The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/30/11
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, GUEST HOST: Good evening. And thanks for
staying with us for the next hour. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Rachel has
the night off.
Now, the day before the 2008 Democratic primary in New Hampshire, just
one day before that election, there was a legitimate bona fide game-
changing moment on the campaign trail. Barack Obama had just won the Iowa
caucus and Hillary Clinton was probably at the lowest point in her entire
Then this happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, this is
very personal for me. It`s not just political. It`s not just public. I
see what`s happening and we have to reverse it.
And some people think elections are a game. They think it`s like
who`s up or who`s down. It`s about our country. It`s about our kids`
futures. And it`s really about all of us together.
I have so many opportunities for this country. I just don`t want to
see us fall backwards. No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That moment, maybe not that moment alone, but that
moment helped Hillary Clinton come from behind and win the New Hampshire
primary in 2008. She was a little bit down on her luck heading into New
Hampshire, but that moment served to humanize her a little bit in the eyes
of voters, and made her a little more interesting, a little more relatable.
You know what they say about history always repeating itself – well,
four years later, count Newt Gingrich as someone who probably hopes that
that applies to down on their luck presidential candidates first and
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER: I know that she`s not still with us. What
moment do you think of when you think of her mom?
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, you`ll get
me all teary eyed. Callista will tell you I get teary eye d every time we
sing Christmas carols. My – excuse me. My mother sang in the choir and
loved singing in the choir.
My whole emphasis on brain science comes indirectly from dealing –
see, you got me emotional – from dealing with, you know, the real problems
of real people in my family. And so it`s not a theory. It`s, in fact, you
know, my mother.
LUNTZ: If she were here today, what would you tell her?
GINGRICH: If she were here today?
GINGRICH: She spent 27 years as an Army wife and she was in a culture
that valued patriotism, duty, took a risk for this country. And I would
say to her, that I will do everything I can as a candidate to be worthy of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Newt Gingrich in Des Moines, Iowa, today.
Now, I know it`s easy to begin to make fun of it, but the fact is that
just four days before the caucus, he showed some genuine emotion when
talking about his mother. Perhaps some flashes of Hillary Clinton circa
Heading into the final weekend, Newt Gingrich is going to need all the
help he can get, because here`s things stand right now in Iowa. Mitt
Romney and Ron Paul are in a statistical dead heat at the top. Romney now
leads Ron Paul by two points in this poll.
And a few other headlines, the Rick Santorum resurgence, that appears
to be a real thing. Rick Santorum is now up in third place in Iowa.
And then there`s Newt Gingrich. After leading the pack with 28
percent of the vote earlier this month, he`s now all the way back in fifth
place. So we have officially reached the homestretch of the race in Iowa.
And following all the developments at this point, it`s a little bit like
trying to watch a tennis match except a tennis match where there are six
players all on the court all at the same time. There`s so much happening
in all directions that you sort of need a scorecard in order to keep it all
straight, or maybe just a kitten to really quick reflexes to tell you where
Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were both campaigning across Iowa today, each
of them trying to close the deal with Iowa Republicans. Ron Paul`s closing
strategy, taking his biggest perceived weakness, his isolationist views on
foreign policy and trying to make it his strength.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think 10 years is
long enough in Afghanistan. I think it`s time to come home from
This is where I get the strongest support. It comes from the active
military people. They don`t want these kind of wars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: In a time when U.S. military adventurism is big with
Republican presidential candidates, Ron Paul is trying to win by standing
on the opposite side of that platform. So that, in part, is Ron Paul`s
closing strategy right now.
Mitt Romney`s East Coast-style fear and intimidation tactics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I want to tell you something
really clearly. I`m in a good mood this morning. I`m feeling happy and
upbeat. I love being with Mitt and Ann, but let me tell you – you people
disappoint me on Tuesday, you don`t do what you`re supposed to do on
Tuesday for Mitt Romney, I will be back Jersey-style, people. I will be
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Jersey style.
