Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Two episodes for this date.
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Pre-debate, 8 PM
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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Tuesday October 7, 2008, 11 p.m. ET
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Guest: Linda Douglass

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: In the history of American politics, you would be hard-pressed to find any candidate who, after not looking his opponent in the eye in their first debate, finally chose to do so in their second debate, but only to condescendingly refer to him as-quote -"that one."

You would also be hard-pressed to find of any candidate who said of Social Security, "We're not going to be able to provide the same benefit for present-day workers that present-day retirees have today."

You would also be hard-pressed to find a candidate who thought he would gain benefit from a format that had him walk around a room like an ailing man, winding up walking directly in front of the moderator's camera as that moderator was trying to say good night.

At least you would be hard-pressed to find a candidate who did those things and wanted to win.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Who is the real Barack Obama?

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I hope Americans know that is not what our brave men and women in uniform are doing in Afghanistan.

OLBERMANN (voice-over): Up to his neck in toxic campaign waste of his own creation, Senator McCain's choice tonight was, attack Obama in person with sleaze, and risk looking irresponsible, even irrational. Don't attack, and risk looking hypocritical.

MCCAIN: My friend, I would like you to see the letter that a group of senators and I wrote.

I got some news, Senator Obama. The news is bad. You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one.

OLBERMANN: Obama playing from far ahead, cautious or on offense?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. If Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down bin Laden and take him out, then we should.

Now, Senator McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I'm green behind the ears and, you know, I'm just spouting off, and he's somber and responsible.


MCCAIN: Thank you very much.

OBAMA: Senator McCain, this is the guy who sang "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." We hadn't even finished Afghanistan where he said, next up, Baghdad. So, I agree that we have to speak responsibly, and we have to act responsibly.

OLBERMANN: With the analysis of Eugene Robinson in Washington, Howard Fineman, at the Curb Center at Belmont University in Nashville, and Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow, this is Countdown's coverage of the second 2008 presidential debate.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Tuesday, October 7, 28 days until the 2008 presidential election, 26 minutes after the second 2008 presidential debate.

Senator McCain, throughout the general election, having repeatedly challenged Senator Obama to a series of town hall style debates, tonight, on the stage of the Curb Center at Belmont University in Nashville, the Republican Party nominee getting at least part of his wish, one such debate. But Senator McCain get the game-changing performance he would need to change the race, with early voting already under way in many states, and with just four weeks remaining until polls open nationwide?

After the handshake, the niceties were pretty much over, the candidates criticizing one another repeatedly on topics ranging from economy, to energy, to taxes, to health care, to foreign policy.

About that economic crisis, Senator McCain again insisting-falsely

that he had suspended his campaign, and blaming this financial crisis on Senator Obama personally.


MCCAIN: I left my campaign and suspended it to go back to Washington to make sure that there were additional protections for the taxpayer in the form of good oversight, in the form of taxpayers being the first to be paid back when our economy recovers-and it will recover-and a number of other measures.

But you know, one of the real catalysts, really the match that lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I will bet you, you may never even have heard of them before this crisis.

But you know, they're the ones that, with the encouragement of Senator Obama and his cronies and his friends in Washington, that went out and made all these risky loans, gave them to people that could never afford to pay back.


OLBERMANN: Senator Obama quick to mention that the lobbying firm of his opponent's campaign manager has taken lobbying money from-you guessed it-Fannie Mae, quick also to set the record straight when Senator McCain claimed that Obama would raise taxes on the middle class.


OBAMA: Senator McCain, I think the "Straight Talk Express" lost a wheel on that one.

So let's be clear about my tax plan and Senator McCain's, because we're not going to be able to deal with entitlements unless we understand the revenues coming in. I want to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans, 95 percent.


OLBERMANN: Senator McCain ostensibly running on the McCain/Palin ticket, but, with at least three references to the Connecticut-Democrat-turned-independent, one would be forgiven for thinking it might have been the McCain-Lieberman ticket.


MCCAIN: I traveled all over the world looking at the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, Joe Lieberman and I.


OLBERMANN: The Democrat tonight not just the first candidate to mention 9/11 directly-he was the only candidate to. And for the second consecutive debate, Senator Obama running against not only Senator McCain, but against eight years of President George W. Bush.


OBAMA: You know, a lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11 and where you were on that day and, you know, how all of the country was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us not only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified country.

And President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American people, he said, "Go out and shop."

That wasn't the kind of call to service that I think the American people were looking for.


OLBERMANN: Senator McCain, in response to a question about whether the U.S. should respect Pakistani sovereignty, and not pursue al Qaeda terrorists, who maintain bases there, talking about how he would catch Osama bin Laden, or at least trying to talk about how he would catch Osama bin Laden.


MCCAIN: The point is that I know how to handle these crises. And Senator Obama, by saying that he would attack Pakistan, look at the context of his words. I will get Osama bin Laden, my friends. I will get him. I know how to get him.

I will get him no matter what and I know how to do it. But I'm not going to telegraph my punches, which is what Senator Obama did. And I'm going to act responsibly, as I have acted responsibly throughout my military career and throughout my career in the United States Senate.

And we have fundamental disagreements about the use of military power.


OLBERMANN: And, yet, Senator McCain misidentified General David Petraeus tonight as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He is not that. That would be Admiral Mullen.

And though McCain's tone seemed to be vaguely reminiscent of his own campaign's weekend of descent into the muck, there was not a mention of any of the subjects, nor people about whom Senator McCain and Governor Palin have been so obsessed.

Joining me now from Belmont University in Nashville, Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC for some initial reaction.

Howard, good evening again.


I thought it was interesting, as you were pointing out, that, as we were saying beforehand, it was unlikely that they were going to bring up Bill Ayers. And they didn't bring up the famous retired terrorist.

I thought it was even more interesting that John McCain never mentioned Sarah Palin's name, if I'm not mistaken. She was completely absent, which goes to the point we were talking about before the debate, which is, the McCain campaign is operating on at least a couple of levels.

One of them was the economic and foreign policy discussion you heard here tonight, where McCain was on the attack, but he was on the attack on economic issues, and economic issues alone, a relatively polite discussion, if you will, and this other campaign that is going on outside the four walls of Belmont University, which is very nasty and very tough and very different.

OLBERMANN: Visceral images and tone are, as we discovered last week, when it was so important, as I think it was Chris Matthews who first pointed out that McCain never looked at Obama.

In this one, when he did look at him, I was struck to the point of-of almost coming out of my chair when he made a joke about, you will never guess who-who-who voted for it, this one.

That-is that-did that serve Senator McCain in any way, shape or form?

FINEMAN: No, that's-that's been much talked about here in the spin room, which is in a big hard-shelled tent.

By the way, the rain has been coming down. It was kind of appropriate. As soon as the debate ended, the rain really wet loose. And a wet David Axelrod came running in here, the Obama spinner. He was the first into the room. And it came up right away, Keith, the whole business about "that one." I think it was "that one" that he said.

And I even asked Axelrod about it. And he said, that was kind of odd. And the way he put it is that it made Obama look-I mean-excuse me-it made McCain look kind of peevish and irascible, if you will.

Now, I talked to the McCain people. They said, oh, that's just the Obama people. They-they're going to-they were prepared to say that even before this debate happened.

I don't think so.


FINEMAN: I think that was an odd moment. And I think viewers at home, that didn't play well with viewers at home.

As Axelrod said, Obama has a name and a title. And it's Senator Obama.

They thought it was a weird moment. I think most of the people here in the room and out in the country thought that was a weird moment, too.

OLBERMANN: Well, especially when contrasted to the idea that-that, throughout this and the earlier debate, Senator Obama barely took his eyes away from Senator McCain, except to talk to the crowd, and often to talk to McCain directly.

One other thing, again visceral, I understand that-that the first debate was thought to be a McCain advantage because the topic was essentially national security, with obviously a healthy dose of the economy.

This was thought to be McCain's advantage because of the town hall format and the interacting with the audience.


OLBERMANN: Did-did that backfire, too, because as I suggested-

I'm trying to say this as kindly as possible-he didn't look like a well man wandering around on that floor. And, in the end, the denouement to this, stepping in front of the camera as Tom Brokaw is trying to say goodbye, was just strange.

FINEMAN: Well, I-I'm not sure I would go that far, but I will say a couple things.

First of all, it was Obama who did carefully try to explain to that one questioner what the value of the rescue/bailout package was. You remember that. The questioner said, well, how is it going to help me?

And McCain gave his speech. Obama addressed the fellow and tried, in kitchen-table, Main Street terms, to explain the meaning of it. I thought that was an important and a good moment for Obama.

Another good moment from Obama was when Obama basically took control of the foreign policy debate toward the end there, and said: You know, Senator McCain, you're saying that I'm wet behind the ears, I'm green behind the ears, or whatever it was. You know, I'm inexperienced. You know, I don't know how to handle myself. But you're the one who sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran" and said next stop Baghdad.

I thought that was a big deflating moment for McCain there. We have watched Obama kind of grow in these debates, I think, and show a lot of maturity. And that's going to be helpful to him in the last month here.

