tv Hardball Weekend MSNBC July 21, 2013 4:00am-4:31am PDT
do. the president, the zimmerman trial and race. let's play "hardball." i'm michael smerconish in for chris matthews. what we saw at the white house today was something many people have been waiting for, president obama speaking out clearly, forcefully and emotionally about the trayvon martin case. it was the president addressing race in a way that only he, uniquely among american presidents, could giving his first on-camera comments about a story that has sparked a national dialogue the last week.
he said the country needed to do some soul searching and he spoke about the case in starkly personal terms. >> you know, when trayvon martin was first shot, i said that this could have been my son. another way of saying that is, trayvon martin could have been me 35 years ago. and when you think about why in the african-american community at least there's a lot of pain around what happened here, i think it's important to recognize that the african-american community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away.
>> nbc news reports that the president decided yesterday afternoon to address this weighty topic after talking with friends and family. he called together a few members of his senior staff and told them he wanted to make comments. we're going to spend the next hour talking about what the president said this afternoon and what it means going forward. to start with, i'm joined by the grio's joy reid, the washington post's jonathan capehart and mother jones magazine's david corn, all three are msnbc political analysts. in addressing what happened to trayvon martin, the president related his own experiences as an african-american man. >> there are very few african-american men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. that includes me. there are very few african-american men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. that happens to me, at least
before i was a senator. there are very few african-americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. that happens often. and i don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the african-american community interprets what happened one night in florida. >> jonathan, i heard the president say that he respects the process, that he respects the rule of law, but that this is the context in which african-americans are interpreting the verdict and everybody needs to appreciate that fact. >> yes, absolutely. and that's what -- that's the power of what the president did and said today for me and for me personally. i think the american people need to hear that. i think sometimes we can talk
about race in abstractions because no one of any big power can say this has happened to me. and when the president of the united states can say that he's been followed in stores and that he has heard people click the locks on their doors when he crosses the street, comes near their cars, it suddenly makes it real. it's no longer something that, oh, jonathan capehart or eugene robinson or reverend sharpton or toure or any of the other folks our audience knows, it's not just them, the leader of the free world has this personal experience and that he's sharing in the pain, in the frustration and in my case, the aggravation that these things happen. and folks don't seem to quite understand why it irritates and frustrates and depresses african-americans so much. >> you know, joy, there are so many aspects of this i find
fascinating and worthy of conversation. not the least of which is that the president essentially set the table for a conversation about race. but at the end of the speech, he was very clear in saying he really didn't have much faith in the ability of politicians to conduct that conversation and instead suggested that we do it in our families and in our workplaces and in our churches. >> yeah, i mean, think this would have been a lot less effective as a formalized speech if he had gone in the oval office. >> why? >> that inherently closes certain ears. this is a country in which this is the first president of the united states ever to be told to show his birth certificate. the first president of the united states ever to be called a liar from the well of the house of representatives to his face. this is a president who, when he talked about his friend being wrongfully arrested for breaking into his own house, recall what the situation was. this was an august professor of history at harvard university being corralled by police officers for supposedly trying to break into a house that was
his own home. so this is the context in which barack obama has been operating. race is drizzled all over everything he says and does. >> was it acknowledgement of sorts on his part he doesn't recognize his own ability to be able to lead that dialogue? >> right. >> he can only bring us so far. >> he can only talk about his experiences. unfortunately, there is a part of this country on the right which is so closed to anything that comes out of the mouth of barack obama, anything he touches. he can't talk about an issue or else it becomes toxic. there are people who are so hateful toward him that he really couldn't join hands and have everyone make this dialogue about race. >> we have a good example of that a little bit later in the program. president obama said that it was time for americans to look inward and do some soul searching. >> and then finally, i think it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul searching. you know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race.
