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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Monday, August 11

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guest: Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, Flynt Leverett, Jonathan Alter, Paul F. Tompkins

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

The presumptive nominee gets a little presumptuous.  He trots out the flag props and delivers the grave policy warning about the conflict in Georgia, while he‘s dismissal of Obama‘s international trip as “too presidential too soon” still echoes.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin must understand the severe and long-term negative consequences that their government‘s actions will have for Russia‘s relationship with the United States and Europe.


OLBERMANN:  Trying to turn death near the Black Sea into political points at home.  Oh, and some of the rest of his speech sounds a lot like what‘s written in the Georgia entry in wikipedia.

That odd Republican rumor resurfaces, that John McCain will announce at his convention that he would serve only one term.  Odd because even he said, “You would be electing an instant lame duck.”  Yet, his campaign manager still flirts.


RICK DAVIS, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  You‘re going to have to come to the Republican convention to find out what‘s going to happen there.  And I think everybody should tune in, because it‘s going to be an excellent event and very interesting to all.


OLBERMANN:  If the convention happens, the Republicans fell $10 million short of what they need at the stadium.  So, they turn to the guy who just traded for Brett Favre.

The president‘s extraordinary interview at the Olympics—America doesn‘t have any problems and nobody told him there would be actual questions.


BOB COSTAS, SPORTSCASTER:  Are you going to go to a few more events before you leave?

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  I‘m going to swimming here—if you‘d ever let me off this set.


OLBERMANN:  And I got to get back there and wave the flag.  The flag - Mr. President, you‘re holding our flag backwards.

Worst: Sean Hannity.  You can‘t point to a single instance where he or talk radio or any other major Republican has made an issue of Obama‘s race, except March 2nd, quote, “Do the Obamas have a race problem of their own?”  Sean Hannity.  Ad wars.  I‘ll see your Britney-Paris and raise you a Jay Leno.


NARRATOR:  For decades, he‘s been Washington‘s biggest celebrity.


NARRATOR:  And as Washington embraced him, John McCain hugged right back.


OLBERMANN:  But who will get the coveted endorsement of Angelina Jolie?  She‘s nearing a decision.  But you, guys, don‘t stand too close you might wind up being adopted.

Now, seriously.  Mr. President, the other way around.  All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Monday, August 11th, 85 days after the 2008 presidential election.

With hundreds of Americans in harm‘s way, with the Russian invasion today, bringing all-out war to the soil of a strategic U.S. ally, with Russia blasting America for helping that ally, with thousands dead in just the past five days, we now have our first real-time test to how the presidential candidates would respond to a serious global crisis.

Our fifth story tonight: After suggesting his opponent was acting “too presidential too soon,” John McCain has done some acting of his own, while letting his top foreign policy advisor continue to act as a lobbyist for one of the countries at war.

In supposedly swing state Pennsylvania today, McCain adopted presidential imagery and gave a presidential speech in appearance if not delivery, about today‘s invasion of Georgia, a much smaller neighbor that broke away from Moscow in the ‘90s and has been moving away politically further for several years.

But McCain didn‘t address questions such as—why did the U.S. permit Georgia to march last week into the capital of South Ossetia, one of Georgia‘s two breakaway regions, both with strong ties to Moscow, which claimed Georgia‘s move threatened thousands of Russian citizens there?  Why did the U.S. knowingly provoke Moscow for years by building up Georgia‘s military?

Why did the vice president talk about making sure Russia was not unanswered when we have no intention to go to war with them to say nothing of having no troops?  And why is McCain‘s top foreign policy advisor still Randy Scheunemann—while his company is still paid to lobby for Georgia?  Instead, McCain rattled sabers as if voters would have already said they were his to rattle.


MCCAIN:  This would be unacceptable to all the Democratic countries of the world and should draw us together in universal condemnation of Russian aggression.  Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin must understand the severe and long-term negative consequences that they‘re government‘s actions will have for Russia‘s relationship with the United States and Europe.


OLBERMANN:  By contrast, in calling for a return to the status quo before Georgia marched in to South Ossetia, Obama used language rejecting McCain‘s geopolitical simplicity, suggesting that Georgia also stepped out of line.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Russian peacekeeping troops should be replaced by a genuine international peacekeeping force.  Georgia should refrain from using force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and a political settlement must be reached that addresses the status of these disputed regions.


OLBERMANN: McCain‘s language, meanwhile, was echoed by the architects of the Iraq war.  Vice President Cheney is saying, quote, “Russian aggression must no go unanswered.”

Fellow neocon, William Kristol arguing that Georgia‘s participation in Iraq means, quote, “We owe Georgia a serious effort to defend its sovereignty.  Surely, we cannot simply stand by.”

And troubling as the neocon echoes are, perhaps more embarrassing two elements of McCain‘s speech, one, this report from wherein a wikipedia editor pointing out, at least passages from the McCain‘s speech today, that it says most people would consider to have been derived directly from wikipedia.  Maybe he can use the Internet.