OLBERMANN: All right, Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC in Nashville-thanks, as always, Howard.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's turn now to Rachel Maddow, host, of course, of "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW," who keeps getting preempted by these darn debates.


OLBERMANN: The-the attacks on Obama-I don't want to spend the whole hour talking about the viscerals of this, but the attacks on Obama all seem to feed into all of the cliches about John McCain that could be generally placed under the headline, "Hey, you, get off my lawn."

How does this-how does this serve him well?

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": I don't think that it serves him well.

And, you know, I think, if we're going to talk about the overall impression, the personality sense of the candidates, I also think there was an important moment that was not between McCain and Obama, but was, rather, between McCain and a member of the audience who had asked a question, when he explained, in a very condescending manner, to a man-young man who had asked a question, actually, to a young African-American man who had asked a question, whose name John McCain forgot halfway through his answer, and he addressed him by the wrong name, having addressed him by the right name at first, and McCain said, I'm sure you didn't know who Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were before-before not too long ago.

And, maybe that's true, but you would never assume that of somebody who had just asked you a question about the economy. So, in terms of seeming condescending, in terms of seeming like he didn't enjoy the company that he was in, I thought that was another awkward personality for McCain.

OLBERMANN: Here are the first numbers. Four hundred uncommitted voters in CBS News poll, 39 percent say Obama won this one. Thirty-five percent say it was a draw. And 27 percent said it was McCain.

Let's-I mean, this just lines up with what the results were from the first two debates, the first two presidential and the only vice presidential.

A couple of matters of substance here that maybe they're headlines, and we missed them. In the middle of this, fairly early, actually, they were discussing the prioritization of working on health care, energy and entitlement reform, and Senator McCain said this, "My friends, we're not going to be able to provide the same benefit for present-day workers that we're going-that present-day retirees have today."

And then he explained how he would sit down and fix Social Security. I would imagine that, in a lot of homes where people are above the age of 60, or even those who are just contemplating someday being above the age of 60, that was a shock.

MADDOW: I think that that is going to be something that the McCain campaign is probably going to dial back.

We have had a few experiences on the campaign trail where McCain has said things that had seemingly big policy implications, and they have been the first time he had announced them, and then the McCain campaign has gotten in the habit of reinterpreting his own words.

On that, I would expect that we're going to get a reinterpretation machine output from his campaign.


MADDOW: Also, on that priorities question, he said, you know, we will do all of these things at once. We don't need to make priorities. I'm not going to tell anybody who isn't covered, doesn't have health insurance right now that they have to wait.

John McCain doesn't want to talk about his health care plan up against

up against Barack Obama's at this point. He made a plainly false allegation tonight that Senator McCain would create some sort of fine system or-or mandate system for small businesses. That is not true-even the Associated Press pointing out tonight that that was a plainly false claim about Obama on health care.

I think that McCain, on-on-on the issue of entitlements and on health care, is going to have some explaining to do very soon.

OLBERMANN: All right. And one other explaining to do on the subject of the economy.


OLBERMANN: And I don't want to turn this into a thesis or anything.

But I-maybe you started the same way I started when I heard this.

The idea very early on about buying up the bad mortgages to try to protect people, there may be great merit in that idea, gives Senator McCain absolute credit for that idea. But-but in the-with what we have been through in the last couple of weeks, don't you think most Americans, hearing that, went wait a minute, isn't that what the bailout was about? Didn't we just buy all those bad mortgages?

MADDOW: Right. And anybody who is having a more detailed reaction to it than that is in the-on the right side of the political spectrum, and they're very angry about this idea...



MADDOW:... because this is an aggressive nationalization, socialization plan.

I have been actually spending my time off-camera looking at the right

as many right-wing blogs as I can to see what the sort of response is on the right to that. And it seems like, if he's looking to shore up his base on economic issues, he's not found a way to do it with that proposal. There seems to be a lot of anger on the right to that.



OLBERMANN: Rachel Maddow, we will check back with you later in the hour, along with Pat Buchanan.

MADDOW: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Thank you.

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

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


OLBERMANN: Still ahead on Countdown's special analysis of the second presidential debate tonight: the expectations game. We will see what both sides are saying in the spin room following tonight's town hall-style debate.

That's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Back with Countdown's post-debate analysis.

And we have another set of numbers for you from CNN on a question of voters as to who did the best job in tonight's debate. This was a much clearer victory for Obama by those measures, 54 percent in that CNN poll for Obama, 30 percent for McCain.

Add to that the CBS uncommitted poll I mentioned earlier, 39 percent said Obama won, 35 percent said it was a draw, and 27 percent said McCain had won.

What it was not, certainly, was a very friendly debate between these two men, these two senators.

Here's a perfect example of that from Senator McCain towards Senator Obama.


MCCAIN: It was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney.

You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one. You know who voted against it? Me.


OLBERMANN: Joining us now from Nashville, somebody who worked in Los Angeles television in the 1980s and '70s who made something of herself, as opposed to some of the rest of us, Linda Douglass, now a senior adviser for the Obama campaign.

Good to talk to you, Linda.

LINDA DOUGLASS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: You know, Keith, you have me confused with someone else.



DOUGLASS: I was a small child in the 1970s.


DOUGLASS: I don't know what you're talking about.


OLBERMANN: All right, well, that must have been my father doing sports over on Channel 5.


OLBERMANN: In any event, let's...

DOUGLASS: Exactly.

OLBERMANN: Let's talk about what that clip we just played and other -

other niceties-and I don't want to try to dismiss this debate, nor any other, as an issue purely of interaction between two candidates.

But I think Senator McCain has made this an issue. In the first debate, he would not look at Senator Obama. And, in this debate, he used that condescending tone towards him at least three times. And that phrase "that one" certainly rang oddly for a presidential debate.

DOUGLASS: "That one."

I mean, it was a-I mean, as you say, he couldn't look at him. And, apparently, he had trouble saying his name at this debate. I mean, there was a lot of tension and irritation, clearly, in the demeanor of Senator McCain tonight. He was-he was not relaxed. He was certainly not feeling very friendly towards Senator Obama.

And, you know, there seems to be some kind of issue here that gets under his skin.

OLBERMANN: The-to some of the substance of this, I mentioned the reaction that-that a lot of people might have at home about this idea that Senator McCain proposed about buying up all the bad mortgages.

Would the general impression not have been, before this, that that was already accomplished as part of the $700 billion bailout? Did that...


OLBERMANN: Would that have-although it's not exactly the same thing as that bailout, might it have seemed that way, without any further clarification from Senator McCain?

DOUGLASS: Well, it did sound like a new plan.

Now, you remember that, when Paulson, Secretary Paulson, first rolled out his proposal, it was on three pages. And Senator McCain admitted that he hadn't actually read the three-page proposal when it was first introduced.

This is obviously the bill that was passed and signed into law. And in that bill is the very authority that he is now proposing. There's absolutely that authority inside the bill. He made it sound like something new. And, so, we have to kind of wonder if he's read this bill either.

OLBERMANN: The Republican National Committee-and forgive me for-for reading this right off the-the wire, Linda. But, before the debate had ended, the Republican National Committee, according to Ben Smith at "Politico," had set out a complaint e-mail that this was not really a town hall, complaining about the format of this debate.

Did-did your campaign have any complaints about the format of this debate?


And it seemed to me that most of the questions came from people in the audience, average citizens, who had real questions that affected their lives. And they were e-mailed questions in. So, I'm not quite sure what it was that Senator McCain was complaining about, except he, as you pointed out earlier, did not seem to be enjoying himself tonight.

OLBERMANN: The-the standard litany of subject matter relative to Senator Obama's track record and relative inexperience has been obviously a theme of the campaign for Senator Obama, both in the primaries, and currently-a theme against him, obviously. Give me your assessment of how he-how he may have grown in that area in the last-in the last two debates.

DOUGLASS: Well, I think, first of all, that it has become very clear to the public, as a result of this financial crisis, that Senator Obama was the one with the calm, the cool, and the depth, and the sophistication to really deal with this crisis.

I mean, as you well know, he was-played a very major role in inserting taxpayer protections, homeowner protections, provisions that would make sure that the CEOs didn't walk off with-with huge benefits.

The other point I think he made very clear is that John McCain has been in Washington for 26 years. And all of the things that he seems to be complaining about have not been resolved by his very presence there, and all of the problems that-that we are facing now in this country as a result of a very ineffectual government have all taken place in his watch, during his watch, well before his watch, which is-his watch has lasted for a long time.

So, I think Senator Obama made a very strong case for the-you know, about the kind of change that he's going to be able to bring to the voters.

OLBERMANN: Last question, Linda. Were you-were you surprised, was the campaign surprised, given the tone of the assaults on Senator Obama since Saturday, since Saturday, Sunday, Monday, weekend, the long weekend, especially from Governor Palin, were you surprised that none of that carried into this debate?

DOUGLASS: Not really.

You know, they have been-they telegraphed that they were going to be launching these debates. They made it very clear that Governor Palin was going to be their attack dog. They have been digging around, looking for some little piece of mud that they can throw at the camera lens and blind you to the economic circumstances that people are facing.

