Guest Host: Melissa Harris-Perry
Guests: E.J. Dionne, Thomas Shapiro, Mordecai Lee
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, “THE LAST WORD” HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is
up next, and yes, that was THE RACHEL MADDOW set that you saw. Melissa Harris-Perry on Melissa Harris-Perry is tonight‘s guest show of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHHOW.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Lawrence. It‘s really great to go from talking with you to talking even more on these central questions.
So, thanks to all of you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Rachel is just off tonight, she‘s on vaca and I‘m very excited to be filling in on another ridiculously busy summer news day.
Now, where we begin tonight is T-minus seven days and counting. One week from today, next Tuesday, is officially deadline day in Washington—final day for Republicans in Congress and President Obama to strike a deal on the debt ceiling, and avoid sending the country to default for the first time in our history.
At this hour last night, the prospect of reaching that sort of deal took the latest turn in a journey that‘s had a whole lot of turns—a primetime address from the president aimed at—shall we say—pressuring Republicans, into finally reaching some sort of agreement.
But if you were tuning in last night as I was, hoping that you would see some grownups really close to compromise, that‘s not at all what you saw. Instead, it was President Obama and Speaker John Boehner looking like they were as far apart as they‘ve ever been in this now months-long fight.
And today, just after their dueling primetime speeches, President Obama made it clear that he would not accept just any compromise when he officially threatened to veto the plan that‘s favored right now by John Boehner and House Republican leaders.
Late tonight, Speaker Boehner‘s office announced he‘s going to be re-writing that plan because it doesn‘t achieve as much in savings as he originally claimed it did.
Now, given the sort of dire nature of where these talks stand right now, there‘s one remedy bouncing around Washington these days that suggests President Obama doesn‘t actually need John Boehner at all, that he can just raise the debt ceiling on his own without John Boehner and without House Republicans.
For weeks now, the White House and president have said they don‘t intend to take this sort of dramatic, unilateral action, but this policy is one that‘s enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. It‘s part of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was one of three amendments passed in the years following the Civil War.
And interestingly enough, President Obama cited this civil war error during his speech last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have put to the test time and again that out of many, we are one. We‘ve engaged in fierce and passionate debates about the issues of the day. But from slavery to war, from civil liberties to questions of economic justice, we have tried to live by the words that Jefferson once wrote, “every man cannot have his way in all things.” Without total disposition, we are disjointed individuals but not a society.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: He used to live in Chicago, and given how often this former state senator from Illinois has asked us to think of him in the mold of Abraham Lincoln, President Obama specifically name-checking slavery in his speech last night, invites us to ask: what have we learned from that moment in American history?
Right now, we keep hearing over and over again from Republicans in Congress that Washington is broken. And while there may be some merit to that, there‘s really only been one time in our history where Washington was truly broken, as in literally broken in half.
And there are some actual lessons to be learned from the Civil War that can just as easily be applied today. For one thing, you want to know what the country amassed a lot of during the Civil War? Debt. The U.S. government went deep into the red during the Civil War. The Union had to borrow and spend all sorts of money that it didn‘t have in order to fight and win that war.
Moral of the story: debt itself is not inherently evil. Debt matters, but preservation of the country, economically or otherwise, matters a whole lot more.
Lincoln was prepared to find a way to pay the bill so that this nation would not perish from the earth.
Another lesson from then that could just as easily apply today, countries at war need to raise revenue in order to pay for those wars. One of the enormous advantages the North had over the South during the Civil War, one of the reasons they were ultimately able to prevail, is because they had more money. Where did they get that money? You guessed it, tax revenues.
Abraham Lincoln imposed the country‘s first federal income tax in 1861 in order to help pay for the war effort, a novel sort of concept, right? New taxes to pay for a new war.
The fact that we haven‘t imposed any new taxes over the past decade means that we are essentially using a pre-19th century model to pay for the wars that we‘ve decided to fight, but perhaps more important than anything else, the Civil War was the moment in our history when we established the very notion of the full faith and credit of the United States government. It was the adoption of this aforementioned 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the one that states that the U.S. debt shall not be questioned.
