Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Tuesday, January 11th, 2011
video podcast

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Howard Fineman, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, Jonathan Alter, Nina Roosevelt Gibson, Lindsay Luke



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

Gabrielle Giffords is breathing on her own. Her neurosurgeon is even slowly backing off her sedation. And he is delighted.


DR. MICHAEL LEMOLE, NEUROSURGEON: A penetrating injury through the skull, really, the survival, let alone recovery, is abysmal. And she has no right to look this good and she does.


OLBERMANN: And now, the gun debate. Two congressmen, Heath Shuler and Jason Chaffetz, want to go O.K. Corral on everybody and pack heat themselves.

A Republican, Peter King, proposes a ban on carrying within 1,000 feet of any elected federal official.


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I always believe if we can take a horrible tragedy and attempt to get something good out of it, then all is not lost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have more mad men. We have more guns.


OLBERMANN: And ammo. What - asks the congresswoman whose family was shattered by a gun-wielding mass murder 17 years ago - what about the bullets? The clips carrying 33 each?


REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY (D), NEW YORK: I'm asking my sportsmen, and certainly gun owners, to really think about this.


OLBERMANN: Our guest: Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy.

Sarah Palin called out again, by a Republican, Tim Pawlenty, for the political bull's eyes.


TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: It's not a device I would have chosen to do. But, you know,, everybody's got their own style or different approaches. And - but again, I don't want to have anyone infer that there's evidence in this case that it caused or was a contributing factor.


OLBERMANN: And why is the ever self-promoting Ms. Palin so quiet?

And as Arizona mourns, hard hearts are not softened. The denial of insurance for transplants could now threaten the life of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's great-granddaughter. She and her mother join us.

Will the governor put the $1 million back into Arizona's version of Medicaid to save 98 lives?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any plans to restore funding for ACCCHS?


OLBERMANN: That says it all.

All the news and commentary - now on Countdown.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Time is of the essence. They don't have time.




OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York. This is Tuesday, January 11th.

The first truly cheering words to come out of Arizona since Saturday morning, "She has no right to look this good," says Gabby Giffords' neurosurgeon, "but she does."

But in our fifth story: they have been supplanted tonight by breaking news about too far more grim words apparently about the congresswoman certainly by the man charged with shooting her. Pima County sheriff's chief, Rick Castigar, told the "Associated Press" this evening that a fourth note had been found in Jared Loughner's home, besides the ones that read, "I planned ahead," "My assassination," and just "Giffords." The fourth one, the chief says, simply read, quote, "Die bitch," unquote.

County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik also revealed that on the morning of the attack, Loughner's father saw him take a black bag out of a car trunk. When the elder Loughner tried to confront his son, Loughner mumbled something and began to run. Dupnik says the elder Loughner got into his truck and chased his son into the desert. He obviously did not stop him.

Within hours, investigators also now say Loughner emptied 31 shells - that's how many were recovered from the scene of Saturday's shooting. Loughner expended the 31-round magazine plus one in the gun's chamber, and investigators say at least 20 bullets struck people present at the scene - of course, killing six and wounding 14 more.

Back to the good news. Concurrent with the tentative steps towards hopefulness about the congresswoman's recovery, not merely survival, one of her Republican colleagues proposes gun control legislation aimed specifically to protect elected officials. And one of their Democratic colleagues joins me to propose something stronger still, perhaps.

Congresswoman Giffords is still in critical condition, but her neurosurgeon, the Dr. Michael Lemole, described the new and clearly positive developments.


LEMOLE: We've been able to back of on some of that sedation. And in fact, she's able to generate her own breaths. She's breathing on her own. In fact, the only reason we keep that breathing tube in is to protect her airway, so that she doesn't have complications like pneumonia.

She's going to take her recovery at her own pace. And I'm very encouraged by fact that she has done so well. This kind of injury - I think we've said it a couple of times - a penetrating injury through the skull, really, the survival, let alone recovery, is abysmal. She has no right to look this good and she does. We're hopeful.


OLBERMANN: There is, thus far, no report today of any increase of swelling in the congresswoman's brain - a great concern as you know. Three other victims remain in serious condition and two more are in fair condition.

My first guest: Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, will soon introduce legislation, along with Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, that would ban again, as they used to be banned, a kind of extended handgun magazine clips that Loughner used.

