UP with STEVE KORNACKI
August 18, 2013
Guests: Paul Butler, Hakeem Jeffries, Joe Watkins, Eleanor Clift, Basil Smikle Jr., Jonathan Miller, Walter Mears, Bob Franken, Perry Bacon Jr.>
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: We`re going to get to the major speech on
sentencing reform the attorney general, Eric Holder, delivered this week,
but to get there, we really need to start here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The No. 2 pick in the first round of the `86
draft, and here is the commissioner, David Stern.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Boston Celtics select Len Bias of the
University of Maryland.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: There was only one college basketball player in the
Atlantic Coast conference who was more dominant than Len Bias in the 1980s,
and his name was Michael Jordan. Len Bias was a 6`8 forward, with a killer
jump shot, and he average 23 points a game his senior year at Maryland.
When the defending champion Celtics took him with that second pick in the
`86 draft, all of Boston celebrated. Larry Bird was starting to get old,
but with Bias on their team, now they`d surely extend their reign for at
least another decade. But 36 hours after that draft, Len Bias was dead.
The cause, cardiac arrhythmia. The culprit, cocaine.
His death stunned the sports world. Leonard`s only vice, his college
coach (inaudible) said just the week before, was ice cream. It shook the
whole country. Remember, this was the 1980s. Crack was moving into
cities, crime, violent crime, was exploding. Millions of Americans had
already fled to suburbia, but even there, they lived in fear that the
problems they heard about on the news, that stories like Len Bias` would
soon be playing out in their own neighborhoods, threatening their own
families and their own children.
1986 was also an election year, which explains why the fear that Bias`
death stoked caught the attention of the political class.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Reagan signed a major new anti-drug law,
a law that stiffens the penalties for federal drug crimes and provides
almost $2 billion for increased drug enforcement and education. At the
bill-signing ceremony, Mr. Reagan said today, this marks a major victory in
our crusade against drugs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was introduced early that
September. It was just nine weeks after Len Bias died. It passed
Congress, and as you just saw, was signed into law by President Reagan at
the end of October. Now, remember, this was an election year. And since
the civil unrest of the 1960s, Republicans have been reaping electoral
bounty after electoral bounty by painting Democrats as the soft on crime
party. Democrats were determined to change that narrative. They
controlled the House back then, and nothing else. So it was Speaker Tip
O`Neill who saw the perfect chance to show Americans that his party could
be tough, too. And tough is definitely one word that you could use to
describe the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. It set steep mandatory penalties
-- 10 years in prison, 20 years, life -- for crimes involving all sorts of
drugs, crack, cocaine, heroin, LSD, PCP, even marijuana. The triggers were
arbitrary. As the bill was cobbled together, a bidding war broke out.
Democrats would say that possession of 20 grams of a drug should be the
threshold. Republicans would say, no, we`re tougher, make it 10 grams.
And Democrats would come back, and say forget that, how about five?
This is where the notorious crack-powder sentencing disparity came
from. The law that was signed in 1986 set the mandatory sentence threshold
for crack cocaine possession at 1/100th the level of powder cocaine. The
intent was to crack down on high-level drug traffickers, but the effect of
the law was to explode the federal prison population with nonviolent
offenders, disproportionately black and Latino men, many of them caught
with just small amounts of illegal substances. This is all a necessary
backdrop for the speech that Eric Holder delivered this past Monday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s clear as we
come together today that too many Americans go to too many prisons for far
too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason. It`s clear that at
a very basic level, the 20th century criminal justice solutions are not
adequate to overcome our 21st century challenges. And again, it is well
past time to implement common-sense changes that will foster safer
communities from coast to coast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The main common sense change that Holder announced in that
speech is an order to federal prosecutors not to specify the quantity of
drugs found on certain nonviolent offenders. In other words, to stop
triggering those harsh automatic sentences spelled out in the Anti-Drug
Abuse Act of 1986 for low-level offenders.
Some of the reaction to Holder`s speech wasn`t that surprising.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: You`re telling me these thugs on the street
deserve our pity, they deserve slack? You`re telling me that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: But there was also this after Holder`s speech -- actual
conservatives voicing actual support for what Eric Holder was saying.
Here`s a piece from National Review. Quote, "On behalf of conservatives,
governors and lawmakers around the country as well as Justice Antonin
Scalia, we heartily welcome Mr. Holder to what may be the only trail all of
us can travel together."
And there are a lot of people on the right talking this way right now,
because the proliferation of strict mandatory sentencing laws over the last
generation has produced soaring incarceration rates, and those soaring
incarceration rates have come with a price tag, which is why even deeply
red states like Texas have embraced the same kind of approach Eric Holder
talked about this week. Why some very conservative politicians in
Washington, like Kentucky`s Rand Paul and Utah`s Mike Lee, were calling for
federal sentencing reform even before Holder spoke up.
So what we watched play out this week was a break from what`s been the
norm since Barack Obama became president. There was some knee-jerk, over-
the-top opposition from the right to Holder`s speech, but there was also
support for it from a lot of Republicans, and a lot of other Republicans
who just said nothing.
But there is an even bigger break than that, even. There were voices
in 1986 and for years after 1986 pleading with Americans to rethink that
law. But there wasn`t much room for them in either party. The modern
Republican Party was built on being tougher than those liberal softies on
the other side; Democrats became obsessed with disproving that claim. It`s
where stiff mandatory sentences, where three strikes and you`re out laws,
where punitive measures like the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, where the
incarceration of more than 2.4 million Americans, it`s where it all comes
The question is whether we`ve reached a new place, whether the tougher
on crime imperative that drove both parties for a generation is giving way
to a new consensus, one that doesn`t automatically assume that the most
punitive response is the best response, and one that leaves room for what
Eric Holder called common sense. Have the politics of crime changed, and
have they changed for good?
I want to ask my panel. I`m here with Eleanor Clift, contributor to
"Newsweek" and The Daily Beast. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat from
New York. Republican strategist Reverend Joe Watkins, former White House
aide to President George H.W. Bush, and Paul Butler, former federal
prosecutor, now a professor of criminal law at Georgetown University and
author of "Let`s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice."
Thank you, everybody, for joining us today.
So, you know, what struck me most listening to Eric Holder this week,
as I said, was you have -- this is a Democratic administration, the
attorney general comes out and tackles a subject and embraces themes that
not long ago in American politics would have been absolutely politically
suicidal. It would have been unthinkable for any administration,
especially a Democratic administration, to talk this way.
I ask my first question, Paul, is how significantly have things
changed from a generation ago?
PAUL BUTLER, GEORGETOWN LAW PROFESSOR: Huge. A sea change, Steve.
You know, I saw the movie "The Butler," last night, about this heroic
journey and the civil rights movement of African-Americans from lynching,
segregated schools, Jim Crow -- if we think about African-Americans and the
criminal justice system of 1920s, `30s, `40s, those were the good old days,
because now the disparities are much worse. More blacks in the criminal
justice system now than there were slaves in 1850. One out of three young
black men on his way to prison. So something has got to be done. That`s
why the attorney general was stepping up.
KORNACKI: I mean, Eleanor, thinking back to -- we showed 1986 in
there, you can go through Bill Clinton embracing three strikes and you`re
out in the 1990s -- what has changed sort of culturally and politically to
allow this kind of space?
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK: Well, there`s an opening there. Because the
Republicans have now moved on to tough on terrorism, and they`re not
obsessed with tough on street crime. And street crime has plummeted. I
know celebrity murders make the news, and Chicago certainly has had more
than its share of murders, but big cities overall are a lot safer than they
once were. And the political touchstones, 1988, the race, George H.W. Bush
against Michael Dukakis, that was seared into every Democratic, big D
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean Willie Horton.
CLIFT: Willie Horton. That`s right. The tactics that were used in
that, and that Dukakis and the Democratic Party was portrayed as soft on
crime. So Bill Clinton comes along, 1992, he takes time off the campaign
to go back home to preside over the capital punishment of a mentally
CLIFT: Right. Who wanted to save his dessert until later. Now,
Clinton in his defense has said that he wasn`t mentally retarded when he
shot -- I think he shot a cop.
KORNACKI: He turned the gun on himself.
CLIFT: He then turned the gun on himself. So that was kind of
Clinton`s rationale. But nonetheless, that helped shift the Democrats away
from this label of soft on crime. And now there`s an opening, because
Republicans want to save money, and they see how this is crippling -- the
cost of incarceration is crippling cities and states and the federal
government. And so I think there`s a wonderful political opening here.
And you have right and left joining together, and the cases -- people put
behind bars for 10, 20 years for really minor crimes where they don`t hurt
anybody, they only hurt themselves. It`s heartbreaking.
KORNACKI: You mentioned the Willie Horton ad. I want to sort of
illustrate for people, anybody who has forgotten, or didn`t live through
it, what the political climate was like just a generation ago. This is the
infamous Willie Horton ad. It wasn`t technically the Bush campaign that
ran it against Dukakis, but it basically was. And here is the ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush and Dukakis on crime. Bush supports the
death penalty for first-degree murderers. Dukakis not only opposes the
death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes
One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him
19 times. Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from
prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and
repeatedly raping his girlfriend. Weekend prison passes, Dukakis on crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Now, Joe, I mean, you are from the Bush Sr. White House,
not from --
JOE WATKINS, GOP STRATEGIST: I was in that campaign, too, although I
had nothing to do with that commercial. I was in that campaign.
KORNACKI: Talk a little bit about what that tapped into back then and
whether the veins that that tapped into still exist today?
