Guest: Chris Hayes
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
At Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the fist time, Senator Hillary Clinton actually invokes the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968 as a reason for her not to drop out of the race with Senator Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?
We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Why in the name of all that all of us hold dear, would anybody ever say anything like this? Can she in good conscious continue in the race for president after having said anything like this? Is her political career at an end?
An official statement from Senator Clinton‘s campaign: “She was simply referencing her husband in 1992 and Bobby Kennedy in 1968 as historic examples of the nominating contest going well into the summer. Any, any reading into it beyond that is inaccurate.”
Howard Fineman on the extraordinary statement and its ramifications for Senator Clinton and her presidential bid. Jonathan Alter on why—even if it were appropriate - she would say it, since it‘s not like the sudden retirement or incapacity of a candidate, would mean the Democrats would simply not run anybody.
And a Special Comment: This time Senator Clinton, you have gone too far.
Also in brief: John McCain‘s pastor disaster, he is pushing out and now rejecting Reverend Rod Parsley‘s endorsement after the “America was founded to destroy Islam” sermon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We reach the point where that kind of statement simply, I would not—I would reject the endorsement of the expression of those kinds of views.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Now the question: why did McCain wait?
All that and full coverage of Hillary Clinton‘s assassination remark and my Special Comment: Now on COUNTDOWN.
(on camera): Good evening. This is Friday, May 23rd, 165 days until the 2008 presidential election.
The afternoon beginning with the Clinton campaign strongly denying a report that it and the Obama campaign had been holding talks about exit strategies for Senator Clinton. But by late afternoon, no denial even necessary when Senator Clinton herself invoked inadvertently or otherwise, Robert Kennedy‘s assassination as a seeming reason for continuing her campaign.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator Clinton dismissing the idea of dropping out so early in an interview with the South Dakota newspaper saying, quote, “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just, I don‘t understand it.”
Later this hour, everything I do not understand about why Senator Clinton would say such a thing ever in a Special Comment.
First tonight: the details. The interview was with the editorial board of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, “Argus Leader” newspaper. It was recorded on streaming Internet video. It is a little choppy. And Senator Clinton comments on the length of the Democratic nominating contest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: People have been trying to push me out of this ever since Iowa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
CLINTON: I don‘t know. I don‘t know. I find it curious because it is—it is unprecedented in history. I don‘t understand it. And you know between my opponent and his camp and some in the media, there has been this urgency to end this. And, you know, historically that makes no sense. So I find it a bit of a mystery.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you don‘t buy the party unity argument?
CLINTON: I don‘t because again, I‘ve been around long enough. My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?
We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I don‘t understand it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Earlier tonight, here on MSNBC, Obama‘s chief strategist, David Axelrod, giving Senator Clinton the benefit of the doubt, saying he honestly did not believe Senator Clinton was citing a possible assassination as a reason for her to stay in the race. Mr. Axelrod adding that Senator Obama has always believed his opponent has every right to continue and he has not been trying to push her out as she, today, had claimed.
After an event in a supermarket in Brandon, South Dakota, Senator Clinton attempting to clarify her own remarks herself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I regret, you know, that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family, was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.
My view is that we have to look to the past and to our leaders who have inspired us and give us a lot to live up to and I‘m honored to hold Senator Kennedy‘s seat in the United States Senate from the state of New York and have the highest regard for the entire Kennedy family. Thanks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Time now to call on our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.
Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, the operative word here is assassination. She used it at least once before, as a historical marker to time two months ago, but all the references since to, even timing—to even Robert Kennedy‘s death had avoided that word. That word is a third rail word in American politics, is it not?
FINEMAN: It sure is. And it shocked her today and shocked the world of the campaign. I‘ve been on the phone and blackberrying (ph) with leaders on both camps and elsewhere. And you saw Hillary Clinton in that supermarket there looking kind of dazed herself. I think she realized that she had done something here that‘s going to be very hard to repair.
Even though David Axelrod, the leader of the Obama campaign told me in similar words, he said, “Look, I assume she didn‘t mean anything here. You know, it‘s too dark a thought to think otherwise.”
And I think most fair-minded people would say—well, let‘s give her the benefit of the doubt. At the very least though, it‘s extremely weird. I mean, as the Obama people were pointing out to me, there are plenty of other example she could have cited.
