasn‘t subjected to quite as much scrutiny. I think he got a lot of passes.”
Now Miss Ham, I understand that you were 15 the day that MSNBC was announced and 16 when FOX Noise signed on. But the next time you are going to say something quite this moronic, please ask somebody first. FOX did the Clinton/Lewinsky story from hot and cold running taps, 24 hours a day for two years. We did it about 22 hours a day. And CNN and all the broadcast networks and radio and Republicans washed it through Matt Drudge seven days a week. And we even the Internet back then. It ran on steam and a pass. He got a pass. He got impeached. Like Bret Baier saying Abraham Lincoln left office. He got a pass. He was impeached for less than the new guy does on your average Thursday morning. A pass! Mary Katharine Ham, tonight‘s worst person—a pass—in the world!
OLBERMANN: Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the final State of the Union address by President Bush. In a fitting bid of symbolism, we begin by telling you what will happen afterwards. Chris Matthews and I will bring you the Democrats response by Governor Sebelius of Kansas. Our interview guests are scheduled to include Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Jim Webb and many others.
As prelude to that, the speech. It can hardly be compared to that of the other recent two-term presidents, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both of whom after scandal had bounced back to victory lap status by the end of their second terms.
So more than any other president in recent memory, George W. Bush will stand before the nation tonight representing not so much the future certainly with two high volume political campaigns reducing him almost to a footnote, even tonight, he is certainly also not representing the present.
By default he has become representative of the past or rather the not-soon-enough past judging by the number - 75 percent of Americans who feel the country is on the wrong track and that includes Republicans who feel that way. Of course, some things never seem to change. An excerpt of the president‘s speech quoting “our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear. Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment so negotiation cans begin.”
Chris Matthews joins me now. And we‘ll start with Iraq, Chris. The president is expected to point to what he sees as the success of the surge. But will there be something of an ironic omission here tonight that we will not be hearing much about what the president may actually be doing right now which is to tie the hands of the next president with regard to Iraq?
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Right I think the usual definition of victory is the war is over and you have won. The war is over, that is how you know you won. If the war continues, that is usually a definition of stalemate.
Under this president, it has become a definition of success that we allow to stay in Iraq and continue fighting indefinitely. That is a strange new dispensation as to war that it continues and we continue to call it a success even though we can‘t come home.
Americans generally like to come home at the end of a war. This president has said there won‘t be an end to this war and I think that‘s a real challenge for the next president, whoever that is, to deal with that. They can‘t deal with it the way he has.
OLBERMANN: You can argue, Chris, that many of his predecessors, anybody you want, you can point to Lincoln, you can point to either Roosevelt. You can point to George Washington and say they all tried to shape what will happen when they are gone, when they are no longer in office. But have we seen presidents who have tried it in this fashion with agreements that will define the next presidency to some degree no matter which party it is?
MATTHEWS: Well Wilson tried it and failed.
MATTHEWS: With the League of Nations of course. Harry Truman was forced to leave office in ‘52. He wanted to run again, but couldn‘t because of politics. Lyndon Johnson wanted to run again and continue. He had to leave because of politics. Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr. were both thrown out of office, basically.
A lot of presidents have wanted to stay in office forever. I think Bill Clinton would have liked to have never left office. But either the constitution or the popular clamor for their removal.
I must say, this is the strongest call for change I have ever heard in my life. I hear no other voice but the word change out there, whether it is Mitt Romney who picks it up as he goes along or Barack Obama who began with that message, change is the bipartisan message and it must be seen as a rebuke to the man who is going to speak tonight. No one says, Keith, let us continue.
OLBERMANN: There is the Supreme Court led out by the Chief Justice of the United States, Mr. Roberts.
MATTHEWS: That has been a big Bush success, by the way. Look at the court. Roberts and Alito, he has definitely moved it to the right. There is no doubt. He has succeeded on that agenda for a long, many years to come.
OLBERMANN: On the issue of the economy and what has been a point of pride in an era when there have not been that many points of pride for this presidency, he is going to be forced to talk about the economy.
There is another excerpt here. Our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty, which a lot of people would say that is a period of understatement. He is going to urge Congress to pass this $150 billion package that the White House worked out with the leaders of Congress. But isn‘t this address more than any in his presidency prior to this, is it not tamed by the reality over which he has little control?
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s right. You know, so much of economic business movement is not controllable by fiscal or monetary policy. His father tried mightily to bring us recovery and didn‘t get it to the fourth quarter of ‘92 and lost the presidency. Bill Clinton was a very lucky man in many ways. He inherited a recovery which began a month before he took office and then ended the month he left office, pretty much. He is a very lucky fellow. We know that about President Clinton.
President Bush the second, George Walker Bush, has done OK. He has done OK with the economy. It‘s been strong, but who wants to leave at the bottom?
OLBERMANN: As we see the first lady and the first daughters, one who will be married in not the White House but in Texas this year, take their seats.
MATTHEWS: There is a popular person, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I was going to say, gee, maybe he wanted to let her give the speech this year.
MATTHEWS: She has managed to get through all of this as an obviously intelligent person of great loyalty of course and intelligence who comes from a very literate background, a reader. Certainly an impressive person and the kids are like all kids. They have had a mixed experience. We root for them especially the one getting married. There is something nice about that family with all we say about their politics. It is a nice family.
OLBERMANN: It certainly is—has been a less political family than the ones that preceded it, as particularly the one that preceded it. We are watching the cabinet come out. Obviously the secretary of state—
MATTHEWS: Here is a person, I‘m sorry to interrupt. But here is a person I think a lot of candidates who might win the nomination are thinking of as their VP, their running mate. I think if Barack Obama doesn‘t get the nomination on the Democratic side, you have got to wonder whether Romney or McCain would pick her as his running mate.
OLBERMANN: Chris, give me a moment. Bookkeeping, we are closing out COUNTDOWN and now we begin MSNBC‘s coverage of the final State of the Union address by President George W. Bush.
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