May 4, 2013
Guests: Patrick Millsaps, Ira Katznelson, Richard Kim, Terri Sewell, Hank
Sanders, Eric Greitens, Tireak Tulloch, Zack Kopplin
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question. What do we
owe our veterans? Plus, the new Bush library: still getting it wrong on
Katrina. And we try to get to the bottom of the USDA settlement
controversy. But first, President Obama has got the second-term blues.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. What a difference three days
makes. Fewer than 72 hours passed between President Obama`s standup act at
last week`s Saturday night White House correspondents dinner and his press
conference marking the 100th day of his second-term. But the president we
saw addressing the White House press corps on Tuesday was singing a
distinctly different tune from the wise guy who had jokes for the same
audience just a few days before. Instead of all I do is win, President
Obama was doing a little ditty called second-term blues. And it goes a
little something like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you still have the juice to get the rest of your
agenda for this Congress?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If you put it
that way, Jonathan, maybe I should just pack up and go home. You seem to
suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities and
that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That`s their job. The point
is that there are common-sense solutions for our problems right now -- I
cannot force Republicans to embrace those common sense solutions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS PERRY: This President Obama having a sad day as he watches an
obstruction of Congress sabotage his second-term agenda is the far cry from
the man who put the "O" in hope in 2007. Now he`s giving us the yes we can
2013 remix. Yes, we could, if only congressional Republicans will let me.
To a certain extent, the president`s blues over the constraints of his
political power are the blues shared by every U.S. president. And that`s
just as the founders intended it. Mitigating the temptation for overreach
by vesting the president with little formal power and subject to the short
leash of Congress. But add to that a Republican House majority unwilling
to give a single inch. And it`s reason enough for a president of the
United States to throw himself a pity party. President Obama said as much
on Tuesday when he laid out the limits of his leadership.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I can urge them to. I can put pressure on them. I can rally the
American people around those -- those common sense solutions, but
ultimately they themselves are going to have to say we want to do the right
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS PERRY: The right thing. Let`s pause on that for a moment. Because
political opponents will always have a different sense of what is the right
thing. But as we say on this show, elections have consequences. And when
we choose a new president or decide to give the old one a second chance, we
are also deciding to move forward with that president`s agenda. 100 days
into Obama administration 2.0, and the agenda of this president, the one
chosen by a popular majority has been largely subverted by the will of a
small but determined minority. It is disregarded by a Senate minority able
to torpedo bills to fall short of a filibuster proof 60 vote margin. Even
when that legislation has the kind of overwhelming public support, that was
behind the expansion of the firearms background checks. The failure of
this common sense proposal, they should have been a no brainer for Congress
had the president seen red at his press conference afterward, but the co-
author of that legislation, Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey gave
President Obama plenty of reason to feel blue when he spoke plainly about
Republican reluctance on gun reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R ) PENNSYLVANIA: I thought that we had settled on a
really common sense approach that ought to be able to achieve a consensus.
I think in the end we didn`t because our politics have become so polarized.
And there are people on my side who didn`t want to be perceived to be
helping something that the president wants to accomplish. Simply because
it`s the president who wants to accomplish it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS PERRY: Which brings me to another small, but determined minority.
The National Rifle Association. Whose members constitute a minority even
among gun owners, but whose influence in Congress far overextends its reach
among the people. The NRA is all too willing to stock that Republican
aversion to working with the president, dangling the threat of an electoral
defeat should a member of Congress want to (inaudible) of their policy
preferences. In fact, right now at their annual convention in Houston the
NRA is strategizing for the 2014 midterm elections. The prospect of a
second half of a second term still burnt with an uncooperative Congress is
certainly apt inspiration for President Obama`s blues. But here is the
thing about the blues: they`re not just songs of individual complaint.
Blues also gives voice to a collective experience of injustice and longing
for change. The same longing for change that earned the president a
victory twice over. And when he hopes now is that these blues will have
Congress singing a new song come 2014. Here with me today Karen Finney,
MSNBSC host and former DNC Communications director Patrick Millsaps,
partner at the Hall Booth Smith and former chief of staff the Newt Gingrich
2012 campaign, Richard Kim, executive editor of TheNation.com and Ira
Katznelson, professor of political science and history at Columbia
University. And author of "Fear Itself: The New Deal and The Origins of
Our Time." Thank you all for being here.
Karen, I want to start with you. Because I feel like sort of -- what is
going on here?
HARRIS PERRY: I mean the guns piece most specifically. Here is something
where you`ve got 90 percent of Americans saying they support it. You were
seeing people like Senator Kelly Ayotte taking, you know, real heat for it,
Senator McCain getting applause for his "Yes" note. What in the world is
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC HOST: Well, remember that. You had some House members
saying it`s going to die when, you know, when it comes over here. So you
had senators saying, well, I`m not going to stick my neck out on something
that`s going to end up dying and what was the reason, a lot of them said on
the House side? I don`t want to give Obama a victory. I don`t want to
give him something he wants. A big part of the problem in terms of the
obstruction is that`s what the president kept saying. It`s not about me,
right? They keep trying to make it about him. And you do have a sizable
number of members of Congress for whom that is enough motivation. And
there`s also a sizable number of Congress for whom blowing it all up is
perfectly acceptable. I mean we heard back going into the sequester,
right? That like if it all shuts down, great, we want that. That being
said, I think there`s another more hardball game to be played here. I
would have liked to see victims of gun violence from the states of those
members who were threatening to filibuster. Because God bless the folks
from Newtown, but until there`s political pain and a cost to be paid to
those members of Congress who are going to take the vote.
HARRIS PERRY: Well, we did see Gabby Giffords grab the arm of her senator
and friend ...
HARRIS PERRY: ... and say come on, we`re going to need your vote here.
Patrick, I saw you starting to wear a lap (ph) a little bit about the idea
HARRIS PERRY: That, you know, that Republicans are just willing to kind of
blow the whole thing up, but I want to play this RNC ad that came right
after the kind of sad president press conference. So let`s take a look at
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gun bill failed. The sequester appears here to
stay. Immigration reform is still a glimmer of hope largely because the
president has stayed out of it.
OBAMA: And maybe I should pack up and go home?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS PERRY: So, it`s -- hey the only thing that we`re going to allow to
happen is the one thing the president isn`t really a part of. Why aren`t
you leading? I mean I`ve got to say, it`s an incredibly effective ad. But
it also does feels like what they`re saying, is we are still running
against this president.
PATRICK MILLSAPS, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF, NEWT 2012: Well, two things (ph)
HARRIS PERRY: Yes.
MILLSAPS: ... Forget your politics. If you are the president of the
United States and somebody asks you if you have enough juice, whatever the
answer really is, you say, yes, absolutely.
HARRIS PERRY: Yeah, OK.
MILLSAPS: That is leadership 101. It`s not ...
HARRIS PERRY: All right, so that`s swagger 101. You just always say yes.
MILLSAPS: Yes. I`ve got juice. I mean I work for new -- he had always
HARRIS PERRY: Yes. And that was absolute fiction. I`m sure. I`ve got
MILLSAPS: But here`s the thing on the gun -- I don`t -- blaming Congress
has become a very convenient thing for the president. But if you all
remember right after Newtown, the rhetoric and the vitriol that were about
guns was not just directed at criminals. It became a vilification of gun
ownership. And so, while -- at the end of the -- at the end of the day,
when we finally get to background checks, which, by the way, Georgia has, I
have a carry permit. I even have a license with my thumbprint, but when
you start with all guns are bad, and I`m not saying that the president is
necessarily with that, but ...
HARRIS PERRY: But there`s nothing, I`ve got to tell you, Patrick. There`s
nothing in the legislation that is -- as a matter of politics.
FINNEY: Very watered down piece of legislation.
MILLSAPS: It was watered down.
FINNEY: We should have been really simple.
MILLSAPS: It was watered down by Harry Reid.
RICHARD KIM, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THENATION.COM: You know, I think in fact
part of the reason that gun control failed this time, is because there
wasn`t actually that less flank on it. Right? We gave away back -- we
gave away assault weapons ban before there even was a vote on it. And no
one was talking about buybacks for guns, which they enacted in Australia
very successfully. No one was talking about, this is going to be radical
and then (inaudible) with Second Amendment. You know that? There is a
role for a radical left flank on something that actually creates the
different kind of center than the center that was created between President
Obama, on the one hand, and the congressional Republicans on the other.
HARRIS PERRY: I`m so glad you said that. Ira, because, I`ve been spending
my life at this point, working my way through your new book "Fear Itself."
