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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 11/3/21

Guests: David Hogg, Jonathan Lowy, Michael Eric Dyson, Stuart Stevens, Anat Shenker-Osorio, Jenee Osterheldt


NBC News has predicted that the winner of the New Jersey governor`s race is the incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy. Today the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging a New York state law enacted 108 years ago that requires anyone who wants to carry a concealed handgun for self-defense to show what the law calls proper cause for carrying that gun. Interview with Michael Eric Dyson.



And you mentioned the history that Terry McAuliffe was up against in Virginia of the challenge of previously serving governor getting elected again, which of course just about never happens. The one time it happened, the guy switched parties from Democrat to Republican in order to win a second time. The history in New Jersey is similar in a way in terms of what -- I mean, not since 1977 has a Democrat been reelected as governor. I did not know that until today. I just wasn`t thinking about it, because we weren`t thinking about New Jersey very much because it wasn`t really supposed to be close.

And, you know me with homework, Rachel, I`m only going to do it if I really, really have to, and so, you know.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": That`s why, if there`s anything -- if there ought to be a media led freak out about these results to the extent that the media is self-serving in the things that we cover and we make a big deal out of, which I think we are just as much as any other profession. The media freak-out to be about how bad the polling was in New Jersey because it led us all to cram for the wrong things, right. It led us all to prep improperly in terms of how these things go and it led both candidates to miscalibrate their campaigns, which was so off in New Jersey.

O`DONNELL: Well, I have to say, I was hearing very worrisome sounds from people associated with the McAuliffe campaign weeks ago.

MADDOW: Virginia, sure, yeah.

O`DONNELL: They were very -- they were worried enough. My sense is that they were worried enough about what was happening, but New Jersey, I don`t know. I wasn`t really talking to people about New Jersey, how`s it going in New Jersey, and so --

MADDOW: But the polling averages at the end in Virginia showed that it was going to be close with Youngkin leading. We ended up with a close race with Youngkin leading and winning.

In New Jersey, you`re totally right, it was like double digits in some cases or high single digits. The polling was really wrong, and we don`t know what the exact margin is going to be with Murphy and Ciattarelli, and Steve is hopefully going to drink liquor in my office and take a nap. But he doesn`t think there`s any chance it`s going to be a five, 6 percent margin. It`s going to be tight when the final results come in, and that just means were wrong, wrong, wrong.

O`DONNELL: I`m going to be going straight to your office at 11:00 to see if he`s passed out with a jug that you told him about.

It made me wonder, what do I have in my office for Steve Kornacki?

MADDOW: The non-drinker.

O`DONNELL: There`s an answer to it, and it`s neckties, and he borrowed one a million years ago that he`s worn a million times.

MADDOW: And this is why you need a diverse cadre of friends, from some you can get liquor, from some you can get clothing. He would never borrow clothing from me.

O`DONNELL: Exactly. There we are.

Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, as Rachel just reported, we do have a projected winner in the election for governor of New Jersey. NBC is projecting the incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy has won reelection there, and as we just said, it is the first time a Democrat has won reelection to the governorship of New Jersey since 1977. Polls indicated that Governor Murphy had a comfortable lead going into the election day, as we were just saying, but on local television in New Jersey, Governor Murphy was the star in his opponent`s TV ads.


GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D), NEW JERSEY: And I would say this, if you`re a one issue voter and tax rate is your issue, either a family or a business, we`re probably not your state. We`re probably not your state.


O`DONNELL: He actually said if you`re a one issue voter and taxes are your issue, then we`re probably not your state. I`ve never heard a politician say anything like that. And virtually all of analysis I`ve heard about last night`s elections, no one, no one seems to be blaming the candidates for doing worse than expected.

New Jersey is one of the most heavily taxed states in the country and the people of New Jersey know that. For New Jersey`s governor ever to sound like he doesn`t care about the tax burden in New Jersey is political malpractice in the extreme. One sentence said out loud can destroy a political campaign.

Truth is, Donald Trump and the Republican Congress raised taxes dramatically in New Jersey. The biggest tax increase New Jersey taxpayers have ever seen, and they did that by eliminating New Jersey`s taxpayers right to deduct the full amount of their state and local taxes. Phil Murphy was running against a candidate who was endorsed by the president who did that to New Jersey taxpayers.

