Guests: Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Lawrence O‘Donnell
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Party ahead of nation: As Karl Rove reveals his gracious obstruction plan, Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire suddenly withdraws as Obama‘s secretary of commerce. Evidently, he had not noticed until today that his party was rooting for not an economic rebound but an economic collapse.
“It has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census, there are irresolvable conflicts for me.”
The president again sells the stim at a Caterpillar tractor factory, the same one at which Mr. Bush nearly ran over the media two years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Americans aren‘t looking for a handout, they just want to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And live tonight in this news hour, the president‘s remarks to the Abraham Lincoln Association dinner in Springfield.
Anatomy of a lie: After a washed up politician fabricates a story that the stimulus will decide who and what doctors can and can‘t treat, comedian Rush Limbaugh picks it up as if it were true, it goes to Drudge; it gets reported as news by FOX, and then back to the comedian.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: I found it. I detailed it for you. And now, it‘s all over mainstream media.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Radio is a great time-saver. It allows Limbaugh to lie to millions of people all at once rather than one at a time.
And Worsts: Billo the clown says, “I didn‘t call Helen Thomas a witch. I said her voice sounded like and I did the voice.” In fact, he said of her voice, “It‘s like the wicked witch of the east.” One problem—this is the wicked witch of the east. Exactly what did her voice sound like, Billo?
All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN (on camera): Good evening, from New York.
“I forgot,” Steve Martin used to say when he still had a stand-up act. How many times do we let ourselves get in terrible situations because we don‘t say “I forgot”? To paraphrase the rest of it, let‘s say you begged and pleaded to be nominated to the Obama cabinet, and then suddenly, you realize and you say, “I forgot I was a Republican.”
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the man who, nine days ago, said that this was no time for partisanship, today withdrew his nomination as commerce secretary to exacerbate partisanship over the stimulus.
President Obama is getting far, far away from Capitol Hill this afternoon, taking his stimulus plan to central Illinois to find out, literally, how it is playing in Peoria. The White House is saying tonight it regrets Senator Gregg has had a change of heart about the commerce position, claiming differences over key economic priorities as the reason for Mr. Gregg‘s departure.
At the news conference tonight, the New Hampshire Republican attempting to explain why exactly he is reneging on his word.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JUDD GREGG, ® NEW HAMPSHIRE: It just became clear to me that it would be very difficult, day in and day out, to serve in this cabinet or any cabinet for that matter, and be part of a team and not be able to be 100 percent with the team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Last week, Senator Gregg having been seemingly content sitting on the sidelines about that, telling CNBC, although he had recused himself from voting on the stimulus bill and despite the fact he was not really engaged in the stimulus bill he said, he did believe that we need one, a robust one.
Tonight, however, the senator is declining to say how he will vote on the legislation in its final version.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREGG: Well, can I save that for tomorrow when we vote on the stimulus bill?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator Gregg placing none of the blame for his departure on President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREGG: None of this decision is related at all or in any way to his willingness to include diversity of thought and initiative within his cabinet, it‘s just the opposite. He has been a person who has reached out and aggressively reached out across the aisle.
It‘s not about them. It‘s about my own sense of who I am and how I react and how I deal with issues. Yes. I‘m not—you know, I readily admit this was a huge error on my part in seeing what is obvious which is that for 30 years I have been myself and it would be virtually impossible for me to step into a situation where I couldn‘t be myself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: I made a huge mistake. In other words, “It‘s not you, it‘s me.” Senator Gregg is just not that into Obama.
From the plane to Illinois from Washington the president saying, at least as paraphrased by the pool reporter there, “Gregg is a good man. He wanted to work with us but he had second thoughts about leaving the Senate. Yes, we will continue to work with him on other issues. Don‘t take from this the notion that we can‘t get Democrats and Republicans working together.” The president in paraphrased aboard Air Force One on the way to the Lincoln dinner in Illinois tonight.
All of this would seem to make Mr. Gregg Karl Rove‘s kind of guy. The “Turd Blossom” himself today, is praising congressional Republicans specifically in the House, for their performance on the stim. Quoting from his latest “Wall Street Journal” rant, quote, “House Republicans had the wisdom to continue to talk to the Obama White House. This made them look gracious even as the president edged toward a “My way or the highway” attitude.”
In an even greater flight of fancy, Mr. Rove is claiming that the economy will rebound on its own. “The Democratic stimulus will slow recovery but not stop it. Recessions don‘t last forever and if history is a guide, sometime late this year or early next, the economy will rebound on its own.”
The president who Mr. Rove helped to crash this economy, having almost crashed a tractor when he visited the Caterpillar factory in Peoria, Illinois, two years ago, in January 2007, in fact, he nearly ran over the media. President Obama is trying to return workers to that line during his visit to Caterpillar this afternoon. The company‘s CEO, Jim Owens, having said that he would hire back some of those 20,000 laid off workers if the stimulus plan passed. Mr. Owens then pulling something of a Judd Gregg today, saying more layoffs are coming regardless.
