Guests: Nancy Pelosi, Joanna Bamberger, Nancy Giles, Rebecca Traister, Joy
Reid, Blair Underwood, Emily Mann, Katon Dawson
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning put away the guilt.
If women are ever going to have it all, we need to redefine what it is.
Plus, who`s the daddy? Two men vying to be father of the nation. But
is America more in the mood for a mommy?
And Blair Underwood, he is going to take us on a memorable ride on a
streetcar named Desire. He`s right here in Nerdland.
But first, she smiles broadly and plays to win. The woman who
partnered with the president to bring about health care reform. The
Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Severe
weather around the country has left more than 2 million people without
power. Most of them in the Washington, D.C. area. So check on your
friends, family and neighbors and make sure they`re OK. But now to our top
political story. After months of anticipation and partisan predictions by
both Democrats and Republicans on how the Supreme Court would rule, we
finally got an answer on health care. Thursday yielded one of the biggest
decisions by the Supreme Court since 2000`s Bush V. Gore. And Chief
Justice John Roberts not only saved the individual mandate, but may have
simultaneously rescued the highest court in the land from its rapidly
sinking favorability ratings. He`s also handed the Democrats a long sought-
after victory of trying to bring universal health care to the American
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was a key player in this fight in it
for the long haul bringing it finally to reality. Should we be surprised?
This is the same woman who was the first woman leader of her party and the
first woman who served as speaker of the House. Busting through barriers
is in her blood. And in 2010 it`s as though she took passing health care
reform on her own shoulders saying this. "We will go through the gate if
the gate is closed we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we
will pole vault in. And if that doesn`t work, we will parachute in. But
we are going to get health care reform passed. Now that it passed and has
been deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court, Leader Nancy Pelosi sat
down with me yesterday in her office in the Capitol to talk about this very
sweet victory. In fact, you`re even going to hear beeps calling for her to
vote during our interview, because a leader`s job is never done. I started
by asking Pelosi about how she felt when the decision was announced.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: You literally threw a party. How did it feel like at a
core level, how did that decision feel to you?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: When we first received the
word, I wasn`t surprised because I`ve always said six -- three.
PELOSI: It was five-four, but I accept that victory and that
decision. And that ruling. We were meeting in caucus when we knew that it
was imminent and there were conflicting reports, as you said, for only a
PELOSI: And then the hoops went up, hooray. We had our cake and
cider to celebrate.
HARRIS-PERRY: From Costco, right? Brownie bites from Costco or
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, one of the things that President Obama has
done so beautifully through this health care process was to talk about his
personal stories, his mother`s experience with her health insurance company
toward the end of her life, and his advisor David Axelrod talking about his
daughter and her issues with epilepsy. What is your personal story that
attaches you so critically to this issue that you have been behind for so
PELOSI: Well, it is a story of all American families. If you are a
person with a child with a pre-existing medical condition, and now that you
will not be discriminated against. I could go into every category of age,
whether you are talking about a child, whether you are talking about a
woman who is discriminated against on the basis of price, maybe by 40
percent higher because she`s a woman, and I`m a mom, I`m a woman, I`m also
a grandmother and I`m also a senior citizen. So in every category of life,
there are personal stories as to why patient protections that are in this
bill make a difference in the lives of those families.
But my responsibility here is to make the policy that we present
relevant to the lives of the American people. We knew there was an urgent
need, that the cost of health care was unsustainable to families, to
individuals, to businesses, large and small, to governments, whether local
or state or national, the costs were too high, and to our competitiveness
as a nation. So again, starting with a little baby who is born prematurely
and might be banned from getting health care for the rest of his or her
life to a senior at the end of life, not the end of life, but later years,
being able to buy prescription drugs at a lower cost, have free preventive
wellness checkups. All of this comes together around family.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, actually, as you`re mentioning that or as you are
talking about sort of these questions of family and the beginning of life
and moving towards the end of it, it occurs to me that as we had the legal
conversation about the individual mandate, so much of the context and the
content of the law itself was lost on the American people. So, you know,
if there are two key provisions or three, what are the things that people
do not know enough about that are in this law that is now a constitutional
law that will be going forward?
PELOSI: Well, I thought the president laid it out very clearly
yesterday, but if you are just asking for a few -- two or three, I would
say pre-existing medical conditions. If you are sick, if you have a
diagnosis, that you will now you can receive health insurance. You cannot
be discriminated against. If you`re a young person, you can be on your
parents` policy until you`re 26 years old. And there are no more lifetime
limits on coverage. That is very, very vitally important. And it speaks
to the economic security of families as well as the health security.
Because the diagnosis can be a pauperizing event unless you know that there
are no lifetime limits. And that you, again, you can always get insurance
from the insurance company, it`s just a question at what price ...
PELOSI: And a price that is so unaffordable is not accessible.
HARRIS-PERRY: Probably, it`s not reasonable to imagine that an
ordinary working American can actually access it.
PELOSI: Unless you are extraordinarily wealthy, you couldn`t access
it. It is not even middle income, even high income people have their
limits as to the cost of health care. So, that`s not our main concern
here, but the fact is that the cost of health care is unsustainable at
HARRIS-PERRY: So the decision that came in on Thursday was truly a
legal rendering. It was Roberts joining four other members of the court
with whom he rarely joins in a decision. As you have read or thought about
this decision in the few days since it`s come down, what do you see as the
key elements of the decision itself that shift who we are as the country?
PELOSI: I believe that the legislation that we passed, the act that
is now the law of the land, is transformative for our society. As we go
into the Fourth of July, we celebrate a freedom for people. It honors the
vision of our founders of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The
healthier life to pursue and the liberty to pursue your happiness, whether
you want to be creative and paint and sing or to be musical in other ways.
Whether you want to start your own business, be self-employed, whether you
want just to change jobs, you know how the freedom to do that without being
job-locked because you have a child with pre-existing medical condition, or
such condition in your family, but in addition to that, I believe -- we
believe for all the time that this bill, we first of all passed when others
didn`t believe it would ...
PELOSI: ... and secondly that it would be upheld by the courts. And
my confidence in it sprang from the readings that I had done of statements
and writings of Chief Justice Roberts. He has been consistent in how he
views the role of the court, and I thought if he continued to be
consistent, he would have to rule in the constitutionality of this. But
because when we wrote the bill, as we write every bill ...
PELOSI: What does it mean to people? What does it mean in terms of
job creation, what does it mean to deficit reduction? Will it hold up in
court? And we knew that this would hold up in court under a fair
examination of constitutionality.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s it. I think so many observers were a bit
back on their heels that it was Roberts. That if he was going -- that
Roberts was going to be part of a majority decision, I think many of us,
and as you predicted, expected it to happen a six-three decision, but for
it to have been five-four and Justice Kennedy to be on the other side, it
just makes me wonder a bit about where -- as you`re looking at the Supreme
Court, critics of the Citizens United decision and critics of the Bush v.
Gore decision of 12 years ago, how should Americans be thinking about the
court? Ought we rightly invest our sense of responsibility and
appreciation for the court or ought we be nervous about the court at this
PELOSI: Well, I firmly oppose the Citizens United decision, I think
that it undermines the Constitution, I think that it diminishes our
democracy, which is intended by our founders to be a government and
determined by the voice and vote of the many, not the checkbooks of the
very, very few. And that`s why I have this dare there, disclose. Who are
PELOSI: I`m Nancy Pelosi, I approve this ad. I have to say that, why
don`t they? Amend the Constitution to overturn it, reform the system so
that we`re taking it back to a greatly reduced role of money in the
process, and elect reformers -- either party -- reformers who will get this
job done. I think it is a very important -- I believe when you increase
the role of fidelity in the process and lower the role of money, you`ll
have many more women, minorities, young people elected to public office.
That`s very wholesome. So their decision flies in the face of that. And I
object to that, but I think every decision is as each individual decision.
Justice Roberts -- Chief Justice in his decision, and sure, that those who
have read it, will see that he`s not supporting the legislation.
PELOSI: And he says that very clearly. It is not about the policy or
anything, it`s about the constitutionality. And he ruled that it was
constitutional, as is the role of the court. It is not the role of the
court to make law. And he has been a strong outspoken person saying that
this is not the role of the court. And he honored his -- what he had said
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, I asked Nancy Pelosi if Washington has lost
all sense of civility. And later, can women have it all? Also ahead in
our next hour, how electing a president is kind of like asking, who is the
daddy? And the actor Blair Underwood joins me here in the studio. Hashtag
dreamy! Stay right there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Who knew that I would get to talk about my favorite
screensaver with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. I used to have this
picture of President Obama, Vice President Biden and then Speaker Pelosi on
my computer, as they reacted to Republican Congressman Joe Wilson yelling
"You lie" in 2009 as the president gave his health care speech to Congress.
