October 13, 2012
Guests: Barbara Arnwine, Anthea Butler, Matt Welch, Glen Johnson, Nina Turner, Kim Janey, Prudence Carter, Jelani Cobb
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST, "MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY": This morning, to
bus or not to bus. That is my question. And an open letter to Justice
Clarence Thomas. Plus, a new voter suppression effort to steal Ohio.
But first, I have a guy for you undecided voters. Who are you all
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. According to the latest
polls, 12 percent of the voters are still undecided. Undecided? It`s a
bit baffling, but maybe between two very different debates and the constant
barrage of snap polls and flash polls and poll polls telling them that the
race for the White House is in a dead heat, maybe it`s understandable that
some undecided voters might be thinking who the heck do I vote for and do I
even vote at all?
But never fear, my undecided brothers and sisters, I`m about to give
you the MHP guide for undivided voters. Number one, President Obama and
Mitt Romney are not similar candidates and this is not a low stakes
election. That should enter at least one of your questions. Yes, you
should vote. Now, how to decide. Which brings me to number two. Don`t
take the Obama campaign slogan forward likely because the President`s re-
election is likely the only thing standing in the way of a massive roll
back of America`s greatest domestic policy achievements in the 20th and
21st centuries, including the robust middle class, Social Security,
Medicare, healthcare reform, women`s growing equality and a more racially
Don`t get me wrong. And here`s point number three. Re-electing
President Obama won`t insure by itself that we protect all of these
triumphs. But let`s be clear with point number four. Electing Mr. Romney
is likely to result in the end of or rolling back of many of these
accomplishments which leaves me saying this to undecided voters at a very
important point, number five.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: My job!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: Wake up undecided because the candidates` records tell the
tail. Let`s take a look at just a few of the issues that should be on your
radar. Point number seven. Taxes, depending on who we elect, their tax
policy will affect you for years to come. On Thursday, Vice President Joe
Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan tried to make the case for the respective
ticket`s tax plans, take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICE PRES. JOE BIDEN (D), UNITED STATES: The middle class will pay
less and people making a million dollars or more will began to contribute
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our entire
premise of these tax reform plans is to grow the economy and create jobs.
It`s a plan that`s estimated to create seven million jobs. Now, we think
that government taking 28 percent of a family and business`s income is
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: OK. Those answers weren`t exactly full of details, so let me
see if I can help them out. Mitt Romney would cut all tax rates by 20
percent and reduce the top tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent. He`d
eliminate taxes on capital gains, repeal the alternative minimum tax and
estate tax and he`d cut the top corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent.
On the other hand, President Obama would keep tax rates the same for
those making less than $250,000. He`d also raise the top two tax brackets
to 36 percent and 39.6 percent and he has supported the Buffet Rule. Which
would require those that making a more than a million dollars to pay at
least 30 percent of their income in taxes. He`d restore the estate tax but
lower the corporate tax rate from 28 percent, to 28 percent from 35
percent. So the choice is yours, undecided voters.
But I see a clear distinction with one candidate supporting the rich,
the other the middle and working class. Now, on to a sliver of life that
many see as only affecting one portion of the electorate but it`s an issue
that often divides us as a nation. Number eight, abortion. And with
Romney, this gets a bit tricky. You see, in 1994 and 2020 he said he
supported Roe V. Wade in his bid for office although he personally opposed
it. In his 2008 presidential run, he stressed his operation to abortion
except in the case of rape, incest, and to save the mother`s life. And in
2012, he said that he wants the Supreme Court to overturn Roe V. Wade.
Then on Tuesday, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There`s no
legislation regarding in regards to abortion that I`m familiar with that
would become part of my agenda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: So, the Obama campaign sees on this the next day when the
President was asked if what Romney has said was a lie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: No, I actually think his
position on -- when it comes to women`s rights to control their own health
care decisions, you know, what he has been saying is exactly what he
believes. He thinks that it is appropriate for politicians to inject
themselves in those decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: The President, he`s been a consistent supporter of
reproductive rights, period. Point number nine, health care, President
Obama`s biggest domestic achievement is the affordable health care act
which is passed in 2010, upheld by the Supreme Court in June of this year.
It looks to cover an additional 30 million Americans. Governor Romney
wants to repeal the affordable care act, or just part of it? Wait a
minute. All of it, I just can`t keep up. The one thing we know for sure
if it Governor Romney believes individual states should each make their own
health care policies.
So, if you live in a good state with a good plan, good for you. If
you live in state without much of a health care policy, maybe it`s time to
move. There are so many issues but I have to sit here for another ten
hours. So, I`m going to end with this. Sometimes the wing man or woman
that you choose, also known as your vice president, could be one of the
most important decisions for candidate makes. And Mitt Romney has chosen a
running mate who prides himself on being healthy and fit. I`m sorry. I
couldn`t help it. But it`s true. Paul Ryan is a rising star in the
Republican Party. Although maybe I suggest he more of a shooting star,
shining brightly but heading towards burnout. Because when Paul Ryan met
up with Joe Biden on Thursday, it brought this to mind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Release the --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: On Thursday, Biden smiled, laughing and zingers made
impression on even the most steadfast of the undecided voters. Take a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Try to scare people from voting for you. You see, I
MARTHA RADDATZ, MODERATOR: Do you have the specifics?
RYAN: That`s what we do. Thank heavens we have these sanctions in
place in spite of their opposition.
BIDEN: Oh, God.
RYAN: This is a plan that`s bipartisan. Jack Kennedy lowered tax
rates increased growth --
BIDEN: Oh, now you`re Jack Kennedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: That is so funny. But in all seriousness, folks, this is a
guide but it`s also a call to action because at the end of the day, one or
two debates shouldn`t define an entire election. Voters need to look at
the candidates` record and their platforms to make an informed decision.
More importantly, your vote matters, but if you`re undecided and you don`t
show up to vote or you can`t decide between these two candidates, then come
November 6, we may just get the government that we deserve.
At the table, Glen Johnson, politics editor at Boston.com. Jelani
Cobb, associate professor at the University of Connecticut. Anthea Butler,
religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania. And Matt
Welch, editor-in-chief at "Reason" magazine.
So nice to have all of you here. So, Anthea, is it possible that we
get the government that we deserve? Is it possible that right now, we
deserve Mitt Romney, that 12 percent of us are undecided?
ANTHEA BUTLER, RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF
PENNSYLVANIA: You know, I hate to say that we deserve Mitt Romney but we
might get Mitt Romney. Because if people don`t pay attention and they`re
watching more of honey boo-boo than they are of the, you know, debates and
reading things, then we might get that candidate and that would be really
decimating for this country. I also think though that if you`re undecided
right now, you either have too much going on that you haven`t been paying
attention or you feel like you just -- they look the same to you and I
don`t know how anybody thinks that because they`re very dissimilar people
PERRY: You know, it`s funny you say that. Because I do sort of, it`s
hard for me inculcated in this world to imagine that there`s insufficient
information or "SNL" has really made fun of this like, you know, undecided
voters need more information like when is Election Day, right? But the
fact is people are having much more complicated lives, they`re not thinking
about this every day, but it also feels to me like part of the issue could
be that although these are very different candidates that form some folks
who are to the left of President Obama or to the right of Mr. Romney, or
just on some other, you know, sort of combination that they just can`t
figure out what`s the lesser of two evils in this case.
MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REASON MAGAZINE: Well, keep in mind that
regardless of how different men seem or candidates seem and how different
the parties seem and the stories that they tell themselves, there`s also
the way that they govern once they`re in power.
WELCH: When we look at the debate, the vice presidential debate.
Was there really any substantial difference in policy towards Iran for
example? Not really. They both say, it`s intolerable for Iran to have a
nuclear weapon and the United States will not take anything off the table.
So, if you`re someone who thinks that America is intervening too much in
the world`s affairs and it`s too quick to go to war, who do you choose?
And there`s a series of issues like that. Both candidates, both parties
enforce the drug war.
WELCH: Both candidates, both parties at the end will defend and I
know that this will be controversial in this table. But will defend
rhetorically entitlements. Mitt Romney is running against Obama for
cutting Medicare every day.
PERRY: Right. He`s running against his own vice president.
PERRY: At least rhetorically.
WELCH: And policy-wise too.
WELCH: I mean, his vice president is a gesture towards that but he`s
also kind of defanged him in that process. And so, for voters who hold
those issues to be very important, who don`t want the President to be able
to assassinate people and this kind of stuff, then they can rationally say
-- and keep in mind too that it seems obvious to a lot of people who pay a
lot of attention to politics to say, you know, it`s obvious that we should
have a decision here but most Americans, a plurality of Americans are now
independents, they don`t affiliate with either party. So, it doesn`t seem
obvious to them.
