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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, October 29, 2009

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guest Host: Lawrence O‘Donnell

Guests: Michael Beschloss, Howard Dean, Edward Norton, Howard Fineman


LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

History on the Hill.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Today, we are about to deliver on the promise of making affordable quality health care available for all Americans.


O‘DONNELL:  The public option lives, but it won‘t be the robust public option.  Republicans still cry foul anyway.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, MINORITY LEADER:  Here we go again.  The American people have spoken and it‘s pretty clear that our Democrat colleagues have not listened.


O‘DONNELL:  But while the “party of no” objects, one liberal Democrat stands up and says we should be able to do better, much better.


REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO:  If this is the best we can do, then our best isn‘t good enough.  Health care or insurance care?  Government of the people or government by the corporations?


O‘DONNELL:  Reaction tonight by former governor, Dr. Howard Dean.

A solemn moment at Dover Air Force Base in the dark of night as the long war in Afghanistan takes its largest toll of American lives this month.  President Obama as commander-in-chief pays his respects as the fallen soldiers return home.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day.


O‘DONNELL:  A story of change: A year after the ground-breaking election of Barack Obama, HBO gives us a riveting behind-the-scenes look at the historic campaign.  One of the film‘s producers, award-winning actor Edward Norton, joins us.

Take the money then run?  A story surfaces that Sarah Palin will speak in Iowa next month in exchange for 100 grand.  Her peeps deny it, but even the suggestion of cashing in has upset the very Republicans in Iowa Sarah Palin will have to woo if she wants to be president.

And Blago may be gone from the Illinois statehouse, but he‘s not forgotten.


ANNOUNCER:  For far too long, Illinois has been ruled by the hair.


O‘DONNELL:  Tonight, an ad destined for the wacky political ad “Hall of Fame.”

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FMR. ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  . were very unhappy with that guy.



O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.

The House of Representatives today released its health care reform bill, including a public option, a government-run health insurance alternative for people currently without health insurance.  President Obama praised the bill but criticism from both the right for how much it will cost and the left for how little it will do.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: What Nancy Pelosi thinks she can get and not get in health care reform.

The speaker of the House today celebrating on the Capitol steps, listing what the 1,990-page bill accomplishes or will accomplish if something like it passes both House and Senate, including ending antitrust protections for insurance companies and eliminating their ability to reject people for coverage based on pre-existing conditions.  Between now and 2013, when the public option would kick in, a fund for a temporary high-risk pool would provide a stop-gap for those unable to get private insurance.

Speaker Pelosi also touted the bill‘s fiscal responsibility.


PELOSI:  It reduces the deficit, meets President Obama‘s call to keep the cost under $900 billion over 10 years, and it insures 36 million more Americans -- 36 million more.


PELOSI:  And that said, the bill is fiscally sound, will not add one dime to the deficit as it expands coverage, implements key insurance reforms, and promotes prevention and wellness across the health system.  The bill will expand coverage, including a public option to boost choice and competition in the health insurance reform.



O‘DONNELL:  Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf, several hours later, released the CBO‘s estimate of the bill‘s financial impact.  The bill would make health insurance mandatory for most people and fine companies with payrolls over $500,000 that do not offer health care plans.  It adds an excise tax for makers of medical equipment and raises taxes on individuals making more than half a million and couples making more than a million.

Most notably, the CBO said the bill will both cost more, over $1 trillion, but also offset more in taxes and spending cuts than Speaker Pelosi estimated.  The bill, however, would still meet President Obama‘s requirement that it not add to the deficit.  The CBO estimating it would actually reduce the deficit by $104 billion over 10 years.

President Obama said in a statement, quote, “The House bill clearly meets two of the fundamental criteria I have set out.  It is fully paid for and will reduce the deficit in the long term.”

The most dedicated veteran of the health care fight, Michigan‘s John Dingell, who presided over House passage of Medicare in the 1960s and whose father introduced the first universal health care bill in Congress in 1943, pushed back against GOP claims that the bill‘s Medicare cuts threaten seniors.


REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN:  The only citizens who are going to have to worry about their participation in Medicare being cut are the insurance companies.  Some of them are getting paid 150 percent of what they‘re entitled to.  And that‘s being paid, curiously enough, by other American citizens, retirees.


O‘DONNELL:  In response, Republicans seemed dumbfounded that Democrats were not cowed by the tea party rabble-rousers sent by Washington lobbyists to disrupt town hall meetings on health care reform.


BOEHNER:  Over the last several months, the American people have spoken, and it‘s pretty clear that our Democrat colleagues have not listened.  Through the month of August, September, the American people let members of Congress from both sides of the aisle know that they wanted no part of a government-run health care plan.


O‘DONNELL:  In fact, moderate Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana today, faced with a new poll suggesting voters would punish him for helping Republicans block a vote on health care, as well as a request for clarification of his position on this program last night, seems to take a clarifying step in Harry Reid‘s direction.  Despite previously saying, allowing debate on the bill would be equivalent to supporting it, today, he released a statement saying, quote, “He will support moving forward to a health care debate on the Senate floor.”

Bayh, whose wife sits somewhat uncomfortably no doubt on the board of health insurance giant WellPoint, has still not said whether he would help Republicans block a vote on health care, and has still not provided an answer to our question of whether he has ever voted to allow a vote on something he has opposed and then voted against the final passage of the bill.  The Service Employees International Union, however, told us they have researched this and turned up at least three such incidents in Bayh‘s voting record.

Some intense and heart-felt opposition to the House bill came from the left today, leaders of the Progressive Caucus meeting with President Obama today, urging stronger support from him for a stronger public option.

And Congressman Dennis Kucinich tore into the House bill, especially for forcing people to buy the health insurance industry‘s faulty product and fatten their profit margins, and for forcing the government to negotiate its rate of payments to providers rather than tie them to the lower Medicare rates, which would have saved taxpayers $85 billion.


KUCINICH:  Is this the best we can do?  Mandating private insurance, forcing people to buy private insurance policies or pay a penalty, guaranteeing at least $50 billion in new business for the insurance companies?

Is this the best we can do?  Government negotiates rates which would drive up insurance costs, but the government won‘t negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies which will drive up pharmaceutical costs?

Is this the best we can do?  Only 3 percent of Americans will go to a new public plan.  Well, currently, 33 percent of Americans are either uninsured or underinsured.

Is this the best we can do?  Eliminating the state‘s single-payer option will force most people to have to buy private insurance.

If this is the best we can do, then our best isn‘t good enough.  And we have to ask some hard questions about our political system such as: health care or insurance care?  Government of the people or government by the corporations?


O‘DONNELL:  Our guest tonight is the former governor of Vermont, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Dr. Howard Dean, currently a consultant to both Democracy for American and McKenna, Long and Aldrich, and less we forget, a contributor for CNBC.

Thanks for your time tonight, Governor.

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN:  Thanks for having me on.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, let‘s go to Dennis Kucinich‘s question right off the bat.  Do you disagree with any of the points he made in that speech?  And ultimately, is this the best we can do?

DEAN:  It‘s not the best we can do, but it‘s a very good start. 




Look, when they were fighting uphill against a very well-organized opposition which has a lot of trouble telling the truth and against an incredibly well-organized health insurance industry which has given millions and millions of dollars to some of the people who are going to have to vote on this stuff.

So, I think, this is—look, I don‘t disagree entirely with Dennis, but the fact is, this is real reform.  That‘s all I really care about, is real reform.  People are going to have a chance to get into a different kind of a system that doesn‘t take huge profits out and put it in their pockets.  And we‘re only 4 percent of all the money that we put in is spent on things that aren‘t—don‘t have anything to do with health care.

So, are there some things?  Yes.  The most important thing that probably needs to be change in conference committee is more people need to get into this system before the 2010 elections.  And we need—the only way to defeat all the things that the opposition is saying that aren‘t so is to actually show ‘em how the system works.  It really is pretty good.  It‘s going to be very good for a lot of people.

