Thursday, August 21, 2008

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, August 21
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Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Worst Persons

Guests: Howard Fineman, E.J. Dionne, Jon Soltz, Jonathan Alter, Robert Klein

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

Meltdown at Las Cruces: First, he doesn't disagree with the questionnaire calling for reinstating the draft; now, John McCain can't remember how many houses he owns?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many houses do you and Mrs. McCain have?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think - I'll have my staff get to you. I'll talk to you about that.


OLBERMANN: A freefall they go (ph), correct answer is four to 10, over.

What is this, a game of monopoly - the man can't remember how many houses he put on Park Place?


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you don't know how many houses you have, then it's not surprising that you might think the economy was fundamentally strong.


OLBERMANN: The Obama campaign goes into overdrive.


NARRATOR: And here's one house America can't afford to let John McCain move into.


OLBERMANN: The first McCain spokesman's response: Does a guy who made "$4 million last year really want to get into debate about houses?"

Wait, didn't McCain, himself, say $5 million a year is the minimum for being rich?

The second McCain spokesman's response: "This is a guy who lived in one house for 5 ½ years - in prison." Now a freefall they go (ph), spokesman, he means POW camp, not prison, ixnay on the ison-ray, over.

And, more than 24 hours later, finally a response from the McCain camp on the draft. Was he not visiting or did he really not disagree?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we don't reenact the draft, I don't think we'll have anyone to chase bin Laden to the gates of hell.


OLBERMANN: The mounting evidence - McCain has previously implied he would start drafting your kids or you into the military.

McCain's meltdown with Howard Fineman, E.J. Dionne, and Jon Soltz.

Obama has chosen his vice president. He went with somebody independent, he said, who could challenge him in the White House. Could be Biden, could be Hillary, could be our special guest, Robert Klein, could be John McCain's real estate agent.

All that and more: Now on Countdown.

(on camera): Good evening. This is Thursday, August 21st, 75 days until the 2008 presidential election.

There is a house in Sedona and in Phoenix another one. And five condos been the ruin of many poor young boy, I forgot to count Arlington.

Our fifth story on the Countdown: Elections rarely turn now on deep meaning nor on intercontinental ballistic missile treaties nor even on war and peace, they turn on symbolism and John McCain just fell into a big, giant steaming pile of symbolism - when America's housing crisis hit home for him in utterly unpredictable fashion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many houses do you and Mrs. McCain have?

MCCAIN: I think, I'll have my staff get to you, talk to you about that. (INAUDIBLE). It's condominiums ownership, further, I'll have them get to you.


OLBERMANN: McCain's staff did follow up, claiming four homes, but media reports initially put the number at seven, a fact not overlooked in a new national ad already out today from Obama.


OBAMA: I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message.

NARRATOR: Maybe you're struggling just to pay the mortgage on your home, but recently, John McCain said the fundamentals of our economy are strong.

Then, again, that same day, when asked how many houses he owns, McCain lost track. He couldn't remember, well it's seven - seven houses.

And here's one house America can't afford to let John McCain move into.


OLBERMANN: is reporting that the Obama campaign is deploying surrogates in 16 states, talking to media, holding news conferences, hammering at the issue of McCain's homes. Obama, himself, leading the way today, is referring to another comment yesterday which we'll get to presently about the great economy.


OBAMA: There was another interview. This is yesterday, same day - where somebody asked John McCain, "How many houses do you have?" And he said, "I'm not sure I'll have to check with my staff" - true quote. "I'm not sure, I'll have to check with my staff." So they asked his staff and he said, "At least four" - at least four.

Now, think about that. I guess, if you think that being rich means you've got to make $5 million - and if you don't know how many houses you have, then it's not surprising that you might think the economy was fundamentally strong.


OLBERMANN: The McCain campaign apparently panicked, issuing three separate statements, throwing the "kitchen sink" at Obama today, tossing in Obama's $4 million book sales, Hawaiian vacation, Arugula, guns, and religion, offshore drilling, Obama's, quote, "million dollar mansion," singular, and resurrected Tony Rezko in a new ad, despite the fact, Obama has never been accused of any wrongdoing regarding Rezko.

McCain's spokesman is describing McCain by contrast as, quote, "not an Arugula-eating, pointy headed professor-type, but a guy who lived in one house for 5 ½ years - in prison." He didn't explain what any of that, even if any of it is true, has to do with whether or not you know how many houses you own.

