Panel discussion – Part 3 America’s Next Chapter

In the final part of a conversation on ‘America’s Next Chapter,’ thought leaders discuss whether there’s a brighter future for the next generation.

How do we rebuild cities with empty homes and no jobs? When does economic recovery really happen? Tavis convenes a panel of thought leaders to wrestle with these and other issues on how America can return to its greatness. Panelists include: Princeton's Dr. Cornel West; The Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington; John S. Chen, chairman of Committee of 100; CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo; David Frum, speechwriter for former President George W. Bush; The Washington Post's Dana Milbank; CBN News' David Brody; and Maria Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino executive director/co-founder.


Tavis: (Applause) In America, there is too much labeling. You may disagree on this point that David Brody’s making, but there is too much labeling in this country so I want to get to the heart of this. When you call someone anti-immigrant on national TV, what do you mean by that?
Maria Teresa Kumar: First of all, I think that as a country we’re suffering from racial fatigue. We’re afraid to talk about race, and when we get too close (applause) –
Tavis: I agree.
David Brody: I agree.
Kumar: – when we get too close, we don’t want to bear that burden, number one.
Brody: You’re right.
Kumar: When I say anti-immigrant, the young man in Arizona who saved Representative Giffords’ life, under proposition – excuse me, under S.B. 1070, he would have been asked for his papers, just by the way he looks. (Applause) I have to tell you, that was one of the – a sad moment for us with the work that we do, and it was a sad day in America when S.B. 1070 passed and there wasn’t an outcry from America. (Applause)
Because for the very first time, we distinguished once again what America looked like based on the color of your skin. That legislation now has been gutted, but there are 22 other states introducing similar legislation where just by the fact that you may look like an undocumented individual someone could ask for your papers. Shame on us because there’s not more outcry on that.
Tavis: Dana Milbank. (Applause)
Dana Milbank: What I was saying is there’s two Tea Parties going on here. There’s one that’s 20, 25 percent of the population, and there’s the very small minority who come to the rallies, and I believe they’re entirely separate groups.
The ones who come to the rallies are themselves a tiny minority of this significant part of the population, and there is some minority of those who are overtly racist. I’ve seen them. You may not have, but I’ve seen them there. (Laughter)
There is that element, and that is what we in the media are seizing on. I go to a rally, I look around, and if I see a photograph of – I did – of Dachau, trying to use that to make a comparison to the healthcare, well, you know what? I’m actually going to focus on that and not on the 99 percent of people who were perfectly calm and reasonable. That’s what I would do in the media.
Tavis: I got it.
Milbank: So I would say the absolute vast majority of people in the Tea Party movement are just unhappy about the economy, angry that the government’s not doing anything, and are good and decent people. But there’s just no way around it – they’re going to be tarred with what people say.
Tavis: All of this conversation, though, Arianna, leads me to this for you specifically – I’m sure others will want to chime in on this. The Tea Party, the impact they’ve had, we’ve just now been talking about not one but two African American congressmen who happen to both be Republicans, Mr. West out of Florida, Mr. Scott out of South Carolina.
However you want to slice and dice this, Republicans now control the House, as we all know. Tell me why I should not believe that the strategy that President Obama is going to employ over the next two years is going to be Clintonian to the core, which means more triangulation, more pages stolen out of their playbook, which means more compromise and more capitulation? Disabuse me, please, please, of that notion.
Arianna Huffington: Would you like to go to David to do that, rather than to me? (Laughter)
Tavis: No, to you.
Huffington: I will not disabuse with you of that, but before I will not disabuse you of that, I would just like to respond to this fascinating discussion. Because that’s why we need Dr. West, because basically what we are talking about is something very fundamental about human nature that we have seen in every period of history.
When there is an economic crisis that fundamentally affects people’s survival, the worst comes out in people. We’ve seen that again and again and again. (Applause) That’s why I’m saying we need to go to the source rather than immediately assuming that these are the racist people.
No, these are the anxious, the scared people. These are the people who think they are next. These are the people who are waiting for the next shoe to drop, and the entire country, with the exception of a few people, really, are in that state. Because when you have 27 million people unemployed or underemployed, multiply that by three or four, either in their immediate family or their extended family, who are affected or worried that they are going to be affected.
