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Reparations are no longer a backburner issue, and candidates are being forced to address climate change and the new green economy. With guests Kimberly Moffit and Jeet Heer, hosted by Marc Steiner

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MARC STEINER Welcome. I’m Marc Steiner and welcome to The Real News Network.

We continue our third and final portion here of looking at last night’s Democratic debate with Jeet Heer for The Nation magazine, the National Affairs Correspondent. And Dr. Kimberly Moffitt of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I’m glad you two could stay and hang out and talk about this. We’re going to look at race, reparations, the Green New Deal, and the question of socialism in this campaign. But let us start with the reparations piece and race and talk a bit about both the high and low marks on how people talked about race in this debate. But let’s check out this one brief segment first.

BETO O’ROURKE, FORMER CONGRESSMAN (D-TX) The wealth that we have built, the way we became the greatest country on the face of the planet was literally on the backs of those who were kidnapped and brought here by force. [applause] The legacy of slavery and segregation and Jim Crow and suppression is alive and well in every aspect of the economy and in the country today. As president, I will sign into law a new Voting Rights Act. I will focus on education, address health care disparities, but I will also sign into law Sheila Jackson Lee’s reparations bill so that we can have the national conversation we have waited too long in this country to have.

DON LEMON, CNN NEWS ANCHOR You’re calling for up to $500 billion in financial assistance. What makes you qualified to determine how much is owed in reparations?

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON Well, first of all, it’s not $500 billion in financial assistance, it’s $500 billion — $200 to $500 billion payment of a debt that is owed. That is what reparations is. [applause] We need some deep truth-telling when it comes. We don’t need another commission to look at evidence. I appreciate what Congressman O’Rourke has said. It is time for us to simply realize that this country will not heal. All that a country is, is a collection of people. People heal when there is some deep truth-telling. We need to recognize that when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with. That great injustice has had to do with the fact that there was 250 years of slavery, followed by another hundred years of domestic terrorism. What makes me qualified to say $200 to $500 billion? I’ll tell you what makes me qualified. If you did the math of the 40 acres and a mule, given that there was 4 to 5 million slaves at the end of The Civil War. [applause] Now, 4 to 5 — and they were all probably 40 acres and a mule for every family of four. If you did the math today, it would be trillions of dollars.

MARC STEINER You know, whatever you say about Marianne Williamson, she just cuts to the — gets underneath, as I said earlier. And I think that this is a conversation that America is having a huge difficulty having with itself. So there are two questions here. I mean, and there’s a lot of other things here too. When you look at the issue of race in this debate, I think you also saw people having difficulty with the answers and what they were going to say and how they were saying that. Elizabeth Warren tried to make a list of policy changes she would do that were directed at the poor black community especially and the people living in poverty and lower middle-class folks. And you had Sanders going on about we’re going to build up the poor people in this country, including African Americans. Including, as opposed to really kind of understanding the nature of race, which he seems to also have some issues with sometimes in just understanding, but she got under it. So what does this mean she got under it? What does it mean for the Democrats? What does it mean for America? What does it mean for this election, Kimberly?

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Again, I think what Marianne Williamson does for us is she plants the seeds that we then have to deal with because they start to take hold. And then, what we saw in the very first debate is she was the only one that mentioned reparations. And here we are in the second debate. And then you’ve got half of the candidates starting to talk about it and say this is what I want to see happen once I am in office. O’Rourke said nothing about reparations in the first debate and now he’s endorsing Congressman Jackson Lee’s bill on reparations. So I think she has done a wonderful job of simply planting seeds that then require the other candidates to have to think about what will they say or how will they deal with this issue.

She seems to be more well-versed than anyone on that stage on this issue as well because I mean there was at one point last night that she — I remember her saying when talking about environmental racism. She said this is bigger than Flint. And her point in saying that is we’ve got to not only talk about the fact that they don’t have clean water, but why don’t they have clean water and the willingness to talk about race and bigotry and bias and how that then plays out in our policies around the environment, around industries, and how they behave among people in particular communities. All of that she was willing to say, that other candidates have not been willing to say in real ways, and she’s making others have to deal with the issues.

MARC STEINER She called the difference between Grosse Point and Flint.


MARC STEINER In her comments. And Jeet, you know, when Kimberly just said “planting seeds” it reminded me of what you said earlier about Medicare for All and how that was a seed planted. Now, it’s taken a hold in terms of people really wrestling with it in America. So your thoughts on that in terms of reparations and race and how it plays out in this coming election?