Chris Christie ultimately becomes somebody`s running mate this year –
prepare yourself for an entire summer and fall full of New Jersey mafia
jokes. Don`t say you weren`t warned.
But here`s how you know that it`s good to be Mitt Romney right now.
The main question he`s receiving from the press in Iowa at the moment is
whether or not he intends to release his tax returns. Now, that`s
something you typically do once you`re the presidential nominee. So, it`s
probably a pretty good sign for Mr. Romney that he`s already getting that
On the other hand, that question was the thing that allowed Mitt
Romney`s son, Matt, to reveal himself as the possible heir to the birther
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT ROMNEY: He has not said he will not do it. He also has not said
he will. I think it`s a matter of time until that issue comes up because I
think everybody has to get a chance to do that.
He`s certainly not afraid of anything, not hiding anything – but, you
know, I heard someone suggest the other day that as soon as President Obama
releases his grades and birth certificate and sort of a long list of things
then maybe he would. That was just –
TAGG ROMNEY: That was not my dad saying that.
MATT ROMNEY: No, no, no, that was just a suggestion from someone
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Shortly after causing a mini-media firestorm by outing
himself as a birther, Matt Romney then tweeted an apology, saying, or
tweeting, “I repeated a dumb joke. My bad.”
For their part, Barack Obama`s campaign team responded to the
controversy by tweeting this. “Mitt Romney`s son thinks President Obama
should release his birth certificate. Guess he doesn`t have one of our
What followed was a link to an Obama campaign merchandise site where
you can buy your very own official Barack Obama made in the USA mug.
Now, while the race in Iowa appears to be coming down to Mitt Romney
versus Ron Paul, that hasn`t stopped the other candidates from trying to
claw back into the race. Michele Bachmann, for instance, held a big
campaign event in a town called Early, Iowa, today. The good news, she
appeared alongside influential Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa.
The bad news? Nobody showed up to see them.
“The Des Moines Register” reporting today that the event was attended
by, quote, “a dozen or so people.”
The Bachmann blamed the scheduling error. And even though he`s
dropped all the way down to fifth place now, there`s news tonight that a
group of well-financed Newt Gingrich supporters are planning to air a 30-
minute special on Mr. Gingrich throughout the weekend on Iowa TV.
So as we head into this weekend, it`s worth stopping and noting that
the Iowa caucuses are kind of a throwback to a different era of democracy
in this country. In some ways, taking part in the caucuses requires a
higher level of democratic – that`s with a little “D” – participation
than just regular voting.
You can`t just show up whenever you want to cast your vote. You show
up at a specific time. And it`s not just a solitary act. You`re listening
to your neighbors and friends argue for one candidate or another.
Iowa is different. It may not necessarily be predictive for who`s
eventually going to be the nominee, but it`s a kind of crazy and cool place
for those of us who love politics and love to watch it.
One of those crazy cool people joining us right now is MSNBC political
analyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post,”
Nice to see you.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to be here, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: All for the big question of the day. Can Mitt Romney
turn Chris Christie`s threats into votes?
ROBINSON: You know, I`m not seeing it. I understand Chris Christie
is really popular in Iowa. He plays well out there. It just the optics,
to see it from a distance, to watch him essentially threaten the good folks
of Iowa with some sort of Jersey-ness, if they don`t do what he says,
doesn`t strike me as the best way to win votes for Mitt Romney.
But, again, he`s a popular figure. Frankly, it`s too soon to tell,
believe it or not, about the Iowa caucuses. Four years ago, today, I was
in Iowa, and everyone knew that Hillary Clinton was going to edge out
Barack Obama and John Edwards was going to finish third.
As you know, Barack Obama won. Hillary Clinton finished third. John
Edwards managed to finish second.
So, this thing breaks weight.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, look, that`s true. You know, the Democratic
version of the Iowa caucus is a little different. I mean, it really is
kind of rowdy. I can remember being there. It`s all about the catering
and it`s about the chants and the getting people literally to stand up and
move from one side of the school auditorium to another.
