'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Read the transcript to the Wednesday show
Guest Host: Melissa Harris-Perry
Guests: Mark Strama, Steve Kornacki
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, GUEST HOST: Good evening. I`m Melissa Harris-
Perry, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.
President Obama is planning a major speech on jobs after Labor Day,
Mitt Romney is back in hiding, and Rick Perry is still indignant.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC POLICY ANALYST: Dear Yankee, anything you should
know about Rick Perry?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He really believes in this stuff.
KLEIN: Unstoppable Chuck Norris-like figure.
HARRIS-PERRY (voice-over): Rick Perry runs to the right and right
away from the facts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Perry is very big on miracles.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Rick Perry does things Rick
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Especially those that he thinks he performed.
WAGNER: Debunked a lot of the Texas myth about job creation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not the high-paying jobs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jobs that got moved from one state to another.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he export out of Texas?
KLEIN: The Tea Party and the Texan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t think people in the Tea Party are going
to be going for Mitt Romney.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I welcome Governor Perry.
HARRIS-PERRY: Rick Perry also manages to offend Karl Rove.
KLEIN: You know when you know you`ve gone too far? When you draw a
rebuke from Karl Rove.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I got in trouble not
talking about the Federal Reserve yesterday.
KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH AIDE: You don`t accuse the chairman of the
Federal Reserve of being a traitor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s Karl Rove.
ROVE: A cowboy from Texas.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don`t charge people
with treason because we disagree with them.
KLEIN: Suggested President Obama maybe kind of sort of should figure
out if he loves America.
PERRY: You need to ask him.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`ll cut him some
JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: You want a president that`s in love with
HARRIS-PERRY: And Michele Bachmann says exactly what Michelle Obama
said about America and no one noticed.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have
restored in me my faith in America.
BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: This is a big deal.
MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY: For the first time in my adult life,
I am proud of my country.
JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS: It`s unbelievable that she would have said
O`REILLY: She said it twice.
CINDY MCCAIN, SEN. JOHN MCCAIN`S WIFE: I`m proud of my country, I
don`t know about you.
O`REILLY: Major controversy.
STEWART: I am Rick Perry! And unlike Barack Obama, I will (EXPLETIVE
DELETED) out of America!
HARRIS-PERRY: Good evening from New York. I am Melissa Harris-Perry.
President Obama offered some pretty helpful advice to Rick -- no
relation -- Perry. He said this isn`t like running for governor, running
for senator, or running for Congress, and you`ve got to be a little more
careful about what you say.
Pretty easy to understand -- when you`re running for president, you`re
being recorded, recounted, and fact checked. No statement you make will go
unvetted by both media and the voters.
This morning, New Hampshire, Governor -- to be clear, no relation --
Perry responded to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: You know, yesterday, the president said I needed to watch what
I say. I just want to respond back, if I may.
Mr. President, actions speak louder than words. My actions as
governor are helping create jobs in this country. The president`s actions
are killing jobs in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So let`s be clear. The governor claims to be creating
jobs in contrast to the president. This, in fact, Rick -- no relation --
Perry`s marquee claim for why he should be the Republican nominee and
ultimately the president.
Here he is touting his job records today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: Some people dismiss Texas` job creation. There have been some
over on the left that say the fact is those 40 percent of the jobs created
in America since the 9th of June -- or excuse me, since June of 2009, was
Well, Mr. President, America`s crisis is not bad luck. It`s bad
policies from Washington, D.C. Jobs come by keeping taxes low, by
controlling spending, by reforming tort laws and insuring that regulations
are fair and predictable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, since Mr. No Relation Perry is running for
president and not for governor or say dog catcher, his claim about job
creation in Texas is being rightfully scrutinized by national media, and it
doesn`t quite add up.
First, a professorial moment here. Jobs created isn`t the same as net
job creation. The American economy has created more than 2 million jobs
since the recession. But the unemployment rate in the country is still
over 9 percent. So, let`s look at Texas` net job creation during the
economic down turn.
According to "U.S. News & World Report," since 2008, net jobs creation
in Texas is plus 0.7 percent. Now, plus is better than minus. But that is
modest net jobs creation, and it makes sense considering that the current
unemployment rate in Texas is 8.2 percent. Slightly lower than the
But in terms of state unemployment, Texas ranks 26th in the nation.
Still, Texas has managed to create more jobs than it`s lost during a bad
economy. And Texas has added a net 75,000 jobs since 2008.