WATKINS: I think some of the veins still exist today. When it comes
to violent crime, where people do really heinous things -- I mean, that`s
still -- I think no matter what color you are, what group you -- from which
you come, you are upset when you see people do terrible things to other
folks. Anybody that murders folks, anybody that rapes folks is not well
thought of in society, and ought to be put away. And everybody would agree
But we do have a chance to do something together -- that is
Republicans and Democrats -- with regards to changing this sentencing, this
stiff sentencing for nonviolent offenders, for people who have small
amounts of drugs. And it`s not just the cost of having 2.3 or 4 million
people in prison, because it`s an onerous cost for everybody. Everybody
watching is paying for that, but it`s also the cost of lives, in human
lives. And I think of so many young people, especially of so many African-
American and Latino men whose lives have been shattered forever by virtue
of a prison term. And if we could save them and help them not go to
prison, if we could find some other way to -- some other punitive measure
that doesn`t put them in prison, put them behind bars and rob them of an
education and of a chance to work and support their families, I think
that`s a good thing.
KORNACKI: Congressman, I wonder if you can speak to the legacy of
that ad in terms of shaping Democratic policy for the last generation,
because Eleanor started to touch on this, too, when you look at what the
Clinton administration actually achieved in the 1990s, it also at the state
level, there were all sort of Democratic-controlled states in the late `80s
and in the `90s, really, enacted a lot of these punitive measures because
of fear of what happened to Michael Dukakis happening to them?
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, D-N.Y.: In many ways sort of the legacy of what
we`re dealing with right now as it relates to the overincarceration, the
overcriminalization came about through bipartisan efforts, both on the left
and the right, enacting the so-called tough on crime pieces of legislation.
Perhaps some of it was fueled by political expediency and a fear among some
members of the Democratic Party not to be perceived as soft on crime, given
the fact that you had reprehensible ads such as that being used to great
political effect in order to advance Republican candidates for office.
The good news is that the facts on the ground have changed
substantially. The crack cocaine epidemic is over. Crime throughout big
cities all across America has been reduced dramatically. The prison
population is clearly unsustainable fiscally. Many have come to view it as
morally reprehensible. And so as everyone on the panel has said, today, we
really have a meaningful opportunity on both the left and the right to come
together and do what`s right for America. Reduce the overcriminalization
that we`ve been experiencing in this country for decades.
KORNACKI: We`ll pick that up after this break. Right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those who commit the
crimes should be punished. And those who commit repeated violent crimes
should be told, when you commit a third violent crime, you will be put away
and put away for good. Three strikes and you are out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, the context -- and that was Bill Clinton`s 1994 State
of the Union address, the start of his second year in office. And people
always talk about the sort of triangulation of Bill Clinton. When he
signed, ultimately signed the bill that included three strikes and you`re
out at the federal level, he sort of positioned himself, there are people
on the right, there are people on the left, and I`m sort of in the middle
The context of when he signed that, the first state to pass the three
strikes and you`re out law was Washington state, in November 1993, it was a
few months before that. And now today, I think there are three strikes and
you`re out laws on the books in 26 states. Majority of the country.
Some of the implications of this has been, they would be comical if
they weren`t so tragic. People going away for life in a state like
California for stealing a $3 pair of socks. A lot of states have sort of
safety valves in place now where it has to be a violent offense on the
third time. But when you look at the statistics, we talked about the
federal prison population increasing by 800 percent over the last
generation or so, when you look at the state prisons, it`s almost even more
dramatic what`s happened.
BUTLER: I was a federal prosecutor right after these laws got
enacted. And man, I loved it. Because we had all the power. We could
charge some guy with the three strikes law and he would go to prison for
the rest of his life unless he pled guilty. So we had more authority than
the judge over what happened in the case.
The problem was it was part of this whole macho ethic of lock them up,
throw away the key. We were concerned about public safety, but we didn`t
understand the effect of taking all these nonviolent, victimless guys -- we
were locking up guys for marijuana possession, for stealing TVs, if it`s
their third strike, they go to prison. That did not make the streets
safer. It made them less safe, because it made people have less respect
for criminal justice system.
KORNACKI: Is there a certain sense, though, when we look at the crime
rate a generation ago and we look where it is today, for instance, I think
we have the stat here. You can look at the homicide rate, historically.
This goes back about five or six decades. You can see it spikes there in
the `70s, `80s, and `90s, and that`s where a lot of this legislation came
from. It has gone. Congressman, what if somebody looked at it and said,
well, yes, we have a huge incarceration rate here right now, but we`re a
lot safer because we have locked up so many bad guys? What would be the
response be to that?
JEFFRIES: Well, I think there`s no statistical evidence to suggest
that locking up nonviolent drug offenders for 10, 20, 30 years and the
three strikes and you`re out laws, in any way contributed to the dramatic
decline in crime that we`ve confronted. The crack cocaine epidemic burned
itself out in many ways, and that was a contributing factor. There was a
stronger economy in the 1990s, that was also a contributing factor. But
there were some smarter policing strategies that were put into place, but
none of these have to do with the sort of tough on crime reactionary laws
that were passed.
We`ve taken significant steps forward. That`s a good thing. And even
in the Congress, the House of Representatives, which is typically not the
place for a lot of partisan cooperation, we have got a task force on
overcriminalization that`s bipartisan in nature, five Democrats, five
Republicans, conservatives, progressives, that are on it taking a real hard
look at what we can do to reduce the dramatic impact of the
overcriminalization that we`ve seen in America.
KORNACKI: Well, I wonder if you could talk a little bit -- we
mentioned it at the outset. Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Rick Perry in Texas, what
is going on -- the Republican Party that gave us the Willie Horton ad, the
Republican Party of Nixon`s law and order, right, is now embracing this
idea of sentencing reform, what`s going on? How widespread within the
party is this?
WATKINS: It`s very widespread. And I think it`s two-fold. On the
one hand, there is the thought of the cost, the tremendous cost as born by
having prisons overpopulated. Why should we be so out of proportion with
regards to the number of people in our society who are in prison? It
doesn`t make sense. And then the cost of that, I mean, what you pay, how
much does it cost to keep somebody in prison, to feed them three times a
day and keep them housed, warehoused, doing nothing most of the time, is
just -- is just incriminable (ph). So it makes good fiscal sense to do
something about the sentencing laws. And the second part of that, it`s the
right thing to do as well. If you want to have a society that is more
fair, that is more balanced, it`s the right thing to do, because it`s fair
to say that crime is not something that is -- that comes naturally to
people of color. It doesn`t. And so --
KORNACKI: Is it the fiscal argument that is really driving this on
the Republican side? We don`t want to spend the money, is that it?
WATKINS: It`s not so much that. Because it`s not just a matter of
not spending money. It`s how -- what do we do in our society to cause
people to not commit crime? That`s the kind of bigger question here. It`s
not just the matter of, they have committed it, now where do we put them?
It is what do we do in our society, and that has to do with jobs and the
overall economy, as well as the things that can`t be legislated, like
But Republicans are also saying, you know, this is the right thing to
do, and this is a chance to really sort of extend an olive branch and to
work closely with Democrats.
We have so much hatred between the parties. It didn`t exist when I
first got into politics a couple of decades, a few decades ago. I`m afraid
to tell folks how old I am. But when I first got into politics, my best
friends were Republicans and Democrats. And I`m still close to those
But in today`s world, Democrats and Republicans aren`t supposed to
talk, they aren`t supposed to like each other. People stop me on the
street and they say, I know who you are, you`re that black guy on TV that
talks about Republican politics. I guess we don`t agree, but you`re a good
guy. Well, how do you know that you don`t agree with me? To be a
Republican doesn`t mean you`re the mirror opposite of a Democrat. It means
maybe there are some things that you don`t agree on and maybe there are
some things you do agree on.
KORNACKI: And there does seem to be some common ground here, even if
the motives are slightly different.
BUTLER: If you look at the libertarians, people like Rand Paul, they
often have a big issue with locking up people for nonviolent, victimless
crime. You know, if you`re doing it and it does not hurt anybody, why
should it be against the law?
Also, the faith-based conservatives. George W. Bush during the State
of the Union, he would always do some shout-out to people who were serving
their time and re-entering society, because he believed in redemption. So
if you look at the faith-based folks, the fiscal conservatives, the
libertarians, it`s a big tent for this movement.
CLIFT: President Clinton said three violent crimes. How did that
morph to petty crimes, putting people away for life? I`m not quite sure
how that turn was made. But Democrats have changed on this issue as well.
You had Ted Kennedy, Senator Biden, when he was on Capitol Hill, all in
favor of this tough on crime stuff. And so Democrats have had to come off
of that issue as well. And you look now at the states, Texas of all states
is really leading the way. And what they`re proving is you can reduce the
prison population and crime does not go up. And they`re looking at drug
abuse, not as drug criminalization. And they`re having alternative
And Texas is now one of the most progressive states on this topic,
which is kind of unusual. And Rick Perry is signing that into law. Maybe
he`ll run for president on that issue.
CLIFT: You never can tell.
KORNACKI: Yes, he`ll say, Texas is one of the most progressive
states. Make me the Republican candidate.
KORNACKI: I want to pick this up in a second and look closely at what
Eric Holder announced this week, and practically speaking, what that`s
going to mean, and if there are other steps that need to be taken after
that. We`ll talk about that after this.
KORNACKI: We have a federal prosecutor here, and I`m very glad,
because I`m hoping, Paul, you can explain to me something that`s confused
me a little bit about what Eric Holder`s announcement this week means.
Because he`s talking about instructing prosecutors basically not to go
after mandatory sentences for certain low-level offenders. But there is
sort of -- skeptics of this have been pointing out, about 20 years ago in
1994, something called the safety valve was put into place, that basically
says the mandatory sentences aren`t going to apply to certain nonviolent
offenders. So I guess the question here is, who is different? Who is
being protected here who was not previously protected by the safety valve?
