January 20, 2013
Guests: Matthew Breen, Mara Keisling, Wade Henderson, Barbara Arnwine, Valerie Jarrett, Jackie Speier, Elizabeth Alexander, Myrlie Evers-Williams
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, we are asking just one
question, what do you expect of the next four years? Yes, it is time for
another inauguration and Nerdland is in D.C. to bring you all the great
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry in Washington, D.C. where in less
than two hours; President Obama will take the oath of office for his second
term as president of the United States.
Shortly before noon, he will be sworn in during a small ceremony in the
White House blue room by Chief Justice John Roberts. MSNBC will bring
special live coverage of the historic moment.
Normally, for a reelected president, a second term is the time to begin
thinking about a legacy. Unburdened by the constraints of having to run
for re-election, a president is free to pursue the agenda that will
enshrine him in the ammo of American history. Among America`s greats were
Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson and it is got to be John Tyler or Chester
But for this U.S. president, the first African-American ever elected to the
office, that historical legacy has already been written before he even
officially began his first term. Four years ago, President Barack Obama
welcomed the weight of that legacy casting himself as a blank canvas upon
which we could all project our lofty hopes for change and great
expectations for the nation. The first item on his agenda furnished that
all ready bright legacy and suggested that those hopes were well placed.
President Obama tried and succeeded where previous Democratic presidents
tried and failed. He enacted legislation that provided universal health
care for all Americans. Four years after the first inauguration our lofty
hopes for what was possible have been dragged back down to earth by the
cold hand of reality and a Republican dominated House of Representatives.
This time around, our great expectations may feel like managed
expectations. But take a look at President Obama`s second term official
portrait. Does that look like the face of a man that`s lost hope for the
future? Even after losing congressional support for his agenda, President
Obama urged us to hold on to those high hopes in his 2011 state of the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We do big things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Just yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden reminded us that
this administration can and will continue to think big.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we`re on the cusp
of doing great things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Regardless of what he wanted to focus on in his first term
back in 2009, the biggest challenge awaiting our new president was economy
and free fall and big achievement for the auto industry and bringing the
economy back from the brink.
As the second term begins with unemployment exactly where it was from the
president`s first took office, after Republicans have the White House
bogged out and dragged out in debates over minutia like marginal interest
rates increases at manufacture crisis like the debt ceiling, we are left
wondering, when it comes to the economy can the president do big things?
My first guests today are E.J. Dionne, senior fellow at the Brookings
Institute and "Washington Post" columnist Ezra Klein who is an MSNBC policy
analyst and editor for "the Washington Post" want blog.
Hi, E.J. and Ezra.
EZRA KLEIN, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good morning.
E.J. DIONNE, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nice to be in D.C. and be with you guys. Thank you.
So Ezra, let`s start. Are there big things left to do on the economy or
are we tinkering with the tax code?
KLEIN: We are going to be grinding out a series of big things for the next
four years. And I think this is going to be the tough thing about it. In
the first term, particularly in the first two years, what you have was big
things yet eventually over a long period of time happen at once. So, one
day, President Obama sat down before desk, he sent page and protection act
into law and health care reform into law and healthcare form was done.
When we look back at this period of, say deficit reduction, it`s going to
be four or five deals, each one in endless, horrible slog through the D.C.
marshes. But, when you look back, it is going to be, you know, (INAUDIBLE)
for the long term. Budget deficit, maybe at some point, will be
infrastructure included in there.
So, in the second term, I think, the two things we are going to be really
seeing, unfortunately, we are not -- it does not look at the moment like we
are going to see much more on jobs. Even the White House is not fighting
very hard at this point for more on jobs. He let the pale tax expire, of
course, in the fiscal cliff deal. They have not made infrastructure a
condition of moving forward.
Deficit reduction is happening. We did get $600 billion in the fiscal
cliff deal on the tax side. And the question now is whether or not
Republicans are going to make a decision to have another deal that includes
revenues or I think this is now that other plausible option whether or not
they are going to make a decision that is better to do no more reduction
really over the second term if it is what it takes to keep the president
from getting more tax revenues.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask this. Because it feels like what I hear you
saying is deficit reduction.
And E.J., it seems as though we have a president who is legitimately a
deficit hawk. He legitimately believes that the deficit is a problem and
the deficit reduction is a priority. When you look at just sort of the
approval rate of Americans on handling of the economy, its split half and
half with a little bit more support for the president and 49 percent versus
about 48 percent disapproving. It feels like there`s at least a little bit
of room to do a big thing. But, this president, it gives him back to
DIONNE: Well, you know, I`m afraid that Ezra is right in describing what
we are going to be obsessed with which I think is really unfortunate
because you ask the question what big things are left. There are a lot of
big things left. We had inequality rising in the country for three
decades. We have had poverty going up partly because of the recession.
But, it is a huge problem in the country. We had the flight of
manufacturing jobs until recently. There`s a little bit of a turn around
there. It seems to me that President Obama`s biggest priority in his
second term should not be the deficit. It should be restoring shared
Now yes, we need to do something about the long term deficit. I think the
big argument is going to be between people who want to argue that the whole
deal is deficit reduction. Let`s spend all our time putting on our green
eye shades and talking these numbers. And Ezra will be excellent in
describing what the numbers need.
But in fact, we could get a deficit on a kind of decent course for a few
years with about 1.5 trillion deficit reduction you could split that, taxes
in spending. And then we can move on to other issues. You are going to
talk about it later, obviously guns and immigration. But, I think the
issue of can we restore, as Americans, restore, shared growth?
DIONNE: Some people at the bottom go up as well as people at the top.
That was the core promise for the Obama campaign.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Ezra, this seems like not a small point to be made
because there is no guarantee. So, even if we bring down the deficit,
there`s no guarantee that the next president will be a Democrat or even be
to the left of center. And that the things that we may want a deficit
reduction to have opened up the funds to do, some very well may not get
done. That is the sort of the story of the second Clinton administration
that gives way to Bush. You end up in the surplus but it doesn`t get spent
in the way of creating a shared rising of the boats.
KLEIN: Right. No. It was the great irony for the Clinton deficit hawks
who made this huge deals and made this tough decisions to bring down the
deficit. You got to surplus immediately. It gets sunk into huge cuts in
to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is hard to make that aim for not doing
it. But, I`m with E.J. and I think with you. I don`t think the deficit is
number one the biggest priority we have.
Number two, it`s actually going a lot better than people recognized. We
have done a lot more deficit reduction than people recognized you have done
around 3.3 trillion if you include the sequester, which I would and
healthcare cost growth has been slowing which is not in any considerable
thing, meaning that if that continues, our long term budget picture is
So, the question then, is will there be space in Washington to do big
things that affect the economy in another way? And one thing I think is
important to remember is that a lot of what would lead to the shared
economic growth that E.J. talks about, does not come necessarily in the
sort of policies we always associate as economic policies. It`s not all
tax reform or what we do on spending.
There`s been some talk that the Obama administration is considering making
a push on early childhood education. That, if you can do that, if you can
do them in a big way, is the single best investment we can make in our long
term economic future. Obviously, immigration reform is another thing on
the table that gets talked about. Immigrants are incredibly, incredibly
important to the American economy, both high skill and low skill
immigration. And so, if you can do that, again, it would be a huge boom to
So, one of the questions, in terms of a better growth pattern, whether we
can get out of actually the deficit conversation. And one sort of smart
thing Republicans have done here is enforcing it to be an endless series of
ground out self-endued crises like the government - near government have
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And we never get to have.
