'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, September 22nd, 2012
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
September 22, 2012
Guests: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Imara Jones, Alex Wagner, Matt Welch, Willie Nelson, Ari Berman, Kristen Rowe-Finkbeiner, Brenda Gardner, Eddie Agosto
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST, "MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY": In spades,
they call it running a Boston. But if Democrats take it all in November,
we might change it to pulling a Chicago. And we`ve got some good news in
this weekend voter suppression.
Plus, Willie Nelson and the invisible part of the 47 percent. But
first, when is the last time the number 47 got this much attention?
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Sometimes, there are just
no words. Even for me, a college professor, simply no words to describe
the kind of political event like the one we witnessed this week. That is
no words except very, very big words like cognitive dissonance. Yes, it is
nerd land, so we are going to talk about cognitive dissonance. Why?
Because Cognitive dissonance is when one person holds multiple beliefs,
thoughts, or attitudes that are inconsistent with each other. And
cognitive dissonance seems like the best way to explain the muddle of ideas
expressed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a video that
emerged this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are 47 percent of the
people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right. There
are 47 percent who are with them, who are dependent upon government, who
believe that they are victims, who believe that the government has a
responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health
care, to food, to housing, to you name it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: Forget life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Mr.
Romney wants to cut all bonds of the social contract. Forget the most
basic human rights of health care, food, and housing. Mere entitlements of
the dependent class to Governor Romney. And this is where the murkiness of
cognitive dissonance lies. Romney is struggling to hold together two
inconsistent beliefs about the essence of the American condition at the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: As I point out, I recognize that among those that pay no
tax, approximately 47 percent of Americans, I`m not likely to be highly
successful with the message of lowering taxes. That`s not as attractive to
those that don`t pay income taxes as it is to those who do. And likewise,
those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of
slimming down the size of government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: In one breath, Romney dismisses nearly half of Americans.
Why? For shirking their civic responsibility of paying income taxes. That
47 percent who is too poor, to elderly, or spent too much of their lives
serving this country in the military to pay income tax. OK. So, paying
taxes is the most important duty Americans have. Except in the next
breath, Mr. Romney claims that any good, responsible American should
support him because he thinks people should pay less in taxes. Which is
Is paying taxes the patriotic duty of all citizens? Or are taxes a
job killing burden imposed by greedy bureaucrats? This type of cognitive
dissonance is common in the right wing discourse of the Republican Party.
And if you are a corporation that gets tax breaks, public subsidies,
government contracts, and favorable trade protections, then you built that.
But if you are a person-person rather than a corporation person and you get
tax breaks or food subsidies or veterans benefits, then you are undeserving
Cognitive dissonance is the only thing that can explain why Romney
would in one breath criticize President Obama because there are not enough
jobs and in the next breath, claim that the unemployed simply refuse to
work. It is cognitive dissonance that allows a man who inherits wealth and
privilege to demean anyone who doesn`t pull themselves up by nonexistent
boot straps. Cognitive dissonance that lead to Romney claim he believes in
meritocracy while handing out $200,000 in bonuses to top campaign ads who
clearly are not on their A-game.
But no matter how muddled and dissonant his reasoning is, I want to
pause for a moment and try to take Romney seriously. We have been asking
for the real Romney to please stand up. Well, here he is. Romney has not
called his 47 percent comments a gaffe. Just inelegant phrasing for what
he really believes. And in this case, we need to take Romney at his math.
Because his dissonance may in fact be his political platform and it`s a
radical one at that.
And writing off half of his country, Romney is giving as a peek at
his economic policy, one that says simply if you have, then you deserve it
and you deserve to keep all of it. If you don`t have, well, good luck.
Because no one owes you anything. Bonds of community and country
collective responsibility or even gratitude for years of services and labor
are unimportant. Only your economic productivity in this moment is what
matters. No matter how tough the economic conditions of this moment are.
And in contrast to what President Obama has learned by actually doing the
job of president, Romney wants to occupy the White House and make radical
change from the inside.
It takes some of that cognitive dissonance and just a dash of willful
blindness to insist that the economy will never recover without cuts. When
you see the -- the evidence that tax cuts do not necessarily lead to
economic growth. Sixty five year study. Once again, underscores the GDP
growth is correlated with tax increases. Not breaks. But that`s the thing
about cognitive dissonance. It just does not respond well to new evidence.
You just go on believing things that don`t really make a lot of sense.
Which maybe explains why the Romney campaign thought that this would be the
right time to release the candidate`s tax returns.
Here`s with me to put in perspective, the roller coaster of this week
is Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation" magazine.
And Imara Jones, economic justice contributor to Colorlines.com. MSNBC`s
Alex Wagner, host of "NOW WITH ALEX WAGNER." And Matt Welch, editor-in-
chief of "Reason" magazine. Thanks to everybody for being here.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST, "NOW WITH ALEX WAGNER": Thank you.
MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "REASON": Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Imara, I want to start with you. Because we were
talking a little bit before the show started that -- you know, I was --
saying this is cognitive dissonance. These two things don`t go together.
You were saying, actually, no, this makes perfect sense to you.
IMARA JONES, COLORLINES.COM: It is the one thing that actually ties
everything that Romney has done for the past year and a half together.
Because it is actually -- not -- a fact base as you said, it is a
philosophy. And it is a philosophy that`s rooted in the worst of America`s
economic history. That particular philosophy that says that some people
are worthy and other people are not and both that are not worthy are then
subjects to whatever those that are wish to do with them for them about
them is what is rooted back in the time when the United States was a slave
And so, with that thinking it is what allowed for blacks to be
dispossessed of their labor, Native Americans to be dispossessed of their
land. As a matter of fact Ayn Rand who supports Paul Ryan`s -- said that
Native Americans should be dispossessed of their property because they
hadn`t created an effective capitalist society in a thousand years.
PERRY: And of course, one of the thing I love about Ayn Rand is
ultimately in her old age, she took Social Security which, you know, I
suppose there is a story there about sort of -- how -- you know, we have
this sense that on the one hand we don`t know, you know, we want to make it
all on our own, we built that ourselves. And yet, we do tend to avail
ourselves of the help, of the assistance, that exists.
Matt, you wrote a little bit about this in your piece this week
around economic determinism suggesting that you should be the target
audience for what Romney was saying there. This claim about makers and
takers, you know, I love as you said. I never took the -- federally
guaranteed student loan, you never enjoyed the mortgage interest
deductions, all things that I as a taker, do. And you are worried about
government spending. And yet, there was still something that -- did not
sit right about this.
WELCH: Well, it is the determinism, it`s the statements that because
you fall into this income gap, that your vote, that your -- political
beliefs are fixed. That they don`t move. I mean, I just spent a week at
the Republican National Convention, every speech was about how -- oh, my
grandmother came over here or grandfather and it didn`t ask for a handout
and worked really hard and changed their station in life. Right? The
upward mobility, the American dream and all that kind of stuff. It is not
about stasis, it`s about dynamism.
Well, this is the absolute opposite of that. This is saying that
when I lived under the poverty line that my vote was, therefore,
predictable. That`s just not true. It is insulting, it doesn`t stand up
to any kind of measurement and it obscures an actual point that people
like me who want to reduce the size of government want to make. Which is
that it is more that it is politically difficult to cut back on things that
you give to taxpayers and this is a bipartisan issue. This is not a
republican or democratic issue.
The biggest single recipient of, you know, giveaways or whatever you
want to put it, benefits, from government, are the elderly. Its retirees
and they are Republicans. Vote republican by a large amount. So, that is
an interesting issue to talk about. Going after things like the mortgage
interest deduction which lower class people don`t receive because they
don`t buy houses. It is politically difficult and when we are borrowing 43
cents on every dollar, that is something to talk about but it is not
PERRY: But so is this part of the invisible state problem that,
like, we -- right, we see both stamps but we don`t see.
.our mortgage interest deduction?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, THE NATION: Well, I mean, what interests me
also, there was, I mean -- not only is there a cruelty in contempt to what
Romney said but there was a stupidity because as Matt points out he is
writing off voters who -- who his own voters, there is a misunderstanding
of the nature of how government works, how tax policy works. And with all
the attention to I think the ugly social policies, the dog whistle races,
and the ugly immigration policies, one thing that this tape, as you pointed
out, the real Romney is extremism and defensive privilege.
But -- yes, we have a submerged state, submerged government. There
was a lot of work done by a Professor Mettler (ph). There are people who
are receiving earned income tax credits. Other benefits like that which --
people are not necessarily aware of where it comes from government.
Therefore, it becomes easier to launch this anti-government attacks when in
fact, partly due to bipartisan support, because we have this low security,
low-wage market, politicians decided it was easier to do these kind of
submerged benefits as opposed to a more robust, I think, country where you
would have a stronger social safety net, as you see in the other -- many
other western industrialized countries.
