September 8, 2013
GuestS: Michelle Bernard, Patrick Murphy, Bob Franken, Farai Chideya, Robert George, Ed Pawlowski, Charlotte Golar Richie, J. Alexander, Toccara Jones, Vanessa K. Bush, Emme, Sandra Boynton
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Plus, new charges of racism in the New
York City mayoral race. Will it shake up the election?
And we`re joined by the woman who could be the first black mayor of Boston.
But first the political potholes on the road to Damascus.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Today, the politics of war. Our deeply divided Congress will soon decide
whether to give its blessing to American military strikes against the
When President Obama threw the decision to Congress last week, he made a
point of saying he was having the people`s representatives weigh in on
whether to use military force.
Now, we don`t know what Congress will do. The Senate Foreign Relations
Committee passed its version Wednesday. But we won`t get a sense of how
Congress, the full Congress, will vote until they return to Washington this
week. We do know what the American people want. They do not want this
A Pew research center poll conducted last week found that only 29 percent
favor military airstrikes and 48 percent are opposed. A new Gallup poll
found even more opposition, 51 percent said they oppose strikes.
The public is opposed to war. A substantial argument against the strikes.
But the thing is this. If we look back over our history, we will see the
public is often wrong about whether or not to go to war.
As World War II flared in Europe, the American public desperately wanted
the United States to keep to itself. The U.S. has suffered more than
300,000 casualties in the horrifying trench warfare of World War I and the
country was in the midst of the great depression.
When President Franklin Roosevelt ran for a third term in 1940, he promised
voters that he would do everything he could to keep the U.S. out of the war
vowing he would not send their sons to, quote, "any foreign war." And he
won in a landslide.
Of course, after the attack on Pearl Harbor a year later, that isolation of
sentiment dissipated. Seventy years later, a few would recall our
involvement in World War II a mistake, we continue to call the fighters of
that war part of the greatest generation. It launched the U.S. out of the
depression and into the decades of economic boom and established the United
States as a world superpower. And most important, our involvement was
decisive in defeating the evil of the Nazi regime. My point is the public,
as history sees it, was wrong to oppose war.
Now, let`s look at more recent history. In the spring of 2003, about 70
percent of Americans supported the war in Iraq, but we were wrong. Now,
Iraq is struggling and sectarian violence increasing even as the country
takes in hundreds of thousands of Syrian war refugees.
Now, only 46 percent believe the Iraq war succeeded. Even support among
Republicans dropped dramatically. In 2003, 90 percent of Republicans
thought it was the right decision to invade. In 2013 that number hit an
all-time low among Republicans at 58 percent.
And my point is not that the public opposition to this new war should be
discounted or that the public is ever just automatically wrong, members of
Congress will, as they should, take their constituents will into account
when deciding how to vote. But we shouldn`t assume what the people want
the government should do is unquestionably what the government should do on
the question of foreign policy.
When President Obama tossed the Syrian question to Congress he brought
public opinion and its impact on the next round of elections into this
process. He brought us into it. And that makes all of us complicit in
whatever happens next.
Joining me now is syndicated columnist Bob Franken, journalism professor
Farai Chideya, former congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, the first
Iraq war veteran to serve in the U.S. Congress and political strategist,
Michelle Bernard. That`s Melissa. Michelle is over there.
OK. Former Congressman -- I want to ask you this question as a former
Congressman. One of the most difficult places for public opinion to guide
a member of Congress is on the question of war, on the question of foreign
policy. Sometimes we are absolutely right. Sometimes history demonstrates
we have been absolutely wrong. What would you do if you had to cast a vote
on the Syrian question today.
PATRICK MURPHY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, sadly no. And it breaks my
heart, it`s a tough call. At the end of the day, we should not insert
ourselves in the middle of the Syrian civil war. Those casualties, those
children that are being killed, almost 1400 women, children, and men have
been killed by chemical weapons, it breaks my heart.
But lobbing tomahawk missiles, number one, is an act of war. Number two,
does it mean that it`s going to solve that solution. He could continue to
use it, and then that means -- what does that mean next? Does that mean we
have boots on the ground? Very clear potential path to what we call
So, I will be no -- we need to exhaust our remedies, Melissa. We need a
vote in the U.N. Security Council, those 15 nations that compromise U.N.
Security Council haven`t voted. The U.N. report on the Syrian weapons
which will, I think, tie the Assad regime using them is due this month.
Let`s exhaust our remedies. Let`s go to the U.N. let international focus.
And can I say one last thing? A lot of the argument and debate right now
is, well, we can`t ignore this. That`s a false choice. We are doing a lot
on the ground. We need to make sure those million children and women who
are refugees from Syria, that our allies in Jordan, we need to make sure we
ramp up and make this a robust effort humanitarian effort to address this.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s not that you`re against intervention of some kind,
it`s that you`re against military intervention. And in part, what I hear
you saying, it is an act of war. So, even when we talk about a limited
strike; that we have to have a recognition of that.
MURPHY: Right. Yes, as a military guy when they say, just you know, some
missiles. Those things go 500 miles an hour and blow things up and frankly
there will be more civilian casualties even though we try to limit
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, Michelle, obviously, the biggest news of the day are
the new videos that we have. Appalling images of this chemical attack and
appalling images of children suffering. You saw them yesterday. Where are
you on this question right now?
MICHELLE BERNARD, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: I feel that when you look at the
videos you cannot help but think to yourself we have to do something.
Number one priority is absolutely peace. Peace in the Middle East, peace
in Syria. But there is a huge problem. Syria is undergoing an enormous
rape crisis. Women are being raped as a tool of war. If you look at those
videos and you see men and women and children gasping for air, frothing at
the mouth and you can`t help but say to yourself, as the world superpower,
do we really sit back? Don`t we have a moral obligation to look and say
what can we doo help those people?
Bill Clinton will tell you to this day he regrets not going to Rwanda, he
regretted not doing more in the Sudan. And I think that although we want
peace and don`t want to wage war, I think we have a moral obligation to do
HARRIS-PERRY: And obviously, Susan Rice says we have power and right there
next to President Obama with that same history, that the same Clinton era
history about genocide.
I want to ask you specifically, Bob, about this question of public opinion
and how to get through our elected representatives. When we look at the
current whip count, the current whip count seems to suggest at this moment,
at least, President Obama does not have the numbers he needs to get an
approval between Republicans and Democrats who are either no or leaning no.
You see there are 226 members of the House of Representatives, no or
leaning no, 182 however, undecided, which is enough to moves this on that
direction. First of all, should I -- do these whip counts mean anything,
are these bunk? And secondly, how does any elected start moving those 182?
BOB FRANKEN, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, as the Congressman will tell you,
we`re still in a key area. What was different about this issue and was
also different in 1991 and `95, think, when we had similar votes in
Congress. The difference is the leaders say vote your conscious. There is
not a party position.
However, while Nancy Pelosi says that, Nancy Pelosi would love to shape the
conscience, I think, of many people who, in effect, work for her. The
problem is that we really have a Hobbs choice here. It is really
interesting when the people, you know I wrote about, and when people come
up to me now, as they oftentimes do on issues, they are extremely puzzled.
They say, what do we do? And they don`t have an opinion because there are
lousy choices. Every argument that you are making is certainly an arguable
point, and every one that you are making is arguable.
By the way, just to go On the Record as horrifying as those images were
yesterday, they didn`t advance the knowledge at any point. We have already
seen that kind of thing. But for every argument that people make that we
are not the world`s policeman, you can counter it by saying, but yes, if we
give that up, if give up that role, we are also giving up the role as the
preeminent nation that controls the destiny on various issues, including of
course, the economy.
The other side of that, and I don`t mean to go on too long. The other side
is that if the president is rejected by Congress on this, his presidency
and the nation`s stature in the world suffers. Secondly you have the debt
ceiling vote. If that fails, the United States is probably irrevocably
knocked down a notch or two in the world because it will be a deadbeat
nation economically and will not have a leadership role in the world.
These are all very tough issues.
FARAI CHIDEYA, JOURNALISM PROFESSOR: Just to echo what you were saying, I
mean, I put together a blog post on my own blog about the different moral
choices. And one person I noted was Representative Chris Gibson, a
Republican from New York. And basically, he is a former army colonel. He
is against intervening. He talks about it as Americanization of the civil
war in Syria and also bring up that ceiling appoint, brings up the fact
that we are not doing our own housekeeping. So, how can we take care of
the world when we`re not taking care of ourselves?