After the Civil War, after racking up all of this debt, the U.S. Congress essentially declared to the entire country and to the world that we are good for it, that the United States is a good credit risk for lenders because we honor our debts. That‘s the moment at which the government said, by constitutional requirement, it‘s we the people owe you, we‘ll pay you back. We just will.
And so, to risk that credit at this moment is to ask us to go back to a pre-Lincoln moment in our republic when our word wasn‘t necessarily our bond. Seven days from right now or sooner, that word may take a major hit.
Drawing upon the lessons of the Civil War serves as not just a reminder about our monetary policy and the usefulness of debt, but the difference between a real crisis and frankly a manufactured one.
In this moment, as bad as things are, the fact is we could solve our things tomorrow—heck, by midnight tonight, Congress could simply say in what is not even an act of courage, just an act of regular governing, hey, we‘re going to raise the debt ceiling today. And we‘re going to address these other issues, important issues, in the way politicians always do, which is we‘ll fight it out and whatever policies the American people like best, they‘ll vote for that party.
Instead of that, what we have is people away from the talks, people willing to launch the country in a potential economic crisis when there need not be one at all.
So, is Washington broken? Maybe, but it‘s not the result of any real crisis like we faced before, it‘s a result of a totally manufactured one.
Now, joining us now from Washington is E.J. Dionne, columnist for “The Washington Post” and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and, of course, a fellow academic, a professor at Georgetown.
E.J., good to see you tonight.
E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you.
Listen, I was watching last night. From what I saw, this looked like a stalemate and we are seven days and counting until default.
What is the plausible way out of this from your perspective at this point?
DIONNE: Maybe define intervention is the most realistic solution to this problem. I mean, what you‘ve got here, I think there‘s so many interesting analogies to the 1850s, to pick up on your Civil War analogy, when we were divided.
Now, thank God we‘re not talking about secession and slavery. But what you have here is a large determined minority inside the Republican Caucus who just don‘t want to make a deal. They are saying things that are way outside the mainstream view, really doesn‘t matter if we don‘t raise the debt ceiling, we can get through default. It won‘t be a big deal. They‘re exaggerating all this.
Now, John Boehner doesn‘t believe that. Mitch McConnell doesn‘t believe that. But Boehner seems unable to move toward any kind of agreement, partly because he‘s worried about his own fate in this caucus or he‘s worried that if he puts together a deal that is supported by too many Democrats and not enough Republicans, he‘s also threatened.
So, I think it‘s that internal politics in the Republican caucus that‘s blocking this. I think what might happen is that Mitch McConnell may decide to let Harry Reid pass his plan without threatening a filibuster.
Now, if he did that, the Democrats could get it through with a majority. That‘s how most democracies do things, but not our Senate, and that may set up grounds for a solution. That‘s about the only thing I could see right now that might begin to get us out of this or at least begin real negotiations again.
Well, so, speaking of that, of the idea there is, in fact, a majority rule, and that there‘s so much politics going on here, look, we saw this “Reuters” poll indicating a majority of voters favor President Obama‘s compromising approach, they prefer it to Speaker Boehner‘s cuts-only plan. And we know last night after the president asked people to call their representatives, the Capitol Hill phone lines have been jammed.
So, are the Republicans listening? Is the Tea Party deaf to these cries on the part of the American people to get this resolved before we are at t-minus two days? Does it even matter what the public thinks at this point?
DIONNE: “T” being the operative letter of the day.
I think for a lot of these Tea Party members, they are terribly wrong and their view is dangerous, but I think they really believe on principle. You know, when Teddy Roosevelt won that progressive party nomination in 1912, he said, we stand on Armageddon and we battle for the Lord. And I think a lot of the Tea Party folks honestly feel that way. That makes this very difficult.
Also, a lot of Republicans are much more worried about losing primaries to candidates to their right than losing general elections. Now, maybe this will begin to change when those Republicans, including a few of the Tea Party people sitting on seats that went for President Obama in 2008, basically, genuinely competitive seats, about 60 Republicans like that—maybe this will begin to have an impact on them.