This is the third time McCain's campaign has used POW as a reflexive non sequitur, a trend now risking self-parity, "a noun, a verb, and POW," in McCain's defense he does not have a "million dollar mansion," his modest Sedona ranch was not on the cover of "Architectural Digest" or anything - what, July 2005? Spotlighting the redesign, the McCain's paid for by the architectural firm of Sheiner Day and associates - like the rear patio with swimming pool just off the guest house and the master bedroom patio with a spa and outdoor fireplace. The same 15-acre ranch where the non-Arugula-eating senator held a barbecue in March, feasting on the much more macho couscous.

That ranch possibly one source of McCain's confusion as he told reporters there that he's got six houses on that property alone. Plus, the $800,000 Virginia condo, $700,000 Phoenix loft, the $2.7 million condo in Coronado Island, plus the second condo they closed on this June, the $1 million La Jolla condo, plus the $4.6 million condo in Phoenix. Plus, a minority stake in the Arizona Diamondbacks, plus, $1 million dollar parking lot, plus, a private jet, and then some rich people stuff, too.

Countdown tonight unable to confirm that the McCains have now converted four of their houses into a hotel on Boardwalk after buying the electric company, water works and the B&O railroad.

Let's turn now MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman, also, of course, senior Washington correspondent for "Newsweek."

Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: How many houses do the McCains have?

FINEMAN: Well, am I under oath?

OLBERMANN: Do you have a staff to get back to me?


We'll, we reported in the magazine last year seven; now, there are some reports on the Web of eight. People have looked through lots of real estate records and so forth. I didn't count them all. I've been in a couple of them and I was at the ranch in Sedona, by the way, before that redo. I was there I think in 2001. There was no swimming pool.

The thing that, I think, got McCain tripped up is that, I think, legally, he probably doesn't really own them per se, himself. When he married Cindy, he married into a family empire of, at least now worth, at least $100 million. Those houses are probably mostly in her name. So, he doesn't really pay attention to the details, which, in its own way, is almost more damming than knowing how many houses you have.

OLBERMANN: And, of course, you can't say, no, I don't own any of

them, she owns all of them because that's another version of this same

story. But, give me -

FINEMAN: Yes, even more so, yes.

OLBERMANN: Give me a campaign parallel - historically, what is this like? Is this like the first George Bush, not really knowing what a supermarket scanner was or where does this rank? What is parallel to this?

FINEMAN: Well, I'm attempted to say, Marie Antoinette.


FINEMAN: But, you know, I think, it's less having to do just with the economy, although that's very much a part of it. Don't forget, McCain talked about his definition of rich being people who make $5 million and the economy being fundamentally sound when his own ads right now say that the economy is terrible. It's kind of a cultural thing.

I think it almost more relates to somebody like Sarge Shriver a million years ago when he was George McGovern's vice presidential candidate going into Brooklyn and showing that he could bond with Jewish-American voters by having a kosher hot dog and washing it down with a glass of milk. I mean, it's just, out of whack with current American understanding.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of out of whack, did the McCain response strike

you as a little panicky, I mean, you bring up Tony Rezko and, of course,

you then invite other people to bring up the Keating Five, but

particularly, to insert the POW stuff for everything as if it was immunity

do you not rather quickly trivialize the meaning of what he went through if you're going to bring it up for everything?

FINEMAN: Yes. And, I think, they're going through it way too many times. It's the original story that defined John McCain that still when you read it on his book, "Faith of My Fathers," when you read about and "Nightingale's Song," you can't help but have admiration and respect for the guy.

And, I think, he wisely, for many years, stayed away from it as a political tool, he really did. But now, it not only defines him, it's become a crutch in the campaign. And I think he is in danger of trivializing it. By the time they get to the convention in Saint Paul, there might not be much of it left to use.

OLBERMANN: One thing for sure, at least in terms of the convention in Denver and attendance, I understand you learned something about John McCain losing a big name, in effect, to Barack Obama, not necessarily because of this (INAUDIBLE).

FINEMAN: Well, I think it's interesting symbolism. Muhammad Ali who's a worldwide figure, respects and who knows McCain and who never takes part in politics very, very rarely, I think he's only been to one convention, has decided, and he called and said to the Obama staff, "I want to come to this convention because it's going to be a historic night on that night in Invesco Field where you give your acceptance speech in front of 70,000 people, on the night of Martin Luther King's anniversary. I want to be there."

And so, that will be a measure of sort of the global nature and the historic nature of what Obama will be doing on that night.

OLBERMANN: A lot of people love that man. He's going to draw quite the attendance and quite the crowd just by himself, and passing that in some respects to Obama.

MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman, also, of course, senior Washington correspondent for "Newsweek."

