Friday, December 4, 2009

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, December 4th, 2009
video podcast

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Arianna Huffington, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Howard Dean, Harry Shearer


DAVID SHUSTER, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Move over, Orly Taitz, the fringe movement to prove Barack Obama is not an American citizen has a new voice.


RUSTY HUMPHRIES, RADIO ANCHOR: Would you make the birth certificate issue an issue if you ran?

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I think the public, rightfully, is still making it an issue. I think it's a fair question, just like I think past associations and past voting record - all of that is fair game.


SHUSTER: And she thinks the McCain campaign failed voters by not exploiting the birther conspiracy theory.

The health care debate in the Senate continues, but Ben Nelson is holding his anti-abortion amendments so Republicans and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops can take a look at it, the Republican stunt proposing an amendment that would force all Congress members to enroll in a public option backfires in their face. Three Democrats have signed on to co-sponsor the amendment, including our guest, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Rush Limbaugh boldly goes where no logical person could, debating health care with William Shatner on a ridiculous couch.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If you have money, you're going to get a house in the beach. If you don't have money, you're going to live in a bungalow somewhere. That's.

WILLIAM SHATNER, ACTOR: Right. But we're talking about health care.

LIMBAUGH: What's the difference?


SHUSTER: The president talking job creation today in Pennsylvania, demonstrating the beauty of town halls without screened questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was wondering if - maybe if you'd checked out some of the statistics about legalizing prostitution, gambling, drugs and nonviolent crime in order to stimulate some of the economy?


SHUSTER: And a bad week for Tiger Woods gets worse. New reports of hush money paid to his nightclub paramour and Harry Shearer on the privacy tradeoff that Tiger Woods can't seem to figure out. At least there's no new animation.


SHUSTER: All the news and commentary - now on Countdown.


SHUSTER: Good evening from Washington. I'm David Shuster, in for Keith Olbermann.

She was for Alaska's "bridge to nowhere" before she was against it. She had to pay for her own vetting to be the Republican vice presidential nominee, except, of course, she didn't. And she opposed aerial wolf hunting unless you count the fact that she introduced the bill making it easier to gun down defenseless wolves from airplanes in the Last Frontier State.

Our fifth story on the Countdown: The lies of Sarah Palin are too numerous to cover in a single hour - her latest falsehood, however, is so outrageous, it needs to be added to the list. She implied that President Obama might not be a natural born citizen of the United States, then denied the very same day that she'd ever done so. Put another way, she can see Kenya from her house.

Governor Palin has joined the ranks of the birthers, telling a right-wing radio host that the conspiracy theorists are correct to question the citizenship of the president. She even seemed to suggest that the McCain campaign should have raised it as an issue during the 2008 campaign.


HUMPHRIES: Would you make the birth certificate an issue if you ran?

PALIN: I think the public, rightfully, is still making it an issue. I don't have a problem with that. I don't know if I would have to bother to make it an issue, because I think enough members of the electorate still want answers.

HUMPHRIES: Do you - do you think it's a fair question to be looking at?

PALIN: I think it's a fair question, just like I think past associations and past voting records - all of that is fair game. You know, I got to tell you, too, I think our campaign, the McCain-Palin, didn't do a good enough job in that area. We didn't - we didn't call out Obama and some of his associates on their records and what their beliefs were, and perhaps what their future plans were.


SHUSTER: By nightfall on her Facebook page, where else, Governor Palin tried to put the toothpaste back into the tube - first, by claiming that the issue was fair game solely because people have questioned whether her son, Trig, is her own child. Then by denying that she'd even said it.

Quote: "Stupid Conspiracies. Voters have every right to ask candidates for information if they so choose. I've pointed out that it was seemingly fair game during the 2008 election for many on the left to badger my doctor and lawyer for proof that Trig is, in fact, my child. Conspiracy-minded reporters and voters had a right to ask, which they have repeatedly. But at no point - not during the campaign and not during recent interviews - have I asked the president to produce his birth certificate or suggested that he was not born in the United States."

Joining us now is MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe. He's senior strategist at Public Strategies and author of "Renegade: The Making of a President."

Richard, good evening.


Governor Palin says that because her son is fair game, questioning President Obama's citizenship is fair game, even though it was never the Obama campaign that targeted her kid, even though she complains at every turn about the people she calls Trig-truthers.

Is she trying to have it both ways?

WOLFFE: Can we count the number of ways she's trying to have it here?

