Guests: Richard Wolffe, Richard Engel, John Ghazvinian, Howard Dean, John Hodgeman
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Nightfall in Tehran—and again, the defiant chant of “Allahu Akbar” from rooftop to rooftop as the hard-line Revolutionary Guards step in to break up protests by Mousavi supporters, those guards now call “rioters.”
And now comes the crackdown against the West: The government hinted expelling outside diplomats as agitators as the attempt to blame England, even the U.S., intensifies. And some here happily feed the Iranian government the excuses it needs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: I appreciate what the president said yesterday. But he‘s been timid and passive more than I would like and I hope he will continue to speak truth to power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Yes, that‘s exactly what the situation calls for if you‘re Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The latest on the ground in Iran from Richard Engel; the latest on the ground in Washington from Richard Wolffe.
Senator Feinstein says there‘s a lot of concern in the Democratic Caucus about the Obama health care plan, when another poll says American support for it is now at nearly ¾ of the public. Maybe you need a new Democratic Caucus.
Out goes the tennis court; in goes the hoop. Out go the invitations to LeBron James to stop by for a shoot-around; up goes the tension between the idea of first jock and first nerd.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HODGMAN, COMEDIAN: Seated to my right, right now, is the person that some people say is the first nerd president of the modern era.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: John Hodgman, keynote speaker at the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner, is our special guest.
And the incredible quotes from the Missouri state representative: “We shouldn‘t give underprivileged kids free meals during the summer because hunger can be a positive motivator.” And she is chairwoman of the state standing committee on children.
All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
The shocking video of her death had been posted to the Internet within minutes of its occurrence. Within hours, it had been viewed around the world galvanizing an entire movement.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: If every resistance or revolution has its martyr, the Iranian election uprising seems to have found its own in the face of Neda Sultani. Riot police attacking hundreds of protestors with tear gas and warning shots; they had been gathering to mourn the death of one woman killed over the weekend, who had quickly become the iconic image of the Iranian opposition movement. Some today are calling the 27-year-old Neda Sultani, the “angel” or the “Joan of Arc” of Iran.
Amateur video is too graphic to play in its entirety, apparently showing her as she bled to death in the arms of her music teacher. Her fiance is saying she was not even at Saturday‘s rallies per se—instead, she had been walking on a side street when she was shot by two plain clothes militiamen on a motorcycle. An acquaintance told the “Associated Press” that the government is barring her family from holding a public funeral and mosques today in, ordered not to hold any memorials of any kind for the young woman.
Earlier on Monday, the Revolutionary Guard issuing its sternest warning yet to protestors there, telling them to, quote, “be prepared for a resolution and revolutionary confrontation with the guards, Basij, the militia, and other security forces and disciplinary forces” if they continued their rallies.
The country‘s highest electoral authority attempting to put questions of electoral fraud to rest by admitting that there appeared to have been electoral fraud. The Guardian Council acknowledging that there were voting irregularities but only in 50 districts, not enough to overturn an election in which the incumbent is alleged to have won by an unprecedented 13 million votes.
A new study by a British think tank, arguing far more massive electoral fraud—the researchers at Chatham House finding it highly improbable that President Ahmadinejad swept rural areas where conservative candidates were deeply unpopular in the past three elections. Ahmadinejad apparently also winning 44 percent of the reformist vote. Regional variations in turnout are also disappearing. Everybody, everywhere, apparently voting, some often.
At the White House, Press Secretary Gibbs is saying that over the weekend, the president had been moved by the images out of Iran he had seen on television, quoting particularly so by the images of women in Iran who have stood up for the right to demonstrate, to speak out and to be heard. Mr. Gibbs did not know if the president had seen footage of Neda‘s death in particular.
In a statement over the weekend, Mr. Obama having said, quote, “We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all those who seek to exercise those rights.”
Many Republicans having voiced public support for the president‘s approach, among them, Senator Lugar of the Foreign Relations Committee, columnists George Will and Peggy Noonan—Ms. Noonan bashing her fellow Republicans on this issue in a column for the second time.
Meanwhile, the Republican candidate for Senate in Florida, Marco Rubio, is arguing on his Twitter page that the Iranian people need more guns, their very own “second amendment.”
Senator Lindsey Graham meantime is calling President Obama weak.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world and not follow it. Other nations have been more outspoken. So, I hope that we‘ll hear more of this because young men and women taking to the streets in Tehran need our support. The signs are in English. They‘re basically asking for us to speak up on their behalf.
And I appreciate what the president said yesterday. But he‘s been timid and passive more than I would like.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe, analysis of domestic politics a moment. First, a pleasure to be joined once again by MSNBC and NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.
Thanks again for coming in.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: A pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Give me the big picture. The size of the rallies has been clearly shrinking. The night time shouts have been said to be continuing. Where is this going? How is this morphing at the moment?
