'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, May 5, 2012
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
Guests: Karen Finney, Alex Witt, Kai Wright, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Aisha Moodie-Mills, William
Barber, Jennifer Chrisler, Spencer Ackerman, Wesley Clark, Karen Finney
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning as North Carolina once
again takes center stage in civil rights history, I ask, hey, can we get
each o other`s back?
Plus, we are still getting to know the most famous man in the world. Will
we ever truly know what makes him tick?
And, the legacy of tip pa canoe and why politicians invented bumper
stickers long before we had cars.
But first, why the president spent the week waltzing in front of a blind
Hello, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
This morning the alleged mastermind of the September 11th attacks is
appearing before a military commission in Guantanamo. Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed`s arraignment is the next step down the long road to military
trial, seeking a resolution to his on-going detention and an end for the
open case of justice after 9/11.
For many Americans though, that ending came a year ago this week with the
killing of Osama bin Laden. President Obama commemorated that day with a
trip to Afghanistan where the war on terror began. And while there, he
signed a ten-year agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai promising
ongoing support while our military draws down its commitment and brings our
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ione year ago, from based
here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama
bin Laden. The goal that I set to defeat al Qaeda and denied a chance to
rebuild is now within our reach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, in one breath there, President Obama was able to pride
in eliminating the figure headed global terrorism and the next vow to end
the war in Afghanistan as quickly as possible. It`s a delicate dance for
Democratic president who has been do-si-doing for the dove to hawk on
foreign policy, which is particularly hard to follow on the say that only
reminds a president`s supporters that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility
is still open despite the campaign promises to close it.
And this is, not that any of us could forget, it is of course an election
year where all of the presidential business as usual is campaign business.
And many can read the president visiting our troops in Afghanistan as a
But remember, foreign policy is the primary work of the executive office.
Article II of the constitution declares the executive to be commander in
chief meaning, he has far more autonomy in decisions made on behalf of the
American people when it comes to foreign affairs than when say trying to
pass domestic legislation to an often uncooperative Congress.
And this week, whether you call it spiking the football or campaigning on
his record, the president`s diplomatic decision including his call on the
mission that took out Osama bin Laden are key elements of the re-election
Still, this is what the political scientists sometimes call waltzing before
a blind audience problem. You see the presidents tend to campaign on
foreign policy, but the p public often does not respond to these issues
when at the ballot box.
Consider the case this week of the blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng
who has been under house arrest by the Chinese government for his outspoken
criticism of the country`s authoritarian rule. Chen had escape from arrest
and short refuge at the U.S. embassy in at the prison in Beijing dominated
secretary Hillary Clinton`s scheduled visit to China to discuss the Obama
administration`s ongoing economic agreement with its key trading partner.
And while the U.S. relationship with China is a most and delegate dance
with the president`s steps have a real impact on the global balance of
power, domestic issues like those unemployment numbers tend to drive the
Foreign policy rarely galvanizes voters except when war is the dominant
issue. So President Obama campaign and in part won in 2008 on the anti-war
stance. Remember that Obama then criticized his predecessor for taking our
eye off the ball in Afghanistan by giving bug down in a misconceived war in
Now, he is able to campaign as the president who ended two foreign wars
brought us justice for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, impressive to be sure.
But the question is will voters care?
With me now is MSNBC political analyst, Karen Finney, former communications
director for DNC, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson who is the communications
director at the University of Pennsylvania.
Thank you both for joining me.
So, here is the theory has been sort of bandied around by political
sciences and you do all of this work as the president, it`s the one place
you have autonomy, you are doing work on foreign policy, but it ultimately
it`s a shrug, it`s a yawn drag bore for voters.
Is this going to matter for President Obama in the election?
KAREN FINNEY, COLUMNIST, THE HILL: Part of the reason that they tried this
week to not just talk about you knows, what has been accomplished, but also
take you behind the scenes into the decision-making. And I have to say
that from the beginning, I thought that there was a lost opportunity to
really teach us something about Obama the leader, because that is really
the only thing - you are right, people kind of shrug, they know it if we
are in war and feels imminent, they certainly have a reaction.
But here was an opportunity to see the president in the leadership role
without having to deal with Congress necessarily like when he gets to
control all of the toys and all the buttons, and I think there is a lot to
be learned about him.
And again, I think they are trying in the context of the campaign to teach
people a little bit of something about like behind the scenes. This is how
the man makes decisions. This is why you want to stay the course, if you
will, with the president.
HARRIS-PERRY: And literally behind the scenes, like NBC News this week had
a sort of groundbreaking interview and opportunity to see inside of the
situation room. We heard the -- during the GOP primaries, we heard this
language that President Obama is an appeaser, and yet on December 8th of
2011, so the end the last year, President Obama directly responded to that.
Let`s take a listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Our goal is not to build a country in America`s image or to
eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require
many more years, many more dollars and most importantly many more American
Our goal is to destroy al Qaeda, and we are on a path to do exactly that.
Afghans want to assert their sovereignty and build a lasting peace. That
requires a clear time line to wind down the war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that was not the sound I was thinking of. I was
thinking of the moment when the president said, just ask Osama bin Laden if
I`m an appeaser, right? But that sound that we just heard I think is also
useful to understanding exactly kind of the president as a leader.
What differences are those kinds of statements going to make come election
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, ANNENBERG PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: Well, first, the
foreign policy does not necessarily help, true, but being a strong leader
perceived on foreign policy does matter. And when you win strong leader,
you are well on the way to re-winning the presidency. In 2000, that is the
ground that George W. Bush commanded against Al Gore. And it was on that
difference that part of the election swung.
So, what you are seeing here is how do you rebut appeaser? You show strong
leader. And with the last week has been strong leader, there, Afghanistan,
strong leader, remember Osama bin Laden, strong leader inside of the
situation room, look at this tough set of decisions.
This week was all about creating the task the re-battle to all those
alternative characterizations. It`s about foreign policy, ostensibly, it
has actually established strong leader.
FINNEY: And that is also I think particularly important when you are
talking about an incumbent running for re-election, right? Because, again,
the argument is stay the course. That was the argument with George Bush
when he was re-elected and, you know, the polls out to the fact showed that
even if people did not really like him or agreed with him. But, you know
what. I`m not ready to switch horses` midstream here, he is good enough.
And again, I think obviously, this president is better than good enough,
but I think it goes to the point.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think I just like the idea of not backing down -- I mean,
if it really is the challenge, right, that the president faces in domestic
politics, right? The fact is that there are 500-some-odd additional people
who have to be convinced, right? There are 100 senators, 435 members of
the House of Representatives, all of those folks, are part of the
constituency, it`s a very different story when for example, it`s the
president making a call about the Navy S.E.A.L.s and the death of Osama bin
FINNEY: The thing I also don`t like about the appeaser argument is, look
at what happen with the deal we had to cut in Iraq to sort of getting out.
Because our president was not willing to sacrifice a degree of security for
the troops, he said, you know, we are not going to sign that agreement. We
are just going to pull out. That`s not the mark of an appeaser to me.
JAMIESON: And also make it, is this whole positioning for the Obama
administration on foreign policy including a very strong secretary of
state, makes him very hard for the Republicans to launch their traditional
line of argument, Democrat, weak on defense.
And as you lay up the visual images, as you have a trial as you remind with
the Biden slogan, Detroit is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead. What you
are essentially saying is, translate this strong leader of foreign affairs
into the domestic policy perception of this person. And now, there is no
room there to run from the right against him on the defense, but also, no
room for him to say soft on anything, because it is tough on economy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. He is doing the sort of muscular presidency. But I
want to ask in part, because it does feels like a big shift from the 2008
primaries where part of how he positions himself as a distinct candidate
over and against Hillary Clinton is, look, I thought that the war in Iraq
was a stupid war, right? That I would not have voted for it. In fact, you
know, I was not in Congress to vote for it, but at that time I stood
against it. And I will close Guantanamo Bay early on.
So, there`s a portion on the left that it probably not responding to the
hawkishness, that in fact, probably feels a great deal of angst about it.
What is going to happen with those voters? Are they going to hold
President Obama accountable for being too hawkish, too successful?
This is the point of being a strong leader in the context. I mean now, he
has been in the job for three years and I think part of the argument that
they are trying to make is that because of the 500 other people, and a good
portion of whom from day one made it their agenda to make sure there not a
second term. That, you know, if he -- when he is in charge, he knows the
agenda, he wants to get these things done. And some of the things that he
has said have not happened the way we wanted and we have gotten some
progress. Not everything we wanted, he is not the only player in the mix.
And so, I think the argument that they are trying to make is he is a strong
leader. He is going to keep pushing to get these things done, but he has
to contend with the other forces.