And point two about the speech and its echoes of Iraq, offered without comment at this moment of candor.


MCCAIN:  We have other important interests, strategic interests at stake in Georgia, especially the continued flow of oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which Russia attempted to bomb in recent days.


OLBERMANN:  More drilling off the coast of Georgia.  Following Mr.  Bush‘s lead on Georgia may be difficult for Mr. McCain, the president began the day disengaged from the crises, literally, he was in China and in his comments during an exclusive interview with Bob Costas at the Olympics for NBC Sports.


BUSH:  It was just interesting to me that here we are, you know, trying to promote peace and harmony and we‘re witnessing a conflict take place.

COSTAS:  Right, no Olympic truce in this case.

BUSH:  There wasn‘t.  And I was very firm with Vladimir Putin—he and I got a good relationship—just like I was firm with the Russian president.


OLBERMANN:  Despite his Olympic chat with Putin, Putin invaded today anyway and tonight, the president sounded much more like McCain, making demands without backing them up.


BUSH:  Russia‘s government must respect Georgia‘s territorial integrity and sovereignty.  The Russian government must reverse the course it appears to be on, and accept this peace agreement as a first step toward resolving this conflict.


OLBERMANN:  Those demands possibly undercut by Mr. Bush‘s own inability to keep clear which country was invaded today.


BUSH:  It now appears that an effort may be underway to depose Russia‘s dually elected government.


OLBERMANN:  Let‘s bring in a former senior director of the National Security Council, Flynt Leverett, now, a senior fellow at the New America‘s Foundation.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN:  What can we interpret from what we hear?  How exactly would a President McCain defend Georgia in this?

LEVERETT:  Well, Senator McCain has made clear in his presidential campaign that he would continue and, I would say, even exaggerate the failed and counterproductive approach of the Bush administration to Russia.  Senator McCain says he wants to kick Russia out of the G8.  He wants to provide military assistance to Georgia, as your setup noted, his chief foreign policy advisor has been a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government for several years.

As bad as U.S.-Russians relations are right now under the Bush administration approach, if you project forward a year, 18 months from now under a McCain administration, U.S.-Russian relations could get significantly worse.

OLBERMANN:  Obama in his statement is calling for Georgia to disavow force, obviously, you can count on McCain punching (ph) on that, what can you say about it?

LEVERETT:  Well, this is a problem that Senator Obama faces on a number of issues, not just this one to the extent that he wants to try and take a more nuanced approach, appreciate all of the complexities of a difficult issue because he doesn‘t reflexively want to resort to force or to draw lines that the U.S. wouldn‘t be able to defend anyway.  He‘s always open to the charge of being weak.  Certainly, Senator McCain would try to make that point.

What‘s sad is that there are many within Senator Obama‘s own Democratic Party who would also want to take this bellicose hot air approach to Russia over this issue.  I mean, you just look at the senior figure in the party like Richard Holbrooke and the editorial that he had in today‘s “Washington Post.”  It‘s basically, you know, there‘s a very powerful group of I would call neocon conservative fellow travelers in the Democratic Party, and a lot of these people were attached to the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Now, the Obama campaign is trying to figure out how to take some of these people in.  And I think there‘s a risk that Senator Obama could, in the end, end up ceding control or shaping the direction of policy on important issues to some of these elements.

OLBERMANN:  And, as you say, this requires a very nuanced response because we‘ve slapped the back of both of these countries, apparently, both of them at the wrong time.  President Bush‘s famous expression of his naivete about looking into Putin‘s eyes early on and you‘re getting that sense of his soul and then basically neglecting Russia when it didn‘t do exactly what we want it to do for five years, and then this is supposed to be Condi Rice‘s area of expertise.

At the same time that Russia was mishandled, did we not, essentially, did the administration not essentially stoke the fires of this conflict by the way we have contributed to the building up of Georgia and sort of encourage its president to do something like this?

LEVERETT:  Absolutely.  We are where we are in this situation, no small part, because the Bush administration, Senator McCain, and sadly, a lot of very senior Democrats willfully ignored an important reality, namely that Russia has become a much richer, much more powerful country, a country that can act autonomously to defend what it sees as important interest even when those actions don‘t please the United States.

And, at this point, there‘s very little that the United States has to respond.  Are we not going to buy—will Europe not buy Russian gas?  Is the United States not going to Russia help fund its current account deficit?

OLBERMANN:  It‘s more than complex.

Flynt Leverett of the New America‘s Foundation, formerly a senior director at the NSC—as ever, sir, thank you for your time.

LEVERETT:  Thanks very much.

OLBERMANN:  Russia‘s invasion of Georgia raises huge political questions here at home, especially in this presidential race.  Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow, who, of course, has her own show weeknights on Air America Radio.

Good evening, Rachel.


OLBERMANN:  All right.  Both McCain and Obama made statements today.  Obama coming off that, the word is (ph) now, a semi-vacation I supposed. 