ENGEL: This is at a transition point right now. This movement began first in opposition to the elections themselves. Then it expanded. The supreme leader got involved and it became a major movement, a defining moment in history.
And the government decided that it was going to act and ensure a crackdown. And this weekend, we saw that brutal crackdown. And the death toll is hard to pin down. It‘s between 10 and 25. It could be higher than that. But I think that‘s the range that we‘re talking about.
And today, a lot of the opposition leaders decided banging heads with the security forces in a country where the security forces are very efficient. This is the country, after all, that has trained Hezbollah and knows what it‘s doing to organize covert activities. Many people in that country are followed. They‘re tracked. Cell phones can be monitored, so can e-mails. Several hundred activists were arrested just this weekend alone.
So now, they‘re trying to transform this into a more passive resistance. And the opposition leaders are actively looking out for advice from people who organize social demonstrations, labor strikes. Tomorrow, they want to have a general strike.
ENGEL: And they are trying to cut down the key ministries: oil, the buses, and try and hurt the country economically without sacrificing as many more lives.
OLBERMANN: So, is this—does this explain the Mousavi call—the Mousavi call for a protest but not until Thursday? Is there an attempt to elongate this? What do the protestors gain by keeping the protest movement alive if they have geared it down to being—where does the protest movement fit on a long-term picture of Iran?
ENGEL: Because this protest—unlike the ‘99 student rebellion—this protest movement has powerful backers. So, by prolonging it and keeping themselves in the game, they can allow people, like Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has been going back and forth between Tehran and Qom to continue to work the clerics, and to try and win over support from within the regime.
So, if they maintain some sort of resistance on the ground, some demonstrators every now and then, a general strike, and then continue simultaneously to have their allies pick away at the support of the government, that‘s where they‘re hoping to go.
OLBERMANN: To the point of Neda Sultani, I don‘t know that there‘s ever been a revolution or even a near revolution that did not have an identifiable face, a martyr. You think of everything from Tiananmen Square to Lexington and Concord.
ENGEL: I was thinking more, you remember Muhammad al-Durrah, the boy who was shot in Gaza .
ENGEL: . in his father‘s arms .
ENGEL: . and who became a symbol of injustice? I think this is a—this is a similar moment.
OLBERMANN: Does putting the human face on this equation change it even in Iran—even in such a tightly scripted culture as Iran?
ENGEL: In many ways it does change it because—I spoke to an analyst tonight who had an interesting point, he said, 30 years ago the face of the revolutionary in Iran was a bearded young man and now it is of a dying, young, educated woman wearing a veil, unarmed, who was standing near a protest, and may have been associated with protestors but it would be hard to call her a terrorist. And that is what the government is doing, is labeling them provocateurs and rioters and terrorists, and nobody who has seen the video would have that association.
OLBERMANN: We were speaking before the newscast started about your assessment of what has been latched on to worldwide, this fervor, this excitement, these Twitter feeds and there are other forms of communication which being described as well, but that‘s the principal headline here.
ENGEL: You got to be careful with those.
OLBERMANN: Yes, you had a different interpretation. I thought it was fascinating.
ENGEL: I watched the Twitter feeds .
ENGEL: . all day, constant. You know, every 10 seconds, there are 30 or 40 or 50 of these—a hundred of these new messages. And the tone online is, like, everyone is going to go out and die for the cause, and they‘re all calling for blood and talking about “We should gather weapons and the revolution is coming.”
When you speak to people in Tehran—I spoke to several today, they‘re much more nervous. They are—communications are difficult. They don‘t know what the leaders of the opposition are doing. They don‘t know where to gather.
Tehran is a large city that—it‘s not like Manhattan. You know, it takes—it‘s hard to get around in the city. If you set up road blocks and checkpoints—and after all, Ahmadinejad used to be a traffic engineer. So, there‘s been a lot of very effective blocks in the city.
So, online, if you read the traffic, you think the revolution is coming and the regime is about to fall tonight. If you‘re in the country, people are much more nervous than that.
OLBERMANN: And also, as we suggested at the beginning, much more geared up towards some sort of long-term presence rather than .
ENGEL: This is—they think now, it‘s going to take months not days.
OLBERMANN: Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, once again, with priceless insight for us—and we thank you for it.
ENGEL: A pleasure.
OLBERMANN: And let‘s once again contextual all this within our own politics. And for that, again, our own political analyst Richard Wolffe, author of “Renegade: The Making of a President.”
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Do we have some indication that some of this flag-waving, and not necessarily American flag-waving, but just rah-rah flag-waving by the part of the Republicans here, in opposition to the president‘s sort of standing back if not hands-off approach—that some of that has sort of peeled away and common sense may have prevailed in both parties?