I think this is going to work well.  I think it‘s a great bill.  I think the speaker has a lot of courage and I‘m very, very pleased.  And I think Senator Reid did a terrific job last week in the same thing.

I think we‘re in good shape.  We‘re going to have some bad days still, I‘m sure.  But we‘re in a very, very good shape now.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, Governor, the biggest difference between the House bill and Senate bill is now on the tax side.  The Senate wants to tax union health care plans.  That is opposed by over 170 Democratic members of the House.  The House wants to tax rich people, wants to tax people above—individuals above $500,000 of income, couples above $1 million of income.

These seem like irreconcilable differences.  One of those taxes has to win.  Which one do you think it will be?

DEAN:  Fighting over money is never irreconcilable.  Is this the number and there‘s always a number in the middle to get to.  So, I‘m not less bit worried about.  What I‘m worried about is making sure the public option does well and as many people can get to sign up for it as possible.  And I‘m worried about what‘s going to happen to the Democrats in 2010.

Again, the only reason—the only way that we can show the country that the Republicans have just not been telling the truth the last six or eight months about this bill is to actually have it put in effect.  And once it goes onto effect and people‘s—especially, people‘s kids start getting insurance, this debate is over.  And we‘re going to—instead of losing seats in 2010, we‘re going to pick up some seats in 2010.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, when Barack Obama ran for president, he said that on the taxation side, you could pay for health care simply by allowing the Bush tax cut on the top tax bracket to expire.  We now see that the House has gone far beyond that.  The Senate has gone beyond that and invented a handful of taxes that we‘ve never seen before.

How do Democrats answer next year‘s obvious attack ads against them in the campaigns saying that they voted for huge tax increases that none of them mentioned during their last campaign?

DEAN:  You have to make sure that people actually have insurance.  You can‘t wait until 2013 or 2012.  If you want to say to the congressional majority that we‘ve got, you‘ve got to have this go—some of this go into effect.  The whole bill can‘t go into effect by 2010.  But you‘ve got to get a significant number of people insured.

That‘s why I think the best way to run the public option, I agree with having negotiated rates.  And that‘s a done deal.  That was passed in the Senate—I mean, put out there by the leader in the Senate and by the leader in the House.

So, we‘re going to have negotiating rates.  I don‘t think that‘s any big tragedy.  I think some folks are concerned about it, but I think that‘s fine.  I think the expansion of Medicaid is great.  You got to hold the states harmless.  But it‘s a very good thing to do.  It‘s how we got to universal insurance for all our kids in Vermont.

But the one thing you‘ve got to do is get as many people as you can, particularly kids, into the system.  And I think that probably means using Medicare as your basis with negotiating rates.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, you‘ve been adamant about the public option all year and I just want to make sure I understand.  You‘re endorsing here tonight the House version of the public option, am I clear on that?

DEAN:  Yes.  I don‘t think either one of them is perfect.  Both I think both of them are—both the House and Senate versions are good bills, and I‘d vote for either one of them if I were in Congress.

O‘DONNELL:  And do you think the House version or the Senate version, one or the other, is—seems to be better at the possibility of containing costs?

DEAN:  I think the bigger the public option is, the better costs will be contained.  Massachusetts has shown that you can get to pretty close to universal insurance without using public option.  But you can‘t control costs without using the public option.

So, you know, you look at these bills very carefully.  You know, one of the big things I was shocked at in the bill, in the House bill, they actually resurrected co-ops.  Co-ops are in the House bill.

I was stunned.  I‘d love to know why that is because they aren‘t going to work.  But that‘s in the bill.  I couldn‘t quite figure that one out at all.

But, in general, they are both very, very good bills.  And I think it‘s not the kind of reform that I would have loved.  You know, Dennis Kucinich has some points there, but this is pretty good stuff and it really is going to make a difference.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, I just want to take you back to the tax piece one more time.  You have to indulge me.  I used to be the chief-of-staff on the Senate Finance Committee where we do taxes.  So, it‘s one of the things I concentrate on here.

