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PoliticsNation, Friday, May 24th, 2013

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May 24, 2013

Guests: Jim McDermott; Clarence Page; Lauren Ashburn, Kendall Coffey, Paul Henderson, Melissa Harris-Perry


And thanks to you for tuning in.

Tonight`s lead: the GOP is setting up shop in "scandaltown". Instead
of investing in America, for weeks they have been on a mission to bring
down President Obama with half-cooked (ph) controversies. And now, they
are not just doubling down, they are tripling down.

"The National Journal" reports that the GOP will keep stirring the
scandal stew over the memorial break. Forget jobs. Forget policies.
Interviews on local television and radio programs, Republicans plan to talk
about the Obama administration`s, quote "credibility gap."

Now, I will be the first to say that what happened at the IRS was
wrong. But attacking the president`s credibility? That`s offensive. And
it`s a distraction from real problems.

Late last night, an interstate bridge in Washington State collapsed
after being struck by an oversized truck. In an instant, cars were sent
toppling into the icy water below.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: You thought this was the end?

water rushing in, and I kind of came back to a situation where I was
looking around, when you looked at all of the carnage of the metal around
you, I assumed that was it at that point. There was no hope. That`s what
I was thinking.


SHARPTON: That man is lucky to be alive. You shouldn`t need luck to
cross a bridge in America. But these days you do. The collapsed bridge
was listed as functionally obsolete. It was given a rating of just 57.4
out of 100. That is abysmal. But 759 bridges in Washington have an even
lower score. This should be an issue that we deal with. The president has
been fighting for infrastructure spending for years now.


country we love. We know we have got to rebuild our infrastructure. We
have got $2 trillion worth of deferred maintenance.

Put construction workers back on the job, rebuilding our roads,

Roads, bridges.

Building new roads and bridges. Let`s make sure we have got the best
roads. We are going to push on these issues each and every day.

Still got too many roads, too many bridges that aren`t safe. We don`t
have to accept that for America. These are things that should not be
partisan, shouldn`t be controversial this didn`t used to be a partisan
issue. I don`t know when that happened.


SHARPTON: It shouldn`t be Partisan and in the past it wasn`t. In 2005,
217 voted for the legislation. But the house wouldn`t even take it up for
a vote. How about that for a scandal?

Joining me now is Jim McDermott, Democrat from Washington, the state
where that bridge collapsed and "the Washington Post" E.J. Dionne.

Thank you both for coming on the show tonight.


SHARPTON: Congressman, let me go to you first. Isn`t it in the
Republican`s interest to deal with this and if they focused on building up
America, isn`t it in the interest than trying to tear down the president?

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON: Well, they have clearly spent the
whole last five years trying to tear the president down, but they have done
it by throwing the American infrastructure and the society under the bus.
We have the most long-term unemployed that we have had since the 1930s and
there`s no excuse for that. There is plenty of work in this society that
needs to be done and all it means is that the Congress has to step up, put
the money up, and we can have it. We haven`t raised the gas tax for
bridges and highway since 1993. And there is just no reason that we
shouldn`t be doing this and putting America back to work. All the other
problems that face us would be gone if we had put people back to work.

SHARPTON: Now, E.J., you wrote earlier this week that the focus on
scandal is taking attention away from things that are very important. Let
me read you something that struck me that you wrote. Quote "I know, I
know, this confluence of scandals spells trouble for the Obama
administration. Well, sure, this has been a hell of a week for the
president but what spells trouble for our country is our apparent eagerness
to avoid debate about discrete problems by sacrificing the particulars and
the facts to the idle of political narrative. It`s a false God."

DIONNE: Thank you, Reverend, for quoting that. And I have gotten
sick and tired of the word narrative where people take a shard of this and
a shard of that and build it into a story and the other problem is that the
overall story isn`t true.

This notion that the president had anything to do with what happened
in the IRS, there`s no evidence of that yet, yet people are jumping to
conclusions. This is all about some big government scandal.