But for the moment, it‘s very hard to see Boehner getting out of this, which is why he walked away from the talks with President Obama not once, but twice.
HARRIS-PERRY: E.J., thank you so much for being here and for chatting with us tonight.
DIONNE: Great to be with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was great to be with you.
That was E.J. Dionne, columnist for “The Washington Post” and senior fellow of the Brookings Institution.
So, conservatives are all about jobs, right? Which is interesting, as the debt ceiling drama sucks the air out of the room, the FAA is shut down in part because the Republican lawmakers want to make it harder for transportation workers to be in unions. And how many actually employed people are currently not working or being paid as a result?
That story is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: So which groups are getting hit hardest by the recession? Come on now, which groups always get hit the hardest? News from the have-notes is just ahead.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here is how you know we are not living in normal times. In normal times, when people working for the government are furloughed, the government, their employer, saves money. That‘s the whole point of a furlough—tell people not to come into work, don‘t pay their salaries, dollars saved, at least in the short run.
But today, for the fourth day in a row, the agency that regulates air travel has had to go without 4,000 of its employees -- 4,000 people from 35 states have been furloughed since Saturday, and not having them do their jobs means that the agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, can‘t collect taxes.
This time, not having people show up to work is really expensive. The furlough is costing taxpayers $30 million a day, $200 million for one week in lost revenue, all because Republicans in the House refuse to extend the FAA‘s legislative authority.
Now, four years ago, the last long-term authorization for the FAA ended. Since then, Congress has granted the agency a temporary extension 20 times. But this time, the 21st time, no way, no how. This time, Republicans will not let the FAA go on living unless they get what they really, really want.
John Mica, the Republican chairman of the Transportation Committee in the House wants among other things, quote, “language that would make it harder to form air and rail unions.”
Republicans want to make it more difficult for airline and rail workers to fight for better working conditions in a year in which conditions have made for terrifying headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Two commercial airliners approaching Reagan National Airport, trying to reach the tower, hearing nothing. We now know it‘s because the controller, an FAA supervisor on duty, was asleep.
REPORTER: As of last night, every tower in America opened overnight must be staffed by two controllers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The head of the FAA‘s air traffic control unit is out of the job today, resigning under pressure after a number of controllers were caught sleeping on the job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Controllers now get nine hours of rest instead of eight between shifts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On Tuesday, a flight carrying Michelle Obama was forced to abort a landing after it came too close to a massive cargo plane. The incident is currently under investigation. For now on, those flights will be handled by air traffic supervisors, the same producer used when the president is up in the air.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: A third air traffic controller has been fired for sleeping on the job, the FAA said the controller was caught napping twice this year while on duty at Boeing field in Seattle. Five similar incidents nationwide have been revealed since March.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
HARRIS-PERRY: So the women and men, the ones who make sure our airplanes don‘t, you know, crash into each other are tired, and we should certainly take away their ability to make sure they‘ve got good working conditions.
Listen, it‘s not just that the government isn‘t saving any money—thanks to the furlough. In normal times, a federal agency temporarily not collecting taxes means a tax holiday.
Let‘s say you‘re trying to buy a ticket for your daughter to fly back to college later on this month. Let‘s say that tickets cost $500, 50 bucks of which is taxes. Now, let‘s say that the House Republicans—the FAA isn‘t collecting that $50 tax. That ticket should now cost, right, $450.
For a couple of days, it looked that‘s what would happen. Airline tickets would be unusually cheap. But that‘s not how it worked out.
Instead of passing on this as savings for customers, almost every single
airline jacked up its prices to make money off the Republican-made crisis -
to make money off the 4,000 furloughed workers.
Now, in normal times, this would be called crisis profiteering. But what do you call it when these are anything but normal times?
HARRIS-PERRY: Today in Norway, the lawyer for the man accused in last week‘s terrorist attacks said his client might have been insane when he bombed government offices, and then shot 68 people dead at an Oslo summer camp for young liberals.