In his remark, President Obama is praising the Republican in his cabinet who has not jumped ship.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I want to thank Peoria‘s own Ray LaHood, who is doing outstanding work as my transportation secretary.
OBAMA: You know, Ray comes from a long line of Republicans I love. I think there‘s a common-sense, Midwestern, can-do, bipartisan attitude that Ray represents, and I am so pleased that he is in my cabinet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And as to Senator Gregg, to paraphrase another joke from John Cleese, “can do, but won‘t.”
Time now to call in our own Howard Fineman the senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.
Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Something in Senator Gregg‘s statement rings oddly, “I have found that on the issue such as the stimulus package and the Census, there are irresolvable conflicts for me.” The Census? What‘s going on here?
FINEMAN: Well, that‘s a big part of this, even though the White House is downplaying it. So, here is my sense of what happened. Gregg was interviewed for the job without, I think, much focus by the White House on Senator Gregg‘s views about the Census which matter a lot, because in the 2010 Census, a huge issue is going to be about the counting of Hispanics.
If you count, in addition to citizens, you count resident aliens but you also count everybody. You count people whether they‘re legal or not legal. This was a huge battle the last time around. It is going to be a huge battle this time.
The Hispanic community went crazy when this White House picked Judd Gregg who has very conservative views on all that, who wanted to limit funding for the census, who was very flinty, to say the least, in his view of whom to count and how, being from a small state like New Hampshire with few minorities. The Hispanic community was very upset. And so, the White House said to mollify the Hispanic community, “We are going to take control of the Census,” out of where it‘s always been in the Commerce Department and have the White House control it.
That in turn got Judd Gregg upset, realizing that he wouldn‘t have the freedom to operate at that department that he thought he would. So, that‘s a big part of the back story in addition to the philosophical disagreements which they supposedly hashed out in advance, but really didn‘t look at carefully concerning the stimulus package.
OLBERMANN: A wonderful irony given that Senator Gregg once voted to eliminate the Commerce Department. And there, a part of the Commerce Department was going to be eliminated on his watch.
FINEMAN: Yes, a part of it was to get out the Census.
OLBERMANN: Being that perception is reality, this is still going to be—I‘m sure that‘s correct. I have no doubt about your reporting. I think that perception being so often reality the case in Washington, that this is going to be seen as all about the stimulus—and even if it isn‘t, no matter, if there are other explanations for it, how does Judd Gregg summon the nerve to walk into the Senate tomorrow after he just made a big fool out of himself.
Does he expect to be trusted by either side after this?
FINEMAN: Well, the Republicans will embrace him again. Maybe not trust him. But they‘ll love to embrace him because they will overlook the fool that he made of himself in order to be able to score some cheap political points against Barack Obama, which is precisely what they are trying to do tonight. Gregg looks like a fool but Obama looks like he was had. And that‘s not good for either party in the transaction.
OLBERMANN: Yes, and perhaps that phrase needs to be written in stone somewhere in the White House, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
OLBERMANN: That, by the way, this is live video coming into us now from Springfield of the president arriving at the Lincoln Association dinner. He is expected to speak in about 35 minutes. We will obviously take it live when it happens.
One more thing here about Gregg, Howard, asked his reaction to the withdrawal, the minority leader of the House, Mr. Boehner, said tonight with one word, “Wonderful.” Using that word—is this another indication of how much the Republicans want Obama to fail on this even if it does mean something bad, worse happening to the economy, actual hardship for actual Americans that they are supposed to be representing?
FINEMAN: Keith, I have been struck from the very beginning how little real goodwill there has been from the Republican side. I think there has been some from the Obama side certainly, initially. He is a man of goodwill. I think he is judicious guy who would like to have everybody on board. They went through this pantomime at the beginning; it didn‘t take at the beginning.
My sense is—that the Republicans were only too happy to retreat into their corner and play the rejectionist card which they have done all along. They convinced themselves that they are up against some kind of big government colossus, that Obama has a huge ideological agenda. I really don‘t think that‘s the case.
As he said, “I didn‘t come to Washington to spend $800 billion in my first month in office. This is a situation we face. This is the consensus of mainstream economists. This is what I think we ought to do.” The Republicans have rejected it top to bottom.
And I think, despite some predictions that there will be a lot of Republicans voting on final passage for the bill, at the end, I think there are going to be very, very few. They‘ve convinced themselves that there is some kind of virtue in the rejectionist unity that they‘ve forged.
OLBERMANN: How do they, as Karl Rove used this term “gracious” today
how do they convince themselves that they are being gracious and how do they ever trot out the idea that there was insufficient bipartisanship when Judd Gregg just bailed out on his small part of a coalition government?