Since that moment, I haven`t been the only one who`s noticed that there
hasn`t been much room for civility in politics lately. So I asked Leader
Pelosi about the decline in civility in our political dialogue and in the
past quarter of century.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: As part of my 25th anniversary, one -- one of first
celebrations was with President George Herbert Walker Bush at the Bush
Library in Texas A&M. Right now, it`s my 25th anniversary, and at that
time speaking to -- at the Bush Library, I talked about the civility that
was -- that reigned when President Bush was president. Kinder, gentler
nation. Thousand points of light. He changed this -- no new taxes, but
changed his position when he saw that the country needed a different -- a
And that was then, and it was a very different -- we had our
differences, we certainly disagreed on many things, but there was a certain
respect for the person and the people who sent us here in our respected
That changed later in the `90s when they tried to impeach President
Clinton. That was a departure from any level of civility for reasons that
had nothing -- were not in the regular order of impeachment. And then you
see what is happening now. Yesterday was -- and this week with Eric
Holder, the Attorney General. So I do think that it is really important
that the American people expect and deserve for us to come here to this
marketplace of ideas to find agreement where we can, to find -- find our
common ground, stand our ground. When we can`t find common ground, but
also to do so in a respectful way. That has deteriorated in the last few
years unfortunately, and has to be restored in my view.
HARRIS-PERRY: I really appreciate your re-reading there of the no new
taxes moment. I think President Bush has been pretty regularly criticized
as that was evidence of him being a weak leader or playing politics badly.
But you just suggested that it was actually about learning, coming to a
different position, and that we perhaps as an American public, perhaps as
the media, have we made it too hard for a president or for any leader to
say, you know what? I have learned something new, I am changing my
PELOSI: I would say in the case of President Bush, it was a sign of
strength. For President Bush Sr. it was a sign of strength. And I don`t
know that he learned anything that he didn`t know. I think the situation
changed in the country, and in the face of new realities he came to a
different conclusion. And that`s something everybody has to be ready for
to deal with the situation at hand. And thank God for our country that he
had the courage to do what he did. But again, about the civility, piece of
it, it is -- I really believe as a woman in politics, and one of my goals
and a crusade I`m on is always to increase the number of women in politics.
I don`t think it is really possible as long as we are playing on a playing
field created by others, where money, money, money, money is the currency
of the realm when it should be ideas, ideas, ideas. And that the
stridency, the harshness -- they suppress, they suffocate the system with
money, they suppress the vote, and they poison the debate. That`s not a
good formula for women, because women need to have a civil conversation.
The minute a woman gets tough in a debate, you know what people say about
PELOSI: So I think let`s kick open the door, let`s do things
differently, let`s make an environment that enables new people and many
more women to represent our country, unleashing that ...
PELOSI: ... in every field, whether it is the military, whether it`s
the academic world, whether it`s corporate America, whether it`s the
politic of our country, health care, any issue, any area you can name is
greatly enhanced by increased leadership of women.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is critically important because 2010 was sort
of dubbed the year of the GOP woman. And if -- you know, if we want to
increase the number of women, if we believe that women regardless of what
side of the aisle they sit on, bring something valuable. For me the
distressing part of the year of the GOP woman wasn`t that we elected a
bunch of women who happened to be Republican, whose policies might be
different from my own, but rather that we didn`t. It was the first time
that we`d lost ground on the number of women, Republican or Democrat, in
the U.S. Congress. How is it 25 years after -- for you and the Congress
that we are moving backwards?
PELOSI: Well, we have taken many giant steps forward. There were not
two dozen women when I came to the Congress 25 years ago, out of 435 people
in the House ...
PELOSI: And not a handful in the Senate out of 100. And so, we had
made advances, but in my view, not fast enough. And that is what we have
to again change the playing field, so that it is a fair, one more level one
for women. And I`m very excited about it. I`m absolutely certain that
there`s never been a first woman speaker of the House unless we had -- the
number of women in Congress that we did to say, I know everybody`s been
waiting in line, but the fact is, we`ve been waiting over 200 years.
PELOSI: And this is what it`s going to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up, I asked Nancy Pelosi to imagine a 25-year-
old version of herself today considering her run for office. The future of
women in politics. That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Being one of the most powerful women in Washington
could make it difficult to maintain a work-life balance, one might say, so
I continued my interview by asking Leader Nancy Pelosi how she`s working to
help other women manage career and family life. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: When you ran the first time, your youngest was out of
high school. You made a decision, five children, you raised your children
nearly to adulthood. Not the kids (inaudible) after that, but you raised
them nearly to adulthood, and then ran. The policies that you have
promoted in your years in Congress, and maybe especially the health care
reform act, do they make it possible for a 25-year-old Nancy Pelosi in
2012? A young woman who has two or three or four children to run for
office now rather than waiting until her children are nearly adults?
PELOSI: Well, I think so. My youngest was a senior in high school
when I ran. One more year would have been better. Four of them were off
in college. And they were very close in age. They -- and what I always
wanted, is to -- I always said to people, subtract 12 years from my age
because that was the time I was raising my kids, so I need that much more
time to get my job done here. And one very important part of that, though,
in terms of having acceptance of young women with children and all the
rest, is for more women to understand that women can do this. And that`s
why one of my next campaigns is going to be to intensify the efforts we
have been making on childcare, affordable, quality health care. Because no
matter what your income level, whatever it is, everybody has a concern when
mom goes to work.
PELOSI: And if you happen to be running for office, you can be sure
you`re going to be getting that question, it shouldn`t be. And I -- it is
really important for me to make sure that many -- and I`ve brought many
young women in by supporting them early and trying to encourage others not
to oppose them, but that women would come in the age that men come in.
PELOSI: So they`re here ten years, they are, you know, not even as
old as I was when I came here, and they have standing on issues, maybe some
of international nature, some domestic, all important. That they have
seniority on the committees and that they can rise to the top much more
quickly. And be on a par with men of the same age.
HARRIS-PERRY: Obviously one example of that would be New York`s
Senator Gillibrand who replaced, of course, Senator Clinton when she went
off to become secretary of state. I have this thought experiment I like to
do, I just want you to play along with me, did you ever allow yourself in
the context of the health care reform debate to think, what if Senator
Clinton had stayed in the Senate after the 2008 campaign and it had been
sort of you here in the House and Senator Clinton in the Senate? And
there`d be a bit of a Thelma and Louise women`s leadership. Could -- have
you ever allowed yourself to play that thought experiment at all?
PELOSI: I really haven`t had time for that experiment ...
PELOSI: ... although I have the greatest respect for Senator Clinton.
It was really an honor for me that the night that we passed the bill, that
she called to say congratulations. Really, I`m just so proud of all that
she does. So proud of her as secretary of state.
PELOSI: She`s doing such a marvelous job for our country.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you spoke about Senator Kennedy, of course, on
Thursday. And I saw you become even a bit emotional ...
HARRIS-PERRY: As you talked about him. What is this moment in that
PELOSI: Oh, it`s a very important moment. Because this has been a
lifetime work for Senator Kennedy. As you know, he said, it was an
unfinished, the great unfinished business of our country. It`s about
fairness, really. That it would be health care as a right, not a
privilege. Really harkening to our founders about life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness. As we`re going into the Fourth of July, celebrate
that again, I mentioned that in the context of great patriot Senator
Kennedy. What I love about him, many things, but he did write a letter to
the president that the president received after president -- the senator
passed away. And he said, when I came into office, that would have been
many years ago, a new young president was in the White House. And he
inspired our nation and gave hope to the world. As I leave, another new
young president is in the White House, inspiring another generation and
giving hope to our country. And that gave him confidence that President
Obama would be the president who would sign, well, would help pass and sign
the health care bill.
HARRIS-PERRY: And make all of this possible.
PELOSI: And I know that it`s a source of joy to the Kennedy family.
I spoke to Vicki first thing.
PELOSI: Yesterday. As soon as we heard it I called Vicki. And we
cried, we both congratulated and thanked each other and all, and she just
said, that, you know, Teddy left us before the bill was passed, but he went
to help us from a higher place. And now -- now that the Supreme Court has
upheld the bill, the act of Congress, the law of the land, his work, at
least on health care, is done. And he can rest in peace in that regard.
But it means so much to families, and Senator Kennedy was all about
HARRIS-PERRY: Indeed. Leader Pelosi, I appreciate so much that you
took the time to join us on Melissa Harris-Perry, particularly at this
critical, historic moment.
PELOSI: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
PELOSI: We are very proud of you and what you do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
PELOSI: Young woman, young mom.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
PELOSI: Thank you for visiting us in the Capitol.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I`ll have more from my interview with Leader Nancy
Pelosi on tomorrow`s show. But up next, what I think we`ve learned about
the Supreme Court after this week.
And later this hour, can women have it all and why are we even asking?