HARRIS-PERRY: With the obstruction of course and that certainly part of
the Guantanamo answer, right? The part of the answer is I cannot just
close it unilaterally, right? We have to have Congress on board.
JAMIESON: But the Republican framing is clear. It`s really likable
person. But aren`t you disappointed that he was not up to the job? And
again, the question is can you see the strong leader translate back from
the foreign affairs into economic activity in the presence of iffy job
growth. There is job growth there. It is better. But he is in the
difficult position of arguing, it is better than if it would have been had
you elected the alternative, a virtually impossible argument to sell
because you can`t make it concrete.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I want the dig in a little bit more on
this question of what the Afghanistan policy is, what it looks like,
because part of the reason that it feels like waltzing before a blind
audience is because we have so little information about how to actually
understand and think about issues like drone attacks and the Chinese
humanitarian crisis and all of that.
So stay there, we are going to continue to waltz before our blind audience.
And later this hour, what issue could be a driving wedge within the
Democratic Party base. We will talk about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Over the last three years, the tide has turned. We broke the
Taliban`s momentum. We built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated
al Qaeda`s leadership taking out over 20 of the top 30 leaders. Still,
there will be difficult days ahead. Enormous sacrifices of the men and
women are not over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama`s address to Afghanistan from
Afghanistan on Tuesday evening where he underscored the message that the
tide of the war is receding in Afghanistan.
But on that very day, a stark reminder when a suicide bomber in Kabul
killed seven people, and showed that security in Afghanistan will continue
to ebb and flow no matter the stated time line.
In the months ahead as the drive down near, time will tell how the
president`s record in Afghanistan bears fruit on Election Day. But what
does now twist says, the U.S. Afghan agreement struck this week, is retired
general Wesley Clark, former NATO commander and now adviser to President
Obama`s campaign. He is in little rock, Arkansas. Also, Spencer Ackerman
who writes for wired magazine`s danger room blog. He joins us from
Thank you to both of you for being here.
General Clark, I just want to start with you this morning. We have been
talking about President Obama`s accomplishments both in drawing down troops
in Iraq, his language in Afghanistan this week, obviously, the killing of
Osama bin Laden.
What kind of difference if that going to make for the president politically
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, RETIRED U.S. ARMY: I think it is a very, very strong
platform to take foreign policy off of the table as a traditional
Republican advantage. Truly, the first election since the 19770s where a
democratic president or nominee can actually say we`re stronger on foreign
policy. And as you said previously, Melissa, in every democratic --
Republican rather primary debate, there were one or more candidates up
there saying that the president was appeasing and weak and repeating a lot
of old stuff that is just not true.
And I think that he`s, the president has to hammer home this message now
and take this issue off of the table. He is a strong leader. No one is
going to get to the right of him or to be tougher or more constructive on
foreign policy than President Barack Obama has been.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, let me go to you then, Spencer, on this. Because it
is a very interesting way that General Clark just put it to kind of taking
it off of the table by making clear the president`s strength. And yet, I
wonder about this idea of taking these issues off the table in an election
As you look at the actual policy, for example in this agreement that was
signed this week, what is your assessment of the plan, itself? Is it
something that we ought to be talking about as the 2012 election cycle?
SPENCER ACKERMAN, SENIOR WRITER, WIRED.COM: It seems absolutely, Melissa.
It should be something that not only the public should be talking about,
but the Obama campaign wants to talk about. I`m not sure they want to take
the issue off of the table, I think that they want to keep it on the table,
precisely because it is not very clear what Mitt Romney`s Afghanistan
policy is. It is not very clear what other avenue of attack aside from the
threshold issue of who is weak and who isn`t. The Romney campaign really
wants to launch on foreign policy.
On the issue, itself, in Afghanistan, the president talks about a tide of
war receding. But, tides kind of come in and out and at different levels.
And when you look at what`s going in Afghanistan, there is going to be two
more years of American combat and then ten more years of commitment to
Afghanistan and a drone war occurring with a lot less visibility next door
in Pakistan. So the war is still very much a fact of American life going
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I want to pause that. General Clark, actually I want
to ask you a little bit about exactly that drone war question, because I
think part of what we want to do here is to provide sort of a little more
useful information for our viewers about why Afghanistan matters. And
certainly part of it is the response to 9/11, the al Qaeda question.
But this week, John Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland
security and counterterrorism was talking also about the question of drone
attacks, which in Pakistan, for which Afghanistan is obviously critically
strategic. So, let`s take a look and listen to Brennan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR HOMELAND SECURITY AND
COUNTERTERRORISM: So let me say it as simply as I can. Yes, in full
accordance with the law and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the
United states and to save American lives, the United States government
conducts targeted strikes against specific al Qaeda terrorists, sometimes
using remotely piloted aircraft often referred to publicly as drones.
And I`m here today, because President Obama has instructed us to be more
open with the American people about these efforts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. General Clark, that is -- it is as straight forward as
you can imagine, there is the president`s spokesman saying we are using
drones here, saying that the president instructed him to tell the American
people about it.
Is this going to become more drone attacks become an issue in the context
of the campaign?
CLARK: I don`t think so. I think they are more indications of the
strength that President Barack Obama`s foreign policy and defense policy.
And Melissa just to be clear, when I say takes it off of the table, I don`t
mean the president is going to take and not use it. I mean, the
Republicans can`t use it against him.
CLARK: They have no foreign policy position other than to say Democrats
are traditionally weak. He is not weak.
CLARK: So now, let`s get it on the Republican failures on the domestic
side, and I think that is where the campaign will go based on a very strong
platform in foreign policy, the drone attacks being part of it. He has not
been afraid to use a very powerful weapon, and thank goodness he has,
because as he said 20 of the top 30 leaders have been taken out. We got
Osama bin Laden. We are using drones elsewhere, unmanned aerials vehicles
elsewhere. It is very effective.
This is an exceptional problem facing the United States of America. No
other nation has ever faced this kind of worldwide attack against us in
countries that we are not at war with. And so, it requires exceptional
means to go back at them and one of the exceptional means is these unmanned
HARRIS-PERRY: Spencer, I want to ask you about this, because it is feeling
like in part sort of like 21st century war, and part of the conversation
about the Democrats being weak on issues of foreign policy is the sort of
20th century version where you go to invade a country and states that fight
against each other.
What should we be thinking about as we try to make the audience less blind
on these issues? What are the key elements of the new forms of
international engagement that are keys for us to understand as a public, so
that we can judge the quality of the foreign policy?
ACKERMAN: Well, first of all, it may not be the greatest idea to think of
and describe drones as some kind of crazy, exotic, robot war for instance.
ACKERMAN: These - you know, every time a drone fires its weapon, a human
being decides not just to release the weapon, but where it ought to go, and
that there is a chain of intelligence that leans at the end of that cycle
to that attack.
What is exceptional in this context is that we know merely about what that
targeting cycle is. We don`t know what the decisions is that going to
decide and who ought to be targeted.
Brennan`s speech that you played the excerpt from is a classic example of
telling and not showing. Among the people the drones have killed is
American citizen propagandist for al Qaeda named Anwar Al Awlaki that the
administration insist without disclosing any evidence who was an
operational member of al Qaeda and he was killed an American citizen. That
is something worth having a debate about.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. Spencer Ackerman, I appreciate it. It is useful
got us to continue to think around this. Of course, you will come back and
join us again.
The rest of you are all going to stick around because we are going to talk
more about this question of the strength of leadership. We are also going
to talk about it in the context of how we put the context of the of the
unemployment rate that has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1, and whether or not that
actually going to matter in the next year. That is up, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Poor governor Mitt Romney. He began the week confronting
the anniversary of the rival`s most memorable accomplishment, the death of
Osama bin Laden, but the U.S. Labor Bureau thrown a bone at the end of the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should see the number in the
500,000 jobs created per month. This is way, way, way off of what should
happen in a normal recovery. The reason that you are seeing, the
unemployment rate go down is because you have more people dropping out of
the workforce than you have getting jobs. It is a terrible and very
disappointing report this morning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, unemployment went down to 8.1 percent in April down from
8.2 percent, and adding a net gain of 115,000 jobs, but then gains were
less than the economists predicted. So, still to be decided in this
presidential race is the top concern on the minds of Americans, the
So, here to answer that unknown, or MHP TBD`s, is Karen Finney, Kathleen
Jamieson and General Wesley Clark, adviser to the President Obama`s
So, I just want to ask each of you. We have been talking foreign policy,
but weigh in here. How is the economy in these kinds of numbers? How will
they impact in the campaign?