Which one of these tax approaches do you think is more politically viable and is the better one to defend in the campaign next year?  The income tax on top earners or the tax on health care plans?

DEAN:  You know how this goes.  What they‘re going to do is probably a little of each.  And Rich Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, the other day said there was a possibility of taxing health care plans at a benefit level.  But the benefit level had to be much higher than it was now because they didn‘t want working people to get caught on that.

They‘ll come up with a compromise and they‘ll get money from both sources, but not as much as either source gives now in each bill.  That‘s just a compromise.  You know, you‘re experienced.  You know very well that‘s an easy compromise.  They might fight about it, but it‘s an easy compromise.

There are some tougher things in there.  And the most important thing of all is moving the date of enrollment up to preserve the Democratic majority in 2010.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor Howard Dean, thank you for finding the Solomonic solution to the tax dilemma in this bills and thanks for joining us tonight.

DEAN:  Thanks for having me on.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: The solemn scene at Dover Air Force Base last night, the striking images of Barack Obama, commander-in-chief, saluting fallen soldiers.  Presidential historian Michael Beschloss joins us.

And later: Someone in Sarah Palin‘s camp is creating problems for her in Iowa.  Somehow, local Republicans get the idea the former governor wants $100,000 to speak there next month.  Some Iowa Republicans say, “Sorry, Sarah, you do not get a paycheck for the privilege of building relationships with guaranteed caucus-goers.”  Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.


O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: The significance of President Obama‘s late-night visit to pay tribute to our war dead from Afghanistan.

Also, inside the election of Barack Obama.  The HBO documentary “By the People” debuts next week.  We‘ll talk to the producer and award-winning actor, Edward Norton.

And later: Could Sarah Palin‘s second book be “How not to start a presidential campaign”?  She‘s not even announced for 2012 yet and she already has big problems brewing in Iowa.  That‘s next.



O‘DONNELL:  If you‘ve already caught a glimpse of it today, it may have stopped you in your tracks—the image of the American president attending the pre-dawn solemn transfer of our nation‘s war dead from a military transport plane to the vehicle that would take those fallen soldiers on the final leg of their tragic journey home.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Part of the president‘s intent may have been to remind us of what war really is, as he prepares to make the most difficult decision of his life, on whether to commit even more troops to the war in Afghanistan.

President Obama left the White House shortly before midnight and boarded Marine One for Dover Air Force Base, the nation‘s entry point for U.S. military personnel killed in action.  The president met with families of 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan over two different incidents Monday and Tuesday.  Fifteen soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Agents lost their lives, making October with 54 deaths—the deadliest month in the 8-year-old war.

The president met with all the families of the fallen this morning and later boarded the military transport plane each time for the air force chaplain‘s prayer over the bodies.  One family, that of Sergeant Dale Griffin, had agreed to allow cameras for what is known as the solemn transfer of the coffin to the awaiting vehicle.


O‘DONNELL:  It has been only six months since the Pentagon changed the policy imposed under President George H.W. Bush that had banned media coverage of the arrival of fallen soldiers.  The new policy allows each family to decide whether to allow families.  In this instance, 11 of the 18 families had made a choice against coverage before they were notified that President Obama would be there.

The president returned to the White House before 5:00 a.m. and he later acknowledged that the grim ceremony will inform his decision.


OBAMA:  Obviously, you know, the burden of that, what our troops and our families bear, in any war time situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts, and, you know, it is something that I think about each and every day.


O‘DONNELL:  President George W. Bush often met privately with grieving military families, but he did not go to Dover for the transfer of bodies.

Let‘s bring in NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

Good evening, Michael.


How are you doing?

O‘DONNELL:  Obviously, this was powerful imagery made available to us because of this one family‘s choice to allow cameras there.  What other recent precedence do we have in the modern media age for this kind of thing?