FINEMAN: Well, Gregg bailed out in a hurry, really, it was in a hurry
even before the marriage was consummated. And with all due respect to Karl, who‘s a very smart guy, I wouldn‘t look at him as an expert on graciousness and politics.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—great thanks.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The economic crisis is now no less than a national security threat, surpassing al Qaeda. In his first report to Congress, President Obama‘s director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, citing today the global recession as the biggest threat to America‘s national security—one with the potential to undo defense treaties and topple regimes around the world. One quarter of the world‘s countries already facing unrest because of the current state of the worldwide economy.
Let‘s turn now to our own Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist at the “Washington Post.”
Good evening, Gene.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: One by product of the Gregg withdrawal, it has overtaken any sort of headlines that this Blair report might have made tonight. How would the Republicans like to find themselves arguing that doing nothing against a threat that is bigger than al Qaeda is a prudent course of action?
ROBINSON: Well, you know, I hate to speak for today‘s Republican Party .
ROBINSON: . but I certainly can‘t imagine they would enjoy trying to make that argument. Clearly, this is a global crisis and one that needs to be addressed and kind of sitting there and saying, “No, we won‘t budge” doesn‘t seem to be terribly helpful or terribly smart politically to me.
OLBERMANN: Does it look in fact that even though Judd Gregg will presumably slink back into the Senate and vote against this stimulus bill, that it‘s going pass as planned? Or is all of this—all these moving parts from the president suggest there is some alarm about how—whether or not he‘s going to get what he wants?
ROBINSON: I don‘t think there is alarm. It shouldn‘t change the arithmetic, really. And if you have three moderate Republicans who are willing to join the Democrats in the Senate in passing a bill, as long as it is close enough to the Senate bill that was agreed the other day, I think—I think it gets through. So, sure. So, I don‘t think this really affects the arithmetic in any sort of fatal way for the bill.
OLBERMANN: So, as we watch the president singing the anthem, in fact, at the Lincoln dinner tonight. He is going to go back out on the road next week even if the bill is already passed, even, I guess, if he‘s already signed it, to keep pitching this premise in Phoenix and in Denver. Is this about staying on offense against a noise machine or is it about “I‘m already tired of being in Washington and I need to get out for my own sanity”?
ROBINSON: Can you imagine why he might be?
ROBINSON: You know what it‘s about, Keith, is getting back to what he does so well. I really thought that he found his voice on the stimulus package with those two town halls in Indiana and in Florida earlier in the week, and really got traction, not just in terms of Capitol Hill but in terms of the American public. And people could see him out there—I was going to say on the hustings, like campaign stops, really.
But you could see him out there, working on behalf of the people who sent him to Washington, to do something to make their situations better and to make their lives better. That‘s a role that he shines in. And so, it doesn‘t surprise me at all he‘s going to want to continue to get out of Washington, plus, you don‘t have to deal with the likes of this Judd Gregg flip-flop when you‘re out among ordinary folks.
OLBERMANN: Last question, he did get another flip-flop at this Caterpillar plant. The CEO, he twice had said, this man, Jim Owens, was going to hire back some of the 20,000 he laid off. And Owens has kind of pulled the rug out from under him. Was the president hurt by that? Is the perception to this whole thing and his mastery of it hurt by some degree by that?
ROBINSON: Well, I think he was surprised by it. He wouldn‘t have said such a thing unless he had given that specific indication by—if not the president, somebody at the company. And then to have him turn around, you know—this has been an interesting week for Barack Obama because it‘s had highs and it certainly had lows. I think it‘s been a learning experience for this administration. And one maybe—get it in writing.
OLBERMANN: All right. Our own Gene Robinson of the “Washington Post”
get it in writing. And if it‘s too good to be true, as I said to Howard, it probably ain‘t. Thank you, Gene.
ROBINSON: Yes, absolutely. OK, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And if anybody was offended that we talked over the anthem, our apologies. We did not see it coming.
The Republicans have thrown everything they could at that stimulus package, charges that its anti-religious, that the money will be spent on Frisbee parks. And the one lie that has come the closest to sticking, that it includes a hidden provision for a health czar who could overrule your doctor when he decides how to treat your illness. It‘s nonsense, of course. It‘s a deliberate fabrication by a long forgotten local politician with financial backing from a think tank underwritten by the pharma industry.
Tracing the anatomy of a smear from Betsy McCaughey to Matt Drudge to FOX News to comedian Rush Limbaugh—we would have thought it would have given it directly by the drug companies.
OLBERMANN: Just how a deliberately misread verb has led to a phony panic about a health czar who isn‘t entitled to overrule your doctor, and he‘s not hidden in the stimulus bill. Anatomy of a smear—next.
Later: A terrorist who killed innocent people at a church cite liberals mentioned in one of Bernard Goldberg‘s books as the people he really wanted to kill, yet Goldberg is still using the metaphors of violence on national television—Worst Persons in the World.
And then, our live coverage of the Obama speech at the Lincoln dinner in Springfield, Illinois.
All ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: If you watched the wrong program on cable news network or just about any program on fixed news this week, you might have heard that the stimulus bill contained a secret provision, creating a new government bureaucracy empowered to overrule your doctor‘s decisions about your health.