PERRY: But what we do know is, is that group, the late deciders and
those who are not affiliate with parties are also the least likely to
simply show up, right? So, I mean, this is -- we`ll talk a lot about voter
suppression later in the show, but one of the acts of suppression isn`t in
part also just sort of folks feeling so disengaged with the process that
they don`t show up. Are these folks really undecided about their vote
choice or are they simply undecided about whether or not it`s worth being
part of the process.
JELANI COBB, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: You know
what I think. You know, that stat of four percent or five percent of
people in the last election made up their mind on the day of the election.
And those are people who just kind of flipped a coin and then went into the
polling booth. But you know, then there`s another dynamic that I think we
haven`t talked about which is people who simply don`t want to tell a
pollster who they`re going to vote for. So, if you call, they`ll be polite
and say, well, I`m undecided, I don`t want to offend you if you`re, you
know, hoping they`ll say Obama or you think they`ll say Romney.
And, you know, I think beyond that, one of the most paralyzing things
and concerning things is when people say there is no difference between the
COBB: I remember people saying that in 2000, people said that Al
Gore was not that different from George W. Bush. Al Gore would not have
taken us to war in Iraq. Al Gore would not have conducted unsanctioned
wire-tapping. Al Gore would not have approved of torture and Al Gore would
not have tried to privatize Social Security. So, I think that we have to
really reemphasize that there are important differences here and there are
things that are at stake.
PERRY: Yes. Is there something that we should know? Exactly this
point. So, maybe they`re not different on everything. And it would be
interesting to know whether or not, I mean, it`s historical kind of
factual, right? We don`t know for certain whether or not Al Gore would
have done particularly some of these foreign policy extension things
because we do know that presidents like power, particularly international
WELCH: And he`s been a hawk, too.
PERRY: And he`s been a bit of a hawk. But I guess, is there anything
that voters should know, particularly out of Massachusetts, right? Is
there something Massachusetts voters could tell us about how Mr. Romney
would actually govern? I mean, the information -- here is, we`d had four
years of an Obama presidency, we know something about how President Obama
governs. Is there something that Massachusetts voters could tell us about
how Mitt Romney would likely govern as President that is meaningful for
undecideds making their choices?
GLEN JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, BOSTON.COM: Well, I think in 2002
Massachusetts voters fell in like if not in love with Mitt Romney and that
was in watching him lead the Olympics out in Salt Lake City, and he was
brought back and people saw in him somebody who could take that CEO ability
that he`s still talking about today and employ it at the state government
level. And for the first year and a half or so, I think people were pretty
satisfied with what they saw. But then there was this social conversion
and the policy shifts that came with it and as he started to run for
president and now he`s going to lose that state dramatically to President
Obama next month.
So, I think that we saw a glimpse of it again when there was a tunnel
ceiling collapse towards the end of his tenure as governor where he was a
good strong leader, he created a stem-to-stern review, was seen a very well
informed on that issue and it laid a lot of concerns about the safety of
the -- city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts, but that was gone
then so quickly. And so people there thought he was a good executive when
he was engaged as being an executive, but they fell out of love with him
was when they saw him becoming too much of a politician.
PERRY: It`s really an interesting point that he might actually be the
guy to build you a tunnel, right? Like he might be the guy to do that sort
of, you know, technocratic, you know, to get your Olympics on. It doesn`t
require saying, I think he`s a horrible leader, to say I think that he
would be an insufficient president particularly on these issues.
Up next, Vice President Joe Biden found Congressman Paul Ryan.
Hilarious. But did he win over any undecideds on Thursday night?
PERRY: We`re here and talking about what will make undecided voters,
well, make a decision. We`re also waiting for Congressman Ryan who is due
to attend a town hall event in Youngstown, Ohio. We`ll take you there live
once he takes the stage. And if it`s anything like the VP debate, it
should be a laugh a minute. Because I think that is of course what we saw
VP Biden doing during the debate. There was this sort of constant sense of
making Paul Ryan look absurd through the laughter. But I`ve got to ask, if
you`re an undecided and you`re watching that, right? If you`re watching it
in a room full of OFA (ph), you know, bound for America supporters, then
you`re loving Joe Biden. But if you`re undecided and you`re watching it,
does that sort of posture by the vice president change your opinion about
the election one way or the other?
BUTLER: Yes. It might change your opinion because you might think,
oh, there`s this mean VP being, you know, not to nice and laughing at the
VP candidate on the republican other side. On the other hand, it also
might make you think that the VP candidate on for the Republicans is just a
little bit too young for all of this. He looked -- he looked at times very
nervous and all the water drinking made me think, oh my gosh, he`s going to
raise up the Baptist finger and go to the bathroom.
I was waiting for that moment. But I also think it makes you even
more confused because at times when they were stepping on each other, you
really can hear what they were saying. And I think the two moments that if
you`re undecideds, that might have grabbed you was actually the abortion
moment and the closing. Now, I think those are the two moments. If you
hung with it as an undecided, you could, you know, that would help you make
PERRY: Well, it also feels to me like, I mean, I`m sort of picking on
Vice President Biden a little bit about the laughing but he wasn`t the only
one doing some posturing. We had also Congressman Ryan at one point, he
makes the foot-in-mouth joke. But let`s listen to that real quickly.
Never mind. Actually, we`re not going to listen to that because we`re
waiting on -- but there is a moment when he looks at the Vice President,
and he says, I know sometimes words don`t come out of your mouth exactly as
you want. And, you know, he sort of tries to do the funny. Is it the
substance that matter or wasn`t the style for undecided voters.
JOHNSON: Well, if you watch that with the sound down, you know, you
saw, you know, this chaotic back and forth between them at different
points. I think that for a lot of voters, this was their first real
exposure to Paul Ryan on his feet. People saw him in a debate -- I mean in
a convention hall, which is basically a big TV studio delivering something
that he was reading off a teleprompter. This debate was the first time a
lot of people really saw him on his feet.
And so, I think there was that assessment from undecided voters and
even from republican voters who, you know, are inclined to vote for
Governor Romney. But you know, others undecided voters, when they see Vice
President Biden constantly interrupt him and try to inject his point of
view on the subject of discussion, they had the potential to turn people
off. You know, because I think one of the things that polls have showed is
that people are really sick of partisanship and incivility in Washington,
so if you have that in a debate from the incumbent administration, you
know, is not going to make a person more likely to vote for re-election or
PERRY: Well, it feels likely -- right now is early voting, right?
So, unlike at a previous time in American history, you`ve got the debates
going on simultaneously with voting. So, folks might go out after the
first debate and cast their vote after the second debate and cast their
vote. Is this to, in part, rile up those partisans at base? So, that they
feel like, oh, yes, OK, we`re back in it, and I`m going to go cast my vote
today in Iowa or in Ohio or --
COBB: Listen. I was saying before the debate, I was nervous about
Joe Biden. I was saying that I hoped that the Democrats would send Mariano
Rivera out -- this debate.
And I think Joe Biden did exactly what he needed to do. For
Democrats who were thinking that, you know, the world is about to come to
an end. This guy is falling.
COBB: He went out and literally gave them kind of a light-spirited,
you know, sentiment to take away from the debate. Aside from that, though,
if you get past the issue of the civility and we get past the snickering
and those kinds of things, Joe Biden was far and away more substantive. He
was so comfortable with these areas of expertise that he really never broke
a sweat and he was just asking which of these two people would you like to
have step in if you had to have an emergency decision made.
COBB: I don`t think there`s any question, Joe Biden is the one that
PERRY: Yes. He comes off like the grown-up in the table. Believe it
or not, there are actually still women out there who haven`t made up their
minds which for me just blows my mind. Come on, sisters. I got to say, I
think this one`s easy. When we come back, more on women and the undecided
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: The policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose
abortion with the exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.
BIDEN: Life begins at conception. That`s the church`s judgment, I
accept it in my personal life but I refuse to impose it on equally devoted
Christians, and Muslim, and Jews. I just refuse to impose that on others
unlike my friend here, the Congressman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: OK. So, there are real differences. Anthea, if you`re a
woman voter right now, you heard very different positions there. I`m a
little shock that there are still so many women late deciding.
BUTLER: Yes, I am too because, you know, I would think that if you
are for having control of your own body and you`re for reproductive rights
or you`re taking any kind of birth control, the choice is very cheer. For
some women however, I think that the bottom line is probably a religious
one. And the place is which, it`s like, well, I feel like Joe Biden where
I personally don`t think someone should have an abortion, maybe you feel as
you though you also want to advocate a pro-life stance. So, you`re
confused about whether it`s, you know, do I go with the Obama-Biden ticket?