But they also probably knew that that wasn't going to go over well with the voters in that town hall. But I would expect them to be right out with those mud-throwing attacks again tomorrow.

OLBERMANN: Well, it was an enjoyable hour-and-a-half, if-if only that that did not come up at any point in this.

Linda Douglass, senior adviser to the Obama campaign, a pleasure to talk to you, as always, Linda.

DOUGLASS: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Coming up: the view from the other side, what the McCain campaign is saying in this last hour since the town hall ended. You heard a bit of it already.

This is Countdown's coverage of the Obama-McCain debate.


OLBERMANN: There is a certain sangfroid to Barack Obama, a self-possession that sometimes perhaps, contrarily, does not serve him well. Tonight, however, it seemed to serve him well on at least one occasion, when John McCain said that Barack Obama did not understand U.S. foreign policy, and the self-possession took over.


OBAMA: It's true. There are some things I don't understand.

I don't understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, while Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are setting up base camps and safe havens to train terrorists to attack us.

That was Senator McCain's judgment, and it was the wrong judgment.

When Senator McCain was cheerleading the president to go into Iraq, he suggested it was going to be quick and easy, we would be greeted as liberators. That was the wrong judgment. And it's been costly to us.


OLBERMANN: Joining us now from Nashville, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News and MSNBC, who has a-has a quick read on the McCain reaction.

Good evening, Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Good evening. Well, the McCain people, as the Obama people, are claiming victory.

The McCain people say that John McCain was stronger on the economy because he had this new proposal to buy up failed mortgages. It would-they're telling us-cost about $300 billion in extra money, extra investment by the federal government, but it would take down those mortgages and permit a-floor to be put under the declining housing market.

And since they claim that the housing market is what's dragging down the rest of the market, that this would put an end to-or at least stop the decline in all of the markets. So that's their claim.

They're trying to put the best face on the fact that some of the instant polls and a lot of the other reviewers are saying that it was not McCain who had the best night tonight, but because the reviewers are giving Barack Obama on points and, also, on his overall delivery, on his comfort factor.

Even though John McCain, as you know, Keith, was the one who's been pushing for town meetings, this was a wide-open format and his walking around at times-perhaps it's just because of his own physical awkwardness didn't seem quite connected.

The one thing that they are pushing hard, the McCain folks, is his going over to that retired Navy petty officer, touching him on the shoulder. That is the moment that they are e-mailing around, saying that that showed his connection and that he had this visceral link to this gentleman because of their combined service, shook his hand.

And that that's something that Barack Obama, of course, could not do, having not served in the military. Keith?

OLBERMANN: The-reaction you mention to the plan to buy up the mortgages, they are standing behind that? Rachel Maddow had pointed out earlier in the evening that a lot of the reaction from right-wing Web sites and blogs had been very negative to that.

MITCHELL: I'm sure.

OLBERMANN: . because, obviously, it's a bailout on top of a bailout. But they-are they behind this? Did McCain change the policy? Have they discussed this before?

MITCHELL: Oh, this was absolutely deliberate. This is something that had been worked out with his economic advisers. My bet would be Martin Feldstein and some of the other senior people-you know, the esteemed Harvard professor, a very well known and well regarded Republican economist.

And this is something that he put out there. This was his opening gambit. And clearly it will be criticized, as Rachel is pointing out, already has been criticized because you had all of the conservative Republicans who were against the original bailout. This is another $300 billion.

But that's what he came to offer tonight. He wanted to have something new to say about the economy. And they felt that they had a really big test here, knowing that they were facing these head winds, that they were falling further behind because the declining market, and all of the panic, really, that has been abroad throughout the country and globally.

And the-the sort of considered opinion is that he did not do enough tonight. It's so interesting that you did not hear any of the sort of peripheral attacks, as you have mentioned earlier, you and Howard Fineman. None of that tonight.

He was very aggressive, but aggressive on the talking points of foreign and domestic policy, not on all this other stuff. But most-most people in looking at this debate, which was, I think, a pretty good debate in terms of the format and the variety of questions, don't think that he scored enough points.

There was certainly no knockout punch from John McCain tonight. And that is really what he needed, given how rapidly they've been falling behind since this economic crisis hit critical mass about two weeks ago.

OLBERMANN: One final visceral point just if there's been any reaction from that campaign-I'm running behind in time myself. But I have to ask you about this. Some defense has been made of the phrase "that one" in Mr.

Senator McCain's address.

MITCHELL: "That one."

OLBERMANN: . to Senator Obama's. Some defense, oddly enough, has

come from Mark Ambinder in the Atlantic who knows that that was frequently

in stump speeches and campaign appearance in a kind of-he's not here

reference to Senator Obama. So that's not an unfamiliar term.

Is that the way they're defending that there?

MITCHELL: Yes, they're defending it but as you know, the Obama people have e-mailed that around and a lot of people did notice it. And some people will take offense, more likely as people already in the Obama camp.

Certainly a lot of people of color-minorities will take offense at that. It seemed dismissive.

OLBERMANN: Andrea Mitchell, reporting to us from Nashville inside the hall. Great thanks, Andrea. Have a good night.

MITCHELL: You bet. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Coming up, I'll be joined by Eugene Robinson of "The Washington Post." Did he see anything that voters will look to as game-changing moments in tonight's debate?

You're watching Countdown's coverage of the second presidential debate for 2008.


OLBERMANN: Well, there might be bad reaction to it from the right wing but apparently, as you heard Andrea Mitchell report, they were absolutely serious about this in Senator McCain's campaign to buy up about $300 billion worth of bad mortgages and renegotiate them with the individual borrowers.

Here's what Senator McCain said about that early in this debate tonight. It is apparently a policy change.


MCCAIN: As president of the United States, Allen, I would order the secretary of the treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes, at the diminished value of those homes, and let people make those-be able to make those payments and stay in their homes.


OLBERMANN: Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of "The Washington Post," also, of course, a political analyst for us here at MSNBC, joins us now from Washington.

Gene, Good evening.


OLBERMANN: Well, that was something of a surprise. It might have been the biggest actual policy news of the debate. But didn't it sound like that was more likely to come out of Obama's mouth than McCain's?

ROBINSON: Well, one would think. I mean-I'm anticipating the reaction from within the McCain campaign, from within the Republican Party, to what sounds initially like another huge multi-hundred billion dollar bailout on top of the $700 billion bailout.

But this one, you know, from the Republican point of view, seeming to give aid to people who unwisely bought houses that they couldn't afford then didn't pay their mortgages. I mean, I think that's kind of the Republican line on this problem.

I cannot imagine this is going to go over well with much of McCain's base. And, you know, and his reasoning-the reasoning behind it seems a little weird to me. He says this is going to put a floor under housing prices.

Well, you know, the reason housing prices began to fall in some of the hottest markets like Florida and California, you know, was largely because they were overbuilt. There are too many condos in Miami.

There are simply too many of them. And-so I don't see how this repeals the laws of supply and demand, but, you know, maybe-you know, I think it's basically the law of trying to win this election.


ROBINSON: But I think it's going to-there's going to be a sharp reaction.

OLBERMANN: Right. Try to get anything that will add 1,000 votes somewhere.

Health care, not obviously a big change as in the mortgage issue, but some clear distinction here tonight.

ROBINSON: Fascinating moment when Tom Brokaw asked, is health care a privilege, a responsibility or a right? I thought that was one of the really kind of crystalline moments of this debate.

John McCain said it's a responsibility. He didn't make clear whose responsibility it was. But he said that's what it was and kind of talked about small businesses and I kind of lost him there.

Barack Obama, I thought, seized that moment and came out and said it's

I think it should be a right and then talked about his mother, who died at age 53 of cancer and her having had to spend the last months of her life arguing with insurance companies over what they would cover.

I thought that was a real moment in the debate. And I guess I appreciate it because it was unscripted. They, obviously, hadn't anticipated that question and they seemed to give spontaneous and genuine answers that told a lot about the two-the two candidates.

OLBERMANN: And lastly, for the second consecutive week, we had karaoke night with Senator Obama doing his version of Senator McCain's cover of "Barbara Ann."

ROBINSON: Right. That was-that was another moment when, you know, John McCain was criticizing Obama for talking loosely and recklessly about sending U.S. forces across the border into Pakistan to hunt for bin Laden.

And Obama kind of mixed his metaphors. He said-you know, he talked about McCain saying he was green behind the ears or something like that. I thought you were either green or wet behind the ears.

But, nonetheless, he said, well, but he's the guy who joked about bombing Iran and he's the guy who talked about the annihilation of North Korea. You know, again, I think effective moments, an effective way to kind of turn it back on McCain.

You know I hate the prize fight metaphor for these debates but it's the only one that's approved, so if you're going to use it, you know, no one got knocked out. But you know, I think this one fairly, clearly, Obama won it on points, I think. And I think the polls are showing that.

OLBERMANN: Yes, early polls suggest that and by a considerable margin. And the second place finisher was once again a tie.

Gene Robinson of MSNBC and "The Washington Post." Thank you, Gene.