KLEIN: There`s no other agenda. It sucks up all of Washington.
DIONNE: Right. And that`s the problem with the three month extension on
the debt ceiling. The Republicans blinking and it is suggesting they don`t
want to fight this debt ceiling on this debt ceiling front, which would be
good. But, do -- they are just going to keep us going every three months.
So, we never get around to talking about the larger economic question.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because I don`t want to have entitlement
conversation in the context of the three-month debt ceiling deals. I mean,
if we are going talk entitlements, and I will ask, is there room to push on
the entitlements, not sort of just playing defense, but in fact suggest
that a larger social safety net, things like providing opportunities for
poor children beginning to close the wealth gap is a priority towards
DIONNE: Right. And Ezra raised the healthcare law. And I think it is
very important to remember that law isn`t fully operational and there is -
yes, exactly. And there is enormous amount of work to do. There is a lot
of resistance in the states. That`s going to be a struggle over the next
two years to make sure when hat is up and running, it actually works.
KLEIN: And one piece of that is in 1997, we did a balanced budget deal.
And one thing that happened when that period of Republicans and Democrats
actually came together to figure something up, was it actually step back
and as part of consolidating the budget, they decided to shift resources
and they kill investments. And that was the deal. That was a deficit
reduction deal. And one thing it created was a children`s health insurance
program which was an incredibly, incredibly important programs. It`s
functioning even today.
And so, it isn`t the case of periods of deficit consolidation. It have to
just mindless cutting and grinding these things out. You can`t think about
how to run a smarter government and how to move resources into things we
need. They just have to be willing to do it.
HARRIS-PERRY: I appreciate the notion of thinking big in the context of
the tough choices.
E.J. Dionne and Ezra, thank you so much. E.J. is actually going to be back
later as Ezra Klein is heading out for the day.
But up next, our great expectations on national security. The promises
kept and the promises still unfulfilled, when we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Today, 200,000 U.S. troops, excuse me, today only 200 U.S.
troops remain on the ground in Iraq. They are all that remains of the
139,500 troops there in January of 2009. Ending the war in Iraq was the
fulfillment of a promise from the president`s campaign. It was also a
signature achievement of his foreign policy record for the last four year.
As of another accomplishment that he never could have promised, but which
on he certainly delivered, the death of Osama bin Laden.
These, along with the drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan are part of
the president`s legacy on counterterrorism. But so, too, is this. Drone
strikes in Pakistan that killed hundreds including civilians and children,
secret killed it. The extra judicial killing of an American citizen in
Yemen, indefinite detention and the ongoing operation of Guantanamo Bay.
Here with me to grapple with the entirety of the president`s foreign policy
record is Chris Hayes, my friend and MSNBC colleague and host, of course,
of "up with Chris Hayes."
Good to see you.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, UP WITH CHRIS HAYES: This is a treat.
HARRIS-PERRY: I know. It is just like you and me, sitting at the table.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is a piece of the president`s sort of overall
strategy that you and I have had disagreements around. And so, I want to
try to think very fairly through. What are the things that we, as American
citizens, really need to be deeply concern about and be bringing pressure
ongoing to the next four years?
HAYES: Well, I think Look, you said Iraq in the interim. I think it`s
important. I just said this on my show, it is important. By the time that
Iraq ended, the nation was so disgusted, exhausted with the war there and I
think had felt they had made this ratifying choice in 2008 of the
president`s vision of bringing the war to a close, that it was an
afterthought. I mean, we devoted the whole show to the last day that U.S.
troops were in Iraq because we felt like this was the defining issue. This
was history. It was defining.
And let`s remember, I mean, the grand irony in all this is that President
Obama as a state senator doesn`t get up and go On the Record opposing the
war on Iraq. I think it`s hard to imagine he wins that primary. I mean,
that was the key to the fact that he then became president of the United
HARRIS-PERRY: With consensus of opinion in Hyde Park at that moment,
HAYES: Exactly, completely, politically what you would do as a state
senator from Hyde Park and I think also he believed it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I think he believed it. But you even had the
conservatives, you the realists, the John (INAUDIBLE), you know, who
intellectually were saying this is the wrong war. So, it was on the one
hand a completely safe position, but also once it became nationalized
rather than just this moment, it was brave.
HAYES: And that actually, that I think is good frame. So, the end of the
war in Iraq, the start treaty, which again, start treaty is like an a-15
type thing on the newspaper. It doesn`t get -- it`s incredibly important,
right? Nuclear weapons are, you know, massively destructive, dangerous
things. We have way more than we need, ever, as does Russia. And we have,
you know, over quite a bit of opposition expending quite a bit of political
HARRIS-PERRY: And crumbling infrastructure.
HAYES: Absolutely. So, that is a big accomplishment. The record on
Afghanistan, you know, he ran on adding more troops to Afghanistan. I
don`t think -- I think it`s hard to say it`s been successful. I think the
metrics show it`s not been successful, in terms of deaths have gone up.
That war is going to be brought to a close.
And finishing these things are harder than they look, correct? So, the
promise to drawdown is different than the realization of it. And if he
makes good on it, he will have ended two wars. And I think all of that, we
shouldn`t just like slough that off, ending wars is - ending wars are hard.
That`s what we learned in Vietnam. That`s what we learned in Iraq. It`s
what we are learning in Afghanistan. Ending wars are hard.
So, when you do end them, and of there is a real - there is a real
commendation that is due. The biggest thing, I think, the biggest critique
I have for this current administration is that it has embraced the
framework of the war on terror, extended it and deepened it.
And what that means is, it is now a permanent architecture of the American
security apparatus. And that permanent architecture is may conserve theory
at risk as passed from Republican administration to a democratic
administration, will then that become the path to the next administration
of either party and will continue forward.
And what I would love to see in these four years, J. Johnson, the outgoing
general counsel at the Pentagon gave a speech on his way out saying we need
to think about when we bring the war on terror to a close. When is it
over? And we just have Barbara Lee --
HARRIS-PERRY: But of course, it`s never over.
HAYES: Well, that is exactly the problem.
HAYES: We just had Barbara Lee on the program who is the only member of
congress to vote against the authorization use of military force which of
course is the kind of document from which all authority flows to way that
it has work. And she is proposing we repeal that authorization. We say,
we are out of Afghanistan eventually. Osama bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaeda
is -- the al-Qaeda that attacked us has been destroyed.
HARRIS-PERRY: But then if you do it and there`s an attack either on
American soil or an American interest abroad, then, you are the president
who ended the war on terror. And this is true for a president who ended a
war of terror and this is true for a president of any ideology, of any
party. I mean --
HAYES: One thousand percent the problem, exactly.
HAYES: I mean, you are taking on tremendous political risk. And the
reason that these things do endure is precisely because part of the
calculation is that. If you are the one - and this is true about
Guantanamo, right? I mean, if they had closed Guantanamo and they took the
right position to close it, of course, this hasn`t been close largely
because of congressional opposition, if you close Guantanamo, and God
forbid someone who is a Guantanamo detainee, either engineer or actually it
is involved in and attacked on U.S. soil, I mean, the political blowback
from that would be insane.
So, it`s not like these political calculations are crazy. They are right.