And in the meantime, voters look at Washington and say, what are they
talking about? You show the story of the bridge and that`s a cheaper line,
Reverend. You shouldn`t have to be lucky to cross a bridge in America.
How many times do people have to say that at a time when interest rates are
really low, that is the time you borrow money to invest in your future and
that comes back to you in a richer economy, both now because we put people
back to work and down the road because we have got the basis for creating
future wealth. And it`s crazy that we are focusing on all kinds of stuff
that has nothing to do with improving the country when we could make things
a whole lot better at rather modest costs.

SHARPTON: Now, you put your hand on it. There is no scandal here
that has touched the president, the White House yet. No one has accused
him of being involved. But that doesn`t anger me as much as when I find
out, for example, that public construction spending, the spending we do on
public construction, is now lower than it has been in over 20 years,

So, in all of this trying to create some scenario that would go to the
oval office that just has not been there in any of these scandals, and I`m
not minimizing the scandals, but I`m not fabricating where they may go to,
in all of this, we are ignoring that we are spending less money now in
terms of public construction than we did 20 years ago and yet bridges are
falling down in your home state?

MCDERMOTT: You know, it is really appalling when you think about it,
that we have had people unemployed in this country since 2007 when the
crash came and we have had tremendous amounts of infrastructure that needs
to be replaced, the jobs are there, we could put the people to work, and as
Mr. Dionne says, we could invest in the future.

The idea that you stop investing in the future, it`s only the radical
tea party. The real Republicans, like Eisenhower, he believed in
investing. He invested in the infrastructure making a national highway
system. It is not a Republican or Democratic idea going on right now.
It`s simply radical tea party people who want to destroy the government and
think we will be better without it. You wait and see when it comes to
their house as it did in Oklahoma. You will see those guys from Oklahoma
who voted against money for Sandy repair in New York suddenly coming with
their tin cup saying, please help us for our problems here in Oklahoma.
You have got to think of us as one country that we all take care of each

SHARPTON: Now, you know, E.J., people have shown that they are tired
of all of this Washington chaser scandal. Whoever is guilty, wherever it
lies, they ought to be held accountable. But to try and just make it
something that it is not, to try to act like it`s some kind of reverse or
other party Watergate, it`s just not there, especially when you have the
problems that we are facing being ignored.

And the president even talks about. Republicans are against all of
this spending until they are spending in their district and then they are
the first one there. Let me show you the president talking about that.


OBAMA: I know the members of Congress are happy to welcome projects
like this in their districts. I know because I`ve seen them at the ribbon
cuttings. Yes, they will all say how, no, we don`t want to do it and then
they are all writing me letters saying, we really need this port. Cut
somebody else`s port out. That`s what they will say. Now, cut somebody
else`s rope. Cut somebody -- oh, no, we are all in this together. So, if
you think it`s good for your district, then it`s probably good for other
districts, too.


SHARPTON: I mean, E.J., why don`t we just cut the crap and start
rebuilding America, rebuilding the infrastructure?

DIONNE: You know, I think it`s really true that a lot of Republicans,
for example, who voted against the stimulus, remember that, and said it was
against America, were among the first to say, please give us some money, or
I`m proud of what this stimulus did for our district rather than to say
that the money came from the stimulus.

And it is amazing on disaster. I wrote a column this week about one
Republican who is not a hypocrite., Representative Tom Cole who has been on
MSNBC a lot because he was from Moore, Oklahoma. And at the time, he was
one of the small-time Republicans who voted for aid for Sandy victims and
said on the floor, look, there are a lot of tornadoes and droughts in my
state and I may be back here soon when a tornado comes. He was able to see
that and you have to ask the question, why can`t more conservatives be like
that? Why can`t Republicans be like Nelson Rockefeller who wanted to build
his state or Dan Evans who was very progressive Republicans.

SHARPTON: Or Dwight Eisenhower.

DIONNE: Or Eisenhower. I mean, there is nothing about the Republican
Party and principle that says they shouldn`t support trying to build up the

SHARPTON: Congressman Jim McDermott and E.J. Dionne, I`m going to
have to leave it there. Thanks for your time this evening and have a great

DIONNE: Great to be with you.