WOLFFE: Well, Peggy Noonan is no slouch. She is a very important, not just a writer, but a thinker, and she obviously writes op-ed pages at one of the most conservative newspapers in the country—if not the most conservative. So, there is a significant body of thought out there. We heard it early on from Dick Lugar, who actually is the most senior Republican on foreign policy in the country.
So—you know, there is a difference of opinion here. And, of course, we, in the media, do like to see conflict, but it is worth remembering that there were many Republicans who didn‘t want to be so gung-ho about invading Iraq—and yet, others, like McCain and his cohorts, who thought it was a great idea. So, there‘s a division on the Republican side, we‘re seeing it played out right now.
OLBERMANN: Is some of the stuff too obvious to be taken seriously? If Marko Rubio is running, trying to get the Senate Republican nomination in Florida, it extrapolates that the real problem in Iran is the gun control there, if they had their own “second amendment,” the problem would be solved.
Is this—are other people saying to him in his own party, you know, “Save this for something about sewage repair in Jacksonville, stay out of something like this, that that‘s important, you‘re only humiliating yourself”?
WOLFFE: Well, you would hope so. But, you know, these senators—if he does get elected, you know, senators do have a voice in foreign policy. It‘s an important voice. And, you know, it‘s rare that anyone really suggests that what the Middle East needs are more guns, more bombs, or even more oil.
You know, there was this thing in Iraq where both sides had guns and it turned into a civil war. It didn‘t really work out so well. So, I don‘t see how anyone who is of sound mind could think it was a good idea for Iran to go down the same path.
OLBERMANN: And yet, the overall message from, say, the sound bite we heard of Lindsey Graham the other minute here, was “Obama is weak because he has not done something.” As of yet have we gotten that something defined? Is he supposed to ball up his fists and threaten somebody? Is he supposed to send shock-and-awe as asked last week? Does he have bombs available to him that would only kill Ahmadinejad supporters?
WOLFFE: Well, here is the difficult thing. If you‘re going to talk tough, you really do have to back it up with something, otherwise, actually, you look weaker. And this isn‘t—you know, people have raised the parallel with Tiananmen Square—this isn‘t really the same idea because there are no real diplomatic relations with Iran to break off. There are obviously extensive sanctions out there.
So, getting tough really is hard to define and, of course, as we‘ve discussed many times, tough talk can be incredibly counterproductive. I think what you‘re seeing here is a number of Republicans who fought and failed to win the argument in the general election of last year about weakness, about naivete—as John McCain used to describe it—and just want to continue that debate.
OLBERMANN: As supported, I suppose, by the Iranians who have been on the streets and saying—basically, the feedback has been to the U.S. as the Iranians are threatening to kick out western diplomats and .
OLBERMANN: . make that sort of the semi-focus of this, the feedback is largely has been, “Hey, thanks for standing somewhat back so you do not dilute the message.” I mean, that‘s the ultimate issue here, isn‘t it?
WOLFFE: Yes. Look, it‘s incredibly hard. No one who has seen those pictures could fail to be moved by the humanitarian piece of this and the human suffering.
But the question is: does it work to get involved here, to become the demonizing influence? It‘s already—the regime is trying to do so and they‘re calling these protestors basically foreign-manipulated terrorists. They‘re already in enough danger as it is. The last thing we should do is put them in even more danger.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC, author of “Renegade”—as always, Richard, thank you.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Nevertheless, let‘s give the Republican a virtual pat on the back here in game play. What would have happened last week, what might happen now if the president did whatever it was the Republicans want him to do about or to Iran? The thoughts of a Penn professor and historian just back from having gone to Iran to vote.
I don‘t usually hype worst persons here, but the woman who chairs the Missouri State House of Representatives Committee on Children says she believes underprivileged school kids should not be given free meals in the summer time because they should be able to go out and get jobs at McDonald‘s and that‘s the rational part. Then there‘s what she said a about how hunger can be a positive motivator.
OLBERMANN: Feedback to the U.S. from the protestors in Iran seems consistent, “Thanks for not inserting yourself in this.” Yet, Republicans continue to clamor that we must insert ourselves in this. We‘ll ask an Iranian-American historian just what would such a reverse in policy in gender and what has it wrought in the past in that nation.
Also, what do you mean Democrats might not have enough Democratic votes to pass health care reform? Nine of 10 Democrats support it.
And a Missouri legislature supposedly an advocate for kids insisting we should stop free summer time meals for school kids because they break up family togetherness. Her question: anyone under 18 can be eligible, can‘t they get a job during the summer by the time they are 16?
One of the all time lulus of a Worst Person—ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: As we just recounted the GOP-political geniuses who brought you the Iraq war want President Obama to now vow unending support for the protestors in Iran to keep rallying them until they win and possibly even join them in their fight.
Our fourth story tonight: The obvious argument—why not? What could possibly go wrong? It‘s not as if history offers any cautionary examples against U.S. intervention in that neighborhood or, specifically, in that country—or does it?