But still, substantively, it`s bad for the country. It`s bad for the
world. It`s bad for our moral and strategic standing. And it is also --
the thing I really worried about is the shroud of secrecy that hangs over
all of us.
You and I talked about this. And to me, There`s two layers to the debate.
The substantive layer is good policy. Before we get there, I want to know
what the legal justification for it is and who we are killing and why.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you know, what I appreciate is as we go into the second
term, these are not easily solved problems and will not be completely
addressed. But, as we continue to have the discourse, we start to open up
the black box for all of this secrecy is happening.
Thanks for hanging out a little bit with me, Chris.
HAYES: It`s fantastic.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks. And up next, we are going switch to another topic,
the expectations of the LGBTQ community. The first term brought great
change. But, the struggle most certainly continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: At a certain point I just concluded that, for me personally, it is
important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples
should be able to get married.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the president last year putting his personal
support behind the push for marriage equality. During President Obama`s
tenure, there have been important strides for LBGTQ Americans including
In addition, the president put an end to the 17-yearlong don`t ask don`t
tell military policy. He signed the Matthew Sheppard and James Bird Junior
hate crimes prevention act which was the first pro-LGBT federal law in U.S.
President Obama directed the Justice Department to disregard aspects of the
Defense of Marriage Act, at the same time, calling for its repeal.
And while all these accomplishments have been important to many Americans,
there are many fundamental civil rights protections missing for LGBTQ
Americans. Today, there are still 29 states where it is legal to fire
someone based on sexual identity and 34 states it is legal to fire someone
for being transgender. And there are only 20 states, only 20, that have
laws explicitly prohibiting housing discrimination against LGBT people.
There is so much work to be done.
With me is Matthew Breen, editor and chief of "the Advocate" and author of
the magazine`s cover story, "In Obama We Trust." I love that cover. And
Mara Keisling, the founding executive director of the National Center for
It`s good to have you both here.
MATTHEW BREEN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ADVOCATE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, it feels like President Obama spent much of
the first term undoing the Clinton years. I mean, don`t ask and don`t tell
and don`t move we are both these sort of residual parts of the democratic
move to the right.
How do we say good job there but then lay out a new agenda on the questions
BREEN: Well, you know, excuse me, his statements on same-sex marriage have
had global resonance sort of super excited about the fact that around the
world, around the country, people have been galvanized in favor of
recognizing the rights of LGBT Americans.
So, you know, there are a few things that we can look in the second
administration that are specific to the presidency. And if you bother
things, we want to look at in terms of legislation and that sort of things,
something that I`m looking at in addition to the more appeal legislation
because we don`t know how the Supreme Court will rule, we are hopeful, but
we don`t know for sure.
You know, there are a few things I would like to see, an LGBT Cabinet
member post. There are a few excellent folks I think would be ideal for
that. Bi-national couple immigration is an issue that I know Mara has been
interested in as well, if you are same-sex married even in a state where
it`s legal and your partner is a foreign national, that partner could be
deported. That is a real crisis to get separate families, families with
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is a part of - and we are thinking about things
like immigration reform, that instead of making all the (INAUDIBLE) of
assumptions that we took, that we make about what a family, looks like that
immigration reform has to have a broader, more inclusive definition that
includes all of these different forms of family.
MARA KEISLING, FOUNDING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR
TRANSGENDER EQUALITY: It`s right, but we do want our couples included and
this is actually true. But, we also know that there are zillions of
dreamers or youth who are LGBT.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do we have a graphic for that, zillions?
KEISLING: And we want to make sure there`s a pathway to citizenship for
all immigrants including LGBT immigrants of which there are again,
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I wonder about that. Because by taking it to the
immigration question, part of what you have done is remind us of the
intersection. And I think that for a lot of folks, part of what is been
interesting in watching the first African-American president also become,
you know, not gay in terms of self-identity but the first gay president in
terms of sort of a push at the federal level, is this sense that sometime
those are exactly the intersections that have been most difficult to build
in terms of coalition, a broader definition of the civil rights agenda.
KEISLING: Well, yes. I think that`s right and I think we are all getting
better at that. And I think that progressive movement is looking at that
more carefully and the LGBT movement is looking at it. And we are - and
certainly this administration does. They really put their money where
their mouth is and their mouth where their money is. And that is just as
important. There are things like the president issued a memorandum last
December instructing more engagement in foreign policy around LGBT people.
This is having humongous impact.
HARRIS-PERRY: Humongous impact.
KEISLING: All over the world and real life saving important things. And
we need that engagement to continue.
KEISLING: We need all the work that`s going on around health care, which
is so important to all Americans. You know, the Medicaid expansion thing
that we talk about a lot in terms of other populations for transgender
people it is hugely important because so many of us have been improvers for
lots of reasons.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. This issue of continuing employment discrimination I
think is something that many Americans just are not aware of it. You know,
they understand that we have a set of protections on if you are a woman, a
set of protections on your religion. But, I don`t think many people
realize that in this country, if you are a transgender woman or a
transgender man or if you are gay or lesbian, you can in fact, legally,
lose your job in many states in this country.
BREEN: There`s been legislation on it since 1974. And it`s been over and
over again discussed in Congress and yet, we still do not have this
protections insurance. So, it`s something the president can put his weight
behind and push for as well.
There`s something else I want to mention. California passed a law banning
ex-gay therapy for under 18s. And although it`s being challenged right
now, which is unfortunate, it would be nice to see a presidential
endorsement of that sort of thing. I think you could see expansion across
the country. It really contributes to LGBT teen suicide and homelessness.
We know about a fourth of homeless people are LGBT. I think we could
really see some movement on that as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It`s one of those things we realize the presidential
bully pulpit is sometimes quite powerful and other times it feels that it
is not powerful at all. But on this issue, he has moved the ball
repeatedly. But, we want to see it continue in the next four years.
Thank you to Mara and to Matthew.
But up next, remember when some people thought electing Barack Obama meant
America was post racial? Yes. Not so much, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: As the nation`s first African-American president, Barack
Obama`s race has always been an implicit aspect of his administration. The
president can both substance of accomplishment, for example, the affordable
care act will have a disproportionally positive effect for African-
Americans. His support of historically black colleges in universities and
the initiative on education excellence for African-Americans, both enacted
through executive order will go a long way for students as will the funds
awarded by the pig for the settlement for African-American farmers
discriminated against by the Department of Agriculture. And still, the
president has been subjective to studying a continuing criticism about his
seeming unwillingness to talk about race.
Back at the table is MSNBC contributor and "Washington Post" columnist E.J.
Dionne and joining us is MSNBC contributor Joy Reid who is managing editor
of the grio.com.
All right. So, it sort of two things for the president on this. There is
symbol and substance. And the idea that he just sort of walks through the
world navigating race is talking about race. But for many folks, they want
more. They want more talking on this topic.
JOY-ANN REID, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And it`s interesting. This
has been a source of frustration for the administration. And you know, the
part of the communications operation that talks to African-American media
in particular, is constantly pushing back saying no, no, no. Look at all
these policies that is benefited African-Americans. Really, look at the
affordable care act and how African-Americans are disproportionally
impacted by because of disproportionally uninsured or looking at our
education policy and insisting that these things have a racial component
that should be obvious to everyone but it isn`t.