BESCHLOSS:  Well, you know, one thing I think we have to say, Lawrence, is that this really tells us a lot about a wartime commander-in-chief.  For instance, Richard Nixon, when he was waging the war in Vietnam, he didn‘t want to go to ceremonies like this because he wanted it to be abstract.  He didn‘t want to be swayed by the emotion of seeing what was the cause of the men and women—American men and women he was sending off to die.

At the other end of the spectrum, you can go all the way back to Abraham Lincoln who, you know, went to a summer house during the summers of his presidency.  And across the street from the house was a new cemetery.  Every week, there were 30 to 40 Union graves dug there.

So, when Lincoln got up in the morning, he looked out the window and saw graves being dug of soldiers who died at his order, he hated it.  It pained him, but he felt that he could make better decisions because he‘d had that experience.

And I wouldn‘t be surprised if, when we read a Barack Obama memoir years from now, if what we saw at midnight last night didn‘t turn out to be a big moment in his life, at a moment that he‘s making some pretty big decisions about Afghanistan.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, his predecessor, George W. Bush, who made the first big decisions about Afghanistan, I know, visited families with wounded in hospitals, Bob Woodward has accounts of that sort of thing in his books.

What else did George W. Bush do that is comparable to this?  We know he didn‘t do precisely this, but what else?

BESCHLOSS:  He met with a lot of families, but tended to distance himself from ceremonies like this.  And, of course, Dover was off-limits all the way back to 1989.  His father, George Bush 41, just after the invasion of Panama, was giving a press conference, was chuckling on the only cable news network at the time.  They did a split screen.  The other half of the screen showed coffins coming into Dover from Panama.

People found that very strange.  And so, that led to a policy that prevailed for a long time, which was that these things were off-limits.

The government would say it was to preserve the privacy of the families, but, of course, a lot of people in the Pentagon worried that if you had these kinds of images, it would reduce the support for various wars that we were fighting.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, obviously, the president did not do this in a political vacuum.  What are the political risks for this kind of imagery?

BESCHLOSS:  Well, you might say that one risk might be that he‘s identified with a war in Afghanistan that might be unpopular, but this war has gone on from the moment he came in.  So, he is identified.  I think much more important than the risks are the way it enhances what we know of Barack Obama—that while he‘s making these decisions about Afghanistan, he wants to confront the reality of what a decision to continue this war five or 10 years with conceivably tens of thousands of American casualties, he wants to see the cost in person.

O‘DONNELL:  And what about the possibility that some would argue this is exactly the image that maybe some of our enemies want to see—they want to see that they have delivered something that lands heavily and personally on the president?

BESCHLOSS:  They might.  But I think what I would reply is that this is the strength of America.  We‘re a democracy.  We are proud of what we do.  We don‘t cover it up.

And, you know, Lawrence, during World War II, for a while, there were censorship rules waged by the Franklin Roosevelt administration, saying that news reels and newspapers could not show the corpses of Americans who have been killed in World War II.  And FDR actually repealed that censorship.  He thought that if Americans saw the cost of war, these men and women who had been killed by the enemy, it would actually strengthen American support for what we were doing.

O‘DONNELL:  Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, thanks for joining us tonight and providing invaluable historical perspective on what we‘ve seen today.

BESCHLOSS:  My pleasure, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: The ground-breaking election of Barack Obama.  A year after election day, a new documentary takes us behind the scenes in an historic campaign.  Award-winning actor Edward Norton, a producer of the new documentary, joins me in studio—next.

And later, Sarah Palin‘s Iowa problem.  Her team denies ever asking for 100 grand to speak in Iowa next month, but even the thought of it has local Republicans upset.  Howard Fineman on the obvious: why this is not a good way to start a possible presidential campaign.



O‘DONNELL:  Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign officially began February 10, 2007, and officially ended November four, 2008.  As you recall, a whole bunch of stuff happened in between.  Our number three story on the COUNTDOWN, we know the story of the Obama campaign looking from the outside in.  On Tuesday, the world will get a look from the inside out. 