It is a little more contained on the Republican side. You know,
they`re, of course, writing it down rather than standing up and moving
But there`s a kind of pugnacious element to it. And I`m wondering
about this Rick Perry versus Rick Santorum as a kind of Iowa element. I
mean, what is going on with the two fighting it out down here sort of
towards the bottom of the pack?
ROBINSON: Well, they`re going after the social conservatives. I
mean, the evangelicals, the social conservatives who are a constituency out
there for the taking, essentially. Michele Bachmann seems to have dropped
off the map.
And Rick Santorum has surged and so has Rick Perry. Rick Perry`s
numbers are looking much, much better than they have. He was down in
single digits. He`s now up to 14 percent.
And – Perry is kind of the sleeper candidate here that I see from a
distance of a whole weekend. I think he`s got all the money. He`s got
some organization there. I think he potentially could do better than a lot
of people expect.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, what about Ron Paul using the kind of isolationist
foreign policy ideas as his closing argument? Is it his sense that these
ideas will play well in Iowa?
ROBINSON: I can`t imagine that he thinks they`re going to play well
enough for this to be the closing argument. And, you know, Ron Paul has to
be – to do well, I think he has to kind of be beyond politics. He has to
be Ron Paul.
And once he starts thinking of electoral strategy and what`s going to
win him the argument in the caucuses, I think he`s not at all good at that.
I think his people are not at all good at that. And if this is what they
have chosen, as a winning strategy, I don`t think they`ve chosen right.
Nonetheless, he`s got all this organization. He`s statistically tied
with Romney. He very well could finish first.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, speaking of organization, if you had to move from
the persuasive question, to the simply get out the vote, down on the ground
mode, who would you give the advantage to? Who`s got the edge in the
straight get out the vote here?
ROBINSON: I think, first, Romney. Romney`s organized. He`s got
people – you know, he pretended not to pay a lot of attention to Iowa for
a long time, but really he was paying total attention to Iowa when he
decided he really had to compete there. He`s got the organization.
I think Perry`s got more on the ground than some people realize.
Santorum doesn`t. And Santorum campaigned for months, essentially, by
himself, literally. At some campaign stops, it was just him.
So – and that`s why I think Santorum may ultimately prove a little
weaker than his polling numbers suggest simply because he doesn`t have the
HARRIS-PERRY: Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst and Pulitzer
Prize-winning columnist, and somebody like me, undoubtedly, super excited
we`re going into an election year.
ROBINSON: They`re actually going to start focusing – caucusing now
and soon voting. We`ve been talking about this for a year. So let`s get
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks for being with us.
Now, meanwhile, the Democrats also have a presidential candidate.
It`s a guy named President Barack Obama. And the president`s personal job
security plan for 2012 are next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right now, just a few blocks away in Times Square,
they`re getting ready to drop the ball to usher in 2012. It`s a time for
politicians to look back and romanticize the good old days, even the
politicians who should know better – you know, the politicians who are
historians. I`ll explain, just ahead.
HARRIS-PERRY: We all know in excruciating detail what the leading
Republican candidates for president are doing lately.
On the Democratic side, we already know which candidate they`ll
nominate. They`re not worried about an Iowa caucus or primary challenger.
They`re running in the general election already. And as such, they`re
raising money with that in mind.
So, President Obama`s campaign`s most recent iteration of its plea for
cash was a video starring campaign manager Jim Messina explaining to
potential donors and everybody else how the president plans on keeping his
job past next November.
The re-election strategy starts with a lot of math. Stay with me. I
know it`s Friday night. It`s math in the form of a few different pathways
to the 270 electoral votes the president needs to win re-election –
pathways in which they`ve officially expressed belief.
One, win Florida. Florida`s 29 plus 251 equals 280 and four more
years. On the one hand, Florida`s Republican governor, Rick Scott,
extremely unpopular. On the other hand, the seasonally adjusted
unemployment rate in November in Florida was 10 percent.