Stay with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Thursday morning when the Supreme Court handed down
its momentous decision in National Federation of Independent Business
versus Sibelius -- that would be the actual name of the health care case --
it was once again playing a unique role in the evolution of this great
project started back in 1776.
You see, the court is never an agent of change. It has no
constitutional authority to actively pursue any matter. The court is
essentially passive, awaiting issues large and small to be presented. Its
role is not to be the agent, but rather the final arbiter. And what we saw
on Thursday was what history ultimately will recall as another moment in
the central timeline determining the course of a nation.
We go back to the 19th century when a slave named Dred Scott sued for
his freedom. In 1857 Chief Justice Roger Taney, the Supreme Court ruled
Dred Scott was not entitled to due process because people of African
ancestry were not citizens. Almost 50 years later, black Americans, now
citizens, faced a new challenge of Jim Crow descended. In 1896, Plessy v.
Ferguson, the Supreme Court, led by Melville Fuller, decided that separate
but equal was the law of the land, giving Southern states and private
companies free reign to discriminate and to separate.
The misguided practice continued for decades until a social movement
brought the challenge before the court again. It was in 1954 that Chief
Justice Earl Warren`s Court reversed Plessy and found in Brown v. Board of
Education that separate is in fact inherently unequal, forcing school
integration with all deliberate speed.
We cannot forget Chief Justice Warren Burger`s court in 1973`s Roe v.
Wade decision. That court made clear that a woman does have a
constitutional right to privacy. These decisions serve as markers in our
nation`s progress in both their determinations and at times their indelible
rhetoric. Court rulings become the telling points of our history. There
may be little literary flare when Chief Justice Roberts wrote on Thursday
sufficient quote, "The Constitution permits such a tax and it is not our
role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness." No literary
flare, but the decision itself will reverberate in history. Change has
come to America and the nation`s final arbiter has said it is so.
Up next, that 1973 Roe v. Wade decision I mentioned that paved the way
for another decision, one that many women make every day, how to balance
work and motherhood, whether to strive to be super mom. I`ll tackle that
after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I love my producers for finding stuff like that.
Because, you know, doing a whole lot more, that`s what women and especially
working mothers do. I mean, in past decades, women of means have had to
fight to enter the world of work beyond home, and there were practical
considerations, you know, including helping to support the family, but for
many middle class moms, they also hope to find fulfillment and challenge
and meaning in their paid labor. Some of these movements said that
economic necessity and changing laws needed to make room for women in the
workforce, but they never freed them from keeping the windows sparkling at
home. So as women keep doing and giving more both at work and at home, the
perennial question keeps arising, can we have it all? And specifically for
those women who have the liberty to ask such a question, for this debate
has been stirred up again by a recent cover story for "The Atlantic," and
Marie Slaughter, the first female director of policy planning at the State
Department penned "Why Women Still Can`t Have It All." She explains her
own struggle to get to the top of her career and balance parenting duties,
and even working under veteran working mom Hillary Clinton. Slaughter`s
conclusion? Glibly repeating that you can have it all is simply air-
For such a high achieving mother of two like Slaughter to step back
from her influential position in favor of her family, oh yeah, and her
tenured job at an Ivy League university, it did of course invoke a
firestorm of responses. And for me Slaughter`s question begs two more,
just who are the women she`s imagining, and what is the all we are supposed
to want to have?
With me here is a panel of working women who I`ve been having fun with
already. Political blogger Joanne Bamberger, who is the author of "Mothers
of Intention." MSNBC contributor and managing editor of TheGrio.com, Joy
Reid. Comedian and social commentator Nancy Giles, and Rebecca Traister of
Salon.com, who is the author of "Big Girls Don`t Cry." Thank you, ladies, I
am so appreciative of you being here.
So I don`t know if I hate this conversation or if I love it. People
ask me this all the time, why are we still having this conversation?
REBECCA TRAISTER, AUTHOR, `BIG GIRLS DON`T CRY`: Love the
conversation. Be critical of both how it is framed and who it is
addressing and including. That`s -- I think it is really important to have
the conversation. I`m always in favor of having the conversation. And I
think Slaughter`s piece, she`s an unusual woman. She is a member of a
generation and a sector of a generation that was able to take advantage of
a lot of the second wave feminism`s victories. And she, like still a small
number of women, got to a place of extreme power. So her personal
experience, her tale of how that felt and what happened and what the
limitations still were both in the domestic sphere and as far as workplace
expectations, totally valuable.
We need to, to my mind, question a lot of things about that then,
starting perhaps, this is my beef, with the framing. And I don`t know if
anybody saw the cover of the Atlantic, this story about a woman and her
being torn between this high-powered job and her two teenager sons was sold
to us. No woman`s face was on that cover. It was a disembodied woman`s
legs and black pantyhose next to the plaintive face of a little girl baby
and a briefcase. There was no girl baby in this story, by the way.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s no baby in the story at all! When she talks
about going back, she`s going back to a teenager. And I`ve got to say, so
I love that personal stories matter, but I did sort of kept feeling like
your teenager probably doesn`t even really want you at home. I get that
maybe he`s having angst, but that could just be because he`s a teenager.
NANCY GILES, COMEDIAN: In my case, being single and not having
children, I felt like there`s this whole other underlying tragic story,
almost like the tragic mulatto, but sort of revisiting the tragic woman
whose heartless for being powerful and at the top means that along the way,
she has to sacrifice never having children or a relationship.
You know, number one, sometimes it just doesn`t work out that way. I
would have liked to have kids, but it is such a personal thing, and there`s
still to me this idea that if a woman doesn`t have children or if that`s
not in the mix, that that somehow making her incomplete. And that just
drives me crazy.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s the Sotomayor, Kagan, story. We have two women
who were sent to the Supreme Court of the United States, neither of whom
are moms. And so the question is, is that the only way, is that the only
JOY REID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I sort of agree with you guys. I felt
like when I was reading this, I was thinking, well, this is a really high-
class problem to have, right? You are this extremely powerful woman, and
oh dear my 14-year-old is having angst and I`m not there to deal with it.
It`s like you know what, in the real world, most women first of all don`t
have the choice to sit there and determine work-life balance. Right? Your
job is when you have to be there and you don`t really have a lot of
choices. Most women just have to make it work. They don`t really have all
of these options that she does.
REID: So I felt like she was sort of crying foul about something that
for most women, it would be a luxury to have a life she does.
JOANNE BAMBERGER, PUNDITMOM.COM: And the fact we can actually be
having this conversation is a true luxury. And I think a lot of women
online have really been talking about that, but the thing that`s
interesting to me is that we are still having the conversation and it is
still selling magazines so much. I saw this was like the biggest selling
or biggest clicked on story for the "Atlantic" in years. But then you have
so many women that I`ve been talking with online saying, why are we even
having this conversation? I thought we were done with that.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s heavily clicked on because it was 18 pages long.
GILES: That`s why we are talking about it. It`s like that in and of
itself, that throws your whole balance off.
HARRIS-PERRY: She`s an academic -- she writes long (ph), but I guess
the one thing I want to -- you want to talk about sort of what it means to
be a regular mom who doesn`t have these choices. On the other hand, I do
think Rebecca`s point is an important one, I think it`s important for us
not to just wave our hands and say, well, if you have money and health
insurance and a helpful husband, then if you`re not fulfilled, that is all
your fault. Like, there`s still something about this problem that has no
name emerging for this exact group of women.
BAMBERGER: No one is asking this about men. No one is having this
discussion about fathers, and I know plenty of -- we still don`t have a lot
of stay-at-home dads, but they are in exactly the same position and are
saying, no one is asking us about this. And why do we still ask it for
TRAISTER: We don`t put men to the same evaluative, touchy-feely tests
about whether their success or ability to function in the world is measured
by, are they having an easy time of it? Do they feel happy and satisfied?
Do they worry about falling short? Whereas we always do these happiness
tests for women. Oh, are women unhappy (inaudible) do they feel more
TRAISTER: Or are they a bad parent because they are not giving enough
to work? We do these tests and poke and prod and take temperatures of
women all the time, and then use it as this sort of backlashy thing about
see, it is really impossible for women. If you applied the same kind of
poking and prodding and thermometer to men, you would come up with all the
same kinds of --
HARRIS-PERRY: I was reading my "Time" magazine today on the treadmill
on my way to try to do it all. And I was reading this piece, Susan Rice,
and they are asking her about her role as U.N. ambassador. I get to -- I`m
thinking oh, this is a good interview, then I get to, you have to worry on
a day-to-day basis about genocide, policy, Libya, Syria -- I`m like, wow,
that`s intense. And then it says, what about your kid`s homework? And I am
like, did this just happen? And sure enough she says, the kids are job one.
And I`m thinking, I appreciate that you`re a great parent, that`s terrific.
But seriously, if Libya and Syria and genocide are -- then -- you know,
your kids homework, less important to me.