FINNEY: Well, what is interesting is, if you noticed that the goalpost
shifted this week. So for a while the argument was President Obama told us
we are under eight percent. Now that we are 8.1 percent, they didn`t show
it, but Romney was saying it`s got to be four percent, and knowing that we
are not going to get the four percent by November, knowing that what
matters is actually the trend. He did the same thing - he did the same
thing on the foreign policy front by - it`s not just about success in
Afghanistan, what is going on Pakistan, which I would argue that there were
successes in our relations with Pakistan based on the agreement with
Afghanistan. So., I mean, that is going to be the trend right, is to move
the goalpost along so it is unattainable.
JAMIESON: Well, the thin line is going on the right direction because the
way before it shrinking, that`s not really good news. And so, that the
difficulty right now is we don`t really know whether this is moving toward
a stall in the recovery or whether or not this means that some jobs came
into the economy early because of the favorable weather.
This is an indeterminate moment as a result. We make too much of small
changes in numbers against the very big numbers which is the number of
people there. There are also as big number of people who are holding back
and they are not in the labor force at all right now, they are experiencing
pain that translates into votes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure, right. So, the White House is still holding its
breath. I mean, there is a lovely optic there, General Clark, of Romney
saying it is horrible, it`s terrible, it`s awful, while there is a, you
know, a number going down on unemployment. So, optically it looks add, but
it is obviously a small number.
So General Clark, how will the president be able to discuss the economy and
the strength of the leadership there?
CLARK: Well, first of all, I think, you know, back to the previous
discussion for just a second. As your other panelists have noted, the
president has great influence on foreign policy, does not as much influence
on the economy. He is on really solid ground with the energy policy, and I
think energy is strategic opportunity for this economy. He has made
energy`s (INAUDIBLE) that all over the country talked about this. We call
it, all-in. It takes oil, it takes gas. We are spending $300 billion a
year importing foreign oil, and increasingly, we are going to replace it
with domestic energy sources and that is going to create jobs.
And so, I think that`s the momentum that you are going to see that the
administration and the spokesmen begin to talk about. I think there are
tremendous opportunities in this. You can see it in the Marcellus shale
and the northeast, you can certainly see it in North Dakota where you can`t
find a place to live out there because of the people pouring in there and
trying to work in the buck and shale there.
So, there is a great opportunities right now just opening up and energy is
so fundamental in this economy, this offers a chance to correct 40 years of
relative failure on American energy policy and we got it in our hands. So,
I think it is a major strength for the administration going forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, General Wesley Clark. This may has to be one of
the most informed electorates yet if we are going to run on energy and
foreign policy, we may actually end up on the other side as a profoundly
So, thank you so much for joining me. Karen and Kathleen, they are going
to be back later in the show.
But coming up, as President Obama launches the re-election campaign in just
a couple of hours, there is a deep divide decades in the making growing
between the president`s key supporters. And I want to ask if it could keep
some voters home November, and what I can do to address that. And that is
HARRIS-PERRY: This Tuesday, North Carolinians will go to the polls to vote
on a constitutional amendment to quote, "provide that marriage between one
man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or
recognized by the state."
Now, how does the state ballot question play into the re-election of
President Obama? Think about the base.
We know that African-Americans are a key constituency for candidate Obama
in 2008 and they will be again for the re-election as are gay and lesbian
voters. But could these two core parts of the Democratic base actually be
at odds with each other? And could the vote in North Carolina give us a
peek at the next frontier in the civil rights movement.
Joining me at the table are, Aisha Moodie-Mills adviser for LGBT policy and
racial justice at the Center for American Progress, Kai Wright of
colorlines.com. He is also the author of "drifting toward love," black,
brown gay and coming of age on the streets of New York. And Jennifer
Chrisler, the executive director of the family equality counseling and for
rally North Carolina, MHP foot soldier Reverend Doctor William Barber,
president of the North Carolina NAACP.
Welcome to all of you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Reverend Barber, actually I wasn`t to start with you.
It is really actually quite lovely to speak to you directly. You were
actually our very first foot soldier on this program in part because of
your work against amendment one in North Carolina.
So, can you do two things for me? First, can you tell me just a little bit
about what amendment one is so that the viewers will know? And then, I
want to ask you why the NAACP as a national organization does not take a
holistic stance on the issue of same-sex marriage?
REVEREND WILLIAM BARBER, PRESIDENT, NORTH CAROLINA NAACP: Well, first of
all, let me thank you so much, Melissa, for allowing us to come on.
This amendment is really an attempt to put to a popular vote a
constitutional right of individuals. It is a dangerous precedent. It is a
form of state`s rights trying to trump the 14th amendment, and even the
equal protection clause in our constitution at the state level with the
21st century form of what I call into position nullification. It is bad
law, because every family lawyer, every law school and family law experts
from the law school have said it is bad. It hurts heterosexual families.
It will hurt domestic violence, and persons who experience domestic
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Let me pause this and clarify, and I want you to
clarify that for folks, that because of the way that the law is worried on
the ballot, it could potentially mean that for example, if a woman is in a
relationship with a man but that`s not her husband, which you may not be
able to get the domestic violence protection because of what it only
recognize marriage and no other relationship.
HARRIS-PERRY: Go ahead.
BARBER: Or if they are in a relationship and if the city governments allow
you to get insurance benefits to your children. But since you only going
to recognize one kind of union, it disallows that as well.
But at a much deeper at the civil rights level --
BARBER: -- the same people who have fought us at every turn on voters
rights, same people trying to suppress the vote, same people cutting $6
billion from the public education trying to roll back welfare reform,
trying to roll back health care reform, trying to repeal the racial justice
act who have literary fought us at every turn have now come in to the
community and ask us to join them in promoting discrimination and hate and
evidently being written into the very framework of the constitution, and
that is why the NAACP of North Carolina, 125 branches in our coalition of
125 partners are standing firm against this.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I - I mean, Reverend, what you have done there with the
local NAACP I think is so cri critical, because to the point that you just
made even the same folks who will come for the rights of the people of
But let me ask. It does feel though like our national civil rights
organizations the NAACP, the LCSC, they have not take national stance on
issues of LGBT equality.
Aisha, can you respond to that?
KAI WRIGHT, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, COLORLINES.COM: I will speak to that after
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, ADVISOR, LGBT POLICY AND RACIAL JUSTICE: Well, I would
say to that is that, this is bigger than simply LGBT acknowledging LGBT
rights. When you think about what is really happening, conservatives are
creating a smoke screen for discrimination. They are trying to pit the
black folks against the gay folks as if the two communities are mutually
exclusive, which is ridiculous because here I am, a black lesbian as a
member of vote struggling the inner sections of vote.
But they are doing that as a smoke screen to hide the fact that they are
trying to discriminate against the minorities and really roll back the
hands of time in terms of our right to an opportunities in America. They
should be using these resources on these ballot measure to focus on getting
North Carolina`s economy back on track.
MOODIE-MILLS: But instead, they are wasting time. They are wasting money
and it is redundant, because what folks know or what folks don`t know is
that same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina. The
legislature already took part of that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It is already illegal, but by instantiating it into
the constitution here, right, by actually creating it an amendment. And
that is the thing, that Reverend Barber, that`s actually the thing that you
have the greatest disagreement about it is the instantiation into the
BARBER: Well, that and putting the people`s constitutional right up for a
popular vote went even further. Think about it. If equal protection under
the law is protected which is the fundamental precedent here, the reality
is, you have the family research council that is listed as a hate group by
the southern poverty center, you have the national organization of marriage
in their own document saying this is not about marriage, but a unholy
marriage between far right ideology and money that deliberately designed to
So, if we ask the right question, and what we have found if the North
Carolinians get the right question on black or white, they are against the
amendment. And that question should be, do you believe that the
discrimination and the hate division should be written into the
constitution, whether you believe for or against same-sex marriage
religiously or personally or by conviction, that is protected, too.
And we should - and that should be a choice. But putting it in the
constitution and that is why we have people who are against same-sex
marriage from the religious point of view for all or their convictions, but
they are also against this amendment.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. Sure.
BARBER: And when we ask the right question, the majority of North
Carolinians and African-Americans stand against this amendment as long as
we are not suckered into the wrong question by the ultra right.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s what we know. I want to bring in the question,
because I am hammering on what I have been seen as a part of the failure on
the part of civil -- contemporary civil rights organizations to take a
clear stands on this. So, we did see the national organization of marriage
memo, reselling this and that is I think appalling for all of us who care
about all of these questions, writing that the strategic goal is to drive a
wedge between the gays and blacks two key democratic constituencies.