Where did those jobs come from? The private sector in Texas shed
40,000 jobs, but the government -- the government added 115,000. Presto,
net job creation. Federal government jobs increased 7 percent. Now, those
might be military jobs or NASA jobs in Texas.
State government jobs increased 8.4 percent and local government jobs
increased another 6 percent.
So, it`s true, jobs were created in Texas, but not through the formula
Rick -- be clear again, no relation -- Perry is pushing. Lower taxes did
not lead to net job creation in Texas. Cutting spending did not lead to
net job creation in Texas. Tort reform, that did not lead to net job
creation in Texas. Less regulation did not lead to net job creation in
What did lead to net job creation in Texas, government hiring.
Remember back in February 2009 when President Obama signed the
Recovery Act and how on tax day that year, Governor Perry made a big show
of railing against the stimulus, even saying that Texas might want to
secede from the Union at a Tea Party rally in Austin.
Now, it turns out Texas has ultimately accepted about $17 billion in
federal stimulus dollars, according to "The Texas Tribune," including money
funding projects this year.
So, perhaps Mr. No Relation Perry is right and what`s been good for
jobs in Texas would, in fact, be good for jobs nationally, more stimulus.
Joining me now is Texas State Representative Mark Strama -- a Democrat
who represents one of my favorite cities in Texas, Austin.
Nice to have you with us tonight.
STATE REP. MARK STRAMA (D), TEXAS: Hi, Melissa. And I want to make
it clear -- though we bear a passing resemblance, I`m not related to him
HARRIS-PERRY: Very good. Neither one of us are related to Governor
Now, you`ve been in Texas politics for some time. You`ve been there
under Governor Richards and really know this state. Are you surprised by
the numbers that I just read on government hiring? Does that fit with what
you`ve seen on the ground in Texas and your district?
STRAMA: Well, I can tell you this, one of the great fears about the
economy over the next 24 months in Texas is that government layoffs are
going to cause our unemployment rate to go up significantly.
That`s a fear I have about the national economy, but it`s an
especially acute fear here because of the budget cuts we enacted in this
last session and the budget shortfall we continue to face going into the
next budget cycle.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, tell me a little bit about that, because I know
part of the story here is exactly how Washington helped to fill that hole
so that the rainy day fund didn`t have to be touched. Can you -- can you
tell the viewers about why this concern about those cuts is emerging most,
you know, voraciously this year? Or most voraciously this year?
STRAMA: Well, we have this -- we have an incoherent story about this
rainy day fund. Governor Perry will campaign across the country saying we
didn`t touch the rainy day fund. We left $6 billion in it.
Now, it opens him up to the charge that we left $6 billion in the
rainy day fund while cutting $5 billion from public education -- a cut that
makes no sense at all if you`re really concerned about long term economic
viability, a cut that makes no sense at all unless you think for some
reason that the children of Texas are overeducated.
But even worse is the fact it`s not actually true that we left $6
billion in the rainy day fund because we deliberately underfunded Medicaid
by $5 billion, knowing that we were going to back stop that deficit with
the rainy day fund when we come back into the next legislative session.
So, it`s a cloak and mirrors budget. It`s exactly the kind of thing,
frankly, that Tea Partiers claim they hate, but we were as guilty of it --
this entirely Tea Party controlled Texas legislature was as guilty of it as
any legislature in the country over the last six months.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Representative Strama, through, riddle me this,
because what I keep hearing is the reason that Texas has done so well is
because of its energy reserves, that it has a set of natural resources that
buoy its economy and mean that Texas will not have to experience the same
sort of downturn. But these data tell me that it`s government spending and
you`re telling me it has to do with decisions being made on the legislative
So, how are we to understand what Governor Perry is or is not doing to
leverage those natural resources?
STRAMA: Well, let`s talk about Governor Perry`s claim. He claims
that we have great job growth because he`s governor. During two of the
years that he was claiming all this success, I have to say I was chairman
of the committee on economic development, I`d like to tell you it was
because I was chairman of the committee on economic development.
But truth is neither the wisdom of our governors nor the brilliance of
our legislators over time are what track the ups and downs in the Texas
economy. Over time, the single variable that tracks most closely to the
ups and downs in our economy is the price of oil. And in the year that
Governor Perry likes to point at, when we created more jobs than the rest
of the country combined, oil reached $146 a barrel.
Now, $4 a gallon gasoline was brutal on consumers, but $146 barrel of
oil was great for the state of Texas` economy. And so, that`s clearly a
Now, the other thing to point out is Governor Perry`s claim is
identical to George W. Bush`s claim. His claim is that tort reform, low
taxes, and lack of regulations is the reason our economy is thriving.