Our fourth story tonight: A health report—the anatomy of a smear. On Monday, “Bloomberg News” ran a commentary by former New York Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey, among her claims—the bill would create, quote, “one new bureaucracy,” the national coordinator of health information technology, to reduce costs and, quote, “guide,” unquote, your doctor‘s decisions.
A national coordinator of health information technology secretly slipped into the stimulus bill. Scary! Scary enough for red type at the Drudge Report. The government is telling your doctor what to do. Scary! Scary enough for comedian Rush Limbaugh to flog it on his radio show.
With Rush and especially, Drudge, transmitting the fear virus, CNN and fixed news quickly succumbed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BETSY MCCAUGHEY, FMR. LT. GOV. OF NEW YORK: But the bill goes much further on page 442. It explicitly says that the government will be delivering information to your doctor at bedside, quote, “to guide decisions at the time and place of care”—at the time and place of care. So, in fact, this is going be a two-way system. Your medical treatments will be stored in the medical database but the government will also be communicating with your doctor at the time and place of care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: There is a reason she is no longer lieutenant governor of New York. First, the information was not, quote, “to guide decisions.” It was, quote, “to help guide medical decisions.” And information is not provided at bedside but made available so that your doctor will have it whenever he or she has to make decisions.
Here is the full relevant passage, not the cherry-picked one from the former lieutenant governor. The health coordinator‘s office, quote, “provides appropriate information to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care.” To CNN‘s credit, its medical correspondent challenged McCaughey‘s claim but the network itself still dignified debate over it as controversy. Lou Dobbs didn‘t even go that far.
On the new national coordinator of health information, meet David Brailer, hired in 2004 by President Bush as the national coordinator of health information.
But if the anatomy of this smear reveals the tendons of Rush and Drudge, maybe more the guts, connecting blatant lies about stuff anybody could check out online, to a circus on FOX and even a, quote, “controversy” on CNN—what about the evolution of the sneer?
Betsy McCaughey is an adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a think tank funded by—wait for it—drug companies, drugstore chains and biomedical suppliers whose former trustee once ran the same health insurance group whose “Harry and Louise” ad helped to torpedo health care in the ‘90s. McCaughey herself wrote to pharmaceutical trade group, PhRMA, quote, “Asking PhRMA to support my work at the Hudson Institute because my writings on healthcare policy can make a substantial difference in public opinion and in the nation‘s capital.”
And on that note, joining us now, Lawrence O‘Donnell, a contributor at HuffingtonPost.com, at a front row seat as “Harry and Louise” did their thing when he was chief of staff of Senate Finance Committee under Senator Moynihan.
Good evening, sir.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Good to be with you, Keith. And Betsy McCaughey emerged as a healthcare policy analyst back then during the Clinton healthcare bill with a big article she did trying to pick that one apart.
OLBERMANN: I was just going to say: Does any of this sound familiar -
Betsy McCaughey basically offering herself up to sell crap on behalf of the big pharmacological interests?
O‘DONNELL: I was wondering when she was going to emerge this time around, Keith. And now we have it. But her scholarship, and that is a far too dignified word to use for her “Bloomberg” piece, couldn‘t be more ridiculous this time around. As you pointed, she‘s shocked that this bill creates a position that has been up and running for years now. And then she goes on to make—to pretend that there is—that the government isn‘t already making coverage decisions. It does. And she condemns Tom Daschle‘s book for suggesting that the government should do it more carefully and on a more streamlined way and then pretends to quote from it when she‘s quoting two or three words at a time.
I just want to read one quote from Daschle‘s book that doesn‘t appear in her coverage, and this is what he‘s concerned about in the book. He says that, “Under Medicare, national coverage decisions are made the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, but CMS which does weight cost effectiveness only hands down about two dozen decisions a year. The remaining 90 percent of Medicare coverage decisions are issued by roughly 50 fiscal intermediaries and insurance carriers scattered around the country.”
Tom Daschle would like to streamline that. Betsy McCaughey apparently thinks that‘s just fine.
OLBERMANN: I think we can—we know the answer about this relative to Drudge and FOX. But “Bloomberg News” and CNN—did any of them have red flags to question McCaughey‘s level of credibility or at least potential conflicts of interest or even, as you pointed out, just the narrow focus of her history stepping in on behalf of big pharma in any kind of medical issue?
O‘DONNELL: Well, Matt Drudge leans right, we all know that. So, he‘d love this kind of article coming out. And, of course, he ran with it very quickly, and Rush keys off of Drudge. It‘s pretty easy to sit there and keep Drudge‘s page up there to get through his three hours every day—and neither one of them know anything about health care policy. They certainly don‘t know more than Betsy McCaughey. They know dramatically less. And so, they saw what they needed in there, the red meat they needed to run with it.
And I don‘t think the people at CNN making the decisions about what goes on on the air even understand Betsy McCaughey‘s history in this territory or how empty that article was. I mean, they clearly didn‘t.