One sentence apparently did fatal damage to Terry McAuliffe`s campaign for governor in Virginia. Terry McAuliffe was trying to do something that had never been done before in history. He was a Democrat trying to win a second term as governor in Virginia as a Democrat.

State of Virginia doesn`t like looking at or listening to governors for more than four years, and it pretty much never does that, so the state of Virginia limits governors to one four-year term. They`re not allowed to run for reelection. But after someone else has served as governor, they can come back and try again. But very few of them do. Only one Virginia governor has ever succeeded in that quest in 1965. Democrat, Bill Godwin won the election for governor, and in 1963 he won the election for governor after switching parties, and running as a Republican when we won the second time.

Terry McAuliffe has now run for governor of Virginia three times, and won only once. But because he was a massive fundraiser for the Clintons before he became a candidate himself, and then was also a massive fundraiser as a candidate, he was the Democratic nominee for governor once again this year in the state of Virginia.

And in the final debate in the middle of a messy back and forth about what books should be allowed in public schools in Virginia, Terry McAuliffe held his own very well, and he did a reasonably good job in his response. Even got applause at the end of his full response, but in the middle of it, he spoke a sentence extemporaneously on TV that energized the Republican campaign.

Terry McAuliffe said, I don`t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.

Polls indicated that enough parents in Virginia disagreed with that to create a surge of support for the Republican candidate in the final days of the campaign. If Terry McAuliffe did not include that one sentence in his response in the debate, the outcome of the election might be different. No one seems to be blaming Terry McAuliffe for losing his election. What if the Democrats had a candidate who did not slip up in the middle of a debate.

More blame for the outcomes of the elections is being assigned to President Biden and to the candidates themselves.


REPORTER: Do you take some responsibility and do you think that Terry McAuliffe would have won if your agenda had passed before Election Day?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think we should have -- it should have passed before election day. But I`m not sure that I would be able to have changed the number of very conservative folks who turned out in the red districts who were Trump voters. But maybe, maybe.


O`DONNELL: Today, Virginia`s Democratic Senator Tim Kaine who was reelected in 2018 did not blame Terry McAuliffe for his loss.


SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Look, congressional Dems, I`m going to be blunt, it`s humbling to say it, but if we had been able to deliver infrastructure and reconciliation in mid-October, he could have sold universal pre-K, affordable child care, infrastructure, creating jobs. So Democrats control both Houses, and they have to act like that, and discipline, and have to get results. And you know, our inability to come together and get a result hurt him.



O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight is Anat Shenker-Osorio founder of ASO Communications, and Stuart Stevens, veteran of five Republican presidential campaigns. He is the author of "It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump."

And, Stuart, I`m old fashioned, I actually think the candidate has something to do with the outcome of elections. Why isn`t there more focus on what each of these Democratic candidates for governor did to basically help the other campaign?

STUART STEVENS, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yeah, I mean, I think that these races are going to be overblown for the impact. I worked for the successful Republican governor in all the blue states, your home state of Massachusetts, New Jersey, I did Chris Christie races, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland, Larry Hogan, none of those states were followed a Republican winning by the states going Democratic in presidential race.

Governor`s races are just strange, interesting usually unique set of circumstances. Candidate quality really matters. I think had Terry McAuliffe campaigned, gone out and defied Glenn Youngkin from the very beginning when he went through this sort of the faux primary, but he couldn`t have gotten through the primary without claim to go support Donald Trump, had he defied him from the beginning, the race will ultimately become about something, every race it, they let it become about the issue dynamic that was unfavorable to him.

O`DONNELL: Anat, communication is your focus, so I want to get your reaction to these two things that these two governors said. First of all, the governor of New Jersey saying if you care about taxes that much, you know, vote for someone else or move to another state. And then that sentence that Terry McAuliffe spoke about I don`t think parents should be telling the schools, you know, what to teach, a very simple sentence. He did a lot of other things around it, but that one sentence jumped out.

What should these candidates be saying in situations like that?

ANAT SHENKER-OSORIO, ASO COMMUNICATIONS FOUNDER: Yeah, in the McAuliffe case, which I`ll take first, even though you presented second, there`s roughly a hundred things that we can be saying about this intentional and long standing right wing race baiting. They`re divide in order to conquer strategy, back, back, back again every single time it`s here in a new form. This time it is the straw man, critical race theory.

