'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, November 23rd, 2013
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
November 23, 2013
Guest: Jelani Cobb, Julian Zeltzer, Julieta Garibay, Raul Reyes, Maya
Wiley, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Nina Turner, Jelani Cobb, Maya Wiley, Julian
Zelizer, Valarie Kaur, Eugene O`Donnell, Alan Jenkins, Catherine Hoke, Jose
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning, my question: are you
seriously attacking the first lady for being insufficiently feminist?
Plus, why today`s immigration policy is nearly five decades old?
And, how the bodies of the bruised and buried paved the way for the great
But, first, how LBJ mastered the Senate and what Harry Reid could learn
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. All week we have
been looking back in remembrance to the day 50 years ago yesterday that an
assassin`s bullet took the life of President John F. Kennedy.
The death of President Kennedy, who has remained America`s most popular
president since he died, still looms large in the national consciousness.
The moment so seared into our memory that Americans old enough to remember
it can readily recall where they were and what they were doing when they
heard the news on November 22nd, 1963.
Now, ask those same people what they were doing the next day. Those
memories are likely a lot fuzzier. Even though that day, November 23rd,
1963, marked another pivotal moment in American political history. It was
the first full day on the job for Kennedy`s successor. President Lyndon
Johnson was sworn in just two hours after President Kennedy was killed.
It`s a moment very few people remember, because it was a moment very few
people saw. It was a stark contrast to the bloody public spectacle of
Kennedy`s assassination before crowds of onlookers as his motorcade wound
through downtown Dallas, and an anomaly among swearing-in ceremonies for
popularly elected U.S. presidents. America`s 36th president was
inaugurated before an audience of 27 people, in a cramped cabin onboard Air
Force One while it sat on the runway at Dallas` Love Field. It was the
first and only swearing in to take place onboard a plane, and the only one
to be officiated by a woman, Johnson`s friend, U.S. District Judge Sarah T.
And instead of the usual Bible, he placed his hands on a Catholic
liturgical book that was found on a side table in Air Force One`s
And yet that moment, that quiet, unceremonious transfer of power was the
beginning of something big, because as president, Lyndon Johnson would go
on to implement a policy agenda of social reform that he called the Great
Society. And it would become the most sweeping transformation of American
domestic policy since President Franklin Roosevelt`s New Deal. Johnson
laid out his vision of a Great Society in a 1964 commencement speech at the
University of Michigan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON B. JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The great society rests
on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial
injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: During his time in office, President Johnson engineered a
policy plan that targeted the eradication of poverty, the advancement of
racial equality, the restoration of American cities, the expansion of
health care and the preservation of the environment. Johnson`s legislative
agenda helped to revolutionize the role of the federal government, and in
so doing improved the lives of millions of people.
And so even as Kennedy`s Camelot continues to capture the public
imagination five decades after his death, it is the political legacy of LBJ
whose impact is most profoundly felt by Americans even today. Because
between the two, President Johnson was by far the more effective
legislator. As Rick Pearlstein writes this week in "The Nation," "there is
no question that Kennedy was an utter failure as a passer of laws during
his proverbial thousand days. President Kennedy struggled to advance his
domestic agenda through a fractured Congress whose deep divisions
obstructed any attempts at social reform."
If that sounds familiar, it`s because that Kennedy-era Congress shared some
of the same dysfunctional similarities with the Congress we all know and
loathe today. Except at that time, it was the Democratic Party that was
facing the identity crisis, split between northern progressives and Jim
Crow Democrats from the segregated South. Those Southern Democrats,
collectively known as Dixiecrats, formed a majority coalition with
Republican members in order to control the Congress.
The very same Congress that LBJ inherited on that dark day in Dallas. Only
he was able to succeed where his predecessor had failed, because he
understood something that Kennedy did not -- how to wield power as a weapon
to win legislative victories in Congress. It was a lesson Johnson had
learned during his time as a U.S. senator from Texas, when at age 46 he
became the youngest majority leader in history.
While in Congress, he once said of himself, quote, "I do understand power.
Whatever else may be said about me, I know where to look for it and how to
use it." In "Master of the Senate," biographer Robert Caro`s 1,232-page
foundational work on Johnson`s years in the Senate, Caro describes him as
ruthless, shrewd, and a gifted political operator who uses his considerable
gifts to get things done, including the moment he characterizes as the
culmination of Johnson`s mastery of the art of political persuasion, his
push for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
You see, that law would establish a prohibition against interfering with an
individual`s right to vote in a federal election and to protect the vote
for blacks in the Jim Crow South. As majority leader, shepherding the bill
through the Senate, Johnson was trying to achieve the impossible, because
before that time, Southern Democrats had blocked every attempt at civil
rights legislation since Reconstruction. The liberal Democrats were
refusing to budge on an amendment that would weaken the law, but Johnson
stopped at nothing to bring both sides to the table. He used flattery,
threats, double dealing, Southern charm, manipulation, deception, and sheer
force of his will to sway the Senate. And in doing so, turned the tide of
On August 29th, the Senate passed the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the first U.S.
Civil Rights Act enacted in 82 years. Which kind of makes the current
version of Senate leadership look a bit sad by comparison, because instead
of historic and transformative policy changes, the guy holding Johnson`s
old job today is making historic Senate procedural rule changes. Fed up
with Republican filibusters of presidential nominees and tired of dead-end
deal making, Senator Harry Reid made good on his threats to deploy the so-
called nuclear option, and on Thursday the Senate voted 52-48 to do away
with the filibuster for executive and judicial appointments. In weakening
the influence of the Republican minority in the Senate, the vote will open
up a path through some of the partisan blockage in Congress.
So is Harry Reid the new LBJ, a man unafraid to wield power? Or has going
nuclear revealed his utter weakness?
Joining me now, Jelani Cobb, associate professor of Africana studies at the
University of Connecticut. Maya Wiley, founder and president of the Center
for Social Inclusion. Julian Zeltzer, professor of history and public
affairs at Princeton University. He`s author of "Governing America" and is
now working on a new book, you guessed it, about LBJ. And Raul Reyes, NBC
Latino contributor and columnist for "USA Today." Thank you all for being
Julian, I want to start with you. In this moment, do you think that LBJ,
facing the constraints that Reid is facing, would have made the same
decision, that he would have gone ahead and changed the Senate rules and
seen that as a power play or would he have tried to negotiate in his very
Johnson type of way?
JULIAN ZELTZER, AUTHOR: I think he would have looked favorably at what
Senator Reid did. During the 1950s when LBJ was in the Senate, it wasn`t
just the civil rights bill he worked on. He tried to change the procedures
of the Senate so that the leadership had more power against these old
Southern committee chairmen who blocked legislation. So when he left the
Senate, the leader, the majority leader of the Senate had a lot more sway
than he had when LBJ started.
So I think what Reid did is not so different from the kind of tactics that
LBJ was obsessed with. The rules mattered in Congress. He understood
that. And that was a key part of his insight into how the institution
HARRIS-PERRY: And on this question of the rules mattering, look, Jelani,
I`m always of multiple minds about the filibuster, in part because I feel
like you should always expect in a democracy to eventually be in the
minority, especially in a country as balanced as ours is in terms of
partisanship. It`s going to go back and forth. You want protection of
minority voting rights within the context of the Senate. On the other
hand, the actual history of how the filibuster is used is mostly nasty,
ugly and racist. Right? I mean, there are not a lot of ways to say it
other than that, from the anti-lynching laws to what we`re seeing under
Is getting rid of this aspect of the filibuster the right thing?
JELANI COBB, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UCONN: I think it`s almost as if -- I
don`t see what other political options there are, what other procedural
options there are, given the time frame.
One thing I think is an important distinction here is the extent to which
the kind of district-by-district safety of seats makes it very difficult
for people to say, OK, well, politically, we`re going to make deals with
people in the House or things are kind of structurally gridlocked. And I
think this is more a symptom of that than anything else.
But the other thing, I think, too, is when we look at LBJ, we tend to think
about two things with him, which is `64 and `65, the Civil Rights Act and
the Voting Rights Act. But this is really about the arc of his career
because he does this in `57 and then does it again in 1960, like the little
remembered 1960 Civil Rights Act, and then the 1964 and then `65.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet this was a guy who had been part of some of these
anti-lynching filibusters earlier, who certainly in his discourse still
sounded very Southern. You know, I don`t want to repeat how he sounded,
right, on air. And I do wonder, Raul, in part, as I was spending time
again with Caro`s book and thinking about it, if there is something that
has been lost in the art of brokering, and if part of what has been lost is
something that we should be happy about. In other words, part of how he
can broker is because he is a good old boy. Right? He is a Southern,
white man who uses the "n" word even as he`s trying to get the `57 Civil
Rights Act passed.
