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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, August 27th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz




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

The “hold your nose and vote” strategy: 71 percent of Nevada Republicans, 66 percent of her own supporters admit they wish somebody else was the Republican candidate for the Senate from Nevada.

The GOP strategy if they take back the House: investigate, investigate, investigate.  Darrell Issa, Lamar Smith, congressional hearings into New Black Panthers, and Joe Sestak, and did somebody mention the I-word?

The land that time forgot.


BRANDY SPRINGER, MOTHER OF STUDENT (via telephone):  My daughter brought home the paper because she wished to run for school reporter, and was told that she couldn‘t because she was classified as white.


OLBERMANN:  Her daughter‘s Mississippi middle school where only white students could run for eighth grade president and only black students could run for eighth grade vice president.

The Beckoning.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST:  As Martin Luther King said, “I don‘t know if I‘ll be there when we reach the Promised Land.  I don‘t know how long it‘s going to take.”


OLBERMANN:  I think, when you‘re making 32 million fish a year by scaring people into buying overpriced gold coins, you have reached the Promised Land, bub!

The latest victim of the Beck-apocalypse: baseball‘s Albert Pujols.  He and his manager Tony La Russa insisting they wouldn‘t be there if it‘s political are going.  Hey, Albert, let‘s just hope everybody in the crowd recognizes you and they don‘t try to do an Arizona “papers, please” law citizen‘s arrest on you.

Our big event?  Good news out of the free health clinic in New Orleans.  Thanks to you.

“Worst”: Billo lets the cat out of the bag.  He writes, quote, “The anti-liberal FOX News.”

And “Fridays with Thurber” and the prophetic story of heroes who possess no heroism: meet Pal Smirch, “The Greatest Man in the World.”

All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.



OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

Twelve years ago, the Republican Party spent tens of millions of dollars dragging our country through endless hearings, endless lurid detail about a president‘s sex life.  The star report and Monica Lewinsky were just the lowest point of a sustained assault on the Democratic White House that included alleged gates that range from travel-gate to file-gate to Vince Foster to Whitewater.

Our fifth story tonight: Fast forward to 2011, Republicans say they‘d like to do it all again.

“Politico” reporting, after talking to six GOP aides, including a spokesman for would-be oversight committee chair, Darrell Issa, that if Republicans retake control of the House this November, come January when they take office, they will unleash a wave of hearings, a river of subpoenas, a flood of testimony against the Obama White House and the executive branch.

They would do so even though, or perhaps because, President Obama and congressional Democrats have consistently refused to prosecute, let alone investigate, let alone hold hearings, on virtually anything done by the previous administration—from their failure to act on warnings about al Qaeda, their failure to get al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the lies told to the American people to justify war in Iraq, their years of poor planning and corruption in that war, illegal surveillance, illegal detentions, and even the torture of unconvicted detainees, part of the secret abandonment of the Geneva treaties.

Issa and fellow Republican congressman, Lamar Smith—reporting “Politico”—would spearhead a slew of national hearings.

Smith last month having accused the president of coming close to violating his oath of office—that would be an impeachable offense.

“Politico” outlining possible hearing such subjects, including how the White House offered Pennsylvania Democrat Joe Sestak a job that paid no money in the hope that he would not instead run for the Senate, which pays money.

Also on the list, bailouts, meaning presumably Republicans would have to subpoena the man who signed the first of them into law, a Mr. George W.  Bush of Texas.

Mr. Issa has some legitimate interests, such as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar‘s failure to reform his agency‘s oversight of offshore oil drilling.  But it‘s unclear whether Issa has any interest in examining Mr.  Bush‘s role in permitting the Deepwater Horizon to be so poorly run and inspected that it ultimately detonated, killing 11 people.

But he is determined to look into whether New Black Panthers intimidated voters in Philadelphia, which presumably otherwise would have voted for Mr. McCain and swung the election to him.  And even into ACORN to unveil the evil behind a group that worked to assist poor communities until Democrats abandoned the group in the face of an absurd and false Republican smear job.

Speaking of, in an interview yesterday, Senate Republican candidate Sharon Angle stood by her position that Congress harbors members who are domestic enemies of this country.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He said that we have domestic enemies, and he thinks some of them are in the walls in the Senate and Congress, and you agreed with him.  Did you agree with him?

SHARRON ANGLE ®, NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, we were talking about what‘s going on in Congress, of course, and the policies that have come out of Congress, and those policies, as we‘ve all seen over the last 18 months, have definitely hurt our country.