I think there is a nice insight here into the thinking of Sarah Palin here. First of all, this concept of fair game. The idea that it is a game or there's some - kind of an immature way to look at politics and campaign interchanges. It's not actually equivalent to raise questions about citizenship compared to voting records.

So, it's not the questions being asked that makes it similar. There's no equivalence just because one set of stories involves a birth certificate and so does another. It's either willfully deceptive or incredibly simplistic.

Or there's a third option, which is that she was being "Dobbsian" about it. Like Lou Dobbs, she just tailors whatever she says to whatever interview she's facing. In this case, Rusty Humphries' recorded C.D. called "Bomb Iraq." So, I guess, you know, she was fitting in with that line of thinking.

SHUSTER: But as part of the larger pattern that she just does not think?

WOLFFE: The - yes. Well, look, there is something going in there, and I think it's incredibly simplistic. And look, the clean-up job is in many ways more revealing than the interview itself - this notion that anything goes. It's just either a case that I didn't say what you heard me saying or I'm going to imagine something different.

That's exactly what the people who worked with her in the campaign have been saying about her. There is an alternative world that she experiences that is either nothing she lives or other people lives at the time or is just recreated out of whole cloth later on.

SHUSTER: And speaking of clean-up, by trying to deny she'd ever said it in that Facebook post titled "Stupid Conspiracies," Governor Palin prompted a lot of angry reaction on her Facebook page from reporters outraged that she had tried to backtrack.

Could this end up hurting her with them?

WOLFFE: Live by the mob, die by the mob. It's very hard to try and control those populist tendencies.

In the end, Sarah Palin, if she does have political ambition, knows that she cannot take the birthing questions very far. That's why so much of this is couched in this sort of polite terms of a question. Do you think it's fair game to raise these things?

She obviously knows that if she's going to be seriously considered on a national stage, she has to dial that back. But you cannot please the populist crowd by trying to dial things back. And that's exactly where Lou Dobbs has run himself into problems as well.

SHUSTER: We've all seen President Obama's birth certificate by now. The announcement so many years ago that was issued in the Hollywood newspapers that went along with that and the Obama campaign, of course, released this, this birth certificate.

But have we ever seen Sarah Palin's birth certificate? I mean, if you want to follow her logic, couldn't she be a citizen of Russia for all we know?

WOLFFE: You know, that's a - that's a very interesting point of view. I hadn't considered the similarities between Putin and Palin, now that you mention it. When she said that she was keeping an eye on Russia, she may have just been keeping an eye on herself.

SHUSTER: And then, finally, Richard, how much damage does this do to those who still see Sarah Palin as their savior in 2012?

WOLFFE: The more she gets out and has to face these kinds of problems of her own making, the more she's going to be exposed to the kinds of questions about: can she be a credible candidate, should she - is she going to represent the party in the way it wants to be represented. And I think there's a reason why the handlers in the McCain campaign were so terrified about putting her out there unvarnished.

This is her moment. Let's see what she's made of. I suspect that at this rate she's not going to make 2010, never mind 2012.

SHUSTER: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC, author of "Renegade" - Richard, I agree with you - and also with Public Strategies. Thanks as always, Richard. We appreciate it.

WOLFFE: Thank you, David.

SHUSTER: Governor Palin, the birthers - and lest we forget the tea partiers comprising the new, even more conservative right wing of the Republican Party, and the Democratic chairman believes that could be a very good thing for the party, his party, not the GOP. During a speech at the Annual American Democracy Conference this week, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, now the head of the DNC, shared his thesis that the GOP will be torn apart and rendered powerless by its conservative wing.

Governor Kaine singled out the tea party movement as the poison that will kill the Republicans, including the party's chances in next year's midterm elections.


GOV. TIM KAINE, DNC CHAIRMAN: There is one factor that I think is really important going into 2010 and that was the factor of the GOP fighting, the tea party devouring the GOP. The year started with the chairman of the RNC threatening to primary Republicans who voted for the Recovery Act. And Senator Arlen Specter said, "Guess what, I'm not going to wait. I'll just go ahead and become a Democrat right now."

The year ended in New York congressional district 23 with the Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, pretty well-known member of the New York general assembly in a state that hadn't gone - in a district that hadn't gone Democratic since 1872, the Republicans put $1 million into her campaign but then ended up abandoning her in favor of a candidate whose candidacy had basically been inflated by talk show radio hosts. After they abandoned Dede Scozzafava, she endorsed the Democratic candidate and Bill Owens, our congressman from that district won that seat for the first time in over 130 years.

