tv Hardball Weekend MSNBC August 25, 2012 2:00am-2:30am PDT
tonight, a conversation about race, president obama, and birtherism. frankly, a conversation that i'm a little nervous about having on national television. let's play "hardball." good evening, i'm ezra klein in for chris matthews and leading off tonight. you remember this? >> i, barack hussein obama, do solemnly swear. >> that was barack obama's inauguration less than four years ago now and it seemed for a shining moment like america
had opened a new chapter in its difficult and frequently shameful history with race. but it wasn't true. even as obama took that oath, researchers were going back through the 2008 election, running through the numbers, running through the polls and finding that far from being a post-racial election, it was an usually racial election. this was tested in an interesting way. first he ranked areas of the country based on how often they entered racist search terms into google. then compared obama's share of the vote in those areas with john kerry's share of the vote from the '04 election. just an election cycle ago. is wult the result? he found that obama had lost 3% to 5% of the popular vote compared to what you would have expected from kerry's results or as he put it, obama's race, quote, gave his opponent the equivalent of a home-state advantage countrywide. the racialization of politics
continued after the election too. political scientist michael tessler and david spears looked at how it affected his approval ratings. they found that to a degree it was completely unprecedented among recent presidents. approval of obama was driven by the individual's attitudes on race. this is a set of graphs published in their book "the dream of a post racial america." what you're seeing here is presidential approval broken down by racial attitudes. here's approval for reagan. not a straight line, but not seeing a huge difference. here's approval for george h.w. bush, looks a lot like reagan. here's disapproval for bill clinton. here is approval for george w. bush. again, no straight lines exactly. there's some evidence it's more conservative opinions on race. line up with support for republicans and disapproval of democratic presidents. but it's not a huge gap until you get to obama. that, that is a huge gap. and it doesn't look like any other graph for any other president.
tessler and sears found something ellsworth remarking on. quote, president obama continued to be evaluated not just as an african-american, but as someone who is distinctly, quote, other. which brings us to today. >> i love being home in this place where ann and i were raised, where both of us were born. ann was born at henry ford hospital. i was born at harper hospital. no one's ever asked to see my birth certificate, they know this is the place that we were born and raised. >> now, i want to stop here for a moment. this is tough to talk about. this is dangerous, frankly, to talk about. and i'm honestly a bit nervous to be on national television talking about it at all. race is a hard subject, particularly when it intersects with politics and needs to be handled with some care. so i want to say this as clearly as i can. i don't think mitt romney's racist and i'm not accusing him of being racist, not even a little bit.
romney said he believes that obama was born in the united states, so i'm not saying he's a birtder either, he's not. what romney has done, though, is indulged birther sentiments throughout the campaign. for instance, he's embraced donald trump as he's become the nation's most prominent birther and then there was a joke he told today. the point of that joke really wasn't, as i read it, anyway, that obama was born somewhere else in reality. it's that mitt romney wasn't. it's that romney gets to go through this campaign and go through public life without anyone raising questions as to whether he's really american. that is not racism on his part. but it is privilege. at least a kind of privilege. and it is not a privilege romney has used very responsibly. compare him to john mccain in 2008. who stepped on the stage and specifically attacked those who wanted to paint obama as something other. >> i have read about him, he's
not, he's not -- he's an arab. he's not -- >> no. >> no, ma'am. no, ma'am. he's a decent, family man citizen that i just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. and that's what this campaign is all about. >> this was an option open to romney too. an option open even today. he could've come back out and said, look, i was making a joke. i think the birther controversy is ridiculous, i think it's funny and i think it deserves to be joked about. but if there was any doubt at all, let me dispel it, i believe president obama was born in this country, i believe he's a loyal and good and decent american who loves his country. we have deep and real policy disagreements, but that is it. it's not really what romney has done, though. romney has fed this kind of thing, even he himself has said he doesn't personally believe it. that is not racist, but it's not admirable. but this is not even about romney or primarily about
romney. this would be happening no matter who the republican nominee for president was. it was happening before the campaign. beyond romney, while there's nothing about birtherism that is necessarily about race, you can think another politician born in canada. there is at this point an enormous amount of evidence that some of what's going on in the reaction both positive and negative to obama's presidency is in fact about race. and yet, this is the one topic that obama frankly can't talk about anymore. he talked about race in the '08 campaign when he had to. when he was forced to by the jeremiah wright scandal. but since then, not so much. daniel gillian, a political scientist at the university of pennsylvania looked at nearly all public presidential remarks for recent presidents and found that in his first two years as president, obama talked less about race than any other democratic president since 1961. in this month's issue of the atlantic, a remarkable and brave piece in the race and age of obama.
it's a big piece that contains a lot and was written long before romney's comments. it's really not about romney, republicans, and how they talk about race at all, it's about president obama and how he doesn't. the truth he writes is even if obama would prefer to ignore race, it won't ignore him. quote, race is not simply a portion of the obama story. it is the lens through which many americans view all of his politics." joining me now is ta-nehisi coates and one of my favorite writers. ta-nehisi, great to have you here today. >> thank you so much. >> i am somewhat petrified about this whole segment. >> don't be scared. it's okay. it's all right. >> and for me, i can't imagine what it's like for politicians and particularly for president obama as you write in this piece as to walk this very delicate line between, you know, what needs to be said and what is safe to say. >> yeah.