We just live in a different time now. Is that part -- you`re not even
allowed to do that sort of cultural buddy-buddy clubbiness, which overall
is good but may have also taken away the basis for some of these
RAUL REYES, NBC: That`s the tradeoff. We live in an era of greater
transparency, so we don`t have all these gentleman`s agreements, the back
room deals, the unofficial arrangements we did back then. But that said,
that was, as you said, he knew power. He used it any way he could. I
think part of it did stem from the fact that he served in the Senate and
the House of Representatives. You know, he was connected with everyone.
And also the way he reversed I think early in his career, he voted with the
segregationists. It was later when he started charting out what was
politically viable for him and started to think about where he wanted the
country to go, that he reversed course.
So it`s definitely a tradeoff. I have to agree with you, Julian. I think
for someone who was obsessed with the power and the instruments of power,
he absolutely would have done something like the nuclear option.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Harry Reid just grabbed power in a way -- in an important
way, there is sort of crying out coming from the Republicans. What will
the Senate Democrats and the Obama administration do with this little bit
of power? Not a lot of power, but some marginal power that they have.
MAYA WILEY, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Quite frankly, I think the Obama
administration is going to spend most of its time looking at what it can do
administratively, not in Congress. You still have-- look, even after this
filibuster reform, you have a Congress that`s gridlocked on the farm bill.
The farm bill is one of the pieces of legislation, rightly or wrongly, that
has usually been a strongly bipartisan bill.
So we`re not just talking about filibuster reform means we can -- what it`s
really going to impact for the Obama administration is things like judicial
WILEY: Because remember, the whole fight and the whole reason Harry Reid
finally felt pushed to this decision was because for the first time, maybe
not the first time in history, I won`t speak for the historians, but
certainly in recent memory, the filibuster was being used not to block a
judicial nominee on merit.
WILEY: But to just say we think there are too many people on the D.C.
Circuit Court, and the reason we think there are too many people really,
because let`s face it, we would not be having this debate if Mitt Romney
had won the presidency, is because the D.C. Circuit is the most powerful
circuit in the country and makes decisions on the administrative choices of
the Obama administration.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to talk more about the D.C. Circuit and I also want
to talk about the Mel Watt nomination, which is likely to go through. Janet
Yellen, we also have someone joining us, just in thinking about power,
though, this week, also reminded about what power looks like on Thursday
night when the Saints, you know, whooped the Falcons.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, that said -- that was for my producer who`s from
Atlanta. I live to make fun of her.
Stay right there. There it is. (inaudible). Stay right there as we
discuss the legacy and the impact on Lyndon Johnson this morning. We have
a U.S. Senator from Texas joining us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON: So you got to be running into these guys in the
halls, going over there and having a drink with them in the evening, making
Carl Albert come meet you for drink, a little education. That`s where they
pour our their heart, that`s where the parliamentarian comes, and McCormack
will come if he knows you`re going to be there at 5:36, and it`s got to be
informal. (inaudible) Larry doesn`t get his tail up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was president Lyndon Johnson in a 1965 recorded phone
call schooling his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, on how to use the art
of political persuasion to convince Congress to pass his bills on
education, health care, and poverty.
Joining me now is someone who knows a lot about moving the levers of
Washington power, Texas style. Former Republican senator from Texas, Kay
Bailey Hutchison, who`s currently a CNBC contributor and senior council for
the law firm Bracewell and Giuliani. Nice to see you.
FORMER SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, R-TEXAS: Thank you, Melissa. Good to be
HARRIS-PERRY: So I`m really interested in getting your response to what
happened in the Senate this week, and whether or not you see this rule
change around the filibuster as honoring the best of what the institution
is meant to be or whether or not it actually undermines what the
institution is meant to be.
HUTCHISON: Well, Melissa, I feel very strongly that it would undermine --
it will undermine what the Senate has been able to do over 200 years. And
the reason is that the Senate operates very differently from the House, and
therefore is able to push things through that sometimes cannot originate in
the House, because their rules are so stringent. But the Senate has always
honored minority rights, and therefore has always had to get some minority
support usually to get things through.
And I think now you`re going to lose the notion that we`ve always had that
your adversary today is going to be your ally tomorrow. So you have a
comity in the Senate that has allowed the Senate to be thoughtful and
sometimes bring all the sides together, because they always have to work
together. You`re going to lose that now, and I think Senator Reid has done
something that is going to cause more tension, not less.
HARRIS-PERRY: So in theory, I am in such great agreement with what you`ve
said in the sense that I am an optimist about sort of our initial framing
and the ways in which the Senate was meant to be a protector of minority
rights and was meant to be a bit removed from sort of the vagaries (ph) of
public opinion. But in the reality of how we`ve seen this Congress,
particularly the 113th and the 112th, how we`ve seen them behave, including
the senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, it does feel like as much as I would love
to agree with you in principle, that in practice, that notion that your
enemy today could be your friend tomorrow is in fact no longer true, that
it is an entirely partisan body now.
HUTCHISON: Well, it isn`t, and I think the record is very different from
what`s being portrayed. For instance, President Obama has had 215 judges
confirmed, two denied. Of his executive appointments, over 1,700 executive
appointments have been approved, four have been denied. So, and in five
years, President Obama has had in his second term more judges approved than
President Bush did at this time in his second term.
HARRIS-PERRY: But former Senator Hutchison, I mean, that`s because of
openings. We`re talking about one of the most influential courts in the
U.S. currently having a large number of openings, and the president not
only being unable to make those judicial appointments, but also -- and this
to me I think is maybe even more key about the question of dysfunction, the
inability to even get people like, for example, Congressman Mel Watt, who
is a sitting member of Congress, was filibustered. That has not happened
since Reconstruction. And that does feel to me like we`re talking about a
Senate that is no longer operating, perhaps in the way it was when you were
there or even when former President Johnson was there.
HUTCHISON: I don`t think that`s right. I think that it`s been very few
times that there have been the kinds of hiccups that we have seen. For
instance, the leader, McConnell, I think was very much against the
government shutdown, and so were the majority of Republicans. But it got
through the process, and I don`t think it will happen again, because I
think the House members learned how destructive that can be, and I think
some of the senators have as well. And I think that -- I think it does
function, the Senate does, in a way that will move things forward. And I
think there`s a negotiation that will always be going on and probably has
been until Thursday about both Mel Watt and the D.C. Circuit appointees,
and what the problems are -- and frankly I don`t know what the issues are,
but there usually are issues behind the very few that have been held up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, I really do appreciate you
joining us this morning.
When we come back, we`ll talk a bit more about these questions, and also
specifically about who is trying to be the new champion for the poor.
Here`s a hint -- he has a code name and it starts with fish.
HARRIS-PERRY: Earlier this year, Congressman Paul Ryan stopped by "Morning
Joe" and name-checked President Lyndon Johnson`s war on poverty in an
effort to rebrand himself as a modern-day poverty warrior.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WIS.: This is why I`m focused on poverty these days.
This is why I am focused on -- we have the 50TH anniversary of the war on
poverty coming up next year, and we don`t have much to show for it. We
have 46 million people in poverty, the highest rate in a generation. I
think there are better ideas that we`re going to use to approach and attack
the root causes of poverty, and as conservatives, we should not cede the
moral high ground on this issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t know if you all out in the audience could hear that
my guests were all like, uh! Anyway, this week, "The Washington Post" took
a closer look at the details of Paul Ryan`s better ideas and found that --
quote, "his idea of a war on poverty so far relies heavily on promoting
volunteerism and encouraging work through existing federal programs,
including the tax code." Promoting volunteerism and encouraging work all
far short of an LBJ standard of marshaling the full force of government to
build the social safety net to eradicate the crisis of poverty. It`s those
very protections that Ryan has targeted with budget plans that will slash
spending on programs that help the poor. Even as it gives massive tax
breaks to the wealthiest Americans. So Paul Ryan is just no new LBJ.
