November 24, 2012
Guests: Aisha Moodie-Mills, Marsha Garrison, Lester Spence, Thomas Roberts, Anthea Butler, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Emily Carpenter, Rochelle Ballantyne, John Galvin>
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBS ANCHOR: This morning, my question, why is it
easier for a turkey to get a pardon than a person?
Plus, the other second term. How the first lady will use her next four
years and the Castle Brooklyn built. One checkmate at a time. But first,
it is Thanksgiving weekend. So we are talking about the American family in
all its many shades of gray.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Thanks for joining us on this
Saturday after Thanksgiving. The holidays, lots of food, lots of shopping
and a whole lot of family. Family, how we love to welcome them when they
visit and how we love to wave exhaustedly as they depart. Family is a
small, but powerful word that defines an increasingly diverse array of
relationships and situations. As a culture, our definition of family has
gone through an evolution, albeit a sometimes slow and painful one. So be
careful about romanticizing that 1950s "Leave it to Beaver" family. Yes,
there are families that consist of one man and one woman who are happily
married to each other, who have never been married to anyone else and who
are rearing only their biological children born without any reproductive
technology and born after the two adults were legally married. Yes, that`s
a great kind of family. But there are many, many other fantastically
loving, wonderful, creative, fulfilling and healthy ways to make family.
Even Jesus was born to an unwed mom and raised by a doting stepfather.
Listen. These days our film and television culture is finally keeping up
with the variety that is family.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come give us a hug before you go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hug.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hug her. That`s what she is there for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does spectacular mean?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It means super awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Blueberry syrup?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spectacular.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is half her age.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don`t say it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are getting a baby today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh! Oh my gosh!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing in there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go away!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is all we have anymore.
(singing): Our house in the middle of our street. Our house ...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But family is about more than individual choices or cultural
practices. Tell us about policy. During slavery, men and women had deep
bonds of love, attachment and mutual commitment. But those bonds were not
protected by law. And because slaves were considered property, they did
not have the right to legally marry in any American colony or state.
Because children belonged to the enslavers, men and women were only parents
as long as it served the purposes and timetable of the slave holder. The
practice of coverture meant that for most of American history, free white
women could marry, but they couldn`t initiate divorce or have sole custody
of their children, they couldn`t own property or enter into legal
contracts. It`s not exactly a marriage of equals, huh?
But slavery is over and coverture has ended, so it is all equal at the
altar of family now, right? Well, not exactly. Because as a matter of
policy, the altar is still a defining framework of family. And our laws
continue to make it clear that we value one kind of family over all others,
married couples. Married couples enjoy economic benefits in the areas of
taxes, in the estate planning, employment, medicine, debt, housing, not to
mention social esteem.
But what if your family is a same-sex union? Same-sex couples have only --
have marriage rights in nine states and Washington, D.C. That leaves
families in 41 states without access to the economic benefits of marriage.
And why this narrow focus on marriage at all? Since 1970, marriage rates
in the United States have dropped more than 15 percent. And divorce rates
have climbed. Fewer people who can marry are choosing to do so. And more
people who do marry are choosing to exit. Last year, the number of
unmarried people in the United States was 44 percent, and that group
includes single parents, people with partners, those who are widowed and
people happily choosing single life. Being unmarried does not mean that
you are without family. But law is often blind to these families. And to
those where kids being raised aren`t the biological offspring of a married
couple. What if your kids are really your nephews or your neighbors or
Narrow definitions of family can make everything from student loans to
doctor visits that much harder. And it can also make adoption for loving
LGBT families or for single women tough if they are either banned from
marrying or if policy treats them as though their households are unstable.
And can we even begin to talk about the quirky combinations of love and
commitment and attachment that occur when a family is made across lines of
race, geography, language, religion?
How about those of us for whom family means a combination of relatives and
friends, partners and work colleagues. Life partner or next of kin is not
just about a piece of paper. Family is more varied and beautiful than it
has ever been. Now, we`ve got to get our laws to recognize how robust and
multidimensional the American family really is.
And at the table, Marsha Garrison, professor at Brooklyn Law School and co-
editor of "Marriage at the Crossroads: Law, Policy and the Brave New World
of the 21st Century Family." MSNBC anchor and newlywed, Thomas Roberts.
Lester Spence, associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins
University. He and his wife have five kids and Aisha Moodie-Mills, advisor
for LGBT policy and racial justice and director of the FIRE Initiative of
the Center for American Progress. Her wife, Danielle, was recently honored
as part of the Root 100 for her work on environmental justice. Thank you
all for being here. I greatly appreciate it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Marsha, what do you mean when you say the American family is
at a crossroads?
MARSHA GARRISON, AUTHOR, "MARRIAGE AT THE CROSSROADS": Many things. The
American family is at a crossroads in many respects, one of which you
GARRISON: We have an increasing rainbow of families, no longer does the
typical family look like that Ozzie and Harriet `50s family that you so
eloquently described. But what we also see today is an increasing class
divide in family formation.
GARRISON: One that we can`t celebrate, because it means that many of our
families are increasingly stressed and unable to care for their children
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, the key data on this has been the fragile families
data that suggests, yes, there are many different kinds of family forms,
but part of what we need to be concerned about are the kind of economic
circumstances, in which families find themselves. Lester, you and I have
been friends and colleagues for years ...
LESTER SPENCE, ASSOC., PROF., JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: ... and I tease you about the idea that you all have five
kids. Who has five kids?
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, in the ...
SPENCE: Just me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, right, just you guys, right? In part because of the
economic consideration. I mean I`m the youngest of five, but it is from a
different sort of, you know, set of economic circumstances that families
SPENCE: Yes. It is a significant stresser, and -- but it is not just -
so, so to get you guys some sense, so my oldest now is in college. So you
think about the wide range of costs that we have to cover. I remember my
parents paid for my college tuition, you know, through grants. And, you
know, now, it`s a tremendous stress for us to take care of, for us to
basically take care of all the bills we have to take care of and then on
top of that, pay college tuition.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So you have got -- right, so you`ve got sort of the
full range of parenting. And so, and you guys are a two-parent household.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet the other piece of this for me is that policy
impacts us, right, Aisha, I mean? This isn`t just sort of either you make a
lot of money or you don`t. Either there is a stressor or there is not.
Policy can influence and impact the quality of life that our families
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, ADVISOR, LGBT PLICY & RACIAL JUSTICE: Absolutely.
And, you know, you just said that you have the luxury of having a two-
parent household. Well, for families that are headed by same-sex partners,
having two parents in the household doesn`t always provide the economic
benefits and support and stability that one would expect. Because in most
states in our country, one of those parents may not be recognized as a
legal -- having a legal relationship to the children in that household.
MOODIE-MILLS: So they may not be able to carry them on their insurance
plans. They may not be able to do the things that we take for granted --
like even, you know, pick them up from daycare or make medical decisions
about them. Because our laws are so antiquated, they are not recognizing
the two adults that are caring for that child legally.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and it can happen in same-sex partnerships, but it can
also happen if it is, as we know, in so many fragile families, if it`s the
grandmother that is doing the caring or if it`s the neighbor, right? So
there are ways in which we haven`t sort of fully expanded our economic or
legal policies to fit the realities of our family. Now, Thomas, we -- we
are having a great time in preparation for you coming in terms of looking
at your wedding photos, right, and just sort of the enjoyment of the idea
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC: It is good stuff, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: It is. It`s good stuff. And look at how beautiful you guys
But you -- the very fact that you all have the legal capacity to marry is
because here in this one state there is the ability of the willingness to
recognize your marriage as a family.
ROBERTS: It is great. And -- I have to say who those people are, though.
ROBERTS: They will kill me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Yes. Yes.
ROBERTS: In that -- there is my family, the Roberts family, my mom and dad
are on the far right side. These are all our nieces and nephews, and over
under the banner of "American Family," that`s our youngest, Braxton. There
ROBERTS: So they all -- the age ranges here. We go up to 20, which is
Dillon, our nephew in the center and all the way down to Braxton, who is
about four, fourish. They are going to kill me if I don`t get this right.
But so all of our siblings were there. I mean this was a really big deal
for us. Our families were there. I had friends from first grade all the
way up to our boss, Phil, all in one time and space if you can imagine ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right.
ROBERTS: How great this is to -- and Gavin Newsom, you see him in the top
corner, Lieutenant Governor of California, he flew in to marry us. I mean,
this thing was epic, it was so special, the best night of our lives by far.
I highly recommend it to everybody out there. Go get married.
ROBERTS: Whoever you want to marry.
ROBERTS: Oh, and in certain states now, if you are part of the lesbian and
gay community, you have that option to be able to do that. And it was so
fulfilling. You know, I grew up pretending a lot to fit in, pretending to
ROBERTS: And I find now and Aisha, you could probably speak to this as
well. When you find your voice, you do not want to shut up about it.