And part of the claim that you make about New Deal politics, is in fact
that there was all of this the consternation (ph) within the Congress
IRA KATZNELSON, AUTHOR, "FEAR ITSELF": We have to remember that the
politics of Congress is a real rich robust conflictual politics. And
president should not walk away from that. And neither should members of
Congress. The outcome that we get in legislation is the result of people
pushing and tugging and shoving. And sometimes even insulting each other.
Now the president`s rhetoric, however, I think was potentially well chosen
if he`s playing for the long run. In the long run being, a Harry Truman-
style campaign against the do-nothing Congress. Because in this case, he
may well have calculated that to say I have juice and I am fighting and
fighting would make him seam weaker in a few weeks when he doesn`t get
anything else. In turn, he`s saying, you`ve got responsibility, you don`t
play the game. I`m coming back at you in 2000 ...
HARRIS PERRY: But hold right here. Because I`m interested in this
question of like whether or not you perform the swagger or whether or not
you ask for it your partner in the game, to also be dealing with their
responsibilities. And this is the big deal, because the president`s
domestic agenda isn`t the only thing that`s giving him the blues. After
the break, Syria, Guantanamo Bay. This guy is a Nobel Peace Prize winner,
HARRIS PERRY: Overnight we had breaking news with confirmation of Israeli
launched air strikes targeting sites inside the country of Syria. For
more, we bring in NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel
reporting nearby from Turkey. Richard?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Melissa, this is just a sign of how
chaotic and how dangerous the situation in Syria has become. And there are
very serious concerns of what will happen to the vast stockpiles of weapons
in Syria, chemical weapons, conventional weapons or as the country is in a
state of collapse. NBC News has learned that Israel carried out an air
strike in Syria early on Friday. The target, according to an Israeli
official, was a weapons depot, some missiles that Israel says were on their
way out of Syria bound for the Lebanese militia group of Hezbollah. This
is the second time Israel has done something like this. In January, there
was a similar strike. Israel, again, targeting the facility inside Syria,
again targeting weapons that Israel says were leaving Syria for the
Lebanese militia group Hezbollah. The government of Bashar al-Assad has an
alliance with Hezbollah and Israel has said repeatedly that it considers a
red line, the transfer of any what it calls, game changing sophisticated
weaponry from Syria to Hezbollah or obviously any chemical weapons.
This comes as the United States is trying to figure out potentially a new
strategy for Syria. The policy of pushing the two sides, the opposition
and Bashar al-Assad`s government to have a political reconciliation just
hasn`t been working. And the rebels say they want weapons. They want a no
fly zone. And President Obama has now ruled out sending in American
troops. That appears to be messaging for the American people. Because the
opposition here, and they`re based here in southern Turkey, don`t want
American troops on the ground. They want that no-fly zone. They want
weapons. But if the United -- if President Obama is now signaling to the
American people that there won`t be troops involved, there is a hope here
at least that this is an early step to taking a much more engaged process
with the Syrian opposition. We will see if that plays out, but certainly
there are many people here in southern Turkey, many in the Syrian
opposition who would like to see the United States more involved if not
having U.S. troops, which is something they say they do not want. Melissa.
HARRIS PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Richard Engel. And I want to turn now to
how this ongoing crisis in Syria is impacting President Obama and the
political challenge facing his foreign policy. Yesterday in Costa Rica,
President Obama blurred that bold line that he had previously drawn on U.S.
action in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad using chemical
weapons against Syrian rebels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It`s going to be based on number one, the facts on the ground.
Number two, it`s going to be based on what`s in the interest of the
American people and our national security. And as president of the United
States, I`m going to make those decisions based on the best evidence and
after careful consultation. Because when we rush into things, not only do
we pay a price, but often times we see unintended consequences on the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS PERRY: So, this was the president, Ira, doubling down on this kind
of, you know, cautious approach to decision making. And I`m just
wondering, does this somehow end up making him look indecisive when in fact
what maybe we ought to be seeing, as you were saying earlier, this sense of
sort of carefulness of decision making.
KATZNELSON: He probably regrets the red line remark he made. That
statement put him and the United States in a bind. But having said that,
his caution is genuinely thoughtful, because the range of options is very
limited in this case. How to be effective and how to be effective in a way
that does not empower those who in the long run will cause us deep trouble.
Finally, there`s a region here to be considered. The war in Syria can
spill over, just as any future configuration, and Iran might spill over.
And it`s those spill-over effects and possibilities. A region that might
have down the road a nuclear arms race, border crossings of troops as from
governments and from non-official forces. And that is -- that mix, that
incendiary potential mix is something the president does well to consider
HARRIS PERRY: And Karen.
FINNEY: You know, and one of the most important lessons that I hope we
have learned from Iraq is, I mean you`ve heard some of the officials says,
we did not know what we were getting into. You have Paul Wolfowitz say ...
HARRIS PERRY: Yes.
FINNEY: We weren`t prepared for a counterinsurgency.
HARRIS PERRY: Yes.
FINNEY: Really? Well, here we are 12 years later, sending more troops
over there to deal with the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. So I think
part of what the president has gone back to (inaudible) -- he has -- the
situation on the ground is so precarious that getting involved -- the other
thing is, I think, with this issue of troops on the ground, we all know how
easy it is to have mission creed. You start with a no-fly zone. Then the
pressure becomes, well, let`s do this. Well, then let`s do this.
HARRIS PERRY: And then you`ve got American soldiers standing in this.
FINNEY: That`s right. And don`t forget. We still have 66,000 troops in
Afghanistan in the middle of a war. And everything that goes on, the
conversation that we have, don`t think that the folks over there in the
Taliban aren`t paying attention and using anything that we do and say as
recruiting tools in that effort.
HARRIS PERRY: But, you know, Patrick, this is, I guess, exactly my sort of
angst about the, you know, presidential swagger as the basis for sort of
demonstrating power. Because for me to watch a president say, hey, this is
complicated. To acknowledge that a region like this can`t simply be sort
of macho manned out, I find that actually quite comforting that my
president is taking a moment and not just rushing in.
MILLSAPS: You`re already from this is -- and me being a Republican ...
HARRIS PERRY: Yes, yes ...
MILLSAPS: ... I have no problem with what Obama is doing right now.
Because he -- I mean - because of his first, forget his swagger.
HARRIS PERRY: Yes.
MILLSAPS: Forget what he, you know, forget what his politics are, this is
one of his decisions that affect people`s lives.
HARRIS PERRY: Yes.
MILLSAPS: And if you`re looking at our troops and our Treasure, which,
quite frankly, we probably couldn`t afford this right now, then it`s a
cautious approach. And I have no problem with it, and somebody -- I`m glad
this is on tape.
KIM: We can`t underscore enough how dangerous this red line business is.
KIM: It`s a sort of political game that Israel plays, that the Republican
Party plays. And it`s a political gotcha game. It`s just say, you drew
this red line. And then you broke the red line. And you didn`t do
anything. So you appear weak, right? But the concept of the red line is
totally damaging to the kinds of decisions you actually want to make that
are contextual. That are driven by information that the press doesn`t and
public doesn`t have.
HARRIS PERRY: Yes.
KIM: And it`s absolutely damaging to the cut of the diplomacy. If you`re
opponent in the diplomatic scenario knows what your red line is, because
you prepared it ...
KIM: ... where is your negotiating room? And now I think there really is
a very hard core diplomatic track that Obama is pursuing. Kerry is going
to go visit Russia ...
HARRIS PERRY: Yes.
KIM: ... which has to be a major player in whatever solution comes out of
the Syrian crisis. And so, you know, that`s really where I think just kind
of red line stuff is going to impact the diplomacy. And I`m concerned
HARRIS PERRY: No, I so appreciate that you said it that way. I mean
Jonathan Chait wrote yesterday that part of what`s going on with the sort
of leadership narrative around President Obama is the sort of magical
thinking about how a leader, you know, is meant to lead in this concept
that political commentators just prefer a narrative instead of numbers.
They just want him to -- and I was thinking, it`s the West Wing problem,
right? It`s the problem of watching this sort of Aaron Sorkin versions of
-- you can just come in and show your manliness and it will all be fixed.
FINNEY: And that`s the really important point, because the other thing to
take this back out wide is from the perspective of Barack Obama, it`s all
on the table. You`re trying to get guns done. You`re trying to get
immigration reform done. You`ve got to deal with Syria, you`ve got to deal
with trying to get to troops out of Afghanistan. All that requires a
certain amount of political capital to some degree, building certain
alliances between Democrats, Republicans even in some places. And figuring
out where -- and getting (inaudible) implemented fully.