REYES: Paul Ryan`s even -- Paul Ryan, you know, we`re familiar with his
policies. For him to even invoke LBJ in the context of poverty, I`m sorry,
that is offensive to me. That is -- he is the antithesis of what LBJ, you
know, looked at when he tackled this problem.
LBJ did not look at poverty as a black/white issue. There was not that
racialized element. And, you know, in the time when America was different,
LBJ believed we are America, we can do everything, let`s tackle it. And
the country responded. And so many conservatives like to say that it was a
failure because we did not eradicate poverty. But it was a success.
Poverty rates dropped dramatically.
REYES: People lived longer.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to underline your point with data here, because Paul
Ryan is just empirically wrong when he said it did not work.
HARRIS-PERRY: When you look at poverty rates, that is the war on poverty
you see, that big decline. You do see some up and down, but those are
almost always cycling with recessions. Basically after the implementation
of the war on poverty, we have never been as poor as a nation ever again.
WILEY: When LBJ instituted Medicare, at the time, 65 percent of all people
65 and over had absolutely no health insurance and paid three times as much
for health care. It actually -- it is not just employment. Part of what
Lyndon Baines Johnson did is say -- he did two things that were actually
really important. One is he said that there is a relationship between race
discrimination and poverty. And we`re actually going to recognize that
link, and we`re going to see not just the Civil Rights Act and the Voting
Rights Act as important, we`re going to see it as needing to be coupled
with giving, and I quote, "the full blessings of America" to black people.
ZELTZER: What`s important is I think your point is right. The war on
poverty wasn`t just the community action program, which people know about.
He had a very holistic vision, as all Democrats who supported this did,
about how you eradicate poverty. And the one area they agreed with Ryan,
the war on poverty was to make people ultimately self-sufficient.
ZELTZER: It was a conservative idea.
ZELTZER: But it included eradicating health poverty for the elderly.
ZELTZER: It included education money, which passes in 1965, to bolster the
schools, and many other. Medicaid is another part of this. It was a much
grander vision. And if you measure it not just by poverty rates, but all
these different issues, I think the impact is much more dramatic. And so
when Tea Party Republicans defended Medicare to combat Obama`s health care,
you see how ingrained those programs have now become.
HARRIS-PERRY: Again, I want to underline your point, there was Job Corps,
there was Vista (ph), which is the volunteer service, there was Upward
Bound, Head Start, a Neighborhood Youth Core, the Community Action Program,
College Work-Study, Neighborhood Development Center, small business loans,
rural programs, migrant worker problems, remedial education, local health
care centers. All of this. Right? It was this notion of the
comprehensive. And (inaudible), and this is part I think of what irritated
me about Paul Ryan, is the community action aspect of it, part of what
Johnson`s Great Society also understood is that people had to have a voice
in it. It wasn`t just top-down. It was people sitting on local boards and
speaking about the problems in their community. Paul Ryan won`t even
listen to people who are in poverty during the conversation about food
COBB: Right. I think this is -- it`s cynical. And in a way, we`ve become
kind of immunized to cynicism. We expect it. But it`s cynicism in a way
that even shocks our conscience now, in the same way that Martin Luther
King can be deployed to say if he was alive now, he`d be a conservative.
Or Malcolm X would be a conservative in any of his kind of ideas. He`s
advocating the very opposite of what LBJ`s foundation was upon.
One of the other things that`s important to remember is where LBJ gets this
impulse that government can actually make a difference in terms of
eradicating poverty, and that`s because when he`s elected to Congress in
1937, he is involved in rural issues and rural electrification. And he
sees visibly, he`s witness to the transformation that can happen when the
government says we`re going to do this.
But he also recognizes this, and probably the first time we see this in the
Oval Office on that level of recognition is that he sees the impact of what
FDR did when he cut these deals with Southern Democrats that effectively
cut black people out of the main benefits of the New Deal.
COBB: And so (inaudible) the Great Society, he`s saying we can actually
close this loop.
COBB: We see what this difference is.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love you made the point about infrastructure. As we go
out, we`ll stay on this topic, but as we go out, I want to listen to LBJ
making the point that you just -- that actually that several of you have
made about that connection between poverty and race as he`s talking about
the question of education. It`s worth just hearing LBJ make that
connection. Let`s listen to that as we go out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: I told Martin Luther King, I said hell, I`m for voting, and we`re
going to get voting. That`s not your problem. The big thing, Dr. King,
with you is a billion 200 million for Negroes only. Because who the hell
do you think makes less than $2,000 a year? It`s the Negro. Now, by God,
they can`t work in a filling station, put water in a radiator unless they
can read and write.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I want you take a look at this this graphic, posted this
week on the Huffington Post. See all those dollars in gray? They
represent the $14.5 million in average retirement money held by each member
of a group of CEOs in a lobbying group called a Business Roundtable. Now,
see that teeny, tiny single red bill in the upper right-hand corner there?
That`s the $12,000 in savings held by the average U.S. retiree. The guys
with all those gray dollars, and there`s about 200 of them, hold about
1,200 times more in retirement savings than the average Social Security
beneficiary. And they will never have a single worry about how they`re
going to survive after retirement. But they, those guys, are pushing to
cut retirement benefits for those who do. Business Roundtable and another
CEO lobbying group called Fix the Debt are pushing Congress to slow the
growth of Social Security, raise the retirement age to 70, and cut Social
Security benefits for seniors.
Maya, is this anything other than just, like, disgusting? Guys with this
much wealth are showing up in Washington not to say let`s extend our great
society, but instead let`s take even more from the people who have so
little. Even though we`ve got plenty.
WILEY: It`s disgusting. One of the things to lift up here, because we
were talking about the relationship between race and poverty is 50 percent
of all black Americans, and in an equally sizable, actually might even be a
larger number for Latinos, are actually going to retire into poverty. And
the reason is because low-wage jobs, right, I mean, how do we pay for
Social Security? We pay for Social Security, we pay it forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: Workers today are paying for retirees today.
WILEY: We`ve got -- and one of the things that these CEOs got that the
rest of us don`t have is guaranteed benefits. Those same CEOs are in
corporations that have undermined the defined benefits plans that used to
guarantee a retirement income to employees. Well, now, people don`t get
HARRIS-PERRY: The pension system is gone. And now Social Security--
ZELTZER: I think one interesting thing is the conservative voice of the
moment, Southern Democrats, they were often in favor of programs to
alleviate poverty. The guy who actually pushes the war on poverty in the
House is a guy named Phil Landrum (ph), who is a conservative Dixiecrat,
anti-labor guy, but very committed to alleviating rural poverty, and still
had that ethos.
And the second thing I would add is the politics of that period were very
different. So we have a romance with Lyndon Johnson, which is fine, but we
have to remember the civil rights movement was very forceful, and they
forced his hand, as much as he forced Congress` hand, and organized labor
was a huge presence at this time, lobbying for all these bills, not just
labor-related issues, but everything from health care to poverty. They
were a liberal lobby that existed that doesn`t exist today.
HARRIS-PERRY: Julian, I`m so glad you brought us there. I was reminded as
we were having our LBJ love affair as we were putting the show together
today, of that moment during the 2008 elections when Hillary Clinton, then
a candidate against then Senator Obama, was asked about sort of, you know,
the successes, and said that Dr. King`s dream only began to be realized
when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he
was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was
hopeful to do. Presidents before had not even tried. But it took the
president to get it done. The dream became a reality and the power of that
dream became real in people`s lives.
And boy, this was not a good moment in her campaign. And it`s so critical
that it`s not just Lyndon Johnson, some great, smart, great guy, but he is
being pushed by an active, organized, at this point decades-long movement
of ordinary people on the bottom to say you will not come and take
everything that we have.
REYES: He was also -- he was so Machiavellian. He was not afraid. Like,
he went to the business community and said it is in your interest that we
eradicate poverty and fight poverty, that it would benefit them. You know,
he used every tool, he made every case, even if it was purely in these
other groups` own self-interests. He was not afraid to go there just to do
COBB: Let`s be clear about one other thing here. In addition to the
internal domestic pressure, that all of this was being played out in the
context of the Cold War.
COBB: And it is the external pressure of the Soviet Union ridiculing the
United States, that in its embassies in West Africa, the Soviet Union has
billboards that they post of children being attacked by police dogs. And
so in the context of --
HARRIS-PERRY: This is supposedly freedom.