Again, there`s no evidence that`s what`s causing our jobs to grow.
And the other final point is that we are doing no better than any of
the surrounding states. In fact, if you take the point about natural
resources driving some of the economic growth, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and
Louisiana, the states that border us, all have lower unemployment rates
than the state of Texas.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, tell me this on our final question here, most of
the rest of the country is just getting to know Governor Perry, and you`ve
already given, you know, given the whole country in a few moments a great
deal of insight in what it means to have been in his Texas and working with
him, what should we know about this governor? What is the bottom line on
Mr. No Relation Perry?
STRAMA: Well, I think that the clips you played at the beginning of
the broadcast tell you everything you need to know. This is a guy who when
he is put under the spotlight, doesn`t back up, he`s always done that.
When he was accused -- and he`s still under this investigation, we may
never know, of executing an innocent man, he actually disbanded the
forensic science commission trying to find out if it was true or not.
That`s a pretty audacious move.
When he`s under a political challenge in a campaign, he`s not above
saying that the opponent that he`s running against is responsible for the
deaths of police officers because he`s operating a sanctuary city. I mean,
the guy is capable of some pretty audacious politics. And, frankly,
everybody needs to be -- you know, these are serious times, and the country
has got serious choices to make in the upcoming election.
That said, for those who are political junkies, it`s time to get your
popcorn out, because he`s going to be entertainment to watch.
HARRIS-PERRY: Texas State Representative Mark Strama, I truly
appreciate it. Texas, Austin, has one the greatest universities in the
country. Keep representing them well.
STRAMA: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks for joining us.
Coming up: no jobs, no prospect, no ability to pay back those student
loans? From the nation that brought the greatest generation comes the
And why Democrats shouldn`t be rooting for the weakest Republican
candidate. That`s all just ahead.
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up: the tale of two Michelles and two very
similar statements. Why one garners criticism and no one even notices the
Plus, as much fun as it is to wish for Michele Bachmann to be the
nominee, a weak candidate isn`t good for anyone, especially Democrats.
I`ll explain, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming out of the weekend in Ames, Iowa, the Republican
Party emerged with three or four plausible candidates, depending who you
There`s Willard M. Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and the most
debated of the crop, Ron Paul.
But there remain signs that Republicans are still searching for a
consensus candidate that can really inspire and unite them.
The conservative "Wall Street Journal" editorial board is the latest
to sound the alarm, writing on Monday, quote, "Republicans and independents
are desperate to find a candidate who can appeal across the party`s
factions and offer a vision of how to constrain a runaway government and
revive America`s once great private economy. If the current field isn`t up
to that, perhaps someone still off the field will step in and run. Now
would be the time."
So, enter Chris Christie. Earlier today, MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter
lit up the political Internet with this tweet. "Breaking, my sources say
New Jersey`s Governor Chris Christie is conducting focus groups in
preparation for a possible run for president in 2012." But Alter pretty
quickly poured cold water on that, tweeting a little later that his sources
were doing their own focus groups and made them seem semi-authorized by
Christie, adding it was just wishful thinking.
But what about Republican guru, Congressman Paul Ryan? Now, "The
Weekly Standard" reports, quote, "As Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan comes
to a final decision about running for president, several top national
conservatives are encouraging him to join the race. Ryan is expected to
decide on the run in the next two weeks."
If it`s not Chris Christie, if it`s not Paul Ryan, is there anyone,
someone else out there on the right ready to run? Ready to enter this
Now, we`ve seen more than a few polls showing the winning Republican
seems to be none of the above.
But sure, it would be easier for the White House if Rick Perry or
Michele Bachmann top the Republican ticket, but there is, so far, no
Democratic primary in this election cycle. That means that until the
general election in the fall, the internal debates of Republican candidates
are the political news, what they are talking about is what America will be
So, rather than debating real issues like how to fix our crumbling
infrastructure, how to put Americans back to work, or how to afford our
social safety net, much of the campaign with this current crop looks like
it`s going to involve fights of the existence of climate change, how to
most effectively strip women of their reproductive rights, whether to
extend marriage equality to gay Americans, issues like basic math. And in
the case of Bachmann, light bulbs. Or in the case of my non-relative,
secession from the Union.
If you`re a thinking Republican, say a George Will or a David Frum,
this is not what you want from a GOP primary. And the fact that even
Democrats and independents should want an election that actually produces
real debate on things like the economy and unemployment.
It might seem easier to claim a victory over a Michele Bachmann or a
Rick Perry, but even Democrats should want a healthy Republican Party.