In 1953, after Prime Minister Mosaddeq talked about taking Iran‘s oil away from foreign companies profiting off of it, the CIA got rid of him. And the CIA helped install the unelected former shah of Iran to return from exile. When he fled the country again during the revolution of 1979, the U.S. helped him to escape trial, granting asylum to this known human rights abuser.
That in turn sparked fears the U.S. would again intervene and again reinstall him. And that helped fuel support for the Ayatollah‘s forces who soon succeeded—among their demands: no more U.S. intervention.
Soon after, Saddam Hussein intervened instead with his army, hundreds of thousands of Iranians died, thanks in part to Iraq‘s assistance from U.S. officials, arming Iraq against Iran, intervening again—as they would soon do in Afghanistan, helping to arm and support the anti-Soviet mujahideen fighters there, like, this fellow Osama bin Laden.
So, why not intervene for Mousavi? What could go wrong with installing another power leader in the Mideast, one who pledges allegiance, the same Ayatollah Khomeini who led the anti-American revolution in 1979?
Back in this planet, in fairness, we should ask whether nonintervention, Teddy Roosevelt‘s speak softly approach has ever worked either. Let‘s take, as a random example, Teddy Roosevelt. A hundred years ago, he and his successor, William Howard Taft, were pressured by evangelical Christian politicians to jump into another revolution overseas known as the “Mashruteh (ph).”
As thousands died, Roosevelt and Taft kept quiet. When it was all over, America‘s silence was taken as signs of support that America would not exploit the country for its own interests, and for the next 30 years, America had enjoyed a positive, healthy relationship with this country—which we now know as Iran.
Joining me now: Iranian-American author and historian John Ghazvinian of the University of Pennsylvania, who is posting today on HuffingtonPost.com, in form, our history recap just now, and who made history himself by voting in Iran before leaving the country last Tuesday.
Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
JOHN GHAZVINIAN, UNIV. OF PENNSYLVANIA: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s say Obama comes out tomorrow at that midday news conference and says the conservatives are right. We need strong rhetoric. We need to fire up these protestors without, you know, anything military—in what scenarios could that backfire and wind up hurting both the protestors and, you know—let‘s be selfish about it—America‘s interests in Iran?
GHAZVINIAN: Well, Keith, your intro actually says it all. Let‘s try to remember where and how the Iranian revolution started in the first place.
The first time anybody really heard of Ayatollah Khomeini was actually in 1963 when he led a very emotionally-charged protest against U.S. interference in Iran. Fifteen years later, he had galvanized an entire country behind a revolution. And before that, in 1953, as you say, we overthrew—the CIA overthrew a very, very popular democratically-elected prime minister. We literally hired and paid goons and thugs and mobs to run riot in the streets of Tehran so that they would create instability and chaos, so the army could move in and have an excuse to remove the prime minister.
The key point about the Iranian democracy movement, Keith, is that it didn‘t start with Twitter. It‘s been going on for well over 100 years, 120 years arguably. And throughout that entire time, it‘s been unique in the sense that the movement for democracy in Iran has gone hand in hand with a passionate—passionate desire not to see foreign interference in Iran.
And I have to say, I think, thankfully, we seem to have a president here in the United States who has, at least, some awareness of that history.
OLBERMANN: So, every time—one of the arguments was made during the Bush administration—that every time he called Iran part of the “axis of evil,” essentially, he verified - within Iran, he had verified Ahmadinejad‘s paranoia about the United States, and the West in general.
Are the Republicans doing that now, even just their own—there should be more fight in Obama‘s words—is that, by itself, confirming whatever paranoia there is about the United States and possible intervention right now?
GHAZVINIAN: I think they‘re staying just short of the line, but they‘re getting very close to it if they keep this up—particularly, if they push the president to making statements that he wouldn‘t otherwise make.
Look, these guys in Tehran, particularly, you know, the Ahmadinejad and the Khamenei camp, are waiting for an opportunity to pounce on any kind of evidence, the slightest evidence. We‘ve seen this in the last couple days in the way they‘ve attacked the British. Any kind of evidence that might suggest there might be any kind of foreign hand in this.
But the really interesting thing is that these protests, by and large, have taken the regime off guard. They seem to have spent the last 10 days seeming somewhat confused, a little bit directionless, not quite sure how to respond.
There‘s nothing they would want more right now than some sort of galvanizing piece of heavy-handed American rhetoric that they could hold on to. That would be the greatest gift that we could give them—there‘s no question about it.
OLBERMANN: But, of course, the full extent of the Republican advice
here isn‘t just, you know, support. It is—it is win. It‘s—let‘s say
let‘s play the whole thing out. Let‘s suppose Obama helped Mousavi rhetorically, maybe militarily in some sort of secret fashion. And Mousavi takes power with American backing. How could that go wrong?
GHAZVINIAN: Well, let‘s assume—I mean, this is all assuming .