And from Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, the newly installed chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, a proposal that would create a responsible zone of safety at public events involving the president, vice president, cabinet members, lawmakers, and federal judges. The law would make it illegal to bring a gun within 1,000 feet of those government officials.


KING: Right now, you have situation, such as Tucson, where a person is allowed to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, and authorities have no power to even pat that person down or question them or whatever. So, to me, it's absolutely essential - not just to protect the individuals involved, not that members of Congress are a special class. The fact is they do represent the people who elect them.

And it's essential, if we're going to be able to continue to have contact and to have conversation between the public and the elected officials, that the public who's at these meetings can be assured of their own safety. And I always believe if we can take a horrible tragedy and attempt to get something good out of it, then all is not lost.


OLBERMANN: Part of the effect of Congressman King's legislation would be to offset in those special circumstances some of the most permissive gun laws in the country, laws like the one passed under Governor Brewer of Arizona, which expanded the conditions in which citizens might carry a concealed weapon in public without a permit. An Arizona state senator wants to further expand the concealed weapons law to the faculty of college campuses.

Governor Brewer today laid flowers at the makeshift memorial. And there are the national lawmakers who in both substance and tone have suggested a flawed response to introduce still more guns into these unpredictable public events.

Two congressmen, Democrat Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Jason Chaffetz, the Republican of Utah, saying that they plan to carry their own guns in their respective districts as protection against attack. That brought a swift response from the chief law enforcement official of the Senate, the sergeant at arms, who's also former chief of Capitol police, Terrance Gainer.


SGT. TERRANCE GAINER, SERGEANT AT ARMS, SENATE: I don't think it's a good idea. I think we ought to leave the law enforcement and security to those professionals. But I do there are things we can do to help minimize the risk in those districts. I've been a policeman for 42 years and I don't think introducing more guns to the situation is helpful. I think there's other ways to address the homicide problem in the United States and in these districts.


OLBERMANN: Tomorrow, members of Congress and their staffs will attend briefings from Capitol police on greater security measures, including those for constituent events. This amid further indications that not everyone has reacted to this event with the same kind of concern. "Bloomberg News" reporting a spike in sales of the type of gun Loughner used. The owner of one Arizona gun shop saying that people get worried that the government is going to, quote, "ban stuff."

And if that is not disturbing enough, there is this piece of firearm hardware to consider. To read from the Web site, "Palmetto State Armory would like to honor our esteem congressman, Joe Wilson with the release of our new "You lie" AR-15 lower receiver," with the "You lie" engraved into the side of the device. The product is at least 11 months old.

Joining me now as promised, Congressman Carolyn McCarthy of New York's 4th district.

Great thanks for your time tonight.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Keith. Thank you for having me. And it's great to hear the news on how Gabby is doing and certainly the other victims.

OLBERMANN: Yes. When they say she's a fighter, this is where it comes to be of such great value.

MCCARTHY: She is a fighter.

OLBERMANN: Your dedication to sensible gun control predated the Tucson shooting by 17 years. We defer to you on this issue. What is it you're proposing at this point?

MCCARTHY: What I'm doing, and which I've been doing since we were able to get the language into the assault weapons bill, to reduce and not be able to sell the large capacity clips, people will still be able to buy their gun and have a clip, but no more than 10 bullets plus one that's in the chamber.

I can't believe that the pushback that I'm getting right now. This is common sense. It has nothing to do with your gun. It fits into the Constitution and the Supreme Court ruling.

So, it's something that I'm going to be fighting for. It's not something I just dreamed up -


MCCARTHY: - because of this shooting. But, again, I believe it can save lives. I think if it had been kept in the assault weapons ban, we wouldn't have had the kind of killings that we just saw over the weekend.

OLBERMANN: Since it is a limitation on a device that is essentially useful only if you're attending to kill a bunch of people at the same time, this is not like for an attack where a hunter is about to be set upon by 40 deer. Where on earth is the pushback coming from?

MCCARTHY: Well, I talked to someone that, you know, likes to do target shooting, and they like the large capacity clips. And I said, you know, can't we talk about this in some way, because, you know, when they put seat belts into policy and law, look at how many lives that we were able to save. And everybody pushed back on that. Motorcycle - people that ride motorcycles, the helmets that they put on.

All I'm doing is trying to make it a little bit safer for this country, so those particular clips are going to be not out there. So that if somebody does go into a large crowd, they can't take down 30, 33 people in matters of seconds, to be very honest with you.

