'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, April 29, 2012
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
Guests: Alex Witt, Dorian Warren, Bill Schneider, Anthea Butler, Tom Perriello, Faiz
Shakir, Barry Scheck, Jeff Jacoby, Vera Thomas
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, the United States in an
exclusive club with Iran, Iraq, China and Saudi Arabia. Maybe it`s time to
cancel our membership.
Plus, the very purple political prospects in the commonwealth of Virginia.
How it could come down to old dominion.
And while republican are prepared to dismantle welfare as we know it, we
are going to sort out whether or not the program is actually works.
But first, the politics of cool, the comeback of celebrity, and the
ultimate campaign question.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Get ready, folks, because we`re on the cusp of a showdown. On Saturday,
President Obama will kick off his bid for re-election in Ohio and Virginia.
So, let the campaign strategy begin and begin it has in earnest. This part
of the campaign season, honestly always makes me think of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let`s get ready to rumble!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It really does. Game on, fighters. If you don`t think so,
take a look at this ad released last week by Karl Rove`s super PAC,
American crossroads against President Obama.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m not sure if that one is going to be successful. It
still leaves me chanting Obama. But even if at first, cool isn`t such a
bad thing. The fact is Bill Clinton after all did it. He did it well when
he appeared on Arsenio Hall in 1992.
But remember, that was in 1992, as in during his first campaign when he was
a challenger. And so, the question is, if President Obama runs the risk of
appearing, well, un-precedential. The opposition is painting a picture of
an incumbent who is out of touch, one that`s left the American people worse
off than after -- than they were four years ago. And if that`s their
strategy, it wouldn`t be the first time it`s been used.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Next Tuesday, all of
you will go to the polls, stand there in the polling place and make a
decision. I think when you make that decision it might be well if you
would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter`s only debate
together in 1980, and with one line, Reagan stole the show and destroyed
Carter`s re-election bid.
As the saying goes if it isn`t broke, don`t fix it, and Republicans are
taking page from Reagan`s 1980 playbook.
Here is Mitt Romney from his victory speech after sweeping last Tuesday`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Four years ago, Barack Obama
dazzled us in front of Greek columns, with sweeping promises of hope and
change. But after we came down to earth, after all the celebration and the
parades, what do we have to show for 3 1/2 years of President Obama? Is it
easier to make ends meet?
ROMNEY: Is it easier to sell your home or buy a new one?
ROMNEY: Have you saved what you need for retirement?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yikes! And if that`s not enough to make Democrats feel a
little tight around the collar, then maybe this is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: You`d be comfortable with a Romney
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`d rather have a
democrat, but I would be comfortable. I think Romney has shown in the past
in his previous years as a -- as a moderate, a progressive, that he was
fairly competent as a governor and also running the Olympics as you know, a
good, solid family man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Don`t shoot the messenger. If President Carter can see
redeeming qualities in Mitt Romney, then who is to say that voters won`t
see the same thing come Election Day?
So, what is an incumbent president to do in order to win over voters and
win back his job?
Here with me to work this out are a bunch of Nerd Land professionals,
Dorian Warren, Columbia University assistant professor. Bill Schneider,
distinguish senior fellow in third way, and Anthea Butler, professor of
religious study at the University of Pennsylvania.
I`m so happy to have all of you here, because this is it. It is general
election season. Here we go.
Bill, let me ask you, just in a very impair call way, are there Americans,
when they are asked the question, are you better off today than you were
four years ago, will be able to answer with a resounding yes, absolutely?
BILL SCHNEIDER, NERD LAND PROFESSIONAL: There are a few. Mostly very rich
people. But most Americans would say, no, we`re not better off than we
were four years ago. But many Americans are better off than they were two
years ago, at the depths of the recession. They have begun to climb out of
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, if it`s two years ago, instead of four years ago, it
isn`t going to credit the Republican takeover of the Congress with being
better now than they were in 2010?
SCHNEIDER: We have a presidential system. People think government as the
person of the president of the United States. That`s why four years ago
question is the way it`s always asked.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because, in fact, the evidence is that presidents
have less power over the economy than voters tend to think they have,
SCHNEIDER: Yes, but voters think the president is commander in chief of
the economy. You know who is the commander in chief of the economy?
Nobody. It`s too big, too complicated. Nobody can command the American
economy to do anything.
SCHNEIDER: It`s too big. It`s too complicated. Nobody can command the
American economy to do anything.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is part of why the gas price conversation is so
ridiculous, right? Bring the gas prices down. On an international
marketplace, really? How would I do that, right?
DORIAN WARREN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Yes. But, I
think the president and the vice president are already framed the
conversation when vice president Biden said Osama is dead and General
Motors is alive. That`s the one-liner that is going to be the Reagan one-
liner from 1980.
And when they pair that with Mitt Romney`s saying over and over, let GM
die, let the auto industry die, then I think the cool factor won`t matter
anymore. That is going to be the way this debate is framed. Of formed, in
terms of national security, on foreign policy, we`re safer, and in terms of
the economy, we`re coming out of a recession.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to pause on exactly the Osama bin Laden question.
Because the president is taking a lot of criticism over an ad made actually
with former president Bill Clinton about the issue of his role in the
capture or rather the death of Osama bin Laden. Let`s take a quick look at
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He had to decide
that`s what the president to do. You hire the president to make the calls
when no one else can do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now the critique is not really about that part of the ad.
The critique is about sort of an assumption that emerges later in the ad,
that where Mitt Romney would not have made the same calls. And so, we
would not have been as safe.
And there`s been actually a lot of debate in Nerd Land about whether or not
this is acceptable, out of bounds, all of that. But I have to say, like,
why isn`t the killing of Osama bin Laden like, OK, game over, and now I am
re-elected. Why does he have to keep reminding folks?
ANTHEA BUTLER, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Exactly. You know,
the Republicans wouldn`t use it. They would have touted it out. I mean,
let`s go back to the previous president who had, like mission accomplished,
when the mission wasn`t done and there`s no accomplishment. OK?
HARRIS-PERRY: Two weeks into the war.
BUTLER: Bye. A little bit of upset on their part because they don`t have
the party line. And an interesting piece in "The New York Times" about how
everyone has sort of, you know, discounted President Obama as a hawk and
I`ve said this a lot. That basically, you know, this is one of the most
hawkish presidents we`ve had. He`s not afraid to bomb something, drop a
bomb on anybody.
HARRIS-PERRY: Shoot a pirate.
BUTLER: Exactly. Shoot pirates, do whatever he has to do. I mean, he
would take it to you. But I don`t think the Republicans know what to do
with that. So, I think that`s going to be really a difficult thing for
them, because on the one hand, everybody wanted Osama bin Laden dead.
Everybody -- that was something that was really big in the past. Why
should he get to use that this time to say I did the job that was not
completed back, you know, with our previous president? That was something
on the table, we did it, you know. Thankfully to the Navy S.E.A.L.s that
they completed the mission.
HARRIS-PERRY: I keep wondering if the president - so, you talked about the
one liner, GM is alive, Osama bin Laden is dead. But I`m also wondering if
the president, the administration and the president`s re-election campaign,
need their sort of here are the ten things we said where he would do that
we did. Health care reform, we passed it. Osama bin Laden, he`s gone.
You know, troops in Iraq, nope, they are out. Like somehow just sort of
the ten points, and not that they have them, but that they somehow
effectively communicate them to the electorate.
BUTLER: Exactly. I mean, I think one of the problems that this - that
this administration has had is be able to successfully say this is what we
have done. These is what we have done. This is how we have done it. We
got healthcare. We - to the bailout, we got our troops out.
But all of those things and people should have need to see listen. There
are always lists on the web, but we don`t hear the president saying that.
We don`t hear the points being reiterated over and over again. And that`s
the task for them on this road to the 2012 election. It`s to make sure
that the people know this, rather than the party lines and super PAC
commercials that will run ad infinitum, 24 hours a day
HARRIS-PERRY: The point is I want to ask you a little about what I saw as
the role in 2008, not so much of the campaign itself, but of what I call
the political entrepreneurs or the campaign entrepreneurs who actually made
President Obama cool.
Because it was like I lived in Chicago when he was my state senator and my
most distinct memory of President Obama who was then a U.S. senator. He
was walking into the Walgreens in his very short shorts and cool is not the
description. So, I want to look quickly at the will I am video because
this was the moment, right, when all shifted. So, just demined ourselves
by will I am in `08.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a creed written into the founding documents that
declared the destiny of a nation. Yes, we can. It was whispered by slaves
and abolitionists as they blazed the trail for freedom. Yes, we can yes,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean. It`s a great speech. But the video is the thing
that is virally wonderful here.