She could have cited 1984 or 1988, Mike Dukakis, she could have even talk about Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford battling it out to the floor of the convention in Kansas City in 1976. And she‘s got something on her mind there that, I think, has troubled a lot of people somehow.
OLBERMANN: She also apologized for it when she did, an apology might be too strong a term. She expressed her regrets, specifically to the Kennedy family, but not to Senator Obama, not to Senator McCain, who was another candidate in this race while this term is out there. Does that not seem to have left even the regret‘s part of the job sort of half done?
FINEMAN: Well, it was a double pass there, Keith. She not only didn‘t actually apologize to the Kennedy family, she said, “If somebody is upset about it, then I‘m sorry.” And, of course, she completely avoided the main subject here, which is the notion that she somehow even inadvertently or somehow subconsciously in some weird way, was bringing up the possibility that there might be some cataclysmic change - you know, event in the campaign here like that.
So, she didn‘t - she seems constitutionally incapable of just saying—I screwed up. And her sort of lead footedness about this here is being observed by all the people who are still undecided about whom to back. The last 200 superdelegates here, they‘ve got to be looking at this and saying - you know, this is a campaign that probably needs to be put out of its misery real soon.
OLBERMANN: What is the big picture impact here on her own supporters? Obviously, Governor Paterson of New York had already moved earlier this week to say that she was showing signs of desperation in some of the things she had said. What happens to her supporters relative to her candidacy now?
FINEMAN: Well, you haven‘t seen a lot of people rushing to the cameras to defend her here. And I‘ve heard from people in the Clinton camp who are just disconsolate. I think, they think it‘s unfair, they think it‘s clear that she didn‘t mean such a dark thought. And I think that‘s probably true, but they‘re wringing their hands and sort of staring at the ground because they know that this is the kind of slipup at this point so late in the campaign that she simply couldn‘t afford.
People have to be careful about what they say. Barack Obama took hits for the “cling to” remarks. Michelle for the “I‘m now proud of,” and on and on and on. If she‘s the consummate professional, if she‘s the one who‘s supposed to be the stronger candidate in the general election campaign, she shouldn‘t be saying something like this.
OLBERMANN: Well put from Howard Fineman of MSNBC and Newsweek.
Thank you, Howard, have a good weekend.
FINEMAN: Thank you. You, too, Keith.
OLBERMANN: There‘s something else in here, the practical politics of this. Even if this were appropriate, what on earth is she talking about?
Let‘s turn now to our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor of “Newsweek” magazine. Jon, thanks for coming in.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I don‘t understand the premise—a candidate or a presumptive has to leave the race for some reason, well, make it a good race, he wins the lottery, he‘s become king of Norway, and something positive. I don‘t know. Or even something concerned with his family‘s health, something like that.
If Senator Clinton were to bow out and suddenly the Democratic nomination were open again at any point up to the election, could she not step back in? Why make a reference like this if that‘s the case?
ALTER: Well, she could step back in, but you know, if she had bowed out before there were primaries and hadn‘t gone back in in time, you know, there are situations like this. For instance, when Tom Eagleton was forced off the in 1972 where the Democratic National Committee then had to decide.
The delegates would figure out, you know, who to vote for, and if she—if something awful happened to Senator Obama, which is the subtext of what this is we‘re talking about here, you know, she could have gotten back in and would have almost certainly become the nominee. Although, perhaps, not if she had said something like this.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Howard made a great point. The other practical political issue in this, the invoking of the assassination of RFK in June as a landmark, as a fixed time in the process, or even her husband clinching in June of 1992 -- it‘s apples and oranges historically, isn‘t it? Because in ‘92, the Iowa caucuses were on the 10th of February; in 1968, New Hampshire was March 12th. June then is not June now.
ALTER: Right. The other thing that‘s really important to understand is the first part of her answer where she referred to her husband, that somehow, like he didn‘t clinch the nomination until June of 1992 is preposterous. He had had the nomination wrapped up for weeks by that point. Now, because California didn‘t vote until June, as a technical matter, he wasn‘t over the top, but the race was long since over.
And so, you know, she‘s—I do compare it a little bit to what happened with the Bosnia business. You know, you do have to say that fatigue is a factor. I don‘t think any of us could have handled this, you know, this kind of campaign and the stresses that it puts on us. I think, you do sometimes hold people too accountable for their verbal gaffes, but you do have to wonder what is going on inside her head.