Do I go with the Romney-Ryan ticket? So, that might be his space, but I
don`t really understand as you`re asking why, you know, you can`t make a
clear choice, even if you`re on that line.
PERRY: Right. I`m not indicating that all women should be pro-
PERRY: What I`m indicating that on this -- very clear difference.
And although, I do get that women are not single-issue voters on the issue
of reproductive rights, this has not been small, right? The war on women
has been, you know, pretty consistent. It was well branded by the
Democrats but we`re talking about in 24 states in 2011, 24 states that
enacted a record 92 new restrictions limiting access to abortion. Like,
this is not small, this is not gradual. Ninety two new restrictions in the
course of a year.
COBB: I think that the thing that surprised me that did not come out
in the debate. I thought beforehand, they would say this is the guy who
wanted to redefine rape, debating the guy who sponsored the violence
against women act in the Senate and that didn`t really come up. There were
other distinctions. There were the distinctions that were made but I
thought that distinction would have been made more sharply.
PERRY: And I want, you know, there`s been a little bit of confusion
on exactly where Mitt Romney stands. I want to listen to what I think is
the key issue of where Mitt Romney stands on this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I hope to appoint justices to the Supreme Court that will
follow the law and the constitution and it would be my preference that they
reverse Roe V. Wade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: If my preference that the people I put on the Supreme Court
will overturn Roe V. Wade.
WELCH: That`s perfectly Romnian moments. My colleague Peter Schiff
(ph) have said of him. Romney`s position all along on the variety of
issues have been perfectly clear. He really wants to be president.
If you`re going to follow the law and the constitution and upend Roe
V. Wade, you can`t do all three at once.
WELCH: Physically impossible. But I think going to your question,
there`s an interesting study by the project New America for mountain
states, swing states basically of undecided voters. And predominantly,
they said, these undecided voters were women. They believe strongly in
reproductive rights but they`re also focused mostly on the economy like I
think most Americans are. The problem with making abortion sort of the
single issue and then they clear dividing line is that, I don`t think that
every Americans, and every women, A is pro-choice necessarily.
It doesn`t follow on automatically. People are more concerned right
now with the economy than everything else. So, they`re saying, all right,
even if I am personally pro-choice, is this the right, you know, how much
is that going to be threatened right now?
WELCH: And then how does that compared to my feeling about economic
PERRY: I`ll give you that, but I`m just trying to think of a more --
what is a more important economic policy for women than control of
reproductive rights and then also women who have longer life spans, the
issue of Medicare. I mean, again, even if you`re thinking economics,
economics at the juncture of gender also includes issue of reproductive
BUTLER: Yes. And I`d really like to see how it breaks out age group
wise. Because sometimes what happens, and you and I both are in the class
room. We know what this is. Sometimes the lower information undecided
voter is in our college classroom. And when I talk to my college female
students about, you know, this is what`s happening with your reproductive
rights, they seem to be very surprised until they go to get birth control
and it`s too expensive.
BUTLER: So, then that`s how I saw a lot of people started to get
mobilized about this earlier in the year. But on the other hand I wonder
if older women voters are, you know mucking the mire of economics first of
all. And then second, this Medicare thing, Medicaid.
BUTLER: So, I wonder that if we could see what those things look
like, that might make a very big difference about how women, undecided
voters are panning out.
PERRY: When we come back, I`m going to finally get to spill the beans
about a really amazing interview I conducted. I have been dying to tell
you all about this. I`m excited.
PERRY: Out there, somewhere, there are still some undecided voters,
but it`s easier to find President Obama`s most ardent supporters, African-
Americans. In 2008, he bested John McCain by more than 90 points among a
black electorate, which accounted for more than 12 percent of the overall
vote according to exit polls. And, yes, African-Americans gave the
President`s opponent Mitt Romney zero percent of their support in their
August NBC News poll. Always remember, that was a percent, not a raw
But should they help to bring about a second Obama term, what can the
President`s most dedicated supporters expect? And how would that second
term help to improve the lives and conditions of African-Americans? Those
are two of the many questions which I asked the president. In a new
interview out in this week`s "Ebony" magazine`s November issue, maybe I
should not be that excited about the fact that I got the interview with the
President. But I was in the Oval Office and it was completely exciting and
I had to keep quiet until it was available on newsstands, which it is now.
So, in our conversation, the President`s offered many aspects of his
vision for a second term including, quote, "I want to make sure that we`re
opening doors for everybody who wants to work hard and to get ahead. And I
have confidence that if those opportunities are there, African-Americans
are going to be able to succeed just like everybody else. Because they`re
working hard and they`ve got the same values that made this country great."
So, can and will black voters carry the president to success in
November by turning out in key battleground states like Ohio, Virginia, and
Joining me now to weigh in on that question, Barbara Arnwine,
president and executive director, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
Under Law. Jelani Cobb, Africana Studies and history professor at UConn.
Anthea Butler, religious studies professor at the University of
Pennsylvania. And Matt Welch, editor and chief of "Reason" magazine. So,
yes, I was awfully excited.
I could not talk about this until it came out, but I have to say, it
was such a moment to sit with the president of the United States and ask
him quite specifically, what have you done for African-Americans and what
are you planning to do for African-Americans? As you sort of look at the
ground work here in terms of policy and politics, what do you think the
answers to those questions are?
COBB: I think one of the things what`s interesting about the position
that the President has found himself in is people have a very kind of hair
trigger about his support for issues in the African-American community.
People believe that he was going -- others feared that he was going to
favor black citizens too much and so on. And so, the things that he has
done has tended to fly under the radar. One of the most important things
that the Obama administration has done which they have not played up is
that the Holder Department of Justice has moved very aggressively against
police departments that have a history of racial profiling.
PERRY: A descent decree in New Orleans right now with the Department
of Justice. Yes.
COBB: Yes. And even, you know, the instance with Joe Arpaio out in
Arizona, the Trayvon Martin case, those are the high-profile instances, but
nationally this has been something that they`re very concerned about.
You`ve heard nothing, very little if anything at all about that in this
PERRY: So is that it? Is it a branding issue of the Obama
administration needing to sort of be able to talk to African-Americans
about the work that they have done as a matter of policy but having
difficulty doing so, and so a space like "Ebony" where you have this kind
of targeted marketing becomes a place where you can do that.
BUTLER: Yes, I think it`s a really important space as a matter of
fact. I keep thinking about two years ago in the Congressional Black
Caucus sort called the President and said, you know, we need to talk and
started to have sort of a more public conversation. I think that for
African-Americans who come out to vote, what I hope people will be looking
for is a couple of things. One is an improvement in an unemployment
numbers, for African-American man. That is a very high number.
PERRY: And we`ve seen improved finally.
BUTLER: Yes, finally.
PERRY: But it`s still high.
BUTLER: Yes. So, that`s one. And the other thing is, this may
sound very strange, but I would like to hear the President say something
about that current case that`s in front of the Supreme Court.
PERRY: The affirmative action.
BUTLER: You know, the affirmative action case. Because that is
going to be something that will really affect the community. The third
thing, and I think this is not just an African-American question but a
question to be asked for is immigration. We tend to think about this
immigration question as purely a Latino question.
BUTLER: It`s not just for Latinos, it`s for Africans, African
descents who were here that are also having problems with immigration.
PERRY: Anthea, I want to show you this commercial that is now
running, that is attempt to draw a wedge between African-Americans and
Latinos on the issue of immigration. Let`s take a look at this new ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I`m tired to stereotype that Black Americans don`t
want to work. I worked hard my whole life. But I got laid off and I`ve
got mouths to feed. I need a job. What I don`t understand is, why our
leaders are going to admit it on the million immigrant workers next year to
take jobs when three million Black Americans can`t find work. I mean, do
our leaders really believe that Black Americans don`t want to work? Let`s
slow down mass immigration and save jobs for Americans, all Americans, paid
for by numbersusa.org.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: So, remember, this is numbersusa.org ad, this is not a Romney
ad or a Republican Party ad but that is basically Jesse Helms (ph) white
hands ad. But this time, it`s like black hands, these are the immigrant
BARBARA ARNWINE, LAWYERS` COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW: And
I think that it`s very important that African-Americans not be persuaded by
this ad and we`d not fall into this trap. That it is not, it`s very
interesting that the ad would say that the reason why African-Americans
don`t have jobs is because of immigrants instead of talking about our
educational system, instead of talking about an educational opportunity,
more Pell Grants --
PERRY: Incarceration rates.