ROBERTS: And I have found my voice. I feel very privileged to have found
it. Patrick and I were together 12 years up until the point where we got
married. And we deserved that opportunity.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And I feel like there is something, you know, as you
point out. The four-year-old on up. The fact that they have also, you
know. So, it is not just you to making this choice, right? It is that
your whole families are participating in a way that then contributes to an
expanding definition of family for the four-year-old and all the way up.
So, given that we are looking at communities where people are going to have
these expanded social understandings, how does that translate for us into
GARRISON: Well, it translates several ways. First, there is no question
but that weddings are joyous events.
ROBERTS: It is good stuff.
GARRISON: It is good stuff, and it`s good stuff for everyone. But as you
noted earlier, Americans are increasingly not marrying. And what we are
seeing even more is a growing class divide. Those who are college educated,
marry and their divorce rates are actually no higher today than they were
in the 1960s. These families are increasingly stable, increasingly able to
offer this kind of joyous family opportunity and experience to their
children. Couples at the low end of the economic spectrum increasingly are
foregoing marriage, not because they don`t want to marry, not because they
don`t value it, but because they feel they can`t afford to. The leading
problem that these couples site as to why they are not marrying, is because
they just don`t have the money. They want that wedding of the sort that
ROBERTS: It ain`t cheap. Yes.
GARRISON: It ain`t cheap.
GARRISON: But these couples are still having children. That`s why our
non-marital birth rate is so high. And these couples at the low end of the
socioeconomic spectrum have much higher rates of relationship dissolution.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you know, and it is not exactly these questions.
Because we saw the issue of single parenting emerge as a political issue in
this year`s campaign.
HARRIS-PERRY: So stay right there. We are going to come back and talk
more about family life. Is it private or is it public?
HARRIS-PERRY: During this election season, there were two kinds of
families that came up for severe public scrutiny, same-sex couples wanting
to marry and single moms raising children. We talk about family life as
though it were an entirely private matter. But 2012 reminded us just how
public some of our families are. Aisha, I don`t think I will ever forget
the moment in the debate when it sounded like Mr. Romney was suggesting
that gun violence is directly caused by single parents.
MOODIE-MILLS: Oh, yeah. Yeah. When he said that, it was really
interesting, you know, I thought about Columbine where you had these kids
who actually had parents who both of the parents were in the home. So,
presumably, they were the typical, you know, and healthy, quote, unquote,
American family. And so, yeah, that -- this idea that the only families
that can produce healthy children are those that have a mother and a father
is really problematic. We have defied that over time. We have had single
mothers raising wonderful children. A study came out recently that showed
that children of lesbians, children of gay couples in general are just as
healthy if not healthier, if not, you know, more resilient than children
from other families.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there is - there is a pretty substantial proportion. We
were looking at the numbers on this ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Of same-sex parents, this is a 2010 study, about a quarter
of same-sex women couples are raising kids. And about 11percent of male
couples are raising children. So, I mean we can have whatever emotions we
want to have about it. But these are the sort of new demographic realities
that we face.
MOODIE-MILLS: Right. And what`s interesting is that lesbian couples of
color are just as likely to be raising children as the straight, you know,
women of color. And so, this conversation that we used to have about oh,
the double income, no kids, and the gay couples just don`t parent is
completely untrue. And what is, you know, a sad piece of that is also
defined as stereotype of wealth within the gay community, is that kids who
are raised by same-sex parents are twice as likely to be living in poverty.
And that`s something interesting that - that we need to talk about.
Because when we talk about these economic benefits of marriage, when we
talk about our policies and how our social safety nets are failing families
that are modern families, quite frankly, the new normal. We have to talk
about LGBT families and the 2 million children that are being raised by
parents who are in same-sex relationships or parents who are LGBT.
HARRIS-PERRY: But Thomas, I want to bring you in on exactly this point of
sort of the creation of LGBT families. In part, because like this -- this
all this enthusiasm about marriage equality as it grows. And I`m a huge
marriage equality advocate. I`m -- we are excited about your wedding. But
I am also worried about that piece that Michael Warner gave us about the
idea of the trouble with normal. And if we suggest that the way to make
family is always through marriage, that not only do we sort of limit the
opportunities for LGBT couples not living in states where they can marry,
but also all of these other family forms that are occurring outside of
marriage, even with straight couples or with single individuals. Is there
way that we can both push for marriage equality and say that other forms of
family are equally valued and valuable?
ROBERTS: Well, it is two great points. I think Aisha brings up the new
normal, the way that we do look at life now. And the building blocks of
family. Just specifically from an LGBT perspective and for kids growing
up. You know, the big thing, the American dream is to grow up, get a good
job and to start your family. You know, so in the workplace now, we --
there is still discrimination in the work place. So you can be fired in
certain states for being lesbian and gay. You still can`t start your own
family. So, the American dream when you are growing up gay or trans-
gender, bisexual. There is a lot of pretending that goes on, because you
don`t have an example leading the way of people that we see nowadays that
are out and talking about how their lives are being formed. So, there is
two simple, very simple concepts, grow up, get a job, start your family.
ROBERTS: And now, kids are growing up with that. And it`s a great point
that you make how, a great question that you ask, how we can get outside of
that. You know, beyond marriage equality for how people want to construct
their families. But there is a lot of work that still needs to be done on
that front. I mean big questions right now, I know. In certain states,
and I wrote this down, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island and
Minnesota. Those are all states right now that are on the precipice of
looking into marriage equality and trying to afford it. Certainly, those
states are bordering like Delaware, Rhode Island. They are bordering
states where this already exists, Illinois and Iowa.
ROBERTS: So it will be amazing to see how that moves forward. I think a
lot of people, and Aisha, you could probably speak to this as well after
this election to see four ballot initiatives.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, it was pretty amazing.
ROBERTS: Go through on a popular vote is really amazing.
ROBERTS: But to not get too excited about that type of win moving forward,
because it doesn`t necessarily mean that other states are going to follow
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Ten out of 51 if we are including the District of
Columbia. I want to give you just one last word on this very briefly, if
there was one policy, economic policy that would support different sorts of
families, what would be the one thing we would want to say. Is it the
expansion of marriage rights? Is it a change in how we do health
insurance? What would be the one thing?
GARRISON: I don`t think we can -- we can reduce it to one thing.
GARRISON: Certainly, we need equality in marriage rights. That`s an
important, probably paramount issue ...
GARRISON: ... for LBGT families. On the other hand, for other families
who don`t fit that profile, marriage equality isn`t going to be the right
policy initiative. Certainly, for all families, we need more economic
initiatives to help parents raise their children in the way we would all
like. We need more tax benefits. We need higher child allowances. We
need publicly funded daycare. We need an array of ...
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to say it again. We need publicly funded daycare.
GARRISON: Yes, we do.
HARRIS-PERRY: That zero to five, the critical ...
MOODIE-MILLS: Can I add a couple of things?
HARRIS-PERRY: You absolutely, totally can. I`m just going to let you do
it as soon as we come back after the break. Thank you to Marsha. And as
soon as we come back, more on family.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back. And now on our panel is also Anthea Butler,
professor of religious studies of the University of Pennsylvania. And
(inaudible) in the end there, Aisha, give me your contribution on that
question of policy.
MOODIE-MILLS: I just want to throw two things out there. Beyond just
forming families through marriage ...
MOODIE-MILLS: ... we should also think about how we equalize our adoption
laws across the board.
MOODIE-MILLS: A huge challenge is that we have children in our country who
are being raised by people who are not their biological parents, be it
their auntie, be it their -- I was raised by my grandparents.
MOODIE-MILLS: And be it, you know, perhaps a parent that is a same-sex
partner that doesn`t have a legal tie to that child. If we were to figure
out how to equalize our adoption laws to make sure that second-parent
adoption is available for everyone, the stepparent adoption.
MOODIE-MILLS: .. to make sure that gay couples and unmarried partners can
jointly adopt, and that would cover the responsibilities of being able to
safeguard and care for children, which is really what the family policies
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, we were looking at also these adopted family
members, and to almost 70 percent of families who are adoptive couples are
married couples. And you look at, you know, unmarried couples are only at
the two percent rate on adoptive families. And so that unmarried couples
include certainly heterosexual couples, but also same-sex couples. I also
wanted to ask. There is this other mean out there around family that to me
in part is connected to this. We often here this -- if you choose not to
do abortion, you always have adoption. Adoption is a loving option. Which
it is. I mean adoption is an extraordinary option. But it`s also not
equally available to all racial categories. You know that African-American
children, Spanish-speaking children are much more likely to spend a lot of
their life in foster care. And they -- I just think about like there are
so many narratives about this is what family is supposed to look like. One
of the major means is, black women can`t find a man or the church says you
have to make family this particular way. Like, from your position as a
religious study scholar, how does that aspect of who we are influence?