MCDERMOTT: See you again. Be careful.

SHARPTON: Ahead, why George Zimmerman`s defense team is trying to
delay his trial. Why one key piece of evidence could determine whether he
serves time or goes free.

Plus, the biggest bromance in politics is back. Chris Christie knows
the real scandal is not working with the president for the public`s good.
And the president`s powerful and personal speech on fatherhood. It didn`t
get the attention it deserved. We are talking about it tonight.


OBAMA: My whole life, I`ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what
my father was not for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle where a
father`s not at home, where a father is not helping to raise that son or



SHARPTON: Today, President Obama helped to honor four young girls who
played a tragic but pivotal role in the civil rights movement. He signed a
bill giving the congressional gold medal to Eddie May Collins (ph), Denise
McNare (ph), Carol Robertson (ph) and Cynthia Wesley. The four little
girls killed in the bombing of the 16th street Baptist church in
Birmingham, Alabama.


OBAMA: That tragic loss, that heartbreak, helped to trigger triumph
and a more just and equal and fair America. You know, that`s an incredible
gift for us to participate in.


SHARPTON: He`s right. It is incredible.

After that tragedy, new calls for the civil rights movement came from
all across the country. Just days after the bombing, the Reverend Martin -
- doctor Martin Luther King Junior and other civil rights leaders met with
President Kennedy at the White House to talk about their cause. Within two
years, we saw the passage of the voting rights act and the civil rights

To learn more about the bombing and what it meant, you can go to our
facebook. That`s where you can read more and
see photos.


SHARPTON: Tonight, we have news about one of the biggest power
couples in the world. And no, I`m not talking about Branagelina. I`m not
talking about Kimye either. And I`m also not talking about Bennifer. No,
not that one. The other, other Bennifer.

No folks, the dynamic duo making news today is Christama. That`s
right, Governor Christie and President Obama or maybe is (INAUDIBLE).
Either way, they are back in the news.

The White House said today the president and the governor will reunite
next week to see how New Jersey`s recovering from hurricane Sandy.
Christie talked about it on the "Today" show.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Do you ever worry that another visit of
you working on the boardwalk will cook your political goose?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: No, because I think there were
people in my state want more than anything else. It is me to do job and
the president wants to come back here and see the progress and look through
himself. I never worry about the stuff. The fact of the matter is, he is
the president of the United States. If he wants to come here and see the
people in New Jersey, I`m the governor. I will be here to welcome him.


SHARPTON: Governor Christie`s approval rating is sky high because he
puts politics aside and works with the president to get stuff done for the
public good. It`s the way politics should work. But too many GOP
politicians and pundits have forgotten that. They are working up these so-
called scandals instead of working for what is best for the country.

Joining me are Clarence Page and Lauren Ashburn.

Thank you both for being here tonight.



SHARPTON: Clarence, how are Republicans going to react when the
president and Chris Christie are reunited again next week?

PAGE: Well, I suspect they are going to act a lot like last time,
where there were a lot of hard feelings, especially on the right wing of
the party about whether or not Chris Christie might have helped Barack
Obama to get re-elected. You remember how crucially important that was
with the timing of the hurricane of the two of them that got along so well.
New Jersey folks loved it. Chris Christie`s approval ratings went up.
But, there were a lot of backlash statements coming from the rest of the
party. So, we will see if he does plan to run for president. I suspect he
has had a big impact.

SHARPTON: Now -- but Lauren, the fact is, if you look at the numbers
in the polls, Chris Christie is at a 69 percent approval rating while the
Republicans and Congress are only at 22 percent. So, even though it may
cause him some flack in the party, poll number-wise, he is way ahead of
him, maybe two or three times ahead.

ASHBURN: And that`s because he is not catering to the right,
Reverend. He is doing what people, as you said, should be doing who are in
elected office. Taking care of the people in their home state or their
home district.