GILES: I think there`s a bigger point here that I have always just
been annoyed by. This whole concept of having it all. What is this all?
And I remember when I was first starting out as an actress -- I won`t name
who this is, but I remember being very impressed by this one performer who
said, I can play anything -- it was a female performer -- I can play
anything from a man to a speck of dust. And I remember thinking, oh my
God, that`s what I want to do, I want to be that varied. You know what?
No. Find something that you do and you love, and it`s OK to focus on one
thing and not be all over the place with your whole life out of balance.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have got so much more on this. When we come back,
we`re going to talk more. We may just stick around for the rest of the
show. Up next, what being a mom actually means by the numbers. And then
answer this trivia question. Of the 178 countries around the world that
mandate paid leave for new mothers, most offer at least 14 weeks off, paid.
Where does the U.S. rank among them? That`s after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Before the break, I asked you where the U.S. ranks
among the 178 countries worldwide that have laws mandating paid leave for
new mothers. Well, the answer is the U.S. is not one of them. America is
the great outlier. We give new moms job protection in the form of 12 weeks
of unpaid leave. I don`t know if you have ever seen a 12-week-old, but
seriously, 12 weeks of unpaid leave. And that affects the 85.4 million
women in America who have children. One in eight of whom are single
mothers, who take care of children 18 years or younger. And about half of
them, 5.2 million single mothers were due child support. The median income
for female head of households is only $32,000.
So when we are talking about working mothers who can have it all, many
of them don`t even have enough.
With me at the table is Joanne Bamberger of punditmom.com, MSNBC
contributor Joy Reid, social commentator Nancy Giles, and Rebecca Traister,
senior writer at Salon.com. So we were talking about the kind of having it
all, and I always have to say, did slave mothers have it all? Did immigrant
women working in sweat shops have it all because they had both?
REID: My mother was a college professor. She was a single mother
raising three kids and she did not have it all. She still had to come home
at 9:00 p.m., kids had to make our own dinner. This was a single mother
that had to do it that way, didn`t have a choice. At the same time, did I
feel deprived as a child because my mother was not there after school? No.
And I think we are forgetting that children are actually quite resilient,
and children also benefit from seeing their mothers happy and fulfilled.
That`s the part we don`t put in.
BAMBERGER: That was never the promise we hear so much about, oh,
feminism said you can have it all. That was never the promise, and -- but
somehow we`ve gotten to a place where we are in a construct where, yes, we
can be what we want to be, but all of the mothering, all the parenting, all
of the traditional woman things are still going to be on you.
TRAISTER: I do think that feminists use that phrase. This is one
thing, I hated that phrase for a long time. It hated it for a long time
and I talked about how much I hated it. I think at one point it was useful
for a particular, to send a particular message. But very quickly, after
the sort of second wave, I think when people began to use that phrase, as a
signal of promise that there could be more for more women, I think it
quickly became a pernicious and an anti-feminist phrase, because it set an
anti-feminist trap. Because it substituted what is supposed to
fundamentally be a struggle toward greater opportunity and equality. It
recast it as a kind of completist mission, as if feminism`s promise was
having it all, as if having it all was some social goal. It really recast
it as an inquisitiveness, I think, just the language I am talking about.
GILES: I feel that it almost made it so competitive, that if you were
not working at ten pistons at the same time, there was something wrong with
you. I mean, I won`t lie, I was listening to some of the chatter in the
makeup room, and I was starting to feel like, I don`t have a book. I`m
working on a book, I don`t even -- she`s got a book, she`s got a book, I
don`t have a book. And I didn`t work out. You were talking about working
out. I didn`t work out this morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: Part of what ignores is the idea, when it is cast
solely as sort of the individual, it ignores that actually the economy
needed women to work. So even our notion of sort of what constitutes a
middle class norm with stagnant wages in order to support a family, my
grandfather on my mother`s side supported a wife who didn`t work outside
the home and five kids. And he was like a used car salesman and drove a
bakery truck for a while. You couldn`t -- and they lived in the middle
class home, that`s not possible. Literally both people must work in order
to maintain that kind of standards. Let me ask you a quick question on the
standards, why do we assume that we have to mother so intensely? This sort
of helicopter mothering, this idea that your kid needs you at every second
to guide, like isn`t part of how we can have it all if we did a little less
on the mom side?
TRAISTER: That`s the backlash. As soon as women started gaining a
little bit more power, and depending on what kind of women and what kind of
power, as soon as women started to gain power that they had largely been
kept away from, they became threatening. And so one of the messages that
gets created -- and I`m not saying there`s some evil anti-feminist men out
there creating this --
TRAISTER: -- is you suddenly get, over the past few decades, which
not coincidentally have been post-feminist decades -- you get this pressure
to make motherhood equivalent to a career. There are a lot of reasons for
this. It`s also for people who choose not to have careers and want to
justify the worth of the time that they are spending with their kids. And
you get a culture of parenting. And it`s absolutely related to women
beginning to get more power than they historically have in the public
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to stay on this. We have got a whole
another segment on this, and then -- and when we do, I really -- I do want
to stick on this question, what is really the point of having it all? What
is the all anyway? And also in our next hour, how the president of the
United States is kind of like a father figure. We are talking mommies,
we`re going to talk daddies. Then we`re going to talk to Blair Underwood.
Star of stage and screen joins us right here in Nerdland. Don`t go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: When the bill comes into effect, being a woman will no longer
be a pre-existing medical condition. It`s a victory for women.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. That was Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
celebrating the news that the nation`s highest court upheld the Affordable
Care Act as constitutional. And for those American women trying to do it
all for their families and the jobs, the Affordable Care Act is something
to celebrate, because insurance companies can no longer deny women and
children coverage, based on pre-existing conditions or charge women more
simply because they are women.
And it makes sure that maternity benefits are provided in all
individual health care plans. It also expands insured benefits for
children, like dental and vision needs. And older children can stay
insured on their parents` plans until the age of 26.
And for the benefit of family planning, all insurance companies will
have to cover birth control without a co-pay. These things are good for
mothers parenting with a partner and very good for mothers who are the
heads of households without a partner. And it insures that their illnesses
or those of their children won`t bankrupt the family.
Maybe having it all got a little bit easier, but is having it all the
point? The question suggests that women should always be giving more to
their work or to their families, more to anyone but themselves.
So when we debate if women can have it all, we should start by asking
is it even the right question. With me is Joanne Bamberger of
punditmom.com, MSNBC contributor Joy Reid of thegrio.com; comedian and
social commentary -- commentator -- Nancy -- a commentary all on her own.
NANCY GILES, ACTRESS AND JOURNALIST: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Rebecca Tracer, senior writer at salon.com.
So, again, you know, part of my thought as I was reading Anne-Marie
Slaughter`s piece, and, you know, to be very fair about Slaughter`s piece,
she said, we need policy, policy changes that will make things better. And
she is right about that. And she works at a place where I once worked, at
Princeton University. Shirley Tillman, the president of Princeton
University, has an extraordinary vision on this.
This is a woman who came up through the ranks as a single mom, rose to
the level of a tenured professor, rose to the level of president. And when
I worked there, she did things like, you know, if you were a junior faculty
member and had a kid, male or female, you had to take a year of leave.
That way nobody could give you a hard time about it.
You had to, you know, stop your clock and there was terrific health
insurance and all of these sorts of things. So is the issue really just we
need policies that make it possible for people to be able, men and women,
to balance in a reasonable way the realities of our real lives and our work
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, look, what you just started with -- oh,
you go ahead.
JOANNE BAMBERGER, FOUNDER AND EDITOR, PUNDITMOM.COM: Well, that`s
exactly what we need. And that`s the conversation we are not having. If
only we had had an 18-page article in "The Atlantic" about that. And
that`s what women want, but by the same token, there`s a lot of
conversation online about why are we still having the conversation about
having it all?
And why is it that we are not having the policy conversation? What`s
the deeper underlying issue? And how much of that has to do with what you
were talking about earlier, Rebecca, about really sort of the setback of
women and trying to put women back into a more traditional motherhood role.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just talking about what you opened one of the
segments with before, about the paid leave issue, just that, as a country,
that`s shameful. I mean, just a piece of policy like that that would make
women`s lives easier, though it makes families easier, it would give people
BAMBERGER: Right, not just for women, for men.
REBECCA TRAISTER, AUTHOR: It`s the defense of the very privileged
situation she`s writing about that I wish had been made more explicit in
her piece because one of the things that you find, if you talk to anybody
who pays attention to how people vote, is that women, at the top of
institutions, particularly in places like Washington where policy gets
made, are going to be more likely to make policy that does have an effect
for everybody, about minimum wage, about day care, about health care, about
family leave, and that if, in fact, this very high-powered world is
inhospitable to women, and if that`s the point that Anne-Marie Slaughter`s
trying to make, it is not her simply her own individual story, it is a
story of how women will have a harder time getting in a position to make
policy. And I wish that that had been more explicitly --
BAMBERGER: That`s what you talked to Nancy Pelosi about, in her
interview with you earlier and how she`s trying to make that happen.