PERRY: So, I`m wondering, is it bad politics? But even beyond
those, the policy like -- like, so, is it bad politics --
WAGNER: Well, based on this. When Peggy Noonan is writing in the
pages of "The Wall Street Journal," it is not just a bad campaign but a
ruling calamity. Then, you know, you have some problems. I mean, I think
-- what this has done -- setting aside the actual policy side of this which
is significantly questionable, given the fact that Mitt Romney`s father got
government handouts when he came here from Mexico and Paul Ryan`s mother
also got government help. It has exposed Romney as somewhat, furthers if
not -- narrative that Mitt Romney is basically wearing a top hat and
carrying around big money bags and that`s the real Mitt Romney.
This sort of elusive plutocrat who really only cares about quote,
unquote, "the takers." You know, for him to try and reverse that momentum
and keep in mind, Melissa, he released his tax returns yesterday which to
many people was exactly the wrong time to be bringing that question back to
the fore. He has some serious problems in his campaign. And now, we are
seeing sort of departure from his own party, there`s some real walking back
of Romney support and some real convincing he has to do with the donor
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And so, we`re going to talk about exactly this
issue of the taxes and also sort of the politics around this and more on
the policies. I want to take him at his word -- I`m not prepared to call
an election in September. So, if he is president, what does this end up
meaning for us? So, Romney is trying to re-steer his ship that would
possibly might be running on the ground. We`re going to look at those
long-awaited tax returns when we get back.
PERRY: On Friday, Mitt Romney tried to change the conversation of
his most terrible, horrible no good, very bad week worst ever. How? He
decided to release his long-awaited tax returns and it returns irrefutably
prove that Romney is definitely part of the 53 percent, the half of
Americans who do pay federal taxes. Mr. Romney contributed a hefty $1.9
million to public coughers in 2011 from his $13.7 million in earnings. But
don`t do the math just yet. Because Mitt Romney doesn`t want to you focus
on 14.1 effective federal tax rate that he paid.
Along with copy of his tax returns, the Romney camp posted a memo
from the family`s lawyer about the past 20 years of his returns stating --
the total federal and state taxes owed plus the total charitable donations
deducted represented 38.49 percent of total adjusted gross income. See.
He is not keeping it all! Giving to charity and paying his tax obligations
is one big Romney family Christmas gift to America. What do you think
guys? Is this the effective way to turn this conversation?
HEUVEL: Well, first of all, I mean, I think it was days and days
late, dollars short, still incomplete. But to me, Melissa, the biggest
question is -- the way he has done aggressive tax policy avoidance. Is
that how he would run his tax policy if he became president? And one thing
we don`t know from Mitt Romney, even though we now have seen the real Mitt
Romney in many ways, is he talks about closing tax loopholes. He won`t say
We do know that the one tax loophole which he won`t close is the one
that truly benefits the very rich which is this 15 percent tax on capital
gains and dividends in this private equity carried interest tax. And --
that is what kept his tax returns so low. If you do the summary, you
notice that our tax policy has become more aggressive because 10, 15 years
ago, the taxes on capital gains and dividends were close to 30 percent.
HEUVEL: This country`s tax system is perverse. We should tax wealth
more and work less. Work less.
HARRIS-PERRY: Work less.
WAGNER: What -- what is the logic of releasing this 20-year summary?
I mean, it is -- I would say political suicide but now the Obama campaign
can say, then why won`t you just release those 20 years? Why did you give
John McCain more information than you are going to give the American
public? Why would you keep that alive? Why would you wait until this
point? Early voting has started in swing states.
WAGNER: The notion that somehow this is going to laid to rest, the
question of Mitt Romney`s tax returns is totally ludicrous. You talk about
the political strategy here. There doesn`t seem to be any.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. But speaking of the strategy -- I want to -- on
"60 Minutes," Romney was asked about this sort of -- the CEO`s strategic
position that he`s, you know, positioned himself. Let`s listen to his
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You are the CEO of this campaign. A lot of
Republicans would like to know a lot of your donors would like to know how
do you turn this thing around? You have a little more than six weeks.
What do you do?
ROMNEY: Well, it doesn`t need a turnaround. We got a campaign which
is tied with the incumbent president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: All right. So, typically I dislike sort of, you know, the
political commentary being about whether or not you are running a good or
bad campaign because in a certain way, if you win everybody thinks you ran
a good campaign. And if you lose, everybody thinks you ran a bad one.
Even though you might have won a great one and lost. Right? But this
moment where he says the reason that you should elect me is because I`m a
good CEO, I`m a good decision maker and I can turn around companies, so we
have to ask, how do you turn around the campaign? And his response is --
it doesn`t even need a turnaround. Like it says that we can`t diagnose
that there is, in fact a problem here.
WELCH: Well, I wonder -- go ahead.
JONES: I think one of the problems, is that this isn`t a campaign
that`s only about politics or policy which a lot of times it does seem that
he divides things into these styles. It is actually about the vision for
the country and we are electing a person which is why the 47 percent
comments are so regulatory because they reveal the person and in that, the
release of the tax returns, which makes no sense politically whatsoever,
the 20 years, everything Alex said is totally out of bounds in terms of
someone who actually wants to occupy the White House.
But he doesn`t think he has to. He doesn`t actually think that he
has to reveal the way he made his money because all you need to know is
that he`s wealthy, he was a CEO, he knows what to do, he went to Harvard,
his dad was a governor. I`m a good person. That`s enough. But that`s
actually not enough.
(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)
WELCH: It is not enough. But you are not going to vote for him.
HEUVEL: Picking up on a very good point you made about how we are
electing a person. First of all, I hate the idea that America needs a CEO.
I mean, we are not a business unless he wants to offshore and outsource
this country. But -- we are not just electing a person. We are not just
electing a person. Mitt Romney, though disliked by a lot in the -- many in
the Republican Party, is a vehicle for forces. Like the Koch Brothers,
like Shelley Adelson. For those who -- let`s be honest, are investing
champ change in proportion to their wealth, in order to effect
deregulation, lower taxes, and a vision of an America that would set us
back and dismantle the civilizing events to this country, economically,
socially, culturally, politically. You can see I care deeply about this.
(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)
But he is not -- he is not just a person. He is a vehicle for those
WELCH: I would say he is a mirror. We have a great piece in Reason
by Peter Suderman`s talking about his role as a consultant. And he is the
consultant`s consultant. And by most accounts, he is very good at that
job. And what you do as a consultant as you go in and you say to someone
you flatter that person in order to get their business. You hold up a nice
mirror to them so that you can convince them to hand over the strategy to
this guy. And that`s what he has done for the Republican Party. His views
have been incoherent all along.
He avoids -- as Katrina pointed out, he does not actually have a very
specific tax plan. I don`t care about his tax returns. And I think most
people who are not going to vote for Barack Obama, which I am not for
Romney either, but don`t really care about his tax returns just like they
didn`t care about John Kerry`s tax returns in 2004 when Republicans cared
about that. It`s kind of a partisan thing that people get excited about.
They do care about what he`s going to actually do policy wise and he is so
intentionally vague on that because he doesn`t want to take a stand.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. They care about their -- remember, Americans
care about their tax returns. What is my tax return?
WAGNER: And they care about everybody playing by the rules and they
care about someone who is occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who thinks
about what is right for the country and what`s wrong for the country. The
fact is, Mitt Romney`s moral compass has been speeding every which way.
There is no true magnetic north. This all -- a wall of obfuscation that
has built around he`s built around his campaign gives nobody a sense that
they has a seat at the table that Mitt Romney is laying. There is no sense
that he wants to be the president of the United States because he has a
vision for the country and really wants to lift everybody up. That`s why
the comments that he`s going to be the president of the 100 percent are
ludicrous. I think that`s what it sounds. But it makes no sense.
PERRY: Great. Because this is the key point, right? That you do --
I mean, strategically, nobody campaigns for 100 percent of the votes.
Right? I mean, that is a reasonable campaign strategy. Do not try to get
100 percent of the people to vote for you. But it was the sound about the
notion that he also would somehow not govern for the 100 percent, that felt
-- I -- that was the key.
WAGNER: -- myself with these people. I mean --
JONES: But he does have a plan. I think the vicious, also not true.
I mean, the tax policy center has scored his tax plan. It is $9.6 trillion
in cuts in eight years. If you go to his Web site and you look at his fair
tax plan and you add in his promise to balance the budget, that`s the
number. And it includes $5 trillion tax cuts for people like him, rolling
back the estate tax by 30 percent, by eliminating the estate tax over $5
million. On and on and on. It includes a 40 percent increase in the
defense budget. Give a ways to an industry that overwhelmingly benefits
Republicans. And so, he does have the tax plans and he`s -- he tried not
to be vague. But in the course of running for president over the -- and
the 47 percent reveals it.