That creates a cauldron in the country that we are ignoring at our peril. Just look at history. In the 1880s we were actually expelling from the country Chinese workers, right?
Dr. Cornel West: Mm-hmm, oh, yes.
Huffington: In the 1930s, we were expelling Hispanic people who were American citizens under Hoover.
Kumar: Mexican.
Huffington: So this is not the first time that people become anti-immigrant. I have a foreign accent. I hear it. (Laughter) I do hear it. People like to turn to you and say, “Hey, hey, lady, do you speak English?” I don’t say, “Better than you,” but I think it. (Laughter)
But my point is that xenophobia, whether it’s anti-Black, anti-Hispanic, anti-Jewish, is going to thrive when people are anxious, worried, out of work –
West: That’s true.
Huffington: – and feeling bad about themselves.
West: That’s true. But you see, but the other side of that, though, Sister Arianna, is this – that we’ve got a corporate media, we got a mainstream media whose fundamental aim seems to be to make money too.
So they sensationalize these issues, they don’t humanize them, so that there’s a whole host of Americans out there of all colors who are trying to keep alive the legacy of Martin King, keep alive the legacy of Abraham Joshua Heschel, keep alive the legacy of Dorothy Day – anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic people who are thoroughly invisible in the media other than Tavis’ show and Amy Goodman and a few others. That’s about it. (Applause)
So that what comes at people is such a little narrow, truncated discussion that bombards persons, reinforces the worst in them, doesn’t accent the best in them, (applause) so we don’t even have access to the best of our fellow citizens who are out there working so hard but still invisible. And what happens? Once we reach a moment of catastrophe – catastrophe will come.
Tavis: If Dr. West is right, and he’s certainly passionate about it, and I think he is right, but if he is right that in this moment, while we’re trying to move this country forward, trying to get past these divisions, everybody, including the president now, calling for civility, what is the country losing, then, by the voices of people of color being marginalized in the conversation?
I wanted to make sure that we had – this is not about patting me on the back, but it’s just one of my personal pet peeves as a Black man on TV every night – I hate when I see too many conversations in this town that don’t have Asians in the conversation, that don’t have Hispanics in the conversation, (applause) that don’t have African Americans in the conversation.
Kumar: And women.
Tavis: And women, and women in the conversation. That just burns me up, so I do what I can in my small way to try to address that on the regular. But I think the country, to Doc’s point, is missing something in this critical moment, when the voices of women and people of color in the media are marginalized while we’re wrestling with all this crisis. To that, you say what?
Kumar: This is actually where I tip my hat to Arianna. Arianna’s Huffington Post is actually one of the most diverse online media platforms, where you are representing (unintelligible). (Applause) So thank you for that.
I think what her work demonstrates is that we are basically – the online platform does democratize the rest of us, where we could have someone with different opinions and different voices in their garage, writing and talking about it. What we do need to do is we need to break open the mainstream media and we need to have those conversations.
Because I think, Dana, you were talking about it and also Dr. West, was that if I’m feeling uncomfortable about where I am today and I don’t have any rational conversation or any really understanding of why I’m in the plight that I am, but I hear someone constantly telling me to hate or that it’s their fault, it’s easy for me to all of a sudden conclude that I’m not at fault, but it’s the changing faces of America that are.
So what we need to do is with media, there is a responsibility to it and we need to constantly talk to that responsibility and hold people accountable. Representative Giffords said it best – words do have consequences.
Tavis: I want to spend the last 45 minutes we have talking about this next year politically and the way forward, because what’s going to happen to our politics over the next couple of years as, again, we talk about trying to write this next chapter.
As I said earlier, we’re at the halfway point of President Obama’s first term and we’ve done some assessing of that. We’ll do a bit more in the few minutes that we have left here.
But we’re just, as I said also earlier, David Brody, just weeks away, literally, we’re just weeks, a couple months away from a whole bunch of folks starting to line up and publicly declaring that they are running for the White House. Most all of them are going to be Republicans, so what’s about to happen over the next couple of months?