And a lot of her reason for staying in this race was not
necessarily an expectation that Barack Obama would be assassinated but the
expectation that something cataclysmic would happen and you have to argue
is - you have to wonder, is it worth hurting the Democratic Party for the
possibility that something cataclysmic of any type, whether violent or
gaffe by Obama or something -
OLBERMANN: Scandal of some sort.
ALTER: Something happening, should she put the Democratic Party through all of this over the last six week, eight weeks, just on the off chance that something could happen. And you can tell that that was in her head.
OLBERMANN: But where is her campaign, never mind her head right now?
ALTER: Her campaign is over. Look, I mean, she was not going to get put over the top with the superdelegates with the big victory in Puerto Rico. There‘s nobody really as a practical matter left to vote now. Montana and South Dakota are tiny and Puerto Rican votes don‘t count in a general election.
She‘s not—she‘s not going to convince the superdelegates. She has lost this nomination. And she has probably lost her opportunity which was small to begin with of being the vice presidential nomination.
OLBERMANN: Right, that flew out the window, too, today.
Our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor of “Newsweek” magazine. As always, Jon, thanks for coming in.
ALTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Is there any way to take that out of context? For there be a justification of what Senator Clinton said and what was implied by raising the term - assassination? And what is the right thing for her to do now?
Historian Doug Brinkley, and later: my Special Comment.
OLBERMANN: Even if she was, as she claims merely referencing the
length of the nominating process, is there any excuse for also referencing
assassination? Assassination and American political history and why—any
reference to it is a horror, evoking horror‘s past.
Contrary to headlines, there has been no apology, only the expression of regret to the Kennedys, no reference to Obama, and apparently, no consideration that a word like the one she used could increase the danger, not just to Obama but to Senator McCain and even to herself.
A Special Comment ahead.
And Gitmo is like college, gay marriage is like the holocaust, and we‘re driving off the NAFTA super highway—things that people said that put them in some running for tonight‘s Worst Persons honor.
OLBERMANN: It‘s a matter of hours now since Senator Hillary Clinton invoked the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in discussing the continuation of her own campaign and then said she regretted if, especially as far as the Kennedy family was concerned.
In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Let‘s repeat the exact context, speaking to the editorial board of the “Argus Leader” newspaper of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, regarding calls for her to drop out of the race, Senator Clinton said that, quote, “People have been trying to push me out of this race ever since Iowa.” Asked repeatedly why and finally did she buy the party unity argument. Her answer, quote, “I don‘t because again, I‘ve been around long enough. You know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just don‘t understand it. You know, there‘s lots of speculation about why it is.”
Joining me now for some greater perspective, professor of history at Rice University, presidential historian: Douglas Brinkley. He‘s also the editor of the “Reagan Diaries,” out in a new box set this fall.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
PROF. DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, RICE UNIVERSITY: Thanks for having me on, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Even with every benefit of the doubt, factoring in fatigue, thoughtlessness, carelessness or that this wasn‘t an inartful way of trying to make some sort of point about a timeline in a nomination process—how does any candidate say something like this and remain a candidate?
BRINKLEY: Well, I don‘t think she‘ll be a candidate for long. I mean, Hillary Clinton‘s been in a box for a while. She‘s looking for a rationale for her campaign. We know she‘s been fighting for Michigan and Florida, Keith. And I think this shows how desperate her mindset has gotten.
She‘s really trying to say bad things have happened in June, so I‘m going to stay in the race. But as you rightly pointed out, you get out and if something bad ever happens, you can always reenter, be brought to a nominating committee in Denver. So, she made a very grim mistake today and there‘s really no excuse for it. And I think it‘s doing great—it will be seen as doing great damage to her persona and her biography.
OLBERMANN: For something this politically and historically charged, does the context - does the intent really matter or is this a stand alone comment, is that the real box that she‘s in from what happened today?
BRINKLEY: I think we‘d like to think this was just a mistake, fatigue. But she had floated something similar in March to “Time” magazine. So, this idea has been in her mind for a while that—but for her to articulate something that dark means she‘s—she‘s no longer really in the game.
And I think that somebody has to intervene here. People that love her and care about her, and say—look, it‘s one thing to be the type - to be the hard fighting gal who‘s not going to give up and, you know, no retreat; it‘s another thing when you make a comment like you did with “USA Today” which created a racial division and then you make a comment like this about Robert Kennedy‘s assassination.