Thank you, Howard.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: As mentioned earlier, Senator Obama today referred to two interviews McCain gave yesterday. He's - I get back to you on the houses thing, plus a radio interview which McCain repeated his claim that the American economy is strong.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are the Republicans going to do if China ultimately overtakes us economically and does that matter?

MCCAIN: I think it matters a great deal. I don't think that they will. I still believe that the fundamentals of our economy are strong. We've got terrible, big challenges now. Whether it be housing or employment or so many of the other - healthcare. It's very, very tough times. It's very tough. But we're still the most innovative, the most productive, the greatest exporter, the greatest importer.


OLBERMANN: About those fundamentals, according to the CIA - and, yes, it is the CIA that keeps this kind of data - the U.S. is not the greatest exporter in the world, rather, we are number three. Germany is number one, number two - China right now. The most productive, gauging productivity as gross domestic product divided by man hours worked, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks the U.S. behind Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Luxembourg.

McCain's latest economic ignorance, following his claim Saturday that you're not rich until you've gotten $5 million, or more than say, Senator Obama made last year. It also follows his attempt to walk that back yesterday, telling, quote, "I define rich in other ways besides income. Some people are wealthy and rich in their lives and their children and their ability to educate them. Others are poor if they're billionaires." Or if they only have seven houses.

Let's turn now to "Washington Post" columnist, E.J. Dionne, also, of course, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

E.J., good evening to you.

E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right, image first. $500 shoes, a private jet, partial ownership of the Arizona Diamondbacks, beach front California condos, $1 million parking lot - which is pretty nice - and more houses than you can count, literally, not figuratively. Does this - is this not, by definition, there's no argument to this, isn't there - by definition, this is out of touch with the average American, isn't it?

DIONNE: Well, you know before I came out here just to be well-prepared, I went through all my papers and I could still only count one house. I'm sure millions of Americans are counting up all their houses just in case they're asked that question.

And, of course, this is a huge problem for McCain because it's opened the door, a door that Obama has desperately tried to get open for a long time, which is to look, first, at who John McCain is, all the things we don't know about him and, secondly, to subject his economic views to more scrutiny than they've gotten.

You can be rich and have an imagination that reaches out to people who aren't like you. You can have a compassion and concern, you know, President Roosevelt did it, and John and especially, Robert Kennedy did it, Nelson Rockefeller, the Republican did it. But I think, given McCain's positions on a number of issues, notably tax cuts for the rich, this becomes a particular problem for him.

OLBERMANN: And as it relates to the campaign, in particular, I mentioned symbolism, as a decider - how much of McCain's imagery against Obama, how much of McCain's imagery about himself just went out the front door or the side door and which sets of imagery?

DIONNE: Well, the whole notion of who is the elitist in this campaign. And you saw it in that "kitchen sink" attack on Obama. The Republicans really want to paint Obama as a Cambridge, Hyde Park, Upper West Side elitist and then suddenly, just the pictures you just showed from "Architectural Digest" say - wait a minute, this elitist charge is a phony.

And so, I think, you know, and then you get back to the issues. I mean, if McCain were still the McCain who opposed tax cuts for the rich, he could actually joke about this and say, "Look, I voted against the tax cut for myself," but that's not the same McCain anymore. So, it is a real problem again on that - on the very front you're describing.

OLBERMANN: And his people did not come back today with policy points, with issue points, they came back with Tony Rezko and, is there nothing on the policy front that they can argue in terms of economics, even at this point, or is it any time you bring up economics now with McCain people, are reminded that Phil Gramm, the father of $4 gasoline, is still advising him on economics?

DIONNE: Right. And Phil Gramm is - how his comment reminded you of what Phil Gramm, I think, told the National Rifle Association about guns, that "I have more than I needed, and not as many as I want." Maybe that applies to houses, as well.

And, so, it's, you know, I think that Obama's tried all week to have a debate on economics. And the message of the week has been - who's going to be his vice president. And it really took McCain's comment today, suddenly, to open up a discussion that Obama's been desperate to have and hasn't really penetrated the media with before.

OLBERMANN: Yes. It sounds like also it energized him and gave him that opportunity to go at those ads that might say something like - you know, sure the economy is great, for them.

E.J. Dionne from the "Washington Post" -

DIONNE: And the Democrats are going to have -

OLBERMANN: Go ahead.

DIONNE: Thank you. I was just going to say they're going to hire John Edwards' barber to give hair cuts in front of all the McCain's houses, I think.

OLBERMANN: OK. E.J. Dionne of the "Washington Post," and the Brookings Institution - thank you, E.J. Good night.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN: Of course, the state of the economy, the nations and almost equal in size, his own - was not the only crisis with which Mr. McCain had to deal today. There was also the fallout from his agreement with a New Mexico voter that the country needs to reinstate the military draft - the one that set off rioting in the streets four decades ago. McCain's spokesman has finally issued an attempt to clarification that may only make it worse.