Brody: Wow. You’re going to see in the next, probably starting in March at some point, I think you’ll start seeing some of these candidates get in, like Newt Gingrich. You’ll see Tim Pawlenty get in; you’ll see Mitt Romney get in. Sarah Palin’s an open question. Mike Huckabee is a semi-open question, but I think he’ll probably get in.
I think what you’re going to see as it relates to the Republican field, if that’s where you’re going with it, I think there’s an evangelical primary and I think there’s a businessman primary. I really do.
I think in other words you’ve got people like Huckabee, Palin, potentially, Thune and Mike Pence and some other folks that will compete for the evangelical vote, and then you’ll have the businessman primary, if you will, where you have Romney, possibly Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich, some folks along those lines.
So I think that’s what you’re going to see, and look, the Republicans know that the president is vulnerable, obviously, and I think as it relates to where the president may have mis-stepped here, most folks will agree, I would think, that this is a center-right nation.
I don’t know too many people that would necessarily disagree with that, but you have a center-right nation and you had a president who went ahead and passed partisan legislation as it relates to healthcare, whether he was trying to get an Olympia Snowe or a Susan Collins.
So my point simply is is that he was trying to shoehorn something and I think it woke up people, getting back to the Tea Party for a moment, it woke up these Tea Party folks who were sitting on their couch watching “Oprah” (laughter) and going to get a Hot Pocket. All right, they were watching “All My Children.” But the point (laughter, applause) – they were watching a plethora of television programming.
Tavis: I’m glad you changed that, because Oprah was about to tweet you in about 30 seconds. (Laughter) “They were not watching me.”
Brody: Hey, I’ll take that, but listen –
Tavis: “David Brody, you’re wrong, David Brody.” (Laughter, applause) “You’re wrong, David Brody.”
Brody: I just want a free gift from her show.
Huffington: But David, you’re also wrong about one other thing, which is the idea of a center-right country. (Applause) That’s what I mean about these clichés that are endlessly repeated, and the conventional wisdom congeals and people begin to believe it.
Please do not believe this idea. (Applause) This country has been on a journey towards a more perfect union from the beginning that famous Constitution was written. So if you go back to that, are you saying that every bit of progress we made, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act, are you saying that all these were left-wing initiatives in a center-right nation?
Brody: Right, no, of course not, of course not. Right, right.
Huffington: No, right? What were they?
Brody: Right, but –
Huffington: They were basically the country becoming more inclusive and coming more and more together. Why is that left-wing? If you say this is left-wing, then you are giving every progress that happens in America to the left. Do you really want to do that? (Applause)
Brody: Yeah, no, no, good point. I think the polling bears some of this out, but that’s a whole nother discussion.
David Frum: What David is describing, though, is, for those of us who would like to elect a Republican president, kind of a nightmare scenario, because we have a party that is whipsawed in ways that the things – this is always true, there’s always a tension between what you have to do to get your party’s nomination in either party and what you have to do to win the election, but it is going to be an especially painful whipsaw this time, and it might – we have now videotape of Mike Huckabee giving a speech in 2007 in which he talks about the problem of global warming and how he’s in favor of this and that solution in order to deal with this problem.
Mike Huckabee is a very intelligent and well-informed person, and now this is going to be used to torture him. I don’t know – I think he’s going to discover that this is a very difficult thing for him to get passed. We have in Mitt Romney a very effective executive, somebody who would make, I think, a fine center-right president, but he’s got on his record he supported TARP and he’s the author of the healthcare program in Massachusetts that looks to the unbiased eye an awful lot like the program the president just enacted (laughter) that, as we know, is leading us to Nazism and death panels.
West: (Laughs) That’s right, that’s right.
Frum: So he’s like Mr. Death Panel now. One by one – and people are going to find him – we saw what just happened in the past 24 hours with Tim Pawlenty, Tim Pawlenty, who just governor of Minnesota, excellent executive, very responsible, very sober-minded person, nobody’s idea of a bomb-thrower or anything like that, is now proposing to – is now saying it is going to be a priority of his to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which just passed the Senate with more than 70 votes.