OLBERMANN: What is your view of your neighboring congressman's, Mr. King's bill? And do you think you can find enough Republican support to advance your bill?

MCCARTHY: It's going to be tough, Keith. You know what it's like down here. You know, we have a pro-gun House, we have a pro-gun Senate. The NRA's already started pushing back. So, that's kind of almost like two strikes against me.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to not - going to give up and try and get this done and talk to an awful lot of colleagues. Tomorrow, I'll see more of my colleagues when we go to the memorial service. And I'll certainly be talking to them and asking them to consider it.

This is a gun safety issue. The NRA is still pushing it as a gun issue. It's a slippery slope. You take the clips away, you're going to take the guns away.

The Supreme Court already came down on that ruling. That discussion should not even be on the table. What we should be doing is looking at common sense issues. How do we save lives? How do we save lives?

You know, when you look at this country, 10,000 people die a year from homicide. If you want to put it in suicide and if you want to put in accidental deaths, it goes up to 29,000 to 30,000. We're the only country in the world.

There is no reason why we can't do something to protect citizens, innocent citizens, that went to a political meeting to meet their congresswoman, or of people that were going food shopping.

OLBERMANN: And when it's gun homicides, our rate is 12 times that of England and Japan.

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York - always, our thanks for your efforts on this issue, and great thanks for your time tonight.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's turn to "The Washington Post" associate editor, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, MSNBC political analyst, Eugene Robinson, also author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America."

Gene, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Obviously, a version of this question and sadly obviously a version of this question is asked every tragedy like this one and is now being asked again. When the NRA is a soulless and amoral, a money-grubbing industry of titanic proportions and they're armed, what does it take to bring about sensible gun laws in this country?

ROBINSON: I don't know. I don't think any of us knows. I remember a few years ago, the awful tragedy at Virginia Tech. I drove down to Blacksburg and reported the story for several days. It was the saddest thing you've ever seen.

And so, of course, we talked about guns then. But nothing happened.

And so, now, after this tragedy, you know, we're talking again.

But no one expects us to get anywhere near sensible. It's like we're having a - this is like a dialogue out of UNESCO or CAFGAR (ph) or something that, you know, circular - goes nowhere and yet we have a murder rate that is - should be the shame of the developed world.

OLBERMANN: Much of what is being proposed is not even, strictly speaking, gun control. It's about creating safe zones.

For instance, in the Peter King proposal, which was a pleasant surprise to see brought forth. It's about limiting the ability of anyone to commit mass murder as opposed to just murder, in exchange for, you know, making things a little bit slower on the gun range.

Does the absurdity level in some way work towards helping the chances of some of these measures becoming law? Or is that trend that shows the support for gun control dropping from 70 percent 20 years ago to 40 percent now - is that irreversible?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, it should make a difference, Keith, that we're talking about obvious, common sense incremental measures. But, frankly, I'm not terribly optimistic that it will, as Congresswoman McCarthy said, there's always pushback on these baby steps that could be taken to mitigate some of the - some of the damage. And, you know, this entire city is so timid about gun control. It's as if the battle has already been lost.

OLBERMANN: And the peripheries, the tangentials here, returning to the specific, as you wrote in your column today, there is still an appalling failure of lawful background checks to identify someone like this Loughner as somebody who should never be issued a firearm in a million years. Or if somehow he has the gun, he shouldn't be able to buy ammunition at Wal-Mart when he's patently, you know, the condition he's in.

ROBINSON: That's absolutely right. He passed the federal background check, which tells you basically all you need to know about the federal background check.

Two issues - anyone who is formally identified as suffering from mental illness and being potentially dangerous or violent is by federal law not allowed to purchase a gun. However, that list - states don't submit names of those people to the centralized list. And as a result, people fall through the cracks.

Second issue, even if Arizona had sent in all the names, Loughner's name wouldn't have been on it, because he had not been formally identified. And there's this very interesting and kind of tragic issue about young adults, about - you know, he was an adult, but living with his parents. And they were not in a position - we don't know anything about the family circumstances - they were not in a position, however, to commit him involuntarily if they wanted to, or, indeed, to speak for him in any way.

And that's a group that really kind of falls between the cracks. Everyone who met this guy saw that he was deeply troubled. Yet even with the law in Arizona, that's pretty favorable, nobody did anything.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC political analyst, Eugene Robinson of "The Washington Post" - as always, Gene, great thanks.