BUTLER: So you know, there are these harsh mandatory minimums where
people get locked up way more in the United States than almost any other
country for relatively minor drug crimes or low-level selling. What the
first safety valve, back in the `90s, said is if you meet these conditions,
and there are a bunch of lines you have to cross, then a judge maybe could
consider not giving you the most time.
What Eric Holder is saying is, you know what, maybe we should broaden
that a little, so that if you`re maybe a first-time offender, if you`re not
a member of a gang, if it`s a nonviolent crime, then maybe the judge should
have the discretion to sentence you to less. And prosecutors, it turns
out, don`t have to charge the amount that triggers the harsh sentences.
So, what he`s saying, remarkably, because usually attorney generals
talk about how tough they`re going to be on crime, he`s actually giving
back some of his power to the judges and saying he`s going to let judges
decide individual cases.
KORNACKI: It`s still though an issue of, this is not a -- you know,
being legislatively enacted. So theoretically the next attorney general,
Democrat or Republican, could come along and say, we`re not doing it this
way anymore, we`re going back to the old tough on crime way. It makes me
think, Congressman, we`re having this discussion about how more space, more
political space is being created around crime issues right now. Is there
space to do sort of legislatively what Eric Holder talked about this week?
Do you anticipate something like that maybe happening in Congress?
JEFFRIES: Absolutely. This is a step in the right direction, but
Congress has to now complete the job. And as you indicated, you`ve got
senators on the right, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, who have expressed support for
reducing mandatory minimums, changing the sentencing disparity, giving
federal judges more discretion. And as I mentioned, on the House Judiciary
Committee, there`s a bipartisan task force on overcriminalization. Five
Democrats, five Republicans, conservatives like Raul Labrador and Louie
Gohmert, progressive like Steve Cohen, Jerry Nadler, Karen Bass. I`m
privileged to be on that task force. Charged with the responsibility of
looking at excessive laws that we have on the books, the explosion of the
prison population. We`ll also be looking at sentencing disparities and
coming to a bipartisan consensus.
This is what the American people have demanded. And whether it`s
because of the fiscal cost that has resulted as a result of the explosion
of the prison population in terms of lost human capital, lost economic
productivity, the Christian conservative right has taken an interest in
this from a compassionate standpoint. You`ve got the libertarian strand.
And of course, progressives view this as bad for America. So there is
really a meaningful opportunity to do something legislatively. And
hopefully this is the first step of President Obama reaching out, showing
some leadership on this issue and bringing people together in a way that we
really haven`t seen in Washington for the last several years.
KORNACKI: And that is a theme we`re going to pick up, the
bipartisanship, in a subsequent segment of the show. But I want to get to
one other question that comes to my mind here. Look back at 1994. When we
showed Bill Clinton endorsing three strikes back in 1994. This is a poll
from CBS and "The New York Times" in September of `94. What is the top
issue faced in the country people were asked, crime, number one issue, 26
percent. Same question was asked by Gallup like maybe a week ago. What is
the top issue facing the country? I mean you can see it right there.
Crime, violence - it`s not even registering anymore. To me, that
illustrates the political space has been created, but it also raises the
question, what happens if crime starts going back up again, for whatever
reason? Do we just start seeing the same political pressure we saw a
generation ago leading to the same types of sort of - the same punitive
CLIFT: You know, I think it has to do also with demographics. I
think the baby boom generation aged out of crime and the generation that
followed it was smaller, so they were smaller -- smaller number of people
that were prone to committing crimes. I don`t think we - the millenniums
are coming online, but I don`t necessarily think we`re going to see the
kind of violent crime. I think we have put in measures that will prevent
that. And then you`ve got to deal with the here and now. When I think now
there is an opening. And I want to ask the congressman, will we see
legislation this fall while Eric Holder is still in office, while the
president still has some clout before we get into election year madness,
what is the timetable?
JEFFRIES: Well, I do expect that we will see some legislation, if not
this fall, perhaps some efforts before the end of the 113th Congress next
JEFFRIES: I know Congressman Bobby Scott, Congressman Jim
Sensenbrenner who were leading the taskforce, do have the charge to
eventually come up with legislative proposals that has bipartisan support.
And again, you know, this is also going on at the state level. Texas,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Georgia, New York, red states, blue
states, as Eric Holder pointed out. So there really is some momentum to
tackle this issue in a way that`s good for America.
KORNACKI: Sensenbrenner, the voting rights act, (inaudible) reform,
are you sure he`s still a Republican?
JEFFRIES: We`ll have to check his registration card when we get
back to Washington, but we`re thankful for it.
KORNACKI: All right, I want to thank Congressman Hakeem Jeffries
for joining us today and Paul Butler as well. And when we come back, we
want to talk about the end of the -- potentially, the end of the era of
post partisanship. Post - post partisanship. That`s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR CORY BOOKER, (D), NJ SENATE CANDIDATE: In Washington, so many
people focus on right and left. But here in New Jersey, here in Newark,
we`re only concerned about one direction and that`s moving forward.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: No left, no right, only forward. The power of post
partisan rhetoric that for the last five years is anyone falling for
anymore or are we now in a post-post-partisan era. That`s next.
KORNACKI: When, Cory Booker won the Democratic primary for Senate in
New Jersey on Tuesday, he delivered a stirring victory speech, emphasizing
unity, and putting differences aside, and bipartisan cooperation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOOKER: Everywhere I`ve gone, I talked about the need to bring people
together. The need to find a new type of politics in America, the politics
of getting things done. This is our nation`s key hallmark. E pluribus
unum. We are called to come together and build a more perfect union.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: All right, hang on. Because I think I might have heard a
speech that sounded a lot like that before from another inspiring U.S.
Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA: There are those who are preparing to divide us. The
spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything
goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a
conservative America. There is the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That mesmerizing 2004 Democratic convention speech
transformed Barack Obama from relative obscurity into a national political
star. And the bipartisan or maybe even post partisan themes that he
struck, helped him into stun Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries and
lifted him to the White House, and that`s when he met an opposition party
that had absolutely no interest in his across the aisle overtures. Zero
Republican votes in House for the 2009 stimulus, zero Republican votes in
the House for the Affordable Care Act and in the Senate, and on, and on.
It`s been one confrontation after another over government funding, the debt
ceiling, you name it. And the reflexive opposition Obama has faced has
been matched with overheated opposition party rhetoric. The question is
whether the experience of the past four plus years of watching Barack Obama
inspire the nation with post-partisan rhetoric and then watching Washington
descend into a state of hyperpolarization anyway, has soured the country on
the idea of post-partisanship. Does a message like the one that Cory
Booker touted this week, still ring true, or we`re a little more seasoned
and cynical now? Are we entering an era of post-post partisanship?
So, I guess I`m curious as to go around and sort of asking your
reactions to the clips we just heard and the speech we heard this week from
Cory Booker. Because, obviously, Cory Booker is not the first politician
since Barack Obama to be, you know, stressing these themes. But I don`t
think since Barack Obama in 2004 has there been a more sort of celebrated
arrival or pending arrival in the Senate than Cory Booker. And he`s doing
it with the message very similar to Barack Obama. I just wonder if
actually the experience of the last, you know, four-plus years, does it -
does it ring true to you at all, Eleanor?
CLIFT: I think this is still the message people want to hear, even if
they have less trust that can actually be delivered on. A couple years ago
Cory Booker spoke at the gridiron dinner, which is this roasting of
politicians in Washington, and he went through this very funny riff on how
he was basically exactly like Obama. You know, Newark is the new Hawaii.
And I think he is .
CLIFT: He is modeling himself after the president. And I think
he`s betting that the Tea Party is just going to wear itself out. That if
the Senate elections shape up as they now seem to be, with the Tea Party
primarying candidates and producing candidates so far to the right,
Democrats may be able to hang onto the Senate, that the Tea Party will be
spent (inaudible) by the time Cory Booker is ready to run for president,
because that`s in his game plan, that there will be more of an appetite for
people to bring together.
But if you look at `08, you know, Hillary Clinton`s message was, I
know the Republicans, they`ve thrown everything at me, and I`m still
standing and I know how to fight them. And Obama said, we`re all going to
get along. What is Hillary Clinton going to run at?
KORNACKI: Yes. That`s .
CLIFT: Is she going to be this, you know, red and blue, we`re all
getting along, we`re purple.
BASIL SMIKLE JR., DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And why not?
KORNACKI: Well, yeah. And I think -- I am pretty sure, unless this
is a senior moment here, I forgot to introduce the new members of our
KORNACKI: Basil Smikle, former - former Hillary Clinton staffer and
Democratic - Democratic consultant.
Bat Basil, let me ask you, just in the sort of the world of
Democratic politics, the Democratic Party that embraced that Barack Obama
message in 2008, that said no to the Hillary Clinton message, how is the
message that Cory Booker is sort of selling right now, how does that go
over? Do Democrats say, oh, this again? Or do people say no, we can -
yes, we still can?
SMIKLE: Some Democrats do, because if you look at how Barack won,
and similar to how Cory won, these are very new coalitions that have gone
around Democratic -- quote/unquote, Democratic institutions. Remember that
Barack ran against Bobby Rush and lost because Bobby was a party guy. Cory
Booker ran against Sharpe James, who was a party guy, an old-school party
guy. And in order for them to win, they had to develop these new
coalitions. A lot of younger voters, more affluent voters that are not
necessarily tied to party politics. So I think you`re right. It works for
them, but that`s in some respects is why sometimes they can`t get a lot
done because the people that are used to these traditional political
pathways sort of don`t trust these new coalitions.
