Thursday, October 2, 2008

Two episodes for this date.
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Pre-debate, 8 PM
Post-debate, 11 PM
'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for **October 2, 2008**, 11 p.m. ET
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Guests: Stephanie Cutter, Linda Lingle

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Asked about her greatest weakness, Governor Sarah Palin tonight talked about her greatest strengths and her marriage and her executive skills and the shining city on the hill.

Asked about Afghanistan, she got the name of the commander there wrong. She misquoted him and tried to scold Senator Biden for getting the quotes right. Asked about Iraq, she got the number of American troops there wrong. Asked, in short, about X, she answered about Y, and, on at least one occasion, said in advance she would not answer the moderator's question.

The governor of Alaska did not spontaneously combust. She did not say she would get back to us. In that sense, this was a triumph, and possibly in no other sense.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): And now it belongs to the ages.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Go to a kid's soccer game on Saturday.

Joe Six-Pack, hockey moms across the nation. Darn right it was the predator lenders. I betcha you're going to hear some fear. And it's so obvious that I'm a Washington outsider. And the chant is drill, baby drill.

Barack Obama and Senator Biden...

OLBERMANN: The upset of a generation, Giants over Patriots in the Super Bowl, or lights out, like Ken Norton over Duane Bobick in 58 seconds in 1977, when the telecast still had two hours to run.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: John McCain voted to cut off funding for the troops. Let me say that again. John McCain voted against an amendment containing $1 billion, $600 million that I had gotten to get MRAPS, those things that are protecting the governor's son and, pray God, my son and a lot of other sons and daughters.

He voted against it. He voted against it, the funding, because he said the amendment had a timeline in it to end this war. And he didn't like that.

OLBERMANN: Palin v. Biden, and that was not a Supreme Court verdict.

Plus, the startling news buried in the debate coverage. McCain is pulling his campaign out of Michigan, no TV, no direct mail, staff transferred elsewhere.

With the analysis of Howard Fineman and Andrea Mitchell at Washington University in Saint Louis, Eugene Robinson, Obama campaign senior adviser Stephanie Cutter, and Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, this is Countdown's coverage of the 2008 vice presidential debate.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Thursday, October 2, 33 days until the 2008 presidential election, and about 30 minutes after the vice presidential Palin/Biden debate.

Instead of answering the questions that were asked of her, the governor reverted to whatever topic she preferred, often energy, instead of the hesitance and silence that characterized her recent media interviews, Governor Palin aggressively attacking Senator Biden and the Democratic ticket.

The question tonight, on this special post-edition of Countdown: Was it enough? Was Governor Palin's performance tonight the game-changer that was needed to reverse the downward slide of the Republican ticket?

The governor Beginning the debate with a request to keep things informal, asking Senator Biden, with microphones open, at the handshake, - quote -"Hey, can I call you Joe?"

From there, it was a short trip to attempting a connection with working-class voters and the proverbial Joe Six-Pack.


PALIN: One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let's commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six-Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars.

We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings.


OLBERMANN: Senator Biden calling out his opponent on dodging certain questions and on getting certain facts wrong, as he did when Governor Palin falsely claimed that Senator Obama had voted 94 times either to raise taxes or to fight against tax cuts.


BIDEN: The charge is absolutely not true. Barack Obama did not vote to raise taxes. The vote she's referring to, John McCain voted the exact same way. It was a budget procedural vote. John McCain voted the same way. It did not raise taxes.

Number two, using the standard that the governor uses, John McCain voted 477 times to raise taxes-taxes. It's a bogus standard.

GWEN IFILL, MODERATOR:... before we move on?

PALIN: I'm still on the tax thing, because I want to correct you on that again.

And I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor. And I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record, also.

As mayor, every year I was in office, I did reduce taxes. I eliminated personal property taxes and eliminated small business inventory taxes, and, as governor, we suspended our state fuel tax. We did all of those things knowing that that is how our economy would be heated up.

Now, as for John McCain's adherence to rules and regulations and pushing for even harder and tougher regulations, that is another thing that he has-is known for, though. Look at the tobacco industry. Look at campaign finance reform.

IFILL: OK, our time is up here.


IFILL: We have got to move to the next question.


OLBERMANN: In addition to viewing those actual debate questions as optional, another Palin strategy, when things got uncomfortable, straying into energy, no matter what the original topic was.


BIDEN: That would keep people in their homes, actually help banks by keeping it from going under. But John McCain, as I understand it-I'm not sure of this, but I believe John McCain and the governor don't support that.

There are ways to help people now. And there-ways that we're offering are not being supported by-by the Bush administration nor do I believe by John McCain and Governor Palin.

IFILL: Governor Palin, is that so?

PALIN: That is not so, but because that's just a quick answer, I want to talk about, again, my record on energy versus your ticket's energy ticket, also.

I think that this is important to come back to, with that energy policy plan again that was voted for in '05.


OLBERMANN: The debate shifting from economic issues and energy to foreign policy, Governor Palin, with a son already in Iraq, or due to be there shortly, with the Alaska National Guard, Senator Biden with a son, the attorney general of Delaware, heading to Iraq tomorrow with his National Guard unit, the Democrat calling McCain the odd man out for his refusal to accept a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the Republican calling that tantamount to a white flag of surrender.


PALIN: Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that's for sure. And it's not what our nation needs to be able to count on.


OLBERMANN: Senator Biden, meanwhile, wondering how a McCain/Palin administration would differ on foreign policy from the Bush administration, the one the country has right now.


BIDEN: Past is prologue, Gwen. The issue is, how different is John McCain's policy going to be than George Bush's? I haven't heard anything yet.

I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different on Iran than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different with Israel than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Afghanistan is going to be different than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Pakistan is going to be different than George Bush's.

It may be. But so far, it is the same as George Bush's. And you know where that policy has taken us.

We will make significant change so, once again, we're the most respected nation in the world.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now from Washington University in Saint Louis in the immediate aftermath of this debate, Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC.

Howard, good evening again.


OLBERMANN: Governor Palin did not crash, did not burn. But she also did not question-answer the questions as they were asked in many, many occasions. Is that something outside the spirit of this thing?

FINEMAN: Well, sure.

You know, she-my dominant impression, stylistically, was of a wolverine attacking the pant leg of a passerby. I mean, she got ahold of Joe Biden and hung on for dear life, using every attack line she conceivably could.

Obviously, they had rehearsed tons of attack lines in Sedona, the white flag of surrender, there you go again, Joe, on and on and on. She repeated her record from Alaska at any time she conceivably could, whether it related to the question or not.

She attacked on taxes. She attacked on differences that Biden had had with Obama during the primary season, certainly a legitimate area to attack. It was attack, attack, attack, resort to Alaska when necessary, not listen to the questions or answer them when necessary, all to get through the 90 minutes by attacking.

And, at least in that sense, it was successful, because, when David Axelrod came out here-that's the chief strategist for Barack Obama-into the spin room, where I now am, to begin spinning the assembled press corps, he didn't say, this woman is not ready for prime time. He didn't dare say that, because, in this context, in this kind of thing, she was more than ready for prime time.

What he said was, she didn't distinguish herself or John McCain from John-or John McCain from George Bush, that she didn't do the key thing that needs to be done, if you're a Republican, which is to distance yourself from George Bush. In no way, shape or form did she do that in this debate.

And that's what the Biden strategy and accomplishment was here tonight.

OLBERMANN: Other than stanching the hemorrhage that the last two weeks had been for her, in terms of her interviews, did she do anything to advance the cause of the ticket for Senator McCain in particular? Did she do anything, other than make herself less of a liability than she was this afternoon?

FINEMAN: No, I don't think so, substantively, no.

And her answers-or non-answers-will be picked apart in the minutes and hours and days ahead. She didn't defend John McCain's health care proposal very well, if at all. She didn't really explain his tax proposals or defend them, other than to say that tax cuts create jobs.

She didn't talk about the deficits that would result. She didn't defend the-the budgetary aspects of it. She didn't really defend or explain in any detail how John McCain's foreign policy would differ substantially-or at all-from George Bush's.

So, in substantive terms, and in the terms of the lay of the land of this campaign, I don't think she helped at all.

The one thing that she did do was stand toe to toe with Joe Biden in this weird kind of setup that we have in what we tend to call debates. It was a very rapid pace, an almost frantic pace, that actually, in a way, suited her. But she didn't really defend or explain or distance her ticket from those-from-from the George Bush years. And that's-that's the key, in the view of the Obama campaign. And I think they're probably right.

OLBERMANN: And, of course, the mean coming out of the McCain campaign is, well, that's just looking backwards anyway. You don't have to worry about the past, because it's all gone now.

FINEMAN: Yes. Don't look backwards.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC.

FINEMAN: Don't look backwards.

OLBERMANN: Don't ever look back. Something might be gaining on you was-was Satchel Paige's version of this.


OLBERMANN: Let's now turn...



OLBERMANN: Thank you, Howard.

Let's turn to Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC's "RACHEL MADDOW SHOW."

Good evening, Rachel.


OLBERMANN: Did she-did she win the debate by not going up in flames? Did she win the debate by not answering any of the questions? Did she win the debate?