ROBINSON: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: When Sarah Palin is called out by me, that's one thing.

When she's called out by Gabby Gifford' husband, that is quite another.

When she is called out by Tim Pawlenty, that resonates. Next.


OLBERMANN: Even now, a third of the country believes that heated political rhetoric contributed to the shootings in Tucson, yet she has said nothing about repudiating the kind of violent speech and rhetoric for which she is now being criticized by a challenger for the Republican presidential nomination.

He will speak tomorrow at the memorial service. What should, what can he say?

Twelve presidents ago, the Arizona transplant death panels to which Congresswoman Giffords was so opposed now threaten the life of his great-granddaughter.

But there is good news tonight about her funeral - emergency legislation to keep the protesters safely away.


OLBERMANN: Is Sarah Palin being unfairly blamed for violence by others? Well, then, she must have a sense of what it was like to be an American-Muslim when she demanded that New Yorkers refudiate the so-called Ground Zero mosque.

More importantly, her crosshairs map, or were they crop circles, has now been criticized by a potential rival for the Republican nomination. And it's quiet, isn't it? It's too quiet.

Our fourth story: when does the normally, supremely efficient, self-publicizing machine that is Sarah Palin come out from behind the proverbial skirts of her mouthpieces in the media and foreswear the rhetoric of violence? When, or is it if?

There is no evidence that Jared Lee Loughner, the accused shooter, has ever heard of Sarah Palin. "The Washington Post" reports he was a registered independent who voted in 2006 and 2008, but not 2010.

But criticism of Palin having put a map of crosshairs over the district of Congresswoman Giffords is not coming only from the left now - but now, in light of her handling of it, increasingly from the right as well. Palin has refused requests from comments from mainstream media, instead swapping e-mails with Glenn Beck, while her spokespersons said the crosshairs were actually surveyor's marks and never mind Palin's posting with the map, calling it her first salvo for her later tweet about her bull's eyes o the speeches with which Palin herself whipped up her followers.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: It's not a time to retreat.

It's a time to reload. Or my favorite, don't retreat, reload.


OLBERMANN: Since the shooting, Beck and others on the right have put forward the absolutely incoherent narrative that suggestions from the left that the right's rhetoric might have real world consequences, is out of line, because those remarks might have a real world consequence.

CNN contributor Erick Erickson telling "Politico" it, quote, "may very well incite violence against the right."

Tucson Tea Party cofounder Trent Humphreys saying, "that gun pos poster" - his description of Palin's map - "has not done a tenth of the damage to the political discourse as what we're hearing right now."

But, in fact, it is not just the left that is politicizing this. Conservative Palin supporter Elizabeth Hasselbeck decried that map when it was first posted, calling in vain on Palin to repudiate it.

Likely GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty reiterating the lack of connection between the shooting and Palin's crosshairs, but nevertheless now distancing himself from them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The map that Sarah Palin put up there with those

crosshairs, putting it aside, not connecting it to this incident, was that the right thing to do?

PAWLENTY: Well, it's not a device I would have chosen to do. But,

you know, everybody has got their own style or different approaches. And -

but, again, I don't want to have anyone infer that there's evidence in this case that it caused or was a contributing factor. We don't know that.


OLBERMANN: Palin's boss at FOX, former Reagan aide, Roger Ailes, telling her and the rest of her network to tone it down.

Former McCain adviser, John Weaver telling "Politico": "If Governor Palin doesn't want to be criticized, then she should continue her commentary, but dial down the anger."

The Republican strategist Todd Harris telling "The Washington Post," quote, "I think that Palin is missing an opportunity to show that she can be a leader at a higher level than she's been viewed before."

Former Bush spokesman, Ari Fleischer telling "The New York Times," quote, "What the nation wants more than anything else is for people to rise above the nonsense and the politics and to be gracious. That's nothing like letting people see your heart, your emotion - or there's nothing like letting people see your heart, your emotion. Facebook and Twitter don't convey emotion." Colon, left parenthesis.

And while some Democrats, Senator Joe Manchin are backing off past use of violent imagery, no sign of that on the right.

Republican Congressman Allen West defending use of the campaign phrase, "If ballots don't work, bullets will."