Tavis: Right, but David Frum is making a point that I’ve made repeatedly. I’ve said consistently that if I’m Barack Obama, if I’m President Obama, I’m thinking, to your analysis right now, and you’re giving the analysis better than the Democrats can, and you’re a Republican, you’re a conservative.
Frum: I worry more about it. (Laughter)
Tavis: All right, okay. So if I’m Barack Obama, I’m thinking to myself, you can’t beat somebody with nobody. You can’t be somebody with – y’all got to put somebody up.
Frum: Well, we are going to nominate somebody.
Tavis: All right, exactly.
Frum: Which I want to put that on the record.
Tavis: Yeah, but that somebody had better be somebody. (Laughter) That somebody had better be somebody, the right somebody, because you can’t beat, again, somebody with nobody. If I’m him, I’m thinking, who are they going to put up here, number one, and you’re giving the list of all their weaknesses in the first place.
But the second thing is, specifically to Dr. West and to Arianna, if I’m Barack Obama I’m also saying to myself, “For all of y’all’s protestations, y’all’s, Tavis’s, anybody else, y’all ain’t got nowhere to go. What you going to do?” You ain’t got nowhere to go. What you going to do, Doc?
West: Bear witness, brother. (Laughter) That’s all you can do in your life – tell the truth and fight for justice.
Tavis: And hold your nose and still vote for him.
West: Well –
Male: The ballot’s secret.
West: – it depends, because we got two years now. The thing is is this, that it’s very clear that the two-party system is part of the brokenness that we’re talking about.
Tavis: Right. (Applause)
West: We got both parties that are dominated by the same interests – corporate big banking. You got ordinary citizens, different political, ideological racial groups feeling relatively powerless, relatively impotent. Now, that can be the makings of a crypto-fascism if we don’t begin to come to terms with this, you see?
But on the other hand it also means the Tea Party brothers and sisters, they’re going to become more and more upset with the establishment in the Republican Party, because the business interests and their populist interests begin to be more and more in tension.
At the same time, Barack Obama, masterful, eloquent, charismatic in his language, (laughter) in his policies – you can’t bring in Geithner and Summers and say you’re building on the legacy of Martin King. You can’t do that. (Applause)
Martin died for sanitation workers. He died because he sided with poor babies in Vietnam against American occupation. (Applause) He was anti-militarism, he was anti-imperialist. He was against the American empire in terms of its presence around the world undercutting what he thought to be certain principles.
But all Martin could do was bear witness. That’s why when he died, 75 percent of Americans against him, 55 percent of Black people against him – because he was too loving. When you love poor people that much, when you love working people that much, that makes you the freest man in the country or the freest woman in the country, but you also are the biggest threat to both Republican and Democratic parties. (Applause)
Tavis: John Chen, let me ask you this first, then ask my friend Maria Bartiromo the same question. There are a number of folk in this country, and it’s been alluded to earlier in this conversation tonight; maybe not just alluded, maybe even flat-out stated, that if between now and the election of 2012 the job picture in this country turns around dramatically – now, most of us don’t think that’s going to happen. Dana does but Arianna and Maria and I don’t.
Milbank: True. Dramatically, I wouldn’t say, but.
Tavis: But if it changes significantly or dramatically that President Barack Obama will win and people say that because as Americans we vote our pocketbooks, we vote our personal interests, so that if the economy turns around there’s some reason to believe that Barack Obama would be elected rather easily if he can turn this crisis around, number one, do you believe that, number one, and number two, is there anything, then, relative to this meeting, again, with Hu Jintao that the president can do in any real way to aid and abet that particular effort?
John Chen: Okay.
Tavis: That make sense?
Chen: That’s a good question, yeah.
Tavis: Okay.
Chen: Yeah. First off, listening to this conversation, I now understand the definition of moderate. Now I could claim as one. (Laughter) Yes, if the job turns around dramatically, any history and any regime tells us that the present administration will continue. Because people need to feel better and they have the appetite to listen and to think about the future, and it will be easier for you to talk about the future rather than explaining the past.