OLBERMANN:  Today, the head of the House Democratic Campaign Committee said that Democrats will benefit from such extreme positions.  “Politico” quoting an unnamed Democratic official who suggested it would be easy to paint Angle and her cohorts as “extreme” because even the Republican Party leadership opposed them.


REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD), CHAIR, DCCC:  If you watch these Republican primaries closely, there are many instances now where the candidate that represented the more moderate Republican approach has lost to the more extreme right candidate.  And, again, I go back to the fact these are swing districts.  They‘re decided largely by independent voters, and independent voters do not want to return to a Bush economic agenda on steroids.  And what these—a lot of these candidates are proposing is exactly that.


OLBERMANN:  Steroids?  Sure enough, a new poll finds that even Sharron Angle‘s own supporters wish they could vote for a different Republican come November: 66 percent saying—of her supporters—saying they wish a different Republican were topping the ticket in Nevada; 71 percent of Nevada Republicans saying the same thing.  Both numbers are significantly higher than dissatisfaction with Democratic rival Harry Reid, the incumbent.

Among GOP leadership, however, Angle‘s extreme positions may not matter much.  A spokesman for the Republican National Committee this week was asked about Arizona Senate candidate—excuse me—Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller‘s position on unemployment benefits, he said, quoting, “Whatever a candidate needs to do to win.”


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You have a candidate who thinks that unemployment benefits are not constitutionally authorized.  First of all, you embrace that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, we embrace whatever a candidate needs to do to win.


OLBERMANN:  As long as the point is clear.

Let‘s turn to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Thanks for your time tonight, Congresswoman.


OLBERMANN:  Given this “Politico” story about the intentions first of Congressman Issa and Smith, what does next to you look like if Republicans are to regain the House?

SCHULTZ:  Well, I think we will see an obsession with investigating the Obama administration, the likes of which would make the Clinton years pale in comparison.  I served with Darrell Issa on the judiciary committee for the last five years, and he definitely is salivating to sink his teeth into the Obama administration.

The Republicans‘ leadership has only one interest, and that‘s to essentially do everything they can to dismantle our new direction and to take the Obama administration down.  And that‘s—that would be a travesty, and I think the American people will reject it.

OLBERMANN:  Will it be pointed out to them?  Are the Democrats going to run on this?  Because vote Republican and you‘re going to get, if you like, 1998, ‘99, and 2000 -- you‘re going to get them all over again?

SCHULTZ:  You can be sure that our members and our candidates across the country are going to be talking to our voters, to the American people about the choice that voters face in November.  We can continue to move in a new direction.  We can continue to focus on creating jobs, turn the economy around, making sure that we can broaden our policy to help the working families and middle class of America—or we can do exactly what Pete Sessions, the head of the NRCC, said on “Meet the Press” a few weeks ago: return to the exact same agenda, focus exclusively on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

OLBERMANN:  The president did not lay one law enforcement finger on the Bush administration.  That may not be a permanent state of affairs, but it‘s true for the first 18 months.  Congress has held virtually no hearings on one of the most extraordinary presidencies in our nation‘s history.

Is there a point at which Democrats sort of collectively learn that there really doesn‘t seem to be any real return on the investment of kind of playing to a higher standard than the Republicans do, or playing genteel with the Republicans?

SCHULTZ:  Well, I think what‘s important now and what‘s been important for the last 18 months is to focus on jobs and the economy.  That is, I can tell you, all over the country—and I‘ve spent quite a bit of time in my colleagues‘ -- a lot of my colleagues‘ district and my own district—and everywhere we go, the American people want to us focus on getting the economy turned around and creating jobs, Keith.

There—what happened during the Bush administration, there is a mountain of things that could be investigated, but I think we needed to take a “first things first” approach.  There are things that I think need to be examined.  But first and foremost, we need to make sure that people can remain in their homes, they can have a job, and that we can get this economy turned around so that the middle class and working families have something to build upon.

OLBERMANN:  One last thing about this “Politico” piece.  In it was reported that the DNC is going to unveil a new strategy to campaign on the theme of essentially, do you really want these extremists in charge of Congress?  Is that a generic term, or are there individual extremists, and what‘s so bad about them?

SCHULTZ:  Well, there are—the Republican Party, aka, the Tea Party, is running rampant with extremists.  I mean, you have Ken Buck in California, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Dan Webster in Florida, Marco Rubio in Florida.  I mean, my home state is a cornucopia of right wing extremist that are nominees of the Republican Party.

And we are going to be pointing out all across the country that there is a very stark contrast between the choices that Americans have in November, that they can go with hope and go with change and go with the new direction that we‘ve been taking this country, jump starting the economy.  We‘ve got a long way to go, but we really need to continue that focus.