KORNACKI: Let me give one more proper introduction here, a little
belated, but Jonathan Miller, who is a former Democratic State Treasury of
Kentucky, you`re a founder of the group "No Label," sort of a third way
group, a group that very much is sort of founded on the principles that
Cory Booker was talking about, that Barack Obama was talking about in 2004.
I wonder, you know, you guys have got "No Labels," started in the Obama
era. But I`ve always been curious about it, because to me watching what`s
played out the last four years, at least nationally, I know it can be
different at the state level, in a state like Kentucky, but nationally,
Washington was played out, has told me there`s no room for a group like "No
Labels." There is no room for a third way movement, because you have won -
you`ve got an opposition in Republican Party right now that really just
says no to everything because the goal is to deny the appearance of
JONATHAN MILLER, NOLABELS.ORG: The last couple of years have been
awful for the country, but have been great for No Labels. Because what`s
happening is proving our thesis, which is not a post-partisan world. I
think those of us that loved Obama`s message at that point have been more
realistic and realized that there`s no such thing as post-partisanship.
Partisanship in many ways is very good. The problem that No Labels has and
that most of the country has, and Eleanor was alluding to this, hyper-
partisanship. And that`s what (inaudible) was going to say she`s about -
it`s about fighting hyper- partisanship and promoting problem-solving. And
so, that`s where Cory Booker`s message is a little different than Obama `04
where he`s saying, listen, I`m a proud Democrat and there`re going to be
certain issues, whether it`s marriage equality or choice that, you know, ,
we`re not going to find a compromise on. We`re going to take our stand and
let the people decide. But then on other issues like the budget or jobs or
the debt that we need to be able to work with the other side and find
KORNACKI: But see - that`s where I think the last four-plus years
have been so demoralizing, it`s when you get to those other issues like the
budget. I have seen a Republican Party that has been so interested in
denying bipartisanship and in not giving the president any big victories on
those issues that they continually move the goalpost. That John Boehner,
for instance, will spend months in negotiation with the White House for
this called grand bargain, where the president will put on the table, you
know, even the idea of like chained CPI, something that will be a
(inaudible) at his base, and yet at the very end of the day, John Boehner
has to walk away from that, because his own party is just not going to vote
for that. I just look at that and I say, if it`s asymmetric, if this sort
of polarization is asymmetric, how can you have bipartisanship?
MILLER: And that`s why we started "No Labels", because there is
incentive for right now a Republican congressman or most Republican
congressmen to work with the other side. They are afraid that they go back
and their base is dominated by the extremes in their party. And in some
years past it was similar to Democrats. Never to this degree, but .
WATKINS: So, they have got to work with their caucuses.
WATKINS: And that`s the other side.
MILLER: And so, we want to have a grassroots movement, not from the
center, but from - people from the left and the right, who are going to
encourage people to work together. We`ve got a group of problem solvers
now, 80 members of Congress have joined us. There are some Tea Party
folks, there are some liberal Democrats and folks in the middle. But the
notion is, that compromise isn`t a dirty work. That it`s - we need to be
able to put aside our labels on occasion to do what`s right for the
country. And that hopefully as we build a grassroots movement, we have got
hundreds of thousands, if we get it into the millions, if we get our - any
problem solvers to 150, then no longer can these congressmen get away with
saying, I`m not going to talk to the other side, we`ll punish them at the
ballot box. We`re not there yet. But we`re trying to build that momentum.
KORNACKI: We have a voice and a face from that opposition Republican
Party. I want to talk to him after this and ask, what (inaudible) you are
walking to make up what`s happening. We`ll talk about it after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) MINORITY LEADER: Some have said it was
indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next
two years should be to deny President Obama a second term. But the fact
is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health
spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending, and shrink the size and
scope of government, the only way to do all of those things is to put
someone in the White House who won`t veto any of these things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, Joe, that was - that was Mitch McConnell`s defense of
saying the top priority for Republicans, you know, should be to make Barack
Obama a one-term president. They obviously failed to do that. But I think
the problem with that, that I`ve always had, is the strategy that they
decided on to do that was not so much rooted in just, you know,
philosophically want to get a conservative in there, it was also that the
way to deny him that second term is to deny him bipartisanship. To make
everything look controversial, to make everything look like just a heavy-
handed power grab by the Democrats to drive down that approval rating as
fast as possible. And if the Republican Party is committed to that, or any
opposition party is committed to that, then that`s a recipe for nothing
ever getting done and the Republicans that was then - just blame it on the
incumbent. Has the Republican Party learned anything - from, certainly, it
doesn`t look that way in year 2013, but for trying that for four years and
failing to get the president out?
WATKINS: Well, there`ve been a lot of do nothing congresses. I mean
this one that gets such low marks isn`t the first one. I mean think about
it when Harry Truman was president, you know, back in the late 1940s up to
1952, I mean that Congress was labeled a do nothing congress. Politics 101
says that if you`re the party out of power then what you do is you attack
the party in power, that is the power that holds the presidency. And so,
that`s what parties out of power tend to do, they tend to do find the way
to attack whoever the sitting president is, so that they can get the seat
for themselves. It doesn`t always work to the advantage of Americans.
And there`s no good reason why Americans, whether they are
Republicans or Democrats, can`t work together. And certainly, the country
suffers when we don`t. Because the problems that we face are not
conservative problems or liberal problems. They`re problems. And there`s
a right answer to fix them and we need to find the right answer, and we
need to do it together and get it done for the sake of the American people.
And we need some new leadership. You know, I think if the Republican Party
doesn`t broaden its tent in 2016, it will be another losing year in the
KORNACKI: That`s sort of the issue, right, because right now in the
Republican universe as it`s constituted, just the idea of a Republican
office holder being associated with President Obama in any way, I mean, you
look at right now, the whole dispute about well, Chris Christie`s
electability in the presidential race as well, he said nice things about
Barack Obama once. Now, granted, it was the week before the election. He
said nice things about Barack Obama. Do we want to line up with this guy?
The average Republican member of the House faces an immediate (inaudible),
right the minute he betrays the tribe and votes with Obama.
WATKINS: Right. Well, some - most elected members think that that`s
what would happen. At the end of the day human beings respect people who
are honest and who stand up for what`s right. And when the president does
something that`s right and the Republicans agree with, why can`t - can`t
any Republican stand up and say, you know what, he`s right? He said the
right thing, he did the right thing. And likewise, if he does something
that you don`t agree with, then can it in the respectful way. You know
what - I think the president is trying his best, he`s doing a good job, I
think, but he`s wrong on this issue or I disagree with him on this issue,
and then move forward. But to roundly criticize him because he`s a
Democrat or to say that you won`t stand with him at any issue, because he`s
a Democrat, is wrong for the sake of the American people. We`re not going
to move forward as the country.
And I think that what will happen in the 2016 cycle is we may have
an opportunity to see some different people come to the forefront as
candidates. And the people who end up as, perhaps, the person who maybe
ends up as our standard bearer in 2016, maybe somebody that folks aren`t
expecting to be that person today?
SMIKLE: And that`s why, I think, going back to Cory Booker, why it`s
going to be such an incredible challenge for him, because when he gets to
the Senate, he`s going to be one of 100 and he`s going to have to be a
member of the caucus and he is going to have to defend the president`s
policies throughout his tenure. So, the question is, you know, how much of
that -- how much does he sort of taut nonpartisanship when he has to be
partisan to just get things done?
KORNACKI: Because it is so much easier running a city, for instance,
or running a state or being part of a state legislature. The party lines
and the divisions between the parties are not nearly as exact. I mean,
Jonathan probably coming from Kentucky, you could speak to this. Kentucky
is a state that voted for Mitt Romney by 22, 23 points last year. Also, I
think six of the seven constitutional (inaudible) officers in Kentucky are
Democrats. So, there`s a lot more room when you get away from the federal
level from the kind of cooperation (inaudible) in Newark. He can cooperate
with Chris Christie, the governor.
MILLER: You know, what`s interesting about the McConnell thing back
in Kentucky is that the monster he`s helped create might be coming to deny
him his sixth term. That Republicans in Kentucky, the Tea Party folks and
the folks who are so fed up with Washington, are looking at McConnell,
sometimes they think they did -- he was too friendly with Obama. So, we
might have -- I don`t know whether Matthew Bevin beats him in the primary,
but it certainly will weaken him for what we are hoping is an alliance and
grinds (ph) victory in the fall.
CLIFT: Democrats in the Senate looked for opportunities to work with
Republicans. And Hillary Clinton was the model. I mean the Senate tried
to impeach - did impeach her husband. They didn`t vote to convict, the
Senate didn`t vote to convict. She went up there and she quickly made
alliances with John McCain and others. So, Democrats see that as a model
for success. Very unlike the Republican side. But McConnell, he is a
savage political player, as you know. He will do whatever it takes to win.
CLIFT: And after President Obama was elected, that strategy worked.
In 2010 the Republicans took back the House. They gained seats. And it
worked. Now I think he`s really caught, as you point out. And so, he`s
ineffectively out of the leadership on the hill .
KORNACKI: You mentioned .
CLIFT: So he`s filling that vacuum.
KORNACKI: And you mentioned the experience of Hillary Clinton and
Democrats. I think there was more cooperation when Democrats were in the
minority party and George W. Bush was president. Then we`ve seen
(inaudible). I want to talk about why that is and also pick up an alleged
point about Hillary Clinton. We`re going to do that after this.
KORNACKI: We`re talking about post partisanship and post-post
partisanship. We`re here with Eleanor Clift of "Newsweek" and
TheDailyBeast.com. Democratic political consultant Basil Smikle, Republican
strategist Reverend Joe Watkins and former Democratic Kentucky State
Treasurer Jonathan Miller. I managed to actually introduce everybody to
start this segment.