JEET HEER Sure. I think that, I mean, it is the case that many of the Democrats are running away from race because they want to play the traditional sort of coalition politics game, and so they mention race as being divisive. I think what Williamson gets at is that, you know, Donald Trump is president. And he’s got to be president and he’s running his whole campaign to win again based on unleashing these— which Williamson calls— “dark psychic forces.” And that’s exactly accurate. I mean, that’s exactly what Trump is doing and you cannot fight dark psychic forces by running away or by not talking about it. You have to confront it head-on. So I absolutely agree that she has played a crucial role in these debates.

MARC STEINER So you know, let’s hit this one more time before we go to the next subject. It is America. America is defined in many ways deeply by race and racism. I mean, that defines this nation and obviously. And what you just said, Jeet, about that. And so, it defines us so deeply. You know, that Democrats cannot win without a massive turnout from the African American community supporting Democrats. Democrats cannot win without people of color coming out and other communities for the Democrats to win. That’s a big question mark. That’s part of the reason. That’s part of the reason Democrats lost last time. But you also have the reality, as she was saying, and I think she’s right about the dangerous psychic nature of race and racism this country, what it’s done to undermine us as a people, and how it plays in the consciousness of America. And how do you think all that’s going to play out in this election between now and November? I think it’s a critically important subject, but in terms of establishment politics, it’s also a dangerous subject. You know, so I mean, how do you think this is going to play out?

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Well, I think it really depends on what we see Trump do to up his ante around conversations about race. We’ve seen and—

MARC STEINER He’s pushing the envelope.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT [laughs] He is definitely up against the line and who knows what direction he will go or how low he can go to continue these types of conversations. But depending on how the Democrats respond to those quips that he makes, will really determine whether or not the Democrats are able to garner enough support from African Americans as well as other people of color.

MARC STEINER Go ahead, Jeet.

JEET HEER One of the things that Trump does is he always turns subtext into text. You know, there’s a real long history of American politicians who—

MARC STEINER [laughs] I love that. That’s a great line. Turns subtext into text. It’s a good line. Good line.

JEET HEER There’s a long history of American politicians using racial dog whistles, you know, “welfare queens” or whatever. But Trump has realized the power of just saying what you mean, right? Like, just saying “go back to where you come from.” And I don’t think you can fight someone like that by being cowardly. I think you have to — if he’s saying what he means, you have to say what you mean. And I think one of the things that Williamson is forcing the Democrats to do is to articulate exactly where they stand. And I think that that’s actually good for the party. I think that that’s the only way to move forward.

MARC STEINER I’m curious how this is going to play out tonight as well in the second debate.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Now that we’ve got the people of color on stage.

MARC STEINER Now that we have all the people of color in one room in one place. [panel laughs] I think there’s something about the way they cut those straws. I don’t know what they did, but something very weird. So let’s take another piece here very quickly. And Pete Buttigieg, who as much as he likes to hide it, is a son of a Gramscian  scholar.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Which I didn’t know. It’s really interesting.

MARC STEINER Yes. And so, but let’s see what he had to say about socialism in this campaign and wrestle with this for just a minute.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, SOUTH BEND It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say. Look, if it’s true that if we embrace a far-left agenda, they’re gonna say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re gonna say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists, so let’s just stand up for the right policy. [applause]

MARC STEINER [laughs] He’s right.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Yeah. It was his best quip of the night. It really was. It really was.

MARC STEINER I thought so too. Jeet, what were you going to say?

JEET HEER Oh yeah, I know. He’s exactly right and I think this one of the reasons why the debate on everything has shifted so much. We’ve actually — Trump has kind of revealed the core Republican values and has sort of shown the value of articulating where you stand. And I’m glad that people are taking that lesson.


MARC STEINER Yeah. I mean, go ahead.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT No, I would just say — I mean, you now see or hear the term socialism thrown around. You also hear communism thrown around because those are additional dog whistles that Trump is hoping that brings up what people know even if it’s very little about those two concepts. But just the mention of those two concepts immediately then says, oh those are not candidates that we want to consider. And so, there isn’t a lot of literacy around people paying attention to what the policies are that are being presented by a number of these Democratic candidates. It’s more so as simple a response to what Donald Trump has already put out there in the ether for people to respond to.

MARC STEINER Yeah and I think that, again, this is interesting because this conversation we’ve had really makes me think a lot. Both of you kind of use this terminology about planting seeds and where we’re going as a nation. And if we survive as a nation, given climate and other things, maybe these seeds will take root and we’ll see how that changes the nature of who we are and where we’re going. And speaking of that, let’s close here with a look at this national green economy and what was said last night by these candidates because this goes to the heart of the debate again between moderate, classic liberal, progressives, talking about whether a Green New Deal can work. So we’re going to watch what part of the debate was here around the Green New Deal, which is causing so much consternation and conversation about where it goes. So let’s take a look at this.