What you say is simply, most of us, no matter where we come from, what our zip code, and what our color, want our kids to be told the honest truth of our history to reckon with the mistakes of our past, to understand the present to build a better future. But today a handful of politicians and my opponent here, Youngkin, they want to divide us. They want to spin lies about what our teachers are teaching, while they endanger our kids by refusing masks and spreading stories about vaccines.

They hope we`ll look the other way while they vote to defund the schools that every single one of our kids need. By standing together and demanding that our kids deserve the truth of our history so that they can acknowledge where we`ve been and all they can become, we can make this a place where every single kid has the freedom to learn. You have to call out the other side, not just for what they`re doing but the motivation behind it.

O`DONNELL: Let me hear what you would say as the incumbent governor of New Jersey to voters who are concerned about their tax burden in New Jersey.

SHENKER-OSORIO: First of all, I wouldn`t use the phrase tax burden because that unwittingly impugns taxes, words mean things.

O`DONNELL: I know you wouldn`t, but questioner might. And so that`s why -- and that I think by the way was part of Terry McAuliffe`s problem is that he found himself in a frame created by others, and he couldn`t find the language he should be using to talk about how he sees it. But anyway, assume you got the question about, you know, the tax burden in New Jersey.

SHENKER-OSORIO: I would say thank you so much for answering that question. I am so thrilled that you want to have a conversation about the way that we pay for the things that every single New Jerseyan needs, whether it`s the roads that we drive on, the schools our kids attend, or heck, the toilets that we flush and hope the stuff goes away.

For far too long, we`ve let a wealthy and powerful few get away with not paying their fair share. It`s well past time that billionaires and corporations pay what they owe. That is where we need to get in money from, and that`s what I`ll do when I`m governor.


O`DONNELL: Stuart, how much does it matter, I mean, what is your analysis of how much those two sentences mattered in those two campaigns?

STEVENS: Well, you know, in campaigns, it`s always both sides get a vote, and it`s up to the campaign to decide which matters. After the governor of New Jersey said that, what we should have done is come out and say look, let`s be honest, the reason we just had taxes go up is because of what you were saying, because of Trump`s recent tax bill that raised taxes in New Jersey tremendously. I opposed that, my opponent supported it.

Let`s get real. I wish I paid lower taxes, I wish everybody did. I was against this bill. I think we ought to get taxes in New Jersey lowered and make it where it`s fair for everybody to pay their share.

You got to just go at it.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, I mean, I have to say I was shocked that the Murphy campaign didn`t work harder on this problem that was created in Washington and in fact, some Democrats in Washington are trying to solve now about the deductibility of state and local taxes. It was an amazing thing.

We`re going to have to break it there. Stuart Stevens, Anat Shenker-Osorio, thank you bother for starting us off. Really appreciate it.


O`DONNELL: Thank you. .

And coming up, it was a big night last night for Democrats in Boston, but it is always a big night for Democrats in Boston elections but this one was special. This was something we have never seen before. That`s next.



O`DONNELL: It was the kind of win that politicians dream about, 36-year- old City Counselor Michelle Wu won yesterday`s election for mayor with almost 2/3 of the vote. She will be Boston`s first mayor in over a century who was not born and raised in Boston. Michelle Wu is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, she grew up in Chicago, and first experienced Boston life as a student at Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where she became one of Professor Elizabeth Warren`s favorite students.

Senator Warren says Michelle is family, from teaching her in law school to working together on my first Senate run to supporting her campaigns, I`ve seen her positive energy, her good heart, her ability to make big change for Boston. She will be a terrific mayor.

Last night, in her victory speech, Michelle Wu said this.


MICHELLE WU (D), BOSTON MAYOR-ELECT: So one of my sons asked me the other night if boys can be elected mayor in Boston. They have been, and they will again some day, but not tonight.


On this day, Boston elected your mom because from every corner of our city, Boston has spoken.



O`DONNELL: When I was her son`s age growing up in Boston, every mayor was an Irish-American man.

The most recent elected mayor of Boston was Irish-American Marty Walsh, who left city hall this year to become Joe Biden`s secretary of labor. The president of the city council, Kim Janey, became Boston`s acting mayor. Mayor Janey met one on one with Michelle Wu for the beginning of the handoff from Boston`s first woman acting mayor to the first woman elected mayor, which is also the handoff from Boston`s first black mayor to Boston`s first Asian-American mayor.