KORNACKI: So, I`m finally waking up now and getting going here. I
sort of teased this at the end of the last segment, the idea that - when we
had - you know, we`ve talked about the dynamic that prevailed in Washington
since Obama became president, when it was sort of the reverse in 2001 when
you had a Republican president, you know, Democrats - Democrats controlled
the Senate, at least back then. Democrats, I found, in the first part of
Bush`s term were a lot more willing to cooperate than Republicans were in
the first part of Obama`s term. And I asked a former Republican
congressman about this once. Bob Inglis, who was a victim of the Tea
Party, South Carolina Republican who strayed from the flock on a few things
and he lost his primary in 2010, the big Tea Party year, by like 42 points.
I asked if he left office about that difference and he said he thought it
was because ultimately at the end of the day, the Democratic Party, and the
philosophy behind the Democratic Party is, they want government to work,
they want government to solve problems. So, give the Republican president
who`s at least willing to talk about No Child Left Behind, for instance,
Medicare prescription, drug, for instance, and you`re going to find
Democrats who does serve their philosophical purpose to be working with
On the Republican side - and Jonathan, maybe you can speak to this a
little bit, but on the Republican side if you`re talking about just an
anti-government message, then you could just say, we`re going to say no to
everything. If it results in the government shutdown, if it results in
choking off funding for things, we`re fine, because we`re the anti-
government party. So it`s sort of - there`s much more of incentive for
Democrats to cooperate in the minority than there is for Republicans.
MILLER: Yeah. I think that`s a great point. But also, I think you
see at the grassroots, and this was mentioned earlier, such a distaste for
Congress. Congressional approval is at such lows that I think you`re going
to see even among Democrats, particularly if we lose the presidency in
2016, we could see the same kind of rebound where a Republican president
gets the same sort of hyper-partisan treatment from a Democratic Congress.
And that`s why we - at No Labels we want to stop the nuclear proliferation.
We want to stop it now and try to create a way for Democrats and
Republicans to work there. That`s our problem solvers group and that`s why
we`re building our army to try to .
WATKINS: Maybe No Labels could endorse the whole idea of term
limits. You know, this is something we were talking about during the
break. And I believe that one of the biggest problems we have to any kind
of working together or bipartisanship in Congress, is self-interest. I
mean people say, at the end of the day, I know what`s right, but I do want
to get re-elected. In order to get re-elected I`ve got to do what`s
expedient, I`ve got to do what`s best for me. And so, if I need to do
something that doesn`t really help the American people or my district move
forward, but it`s politically expedient, it will get me re-elected, that
I`ll do that. If we had term limits, we can go back to the mile that we
have, when the country first started, where people left their job, whatever
that job is, and they served for a few years, in public service, and they
served their fellow citizens in the Congress and then they went back home
after two or three terms. And if we had that, if we had - at least the
folks knew that their term of service in the government was coming to an
end, they might be inclined to do the right thing, at least toward the end
of that time.
KORNACKI: Well, you hit on it earlier, and I think you proposed a
good solution, I just don`t know if there`s a way to actually get to the
solution, and that is just to broaden the base of the parties. Because you
think of -it used to be that both parties were a lot broader, sort of
culturally, geographically, you know, in their appeal. And when you had
these big tent parties it left room - for, you know, a president of one
party to pick off votes from the president of the other party. You think
when Reagan came in, whether you think this is a good or bad example, it`s
an example when Reagan came in in 1981, it was big tax cut bill, Tip
O`Neill and the Democrats controlled the House. But in that Democratic
caucus, there were like four or five dozen conservative Democrats, so
Reagan was able to get something done then. But right now the polarization
has just reached the point where there`s basically no Democratic member in
the House who represents a district that Romney won, there`s only a few of
them. There`s almost no Republican member who represents a district that
Obama won. And so, that just basic incentive to compromise isn`t there
because the parties aren`t .
CLIFT: well, Reagan got all the boll - they were called the boll
weevils. They were .
CLIFT: southern Democrats, the southern Democrats who are now -
Republicans. I mean I remember when Newt Gingrich was the only Republican
in the delegation from Georgia. And my liberal friends said, oh, one
Republican is going to make a big difference. Well, pretty soon the -
almost the entire state delegation, with the exception of Atlanta, of
course, John Lewis, is all Republican.
KORNACKI: In the whole South?
WATKINS: In the whole, the entire South. Yes.
KORNACKI: In the whole South, but President Bush, in fairness, he
really courted Ted Kennedy when he came in because he really wanted an
ally. He was looking to duplicate Bob Bullock in the Texas legislature,
who was like a Republican but he was a big Democrat. And Bush was looking
for those kind of alliances. I don`t think President Obama really worked
to try to establish those relationships. Maybe they would have been
difficult. I`m not sure exactly who I would put at the top of the list. I
thought briefly after the `08 election that maybe John McCain could be the
elder statesman, they could form this partnership. I think that would have
been truly historic.
KORNACKI: Now, in the last - in the last few months, actually, I will
say McCain and a Senate in general -- there`s a pocket in the Senate that
actually seems to be softening.
WATKINS: I thought the president really needs to work that. You
know, he is obviously a wonderful and gifted speaker and he does wonders
when he goes out on the stump and speaks to Americans, but his time would
be so well spent really working in that Senate, working on those members
who likely might work with him to get something done before his second term
ends. And I think this is where he really needs to spend his time, you
know, behind closed doors with those members.
KORNACKI: We have somebody here who knows Hillary Clinton very well.
KORNACKI: I cannot resist. I have to - I have to - Eleanor alluded
to it earlier, and I want to ask you - ask you about - but this was in 2008
when Hillary Clinton was running against Obama in this sort of, you know,
bipartisan/post-partisan message, this was how - this is how she sort of
famously disparaged it at the height of the `08 campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D): I could stand up here and say, let`s just
get everybody together, let`s get unified, the sky will open .
CLINON: . the light will come down .
CLINTON: Celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should
do the right thing and the world will be perfect.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: Maybe I`ve just lived a little long, but I have no allusions
about how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand
and have the special interests disappear.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And that is something -- it is like - it is like - when you
know, there`s a song, and you hate it as a kid and then you listen to it
and you`re like, you know what, that actually isn`t bad. Right now, Basil,
I`m like, you know, that makes - it makes a lot more sense now than I
thought it did at the time.
SMIKLE: Well, you aren`t (ph) here to serve him .
SMIKLE: Yes. I mean, tone and -- tone aside, she was right on the
merits. And she was there. She had been there longer than Barack had been
there. She was qualified. You touched on it earlier. Qualified to talk
about the culture of D.C. And I think what she was arguing was that, look,
you know, we can talk about how we want to work together, but this culture
existed long before we all got there and it will exist long after. I mean,
if you go back and think about it, I mean Madison wrote in the federalist
papers that partisanship was going to destroy government. And 15 years
later, we were running -- we had two major political parties. It has been
around for a very long time. You just can`t - get rid of it with a wand .
KORNACKI: Well, Eleanor raised the question earlier, and I wonder
what you think. Hillary Clinton, let`s say she runs in 2016, given the --
given what she said in `08 and given the experience of the last four, five
years, how do you think she would present herself in terms of ..
SMIKLE: I think she has to do a little of both. Number one, I
think she probably has to go and get a different campaign team. I think
she also has to -- you know, the president was very, very good at using
technology, Facebook and those matrix, to be able to hone into very, very
specific voters and talk to them in a very, very direct way, whereas the
Hillary campaign was sort of going back to what I was saying before -- that
sort of old school Democratic politics through Democratic institutions.
She`s going to have to blend both.
KORNACKI: But do you think that same message, that, same - like hey,
I`m seasoned, I`m tough, I know how to beat these Republicans? Do you
think that .
SMIKLE: I think it - I think it will work because we -- I think she
has to use that and it will work because we`re very tired of the
partisanship, but people will also respond to the fact that she has been
there, she is seasoned and they will respect the fact that she went to work
for the guy that she was running against.
MILLER: And to add onto that, you know, she`s not only able to talk
about being able to beat the Republicans, but she also can talk in - going
back to the Cory Booker message, of working with them. And she`s got great
relationships with McCain and many other Republican senators. And as
Eleanor mentioned earlier, unlike Obama`s outreach, I mean Hillary day one
when she was in the Senate, started willing .
CLIFT: That` right.
MILLER: .- nurturing those relations in the Senate.
That`s, again, kind of our, No Labels, model. We`ll fight her in
November, but in December while there`s opportunities - we got ways to work
KORNACKI: Well, it is true. And I remember John Kerry had a great
relationship with John McCain, then he ran for the president.
KORNACKI: I want to thank Democratic political consultant Basil
Smikle, Republican strategist Reverend Joe Watkins and former Democratic
Kentucky state treasurer, excuse me, Jonathan Miller.
Remembering the long past to correcting a national long. That`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: 100 Japanese planes and a number of mentioned submarines
could depart in the attack. In an hour and five minutes the Battleship
Arizona was completely destroyed and four others severely damaged.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The day that will live in infamy, December 7, 1941 when
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and pulled the United States into World War II.
Brought out the best in America. The whole country - schools, businesses,
factories, workers, executives - everyone mobilized for an unprecedented
war effort that saved the world from Hitler and fascism and it brought out
the worst, which took the form of something called Executive Order 9066.
