October 13, 2013
Guest: Jelani Cobb, Rinku Sen, Bill Schneider, Alan Jenkins, Vincent Gray,
Colby Harris, Big Freedia, Vanessa K. Bush, Allison Kilkenny, Paul
Raushenbush, Jalani Cobb
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-
The old razzle-dazzle. That`s how slick-talking lawyer Billy Flynn from
the musical "Chicago" described the power of spectacle to seduce an
audience with substance over style.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: what if your hinges are all rusting what if, in fact,
you`re just disgusting? Razzle-dazzle them and they`ll never catch wise
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, this week`s poll numbers left no doubt that the rusty
hinges of the GOP and its tea party fringe are showing and that Americans
are disgusted with what they see, just 24 percent approval. But try
telling that to the bedazzled audience at this week`s 2013 values voters`
summit, where the religious right raised the curtain on its very own
version of a Broadway spectacle.
The annual conservative conference sponsored by the family research council
kicked off on Thursday in Washington, D.C. And it featured a who`s who of
the right wing`s biggest stars, doing their very best Billy Flynn, and
pulling out all the stops keep their audience enthralled. Some of the
Senate`s biggest tea party showmen, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mike
Lee, all soft shoed their way through the night`s very own version of
traditional American values. And of course, they tap danced all around the
truth, because who needs facts when you`ve got flair? You know the
routine, speaking in a very loud voice, wild and emphatic jazz hand
gesticulations and you`ve got to have props.
Why don`t let master of the old flimflam, Michele Bachmann, shows how it`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: We said, come on, let`s go up, let`s
take this hill, 600 Americans took the Lincoln memorial on Saturday! This
is the police lineup tape! This is our consolation prize!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, courageous Michele Bachmann declaring a victory over
the tyranny of park service employees, who, thanks to the shutdown caused
by her party, were working without pay to guard the Lincoln memorial.
Brave Michelle tearing down that wall, freeing Americans to enter the
memorial, her own party closed.
Now, as entertained as the values voters audience was by her heroic tale,
the summit isn`t just a three-ring circus for conservatives. It`s also a
freak show for progressives, who, let`s be honest, you all, gleefully hate
watch right-wing wackiness to revel in the absolute absurdity. I would
like to share my personal favorite.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOCTOR BEN CARSON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Obamacare is really, I think, the
worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was world-renowned Dr. Ben Carson, once known as a
brilliant neurosurgeon, who pioneered the surgical separation of conjoined
twins, now known as the guy who can`t tell the difference between an
economic plan built on the ownership of people and an economic plan built
to get people affordable health care coverage.
Now, the values voters crowd isn`t all doom and gloom. They`re solving
problems too. For instance, if you`re gay or lesbian, conservative talk
show host Sandy Rios thinks she`s got the cure for what ails you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDY RIOS, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: Anybody know an ex-gay? You know
what? They are everywhere. And the reason you don`t hear about them is
because they are maligned and threatened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Or maybe we don`t hear about them because the standard-
bearer for the so-called ex-gay movement, exodus, apologize to the LBGT
community and shut down after nearly four decades in business. But,
surely, we`ll find some morsel of sanity in Allen West`s plans to end gun
violence in American cities.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN WEST (R), FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: The United States of America
is number three in the world in murders. But if you take away four cities
from the United States of America, we`re fourth from the bottom for
murders. If you take away Chicago, if you take away Detroit, you take away
New Orleans, and you take away Washington, D.C.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Or not. I mean, why bottom to do the difficult work of
tackling the social economic, social inequities that make these cities
fertile the ground for violence, we can just get rid of the cities
altogether. And according to E.W. Jackson, or as I like to call him, eww
(ph), America doesn`t need to change, because it`s a place whose perfection
comes secondly only to the messiah himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
E.W. JACKSON (R), RUNNING FOR LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR IN VIRGINIA: I love this
country! I believe in it! It`s been the greatest blessing given to
mankind, other than Jesus himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The values voter summit team, a razzle-dazzle rockets,
certainly gave the audience their money`s worth, but they weren`t the only
ones who got caught up in the act. Because we all just spent the last week
watching as that whacky fringe of the Republican Party hijacked the
country, shutdown the U.S. government.
So, somehow, while we were all bedazzled by the spectacle, the side show
managed to become the main event.
With me in the studio this morning, Reverend Paul Raushenbush, who is
senior religion editor at "the Huffington Post," Alan Jenkins, executive
director of the Opportunity Agenda, Bill Schneider, whose distinguished
senior fellow and resident scholar at Third Way, and Allison Kilkenny, co-
host of Citizen Radio and a reporter for "the Nation."
Thanks for you all to being here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Paul, can you just sort of respond? I know you were
watching pretty closely the values voter summit. What did you see?
REV. PAUL RAUSHENBUSH, SENIOR RELIGION EDITOR, THE HUFFINGTON POST: I
actually saw something that I used to fear that I really thought as a
threat and I saw it as a little bit pathetic this year. I thought, OK,
they`re really hitting us on gay marriage, which they`re losing. They`re
hitting us on, you know, with Ted Cruz, who just is 14 percent negativity
ratings. That was their star. Michele Bachmann, who just went out there
saying, the end times are coming because Obama is funding terrorists.
These are their a-team. This is not -- and the entire country is desperate
for an end to the shutdown. And from this group, they`re hearing this
horrible rhetoric, that is divisive and exactly what the American people
don`t want to hear.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, so I`m with you, you know, my producers and I were
sitting there and watching this and this is part of how we come up, this is
so nuts and a side show. And yet, as much as they even frame themselves as
the persecuted minority, the level of empowerment, the fact that Ted Cruz,
whatever his positivity or negativity ratings are, has been the architect
of a shutdown that`s having a real impact on people`s lives.
ALLISON KILKENNY, CO-HOST, CITIZEN RADIO: Yes. What I don`t understand is
that it`s clear that they know they can`t be overtly racist anymore, like
that doesn`t stop a lot of them. But they try to talk in code now. So
instead of attacking, you know, minorities or attacking poor people of
color, they attack programs that benefit those people. So they talk about
reforming Social Security, they talk about reforming pension plans. And
when you stop to think about it, it`s like, who does that effect, though?
It tends to be poor people of color.
So, there are little smarter but the same theme are just still there. They
are just sneakier.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I mentioned this idea that there are sort of socially
acceptable ways to frame what our values are, relative to our politics.
And Alan, I know this is really the work that you all do at the opportunity
agenda. Because as much again, you know, on the left it`s easy to sit
there and say, what are they talking about? The fact is they have been
very effective in using the language of American values to frame what their
ALAN JENKINS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OPPORTUNITY AGENDA: Well, they have, but
I think they`ve really gone off the rails this time. When you think about,
what values are they actually conveying over the last couple of days?
Number one, you`re on your own. So you can`t get health insurance through
the private market because you`ve got a pre-existing condition? Too bad,
you shouldn`t have gotten sick. Big banks, financial industry screwed you
out of your mortgage, well, you should have been more wily about it, right?
That`s the first one.
Second one is only a very narrow slice of Americans in their vision are
actually part of the American family. One religious belief, one
ideological belief, one type of family, quite literally, otherwise, you`re
an outsider. It`s completely disconnected not only with where our nation
is going from a demographic standpoint, but the values that people are
coalescing around, the idea that we`re all in it together.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is interesting to me, Bill. The language that you just
used of being altogether or sort of having to go it alone, President Obama
tried to use this framing in part as a way to think about what his 2012
message was. I want to listen to President Obama back in March of 2012 on
the run-up to the election, using that very similar language.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Their philosophy is simple.
You`re on your own. If you`re out of a job, touch luck. Figure it out on
your own. If you don`t have health care, too bad, you`re on your own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Bill, it seems to me like that part of the president`s
rhetorical genius, initially, was an attempt to reframe this question of
values. Do you think that the left at this point or the Obama
administration, particularly, has been effective at re-taking the language
BILL SCHNEIDER, SENIOR FELLOW, RESIDENT SCHOLAR, THIRD WAY: Well yes,
because what he`s fighting back against is the idea of limited government,
which is what united the right. You`ve got two whacky fringe movements.
In a way they`re competitive, the religious right and the tea party. They
overlap. About half of the tea party considers themselves religious right.
But we saw at this convention, the value voters` convention, which is the
religious right meeting, that they`ve really been kind of eclipsed by the
The tea party`s emphasis is on economics. And they want limited government
involved in the economy. The religious right`s emphasis is on religious
values, abortion, gay rights, same-sex marriage where they think the
federal government has been too aggressive on those issues and violated
their religious liberties. They both believe in limited government, but
the tea party doesn`t like to talk about abortion and gay rights. The
religious right, that`s their main agenda.