But the divide that we're seeing on the Republican side that was exemplified by Specter joining our team, that was exemplified by the Republican right-wing chasing Dede Scozzafava out of the race and us winning it, is something that we expect to see going forward.


SHUSTER: Let's turn now to Arianna Huffington, cofounder and editor-in-chief of the

And, Arianna, good evening.


SHUSTER: Arianna, Governor Kaine says that the tea party movement is devouring the GOP. How might we see that in 2010? Will right wing fringe candidates win Republican primary races and then fail to deliver in the general election?

HUFFINGTON: Well, there's no question, David, that there's something very destructive happening, when you have not just the lunatic fringe going on about death panels and birth certificates, et cetera - but when you have incumbents who are going to be running in 2010 being so scared by their primary tea-bagging opponents that they change their rhetoric. I mean, even today, we had John McCain on the "Don Imus Show" saying that I'm madder than I've ever been and basically equating himself with the tea-baggers, in terms of that incredible rage that is fueling that movement. So, that is the greatest danger, the impact it's having on incumbents.

And we've seen that in the Senate. We've seen Senator Coburn talking about seniors dying sooner than they would have died without the health care bill. We've seen it with Chuck Grassley. We've seen it with Senator DeMint, who said he wished he had told the president, "You lied." So, that's the greatest danger.

SHUSTER: Governor Kaine mentioned that at the federal level in 2009, the Democrats won five of five special elections in the House and gained as you said, two senators with Specter and Al Franken.

Are the Republicans, though or are any of the Republicans scared about this? Or are all of them regretting that they weren't the Joe Wilson, as you said?

HUFFINGTON: Well, David, unfortunately, what Governor Kaine said is only half the story. The other half is the bad news for the Democrats, which is losing Virginia, losing New Jersey, losing the enthusiasm quotient which is so important in elections because there's more enthusiasm and passion right now on the Republican side than on the Democratic.

And just as important is what's happening with independents. First of all, the rise of independents, and secondly, the fact that independents are now favoring Republicans over Democrats.

So, there are many problems for both parties. And what is happening more and more is a kind of disillusionment with the whole political system, the sense that the fix is in, and if you're an ordinary American, these are not good times.

SHUSTER: Well, you mentioned the lack of Democratic enthusiasm. If that continues, will the right-wing essentially - the right-wing fringe devouring the GOP, will that even matter?

HUFFINGTON: Well, that's what we don't know. I mean, things don't look good at the moment for Democrats in 2010. After all, they are in control of Congress and the White House. So - and if unemployment continues to rise - we have some good news today, but still real unemployment is so incredibly high. Foreclosures are going up.

The misery index, basically, is going to affect how people feel about the incumbents more than anything else.

SHUSTER: And then back to the right-wing fringe - are the tea partiers and the birthers, are they here to stay?

HUFFINGTON: Well, David, you know, there are always fringe elements throughout history. There's nothing new about that. What is new is the fact that so many, both in the sort of conventional mainstream media of the right and in the mainstream Democratic - Republican leadership are espousing what the feelings of the tea baggers are. That is the danger both, really, for the Republican Party and for the country.

And the fact that they are having - so many of their rational conservative intellectuals are departing, like Andrew Sullivan. And David Frum, he's definitely positioning himself as far away from Rush Limbaugh as he can.

These are all dangerous signs. But as I said, they are dangerous signs for both parties.

SHUSTER: Arianna Huffington of the "Huffington Post" - Arianna, thanks for being with us tonight.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you, David.

SHUSTER: You're welcome.

For a short time today, there was tri-partisan agreement on health care reform, until Senator Lieberman opened his mouth and exposed yet again that he doesn't know what he's talking about. That and the Democrats expose Republican hypocrisy over the public option.

Our guest: Senator Sherrod Brown and former Governor Howard Dean.

And later, another day, another bad headline for Tiger Woods.

All ahead on Countdown.


SHUSTER: Coming up, a Democrat, a Republican and an independent hold a news conference to announce agreement on health care. Then, once they get past the cute tri-partisan jokes and actually start talking, it all falls apart.

That and President Obama gets asked if legalizing prostitution might save the economy.

And Tiger Woods gets some bad news from Harry Shearer. The actor says Tiger doesn't deserve privacy. Harry joins us later on Countdown.


SHUSTER: And the bitter fight over health care reform today, even the displays of bipartisanship demonstrated just how far apart the parties are.