Now, obviously, as you pointed out, it is -- the idea of driving a wedge
between the gays and the blacks assumes that there are no queer black
people, which is by itself --
And that is the fallacy of the whole marriage debate, is this notion that
blacks somehow equals straight and gay equals white. That is ridiculous.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, even court happens, because of actively what has
happened in the organizing communities, and so, that is part of what I want
to put to head here, on the one hand, I want the NAACP to come out clearly
on the civil rights issue of equality. But I would also like to know where
are HRC and GLAD, when we are marching for Trayvon Martin and on - I mean,
like I want us to be allies, but I need the allies to be on both sides.
JENNIFER CHRISLER, FAMILY EQUALITY COUNCIL: Yes. I think absolutely.
There is no question that part of the conversation that is happening in
this country, is what are our shared income and values.
As the mother, you know, to twin boys, I think about all the time. What is
it that I want to teach my kids about this next generation? About the
future of human rights and civil rights in the country, and I think, you
know, as organizations like ours, we have to stand up on issues that matter
to everyone. And that`s why I think from a family perspective, you know,
why aren`t we focused on the health care? Why aren`t we focused on the
You know, families all across this country are like one refrigerator repair
away from disaster financially, and we should be thinking of policies that
really shape and impact that, all families, because families are complex
these days in this country. And as Aisha has said, you know, more couples
of colors, same sex couples of colors are raising children in this country
than causation couples, same sex couples.
MOODIE-MILLS: It is more likely to live in poverty and suffer.
WRIGHT: Right. And this is where we talk about, you know, everybody being
in this together, the piece.
First off, race as a tool to move progressive policy is old as dirt. And,
you know, whether is gay issues or on people -- whatever it is, it is old
as dirt. And the best way to allow that to happen is when the progressives
get color blind, right?
And so, when the progressive weather it`s -- whatever the issue is,
whatever the issue we are talking about it, when the progressives say,
well, we are not going to talk about race. We are going to ignore race,
every single time the right will move into that space, and define race as
HARRIS-PERRY: And perfectly happy to talk about it.
WRIGHT: And perfectly happy to talk about it in descent way. But I think
what`s also important, that`s one. And the second, what`s important here,
is to recognize, there is a great deal of really important work going both
in the racial justice community and in the lesbian and bisexual and
transgendered communities that is coming together. And where you see, it
is not necessarily at those big national levels, but the local organizing
levels. And I think that is an important thing to start drilling down and
start talk about how we can support it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we are going to talk more about supporting exactly that
right on North Carolina. You are going to stay with us, Reverend Barber.
We are going to continue on this conversation after the break.
Plus, later in the show, we are going to play arm chair psychologist to
President Obama and his crazy love letters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Time for the "your business" entrepreneurs
of the week.
Ken Whiting and his nephew, Jack, own whiting food which has run food
concessions on the Santa Cruz boardwalks since 1983. They employed
hundreds of high school and college aged employees and they have learned
that managing this generation means that you have to speak their language.
For more watch "your business" Sunday mornings at 7:30 on MSNBC.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. We are continuing our conversation on
amendment one in North Carolina and the wedge between the black and the gay
And joining me are Aisha Moodie-Mills of the center for American progress,
Kai Wright of colorlines.com, Jennifer Chrisler of the family equality
council, and from North Carolina, the Reverend Doctor William Barber,
president of the North Carolina NAACP.
So, you guys were giving it to me good in the break. I love it. Don`t
leave it all here in the ad space, because obviously, there are deep
interconnections, between the idea of a wedge which is it actually
So, I just want to remind Americans and remind our viewers that the
architect of the march on Washington is not Martin Luther King Jr.,
although he was the great voice, but the architect of it, of course, was
Byron Rustin. Byron Rustin was an openly gay man and by the way, also,
Quaker and pacifist and all of those things openly, at that same time quite
openly. And that his relationship with King was deeply impacted by his out
identity. And other folks we think of the civil right heroes, people like
Barbara Jordan who lived for, you know, more than 30 years with her - with
her female partner in Texas and was one of the kind of leading civil rights
leaders of our time.
So there isn`t, and there are not two communities. We are overlapping
Reverend Barber, let me go to you first.
BARBER: Let me say and this may help a little bit. If you don`t buy the
line that the right has put out there about the divide and that`s to come
on the ground in North Carolina for six years, the NAACP, 120 chapters have
been leading and building a coalition called the people`s coalition of now
over 125 organizations, representing abroad, 14-point agenda representing
more than 2 million people. And that agenda includes expanding civil
So, where there are some saying we need to work together, the reason we are
able to fight back so hard in North Carolina is because we have been
working together. We have been sitting down at the table and even the
members of the LGBT community and that`s what decided, that if you fight
this on the constitutional level -- yes, persons who have differences on
the religious level. We have actually had people who maybe pro same sex
marriage, against same-sex marriage.
But this issue of the equal protection under the law, on this issue of not
allowing popular votes to determine people`s rights and people`s lifestyle,
we valued the nimb. And we have - you know, they are powerful -- when you
made me a foot soldier, I was in a rally of over 15000 people in a southern
state, one of the most diverse gathering we have seen in the last 30 years.
And it is growing and expanding. So we are not starting to work. We have
been actually doing the work, and that is why we are able to fight back so
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me back at you in a second. Talk to me about the
WRIGHT: I want to put a fine point on what Reverend Barber is saying.
WRIGHT: Because one thing that the Color Lines is probably should have
applied research center did is a study about a year ago. We surveyed 80
organizations, some of them did the work on the racial justice, some that
are working specifically with people of color in queer communities. And
what we found is that, there is actually enormous amount of work going on
at the local level but that the challenges are two-fold.
One, folks feel isolated by this conversation that equates gay civil rights
with whiteness, and they feel isolated with that, which then also leaves
some of the local organizations wildly underfunded, because they cannot get
resources to do their work.
But where they find the most fertile ground is when they are working on the
issues that affect, uniquely affect people of color in the lesbian,
bisexual, and gay and transgendered community, and when we talk about
housing and gender discrimination and when we talk about family law
broadly, not just marriage, when we talk about homelessness amongst youth -
HARRIS-PERRY: they are making an agenda of broader agenda of social
MOODIE-MILLS: And when we look it like an agenda is, I actually wrote a
report recently in January called "jumping beyond the broom, and why black
and gay and transgendered Americans need more equality" because when we
look at the issues that impact black LGBT people in particular that live at
the inner sections of both black and gay community, we find that they are
at the bottom by almost every metric whether it is economic insecurity,
whether be health involvement disparities like you were talking about
housing issues, whether be even educational attainment and who is bullied
in the schools and mental health, et cetera.
CHRISLER: And that is going on at the national level, too. I mean, you
know, we just finished a report with the center for American progress
called all children matter. And, you know, that report looked at the
disproportionate impact on the two million children who are being raised in
the one million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families in this
country. And what we found from the policy perspective is that, things
around family issues, economic security, access to social safety net
programs, education and the quality of it, I mean as parents, that is a
uniting bond, a set of common values that we all rally around so nicely.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to be right back on all of these after this
HARRIS-PERRY: In the short time that we have left in the hour, we will
continue our conversation on amendment one in North Carolina, the so-called
wedge between black and gay communities.
You know, the wedge this week was between the Romney campaign and Richard
Grenell, his adviser, as an openly gay man was basically pushed out.
How much are these issues going to play for President Obama building a
strong multiracial diverse coalition in 2012? How much will all of this
CHRISLER: Look, I think this conversation is one that is ongoing. And it
is unfortunate that we are not having the right conversation right now
which is, what are the common values that we want to see moving forward?
What is the future that we are building for the next generation of my kids?
You know, I have one on the way. So, how do we really unite around that?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there are two million and one children.
CHRISLER: Yes, exactly and I`m contributing the one. But really, how do
we focus on the common shared values and what is the legacy we are leaving
for our children around these issues, and that is what we should be talking
MOODIE-MILLS: And look. The generation of young people that supported
Obama in full force think that this whole gay conversation is moot. I
mean, it is really ridiculous that conservatives are grappling for whatever
straw they can to put us back into the muck of the cultural wars.
HARRIS-PERRY: Younger people, it is very, very clear.
MOODIE-MILLS: Yes it is very, very clear. And so, what we see and what is
telling about what Romney camp is doing as well as they are disconnecting
from the Americans, they are completely out of touch with what American
voters care about. And I think that this type of culture race-baiting
conversations continue, it is going to be bad news for the conservatives.
HARRIS-PERRY: Kai and Aisha, you guys are sticking round.
So, Reverend Barber, I want to give you one last quick moment before we
have to go.
BARBER: Well, I just want to say if we ask the right question, we will get
the right answer. We focus on the constitution. We bring our allies
together. And I don`t think there is a wedge. As we ought to day, don`t
get suckered into that.