HARRIS-PERRY: But I guess, I mean, at that particular thing can be read
two ways, right? One can be, all right look, whatever we do
internationally this will turn into a partisan quagmire on the question of
the debt ceiling. So, at least maybe, we could be accomplishing something.
You feel like maybe that`s France`s decision. But part of why they want to
engage, feels to me, is because of the absolute economic crisis in France.
So you have got like, nothing to see here, look over there instead.
But, or the other argue, of course, is that we must -- we have this kind of
isolationist position that says we have to take care of own house first.
CHIDEYA: Well, see, I don`t think --
HARRIS-PERRY: I could do this all day but we have to get to commercial.
We are going to take a quick break.
And look, if it`s Sunday, it is time for me manage it, so far this message
has often been muddled. We will talk more about as soon as we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: NBC News has obtained a series of You Tube videos of the
chemical weapon attack in Syria, shown in the members of Senate in a
classified briefings this week. A government source tells NBC that the
administration has verified that the videos were recorded in several
locations in Syria after last month`s attack. But NBC News hasn`t
independently confirmed their authenticity.
The footage is graphic showing children and adults convulsing, frothing at
the mouth and dying. We are about to show some of the images. However,
the pictures are so disturbing that we on this program have decided not to
show very much of it. We are only going to show the selected images from
some of the video.
In a news conference in France earlier today, secretary of state John Kerry
made it clear that images like these are meant to help bolster the
administration`s case for military strikes against Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Those videos are for people to measure for
themselves whether we want to unleash these weapons to potentially fall
into the hands of terrible actors to potentially become used on a daily
basis by anybody, anywhere because we didn`t stand up, that`s what`s at
stake here. So, I don`t think this case has yet been made enough to enough
people and that`s exactly why videos are posted and I`m glad that they are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The administration is making an all-out effort to move both
Congress and the American people in favor of a military strike against
Syria. Now, President Obama will address the nation directly on Tuesday.
Now on Monday, he will give interviews to anchors from six networks
including NBC that will air during the evening news broadcast.
And just as Secretary Kerry appeared on five Sunday morning shows last
week, White House chief of staff Dennis McDonough is appearing on five
Sunday morning programs today.
Here he is on NBC`s "Meet The Press" reiterating the administration`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENNIS MCDONOUGH, CHIEF OF STAFF: I hope that every member of Congress
before he or she decides how they will cast their vote will look at those
pictures. Not a single member of Congress rebutted the intelligence as I
questioned them. And the question thing becomes what are the consequences
for him for having done this and what does the world read from how we react
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The appearances are, of course, all part of the White
House`s effort to control the new cycle on the Syria story on the key day
ahead of Congress`s return. Secretary of state Kerry is also trying to win
overseas support. He met with the Arab league foreign ministers in Paris
as part of a European tour.
NBC`s foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell traveling with the
secretary and joins us live from Paris.
Andrea, what`s the latest news from the secretary`s travels this morning?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: He just
completed his news conference, his meetings with the Arab league. And
importantly he said that all of the Arab league members here, Melissa, all
of them condemned Assad use of chemical weapons as deplorable and as
crossing an international and global red line.
But beyond that, he said that the Saudis have now endorsed airstrikes. He
said that but the Saudis do not. The Saudis did not appear on camera
(INAUDIBLE). And so, he has not, at any public pledges of support for
military action from any of these Arab League members, privately of course
of several (INAUDIBLE) and the Saudis have been arming the opposition.
The only country that has publicly endorsed military strikes by the United
States are, of course, the French. They are facing, though a very negative
public opinion here just as the public opinion has been negative back in
the states. And now, the president in the last 48 hours said he wants a
U.N. report from the U.N. inspectors on the chemical weapons before the
U.S. acts. And now, sanction indicating that they want Security Council
resolution or at least for U.S. to go back to the Security Council, and
Russia has vetoed anything and push for another action by the Security
Council. This would be presumably to show the last best effort similarly
to happen a decade ago with Iraq. But this is what the kind of delay that
the U.S. has said will not countenance. And Kerry simply said, while
listening to you, I will relay to Obama, not clear whether they will go
along with going back to the U.N., Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Andrea, so I`m wondering in that sort of push for you and
reports for Security Council approval, given this does seem to be the path
dependency out of the last decade of engagement in Iraq, but of course,
there was U.N. support. So, how does that sort of response affect what is
clearly the credibility gap here or concern here?
MITCHELL: It`s difficult for the United States to go it alone. The
president indicated they might go alone, considered that. The French had
said that they with hi. That would give them some cover of international
legitimacy. But now the French are saying they don`t want to do this
without the U.N. or at least going back to the U.N.
So, that is sort of going wobbly, if I could use that term from two decades
when we talked about the Gulf war. The French have gone soft publicly
supportive but not on the timing.
Plus, you have got Congress, and there is a real question which Dennis
McDonough, you know, tried to address which David Axelrod on "Meet the
Press" said it would be unlikely as to whether the president would actually
go and take military action now that he asked for congressional authority
without approval if the House rejects it. They do think that they can get
it back from the Senate. Now Kerry is going to cut short the trip by one
day fly back and really press hard on the Senate and House. He is
considered to be one of the better advocates up there because he did spend,
you know, almost 30 years in the Senate. He knows all of the players, he
knows a lot of the house members. But the house really is very turned
against this. And it was the question is whether it`s potentially a Senate
vote, will the president still take military action? That is very
HARRIS-PERRY: Final question for you here. Messaging seems so not be
working either domestically or internationally. Is there one message, one
set of images, one clear piece of intelligence that would change public
MITCHELL: Well, they think that these videos are really very, very
And I got to tell you. Kerry, you saw him a week ago Friday when he made
that passionate speech, when he had no idea, none of the top officials, not
Dennis McDonough, the chief of staff, none had an idea that the president
was going to then, suggest that night going and asking for Congress`s
authority. They all thought they were moving toward a final decision.
That said, Kerry has been passionately speaking about this and did it inch
French here in Paris yesterday. That was pretty impressive by the French,
they are wowed by that. They don`t expect to see that from secretary of
So, they think that they can make the comparison, the holocaust comparison.
Kerry has been saying that Bill Clinton has publicly said, I have heard him
saying it, not doing anything about Rwanda was the worst mistake of his
eight years in the oval office. They are making the genocide argument,
they are making the argument that once chemical weapons are used this
broadly and devastatingly with the evidence that everyone seems to be
accepting. There was no demure from the Arab league that this was done by
Assad and that it was devastating. They think they can make this case and
they are offering to do this as well with the Russians.
HARRIS-PERRY: Andrea Mitchell joining us from Paris this morning. Thank
you so much.
We are going to take a short break. But when we come back the campaign
component of the vote on Syria.
HARRIS-PERRY: One thing to be said for the politics of war, it`s not
politics as usual. We cannot predict, for once, what Congress will do when
it debates the resolution authorizing the president to use military force
against Syria. A test vote in the Senate Wednesday, however, revealed that
we can`t expect the vote to fall along traditional party lines.
The Senate foreign relations committee approved the resolution in a vote of
10-7, seven Democrats voted to approve it but two broke away and voted no.
Five Republicans voted against it but three joined the Democrats to say
aye. And when one Democrat, Ed Markey of Massachusetts voted present.
But, how do we look at a moment like this that is finally the
bipartisanship that we are hoping for in Congress, and yet it doesn`t
necessarily move us as toward particularly that there is a fundamental
agreement but rather that there is just a dividing line.
FRANKEN: Well, we do have more than the usual two sides in this. First of
all, I love how everybody embracing the road to Damascus. I hate to get
biblical, the whole story is about converging on the road to Damascus,
converging rather, on the road to Damascus. And I think that what we are
going to see in the next couple of days is a full court effort to try and
convert some of the votes.
But I think that probably most of them are cast in concrete right now.
What is so interesting about those is that you have this coalition of
Democrats who are doves ever since Vietnam and all the other ones, besides
which they opposed the Bush administrations plural forays into Iraq and
So, they are inclined to vote against something like this. You have
Republicans who basically look for ways to embarrass President Obama to put
it bluntly. And as serious as this, with all the implications, I don`t
think they will get away from this. So, you have this, plus you have the
fact that I hope you`re not offended by this former Congressman, but these
days people in politics lead from behind. And so, the polls mean more than
they ever did.
HARRIS-PERRY: Although, then we look at the polls, Michelle, this is part
of this notion, you can`t determine it partisanship from that congressman
as also seen in public opinion. So, when you look at public opinion polls,
in fact, support for a Syria strike by ideology shows that the
conservatives and moderates and liberals are very equally split on this.