HARRIS-PERRY: So is that -- I mean, in a lot of ways, the sort of
emergence of the moral majority itself was always a challenge to the Reagan
version of small government conservatism that was the core of the
Republican Party. Are we seeing a fracturing that can no longer hold?
SCHNEIDER: I spent some time with people in the religious right, even back
in the 1980s, when Reagan was first formulating the idea. They considered
big government a government controlled by liberals. They call them secular
humanists, who use the power of big government to violate their personal
religious liberties. They believe, with I think some correctly in many
cases, that most of the issues that the religious right talks about was put
on the agenda by aggressive federal judges, like manning school prayer,
mandating the teaching of evolution, giving abortion constitutionally
protected status as a right, gay rights. They think these things were put
on the agenda by aggressive federal judges. That`s their main complaint.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right with us, but before we take a break, I do want to
take a listen as we go out to one of the most reasonable voices we heard on
Capitol Hill this week. It was actually the chaplain, Senate chaplain,
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARRY BLACK, SENATE CHAPLAIN: Have mercy upon us oh, God, and save us from
the madness. May the tirades of majorities or minorities be equally
impotent to sway our lawmakers from doing what is best for America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to take you back to July 1863. The union army
just repelled confederate forces in get Gettysburg. It is a civil war`s
bloodiest battle. More than 50,000 soldiers were killed or wounded. The
governor of Pennsylvania set aside the land as a burial site and monument
to those who had given their lives and on November 18th, 1963, that land
Now, the keynote speaker for the event was Edward Everett and Everett spoke
for more than two hours. And then he was followed by President Abraham
Lincoln, who spoke for only two minutes. Lincoln`s Gettysburg address
remains history`s most cogent and forceful argument of the key values that
binds all Americans. Of course, the president said, fourscore and seven
years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation,
conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are
created equal. Now, we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether
that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.
Acknowledging the ultimate sacrifice of the slain soldiers, Lincoln went on
to charge, "it is rather for us to be here, dedicated to the great task
remaining before us, that from these honor dead, we take increased devotion
to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we
here had to resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this
nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of
the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the
As I watched the rambling, divisive spectacle of the values voter summit, I
kept thinking of plainspoken Lincoln, warning that our most important value
is preservation of the union.
Alan, I really -- I expect us to disagree as Americans, but I am disturbed
by our willingness to rend the country apart, given the sacrifices that we
have already made to keep ourselves together.
JENKINS: Right. The Gettysburg`s address is a reminder that diversity is
one of the nation`s strength. It`s actually a long-standing American
value, even though we have never fully acknowledged nor achieved it. That,
you know, this notion of (INAUDIBLE), right, out of many, one, that`s both
about rancorous states coming together to form one country, but it`s also
about different people from different traditions all being part of the
Just like most of our real families, we fight, we disagree, right, but we
love each other and we know we`re all part of a common endeavor and a
common good. That`s what that speech is about. That`s what more and more
Americans are embracing, but what this values summit has really departed
from it, a pretty challenging way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Bill, so weigh in for me here.
SCHNEIDER: Well, I teach a class, like you do, and a student once asked
me, is this the most divided we`ve ever been as a country?
HARRIS-PERRY: This is exactly what I wanted to ask you, right?
SCHNEIDER: And I thought about it and I said, well, you know, son, we did
once have a civil war. Three quarters of a million Americans were killed
in that civil war, but I think, and many historians believe that this is
the most divided we`ve been since the terrible civil war of the 1860s.
This is a case where Americans are tearing each other apart. One of the
key trends that we`ve seen in the past 30 years is increasing political
segregation. People tend to live among other people who vote the same way.
Texas does not have a single elected statewide Democrat. It hasn`t since
1994. California and New York don`t have a single elected statewide
Republican. That`s not gerrymandering.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. Not states.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, not a state. But those states have become far more
uniform. That`s division.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you know, I`m so grateful that you to us there, because
I keep trying to decide whether an acknowledgement of the civil war and of
that moment should make us nervous or feel better, like make us feel as
though we`re not at our lowest point.
KILKENNY: I`m actually OK with arguing. In some cases, I wish we had a
little more argument. But I`m worried about consensus on certain issues.
Like consensus on privatization, consensus on reform of pensions.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m very concerned about consensus on our education policy.
KILKENNY: Yes. So in some cases, I wish there was a more vibrant debate,
actually. I`m a little worried that people like Ted Cruz and Michele
Bachmann aren`t really considered the radical outsiders we all consider
them to be in D.C. Actually, in D.C., you`re radical if you`re anti-
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask you, because you covered so carefully for "the
Nation," the occupy movement. And this was a moment when there was an
attempt to reconfigure, at least the discursive space about what Americans
value. How successful do you think occupy actually was in changing what
the inside the beltway conversation was, about what constitutes Americans
by troubling the consensus?
KILKENNY: Well, they were able to get the president of the United States,
President Obama, to talk about class. That in itself is a huge
achievement, to have the president talk about that. Wealth division is the
defining issue of tour time, I think he said, and that was a direct cause
of the occupy movement.
However, it was clear how far to the right we had strayed that the tea
party was so much better able to capitalize on their movement than the
occupy wall street movement was. That was also, you know, different in
motives, but it was just interesting that the tea party was able to slip
into government rather easily, whereas the occupy Wall Street movement was
painted as radicals from get-go.
SCHNEIDER: Quick comment, the occupy movement made one enduring
contribution. It is two words, 1 percent. Everyone knows what one percent
is. In a way, that is as powerful as everything the tea party did. It
destroyed Mitt Romney.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Because when Romney then says 47 percent, it actually
ends up reflecting that one percent narrative that becomes to the fore as a
result of occupiers.
SCHNEIDER: It changed the conversation.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask about changing the conversation. Because,
Paul, I think you know, for some folks who watches the value voters summit
and others, they say, you know what, this is a problem of values language
or religious language in particular, being in the public sphere, as part of
political arguments at all. And so, the answer is to purge religion and to
purge sort of values narratives, as part of how we should even be talking
about policy positions.
Is this -- are we in the space where we need to purge it or shift it, or
particularly as a person of faith, how do you respond?
RAUSHENBUSH: The first thing I would say is that, why don`t we try lifting
up that scripture, sorry, I`m going to preach here for a moment.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do it. It`s Sunday morning.
RAUSHENBUSH: It`s not just loving those who we love, it`s also about
loving your enemies. And we have to remember that there was a reason that
Jesus talked about this because he saw how people could be rent apart. And
it doesn`t just hurt the nation, it hurts us as individuals. So, we need
to be preaching more about that, that we need to be reaching out.
But I also think that we also need to be prophetic in our language of
faith, and not say, it`s all about me. It is not all about me. And the
gospel is not all about me. That is very important to remember. It is not
an individualistic or a privatized gospel. The gospel is about lifting
everybody up. It is about loving your neighbor as yourself. And if you`re
willing to let someone go by without health care and without a SNAP
benefits, $40 billion taken away from SNAP benefits, voted by Republican
largely people of faith, you`re not talking about the gospel. So I don`t
think it is language of faith. It`s how we use language of faith to be
inclusive rather than exclusive.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it`s a different reading sort of what happens on that
hillside when Jesus feeds the multitudes with very little, versus being
like, well, these are my fish, this is my bread, I`m going to just keep
this over here.
Up next, how some wealthy people are trying to preserve the union by
spending a lot of money to help us elect few.
HARRIS-PERRY: With the government frozen for 13 days, wealthy donors are
now doing the governing. Here`s what I mean. There is billionaires Laura
and John Arnold, who personally provided the money needed to reopen seven
head start programs in six states. The Texas-based insurance company, USAA
ponied (ph) up the funds for last Saturday`s football game between air
force and Navy. And North Carolina-based food lion made a $500,000
donation to regional food banks across the state to fill the gap in food
assistance caused by the shutdown.
Now, these are worthy acts. They reflect important values of the donors.
But government of, by, and for the people is not reducible to the pet
projects of the few.
How does the left and the Obama administration in particular fail to make a
clear values-based argument for why government is good and could they now,
with the shutdown?
JENKINS: Well, absolutely, I think the baffling thing is that the
president is quite good at making that case in the election cycle and then
he forgets to do it in between. But I think it is incumbent on all of us.