Our fourth story tonight: They put on a good show, anyway.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown - who will join us in a moment - along with two other Democrats actually threw their support behind a Republican amendment offered to the Democratic health care reform bill. The rub, and, of course, there is a rub, was that Republicans offer the amendment which would force members of Congress to join the public option as a way to embarrass or corner Democrats.

Brown has tried for weeks to see their bet and raise it, calling Republican sponsor Tom Coburn's office nine times to call his bluff and add himself as a co-sponsor. Coburn's office did not respond, but today, Brown and others got it done on the Senate floor.

Behind closed doors, Democrat Tom Carper continues to work with nearly a dozen Democrats and at least one former Democrat on hammering out a public option or variation thereof palatable to conservative Democrats.

On both sides of the Democratic spectrum, however, Majority Leader Harry Reid faces resistance. Brown said today he is done compromising on the public option. And independent senator, Joe Lieberman, said he cannot envision a version of the public option that would win his vote.

At a news conference with still Republican Susan Collins and ex-Republican Arlen Specter, everything started off cozy.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I'm delighted to join in this tri-partisan effort - we debated who first would get to use that term - to improve the health care bill that we're now debating on the Senate floor.


SHUSTER: And Specter played the good vibes for all they were worth.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: This may - bill may be so good

· look so good to Senator Lieberman that he may be willing to make some accommodations.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Very artfully done.

SPECTER: That's not a.

COLLINS: Not a prediction.

SPECTER: That's not a laugh line.


SHUSTER: The good feelings lasted until precisely the first question:

the public option.


LIEBERMANN: A public option insurance company won't help a single poor person get insurance. It won't force a single insurance company to give insurance to people who are sick. And it won't even contain costs. I think it was originally put in there as a kind of accommodation to people who really want a single-payer government-controlled insurance company.

COLLINS: Senator Lieberman said it very well.


SHUSTER: And so, less than half an hour after the lovin' began, it all ended in tears.


SPECTER: When Senator Lieberman talks about single-payer, I think he's putting his finger on the pulse of it. That's what people are confusing the public option with, that it isn't a single-payer. I would invite everyone to read the fine print, and with Susan and Joe to reread the fine print.

LIEBERMAN: To be continued.


SHUSTER: As promised, now, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, proud co-sponsor of the Coburn amendment requiring members of Congress to join the public option.

Good evening, Senator.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: David, how are you?


Have I got the story and the motives right on your dance with Senator Coburn? Can you fill it in for me?

BROWN: Yes. I - you often find out about amendments going on on the Senate floor. And if my staff or I, like one of the amendments, we'll call an office and just say - Republican or Democrat - I'd like to co-sponsor. We do that as a matter of course. It happens across party lines all the time, hundreds of times a day.

We did that with Senator Coburn. Nine times we said we wanted to co-sponsor. Usually it takes once and they say yes. I've always accepted that. So, has everybody I know in the Senate. Nine times we asked to co-sponsor and their office either just said, "We'll get back to you" or ignored our calls and our e-mails because it was all a sham.

I mean, they don't - they clearly don't like the public option. They were making fun of it. Their whole game is to delay and deceive and to play political games.

And when they offer an amendment saying, sign up for the public option

· force - tell members of Congress they have to join the public option, I think I should. I think we all should. But they don't even like it themselves.

And so, it's just - it's just a little partisan games they're playing. And this is too serious for them to play those kinds of games.

SHUSTER: What is in this public option alternative we expect to see next week?

BROWN: Yes. Well, I don't see a public option alternative. We've compromised four times already on this. And we've compromised enough. It's time - it's time for the four Democrats - Senator Lieberman, Senator Lincoln, Senator Landrieu and Senator Nelson, it's time for them to compromise and come over with the other 56 Democrats who strongly support the public option.

I mean, it's - we've got to get moving on this bill. We've got to stick together.

In the end, I don't think any of these four want to be the one to bring this bill down on a - on a procedural vote. They don't want to be on the wrong side of history ultimately. And that says to me that when it really comes time, they're not going to vote against this most important bill in their whole political careers on a procedural vote.

SHUSTER: Well, let's be clear, then. Would you join Republicans to block an up-or-down vote on this bill if, in fact, it waters down the public option any further?

BROWN: I don't - I don't draw lines in the sand publicly. I - I'm going to continue to work to get this public option in. I predicted as early as July when Senator Whitehouse and I wrote this public option language in the HELP bill back in - literally, in July. I predicted then it would stay in the bill, it would get to the president's desk. I still think it will and I think it will be a good, strong public option that keeps prices down, that makes the insurance companies honest. And that's the whole point of it.