WELCH: I mean, by saying he supports Cut, Cap and Balance, that
doesn`t show you how he`s going to do. So, if you score that --
(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)
HEUVEL: There is a faith-based quality that Mitt Romney tax plan.
Because if you believe that he cares about deficit reduction which we hear
ad nauseam, and you look at -- what you just described as his tax plan, it
is not about deficit reduction. It is about moving around the tax code to
benefit and to harm those --
HARRIS-PERRY: Not that you and I care about the deficit reduction per
se but --
HEUVEL: We don`t. But our goal would be.
(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)
PERRY: Everybody stay right here. We are not going away, there is
more on this. But I do need to do a quick reminder because I`m really
excited. Tomorrow, I`m going to be hosting this special edition of this
show. It will be a student town hall as part of NBC`s education nation
summit from the New York Public Library in Midtown, Manhattan. That`s
tomorrow, Sunday at10:00 Eastern Time. And up next -- going down, it`s
down ballot that is.
HARRIS-PERRY: Until Governor Romney released his 2011 tax returns
Friday afternoon, we spent pretty much the entire week obsessing over the
number 47. Forty seven as in 47 percent. As in the approximately 47
percent of American voters who pay no income tax. Who Mitt Romney said,
consider themselves victims, defend upon government largess and will
certainly vote for President Obama come November.
Amazingly on Thursday, we saw that the two presidential contenders
were tied at 47 percent in Gallup`s weekly rolling average poll. Now, that
is just one poll. And it is about as good as it has gotten lately for
Governor Romney. In general, the latest numbers are looking a lot worse
for him. And for many of his fellow Republicans hoping to win in November.
Twenty five seats, that`s the net gain the Democrats need to take
back control of the House of Representatives. Now, it is not expected but
it is also not impossible. On the other hand, four seats, just four, is
all that Republicans need to take control of the Senate. And they have
lots of chances. Twenty three. That`s the number of senators who either
are Democrats or caucus with Democrats who are up for re-election. That is
a lot of turf to defend, folks, 77.7 percent.
That`s the chance that "The New York Times" political prognosticator,
538 Nate Silver gives Democrats of holding on to their fairly slim majority
in the Senate. That prediction is way up from the 39 percent chance that
Silver`s models gave Democrats of retaining the Senate just a month ago.
So, the latest polls explain the change. 4.4 percent is the lead that
former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine holds over fellow former Virginia
governor republican George Allen. Yes. That`s one.
It is the state`s Senate race, according to Real Clear politics
polling average. Now, 2.6 points is the margin by which democratic
challenger Elizabeth Warren currently leads incumbent republican Senator
Scott Brown in the years most talked about Senate race. But also, there`s
the 2.6 points that Nevada republican Dean Heller leads Democrat Shelley
Berkley in Nevada`s Senate race. So, the numbers are largely trending
towards the, 5.3 points.
That`s how far back republican Todd Akin, he of the legitimate rape
comments, has fallen behind democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. And
despite a deluge of spending from outside groups, 7.2 percent is the
average deficit that Ohio republican Josh Mendel still faces in his fight
to unseat democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. So, you may have noticed that
a number of these races involve women.
Well, 18 candidates for the Senate, that`s 12 democratic women
running either to retain or gain a seat along the six Republicans. A
hundred and sixty three women candidates for the House. A hundred and
sixteen Democrats and 47 Republicans. So, in a year when both houses of
Congress could change hands, one re-elected president, plus the number of
women running, just could be the arithmetic that determines the ultimate
balance of power. More on that, next.
PERRY: The one down ballot race at the top of the nation`s political
mind made more news on Thursday night. When democratic upstart, Elizabeth
Warren, debated incumbent Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown in their first
debate. After Senator Brown finished remarking about her Native American
heritage and calling her professor, as if it were an insult, right?
Harvard Law Professor Warren cited one reason why races like hers are so
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH WARREN, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: The way I see this is, is
that Roe versus Wade is settled law, women should be able to count on this.
This really may be a race for control to the Senate. And the Supreme Court
may very well hang in the balance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: So, there`s a lot more at stake in November than just who
will be the next president. As republican obstructionism has shown us in
the past few years, which also at stake is how effective that president
will be in doing the work of governing.
Joining me now to discuss the down ballot races, The Nation`s Katrina
vanden Heuvel, Imara Jones of Colorlines.com. MSNBC`s Alex Wagner. And
Reason magazine`s Matt Welch.
All right. We talk a lot about the presidential races. When we talk
about, talk about, talk about, talk about, but the fact is, down ballot
races as we just heard from Elizabeth Warren, this might be where the real
governing is happening.
HEUVEL: Well, I think there are three elections this year, there`s
the presidential, the Senate, and the House races. And I -- I thought
Senator Warren -- jumping ahead. Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Warren, was
very savvy, very smart, and -- linking, yoking, tying Scott Brown to the
national Republican Party. Because Mr. Brown has gotten -- Senator Brown
has gotten a pass from Mitch, my man and Senator DeMint in taking votes he
needs to take to stay viable in Massachusetts. Even though he`s tried to
get Dodd/Frank, the attempt to reform Wall Street, et cetera.
I think also she brought up an issue that is too often under the
radar for progressives, The Nation just published something, an issue
called the one percent court. Which is about how the court has become a
court for corporations, of corporations, by corporations, shafting ordinary
people, and Elizabeth Warren`s stake to the Senate should be first defense
of ordinary people, working, living in a rigged system for the benefit of
the one percent and the Mitt Romney.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it is so hard -- I mean, the situation that we
currently find ourselves in is because we had the -- typical surge and
decline. Everybody shows up for the 2008 election. And then stays home
for 2010. How do we get Americans to say, yes, there is this big
presidential race, this guy that we are voting for at the top? This
person. This personality. But the much bigger issues of governing may be
happening at your much more local level.
WAGNER: Well, you know, one of the things that I thought was good
for driving that point home was when we focused on women`s health and --
legislation targeting women`s reproductive freedoms. And I`m not just
talking about the choice stuff, but, you know, the transvaginal ultrasound
stuff. Scott Brown is the co-sponsor of the Blunt Amendment. I mean, the
fact is, they have been, sort of Todd Akin did us all the service and as
far as he sort of pulled back the curtain on what`s actually been happening
in Congress and the kind of laws that the republican Congress has been
passing while nobody has basically been paying attention.
And I thought that was good as far as a wakeup call to the nation.
Like you have to pay attention to what is going on here. It is not just
that the system is broken and they can`t get budget passed. There is
draconian legislation going on that is being passed by one party. It isn`t
being made law because -- you can`t get it -- you can`t get it passed the
JONES: I also think that going back to the person matters that
Democrats have great candidates. I mean, they show that the people running
matters and one of the reasons why Elizabeth Warren is surging is because
she reads authentic. After having an entire summer being bashed for being
inauthentic when one actually sees her, she reads great, down home and
people respond to that. And I also think that the surge of the Democrats
right away across the board shows the successful use of the convention to
nationalize the Senate races and to nationalize the elections.
Democrats did a much better job of using the convention to showcase
their Senate candidates and that all got played and one minute, two-minute
segments at home and it just read well. She was the warm-up act by her own
words for Bill Clinton -- up for Elvis. And that -- that showed -- that
made it -- made a difference.
WELCH: I think Elvis, aside, who is remarkable at the convention, the
problem Democrats and progressives have is that the wind is not in their
sails right now. Reality has not been their friend. Just to lived-in
economic reality under democratic governance has not been as good as
Democrats themselves had promised all along the way. And that is an actual
problem. There is an enthusiasm. If you look at where there has been
tangible and sort of new political enthusiasm in the process, and I would
include Scott Brown in that, you know, when he first got elected. Not now
as much. It has not come from people getting excited about progressive
ideas. It has come from --
HEUVEL: Hasn`t been a chance. Let`s be honest. We -- the scale of
our problems have not been met adequately yet. There is a jobs bill that
is in the Senate that is being obstructed by Republicans. There are all
kinds of measures and programs that could have been taken whether
infrastructure building or jobs build.
PERRY: I think we are actually seeing some evidence that says, there
is some enthusiasm coming back. And I think, as you point out, I think war
on women was part of it, obviously the McCaskill/Akin piece is part of that
shift but I got to say the Virginia --
HEUVEL: The Virginia one is unbelievable.
HARRIS-PERRY: The Virginia one is just blowing my mind.
HEUVEL: The gender gap in Virginia is staggering. There was -- I
mean, Kaine is leading I believe by 14 percent among women. So is Obama.
And in 2008, he and McCain, I believe, tied for the women`s vote.
