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Election 2012: Ben Jealous, Laura Flanders on Obama’s 2nd Term & the Future of Progressive Politics

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We continue our coverage of the presidential election by hosting a roundtable discussion with Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Laura Flanders, host of GRITtv. While Democrats have retained control of the U.S. Senate, Republicans held on to the 435-member House, in part thanks to redistricting. The Democrats increased their Senate lead with Elizabeth Warren’s defeat of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Warren, a champion of Wall Street reform, now joins the same Senate that refused to confirm her to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryJan 22, 2013Inaugurating 2nd Term, Obama Hints at a More Progressive Domestic Agenda Than in His First 4 Years
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Tuesday night, President Obama won a second term in office. We continue our coverage of the presidential election by hosting a roundtable discussion. We’re joined in our studio by two guests: Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Laura Flanders, host of GRITtv and author of many books, including Bushwomen: How They Won the White House for Their Man.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! You were both with us last night in a marathon election special. Ben Jealous, your response to President Obama winning re-election as the 44th president of the United States?

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: You know, this is, I think, a great day for our democracy. We saw the vote attacked with more ferocity this year than we have seen in a very long time. More states passed more laws, pushing more voters out of the ballot box in the past year than we’ve seen in a year in the past century. And so, people really triumphed, because they took their vote seriously. And they took it seriously when it counted, months ago, when we had to push governors to veto these bills, when we had to push DOJ to actually go in and invalidate laws, when we had to file lawsuits and get the job done. But then they stayed engaged, and they turned out their communities. We overcame all sorts of myths, people saying that the black vote, for instance, would lack enthusiasm or it really didn’t matter. Well, it mattered in Virginia. It mattered in Florida. It mattered in Ohio. It mattered in Pennsylvania. Folk—and it mattered across this country. People did great work. You know, we saw brown voters come out like never before, and we saw movements really win incredible victories. I mean, the fact that, you know, all this happened, and he’s pro-marriage-equality, and then we defend marriage equality in four out of four states last night, is huge.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Flanders?

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, you know, it turns out that women’s bodies can magically shut down under attack: they can shut down radical, misogynistic attacks. And that’s what we saw last night. And the Senate is going to be returning; the 113th Congress will convene with binders full of women—19 women in the Senate, the largest number ever, with four new women senators returning or going to the Senate, including, of course, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin defeating four-term Governor Tommy Thompson; Elizabeth Warren defeating Scott Brown, at one point the flag carrier, the spear carrier for the tea party—became a one-termer.

This was an extraordinary, I will say, up-from-the-bottom set of victories, longshot challenges. Four years ago, we were talking about a longshot candidate for presidency. This year, we were talking about longshot movement victories, like the sort that Ben is talking about, movement victories fighting back an unprecedented assault on voting rights, movement victories fighting back an extraordinary tsunami of money, and people voting against the odds on a wing and a prayer, a prayer that this vote would make a difference. We saw them go out into the wet, cold, rainy night in New York City and around this region, Sandy—Hurricane Sandy survivors leaving their cold, dark homes and going out into the cold, dark streets to cast a ballot.

What happens now is that we hold those hopes and dreams precious, and force our politicians to live up to the extraordinary courage and organizing bravery and smarts that people showed last night.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a comment made by Bill O’Reilly being interviewed on Fox News last night.

BRET BAIER: So what’s your sense of the evening? I mean, you look at these exit polls. You look at the, you know—

BILL O’REILLY: My sense of the evening is if Mitt Romney loses in Ohio, the president is re-elected.

MEGYN KELLY: How do you think we got to that point? I mean, President Obama’s approval rating was so low. And obviously this is hypothetical: we don’t know who’s—who’s even winning right now, never mind who won. But how do you think it got this tight?

BILL O’REILLY: Because it’s a changing country. The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it, and he ran on it—and whereby 20 years ago President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that this economic system is stacked against them, and they want stuff. You’re going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things. And which candidate between the two is going to give them things?

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bill O’Reilly. Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP?

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Yeah, when you look at those comments, I mean, they’re tinged with everything that is sad about the history of our country: — right? — his disdain for women, the way he just kind of rolls into women at the end — right? — as part of this group that just wants stuff; his disdain for people of all colors except for his own; his equating traditional with oppression. I mean, that’s really what he’s talking about is a system based on gender oppression and based on race oppression, based on, you know, the oppression of people of different sexual orientations than his own. And, you know, Bill O’Reilly has moments—I’ve witnessed a couple—when he’s lucid, and he actually, you know, can recognize what this country really is. I think last night, unfortunately, he saw that his old—his kind of group’s, his dwindling group’s equation for success is now—won’t guarantee that. And he’s going to have to change his game, and hopefully he’ll change his tune.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Flanders?