SHUSTER: Imagine you're Harry Reid. How do you get either, A, you get four conservative votes from the Democratic caucus, or, B, pass the bill with fewer than 60 senators supporting it?

BROWN: Well, you get those you get those four - those 60 votes, all four of them, all 60 of us, by continuing to talk, continuing to be in these meetings as all of - many of us are that care so passionately about this. And then, ultimately, you bring people together and say, we need this, you're leaders in the party.

Four of these people we're talking about, three of them are committee chairs. All of them are on one of the two most prestigious committees in the Senate. They're getting all kinds of push from home to vote for this.

The public wants the public option overwhelmingly. Democratic activists want the public option.

It clearly, according to all polls, it clearly works for the country. It works for most people. It will keep prices down and it will mean - it will keep the insurance companies honest, as I said.

And we just know the insurance companies always try to gain the system unless we have ways of enforcing the new consumer protection rules. No more preexisting condition, no more making women pay more than men for their health insurance premiums. Those days are behind us. We need the public option to make sure those rules are enforced.

SHUSTER: "Congressional Quarterly" reported today that Senator Ben Nelson said he needs time before he introduces an amendment blocking even more coverage for women who have abortions because groups including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops need more time to review the legislation.

Amendment itself aside, what are your thoughts on outsourcing legislation to religious leaders?

BROWN: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear the question, the last part of it.


SHUSTER: The question is about Ben Nelson, he said he needs time before he introduces an amendment to consult with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. What's your view of outsourcing legislation?

BROWN: Well, I think - I think - yes, I'm fine with Senator Nelson bringing his amendment in with the Stupak language. Let's bring it for an up-or-down vote on any of these issues. The Republicans are blocking a lot of votes this week. Earlier, they wouldn't, literally, under Senate rules, they could stop us from doing it.

Let's vote on the Stupak-Nelson language on abortion. We'll defeat it. Let's vote on taking the public option out.

Give everybody a chance to bring these forward. Vote on them. Then vote for cloture, don't kill a procedural vote. We'll pass a bill that's progressive and good, with the strong public option if we get a chance to do that.

You know, I'm confident Senator Nelson and Senator Lieberman and Senators Landrieu and Lincoln will let us do that in the end.

SHUSTER: Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio - Senator, thanks for coming on tonight.

BROWN: Thank you, David. Thanks.

SHUSTER: Up next: Former Governor Howard Dean joins us with his take on the state of health care negotiations.

And later, the state of Tiger Woods not so great after this week. And now, a new story surfaces about alleged hush money to one of his ladies.

Ahead on Countdown.


SHUSTER: Abortion and the public option, as we just mentioned, are only two flash points in the battle over health care. But in our third story tonight, as we will soon discuss with former Governor Howard Dean, the question remains whether there is any political road to passage, and how the bill might change on that road, both on the floor and behind closed doors, and what that means for Americans who need this bill.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid has won the battle with obstructionist Republicans and will move ahead through the weekend with more amendment and votes, tweaking the edges of the bill, or challenging its fundamentals, while closed-door negotiations continue, in an effort to make the overall legislation acceptable to 60 senators, Democrat, independent or Republican.

Time now, as promised, to bring in former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, also former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and now a political analyst for our sister network, CNBC, and consultant to both McKenna, Long and Aldridge and Democracy for American. and I should probably mention you are a doctor, but the rest of the intro used up too much time.

Good evening, governor.

HOWARD DEAN, FMR. GOVERNOR: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

SHUSTER: Of course. First, Senator Brown's position on the public option, your thoughts.

DEAN: He's exactly right. Sherrod has been one of the real champions of getting real health insurance. Look, what Tom Carper is doing is silly. A trigger and all this business and opt-out or opt-in and all that, this is silly. Harry Reid has got a decent bill on the floor. It's decent. It's not great, but it's decent. It needs to pass.

If they can't pass it without real insurance reform - and there isn't any in the bill right now to speak of - then they just should go home and use reconciliation, which is what they should have done in the first place. To let four senators hold up the works, in addition to the Republicans who we know aren't interested in health insurance, is a silly way to run the business.

SHUSTER: You mentioned Senator Carper and his proposal being silly. Are you referring to the actual content of the policy or the politics or both?