ANTHEA BUTLER, PROF., UNIV. OF PENNSYLVANIA: I think it influences
tremendously. Because, you know, you have a lot of women who just wait
around and say, I`m going to wait on the Lord to give me a husband, right?
And this is the only way you can have a child. And that`s just not true.
And if you decide to adopt, the first thing people look at you and say is,
oh, my gosh, you know, couldn`t you have just waited? I just had one of
our graduate students actually in the program. She had a baby, and she
wasn`t married. She is going to be -- She`s passed her (inaudible) as a
Ph.D. And I thought it was the best thing, but she got flack from even
people within the institution.
HARRIS-PERRY: She is a single reverend doctor.
BUTLER: Yeah. Exactly. And she decided to become a parent. And she is
great. She`s a great mom. And she finished her program in five years.
She was able to do it. I have another friend who is a reverend and just
had a baby.
HARRIS-PERRY: She`s also apparently superhuman.
BUTLER: Yeah. Well, I mean kind of, yeah. But, you know, these are the
things about what family is about. And I think religious institutions put
a lot of pressure on people about this. I mean when I was in the church,
I got that same kind of pressure and I just thought, I can`t do this. I
can`t think about this in the ways that they think about it, because my
situation is not this perfect situation that I`m going to walk down the
aisle with some guy, because none of these guys are like what I need anyway
to begin with. So, yeah.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it doesn`t mean that you`re family less.
BUTLER: Exactly. Exactly. It doesn`t mean I`m familyless. I mean I
lived in Los Angeles for a long time. I had extended family. I have a
great family. But when you are away from your family and you need people
to help you, there has to be people who can step in and be your family,
that you can designate until your other family gets there. I think that`s
an important piece of this too. That some of us, we are going to grow old.
We are not going to have kids. Who is going to be our family. How can we
designate someone else to be -- to stand in that place for parents or
children or siblings. Or how do we want to cut that? These are
definitions of family are just too narrow. They really are. And I don`t
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, it`s interesting, Lester. You know, even as she is
talking about, like if you don`t have kids, who is going to help you in
your old age? Part of this, the notion of covering your kids under health
insurance or covering your spouse under health insurance or having the
available -- If these things were human rights that attached to the
individual, one would not need to form a particular kind of family in order
to make it happen.
SPENCE: That`s right. We -- I have been trying to rest my head -- wrestle
around this for a while, you know, not just because I have a family, right?
If you think about - and I have these arguments a lot with people in black
communities, right? Because they have -- because it`s really normative for
us to have a husband, a wife and kids. Right? And we really look askance
at people who don`t fit that. Even though we are more likely not to fit
that. And it`s like all we - what we have to do somehow, is we have to
fight for a politics that takes into account kids and parents no matter how
they are formed. Because if we don`t do that, we are going to have kids
with poor economic consequences, poor health outcomes. And we are going to
increasingly put stress on families, whether they are poor or middle class.
So the one thing I push on, the one thing I push, is we have this idea that
there are these middle class families that are working, right? Middle,
upper class families that are working and in these poor families that are
not -- when the reality is, none of them are working.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is kind of broken across the ...
SPENCE: Oh, yeah. They are all broken.
SPENCE: And the thing is, is we don`t even have the politics to publicize
our private stresses. Right?
BUTLER: Nobody talks about, you know, divorce rates in middle and upper
class families, how this happens, why it happens. It is always the
pressure of, oh, it must be those poor people. But there is another piece
of this, too, I think is really important to say. Historically, it has
never been that way. If you think about the migration period. African-
American families, you know, you left somebody behind in the south. You
brought them up north. You took care of somebody`s kids. You did all
this. This is a history, not just for African-Americans, but for a lot of
immigrant groups as well.
BUTLER I mean, you have to -- you send your kids forward, you know, to
America and you hope somebody can take care of them. And the parents are
back home. You send money back home. There is all sorts of ways to cut
HARRIS-PERRY: And we are seeing this in many Latino families right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you end up with the same sort of judging language of
anchor babies and the same thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: But this multiple configuration -- Thanksgiving made us
think about families. So, it was -- it`s a pleasure to have talked about
it with you, but there is another Thanksgiving topic that was on my mind.
In my letter this week, it`s to a turkey, no, it`s not a euphemism or
something, I`m actually writing a letter to a turkey. The politics of the
president`s pardon when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: In advance of the Thanksgiving holiday, President Obama
pardoned a turkey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You know, they
say that life is all about second chances. And this November, I could not
OBAMA: So in the spirit of the season, I have one more gift to give. And
it goes to a pair of turkeys named Cobbler and Gobbler. The American
people have spoken. And these birds are moving forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The whole affair inspired my letter this week to one lucky
bird. Dear Cobbler, it`s me, Melissa. Congrats on being the first non-
human to receive a letter from Nerdland. And more importantly,
congratulations on spending the rest of your days roaming the historic
estate of Mt. Vernon. But it is a good deal. Even though you didn`t really
need a pardon as PETA pointed out to the president this week, it is not as
though you are guilty of anything.
But there are some in this country who need presidential attention, if they
are going to have a second chance. Your beneficent pardoner in chief has
been reluctant to use his pardoning power for well, humans. Being a
turkey, you may not know the details of American jurisprudence. But the
presidents have the power to commute sentences and to pardon crimes.
Pardon wipes out the conviction, commutation sets aside the punishment.
Both offer a second chance, kind of like the one you got on Wednesday.
And now, an executive undoubtedly should be judicious in his use of this
power. But recent numbers from the Department of Justice show that
President Obama is unusually reluctant. He has pardoned only 22
individuals, while denying 1,019. That is approving just two percent of
all requests processed by the DOJ. President Reagan found one in three
worthy of official forgiveness, that`s 33 percent. George H.W. Bush`s
record was one in 16, Bill Clinton`s one in eight, and George W. Bush, 1 in
33. A mere three percent. But with President Obama, it is just one in 47.
Compare that to more than half of the turkeys whose pardons he has granted.
Now, according to legend, President Abraham Lincoln pardoned a turkey back
in the 1860s, when his son, Tad, begged for mercy on behalf of the turkey
that was to be the family`s holiday meal. But Lincoln was consistent.
Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns-Goodwin writes that he regularly and
liberally used the pardon rather than consign army deserters and their
families to harsh punishment. Because he believed government "should avoid
planting and cultivating too many thorns in the bosom of society." Despite
his adoration for Lincoln, President Obama has not followed this example.
And the result may be that he is allowing resolvable injustices to persist.
Take the example of Katy Baraboo (ph). She was only 22 when she helped her
boyfriend - her then boyfriend to mail ecstasy from a military base in
Germany to the U.S. She confessed and cooperated, but was convicted. And
though she has had no further legal troubles, is now married and has been
working at the same company for a decade, she can`t vote, can`t travel out
of the country for work and is barred from adopting a child. Cobbler, you
got your pardon. But Katy`s request was denied. Luckily, the White House
has requested a fresh review of the case of Clarence Aaron, who is serving
a triple life sentence for his very minor role in a drug conspiracy.
Cobbler, you probably didn`t catch our earlier segments on Aaron`s case,
but now that you`ve been pardoned, maybe you can catch up on your MHP shows
that you have missed. Maybe you can also scratch out a letter to the White
House asking the president to show as much mercy to humans in his second
term as he has shown to poultry in his first.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, did this happen to anyone during the holiday weekend?
You are buttering a roll, catching up with your cousin and suddenly Uncle
Fred says, I just can`t believe they reelected Barack Obama. What in the
world are those people thinking? It is like that moment in the movie where
the music stops with the loud scratch of the needle. Oh-oh. Family and
politics, pass the antacids. But don`t assume that that Uncle Fred I just
described is a right wing Tea Party member. He just might be your liberal
uncle, the one who`s had a subscription to "The Nation" for three decades,
pays his union dues religiously, and is planning to put a copy of Cornel
West and Tavis Smiley`s latest book in everyone`s Christmas stocking. Why?
Because despite the many differences with the president, the left carried
President Obama to re-election. And many now see it as time to take him to
task . A recent article published on the liberal site AlterNet.org says,
"We have dodged the bullet of a Mitt Romney White House. So let`s get back
to reality. Despite his campaign trail populism, the president will
continue the politics of accommodation to conservatives."
So, the politics and family isn`t just about your dinner table. As we
answer the second term, we will witness how all the cousins in the
Democratic Party`s electoral family cope with the big daddy in the White
House. And it won`t be easy. You can`t just stamp your foot and get your
way with the president, most legislation still originates in the House,
which is still in Republican hands. Presidents need both public support
and public pressure to move their agendas effectively through Congress and
Congress has to believe that they will be punished politically if they
don`t follow President Obama`s lead, which means he needs robust support.
But in a second term, this is the left`s best opportunity to shift the
discourse and challenge the president to create meaningful alternatives to
the conservative agenda. Folks, this is family and politics at its best.
Back to my panel, all right, Lester. What are folks going to be holding
the president accountable for from the left in this second term?
