'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, May 13, 2012
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
Guests: Alex Witt, Perry Bacon Jr, Anthea Butler, Chloe Angyal, Michael Tomasky, Ronald Scott, Robin
Levi, Vivian Nixon, Tina Reynolds, Janny Scott
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: On mother`s day, my question. How do
our top politicians handle their mommy issues?
Plus, boy hood pranks or sinister psychology. Should we care about a 50-
year-old Romney story.
And you can`t raise children from behind bars where too many mothers are.
But first, as popular opinion turns for same sex marriage, there are
actually some Republican scrambling to get with the times because they know
what happens if they don`t.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Now, I was going to start the show with a different story today. I thought
we had heard both sides of the same sex marriage issue. But then,
yesterday, Mitt Romney, who could have given a speech about his love of
family and his plans for the economy added this remark, and drew a line in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As fundamental as these
principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate from time to
time, so it is today with the enduring institution of marriage, marriage is
a relationship between one man and one woman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Did you hear that reaction by the audience? And given the
reaction by the audience to Romney, would President Obama`s mid week
announcement be enough for those on the side of equality?
At the same time, Romney was speaking to students in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The first lady was giving her own commencement address in Greensboro, North
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that all of you
know the story of the Greensborough four and how they changed the course of
our history. But since we have the nation watching, let`s talk a little
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, both Romney and the first lady spoke the same week that
North Carolina voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning
same sex marriage again. But her speech was in North Carolina, not
Virginia, and the state is important, but so is the fact that she mentioned
the Greensboro four.
Those were the four students that sat at a restricted Woolworth lunch
counter in 1960 and in so doing, stood up against segregation. They helped
to launched the movement for civil rights in the United States.
Through the use of history, the first lady reminded us that equality isn`t
for some, it`s for everyone. And some Republicans are starting to get the
hint. Sort of. Even before yesterday`s speeches in a leaked memo, a top
Republican pollster urged his party to take a different stand on same sex
marriage, saying as people who promote personal responsibility, family
valleys, commitment instability and emphasize freedom and limited
We have to recognize that freedom means freedom for everyone. This
includes the freedom to decide how you live and to enter into relationships
of your choosing. The freedom to live without excessive interference of
the regulatory force of government.
So, while the all role tone is for limited government, it is also a wakeup
call for the party to embrace the rising tide of support for marriage
equality and to stop making the love lives of some part of public political
discourse versus a basic private right.
With me at the table, Anthea Butler, professor of religious studies at the
University of Pennsylvania. Michael Tomasky is special correspondent for
"Newsweek` and the "Daily Best," and Chloe Angyal, editor of
Thanks to you all for being here.
MICHAEL TOMASKY, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, NEWSWEEK: Good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: so, yesterday Mr. Romney certainly had the option to ignore
the same sex marriage question. It wasn`t an interview, it was a speech.
He decided to draw a line in the sand. What are the politics of this
TOMASKY: Well, I think first of all, they`re internal intra-Republican and
intra-conservative politics as far as concerns what he said there
yesterday, Melissa. Because he was speaking to a skeptical audience, an
audience that doesn`t think a member of his church, the LDS church
(INAUDIBLE). I think I read they officially teach it is a cult. So he had
some persuading to do. So, of course had he to say that. And you notice
he said one man and one woman, just so they wouldn`t get any ideas he meant
one man and four women, or something.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, there certainly is at least so I come from a
tradition includes on the maternal line Mormons going all the way back,
including members of the LDS, a great, great grandfather who was in prison
for polygamy when it became illegal in the U.S.
So, I am always myself, just a little anxious about the kind of completion
issue of plural marriage along with LDS identity. That said, it certainly
is for evangelicals, particularly in the south who Romney is going to need,
that issue of marriage and sort of what you mean when you say traditional
marriage is on their minds.
What else do you think is likely to occur, even beyond the LDS question. I
mean, same sex marriage, we are at like 53 percent support, 52, 53 percent
support among Americans.
ANTHEA BUTLER, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Exactly. I mean,
you can see how uncomfortable he was this week, Romney talking about this.
Because it looked like he was like this is the last thing I wanted to
happen. I really need to talk about the economy, not about marriage.
But, I think what he has to do is walk a very gentle line. Yesterday when
he said this at Liberty, that was for the shocked troops of evangelicals to
be able to say you can vote. It was also a signal to the rest of the
party, like I am going to say this once, and I don`t want to say it again,
can we move off this topic. And that`s - you know, that`s the biggest
crowd he probably speaks to until Republican national convention. So, I
think it is really important for him that said it. And now, he has to
quickly move off it.
BUTLER: Pander. What he is going to do also is to emphasize what was in
the memo, the freedom piece because I think that`s a really crucial thing
for them to do. Because it just looks like, if you look at the
Republicans, they want freedom from government, but at the same time
they`re trying to legislate everyone`s morality and that just doesn`t work.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Let`s show a thought from a little bit of sound from
Santorum who actually was making argument that he should go, you know,
right in on the marriage equality, not pander and pivot but actually makes
it a vehicle. Let`s listen to Santorum had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a very potent
weapon if you will for governor Romney if he is willing to step up and take
advantage of a president who is very much out of touch with the values of
America, and hopefully governor Romney will continue to stand tall for his
position on this issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Out of touch? I mean, 53 percent of Americans support
marriage equality. Why would the president be the one out of touch?
CHLOE ANGYAL, EDITOR, FEMINISTING.COM: Yes. Fifty three percent of
Americans voted for Rick Santorum. I think he would be calling himself --
ANGYAL: I don`t think that he would be saying the American public was out
of touch. There`s nothing quite like the study of people cheering for
bigotry. It is really, really quite compelling.
HARRIS-PERRY: At a religious institution.
ANGYAL: Right, after that memo has gone out talking about freedom. I was
born and raised in Australia, and marriage equality is not reality in
Australia yet. But this week there were rallies all around Australia in
favor of marriage equality. At one of those of rallies, someone stood up
and said if it is good enough for the leader of the free world, it is good
enough for us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wow. And so, it makes a difference for him to have just
taken that stand.
ANGYAL: Absolutely does. You talk about inter party values, impact beyond
the Republican party, not just beyond the Republican party, beyond America,
this is to paraphrase the vice president, a big deal.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I don`t like first lady Obama standing in Greensboro,
North Carolina, after that amendment one vote, speaking to an audience of I
think it is historically black college, I think it`s also probably upward
of 75, 80 percent African-American student population and saying, invoking
Greensboro four, invoking Scott hall, invoking that civil rights narrative.
She didn`t say and gay marriage or and marriage equality, but certainly
there`s no way you can stand in North Carolina at that moment invoke the
Greensboro four and not be talking about it.
BUTLER: Absolutely. I say and I think that`s really important point.
Because I think what the mystery in North Carolina story is that, you know,
people always want to say the African-American community are going to vote
against gay marriage and that hasn`t always been the case. That was a
really mixed bag last week. You had NAACP coming out, you had some other
pastors who said, you know, we wanted to get rid of this amendment. This
is bad for everyone.
But I think what`s, you know(INAUDIBLE) doing this yesterday. I think
what`s really important for that is that, there`s a subtle message that you
have to see civil rights are about everybody, it just can`t be one
particular cause. It`s about different causes and we all need to be civil
and the fight for each other`s civil rights.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is about courage to stand up there and do that. I mean,
she has been in many ways the kind of ambassador to African-American
communities for the Obama administration, and it`s quite a stand for her to
TOMASKY: It`s courage and courage what the president did. I mean, we
should just say that, and since we haven`t said it, but that`s big courage.
I mean, it is 53 percent, Melissa. But 53 percent isn`t a massive
HARRIS-PERRY: No, it`s not.
TOMASKY: You really don`t know how this is going to play out. I suspect
Santorum is exactly wrong for this reason. Romney has a more nonmainstream
position, much more none main stream position than Obama has. Romney is
against civil unions.
TOMASKY: The vast majority support. Romney is in favor of he says, we
don`t know if this is an etch a sketch Romney position, but he says he does
support a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as between
one man and one woman.
Now, that`s really actually quite extreme. I suspect that even as risky as
Obama has played this, as risky as he played it, I think that when they get
down to a debate situation in October, I think he will be able to show
voters in the middle that Romney`s position is more extreme.