Moderate are truly split, liberals at little more likely to oppose it but
not more likely to oppose it than conservatives. You just can`t sort of --
you couldn`t even follow the public opinion in the whole polls here. You
have you to lead on this one.
BERNARD: You have to lead on it. I think part of the problem the Obama
administration, which is really, I have to point out because I think it`s
fascinating. In 2008, Barack Obama was the dove, Hillary Clinton was the
hawk. And if you look at everything that we have seen --
HARRIS-PERRY: Not the dove he just said not Iraq, it should have been
BERNARD: Yes. Well, that was the public perception. And everything he
has done since he has been elected has been, you know, and I don`t say this
in terms of disparaging at all but it has been a continuation of what we in
terms of Bush policies. And he has done everything, I think --
MURPHY: Have you to let me -- Michelle, I love you but that couldn`t be
further from the truth. Because one thing on Iraq, when he got in there,
it was on the first few months, he said we are bringing them home. The
general said, no, we have got to stay in the zoo. We got to stay. And he
says, I told American people I`m going to bring them home. He did that.
He said I`m going to go after and hunt down bin Laden, he tripled troops in
Afghanistan, and now saying bring them home.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s always what he`s said. I mean, that is why, it is
the reason why I don`t like the notion he was the dove. I think, because
he never said I`m the dove. He said look, I have a specific policy and
doctrine. The problem here isn`t the notion of intervention or not. But
it is the question of unilateralism of it because that was the thing the
president believed he would not have to do, that he could in fact build
global support before there was any idea.
MURPHY: Right. And part of it is that the hand that President Obama was
dealt and John Kerry was dealt, is that our credibility as a country was
completely diminished. It was one of the worst strategic blunders in
American history was the Iraq war. And we are suffering from our
intelligence, because there was no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,
because there was no connection to 9/11.
And you know, the reality is what we`re seeing now. That`s why the global
world is saying, we are not sure --
FRANKEN: It is not only the one that he was dealt. I think that there
have been some credibility issues that have come up because of the whole
NSA matter. You and I probably disagree on that, but a lot of Americans
feel they have lied to in matters of national security.
HARRIS-PERRY: I will say the NSA is gathering intelligence. It`s not like
the debate is we don`t have enough information.
FRANKEN: And also were during Iraq.
BERNARD: Here is the problem in terms of this campaign and what we do in
Syria. There`s no doubt we have to do something. I don`t know if it`s a
military strike but we have to do something.
Regardless of what he did, the public perception was that he was the dove.
He has been muscular on foreign policy since he came into office. I don`t
think anyone is complaining about it. However, we are one weary nation.
We are a nation that has finally come to understand that there is no such
thing as a virtuous war. We don`t want to refer to civilian deaths as, you
know, as collateral damage anymore. That`s the difficulty.
HARRIS-PERRY: But part of why I wanted to bring initially at the of the
hour to that war weariness of the enter war period. Because the trench
warfare of World War I, the war that was meant to end all wars was
similarly where we were.
I don`t think Syria is World War II. I want to be very clear about that.
But I do think that the notion of the war weariness of this nation being
more relevant that the war weariness of the Syrian people who are in the
context of a civil war that displaced seven million people from their
nation is a little bit of a kind of global egoism.
I`m going straight to you as soon as we come back. Let`s take a quick
break and we will come back on this topic.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are back and talking about the politics of the Syria
Farai, the point you were making on the break is this might not be about
intelligence as it was in the context of Iraq, but instead, maybe about
whether or not we can effectively make any difference even if we do go in.
CHIDEYA: Absolutely. And there have been some very good analysis, there
is strat4, which is you know, basically an intelligence think tank that
produces analytics that are very depressing about our chance for success.
And I think that it is very difficult for a nation like the United States,
which is used to be a problem solver to realize we may not be able to solve
everything. Afghanistan is a classic example. Afghanistan we may have
done some good but that country is virtually ungovernable in and of itself.
And with or without U.S. intervention it`s factionalized. And I think
Syria is a victim of what I call the post colonial hangover, which is that
it is the constructed state that was basically cobbled together by colonial
powers. And people there don`t like each other because they didn`t intend
to be one country.
HARRIS-PERRY: I feel the soldier emerging over here.
MURPHY: You`re right. Our military did a great job in Afghanistan. But
now in Afghanistan, it takes a political solution of the Afghan people, not
our military might, and the same with Syria. And that`s because the
lobbing our tomahawk missiles does not mean they won`t use chemical weapons
in there. And that`s why the end game is so murky. We need organic
solutions within this country. It can`t be inorganic. We just can`t
impose our will. That`s the arrogance that we moved away for in the Bush
HARRIS-PERRY: But I thought there was a will that we were meant to impose
and that is the will of the international community on the use of certain
kinds of weapons. So this is, you know, I still haven`t quite figured out
where I stand on all this. But I`m not quite sure that I buy that when
there are certain sorts of atrocities even if we can`t be fully effective,
that you still have the responsibility to demonstrate the world community
is against this.
FRANKEN: There`s also the problem there`s no perception that these guys
really know what they are doing. That they are going to lob a few
missiles. For what? Nobody seems to answer that question. And we have
had that problem before. I`m about to go for three times that I
potentially offend you here.
The military when it went into Iraq had absolutely no idea what it was
going to do if shock and awe didn`t work in a couple-of- days. And I was
on the ground. I covered that war. And I would watch these guys fumbling
around dealing with a culture. They absolutely didn`t understand and
really had no idea what they were doing.
BERNARD: Can I pose a question to the military person. This is what I`ve
been grappling with and I don`t know what to do. But I feel we have a
moral obligation to do something. We didn`t lob any kind of missiles
against South Africa but the world sat back, United States sat back and
they said the system of apartheid is an absolute atrocity. Outside of
military intervention, what is it we can do? We have a bond --
MURPHY: Several things. We could do several things. We could really
address the refugee issue because there are millions of Syrians that are in
Jordan and Lebanon and they need help. Those two countries are bursting at
the seams. They are desperate and we have not really -- we helped a little
bit. But, we could rally that and really affect millions of people versus,
you know, the thousand that were killed, which is tragic.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yet those are not mutually exclusive options.
MURPHY: And they are not as sexy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And apartheid is evil at its core but also not
chemical weapon warfare. Let me ask though, on exactly this question that
seems to be at the table here. Let`s talk about John Kerry for a moment
who came out so strong. We don`t care what the U.N. says, we`re going.
Then the president comes out a few days later and says we`re going to wait
for a minute and talk to Congress. And I feel like I have seen the certain
strain in Kerry`s face ever since that moment. How much is there a
politics within the administration not only just a politics in Congress at
FRANKEN: Well, everybody is celebrating John Kerry for being so
passionate. Some people, however, and I`m one of them, think he may have
gone over the top when he made the speech the other day where he was
telling world leaders this is another Munich, that there is appeasement
potentially involved here. And that, if you don`t support the United
States position, you`re chamberless (ph). Now, that is kind of thing that
could just really seriously offend those world leaders.
BERNARD: I have to disagree. I think every statement Kerry has given
since this whole thing erupted has been very important in showing just
exactly what is at stake. I would venture to guess what we`re seeing in
his face is that someone in the administration has said to him it is your
job to build international support for this. We can`t go in alone.
MURPHY: And I would say that I thought his speech was the speech of his
HARRIS-PERRY: You were like, oh, man, where were you when you ran for
MURPHY: I think it`s John Kerry and I think it is Samantha Power who in
the White House are really pushing.
BERNARD: And Susan Rice.
MURPHY: And again, and Susan Rice, but I would just say just because, you
know, don`t confuse my restraint on lack of compassion or lack of courage.
And it was the American forces by the way. I served in Bosnia where you
still can`t walk in the grass because of land mines. I have been in the
villagers like there in Egypt where they were killing Muslims. This is not
black versus white thing. They were killing Muslims. It wasn`t until Bill
Clinton went in to send us, the troops, in to stop that.
HARRIS-PERRY: For me it`s tough to moderate the conversation about either
they didn`t know what they were doing or they were, in part, because I
recognize that what is happening on the battlefield and strategy of world
is something that is far beyond my sort of horizon of knowledge. But I
appreciate your point it`s not about lack of courage here, but potentially
is about this world weariness question. I just want us to be sure that as
we talk about world weariness, then we recognized whatever our war
weariness is, it`s not compared to the realities of the people you`ve
Ando, in fact, Patrick Murphy, I want to just say to other folks, Patrick
Murphy and Michelle are leaving us. But both of you have talked about what
else can we do. And there are more than seven million people in Syria who
have fled their homes, a third of the population. And if you want to
answer the question both Patrick and Michelle asked, what else can we do,
the United Nations refugee agencies is raising money for them.