Now, the Norwegian public has begun to ask whether more police officers should carry guns, most Norwegian police officers don‘t since Norway has so little violent crime.
America, being a very different country, the gun lobby here has responded to the news with a call for more guns all around. Quote, “Norway‘s unarmed citizens were helpless to save themselves.”
Now, remind me, isn‘t it true the last time we heard this argument was in Tucson when a mentally disturbed man opened fire at a constituent event held by Congresswoman Gabby Giffords?
Arizona has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation, but no one pulled out a gun to stop the attacker and he killed six people that day.
So, let me suggest this, turns out neither a lack of guns as we saw in Norway, nor a lack of more restricted gun laws, as we saw in Arizona, neither one guarantees you safety. But we should all just have more guns, right? Just ask Congress where the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act now has 241 co-sponsors. A majority of the House saying you should be able to carry a legally concealed weapon from one state to the other regardless of the second state‘s laws.
Now, wasn‘t this supposed to be the Congress of jobs, jobs, jobs? Republicans haven‘t passed a single bill to create jobs. They can‘t even figure out how to raise the debt ceiling—and yet they are signing on for a bill that allows more guns everywhere, regardless of what the local law says.
Look, I get it—different laws make sense in different places. In Louisiana, where I live now, lots and lots of people own guns. It‘s rarely a partisan issue in the sportsman‘s paradise, many kinds of people own guns for hunting and recreation.
But take a place like the Pittsburgh borough of Homewood where officials say guns have been toxic and they need to be more controlled.
Again, I get it, but here‘s the problem—if the state‘s rights argument is your argument, it really starts to fall apart pretty quickly if you prioritize the power of the state over the well being of its people. Take the Defensive of Marriage Act, or DOMA. It says one state can ignore marriages made in another state if those marriages two men or two women. The Republican Congress is all for giving states control on that.
Today the attorney general of New York joined a legal challenge of DOMA in the case of a widow with taxes that she wouldn‘t have owed if she had been married to a man instead of a woman.
So, in Republican America, we still have no jobs bill, we still have no deal to save the U.S. government from default, but we can begin to see the outlines of a place where you can bring your concealed weapons across state lines but not your lawfully wedded spouse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: Now you want to talk about a dysfunctional family, take a look at the United States Congress and what they‘re doing on the debt ceiling. In our family, my husband and I would have taken that credit card, we would have chopped that baby up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night around dinner tables across our country, moms and dads were going over the family budget. They are spending within their means.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Families have budgets, they live within their budgets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American families have to deal with this all the time. It‘s time that their government dealt with it as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is so wrong with giving American people the opportunity to speak, to say Congress, you have been out of control. You need to balance your books like all of the American families in this country do.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
HARRIS-PERRY: The hair on fire fight happening in Washington right now is fundamentally a debate over whether or not to destroy the economy. And one of the Republicans favorite ways of trying to distract you from the fact lots of them are on the yes, we should destroy the economy side of the debate is make the debate you just heard, to conjure up this fake, erroneous metaphor between individual American households and macro policies of the federal government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Families have budgets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are spending within their means.
BACHMANN: Now, you want to talk about a dysfunctional family, take a look at the United States Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
HARRIS-PERRY: In your house, you know you got to pay your bills to make things better. You don‘t have debt ceilings, so the government should have to act just like your house, right?
OK, incidentally, just today, we got a really clear picture of what American household budgets actually do look like, and it is not good.
So, OK, Republicans, let‘s do it. Let‘s take a look at what an American household kitchen table budget looks like and let‘s stop with the make believe.
According to a new study out today by the Pew Foundation, almost a third of Latino households and more than a third of African-American households have either no wealth or negative wealth, which is to say debt. A third of households in communities of color in this country are living with their own personal debt crisis, complete with their own personal debt ceiling—or maybe we can think of it as a wealth floor, a floor they just fell through.
So while John Boehner laments whether Social Security will be around for his two daughters, he seems unaware that he has a country arresting on an American citizenry that‘s individually and in their household, not just in terms of what‘s happening in their government, but in their households, the people are experiencing tremendous debt. And we are relying on these people as wage earners and wealth creators, and we will continue to do so.