KIM JANEY (D), BOSTON ACTING MAYOR: I will share most of that one on one with Mayor-elect Wu, but what I would say, while there are still a lot of challenges facing Boston, we`ve done important work over the last 18 months. There are great people in this building who do incredible work through all of the difficulty, it is so important to make space for joy. And so I hope you do love and enjoy the work as much as I do.

I`m sure you will, but that you also make space for joy, for time with your kids, other children, things that just bring joy to your life. So it`s so important as a way to rejuvenate and to refresh, and be able to do the work anew. So that would be my short and sweet advice.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Jenee Osterheldt, "Boston Globe" culture columnist and creator of a beautiful resistance, a multimedia series for "The Boston Globe". And Trymaine Lee, MSNBC correspondent and host of the podcast, "Into America".

Trymaine, the reason Michelle Wu`s sons wonder if a man can be mayor is because all of the finalists in the campaign, the strongest running candidates were all women, including two black women, Kim Janey, earlier before it was narrowed to two candidates, and we have never seen a field like that for mayor of Boston before.

TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: It really is a beautiful moment, Lawrence, and thank you so much for having me. When you describe the Boston of your youth and seeing this long line of white Irish Catholic mayors, and to see what happened last night with Michelle Wu`s election but also the entire field. It really reminds us that many things can be true at once, right, Boston has this wild reputation of being one of America`s most racist cities, but it also is a city with a non-white majority, and I was there last night at election headquarters for Michelle Wu.


And to see her standing at that podium with the American flag behind her and a group of people that looked nothing like the stereotypical version of what we see as Boston, and her boys looking up at her and wondering if a boy could be mayor. It`s amazing.

Earlier today, I caught up with Michelle Wu, and she said when she was a young girl she never saw any reflections of herself in the halls of power, and to see her assume this, get the handoff from Kim Janey, such a remarkable night.

O`DONNELL: And, Jenee, Kim Janney told you in your article, this is her quote, she said, I never even imagined I would see a black mayor in my lifetime in the city of Boston. And there she was herself, the first black mayor serving in the city of Boston.

JENEE OSTERHELDT, THE BOSTON GLOBE COLUMNIST: Absolutely. Kim Janey made history, and Michelle Wu is making history, and we`re in this amazing moment in Boston where we get to have kind of a joy and respite in saying we`re moving forward.

Kim was right, we have a long way to go. We are very much in a tug of war between old parochial Boston and the Boston that was standing behind Michelle Wu which despite what America thinks Boston is, that is exactly what Boston looks like. Boston is not a white city. Boston is a city that has been complicit in the institution of whiteness. So I`m super --

O`DONNELL: Jenee, what is the image of racism in Boston now to outsiders, and what is the reality of it compared to the past?

OSTERHELDT: I mean, is racism here? Absolutely. I was racially profiled by a security guard today.

Racism is here. It`s here in the ways you can see and feel right away. It`s here in systemic ways as far as income gaps and housing inequities. Racism is definitely here, but the idea that this is the most racist city and it`s the most white city is just inaccurate. There are lots of black people here, people of color here. As Trymaine said, this is a primarily people of color city. It`s just the power has not reflected that.

And with Kim Janey, with Michelle Wu, with Ayanna Pressley, Rachel Rollins, Liz Miranda and on and on, we`re seeing a shift in which the power reflects the community, and my hope is those of us who have supported all of these people will hold them accountable, we will see the changes that we have been promised.

You know, everyone wants to say this one city is the most racist city as if America itself is not racist. I don`t know that I feel Boston is any more racist than any other city. I do feel like it is a city that has poured all of its power into a parochial system, and now we`re starting to up end that just a little bit.

O`DONNELL: Trymaine, your recent podcast is all about Boston, and its racial history, and the reality of told. What have you been finding?

LEE: You know, spend time in Black Boston in particular. The one thing, and it speaks to what Jenee was talking about, the idea that racism exposes itself in different ways in the tremendous, not like other places in America. The wealth gap, the average black family has an average wealth of $8, and the average white family has a quarter million dollars in wealth speaks to all of the racism.

But it`s also a story of as Michelle Wu spoke about last night that Boston is a city of revolution, and abolition and civil rights, and the idea that for a period of time Martin Luther King grew roots here, but so did Malcolm X, and there`s a long history of jazz and business and activism that has largely been overshadowed, again, by some of the well earned reputation of the bussing riots, white riots, bussing black students into white communities and vice versa, there`s deep pride.