The HBO documentary “By The People, The Election of Barack Obama,” is the story of the Obama campaign from before it was a campaign.  Film makers had unprecedented access to everyone, from candidate Obama and his top campaign advisers, to staffers knocking on doors in Des Moines.  “By The People” provides insider accounts revealing how the campaign dealt with everything from victory in Iowa to the Reverend Wright controversy to the McCain/Palin ticket. 

In a moment, one of the movie‘s producers, Edward Norton.  First a clip from the documentary.  The scene is backstage at Invesco Field in Denver, just before the candidate‘s speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.  The candidate is clearly feeling the pressure of the moment and the weight of history. 


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When I was practicing the speech for the first time and I came to the end, where I talked about King speaking in the Lincoln Memorial, and I choked up and had to stop. 

Dr. King‘s speech happened when I was two years old.  So, you know, anybody who is 60 or over remembers it vividly.  And the majority of African Americans at that time couldn‘t vote, much less run for president. 


O‘DONNELL:  Edward Norton‘s HBO documentary, “By The People, The Election of Barack Obama” appears on election day, next Tuesday, November 3rd.  Edward Norton, welcome to the COUNTDOWN set. 


O‘DONNELL:  The first obvious question.  How did you get this kind of access in a political campaign that has every incentive in the world to keep you out when they‘re managing their secrets backstage? 

NORTON:  I think the simplest answer to that is get in early.  In our case, that actually meant proposing this project before he was a presidential candidate.  We actually initially suggested to him that what we wanted to do was a long-term political diary of his first term in the Senate.  We were interested in looking at politics and government through the experiences of a new, young, you know, senator of the next generation in American politics. 

And because we began that process with him and his staff almost nine months before they declared his candidacy, I think that we were able to have time with them to define what we were actually doing and earn a kind of a trust on their part. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the first time I saw Barack Obama was in the hall, Boston Garden, 2004, John Kerry‘s convention, keynote speech.  I say after I see that speech, this is the first real black candidate for president, the first one with a shot at a nomination.  This is also the best, most magnetic star the Democratic party has.  Were you looking at him that way?  Even though you were going to track a senator, were you -- 

NORTON:  Definitely. 

O‘DONNELL:  -- he will probably be headed to the White House? 

NORTON:  Definitely.  A lot of credit goes to one of our directors, Amy Rice, who absolutely was the one who came in the door to me and my partners and said, this is clearly a person who is going to run for president some day.  Wouldn‘t it be fantastic to chronicle, from a very early phase, his journey to that kind of historic candidacy? 

We all had been struck by him, just as you were.  And clearly, whether you were Democrat or Republican, clearly this was a figure of potential historic importance.  So Amy really pushed to me and my producing partners the idea that it would be worth starting now.  I don‘t think any of us—as excited as we were by the prospect of engaging with him, I don‘t think any of us thought it would actually kick off within that year. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the movie captures the emotions of campaign life like nothing I‘ve ever seen.  You come from a world where very high priced and talented directors do an awful lot of work with good screen writers and brilliant actors like yourself, to try to get that emotion on screen.  In this documentary, were you just lucky to be in the right place at the right time with these cameras?  Or did you go into this with a shooting strategy to find that? 

NORTON:  We did have strategy.  There was no way to predict the roller coaster of this campaign, and certainly not the outcome.  We had what we called kind of an operating set of principles. 

We were very committed to a nonpartisan archivists approach.  We weren‘t trying to make a film celebrating Obama or his campaign or staff.  We wanted to record, just as you said, what were the emotional experiences?  What was the ethos?  What did it feel like to be inside the people who were actually making that piece of history? 

And we tried to draw them out on the emotional experiences they were having, not just kind of the clinical strategy of it all. 

O‘DONNELL:  And just quickly, was there any moment where they said, OK, that‘s it, turn off the cameras.  No more of this. 