You, if you want to do something that is not lobbing a missile, donate on
their Web site. We have sent it out on our link and out twitter feed
@mhpshow. There is also information on our Web site, mhp.com. It is a
little thing but there is something can you do this morning.
Up next, one of our favorite Nerdland guests returns to the studio.
Everything he is on, brings doughnuts but I suspect this time he brought
something a little extra.
HARRIS-PERRY: He is one of our favorite Nerdland guests. And not just
because he always brings us mouth watering doughnuts or the occasionally
locally brewed six-pack. Allentown Pennsylvania mayor, Ed Pawlowski,
helped turn around one of the state`s most financially struggling cities.
After inheriting an $8 million deficit in 2006, he transformed the city`s
coffers into a $14 million cash reserve to help the city weather the
Now, he has something special to announcement we`re pleased that Nerdland
gets to hear it first.
Good morning, mayor, how are you?
ED PAWLOWSKI (D), ALLENTOWN MAYOR: Good morning, how are you?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what`s the big announcement.
PAWLOWSKI: The big announcement is I`m here to tell you right here, first
time, I think on MHP, that tomorrow in the city of Allentown, I`m going to
be announcing that I will be running for governor of the state of
Pennsylvania in 2014.
HARRIS-PERRY: Governor on the state of Pennsylvania is not a small job, my
PAWLOWSKI: It is not a small job.
HARRIS-PERRY: When I think about Pennsylvania, I think about the realities
of an urban space and a rural space. Talk to me about what you see as the
characteristics of Pennsylvania. Why you are running here?
PAWLOWSKI: Well, you know, Pennsylvania is a very diverse state as you
just pointed out. I mean, we have very rural areas, we have very urban
areas, we have Pittsburgh on one side, we have Philadelphia on the other,
and Allentown, of course. Allentown is the third largest in the city of
Pennsylvania. And we have a very diverse set of problems. We have issues
affecting our urban cores, affecting rural areas, we have issues of
fracking that is happening and natural gas throughout the state. So, it`s
a very diverse set of issues. It is a big state. It is the fifth most
populace state in the country. And I`m going to tell you having driven
back and forth a couple of times, it`s a very long state as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you are going to be driving around the state in a bus.
PAWLOWSKI: Actually not a bus, an RV. We have an RV that we have had
wrapped. And we will be hitting 20 counties in nine days.
HARRIS-PERRY: So tell me, you have a background in urban planning and
public policy when you say there`s these diversion things. What do you
think of s the core planned for urban part, we are talking about the other
part, but the urban areas in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia has had economic
crisis. What have you learned from Allentown you will put into play in
PAWLOWSKI: Well, you know, I mean, Allentown is a great story. I mean, we
were like every other rust belt city that, you know, in the northeast and
Midwest. We were on the verge of collapse when I came in eight years ago.
Our economy was failing. We didn`t have jobs, we didn`t have economic
growth, you know. We were really on the brink of bankruptcy. And in eight
years, we turned that around. We now have a solid fiscal foundation to
build upon. We turn multi-million dollar deficits and the multi-million
surpluses. We actually solved our pension problem. We fully funded our
pension problem through this unique solution that we came up with. We are
the only municipality in the state that actually has fully funded pension,
maybe one of the few in the country. We have a billion dollars of new
economic development coming into our city because of really unique economic
development zone, bipartisan effort that we developed in the city of
Allentown. Over 4,000 jobs coming in. And this year in 2014 for the 9th
straight year in a row, our citizens are not going to see a property tax
Now, there`s not many cities that can say that, and not only in
Pennsylvania but across the country. So, you know, I think what I have
learned in being mayor is that, you know -- let me back up. One of the
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. I can`t let you back up, only because they are going to
calm my time. But that said, you`re going to hang out with us.
PAWLOWSKI: I`m going to hang out with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. So, stay with us because we are going to talk more
about mayors, about what we learned from this and leadership. And you know
PAWLOWSKI: We are going to have some donuts.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to have some donuts because Mayor Pawlowski
always brings donuts. What else do you want from somebody who is going to
More when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The New York City of mayoral primary will take place next
Tuesday, September 10th. Yesterday "New York" magazine published an
interview with outgoing third term mayor Michael Bloomberg that revealed a
great deal about him and his news about Democratic front-runner Bill De
Blasio who has surges as a result of this opposition to racial profiling
and its plans to address the city`s going income gap.
De Blasio`s campaign maybe popular with potential voters, but Mayor
Bloomberg doesn`t care much for it, referencing ads in campaign appearances
featuring de Blasio`s his black wife and his two biracial children called,
Bloomberg de Blasio`s campaign quote "class warfare and racist" in the
interview in New York magazine.
Now, Bloomberg tried to qualify immediately afterwards saying no, no. I
mean, he is making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think
it`s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he is doing. I don`t think he
himself is racist, comparable to me pointing out that I`m Jewish and
attracting the Jewish vote. De Blasio responded later on Saturday with
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY MAYORAL CANDIDATE: Very unfortunate and
inappropriate as I said earlier. I hope the mayor will re-consider what he
said. I hope he will realize that it was inappropriate. And I think the
people of this city are ready to move forward together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining the table, "New York Post" editorial writer, Robert
George and back again are syndicated columnist Bob Franken and NYU
journalism professor, Farai Chideya.
OK. What do you make of Bloomberg`s comments?
CHIDEYA: Bloom-bido (ph). You know, that is one of the nicknames on the
twitter feed. But you know, what strikes me as fascinating is that this
really, when you look at this interview by Mayor Bloomberg, who I`m not at
all against as a New York City mayor. It reveals an Achilles heel on race
and class. It is not just about race. But in this, he also basically
talks about why poor and working class people should be happy to be poor
and working class in New York.
HARRIS-PERRY: Actually, I`m more worried about his class comment.
CHIDEYA: Yes, exactly. But what he did, you know, he is -- he said that
he is in favor of the "New York Times" endorsing Christine Quinn. He
essentially forced Christine Quinn to then denounce his remarks about race.
So, how does that help your candidate? It`s an Achilles Helorama (ph).
FRANKEN: Yes. Well, first of all, he knows how important the word race
is. He should be ashamed of himself for using that word and then trying to
mini-mouth (ph) his way out of it as he did.
Secondly, let`s face it, when it comes to economic matters, he is the
representative of the Oligarc (ph) and that choose that word on purpose.
He is somebody that will come up with all these rationalizations for the
unsavory conduct of the people in his little club, the one percenters they
have been called or something like that.
And I know, Robert, you and I are going to disagree on that. But the last
thing is people who use the term "class warfare" are the very people who
have conducted a class warfare against everybody but the super rich class,
and that kind of thing. It was an amazing interview.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, it was. It was deeply revealing.
I want to ask you, if I were to give Bloomberg on the race question alone
the kind of broadest, I think most generous reading I can, it`s really
there are sort of two ways of using and telling the word racist. So, I
know that seems a little academic.
ROBERT GEORGE, EDITORIAL WRITER, NEW YORK POST: And that`s why we`re here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I just want to present an idea, one is the idea of
race-ist, someone who thinks about race, who puts race at the top, and
thinks of it as a meaningful category, who uses it to explain and
understand and persuade.
The other is racist, right, which is about believing that some particular
race is superior to another and acting on it. And in the most generous
reading I have, what he`s saying is de Blasio is racist, in the sense that
he is thinking about race and activating it as a category, which I don`t
think of as necessary problematic.
GEORGE: Well, I think you may have given Bloomberg one of the most fair --
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s my most generous reading.
GEORGE: But politically speaking, if it`s possible for a candidate who is
not running to create almost a career killing gaffe, this was basically it.
I mean, and the people that are most furious about what Bloomberg did are
Chris Quinn and Bill Thompson.
HARRIS-PERRY: Dependent do them any good.
GEORGE: They are running behind de Blasio right now, and they are, you
know, they are trying to like close the gap in the next couple of days.
And Bloomberg created a whole public sympathy towards de Blasio and his
family. And the fact, that ad which we saw just a little about of bill de
Blasio`s son, Dante, it was -- everybody across the spectrum saw it as one
of the best ad of the last 20 or 30 years. You know, showing your family
and showing how -- the fact of certain policies impact your family, I mean,
that`s certainly fair game.