DEAN: No, look, Tom is a serious guy. He's a good guy. I served with him when we were governors together. But his proposal isn't health insurance reform. Triggers are not health insurance reform. They're devices put in for the health insurance industry.

You know, today it came out Aetna is going to drop 600,000 people from their insurance so they can make more money. Why is it that these senators can't get it in their heads that putting money in the health insurance system that we have now doesn't work. That's not health care reform. Knock it off!

Listen to Sherrod Brown. Listen to the 56 senators who want to do the right thing in the Democratic party. Stop grandstanding and get this done.

SHUSTER: Senator Ben Nelson says he will filibuster health care reform unless the law is written to the approval of Catholic bishops. Where do you begin with that?

DEAN: Well, first of all, I don't think he's going to filibuster health care reform. I think nobody wants to see that. Even the republicans can get in trouble for doing that. I don't think a religious group ought to get a veto power over any legislation in this country, no matter who the religious group is, whether you agree with them or not.

SHUSTER: In terms of the final product, do the amendments right now matter very much, or is the real meat what Carper and Reid and others come up with behind closed doors?

DEAN: Look, I'm not sure any of it matters right now. They've got to get a public option, a real public option that works. The House bill is pretty good. That's what really ought to pass. There are lots of different ways to do it. There's a lot of serious discussions going on behind closed doors. I think an awful lot of people like me are getting awfully impatient.

I think this is going to hurt a lot of people's re-elections, too. The Democratic base has been incredibly demoralized by all of this. It's not going to hurt President Obama. People like him. He's going to get reelected. It's going to kill us in 2010 if we don't get this thing done. The 2009 gubernatorial elections were about taxes, jobs and about getting health insurance off the plate, passing it, and then start to work on some of these things like jobs. And if we don't do that, we're going to get ourselves in big trouble as a party.

We have got to get our act together here. You can't allow four Democratic senators to hold up the works, particularly when they get their chairmanships because they caucus with the Democratic party. It's not fair. And I don't think it's right.

SHUSTER: Governor Dean, as far as what you think is going to happen, are you optimistic that the four will eventually be on board, or are you pessimistic?

DEAN: I'm optimistic. I think we may have to go through reconciliation to get it done. Harry is a very determined guy. He put himself through college boxing. He's a terrific guy. He's tough as nails. I think he's going to get the job done.

SHUSTER: Governor Howard Dean - governor, thanks so much for coming on tonight. We appreciate it.

DEAN: Thank you.

SHUSTER: Captain Kirk sets his phaser on stun and aims it directly at rush Limbaugh. We'll show you one of the weirdest interviews ever.

And the Tiger Woods saga today. New allegations of hush money. Actor Harry Shearer joins us to explain why Tiger expects too much when he asks for privacy.


SHUSTER: Not that long ago, the actor William Shatner was closely he associated with this - "space, the final frontier; these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

But now that Mr. Shatner has explored just about every possible angle in his rather bold career, the question remained, what strange new thing was possibly left for Mr. Shatner to explore? The answer, Rush Limbaugh! The improbable floormat? Shatner's chat show on the Biography Channel.

The interview was conducted back in August. But the content is timeless.

And please note the S-shaped love seat and the fireplace. Here's a clip.


WILLIAM SHATNER, ACTOR: Here's my premise, and you agree with it or not, that if you have money, you're going to get health care. If you don't have money, it's more difficult.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If you have money, you're going to get a house on the beach. If you don't have money, you're going to live in a bungalow somewhere. That's -

SHATNER: Right, but we're talking about health care.

LIMBAUGH: What's the difference?

SHATNER: The difference is we're talking about health care, not a house and a bungalow.

LIMBAUGH: You're assuming there is some morally superior aspect to health care than there is to a house -

SHATNER: No, not moral at all. I want to keep the subject for the moment on the health care thing.

LIMBAUGH: All right.

SHATNER: So now it's the health care.

LIMBAUGH: I'm talking about health care.

SHATNER: So talk about health care. So isn't the premise - isn't this valid, that the health care system today is breaking the country?


SHATNER: It's not?

LIMBAUGH: I don't believe it is. And if it is -

SHATNER: But we're told that it is.

LIMBAUGH: Of course. We're told that because that's the way to get us to act like sheep and go along with this -

SHATNER: How do you know that? The sum total of what I want to ask you politically is how do you know?

LIMBAUGH: It's my job. It's my life. It's my career. It's my passion. I've studied this stuff. I want the best country we can have. And this is not the way to get it. We're going backwards.