HARRIS PERRY: Yes.
FINNEY: So figuring out where you can push and get something done, and
where it may not -- I hate to say it, be worth the capital, even though
sometimes I think for those of us on the outside, we think it`s worth the
fight. But to your point, when you know the facts, you know that you can`t
win that one. And I think this president is one who -- he wants to win.
He doesn`t like to just do the showmanship in the game for the sake of the
HARRIS PERRY: So we`re going back on immigration. I also don`t want to
lose Guantanamo. Because that`s the other sort of piece that`s going on
here about presidential effort and congressional effort. But we`re going
to talk also about immigration when we come back.
HARRIS PERRY: The president`s blue mood seemed to have lifted yesterday
while he spoke these words about immigration reform during his trip to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: That as a nation of immigrants, the immigration system we have in
the United States right now doesn`t reflect our values. I`m working with
our Congress to pass common sense immigration reform. And I`m optimistic
that after years of trying we are going to get it done this year. I`m
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS PERRY: So, he is feeling good. He`s like yes, we`re at least going
to get immigration reform done. But this is the same president who told us
initially, I`m also closing Guantanamo Bay. So, it just feels to me like
both of these, even though they are not the same sort of issue, they are
both big things, they`re both things that people have a lot of emotions
about. And they`re both things, in which the Congress either by working
with him or working against him will make happen.
FINNEY: But ultimately, who has a stake in getting immigration reform
passed? Republicans. 2014 mid-term elections are coming up. Latino
voters can help make the difference in a lot of those elections. So there
is a political imperative for Republicans to work with the president that
does not exist on some of these other issues.
HARRIS PERRY: I see. So in this one you think it will happen because --
because it could actually -- benefiting them. But what if -- if
immigration reform gets done under President Obama, does that sort of bring
Latinos into the Democratic Party in a way that is like the New Deal
bringing African Americans into the Democratic Party?
KATZNELSON: I think the president will get most of the credit.
Republicans can`t afford, at this point, to say no. But the Democrats are
going to gain. This issue is so identified with the president and with the
Democratic Party and the opposition to it was so keenly identified in the
Republican primaries and the election with the Republican Party. And that
won`t go away. People remember. It`s deeply, deeply felt. There are many
reasons why a good many Latino voters should be voting Republican. Social
conservatism is an example. President Bush demonstrated both in Texas as
governor and at his campaigns for president, that he could win significant
portions of Latino votes. But that impulse, I think, was wasted for the
Republican Party when they took such a strong xenophobic stance about
HARRIS PERRY: Yes.
KIM: I think for the Republican Party, it`s clearly about controlling that
demographic lead now, right? And I think they would love to just go back
to the George W. Bush levels ...
KIM: ... of racial disparity in terms o of the vote. You know, what`s
also interesting, I think on immigration, is that Obama is taking somewhat
of a backseat on this, at least in the sort of public sphere, and I think
that`s in part because he`s been cautioned that his brand is kind of toxic
to getting legislation through the Congress and that if you make it really
about his achievements you will have this happen in gun control. Members
of the House and members of the Senate who are Republican moderates vote
against -- just to defeat him. Even when it`s in their long-term party`s
interest to actually pass an immigration bill.
MILLSAPS: I don`t necessarily -- I`m one of the few people that don`t
necessarily buy into the fact that Republicans need to pass the immigration
reform to win the presidency because Borow (ph) in New York wrote a great
piece this week that everybody should read it. He basically said if Romney
had gotten the most historic Hispanic vote a Republican had ever had, he
still would have lost because he didn`t turn his base out. So, I don`t
accept that premise. But If Obama wants to get something done in the
immigration reform, he`s going to have to lose what I call his presidential
ADD. And sometimes that -- what I mean by that is, when the country is
focused on one topic, he teams to throw up other red herrings. And we are
talking about Gitmo. But Gitmo right now -- I don`t know if that`s -- this
is the best time to talk about Gitmo, because there does seem to be a ball
rolling on immigration reform.
HARRIS PERRY: But he actually didn`t bring it up, right?
KIM: We`re talking about it because people are starving themselves.
HARRIS PERRY: People are starving -- people are starving themselves to
that. And so, and in fact, I actually wonder if that`s part of it, right?
So you talk about throwing up red herrings. But I`m wondering if part of
what happened is that it`s the movements that are coming sort of
organically from the bottom. In the case of Guantanamo Bay, of presidents
themselves, putting themselves back on the agenda through the hunger
strikes. That the Dreamers put the agenda forward, and so that when and
LGBT movement, right?
KIM: Yes, they didn`t -- They did not want to talk about it at that moment.
FINNEY: I think a lot of these issues have been like waiting for their
moment for so long.
HARRIS PERRY: Yes!
FINNEY: Because under Bush it was impossible. We had the war. We had the
economy really dominating. And then I think people -- so, wait a second,
there is more kids are getting shot in the streets. We have got to ...
HARRIS PERRY: Let`s talk about guns.
FINNEY: Hey, by the way we`ve got all this stuff we`ve got to deal with
that does really matter in people`s day-to-day lives.
KATZNELSON: Presidents have to work with multiple time frames. Guantanamo
has been thrown up to him because of the hunger strikes. We have 86 people
in Guantanamo who have been cleared for release for some years. They are
not thought to be national security threats to the United States. And yet
there they are. They understood at one point they would be leaving.
Imagine that you are held, perhaps by mistake. And told you would be
released, and then years go by. And no wonder they`re desperate. And that
problem has to be solved. It`s not easy because where will they go? But
the situation in Guantanamo is now so intense that the president must find
a way to deal with it. And good presidents and especially great presidents
work with multiple time lines and more than one issue at a time.
HARRIS PERRY: I want to dig down into some of this a little bit. Because
part of it is seeing that the president can`t even get through Congress
very basic things, like judicial appointments. So when we come back we`re
going to dig down a little bit further into this.
HARRIS PERRY: While some aspects of President Obama`s second-term agenda
have been stalled or sidetracked, there is one that has simply come to a
grinding halt. The process to fill the 80 seats, empty judicial seats in
federal and appellate courts across the country. And there is plenty of
blame to go around, Republican senators blame the president for being slow
to suggest nominees in their states. The White House and congressional
Democrats blame abstractionist Republicans whose states have the highest
number of vacancies that have also gone unfilled for the longest amount of
time. Meanwhile, 40 percent of those court have reached such an
overwhelming backlog of cases that they have been designated judicial
emergencies. The sentenced wait behind bars the trials that never come.
We`re not talking about Guantanamo, we leave it (inaudible) there, we`re
talking about American citizens in the American court system dealing with
delays because there are fewer judges handling more cases and justice for
all remains indefinitely stuck in limbo. So, I mean this is real time
consequences in people`s lives for this kind of gridlock. Karen, we`re
saying, they managed to get FAA through, no problem.
HARRIS PERRY: If they have to stand in line ...
HARRIS PERRY: Why kept in line for a plane, and oh, we are going to solve
that. But you can just wait for your trial.
FINNEY: Well, that`s absolutely right. And again, to some degree it`s
because the people who are waiting are invisible.
HARRIS PERRY: Right.
FINNEY: They`re not big donors. They`re not people who have a large, loud
group of people advocating for them, right? It`s, you know, here and
there. And that is part of the problem with our politics right now. Is
that there`s this invisibility, basically. If your issue -- if you can`t
get yourself up here, you`re just going to have to wait.
HARRIS PERRY: Yes. Is this inability to make this happen, you know, sort
of historic sense, is this a failure of presidential leadership? Is this a
shift in our partisanship? Is this about new structures that basically
make it a 60-person vote that must happen in the context of the Senate.
Like I`m really trying to stand. Should I think that this is a bad
president or an evil Congress?
KIM: In this particular case, and you know me, I`m a pretty harsh critic
of this president`s effort level on some things. But in this particular
case, you know, I think this is purely the result of obstructionism.
HARRIS PERRY: OK.
KIM: He has put forward nominees. They are reasonable nominees. That in
any other era would have sailed through confirmation. And so, this is just
one of the in fact purely GOP obstructionist things, and I think also on
gun control to bring it back to that, like he did everything there that the
left is always saying, we want him to do, like he barn stormed the country.
He sent Joe Biden to barn storm the country. He sent Michelle Obama to
barn storm the country, right? He mobilized all. So he did everything
that is in his sort of wheel house of, you know, tricks to get and campaign
to get the bill passed, and it failed because of the filibuster. And
because of structural rules in the Senate.