That 25 percent of Boston is black is a shocking stat for most people but this is an incredibly diverse city. Two things can be true at once. We can see the vestiges of white supremacy, and parochialism and tribalism, but also a rising and maturing insurgent kind of community of progression and diversity.

O`DONNELL: Jenee Osterheldt, and Trymaine Lee, thank you both for joining us tonight.

OSTERHELDT: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: And you can listen to the latest episode of Trymaine`s podcast "Into America" about the experience of Black Bostonians wherever you get your podcasts.

Coming up, will the United States Supreme Court allow anyone to carry a concealed handgun in Times Square on New Year`s Eve? That`s next.



LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Today the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging a New York state law enacted 108 years ago that requires anyone who wants to carry a concealed handgun for self- defense to show what the law calls proper cause for carrying that gun. Justice Stephen Breyer said this to the lawyers challenging that law.


JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you think that in New York City people should have a considerable freedom to carry concealed weapons. I think that people of good moral character who start drinking a lot and who may be there for a football game or some kind of soccer game can get pretty angry at each other. And if they each have a concealed weapon, who knows. What are we supposed to say in your opinion that is going to be clear enough that we will not produce a kind of gun- related chaos.



O`DONNELL: Our next guest, David Hogg, survived the 2018 mass murder at his high school in Parkland, Florida where the shooter murdered 17 people. Today David Hogg said this in front of the Supreme Court.


DAVID HOGG, SURVIVOR, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING: I can`t tell you how disturbing it is knowing what is going to be decided here today is very much going to impact whether or not there are future survivors with us that we don`t even know yet.

That`s one of the most disturbing realities of doing this work over the past four years is seeing how this club that nobody wants to be a part of is -- continues to grow.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, David Hogg, cofounder of March For Our Lives; and Jonathan Lowy, vice president and chief counsel at the Brady campaign.

David, what was it like for you to be at the Supreme Court today with the experience that you went through yourself wishing that the judges could understand what it is to be in that kind of line of fire?

HOGG: Yes, well what I`ll say is what I was thinking about is how, you know, when our judicial advocacy team wrote the brief that we submitted in this case, all of us, you know, at the time of D.C. Versus Heller, our judicial advocacy team was in first grade. I was in second grade.

We must refuse to pass this on to another generation. That`s what I was thinking about is I don`t want to see another young person standing on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States fighting to end this American epidemic that is a choice that, you know, does not have to continue.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan, one of the questions to the lawyers trying to overturn this law was is it ok for Times Square on New Year`s Eve just to be filled with people who have handguns in their pockets. What were some of the key moments for you in this argument today?

JONATHAN LOWY, CHIEF COUNSEL, BRADY CAMPAIGN: Well, a number of things. I mean one, the attorneys for New York made clear that history supports the New York law and the conservative justices say that they want to apply history, text and tradition. Well, all of those things put you in favor of the New York law.

So that was one point, and another was you had the NRA-aligned lawyer arguing against the law saying that laws that -- states where they`ve relaxed concealed carry have low crime rates, and it`s comparable to New York, that`s flatly untrue.

I mean New York has two, three, five times lower rates of gun violence than the states that have the guns everywhere regime that these folks want to make part of our constitution.

O`DONNELL: David, this is one of those situations where the courts, as a group, their ignorance of the real world always comes through in these kinds of arguments about gun laws.

HOGG: Yes, absolutely. I think one of the important things for every American to know is that it wasn`t until really 2008 with D.C. versus Heller that the court actually struck down a gun law.

So if we`re actually talking about the history of this here, the history is much more in support of, you know, the court upholding, you know, a well- regulated militia, and common sense gun laws, that the vast majority of Americans support.

I cannot overstate enough the importance of every day Americans thinking their voice is heard on this case, because the court of public opinion as we`ve seen throughout U.S. history is often what helps dictate what the justices decide in this case. And if we make our voices heard because the court, you know, is seeing it, it gains its legitimacy from the public seeing it as legitimate.

We have to make our voices heard, and that`s why I would encourage everyone to text join -- 2954954 to join March For Our Lives in this effort. Once again, that`s join 2954954.

O`DONNELL: There was an exchange with Justice Alito and New York`s Solicitor General Barbara Underwood that clearly identifies the two sides of this argument. Let`s listen to that.


JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: All these people with illegal guns, they`re on the subway. They`re walking around the streets, but the ordinary, hard working, law-abiding people I mentioned, no, they can`t be armed.

BARBARA UNDERWOOD, NEW YORK SOLICITOR GENERAL: The idea of proliferating arms on the subway is precisely, I think, what terrifies a great many people.


O`DONNELL: Jonathan, what was your reaction to that exchange?


LOWY: Well, he seemed to be channeling Bernie Goetz who, you know, gunned down four young black men on a subway several decades ago, which shows the danger of having guns everywhere.

And there is this sort of fantasy that people walking around with guns can, you know, defeat crime.

Well, my organization is named after Jim Brady who was walking beside perhaps the most well-protected person on the planet, President Reagan, and he was almost killed with this heavily armed detail. I mean that shows you that guns are not the answer and Jim and Sarah Brady`s lesson from that experience was that we need less guns and stronger gun laws, not more guns.

O`DONNELL: David, before you go, I want to ask -- I know the audience will want to know how you`re doing. It`s four years after you were in the line of fire at Parkland. You`re in college now.

How has your life settled, if it has, since then? How are you feeling? What is your -- how are you doing?

HOGG: You know, I don`t think I could ever say that I`m necessarily good, but I`m learning to live my life as student, and doing everything that I can to educate myself more in college, and hopefully beyond to help become a better advocate for this issue along with, you know, my classmates.

One thing I`ll say, Lawrence, is that I care much more about how our country is doing, our republic is doing right now. And I think the reality is there were people protesting us out there today, protesting survivors, simply asking, demanding our right to not be shot and be protected.

And those people (AUDIO GAP) and I think to be honest, we don`t want gun violence to continue in this country. At this point, where there`s so much division here, I would hope that Americans can come together no matter our political ideologies and realize that if we want to advocate for stronger gun laws, we should do that. If you want to advocate for mental health funding, do this with (INAUDIBLE) suicides. That often happens with guns. We need funding for that.

Go out there and advocate for that. We have to work together to address these issues or else, you know, our republic is going to continue falling apart as it has been.

O`DONNELL: David Hogg and Jonathan Lowy, thank you both very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

LOWY: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. Coming up, the always brilliant professor, Michael Eric Dyson will join us. He has many stories to tell, and he is telling them in his new book.



O`DONNELL: Our next guest and Aretha Franklin were dear friends and they had many things in common beginning with Detroit. In his new book, Michael Eric Dyson writes, "I inherited my love for Aretha from my mother. My mother frequented the new Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where CL Franklin held forth every Sunday. She told me how after Reverend Franklin mesmerized the congregation with his poetic homilies, his teenage daughter would rise behind him to ratchet up the spirit to more thrilling heights. Her uncanny aptitude rang in a theological clairvoyance so compelling that the congregation knew that greatness and the spirit rested in double portion on this fearless young woman.

One can hear her gargantuan gift on her first gospel recording at age 14, "Never Grow Old". When it came time for her to switch from sacred to secular to head for the soul music charts after she had brilliantly charted the path of the soul in gospel music, she confronted great gusts of resentment and brutal blow back from black believers. They thought that she had betrayed her first love and her true calling.

But they were wrong, the Baptist Church that we both sprang from eventually took great delight in her reign as the most dominant force in American music while never forgetting her roots in the energetic spirituality that bathed her style.

The preacher in me believes that hers was the best way to tell our story to a world that might never darken our doors but was sorely in need of a dose of the spirit.

For tonight`s dose of the spirit, we turn to Michael Eric Dyson, professor at Vanderbilt University, Baptist minister, my friend, and the man about whom President Barack Obama once said, "Everybody who speaks after Michael Eric Dyson pales in comparison, and that is why I am speaking before Michael Eric Dyson."

His new book is titled "Entertaining Race". Professor Dyson, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Let`s begin with your title. Please explain the title.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, thank you for your graciousness, and your wonderful spirit of openness. Entertaining in three ways.

First of all, black people from the very beginning of our sojourn in America have had to entertain the dominant white culture from the slave ship to the plantation to the stage of performance.

Number two, we have had to entertain the idea of race, constantly we are negotiating between and betwixt segments of our society that mandate that we address rather explicitly or implicitly the issue of race.