Apart from the policy particulars, what was the difference in the approach?  What do we hear about and see about these two men just based on how they took to their podiums today?

MADDOW:  What was striking is how consistent McCain is being toward Russia.  He‘s taken every opportunity on foreign policy in this campaign to take a confrontational stance toward Russia.  And so, as this war has erupted, and as the international community and Senator Obama are reacting by saying “this war needs to be brought to a very swift end.  This needs to be worked out in ways other than through force.”

The international community needs to be united to stop these and just solve these problems.  There are means other than the way they‘re being addressed right now.

McCain, instead, is flowing ahead with this “Confront Russia, confront Russia, confront Russia.”  This is an extension of his wanting to throw Russia out of the G8 and the other sort of belligerent statements he‘s made there.  I don‘t exactly know how he plans to back up these threats but he is sticking with this confrontation plan.

OLBERMANN:  Well, to that point, though, when it becomes obvious that there‘s nothing with which to back these threats up, given how, essentially impudent we have been rendered, militarily, put on politically by President Bush, what sense does saber rattling by McCain actually make if it is given a second thought by a voter or just a citizen?

MADDOW:  Yes, well, it sounds good at first pass, which I think is what he‘s counting on.  I think he‘s counting on Americans not being totally clear on the idea that Georgia‘s a country and not just a state.  I think he‘s counting on the idea that when America wants to be tough, that we would use our military in every instance.

Honestly, what I think this brings in a very sharp relief is how scary the prospect of a continued Bush foreign policy is—because right now, we could be doing something if the idea of American diplomacy and American international leadership, and American moral authority were something other than a punch line.  Then, we really could be doing something here.

But because we don‘t have any of those assets at our disposable anymore after eight years of what the Bush administration has done to them, we‘re left with this empty, “We‘ll find a combat brigade somewhere” rattling that everybody knows, just boaster (ph).

OLBERMANN:  Right.  It‘s the line from King Lear.  “I‘m not exactly sure how I‘m going to avenge myself on you but I‘ll think of something really mean.”


OLBERMANN:  I‘m paraphrasing Shakespeare obviously there.


OLBERMANN:  But the other point about this, and this is, I guess you sort of touched on this, but like it or not, a lot of voters assume we can win anything.


OLBERMANN:  . provided we chant, “USA, USA,” loudly enough.  When your foreign policy positions reinforce that as McCain‘s do, throughout—not just Russia and Georgia—but throughout the world, when it‘s that way versus the message of nuance and complexity that Obama touched on today.

How does Obama get that message through in a world in which everybody just breaks in to cheers at the idea, “OK, we‘re going to go, we‘re going to fight,” even though there are no troops to fight with, and we‘re not going to take on Russia, and more than what we could do to them, the Russians could shut off the oil spigot tomorrow and we at $7 gasoline?

MADDOW:  Yes, and there‘s a reason why Russia is right now, bombing oil infrastructure in Georgia but it‘s nothing to do with military strategy.  I think that because it is 2008 and because of what we‘ve been through for the seven years in Afghanistan and going on six years in Iraq, I think that Obama‘s message is much less risky than it would have been before.

Honestly, the neoconservative position is that, “You know, look what we did in Gulf War I, look at those smart bombs, that only took five minutes when we topple, we did what we wanted to do there.”  Ever since then, the neocon position has been, that using military force is something that is precise, that has predictable consequences that always gets us what we want and no Americans die.  They‘ve got this magical idea of American military omnipotence that we can use our military anywhere to accomplish any sort of objective and there‘ll never be any blowback.

Americans just don‘t believe it anymore.  It‘s a fairytale.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, and because it‘s been perceived correctly.  That strategy works in the game called darts.


OLBERMANN:  But not in the real world in the game called life.

Rachel Maddow of Air America and MSNBC—as always, thanks for coming in, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  During the 1904 presidential campaign, Teddy Roosevelt who had served three years already, pledged, if reelected, he would not seek reelection in 1908.  That pledge alone so scrapped Roosevelt that no presidential candidate since has said anything like it.  John McCain himself this year, described any president elected under such circumstances, as a lame duck, quacking on Inauguration Day.

So, why are the Republicans floating rumors that McCain may take a one-term pledge at the convention?  Quack, quack.


OLBERMANN:  John McCain and the one-term pledge rumor, puts a candidate who doesn‘t speak for his own campaign becomes a candidate limited to how many minutes he can speak on his cell phone?  Can you hear me now?

The senator and president may like the idea of the time horizon for troop withdrawal from Iraq but the Iraqis want hard numbers and they want them by the end of the month.

Plus, Sean Hannity versus a “FOX noiser” who won‘t talk about Georgia, only about John Edwards, competing with this supposed religious leader praying for rain, not to end drought somewhere, but to convince his maker to play a political prank.  Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  The rumor has been echoed and been dismissed since the spring.  John McCain‘s ace in the hole, at some critical moment he would announce that if elected, to paraphrase the comments in Sherman, he would not serve more than one term.  Seemingly, the senator himself had killed the thing off months ago when he, himself, noted that any president elected under such a pledge would an instantaneous lame duck.