This is not Hillary Clinton at the top of her game. She should get out when she‘s on top. She‘s everyday losing credibility with people.
And I‘m afraid, Keith, you can‘t make Leno and Letterman types, can‘t even make a joke about the latest comment because it‘s just so dark. So, it‘s almost become now a kind of pathology we‘re dealing with, the humor of her not quitting is starting to not even be funny anymore.
OLBERMANN: Yes, there‘s an awful sadness to this after today. Give me some context on though your bread and butter here—why a political figure in this country should never use that word “assassination”? Is there any way to overstate the corniciousness (ph) of the threat of assassination in our political history?
BRINKLEY: No, and you know, it‘s not just the Kennedys or Martin Luther King. We‘ve had, you know, attempted assassinations forever. And look at the black community with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, losing their two leaders. The word assassination in a context where you‘re working against Barack Obama right now, it‘s really bad taste.
And I‘m troubled that she didn‘t today come out and do the whole mea culpa apology but instead kind of did a “namby-pamby” - well, if I offended somebody. Well, you offended everybody, so, come out and try to come clean on it.
So, again, I think it‘s somebody who‘s in a bit of a depression and a meltdown who‘s unable to, you know, represent the best side of her nature, which we know, because she‘s been a good senator, she‘s been a spirited person. But this was the low of her campaign thus far and really of her political career.
OLBERMANN: And never referencing Senator Obama in that sort of half-baked apology, either?
BRINKLEY: Well, I think you said it. There‘s something sad about it. When you heard her that she did it, you recognize, this is something who is a master politician and great senator, somebody who if she got out of this race and Obama lost could win or win the nomination in 2012, Senate majority leader, possible V.P.
And instead, you feel things going down the drain here at end - you know, this Friday, and I think, her best bet is tomorrow to do something that‘s a motive and so—that she realizes just how insensitive this remark was.
OLBERMANN: Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University, presidential historian extraordinaire. Thank again you for your time, sir.
BRINKLEY: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Tonight‘s Special Comments: Senator Clinton has been for given for everything in this campaign, but this, this is too much.
First, some needed levity. You take your troubles out on the bucket and the bucket fights back.
OLBERMANN: Bushed in a moment and a mighty mustached maniac at the State Department.
First, on this date, May 23rd in 1969, the British Broadcasting Corporation had the foresight to give six of the world‘s funniest and most creative people their program, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and the late Graham Chapman. Today is the 39th anniversary of the day the BBC ordered the first 13 shows of “Monty Python‘s Flying Circus.” And the makers of spam are forever grateful.
Let‘s play Oddball.
In sports, U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, White Sox against the Indians and it was frustrating night for slumping Indians catcher, Victor Martinez, so frustrating after that out, he went into the dugout and kicked an empty bucket and the bucket won. Martinez was forced to sit on the bench while the Cleveland trainer performed a bucketectomy (ph) and the opposing bench mocked him mercilessly.
Next time do the simple thing, Victor, punch a wall and break your hand.
To a taxi cab in West Palm Beach in Florida with driver, Dan Summers (ph), and his co-pilot, Rambo the cat. Summers (ph) said he started bringing “Rambo” to work because he was never able to be with him at home. The pair now work as a team, picking up and dropping off customers who don‘t seem to mind.
Of course, Oddball would like to remind Dan Summers (ph), to never let the cat drive. We point to the cautionary tale of Toonces, the driving cat, and gruesome ending he met—Toonces, look out.
Senator John McCain finally kicks Reverend Rod Parsley to the curb along with John Hagee—but why did this take so long? And why if he is apparently in good health, why all the secrecy surrounding his medical records?
And: Staying in Gitmo is just like joining a fraternity, so says one of the man in-charge of it—perhaps a little too much on the paddling and the blindfolds and the shackles at this fraternity. Worst Persons is ahead.
But first, the headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandals—Bushed.
Number three: Torture-gate. Secretary Rice all but admitting what we already knew—the administration broke the law in favor of torturing alleged terrorists—telling a town hall meeting in Mountain View, California, that, quote, “The fact is that after September 11th, whatever was legal in the face of not just the attacks of September 11th but the anthrax attacks that happened. We were in an environment in which saving America from the next attack was paramount.”
So, to save America, they ignored everything that makes America America, and broke the law while they did so. And since you mentioned the anthrax, and we got some of it in this office as nearly seven years ago. How is that investigation going?