WARREN: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, will that come back in 2012?
SCHNEIDER: In 2008, he was new and inspired a younger generation. Who
knows will I am is, most older people don`t. That generation is a little
disillusion, a little bit frustrating disappointed, because they can`t get
jobs, and he hasn`t delivered what he promise. So I don`t think he will
get that kind of momentum. And he is president of the United States, that
makes the difference.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. It feels different when you are - I mean,
you know, Clinton never goes back on Arsenio Hall, right, when he run for
Up next, President Obama played the cool card, the comedy card, which I
didn`t go, because another Nerd Land guy was getting married, but can he
still get away with that?
We will answer that after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Four years ago, I was locked
in a brutal primary battle with Hillary Clinton. Four years later, she
won`t stop drunk texting me from Cartagena.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: For President Obama, it can`t all be about the cool factor,
he is going to have to choose an actual reelection strategy to help him win
in November. And we are going to talk about the playbook that the
Republicans seem to be drawing from. But, which one will President Obama
So, back with me, are Dorian Warren from Columbia University, Bill
Schneider, distinguished senior fellow at third way, and Anthea Butler,
professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
So, I`m going to ask you at this. We pulled three different recent
possibilities for presidential reelection strategies. So, I just wanted to
run them through and see if these look to you, all of you, like they might
So, the first one is, can President Obama take a page from the Bush-Cheney
`04 reelection campaign about John Kerrey? Because there are a lot of
Kerry-Romney similarities. So, let`s take a look at that successful ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m George W. Bush
and I approved this message.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In which direction would John Kerrey lead? Kerrey
voted for the Iraq war, opposed it, supported it, and now opposed it again.
He bragged about voting for the $87 billion to support our troops before he
voted against it. He voted for education reform and now opposes it. He
claims he is against the increase in Medicare premiums but voted five times
to do so. John Kerrey, whichever way the wind blows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Can they use it.
SCHNEIDER: No, I don`t think so, because Obama was elected with a positive
vision. This is a very negative campaign. Bush got reelected by trashing
his opponent. That was the one of reason - negative campaigns in history.
Obama is not, by nature, a negative campaigner. He was elected on hope and
change. This would be a (INAUDIBLE) violation of his mandate to run that
kind of ad.
HARRIS-PERRY: Interesting. Even though he is running against someone who
is labeled as flap flopper for him because his mandate is the more positive
outlook, that sort of, you know, hilariously negative campaign you think
would actually backfire him.
SCHNEIDER: And also, if he tries to portray Romney is a flip flopper, it
would undermine the argument is that what he is really a severe
SCHNEIDER: As Romney wants to sprang him.
WARREN: Although we are in a different political environment now. We are
in post-citizen united environment. So even if the Obama campaign doesn`t
use that strategy, think of all the super PACs that would be running
commercials showing, hey, Romney, you were for Obama care before you were
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So maybe, the main difference is, that part where we
saw President Bush standing there next to first lady Bush, saying we
endorse that won`t be happening, but the negative part will. That is
BUTLER: that would be happening. And plus, Obama is running at -
President Obama is running in a really sort of deficit here. Because all
of the Republican super PACs have much more money right now. They are just
flooding with money.
So, we are going to see a lot of negative ads about him, I think they will
have to attack and do something a little negative in order to try to catch
up, even if they don`t do it through their own democratic super PACs.
Because he has no choice. He is going to have to.
And, you know, if I were the president, I were running his campaign, the
first thing I would do is take a giant etch-a-sketch. I get my extra etch-
a-sketch and I would just be shaking that etch-a-sketch and just doing all
kinds of things with Romney.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is kind of fun to play campaign consultant.
OK. Here`s the second possible strategy. This was a Bill Clinton strategy
in part of how he managed to get the second terms linking Bob Dole and Newt
Gingrich. And Newt Gingrich in this case was not the moon guy, right? He
was the do-nothing Congress guy. Let`s look at that.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, in order in addition to just being in favor of the
drummers, which I think is great, is that possible? Can he link Mitt
Romney to Eric Cantor, to a kind of obstructionist congress? Is that will
SCHNEIDER: He will link him to Republican party which has a much more
negative image that Mitt Romney does. And he will try to scare people.
But, I`m not sure Obama will do that, probably the super PACs will do that.
What`s happening is, all the campaigns are outsourcing negative ads to the
super PACs. They can do it and the candidate keeps his fingers clean.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And so, that one was negative, but it was also felt
to me sort of just informative, right? I suppose not completely in that it
was a version of the war on women, right, sort of, you know, the
Republicans against women and children, that sort of thing. But it`s also
here is our positions, here or their positions.
WARREN: So, I think what we`ll see from the Obama campaign, the fact that
the first Congress he had from 2009 to 2010; was one of the most productive
in American history. So, you are going to see all the accomplishments,
stimulus package, Obama care, so to speak.
So, we are going to see those and then we are going to see the Republican
party positions from Romney. He was against the dream act, now he`s sort
of more the dream act.
SCHNEIDER: Congress got fired. Congress repudiated by the voters in 2010.
HARRIS-PERRY: They got fired, but it`s part of the surge and decline,
though, right? Because part of what happened was they actually didn`t get
fired by the same people who initially hired them, which we`ll talk about
when we get to discussing Virginia later, that you had that shrinking of
the electorate come mid terms, right?
BUTLER: Exactly. And I think the other thing too is like, you`re right,
they got fired, but you also you have to figure out how to attack up
against the tea party. All these articles about how the tea party did,
dead is dead. And I`m like, not quite.
BUTLER: And it`s not like did. They just retrench. They are doing
something very different, they are becoming involved. And so, I think that
it`s still very much a threat and he has to figure out how to tap in to
sort of say, look, you people have the same concerns that people on our
side have. Why are you still there? You don`t want this taken away,
gasoline to go up. All these things where you can peel off those voters,
perhaps if they can really figure out a strategy to do it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. The tea party is not dead. In fact, they are in
elected office which is important too.
All right. Last one, President Obama called himself Reagan at various
points. I really thought of himself as Reagan-like. So, can he use the
Reagan morning in America, which was so effective? Let`s take a look at
that to remember.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s morning again in America. And, under the
leadership of President Reagan, our country is brighter and stronger and
better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were, less than four
short years ago?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: Bring in American, yet. People are beginning see a distant
gleam of dawn. But, you know, if you want to argue it`s morning in
America, there would be a huge backlash things are really not that good.
They are worse than they were four years ago.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s the distant gleam of dawn in America.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, definitely.
HARRIS-PERRY: Can you see the pink sunrise beginning in America?
WARREN: But also not the Bush years, right?
WARREN: And we`re in a different state when it comes to national security.
And our biggest enemies of the United States. And then, all he has to do
is show images of auto workers at work.
HARRIS-PERRY: It may be morning in Detroit.
BUTLER: It`s morning Detroit. But, you know, I was going to say, it`s not
3:00 a.m., so, it`s not the phone call. It`s not really 4:00 a.m. It`s
more like 5:00 a.m. And it`s like you got to show people out there, we`re
ready that`s why we are going to speak about America exceptionalism (ph).
He really has to take that name of America exceptionalism (ph) away from
the Republicans and put it in a different space.
HARRIS-PERRY: Anthea Butler tells us, that it`s 5:00 a.m. in America.
Up next, Connecticut repealed the death penalty this week. And California
could be next. Which would mean that the faith of a quarter of the
country`s death row population would be changed.
We are in the list of a sea change on the very controversial topic. And we
are going to dig into that very heated debate, right after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq aren`t nations with which
the United States usually finds itself in agreement. But together, those
five countries, including the United States, are the most accomplished in
the world when it comes to this one thing. Punishing those found guilty of
a capital offense with death.
The overruling majority of the world`s countries, more than two-thirds of
them, have abolish the death penalty either by law or in practice. And the
United States, most recent execution was three days ago. Convicted
murderer Bien Adams was put to death in Texas by lethal injection. And it
was execution number 1,294 since the spring court reinstated the death
penalty in 1976.
On Wednesday, Connecticut became the 17th state, along with the District of
Colombia to do away with capital punishment. California squeeze to move
that number up to 18 with the initiative to replace death penalty with life
in prison on the safe ballot in November. And when asked if they approved
of the death penalty as punishment for a person convicted of a murder, a
majority of Americans, 61 percent, said yes.
But that number is also the lowest level of support for the practice in
nearly four decades. Whatever your reason on, the death penalty undeniably
forces us to confront other complex questions about morality, race,
economics and the legal system in our country. One very simple question
with a not so simple answer. Does death equal justice?