i think that's a big problem and i think it's something that he had to be thinking about when he decided he was going to run for president. early in the piece, i quote one one of his pollsters basically admitting it in an interview with gwen eifel saying the fact of the matter is a black man cannot be president of the united states given the racial policies and history of this country. but a young man who happens to be intelligent, but happens to be smart, nice-looking, reasonably quote unquote articulate who just so happens to be black can be. and i think that's exactly how candidate barack obama tried to pitch himself and how president barack obama has tried to present himself to the country. >> so you have a really remarkable section in the piece where you sort of run through both the sort of explicitly and some ways more importantly the implicitly racialized controversies of the last couple years. and i really hadn't thought about it as coherently until i read your piece when you put it
all together. it's kind of surprising to back up. and in that section, you go through sort of a back context of birtherism and the role it's played, the things like that have played in american politics. walk me through that a bit. >> the interesting take on mitt romney's quote/unquote joke today, i'm sure it was a joke, as you said at the outset, i'm sure he didn't mean anything out of it. but the birther critique is a questioning of citizenship. and the questioning of african-american citizenship is a long, old, and deeply disgraceful and often violent tradition that stretches back literally from the beginning of this country. you could take it from 1790 when congress first defines what citizenship is and strictly and right out says it's only for white people, stretches up until the end of the civil war when andrew johnson after the tragic death of president lincoln out
and out says there's no way that the country can be based on the african-american franchise. it runs into the mid-20th century where you see the future senator robert byrd objecting to serve in the military because it mean he might have to serve next to african-americans. william f. buckley arguing that african-americans in the south don't even want to vote much less should be granted to vote. so that's a very, very long tradition of questioning african-american citizenship. the highest right of any citizen, be he or she, white or black or yellow, red, whatever, is to serve as president. president is a different sort of power. when you're president, you're head of the american military. you're head of enforcement in this country. it's the highest aspect. and the notion that given our particular history that we would have a black president and there would be no blowback, we would take this in stride that it would end in 2008, is ludicrous, and i didn't realize how ludicrous myself until i got into the piece. >> right. and people wished for it so
hard. i feel like -- >> we all wished for it. >> we all wished for it. and i feel that's been one of the blockages. every time people bring up race, it's almost treated in the political session like a betrayal, like a betrayal of the lax election. and one of the things you've thought about, you don't get to say explicitly in the piece, but the question you sort of raise is obama arguably needed to say more or at least more -- there was more to say. but politically it was probably a good idea not to take race on more directly after being elected president. so where do you -- what do you think could have been done in recent years that would have been constructive? or do you just think this is kind of a knot, that we can't come to a constructive place at the moment? >> well, i think two things. obviously i would like the president to say more about race or be more explicit. and particularly, i think if you're going to go before black audiences and talk about personal responsibility, which, you know, i think any person would endorse talk about good parenting.
which any person endorsed, and that's a very explicit message that obama makes before the african-american community. he doesn't go before other communities and generally say that. and i think you have an obligation to talk about the other side of the equation too. i personally would prefer him to do either one or not at all. and at the same time, though, i think it's wrong to put this entirely on the president. there's a reason why president obama doesn't talk about race, and a democracy, has the great quote goes, you get the government you deserve. when you have an opposition party in which half of the entire party believes the president of the united states was not born in america and that half just so happens not to be too fond of blacks, not to be too fond of people who weren't born here, i'm not sure how much you can ask from them. a president represents the people. mitt romney, you know, by the same token as a presidential candidate represents a group of people. the real question is, why do so many americans believe this. why are we still having this discussion with such a broad swath of our country?
>> thank you very much. i cannot recommend enough that people read your piece in the latest edition of the "atlantic." you'll find it on newsstands and the interweb. thank you very much for being here today. >> thank you so much, ezra. here is what happens when you run on your business record and financial success but refuse to release your tax returns. gawker kind of does it for so. so what do we learn? >> also, pot meet kettle. republicans in pennsylvania accuse the justice department politicizing the fight after they voted to limit access to hundreds of thousands of voters. most of them democrats. plus, democrats have often accused republicans of offering a vision for the 1950s. and now republicans are talking about reinstituting some version of the gold standard. forget the 1950s, how about the 19th century? and who are these kids talking about? >> you're the most vile -- >> vile -- >> despicable -- >> member of the --
>> communist -- >> communist party. >> get the beep out of the united states. >> that is a new democratic ad targeting and quoting republican alan west. check it out in the sideshow. this is "hardball." the place for politics. [ female announcer ] the power of green coffee extract is now in our new starbucks refreshers™ -- a breakthrough in natural energy. made with real fruit, starbucks refreshers™ are delicious low calorie drinks you can feel good about. ♪ rethink how you re-energize. ♪ get a boost of natural energy with a new starbucks refreshers™, in three ways. natural energy from green coffee extract, only from starbucks.