Second route back to the White House, win Western states that Senator
John Kerry didn`t win, like Nevada and Colorado which candidate Obama did
And maybe Arizona. Yes, John McCain and Jon Kyl and Jan Brewer`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shouldn`t have anyone`s old map including our
old 2008 map. We ought to have new ways to 270 electorate votes. That
includes winning states that weren`t pathways in 2008. One of the best
examples of that is Arizona.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Another route, described by the re-election campaign,
win Ohio and Iowa. Both of which President Obama won in 2008 and Senator
Kerry lost in 2004.
The president had extraordinary success in the Midwest last time
around, but that was before three straight years of high unemployment
gripped the country.
And then there is the South, or at least the up parts of the South.
North Carolina plus Virginia plus Senator Kerry`s 251 electoral votes
equals the presidency.
Now, the president won both states in 2008 and the Democrats`
convention is in North Carolina. But both North Carolina and Virginia
state legislatures turned quite red in the 2010 election.
Now, this is not to say that President Obama can or cannot win re-
election. The campaign has put themselves out there and told us a few of
the ways they hope to win in November. It`s not a partisan analysis to say
that having a lot of options is wise given that all the contingencies are
wrought with peril.
Which of them is most likely and which of them is least likely to be
achieved? To talk about that a bit now, joining us from Nashville is John
Rowley, a Democratic political strategist and president of the Fletcher
Rowley Media Firm.
John, it is so good to see you tonight.
JOHN ROWLEY, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Hi, Melissa. Good to
be with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, one of the reasons I really wanted to talk with
you, John, is look, I live in Louisiana – a profoundly red state, although
in a little blue city in that red state. And asking these questions about
the electoral map is always tough because I`m wondering when the president
or president`s team or any candidate is looking at this map, do they see a
state like Louisiana and just write it off, or are they really imaging a
ROWLEY: Well, what you see from Jim Messina`s video is they`re really
doing dynamic analysis of this electorate. And I think that`s very wise
because we`ve never seen a more volatile primary election and we have this
time. I mean, how many candidates, four or five Republican candidates have
risen and then crashed to earth.
And so, I think mapping out a plan like some presidential campaigns
have done in the past where you map out a plan a year out and stick to that
electoral strategy may not hold water. And so, I think having dynamic
analysis where you`re not only looking at big states like Ohio,
Pennsylvania and Florida, but also looking at maybe expanding the map in
places like Georgia and Arizona, not to mention a Midwestern and Western
And I think there are two things this plan does. “A,” it`s a shot in
the arm to the grassroots because I think some of the concerns that the
left and progressives would be dispirited, I think “A,” the Republican
primary is taking care of some of that. And “B,” the president`s recent
success has taken care of that.
And this also sets some expectations to where there are a lot of
different scenarios where they get to the electoral votes they need to win.
And as states come on and off the target list later in the election cycle,
I think they can set expectations that just because a state goes off the
target list or gets less spending versus another one, that doesn`t
necessarily mean that they`re out of hope or there`s desperation. They can
go back and say, this was part of our plan, this was a part of a couple of
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let`s go regionally to the Midwest, for a second.
The past three years have been tough in terms of unemployment there. How
much is that going to impact the president in his re-election campaign?
ROWLEY: Well, I mean, the economy – both nominees are going to have
their own leg weights and their own albatrosses. I mean, the economy is
going to be a big challenge for the president. That`s no secret. And,
frankly, in the polling we see, in almost every state, all around the
country, whether it`s the South or the Midwest, the economy is a big issue.
So, he did perform pretty well in the Midwest. Particularly states in
one of the plans like Iowa and Ohio. And so, I think there`s a lot of hope
that that plan could be one of their paths to victory.
And so, you know, the Republican nominees – on the other hand, I
mean, they`re not so hot either. And there are a lot of questions that are
going to be raised by who comes out of this nominating process.
I mean, how do evangelical voters, for instance, in Middle America,
the Midwest and South, respond to someone like Romney? How do they respond
to someone like Ron Paul? What if someone runs as a third party candidate
like Ron Paul has talked about or hinted at running?