Virginia`s been ground zero as you pointed out for the intrusive odious
assault on women`s bodies and you have an attorney general who I think is
going to be a factor. He is attempting to shut down the remaining abortion
clinics in Virginia through -- some, you know, regulations about
reclassifying abortion clinics as -- as hospitals. But -- it has been so
transparent that we may see a baked-in, as you put it earlier in the show
gender gap for a generation or more to come if there is a Republican Party
doesn`t get on the --
WELCH: I think it`s important.
WELCH: .to think about, one, in terms of abortion, is that unsettled
law. Another person who agree was Elizabeth Warren --
WAGNER: It is not just abortion.
WELCH: I know. I know.
WAGNER: It`s contraception, it`s women`s health. It is a whole set
of issues. And it`s economics.
WELCH: Right. And they`re happening much more on a local and state
level and in very insidious ways that you point out. But John Roberts
believes that Roe versus Wade is settled law, too. I think people, you is
in understandable that they get excited about. I`m pro-choice, too. But
ultimately, that is, you know, it is probably not -- we`re not going to see
Roe versus Wade --
HARRIS-PERRY: But Ginsburg is going to go out -- highly likely,
right, that -- Ginsburg is not going to be any more part of the Supreme
Court during the next presidency. Right? And so --
HEUVEL: The next president, I think -- the ability to make three or
four court appointments. Ruth Bader Ginsburg who is extraordinary 79 and
not in good health.
WAGNER: -- Discuss in terms of what is on the table as far as, you
know, the forces shaping the American electorate.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there`s even more stuff on the table that`s totally
tripping me out. We spent some time looking at some stuff that was really
down, down, down ballot. I can`t even -- Alabama. So, up next, when you
vote in November, and you are going to vote, right? In certain states, you
are going to be voting on something much more important than a candidate.
Seriously. Come back. I want to tell you about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Only one down the ballot from President Obama and
Governor Mitt Romney this fall, you are. Yes, you, let me explain. If you
are gay and live in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota or Washington State, your
freedom to marry whomever you love and have that marriage legally
recognized is on the ballot. What other things that impact Americans
directly is at the deep, dark bottom of the ballot. Here again, my panel.
All right. I was tripping on the things that people are voting on.
Down the ballot. In Alabama, I`m sorry, this -- this just kills me. In
Alabama, apparently Jim Crow in -- in terms of referencing segregation and
schools and also the poll tax are still currently in the state
constitution. Alabama voters are going to get an opportunity to vote on
whether or not they would like Jim Crow to still be in instantiated in
their state`s constitution. We have an Arizona land seizure piece sort of
down the ballot. We`ve got capital punishment in California. Will these
things drive in a way that affects the up ballot or the up ballot drive it
in a way that then impacts those down ballot races?
WELCH: I think it is a separate thing at this point. People using
the ballot initiative process, particularly in the west, to circumvent
government. In fact, you know, the Alabama thing is a way of saying I
don`t like what our government has done and expunge that. I`m super
excited about marijuana legalization which is on the ballot. Full
legalization in Colorado, Washington and Oregon. That is the beginning of
the end of the drug war. Just like prohibition ended when New York win an
open revolt. If it passes in Colorado, then the federal government is
going to have to decide whether or not it is going to try to enforce its
own laws over the express wishes of an entire state. That is so
HEUVEL: I join with Matt in support of those initiatives. Marijuana
legalization, absolutely. The drug war has failed. But boy, if you think
this is going to change the course of that without some additional federal
transnational pressure, I`m excited and I do think we have seen in the last
three or four election cycles where the initiatives have brought out people
of energized people, I`m thinking of the minimum wage initiatives, a few
cycles ago, one was in Florida. But there`s -- you talked about a really
odious one, I hate to ask what the poll numbers look like in Alabama.
HARRIS-PERRY: I know, I`m afraid.
HEUVEL: With all due respect to the good state of Alabama. But
there`s some progressive initiatives.
HEUVEL: There is one in Michigan about -- it`s called protect our
jobs which is an attempt to restore collective bargaining. There is one in
Montana which is to try and overturn the Supreme Court`s overturning of the
state ban on corporate contributions. So, these are interesting ones that
I think --
(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)
WAGNER: This -- I mean, this is something that`s done every election
cycle. As you just say, you put initiatives on the ballot to gin up
turnout. I mean, there is a strategy here. I mean, with gay marriage,
with something like a Jim Crow peace in Alabama. This is an effort to get
a certain part of the electorate out to the polls. Now, with I think
divisive measures like the Jim Crow thing that, you know, and we`ve seen
with gay marriage, it is sometimes -- it does not favor the progressive
side of the coin which is to say conservatives come out in force and,
therefore, to your question, does this then insert, you know, influence up
ballot? Yes, you could see that being a -- you know, a good thing for Mitt
Romney at the end of the day.
HARRIS-PERRY: Although marriage equality this time looks like it may
pass. Well, I mean, the Maryland piece that shift that occurred when the
President said, didn`t change policy but said that he was in support of
marriage equality and next thing you saw in Maryland shifted on him.
JONES: I mean, it shows the power of the presidency which one of the
thing -- it seems that the President has screwed into by his own admission
late into the power of the bully pulpit. But it shows that presidential
words matter that they do have that ability to influence policy and that`s
an important thing to not forget and that it will turn given, you know, the
controversy during football and all the rest of it. And I`m sure watching.
The other thing, though, on -- going back to the Alabama conversation, I
mean, the Alabama constitution is a relative history anyway. So, Jim Crow
might should stay in it just for historical reference.
It was the model for the apartheid constitution in South Africa in
1948. And so.
.exactly. And so, you know, they`re doing -- they are doing history
a favor. But one thing that`s also important to think about the weight of
these -- ballot initiatives are used, study done by progressives in
California and every off-year election, the electorate is totally
PERRY: Yes. Right.
JONES: That the people who show up -- and off years are the same
people that show up in other years. And so I think that we have to be
careful about using and manipulating the down ballot process in off years
and in general to legislate because we are manipulating the electorate.
PERRY: Yes. And only in nerd land, you get a progressive making an
argument to keep Jim Crow in a state constitution just for the value of
history. Alex, thank you so much for being here. All right. Living
WAGNER: Thanks for having me.
PERRY: Thank you so much for being here. And I know, you have to
go. Because you have got to get ready because Alex is also hosting a
special education nation show titled The Parent Teacher Association airing
tomorrow, Sunday on MSNBC at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.
And Up next, started more than 25 years ago raised millions of
dollars. Their mission, to keep family farmers on their land. Musician
Willie Nelson, of Farm Aid, is on the road again, and he is here to talk
with us. next.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was 27 years ago today when musician Willie Nelson
played in the first ever farm aid concert in champagne, Illinois. A
fundraiser for family farmers. And the event organized by Nelson along
with fellow musicians Neil Young and John Mellencamp raised more than $9
million. Farm aid became Nelson`s passion to help America`s farmers. And
this year, he is on the road again. This year`s event is being held today
in Hershey Park, Pennsylvania where Willie Nelson himself is standing by
via Skype from his tour bus. We`re going to get to Mr. Nelson in just one
moment. I want to ask my folks still sitting here at the table, the farm
bill is currently part of our political discourse. What`s going on? Why
no farm bill? What is holding this up?
HEUVEL: Well, I just want to say, I had the chance a few years ago to
visit with John Mellencamp and the passion he and Willie Nelson and others
who founded farm aid have was about the foreclosures sweeping family farms.
This was before the foreclosure crisis which affected all of America. But
it is also about the importance of family farmers and family farms. And I
don`t think as much as I know about the farm bill that this farm bill is
doing a lot for those people. I mean, it is a real agri-business.
JONES: I mean, it`s caught up in the debate over the -- seven
percent. Right. The question is centered on food stamps and food support
and that whole host of things that benefit the people about, you know, say
that they are entitled to food according to Governor Romney.
HARRIS-PERRY: There was that great moment when Romney said, people
think they are entitled to food.
JONES: You name it.
JONES: One of his cars maybe. But I think -- that`s -- that`s the
problem. Once again, it shows the impact of the ideology and the
Republican Party getting in the way of getting things done for the American
people. And that`s what is causing the problem this year.
HEUVEL: But it`s also about corporate power as we see it through the
prism of an area of too many don`t see. And I think that`s been the power
of farm aid.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have Shirley Sherrod on last week. And we`re really
talking about, how is it that in our conversations about poverty in this
country, we have very few, but when we do have them, they are almost --
exclusively about urban poverty and we have not bought nearly enough about
what is going on in terms of rural poverty. Is there a way that this 47
percent conversation might move us back to a broader conversation about who
is truly for in America?