HARRIS PERRY: But because it had a majority vote. It just didn`t have 60.
KIM: You know, on a lot of things, I think he hasn`t, you know, tried hard
HARRIS PERRY: But on this one ..
KATZNELSON: We have a politics, in which individual members of Congress
are so tightly tied to intensely organized interests that they are afraid,
really afraid, despite their safe seats, to move in the public interest
towards compromised positions.
FINNEY: Would term limit change that?
KATZNELSON: That`s a good question.
KATZNELSON: You know, term limits often have unintended consequences.
They get rid of the people with skill legislation and who have developed
the capacity over the years to think about the public interest in a
thoughtful way. The negative part of term limits is that we continue to
feed the system with those with the least experience and the most intense
connections to donors ...
HARRIS PERRY: True.
KATZNELSON: ... to fierce interest groups and to those unwilling to make
necessary compromises in the civic interest.
HARRIS PERRY: Patrick, part of the Republican narrative here is that the
president is a bad leader. Even as - so they -- part of what they say is,
we`re not going to help you. But then they say. I can`t even believe you
didn`t lead me. I mean I can`t -- why didn`t you lead me?
HARRIS PERRY: Is there anyone who you would define, as having had a
Congress that was on the on the other side, right?
HARRIS PERRY: Democrat or Republican, who you saw as a good leader of that
MILLSAPS: Well, I`ll give bipartisan -- I mean Reagan and even Clinton --
I mean Clinton got things passed, and I think the reason they did that is
these guys cast a vision. For Reagan it was shining sitting on the hill.
Even for Obama`s first term, it was the concept of hope and change -- I
mean conservatives didn`t understand what it was, but people understood
that there`s a theme to what he does. And I think that right now Obama is
lacking a theme. Believe it or not, there was a Democrat, actually, got me
involved in politics. It was my congressman Buddy Darden from the 7th
congressional district in Georgia. When Clinton wanted to pass his tax
increases, Clinton was such a leader of his own party. But he -- but made
that tough decision to past the tax increases. He lost a seat over it.
But he -- Clinton had inspired enough leadership in his own party to do
HARRIS PERRY: Let me tell you, because we have to go to a break.
HARRIS PERRY: I`m down with -- let`s call Bill Clinton a great leader and
all that. But let`s just not forget he was impeached. Like, he -- I mean
-- like so, I worry about this revisionist thing we do about the great
Clinton years when, in fact, he was actually also impeached by the
Congress. But, you know, more on all of the revisionist history when we
come back. Thank you to Patrick Millsaps, one of our favorite Republicans
HARRIS PERRY: ... at MHP. Apparently, because he was drawn into politics
by a Democrat. The rest are back for more. And a programming note. Next
week on this program, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi comes to Nerdland.
She helped potentially to cure the blues of this president. So be sure to
join us for that.
And after the break, eight years after Katrina, the people of New Orleans
are experiencing a rebirth. But let`s be clear -- it is not because of any
decision point made by President George W. Bush. I`ve got a letter when
we come back.
HARRIS PERRY: The George W. Bush presidential library opened to the public
on Wednesday in Dallas, Texas. And since then we`ve been learning a lot
more about what is inside. Which gives me an opportunity to take note of
one particular exhibit in the form of a letter.
Dear President George W. Bush, it`s me, Melissa! Congratulations on the
opening of your new library! Now maybe you`ll go inside one. You`ve long
held that history will be the ultimate judge of the decisions you made
while president, but what the decision points theater exhibit at your
library, it looks like you are planning to give history a little nudge in
the direction that you find favorable. You`re still pushing decade-old so-
called intelligence to justify your decision point to invade Iraq. But I`m
sorry, Mr. President. There simply were no weapons of mass destruction.
That was an oops, my bad. The cost is $2 trillion and nearly 4,500
But as a resident of Post Katrina New Orleans, the one decision point that
really has me fired up, is how your library represents the choices that you
faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. According to your exhibits,
the main problem you faced was how to restore law and order. The big issue
that visitors are asked to resolve, is whether or not you should have
invoked the Insurrection Act to control the looters. Oh, yeah? Looting
was the big problem? As much as 80 percent of the city was flooded.
Nearly 1,000 Louisiana residents died. Many in their own homes, drowned by
storm surges that breached inadequate federal levies. Many thousands more
were trapped in the Superdome and Convention Center for days without food
or medicine, water, electricity or even working bathrooms. And you were
trying to figure out whether or not to quell an insurrection? These people
were Americans, Mr. President. Homeowners, taxpayers, voters. Your people
and you were vacationing. While they drowned. The decision you should
have been making, sir, wasn`t on how to quell them, it was how to save
them. But hey, even if you completely bungled the immediate response, you
did come on down to New Orleans after the storm to give a rousing speech in
Jackson Square. You promised to uncover the facts, to rebuild the
infrastructure, and to make sure that New Orleans emerged from the storm
with egalitarian resiliency. Well, W., I`m not sure if you bothered to even
take a fly over the Lower Ninth Ward recently, but let`s be clear:
equality of recovery isn`t the best description for the realities in New
But listen, I`m not complaining. I mean one thing is for sure that people
of my city didn`t wait around for you to keep your promises. They formed
community organizations, reopened schools, lobbied for more resources,
litigated for greater fairness and rebuilt their lives, one sheet of dry
wall at a time. But the struggle continues. Nearly eight years after you
were considering that law and order decision, our city has the second
highest rate of homelessness in the nation. As for you eight years later,
well, here`s what you recently told CNN`s John King.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH: You learn that life doesn`t end after you`re a president.
I know you`re going 100 miles an hour and in my case we woke up in Crawford
and that was going zero.
BUSH: And so, the challenge is how to live life to its fullest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS PERRY: Well, that`s cool, Mr. President. I`m glad you`re slowing
down, catching your breath, finding a way to live life to its fullest. In
the meantime, tens of thousands of New Orleanians are still trying to find
a way home, still displaced by the policies of your administration. Still
reeling from the failures of your decisions. But hey, a heck of a job "W."
HARRIS PERRY: We`ve got another great selection for you in Nerdland
"Writer`s Corner." "Fear Itself, the New Deal and the Origins of Our Time"
takes a complex look at one of the greatest pieces of social legislation of
our time. It examines the New Deal through an international lens and one
about the fears that the country faced at the time, and the deals that FDR
and northern liberals had to make with southern Democrats, which included
the preservation of the south racial hierarchy.
Joining me now is the author of "Fear Itself," Ira Katznelson, who is also
Columbia University`s Ruggles professor of political science and history.
So Ira, start by talking about what those fears were in that moment that
shaped who we were as a country.
KATZNELSON: The most obvious fear, of course, when President Roosevelt
took office, was the collapse of global capitalism. But at the same time
the country faced and liberal democracy faced deep competition from new
kinds of mass dictatorships in Rome, in Berlin, in Moscow. And the
question it`s take -- the first fear, great fear was, could liberal
democracies solve big problems like the collapse of capitalism. Second
layer of fear followed on the first. The growth of a world of great
violence, culminating in the Second World War. Ending with atomic weapons,
and then the discovery of the Holocaust. And the third great fear of that
era was inside America. The fearful and fear charged, terror charged
system of Jim Crow. A world, in which African-Americans feared on a daily
basis, and in which white Americans in the south who defended the system
were deeply anxious about its continuity. And those three sets of fear
together confronted the Roosevelt administration and the American people
during the 1930s and 1940s.
HARRIS PERRY: So, one of the things we`re constantly trying to do here on
MHP is to take these historical epics and bring them to our contemporary
moment. And -- I mean there`s a way which historians paint (ph) that,
because you`ve got to be able to deal with history in its own moment, and
yet, when you talk about those fears, you also write, the New Deal was a
moment with the most fundamental contours of politics, including political
institutions, language and values, were deeply unsettled. That notion of
being unsettled and these three fears about the economy, about the capacity
of our democracy and about these changing racial demographics, I got to
tell you, it feels very present to me.
KATZNELSON: In 1947, not today, the great writer E.B. White wrote, " I
live in an age of fear." We could say, we live in an age of fear. Of
course, our fears are not the same as those of the 1930s and 1940s. But we
live in an age of economic challenge. We live in a moment of religious
zealotry. We live at a moment, in which we often fear for our personal or
country`s security. And in those circumstances, our democracy, any
democracy, has to find a means to stay sober, to not cave to fear, to
maintain its constitutional order, and to discern a sense of public
interest, able to move ahead, but without panic. And that sometimes we`re
not doing very well.