HARRIS-PERRY: And in fact, I`m glad you brought us to the constitution.
That`s where we`re going to pick up when we come back. Talk to you about
how we are actually distinct the constitution in part with defense of
Also later this hour, what Lenore Romney in the senate run and Ann Dunham`s
academic research can tell us about their sons. I`m talking about the
candidate`s moms, so don`t go away.
HARRIS-PERRY: What if your right to marry, provide for, and protect your
family was up for a vote? Would that be OK?
Well, that`s what same sex couples are facing in the form of different
ballot measures and amendments across the country. If your private life
shouldn`t be up for a vote, neither should anyone else`s.
Back with me, Anthea Butler from University of Pennsylvania, "Newsweek"
Michael Tomasky and Chloe Angyal of feministing.com.
So, what killed me about the North Carolina piece, it was already illegal
for same sex couples to marry, but then Anthea, this is in to the
constitution. What kind of violence are we doing to the idea of basic
rights when we don`t make it a legislative act but by referendum change
constitutions to limit rights of other citizens?
TOMASKY: I think it is Chloe`s turn.
ANGYAL: What we`re talking about is second class citizenship, and that`s
plain and simple, and that`s simply not acceptable. Look, I am a straight
person, I am an ally. My right to marry has been enshrined since I was 18-
years-old. When in fact, the only marriage trouble I face now is that
certain grandmothers are hinting.
HARRIS-PERRY: Time for mother`s day to be more exciting next year.
ANGYAL: I should exercise that sooner than later. But, you know, we`re
talking about voting on people`s personal lives, yes, but in an incredibly
public way. And marriage has always been a public expression of a private
institution. But that doesn`t mean that the public gets a say in what we
do in our private lives.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I - obviously, I felt quite emotional about this
in part, thinking about how enslaved people were kept from being able to
marry as a matter of policy. And, you know, if you`re enslaved, biggest
problem isn`t marriage, right? Your biggest problem is fundamental human
freedom. And yet, the very fact that people tried to find ways to create
marriage even in the context of intergenerational channeled slavery tells
me marriage must be important.
BUTLER: Yes. and I think that`s part of what`s going on with the African-
American community, if you think of post civil war, people looking for each
other, looking for the spouse they couldn`t get married to, try to find
them in the newspapers. I really think --
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the first thing people did.
BUTLER: Exactly. Looking for each other, right? And then you have all
these ceremonies that happening now. Marriage gets really enshrined,
that`s a lot of time looking in our archival newspaper and watch it all
this, you know, pictures from the `20s and `30s of people getting married
And now, the fact that you are telling people that I don`t want you to get
married because you`re in the same sex, it`s the same as interracial
marriage was, OK. So, we have this moments where you have a vote on
somebody`s right to be with someone, and it should not be that way. You
cannot just legislate this into a place where you have certain people are
going to go vote, other people won`t. It should be something done in a
different kind of space. We didn`t do this with civil rights movement.
TOMASKY: I think the good news though, Melissa, is that despite this
passion of this minority, I think the majority of Americans are extremely
skiddish about messing with the constitution and constitutional amendments.
Even this flag burning constitutional amendment in the mid 2000s didn`t
really get much of anywhere. Actually came close once to the Senate, but
it didn`t become law.
People understand, they may not be constitutional scholars, they may not be
able to articulate exactly why they feel funny about it, but people
understand that if you are amending the constitution, you`re making a
statement, it better be something important and worthy, and it is not this.
HARRIS-PERRY: And whenever we amended it, it was always been to expand
rights. One time that we did it to limit rights, that was prohibition and
didn`t work out well.
ANGYAL: We got cocktails out of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Well, it`s true. We got al Capone, right, as a
result. Let`s take a look though. I mean, the fact that it is not a fully
partisan issue in the sense that some Democrats are not falling in line
behind the president, especially those that are facing tough re-election
bills, as you point out that are skiddish, in fact. So, there are Dems
like Claire McCaskil and Jon Tester and others who are at this point what
I`m saying actually, you know, I am not sure I`m going to get on board with
BUTLER: Yes. It is a real problem, in the down ticket races. I think it
is not going to be a problem in the presidential races. But I think if we
are talking about the congress and the senate, then this is going to a big
issue in the state. And most of the states already have something about
either, you know, no same sex marriage or something.
BUTLER: But I think it is going to play as a political issue as opposed to
that, and used as a wedge issue, so these Democrats who are in states that
have to sort of hold on do what they have, push back on Republican tea
partiers or another, it is really hard for them to step out to say maybe
what they really think or don`t think because that may, you know, cut into
HARRIS-PERRY: But will it really be the political issue? I mean, it is
May, right? I mean, you know, for all of our emphasis, it is may. Won`t
it just be the economy stupid by the time we get to September, October,
TOMASKY: I think mostly. I do think some, many probably democratic
senatorial candidates are going to have to distance themselves from this
position. But I think the White House knows that. I actually don`t think
it is going to be that tricky. It will make for some interesting
commercials like for example by Joe Manchin I predict.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And the thing that I supposed I also want us to focus
on here is the idea that we have a question of how important is an
executive on leadership. So you said OK, here we are in Sydney, and people
are saying the leader of the free world. But, many pro-life presidents,
except for their judicial nominations made little attempt to actually
change access to reproductive rights. How much difference does it actually
make who is in the White House on this question?
ANGYAL: Well, I think there`s a difference between power and influence,
what we saw Obama do this week was exercise his influence, rather than his
power. And, you know, I have been hearing a lot from the LGBT community
this week about how it was a personal affirmation, you know, he affirmed
his personal belief and didn`t really take any concrete steps.
I think it was still, it may have been symbolic, but I think it was still
hugely important. I mean, Obama of all the recent presidents is an
incredibly influential president, partly because he has this cool thing
going on, but also because I think people really respect him. I mean, he
uses the bully pull pet quite effectively.
HARRIS-PERRY: As does the first lady.
ANGYAL: Absolutely. Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- which is part of what is so nice.
So, up next, we are going to talk about the young Mitt Romney being a very
good Mama`s boy. We dug into our vault and we are going to bring you an
old diva goody. That`s Mitt. Look at him. Isn`t he adorable?
HARRIS-PERRY: Son of an automotive executive, of a popular three term
governor, of the secretary of housing and urban development. Mitt Romney`s
legacy as his father`s son is a key part of the candidate`s narrative.
But what of the mother? Lenore Romney also had political ambition, which
brings us to this week`s mother`s day vault.
Lenore Romney ran and loss a race for the U.S. Senate in 1970 in Michigan.
So the Nerdland crew dug around archives, and found this campaign video
from Mrs. Romney`s senate bid. It features a very young Mitt Romney making
the case for Mom.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: So many of our senators sometimes become so caught up in the
political situation that their answer is made politically before the issue
is even brought up. Why, you could come out with a new bill, and you could
decide down the line how everyone is going to vote, mostly on their
political background, which party they`re for.
But she isn`t so aligned to a political ideology or a political side of the
spectrum that she can`t analyze the situation and vote in it and work in it
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mother of four, grandmother of 15, devoted family, a
full and varied life. Yet Lenore Romney chooses the rough road, the race
against very difficult odds for a seat in the United States Senate. Why?
LENORE ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY`S MOTHER: I`ll be a voice. I know I`m one
voice, but everything starts with one, right? I believe there are millions
that feel as that I do. I think I can enlist their help. I believe maybe
I can be useful. This may be a one term, but I think every woman longs to
be pertinent to her age.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never before has the voice and understanding of a
concerned woman been so needed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Actually, we still need her.
Up next, we`ll discuss presidential men, and why they have mommy issues.
HARRIS-PERRY: President Obama`s re-election campaign officially re-
launched last weekend. And as such, the first lady, Michelle Obama, went
about the business of re-introducing the country to her husband.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: We all know what our president stands for, right?
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
MICHELLE OBAMA: He is the son of a single mother who struggled to put
herself through school.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: You see what she did there? Re-introducing the president
means bringing his mother, Ann Dunham, back to the forefront. And frankly,
given how phenomenal she was, I think that`s where she belongs. After
Lenore Romney, Mitt Romney`s trail break trail blazing mother.
So, let`s talk about President Obama`s Mama and Governor Romney`s mommy.