OLBERMANN: In the middle of the controversy over his full houses, John McCain has another titanic gaffe to deal with - his tacit endorsement of a proposal to bring back the military draft and his previous statement suggesting that was no misstatement. The first follow-up from the McCain camp just issued next here.

Later: The most famous Army commander in the nation is caught endorsing a religious text that insists atheist could cause a military unit to, quote, "fail." Worst Persons is ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: When Senator McCain was stumped by a question almost every other American could answer in a split second, "How many houses do you own?" - there was a silver lining, that would be the complete burial of his answer, and his continuing absence of any real clarification, when a New Mexico voter called for the reestablishment of the military draft and McCain said he did not disagree with anything she said.

Our fourth story on the Countdown: The McCain camp has finally responded to a request for clarification, but by itself that clarification may have just further muddied the waters. A nearly two-minute question from a woman in New Mexico began and ended with a reference to McCain's promise to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell. It weaved through healthcare, illegal immigration and then ended with reintroducing the draft.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, Senator McCain, I just truly hope you get the opportunity to chase bin Laden right to the gates of hell and push him in, as you stated on your forum.

I do have a question, though. The disabled veterans, especially in this state, have horrible conditions. Their medical is substandard. And our vets can't even get to a doctor. And these are the people that we tied yellow ribbons for and Bush patted on the back.

If we don't reenact the draft, I don't think we'll have anyone to chase bin Laden to the gates of hell.

MCCAIN: Well, let me say that -


MCCAIN: I don't disagree with anything you said and thank you. And I'm grateful for your support of all of our veterans. I carry with me quite often a quote from George Washington in 1789. He said, "The willingness with which young Americans will serve their country in future wars is directly related to the treatment of those who have previously served and sacrificed in conflict." He was right in 1789 and he's right today.


OLBERMANN: The rest of McCain's answer was about veterans and health care. More than 24 hours after the fact, campaign spokesman, Brian Rogers, finally offered a comment to Countdown which is, quote, "Senator McCain was obviously speaking about veterans' healthcare as is absolutely clear if you actually read question and answer in full. Senator McCain has been clear and consistent in opposing a draft."

But Senator McCain has been anything but clear or consistent in opposing a draft. Last September, McCain recalling that the last selective service system in this country had loopholes like the ones Dick Cheney and George Bush used, said, quote, "I would consider a draft if it could be made fairer than the Vietnam-era version in which many avoided any risk of being called up using deferments."

And in June, also asked about the draft, McCain replied, "I don't know what would make a draft happen unless we were in an all-out World War III." A quote, which itself is perhaps fully understood only in the context of his reaction in July 2006, when asked if he agreed with Newt Gingrich when he said "We're in the early stages of what I would describe as the Third World War." McCain answered, "I do, to some extent."

I'm joined now by Jon Soltz, Iraq war vet, co-founder and co-chairman of He's in Denver tonight.

Jon, good evening.

JON SOLTZ, VOTEVETS.ORG: How are you, Keith?

OLBERMANN: Despite the Brian Rogers' dismissal of this, give me the context of what McCain's previously said about a draft - does this look less and less like part of the "I'm not listening tour," did he mean this?

SOLTZ: Look, I think he meant it. I think that this was the John McCain that many people in the military liked in 2000. I certainly agree with everything that the woman said. It's just that his political consultants obviously, you know, try to get a hold of him here, and they changed the guy. But the point is - his plan, his plan that he has on his Web site, that equals the draft.

So, nobody should be afraid to take him on on this issue. That was him being intellectually honest. Obviously, his political people aren't happy with this.

OLBERMANN: If this is a policy statement or if it was a secret piece of policy escaping, what do you think the consequences would be, politically?

SOLTZ: Politically, it's not good. I think it's important to understand, though, that it is what his policy is. You can't keep 90 percent of your Army, all of your combat brigades either in Iraq, going to Iraq, and just home, you can't take his plan to go two brigades in Afghanistan, up to five brigades in Afghanistan and raise two more divisions here in the States without the draft.

So, I think it's a political problem for him because it's an issue that affects every American here at home. You know, the National Guard and Reserve are devastated, a lot of units to go over at Iraq. We take 25 percent from one unit, 25 percent from another, 25 percent from a third, and send it over. So, it's a huge problem politically because it brings the war home. Some very core constituency groups like women voters and young students that could come out and vote against him for it.