COBB: This is the American version of freedom. So LBJ is the cold warrior
(inaudible) talking about Vietnam, they understand there are consequences
for this internationally. So it`s not as if he simply takes a president to
done, well, it will take a president and a Soviet premier and --
HARRIS-PERRY: If only we could get Putin to make fun of Paul Ryan, then,
in fact, maybe we could get this done.
ZELTZER: He understood this more than anyone. That`s the magic. He
understood the limits of his power, not just the size of his power, and he
depended on these movements to lobby Congress, and he depended on a new
kind of Congress to pass his bills.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with me. Up next, I have got a letter of the week. Do
not worry, First Lady Obama. I got your back.
HARRIS-PERRY: When LBJ became president, he brought with him a new first
lady. Lady Bird Johnson`s passion was beautification, and it was dismissed
by some as a silly project, just planting daffodils by the side of the
road. But it was more. Lady Bird was one of the first environmentalists,
one with access to the legislative resources of the powerful Johnson White
House. She gathered experts and brought the issue of conservation to the
nation`s attention. Her work led to the passage of 50 bills protecting
national parks and removing billboards and junk yards from the highways.
Her work was more than just wildflowers.
But I was reminded of the inability of some commentators to see the real
work of first ladies this week when I read a piece in Politico magazine
calling first lady Michelle Obama a feminist nightmare. And that`s why my
letter this week is to the Washington reporter who wrote that story,
Dear Michelle Cottle, are you serious? You and your handful of feminist
sources claim that first lady Obama is not a feminist, because she says her
most important job is being mom in chief to her two daughters. In a week
when right-wing hatred of the president forced a nuclear change in the very
rules of the Senate, your advice to the first lady is to come roaring out
of the White House battling for reproductive rights? You wring your hands
about the first lady`s, quote, "safely and soothingly domestic issues," and
you quote a feminist who marvels that someone of the first lady`s
capacities and education has done so little of substance.
So given how simplistic your piece is, let me make this very simple. You
are wrong. You`re wrong to write off the first lady`s priorities as fluff.
She`s fighting childhood obesity, one of the biggest public health crises
of our time, and she`s not out there just flexing her biceps and mom
dancing with Jimmy Fallon. Her let`s move campaign has helped thousands of
child care programs offer healthier food and more exercise.
And for the first time in years, the CDC says there`s a significant decline
in obesity in preschoolers.
The first lady is not playing it safe with this war. She`s drawn plenty of
right-wing criticism. No, Ms. Cottle, not everyone loves a vegetable
garden. You also dismissed the first lady`s new effort to get more low-
income students into higher education by saying it`s not exactly climbing
out on a political limb. But a college degree has everything to do with
economic mobility and who gets to be in the middle class. And right now,
only about a third of students in the poorest families go to college, and
only about a tenth graduate.
Now, the president has been ridiculed as an elitist for suggesting that
more people go to college, so if you think there`s no political risk, maybe
you haven`t been paying attention.
Also, you misunderstand the place that Michelle Obama occupies as the first
African-American first lady. You seem to think she`s trying to steer clear
of the angry black woman stereotype. But when she calls herself mom in
chief, she is rejecting a different stereotype, the role of mammy. She is
saying that her daughters, her vulnerable, brilliant, beautiful black
daughters are the most important thing to her. The first lady is saying
you, Miss Ann, are going to have to clean your own house because I will be
caring for my own. And instead of agreeing that the public sphere is
necessarily more important than Sasha and Malia, she has buried mammy and
embraced being a mom on her own terms. So you can call that your feminist
nightmare, but for a lot of us, it is our black motherhood dream.
Also, on a strategic note, Ms. Cottle, before we enter the 2016 election
cycle and the feminists come around asking black women for our support for
your candidate, you might want to read up a little bit about black women
and our feminism. I`m happy to send you a syllabus.
HARRIS-PERRY: 50 years after Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president, his
legacy is evident in virtually every aspect of our civil rights agenda,
including immigration. The guidelines for who is allowed into the U.S.
legally and why are still mostly based on the Immigration and Nationality
Act he signed in 1965. The bill, signed by President Johnson in the shadow
of the Statue of Liberty, abolished quotas based on national origin and
race, and instead gave preference to relatives of immigrants already in the
U.S. and to workers with needed skills. President Johnson did not expect
the law to have a major impact, but he was wrong. Giving newcomers from
every corner of the globe an equal shot at U.S. citizenship created
dramatic demographic changes, and now nearly 50 years later, Washington
could once again be on the verge of making history by offering a path to
citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
The Senate has already passed comprehensive reform. So far, House
Republicans refused, and House Speaker John Boehner has ruled out any
action before next year.
Those pushing for change are not waiting to make their voices heard. One
of those voices is Julieta Garibay, who is legislative affairs associate
for the United We Dream Network. She`s joining us now.
Julieta, We were just before the break, we had talked about the fact that
whatever Johnson does, he does in the context of a civil rights movement
that`s pressuring him. So talk to me about United We Dream and about the
other immigration rights movements that are pushing this administration and
JULIETA GARIBAY, UNDOCUMENTED TEXAN: Well, United We Dream is the largest
and first undocumented immigrant (inaudible) network in the nation. We
have more than 51 affiliates in 25 states, all led by undocumented
immigrants. Many of us are dreamers who, yeah, we came here when we were
young, we grew up in the U.S., we call the U.S. our home, and now we`re
fighting to get immigration reform passed. That doesn`t only benefit us as
dreamers, but also our families. We know very much like if it had not been
for my mother, who brought me here when I was 12 years old, I wouldn`t now
have a master`s degree from UT Austin, and I wouldn`t be where I am right
now. So we have to fight for our families.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yet you`ve talked and written about in the past the sense of
vulnerability you and your family had felt, particularly when you were
young, that you might be separated from your mother.
GARIBAY: Correct. And I think it`s something that every single child that
lives in a mixed family leaves (ph), every single day wondering is my mom
going to pick me up from school, wondering if we are going to have a job.
When I, as I grew up, I needed to get a job because I needed to pay my
bills. And so I`m always wondering am I going to get caught? Will there
be a raid at work? So it`s a fear we live every single day. And it`s not
American. We shouldn`t be worried about is my mother or my father going to
be deported tomorrow.
HARRIS-PERRY: Raul, if there`s any sort of reasonableness and rationality
within the political system, there ought to be immigration reform. It
simply benefits both parties to do common-sense immigration reform. And
there is in fact a social movement doing the kind of pressure that Julian
was talking about earlier.
HARRIS-PERRY: You often are so optimistic at this table. Are you still
optimistic about it?
REYES: Yes, I am. And the reason -- part of the reason I am optimistic is
here at the table with Julieta. Because this -- what started out as just a
political issue now is a movement. You have to remember, four or five
years back, undocumented people were very hesitant to even give their name,
to even come out in public. Now they`re chaining themselves to the White
House. There`s a hunger strike going on in D.C. They`re blocking ICE
buses. In the beginning, it was just about them. Now it`s expanded to
their families and it has really inspired the entire Latino community.
So now I really -- I truly feel these are the foot soldiers. That`s where
the movement`s going to come, because they are not going to yield. And
we`re all saying or many in the political world are saying immigration
reform is dead, it`s not happening. It`s happening. Things are going on.
The civil disobedience is up.
HARRIS-PERRY: It makes me wonder if where we are is basically in like the
`55, `56 moment. If you think about those initial boycotts in the South,
and then you get the passage of the `57 Civil Rights Act, but it takes
another decade before the really big stuff happens. Is it sustainable for
another decade of activism?
GARIBAY: I know for United We Dream specifically, we know this is a long-
term fight. We know that even if we were to get immigration reform right
now, when we get it, which we will, we will continue fighting for the other
issues that affect our communities. We will continue to fight for better
access to higher education, for a better system that provides pre-k through
12 education for everybody that`s good and that`s the best America
REYES: It`s very much like the civil rights movement, because as you know,
with the civil rights movement, you had some of the elders and the more
established people saying, wait, not now, take it easy, don`t be, you know,
don`t move too fast. But right now this movement, if anything, these young
people, they are more emboldened than ever, and they are not giving up.