MADDOW: I don't know. Honestly, I know that's a lame answer, but I don't know...


MADDOW:... because there's three things that come out of debates, right? There's news, in case anybody makes any news. There's overall impression of what the candidate is like as a person. And there's sound bites.

I think that Joe Biden's sound bite of the night is probably going to be when he went after her on-when he went after John McCain on being like Bush, one of those repetitive, cadence-like lines that he used.

Her sound bite of the night is probably going to be montages being put together online and in cutting rooms all over America right now of all of her folksy-isms that she did.

OLBERMANN: You mean like the one we opened the show with?



MADDOW: And thousands more.

I mean, she was-she was very-she hammed it a lot a bit in terms a lot, in terms of the folksiness.

In terms of the overall impression, I think that Joe Biden was boring for the first half the debate. I agree with Pat Buchanan, who I know we're going to be talking with later, about Joe have been laden down in details and in numbers. Sarah Palin-Sarah Palin, I think, did come across as a little bit inhuman and like a character.

The one way in which I think that there might be a big headline out of tonight's debate is that is there was some news made. And that was the jaw-dropping proposal by Sarah Palin that the-that the powers of the vice presidency ought to be expanded. That wouldn't have been a big deal four years ago-or eight years ago-excuse me.

But coming out of Dick Cheney as vice president, that is a big deal. This is a woman who said that Dick Cheney's only bad decision was shooting Harry Whittington in the face. To look at the legacy of Cheney, to say she wants his job, and she wants more power, that's news.

OLBERMANN: We're getting an early-this is attributed to the FiveThirtyEight Web site, Nate Silver's operation. The CBS poll of undecideds had Biden winning the debate 46-21, and 33 percent called it a tied. But few votes moved. So, it might have been, in terms of content, a Biden victory, but-but a neutral play.

Is there enough time left in the campaign for John McCain and-and Sarah Palin to have a draw be sufficient at 33 days out, or is every day that they don't gain up any ground on-on Obama a disaster?

MADDOW: I think the stakes for both campaigns tonight were negative, in the sense that both of them had an opportunity to do some harm to their tickets. I'm not sure that either did, because I'm not sure that either candidate really defied expectations all that much.

I think that Sarah Palin certainly did participate in the debate and did stand alongside Joe Biden, and she did stay true to character. In terms of substance, I think she sort of met expectations, in not being able to keep up on the specifics.

I don't think that either candidate is going to have done anything tonight to have hurt the overall trajectory of either ticket. And, right now, the Obama trajectory is up. The McCain trajectory is down. Nobody can say whether that's going to hold true for another month. But I don't think there's going to be any major inflection because of what happened tonight.

OLBERMANN: The dig at the end about the filter of the mainstream media, who kept Sarah Palin from doing a live interview anywhere? Who kept Sarah Palin from coming on this newscast, or on your news show, or on "Meet the Press," or "This Week," or "Face the Nation"? Who's responsible for that horrible thing?

MADDOW: Well...


MADDOW:... to go after the mainstream media is to be speaking to a very specific, energized, activist form of the Republican base.

There are people all across America on the far right who are cheering at any criticism of the mainstream media, and who cheered, probably, when she told Gwen Ifill, I'm not going to answer your questions. I don't care that she's the moderator. And I'm paraphrasing there. I mean, that's a partisan thing. That's why the conservative base loves her. They will probably love her all the more.

OLBERMANN: You up for this? I will challenge her. She can come on your show or my show for an hour. We will do it live. There will be no editing whatsoever, as long as she will answer like a couple, like 20 percent of the questions you or I ask, or we-she can choose us both. How about that?



OLBERMANN: You're game? All right.


OLBERMANN: I don't-I don't think she or the Republican Party have

there's nothing-I don't think it's anything in their best interests to do that, but we will issue them that challenge right now, OK?

MADDOW: Thank you. I agree. Good.

OLBERMANN: All right.

So, either Rachel, or me, or both of us, and you can talk, and we won't even interrupt. But we will ask follow-up questions.

Rachel Maddow, who we will see again with Pat Buchanan, as she mentioned-thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right. Coming up, tonight's debate as seen through the eyes of each campaign.

This is Countdown coverage of the 2008 vice presidential debate.


OLBERMANN: Still ahead on Countdown's special analysis of the vice presidential debate: Did the candidates meet expectations tonight? We will check in with surrogates from both camps. We will talk with Stephanie Cutter, senior adviser for the Obama campaign, and Governor Linda Lingle, a surrogate for the McCain side.

That's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: We will repeat that number from the CBS poll of uncommitteds. Forty-six percent of their uncommitted voters-they had a little less than 500 in their poll-said Biden won the debate. Twenty-one percent said Palin. Thirty-three percent said it was a tie. Eighteen percent of previously uncommitted voters say they are now committed to Obama/Biden. Ten percent say they're now committed to McCain/Palin. That would leave 72 percent saying their minds were not made up tonight, by any stretch of the imagination.

About what went on before, Joe Biden said tonight, during this debate, that past is prologue. Sarah Palin argued that past is irrelevant.


PALIN: when we talk about the Bush administration, there's a time, too, when Americans are going to say, "Enough is enough with your ticket," on constantly looking backwards, and pointing fingers, and doing the blame game.

There have been huge blunders in the war. There have been huge blunders throughout this administration, as there are with every administration.

But, for a ticket that wants to talk about change and looking into the future, there's just too much finger-pointing backwards to ever make us believe that that's where you're going.

Positive change is coming, though. Reform of government is coming. We'll learn from the past mistakes in this administration and other administrations.

And we're going to forge ahead with putting government back on the side of the people and making sure that our country comes first, putting obsessive partisanship aside.

That's what John McCain has been known for in all these years. He has been the maverick. He has ruffled feathers.

But I know, Senator Biden, you have respected for them that, and I respect you for acknowledging that. But change is coming.


OLBERMANN: Joining us now from Saint Louis, Stephanie Cutter, senior adviser for the Obama campaign.

Thanks for your time tonight.



CUTTER: How are you?

OLBERMANN: I'm confused, is what I am, more than anything else.


OLBERMANN: Unless I-my calendars are all wrong, the Bush administration has four months yet to be in office. How is that...

CUTTER: That's right.

OLBERMANN: How is that the past and irrelevant?

CUTTER: Right, particularly when people are still living with the real-life effects of this administration, both at home and over in Iraq.

You know, I think that it was a-a strategy of hers, to separate herself from George Bush. You know, it's just not credible for John McCain to do something like that. But she tried it, because maybe she doesn't feel like she's as tethered to the same policies and-and record as John McCain.

But, unfortunately, she couldn't name one thing that she would do differently than George Bush and John McCain. On the economy, on Iraq, on the war on terror, you name it, not one thing could she name that would be different, that would bring change to this country. So, I'm not sure if it was a very effective strategy.

And when she's talking, you know, about all administrations make mistakes, I think the belittling of those mistakes is not going to go over with the American people either.

OLBERMANN: The-the idea that-that visceral issues matter as much as what is said, obviously, that benefited your campaign last time out, for the strangest of reasons, when Senator McCain would not make eye contact with Senator Obama during the presidential debate last week.

Obviously, we didn't have anything like that. But, if there were

visceral issues here, do they not go to Governor Palin for the-given the

the disasters of some of her interviews recently, that there were no obvious disasters, long pauses, inability to remember simple facts about American history? That that did not happen, did she not-did she not prevail viscerally tonight?


CUTTER: Well, I think, Keith, that she stuck to her talking points pretty well.

But the problem was, when you got her off those talking points, she didn't offer any answers. If you go back and look at the questions that were asked of her, she didn't actually answer anything. But she stuck to the message and she stuck to the talking points pretty well.

That's what we see on the campaign trail, also. She's great at delivering those one-line punches in her stump speech. But, when you ask substantive questions, and drill her down on those answers, you don't get much. I'm not sure people learned anything new about Sarah Palin tonight that they didn't know.

And that's a problem, when people are making their choice for, you know, the-the position that's a heartbeat away from the presidency.

OLBERMANN: Were you-were you-were you concerned about that one

particular answer, when-when she was asked, as was Senator Biden, for

their Achilles' heel, and she gave an answer instead kind of reciting not -

I-it sounded to me like she didn't even hear the question correctly, but she just went through her strengths.

Senator Biden mentioned several Achilles' heels.

But I was flashed back to...

CUTTER: Right.

OLBERMANN:... to the 2004 debates, when President Bush was asked if there was anything he regretted or thought he needed to-would have liked to have changed, done differently. It seemed to be an unfortunate echo for anybody who-who watched those debates four years ago.


But, you know, Keith, we are in a much different place as a country. There's four more years of devastating effects of Bush policies. People are looking for honesty. People are looking for, you know-the best thing about Joe Biden is, he is who he says he is. He wears his heart on his sleeve. What you see is what you get. And that's what the American people got tonight.

That's not what they got with Sarah Palin. They got stock answers and talking points. You know, her answer reminded me of that advice that you get when you're going for your first job interview out of college, turn whatever negative you have into is a positive. You know, people get that. People understand that that's not honest.