i haven't seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. they end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. on the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there's the possibility that people are a little bit more honest and at least you ask yourself your own questions about am i wringing as much bias out of myself as i can, am i judging people as much as i can based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? >> david corn, interpret that methodical reasonable presentation that was informal at the same time. i think that joy makes an interesting observation in saying she thinks it's probably
more effective than had he been behind the desk in the oval office. >> well, he's done it both ways. if you go back, which i did, and look again at the speech he gave on race in 2008, which was much more formalized, he made some of the points. in a lot of ways, i look at barack obama as, you know, as trying to be white america's guide to the black american experience. and that's a pretty hard task for anybody, let alone the president of the united states, who has other things on his plate. you used one of the key words, michael earlier on. context. the president came back to that again and this is what the 2008 speech was about, as well. that you know, particularly he wants white americans to understand the context in which african-americans view some of these issues and how the anger
on each side, racial anger on each side sort of exists within a context, particularly if you deny that for african-americans and i think jonathan got to this. you get to the -- to frustration and you don't really give people their due. people have experienced what the president has experienced. and i was just still aghast at the end of the trial regardless of what the outcome was in terms of whether it was right or wrong legally how people on the right, people are antagonistic to barack obama were out there celebrating this trial as if it was nothing but a political campaign and wasn't ultimately and above all a tragedy, but yet right away became political fodder. i think the president at the end somewhat justified in saying no matter how good he is in presenting some of these sophisticated and nuanced points, there are people hole are not going to want to listen. when we come back, we'll get into if politics of what the president said today and reactions from both sides of the political spectrum. this is "hardball," the place for politics. >> these days i think have more sense than we did back then and certainly more than our parents
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>> welcome back to "hardball." the scene of president obama's surprise comments on race was casual, informal, a sharp contrast with the gravity, the magnitude, the importance of the words themselves which could well mark a defining cultural moment for his political legacy. the question is why did the president choose to get in front of this very complex topic then and there and what will it mean for the future of politics not only for him but for both parties. not surprisingly the reaction from some conservatives has already been critical, with todd
starnes a conservative radio host with fox news saying, "president obama is now our race baitner chief. his remarks on the trayvon martin tragedy are beyond reprehensible." eugene robinson wrote a column yesterday entitled obama is the wrong person to lead the discussion about race where he says "we should talk honestly about unresolved racial issues such as those exposed by the case, but president obama is not the best person to lead the discussion through no fault of his own, he might be the worst. the record indicates that the honest talk from obama about race is seen by many people as threatening." we're rejoined now by our panel along with republican strategist john feehery. john, if your phone rang with a call this afternoon by a gop operative somebody running for office or in office and they say, how should i as a republican respond to what we
just heard from president obama, your advice would have been what? >> very carefully. listen, i think that it was important for the president to step up and talk about this. i think that this has been a festering wound. i wish the president would have put it in broader context, talked a little bit about the role of the media, talked a little bit about the role of the media in fostering fear, in all kinds of different ways. i think the president hit on some things exactly right. i think in many ways when he talked about george zimmerman, i thought he was off base. from the republican standpoint, what you're trying to do is trying to grow your base. so you don't really want to get involved too deeply in a tit-for-tat kind of explosive discussion on this. i don't think you want to play to your base. you want to grow your base. so for republican consultant, what i would say, tread on this carefully. >> joy, it seems already the statement that's being seized upon by opponents of the president is the comment where
he questions the outcome had the race been different of trayvon martin. that was predictable. >> i probably laugh a little bit because i don't see any context in which republicans are trying to grow their base in any policy matter. >> i don't think that's right. >> really? on immigration their base is saying hell no and double hell no. >> i think a lot of republicans are trying to grow their base. >> on then issue what i've heard the vitriol towards trayvon martin and george zimmerman as almost a folk hero on the far right. i haven't seen any responsible voices in the party saying that's a bad idea and not sympathy for the family. what i've heard and seen in my twitter where i've been called the "n" word every 30 seconds since the verdict came down, i don't see a moderating influence in your party right now saying we need to stop constantly overdoing our attacks on barack obama because it's turning people off. and i'm just telling you right now, it's turning people off. >> joy, the question to me by michael was what would i advise a politician. >> it's great advice.