Once the genie is out of the bottle in that sense, I really think they`re
not going to stop.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re short on time, but just one second, Raul. What can
the president`s administration, free from Congress, do? (inaudible) such
an important thing. Is there anything that the administration can do, free
REYES: Yes. Yes. What he can do right now, totally within his powers,
totally constitutional, is expand the classes of people who are eligible
for DOC (ph). He already did something just a week ago Friday where he
gave some relief from deportation to people who have -- who are veterans or
relatives of people who are active military. So he can continue to expand
classes of people who are eligible for that type of relief. He can`t grant
anyone citizenship, but he can continue to slowly offer incremental relief.
And that`s important.
GARIBAY: So us, sorry, to us it`s very important, he has the power to stop
GARIBAY: It`s a shame that the first African-American president of the
U.S. has deported more than 2 million people.
HARRIS-PERRY: So there is the pausing of the deportations and there is the
HARRIS-PERRY: I am bringing the both of you back in as we`re going to
continue to talk even more on this question of LBJ and how some of his
biggest accomplishments were achieved over the dead bodies of Kennedy and
of King. Thanks for joining us, Julieta. There is more "Nerdland" at the
top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
If you are just joining us, we have been talking about the remarkable
legacy of President Lyndon Johnson, what it tells us about America today 50
years after his first full day on the job.
Johnson first made his mark on this nation as a Senate majority leader.
And as a senator, Johnson earned a reputation as a man who used any means
necessary to pass legislation. He twisted arms, he bribed, he sweet
talked, he demanded, he found the weaknesses of his opponents and he
exploited them. He identified the strengths of his allies and he bolstered
And when the assassination of President Kennedy handed the reins of power
to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, he did not hesitate to use every tool at
his disposal to pursue a vigorous and historic policy agenda, an agenda
that changed the face of America in just a handful of years.
The effort began with landmark civil rights legislation. After being
pressed by a decade of tireless activism by black communities in South,
President Kennedy had proposed a civil rights bill mere months before his
death. But it was President Johnson who devoted extraordinary energy to
ensuring the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.
And Johnson did not shy away from using the memory of the slain president
as a weapon in the fight, ensuring that his predecessor would end up being
the one remembered as the great civil rights leader, Johnson argued to
senators, no memorial, oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor
President Kennedy`s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil
rights bill for which he fought so long.
In July of 1964, Johnson signed the bill that outlawed racial
discrimination in public accommodations. It was an accomplishment made
possible by a slain president.
Another assassination gave Johnson what he needed to pass his final
critical piece of civil rights legislation four years later in 1968. The
day after Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on a Memphis
balcony, Johnson sent a letter to speaker of the House of Representatives
that read in part, "When the nation so urgently needs a healing balm of
unity, a brutal wound on our conscience forces us all this question -- upon
us all this question, what more can I do to achieve brotherhood and
equality among all Americans? The most immediate is to enact legislation
so long delayed and so close to fulfillment."
That legislation was the National Fair Housing Act. Johnson signed it into
law just one week after Dr. King`s death. Again, Johnson did not shrink
from using the tragedy of a political assassination to advance a political
It was the buried bodies of Kennedy and King that gave Johnson leverage in
`64 and `68, and it was the broken bodies of civil rights protesters like
current Congressman John Lewis who in the spring of 1965 gave Johnson a
wedge to pass voting rights legislation reform. The televised brutality of
what happened on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the bloody Sunday march
was the martyr moment that allowed the big Texan with the distinctive
Southern drawl to stand in the well of Congress and say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON JOHNSON, THEN-PRESIDENT: 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: In this country, civil rights and voting rights have been
purchased with the precious cost of blood and the fearlessness of a leader
willing to spend the moral capital that those martyrs provided. But today
that legacy is in jeopardy.
Just this week, the Republican-controlled state senate in Ohio passed the
bill to shorten early voting, a move that limits the ability of poor
people, black people, the elderly to cast their votes. That bill goes to
the Republican-controlled statehouse and presumably to Republican Governor
John Kasich for signature.
Who`s brave enough to do what LBJ might have done and stop this legislation
in its track?
Joining me now from Ohio is State Senator Nina Turner, a candidate for the
Ohio secretary of state and maybe the next LBJ.
And my panel here in New York, Jelani Cobb, associate professor of African
studies at UConn, Maya Wiley, civil rights attorney and founder and
president of the Center for Social Inclusion, Julian Zelizer, professor of
history and public affairs at Princeton University, and also Valarie Kaur,
political commentator and senior fellow at Auburn Seminary.
Nina, it is always lovely to have you.
STATE SEN. NINA TURNER (D), OHIO: Thank you, professor.
HARRIS-PERRY: It does feel to me these days we`re trying to strip away
some of the accomplishments that were bought with the blood sacrifices I
was just talking about. What do you say to that there in Ohio?
TURNER: Yes, you know, I think Reverend Dr. Otis Moss summed it up this
way, he said the struggle is forever with us, so we are forever in the
And that is what`s going on not just the state of Ohio but all across this
country. There is a lack of consciousness that the president spoke about,
it is gone. And we have Republicans and make no mistake about it, these
acts are being conducted by Republicans who control statehouses all across
this country to regress us as a nation. And everybody, as President
Johnson said, all of us bear the burden of making sure that that does not
It is disgusting. I can`t even find enough words to articulate how painful
this is because you are absolutely right, professor. All of these
freedoms, all of this access to the ballot box was purchased by people`s
blood, sweat, and tears.
HARRIS-PERRY: And in Ohio, at the same time, the voting rights purchase
with blood are being sort of pulled back. The other House bill that went
through this week, 203, is about potentially adding stand your ground to
your law books. Is that right?
TURNER: It is, professor. It`s kill at will, you know? I got to say that
Ohio legislative black caucus fought gallantly. Over 10,000 signatures
were delivered to the speaker of the house and the president of the senate
and the governor and to no avail. They passed that bill.
But I want your viewers to understand this, this bill was introduced while
the trial was going on, while the parents of Trayvon Martin and this
country was mourning what happened to a young man, a boy, in fact. They
introduce that bill. They are absolutely heartless.
And not only does stand your ground, they give reciprocity to other states.
People can just come in here with any of their gun licenses and it doesn`t
matter whether they`re up to the standards of Ohio. That reciprocity will
be there. They`ve cut back the training hours that one needs to even get a
concealed carry from 12 hours to four hours. Heartless.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Let me back it up to the table a little bit because
Julian, I guess part of what I find surprising is, you know, there`s that
moment after the signing of `64 that Bill Moyers reports that President
Johnson says I sign aid way the South.
JULIAN ZELIZER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Yes.
And yet the strategy was in part a recognition that you had to move forward
because of demographic changes and because you may find a way to the white
South but you gained the black South. In 2012, these voter suppression
efforts seemed to have caused a backlash, more people showing up in part
because they felt their vote was potentially being suppressed.
Why, then, continue with these efforts from `14 and into `16?
ZELIZER: It`s hard to totally grasp the logic of overturning voting
rights. It was such a fundamental in the mid-1960s. It`s funny that the
interview was in Ohio. There was a Republican named William McCullen (ph)
in the House, on the Judiciary Committee, and he was a Republican who
pushed a lot of the civil rights bills and voting rights -- he was
conservative on most issues but this was something we assumed should happen
by the mid-60s and I think the suppression could have a very strong
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s interesting, Julian. You`ve said this a
couple times now where you`ve said there were conservatives who are
nonetheless were for poverty. There were conservatives who were
nonetheless for voting rights.
I remember about that, Valarie, like, why did this move so much to -- like
I can determine everything I need to know about where you stand on all
these issues just by knowing your partisan identification?
VALARIE KAUR, AUBURN SEMINARY: Right. Well, the unspoken political rally
in states like Ohio and across the country is that when Democrats do better
when more people get to the polls. Republicans do better when fewer people
get to the polls. And it is deeply troubling to me that this has become a
partisan battle, that the right to cast your vote is a moral imperative,
it`s sacred to what makes our country`s democracy work.
My family is celebrating 100 years in America this year, our centennial
It`s remarkable when I think about my grandfather who sailed by steamship
from India. He arrived in California wearing a turban and beard as part of
his Sikh faith. He faced laws that prevented Asian-Americans from becoming
American citizens, from casting their vote, as alongside African-Americans
because of the color of his skin.
He waited for decades to win that right. Once he won that right, he never
missed an election, even when he was old and frail.
So it`s come down to me as the sacred right and the fact that my generation
still needs to fight this battle, that we have already won with black and
brown bodies, bruised and broken.