And I think the frustration that they have in the first term was that there
were a lot of African-American including some elected officials who
publicly stated that without the president actually using explicit racial
terminology, he really wasn`t addressing black folk the way he was
addressing, let`s say, the LGBT community. And they constantly hold that
up and say no, no. He talks to them using the words and then he explicitly
does policies that are just for them. And a lot of black folk were like we
want policies that are explicitly over -- just for African-American because
of the high unemployment, because of all the disparities. But, I think it
is complicated to do that when you are a first black president. It`s an
awkward position to be in.
You know, the other thing for E.J. that is always a little surprising about
the claim that the president doesn`t talk about race. Because I can`t
think of another elected official who`s made a more consequential speech on
race than the president`s Philadelphia raised speech. I want to just
remind our viewers a little bit by listening a bit to part of that
Philadelphia race speech and ask for your response to this. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This is where we are right now. It`s a racial stalemate we have
been stock in for years. Contrary to my critics, black and white, I have
never been so naive as to believe we can get beyond our racial divisions in
a single election cycle or with a single candidate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. He`s like, race is big, people. I c can`t fix all
DIONNE: Well, you know, what`s odd is would we be having this conversation
about a white president? Did we ever say that white president didn`t talk
enough about race? And it shows how complicated racism really is because
is it fair to the first black president of the United States to say he
should be talking more about this?
But then, you also look at it from the other side, which is, what is the
lost opportunity here? And you know, in a sense, people are Americans are,
African-Americans are asking more of him because they are saying he has a
particular responsibility because of this role. He can do things in
African-American communities, reach African-Americans particularly young
African-Americans in a way no other president can do.
And I hope he`s less reluctant to go into African-American schools, into
African-American neighborhoods and talk about the challenges. And he can
talk about these things as he has done in the past in a way that is unified
to talk about race is not automatically divisive. That a lot of times we
think that it is.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, it feels like it has been for this president. So, you
know, there were two moments when he weighed in. There was, of course, the
skip gates moments where he says that the police, you know, behaved
stupidly which just made me happy because I`m used to that which dead in
the American language, right? And that ended awkwardly in this moment.
And then the moment where he didn`t exactly talk about race but he did said
Trayvon Martin, that if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.
And again, suddenly, this thing that had been unified, killing a teenage
boy became racialized.
So, you know, the delicacy of the line the president is walking feels more
of a tight rope than say bubba, who, you know, President Clinton was able
to perform race as a white man in a way that was really - that could be
unifying because there wasn`t a sense he was attached to it.
REID: Exactly. It is like h, it is so magnanimous. Everything he did,
Clinton about race, --
HARRIS-PERRY: And the welfare reform bill.
REID: Exactly. People overlook a lot of things troubling on racial
ground. But I think it is the other piece of this, Melissa, is that this
president, everything he did would turn out to be about race. I mean, this
is the first president that had to confront questions about his birthplace,
being called the Keynesian, having to confront witch doctor signs, the tea
party, you know, people saying he was a black Hitler.
I think now, they are calling him the butcher of Benghazi on the right. I
mean, the sort of over-the-top reaction to him that most people who looked
it, looked at least having something of a racial component. That when he
was elected, the right had two choices, they can react as a typical
president and oppose him on policy ground or go absolutely insane. And
they chose the latter and with over the top reaction made African-Americans
fell both protective of this president so they overlook some of their
anxieties about not being addressed. It made also made African-Americans
angry. And I think it was part of the reason they showed up in such large
numbers to make sure that he got a second a term.
DIONNE: That, plus voter suppression.
DIONNE: That was remarkable. But, you know what? I think there may be an
interesting lesson from what you said about Bill Clinton, which is, those
of us who are progressive, all of us here, have always wanted an alliance
among African-Americans and lower income whites who, in many cases face the
If you look at the industrialization in the Midwest, that is hurting
working class whites and African-Americans. It would be interesting if, in
addition, I think he should be in the African-American communities more
also talk directly to white, working class people and sort of get out there
and make that fight and say I`m on your side.
The auto bailout was good for African-Americans. It was also good for
working class whites who counted on these kinds of jobs to lift themselves
and their families up. He may have potential to do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: If it is really in part the challenge of that sort of that
southern moment, which I think is where we would expect some natural
economic alliances to arise, but of course, the long history. And I say
this south, even though some of the ugliest voter suppression we saw
happened way outside Ohio. In fact, we are going to talk about those
questions a little bit later.
But, thank you so much. Because I think it`s complicated. We are going to
continue to see it. But the big question is can you walk the walk and talk
the talk at the same time. And there will be undoubtedly a lot of type
where walking for this president.
Thank you to E.J. Dionne. Joy is going to be back in the next hour.
But, up next, it is in fact back, every day with Sonar (ph). It is this
week in voter suppression. I`m telling you, they are at it again. Yes.
This week in voter suppression.
HARRIS-PERRY: In the run up for the election last year, we spent week
after week bringing you a segment we called this week in voter suppression.
We told you all about all the laws that Republican officials at the state
level were trying to pass in the name of fighting voter fraud that were
really about suppressing the vote, most often within the minority
After the elections, we said if they tried it again, even without an
election just around the den, that we would be back. Well, they are back.
Only this time, they are taking aim at a different target, the Electoral
Currently, electoral votes are allocated on a winner take all bases. But,
if Republican national committee chairman Reince Priebus has his way; that
will change the 2016 presidential race.
The proposal again in traction, is for Electoral College votes to be
awarded by congressional district. And the states considering the change
just happen to be states that went for President Obama last November but
our controlled on the local level by Republican legislatures, states like
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
With me at the table is civil rights advocate Wade Henderson, president and
CEO of the leadership conference of civil rights and, you know her, Barbara
Arnwine, president and executive director of the lawyers committee for
civil rights under the law.
OK, they are at it again. Barbara, the Electoral College is the new
BARBARA ARNWINE, PRESIDENT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE LAWYERS COMMITTEE FOR
CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER THE LAW: Yes. That`s just of their many strategies.
Because at the same time, there are also in many states, Ohio for example
and some other, in North Carolina, they are trying to introduce new voter
id ugly laws. This is really contrary to everything we know that the
public feels. The public is number one, they are lesson out if this last
election is that every voter needs to be protected. And people are really
upset about this, you know, voter suppression law.
We also know just this last week in the Supreme Court, there was an attempt
by the RNC to get off from under the order that requires them to stop and
not engage in voter intimidation. The court fortunately said we agree you
need to be held to this order. But, there`s still enough evidence that you
have issues that we need to hold you to. What do we say?
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s pretty shocking. I mean, on the one hand, it is
diabolically genius in that, you know, they say OK, the president, himself,
on election night said we are going to try to do something about this. We
know that a large part of the turnout was motivated by this sense of
suppression. So like, all right, we are going to count the votes
differently than previous.
WADE HENDERSON, PRESIDENT, CEO, THE LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE OF CIVIL RIGHTS:
They are so bold. This is an example of you don`t like the result, change
Now, here is a president that won 51 percent of the popular vote. Romney
won 47 percent. That settles the question of how the Electoral College
votes are decided. But, in this instance, because they didn`t win, they
now come back with this diabolical scream to allocate electoral votes in a
proportionate way. If, in fact, the election were held under the rules now
proposed about the Electoral College, President Obama would not have won.