And so, this is going to be a wild and woolly election year. You`re
going to have two campaigns that really unlike 2008 where both candidates,
John McCain and Barack Obama, were pretty well regarded going into the
general election. You`re going to have both campaigns with a lot of
challenges. And so, it`s probably going to be a lot more rough and tumble
than it even was in 2008.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we don`t have a lot of time. If you had to pick one
of those Messina maps, the one that looks like the smoothest, directest
route, which would be your favorite strategy?
ROWLEY: Well, I don`t know. I mean, I think I`m going to hedge my
bets like they are. Smartly. I mean, the Midwest and the West looks good.
I can see a scenario where North Carolina and/or Virginia, the Southern
map, comes into play as well.
So, I think, frankly, the real answer maybe is that a couple of those
maps are their path to victory and the electoral votes needed.
HARRIS-PERRY: John Rowley, Democratic political strategist and
president of Fletcher Rowley Media Firm – thanks for your time tonight.
ROWLEY: Thanks, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: In Tennessee, a 93-year-old woman couldn`t get a voter
ID because she doesn`t have a valid birth certificate. She`s 93. Now,
that`s because voter ID laws are designed to keep people like her from
Coming up, all the valid information necessary to use the next time
you hear someone defending voter suppression. That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is a picture of Tina Cone. Tina Cone is excellent
and this week she celebrated her 30-something birthday. Tina worked on our
show up until about two weeks ago when she left to travel the world on the
Among other things, Tina loves to scuba dive with sharks. This is
Tina`s Facebook page. She is nuts for sharks. So, Tina, on the occasion
of your birthday, I am happy to report that you will be happy to learn as
of New Year`s Day, it will be illegal in California and in Oregon to serve
shark fin soup. Happy birthday, Tina.
Now, I don`t know who to wish happy what for this one. But also on
January 1st in the great state of Georgia, golf courts that ever go off the
actual golf course will be required to make beeping sounds when they go
backwards and will be required to have horns. It`s the law.
As of Sunday, in the great state of Illinois – here`s a new one – a
motorcyclist stopped at a red light may proceed through that red light if
the light doesn`t turn green after a, quote, “reasonable length of time.”
So, as of New Year`s Day in Illinois, motorcyclists still have to stop for
red lights, but they don`t have to stay stopped for anything other than a
reasonable amount of time. What could possibly go wrong?
Now, also in Illinois, animal control centers that scan a lost pet to
see if it has a microchip in it, those animal control centers are also
mandated by state government to look for other forms of pet ID like a tag
that says, “Hi, my name is Fifi,” or a tattoo that says, “Hi, my name is
Fifi.” That`s a new law.
So as of January 1st in the great state of Nevada, the new law of the
state is that fire performers and their apprentices must apply to the state
fire marshal for a certificate of registration. Fire performers, least we
forget that includes Las Vegas.
And burning man in Nevada, you do not today need a state fire marshal
certificate to entertain people with your flame. But as of Sunday you do.
On Sunday, the city-wide minimum wage in San Francisco rises to $10.24
an hour. Minimum wage increases of 28 cents to 37 cents an hour are also
going into effect in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon,
Washington state and Vermont.
It`s not very much, but every little bit helps – means another $600
to $800 a year more for the million minimum wage working workers in those
Now, those states are also seeing their minimum wage rise because of
the index to inflation. Now, on immigration, it`s interesting. Even as
parts of South Carolina`s draconian new anti-immigrant laws are struck down
in federal court last week, that the state along with other Republican-
controlled states of Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia are all implementing
new anti-immigrant laws as of this weekend.
While in Democratically-controlled state of California, they`re
implementing as of Sunday the California DREAM Act, allowing kids who get
into state colleges and universities to qualify for financial aid
regardless of their immigration status.
When you wake up on Sunday, a lot will have changed overnight. And in
many cases, the best cure for what ails you New Year`s Day is probably just
a big plate of buttered noodles, a long nap. Maybe get some Coca Cola made
in Mexico in the green glass with the real sugar in it. That will help
most of what you need after a celebratory New Year`s Eve.
