Wednesday, March 26, 2008

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 26
video 'podcast'

Video via MSNBC: Worst Persons

Guests: Dana Milbank, Jonathan Alter, Margaret Carlson, Maria Milito

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

Startling polling on Obama and Clinton: From NBC News and the "Wall Street Journal," in the two weeks since the Jeremiah Wright scandal, since the Clinton Bosnia misspeak, the positive rating among all has dropped 45 percent to 37 percent.

The positive rating for Senator Clinton: Once again Senator Clinton not positive. Any delegates are committed. Her campaign says she's not trying to poach them, but for the second straight day, she says: "We talk a lot about so-called pledged delegates. But every delegate is expected to exercise independent judgment."

In defense of the campaign independent of controversy.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We cannot solve the problems of America, if every time somebody somewhere says something stupid and everybody gets up in arms and we forget about the war in Iraq or we forget about the economy.


OLBERMANN: Forgetting about Bosnia. The March 17th misspeak was just she said, sleep deprivation or something. But now, two other Bosnia misspeaks have turned up. Were they sleep deprivation, too?

And does she really want this kind of juxtaposition?


ANNOUNCER: It's 3:00 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing. Something is happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call.

CLINTON: That was sleep deprivation.


OLBERMANN: Senator McCain takes a subtle dig at President Bush.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.


OLBERMANN: Senator McCain takes a subtle dig at himself?


MCCAIN: When I was five years old, a car pulled up to our house in New London, Connecticut, and a Navy officer rolled down the window and shouted at my father, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.


OLBERMANN: Any reason you want voters to remember that you're old enough to personally remember Pearl Harbor?

All that and more: Now on Countdown.

(on camera): This is Wednesday, March 26th, 223 days until the 2008 presidential election. The polling tonight suggests that the Jeremiah Wright controversy has been less damaging to Barack Obama over the last two weeks than the Hillary Clinton campaign has been damaging to Hillary Clinton. That candidacy of implication tonight continues unabated.

Our fifth story on the Countdown: Senator Clinton today, again, ruling in the possibility of a pledged delegate switch whether by mutiny or epiphany, she does not say. And Senator Obama back on the trail is responding to yesterday's implications about his former pastor.

If you will recall yesterday, in an interview with the editorial board of the "Pittsburgh Tribune Review," a newspaper owned by Richard Mellon Scaife, the man Clinton allies consider the godfather of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Senator Clinton is having explained why Reverend Wright would not have been her pastor.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I had been a member of such a church - well, first of all, if I sat there for 20 years, I think you all would have a lot to say, if somebody gave comparable sorts of sermons. I just think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do it, if not explicitly, implicitly, by getting up and moving.


OLBERMANN: Back from his long weekend in the U.S. Virgin Islands, on the campaign trail in Greensboro, North Carolina, Senator Obama firing back even before tonight's polling seemed to back him up.


OBAMA: My former pastor said some very objectionable things when I wasn't in church on those particular days and I have condemned those out right. I do have to remind people though that this is somebody who was preaching three sermons, at least a week for 30 years.

And so, got boil down, they found five or six of his most offensive statements, boiled that down to a half hour sound clip, or a half minute sound clip and just played it over and over and over again.


OLBERMANN: Senator Obama is also making the plea that voters not succumb to the politics of distraction.


OBAMA: We cannot solve the problems of America, if every time somebody somewhere says something stupid, that everybody gets up in arms, and we forget about the war in Iraq or we forget about the economy, or we forget about the things that are going to make a difference in our children's lives.

I don't want that kind of politics. I want the kind of politics that gets stuff done. All right.


OLBERMANN: A handful of undecided and uncommitted superdelegates are now coming forward to say the Clinton campaign tactics are doing her and the party more harm than good. Several delegates are telling Matthew Berger of NBC and the "National Journal" that they were angered by James Carville's Judas comment about Governor Richardson.

Other are citing Senator Clinton's remarks about Reverend Wright yesterday as their final straw, seeing that as a direct personal attack on Senator Obama. One unnamed delegate is saying the Clinton campaign is, quote, "using Jeremiah Wright to scare white people," unquote.

"A full and fair debate about issues and differences and even fights is good," the same delegate added. "Mud slinging, personal attacks and lying is never good for any political fight or party. And I see a lot of that coming from one side more than the other."

On the campaign trail in West Virginia today, President Clinton is declaring all is fair in love and politics. Take for instance, all of the mud that is allegedly being swung at his wife.