Virginia Tea Party leader Nigel Coleman tweeted yesterday about his postings of a Democrat's brother's home address last March, where someone soon after severed the gas line. Quote, "Cutting that gas line doesn't seem so bad now, does it? What? Too soon?" Yes.

Let's turn now to MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, senior political editor for "Huffington Post."

Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Why is it so difficult here for Sarah Palin to say what should be an easy thing, like, I regret my political imagery, that I had a potential to inspire violence, I didn't mean it to be that way and I'll try to avoid using it again in the future? I mean, even now, even in the most cynical sense, would that not be a political win for her?

FINEMAN: Well, I think it could be. But a few things - first of all, her site has taken down that map.


FINEMAN: So, at least implicitly, there's some acknowledgement that there's something a little bit - that needs changing right there. So they've taken that off the site. As you said, they put out the spokesperson to say that it was a surveyor's map and other nonsense, and she has all her allies out there doing it.

I think there's a couple of things, first of all, the language that Sarah Palin uses, the combative language, you know, the "reload" language, you know, the sort of hunting metaphors, the tough gal from the north metaphors - that's who Sarah Palin is. And in her mind, I think, based on talking to some people who know her, this is very much of her being and she doesn't need to apologize for anything.

More important, to do so, to pull off a speech or an explanation that would require nuance, that would be more than the tweet, that would be more than the one-way Facebook message, is something that she would probably need some - to take some time and some careful thought to lay out, and I'm not sure she's willing to take that risk.

She has so cocooned herself - and she's got a lot of talent - but she's so cocooned herself in this one-way cosseted world that I think she's afraid to come out there and explain at length what's right and what's wrong about politics in America today.

OLBERMANN: People, myself included, have said that the map and the gun talk was wrong. Nobody has said Loughner ever heard it, let alone was inspired by it, let alone could have comprehended it. So, why did Beck and Limbaugh and Palin and their cohorts - why did they get so defensive so quickly?

I mean, this blowback began with this ridiculous argument that bad things said about the left can't possibly have any consequences, but bad things said about the right could cost lives. This began the moment that Sheriff Dupnik was speaking on Saturday night when, you know, nearly the entirety of the country had no idea of the sheriff's political o orientation.

FINEMAN: Well, actually, I think it took them a while to get to the counteroffensive. I was monitoring Rush very closely. Well, first of all, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are out there because Sarah Palin isn't, as you pointed out.


FINEMAN: I mean, the silence is deafening from the great northwest.

So that's part of it.

The other part of it was, Rush was very ferocious and on the defensive yesterday, you know, listing talking point after talking point after talking point. Then they fastened on the sheriff because they thought he was somebody they could go after.

And then there are polls out there that show, as you pointed out, that two-thirds of the American people don't think there's any direct connection at all between Loughner and the Tea Party or Sarah Palin, which as you also said, is not something that people have been saying. So I think that Beck and Limbaugh were emboldened by that. They're trying to go on the offensive now. They think they can - they think they can win with their own constituents.

And also, they have - they must feel - it's required in their own minds that they feel that they have the moral high ground at all times. They can't see the moral high ground to anybody else or they're lost.

OLBERMANN: Is there something reflective here of 1964 when Nelson Rockefeller lost the Republican nomination by calling for moderation and Barry Goldwater famously declared extremism and defense of liberty is no vice? Is this, you know, extremism is selling to this group that wants it?

FINEMAN: Well, I don't know what label you want to use, but it was fascinating to watch Tim Pawlenty try to walk back his comments all day today. That should be an indication to you - he didn't completely abandon them - but that should be an indication to you that the pressure somebody like Pawlenty is under, even for the most mild of comments, and even at a time when Roger Ailes was telling everybody to tone it down.

If Barry Goldwater were alive now from Arizona -

OLBERMANN: He'd be a Democrat.

FINEMAN: I - he - criticize the new right in his day on cultural matters, I bet you he would be out there saying what Roger Ailes said, which is: tone it down.

OLBERMANN: Yes. See, Pawlenty did not put those comments in a wrap that goes around his new book, his new biography.

Howard Fineman of "The Huffington Post" and MSNBC - as always, thank you, Howard.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMAN: We know this much: the president speaks tomorrow at the memorial service in Tucson. The fine calibrations required to craft his speech with meaning and without opportunism.

And how to let the Westboro Baptist Church protesters speak at the funeral of the 9-year-old victim without letting them disturb the already tragic good-bye. There's a law about that now in Arizona. Details, next.