It was issued by FDR three months after Pearl Harbor. A preemptive measure
against domestic espionage. That`s how it was billed. We know it today by
a different name, internment. Some 77,000 American citizens, and other
43,000 legal and illegal resident aliens, it`s a 120,000 people total,
almost all of them of Japanese descent, were given a week to settle their
affairs and then shipped off to camps in remote deserted areas and there
they lived with the barest necessities and little protection from the
elements for the rest of the war. Until 1945, that is, when they were
finally sent home without jobs, without property and without ever being
charged with anything. Some of them were given limited compensation, but
most received nothing.
That`s a story you probably know about. But this month marks an
important anniversary of the rest of that story. Because it was in August
of 1988, 25 years ago this month, more than four decades after the last of
those camps closed, that the president of the United States finally dropped
years of resistance on both his part and the part of the United States
government and apologized. Momentum for this came from political
representation of Asian-Americans. There weren`t any in Congress when
World War II broke out, but there were in the 1980s and they pushed a
commission to study how internment came about and to document the toll that
it took on its victims. And that commission recommended a $1.5 billion
compensation package and an apology.
There was fierce resistance. It took four years for the House to
pass it. And when it did, the Reagan White House promised to veto it. So,
the battle moved to the Senate 25 years ago this summer with Hawaii Spark
Matsunaga, a decorated combat veteran of World War II recounting the
brutality and the shame of the camps.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SPARK M. MATSUNAGA (D), HAWAII: It`s also recorded, Mr.
President, that an elderly American veteran of World War I committed
suicide because he was so ashamed of being branded as disloyal to the
United States. Indeed the stigma of disloyalty has haunted Japanese-
Americans for the past 45 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: As Matsunaga lost his composure, his friend, Alaska
Republican Ted Stevens came to his aid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED STEVENS (R ), ALASKA: I think anybody who lived through
that period of time, who had personal friends that literally disappeared,
and then came back after the war to find out what happened to them, I can
only be appalled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: As we said, there was opposition. And if you want to
know what it sounded like, here`s Jesse Helms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JESSE HELMS (R ), NORTH CAROLINA: No fund shall be
appropriated under this title. Until the government of Japan has fairly
compensated the families of the men and women who were killed as a result
of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The package did survive the Senate, though, and then
Reagan changed his tune and put his signature on a bill that contained a
formal apology and $20,000 for any surviving internment victims.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN: No payment can make up for those lost years, so what
is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with
honor. For here we admit a loan. Here we reaffirm our commitment as a
nation to equal justice under the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And that was 25 years ago this month. When FDR signed his
executive order, public opinion was on his side. But four decades later
public opinion was so strong in the other direction that Reagan had no
choice but to sign the apology and issue that statement. It`s a reminder
that the judgment of history is always evolving.
We lost a legend in political reporting this week, Jack Germond.
We`ll talk about what else we lost with him after this.
KORNACKI: So, I have to admit, there are times when I`ll buy a book
just because of its title. I have no real interest in reading it, but
something about the title will be so catchy, or so weird, or just so absurd
that I want to put it on my shelf for everyone to see. Usually, I will do
this at a used book store, so I don`t waste too much money and almost
always, the titles that catch my eye are from a very particular genre, the
celebrity memoir. This is how I became the proud owner of, for instance,
"Don`t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It`s Raining," that would be Judge Judy`s
1996 memoir. I also have on my bookshelf, "Power, Pasta and Politics."
It`s according to Senator Al D`Amato. Look at that - boy, I love that
picture on the cover there. And, of course, "Don`t Hassel the Hoff" by who
else? David Hasselhoff. I definitely not read that.
So, this is why maybe ten years ago when I was at a bookstore and I
saw a memoir by a political journalist that I just had to have, and it was
called "Fat Man in a Middle Seat" by Jack Germond. Now, I knew who Germond
was. I grew up watching him on McLaughlin Group, and watching the Chris
Farley version of him on SNL`s McLaughlin Group spoofs. He`d also teamed
up with Jules Witcover to write the definitive accounts of the 1980, `84,
`88 and `92 presidential campaigns. These had all been part of my self-
education in American politics. So, while the title is what first
attracted me to "Fat Man in a Middle Seat," I also wanted to read the book.
And it didn`t disappoint. Germond who`d passed away this week at age 85,
was a throwback character. A political reporter who loved horse races,
real ones and political ones. He imbibed in an era before Twitter, before
YouTube, cable news in the 24 hour news cycle. When reporters could and
would get a lot closer to politicians than they ever dream of today,
proximity that could produce invaluable insight and also maybe unhealthy
Germond didn`t hide his political views. He was a Democrat. But he
wasn`t driven by ideology. His passion was politics. Political campaigns,
learning who wanted to run, figuring out who was going to win and
understanding why. He had no problem with horse raced journalism as long
as it was good horse race journalism. Jack Germond`s world has given way
to a radically different political media landscape. The changes can be
healthy, politicians face more scrutiny and accountability than they did
before, but the fear of an unguarded moment going viral on Twitter or
YouTube has walled off politicians from the media and from the public like
never before. The intimacy that allowed reporters like Jack Germond to
witness political leaders at their most human, to engage with them and
gather genuine insight into them is largely a thing of the past.
In many ways the quality of political coverage today is better than
it`s ever been. And yes, we always do remember the good old days as being
a lot better than they were, but Jack Germond`s passing is a reminder that
something real and meaningful has been lost. So, we want to talk about
that era that he embodied, what was good about it, what wasn`t and we want
to talk about how politics are covered today, what`s good about it and what
isn`t. We`ve got a panel here that can speak to both Jack Germond`s era
and today. We`ve got Bob Franken, he is a syndicated columnist and former
CNN correspondent, he`s reported on campaigns in politics for than 40
years. We have MSNBC contributor Perry Bacon Jr. who covered the last
three presidential elections for "Time," "The Washington Post" and NBC
sister site TheGrio.com, and still at the table, we have Eleanor Clift, the
contributor to "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast" who has covered every
presidential campaign since 1976 and who would appear on the McLaughlin
group with Jack Germond. And we have Walter Mears, who`s reported on
National Politics for the Associated Press from 1960 to 2001 and received
the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the 1976 presidential election. So,
your credentials just dwarf mine all, but that`s perfect. Because I just -
I want to hear from you guys.
And Wolf, I`ll start with you because I think, you know, you knew
Jack Germond so well personally. And I wonder if you could just talk about
Jack Germond the reporter, tell us what his approach to politics was like,
what he was like as a reporter.
WALTER MEARS, FMR. AP REPORTER: Well, the first thing about Jack is,
he loved reporting, he loved people, he was fun to be around. And as a
reporter, his promise was, again, to start at the bottom. So, if you went
into a state chasing a candidate, yeah, you`d cover the candidate, but Jack
would be on the phone talking to precinct committee men and county
chairman. And he had his hand on politics in virtually every state. And
he did it in - you know, grass roots is a cliche -- but he did it bottom
up. So, by the time he got to the presidential candidate by pre-covering,
he probably knew more about the state the guy was in than his own advisers
or, certainly, the candidate himself.
KORNACKI: And he was able to get - he has some stories in - we`ve got
the book. I love this "Fat Man in the Middle," just I love the title - but
he has some great stories in here about things he would witness, but that
he wouldn`t report. There was a certain -- there were certain code, I
guess, that existed back then, certain conventions of the era. You know,
he witnessed Nelson Rockefeller, you know, famously had left his wife,
happy Rockefeller, took up with another woman. He knew that this was
happening and he didn`t report it. Others didn`t report it. Can you talk
about the trade-off that existed back then between not reporting something
like that and being able to get access you wouldn`t get today, what was
sort of gained from that that we might .
MEARS: Sure. I always - I always differed a bit with the people
that said that there was a code that said, you won`t report this. There`s
a big difference between what you hear and what you know as reportable
facts. You heard a whole lot of things. What you report needs to be
provable. You can`t just take the rumor and go with it. I think that`s
one of the big things that`s changed over the years since Jack and Jules
and I and others were chasing around on the bus. Things that we would not
have felt comfortable writing or felt professional writing now make their
way into the mainstream by a way of the Internet, by a way of tweets, by a
way of all the things that didn`t exist in our area.
KORNACKI: Yeah, Bob, I guess it was a more sort of contained media
world back then right where today something can get on Twitter or YouTube a
lot more easily and can leak. It was a lot more people who could figure
something out and put just even a shred of truth out there and then it`s
for the whole world to see.
BOB FRANKEN, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I was thinking of that when
you held up the book. And out there these days you have a whole generation
of people with their tablets who are saying, what`s a book .
FRANKEN: . that kind of thing, but it sort of speaks to what I
think has been a driving force of all the change, and that is the
technology. I should point out that I started when we were just getting
Morse code, but we`ve had everything from the beepers to the BlackBerries,
to the very, very small cameras, and you`ve also had TV with its live
shots. Everything now is very, very, very, very quick. You don`t even
have a whole day to reflect on anything. Famously, in the book by Tim
Crouse he talks about -- it talks about .
KORNACKI: This is "The Boys on the Bus".
FRANKEN: "The Boys on the Bus". Right. And every day they would
turn to the AP reporter and say, what`s the lead? You know, this kind of
thing. So, you sort of drove the political agenda back then.
MEARS: Well, I tried. But I don`t know what I drove it, but .
FRANKEN: Well, maybe .
CLIFT: But it was - it was .
KORNACKI: Today, you know, I sit there and I say, I can`t even
picture - and I did, but I can`t even picture functioning in a media world
without twitter because twitter has exposed all these blind spots I didn`t
even know I had in what happens in the news every day, but in pre-social
media era, it was the reporters who were out there, who did set the agenda
and the way .
MEARS: And try .
MEARS: Try a reporting room without cell phones.
MEARS: I mean, we made a lot of noise when we walked because of all
the coins in our pockets because we had to run for the pay phone.