BILL CLINTON, FMR. UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Apparently, it's OK to say bad things about a girl. It's OK. The only thing that matters is what happens to you? That's all that matters.

If a politician doesn't want to get beat up, they shouldn't run for office. If a football player doesn't want to get tackled or want to risk of an occasional clip, he shouldn't put the pads on, right?

I don't think any of these people ought to be asked to resign. All these guys that say bad things about any other campaign, they say, should they resign? My answer is no, they're repeating party line. They ought to stay right where they are.

Let's just saddle up and have an argument. What's the matter with that? That's what America's about, right?


OLBERMANN: Time now to saddle up our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the "Washington Post." Good evening, cowboy.


OLBERMANN: I promised those polls, here's one set, you know, kind of buoying numbers. In the new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" Poll coming out tonight, 37 percent of those surveyed rated their feelings toward Senator Clinton as positive, 48 percent negative. She was at 45 percent, 43 percent negative in the same poll two weeks ago.

Senator Obama, the numbers, same question, 49 percent positive, which is down two points. Thirty-two percent negative, that is up four points. This suggests, does it not, Dana, that the Wright controversy damaged Obama less than just Senator Clinton's campaign has damaged her?

MILBANK: This poll does suggest that, Keith, but, there's a lot of evidence here that it's harming both of them greatly. There's also a Gallup Poll out tonight that should send chills down the spines of every Democrat in the country right now, suggesting that Obama would lose 28 percent of the voters who are now voting for Clinton and that Clinton would lose 19 percent of the voters going with Obama.

That doesn't even include the larger number, four in 10 or so who just would sit out the race. They have some serious, serious divisions right now. This thing really seems to have crossed the threshold here. Clinton may have been unelectable because of high negatives, that now seems that she maybe on the verge of making Obama unelectable as well which is an extraordinary thing given the circumstances of this election.

OLBERMANN: And those numbers were taken, those numbers were compiled before her comments on Reverend Wright, before the news yesterday from Jake Tapper at ABC about the so-called "Tonya Harding" strategy, even before that was articulated. So, this was just perception, this wasn't, you know, people saying, oh, this is a bad campaign.

Here's the question. Obviously, you're not the only one who read that poll. I'm not the only one who read that pull. The viewer is not the third person to experience that poll. There have to be Democratic elders who really, flatly don't give a damn who gets elected as long as it has "D:" next to their name. It could be, you know, a used car with a "D" next to it and that's fine by them.

When do they step in and how do they step in? And what are we not seeing? What is going on behind the scenes?

MILBANK: Well, all we're seeing is this sort of the cryptic things as we've discussed of Harry Reid promising some vague resolution but nothing to back it up. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, suggests, the seemingly reasonably suggestion that the superdelegates fall in line behind the popular vote.

Today, she got an earful from Clinton fundraisers saying that wasn't an appropriate tact to take. It is very hard to see who can appeal for peace here. Presumably, if enough people are seeing how much damage they've inflicted on the party, and by the way, there's not a corresponding loss of Republicans because of McCain. As the more people who see that, the more likely they are to respond.

OLBERMANN: One thing though, there was one other poll number, let me throw this one at you because she kind of softens what you just cited. The NBC Poll asked, can senator x unite the country? Clinton, it's 48 percent yes, but that number in January was 55; McCain is 58 percent yes, but number in January was 68; and Obama is still at 60 percent yes, he's lost seven points since January.

But again, conclusion, with all the charges on electability, racial divide, Democrat on Democrat violence, McCain and Clinton seemed to have lost slightly more of the perception that they could unite this country in the last two months that has Obama.

MILBANK: That's so. And it's also very important to remember that we are at the height of this conflict here and as soon as how ever they patch this thing up, they will have a few months to calm down these emotions here, regardless of how this turns out.

So, it's not necessarily that inflammatory a subject. Regardless, though, what seems to be happening is here Obama seems to be running into some jeopardy because of what Clinton has done among the white voters and vice versa, for Clinton and the black voters.

OLBERMANN: A great legacy to be able to claim.

Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the "Washington Post," thank you, sir. Have a nice time riding off into the wilderness, cowboy.

MILBANK: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: Senator Clinton described as seeming cheery, confident and unapologetic when she sat down for an interview with "Time" magazine in which, she among other things again insisted that pledged delegates would be up for grabs at the Democratic convention in August.

"We talk a lot about so-called pledged delegates," Senator Clinton said. "But every delegate is expected to exercise independent judgment."

Meanwhile, 20 top fundraisers for Senator Clinton today, as Dana mentioned, admonished the speaker of the House for having publicly said, "Superdelegates should support the winner of the pledged delegate count."