GHAZVINIAN: . that, A, we actually know where Mousavi is, which nobody seems to, and certainly, since we haven‘t had any kind of presence in Iran for 30 years. There is no reason why we would have any real intelligence on this.
Let‘s assume further that Mousavi actually wants our help, whether he would accept our help, which, frankly, he never would. I mean, I think that would be the kiss of death for him. But, you know, all of those dubious assumptions aside—you know, if you want to play out some sort of fantasy scenario in which somehow even rhetorically, we, you know, help encourage him into power.
Let‘s just imagine what would happen, you know, if somehow Mousavi ends up becoming president at the end of this. He‘s—you know, if there‘s just even the slightest appearance that he owes his position to the United States, he‘s going to spend the next four years of his presidency batting away constant allegations that he‘s some sort of American puppet. That‘s not a great start.
Imagine if during the Cold War, at the height of the Cold War, Walter Mondale in 1984 won his election and then, a couple months later, it turned out the Russians had helped him. That‘s the kind of scenario that you‘d be dealing with. It‘s the kiss of death for a politician in Iran to look like he‘s got any kind of—even rhetorical support from the United States.
OLBERMANN: John Ghazvinian, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, voter in this landmark Iranian election—great thanks for your perspective. It has opened a lot of eyes, I think. Thank you, sir.
GHAZVINIAN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Also, I don‘t want to say live music is dead, but this is not Diana Krall. I want my money back.
The Missouri state legislator, chairwoman of the standing committee for children, says free summer meals for school kids, they hurt families, then says (ph) kids‘ hunger as a motivator, and suggests they should all go work at McDonald‘s because they get free meals during the breaks there.
Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Bests in a moment. And the headline to beat all headlines. First, on this date in 1954, the ultimate reminder that conservative witch hunting, then or now, can have fatal consequences, whether it be the assassination of a Dr. George Tiller or the suicide of news caster Don Hollenbeck.
In poor health, and having been the continuing target of ceaseless, ideologically driven public attack, the CBS television and radio newsman put the gas on in his apartment and left it on. He was 49 years old. And yet, just as now, those who contributed to the tragedy insisted they had no responsibility for it.
Let‘s play oddball.
We will change the mood at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, where we begin with cool jazz from a river otter.
Better than I am at it. That‘s Dua, the small Asian clawed river otter, tickling the ivories—or the ironies. He is tickling the ironies. That‘s my job. Get the otter the hell out of here. If the hand would stop feeding him, maybe he could actually get his funk on. Dua‘s keepers say they created the activity to give the animals something to do. Also to extend feeding time.
The video, posted on Youtube, serves as a demonstration of the otter‘s remarkable dexterity, and is the latest in the otter versus kitty synthesizer battle that is now raging on the Internets.
Now to a PE class at Brexville Broadview Heights Middle School in Ohio, where this summer the wedgies will finally stop for eighth grader Aaron Shupway (ph). From upside down, bang.
In front of a stunned student body, Mr. Shupway pulled off a front hand spring, held on to the ball, righted himself, and chucked it across the gym and got nothing but net. Shupway and his better than Lebron trick shot have struck Internet gold. And though the young man has yet to declare his intentions for next year, word is he may forego high school and enter the 2009 NBA draft.
So 72 percent of the country favors government administered health plans. And the Democrats are not sure they can pass it? You know, we may need us some new Democrats. And 72 hours after he famously dubbed Obama the possible first nerd president, John Hodgeman reacts to the backlash. Obama has put up a hoop and invited Lebron James over. Should invite Aaron shupway over. Mr. Hodgeman joins us.
But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.
Number three, best exit line, the late John Nelson Palmer of Carbondale, Colorado. He passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer last Monday age 62. In his obituary in “The Aspen Daily News,” his daughter says that among the last words one of the community‘s most intriguing personalities said, included, quote, “I can‘t believe Keith Richards out-lived me.”
Number two, best COUNTDOWN warning, again unheeded, Mr. Tony Pene of Sacramento, California. There were cockroaches in his apartment, so he set off a bug bomb. And when I say a bug bomb, of course I mean he set off 18 of them. As usual, the entire apartment complex detonated. Nobody hurt. A million dollars in damage done. “I don‘t know what happened,” Mr. Pene, told the local media. “I do this every month.”
His and three other families are now displaced. The cockroaches are of course still there.
Finally, best headline, the website Madison.com, which is all the newspapers there, “Wisconsin State Journal,” “Capital Times,” et cetera. Its story is about David Shafel (ph) of Stoughton, Wisconsin, local chef and cheddar carver, who has made models in cheddar of the Eiffel Tower, et cetera. What follows is the actual headline to the story at Madison.com.
OLBERMANN: If the second poll in a week shows public support for the tandem of public and private health care options nearing three quarters support from all Americans, and a key Democratic senator says she is not sure if her Democratic colleagues will support it, in our third story of the COUNTDOWN, the natural solution here, get new senators.