Good night.

ROBINSON: Good to talk to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Coming up Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow go head-to-head in analyzing tonight's debate. And also a question, why when it was over did the Obamas stick around for at least 15 minutes to talk to the crowd while the McCains got the heck out of dodge?

Countdown's coverage of the presidential debates continues after this.


OLBERMANN: Favorable opinion of candidate in the CNN poll, Obama 64 percent after tonight's vote, going up for tonight's debate, going up 4 percent. McCain 51 percent, unchanged. So no game-changer, not really for Obama and certainly not for McCain.

One other number. How long did the candidates stay after the debate ended? It may seem trivial. Apparently, it was not to those people in that room.

Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan join me right me after this.


OLBERMANN: This is the post-game buzz about the post-game and another reason why-this may sound odd to say-but it's a great thing that we have C-SPAN. Immediately all networks including this one, and rightly so, moved directly to analysis when the debate ended.

However, C-SPAN and perhaps some others lingered over the shots of the Obamas greeting the crowd tonight at the Curb Center, the Mike Curb Center, if you will, at the university in Nashville.

This went on for about 20 minutes after this debate ended. The McCains had left the stage, left the building, apparently, within moments of the end of the debate. At 10:43 it is reported the C-SPAN announcer said Senator McCain and his wife have left, just to explain why the camera shots seemed to be lingering on the lingering Barack and Michelle Obama.

Joining us now, Pat Buchanan of MSNBC and back once again Rachel Maddow. And we showed that for many reasons, one of which was to inform you about it but also because that's where Rachel wants to begin tonight.

Again, another one of these things that would seemingly not matter, except, I guess, if you were there.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: The sort of demeanor issues, personality issues, likability issues, sometimes are the things that matter the most, coming out of these debates.

And there is news to talk about tonight. John McCain did propose a big new multi-hundred billion dollar additional bailout on top of what else has already been done. That is news. But in terms of what people are talking about tomorrow, it might be more their generic personality-based impressions of the candidates and leaving right after the debate was over seems like a strange move in terms of what kind of impression you might make on people.

OLBERMANN: Pat, if the-if a CNN poll right afterwards of voters, not independents, but a spectrum apparently, suggested that Obama was voted - was voted most likable 65-28 and answer the question who spent more time attacking his opponent, it was McCain 63, Obama 17. The visceral counts, does it not?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, it does. And I would agree with that 100 percent. I think McCain was the aggressor, as we said earlier. And I think he had came in with a little more fight and more heart.

When you do that, Keith, you take a risk that you come off as, look, that's a mean guy. And Barack Obama is-frankly, he's very gifted in this sense. He's a very likable person. He's got a good sense of humor. He smiles. And when he's got a witty repost, it's usually-he usually stops short of really driving it home hard. And he is a likable guy.

And I think the fact that-I mean, a lot of people will prefer not to have somebody as an aggressor. But the point of McCain is this. He doesn't have any choice, Keith. This thing, the events are breaking so huge, 500 points on the Dow, events are in the saddle and ride mankind, if you will.

And I think he's got to make-the country wants change. He's got to persuade the country that Obama is risky change, he's unreliable change, he's not a truthful guy. All these things they're going to have to do or they're not going to win this race.

OLBERMANN: And I understand, Pat, that in a situation like that you have to maybe take a little risk yourself while blaming the other guy for being too risky. But that brings us back to this idea of bailing out individual mortgages to the tune of $300 billion.


OLBERMANN: . which is a pretty strong gamble that you're going to get mileage out of that without alienating most of your base, isn't it?



BUCHANAN: I think a lot of our folks are wondering what he's talking about. We've been tapped for $700 billion already and you hear all about these other things. And so I think that's not going to go down well with the base.

I guess he's appealing here, Keith, to the moderate centrist liberal Republican votes and the voters he used to have, some of whom have probably been lost.

OLBERMANN: Rachel, give me 30 seconds more on this point.

MADDOW: I have to say that McCain needed an economic message tonight if he wasn't going to go after Obama to his face, the way his campaign and his running mate have been going after Obama without McCain present.

His economic message was the eBay head would make a good treasury secretary. EBay just laid off thousands of workers. I want a huge new-hundreds of billions of dollars bailout that my base is going to hate and they hate me anyway and he never used the phrase middle class once.

So in terms of hitting it out of the park on the economic issue, he still got one more debate to try to do that.

OLBERMANN: All right. Both of you, stand by. Final answers about final answers from Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan when our Countdown coverage of the second face-off between Obama and McCain continues after this.


OLBERMANN: Back again with Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan for some final thoughts on the debate that we just saw. And it was a-it certainly was a great way to end this debate, Pat, certainly in terms of a question to throw out.

It really allowed both candidates to kind of give a-an overall picture of their view of the country, this idea of what don't you know and what are you going to do and how are you going to learn it. I gather you liked McCain's answer to that.

BUCHANAN: Well, yes, McCain went with a-he had the last response and I think it is John McCain really at his best. I think he speaks from the heart here. And I thought it was very affecting and effective, both, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And-be specific about it. I mean what you liked about that. I mean I saw what he said that there are challenges around the world and we'll be talking about countries we hardly know where they are on the map right now.

Was that part of it or a broader sense?

BUCHANAN: It's in the sense that it's who he is, what he believes and the way he's lived his life and the values that he holds dear. And I think that comes through the man's image of himself, which I think he deeply believes in. This comes-I thought it came through very, very well.

OLBERMANN: And, Rachel, the answer from Senator Obama on the same point raised his history in this country and he was able to talk about not knowing or knowing that he was able to be in the position he was in because of the country he was in.

There was a certain pride that was expressed there that probably was a little back filling towards those who had questions about whether or not he was proud of being an American and all the rest of that, or his wife was.

And then he-his answer was-seemed to be concluding with the idea of whether or not we're going to pass the American dream onto the next generation. It was almost-I almost thought he was going to say are you better off than you were eight years ago? He pretty much did.

MADDOW: Yes. And it was-I think it was an artful closing by both candidates. Both of them, essentially, brought that question around to "and that's why I'm running for president of the United States. That's what my whole life has been about."

And that's-well, you want it to end on a note like that. I will say that the way that each of them started their answer to that very Zen-like question was important, though. And I don't mean to keep going back to the personality and demeanor issues again and again, but Obama probably had his best, emotionally most human connected moment at the very start of that answer when he referred to his wife and talked about a line that he uses sometimes, a variation of a line he uses sometime on the stump.

She can tell you a lot of things that I don't know and this sort of this affectionate look toward her in the audience. It was the first time we had a family look at the audience like that.

McCain started off in a very stumbling manner. He eventually took off and the rhetoric was great by the end of it, but he actually said at the beginning-I remember, I wrote it down, and said, I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what the unexpected will be.


MADDOW: That was a little-that was a little underwhelming.

OLBERMANN: Well, it's-it is generally true. I mean I don't know what the unexpected is, either. We almost got towards Donald Rumsfeld territory about known unknowns and unknown knowns.


OLBERMANN: But let me ask you about this-and Pat, I'd like to go to you first on this in the time we have left.

Apparently the reaction from the right is not good to Senator McCain's performance today. This is from something on the "National Review." We have a disaster here. Memo to McCain campaign, someone is either a terrorist sympathizer or he isn't, someone is either disqualified as a terrorist sympathizer or he's qualified for public office. You help portray Obama as a clearly qualified presidential candidate who would fight terrorists.

I-some of the rhetoric I have a fight with the gentleman over, but I think there is a point here that there are-as Howard Fineman said at the beginning of the hour, there are several different McCain campaigns going on and in one of them he is hitting Obama over the head with everything he can find and no holds barred in this match.

And then we come to a face-to-face meeting where none of these topics and none of these names were introduced. Is it impossible to carry these almost mutually exclusive kinds of points of view, these simultaneous campaigns?

BUCHANAN: McCain-McCain, as I'm sure, is tortured in the sense that he doesn't want to do this but I think he knows he's going to have to do something like this or he's going to lose this election. And this could explain why we talked out of there early.

And I don't want to too much surmise, but he may feel he didn't go far enough or his people didn't go far enough. Certainly "National Review's" people feel, look, you've got to go after Obama on the character issue.

And there's a lot of his connections which you're going to have to use or you're going to lose this election. And if you're unwilling to do it, then you're not the candidate you ought to be. And I think that is weighing heavily on McCain. He doesn't want to deal with Reverend Wright, I don't think, but he's being pulled in that direction.

MADDOW: I-I would just say one of the things we always worry about with negative campaigning and character issues is whether or not they blow back against a person who is making those allegations, whether they make the-the person making the allegations look bad.

I think it makes you look bad when you're willing to do it everywhere except to the target's face.

OLBERMANN: All right. Well, then that gives me a yes or no, like Tom Brokaw tried to get.

We have one more debate. Is that going to be no holds barred? Is that where that element comes out, Pat, of-everybody you can name-

Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, the sinking of the Titanic? Does McCain go there in the third debate?

BUCHANAN: I don't know. He clearly-I mean if he were going to go there, he should have gone there tonight.