In North Carolina when you do the hard work of organizing, you will see the
mighty coalitions built. And that is what we have seen, that`s why we were
able to fight back. And I wish you all could come down to North Carolina
to see the great coalition workers.
HARRIS-PERRY: Reverend Barber, I will go to North Carolina anytime. I
went to college and waited its grand (INAUDIBLE).
BARBER: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: My dear friend teacher (INAUDIBLE); I got my eyes on North
Carolina all the time. So that invitation, I promised I will take you up
BARBER: We will make it happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. Thank you for of your work there on the ground.
Reverend William Barber, thank you. And also Jennifer Chrisler, also from
attributing one more to this family of progressive thinkers.
HARRIS-PERRY: And coming up, we will dish about the president`s lovely,
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: Before the president launches his
campaign today with his vision for the future, first he has to contend with
some ghosts from his past. And the worst nightmare honestly of anyone who
has been in a relationship, namely his exes, and their meticulously
preserved diaries and letters coming out of the woodwork, with all the
This week, "Vanity Fair" released an excerpt of "Barack Obama: The
Story," autobiography of the president by David Maraniss, to be released in
June. And in the book, two of the president`s former flames from his post
college years in New York, open up and tell all.
Only instead of dishing on how the president loved and left them, his
past loves paint a portrait of one of the most watched men on the planet
and his search for himself. The person that he was looking for and that we
now know as President Obama was no accident. In the book, a friend from
those years describes the future president as "the most deliberate person I
ever met in terms of constructing his own identity, and his achievement was
really an achievement of identity in the modern world. That was an
important period for him, and first the shift from not an international,
but an American, and number one. And then not white, but black."
Joining me here at the table, MSNBC political analyst Karen Finney.
She is the former director of communications for the DNC; Kai Wright,
editorial director of Colorlines.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute;
and Kathleen Hall Jamieson ,during of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at
the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of "The Obama Victory".
OK. So, I confess --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on.
HARRIS-PERRY: I confess, I loved this story, because I felt like one
of the things that excited a lot of us in the world of nerds when President
Obama was elected is a sense that a genuine intellectual was coming into
White House, but you can never be completely sure on how someone frames
themselves. And I actually thought it was sort of sweet in a little dorky
that he quotes all of the philosophers in the middle of his love letters.
And, you know, I wonder, do we gain any insight on Obama the man and
potentially on Obama the leader and president from knowing these things?
KAI WRIGHT, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, COLORLINES.COM: Well, they are not
new things, though. One of the interesting things about Barack Obama is
that for all of the crazy Tea Party conspiracies about who is he really --
the man has lived out loud his whole life.
I mean, "Dreams For My Father" covered much of this emotional
territory already. You know, his wrestling with who he is, and the racial
identity and what is the role in the world and what he will represent in
He -- this is actually isn`t new other than the really interesting
girlfriend piece of it.
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: But you know what? The
girlfriend piece, we`re talking about this earlier.
FINNEY: If anything, it makes him very much an American male, let me
tell you, because how much of you have had the experience that you say, "I
love you" and the guy was like, thanks. Like come on.
HARRIS-PERRY: Like nice sentiment, dear.
FINNEY: Come on, that is the American male in their 20s, trust me.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, ANNENBERG PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: I had
another reaction which is that there is a strange piece in the Internet
that circulated in 2008 that said that Barack Obama did not write his
books, and William Ayers wrote his books.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes.
JAMIESON: When you read the language in the love letters --
JAMIESON: -- and -- or whatever those letters were, those
communiques, and you compare them to the books, it is exactly the same
voice, exactly the same kind of stylistic tendencies and we can now put to
rest that strange viral allegation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right that he did not write it. And I want to pause
on this for a second, especially the point that he is an American male,
because part of what the Romney campaign has been doing as they put Ann
Romney, very likable figure out front, is this very, I think sort of
sanitize and although I think completely honest version of an American love
There was only Ann. There was only Ann for Mitt. It was just us.
We met. And -- you know?
But this story is a much more complicated one. Obama actually did
love others, and work on his way sort of as he finds his way to Michelle
who has a 70 percent approval rating.
Am I going too far in the metaphor that maybe Americans prefer the
kind of third grade version of love and America and of history versus the
real complicated messy versions of love and America and history?
FINNEY: Well, how do we know that there aren`t any complications in
the Mitt and the Ann story? They can better control that story, because
they have been together for such a long period of time and none of the
former girlfriends are writing anything.
WRIGHT: Well, it is uncomfortable point, but it`s also an important
narrative for the Romney story, because of the -- what a lot of the
Americans think about Mormonism, you know? So having recognizable family
is important to him, politically. You know?
And I think --
HARRIS-PERRY: You think that monogamy from the beginning is very
important because of the LDS?
WRIGHT: Because of the way that the Americans think about it, and
the regardless of the perception.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Right, not because it is there, but because it
is out there.
WRIGHT: And whereas, you know, Michelle Obama has a 70 percent
approval rating and she did not always have one. And one of the things
that attracted me to, us, to the Obama story, those of us in nerd land, and
many people who didn`t participate or care about politics before that is
the complexity of the Obama story.
It`s a complicated story. It always has been.
HARRIS-PERRY: I literally, when I read this, I could not help
myself, but I went out to find a quote because I thought, you know, this is
so perfect, right, that no straight thing has ever made from the crooked
timber of humanity, right? That`s what we are. We are the cooked timber
of humanity and kind of reading the pathos of young Obama felt to me like
the sort of Kantian moment.
And it also felt like he would have actually quoted Kant as a way of
getting of --
JAMIESON: There is a piece of a story that`s emerging here that was
consistent, more consistent with the presidency with what we thought we saw
in 2008, and that is the person who is detached.
And the Republican line on the detached -- and the sort of Republican
framing of detached is cold and calculating, you can`t necessarily trust.
And the -- of course, the Democratic take is endearing and romantic,
searching for himself and finding identity.
But here is the bottom line electorally, once someone has been
president, we don`t use those early biographical years, because they don`t
tell us anything knew. Those things matter for Mitt Romney, because we are
screening him. We`re still trying to find out who he is.
But once somebody has served two or three years as Dan Rather found
out about George W. Bush, whatever it is in the past doesn`t really matter.
HARRIS-PERRY: And does race complicate that at all? I love that
story that -- you know, once we`ve known the three or four years, that`s
really the only kind of what have you done for us lately, we don`t care
about the past. But I wonder if we are still grappling with having a black
president and the ways in which since we live as DuBois (ph) would have
said, behind the veil, that we are like somehow still trying to get to know
this particular president.
Am I over-reading the race story here?
FINNEY: I don`t think -- you know, one of the excerpts that got no
attention up against the girlfriend factor was this conversation that he
had with Maraniss, where he was saying like, in trying to figure out who I
am, you know, I`m black, I`m white, I don`t have a class. I don`t have you
know, I`m sort of all over the place. I realize I have to embrace all of
I feel like that tells you a lot about who this person is, and why he
is an effective leader, because he is somebody -- and again, if it plays
against the narrative that the Republicans want to paint of this man, but
he is someone who genuinely, I think sees the big picture 360 degrees and
is trying to live a life that embraces a lot of that rather than saying,
"I`m going to will put this piece off here and be this," he is trying to be
a more integrated human being, which I think is a harder thing to do, and
racially, you know, talked about this as a mixed race person. That is a
hard thing to do, and that is a hard line to walk.
WRIGHT: Though at the same time, you know, I think there is a
progressive critique of the president that I have made myself is and it
comes up in this portrait is that he is a person who is more interested in
what he represents than the change he makes, right? That he`s -- that he
sees himself as the embodiment of change, and that that gets in the way of
system of ugly messy business of making change in a place like Washington.
You know, I think that, so I think that it is a -- you can spin his,
and it is clear that he is very concerned with what he represents, and you
can spin that -- there`s both a positive and negative side of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I love that -- so, he apparently says actually to
Genevieve Cook, one of the ex-girlfriends that he is actually making a
choice to go towards blackness. So he confessed that, you know, he is
having ambivalence about being both black and white, and it becomes clear
to him that he needs to go towards blackness.
And we actually see him embrace the blackness, both in the choice of
romantic partner. You know, and I have been carrying around my "Invisible
Man" because I found out that apparently he had a tattered version of
"Invisible Man," in his choice to live on the south side of Chicago, even
in his Census bubble choice that he made in 2010, I wonder if that`s -- if
there is something about that embrace, itself, that is politically relevant
as a change moment.