SHUSTER: That was William Shatner's raw nerve, if, like us, you've never heard of it. It's not owned by Comcast, so go to the Google and do your own research if you want to watch more.

That wasn't today's only bizarre questioning we found. The highlights from President Obama's town hall, which included talk of the legalization of drugs and prostitution. And hitchhiking.

Later, Tiger's roaming eye. He's pleading for privacy, but does he deserve it after penning multi-gazillion dollar deals to cash in on his image? Harry Shearer joins us ahead on Countdown.


SHUSTER: It probably isn't often that a president wants to be asked a question about prostitution, but given the right context and the right setting, it just might provide some comic relief. In our number two story on the Countdown, President Obama, at the end of another grueling week, held a town hall in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Allentown, Pennsylvania was ready to fly its freak flag.

The president was there today to talk about jobs and the economy, one day after hosting his jobs summit. President Obama was able to report some modest good news, that the unemployment rate for November actually went down. But while the president was as earnest as ever, the crowd may have been a bit more giddy than he expected. Thus, the first question from a college student with the crowds and Obama's reaction.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Obama, I really appreciate how you're trying to stimulate the economy to help this country out. And I was just wondering, in Eltracks (ph) Union College, we've been studying some criminology. And I was wondering if maybe you checked out some of the statistics about legalizing prostitution, gambling, drugs and non-violent crime in order to stimulate some of the economy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I have to say this, I appreciate the boldness of your question. That will not be my job strategy. But - but - but let me say this, what year are you in in school?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my second year in college.

OBAMA: Your second year.


OBAMA: First of all, part of what you're supposed to do in college is question conventional wisdom.


SHUSTER: More than once, someone who took the microphone to ask a question was actually acting as a proxy for someone else, a situation which could, if unchecked, cause all kinds of complications.


SUSAN KENNEDY, MANUFACTURERS RESEARCH CENTER: I'm Susan Kennedy with the Manufacturers Resource Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We're one of the MSNDP (ph) centers across the countries and I've been working with Joelle (ph) from your office.

OBAMA: Great.

KENNEDY: I have nine manufacturers here with me.

OBAMA: You're referring particularly to credit and getting loans -

KENNEDY: Credit.

OBAMA: Is that the main priority that you're concerned about.

KENNEDY: Credit - I have nine people here. Anything else you want to add?

OBAMA: So she just kind of - yeah, this is like where they send the attractive person to hitchhike, right, then the car stops and suddenly all the other guys come out of the woodwork.


SHUSTER: Finally, if you have a problem with government bureaucracy, who better to ask about that than your president?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm currently a student here. I'm also from the army -

OBAMA: For the army, where -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Also discharged from the Army, sir.

OBAMA: Appreciate your service.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. Three years. My question, sir, deals with the Veterans Administration. For example, this week I've called them several times asking questions about the GI Bill. I'm eligible for the post-9/11 GI Bill, but I haven't gotten any benefits from them yet. When I call them, they're often busy, and we get a message saying that we have to call back later on. Sir, could you call them up and ask them and get more people to work with them, so -

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I will - we will get your name. You went straight to the top here, so I suspect - I suspect somebody will be calling you on your cell phone in about two seconds.


SHUSTER: Coming up, Tiger Woods has faced tough questions all week long and didn't even come close to handling them as well as President Obama did. Harry Shearer joins us to explain to Tiger that once he decided to cash in on his celebrity by selling his name, Tiger kind of threw his right to privacy out the window.


SHUSTER: Maybe he wanted to drive off some of that turkey dinner. Or perhaps he was just really eager to get to a Black Friday door busters sale. Or maybe he watched a replay of his putting at this year's PGA Championship. Whatever the reason, the sordid TMI frenzy that ensued after Tiger Woods' mysterious car accident is not going away. Our number one story, time now to reflect on the week in Woods. Harry Shearer will join us.

First, the latest details. The Florida Highway Patrol is releasing audio of an interview with Tiger's neighbors, who were on the scene after the accident. Jarious Adams (ph) says Tiger was lying on his lawn, shoeless and snoring, while wife Elin stood at his side.

Meanwhile, neighbor Kimberly Harris alleges that two more women were present that fateful night, Tiger's mother and mother-in-law. Apparently Woods likes his Thanksgiving leftovers with a side of awkward.