ARNWINE: Talking about incarceration rates. Instead of talking
about all the opportunity ladders, trainings, jobs, dependants -- all of
these barriers, racial discrimination employment.
ARNWINE: There`s a whole lot of things to say I could have talked
about and stay it. And I think what`s really important is that we not fall
for it. That African-Americans have to really sit-down and say, this ad is
not about us, it`s not about low wage jobs, because that`s the implications
here, that`s how we`re group for.
ARNWINE: I`m sorry, we`re better than that. You`re capable of
having, you know, professional jobs or kinds of jobs. This is a very,
very, very detriment ad.
COBB: We`re talking about this for a second. When we look at the
history of the 20th century, history of labor in the 20th century, one of
the great triumphs of the civil rights era was for people to recognize that
-- for white labor to recognize that as long as black laborers were
excluded from unions, they will be undercutting the value of white labor
itself. What we`re seeing --
PERRY: It took a while.
COBB: It did. It took 60 years actually. And so, when you see this
kind of cynical advertising, they`re trying to use that same ploy using
African-Americans. And if we had any doubt about the inter-related
struggles of Latino labor and Black labor, let`s look at this one issue.
How many times have we seen politicians get into trouble because they had
nannies who were not being paid or being paid under the table that`s being
exploited. If we look back, we don`t have to go to Hollywood, we don`t
PERRY: No, no, no, go home.
COBB: Look back to the history. Half a century ago, that exploited
domestic labor would have been black women.
PERRY: That`s right.
COBB: These are the same struggles.
PERRY: Absolutely. I so appreciate that. And that`s part of why
next, I get to talk about the smartest thing that I have read about black
folks and the presidency of President Obama in four years. We`re going to
talk with Jelani Cobb about his New Yorker piece, "Barack X," next.
PERRY: The question of President Obama`s African-American support
goes well beyond the November election. It is a cultural and historical
one. As our next guest, UConn historian Jelani Cobb has made plain in his
brilliant new essay, "Barack X" in the New Yorker. Jelani writes, "A
handful of men have been elected president and then become a symbol for an
era, but very few beyond the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
have made the opposite transition."
Jelani, I love this piece. I so appreciate you writing it. And
particularly, you open with a discussion of a young man on the streets in
Harlem dressed with sagging pants on the one hand but also the seal of the
president of the United States on his jacket.
PERRY: And you say that a generation ago, he would have been wearing
the Malcolm X insignia that you and I, you know, would have been wearing
right in the `90s after Spike Lee`s film, not so much because we even knew
Malcolm but because we knew that film.
And it reminded me of this article written by my colleagues here in
Davis and Christian Davenport, where they talk about sort of watching that
film, the Malcolm X film promoting, that Malcolm X becomes essentially the
kind of voodoo doll, something to shake it at white people saying, I`m not
happy here, I`m not satisfied yet, that this form of expression would
otherwise require more active and risky behaviors. But what happens is
you`re saying now, you end up with a young man wearing the seal and it`s
like, I`m a citizen, I`m here, I belong here. Talk to me about your piece.
COBB: Well, thank you for having me on to talk about it. Well, when
I saw that, I was walking down the street and ironically enough, I was on
my way to a panel to discuss Barack Obama and black masculinity. It was
one of these weird coincidental moments. And so, I took the picture. He
was texting at the time which is why you don`t see the back of his head.
And so, when I saw that, I said, this is actually what we are talking
about, the cultural significance of Barack Obama, this young man who might
well be pulled over or stopped by and frisked by the MIPD.
COBB: He might well be marginalized in his school. He might have
all the things that we think are the demographic problems confronting young
black man but he knows to identify with something that is really audacious
saying that I am here and you can`t ignore me.
PERRY: And it`s not an Obama jacket, it is the seal, the presidency
of the United States.
PERRY: Like at some point, Mitt Romney wants to be able to wear that
COBB: That`s right.
PERRY: That this young kid has on. As you talked about that
complication, I think it`s a complication that many of us has felt in the
course of the four years of an African-American presidency and looking at
the potential of another four years. How do we talk about those continued
structural inequalities facing a young man like that? And at the same
time, sort of have an indication, a celebration of support for the African-
American body that`s in the White House at this moment?
BUTLER: Yes, exactly. I think about that young man, I think I want
the president to be able to say, I`m going to do something for you. I`m
going to make sure that you get the education you need, I`m going to make
sure you get the job you need, I`ll make sure you get everything you need
despite the fact that you also admire me because I made it here, you could
make it here too. And I think that`s what part of the jacket is about. I
also do think, you know, in those certain kind of way, this is the immense
pushback that this President has received racially. I just saw a picture
yesterday, it was on twitter. Let`s take back -- let`s put white back in
the White House, right?
And so, there`s also this other thing that has happened that I wish
he could talk about more, which is the whole issue of about how race has
just become, this crazy thing in the last four years. That, you know, we
thought we were, you know, moving into some colorblind society.
BUTLER: It`s not colorblind at all. I mean, it`s beyond nuts right
now and I think in the next few weeks ramping up to election, we`re going
to see these racial kinds of incidences happening a lot more. So, but, you
know, my bit is that he would be able to say to this young man a follow-up
to his Philadelphia race speech, that really articulate what we have as a
problem in this nation. So, wake up.
PERRY: Right. Jelani, you write the Obama presidency has validated
both our hopes and our fears given both legitimacy to our optimism and to
our cynicism simultaneously. And I thought, oh, yes, that is the double
consciousness, right? That is the problem without a name that we face.
COBB: Right. I think when we look at this, we saw the election of
Barack Obama as the validation of everything that the civil rights movement
sought. And when we look at Malcolm X, it`s the reason why I called the
piece Barack X. Malcolm X was a constant critics, and people thought that
he was opposed to everything that King was doing, but really he was saying,
this is not going to solve all the problems. There are other pitfalls that
And I think that once we get pass the inauguration, once we got pass
the initial glow of warm feeling, we start looking at things and saying, we
still have these intractable problems and now we have a chief executive who
is in many ways hampered by racism too.
COBB: And so, when we saw the President have to give his birth
certificate to prove that he was a citizen.
PERRY: Yes, exactly.
COBB: He was like the Dred Scott case all over again.
BUTLER: It`s awful. Show me your papers.
ARNWINE: And again, you know, show me your papers, I mean, I would,
you know, it`s very fascinating, think about Clinton.
ARNWINE: Clinton during his years, one of his major -- was one
ARNWINE: Was talking about race in America. He came out with an
affirmative action speech that he did.
ARNWINE: I mean just --
PERRY: And yet, part of the ability to do that was even though he
was the first black president, he wasn`t actually the first black
ARNWINE: Right. Exactly.
PERRY: I want to talk about the very specific race issue which is
coming up. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court oral argument in Fisher
versus Texas. And now, I`ve got an argument to make that, you know, to
Clarence Thomas. My letter to Justice Thomas is next.
PERRY: This week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case
of Fisher versus the University of Texas and an inspired another letter for
Dear Justice Clarence Thomas.
It`s me, Melissa. Now, I know you`re pretty excited that you have a
chance to end once and for all, the practice of considering race and
college admissions. You`ve been waiting for this moment a long time,
haven`t you? I bet you think about it every time you look at your Yale Law
School diploma and the 15 cent price tag from a cigar box that you stuck on
it to remind yourself that as you say in your book, affirmative action made
your law degree worthless.
You`ve thought about it every time you look at that stack of 40-year-
old rejection letters, say it from companies who refused to hire you right
after your law school graduation because of what you called a taint of
racial prejudice. A humiliation, that you said comes from their belief
that you were only admitted to Yale because of affirmative action. Let me
tell you, you and Abigail Fisher, the plaintiff in the current University
of Texas case, you`ve got it all wrong. Consider this.
It is possible that you didn`t get hired right out of law school
because you just weren`t good enough just like Abigail Fisher. She was a
good student but she failed to clear the bar of U.T.`s academic achievement
index. Abigail Fisher wasn`t admitted that a black student didn`t take her
place. It wasn`t her place. And so, now Abigail Fisher and you, Justice
Thomas, are poised to take the places of countless future students of
color. So let`s be clear.
Devaluing the accomplishment of black people, it`s not a legacy of
affirmative action. It is a legacy of racism that continues to confound
and challenge our nation, to change it we need more than months or even
years. We need generations to break down the barriers that divide us. And
do you know one of the important places where that work begins? In college
classrooms, diverse classrooms, the kind of classrooms that affirmative
action has created. And here`s something I`ve learned in my career as a
The measure of merit isn`t the test that you take to get into school.