And what fascinates me is that in the Republican Party sometimes it
seems that it`s more important to be means to President Obama than it is to
be a conservative. He is one of the most conservative governors we have t
there is all of this backlash from him spending time with the president.

SHARPTON: Now, Clarence, you know, these GOP politicians and pundits
have gotten so extreme, I`m beginning to be concerned because, I mean, they
are actually sounding a little nutty. I mean, let me give you some


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me be clear, I don`t trust the Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have to admit that Ronald Reagan on the
amnesty act brought about Barack Obama`s election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Obama`s America. A lot of people voted
for him and if you see any of those people today, do me a favor, punch them
in the face.


SHARPTON: If you see anybody that voted for the president, punch them
in the face, Reagan signing an amnesty act in `86 led to the election of
President Obama? I mean, this is some way out stuff, Clarence.

PAGE: Republicans have lost the popular vote in five out of the last
six elections after winning the popular vote in five of the last previous
elections. We have seen how important Ronald Reagan was as a figure who
could bring the party`s many factions together. They have been divided
ever since. And we are really seeing it now between the moderates and the

The conservatives spurred on by talk radio and various other factors
out there in the twitter verse and demographic change and all, the right
wing of the party has become more alienated from the mainstream.

Chris Christie would be a favorite of so many moderate voters if he
could just get past the primaries. And that`s where, if he runs, he`s
going to run into some problems, problems like South Carolina, for example,
but who would get a boost in places like Florida.

SHARPTON: Now Lauren, when you look at the fact that -- well, let me
give you another example. FOX News. This morning, one of their hosts was
floating a new conspiracy theory that government bureaucrats stole the
election last year. Watch this.


STEWART VARNEY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: There is a suspicion here that the
machinery of government has been used to press conservatives, that the
election, in fact, was not a level playing field. There was a tilt and it
was orchestrated by government bureaucrats.


SHARPTON: Government bureaucrats. Suppressing the conservative vote.
I mean, what is he talking about?

ASHBURN: You`ve got me. I p don`t know what goes through Stewart
Varney`s head. I do know, though, that when we are talking about
conservatives and Republicans and the far right, we are not necessarily
talking about the same thing. There is a group of Republicans who consider
anybody talking to President Obama a traitor. This is the group that did
not invite him to the Republican CPAC conference that was held here earlier
this year.

There are those who will vilify anyone who comes even close to
espousing any of the views that President Obama has let alone be seen
having a hug with them or a handshake. And so, what we are seeing here is
a man in Chris Christie who has chose to be a larger figure than his other
Republican counterparts and I don`t mean his waistline. I mean in actually
trying to make things work in his state.

SHARPTON: Clarence Page and Lauren Ashburn. Thank you both for your
time tonight.

PAGE: Thank you, Reverend.

ASHBURN: Thank you, Reverend.

PAGE: Happy weekend.

SHARPTON: Happy weekend to both of you.

Ahead, is the George Zimmerman defense team trying this case in the
press? The prosecution thinks so. Some important questions before
critical hearing.


SHARPTON: Before today the first lady was already known as a great
dancer. Hey, the president even said that she was better than he is. But
today she had some help. Call it help from a godfather. That`s coming up.


SHARPTON: There may be new developments tonight in the trial of
George Zimmerman, the man accused of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty and claims he shot Trayvon in self-
defense. With less than three weeks to go until the trial, the prosecution
is now asking for a gag order against Mr. Zimmerman`s lawyer, Mark O`Mara,
saying he`s trying the case in the press instead of the courtroom.

A judge will consider those arguments in what is shaping up to be a
major hearing next Tuesday. The gag order motion comes after an important
week in the case. The Zimmerman team released numerous photos and
documents that appear to be designed to paint Trayvon Martin in a negative
light. Also developing, the defense team is asking for a delay in the
trial. In order to challenge and keep peace in the prosecution evidence.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that the defense is focused on a 911 call the
night of the murder.