So that, I think, favors the incumbent in this case, I agree. So if I were in the administration, what I wanted to do, I talk about earlier when President Hu Jintao comes, the most important thing for American business, American business does over 50 percent (unintelligible) United States of revenue. American business in general.
This is now the biggest country, the biggest economy, growing the fastest. Nobody’s going to debate that. They need a lot of stuff that we have. Nobody debates that. So our issue is we don’t always think we got invited to all the parties over there, all right? So I’m just making very simple terms.
Tavis: Right.
Chen: So we need to make sure that we got all the invitations openly. Now, in order to do so we need to reciprocate. I think we also need to have them invest more money in this country and create more jobs. As I said earlier, they got 100 billion direct investment, but right now seems policy-wise, attitude-wise, on both sides is preventing all the mistrust, is preventing that (unintelligible).
Now, I could say this with a lot of evidence that all our allies is getting their fair share, plus some more. So I think if I’m President Obama and his administration, the first thing I’m going to do is to make sure that we have sound policy to open up the market, we’ve got sound policy to innovate ourselves and then not to be protectionism.
We are doing some level of protectionist. I was somewhat saddened to see that potentially all the defense appropriation bill that was signed yesterday or the day before, whatever it was, that we decided that we’re going to buy all the solar panel (unintelligible) United States.
That’s not the most helpful thing. I don’t know whose solar panel is better. But the most important thing – we may be buying solar panels from France for that matter. It shouldn’t be – I think we should let the product and the technology and the pricing and the market win rather than you dictate what it is.
Tavis: Maria?
Maria Bartiromo: I agree. I think it will be about the economy. If the economy turns, I think it’s a shoe-in, frankly. But I do think we are in a slow slog. I think unemployment is persisting because business managers and people who are operating businesses are feeling that they have a lot of expenses coming at them – the cost of healthcare.
They’re also unclear about the regulatory environment. They don’t know how their businesses will look based on new regulations and they’re worried about new regulations coming at them in the coming year.
So that’s keeping them somewhat handcuffed in terms of adding new heads to the payroll, and as long as unemployment is an issue, that’s going to be an issue for the president. Thirty percent of all mortgages right now are underwater. The housing market has been missing in action in terms of the recovery.
So we do need to see policies in place that will encourage businesses to create jobs. The extension of the tax cut plan frankly could be a game-changer for entrepreneurs, small business managers who maybe see this as a positive to create new jobs – we’ll see.
Tavis: Well, Dr. West, as we try to write this next chapter, even for those who don’t have reason to be optimistic, that is to say there isn’t something you can see, feel or touch that gives you reason to believe that things are going to get better but you are hopeful anyway, and that’s what hope is – the bible says that faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, so that even when people aren’t optimistic they can be hopeful – why after all of this should we, can we remain hopeful about our future as a country?
West: I think because as a blues people, if we recognize that he or she who has never wrestled with despair has never lived. (Applause) It’s just a question of not allowing the despair to have the last word. But at least when you wrestle with despair, just like Jacob in the 32nd chapter of Genesis wrestling with despair in the midnight hour, emerging as Israel, God wrestler, with a (unintelligible) in touch with reality, I wrestle with despair every day when I look at the prisons, poor people’s situation, working people’s situation, (applause) and I don’t hate rich folk.
I just know they’re doing all right, you see what I mean? (Laughter) So I don’t give them priority. But that last moment is one of love. Justice is what love looks like in public. (Applause) When you really love the people, you fight for justice and in the end, brother, as a Christian, this world’s not my home, man. I’m just passing through. I’m just passing through. (Applause) I’m bearing witness and gone. I’m bearing witness and gone, man. (Applause)
Tavis: How about a round of applause for this terrific panel? (Applause) My thanks to all of you. David Brody, Maria Teresa Kumar, Dana Milbank, Arianna Huffington, Maria Bartiromo, Cornel West, David Frum and John Chen. If you missed any of this conversation, “America’s Next Chapter,” visit our website at
My thanks to everyone here at George Washington University and listener auditorium. This terrific facility is a world-class institution. A special thanks again to the good people at Nationwide for making this possible. I’ll see you back in L.A. tomorrow night. Until then, good night from Washington, and keep the faith. (Applause)
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm