Guests: Matt Gallagher, Rebecca Havrilla, Sam Morrison, Margaret Cho, Bill Schneider, Jane Junn, Jelani Cobb, Bryan Stevenson
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: Good morning. My memorial day question,
have we done enough for those who fight our wars when they come home?
And the voter group that no one is talking about. How Asian Americans can
swing it 2012, anyway they choose.
Plus, women`s wedges are not a stylish and surprisingly comfortable shoe
style. They are also a political weapon.
But first, this week Mitt Romney tried courting black -- OK. Sorry. I
can promise I can do this without laughing. Mitt Romney tried to get black
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry and the jelly beans are back.
Because this Tuesday, Mitt Romney will make it official. And he`s finally
going to get what he always wanted. The Republican nomination for
So currently Romney has 1,084 delegates. Remember, we`ve been counting
them here in the jar? And Mitt`s delegates are represented by the jelly
beans you recognize. Now, Romney is so close to the 1,144 delegates that
he needs to cinch the nomination, the red line here. On Tuesday, Texas
will vote in its primary and its 155 delegates are up for grabs, so one can
assume that Romney is going to get a pretty good portion of those Texas
Once he does, well, the nomination will be sealed. And Romney will have
his 1,144 delegates and that`s when he`s going to need to pivot. The pivot
that we have talked about here before. He will have all of the delegates
he needs, we now - he will needs the voters, and the Romney machine is in
After his speech to a Latino group on Wednesday, where he called education
the civil rights issue of our era. He then visited a predominantly black
charter school in west Philadelphia. And that wasn`t the Romney campaign`s
only message broadening move.
We learned Thursday they hired Republican Tara Wall as a senior
communications adviser. Wall previously worked with president George W.
Bush had this to say about the Romney campaign winning over black voters.
Quote, "from a messaging standpoint, we need to be able to communicate and
relate to these communities about how they are being impacted by Obama`s
policies. It`s the right thing to could and it is important part of the
process. It is not a ploy, and it is not a tactic. It is part who we are.
We have to show up."
Now, to our colleagues at thegrio.com. She went a step further saying, the
Obama campaign doesn`t own the black vote. There are folks who want to
hear from the other side.
But hearing from a candidate and actual voting for a candidate are two
entirely different things. Now, it`s not always a love affair between
black voters and the Democratic party up until the early part of the 20th
century, African-Americans voted democrat. Really? Seriously?
Lincoln and the reconstruction era Republicans were a different kind of
party as were Democrats who barred black participation at Democratic
convention in 1924. But this begin a change and FDR is new deal whose
economic policies benefit the black communities. And the southern Democrat
Lincoln Johnson seal the deal with the grass of work to of the civil rights
act of 1964 and voting rights act of 1965, and this attachment and
enthusiasm that African-American has felt for the Democratic Party lasted a
But as the saying goes, nothing lasts forever. And after reaching a high
point during Jesse Jackson`s campaigns in the 1980s, black voters expressed
waning emotional attachments to Democrats and increasingly believe the
party was taking their votes for granted.
In George W. Bush`s 2004 election campaign, he earned 11 percent of the
vote which have the most reassured the most cabinet of any modern
Republican and he pursued a re-election strategy that reached out to black
churched and emphasized social issues as a wedge. And he got more than a
little help from his whack western opponent, John Kerry who never quite
connected with African-American voters.
For a moment, it looked like black voters might be ripe for another, if
less dramatic, partisan shift. Then, in August 2005, hurricane Katrina
happened and many African-Americans felt just like Kanye.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KANYE WEST, SINGER: George Bush doesn`t care about black people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Within weeks, President Bush`s approval ratings among black
voters plummeted. And in 2008, Senator John McCain captured only four
percent of the black vote, while then senator Obama won 95 percent.
So, no matter how many inner city school kids Romney visits, I feel pretty
confident predicting that he won`t get a significant portion of the black
vote. But that doesn`t mean a Republican can never get those votes. The
shift will have to come from substance, not symbols. And if Republicans
want to cultivate a more diverse voter base and demographic suggest they
should, then they will need a more compelling policy platform, which
suggests that Romney isn`t seeking black voters. He might be simply more
interested in showing moderate white voters that he can be inclusive and
therefore game their votes.
At the table with me, Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history of
African-American studies at the University of Connecticut, Jane Junn,
political science professor at the University of Southern California, also
political analyst Bill Schneider who is the distinguished fellow at third
way and back us with by popular demand, actress and comedian Margaret Cho,
who stars in Lifestyle`s "Drop Dead Diva" which has its season premier next
Welcome to everybody.
JELANI COBB, AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: Thank
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we`ve got the pander, and now the pivot, the shift to
trying to build a bigger tent. Can the Republican party get a more diverse
voting coalition in this election in 2012?
COBB: The short answer is no. And I agree completely, one of the things
that Mitt Romney was trying to do there was not to appeal to black voters
especially in west Philadelphia. There is no chance of that happening.
But what he does wants to do is send the message to people who have black
friends, white voters like to think of themselves as racially progressive.
Maybe their votes are up for grabs and they don`t want to think that they
are going to vote for someone who has left exclusive ideas.
The other thing here is that, people don`t know a whole lot about the
Mormon church. But, one of the things that people do know is the very
tangled racial history of the Mormon church and some of the 19th century
racial ideas that Joseph Smith held and that helps them to the extent he`s
seen as being inclusive.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. This is - I mean, "the New York Times," you know,
front page story this week included a story of an African-American Mormon
woman teaching at Brigham Young University, another African-American Mormon
woman who is actually running for Congress in Utah. And this question of
sort of trying to expand our notion of what counts as a Mormon, obviously,
is westerly kids are not themselves Mormon. But there is this pushback
against the idea that simply because is he Mormon, Mitt Romney would hold
racially prejudiced ideas.
MARGARET CHO, COMEDIAN: It is really interesting that they went to
Philadelphia too because I was campaigning there, you know, before Obama
was president. And I was there with Cal Penn. We were talking to people
who are were so excited about the possibility of a President Obama, you
CHO: For Romney to go there, that`s sort of where everything started, like
outside of Illinois for Obama is Philadelphia. It was such a big deal, and
I mean, I think it`s so funny. You look so uncomfortable. Like, I don`t
know why he looks way more wooden than normal which is bad.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I know. He was sort of shaking their hands, like, you
know, when you see the first lady, for example, with schoolchildren, it`s
all warmth and joy, and, in fact, some of my favorite, you know, like White
House shots are pictures of President Obama with African-American kids.
Some of my favorite pictures.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, SENIOR FELLOW, THIRD WAY: Touching the hair.
HARRIS-PERRY: That one. That one is just -- I can`t. It`s too much.
SCHNEIDER: There is a substantive reason, a substance reason as you said
why so many African-Americans are committed to the Democratic Party. It`s
the federal government. The federal government has rescued African-
Americans from intolerable situations in two occasions, in the 1860s from
slavery, in the 1960s from segregation.
But, what`s happened is the Republican party has now become more and more
anti-government and when they use their anti government rhetoric, African-
Americans don`t get it because they don`t think the federal government is
HARRIS-PERRY: And in addition to the sort of, you know, historical water
shed moment that you point out. There is also just the reality of
employment that the African-American middle class, you know, is basically
built on teachers and postal workers, right, that government jobs are some
of the first places where those barriers to employment dropped.
SCHNEIDER: And they don`t think government is their enemy. The republican
party treats government as the enemy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. you say states rights that doesn`t quite resonate in
the same way with African-American voters.
JANE JUNN, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:
I think it is important to note, however, that it was also the federal
government that put African-Americans in peril to begin with by supporting
flavor in it in the beginning so as to save them from that was the fact
that they were put there in the beginning by the government.
Leaving that aside, however, it is also important to note that maybe
Romney`s strategy isn`t to only go after white voters to show racial
tolerance. Even a very small margin in battleground states with high
levels of immigration, for example, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina,
Ohio, Florida in particular, even a small proportion of African-American
votes could make the difference for Romney. And in particular, these are
states with high populations of black voters who come in, not from the
United States, from the Caribbean and Africa. Ten percent of the black
population in the U.S. is foreign born. So, it may not only be just a
strategy to appease white voters who want to be a racial intolerant, but I
would not discount the possibility that this is a sincere effort on some
level on some level to turn just a small number of voters that could
actually make the difference.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It is a great point. And in the battle grown states,
a small percentage from or even just dampening the enthusiasm for President
Obama right? Part of what the pivot is it going to be is that, he needs
President Obama to galvanize conservatives, right, the anti Obama vote, but
wants to sort of tamp down any sort of residual 2008 enthusiasm that brings
a lot of folks to the polls. I mean, Virginia would be a key example.