The thing about the shutdown is it blows up the conservative narrative,
that government does nothing for us. You can believe it is like, you know,
the fish doesn`t know he`s in water until he`s flipping around on the dock,
right? And so, once you stop getting veterans benefits, once we, you know,
up close the national parks and the like, people start to remember, that`s
what our government is for. That`s how we come together to solve things
and to address problems. That, then, makes it very difficult for this
conservative argument that government is useless.
KILKENNY: I also, just, I`m a little frustrated by this narrative that the
billionaires are coming to save us. The media is like largely complicit in
that and it reinforces conservatives` message. But for example, John
Arnold, this story drives me insane. This man is also working to privatize
pensions. It was nowhere in the stories about him being, you know, so
generous and giving, you know, so much money to head start, you know, can
we also consider that that is potentially, yes, maybe he has goodness in
his heart, but it also serves as a PR cover for him. Then he can go and
work to privatize pensions and everyone will say, this man is so, you know,
so generous, saved our children. And he just wants to help with pensions.
HARRIS-PERRY: Isn`t -- it is, in fact, the long-term strategy of the Koch
brothers, right? They are both these incredibly generous donors to
educational and artistic and medical practices. And, working with art Pope
to buy the state of North Carolina and, you know, with restrict voting and
change and re-segregate public schools in the state, right? And both of
those are true at the same time which is part of why you need
democratically elected government that is accountable to the people because
you can`t vote Koch out of office, right? He`s a private -- they`re
KILKENNY: Right. And now we know that money equals free speech, right?
So that`s another thing, where it`s sort of like, if we can have
billionaires who can literally buy whatever they want, whether that`s
privatizing, you know, Social Security, privatizing pension plans, then
it`s like, well, why do we vote at all? Why does it matter?
RAUSHENBUSH: Also, you can -- this is a perfect argument, but we don`t
need government. This -- and you hear this over and over again, in
conservative churches. The government shouldn`t be helping the poor. We
should do that in the churches.
Not realizing that it`s just a small sliver of what it takes to actually
keep people out of poverty the churches ever did. It`s the government that
is the only one that is equipped to help people on a massive level.
HARRIS-PERRY: But because we are the government, I mean, there`s this way
that government has become this thing that`s out there, that is somehow not
us. And you know, for people who lived through and are on the other side
of Katrina, right, we recognize the deep power of charity and the ways in
which good people, conservative, liberal, white, black, northern, southern
rushed in with charitable acts post-Katrina.
But charity is not justice. And without government intervention to
fundamentally rebuild the city, to change sort of the practices, all the
charity in the world, no matter how good-hearted, is simply insufficient.
SCHNEIDER: This country was founded on the idea of limited government.
The first constitution we wrote had to be thrown out the window, the
articles of confederation, because it provided a government that was almost
People came here seeking economic freedom and religious freedom, the
puritans and many others. They didn`t like government, they didn`t like
established churches. We have a -- it`s in our genes. We have a history
of belief in limited government.
Now, what`s happening with conservatives right now is they see a sinister
agenda in the idea of government. They believe that what Democrats are
trying to do is use integration reform and the health care plan to create
more dependency on government, because then people who benefit from those
programs, the immigrant who is become legalized and people who get health
care will favor more and bigger government, and that will create a bigger
Democratic Party. That`s what they believe is the agenda.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, as much as it`s true that we were founded on that
sort of, you know, belief in the limitations of government, in part because
we`re pushing back against a monarch, we`ve also expanded it over time,
right? The realities of a post World War II America require that we re-
think the relationship of government.
SCHNEIDER: And it was always expanded pragmatically to solve specific
problems. That`s the important thing. Americans are pragmatists.
Pragmatists believe that whatever works is right. Ideologues believe if
something is wrong, it can`t work, even if it does work.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes. Thank you all for being here. Paul, you`re
heading out, but I appreciate you being here. Everybody else is sticking
And up next, we`re going to talk about what Monica Lewinsky teaches us
about Ted Cruz. No, I promise it has nothing to do with this.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do you think American voters pay more attention to,
spectacle or substance? I ask because the ascendency of Senator Ted Cruz
has been one of spectacle. His 21-hour talkathon (ph) on the Senate floor,
his reported confrontation with President Obama at the White House on
Friday, the welcome he received at the Values Voters Summit this weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Thank you so very, very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If God is for you, who can be isn`t you?
CRUZ: Thank you. I received that blessing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, the Texas senator is being talked about as a real
contender in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. But I like to argue
that Americans deep down care much more about substance than about
spectacle. To help me make that point, I turn now to Monica Lewinsky.
OK. Bear with me for a moment, I have a point, I promise. Let`s go back
to January 1998, when news first broke of President Clinton`s sexual
encounters with Lewinsky when she was a White House intern. Now, the story
dominated the "Nightly News" for days and you may remember the year-long
media circus that followed. It was spectacle, to be sure.
Americans were bombarded with imagines of Lewinsky, juicy details of their
tryst, and video of President Clinton denying having sexual relations with
that woman who basically played on a loop. Here`s a clip from a one-hour
special that NBC News did on the president in crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: A week ago, she was an unknown former White
House intern. Today, Monica Lewinsky is fast becoming as well known as the
man whose career her testimony could threaten.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual
relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Despite the pointed denial by President
Clinton, the sex scandal has become the number one topic in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what did those American voters think of the whole
spectacle? Did it change their general support for the president? Well,
spoiler alert, not really. Clinton`s approval ratings took a dive in those
first two days, dropping from an average 60 percent to 53 percent. But
then a funny thing happened. His poll numbers bounced right back, and they
climbed even higher than his pre-Lewinsky numbers, to a whopping 72
percent, 11 days after the scandal first broke.
In other words, despite the tawdry news, the media spectacle that had
engulfed the presidency, Americans still approved of how the president was
doing his job. Now, one political scientist wanted to know why.
John Zoler, who is sort of the king of public opinion studies in the nerdy
world of political science, took a closer look. And Zoler argued that
Clinton didn`t dim in America`s eyes, because the substance of his
presidency, in early 1998, was so strong. The economy was booming, crime
was down, the country was at peace. And Clinton had become quite the
moderate, slashing welfare and championing Social Security at the same
time. So, Zoler concluded that American voters care less about political
spectacle and more about political substance.
What does all that mean for Ted Cruz? It means, perhaps, that American
voters, Republican voters, even, can see right through his shiny facade to
the lack of substance underneath, as the latest polls tell us, people hate
the government shutdown. They know it`s hurting the country. And they
know congressional Republicans are to blame. And they don`t really like
Senator Cruz himself all that much either.
In the latest NBC News poll, twice as many people thought negatively as
Cruz as positively. I mean, just look at the big speech that shot him into
the spotlight. The substance of that speech was, well, not all that
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: I do not like them, Sam I, am. I do not like green eggs and ham.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So here`s the question. Will Americans vote for the wizard
of Cruz or will they, instead, see the man behind the curtain? We`ll be
HARRIS-PERRY: In recent days, Ted Cruz has been called a lot of things,
the leader the Republican Party, a hero, Democrats` biggest 2014 weapon,
Democrats` new bogeyman, and Miley Cyrus of the Senate.
But who is he really? He`s a Canadian-born American who opposes a path to
citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He`s a tea partier who opposes
expanding health coverage through the Affordable Care Act and reportedly
gets his own coverage through his wife`s job at Goldman Sachs. He`s an
anti-elitist who attended Princeton and graduated magna cum laude from
Harvard law school, where he was editor of the "Law Review." Who is Ted
Cruz and more importantly, what does his rise mean for the Republican
Joining the panel is Jalani Cobb, associate professor of history and
director of the Institute for Africa-American studies at the University of
Thanks for you all being here again.
So Bill, who is -- how can we place Ted Cruz within sort of understanding
of the modern Republican Party?
SCHNEIDER: Well, first of all, remember, he`s a freshman senator.
Freshman as opposed to be seen and not heard, even Hillary Clinton, who
took a very low profile. But he`s been the most outspoken Republican in
the Senate. And notice what happened if he got -- he won the tea party --
the value voters Senate straw poll.
SCHNEIDER: Now, he`s not really a values voter. That is, he doesn`t give
that much prominence to social issues. He`s a tea party Republican. The
tea party has taken over the values voters. They see the tea party as
doing what they wish they could do, taking the lead on confronting
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I mean, this guy is, as you point out, a freshman
senator, but Allison, the Quinnipiac poll for the 2016 Republican Party
shows him polling up there with the top folks. You`ve got Rand Paul and
Chris Christie at the top of it, but there`s Ted Cruz coming in right over
there with Paul Ryan, who is a much more household name. He won the value
voters straw poll with our friend, surgeon Ben Carson coming in second. So
I mean, the guy is, #winning at the moment, right?