HENDERSON: So, This is clearly an example of building a case for changing
the rules in a way that will alter the outcome of the election even as they
are now whining about trying to change the rules to accommodate the
pressure that Barbara`s organization and many others help to generate over
HARRIS-PERRY: And section five is now coming before the court. So, we
know, this is the South Carolina court. This is section five of the voting
rights act which allows free clearances of changes, these kinds of changes
and others in the southern states that were -- that had lost at one point.
How worried are we that the court will overturn section five?
ARNWINE: Well, I mean, we obviously, as Americans, should be weary
whenever the court is looking at something as secrecy and you know, a law
that was actually written in blood by so many people who sacrificed their
lives including (INAUDIBLE).
What we need people to really understand is that this court could actually
eviscerate a very important provision that has been number one. When we
sued the state of Texas over their redistricting, we sued them over voter
ID law, we sued the state of South Carolina, we sued the state of Florida
for early voting changes in the covered jurisdictions. The courts stepped
forward and said yes, these are wrong laws. These cannot go into effect
this time. And they did the right thing. So, chill to the power of
section five, but we do have Justice Thomas who is already saying, not even
hearing a word. And he says that he won`t validate section five.
HARRIS-PERRY: Section five, the voting rights.
ARNWINE: Without hearing one word from one lawyer.
HENDERSON: But Melisa, let me augment your point of section five applying
to the deep South. Because I think most Americans feel that, you know, it
shouldn`t be applied only to the south.
Actually, section five is applied to states like New Hampshire, these ten
cities or ten counties, Michigan. It`s applied to Alaska, New York,
California is covered. I mean, these are states outside of the Deep South,
but they do have a common factor. There`s a history of past
discrimination. There`s a current set of practices of discrimination. And
in fact, there are, you know, safety valves that allow jurisdictions to
feel they can meet the test to get out from under section five buy asking
the Justice Department to review it.
No state that has gone really gone that far to petition to get out from
section five when no jurisdiction has been turned out. The Department of
Justice reviews these things carefully. The states have gone as to really
make the challenge have met the test. And we are seeing more and more
jurisdictions getting out from under section five which tells us that the
law, and we have seen it in operation, works well.
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels like this is the key, right? Things like what we
are seeing on the new voter suppression effort. Things we are seeing on
the voting rights act. These are the rules of the game. And we get very
focused on the personalities running for office. But right now, this
moment, after the election, after the inauguration, after the balls, after
the campaign, now we have to focus on protecting. And look, the way to
deal with the Electoral College thing is abolish the Electoral College,
Right? And just elect the president.
ARNWINE: Thank you, thank you, thank you. That would be a much better
process. And I think what we need to think about is the fact that the
voting rights act, section five stopped, in the last ten plus years,
stopped 1,000 discriminatory programs that wouldn`t have in acted by state.
In this southern states that are - and these other states that are covered.
So, when people are saying to the court, that hey, this is wrong because
you are only targeting these states. Well, listen. You are culprit, 80
percent of all of our litigation.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. Stop cutting up.
ARNWINE: Exactly. You don`t stop discriminating. Do, you allow the new
America to take effect allow them seal a voter`s play, voters Latino
voters, black voters, allow Asian voters, young voters, elderly voters,
people with disabilities, if you would stop discriminating.
HENDERSON: And one last point, section two of the voting that applies
HENDERSON: So, let`s understand we are not trying to create a punitive
system that is focused only on the south. That`s not fair. Not at all.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is the moment to have our eyes folks.
Thank you so much to Barbara Arnwine. Wade is going to come back in our
next hour, after the break. Go great expectation. The great expectation
for women is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: From the moment Barack Obama knew he would be president, he
was mindful of the women who helped elect him. The issues we face, the
sacrifices we make and the contributions we offer. On election night,
2008, he noticed an exceptional woman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: She is a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make
their voice heard in this election except for one thing. Ann Nixon Cooper
is 106 years old. And tonight, I think about all she`s seen throughout her
century in America, the heart ache and the hope, the struggle and the
progress. The times we were told that we can`t and the people who pressed
on with that American creed, yes we can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We are now just one hour away from President Obama taking
the oath of office for his term. At exactly 11:55 eastern, and MSNBC will
bring you special, live coverage.
But, when we come back, we focus on the president, the first lady and
women. Joining me live from the White House will be one of the
administration most powerful advisers, man or woman, Valerie Jarrett and
more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry in Washington, D.C.,
where in less than an hour, Barack Obama will take the oath of office for
his second term as president of the United States.
Shortly before noon, he will be sworn in during a small ceremony in the
White House Blue Room. Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the
oath, and MSNBC will bring you special live coverage off the historic
Now, while everyone is focused on the president`s second term, I thought we
should also ask: what about the first lady?
Michelle Obama has been quite the force during her husband`s first term.
She made childhood obesity a primary focus through her Let`s Move campaign.
She wasn`t afraid to join in on the fun with the Joining Forces Campaign.
She and Dr. Jill Biden worked to bring awareness to the opportunities and
support that service members and their families need and deserve. And
she`s been her husband`s best surrogate in the most important campaigns of
all, the ones that got them to the White House, twice.
If people have great expectations for President Obama in his second term,
then they are surely expecting great things from the first lady.
Joining me from right outside the White House, the senior adviser to the
president, Valerie Jarrett.
So nice to see you this morning, Valerie.
VALERIE JARRETT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Oh, good morning, Melissa.
How are you?
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m great.
Let many start by asking about the first lady, and then I want to ask you a
bit about the president. But the first lady this week introduced the new
501(c)4, OFA, Organizing for America. Should we -- watching her do that
made me think, should we expect to she her play a more direct role in
policy during the second term?
JARRETT: I think the purpose of the 501(c)4 is to engage and encourage
people to get involved in their government. Certainly, she cares a great
deal about it. She talked about it on the campaign trail, how wonderful it
was, how replenishing it was to be able to be out with the American people
and talking to them about her husband and his leadership and his vision for
And so, yes, I think she will continue to do that. I think she`s going to
focus on the initiatives that she cared so passionately about that she
begun in her first term. You mentioned the work she`s done with Dr. Biden
on military families. Certainly, the Let`s Move initiative. She`s
mentoring young people particularly young girls, and she`ll continue that.
And, right now, her team is doing a strategic plan. We`ll see what comes
out of it. But the two things I know is she will pick new issues she cares
passionately about and also ones where she thinks she can make a
difference, move the needle and hopefully those initiatives will continue
four years from now after her husband is no longer in office.
HARRIS-PERRY: Valerie, you said something interesting there when you were
talking about the first lady finding it sort of regenerative to be out on
the campaign trail. And I remember when I had an opportunity to interview
with the president for "Ebony" magazine, he said something similar about
his sense that getting an opportunity to connect and talk to the people in
the context of campaigning actually gave him a bit of fire in the belly for
When we look at the new picture of the president in this second term,
there`s a sense of energy and enthusiasm.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is that what you are seeing from this president going into
the second term?
JARRETT: Absolutely. He is as energized as I have ever seen him. A lot
of that did come from his ability to get out and connect.
It reminds him why he works so hard every day trying to improve the quality
of life for hard working Americans who just want a fair shot and a fair
shake. And he`s insisting everybody play by the same set of rules. And
so, he wants to make sure we engage the American people. And with them
behind him, we can do big things. And that`s what he`s committed to do in
his second term.