The new CBS News/”New York Times” poll shows 72 percent of Americans say they want a choice between a government run plan and private one, and that 57 percent are even willing to pay more taxes to get it. The poll also shows Americans trust the government more than private insurers. Half say Washington would do a better job at providing coverage; 59 percent saying it would be better at holding down costs.
Yet, this weekend Senator Dianne Feinstein called cost control such a problem that the president, even though Democrats have the numbers, may not have the votes. So today, Mr. Obama began putting pressure on the nay-sayers, bringing back his own campaign slogan, yes we can. He today pulled in AARP CEO Barry Rand to announce a deal with U.S. drug companies to cut prescription drug costs for the elderly, called the agreement a significant breakthrough on the road to health care reform.
And this week, the president begins his pitch to the people, which includes a news conference tomorrow, and a town hall meeting on Wednesday. Let‘s turn now to former governor of Vermont, former DNC chair, and author of “Howard Dean‘s Prescription For Real Health Care Reform,” Governor Howard Dean. Thank you for your time.
HOWARD DEAN, FMR. GOV. OF VERMONT: Thanks for having me on, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If there are two polls in a week that show 70 percent, nearly three quarters, support for some form of government generated health insurance, why is Senator Feinstein encountering resistance from other Senate Democrats?
DEAN: One of the problems in the Senate is it becomes about the Senate instead of what‘s good for the country. The idea that 40 members of a determined minority can obstruct what 72 percent of Americans want is ridiculous.
You‘ve got to put aside this notion that bipartisanship is always good. Bipartisanship is a good thing when both sides want to work together. But they don‘t. The Republicans just want to kill this bill, just like they tried to kill Medicare. And the Democrats have got to stand up to it. If we learned anything in the last four years, you only win when you stand up to obstructionism. And the Democrats have got to get their act together and move forward with this.
A health insurance plan without a public health insurance option is not health care reform. And they need to get this done.
OLBERMANN: That 72 percent support figure in the CBS poll is everybody. The Democrats surveyed in this poll are 87 percent in favor and nine percent against. Given that, if Democratic senators oppose this, does not the only answer follow, you have to present the threat of new Democratic senators to replace those?
DEAN: That‘s what will happen, but it‘s not a good thing. These senators are good people. What happens when you get in the Senate is you become consumed with what goes on in the Senate, and you lose touch with what goes on elsewhere. This is exactly what I was trying to do when I first got to be the chairman of the Democratic party.
The votes are outside Washington, not inside Washington. It would be a disaster in the midterms and a disaster for the president if we allow this bill to go down in the Senate. There has to be a public health insurance option. Three quarters of the American people want one.
What would happen—and I don‘t think the Democratic senators believe this. But it will look to the American public like these senators supported the health insurance industry, instead of what was good for the American people.
DEAN: Let the American people choose. Let them make their choice.
That‘s what they want here.
OLBERMANN: Even in terms of party loyalty, not that you want a bunch of obsequious yes men in every political party a hundred percent of the time. But maybe 10 percent of the time, is that OK? Is there no party discipline? I mean, the Republicans seem to be fairly good at that. Where is a little touch of that when the Democrats need it?
DEAN: It‘s not so much the party discipline. It‘s the spine to stand up to people when they‘re really being obstructionist. The Republicans just appear to be tougher and more disciplined. We have got to stand up and do what‘s right.
Seventy two percent of the American people want the choice, including in places like Indiana and Delaware and states where folks are not—can‘t make up their minds. We need a choice. The American people want—they don‘t necessarily want everybody on Medicare. They just want to choose for themselves. I think it‘s time that the American people get to make that choice, and not the insurance lobby and not the Senate and not the Congress and not the president and not insurance company bureaucrats.
Let the American people choose. That is the message, three to one. And we just—the people in Washington have got to make sure. We worked so hard to get this big majority. They‘ve got to use it and they‘ve got to pass a public health insurance option, real health reform.
OLBERMANN: Yes, 72 percent. By the way, among Republicans, it‘s 50 percent to 39 in favor.
OLBERMANN: Governor Howard Dean, as always, thanks for your time tonight.
DEAN: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Only one man was willing to call the president a possible nerd to his face. He joins us tonight in light of the president‘s push back, inviting Lebron James over to shoot hoops.
And let them eat cake tone deaf moment of the summer; the Missouri politician who insists we should not give under privileged school kids free meals, because hunger is such a good motivator and there are plenty of jobs at McDonald‘s.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, to paraphrase the old movie title, one of our governors is missing.
OLBERMANN: One headline from the Radio TV Correspondents‘ Dinner Friday, “Nerd calls Nerd, Nerd.” We‘ll elevate that, as the speaker, John Hodgeman, joins me next. That would make it nerd calls nerd nerd, interviewed by nerd.