Yet on our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Why then is campaign manager playing all cued and coy about the prospect?


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX HOST:  Is there any chance that Senator McCain will pledge to serve only one term as president and that there would be no politics in the White House?

DAVIS:  Well, first of all, if you know John McCain, you know there‘s not going to be much politics in the White House anyway.

WALLACE:  But is there any possibility—because I didn‘t hear and get an answer there—is there any thought, is there any possibility that he would consider issuing a pledge, say, at the Republican convention, “I will serve one term as president”?

DAVIS:  Chris, you‘re going to have to come to the Republican convention to find out what‘s going to happen there.  And I think everybody should tune in, because it‘s going to be an excellent event and very interesting to all viewers.

WALLACE:  You‘re not ruling it out.

DAVIS:  I‘m not talking about it all.


OLBERMANN:  But Senator McCain has talked about it, telling a town hall meeting in New Hampshire back in January that, quote, “If I said I was running for eight years, I‘m not sure that would be a vote-getter,” but outright rejecting the notion of one term during the primaries.


WALLACE:  Would you consider pledging to run for only four years?

MCCAIN:  No, because, I think then you‘re the lame duck, you‘re quacking on Inauguration Day.


OLBERMANN:  It does not seem as if McCain has gotten on to a very strong start during this pit stop of Senator Obama, who is basically taking the week off from the campaign and leaving the opponent the field to himself.  There‘s the one term head scratcher, plus the nugget about McCain‘s phone privileges being restricted, like some teenager.

The “New York Times” is reporting that Senator McCain spent so much time calling people for advice on his cell phone and then adopting the last position he heard, that his senior campaign staff is cutting down on his use of his own cell and limiting the number of people he can talk to.  All part of a strategy to try to stop Senator McCain from changing campaign policy on the fly, keeping him on message.

The message right now: distance from the current administration.  Senator McCain is telling employees at a GE plant in Erie, Pennsylvania that his campaign is about restoration.


MCCAIN:  I could give you a laundry list of the things we have to address, but I think that‘s all got to be associated with one fundamental mission and restore trust and confidence in government, therefore, inspire confidence in America again.


OLBERMANN:  Senator McCain neglecting to mention the obvious corollary here that if trust and confidence in the government has to be restored, then it must have been President Bush‘s administration which lost it.

We‘re joined now by Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist for the “Washington Post.”

Thanks for your time tonight, Gene.


OLBERMANN:  Why the mixed message—first going back to the start of this, from the campaign on term length, I mean, no president pledged less since Teddy Roosevelt and if it‘s a non-starter, was Rick Davis really just hyping it just to get people to tune in the coverage of the convention?

ROBINSON:  You know, that‘s what it sounded like to me, Keith.  As we have said, it makes no sense for McCain to make such a pledge.  He would become a lame duck.  It‘s tantamount to saying, “Vote for me.  You may not like me very much, but you‘ll only have me for four years.”  It draws attention to his age.  You know, it doesn‘t make any sense at all.  I can‘t imagine that he‘d do it.

And it sounded like Rick Davis was just trying to say, “No, really there will be exciting and interesting things happening at the Republican convention, please tune in.”

OLBERMANN:  Yes, because reelection is basically the only check on the president going completely off the rails, although it didn‘t work that well for us in 2004.  The “New York Times” story, keep him off the phone, don‘t let him talk to people, he‘s going off message like—when he took the wind out of the tire pressure swipe at Obama.  Does this all dovetail back to that—what sounded like a crazy statement, “The candidate does not speak for the campaign”?

ROBINSON:  That really was one of the great lines of this whole campaign season (INAUDIBLE).  Look, the candidate does not speak for the campaign.  I‘m sure they will find Senator McCain‘s cell phone one of these days.  It must have slipped down between the seats and the plane.  And they‘ll get it back to him.

He goes off message all the time.  John McCain being on message is not really John McCain.  And, you can kind of tell, as you see in that clip we just played of him doing, you know, the restore confidence kind of message and he doesn‘t sound naturalistic.  It‘s more kind of automaton like when he tries to stay on message.

It‘s a struggle for him and he‘s liable to pick up that cell phone and talk to somebody and then change his mind without letting anyone know.

OLBERMANN:  Would you have advised him if he, for some reason, had asked you, that perhaps he should have done this before he went out on the restoration and trust and confidence in the government thing, given that his policies are the same as the administration that lost all those and his party is the same?  Aren‘t some people are going to see a little disconnect there?

ROBINSON:  Well, of course.  And it‘s this line he is trying to walk, of course.  He is the Republican candidate.  So, how can he disown the Bush years without disowning the Republican Party without losing the base.  And, you know, so, in a speech like this, he talks about restoring something that clearly lost or squandered by George Bush, yet doesn‘t make the connection.  Everybody else is going to make the connection.