LAURA FLANDERS: The demographic shifts he’s talking about are very real. In 1992, a Republican candidate winning six out of 10 white votes could have carried the presidency. It didn’t happen last night, although Romney got that same proportion of white voters. You cannot, in this country, in 2012, win a presidency with white male voters as your home demographic. You can’t do it.

It’s not about stuff; it’s about standing. The history of America has been about those who have been marginalized fighting for standing in this country as equal persons, equal persons under the law, equal persons under a code of morality that embraces us all, and equal persons in a society that is a society of caring and mutual aid and assistance. This is one of the fundamental fights of this election, was about who has standing in this country.

And what we saw was the crazy, upside-down, magical thinking, that the GOP persuaded even many in our media to go along with, that white men would be enough to win the presidency, that unemployed people would blame Barack Obama, that women would embrace a return to second-class citizenship. None of it was true.

Look at the states that won for Mitt Romney—the Great Plains states, the Mountain states. What do they have in common? They have in common relatively low unemployment rates vis-à-vis the states won by Barack Obama. Those who are hurting in this country overwhelmingly, according to exit polls, blamed the record of George Bush. They did not go for this baloney about it being a function of the bailout. And we saw illusion after illusion that Americans don’t vote their self-interest fall, as people actually did vote their self-interest. They voted for a society that is not dog-eat-dog, that actually does believe in some social safety net, and that believes—


LAURA FLANDERS: —in the dream that DREAMers put forward, which is that when you organize, when you push, when you create a viable political constituency, you can be heard in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: An impreMedia-Latino Decisions poll released on Tuesday, as an alternative to the exit polls, found that President Obama had won 75 percent of Latino voters nationwide, while exit polls found him with around 70 percent of Latino support. Exit polls placed Romney at winning 29 percent of the Latino vote, which is lower than Republican candidates received in 2008, 2004 and 2000. I mean, Mitt Romney coining the term “self-deporting” —

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: “Self-deportation,” yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —I think had a—was problematic for him.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Well, he just self-deported himself from politics, right? I mean, that’s just—that’s just what happened. And I would like to say, Bill O’Reilly is right: we do want stuff. It’s the stuff of freedom. It’s the stuff of equality. It’s the stuff of inclusion. It’s the stuff of our very pledge: “one nation, under God, indivisible, with…” You know, we want all that stuff. And we deserve that stuff, because that’s what this country is supposed to be about.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet Sheriff Arpaio was re-elected in Arizona.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: But Sheriff Arpaio will be in his own jail, you know, within four years.

LAURA FLANDERS: I mean, let’s be clear, the history of America is a history of having to fight really, really hard for standing and the rights promised under the—under the promise of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, fights that have been waged by movements, from the labor movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement.

I mean, one of the things we saw yesterday that I’d love you to talk about more, Ben, that you talked about last night, was about the extraordinary organizing that the NAACP was part of, with LGBT groups, with unions, with women’s organizations, with Latino and immigrant rights groups, who fought against—again, we’ve talked about these tremendous odds, but it’s not just magic that this happened. This was strong organizing, with legal challenges, with people refusing to give up the ghost, with organizations like Color of Change targeting the corporate sponsors of conservative groups like ALEC. I mean, people used every tool at their disposal. And again, it comes down to electoral strategy paying off by movements to support a Democratic majority. We now need that Democratic majority to take the leadership from those movement groups and set some priorities that will change economic—and I think also—

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: “Take” as in accept, not “take” as in steal.

LAURA FLANDERS: Yes, exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to one of the most closely watched races in this country. That’s Democrat Elizabeth Warren defeating incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts’ Senate race. Warren is a Harvard law professor who’s promised to fight for a struggling middle class. She helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is part of her victory speech last night.

SENATOR-ELECT ELIZABETH WARREN: For every family that has been chipped at, squeezed and hammered, we’re going to fight for a level playing field, and we’re going to put people back to work. You bet. That’s what we’re going to do, yes. Yes. To all the small-business owners who are tired of a system rigged against them, we’re going to hold the big guys accountable. Yeah. To all the seniors who deserve to retire with the security they earned, we’re going to make sure your Medicare and Social Security benefits are protected and that millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share. That’s right. And to all the young people, all the young people who did everything right—who did everything right and are drowning in debt, we’re going to invest in you. We are. To all—to all of the servicemembers and your families, who have fought so hard for us, we’re going to fight for you. You bet we will. That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.