JONES: I think that that`s it. I mean, the fascinating thing is that
most of the people in this country who don`t earn enough to live work. And
that`s the reason why there is no contribution on the federal income tax.
They do play the regressive 15 percent payroll tax which is more than
Governor Romney`s tax rate. But that`s an important point the keep in mind
is that one out of three people in this country are poor and either close
to poverty, work and don`t make enough to live. One out of three.
HEUVEL: Shame of this nation that that`s the case. And the fact
that there isn`t as much attention as there should be in this campaign to
the poor, I mean, every morning you wake up, this, again, is urban. But it
is about poverty in the Washington, D.C., area. In the -- just a few days
ago, it was a story about growing poverty in this city, growing inequality.
It should be on the agenda especially as a middle class and the working
poor confront even tougher problems.
HARRIS-PERRY: And when we come back, hopefully we will be able to get
Mr. Nelson -- he`s had a few technical difficulties. And when we are going
to come back, we`re going to bring Willie Nelson in. Please stay with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I am Melissa Harris-Perry on the now
fully functional Melissa Harris-Perry set. And right now, I want to bring
in a very special guest who is joining us via Skype from his tour bus in
Hershey, Pennsylvania. Country music legend and founder of Farm Aid,
Willie Nelson. Mr. Nelson, thank you so much for being here.
WILLIE NELSON, CO-FOUNDER, FARM AID: Thank you, Melissa. Glad to be
here. How are you today?
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m great. And I`m excited because I know that this
is farm aid and I know that, you know, this conversation about the 47
percent over the course of the past week, you are supporting President
Obama in this election year. What was your reaction when you heard Mr.
Romney`s comments about the 47 percent and the family farmers that you are
hoping to help?
NELSON: Well, I think a lot of people are were a little stunned to
hear that coming from a presidential -- you know, guy who wants to be
president of the United States. He should be a little more informed, I
The farmers out there are really needing some help. And they need --
there is a drought. We need to get more young farmers back on the land.
That`s -- mainly the message we are -- pushing this year. We need to
figure out ways for farmers to get loans, where they can put young kids
back out on the farms.
You know, the same thing happened in Russia a few years ago where
they took all the land away from the farmers. And then they didn`t know
what do with it and then they started trying to give it back and then the
young farmers said the heck with you. We don`t want to farm. There`s
month money in it now. You ran our parents out of the business.
So, basically, we are trying to keep that from happening over here.
We need to get young farmers back on the land.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, I know it`s only the beginning of fall
but folks may have already forgotten that we had a serious drought. Talk
to me about how that drought impacted these family farms that you are
NELSON: Well, it wasn`t bad enough, of course, the drought came
along and -- made it many times over worse. And -- this is the worst
drought that we`ve had in 50 years, I think. And -- the farmers need help.
We need them to get help because they are the guys that grow our food for
us and our fuel. So we need to keep those guys working out there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about the good food movement. What is
NELSON: Well, mainly we are just trying to let people know that the
-- there are good ways to grow food out there. You know, when you look at
your breakfast table this morning, most of the stuff you are eating came
from 1,500 miles away. That doesn`t have to be the case. There are
farmers right around you who can grow farm-to-markets are a great way to
help yourself and help the food supply and help the economy and help feed
your family healthy food.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Nelson. I so appreciate you taking a
few moments and all of us will be remembering the Farm Aid concert and you
can see the webcast of the concert tonight and behind the scenes footage on
Farm Aid at farmaid.org. Thank you.
NELSON: Thank you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, we are going to shift gears now and jump into our
regular segment, the one we like to call "this week in voter suppression."
A new Pew poll released this week reports that voter engagement with
the election has boosted the number of Americans who say they definitely
plan to vote on November 6th -- the same levels as 2008. These are
surprising numbers given the organized efforts to suppress the vote that we
have been talking about for weeks.
But unsurprising if you understand how Americans have historically
responded to being disenfranchised, because whatever Mitt Romney may say
behind closed doors, Americans have not believed that we are victims. When
it comes to resisting those efforts to stop them from voting, Americans
have not acted like victims either. When black people in the South were
confronted with poll taxes designed to stop them from voting, they pulled
together their limited resources and tried to pay those taxes. They
studied for tests, even though it was almost impossible to pass them.
And from the end of Jim Crowe through today, when Americans have been
faced with barriers to their right to vote, they have never stopped trying
to jump over those barriers.
With me, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation"
magazine, Imara Jones; economic justice contributor to colorlines.com;
Kristen Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director, CEO and co-founder of
momsrising.org; and Ari Berman, contributing writer for "The Nation"
magazine and author of "Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the
Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics." Thanks, everybody.
Ari, you have been on this issue so much so that we were looking at
this amazing photograph that you took in Pennsylvania at the PennDOT office
where people were trying to go to get their valid ID, and it`s just not how
long people have to sit and wait. That is people trying to get their right
to vote back by getting these IDs.
What are you seeing out there?
ARI BERMAN, THE NATION: Absolutely. I was just in Pennsylvania last
week. And there`s a lot of horror stories from the ground. There`s
extremely long lines at the PennDOT, the Department of Transportation
Offices where people have go to go to get voter IDs, voters are very
confused about what the law is. Law has been amended about five times
since it passed in March.
The state is totally unprepared to implement the law. I think you
can charitably describe their position as willful incompetence. And
there`s a simple problems as Bill Clinton would say, of arithmetic here,
which is that according to the state, 9 percent of registered voters don`t
have the ID they need to be able to vote. State says it is 1 percent.
ACLU says it is 12 percent.
The judge in Pennsylvania said who upheld the law in the lower court
said it is somewhere between somewhere. It`s higher than 1 percent of
registered voters that don`t have ID and it`s lower than 9 percent. That
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Ari, talk about this judge. I want -- we have
been sort of following this case. Tell us what happened this week in terms
of it going back to this judge.
BERMAN: Sure. What the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did is they
didn`t uphold the law and didn`t overturn it the. They found a third way
and John Roberts compromise, which they vacated the lower court ruling and
sent it back to the lower court and said you need to look very specifically
at whether the state is doing enough to got people IDs.
And this is what I was -- the point I was going to make, which is
that somewhere between 100,000 to 500,000 voters, according to the judge
that upheld the law, don`t have that ID. But PennDOT, Department of
Transportation, has issued only 9,000 voter IDs. So, there is a staggering
gap between the number of people who need -- get --
HARRIS-PERRY: The low end of 100,000. So it could be half a
million. But the -- even lower than 100,000 and 9,000 IDs had been --
BERMAN: And that`s since March. So you just do the math. There`s
no way that PennDOT is going to get there. They asked in the lower court
trial they asked -- a person from the Department of Transportation -- how
many IDs do you plan official issuing? He said less than 10,000.
So, that leaves a 90,000 person gap according to the low estimates of
the number of people that need goat IDs. People are not going to be able
to vote in Pennsylvania because of this law. That`s according to the math.
That`s not according to a theory we have of the case. That`s according to,
as Bill Clinton would say, arithmetic.
And this I think is exactly the key about this question that`s a
voter suppression effort. Not a voter fraud issue. Because if we know
these are folks that have voted previously, we have no reason to believe
they have behaved fraudulently, and there is somewhere between, you know,
100,000 minus 10,000, right, or 500,000 who will not be able to vote, that
is just sort of empirically voter suppression.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, THE NATION: I mean, as Ari reported on this
and all us at the table, I think, you are more likely to be struck by
lightning than --
BERMAN: Thirty-nine more times struck by lightning.
VANDEN HEUVEL: This is a solution in search of a problem. And I
think it is staggering in 2012, particularly, by the way, as America goes
around the world preaching democracy and this is not a left/right issue.
We are seeing attempts not to enhance and encourage voting but to suppress
It seems to me that there are -- we need a democracy stimulus
package. And there are simple things we should be doing like universal
voter registration, more complicated to make constitutional amendment to
vote. Gillibrand, Senator Gillibrand, and the important John Lewis, great
civil rights voice, representative from Georgia, have put forward a Voter
So these are steps that could be taken very simply. And if I might,
our two publications, "ColorLines" and "The Nation", have in the last year
dawn voting rights watch. Where you can go and communities of color on
September 25th, voter registration day, are using technology to help
register people. I think our -- our -- what we need do right now in the
face of what is going on in places like Pennsylvania is direct people to
places like Color of Change or Voto Latino. How do you register?
Because the hurdles are not going to be lifted by a Republican Party
which has decided its future is going to be staked on voter suppression.
HARRIS-PERRY: The nature of the poll tax, when it`s implemented, the
only way to get those folks out is you have to pay the poll tax whether
it`s fair or not.
IMARA JONES, COLORLINES.COM: Couple of things. One, first of all,
we spoke about the Alabama constitution as relic of the past. I mean, this
is a living relic. I mean, the relic hasn`t gone anywhere.