Number two: We support the troops by not actually supporting them- gate. President Bush explaining why he strongly opposes giving our nation‘s soldiers a mere 3.9 percent pay raise rather than a 3.4 percent raise, writing in a statement of administration policy that such an increase is quote, “unnecessary.”
Unnecessary - unlike the 165 billion Mr. Bush wants to continue his war to continue putting our troops in danger than (ph) we give them a little more money to support their families while they return on their third, fourth, fifth or sixth trip to Iraq—that is unnecessary.
Number one on a lighter note: Mustache-gate. Back in 2003, the administration redecorated the walls outside the press briefing room on the second floor of the State Department, replacing historic photographs of American diplomacy in action through the ages with big glossy photos of Mr. Bush, Miss Rice and Mr. Cheney, et al, pursuing their notion of diplomacy.
Big photos, you know, like the Soviets used to do. Now, some unknown State Department employee has finally treated these photos with the respect they deserve, by and one of the greatest of American traditions, drawing upon the said photographs, rich, full and majestic mustaches.
OLBERMANN: John McCain, body and mind, front and center tonight, as he has now dropped both of his prominent Evangelical endorsers and also let the media see hundreds of pages of records about the state of his physical well-being. Our number three story tonight, we begin with the body; and despite McCain‘s past boasting about his openness, he only gave the media three hours to review 1,173 pages of material, by our calculations about nine seconds per page.
The campaign restricted the records to 20 reporters, all convening in one room at a resort in Fountain Hills, Arizona. No photo copy of the documents, no cameras or cell phones, note taking could include the use of computers, a useful skill if you could type one ninth of a page per seconds.
The headline on the substance, no headline, no previously unknown ailments, but details of treatment of his known health problems, including regular checks for any recurrence of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. McCain also suffering from arthritis and physical limitations related to his torture in Vietnam.
Doctors also emphasize just how good a heart McCain has, literally, which brings us to the quality of that organ metaphorically. When asked last night about his renunciation of Pastor John Hagee‘s endorsement, McCain gave a remarkable answer, remarkable not for his condemnation about what Hagee said about Jews, that Hitler was sent by God to push Jews into Israel, but remarkable because the question was why this comment led McCain to drop the endorsement when other Hagee comments about other people had not.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just think that the statement is crazy and unacceptable. And certainly Reverend Hagee, Pastor Hagee, is entitled to his views, but we‘ve reached a point where that kind of statement simply I would not—I would reject the endorsement of the expression of those kinds of views.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Not crazy, therefore, not unacceptable, therefore, the comments Hagee made that McCain knew about while keeping his endorsement about women on PMS worse than terrorists or dogs, the Catholic Church, the great whore, in Hagee‘s words, and, of course, Hagee‘s infamous assessment of Hurricane Katrina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HAGEE, PASTOR: I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to god and they were recipients of the judgment of god for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally, that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came.
(END VIDEO CLIP
OLBERMANN: McCain last night also dropped the endorsement of Pastor Rod Parsley after ABC News aired the video of a Parsley sermon in which he called Islam an anti-Christ religion and said America was founded in part to destroy Islam, comments the McCain campaign must have known about before last night, in so much as they were reported months ago in the national magazine “Mother Jones” and subsequently on this news hour.
At this point, let‘s turn to Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine. Thank you for your time, tonight, sir.
CHRIS HAYES, “THE NATION”: Thank you for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Why the tight fisted approach to these medical records, first of all? Does that suggest a McCain similarity with a certain Mr. Bush?
HAYES: You know, I think more than anything it showed a tremendous amount of press saviness on there part. Look, it‘s the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. This is clearly an issue. It‘s something that‘s been kind of festering and building for a while. Why not pick the day people are least likely to pay attention and then restrict the parameters in which the media can look at it to three hours.
They got exactly what they wanted. The AP headline was, McCain in good health or heart in good shape, or whatever it was. It shows a tremendous amount of saviness, something that was developed over these last years by the Bush administration, in terms of restricting information to produce those kinds of results.
OLBERMANN: And I guess Senator Clinton inadvertently helped him out too today. McCain turns 72 over the summer. Ronald Reagan was 76 when he left office. Does that simple fact trump whatever health specifics are in this report?
HAYES: I think it does to a certain level. I‘m a little surprised, actually. I think going into this election I didn‘t think age was going to be a big factor. But I have heard it from a lot of people, particularly from senior citizens, who kind of have a subjective sense of their own health and the amount of energy that must be required to run for president and are a little skeptical.