NORTON:  Actually, it was only when they declared his candidacy—

David Axelrod, in particular, sage political guru that he is, he got wind of the fact that we had been doing this for nearly a year and immediately said to us, this isn‘t going to continue as this turns into an actual campaign. 

It took us a while, I think, to convince him that we were not the media.  We were not the short news cycle press that was looking to exploit what we were getting.  That we were—we were in it for the long haul and trying to make a document of how this history—how this took place for the long view. 

O‘DONNELL:  And an amazing document it is.  Edward Norton, producer of “By The People,” thank you for joining us tonight. 

NORTON:  Thanks very much. 

O‘DONNELL:  It debuts next week on HBO, “By The People.”

Coming up, if Sarah Palin has aspirations of running for president, she needs to rethink the notion of trying to make money on her campaign appearances in Iowa.  Even the suggestion of paying Palin to speak has some Iowa Republicans up in arms. 

And if that‘s not weird enough for you, how about announcing your candidacy for governor of Illinois and then unveiling an ad which you run against Blago‘s hair?  We‘ll show it to you ahead on COUNTDOWN.


O‘DONNELL:  It will be brilliant counter-programming if it all works out.  Vice President Biden headlining at the Iowa Jefferson/Jackson Dinner.  Across the street, Sarah Palin speaking to an arena full of conservatives. 

In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, there is one slight problem:

Palin‘s reported six-figure speaking fee.  And some Iowa Republicans think that request is just a little too mavericky. 

To the Hawkeye State and mixed messages from a conservative group organizing an event, and its desired headliner, the ex-governor of Alaska.  At issue, whether or not Palin requested 100,000 dollar speaking fee.  “Politico” reports that the Iowa Family Policy Center has enlisted Team Sarah, a pro-Palin organization not formally connected to the ex-governor, to begin raising money among its members in an effort to collect the 100,000. 

The White House hopefuls wanting a speaker‘s fee is unheard of.  White House hopefuls do not go to Iowa for money.  They go to Iowa for votes, home of the first in the nation presidential caucus.  With one prominent Iowa Republican calling the whole situation, quote, really, really odd, end quote. 

Meanwhile, an Iowa Family Policy Center spokesman wouldn‘t confirm or deny if a speaker‘s fee had been requested or offered, adding, quote, “any details of arrangements between our speakers and our organization are between our speakers and our organization.”

Enter Palin spokesman Meg Stapleton.  She tells “”Newsweek” there is no fee and doubts that the ex-governor will even attend.  Quote, “however, it appears that some enthusiastic members are willing to try anything to entice the governor as we look at her schedule.”

Joining me now is MSNBC political analyst, the senior Washington correspondent and political columnist for “Newsweek,” Howard Fineman.  Good evening, Howard. 


O‘DONNELL:  This one is just for you, Howard.  Who else can handle the comedy bits known as the Sarah Palin scheduling mix-ups?  Is this just another one of those things that someone in the Palin camp says one thing; someone else says something else; and it‘s not Sarah‘s fault.  But suddenly she is in the middle of a whole lot of confusion? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I don‘t think Sarah Palin initiated this one, Lawrence.  I think the people at that council in Iowa want to try to get her there.  I think they asked and nothing happened, and then maybe they said, well, maybe we can pay.  What‘s the fee? 

It wasn‘t initiated by the Palin camp out of Alaska.  But somehow or another, a number was mentioned that, according to my reporting, is kind of consistent with what I hear Palin is asking for big commercial speeches out around the country. 

So somehow it got on the table.  I don‘t think it was Palin‘s idea initially.  But the fact that they didn‘t totally shut off any possible discussion with the people in Iowa also says that they‘re willing to at least listen to the numbers. 

O‘DONNELL:  Does it also say that Sarah Palin is not planning to run for president?  Because if she is planning to run for president, she wouldn‘t have even responded in terms of the whole speaker fee thing. 

FINEMAN:  No.  Sarah Palin does not think or act like any other politician I‘ve—

O‘DONNELL:  You noticed that. 