Joining me now at the table. Vera Thomas, a mother whose son is on death
row in Missouri. Jeff Jacoby, op-ed, columnist for "the Boston Globe" and
Anthea Butler, professor of religious center of the university of
Pennsylvania, also from New Orleans, Barry Scheck, co-director of the
Barry, I actually want to start with you, because I - it would be helpful
if you could just sort of lay out for our viewers what the implications are
if the death penalty initiative on the ballot in California goes forward?
BARRY SCHECK, CO-DIRECTOR, THE INNOCENCE PROJECT: Look. They are very
significant. In the last five years, we`ve had five states repeal capital
punishment. And what the Supreme Court ultimately looks at in deciding
whether or not to invalidate capital punishment is a violation of the
eighth amendment, is the trend of the states. And California is in truth
the big enchilada. It has more people on death row, over 700, than any
other state in the country and I really think this ballot initiative is
going to win.
And the reasons have to do with what is driving the death penalty debate
now. I don`t think there`s a reasonable people can differ as to whether or
not capital punishment is the appropriate punishment is an appropriate
sanction for the most heinous of crimes. But it`s the national academy and
sciences just last week opine, there is no evidence that the death penalty
I think we have established now beyond any doubt that there is a serious
risk of executing innocent people. And it is hideously expensive. In
California alone, over the next five years, if they keep the death penalty,
it is going to cost them a billion dollars extra.
Plus, every time there is a death sentence in California, it takes 25 years
before there is an execution. So the people that originally brought the
death penalty back by amendment, the legislator name Briggs, Gilgar city,
the former prosecutor in Los Angeles. The former warden of San Quintin,
they are all against it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. That`s extremely useful.
Now, Jeff, I want to turn to you. But first of all, I apologize for
getting your last name wrong, Jacoby.
Jeff, it seems to me that there are different sort of different basis on
which one might oppose the death penalty. One of the issue whether or not
it should occur at all, regardless of whether or not someone is innocent or
guilty of a crime? Another is whether or not it`s just too expensive,
right? So, you are going to think death penalty is reasonable if you think
it`s too expensive.
But, I think the of the critical ones that comes out in the American
context is, whether or not the death penalty serves as a deterrent of
crime? And I know that you are actually a supporter of the existence of
the death penalty. So sort of, give us the other side on some of these
JEFF JACOBY, BOSTON GLOBE COLUMNIST: Well, the first place, there is a lot
of evidence and there have been a lot of studies in recent years that draw
exactly opposite conclusion from what Barry Scheck just was stating. That
indeed the death penalty is a deterrent. There are -- statistics galore
that show that where capital punishment is abolished, murder rates climb
where death penalty is opposed and enforce, murder rates come down.
In this country, from the mid 1960s when death penalty was basically taken
off the table across the country as statute after statute was shot down by
the Supreme Court, until the end of the 1970, around 1980s, when executions
began again, the murder rate in this country exploded. They went from
9,900 murders to more than 21,000.
So, you just look empirically, when capital punishment is not an option,
murder rates increase.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Jeff. I just want to pause there for a second.
Because, you know, part of the challenge obviously is we always have both
time and the persistence of the death penalty occurring at the same time.
So, the climb in the murder rate or the decline in the murder rate may have
as much to do with economic factors, much have to do with other kinds of
So, we always can only see correlation. And just quickly, we do have a
criminologist. About 88 percent of criminologists disagree with you,
right? And say in fact, no. We actually don`t think that the death
penalty is a deterrent. So, it feels like there is evidence on both sides
JACOBY: Two points. One, in the last ten years, study after study that
has come out. Obviously, this is an issue debated all the time.
JACOBY: It`s the kind of thing that people who are pro and con, find
themselves on opposite sides. What`s interesting is when people who are
ones side, who are opposed to the death penalty look at these studies, look
at the evidence. As for example, Cass Sustein (ph) who was on the aide to
President Obama, came out with a famous article a couple of years ago in
which he said, boy, looking at all these studies that suggest that indeed
there is a deterrent factor, maybe those of us who are possessed to capital
punishment need to do some rethinking of our views.
But beyond all of that, as somebody who does support capital punishment, I
-- my view isn`t determined by whether or not it has a deterrent effect.
And I suspect that for anyone who is strongly opposed to the capital, to
the death penalty, and even if you could prove to them it has a total
deterrent effect that made them change nothing at all.
If it`s a moral issue, which I think for most of us on both sides of the
issue, it is. Arguing about the practical effect, that`s secondary. It`s
the moral issue comes first.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s an interesting point. So, on the question of the
moral issue, so sort of regardless of what the empirics show us, if this is
a kind of fundamental question of who we are as a society, of what our
values are, and where would you fall on that issue?
BUTLER: I would fall on the side of I don`t support the death penalty.
And I do think it`s a moral issue. It`s a moral issue because it speaks to
what this nation is all about, first of all, and also speaks to a culture
of life. And here I`m the thinking, coming out of a catholic tradition
what that means, right?
And so, you take care of life at every segment. But, I also think this
also has a lot to do with -- and people aren`t willing to talk about this.
The prison industrial complex and what that means for prisons to be able to
house people for years and years and years on end. And especially I lived
in California for a long time and it took forever for anybody to be
executed. And then in Texas, the executions were just rolling around as
regular basis, and that`s my home state.
So I think for us, it`s a moral issue and I also think what it would mean
in this country for us not to do the death penalty. And I think about the
case of Carla Fay Tucker, and this was a classic one. She was in Texas.
She become a born-again Christian. It was Bush who was a born-again
Christian. You know, people appealed on her behalf. And I found myself
sitting in a classroom with Jacques Jeradon (ph).
He was asking this question about why do Americans want to do this so much?
And I said, I think it comes to a question of they believe in atonement,
but they believe that they have people atone for their sins. so, and they
must shed blood.
And I think that that`s a fundamental issue for us in this country, is that
the shedding of blood for people seems to think that`s going to fix
everything and it does not. It does not fix it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Vera, your son is on death row.
VERA THOMAS, SON REGGIE ON DEATH ROW: Yes, he is.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is not a philosophical argument for you. It`s a very
THOMAS: Very personal. I work in a ministry. Work with families, so I`m
very concerned about human life, period, as a whole. And one of the big
issues I have with the death penalty is the fact that only a selective few
receive it. You have thousands of murders per day, and yet we only have
about 3,000 people on death row. So there is something has to be going on
with the procedures and the process by which that happens.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s exactly where we`ll pick up when we come back. I
want to talk about some of the evidence we have around the fairness and
whether or not it is a fair policy. Whether or not we think it`s an
ethical policy and whether or not it is fairly distributed.
We are going to continue right after the break and we are going to talk
about the murders of actor Jennifer Hudson`s family and bring that into the
HARRIS-PERRY: For years, we have watched Jennifer Hudson. We watched her
evolve from a young girl chasing a dream on "American idol" to Grammy award
winning singer, Oscar winning actress and weight loss spokesperson.
We feel like we know Jennifer Hudson, and so in 2008, when the news broke
of the murder of her mother Darnell, and her brother Jason and her 7-year-
old nephew, Julian. We watched and we grieved with and for her.
And so, this week, opening statements began in the trial of William
Balfour, the man accused of killing Jennifer Hudson`s family.
The death penalty was abolished in Illinois last year. So, if convicted,
the severest punishment would be a mandatory life sentence. But, as we
follow this most tragic chapter of Jennifer`s life and remember the lives
that were lost, it`s hard not to watch and wonder if that is going to be
Still with me here, Vera Thomas, Jeff Jacoby, Anthea Butler and from New
Orleans, Barry Scheck.
So, I actually, you know, thinking about Hudson, I wanted to point out here
that when we look at the people who actually end up on death row, the
executions are not - it`s not that there are more African-Americans on
death row than there are whites. That`s not accurate. It`s that those who
are on death row are far more likely to be defendants in a time when the
victims were white.
So we have a white defendant and black victim, it`s dramatically different
than when have you a black defendant and a white victim.
So, Barry, let me ask you this question. Is the death penalty applied
SCHECK: I don`t think the death penalty is applied fairly. This is
something the American bar association has been on record pointing out a
long time. And it -- just like the case of Reginald Clemons in Missouri.
Everything that we know makes the death penalty unfair was going on in that
We had lawyers that were not adequate to put on a good defense. We had a
prosecutor that was running for political office who made admittedly
prejudicial comments to the jury that he was admonished for by the judge,
not just in this case, but in other cases.
The jury itself was stacked in the sense that people who said they could
impose the death penalty, even though they were against the death penalty
as a matter of public policy, were thrown off the jury improperly.
And there was an interrogation where he was -- everybody agrees, certainly
injured and had all the earmarks of one of those coerced confession
situations that we know has convicted a lot of innocent people.