BUCHANAN: And so he's-he is really ambivalent about this. So I don't know whether he is. But I do know he's going to be pushed to do that and he certainly will have his vice president doing this.

OLBERMANN: And your attempt at a yes or no, Rach?

MADDOW: He will-he would have done it tonight if he was going to do it. I don't know what he's going to do in debate three.

OLBERMANN: Well, stay tuned. Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow, great thanks.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Great insight tonight from your both.

That's Countdown for this, the 1,987th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.

Our post-debate coverage continues now on MSNBC.

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Tuesday October 7, 2008, 8 p.m. ET
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Worst Persons

Guest: Debbie Wasserman Schultz

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? As the debate looms, incitement to hatred today.


GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope Americans know that is not what our brave men and women in uniform are doing in Afghanistan.


OLBERMANN: Incitement to hatred, yesterday.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who is the-who is the real Barack Obama?




OLBERMANN: And incitement to violence. During another vice-presidential rally, Governor Palin pushes the envelope on Barack Obama and William Ayers and somebody in the crowd shouts, "Kill him!" And the McCain campaign does nothing...

. except to continue to repeat the drum beat from the repulsive one-note wonder.


PALIN: You mean to tell me that he didn't know that he had launched his own political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist?



OLBERMANN: The problem is, Senator McCain has a deeper, more direct, more disturbing connection to domestic terror. The group was tied to Iran-Contra, to torture and murder by death squads, to Nazi collaborators, and to funding the rebels in Afghanistan. Why was McCain's name on the group's letterhead?

All that, lending a toxic taste to the debate an hour hence. Last time, John McCain couldn't look Barack Obama in the eye. This time, perhaps, John McCain couldn't look himself in the mirror. Down in the polls, loser of the first debate, his reputation and ethics in tatters on the floor. Does Senator McCain gamble it all tonight and say what slanders he has said behind Obama's back to Obama in person?

With the analysis of: Rachel Maddow, Richard Wolffe, Howard Fineman, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Chris Matthews.

And if Senator McCain brings up that grisly bear DNA study, pork barrel, earmark again tonight, you will know why he made this evening's Worst Persons' list. It turns out the senator voted for it.

All that and more: Now on Countdown.

(on camera): Good evening. This is Tuesday, October 7th, 28 days until the 2008 presidential election.

There's a fine line between a smear campaign and an incitement to violence. If Senator McCain and Governor Palin have not previously crossed it this week, today even, they most certainly did.

Our fifth story on the Countdown to tonight's second presidential debate by all but calling Senator Obama himself a "terrorist," by inciting the crowds at the McCain-Palin rallies to yell, and this is only what can reporters have been able to hear, quote, "kill him," "terrorist," and "treason." The message that the Republican nominee for the highest office in this land has approved makes Willy Horton or the Swiftboat ads seem quaint and almost respectable.

At a morning rally in Jacksonville today, Governor Palin not only, again, inflating beyond all recognition, the link between the Democratic nominee and William Ayers, a reform member of a radical anti-Vietnam War group known as the Weather Underground, the governor also making light of it.


PALIN: Now, our opponent's campaign is claiming that for the first time, Barack Obama wasn't aware of Ayers' radical background.


PALIN: Barack recently remembered him as just a guy in the neighborhood. But wait a minute, there-you mean to tell me that he didn't know that he had launched his own political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist?



OLBERMANN: Yet, there is nothing to be made light of when at the very same rally, a candidate's staunch (ph) about her rival incite a member of the crowd to shout "treason." This happened when the governor falsely claimed that U.S. troops in Afghanistan have not been involved in attacks on Afghan civilians.


PALIN: I hope Americans know that is not what our brave men and women in uniform are doing in Afghanistan.



OLBERMANN: This would be the second consecutive day that Governor Palin's rhetoric has inflamed the crowd in a manner exceeding politics or rationality. The "Washington Post" reporting that when Governor Palin recounted the Obama and Ayers portion of her stump speech in Clearwater, one man in the audience proposing to, quote, "kill him." Whether the remark was directly at Senator Obama or Mr. Ayers, the remark and the report so shocking that the Secret Service is tonight investigating.

A spokesman, Malcolm Wiley, is telling "Radar" magazine that the agency did not hear any threatening statements directly at targets under its protection and "no threatening statements were reported to us by law enforcement or citizens at the event." Yet in the wake of the newspaper report, it is investigating, because, says Mr. Wiley, "We take all threats seriously."

The "Washington Post" also reporting that at the same event when the governor bashed the media, Palin supporters began to hurl abuse at reporters in the press area. One even shouted a racial epithet at an African-American soundman for TV network also telling him to, quote, "sit down, boy."

Despite that, knowing that, the hateful, hate-filled rhetoric continuing unabated today, extended even to press releases. The chairman of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania where McCain is bleeding, down by 10 to 15 points, sending out a mass email entitled, "Obama : A Terrorist's Best Friend," which reads in part, quote, "What does it say about the character of Barack Obama that he knowingly associates with terrorists? It tells me that Obama lacks the judgment and character to be our next commander-in-chief."

Taken together what could well be the sleaziest four days in modern American political history-four days in which it is easy to see where Senator McCain or Governor Palin might have induced in an embittered or unintelligent individual, the premise that Senator Obama either associates with terrorist or might be even one himself.


PALIN: One of Barack Obama's earliest supporters is Bill Ayers. A domestic terrorist. Domestic terrorist. The known domestic terrorist. Unrepentant terrorist. Domestic terrorist. Domestic terrorist. Part of a group that, quote, "launched a campaign of bombings." Campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol. Our United States Capitol.

Obama held one of his first meetings of his political career in Bill Ayers' home. In the guy's living room? In the living room of a domestic terrorist? Of a domestic terrorist? Of a domestic terrorist?

Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists-domestic terrorist-domestic terrorists who targeted his own country. Targeted his own country. Targeted his own country.

MCCAIN: Who is the real Barack Obama?




OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also, of course, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine, joining us now from the site of tonight's debate in Nashville.

Richard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: What is really the scarier proposition here, that Obama chaired the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge to improve intercity education on which William Ayers happened to sit alongside many Republicans who were not upset to have him there? Or that Senator McCain and this Governor Palin are putting themselves on camera with lunatics who are shouting "kill him," "terrorist", and "treason"?

WOLFFE: Well, this is the freak show season of politics and that's no excuse for what's going on. And, of course, when you have these crowds shouting things, maybe the people on stage can't hear them and that's also no excuse because what you're seeing here is a very conscious attempt to paint Obama as un-American, as unpatriotic and, yes, cohorting, consorting with what they call, "domestic terrorists."

Now, I happen to think this is actually not just distasteful but bad politics because, one number one, you're turning off the suburban independent voters whether it's the crowd reaction or the kind of rhetoric coming from the stage, those voters who will decide the election. And secondly, if you are going to play this card, then do what the Australian conservatives do, which is dog whistle politics. Only certain people can hear the message. This isn't dog whistle politics that they're trying here, this is fog horn politics and it's not subtle.

OLBERMANN: If Senator Obama is, as they are painting him, this scary, dangerous terrorist sympathizer or best, why in the world is Senator McCain agreeing to share a stage with him? I mean, he wouldn't agree to talk with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shouldn't McCain be turning into the authorities or something?

WOLFFE: Well, I don't think he did want to share a stage with him last time around. He made that very obvious.

Look, no one really believes that McCain thinks Obama is a terrorist or an Ahmadinejad type of person. This is clearly a tactic born out of the position they are in to raise a huge question marks about Obama's status, his frame of mind, and his allegiance. If they'll really believe that, them the question would be on point. But his distaste for Obama is very clear and his challenge tonight is not to show that.

OLBERMANN: The desperation before we talk again about the debate tonight, the McCain campaign called time-outs when the hurricanes hit, cancelled one night of the Republican National Convention out of respect for victims or those in danger, but today, Governor Palin did not have the respect to not attack Senator Biden while Senator Biden was attending his own mother-in-law's funeral. Is that really even a truer measure of just how desperate this campaign has become?

WOLFFE: You know, they've tried so many suspensions and they haven't really worked. I think it would have been a classy move. It certainly would have been respectful. And, by all accounts and appearances, there was actually a genuine amount of respect between Palin and Biden at the last debate.

So, it would have been good but they need to set up this debate for tonight because all the expectations are that John McCain will not come out and be as negative. So, Sarah Palin had to do the work for him.

OLBERMANN: So, what happens? What does he talk about if he's not going to come out and talk about terrorism-he's lost every other issue and shutdown his own discussion of the economy?

WOLFFE: Well, number one, I think, he has to repair the damage of the first debate. He has to probably embrace Senator Obama. He has to show his human side. He has to look at the camera and look at the other candidate on stage. And then he can move on.

But, you know, the idea that you can go out and be this kind of aggressive on-stage tonight in front of the town hall, as they have been on the campaign trail, is really not going the fly tonight.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and "Newsweek," at the debate for us tonight. As always, sir, great thanks.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The Rovean tactic of old was, of course, an attempt to scare voters into believing: "Vote Democratic and you will die, die because terrorists would then kill you because the Democrats would let the guard down." The new McCain/Palin tactic seems to be the next version of this:

"Vote Democratic and the Democrat himself might kill you."