You know, if she can't name a policy that she will differ with the Bush administration, that's not change. And, you know, I think that, at the end of the day, when we see the analysis out of this debate, when see where the polls are out of this debate, that will be evident.

OLBERMANN: Stephanie Cutter, a senior adviser with the Obama campaign, joining us now from-from Saint Louis.

And we thank you again for your time tonight.

CUTTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: After the break, the view from the McCain camp in the moments after this debate. I will be joined by Republican Linda Lingle, the governor of Hawaii.

Countdown's coverage of the face-off between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden continues after this.


OLBERMANN: It is unlikely you will find the adjective "mavericky" in any dictionary, at least in print. There might be one online that has added it, but you heard it a lot in this debate between Sarah Palin and Senator Biden. It was not a term with which Senator Biden seemed to agree.


BIDEN: Let's talk about the maverick John McCain is. And, again, I love him. He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives.

He voted four out of five times for George Bush's budget, which put us a half a trillion dollars in debt this year and over $3 trillion in debt since he's got there.

He has not been a maverick in providing health care for people. He has voted against-he voted including another 3. 6 million children in coverage of the existing health care plan, when he voted in the United States Senate.

He's not been a maverick when it comes to education. He has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college.

He's not been a maverick on the war. He's not been a maverick on virtually anything that genuinely affects the things that people really talk about around their kitchen table.


OLBERMANN: Joining us now, as a surrogate from the McCain campaign, the governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle.

Governor Lingle, thank you for your time tonight.

GOV. LINDA LINGLE (R), HAWAII: Aloha, Keith. Great to be here with you.

OLBERMANN: How did, in your opinion, Governor Palin advance the McCain-Palin ticket tonight?

LINGLE: Well, I thought she did a great job, Keith, in letting people know that McCain-Palin means a breath of fresh air in Washington, D.C.

And I could tell you that people all the across this country are looking for a new direction in Washington. All you have to do is look at the results when people are asked, how do you rate the United States Congress? I think it's down at around 15 percent now, and that's because Americans want people working together.

And I think she made that point consistently, that Senator McCain has developed a long record as someone who can work across party lines. He doesn't just reach across the aisle. He walks across the aisle.

And Senator Palin has done the same thing in the state of Alaska. As governor, she's put people on her cabinet of all political parties or of independent backgrounds. Also, she took on people in her own political party. And as you know, that's one of the most difficult things to do.

OLBERMANN: You mentioned the new direction. If the old direction in terms of presidents and vice presidents, is the current president and vice president, the Bush administration, what did the governor say tonight that indicated how she will move away and how she and Senator McCain would move away from the Bush administration?

LINGLE: Well, I think you heard her say that there have been lots of areas in policy in Washington, D.C., that need a new direction.

And Senator McCain has showed this so consistently, Keith, whether it was calling for the resignation of the secretary of defense at one point, calling for the surge, going his own direction on immigration policy, on climate change, teaming up with Democrats to move forward on the judicial appointments. He's had such a long and consistent record of being bipartisan. And I honestly believe that's what America is looking for.

I'm a Republican governor from a state that is probably among the top two or three Democrat states in this entire nation. In my state legislature, out of 51 house members, 44 are Democrats. Out of 25 senators, 21 are Democrats. But I was elected with the largest percentage in Hawaii history.

And it shows that people are not partisan. They'll vote for Democrats. They'll vote for Republicans. What they do want, they want us working together. And that's what-that's what the Palin-McCain ticket is all about.

OLBERMANN: I only have time for one question, so I'm not going to be able to ask you when Senator McCain actually calls for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation. I'd like to ask you one that pertains to the process tonight.

Is it all unfair to the debate process to say to the moderator, "I may not answer the question in the way you want me to" or, in several occasions, as the governor did tonight, not answer the question that was posed by the moderator and change the topic after the question was posed?

LINGLE: Well, I thought it was great debate strategy and showed an experienced debater, because what you do in a situation like that, Keith, when someone poses a question that has three or four different issues in it, you choose the one you're most comfortable with, the one you feel most knowledgeable about. And you certainly don't answer in a way that your opponent would like you to answer or that the moderator would like you to answer.

So I think her debating skills really shined tonight.

OLBERMANN: Governor Linda Lingle of Hawaii, speaking here as a representative of that McCain-Palin ticket. We thank you for your time.

LINGLE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Coming up I'll be joined by Eugene Robinson of "The Washington Post." Did he see any signs tonight that Sarah Palin helped stop the slide that the McCain campaign experienced in polls lately?

And surprising results: interior numbers, if you will, out of a poll of uncommitted voters, 98 percent of whom said afterwards that one of these two candidates was knowledgeable about key issues.

You're watching Countdown's coverage of the vice-presidential debate.


OLBERMANN: If there was a moment at which facts got in the way of the story, it was on the subject of Afghanistan in tonight's vice-presidential debate. And the facts do not fall in the way of Governor Palin. Here's Senator Biden and then Governor Palin on the subject, and then some actual quotes.


SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: With Afghanistan, facts matter, Gwen. The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge-the surge principles used in Iraq will not-let me say this again now-our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, first, McClellan did not say definitively that the surge principles would not work in Afghanistan. Certainly, accounting for different conditions in that different country, and conditions are certainly different. We have NATO allies helping us, for one, and even the geographic differences are huge.

But the counterinsurgency principles also could work in Afghanistan.

McClellan didn't say anything opposite of that.


OLBERMANN: That might be true. We don't really know who McClellan is supposed to have been. The general in charge of-working under Centcom commander General David Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, is General David McKiernan. And what he said to the "Washington Independent" today was, "Afghanistan has very harsh geography. It's very difficult to move around, getting back to a reliance on helicopters. It's a country with very few natural resources as opposed to the oil revenues that Iraq has."

He continued along, talking about the differences in the two nations and then concluded, "So there are a lot of challenges. What I don't think is needed, the word that I don't use in Afghanistan is the word 'surge.' There needs to be a sustained commitment of a variety of military and nonmilitary resources, I believe. This followed what Petraeus told 'The New York Times' yesterday. People often ask what did you learn from Iraq that might be transferable to Afghanistan? The first lesson, the first caution, really, is that every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique and has its own context and specifics and its own texture."

So Petraeus was vague on the subject of whether or not a surge would work in Afghanistan but General McKiernan-or General McClellan or Scott McClellan or somebody named McClellan-disagreed entirely and said the word he would not use is the word "surge."

All right. As you saw pop up briefly and waiting patiently, Gene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of "The Washington Post" and also political analyst for MSNBC, joining us now.

Good evening, Gene.


OLBERMANN: That was our one-one moment of faux pas. Give me your overall assessment. With so much of this viscerally, what-what is left tomorrow morning in people's minds, the way McCain not looking at Obama was left in their minds last week?

ROBINSON: Well, Keith, I-I saw the debate that the-the undecided or uncommitted voters in that CBS survey group saw the debate. I - I didn't-I thought it was a very strange encounter.

It was almost as if Biden and Palin were in two different worlds, not just on two different sides of the stage. He was in a world of history and policy and fact-yes, fact. And she was someplace else.

You know, I thought she made one big mistake, which was not to really spell out what McCain-Palin were going to do about the big problems that face the nation. I mean, you know, she did not lay out, for example, how they're going to fix the financial system, how they're going to fix the economy. She-she declined to elaborate on those questions beyond repeating the talking points.

And I say that's a mistake, because I really think that's what people want to hear right now. And they heard a lot of that from Joe Biden. They heard almost none of it from her. And that's why it doesn't surprise me that that first initial reaction is that Biden won the debate.

You know, we-as I said, you know, last Friday, the initial reaction of commentators is almost always wrong. I think it was in this case, because I think Biden came across.

I also-I also wonder how people reacted to the kind of mugging and the eye rolling and, you know, the moment that I recall-if you remember, they were talking about offshore drilling, and Biden kind of mangled the chant. And she corrected him and said, "Oh, no, the chant is, 'Drill, baby, drill'," with a-you know, with a lot of mugging and a lot of animation.

I just wonder if-if that wasn't a bit kind of light and sarcastic and, you know, postmodern, post-something for a vice-presidential debate at this moment in American history, where-where a certain amount of seriousness seems to be in order.

OLBERMANN: Well, it may have fired up the base, perhaps in the way that it fired up the base when she spoke to that convention or even on the day that she was selected by Senator McCain.

But, again, to hear-give me your reaction to these numbers apart from who won, who lost in that CBS poll of independent, uncommitted voters.

Fifty-five percent of them said their view of Palin improved. Fifty-three percent said their view of Biden improved. In terms of whose view-their assessment getting worse, 14 percent thought their opinion of Palin was worse after this, five percent thought their opinion of Biden was worse.

And then on the knowledgeability issue, a huge jump from Palin. She was at 43 percent with these people. After the debate, she's at 66 percent. Biden was at 79 percent. Almost, in political terms, that's almost unanimous. He went to virtually unanimous. He's now at 98 percent.

So everywhere where she grew, he grew almost the same percentages. We're talking about whatever the final score here is, however each side may want to spin it, this was a 7-6 ball game.

ROBINSON: Right. And, you know, from those numbers, they both did well; they both accomplished what they wanted to accomplish. They both came across as knowledgeable in some way. I mean, Biden more than Palin. But they both got done what they wanted to get done, it sounds, if those internals are right.