And I -- I mean, look, I think I`m virulently disagree with de Blasio on
Stop-and-Frisk. What Bloomberg did, I think, was kind of blow up the
campaign in a way very poorly for people that he actually would support
like Chris Quinn.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to take a quick break and we are going to come
right back. But I think this point is a really important one, this idea
that to show you have a family is sort of politics 101. The fact that his
family happens to be an interracial family is simply and identity.
But I think what`s key here for me is that de Blasio does not say vote for
me in this kind of base identity way because I love a black woman and have
raised black children, but rather his claim is not identity politics, it is
policy politics. He says support me because I`m against Stop-and-Frisk. I
was early out of the gate against Stop-and-Frisk and your community is also
against in which means the exact opposite of identity politics.
GEORGE: Bill de Blasio is running a similar campaign or similar campaign
against Chris Quinn that Barack Obama ran against Hillary Clinton.
HARRIS-PERRY: That is fascinating.
I want to play with that a little more. Because New York is not the only
city where race is playing a major factor in mayoral campaigns, from New
York to Boston to Detroit, race is very much a factor in the race for
Plus, the color of the catwalk. We are going to talk about diversity and
fashion with an all-star panel, including the fabulous J. Alexander.
There is always more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry at a very poorly
behave Nerdland table during the commercial break. I know, there is really
a lot going on.
Listen folks, totally the MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY is the show here in three
major mayoral races under way right now, race has reveal that is felt to be
a major factor. And each of us re-raises is actually playing a very
different role. Race has hardly ever been not an issue in Boston,
Massachusetts, where crisis over school bussing resulted in protests,
riots, and other disturbances from the mid-1970s through the late 1980s.
Boston incidentally has never had a mayor who wasn`t white.
On the flip side, it`s Detroit, Michigan, a city that is now more than 82
percent black, and which is only have black mayors since 1974. Both Boston
and Detroit could be on the verge of a big change. This week, Detroit
certified the results of its mayoral primary. And the winner write-in
candidate Mike Duggan who heads general election favor to become Detroit`s
first white mayor in 40 years.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, Mayor Tom Menino told "The New York Times" that
if he were the mayor of Detroit he`d blow up the place and start all over -
- a comment that has drawn some serious shame (ph) from Detroit`s current
mayor, Dave Bing.
In Boston right now, since of the 12 contenders to replace the retiring
mayor are people of color. But there`s been some outcry about an announced
nonwhites only candidates forum scheduled for Tuesday.
And, of course, here in New York City, we`ve seen big victories in the last
month for civil rights advocates in the federal court where the stop and
frisk policing tactic was ruled unconstitutional and city council which
overruled Mayor Mike Bloomberg`s veto of the law adding protections against
police profiling. Probably not a surprise then that the so-called anti-
Bloomberg Bill de Blasio has surged into a massive lead over fellow
contenders Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson leading up to Tuesday`s
Joining us are Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Robert George of "The New York
Post", columnist Bob Franken, and journalism professor Farai Chideya.
So, Mayor, I want to come to you. You`re the only mayor at the table.
PAWLOWSKI: I thought you`re saying (INAUDIBLE).
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I know, right? It`s been crazy down there. But also,
as you just announced here, you`re seeking higher office, you`re seeking to
be governor. In both cases, being a mayor of a diverse state, how do you
govern for all the people?
PAWLOWSKI: I think it`s a very good question. You know, Allentown I think
is pretty much a melting pot, just like a lot of other cities are. We have
55 percent minority population, over 40 percent Latino, we have 12 percent
African-American. We have a large Syrian population, Turkish population,
Indian population, Caucasian population. And I am definitely the minority
in my city. Yet I`ve been elected two terms.
I`m running for my third term, hope to be elected there. And so, you know,
I -- when you look at the issues that are affecting urban areas, you have
to look at that people just want to see some change. They don`t want
gridlock. They don`t want a Republican way, they don`t want Democratic way,
they want to make sure whoever is in charge actually cares about them.
They want good sales, they want safe streets.
And it doesn`t matter what race you are as long as you`re being able to
give them solutions to those problems affecting them on a daily basis.
That`s what they want to see at the end of the day.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s an interesting question in the context of New York
because, you know, Bloomberg is not a Democrat, he`s not a Republican, he
often defies whatever -- even the narrow constraints of what conservative
or liberal would be. But he is a rich guy and -- but not that rich guy
would necessarily mean one is an oligarch, right?
But in the language that came out of this article, you have the sense that
he somehow doesn`t get the experience or reflection of the kind of
FRANKEN: Well, the language in the article is consistent with what he said
any number of times in his opposition to the people, the Occupy Wall Street
people, that kind of thing. By the way, I have to say I`ve been a bit
distressed we`re having this conversation about mayor`s races and have not
talked about Anthony Weiner and I just wanted to, in fact, make sure that -
HARRIS-PERRY: Did you actually hear me say in the makeup room how excited
I was that I no longer have to talk about Anthony Weiner.
FRANKEN: How could we have a discussion that was just cheap shots?
But back to the point, Bloomberg style has been one of top-down, sort of
the corporate style. That doesn`t necessarily work as I`m sure you can
argue when you`re working in a democratic government. It`s an entirely
different ball game.
CHIDEYA: Let me bring up practical points about New York that echo the
larger discussions that we`re going to have. I live in a neighborhood,
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which has been predominantly West Indian. That`s
where Anthony Weiner, aka Carlos Danger, tried to do some Jamaican postings
CHIDEYA: Anyway, long story short, Goldman Sachs is now investing in the
neighborhood, the hipsters, the white hipsters who got priced out of
Williamsburg are coming down a certain avenue, Bedford Avenue, into Crown
Heights. What we`re seeing are classic tensions gentrification.
And I think overall in America, across mayoralties, the issue is how can
you treat everyone with respect? You know, the people who -- I mean, a lot
of my neighbors work two full time jobs to pay to live in New York.
They are not free loaders. They are not coasting. They are the backbone
of this city.
And I what I think Bloomberg`s interview did was disrespect the people.
There is a great photo series called "Humans of New York," and this woman
who`s Dominican-American talks about having to shower and go to her next
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to underline the respect point for just a moment.
Bill de Blasio`s wife Ms. McCray was on Twitter yesterday -- I hate it
when I have to say that on air -- but it was an interesting moment because
what she tweeted was "Mike Bloomberg, enough of patriarchal thinking, I`m
not a property or tool to be used or control. Stop the sexism."
So, it`s interesting me to me on this question of respect, that what she
did was not go to race but to say that acting as, though, if she was
deployed as a tool constitute kind of sexism. And it felt like a --
GEORGE: Of course, there`s a kind of -- it`s kind of interesting how we
play these games. It was just a couple weeks ago where people were
wondering whether de Blasio`s wife in her interview with Maureen Dowd was
sort of playing the "I`m married and I have kids," Chris Quinn, who is gay,
does not have kids, whether they were kind of trying to play the family
So it`s kind of interesting how these different kinds of identities play
HARRIS-PERRY: Respectability and queer politics.
GEORGE: Queer politics, yes. Exactly. So, I mean -- you know, look,
everybody is going to take advantage of these kinds of gaffes when they pop
up. But keep in mind, they are all politicians and none of them --
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, a very long article. It`s certainly easy to go in,
that`s why I wanted to do racist, racist, because I think it`s easy to say,
he`s -- I wasn`t a gaffe, it`s a world view going on there.
GEORGE: Yes. I mean, it`s completely and totally indefensible, because
one thing the politicians often have in common with the mafia is that
families are off limits. And Mike Bloomberg seriously crossed that line.
To Farai`s point, the neighborhood she was talking about, that was a site
20 years ago of the riots between blacks and Jews and so forth. And the
fact we are talking about the different kinds of tensions that are going on
there, a little more class based and it`s not just about race, that shows
how much New York has improved.
GEORGE: Mike Bloomberg can take some credit for that. But the fact he
doesn`t recognize that --
HARRIS-PERRY: Pause for me. Stay right there. Up next, Boston`s mayoral
race and the candidate trying to make history who will join us right here
HARRIS-PERRY: The race to replace a longtime Boston Mayor Tom Menino is
wide open, with 12 candidates vying for the job. Menino held for 20 years.
It`s a crowded field by one stands out in particular, former State
Representative Charlotte Golar Richie, the only one in the race. And if
elected, Richie would be the Boston`s first African-American mayor and the
first woman to lead the city. She joins us now from Boston.