SPENCE: Well, I think there is an opportunity to create more pushback on
the foreclosure issue. And I think there is an opportunity to really -- the
one thing the president really has that he hasn`t used effectively is the
bully pulpit. I think there`s a tremendous opportunity for him to be able
to peel back that politics of respectability argument and then actually
carve out a new set of politics that allows for leftists to fight, right?
So I am talking about foreclosure issue, I`m talking about student debt on
domestic stuff. I`m talking about making it -- making it -- creating
increasing possibilities to deal with poverty and the like.
HARRIS-PERRY: The poverty issue has been one on which the president has
had a particular push back. I mean clearly, not only do we need to see
better unemployment rates, we need living wages. Is that a possibility
from this president in terms of a discursive strategy?
MOODIE-MILLS: I mean before we even get to the wages, I think we need to
see what happens with this fiscal cliff showdown.
MOODIE-MILLS: I mean this is going to be, you know, a real strong
opportunity for him to go to bat for poor people. And to say and hold -
and hold Congress` feet to the fire to say, we are going to make sure that
we are caring for poor people. This isn`t just a nebulous conversation
about a really expensive middle class that includes Donald Trump. We need
to make sure that the people at the top are paying that fair share, maybe
even a little bit more, and to support the folks at the bottom. And I
think how this conversation turns out, how he fights for really the people
in the very bottom is going to be telling about how he works on poverty
HARRIS-PERRY: So, are we going to see that amazing coalition that came
together in November begin to fracture or will it stay together in order to
press the president towards the left?
ROBERTS: Well, I think like Aisha says, I mean if you can get the, you
know, upper echelon of America to pay their fair share, that would be a
good start. You know, with a little bit more, you might have trouble with
that. But the fair share part, you might have a good swinging shot at.
But in the first term, a lot of people might have thought the president
had an attitude of not working across the aisle and kind of he who cares
the least has the most power. And shooing people away.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is the used car definition of bargaining, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: If you can walk away from the table, you will get the better
ROBERTS: Exactly. So, now, as the president is thinking and rightfully so
about legacy, because the first term is about getting through to get
reelected, now, it is an eight-year proposition. We have got to figure out
what our legacy is going to be. And with John Boehner showing up with that
Diane Sawyer interview, to say, well, Obamacare is the law of the land.
And now, you know, right after that, tweeting for repealing, going after
for repeal. It`s like wait a minute. We`ve seen this movie. We have
lived through this. And we need to move on. But you are right, if the
coalition, the pressure of the people that voted, you know, the election,
the results mean anything to the right, they know that they are in trouble,
because they are losing voters.
ROBERTS: They are losing their messaging. And they need this four years,
especially the first two, if they want to keep the House. But they need
these four years to turn it around. And if they want to look like
obstructionists for a solid eight years, that is no way to take back the
White House in 2016.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. In 2016.
BUTLER: No, it`s not a way to take back the White House. But I do think
they are going to be obstructionists. But what I would like to see from
progressives is the same kind of organizing that conservatives did that put
all these crazy people in the House.
BUTLER: All right? Because I mean, I just don`t -- this is a problem.
BUTLER: You see, we get to -- you know, we got our guy in. It`s going to
be -- I mean instead of just ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And then, we are going to yell at him.
BUTLER: Yeah, and then we are going to yell at him. So we can`t yell. We
can`t say, you know, black-faced (ph) Republican. We can`t say these kinds
of things. That doesn`t make anybody change, OK? What does make change,
however, is for people to be consistent. So, just as though -- I will use
one example from the African-American community. Souls to the polls.
Let`s get souls to the White House. Souls to the White House to start to
talk about poverty, the issues that are in the African-American community
right now of, you know, higher unemployment than everyone else,
foreclosures, all these things. I think this is the time for people, these
coalitions to come forth. And this is the issue. I mean, you know, not to
be mean or anything. But, you know, every other coalition has got
something out of president except the African-American community. And is
this going to be ...
HARRIS-PERRY: The environmentalists.
BUTLER: Yeah, I mean, you know, environmentalists--
HARRIS-PERRY: I think you can argue with that a bit. I mean there is ...
BUTLER: You can ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... it was a fair sentencing act, which reduced that crack
and powder disparity.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, undoubtedly things like stimulus, like the payroll
tax deduction had a disproportionate impact. But undoubtedly, there has
been very clear kind of discursive irritation. But what I want to touch
on, is how do you shift that incentive structure? Because you are right.
You don`t just say, you need to do better, Mr. President.
BUTLER: Yeah. You can`t just say that.
HARRIS-PERRY: What does the incentive structure shift. Part of it could
be about that legacy concern. But what else happen? Souls to the polls
works because you can go vote people in and out of office.
BUTLER: Exactly. Exactly.
SPENCE: So, what I am thinking about is kind of another way around this,
another way to get at this. So, if you look at the most successful, the
stuff that was mind-blowing to me wasn`t the president`s election, it was
all this stuff that happened at the state level.
SPENCE: So you are talking about California peeling back three strikes,
you are talking about California getting a super majority, right? In a
number of other states that happens. So, what can we do at the state level
to begin to organize people ...
BUTLER: Exactly. Exactly.
SPENCE: ... both in cities and in institutions where we are already
congregating to then create the moral imperative that the president has to
SPENCE: That`s the --
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is in many ways the model of the civil rights
SPENCE: The street model.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So you have -- even -- I mean even if you go to the
model of Montgomery and Birmingham ...
HARRIS-PERRY: You end up with local policy fights ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... that end up leading to that `65 Voting Rights Act.
HARRIS-PERRY: Not because King went and made a speech to Johnson and said,
you need to do better ...
BUTLER: Yes. Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: But because ...
BUTLER: It grows (ph) up from underneath. That grows from underneath.
And that`s exactly what you are talking about. Completely correct.
HARRIS-PERRY: Clearly, this family has got a lot of Thanksgiving politics.
And we are going to stay on exactly that topic as soon as we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we`re back talking about the politics of holding the
president accountable from the left. All right, Lester.
SPENCE: But I had to get warmed up.
SPENCE: That`s my first time in the joint. So, this is the -- this is
what -- I talked about that state issue. We`ve got people already
organizing at local issues, doing real organizing, not mobilizing, you
know, come vote for my boy, I mean doing real grassroots organizing. And
what we have to do is create more space for that organizing, right? So, in
a state like Maryland, Maryland wanted to create a jail, a $104 million
jail for youth charged as adults. And we know that means, right?
SPENCE: It was a coalition of black youth and the white left in Occupy
Baltimore that actually stopped that or at least kept it from taking place.
So, it`s like that type of organizing is the type of things we have to
create. And then, that creates a moral incentive for the president and
other legislatures to do it. That`s the only way we can actually win this.
MOODIE-MILLS: And the (inaudible) moral incentive, I mean it`s political
pressure too, right?
MOODIE-MILLS: Because if we are talking about organizing from the ground.
We have to remember that the president still has to deal with the House.
MOODIE-MILLS: And the House is steel led by John Boehner and the
Republicans and so ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Who will keep saying that he is not compromising even
when he is. Right so ...
HARRIS-PERRY: It is like the upside down world, right, because on the one
hand, you have the left saying, you are caving, you are caving, you are
HARRIS-PERRY: And then on the right, you have them saying, he is a brick
wall who won`t cooperate. And, you know, that makes that capacity really
MOODIE-MILLS: Right. This idea of negotiating and compromising is nothing
is working because it is really the president bumping heads with the House.
I think that until we can get that ground swell like you are talking about
happening in Maryland to put pressure on those sitting members of the
House, that is -- that`s the only thing that`s going to help the president
be able to get things done. We have to work from the ground to put
pressure on those other elected officials.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what I love about that it says, the job here isn`t
yelling at the president, it`s yelling at those House members.
HARRIS-PERRY: ...that the accountability is in part about saying, Mr.
Boehner, last week you said ACA, Affordable Care Act, was the law of the
land. This week, you are putting it on the table during the fiscal cliff.
No, we need health care in this country. The Supreme Court has said that
it is legal. You have to take -- you know, so it`s -- there is (inaudible)
there is an accountability question for the president, particularly on the
things that presidents do, like drones.
HARRIS-PERRY: There is. But on the domestic policy side, it can`t be just
MOODIE-MILLS: And the strategy can`t be -- I mean if we look at the
success that the LGBT movement had, that the immigration movement had, in
the first presidential term, you have to understand, that it wasn`t
President Obama just sitting in his Oval Office deciding he was going to
wave a wand and do things that substantially supported those communities.
It was the communities organizing on the ground trying to move policy and
working from the ground up that then created an environment and a climate
where the president could move the ball down the road. And I think that
for other issues, whether we are talking about climate change, or we are
talking about economic justice. Otherwise, it has to come from the ground
ROBERTS: -- with the LGBT community, what needs to be done still, and for
immigration reform, what needs to be done still, there is a long way to go.