The fact of the matter is, look, if they want to open up the front of experience on Barack Obama, then the flip side of that is John McCain‘s age. I don‘t think the election is going to be decided on it in either direction. It will be decided on Iraq and the economy. But it‘s not something they can talk about in attacking Obama and not have to defend themselves.
OLBERMANN: The pastor disasters now, if nothing sticks from this, does that suggest that people don‘t believe that he was in any way, shape or form lined up with these guys on the Evangelical right? And regarding his support from that base, could that be the biggest headline in that story, that nobody is buying this one way or the other?
HAYES: It might be. In some senses, it‘s the fact he isn‘t lined up with them that makes the entire exercise so cynical. Right? Look, we know John McCain doesn‘t believe that god sent Hitler to Earth to force Jews to go to Israel. It‘s clearly ludicrous. Nobody would associate McCain‘s beliefs. But McCain‘s people knew exactly who they were dealing with when they courted these endorsements.
The point is that we‘re electing someone. We‘re not just electing an individual. We‘re electing an entire coalition that comes with a lot of baggage. What we are seeing right now is this very uncomfortable relationship between McCain and the baggage that he‘s bearing. But he had to embrace it to get the nomination.
OLBERMANN: And this bit of baggage here, “Huffington Post” reporting that two of his campaigners, Senators Lieberman and Graham, are also part of this group attacking Obama, and that violates the McCain conflict of interest policy for his staff. What now?
HAYES: Look, this is going to play a huge role. We saw what 527s did in 2004. Obviously, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were the most well-known example. While both candidates have made noises about the fact they want to control their own messages; they don‘t want these independent groups mucking around. Senator Obama has done a really good job of squashing the fund raising for the groups, while we are seeing these 527s on the right fester and grow and even have members of McCain‘s own campaign on board.
I think John McCain understands full well, he cannot win this election unless he has the aid of Swift Boat like groups out there doing their dirty work.
OLBERMANN: And their votes too. Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation Magazine,” thank you. Have a good weekend.
HAYES: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Marrying same sex couples, officiating at the marriages, is like murdering millions of Jews. So says a group in whose own name is a claim that it is concerned for children and families. Worst persons ahead.
And making assassination references as the rational for staying in a presidential race. No, I cannot and I will not believe she has hoped for such a thing. But what she hopes and what she means is essentially no longer relevant. A Special Comment ahead.
OLBERMANN: We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. Senator Clinton‘s unfathomable invocation of this nation‘s most painful legacy, and her almost more unfathomable non-apology apology; a Special Comment ahead. But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, our worst persons in the world.
The bronze to a group calling itself the Campaign for Children and Families, reacting to the California court decision to allow same sex couples the same rights as everyone else, this group wrote, rather, on its website, quote, “ask your county clerk if they were a Nazi officer during World War II and had been ordered to gas the Jews, would they?”
I don‘t know who the families are in your campaign for children and families, but they are obviously not American families. There‘s seemingly evidence here that they are not even human families.
Runner-up, Lou Dobbs, who‘s been perpetuating the fear-mongering myth that someone out there is secretly planning to build an actual NAFTA super highway from Mexico to Canada. When called on this BS by MediaMatters.com, who asked for evidence of this so called super highway, Dobbs turned an even more modeled shade of purple and said, quote,” the evidence is straight forward,” adding,”we haven‘t enough time for this,” and winding up to, “you are a left wing advocacy group. You‘re charging nonsense.” And topping it all off with, “I reject it. I reject you. And I reject your position.”
Remember, Lou, if there is a NAFTA super highway, it will be easier for you and your equestrian daughters to get from horse event to horse event where the dung from their six-figure horses will be picked up by those very undocumented immigrants whose presence here you decry five nights a week and then under right and depend on the other two nights a week.
But our winner, Rear Admiral Mark Busby, the commander of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo. In a conference call with those who write about defense matters, he told blogger Andrew Lubin (ph), quote, “we don‘t have any solitary confinement down here at Guantanamo. What we have is single cells. There‘s one person to a cell. All the cells are all right next to each other.”
Lubin replied, “that‘s like having a single apartment in a fraternity house.” To which Rear Admiral Busby said, “pretty much.”