JOY REID, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I think the part
that`s missing, though, because we talk about policy -- that`s the
But what you were talking about is the business end, right? I mean,
this is obviously a university, it is different, but the economics right
now, you know, you have businesses that are struggling because they have
all these health care costs. There are all these additional costs.
How does business respond to the idea that you want more leave? How
does business respond to the ideas, especially since there are more women
in the workplace, this was a male recession. Men lost more jobs than
So women are in the workplace, they`re fighting it out and businesses
are also trying to respond on minimum wage and these other things. So we
also need a broader conversation about how we get the economy going,
because if we had a `90s economy, you could have a better, broader
conversation about this.
HARRIS-PERRY: You can, as a worker, begin to make demands, but I have
wondered like why we have not thought of the recession as a moment to also
rethink work. Like it`s not something about women having it all, it is
actually about women giving it all, right? Like we should give more hours
of work and more hours to kids. No one writes the article, well, maybe
some people. They probably write it on your blog --
HARRIS-PERRY: But the article is, what I need time for is a bath.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, a vacation and doing less.
HARRIS-PERRY: Literally, when I`m reading, I`m on the treadmill. I
do not allow myself to read unless I`m also doing some other (inaudible)
REID: This is happening for men. The whole idea of men (inaudible)
men to the spa and men all of a sudden doing me time. No, but I mean,
right, men are having this moment where they are now saying, focus on you.
Focus on your pretty, focus on the things that matter to you.
BAMBERGER: As if they aren`t focusing on themselves to start with,
NANCY GILES, SOCIAL COMMENTATOR: This is where I get driven crazy
again about like if you`re not doing three things at once. Like I think
the word multitasking should just be eliminated. What it means is doing
more than one thing at the same time and not doing either one well.
It just -- taking -- having less, doing less. Taking time to breathe.
Taking time to look inward. That`s something that is just being lost for
HARRIS-PERRY: We have not judged male leaders who have been bad
parents in the same way. I mean, it is really hard for me to hear, for
example, the idea that Martin Luther King Jr. was a great father. I mean,
he was an amazing human being, he was an incredible civil rights leader,
but he was probably a pretty absent dad most of the time. And we feel
like, well, OK, because, after all, he changed the world.
BAMBERGER: We asked all kinds of questions about Sarah Palin and very
few about Barack Obama.
REID: Or John McCain, who abandoned his family, right? And who left
his family, just as Newt Gingrich did. We don`t like to talk about it.
Ronald Reagan, these guys who also walk away from a family and we don`t
really have that conversation.
HARRIS-PERRY: (Inaudible) -- one of the things I love about your book
is actually your reading of Sarah Palin, because on the show before, I
certainly don`t agree with her politically --
TRAISTER: Nor do i.
TRAISTER: Nor do I.
HARRIS-PERRY: But there is this kind of interesting reading you do of
her as parent that is about -- like she doesn`t -- even to the exception
that she got wealth at some point, she doesn`t have four nannies or
something. It is a very like everybody -- all hands-on-deck parenting.
TRAISTER: Yes, its. Back when Levi was in the picture, there was a
great profile done of the Palin family that has this incredible scene of
Sarah Palin, teaching Levi how to marinate a roast beef or something.
And it was such a -- for me, and I disagree with every word that
emerges from Sarah Palin`s mouth, I just want to emphasize that, but this
was really speaking to something that I think a lot of people -- which is
the true, equal assumptions about who does what around a house.
BAMBERGER: And that resonated with a lot of women, a lot of mothers,
regardless of whether they agreed with Sarah Palin, which I didn`t, either,
but the picture of her sort of doing it all and towing the little ones
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the husband has to do his part.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But that always really annoyed me again,
because, again, it was like, wow, she`s able to do all of this and she`s a
HARRIS-PERRY: And not only that, but she also felt like she had to
ask Todd policy questions. See, the part where she ceded to her husband
was on her actual job, and that was really disturbing to me about Sarah
BAMBERGER: Right. It`s one thing to ask him to do his part in
marinating the chicken.
BAMBERGER: It`s another thing (inaudible).
HARRIS-PERRY: Although, I will say, I`ve often had the position that
first ladies, and, of course, you know, this is part of how Hillary Clinton
ran, that she was a meaningful adviser to her husband. We often have
understood women as the helpmate of the powerful man, but a woman asks her
potentially equally smart, fantastic male partner to help, we go, oh, she`s
just giving it away.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it`s not always that way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Right. Yes!
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Rebecca Traister. We know the rest of you
are back and up next.
What if I told you that the best way to predict who will win the White
House is to ask who brings out your little kid? We`re going to test that
theory. We`re going to let a guy join the table. He might be afraid, but
we`re going to let him come to the table.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have been talking about the personal choices that
women make to balance career and family. And it got us to thinking a
little bit more broadly about the political choices that voters make
because of families, or at least the way that they see themselves as
members of the American family.
Put on your nerd hats, because we are going to talk political theory.
George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at the University of California
Berkeley theorizes that because parents are generally our first experience
with a central authority, then the model of the family is also the model
that informs the way we that we think about other decision-making authority
in our lives, i.e., the government.
Now the conservative understanding of that family positions the father
as the head of the household, the kind of father knows best. In the
paternal family model, children need strict rules to help them distinguish
right from wrong so that reproductive freedom you think you want, let Daddy
make the decision for you. That`s just for your own good.
And that person of the same sex that you`re choosing to marry, listen
to Daddy. He knows that this person is just not right for you. The father
wants to raise you to be self-sufficient, not to depend on him for help, so
that government assistance you applied for to feed your family, Daddy wants
to cut you off so that you can learn to fend for yourself.
On the other hand, voters sometimes want their leader to be a maternal
figure, the one that will slip you a few extra bucks to help you during the
hard times. This kind of governing authority is based in empathy. Think
Bill Clinton, feeling your pain.
The maternal leader understands the children`s struggles and takes
responsibility for making sure that they are going to be all right. Right
now, we have two people vying to be the head of the American family. And
the question for swing voters, who historically have had a hand in choosing
one parent over the other is which one should get their love in 2012?
Still with me at the table, Joanne Bamberger, Joy Reid, Nancy Giles,
and joining us is a guy, Republican consultant, Katon Dawson.
All right, so this is Lakoff`s notion, that sometimes swing voters are
looking for a daddy, sometimes they are looking for a mommy. When we look
at Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, is one of them better at sort of
doing an androgynous? Or are they both Mommy? Are they both Daddy? What
do you think is happening here in this election?
GILES: Well, I feel like Barack Obama definitely has a dad vibe
going, but when I was thinking about this question, I realized that I think
that women are actually the daddy. It is all confusing. Women in my
humble opinion, --
GILES: -- we run the show. We are the men. I mean, by the structure
and the way things are set up, I feel like women are men, women are
fathers, you know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was actually thinking the same thing.
GILES: Isn`t it? You know what I mean?
BAMBERGER: In our house it is like, if you ask my daughter, I`m the
disciplinarian. I`m the one who like, you know, brings down the hammer and
then she runs to Dad, "Oh, Dad, can I have something?" And it doesn`t
always work out. But there is sort of a dichotomy about who really is sort
of more of the hardcore parent.
REID: Go to your construction of it, though. I mean, when I was
thinking about this question as well, I think Mitt Romney is sort of like
the CEO dad, who is never around and later on in therapy, you sort of
complain that he never helped you.
And Barack Obama is a dad, too, right, but he`s like the cool dad on
the block that all the kids kind of come around to. So to me, they are
like two dads in a same-sex marriage. How about that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, wow.
REID: We`ll just make it modern and 21st century.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Romney will love that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you this, because it does seem to me that
there is -- let`s take the health care reforms, because that`s the big news
of the week. It still feels like there`s a mom framing of this and a dad
framing of this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the mom framing is, you need help, you know, let me
kiss your boo-boo framing, right? And the dad version is you need to be
individually responsible. You need to buy health insurance, we are going
to set down a rule, and so as Daddy I`m letting you know that you have to
When you listen to President Obama speak about this or listen to Mitt
Romney, do you hear them framing this notion of health care in these kind
of maternal/paternal ways?
KATON DAWSON, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: I don`t. I think what you do
hear, back to your point, is your dad says this is what you need to do and
your mother makes you pay for it. That`s really what happens here. I
think that the whole context of what`s going on in the health care debate -
- and whether it`s a father figure or not -- the Romneys are nice people
and so are the Obamas.