For more on where the barometer has now been set by the McCain campaign, let's turn to our own Jonathan Alter, also, a senior editor at "Newsweek" magazine.

Jon, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Why aren't the Republicans scared to death about the crowd reaction to the sleaze here? Is there no fear that either on the safety level or the political level, they are playing with fire if they're getting this kind of response from crowds?

ALTER: Well, first of all I'm not sure that, you know, all Republicans strategists quite get this yet because the story is really kind of ripening today. But they are willing to win ugly. More likely, they're going to lose ugly.

But they're going to do what they believe it takes to win this election and all of the old standards about playing with fire, about turning people, you know, into human punching bags, unleashing the furies of the dark side of American politics, perhaps, risking some people's lives, if things get out of control. All of that is out the window in the service of winning an election.

And the ironic thing is, it doesn't even help them. It's not smart politics, which makes it all the more terrible. You know, if this was somehow-if you're Republican and you thought, hey, this is going to help win the election, but a smart Republican like a Mike Murphy type knows that this doesn't help them win the election.

OLBERMANN: This is now Huey Long territory they've gotten into, which is to say a lot, I think. But if there had been some sense of backing off, presumably, it would have come off after the Secret Service began investigating the "kill him" comment which kind of moved it out of the political realm and into the serious problem realm, and that didn't happen.

Governor Palin amped up the rhetoric if anything today, is she somehow encouraged by that reaction? And what is here next step? I mean, does she start just, you know, cut out the middleman and call Obama a terrorist, start using his middle name herself?

ALTER: I don't think she's going to do the former. But she could conceivably do the later. She is inhabiting the traditional role of the vice-presidential candidate which is that of attack dog.

This is an old idea. You know, Richard Nixon, when he was running for vice president, basically, strongly implied that Adlai Stevenson was a communist. You saw, you know, Dan Quayle in 1992, raising the issue of whether it was suspicious that Bill Clinton had taken a trip to the Soviet Union when he was a student.

So, some of this is standard fare from vice-presidential candidates. But this year, in particular, I think you put your finger on it. They're playing with fire because, you know, there are Americans who forced by hard economic times, very unsettled at the idea of the first African-American president. There are people who are out of control.

So we're into short of uncharted territory here in terms of what could conceivably be unleashed if they don't return to some sense of decency. And a decency, by the way, Keith, that John McCain repeatedly said he wanted for his campaign. He said, on many occasions, that he did not want to go there. And, yet, this is where we are.

OLBERMANN: No, at my worst estimations of this man, I always thought he was about 50 times better than the last couple of days have suggested.

But last point, and it's minor one relatively. But the "New York Times" story on William Ayers that she keeps quoting and beyond the fact that she keeps deliberately misrepresenting it, how do you get without making somebody in the audience go, wait a minute, how do you get to bash the media while reporting on its reporting, relying on that reporting in the very same stump speech?

ALTER: Well, I mean, this year has all been hypocrisy with a capital "H." So, just add that to the list. But, who's going to notice? The "New York Times"? You know -"Newsweek"? I think that's one of those things that, you know, she'll be able to get away with.

But the larger point is that going down the Bill Ayers route is not

the way to win. And this is what, you know, they're eventually going to

realize. Every time they're not talking about the economy, the American

people are going, "Are they out to lunch? Are they clueless? Why are they

re-fighting the Vietnam War?"


ALTER: People do not want to re-fight the Vietnam War. We did that in 2004. We're in a different place now, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Yes. Well, ultimately it will get her a nice show on FOX News. So, what's the difference to her?

Jonathan Alter of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, at Nashville for us tonight.

Thank you, Jon.

ALTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The U.S. Council for World Freedom, a private group that more than 20 years ago tried to help overthrow the elected government of Nicaragua, linked to the Iran-Contra scandal, to right-wing death squads, to former Nazi collaborators, to funding the rebels in Afghanistan who sort of became the Taliban and linked to John McCain? What was the then congressman's name doing on its letterhead and what was he doing in its organization? Kind of a problem the night of a presidential debate.


OLBERMANN: Yesterday, it was Sarah Palin's association with secessionist and a domestic terrorist-turned preacher in Kenya. Today, it's John McCain's haunting connection to a man named John Singlaub, an organization tied to Latin American right-wing death squads of the 80s and even the founding of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And does McCain tonight go back to that bear's DNA study, as his example of wasted taxpayer money when it turns out, in Worst Persons, that he voted for it?

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: If Barack Obama does raise the Keating Five tonight, the McCain campaign will certainly paint Obama as going negative.

Our fourth story this evening: Obama's restraint in not mentioning that when it comes to anti-Semitic association, ties to Iran, and yes, terrorist, McCain-Palin have Obama beat hand's down.

On Sunday, Democratic strategists, Paul Begala reminded us that McCain sat on the board of the U.S. Council for World Freedom, the local neighborhood chapter of the world anti-communist league. McCain joining in 1982 after the anti-defamation league called it, "a gathering place for racists and anti-Semites" with links to Nazi collaborators and right-wing death squads.

As for Palin, she declined to walk out of her church on August 17th this year when David Brickner of Jews for Jesus said, "Terrorism in Israel was God's judgment for rejecting Jesus." Palin's pastor, Larry Kroon defends Brickner.

What about the Alaska Independence Party? We may have mentioned this to you last night. Todd Palin belonged to it. Sarah told them in March, "Keep up the good work."

The founder, Joe Vogler, openly urged violent secession. In 1993, according to Salon.com, Vogler planned to denounce American tyranny in a speech at the U.N. Well, how would he get a speaking slot at the U.N.? He got a different nation to sponsor him-Iran. Iran also hit deep in the scandal that brought down-yes, John McCain's Council for World Freedom, funded by a right-wing moony, Moon himself, chaired by the former general and CIA operative, John Singlaub, illegally supplying Contras with weapons bought from Iran.

John McCain publicly claimed he left that group because of its activities but the "Associated Press" reports his resignation letter referred only to his lack of time to be involved in those activities. He reportedly attended a 1985 event and the group still used his name on its letterhead until at least, 1985. "Huffington Post" reports it was 1986.

If Iran ties and secession do not qualify as terrorist associations, there is this. In October of 1986, the "New York Times" spoke to a council official that said that the group had provided millions in supplies to communist fighter, literally including boots for the rebels in Afghanistan. Those rebels now known better as the mujahedeen, who would later become the Taliban and al Qaeda, its veterans of the Soviet conflict including Osama bin Laden, who McCain once promised to chase to the gates of hell.

And if bin Laden is quaking in his boots at that thought, who knows, maybe those are "Air McCain's."

Joining us tonight, my colleague, Rachel Maddow.

Good evening, Rachel.


OLBERMANN: Is there a substantive difference in the types of associations we're talking about here?

MADDOW: Well, substantive in terms of politics, there's one very important difference. The Obama association with Bill Ayers, tenuous as it may be, has been the subject of multiple distorting, direct, political attacks by his political opponents by the Republican ticket.

So far the associations of Sarah Palin with the Alaska Independence Party and John McCain with these groups associated with Iran-Contra and other strange anti-communist activities including buying boots for bin Laden, possibly-those things have been raised by observers and by outsiders and thus far, Obama and Biden are not going there.

And that may be the biggest and most important piece of this story, that these sorts of associations with seen as relevant, fair game, central to the political attack on Obama from the Republican side. The Democrats have not treated this kind of stuff in the same way.

OLBERMANN: What do those associations say? Whether or not the Democrats want to use them, what do they say about McCain and Palin?

MADDOW: Well, there's a charitable way and uncharitable way to look at it.

The charitable way to look at it is to say-well, these guys as white politicians, as Republicans, as conservatives know that their associations will never be used against them because they know who their political opponents are, they know how the game is played, they know that the playing field is not level in this regard. So, they're not careful about who they associate themselves with. That's the charitable way to look at it.

The uncharitable way to look at it is that these guys have not cared in their political careers about associating themselves with extremists and radical groups because they have extremist and radical inclinations.

OLBERMANN: Rachel, one other element to this that I don't think has been touched upon sufficiently, maybe it's too obvious and maybe I'm missing the coverage of it-but anything that connects William Ayers to Barack Obama was not contemporaneous with whatever it is William Ayers did or did not do.

MADDOW: Right.

OLBERMANN: His activities are over here in one part of history and his association with Obama is in a later part of history. There's no disputing that no matter which way you want to get hysterical about what you read in your copy of the "New York Times" or perhaps on a misprinted Starbucks cup somewhere, that elitist Starbucks-drinking governor of Alaska.

But, the McCain involvement in this world council and the Palin involvement with the AIP, the Alaska Independence Party or the AKIP, these are while those operations are in full flower. There's no distance. It's not like he's a retired, you know, subversive over here. These are people who are actively involved when McCain and Palin were associated with them.