And President Obama did have this coalition, a majority of minorities, that
came together to put him back in office. And everybody on this second term
does expect to see some type of movement for them.
BUTLER: Yes. Exactly.
ROBERTS: And as you point out, you know, there needs to be something for
everybody. You know, President Obama likes to make the phrase that he is
the president of all. And so, all need to feel that way.
ROBERTS: And all need to feel that they have his eyes and attention on
what is of concern to them.
BUTLER: Yes. And I think the most important thing now, the biggest thing
is 2014. It is time to get some of these folks out. Because obstruction
is going to continue. And if we are going to have a chance to really do
something from 2014 to 2016, what people have just to start to mobilize on
the state level to begin to push these representatives out. These people
that have been recalcitrant, those 95 guys who wrote the letter about, you
know, about Rice ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Susan Rice and everything else, it is time to get these
clowns out of office, period, end of story.
ROBERTS: You think that (inaudible) would not show back up in Washington,
HARRIS-PERRY: And yes, yes.
ROBERTS: The cement shoes are still in Washington DC.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here they are. Aisha, thank you so much for joining us
today. And the rest are all coming back for more, because there is another
Obama also having a second term. First lady Michelle Obama. We are going
to talk about what her second termite look like next.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: On Inauguration Day, President Barack
Obama will officially begin his second term in office. But it will also be
the start of the second term for the person who`s right by his side and way
ahead of him in approval numbers throughout his first term, First Lady
After watching her every move for the last four years, whether that
move was planting the White House garden or teaching us how to doggie, we
have all become well-versed in the Michelle Obama version of first lady-
No, it didn`t follow the Hillary Clinton model, putting her Ivy
League degrees and professional experience behind proposing and promoting
policy, but it also didn`t follow the completely traditional model of first
ladies who -- let`s face it -- have tended not to move around so much.
No, Michelle Obama has carved out a unique way of being first lady,
simply being herself. Remember her official White House photo. What you
might most recall about it are: there are two things unlike any portrait of
any first lady before and after, her left and right arms. Welcome to the
gun show, America.
But look closer, you`ll see something more remarkable about this
photo. Right there in the room with her, looking out over her well-toned
left shoulder is President Thomas Jefferson. By picking this back drop for
her portrait, the first lady also brought into the room another part of
White House history where women like her were treated like property instead
of people. Yet, there she stands on the other end of that timeline, a
living rebuke to that history, her body, her personhood, possessed by no
one but herself.
More than any of the other women that have held the title before her,
Michelle Obama has chosen to make herself the actual embodiment of her
agenda as first lady. As the most visible proponent for her Let`s Move
campaign to tackle childhood obesity, she doesn`t just talk the talk, but
she walks the walk, or more accurately, she runs.
Over the last four years, we`ve seen her racing barefoot on the White
House lawn and we have been chained into stepping up our gym game after
watching her drop and give us 20 as if she could easily do 20 more. We
have discovered that she is not the one to play around with in a hula hoop
contest. As we`ve watched her jumping Double Dutch like it was just
yesterday she was little Michelle Robinson on the south side of Chicago.
Listen, as we have become acquainted with Michelle Obama`s way of
being the first lady, we couldn`t help but notice her way of being wife to
the president. And judging by the fact that this photo was the most
retweeted message in Twitter history, we have noticed a lot.
With me at the table: Anthea Butler, professor of religious studies
and graduate chair of the religion at the University of Pennsylvania, MSNBC
anchor Thomas Roberts, Lester Spence, associate professor of political
science at John Hopkins, and joining us is Katie McCormick Lelyveld --
KATIE MCCORMICK LELYVELD, MICHELLE OBAMA`S FORMER PRESS. SECY.:
HARRIS-PERRY: Lelyveld. Secretary to -- former press secretary to
first lady, Michelle Obama.
And I want to begin with you, because, obviously, you saw first lady
Obama up close and personal during the first term. How much of the
Michelle Obama that we see is an intentional portrayal and how much of it
is just her authentic self coming across?
LELYVELD: I actually think it is 100 percent of her authentic self.
When I started working for her in the spring of 2007, you know, what we
wanted to do is put her in these venues where she could really be herself
and relate to people on a level of shared experiences. You know, she is
that genuine purpose when you see her giving hugs on the rope line, when
you see her playing around with kids, she is mom-in-chief. That is no
joke. She is a warm, approachable, accessible person off camera and on.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is interesting as you bring up the point about mom-
in-chief. I know there was some sort of critique that emerged often from
the sort of second wave feminist movement that said, OK, you can`t -- you
can`t say mom-in-chief. We have come too far.
And I kept saying, no, no, no. When an African-American woman says,
my family is more important than any other thing, that`s almost politically
subversive in its historical power.
ANTHEA BUTLER: Yes, it is. And I think, you know, to give the
feminists some credit, I think they were trying to move forward. But I
just like, you know, you have to understand that with African-American
women, where things being said about as being mothers, you know, we are not
good enough mothers or we are not paying attention, I think it was really
important for First Lady Obama to say this first of all.
And second, it`s important to see her with the girls, OK? To see two
young African-American women being raised in the White House, you know,
outside of the public eye on one hand but on the other hand having this
mother sort of hovering around them --
HARRIS-PERRY: And the grandmother.
BUTLER: And the grandmother. I mean, that`s the blended family
again, right, to sort of tie it to the first part.
I think the second piece of this is just to see her move. I mean, to
not be this figure that is static. And with all of the negative imagining
that came from, you know, conservatives, some of the conservatives on the
right on the web with the awful pictures and things that they do, I think
it is amazing that she continues to go forward in the midst of all that and
does what she does without reservation and without hesitation.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I have such mixed feelings about that, the hug
picture that was the final image. On the one hand, I loved it because it
was -- I`ve been reelected and the most important thing I do is say, you
know, is to hug my wife.
But there is also that backbone of the community thing that sometimes
happens, and I like -- the sense that we don`t see her face. Am I way, way
LELYVELD: I think you are.
HARRIS-PERRY: I often do that.
LELVYELD: For me, you know, I`m now an outsider. But it showed the
power of their strength and partnership. But when we first started in
2009, when we first got to the White House, and Mrs. Obama made it clear to
us, that she did not want to get started -- she wanted to make sure that
whatever we were going to work on was going to have a strategic and
impactful, tangible impact in people`s lives.
But she didn`t want to do a thing until she knew her girls were good.
So, we spent the first several months getting out meeting the different
government departments whether they were career or staff or new to the
teams, to say, we are here, we are the new game in town. We look forward
to all working together.
We were doing our homework for Let`s Move and joining forces at the
time. But it was not until those girls said, we are good, soccer is good,
friends are good, school is good. Then we started. You`ll see that, you
know, Let`s Move took off a couple months after that.
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: And she is a political animal for
sure, because she knows how the mom-in-chief thing is going to work.
Obviously, her first concern is for the girls but she has become the
president`s best weapon in terms of re-election being out on the campaign.
I mean, she is a force because she is so likeable, certainly, to men
and women alike. But she will show up with this $17 J. Crew sweater that
you find in the back of the store. You are psyched you find a deal on the
VELYVELD: She is a real person.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think the point, you know, if you ask, what did she
accomplish in her first term? The answer is, she was part of the team that
got the president reelected. Like we are talking before about first term
and second term, that`s what -- you know, she is the wife of Barack Obama
but she is part of the team of President Obama. And in her role as that
team member, right, she effectively helped to get him reelected.
VELYVELD: We actually were teased in 2007 in Iowa. We called her
the closer, because there was so much about her story -- whether you are an
African-American, a working woman, a daughter, a wife, that there is an
opportunity for shared experience and relationship building and trust
building. And that`s what helped seal the deal.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s is fascinating that it did given that there
was a point in the campaign sort of early on where the discourse was that
Michelle Obama was somehow going to be a liability to her husband. But
then, by the end of the first term, she is the closer.
LESTER SPENCE, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: So, what I remember is
Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law professor. And he taught both of them. What
he said was that Michelle was a duped (ph) one. I`m sorry. It`s an
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right, she was the star.
SPENCE: Michelle was the star. So, at no point did I not believe
she was the power. So, it`s just a matter of translating that to wider
So, I remember when --
HARRIS-PERRY: But there is danger particularly in black communities
where the notice of this overwhelming black woman -- like when you say
that, I think, she is navigating both being powerful and also somehow not
appearing to be emasculating.
SPENCE: Well, I think she -- yes. She has to navigate that. She
has to navigate that particularly in this position. This way she becomes
kind of a Hillary Clinton 2.0, and that she is really, really powerful, but
there are constraints around what the first lady can do that kind of -- you
know, driven by sexism they narrow that.
But with that said, I don`t think she`d have to navigate that hurdle.