KILKENNY: I mean, what concerns me, it`s super fun to hate Ted Cruz. Like
it feels really good to have a two-minute hate.
KILKENNY: But, the thing is, he`s not -- he`s radical, but he`s not
treated like the social pariah we all think he is, right? Within in
Washington D.C., he is not really saying anything at that extreme. The
community he`s choosing to target, right, are like traditionally targets of
the GOP. You know, poor people, disenfranchised people, marginalize
people. So for Democrats, like, I know it feels good, but I`m also
concerned, because a lot of these ideas are being mainstreamed, even
amongst like moderate Democrats, you know like, as I s before, privatizing
pensions, privatizing social security. These started at extreme right-wing
ideas and now very serious Democrats are saying, well, we need some kind of
Yes, I mean, it`s worth pointing out that the thing that we are fighting to
reopen the government to do is to fund at sequester levels, right? The
thing that was supposed to be so awful that no one would go for it is our
Jalani, I want to, you know, this morning, apparently, there was a bit of
an attempt to retake the World War II memorial by veterans. And so,
Senator Cruz showed up. And I want to listen to Senator Cruz`s
understanding of the shutdown and then have you respond to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed legislation to
open every memorial in every federal park in this country. Two weeks ago,
the president of the United States signed a written veto threat. He said,
if you open the memorial, I will veto it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make him do it!
CRUZ: Well, you know, we should make him do it, but right now that bill
sits on Harry Reid`s desk and Harry Reid will not even allow the Senate to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what?
JALANI COBB, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: I think it`s
a great speech. I wish they had not photoshopped out the pitchforks. But
I think the thing that`s interesting out this and what, you know, Ted Cruz
represents, and I mean, I say this -- I`ll be glib, admittedly, that one of
the things people noticed about Ted Cruz is that he looks a lot like Joseph
McCarthy. And it`s hard to not kind of feel that way about him, standing
in front of this crowd, waiting for him to say, I have 205 communists who
work for the state department list in his hand. And what I think is
instructive in some ways, that what he represents is a very visible, highly
agitated group that ultimately does the Republican Party more damage than
it does good. In the same way that Joseph McCarthy became a headache for
the Republican Party as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`m not convinced of that. I know that`s what those
polls show, right. And so, I know if we look at the polls, they will tell
us Americans are blaming the Republicans and we`ll look at the polls and it
says, you know, Americans don`t have a very strong opinion of Ted Cruz.
But I am not -- I still think it`s a kind of Democratic, progressive, lefty
view that says, oh, this is tearing the Republican Party apart.
KILKENNY: I agree, yes. I think a lot of this depends on the poverty
rates. And who people decide is at fault for them not being able to find a
job. So I think it has less to do with, you know, the media circus that
you were talking about before, and more like, who is actually trying to
create jobs? Who`s actually at fault for -- and a lot of that is
subjective. Who do you blame for the government shutdown? Like, if you`re
a Republican, you can twist things and blame the Democrats.
HARRIS-PERRY: But apparently it`s President Obama`s fault that you can`t
go to the memorials, not the fault of congressional Republicans.
Hold for me for a moment because when we come back, I want to send a very
pointed question to my guest, bill, issue that he touched on earlier
because there is a tale of two first-term senators. Is Ted Cruz trying to
be the next Barack Obama? When we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: A brand-new senator with presidential potential. Does Ted
Cruz remind you of anyone? The comparison is certainly not lost on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, if you recall,
when I came into the Senate, my attitude was, I should just keep a pretty
low profile in the Senate and just do the work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The media certainly didn`t let you do that.
OBAMA: The media may not have, but I didn`t go around courting the media
and I certainly didn`t g around trying to shut down the government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Of course, our dear friend, Senator Cruz, had a response
earlier this week, speaking on the FOX News channel with Megan Kelly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: I wish he hadn`t been following his own advice in the last month. I
mean, the president has kept such a low profile. He has been AWOL. He has
not been part of the negotiations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So you made this point earlier, Bill was, you know, they
have a lot of similarities, law school review editor at Harvard.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, both of them, you know, as freshman senators, with
a lot of eyes on them. But President Obama was like, look, I was trying to
do my work, keep my head down, and obviously, Ted Cruz is courting the
SCHNEIDER: Yes, he is. And he is making quite a flash. Ted Cruz,
remember Howard Dean during the passions of the anti-Iraq war movement. He
vaulted to the top of the democratic list in 2007. Everyone knew he was
going to get the nomination. And a few weeks later, he just fell apart in
Iowa. Ted Cruz could be the same kind of candidate, who stirs a lot of
passion, but then when Republicans take a look at him and think about it
carefully. They say, you know, it would be tough to elect this guy.
Remember, the last two elections, they nominated John McCain and they
nominated Mitt Romney. Neither one of them was a favorite of
conservatives. Conservatives had to swallow hard. What lesson do they
take from that? Do they say, you know, we have to nominate someone who has
broader appeal, or do they say, we`ve gone to the center twice? We lost
both times. Now we want the real thing. The real thing is Ted Cruz.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Interesting, yes.
JENKINS: I think, also, Melissa, that a big difference, one of the many
differences between Obama and Cruz, Obama was looking to the nation as a
whole. He was articulating a vision, we remember hope and change. It was
about the future of the country. Cruz is taking a very cynical, self-
serving path to what he believes is the nomination, to the tea party folks
who control the primary process in the Republican Party. But it`s not
about the nation as a whole. And I think it`s a miscalculation. I feel,
you mentioned pathway to citizenship for undocumented folks. Two-thirds of
the country believed that there should be a pathway to citizenship for
undocumented immigrants. And that includes a majority of Republicans, but
not the tea party.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, Cruz, when you ask him about it, he believes that
he is taking this --you know, in his statement, this is on Saturday night,
right? So at this point, we`re 12 days into the shutdown. And on Saturday
night he says that the people want jobs and strong economic growth back,
and that Obamacare is a major impediment to both. He writes, as long as we
keep listening to the people and fighting for jobs and prosperity,
Republicans will win this debate. So he`s framing it in the big --
KILKENNY: And that`s smart, you know? It`ll work especially if there`s a
high unemployment rate.
My concern, you know, is that a lot of undecided voters, and let`s
remember, the Republicans don`t have to win by a large margin, especially
if they disenfranchise millions of voters. So they just have to get close
enough and then win the election. And if he capitalizes on that message,
you know, it`s hard to prove a negative, but I will do a better job
creating jobs than any democratic candidate can. He just has to get close
enough. And if there`s enough cynicism, you know, cynicism is a powerful
thing. They could win an election.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And they only need to get those disenfranchised
voters in a few key states, right, because of the nature of the Electoral
College. So when we see what`s happening in North Carolina and sort of the
ways in which this very purple state is being shifted to the red, then, in
fact, you`ve seen an electoral strategy that maybe isn`t long-term, right,
for the GOP. But in the short-term, could benefit a Cruz.
COBB: Listen, there`s 71 percent of Latinos voted for Barack Obama in
2012. That`s a significant obstacle. If we`re looking at the demographics
of the Republican party getting four years older than they were in the last
election cycle, that is a very big obstacle for them to get over.
HARRIS-PERRY: But this man is a senator from Texas. Like, I feel like as
much as we`ve talked about how this shutdown has been made possible in part
by gerrymandering. And so the idea that the tea party -- I mean,
Republicans in the House aren`t accountable, this man is the senator from
Texas. This is not a small little marginal state. And he has won
statewide and had to win with Latino votes and has his own sort of
narrative of a post-Cuban past to be able to talk about.
COBB: I don`t think that necessarily plays nationally. I think one of the
other things that`s interesting, when this 150th anniversary of the civil
war that we`ve been talking about now, and if we looked a t it in a
different sense, what we have actually is a kind of district-by-district
version of sectionalism, you know, where is the thing that people are more
defined by their region than by their political party. That`s what the
Republican Party is really dealing with. It`s just not geographic. It`s
just kind of district by district. And that`s why it`s so hard and
intractable for them to kind of figure out where they`re going to go with
it. I don`t think (INAUDIBLE).
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with us, I want to go to exactly some of the points
you`re talking about here and what we can learn from a history,
particularly, a history of race and sectionalism that helps us to
understand the shutdown.