i don't know that they're listening to smart people like you. >> that's the advice i would have said. i do think that this particular george zimmerman trial has been overly played by the media and overly played by some people in a way that has been very destructive to the country. i think if you look at the trial and you look at the facts, there was no way that the jury could have reached any other conclusion. >> sure there was. >> i don't think so. >> sure there was. if they had -- you know what? sure there was, john. if they had decided that they could see trayvon martin as a child and as a victim and if that cultural gap could have been bridged of course they could have found -- if they couldn't, then it didn't happen. >> the scars on george zimmerman's back of his head. the jury looked at -- i see your point. >> you're proving my point. >> i don't want to relitigate the facts of the case. i want to talk about race. jonathan capehart, is the president the appropriate individual to advance this conversation, or because he
himself has become for better or worse such a lightning rod, he can't properly lead this dialogue? >> look, the president of the united states is the perfect person to, as i say in a piece just out now, to jump start this conversation. we always have this conversation after some racial conflagration and think this is the moment when we have the national conversation where we will move forward and what ends up happening, there's a flurry for a week or a few days and then we go about our business till the next time. i think because the president felt personally he had to say something about it, that it was something that he could just feel after talking to friends and staff and family that it was something he needed to talk about, that he went out and did it. the thing that he did was what janet langhart cohen called on him to do in an op-ed in the "washington post" on wednesday where she asked the president to talk about race and racism. not just to black americans but to all americans because it is an issue that is facing the
country. it is an issue that is tearing the country apart. and whether the president is black or not, the president of the united states is someone who should address these issues, and the fact that the president now is an african-american makes that even more powerful. >> thank you, joy reid, jonathan capehar capehart. up next, the president's statement took us all by surprise. mine was earned in djibouti, africa. 2004.
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we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our african-american boys. and this is something that michelle and i talk a lot about. there are a lot of kids out there who need help, who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. and is there more that we can do to give them a sense that their country cares about them
and values them, and is willing to invest in them? >> welcome back to "hardball." it's been nearly a week since the george zimmerman verdict. what motivated the president to speak so personally now about race and his own experience as a black man in america six days after the verdict? for that, i turn to two white house reporters nbc's peter alexander and april ryan of the urban rao network. peter, i was watching andrea mitchell. they broke out of her program and go into the pressroom. it looked to me like the president was joking with you as he got to the podium. and then delivered this very serious set of remarks. paint the picture from your perspective. >> well, we were sitting back in our small offices in the white house. we got no warning that this would take place. we usually get some warning even if off the record. there was a two-minute warning
that the briefing would begin. i got word the president was out there so i made the sprint up front, that shot of my backside i apologize if you saw it, and i said to the president, mr. president, that was only 90 seconds. that wasn't two minutes. he smiled before beginning his remarks to the group as we talk about this day, i think what's so striking is that he encouraged america to do some soul searching on this topic. i think it's obvious now that the president himself over the course of the last six days and his presidency has done his own soul searching, as well. >> april, i'm caught up in the fact there couldn't be a more serious subject matter going on in the country right now. there was no teleprompter. it didn't look like he was referring to notes and yet speaking in full paragraphs on a matter of the utmost importance. speak to me about the style as you interpreted it. >> as i interpreted from being in the room and from white house sources, this was a heart and soul matter. this was a personal conversation he wanted to have. we didn't see this president that stands before the podium thus, thou, where art. we saw a very somber barack
obama talk about trayvon martin, talk about the issues of black america, which we never had before, things that have happened to him we have never heard him say before. we heard him talk about the way forward. this president stepped into the conversation. and wanted to start the conversation even though he said, we will not have this public conversation emanating from the white house but said we're going to have this conversation and he became really the moral leader in chief at this point. >> here's what i was referring to, president obama shocked the press corps when he showed up with press secretary jay carney. this was how he greeted the group of surprised reporters. >> that's so disappointing, man. >> what are you doing here? >> jay, is this the kind of respect you get? on television it usually looks like you're addressing a full room. >> just a mirage.
>> all right. >> that was 90 seconds. >> i got you. all right. sorry about that. do you think anybody else is showing up? >> well, they did show up. these two showed up. peter, maybe it's because there have been other efforts made to start the conversation about race and, unfortunately, they haven't advanced us as far as we would like to go. so the president took this out of the box approach of being far more informal and casual and much more personal than anyone could have been in the past. >> yeah, i think that's exactly right. this started with a conversation we're told by white house advisers of the president that the president had had with members of his own family and friends over the course of the last several days that have passed since the verdict in the trial. the decision, we're told, was made late yesterday, late thursday where he gathered some advisors, brought them together and said he wanted to make public remarks and made it clear he wanted the remarks to be extemporaneous to be speaking from the heart and for a man
criticized i think so often for speaking off of teleprompter where there's not that window into who he is. the fact that he used words like i and me to personalize the pain and the angst and anguish that's felt within the african-american community acknowledging his own experiences being followed around when he's in a department store, i think, really struck people. ♪ [ male announcer ] the distances aren't getting shorter. ♪ the trucks are going farther. the 2013 ram 1500 with best-in-class fuel economy.
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