HARRIS PERRY: Is there a lesson from this moment about -- I like this
language of sobriety about our democracy. It`s easy, particularly in the
cable news world to start throwing up our hands and screaming, oh my
goodness, the house is on fire.
HARRIS PERRY: But there`s no way to maintain the sobriety -- are there
actual tactics we can use as a people that we can learn from this moment?
KATZNELSON: I think we might even start with Franklin Roosevelt`s first
inaugural. When he told us we had nothing to fear, but fear itself. We
have lots of things to be afraid of. But he wished to calm the American
people. And not act as a demagogue. I think it`s very important for
political leaders and civic leaders to speak and measure thoughtful tones
about the problems we face. To be even keeled. And in this, the president
actually, I think, excels. It`s also a moment where we have to discern
ways of governing. Ways of solving big problems. And the current impasse
between the president and Congress causes the people rightly to lose faith
in the capacity of liberal democracy to solve big problems. You know, when
the president came to office, there were those who said including great
journalists like Walter Lippmann, we have to suspend the Constitution to
fight the emergency. And the great achievement of the New Deal was that it
did not suspend our Constitution.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. That we found a way to still be Americans pursuing
this great project of what we are trying to do here, despite all the things
we have to fear. Stick with us. We`ve got more at the top of the hour.
Remember, MHP show is, of course, a two-hour show. So when we come back,
we`re going to talk about the two groups at the heart of the American
ideal. Farmers and veterans, what they really need right now and what we
owe them. And (inaudible) also, much love for the loss of crisscross this
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
The American farmer, tiller of our amber waves of green, caretaker of our
fruited plain, has always been the emblem of our nation.
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was an agrarian romantic, who elevated the
farmer to mythic status. But the Jefferson example is instructive, because
while our agrarian history is washed in sepia tones of nostalgia, we have
all too often forgotten of the oppressive conditions of so much farm labor.
Whether the slaves of Jefferson`s Monticello where the immigrants doing
back breaking work today, Americans real relationship with those who work
the land is more complicated than this year`s Dodge Ram Super Bowl
commercial would have us believe.
Take this fact. Between 1940 and 1974, the number of African-American
farmers fell from just more than 681,000 to fewer than 46,000. That`s a
drop of 93 percent.
And this decline was no accident. It was a result of common practices at
In 1997, after decades of complaints that the Department of Agriculture had
routinely denied or limited loans to African-American farmers, while freely
distributing them to white farmers, 400 black farmers filed suit against
the USDA in the case of Pigford versus Glickman. And the suit argued that
the USDA had routinely discriminated against black farmers in the
allocation of farm loans, debt restructuring and crop payments. In 1999, a
judge agreed leading to more than a billion dollars in compensation.
In the process of paying out the compensation, the government denied
approximately 30 percent of farmers` claims. So, concerns about the
process led to a second settlement, known as Pigford 2 in 2010. The USDA
and the Department of Justice agreed to an additional $1.25 billion
settlement, which began paying out claims last year.
Many agreed justice had finally come to generations of black farmers but
last week, this headline hit the front page of "The New York Times." "U.S.
Opens Spigot after Farmers Claim Discrimination." The article detailed the
allegation of claims that Pigford 2 characterized as, quote, "a runaway
train driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of
Congress, and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees."
But this high profile, the Pigford case has once again been reopened and
the legacy of black farming is in the balance.
At the table is Ira Katznelson, professor of history and political science
at Columbia University, MSNBC host Karen Finney; Richard Kim, executive
editor at TheNation.com, and Democratic State Senator Hank Sanders from
Alabama, who is the lead council for the black farmers in the Pigford
Joining us also from Birmingham, Alabama, is Democratic Congresswoman Terri
Congresswoman Sewell, so nice to have you with us.
REP. TERRI SEWELL (D), ALABAMA: Thank you so much, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you represent a district that is very rural. How has
Pigford been received among your constituents?
SEWELL: Well, look, you know, my constituents, a large part of them, were
part of the black farmers that were part of the Pigford 1 case. And the
Pigford 2 settlement, so many are waiting for their checks. I mean, the
fact of the matter is my grandfather died in `92 without receiving his
And there were so many egregious complaints against the USDA that I really
thought that "The New York Times" article was a gross mischaracterization
of the process.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Congresswoman Sowell, I think that`s been my absolutely
concern. You know, I have been waiting for a front page story about
Pigford, because this is such an important of our history and contemporary
practices. But then the front page story that we get ends up sounding to
me, I have to say it, like some kind of agricultural welfare queen anxiety.
SEWELL: Exactly. And, you know, that`s such a gross mischaracterization.
You know, years and years, decades of being unfairly treated by the USDA
and not being able to get loans.
I mean, my grandfather talked about it incessantly. He farmed in Lowndes
County, Alabama. And as I go across my district, so many were adversely
affected that those farms, that land just is lying idle right now. And I
think that that goes to your point that we saw a 93 percent decrease in
farming across the board.
And, you know, I can tell you to that to actually get a claim through was a
more difficult process than "The New York Times" indicated. The reality is
that people had to certify that they actually have been discriminated
against under penalty or perjury. And I know that there were so many and I
think that you have on your panel State Senator Hank Sanders who is a lead
council on this.
SEWELL: And, you know, I can tell you that people are waiting right now to
receive retribution and restitution for decades of discrimination.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Hank, let me come to you on exactly that, State Senator,
because the language of turning on the spigot, just sending out the federal
money -- is that an appropriate characterization of what`s happened in
STATE SEN. HANK SANDERS (D), ALABAMA: It`s not only not appropriate. It`s
a terrible disservice to the entire process. I think it`s really important
if we understand the scope and the nature of the discrimination.
What happened is when this bill was conceived back in the `30s, Henry
Wallace really wanted the federal government to be in control of it. He
couldn`t get it through Congress unless he put the local white people in
control of it. And when he put them in control of it, their goal was to
only have blacks available to work on their farm.
So they simply made sure that there were no blacks to participate
whatsoever in getting along. If you`re farming, you know, you have to have
money in the spring for equipment. You have to have money for seeds and
fertilizer and other kinds of things. If you don`t get it, then you`re not
able to farm. As a result, what they did was, yes, drove hundreds of
thousands of black farmers out of business. And many who tried to get in,
they prevented them from getting in.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, and, Ira, this is precisely the story that you tell.
So, I`m just reading your litigation. And then I`m reading this book. And
this is exactly the story that you tell.
KATZNELSON: Well, in the 1930s, roughly half the Democratic Party in
Congress came from the 17 states that still mandated racial segregation.
These Jim Crow representatives had at their first priority protecting the
racial order of the South.
And in bill after bill after bill, including Social Security Act, including
the Fair Labor Standards Act the gave us the minimum wage, including the
Wagner Act for unions, and including agriculture legislation, farm workers
and maids were either kept out of the benefits. That`s what African-
Americans did in the South when they worked for a wage. Or local
administration was the answer to the worries of the south about how federal
law would play out.
And in consequence, Jim Crow rules, under the edges (ph) of the federal
government, governed the legislation and implementation of the new deal.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And so, the effects are the real. We can look at
the decline of black farmers. 1920, one in seven farmers is African.
1928, on the back end in that, one in every 67 is African-American.
Black farmland declined from 1910, 15 million acres of black owned
farmland. 1982, 3.1 million acres.
I mean, this isn`t on the margins. This is the decimation of a life, of a
way of being. And therefore, of an ability to pass -- land is what we pass
FINNEY: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, why "The New York Times" article now? I got to tell
you, it just felt to me like a hit piece in -- I mean, on the hand on, it
felt like really complicated, deeply research. But then, I keep thinking,
but wait a minute. What are the motivations here?
FINNEY: The thing that bothered me about the piece, I mean, I`m -- you can
believe that perhaps there may have been parts of the law that were written
poorly or administered poorly, because heaven knows, government doesn`t
always do a good job.
FINNEY: At the same time, the two underlying themes that were the most
disturbing -- number one, this idea of inefficiency. We were talking about
that before. Corruption, that under Obama, right, that it`s inefficient,
government isn`t working. And that`s a theme we heard time and time. This
black president is inefficient government.
Secondly, the theme that we`re starting here time and time again is, who is
deserving and who is not deserving? This vilification of poor people as
lazy and undeserving. And study after study, you know, when we talk about
welfare, and like you said, the welfare queen and very specific things that
come to people`s mind when you talk about that. That`s what bothered me so
much about this story, that it seemed to be just playing into those very
And then you read crazy Steve King, congressman from Iowa, saying ,this is
just a buyout for black people. They`re just trying to buy off minorities.