The Romneys have five boys, 16 grandchildren, about that. They are
wonderful families. This race is going to come down to a referendum on
really where people are and where the swing voters are we just talked
about. There are about 9 million swing voters in about 10 states, and
that`s the ones -- the base just got moved yesterday. Both the liberal and
conservative base just got moved.
There`s a lot of energy in both places right now, and this is going to
be an election -- it was much about Jimmy Carter; it was much when George
Bush. I think what the president missed yesterday was George Bush 41 got
kicked out because he raised taxes, he did. And this became a tax increase
yesterday. And that`s what the public does. And I know -- I watched the
temperature raise just then.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, let`s talk about George Bush 43, because he runs
initially as the mama. Let`s listen to George W. Bush on his compassionate
conservativism for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Government
cannot solve every problem. But it can encourage people and communities to
help themselves and to help one another. Often the truest kind of
compassion is to help citizens build lives of their own. I call my
philosophy and approach compassionate conservativism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So (inaudible).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That`s maternal.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, so there he`s compassionate conservative. Now
after September 11th occurs, and then he runs as I am the daddy who`s going
to lock the doors for everybody, right?
REID: (Inaudible) daddy here, but if you look in the Iraq
perspective, he was also telling them, if you don`t remove your dictator,
mama will come and take care of it for you. (Inaudible).
BAMBERGER: Those are two different timeframes, when you have George
W. Bush being the compassionate conservative -- that was before he was
elected. Then after he takes office, he becomes more of a disciplinarian.
And I think maybe you saw that with Barack Obama, too. He was much
more hope and change before he was elected. And when you get into the
presidency, the realities change. So is there sort of a morphing from what
you have to campaign on versus how you govern it?
DAWSON: And I`ll give both presidents credit now, I heard George Bush
tell us when the RNC meets without his notes, that whoever is going to be
elected president gets the book that he had every morning, which is the
President Obama got that book and read it and has done what he`s
supposed to do to protect the country. I`ll give him kudos, but that did
change. I mean, 9/11 changed the world as we ever knew it. So I think it
is a fair statement to say that certainly he did change.
And I think George Bush, and I`m proud that I was for him and still
proud that I was for him, to tell you, but at the end of the day the
country is going to judge this Iraq situation out of the decisions both
these presidents made.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, and it`s also possible the presidents just like
the daddy role better, right, particularly on foreign policy. It`s the
place where they have power that they can use unilaterally rather than
having to talk to Congress.
Well, up next, we`ll talk more about why you elect a president to help
kiss your boo-boo and make it better or whether or not you want one that`s
going to set those limits. And President Obama`s constitutional health
care reform plays into this.
And later, actor Blair Underwood joins me right here in the studio.
Who is the daddy, indeed.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. If swing voters decide that now is the time for a
father figure to give them tough love with rules and restrictions on how
they live, or are they going to see Mitt Romney as the guy they want to
call Big Papa. But figuring out who is the daddy is a bit more
complicated. When you take a closer look at President Obama`s policies,
take his health care plan, for instance.
Now some of you may think, I feel perfectly fine. I can get by
without health insurance, but your father knows that unexpected things
happen and he wants you to be covered, just in case. In fact, he insists
and you`ll get punished with a penalty if you don`t.
So, still here with me, Joanne Bamberger, Joy Reid, Nancy Giles and
Katon Dawson. So let me offer another model of fatherhood. Isn`t it
possible that dads take a lot of joy and pride in providing for their
children and families?
So the father who can buy -- who can get the big wedding for the
daughter, not because she needs it, but because it is kind of a
demonstration of his manhood that he can do so. Isn`t it possible that
being able to say, I cover all of my citizens, all my people are able to go
to see a physician, would be a point of pride for kind of daddy president?
BAMBERGER: I think so. And you would think Mitt Romney would step up
to that since he did that in Massachusetts and now he`s saying, no, no, no,
no, I have changed my mind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it`s weird, in Massachusetts, it is really
working well, 98 percent of the people in Massachusetts have health
insurance and like it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And like it.
DAWSON: And the people in Massachusetts did decide that. That was
one of Mitt Romney`s premises, that Massachusetts decided that`s what they
wanted, not the federal government in Massachusetts.
GILES: I know, but when you get away from the semantics, it worked.
And people liked it. (Inaudible).
HARRIS-PERRY: And I would say like if --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) Mitt Romney.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it`s also kind of odd to say, well, you know, I
think my one kid over here who says, I really do want to go to school, that
you would send that one to school, but your other kid was like, no, Dad,
I`m not so much on it, so you don`t send that kid.
If health care is good for the people of Massachusetts, if it drives
down costs in Massachusetts, if people like it in Massachusetts, then why
should their neighbors in Virginia or in California or in Louisiana --
DAWSON: That`s why we have different states. I know in South
Carolina our governor, Nikki Haley, has said give me a block grant. We
know better what to do with Medicaid than the federal government does,
because we live closer to the people.
HARRIS-PERRY: But the real reason we have states is because of
slavery. Let`s just back up, the real reason we have states is because we
could not decide whether everybody was going to be a free citizen or not.
And so we worked out federalism and that`s fine, and so now we have it
and for now we`re within that framework, but we don`t have states because
we thought the people of South Carolina were fundamentally different than
the people of Florida.
REID: And not only that, but the states that are claiming that they
want to just do their own thing are typically the poorest states, the
states that have the biggest basket cases in terms of impoverished
citizens, but they are saying we refuse to participate in a system that
will help our impoverished citizens because we`re going to make this a 10th
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bobby Jindal is a bad daddy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he`s so smart, then why are his citizens so
GILES: And back to the daddy thing, what I liked about the
president`s explanation of health care this time and what this program will
provide, is it was simple it was to the point. And it reminded me of a
scene -- I think it was on the pilot of "The Cosby Show," when Bill Cosby`s
son was going to live on his own. "I don`t need to work. I don`t need to
go to college," and he sat him down and he said, OK, so let`s say you make
this much money, what`s going to cost what?
He got out the Monopoly money and all the money was gone. And I like
that in terms of I will teach you, I`m your father, here is the simple
reality of what`s going on. If you decide that you don`t get insurance,
that means someone else is going to have to pay for it. That doesn`t seem
right. To me it is no different than having car insurance.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So there`s a policy -- there`s also, I guess,
the political question, like did he over-mommy -- did President Obama over-
mommy on selling Affordable Care Act initially by going out, having the
town hall meetings, making it very democratic with a little (inaudible),
let everybody talk about it, and then this language emerged of death panels
and kind of the Tea Party movement we saw.
Like I`m wondering if maybe the problem was he should have been a
little more Mitt Romney. We are going to have --
DAWSON: I think what the president does is a big idea, big, bold
initiatives. And what happened with that one was, I think it is like the
sausage making process. It got caught up. And I think Nancy Pelosi heard
it. I watched the interview earlier, when she said, we`ll let you read it
What we are finding out is people really don`t know what we have.
What they do know yesterday was they called it a tax increase. They do
know -- the positive thing is --
HARRIS-PERRY: They didn`t call it a tax increase. They said that
under the taxing power of the Constitution --
DAWSON: Got it. But I`m telling you what I know the voter heard, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that`s what your party is telling you.
DAWSON: And we are going to do our job. And we are going to do --
because elections are --
HARRIS-PERRY: Y`all are good about staying on message. You must have
good daddies (inaudible) because --
DAWSON: But I promise you, we listen to our mothers. I promise.
Mine is watching today, right now, and is 80-something years old. I`d
better say she looks like she`s 60 or I`m in trouble when I get home, and
my wife and daughter, who live in New York, are watching, too.
So I can assure you that we know where the decisions are really made
and in this election, we know that there are going to be more women making
this decision than men.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s not a small point. I mean, it`s part of what
Leader Pelosi was saying when her first words about this were let me
explain to you how this is good for women. Certainly that is, for her, a
particular passion, but it is also, as you point out, politically
important. If women are going to be making the choices, as she`s saying,
health care reform, my friends, is good for you.
BAMBERGER: So many women online are talking about that and saying
they are so excited that now their families are covered, in comment after
comment on my blog and other blogs, saying this is going to mean X, Y and Z
for my family.
DAWSON: I want to go back to Bill Cosby, because Bill Cosby with
Theo, when Bill Cosby said, "And who is going to pay for it?" That`s what
we`re asking, exactly when -- that`s what I`m finding online is what is it
going to cost me personally? And that`s what this (inaudible) --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I think we are already paying for that.
DAWSON: I know that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are paying terribly for services that we
don`t get very well.
REID: But I think it shows you definitely for sure that the biggest
mistake that the president and the Democrats made, once they passed health
care reform, was they never explained it and they allowed -- Dawson is
right, it is plain scary (inaudible).
DAWSON: (Inaudible) who frames the ideas -- and this is a big idea.