Back with me is Anthea Butler of the University of Pennsylvania and the
Daily Beast`s Michael Tomasky. Joining them is now Ronald Scott, author of
"Mitt Romney," the inside look at the man and his politics. Pulitzer prize
winner Janny Scott, a former reporter and now contributor to the "The New
York Times" and an author of the book I just love "a singular mother, the
untold story of Barack Obama`s mother."
Thank you both for joining us.
So, for mother`s day, part of it we were thinking about is of course, you
know, the whole culture kind gets mommy obsessed at this moment. We saw a
"Time" magazine cover with, you know, sort of lactation anxiety, you know,
should you let your baby breastfeed until they`re president or something.
So, you know, given our angst about or our sense that mothers have this
traumatic influence on their children and who they are likely to be. Tell
me the aspects of, first of Ann Dunham and then on Lenore Romney that you
think we can see clearly in the kind of governing or ethical or policy
choices of their sons?
JANNY SCOTT, CONTRIBUTOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, President Obama makes
it very clear that his choice to go into public service really came from
his mother, who was an anthropologist, who worked in international
development, micro finance, lived half her adult life in Indonesia. The
country with the largest Muslim population in the world.
So, a very unconventional person, but who inculcated in him incredible
values about concern for poverty, about the most valuable thing you could
do in life would be to contribute to helping other people with
opportunities that weren`t born to them. So, you see it there. you also
see it, he has made it very clear in the way he chose to live with his
marriage and family, completely different from her. She had two husbands,
spent a lot of her adult life --
HARRIS-PERRY: Not at the same time, correct?
JANNY SCOTT: Yes, not that same time. Correct. And he made a very clear
choice to root himself in one place, Chicago, marry a woman from Chicago,
create kind of stability for his children. And as he said, in sort of
reaction to what he described as the constant motion of his childhood.
HARRIS-PERRY: She`s the cosmopolitan influence that makes him sort of all
things American, but she also is probably more influential than the father
in making him an international citizen, right? And so, in case not
literally a citizen, but taking him around too much of the rest of the
JANNY SCOTT: Absolutely. You are right about that. She took him to
Indonesia at the age of six. Kept him. He was there with her for four
years, and came back for a different kind of education in the United
States. She was always a kind of global person. And he often would go to
Indonesia later to stay with her. They kind of, yes, the world was a more
familiar place to them than it is to many Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: I feel like, you know, so Ann Dunham is clearly
unconventional, but Lenore Romney is I think more unconventional than we
might expect given she was a stay at home mom. This Senate bid in 1970,
that was a big deal.
RONALD SCOTT, AUTHOR, MITT ROMNEY: It was. And she is unconventional in
the Mormon sense in the world that she mixed public life with private life.
People say her family, members of the Romney family say Mitt is more like
his mother than he is like his father. They`re both very weight conscious
as you can see from pictures of Mitt now, looks terrific. I trade my body
for it. His mother is a driver. She has a sharp tongue. Mitt has a
fairly sharp tongue, sometimes gets him into trouble. She ran for the
Senate in 1972 when he was a young father just getting started.
And there was this incident during the Nixon administration when George was
secretary of housing and urban development where he was getting beat up by
the Ehrlich mans of the world, where she writes a letter to Nixon
personally and says, tell these bullies stop to beating up on my husband.
So, a very self confident person. And I think that self confidence comes
out in -- she liked the stage. She began life as an actress, wanted to be
HARRIS-PERRY: but in Hollywood.
RONALD SCOTT: Indeed. And George chased her to Washington, and the
family, he is not as the root and he married up as it were. All of that
dynamic is going on. George is more of a can do, hard charging kind of
HARRIS-PERRY: And - so, part of what I found interesting, is that the
Romney campaign has certainly put Ann Romney out front particularly with
this sort of motherhood language, and the kind of debate between her and
Hillary Rosen around, so that, you know, what counts as a real mother.
But Lenore Romney complicates the kind of mom`s story in some important
ways, particularly given that she was pro-choice of a sort. She certainly
had a stronger stance on reproductive rights, ones that sounds much more
like Romney`s initial stance as governor of Massachusetts. And he said
quite openly initially that his father`s position on civil rights would
lead him to be sort of pro-civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans.
I`m wondering if part of the reason we hear less about Lenore is because
her lessons might actually be counter to the current policy position he is
RONALD SCOTT: You ask a lot of questions there.
RONALD SCOTT: I don`t want to be defensive about Mitt either. Because I
am a journalist and I wrote a book. I`m not his advocate.
RONALD SCOTT: But the fact of the matter is he probably is going to end up
pretty much where he was in 1993, vis-a-vis same sex marriage and gay
rights and so forth.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is to say, a civil union supporter but not marriage
RONALD SCOTT: I think so, yes. But, you know, the Supreme Court rules in
favor of same sex marriage. He is going to enforce the law. He is not
going to look at to overturn it in my judgment, that`s my opinion.
And the same thing is true of civil rights. His dad was an advocate in
that area. I think that`s a sincere belief on his part, and not one he
comes to by unnaturally or politically, it is just there.
The mommy controversy came into play because it was raised by the other
side. I don`t think this is a model they`re pushing as the ideal model.
It`s a model that worked for them.
HARRIS-PERRY: And likeable. I mean, if I`m the Romney campaign, it is not
a bad strategy to put Ann Romney out front for all of the critiques of Mitt
as if it wouldn`t. Ann never feels wouldn`t she feels, you know, she is
RONALD SCOTT: Real person and it is a model to work for them. It`s not a
Mormon model. My wife is senior executive of a major company. Lots of
Mormon couples work two jobs, raise kids. Do the same thing like everybody
else is. But, they had an option to do it a different way.
The interesting thing about Ann though, is after they got married, she was
I think 19-years-old when they got married, she had a baby a year later,
and then went back after they got to Boston when he was in business school.
She went back to Harvard, the extension service and got her degree.
RONALD SCOTT: And that is actually kind a Mormon model. You get married
young. But don`t stop educating.
HARRIS-PERRY: You keep building education and family. Is this too much
throwing the candidates on the couch and psych psychoanalyzing them like
what are your mommy concerns. Or is there something legitimate here that
we can learn.
BUTLER: I don`t know if it is throwing them too much on the couch. I was
thinking about Mitt and his mother, Lenore. And I`m thinking, you know, I
want to know more. Because the problem is that, I can`t seem to map what
his real personality is because he is doing this kind of thing, right?
So, hearing about his mother really helps me to sort to say, OK, here is
where this person is. He is probably a little closer to his mom than he is
to some of the policies he is saying right now. So, that gives me a little
bit of, you know, hope about him in a certain kind of way.
I think we know a lot about President Obama`s mother because she has been
so much a part of the story because he has told that story, even though he
is telling his father`s story, his mother is part of that story as well.
And so, I think what`s important is to look at him, and see how she shaped
him. I always think about her being the anthropologist. And that`s why he
looks at people a certain kind of way. And he spent a lot time studying
people before he acts about certain things. He wants to see what you`re
doing, so that he can figure out how do I understand this little society of
tea partiers or whatever?
HARRIS-PERRY: What I loved that I heard about Ann`s anthropological work
actually from your book was, that she was less sort of look at all of the
cute rights and rituals that these people do and much more interested in
global economic justice. I mean real questions of how do people in a
situation of overpopulation and significant poverty make life for
JANNY SCOTT: That`s true. She wasn`t an economic anthropologist. And
what she studied was village industries. But I think the point that Anthea
makes is interesting because it is true that one of her great ethics,
people that worked with her, and younger people that worked with her told
me this was, when you look at people, don`t judge them. And make sure you
understand first, and then - and even when you do understand, don`t judge.
And I think that kind of anthropologist sort of curiosity and lack of
judgmentalness is something you see in the president.
HARRIS-PERRY: Openness to difference.
JANNY SCOTT: Absolutely.
TOMASKY: I think it is also interesting I guess that taking them off the
couch, maybe putting us or the electorate on the couch.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Yes.
TOMASKY: These people in addition to being human beings, they`re symbols
to the electorate, and they carry certain sets of signifiers with them, you
know. And it is just interesting that as different as they are ideology,
as different as they are on certain policy prescriptions, their backgrounds
are really different, and what the backgrounds represent are really
And if you`re kind of a traditionalist person, Mitt Romney`s background and
upbringing is much more appealing to you and comfortable to you. If you
have a touch of the nonconformist in you, Mitt Romney`s upbringing is kind
of off-putting to you, and you look at Obama`s conventional upbringing,
that`s my guy.
And Americans really do divide like that. And when we think about the
candidates, we don`t just think just about what they will do to Social
Security trust fund.
TOMASKY: We think of who they are and where they come from.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we get invested. I remember the president`s grandmother
who was obviously key in raising him passed away the day before the
election in 2008, and when the then candidate Obama stood that night to
make that speech, there was a great kind of emotional outpouring among
Americans for a woman we didn`t know, and would have never known, but came
to know just a bit through the very idea that this woman of the greatest
generation helped to raise this African-American child. And so, there was,
I don`t know, there was a bit of, you know, sort of emotional beat for a
lot of folks that of course his grandmother doesn`t live to see.
BUTLER: To see the whole thing. Yes. I think about it as like, you know,
on a day like mother`s day, when you have to think about all the mothers in
your life, whether there`s grandmothers, and mothers, or whatever. I think
for Obama, that was a really - that`s an important moment because you don`t
see, you sort of see him tear up, but you don`t see the rest of it, the
rest of the grief that`s there. And he spent a lot - probably a lot more
time with her I`m thinking than with his own mother.
And so, it also brings up all of these things about how people live today
in these kind of extended families and grandmothers are taking care of kids
instead of mothers for whatever reason there might be.
But, I also think, too, just circling back to Lenore a minute. It might be
really helpful for Mitt Romney`s campaign to start talking about his mother
in a certain sense. Because I mean, the whole thing about her being an
actress or anything has sort to goes back to kind of a Nancy Reagan thing,
as she gives it up to be with her husband, and then goes out into civic
And I think that speaks a lot about what women do in the LDS church, too.
Because we don`t really see that I think. There`s a mono lit about what
people think women are doing in that church. And that`s not the case at
HARRIS-PERRY: And when we come back, I want to talk more about LDS. I
want to talk more about the symbol that is Ann Dunham versus the complex
Later this morning, we are going to talk about Mitt Romney`s hunting high
school memories, but I also want to ask more about the moms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA: It begins with the women that shaped my life.
MITT ROMNEY: My mom loved singing. My mom used to sing songs from
BARACK OBAMA: I grew up the son of a single mom. She raised two kids by
herself with some help by the grandparents.
MITT ROMNEY: My mom would read to us from a book that told the stories of
the settling of America.
BARACK OBAMA: She used to wake me up before dawn to study. When I would
complain, she would let loose with this is no picnic for me either, buster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a little bit of the president and the presumptive
Republican nominee talking about their mamas. Our conversation I`m eager
to continue with you Penn professor Anthea Butler, Daily Beast special
correspondent Michael Tomasky, Mitt Romney bio book Ronald Scott and Janny
Scott who wrote a biography of President Obama`s mother, Ann Dunham.
Let me ask you about Ann. Because I have a theory if Ann Dunham were still
living during the 2008 campaign, it would have been difficult for President
Obama, then candidate Obama, because the image that the campaign created of
her was of the sort of frozen in that 19-year-old moment the sort of, you
know, young, innocent single mom moment. But she was actually more
complex, more radical, had that Ann Dunham been available for interviews,
that it might have been harder to cast her in that particular sort of Rosie
glow of the memoir they create of who she is.
JANNY SCOTT: I think there`s a lot of truth to that. I wouldn`t call her
radical. I mean, I think she`s as we used the word before, unconventional
in the American context. But, yes, you`re right. The president and the
campaign in 2008 packaged her in a particular way.
She was the white woman from Kansas, always coupled and literally related
to the black father from Kenya. She was the single mother on food stamps.
She was the woman who died young fighting with her insurance company over
her healthcare coverage.
In fact, you know in his book, she comes off as a sort of slightly naive,
idealistic young woman, you know, the innocent abroad.
The story is far more complicated and I would say far more interesting.
She was very tough minded. She had an extraordinary career, something of a
path breaker in a country that many Americans don`t understand, Indonesia,
a place with the largest Muslim population in the world. She works in a
micro finance well before - and in very early years.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because it is now a Nobel prize winning.
JANNY SCOTT: Precisely. She was in on the ground floor of that. She had
as I said, a very unconventional, you know, romantic life. She married an
African at a time when nearly two dozen states have laws against
interracial marriage. She went on to marry an Indonesian, took her son to
Indonesia in the wake of anti-communist bloodbath that hundreds of
thousands of Indonesian died.
So, over and over again, she makes choices that I think many Americans
really would find challenging to understand. And also she raises this
fascinating question, what makes a good mother.
JANNY SCOTT: Now, she produced a president. And yet she did it in a
really -- a way that`s not familiar to many of us. It`s not actually
accurate to say that his grandmother spent more time with, the first 13
years of his life, he was really with his mother, except for a short
period. But yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: But she was a critically important. I mean, my mother,
after I suffered my divorce, my mother helped me raise my daughter until
remarried. And still very much active. And there`s just no doubt that my
daughter is un-doubt being both impacted by me but on a daily basis as well
by my mom.
So, let me ask. The Obama campaign really did craft a lovely story of Ann
Dunham, one that was accurate if not fully complex, but helped him to reach
kind of a broad audience of Americans so he could say I`m like you, right?
So, this is any story you have, I have that story too. I am an immigrant.
I am from Kansas, anything you are, I am.
I`m wondering about Mitt Romney and Mormon identity. And it feels to me as
someone that comes from Mormon ancestors that there is an opportunity for
someone in LDS, the Latter Day Saints, to craft a narrative of inequality,
of bullying, of being pushed out, of all of the challenges that Mormons in
America have faced, as a way of generating a sense of empathy between being
a Mormon, of something that a lot of people have negative affect about.
But actually being able to repackage it.
So, I wonder, is there any way the Romney campaign might be doing a better
job in talking about LDS than it currently is?
RONALD SCOTT: There is. But they have it as one of their strategies, they
won`t do it. They won`t talk about Mormonism. And they are going to keep
that off the table. That was the strategy during the primary season.
That may change for the general election because as you say, there are
things that recommend him as a president, that come or the derive from his
Mormon background, and the narrative about the Mormons being pushed from
Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, to Utah, and then after they get there
because of polygamy of the government chasing down polygamist fathers, and
putting them on the lam, and the colonies, they got settled and actually
kindly a started in New Mexico where Mitt`s father was born and my mother
as well, that story really hasn`t been told, and it is compelling in its
own right, and it will generate, if it is told well and accurately.
HARRIS-PERRY: And told by them, right? They want to control it. They
don`t want it as a "the Washington Post" front page story or "The New York
Times" or here`s the dark and scary past, right? They want to control of
RONALD SCOTT: I think so. And it`s been told in bits and pieces but never
really been put together as here is our story. I have this massive book at
home of the biographies of the families that lived in Mexico for instance.
It was written by descendants. And it`s a fascinating to read. It`s the
language isn`t particularly good, but it is massive.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is one of the things Mormons do best, is keep family
RONALD SCOTT: That`s exactly what it is. A big bound volume.
HARRIS-PERRY: We don`t just get lost in multiple generations later.
TOMASKY: He is in a real pickle, though. I actually have some sympathy
for him. Because obviously his religious heritage and belief are very
important to him, a pre-central part of his life. But can`t talk about it
politically, feels he can`t talk about it.
Now, he is in this situation today, who is the more likeable candidate,
Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, and it is like 62-30, Obama, right?
RONALD SCOTT: Right.
TOMASKY: I mean, Romney is just getting slated on this likability
question. That suggests that he has to do something to tell people
something about himself, about his biography. He has to tell more of the
story of who he is. This is the time for that right, between capturing the
nomination and the convention, and then at the convention, you give the big
speech and all that stuff. So, he has to do that. But is he going to tell
that part of the story? It`s very (INAUDIBLE).
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Well, and in fact, we will talk a little bit later in
the show about the part of the story that`s now leaking about his past that
he may not want to talk about.
Thank you, Janny Scott. I really - I feel like having you here is a little
bit of gift to my mom for mother`s day. Because she adores the book and
story of Ann Dunham.
The rest of you guys are sticking around.
But coming up, what the death of Trayvon Martin means on mother`s day, up
HARRIS-PERRY: For some mothers, today is a celebration of the hard work
they put into raising their children. For other moms it can be a sad
reminder of young lives cut short and the pain caused by their absence.
Despite her loss, Trayvon Martin`s mom, Sybrina Fulton is using this
holiday to share a very important message about gun violence. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN`S MOTHER: I am Sybrina Fulton. This will
be my first mother`s day without my son, Trayvon. I know it will be hard,
but my faith, family and friends will pull me through.
On Sunday, I`m going to say a prayer for other mothers across America who
share this unbearable pain. Just like me, 30,000 mothers lost their
children this year to senseless gun violence. Nobody can bring our
children back. But it would bring us comfort if we can help spare other
mothers the pain that we will feel on mother`s day, and every day the rest
of our lives.
I`m asking you to join Florida by calling upon the governor of your state
to re-examine similar stand your ground laws throughout the nation to keep
our families safe. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Happy
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Sybrina Fulton. Courageous and full of grace. Thank you
for showing us that a mother`s work is never done.
And up next, the high school memories dogging Mitt Romney`s campaign this
week. What we`re going to try to make of them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back.
This week "the Washington Post" filled in more of the gaps in Mitt Romney`s
personal profile by providing a detailed account of his prep school days.
Doesn`t paint a nice picture of the presidential hopeful. For campaign,
which has been hampered by the candidate`s seemingly robotic and out of
touch personality, further biographical details should in fact be welcome.
But not these details.
Say what you will about Romney` s family dog who had to ride on the roof of
the car. That`s nothing next to the reported cruelty that young Romney
inflicted on one of his peers.
"The Washington Post" reported that as a high school at the
prestigious Cranbrook School in Detroit, Michigan, Romney pointedly bullied
John Lauber, and the effeminate teen`s long bleach blond hair reportedly,
quote, "tackling him, pinned him to the ground," as Lauber`s eyes filled
with tears, screamed for help and Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a
pair of scissors.
And we must note that the Lauber family issued a statement saying,
"The portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that
John would be put to use as a political agenda."
Now, of course, we are not voting for the high school version of
either President Obama or Governor Romney in this election. But each
candidate has had to deal with their pre-existing narrative about the kind
of men they were and have become.
For Romney, it`s the privileged side of a rich man disconnected from
the average American, and these new stories seem to confirm that sense of
self. It shows a man who has enjoyed the relative privilege of being able
to screw up as a stupid teenager, but go on to run for political office.
And the fact is many average Americans don`t have that opportunity.
For many their teenage bad behavior is the end of the line. And that`s the
disconnect for Mitt Romney.
Back here with me at the table is Anthea Butler, professor of
religious studies at University of Pennsylvania; Michael Tomasky is special
correspondent for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast"; Chloe Angyal, editor of
Feministing.com; and Ronald Scott. Author of "Mitt Romney: An Inside Look
at the Man and His Politics."
OK. It`s a 50-year-old story.
CHLOE ANGYAL, FEMINISTING.COM: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Should we care about this story?
ANGYAL: It`s a hate crime. Under the New York state law, what he
did today would be classified as a hate crime. It was a premeditated
violent assault with three or four people on one, and it was clearly -- I
mean, it was memorable enough four decades later, the men that were
involved in it remembered it, and were concerned enough about what it said
about Mitt Romney`s character and capacity to lead that they were willing
to talk on the record about it to "The Washington Post."
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s interesting that you used the language of
crime, because one of the things we have seen happen in American schools is
these zero tolerance policies, where if you are a kid in a marginal school,
often students of color, often poor kids, and you behave badly, the police
are called, not just a school infraction. But for school infractions
police are called. And you don`t necessarily have a chance to be boys
being boys and girls being girls and have opportunity later in life, you
literally end up with a criminal record.
MICHAEL TOMASKY, NEWSWEEK: Right. I`m almost as shocked not at the
incident itself but at the fact all these years have passed and evidently
according, to "The Washington Post," according to anything we know so far,
he never called John Lauber and said, hey, you know, it went a little
overboard that day, or never even expressed of this -- his confederates in
this mission that we shouldn`t have done that, we were wrong to do that.
That`s almost more of a shock than the fact that doing it.
And then, you know, his handling of it this week, is pretty abysmal
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Let`s listen to how Romney handles it and what
he said both about the idea that this was a hate crime -- in other words,
about the sexual orientation and his general feelings about it.
He said this on FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, I had no idea
what that individual`s sexual orientation might be, going back to the
1960s, that wasn`t something we all discussed or considered. So that`s
simply just not accurate. I don`t recall the incident myself, but I have
seen the reports, and not going to argue with that. There`s no question,
but that I did some stupid things in high school. Obviously if I hurt
anyone by virtue of that, I would be very sorry for it and apologize for
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I just want to briefly recall that presidents, people
running for president, candidates do bad things in their past. I just want
to compare what we heard Mitt Romney say to what George W. Bush said as a
candidate on the Republican ticket on November 2nd of 2000, just a couple
days before the election when his DUI came out.
And here`s how later President Bush handled it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: There`s a report out tonight
that 24 years ago, I was apprehended in Kennebunkport, Maine, for DUI.
That`s an accurate story. I`m not proud of that.
I -- often times said that years ago, I made some mistakes. I
occasionally drank too much and I did on that night. I was pulled over.
Admitted to the policeman that I had be drinking, I paid a fine and I
regret that it happened, but it did. I`ve learned my lesson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, in both cases, there may be a story of
privileged, wealthy young men who were able to get off. But politically,
when George W. Bush as a candidate -- he is like, I did it, sorry about
And Romney does not respond that way. Is that an indication of
something? You`re his biographer, not his apologist, you`re his
biographer. Does that tell us something about Romney the teenager but
Romney the man and the candidate?
RONALD SCOTT, AUTHOR, "MITT ROMNEY": It does, unfortunately.
There`s this history of I don`t remember or I don`t remember it exactly, or
I`m not going to apologize about something I can`t remember specifically.
And you can see the pattern unfolding in virtually every controversial
thing he`s had to face as a candidate.
You see it happening in the way he handled rescue of the Olympic
Games in Salt Lake, where people that did a good job in the wrong place at
the wrong time, that he didn`t just say good-bye, he kind of ground them
down when they were there.
I was -- I was mortified at the report in "The Washington Post" and I
read it very carefully, obviously. I was mortified, number one, that I
missed it as a journalist doing the biography. I am sure "Boston Globe"
guys were mortified that they missed it, too.
HARRIS-PERRY: He had been in public life a really long time.
SCOTT: He has. To frame it, I`m about the same age as Mitt is -- he
has gone to an all-boys private school. Probably the last time the police
were called to an all boys private school was never. It isn`t going to
It wasn`t a hate crime in the truest sense of the word. It was -- I
did some checking with family members as well. This is a guy who felt that
he owned the school, he knew what the school stood for, and here was a kid
who was in the fringes, who was a little different. It wasn`t in
effeminate kind of thing, so far that I can tell, it was that he was a
weird guy in the fringes. And the four went after him, had hair that hung
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s that sense of privilege.
SCOTT: It is. It`s a frat boy kind of bit of nonsense.
And the fact that he couldn`t say like George Bush did -- I did it,
it was a dumb thing, I should have apologized for it then, I now apologize
for it -- it is troubling.
HARRIS-PERRY: And anti-bullying is officially the last bipartisan
issue in America, right?
ANTHEA BUTLER, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Almost, yes, exactly. I
think this story tells a couple things about him. One is that he is a
control freak, because he couldn`t stand that anybody`s hair was out of
place when his hair is always perfect. So, that`s number one.
So that really says something about him.
BUTLER: And then the second thing I just realized this not long ago,
he is a cheerleader. He is trying to keep his space on top of that school.
And I think that this is part of how he has played out his whole
life. He`s been the CEO, crushed companies, done these things, he`s got to
remain on top. And I think that if you would ask the Republican candidates
who are up against him, they felt some of this same kind of thing, this
election, this time he`s had some other surrogates to do the bullying for
him, instead of doing that bullying.
So, I think it says a lot about him. And I think it also says that
he has to go a long way to try to figure out how he`s going to craft his
personality, because that apology was not an apology. It was like I am
really kind of sorry. But you know, it was the same thing a bully would
do. Sorry if I hurt you, but it is over now.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m sorry if you are offended by it.
ANGYAL: And here is the thing about bullying, as you said, it is the
last bastion of bipartisan agreement. But also, this is not 1960s anymore,
and for the last couple of years, this country has been an ongoing,
sometimes really upsetting conversation about homophobic bullying of teens.
It`s now something that people are attuned to, and this is going to play
differently four or five decades after the fact.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, we`re going to talk about whether
he is a bully or just a bad boy, maybe just he`s just misbehaving. More on
what we make of this candidate`s past.
And still ahead, what it means to be a mom behind bars.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talking about former Governor Mitt Romney`s likability
gaffe of the week. This time, it comes from his boyhood pranks and his
With me talking about the presidential hopeful, Anthea Butler of
University of Pennsylvania, "Newsweek" and "Daily Beast`s" Michael Tomasky,
Chloe Angyal of Feministing.com and Romney biographer Ronald Scott.
So, this idea of Romney as a prankster had been the meme from the
campaign itself, about how to kind of humanize Romney.
I want to listen to what Ann Romney said about Mitt Romney. This
changes kind of how we hear this. So, let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN ROMNEY, MITT`S WIFE: Again, people like to keep him in that
narrative. So it`s nice for me as a wife to be able to say, no, look, this
is the person that`s really there, this is the boy that I knew, I still
look at him as the boy I met in high school, when he was playing all of the
jokes and really just being crazy, pretty crazy. And so, there`s a wild
and crazy man inside of him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, so May 1st, there`s a wild and crazy man inside.
ANGYAL: And by wild and crazy, I mean, someone that violently
polices other people`s gender expressions.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It is fine when it sounds like he is horsing
around with the boys and with the sons, but when it`s I held down a boy and
cut his hair because I didn`t like how he self expressed, it suddenly feels
like -- it feels menacing in a new way.
BUTLER: It`s completely menacing. And it also says that
nonconformity is not something he wants around anyone. So I think what
this really shows is that it`s going to go part to how he may even govern,
even if he has to think of how different people are around him, I don`t
know that this is a person who can really be open with everybody, and going
to really accept people for who they are.
That`s what I am wondering. I just feel like he is missing a chip
about emotion or, you know, empathy. He doesn`t seem to have it and I`m
looking for it here and I don`t see it there.
ANGYAL: I also think -- and look, we don`t know what is in Mitt
Romney`s heart, whether he is a homophobe. We`re never going to know that.
What we do know is that when he was a teenager, he violently police
someone`s sexuality or gender --
SCOTT: No, he didn`t do that. It was -- the kid was different. He
had long hair. Had nothing to do with homosexuality as far as I can tell.
And I did check into this before I came down here just to get a sense
where things were at Cranbrook during that period.
ANGYAL: Fair enough.
SCOTT: And it was because the kid had long hair, didn`t conform to
standards of Cranbrook. I don`t think it even crossed his mind the kid was
I think the one thing you can`t accuse Mitt of is being a homophobe.
His chief advertising guy from the `93 campaign through the 2002 run for
the governorship, the Olympics in Salt Lake, is a guy who is very gay. He`s
head of a major advertising agency.
BUTLER: This last moment with the guy that ended up leaving, right?
SCOTT: So that when you put the two things together, you can`t say
that about him, there`s a track record he has.
ANGYAL: Here is what I am saying. We don`t know what is in his
heart. I`m not accusing him of being a homophobe. What I`m saying is we
have to hold him accountable for these individual actions. One of which is
what he did when he was a teenager, one of which was he did last week when
he dismissed --
HARRIS-PERRY: We don`t know if he hates or is afraid of people that
are gay, right, what we do know is he was willing to let a staffer openly
gay resign in the context of --
SCOTT: A sharp tongued staffer who was openly gay.
SCOTT: And so, was he let go because he was sharp tongued or because
he was gay. I got to believe knowing Romney history, it wasn`t because he
HARRIS-PERRY: He took the opportunity to say he is not supportive of
marriage equality. And so, even if he is not afraid or bigoted or any of
those things, in the end, it is support for policy and the question of
policy equality that for me is perhaps more troubling even than the story.
Charles Blow in "The New York Times" writing about it, calling it
mean boys said, you know, in part, Mike, you pointed out the issue is in
part how he responds. He says honorable men don`t chuckle at cruelty.
SCOTT: Right. That`s the part about his denial. The chuckle was
the tell. How old are you.
TOMASKY: Something really weird about this. My whole theory about
Romney has to do with his allergy, as probably a soft way to put it, to
taking really firm stands and to being a person of conviction. I think
this has to do -- my theory is this has to do with his father. I think his
father was large in --
ANGYAL: We`re going to talk about that on Father`s Day.
TOMASKY: Because his father was a man of outspoken conviction, civil
rights, he stormed out of the Republican convention in 1964.
HARRIS-PERRY: And he lost.
TOMASKY: He quit the Nixon administration because of a principled
disagreement, on and on, and he lost, said he was being brain washed in
Vietnam, and he was right, and he never got elected president.
I think Mitt saw my dad was too direct. That`s not the way to be.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is a great lead. On the one hand, teaches him how
to stand up, how to have these positions, but also teaches him and if you
do, particularly at a time when the party is in a hard right ideological
shift, as it was in that moment for George Romney, tat this is a losing
SCOTT: Funny you mention that. The people is currying favor with
now are the very people that caused George to storm out of the convention.
And if you ask a lot of Mormons, they`ll say, why is he kissing up to
the Christian right? Why isn`t he leading them back toward the middle? Is
he misrepresenting our religion and suggesting we are in bed with people
who are radical on the right side. Why isn`t he showing some leadership
instead as opposed to making love to people you can`t --
BUTLER: Absolutely. I can`t agree more. Part of what is happening
with him, he is going so far to the right that he is missing himself, he is
missing what he is supposed to stand for.
And by not standing for anything, he`ll go for anything. If he has
gone for whatever is the flavor of the week, that`s not going to win an
election. He really has to get backbone.
Right now, the only kind of backbone I see that he has is a backbone
for self, and it`s not about caring for others. I know that`s not part of
what LDS tradition is. He is misrepresenting his own tradition. He`s
misrepresenting his family made him to be, but he is also going after
something, some people that he doesn`t speak their language and he doesn`t
understand half the time what the right is really thinking about him.
It`s about expediency. The only way -- he may end up trying to win
this being the mean boy in this election, trying to pounce on Obama, doing
that same thing, trying to cut his hair.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I`ll tell you what? This is one of my favorite TV
moments ever, because the biographer of Mitt Romney was speaking, Althea
Butler was giving religion (INAUDIBLE) over here. I love it. This is a
Michael Tomasky and Ronald Scott --
TOMASKY: Say hallelujah.
HARRIS-PERRY: To moderation in the Mormon Church -- thank you both
so much for being here.
U next, proof that stars are not just like us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s be honest. Sometimes, we take mom for granted.
And so, it`s nice to have a day like today just a moment to remember the
women we sometimes forget.
The same cannot be said for celebrity moms who in some cases see more
than our actual mothers, that`s because much like our real mothers, these
famously fertile are always there for us. Actually, always there in us --
"Us Weekly" that is, almost from the moment of conception, we are laser
focused on their bellies, searching the folds of every garment for the
slightest indication of the bump, which has become a celebrity in its own
And who could miss Jessica Simpson on the cover of "Elle" magazine
doing her best Demi Moore impression? Where would reality television be
without moms eager to share all the intimate details, every late night
craving, every contraction during delivery, every diaper change, every
And as "The New York Times`" Jacob Bernstein recently wrote,
celebrity moms have given birth to a lucrative cottage industry around
motherhood. The reason their bundles are joyful is because they`re filled
Pause. I think it is time for reality check. We got one this week
from professor and activist Salamishah Tillet in her column for "The
Nation," reflecting on her impending motherhood, she reminded us that
keeping our eyes on the bunk has made us blind to the real burdens that
many moms carry every day.
She writes, "For the vast majority of American women, pregnancy and
childbirth makes us more financially vulnerable, not less. Consider that
women without children make 90 cents to a man`s dollar. Mothers make 70
cents to a man`s dollar. And single moms only 60 cents to a man`s dollar."
She points out and points to the findings of a 2007 Cornell
University study, that when a childless candidate applied for the same job
as an equally qualified mother, the mother was 100 percent less likely to
be hired. They also were offered $11,000 less pay than childless
Compare that to fathers who were offered 6,000 more dollars than non-
Women that go it alone as single mothers earn $40,000 less than
married household. And it`s estimated that housing and child care account
for more than three-quarters of their monthly expenses. And that`s for
mothers that are paid for their work.