CLIFT: Remember when the first Trash-80s came out from Radio Shack
where you had these cups .
MEARS: Oh, yes.
CLIFT: And you would attach them to the phone. That was really new
technology. But, you know, Jack Germond was one of the first if not the
first print reporter to make it on television as a pundit. And it wasn`t
because of his leading man looks. I mean, he really was a character.
KORNACKI: He was the anti-pundit, too.
CLIFT: He is. On the McLaughlin Group, the chair that he sat in,
the chair was still there, and many other people have sat in it. It leans
to one side because Jack always leaned to one side.
KORNACKI: OK. I picture that.
CLIFT: But he - he had such reverence for the written word. And
when I first started doing the McLaughlin Group, he said to me, you know,
Eleanor, this is just television. It doesn`t have the power of the written
word. It just goes out there and breaks into a million pieces. And when
everybody else would sit in the green room, you know, prepping and reading
stuff, or as Jack would say, they are working on their spontaneous one-
CLIFT: He would be there with the racing form or the crossword
puzzle as if to say, this is barely worth my time. But it was that kind of
antagonism to the medium. I think that everybody loved him. He had the
highest what they called Q rating. Everybody - and everybody wanted to
have a drink with him. Although he was fun to be with, but he was very
KORNACKI: OK, obviously .
MEARS: He was professionally grumpy.
KORNACKI: Grumpy .
MEARS: It didn`t bother him, we just sat down .
KORNACKI: In an endearing way, too, because .
KORNACKI: I watched the McLaughlin group growing up, and he
definitely came across as the grumpiest, but he was most compelling
KORNACKI: I want to read - this is - this is from .
MEARS: Let me tell you one thing on a point that Eleanor made.
Jack never seized to be somewhat frustrated with the fact, that his fame
came from television.
CLIFT: That`s right.
MEARS: He used to say, I wrote 10,000 stories and nobody ever heard
of me. I go on television and people want autographs.
KORNACKI: And I wonder if there`s a difference there, too, because
when you`re writing for the "Baltimore Sun," back in an era when we didn`t
have social media, when we didn`t really have the Internet, you were
writing for whoever received the hard copy of the "Baltimore Sun" every
day. Now, you know, if Jack Germond was writing for "The Baltimore Sun" or
anybody, he puts his link up on twitter, and, you know, if there`s
something juicy in that story, it`s going to be out there for the whole
world to see really fast. And maybe - maybe in this era somebody like that
could be a little more - a little more famous.
PERRY BACON JR., THEGRIO.COM: Right. As you are - you have people
today who work at small places, "The New Republic" writers, that is a small
place, "National Review" writers who I read every day, who I know what they
think, and that`s one key difference that we`ve made it much easier - It
used to be the A.T., the "Washington Post," "New York Time" is very much
(inaudible) on the campaign trail, everyone sort of read them. And now you
have to give a much more diffuse thing. Also, you have this notion of,
when you`re on the road -- I guess I went to the official 2016 launch, I
think, I was - when Hillary Clinton gave a speech about voting rights,
which I think was the first event of the campaign, for real. And everyone
there was like tweeting all their quotes out immediately. Even - I`m sure
we - I beat the AP reporter myself in terms of, you know, pulling out the
most important parts and that wouldn`t have happened even four years ago.
KORNACKI: Before, that would have been the next day .
KORNACKI: The next day - Well, he - I wanted to get this - read it
when we come back, this is - it`s just a passage from "Fat Man in the
Middle Seat" of Jack Germond describing live on the road as the campaign
reporter, then and now. I want to talk about it - it was life of a
political reporter then and now and what the difference - we`ll do it after
KORNACKI: So, this is - this is a passage I really want to read of
Jack Germond who is, you know, from "Fat Man in the Middle Seat." He is
talking about, you know, contrasting the era, he was sort of in his prime
covering campaigns with sort of the new era. He says the next generation
of leading political reporters are every bit as good as we were as
reporters, but their lifestyles are more disciplined. They tend to drink
white wine or beer rather than Irish whisky and they carry cell phones, so
they can talk to their offices more than once or twice a day I considered
adequate. They go out running early in the morning. A lot of them eat
salads from room service, believe me or not."
KORNACKI: And it`s just - reading - reading this book and listening
to him, you know, interview through the years, Bob - it made me think I
would love to have been on the road covering a campaign back when Jack
Germond was. A totally different world than that it is now.
FRANKEN: First of all, a correction to that would be that on the
bus, some of them wouldn`t be old enough to drink white wine, beer or
whisky. And as a matter of fact, I really decided I wanted to be a
reporter after I got to be on a campaign bus when I was in college. And I
looked around and I saw all these characters throwing out one - great one-
liners and a one liner after another. And I thought, this is for me, you
know, that kind of thing. It`s a real special world. It`s a world of
camaraderie, or at least it was when I was doing it, and you`re
hermetically sealed with a group of people so you have to get along with
them, it`s sort of like a baseball clubhouse, I suppose, something like
CLIFT: It was very much a man`s world.
FRANKEN: Yeah, that would .
CLIFT: I will point that out.
FRANKEN: In fact, some of the most aggressive reporting was done, and
it began in Timothy Crouse`s book, by the female reporters who were there
who didn`t have any skin in the game.
MEARS: Of whom there were very few.
FRANKEN: They were the tough ones.
BACON: Shame to talk about it, as "Boys on the Bus" are now .
BACON: . in many cases, women on the bus, I mean the leader
reporter of 2012, or much - from "The New York Times," the reporter
covering Romney was a woman only reporter there. And that`s a big shift, I
think, that in part influenced eating salads. And that kind of thing he`s
talking about, and that`s a good ship, I think. One thing we shouldn`t
romanticize is there are too much, the news press corps, whether you think
about it, they`re may be younger, but they are also certainly more diverse,
more women to catch on issues sooner that the old press corps at the times
KORNACKI: Well, and let me ask you about it, Eleanor - what was it
- what was it like, you know trying to -- in a profession that was, as you
say, a boys club, kind of breaking into it.
CLIFT: Well, my first presidential campaign was `76. And I was
assigned to cover Jimmy Carter who the editors figured, a, you know, a
southern Baptist peanut farmer with this heavy Georgian accent was never
going to win, so it was OK to assign the junior reporter. And there was
some concern on my part, and I think on their part, could I, you know,
crack it with the drinking at night, which is when the assumption was,
that`s when you got the really good stuff, when Jody Powell, the press
secretary, hung out in the bar. And I didn`t - I didn`t keep up with that.
But, you know, I did OK. I forged my own contacts. But I think after that
you began to see the breaking down of that sort of drinking culture that
seemed to be really part of how people gathered the news. And some of it
had to do with more women coming in and also this new healthy lifestyle,
the drinking .
KORNACKI: And I imagine .
CLIFT: The drink of choice after a while.
KORNACKI: The discipline of campaigns, too, I mean if you`re running
a campaign, if you`re a candidate, you don`t want your press secretary down
in the bar at midnight, you know, having a few too many drinks and
spilling, you know, state secrets. I imagined that .
CLIFT: Right. Well, it wasn`t state secrets, really, but you did get
more of a feeling for the candidates and for the people around them. Not
necessarily Jimmy Carter, who was kind of .
KORNACKI: He was not in the bar.
CLIFT: Not in the bar. But, you know, you look at Jack, I mean, he
drank, he smoked, he ate pretty much what he pleased, and he lived to be 85
years old. So .
KORNACKI: We should all be so - I wish I`d be so lucky.
CLIFT: We should all be so lucky.
KORNACKI: Walter, I wonder, you know, because there are some
anecdotes in his book about the proximity that he enjoyed when it came to,
you know, major candidates for the national office, Nelson Rockefeller, for
instance. How close could you get previously to, you know, a presidential
candidate versus today?
MEARS: Well, presidential or down on lower levels of the ballot, the
difference, I think, is that we were adversary without being enemies. I
mean, we were on different sides of the story. We wanted stuff that the
politicians, be they managers or candidates, didn`t necessarily want out.
But at the same time, we didn`t go into it with an accusatory attitude. We
didn`t believe that all politicians were necessarily bad people. And, you
know, I don`t -- I`m not saying that today`s generation feels that way, but
you get the impression, as you look at the coverage, that part of it is
going into the story as a prosecutor rather than an interrogator.
KORNACKI: And that`s what like - Perry, that`s what the campaigns see
in you and every reporter, right - you`re, this is the prosecutor, we have
to be real careful here.
BACON: Particularly the Republicans, yeah.
MEARS: And there`s another - another big difference from that day to
this, is that there could be off the record times, you could have a drink
with the candidate late at night, man or woman .
MEARS: And - and you could talk and you could, you know, share
information and you could get a feel for the person that I think is lacking
in a lot of what happens now .
KORNACKI: You`ve been able to drink at night with a candidate?
BACON: I`ve had drinks with, you know, Hillary Clinton with a group,
of course. I wouldn`t say - I don`t think - I`m talking - and I think it
happened in 2012 with Mitt Romney, obviously, but with some other
candidates, too, you know, that people covered as well. I was on the road
a lot in `08, and not as much in 2012. But I know that Hillary Clinton
talked to people off the record, Barack Obama did at times. I was at Mike
Huckabee - I don`t think all of that is gone, comparing the president talks
to the White House reporters occasionally in an off the record sitting. I
think that`s a little bit more frowned upon. There`s - one day you never
(inaudible), like it used to be, when you had off the record, only the
reporters there knew that. It very quickly becomes - someone finds about
it out, it`s on Twitter. Your editor is asking, why did you go to an off
the record? She may - on the record well. Not Hillary Clinton - there`s
more - there`s kind of things that happened on the bus and on the plane
that used to be kind of reserved for that group, are increasingly known to
the broader world and commented on by the broader world. And that makes it
a little harder to get to know - even if you want to get to know the
candidate yourself very well, and you want to get the note - it`s really
harder in that environment where media coverage and how we cover candidate
is much more disgust in public than was ever before.