It`s what you learn after you`ve been admitted and what you do with that
knowledge once you`ve left. Just look at your African-American classmates
from Yale Law School in the early 1970s. You remember them, the ones
tainted by affirmative action. Four are now federal judges. One became a
college president. There are partners at the country`s top law firms and
two professor of law, including Harvard law`s first tenure black woman Lani
Guinier. And yes, even the United States second black Supreme Court
justice. Their accomplishment and yours are the real legacy of affirmative
action. Contrary to what you believe, Yale`s admissions policy was not a
failure. It was an undeniable success.
Coming up next, no Republican since Lincoln has won the presidency
without Ohio, and if they can`t win it, apparently they`re prepared to
steal it. This week in voter suppression is next.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: Welcome back.
In our latest installment of the segment that we like to call "This
Week in Voter Suppression," all eyes are on the Buckeye.
When it comes to presidential elections, as Ohio goes, so goes the
nation. Since 1944, Ohioans have picked all but one election. That was
1960 when the state backed Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy. No
Republican since Abraham Lincoln has not won the presidency without also
And Mitt Romney knows that very well. Without Ohio`s 18 electoral
votes, it`s a tough road to the 270 he needs to win the presidency. A loss
in Ohio would mean Romney would have to win six of the remaining of the
seats to defeat President Obama.
But that road got a little less rocky for Romney after last week`s
debate. The latest polls show the president`s 8-point lead over Mr. Romney
narrowing just a hair to a six-point lead. And it`s a narrow sliver of
hope, but it was enough to reinvigorate Romney`s push to win the state and
even inspire a rare joint appearance between the governor and Paul Ryan
before a crowd in Lancaster, Ohio, yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: In a nutshell, we
need leadership. And look at the guy over my shoulder right here. If you
look at this man`s life story, one word comes to mind: leader.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, of course, it`s always easier to hold onto a lead
than to overcome a deficit. The fact is Ohio remain as tough road to hoe
for Mitt Romney. So, nearly one in five Ohioans have already voted early.
And among those early voters, according to our most recent poll, Obama is
ahead by 63 percent to 37 percent margin. And that`s a two-to-one lead
As you know, if you`ve about been paying attention to this week in
voter suppression, running an effective campaign to convince a majority of
voters to cast their just plan A. This year, state Republican lawmakers
have drafted a blue print for a plan B which goes something like this -- if
you can`t get enough people to vote for you, go out of your way to make
sure that enough people don`t vote for the other guy, even if that means
appealing all the way to the Supreme Court -- which is exactly what the
Ohio secretary of state Michael Husted is doing.
He wants to stop Ohioans from voting on the weekend before the
election so badly that he`s asking the Supreme Court to overturn a federal
court decision to restore voting in the last three days before the
The attorney general from 15 other states joined him yesterday with
an amicus brief in support, and here`s why those three days mater -- 2008,
97,000 votes were cast in Ohio the three days before Election Day. And the
vast majority of those votes were cast by African-Americans and low income
workers who were part of the base that propelled President Obama to win the
state and the presidency.
But this year, thanks to secretary of state and Ohio`s Republican-led
legislature, the votes might never be cast and neither would the victory
that they could help deliver to President Obama.
And with me at the table: Barbara Arnwine, president and executive of
the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the Law; Glen Johnson, politics
editor at Boston.com; Anthea Butler of religious studies, graduate chair of
religion at the University of Pennsylvania; and Matt Welch, editor-in-chief
of "Reason" magazine.
BARBARA ARNWINE, LAWYERS COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS AND THE LAW:
Well, Ohio is ground zero in the fight against voter suppression. What we
know is that in Ohio, we just released -- that is the Lawyers Committee for
Civil Rights and the Law -- just released a new study showing that in
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, that African-Americans used early voting 77
percent of all voters voted early.
ARNWINE: And that is a powerful statistic. We`re doing another
study we`re going to be releasing soon in Franklin County. It`s going to
be very much the same. So --
HARRIS-PERRY: Why? Why do African-Americans vote early? What
difference does it make for them to come on Saturday versus Tuesday?
ARNWINE: Because we know about long lines, with don`t want to be
caught up in the trap finding we`ve got problems and we can`t vote, so we
do it early so that we can get all of that out of the way. And also, we do
it early we work. We need to be able to do this as soon as possible. We
don`t want to lose all our time in case there are problems with the lines.
I think what`s really critical is that this case will, in fact, go to
the Supreme Court now and --
HARRIS-PERRY: Are they going to hear this?
ARNWINE: I think Kagan will probably -- it`s going to come to Kagan,
and it`s very likely she`ll refer it to the full court.
ARNWINE: So we will see what happens. Also there was another
decision that was issued by the Sixth Circuit this week where they also
threw out Ohio`s law, saying that you have to be in the correct precinct in
order for your vote to be counted. So, that`s really significant.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is big win.
ARNWINE: Oh, yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: It means if I come to work and a poll worker tells me
to go get in the wrong line because we know in cities, people may not catch
this if you live in a smaller place. If you live in a city, people may not
catch this if you live in a smaller place. But if you live in a city, it
took me several precincts, all in the same building, the same school house
or whatever. And if a poll worker tells me to go over there and I end up
casting my ballot over in that precinct, what we`re saying now is we`re
going to count those votes.
ARNWINE: Ohio was -- absolutely -- Ohio was so determined to prevent
African-Americans from voting because African-Americans gave the president
the margin of victory in that state in 2008, that they actually sent a
directive to the poll workers telling people they could not tell people
what was the correct precinct to vote in.
ARNWINE: So, first, it`s just people being confused. They directed
them not to give people the correct information so their vote would be
invalidated. So, it`s very significant that the court in the Sixth Circuit
has come up with this really great ruling that will protect the vote.
HARRIS-PERRY: There was a gag rule on accurate voting information.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So --
In the amicus brief that these 15 attorneys general have filed, it
reads, "Each of these 15 states has different voting rules and election
systems, but the one principle we all stand on is that state legislator and
not the federal court should run elections."
I`m sorry. In what world is mass confusion an inconsistency a
principle on which we ought to be governing our election system?
ANTHEA BUTLER, PROF., UNIV. OF PENNSYLVANIA: Yes, exactly. I think
this is another way of people trying to mess this up a little bit. So I
was thinking about this week when Huckabee was announcing Romney, and he
said, you know, in case you think your neighbor is going go vote for the
other guy, let the air out of their tires.
And so, you know, do these things to deceive. And so what I think we
see in Ohio and these other states have tried this and have failed is a
question of deception. They don`t want people to exercise their democratic
And this is a right to vote. I mean it`s not something that we
should push away. It`s as though they don`t want us to do our civic
engagement. And that`s what troubles me so much about this. I mean, this
is not going to just benefit African-American voters in Ohio. It will
benefit white voters.
ARNWINE: Military voters.
BUTLER: Military voters. People who have things to do, but you are
so concerned that you don`t want people of color to come out and vote that
you cut it off for everyone. And I think that`s a problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean --
MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REASON: I lament to that that it seems
like the only time we talk about voter disenfranchisement are specific
issues during an election year in a highly partisan kind of thing. I would
submit probably the two biggest systemic elements of disenfranchisement in
this country aren`t even sort of targeted to the swing state stuff.
WELCH: No, it`s not even registration.
It`s drug prohibition, first of all, because you can`t vote if you`re
behind bars for having a consensual activity in your own house, and then as
pernicious or in the ballpark is prohibiting ex-felons from voting. You`ve
served your time, you`ve done your provision, you`re out, you`ve paid your
debt to society and in the state of Florida and in the series of other
states, you cannot vote. We`re talking about millions of Americans out
there who cannot vote even though they`ve already paid their debt to
And I wish we could have a political and kind of moral outrage at
that systemic disenfranchisement in this as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels to me like such an important point, even in
you started with, which is to say we only talk about "This Week in Voter
Suppression," as we move up to the election. And then both parties sort of
lose their collective will to engage the conversation about the terms under
which we vote because whomever wins now has a stake in the system, right?
Whoever wins has a stake in the system in which they won.
So it becomes more difficult to get this sort of systemic change.
And also I don`t want to miss your point here about drug prohibition,
because it`s a two-step one, right, because we prohibit not just the sale
of drug but the private use of them. Most folks are who are incarcerated
are incarcerated because of crimes. And then during their incarceration,
they cannot vote and then often can`t vote forever.
WELCH: And there`s this explicitly racial aspect to that as well.