Within a few decades, we will be a majority minority country. Right now, roughly a third of African-Americans and Latinos are facing personal debt crises. And those who have accumulated a little wealth are perilously close to losing the small amount they have.
The immediate, right around the corner future of America is a colorful fun, and these people on the bottom of the chart, they are the ones that should be the future job creators, but right now they have no savings, no cushion to sustain them as they would try, for example, starting a business or hiring workers or implementing the new ideas that have always distinguished America.
According to the Pew study, the wealth gap—the distance between white Americans, Latinos, and blacks—is at a record high.
The midlevel white American family is worth 20 times its African-American counterpart, and 18 times its Latino counterpart. That‘s one dime in a black or Latino household for $2 in a white household.
Now, let‘s be really clear. The wealth gap is different from the income gap. Yes, jobs matter, there‘s no way families can pay their debt or begin to save if they don‘t have jobs. But this wealth gap is also fundamentally driven by public policy.
People didn‘t end up in these circumstances just because they were making bad choices or being irresponsible fiscally.
We end up with a wealth problem like this because of choices made by our own government. Initially, many black people in America cannot own property because they were property. Even after becoming citizens, many were shut out of the post-World War II policies that created an American middle class.
Black veterans in the South were denied benefits under the G.I. bill. In the 1940s, 65 percent of black workers were concentrated in agricultural or domestic work and were, therefore, unable to take part in Social Security.
And the discriminatory implementation of FHA loans meant that few people of color have the opportunity to buy homes in thriving neighborhoods.
And here is a deal with—wealth. It grows. It mushrooms, it explodes. And if you are shut out at the beginning, it is nearly impossible to catch up later on.
Take this example, if your parents didn‘t own a home because they couldn‘t get in because of the FHA discriminatory behaviors, then they can‘t take a home equity line to help you pay for college. So, you‘ve done the right thing, but you‘ve earned your way to college. Well, you‘re going to have to take out a student loan.
And now, you‘re starting adulthood with debt. Get a job, if there are some, and you make payments on the student loans. But you have no money left over for a down payment, so you rent. Even when your income rises a bit, it‘s hard to generate and create wealth.
But if your parents were able to buy into a house with those low-interest federal loans, if they did tap that equity to help you pay for college, then you start with no debt, and maybe your parents can help out again with a small down payment on your first home and you start building wealth and the outcomes are so very different.
Whole communities cannot just earn their way out of a wealth gap.
So let‘s look at that issue of housing just a bit more. Listen, predatory lending began in black and Latino communities a decade before it was common practice in American mortgage industry. Remember, we know a value of a house has less to do with how many bedrooms it has, or what the square footage it is, or whether it has granite countertops.
The main difference in the value of a house and whether or not that house is an asset that can create wealth for you and your family is, of course, location, location, location. And the number one locational problem for black folks and Latinos is they live in neighborhoods defined as bad neighborhoods, and they are defined as bad simply because black and brown people live there.
Residential segregation may no longer be the law, but it is a reality in much of the country. So, when this particular housing crisis hit, it double compounded what had already been true for African-Americans and Latinos for so long, making those housing prices fall even more rapidly, causing foreclosures to shoot up and making it even harder to buy into the American Dream.
So, here now you have a system where these groups are being pushed farther to the margins and these are the people, as we‘ve just seen over the course of the last decade, lose massively whatever small foothold they‘ve been gaining. They‘ve been hit hardest by unemployment, we see wages go down, they‘ve been hit hardest by the decline in wealth, they‘ve lost income, and now, they are the ones that are going to have to pay into our national treasury, pay into our Social Security system.
And as people of color become a proportionally bigger part of the American population, our national coffers will rely on them even more. We cannot pay off the national debt if households cannot pay off their personal debt, and if they are in debt, then you can‘t cut enough to ever make it possible to fix our government‘s debt problems, and particularly not if you refuse that one group whose wealth is still tick, tick, ticking up.