Imprisonment without trial, without access to an attorney, often on specious charges of terrorism, and, of course, that was the plot to “Animal House,” wasn‘t it?
Rear Admiral Mark Busby—that‘s Rear Admiral Mark Busby, today‘s Worst Person in the World!
OLBERMANN: Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on Senator Clinton‘s assassination remark to the editorial board of the Argus Leader Newspaper of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Once again, it was this: asked if her continuing fight for the nomination against Senator Obama hurts the Democratic party, she replied, quote, “I don‘t, because, again, I have been around long enough. You know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just don‘t understand it. You know, there‘s lots of speculation about why it is.”
The comments were recorded and we showed them to you earlier and they are online as we speak.
She actually said those words.
Those words, Senator?
You actually invoked the nightmare of political assassination?
You actually invoked the specter of an inspirational leader, at the seeming moment of triumph for himself and a battered nation yearning to breathe free, silenced forever?
You actually used the word “assassination” in the middle of a campaign with a loud undertone of racial hatred -- and gender hatred—and political hatred?
You actually used the word “assassination” in a time when there is a fear, unspoken but vivid and terrible, that our again-troubled land and fractured political landscape might target a black man running for president?
Or a white man.
Or a white woman!
You actually used those words, in this America, Senator, while running against an African-American man against whom the death threats started the moment he declared his campaign?
You actually used those words, in this America, Senator, while running to break your “greatest glass ceiling” and claiming there are people who would do anything to stop you?
Senator—never mind the implications of using the word “assassination” in any connection to Senator Obama—
What about you?
You cannot say this!
The references, said her spokesperson, were not, in any way, weighted. The allusions, said Mo Elleithee are, “—historical examples of the nominating process going well into the summer and any reading into it beyond that would be inaccurate and outrageous.”
I‘m sorry. There is no inaccuracy. Not for a moment does any rational person believe Senator Clinton is actually hoping for the worst of all political calamities. Yet the outrage belongs not to Senator Clinton nor her supporters, but to every other American.
Firstly, she has previously bordered on the remarks she made today, then swerved back from them and the awful skid they represented.
She said, in an off-camera interview with “Time” on March 6, “Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn‘t wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June, also in California. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual. We will see how it unfolds as we go forward over the next three to four months.”
In retrospect, we failed her when we did not call her out, for that remark, dry and only disturbing, inside the pages of a magazine. But somebody obviously warned her of the danger of that kind rhetoric. After the Indiana primary, on May 7th, she told supporters at a Washington hotel:
“Sometimes you gotta calm people down a little bit. But if you look at successful presidential campaigns, my husband did not get the nomination until June of 1992. I remember tragically when Senator Kennedy won California near the end of that process.”
And at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on the same day, she again avoided the word assassination: “You know, I remember very well what happened in the California primary in 1968 as, you know, Senator Kennedy won that primary.”
On March 6th, she had said “assassinated.”
By May 7th, she had avoided it. Today, she went back to an awful well. There is no good time to recall the awful events of June 5th, 1968 in Los Angeles, of Senator Bobby Kennedy, happy and alive, perhaps for the first time since his own brother‘s death in Dallas in 1963, galvanized to try to lead this nation back from one of its darkest eras, only to fall victim to the same scourge that took that brother and Martin Luther King.
There is no good time to recall this. But certainly to invoke it two weeks before the exact 40th anniversary of the assassination is an insensitive and heartless thing. And certainly to invoke it three days after the awful diagnosis, and heart-breaking prognosis, for Senator Ted Kennedy is just as insensitive, and just as heartless. And both actions open a door wide into the soul of somebody who seeks the highest office in this country, and through that door shows something not merely troubling, but frightening, and politically inexplicable.
What, Senator, do you suppose would happen if you withdrew from the campaign, and Senator Obama formally became the presumptive nominee, and then suddenly left the scene? It doesn‘t even have to be the “dark curse upon the land” you implied today, Senator, nor even an issue of health. He could simply change his mind, or there could unfold that perfect-storm scandal your people have often referenced, even predicted. Maybe he could get a better offer from some other, wiser, country.
What happens then, Senator? You are not allowed back into the race? Your delegates and your support vanish? The Democrats don‘t run anybody for President?
What happens, of course, is what happened when the Democrats‘ vice presidential candidate in 1972, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, had to withdraw from the ticket after it had been proved he had not been forthcoming about previous mental health treatments. George McGovern simply got another vice president.