In a sharply worded private letter obtained by, the donors who have contributed heavily to Democratic caucus telling Speaker Pelosi, quote, "We have been strong supporters of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. We therefore urge you to clarify your position on superdelegates and reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates at the national convention in August."

Let's bring in now our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor at "Newsweek" magazine. Jon, good evening.


OLBERMANN: That sounds like a guy standing next to the spigot saying, you want more water or not? It's your call entirely. If you want more - what are they saying here? What's the impact that's going to have?

ALTER: Well, they're saying we are the rich people in the party and it's almost like a little bit of a threat to Nancy Pelosi, but it carries a lot less weight than it would have in the past. And here's why. I know a lot of these folks. This is the financial backbone of the Democratic Party. These are long time Clinton backers who are very upset right now that their candidate seems to be going down the tubes.

They used to, essentially run the finances of the Democratic Party. Now, you have a situation where you have a candidate who has raised so much more than any other candidate in American history and his average donation, Barack Obama's, is $109.

So, he has tapped into hundreds of thousands of small donors who made this crowd of wealthy donors much, much less relevant in the Democratic Party, and their threat to Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean and the rest, much, much less relevant than it would have been, say four years ago.

OLBERMANN: Right. Human beings versus dinosaurs, it sounds like if you have that comparison, if that were biologically possible.

Listen, yesterday, the advisers to Senator Clinton said don't read anything into what she was saying about the pledged delegates and how serious that was. Would that not have been easier, would that not have been more plausible if today, she had basically not said exactly the same thing?

ALTER: Well, it's not plausible in any event to anybody in politics because pledged delegates, let's remember who they are. These are the delegates that come out of the primary and caucus process. And the campaigns get to choose who they are.

So, do you think they're going to choose as their pledged delegates people who are a little wobbly, who might be subjective to pressure, no. If you're the Obama campaign in any state, you take the truest of the true believers, the people who would never, in a million years, abandon Barack Obama and those are your pledged delegates.

So, saying that you're going to go after them is kind of pointless and anybody who understands it, realizes that they won't get one, even one of the pledged delegates to change.

OLBERMANN: And ironically, you know, Obama Girl is the deputy chairperson in the Wyoming Democratic delegation (INAUDIBLE).

President Clinton, yesterday, hammered Senator Obama on this concept that they are trying to disenfranchise the voters in Florida, the voters in Michigan and every place that hasn't voted yet.

James Carville, of course, again, the thing that precipitated this reaction for superdelegates today, called Bill Richardson a Judas.

What do you call people who want to disenfranchise voters who'd already cast their vote by changing, essentially, in a way you say is impossible, or want to, either have these elected representatives of the people essentially change their minds. Go from yes to no or no to yes, whichever they prefer. Or if that can't be done, insist they be overwritten by superdelegates. Is there an analogy to who those people are?

ALTER: Well, I mean, I don't think the Clintons want to open this question of disenfranchisement because it would be the mother of all disenfranchising if they reverse what was decided in the primary and caucus process.

OLBERMANN: But why constantly have that as a suggestion this is a campaign of implication? Why constantly have that in the back of everybody's head? You know, we may get the - the pledged delegates may change. You know, they may have to change their minds. The superdelegates may have to override this.

If it is a catastrophe waiting to happen, why invoke it? Is it naturally a sure distraction, what is it?

ALTER: It's desperation. I mean, this is - look, in the media, we have so many people covering this thing with so much investment in it cyclically that we do tend to make it seem like it's a closer race than it really is.


ALTER: They are in the death rows of their campaign. It doesn't matter if they win Pennsylvania. They would have to, you know, win with 70 percent margins in states like North Carolina where they are currently behind by 20 points. They have to win states like Oregon, which were tailored made for Obama.

As things stand right now, they have no path to the nomination except what you have described, to, you know, to change the process in fundamental ways that would not be acceptable to the Democratic Party.

OLBERMANN: So, it's Robert E. Lee about December 1864, January 1865.

ALTER: It's getting there, yes.

OLBERMANN: Jonathan Alter of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, as always, thank you sir.

ALTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of Bosnia, it turns out Senator Clinton was speaking of Bosnia and gun fire and danger last December. Is that sleep deprivation chronic?

And at least he didn't say, when Teddy Roosevelt charge up San Juan Hill, I turn to my father and said - an extraordinary way for a candidate with an age issue to start a fallacy speech today.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: First: Senator Clinton had to backtrack on her reminiscences of her diplomacy under fire in Bosnia. Tonight, does she have to backtrack on her explanation that it was a one-time misstatement fueled by sleep deprivation because there is now a tape of her saying the same thing in February and last December?