But for a lot of Americans, the world changes a lot on New Year`s Day.
If, for example, you`re a Nevadan who lights himself on fire for the
entertainment of others, you`re going to need a license for that, buddy.
HARRIS-PERRY: In just over a week, voters in Cimarron, Kansas –
population 2,000 or so – will go to the polls. Not to vote for a
Republican nominee, no. On January 10th, Cimarronians will vote on how to
pay for a new city swimming pool.
Now, why is this significant besides the fact that the pool is 40
years old and leaky? Well, remember, Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of
Kobach was the driving force behind the anti-immigrant laws in Arizona
and Alabama, both of which are facing court challenges. And Chris Kobach
will be in Cimarron to observe the swimming pool vote because that vote is,
quote, “the first test of a much debated new Kansas law that requires
voters to show voter identification at the polls.”
It`s the first test of Kris Kobach`s crusade, voter ID legislation,
requiring people to show ID in order to vote.
Now, I understand a pretty able bodied middle-aged home owning,
driving since 16 viewer, voter ID laws don`t sound too onerous. What`s the
big deal about showing a driver`s license before you can vote? Who doesn`t
have a government form issued ID?
But the Brennan Center for Justice released this report on voter ID
registration recently, and they found that 11 percent of voting-age
Americans, 11 percent, more than 21 million people, don`t have a government
ID. And it can be harder than it sounds to get an ID.
In most states, you have to pay more than $20 for one. If you`ve
never had a driver`s license, in order to get a driver`s license, you need
other documentation. Like a birth certificate. If you don`t have that,
you may need to spend more time and money to get one.
Voter ID laws are a way of charging citizens to vote, of making it
harder to vote. And study after study shows that voter ID laws
disproportionately disenfranchise minorities, the poor and young people.
Kansas is not alone. Four other Republican-controlled states have
passed voter ID legislation in time for the 2012 election. South Carolina,
Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, all five states all controlled by Republican
legislatures have made it harder for citizens to vote.
In South Carolina`s case, the Justice Department`s actually stepped in
to block the new voter ID law because they say it will suppress voter
turnout among minorities. According to the DOJ, almost 82,000 minority
citizens in South Carolina are registered to vote but lack the kind of
identification the new law requires.
These voters are nearly 20 percent more likely to be disenfranchised
by this change than are white voters.
Now, the Department of Justice can do this. It can step in in South
Carolina`s new law because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Under section
5 of the Voting Rights Act, certain states, states with an egregious
history of legalized racial discrimination and suppressing the minority
vote, those states must get something called preclearance, which means that
they`re going to significantly alter their election laws.
The Department of Justice has to sign off on it. South Carolina is
one of those states. Kansas isn`t.
South Carolina`s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, has vowed to fight
the DOJ all the way to the Supreme Court where this case, may, in fact,
result in a court ruling not just on South Carolina`s voter ID law, but on
the validity of Voting Rights Act, itself.
Voting is good for our country, not just for the individual. Want to
assess the health of a democracy? The key vital sign is how many citizens
can vote and do vote. When we start restricting voting, it`s a sign of
poor health and collective weakness.
To be robust, our default should be more access to the polls, not
less. But Republican-led efforts are shrinking the electorate for partisan
gain. More hurdles to voting means fewer voters, which is traditionally
meant more Republican wins. So, state officials say they`re doing this
just to protect against voter fraud but they rarely produce any actual
examples of voter fraud.
Now, we pay a lot of attention to candidates` Election Day, the horse
race. But just a few days before Iowa, just before voting in the 2012
presidential race timely begins, it`s worth thinking about the logistics,
the rules of the game on Election Day across the country. What kind of ID
must people have to cast their vote? Whether people have access to that ID
and who controls those laws state by state, city by city? Because those
factors may end up determining who will be the next president.
Joining us now, my colleague, University of Chicago professor of
political science and director of the school`s Center for the Study of
Race, Politics and Culture, Dr. Cathy Cohen.
Cathy, it`s so great to have you tonight.