OLBERMANN: You think Rush would know everything anybody could know about big pharma. Well, we‘ll just skip the rest of that. But ultimately, what is that industry‘s interest in killing the stimulus?
O‘DONNELL: Well, it‘s a heavily-regulated industry. What they‘re—the thing they fear the most and I had a lot of dealings with them in the finance committee, the thing they fear the most is price regulation.
OLBERMANN: All right.
O‘DONNELL: And that‘s the thing that they know Americans are most nervous about is the cost of their products. And so, they will almost always come out against any kind of healthcare reform that‘s coming down the road, because at some point in the legislative process, they fear a heavier regulation on them getting into that bill. And they are right to fear it.
And so, what is shocking about tonight‘s report, Keith, and you revealed something that I did not know, was that Betsy McCaughey had sold out, in writing, to the pharmaceutical industry, begging them for money long before she sat down to write this op-ed piece which does serve their interest, because what she is setting up here this week is not the campaign against the stimulus bill, the campaign against Obama healthcare reform. She is out to kill it, very clearly.
OLBERMANN: Well, at least her political identification and her fact that she‘s basically paid by extension employee of the pharmacy industry, pharmacological interest industry has been established.
Our own Lawrence O‘Donnell, thank you, sir.
O‘DONNELL: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The people have spoken, a Gallup Poll today not getting the attention it probably deserves. Do we really want investigations of Bush torture? You bet we do. Still Bushed—ahead.
And in Worsts: Billo says he was not calling Helen Thomas a witch. He just said her voice was like a famous movie witch, except the movie witch that he cites never spoke in the movie. (INAUDIBLE).
Worst Persons is coming up—you are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: President Barack Obama listening to a videotaped introduction of him by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin at the 102nd Annual Banquet of the Abraham Lincoln Association in Springfield, Illinois. Running well ahead of schedule, the president will be speaking shortly. We will bring you his speech in its entirety when it happens.
As we wait, I‘m joined again by our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek Magazine.” Thanks for staying with us, Howard.
FINEMAN: Glad to do it, Keith.
OLBERMANN: What we are expecting tonight? Is there going to be policy in this? Is this just a Lincoln speech? Everybody likes Lincoln, except the descendants of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, I suppose.
FINEMAN: For Barack Obama, there is no such thing as just a Lincoln speech, Keith. Abraham Lincoln is woven into Barack Obama‘s political consciousness. When I first interviewed Obama back when he had just started in the Senate, he had just set up his office there in the Hart building. He had a beautiful big picture of Lincoln there. And he looked at it every day. He thinks about him and is guided by him.
OLBERMANN: And here is the president to a standing ovation at the 102nd Annual Banquet of the Lincoln Association in Mr. Lincoln‘s town, Springfield, Illinois. Here is the president of the United States.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Please, everybody, have a seat. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Well, it is wonderful to be back in Springfield. And I see so many familiar faces. To Mr. Hart, to Marilyn, to my Secretary of Transportation, Ray Lahood—
OBAMA: -- to two of the finest governors that we‘ve had in the past, Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, to Laura Lynn Ryan (ph) and to our new governor, who is going to be doing outstanding work for us in the future, Pat Quinn, Trevor McCants (ph) and to my dear friend Loretta Durbin—I do feel guilty because Dick was the one who brought this event to my attention. I‘m here and he‘s there. But part of the reason that Dick Durbin has been such a great friend, not just to me, but to the people of Illinois is because his work always comes first. And he has been unbelievable in providing leadership in the Senate through thick and through thin. I‘m very, very grateful to him. He is one of my greatest friends. I would not be standing here if not for Dick Durbin. So please give Dick Durbin a big round of applause.
OBAMA: So it is wonderful to be back in Springfield, the city where I got my start in elective office, where I served for nearly a decade. I see some of my colleagues, your attorney general, Lisa Madigan, in the house. You have some Constitutional officers. I think that is Alexi, your treasurer, who is going to be playing basketball with me at some point. Dan Hines (ph), comptroller and just an incredible supporter during this past race, and your new Senate president, John Cullerton, one of the sharpest legislators we have ever had.
Is the speaker around? He is over there? Mr. Speaker, it is good to see you. Thank you. So I‘ve got a lot of friends here.
I have to stop there, otherwise I‘m going to use up all my time.
So I served here for nearly a decade. As has already been mentioned, this is where I launched my candidacy for president two years ago this week, on the steps—on the steps of the old state Capitol, where Abraham Lincoln served and prepared for the presidency. It was here, nearly 150 years ago, that the man whose life we are celebrating today, who you have been celebrating all week, bid farewell to this city that he had come to call his own.
As has already mentioned, on a platform at a train station not far from where we‘re gathered, Lincoln turned to the crowd that had come to see him off and said, “to this place and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.” Being here tonight, surrounded by all of you, I share his sentiment.