I do want to point out, though, that Ted Cruz in a "times" interview, that
he said he gave to Christmas to his staff, the David Plouffe book, "the
audacity to win," because he was so inspired by what freshman Senator Obama
did in terms of becoming president. So, it will be fun to watch these two
fight it out.
Allison Kilkenny, thanks for being with us.
Coming up next, the role of race in the shutdown and why this moment has
been a long time coming.
Plus, twerk alert. The queen of bounce, Big Frieda is here.
More Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
We are now in the 13th day of government shutdown. How did we get
Now, we were driven here by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who engineered
the Obamacare defunding hostage strategy. We`ve stayed here because
Speaker John Boehner is unable to tame the Tea Party and unwilling to work
with Democrats to pass a clean continuing resolution that would reopen
Some might even argue President Obama shares blame, because he won`t
negotiate piecemeal deals hastily offered by Republicans, panicked by
plummeting poll numbers.
But in an essay published last week for Think Progress, reporter Zach
Beauchamp offered a provocative alternate explanation. Racism caused the
shutdown. Yes, racism.
Now, Beauchamp writes, this isn`t an article about how Republicans
shut down the government because they hate that the president is black.
This is an historical piece connecting key political moments from the turn
of the 20th century to today. After the depression, Southerners became a
minority in Congress for the first time. In response, they innovated a
minority obstruction strategy, the Southern veto, to thwart progressive
Now, those Dixiecrats were nominal members of the Democratic Party,
but operated independently and ideologically to protect their regional and
racial interests. Ultimately, the tension between conservative Southern
and more liberal, northern and Midwestern Democrats could not hold.
Dixiecrats succeeded in masse and they became part of the newly constituted
Republican Party, a Republican Party that embraced the Southern strategy as
a way to win national elections.
What does all of this have to do with the shutdown? Beauchamp argues
the Republican Party has inherited this radically and racially conservative
fringe who like their Dixiecrat predecessors are building barricades to
meaningful governing. This isn`t about the president being black, this is
about how decades of legislative racism taught Republicans the strategies
of rigid ideological obstruction.
Joining me now is Rinku Sen, president and executive director of the
Applied Research Center, publisher of colorblinds.com, and author of "The
Accidental American: Immigration and Citizenship in the Age of
Globalization." Also, Alan Jenkins, executive director of the Opportunity
Agenda. Bill Schneider, distinguished senior fellow and resident scholar
at Third Way, who when I said we would be joined by Big Freedia, he said,
who? And Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history and the director of
the Institute of African-American studies at the University of Connecticut.
Thanks to all of you for being here.
So, Jelani, I thought Zach`s piece was just so insightful in terms of
helping us to understand, as he writes it, the ways in which race and
racism form the scaffolding and structures of American politics.
JELANI COBB, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: Well, I think this is
important. There have been people, kind of historians and political
historians have been noticing this for a minute, which is the stunning
degree of alignment that you see between the Tea Party and the Dixiecrat
party, you know, and what happens is the Dixiecrat party comes about as a
reaction to the Democratic Party realizing that its demographic future laid
with these Northern black voters.
And their agenda in 1949, they never thought they could win the 1948
presidential election. But they did they could trail into an election into
the House, and where they could then broker for more outsized influence
beyond their numbers. And when you look at it, the Republican Party, the
Tea Party faction is, among other things, primarily a response to people
recognizing that the Democratic future of this country is black and brown,
particularly in the Republican Party.
So, they`re caught between this rock and a hard place, pleasing their
center base kind of core constituency, and appealing to the people who they
know they`re going to need to win future elections. That is the same thing
that Franklin Roosevelt, that Harry Truman, that Lyndon Johnson and that
all of them were trying to figure out in the 1930 tough the 1960s.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Rinku, part of what I think is a little diabolic
about this analysis that Jelani gave us and Zach Beauchamp gives us in the
article is that it moves us away from thinking of racism as like holding
the sign that says, you know, President Obama is a Muslim immigrant. I
mean, OK. Whatever, right? Because though people weren`t going to vote
for the president, you know, anyway and they weren`t going to support the
president`s policies, because that`s just sort of an old-fashioned version
But this notion that race has structured who we are is more
complicated to come to terms with. And I think more complicated for us to
therefore generate new structures around.
RINKU SEN, APPLIED RESEARCH CENTER: Yes, I think, you know, what I
found interesting in Zach`s article was the notion of white flight from the
Democratic Party. I think that makes a lot of sense. And I actually think
that the GOP has become really, really good over that 50 years at
generating disdain for government by focusing on negative stereotypes of
people of color.
I had this experience once in 1999, on New Year`s Eve, at dawn of the
new millennium. I was in a grocery store in California. And I overheard
this white woman in her 50s talking to a white man about a union that had
been decertified in that same grocery store. They were really mad about
the union being gone.
And I poked my nose in and said, oh, I couldn`t help overhearing, I
work a lot on labor issues, I was just curious what union it was. And the
woman skipped a beat, looked at me, but spoke to her friend and said, but
the blacks and the Latinos, now, they can get all the welfare they want.
And dawn of the new millennium, the year of 2000.
And after a decade in California, where we had passed ballot
measures, cutting undocumented immigrants off from public services,
including kids from public schools, destroying affirmative action in the
state, passing the three strikes you`re out law. So, those kinds of --
that kind of imagery gets baked into our policy making, into the collective
decisions we make as an institution.
HARRIS-PERRY: So there are a bunch o things about that story that I
really love, that I want to ask you to respond to a little bit. Because
one, it`s kind of the generational piece that you point out, when you say,
sort of, she`s over 50, but also this idea of labor and race, and the
interconnections and the ways in which sometimes white labor will position
itself over and against people of color and their concerns, even though, in
fact, they would benefit from similar policies.
I want to read for you, Alan, Senator Josiah Bailey in 1938, Democrat
from North Carolina. This is in his opposition to anti-lynching
And he says, "Just as when the Republicans in the 1860s undertook to
impose the national will upon us with respect to the Negro, we resented it
and hated that party with a hatred that has outlasted generations. We
hated it beyond measure. We hated it more than was right for us and more
than was just. We hated it because of what it had done to us before the
wrong it undertook to put upon us. And just as the same policy destroyed
the hope of the Republican Party in the South, the same policy adopted by
the Democratic Party will destroy the Democratic Party in the South."
This is a conservative Dixiecrat in 1938. There is no way that this
is gone. Saying that we hated you since Lincoln, because of imposing
freedom on the South.
ALAN JENKINS, THE OPPORTUNITY AGENDA: Right. The persistence of
this idea of federal government, and especially a strong federal
government, equals forced equal opportunity, in a way that some
constituencies don`t like, is very, very lasting.
And there`s something that else that goes along with it, that ties to
our historical legacy. You have now conservative Republican gerrymandering
of districts, including House districts, on top of residential segregation.
But it flows from Jim Crowe discrimination, white flight and the like,
which means in a very diverse America, very different America than at that
time, you can still have these districts in which the people they send to
Congress don`t feel responsible to all Americans.
And that`s a remarkable accomplishment, and a terrible
accomplishment, that those districts can still --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And obviously, Zach starts in sort of the mid-
20th century. But the very fact that we have a Senate where Wyoming and
California both have the same number of votes, right, has everything to do
with the realities of slavery and having to try to manage a union that was
Stick with us. I`m bringing Bill Schneider on this as soon as we
come back. There is more on this question of whether or not racism caused
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Their cause must be our cause too,
because it`s not just Negroes, but really, it`s all of us who must overcome
the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Lyndon Johnson in March of 1965, as
he pressed for passage of the Voting Rights Act. It was a stunning moment
that unreconstructed Texas accent in an American president openly
acknowledging the country`s history of racism and its corrosive effect on
our national promise.
I think it`s a lesson we still have not fully learned.
So, I wanted to come to that moment, in part because we have -- I
mean, we have made progress. It`s something about Zach`s piece does make
it feel as though there`s an unbroken line, but the line isn`t unbroken.
There`s been sort of an unsteady progress, forward and backwards.
BILL SCHNEIDER, THIRD WAY: Of course. Look, Republicans define
themselves by hatred of the federal government. African-Americans are the
only constituency in the United States that doesn`t viscerally hate the
federal government. They have causes for resentment. The federal
government rescued African-Americans from intolerable situations on two
occasions, the 1860s from slavery, the 1960s from segregation.
So when Republicans talk about how terrible the federal government
is, that doesn`t resonate with African-Americans, because they have a very
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it`s always so forth worth noting that we get an
African-American president before we have a meaningful number of African-
American statewide elected officials, right? You would think that it would
take sort of a reservoir of senators and governors before, but, in fact,
that`s not what happens, because in part, what happens in localities and
states is often not good for people of color.