OLBERMANN: It is not good news. It is just less bad news from Arizona. But in the context of the tragedies in Tucson, it is cheering nonetheless. The Arizona House and Senate this afternoon passed emergency legislation that will, in essence, keep the infamous Westboro Baptist Church from protesting Thursday within 100 yards of the funeral of the nine-year-old victim of the shootings, Christina Taylor Green.

Governor Brewer has promised to sign SB-1101, authored by our friend, State Senator Kyrsten Sinema. It would prohibit protests at or near funeral sites - that's 300 feet - for an hour before or after, effective immediately.

If this rings uncomfortably for you on First Amendment grounds, let's protest on Friday.

Tomorrow's memorial service, what can the president say and what can he not, next.


OLBERMANN: President Obama goes to Tucson tomorrow to speak at the memorial service for the victims of Saturday's shooting. In our third story tonight, what the right wing echo chamber is telling the president he should not say, and why his ultimate choice of words may in part define his presidency.

Preemptive criticism of the president's speech has begun. John Miller from "National Review" saying he hopes Mr. Obama's comments tomorrow will not be like President Clinton's remarks after the Oklahoma City Bombing. In his address four days following the 1995 attack, Mr. Clinton was accused by the right of linking political conservatives to Timothy McVeigh.

Here are the words the president used when imploring Americans to, quote, "purge ourselves of the dark forces which gave rise to this evil."


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it.

In the face of death, let us honor life. As St. Paul admonished us, let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


OLBERMANN: In that speech, President Clinton mentioned no names, spoke only of combating hatred, asked the nation to come together as one. And yet some were convinced they were talking about them. Rush Limbaugh from the very next day.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Let me tell you who my audience is. My audience is the rescue teams trying to save lives in Oklahoma. My audience are the law enforcement officials who are trying to bring to justice these lunatics who blew up the building. My audience is made up of the people who have lost loved ones, who have had members of their families wounded and injured.

The people who make up my audience are mainstream Americans who are as repulsed by this as you or anyone else is.


OLBERMANN: Mainstream Americans did not buy it then nor now. President Clinton's handling of Oklahoma City was praised for understanding the national mood, which may be what worries conservatives about President Obama's speech tomorrow. Not that he will link their rhetoric to murder, but that he will define it as undesirable to a nation tired of the rancor.

We're joined now by Jonathan Alter, MSNBC political analyst and "Newsweek" national affairs columnist, whose book, "The Promise," is out in paperback today. Jon, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Is this just another example to, again invoke Limbaugh here, of the right wanting the president to fail. And knowing that if he performs in the manner that President Clinton did, he will not fail?

ALTER: Yeah. That's exactly it. You've got to look at some of the historical context here. In 1994, the Democrats got shellacked. They lost the Congress. And Rush Limbaugh and others on the right were riding high. We had a tone of bitterness and rancor that is reminiscent of what we have today.

And yet, by 1996, in the next election, Limbaugh was not a factor when Bill Clinton won re-election against Bob Dole, because there was a turning point at Oklahoma City that Clinton very effectively used to his political advantage, in the same way that, you know, George W. Bush used 9/11 to his political advantage.

If we're being honest about it, presidents and other politicians do use these events, in some fashion, after the mourning is over, for their own advantage.

OLBERMANN: In May, at the commencement address at the University of Michigan, President Obama said the problem is that this kind of vilification and over the top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation.

He's already addressed that. Is this a template for what we might hear tomorrow? Is he going to go to that direction? Or is this the soothing - a situation that calls for soothing and comforting, if you will?

ALTER: Well, I think right now he has to be the mourner in chief. So tomorrow you will not probably see him go there. But in the days ahead, and certainly in a State of the Union Address on January 25th, he will address these issues.

I think his immediate challenge is eloquence. I remember when Challenger blew up in 1986 and Ronald Reagan was mourning the losses there, and he quoted that poem "to slip the surly bounds of Earth and touch the face of God." And you know, chills ran down everybody's spine when he did that.

This president has over-learned Mario Cuomo's lesson that you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. You have to govern in poetry too. And we know he's capable of the poetry. And this is a moment when we need to see it.