Or we can go off the deep end and end stem cell research funding.  We can focus on extremely right wing policies like privatizing Social Security, ending Medicare as we know it.  Those are the types of policies that the majority of Republican candidate as cross this country totally embrace.  It‘s not—I think it‘s going to be rejected by the American people in November.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you for the specificity of your answer.  Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the vice chair of the DNC—always a pleasure.  Have a good weekend.

SCHULTZ:  Thanks so much, Keith.  You, too.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe, also the author of “Renegade: The Making of a President.”

Richard, good evening.


MADDOW:  So, the Republicans take the House, and they‘ll be subpoenaing like it‘s 1999?

WOLFFE:  Yes, except there won‘t be much of a party for anyone.

And, look, there are some things that stand in their favor in trying to pick this up again.  You can understand why they want to do it.  They‘ve been in the minority.  It‘s been very dismal.  They don‘t have much to do.

And the media environment, frankly, is a lot better for this kind of investigative muckraking, just tittle-tattle they‘re going to be pushing out there.  Compared to the 1990s, it‘s much easier to get this stuff out there and into the mainstream debate.

On the other hand, this is not the ‘90s boom we‘re in.  People want to talk about jobs.  This is not a positive agenda.  If you‘re just going to go out there attacking partisan politics, attacking the administration, that isn‘t what voters want to hear about.  And Republican standing is already too low.

This is a tactic, it‘s not a strategy.  And remember, for Newt Gingrich, who loved it so much, it didn‘t work in ‘96, it didn‘t work in ‘98.  And in 2000, they squeaked the narrowest victory in American history.

So, as a political strategy, it‘s short term gain.  But long term, this is far from success.

OLBERMANN:  Evidently, some in Mr. Issa‘s office, for one, know that history that you spoke of, which does not seem to carry over from one century to the next.  His own staff is afraid concerned about him taking it too far.

Would this conceivably be, if not the best thing that President Obama could hope for in terms of winning in 2012 as sort of like a second choice, if the Republicans did get the House, that they would, in fact, waste whatever influence they might have simply on having an endless series of pointless hearings during bad economic times?

WOLFFE:  Well, you know, I‘ve asked White House officials about this repeatedly as this scenario has come up again and again.  Their first choice clearly is to have the Democrats retain control.  So, they do not want to go down this path.

And every White House says, on the other hand, oh, the other party‘s going to overreach.  They‘re going to be their own worst enemies.

Well, Nancy Pelosi did not actually overreach.  There is no guarantee that these people will run it the way you think they‘re going to when you‘re in the White House.  So, this is not an optimal scenario.

But in terms of positioning himself for the mainstream, for the independent voters who don‘t like either party very much, this is an opportunity, if you will, an ugly opportunity, to say that he is this centrist politician that he was in 2008, and I think continues to be.

OLBERMANN:  You heard what Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz said when I asked her about right wing extremists.  I think in the past, we would have heard from vice chairs of the DNC, well, yes, they‘re all extremists.  And she rattled off the names Buck, Angle, Rubio, and Webster.

Is that—is there a new day in terms of the Democrats sort of taking the gloves off and actually fighting the bare knuckle fight in the midterms that we didn‘t see in the past, even in ‘06, even in ‘08?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think there is because they‘re all aware of the history of ‘94.  You know, just as the Republicans are getting all this hubris about taking control of everything and running it to the subpoena territory, you got Democrats who know they are fighting for survival.

So, by necessity, they have to make this contrast clear and saying the other side is out of the mainstream is extremist—that they are just playing to their base.  They don‘t want to talk about jobs.  They want to go the subpoena line.  That is their only narrow path the Democrats really have here because what voters are really discontent with is politics as it is played right now—business as usual.

So, Democrats have to be careful about saying, “We‘re the ones in the mainstream.  The others are outside.”  That‘s their only path.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe—always a pleasure, sir.  Good to talk to you.  Take care.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  This is as if you—we‘re hearing now that there was a polio outbreak somewhere in this country or witch trials.  The Mississippi school where student body government elections have been in essence segregated.  The startling story—next on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  A school in which only the white students can run for some student government offices and only the black students can run for some of the others.  Arkansas 1957?  Try Mississippi 2010.

Beck disavows any comparison to Martin Luther King and then compares himself to Martin Luther King.

The Beckoning has already claimed an unlikely victim.  The day after his milestone 400th home run, this ballplayer is going to attend and seriously claims the event is nonpolitical.

Thus, does as “Fridays with Thurber” fit perfectly, the hero who was not heroic.  His amazing story, “The Greatest Man in the World”—ahead.