And every day we are talking about this as a day for the president. We are
not talking about people who are out of work and the price of gasoline.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is a win for the president rather than for Mitt
Romney. So thanks to all of you. You guys are great. Joanne Bamberger,
Joy Reid, Nancy Giles and Katon Dawson, we have been asking who is the
daddy of the American family? And let me change the conversation a bit and
say there are some voices that I would really enjoy hearing ask, "Who`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, Blair Underwood. Hey, Daddy.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is how we are used to seeing "A Streetcar Named
Desire," the 1951 film starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh is the
classic interpretation of Tennessee Williams` Pulitzer prize-winning play
set in post-World War II New Orleans. It confronts class differences,
domestic violence and mental illness.
But what happens to this American classic when we keep the lines but
change the faces of the story? What if "Streetcar" is not just about
class, but also about race and that baffling deeply-rooted divide between
the elite creoles of color and New Orleans` black working class? We are
now finding out.
The latest Broadway incarnation of "Streetcar" showcases an
extraordinary multicultural cast of characters, including former MHP guest,
Nicole Ari Parker in a breathtaking performance as Blanche DuBois.
And the limited run ends on July 22nd, but before the final ovation,
we have to hear from its star, Blair Underwood, who bravely reinterprets
the iconic Stanley, and its director, the visionary, Emily Mann. Thanks so
much to both of you for being here.
BLAIR UNDERWOOD, ACTOR: Oh, yes, (inaudible).
EMILY MANN: (Inaudible) to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Blair, I have been teasing, teasing this whole
thing like, oh, Blair Underwood is here, oh, that`s so fabulous, but the
fact is, it really was this performance that I fell in love with. I mean,
I live in New Orleans; the play is obviously critically about the city,
about the cultures, but talk to me, Blair. How did this project come to
you? How did you decide to take on a role this intense?
UNDERWOOD: Yes, thanks for having us, first of all, by the way. And
thanks for coming to the play three times.
HARRIS-PERRY: Three times I have been.
UNDERWOOD: You know, I`m a Tennessee Williams fan. And these
producers, Steven Bergh and Alia Jones, had done "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"
four years ago. I very much wanted to be a part of that. It didn`t work
out, but I met Steven then, and he said, well, look, I have the rights for
"A Streetcar Named Desire."
I want to do it in a couple of years. Maybe we`ll have that
conversation when the time comes. We did, and here we are.
So -- but to step into the shoes of Stanley Kowalski, even though, as
you know, in our production, we don`t use the name Kowalski, because I`m
not polish -- neither was Marlon Brando -- but --
UNDERWOOD: (Inaudible) a Polish thing. But to step into those shoes
because of the Marlon Brando shadow, and this production, as you mentioned,
of 1947, 1951 film, it was challenging but also the most exhilarating and
gratifying thing I have done creatively in my career.
HARRIS-PERRY: Emily --
MANN: That`s nice to hear.
UNDERWOOD: That`s true.
HARRIS-PERRY: It really is like -- I have to say, you know, I have
seen "Streetcar" many times. I`ve read it many times, but to see this
performance changed my understanding of what the play was about.
There`s something about -- maybe it is being in New Orleans and living
in the 7th Ward, but as soon as Blanche and Stella were creoles of color,
who have a French ancestry background, who own a big plantation.
And so there`s a moment when Stella shows Blanche the picture of
Stanley, and says, look at this picture and there`s this kind of horror and
shock immediately on Blanche`s face. And it makes perfect sense to me in
the context of the anxieties around creoles of color and black working
class New Orleanais. Like that moment makes sense in a way it never could
have in another play.
UNDERWOOD: That`s right.
MANN: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why take this on in this way? This is a tough one to
do, this multicultural cast.
MANN: Are you asking me that question, because I would love to answer
MANN: If you know New Orleans, and, of course, you know it so well,
and if you know your American history, it is a very obvious way to look at
this play. In fact, some people have said that at one point Tennessee had
thought about having at least a Stanley of color.
But his first image in the play is a black woman and a white woman
sitting on the stoop talking. His stage direction says it`s a park in New
Orleans where the races intermingle freely, and that just being the
daughter of an historian, I began to look into all of this.
And when I -- I actually read Anne Rice`s book, "The Feast of All
Saints," and so for the last 20-plus years, I thought this is the way to
look at the play fresh. It would be Southern, because you know you look at
the iconic movie and it is not a Southern piece.
Where is Marlon Brando from? I couldn`t tell, Poland maybe. A
gorgeous performance but there`s not a Southern feel to it. So as soon as
you get class caste color in, it makes perfect sense. And if you know the
few people of color history, it is clear the DuBois sisters can be of that
ilk and have that, and have the (inaudible).
HARRIS-PERRY: And in fact, that was one of the most exciting things
that we had, an opportunity to come backstage and meet some cast members.
And my best girlfriend in the world is a historian named Blair, who wrote a
book that, in part, talks about the free people of color.
And there on the wall of your dressing room was, in fact, the image of
the free people of color, of the folks who run it. And it made me sense
that this was not just a performance but, as you just said, a historical
rendering. Talk to me about the work that you did preparing for this.
UNDERWOOD: Yes, well, I think that`s critical, that it is a
historical rendering, that it`s rooted in the foundation of history, so
there`s an authenticity. It is not just, you know, let`s see what happens
when you put people of color in this story.
No, this is historically accurate. It`s just never been done this way
on Broadway. I mean, actually Tennessee Williams thinks in this -- many
times as early as 1956, but it is one of the things we talked about from
the very first rehearsal. How do we make this unique? How do we make this
specific to New Orleans and Louisiana and how do we make it rich and
breathe new life into it?
HARRIS-PERRY: Does the audience have trouble watching it, because our
expectations of what happens with black bodies on stage tends to be more
So again, I have seen it three times. I`ve seen it with evening
audiences, I`ve seen it with daytime audiences, and I wonder, in part,
because there`s huge popularity for example, the Tyler Perry plays on
stage, or even some of the musicals that are extremely popular on Broadway.
There were moments when there was laughter or kind of an inability to
quite capture, like the intensity that was being portrayed by the actors,
but I wonder if the black bodies are also distracting, because we think
somehow that they ought to be comedic rather than dramatic in the way that
MANN: Well, I think there are two sides to that. One is there are
some laughs that we just don`t like and we work very hard to discourage.
But Tennessee himself said, there is humor in this play. And I think it`s
one of the revelations of the production, is that people do laugh, have
found the humor in it.
And once you have the sound of black voices speaking that Southern
language, a lot of the humor comes out. And also because you have a mixed
audience and people are going off of each other. Some days it is
UNDERWOOD: Absolutely silent.
MANN: Some days there`s a lot of humor.
UNDERWOOD: You know, of course, what the dozens are. You know,
culturally, when people insult each other, your mama is so fat, this, your
mama that, those are called the dozens. It is -- I will tell you, as an
actor upon that stage, it can be -- and you have seen this -- it can be
frustrating because when you are being dramatic and when Stanley especially
is abusing Blanche, it is one of the things, actually, Elia Kazan and
Brando talked about in 1947, and Tennessee Williams, he hated the fact that
there was cheering and celebration in the demise of Blanche.
That said, this 2012 audience, sometimes culturally, you know, we
respond to insulting each other. We look at how we grew up, the sitcoms,
"The Jeffersons," even Tyler Perry today, a lot of his shows were insulting
each other in this -- there is laughter in that.
And it can be very frustrating, because when I -- when Stanley is
insulting and ultimately raping his wife`s sister and beating his wife,
there`s not comedy in that. And that -- you speak of pathos, that`s
another conversation to have about where do we as a culture oftentimes put
that anxiety, put that pain, put that real -- those real-life issues that a
lot of people have gone through?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, and we`re going to talk more about that and in
part about Broadway and the audience that Broadway has. And so I have a
question for you that we will answer on the next side. It`s this: why is
Broadway nicknamed The Great White Way? That`s after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Before the break I asked you, why is Broadway nicknamed
The Great White Way? The answer, it`s because of the millions of lights in
the marquees and billboards that have lit up the area since the 1880s. The
nickname was popularized in a newspaper headline in 1902.
Now, I welcome back the star and the director of the new Broadway
production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," actor Blair Underwood and
director Emily Mann.
So let me ask this: who is Broadway for? I mean, when we think about
sort of who -- we were just talking a bit about the audiences, who do you
think is out there in your audience? And by the way, you have two shows
today, right, a show in about an hour and then one tonight. So who do you
think is out there, and when you`re performing, are you aware of who that
UNDERWOOD: Yes, Broadway is for everybody. It has not historically
been for everybody. I think more African-Americans are coming to Broadway.
I think now statistically, I heard, 70 percent of the people that come to
Broadway are tourists from all over the world.