In fact, I think her presence -- her presence made it such that the only
people who ask if Barack Obama was really black were Stanley Crouch and
Nobody else asked that question, because she was there and because
they saw how bad she was.
HARRIS-PERRY: By which you mean?
SPENCE: Oh, I`m sorry -- good.
SPENCE: First time on the show. That`s my language.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we chewed over the first lady`s first term just a
bit. When we come back, we will talk about the first lady`s second term
and how it came to be that American fell in love with the first lady.
HARRIS-PERRY: A funny thing happened to Michelle Obama on the way to
the White House. In January 2009, after months of being mischaracterized
as an angry, radical and unpatriotic -- America fell in love with her, and
her approval skyrocketed to a high of 68 percent. That`s 25 percentage
points higher than it had been at the same time in 2008.
After a peak at 72 percent later that year, the first lady approval
numbers dropped only slightly to about 66 percent in 2010 where it has held
almost steady for the last two years. She had a 65 percent favorability
when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention in September. You
just can`t buy that kind of political capital.
So, it raises the question, in the next four years, how does Michelle
Obama plan to spend that capital?
So, you know, we talked a bit about this sort of, Let`s Move. Will
we see a more policy-oriented nature of that program, not -- so more than
just sort of kids and family should be healthy, but we should address food
and environmental injustice, food availability, nutritional supplements,
those kinds of questions?
BUTLER: Yes, I think actually, she might be more affected without
doing it in a policy way, but doing it the same way she has been doing.
One of the things I wish she would push forward even more is the idea of
everybody having a garden, because that`s one of the great things. That
can help in the food desert areas and we have in the big, major cities in
this country where people don`t get enough fresh food. To get kids out
working and a garden I think is a great thing.
The other thing I was sort of thinking about in all of this is how
she might she be able to speak in a different kind of way about things
either historically or what we see as the nation in the future. I think
she has a different way and a different place to say that to sort of set
the stage for where we are going in the future and what happens after those
four years are over with. So, I wonder if she could be a little more
forward looking to say, you know, this is what I hope for our kids, this is
what I hope, you know, this looks like for military families in the future.
This is what I hope vis-a-vis certain kinds of policy issues but not
trying to make that policy on her own.
SPENCE: So, I would say -- following up on that, our families are
becoming clearer in a way, right? In that they are a whole different set
of arrangements we couldn`t have possibly imagined, you know, back in the
day, 40 years ago, much less 20 years ago. And I think she can do an
excellent job with transitioning us.
SPENCE: Thus, she has a strong rhetorical role to play.
SPENCE: But, another , you know, her kids are about -- her oldest is
going to be college age. So, you know, I am thinking about this student
debt issue. I realize -- you know, I got five tuitions I`m responsible
And student debt is becoming -- most of the kids that I`m teaching,
you know, their parents are going into significant debt to put them through
school. There is a way for her to, again, rhetorically to create a space,
maybe a richer conversation about the debt --
ROBERTS: He has always been very up front about the fact that he and
Michelle had just paid off their student loans not that long ago. And you
make a great point. And, Katie, you brought this up too about the
environments that Mrs. Obama was placed in where she could be our authentic
self and truly shine and people could fall in love with her.
And first person examples of like, OK, we are dealing with the girls
and going to college. We are filling out this paperwork. You know, being
able to talk about that from first person just like she has done with Let`s
The other thing that`s been amazing, I think, is that fact that she
and Dr. Jill Biden have been very out front on vets issues.
HARRIS-PERRY: Particularly hiring vets.
ROBERTS: Hiring vets. And the other thing we have heard from this
administration that I don`t think we`ve heard from any other administration
so vocally, is about community college kids and the fact that they have
been up front about praising community colleges and two-year degrees and
drawing attention to people who have been kind of shoed aside as if a two-
year degree, that`s just a two-year degree, but has been exalted through
the president, the vice president, Dr. Joe Biden and Mrs. Obama.
LELYVELD: I`m sorry. I just want to say -- we would always say
about Mrs. Obama, that she is sort of where policy and people intersect.
She is not sitting at the policy table. But she is getting out into the
community and insuring what the president and his team are working on are
in line with what people really need.
That`s why when you look at Let`s Move, it has that multifaceted
effort to it. There are salad bars in schools. There`s kids yanking
carrots out of the ground. There`s doctors more involved. Parents getting
more involved. The goal is to reduce it in a generation. So, this is --
you know, we`ve got another 25 years to this fight.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, given that the last Democratic first lady is
now the secretary of state, right, for the United States, I think there is
undoubtedly a little bit of an impulse to ask whether or not Michelle
Obama, who will still be a very young woman, a woman in her early 50s when
the terms are over, whether or not she is going to seek public office and
I have never seen anything in what she says or self-represents that
she wants to be an office holder. But I do imagine like an Eleanor
Roosevelt sort of role for her when she becomes the moral conscience for
the party, that encourages the party to continue, and becomes a rainmaker
for legislative candidates over the years.
LELYVELD: She gets that question a lot. Do you want -- you know,
will you run for president when your husband is out of office? She says,
absolutely not, no thank you.
There are a lot of different ways you can effect change. As she did
before she became first lady, Public Allies in Chicago, she started that in
1993. This youth leadership program is lifting up young people, reach back
and lifting up the people. You know, once you have reached a goal, lifting
the people behind you.
There`s a lot you can do outside elected office to create change.
THOMAS: Well, certainly, with the most diverse elected Congress
coming into session, while she might not be able to inject policy, she can
certainly throw her weight behind certain elected leaders that are doing
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, with 66 percent approval rating, there is
political capital to be used there.
Lester, thank you so much for joining us today. I greatly appreciate
But when we come back, we are talking about this youth question. You
are going to give up your seat to a young person because we have --
remember, when they entered the White House, they were little girls. But
now, they are going to leave at teens. We want to talk about the impact of
Sasha and Malia Obama, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: When the president first vowed to bring change to
America, few of us could have imagined at the time how applicable that
would be for the two little girls who would join him and the first lady in
the White House. Malia and Sasha have been one of the most visible
reminders of the four years that have passed since the Obamas first took up
residence of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
We`ve watched them grow from chubby-cheek little girls to poised
statuesque young ladies who are giving their mother a run for her money as
By the time the president leaves office, Malia Obama will be old
enough to cast a vote for his successor, and a whole generation of grown up
right along with her.
Joining our panel as a member of that generation and one of our
Nerdland favorite people, 18-year-old Emily Carpenter, who`s organized --
who`s a youth organizer for Girls for Gender Equity and a senior at New
York`s School for the Future.
It`s nice to see you again, Emily.
EMILY CARPENTER, GIRLS FOR GENDER EQUITY: Nice to see you, too.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it was -- realizing that Malia Obama will be of
voting age when her father leaves office made us want to talk to someone
who is sort of part of this Malia generation. What generation, if at all,
if any, has it made for you to have the Obama daughters in the White House?
CARPENTER: Good question. I feel like so when I was -- I believe I
was 14 when his first term started. I was really excited, but I didn`t
really -- I was still really young and didn`t know what that was going to
mean for me to have this family, the Obama family in the White House. And
over the past four years, seeing someone who kind of looks like me has been
even more influential, not just for me, but for my little cousins, to see
people in positions of power, in positions that mean something that aren`t
just in the entertainment industries.
And so, to see mostly for the people younger than me to see Sasha and
Malia and Michelle and President Obama is really important. Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: On the one hand, we get this amazing symbol. My
daughter was just a little, little girl when they were elected. So she
will really grow up with them.
On the other hand, we have the realities of being urban youth, being
African-American youth and how tough it still is for kids beyond the
symbols. Do young people in your high school talk about the politics of
economics and student loans and college and jobs?
CARPENTER: They do. They do talk about those things and I feel like
-- I`m sorry -- they do talk about the things about like college, paying
That`s the biggest topic right now. How are we going to pay? Who is
going to pay? I don`t want to have to be overwhelmed with loans just for
undergrad. That`s -- everyone in my class is stressed about that right
HARRIS-PERRY: How do -- is there a space? Is if this is where
politics and people meet, right, Emily is a person dealing with politics
and policy -- is there any space for the first lady to have a particular
role in this sort of discourse?
LELYVELD: Well, I would imagine she and her team are hard at work
figuring out how they can both -- they can most strategically help the
president`s next four years. I don`t know the answers to those questions.
But this is certainly a major issue for them.
But getting back to the girls for just a second, I think one thing
that`s been particularly important is the role that their grandmother has
played. Having privacy for those girls so that they can grow up, be
teenagers, be real people, you know, not get caught up in all of this, I
think keeping them whole and centered and grounded has been a real
achievement over the last four years. Everyone respecting their privacy is
a very big deal so she can remain little people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is that something new or is that typically been how
press has dealt with first daughters and first sons in the White House, to
provide some opportunities for sheltering and privacy?