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of talking to the people and consulting -- women
were an incredibly important part of the coalition that reelected President
Obama. There`s been a lot of criticism about the president not having
enough women in the second Cabinet.
But there you are, a very powerful voice who is not intimidated to be in a
roomful of men advising the president. Talk to me a little bit about how
you respond to that critique?
JARRETT: Well, I say, give him a chance to finish rounding out his
Cabinet. We already know that, for example, one of his most important
domestic policy initiatives is the Affordable Care Act and its
implementation and who is responsible for that? A woman, Kathleen
We want to make sure we keep the United States safe. Who`s the head of
Homeland Security? Janet Napolitano.
He has always surrounded himself with strong women. Two of his deputy
chiefs of staff are women. Alyssa Mastromonaco will be staying on -- a
key, key, part of what makes the White House works.
So, he`s just beginning to fill out the Cabinet. He`s announced new
people. I think when he finishes, you will see that he will continue to
have a diverse Cabinet. He thinks that he makes better decisions when
surrounded by people who have different perspectives, and women are an
important part of that.
You got to remember, he was raised by a single mother. He lived with his
grandmother. He saw how hard she worked and struggled. He has a very,
very strong wife.
So, he understands the value of women. And women in America understand
that. So, I think it was much adieu and it`s very fine for people to say
this is important. But he doesn`t need to be told how important women are.
HARRIS-PERRY: Give me a little bit of sense of what will be happening
today. Obviously, tomorrow is the kind of big public event that many
Americans will tune in to see. What is sort of happening today in terms of
JARRETT: Well, he`ll have the private ceremony in the Blue Room, take his
official oath of office. Have a family lunch and then he has an event this
evening that he`s looking forward to as well. So, it`s a little more low
key than tomorrow will be. So, I think he`s easing into it.
But believe me, taking the oath of office is something he`s so humbled and
so proud the American people put their trust in him for a second term. So,
I think it will be a very moving moment for him.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Valerie Jarrett, for joining me.
JARRETT: My pleasure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Really, I hate to do this, but Nerdland told me, the
producers that they would be angry if I didn`t say please tell the first
lady we love the bangs.
JARRETT: Don`t you love the bangs? I love those bangs.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love those bangs.
JARRETT: They are perfect. She`s enjoying them. I`m glad you like them.
HARRIS-PERRY: We love them in Nerdland. Enjoy the swearing in ceremony.
JARRETT: OK. Thank you. Have a great day.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
Onto a somewhat more conventional topic for a political news show than the
first lady`s bangs, but, look, of course, the first lady isn`t the only one
people are looking to for great things. The women of the 113th Congress
have had one hell of a long to-do list this year.
And the question is: how much of it can they get done?
Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California.
It is lovely to have you here in person.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Finally, able to sit next to you and
talk to you. It`s great.
HARRIS-PERRY: Exactly. We`ve had a couple of opportunities during the
112th, which was frustrating Congress, to talk a bit about what was
happening. But what are you looking toward in the 113th? Record number of
women. Will you all be able to get more done?
SPEIER: Let`s hope so, because women at the table make a huge difference.
Look at Leader Pelosi when she was speaker. Look what got through the
House of Representatives under in her leadership. She could count.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Right.
SPEIER: That makes a huge difference. I don`t think we should, for one
minute, think that we have arrived.
SPEIER: We are still less than 20 percent of the Congress. And the
strides that we made in the Senate, 3 percent gain. In the House, we
gained two seats. So, it`s not -- this is not the time to become
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, it`s progress but it`s progress in certain ways point
out just how far we have to go that we are celebrating 20 women senators,
HARRIS-PERRY: So one of the things the first lady has taken on in the
first term and Dr. Biden was the issue of service families. I think
sometimes we still think of service member families as the man being the
soldier and then the wife and kids at home. That has changed dramatically.
It`s increasingly women on our battlefields. What are they facing?
SPEIER: Well, 20 percent of new recruits are women. That`s important to
recognize. They are becoming important component of our service members.
They are facing just incredible odds. Military sexual trauma is one of the
issues I focus in on, 19,000 rapes in the military a year. More likely to
be a victim of violence from fellow service member than from the enemy.
And -- but the Department of Defense and all the services have done little
except a lot of lip service in terms of addressing this issue.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is the second term therefore a time when we might see it --
again, you know, again, we have been hearing critique of the Cabinet but
whether the Secretary of Defense is a man or a woman, as Secretary of
Defense, we want that person addressing these questions. Will we see a
stronger sort of motivation to address these questions of military sexual
assault in the second term?
SPEIER: I certainly hope so. We are having a hearing in Congress this
week on Lackland Air Force Base, where more than 41 young recruits, new
trainees were sexually assaulted or harassed by 19 military training
And it wasn`t because women came forward and talked about it. Only one
woman actually reported it. So, there`s really a fear of reporting it,
because if you report it, your career is over.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there something we can learn from sort of the culture of
the military, which is at this moment, managing poorly in some ways the
influx of new women service members and what`s going on in the U.S. House
of Representatives and the U.S. Senate which are still dominated by a male
culture that will now have to cope with an influx of new, talented women.
SPEIER: I think what we need to recognize is that these men have to be
educated. I think that the military service, the generals, they come to
the capital and they say oh, we have zero tolerance, but then they go back
and do nothing. You know, lip service isn`t good enough anymore. Whether
it`s violence against women and the fact it wasn`t preauthorized or trying
to take family planning away when it was really created by Republicans at
I mean, we`ve got to get down to some real basics about respecting women.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And this respect, we can see it in policy. You
respect women when you respect the constitutional right to privacy. You
respect women when you pass VAWA, not when you hold it up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much for joining me this
morning. Again, it`s lovely to have you hear at the table.
So, thank you to Congresswoman Speier.
And up next, she was the poet at the president`s first inauguration. She`s
assessing the president`s prose in the first term. Elizabeth Alexander is
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH ALEXANDER, POET & PROFESSOR: Praise song for struggle. Praise
song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, the figuring
it out at kitchen tables.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was prize winning poet and professor, Elizabeth
Alexander, reciting her poem "Praise Song for the Day," which she composed
for the first inauguration for President Obama.
On that day, she made history becoming only the fourth poet in American
history to read in an inauguration. When Alexander was only 1-year-old,
she witnessed history when her parents brought her the other side of the
Washington Mall to hear Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have
a Dream" speech.
To join me to reflect on the role of poetry and art in President Obama
first term is Elizabeth Alexander, professor of African-American studies at
It`s lovely to have you hear.
ALEXANDER: It`s great to be with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, we have been talking a lot about politics and
agenda items. But I also feel like one of the things the president
suggested at the first inauguration was that he was going to bring a
certain arts and cultural sort of insensitivity and expression to his
presidency. As you`ve watched the first term, what has it felt like to
you? Has it occurred?
ALEXANDER: It`s been thrilling. I think that the inauguration itself was
a template for what we were going to see, that he had different kinds of
art poetry, Aretha Franklin, Yo Yo Ma -- the diversity of forms in which
American excellence expresses itself.
We have seen the wonderful concerts they have done at the White House. The
Paul Simon singing Stevie Wonder songs, Tony Bennett singing Stevie Wonder,
country music, Latino music, poetry slams, all these programs televised for
everyone to see -- the best kind of family viewing saying that families
should gather together and receive the arts as a gift, if you will, from
We have seen the turnaround arts initiative which recognizes in schools
that excellence can be tied to creative work; that the work of teaching the
art isn`t just about making artists.