It`s so nice to have you with us.
CHARLOTTE GOLAR RICHIE (D), BOSTON MAYORAL CANDIDATE: It`s a pleasure to
be here, Melissa. Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you a question, 12 people is a lot. Six
nonwhites are running. Now, normally there`s sort of a pregame process
often in minority communities where you build consensus, you end up with
one or two running. How did you end up with a crowded field?
RICHIE: Well, I have no problem with the fact that we`ve got 12 candidates
running and half the candidates are from communities of color. I think
it`s invigorating, inspiring, history making. I`m happy to be among them.
You know, I think -- I`ve known many of them, I`ve worked with many of them
and everybody wants to do right by the city of Boston. And they want us to
move the city.
I think I have -- of course I think I`m uniquely qualified for this
position. I have a unique set of experiences and perspective that puts me
in particular advantageous position, I believe. I have served as a
legislator and I also was chief of housing for city of Boston working with
Mayor Menino for eight years. I helped build much of the city,
strengthening small businesses, bringing neighborhoods all across Boston.
So, I`m really excited about this race.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, obviously, you know, you talk about being excited about
the race and about housing. Housing issues in Boston often are very
fraught with concerns around race as they are in many cities. Talk to me,
then, in a race that has -- campaign that has six nonwhite candidates in
it, six people from communities of color, how in fact people are navigating
the question of race at this moment.
RICHIE: Race, interesting. I would say this. First of all, I`ve been in
politics for two decades and government for two decades at least. And we
see Boston as a world-class city. It is more open, more accessible than it
has ever been probably in its history. People from all over the country,
the world flock to this city to attend our world-class universities, to
receive medical care at our world-class hospitals. This is the place to
But race is still an issue that rears its -- I don`t want to say ugly head
-- but its rears it head very often. We saw that last week.
HARRIS-PERRY: And most recently, in this question of candidates forum that
only invited the six candidates who come from communities of color. Are
you planning to take part of this kind of no whites allowed debate?
RICHIE: Well, I`ve made it very clear, Melissa, that I am going to
respectfully bow out of that. I think the organizers have decided to
expand the invitation list and allow for all the candidates to attend a
forum. So, the situation has changed.
But early on when the forum was conceived it was intended for candidates of
color. I don`t think the intention was to, you know, sort of say to the
white candidates they have nothing to say, but to shine a light on the fact
that we are making history if we are able to elect a candidate of color in
HARRIS-PERRY: Farai, I want to bring you in, because that was the
challenge. I was reading this notion candidates forum only candidates of
color. I understand. I understand the impulse of it but I also retracted
a little bit in part because I feel like white candidates must in the
communities of color --
CHIDEYA: Exactly. There`s a difference who is at the table, i.e., only
candidates of color and what issues are on the table. If you threw a forum
that said lets address the issues facing black, brown, and Asian-American,
Bostonians, that`s very different. That`s a topic-based debate and
hopefully, this will evolve into that.
GEORGE: And we`ve had those kinds of forums in New York. I mean --
HARRIS-PERRY: You speak to a community about their concerns.
GEORGE: I mean, how would you do that in New York? Would bill de Blasio
be allowed to come?
HARRIS-PERRY: He could send his wife.
GEORGE: That`s the kind of world we`re in right now, trying to do
something like blacks only or communities of color seems so `60s or `70s.
HARRIS-PERRY: What I don`t want to miss, as much as on the one hand there
are issues that face communities and I want white candidates to speak to
communities of color. On the other hand, Charlotte, part of the reason we
wanted you here is because there is nonetheless something history-making
also about identity, and it doesn`t mean that your candidacy would be
better or worse for women or people of color but it does seem that it`s
different, something embodied in a candidate who`s also a candidate from
RICHIE: No doubt about it. Here in Boston, people of color make up about
53 percent of the population. Women are about 52 percent and probably the
majority of the electorate. So I understand the historical significance of
electing a woman and a woman of color. That`s going to -- that will be big
in the city of Boston.
And it`s not just people of color or women excited about that notion. A
lot of people, you know, men and women and blacks and Latinos and Asians
and whites are all excited about the notion that we might be able to make
history. The question is, you know, this is a short race. If I`m
successful, I can write a book on how to become mayor in five months.
RICHIE: Mayor Menino decided probably reluctantly that he was not going to
seek re-election. And so, we had to all pull this sort of out of a hat. I
will say, you know, I hadn`t run for legislature since 1998. I have not
been in elected office since 1999, and I didn`t have a war chest sitting
there. I didn`t have an organization in place. We`re able to hit the
ground running, gaining momentum every day.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Charlotte Golar Richie from Boston.
Ed Pawlowski, Robert George and Bob Franken and Farai Chideya all here at
the table -- thank you so much.
Up next, we`re going to take race to a different place, the runway. We`re
talking fashion and diversity with the one and only J. Alexander. I`m
going to walk and I`m a nerd and it`s really something -- when we come
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s about to get fierce up in Nerdland, fashionably fierce.
We`re smack-dab in the middle of New York`s Fashion Week where top
designers come to show their 2014 collection.
Hey, Jason Wu, just in case you have any extras with a generous cut in the
hips, you can send them right over here to 30 Rock for me. As fabulous as
all this is, there`s one thing about this week that`s not fashion forward,
and that is the industry`s continuing lack of diversity on the runway.
According to Web site Jezebel.com, during fall/winter 2013 shows this year,
82.7 of models were white, 9.1 Asian, 6 percent black, 2 percent Latina,
and 0.3 percent other.
When it comes down to it, any industry predominantly reflecting only one
portion of society is neither fashionable nor fierce.
Joining me at the table is the fiercest fashion insider model -- model and
runway coach J. Alexander, who you may remember as a successful run on
America`s top model.
I`m excited myself that you are here.
J. ALEXANDER, MODEL AND RUNWAY COACH: Good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why do we care about fashion, I know $532 million comes to
New York as a result of fashion week but why do we care about fashion?
ALEXANDER: Because fashion is about diversity, and melting pot -- I think
America or New York City is a melting pot for fashion. And we know, many
people of many different races and shades and colors wear fashion --
winter, spring, summer and fall.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about the role of the runway. It feels to me on
the question of diversity. On the one hand I look at colors of magazines
we have, except for Kerry Washington on "The Glamour," there isn`t a woman
of color, particularly September issues around fashion week. Yet, if I
start flipping through, it feels like on the pages in print there is some
diversity, but the runways, extraordinarily homogeneous.
What`s the difference between the runway -- what is the role the runway
ALEXANDER: The role the runway plays is to get the ideas, fantasy,
marketing out. You get women to buy and to dream and to fantasize about
being these girls on the runway. When we see fashion shows, you know, as
people of color, I think we tend to look for someone we can identify with.
And if we don`t see it, we`re almost feel as though we`re forgotten, you
know, in that sense that we don`t buy clothes, that we`re not interested in
fashion. And many, many blacks, females, spend millions on fashion yearly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is fantasy why those runways end up so white? Is whiteness
aspirational? Is that why -- in other words, do we not aspire to be the
brown-skinned girl with wide features and the short hair. Do we only
aspire to be this?
ALEXANDER: No, we can aspire to be that girl, that black girl that`s not
so ethnic in her features. I mean, if you`re going to look at Liya, first
black face of Estee Lauder. She can relate to a black girl, a Latina girl,
Dominican girl. She can relate, it`s almost all-American.
But if you get someone that`s a little more ethnic, you know, full lips and
wide nose, that may not translate to their audience that they feel they
would like to sell clothing to, if it makes sense.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there a stereotype or assumption we don`t have money,
African-Americans don`t have money to spend on fashion, therefore that`s
why it doesn`t matter?
ALEXANDER: I don`t know if that`s the assumption. As we all know, that`s
ALEXANDER: I mean, there`s so much money running around and black people
spending so much money on not only clothes but many other things as well.
But I think when people are casting shows, or the designer gets inspired
and does an inspiration board, I don`t think he thinks of race in it. He
just thinking of his own inspiration, his own theme, his own idea, how to
translate that to the catwalk unless they are thinking about a show that`s
sort of like ethnic, like African prints, you know, very exotic.
At one point, you had girls who would be put in a catwalk as that one black
girl because we complained. We had issues with it. So you would get one
black girl. But that one black girl was always that one black girl that
you wasn`t sure what she was.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you about one black woman critical to shaping the
world over the last five years, Michelle Obama. So many people love her
style. I wanted to show you a little bit of the image of Michelle Obama
walking. How would you judge the first lady`s walk?