That`s what -- that call is what that led to the defense asking for a
delay in the trial. These are critical questions. An answer could
determine whether George Zimmerman is convicted or set free for the killing
of Trayvon Martin.

Joining me now are Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney and now a
criminal defense lawyer and veteran prosecutor Paul Henderson. Kendall,
let me start with you. This is actually the third gag order the
prosecution has filed. Why are they so concerned about Zimmerman`s lawyer
going on TV talking about this case?

concerned because it`s three weeks to go and a lot of stuff that would --
that is inflammatory, that would never get to first base in a court of law,
stuff the jury would never see is scoring some home runs maybe in the court
of public opinion. It`s inflammatory, it`s damaging. And frankly,
potential jurors are going to find it very hard to un-see what they are
already seeing in the television, the internet, and in newspapers.

SHARPTON: Now, Paul, do you agree with that? Because clearly O`Mara,
Zimmerman`s lawyer is out and saying why he is releasing this. Let me give
you why he says this text that he`s put out about fighting is relevant.
Let`s listen to this.


MARK O`MARA, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN`S LAWYER: You know, if we`re talking
about who Trayvon Martin was that night, if that becomes relevant,
according to how the state presents it, then the idea that this person is
familiar with fighting, familiar with getting on top of somebody and other
text, that`s very relevant for a jury to look back and say, what happened
in that one minute or so that we don`t have audio evidence for.


SHARPTON: Now, is that something to be concerned about, Paul, is that
damaging? Could that pollute a jury pool?

PAUL HENDERSON, PROSECUTOR: It could pollute a jury pool and that`s
exactly why they are asking for the gag order again and in that case, with
that evidence, those photographs and those texts, because we know that a
judge would not admit any of those things, that`s a basis to ask for a gag
order again. The only reason that they are including it in this -- oceans,
and the only reason they are including it, as evidence that they would like
to introduce when they know that it won`t be introduced is to try and taint
the jury pool and to try and change public perception with this information
that they have that, quite frankly, is very disappointing to see that they
are trying to release and introduce into the trial.

It just is not going to happen with the limited means in which you
can`t even use character evidence in a self-defense case in Florida. It`s
a real disappointment. It`s absolutely prejudicial. I would hope that a
judge does restrict it and enforce a gag order against the defense on a
case like this.

SHARPTON: Now, they are asking for a delay, Kendall, because of this.
There was screaming in the background of a 911 recording. The
prosecution`s voice experts say, those screams are Trayvon Martin`s
screaming. Listen to this.


OPERATOR: 911, do you need police, fire, or medical?

CALLER: Maybe both. I`m not sure. There`s just someone screaming
outside. I think they are yelling help but I don`t know. Just send
someone quick, please.

OPERATOR: Does he look hurt?

CALLER: I can`t see him. I don`t want to go out there. I don`t know
what`s going on.

OPERATOR: Do you think he`s yelling help?


OPERATOR: OK. What is your --

CALLER: There were gunshots.


SHARPTON: Now, Kendall, the prosecution say that they can put experts
on that says that`s Trayvon Martin. It`s clearly screaming in the
background as this person is making this 911 call. The defense, of course,
is saying they need time. It`s not clear whether they are going to try and
counter that and say it`s not Trayvon or come with some expert who will try
and discredit it. Why is this so important if, in fact, that is Trayvon
Martin screaming as some of the experts have said?

COFFEY: Well, of course it`s critical because if, in fact, the
prosecution has a reliable expert who is going to say that`s Trayvon
Martin`s voice, that`s a very big issue and that strongly supports the
prosecution theory. But for the defense to act surprise when this has been
a very central issue for 16 months, the 911 tape, the question of whose
voices on that, that isn`t going to go anywhere with this judge. So,
whenever their rationale is for seeking a delay, I would be astonished if
the judge buys this particular excuse.