OLBERMANN:  If you would rather it be fiction with the name like “The Land that Time Forgot” or a sad tale of historical injustice now decades old.  But it‘s real and it‘s really from 2010 and therefore almost incomprehensibly racial.

In our fourth story: a Mississippi school board dictating what race its middle school students must be in order to run for elections.  Today, after an emergency session, the school board reversed these practices and procedures, which have been in place for more than 30 years.  All that time, Nettleton Middle School in Nettleton, Mississippi, had designated which class positions were open to white children and which ones were open to African-American children.

For instance, only white children could run for eight grade president, while black children and only black children could run for eight grade vice president.

From a school memo obtained exclusively by NBC News, it does not end there.  Note that in all three grade levels, six, seven, and eight, class president is reserved for white children.  In the sixth and seventh position, there‘s only one out of four positions available for black students, reporter and secretary-treasurer respectively.

NBC News also obtained a copy of what purports to be the high school‘s rules on homecoming positions.  There will be one white and one black girl nominated from each home room grades nine through eleven.

Within hours of the story appearing on MSNBC today, the Nettleton school board, in emergency session, voted to reverse the policy, releasing a statement from Superintendent Russell Taylor, which reads in part, “After being notified of a grievance regarding upcoming student elections at Nettleton Middle School, research was conducted that evidenced that the current practices and procedures for student elections have existed for over 30 years.  It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body.

It is our hope and desire that these practices and procedures are no longer needed.  Therefore, beginning immediately, student elections at Nettleton School will no longer have a classification of ethnicity.  It is our intent that each student has equal opportunity to seek election for any student office.”

Perhaps it originated from a good place about 1980.  But it also completely ignored students who might be of other ethnic origins plus those who didn‘t neatly fit into black or white.

The policy finally reviewed because of a parent of one of these children decided to speak up.  Brandy Springer‘s four children are of mixed race.  Springer‘s eighth grade daughter had been told that she could not run for school reporter because that was reserved for black students.  She was classified as white.  Before the Nettleton policy was reversed today, the Springer family had moved to nearby Plantersville, Mississippi, so the children could attend a different school.


SPRINGER:  I‘m not sure I would put my kids back in a school system where the school officials have this attitude.  Even if they changed the policies due to this, the attitude hasn‘t changed.  Someone thought that this was OK up until now.


OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn to associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, also a contributor to “The Nation” magazine and to MSNBC, Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

Professor, good evening.


OLBERMANN:  Hard to know where to start, but I guess your overall reaction should come first.

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  I‘ve got to say, I hate to do this.  It‘s not—you know, you have to excuse my language here, but really, the only thing I could think when I heard this story was this song of the iconic late Nina Simone.  Mississippi, goddamn—I mean, really, this one for me was pretty tough to hear in part because the one thing that I think many folks have held on to in the Obama moment is the idea that—despite all the other racial ugliness that is going on, that the Obama generation, the generation coming of age with an African-American president and a Latina on the Supreme Court and a woman as secretary of state, that they‘re just going to see the world differently.

And so, to know that it was being enforced as a matter of policy, for them to connect leadership with race, I think is really sort of going to the very heart of what we hoped was not happening in America anymore.

OLBERMANN:  The school board‘s apparent rationale that this policy existed, or at least it was established to ensure minority representation, that is how to go about achieving such a goal even if we‘re looking at this from the prism of 1980?  I mean, whatever the intent was, surely setting up just a few student government positions open to blacks would only guarantee that their representation would always remain a minority one, would it not?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Sure, and yet I think—you know, again, because of the context, I think we want to be careful.  It is possible that at the moment that this policy—and even the homecoming policy—went into effect, it‘s possible that that represented progress.  I mean, I know it‘s very hard for us to imagine that from the position of 2010, but it is possible that at some moment, we were at such a bad place in this community that setting aside could quite possibly have been a fight.

I mean, my bet is, if we looked back in the archives of those student government—excuse me—student council meetings that, in fact, we would find that school board had to fight just to get those set asides.  Now, that said, it is inexplicable why in 2010, the leadership of that school board and of that school, many of whom are people of color, had not moved to change the policy before this moment.

OLBERMANN:  Is it—when you think about this—possible that this is the only thing like this out there in a school system or in some other facet of American life at this point when we see such an extraordinary example?  Even if it was just left there to rot in 1980 and nobody thought about the meaning of it until 2010?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, you know, what‘s extraordinary to me in part is that it was—the question of a biracial student who opened this up—and the reason that‘s extraordinary is, if we know the case of Plessy v.  Ferguson, 1896, that is the case that established separate but equal in the United States.  It was a train case.  Homer Plessy was a Creole of color from New Orleans, Louisiana, who was so racially ambiguous, in fact, sort of white in his visual appearance, that he to go to the conductor and say, you‘ve got to throw me off the train because I am, in fact, I am crossing the color line.