That`s what`s so disturbing right now.
KIM: There`s also, you know, the more immediate historical context that I
think the piece missed, which is that in 1983, Reagan uses a series of
brutal cuts in a very targeted way. And one of the offices he basically
shuts down is the civil rights division inside the USDA, right?
So, that produces a situation where claim of discrimination are being sent
to Washington and literally thrown into the trash can, which creates an
evidence gap, right? You`re actually not collecting people who are
actually trying to put in writing their claim to discrimination.
So, by the time the settlement comes about, you are looking at a series of
cases where the evidence is not clear. It`s not going to be always
documented. That`s why they allowed oral testimony to be a part of the
Now did that create some loose standards that aren`t transparent and
accountable? It looks like that from "The Times" that might have been the
case. But we need to find out the scale of that. And then we need to
think about this. If we think about this as reparations in some way,
right, the point of reparations is actually to be sort of historically
minded and to understand the many times in which discrimination impacted
this group of people. And that`s I think the kind of best way to frame
this as a historical inquiry about justice.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Congresswoman, so on one hand, we have got this historic
frame. But, Representative Sewell, it also feels to me like there`s a very
clear claim being made at this present Congress. So, given that you
represent this district, are there actions that you are planning to take or
others in Congress are planning to take around what`s now been raised?
SEWELL: You know, the Congressional Black Caucus in Congress that has been
the voice for the discriminated and for the voice of the black farmers.
And so, I know that we are all quite concerned about this article, and a
lot of us, prior to the article, was really concerned about the
appropriated money that has already been set aside for the current Pigford
2 settlement, those checks actually coming to the discriminated black
So, I think that we in Congress have appropriated this money. I think it`s
incumbent upon us obviously to get waste fraud and abuse out of the system.
But I really do feel like it was a mischaracterization for us -- for this
article and this journalist to suggest all the claims or the majority of
the claims were fraudulent. I can tell you as I go across the district,
that I hear time and time again stories of how black farmers were
discriminated against, how they had to sell the land.
You know, at the end of the day, we`re talking about farmers here. What`s
more American than our farmers?
SEWELL: The folks who, you know, really grew the corn and the food that we
all eat. I just think that it`s really sad at this day and age that we
would try to make this a racial issue.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Congresswoman Sewell ion Alabama.
I`m going to come right back to you, Hank, as soon as we come back because
there`s much more on this question of Pigford. But I thank the
congresswoman for joining us.
More when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are discussing the Pigford cases that resulted in
billions of dollars in government compensation to African-American farmers
who had been discriminated against by the Department of Agriculture for
At issue was the USDA`s credit department fraudulent allocation of farm
loans, debt restructuring and crop payments. These types of government
loans and subsidies are an essential part of the American agricultural
business. On average, USDA subsidies totaled $11.8 billion annually paid
directly to American farmers. Who gets these federal dollars and for what
size of crops has influence on the food that is grown and available in the
country and hands that do that work?
So -- I mean, I think this is part of what I wanted to point out, Hank,
farmers getting the help of government is standard practice. This is, in
fact, how farmers farm in the country, and African-American farmers were
systematically shut out of it. Is that -- is that the story we need to
SANDERS: Yes, let me make several points.
SANDERS: It`s hard to farm without government help. White folks can`t do
it. Black folks won`t be able to do it, without. That`s one.
The second point is, you have to understand the massive nature of this
discrimination. It wasn`t that most people got the chance to apply, many
times when you went in, they say there are no more applications. There are
no more funds, come back next week. And you come back and they send you
back again. It was just massive because there was a plan to all of this.
The third thing is it did great damage to people who were farming. They
could no longer farm. People wanted to farm, did not get a chance to farm.
It did damage to families because the families would break down. People
couldn`t work, couldn`t make a living. They left and went to Chicago and
Detroit and other places. It broke down communities. It`s just a massive
nature of the destruction on it.
And, finally, quickly, I want to say they characterize this as the black
farmers` case because that`s a highly charged racial term. But it`s really
five different cases.
SANDERS: It`s a women`s case, a Hispanics cases, a Native American case
and two African-American case.
The one, the second Pigford case, it`s interesting to know that the United
States Congress now passed a law authorizing this. Then it passed a law
appropriating the money.
SANDERS: And in that, it required multiple kinds of audit. There are
layers and layers of protection to make sure that the fraud was -- is not
wiped out, held to a minimum. There`s very little fraud in that, in any
kind of way you can look at it. But when they say black, then it colors
the whole thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Karen, this feels -- the state senator`s point to me
feels like precisely what was going on at least in the tone of this
article, which was the sense it wants you to find as black farmers. And
you have this black American president under whom it all happens and the
language of the spigot and the federal government.
So, I appreciate this language of it`s hard to farm without government
help. Not white folks do it. In fact, it`s hard to do lots of things like
drive on roads or buy houses. But when white folks do it we make it
invisible. When black folks do it, we give these derogatory names like
welfare or reparation.
FINNEY: That`s right and those terms become demonized. It goes into the
theme of who is deserving, who is not deserving? Lazy, hard working.
All farmers are hard working. I don`t care what color you are.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s no lazy farmers.
FINNEY: You know, the other piece of this, you know, this idea of this
discrimination, it`s happening now. We were just talking about this.
There are how many cases of discrimination on home loans. Now the
government is investigating auto loans.
Are you really suggesting you don`t think it happened? That discrimination
doesn`t happen? It`s still happening. We know it`s still happening. And
again, owning a home and passing on a home to your family -- I mean, that
is supposed to be a fundamental part of American life.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s one of the other things that we saw this week, right,
was those reports about the evaporation of black wealth in the context of
this economic downturn. It`s a reminder that that evaporation doesn`t
happen accidentally. It is the result of systematic policy.
KIM: The language of this was like the 47 percent video, right? This is
the sort of new Republican theory of the voter, right, or Democratic voter,
right, that only people who are beholden to the government and sort of mind
controlled by them with these gifts are going to vote for Obama and that
explains sort of their supremacy in the polls. The same theory is not
applied to the military industrial complex, corporate capital -- I mean,
all the trenches that get government aid or benefit from the government.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, in fact -- yes, go ahead.
SANDERS: There were a lot of people in the USDA who have been pushing
this. They`ve been pushing it for years. And, finally, they got somebody
like "The New York Times" to end up doing this.
And I think it`s important to know that in -- out of all of this
discrimination, not a single person was ever fired. Not a single person
was ever demoted. Not a single person was ever investigated.
The only person that was fired was Shirley Sherrod. And she was innocent.
She was black. And she hadn`t done anything wrong except tried to help
this white farmer and got fired.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. No one was held fundamentally accountable.
I`m thinking of not this book, but the title of your previous book, which
is when affirmative action was white. And this idea that there`s simply
this invisibility of government support until it becomes racialized.
KATZNELSON: The vast amount of majority of help to agriculture these days
goes to big corporate farms, often not to grow things or to grow things
which are inefficient. We have a public policy structure that has largely
left out those near the bottom of the social structure. It`s not
discrimination against African-Americans or Native Americans or Latinos on
the land. It`s discrimination against small farmers, against people who
are trying to eke out a living under difficult circumstances.
And we have a deep bias in our public policy that dates back, unfortunately
now, many, many decades.
Thank you to State Senator Hank Sanders. I appreciate the advocacy work
that you have done and continue to do.
The rest are staying for more.
And when we come back, we want to introduce everybody to an incredible new
program and the remarkable man leading it. For many of our veterans, the
HARRIS-PERRY: Before the break, we were discussing the American farmer, in
particular African-American and other minority group farmers and whether or
not the government owes them compensation for past transgressions, the
controversial question that isn`t going to be adjudicated easily.
But when we think about the nation`s veterans, there are few that think we
have to question we as a people or as a government owe these incredible men
and women. We talk about owing them our freedom. We owe them our speedy
recognition of and response to injuries suffered in the line of duty. We
owe them career opportunities.
But many veterans aren`t waiting on us. In fact, they say, don`t ask what
you can do for me, rather let me tell you what I can do for you. A program
called the Mission Continues is creating a different way for post-9/11
veterans to transform their lives through ongoing education and community
Eric Greitens is a former Navy SEAL and the founder of the Mission
Continues. He joins me now from Brooklyn, New York, where a group of
veteran volunteers will be working at the League School in just about 90
minutes. And alongside him is my friend and MSNBC`s own, Thomas Roberts.