After all, we`ve seen what a sick one is capable of.
So, joining me now is Steve Kornacki, news editor for "Salon."
Thanks for being here tonight.
STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Happy to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do you think? Look, I was in New Jersey, living
in New Jersey, when Chris Christie, you know, challenged a sitting
governor, challenged Jon Corzine and won largely as a result of this sort
of straight talking, you know, I can do something that no one else has done
via a pro-choice, I mean, excuse me, a pro-life Republican, in a blue state
like New Jersey.
What are we to make of Chris Christie as a potential candidate? Is
CORZINE: I don`t think it is. I think the reason it gets so much
attention is sort of what you just outlined there. There really is a
tremendous opening on the Republican side right now, and there has been all
year, and there`s nobody to fill it.
The hope of the Republican establishment was Rick Perry`s the guy.
Rick Perry`s the guy who`s going to communicate with the Republican base,
but he`s not going to do it in a way that scares off swing voters --
obviously, what they`ve seen in the first four days is that may not be the
case. So, we`re getting the Christie talk again.
But, you know, I spent time in New Jersey. And I -- you know, there
are a couple of factors really keeping him out, one is family. Two is a
simple reality that this guy spent 10 years of his life trying to be
governor of the state. It really means something to it and he really
enjoys it, and he`s in danger of losing that job in 2013. And he knows
that even flirting with a presidential race really puts that in jeopardy.
So, I think the odds of him winning a presidential rate would have to
be really good to get him into it, and it`s just not enough to make him do
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, speaking of scaring off swing voters --
Michele Bachmann was talking about the debt ceiling crisis before Congress,
and insisted that to raise the debt ceiling, Congress would be giving the
president a blank check for $2.7 trillion. Now, never mind that a blank
check wouldn`t have an amount associated with it, but she repeatedly talks
about her days as a federal tax attorney.
She -- but it feels to me like, OK, this might be reasonable
conversation should we have, how much should we spend, how much should we
cut. But when it`s coming wrapped in these sorts of packages, we just
don`t have a realistic or decent conversation.
KORNACKI: Yes. And, you know, I was listening to your intro there
and I agree. I mean, it would be wonderful if we could have a Republican
Party in the next year that`s going to bring these kinds of issues out in
the open. But I think the reality of where the Republican Party is in the
Obama era, who makes up the Republican Party today, you know, I think party
bases as a general rule don`t like to have their sort of sacred tenants
challenged, but the Republican Party base of 2011, 2012 really doesn`t want
its tenants challenged, and really demands that they be affirmed.
So I think we`ve gotten to the point now where from the perspective of
somebody who`s outside of the Republican Party, trying to identify like the
moderate Republican candidate or independent-minded Republican candidate is
a matter of sort of saying which one is faking it the most. And that`s
basically where Mitt Romney`s reputation as the sort of reasonable, sane
guy in this mix comes from. It`s not that he`s really saying anything
that`s radically different or he`s going to say anything that`s radically
different than Michelle Obama, there`s just a consensus that, yes, he
doesn`t mean it and that`s obviously not inspiring.
HARRIS-PERRY: No, no, he`s many things. But inspiring doesn`t seem
to be one of them.
So, is this more, though, than just -- I mean, generally, there`s a
historic problem, right, where if you have an incumbent president, no
matter how weak this president is, that the strongest challengers tend not
to get in the race. I mean, it is surprising in a certain way that a
Ronald Reagan emerges or a Bill Clinton emerges when you`ve got a sitting
Is it just that or is there something sort of more insidious going on
in the Republican Party right now terms of its inability to give us a
KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, there`s two things. In the Clinton example,
I think is really worth remembering, if you think back to 1992, now we
think of Bill Clinton as the master politician, the guy who can`t lose an
election. I remember when he got the nomination in 1992, every Democrat in
America thought he was a goner, because there`s no way he was going to
survive the Republican attacks.
But the economy was so bad and he was a better candidate than people
thought. And now we`ve got Bill Clinton as we now know him.
So, I think there`s something there keeping them out.
You know, I think the broader issue here is, you know, if you`re the
Republican Party, you just don`t have any options. You know, you`re now
sitting near Labor Day, of the year before the presidential election where
you got economic conditions that from a political standpoint should be
And the best you can do is say there`s a member of the House, Paul
Ryan and there`s second-year governor of New Jersey and then there`s Sarah
Palin floating around and that`s all you got on the sidelines right now. I
mean, they just don`t have a deep bench, and that`s partly because of the
2006-2008 elections went so bad for them and it`s partly because of those
sort of litmus tests that are established now, who really meets them.