So, when you look at a whole record like this, and then there were
allegations - you know, there were claims of procedural bars that prevented
the judges from hearing all of the evidence. You just look at it and say
this is everything that`s wrong with capital punishment in America. And
it`s what led judges who were for capital punishment initially like Justice
Blackmon to finally say I can no longer tinker with the machinery of death.
We`re just not equipped, frankly to get this right.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ms. Thomas, I know that you maintain that your son is
innocent. Your son maintains his innocence.
THOMAS: Yes, that`s truth.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, as you listen to Mr. Scheck, is that sense of
unfairness, does that resonate for you here?
THOMAS: Oh, definitely. And actually, the things he listed are just the
tip of the iceberg. It was so many things went wrong in that case from the
very beginning. So, where we are now, it`s been like a roller coaster.
He stated the procedure, barmen`s, we asked for a mistrial, which I feel we
should have gotten. Because he had the judge to give the prosecutor
instructions not to use Manson or Gacy, and then the knocked up before,
prosecutor ignored it, argued it to the jury anyway, and the judge denied
However, about a month or two later, we proceeded to move forward with the
prosecutor, for contempt of court. Here the judge granted with the
contempt of court with the fine. It just has been so inconsistent.
HARRIS-PERRY: So - I mean, we - we grieve with and for the families of
victims, right? But then when I hear Ms. Thomas` story, I wonder, do we
grieve in the same way if there is reason to believe that there are
innocent men and women, mostly men that are put to death by the state? Are
we willing to accept the possibility that we are just sometimes wrong?
JACOBY: I think any one human has to face the possibility that they might
sometimes be wrong. There are great numbers of people. You know, Barry
Scheck has made a whole career. I admire commensally what he has done to
bring innocent people out of bars. Great numbers of people who are behind
bars, sentenced not to death but to prison, turn out to be innocent.
Thousands of people taken off death row. It`s routine. There have been
something like 8,500 people who have sent to death row over the years, but
as numbers you put before shown, only about 1,300 have been executed.
Thousands have come off as convictions have been overturned, sentences have
been overturned, statutes have been overturned, as a piece of evidence was
thrown out. But, when you talk about unfairness, don`t confuse that with a
philosophical or with moral issue on or what the question whether we are
going to have punishment in the first place.
If you just say that a mistake can be made and an innocent person can be
punished is an argument against punishment, then we don`t stop with the
death penalty, we have to stop all punishment. And nobody would think of
HARRIS-PERRY: Except that the death penalty is irrevocable in a way that
other punishments -- there could still be reparation made if you make a
mistake in other punishments.
To be alive and to be dead are two very different things. Tell somebody
who has been behind bars for 20 years for a rape he didn`t convict that
he`s getting reparations made if you make a mistake in other sorts of
JACOBY: I certainly understand. We all understand. And to be alive and
to be dead are two very different thing. But it tell somebody who has been
behind bars, 20 years.
JACOBY: for a rape he didn`t commit.
JACOBY: That, you know, it`s revoke now. He is never get those 20 years
back. And there is no amount of reparation that would ever make up for it.
But I think, it`s important also to note. You brought up the question of
race. A majority of people on death row are white, not black. A majority
of those sentenced to death are white, not black, and majority those
executed are white not black.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Right.
JACOBY: But, majority of those who murder, black murder victims are black.
Ninety three percent of --
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. Sure. Right. Most murder occurs within race.
I promise we`ll come right back on this issue of racial inequality and the
cost of this.
Stay right there. More right after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back, still talking about the death penalty. But, we
only have a little bit of time.
I just want to ask finally on the issue of cost. And so, Barry, let me go
first to you and then I also let Jeff finish up here in a few seconds that
Talk to me just about the cost of death penalty versus the clear
alternative, which is life in prison without parole.
SCHECK: Right. Well, California is the perfect example. Because it costs
something like an extra $100,000 to keep somebody on death row in
California than it would in general population.
And it`s just extraordinary that in that state it is estimated,
conservatively, that there -- they would save over the next five years, a
billion dollars, which includes an extra $400 million to build a new death
So, it`s extraordinarily costly. And don`t forget the opportunity costs.
Because you can take that money and you can put it into effective law
enforcement, and I have to take issue for a little bit with Derek.
Because, the very reason that the national research council reviewed all
the evidence about deterrents is that, there were these conflicting studies
and they concluded that there was no effective deterrent.
So, if is costly, and it doesn`t deter, it`s just not good problem policy.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, Barry. I`m going to give Jeff the last word on
JACOBY: Yes. I would say, you know, in two seconds what price tag do you
put on justice? If you believe as I believe that majority of American
believe that having a death penalty available as an option for the jury,
not as mandatory punishment in every single case. But, that having it
available as an option is essential to doing just when a murder has been
What`s the price tag you put on it? California has 700 people on death
row, but only executed 13. It wouldn`t cost so much if there wasn`t such
super due process that we make available in case of death penalty.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I do appreciate the arguments. I am fundamentally,
ethically opposed to the death penalty because it feels to me unjust, even
if it were fair, fairly proportion, it still feels like the state should
not take a life.
The final thing I would say is of course, many of us were watching the Troy
Davis execution very carefully. On that same night, Lawrence Brewer was
executed for the death of James Bird.
And I just want to mention James Bird`s family, his only son, Ross,
campaigned against the execution of Brewer and told Reuter`s that you can`t
fight murder with murder, life in prison would have been fine. We know, of
course, the horror of the death of James Bird. I was profoundly moved that
his son, Ross, had that position.
But I think, everyone, this is an extremely complicated question.
Thank you to Barry Scheck. Vera Thomas, thank you for being here today.
Jeff Jacoby - I keep punching it. Anthea is going to stick around.
Coming up, next. I`m going to take you home to Virginia, my original state
which could be giving a lot of visitors in the very near future. The 2012
election could come down to Virginia.
HARRIS-PERRY: Next week, President Obama will officially kick off his
reelection campaign with rallies in two crucial states. He`ll hit up Ohio
and what is shaping up to be the ultimate battleground state of 2012,
After 44 years of voting red for president, Virginia went blue for Obama in
2008. But old dominion is a lot more purple than blue. The GOP controls
the state legislature, governor`s mansion and makes up the majority of
Virginia`s congressional delegation.
But the state to U.S. senators are Democrats. And voters, they are all
over the place.
So, to get a sense of what`s on the mind of these purple voters, I made a
stop to a local Virginia beach diner, the village inn, where teas partiers
and DNC members enjoy the same great homemade pies.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Virginia, in this election, is kind the ultimate swing
state. Both candidates, both parties will spend a lot of money in
Virginia. Have you made up your mind about who you are going to support in
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I normally vote Republican, but I`m still undecided.
Over the years I`ve seen Virginia swing one way and swing the other.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I believe it`s because the Republicans haven`t put
out candidate worth voting for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really can`t predict if Obama will take Virginia
again or not.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because it is a real life purple state in that way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I don`t feel I know Romney that well. If he can
come in and give solid ways that he can reel in growth of government that
would give me a cause to vote for him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You mean, there are people in Virginia who are that
are democratic, who are all about social issues and I think it`s a bad
misrepresentation of our governor of the whole trans-vaginal thing,
definitely is wrong in women. But, I definitely think that Virginia will
be a blue state come election time.
HARRIS-PERRY: You started off by telling me you are a Republican.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m Republican.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right? But then you told me that you also voted for Obama
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. That`s why I`m, now Republican.
HARRIS-PERRY: Were you not a Republican before?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I was voting for him because he talked a good
talk and he was telling us what he was going to change. It doesn`t seem
like our jobs are getting any better.
HARRIS-PERRY: What will it take to turn Virginia blue the way it was in
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The secret is getting folks registered.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, if we can find unregistered voters and get them
registered, and talk it out population, then, it will just be getting out
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t understand how anybody else who is middle or
low income, female, or a whole lot of other things can even think about
putting anybody else in office.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our president will go down in history as the best
president this country has had in 60 years.
HARRIS-PERRY: These are military veterans and their perspective is, that
he is --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best.
HARRIS-PERRY: The best president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel the same way. That`s why he can win.
HARRIS-PERRY: Are there specific things about the past four years that
make you say this is not my candidate?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are kind of moving in a socialist direction, and I
don`t believe that America was meant to be a socialist nation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look at Romney, you know, when he was just joking
around, he said let`s make a bet. You know, $10,000, I`ll bet you. You
know, he throws that out there like everybody walks around with $10,000 in
their pocket. You know, $10,000 to him is probably like $100 to us, and I
need $100 right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the candidate that can convince that man he can put $100
in his pocket will win that man`s vote and maybe a lot more just like him.
Coming up, can President Obama hold on to Virginia this November? More on
that, after the break.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: Welcome back.