So when the Supreme Court made the Plessy decision at the dawn of the 20th century, they were deciding not only that separate but equal would be the law of the land, they were also deciding that one drop of black blood would also make one black going into the 20th century. And it redefined or sort of solidified the definition of race.

So, it‘s fascinating that once again, here in the 21st century, we once again have these people right on the border land of race and identity, who are calling into question what we even mean by black and white and race in America.  But, undoubtedly, the most important forms of racial segregation in America are not about school boards, and they‘re not about who can be class president.  They‘re about the fact that our schools themselves are mostly racially segregated in too many places in this country.

OLBERMANN:  Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell of Princeton and MSNBC -

great thanks.  Have a great weekend.


HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Always, thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Last night, he was in the news for hitting his 400th home run.  Tonight, he is in the news for going to the Beck-apoc—no, I can‘t say it 83 times anymore—Beck-apocalypse.  Not because it isn‘t his right to express his political opinion, because it most certainly is.  But because he thinks the event isn‘t political.


OLBERMANN:  Now Glenn Beck is managing to sully the reputations of Martin Luther King and baseball‘s Albert Pujols, King Albert.  First the sanity break. and the Tweet of the day from our friend Andy Borowitz at “Borowitz Reports.”  “Compromise.  Let‘s build the mosque on top of Glenn Beck.  Win-win.” OK. 

Let‘s play Oddball. 

We begin in Bangkok with a baby tiger.  Aww.  Don‘t kid yourself, Jimmy.  If he ever got the chance, he‘d eat you and everyone you care about.  But this is not your standard Oddball cute baby animal story.  This baby tiger was found when a woman tried to smuggle it aboard a plane.  The tiger was heavily sedated and packed next to several stuffed animals in an attempt to pass it off as a stuffed animals. 

The police sensed something was off when they put the suitcase through an X-Ray machine and noticed something most stuffed animals don‘t have, bones.  The tiger was taken to local wildlife conservation.  The woman was taken to the police station. 

In Karala (ph), India, it is the end of the festive Onam (ph) season, which can mean only one thing, racing cattle.  About 300 men race their best bovines through 100 meters of muddy water.  And they‘re running.  Though some did not understand the concept of the finish line or staying in lane.  A few of the animals were able to best the record set by Usain Bolt.  Unfortunately, because of a strong tail wind, those records do not—that was a tail wind pun.

Finally, we go to Oulou (ph), Finland and the 15th Annual Air Guitar Championships.  Once upon a time, we covered this live.  Contestants from 20 countries came out to see who could become king of air.  They were judged on accuracy, energy and, of course, wardrobe.  Fans loved watching these fans invisibly rock out.  This is still some who claim this is the minor leagues when compared to the air violin championships.

Baseball‘s last supposedly squeaky clean superstar just lost the title.  He‘s going to the Beckoning tomorrow because he and his manager say they‘ve been assured it‘s not political. 


OLBERMANN:  Listening to Glenn Beck pump his exercise in egomania tomorrow, one might be led to believe something special is going to happen.  “I expect a miracle on 8/28.  What is going to happen on 8/28 will be a miracle, an American miracle.  Something miraculous is going to happen.” 

I hereby predict the miracle will take the form of an Albert Pujols walk-off home run off the Washington Monument.  In our third story, we are hours from the Beckoning, the spiritual Restoring Honor Rally, presumably to Mr. Beck‘s soul, during which Mr. Beck‘s corporate sponsors, his army of Tea Party followers, Sarah Palin, now St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols will help him reclaim the civil rights movement from the liberal progressives who have hijacked it or something. 

Yesterday, the National Parks people released a list of speakers

scheduled for tomorrow.  The big surprise after Sarah Palin, before singer

Jody Messina, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and his clean-up

hitter, Albert Pujols, who will speak at the event, some sort of award or -

I don‘t know—free gold.


Beck apparently befriended the duo at Bush Stadium in St. Louis earlier this year.  La Russa last night told the “St. Louis Post Dispatch,” “I made it clear when we were approached, if it‘s political, I wouldn‘t even approach Albert with it.” 

Tony doesn‘t pay attention to anything other than baseball during the season.  Today, Dick Armey, the former Republican House Majority Leader, and head of the Tea Party group Freedom Works, telling “Bloomberg News” about his feelings for Lonesome.  “Glenn Beck is the instructional arm of the small government movement, and we are the action arm.  We see Glenn Beck as a guy who‘s bringing revelations of understanding to the American people.”