OLBERMANN:  And one last note, the “L.A. Times” had a report that the Republicans came up $10 million short in the bankroll for the convention in Saint Paul.  And to get some of it back, they haven‘t gotten all of it and they had to go to the guy who just got Brett Favre for the New York Jets to raise the cash in a hurry.  Something in here that does not sound like it‘s going well for the GOP going in to Saint Paul.

ROBINSON:  No, it‘s not a good sign, (A), to be $10 million short, and (B), to just realize that as you‘re going, you know, putting the convention together and ready to, you know, you‘re your backs and head to Saint Paul.  But, you know, let‘s see what sort of season Brett Favre has and you think he‘ll have a better season or the Republican Party will have a better season, I don‘t know.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t know either.  It‘s a money version of where are my keys.

Gene Robinson of MSNBC and the “Washington Post” - thanks, Gene.

ROBINSON:  Good to talk to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You know, when they say get down fast to your local 7-11 in the commercials, you don‘t have to get down that fast.

And, “You can‘t name one occasion,” he says, when he or Limbaugh or any prominent Republican brought up Barack Obama‘s race.  He‘s right.  You can‘t bring up one -- 27, yes; one, no.  Worst person is ahead.

But first, the headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandals—Bushed.

Number three: Do as I say, not as I do-gate.  Brad Blakeman, former appointments assistant to the president, was also a previous head of the organization calling itself, Freedoms Watch, who‘s agenda included the effort tort reform to end frivolous lawsuits.  Mr. Blakeman has now filed a lawsuit against the producers of the movie, “Swing Vote.”

He says that the movie and some of the marketing idea was his idea and that he shared it with actor Kelsey Grammer, who is “Swing Vote,” and that Grammer swiped it, which is interesting because Grammer‘s reps says his client did not join the project until after it had been written.  And that man described the lawsuit as, quote, “frivolous.”

Number two: Anthrax-gate.  The idea that the FBI and the Bush administration are somehow covering up what really happened by blaming it on the late Dr. Bruce Ivins keeps more and more total plausibility.  The “Murdoch Street Journal” reported that the flask containing the so-called “Ivins‘ anthrax” could have been accessed not by 10 people at Fort Detrick in Maryland, but by more than 100.

Now, the “Washington Post” reports that the supposed exact genetic match between the “Ivins‘ anthrax” and the anthrax that showed up in the victims have same genetic match shows up in the anthrax in 15 other labs.

And, number one: How about asking the Iraqis-gate.  Never mind what Bush, McCain, or Obama want about American troops in Iraq, how does and what does Iraq‘s Hoshyar Zebari say.  He is Iraq‘s foreign minister and he has kind of a surprise for Mr. Bush and for McCain.  The U.N. Security Council authorization which the president keeps reminding us permits to be there, expires at year‘s end.

Mr. Zebari says his government is close to finalizing the direct agreement with the U.S. that will replace it, the goal of the president and Senator McCain, a U.S. presence for the foreseeable future maybe extended nearly into perpetuity.  Only one big detail is yet to be worked out before the Iraq parliament votes on all of this next month—a timeline for American troop withdrawal.

You mean, a general time horizon, Mr. Minister?  Some aspirational goals for exiting?  “No, no,” he says, “definitely, there is has to be a very clear timeline decided on by the end of this month,” like right before the Republican convention begins.  Opps.  Just say “Opps” and get out.


OLBERMANN:  Bests in a moment.  And a photo that sums up the Bush administration.  First, on this date 89 years ago, the oldest professional football franchise still operating under its original name was founded when Earl Lambeau went to his employers at the Indian Packing Company in Wisconsin and asked for seed money to start the team.  They gave him 500 bucks on the proviso that he name the club after them.  Thus were born the Green Bay Packers. 

Brett Favre, of course, was already at the stadium when Lambeau showed up with the new uniforms.  Let‘s play Oddball.


OLBERMANN:  We begin down at the 7-11 in Sunrise, Florida.  If you need proof that Slurpies cause brain freeze, look no further.  Thank you, come again.  After the woman driving that black sedan left the convenience store, she got in her car and shifted into D and not R, a little tap on the gas pedal and it was clean up on aisle two.  Luckily, no one was injured, the drive was not charged, and the store was able to prop its doors back up with some Slim Jims and left over breakfast burritos. 

To the London Science Museum in England, where inventors have created a robot they say displays human emotions.  Heart Robot looks like a cross between Dobby the house elf and something out of a Tim Burton movie.  Its creators say it displays human conditions like fear, affection and apparently simple laziness.  The robot can‘t walk, needs a human to swing him around.  Pretty cool.  But it still ain‘t a Roomba. 


OLBERMANN:  Round umpteen in the presidential celebrity debate.  Obama invokes Jay Leno.  But who will prevail in the coveted Angelina Jolie demographic?  She might go either way, she says.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.  Stop that.