Before the break, I brought folks to Virginia, where I spent some
time with voters at one of Virginia Beach`s local diners, the Village Inn.
Five hours of patty melts, pie and coffee later and I had a glimpse of the
array of political beliefs that make up Virginia`s voting rules.
In 2008, President Obama captured this former Confederate state in
his bid for the White House. But even in 2008, Virginia was a state
divided. You can see the predominantly red counties to the west and the
blue toward the edges, especially around northern Virginia, you know, D.C.
In fact, this kind of diversity was apparent in the conversations I
had with voters, even when cameras weren`t rolling. Many expressed beliefs
off Democratic and Republican talking points -- making it clear to me at
least that Virginia has already become a battleground.
With me to talk about the voting demographics in the state for lovers
is Dorian Warren, professor of political science at Columbia University,
Bill Schneider, senior fellow at Third Way and Virginia native, and Anthea
Butler, professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
So, as a Virginian, I`m going to turn to you, as a fellow Virginian,
Bill. How important Virginia is going to be?
BILL SCHNEIDER, THIRD WAY: It`s very important, because it`s a
critical swing state. It`s right on the cusp. You know, parts of Virginia
are Appalachia. Parts of Virginia look Greenwich Village
You know that the wealthiest congressional district in the country is
in Fairfax County in Virginia, the highest median income, and they have a
Democratic member of Congress, Gerry Connolly. How about that?
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that. And, in fact, in many of these areas
that you`re talking about, the kind of Appalachia areas that are -- that
actually track red on that map, right? There are actually quite poor
counties, but where there are Republicans.
What kind of Virginia -- why are poor Virginia voters, Republicans
and then you have this wealthy slice who are Democrats? Why would that
SCHNEIDER: Well, there`s an easy answer, which is the word: guns. A
lot of Appalachian whites are very worried about Democrats taking away
their guns. But a lot of poor whites, not just in Virginia, but a lot of
Appalachia, have traditional values. They identify with the Republican
Party on value issues.
And a lot of wealthy whites in Fairfax County have very liberal
values and they identify with Democrats on those issues. It`s not just
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. I mean, that`s obviously just part of
the. So, we`re looking at a state. And literally as I was talking to
people, I heard, "Well, Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper," or I heard, "Well,
President Obama, you know, just didn`t keep his promises." They were
things that sounded directly like talking points to me.
That said, I mean, can you have a unified Virginia campaign strategy
if you are either Mitt Romney or President Obama?
DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: No. And I`ll give you one
example why you can`t. President Obama is up 13 points right now among
women in the state and that`s in response to the backlash from women of the
Republican war on women. So, that`s one angle. He has to focus on women
across race and class, but he also has to focus on a large African-American
turnout in the state, who voted for him in record numbers before, as well
as the growing Latino population in the state.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. So, we have -- the Quinnipiac poll is showing us
that Obama is leading Romney, 50 to 42 overall. A lot of that is driven by
women, by African-Americans in the urban areas like Richmond and
But this point about Latino voters and also importantly, South Asian
voters, right? We have a Senate race going on in this state, pitting two
governors, former governors, Tim Kaine and Allen, and, of course, we
remember Allen`s comments, the language of -- the slur "macaca" was in part
useful to the president in 2008 when South Asian voters who are angry about
that showed up in those states.
ANTHEA BUTLER, PROFESSOR, UNIV. OF PENNSYLVANIA: Exactly. And I
think, you know, what`s going to be very interesting also is that once he
looks at the races that are going on, he`s also going to think about what`s
happened on the ground with the voters from 2008 to 2012.
Do you have the same amount of college voters? I`m thinking about
Virginia Tech, UVA, all of the schools that you have, are these students
are going to be registered to vote? Can they vote? Do they need IDs now?
What do they need in Virginia?
And so, I think it will be very important to get voter registration
out too, because without that, I don`t know that he can sort of play that
off. It`s good to have the women, but if Romney can come in and make
inroads with Appalachia and everybody else, then that`s going to put the
state in play I think, and in a really tough way. I think he`s going to
have to spend a lot of time in Virginia.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, is it possible that the kind of Bob McDonnell
transvaginal ultrasound debate will be sufficient to move some women who
might otherwise be swing voters or maybe even Republicans into the
president`s column this time?
SCHNEIDER: It might well be, I think so, because it`s given him a
very bad image among a lot of women in Virginia. The late political
scientist (INAUDIBLE) called Virginia a political museum piece, because it
was very old, and high bound, and conservative.
Virginia was the only southern state that did not vote for Jimmy
Carter. But now, everything changed. You`ve got a huge influx of
immigrants, young people, high-tech people, particularly northern Virginia,
which is about 20 percent of the state.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It`s truly a border state in that way. When
you are in Richmond, you`re driving down Monument Avenue, it`s all the
Confederate monuments, and you get the sense of being in a very Confederate
place. But if you`re in northern Virginia, driving around the Beltway --
SCHNEIDER: Like Greenwich Village.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re in Greenwich Village south.
WARREN: Can I add one more wildcard?
WARREN: Because Virginia is in some ways is ground zero to the
challenge on Affordable Care Act, on Obamacare.
WARREN: I think the Supreme Court could help influence who mobilizes
in November. So if they strike down Obamacare, then I think the Obama
supporters will be more energized and mobilized, and those against it will
sort of be deflated. But on the other hand, if they uphold it, the Tea
Party right in terms of Republican voters will be more energized in a place
like Virginia especially.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m really interested now of the question of the
Supreme Court vote, how this decision might mobilize either side. We
actually have an actual Virginian who is going to join us in the next
segment. So, I want to hold some of this because I want to get this into
the conversation with Tom coming up next.
Later on, we`re also going to talk about why Catholic leaders are
angry with Congressman Paul Ryan.
See you soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is great to be back
in Petersburg. Last time I was here, was during the campaign. I had my
bus pull over so I could get a cheeseburger at Long`s Street Deli. You
guys have eaten there. Some of you may think this violates Michelle`s
Let`s Move program, but she gives me a pass when it comes to a good burger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Classic retail politics. You name check the local
diner. Good job, President Obama.
That was the president during a recent visit to Virginia, to
Petersburg, Virginia, the home of Virginia State University. And although
he was there on official business, he was already gearing up for the
campaign. In 2008, then-candidate Obama worked hard for the state`s 13
electoral votes, opening nearly 50 campaign offices, with hundreds of
staffers and thousands of volunteers coming to pavement, may take just as
much as work to carry it in 2012.
With me at the table to discuss the battleground Virginia is Dorian
Warren, Bill Schneider, Anthea Butler. Joining us now from Richmond is Tom
Perriello, former Democratic congressman for Virginia and president and CEO
of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Hi, Tom. Nice to see you this morning.
TOM PERRIELLO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: Nice to see
you, too. And nice to see the clips of you back in the commonwealth.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. I know. I`m always happy to be there.
And, in fact, Tom, you represented the fifth congressional district
in Virginia, for a short time. And that was the district initially group
in, which is Charlottesville, Virginia, is part of it.
And you were voted into office as a Democrat, sort of during that
blue sweep, and then almost immediately swept back out as the state went
Talk to me as you saw an actual representative on the ground about
how you do the work of addressing a constituency just that purple?
PERRIELLO: Well, you know, it`s quite diverse district in central
and southern Virginia. I think one thing almost everyone shares is this
interest in basic economic fairness in the middle class and I think part of
why you`ve seen President Obama`s fortunes turn back in such a positive
direction in the last year and a half is that he`s been so focused on the
jobs bill, on a conversation about economic fairness, and I think you have
seen from the other side, this interest in just protecting the status quo
and those at the top.
And that`s something that bothers not just Democrats in a district
like mine, but also Republicans and independents. So, I think this
conversation about economic fairness, about opportunity, where you have
seen an a discussion about student loans, is really getting people excited
about the president get. I think you`ll see that when he comes to Richmond
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I think he was talking about whether or not we
can count on the student voters in Virginia to show up the way they did
before and obviously, the president kind of be on his college tour, you
know, talking up the issue of where Democrats stand on student loan debt.
But let me ask you this, you`ve got Governor McDonnell saying the
president has not kept his promises to Virginia. You know, certainly your
sort of down ticket race was impacted by the president first being on the
ballot and then not. How will the president`s re-election in part rely on
what`s going on at the Senate level and more local levels in those Virginia
PERRIELLO: Well, I certainly think you have seen an enormous gender
gap open up in Virginia and across the country based on what`s going on on
the contraception issue, the transvaginal ultrasound issue. You`re talking
about a 14-point gender gap, that`s significant.