OLBERMANN: Your template in this situation is really, if you want to be extreme about it, it's the Gettysburg Address. We're not talking about the same kind of thing, but, you know, aim to reach that kind of level of discourse. And, again, this idea - as you wrote, this could be one of the most important things in Obama's presidency. It's to see if he can capture the mood and answer it, in some way, correct?

ALTER: Right. And he's well positioned for this. Because remember, he was elected in part because he was a calming influence and connected to the American people on the level of wanting to get past some of this rancor.

Then he kind of lost control of the public debate. And in some ways, it swamped him. Now, he got a lot done in the last couple of years, but he wasn't on the same wavelength. Now, what we don't know yet is whether this event will change the arc of American politics, and whether he can speak to the moment in such a way that he is, again, mastering the moment and mastering our politics.

OLBERMANN: Everybody said - this CBS poll, 57 percent or whatever suggested there was no connection between the tone of events and this crime in Arizona over the weekend. The point that was missing there was that nearly a third did. That's a lot of people who believe the tone is - it needs to be addressed in some serious way.

ALTER: Also, I'm one of those people who think it's unfair to Sarah Palin to say that she has any connection, or even imply that. But even Roger Ailes, as you indicated early in the broadcast, you know, wants everybody to tone it down. It might even be useful for him to quote Roger Ailes at some point in the next couple of weeks, because, you know, there is some agreement that we need to take a step back.

And even, you know, stop the finger-pointing. Even if there is no connection and this guy, you know, is a cook who is possessed by his own demons, it's still a good opportunity for everybody to take it down a couple notches.

OLBERMANN: Right. Coincidence is bad enough. And the next one doesn't have to be a coincidence.

ALTER: And as Bill Clinton said on the 15th anniversary of Oklahoma City last Spring, he said, you know, you don't ever really know how these words are going to land with both the serious and the delirious. There's no way of knowing, so why risk it?

OLBERMANN: And I'll just suffer the idea that Ailes and I agree. Jonathan Alter, the author of "The Promise," out in paperback today, congratulations on that and great thanks.

ALTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: We will carry the memorial service live and in its entirety, tomorrow night here on MSNBC. I will anchor the coverage beginning at 8:00 pm Eastern, 5:00 pm Pacific. Then I will anchor the summary after the services conclude. Rachel Maddow will join me. Chris Matthews as well.

Special live edition of Countdown at 11:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night.

Other bad news accumulates in that state. Arizona's reneging on insurance for transplants may now threaten the life of FDR's great-granddaughter.


OLBERMANN: The quote, other, unquote, deaths in Arizona, the transplant insurance betrayal may now threaten the great-granddaughter of President Franklin Roosevelt. She and her mother join us.

First, in our number two story, back to the Gulf of Mexico, where it turns out the BP oil spill wasn't, quote, "Obama's Katrina," unquote, after all. A national commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and offshore drilling releasing its findings today, calling for fundamental reform of government regulations and the oil industry.

Included, the creation of a safety agency that would oversee offshore drilling. The report cites a culture of complacency leading up to last summer's disaster. Though panel co-chair and former Bush 41 EPA Administrator William Reilly says "after a slow start, the Obama administration reacted effectively.." Adding, quote, "this was not Obama's Katrina."

The granddaughter and the great-granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the risk they are at because of Governor Jan Brewer and Arizona's republicans, next.


OLBERMANN: Gabby Giffords spoke out against it just last month. As Arizona continues to mourn one senseless tragedy, who will stop another one from continuing to happen? Our number one story, nearly 100 lives are still in jeopardy tonight and will remain so until that state restores funding for life-saving organ transplants. Now Arizona's health care disaster could threaten another life, that of the great-granddaughter of President Franklin Roosevelt. She and her mother will join me in a moment.

Governor Brewer today praising Arizona for its heart, while still trying to make sense out of Saturday's tragedy in Tucson.


GOV. JAN BREWER (R), ARIZONA: Among the lessons that life has taught me is that sometimes loss just finds you. You don't expect it. You don't want to accept it. But suddenly you're challenged by something dark and ugly.


OLBERMANN: Yet just days ago, the governor would not speak to the potential loss of life if funding to that program is not restored.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any plans to restore funding for Access?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She never answered the question.