KORNACKI: Anything that spills out of that causes the campaign to
clamp down .
BACON: Causing them to clamp down, exactly.
FRANKEN: Beyond that, there`s more of a mentality, of either you`re
for us or against us these days. Very little understanding of the fact
that basically - everybody`s skeptic, everybody`s adversary. I think, to
some degree that`s been brought on by media, and yes, that includes MSNBC,
certainly Fox. But I think it`s also brought on by the - way that you
cover a beat, like the Pentagon or the State Department. If you stray too
far from the course, you`re going to be frozen out. Certainly, that`s the
case in any White House. So, I think that that has sort of permeated that
relationship between journalists and newsmaker and I think it`s unhealthy.
CLIFT: Well, there are .
KORNACKI: Well, we have got to pick it up right after this break.
We will pick it up right after this with Eleanor.
KORNACKI: OK, we`ll pick it right back - Eleanor, you were about to
CLIFT: Oh, I was just going to say, one of my early lessons in
reporting and the judgments you have to make, was after Jimmy Carter had
won the nomination, and Hamilton Jordan who was his top strategist and
would go on to be essentially his chief of staff was ruminating about
cabinet positions. And he said Scoop Jackson, who was a hawkish Democrat,
one of (inaudible) rivals, could be secretary of offense. And he went
through a whole list. That`s the one I remember. And we printed it in
"Newsweek." And Carter was furious, Scoop Jackson was furious, and
Hamilton came to me and he said, Eleanor, if you want to continue this
source/reporter relationship, I don`t want to have to say off the record
every time. You`re going to have to protect me. And that was a deal I
happily made. He was very irreverent.
KORNACKI: So, what does that look like?
CLIFT: What that looks like is you don`t blow up an ongoing
relationship of a guy who`s in the White House, who knows everything that`s
going on, for some quip that he makes deriding some member of Congress,
which he did often.
KORNACKI: And did you ever feel that he took advantage of the
CLIFT: No, no, no.
KORNACKI: Because that`s the other - that`s the other key. And if
you`re going to enter into that kind of a relationship with a source, you
want to make sure they are not - giving you the best stories .
CLIFT: And it`s interesting he had this sort of bad boy reputation,
but he was very smart, he knew everything that was going on. He was a
really good guy, and in the life he lived after leaving the White House, he
passed away much too early from cancer, I think really, you know, showed
what he was made of. So, that was a deal, if you will, that I was
perfectly happy to make.
FRANKEN: Well, no, I mean, the whole idea of the relationship with
sources, a favorite story is this, we were working on a budget and the
Republicans and Democrats in the White House were all crazed about their
positions and all that. So they finally decided that they wanted to keep
things from the public so they would go out to Andrews Air Base and meet in
secret so there wouldn`t be leaks or anything like that. Well, my phone
was constantly busy with leakers from all sides .
FRANKEN: And, you know, which, of course, is the way it works. One
of the leakers called a news conference after he got back to decry the
leaking because he knew the background .
FRANKEN: And so, you know, there was not a word I say or anything
like that, you know. And, of course, I had to be true to my word.
KORNACKI: Right. That`s .
FRANKEN: . even to this day, I`m not going to tell you which one it
We`ll find it off the air. But one minute left. And Walter, I want
to ask you - Jack Germond, you know, you knew him so well, do you have like
a favorite Jack Germond story?
MEARS: There`s one story that kind of epitomizes his determination to
get the story. I mean, I have 100 Jack -- 1,000 Jack Germond stories. We
traveled together for so many years. He went down to Montgomery, Alabama,
to do an interview with George Wallace. And Jack was a gourmet. He loved
fine food. You didn`t see any room service salad on his expense accounts.
MEARS: And so, he went to lunch with Wallace. They had lunch with
steaks. George Wallace doused everything he eats with ketchup.
CLIFT: Oh, nice.
MEARS: Took the bottle, and poured it on. Jack looked across the
table, saw Wallace covering his steak with ketchup, gritted his teeth, and
poured ketchup on his steak .
MEARS: . and ate it. And after that he could do no wrong.
MEARS: He called George Wallace - he was on the phone.
KORNACKI: Anything - anything for a scoop, I guess. Steak with the
ketchup, I have to try that one these days.
Anyway, what should we know for today? My answer is after this.
KORNACKI: So, what should know for today? Oh, we should know that
in addition to kangaroos and a really weird version of football, we also
have gaffes down under. Tony Abbott who leads the Australian Liberal
Party. And don`t let the name fool you, they are actually the
conservatives in Australia. Anyway, Tony used a speech to members of his
party Monday to criticize his rival, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for making
decisions without consulting others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY ABBOTT, LIBERAL PARTY LEADER, AUSTRALIA: No one, however
smart, however well educated, however experience is the suppository of all
wisdom. And I believe that we will be a much better government because we
have a very strong team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Abbott probably meant to say repository instead of the
medical term suppository or maybe Australian politics are just a lot more
vicious than we realized.
We should know that Joe Biden may be having a lasting impact on the
English language. You`ve probably noticed, the vice president`s habit of
punctuating literally every one of his sentences with the word "literally."
And now that practice is gaining some official acceptance. This week the
website GizmoTive discovered that Google has added a second definition for
literally acknowledging that it is often used, "for emphasis or to express
strong feeling." Miriam Webster in Cambridge dictionaries have also mended
their online editions with the second usage.
We know that when it comes to shaping the English language this
makes Biden a more accomplished vice president than at least one of his
We should know that the final remaining embers of formal gay
marriage opposition in California were snuffed out this week. On Wednesday
the California Supreme Court denied an effort to revive Proposition Eight,
which banned gay marriage in the state and which a federal court later
deemed unconstitutional, a decision that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed to
stand in June. This week challenge came from Prop 8`s original sponsor,
the group "Protect Marriage". With the state supreme court tossing it out,
it put a period on the - at the end of the sentence of the protracted legal
battle over gay marriage at least in America`s largest state.
And finally, we should know that a zoo in China tried to pass off a
dog as a lion. According to the Beijing "Youth Daily", a cage marked
African lion" actually contained a Tbetan mastiff. I think that`s how you
pronounce that. The chicanery apparently unraveled when a mother and her
son heard the counterfeit lion barking. This makes this the zoological
equivalent of the hit 1993 movie "Dave," which told the story of a group of
unscrupulous and power hungry White House aides whose skims replaced the
real president who`s been incapacitated by a massive coronary episode with
an impersonator, played memorably by Kevin Kline. This summer is the 20th
anniversary of the movie "Dave," which maybe makes this a good time to dust
off my old sequel idea, "Dave 2, the Revenge."
I want to find out what my guests think we should know. We will
start with you, Eleanor. And by the way, Eleanor Clift was in the movie
"Dave" in 1993, so . I will be pitching my idea of "Dave 2, the Revenge" to
CLIFT: That`s right. It was a cameo appearance of the McLaughlin
Group. And they initially fed us lines to read and we were so stilted it
was awful. So, they finally - the director explained the plot and so just
talked about it. And at the end of it, McLaughlin, John McLaughlin, threw
up his arms and said, who needs reality.
CLIFT: Just following up, Joe Biden, he will be joining the
president next week on a bus tour in upstate New York talking about college
affordability and so forth. But I think it`s a way to remind us Joe Biden
is still there, still thinking about running for president.
KORNACKI: OK, and Walter.
MEARS: On our general subject over the past few minutes, whether it`s
done with typewriters or twitter or e-mails or whatever, there`s nothing
more important than the micro scene in political reporting done well. And
I think it`s to me one of the high callings in all of journalism and I
respect the people who do it now, and I miss the people who did it all
KORNACKI: A good sentiment we (inaudible) and Bob.
FRANKEN: Well, first of all, Walter, that`s really profound and I
mean that literally.
FRANKEN: Mine is going to have to do with the Kepler`s spacecraft,
which you`ve heard is malfunctioning, it won`t be able to look at other
worlds anymore. So, the story of the week is going to be that it`s going
to be turned around toward Earth and turned over to the National Security
Agency so it can continue spying on America.
KORNACKI: All right, Perry.
BACON: And we now know Hillary Clinton really doesn`t like voter
I.D. laws. Her first speech as a - since she left State Department was
about voter I.D. laws in south - and she talked about the North Carolina
law there as a greatest hit of voter suppression. It tells you how big
this -- five years we`ve been talking about voting laws, the big
controversy in America. And now it`s become one of the central issues of
the Democratic Party. How do we make it easier for people, particularly
minorities and young people to vote and then - the fact that she gave her
first speech about that tells you how big of an issue this now is.
KORNACKI: Now, Hillary on voting rights, Biden`s bus tour, starting
to feel like 2016 here.
KORNACKI: I want to thank Eleanor Clift of "Newsweek" and "The
Daily Beast.", Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Walter Mears, syndicated
columnist Bob Franken and MSNBC contributor Perry Bacon, Jr.
Thank to you all for getting up and thank you for joining us. We`ll
be back here next weekend Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 A.M. Eastern time.
Our guests will include "Daily Show" co-creator Lizz Winstead.
And coming up next, is Melissa Harris-Perry with Joy Reid sitting in
On today`s MHP, the cycle of violence in Egypt, and can be done to
stop it. Plus, the politics of racism: Judge, too, gets to use the word -
that`s Melissa Harris Perry with Joy Reid today coming up next and we`ll
see you next week here on "UP."
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