But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.
The bronze to the citizen patriots of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It has 165 closed circuit TV cameras trained on it, more than Boston or San Francisco. They‘re monitored not by the police, but by a company to which the project was outsourced. The company turns out to have hired Lancaster‘s residents to do the monitoring and call police if they see something amiss. In other words, they‘re spying on one another.
The “LA Times” quotes a businessman, a beer and soft drink distributor, who calls it, quote, a great thing, and adds, there is nothing wrong with instilling fear. The beverage man‘s name is Jack Bauer.
The silver shared tonight by Charles Krauthammer of the “Washington Post” and Bill Bennett of CNN, appalled that the president has referred to the chief Ayatollah as the supreme leader of Iran. “Note the abject solicitousness with which the American president confers this honorific on a clerical dictator,” says Krauthammer.
“We should be on the side of freedom, and not on the side of this supreme leader, as our president keeps referring to,” whines Bennett. Later the same day, John McCain referred to this guy as the supreme leader.
In March, Senator Richard Lugar called him that four times in one hearing.
And even William Kristol called him that in a column.
It‘s a job title.
But our winner is Cynthia Davis, who represents the 19th district in Missouri‘s State House of Representatives, the gold that is found off the beaten path. Representative Davis provides a few commentaries to a news release about the state‘s summer food program, which keeps feeding disadvantaged kids even while school is out. In short, Representative Davis does not get it. She writes, “who‘s buying dinner? Who is getting paid to serve the meal? Churches and other non-profits can do this at no cost to the taxpayer, if it is warranted. Bigger governmental programs take away our connectedness to the human family, our brotherhood and our need for one another. Anyone under 18 can be eligible? Can‘t they get a job during the summer by the time they are 16? Hunger can be a positive motivator. What is wrong with the idea of getting a job so you can get better meals? Tip: if you work for McDonald‘s, they will feed you for free during your break. It really is all about increasing government spending, which means an increase in taxes for us to buy more free lunches and breakfasts.”
One in five kids in Missouri is already motivated by hunger, Ms. Davis. And last year, because the meals are offered at churches, the 9.5 million dollars of federal money spent produced 3,700,000 meals at a cost of about 2.50 bucks each. It is embarrassing enough that Cynthia, let them eat McDonald‘s, Davis is a public servant paid by tax dollars, but she‘s also the chairwoman of the Missouri House Special Standing Committee on Children and Families. It would seem that her advocacy of hunger would disqualify her from that job, and that we‘d be better off if she was working at a McDonald‘s.
Although clearly, she has used and is using hunger as a positive motivator, because she seems to have been starving her brain of the recommended daily dosage of intelligence and humanity and oxygen. Missouri State Representative Cynthia, are there no prisons, are there no work houses, Davis, today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: He‘s a fan of Dr. Spock, but can give a detailed assessment, probably Mr. Spock, too. He is a fan of Mr. Spock, and also can give you his March Madness bracket picks off the top of his head. Collector of Spider-Man comics, but he is planning a game of White House basketball with the NBA MVP, his pal. Our number one story, Barack Obama first nerd or jock in chief.
The man who declared Mr. Obama the first nerd president of the modern era joins us in a moment. But first, at the 65th annual Radio and TV Correspondents‘ Dinner in Washington, the president delivering a strong follow-up act to his last comedic turn at last month‘s White House Correspondents‘ Dinner. And after thanking the president for warming up the crowd, humorist John Hodgeman took the stage with a 15 minute thesis arguing for presidential nerd-dom, delivering a deposition by slideshow honoring the president‘s nerd heritage. As a child Mr. Obama was an avid reader of “Conan the Barbarian.” He is quick with his “Star Trek” references and can name the father of Superman. That is Jor-el, if you‘ve forgotten.
Hodgeman noting that after eight years of a jock administration, the nerds are enjoying something of a revenge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HODGEMAN, COMEDIAN: It is an exciting time to be a nerd. There is talk in some states of even decriminalizing evolution. At this very moment, the fate of Iran is strangely entwined with the sleep schedules of the geeks who maintain the servers at Twitter and Youtube.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But then there is some evidence to the contrary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HODGEMAN: Despite his Spockish calm and gangly frame, the president is known to dabble in sports, and not just bowling, but the hard stuff. What they call baskets-ball.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What they call baskets-ball coming soon to a White House near you. “Bloomberg News” now reporting the south lawn tennis court is going to become a basketball court. Mr. Obama‘s first pick for the presidential pickup game, oh, yes, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lebron James.
Joining us now, the keynote speaker at the Radio and Television Correspondents‘ Association Dinner, the writer and humorist John Hodgeman. His book “More Information Than You Require” comes out in paperback this fall. Welcome.
HODGEMAN: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.