MADDOW: Sure. And you could say, at least (ph), and the Anti-Defamation League had already denounced.


MADDOW: . the group that McCain was on the board of as anti-Semitic when he joined. The group was formed, apparently, as an offshoot of the World Anti-Communist League by the time McCain was along (ph) them, who put his name on their letterhead and serving on their board. The chair of the World Anti-Communist League had already been kicked out of that group as a Nazi sympathizer.


MADDOW: I mean, all of that stuff had happened before McCain joined there. Also, I mean-so he should have known that history, you could say. You could draw a parallel there and say, well, Obama should have known Bill Ayers' history and kept clear of him as well.

The difference though, the important difference is that Bill Ayers and Barack Obama were on a board together that dealt with intercity education issues. John McCain was joining this group that was an offshoot of the World Anti-Communist League to support anti-communist insurgencies around the world. He was not joining them for some unrelated purpose that didn't connect to what was scandalous and frankly, malodorous about these groups.

OLBERMANN: And we're not even talking about the quality of the shoes.


OLBERMANN: The "Future Taliban association of Afghanistan," the FTAA, I think, or FTOA, they would have been.

Rachel, we will see you again after the debate on the 11:00 p.m. post-debate Countdown special. Thank you much. See you then.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The Obama strategy tonight, by all measures and all polls he is ahead. How do you play a town hall-style debate while you are ahead?

And we know how this guy plays from behind. Bringing in an anti-Semite lunatic and pretending he's an expert on Obama. Worst Persons is next.

This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Chris Matthews on McCain and attacking Obama. If he's doing it on the stump, does he have to do it tonight at the debate? Howard Fineman on the latest from both camps, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on how Obama should play tonight from ahead. We are 30 minutes and 35 seconds or so until the debate from the Curb Center, named for, donated by the guy who led the Mike Curb Congregation, which sang "The Candy Man" with Sammy Davis, Jr., babe.

Our Countdown to the debate continues, but first time for tonight's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Sean Hannity of fixed news, who for what he called the documentary on Senator Obama turned to a well known lunatic and anti-semite, who is convinced that Obama is a Manchurian candidate whose role model is Hugo Chavez. This only merits third place because Hannity so far overshot the mark on this one that it might well be argued that in one night he jumped the shark. The show was so Stalinist, the center piece of it such a transparent nut job that Hannity was even criticized by a hard right pro Fox propagandist on a TV website. It was so desperate and panicky, even by Hannity's own standards, that it may render him ineligible for future citations in these awards. We usually don't give worst person's awards to Yosemite Sam, McGilla (ph) Gorilla or other cartoon characters like Sean Hannity.

Our runners up, the top executives at AIG, produced at a Congressional hearing this morning hotel bills from a resort in Monarch Beach, California for corporate retreat costing 440,000 dollars. It was by executives from the AIG Insurance Company less than one week after we bailed them out to the tune of 85 billion dollars; 23,000 dollars of that went to spa treatments. Well, just because they drove their company into the ground, that's no reason for their executive's skin to be denied the gift of healing that is the anti-aging dermal booster Hollywood glow treatment, at three bucks a minute.

But our winner, Senator John McCain. Catherine MsCowsky (ph), at Salon, coming up with this all-time low, low. At the last debate-and who knows, there's every chance he'll bring it up again at tonight's-Senator McCain rolled right into one of his favorite, most familiar laments: "We spent three million dollars to study the DNA of bears in Montana. I don't know if that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue, but the fact is, it was three million dollars of our tax payers money and it has to be brought under control."

Turns out it was five million and it was called the Northern Divide Grisly Bear Project and Senator McCain voted for it. There are only two explanations for how a US senator can take a science project he voted and then mock it as his primary example of out of control spending by U.S. senators like himself, he's either lying about it or he doesn't remember doing it. John-I was for studying bear DNA before I was against it-what was the question again-McCain, today's worst person in the world!


OLBERMANN: He's got a nine percent lead in the national Gallup tracking poll and currently stands to win a whopping 345 electoral college votes, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. Three weeks ago, the gambling website Intrade was seen betting at a point spread of McCain 52, Obama 47. Tonight, it's Obama 70, McCain 30, a lead so compelling that his opponents have had to resort to associating him with terrorists just to try to stop the momentum. In our third story in the Countdown, how does Senator Barack Obama, as a clear front-runner tonight, handle a town hall style debate?

His chief strategist, David Axelrod seeking, perhaps, to play down expectations of the performance, saying only, quote, we'll see. But the campaign leaving Obama the option of responding to the McCain/Palin attempt to sell his associations William Ayers and Reverend Wright as legitimate political issues by reminding voters of McCain own shady dealings that directly impacted the economy, no less, as a member of the Keating Five.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs telling Politico.com that, quote, if people want to get down in the mud, we're prepared to get dirty if that's what it takes.

Joining us now, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, a supporter, of course, of Senator Obama. Congresswoman, thanks for your time tonight.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Thanks for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Depending on which Senator McCain shows up, the one who proposed to run the respectful campaign or the one we've seen this week, whichever one shows up, what does Senator Obama need to do to prevail in the debate tonight?

SCHULTZ: Well, it's clear that John McCain's entire campaign is divided, depressed, demoralized and desperate. So they are trying to turn the page on the economy, trying to focus on the politics of distraction. And what Senator Obama needs to do and what he will do tonight is he'll focus on the issues that matter the most to Americans. He'll focus on the fact that we have-in Florida, for example, we have the second highest number of foreclosures and people facing foreclosure. He'll focus on the fact that we need to make sure we have an economic policy that re-regulates the Wall Street corporations that have taken advantage of the average person.

We need to make sure that we invest in alternative energy, and bring our troops home from this misguided war in Iraq. Make sure that we expand access to the 47 million people who don't have health insurance. Those are the bread and butter issues that the American people want to hear from their presidential candidates. Not this nasty, political distraction talk that just isn't about what Americans are facing every day.

OLBERMANN: Is this, in fact, that point more about what Senator Obama needs to not do tonight, to not go in that direction to respond to any kind of attack, implied or explicit, from McCain, to not get off message?

SCHULTZ: Well, I think he needs to stay focused on those issues that matter the most to Americans, like I just said. But he also can't look like he's a patsy. We can't have him sit idly by and just allow himself to be attacked and not respond, because, lord knows, there's plenty to respond to when it comes to Senator McCain. I mean, we're going to focus on the issues. We're going to talk about the things that matter the most to Americans.

The fact that, for me, as a mom that drives a mini-van that costs about 75 dollars to fill up the gas tank. In Publix this weekend, the supermarket that I go to in Florida, it was almost six dollars for a gallon of milk. That's real money for folks, Keith. That's what Obama has to focus on. But he also has to make sure he doesn't let himself get run over and I know he's prepared to contrast his record with Senator McCain.

OLBERMANN: Well, to that point and to the point of not being patsied

I want to ask you about Senator Obama's response to being attacked last time. The last time they brought out Jeremiah Wright against him, I was about to conclude in my own mind that Obama was too slow to respond and then suddenly out comes the Philadelphia speech about race. He elevated the discourse. He made the proverbial silk percent out of the sow's ear. Is there-per chance, do you see something on the horizon that would provide him with a similar opportunity to do something like that with these latest attacks?

SCHULTZ: Honestly, I think we're 28 days out from the election and I think he needs-it's so incredibly important that he focuses on the issue that matters the most to Americans. Right now people have so much angst. They want to have their confidence in their government restored. It is so badly shaken and they want to believe in their president and that they have a president in the White House who is going to be there for them and is going to be their voice.

Wealthy people have had their voice in the White House for the last eight years. And I think Senator Obama needs to show people that, finally, they're going to have someone in the White House who's on their side and that's what I think he has to focus on in the next 28 days.

OLBERMANN: By the way, one last question, the McCain plan to cut a trillion plus dollars out of Medicare over ten years. Shouldn't you Democrats be going door-to-door in Florida with that bit of news? You might get 100 percent of the vote if everybody knows about that before election day in.

SCHULTZ: Trust me, we're getting the word out. We have 3.2 million Floridians that are covered by Medicare, second only to California. On top of John McCain's plan to privatize Social Security, cutting Medicare by 1.3 trillion dollars is absolutely outrageous. It would yank the safety net out from my senior citizens in Florida. And we're just not going to allow that to happen.

OLBERMANN: It is mind boggling. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, supporter of the Obama campaign, many thanks for some of your time tonight.

SCHULTZ: Thank you, Keith. Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN: The senator is at the debate. We're told you saw Al Gore a moment ago. Howard Fineman has the latest pre-debate angst and assurance from inside both camps. Chris Matthews on the essence of the conundrum;

John McCain needs several game changers. Can he attack Obama face to face tonight, or does he continue to do it only from afar or through surrogates? Our Countdown to the debate continues here on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Our number two story on the Countdown, the proverbial campaign listening post, wherein players on both sides can tell you their real fears and real excitement without worrying about you figuring out who they are. For that, Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for "Newsweek Magazine." Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: What are the two camps expecting about the prospect of McCain invoking whichever bogey man is the bogey man of the day? No chance or could it happen?