WRIGHT: Maybe. I think that it is more relevant to him. First off
on the question of, I think that we are in fact wrestling with having a
black president, but no more or less than we did in 2008, right? I think
we`re there, sort of speaks to Kathleen`s point that the people have done
what they are going to do around it emotionally, and this is the end of
that. It`s present, but people are going to go where they have gone.
I think what`s interesting about the "Invisible Man" piece is, you
know, his embrace of blackness. He is talking Ralph Ellison, not Richard
Wright, you know?
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s true.
WRIGHT: So, you know, there are different ways to embrace blackness.
And he has embraced a version that, I think, is -- could go differently.
HARRIS: Could, indeed.
All right. So, stay right there. We`re going to continue to dig
into the psyche of President Obama and the question of elections.
And then after that, I`m going to actually test our panelists`
political prowess. Don`t go away.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are here and mining the memories of the president`s
exes for insight into what makes him tick. I don`t know but we are having
a good time with it.
Still with me are: Karen Finny and Kai Wright, and Kathleen Hall
So, I want -- there was this one insight that I thought was
potentially a lovely way of thinking about the president as a decision-
maker. And read, that Alex had been fond of Barry, as she called him, and
quote, "and thought he was interesting in a very particular way. He really
worked his way through an idea or question, turned it over, looked at it
from all sides, and then came to a precise and elegant conclusion."
Right, this idea of -- I mean, first of all I can`t -- I`ve read the
emails between my ex and me and nothing like that ever happened.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I wonder about -- you know, you were talking
earlier about this idea of remoteness, or intellectualism or of carefulness
has sometimes actually been used against he president by his political
enemies or opponents?
JAMIESON: Yes. And it speaks to a theme that says out of touch, in
a time in which you got concerns about middle class and jobs and economic
anxiety. But I don`t think you can play that out effectively from a 22
years to the present, when you`ve had three of experience with an actual
I think the place you see it however is in the communication style,
if you watch him answering questions in an interview, what you see is
someone, academic (INAUDIBLE) is a high self-monitor and you hear him
hearing himself and in pauses him evaluating the next things he is going to
say. There are strengths and weaknesses in that. Sometimes you can say,
in the presidency, perhaps, who would have benefit from having a lot more
of that in some president.
The weakness of it, of course, is the question that speaks to
indecisiveness, and that is where being a strong leader on foreign policy
is a strong image, because it tends to undercut that possibility.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, George W. Bush was not a high self-monitor of
those things, but you`re right, President Obama is.
FINNEY: Let`s think about that passage you just read in the context
of the decision about whether or not to go in to get Osama bin Laden.
clearly, he had to take in a lot of conflicting information and here is the
risk and the potential reward -- you know, which way am I going to do this?
I mean, I think that says a lot about his style as a leader now, and the
way he approaches the decisions.
And, again, I think part of the challenge is, that maybe how he
approaches decisions in matters where Congress actually gets a say.
There`s whole other piece that you have to deal with that you didn`t when
you are not in your own head, you know, figuring it out for yourself.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, that`s interesting point about that sort of
executive role versus having to be the master of the legislative branch as
WRIGHT: Well, you know, policy making nor really politics is not
elegant. That`s the thing. This is not an elegant process.
HARRIS-PERRY: No, it`s kind of a mess, huh?
WRIGHT: It`s a messy, dirty --
HARRIS-PERRY: It should be though.
WRIGHT: And it would be wonderful in the world if it was. But our
government is not designed for it to be elegant, because we have a
government built on conflict, that`s the notion of and it`s created
stability, and created a lot of good things for America, but it`s built on
And a frustration with the president that grows that you see in the
letters and the governing style and the leadership style is that in the
current job he has, elegance is not necessarily your best weapon because
it`s an ugly business.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, let me ask you also about, there is another sort
of framework here, that is the president is a cosmopolitan world citizen,
and again, this is a framework that`s also been used by his opponents who
has said he has kid of apologia for America, right, that he is constantly
apologizing -- which is again, very, very odd right?
But Kwame Appiah suggests that cosmopolitanism actually gives us a
sense of obligation towards others, a sense of obligation not only to human
light in general toward particular human lives. Should see this president,
this president who is from a African father and white American mother and
lived in another part of the world and then lived in the south side of
Chicago -- is his cosmopolitanism a good thing in our 21st century, or is
it potentially seen as a kind of weakness for the GOP to push back?
FINNEY: You know, if you think about the changing demographics of
the country and the world, it should be a good thing. Think about, you
know, so many of the European countries that are now dealing with the
immigration, the nature of those countries are changing. The definition of
what it is to be an American is changing -- I think that`s part of what
Obama challenges is that there is a lot of definitions of what it is to be
And so, I actually think, yes, having somebody who understands deeply
cultural differences, spiritual differences, educational differences,
experiential differences, I would hope that`s a good thing, and less so
than saying, OK, everybody has got to fit in this box, right, and everybody
who doesn`t fit in that box, can`t be on my team.
HARRIS-PERRY: It might give him empathy.
WRIGHT: Well, I mean, the Obama message has been, you know, that my
cosmopolitanism, and the things that you would call cosmopolitan and this
is uniquely American, and this is the American -- this is the heroic
HARRIS-PERRY: But this is the American exceptionalism --
WRIGHT: Right, is that I, Barack Obama, can exist and can be
president of the United States and all of my complexity, because America is
such a wonderful and exceptional place. That`s the Barack Obama narrative.
WRIGHT: So that is -- they have successfully did that in 2008, was
spin that with a new part of the electorate -- folks who hadn`t been
participating, young people, people of color, and to say, yes, that`s
right, I associate myself with the narrative and got into the game.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is the White House worried about this book as it comes
up. This is just a "Vanity Fair" excerpt can getting me all riled up.
But when the book comes up is the White House worried about this or
part of the factorial scurry of an election cycle?
JAMIESON: I don`t know. I think they worry about everything, but to
go back to your earlier point, I think one of the characteristics that
comes from this cosmopolitan attitude is the ability to see from the
perspective of others, and good leaders do that.
But good presidents in culture in which we simplify don`t do it in
public. He`s made the mistake of doing it in public, mistake not because
it was the wrong thing the do in the broader context, but a mistake because
it yields sound bites that can be used to indict.
So when Republicans say he doesn`t believe in American
exceptionalism, they are referring back a statement he made in Strasburg,
notice where he is and which he`s asked about belief in American
exceptionalism and he says that the French believes they are exceptional,
and of course, he then makes the American exceptional in the United States.
What is critiqued is the fact that he grants that they might think
that are, too, as if they shouldn`t.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. That, in fact, other sons may be just as warm
as our own.
Coming up, we actually have a pop quiz. We are going to play "Name
that campaign" right after this break.
HARRIS-PERRY: With the general election in full gear, both parties
this week rolled out fresh slogans.
President Obama`s camp unleashed "Forward" as the new tag line on a
new campaign video while the RNC began pushing hype and blame slogan as a
play on Obama`s hope and change slogan.
Actually a slogan can turn the narrative and capture the nation`s
imagination, who could can forget Reagan`s "it is morning in America." But
there are so many other classics and some spectacular dud, which brings us
to this week`s pop quiz.
That`s right. Name that campaign. And here to play are Karen
Finney, Kai Wright, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson.
Let`s play, "name that campaign." Oh, God. I live this.
Here we go. This one is for you, Karen.
FINNEY: Oh, dear. OK.
HARRIS-PERRY: This candidate used his anti-war credentials in his
re-election campaign slogan saying he kept us out of war. Which president
used "he kept us out of war" as the campaign slogan?
FINNEY: I have no idea.
WRIGHT: You are not going to give up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, guess, because there is only 40-some-odd ones.
I`ll give you a hint. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
HARRIS-PERRY: Actually, it was Woodrow Wilson.
FINEY: Oh. Who knew?
HARRIS-PERRY: And Woodrow Wilson is a real fan of Woodrow Wilson in
the nerd land because he was president of the university before becoming
president of the United States, although he did birth of the nation and
segregate Washington, D.C. which has its own problems.
OK. So, second one, this one is for you, Kai.
And it is not standard campaign slogan per se, but it is a song.
Which candidate used the song, "Happy days are here again"?
WRIGHT: Ugh, for some reason I want to say Al Gore, because it feels
like and Al Gore saying.
HARRIS-PERRY: Voters were not so happy at this particular moment in
WRIGHT: Well, I think we got to with Ronald Reagan.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, no, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt.
FINNEY: That one I knew.
JAMIESON: It was also Hubert Humphrey at his convention
catastrophically as he was speaking.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that you know that. I love that you know that.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. All right. Kathleen, this one is for you. This
is from a U.S. president who actually won elections. And in the first, the
slogan was "vote yourself a farm" and for reelection, "Don`t swap horses in
the middle of the stream." Which president?