ALEXANDER: As I look at Michelle`s walk, she has that walk that she`s just
doing her thing. She`s moving.
If I had to really get into her walk, I`d have her stand up a little
straighter. Sometimes I think --
HARRIS-PERRY: Tall girls.
ALEXANDER: She has that complex, taller than her husband, won`t wear a
really high heel. She`s just trying to sort of lay back, let him be the
person that`s in the forefront and she`s just going to sit back a bit.
So, I`d spend some time -- she could be sort of like a little hidden in the
back and I think she --
HARRIS-PERRY: You inject just an ounce more fierceness.
ALEXANDER: Michelle, before you get out of that White House, call me,
girl. We`ve got some walking to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with us, J. We`re going to add a couple more terrific
voices to the table when we come back.
ALEXANDER: The lack of diversity in fashion is nothing new. Five years
ago, "Vogue" magazine published the article, is fashion racist, where
legendary model Iman questioned why the world of fashion like diversity in
this day and age. Fast forward to Thursday, where Iman`s longtime friend
and former model Bethann Hardison letters to major fashion design councils
which said, "No matter the intention, the result is racism. Whether it`s
the decision of the designer, stylist, or casting director, the decision to
use basically all white models reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern
At the table, I`m beside myself model and runway coach J. Alexander;
Toccara Jones, a plus sized supermodel, who is a contestant on cycle three
of "America`s Next Top Model", Vanessa K. Bush, editor in chief of
"Essence" magazine; Emme, a plus size super model and body image advocate.
Thank you all for being here.
I want to start with you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let`s go into it.
HARRIS-PERRY: I feel like on the one hand we`re saying, OK, we need more
women of color in this space. But then I hear so many critiques of the
space. Should I want more girls here or should I want to change the whole
space all together on modeling?
TOCCARA JONES, PLUS SIZE MODEL: Plus. I am a plus size model. We`re
talking about black models on the runway. It`s a double whammy. Not only
am I black but I`m full figured. So, we need all models, yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: And what difference does it make? I have an 11.5-year-old
daughter. What difference does it make when she looks at the cover of
these magazines, there are images that look like her.
JONES: It`s very important. If we don`t see us, how do we know what to
aspire to do? We need the exposure, we need to be seen so that we know
that we can grow, that it is attainable and just putting one here and there
is not going to do it. It frustrates me. It is very frustrating.
I was just in a show on Monday. Not only was I the only plus black girl
but I was a plus girl, too. So, the agency calls, are you the only plus
girls there? Are there any plus girls there? Even bloggers said, Toccara,
we want to know who the plus girl was. It`s a big thing. It was just me.
We need to see more faces.
ALEXANDER: The thing is when we speak about it is when they toss one or
two of us in the show. Then, after that it gets quiet. Then it gets
quiet. Then somebody brings it up again --
JONES: I don`t know. I get kind of scared. It is my business. Then I
talk about it, it`s like I`m talking about my business I want to be in.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`ve got to be careful.
JONES: I want you to put me in your runway shows. I want to be seen. If
I`m steady saying you`re not showing me, not representing me, it`s turning
them off because I have a voice and I`m not afraid to say something.
VANESSA K. BUSH, ESSENCE MAGAZINE: That`s why it`s critical for "Essence"
magazine to exist. We`ve been here for years, in the beginning it was very
difficult to find anyone. Literally, Susan Taylor, who`s the beauty
director at the time would look for women on the street. She discovered
oppose her on a city bus. I mean, we would go to college campus looking
for models because there wasn`t enough diversity to choose from. And it`s
still a challenge today.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting. The existence of a space like essence
gives live to the notion that there aren`t exquisite beautiful women of
color that can do this work, right, there is.
You and I were talking earlier. My daughter and I wrote a piece for the
July essence, which is the body issue, I interviewed my 11-year-old
daughter and she told me how she felt about her body. I don`t know I would
have done it in a space other than essence. I knew black women readers
would have a kindness, a kind of softness towards reading about my daughter
that I`m not sure if readers of other magazines might have.
BUSH: Right. We`ve embraced diversity for 43 years. You know, it`s very
important to us to show the range of sizes, shapes, and --
EMME, MODEL: You do a good job of that.
BUSH: Yes. It`s incredibly important because there is such a dearth. I`m
shocked we`re still talking about this, that we`re still having this
EMME: It`s amazing in this day and age we don`t have CEOs and designers
and people around the conference room tables taking it beyond just the
designers choosing or the minions of the people choosing the models, but
really the brothers, the fathers, the mothers, the sisters, the aunts.
Whether it`s an African-American issue or a size issue, quite frankly, we
need to take more responsibility of what we`re projecting out into the
world. It`s no longer the haute couture, very, very exclusive places
buyers interested in fashion were there to choose and to pick, it`s now
So, when our children, I, too, share a beautiful 12-year-old, and 11-year-
old, we`re all blossoming. We blossomed in this very exclusive kind of
place. We need to remember when we book the models and for the shows, that
not only are we doing it for buyers, we`re doing it for the way women see
themselves around the world.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, J., if the world of fashion becomes more democratic,
with a little D in that sense, if the are more different kinds of -- does
it then take the aspirational part away? We were talking like well, I
mean, I`ve got a friend that looks like this.
EMME: You have to have top models, because you`re not going to have just
any full figured woman walking out there, or African-American woman, of
ALEXANDER: You have to choose -- you have to choose what is right for your
show, right for your image. I always say when it comes down to signing
those contracts up in the beauty department, I think the man who is white
is sort of like signing a contract to a woman who his wife can sort of look
up to, or idolized, if it makes any sense. I mean, I can only imagine at
the boardroom or table when Liya signed onto Estee Lauder.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to stay on this. I`m going to come right back
to you. I don`t have any friends that look like you. It`s bizarre to be
setting to you and have the level of gorgeousness coming off of her right
Up next, J. Alexander tries to teach me how to walk the runway. People,
nerd, it`s real when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Seriously, one of the reasons I admire women who model is
because they have to walk the catwalk in six-inch heels and not fall. Here
I am with J. who tried to teach me to get my model walk on earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re so light on your feet. OK. Here we go. We`re going
to try nerd walking. Here we go.
ALEXANDER: Shoulder back. Up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Feels very tense.
ALEXANDER: You`re like this.
HARRIS-PERRY: That was lovely. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: In all seriousness, in addition to walking and not falling,
models also face the constant scrutiny around their bodies and their size.
The average American woman size 12 to 14, the pressure to be thin can be
So, this the moment we were just having when I was saying the idea of you
as a plus size is bizarre. I`m sitting next to you. You look like a human
size human to me.
ALEXANDER: What`s a human sized human?
JONES: You`re tiny. I look like an average sized American, that we were
talking during the break. I say I`m a plus size model because that`s what
they call me. That`s what I`m labeled at.
EMME: Woman with a figure.
JONES: I call myself a woman with a figure. I am the average sized
American. Like J. said, we`re in this business where you do have to fit
measurements, you have to fit a certain within guidelines for your job
So, they do have their regulations. They divide them. That`s the title
they gave them.
I embraced it because I am plus, I am more, I am fabulous, nothing negative
about me. But I do embrace what Emme told me, so many are stuck it`s a bad
word. Even though plus is a positive word, they made it a negative word.
And they won`t let it go as a negative word. So, since I do have a voice I
have to now be able to say, well, let`s keep that there and lets keep a new
word. Want to call it curvy, what`s going to empower us, make us feel good
about ourselves. If you feel better saying curvaceous, if you`re lets do
HARRIS-PERRY: This has been your work, your campaign.
JONES: There`s totally a separation, though. It is. You know, straight
size versus curvy girl.
EMME: Always. I think if we don`t keep using our voices on vehicles like
this, thank you so much, Melissa, and vehicles like in "Ebony", thank you
so much, as well as a couple of other magazines that work on having
diversified body shape, we could always use more diversity in color as
well. If we don`t keep using our voices and actually maybe playing -- do a
game changer. Possibly let the individuals who are making the decisions
know about the problems with eating disorders that are hurting the country
and talk about their own children.
That they are making these decisions no longer just a very small few that`s
seeing whatever they are reflecting out there. That the images of beauty
is a much wider --
HARRIS-PERRY: J., go.
ALEXANDER: The thing is, education starts at home.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right.