Now, you know, if they both came across, if they both got to the point where they wanted to get, then that's a net plus for the Obama-Biden campaign, which has been, you know-has had the momentum and has been gaining in the polls.

I don't think Palin reversed that tonight. But, you know, we'll wait for more numbers to come out and see how people saw it.

OLBERMANN: Say it ain't so, Joe. Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and "The Washington Post." Thank you, Gene.

ROBINSON: Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right. They faced off during the primaries. Now they're here together to analyze the debate. No, no, not Biden and Palin. Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow. Countdown's coverage of the vice-presidential debate continues with them after this.


OLBERMANN: There was one moment in this debate which we have not yet discussed in our coverage here in its aftermath. It may have been, ultimately, the most connecting and most emotional, certainly, of the entire night. It came near the end, and it did not come from the candidate who was most readily associated with connecting with people.

Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan will discuss what we saw and how it may have moved those who watched along with us, when Countdown's coverage of the debate and its aftermath continues after this.


OLBERMANN: That which is visceral also often does not sink into those who have watched a debate until it is long gone in the past, until the debate itself has long since finished. We may have seen that tonight. We certainly saw it last week with that issue of John McCain not looking Barack Obama in the eye.

We might have seen it late in this debate and from an unexpected source, when Senator Biden began, in brief, to talk about the tragedy that afflicted him and his late first wife when he was 29 years old.


BIDEN: But the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to-is going to make it, I understand. I understand, as well as, with all due respect, the governor or anybody else, what it's like for those people sitting around that kitchen table. And guess what, they're looking for help.


OLBERMANN: A pleasure to be joined once again by Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, who will finish out our segments here, two of them.

And I've got to ask you, Rachel, if that had been-if those circumstances had befallen-we wouldn't want them to-Governor Palin and she had made those remarks and she had choked up in that way, would that not have been the only thing that would have been talked about in the hour and 20 minutes since the debate ended?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I'm not sure if we've progressed as a country and as a culture to where a show of emotion by a woman is forgivable. I don't know if we've come that far until it happens again, after we saw that happen to Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I guess we won't know.

I think the thing that was remarkable about that clip that you just-that you just showed was not that Joe Biden choked up, but because the way that Sarah Palin responded to it was to not respond to it at all and to just jump back in and say, "The American people don't want more of the same, and John McCain has been the consummate maverick in the Senate."

And it was just-it was a moment when even a-even a body language show of sympathy, of empathy, of sort of just human emotion would have-would have been the appropriate thing to do. And she didn't do that. And because so much of her appeal lies in the way that people receive her, how likable she seems, what her personality is like, I think that's a problem.

I-just personally, anecdotally-this is not at all scientific-

I got a number of e-mails and text messages from just people who I know personally, who responded to that moment as if it was-it was a bad moment in terms of their connection with her.

OLBERMANN: Pat, what-what did it do in your assessment to this? Because obviously, the governor lives or dies based on that ability to connect with people and people coming out with a smile on their face because of something that she said or the way she said it.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, there's also a feeling that you ought not to intrude on something like that.

But I do believe that moment for Biden, and secondly, I thought the very effective little story he told about Jesse Helms when Mike Mansfield had called him in and said, "Just a minute," were the two best moments for Biden of the night.

Biden's problem, Keith, is this: he's been in Washington for six - 36 years. He talks Washington lingo. It's facts, statistics, McCain this, McCain that. It is a crashing bore.

Whatever you say about Sarah Palin, there is a tremendous freshness to her language, to her use of phraseology. It is different. It is new. Her personality, she's got a tremendous smile. And so, I mean, that is what I think won the debate. It's-she was far and away, a far more attractive, arresting, interesting personality than Joe Biden was tonight.

OLBERMANN: Pat, do you worry about the nature of debates, though, if the candidate does not choose to or does not have to answer the actual question that was asked of her? A couple of times-or him-a couple of times in the debate, perhaps that's the appropriate way to do it.

But is it not somehow out of the game, outside of the rules to just pick which ones you want to answer and the way you want to answer them?

BUCHANAN: Well, I do believe in a certain flexibility on the part of the candidates, as well as the moderator. And so I think she seized upon that.

And Biden could have done the same thing. Biden changed his game plan right in the middle. You could see, suddenly he said, I've had enough of this, and he started getting angry and exasperated. Frankly, some of the anger made him look a little more human than some of the earlier stuff. So I don't have any problem with people doing that.

I mean, they're up there, Keith, and they've got 90 minutes. There's no reason that you've got to sit there like Ford and Carter did, dead silent, when the lights go out.

OLBERMANN: One of the great moments. Stand by. Stand by, Pat. Stand by, Rachel. It's the reason I didn't go into political coverage right out of college, was that moment right there.

A quick break. Countdown's coverage of the one and only vice-presidential debate continues after this.


OLBERMANN: Back again with Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan.

And Pat, towards the end, each of the candidates was asked about their Achilles heel. And somehow, Governor Palin wound up talking about Ronald Reagan's shining city on the hill. I mean, it's a superb sound bite, but is the process at all important here? Or just what the end result was?

BUCHANAN: Well, she did say that she had not-she started off talking about some budget thing she had failed to do. She said she had caved in, I believe...

OLBERMANN: Yes, yes.

BUCHANAN: But then she moved on into-move on to the sunny uplands, as it were, which is the old Ronald Reagan story.

And I do think the way she ended this whole thing was-was just very well done. Keith, I can't tell you. I talked to my sister; of course, my wife. And they're in contact with a lot of conservatives and others. They were making novenas. They were very, very nervous about this. And they are elated with Sarah Palin's performance tonight. There's no doubt about it.

I don't know that she reaches the independents, but I'll tell you this: those working-class folks making up to $40,000, $50,000 out in central Pennsylvania, I think they will identify with her.

OLBERMANN: To that point, Rachel, did those-those people that Pat just spoke of, do they-do they identify with Joe Biden, as well? Is that the takeaway from tonight, that both of these people reached the people they were trying to reach?

MADDOW: It depends on whether or not we believe that working-class voters, more than the rest of America more than non-working-class voters, care about personality versus policy.

I mean, you saw, actually, both candidates trying to compete sort of neighborhood versus neighborhood. It was Wasilla versus Scranton there for a while. And then Wasilla versus various neighborhoods in Delaware. And we had dueling mentions of specific locals that the two of them like to talk to.

So we had them trying to compete on the sort of culture and personality stuff. But the real question is whether or not there's going to be any competition on policy issues.

I do think that Biden scored some points when he went after Palin on having supported a windfall tax on the oil companies for Alaska, but McCain wouldn't support that for the country. I think that was probably a good sort of populist resonant economic message.

Beyond that, you know, it's-I think we're back to, really, Obama versus McCain and not much difference between them and McCain-and Biden versus Palin.

OLBERMANN: And where does that go, Pat, if the Republican meme-we heard it during the debate from the governor, and then we heard it from Kit Bond afterwards and a couple of other people, if the new-the new catch phrase of the day anyway from the GOP is don't look back.

BUCHANAN: I think what the Republicans have to do, Keith, is this. They've got to get this economic issue, this monster bill, passed and behind them.

And then they have to go all out and try to get it back into a McCain-Palin versus Obama-Biden, where they were doing well after the convention for two weeks until Lehman Brothers went down.

And I think that the problem with the Republicans is the big overriding issue, the big wave, is economic concern and apprehension. And that doesn't play well. And it may be a very difficult thing to swim against that wave.

OLBERMANN: Rachel, 30 seconds. What happened tonight?

MADDOW: Tonight, the campaign was not changed in an overall way. The impressions of either vice-presidential candidate were not changed in an overall way. But there was a huge opportunity for failure, really on both sides here, and neither of them fell into that trap.

OLBERMANN: As we've seen some-for some of those numbers, which I'll get to again in a moment. First, with my thanks to Pat Buchanan of MSNBC and Rachel Maddow of "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" on MSNBC and Air America. A thank you to both and good night to both of you.

MADDOW: Thanks, Keith.

BUCHANAN: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Giving you again those headlines. This is out of a CBS poll, a little less than 500 uncommitted voters, who said-they scored it this way. Biden, 46 percent; 33 percent thought it was a tie; 21 percent thought Palin won the debate.

In terms of which candidate they had an improved view of, who essentially they liked better, Palin got a 55 percent score on that, a huge number for her. Biden got a 53 percent score.

Who you thought worse of after this debate? In that same poll, 5 percent said they thought less of Biden than they had previously; 14 percent thought they had a worse opinion of Palin.

And knowledgeable on the issues, Palin jumped from 43 percent to 66 percent. Biden jumped from 79 percent to 98 percent. You can't do much better than that.

That's Countdown for this, the 1,982nd day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann from New York. Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC post-debate coverage continues now with Chris Matthews, live from St. Louis.

Good evening, Chris.

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for **October 2, 2008**, 8 p.m. ET
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Worst Persons

Guests: Claire McCaskill, Chris Kofinis

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

Make or break, as her support even among Republican women collapses. Sixty percent of voters now see her too inexperienced to be president. A third say they are less likely to vote for McCain because of her.