And later in Worst: A Wal-Mart wall (ph) crime. Even for them, it is despicable.

Ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: "I was sleep deprived, I misspoke." That's Senator Clinton's mischaracterization of her trip to Bosnia in a speech nine days ago.

In our fourth story in the Countdown: And the two other times she mis-recounted the trip, chronic sleep deprivation? Continuing through Monday when she clarified her recollection, it turns out also, to have been inaccurate and if she was, is she really the best candidate to be picking up the phone at 3:00 a.m. in the White House?

In her book, "Living History," Senator Clinton clearly described her visit to Tuzla air force base in 1996, saying that while she managed to meet with local children on the tarmac because of reports of snipers in the hills, the welcoming ceremony was cut short.

Yet in December of last year, her account had already changed to something close to what we heard on St. Patrick's Day.


CLINTON: We landed in one of those corkscrew landings and ran out

because they said there might be sniper fire. I don't remember anybody

offering me tea on the tarmac when that was happening but -


OLBERMANN: No. No offer of tea, just an offer of a kiss and a poem from the 8-year-old girl who greeted her. At the end of February, the senator misspoke again.


CLINTON: I remember particularly a trip to Bosnia where the welcoming ceremony had to be moved inside because of sniper fire.


OLBERMANN: She then repeated the anecdote again in the only misspeaking the campaign has officially acknowledged, the one on St. Patrick's Day.


CLINTON: I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport. But instead, we just ran with our heads down to get in to the vehicles to get to our base.


OLBERMANN: Even after footage emerged showing that none of that was true, no sniper fire, no running to cars, Senator Clinton is still appears to be a little fuzzy on the facts.

Here's how she clarified her account of the trip to Will Bunch of the "Philadelphia Daily News."


CLINTON: I was told we had to land a certain way. We had to have our bullet proof stuff on because of the threat of sniper fire. I was also told that the greeting ceremony had been moved away from the tarmac, but that there was an 8-year-old girl.

I said I can't rush by her. I've got to at least greet her. So, I greeted her, I took her stuff and I left. Now, that's my memory of it.


OLBERMANN: Now, CBS News has unearth still further footage from that same day, showing that Senator Clinton did not leave right after meeting the little girl as she claims now after the misspeaking has been corrected, but instead, hung around the runway, talking to soldiers and taking photos with the group of seventh graders who were also on the tarmac before she finally left in the military vehicle.

As CBS pointed out, she put her head down to get into that vehicle.

Joining me now is the Washington editor of "The Week" magazine, "Bloomberg News" political columnist, Margaret Carlson. Margaret, good evening.


OLBERMANN: I'll get to a couple of the Senator Obama misstatements that have been offered in response to this, they said (ph) to have been finite things.

This keeps growing. I mean it grows backwards in time, it grows forwards in time. Does she now have to deal with not the Bosnia part of it but the sleep deprivation excuse for the Bosnia part of it?

CARLSON: Well, you raise a good point there because she's the one

who's awake at 3:00 a.m. and able to handle a crisis. So, the very reason

that she's been exaggerating, what actually are, you know, legitimate,

successful first lady trips into something more, is to justify saying that

she and by the way, Senator McCain are ready to be commander in chief, but

by the way, Senator Obama is not ready.

OLBERMANN: At what point does repeated misspeaking become lying? To use the technical terms of this campaign, is there a lying threshold test?

CARLSON: Well, I'd have to go back to my Catholic high school, Keith, and find out.

You know, the fact that in that one prepared speech, her staff saw it and they must know the facts or didn't question the facts especially since it's all laid out in "Living History," her book. And once they knew that there was a tape to keep, you know, coming up with excuses: I exaggerate, you probably exaggerate, I don't want to accuse you. Oh, Keith, you should have seen the traffic coming over here.

But we don't - I mean, I let it go, especially if somebody is going to question me. And Senator Clinton doesn't let go. Now, some people might think that shows what a fighter she is.

And some people may think all of this exaggeration, they don't see it as exaggeration, they say, oh, she is ready to be commander in chief. But I think, more people are going to wonder whether she's ready to tell the truth.

OLBERMANN: As I mentioned, the Clinton campaign backstopped her yesterday, with a list of 10 Obama statements. They're all over the Web. He said he passed a law that put Illinois on path to universal coverage, in actuality, the law set up a task force, not the coverage itself.