And it`s designed for the same purpose. This is a suppression
effort, because unless there is a dramatic change in the Republican Party,
demographics are on their side. So, this is an attempt to remake the
electorate, taking out certain jelly beans to make the whole jar a certain
And it`s problematic. And I think one of the things that Breton Mack
(ph) has written about is the way this shifts the burden from the state
having to ensure that people have the right to vote to people having to
prove that they have the right to participate. And this goes back to the
47 percent comment about who`s worthy and who`s not.
And this disproportionately impacts the people in the 47 percent, the
piece in the earlier this week in "The Washington Post." There`s a woman,
I think, her name is Cheryl Moore (ph). She works the night shift at a
hospital. She took out six hours and there`s no way that 90,000 people who
are working at $20,000 a year are able to take out six hours between now
and Election Day to go get a vote.
HARRIS-PERRY: And particularly -- this was "The Washington Post" was
about this woman who -- 30 years, she had been voting, that`s -- that kind
of time, particularly in that people are working folks.
KRISTEN ROWE-FINKBEINER, MOMSRISING.ORG: Exactly. And -- as a
representative of moms rising we know three-quarters of moms are in the
labor force. Election Day is already on a Tuesday. It is hard to get that
time off. To make it even harder is a significant problem.
Election Day is the one day that we are all equal. That rich or
poor, no matter where you are from, no matter if you are male or female, we
all have one vote. And that`s an important day for us all to make. Our
voices heard, so we can live in the true democracy that we are raising our
children in and that we are teaching our children is their civic duty to
So to have laws that are disenfranchising specific types and groups
of people, students, elderly, women of color, men of color, and low-income
people, is absolutely undemocratic and I think that it`s actually the true
voter fraud is in these laws that are being put out there.
The exciting news is what you said at the beginning. That is people
are fired up. They`re planning to vote. We are hearing they are going to
take on this obstacle and they`re going to vote anyway.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to come to exactly one of these groups
and one you represent. So, clearly which is the fact that there is a tax
on being a woman at this point, particularly in Pennsylvania but around all
of these laws. If you are a woman, and you are recently married,
congratulations! Are you sure you can still vote? That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: So by now, we should all be familiar with the list of
voters who are the target of disenfranchisement from restricted voting
laws, elderly, people of color, disabled, students. All of these groups
are the least likely to have government-issued voter ID and bear the
heaviest burden of the laws.
But there`s another group of voters missing from that list. And they
are the ones who are the most likely to be without the proof of citizenship
showing their current name, women. Laws requiring a voter`s legal name to
match the name on their photo ID could pose a problem at the polls for
women who have changed their names or addresses, due to marriage or
divorce, and women face considerable barriers to even getting a valid ID,
34 percent of voting age women with access to proof of citizenship have no
documents with their current legal name.
According to the Brennan Center, that means as many as 32 million
voting-age women without these documents will not be able to vote in these
Back to my panel.
All right. Pennsylvania, Ari, we are looking at from the governor
and the secretary of the commonwealth some frequently asked questions about
a substantially conforming voter ID. And if your guy, Joseph E. Voter,
there`s a bunch of different ways your name can show up, it can be Joe, for
J., or Earl.
If you`re a woman, though, and there`s a little asterisk at the
bottom, in this example about Margaret Smith Voter, a voter who recently
changed her name by reason of marriage presents a valid Pennsylvania
driver`s license or Pennsylvania ID card, accompanied by a PennDOT update
card which is sufficient to satisfactory the requirements of the voter ID
law. You need not one but two forms of ID if you are -- there`s officially
a tax on being a woman in Pennsylvania if up want to vote.
BERMAN: Well, and this issue of substantial conformity if our -- are
you who you say you are, could be the hanging chad of 2012, because there`s
going to be a lot of confusion. In Pennsylvania, there`s 9,300 different
polling places. There`s 31,000 poll workers. They each have individual
discretion in implementing this law. So, we are talking about at the very
least a lot of chaos on Election Day.
According to the ACLU study of people who don`t have voter IDs, 11
percent of registered voters who are men don`t have IDs, but 17 percent of
women don`t have IDs. So women are more likely than men not to have voter
IDs in a place like Pennsylvania, elderly African-American women in
particularly have a lot of problems --
BERMAN: -- because they might not drive. They might not have had a
driver`s license. They might never have a birth certificate because
they`re born in segregated hospital.
HARRIS-PERRY: They were elderly, may not --
BERMAN: Their name may have changed because they were married and
So, there`s a whole number of reasons why women could have problems
conforming to this law.
I have to say that the good aspect of it is that women have really
been at the forefront in fighting these laws. I was at a training of the
league of women voters. They have been around for a long time doing this
work. They`re having to jump through all these new hurdles for no reason.
But they are out there mobilizing their constituents and educating people
about the law.
But there are a lot of difficulties inherent in the law itself.
HARRIS-PERRY: This feels like the one exciting or good piece of news
in this crazy town madness of this -- of this voter ID is, man, once you
have women organized and they feel like that -- a sort of a cross race,
across-class, that women are being taxed on this, I mean, that`s when you
see pink ribbons and as you were saying fired up battleground stuff, right?
Is this the moment when the coalition gets big enough?
ROWE-FINKBEINER: This is absolutely that moment. One thing that`s
important is that for this year, it is the first time that we are networked
online using new communication in ways we have never used before. Ninety
percent of people are now online, 90 percent. Thirty-six million women are
active either writing or reading blogs.
This means that our communication networks about how to vote, about
how to make a plan to vote, about how to make your friends and family
assure they can vote are advanced beyond comparison to the last
presidential election. And we are seeing people fired up and ready to go
I do want to add that there`s also a phone number if you are watching
in Pennsylvania, you are worried about whether you can vote or not, there`s
a number 1-866-OUR-VOTE. This is a phone number that is pulled together by
a coalition of 160 organizations from the Election Protection Coalition led
by the Lawyers` Committee and Civil Rights Under Law.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, you end up then with these sort of old-
fashioned forms of voter registration like the League of Women Voters.
These new forms that enter in through technology.
I just -- there`s something about sort of talking about the voter
suppression and needing to point out to so many folks at home who say, well
why don`t you just go get an ID like -- why is this hard? Why would this
be a burden? I have one.
And, you know, it -- every time I see one of these pieces like if you
are elderly, you may not have the birth certificate, that if you are a
woman and may have gotten married since your registration or divorced and
your name may have changed or your address may have changed, if you are a
transgender individual and you self-present as something different than
what your ID is and people are using their discretion to decide whether or
not you are Joe versus Jane Voter. I mean, in each of these cases, it is
not the likelihood of fraud, it`s simply your identity, simply who you are,
that is then taxed and you are unable to vote.
Can we -- can we finally get sort of bipartisan determination from
the folks at the top who are implementing this? To say you know what, we
are -- there`s too much cost to our democracy for doing this.
VANDEN HEUVEL: There have been decades of work to make voting
easier. I`m thinking of Francis Piven and Richard Cloward and move. I
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re not even allowed to say their names --
VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, and then there`s the idea that Reverend
Jesse Jackson had, which is high school students should graduate with a
diploma in one hand and voting card in the other. There are ways.
This is both -- this is a great country. We have innovative,
creative people. What we are witnessing, though, is that that innovation
is moving in a different direction.
But I don`t know the full details of it. There are people at
Brennan. You, too, followed this more closely. You followed it. There
are people that know the 10 steps to making our democracy more perfect
union and the steps one needs to take universal registration.
It should be opt-in -- I`m sorry -- opt-out at the DMV or any of
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, we`re going to stay on exactly this topic.
But also, the big voter suppression effort that comes from the pocketbook.
HARRIS-PERRY: When the voices of American voters aren`t being
silenced by laws that disenfranchise them, those voices are competing to be
heard against another threat to the integrity of our political process --
money. So far this year, nearly $400 million have been spent in this
election cycle by outside groups who are taking full advantage of the
Supreme Court`s Citizens United decision, allowing corporations and unions
to dump money directly into political campaigns.
And unlike the voters that are challenged to prove who they are in
order to vote, so-called nonprofit political donors are under no obligation
to clearly show who they are to give money. So, while those millions are
not enough to sway an election necessarily at presidential level, it may
be, in fact, enough for all those down-ballot races. I don`t think you buy
presidential elections. I totally think you can buy a Senate and House
race. And certainly you can buy the school board.
VANDEN-HEUVEL: You know, the presidential race may be -- moves in a
direction where it becomes clearer and I`m not being complacent, that
President Obama is re-elected. I think you`re going to see a lot of that
money move down ballot. You are already seeing it in Ohio which is another
state with voter issues -- voter suppression issues, where the Chamber of
Commerce every -- literally has bought up, the Chamber of Commerce and Karl
Rove`s Crossroads has bought up every piece of time on the airwaves.