SHARPTON: But Paul, why do you think, I see you nodding, why is this
important in the trial if this in fact is Trayvon and the jury believes
this to be Trayvon, what does this do in terms of the evidence in the

HENDERSON: Well, this tape and that audio recording is going to be
almost the linchpin to define how both sides see whatever happened that
evening. Right? So the prosecution is going to say that you can hear him
screaming, Trayvon, trying to get help and yelling out. The defense does
not want that key evidence to come in because that kind of colors the whole
basis that the prosecution is making their claims on and so they will do
anything they can to diminish, to modify or to delay that evidence coming

And even if all they are able to do is throw out the prosecution`s
witness and have them choose a new expert, it`s one more delay, one more
modification, one more thing that may diminish the prosecution`s case.
It`s really unlikely at this time, at this late notice that they`re
challenging it and that`s what me again -- it`s not only disappointing but
an expected defense tactic that I`m hoping does not work that the judge
will be able to see beyond that and allowed a prosecution to put on their
case with all of their evidence.

SHARPTON: But Kendall, the judge -- we`ve seen that the prosecution
has said they have be a expert that will testify this is Trayvon. If, in
fact, this person can establish that it`s Trayvon, we just saw a tape where
the attorney for Mr. Zimmerman said that Trayvon had a record of fighting
and knowing how to get on top. It would be difficult to claim he was on
top and all if, in fact, he`s the one yelling for help in these -- in the
background of the person making this 911 call.

COFFEY: That`s why it`s so critical. Remember, Zimmerman supporters
have been saying that it was Zimmerman crying out for help. Zimmerman was
the victim. If indeed the prosecution can establish that that voice, the
voice crying out for help, was a voice of Trayvon Martin, then it`s going
to be very, very compelling as to who was the aggressor, who was the real
victim, and who should be perhaps judged guilty for second-degree murder.

SHARPTON: Now, let me ask you another question, Paul. Zimmerman`s
lawyer is pushing some very extreme sequestration of the jury pool. And
let me read to you what I`m referring to. O`Mara has said in an interview
that he`s going to ask a judge to sequester not only the jury but the jury
pool in the upcoming trial. That may involve sequestering 500 potential
juries in order to find six people who can serve on the jury. Now, it
sounds while to me but is that unusual to request a hundreds of potential

HENDERSON: It is unusual. You do sequester a larger number in a case
like this where you`re going to go through possibly 100 people to get the
people that you need on your jury pool. And keep in mind, this is what the
court is considering. After they get their actual jurors, this could be a
long trial and so you want to have enough that you held to the side that
can make up replacements in case someone in that jury pool fall sick, or
someone in the jury pool falls out. You don`t want to declare a mistrial
or have to redo the trial.


HENDERSON: So it makes sense to have a sequester done where we have a
large number but when you`re asking for hundreds like that, not only is
that not likely to happen, but to me that`s a delaying tactic at this
point. The jury -- the judges know what to do. The judge knows how many
people that they want to put aside and he doesn`t need input from the
defense attorney to take this off track and delay this trial any longer
than has already taken place already and so that`s how I look at his
motion in the first place.

SHARPTON: So, Kendall do, you agree that it`s unlikely that the judge
would set aside hundreds in sequestration and I`m reading this was in "The
Washington Post," to get six jurors. Why only six jurors here?

COFFEY: Well, it`s not a capital crime. In other words, six jurors
is a normal number of jurors in Florida. And I certainly agree that he`s
not likely to get hundreds sequestered. And think about how ironic it is,
O`Mara is saying, he is concerned about sequestering hundreds of people in
order to avoid the effects of pretrial publicity. Meanwhile, he`s working
the press, trying his case in the court of public opinion throwing out
stuff that is obviously inflammatory and inadmissible. That makes it
pretty tough to come to the judge and ask for some extraordinary protection
against pre-trial publicity.

SHARPTON: And noncapital cases in Florida is only six, not 12
members of the jury.

COFFEY: Correct.

SHARPTON: We`re going to stay and watch this all the way through
gavel to gavel we`ll be covering this trial. Kendall Coffey and Paul
Henderson, thank you both for your time tonight. And for disclosure in
civil court, George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation and the
company has strongly denied his allegations.