You`re also seeing I think some important showdowns over the
military. This is a big military state and the decision by Republicans
during the deficit fight last summer to protect millionaires instead of
protecting the military really didn`t strike a lot of people as right in
key parts of Virginia.
And so, I think you are looking at an issue of priorities here, and I
think people are getting a sense of what the priorities are and who he is
willing to fight for. And I think if he brings a little bit of that Kansas
spirit into Virginia on Richmond, I think that`s going to play really well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Anthea was saying before the break, I love it.
Because, obviously, Governor McDonnell have been on everybody`s short list,
and Tom is pointing out there the issue of the gender gap. We saw just
yesterday in Virginia, women`s rights rallies reemerging.
Do you think that the Governor McDonnell is a real possibility for a
shortlist for the V.P. candidate?
BUTLER: I think he will never be a V.P. candidate. He`s probably
hoping got get a side gig at one of the Republican National Convention
parties, if he can have that. No, I don`t think --
HARRIS-PERRY: The RNC parties are great. Mock not the RNC parties.
BUTLER: I won`t mock them. I think it`s going to be wonderful. But
I think he`s in a space where he is not in play anymore and it must gull
him tremendously that he didn`t think this would go that way.
But I think what`s interesting also about these women getting
together and doing rallies what it means is that women are finally
beginning say, listen, our issues are very much at risk here. We need to
start to think about if there are going to be transvaginal ultrasounds, and
they are cutting back on birth control, they don`t want to pay my birth
control, the way women mobilize in Virginia and other states, behind these
issues of what states have been doing, especially in Virginia, this is
going to make a very big push and a problem for Republicans.
Not all women will think this, however.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, exactly.
BUTLER: And I think it`s going to be incumbent for Republicans to
try to get something else going for the women within their party so that
they can reach out to women. And right now, I don`t see how Romney is
going to do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: And what about Tim Kaine? I mean, he was -- as we
band, a rising star of the Democratic Party at a certain point. Does Tim
Kaine -- does the quality of his campaign impact the president`s re-
WARREN: I think as the former chair of the DNC, I think he has some
name recognition and good history in the state. But think more important
than his legacy in the state is actually the state`s unemployment rate,
which is 5.8 percent. Very different from the rest of the country and very
different from other battleground states like Michigan or Ohio.
WARREN: So, it`s those economic indicators that I think will play a
huge deal, along with the gender gap, as opposed to Kaine`s legacy and in
some ways, Obama might be a hindrance to him getting elected. So, I think
you`re going to see him distance himself a little bit from the Obama
SCHNEIDER: Right. And Tom mentioned a fairness issue. That`s a
very good issue. But you`ve got to remember something: Republicans` core
belief is that economic growth is sufficient. If the economy is growing,
the market will take care of everybody fairly.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats believe that economic growth is necessary, but
it`s not sufficient. You also have to have government step in and make
sure that people are treated fairly and all the wealth is not concentrated
at the top. For Obama, he`s got the fairness issue, but he has to make
sure he provides a program for economic growth.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tom, let me come back to you. How important is this
retail work that he has to do to make these kinds of arguments?
PERRIELLO: The retail work is crucial. I know they are building a
huge grassroots effort. But I want to pick up on Bill`s point. There are
a lot of conservatives down in my part of the state that aren`t that
convinced by Mitt Romney yet. And while they believe in the free market,
they feel like the current system is pretty darn rigged between the working
and middle class.
So, I think if a candidate can credibly convince them they are
looking to make that system more fair, that plays pretty well across the
And I think again, going to the Governor Kaine point, here is someone
who does the retail politics incredibly well. And I think people are
looking for the fights that move us forward, not re-litigating fights from
the past two generations, whether it`s contraception fight or a lot of
George Allen`s, you know, core patter on the trail, as opposed to Kaine and
Obama who really represent a new generation, saying how are we going to win
the next set of jobs in Virginia, how are we going to help Virginia
outcompete the Chinas and Indias moving forward?
And I think there`s just some sense of who`s looking forward and kind
of gets the challenges of today versus who is doing a little too much
nostalgia back. And I think that could play not just with young voters,
but also those who are feeling economically insecure about their futures.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Tom, I`m going to give you the last word on our
Virginia question. It`s going to be a little counterintuitive. If you are
Mitt Romney, or Mitt Romney`s campaign, you are not the kind of Republican
that necessarily plays particularly well with Virginia Republicans. How do
you make the case with Mitt Romney to voters in Virginia?
PERRIELLO: Well, you know, I think Governor Romney`s attempt will be
to try to make it about the president and not about himself. I think that
he`s on weaker ground with the latter. I think he`s got to come up with a
plan to show some core values of a sense of right and wrong. And I think
one of the concerns people have is they are not quite sure where he stands
on things and I think if he comes out authentically, that always works well
for politicians I think to be authentic and people are kind of waiting to
see what that authentic Romney is.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tom Perriello, thank you so much for joining me, from
Richmond. Next time, though, you got to come to the table here in the
Coming up --
PERRIELLO: Well, you bring it down to Charlottesville.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, any old time. Any old time. Absolutely.
Coming up, diamonds are forever, but warlords are not. I`ll tell you
what teachable moment I drew from this week`s conviction of Liberia`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you know the name Charles Taylor? If not, let me
use this as a teachable moment.
This is the country of Liberia. Right next to it is the country of
Sierra Leone. Both nations here in the news a lot this week, because
Charles Taylor, a former Liberian warlord who later became president after
the civil war he sparked, was convicted of war crimes and crimes against
Taylor, who was Liberia`s president from 1997 to 2003, became the
first head of state to be convicted in an international court since Nazi
leadership in the Nuremburg trials after World War II.
His crimes included murder, rape, slavery and the uses of child
soldiers during the civil war in Sierra Leone, that began two decades ago.
Now, these are two small African nations, but they are not as far
from us as you might think by looking at a map. Liberia was established
initially as a colony for former slaves from the United States. And Sierra
Leone was similarly set up as a resettlement colony by Great Britain.
So, though they are seemingly remote, these two nations are deeply
intertwined with our nations. And not just in some distant colonial past,
the actions for which Taylor was convicted occurred when he intervened in
the Sierra Leone civil war on behalf of the rebel, revolutionary united
front, which was attempting to overthrow the government.
Now, this was not waged over ideology or freedoms, it was a war
mostly about diamonds. You know, those sparklers that are supposedly every
girl`s best friend? Well many of those diamonds are mined in war zones,
like Sierra Leone.
And for more than 11 years, from 1991 to 2002, the conflict was
characterized by the brutal maiming and mutilation of thousands of
civilians. Taylor funneled arms to rebels in exchange for these of blood
diamonds and used the diamonds to finance the war efforts.
About 50,000 people were killed in the Sierra Leone civil war. And
10 years after ended, the country still suffers from its effects. Many
missed their education during the years of the conflict and this means
millions have few skills or opportunities. The nation`s youth unemployment
rate is astronomical.
But the victims of Taylors violence had something to celebrate after
Taylor`s conviction, which came one day before Sierra Leone`s independence
Things have also changed in Taylor`s native Liberia, where former
World Bank officer, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who lost to Taylor in his
presidential election 15 years ago, was sworn in to her second term as
president earlier this year. She is the first woman to be elected to lead
an African nation in modern history as she shared the Nobel Peace Prize
last year with two other women.
Things aren`t perfect in that region, and Charles Taylor`s conviction
won`t heal everything, but things are changing.
Coming up, how much should we help the poor here at home? It`s a
question we are going to answer right after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, chair of
the House Budget Committee, delivered a speech at Georgetown University.
He did not receive the warmest reception from his fellow Catholics there.
Many protested Ryan because of his controversial budget plan that
would largely privatize Medicare and make deep cuts to programs including
Medicaid and food stamps. It`s been criticized as un-Christian and
And the university`s religious scholars made him very aware of that.
Reverend Thomas Reece, along with 90 other Georgetown professors,
signed their names to an open letter to the congressman, saying in part,
"We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not
challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teachings to defend a budget
plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically
weakens protection for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to
the wealthiest few."
This is not the first time the social programs and the GOP budget
have gone toe to toe, with Georgetown scholars right at the core. And so
Georgetown scholars held this kind of Christian work and have debated this
issue on the national stage. Both, of course, as we saw on the
contraception issue and the issue of morality of social welfare and its
So, here to examine the social and the economic utility of welfare is
Dorian Warren of Columbia University, Bill Schneider of Third Way, and
Anthea Butler, and new to the new table for this segment, Faiz Shakir, a --
from the Center of American Progress.
Thanks so much to everybody for being here.
So, I want to go first to you, because this is interestingly enough
becoming an in-house Catholic battle about -- well, what about Catholics
really stand for politically?