And I just remember, we were talking about Philadelphia, that it was that -
- it was that great question about Pensyl-Tucky right? That area between
Philadelphia and Pittsburg in the context of the 2008 primary, between
Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama and this question about what was
Pennsylvania as a state going to do?
CHO: Yes. And where were they going to go. But, the enthusiasm for Obama
then was so exciting because I was going with Cal Penn to little city
centers. And Obama didn`t have to be there. We just had to talk about
him. And the glow amongst the people, it was so like thrilled with this
possibility. I think I have never been so excited about politics in any
life and it is just, you know, so weird he would -- Romney would go and try
to steal some of that thunder.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And right at this particular moment. So, coming up,
more in this election. In identity politics, whether it`s taking on a
whole new meaning, what being an outsider is all about for Mitt Romney and
for President Obama in out next hour. And the extent that what Republican
are going to go to try to woo women voters, don`t go away.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking about Mitt Romney courting the black
vote. Let`s take a look back at Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2008, where
Romney was trying to do just that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY(R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who has got your camera though?
Who let the dogs out, who, who?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, in the last segment, Margaret was like, yes, he is a
little uncomfortable. And that`s what it looks like?
CHO: He is so wooden. I feel bad for him. Like it makes you feel kind of
bad for white people. Like, you know, oh, no, you`re representing?
HARRIS-PERRY: He saw a group of African-American people, and he couldn`t
help himself, he started singing "who let the dogs out."
CHO: He couldn`t help himself.
COBB: Not a good word association.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask a little about the optics because, you know,
I just was making the claim that we need, you know, substance of policy
change on the part of the party. But even if Republicans suddenly had a
more progressive, you know, platform, if you are snuggling up with Donald
Trump, who is still performing birtharism - I mean, this isn`t that just
death of any possibility that anyone is going to vote for this candidate?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. that`s it.
SCHNEIDER: I mean, you know, my favorite statistic is that in 1968,
Richard Nixon`s worst state was Mississippi because they are all voted for
Jorge Wallace. In 1972, Richard Nixon`s Mississippi was his best state,
because the Wallace vote got folded in to the Republican vote. And that
has been a part of the Republican coalition southern white backlash voters
since days of Richard Nixon. I mean, those voters have been there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because they had originally actually been Democrats,
SCHNEIDER: Yes. Wallace was a democrat.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. They did that part of the party that was,
you know, sort of constantly creating the agony within congress.
SCHNEIDER: That was called the southern strategy and it worked. The south
is now the base of the Republican party, the white south.
HARRIS-PERRY: And exactly that prove that white south because
demographically, the south is changing dramatically, lots of Latino
immigration, you know, in New Orleans, we have large populations not only
of African-Americans and Latinos but also Vietnamese. So, there was a
point which Joseph Gau was representing a pro predominantly black district,
right. Does that mean that the southern strategy can now no longer work in
the way that it once it did? Are we looking at a secular change across
JUNN: Demographically, that`s is the case. The larger proportions of
Latinos and Asian-Americans in south. But there is a time lag between the
movement of populations there. their naturalization and their becoming
voters. So, while it`s a certainly harbinger of things to come, it may not
actually be seen for another few years. And so, naturalization occurs and
people become regular voters.
CHO: It is right. Because there is a time lag - I`m sorry, it is like
that feeling of my parents not voting even after they had emigrated for
years and years, because they never felt they had a right to. You know
what I`m saying? Sometimes these immigrants families a while, maybe it
wasn`t a generation to actually feel like they have a right to say
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`m wondering though. I mean, when we do start looking
at that demographic time lapse, maybe Romney is not going to peel off a lot
of voters of color in 2012, particular with African-American voters. I
feel like there are natural alliances on moral issues, in individualism, on
a variety of social conservative issues that if I were to look 20 years
out, and particularly if you look at the decline of African-American
attachment to the Democratic Party, right? It really does peeks in the`
80s. But, you see, it is not a huge decline, but starts to declining
there, and then, you know, it pops back up with President Obama. But, it
feels like there may in fact still be wiggle room there for the possibility
of a Republican inroad.
SCHNEIDER: Look what happened on the same-sex marriage issue, most
African-Americans in California and most states oppose same-sex marriage.
Because there are many are very religious, and the preacher said they
should not support same-sex marriage. But when President Obama came out in
favor of same-sex marriage, what did the NAACP do? They endorse same-sex
marriage, and so did Colin Powell.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so did Jay-Z. I mean, everyone is like President Obama
on. That`s what hip hop community, the civil rights community. I mean
look at Maryland, a flip in the polls, in Maryland where you have a
predominance of African-Americans now supporting same-sex marriage.
I mean, but that`s the leadership of President Obama not necessarily the
Democrats. It`s hard for me to imagine that John Kerry could have led, you
know, African-American evolution of same-sex marriage.
COBB: There are a couple of points here too. One is going to be, what
will be the ongoing Obama effect in this. When we look at when the
Republicans had the African-American vote was the party of Lincoln, a 60-
year kind of Grace period they get simply from Lincoln`s emancipation.
Then when have you Franklin Roosevelt, another 60 years, the Democratic
Party. I don`t think that there will be 60 years because of the first
African-American president. But I do I think there will be an extended
period of time where people looking at the Democratic Party and saying,
they are responsible for putting the first black person in the White House.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. That is true. You do get a lot of credit for us.
That is right. We will stick with you. But, I mean, after all, we can
start choose the big deal I think, 60 years seems reasonable.
Last week, we brought you the story of one man behind bars for possibly the
wrong reasons and his plea for a pardon. Now the pressure is actually
building on President Obama to help him. The latest developments on
Clarence Aaron`s story, when we return.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lasts weekend, I talked to Dafna Linzer of Pro-Publica about
her report concerning Clarence Aaron, a prisoner serving three life
sentences for a minor first time drug offense, whose clemency request was
reportedly mishandled by Ronald Rogers, the man who still head the U.S.
pardon attorney`s office. Within a week`s time, that one support has
sparked a real increase in attention to the case. So much so, that now
pressure is being put on President Obama and the White House to do
something about it.
Joining us now is Sam Morrison, a former long-time staff attorney at the
U.S. pardon attorney`s office, who once worked on the Clarence Aaron case.
We asked Ronald Rogers to join us, but he declined.
Good to see this morning.
SAM MORISON, FORMER STAFF ATTORNEY, U.S. PARDON ATTORNEY`S OFFICE: Goo to
see you, Melissa. Thanks for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. So, start by telling us what the pardons office
is. Not sure everyone knows what this office and is and how the Clarence
Aaron`s case came to be under your review.
MORISON: Well, I think everybody knows, under the constitution, the
president has the power to grant pardons and commutations of sentence for
offenses against the United States. As a practical matter, given the large
number of cases that get filed and the small size of the president`s staff,
he has to farm that out to somebody else to do investigative leg work.
The president doesn`t have the resources or time to do that part himself.
For more than 100 years, that office has been the office of the pardon
attorney which is part of the justice department. This, however, creates a
structural problem that I think Clarence Aaron`s case vividly illustrates.
And the problem is, the president doesn`t know anything about these cases
except what the justice department chooses to tell him, and he has no
independent way to verify whether he is being told the truth or whether
there are any other facts that he needs to know. So, he has to trust what
he is being told.
The problem with that is that, unfortunately, the justice department in my
view has a completely partisan view of how this should be handled. And in
that sense, I don`t really thing they are serving the best interest of the
presidency. They are serving the institutional interests of the justice
department, and those aren`t necessarily the same thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, why is it -- I know you felt at the time that Aaron`s
three life sentences should by commuted and that you still feel that way.
What led you to that conclusion?
MORISON: Well, for a variety of factors. One is, the president was
clearly interested in doing something in this case. He had sat on a denial
recommendation for about three years. As Dafna reported in her initial
story and sent it back to the justice department with a request to take
another look at it.
Now, we all knew what that meant. That meant they wanted to us change our
position and support the president`s desire to grant some relief in this
case. I then decided since it had been several years since we had
approached the U.S. attorney`s office and the sentencing judge to approach
them again and see if they had softened their views.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this case is beginning get some traction, democratic
congressman John Conyers, whose ranking on the house Judiciary Committee
authored a letter to President Obama. The first president you talk about
obviously is Bush, not President Obama. But the letter said if the
allegations about the pardon attorney and his mishandling of this case are
proven, we believe the case warrants your immediate reconsideration in his
application for clemency.
So, do you think this could be effective?
MORISON: Certainly. Certainly. If the president didn`t know before, and
I assume that he didn`t, he knows now what the true facts are. I think
Dafna`s piece speaks for itself. There is really nothing to confirm. The
previous report by the pardon attorney didn`t accurately convey the views
of the judge and the U.S. attorney.
So, there is no reason President Obama could solve this problem this
afternoon. And if I were advising him, which I`m not, but if he ask my
opinion, I would tell him, you know, since you have been elected office Mr.
President, you have had to make a lot of tough decisions. This isn`t one
of them. There is no reasonable person who really believes that Clarence
Aaron deserves to die in prison.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. That is a really - that is a terrific way to put
it. That he has made a lot of tough decisions, this is not a hard one.
Thank you for joining us.
MORISON: You`re welcome.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
Next, a homecoming with no ticker tape parades, a marketplace with no job
openings, and a V.A. with limited resources. The home front is a very
different place for soldiers returning from war right now. And this
memorial day weekend, we take a hard look at the numbers, and that`s up
HARRIS-PERRY: Monday is the first memorial day since the end of the Iraq
war. And when we think about honoring veterans, many of us, including me,
think of the iconic photo of the sailor coming back from war, or even the
blissful ticker tape parades after the end of world war II. And our more
recent path, Vietnam veterans came home to a country conflicted by the
world they played in a war that many deemed unjust.
But today, how do we honor our veterans? Whether the soldiers coming home
from Afghanistan or Iraq, with protracted seemingly endless state of war.
Home is sometimes a little more than an interlude between tours of duty.
And estimated 2.3 million American have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
More than 900,000 of service members have been deployed multiple times.
When our soldiers do come home, it is not to huge parades, but often to a
personalized and heartwarming family embrace made for the you tube
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
HARRIS-PERRY: The burden of our current international conflict is actually
borne by a relative few while the rest of us are asked to make little
sacrifice at all on the home front. And with the end of the draft and an
ever smaller percentage of our population serving in the military, fewer of
us are touched by America`s state of perpetual war. We may barely notice
the end of these wars or pause to recognize the veterans they produced.
So, as President Obama announces the drawdown of our troops in Afghanistan,
what kind of post do we see do our veterans come home to?
With me at the table is former U.S. army sergeant Rebecca Havrilla, an
Afghanistan war veteran and now a case manager from service women`s action
network and former army captain Matt Gallagher, Iraq war veteran and now a
senior fellow at Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of America, also in a long
of same college where I went, Wake Forest University. And Bill Schneider
of third way.
Thanks to everyone for being here.
OK. What is the picture? When veterans coming home, what kind of America
are they facing? What are the main challenges?
MATT GALLAGHER, SENIOR FELLOW, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA:
Increasing sense of isolation, unlike previous generations, you mentioned
the numbers. It is actually less than one-half of one percent of Americans
have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It served as they kind on smell
military by themselves for the most part.
On top of that, they are facing huge unemployment numbers, as is most of
the country. But even more so, it is 12 percent in 2011, of Iraq and
Afghanistan that reported unemployment and IDA membership survey puts that
number closer to 17 percent.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. We were looking at the veterans` unemployment numbers,
as which, if you look all veterans of all wars, it is a little dampened
from that. It is closer to the -- to the sort of -- excuse me, eight
percent average. But, you know, among African-Americans, up to 11 percent
and if you broke that out to just as recent war veterans, it would be as
much higher number as you talk about.
GALLAGHER: Absolutely of. And on top of that, when you look at it further
to male veterans, age 18 to 24, the number jumps all the to 30 percent.
And, you know, that`s a heavy percentage of the whole returned veterans.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels - it feels hard to imagine that when we think
about sort of how we imagine what a post war America is, you think world
war II, all the people who made home front sacrifices, you know, rosy the
riveter in the, you know, kind of out in the factories and then when the
boys come home, right, this is sort of our vision of what wartime and then
peacetime is like. That the, you know, folks move out and make room for
veterans. But, that is no longer what we are facing on the home front.
REBEKAH HAVRILLA, SUPPORT HELPLINE CASE MANAGER: No, it`s very challenging
coming back. And when you look at it from a gender perspective, you know,
there are different challenges men and women both face. And women come
home to families and children, and, you have mental health issues for both
men and women. And a lot of times, there is a sense of isolation. There
is that sense that, you know, I`m not quite sure what I am supposed to do
now that I`m back. If you stay in the military, you do multiple
deployments. If you are in the guard or reserves, you try to reintegrate
into the community. And sometimes it can be very overwhelming for people
to try navigate some of the system that they have to navigate.
HARRIS-PERRY: And when people are redeploying, it that mostly out of
choice? Is that mostly that, you know, as veterans coming home, and they
say I don`t really know what to do next, it that they are heading back off
to war again? Or is it happening because of another set of fortune of
GALLAGHER: I think it makes you both. There certainly are individuals
that redeploy for economic reasons. There are also ones that want to
continue to serve and view that as the best way possible.
Really, though, you know with Iraq over and Afghanistan winding down, this
is an opportunity I think after 10 years of America saying we support the
troops, it didn`t actually prove it by hiring, by reaching out and just
talking to the kid down the street. It is really kind of punch for the
rest of America to put their money where their mouth is.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. But, I want to ask Bill. It feels like, you know, one
of the last bipartisan spaces is this notion that we all support our
troops. I mean, if we have the kind of ticker tape parades story on one,
then the other, we have is our failures in the post Vietnam era, are sense
that we never want to again treat returning veterans the way we did in that
moment. And yet, it feels like - it is not as though we fixed it. We are
just almost ignoring it, as though all veterans aren`t coming home.
SCHNEIDER: Well, these are smaller and so just indicated and we don`t have
a draft anymore. That`s important because it used to be the base and a lot
of Americans have military experience when the country went to war.
Now, a lot of Americans join the military for opportunity. It is in many
cases a way up, a way to get a skill, a way to get a job. And then they
come back and discover there aren`t you any jobs, that economic
opportunities are very limited. That is intensely frustrating.
HARRIS-PERRY: War has changed. I mean, when we say war today or front
lines, a different kind of war. What does that mean, therefore, about how
veterans have changed? Particularly maybe on the skills question where
there isn`t that skills used to be more transferrable from war time to
private business in, you know, at an earlier time is that`s what`s
GALLAGHER: I don`t think it`s changed. Many stills are still
transferrable. What our members have run into mostly is a language gap of
not being able to communicate, you know, maybe an employer doesn`t care
that they went on 400 combat patrols. But I think they probably will care
at 21 years old, they were managing $750,000 worth of equipment.
Another issue we run into, is the lack of training, transferring over into
the civilian world. If a medic served as a combat medic for 15 months in
Iraq with an infantry platoon, he can probably be an EMT in his hometown
certainly, that some of the skills and training should transfer over,
rather than having him or her to start at the base level.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, in another words, what is happening is folks who have
skilled like for example, being a medic have to walk back into civilian
life as though none of those stills are transferrable. You have to start
at the beginning of whatever that training segment is.
GALLAGHER: Exactly. And it is a waste of time, energy, and money for all
HARRIS-PERRY: And, is other policy ways to impact that? I mean, you know,
that if feels like in one argue say, you know, Americans just need to do
better. But, are there actual policies that we can change that would
influence the ability to make those skills more transferrable?
GALLAGHER: Well, President Obama recently signed into law the how to hire
heroes act that aims to address many of these things. I think it is a
little early to see how it is going to shake out bureaucratic level. But,
policymakers are trying.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Trying to create some sort of incentive to address
Coming up, we are going actually talk about a chilling epidemic among our
troops. More American soldiers commit suicide that die in combat. Where
are we failing our men and women in uniform? That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back.
We are honoring those who gave their life and their service to our
military. Unfortunately, many of our men and women in uniform are dying
not on the battle field, but at their own hands. The department of veteran
affairs estimates that about 18 veterans kill themselves every day. The
number of U.S. soldiers who have committed suicide is now estimated to be
greater than the number who died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now, statistics like that make me think that we are not doing nearly enough
for our veterans. And in fact, apparently our veterans think the same
thing. About 52 percent of veterans are currently saying that they think
that the help they are getting from government is not enough.
Back with me, our Afghanistan war veteran Rebekah Havrilla, Iraq war
veteran Matt Gallagher and political analyst Bill Schneider.
So, talk to me about the challenges that you see our veterans facing when
they come home and need help?
HAVRILLA: Yes. It`s really hard when we come back and you look at the
different systems that you are having to navigate. A lot of times veterans
file claim with the V.A for benefits for post traumatic stress and a lot of
women have face sexual trauma. They are trying to get benefits for PTSD
due to sexual trauma and only 32 percent of those claims pass as opposed to
53 percent from combat trauma claims.
So, there is a disparity there, and when you can`t get benefits, you can`t
get care, you can`t get mental health care, you can`t get what you need,
and it -- it turns into this downward spiral of mental health disability of
substance abuse, of homelessness. We talked about unemployment and so you
get to this point where you just kind of hit rock bottom and there is not
enough people out there that understand these systems that understand the
gender component that is brought to the table that a lot of these women and
men face. And it is overwhelming for someone who has PTSD, sometimes even
look at a form that needs to be filled out. They don`t know what to do,
and they don`t -- nobody understands what they have been through. Nobody
understands, you know, the fact that I don`t want to walk in to a V.A.
That is full of men when I`ve been sexually assaulted by those in the
military with. There are just so many overwhelming challenges.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you know, we have talked here on the show about this
issue of sexual abuse of women, rape, sexual violation, and then the way
the chain of command operates, the current legislation before Congress to
change this. Because this one, to me, it is not just sort of like being
overly emotional about being a rape survivor. I mean, there are real
issues about that chain of command and the possibility of ever getting any
kind of justice.
Add onto that wartime and try to get some sort of help on the other side.
I just kind a feel like we don`t quite get as Americans how difficult it is
for our veterans to get even sort of basic health care coverage. Much less
psychological care coverage and assistance in education job training, in
education. I think it feels like, you know, surely we must take care of
them on the other side of this.
HAVRILLA: Well, a lot of people assume, that just because you are a
veteran, you can go to the V.A., and you can get care. If you are an Iraq
or Afghanistan veteran, yes you go to the V.A. for five years after a
deployment to get care. But, if you are not service connected, you don`t
get disability claim approved after that, you are kind on your own. And
because of that disparity, there is legislation we have looked at, you
know, the disparity between military sexual violence and combat trauma, and
that has to be remedies. When one out of three military sexual violence
survivors aren`t getting benefits, that`s a huge problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I feel like there is -- a sense somehow that if we just
-- you know, if we just sort of tie the yellow ribbon around the old oak
tree, that is enough to demonstrate our support and I worry on one hand
that even as we talk about the challenges that folks say, particularly the
psychological challenges, that we actually made worse the economic concerns
we were just talking about.
Like, is there some way that we can say, all right, we need to
fundamentally address the psychological, the physical challenges of someone
coming home from war, without someone saying, yes, employers, you will be
getting damaged goods. How do we strike the right balance there?
GALLAGHER: Well, I mean, the time is now. The opportunity for all of
these returning veterans coming back now, when they are young, when they
can directly apply the skills they picked up in the military in to new
civilian job or education, is a tremendous opportunity for the country as a
whole. Much in the same way world war II veterans came home in 1945, and
helped lead the greatest economic rival in American history.
The long-term effects that veterans historically face such as homelessness,
such as long-term mental health issues need to be nipped in the bud now,
and then, you know, the potential that returning Iraq and Afghanistan
veterans have can be fully, fully tapped into.
HARRIS-PERRY: And now, neither of them running for president of the United
States. Neither our current president nor his challenger, Mitt Romney,
have combat experience, been in the military so there might be sort of a
gap of understanding.
But, what is interesting to me that vice president Biden, at a survivor`s
seminar in Arlington, Virginia, actually talked about the issue of grief
and suicide, in a way that certainly he is not himself a veteran, but it
was an interesting kind of sense of empathy, I thought we would listen for
a moment to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The black hole you feel in
your chest, like are you being sucked back into it. Looking at your kids
or most of have you kids here. It was the first time in my career, my
life, and I realized that someone could go out -- I probably wouldn`t say
that with the press here. But I is more important. You are more
important. For the first time in my life, I understand how someone could
consciously decide to commit suicide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Biden was talking there about the death of his wife and
daughters, but that sense of empathy seems critically important to me.
SCHNEIDER: That`s right. That when he first got elected to the senate.
And it was a terrible experience for him. He hasn`t, for a while, he to be
convinced to take his Senate seat from Delaware. It was a personal tragedy
and he is trying to relate what happened to him personally, to the
experience of that lot veterans have.
There is one condition that I think has to be noted. The war in Iraq was
not a popular war. It wasn`t like world war II or even operation desert
storm. Americans don`t celebrate a great victory in Iraq. Afghanistan
started out as a popular war because it happened right after 9/11.
SCHNEIDER: But then, it sort of went off the charts for about five years
and then it came back. A lot of people think that we`re fighting a war to
save a government that steals elections.
SCHNEIDER: How much sense does ha make? So, these are wars that Americans
felt very good about.
SCHNEIDER: These are wars that have drawn a lot of protests.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, we will are going to come back right on this topic
because I want to talk a bit about the vote. And how in an election year,
the issue of veterans and veterans as voters will make a difference.
Can President Obama undo a Republican tradition this November and actually
manage to get the veterans` vote.
All of have that, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: This memorial day, President Obama will be visiting with
veterans and military families to thank them for service and offer support.
But come November, he will be hoping for support of the ballot box. The
military vote normally a solid bloc of the Republican base is very much on
the mind of the Obama re-election team, mainly because veterans make up a
sizable portion of the electorate in key swing states like Virginia, and
Florida, and Ohio.
And while the president is leading among all registered voter as cording to
the latest "wall street journal" NBC news poll, the president is trailing
Mitt Romney by eight points among veterans, speaking of voters who have
served, or are serving in the military.
Can the commander-in-chief win the electoral support of the troops?
Here with me at the table are veterans Rebekah Havrilla and Matt Gallagher
and political analyst Bill Schneider.
So, is there a veteran`s vote? Are there are set of choices that veterans
make choices differently at the vote.
HAVRILLA: Absolutely. You vote what you need. When we come back, it`s
great to have the support of people and to say, these parades, you know,
having the welcome home. But those don`t fix the problems. And what fixes
the problems is legislation designed to fix and the needs that everyone
has. There has to be concentrated efforts, concentrated legislation that
specifically addresses the issues. Not just, thank you is great, but it
doesn`t fix anything.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, you think, real policy initiatives or efforts on the
parts of the president or Democrats in congress could actually move this
generally pretty Republican group of voters over?
GALLAGHER: Yes, I think how the withdrawal of Afghanistan plays out will
have a huge impact. Because that will directly impact a service member`s
life. So, how that goes forward toward the election is probably the
strongest chance that the Obama campaign has in terms of moving that bloc
of voters over.
HARRIS-PERRY: I asked my staff, where are veterans? And you know, I had
been in Virginia recently talking to folks in the tidewater area and there,
suddenly you saw the military presence. So, we found a veterans`
population map, it is obviously, incredibly detail there. But, you know,
what part of you ought to see is obviously the coast, but Virginia, and
Ohio, and Florida, places, Bill, that have real electoral consequences have
a significant veteran population.
Is this a time with an election coming up where veterans might be able to
push to get interest and concerns met?
SCHNEIDER: Yes it is, and most are interested concerns are going to have
to be met by government which is one thing that could attract them to the
Democrats. The reason you see Romney with an edge among veterans, one
Veterans are disproportionately male, still are. And men tend to vote
Republican. So, Romney his is a male voting edge. But, to the extent that
they are conscious of issues just talking about and want help from
government which they desperately need, that`s where Obama can make
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. They have served their government. They served
their nation and now, they actually need the nation to respond back with
these other kinds of opportunities. We have just a few moments left. But
it`s memorial day, what would be the one take home that ordinary folks at
home should to know what we should be doing on memorial day to think about
GALLAGHER: While people are at the beach, while people are shopping for
cheaper mattresses, just take a moment. IVA is having a go silent
campaign. Just for 30 seconds or a minute at 12:01 p.m. tomorrow on
memorial day, take a pause and remember the fallen, whether you know them
personally or not. Because whether you supported the wars or not, these
men and women are serving you, and it would be nice if you could take a
moment for them.
HARRIS-PERRY: To remember. Would you agree?
HAVRILLA: Yes. And educate yourself. A lot of these issues, so far from
the general population`s psyche. And if we are going to help the veterans,
we need to understand what veterans` issues are and that takes a little bit
of education, a little bit of work.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I appreciate both of you helping to us understand a
little better. And 12:01 p.m. tomorrow, I will undoubtedly take a pause,
as will all of Nerdland.
So, many thanks to Rebehak Havrilla and Matt Gallagher. Bill is sticking
Coming up, President Obama is known by some as the first Asian-American
president. He might be counting on that nickname come November as Asian-
American voters are proving to be among the most sought after voting blocs.
Are they even a block? We`ll dig into that, right after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here in Nerdland, as we made a point of saying before, we
don`t like to put people into boxes, especially one size fits all boxes for
voter who`s happen to share the same racial or ethnic identity.
But political expediency often ends up boxing people into broad categories
anyway, as it did on Thursday, when the president attended a $35,800 a head
fundraiser in San Jose, California, for a group of Asian American business
leaders. It was closed to the press, but you can bet he got more mileage
out of the speech he delivered to the Asian Pacific American Institute for
Congressional Studies two weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I think about
Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, I think about my family, I think
about all the folks I grew with in Honolulu, I think about all the years I
spent in Indonesia. So, for me, coming here feels a little bit like home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So we felt compelled to take a look inside the so-
called Asian-American voter box. And what we found is that this diverse
group is one that political hopefuls ignore at their peril.
According to the 2010 Census, over the last decade, Asian-Americans
have been the fastest growing population of all racial groups, and as
voters, they have been largely overlooked by both parties. In fact, a
recent Democratic survey in Asian-American voters found that only 23
percent said they had been contacted by the Democratic Party in the last
two years, while just 17 percent had heard from Republicans. More than
half who identify as independents ripe for the political picking have not
been contacted by either party in the last two years.
But reaching out to Asian American voters mean reaching out to all
the diverse voters who call themselves Asian-American. And that`s everyone
from the three largest groups, Chinese, Filipino, and Indian Americans, to
Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese Americans. I could go on and on. Asia is a
big continent, but you get the big picture.
So, the question, can the political potential be mobilized into a
With me here at the table are: actress and comedian Margaret Cho,
political analyst and senior fellow at Third Way, Bill Schneider, political
science professor at the University of Southern California, Jane Junn, and
associate professor of history and African American studies at the
University of Connecticut, Jelani Cobb.
Thanks to everyone for being here.
So, I am excited about the idea that finally we may start talking in
media about Asian American voters in the ways that we have I think
increasingly started to talk about Latino voters and have long been talking
about black American voters.
But is that the wrong way to think about it? Like the Asian-American
voters is not that sort of voting bloc.
MARGARET CHO, COMEDIAN: I think after Jeremy Lin after everything
counts. We`re all finally in the game.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re all Jeremy Lin now.
CHO: Super exciting. I don`t know.
I think for my family in particular, we talked about this before, so
hard for them to take ownership of political power and to vote, that they
felt like they belonged in this country. When my parents came here, I was
born in the `60s, my father was deported because my father stayed his
student visa. I`m the only person in my family who have been born in
America. So, my mother would push me forward, like, she`s white.
Like I was supposed to be the generation to take on the political
power, and nah empowerment, my parents are uncomfortable with it. And
that`s the thing -- also Asian American voters don`t have a group identity.
They have so many diverse identities within Asian America. There is an
unwillingness to identify as the same over here.
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels in that way similar to Latino voters who are
from obviously lots of different national origins, and yet it`s funny, you
talked about Jeremy Lin moment, because the Sonia Sotomayor moment, was one
in which here have you a Puerto Rican, who`s going to become the first
Latina on the Supreme Court, but it didn`t make a lot of difference to
Mexican Americans who were quite thrilled to have Sotomayor appointed to
the court, despite the fact that Puerto Rico and Mexico different sorts of
BILL SCHNEIDER, POLITICAL ANALYST: Latino population is diverse, but
overwhelmingly Mexican American and do speak Spanish overwhelmingly.
Asians are enormously diverse.
HARRIS-PERRY: Including linguistically.
SCHNEIDER: Exactly. They speak different languages, they have
different religions. The identity of being Asian doesn`t exist except in
the United States. They come here as Indians, as Filipinos, as Japanese.
And suddenly in the United States, they say, hey, I`m Asian, I never knew
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels like in the West, some of sort of the Asian-
American political power is finally being demonstrated. I found the San
Francisco mayor`s race fascinating, right? There were six, I think, Asian
Americans running, including Jeff Adachi, who is my sister`s boss in the
San Francisco public defender`s office.
This notion that there was a real power play by mayoral candidates,
maybe the West is beginning do this work?
JANE JUNN, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: It`s only a matter of time,
stands to reason given the size of the population in California. Hawaii
and California, the two states with the largest Asian American populations
as diverse as it is across the country. Nevertheless, California`s
population is almost 13 percent Asian-Americans, almost three times the
size of the African-American population, which is staggering from an East
Coast perspective. Similarly, Hawaii is the only state that`s a majority
of Asian American in mix as well as single race.
HARRIS-PERRY: Does that make President Obama the first Asian
American president? It`s a bit like calling Bill Clinton the first black
president. Maybe more of a claim given Hawaii and childhood in Indonesia,
and that sort of thing.
CHO: I think so. I think that he does sort of claims in sort of the
same way Tiger Woods is Asian American, that sort of like we`re going to
lay claim on it, and Hawaii to me is Asian America in a nutshell. You get
like spam used to be in the 7-Eleven. That`s so exotic. I love that.
JELANI COBB, UNIV. OF CONNECTICUT: There`s an interesting parallel
here, we`re talking about President Obama as the first Asian-American
president. You know, when we look at the 1965 Voting Rights Act and what
it did with African-Americans and vastly increasing the number of black
voters in the system, it is somehow like a new group, immigrant group
coming in and coming into the political system.
What`s important, look at the Voting Rights Act has evolved and is
key to mobilizing the Asian American vote. One other provision says a
population over 5 percent in a particular area, you have to have ballot
materials in the indigenous language.
And so, without the Voting Rights Act, you would not have that
provision. And so, we see a generation later that will have maybe that
HARRIS-PERRY: We insisted in the first hour that African-American
voting needed to be policy based and not just identity based. And so I`m
wondering, we`re talking a little on the identity politics piece here for
Asian American voters, is President Obama the first Asian American voter?
But what are the policies look like?
I mean, with this kind linguistics and national origins difference,
are there discernible differences in what Asian American voters are looking
for a candidate?
JUNN: They`re definitely more Democratic, and we know this after
systematic public opinion surveys of Asian-Americans. Many of the
interviews having to be done in language.
Jelani noted 40 percent of Asian American who`s conducted surveys at
least in studies that I have with my colleagues, have done it in their
native language. And that`s the function of the fact that 8 out of 10
adult Asian-Americans are foreign born. They`re most comfortable speaking
to interviewers in their own language.
What we find issues that animate -- political issues that animate
Asian-Americans are very much the same as animate all Americans. They`re
not necessarily different in that way.
JUNN: Economic, jobs, economy. All important issues. In 2008, the
war in Iraq very important to Asian-Americans. Health care as well.
But we see emerging overtime is a consensus toward the Democratic
Party and toward Democratic candidates, In part because of the nature of
the inclusiveness and the language of inclusiveness to the Democratic
Party. Because you are an immigrant, by definition, you don`t really fit
in and to find a party that is embracing as immigrants as opposed to
pushing them away is an important element to the affect that Asian-
Americans have for the Democratic Party.
HARRIS-PERRY: I found it shocking when we dug up these numbers, it
said that the parties aren`t contacting. We know this from political
research that, you know, the attitude and opinions is one thing, but what
turns them into votes is mobilization. Someone calling up, saying I want
your vote, I need your vote. Let me tell you what day the election is.
SCHNEIDER: They contact Asian American leaders for money. Remember
Al Gore in the Buddhist temple fund-raising. Asian-Americans are very
successful in the United States, as business and professional people and
they do contribute money to political campaigns. They haven`t become a
major voting force. Last couple of elections, only 2 percent.
And also keep in mind they there are some sources of Republican
support among Asian-Americans. For one thing, Chinese-Americans,
Vietnamese-Americans, Korean-Americans, they have communists and many of
them come over, the first generation, are very Republican because they are
HARRIS-PERRY: Free enterprise, anti-communist. That`s a great
Coming up, to win a voting bloc, even a complicated one, you`re going
to need a star politician to represent that group. We`ll look at who the
Asian American idol is, after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Quick, name a rising Asian-American political star in
the Democratic Party? Take your time. Come up with anyone?