HARRIS-PERRY: You just scared me to death when you told the Clinton
story in that way, because this notion of someone who we thought couldn`t
win, maybe particularly, say, a Southerner with a kind of folksy way, all
of a sudden, is able to win in a tough economy really makes me that much
more desirous of a really high quality candidate on the Republican side.
KORNACKI: You know, boy, that`s the first thing I thought when I saw
Rick Perry a few weeks ago and I said, you know, I look at him right now
and I say this guy can`t win a general election, then I look at the
unemployment rate and then I think that`s 1992 and I say, I wouldn`t
necessarily put money on that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Steve Kornacki, news editor for "Salon" -- thank
you so much for being in studio and joining us tonight.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
Coming up, the idea -- oops, coming up, the idea that the Tea Party is
made up of political newbies is shredded by a long-term study, as in people
paying attention to who those people were before they thought of the Tea
Party. That`s up next.
And why Michele Bachmann can say something about regaining her faith
in her country but Michelle Obama can`t.
Stay with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Still ahead in this hour: in 2008, Michelle Obama was
criticized for saying for the first time in her adult life she was proud of
her country. Last weekend, Michele Bachmann said the same thing and no one
said a peep. That`s next.
And later, why this country is getting really, really sick of the Tea
Party. That`s coming up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just before Congresswoman and presidential candidate
Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday, she gave an
impassioned speech to attendees in a last attempt to secure their votes.
There was one part in particular that struck me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As we`ve been all
over this state, what we have seen is a restoration of that dream. And you
have restored in me my faith in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, that seems pretty reasonable, right? I mean,
apparently at some point along the way Michele Bachmann lost her faith in
America. When exactly she lost her faith, we don`t know. But for whatever
reason, for some period of time, Michele Bachmann did not have faith in our
I have no problem with Michele Bachmann`s admission, but I must admit
to being surprised at the way media and political pundits responded to
Bachmann`s comment. They noticeably had nothing, absolutely nothing to say
That`s a bit troubling for this reason. Do you remember this moment
in February 2008, when another Michelle made a similar statement?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: Hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback.
And let me tell you something, for the first time in my adult lifetime, I`m
really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but
because I think people are hungry for change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So like Michele Bachmann, Michelle Obama had lost her
faith or pride in the country for a period of time. Then after meeting
people on the campaign trail, her pride in America was restored. But
unlike the case with Bachmann, the media and political pundits did not stay
silent about Michelle Obama`s statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Most Americans are proud of their
country and don`t like to see it run down in any way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The statement, Bill, was reckless.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michelle Obama is an amazingly fortunate
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She can be very blunt. It`s part of her
attractiveness. But I find that very much off kilter, off putting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This headline in "the Economist" went even further and
asked, "is Barack Obama`s wife his rock or his bitter half?" And Cindy
McCain, wife of then-candidate John McCain, added this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I`m proud of my country. I
don`t know about you, if you heard those words earlier. I`m very proud of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So why the difference in treatment? Why was Michelle
Obama, but not Michele Bachmann, castigated for admitting to having been
less than completely proud of her country and having her faith restored by
the enthusiasm and effort of Americans she met while campaigning?
Now to find an answer, I think we need to go back a few years. During
his 2008 campaign, then candidate Obama successfully used what I like to
call the green screen strategy, like television weather persons who stand
in front of a green screen back drop, so that they can appear on screen in
front of a changing array of maps. Then Senator Barack Obama made
effective use of his own diverse background as a kind of green screen.
He encouraged many different kinds of Americans, black, white,
immigrant, male, female, to see him but to project their own identities on
to his story. It`s very different for his wife, Michelle Obama. Michelle,
on the other hand had no green screen. Hers is a far more familiar black
American story, rooted in a family that experienced slavery, Jim Crow, the
As a result, in the early days of campaigning, it was easier for
mainstream America, including some conservative black commentators to
understand Michelle Obama using common stereotypes about black women.
Hence the angry black woman image given to her in this "New Yorker
Magazine" cover just five months after now First Lady Obama proclaimed a
new-found pride in her country.
Now eventually Michelle Obama was able to win over a majority of
Americans with her connection to mothers, military families, even her sense
of style. In fact, her 66 percent favorability rating is now higher than
that of her husband, which is currently at about 50 percent. But the tale
of the two Michelles, Michele Bachmann and Michelle Obama, reminds us that
we are not yet living in any kind of post-racial America.