BUTLER: Exactly. And it is a huge battle. And I think it`s an
interesting point I want to say. Publicly right now, this is where I stand
with the bishops on this one. I don`t stand with them on many other
But I do stand with them on this question because the issue of
poverty is endemic, and in an economy just getting back on its feet to not
provide for the least of these, to not to do the kinds of things that
Catholic teaching says about providing for the poor and indigent, and
having a Catholic put up such a draconian plan to take away everything. It
looks like we have pharaoh in our midst.
BUTLER: A biblical analogy. It`s just horrific.
And so, I don`t know how he could be surprised that they wouldn`t
have, you know, signs for him, that the faculty is against Paul Ryan. I
think it`s heinous.
And also, the other piece of this I think is really important, is
that it`s not just about a moral question for Catholics, it`s about a
safety net. And that safety net that has been Catholic charities and all
of those things, these places are hurting for money right now, and the
money does not exist in the same kinds of ways.
So, bishops are making a two-pronged argument. One is for the
morality question. But the other is, is that you cannot expect our
infrastructure to take up what you are trying to cut away. We cannot be
the sole people that are feeding and providing for everyone if the
government decides we don`t want to be in this business anymore.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, yet, Ryan came back and said -- he basically made
this subsidiarity argument. I want to listen to Ryan make this because he
doesn`t go, oh this isn`t about religion. He make as a core, sort of
Let`s listen to Paul Ryan at Georgetown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Our budget offers a better path,
consistent with timeless principles of our nation`s founding, and frankly,
consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith. We put trust in
people, not in government. Our budget incorporates subsidiarity by
returning power to individuals, to families, and to community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Some people may not know what subsidiarity teaching
is. But it`s sort of a version of federalism, right? That there`s people
up here making decisions, but the Catholic Church teaches that service
should occur most closely to the people, and adhere to a kind of localism
that I think is part of GOP rhetoric.
So, he actually came right back and said, no, no, no. Actually
Catholicism teaches basically states rights.
BUTLER: Yes, yes. And I just think he is so wrong about this and I
can`t believe he brings in Thomas for this. I want to argue forever and I
won`t bore everyone in TV land and nerd land today but --
HARRIS-PERRY: About the deep theological --
BUTLER: What I think Ryan is trying to do, though, he`s trying to
move this over and say, you know, this is, everyone is going to take care
What we know, the reality is, that the people down here can`t barely
take care of themselves, let alone try to take care of each other. And so,
if you don`t have some kind of distribution, that`s not socialism, it`s --
something has to happen, something has to give. And in the kind of economy
we have right now, for him to make that kind of an argument and to use
church teaching to make the argument, I think is just really wrong and
endemic and it sort of -- it bleeds over into sort of religious arguments
about, you know, religious freedom and all this, like you don`t get the
He said something very interesting at the beginning, let me say one
thing he said.
BUTLER: He said, in my estimations, how I understand it. He`s sort
of using the question of conscience.
BUTLER: OK? And so, people have to learn how to listen to what he`s
saying. He`s saying, this is not everybody else`s understanding, it`s my
understanding. He can have that understanding, but the problem is, that he
is in the position to do things that go across this nation, and I really do
think that this is an awful plan. It`s horrific and it`s going to put a
lot of burden on institutions that cannot carry the burden.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, for those of who are like really interested in
this connection between religion and politics, this battle, literally the
Catholic flight on these question has been interesting. But I want to say,
like if you are not someone who is fundamentally interested in subsidiary
and federalism, which I can understand, talk to me about the empirics of
what it means to take the programs like temporary aid to needy families,
TANEF, which replaced AFCD welfare and SNAP, which replaced the food stamps
program. To take them from federal programs to block grant to the states.
What are the empirical effects of doing that?
FAIZ SHAKIR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, you already know
that the states are cash-strapped and don`t have the needs to fill a lot of
its own priorities. And so, if you block grant this to states, they`re
going to use it to reduce deficits, they have to balance their budget, at
the state level, which means that first people to get cut are, of course,
those who are the least influential and powerful in politics. And that is
often the case with needy families.
I think it`s important to note that a lot of these grants,
conservatives like to say, well, there`s a lot of waste, there`s fraud,
there`s abuse in these program. What you learn actually when you dig into
the numbers is more than 90 percent of money given goes directly to the
people who need it the most. There is very little inefficiency in the
program because there`s no overhead, there isn`t people trying to take a
And when it goes directly to these people, they are using it to drive
the economy. There`s an economic argument forgiving an extra dollar to
somebody who`s going to spend it and get the wheels of the economy moving.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And, in fact, the president is undoubtedly
politically going to take a lot of heat in this reelection cycle. But we
were looking at the kind of welfare stimulus, the effect of federal
recession spending over the course of the past couple of years and the
expansion of tax credits.
You know, the data are using, are lifting 1.6 million out of poverty,
extending unemployment insurance, lifting 3.4 million out of poverty, and
expansion of the food stamps program for which he was, you know, obviously
decried as the great food stamps president, lifting one million out of
So, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is suggesting exactly
this, that this kind of spending has a real impact. And, yet, undoubtedly
politically, there are ways in which just the language of welfare itself is
going to be extremely unpopular for the president.
WARREN: So, this budget is always -- budgets are always moral
documents and that should be the frame. Sixty percent of cuts in the budge
are taking away programs for poor people, while $3 billion will be
redistributed to the most wealthy.
So, what does that mean? It means that this is actually an important
organizing opportunity for the labor movement, for Occupy, May Day is
coming up, to say, hey, red America especially, you have been relying on
food stamps more than anybody else, yet your own members of Congress, your
observe representatives are trying to cut and eliminate that safety net.
What would it have meant if you didn`t have that safety net two or three
So, I think this is an incredible organizing opportunity and the
question is: will progressive groups be able to step into this window and
take advantage of it?
SCHNEIDER: And that is one of the main reasons why so many women
favor the Democratic Party because women are identified very much to the
safety net. They only just began to achieve economic independence in the
last 20 years or so. They feel very vulnerable in the market place, they
want the safety net to be there.
My guess is, as a result of that speech and his budget plan, Paul
Ryan is not going to be on the Republican ticket as the running mate of
Mitt Romney because Romney doesn`t want -- I hope -- lash himself to the
budget plan which is intensely controversial and will turn off a lot of
SHAKIR: Budgets are moral documents and it`s important to tell the
other side of the ledger, which is -- what are the values of conservatives?
Well, you see what they are putting their money on is corporate tax cuts,
it`s maintaining huge defense spending, and it`s saying that, well, we
think foods stamps is fraud, that it`s going to people.
And then here you go, on front cover of "The New York Times," have
you a company dodging taxes in the United States. We`ve got the protecting
hedge fund loopholes, people who are dodging taxes across the United
States. That`s where the fraud is.
You want to talk to me about fraud, talk to me about health insurers
who are kicking people off health coverage who need it.
So, I think that this conversation of who is the -- who is government
supposed to protect, is ultimately the question that we should be asking
ourselves and in that ledger, we have to protect those who can`t protect
HARRIS: Yes. And, in fact, what we`re going to do is as soon as we
get back, we`re going to talk about exactly how the rate of poverty
ballooned right after we ended welfare as we knew it and sort of what the
impact of that policy was. More on that, after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here with me at the table discussing the contemporary
fate of the welfare state is Dorian Warren, Bill Schneider, Anthea Butler
and Faiz Shakir.
OK. We`ve found in kind of digging around numbers, this one just
absolutely blew me away. From 1996 to 2011, the number of U.S. households
living on $2 a day went up by 130 percent. So 1996 is welfare reform,
ushered in by a Democratic president and a Republican Congress, ending
welfare as we know it.
Often still, on the language of the back of -- as you were pointing
out, Faiz -- these welfare queens, all of these people who are stealing and
taking from the system. And the impact is then 130 percent -- I don`t know
if it`s the impact, it`s the correlation of it. It`s 130 percent increase
in the number of U.S. households living on $2 a day.
SHAKIR: You know what we did during the `90s with these budgets? Is
that we reduced poverty and we reduced the deficit at the same time. You
can actually do that simultaneously, that and people don`t think understand
that that`s -- they think of it as a zero-sum tradeoff, one goes up, the
other goes down.
In fact, it`s a question of where do your priorities lie? And we`ve
been talking all about all morning. John Boehner was on an alternative
network this morning, saying -- talking about Mitt Romney`s wealth and
said, well, American people don`t want to vote for a loser, suggesting that
- well, if you don`t have wealth, if you`re not somebody at the top at the
totem pole, you`re a loser.