And then thirdly, we have had to find a way to be entertaining while talking about race. How do we think about race in ways that are not hackneyed or those old phrases that seem to be ruthlessly cliched for some people. We have to find new and inventive ways to try to speak new realities to old truths.


O`DONNELL: The range in this book is really amazing, Michael. It`s your 24th book, and in it you are a theater critic. You are a preacher. You are wearing many of your hats in this book. What is the essence that you want people to take away from this book?

DYSON: Thank you for acknowledging that, Lawrence.

You know, I am old style intellectual. I was reared in the old school. You are a thinker who thinks about a lot of stuff. You are curious about the world around you. I didn`t want to be stuck in specialization.

And so I wanted to talk about theater. I wanted to speak about photography. I wanted to talk about aesthetics. I wanted to talk about preaching. and I wanted to go as far as my gifts could take me.

So, for me the performance of blackness in that subtitle is what I do every day as an intellectual, as a scholar, as a preacher, as a critic, as a citizen. I am trying to perform the best version of blackness that I can conjure that I have inherited from people like Aretha Franklin, her father CL Franklin, my pastor Dr. Frederick Sampson, my mother Edie May Dyson (ph) and my family.

This is the gift that I have been given and the burden that rests upon my heart and spirit is to amplify the deep ancestral ties of a people who have been searching for democracy for lo these many years. And every gift that I can give to my people and to the world and to this nation is what I want to do to be able to perform that blackness with excellence.

O`DONNELL: This book is full of admiration for so many people who fully deserve it. And what is fascinating about it is that these are people who are admired by millions of people. People like Aretha Franklin, Martin Luther King.

But you give us a new set of eyes to see these people who we think in our way that we know. And about Dr. King, you say he is still the greatest American ever.

What brings you to that conclusion? I`ve read it but I want the audience to hear the way you got there.

DYSON: Yes. Well, look, this is a man who did not have like Abraham Lincoln, the office of the presidency. He didn`t have Secret Service guarding him. He spoke his truth with unvarnished honesty and told America the best of what it was and the best of what it could be.

He conjured the metaphor of redemption as a means to transform this nation, to bring the mystic chords of memory as Abraham Lincoln spoke about them in service of radical democracy, a democracy that very few people could imagine.

Here was a man who as a private citizen transformed the world. And so when he stood tall, April 4, 1968, 6:01 p.m. local time and a bullet rang out and snuffed his life, cut his tie, blew open his jaw and his blood quickly coagulating and his comrade Ralph Abernathy (pH) going into the bedroom, extracting a cardboard from a locker (INAUDIBLE) and the sweeping the coagulated blood into a jar saying this is the blood of the prophet. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. represents for us, the measure of our decency, the measure of our aspiration, the measure of our frailty, but finally the measure of our commitment to true love and democracy for all human beings.

That is why in my mind he is the greatest American despite his flaws, his failures and his foibles to ever exist on this soil.

O`DONNELL: And you acknowledge his imperfections as a human being in this book, including little notes about it that I never knew. It is all so enlightening all the way through.

Professor Michael Eric Dyson, thank you very much for joining us again tonight. We always learn something by reading you and listening to you. Professor Dyson`s new book is called "Entertaining Race".

Thank you, Michael, very much.

DYSON: Thank you Brother Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.




O`DONNELL: The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine now approved for children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old. Today at the White House President Biden said this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Children make up a quarter of the cases in this country. And while rare, children can get very sick from COVID-19. And some can end up -- few but end up hospitalized.

But they don`t have to. This vaccine is safe and effective. So get your children vaccinated to protect themselves, to protect others and to stop the spread and to help us beat this pandemic.

Vaccinating our children will help us to keep our schools open, keep our kids in the classrooms learning, socializing with their classmates and teachers. I think every reporter in this room as a child understands the difference of a child going to school and having to learn from home.

It matters. It matters in terms of their not just physical health and mental health.


O`DONNELL: And just a few hours before the president spoke about 15 miles from the White House at a Children`s National Hospital, an 8-year-old boy named Santiago became one of the first children his age in the country to receive the coronavirus vaccine shot.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take that big breath.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great job, buddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what would you tell other kids your same age who are kind of scared about the shot?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was it that bad or no?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you happy that you are able to get it?

SANTIAGO: At least it will protect me from the coronavirus.



O`DONNELL: And Santiago gets tonight`s LAST WORD.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again on this night after election night. Happens to be Day 288 --