It`s -- it`s saddening. It`s morally outrageous. But it also means that
we can go back to history to remember what`s important.
And President Johnson said -- one line so beautiful -- "The right to vote
is a basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people
as individuals control over their own destinies."
That`s what we have to take up now in Ohio.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nina, let me come back to you far moment on this because
there is something a little odd about it. I`m not talking about, you know,
my state, Louisiana, or even about the madness that is North Carolina these
days. But Ohio, free country. You know, our people were crossing into --
we were trying to get to Ohio.
TURNER: Right. Absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: So talk to me. Do you think there are Republicans with whom
you can form coalition in Ohio to push back on this?
TURNER: Well, I`m not sure. I wish. In the legislature, there a very
I know there are half a dozen bills pending in the Senate, half a dozen
pending in the Ohio House that would totally upset the very foundation of
this democracy when it comes to access to the ballot box.
On two of those bills, I will say that one Republican voted with the
Democrats. But there are super majorities in both chambers and they are
out to use their political power, their political might to suppress,
oppress, and regress the vote. They are doing this.
And so, our appeal has to be to Americans of good consciousness. The
voters in the state of Ohio and North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin,
wherever this is happening, we the people are going to have to bind
together regardless of our party affiliation to say that it is unjust. It
You remember Dr. King talked about the whole notion of just laws and unjust
laws. And these laws that are being passed under the cloak of making sure
that there is integrity in the election process forgets the fact that
integrity in the elections is very much rooted in the fact that all voters
have the right to cast their ballot, to exercise their right to vote.
In many ways, Ohio is the new South in the 21st century, and there is no
cloak, no cloak that they can use to try to cover up what they are doing,
which is to take the one great equalizer that we all have and that is one
woman, one man, one vote. But we are going to continue to fight back in
the great state of Ohio. There will be a day of reckoning and it`s called
HARRIS-PERRY: Lord God, if Ohio is the new South, I think that makes
Ontario the new North, and you know we can`t go there right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, as always, thank you for
your time. And you`re always welcome here in Nerdland.
TURNER: Thank you, professor.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, how the Roberts Supreme Court was prevented from a
chance to undo one of Lyndon`s Johnson`s most accomplishments.
Jelani and Maya are coming back. That`s when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and talking about the continuing legacy and the
rollback on issues of civil rights and voting rights here in America, sort
of, if we`re still living in what was left of Johnson`s America. These
days, we talk a little about the voting rights. The other piece is the
civil rights questions.
And specifically sort of housing and sort of how we are or not together in
a more equal country.
MAYA WILEY, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: You know, we`re a more equal country in
the sense that we don`t believe it`s OK to be racist. We are not a more
equal country if we look at whether we`re actually able to share in what I
call the benefits and burdens of public policy. And that`s really what
we`re talking act when we were talking about things like house, even voting
So, what we`re saying it`s OK if -- we were talking about the safety net
earlier and one of the primary drivers of poverty right now is the high
cost of housing.
WILEY: And one of the things we`re doing is tearing down Mt. Holly, the
case that did not go to the Supreme Court represented was actually tearing
down affordable housing in a predominantly low-income black neighborhood
but not rebuilding affordable housing for anyone so that there was going to
be a net loss of housing. If you think about what Lyndon Baines Johnson
was trying to do, he was trying to connect the issues of economic
opportunity with racial -- with racial minorities actually being able to
get those opportunities.
These are laws that are actually having the opposite impact even though
nobody is saying we don`t want those black folk or those Latinos or those
South Asians to benefit. So, we`ve confused now what race means in America
today. It`s not about whether we`ve got a Bull Connor, not because we
don`t still have some Bull Connors but that we can actually perpetuate this
kind of economic and political exclusion without saying anything about
race, just by making bad policy decisions.
I actually like living in a country where people don`t want to be racist.
That does seem preferable to me an America where people say, yes, I`m
racist, I`m (INAUDIBLE) I dot think you have equal right.
But on the other hand, there is a way which ends up subverting all of these
various levels of inequality and sometimes the places where we would have
common cause across racial divide.
JELANI COBB, UCONN: That`s right. One of the things -- we`re talking
about LBJ today. One of the things that was most notable from the speech
he gives in 1965 and, you know, the speech he gives at Howard University
and also the speech that he gives notably the "we shall overcome" speech is
that he actually says explicitly in there how many white people have
suffered because we`ve diverted our resources into maintaining segregation.
And he takes that direct -- that is what W.E.B. DuBois was talking about in
"Black Reconstruction," saying there is an economic cost to maintaining
these kind of ideas and segregation that we pay a certain tax for it for
racial inequality. I mean, we`re talking during the break, that
numerically, there were more white people disadvantaged by sharecropping in
the South than there were black people but those were kind of disposable
white people to that order of that day.
So I think when we`re talking act, it`s like what is the implication of
this and it seems kind of hokey and maybe feel-goodish but to say that
we`re all bound in this certain way, but certainly socioeconomically we
ZELIZER: Part of what happens is after 1966 Johnson is not as successful
anymore, the midterms empower the conservatives in Congress, controversy
over civil rights in the North is flaring and a lot of the issues we`re
talking about, including housing are not addressed. The Fair Housing bill
of `68 is considered toothless. It`s the weakest of the civil rights bills
and in dealing with housing, residential issues, even in dealing with crime
conservatives really take over the law and order argument and then
obviously Vietnam starts to cause cuts in Johnson`s spending.
A lot of the issues that today are front and center, not the Bull Connors
but the underlying dynamics that perpetuate racial and economic inequality
are not fulfilled. Those last two years are really critical as Johnson
starts to lose his mojo.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m reminded that King writes the text where do we go from
here. He writes it after the `64 Civil Rights Act, he writes that after
the `65 Voting Rights Act, after the moments we think of as the great
legislative accomplishments of the civil rights movement and King is asking
will we go to community or to chaos and in fact as we see your point about
Vietnam, about the shifting sort of sand, politically, and all of those
things that King was trying to work on in the end where he was fighting and
failing, he goes to Chicago and he goes back right, he`s standing on --
it`s Memphis is organizing around labor, right? These are the stickier
ZELIZER: Even issues like transportation is part of what he`s talking
WILEY: There`s one thing we have to remember about LBJ, though, right now
because in November, this month, in 1965, my father joined a meeting at the
White House that the president called to discuss how to take civil rights
to the next level, right? And one of the things that happened in that
meeting is that -- and my father had just been to South Carolina on voting
rights looking at how still 50 percent of blacks were still disenfranchised
in South Carolina, complaining to Katz and Beck that we weren`t doing a
sufficient amount when forced.
And that given the civil rights law of 1964, there was a powerful tool that
the federal government had and still has today, which is to say we`re going
to take back those federal dollars if you continue to segregate and
discriminate. And one of the things that -- a clear deal, and I think we
have to call out Democrats and northern Democrats on this, Mayor Daley
wanted to keep his anti-poverty programs and keep his school segregation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Maya Wiley, you brought me to exactly where we are going
which is to Daley`s Chicago. That is where we are going next.
Jelani Cobb and Julian Zelizer, thank you both for being here.
When we come back, we`re going to talk about three years in Riker`s for the
crime of being young, black, and male.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my
party for another term as your president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Despite Lyndon B. Johnson`s historic policy agenda, it was
foreign policy that dictated his decision not to seek re-election in 1968.
Public support for the Vietnam War hit an all-time low in August of 1967,
with only 27 percent of Americans approving of his handling of the war.
But according to his former chief of staff, James R. Jones, the polls
weren`t the reason President Johnson decided not to run again. Rather it
was his concern the politics of running a campaign could interfere with any
opportunity to end the Vietnam War. Jones told "The New York Times,"
quote, "As an active candidate, he, President Johnson reasoned, he might
miss or postpone an opportunity to achieve peace. `What if we`re late in
the campaign and I might have to make a decision that might result in a
peace settlement but will be politically risky?` he mused one night in
March. `I want my hands free to do what`s necessary to deal with this
But the out and incumbent on the ticket, the Democratic Party was left
grappling with internal disagreement on a presidential candidate when they
met for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in late August 1968.
But the most enduring images from that week were not the convention itself
but from the streets outside. That`s where more than 10,000 people from
around the country gathered to protest the war in Vietnam and they were met
by 25,000 police officers, National Guard members and Army troops under
orders from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
NBC`s Huntley-Brinkley report covered what happened next.