So nice to have you both with us.
ERIC GREITENS, FORMER NAVY SEAL: Great to be on with you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Eric, you worked with more than 600 post-9/11 vets.
Explain to us what Mission Continues work does.
GREITENS: Exactly, Melissa. We`ve had 683 veterans go through our
programs. These are men and women who signed up after September 11th,
2001. They`ve served in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and they come
home and through the Mission Continues, we`re a national service
organization that helps all of these veterans transition from their
military service to positions of community service and leadership here at
And just like you said we`re about to take a group of 73 new veterans out
to do this fantastic service project right here in Brooklyn.
HARRIS-PERRY: So what`s going on in the room behind you there?
GREITENS: In room behind me, I`ve got one of my fantastic staff members,
Aaron Walker, is giving a brief about to all of these veterans about the
work we`re going to do. We`re going to go out to this League School in
And these veterans are recommitting to service. We`re going to do a school
revitalization project. They`re going to be repainting buildings, building
an outdoor heating area, repairing a fence and a flagpole for some of
Brooklyn`s kids who really have special needs. And so, we believe that
when you put these veterans to work, they get right back to work on the
front lines of their communities.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Thomas, you`re hanging out with the vets again today?
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: You know, they`ve been kind enough to let me
come in here. And I`m going to go along with the fellows. We`ve got 73
fellows that are here today. The average age is about 30 years old, from
24 different states. Many of them on average have about eight years of
But the Mission Continues is a great organization where they want to
include people that are coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan. Obviously,
as you pointed out, those that have served post-9/11 and it served at least
two years for our country. But this is a great group, and the Mission
Continues under Eric`s leadership is fantastic.
Eric gave a keynote speech earlier this morning. This guy -- you love him
and hate him at the same time because he`s so accomplished and so awesome.
And he can run a sub three marathon. So, that`s another reason why you
love and hate Eric at the same time.
But, no, leadership is all about casting vision. The great thing with
Eric, he is a true leader but he`s also casting the vision to these whole
roomful of leaders. We`re going to take this over to the League School,
and make a big difference over there.
And then the fellows later today, they`re going to take an oath tonight
down at the 9/11 Memorial because this continues for the fellows for a
period of six months.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Eric --
GREITENS: And, Melissa, I will also tell you, and we`re putting Thomas to
work. He`s coming out. He`s going to be working with us.
ROBERTS: I`m going to be here.
GREITENS: Because actually when do is we go out and we start to work in
the community, we bring volunteers out and what happens is that the whole
communities end up getting inspired. They see what this generation of
veterans are capable of.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, this is interesting and I`m glad you`re
putting Thomas to work. I hope that you`re getting that on tape, Thomas.
We all are going to want to see that later.
But, Eric, I want --
ROBERTS: You`ll see it.
I want to ask you one final question here. And that is, you know, part of
what we have been talking about is sort of the sense that we -- that we as
a people, as a nation, as a government owe something to veterans for the
sacrifices that have been made, simply for signing up post-9/11, for
volunteering, for being part of the efforts.
But this kind of turns it around, like these are veterans who are in fact
continuing to give back. I`m wondering why that strategy.
GREITENS: Well, what you find is that these veterans are not looking for a
handout. They want to continue to serve. In the military they had a sense
of purpose, they had a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie.
And through the Mission Continues, they build that sense of purpose service
through continued service here at home. Like Thomas said, yes, they return
for six months. They go back and work with Habitat for Humanity, with Big
Brothers Big Sisters, and they get involved as community leaders here at
ROBERTS: The big thing that you`ll see, Melissa, on all the t-shirts,
where it says the mission continues, right under it, it say, it`s not a
charity, it`s a challenge. All these fellows are here now up to the
challenge of what the Mission Continues is going to put in front of them.
And, you know, certainly, MSNBC we talk a lot about different veteran
organizations for those returns that are returning from Iraq and
Afghanistan, and we feel strongly about shining a bright light on the
connective tissue between our military community and then coming back to
civilian life. And it is pretty tough for some of our service members who
are coming back.
So, that`s why we have great guys like Eric leading groups like the Mission
Continues, who`s helping once again -- giving these leaders, these are
leaders that have served and worked for us to protect our freedoms
overseas, but bringing these leaders back and giving them some direction
here at home.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Eric and to Thomas. The work that you are
doing today and over time is really fantastic.
And, Thomas --
ROBERTS: And, Melissa, you`ll see that tape.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I`m going to be looking for that tape.
ROBERTS: You`ll see it.
GREITENS: We`ll put him to work.
ROBERTS: Thanks, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: After the break, the war of bureaucracy that our veterans
face when they come home.
HARRIS-PERRY: Before the break, we are talking about an amazing outpouring
of volunteerism from post-9/11 veterans. But what we didn`t talk about are
the hardships that many of vets face with the with the V.A. backlog.
Nationally, almost 900,000 compensation and pension claims are pending with
610,000 of those older than 125 days. It is not a handout to ask for a
The other alarming trend is the suicide rate. According to a recent
Department of Veteran Affairs study, a veteran takes his or her own life
every 65 minutes. That`s 22 of our veterans a day lost to suicide.
What`s the government doing about it?
Joining me now is Tireak Tulloch. He served two tours of duty in Iraq and
is now a leadership of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
And back with me are TheNation.com`s Richard Kim, Columbia University`s Ira
Katznelson, and MSNBC`s Karen Finney.
So, Tireak, I want to start by playing for you a little bit of sound from
the Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki about resolving the backlog by
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SECRETARY ERIC SHINSEKI, DEPT. OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: We ought to resolve to
eliminate the claims backlog of 2015, a goal we set a few years ago. And
2015, the intent is that claims will be processed at 125 days or less, at
98 percent accuracy level.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: How do you respond to that?
TIREAK TULLOCH, IAVA: 2015 has been the talking point of the V.A. forever.
And any time they`re asked, that`s all they talk about -- 2015, 2015, 2015.
But what about the hear and now? We have veterans coming home right now.
2015 is not an acceptable answer when you need to file for a compensation
claim. You know, recently, 67 United States senators signed a letter
demanding President Obama take action and take the leadership on this and
we need him to. And if you think about that, 67 senators agreed on this.
When is the last time 67 senators agreed on anything?
HARRIS-PERRY: On anything.
TULLOCH: They agree to support our veterans. And we need the president.
We need presidential leadership on this.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what is the presidential piece? What could the
president do that would help to speed this along?
TULLOCH: We need solutions now. The 2015 goal line sounds nice. It`s a
nice sound bite. But, you know, that`s more of a long-term goal, all
There`s solutions that need to be engineered now. And we asked the
president to get involved. You know, take the bull by the horns and get
involved on this.
All right, we owe it to our veterans to do this, you know? When a veteran
comes home in New York City, he`s waiting well over 640 days. L.A., well
over 600 days. So, you know, that`s unacceptable. To hear 2015, that`s
not right either.
HARRIS-PERRY: Karen, you regularly make the point that we seem to have
forgotten how many men and women are still there, still in the theater.
FINNEY: Yes. I mean, as you know, I had someone who is over there for the
next year. And, yes, y know, if it`s not a part of your daily life, you
forget that we still have people in theater getting shot at. It`s about to
be the fighting season in Afghanistan. They were just, you know, another
IED killed four American soldiers earlier today. We do forget about that.
And that is on top of the veterans who are -- have come home.
I think a couple of points that I would make on this, though, I mean, one
thing Shinseki did that I think was admirable was that he actually some of
the Vietnam veterans. A part of the problem is they increased the number
of people that they were trying to help.
And I also think that this shows the lack of planning that went into this
war in the first place in Iraq and Afghanistan. They never thought about
on the back end what kind of injuries we`re going to have, what kind of
care our people going to need. And the long-term -- people are surviving
injuries that they never would have. So the long term care implications
And I think for those guys on the Hill who are saber-rattling that we need
to go in Syria, then I want you to plan for after. I want you to plan for
the veterans, because the cost of the war cannot just be, you know, getting
into the war and fighting the war but also taking care of our veterans in a
way that is through our values.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, Ira, as I was reading the "Spirit and Self" (ph)
book, I learned something I did previously not know. We have romanticism
about veterans, where we say, oh, Americans will always take care of our
veterans. We`ll always do the right thing.