Number three, best play list, the City Council of Graig in Wales.  Resident Carl Wiosna (ph) refused the entreaties of his neighbors to stop playing Cher‘s “Believe” all day and night on his stereo.  So the council, which had previously threatened a Dolly Parton fan and also a guy who kept playing “Stand By Your Man” over and over again, went to court to get an order to have his CDs, record players and stereos destroyed.  It evidently did not occur to them that Mr. Wiosna might buy new CDs or a replacement sound system.  Maybe even an upgrade. 

Number two, best dumb criminal, Paul Parish II of Charleston, West Virginia, under arrest for trying to hold up a video store there.  He whipped out a box, set it on the counter in front of the clerk and handed him a note saying there was a bomb inside.  Actually, there was not.  In fact, there was nothing inside.  All he had was an empty box.  An empty Jell-O box. 

Number one, best summary of the Bush presidency, this photo submitted to us from a fan at the Olympics in Beijing.  Yes, that‘s the president of the United States.  Yes, he‘s holding the American flag.  Yes, he‘s holding it backwards.  And yes, it is the best summary of his presidency, which is everything looks perfect from his point of view. 


OLBERMANN:  George Washington was chosen and political neophytes Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower elected not long after success as famous American generals on the battlefield.  Teddy Roosevelt resigned as assistant secretary of the Navy on May 6th, 1898, led the famous charge up San Juan Hill on July 1st, 1898, was nominated governor of New York of September 27th, 1898, and wound up being sworn in as president on September 14th, 1901. 

The presidency is about the mixture of celebrity and potential.  Yet, in our third story of the COUNTDOWN, the campaigns of Senators McCain and Obama continue to talk about political celebrity as if it were a new or a bad thing.  Today, it‘s Obama‘s turn. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For decades, he‘s been Washington‘s biggest celebrity. 

LENO:  John McCain!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And as Washington embraced him, John McCain hugged right back; the lobbyists running his low road campaign, the money, billions in tax breaks for oil and drug companies, but almost nothing for families like yours. 

Lurching to the right, then the left, the old Washington dance, whatever it takes. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A Washington celebrity playing the same old Washington games. 

OBAMA:  I‘m Barack Obama, and I approve this message. 


OLBERMANN:  The presumptive Democratic nominee attempting to keep his profile low during a week long vacation in the state of his birth, Hawaii, assisted handedly by John Edwards, who dominated the news cycle for the weekend, but who, in the process, has now conjured up another wedge issue that requires the employment of the logical fallacy and huge assumption.  Howard Wolfson, the former Democrat, former Clinton campaigner, now Fox News commentator, claiming that had the Edwards affair come to light before Iowa, it would be Senator Clinton accepting the nomination, even though most of his support and eventually his endorsement went to Obama and not Clinton. 

To deconstruct both the Wolfson theorem and the celebrity wars, we turn now to “Newsweek” senior editor, MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter.  Thank you for coming in. 


OLBERMANN:  Obama‘s response here; did he fire back in this war and gain something in it?  Or did he just prolong this war and this rather bizarre idea of celebrity as a political issue? 

ALTER:  If he was going to fire back, why not fire back sooner?  This was all awhile ago.  We are in a 24-hour media rapid-response environment now.  If you want to go on the celebrity theme and put it back up in McCain‘s face, do it right away.  So I guess what must have happened is they found that it was cutting a little bit.  It was hurting them a little bit and they decided to push back. 

But the most interesting thing about that spot to me is that there were no fewer than six images, different images, of Bush with McCain.  So essentially what this ad was, in the guise of being a celebrity ad, it was a no third term for Bush ad.  And they showed the hug over and over again in different ways. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, assuming that to some degree this was about celebrity, as I suggested earlier, we‘ve had at least seven celebrity presidents, basically no political experience among the seven of them.  This does not count guys who lost, like the John C. Freemont or General Winfield Scott.  There have been two more second-generation presidents, at least one of whom was elected more because of his father‘s name than his tenure as a governor.  When did celebrity, political celebrity, fame, however you are going to look at it, become a disqualifier and are voters likely to see through this issue in either direction to either candidate‘s detriment? 

ALTER:  Well, first, it‘s interesting, that list of generals who then became president.  Obama was not a general, so you can‘t make that war hero argument.  But McCain‘s was 40 years ago.  The others, we‘re talking about Teddy Roosevelt, it‘s six months.  With McCain, his real celebrity, where it comes from is from his imprisonment in North Vietnam.  That was an awfully long time ago. 

Where the idea of celebrity became a dirty word in politics was when conservatives started going after Hollywood liberals.  They could score particularly with their base by making it seem like the Democratic party was too tied up with celebrities.  Whether this works at all with independent voters, much less Democrats, really remains to be seen. 

It‘s still catnip for conservatives.  Most Americans love celebrities. 

You‘ve got to ask, what‘s the problem in the first place? 

