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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/30/11

Guests: Eugene Robinson, John Worley, Cathy Cohen

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 presidential campaign. 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 foremost. (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? LUNTZ: Yes. 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 her sacrifice. (APPLAUSE) (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 2008. 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 to look. 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 Afghanistan. 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 back. (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 question. 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 movement today? (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 else. (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 mugs?" 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," Eugene Robinson. 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 around. 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 big organization. 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 it on. 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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 win. And maybe Arizona. Yes, John McCain and Jon Kyl and Jan Brewer`s Arizona. (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 50-state strategy? 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 strategy. 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 our plans. 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 voting. Coming up, all the valid information necessary to use the next time you hear someone defending voter suppression. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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 cheap. 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 states. 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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 state? 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 time. 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 before, historically. 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 community. 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 particular Republican. 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: Still ahead, the pitfalls of romanticizing the past. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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 without accountability? 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 nostalgia. 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 struggles. 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 ago. 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 is real. 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, nostalgia, no. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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. (MUSIC) THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END