ALEXANDER: I always say, if you walk up on the door and a super person
answers the door, a super person in the house --
ALEXANDER: Yes, it`s up to you two women to let girls know who are a
little sexier with a little bit of weight how to dress that weight. I saw
a TV show called "Dress the Fat." I saw a young girl sat next to me,
across from me. I took a picture of her. First time I ever stopped
someone in public and put her on the spot.
She was walking trying to keep her skirt down, dress down. I took her,
took a picture of the front and back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She can`t find clothes, J.
HARRIS-PERRY: Instructional moment here.
EMME: I`m sensitive.
ALEXANDER: So I`m going to take that dress, I know it`s too damn short.
So, I`m not going to --
EMME: It`s tight.
ALEXANDER: It was too tight, and took a picture on my phone and --
EMME: Tight but cute looking.
JONES: When I was top model, I had to get dressed you put me in this store
Century 21, I had to wear a muumuu or I had to wear something --
JONES: It`s not fair.
EMME: Safety pins and tape on my back.
BUSH: There really needs to be a reality check. When you look at what the
predominant majority says, they are very comfortable, especially our
readers if they are thick, curvy, they embrace it. They have not a problem
The people at the table making the decisions have to be very deliberate and
comfortable with the fact that we, the public, are fine with our curves.
And we -- it`s not about not being healthy because you look at digital
health scorecard, I mean, BMI, you can be healthy with curves. You don`t
have to be pencil thin.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And black women carry a higher BMI with similar body
measurements. I think this point is such an important one because we say,
OK, these folks at the top aren`t comfortable with it, so it must be
filtered to the bottom.
Certainly, some of that is true, but the other piece of it is part of what
black and brown women bring to the table is offensive like preference for a
little behind and a little something happening.
JONES: Other cultures are referring a little more behind, too.
ALEXANDER: They always have. I think they always have. It`s just that in
the fashion world it is --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s very much one way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Does first lady Obama make any difference here? She`s not
only African-American woman style icon, tall, muscular. She certainly has
a figure, she`s not a pencil. Does it make a difference to have that woman
as our first lady representing all this diversity --
BUSH: A huge, huge difference. We did a survey for our July body issue,
2,500 black women responded. One of their icons, body image icon is
Michelle Obama, the other one is Beyonce, the other Angela Bassett. And
they all have --
HARRIS-PERRY: What about my girl Kerry?
HARRIS-PERRY: There we go, all of it.
JONES: Embracing all of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: I so appreciate you being here. Maybe we`ll come back
again. I can`t tell you, I`m beside myself with all of you here.
J. Alexander, Toccara Jones, Vanessa K. Bush, and Emme -- thank you so
Up next we are taking another turn here -- the author whose books could be
all over your home without you even knowing it, 60 million already sold and
more to come.
By the way, my executive producer is currently jumping up and down and
clapping about our guest. The executive producer is the tall one, not the
HARRIS-PERRY: Pop quiz. Can you name this artist? Four-time "New York
Times" best seller with one book reaching number one and staying on the
list for an entire year.
This person, here is another hint, is a she. She has sold more than 60
million books. But, wait, there`s more. In addition to books, she has
been creating greeting cards for the past 40 years, with 300 million of
But wait, there`s more. In addition to writing and illustrating books,
she`s also written songs, directed and produced five musical albums, one of
which landed her a Grammy nomination.
But wait, there`s more this person collaborated with performers like Meryl
Streep, and Blues Traveler, and Kate Winslet just to name a few.
Can you guess who it is yet? If not and you have a child under the age of
5, take a look around your house and my guess is that you will find her
name. Her books feature titles like "Hippos Go Berserk", "Moo, Baa, La La
La", and "Pajama Time". And her latest book album combo is "Frog Trouble"
and 11 Other Pretty Serious Songs." Feature artists include Ryan Adams and
Alison Krauss and Ben Folds and Darius Rucker.
Take a look.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
HARRIS-PERRY: The woman behind it all is author/cartoonist, songwriter
director and music producer, Sandra Boynton. And I am thrilled to welcome
you to Nerdland.
SANDRA BOYNTON, AUTHOR, "FROG TROUBLE": I`m excited to be here. Thank
HARRIS-PERRY: You`ve been spending the whole hour talking about race.
Race in politics, race in the catwalk. But part of what I love about your
work, is that because everybody is a pig, or a frog, or turtle or a cow, if
they are not male or female or fat or skinny or black or white.
BOYNTON: Or young or older.
HARRIS-PERRY: Or young or older.
BOYNTON: That`s right. They can just be themselves. They sort of are the
essence of qualities rather than some sort of divisive place or some sort
of hyper-identified place. They are just themselves.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you write for children?
BOYNTON: I write for everyone. I don`t really attempt to think of myself
as -- and I love to write for children. But to me, the best children`s
work is for everyone and meant to be shared by everyone.
This latest project, they call it for ages 1 to older than dirt because
that seems to be the right demographic for it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Part of it is that as parents, especially when our kids are
this age, we read to them. If this story engages us, if we feel happy and
excited, or sad melancholy about it, it just helps then we put more into
BOYNTON: And I think kids are delighted to share their favorite books with
their parents. If their parents particularly love what they are reading to
them, that`s exciting for the child as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why the music?
I mean, books and ability to hand and feel a book is a great sufficient for
a child. Why the music as well?
BOYNTON: I do the music with a book, although it does stand on its own.
Partly, it`s self-indulgence. I love music. I always love record music
and I got to the point -- I have four kids. And I got to the point when
they were little, I didn`t think that the music being made for children in
general was complex enough. I thought there shouldn`t be a distinction.
You shouldn`t know if you`re hearing it remotely is that a children`s or
adult song, you shouldn`t know. It`s really just more of the subject
So, I really decided that I wanted to do is produce music, write and
produce the kind of music I wanted to listen to with my children.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk about the new project.
BOYNTON: The new project is called "Frog Trouble." It`s my fifth book CD
combination, but it`s my first country music album. And I was a little --
people kept asking me because of the other albums I`ve done, why haven`t
you done a country music album. I thought, it`s not a question I`m from
BOYNTON: Then I thought, wait, it actually does make sense to me. Anyone
growing up in my era, especially country music permeated the whole culture.
I`m the same age as rock and roll. Being in Philadelphia with "American
Bandstand" and radio and everything, you`re just surrounded by rock and
role and the kind of energy and ingenuity that was happening in recording.
That`s really my first love. Its roots are in country.
So, I guess I`m really coming back home with this album.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love children`s books for what we can learn for them that
are life lessons. But I can also sometimes be distressed by how polemic
they are. How they are meant to teach a moral and we`ve got to bang kids
over the head with it. I don`t feel that in your book.
BOYNTON: I`m glad to hear you say that. Do you teach lessons? I go, well
not -- I`m not -- that`s not the intention per se. I hope that my --
obviously my books are going to embody my own values. I guess overall that
has to do with a kind of optimism about living, about what`s wonderful
HARRIS-PERRY: My favorite one from the new project is the "Summer Storm"
and I love it because, you know, I think many of us know small children who
are afraid of storms. And I think the typical thing that adults do is,
say, don`t be afraid. It`s nothing.
BOYNTON: Right, right.
HARRIS-PERRY: But instead, the language you use is, you and I share a love
of weather. So, sit with me here and we`ll watch the storm sort of pass.
And I thought what a different way to approach it. You and I share a love
of weather. Of course we do.
BOYNTON: Right, exactly.
HARRIS-PERRY: And want to share it together.
BOYNTON: The song actually comes out of my older son Keith, always
preferred stormy days to sunny days. I thought, what an interesting thing.
He`s a very young child and you say, oh, what a nice day this is. He goes,
I like the day yesterday when we had the storms. I thought that`s
And he`s now a playwright and filmmaker. He has that sensibility. And so,
I really wrote the song remembering that and that sense of I like love of
weather. Weather is so many things. you know, life weather is so many
And then, Alison Krauss singing the song, it`s just, you know, what an
accelerating thing that is to hear her sing it.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s pretty wonderful.
Our executive producer`s daughter Lucy lent us her cow today. It is
definitely her favorite. Do you have a favorite of your --
BOYNTON: I don`t have a favorite. I really enjoy -- I mean, I guess
there`s a certain amount of self portrait in all of those. I really like
drawing all the different characters that I do. It`s rally fun.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, Lucy loves the cow and we appreciate Lucy allowing us
to borrow the cow today.
Sandra Boynton, thank you so much.
BOYNTON: Thank you so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: For joining us here today.
And this is our show for today. It was quite a show.
Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you next Saturday,
10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Right now, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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