Yes, me neither. So, now name an Asian American rising star in the
Republican Party. I can name two fast, South Carolina governor and Tea
Party darling Nikki Haley, and in my home state, Louisiana Governor Bobby
Jindal. Both names I wouldn`t be surprised to see as GOP presidential
contenders in 2016, assuming President Obama wins the election. You know
how that goes.
OK. So, still with me at the table, Margaret Cho, Bill Schneider,
Jane Junn and Jelani Cobb.
So, Jane, a record number of Asian Americans running for Congress
this year, something like 25 Asian American candidates running in 11
states, 21 of them Democrats. Only four Republicans, what that map looks
like in terms of folks running.
But I couldn`t -- as we were sitting around Nerdland trying to figure
out how will the Democratic Party take advantage of having an Asian
American star out front, we couldn`t name folks the way we could with Nikki
Haley and Bobby Jindal.
JUNN: Right. Well, I mean, they don`t have the same status. Well,
in the Democratic Party, there are a number of important members of
Congress, in particular Daniel Inouye, who is representatives of Hawaii for
many years. And in addition, two members of Congress, but Asian American
Democrats from California. Mike Honda, representing San Jose, and Judy
Chu, my member of Congress in the San Gabriel Valley.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there`s maybe some cultivation of talent beginning
JUNN: There`s beginning to be that. But, of course, it is harder to
get into the Demiocratic Party in some ways because there is more
competition and in the Republican Party, there is less competition.
CHO: They want us so bad. I get called for shows, we only have
white people and black people, call Margaret. And then it covers
So, if you have more of an I too ambition than you do for policy, you
would probably do very well as an Asian-American in the Republican Party,
you know? I think these people are very self seeking and flashy. More
about themselves than they are about their policy or their work they are
doing for their jurisdictions.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to follow up, they called me for the show,
right. But it feels like part of how we diversify our public sphere is
both in popular culture and politics, we get used to the idea of a woman
president before we vote for one. Get used to a black president, even if
it`s a meteor to hit the earth before we vote one.
Do you think there is an absence that`s occurring in the political
world view, but maybe that`s also part of what`s going on in popular
CHO: I think so. As a woman of culture, I can credit sides in any
way and really come up against no argument, because nobody to come up
against my Asianness or feminism, or anything, there`s too many minority
status to deal with. So they are like, okay, fold.
HARRIS-PERRY: You are intersectionality like sitting in the chair.
CHO: Is real Jedi, you know. But you get -- if you experience all
these different prejudices, you get to sort of have like the status, oh,
well, I`m really oppressed, therefore, my opinion is more important than
HARRIS-PERRY: I love the oppression as a weapon. On that topic, as
I was thinking about the ways in which African-Americans have often read
birth-arism as this anti black aspect, vis-a-vis President Obama, as we
were thinking about Memorial Day and thinking of challenges to Japanese
royalty, I am wondering if I maybe missed the way in which this might have
resonance? Thinking of it as a sort of black folks showing their parents
papers, but I hasn`t thought about the Asian American aspect.
COBSS: That`s absolutely true. The unfortunate thing here is that
we have nativism is one of the constant theme here in American history, as
one of the things that we see go through. One of the little known kind of
footnotes that we have in African American history is that the beginning of
20th century, you have a great deal of sympathy between African-Americans
and specifically Japan. You have kind of a historical Nerdland notion in
the Japanese/Russian war, 1905, the Japanese defeated Russia, and African-
Americans saw this as people of color finally winning one.
And so, there is that kind of history of every group coming here and
going through the same kind of ideal, even with Asian-Americans in
Louisiana, about whether or not they should be classified as black, this is
during the segregation area, and segregated with black people or classified
as white and not confined to colored only sections.
HARRIS-PERRY: Bill, I want to ask a foreign policy question on this,
because, you know, you sort of made the point about having an experience
with communist regimes might leave some Asian voters to be more likely to
support the Republican Party. The sort of anti-China rhetoric that shows
up at this sort of we`re competition with China, China owns our debt, China
is coming, scary, scary China. If there`s anyway in which that rhetoric,
which feels like it`s pervasive on both sides of the aisle, might it all be
alienating to at least Chinese-American voters?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I actually have heard that, I think, you know, a
lot of Chinese Americans are suspicious of the regime in Beijing and now
they`re identified with it, a lot of Taiwanese origins, so I`m not sure
there is a close association with the communist government of China. But
there`s one distinctive thing about Asian-Americans as a constituency, they
have not relied on politics to get ahead, as many other disadvantaged
groups have done.
African-Americans have faced terrible disadvantage in this country.
Asian Americans have certainly faced discrimination. They managed to get
ahead in businesses, professions, science, popular culture.
Look at Margaret Cho, a woman of great accomplishment and great
encourage who has gotten ahead through her talent and her determination.
But like many Asian-Americans, they have done it themselves, they haven`t
had to rely on politics as much as other groups.
HARRIS-PERRY: You have Irish immigrants who create urban party
machines, Italian-Americans similarly.
It`s interesting. But I wonder if it plays to the model minority
CHO: We`re like the other white people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Asian-Americans, the other white people.
CHO: We`re like the other whites. Because we`re almost white, kind
of white, not really white. That`s always sort of like how I felt, while
there is a sense of, you know, we have some sense of privilege and status,
but at the same time, we are not too. We are still the other.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is an interesting conversation, I really
appreciate you helping me think through it.
Up next, some shocking allegations against prison guards who are
sexually assaulting inmates at a women`s prison in Alabama. And it finally
made its way to the Justice Department this week. And I`m going to bring
you some of the details after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Rape of women in prison, rampant at that, is at the
core of a complaint field with the Department of Justice by the Equal
Justice Initiative this week, claiming that officials with prison for women
in the Alabama Department of Corrections, received dozens of complaints of
sexual misconduct involving male staff and woman prisoners between 2004 and
The Equal Justice Initiative found that numerous women became
pregnant while incarcerated and from 2006 to 2011, several were sexually
assaulted by male correctional staff, sometimes with another male officer
serving as a lookout.
Tutwiler`s rate of sexual assault on inmates is among the worst. A
2007 report issued by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found
Tutwiler had the highest rate of sexual assault in the U.S. among
correctional facilities for women.
Joining me now from Ft. Lauderdale, Bryan Stevenson, the executive
director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Thanks for being here today.
BRYAN STEVENSON, EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: I`m happy to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you filed this report with the Department of
Justice earlier this week. What is the responsibilities been and what has
the state of Alabama done or not done?
STEVENSON: Well, we just filed the report on Tuesday. We have heard
from the Justice Department they are reviewing the complaint, the
Department of Corrections did issue a statement, indicating they don`t
tolerate sexual abuse and misconduct. But our investigation shows that
things have been bad for quite a while and things have gotten worst in the
last few years with overcrowding, less training and supervision of staff.
We think that this has become quite a crisis for the women
incarcerated at that prison.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. They fairly obviously tolerate it. It`s clear
there are at least two pregnancies that resulted in live births and,
therefore, DNA testing that make it completely clear that these are women
who had babies of their rapists who were prison guards.
STEVENSON: That`s right. I mean, I don`t think there is any
confusion about the fact that this is a very serious problem. It`s been a
problem for quite a while.
One of the difficulties is that when officers are found to have
harassed or assaulted women, the consequences for these officers are pretty
mild. There were six people who were referred for criminal prosecution in
the last two years, including the man who was charged with this rape, and
none of these people served more than five days in jail.
And the message that that sends I think to many of these staff is
that you can get away with sexual violence against these women with
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m sorry. They served five days? And, again, when
I`m reading your report, apparently the consequences for women who report
the sexual assault, are actually quite enormous, being put into solitary,
that sort of thing?
STEVENSON: Well, that`s right. There are several policies that have
made this problem worse -- when women complain about being the victims of
sexual harassment or abuse, they lose their privileges. They are put in
segregation. They are actually punished from making this kind of report.
There are other policies, male guards can go into the showers and do.
And many of the women have complained about guards coming in there,
verbally harassing them, making commentary.
You know, they are basically taking advantage of the vulnerability of
these women, and these are the kinds of things that are not consistent with
a zero tolerance against sexual abuse and misconduct. Congress passed in
2003 the Prison Rape Elimination Act which calls on the Justice Department
to eliminate these kinds of problems, but we haven`t seen much evidence of
that at Tutwiler.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there reason to think that Tutwiler is an outlier,
or to expect that this sort of -- when you have women in prison and you
have male guard, that this may be happening in lots of other places in the
STEVENSON: I think it doesn`t have to happen. It may be happening
in other places, because we haven`t really paid much attention to the
security and safety of incarcerated people. You know, women who are
incarcerated have been convicted, they have been condemned. They are
powerless. They don`t have many resources and they are very vulnerability.
And some people want to exploit that vulnerability, and that`s one of
the reasons we feel so strongly about this issue. No woman, no person,
should have to fear being the target of sexual harassment or sexual abuse.
And there are people who I think see the powerlessness in the sort of
incarcerated people and try to exploit that. I don`t think that`s unique
to Tutwiler. But it`s certainly very extreme in this particular prison,
which is why there is an urgent need for the Justice Department to
HARRIS-PERRY: Bryan, thank you so much for joining us today. Your
point about the vulnerability of women, of course, we`ve talked about so
many women who are incarcerated were already sexually assaulted, were
already vulnerable women before they end up incarcerated. The idea that
they are being taken advantage of within our system is appalling. So I
appreciate your work.
STEVENSON: Thank you. I`m happy to be with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks. Coming up, what`s the key to a woman`s heart
if she is a voter? Republicans think they have an answer. Are they right?
That`s after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: When Karl Rove`s conservative super PAC announces a
$9.7 million ad buy to broadcast across 10-swing states, you might be
anticipating an attack ad searing through your screen with scathing visual
assault on President Obama. Instead, the ad which debuted on Wednesday is
entitled simply basketball.
And it went to something like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I always loved watching the kids play
basketball. I still do, even though things have changed. It`s funny, they
can`t find jobs to get their career started and I can`t afford to retire.
And now we`re all living together again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Soft music and a sad, rapidly aging mom, sharing a
home with her unemployed adult kids. The latest move on the part of
Republicans to convince women voters that they come in peace, not war and
to chip off their old chunk of the women`s voting bloc to close President
Obama`s 15-point lead over Mitt Romney among women. On Monday, 24
Republican congresswomen announced the formation of the women`s policy
committee, and their mission is, quote, "Raising the profile of GOP women
in their roles as lawmakers, highlighting their diverse achievements and
providing a unique voice on a wide range of critically important issues."
There`s a few highlights from the profile of these GOP women
lawmakers that I`d like to raise. Voting against the Violence Against
Women Act. Restricting employers from covering birth control in their
health insurance plans, and opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to
prevent employer discrimination against are all among the greatest hits for
women`s policy committee members.
So, because who cares have you a record of voting against women`s
rights when you have two "x" chromosomes, right?
Back with me are comedian Margaret Cho, political analyst Bill
Schneider, University of Southern California`s Jane Junn, and University of
Connecticut`s professor, Jelani Cobb.
OK, so, again, this feels like base level identity politics. We have
women too in the party. Is that going to be effective or will there need
to be policy addressing women as voters?
CHO: Who knew -- I mean, you know, you think about women in the GOP,
all I think about is Sarah Palin, how much -- I feel like if John McCain
had that many voters, were they voting for Sarah Palin instead of him?
What are women getting out of the GOP? I always question that. I
always wonder. This is a party so against our rights, our reproductive
rights. So many rights in so many ways, what do we get from them? What do
women get from them?
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels like it`s really amped up more recently.
I mean, you know, obviously, women, like anyone else, can fall on either
side of the aisle, but the very fact that 2010 would be the year of the
Republican women, you have interesting women challenging the Sarah Palin
moment, but it actually turned out that we had the -- for the first time in
more than 30 years, a decrease in the number of women serving in the U.S.
Congress in what was meant to be the year of the Republican woman.
Does this mean women don`t really have a place in the Republican
JUNN: Well, in terms of voters, an often cited statistic about the
gender gap between women and men and their preference for Democratic
candidates. And in particular in 2008, there was a 7-poing gender gap.
But at the same time, it`s important to note that white women still
overwhelmingly support the Democratic -- Republican Party, forgive me, by a
margin at least in 2008 of seven points.
So while white men supported McCain over Obama by 16 points, white
women supported McCain as well. So white women are still voting more
Republican than Democratic.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, when we see that 17-point gender gap is actually
driven by women of color. Yes, that strikes me explanatory for that
basketball video, which women they are going for there.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, the gender gap began in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was
elected president and it has persisted ever since then. In every election,
women vote more Democratic than men do.
And men elected George W. Bush and women voted for Al Gore. There is
a reason for that. And I think it has to do with the word -- the phrase
safety net. Women count on the safety net provided by government. Much
more than men do.
Men believe government interferes with them. Women believe
government is there to protect them, and they`ve only begun to achieve
economic independence in this country in the last 20 years or so. They
feel vulnerable in the marketplace. It`s the safety net, because at the
risk appeals sounding stereotypical, women are more risk averse than men
George Bush is a risk taker, the war, the tax cuts, big risks. He
came from the world of sports and business, where risk taking is rewarded.
Women are worried about risk. The evidence for that is simple -- 97-
some percent of the prisoners in America are men, because men are stupid
and take stupid risks.
HARRIS-PERRY: It may not be about the chromosomal differences,
right? Part of the women are less risk, or more risk averse is in part
because you may end up being the single parent with two kids. I guess even
though that comment surprises me as I think about the commercial, because
there is the mom and she`s got the kids at home and aging apparently very
rapidly. You think -- you know, you would think she would want her social
It is sort of surprising to imagine that is the commercial for let`s
cut your health care reform and all of that sort of thing.
COBB: I guess it`s never a good thing to say you are getting old,
you should vote for us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Maybe that`s what it is.
COBB: But if we rook at it, 1992, 1996, 2000, Republicans lost the
women vote. Closest they came was 2004 with George W. Bush, and then
losing again in 2008.
One of the things Democrats have to do, specifically the Obama
campaign if we have this discussion around the economy, the first bill he
signed is the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act, that needs to be up front,
because in this difficult economy, we`re on the way back, whatever it is,
that equality, that guarantee of equality of pay becomes much more
important to women that women that even --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, although they are going to get in trouble as we
have been digging around on this equal pay question. It turns out that
Senate Democrats actually tend to pay their women staffers less than their
male staffers and there may be lots of reasons for that everything to do
with seniority and all of that other sort of thing., but it`s a bad metric.
If you are going to run on Lilly Ledbetter, I`m going to encourage all the
Senate Democrats to get some pay equity going right away before the 2012
That said, I wonder for Republican women who have been office
holders, not just the voters but for officeholders, there seems to be some
pushing out. I mean, the very fact, Margaret, when you say, oh, the first
woman I think of when I think of woman Republicans is Sarah Palin, it must
make Christine Todd Whitman hot, like all of these women who have been
laying the ground work in the Republican Party, are they just, you know,
sort of have they disappeared -- this idea of a sort of moderate Republican
CHO: I think they have disappeared because social issues and women
are such a huge thing. I think women in the GOP are looking for an
identity and that`s why Sarah Palin`s appearance was so exciting for them,
because here is somebody who is really kind of like a show piece for all of
our conservative views and somebody who legitimizes what is about women`s
rights. These women wouldn`t exist, wouldn`t exist without feminism, yet
she tries to beat it down every chance she gets.
HARRIS-PERRY: The one part she likes is Title IX, right? It`s
interesting again going back to basketball, she`s like I`m a risk-taker,
she`s got in certain ways, one of the things I liked about Sarah Palin, she
does act like a man politician. Since when did men worry about being
under-qualified for a job before they run for office, right? She sort of
does the things that we`ve seen, you know, male politicians do for a long
SCHNEIDER: Two Republican women, you look at the contrast. Sarah
Palin, Olympia Snowe. Olympia Snowe getting out of politics, because she
says there is no place for a moderate Republican woman in politics anymore.
Sarah Palin is a star in the Republican Party because she has accommodated
to the party`s terms. She`s one of them.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, of course, the other important difference,
Olympia Snowe was an elected official who kept her job as an elected
official. Sarah Palin, although having been elected governor, didn`t seem
interested in actually governing and doing all of her superstar work sort
of on Facebook.
So, up next, will Romney pick a woman as his vice president?