Still ahead. One of the most emotional and personal speeches we`ve
ever heard from President Obama. He talks about growing up without a
father and helping those who have fallen into trouble.

Also, the first lady dancing to the godfather of soul. Stay with us.


SHARPTON: Today on an elementary school visit in Washington, D.C.,
the first lady stopped by a class for an impromptu lesson in music history.




Who is James Brown?


SHARPTON: Music to my ears. A class of young kids who all know who
the godfather of soul is. After that, the first lady and the kids did a
freeze dance, moving until the teacher cut off the music.


Well, that`s a great scene for the first lady and it`s great the
godfather of soul still has all of us having a funky good time.


SHARPTON: On Sunday, President Obama gave an important speech that
was overshadowed by the next day`s tragedy in Oklahoma but it deserves our
attention. The president spoke to graduates of Morehouse College, the
renowned black university in Atlanta. He talked about growing up without a
father, sharing the personal side that we rarely get to see in public.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: Raised by a heroic single mom,
wonderful grandparents, made incredible sacrifices for me and I know there
are moms and grandparents here today who did the same thing for all of you.
But I sure wish I had a father who was not only president but involved. I
didn`t know my dad. And so my whole life I tried to be for Michelle and my
girls what my father was not for my mother and me. I want to break that
cycle where a father`s not at home, where a father`s not helping to raise
that son or daughter.


I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man. I will
tell you this. Everything else is unfulfilled if we fail at family. If we
fail at that responsibility.



SHARPTON: Be a better man, a better husband, a better father. It was
a deeply personal and moving speech from the president, one that both
inspired us and challenged us to do better.

Joining me now is Melissa Harris-Perry, host of MSNBC`s "MELISSA
HARRIS-PERRY." Melissa, thanks for being here tonight.


SHARPTON: The speech was a rare glimpse into the president`s private
side. Why was it so important for him and for that audience that he

PERRY: It`s interesting. The president is taking criticism both for
this speech as well as when he`s made similar comments in the past. I`ve
even had my own critiques around some of it, but I`ll tell you, I had an
opportunity to sit down with the president for a one-on-one interview with
"Ebony" magazine back in the late summer, early fall during the election.
We talked about all kinds of policy and he was very presidential and, you
know, very policy-oriented until we got to the questions about family.

And at the moment that we got to the questions about family, the
president went away and the man showed up. In the sense of whatever
critiques people have had that this president is somehow chastising black
men, somehow asking them to do better or maybe playing to the right, it`s
simply untrue. This really is -- you can feel it. It`s palpable when
you`re in the room with him. That sense that for him, when he says, if we
fail at family, then nothing else matters, he means that and he`s trying to
convey to these young men at Morehouse, this lesson that he feels, despite
all of his successes that he`s learned.

SHARPTON: Well, if you read the whole speech, he talked about Dr.
King, he talked about Dr. Benjamin Mays who was president of Morehouse.
The thing I think and I`ve heard this criticism that he just brought up,
but I think the thing that people forget, he`s talking to a graduating
class of young black men at Morehouse.


SHARPTON: The other speech he made that he was criticize for, he was
talking at Men`s day. Men`s day. So it is appropriate to address the
question of men.


SHARPTON: He does talk policy to black audience.

PERRY: Sure.

SHARPTON: He did at NCAAP. He did at National Action Network. Look
at the speech. He doesn`t talk about this at all. You don`t go to a
graduation and give a policy speech.

PERRY: Exactly.

SHARPTON: I did a baccalaureate at that same school last year. You
addressed the students and their future. That`s the idea. You did
commencement at Brown. You didn`t give a whole philosophy lesson. You
talked to the students.

PERRY: Absolutely. And in many ways, part of what we see here is a
reaffirmation of something that I think is critically important. You know,
I am not a believer that marriage in and of itself solves social or
political problems. And I also think the president does not believe that.


PERRY: What he was suggesting was the human side of it. What he was
suggesting was something about family and I want to be really clear, that
he wasn`t being totally normative about it, or middle class about it. He
said earlier, all of your partners, whether they be male or female.