Even though African-Americans do not consume more drugs than white people,
they`re the ones jail and warehoused for it. And that`s true on a lot of
tough on crime laws which is why that should be more of a civil -- a
bipartisan civil rights issue than it is right now.
ARNWINE: Yes. And be careful, because it`s a little bit more
nuanced, because if you`re in jail and you have been arrested, but you have
not been convicted, you can vote.
HARRIS-PERRY: You have a right to.
WELCH: It depends on the state.
ARNWINE: Right, in many times. So, we`ve tot be very clear about
the facts. I think that, listen, 16 million, close to 14 million African
Americans voted --
ARNWINE: -- in 2008, 1.3 million were probably in jail. The 5.5
million African-Americans do not have voter IDs.
ARNWINE: This really restrictive governmental-issued voter ID. This
disenfranchisement is really extreme with, you know, so many people voting
early, trying to cut down the early voting. All of these actions that are
being taken, we need to take a look at the full plethora, but also we need
to be moving beyond 2012 into 2013 and talk about election reform. Talking
about all the things --
HARRIS-PERRY: Barbara, before we go, I wanted to show you map of
HARRIS-PERRY: -- which is where these voter ID laws are, because
I`ve got to tell you, I`ve learned something about my own state looking on
this map of shame. So, on this state, you have -- on this map, you have
the red which are restrictive states where government-issued photo ID is
You`ve got the blue states, which you call the confusion states where
photo ID is required -- can be requested but not required. And you`ve got
the orange ones where ID is required, but it doesn`t necessarily have to be
the photo ID.
But the blue state that freak me out in some of this, is my state,
it`s Louisiana. I`m always asked for a photo ID. I just assumed that I
had to show it.
I had no -- I`m so excited on Election Day. When they ask me, I`m
going to be like, no, I`m not showing it to you.
So, when we come back, we want to talk about a very specific issue --
fast food, big sales, and voter suppression, the new strategy to
intimidation Ohio voters via billboard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Using the law to squash democracy and voting rights is
a page straight out of a Jim Crow handbook for how to disenfranchise
But opponents of democracy in Ohio aren`t hedging their bets.
They`re backing that up with another tried and true strategy. Good old-
fashioned fear, confusion, and intimidation.
Take a look at this. Ten of these billboards proclaiming voter fraud
is a felony, punishable by up to 3 1/2 years in jail and a $10,000 fine has
sprung up throughout Cleveland. That`s all true, but you know what else
voter fraud is? Practically nonexistent.
So why would some unnamed funders spend his money for purchase
advertising that raises voter awareness about something that barely exists?
The answer is pretty obvious, if you take a closer look at where the
billboards are located. This is a map of Cleveland from "Mother Jones"
magazine showing exactly where these ads have been placed. The red dots
represent white people, and the blue dots are African-Americans, orange
dots for Latinos, green dots for Asian Americans. I`m sorry for the racial
But the stars mark the location of the billboards and you notice
anything? All of these billboards are conflating voting with crime and
punishment are in Cleveland`s communities of color.
Joining me now from one of those communities is Cleveland, is Ohio
State Senator Nina Turner.
It`s so nice to have you, Ms. Turner.
NINA TURNER (D), OHIO STATE SENATOR: Good morning, Professor.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about these billboards and the placement of
TURNER: Well, it is an insult to African-Americans and other
communities of color and poor folks. This effort by Republicans is really
laced not only with race but also with class. To insult an entire
community, to assume, to put a mark, if you will, to continue to paint the
voters that are more likely to vote for the president of the United States
as the other, in the same vein that they are trying to paint our president
as the other.
So the Republicans have created an environmental of confusion not
only in the state of Ohio but all across this country. But this is an
HARRIS-PERRY: And the point they make on these billboards about
felony. Just in our last segment, one of our guests, Matt here, talked
about the fact that felony disenfranchisement is one of the major
structural issues facing communities of color, but also this kind of type
of fear and intimidation therefore ought to have the strongest impact in
communities that are most police, where you have folks who may have the
right to vote but will have a great deal of fear about this kind of felony
TURNER: And that`s exactly what they`re trying to do, invoke fear.
You know, for voters or low information voters who may not necessarily
know. I mean, you have the right to vote in the state of Ohio if you are
an ex-offender and you are registered. But, you know, with so much going
on, folks might not necessarily realize that. Every year I find myself
reeducating my constituents about the fact that they do have a right to
vote, even if they are ex-offenders.
So, you`re absolutely right. This is very strategic. And it is no
different that what happened in the segregationist South. It is the 21st
century version of the barking dogs, of the water holes, of the poll tax,
of the literacy test. You name it. It is fear and intimidation.
And you know what, Professor Harris? The fact that whoever purchased
that billboard did not evenly have the courage to have his or her name on
the billboard. They are cowards and they are bullies.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I wanted to ask you exactly about that. Do you
know anything about -- we know that these are Clear Channel billboards, not
that the ads are from Clear Channel. We know they`re Clear Channel. But
someone who has purchased them.
I`m wondering, do we -- have we followed the money at all. Do we
know who has, in fact, purchased these billboards?
TURNER: We`ve been trying. But according to Clear Channel, it`s
within the contract from the folks who purchased those particular
billboards that they did not want to be named.
And to Clear Channel, you know, all money is not good money. This is
an insult to not only the greater Cleveland community but the entire state
And that`s why I want to see more people outraged about this. This
is not just an African-American/Hispanic issue or issue for people of low
income. This is an issue of what kind of democracy do we want to live in
and whether or not folks are going to stack the deck or rig the election
just because their candidate may not be able to win on his or her own
This, is again, a return to the dark side of what we had to go
through in this country, particularly for African-Americans. And I agree
with your -- one of your guests that talked about the fact that we are
paying attention to this now, but the greatest test is going to be how we
pay attention and keep up the fight after this presidential election
because some of this stuff in these various states will still be in play
and can forever change how policy is written -- not just on the federal
level but the local and state level as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: State Senator Nina Turner in Cleveland, Ohio. I just
want to pass on. I just happened to have been in North Carolina and I had
a small business owner, African-American in his 40s. And he said, he said,
are you going to have State Senator Turn on? You tell her all of us here
at North Carolina think that she ought to run for not the state senate, but
for the Senate in Ohio.
So I don`t know what a North Carolina voter is going to do for you,
by I`m passing that on from Chico Williams that he`s proud of what you`re
doing in Ohio.
TURNER: Thank you, Professor. And thank you, Mr. Williams.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. And also, thank you to Johnny Smith. He`s
the father of a Nerdland producer and he took those beautiful pictures of
those Ohio billboards.
Up next, what you need to know to cast your votes.
HARRIS-PERRY: The voter repression tactics in we`ve been telling you
about over the last few weeks are nothing new. But neither are the voter
resistance efforts that disenfranchised people historically used to resist
that suppression. Defend their right to vote.
If you live in one of the 13 states where restrictive voting laws are
still in place and will be in effect on Election Day, remember you are a
voter, not a victim.
One of my guests today says that being a member of an empowered
electorate this year means more than just marking a ballot.
Barbara, what do I do if I live in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in
Louisiana, and I go to cast my vote and I meet up with some kind of
ARNWINE: You have the right to vote. Don`t let anybody dissuade you
And the most important thing is if you have a problem there`s a the
National Election Protection Coalition. It`s not partisan. We`re there to
help every American voter. Just call us at 1-866-OURVOTE. That`s 1-866-
We have legal volunteers to prepare, to help you, to give you advice,
to solve problems. We`ve got people on the ground who can go to polling
places, get those people pulled away if they`re out there harassing and
trying to intimidate voters. We can go to poling that should be open and
We can do all kinds of things when they run out of ballots, make sure
you get the right ballots back. We -- there`s a lot of things that you can
What voters need do themselves --
ARNWINE: -- is they need to be VIPs. They need to verify their
registration. I don`t care if you believe that you have been voting all
the time and you`re great. Verify your registration because if it comes up
inactive, then you need to do thing use can do right now to make yourself
You also need to have the right identification when you go to any
polling place. Make sure you have whatever your state requires.
HARRIS-PERRY: Bring it all. Bring the --
ARNWINE: Right. Whatever.
And also make sure you`re at the correct polling place because that`s
really critical that you are at the correct voting place. So, we say,
listen, if you have questions about that, call the hotline again. That`s
1-866-687-8683. We also have a mobile app. You can go to our Web site at
www.866ourvote.org, or lawyerscommittee.org and you can get this mobile
And that mobile app allows you to verify your registration. It
allows you to know what your identification requirements are. It allows
you to know what your polling place is.