One such revelation Beck is now infamous for, his belief that the president is racist against whites.  Beck made the remark last year, has never retracted it.  This morning on his radio show, he and his flunkies complained that media keep revisiting the charge in stories about the Restoring Honor Rally. 

Beck then expanded on his charge of racism. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘ve gone over the reasons for saying it then.  You‘ve changed your position a little bit now, because you‘re saying—you‘ve learned more about him. 

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  I‘ve learned more about him, and it‘s not—it is not—it‘s not out of the hand race.  That‘s not what he does.  He sees America as an oppressor.  It is his liberation theology. 


OLBERMANN:  The man who today is calling the president of the United States either a racist or a black liberation theologist will deliver his non-political non-address tomorrow just before non-noon, 47 years to the day that Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington for jobs and freedom, just yards from the spot where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.  He has been repudiating others comparisons to King all week.  And then today he made one himself. 


BECK:  It‘s not the end, it‘s just part of it.  You are at the awakening.  This is fantastic.  I don‘t know—as Martin Luther King said, “I don‘t know if I‘ll be there when we reach the promised land.  I don‘t know how long it‘s going to take.  But we are going to reach the promised land.” 


OLBERMANN:  I‘m joined now by Gene Robinson, associate editor, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist of “The Washington Post” and, of course, an MSNBC political analyst.  Good evening, Gene. 

GENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  And good evening to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You wrote about this today too.  You said that Beck‘s assertion that he will reclaim the dream from liberal progressives not only flies in the face of things like logic, but also of facts.  Can you elucidate on that? 

ROBINSON:  Yes.  As you mentioned, it was the March on Washington for jobs and freedom.  Beck argues that Dr. King advocated equal justice but not social justice.  In other words, there was no economic component to the Civil Rights Movement.  In fact, there clearly was.  At the time of his assassination, Dr. King was leading the Poor People‘s Campaign, reclaiming the economic rights of poor people, black and white. 

So it‘s just simply not true. 

OLBERMANN:  A quote, “75,000 people at an outdoor sports palace, well, that‘s something the fuehrer would have done.”  This was from Glenn Beck talking about the Obama acceptance speech in Denver.  I think you change sports palace to a sort of outdoor facility, you have the same quote.  Almost the same set of circumstances. 

But you wrote today, we should ignore him.  Is that safe to do?  Has ignoring these people in American history always actually worked to their advantage. because they operate without any check whatsoever? 

ROBINSON:  It‘s really tempting to try. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I know. 

ROBINSON:  But your point is well taken.  I guess what I‘m trying to say is that, if we were to correct every error of fact or every distortion of fact that Glenn Beck makes, that would be my every column.  That would be your every broadcast.  There‘s not enough time to do that.  And so at a time like this, when he‘s having this high profile event, the Beckoning, absolutely, we should call him on the ridiculous and damaging and dangerous things he says.

But you simply can‘t respond to every ridiculous thing that comes out of his mouth. 

OLBERMANN:  But it does—it spreads.  And this is why I must ask you, knowing your affection for sports that equals mine, Albert Pujols.  Let me make this point again.  If this is how he feels politically, go nuts.  He has the perfect right to be there.  And if these are his politics, of course he can exhibit them publicly.  He can run for office on them. 

But the Cardinals team manager, Tony La Russa said, “I made it clear when we were approached.  I said if it‘s political, I wouldn‘t even approach Albert with it.  I don‘t want to be there if it‘s political.” 

So, tomorrow, should we expecting Tony and Albert to split about 15 minutes in when they realize what the hell this actually is? 

ROBINSON:  I guess so.  It‘s not political?  Of course it‘s political.  I can‘t notice Tony La Russa could say such a thing.  As for Albert Pujols, he has been an outspoken opponent, for example, of the Arizona immigration law.  Does he know what Glenn Beck thinks about the Arizona immigration law?  Does he know what Glenn Beck thinks about anything? 

I understand there is an acquaintance among the three men, but this is

I wish it were steroids.  I wish it weren‘t this.  

OLBERMANN:  It would be a lot easier to talk about.  Lastly, Alveda King‘s appearance there, Dr. King‘s niece and her appearance tomorrow.  Is there anything to say about that? 

ROBINSON:  Just that she becomes a very convenient figurehead or puppet or whatever you want to call her for Beck‘s view.  She‘s a fundamentalist, very conservative Christian.  That‘s how she would describe herself.  She‘s estranged from the rest of the King family, and from the keepers of his legacy. 