He said his parents went ahead with their interracial marriage because of things stirring in the country in the '60s like Selma, Alabama. But Selma happened four years after he was born chronologically, it didn't make any sense.

You've seen this list, does the stuff measure up to the December-Bosnia memory, of the February-Bosnia memory, of the March-Bosnia memory, the March-Bosnia sleep deprivation excuses? Are we talking about degrees here?

CARLSON: I wouldn't equate them. My parents fell in love because of the Civil Rights Act. I put that in the category of Senator Clinton saying she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary who in fact, didn't climb Mount Everest until five years after she was born.

These are like family stories that come down, you know, you're aunt tells you, your parents tell you, but the Bosnia story is not in that category at all. It is separate and apart and it looks as if the embellishments, the only thing you could say is that, she embellished the story as time went on and maybe she came to believe them.

But she's so intent now because of having to distinguish herself not just only from Obama but in some ways from Senator McCain who truly does seem much more qualified to be commander in chief. That having been a first lady and having traveled a lot, and having (INAUDIBLE) - it's no longer enough. She has to have been a virtual vice president.

And by the way, not a vice president going to funerals, a real vice president like Dick Cheney running things and making policy when there's no evidence she didn't have a security clearance, she never went to a national security meeting or intelligence briefings.

So, there's not a lot to support it. So, she's in a hole. I mean, she's dug a hole now and I don't know she's made that standard for herself and I don't know how she gets out of it.

OLBERMANN: Yes. When it's too dangerous to send the president, you

send the first lady because you never what's -

CARLSON: And your only child.

OLBERMANN: Right, because you never know how dangerous bad poetry can be.

Margaret Carlson of "Bloomberg News" and "The Week" magazine. Thank you, Margaret.

CARLSON: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: You heard of automated cow-milking machines. Well, sir, somebody evidently invented invisible ones.

And: Even in the ranks of Wal-mart's wall crimes, this one boggles the mind: Suing a crippled ex-employee for the health care benefits it paid her. She is in a nursing home.

Worst Persons: Ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: On this date in 1923 in Boston was born Robert Bracket Elliott (ph). I mention him on this newscast about every three weeks. With his broadcasting partner Ray Goulding, from 1946 until Ray's death in 1990, they America's foremost comedy team. And even as much of the humor of that era has become dated and quaint, the timelessness of the work of Bob and Ray becomes more evident with each passing year.

Two notes, Bob Elliot is so dead pan that his son, Chris, himself a startling comedic talent, claims he was 12 years old before he knew what his father did for a living. Last August, with his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, leading my favorite team, the New York Yankees, by seven games, Bob was kind enough to send me a house warming present, a box of tissues, a box with, on its side, the Red Sox logo on it.

Next week, it will be my honor to be part of the celebrations at the Paley Center, formerly the Museum of Broadcasting. Until then, happy birthday, Bob. Let's play Oddball.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): Well, we begin in Dahad (ph), India, where this cow is experiencing symptoms, such as going often, going urgently and weak stream. Yes, it's the handy-dandy magical that milks itself and we are showing it to you somehow on TV. The cow's owner says Old Bessy squirts up to a gallon of moo juice each time he feeds her and that she is a unique gift from god. She may not see it that way, of course. There are no plans to fix the leek. You can hold off on the prescription for Flomax.


OLBERMANN: Two people are not going to be happy with John McCain's speech today. One is President Bush, the other, when somebody tells him what he said, will be John McCain. And "American Idol?" I thought I'd killed these people off long ago. These stories ahead, but first time for Countdown's top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best deep seated Freudian revelation, Lou Dobbs of CNN, breathlessly beginning one of his recent comedy hours, with this, quote, "Senator Obama wins the endorsement of the nation's only Hispanic governor, Bill Richardson. Is Obama pandering to ethno-centric special interests again?"

Ordinarily, this kind of xenophobia would be tragic, but when you remember that Lou Dobbs' wife's maiden name is Segura (ph) and his own children are Hispanic, it turns into a kind of scary, funny thing.

Number two, best completely drunken excuse to the cops, Angelica Buchanan of Long Island, pulled over Yonkers, New York, which is quite a way away, actually, from there. Driving, allegedly drunk, with a suspended license and pot in the can and no pants on, bottomless. Her simple explanation to the officers, she said she was not wearing pants, naturally, because she needed to use the restroom.