THOMAS: You know, I think because of the way that we have developed
as a media and the way social media has developed, certainly, they would
like to keep Sasha and Malia in a protective bubble and allow them to
develop. They didn`t choose to go into elected life.
I think Chelsea Clinton growing up was the first example where we had
another child in the White House. The Bush twins, you know, they needed
their privacy to grow up and flourish and go to college and do crazy, wild
And Sasha and Malia, hopefully, they will get to have their crazy,
wild college times. I mean, I was talking about the oldest daughter
getting to go to college by the time in the next couple of years. Of
course, hopefully, you know -- and Emily is going to have some wild times
ROBERTS: But I like Emily said you were young when President Obama
took office. I was young too. I was 36. And it was good.
You know, while we have an example of this family in office, you
know, I`ll never get over that we`ve had an example of a leader who relates
to more people on more levels and not just by the fact that he is a good
HARRIS-PERY: But as much as the girls are off limits in a certain
way, they are also -- he draws them in when he talks about policy. So, he
will say things like, I`m supporting this policy because it is good for the
girls or when I look at my girls, I think this. So, there is a way that,
at least discursively, the girls are part of sort of an Obama
administration narrative about policy.
BUTLER: Yes. And it makes him empathetic to women`s issues. You
know, think about reproductive rights and all these other kinds of issues
and you can`t not help but think about your daughters and what it means for
your daughters to be able to access the same kind of help, granted, they
are in the White House.
HARRIS-PERRY: But the challenge is that most daughters are not.
BUTLER: Yes, they are not in the same place. But it does make it
The other thing I was going to tie in to something you said about the
grandmother being there. It makes for this very interesting thing about a
blended family but also seeing the younger girls with their grandmother.
And I think this is a really important symbol for people. There are
a lot of grandparents raising kids right now, because either the parents
are busy or they have care for them. That also is another way for this.
I think especially for Sasha and Malia growing up in this
environment, we are seeing them be normal, OK? That is the biggest thing
I think, because people -- you probably don`t remember this, but
people really picked on Amy Carter. They picked on her looks. They picked
on Chelsea as well.
I think the way that they have protected their two daughters has been
amazing and it`s been great and you`ll be able to see them blossom and grow
because of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, our goal, of course, is policymaking that
extends that protection to all the Emilys and Sashas and Malias of the
Thank you, Thomas Roberts. I really appreciate you.
ROBERTS: I love being here. Nerdland is one of my favorite places
on the weekend.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m glad you came in and hang out.
Thank you, Katie, for coming in, giving us some of that inside
insight on the first lady.
Anthea and Emily are going to be back in just a bit.
But, right after the break, how kings and queens are changing the
lives of students in Brooklyn.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you live outside of the New York area, you may not
have heard of Brooklyn`s IS-318. It`s a junior high school in the
neighborhood of Williamsburg. Seventy percent of IS-318 students live
below the poverty line -- 70 percent. Yet, the school has won more
national chess championships than any other junior high in the country,
more than 30 and counting.
A new documentary, "Brooklyn Castle", follows five students on their
journey to statewide and national championship amidst drastic budget cuts
to after-school programs, including chess. One of those students is
Rochelle Ballantyne, who is on her way to becoming the first African-
American woman chess master.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROCHELLE BALLANTYNE, FORMER STUDENT, IS-318, BROOKLYN, NY: I have
the goal of becoming a master, the first African-American female master.
Since I was in eighth grade when I realize that, when I was so close to
2,000, I was like, I can really do this.
It`s realistic. I know I can do it but it`s harder now. I believe
in my dream less now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, her dream is becoming more of a reality now.
Rochelle joins me now, along with her assistant principle and chess coach,
Welcome to both of you.
JOHN GALVIN, CHESS COACH: Thank you.
BALLANTYNE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: You even brought chess, and you could beat me in three
moves so we are not going to play.
But, listen, Rochelle, you have won four national championships. You
are at this moment kind of waiting on college acceptance letters. But
where -- what is chess to you in your life? What is chess for you?
BALLANTYNE: Chess is my life. That`s what chess is. When I was in
third grade, chess taught me to be humble.
My grandmother, she would always beat me. So, when I beat other
people, it taught me to not brag about it and accept the fact that I`m not
the best chess player but I`m on my way to being there.
And now, as a high school senior, chess has taught me to strategize
and it`s taught me comprehension and it`s taught me -- chess resolves
around my life. And so, my success stems from chess, whether academic or
HARRIS-PERRY: So, accomplishment, humility, strategy, all of those
things. That sounds like what a school should be doing and yet I was
pulling my hair out last night watching the documentary, because you kept
having to manage with budget cuts and budget cuts and taking exactly this
that does all of this, Rochelle, away.
GALVIN: Since 2008, our program has really struggled with budget
cuts that have hit public schools all across the entire country. And so,
you know, we`ve really had to fight hard to keep the best chess program in
America going. You know, there is a lot of news about the fiscal cliff,
the fiscal cliff, as though it is coming in January. For most public
schools, it hits every single year.
So, it`s been a real struggle to fund our program. But that`s a
basic bargain we make with our students. Students who are the best at
chess shouldn`t have to worry about whether they are going to have the
opportunity to play against the best in the country.
So, my job is to make sure that they can get to play against the
absolutely best people in the country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Even hearing you make that sentence -- we have to
struggle to keep the best chess program in the country alive. I think,
sort of why should that be that you would need to struggle? I mean, you
have shown the accomplishment. You have shown that you can do this often
with students whom I think people would imagine couldn`t do this.
GALVIN: I think if one person -- if I could show this to one person,
I would be like Mitt Romney because after -- I know the election is over.
GALVIN: But, you know, when he made comments about the 47 percent as
though people who struggle in America, struggle economically, that somehow
they are entitled to certain things. I would love for him to see this
movie to see the parents in our film who often are working class folks who
work harder than any people that I know, the teachers in our building who
really work so hard to empower the kids in our school.
So I think that people who have ideas about entitlement need to see
this film and understand the struggles that people go through, you know,
are real. Public schools can be successful in this great country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Rochelle, one of the great things that struck me about
the film was the team nature of chess, that on the one hand, it is you, you
in that competition, but it`s also you all as a team. What aspect of the
team part of chess has been important for you?
BALLANTYNE: Chess -- my chess team in 318 is sort of like my second
family, probably because we did chess so much. We had chess as a class, we
had chess after school. We have played in tournaments every Saturday, like
I saw them more often than I saw my own family. And so, that`s how like we
became closer that way.
HARRIS-PERRY: When you play, you are almost always playing against
boys, right? This is not track and field. They don`t put the girls in one
Does that make any difference for you as a young woman to be sitting
BALLANTYNE: I guess it boosts up my ego a bit, because I like
HARRIS-PERRY: You find it a particular accomplishment to beat the
BALLANTYNE: Yes, especially the cocky ones who think they are
automatically better than me because I`m a girl. So, I guess it sort of
gives me a confidence boost.
So -- in general, they are all people. So beating them just proves
that I`m a good chess player.
HARRIS-PERRY: So there is a little bit of the language of proving
that I hear from both of you, about proving what you could do and proving
what the team can do and proving what the school can do. There is so much
evidence here of what you can do. What is, sort of -- as you are passing
this along and other young people are coming in, what does it mean to have
proven this? What`s the sort of big end game beyond being the world chess
BALLANTYNE: I guess it is kind of I`m happy that I get to inspire
young girls who are trying to join, be a part of chess and who are like,
who don`t think they could do it because it`s such a male-dominated field.
And so, that`s why I`m happy I`m doing this. But also, the fact that what
chess can give you as a young woman -- so as I`m trying to get into
college, what chess has given me throughout the years.
HARRIS-PERRY: Very good. We are going to get back on this topic as
soon as we come back. We are going to bring a couple more voices back to
the table, including -- we are going to bring Anthea back. And she is, of
course, a professor at the university that you most hope to get an
acceptance letter from.
Don`t go anywhere.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We introduced something worth raising money, talk
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, that`s something we always did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I`m a school president of I.S. 318. As you
know, the state has been hit hard by the budgets and people down here in
Brooklyn have disagreed to the budget cuts that has affected the New York
City`s school system.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys are going to write to Lentol. You guys
are going to write to Lopez. This is your opportunity to have your voice
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Stronger course work, increase attendance in class and
better behavior -- these are just some benefits associated with quality
after-school programs. One study shows that students that participate in
after-school programs are 50 percent less likely to initiate drug use than
their peers. But the sense of personal pride and accomplishment that comes
from programs like the one featured in the documentary "Brooklyn Castle"
can`t even be quantified.
We are back with two of the stars of "Brooklyn Castle", junior high
school Brooklyn I.S. 318 assistant principal, John Galvin, and chess champ
Rochelle Ballantyne. Back with us also, Anthea Butler of University of
Pennsylvania, and Emily Carpenter of Girls for Gender Equity.