JAMIESON: Well, I want to get help fro from --
HARRIS-PERRY: This president has many connections to the current
HARRIS-PERRY: Abraham Lincoln. And by the way, on this day 1864. A
woman in her 80s who knitted a pair of socks for him, and he saw it as a
sign of great patriotism.
OK. All right. So this is rapid fire, for anybody who was not "just
HARRIS-PERRY: Of course. How about "kinder and gentler nation."
JAMIESON: George Herbert Walker Bush.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right, George H.W. Bush, 1988.
WRIGHT: Come on, Kathleen.
HARRIS-PERRY: Don`t stop about thinking tomorrow.
FINNEY: I know.
HARRIS-PERRY: And finally, perhaps the easies one ever, "I like
JAMIESON: Hmm, Grover Cleveland.
HARRIS-PERRY: I know. It`s like who is buried in grant`s tomb.
And, of course, the first one Tippecanoe and Tyler, too, from 1840.
JAMIESON: William Henry Harrison.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. OK. and someone who asked to us think about the
last one a that is William Henry ford Harrison`s Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.
And thank you for the "campaign slogans" because when we come back we will
try to make it more serious and we are going to talk about framing and
framing campaigns and where President Obama is right now today as he is
about to take the stage in Ohio in about an hour, and stay tuned for that
as we talk about what will be the frame on this campaign.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are just over an hour from the official kickoff of
President Obama`s re-election campaign and you are looking at a live
picture of the stage at Columbus, Ohio, where first of two campaign rallies
will happen this afternoon.
Later today, the president will campaign in Virginia. They are both
crucial swing states, Ohio and Virginia, and they`re going to be key to his
path to victory.
And at the end of the day, framing is everything. How a candidate
packages their message to the voters, it`s key. For the President Obama,
the fact is -- gone are days of "yes, we can," and hope, or at least the
2008 version, those have to be left for four years ago.
So, just how will the Obama campaign frame their new slogan
"Forward"? Which sounds like this other place I work. And will American
voters buy it?
Back with me are Karen Finney, former DNC communications director,
Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and Aisha
Moodie-Mills of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Thank you all for being here. So, let`s talk first about forward,
because I did watch the entire seven-minute "Forward" mini movie. Let`s
just take a little bit of it here and look at how the campaign is framing
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD NARRATOR: And while there`s still more to do, there`s been real
progress, because President Obama never stopped believing in us and
fighting for us. He took on the credit card companies, stopping unfair
fees and hidden penalties, took on the Wall Street banks, too, fighting for
tough new reforms to make sure that they never again wreck our economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the president spends a lot of time in the -- or
the president`s campaign spends a lot of time in this video talking about
his accomplishments, and the things that he`s done. Is this the right
frame? Here`s what I`ve done, let`s keep moving forward?
JAMIESON: The frame in that is actually being misinterpreted. When
people think it`s forward, sans imitating MSNBC, they are missing the line
that comes right before that, that says -- and this is an ongoing theme for
more two months -- everybody does the fair share in this America that he
envisions, everybody has a fair shot and everybody plays by the same rules.
That`s actually the digestive slogan or digestive statement of this
HARRIS-PERRY: I see.
JAMIESON: And if they can sell all three of those things as their
digestive message, it will be the first time in history of the modern
presidency that someone has managed to complex message as their digestive
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, the fair share, fair shot, and everybody
doing their part.
JAMIESON: Same rules.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we are rolling here, you know, looking at these are
the accomplishments that they are telling us, but it`s also this
fundamental framing of fairness.
FINNEY: But it`s also, you know, when you are incumbent running for
re-election, I mean, you have to have the message framed somewhat around
here`s what we`ve done, and we`ve got more to do, so stick with me, right?
Whether you are George Bush in 2004, I mean, you know, a gain --
HARRIS-PERRY: Abraham Lincoln.
FINNEY: Exactly. Keep that horse in the river. But because at some
point, that is the argument, right? Why am I going to change now,
different kind of change, or continue the change, right? That`s part of
One of the things that will be an interesting hallmark is that they
will again use technology to bring people into the campaign so that the
campaign hopefully feels like we are all in this together -- again, little
bit more on the fairness, sort of embodiment of fairness in a very unique
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, the campaign was so -- I mean, sort of user-based
technology was critical in `08, to making people feel like they were
actually on the campaign staff.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, ADVISOR, LGBT POLICY & RACIAL JUSTICE: I want to
go back actually, I think there is something really, really brilliantly
simplistic in this idea of forward, because when you think of contrast to
Mitt Romney and what the Republicans are offering, they are really
HARRIS-PERRY: Literally take the country back.
MOODIE-MILLS: Let`s go backwards to all of the failed policies that
didn`t work. Let`s go back to the W. Bush days when we completely tanked
So what the president is trying to do is to remind us that we need to
constantly be moving forward and we can ill afford as a nation to move
backwards to the old policies of the past.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s give the Republicans a voice here by showing
their hype and blame, which is, you know, their counter, they`re saying,
OK, hope and change, no, it`s hype and blame.
Let`s take a look at what this counter strategy is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The real question is,
will this country be better off four years from now?
If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change
under my plan is that we will lower your premiums. As president, I will go
through the federal budget line by line, ending programs that we don`t
If you don`t have a record to run on --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Hype and blame 2012.
FINNEY: They got to keep saying that he does not have a record to
run on, when what you hear from the Obama campaign is his record that he is
running on, right? I mean, there`s this whole, I know you are, but what am
I strategy going through from the Republicans, right, that like, he is
heroic, because he got Osama bin Laden.
No, actually, he`s not heroic because he got Osama bin Laden. I
mean, you know, that`s sort of part of their flipping of the message, I
guess you could say. That`s the u-turn or the going backwards from their
MOODIE-MILLS: And what they are not doing is they`re not talking
about the Republican record, right? If you look at Congress and you look
at how Congress has thwarted much of what the president has tried to
accomplish, and he still has so many accomplishments despite the fact that
Congress has done absolutely nothing, under Republican leadership.
You know, the question that you could ask about all those numbers
that they put out there in that commercial is, well, where are the
Republicans on these issues? How have Republicans been working to move our
economy forward? What have Republicans been doing to lessen the burden of
health care expenses and housing expenses?
HARRIS-PERRY: Part of -- and this when we`ve been looking at
Quinnipiac poll, is how close at this moment Romney and the president are.
You know, so at 44-42 with the president just a slight advantage in Ohio,
which is going to be a key place, part of why he`s kicking off there today.
Also, in Virginia, there`s big gaps around gender, but much smaller gaps
around the sort of Americans in general, 51-44, a lot bit better for the
president in Virginia.
But is the Romney campaign`s only responsibility here to just take
apart the notion of Obama or is there something -- is there a constructive
building of a Romney narrative that is meant to have to happen here?
JAMIESON: The Ryan plan actually provides the Republican alternative
to the Democratic very sketchy not quite there alternative plan. If this
is actually about the economy, you could make the case that the Republicans
have more of an outline and more details out that the Democrats do even in
an environment which Governor Romney stated that we don`t have enough
detail to score his plan.
And so, if we are going to fight this campaign on the economy and I
think that`s the way in which the election is going to be decided, this is
going to be a relationship between I think a Republican-driven alternative
laid out by Ryan, embraced by Romney, and a Democratic alternative as yet
to be totally specified.
HARRIS-PERRY: So the president is running against Ryan and the
congressional leadership as much as he running against Mitt Romney?
JAMIESON: But it`s not fair to say that there wasn`t an alternative
there that the Republicans have articulated. There actually is one there,
and the Democrats are using it effectively in order to try to feature the
prospective cuts that are going to be coming and guessing --
HARRIS-PERRY: The yes, the food stamps.
JAMIESON: Yes. Even as -- and they`re making the assumption that
the cuts are going to be level and across the board, Congressman Ryan
argues. No, we`re going to be picking some things and taking them down
entirely, other things are going to be preserved, details to be specified.
This is going to be the details to be specified election.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to specify a bunch more of these details
as we talk about how President Obama is going to frame his reelection
campaign. We`ll have more on that right after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m back with Karen Finney, Aisha Moodie-Mills and
Kathleen Hall Jamieson.
Karen got emails from the Obama campaign saying, just before I go on
stage, and, of course, the president is about -- yes, that`s right.
Personally, just so you know. That`s before I go on stage, the president
is about to go on stage in Ohio, really to kick off the 2012 re-election
campaign, and there are live shots there from Ohio. This is it, folks.
This is what we have been waiting for. We`ve slogged through the
primaries, we are now in general election time.