REPORTER: Demonstrators have filled the streets in front of the Conrad
Hilton Hotel. Police held them back. Tensions were high. And they broke.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand back. Stand back.
REPORTER: Chicago policemen were on the line as it happened. Now,
National Guardsmen came in. The streets had been cleared, guardsmen came
in to manage defense of the hotel. Now and then, someone inside the hotel
would throw something down on them but aside from that, after the guardsmen
got there, there was no more real threat.
This volunteer medical group, many medical students from around the country
said they handled 300 victims of tear gas, and mace, and nightsticks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They hit me. I went down, trying to fend off some of
the blows. I came back up and they said, "Get out of here" and I said,
"I`m trying to," in which case they hit me again and hit me again. There
must have been at least a dozen of them.
REPORTER: It was about 4:00 in the morning and several delegates from the
convention joined the demonstrators in a candlelight parade down Michigan
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whitney Young, director of the Urban League, said today
in New York that last night`s police action against anti-war demonstrators
in Chicago should prove to whites that the use of excessive force and
brutality by the police is not something Negroes imagine. Young pointed
out that most of the demonstrators were white.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Forty-five years after police violence against peaceful
demonstrators marked the end of Johnson`s Great Society. We are still
living with the legacy of a nation that is still afraid of its young people
and still willing to overuse the power of police to quell that fear. We`ll
have more on that, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just last week, the city of San Francisco was celebrating 5-
year-old Miles Scott who`s battling leukemia by fulfilling the young man`s
wish to spend the day at Batman! Numerous San Franciscans came out to
cheer on young Miles, including 20-year-old Dee Harris, D.J. Williams, who
was allegedly assaulted by San Francisco police on his way home from the
Williams was arrested and faced four felony charges of misdemeanor. And in
one misdemeanor his bail was set at $143,000 but the D.A. dropped the
charges pending further investigation after the lease of this video showing
Williams screaming in pain and unable to walk.
There`s also this unnamed 14-year-old who was arrested for shoplifting on
Tuesday at a Wal-Mart in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Police say they hit
the teen in the face with a taser while he was running away and he fell
over face first. But his face seems to hold a more complicated story.
Over in Grosse Point Park, Michigan, police allegedly force black men to
sing and dance like chimps, videotape it, and share the footage with their
friends and families.
In Miami Gardens, police have stopped 28-year-old Earl Sampson 258 times in
four years, search him more than 100 times, and arrested him 62 times for
trespassing. Nearly every citation occurred outside of a convenience
store, where he works.
And I can not forget about 20-year-old Kahlif Browner (ph). He was
arrested at age 16 for allegedly robbing someone. His family was able to
pay his $10,000 bail. So, Kahlif spent three years in the Rikers Island
correctional facility here in New York before the charges were dropped.
Five stories with one disturbing similarity -- in the shadow of LBJ,
instead of existing in the true state of equality, many of us are living in
a police state where brutality and violence are committed against American
bodies, conveying that some of those bodies still don`t belong.
Joining me from Washington, D.C., is Eugene O`Donnell, a professor of law
and police study at John Jay College, who`s also a former officer at the
And at the table, Alan Jenkins, the executive director of the Opportunity
Agenda, also Raul, Valarie, and Maya are still with us.
So, I want to come to you, first, officer, because these stories, they do
begin to feel like they`re indicative of a set of police forces around the
country who just seem incapable of doing the work of protecting and serving
and instead are in this almost military relationship with communities.
Am I getting that wrong?
EUGENE O`DONNELL, JOHN JAY COLLEGE: You`re not. I think the police are
just overused in America. The criminal justice system in general is too
broad, too much power, there are too many crimes, too many offenses,
punishments are too harsh and bluntly police departments are not as
aggressive as they should be in isolating bad actors in the organizations.
It`s far too common that one or two people in a much larger group are
allowed to run amok, causing damage not only to community relations but
also to people in the organization that are there for the right reasons.
I also think it`s important police work unfortunately spend so much time on
sort of technical training, sort of rules and regulations training and not
enough on the human equation, really putting human dignity at the center,
which is really what policing should be all about. Too much police
training and education really is just an ends analysis and how you get
things done without the human factors involved.
HARRIS-PERRY: Alan, it does feel to me like the impact, then, of these
kinds of stories, when I tell them, we read them, pass them around to each
other, is a deep distrust particularly with of communities of color and the
police in ways that undermine any good. I mean, these communities also
need policing in the sense of wanting safety, wanting security for property
and for person.
But these stories undermine everything that could happen in those
ALAN JENKINS, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT: That`s right. I mean, I think these
stories -- and we know there are many more where they came from -- they
really speak to the multiple ways in which the criminal justice system is
broken right now. These are events that should not happen to any human
being anywhere in the world.
It`s also simultaneously unacceptable that they only happen to low-income
people of color or certainly broadly disproportionately. And then they
don`t keep us safe.
So, when you think about the goals of any justice system to actually be
just, right, equal protection of the laws but also public safety and
prevention, all of those goals are undermined as well as the trust
certainly of communities of color but really of everyone. These are not
practices that are geared towards human dignity or public safety.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m reminded, Valarie, that, you know, so we`ve been talking
about this ark of LBJ and, of course, it ends in those long, hot summers of
civil unrest and protest that occur particularly after the assassination of
Dr. King, we think about Chicago and Detroit and Philadelphia and other
cities. And police in those cities went from being, you know, carrying one
sidearm and being, you know, officer friendly, to having the riot gear and
being really sort of military occupying forces in these communities.
Can we start to dig out from under this in any way?
KAUR: Yes. I mean, there is good news. In Connecticut, I had the
privilege of working for several years with Latino residents who had pulled
back their sleeves to show me their scars at the hands of local police
officers who were harassing, profiling, and brutalizing this community.
They joined with lawyers and with faith leaders to march into the streets
to tell their stories to the public. They caught the attention of the U.S.
Department of Justice.
And just this month the officers who were responsible for the most violent
crimes were put on trial and were convicted. It`s possible if people put
their feet on the ground, as they did in Selma, you know, 50 years ago to
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to ask Mr. O`Donnell about this point of holding
accountable those who commit the bad acts. So I wonder in part about that
sort of -- the fraternity of the police that often ends up closing ranks
instead of sort of punishing the bad actors and clearing the ranks.
O`DONNELL: It`s a bad dynamic obviously sometimes police departments are
not as aggressive as they should be. It is worth noting a lot of what
we`re seeing here is not just individual acts of police officers. The
criminal justice system is broke on the core. It`s broken by legislators,
it`s broken by prosecutors. There`s lots of people here that are -- that
get a pass. These laws proliferate, these profilers proliferate.
And while I totally understand the need to talk about individual officers
on the ground, we don`t spend enough time talking about something like
false convictions of people. That could not be accomplished without
aggressive prosecutors doing what they do. Some of these laws, again,
there seem to be thousands of laws in some jurisdictions for the most minor
offenses. And yet if you ask people do you want them repealed very few
people will say, yes, I want them repealed.
So, it seems to me -- you can`t have it both ways. You can`t constantly be
adding these law, these penalties into this brutal system, this scary
system, and then say to the police, well, we`re just going to leave it at
your doorstep. Again, not to diminish the responsibility of individual
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, stay with me. We`re going to stay on this issue of the
continuing police state, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: And back with panel discussing the police state that was
perpetuated in the shadow of LBJ and how it has disproportionately impacted
African-Americans and Latinos in this country and poor communities in this
country often in brutal ways.
You were telling that there were some solutions to this, Maya.
WILEY: Yes, there are absolutely. And I think it really is important to
lift up the point it`s not just about crack -- we should crack down on
officer who do wrong, but it`s significantly more impactful to make sure
that we`re instituting police practices that keep people safe. And one of
the exciting things that`s happening is a there`s actually for the first
time we`ve never had a baseline of data that tells us how people are being
stopped and treated by the police and disaggregating that by race.
We actually have now, not we, the Center for Social Inclusion, but Dr.
Phillip t. Begoff (ph) at UCLA actually is now creating this baseline, has
a grant from the federal government, and, and importantly, has the
cooperation of 40 different police chiefs to actually start instituting
practices to prevent this kind of behavior, so we don`t have to talk about
cracking down on individual cops. We can actually change the culture of
policing in a way that will keep us safe.