CATHY COHEN, UNIV. OF CHICAGO POLITICAL SCIENCE PROF.: It`s great to
be with you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Kathie, states decide how we make our presidential
decisions. It`s a national choice, but it`s made state by state which in a
certain way means we have 50 separate and unequal regimes. How are we
meant to as voters to manage these kinds of unique burdens and struggles
that citizens are going to face in this coming year?
COHEN: Well, I think you raise a very important point here which is
that I think oftentimes when people think of, for example, presidential
election, they think of national laws. That, in fact, is not how we
regulate who gets to vote as you just talked about, with the Voting Rights
Act. It`s a state-by-state process.
And one of the things that we`re worried about is unbeknownst I think
to most voters, there are some states out there, five that have recently
adopted government-issued voter ID laws that have decided that only certain
people who have certain types of documents will be allowed to vote. So,
even if you`re a person who has voted in the past, if you don`t have a
criminal record, if you lived in your house for the last 20 years, if you
show up to the polls, for example, in Kansas, and you don`t have a
government-issued voter ID with a photo, you won`t be allowed to vote this
HARRIS-PERRY: So we`ve talked on this show a bit about how these
voter ID laws are affecting the very elderly. For example, a case of a 93-
year-old woman who didn`t have our birth certificate and couldn`t get the
ID. But your work over the past, you know, five to 10 years has really
been about young people.
How do these new voter IDs affect young people who will be voting for
the first time or not in 2012?
COHEN: That`s right. So, one of the things we`re concerned about is
we saw record numbers of young people turn out in 2008 – I mean,
especially black and Latino youth. And numbers that we`ve never seen
They were energized. They were enthused. They felt like they were
part of the participatory process and the democratic process.
But now, many of those young people will find themselves
disenfranchised. So, they may show up to the polls, for example, with a
government-issued state university ID and they`ll be told, in fact, that
they`re not allowed to vote because they don`t have a state-issued voter
ID. They may live – for example, if you live in Texas but you`re going to
school in, let`s say, Tennessee, and you show up with your Texas driver`s
license proving that you`re the person that you say you are, you still
won`t be allowed to vote.
And so, there are kind of multiple levels here where I think we want
to be concerned. One is we don`t want the person to be turned away. But
two, we don`t want them to think they`re not a part of the democratic
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of concern, many of those who support these
kind of voter ID laws talk about voter fraud. And, of course, you know,
you live in Chicago. I lived there for some time. And the joke is, vote
early and often.
COHEN: That`s right. That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: But talk to me a little bit about voter fraud. I mean,
you know, are we expecting, for example, young people to be driving across
the Texas line and voting in a bunch of different places? How big a
problem is voter fraud, these laws are supposed to protect us from?
COHEN: Right. So, one of the things we`re finding with these laws is
that there really isn`t any substantial evidence to suggest there is
systemic voter fraud. And, really, the only type of fraud that a law like
this can deal with is if I`m impersonating someone else. I mean, one of
the things that has been of concern to opponents of these laws is that we
don`t – it`s solving a problem that doesn`t exist. There`s really no
evidence to suggest that there`s kind of substantial voter fraud. So why
do we need these laws?
Well, the only reason we can imagine that we need these laws is that
we`re disenfranchising certain groups of people who don`t vote, in
HARRIS-PERRY: Dr. Cathy Cohen, University of Chicago professor of
political science, director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics
and Culture, author of a brilliant book about keeping young people engaged
as part of the democratic system – democratic with a little “d” – thanks
for being here tonight.
COHEN: Thanks, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Every time I hear Republican promise to take America
back, I ask myself – back from whom? And back to when? Pondering the
answers, just ahead.
HARRIS-PERRY: Still ahead, the pitfalls of romanticizing the past.