Salary.com took a look at the various jobs that stay-at-home moms
juggle everyday, from CEO to psychologist to housekeeper, and how much time
they spend doing each of those jobs. Then they crunch the numbers to find
out what salary compensation ought to be.
Get this. This year, the average stay at home mom will work 94.7
hours a week. In real life, her labor would be worth at least $112,962.
Of course, she never sees a dime of that money. If we think all moms work,
maybe we should be sure that all moms are paid? But for now, mom gets paid
only in the currency of your love and appreciation.
So, today, treat your mom like a celebrity, and pay up.
Coming up, over 65,000 mothers are behind bars. What happens to
their kids while they`re there? It is a national crisis.
And we`re going to introduce you to a mom forced to give birth behind
bars shackled, right after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last week, I told you about 31-year-old Marissa
Alexander, the Florida woman who was found guilty of three charges of
aggravated assault after she fired a single shot from a handgun into a wall
near her abusive husband who was standing with his two children from a
previous relationship at the time. Now, no one was injured.
But this Friday, Marissa was sentenced to 20 years in jail without
parole. It`s the mandatory sentence under Florida`s 10-20-life law, for
someone convicted of a handgun in a felony. Twenty years for shooting a
In a recent interview with "Loop 21," Alexander defended her actions
saying, quote, "I chose that day not to kill my husband, it was a
deterrent. And thank God, it actually worked. Had it not, we would have
been another statistic and that would have been me being dead."
No mercy or justice for Marissa Alexander, and no mercy or justice
for her three young children. One of whom was born prematurely only days
before that shooting. Today, they are facing the first of many motherless
Mother`s Days -- because you see, when mothers go to prison, they aren`t
the only ones who are punished.
Marissa Alexander joins an estimated 65,600 women in federal and
state custody who are mothers of 147,400 minor children. One of those
women that gave birth in prison is here with me today.
Tina Reynolds, advocates on behalf of incarcerated women as co-
founder and co-chair of women on the rise, telling her story. She`s also
an adjunct lecturer at New York College.
And also here is the Reverend Vivian Nixon, the executive director of
College and Community Fellowship and co-founder of education from the
And in San Francisco, Robin Levi, an attorney and co-editor of
"Inside This Place, Not Of It."
Thanks to all of you for being here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks for the invitation. Happy Mother`s Day.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, as well to you.
I want to start with you, Tina. Tell me about your story. I just
want folks to have an understanding, when we say mothers in jail, mothers
in prison, what we`re talking about, what we`re facing here.
TINA REYNOLDS, HAD CHILD WHILE IN PRISON: All right. So in 1994, I
gave birth to my son, last son, Kai (ph) in prison. I was shackled and I
was handcuffed during birth and delivery in transport to and from the
And I believe at that time, I understood why I was in prison. I was
there for a parole violation, but I just could not understand during my
labor and delivery why I had to be shackled and handcuffed.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to pause so folks understand. These were
nonviolent crimes. These are crimes related to -- drugs, this was parole,
this was not about some kind of violent crime.
REYNOLDS: But, Melissa, it doesn`t matter. It doesn`t matter.
Childbirth is the most sacred act that we`re offered. We celebrate
Mother`s Day because of that.
I think that regardless of what crime a woman has committed that she
should be offered that freedom and that liberty to give birth without
shackles and handcuffs.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a very fair point. Tell me, because I just,
you know, Mother`s Day, you start thinking about moment of birth and you
take your child and hold your child. My understanding was the seal walked
off with your child --
REYNOLDS: I was able to hold my child a minute. I was handcuffed
with a long chain to my wrist. I was able to hold him for a little while.
And there was some complications, so they had to take him from me
right away, so I didn`t get a chance to have that full 20, 30 minutes we
often have. I had seven children.
So, I know what it felt like to hold my child, have that first
immediate bonding opportunity. But he was taken away. Not only that, the
correctional officer was there while I gave birth -- parents, your own
family members aren`t allowed to be there watching and witnessing the birth
of your child.
Vivian, is this -- I mean, obviously this is a particularly sort of
poignant moment, this idea of giving birth in the context of being shackled
and in prison. But even for women for whom they may not actually give
birth in prison, trying to parent and to mother from the context of behind
bars, how is that even possible or is it possible? Is there anything that
helps facilitate it?
REV. VIVIAN NIXON, COLLEGE AND COMMUNITY FELLOWSHIP: It is very
difficult, of course. And there are some prisons that facilitate that
better than others. Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York tries
to put resources in place where parents can communicate with their children
through teleconferencing and other means, but there are far reaching
implications of mothers not being able to connect with their children while
Up until 2010, there was a law on the books in New York state as a
result of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, that any mother away from her
child more than 18 months, would automatically lose all parental rights.
HARRIS-PERRY: You are stripped of parental rights for not having
contact with the child, and you`re not having contact because you`re
FOX: That`s correct. And that`s not something in the woman`s
control at the time. So a lot of laws are put in place that impact the
population of incarcerated women, whether they`re mothers or not, that are
not thought through what the long term implications of these policies.
And I think that`s why it`s really important that women have a voice
in what goes on in the criminal justice system, even though women are only
17 percent of the total criminal justice population, it is still important
that their voices be heard.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So women are only 17 percent of the total
population of incarcerated people. One of the things we know, is that when
fathers are incarcerated, only 2 percent of children of fathers end up in
foster care, whereas 11 percent of children of mothers who are incarcerated
end up in foster care.
Robin, I want to come to you on this question because it feels to me
like as we talk about incarceration, we may have viewers that say, well,
you know, you give up your rights to be a mom, when you break the law, when
you go to jail. This is just the cost you pay.
But I think I would like us to have a clearer understanding of why
women end up incarcerated in the first place.
ROBIN LEVI, ATTORNEY: Well, as you mention, the vast majority of
women in prison are there for nonviolent offenses, largely drug-related or
survival crimes, trying to pay to help your family, pay the bills. So
that`s first of all what we`re seeing for women inside prison.
And again, more than two-thirds of them are the primary care takers
of minor children. So they are the first line. And if they are sent to
prison, then it is far more likely their children are going to go into
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Robin, as an attorney, do judges take this into
account when a judge is potentially sentencing? In the case of Marissa
Alexander, the judge made a variety of decisions, but was bound by a
mandatory minimum sentencing law.
But when judges have the opportunity, do they take into account the
welfare of children and the idea that this is a mother? Do they think
about alternatives? Or are they willing to punish women?
LEVI: Well, sadly, I think it is important to realize that mandatory
minimums are all across the 50 states, and largely are dealing with drug
offenses again. So many, many judges are bound by those mandatory
minimums. In a few situations, recently, they have been allowed to use
some discretion. However, in my experience in California and actually in
researching the book, that discretion is rarely used on behalf of moms
going to prison.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tina, in your advocacy work, I know you got your
personal story. But also in your advocacy work, what are the things that
you find from other mothers as their core concerns, once they`re in the
situation of incarceration -- what are the things they want to be able to
do to continue to parent?
REYNOLDS: Well, I think their first concern is the safety of their
child no matter what, and they do know it is a hardship on many families
taking care of their children.
Most families that are taking care of their children struggle, their
own family members struggle to bring the children up to see them. So, moms
are worried about whether they get to see them, how they`re doing in
school, whether they`re fairing well.
Children walk around with a lot of embarrassment. It is not
something you can talk about where your mom is. And then family members
and foster parents may not be completely honest with the children they`re
taking care of. So the child needs to know what is exactly going on, and
it`s the responsibility of the mom and those that are taking care of the
child during their parent`s incarceration.
HARRIS: You make that point about visiting, also want to bring you
in on this, and, Robin, I also want to bring you in on this, because in
many states, the women who are incarcerated are often from urban areas but
they are incarcerated in fairly remote, rural areas. Your point about if
it is a sister or a mother taking care of the children, the burden just
literally on transportation just to see one`s mother.
NIXON: It can be costly, in terms of actual dollars spent, in terms
of time, and just in terms of just the stress and the pressure. And in
some of the facilities, correctional personnel really treat families badly.