ALEXANDER: It`s about letting people understand how to be creative problem
HARRIS-PERRY: And that feels like such a critical intervention in a time
when so much of education reform has been about high stakes testing on a
very narrow set of skills to intervene and say, in fact, that the arts and
the creativity and that music and dance are all part of what makes us fully
human and fully American.
ALEXANDER: Well, that`s right. And, in fact, the first lady said, in
words similar to yours, the arts and humanities are what makes us fully
human. And so, it`s how we understand ourselves as human beings.
It`s a way that -- especially for young people -- we still ourselves and
contemplate in front of a work of art, when we`re listening to a poem. We
can`t rush past. The arts emphasize process, right, that we`re not just
where we end up that we have to work and think outside of the box to get
HARRIS-PERRY: Which partly brings me then to wanting to talk about some of
the art that the Obama`s brought into the White House, because if we are
meant to be still and reflect on it in that moment, but let`s reflect.
One, of course, is the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- that is there in the Oval Office. Tell us about that.
ALEXANDER: That bust is made by the artist Charles Alston, who happens to
be my great uncle, I must say. So, I feel especially proud of that.
And when Obama came into office, a few days later, he had removed the bust
of Winston Churchill and brought in a bust of Martin Luther King, so that
his twin centuries, if you will, in the Oval Office are Lincoln and King.
ALEXANDER: So, on this weekend, in particular, that resonance is just
perfect, apt really.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there`s another King moment in terms of art. And that
is the "I am a Man", which, of course, is part of the Memphis sanitation
workers strike, which is when Dr. King was assassinated. Talk to me about
ALEXANDER: That`s a text painting by the artist Glenn Ligon, who works
with just like that sign that we know so well from the iconic protests. He
transforms that into art, recognizing that we look at language as a visual
thing as well when we take in art. The past is refigured in the present
moment, so that we bring forward the King moment. More importantly, as you
mentioned, the Memphis sanitation workers strike moment thinking of how we
got to where we are today.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, that piece of art says labor and it says race
and it also says identity.
ALEXANDER: Yes, it does.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s linked to King. And even though it`s clearly male, "I
am a Man," it`s also, I am human, right? Again, that reflects it on --
ALEXANDER: That`s right. That`s right, because it`s underlined. I am a
man. And so, there is that emphasis of what it means to stand tall and be
recognized from within and say to the fullest, I want to be recognized in
that way from without.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s a truism that we campaign in poetry, but then you
govern in prose. How much of a poet has the president managed to be in his
first term, and how much might you imagine to be a poet into the second
ALEXANDER: Well, I think, certainly, the president would be the first one
to say he is not a poet because he has tremendous respect for the craft and
what it takes to actually make those things. I think what he has
recognized is that he has tremendous gifts with language and that language
is how we communicate to each other. Language is how human beings reach
across the void. Language is the tool he has.
ALEXANDER: One of the big tools he has. It`s one of the reasons that we
understand Dr. King all these years later in the way that we do because of
his powerful gift with spoken and written language. And that`s something
that Obama has been very respectful and mindful of.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s pretty amazing that the dream speech can still move
you. You can know it by heart and it still moves you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next: Myrlie Evers-Williams, who is the widow of Medgar
Evers, the key speaker at tomorrow`s inauguration.
The music that is taking us to break is Yo-yo Ma in a string quartet
performing the "Air and Simple Gifts" at the president`s first
HARRIS-PERRY: Medgar Evers fought for this country in World War II. A
short time later, he`d become a soldier again, in the battle against Jim
Crow. Having been rejected by the University of Mississippi`s law school
on the basis of his race, Medgar became the NAACP`s first field secretary
in the state at the age of 29. He organized protests and boycotts against
businesses that chose to segregate and fought for our civil right, the
right to have equal, unfettered access to the vote.
At the age of 37, Medgar Evers was assassinated in the driveway outside of
his own home. Inside the house, 50 years ago this June was Medgar`s wife,
Myrlie Evers, and their three small children. Mrs. Evers went on to become
chairwoman of the NAACP in 1995. And her leadership rescued the
organization from a troubled period in its history.
On this Monday, Mrs. Evers will become the first layperson and first woman
to deliver the invocation at a presidential inauguration.
And I am really beyond honored now to be joined by the distinguished
scholar and resident at Alcorn State University, Myrlie Evers-Williams, of
the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute.
Mrs. Evers, it`s so nice to have you here. Thank you.
MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS, WIDOW OF ICON CIVIL RIGHS LEADER MEDGAR EVERS:
HARRIS-PERRY: I wanted to ask you about, as we were thinking about the
president`s great expectations, he called himself in the first campaign
part of the Joshua generation, saying that it was about going into the
space that had been cleared largely by the Moses generation, the generation
represented by Medgar Evers and others. As you look at both the president
and all those in the Joshua generation, how do you think we are doing?
EVERS-WILLIAMS: Surprisingly quite well. I say surprisingly because I
detected some question about how my generation had moved things forward.
And hearing young people say we will never do that again. We have it made.
And that one particular thing I found very disturbing, however things have
I think both my generation has begun to share our knowledge and not become
offended by younger generations. The younger generation has certainly
inspired us with new ways of looking at the world today. We live in a
highly technical society. Messages get back and forth among groups and
others, individuals, so very, very quickly. It`s always a time of change.
I believe that President Obama certainly exemplifies that change. I have
also observed his seasoning, if you will over the four years. I`m very
excited about what this second term would bring, not only for him, but for
America and the world because we do impact extremely well what happens in
the world today.
HARRIS-PERRY: I heard your exquisite interview with al Sharpton. You
talked about this invocation that you will deliver tomorrow and the
difficulty of capturing -- I think the language you used was all of the
things you feel about your country.
I sometimes wonder if that is part of the great legacy of the civil rights
movement to the Joshua generation is to both love and offer critique of our
nation. I wanted to listen for a moment to the words of Medgar Evers
himself talking about fighting for the very soul of the country, through
all of the different states. Let`s listen for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EVERS: For many of us who have gone overseas and fought for this country
and fought for Mississippi, we fought for Alabama, we fought for North
Carolina, we fought for Illinois, and we fought for every state in this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: There he is telling us, we fought for every state. We
fought for Mississippi. And now, it`s time to cash that check that`s come
back unpaid as Dr. King talked about it.
EVERS-WILLIAMS: You know, when the march on Washington took place, I was
scheduled to be there and be a speaker, 50 years later, I didn`t make it.
Fifty years later, here we are.
But I have lived all these years so much by Medgar`s standards and what he
set not only for his people, but for America. It`s a time of awakening
now, true awakening of being honest about what is, what was, remembering
people like Medgar Evers and their vision for this country and for this
nation, and moving it forward.
I find myself kind of caught up in this time warp of 50 years ago when I
was so angry, so bitter, so vengeful having no hope, realizing that I had
to do what he said to move past the hatred, we are the children and spread
Today, it`s different. I certainly had no idea that I would be asked to
participate in this inauguration and the way that I am, but I`m so pleased
to say and I think it`s true with so many other people, we have moved past
the hatred. We realize we must be creative, that we must be able to
forgive, because in not doing so, we damage ourselves and we are unable to
So, I`m all about progress. I`m all about standing up for what one
believes in. I am for looking at the world and saying, here we are, what
are we going do about this?