OLBERMANN: The cuts to the state's Medicaid program, Access, will only save Arizona 1,400,000 dollars. This woman, Karen Braynan (ph), in need of a liver transplant, is considering a move to Colorado in order to save her own life.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Say you get diagnosed with something and there's no cure for it, that's one thing. But get diagnosed with something and you have a chance to save your life, and then you live somewhere and they take it upon their-selves to just say, you can't have this because we can't afford it and you're not cost effective? I don't think that that's right.


OLBERMANN: Her story, like so many others that you've heard on this news hour, only the names change. The need and the urgency remains the same. Congresswoman Giffords understood that urgency. She and her Democratic colleague in the House Raul Grijalva urged Governor Brewer to restore funding to Access just last month. "Various reports have quoted you and others in Arizona state government describing transplants as optional. We strongly disagree with that characterization for medical procedures that determine the life or death of our fellow Arizonians. You hold in your hands the lives of these men and women of Arizona."

So far, two people have died since the cuts went into effect last October. The most recent a patient in need of a liver. Brewer has said previously that she was open to ideas to close the budget shortfall. She got an unlikely taker, a Republican state committee man from Illinois. As he told you on this news hour just last Friday, Steven Daglast sent the governor a list of 26 different ways to restore funding for Access without needing to raise additional revenue.

He's been writing to the governor since last month, and has yet to receive a response.

Joining me now, as promised, from Tucson, the great-granddaughter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lindsay Luke. She suffers from a genetic heart mutation and will eventually need a heart transplant. And with her is her mother, Nina Roosevelt Gibson, a retired psychologist, who's currently volunteering on behalf of transplant patients.

My great thanks to you both.


OLBERMANN: Lindsay, describe your condition briefly, and why, eventually, it's going to come to a transplant.

LUKE: I, close to 11 years ago, had a major cardiac arrest. And since then, my cardiac function has just deteriorated. So I'm now waiting for somebody to be generous enough to give me a heart, and hopefully the state will pay for it.

OLBERMANN: You're on Medicare, but you're also on this Access program. And if the funding in Arizona to that transplant program does not get restored, what does that mean for you, practically speaking?

LUKE: Practically speaking, it means I'm not going to get a heart transplant. And without a heart transplant, I could die.

OLBERMANN: And this threat of repealing or constricting the national health care reform legislation is also a potential problem for you?

LUKE: Yes, it is.


LUKE: Well, I'll let my mother answer that. She's a little bit more savvy.


NINA ROOSEVELT GIBSON, TRANSPLANT RECIPIENT: Well, no, not so. But Lindsay's situation is very interesting because she does have Medicare. So right now she could get a heart transplant. However, if Arizona continues the cuts in Medicaid and in Medicare that they would like to cut, they've discussed taking about 300,000 people receiving Access services. They've discussed trying to cut those.

If this continues, then Lindsay could be at jeopardy, because she's the next level of cut. So we are fighting desperately to keep these people alive that have already been told they cannot have organ transplants. We had a news conference in Phoenix today to kick off a fund-raising effort. And we're going to try to raise the funds through the generous gifts of the people of Arizona, because the people of Arizona truly are generous. And we hope to be able to save all of these people.

OLBERMANN: And Nina, you've been an acquaintance of Congresswoman Giffords. Can you describe the impact that she has had, particularly on the various health care issues in Arizona?

GIBSON: Well, Congresswoman Giffords has been wonderful in supporting so many issues in southern Arizona that have come up, immigration and health care, among many others. And she has a constituency, many of whom really don't understand how the national health care legislation will help their families and help them.

And so it's been very difficult for her. She has supported the health care legislation and will continue to do so. And I just - I pray that she's back in the Congress soon, because we need her.

OLBERMANN: And Nina, you were particularly close to your grandmother, to Eleanor Roosevelt. What would she or your grandfather have thought of this situation in Arizona?

GIBSON: Well, I really can't put words in their mouth, but it's very clear. When they were active, the major issues were getting health care services to people in the United States. So they were more interested, at that time, in the '30s, of funding - federal funding for training of medical care personnel. Doctors and nurses and all the other technical people involved in medical care.

Were they alive today, I am convinced - excuse me, I am convinced that they would be very supportive of what President Obama has managed to get through the Congress. And our hope is that it doesn't get changed.

OLBERMANN: Nina Roosevelt Gibson and Lindsay Luke, a great thanks for your time this evening. And obviously, our best wishes.

GIBSON: Thank you.

LUKE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That's January 11th. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, good luck. And now to discuss why America should be talking about gun control, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.