But there was a moment when there was an opportunity for the soldier vote,
where we said, OK, if you went over and you vote and risked your life, then
you should have the right to vote. But then huge congressional effort
against it because it would have enfranchised many African-Americans and
others. Is part of the reason that we sort of allow this failure because
we just have this romantic notion, but we don`t really address our veterans
KATZNELSON: Yes. First in 1944, presidential election, we had more than
12 million soldiers under arms. No one would say they shouldn`t vote. But
1 million were African-American, and Jim Crow Southerners did not want them
The bill that passed Congress was not the one Roosevelt proposed to give
every soldier a federal ballot. It was written by James Eastland of
Mississippi, who got up in the Senate and said, it`s an exact quote, "Our
boys are fighting for white supremacy."
I think today, we have a slightly different but not entirely unrelated
puzzle, namely that with the volunteer army, many segments of American
society don`t experience, feel, understand or empathize with the experience
of our veterans. They are not visible enough.
HARRIS-PERRY: They are other.
KATZNELSON: They are other.
FINNEY: And active military and their families.
And that reality changes the politics not only of how we treat our veterans
but changes the politics of how or when we go to war. And that
calculation, the absence of conscription, the absence of pain and penalty
in going to war has transformed the meaning of war in America, and I
believe not for the better has changed the way in which we often mistreat
HARRIS-PERRY: Because of the burden that someone else carries.
RICHARD: And it`s the burden that was much heavier because the war went on
so much longer than the mission accomplished banner, you know, was. So,
one of the reasons why you see that appalling suicide rate is because
people didn`t just do one rotation or two or three. They did four, five,
six rotations. And it`s neither -- they never thought they would be in for
more than that one shift.
And so, you know, that`s -- the harm was in this targeted sector of people,
and they just went out so many times.
HARRIS-PERRY: So if you have 67 senators and we`re saying part of the
problem is the issue of invisibility, is there something that -- so, if
this isn`t a senate versus problem, which is what a lot of the legislative
problems are, if this is something else, is there something we ought to be
doing as ordinary citizens to support veterans in this moment?
TULLOCH: Well, the fact we got 67 senators to send a letter to the
president says a lot. But I think more Americans need to get involved as
far as supporting our veterans. We have less than 1 percent of our
nation`s populations served in Iraq and Afghanistan towards and so few have
So we need to do more. There`s organizations like I`m a leadership fellow
for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, that`s doing their part. But
it`s not enough. We need more Americans to get involved.
FINNEY: Can I also just mention? We`re talking about the veterans. But
we need to think of this as community and families, because it`s not just
the veterans. It`s the spouses, who I am getting a lot of wisdom from,
their parents, their loved ones. I mean, this is affecting whole families,
And so, yes, it`s the veteran. But we need to think about this in a very
holistic way as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, kind of wrapped around.
KIM: You know, there`s also -- this is -- what happened to the veterans is
also part of this larger amnesia that people are trying to have about the
war. Part and parcel, this is not to prosecute the Bush administration for
pursuing this, and, you know, as long as we`re talking about taking care of
our own guys, which we absolutely should, there`s a question of what do we
owe Iraq and what do we Afghanistan? What do we owe those people for the
mess we created there?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, that`s right, because there is -- and all of that is a
resource space. So while we`re doing all of that and generating this huge
deficits and then shutting down our tax base at the same time that we`re
saying, wait a minute, folks have real claims here.
Thanks to everybody. To Richard, to Karen, to Ira and to Tireak. Up next
-- not just for being here, but for your service. Thank you.
Up next, as we like to say in Nerdland, #FBJ, forget Bobby Jindal. Yep.
My home state governor in support of teaching creationism in the public
HARRIS-PERRY: Imagine your child comes home from school and you ask, what
did you learn today? If he or she tells you that the Earth was created in
six days and God rested on the seventh, you might think that`s fine if he
or she were coming from Sunday school at church.
But what happened about in public school Monday through Friday? Louisiana
Governor Bobby Jindal thinks that`s just great. He said as much when
hyping deceptively named Louisiana Science Education Act in an interview
with NBC`s Education Nation last month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I`ve got no problem if the school board,
the local school board says, we want to teach our kids about creationism,
that some people have these beliefs as well. Let`s teach them about
I think teach them the best science. Let them -- give them the tools where
they can make up their own mind. Not only in science, but as they learn
about other controversial issues. Whether it`s global warming, or whether
it`s climate change or these other issues, what are we scared of?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: What are we scared of?
Here`s what I`m scared of. I`m scared of children being taught to go into
the world thinking it`s just a few thousand years old, not the 4.5 billion
years of age scientists have determined it to be. That those children may
be learning not just about Evolution but something called Creationism and
intelligent design in science class, and I`m scared that they`re not being
taught the difference between science and religion.
Karen Carter Peterson, a Louisiana state senator who has been our guest
previously, has introduced yearly repeals of the so-called Science
Education Act since 2011. The third repeal attempt, Senate bill 26 came up
in a hearing this Wednesday. And for the third year in a row, it failed
when the Louisiana state senators narrowly deferred legislation killing it
And this is not just a Louisiana issue. Tennessee passed its own
creationism law last year, a law that`s based off of the Louisiana model.
And another bill in Missouri is still pending.
Next, we`re going to go to Louisiana to talk to the student who is
spearheading the efforts to eliminate them all.
Stay with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: In one of my first ever footnotes on this show last year, I
introduced to you a teenage student named Zack Kopplin.
Zack, in addition to being a sophomore at Rice University, happens to be
one of the leading crusader against what our home state Louisiana calls the
Louisiana Science Education Act, which actually allows for the teaching of
creationism as part of science class.
Joining me now from New Orleans to discuss his undaunted efforts to repeal
that act is this week`s foot soldier, Zack Kopplin.
Hi, Zack. How are you?
ZACK KOPPLIN, SCIENCE EDUCATION ACTIVIST: Hey, I`m pretty good. How are
you? It`s great to be on.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I wish that we were here reporting about how you`d
finally won, but we`re not. But at least tell me what is the argument that
you made in the state Senate on Wednesday?
KOPPLIN: So the Louisiana Science Education Act, it hurts our students, it
hurts or economy, and our state. We`re harming our students` education
that they`re not learning good science. They won`t be prepared to take
science and technology jobs when they graduate.
We`re harming out state. We`re driving scientists away. We`ve had
scientists leave the state because of this law. We`ve had science
organizations cancel conventions costing us roughly $3 million. They`ve
pulled out of New Orleans and we have embarrassed the state in the eyes of
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Zack, you have -- as long as I have known you, you have
been fighting on this. And this is your third year in a row of losing on
this, but you seem undaunted. How are you feeling right now?
KOPPLIN: So we made progress this year. That`s the key thing. This was
the closest vote yet. We lost 3-2. First time our repeal bill was heard w
lost 5-1. Now, the vote margin is down to 3-2. So, we`re making progress.
And the thing is, this year, it became quite clear, we lost again but the
law will be repealed as only a matter of time. And it`s choice. Louisiana
legislators can choose to be on the right side of history or the wrong side
of history. That`s our choice.
Three legislators chose to be one the wrong side of history this year. Two
chose the right side. We hopefully that changes next year.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Zack, I know that studio that you`re in right now
because I`m often there, in Ralph`s Studio (ph), and there`s, of course, a
bookshelf and you`re sitting in front of books and all that. But it feels
to me like part of what happens here is that there are so many Republicans
that seem like they`re just simply anti-intellectual. We`ve talked on this
show about how Senator Tom Coburn was targeting political science and this
week, Congressman Lamar Smith argued the NSF grants should only be for
And here in Louisiana the question of teaching creationism in science
classes. How do we just argue that intellect and data and ideas isn`t
partisan, it`s just good for us?
KOPPLIN: So science should not be partisan. That`s the key thing.
Sometimes, it seems to align one way or another. It should not be
Everyone should be in support of teaching good science, funding science
because it`s created the foundation we live on today. And so, it should
not be partisan.
And the thing is we do have Republicans and Democrats supporting our repeal
bill. Our repeal bill was sponsored by Senator Peterson, and it was voted
for by Senator Dan Claitor, a Republican from Baton Rouge. So we have
HARRIS-PERRY: Zack, I have always appreciated the work you`re doing on
this because you help give me such hope that young people will get engaged
in our democratic process and that it can make a difference. So thank you
for being our foot soldier this week.
KOPPLIN: Thank you so much for having me on.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that is our show for today. Thanks to you at home for
watching. On tomorrow morning, another glimmer of hope, this one in the
war on drugs. And tennis legend Martina Navratilova joins us live on this
question -- does coming out still matter?
Up next, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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