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tv   Face the Nation  CBS  July 25, 2010 10:30am-11:00am EDT

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>> schieffer: today on "face the nation," the topic is race in america. but is is this the conversation we expected? many thought the election of the first african-american president would mark a new era in race relations. but somehow when racial issues emerge, this white house seems to stumble as when it rushed to judgment on government worker shirley sherrod last week and what the administration's handling of that fringe group called the new black panthers? we'll bring together an extraordinary panel to discuss all of it from princeton professor cornell west, georgetown university's sociologist michael eric dyson, two conservative columnist michael gerson of the "washington post" and john fund of the wall street journal, and abigail thernstrom, a bush appointee
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to the civil rights commission. afterward i'll have some thoughts on the role the media played in all of this. but first race in america. on face the nation. ?op/0 captioning sponsored by cbs "face the nation" with cbs news chief washington correspondent bob schieffer. and now from cbs news in washington, bob schieffer. >> schieffer: good morning again. a lot to talk about so we're going to get right to it. we're going to begin with the shirley sherrod case. by now i'm sure you know the story how a heavily edited tape that was taken totally out of context was put on the web. the result was that the administration, without checking to see what the rest of the tape said, fired the woman. then came a lot of apologies and the offer of a new job. michael eric dyson, you are writing a book about barack
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obama and race. it seems to me after making all of these eloquent statements about race during the campaign, now when race comes up as an issue, this white house seems to commit some gaffe or stumble. what do you think is happening here? well, i think the unfortunate reality is that there's a kind of gag order imposed on the obama white house when it comes to issues of race. there's an understandable lament tags among the obamaites that we don't want to pigeon hole ourselves into the corner of race so to speak but at the same time what is sacrificed the clear and decisive action on behalf of i think valuable principles of racial negotiation which means that we have to tell the truth about race. what we saw with the sherrod case was quite remarkable. you have the rep tillian repugnance of certain elements of the right wing which edit history for their own vicious and devious purposes. then you have the marrying on one hand of historical amnesia
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with the exaggerated sense of racial injury which leads to a kind of racial privileging and a kind of white innocence that i think takes off here because a lot of white people think that in the age of obama we're living in a post racial era. there are at least two or three out there, bob. one of the myths is the equality of the 190s provided the opportunity for all peoples of color and white people to be roughly equal. secondly that the steal bread of the arguments of the '60s needs to be disguarded. what we need to eat is the fresh bread of new arguments. it's a kind of racial non-tolerance. there's a zero racial characterization and then finally i think what happens we're not living in a post racial era. the obama administration has been intimidated by the far right wing which is addicted to a kind of paranoia of race that then leads to paralyzing racial conversation which means there's no word from the white house that's positive about the issue of race. >> schieffer: let me turn to michael gerson. you've written a lot about this. do you think this was just sloppy work by one guy on a
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website and then was picked up by some of the media? or is this something that goes deeper than that? >> i think it goes deeper. i think we're in a moment where you have people on the left and on the right that want to take political polarization and turn it into racial polarization for their own purposes, to get internet hits or to get supporters or other things. that's a very, very disturbing trend. so you have it with the new black panther case in my view where you take an incident and try to turn it into a narrative. when it really doesn't justify that. in a lot of ways. it's damaging for the reasons the other guest talked about. i mean these wounds are very close to the surface in america. when people take these issues and attempt to use them for political reasons, when they feed rage they're doing something very, very dangerous. i think, you know, historically it's a real problem. >> schieffer: the "new york
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times" said the obama administration runs from race issues like a thoroughbred bolts out of the starting gate. is the president too sensitive on race? >> i think bob herbert is absolutely right. others have been making this point with great insight. what you have is a p.r.operation where the white house is reluctant to want to intervene in issues of race. let us be cheer what we're talking about. we're talking about race. this is not deodorized discourse. this is a history of black people being terrorized, traumatized and stigmatized to try to convince black people that we are unworthy to have our poverty addressed to have our bad schools, our bad education our unemployment rates or underemployment rates to keep us scared and intimidated. this is what is so magnificent about shirley sherrod. she is democratic nobility. and black royalty. she's an american hero. she's a christian soldier for justice. why? because in the face of terror, in the face of trauma, in the face of being stigmatized what does she do?