Stay with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mitt Romney has been campaigning this week in Iowa, of
course, and also in New Hampshire. And today, he campaigned in Iowa and
New Hampshire with breakfast in Des Moines and supper in Merrimac. He`s
also been campaigning in one of my least favorite places in the entire
political landscape, the goosey (ph) land of yesteryear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When generations of
Americans looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time, one
thing they knew beyond any doubt, that is they were coming to a place where
anything was possible, that in America, their children would have a better
life. I believe in that America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Mitt Romney believes in cornfields and grandpas, also
touchscreens and robots. OK. But more cornfields and large farming
equipment and old American cars.
Here`s another Mitt Romney ad. It`s called American optimism. It`s
30 seconds long. Do you see a single person who looks to be anything other
than white? Anyone? The whole ad.
Sure. He`s showing footage of people who turn out to see him in very
white states like Iowa and New Hampshire. That`s the point. When you look
back with longing at the America of yesteryear, it helps to believe you
would have been free, have the right to vote and been able to own property.
That`s how nostalgia works.
Mr. Romney calls on the Statue of Liberty. OK. It was dedicated in
the late 1880s, when it was legal to employ children in sweat shops in the
North, and when black Southerners live in the de facto bondage of
sharecropping and backbreaking domestic work.
When we talk about old America, the one we`re supposed to want to go
back to, do we mean this one where women couldn`t vote? And much later,
where a woman could still be fired for being pregnant?
Or this one where someone could be denied access to a bus because her
wheelchair didn`t fit through a door?
Or this America where industries could pollute our air and our water
Or this America, where citizens could be forcibly removed from their
homes and interned just because of their identity?
Ronald Reagan, the object of so much current political nostalgia, he
is a totem for the Republican field. The leading candidates and the not-so
leading all want to be Ronald Reagan. All want to bring back his America.
Do I want to go back to his nasty, inaccurate rhetoric about welfare
queens? Do I want to return to urban decay, slashed school lunches and a
gutted Justice Department that Ronald Reagan helped make possible? Do you?
History matters. Reflecting on the past, thinking about its
continuing impact on our current circumstances, using it as a guide for
interpreting our collective realities. We should refer to history for all
these reasons. But history and nostalgia are not the same thing. And in
fact, respecting history actually means being willing to do away with
Historical understanding allows us to learn something, but nostalgia
obscures our ability to learn by casting everything in a sepia tone.
This New Year`s Eve if you get a chance to raise a glass and sing
“Auld Lang Syne,” consider that that song actually asks us to have a clear-
eye view of history, yes, we`ve done great things together. We`ve also had
This is also part of what I love about James Weldon Johnson`s Negro
national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. The words talk about the
faith that the dark past has taught us and the hope that the present has
brought us. Understand keep going.
Only nostalgia makes you believe we`re worse off now than a century
This I know: despite the continuing inequalities in our country, there
was no moment in the American story when it would have been better to be a
black woman than it is right now. The march is unsteady but the progress
The great Web site XKCD has cartoon that says it all. It`s a chart of
Christmas songs that fill the department stores this time of year,
“Rudolph,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Silver Bells”. The two big stacks in the
middle there are all from the `40s and `50s when the world was perfectly
perfect for some.
Christmas is kind of a nostalgia bubble. When you mouth over the
cartoon, you get the punch line quote, “an American tradition is anything
that happened to a baby boomer twice.” Perfectly perfect. History yes,
We`ll be right back.
HARRIS-PERRY: There are about four minutes of RACHEL MADDOW SHOW left
in 2011, which makes this a very good time to say something we do not and
could not say enough – and that is: thank you.
I know I speak for Rachel in thanking our boss, Bill Griffin, for
letting us do this every night. I certainly want to say thank to you
Rachel for giving me the opportunity in 2011 to sit in.
This is a pretty hard but undoubtedly the best job in the world. And
many things are also due to the gifted, tireless and generally hilarious
staff of this show.
Most important, we thank all of you, the folks who watch all year.
Without you being here every night, we`re just a group of news geeks in a
cubicle pod in an office building. But because of you, we get to be THE
RACHEL MADDOW SHOW on MSNBC. And we are truly grateful to you for that.
From everybody here, thank you so much. Have a safe and happy New
Year. We`ll see you Monday night 2012.
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