Joining us now to talk about this is Dr. Thomas Shapiro, the Pokross cross professor of law and social policy at Brandeis University and director of Brandeis Institute on Assets and Social Policy.
Dr. Shapiro, I am such a fan of your work, thank you so much for joining us this evening.
THOMAS SHAPIRO, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY: It‘s my pleasure to be here, thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, from what we‘re seeing right now, listen, those on the right and a few on the left love to make this comparison between households balancing their checkbooks and the government having to tighten its purse strings. How dangerous is that metaphor?
SHAPIRO: I think it‘s an extremely dangerous metaphor. I think there‘s no way around the fact the latest Pew Center report that the American population is in absolute crisis if we look at the wealth loss for nearly all households simply from the year 2005 to the year of 2009. It‘s been an absolute wealth loss for everybody, and that means we‘re talking about what the opportunities for the American Dream in the future are for everybody.
Within that, however, the dynamics that have hit communities of color and low and moderate income communities, clearly the crisis is much more devastating. And that‘s why this pew report, I think, is really—I don‘t want to call it an alarm bell, all the alarms in the city, town, should be crying out about the severe crisis that we‘re in.
HARRIS-PERRY: Dr. Shapiro, one thing I like most about your work is that you point us towards structural reasons for this. Your work really talks about how public policy is at the root of so many of these disparities.
So, if public policy helped to create these problems, what, if anything is Washington doing to help the disparity now?
SHAPIRO: That‘s a great question. I think if we get a really good handle on what‘s driven the increase in the racial wealth gap in the United States, then we start to have some tools and some handles on public policy that we might be able to make a redress of that particular racial wealth gap.
In my mind, at this point, with the Pew Center report, clearly, the biggest driver of the increase in the last few years has been the absolute utter crash of the housing market and the foreclosure crisis. And I think there‘s a lot that Washington has not done in terms of financial regulation that put some kind of control, some kind of transparency in the business that was going on, first in communities of color, and then spreading out through other segments of American society.
I also think that Washington could take a much harder look at what has been, in my estimation, a very anemic policy around foreclosures in the United States, a way we can help families who are in crisis, those families that look like they could make it through and make their payments or trying to make their home mortgage payments, I think there‘s a lot we can do for them.
HARRIS-PERRY: There‘s one other piece, the question of government and housing, and that is the issue of taxes. Look, in our current conversation, we keep talking about taxes as though they are just about income taxes. But talk to me a little bit about how our current tax structure actually widens this gap, makes this problem worse?
SHAPIRO: I think when we look at institutional dynamics like public policy, in my mind, the largest driver in terms of tax policy are the tax benefits given to families to behave in certain ways. There‘s what I call a wealth budget in the United States tax code, where individuals and families are rewarded by paying lower taxes for doing things that we think is good public policy for everybody.
The largest of those, of course, is the home mortgage interest deduction. The second largest one happens to be the taxes that we don‘t pay if we put money aside for pensions when we need to retire. If we add up those—those budgets in the United States, what the taxpayers are paying for incentives so that some people don‘t pay taxes, it‘s about $400 billion a year.
Now, that $400 billion a year might mean one thing if it were distributed somewhat equitably. But the story is different, the top 1 percent of taxpayers receive 45 percent of the benefits of that wealth budget of the United States government. And if I can use the phrase “the bottom 60 percent” receives 3 percent of that.
I think in terms of policy and in terms of structure, that that is the biggest place to start with and, unfortunately, politically, also the hardest place to start.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, might as well have the hard answers in the middle of this manufactured crisis.
So, Dr. Shapiro, I greatly appreciate you taking the time to come and talk about this with us. Thomas Shapiro is the Pokross professor of law and social policy at Brandeis University—thank you so much for being here.
SHAPIRO: Again, my pleasure.
Attention: Wisconsin Democrats, need a picture ID to vote? No problem, Republicans say go to any DMV and get your picture ID there, unless the Republican governor is closing the DMV where you need to go to get that ID. That story is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just so you know, “The Best New Thing in the World Today” comes officially approved by my dog, Pebbles. I‘ll explain just ahead.