When Michele Bachmann says she once lost her faith in America, her
criticism is seen as an act of patriotism. She wants to improve America,
get it back on the right track. When Michelle Obama criticized her
country, it was seen as invalid, because I believe she was not seen by some
as truly a legitimate part of the American story.
Do you remember when you were a kid and you played the game the
dozens? Among your close circle of friends, it was OK to tell "Your Momma"
jokes. But if an outsider dared to talk about your mother, well, those
were fighting words.
Now the same can be said truly about our country. If you are seen as
fully American, fully a citizen, you are allowed to criticize as part of
your patriotic duty. In fact, being able to freely express criticism of
our government, our country and our leaders is a foundational basis of
When Michele Bachmann does it, even if we disagree with her, we assume
she has a right to do it. When we disallowed Michelle Obama from making
that same critique, we were saying you are not really on the team. You are
not allowed to talk about my momma.
Now in 2008, the message was, yes, Mrs. Obama, you`re allowed to
celebrate being an American. You`re allowed to say you`re grateful for the
opportunities that America has afforded you. But you are not allowed to
I submit this: we will know that we have arrived in a fully equal
America when we can all celebrate and criticize our government together.
HARRIS-PERRY: Has the Tea Party finally worn out its welcome among
mainstream Americans? Fellow political scientists David Campbell and
Robert Putnam write in the "New York Times" op ed today, quote, "the Tea
Party is increasingly swimming against the tide of public opinion. Among
most Americans, even before the furor over the debt limit, it`s brand was
becoming toxic. To embrace the Tea Party carries great political risk for
Republicans, but perhaps not for the reason you might think."
Now these respected authors say that the Tea Party ranks lower than 23
other groups they asked Americans about, including unfairly but widely
maligned groups like atheists and Muslims. The Tea Party is increasingly
becoming a liability for Republicans, they say, because what started as a
small movement, libertarian protest movement as morphed into yet another
vehicle for social conservatives to inject narrowly defined and
exclusionary religious ideas into government.
Instead of the grass roots voices of political newbies, so important
to their mythology, looks like the Tea Party is powered by a familiar
group of veteran activists with a very specific political agenda. So while
the number of Tea Party core supporters hasn`t changed much over the past
year, from 21 percent in April 2010 to 20 percent today, the number of
Americans who have an unfavorable view of the Tea Party has jumped
dramatically, from 18 percent in April 2010 to 40 percent today.
The poll also found that 43 percent of Americans, including 40 percent
of self-described independents, think the Tea Party has too much influence
on the Republican party. And that is up from 27 percent just four months
Joining me now is "Slate" political reporter and MSNBC contributor
David Weigel. Thanks for being here tonight, Dave.
DAVID WEIGEL, "SLATE": Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, listen, Matt Kibbe, the president of Freedom
Works, told the "New York Times" he wasn`t surprised that their poll
numbers were going down. In fact, he said that this is the inevitable
price you pay for having an impact. Is he right? Do you get more done in
Washington if you just don`t care whether or not people like you?
WEIGEL: You do. That was Mitch McConnell`s strategy from the start
in 2009, through the 2010 election. It was a pretty good strategy, in
terms of winning seats, not so much in terms of stopping Democratic bills.
They might have done more damage to the health care bill had they not been
But generally opposing gets things done. Becoming the party of no is
not a bad thing if you can count on the incumbent party, the president`s
party running on a bad economy. It`s totally right.
And I think the Tea Party has acted the right way in power,
understanding that when you have influence, you use it. You maximize it.
Again, the way our system works, a party can say, you know, as John Boehner
likes to say, that they don`t control all of Congress, all of Washington,
when voters are angry about it. They have a little bit of deniability as
they slow things down and stop things.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look, I actually get in a fair bit of trouble with my
progressive and liberal friends, in part because I have made very similar
arguments about the -- at least the idea of the Tea Party. So particularly
as someone who comes from a civil rights background and generation and
family, it`s pretty hard for me to be angry about a group that loses an
election and therefore takes to the streets instead.
That`s a pretty heralded part of the American political system. But I
do wonder with, this data that we`re seeing in this "New York Times"
report, it looks to me like maybe the Tea Party isn`t actually these kind
of grassroots activists, these sort of new voices. Is there something that
these data tells us that should now might make me a little more concerned
that the Tea Party is a different group than it has, at least at one point,
presented itself to be?