Number one, best faith, Michael O'Leary, business man and race horse owner, who put in his own champion, Hear The Echo, into the famous Irish Grand National Steeple Chase. The horse left the gate at odds of 33 to one against, but stormed passed the favorites to win. How much did Mr. O'Leary win by betting on Hear The Echo? Even that traditional superstitious token bet of moral support would have produced a nice lump of cash. Nothing, he didn't bet on his own horse.

Worse yet, he says several of his friends told him they were going to bet on Hear The Echo and he talked them out of it.


OLBERMANN: John McCain hates war. He hates every single war he lobbies in favor of with such consistent fervor that his major foreign policy speech today included some of the same exact sentences he used back in 2001 to tell us how much he hated the war in Afghanistan too. Our third story in the Countdown, he has seen a lot of wars to hate. Perhaps he will later regret beginning his speech by saying, quote, when I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house in New London, Connecticut, and a Navy officer rolled down the window and shouted at my father that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor."

The only way he could have reminded more voters more pungently that he is not a spring chicken is he had begun that speech with, "Abraham Lincoln told me" -

As the "Huffington Post" discovered, the way he feels about war today, of year six in Iraq, was in some passages exactly the way he felt about war in 2001. Quote, "the lives of the nation's finest patriots are sacrificed, innocent people suffer and die, commerce is disrupted, economies are damaged." Today, -


MCCAIN: The lives of the nation's finest patriots are sacrificed, innocent people suffer and die, commerce is disrupted, economies are damaged.


OLBERMANN: Mr. McCain also offering nothing new on Afghanistan or Pakistan, but pushing hard his idea for a group of friendly western powers that he calls the super friends, sorry, the League of Democracies, to circumvent the UN, advancing American values, presumably those regrettable wars that McCain promises and loathes.

One new thought today, less than two weeks after Mr. Bush, sitting safely in Washington, told U.S. troops in Afghanistan, quote, "I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front line. It must be exciting for you, in some ways romantic," McCain, knowingly or otherwise, symbolically punched Mr. Bush in the back of the head.


MCCAIN: Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.


OLBERMANN: Thanks for giving us a choice. With me now, MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow, who has her own program every week night on Air America Radio. Good evening.


OLBERMANN: Was the speech, especially in that one marvelous quote there, his first attempt to put some daylight between himself and George Bush on his third rail of Republican politics?

MADDOW: I was hoping it was. I thought that this was going to be some signal that I had been wrong in predicting that McCain was going to fully embrace Bush and run for the third Bush term, in terms of the war. I personally would define myself as a war voter. I'm a person - as an American, I am hoping that we are not going to get a presidential candidate who is promising a third Bush term, in terms of the war.

When he threw out that insult up top, I was hopeful. I thought maybe I have I have been wrong all this time. Maybe he really is going to distance himself from Bush. By the time we got to the argument that Iraq will be a pillar of stability and democracy in the Middle East because of our occupation there, then I was back to crying in my beer.

OLBERMANN: It's turned out to be a pillar, but not of democracy, unfortunately. Last night, we talked about this in the economic speech, which had no remedy for the economy, or the current crisis in it. But foreign policy speech in which you offer no answers on Afghanistan or Pakistan, and not even all new material. You're recycling from 2001?

MADDOW: He's supposed to be the foreign policy, national security war guy. There was literally not a single new proposal in this speech. That's a surprise. And the other thing that we've been talking about is his conflation of al Qaeda and Iran, and whether or not that's deliberate or whether that's something he's doing because he doesn't get it. He, once again, tried to shade the distinctions between Iran and al Qaeda.

He talked about the fall of the Shah and then immediately segued into talking about the threat from Islamic extremism, which is, of course, Republican code for the threat from al Qaeda and 9/11. I was surprised there was nothing new, but I was surprised that he's still pushing the Iran, al Qaeda thing.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of surprises, it is one thing to, as the old song went, which most of us know from hearing it Woody Allen's movie "Radio Days," if we know it at all, "let's remember Pearl Harbor," but why remind voters, who will be again reminded of this point by Democrats later, in the first sentence of your speech, why remind the, I remember before Pearl Harbor. Why do that? It seems to be - answer the question without my insulting the man.

MADDOW: This is the best evidence we yet have that the Democrats have been hitting each other instead of hitting McCain. He's so comfortable. He's so relaxed. He's so out of the campaign vibe that he doesn't recognize that his age is going to be a liability. I half expected him to segue into talking about the economy and how he knows how to keep us out of the next Great Depression, because he was there for the first one. He doesn't recognize this is a problem for him.