This question of young people like Rochelle and others needing to go
raise the money to do the work they are doing, on the one hand, it shows us
how hard-working and dedicated they are. It also shows us from my
perspective, how much we are failing these students. That they should --
they should just -- if you are a student of this quality, you ought to be
able to get on the bus, get on the plane, and go fly to the chess
How much do start to change the policy to make that possible?
BUTLER: Well, I think one of the things we have to do is realize
that we can`t just continue to gut education policies. I mean, kids like
Rochelle need to be able to go wherever she needs to in order to do this
and to realize that we want to invest in our kids. I mean, what is
happening is we are undercutting people who are really very smart and
they`re not going to be able to do the kind of education they need later if
we don`t invest in them at this level when they are in high school, junior
high, everything else.
So, cutting programs like after school, cutting the kinds of
opportunities, we have for field trips and all these other things.
BUTLER: I mean, it`s just ridiculous. We must stop the cuts. We
absolutely have to.
HARRIS-PERRY: And if it`s all just, you know, taking courses for the
test, Emily --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- the kind of after-school work you do is political
organizing. And part of what I saw was, you were saying, write the letters
to your political leaders. Would you be who -- you know, when you think
about sort of who you are and what you have accomplished, how important was
Girls for Gender Equity important as part of that?
CARPENTER: So important. It gave me a place where I knew I would be
safe and where I could take what I learned in school and apply it to my
real life, a place where I was meeting kids from all over the city, from
all over Brooklyn, Queens, all the boroughs. And I feel like that space
was so vital to me growing up and being who I am today. So --
HARRIS-PERRY: Rochelle, you talked about the idea of being nerd or
geek. I`d like to say, Emily is one of our favorite teenage nerds. We
always use Nerdland in part to say, if you are socially awkward or you`re
not the most popular girl in school, that`s fine. Like what we want to
celebrate and love are the accomplishments.
But I heard you say in the film, well, I might be a nerd in one way
but I totally not in others.
What do you do with that title of nerd or geek?
BALLANTYNE: I don`t like titles. Like I consider myself smart and
my grades show that. And I play chess and chess is deemed as a geeky
sport. I`m completely OK with that, because, as long as I have my friends
who support me and all my decisions, chess-wise and my family, who are
proud of me for what I`ve done, that`s all I could ask for.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love this sense that in a certain way, an
accomplishment in a field that is nontraditional in certain ways,
nontraditional around gender and nontraditional around race, provides a
little bit of, as was said on the film, a little swagger about what you
GALVIN: When you walk through the school building, all the trophies
of the chess team won are not hidden away. You know, we celebrate the
success of our smart kids in the school because we think, you know, that
being smart is really cool. And we have banners and we have the chess hall
So, we try to celebrate the intellectual achievements. A lot of
schools celebrate football and basketball. That`s good, too.
GALVIN: But, you know, in the end, we think that, you know, chess
offers something that kids really can latch hold of. And it really
deserves that these amazing accomplishments from these kids from Brooklyn
needs to be celebrated.
HARRIS-PERRY: And both of you young ladies are waiting over the
course of this next week or so for early acceptance letters from Ivy League
universities. Would you have thought of applying to an Ivy, you know, sort
of in fifth grade or fourth grade when you first started thinking about it
or was this part of chess for you?
BALLANTYNE: For me, it`s when I was in elementary school, I wanted
to be a lawyer. That`s what I want to do. Ever since then, my mom has
been putting me in legal programs.
Ivy Leagues, they were there but I didn`t think I would get in. And
part of what chess did is help me boost my confidence to say like my mom
would always tell me, Rochelle, you are good enough. With me, it would
always be, I`m OK but I`m not deserving of that opportunity.
But like chess has taught me that like I`m good enough. I deserve to
play with the big boys and I can beat the big boys and I can go to college
with the big boys. And so, applying to Ivy Leagues was a decision that I
made because I was like, hey, why not? Like I`m good enough to get in. I
deserve a chance to be at one of the best schools in the country. So, why
HARRIS-PERRY: How about you, Emily?
CARPENTER: Well, I felt when I was in elementary school, I wanted to
be in an actress. So that`s always just I was going to act. That`s what I
was going to do.
But I feel like my after school programs really did, like Rochelle,
like taught me that I was worth it, that I could compete, that I could go
to a competitive school. So working with girls through gender equity,
doing self-defense, like also something that`s male dominated has helped me
see that I can apply for a top school and can go for what I want. And I
think that definitely, the after-school programs have helped me the most
HARRIS-PERRY: What does it say about us that I am this inspired by
young women under 20? Like there`s something kind of both fabulous and
also appalling about how much they have accomplished.
BUTLER: Well, I mean, it`s not appalling. I started thinking, what
is the word -- looking at both of you. Both of you have got a lot of
confidence because you were doing these events in school. And it was part
of, whether it was after school playing chess or you organizing and all
And so, many kids don`t have this way in which they can jump into
something and feel like they own it, you know?
BUTLER: That piece of ownership that you know you did something
that`s really great and putting up the trophies and everything -- I mean,
growing up in high school is really hard. This is a moment where people
pick at you for all sorts of things. If you can have this one thing that
you are really good at -- I mean, it`s amazing.
When I was going through, it is very difficult to be the smart kid.
Nobody wants to talk to you or you get shunned or all these other kind of
things just as though you shun people that might not be as smart as the
other side -- at the other end of the spectrum.
But I do think what is happening now is a way in which we must invest
in our educational system so that kids can have a chance, because not
everybody is going to come from a great family, not everybody is going to
be able to get that kind of, you know, enforcement at home to sit down and
do the homework and everything else. And I think it does something for
BUTLER: It makes them see that you can be involved in your child`s
educational process as well. And to not let this just go away simply
because there is not enough money and everything else. There are ways to
get around these things and really fight for our kids` education so that
our nation won`t just go down the tubes because we don`t have enough smart
people to do things.
HARRIS-PERRY: Emily and Rochelle, please promise us that you will
let us know as soon as you have heard from your universities. We will put
it up on your Web site. We want to follow your trajectory and everything
you are doing.
But also -- you know, again, also thank you for being the kind of
coach and educator that helps sort of -- you know, I see not only their
brilliance but the kind of emotional maturity that is part of this, and for
being an advocate not only for your students but more broadly.
GALVIN: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: It matters a lot to who we are going to be as a
nation. And embrace your inner nerds. You are always welcome here in
Up next, our foot soldiers of the week are helping us to understand
the true meaning of family.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have been talking a lot about family on the show
today. I want to turn now to one family that is particularly touching this
Our news colleague Robin Roberts of ABC remains on leave from her job
to undergo cancer treatment. It was Robin`s sister Sally-Ann, a local news
anchor in New Orleans, who donated the bone marrow that is crucial to
Robin`s recovery. The act was an example of family at its best.
But 11 million Americans now living with cancer, hardly families
untouched by the diseases` brutality. And our foot soldier this week
recognizes that as a society, we have to have a broader definition of
family if we`re going to fight back against cancer. Her name is Whitney
Christy and she`s a junior at Southeastern Louisiana University.
Whitney`s family has also been touched by cancer. Her father was
diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and his life was saved when
Whitney`s aunt donated marrow.
Inspired by what she saw in Roberts family and in her own, Whitney
decided to spearhead an initiative to record more bone marrow donors
throughout her community. She is the president of her school`s chapter of
the National Society of Leadership and Success. And through that program,
Whitney formed a partnership with Be the Match, the national marrow donor
Be the Match is a nonprofit organization the recruits bone marrow
donors and matches them with cancer patients and those with other life-
threatening blood diseases.
So, Whitney`s partnership even has a catchy name, #swabbin4robin in
honor of ABC host and SLU alum. The group organizes drives that university
sporting events where students can get their cheeks swab to have their DNA
entered into a national database of potential bone marrow donors. So far
in the four drives that Whitney`s organized, 253 people have been added to
the national registry. And Whitney says a crucial goal is getting more
minorities to be part of the registry.
"African-Americans are genetically diverse -- more genetically
diverse than those of other heritages, so it`s more difficult to find a
donor match. And while the registry has more than 9 million potential
donors in the database, only about 7 percent of those are of African-
American heritage. Only about 66 percent of African-American patients even
find a donor match. In fact, the database needs more representation from
Whitney goes on at great lengths to mystify the process of being a
marrow donor. She says 80 percent of the time, the entire procedure is as
simple as donating blood and each donor, like the 253 that Whitney had
added to the rolls is potentially saving a life.
For showing how a large desperate society can behave just a little
bit more like a family in the way that we care for another, Whitney Christy
is our foot soldier of the week.
And if you want to learn more about how you can become a bone marrow
donor, please visit our Web site, MHPshow.com.
That is our show for today. Thank you to Rochelle Ballantyne, to
John Galvin, Anthea Butler and Emily Carpenter.
Also thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you
tomorrow morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Professor Anita Hill will be here
with her vision of what`s ahead for women in 2013.
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