SCHNEIDER: That`s right. And don`t forget, Richard Nixon had
something to do with this as well. Richard Nixon adopted the Southern
strategy. That was a deliberate strategy to reach out to Southern white
Let me give you a statistic. In 1968, Richard Nixon`s worst state,
when he ran -- when he first ran for president, was Mississippi. He got
about 17 percent of the vote, because George Wallace got about two-thirds
of the vote in Mississippi.
In 1972, Richard Nixon`s best state was Mississippi. You had
together the Wallace vote and the Nixon vote and you get the Republican
vote of 1972 and beyond. That captures exactly what happened.
HARRIS-PERRY: And for that to happen, right, there`s a thing that
happens in the Democratic Party, right? The Democratic Party breaks apart,
Dixiecrats become Republicans.
I wonder, Jelani, as we l look at this very uncomfortable coalition
in the Republican Party, the inability of Boehner to keep his caucus
together, is there any possibility that we`ll -- that sort of the right
fringe of the Republican Party will find some other place to go?
COBB: That`s exactly what will happen. I mean they are in the same
position the Democratic Party was in for those 30 years and the middle of
the 20th century. We`re trying to placate two irreconcilable demographics.
And -- I mean, it`s an incredible thing. Probably the story of 20th
century politics is not that these dynamics are going on, was that the
Democratic Party, the genius of these leaders, was that they managed to
hold the whole thing together for so long, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: For so long, yes.
COBB: And in addition to this, one of the things that we see, when
you saw that clip from LBJ, that Lyndon Johnson was influenced by seeing
what the new deal did in Texas. He always goes back, and talking about
what an influence that was, and him growing up in Texas, and seeing that
government actually could help a regular, common person.
And the political lubricant that allowed this to happen was the white
working class, the white unemployed, during the presumption that the
primary beneficiaries would be white people, which is one of the things
coincidentally which makes Harold Ickes and people like him in the
administration heroic, demanding that the black people cut in on the new
deal in some ways.
Same thing, he`s applying that same logic across the lines of race.
He says, can we expand this now. That`s what LBJ is saying. He says, can
we expand this? This language of government step in and being able to help
people fundamentally and be inclusive of black people and it`s disastrous
for Southern Democrats.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s a moment in the 1995, when my senator in
Louisiana, Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, introduces a bill that is
an apology on the part of the Senate, an apology to the American people and
to African-Americans in particular for having never passed anti-lynching
So that Southern veto that we were talking about was often used by
Southern Democrats to keep the anti-lynching legislation from occurring.
And in 2005, just two months before Katrina, a Louisiana Democrat
introduces this apology that the Senate then takes up.
I felt such hope at that moment, Alan, and of course, right after
that, two months after that Katrina happens, the sort of race story of
Katrina emerges, and yet just a few years after that, the election of
President Obama. I have to say, I got a little racially giddy about
potentially where we were going. And then the past seven years have been
difficult and culminating in this shutdown, which now feels like this thing
from the 1930s.
JENKINS: Right. But I think that the shutdown, one of the reasons
that the shutdown blows up the conservative narrative in a lot of ways and
why you see this erosion of the Tea Party support, Republican support in
the public, during the shutdown, is because it reminds people what
government actually does and what the federal government actually does.
And so, like the New Deal, and LBJ, people say, right, I`m actually
benefiting from mortgage security. I`m actually benefiting from the
ability to go to the state parks and the like.
It`s not just people of color, but it`s all of us. And it includes
peel of color, thanks to LBJ. So I think it becomes more and more
difficult, even though they want to shut down the government, for them to
tell their story when they have.
Hold for just a moment. Because before we move on this morning, I do
want to pause, to show all of our viewers, but especially our viewers here
in the New York area, this poster. This is a missing person poster for
Avonte Oquendo. He is a 14-year-old boy with autism who does not
communicate verbally. He`s been missing since October 4th.
Avonte`s family, volunteers, and New York City police have been
engaged in a massive search for the young man who is said to be
particularly fond of trains.
Now, I want to add to the voices, asking that anyone with information
regarding Avonte, please contact authorities. Call 1-800-577-TIPS. There
is a reward for his safe return.
After the break, we`re keeping our eye on the ongoing government
shutdown and the one city bearing an unusual brunt of the stress of the
shutdown, that major U.S. city that is about to go broke is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: There is a 143-year-old law that actually mandates a
government shutdown. And it may be the reason that Washington, D.C., the
city, may screech to a halt this week. The Anti-Deficiency Act passed by
Congress in 1870 prohibits the government from incurring any monetary
obligation for which Congress has not appropriated funds. One of those
obligations, the entire District of Columbia. Now, remember, D.C. is a
city without a state. The district has been spending $20 million a day
from its contingency fund to keep running during the shutdown.
But that fund could tap out as soon as today. And thanks to the
Anti-Deficiency Act, the District of Columbia is barred by penalty of law
by accessing the $1.5 billion of its own locally raised taxes it has
stashed away in a rainy day fund.
Mayor Vincent Gray on Wednesday crashed a Senate press conference to
bring attention to D.C.`s plight. It earned him a bit of a scolding from
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR VINCENT GRAY (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: We are not a department of
the government. We have our own money. We should be able to spend our own
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I`m on your side, don`t
screw it up. I`m on your side.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me now is Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent
Mayor Gray, thanks for being here.
GRAY: Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me just start -- what did you think Senator
Reid meant when he said, "I`m on your side, don`t screw it up"?
GRAY: I have absolutely no idea. Those who are on our side at this
stage, the easiest thing for them to do would be to approve the district
being able to spend our own money. It`s amazing how few people really
understand that what we`re talking about is not an appropriation of federal
money. We`re talking about being given the authority to spend our own
We raise the money through our property taxes, through our sales
taxes, and through our income taxes. We have a budget of $10 billion -- $6
billion of that we raise ourselves, each year, just like any other state,
city, or county. And the federal money we get, we get it in the same way
that every other state does. So all we`re asking for is the authority to
spend our own money, not anybody else`s money, it`s anachronism, it`s
archaic and it needs to be changed.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think you`re right, that for most Americans,
they don`t really understand that relationship that D.C. has to the federal
government. But tell folks just a little bit about the effects that the
shutdown is having on D.C. because y`all are particularly vulnerable to the
economic and social effects of it.
GRAY: Well, absolutely. First of all, you can see the effects, just
by looking at the level of business being done in the District of Columbia.
You know, our restaurants, for example, our hospitality industry, all are
affected by this. And then, we have made the decision to keep our
We`re not going to close down our government, so we`re having to go
into what reserves that we have to be able to make those payments. Our
employees deserve to be paid, and we`ve chosen to pay them on their payday.
We have a payday coming up on Tuesday and then another one on the 29th at
the end of the month.
Those pay periods are almost $100 million by themselves. And right
now, the only way we can make that payment is out of reserve funds, which
are rapidly being depleted.
HARRIS-PERRY: What happens if the shutdown persists for another week
GRAY: Well, we would certainly be facing the prospect of being out
of reserves. You know, we would have to ask, for example, those who
provide services, some of our health care providers, some of our other non-
profits, to be able to continue to provide services and will get paid
What is really absolutely unconscionable about this is that we have
the money. We spent the time, you know, for months working on a budget
that is completely balanced. We`ve had 18 consecutive years of balanced
budget. Our budget for this year again is balanced. All, again, we`re
asking for is the opportunity to spend our own money.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mayor, when you frame it that way, when you talk about
the opportunity to spend your own money, is this the moment, despite all of
the negative things that the shutdown is doing to the city, is this the
moment where you can re-articulate, in a way that maybe people can hear, an
argument for D.C. statehood?
GRAY: I absolutely think so, because many people just don`t get it.
They don`t know that much about the District of Columbia.
I`ve had, you know, all kinds of statements made, as you go further
and further outside the Beltway, about the District of Columbia, that
reflect people really don`t understand. We are a city of 632,000 people.
We actually have more people living in the District of Columbia than in the
entire state of Vermont, the entire state of Wyoming.
So, we`re not small, we`re not inconsequential, and we`re not ask
anybody for anything, other than the opportunity to be able to do what
everybody else does. And that is to be able to manage and control their
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, we`ve been talking a bit about the Wyoming
senatorial race here on the show, and you know, obviously spent some time
finding out that there are about 500,000 people, far fewer than that in
terms of voters. So, obviously, you have a claim at least on the
Mayor Gray, I certainly hope that the shutdown is resolved quickly
for the good of your constituents.