OLBERMANN: Yes, or buying more Depends or something like that. The League of Democracies - you can disassociate yourself from that remark, if you wish. The League of Democracies, maybe the League of Nations, to hearken back to something that existed when he was born - We've got Superman, Batman, who else is in the League of Democracies? Green Lantern? Who else is in there?

MADDOW: Woodrow Wilson is definitely a candidate at this point, although his costume sucks compared to those other guys. John McCain said in this speech that he is a realist. He said I'm an idealist, but I'm a realistic idealist. Then in the midst of the siege of Basra and the national - the Iraqi national civil disobedience campaign that is shutting down retail establishments all over the country, on the orders of the war lord that controls Iraq's biggest militia, John McCain says, normal life is returning. Markets are open. Reconciliation is occurring, presumably he means between the air strikes.

Then this League of Nations idea, this eminently practical idea to restart the whole United Nations idea from this apogee that we're at in our international influence. Who's going to go along with that? Palau maybe. But the idea that this is his realistic approach to rejuvenating America's leadership place in the world is ridiculous.

OLBERMANN: There's a couple clowns in the Canadian headquarters in Ottawa who may be able to join Mr. McCain in this. But other than that, you're right. We're at Palau and us.

MADDOW: Don't forget Poland.

OLBERMANN: I'm not at the moment. They're mad at us too. Rachel Maddow of Air America and MSNBC, great things and disassociate yourself from that remark I made.

Speaking of people who might remember the Crimean War, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell in another "American Idol" controversy.

What a night in Worst Persons. Can even Bill-O or James Dobson stand up to the might Worst Person machine that is Wal-Mart? Next on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: It was on one of those ghastly songs when you have animated creatures with you, Simon Cowell talking to an "American Idol" contestant. We're not sure what he meant, but I think the animated creature to which he referred was Paula Abdul. That's next.

First, time for Countdown's worst persons in the world. The bronze to Bill-O, suffering rare backlash from somebody he slandered. He called CNN contributor Roland Martin "the chief apologist for Reverend Jeremiah Wright, adding, I don't know much about him, but he has basically said, this is no big deal."

In public notes to Bill-O and two of the dark overlords at Fox Noise, Mr. Martin notes his surprise that Billy doesn't know much about him, since he's been on O'Reilly's show at least eight times and has defended the Frank Burns of new. Mr. Martin has also volunteered to debate the issue with Bill-O on Bill-O's radio show. See Roland, the problem here is you're proposing a battle of wits with a man who always goes in unarmed.

The runner up, the fabulous James Dobson, creator of Focus on the Family, an organization internationally known for generating spam e-mail. It has put out a manifesto, based on a new study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, indicating that the number of teenage girls in this country with a sexually transmitted infection is now up to one in four.

Dobson claiming, "this is a reason to spend 204 million dollars this year on abstinence education rather than sex ed. Here's the thing, if abstinence programs work, teenage girls shouldn't have sexually transmitted infections. It doesn't work. Each night, I pray that the lord above will come to you in that Focus on the Family cult and say, think. When it says what does two plus two make, do not ask James Dobson. I did not put that very large brain in your very large head just so you would have somewhere to store your favorite baseball cap. Amen.

And our winners, Wal-Mart. Nearly eight years ago, a Wal-Mart shelf stocker in Missouri got broad sided by a semi. Debra Shank (ph), now 52, is now brain damaged, in a wheelchair, in a nursing home. She needs 24-hour a day care. She got 700,000 dollars from a settlement from the trucking company. After attorney fees, 417,000 was left for a trust fund to make her shattered life better.

Wal-Mart promptly sued Mrs. Shank for the money, because, says spokesperson Webber, Wal-Mart's health plan says, and your company's plan may also say this - you better check - if you get really hurt and you receive damages in a settlement, your employer can sue to get back anything it paid you for your treatment.

So they sued this woman who had 417,000 dollars for 470,000 dollars. Contrary to general opinion, Wal-Mart is not owned by the devil. Its stockholders are not uniformly horrible people. The stores often do not destroy and sometimes even improve communities. But you know why people think of Wal-Mart and evil in the same sentence? Because of the crap you guys do like this. Instead of letting this one go and maybe even putting out a press release saying, we take care of our own, maybe you get 470,000 dollars worth of good publicity. No, now you get this.

Wal-Mart's profit last year was over 11 billion dollars, including 470,000 dollars it got back from Mrs. Shank, who is, between the truck that hit her and what you amoral Wal-Mart trolls did to her - she is so confused that she doesn't really understand that six days after you beat her in court, her 18-year-old son was killed fighting for this country in Iraq.

Wal-Mart, may your stores melt in the hot sun, today's Worst Persons in the World.