Governor Sarah Palin steps on to a stage at Washington University in St. Louis, eminently capable of single-handedly making it impossible for John McCain to be elected president, or, perhaps, eminently capable of being just not bad enough to change the game.

Which Palin shows up? There is the governor who is clear and self-contained and appeared on TV as late as this summer.


GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I say that, not to diminish, again, at all, my, my administration's huge disappointment that we feel tonight that the Supreme Court has decided to ratchet down the punitive damages to the degree that they have. It's not right.


OLBERMANN: Besides her, there is also Miss Wasilla, pretending to be an expert.


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?

PALIN: Well, let's see, there's of course, there would be others, but -

COURIC: Can you think of any?

PALIN: I would think of any-again, that could best be dealt with on a more local level.


OLBERMANN: Dealing with the local level in Michigan. McCain uses debate fever as cover to reveal he is now virtually conceding the state. No more TV ads, direct mail. Michigan staffers moved elsewhere.

McCain's explanation of his poll plummet on the network devoted to him.





OLBERMANN: And now, his life is in her hands. Either a disaster from which her campaign cannot recover or the greatest of comebacks. Just 24 hours after the worst of answers, the Supreme Court tap dance, so bad, it actually cost her Elisabeth Hasselbeck.


ELISABETH HASSELBECK, TV HOST: She should have them in her pocket.

Any politician running should be able to deal with that question.


OLBERMANN: All that and more: Now on our Countdown to the debate.

(on camera): Good evening. This is Thursday, October 2nd, 33 days until the 2008 presidential election.

It is hard to imagine anything could even partially eclipse that which has the potential to be the most remarkable debate in political history.

In our fifth story on the Countdown: Palin v. Biden is not a Supreme Court decision-has to share the spotlight tonight with genuinely startling news, that the McCain campaign, is in essence, dropping out of Michigan, conceding the supposedly dis-unified Democratic state, taking its TV ads in the state off the air, stopping its direct mail program, moving its staff to other states.

This, in the hours, before the realization that there is every possibility that fading Republican chances of election hinge on a vice presidential nominee who's resume as of two years ago tonight, consisted entirely of two terms as mayor of a small town in the fourth smallest state in the union.

But then, there's also that lingering possibility that Sarah Palin's last two weeks, which had been the political equivalent of somebody falling down an endless plight of stairs might presage not startling collapse but startling adequacy. Governor Palin, with seemingly nowhere to go but up in St. Louis tonight, expectations having falling that low.

Obama campaign manager, David Plouffe, is trying to raise expectations on Senator Biden's flight to Missouri this afternoon by calling the governor "one of the best debaters in politics."

A new poll from the "Washington Post" is showing that six in 10 voters surveyed, now believing that Governor Palin lacks the experience to serve as president, if need be. The reverse, seven in 10 of the opinion, that Senator Biden would be ready to step into the job tomorrow. A third of the voters are now less likely to vote for Senator McCain because of his running mate.

Based with numbers like those, the top of the ticket, back to working the refs in advance of tonight's debate. You will recall that in late July, the moderator, Gwen Ifill of PBS having announced that she would be writing a book about African-American political leaders which would include a chapter on the historical candidacy of Senator Obama.

Senator McCain saying yesterday that he believed Ms. Ifill would be, quote, "totally fair." But this morning on "fixed news and friends," the Republican nominee flip-flopping on his opinion of the moderator.


MCCAIN: I wish they had picked a moderator that isn't writing a book favorable to Barack Obama. I mean, let's face it. But, I have to have confidence that Gwen Ifill will treat it as a professional journalist that she is. Frankly, I would imagine that there's other people out there who aren't writing a book that's going to be on Inauguration Day favorable to Senator Obama. But, that's life.


OLBERMANN: Who's the "they," senator? Your campaign approved all elements of these debates.

Obama campaign manager, Mr. Plouffe, suggesting that Obama could easily have raised doubts about NBC's Tom Brokaw who is set to moderate the next presidential debate on Tuesday. Mr. Plouffe, this week, mentioning this week's "New York Times" article which Brokaw talked about his communication with the McCain campaign and their friendship. Said, Mr. Plouffe, "I assume they'll apply the same standard with Tom Brokaw."

At a town hall in Denver this afternoon, Senator McCain previewing tonight's debate by co-opting his opponent's message.


MCCAIN: Tonight, Sarah Palin is going to deliver some news to the big-spending, smooth-talking, "me first, country second" crowd in Washington and Wall Street. That is.


MCCAIN: And that is, my friends, that change is coming-change is coming and some of them aren't going to like it.


OLBERMANN: In tonight's Frost-worthy questionnaire on the "CBS Evening News," Governor Palin telling Katie Couric that her favorite vice president was not a vice president, but a vice presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro, and the thing she liked least about the Cheney presidency was, his duck hunting accident. It was quail. Actually, it was man-hunting. And what she disliked about it was not so much that Mr. Cheney shot his friend in the face but rather, how he's made into a caricature for it.


PALIN: First thing, I guess, it would have been the duck-hunting accident where, you know, that was an accident, and that was, I think, made into a caricature of him and that was kind of unfortunate.


OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also, of course, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Richard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: I would never believe we would have to start here, but we have to start with Michigan. Conceding it? Could this be overestimated, its importance, and was it leaked out today because the focus is on the debate?

WOLFFE: Well, the McCain campaign is highly professional when it comes to news management, at least on a news cycle to news cycle basis. And this is the equivalent of the sort of Friday night news dump in terms of what else is going on, obviously with the debate. But Michigan is such big news. It doesn't really matter about the general population, it's what insiders think. It's what the strategists on both campaigns know and understand from this.

Now, it's true that the Obama campaign has dropped out of certain states, but they're much smaller-North Dakota, Alaska, Georgia. But Michigan was really key here to the McCain strategy to take a Democratic state away. And the implication is, that the arguments behind it-on the economy.


WOLFFE: . on whether they could pick up Clinton voters, is not going to work. If it doesn't work in Michigan, it isn't likely to work in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin and it throws Ohio up into question as well.

OLBERMANN: To the debate then in that context, Governor Palin goes into this having defined that cliche about meteoric rise, meteoric fall, is it too late for anything she does to be good enough or at the other end of the spectrum, is the bar so low that adequacy is a win for her?

WOLFFE: Well, certainly, the Republican strategists that I've spoken to are hoping that the bar is so low that all Governor Palin has to do tonight is show up and not trip up and that will be just fine. That's what they are hoping.

But, actually, I think, what we've seen in terms of the TV interviews over the last couple of weeks have been so poor that really, she's raised herself a higher bar, which is to make herself sound and seem presidential to show fluency and competency over the course of 90 minutes. Not just to have enough material for 20 minutes or for 30 seconds of a 90-second answer.

So, actually, I think the bar is significantly above where it was, say, for Governor Bush in 2000.

OLBERMANN: Several leaks about her strategy tonight, and they're all the same, that she is going to try to attack Biden's perceived strength, his foreign policy record. How would that work?

WOLFFE: Well, the attacks work because they speak to the base. This is Sarah Palin's main function now for the McCain campaign-to energize the voters who weren't enthusiastic about McCain in the first place. That's going to be important for turnout but it does not get the candidate, McCain over the 30 or 40 point mark and take him into the winning zone.

So, it works up to a point and I'm sure it will presage what will be the closing tone of the McCain campaign, which is to be very, very negative.

OLBERMANN: All right. Some of this-the importance of this evening up for us, if she fails, straight "if," it's a disaster of historic proportions, is McCain finished and conversely, if she gets an "A," if she does whatever an "A" work is in this equation, is it the cliche game-changer?

WOLFFE: I don't think McCain would be finished by an "if," but Sarah Palin's career may be finished, even if they go on to great things with this campaign. The problem here is there's more downside than there is upside. She cannot change the dynamic of this campaign with an "A" grade coming out of this debate. But she can do a lot of damage to herself and that means a very limited room for her to go beyond much more than the mere basics.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and "Newsweek," on the eve of what we expect is an epic occasion in St. Louis. As always, sir, great thanks.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: For more now on the challenges facing and the strategy of Senator Biden, let's turn to Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat of Missouri, host state, obviously, of tonight's debate. She, of course, a supporter of the Obama-Biden campaign.

Senator, thank you for some of your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: The essence of this, senator, does Joe Biden ignore her and concentrate on John McCain, or try to mop the floor with her no matter what the risks might entail?

MCCASKILL: I don't think he can take that risk. He really can't win, if he tries to engage her too much. If he's really smart, he's condescending. If he's really nice, he's patronizing. No matter what he does, they're going to try to characterize him as being inappropriate.

I think the most important thing he has to do is have a conversation with the American people about the policy she represents-the policy of continuing exactly what George Bush has done with the economy for the last 7 ½ years, the policies that got us into this mess. And that his candidate, Barack Obama, has a new idea about how to help the middle of America and make people feel better about their financial future.

OLBERMANN: Let me give a what-if that has been thrown around a lot today, that in trying to discuss Joe Biden's foreign policy experience, one way she might be able to score points is emphasize the cornerstone of the Obama international position, or certainly, his record, his opposition to the authorization vote for the war in Iraq, whereas, Senator Biden voted for it.