And it allows you to call or complain. If there`s a problem you hear
of, see of, we know these signs.
We know that these billboards are not just in Ohio any longer.
They`re in Wisconsin.
ARNWINE: We want to know wherever they are.
We want to know of any problems people are seeing.
Everybody here, this is what I`m asking people to do.
ARNWINE: And I know this is hard. I`m saying to Americans, this
time, this year, it`s not just sufficient for you to vote. You need to
become a foot soldier for democracy. You need to personally, if you can,
take off time, volunteer, help us protect the vote.
We`re looking for legal volunteers. We`re looking for grassroots
volunteers. We`re looking for any American who wants to be part of making
sure our democracy works. Call us. Call us again at the hotline, 1-866-
Call us or go to our Web sites, again, at lawyerscommittees.org or
866ourvote.org and volunteer.
HARRIS-PERRY: (INAUDIBLE) about this is like, on the one hand I love
this, right? And I love -- because it`s part of this history of resistance
fact (ph). But it also feels to me a little bit, you know, what we would
call in economics or political science, as the transaction cost. That, you
know, it doesn`t cost like money to vote but it does cost transactions
And so, when suddenly it`s not enough to just vote, when you have to
go gather identification and you have to verify registration, it makes it
more expensive, in the sense of transaction cost for those people with the
least ability to pay those transaction cost to vote.
Is there a basic fairness argument that can be made about that kind
of cost representing a poll tax which is unconstitutional?
GLEN JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, BOSTON.COM: I don`t know about that
HARRIS-PERRY: All right.
JOHNSON: I want to pull it back. I`m somebody who spent several
weeks in an out of service hotel room in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2000 --
JOHNSON: -- while that whole case was being adjudicated. And the
sound and fury after that was we have to do something about our voting
JOHNSON: And here it is more than a decade later and we have not.
This is a country whose entire political system is based on the vote and
the accurate measurement of majority. And still, we`re fighting these
kinds of battles and asking these kinds of questions and having both sides
of the arguments -- whether it`s people considering voter suppression or
it`s other people considering it voter integrity at loggerheads for almost
It seems to me a country that can land something on Mars and send
back pictures should be able to figure out: (a), how to cast a ballot with
some integrity, (b), how to make sure that everybody who should vote and is
allowed to vote is able to vote. And also then all of that balloting is
More than a decade after we had questions about the accuracy of who
was the president of the United States, we`re still worrying about what the
secretary of state in Ohio is doing to voter registrations and we`re
relying on the courts once again to adjudicate.
HARRIS-PERRY: Glen, I so appreciate that longer perspective to
remind us that this is not the first time. And as Matt pointed out, we
have to continue to have a vigilance about it.
Thank you, Barbara Arnwine, Anthea Butler, and Matt Welch.
Glen, you`re going to stick around with me for a little bit because
we are going to Boston.
Get out your platforms and disco balls because it is 1970s all over
again. At issue, school bussing.
HARRIS-PERRY: In 1974, Boston, Massachusetts, became the site of the
most infamous desegregation site in the North -- bussing. The first
vehicles of change rolled into the city`s segregated neighborhoods with the
hopes of integrating their public schools. But in the days and years that
followed, much of Boston remained lock in an embittered and sometimes
violent battle over bussing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: As a Charlestown parent, how do you feel about bussing and
what do you think is going to happen here?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I don`t think it will go over here, not
at all. And I think when they do take some of the police out of here,
there`ll be more trouble than anyone realizes because these kids aren`t
going to stand for it. Neither are parents.
REPORTER: How about attendance? How do you feel school attendance
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All colored, no white, not at in our schools.
Yes, give it to the (EXPLETIVE DELETED). That`s what they want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Nearly four decades later, after integrating Boston
public schools by court order, the city is now looking to limit school
Joining us is Kim Janey, a senior project director for Massachusetts
Advocates for Children where she leads the Boston School Reform Project.
Glen Johnson of "The Boston Globe." Prudence Carter, co-director of the
Stanford Center for Opportunity, Policy and Education. And University of
Connecticut professor Jelani Cobb.
So, Glen, why are we talking about bussing again? What is the story
in Boston right now?
JOHNSON: Ironically, it`s not a problem from the outside. It`s not
sort of the racial issues that we saw back in the `70s. What`s happening
right now is simply -- some of it is economics driven. There`s been a
change in composition in the schools overtime.
The city is also -- 60,000 students divided into three different
zones assigned to schools within those zones. And the city is spending
almost 10 percent of its school bus budget bussing students between these
different areas. In many cases to schools that are not in their
And yet the population of the schools has changed. It`s now only 13
percent white. Whereas back in the `60s, it was 75 percent white.
So, the bussing that was enacted to try to balance the racial balance
in the schools is no longer achieving that goal. Schools are now largely
Hispanic and black and Asian. And so, as practical matter, the mayor there
has charged the school committee with trying to find a better way to do
this and to try and bring kids back to their neighborhood schools if
possible, and to try and save money doing something that doesn`t seem to be
achieving the goals that it was set out for in the `70s.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, Kim, here -- you know, sort of here we`ve
got this story. You yourself were involved in this both from a policy
matter but also as a -- you were one of the kids on these buses. And so,
we saw in that intro that vile quote, but there was also the reality that
in fact that`s exactly what has happened. White plight from the schools
has meant that now the schools are no longer -- I mean there may be a
moment of integration and there was white plight and now they`re all
students of color.
KIM JANEY, MASSACHUSETTS ADVOCATES FOR CHILDREN: Right, right. So,
first, I would start by saying the issue was quality. Back then, what
parents wanted was quality for their children. And what we ended up with a
forced bussing system.
I was one of the kids bussed. I was bussed to the neighborhood that
you showed in the clip, Charlestown. And it was pretty ugly, as you saw
from the woman`s quote. But ironically in the school building, many of the
children were friends even though the adults on the outside were crazy. We
had to have the police escort our buses. So, it was not a pleasant time.
I think what is interesting here is the issue is still quality. So,
almost 40 years later, parents want quality for their kids and they want to
choose the best schools if they can for their kids, even if that means
choosing outside of their neighborhood.
In regards to the money, analysis that I`ve seen show very
insignificant savings. We`re not going to save $80 million like most
people think because a lot of the children would be grandfathered. You
have to wait years and year.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s still some expense to moving kids around,
right? It doesn`t go from this level to zero. I -- this one is tough for
me. A lot of education things, I feel I got -- I think these things are
bad and these things are good.
This one is tough because on the one hand, I`m appalled that we`re
giving up on integration as part of our narrative of quality, that part of
what we need to talk about when we talk about quality, or diverse
classrooms. On the other hand, having gone to neighborhood schools as a
kid in the early `70s, like there is something very vital and fabulous
about walking to school and having your friends around and, you know, play
dates where you just knock on the door. No one has to drive.
Like is there any reason to think that neighborhood schools, even
segregated ones, have some kind of value to communities or kids?
PRUDENCE CARTER, STANFORD UNIV.: Absolutely. I think neighborhood
schools do. But this is a complex problem, Melissa, because we know it`s
about quality and schools are connected to the residential location, the
tax base. And separate will never be equal as long as there`s a gross
disparity economically between neighborhoods.
At the same time lots of parents want to make sure their children are
safe. And we have lots of little ones being bussed across cities. I mean,
that`s a big issue for many parents, just the security for their kids. But
also just the viability, the vibrancy of the neighborhood.
So, that`s what makes it so alluring, that`s make it so -- something
that people want to invest in.
Boston is a very special case though. And as Kim said, given the
fact that the majority of the district is of color and about more than
about three quarters of the students come from very modest backgrounds,
then what are we bussing to?
So, you have to ask that question. At the same time, I`m really
troubled by the fact that I do know that if we don`t have good quality of
schools throughout the district, you`re going have a problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, I mean, because the challenge is that the only
reason that there`s this connection between residential location and school
quality is because we based on the value of homes, real estate taxes,
rather than on sort of a basic fairness issue.
JELANI COBB, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: Right. If we can take this
a step back, I`m a historian, so I always like to take the long view with
these things. We now talk about Brown versus the Board of Education as an
unqualified triumph that all black people were thrilled about it and so on.
There was substantial African-America opposition to the Brown versus
Board of Education decision. Probably the most notable was the novelist
and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, who said she resented the idea that you
had to sit a black child next to a white child in order for them to learn.