VANDEN-HEUVEL: We have an intern at "The Nation" from Toledo and
went back least week and said you cannot see anything except negative
attack ads, most of them against Brown, a populist candidate.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have a graph, you can see here where the political
parties are absolutely dwarfed in their spending compared to the --
VANDEN HEUVEL: The super PAC.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, to the super PACs and to these 501c4s, you know,
I wonder if this is an ultimate form of voter suppression. We talked about
voter ID in Ohio, the early voting restrictions.
But If I can throw all of this at it, is that the ultimate way of
JONES: One of the reasons why the electoral system such a mess with
support of Citizens United and the voter suppression laws is because it`s
not in the interest of both political parties to support an electoral
process that`s more transparent, that includes everyone, and that levels of
the playing field important money. And until we have that, it`s going to
keep being a mess. It`s kind of like -- actually Donald Rumsfeld had a
phrase, which is that if you have a problem and you can`t solve it, you
So, what the Republicans are doing is that they are enlarging the
problem of muddying the electoral playing peeled because they believe in
some corners, that perhaps it`s in their interest, and that that`s a larger
BERMAN: Absolutely. Citizens United law and the voter suppression
land goes hand in hand. What you are doing is taking away individual
choice. We already know that a congressional race is the candidate with
the most money wins 90 percent of the time.
So, already, the choices are determined by money. Then you are
saying to voters, even if you have a choice between two candidates and the
candidate with most money is going to win anyway, you still might not able
to cast a ballot for that candidate under a system that`s already rigged.
It is taking a rigged system and it`s further rigging it to protect the
wealthiest citizens in our country.
VANDEN HEUVEL: There`s been a great wakeup call I think after the
Citizens United decision. And, by the way, 70 percent of conservatives and
independent thought it was a terrible decision. You know, you`ve seen in
the last few months, 300 cities around this country passed resolutions
opposing Citizens United. And you have seen President Obama and the
Democratic platform say that they would, if pleaded, support a
constitutional amendment. People need to hold him accountable to it.
But I do think that -- that we are witnessing -- the hope that
organized money could be overtaken by organized people remains part of the
American dream and becomes harder and harder. On the other hand, if those
with less money do win in this election, we need to be careful because we
can`t overstate the power of money because it also leads people to be more
apathetic and despairing. So, I think we need to find a way to talk about
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels like a key what happens if there is a win,
even if -- particularly a big wins that goes down ballot, how do you not
lose momentum so you get the rules of the game right?
Thank you to everybody, to Imara, to Kristen, to Ari.
You are going hang out with me a little bit longer, Katrina.
The next segment is something I have been looking forward to all
morning. The presidential campaigns are trying to win over older voters.
HARRIS-PERRY: The combination of Mitt Romney`s 47 percent comment
earlier this week and the Paul Ryan`s proposed plan for Medicare might have
a particular group of American voters raging right now. Not only is the
Republican ticket in danger of alienating the poor, but also seniors.
Let me tell you when you wrestle with grandma and grandpa, you better
get prepare. Just look at the reception that Paul Ryan got yesterday in
New Orleans at an AARP event when he talked about Medicare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The first step to
a stronger Medicare is to repeal Obamacare, because it represents the worst
of both worlds.
RYAN: I had a feeling there would be mixed reactions. So, let me
get into it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: To the extent that poverty has made it into our
national conversation, it`s been mostly about poor children which is
reasonable. But that`s because the signing of the Social Security Act in
1935, the passage of Medicare in 1965, many thought that we`d solved the
problem of poor old people and why shouldn`t they? Those laws were part of
a bipartisan government success that included a broad commitment to our
But now, that commitment is back on the table. It`s been replaced by
plans for seniors today and tomorrow to get over themselves and stop
looking for entitlements. With 36 million retired workers receiving Social
Security benefits, 49.4 million Medicare beneficiaries. And the reality of
seniors quietly letting go of their entitlements without a fight is pretty
And the way seniors may fight back come November is where w their
vote at the table.
At the table, Katrina Vanden Heuvel of "The Nation"; Matt Welch of
"Reason" magazine; Brenda Gardner, actress and volunteer at AARP`s
legislative patrol; and Eddie Agosto, a retired postal worker.
So nice to have you all here.
I want to ask you -- you actually talked with other seniors in your
role as an AARP volunteer. What are you hearing now?
BRENDA GARDNER, AARP MEMBER/SENIOR VOTER: I`m hearing a lot of
things. We have these sessions where we go to different members of AARP.
And ask them what they are thinking. We are trying to bring these
particular issues, Social Security and Medicare, out into the open. And
not just being discussed in Washington behind closed doors when we don`t
know what`s going on and they are making the decisions without our input.
I think of it -- you are seeing in 1935. I think of it as a contract
in America. They could -- government contracted that we would pay 6.2
percent now and no sure what it was back then.
Of our taxes for the Social Security Fund so that when we retired --
we would have income and it was a contract and we agreed with that. And if
they are going to change the contract they have to listen to both sides as
far as I`m concerned.
HARRIS-PERRY: So -- listen, what`s interesting. I want to come to
you on this, Eddie.
When we come to the polling, there`s an odd sort of mismatch between
on the one hand the fact that Governor Romney is polling ahead with seniors
overall. He`s sort of a 49 percent to 41 percent over President Obama.
But look at this poll which is from before the 47 percent comment, this
poll when -- when asked who is better on issues affecting seniors, this
contract, as you were just talking about, President Obama has a big lead
over Mitt Romney so we have seniors saying that President Obama is better
on specific issues.
How do you think this ends up getting reconciled in the polls for
EDDIE AGOSTO, AARP VOLUNTEER/SENIOR MEMBER: I feel as I speak to
seniors that they have trust in President Obama. And -- at a time in their
life when it`s -- it`s actually crucial that they get their benefits and
that they have a say on how it`s going to be used, and -- the ones that --
kind of are interested in Romney is those people, some of them are not
really into it. And I`ll be honest with you, you speak to them and -- they
are neither here nor there because of the facts that they know or don`t
But I think as time goes on, especially now, after the boo session,
it`s going to wake them up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask about --
GARDNER: They don`t trust -- they don`t trust politicians. This
I`m getting all the time. They don`t trust anybody because of their --
they are not taking care of business.
It`s one of my questions. OK. We are using our vote to elect
GARDNER: In these discussions, a funny kind of thing happened with
one of the gentlemen who -- last Monday, he went a little off subject. And
was saying about the budget which would not -- Social Security and Medicare
are not about fixing the budget. They are separate, we have a trust fund
that will last until 20 years at 100 percent to paid benefits and after
that at 75 percent. We are trying to fix something ahead of time. It
takes time for things to go through Congress.
VANDEN HEUVEL: In sense that when you said something so important
earlier it is a contract, but it is also -- Social Security is too often
discussed as an entitlement. It`s an earned right. And I think one of the
great things Roosevelt did was not simply lift this country out of the
greatest depression but provide for economic security, especially for
I fear that there is a bipartisan kind of establishment, austerity
class in Washington as we head towards a possible fiscal cliff. There is
talking about Simpson-Bowles which will really damage seniors and others
who`ve already borne the brunt of a bacchanalia and disaster caused by Wall
Street which has not had to pay for that. So --
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting to hear you say this in part because
Ryan, I mean, like the boo session moment, he`s like, oh, I expect that.
What Ryan claimed is he`s being brave by touching this thing that I think
he would say there has been bipartisan agreement that we are never going to
fix it, we are never going to touch it, in part because the AARP stands
there as this powerful source that can mobilize voters and say, no, you
will not touch this.
MATT WELCH, REASON MAGAZINE: Ryan had been brave before. It is
important. I think Democrats have been conflating Paul Ryan the pre-vice
president with Paul Ryan vice presidential nominee.
That`s not what Mitt Romney, the actual nominee, has been campaigning
on. He campaigns every single day against Barack Obama`s Medicare cuts,
every day. There isn`t a day he doesn`t make that point. He campaigned
against Rick Perry talking about Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. He
says we need to guarantee our contract with seniors.
Mitt Romney is not campaigning on anything like cutting entitlements
HARRIS-PERRY: Paul Ryan --
VANDEN HEUVEL: Six words. When people describe Paul Ryan as brave
or courageous, it makes me think about how we have really degraded the term
political courage in our system. It does not take political courage to
take a whack at the most vulnerable in this country and society who have
already borne the brunt of the economic --
WELCH: Seniors are not the most vulnerable. This is a misnomer.
Seniors -- you might be most vulnerable, my mom might be the most
vulnerable, but as a class, seniors have 47 times --
GARDNER: Seniors are just like everybody else. We have similar
problems, just from birth to death. Everybody has similar problems.