And the president`s campaign is moving forward. I just to show,
because it cracked me up the -- another ad released this week by Karl
Rove`s American Crossroads and they call it "backward". The option.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD NARRATOR: President Obama, is America moving forward or backward?
Under Obama 45 percent more people are on food stamps, 3/4 of a million
fewer Americans have jobs. And homeownership is the lowest in 15 years.
It`s getting more expensive for health care. More expensive for gas. More
The only thing moving forward under Barack Obama, our national debt
up $5 trillion. Four years of Obama moving America backward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we were talking earlier. So, it`s about forward
it`s a nice way of saying, you know, the opposite of let`s take our country
back, but they`re right out there with backward.
FINNEY: Well, because also, one of the things, though that a
campaign slogan should do is to offer a contrast, like putting people first
was a contrast. So, forward, so they are trying to flip the contrast back,
and they are saying that they want to take us backwards, and so they are
trying to flip it back and say, no, no you are trying to take us back, we
are trying the take it back, I guess is their argument they would make.
JAMIESON: It`s very deep argument. The deeper argument is that the
Obama philosophy is fundamentally different from the Romney philosophy,
Romney equals Bush. And as a result, you will go back to what caused the
problem. That`s the notion.
The question is, can the Republicans frame it backward to the failed
FINNEY: Well, one thing I love in all of the numbers they just
showed is that part of the reason that we are in this place is because of
the bush policies, so if he is talking about going backward, it is like,
I`m sorry, I think you have -- you know, you gave us this debt. You know,
we had a surplus, you turned it into a debt.
MOODIE-MILLS: And over the last three years, the Republicans have
done absolutely nothing to address any of these issues. I mean, that`s the
HARRIS-PERRY: And they`ve attacked the social issues instead, right?
MOODIE-MILLS: They`ve attacked social -- they`ve created
smokescreens again with social issues that have nothing with moving our
economy forward, and that I think is something that the president is going
to hone in on.
Also, while all these numbers were rolling across the screen, they`re
showing how bad the situation we`re in in America, Romney is constantly
trying to protect the 1 percent, the richest Americans, and make sure that
their pockets are always padded and living a cushy lifestyle, as opposed to
addressing these issues himself. And I think that that`s going to come up
in the campaign, too.
JAMIESON: But you can`t say that from Republicans` stand point, the
Republicans having got anything done when you got divided Congress. I
mean, we`ve got a situation in which we can`t get anything done, when
you`ve got those kind of ideological divide in which different parties
control different parts of Congress, with the president with one party.
The question ultimately is who is going to get the blame for where we
are right now? And I think the move to blame Republicans is very
problematic in an environment in which the Democratic control the senate.
HARRIS-PERRY: And realistically, we are likely to get a divided
government again as well, right? I mean, if President Obama wins re-
election, he is unlikely to win reelection, along with a Democratic
majority in the House and the Senate. That`s fair right?
FINNEY: That`s exactly right. You know, it actually mean, why are
we asking the question of Mitt Romney, how would you handle with a divided
Congress? Why should we believe you would be more effective, better able?
Not to mention that things are not happening in the House, is not so
much because of the Democrats, it`s because of the Tea Party freshmen.
John Boehner himself can`t get anything done without Nancy Pelosi`s help
for goodness sake.
HARRIS: Right. It`s exactly sort of a hostage taking of the
Republican Party by a small group that said they wanted to take their
Just before we leave, I want to point, the other thing that made me
happy this week was the Julia video. And this is, as you were pointing
out, Karen, the importance of like he social media.
So, this sort of infographic, if you were Julia and this is your life
under President Obama, you would get to go to Head Start, you`d go to
college and you`d have lower interest rates on your student loans, you
know, you`d have care for your can unborn child, and then you can retire
into Social Security, right. And sort of comparing and contrasting and
making all of us think we are Julia, the way of kind of flipping the war on
Do you Is this sort of thing effective way of organizing what the
administration has done, and what it looks to do going forward?
HOODIE-MILLS: I actually I think it is. I mean, I think it`s
demonstrating what the consequences of the alternative are in a very real
way that matters to individuals who just live their lives everyday like all
of us do. I think the challenge that conservatives have always faced is
that they`re not speaking to the regular Americans, even though that they
pretend they are. They are pacifying the top elitist group of Americans.
What President Obama talked about in his initial slogan, in his first
campaign is "yes we can." He had this notion of being a collective America
that all of us working together can move our economy forward. And I think
that they`re going to continue to be undertones of that message in this
election as well, and maybe different nomenclature and language.
But that`s what he`s doing with Julia, is he`s saying, look, we are
collective. We are in this together. We can only get out together.
FINNEY: It`s also though speaking to me, because the Republicans are
trying to flip it around saying this is socialism at its worst, that you
need government at every step of your life, when I think the point is that
being made is that it is a positive role of government that again is
challenging, what is the role of government, which is going to be one of
the undertones of this campaign -- here is an example of how government can
be a positive force for helping Julia become a positive citizen of the
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, a positive citizen of the United States.
In just a few minutes, I`m going to talk a little bit about how one
politician decided to stop lying to himself and to his constituents.
But first, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT". Hi,
ALEX WITT, MSNBC HOST: I don`t know. I`m sticking around for that
one. That`s for sure.
Anyway, as you have been reporting this morning, the president
officially kicks off his campaign during our hours. He will start in the
critical swing state of Ohio. Both he and the first lady will be giving
speeches. We`re going to bring that to you live. It should start about an
hour or so from now.
And an arraignment for the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind, Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed has gotten off to a very rocky start. We`ll bring you the
latest from Guantanamo Bay.
In office politics, author, filmmaker, and war correspondent
Sebastian Junger, he has Taliban phone numbers and addresses. He`s going
to tell us what he did with that info and why.
The movie "Avengers" is breaking records left and right. But is it
worth your money if you`re heading out tonight? We`re going to tell you in
must see and must avoid.
So, back to you with all of that.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love it. You`re going to do that on the "Avengers."
Like I`m thinking, maybe I will go see it. Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, can you believe that until this week, there
wasn`t a single out gay Republican state lawmaker? That all changed a few
days ago. It`s a big enough deal that it`s our foot soldier this week
right after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Our foot soldier this week showed us how sometimes the
simplest of actions can have an indelible impact. The story takes place in
Jefferson City, Missouri. On April 18th, a Republican state representative
introduced HB-2051 to the Missouri state legislature.
The bill quickly became known as the "don`t say gay" bill. It reads
in part, "Notwithstanding any other laws to the contrary, no other
materials or extracurricular activities sponsored by a school that
discusses sexual orientation other than in scientific construction
concerning human reproduction shall be provided in any public school."
The translation? You can`t talk about sexual orientation in public
Enter Zachary Wyatt. Mr. Wyatt, a 27-year-old former Air Force
officer and current Republican Missouri state representative -- his simple
acts was speaking. On Wednesday, State Representative Wyatt urged his
party to table the bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE REP. ZACHARY WYATT (R), MISSOURI: Students need to be able to
feel safe when they go to school and be able to speak with teachers,
counselors and administrators when they are getting bullied. This bill
will make that illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And then Mr. Wyatt said something else. Something he
didn`t have to. You see, the law wasn`t even scheduled for a vote. There
was no imminent danger of the bill becoming law, but Zach Wyatt decided to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WYATT: I will not lie to myself anymore about my own sexuality. It
has probably been the hardest thing to come to terms with. I`ve always
ignored it. I didn`t even think about it or want to talk about it.
I have not been immune to it. I hear the comments, usually snide
ones, about me. Today, I ask you to stand with me as a proud Republican, a
proud veteran, and a proud gay man who wants to protect all kids addressing
bullying in our schools.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: A proud gay man, a proud Republican. In fact, Mr.
Wyatt`s decision to come out made him the only openly gay Republican
serving in the Missouri state legislature.
The act of coming out is often difficult, always personal for any gay
or lesbian person, but Wyatt chose to do so not in private but in a public
forum, within the structure of the state apparatus, to push back against
what he saw as a damaging and intolerant piece of proposed legislation.
By speaking, Wyatt reminded his colleagues and all of us that the
closet is not a privilege. By revealing his own identity, he declared that
no citizen should be forced into shadowy silence as a precondition of full
And for that, he is our foot soldier this week. And we credit him
for reminding us that sometimes just saying who you are can be a giant step
That is our show for today.
Thank you, Karen Finney, Aisha Moodie-Mills and Kathleen Hall
Jamieson, for sticking around.
Thanks to you at home for watching. And I`m going to see you
tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern when the legendary ballerina, Misty
Copeland, joins me here.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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