FINEMAN:  -- with the possible exception of Ross Perot.  OK?  Now, Ross Perot had more money than he knew what to do with.  Sarah Palin doesn‘t have enough, by her likes.  Part of the problem here is the date they are talking about in Iowa does come smack in the middle of the kick-off of her book tour, her book, “Going Rogue.”  This is an example of it.  It‘s out November 17th.  This is the following week they are talking about in Iowa. 

I know Sarah Palin has a big speech agency.  I did a piece on the “Newsweek” blog about this the other week.  She has a big speech agency back here.  They are talking about charging 75,000 plus three first class airfare tickets just to speak at a college event.  So now we know it‘s 100,000 for a political event.  Who knows what it was when she went over to Hong Kong. 

She wants to make money.  Sarah Palin, quite frankly, wants to make a lot of money.  The decision on running for president comes later.  I don‘t think, by any means, in her mind, this has anything to do with it. 

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, even if she is adamant about not running for president right now, she is never going to tell us that or the speaking fee market that, because that would deflate her price, wouldn‘t it? 

FINEMAN:  Absolutely.  So she is thinking it‘s a no-lose situation for her.  She rakes in a lot of money on the speaking tour.  She already got more than a million dollar advance for the book.  The book goes well for her, great.  If it doesn‘t, she‘s got the advance.  She‘s got the big speeches.  And she‘ll look at the presidential thing next year.  She is a hot commodity out there still, and will be for some time. 

O‘DONNELL:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, many thanks for helping us get to, if not the bottom, somewhere in the middle of this one. 

FINEMAN:  OK, thanks, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  Next door to Iowa, in Illinois, Rod Blagojevich is no longer governor, but his hair is starring in a political ad, courtesy of the Republican candidate. 

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, the effort to overturn gay marriage in Maine.  Rachel will talk to that state‘s governor on why he is now pushing voters to keep gay marriage in place.


O‘DONNELL:  To our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, and the race to become the next full term are governor of the state of Illinois.  The election isn‘t until next year.  Still, the fight to fill the big, dopey clown shoes of Rod Blagojevich is sure to get interesting, especially when the Republican dark horse comes out of the gate with a volley at Blago‘s hair helmet. 

Businessman Andy McKenna announced his candidacy for Illinois governor this week.  He also rolled out his first campaign ad, a six minute short film, the boring part of which highlighted McKenna‘s resume.  The better part was McKenna‘s treatment of Rod Blagojevich.  The ad never mentioned the disgraced former governor by name.  Instead as you‘ll see in a moment, candidate McKenna put a Blago toupee on every citizen living in the Land of Lincoln. 

Will it work?  Who knows?  If nothing else, McKenna should lock up the endorsement of Maury‘s Wigs.  That‘s for you, Nick. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For far too long, Illinois has been ruled by the hair.  Sure, the most recent scoundrel to occupy our governor‘s hair had the most impeccable follicles.  But Illinois has lived with that type of political embarrassment and shame for as long as many of us can remember. 

Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan, and the hair has proven contagious, spreading its tangles throughout Springfield to elected officials of both parties. 

Since 1971, 1,000 people have been convicted of political corruption.  Too many in Illinois have just become accustomed to the culture of the hair. 

Scandal has become the norm.  So many politicians have looked the other way, instead challenging what they knew to be wrong.  We hardly raise an eyebrow while the rest of the world looks upon Illinois politics and sadly shakes their heads. 

Where has the culture of the hair left us?  High and dry, in horrific debt, spending more and more and more money we simply don‘t have, painful taxes, and threats of almost fatal taxes yet to come, no jobs, no opportunities, no hope for real change in sight. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hair today, gone tomorrow. 


O‘DONNELL:  The election for Illinois governor is 369 days away.  So we have plenty more crazy campaign ads from Illinois to look forward to between now and then. 

That will have to do it for this Thursday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.  Thanks for watching.  Our MSNBC coverage continues now “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”  Good evening, Rachel.



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