RAUL REYES, NBC LATINO: We need to change it to do more effective policing
because, you know, all these instances that, you know, you showed in the
clips, many of them did happen in high-crime neighborhoods, thing where is
there are all these illegal activities going on, but it just shows the
police are obviously going after the wrong people, when stopping this one
guy continually outside of where he works and on a broader scale, the very
troubling thing is we have created as a society a cycle. People like that
young man are repeatedly stopped by the police or the young man who spent -
- teenager who was sent to Rikers Island so they end up with records for
detention or arrest.
Down the line they can`t get a job because they have some type of police
record, which leads to them hanging around, which leads to, again, the
police constantly stopping them. They`re criminalizing these young people
at an early age and closing off their options in the process. You know,
it`s so -- there`s a reason why New York City alone paid out in 2011, $185
million in lawsuits against the police for all sorts of complaints.
So it`s also time to look into the -- I think they call the cop cams, the
body cams they`re experimenting with in California. It makes not only the
police act better but also members of the public tend to act better.
HARRIS-PERRY: Alan, I feel like, you know, I almost hate to bring it up
but I feel like we can`t eve haven`t this conversation unless we talk a
little bit about the new sort of viral narrative about young people going
up, beating up, you know, unsuspecting pedestrians, right? And so, that`s
been the new -- you know, these -- this language that -- and they`re
horrifying. I mean, there`s no way to look at that image and feel anything
other than awful.
And yet it`s almost as though on the heels of the de Blasio win and the
idea that we`re going to stop stopping and frisking, we`re going to have
some real conversations about police accountability. But the response of
at least some in the media is to immediately begin the fear mongering
around young people and particularly young people of color. This is what
will happen in de Blasio`s New York sort of.
JENKINS: That`s right, and yet we know crime has been going down in New
York City for 25 years. It`s actually at -- it`s at levels that are lower
than when JFK was assassinated in 1963. But it`s not that crime doesn`t
happen. It`s that policing needs to be focused on preventing crime, on
evidence of wrongdoing or intended wrongdoing and not on what someone looks
like, what accent they have and the like.
What`s both frustrating but also encouraging is we have a lot of
commonsense solutions. We actually know that when policing systems use
clear rules, very good training, accountability and assessment, actually
looking at how policing is happening using data but also listening to
communities, we see changes, Colorado, for instance, has a very good
program that`s produced some real change.
And the Obama administration gives out, as have prior administrations, a
lot of money for community policing under what`s called the Cops Program.
Something they can do tomorrow is begin to implement some best practices
and rules and accountability. No federal taxpayer money should be going to
a police department where these kinds of things were going.
HARRIS-PERRY: Eugene, let me come back to you for a moment. What do we
know about best practices in terms -- I want to come back to a point
Valarie made earlier about faith communities and the communities engaging
with the police. Are there communities that you`ve studied or seen where
we have some best practices of actually moving from that sense of police
state to a more collective process of building public safety?
O`DONNELL: Well, the best practices to acknowledge is that race is at the
heart of so much policing and that often gets skirted. And beyond that the
best practices for the cops to buy this themselves. We have too much
imposed rule-oriented stuff. The cops have to see in this their souls.
I do think since we`re talking about good news, one piece of good news in
New York with stop and frisk is the police union played a very good role in
that issue by repeatedly saying stop and frisk should not be numbers
driven. If we can only get police political analyst now to go to the next
step since almost all of them are part of labor unions to start seeing
themselves as working-class people, to start seeing themselves having
things in common with hotel workers, hospital workers, that would be to me
a much more effective way than any sort of set of rules you could start
imposing or ordering or requiring for from top.
It really has to be something that people get instinctively internally.
That`s I think a big mistake in police practices is that there`s so much
time spent on stuff that`s a facade, basically. It has to come from
HARRIS-PERRY: Eugene O`Donnell, I so appreciate that insight -- the idea
of seeing yourself as working class, just like the folks that you are
policing. Thank you for being in Washington. I hope you will come and
join us at the table. Some of the things you said, I know you can`t see
the folks at the table but there was some cheerleading going up here at the
Alan Jenkins, Maya Wiley, Raul Reyes, thanks for being here, and also,
Valarie Kaur, who got a standing ovation this week when she addressed the
White House on questions of fairness and equality. I`m sure you can see
When we come back, our foot soldier of the week is next. She`s done
something quite interesting. She`s found folks who are labeled as drug
dealers often are actually, you know this, great entrepreneurs. We just
have got to direct that entrepreneurial energy to something else, when we
HARRIS-PERRY: Recidivism rates are so high in the United States, that our
prison system is often said to have a revolving door. According to the
Bureau of Justice, 67.5 percent of a sample of 300,000 prisoners released
in 1994 were the rearrested within three years. That`s more than two-
But our foot soldier this week is helping people in New York with criminal
histories beat those odds. Catherine Hoke is the founder of Defy Ventures,
an nonprofit program that teaches business skills to people with criminal
histories. Since officially launching her program in 2011, Catherine`s
program has seen a recidivism rate of zero.
Joining me now is Defy Ventures founder and CEO, Catherine Hoke.
Also at the table, Jose Vasquez, a program associate at the Defy Ventures,
as well as one of the program`s first graduates.
Catherine, why the insight about business as a way and entrepreneurship as
a way to address recidivism?
CATHERINE HOKE, DEFY VENTURES FOUNDER & CEO: My past life was working in
venture capital, and I was invited on a prison tour. And when I went there
for the first time not knowing it the first thing about the drug game or
about gang leadership, in asking the men in prison about their stories I
realized immediately that will many of them understand the principles of
business and that many of them are.
HARRIS-PERRY: Profit, organization building, running staff, yes.
HOKE: Yes. And so, I wondered what would happen if they were equipped to
go legit with their skills.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, one of the ethics of being equipped to go legit has to
do was having funding. And many people with criminal histories are unable
to get SBA loans or any kind of initial capital. Where does the capital
come for the businesses for folks who work with you?
HOKE: We are connectors between people with criminal histories and the
private sector. Business leaders, venture capitalists, investors. We run
business plan competitions where our people competing for up to $100,000 in
microloans. So, it`s our private support network that funds and invests in
their businesses because they believe in these entrepreneurs.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jose, you are an entrepreneur, one of the folks to come out
of Defy. Tell me about your experiences.
JOSE VASQUEZ, DEFY VENTURES: My experience has been amazing. I was able
to launch my own company and give back to individuals in the same position
I was when I first got out of prison. So, it`s been life changing for me
and my family really.
HARRIS-PERRY: And what do you do?
VASQUEZ: So, basically, what I do now at Defy, I`m a program manager and
recruiter. I go out. I hit all the parole offices, other organizations
and spread the word, right? If I`m able to do it, a young kid from Rhode
Island can be come to New York and make something happen, anyone can do it.
I get them into the training.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there is this kind of multiplier effect as part of what
made Defy so successful. That some of the businesses that your clients
have started are things that also give back to other folks with criminal
HOKE: Yes, a bit over a year, our graduates have started 44 companies,
have already created 35 new employment opportunities for Defy grads and
other people hard to employ in their communities.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I will say, I totally get the insight that people who
are engaged with black market or criminal activities are also the ones who
have entrepreneurial skills. They`re just not directed in the right way.
But I wonder if you`re only looking at prison, aren`t you getting the once
who made the mistake? In other words, is there a way to get the folks who
haven`t gotten caught? They might even be better entrepreneurs?
HOKE: Yes, actually, we recruit leaders hoping that they are going to have
impacts on others, impact on other people in their communities. So, Jose
is a good example of this and after he got out, his past home boys are
looking to him and saying, how can be they look at changing their lives.
But also the generational impact that this has. In my opinion, one of the
biggest problems in the communities that we serve is that there`s a lack of
positive male role models. And 70 percent of children who have an
incarcerated parent end up following in their foot steps. If we can equip
men we serve, we also serve women, to become great fathers and
entrepreneurs, they are impacting their own children and changing the
HARRIS-PERRY: Jose, thank you for being one of the people changing the
And thank you so much for your work. I love that you see the good in folks
and give them a way to do their own fishing.
That is our show for today. Thanks to you for watching. I`m going to see
you tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Director Malcolm Lee will be to talk about his blockbuster movie "The Best
But right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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