HARRIS-PERRY: Mr. Evers, I can`t hear you talk about forgiveness without
thinking in this moment about Newtown, about the anger -- the agony of the
parents and the anger of all of us who have lost those children in our
nation, but also those of us who live in urban communities where we are
victimized by gun violence on a regular basis. You don`t have to talk
about gun control policy one way or the other, what you want to see the
president do, but I do want to figure out how do we move forward in making
creative, meaningful policy that doesn`t just come out of a place of hate
and anger, and an expression of that.
EVERS-WILLIAMS: Well, I think you said it. How do we make policy that is
going to be beneficial? We have many players in all of this.
It takes time to move past the anger and the hatred. We are saddened but I
think basically, Americans want a safe home, a safe place for all of us who
will be looking in terms of emotionally what happens but makes us the way
we are in terms of violence. And having this dialogue, not only in
Washington, D.C., and other state houses and whatnot, not only on campuses
but throughout our homes, our organizations -- it is imperative that we
address this and realize that guns are not the solution. I certainly know
that as a fact.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. Mr. Evers, stay with us. We are going to add a
few more voices to the table partly because you are here, we want to
reflect on Dr. King, but not just Dr. King, but the legacy of all of the
names we have forgotten even as we honor Dr. King, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tomorrow, we celebrate the inauguration of President Barack
Obama on the day we also commemorate another man who stands aside history
as a figure, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As he stands on the capital step
for the swearing in, the president will not be standing alone. He will be
surrounded by the women who helped make the man into a president.
And like President Obama, so, too, was Dr. King surrounded by women who
helped make the man into a movement. Women like Ella Baker, women like
Diane Nash, women like Fanny Lou Hamer. Women like Coretta Scott King.
Back with me, Elizabeth Alexander, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Joey Reid and
I both love and hate the King Memorial. Every time I look at it, I think,
thank goodness it exists and that man did emerge from a rock.
HARRIS-PERRY: He emerged from a movement. What happens when we forget
those other names?
EVERS-WILLIAMS: But, you know, he was a rock.
EVERS-WILLIAMS: His name still says that, regardless of whether we like
the statue or not. I have a little criticism about the media.
EVERS-WILLIAMS: The media decided that Dr. King was the only person of
importance in the movement. When they -- when he was killed, the media
asked, well, who will your leader be?
EVERS-WILLIAMS: My question was why not embrace all the others that gave
so much that did so much and include them in this?
Dr. King said, and I heard him say this on occasion, "I am not in this
alone. You have me here. I follow you."
EVERS-WILLIAMS: "We are all leaders."
Unfortunately, innocence, it`s been focused on one man. I`m delighted to
see the light spread around to others who have been involved.
REID: And I think there`s something in the greater society that is
designed to kind of subvert movements by focusing on one person. All you
can do is focus on that person, if you can make that one person either
marginalized, you turn people against as was tried to actively tried to do
with Dr. King, or God forbid, eliminate that person, and then you can crush
the entire movement. I think that was a part of it. Unfortunately, the
media played into that.
HENDERSON: Well, it`s true. But one of the shortcomings of the history of
the movement is that we often failed to recognize the women who were the
backbone of the effort in many different stages of the activity. We often
talk of Rosa Parks like she stood up out of frustration.
Rosa Parks was the tip of a spear that had been used and prepared to
challenge the segregation of the time.
HENDERSON: I think about Rosa Parks and I think about Dr. Dorothy Height -
HENDERSON: -- who led the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
for 16 years as our chair.
I think about Myrlie Evers-Williams. If ever there`s one person who
understood the power of the vote, it`s Myrlie Evers-Williams in more ways
than you can imagine. She became the NAACP chairperson by one vote, a one-
vote margin and led the organization to its restoration.
WADE: Had she not be there, the NAACP would be a different organization
EVERS-WILLIAMS: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s how we think of this moment for President Obama is that
in many ways, the re-election, the sort of narrative I heard, the first
election was about President Obama. The second election was about all the
people who they attempted to suppress their voting.
And so, that return was as much about us, right, about them, about the
community, as it was about President Obama himself.
ALEXANDER: Well, certainly, in the first campaign you heard President
Obama saying over and over again, it`s not about me, it`s about us --
reinforcing this idea that I think is encompassed in the phrase of the long
civil rights movement, right? That people don`t pop out of nowhere.
And that work, there`s the bedrock work that gets us to the shining moments
and sometimes these shining messengers, if you will, who have a particular
gift and who appear at the convergence at a crossroad and can help us move
forward, because symbols do bear power. Symbolic figures enable us to
coalesce and give us language with which to move forward.
REID: You know, I think it`s interesting, because it`s easier to think
about one or two symbols than to think about the hard work. I mean, you
know, think about the Montgomery bus boycotts. And also, by in large part
women, domestic workers who were working in the homes of white families and
who by not -- having to walk all of those miles.
HARRIS-PERRY: For a year.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean I always -- it`s a disservice to how we teach the
civil rights movement. We don`t teach the long one. It started in `54 and
it wrapped it up.
HARRIS-PERRY: You think, oh it takes 10 years to change the world. An
entire city for a year --
REID: For a year. Yes. Or being a little girl, the Little Rock Nine.
REID: Six of them are girl who is had to walk. It`s not just walking
through a crowd. It`s walking through a crowd of screaming, angry people.
EVERS-WILLIAMS: But, you know, there are so many women that we will never
know their names. I`m reminded now of a woman who would come to the NAACP
office every Saturday afternoon, we`ll never know her name. She was come
in and she would put her hand in her dress.
And she said, Mrs. Evers, I don`t have much to give today, but I want to
leave this dollar. This wet handkerchief with a few dollar bills in it
that she worked so hard for in homes of others who did not respect her, did
not care for her. Some way, we have to remember that those women, without
names existed. They filled the fight for justice and equality as well.
And today, as we move forward in paying attention to others who served, who
are less known, I think it sends a message to our educational system.
WADE: I hope you are right. I hope you are right. But --
HARRIS-PERRY: But it moved from the bottom up and all those names. We say
this morning thank you to the young Rosa Parks and to Coretta Scott King,
kept alive the legacy of Dr. King. To Ella Baker who said strong people
don`t need strong leaders. To Fanny Lou Hamer who endured beatings to
bring the vote. To Septima Clark, to Elizabeth Medford --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- who walked that gauntlet, we say thank you.
And I also say thank to Elizabeth Alexander, Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams,
Joy Reid, and Wade Henderson.
And up next, just a few final thoughts as we count down to the swearing in
of President Barack Obama, just moments away.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are now just moments away from President Barack Obama
being sworn in for his second term as president of the United States.
Shortly before noon Eastern, he will take the oath administered by Chief
Justice John Roberts in the White House Blue Boom.
The president is shouldering great expectations as he begins his second
term. We do not and cannot know all we will face in the next four years,
but we stand on Martin Luther King Jr.`s promise that we can craft a better
tomorrow. We must peer harder into our unknowable future to try to see a
beloved community that is outlined there.
No one promised us a crystal stair but it is time to keep climbing.
That is it for me today. After the break, NBC News chief White House
correspondent and political director Chuck Todd will anchor the special
coverage of the swearing in of President Barack Obama.
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