That kind of I think governs the ethic of how conservatives tend to
view those people who are not pulling themselves up by their boot straps
and succeeding. Remember during the Judge Sotomayor debate, President
Obama said, I want somebody with empathy. What ended up happening there
wants, oh, he wants somebody who`s going to look out for people on the
bottom. We can`t have that.
And there was a firestorm about the fact that we would have an
empathetic person in a position of power.
HARRIS-PERRY: On the Supreme Court, yes.
SCHNEIDER: The key to that phenomenon is growth. If the economy is
growing, as it was growing in the late `90s under Bill Clinton --
HARRIS-PERRY: Then you can do both.
SCHNEIDER: You can solve poverty, you can reduce the deficit, you
can perform miracles, as I said, Democrats believe growth has got to be
necessary, but it`s not sufficient. You also have to have measures to
WARREN: Yes. So, growth is necessary, but not sufficient, because
if there was growth in the economy, but in the low-wage sector. We were
forcing people -- when we weren`t locking people up, we were forcing people
into low wage jobs, and one of the biggest problems is this issue of wage
So, even if you work at a job, you don`t get paid often for the 40
hours, if you get the 40 hours a week to work. You don`t get paid for 40
HARRIS-PERRY: They don`t want to pay you 40 hours, because then they
have to pay benefits.
WARREN: They were pushing people into the low-wage labor market and
saying, oh, you need to work, but yet, people can`t even survive on the
jobs that they have.
BUTLER: If they can get into the low wage market -- I mean, let`s
talk about those who passed the 99 weeks on unemployment, who won`t get any
more unemployment, they`re not getting any food aid, where do these people
This is -- what I tell students, it`s like this circle, right? Right
,we`re going to say, we`re going to cut this, we`re going to cut this, but
then we want to reward the wealth on top, and then want ends up happening
is that you`ve got these people at the bottom, you keep increasing that
number, and you are saying you`re going to do anything to take care of
them, where are they going to they go?
And this is where that anger begins to rise up, but I think even for
Republican people who think they want to vote for these guys who say, "I
want to increase wealth," they can`t -- they can`t rise to the same wealth
that a Mitt Romney has. They never will be able to. It`s inherited. They
can`t leave anything to their kids.
HARRIS-PERRY: But if does feel like there is -- you know, even among
the poor, among working place, the American work ethic that says, yes, we
want people to take care of ourselves, of themselves, but we truly want
them to take care of themselves, right? It does feel to me like in all of
the folks that I talked to across parties, that there is a bit of a
pushback against the idea of the American welfare state.
SCHNEIDER: Well, there is. Remember, I think this is where fairness
issue comes in. Fairness works as a campaign theme when the economy is
terrible, and the middle class says, you know, I`m struggling to make ends
meet. They are the key constituency.
I can`t make people who are good, hardworking, God-fearing Americans
like me are having trouble. There must be something wrong with the system,
it isn`t fair. When the economy is good, the fairness issue doesn`t work.
There`s middle class people say, things are pretty good in this country and
I`m doing OK.
SCHNEIDER: Maybe it`s their fault.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right.
SHAKIR: For every dollar that we give out in food stamp programs
now, we get -- for $1.73 worth of economic activity, it`s good investment.
We gave out EITC --
HARRIS-PERRY: Stop. Tell me why. So, if I`m not an expert, why
when I get $1.73 in food stamps do I get --
SHAKIR: Simple economics. If you`re living day to day on a paycheck
and you give that person an extra dollar or $5, what are they going to do?
They`re going to go and spend it. The engine of the economy turns. People
can produce more, there`s more service in the economy. We`ve got now good
HARRIS-PERRY: So we are actually going to create consumers by giving
people food to feed their families, we create consumers that drive the
SHAKIR: We had an EITC, earned income tax credit in the United
States, where we give money to low income people. And what ends up
happening is we end up lifting those people into tax credit, end up getting
the money back into the Federal treasury.
So these are good investments. So, I say on the productivity and
growth side, that when have you hunger in the economy, as studies have
shown, you lose $170 million in productivity. When you have child poverty,
you lose about $500 million in the economy in productivity.
These are obvious to people who can empathize with the fact that if
you are hungry, you cannot learn. If you are hungry, you can`t work. If
you are sick and you have a child at home, you cannot go and be productive.
These are obvious and sensible economic investments, and we can make
WARREN: So, I just want to make two quick points. The first is, of
all rich democracies in the world, we are the least mobile society. We`re
right up there with the U.K. Meaning, you`re more likely to stay in your
class position now than even 10, 20, 30 years ago.
So, the myth of the American Dream, the American Dream is now a
nightmare. We don`t have mobility, people cannot move up.
Secondly, in terms of the broader Ryan budget, we have a two-year
experiment in austerity politics, it`s called Europe. England is now in a
double dip recession. They cut social spending. Greece, Spain, Ireland,
all of these countries have done exactly what Paul Ryan wants to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Austerity. Cut it, cut it, cut it.
WARREN: Especially cutting social safety nets, cutting spending on
the poor and working class.
So, we have a two-year experiment, and it has not worked.
SCHNEIDER: The austerity experiment has failed on two grounds. It
was supposed to increase confidence on the investor community. It has not
Spain had austerity and their credit rating was reduced. And look at
the political impact, Sarkozy may lose as the president of France next
SCHNEIDER: And the government in Netherland has fallen. Spain,
Italy, Greece, Portugal, Ireland. Governments are falling all over Europe.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love Bill for bringing us the big view. In a few
minutes, I`m going to ask about how the riots in Los Angeles 20 years ago
tell us something about our country today.
But, first, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
And Alex is down in D.C.
How are you today?
ALEX WITT, MSNBC HOST: I am -- well, I`m awake after the dinner last
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right.
WITT: Let me tell you, but we all thought about you.
Anyway, we`re going to get to all of this, the battle over being
cool. How is that going to play out in November? And will the new
approach by the Romney campaign change anything?
Plus, behind the scenes, you`ve heard all the jokes. But what really
went on at the White House correspondents` dinner. We`re going to talk
with one Washington insider about just that.
The fight to save the U.S. Postal Service. Some of the latest tweaks
may mean closing some locations or not.
And the next generation of American -- what is that group going to be
called? Of course, you`ve heard of Gen X and Gen Y. What now? I`m making
a big announcement on the show on what the (INAUDIBLE) 15 age group is
going to be called.
Melissa, back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Alex, you look fantastic for what must have
undoubtedly been a late night.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, the L.A. riots 20 years later and what we
HARRIS-PERRY: We, the jury, find the defendant, Lawrence M. Powell,
not guilty of the crime of the assault.
Not guilty -- these two words spoken from a California jury box 20
years ago, on April 29th, touched off five days of rioting in Los Angeles.
Mobs set fire, damaging more than 1,500 buildings, destroying 1,200
businesses, and causing more than $1 billion in property damage. Thousands
were arrested, more than 50 people were killed, more than 600 injured.
The riots erupted because the shock of the injustice was so great.
Americans had watched, with their own two eyes, as Los Angeles police
officers surrounded Rodney King and delivered blow after sickening blow
with their nightsticks. Most of them delivered by Officer Lawrence Powell.
And the verdict felt like an assault on our very reason, not guilty -
- how can that be? After what we all saw? And the rage, though
misdirected through rioting, was righteous. It was directed at a system, a
system of police brutality, official misconduct and an unjust legal system.
And then the horrifying beating of a truck driver, Reginald Denny,
all caught on tape. Too blood to show here. Reginald Denny pulled from
his cab at intersection of Florence and Normandy and beaten nearly to death
by four rioters. This is him after he recovered.
Suddenly, the tone changed. This single act of interracial violence
directed against an innocent white man sapped the strength of an ethical
argument that had been laser-focused on the misuse of state power. The new
refrain was not at the police, it was -- can`t we all just get along? Now
while getting along is admirable and it is an important goal, the violence
that Rodney King and so many other black men have suffered at the hands of
police, is not about our interpersonal reactions, it`s about the policies,
practices and power of the state misused against those who lack recourse to
Twenty years later, as we watch the wheels of justice turning slowly,
haltingly, imperfectly in the Trayvon Martin case, I`m reminded that we
remain on the precipice of disillusionment that could transform to
violence. The 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots reminds us how important
it is to guard against that turn.
Civil rights activists Bayard Rustin, who was the architect to the
march on Washington and the mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explained,
"Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Our aim is
do create the kind of America, legislatively, morally and psychologically,
such that even though some continue to hate us, they cannot openly manifest
And that is our show for today.
Thank you to Dorian Warren, Bill Schneider and Anthea Butler and Faiz
Shakir for sticking around.
And thanks to you at home for watching. I`ll see you next Saturday
at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And joining us next Sunday, the ground-breaking
ballerina, Misty Copeland will be 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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