GRAY: Thank you very much. And we certainly hope so too.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
Mayor Vincent Gray, thank you for joining us.
And, Alan Jenkins and Bill Schneider, thanks for spending some part
of your morning with us.
Up next is an update on a story that we`ve covered pretty extensively
on this program, the Wal-Mart associate who protested his company can now
says he was fired in retaliation.
Stay with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you felt last year`s Black Friday protests against
Wal-Mart were big, according to organizers, you ain`t seen nothing yet.
The protests last year resulted in more than 400 workers walking out of
Wal-Mart stores across the country. This year, organizers predict protests
will be widespread and massive.
But while workers continue to struggle against the retail giant, it
does not come without a cost. Several striking workers claim that they
have experienced retaliation and unjust firings.
Joining me now from Dallas is Colby Harris, a former Wal-Mart
associate, who as recently as September 5th, participated in a protest
outside of a Dallas Wal-Mart. Two days after that protest, Colby appeared
on this program talking about what demonstrators have called Wal-Mart`s
unfair labor and wages.
Colby was fired on September 30th and he claims it was in retaliation
for protesting against the company.
Now, we reached o out to Wal-Mart for comment, but the company has
not yet responded.
Colby, thank you for joining us again.
COLBY HARRIS, FIRED WAL-MART WORKER: Thank you for having me on.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, tell me, when were you fired and what was the
reason that you were given for the firing?
HARRIS: I was fired on September 30th and the reason they gave me is
that I had an excess of absences and tardies. The reality is that the
absences and tardies came from all the days I was taking legally protected
strikes and one of the days they said they fired me for was a day where I
was hospitalized with pneumonia and actually brought an excused doctor`s
note to them and they told me that it was excused, but they ended up firing
me for that day as well as the days I protested.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, part of what`s interesting to me here, Colby, I
read a little bit about your story when you talk about producers, and not
only were you fired, but you say that since you were fired, you went, for
example, to retrieve your check and retreated not just like someone who no
longer works there, but like someone who is no longer even welcomed on the
HARRIS: Oh, yes. They, actually, just last week, I should mention
that just last week, they filed an injunction on our organization, stating
that at my store in Lancaster, Texas, I am not allowed or any other people
from the organization are allowed to step on their premises for two weeks.
And they just filed that last week against us.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask you this. Will you continue to be
involved in protests despite the fact that you`re not longer employed by
HARRIS: Oh, most definitely I will, and they know that, and that is
the reason they fired me, they thought they could somehow slow me down or
slow our organization down. But what they did is created an avenue where I
can have more opportunities to speak about what`s really going on with this
company and actually going on with more stores. So they gave me hand up.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you a question. What difference would
it have made if you were a unionized employee, at the moment, at which you
were fired? Or at least what difference do you believe it would have made
if you were in a union?
HARRIS: Well, that`s actually not what we`re seeking, but I think
the difference would have been is, is there would have been a fair due
process. And they wouldn`t have just fired me off days that I know I`m
legally protected to strike. So, I think I would have been at least given
the right process. They would have given me my check the last day, which I
did not receive. I had to go up there two days after I was fired, to
actually request that they give me my check and the paper stating the
reason why I was fired, which I have here in my hand.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, obviously, we don`t yet have a statement from Wal-
Mart, but undoubtedly they`re going to take a different position on this.
They`re going to say that you were not present and that you had
absenteeism. But part of this is also because Texas is an at-will
employment state. So what did that mean for you?
In other words, when Wal-Mart decided to let you go, how much of a
reason, how much evidence did they have to give you?
HARRIS: Little to none. The day I was fired, they brought me into
the office ten minutes before my shift ended, two managers came and got me,
took me into the office, read me this paper here, stating the two dates
that I was absent, which is one day where I was hospitalized and the other
day where I was in jail for a protest. I didn`t sign any documentation,
and they escorted me out of the building with all the managers. And I had
HARRIS-PERRY: Colby, have you found new employment yet?
HARRIS: Oh, I have not yet at the exact moment. I`ve actually been
still going inside stores and trying to organize the associates, but I will
have to file for unemployment. I`m still currently seeking another job as
HARRIS-PERRY: How worried are you that this firing is going to
affect your ability to find other employment?
HARRIS: I not worried at all, because I know what I was doing was
right. Every day that I was absent and taking those strikes, they were
legally protected and Wal-Mart simply didn`t adhere to our federal laws and
just decided to break the law by firing me. So I know I can still go to
another job and be employed because what I was doing was right and
HARRIS-PERRY: Colby Harris, we appreciate your courage. I said
before when you were here in Nerdland that I believe you were being
courageous, now, obviously, you believe that you`ve been fired as a result
of this it and yet you continue to speak out, and that for me counts as
real courage. Thank you.
HARRIS: Thank you. I appreciate it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, there is someone very special coming to
Nerdland. If you don`t know who Big Freedia is, you need to know who Big
Freedia is, and if you don`t know, you`re about to find out who Big Freedia
is because Big Freedia is in Nerdland, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Big Freedia might not be a household name in your town
just yet, but where I live, the Queen of Bounce certainly is.
And the New Orleans native is taking dance music to new highs with a
reality show on Fuse TV.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIG FREEDIA, QUEEN OF BOUNCE: Comes from gospel move, singing in
church choirs, directing church choirs. That`s my background. My mom
loved when I was singing church.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where you originally started, in the church.
Oh, my God. He can make them work it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And the diva is making it work and I`m pleased to
welcome to Nerdland, the one and only Big Freedia.
Thank you for being here.
BIG FREEDIA: Thanks. I`m excited for being here.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, I wanted you here for all kinds of
reasons, but talk to me about why you`re doing a reality show. What is the
reality you`re trying to teach people about?
BIG FREEDIA: Definitely to open doors for bounce music to become
mainstream. That`s the main focus, but to give people involved in Big
Freedia and in my world and in my movement. Bounce music and the culture
from New Orleans is very exciting that the production company put this
together and Fuse picked it up, even though the network that the reality
show is airing on. So I`m excited that this is happening for New Orleans,
for our culture, and for bounce music as a whole.
HARRIS-PERRY: When you say "our culture," I feel like people like to
think about sort of this imagine time in New Orleans, when it was always
jazz music. So people want to talk just about, like, jazz is our culture,
and a lot of folks don`t really know about our current -- what we actually
listen to on a day-to-day basis.
BIG FREEDIA: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: So tell people, what is bounce?
BIG FREEDIA: Well, bounce music is an up tempo, heavy response type
music, definitely born and raised out of New Orleans. It`s been around for
over two decades. It`s time for the world to know about it and see. It
has been captivated so long in New Orleans, but we have that, you know, as
well as the Mardi gras Indians and the jazz and so much good talent that
comes from New Orleans. And now, it`s time for the world to be able to see
more than the Lil` Waynes and Bee Gees and Juveniles.
BIG FREEDIA: They get to see it on the another level.
HARRIS-PERRY: Not that I`m mad about Wayne, right?
BIG FREEDIA: Not at all, I`m very supportive. That`s rapping New
Orleans and rapping our city, so I`m excited about all of that.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s funny, we are such a place. There are some
places where you can wake up and be in any city, but it`s not true for us,
right? One of the things is we will bounce remix everything.
BIG FREEDIA: Everything. Everything that comes out. That`s the way
we learn it. We don`t learn it the normal way. We learn it on the bounce
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, right after the tragic death of Whitney
Houston, of the radio play was Whitney Houston remixed in bounce.
BIG FREEDIA: Definitely was. They had a whole segment of Whitney
and every song was flipped with a bounce beat.
HARRIS-PERRY: So what does that mean? For us, I always think of
bounce in part bridging divides, bridging together black and white, uptown,
BIG FREEDIA: All walks of life. That`s what you come to see a Big
Freedia show. All walks of life, it doesn`t matter who you are and you get
a chance to express yourself through dance music and feel comfortable about
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about that expression through dance,
because, obviously, twerking has gotten to be kind of a phenomenon, but
twerking isn`t new, it`s just part of the big bounce culture.
BIG FREEDIA: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: What happens if people can start putting twerking into
context, in all of what bounce is?
BIG FREEDIA: Well, like you said, it is the overall of bounce music.
Twerking is one of those words in the vocabulary of bounce. And it`s just
exciting to be able to teach people about this, you know, and about New
Orleans and where it comes from and the origins of it.