OLBERMANN:  This brings one more ad question, then I‘ll get that Howard Wolfson theory.  The Olympic commercials, Obama went happy-peppy in these commercials.  The McCain ones are not just negative, they‘re really down-beat.  They‘re almost scary.  Didn‘t anybody in the campaign say, hey, this isn‘t like the show “24.”  People are watching the Olympics to watch the flag being waved.  They want to be happy and peppy.  Did nobody get the point across that you have to target the message to the particular audience that would be watching these incredibly expensive commercial bites? 

ALTER:  I think that‘s a good point.  They were out of sync with the tone of the Olympics.  They are very intent on driving this one particular charge.  It‘s a lie actually, that Barack Obama will raise your taxes if you make 42,000 dollars a year or more.  It‘s simply untrue when you look at it.  Actually, in that middle-income group, Obama cuts your taxes by twice as much as McCain does.  I think it‘s about 800 dollars versus 400 dollars. 

They really want to imprint that on as many eyeballs as they can.  So they took the Olympics as an opportunity to try to do so. 

OLBERMANN:  They may imprint buzz kill on a lot of people who are watching the Olympics too.  Last point, Wolfson‘s theory about John Edwards, boy, it sounds intriguing, but it now also sounds like many of the arguments about the Civil War.  You know, if General Lee had had a piper cub then he would have beaten Grant several times.  What—automatically Edwards, if he had been forced to drop out a year ago, his support would have gone to Clinton and she would have won Iowa and everything would have been different? 

ALTER:  We know that is not true. 


ALTER:  The thing is, nowadays, there‘s so much information in politics.  We can actually go back and look at exit polls, who was your second choice.  The second choice of Edwards voters was Obama.  Those voters would have gone to Obama.  They would not have gone to Hillary Clinton.  So what Howard Wolfson said is untrue. 

OLBERMANN:  You could also make the argument that if Edwards had gone out a year ago, the head-to-head fight between Obama and Clinton might have started earlier, and it could have been over sooner, theoretically, in Obama‘s favor. 

ALTER:  Conceivably, yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Or if Obama had a piper cub and used this during the campaign—Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, thank you. 

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Given that she once married Billy Bob Thornton, you wouldn‘t think Angelina Jolie would be hard to talk into endorsing you.  The presidential candidates are both trying.  And speaking of trying, droughts across the country, but one of the pious is praying for it to rain on Obama.  Worst persons next on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  Her father has made his choice, Rudy Giuliani, whom he called god‘s gift to America, then he lost.  So John Voight went to McCain.  Both candidates are now seeking the endorsement of Angelina Jolie.  She is holding out.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst person in the world. 

The bronze to radio‘s Sean Hannity, says Barack Obama, quote, can‘t point to a single instance in which President Bush or Karl Rove are Sean Hannity or talk radio or any other major Republican has made an issue of Obama‘s race.  Short term memory is often the first thing to go right after the ethics.  On March 2nd of this year, Hannity said “it seems that the change candidate has all the same problems with race as those before him.”  Then he said, “it‘s only fair to ask do the Obamas have a race problem of their own?” 

And this skips comedian Rush Limbaugh‘s June description of Obama, quote, “whose only chance of winning is that he‘s black.”  Whose May description began, “if he were Caucasian,” and who, a year ago in January, started calling him a “Half-African American.” 

What Hannity means when he said nobody has made an issue of Obama‘s race is he and Limbaugh haven‘t called him the N-word, yet. 

Runner-up, Greg Jarrett of Fixed News.  This is one of the all-time great non-sequiturs.  Bonny Urby (ph) of PBS was the guest on the show.  She said, “the American public have told pollsters this political season they want substance.  Both these candidates have expressed support for allowing Georgia into NATO.  We could have been on the verge of nuclear war.  Those are the kinds of things the American public wants to see discussed.” 

Greg Jarrett‘s response, quote, “Right.  You know, getting back to Edwards, during the Monica Lewinsky affair”—do you ever get the sense that if one of these poor schmucks over there at Fox Noise lets the conversation stray away from the White House talking points, they get beaten savagely by Roger Ailes?

But our winner, Stewart Sheppard, a video producer and Internet commentator for James Dobson‘s Focus on the Family holier than thou society.  He is asking for people to pray for rain on Thursday, August 28th, in Denver at the stadium where Obama will give his acceptance speech.  “Sure, it‘s boyish humor,” Sheppard asserts, “but at the same time, it is something people feel very strongly about, they‘re concerned where he would take the nation.” 

Hey, you know what?  It is not boyish humor, pal.  There are droughts in North and South Carolina, parts of California, most of New Zealand.  And this idiot, who firmly believes he can induce rain by prayer, is wasting it by asking his lord and savior to play a political prank.  It‘s not boyish humor.  And you‘re a selfish hypocrite.  Stewart Sheppard of Dobson‘s Focus on the Family, today‘s worst person in the world!