OLBERMANN: And what to - let's talk about that larger, for some reason, let's say this happens - what do vets, what do acting servicemen think of the prospect of a draft of changing the volunteer army that has despite all the strains put on it, courted itself so admirably, especially in the last seven years?

SOLTZ: You know, Vote Vets and myself, you know, we encourage a lot of people to serve in the military. We think it's a great profession. But overwhelmingly, the men and women who fight for our country are against the draft and we know the McCain plans as more over extension, more George Bush policies, and I think that's why you've seen so many members of the military by six to one margin make donations to Senator Obama.

But if you're in the street in Baghdad right now, and you're taking a convoy from Baghdad to Balad, you don't want a soldier in your convoy who's just doesn't want to be there because the draft is so overwhelmingly in the military, our service members oppose it.

OLBERMANN: Jon, put all of McCain's pronouncements about the wars and military and now this slip in New Mexico about the draft. Tell me how this all adds up in your mind, your picture of the military aspect of the United States of America under a McCain presidency.

SOLTZ: You know, actually, I don't think this is a policy slip up. This is policy facts. The McCain plan equals the draft and it's up to the Democrats and the news media to hammer him home on that. I think it's a political screw up. I mean, because the guy doesn't know the difference between the Shia insurgents or the Shia militias in Iraq and al Qaeda in Iraq, that's not necessarily something that affects a woman who's a core constituency voter in the state of Ohio.

But for the young voters who need to come out and put Senator Obama in the White House, it's really important to them because they need to understand if they don't vote for Senator Obama and they do vote for Senator McCain, they could end up in Iraq.

OLBERMANN: Jon Soltz of with a very serious topic that we're going to continue to discuss here until it is resolved, one way or another, from the McCain campaign. Thanks for your time tonight, Jon.

SOLTZ: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Funny, this doggone thing in Iraq. For years, Bush and McCain have fought the concept of a timeline to withdraw our troops. For years, Obama insisted on a timeline and was ridiculed for it. Well, Secretary Rice has just agreed to a - timeline?

And for a change, the vision in the potato is not the Jesus, it's the mouse. M-I-C - see you master (INAUDIBLE).


OLBERMANN: Bushed in a moment, and we'll never accept a timeline for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. Oops, sorry, we just accepted a timeline.

First, on this date 52 years ago, the actress Kim Cattrall was born, reminding us of the observation about her series "Sex and The City" by the great Seth McFarland in a script for "Family Guy," quote, so it's a show about three hookers and their mom? On that note, let's play Oddball.


OLBERMANN: We begin in Frederick, Maryland, where an archaeological dig has found the fossilized skull of Steamboat Willy. Oh, no, it's a potato found by farmer Rick Brown, and the potato looks an awful lot like Walt Disney's own Mickey Mouse. Here we see Mickey's head sitting between a pair of tomatoes that looks like Mickey's severed torso. Potatoes rather. Here are tomatoes. There it is. Anyway, farmer Brown says this is a first for him, and he thinks the Spud-cateer is a fusion of several smaller potatoes. The Disney people have already been in touch and are airlifting attorneys to the area now to sue the farmer into the ground, if necessary.

To a soccer pitch on the Internets, and this reminder, we don't care about the world's most popular and boring sport, unless somebody is getting head-butted or the referee is hammered. Today, our interest is peaked again as we find a clip of the worst stretcher ride in history, which - watch as the injured player being carried off on the stretcher is stink-faced by the attending physician, not just once, but twice. Kind of like the movie "Borat."

We are not sure where this is from. The age of the stadium could suggest England, maybe Spain. We don't know when it happened, but we do know the paramedics only moved the guy ten feet, a ride that was clearly not necessarily.


OLBERMANN: Obama meets with Tim Kaine. Obama confirms he has chosen on the vice president. One of the runners up already knows he has been voted off project one way. And you have set your text message signal to a volume louder than the chimes of Big Ben; have you not? How many houses you got on Boardwalk? How about on Marvin Gardens? John McCain's his home's not alone problem with Robert Klein, our special guest. But first, the headlines breaking in the administration's 50 running scandals, Bushed.

Number three, foxes guarding the hen house-gate. Mr. Bush's U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has hired Hans von Spakowsky as a consultant and temporary full-time employee. Just let the temporary full-time employee oxymoron pass. Concentrate on the moron-moron. The nomination of Hans von Spakowsky to the Federal Election Commission was rejected because of his strident support for restrictions on voting rights. So, the Civil Rights Commission reportedly wants him to oversee its report on how well the Justice Department is monitoring the 2008 presidential election. A-plus, great job, well done. They did nothing at all.