So where we get at the complexity of this is can you provide these
kinds of high quality educations for young children of color without having
to move them to closer proximity to the resources which are then aggregated
among children who tend not to be of color. And that`s what the issue is
and we don`t think of it that way.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ll stay right on this topic. I`ll come right to
you since we get back. And more on the value of neighborhoods and schools.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, bussing and school assignment continues to be a
hot topic in many communities. Some neighborhoods are coming up with
alternatives. Take this one in Scarsdale, New York, where every Friday,
students and parents and even teachers have created what they call a
walking school bus. They traveled along a designated route, stopping every
few blocks to pick up more children until the group pulled in to school.
The walking bus isn`t just green. It`s also an opportunity for a few
lessons along the route. The students learn about healthy habits of
exercise and road sense and appreciation for the environment. And the
whole gives adults and children an opportunity to cultivate friendships and
create a tighter-knit community.
After years of controversy over bussing, is it time to reconsider the
So I show that image as just kind evidence of how -- like what a
neighborhood school can feel like and do and be. But obviously that`s an
upper income, relatively non -- you know, Scarsdale, New York, is not the
transition between Charlestown and South End Boston, right?
How -- how do we provide those kinds of opportunities for community
at the same time that we say everybody should have access to the best
JANEY: All right. So you`re absolutely right. Neighborhood schools
in a perfect world would be wonderful and I think people would want to send
their children to schools in their neighborhood. Who doesn`t want a good
school in their neighborhood? But I think that`s just the issue.
So many of the neighborhoods in Boston don`t have good schools. So
what happens if you`re a family and you have children and you want to send
them to your local neighborhood school, but all around you are low
performing schools? And so, that`s the huge issue. It`s about having
equal access to quality education.
The other thing is when I was bussed as a child, the tragic irony was
that I did not get bussed for a better education. I went to a school that
was probably worse than the school in my own neighborhood.
HARRIS-PERRY: So they integrated you but they didn`t provide a
higher or better opportunity.
How do we -- how do we manage that? I mean, Jelani was talking about
this thing that I sometimes resist as golden age of segregation narrative,
but there is something about proximity to resources and access. Is that
enough of a reason to make this kind of bussing policy decision?
CARTER: Well, you know, I think the big problem is we have to think
about whether or not we`re just going to rely and thinking about education
as something for our individual gain or do we want to think about the
common good. I mean, so when we think about the integration as a social
and educational policy, we thought about it as something to enrich and
enliven our democracy, right? So that`s a big question.
When we start going back to neighborhood schools, we are talking
about segregation as well, because we`re so residentially segregated.
That`s a really big issue.
The second point is, if we want to talk about integrating schools, we
have to integrate them more deeply.
And I think, Kim, when you were talking earlier about being bussed to
the school where the quality still wasn`t as great, in my own research, I
hear about kids being bussed to schools, that are so-called diverse
schools, but then they`re segregated within those schools because of the
narratives, exactly, because of narratives of underachievement of black and
So it`s a multidimensional problem and the question is where do we
want to put our priorities? If we want to build it up we have to infuse
the neighborhood with the resources to have absolutely the best schools
possible. Otherwise, we`re going to perpetuate the gross inequities that
we have in American public education by race and class.
HARRIS-PERRY: Glen, I also want to ask you about sort of -- you
know, how do we end up with the circumstances where so many students of
color are the primary members in the Boston public school system? Where
did white parents go? Where are they? Now, they live in town. Where are
JOHNSON: Well, they live in town. They live on the edges of the
cities as well. But most of these kids go to Catholic schools. They go to
private schools, as Kim was saying, they go to charter schools.
And so, they`re not in the mainstream public education system
anywhere. They`re tracked from preschool and then continue on, never to
merge with the public schools.
HARRIS-PERRY: But that costs money. I mean, if you`re a middle-
class family, right, particularly if you want your kids to go off to
college and that`s going to cost 12 kabillion dollars, I mean, the fact is
even Catholic schools which have more modest tuitions are an expense, and
you talk about this as a budget issue.
If parents are living in town, isn`t there a value for that? Not
even in the democracy sense, but in the most individual sense to want to
invest in and have their children in neighborhood schools for the pure
issue of household budgets?
JOHNSON: Sure. And also for the quality of the neighborhood. You
know, there`s the investment that everybody makes in their neighborhood
when everybody`s attending the local school and there`s a sense of
community that`s built around that participation in the local school. So
you would think it would be a driving force behind improving all the
schools throughout all the different parts of the city.
But the reality of it is, is that certain parts of the city have
better schools and others don`t and the funding has not, you know, shifted
between the two adequately enough to raise all boats in this question.
HARRIS-PERRY: Kim --
JANEY: I just want to respond to that because I really think that`s
true depending pending on the neighborhood that you live in. And for many
communities, there`s a concentration of poverty, so you`re not going to see
the same sort of rallying around behind schools and investing in schools
and it`s going to take a lot to build the capacity of families to really be
that support for their schools.
And so in the meantime we have to really focus on getting school
department to create a clear and comprehensive plan that will improve
school quality. That`s what families want. That`s what the parents who I
talk to, that`s what they want.
I`m working with a coalition, a Community Coalition for Excellent,
Equity, and Engagement, some local nonprofits are involved. And we are
really pushing the school department to slow down this process and take
your time to do it right.
The nation is watching.
And it`s not as one point (ph), we can have this long-term goals of
democracy and fairness and integration of community. But in the short
term, you have the third grader that has to go to school right now.
JANEY: Right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right now. That`s right.
JANEY: Five years from now, the schools will get better.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. You have to make those choices.
There`s going to be more in just a moment, but first it`s time for a
preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hi. You look great in right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
WITT: Just saying. I thought you should know.
Anyway, I`m going to talk to Congressman Dennis Kucinich who joins me
live. I`m going to ask him what he`s willing to give up to avoid the
fiscal cliff, and whether he thinks he`ll be voting on it during the lame
A Supreme Court ruling could come down in a matter of weeks on the
case that will majorly impact the nation`s public universities. It could
overturn all college affirmative action admission policies.
In office politics, I sat down with "MORNING JOE" stars Joe
Scarborough and Mike Brzezinski. We`re going to get the "MORNING JOE" take
on the impending fiscal cliff and whether or not the nation is destined to
fall off of it.
And on a lighter note, playing hooky. Unbelievable excuses people
use to call up sick including on, Melissa, get this one, I forgot I was
WITT: I`m not kidding you.
HARRIS-PERRY: In economy people are -- I got to say like I come to
work sick at this point. I know it`s a bad behavior but -- thank you,
HARRIS-PERRY: And coming up, putting kids first and helping a
community come together. Our foot soldier is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: These days, you hear a lot about school choice, as
though choice is a solution to all of our education woes. There`s plenty
to debate on that issue. But one thing is for sure: you can`t have
meaningful choice without good information.
Our foot soldier this week is one woman determined to ensure that the
parents in her city have the information they need. Aisha Rashid is not a
parent but she cares about education. More than 10 years ago as a new
college grad, she started working for the local New Orleans paper, "The
Times Picayune." She was assigned the education beat.
Now, Aisha was shocked to learn about the dismal state of the city
schools. So she left the paper in 2005 determined to improve the system
Then, hurricane Katrina hit. And in the aftermath, many reformers
were determined to fix the broken system with a new one that relies heavily
on charter schools. The system has some benefits, but it came at the cost
of neighborhood schools. Teachers were dispersed and leaders left,
buildings were closed, and schools that people had never heard of emerged
while long-time community institutions were replaced.
Families were left with questions. Which schools were open, which
ones required applications? Is there any transportation? And most
importantly, which schools are performing?
And there was no one source for parents to get the answers until
Aisha lit a candle in the dark maze of a disconnected system. She founded
the New Orleans Parents Organizing Network. She secured funding through
the new schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit that promoted the expansion of
But Aisha put aside her own philosophy and brought unlikely partners
together to create the New Orleans Parents Guide. She went to every single
school, collected data and compiled it into one comprehensive book. She
printed 10,000 copies, put them in her car, drove around and dropped them
off at any public place where parents could access them.
Aisha is now starting to collect information for the seventh edition.
And every year, she adds new information and makes sure that more people
Her latest advancement? A smart phone app.
So thanks to Aisha Rashid if you are trying to send a kid to a public
schools in New Orleans, there`s an app for that. And for that Aisha Rashid
is our foot soldier of the book.
For more about her and the New Orleans Parents Guide, check out our
blog on MHPShow.com.
That`s our show for today. Thank to Kim Janey, Glen Johnson,
Prudence Carter and Jelani Cobb. Also, thanks to my beloved friends Blair
and Pat Kelly (ph) for allowing me the privilege at being present at the
birth of their son and my godson on Thursday night.
Also, thank you at home for watching. I`ll see you tomorrow morning
10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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