WEIGEL: It was always a group of conservatives and conservative-
leaning independents who usually vote Republican, but who aren`t happy with
Republicans over that last year. If you interview lots of Tea Partiers, as
I have, you don`t find many of them who voted Democratic. Occasionally,
they cast -- I occasionally hear somebody say that they voted for Carter
and they regret it.
This was always a very republican group. And it was always a very
social conservative group. It`s good that they point that out, because one
thing the Tea Party did for Republicans in 2009-2010 was allow them to
rebrand themselves as not George Bush`s party, not the party of social
conservatism, but as a new party that was all economic angst. It was all
about, among other things, keeping taxes low and protecting Medicare.
It wasn`t about the issues that these activists -- the activists, the
base of the movement, really cared about. It was about a very popular
brand. And that was what was key here. And look, in power, they`ve gotten
I think more social conservative -- I`m sorry, more conservative
concessions completely from Democrats than the last group of Republicans
who took over the House.
HARRIS-PERRY: But despite this -- I hear you saying look, they are
doing the no thing, which can be effective for an out party. They
rebranded in a way that was necessary after the George W. Bush years. But
has the Tea Party`s influence peaked? When we`re looking at these new and
growing sort of sense of disposition of ordinary Americans relative to the
Tea Party, is this the end of Tea Party influence?
WEIGEL: Well, you know, movements can be defined in two ways, if
we`re being really narrow about it. They can be bees, where they sting and
the sting goes in and they die, or they can be wasps that keep stinging.
It looks as though the Tea Party is more like most movements, a bee that
stings and can`t -- doesn`t have quite the same effect again.
But that sting was very influential. The Republican party stands for
things now that it didn`t stand for two years ago. Nowhere is that more
exemplified than in Rick Perry and George Bush. George Bush could only win
the presidency in 2000 as a compassionate conservative. Rick Perry
represents the antithesis of compassionate conservatism. He`s anti-
government populism, anti-Keynesianism.
I think that`s a movement that`s succeeded, if you look at that.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that image of a bee sting that takes away the
compassionate part of conservatism. Dave Weigel of Slate.com, thanks for
WEIGEL: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up, the recession generation and why everyone
should worry about them.
HARRIS-PERRY: The 2011 Budget Control Act that President Obama signed
into law earlier this month preserved a at least one education priority.
It funded Pell Grants through 2013. Now, Pell Grants currently help over
nine million low income students pay for college.
To pay for the 17 billion dollar increase in Pell Grant spending, the
Budget Control Act did not end a needless subsidy to agriculture or oil
industries. Instead, it cut federal subsidies on student loans for
graduate and professional students.
For all of us still paying student loans for graduate and professional
school, we know this is a big deal. Cutting the subsidy means low and
middle income students will begin to accrue interest on their loans once
they are taken out. Before this, interest did not accrue until after the
Now, these cuts come at a time where young people are already having
trouble paying for their education. The "Wall Street Journal" reports last
quarter that mortgage, debt, home equity loans, credit card debts and auto
loans were all down sharply, partly because people were being more careful,
but also because many had defaulted.
Student loans were up sharply; 11.2 percent of student loans were more
than 90 days past due. And the rate was steadily rising. Only credit
cards had a higher rate of delinquency, 12.2 percent. But those numbers
have been on a steady decline for the past four quarters.
So if your parents were not wealthy enough to pay your way through
college, it`s likely that you took some student loans, if even if you had
scholarship money. You took these loans because you thought college was a
good investment, and you could get a job that earned enough to allow you to
pay the loans back. But for millions of young people, that is no longer a
Last month, the unemployment rate among people age 20 to 24 was 14.6
percent. That`s 5.5 points higher than the national unemployment rate of
9.1 percent. Now despite those figures, the Deficit Reduction Bill did not
prioritize this sector. The compromise showed little interest in these
young workers and the burdens they carry.
Our priorities were not always this way. In 1934, during the Great
Depression, President Roosevelt signed into law the National Housing Act,
which allowed low income Americans to borrow money to build and purchase a
home. In 1944, Roosevelt signed the GI bill, that provided federal aide to
World War II veterans for education and loans to buy homes and start
In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act, which
authorized 25 billion dollars for construction of the highway system. In
1965, President Johnson signed into law the Higher Education Act, which
provided financial assistance to students. And in 1972, an amendment to
that bill created the predecessor of what is now the Pell Grant.
That was some of the legislation that characterized the greatest
generation and allowed their children, the Baby Boomers, to prosper, to
innovate, to grow GDP, to improve American prosperity, and to make America
the world`s economic superpower.