But, you know, there`s a flip side of this whole story. As much as
we are talking about women who are incarcerated who have children, there
are 2.3 million people in America`s prisons and jails. Every one of them
has a mother.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, indeed.
NIXON: So there are mothers in our communities that have been
ravaged by mass incarceration because having your son or your daughter
imprisoned takes a toll on a mother. It really rips the heart out of a
mother to realize there`s nothing she can do to ease the suffering, shame,
guilt and all the things people experience on the inside.
HARRIS: And as a matter of policy, it`s actually expensive to take a
phone call from your child who is incarcerated, it actually puts a
financial cost on the moms, right, who are trying to take the phone call
because of course as we know -- for those of us with loved ones that are
incarcerated, they`re collect calls, they enrich some private corporations
that make a lot of money from the phone calls, but they take a lot of money
out of the pocketbooks of many mothers.
Robin, you said earlier that some of what we see are survival crimes,
but I think I read also in your work you notice many of the women that are
imprisoned are themselves survivors, which is to say survivors of either
domestic or sexual violence.
LEVI: Yes. It is quite amazing. I have been doing this work almost
20 years. And the numbers that you most often cite are more than two-
thirds of women inside have experienced sexual or physical abuse.
In doing this work inside this place and reading narratives and
interviewing approximately 30 women around the country, that number is far
too low. We`re looking at something that looks like 80 percent to 90
percent of women inside prison appear to have experienced childhood sexual
and or physical abuse, and then receive little to no therapy for that
experience, which leads them to self medicate, because right now in our
current healthcare system, it`s often cheaper to get heroin than to get
And also may end up in questionable and other physically abusive
relationships later on that may lead them into offenses that take them into
So we`re talking about people that are themselves victims, being
victimized again, and what that may mean for their children.
We`re going to stay on this topic. More on this when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back, talking about women and incarceration on
this Mother`s Day.
At the table with me is Tina Reynolds, who had a child while in
prison, Reverend Vivian Nixon.
And back with me, also, Anthea Butler of the University of
Pennsylvania and Chloe Angyal of Feministing.com. And in San Francisco, we
still have Robin Levi.
OK. Let me start, I want to go to some solutions, but I want to
start with again this deeply ethical question, I think, of shackling
mothers who are giving birth in prison. In 37 states, there`s no law
against shackling mothers. Give us a sense of what that kind of policy
BUTLER: It means you`re treating women like animals, and it is just
not right. I mean, nobody is getting up in the middle of childbirth to go
HARRIS-PERRY: I remember --
BUTLER: Yes, nobody is getting up to go away. So, to shackle a
woman is just in the most painful, but most joyous thing that`s happening
to you, you have to remember you`re a possession of the state, and the
state will hold everything about you.
And that is just -- there`s no reason to do this at all. Where would
you go? What would you do? It makes no sense whatsoever.
And I think just on a humane basis, you know, if we can`t get rid of
the death penalty, at least we could stop shackling women.
ANGYAL: Apart from the fact it is cruel and inhumane, it is ill
advised. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came out
against it, as is the AMA. It prohibits doctors from performing possibly
life-saving medical necessary operations. I mean, quite apart from
treating women like animals, we are possibly inhibiting childbirth.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, and as a woman giving birth -- I gave birth to
nothing more than a -- you have to, you move around, you don`t know what`s
going on, it`s just like some basic fundamental human moment in this. What
are the policies, where should we be going next? What is it an advocate or
someone watching at home that never thought about incarcerated mothers?
What ought we be doing next?
NIXON: Well, there`s a few things. For one thing, Tina should talk
about this more, support the birthing behind bars campaign. Tina is
leading that campaign, and I`m sure she`ll talk more about it.
But we need to think seriously about our sentencing policies that
sentence people to inordinate amount of times in prison.
HARRIS-PERRY: Twenty years for shooting a wall.
NIXON: Twenty years for shooting a wall, and that`s a mother doing
that time, her children will be deeply impacted by that.
There are ways to get around this. There are diversion programs,
alternative to incarceration programs that cost the state far less money
and are far more effective in helping people redirect their lives so crime
and punishment is no longer part of their story.
REYNOLDS: It`s really important what Vivian says. It`s about
preventive care as well, offering services that will prevent people from
making those decisions. If there were services in the community that were
available for people, they would use those services. If they were
effective services, they would go at them more.
REYNOLDS: You know, but even having those services in place would be
an ideal situation for people to be able to at least make choices. When
you think about women and the way in which they make decisions around using
drugs or committing crimes, you have to think about the core issues.
REYNOLDS: There`s a lot of trauma that a woman has experienced, and
we really need to address those core issues. We really need to come
together. There are wonderful organizations here in New York like Our
Children that works with mothers in prison and out of prison, and women
have their children in prison and come out and stay with them, and they
And they offer them everything they need to come back and make a
really successful return with their children, because it`s not just the mom
that needs help, it is a family.
REYNOLDS: You can`t just think about the mother or the child, you
have to think about the family. There`s never been a child I worked with
or met that hasn`t loved their mom. Regardless of what their mom has done.
HARRIS-PERRY: Whatever the choice is.
Robin, we only have about 30 seconds. But I`m going to give you the
last on this segment. What should someone watching at home if they have an
opportunity to do something, what should be the policies we are supporting
or charitable things we ought to be doing. What should we do?
LEVI: Well, I need to echo what Tina and Vivian said. It`s about
putting into the communities, instead of into prisons, and one of the
biggest things, advocate, in your state, to end mandatory minimums, be it
for drugs or shooting a gun into a wall. We need to end that and be
sending women -- letting women be able to stay home in their families in
HARRIS-PERRY: I thank all of you for redefining what a family value
system, what a family value policy would like.
In just a moment, when thank you is never enough. But first, it`s
time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hello to you, Melissa.
Well, this is a story, unfortunately that really pain me to share
this Mother`s Day, the tragic death of three Boston University students in
a car crash overseas. We`re going to tell how it unfolded and who might be
California, we have a problem. We`re going to tell you about the
almost unprecedented step the Golden State`s governor is taking to fix a
surprise fiscal crisis.
Some Ron Paul supporters turned into boo-birds at an event in
Arizona. But they weren`t turning their anger towards their candidate.
So, who were they booing?
And Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones will be making a very public
appearance to mark an incredible milestone. So, we`re going to tell you
about that new word today -- as I say happy Mother`s Day to you, my friend
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. Happy Mother`s Day to you. And, you
know, I`m lobbying for your gorgeous daughter to come to my alma mater for
WITT: Oh, we`ll be working on that, won`t we? OK, thanks.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Alex.
And up next, my footnote and this one comes from the heart. Thanks
to all of you.
HARRIS-PERRY: This morning, we hold in our hearts all the moms who
made the loving choice to place their children for adoption, and who think
of them today, and all the moms who opened their hearts and gave those
This morning, we hold in our hearts all the moms who are incarcerated
and worry for their children`s safety every day. And all the moms whose
sons and daughters are behind bars and far from their loving arms.
This morning, we hold in our hearts all the moms still fighting in
our nation`s foreign wars, waiting on us to fulfill our promise to bring
And for all the moms whose children are still on those battlefields.
This morning, we hold in our hearts all the white moms raising proud,
independent self-loving children of color, and undocumented moms who live
under a pallor of fear while they try to give their kids a better life.
We remember all the black and brown moms who worry their children
will be profiled and harmed, and all the moms whose children are teaching
them to be more tolerant.
This morning, we hold in our hearts all the moms who embrace their
LGBT kids without hesitation or regret. And all of those moms who are
We are grateful for mother who is are patient and those who lose
their tempers. Those who raise the children they bore and those who mother
us as teachers and friends, sisters and companions.
We are grateful for kind mothers and for gruff ones. We embrace our
living mothers and mourn our mothers who have passed.
We say thank you for the work that mothering does in our world.
And that is our show for today. Thank you to Robin Levi, Anthea
Butler, Vivian Nixon, Chloe Angyal and Tina Reynolds, for sticking around.
And thanks to you to all of you at home. As we go, the staff here at
MHP wanted to send a special thanks to all our moms for what they do for
us. Thank you for all the books you read to us, the pictures we drew that
you dutifully hung, the dance recitals and soccer games that you peacefully
attended, the late nights you spent with us on our homework and for all of
your unconditional love throughout.
We are nerds because of you and we love you. I`ll see you next
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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