OLBERMANN:  As the convention draws neigh, and their running mates are still to be chosen, Senators McCain and Obama must carve out some precious time to woo the support of Angelina Jolie.  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, she‘s playing politically hard to get.  Having just completed her family, for now, Miss Jolie may refocus her attention: “I have not decided on a candidate,” she says in a statement provided by her political adviser, Trevor Neilson (ph) to “Variety.”  “I am waiting to see the commitments they will make on issues like international justice, refugees and how to address the needs of children in crisis around the world.”

Ms. Jolie has a political adviser?  This is no laughing matter.  Consider that Ms. Jolie is a U.N. goodwill ambassador and her family may someday constitute its own voting bloc, or nation.  According to “Variety‘s” Wilshire and Washington column, both campaigns have reached out to her, and political affiliations are officially neutral in the Jolie household.  “I think people assume I‘m a Democrat,” she recently told “Entertainment Weekly,” “but I‘m a registered independent and I‘m still undecided.  So I‘m looking at McCain, as well as Obama.”

And perhaps she has seen the Obama campaign portrait of McCain as a celebrity, responding to the McCain campaign‘s depiction of Obama as the biggest celebrity in the world, along with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, with Jolie not appearing in your picture.  At this point, let‘s turn to comedian Paul F. Tompkins, also a regular contributor, of course, to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Paul, good evening. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, VH-1:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  What do you think, based on your sources, is the status of the Jolie endorsement?  When will we hear it? 

TOMPKINS:  We might never know.  Angelina keeps her own counsel and she is clearly better than the rest of us, because we are worried about taxes and the war and stuff.  She is worried about human rights.  Sort of like she read “The Da Vinci Code” and figured, I think I‘m one of those descendants of Christ.

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  See if I can follow that with this—

TOMPKINS:  I‘m sick of her making me feel bad, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I didn‘t know it was such a hot button topic for you, Paul.  If we‘re either on the McCain or Obama campaign, do we send emissaries to meet her?  Do the candidates go to meet her personally?  Does somebody send—I was going to say John Edwards.  Somebody you send, Joe Biden, to talk to her or something? 

TOMPKINS:  The candidates may have an audience with her.  But, of course, it is not going to be easy.  They have to bring the finest goat and rare oils and spices. 

OLBERMANN:  Does Brad Pitt get any say in this or is he disqualified because, apparently, like the rest of the known world, he is a distant cousin of Obama? 

TOMPKINS:  I get the feeling he doesn‘t get a lot of say about anything that goes on in that relationship.  It‘s always these statements that are coming from her, that he sort of has to relay, as if he is her press agent.  I don‘t know what they got going on, but if they can make them work, god bless them. 

OLBERMANN:  Another kid, great.  Another two kids, great.  Before we move on, there‘s a nagging issue from the weekend about whether or not the president was annoyed with my colleague Bob Costas during his interview last night.  I want to play a clip from the end of it. 


BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS:  Are you going to a few more events before you leave? 

BUSH:  I‘m going to swimming here, if you would ever let me off this set. 

COSTAS:  All right.  You are dismissed.  Thank you, Mr. President. 


OLBERMANN:  It seemed jocular.  But you are an expert on reading things—into other things.  Did you see more to it than just a big laugh and a hearty handshake? 

TOMPKINS:  This guy—I‘m telling you, President Bush, at this point, it‘s so obvious that he is saying, man, what does lame-duck mean anyway?  Why do you keep making me talk to people?  Now, I just want to watch some people swim.  And I got to sit here with you and pretend like I‘m interested. 

OLBERMANN:  I blew it, by the way, that was a Laurel and Hardy handshake.  Obama responded to the McCain ad by calling him the biggest—he was called the biggest celebrity in the world, and the narrator in the Obama ad calls McCain Washington‘s biggest celebrity.  Am I right in this, that is what‘s meant by that phrase damning with faint praise? 

TOMPKINS:  This is the part of the political campaign that I love, when they are literally just twisting each other‘s words around and throwing them back and see, sort of, I‘m rubber, you‘re glue phase of the debate. 

OLBERMANN:  One more item here, the “Daily Mail” of London says George Clooney and Senator Obama are practically best buds.  They e-mail each other all the time.  They talk on the phone twice weekly.  We heard the exact same story, except for the phone call part, about Obama and Scarlet Johansson, and then he just said, no, we do not email each other.  Should we believe the Clooney-Obama thing, and is there a chance Clooney may yet get the vice presidency that Obama has yet to announce? 

TOMPKINS:  I love that this is a new phony Hollywood thing to do, is say that you‘re e-mailing with Barack Obama, because no one‘s really going to check on it.  If they check it, it‘s too late; people have forgotten about it.  So I‘m just going to say it.  I‘m e-mailing with Obama.  I‘m emailing with McCain.  I‘m emailing with a Nigerian businessman who has a very interesting offer. 

OLBERMANN:  Remember, the administration can check your e-mails now. 

There is a way to check on that, Paul.

TOMPKINS:  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  You walked into that trap pretty readily, didn‘t you?  Paul F. Tompkins, comedian, contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” and absolutely had it with Angelina Jolie, thank you, Paul.

TOMPKINS:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,930th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.



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