OLBERMANN: Pleasure to have you. But this is confusing. This is a president who is fluent in Vulcan, yet can call up Lebron James and say, how would you like to christen this court?
HODGEMAN: I hadn‘t heard that. He isn‘t exactly calling me to screen “Battlestar Gallactica” with him this week. He‘s obviously making up for something.
OLBERMANN: Is he a nerdy jock or jockey nerd?
HODGEMAN: I think he crosses the streams, to drop a “Ghostbusters”
reference, which is something that‘s enjoyed by jocks and nerds alike. I
think he has elements of both. What I was trying to say was that it‘s not just loving baskets-ball or bases-ball or whatever the other sports are that you enjoy. It‘s not just enjoying nerdy math and science and everything else. But it‘s a philosophy of certainty and a philosophy of questioning. And you need to have both, I think, in order to govern effectively.
It‘s OK with me if he wants to play baskets-ball with Lebron James. I don‘t insist on ideological rigidity. I just want effective government. I think you need both.
OLBERMANN: I just wonder, is it appropriate for Lebron James, because he appears in a commercial? I wouldn‘t—it would seem they wouldn‘t let you in—oh, never mind.
HODGEMAN: I see what you‘re saying.
OLBERMANN: You know what I mean.
HODGEMAN: You know me. I loathe advertising.
OLBERMANN: I know. I was going to say, I would never appear—oh, I did. Is there sort of a built-in bipartisanship to an equation in which you have both of these aspects of personality, sports and thinking type stuff?
HODGEMAN: You know, I said the Bush administration was a jockish administration. And I didn‘t say it maliciously. I just think that they proceed at all times from certainty. They went with gut instincts over complexity. They didn‘t like bookish discussion. And they were run by a cheerleader. It‘s just the facts on the table.
As a geek, I have to acknowledge what the objective reality is. And that‘s what it was. And a lot of good decisions are made from the gut. A lot of bad decisions have been justified by science. So I do think you need both to navigate difficult waters.
OLBERMANN: Can a jock administration really be led by a cheerleader? Isn‘t that by itself something of a refutation of the jock theory that the cheerleaders wind up in charge?
HODGEMAN: I‘m not talking—when I say jocks, I‘m not talking actual athletes. Athletes have incredible skills. And they‘re well paid for them. And they‘re not concerned with this little ideological battle.
HODGEMAN: Jocks—I think jockishness is a sort of theme adjacent to athleticism. And you need a team that functions coherently and is run by authority top down and conformity, in order to win games and fight wars. That‘s not what most adults do in the United States, however, I‘m glad to say right now. The reality is the revolution is already over, because you see in Iran, all those kids are engaging with technology.
HODGEMAN: Every second of the day. They don‘t know who Dr. Who is, but they are essentially democratizing the Middle East through nerd-dom, in the sense that they‘re engaging with an idea from the ground up and spreading it through technology.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned that this is possibly the first modern nerd president.
OLBERMANN: Are there historical nerd presidents?
HODGEMAN: Teddy Roosevelt was a big nerd.
OLBERMANN: And not a jock?
HODGEMAN: He was a little of both.
OLBERMANN: Eating frogs for lunch or whatever he did?
HODGEMAN: He started as a frail, bookish, asthmatic taxidermy nerd as a child, and willed himself into jock-dom.
OLBERMANN: Through weight lifting.
HODGEMAN: Exactly so. He had a strenuous life. He was kind of a self-hating nerd. That‘s why we have such an ambivalent relationship with nerds. The reality is we don‘t want just the nerd, I think, or a geek president. I think we want someone who can do both.
OLBERMANN: All right. You made the distinction. What is the difference? I‘ve been called nerd, geek, and several—and dork and several other synonyms.
HODGEMAN: You are a very sporty fellow.
OLBERMANN: I was anyway. I was a cheerleader, so to speak. Are there actually definitional differences here between just those first two, geek and nerd?
HODGEMAN: I think taxonomy nerds would draw a big flow chart of the different kinds of jocks there are and the different kinds of nerds there are.
HODGEMAN: I think it basically has to do with conformity versus individualism, between authority versus subversion, certainty versus questioning. I don‘t say any of those things maliciously. They all work together, if you confuse them together sometimes.
OLBERMANN: That‘s because, within the great tradition of both fields, you have to leave some room for them not to come over and hit you.
OLBERMANN: Exactly. I see a future where we go forward with these two great opposing armies as a kind of human/Cylon hybrid, into a world where most people know what human/Cylon hybrid means, and in which I don‘t even have to grit my teeth and say, it‘s a new baseball game.
OLBERMANN: OK. I‘ll call Dr. Spock and ask. John Hodgeman of the “Daily Show” and Radio and TV Correspondents‘ Dinner. Great thanks for coming.
HODGEMAN: Hey, thank you.
OLBERMANN: A pleasure to meet you. That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,244th day since the previous president declared, hey, mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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