Number 2, police state-gate. More dribs and drabs coming out of the new Justice Department guidelines pertaining to the investigation of U.S. citizens in the U.S. Democrats briefed on the secret plan have now written to Attorney General Mukasey to remind him, hey, we're not living in the Soviet Union. They say the new guidelines would permit the FBI to open up an investigation of an American, conduct surveillance on him, pry into his private record, not only without a warrant or court order, but, quoting Russ Feingold's letter, without any basis for suspicion. And you're writing to Mukasey, why? He's already established himself as Mr. Bush's legal mountebank, turning erosions of civil rights into good law.

Number one, is Obama already running U.S. foreign policy-gate? First, it was the hypothetical covert action in Pakistan he suggested and the Bush administration actually ran several months later. Then it was the 12,000 additional troops to Afghanistan he called for, which the Bush administration prove yesterday. Now after Obama launched his campaign for the presidency on the premise of timetables for withdrawal from Iraq, Secretary of State Rice reports from Baghdad that after meeting with the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, the two countries have agreed to goals for American troop relocations, aspirational time table, the regulation of temporary presence, a good old time horizons, and a timetable to withdraw American forces from Iraq by the 30th of next June.

A timetable? Wait a minute, that sounds almost like a - like a - like a timetable!


OLBERMANN: Senator Obama says today he has made his vice presidential decision, that it is someone independent, someone who will stand up to him in the White House, someone who will help the economy, someone who is ready to be president. Who is this paragon? In our third story on the Countdown, that and when the magic text message bearing his name will be sent remains secret. Tonight, the notification process has apparently begun. Our own Howard Fineman speaking to one of the potential candidates who indicated he was not the vice presidential choice and intimated he also knows who is. Thanks a lot. None of the rest of us do.

Senator Obama still refusing to say whether or not the running mate has been informed, or when we will be informed, telling an AP reporter who asked about the timing of the VP announcement to be sent by supporters via text message, quote, wouldn't you look to know. And telling the rest of the media entourage that he's not going to not reveal anything further.


OBAMA: I have made the selection. And that's all you're going to get.


OLBERMANN: As to what qualities the selection has, Obama told "USA Today" that, someone who is, quote, prepared to be president, who will be a partner with me in strengthening this economy for the middle class and working families, and, quote, somebody who is independent, somebody who can push against my preconceived notions and challenge me so we have a robust debate in the White House.

So who out of the three or four front runners fits that description? Could it be Senator Bayh, the former surrogate for Senator Clinton? How about Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who met privately with Senator Obama for a full 15 minutes today, and who reportedly told West Virginia Governor Joe Manchen yesterday that, quote, he really thinks he has a chance at the short straw. Is it perceived favorite Senator Joe Biden, who has gone from offering reporters staked outside his house coffee and bagels, to sneaking out the back door and avoiding the media altogether? Or those terms independent, push against, challenge me, robust debate in the White House, do they suggest the biggest name of all?


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: This is his decision. He gets to choose whomever he wants. And we'll find out soon enough.


OLBERMANN: To help us interpret Obama's hints, I'm joined now by our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor with "Newsweek Magazine," and author of "Between The Lines." Thanks for your time tonight, John.


OLBERMANN: All right, the vice presidential candidate is independent, feisty, economically strong. Besides you and I, who does that sound like?

ALTER: Well, you know, we're often wrong about these things. Maybe always wrong in the pundit class, but I think it sounds like Joe Biden. And interestingly to me, a lot of things that have been portrayed as his weaknesses in the current context may actually be strengths. For instance, his mouth.


ALTER: Now, as long as he's mouthing off about McCain, not Obama, he's on message. I think they actually want him to go over the top on John McCain. That's what a good vice presidential candidate is supposed to do, is rip the face off the other guy's presidential candidate. And, you know, historically that's been their job. And if they don't do it, the way John Edwards didn't do too much four years ago, they are seen as disappointing candidates.

OLBERMANN: He might have had the two best moments of the debates, the noun, the verb and 9/11 for Rudy Giuliani, and when asked this long question about his own verbosity, can you control yourself was the punchline from Brian Williams, and he simply said, yes. The deadpan was something new he added to the repertoire.

If it's not him, is it possible it's also not Kaine or Bayh? Is there still a dark horse in here that we don't know about?

ALTER: It is possible. It would be the greatest head fake in recent political history. But politicians do like surprises like this. It lends more drama. But I would say unlikely. I would, right now, tonight, say it's probably down to Kaine and Biden.

OLBERMANN: Any more information on the timing of this announcement?

When is everybody's Blackberry going to buzz?