But looking out at this room full of so many who did so much for me, I‘m also reminded of what Lincoln once said to a favor seeker who claimed it was his efforts that made the difference in the election. Lincoln asked him, “so you think you made me president?” “Yes,” the man replied. “Under providence, I think I did.” “Well,” said Lincoln. “It is a pretty mess you got me into. But I forgive you.”
So whoever of you think you were responsible for this, we‘re taking names. It‘s a humbling task marking the bicentennial of our 16th president‘s birth. Humbling for me in particular because it is fair to say that the presidency of this singular figure, who we celebrate in so many ways, made my own story possible. Here in Springfield, it is easier, though, to reflect on Lincoln the man rather than the marble giant. Before Gettysburg, before Antietam, before Fredericksburg and Bull Run, before emancipation was proclaimed and the captives were set free; in 1854, Lincoln was simply a Springfield lawyer who had served just a single term in Congress.
Possibly in his law office, his feet on a cluttered desk, his sons playing around him, his clothes a bit too small to fit his uncommon frame, maybe wondering if someone might call him up and ask him to be Commerce secretary, he—
OBAMA: -- he put some thoughts on paper, for what purpose we do not know. “The legitimate object of government,” he wrote, “is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they cannot by individual effort do at all or do so well by themselves.”
To do for the people what needs to be done, but which they cannot do on their own; it is a simple statement. But it answers a central question of Abraham Lincoln‘s life. Why did he land on the side of union? What was it that made him so unrelenting in pursuit of victory that he was willing to test the Constitution he ultimately preserved? What was it that led this man to give his last full measure of devotion so that our nation might endure?
These are not easy questions to answer. And I cannot know if I‘m right. But I suspect that his devotion to the idea of union came not from a belief that government always had the answer. It came not from a failure to understand our individual rights and responsibilities. This rugged rail splitter, born in a log cabin of pioneer stock, who cleared a path through the woods as a boy, who lost a mother and a sister to the rigors of frontier life, who taught himself all that he knew and everything that he had was because of his hard work—this man, our first Republican president, knew better than anybody what it meant to pull yourself up by your boot straps.
He understood that strain of personal liberty and self-reliance, that fierce independence at the heart of the American experience. But he also understood something else. He recognized that while each of us must do our part, work as hard as we can, be as responsible as we can—although we are responsible for our own fates, in the end, there are certain things we cannot do on our own. There are certain things we can only do together. There are certain things only a union can do.
Only a union could harness the courage of our pioneers to settle the American west, which is why Lincoln passed the Homestead Act, giving a tract of land to anyone seeking a stake in our growing economy. Only a union could foster the ingenuity of our framers—the ingenuity of our farmers, which is why he set up Land Grant Colleges that taught them how to make the most of their land, while giving their children an education that would let them dream the American dream.
Only a union could speed our expansion and connect our coast with a trans-continental railroad. So, even in the midst of Civil War, Lincoln built one. He fueled new enterprises with a national currency, spurred innovation and ignited America‘s imagination with a National Academy of Sciences, believing we must, as he put it, “add the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery of new and useful things.”
On this day that is also the bicentennial of Charles Darwin‘s birth, it is worth a moment to pause and renew that commitment to science and innovation and discovery that Lincoln understood so well.
Only a union could serve the hopes of every citizen to knock down the
barriers to opportunity and give each and every person the chance to pursue
the American dream. Lincoln understood what Washington understood when he
led farmers and craftsmen and shop keepers to rise up against an empire,
what Roosevelt understood when he lifted us from Depression, built an
arsenal of democracy, created the largest middle class in history with the
G.I. Bill. It‘s what Kennedy understood when he sent us to the Moon.
All these presidents recognized that America is and always has been more than a band of 13 colonies or 50 states, more than a bunch of Yankees and Confederates, more than a collection of red states and blue states; we are the United States. There isn‘t any dream beyond our reach.
OBAMA: There is no dream beyond our reach, any obstacle that can stand in our way when we recognize that our individual liberty is served, not negated, by a recognition of the common good.
That is the spirit we are called to show once more. The challenges we face are very different now: two wars, an economic crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime, jobs have been lost, pensions are gone, families‘ dreams have been in danger, health care costs are exploding, schools are falling short. We have an energy crisis that is hampering our economy and threatening our planet and enriching our adversaries.
And yet, while our challenges may be new, they did not come about overnight. Ultimately, they result from a failure to meet the test that Lincoln set. I understand there have been times in our history when our government has misjudged what we can do by individual effort alone, and what we can only do together, when we didn‘t draw the line as effectively as we should have, when government has done things that people can and should do for themselves.
Our welfare system, before reform, too often dampened individual initiative, discouraging people from taking responsibility for their own upward mobility. In education, sometimes we‘ve lost sight of the role of parents rather than government in cultivating a thirst for knowledge and instilling those qualities of good character, hard work, discipline and integrity that are so important to educational achievement and professional success.