But it is for everybody. And different shows like this -- and that`s
why I love these producers, Steven Burton, Alia Jones and I think when Puff
Daddy did "Raisin in the Sun" a few years back, I know the creative
community was upset about that. Come on, Puff Daddy, Diddy doing "A Raisin
in the Sun." But what he did was --
UNDERWOOD: -- brought in a whole new audience. And those audiences
have returned over and over. So it`s -- and we`ve had pockets, you know,
"The Wiz," and throughout the years they have brought a black audience but
UNDERWOOD: (Inaudible), absolutely --
MANN: Absolutely, but with the sisters --
HARRIS-PERRY: (Inaudible), yes.
Yes. So let me sort of, oh, actually, I just want to do a random
Blair Underwood moment.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to tell the world -- no, I just want to tell the
world, because you cracked us up. As we were doing all our research, so
there`s this great piece by Jodi Kantor back in 2007, about President
And dead center in the middle of this article is this point that
apparently when Mr. Underwood was preparing for his role in "L.A. Law" he
went to hung out at Harvard with this guy, Barack Obama, which really just
cracked us up and it made it perfectly reasonable for you to be on a
Saturday morning news and politics show, because apparently your beloved
UNDERWOOD: (Inaudible) segue.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, because apparently your beloved character on
"L.A. Law" is actually built on the man who became president, Barack Obama,
which I think is pretty cool.
UNDERWOOD: Well, a little opposite, but yes, yes. It was kind of
ironic because my character was supposedly the president of the Harvard Law
Review. And people saw that and Harvard saw the name, invited us to the
school, and then I met him then. But it was kind of just a coincidence how
it worked out.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which -- I`m sorry, was just a random shoutout, but one
that I really --
HARRIS-PERRY: I did it. I did it. I am sorry. I went to a whole
other place, but honestly, we were just talking about TV and sort of your
"L.A. Law" role and the ways in which television encourages us to think
about characters in one way.
I`m wondering if part of what Broadway is for is for the intensity of
physically being in the room with the action. If there`s something that
happens in our understanding of human interactions of history, of these
stories, when we are in the room with it rather than it being mediated
MANN: And that`s also why we know one show is like another show.
Each one is unique because it is actually a conversation between what`s
going on on stage and who is in the audience. And we have all experienced
those quiet audiences and there`s one laugher.
And then other pockets might start. And that`s a different experience
than if you were having a totally quiet show or, as what Harris (ph) says,
the Laughter Olympics, which sometimes we have as well. How you experience
the play is very much being live, a live experience with a community.
HARRIS-PERRY: And can we generate greater empathy through the arts,
the empathy and the civility that we are missing in our political world, if
we were engaging in our artistic world in a different way, could it begin
to generate a human empathy that could slop over from our Broadway stage
into our congressional actions?
UNDERWOOD: I absolutely think it can. And it`s a great start, you
know, in starting with the arts. I mean, this production, you know, we, as
you know, have had some pushback initially from small pockets. And because
we are on a political show, I really do see whatever small resistance we
got from a vocal minority is analogous to the birthers. You know, they are
You can`t be Stanley because your body is not the body I imagine when
I imagine Stanley.
UNDERWOOD: Well, that, and there are people who very vocally -- you
know, we`ve said this before, but John Lahr from "The New Yorker" magazine,
who said before we started rehearsal, before we even came on the scene, he
said in his Christmas list, this is published, that he wanted, Dear Santa,
no more infernal all-black cast of Tennessee Williams unless I can have my
equal -- in folly -- an all-white cast of August Wilson.
So you have to know, for someone to say that and say it publicly and
not get any pushback from the theatrical community, because we know there
was no pushback, because he said there was pushback from the black
community, I said, well, where are your colleagues? You know you are
speaking -- you are preaching to a choir.
So that`s where there was a certain resentment in resistance to a
multicultural cast taking on Tennessee Williams. It is analogous to the
first African-American president, and the birthers doing whatever you can
to discredit this man.
There have been -- you know, let`s -- and I have to say, we`ve got a
lot of great reviews, some reviews were not so great, I`m told, because I
don`t read my -- I don`t read the reviews, but that`s fine. That`s
But you have to -- the bigger picture is when you`re walking into a
climate where people are predisposed to saying, I don`t want to see this.
Their critique is suspect because they want to do what they can to
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, and they don`t even want to see it initially.
UNDERWOOD: But it can start in the arts, that conversation, to answer
HARRIS-PERRY: That said, I loved it. And I was thrilled to have you
all here. Folks who are in the New York area should absolutely see it.
UNDERWOOD: Oh, that`s great. We only have three more weeks, we`re
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, July 26th. So maybe we`ll take the whole staff.
We`ll do it as a (inaudible).
And by the way, if poor Blanche had universal health care, then she
wouldn`t have had to go stay with Stanley and Stella in the first place.
HARRIS-PERRY: In just a moment, Nerdland goes Disney, but first it`s
the time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" hosted today by Richard
RICHARD LUI, NBC ANCHOR: More so, I got your brother all together.
(Inaudible) politics, right? All right. Dangerous and deadly, a heat wave
that spawned storms and power outages from the Midwest to the nation`s
The worst of it, people with no power and no air conditioning in 100-
plus degree heat. We`ve got that. Plus more fallout from the health care
Supreme Court decision. We will talk to one of Justice John Roberts`
We`ll also get reaction from the young man who was at President
Obama`s side when he signed that historic health care into law. His
reaction to the Supreme Court ruling.
And Dan Rather, his perspective on how the president`s health care
initiative might play in history and Melissa, we`re looking forward to
talking to you at 12:30. We`re going to talk about your very intensive and
lengthy interview with Nancy Pelosi, a lot of good tidbits from that and
the GOP`s fight to overturn the health care law.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Richard, I appreciate it.
And coming up, my daughter nominated our foot soldier this week, cold
from the Disney Channel, what a cartoon can do for universal health care.
That`s up next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sometimes because of some of the subjects we discuss, I
may suggest that you send any children present out of the room. But today
I`m doing the opposite. If there are any kids around, call them back into
the room right now, because they are very likely to be the best experts in
your house on this week`s "Foot Soldier."
Yesterday while we were in Washington, D.C., waiting to interview
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, my daughter, parker, played producer
and pitched me an idea for our "Foot Soldier." Now I had to listen,
because after all, she had a good news hook, this week`s historic health
Who was her suggestion? This young lady, Dottie "Doc" McStuffins.
Now I know that it is more than a little unconventional to honor a
fictional character as a Foot Soldier. But let me tell you a little bit
Young Dr. McStuffins is a 6-year-old girl whose mom is a real doctor.
Inspired by her mother`s career, Dottie is getting her own start in the
medical field by treating her toys, which come alive when she puts on her
pink stethoscope. And as Doc McStuffins likes to say, she hasn`t lost a
patient yet. Here she is giving a windup mermaid some triage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOC MCSTUFFINS: Jiggle now! Gone! Done it. My prescription is to
get a few winds on your winder upper.
LAMBIE: Let me help you.
MELINDA THE MERMAID(?): My tail is flapping!
DOTTIE: Now you should be able to swim.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The young doctor, whose show airs weekday mornings on
the Disney Channel is voiced by this young lady, Kiara Muhammad.
Now I couldn`t resist Doc McStuffins on a day when we talked with
Leader Pelosi, who shattered political barriers as the first woman Speaker
of the House, when we mused on whether women can indeed have it all and
when we explored how black actors are changing Broadway.
And then there was this reason, my 10-year-old daughter saying to me,
"Well, she`s a black girl doctor and you don`t see many black girl doctors.
That`s really cool."
So she may be a cartoon, but Doc McStuffins represents a little girl
who is beginning to think about where she can go in life, because she has
her mother as a role model, she can dream big. And so then can the little
girls and boys who watch her on TV.
She`s even inspiring black girls who have already grown up to be
doctors. This is Dr. Miesha Taylor (ph), a Texas emergency room physician,
who watches this show with her 4-year-old daughter. She`s holding a
collage of dozens of other black women doctors, surrounding an image of Doc
McStuffins. They see the value in Doc McStuffins because they know how
lonely their paths can be.
According to the American Medical Association, 2010 count out of
985,000 doctors in the United States, about 300,000 of which are women,
fewer than 19,000 are African-American women. That makes black women less
than 2 percent of all physicians in America.
That number can change in this cultural historic iconic moment as we
think about how this 5-4 Supreme Court decision will fundamentally affect
the ability of millions to seek and receive health care, we`re also hoping
that we`ll have a network of providers just as diverse as our population
throughout the country. Now we have Doc McStuffins to help us imagine what
that next generation may see.
And that is our show for today. Thank you to Blair Underwood and
Emily Mann for sticking around. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`ll
see you tomorrow morning, 10:00 am Eastern, when Congressman Emanuel
Cleaver is our guest on Nerdland and Friends. Kenji Yoshino, Katrina
vanden Heuvel and Mona Eltahawy join the conversation. Coming up,
"WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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