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like martin king, i will love my way through this darkness by promoting justice not revenge. that's a great legacy of black people that we see brown people trying to do the same thing in arizona in the face of america turning away. now we have made great progress. barack obama is one example of that. but he's caught in the middle. brother dyson is right about this. he has a p.r.operation on the one hand not wanting to engage in the other. i would say to my dear brother barack obama if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. >> schieffer: i want to get back to this case but before we go too far here, i want to get into this controversy over the administration's decision to drop most of the charges against this extreme group called the new black panther party. the charges that they intimidated voters in philadelphia. it all got back in the news a couple of weeks ago when a bush appointee to the justice department, jake christianed adams said he had resigned
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because of the obama administration's reluctance to press charges against african- americans on these issues. he talkd about it with our legal correspondent jan crawford. >> attorneys have refused outright to work sorts of cases saying things such as i didn't join the justice department to sue black people. i won't work on the case. people who did work on the cases were harasseded. there was terrible things that occurred within the department whenever certain people would decide that a race-neutral enforcement of the law was appropriate. >> schieffer: abigail thernstrom, president bush appointed you to the u.s. civil rights commission. you said that all of this thing about the black panthers was small potatos. why did you say that? >> in the first place, you have two unappealing black guy unappealing because, you know, the new black panther party is unappealing. it's a racist party and so
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forth. they showed up at one largely black precinct in philadelphia. they stand around and wound up slap... one was slapping a billy club against his wrist. one, there is... we have no direct evidence that they actually intimidated anybody, stopped them from voting. two, we certainly have no direct evidence that anybody in the justice department said we're not going to prosecute this case because we have racial double standards. we protect blacks. we don't protect whites. my view, if anyone bothered to read my rather lengthy dissent on this issue, was that there are more important voting rights issues to talk about. >> schieffer: in fact, sources... i mean officials in both the white house and the justice department deny
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totally the allegations. they also point out that they did get an injunction, a court order against a guy that carried the billy club, that he can't go around a polling place anymore. they say that, you know, this is just flatly untrue. >> i think it is flatly untrue. then there is another point here. i mean thomas perez, the attorney general for civil rights, did come before the commission. he said absolutely legitimately, look, section 11-b of the voting rights act which is the provision that is at issue here allowing civil suits on the basis of voter intimidation, we have had in the 45 years since the voting rights act was passed three successful prosecutions under that provision. this is a section of the voting rights act that is very hard to win cases under, that has no clear standards, you
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know, no internal regulation. >> schieffer: you just didn't see a case there? >> i think is evidence is extremely weak. if the justice department chooses-- and i would be delighted if it did so, chooses to send to us, for instance, somebody who is at that alleged brown bag meeting in which julie fernandez said, "we don't prosecute cases in which blacks are victims," fine. i'm an evidence girl really. i want evidence. >> schieffer: i want to get to john fund. he's kind of an evidence guy. editorial writer for the wall street journal. you thought this was not small potatos. this whole case. you wrote a lot about it over the last couple of years. >> i know we don't have all the facts because the justice department is stone walling subpoenas issued by the u.s. commission on civil rights. they even.... >> big surprise. >> they even transferred one of the officials to south carolina so he's out of the
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jurisdiction of the civil rights. two african-american poll watchers testified they were intimidated. >> schieffer: but no voter. >> we saw testimony that the voters said they turned around and said they would came back. we don't know if they ever came back. we do know that this is a pattern with the justice department. north carolina is a predominantly african-american city and voted to have non-partisan elections. the justice department said you can't do that. you have to continue to give black voters the cue of democrat versus republican so they'll know who to vote for. you go through it. georgia, wanted to take social security data and verify the u.s. citizenship of people who were registering to vote. the justice department said you couldn't do that. there is a consistent politicization of the justice department. we just had a report clearing the bush administration of illegality in the u.s. attorney's case. i think the justice department is clearly stone walling these subpoenas because they have something to hide. do i know exactly what they're hiding? i don't. i just want to say something
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about mr. west's comments. i agree we've made great progress in race in this country. and there's still lots of problems remaining. our rhetoric is stunted on this issue. every political year, every political season you get these hair trigger responses from the internet, from the obama administration. why is this? this is about politics as well as race. mary francis berry who was the former chairwoman of the civil rights commission under president clinton said, tainting the tea party movement with the charge of racism is proving to be an effective strategy for democrats. no evidence that they are anymore racist than any other republicans or other americans but having one opponents rebut charges of racism is far better than discussing joblessness. we have 9.5% unemployment. 50% teenage black unemployment. there are a lot of issues to discuss in this table. i don't think these are the most pressing political issues. >> schieffer: i just want to ask dr. thernstrom one question. you made an extraordinary statement to politico when you
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said conservatives on the u.s. civil rights commission thought they could use this case to bring down the attorney general and really damage the president. has the civil rights commission become that partisan? i mean, do you mean that literally? >> well, i do mean it literally. but this is a "he said, she said" situation. it's not recorded anywhere. but, look, race and politics-- and i think mr. gerson said this-- have become so entangled, you can't even criticize president obama without it being... coming off as, you know, you coming off as racially suspect. (talking at the same time). >> archer davis could not say running for governor in alabama could not say i oppose the obama health care without
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jesse jackson saying he's not a real black man. i want to say one in response to john fund who is an old and dear friend of mine. look, the poll workers who testified, they were democrats that were working for republicans. and they had affidavits. they said themselves, they were not afraid. and the issue here, of course, is voter intimidation. they were not voters. but even if they were intimidated they said they were not afraid. we have no evidence that anybody was afraid. >> schieffer: we're going to have to break here because we have to pay some bills here. we'll be back in one minute.
