Thursday, April 07, 2011

Three Cheers for a Government Shutdown?: The following is a SHORT transcript of a conversation Rachel Maddow had with one the most brilliant scholars I have ever heard, Melissa Harris Lacewell, Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University. Their discussion was about the electorate's understanding of what a government shut down means or does not mean to most Americans and why there are groups which thrive on the notion of shutting the government down. It is an informative discussion which gets, I believe, to the heart of this issue.

MADDOW: If they do not reach an agreement tonight, and the government shuts down this weekend—five years from now, why will Americans understand that this shutdown happened?

HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, who knows five years from now? I mean, you know, seriously, part of the problem here is, I think, that Americans seem to have—despite the poll numbers that you‘re showing—Americans seem to have little understanding about what government is really doing for them on a daily basis. I mean, if you ask Americans, what has government done for you lately, you‘re likely to get a response like, well, not much. Or, you know, they have taken my whole paycheck, or something like that.

And, look, the Republicans are not a dumb group strategically. They know that most Americans have been doing what I‘ve been doing the past couple weeks, which fiddling with, you know, with our heads, in our hands, trying to get our tax returns in. And so, this is a moment where people have kind of the most anxiety about government, because they feel like they‘re paying in, and they don‘t have a clear narrative about what they‘re getting out.

MADDOW: But why then on something like Medicare would they be proceeding now? Why choose—why would the Republican choose to reveal their plan to kill Medicare now? The super, super beloved program. They announced it on the day the president announces that he is running for re-election. They announce it right on the eve of this potential shutdown.

Why Medicare? Why now?

HARRIS-PERRY: I think there‘s a lot of different things going on here. But at its core, what we see is really just the fruition of now 25, 30 years of public discourse that the Democrats have participated in, that says that government is bad. I mean, if you can remember the confusion that was occurring during the health care reform debate, where you had people at town hall meetings saying things like, “Keep the government‘s hands off my Medicare,” right? There was—there was clear confusion about who was providing these services, right?

I think, you know, even when you talk about something like going to the ATM and taking out $50, and knowing that that money is there, because it‘s insured by FDIC, you know, being able to eat an egg for breakfast and know that that egg doesn‘t have salmonella because it‘s been inspected by federal inspectors. You know, my mother‘s new hips, one on the left one on the right, both paid for by Medicare, which she paid into and which I pay into.

But if we—if we disconnect those things from our understanding that this is government provision, I think it‘s actually relatively easy to go after them individually, and to make a claim that private industry can do them better and more efficiently, because that‘s really been the discourse for 20 years.

MADDOW: Well, why are Democrats so shy about wanting to defend the basic idea of government from this, you know, the government is the problem? Conservatism. Letter carriers and firefighters and police officers and teachers are beloved national figures. Medicare and Social Security are beloved national programs. Why are Democrats so shy about making them their party‘s own symbols, even their mascots, for the Democratic Party?

HARRIS-PERRY: You know, you were talking about civics lessons earlier. And I have to say that part of what happened, and we can really trace this back to a very clear strategy on the part of Republicans after the end of the 1960s. And it was to take all of those beloved figures, and link them with figures that are less beloved.

So, for example, the growth of the African-American middle class in
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the 1970s, that was mostly men working in post office, and women working as

teachers. The language of what government was doing for citizens got

linked to groups like African-Americans, poor people, new immigrant

communities. To the extent that Republicans have been very successful in

linking—in fact, very efficient, high-quality and broad-based programs -

or even things like, for example, public schools—two populations in communities that are less beloved, more stereotyped, more stigmatized, they have been able to lap those on to each other and sort of create these anxieties in populations that actually need and benefit from on a daily basis government actions.

MADDOW: And that‘s been a deliberate strategy. And it works, if nobody fights back against it—

HARRIS-PERRY: That‘s right.

MADDOW: -- which is—which is the on going task of the Democratic Party in my lifetime, which means I‘ll never have anything to stop talking about, because they never seem to make progress on this.

Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC contributor, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton and very smart person—thank you for being here.
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HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks, Rachel.

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