She has her own—they believes that gay marriage is genocide, and that‘s who she is.  And so she‘ll be there.  And they‘ll make a whole lot of the fact that an actual relative of Dr. King is there at the march speaking. 

OLBERMANN:  Gene Robinson of “the Washington Post,” great thanks.  We‘ll have you back when we can talk about something cheery like HGH and steroids. 

ROBINSON:  Absolutely, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Thanks, Gene.  Again, Monday, we will have exclusive video confirming the actual identity of the voice in Beck‘s head, which he has mistaken for that of God or Rupert. 

Tonight‘s Fridays with Thurber is a segue of sorts, when the heroic turn out to be frauds, in “The Greatest Man in the World.”

Worsts, the Oklahoma candidate who tells a crowd, I don‘t know about you, but I‘ve never been offered a job by a poor person.

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, live from New Orleans, how the devastation left behind from Katrina can be traced back to long before the storm struck and the mismanagement of the coastline and waterways there.


OLBERMANN:  One of James Thurber‘s greatest and most insightful stories, “The Greatest Man in the World.”  First, get out your pitchforks and torches, time for tonight‘s Worst Persons in the World. 

The bronze to Brian Beasly and Thomas Caswell of Falmouth, Maine.  Police had just set up a bait car in Walton Park there, hoping to catch burglars who had plagued the place when Beasly broke into not the bait car, but into the police surveillance van.  Not noticing the officer in the back, the teenager took a bottle of water.  Then he and Mr. Caswell allegedly stood next to the police surveillance man, in fact right next to the one-way glass window through which the cops were surveilling the bait car.  And they allegedly lit up a marijuana pipe made out of a carrot. 

Our runner-up, Bill-O.  In his weekly column, he ranted on, as usual, about how his big ratings are big.  You know, he‘s better because more people watch.  Like the Chicago Cubs are better than the team with the best record in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays, because the Cubs‘ attendance is 61 percent higher than Tampa‘s is.  Yes, never mind.

Bill did admit something of note, though.  “Meanwhile the anti-liberal Fox News channel and the ‘Wall Street Journal,‘ whose editorial page is conservative”—you heard it, Fox is anti-liberal, straight from the horse‘s mouth. 

But our winner, Representative Mary Fallon, who is inexplicably running for governor of Oklahoma.  At a recent tub thumping for the conservative cause, she insisted government spending needs to be cut and tax breaks be given to the wealthy.  Then she added this: “I don‘t know about you, but I‘ve never been offered a job by a poor person.” 

She did not add, so screw them; that was merely implied.  Of course, Ms. Fallon is factually mistaken.  She‘s been appointed to public office six times since 1990.  And if some poor people didn‘t vote for her or offer her job, then the party she belongs to must necessarily be the rich people‘s party. 

Mary “Screw the Poor” Fallon, Republican candidate for governor of Oklahoma, today‘s worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN:  We close, as always, with Fridays with Thurber.  And at the beginning, a note of thanks to the master in this field.  Forty years ago, William Windham starred in a wonderful series on NBC based on Thurber‘s writings and drawings, called “My World and Welcome To It.”  And he had a one man stage show, later televised by PBS, which was, in fact, not just my real introduction to Thurber, but planted the seed of daring to read him aloud. 

Mr. Windham has sent me a copy of that PBS show which I haven‘t seen since 1977 or so, along with a note.  So if I do this any better than usual tonight, it‘s because of him.  Thank you, sir, for then and for now.  We dedicate tonight‘s effort to Edith Rummon (ph). 

I read, as usual, from “The Library of America, Thurber Writings and Drawings,” edited by Garrison Keilor.  This story was published in the “Middle Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze” in 1935, but it first appeared in “The New Yorker” in 1931.  It is prophetic and profound and pertinent, perhaps, to this weekend.  It‘s also long enough that it may require three parts.  Remember, this was written in 1931, “The Greatest Man in the World,” by James Thurber. 

“Looking back on it now, from the vantage point of 1940, one can only marvel that it hadn‘t happened long before it did.  The United States of America had been, ever since Kitty Hawk, blindly constructing the elaborate petard by which, sooner or later, it must be hoist.  It was inevitable that some day there would come roaring out of the skies a national hero of insufficient intelligence, background, and character successfully to endure the mounting orgies of glory prepared for aviators who stayed up a long time or flew .a great distance.

Both Lindbergh and Byrd, fortunately for national decorum and international amity, had been gentlemen; so had our other famous aviators.  They wore their laurels gracefully, withstood the awful weather of publicity, married excellent women, usually of fine family, and quietly retired to private life and the enjoyment of their varying fortunes.