PERRY: It was a broad and inclusive message about our humanity. This
sense that you, successful young person, here in the world when you`re
going to face all of these economic difficulties, when you`re going to have
people telling you that the only thing that matters in terms of success is
whether or not you reach a certain level, a certain potential appearing the
thing, you know, what? None of that matters if you haven`t, at the core of
who you are as a human, developed that sense of love, commitment, and

SHARPTON: And I think it`s important he challenged on role models.
He challenged in terms of not having the excuses, yes, there is still
racism, yes, there`s a way to go and I think it was an important thing
talking to that audience. Let me play some of what he said.


OBAMA: We know that too many young men in our community continue to
make bad choices and I have to say growing up, I made quite a few myself.
Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world
trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make
excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all
of you have learned over the last four years is there`s no longer any room
for excuses. Remember that, whatever you`ve gone through, it pales in
comparison to the hardships previous generations endured and they overcame
them and if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.



SHARPTON: Challenging them to overcome them, not saying they are not
there, but saying, they pale in comparison to things we`ve already

PERRY: And critically, as you pointed out a moment ago, remember to
whom he`s speaking, he`s speaking to young men who are receiving their
degree. When he went and spoke in Chicago on the question of gun violence,
he didn`t tell young people in the neighborhood, in the community, you
don`t have excuses. He recognized those structural inequalities, but for
young men who are completing their degree, who whatever inequality they
come from, have at this point a certain level of privilege that comes from
holding that degree, what he is doing is calling them to account right
back to those very communities. It`s not, you have no excuse just anybody.
It`s you. You, Morehouse graduate have no excuse, particularly we have no
excuse not to go back and bring others along with you.

SHARPTON: I think that you hit it. That`s right. And I think that
those of us that do those kinds of events understand, you have to address
them. Those parents and family members and graduates are looking for where
they need to go in life. It`s different when you`re doing a rally or
policy or convention.

PERRY: And they are never going to forget it. No one who are present
in that moment is ever going to forget the word of their president on that

SHARPTON: Melissa, thanks for your time tonight. Have a great
weekend. Be sure to catch Melissa Harris-Perry on Saturday and Sunday at
10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. We`ll be right back with "Ask Rev," your
questions asked and answered. Stay with us.


SHARPTON: Folks, now it`s time for a special Friday edition of "Ask
Rev." Thanks for all of your e-mails and all of your e-mail questions.
Keep them coming.

Alice writes, "Please continue to insist that Senators Ayotte, Graham,
Collins, and McCain apologize to Susan Rice."

That`s a great point Alice, not quite a question but I`m going to stay
on it because I think what they did to Susan Rice was not only wrong and
bad for her, it was bad for the country and they should stand up and
acknowledge it with an apology.

Moving on, Cee says, "I love your fresh perspective and your constant
quest for truth. As the white middle class liberal who is registered as an
independent, my question is, who do you attribute your sense of humor to?
Your spin on the reality of politics never fails to amuse me but also wows
me with its accuracy."

Well, Steve, I learned very early in my public career as an activist,
don`t take yourself more seriously than the cause. Laugh at yourself.
Laugh at what goes on and try to reach people with a sense of humor so they
understand it`s not about you, it`s about the cause. You can, in many
ways, deface yourself to keep your cause out front.

Steve asks, "What`s your favorite scripture verse."

Hmm, I`m happy to share that one with you. It`s from the book of St.
John, chapter 14, verse one, let not your hearts be troubled, believe in
God, believe also in me. Many verses I love. I love the 37th Psalm, the
71st Psalm a lot but I like that one because when I was a little boy, four-
years-old, that`s the first group I spoke from. Let not your heart be
troubled. I needed it and a lot of controversies ever since, not let my
heart be troubled but if you believe in something, it won`t.

Please keep sending along your questions. All you have to do is send
an e-mail to and we will get the question and I will try
and answer you. Friend or foe, I want to know.

Thanks for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts right now.


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