If she goes into that and tries to separate the two of them that way, what do you think his best response should be?

MCCASKILL: I think his best response is going to be that he agrees with Barack Obama. That this was a mistake, it was a foreign policy blunder and that we've got to, like, come face to face with one harsh reality. We're borrowing $10 billion a week from China while Iraq sits around with tens upon billions of dollars sitting around in surpluses.

That's what the American people need to remind themselves of right now, that while we're struggling with our economy, Iraq is sitting there with a big, fat surplus, while we are sending all of our money over there. I think if Joe Biden does that, I think he can pivot nicely to something that, really, I think is weighing on people's minds-at least in Missouri, I know it is.

OLBERMANN: We discussed the etiquette, which is an unusual term for a debate like this, but there it is. Senator Biden seems to think this is no different than in the other debate. The quote from him was, "It seems like the only people in the room that think the debating woman is going to be fundamentally different are people who don't hang around with smart women," but he's talking about Olympia Snowe in the Senate or Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary debates. And unlike them, Governor Palin has been positioned in such a way that any disagreement with her becomes a potential example of, oh, there's sexism.

In this debate, are there not different rules for Joe Biden and does he not have to behave somewhat differently than he would if he were debating Mitt Romney?

MCCASKILL: Yes, you know, I feel for him. And, by the way, I kind of feel for Sarah Palin, too.

I mean, here's what's weird about this. John McCain says, "I picked a candidate that is so strong and so smart that she can be president of the United States, but, by the way, you can't talk to her. We're going to keep her away somewhere and you're not going to be able to ask questions of her."

Well, that's kind of a mixed message. If she's so strong, why can't she answer questions?

And, frankly, I feel for her because I think the McCain campaign protecting her, as if she is some kind of a fragile doll, has put a lot more pressure on her than probably she deserves. I think she's a good communicator, I think she'll do well, connecting with people. She's got an authentic way of communicating. And I think she'll do a good job tonight. She does well on television.

OLBERMANN: A question about communication and it's more about Governor Palin than Senator Biden. But you're our only guest in this hour who's actually been in this kind of arena.

Some decent but not necessarily exhaustive research that we've done suggests this governor has never spoken in a public venue where there was not a crowd reaction of some sort. There's going to be a crowd there obviously, but they're going to be instructed not to applaud, not to cheer. Even her Alaska debates, there was applause. There was laughter.

Would that be the kind of thing that would throw a political speaker who's used to getting feedback? What is it like for the first time when neither your blunders nor your hits get any reaction at all?

MCCASKILL: It's lonely. It's a little disconcerting, and especially, when you keep in mind that you are really looking at a camera, you're not looking at the room full of people. So, I think that will be a little difficult for her if she's not used to delivering punches. And, by the way, she can deliver a punch with a smile on her face. It will be interesting to see how she handles that.

And it will also be interesting-I feel for the moderator. You know, she's writing a book not just about Barack Obama but also about Michael Steele and J.C. Watts. This isn't a positive book about Barack Obama; it's about a new generation of political leaders. And so, I feel for the moderator, she's going to have to press Governor Palin to make sure that she forces her into something other than those glittering generalities that we've gotten used to in the Katie Couric interview and the Charlie Gibson interview.

OLBERMANN: I don't know if anybody has gotten used to them yet, senator. That's the only thing I'll disagree with you.


OLBERMANN: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, thanks for your time tonight.

MCCASKILL: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Against the grand backdrop of history, Sarah Palin could wind up as Dan Quayle, or Dick Cheney, or who knows what, or maybe-Bill Miller, Barry Goldwater's running mate, so unknown even after his campaign, that he wound up doing in American Express commercial which began, "Do you know me?" Which she will become, will depend largely on which version of her shows up tonight. Folksy, rib to the elbows, hockey mom, great on script, a nightmare off script, or the credible politician that so far, only Alaskans have seen.

We'll show you some of the latter. Be prepared for a shock.


OLBERMANN: Later on, she maybe seen as the "Earl Webb of politics," 67 doubles, the all-time baseball record in one season, just 88 of them in the rest of his career. For now, however, she is poised at the center. Potentially, one of the epic moments of American political history, and not necessarily in a good way. Our Countdown to the debate tonight continues.

Plus, Worst Persons, including Bill O'Reilly saying there is proof there is a God and that proof is-Bill O'Reilly.


OLBERMANN: She didn't know what the Bush doctrine was. She blanked on with which Supreme Court decisions, apart from Roe v. Wade, she disagrees. She could not point to specifics from her own running mate's claim of leading the charge for government oversight.

And yet, on our fourth story on the Countdown: Could Sarah Palin confound expectations in tonight's debate?

Looking at her gubernatorial debates, the answer might be "yes," considering she actually managed to deliver several well-thought out, well-delivered points.


PALIN: I was able to do there in managing the city of Wasilla was reduced property tax levels every year that I was in office, and eliminated small business inventory taxes, eliminated personal property taxes-those things that invited investment into our community which resulted in wonderful economic indicators to success.

We are all in this together and it is now, more than ever, the time to partner with these oil companies. We are the regulator of these lines, oil companies owning these lines. We have to work together to get this back up and running safely and soundly so that the economics of this state and the United States economy isn't as adversely affected as potentially we're looking at right now.


OLBERMANN: And she still wove in her folksy, moose hunting mom person when asked about the environment she said her daughter Bristol was named after an Alaska bay. When asked about gas prices, she pivoted to her own family struggle to buy a car. And when asked about her opponents, she was ready with some quick wit.


LARRY PERSILY, PANELIST: Ms. Palin, if you're elected governor, would you hire your opponents for a state job, and if so, for what job?

PALIN: Andrew Halcro would be the most awesome statistician that the state could ever even look for. He would be so-yes, Andrew would be the statistician.

PERSILY: Ms. Palin, would you hire Mr. Knowles for a job?

PALIN: Do they need a chef down there in Juneau? I know that that is what he enjoys doing.


OLBERMANN: They spent a lot of money on that set. She even, just a few months ago, managed to comment on a Supreme Court ruling with which she disagreed-and it wasn't Roe v. Wade-when the courts slashed the amount of damages Exxon Mobil had to pay after the Exxon Valdez disaster.


UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: Governor, how do you think this ruling will affect Alaska's future relationship with big oil companies in the state?

PALIN: Well, I'll tell you, you know, the oil companies are our partners, in a sense. And that they do hold the leases, the rights to develop our resources, but it's our duty then, mine as a government official, to make sure that we have the sound responsible oversight that all Alaskans are going to be expecting. We have to make sure that there are the commitments by industry to safely and responsibly develop our resources.

And I say that, not to diminish, again, at all, my, my administration's huge disappointment that we feel tonight that the Supreme Court has decided to ratchet down the punitive damages to the degree that they have. It's not right.


OLBERMANN: We're joined now by Democratic strategist, Chris Kofinis, former communications director for the Edwards campaign.

Thanks for your time tonight, Chris.


OLBERMANN: What happened to that last Sarah Palin? I mean, whether you agree with her or not, is that not her best approach, her best, I mean, leave hockey mom at the rink?

KOFINIS: Yes, it really is. What you saw on those clips was a candidate who was focused, was aggressive, was on message, was clearly well-briefed. And what, I think, you've seen over the last few weeks, and particularly on those Katie Couric interviews is a caricature of what a candidate should be.

I mean, it's shocking and it says to me that she's been so poorly-briefed and so poorly-prepared by the McCain campaign. It's shocking. I think, I mean, at the end of the day, when this campaign is over, and she's back in Alaska, I think, some of those McCain advisors are going to be sued for malpractice. I mean, this is not the same candidate we've seen over the last few weeks.

OLBERMANN: Well, is it the flaw in our stars and not ourselves here? Did they do this to her, or is that who she is at heart? Where did they take the-who took the substance out if it was there, or was it not there in the first place and she was just playing above her level in Alaska?

KOFINIS: I mean, we don't really know that answer. I mean, part of this, I wonder is, if anyone, when she was being chosen or thought of as a potential vice president, did anyone actually sit down and talk her about some of these major issues. I mean, the Katie Couric interview, let's be honest, those weren't tough questions. And to so poorly just miss the boat on every single question is stunning.

I think, part of this is, the McCain campaign doesn't have a lot of confidence in her, and also, I think, they've so over-prepared her, over-briefed her in some of this information that they've been giving, she doesn't know what the right answer is. And I think they've gotten in her head where she's afraid to make a mistake. And it happens to candidates, but they've done an incredible disservice to her, I would say.

OLBERMANN: On the other hand, David Plouffe, Senator Obama's campaign manager, has called Palin, quote, "one of the best debaters in American politics." Either that's a little over the top or we're down to like seven or eight debaters, right?


KOFINIS: I mean, it's a little over the top. I mean, I think she's a good debater. We've seen on those gubernatorial debates. She can definitely hold her own.

Listen-this is the expectations game. Both campaigns are playing it. The problem I see and the problem I have is, the expectations for Governor Palin have been lowered to the point of ridiculousness. I mean, this isn't an SAT exam. You don't get points for showing up.