ALTER: I think the sense is that - nobody knows anything because the people who know aren't talking and the only people who are talking don't know. I think the sense is that they'll take this as close into the Saturday joint appearance as they can. There's not any real percentage in doing it any sooner than that. And, so, I think they're trying to orchestrate a big Saturday event that will then give them some momentum going into their convention. And the fact that there's this harmful house story for John McCain is giving them a feeling like they might really be able to get some kind of a bounce out of their convention, and the vice presidential selection is important.

If they have the first two days, if Sunday and Monday going into their convention are all positives Veep days, then they get the, you know, maybe the Joe-Mo that they need for a good convention.

OLBERMANN: You almost want, from their perspective, to announce the VP Sunday night, because you could ride the McCain house story through Sunday into all the talk shows conceivably.

ALTER: I think they would handle, cover both. Also the Veep story gives you a chance to amplify the house story even more.

OLBERMANN: At this late stage, as I suggested - those terms all sounded like they could apply to Hillary Clinton. Is there, at this late stage, any expectation on the part of her supporters that there's going to be a last-minute reprieve from the governor, if you will, here? And what happens if it's not her? Is this another - do they perceive this as another punch to their solar plexus?

ALTER: There's hope but no real expectation. You can never say never, but it's highly unlikely. There will be a core of her supporters who will be very upset about this. She has talked about and the Obama people believe in a, quote, cathartic process at the convention. Her name is entered in nomination, her people get to yell and scream on Tuesday night, probably a very long floor demonstration. And then she will make a great effort in her speech on Tuesday night to try to unify the party.

There's no percentage in it for her to sabotage Obama. If she's blamed for his losing, that does her political career no good, whatsoever, and a lot of harm. She has a real interest in being seen as the party unifier.

OLBERMANN: Plus, the support and the good feeling that she engendered from that speech in the beginning of June in Washington, when she finally conceded, would probably be a guideline to her as to what to do in Denver.

ALTER: Her backers don't want to be like Gene McCarthy's backers, who helped elect Richard Nixon by sitting on their hands in 1968.

OLBERMANN: You don't want to get caught in John McCain's house.

Jonathan Alter of "Newsweek" and MSNBC. Thank you, Jon.

ALTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: We will be covering every inch of Senator Obama's expected first appearance with the mystery running mate in Springfield, Illinois this Saturday. So, when your instant message goes off, think both of the new VP and of Chris Matthews and me anchoring the event starting a little probably before noon on Saturday. Then at 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific, join us for a special Saturday edition of Countdown. That is Saturday, if somebody will just please remember to send me a text message or something.

They have four houses, seven, eight, ten. An estimated seven to ten. Robert Klein joins us. And in a military in which religious proselytizing is against all the rules, why did General Petraeus write a blurb for a chaplain's book that says every soldier should keep it with him, when the book says atheists can cause military units to fail? Worst persons next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: When you don't know how many homes you own and you have to ask your staff, and your staff can't really settle on one answer, you may have just lost the presidential election. Mr. McCain's house party, as perceived by our special guest, Robert Klein, next. But first, time for Countdown's number two story, today's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Republican Congressional wannabe John Guard of Wisconsin. In June, Guard's campaign was caught distributing fliers insisting that Cuba was already drilling for oil in American waters. When advised that was flatout horse hockey, the Guard campaign withdrew the fliers. Now Guard is out with a campaign commercial claiming Cuba is poised to drill for oil off the Florida coast. Cuba granted leases to foreign countries to explore for oil on Cuban land. Mr. Guard does make sense at one point in the ad when he concludes, makes no sense to me.

Our runner up, General David Petraeus, who has endorsed a book written by an Evangelical Lutheran chaplain in the US Army, in which the chaplain claims non-believers can lead to failure in their military unit. Lieutenant Colonel Bill McCoy's book, says Petraeus, in quotes published on the jacket, "should be in every rucksack for those times when soldiers need spiritual energy."

Never mind the impact on those soldiers who are not of Chaplain McCoy's faith. How about Army regulations against promoting religion, against proselytizing? General Petraeus, who never has been troubled by Army regulations, nor Constitutional ones, claims that when McCoy asked him for a recommendation, he didn't give him permission to publish it, that it was only intended for McCoy personally. You're right, that doesn't make any sense. Guy asks you for a book blurb and you don't expect him to print it. It gets worse. Petraeus' endorsement has been on that book jacket since the book was published last year.

But our winner, comedian Rush Limbaugh, defending John McCain - what else, that's what it says on the talking points Rush gets - by attacking Obama's response to McCain's attack ads; quote, "it's just we can't hit the girl. I don't care how far feminism is saying you can't hit the girl. And you can't. You can't criticize the little black man child."