That legislation would never pass this Congress. Instead of
responding to the poor economy by investing in human capital and housing
and infrastructure, all this Congress can talk about is spending cuts to
things like federal subsidies for student loans to grad students. Such
cuts will fall on a recession generation that`s struggling badly.
According to research from the Annie E Casey (ph) Foundation, child
poverty increased in 38 states from 2000 to 2009. As a result, 14.7
million children, 20 percent, were poor in 2009. And the researchers
concluded that low income children will likely suffer academically,
economically, and socially long after their parents have recovered.
To talk about this recession generation, joining me now is a friend
and a colleague, assistant professor of political science at Columbia
University and a fellow at Roosevelt Institute in New York, Dorian Warren.
Dorian, I am thrilled to have you here to talk about this topic.
DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERISTY: Thanks, Melissa. It`s sort of a
depressing topic, unfortunately.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is depressing, but I feel like, you know, even in
the context of graduate school, we had these conversations about what the
American government could do that supported something like the Greatest
Generation. Now today the president said something about what he wants to
see happen. Let`s listen for just one second to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need roads and
bridges and schools all across the country that could be rebuilt. And
interest rates are low. So we could finance right now the rebuilding of
infrastructure all across America that drove not only unemployment in the
construction industry down, but drove unemployment down across the board.
And traditionally, that hasn`t been a Democratic or Republican issue.
That`s been an American issue. We`ve taken pride in rebuilding America.
The only thing that`s holding us back right now is our politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So the president says it`s just our politics holding us
back. What do you think? Do we have the will to do this?
WARREN: Not yet. I think it`s not only the politics. I think it`s
the vision, in terms of thinking back to that legacy of Franklin Roosevelt
and the New Deal. We had an investment in national infrastructure, not in
austerity politics. We had public works programs.
You made this point with Texas and the jobs creation there. Those are
public jobs. We had that before. We had that vision and we implemented
that. We had a National Youth Administration that was created in 1935 to
specifically look at the issue of youth unemployment.
So we don`t have that same vision today. And we definitely don`t have
the political will.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder about that, like I live in New Orleans. And
where I jog is City Park. And I run over -- literally over bridges and
through a park where all the monuments say WPA or they say some other kind
of works program. What`s the difference? Is it just that President Obama
is not President Roosevelt? Or is there something else making this vision
lack for us in this moment?
WARREN: I think it`s broader than just the president. I think it`s a
Democratic party issue as well. The party has tried to put some of those
issues on the table. But in this Congress, as you mentioned, it`s almost
impossible to talk about investment. It`s been all austerity, cutting,
cutting, cutting, how dare we tax. And remember, the tax rates were very
high for that Greatest Generation in the `50s and `60s. And we`re talking
about cutting more tax breaks to create jobs in the private sector, instead
of the public sector.
So it`s both a lack of will in terms of both parties, as well as lack
of vision. But I will say young people do have a vision. I was just in
Hyde Park, New York, this weekend talking to 200 student leaders as part of
the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, 10,000 students in 100 chapters
across the country.
They have ideas. They have policy programs that they`d like to
implement. So the ideas and vision are there for this recession
generation. But their voices aren`t being heard in the same way.
HARRIS-PERRY: So if we`re cutting public sector jobs, if we`re
cutting union rights to organize, and if we`re raising a recession
generation, what does that mean for the country? If you had the biggest,
broadest vision on it, 20 years out, if we don`t change paths, what does it
look like to you?
WARREN: An American nightmare, and not an American dream, simply put.
The young people now coming out of college, with the highest levels of
student debt ever, are not being able to get jobs, are not being able to
get skills and advance in their careers. And this gap in their
development, their job development, is going to be with us in 20, 30 years.
So as a broad -- if we look at the broad economy, we`re all going to
suffer, not just the young folks today. We`re all going to suffer in terms
of the decline of American prosperity.
HARRIS-PERRY: Dorian, I think we`ve officially reached a certain age
when we`re talking about young people. I don`t know what`s happened. We
used to be the young people, my friend.
WARREN: When we were in college, Melissa, Pell Grants paid almost
half our college in the `90s. Now Pell Grants barely cover a quarter.
It`s all student loans. So even in the short amount -- we were in college
a short time ago. It`s changed dramatically.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s changed dramatically. Dorian Warren, assistant
professor at Columbia University, thank you so much for coming in and
joining me tonight.
WARREN: Thanks, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog,
TheLastWord.com. You can follow my Tweets @MHarrisPerry. And a quick,
shameless plug; my new book is called "Sister Citizen,"
Now, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" is up next. Hi, Rachel.
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