SENATOR-ELECT ELIZABETH WARREN: I love you. And to all the women across Massachusetts—to all the women across Massachusetts who are working your tails off, you better believe we’re going to fight for equal pay for equal work.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts. And then there’s the Tammy-Tommy race, that closely watched Senate race in Wisconsin, Democratic Congressmember Tammy Baldwin making history on two different counts Tuesday night when she beat former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson: Tammy Baldwin becomes the first Wisconsin woman elected to the U.S. Senate and the country’s first openly gay senator.

SENATOR-ELECT TAMMY BALDWIN: I am well aware that I will have the honor to be Wisconsin’s first woman U.S. senator. And I—and I am well aware that I will be the first openly gay member.

BALDWIN SUPPORTERS: Tammy! Tammy! Tammy! Tammy! Tammy! Tammy! Tammy! Tammy! Tammy! Tammy! Tammy! Tammy!

SENATOR-ELECT TAMMY BALDWIN: But—but I didn’t run—but I didn’t run to make history. I ran to make a difference, a difference—a difference in the lives of families struggling to find work and pay the bills, a difference in the lives of students worried about debt and seniors worried about their retirement security, a difference in the lives of veterans who fought for us and need someone fighting for them and their families, a difference—a difference in the lives of entrepreneurs trying to build a business and working people trying to build some economic security. But—but in choosing—but in choosing me to tackle those challenges, the people of Wisconsin have made history.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Tammy Baldwin, the new senator-elect from Wisconsin, taking the seat of Herb Kohl, who was retiring. Nineteen women senators now, one of them a Republican woman senator from Nebraska, who defeated Bob Kerrey. She is Deb—Deb—


AMY GOODMAN: Deb Fischer from Nebraska. On the issue of Elizabeth Warren, she now becomes a senator in the Senate that refused to confirm her as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—


AMY GOODMAN: —because of their involvement with the banks, across the board. What does this mean for her to become a senator now? And where does she go with the banks?

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Well, you know, look, she will really—

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Jealous.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: She’ll, quite frankly, really extend the tradition of Barney Frank, extend the tradition of Ted Kennedy, as these great fighters from Massachusetts who are willing to go out and take risks to hold our financial industry accountable. You know, right now, if I was running at payday lending corporation, I’d be very worried. This is somebody who wants to come in and kill payday lending. And we should, because it is usury. You know, and she is someone who I think you will see really be a driving force in her party and come as close to filling the void left by Ted Kennedy—no one can really do that, but come as close as any one person can, because she comes in with an entire movement behind her, and people of all races in this country who look up to her, and women who really want to see her do well, but also a country that’s yearning for somebody to take on the banks who’s not afraid.

AMY GOODMAN: And the racism leveled against her.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Yeah, which—which was insane and perverse and weird, right? You know, the reality is—

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Brown saying that she had said she was Native American, and she said, “Well, my mother told me that I was.”


AMY GOODMAN: And he would not let go of this.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: No, no, that’s exactly right, as people doing the whole tomahawk thing, you know, and following her—

AMY GOODMAN: His staffers.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Yes, you know, and it’s just—it’s so disrespectful. And it inflames racial hatred. It’s probably the—one of the oldest in our country. And it’s desperate. And you saw it with Bill O’Reilly earlier. I mean, you know, I was sitting there, you know, looking at Tammy Baldwin, looking at Liz Warren, you know, thinking about Sojourner Truth saying, “Ain’t I a woman?” Well, it’s like, “Ain’t I white?” You know, I mean, really, can’t we have a more expensive vision of white and actually allow Bill O’Reilly, people who are white who are willing to link up with people of all races in this country on equal and respectable terms, you know, include them and not say to someone that they’re non-traditional whites?

LAURA FLANDERS: Two things on Elizabeth Warren. The irony, of course, is that she came to prominence fighting big money and big power of big banks, and is now going to come to the Senate as the Senate candidate who raised more money than any other in American history. So let’s hope that she doesn’t feel beholden to her big donors. I don’t think—I hope she won’t.

On the question of Tammy Baldwin and the politics that we’re talking about, we’ve often heard in American political punditry that one must, you know, suppress identity politics organizing in favor of, you know, good-class, mainstream politics. If we hadn’t built movements to defend against bigotry against women, against people of color, against LGBT people, if we didn’t have powerful identity politics movements in this country, we would have seen Tammy Baldwin have no chance of defeating Tommy Thompson. The fact that she won shows that these two issues—these movements have always got to walk in—work in lockstep. And that’s what happened in Wisconsin. And it’s a huge lesson I hope we’ll learn.

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