As for the other women, TMZ reporting that Tiger's longtime friend and employee bought a plane ticket for Rachel Uchitel to accompany Tiger at the Australian Masters, sprung for the hotel in Melbourne and then flew her to Dubai. Now there are conflicting reports over whether Uchitel received hush money from Woods. Uchitel abruptly canceled her press conference with attorney Gloria Allred due to unforeseen circumstances.

TMZ reports no money was exchanged, but Allred's daughter and legal analyst Lisa Bloom says calling the news conference off can only mean one thing, a confidential deal was struck which Bloom estimates to be at least a million dollars.

As for Jaimee Grubbs, the cocktail waitress, slash reality TV star, you know, the one that provided the world with an entertaining voicemail from Tiger himself. "New York Daily News" reports that Grubbs is currently shopping around her story to television networks, which gives us an excuse to play the voicemail again.


TIGER WOODS, PGA GOLFER: Hey, it's Tiger. I need you to do me a huge favor. Can you please take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and may be calling you. So if you can, please take your name off that. What do you call it? Just have at as a number on your voicemail. Just have it as your telephone number. That's it. You've got to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. all right, bye.


SHUSTER: Joining us now is actor and political satirist Harry Shearer. His latest comedy special, "Unwigged And Unplugged, an Evening With Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer" is now available on DVD. Thanks for some of your time tonight, Harry.

HARRY SHEARER, COMEDIAN: My pleasure, David. And huge.

SHUSTER: Tiger admitted to transgressions earlier in the week, then asked for privacy. But isn't it too late for that?

SHEARER: Well, I think if he wanted really to get the privacy, a more credible story might have been a good first step. Golf-hating Moo- bots kidnapped him, put him in a force field, and the only hole in the force field was at the rear, which is why he had to escape through the car's rear window. I would have bought that. I would have left him alone after that. It's still available for the next time.

SHUSTER: Why does the public seem to have an insatiable appetite when it comes to this story? Is it Tiger, the TMI text messages, all of the above?

SHEARER: I think a good deal of it is Tiger. When you start your career with a Nike commercial in which children of the world are made - for good and sufficient reason to say, I am Tiger Woods, you've ascended to a different level than just an exceptional golfer. You've created this marketing persona.

And you are in every airport. You're in every magazine. You're ubiquitous. And part of the deal is now we're curious about you. We feel as though you're our friend. What happened to you? Really? Hmm. That doesn't sound like you. That doesn't sound like the you we've come to know. I mean, it's partly that very carefully created persona, that fictional Tiger Woods somehow clangs wrongly against the reality of the real Tiger Woods. And, you know, we're eager to know more about that. Or, like him, we're snoring.

SHUSTER: How do you make this story go away, if you're Tiger Woods?

Do you go on Oprah? Do you hold a news conference?

SHEARER: I think you pay Sarah Palin about 100,000 dollars to say 18 stupid things next week.

SHUSTER: You may not have to pay that much.

SHEARER: Not that she needs it.

SHUSTER: How badly did Tiger screw things up? Will he ever be able to go back to being the Tiger Woods he was before this came out?

SHEARER: If I were him, I'd do what he recommends, I'd call the people at Accenture and ask for some of that expensive counseling and advice. Maybe they can show him the way back.

SHUSTER: You posted a few satirical ads on the "Huffington Post."

Are you hoping Tiger learns a thing or two from these?

SHEARER: I'm hoping he can be more like Mike.

SHUSTER: Oh, god. How much longer do you want the story to continue?

Endlessly or at a certain point, do you start to feel sympathy for Tiger?

Even you, Harry Shearer.

SHEARER: Even me. I have to say, this has been an almost perfect week. On the one hand, you have Tiger saying, show's over, nothing to see. And, on the other hand, you have the Salahis saying, look at us. Hey, we're here. I don't think you get one of these magical weeks every time. So I think we have to bottle this one.

SHUSTER: What about the idea, some people suggest the best way he can handle this, go out and play golf again. You're great at that. People will forget about all this other stuff.

SHEARER: I think that's probably true, although the Accenture people are probably re-evaluating their advertising for next year. Obviously, what he has that can't be taken away from him is his professional skill. And he should kind of underline that, and soft pedal the soft focus persona, because right now that's been discounted heavily.

SHUSTER: I hope that Accenture is not considering pulling their ads on MSNBC. We're just of course kidding. Harry Shearer, actor, comedian, contributor to the "Huffington Post." Harry, thanks for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

That will do it for this Friday edition of Countdown. I'm David Shuster, in for Keith Olbermann. Have a great weekend, everybody.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW." Good evening, Rachel.