FINEMAN: I talked to top people in both campaigns and I don't think either of them expects John McCain on his own to bring up the bogey man of the day or week, namely Bill Ayers, the Weatherman from Chicago, turn education professor. And interestingly, I'm not sure that the McCain campaign really hopes that Ayers comes up at all, either from Tom Brokaw or from one of the questions from the town hall audience or on the Internet. I think they understand that the economy subsumes everything here. It surrounds and takes over everything, with this stock market plummeting, with the deficit increasing, with world markets in shambles.

They know that if McCain is going to turn this around, and this is his last clear chance to do so, he has to do it by making some kind of economic argument. They will leave the attacks on Ayers to others outside of this venue tonight, I think. But McCain may bring it up on his own, and if he does I'm not sure the McCain people will be all that happy.

OLBERMANN: Either way, he's doing it on the stump and so, especially, obviously, is Governor Palin. Is there a fear in that campaign that when you get so incendiary that in 24 hours three of your speeches are interrupted by people in the crowd calling traitor, terrorist and somebody calling for Bill Ayers or Obama to be killed, that the campaign may have touched a third rail, that there's no going back from this?

FINEMAN: Well, I think they are touching it and I'm not sure that they care. I think that this campaign operates on three levels. And I think that's, to some extent, true of the Obama campaign, less so, but still somewhat true. The first level is the one you're going to see tonight. This is the relatively decorous one. This is the my opponent has a casual relationship with the truth level. That's what's going to happen tonight in the debate, for the most part, unless it gets out of hand.

Then, as you say, you have the stump speeches, especially Sarah Palin's and the advertising, in which especially the McCain campaign, but to some extent the Obama campaign, are hurling accusations. He's a liar. You know, he is allied with terrorists, et cetera.

And then there's the third level, and it's the deep level, and it's the dark level of the American psyche that I think will be touched and is being touched here. And Sarah Palin is perfectly willing to touch it. And the accusatory tone of her campaign speeches and the crowd that is she's getting are going to get there and they're going to encourage whatever else is going to happen on the Internet and independent expenditures and all kinds of nasty stuff in the last month of the campaign.

That's at the outer edges and the deepest levels and I think you're going to see and hear a lot in this last month that's not going to be very pleasant. And does the McCain campaign feel badly about that? I'm not sure. I talked to Nicole Wallace, who's out there on the campaign trail. She says it's getting pretty rough out there. But it was sort of a statement of fact, rather than an expression of regret.

OLBERMANN: Well, if you're juggling chain saws, you better be sure you don't drop one of them and certainly not on anybody. Last question, back to this, tamp it down a bit, the format title is town hall. That's a little generous. This is moderator questions, plus a few pre-screened audience questions. The odds are a lot more stacked against something unexpected happening than we might want to tell the audience, right?

FINEMAN: Well, I think that's true. And interestingly, in talking to the top campaign aides, they expected, at least a few weeks ago, that this was going to be a fairly wide open, free wheeling thing, beginning with Internet questions, lots of town hall questions, the moderator, Tom Brokaw, acting merely as a traffic cop. I don't think they expect that anymore. I think they expect Brokaw to play an active role. I think they expect the questions from the town hall people and from the Internet to be few and to be followed up on extensively by the moderator.

OLBERMANN: Even though there's a deal that says no follow-up

questions. Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, we'll see how it turns

out and talk to you right after the debate. Thank you, sir/

FINEMAN: OK, thank you.

OLBERMANN: Chris Matthews on that corner McCain may have painted himself into to, attack Obama tonight and he might like irresponsible, even unstable. Don't attack Obama tonight, and he might look like a hypocrite. Our Countdown to the debate continues.


OLBERMANN: The cliche game changer was what Senator McCain needed 11 days ago for the first presidential debate. Our number one story on the Countdown, the second face off now just minutes away and still he needs one, maybe two. Can he try to force one tonight? Is he gambling any dwindling chance of election on threading a very narrow needle, and with the town hall not the most hospitable format to attack your opponent? A reminder too that yesterday's NBC News/"Wall Street Poll" showed that voters thought, overall, Obama and Biden did better jobs than McCain and Palin did in the debates thus far by 50 percent to 29 percent.

Let's turn to my colleague, the host of "Hardball," Chris Matthews, who is in Nashville tonight.

Chris, good evening.


OLBERMANN: There's a disconnect here. John McCain and his surrogates are willing to say Barack Obama associated with terrorists. But so far, John McCain hadn't been able to look Barack Obama in the eye during one of the debates. That might inspire, in some places, the use of the word cowardice. I'll be gentle. We'll call it a disconnect. Which way does McCain resolve this tonight?

MATTHEWS: Well, they've been very clever in putting out the points on the board there that the voters can connect. They put out the first point of Bill Ayers, which they described as a domestic terrorist intent on blowing up the Capitol, to tie him into the 9/11 killers. Then they-I think they had a hand in getting out the name Hussein, his middle name. I thought last week they were going to do it; it happened. I don't think these things are an accident. They wanted to create that environment where people would connect domestic terrorist aimed at the Capitol with a name like Hussein, which people identify with the enemy.

And then, of course, they have begun an investigation now of contributors to the Barack campaign. They're going after foreign contributors. Obviously Arabs they are looking for. That's all part of the plan, not the make Obama pay the price for being African-American. They don't think that will work. What they're trying to do is make him seem a subjects of mystery, sort of a-perhaps, someone in a sleeper cell.

What they're trying to do is make him look a dangerous foreigner.

They're making him, perhaps, part of the enemy camp. It's very dangerous. They are doing it point by point, but it's systematic and it's been going on. The problem, of course, is the country realizes we are facing a more imminent danger right now of economic collapse and they wonder whether this is anything but a political distraction.

OLBERMANN: Should McCain fear this subject being addressed tonight or this subject not being addressed tonight? There was a piece today online about how his own campaign is worried about grumpy McCain. And it quotes a friend of his as saying, "he is basically having to be somebody that he isn't. He is just not a guy that goes on the attack in public. For him to be on the attack constantly, attacking Obama's character, McCain is uncomfortable with that and it's made him grumpy."

The obvious question is how do you go into a debate conflicted on how hard or even if you should attack your opponent on a personal level?

MATTHEWS: Well, suppose one of the people in the audience-they're expected to be non-partisan-says, I don't like the way you're doing this, going after this man for a past casual association. Why are you doing that? Now, he might get mad at that person. Tom Brokaw may follow-up in a way he finds too aggressive. I'm not sure what's going to happen tonight. It's a very unusual situation of the environment of a 5,000 point decline in the Dow, a eight trillion dollar loss of wealth in a year, surrounding that room tonight. And, also, of course, the question of John McCain's temperament.

Remember, Barack Obama said, I'd be glad to have a debate about this man's temperament. I think that will come to a head tonight. But you've been raising a very powerful question. If you look at the history of violence in this country, at the presidential level, at the leadership level, it's always been a kind of atmospheric thing. And I believe, looking back over history-and I've been studying this all my life-that the atmospherics of this high charisma, high antipathy, hatred level of politics, which is to some extent by ginned up by the enemies now of Barack Obama, that creates an almost temperature in the country, if you will, a political temperature which brings out the nuts on right and left.

I think the temperature against Kennedy was so intense on the right that it brought out a man of the left, Lee Harvey Oswald. It's not so much ideology. It's the temperature level. If you create an antipathy towards a public figure, calling him a terrorist, talking about killing, that kind of thing, it brings out the nuts from all corners. It becomes totally uncontrollable. And that's the problem we have and that's why this is a security thing to think about. And you wonder whether the candidates are giving it any thought at all. That's the question I think you've raised well the last hour.

OLBERMANN: I think you have too. We can only pray that's the case in all respects and with all viewers, mine, yours, the guy on Fox's, people that listen to talk radio. There is one rule here we have to abide by, and, unfortunately, the Republican party has not lived up to that rule. But before I get off with an ad hoc special comment, a quick question about the format. Hoard Fineman suggests that the rule says no follow-up questions. We may get follow-up questions. Do we not desperately need follow-up questions after the last two debates? Were there not enough of them in the last two debates?

MATTHEWS: You and I make our living doing follow up questions, so we have a prejudice towards that. And I'm not afraid to ask the third time, so it becomes obvious to the person watching this person is not answering the question. I know that if you have a real town meeting, in a real town meeting, you're going to meet people in the audience who have strong passions, and who care deeply about the question that they've come up with. It's their question. It's not some casual list of questions a reporter comes up with. It's their personal question. If you toss off that question with some sort of a bromide as an answer, you're going to be in trouble. I don't know what the rules are. I say let the people at these candidates.

OLBERMANN: Amen, Chris Matthews in Nashville, Tennessee. Thanks, Chris, always a pleasure, sir.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: I'll be back after the debate with a special post debate edition of Countdown. That will be at 11:00 Eastern and 8:00 Pacific. Chris will back with "Hardball" live at Midnight Eastern for all your post-debate needs. In the interim, that is Countdown for this the 1,987th day since the declaration of mission in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, for now, good night and good luck.