welcome back to "hardball." yesterday, not for the first time i found myself on gawker. usually my bosses aren't super happy to see me doing that. a lot of gawker headlines are like this one from today. quote, tom cruise's child support to katie holmes is barely enough to cover suri's handbags. to which i say, really? tell me more. but get i was there for work. gawker got its hands on pages of financial statements and private investor letters for 21 bain vehicles that romney was invested in. together gawker wrote, they revealing the mind-numbing and maze-like deeply opaque complexity with which romney's handled his wealth. that includes the use of the shady tax trick known as an
equity swap, which is used to help offshore clients dodge payments, certain kinds of taxes, includes the use of quote, blocker corporations, which typically set up in tax havens like the cayman islands. of course, it isn't exactly news that mitt romney holds investments in tax havens like the caymans. "vanity fair" looked into the cayman activity this summer. reported romney is between $7 million and $32 million offshore investments. now, romney's folks say in effect you can't learn anything here from this gawker document because these files are incomplete. it's like looking through a fogged window trying to say what's written inside of every book on his bookshelf. but the latest illustrates what happens when a major candidate for a political party says over and over again that if we want to know about his financial history, we're just going to have to trust him because he will not hand over more than two years of tax returns. turns out when you do that, journalists go on the hunt and will keep hunting for information until they find something. for more on the bain document
dump, romney's taxes and more, we are joined by debra and john cassidy. debra, why should we care what's in the bain documents and romney's tax returns. we have given you two years, why should that be sufficient? why should we piece this together? >> first off, he had an op-ed saying bain is the reason he would be a great commander in chief. what the documents made clear is yes, he's made a lot of money as a successful businessman but he invested in the private equity funds not open to ordinary investors and ordinary americans. these funds have used some pretty shady tax-dodging schemes to avoid paying tax returns. the reason one was set up was to avoid paying taxes in the u.s. that flies in the face of why he said previously this is what was
set up. >> john cassidy of "the new yorker" is going to tell me given the release of the bain document what is we know about mitt romney's finances and taxes. what's if overall picture that emerged even if we cannot fill in every detail? >> we know when he left bain he got a complicated tax package allowing him to invest in bain capital funds. bain capital like many hedge funds and private equity firms organizes through the cayman islands. gawker got ahold of 21 of these funds documents and put them online. we can see how a lot of bain's investments and therefore romney's investments because that's where he gets a lot of his money are channeled through the cayman' lands. now, is that illegal? is it necessarily tax evasion? no, either. romney says that the reason they channel things through the cayman islands is to allow foreign investors, not american investors, to dodge taxes.
not pay taxes they otherwise would have to pay. but if you look closely at some of these documents, you find there are various complications financial tax dodges, which are used to shelter u.s. income as well. so it's embarrassing for bain. there's nothing criminal here but given that romney doesn't want to know very much about the finances is just another embarrassment on the eve of the convention. >> debra solomon, thank you very much. john cassidy in new york, thank you so much for being here. up next, kids say the darndest things, particularly when alan west said them first. stick around for the side show. this is "hardball," the place for politics. you may be muddling through allergies. try zyrtec® liquid gels. nothing starts working faster than zyrtec® at relieving your allergy symptoms for 24 hours. zyrtec®. love the air. have given way to sleeping. where sleepless nights yield to restful sleep.
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congressman alan west has drawn backlash on more than one occasion for blasting his rivals over the top remarks. any of these ring a bell calling dnc chair vile and despicable saying obama supporters are "a threat to the gene pool." what if you heard all that and more from the mouths of kids on a playground. bring on the new ad from democratic challenger patrick murphy. >> you are not a lady. >> you are the most vile. >> vile. >> despicable. >> member of the communist -- >> communist -- >> communist -- >> communist party. >> get the beep out of the united states. >> you're a threat to the gene pool. >> allen west said all these things and worse, but bullying and name calling has no place on the playground or in congress. >> you need a time-out. >> kind of along the lines of saying don't say anything you wouldn't want your grandmother to hear. next, the latest from congressman steven king raised eyebrows for defending legality of dog fighting and saying it's
not against the law to impregnate a 13-year-old girl and kidnap her across state lines to have an abortion. the latest, steve king takes on the tsa. take a look. >> as america, we decided we're going to process everybody the same. that means the 75-year-old grandmother gets the spread eagle search. and while that happens, maybe the 20-year-old middle eastern male waltzes through with a smirk on his face. i'm not making that up, i've seen it. that image will not ever leave my mind. we're so squeamish about making judgment calls that we put everybody through a formulative process that everyone gets searched. i don't know if we'll ever get away from it. >> he's the sheriff joe of airport security, i guess. stop and question anyone who looks like they don't belong? for the next week or so at least when you think tampa, you'll think republican, right? well, a pro-choice group in florida sponsored this billboard as a reminder to the incoming gopers. welcome to tampa where the mayor and all city council mayors are
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