No untoward incidents, on a worldwide scale, marred the perfection of their conduct on the perilous heights of fame.  The exception to the rule was, however, bound to occur.  And it did, in July, 1937, when Jack “Pal” Smurch, erstwhile mechanic‘s helper in a small garage in Westfield, Iowa, flew  a  second-hand, single-motored, Bresthaven Dragon-Fly III monoplane all the way around the world, without stopping.

Never before in the history of aviation had such a flight as Smurch‘s ever been dreamed of.  No one had even taken seriously the weird floating auxiliary gas tanks, invention of the mad New Hampshire professor of astronomy. Dr. Charles Lewis Gresham, upon which Smurch placed full reliance.  When the garage worker, a slightly built, surly, unprepossessing young man of twenty-two, appeared at Roosevelt Field early in July, 1933, slowly chewing a great quid of scrap tobacco, and announced  “Nobody ain‘t seen no flying‘ yet,” the newspapers touched briefly and satirically upon his projected 25,000 thousand-mile flight.

Aeronautical and automotive experts dismissed the idea curtly, implying that it was a hoax, a publicity stunt.  The rusty, battered, second-hand plane wouldn‘t go.  The Gresham auxiliary tanks wouldn‘t work.  It was simply a cheap joke. 

Smurch, however, after calling on a girl in Brooklyn who worked in the flap-folding department of a large paper-box factory, a girl whom he later described as his “sweet patootie,” climbed nonchalantly into his ridiculous plane at dawn of the memorable seventh of July, 1937, spit a curve of tobacco juice into the still air, and took off, carrying with him only a gallon of bootleg gin and six pounds-of salami.

When the garage boy thundered out over the ocean, the papers were forced to record, in all seriousness, that a mad, ‘unknown young man—his name was variously misspelled—had actually set out upon a preposterous attempt to span the world in a rickety, one-engined contraption, trusting to the long-distance refueling device of a crazy schoolmaster.

When, nine days later, without having stopped once, the tiny plane

appeared above San Francisco Bay, headed for New York, spluttering and

choking, to be sure, but still magnificently and miraculously aloft, the

headlines, which long since had crowded everything else off the front page

even the shooting of the Governor of Illinois by the Vallenti gang—swelled to unprecedented size, and the news stories began to run to twenty-five and thirty columns.


It was noticeable, however, that the accounts of the epoch-making flight touched rather lightly upon the aviator himself.  This was not because facts about the hero as a man were too meager, but because they were too complete.  Reporters, who had been rushed out to Iowa when Smurch‘s plane was first sighted over the little French coast town of Serly-le-Mer, to dig up the story of the great man‘s life, had promptly discovered that the story of his life could not be printed.

His mother, a sullen short-order cook in a shack restaurant on the edge of a tourists‘ camping ground near Westfield, met all inquiries as to her son with an angry “Ah, the hell with him; I hope he drowns.” 

His father appeared to be in jail somewhere for stealing spotlights and lap robes from tourists‘ automobiles.  His young brother, a weak minded lad, had but recently escaped from the Preston, Iowa, Reformatory and was already wanted in several Western towns for the theft of money-order blanks from post offices. 

These alarming discoveries were still piling up at the very time that Pal Smurch, the greatest hero of the twentieth century, blear-eyed, dead for sleep, half-starved, was piloting his crazy junk heap high above the region in which the lamentable story of his private life was being unearthed, headed for New York and a greater glory than any man of his time had ever known.

The necessity for printing some account in the papers of the young man‘s career and personality had led to a remarkable predicament.  It was of course impossible to reveal the facts, for a tremendous popular feeling in favor of the young hero had sprung up like a grass fire, when he was halfway across Europe on his flight around the globe.

He was, therefore, described as a modest chap, taciturn, blond, popular with his friends, popular with girls.  The only available snapshot of Smurch, taken at the wheel of a phony automobile in a cheap photo studio at an amusement park, was touched up so that the little vulgarian looked quite handsome.  His twisted leer was smoothed into a pleasant smile. 

The truth was, in this way, kept from the youth‘s ecstatic compatriots.  They did not dream that the Smurch family was despised and feared by its neighbors in the obscure Iowa town, nor that the hero himself, because of numerous unsavory exploits, had come to be regarded in Westfield as a nuisance and a menace.

That‘s where we‘ll leave it for tonight and resume next week with part two of “The Greatest Man in the World” by James Thurber.  That‘s August 27th.  It‘s the 2,675th day since President Bush declared mission accomplished in Iraq, the 2,264th day since he declared victory in Afghanistan, and the 130th day of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf.  For Pal Smurch, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. 

Now live from New Orleans, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow. 

Good evening, Rachel. 



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