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>> yeah, bob. a couple of things. first of all i agree with dr. thernstrom that, look, there is an enormous ratcheting up of the incivility of racial discourse in america. the problem is not that we offer criticism of mr. obama. i met with him a couple of weeks ago in the oval office. he is quite receptive to criticism, principled criticism and criticism that is rooted in intellectual difference and even id yo logical or political difference. when you see elements of the tea party portraying him as an african witch doctor. when... what other president has been subject to the scrutiny over his birth certificate when it's been proved that he is from earth. so to speak. so the reality is that we've got that kind of opposition on the one hand. on the other hand, there's an implicit i think manipulation of racial solidarity among african-american people that keeps black people silent in the face of obvious offenses that are deliberate, that are
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silently accepted by the obama white house. black people feel ham strung because if they speak out against mr. obama they're siding with far right conservatives who have no interest in principled dialogue. we have had enormous racial progress. it's not about racism. the sherrod case was about gender. the obama white house did not vet this person because a woman is not seen as a legitimate civil rights leader. among african-american people we have to contend with the gender issue. i think the right wing... we bring to mind that we refuse to deal with the issue of gender as well. >> the only way you breakthrough this kind of superficial discourse i think is all of us should acknowledge we have a as if i believe quest for truth. the condition of truth is to allow others to speak. we don't like to talk about suffering among our poor people, of all colors but especially black poor and red poor. we don't like to talk about the level of unemployment, the levels of underemployment, the decrepit school and the disgraceful school system and
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the decrepit housing and so forth. why? because then we're talking about power, privilege versus poverty and relative powerless that's the challenge. race is integral. race part of this issue of joblessness. >> schieffer: that leads into the question i want to ask michael gerson. you wrote this week that a lot of these controversies are the result of what you said, quote, too many americans searching for excuses to justify their rage. how does that work? >> well it works because we're a big country. we've got 300... over 300 million people. if you set out and if you're an internet site or a cable network, if you set out to find an excuse, some incident to emphasize, you can find one in america. and run it over and over again. it could be a picture at a tea party rally of a single sign. it could be a... or a video, you know, that had to do with the new black panthers.
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it makes it look like it's a crisis of race when in fact these are incidents in america. >> it's the crisis in our education. you were outraged at 9/11. >> i agree. >> we were all outraged at nine. that's terrorism. when innocent people are being put to death and rights violated, we have a right to be outraged. >> schieffer: john fund wants to get into this. >> we have generations of minority school children who are being deprived of a good education in urban schools. right now in this city michelle reed is trying to reform those schools. these being blocked by teachers union and other special. that's a race gap we should be talking about. mary france instance berry is an honest liberal. there's no evidence that the tea party hearings are anymore racist than other republicans. having one opponents rebut charges of racism is... why not talk about the real issue? and this is all politics leading up to the election.
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let's have a moratorium. unless someone really practices real racism which is racial superiority i'm better than you, unless you.... >> bob, could you jump in (all talking at once). >> here's the point. >> schieffer: go ahead, michael. >> the reality is that you have the manipulation of symbols of success. that's why obama's election provided many people coverage for the belief that they were in a post racial society. we no longer had to deal with the issue of race. the deep abiding persistent structural inequality that prevail s is a different matter. having obama at the top is one thing. so we have the support and the spark of racial dialogue and discourse in the bottom and the suppression at the top. the symbolic representation of barack obama's success does not translate well to most african-american people who are subjected to vicious forms of inequality and racial injustice that prevail. a prison system where a disproportionate number of african-americans are in prison. the inability of most people of color to find decent
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employment. 16.5% african-american people are unemployed. tos are the racialized issues that need to be addressed from the white house and the broader public. >> two things. when obama came in to office, i don't think anybody expected a quote unquote post racial society, but we did have some hopes for leadership on the issue of race. leadership consisting of knowing when to lower the temperature. on race-related conflicts. i think that is extremely important. indeed as well telling kids america is... black kids, america is wide open to whatever aspirations you have but you've got to go to school. you have to stay in school. you have to work in school. just one thing on the tea party. a gallup poll has shown the tea party movement is
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completely representative of america. (talking at the same time) >> the example of shirley sherrod just like martin king, when you put the focus on the suffering and allow blacks and whites and reds and browns to come together to focus on the suffering, that's how the temperature goes down. it doesn't go by avoiing it or deodorizing the dialogue. >> schieffer: all right. we have to end it right there. >> right now the racial dialogue. >> schieffer: back with final thoughts in just a moment. my doctor told me, as we age...
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am old media with a capital o. proud of it actually. yes, we do operate differently than some in the new media. i again underline some. here's one way. old media makes its share of mistakes but not if we can help it. we still call people involved in the story to get their side. editors fact check. we never publish or broadcast anything unless we think it's true. last week we saw what can happen when it's done the other way. partisan blogger with an agenda, not a journalist, put the heavily edited totally out of context now infamous sound bite of shirley sherrod on the internet. some of the cable folk picked up the story and demanded the woman's ousting. no calls to those involved. no checking of any kind. just throw it out there and leave it to the woman to defend herself. even worse an administration so anxious to wash its hands of the controversy before the evening news came on didn't check either and fired her. you know the rest of the story including all the apologies.
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