But in recent years, we have seen the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction. What has dominated is a philosophy that says every problem can solved if only government would step out of the way, that if government were dismantled and divvied up into tax breaks, it would somehow benefit us all. Such knee jerk disdain for government, this constant rejection of any common endeavor cannot rebuild our levies or our roads or our bridges. It can‘t refurbish our schools or modernize our health care system.
It can‘t lead to the next medical discovery or yield the research in technology that will spark a clean energy economy. Only a nation can do those things. Only by coming together, all of us, in union and expressing that sense of shared sacrifice and responsibility for ourselves, yes, but also for one another, can we do the work that must be done in this country.
OBAMA: That is—that is part of the definition of being American. It‘s only by rebuilding our economy and fostering the conditions of growth that willing workers can find a job and companies can find capital and the entrepreneurial spirit, that is the key to our competitiveness, can flourish.
It is only by unleashing the potential of alternative fuels that will lower our energy bills and raise our industries‘ sights, make our nation safer and our planet cleaner. It‘s only by remaking our schools for the 21th century that our children will get those good jobs, so they can make of their lives what they will.
It‘s only by coming together to do what people need done that we will, in Lincoln‘s words, “lift artificial weights from all shoulders and give an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”
That is all people are looking for: a fair chance in the race of life. That is what‘s required of us now and in the years ahead. We will be remembered for what we choose to make of this moment. When posterity looks back on our time, as we are looking back on Lincoln‘s, I don‘t want it said that we saw an economic crisis, but we did not stem it, that we saw our schools decline and our bridges crumble, but we did not rebuild them, that the world changed in the 21st century, but America did not lead it, that we were consumed with small things, petty things, when we were called to do great things.
Instead, let them say that this generation, our generation of Americans rose to the moment and gave America a new birth of freedom and opportunity in our time.
These are trying days and they will grow tougher in the months to come. And there will be moments when our doubts rise and our hopes recede. But let‘s always remember that we as a people have been here before. There are times when our revolution itself seemed altogether improbable, when the Union was all but lost, when fascism seemed set to prevail around the world. And yet what earlier generations discovered, and what we must rediscover right now, is that it is precisely when we are in the deepest valley, when the climb is steepest that Americans relearn how to take the mountain top together as one nation, as one people.
OBAMA: -- as one nation, as one people. That‘s how we will beat back our present dangers. That is how we will surpass what trials may come. That is how we will do what Lincoln called on us all to do and nobly save the last best hope on Earth. That‘s what this is, the last best hope on Earth.
Lincoln has passed that legacy on to us. It is now our responsibility to pass it on to the next generation.
Thank you. God bless you, and may god bless the United States of America.
OLBERMANN: President Obama wrapping up his address to the 102nd Annual Banquet of the Abraham Lincoln Association in Springfield, Illinois tonight. As he did that, while the president was speaking, he got himself a new director of central intelligence. Leon Panetta has been confirmed by the CIA—by the Senate to head the CIA during that—a little before that speech, as you see the president, who will now leave for Washington again.
Back now to Howard Fineman, our senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek Magazine.” I thought a neatly woven argument here out of a traditional Lincoln Day celebration, this the 200th anniversary of the 16th president‘s birth. A neatly woven argument that Lincoln would endorse activist government as opposed to the deregulation of the last ten years. It was rather deftly done. If you didn‘t have the script in front of you, you might not have seen it coming. Right?
FINEMAN: I thought it was beautifully done. I thought really it was a much more moving speech, really, and a beautifully coherent one, much better than the one that he gave on the steps of the Capitol when he was sworn in. He cares about Springfield. He cares about Lincoln. He feels grounded there. That really is who Obama judges himself against him and how he navigates in the world.
I thought Obama did a beautiful job of explaining the core philosophical justification for what he‘s proposing to do. Now whether you can balance that much philosophy on the head of the pin of alternative fuels, I don‘t know.
But still—and oddly enough, I thought of Ronald Reagan, because if Barack Obama succeeds, he is the opposite philosophically and yet with the same communication skills of a Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan stood for cowboy individualism. As even Obama conceded, we probably needed a jolt of that and a reminder of that after Jimmy Carter, during the malaise days of the early ‘80s.
But Obama is saying, once again, very clearly, and saying to the Republicans and the conservatives, look, guys, that era is over. Another part of the American grain, another part of our tradition is the one of common effort, from barn raisings on the frontier to programs that, yes, are administered by the federal government.
This was also like the race speech that he gave in Philadelphia. Obama has a gift for expanding to the philosophical narrow, sometimes mean and contentious questions of politics, adding the weight of history and philosophy behind them in a deft and brilliant way. I thought he did that tonight.
OLBERMANN: Only a union could foster the ingenuity of our farmers, referring to our history, only a union could spread, for instance, the trans-continental railroad and then bringing it to only, essentially, a union could address the problems we are facing now.