But before we go to break, I need to make note of something that just
happened across the river. This weekend is Beyonce`s first back on stage
appearance since having her baby. She was just across the river last night
in Atlantic City. She had a very special audience member, First Lady
Now, speaking about wedging a woman, I am feeling excluded. If those
two want to get together, Studio 3A right here, please. Come hang out in
We`ll be right back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Among all the Republican efforts to woo women voters,
the most watched may be the space right below Mitt Romney`s name on the
2012 presidential ticket. Will Romney try a game changer of his own and
fill that space with one of the Republican Party female stars?
Still with me to answer that question -- Margaret Cho, Bill
Schneider, Jane Junn and Jelani Cobb.
OK. Is there any possibility that he`d try pulling a Sarah Palin
SCHNEIDER: Well, Sarah Palin, that didn`t work out so well for
McCain. He doesn`t want to pick anyone who is a very unknown. He doesn`t
want to take a risk. He`s a businessman, and I think he wants to take very
So most guessing is, he`ll pick someone -- after what McCain did, he
will pick someone relatively safe.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, people always say, it didn`t work, right?
You know, because obviously McCain lost, but it did undoubtedly shift that
media focus. I remember the DNC, everybody was talking about the Obama
moment, that Denver speech. And then overnight, Obama, who, what? It was
all about -- had the election been held in I before the crash, who knows?
Maybe it wasn`t a bad choice.
I mean, if they`re not expecting -- of course, maybe we will get a
double dip recession. If they`re not, why not go out and give it a
relatively unknown woman governor and change the game?
CHO: It can shift the focus towards women`s rights and reproductive
rights and the idea of kind of adding glamour to the women of the GOP,
which they didn`t have before. So I mean, I think in a lot of ways it was
a smart move for McCain to pick Sarah Palin.
HARRIS-PERRY: Glamour and a little quirk. A woman candidate, but
she was a women -- is a woman with a large family, a young child still in
arms, and a pregnant, unmarried teen. For me, the coolest part of the
Republican convention last time, Republicans walking around with caps on
that said we support teen moms, because I`m thinking, really? Never in
your policy have you supported teen moms.
Something like -- what do you think of Martinez for example, out of
New Mexico? I keep saying that, no-no, she`s really declined, it`s
definitely not going to happen.
JUNN: I think the selection of a woman as vice presidential
runningmate for Mitt Romney has to be considered in the context of who he
is appealing to. So, with respect to Republican voters, women might be
excited by that. But independent voters and Democrats, it doesn`t make a
So, when you look at when women run for office, women don`t run for
women -- or vote for women just because they are women.
JUNN: They vote for women candidates if they are Democrats. So, for
the most part, running a female candidate on the ticket doesn`t help you
across the board. And it probably doesn`t help you with independents. It
might help you mobilize your base, among Republicans, but for a Romney
ticket with a woman candidate, it would have to be someone that fit the
bill, as opposed to just being female.
COBB: One additional point, though, about this, is that Romney has a
really bad track record with women voters, going back to Massachusetts,
going back to his time as governor. He has never really done well with
women voters. So, the one caveat on the other side, they may feel like
they need a boost here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just kind of give him a little something on that.
SCHNEIDER: But, you know what? People don`t vote for women for vice
president. I can prove it with two words, Dan Quayle.
And also, don`t believe all these people who say, I don`t want to be
vice president. Don`t consider me. The vice presidency is like the last
cookie on the plate, nobody wants it, but somebody always takes it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. They`re going to take it. I mean, heck, Joe
Biden looked like the happiest vice presidential nominee I have ever seen
in my life. His level of enthusiasm about it was extremely high.
Now, obviously, you know, President Obama, Joe Biden, there`s no
woman on that ticket, but I`ve always thought that the wives of those men
are particularly good surrogates. Now, Romney got in trouble by saying he
would go to his wife for-to-hear about women. But when President Obama has
First Lady Obama out there, or Joe Biden with Dr. Jill Biden, who`s really
quite accomplish. To what extent does FLOTUS go to see Beyonce when I
didn`t? You know, those FLOTUS play a role, first lady Obama play a role
in consolidating women as voters for the president?
COBB: I think one of the things here, we`ve talked about this
before, she`s metaphorical in some ways. In 2008, African-American women
had the highest voter turnout of any group, any Demographic voter category.
Michelle Obama reinforces I think the reasons why black women voters like
Barack Obama. I don`t think they vote for Barack Obama because of her, but
certainly, she`s a reminder of all the things that people do like about
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to pause, because it`s my show. She got to
go see Beyonce last night.
SCHNEIDER: You seem to be dwelling on that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because I haven`t had the show very long, but the
cunning thing I keep begging for, both First Lady Obama and Beyonce coming
on the show. I`m so for them sending love tweets to each other, singing to
each other, but I wish they would do it here, right? You guys would hang
on with her.
HARRIS-PERRY: We need a petition.
All right. So, there`s one last thing to take away for both parties
on thinking about putting together a coalition that includes women, what`s
the one thing?
What do women voters want?
SCHNEIDER: They want a strong safety net. They want to know that if
they fail, get in trouble economically, the government will be there to
support them. Be there to bail them out, because they feel very
HARRIS-PERRY: They want a strong safety net. I`m really down for we
would like reproductive rights, even if we won`t exercise them all the
time. We just like having them. It makes us feel nice and equal.
In just in a moment, why the people defending our country at war are
sometimes the last folks you would expect to do so.
First, a preview for "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT." Coming us today from
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes, I am indeed. A little long distance,
nonetheless with you. Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Melissa.
We`re going to bring you the latest on the developing storm in the
southeast. It could hit parts of the U.S. tonight in a big way.
Also, the story of this heartbreaking image are you about to see --
its significance on this Memorial Day, even years after it was snapped.
Another tale of Memorial Day. One of remembrance at an unlikely
location. We`re going to give you a slice of America on this holiday
And both President Obama and Mitt Romney will be making Memorial Day
appearances tomorrow. However, the fight for the White House took on new
intensity today on the Sunday morning talk circuit.
The gloves are off, Melissa, some of that happening in the studio
downstairs from where I am on "Meet the Press."
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, good, I`m glad you`re going to tell people because
surely none of that because they were watching this.
WITT: They can watch that at 2:00 p.m.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. They can catch it on the replay.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks, Alex.
WITT: Up next, my footnote on what this holiday is really all about.
HARRIS-PERRY: This Memorial Day, we remember our fallen and our
veterans -- the women and men who service has secured the freedoms and
privileges we`ve come to expect as Americans, which is why I want to
highlight those who serve even when they don`t have access to the freedoms
they`re sacrificing to protect. The 179,000 black men who fought for the
Union during the Civil War, including the 54th regiment of Massachusetts
who lost more than half their troops during the July 1863 assault on Fort
Wagner, South Carolina. These men went to work to preserve the United
States, even though slavery was the law of the land.
The 18,000 Nisei, second generation Japanese-Americans, who fought in
the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry
Battalion during World War II. They suffered the highest casualty rate in
the Army and became the most highly decorated unit in U.S. military
history. These men went to war for the United States, even as many of
their families were incarcerated in government internment camps for the
crime of being Japanese.
The more than 15,000 Muslim-Americans serving in the U.S. military
since the September 11th attacks, launched our protracted and multi-front
war on terror. It`s a war whose enemy is ill-defined, but exists in the
America popular imagination as vaguely Muslim. It may be decades before we
understand the extent and value of their sacrifices in the last ten years.
But in the heat of 2008s presidential election, General Colin Powell
drew attention to their efforts when he discussed the death in August 2007
of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan who was serving in Iraq. Powell, the first
black man to serve as the chairman of the joints chief of staff ask and the
first African-American secretary of state asked, is there something wrong
with being Muslim in America? No, that`s not America.
For decades, gay men and lesbians served op our battlefields, despite
being forced into silence by a military that accepted their service, but
not their identity. Today, tens of thousands of women serve on the front
lines without equal access to the professional merits of official combat
We remember and thank all of our troops. But it is with special awe
that I honor those who because of their race, their origins, their faith,
their gender or their sexual identity have served abroad even when they are
second-class citizens at home. When asked to explain why the colored men
should enlist in the civil war effort, Frederick Douglass wrote, "You
should enlist and disprove the slander, and wipe out the reproach. When
you shall be seen nobly defending the liberties of your own country against
rebels and traitor -- brass itself will blush to use arguments imputing
cowardice against you."
And that is our show for today. Thank you to Margaret Cho, Bill
Schneider, Jane Junn, and Jelani Cobb, for sticking around.
Thanks to you at home for watching. I`ll see you next Saturday at
10:00 a.m. when historian Doug Brinkley joins us at the table and Sunday
when former Governor Doug Wilder is here.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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