JOHN DELANEY, FORMER CONGRESSMAN (D-MD) My plan, which gets us to net zero by 2050, which we absolutely have to do for our kids and our grandkids, will get us there. I put a price on carbon, take all the money, give it back to the American people in a dividend. That is a plan that’s realistic. It’s a bet on the US private innovation economy.

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) Climate crisis is the existential crisis for our world. It puts every living thing on this planet at risk. So I propose putting $2 trillion in so we do the research. We then say anyone in the world can use it, so long as you build it right here in America.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER, FORMER CO GOVERNOR Well, I think the guarantee for a public job for everyone who wants one is a classic part of the problem. It’s a distraction. I share the urgency of everyone up here.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas. They could give a trillion dollars in tax breaks to billionaires and profitable corporations, so please don’t tell me that we cannot take on the fossil fuel industry. And nothing happens unless we do that. What do you do with an industry that knowingly, for billions of dollars in short-term profits, is destroying this planet? I say that it’s criminal activity that cannot be allowed to continue.

DANA BASH, CNN NEWS ANCHOR Thank you, Senator Sanders.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, SOUTH BEND We have all put out highly similar visions on climate. It is all theoretical. We will deal with climate if and only if we win the presidency. If and only if we beat Donald Trump.

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON Flint is just the tip of the iceberg. We have an administration that has gutted the Clean Water Act. We have communities, particularly communities of color and disadvantaged communities, all over this country who are suffering from environmental injustice. I assure you, I lived in Grosse Point. What happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Pointe. This is part of the dark underbelly of American society. [applause]

MARC STEINER So I think, let’s get this — part of the heart of the matter here I think has to do with the issue of what the Green New Deal means. And please correct me if you think I’m wrong, but the Green New Deal in some ways is not thoroughly thought through by the Democrats and what that really means.


MARC STEINER Because they’re being pushed from the moderate side and they’re saying, oh we can’t have all these public jobs. What do you think this is, 1933 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Depression? And so, that’s part of it. Also, it’s the power of fossil fuels and no real idea how you make the change over the next ten to twenty, thirty years, so we get rid of fossil fuels. I mean, and then people are nervous because it also means their jobs, right? And it’s become a front agenda issue, but it has never been really at the forefront of most people’s concerns in this country. So where does it take us? And Jeet, you have been writing about this a bit. Let me start with you and then we’ll go to Kimberly.

JEET HEER Sure, yeah. I mean, climate hasn’t been an issue, but CNN put it on because voters actually told them. They took polls and that’s what voters wanted to hear and it’s actually becoming an issue because I think everybody is noticing that we’re having the warmest July in human history. They’re seeing what’s happening in Europe and elsewhere. And the other thing is I think the Green New Deal, I mean, it’s not been defined, but it really is like we’re going to have to make big changes and they should be changes that take everybody along and take workers along. And they shouldn’t be changes that hurt some people more than others because that’s traditionally what big changes have done. And so, I think that the big divide is between those who recognize the nature of these big changes are coming, and those who want to tinker with the system and think, you know — I think Brian was the guy who is in love with batteries and thinks, you know, if you could have a few good batteries, everything will be okay. [panel laughs]

MARC STEINER Well, batteries are part of the answer. So—

JEET HEER They are part of the answer, but it’s really like — I mean, the guy was like, “batteries, batteries.” I thought he’s going to marry a battery yesterday in the debate. I don’t think that’s the only solution. [panel laughs]


DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT I think this is an issue that shows the divide between the candidates because the Green New Deal has not been thoroughly defined. But I also think it’s because many of the candidates recall some of the efforts and attempts that Obama tried in his two terms. His attempt to retrain individuals who are part of the coal industry and give them opportunities in other industries. And the fact that a number of those individuals pushed back and didn’t want to be a part of this new industry and believed that he was simply taking their jobs away, it’s caused a tremendous amount of tension. And I think candidates are wary of staking a claim quite yet to figure out how that will impact their voter base.

MARC STEINER Yeah and I think it’s probably one of the most critical issue in terms of what’s facing the future and our planet. And we can never deal with racism and the oppression of poor people if we don’t have a planet to live on. And that’s how these interplay here. And so, this becomes a critical issue. And Real News, by the way folks, we are going to be covering this with some intensity, as you know. It’s a major issue here Real News has to cover and we’re using this as part of our work with Real News and people like Dharna Noor and others who are really focusing on this issue in this campaign.

MARC STEINER And I want to thank both of our guests here. Jeet Heer and Dr. Kimberly Moffitt, thank you both for being here. This has been a great conversation.


JEET HEER It’s great to be here. Yeah.

MARC STEINER Good to have you both here. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you for joining us. And please let us know what you think. And give us your ideas about covering this presidential election, what you think we missed, and what you think we need to go to. I really want to hear about that. So again, thanks for joining us and take care.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.