Both Governor Palin and Senator Biden are going to be held to high standard, and they should be because either one of them potentially could become president of the United States. So, I think, there should be a high standard for both of them in this debate.

OLBERMANN: And the question that I asked Senator McCaskill before, what happens when a candidate, perhaps for the first time, and certainly in a large venue, encounters no bounce-back, no feedback whatsoever, just crickets, whether they said something great or said something incredibly stupid. There's nothing but respectful silence, but silence, nonetheless. How do you prepare for that?

KOFINIS: Well, she's going to have a tough time. She clearly feeds off the emotion, if you will, of the crowd and the audience. She's not going to have that tonight.

I mean, my guess is the way that she's going to compensate is they're going to come out very aggressive. They're going to be hitting, I think, Senator Biden and the Obama campaign and Senator Obama's past policies or vision, if you will; just relentlessly trying to get Senator Biden off message to engage in the kind of this back-and-forth.

The challenge for Senator Biden, I think, is very simple. Stay focused. Talk about why we need to go a new direction. And if you will, ignore Governor Palin. It's not about her, it's about John McCain. And keep that the focus.

OLBERMANN: Chris Kofinis, former communications director of the Edwards campaign, as always, great thanks, Chris.

KOFINIS: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The big kids are still at it today. Obama talks economy in Michigan. McCain talks about Bush would veto the bailout, the one McCain just voted for last night?

And, you know why it's OK that Governor Palin could not name another Supreme Court case with which she disagreed-Fred Thompson tells you next in an early edition of Worst Persons.


OLBERMANN: Did Senator McCain really vote for the bailout, and then call on President Bush to veto it? And to paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, if Sarah Palin has lost Elisabeth Hasselbeck, has she lost Republican women? All that ahead on our Countdown to the debate.

First, a little tonight, time for Countdown's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Glen Beck of CNN, another moment of disconnect about which country he lives in. About the bailout, quote, "I'd like oversight, but here is who I would like to provide the oversight for the people who are over-seeing this mess, and that's General Petraeus. I would like to see somebody bring General Petraeus in and have him sit there with all the stars on his shoulder and say, OK, now, explain again how you didn't create this mess."

Great, a general over-seeing part of civilian government. You do understand, Glen, that's called military dictatorship.

The silver medallist, former Senator Fred Thompson. He went on CBS this morning and actually said, with a straight face, that Governor Palin could not name a second Supreme Court case with which she disagreed because, quote, "I think you got the answer. There are probably almost 100 percent of non-lawyer candidates-if they have not been given a list of cases to see."

Right, she went to four colleges and nobody ever mentioned Dredd Scott. She forget about the Supreme Court ruling she disagreed with this June, the one that reduced the damages in the Exxon Valdez case in Alaska, this June, in Alaska.

But our winner, Bill-O the clown. A money quote from his book, a balding fresh piece of work: "next time you meet an atheist, tell him or her that you know a bold fresh guy, a barbarian who was raised in a working class home and retains the lessons he learned there. Then mention to that atheist that this guy is now watched and listened to on a daily basis by millions of people all over the world and, to but, sells millions of books. Then, while the non-believer is digesting all of that, ask him or her if they still don't believe there's a god."

Devil. You mean ask him or if they still don't believe there's a devil. Typo. Bill O'Reilly, today's worst person in this or any other world.


OLBERMANN: If tonight's debate, 26 minutes hence, has already given the McCain campaign one advantage, it is this: it has taken attention from McCain himself today saying that the president should veto the Wall Street bailout bill. In our third story tonight, McCain just voted for the bill.

The truly gob smacking video clips in a moment. But both campaigns focused on the economy today. Senator Obama, once again, needled McCain for saying the fundamentals of the economy are strong, with the Labor Department tomorrow expected to announce another 100,000 jobs vanished from the US economy. He said, the country needs a president who understands what it means to hear a grown man choke up because he can't provide for his family.


OBAMA: Because he hasn't lost his job, he has lost his pension. He's lost his health care. And he's trying to figure out how he's going to go home that day and explain to his wife and kids that they are in trouble, that he may not be able to take care of them the way he wants.

There's something wrong about that. There's something un-American about that.


OLBERMANN: McCain, too, was talking about the economy today. McCain's prescription for America's economy is, of course, based on reducing government spending, which he bases on eliminating Congressional pork barrel spending, pet projects slapped onto larger bills. With that in mind, here on MSNBC today, McCain was read a considerable list of pork projects added to the Senate bailout bill, and was asked why. Remember, Senator McCain voted for the bailout bill last night.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR: Why did these items have to be in this critical bill?

MCCAIN: Well, that's just the way the system is working in Washington, and the reason why it's got to be fixed. It's got to be changed. No matter what the stakes are, you have to stop this by starting to veto bills that come across the president's desk. They can't help themselves.


OLBERMANN: McCain voted for the bill. Because McCain voted for the bill, the bill he just said the president should veto no matter what the stakes are, Mika Brzezinski asked the obvious follow up, reminding Senator McCain how he himself just described the bill that he himself just voted for.


MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Why, then, didn't you vote against a bill that is corrupting, and stand-up to pork and all the spending during an economic crisis that some say puts this country on the brink of economic disaster?

MCCAIN: Because of what you just said, Mika. This bill is putting us on the brink of economic disaster.


OLBERMANN: Repeating our third story tonight, McCain voted for the bill, for the bill he now says is putting us on the brink of economic disaster. No, he did not correct himself. For the bill he now says the president should veto.

Here's my colleague Rachel Maddow. Can you help him out here? What was he trying to say? What is he trying to say?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: If we want to be as generous as possible, we can guess that he was trying to say that we are only considering this bill because we are on the brink of economic disaster. But, as you say, he did not correct himself. He seemed very sure of himself and actually sort of mad when he said that the bill puts us on the brink of economic disaster.

So we have no idea what he meant. In the larger sense, we are at a point where his position on the economic crisis, on the bailout and what we ought to do next is sort of indecipherable, as is the Republican party's. McCain said he's for a bailout. The RNC is running five million dollars worth of ads attacking Barack Obama for being for the same thing. The Republican leadership says they are for it. Their members voted against it. The members say they're against it because it's too expensive, but adding an extra 100 billion dollars to it brought their votes along.

McCain voted for it last night and then told Joe and Mika this morning that it should be vetoed. I don't know what the Republican position is on this or Senator McCain's position is on this.

OLBERMANN: I think we have an analogy finally, with 33 days to go. It is those giant fire hoses in the old fashioned fire fighting departments, with the giant hoses and they are all manual labor, and the thing is just pumping like crazy. They lose control of it and it swings wildly. It's very forceful and might occasionally put out a fire, but it's just utterly out of control, and bears no resemblance to what happened 30 seconds earlier.

MADDOW: They are either an unmanned fire hose or drunk, would be another way to look at it, or they have a strategy, which is to seem incoherent and confusing and noncommittal for as long as possible, until the Democrats actually decide that something needs to be done, with or without the confused Republicans. The Democrats make a move essentially on their own, without majority Republican support, and then the Republicans attack the Democrats for having passed something.

That seems like a cogent political strategy here. Just don't commit to anything and attack whatever the Democrats do.

OLBERMANN: But, there seems to be-I'm not one to accuse you of sophistry there, but that does seems to have an element of sophistry to it. It sounds very nice, but does it not also imply that there's an incapability of making up one's mind, one's collective mind, or it's a shame to lose one's mind here? Given how many opportunities McCain has to address these issues and make similar gaffes in the remaining 33 days?

MADDOW: But what is the economic position here that he could take a stand on? Is it for fiscal conservatism? Why is the pork helping them pass this bill. That was pork put in to attract House Republican votes. They had to make the bill less fiscally responsibility in order to attract fiscally conservative votes. It makes no sense.

McCain wanting to campaign for the bill while the Republican party campaigns against it. They are taking every position on the bill possible. The only thing I can think is they are looking ahead to an economy that is going to stink no matter what happens. This bailout bill is designed not to make the economy all better, but to stop it from getting a lot worse a lot quickly-much more quickly than it otherwise would.

The economy is not going to be great. If you can attribute whatever happens next in the economy to Democrats, because Republicans had no obvious position on it, then at least you have politics, even if you have no policy.

OLBERMANN: All right, 40 seconds, that's about how much time I have for you to give me just a random thought about tonight's carnival in St. Louis.

MADDOW: I think Sarah Palin is personable. She is poised and there are very low expectations for her. No matter what happens, she can't do worse than she did with Katie Couric. It's going to be a good night for her.

OLBERMANN: She doesn't accidentally light the stage on fire?

MADDOW: That would be exciting. That could be positive. Look, she shook up the race again.

OLBERMANN: Rachel Maddow, we will see you again after the debate and figure out what happened, if anything.

MADDOW: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: This is how bad it is for the governor, as of this hour. Elizabeth Hasselbeck yelled at her on "The View" today. T-minus 18 minutes in our Countdown to the debate on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The doubts were first given voice when Sarah Palin was first selected. At least three ultra conservative columnists at the "National Review" bashing her inexperience not as bad for the Republicans but bad for the country. Then last week came the plea from a fourth "National Review" columnist that Palin withdraw because she was poised to cost McCain any chance at election, because, quote, "if BS were currency, Palin could bailout Wall Street herself."