It`s been around for a long time. People have been twerking. And
for it to be coming to the mainstream and for Miley to open that door, I`m
excited about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you this. I know that, undoubtedly, folks
watching right now, and who may even watch the Fuse reality show, who are
going to say, professor Perry, you have somebody on who`s talking about
twerking and bounce music and hip hop, and those are negative
representations, particularly negative representations in blackness.
And I always feel like, no, this is who we are, good, bad, all of it,
but how would you respond to that idea that this is bad or negative?
BIG FREEDIA: I basically respond to, it`s a new generation. People
are being very bold about what they do and how they express themselves
through music, through fashion, through different looks. And you know,
people, we are being able to express ourselves this new generation, it`s
not about being afraid to express your culture or who you are or where you
And we`re very bold in New Orleans. We want to represent, we want to
get, you know, we shake from zero to 99. And we represent and we let
people know that this is our culture, and we`re not afraid to be who we
And I`m just one of those representatives to let people know, be who
you are. Don`t be afraid. Express yourself through dance, through music,
through fashion, through all of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of shaking from zero to 99, you just won a
Guinness World Book for the largest twerk. I want to take a look at the
video, because this was here in New York, in Times Square. And it really
was zero from 99, all different races, people out there doing their best.
BIG FREEDIA: Yes, they were.
HARRIS-PERRY: What kind of energy do you get from a moment like
BIG FREEDIA: It`s exciting, because you get to see people have fun,
you know, in a rare form. You get to see all different walks of life
gather together. And it was very exciting for me.
It was like a big old concert, right in the middle of Harris Square.
And I was excited that Fuse put that together.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was kind of fun to watch that piece happening here.
Stick with us for just a moment. We`re going to bring some other folks to
the table. I`m giving up my footnote, which is when I normally stand up
and pontificate about something, because I want Big Freedia to stay with us
and bring some other folks to the table, because I want to discuss the
complicated realities of images of race and gender in the media.
There are some new studies from an "Essence" study. We`re going to
talk about that when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here`s a quick test. Name five people that you think
define positive representations of African-American women on television
right now. Having trouble?
Well, according to a new study by "Essence" magazine, that`s not a
big are surprise. Participants in their study found that images of black
women on TV primarily consisted of angry black women, baby mamas, and gold
Those images aren`t only negative, they`re steep in stereotypes.
Joining us now is Vanessa K. Bush, editor-in-chief of "Essence"
Still in the table: Big Freedia, Rinku Sen, and Jelani Cobb.
I love that sentence that I just got to say.
OK, Vanessa, talk to me about what the findings were from the
"Essence" study about media images of black women.
VANESSA K. BUSH, ESSENCE MAGAZINE: We know that the power of media
is profound, so we wanted to take a look at why there are so many more
black women on media than ever before, we wondered if there was balance.
So, we asked 1,200 participants to keep visual diaries of what they were
seeing on the Internet, in magazines, on TV, and just kind of rank where
they -- did they feel like they were being adequately represented.
And what we found is that there is really a huge gulf between these
extreme characterizations of, you know, there`s either -- you`ve got the
superstars like Oprah or Michelle Obama, and on the other end, there are
these other extreme characterizations, as you said, baby mamas, modern
jezebels, gold diggers, angry black women.
And there`s this whole gulf in the middle that`s not being
represented. You know, people like you, people like our mothers, our
sisters, our girlfriends, that we`re not seeing at all.
HARRIS-PERRY: So it`s interesting. I know y`all called this the
problem of the invisible middle. And I`ve been trying to kind of sort
through this a little bit and thinking, OK, on the one hand, it`s the
invisible middle, by which you mean sort of ordinary black women working,
making a life, building a world. I also wonder if there`s an invisibility
in, for example, the baby mama, or in these things that are so-called
negative stereotypes that we actually can`t see their humanity.
I wanted to play just a moment from Big Freedia`s show. I love this
moment. It was a thing that felt to me like an invisibility of us, but
that I`m imagining people might respond to in very different ways. Let`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIG FREEDIA: I want this time to be about quality time with my
family. So today I`m putting together this big family crawfish boil. I
support my whole family. A lot of pressure is on me. But family is all I
have. I`ll do any and everything for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, so here you are having crawfish boil, which is,
you know, ordinary life for us.
BIG FREEDIA: Yes, definitely.
HARRIS-PERRY: But invisible for a lot of folks. I`m thinking there
are people who would look and say, these are poor people, these are black
people. You`re in a hip hop bounce.
And yet, this is about family, right? This is you bringing out, in
part, the invisible middle of the things we sometimes think of as negative
stereotypes. Does that make sense?
BIG FREEDIA: Most definitely.
BUSH: It absolutely does make sense. I guess what we`re trying to
say in this study is if there were balance, if you saw more diversity, then
there would be a truer picture of who we really are. You would see our
complete humanity. What you`re seeing is a scratch of the surface. It`s
predominantly, you know, just negative and sometimes feels mean-spirited.
HARRIS-PERRY: Rinku, I wonder what we might think the impacts of
these images are.
SEN: Well, I definitely think that they just have a really terrible
effect on the self-esteem of black women. I also think that there`s a
connection between these images on television and the earlier discussion we
were having about government, the role of government, the shutdown.
So, it`s one of the ways in which people who don`t think of
themselves as conservatives actually perpetuate these negative stereotypes
that then drive things like tax revolts and a passion for starving
government programs. I think that -- I don`t really think it`s going to
change, actually, until there`s a really unified inside/outside strategy to
shift the media so people inside the media working from there to develop
reality shows like Michelle Barnwell does, for example, where you have the
same sets of characters but the story telling is about the real experiences
that those cast members have, about the things they really worry about and
think about -- family, love, work, kids.
So I think from the inside, that work has to happen. But also from
the outside, consumers have to demand something different. Hollywood keeps
giving us this because we watch it and the ratings are high. So they don`t
test very often what else we might like and what else we might watch. But
when those shows go up, like the show that Michelle did for BET, that was a
really different kind of reality show. No hot tubs. No martini glasses
flying. The highest rated show in BET history.
So, clearly audiences will respond to great content if it`s up there.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you know, part of what I always want to resist is
this kind of respectability policy where we look at the negative images.
They`re appalling, but I don`t to say, therefore, only put PhD having
light-skinned black ladies with new shoes on, right? First of all, that`s
not even the totality of who I am, much less who all black women are.
COBB: I think the entirety is to be able to deal with people`s
fundamental humanity. I think that given that there are 40, 41 million
black people in this country, there`s 41 million different black realities.
And we`ll see more shows like images of an awkward black girl.
I think shows like that, you know, kind of show there are these
different kinds of slices of black life people would be interested in
seeing. I do think we tend toward, we tend to look at it in a siloed way,
though, because television deals with a lot of stereotypes, lots of
different types of characters.
HARRIS-PERRY: The things happening with white women on reality TV
are not exactly positive.
COBB: Right. It`s kind of -- what they do is they sell these narrow
slivers of who a person might be. The problem is that with African-
Americans, those narrow slivers actually drive policy. I think that`s why
we become concerned about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, because the stakes are just higher in that
Freedia, I want to ask people because part of what`s interesting
about bounce is also the ways that it crosses lines of sexuality. So you
know, I know you reject the notion of sissy bounce is a separate bounce
movement produced by gay men. But I think about Katey Red and the ways in
which she`s a pioneer in bounce music but also a gay black man who cross
dresses and yet is loved often by hyper masculine hip-hop, you know,
brothers. Like, there`s this -- I think there`s a way in which we see
that, we can see that when we get to the real of who people are and
sometimes to music and to art, there`s ways to bridge those divides.
BIG FREEDIA: Right. I definitely think that I, you know, help
possess a power that`s inside of me to help cross that over with connecting
with a lot of males. You know, being able to be who I am and not be afraid
to be who I am. When people see me, they respect me and respect my
And Fuse has took a chance on doing this reality show and letting
people see the other side to the world. Just like she said, different
consumers, they just give us whatever we feed off of. If we demand more
from them and start to open doors for new shows and new ideas, and to see
realness and family-oriented shows, I think things will change. The world
is changing on that level, in social media as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I`m going to give you the last round.
But thank you so much for the work "Essence" has done here. And, you
know, "Essence" has obviously pioneered images of black women for decades.
And so, I love that you all are continuing to keep an eye on who are we in
this mass media space.
Thanks to everybody, to Vanessa K. Bush, to Big Freedia, to Rinku
Sen, and to Jelani Cobb.
That is our show for today. Thanks to all of you at home for
watching. I`m going to see you next Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
But, right now, it is time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX
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