There's 4,000 jokes in there, like about the last time comedian was called either little or a man. But hidden in that statement, Rush, you're suggesting you should be able to hit the girl? Comedian Rush Limbaugh, today's worst person in the world!


OLBERMANN: Senator John McCain may not know how many houses he owns, but he would like you to get off his lawns, all of them. Our number one story on the Countdown, even the McCain campaign struggles to count McCain's houses. They're sending a rather off-putting message to John Q. Public, because let's face it, any way you cut this, homes, houses, condos, does Senator McCain really not know? Nope.

The reminder from that political interview: how many houses do you and Mrs. McCain have? The senator's answer was, quote, I think - I'll have my staff get to you. I can't tell you about that. It's condominiums except further - I'll have them get to you.

Seven, eight, ten? Well, he only lives in four of them, plus there's that parking lot he owns. Difficulty with counting in the single digits runs in the family. The number of half sisters Cindy McCain has is two, which would not be a big deal, except that Mrs. McCain usually refers to herself as an only child, according to the "Washington Post," and one of the half-sisters has complained about that.

Let's turn to, for his first interview with me since October 1978, the legendary comedian Robert Klein, who is currently on a national tour. Welcome.

ROBERT KLEIN, COMEDIAN: One house! One. The mortgage is a little behind, but Trump is taking over. He's going to help me out.

OLBERMANN: Well, that's very nice.

KLEIN: That's like the old supermarket gaffe with Bush senior. It is out of touch.

OLBERMANN: Are we making too much of this? Haven't all of us at some point forgotten one of the mansions or yachts that we own?

KLEIN: It isn't the wealth - you know, the "New Republic" always writes about how Americans don't want to divide up the wealth. Everyone wants their shot at being rich. I really think this is more of a geezer moment. And as a bona fide geezer at 66, I'd like to say he's too old to run for president. I don't like the idea of Lieberman whispering in his ear like Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. And, you know, the borders between certain Asian states, I think it's important to know.

I don't know where all this experience was supposed to have been gained from years of being part of the status quo. And Obama is a great American story. I don't know him. I don't know McCain either. And, yet, they've knocked it apart. The only saving grace is that American politics was twice as nasty at its beginning.

OLBERMANN: Absolutely.

KLEIN: Election of 1800. Awful things they said about each other.

OLBERMANN: But then again, some of the things that were said about McCain in 2000 date directly back to things that were said about Thomas Jefferson. So we have that beautiful kind of bastard child thing running through our whole history.

KLEIN: If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. I'm not going to say, no fair, which I've heard too much of in this campaign. I just - you know, if this were a parliamentary democracy, these people would have been voted out a long time ago. I think it's time for a change and I wouldn't be partisan anyway.

OLBERMANN: You made a great point that all the talk about experience and knowledge and knowing the world, wouldn't you think with experience and knowledge, you'd know how many homes you own?

KLEIN: Yes, it's like he married the richest woman in Arizona. He has his own agenda. And, yes, there was a sanctity about him because of this suffering, like Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel, a prisoner subject to torture and all. OK, I know. But we have a world to run.

OLBERMANN: It's an answer to everything. It's not just used - I mean, a little of that goes a long way and can stop an argument cold. If you use it every third day, people are going to go, as you just said, I know.

KLEIN: And another thing, Keith, I really think that Senator Clinton must prove herself - her husband, I don't know any more. This guy I was a big fan of, a Rhode Scholar, brilliant guy, Rhode Scholar from the waist up. From the waist down, he was high school equivalency diploma. You see how he looked, how tough this job is, how he looked at the end of the thing, that W.C. Fields nose? Probably from his wife going, you stupid, idiot. Ruined my chances.

Anyway, erudition is of no consequence. Kerry is the one with the shrapnel in his butt, and he was shamed and the other guy escaped service. There is a kind of Orwellian thing going down, a war of the words. And I just wonder - there was a quote in one of the blogs today where this Pennsylvania Democrat said, yes, he's black, but he's a Democrat; get over it. I think the racial thing is really unspoken. I think we're too embarrassed by it. When 28 percent of the voters come out of the West Virginia primary and said that race was a real issue, that should be an embarrassment in 2008.

OLBERMANN: This is a test. This is our test.

KLEIN: Jackie Robinson.

OLBERMANN: It's been a while.

KLEIN: Morgan Freeman.

OLBERMANN: The one and only Robert Klein on a national tour.

KLEIN: Man, you're doing great.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir. That's Countdown for this 1,940th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.