Overall, we are interested in a good quality of life. What that good
quality of life is depends on the individual. But basics are roof over
your head, food, and clothing and the -- the ability to survive by with
those basics. And health and I like to add in activity every day that
gives you joy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Pursuit of happiness. I promise, we`re going to stay
on exactly that because I think what you just articulated was in par what
we heard in the 47 percent comments. How dare you think of yourself as
entitle to food and housing and joy?
GARDNER: I never did finish my comment. I didn`t finish my comment
to the gentleman, which I want to tell him.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, we`re going to let you finish all
that. I promise.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have been talking about how seniors are reacting to
the Republican ticket`s take on Social Security. Medicare and Mitt
Romney`s 47 percent comment, the latter of which the Obama campaign seized
upon in a new web ad yesterday. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It frightens me someone could think that way and
is running for president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These people that he`s talking about paid
income tax, many years. And they worked to get to where they are today to
be able to have maybe a little free time and a lot of them are still
working part time with their Social Security and still aren`t making enough
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It offends me. It puts me in that group. We
have paid into Social Security all our working life. And we, therefore,
are getting what we have invested in.
It`s not like we are getting money from the government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Brenda, this is the point you just made about this
being a contract.
GARDNER: Everybody agreed on.
Before we started talking, there`s a gentleman in one of these state
sessions that got off subject, Social Security, Medicare, talking about the
budget. And what about his idea was to barter, what about a barter system?
Which I said just little off subject. But I kind of love the idea like the
barter theater in Virginia, when it started in the `30s, you could bring a
chicken or produce and get a ticket to the theater.
And the image of our congressmen being paid with chickens really
makes me smile.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. That is something that brought you joy for the
So, Eddie, when I introduced you earlier, I was talking about the
fact that your retirement is from the U.S. Postal Service. And I`m
thinking that -- certain ways represents an entire economic shift for us as
a country. Certainly we are talking about Social Security, Medicare,
policies. But also how are seniors at this moment thinking about the
economy, not just for themselves but for the young folks who are coming
behind them who can`t work these kinds of jobs anymore because they don`t
AGOSTO: Well, it`s not only the jobs that don`t exist. It`s the
rules under that you`re going to come into the system. And it`s totally
drastic compared to when I started. I did 43 years and by the time I
retired, I was ready to retire. I had -- I was financially set.
Then the -- the recession came. I suffered. I suffered. Not that
I`m broke but I don`t have a Swiss bank account.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s not a small thing. The number of folks I run
into who are in their late 60s, early 70s, who are working small jobs, you
know, I`ll get in a cab and I`ve got a 67-year-old cab driver who is
retired from a government job maybe but just does feel like he has enough
to, you know, live or to survive or folks who are working as baggers and
Like, is there a story about -- again, again about the economic side
of this and you want to hear from the candidates?
AGOSTO: I -- I believe that Obama is on the right track. He still
has things to do. But Romney is just too disengaged. It`s an element of
fear. He projects an element of fear.
And when you are a senior, you reached this stage in your life, and -
- you worry about your medicine, worry about your food, worry about all
kinds of benefits, and that fear, when you see Romney up there, he
represents that fear.
That certain unknown that comes out and I think that`s what is
keeping him from connecting with people. And at that stage in your life,
even now, 50-plus, doesn`t sound old. It isn`t old.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s not. I mean, it`s empirically not.
AGOSTO: Fifty-plus becomes 60-plus very quickly.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Did you see that story in -- was in the paper
yesterday about mortality rates for women and -- it is quite stunning in
this very rich country. First of all, we don`t really have much upward
social mobility anymore which was part of the American dream. But that
women, particularly, I believe, single women with high school education,
are now dying at much younger rates because maybe health disparities and
maybe other factors. It seems to me that economic security is something
that binds seniors and younger generation which is growing up in this
environment where joblessness is the new normal.
And I think that scars a generation, it scars a country, it scars the
possibility of democracy in many ways or sense of a contract. So, it`s a
very new period but the danger I hope is that -- well, I hope we don`t
allow this joblessness and the insecurity for seniors to be a new normal.
That should not be the new normal.
WELCH: Let`s talk about something Bill Clinton brought up in his
speech at the Democratic convention which was math. This is the problem
with our concept of a contract for Medicare. The math of Medicare,
according to Urban Institutes study last year, if you retired at 65 in
2010, more or less, you put in to payroll taxes about $58,000 into the
Medicare trust fund and you will receive about $185,000 coming out. That
number is growing, and will grow only further as baby boom generation
That is a math problem and it`s a big one and trying to say it
doesn`t exist is a problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it`s a math problem that`s solvable p you have
young people who are larger population, who are working, who are paying in,
right? Because it is -- it is not actually savings account. It`s your
money, right? It is today`s workers paying in so that our parents and our
grandparents can have moments of joy, can have some relaxation.
WELCH: Look at -- in Social Security, which is a hell of a lot more
solvent than Medicare is, in 1940, there are 149 of those workers for every
one recipient. Now there`s 3 to 1. That`s going down. The share of
Social Security and Medicare as program spending right now is 37 percent.
It`s going to be 50 percent by 2030.
If we don`t address that math, the math will eat us whole. So --
VANDEN HEUVEL: There`s math. I mean, first of all --
VANDEN HEUVEL: -- was arithmetic. All I would say is there`s
sometimes hysteria about Social Security going bankrupt. There is a
manageable shortfall with some smart changes and reforms, Social Security
would remain solvent.
WELCH: Medicare I`m talking about here.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I appreciate everyone being at the table.
We`re going to take a quick preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hey, Melissa. How are you?
HARRIS-PERRY: Hey, Thomas. How are you?
ROBERTS: It`s me. It`s me over here. We`ll blow just for you so I
can fit in with the set.
ROBERTS: We`re going to be talking politics. Some more Badger State
strategies now. The president heads to Wisconsin for a campaign stop
To the latest polls, make it more attractive for the Obama campaign.
Then we go inside the Massachusetts Senate race. It`s one of the
most highly contested races in the country. Could this race tip the
balance of power in the Senate?
And then, is America attack? A new report suggesting Iran could be
hitting you and your bank account, through the wiring.
And it`s Clint Eastwood`s first movie since we saw him on stage, with
that empty chair that`s now infamous. Is it a must-see or is it a must
avoid? We`ll take a peek at that.
Melissa, I`ll send it back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Thomas.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, the true foot soldiers of change.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tomorrow morning, Nerdland is heading to the New York
Public Library, where we will host Education Nation student town hall.
Now, as I`ve been preparing to hear for today`s students, I`ve been
reminded students have long been the foot soldiers of change. In 1951, 117
high school students and their parents went on strike to protest at their
all-black school in Virginia lacked indoor plumbing. They went on to join
students from Washington, D.C., South Carolina, Delaware and Kansas. They
became Brown V. Board of Education, the case that established in 1954 that
separate is inherently unequal.
Three years later, nine teenagers in Little Rock, Arkansas, put that
decision to the test. The Little Rock 9 carried the courage of the court`s
conviction on their shoulders when they walked through the doors of central
In 1960, four students from North Carolina ANT stood up to inequality
when they sat down at a Woolworth counter in Greensboro.
In 1963, high school students and college students in Birmingham,
Alabama, put their bodies in the line of fire during the children`s
crusade. The willingness to bear the brunt of police clubs, dog attacks
and fire hoses paved the way for federal civil rights legislation.
In 1970, students at Kent State University took fire of national
guardsmen who sprayed more than 60 bullets at young people protesting the
Vietnam War. They and other students across the nation were the moral
conscience at the foundation of the anti-war movement that pressured the
U.S. to end its intervention in Vietnam.
Students on university campuses in the 1980s were at the forefront of
demanding divestment from South Africa, a policy that crippled the
country`s apartheid regime. It`s not just students of some by gone era who
have made change.
In 2008, more than 1,000 students of Texas` prairie view A&M
University marched seven miles to protest the lack of an early voting
location on their campus.
In 2010, thousands of students in Newark, New Jersey, walked out of
classes in protest of Governor Chris Christie`s decision to slash education
And this year, the relentless efforts of a generation of dreamers
moved an American president.
According to the U.S. Census, there are more than 79 million students
in the United States. For being at the forefront of change, these students
are the foot soldiers of yesterday and today.
Tune in tomorrow to hear them speak for themselves. And thank you to
Katrina, Matt, Brenda and Eddie for sticking around. Don`t forget
tomorrow, I will be hosting a special edition of the show. It will be
student town hall as part of NBC`s Education Nation Summit from, where
else, Nerdland -- the New York Public Library in Midtown Manhattan.
Up next, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" with Thomas Roberts.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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