Our number two story on the Countdown, all very disconcerting the Republicans presumably, but none of this is quite the visceral impact of the reaction just one conservative to Governor Palin's helpless answer to the now famous Katie Couric of Palin for just one Supreme Court decision she disagreed with, other than Roe v. Wade. Elizabeth Hasselbeck from "The View."

First, a brief refresher on the second half of the answer.


COURIC: Can you think of any?

PALIN: Well, I would think of any, again, that could best be dealt with on a more local level, maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as a mayor and then as a governor and even as a vice president, if I'm so privileged to serve, I wouldn't be in a position of changing those things, but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.


OLBERMANN: As an old John Cleese sketch from "Monty Python's Flying Circus" noted, it's not just about remembering all the words, it's also remembering to get them in the right order. Sarah Palin was too politically under informed for Elizabeth Hasselbeck.


ELIZABETH HASSELBECK, "THE VIEW": That was a moment where she should have had some lined up. She could have been anyone, depending on the side of the aisle, how you feel about how the Patriot Act was handled. How do you feel about decisions that have gone on for time and time-she should have had some in her pocket. Any politician running should be able to deal with that question.


OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent, political columnist for "Newsweek Magazine," and analyst of "The View," also MSNBC political analyst, joins us tonight from St. Louis. Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Frivolous though it may seem on its face, a diss from Elizabeth Hasselbeck on "The View," this is a cultural milestone, is it not? Would you agree?

FINEMAN: I definitely would agree. As a fan of "The View," I'd agree. It's not my usual turf. So I spent my last couple of hours here talking to people in the press tent and at the dinner table her and at the athletic center at Washington U to talk to other conservatives. One of the ones I talked to was Frank Donatelli, movement conservative, Washington lawyer, now working over at the RNC to try and pitch in with McCain and the party. He told me, you know, Sarah Palin has to do a good job tonight, has got to answer some of the questions of the Elizabeth Hasselbecks and the others out there, from George Will on down, about Sarah Palin's level of knowledge, her ability to answer questions, the depth of her view of the world in order to be a heart beat away from the presidency.

Someone like Donatelli, a guy I've known for a long time, wasn't walking away from that. He said she has to come across. And she obviously hadn't done so.

OLBERMANN: We are convinced that they are not all part of some conspiracy to low ball expectations for Governor Palin so much that if she does not run weeping from the stage at some point, she wins. That's not what's going on here, right?

FINEMAN: I think-there's an element of that. Certainly, most of the people in this room will be surprised if she utters a coherent sentence. I think there's genuine concern. Another conservative I talked to, who didn't want to be quoted by name, said, yes, Sarah Palin has a learning curve. The problem is it looks like the learning curve is going in the wrong direction. He wasn't trying to spin me for the record.

I talked to Katie Couric, who is here. It was fascinating what she said. Katie said that after the first days interview, which Sarah Palin clearly felt obviously didn't go very well, Sarah Palin wanted to come back for a second day, felt that she could do better on the second day, that she could clean up some of the mistakes of the first day. But instead, at least with Katie Couric, Sarah Palin dug herself in deeper. And Couric told me she was surprised by that, because she figured she'd be better prepared. People around here, legitimate conservatives, who aren't just spinning me for affect, are concerned. Some of them claim not to be, but I know them well enough to know they are.

OLBERMANN: Top fear among Republicans tonight we know. Top fear from Democrats is what? Is it that Joe Biden gets distracted by anger line? In the debate I did last year, the going into Pakistan issue, that's where that came up. Biden felt facts were skirted. He even came over during the commercial and talked to me about it. He was upset. We come back from the commercial and take questions from the audience, and the question to him was from the widow of one of the Sago mine disaster victims. He answered her question in about 15 seconds and then just abruptly cut it off and went back to talking about Pakistan. It was a disaster. It looked like he had blown the poor woman off. Is that what the Democrats most fear? Is that their worst case scenario tonight?

FINEMAN: No, I think their worst case scenario is that Joe Biden, some way or other, gives people a reason to feel sympathetic toward and supportive of Sarah Palin. What Biden has to do is testify on behalf of Barack Obama and his experience. Biden has to say, I've been there, done that. This is what people tell me they're telling him. They have to keep his answers short and to the point. Defend Obama, attack McCain and get off the stage without making news, and hope it's Sarah Palin who does.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, thank you. We'll check back with you after the debate, sir.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Chris Matthews and our final thoughts when our Countdown to the debate continues on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Thirty four days since she was announced as McCain's running mate; 33 days until the election. This is virtually the midpoint. In our number one story on our Countdown to the debate, it could also be the end point. If Governor Palin effectively attacks the Obama/Biden ticket, even if she only provides no further disastrous sound bites worthy of a Katie Couric interview, she might simultaneously shift, to some degree at least, the judgment that she is out of her league and McCain and company are out of luck. Lest we forget, Senator Joe Biden owned some of the campaign season's best debate moments.

Let's turn now to my colleague, the host of "Hardball," Chris Matthews in St. Louis for us tonight. Good evening, Chris.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hi, Keith. How are you doing?

OLBERMANN: What is a Sarah Palin victory tonight?

MATTHEWS: Well, I think showing that she's got the smarts to be vice president. I think she's already failed in a couple attempts to do that with Katie Couric, not showing any knowledge or interest in the constitutional history of the United States. I think that's a problem. Not being able to admit, in any way, the reading material she comes into contact with. I think most people are proud of what they read. Most people get up in the morning and they read a number of journals and they-if someone asks them what they read, they are quick to say what they read, because it's part of your daily exercise. You're actually quite proud of what you read, because it's something that shows some commitment to learning very day on the part of your adult life.

If you can't name anything you ever read, it's probably because you don't read that much or you're not proud of it or whatever. But lack of interest in this country's constitutional history is hard to imagine. It's awesome that a person who is a conservative, or a self-claimed conservative, has no interest in the constitutional history of the United States. The Supreme Court has determined what the constitution means to us at every stage of our history. To not care about prayer in school, Plessy v. Ferguson, separate but equal, all the questions, Dredd Scott, all the issue that sort of mark the arguments of our history if you're on the conservative side of things and the liberal side of things.

Not to have even the slightest interest in those brings in the question of whether she's a true conservative or anything.

OLBERMANN: Or just Bush v. Gore. In turning to the strategies tonight, do you like the idea of Governor Palin attacking Joe Biden as Mr. Beltway, as too much experience. Is she not running a risk of emphasizing that Senator McCain and Senator Biden are so much alike in so many ways?

MATTHEWS: Well, there's an old Groucho Marx scene, I think it's in "Horse Feathers," where the guy can't sell his product. He's out selling Tutsy Fruitsy ice cream and that's not selling. So he says, I'll fight any man in the house for a dollar. If you can't win what you're selling, you try to start a fight. It's the oldest trick in politics.

OLBERMANN: I mentioned earlier the Biden gaffe a year ago at the AFL-CIO forum in Chicago. Besides that, he was in a dozen Democratic debates and had two of the great line probably in debate history, including the one about Rudy Giuliani. Is he really the loose cannon being portrayed, or is he good at stuff like this?

MATTHEWS: I think all politicians have been taught to come in with their bicentennial moments. Ronald Reagan saved his presidency, you could argue, with that line about not using his opponent's youth and inexperience against him. Of course, it really didn't put to rest the question of his age in his second term, which, of course, came to bear during Iran Contra and his lack of attention to what was going on in his own White House and National Security Council, with regard to Oliver North, et cetera, et cetera.

But it did give an artificial answer. That's what you need to do in these debates. What scares me is a lot of the guys go in with debate prep, with clever one liners that the press jumps on with a big giggle, and makes a big deal about, when all they are is something that was fabricated for that very purpose.

I love the spontaneous answer. I'd like to believe, of course, that these people are capable of spontaneity, that Joe Biden really did think of that line about the sentence outlining being a subject, a verb and 9/11 on the part of Rudy Giuliani, but I doubt it. In fact, what bugs me, we'll watch this tonight, and afterwards, we'll talk about how clever some of the set material is, when, in fact, we know it's set material. We should be doing better in our analysis.

OLBERMANN: I think you were the first person to analyze correctly after that last debate that the thing that stuck in the McCain/Obama debate was McCain never looked at Obama. It was the thing that was viscerally most important to people who were watching that. Do we have any idea what ridiculous thing we might be talking about at 11:00 tonight?

MATTHEWS: We saw another example of that contempt, manifest contempt on the part of Senator John McCain to his partner on the floor of the Senate the other day. Reporters who are credible in the gallery noticed that when John McCain was approached by his running mate in a friendly manner, gave him this cold shoulder, which I don't think is the way American politics should be headed right now. I think tonight, we'll look again and see if they show basic human courtesy towards each other. I think that's what we should start with. At a time when we say we want to see more civility in politics, let's have more civility.

OLBERMANN: Chris Matthews in St. Louis, many thanks. I'll be back after the debate at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 Pacific. Chris will then be back with "Hardball" live at Midnight Eastern. For now, that's Countdown for this the 1,982nd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.