HARRIS-PERRY: It almost sounds like a conspiracy, Democratic president getting ready to run for reelection, Republicans in states across the country has been introducing and passing laws that make it harder for groups of voters that traditionally help Democrats win elections to vote.
Seven states so far this year have enacted new laws that require voters to show photo ID at the polls. Ohio and Pennsylvania are now considering similar legislation. Ohio is also among the states that have introduced restrictions on voting registration drives, you know, like voting registration at the supermarket, and do you like early voting? At least five states, including Florida and Ohio, have enacted bills to reduce early voting periods. Four more states have bills just like them in the works.
In all, Republicans in about half the states are trying to make it harder to vote or to register to vote. Doesn‘t this sound like a conspiracy theory? I mean, kind of a mustache-twisting, if there were conspiracy, isn‘t this exactly what one would look like?
To make the appearance of conspiracy even sharper, one state seems to be planning to make it harder for voters to meet the new, stricter requirements. It‘s happening in Wisconsin, where earlier this year, Governor Scott Walker signed that state‘s photo ID bill into law.
If stage one was weakening the unions by limiting collective bargaining rights, stage two was disenfranchising Democratic voters. So, what‘s stage three? Apparently, stage three is closing DMV offices, places you go to get photo IDs.
“The Associated Press” reports the Walker administration is finalizing a plan to close as many as 10 DMV offices. And one Democratic lawmaker says the offices targeted for closure are all in Democratic areas and that hours will be expanded in Republican parts of the state.
Now, the Walker administration denies the charges, saying that more people in all counties will be served when the final plan is put into effect.
But what about the poor? You know, the people who work two shifts in order to make ends meet, folks who can‘t afford a car let alone the time to stand in line between the hours of 9:00 and 5:00, or the disabled—how and where are they going to meet the requirements of the new voter ID bill? Or young voters who haven‘t gotten their first driver‘s license yet.
Those most likely to vote Democratic are also those most likely to be hurt by the new set of voting rules Americans will face when they go to the polls next year. That‘s assuming, of course, that they make it there at all.
Joining us now is Mordecai Lee, professor of government affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Professor Lee is also a former member of the Wisconsin state assembly and the Wisconsin state Senate.
From a New Orleans Saint to a Wisconsin Packer, let me just say that thank goodness the NFL is better at reaching compromise than the U.S. Congress.
But on to this more serious issue. It‘s really nice to have you here tonight.
MORDECAI LEE, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: How do you think that this plan to shut down several DMVs will affect the elderly woman who needs to get a voter ID, or the young man who lives in a rural part of the state—what does it look like on the ground for them?
LEE: Well, we in Wisconsin used to think that we were the good government state, the clean government state. But it turns out that partisan politics here is like what‘s happening everywhere else in the country. It‘s a contact sport. And if the majority party can change the rules of the game to benefit the majority party, they do it.
I think that‘s exactly what‘s happening with the voter ID law. How does somebody who doesn‘t have a driver‘s license go to the DMV to get a free ID card that has no photo on it? The logic of it, it seems to me, is pretty compelling.
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of logic, the Brennan Center for Justice found that only 44 one millionth of 1 percent, let me say that again, 44 one millionth of 1 percent of votes are cast by people who have voter fraud. So when these laws go into effect claiming that they are going to be shutting down voter fraud in part by shutting down the DMVs—does shutting down the DMVs give the Republicans a better way of disenfranchising voters? After all, all of us hate the DMV.
I mean, Is that what‘s happening here?
LEE: I think this was a pretty smooth move. What the legislature said and did, there had to be one DMV office open 20 hours a week in every county. Now, that does sound like good government and they gave DMV another couple million dollars for the free ID cards.
The problem is when you do it on a county-by-county basis that means that you‘re tended to tilt toward rural counties, low-population counties. And so, the example you mentioned in your introduction is about Jefferson County, which is halfway between Milwaukee and Madison.