The other thing in here, of course, was—and it was a complete ad lib, this wonderful image of Lincoln in his law office in Springfield, “with his sons playing around him, his clothes a bit too small to fit his uncommon frame, worrying someone might call him up to ask him to be Commerce secretary,” which is not only a lovely way of making fun of this somewhat of farce and taking a little steam out of the farce about Senator Gregg and all the others who have been up for that post, but also provides that wonderful touching image of Lincoln having lived long enough to take a phone call, which I thought was very nice in its own way.
FINEMAN: Not only that—I thought that was brilliantly done. Of course, just tucked in there on the fly and beautifully delivered with that smile that Obama has. And he‘s got all kinds of brands of that smile. That was a great one, saying, hey, what are you going to do? Of course, it reminds you that Lincoln dealt with all the grubby details of politics and setbacks and disappointments and characters who reneged on promises and who weren‘t what they seemed to be.
Lincoln was a master politician, utterly immersed in every little corpuscle of the body politic, starting out in Springfield. Obama seems to take the same kind of joy at the human comedy involved in this. That also inspires confidence. There you think not so much of Ronald Reagan, as of Franklin Roosevelt.
Obama‘s got the gifts. It is question of whether he can deliver the goods. Every time he gives a speech like this, people are reminded of the capacity and the promise that he has.
OLBERMANN: Lincoln asked the man, “so you think you made me president. Yes, the man replied. Under providence, I think I did. Well, said Lincoln, it‘s a pretty mess you‘ve got me into, but I forgive you.”
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of “Newsweek,” as always, great thanks.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Worst persons in the world next. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: Bushed and that poll on whether or not we should investigate torture by the Bush administration bumped to tomorrow by the president‘s speech. But tonight, time still for the number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the worst persons in the world.
The bronze to the Manatee. On Tuesday, the Senate Republican Communications Center issued a press release incorrectly tracking the growth of the stimulus plan. A Fox Noise meat puppet read it almost verbatim on the air, complete with a typo, from the press release. Now Hannity has done the same thing on the radio, claimed he discovered it. Discovered it in the pile of propaganda they pass through him everyday like Fois Gras through a goose.
The runner up is Bill-O the Clown, Bill-O the scared Clown, apparently, rattled enough by the backlash from his having compared correspondent Helen Thomas to a witch to open his show last night with an elaborate self-defense of his snotty remarks about her, and then do two more segments on it later. The Bill O‘Reilly show about Bill O‘Reilly.
Tuesday, he said of Thomas‘ question at the presidential news conference, “it is like the Wicked Witch of the East. If I were Obama, I would have poured water on her and she would have dissolved. What is her name, the old lady? Helen Thomas.”
Wednesday he said of what he had said about her Tuesday, “I didn‘t call her a witch. I said her voice sounded like—and I did the voice. That was clear.”
Three segments of him saying this again and again. Bill, you are saying you were only comparing Helen Thomas‘ voice to the voice of the Wicked Witch of the East in the movie the “Wizard of Oz?” You do realize that in the movie, we never hear the voice of the Wicked Witch of the East, right? She is the one who got squashed when Dorothy‘s house landed on her. Nice try, Billy.
But our winner is Bernard Goldberg, gradually devolving from shrill critic to fomenter of violence. Responding to the critics of Bill-O‘s jokes at Helen Thomas, he lost it. “Screw them. Screw them,” he said. “They are unimportant people. They are throwing spitballs at battleships.” O‘Reilly then said he wanted to send a cake to his critics. Bernard Goldberg then said “you should send them flowers, black, dead roses.”
It would seem as if Mr. Goldberg would be well taken to tamp down the references to violence and battles and death right now. Just this week, a the letter left by murderer Jim David Atkinson (ph), intended as a suicide note, was released by the authorities. Atkinson is the man who burst into a Tennessee church last year during the kids‘ musical and started shooting. He killed a 60-year-old man and a 61-year-old woman.
He explained he was there to kill liberals. In the previously unrevealed note, Atkinson had written, in part, “this was a symbolic killing. Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate and House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg‘s book.”
The book came out four years ago and was called “The 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.” Goldberg included Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Anna Nicole Smith, Ken Lay, Michael Savage and Phil Donahue. This hateful man read what Goldberg wrote and decided to kill innocent people as proxies, because he couldn‘t kill, quote, “the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg‘s book.”
None of us at any end of the political spectrum can be responsible for what the ultimately hateful or the deranged wrongly infer from our work. But the same week it is revealed that this terrorist was partially inspired by Bernard Goldberg, maybe Mr. Goldberg could skip the lines about screw them or the reference to dead roses, or the one last week where he said, “I would probably have gotten a baseball bat and gone down to the ‘New York Times‘ with it and found the person that wrote the editorial, but that‘s me.”
Wait until Monday until you give the next Jim David Atkinson something to work with, sir. Bernard Goldberg, today‘s worst person in the world.
That is COUNTDOWN for this the 2,105th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.” Happy Lincoln‘s Birthday and Darwin‘s and my friend Marcia Rock (ph) as well, though you‘re not doing a segment about her.
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