Senator, as late as the late summer of 1864, the Republicans were talking about having a second convention to withdraw Abraham Lincoln‘s re-nomination and choose somebody else, because until Sherman took Atlanta in September it looked like Lincoln was going to lose the election to George McClellan.
You could hypothetically suspend your campaign, Senator. There‘s plenty of time and plenty of historical precedent, Senator, in case you want to come back in, if something bad should happen to Senator Obama. Nothing serious, mind you. It‘s just like you said, “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”
Since those awful words in Sioux Falls, and after the condescending, buck-passing statement from her spokesperson, Senator Clinton has made something akin to an apology, but without any evident recognition of the true trauma she has inflicted.
“I was discussing the Democratic primary history, and in the course of that discussion mentioned the campaigns both my husband and Senator Kennedy waged California in June in 1992 and 1968,” she said in Brandon, South Dakota. “I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nomination primary contests that go into June. That‘s a historic fact.
“The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy. I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, particularly for the Kennedy family, was in any way offensive, I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.”
“My view is that we have to look to the past and to our leaders who have inspired us and give us a lot to live up to and I‘m honored to hold Senator Kennedy‘s seat in the United States Senate in the state of New York and have the highest regard for the entire Kennedy family. Thanks.”
Not a word about the inappropriateness of referencing assassination.
Not a word about the inappropriateness of implying—whether it was intended or not—that she was hanging around waiting for somebody to try something terrible.
Not a word about Senator Obama.
Not a word about Senator McCain.
Not I‘m sorry.
Not I apologize.
Not I blew it.
Not please forgive me.
God knows, Senator, in this campaign, the nation has had to forgive you, early and often. And despite your now traditional position of the offended victim, this nation has forgiven you. We have forgiven you your insistence that there have been widespread calls for you to end your campaign, when such calls, in fact, had been few. We have forgiven you your misspeaking about Martin Luther King‘s relative importance to the Civil Rights movement.
We have forgiven you your misspeaking about your under-fire landing in Bosnia. We have forgiven you insisting Michigan‘s vote wouldn‘t count and then claiming those who would not count it were Un-Democratic.
We have forgiven you pledging to not campaign in Florida and thus disenfranchise voters there, and then claim those who stuck to those rules were as wrong as those who defended slavery or denied women the vote.
We have forgiven you the photos of Osama Bin Laden in an anti-Obama ad.
We have forgiven you fawning over the fairness of Fox News while they were still calling you a murderer. We have forgiven you accepting Richard Mellon Scaife‘s endorsement and then laughing as you described his “deathbed conversion.”
We have forgiven you quoting, the electoral predictions of Boss Karl Rove.
We have forgiven you the 3 a.m. phone call commercial.
We have forgiven you President Clinton‘s disparaging comparison of the Obama candidacy to Jesse Jackson‘s.
We have forgiven you Geraldine Ferraro‘s national radio interview suggesting Obama would not still be in the race had he been a white man.
We have forgiven you the dozen changing metrics and the endless self-contradictions of your insistence that your nomination is mathematically probable rather than a statistical impossibility. We have forgiven you your declaration that some primary states count and some really don‘t.
We have forgiven you exploiting Jeremiah Wright in front of the editorial board of the lunatic-fringe “Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.” We have forgiven you exploiting William Ayers in front of the debate on ABC. We have forgiven you for boasting of your “support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans.”
We have even forgiven you repeatedly praising Senator McCain at Senator Obama‘s expense, and at your own expense, and at the Democratic ticket‘s expense.
But Senator, we cannot forgive you this. “You know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”
We cannot forgive you this, Senator, not because it is crass and low and unfeeling and brutal. This is unforgivable, because this nation‘s deepest shame, its most enduring horror, its most terrifying legacy, is political assassination. Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy. And but for the grace of the universe or the luck of the draw, Reagan, Ford, Truman, Nixon, Andrew Jackson, both Roosevelts, even George Wallace.
The politics of this nation is steeped enough in blood, Senator Clinton. You cannot and must not invoke that imagery anywhere at any time!
And to not appreciate, immediately—to still not appreciate tonight just what you have done today is to reveal an incomprehension of the America you seek to lead. This, Senator, is too much because a senator, a politician, a person who can let hang in mid-air the prospect that she might just be sticking around, in part, just in case the other guy gets shot has no business being, and no capacity to be, the President of the United States.
Good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.