Right now there are two DMV offices, and based on the statutory request of just one in every county, they‘ll probably close one of them. That makes it harder for people to get to the DMV to get the card in the first place.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, look, I like what you said about Wisconsin being
the place where government works, because it‘s been fascinating to watch
the people of Wisconsin pushing back against so much of what has happened
since the 2010 midterms. In fact, when we gave Wisconsinites the
opportunity to vote, we saw Wisconsinites re-electing Democrat Dave Hansen
by a landslide.
Look, do to Democrats even stand a chance in Wisconsin unless they make these kind of draconian voter ID laws?
LEE: Well, it seems to me the whole concept of public service, of serving the public, has moved really to the right, as part of the national conversation. After all, if five years ago or 10 years ago we had been talking about DMV offices being open only 20 hours a week or state parks or airports or something like that, I as a professor of public administration, I think we‘ve lost the concept of serving the public. That every public office ought to be open 40 hours a week and there ought to be adequate funding for it.
And so, the recalls that you‘re mentioning that are coming up two Tuesdays from now and three Tuesdays from now, that‘s really a referendum if people like what‘s going on or don‘t like what‘s going on.
And the conventional wisdom right now is that the tide of public opinion is going for Democrats. But you have to say that Republican incumbents have an advantage in every election, just like all other incumbents.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, so, this show has talked a lot about exactly that question of the public good. What makes sense for the public? And I guess I‘m interested here, since when did we think that making it harder to vote was a democratic, with a little “d,” value, right? I mean, under what circumstances do we think that disenfranchisement, or at least making it much harder to meet the rules of having the ability to vote is a good way to move forward with a democracy?
LEE: Well, I think this really links to your previous segment, when we were talking about the civil rights era. After all, giving African-Americans the right to vote was considered a good thing, a nonpartisan thing.
But really ever since then, every argument about enfranchisement or disenfranchisement has really been about partisan advantage. And I don‘t necessarily think that the Democrats have just purely clean hands. Every party wants to gain an advantage. Democrats want lower income and younger people to be able to vote. And that‘s sort of what the fighting Wisconsin is all about.
HARRIS: Professor Lee—thank you so much for your time this evening. That was Mordecai Lee, professor of government affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Coming up, “The Best New Thing in the World Today.” If you have a dog, you should go get him or her and bring her to the TV. This is a moment to share.
HARRIS-PERRY: Today‘s “Best New Thing in the World” is completely, fundamentally counterintuitive.
Dogs, we are brought up to understand, hate mailmen, and mailmen feel the same way right back. It‘s so bad that an online magazine for postal workers has a page with the headline, “When Dogs Attack,” that has a lot of necessary, but quite scary information about dog bites.
Now, my dog, Pebbles, won‘t bite, but she‘s been known to bark at a postal worker or two. And “The Best New Thing in the World Today” is that a dog, not a breed of dog or a Hollywood dog like Lassie, but a specific real-life dog is now being honored by essentially mailmen, with his own postage stamp.
We learned today that this stamp, with honoring Owney the postal dog will be released tomorrow, a forever stamp, no less.
Owney wandered into the Albany, New York Post Office, one day in 1888 and just made himself right at home. Owney soon began to follow mail bags, riding with them across the state and then the country.
And it was a good thing, because in that time of all those trains, there were a lot of train crashes, but no train that ever had Owney on board every crashed.
So, see those metals and tags draped all over him, as the unofficial mascot for the railway mail service, Owney traveled so far and wide, all over the world, in fact, that he‘d collect one of those tags for every place he went.
And the best new thing to me about “The Best New Thing in the World Today” is the way that Owney the dog is an answer to the cries of, government is broken. In Owney, the postal dog‘s days, people took pride in him.
This mascot of bureaucracy as he rode around the infrastructure of railroads, people found him inspiring. The hater‘s hate (ph), there are people who think government and government workers are what‘s wrong with America, they want to hate on a government postal dog? That‘s really on them.
But I feel that I can speak for Pebbles when I call that “The Best New Thing in the World.”
I am Melissa Harris-Perry, in for Rachel Maddow. And you can follow @MHarrisPerry on Twitter.
It‘s time now for “THE ED SHIOW.” Good night, everybody.
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