OLBERMANN: Last night on "American Idol," Simon Cowell compared one contestant's performance to something out of a theme park, "one of those ghastly songs you sing when you have animated creatures with you." In our number one story on the Countdown, at least Mr. Cowell is moving somewhere closer to the truth in his critique of a show that might be calcifying in this its seventh season. You thought it was 70, didn't you.

Though some of my producers insist otherwise. There's this kid in question this year, 17-year-old David Archelleta (ph), who was not born the first year of the series - I'm told he started off great, then made a couple of bad song choices. Whatever.


SIMON COWELL, "AMERICAN IDOL": It's one of those ghastly songs you sing when you have got animated creatures with you.

I don't think that's you at all. I'd be amazed if you chose this song yourself.


OLBERMANN: That guys back. That guy was married to the woman with one leg. That's somebody else. I'm sorry. In the last remark, according to TMZ, Mr. Cowell was referring Archelleta's notorious stage dad, who was reportedly banned from the lot when his son was on "Star Search." Wait a minute, he's got a television career.

At this point, let's turn to our "American Idol" princess, also the mid day host of New York's classic rock station Q-104.3, the one and only Maria Milito.


OLBERMANN: Good to see you again.

MILITO: Same here.

OLBERMANN: "Star Search," he's already been on a television show.


OLBERMANN: Is this - is not the fundamental - the primary directive, to use another TV show's term - is not this is amateurs trying to get into the - doesn't this blow the cover of the thing?

MILITO: Not really. This is the whole thing when this season started, that a lot of the people, contestants, had a record contract that they sold like 100 CDs and they had a record. But with this kid, after he was "Star Search," he had bruised vocal cords. It was a really big deal because he is 17. It's a really big deal that he was able to recover and sing again.

Now that all this stuff is coming out about his dad and his dad's like a stage dad, and he has been banned from being in the audience - this kid started out like a highlight. Simon said I can see you being the next "American Idol." Every week, he gets less and less.

OLBERMANN: Is it like baseball pitchers when they're teenagers? You have to minimize the number of innings they throw in a year because the vocal cords are too young - because the arm is too young?


OLBERMANN: He can sing like that? His head won't blow up?

MILITO: No, I don't think he'll blow up. That would be pretty funny if his head blew up on a live TV show. Come on.


OLBERMANN: That's nice to say. You said it. I didn't. Tune in tonight to find out. Two other of these contestants had record deals.

MILITO: They sold like 100.

OLBERMANN: Does that not breech Idol's premise?

MILITO: They said - when the show first came back, they said -

OLBERMANN: Are we going to see Celine Dionne show up as a contestant on this show?

MILITO: Quite possibly. She might need help selling some CDs.

OLBERMANN: This is my point. If this is now - We know what you guys

I'm referring to them. We know what you guys are. We're just arguing about the price.

MILITO: Well, this season is now the total extreme of last season. Last season, we had people who really weren't good singers and the show was a joke and had a lot of drama. Now, everybody is a good singer. Really, they are all good.

OLBERMANN: It's "Star Search" now.

MILITO: It's kind of like "Star Search." I think they went to the other extreme.

OLBERMANN: What did "Star Search" produce? It produced Sinbad, who turned out to be more accurate in his recollections of trips to Bosnia than Senator Clinton.

Las thing, behind us here, Paula Abdul is going to kick off "The Today Show" concert series on the 25th of next month. Are they putting down extra rubber matting for this?

MILITO: I don't think so. She's calmed down a bit. There's a whole big thing. Check this out, she's been dating this guy for five months. There were these rumors, a Simon Cowell kept hinting about it, that she was engaged.

OLBERMANN: Engaged in what?

MILITO: Well, whatever. But she's not engaged, but now she said she wants to have a baby within the next two years with this guy of five months. I think it's calmed her down. Look at her outfit from last night. It was like bizarro world.

OLBERMANN: She came from "Dancing With the Stars."

MILITO: She came from somewhere. A different planet, I think. I'm not sure.

OLBERMANN: "American Idol," which is on from like 9:00 pm to 4:00 am tonight. Maria Milito, our "American Idol" princess, good to see you. Thank you.

MILITO: Same here. Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 1,791st day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. Our reminder, NBC has run out of programs again. Our fifth annual special on the NBC Television Network this Sunday, an actual copy of the 17 question long commander in chief threshold test, guests, news of the day, network worsts person, the whole thing. Countdown on NBC, Sunday 7:00 Eastern, 6:00 Central.

I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.