- “Conservatives think they can shut down the struggle for justice, but we won’t let them,” Russ Feingold and Ali Mahmood, Pennsylvania Capital-Star, October 9, 2020.
- “‘Daily Show’ Creator Lizz Winstead’s Entrepreneurial Fight for Reproductive Rights,” Kenny Herzog, Entrepreneur, September 15, 2020.
- “Democracy is Worth Waiting For,” Virginia Kase, Ms. Magazine, October 30, 2020.
Take Action: VOTE!
- Having trouble voting? Have questions about voting? Call 1-866-OURVOTE to reach the national election protection hotline. You can also find answers to many common election day questions on their website.
- Already voted? Here’s what you can do today to increase voter turnout.
- Bored waiting in line? Watch the Abortion Access Front’s 12-hour live comedy marathon, hosted by “On the Issues” guest Lizz Winstead.
00:00:05 Michele Goodwin:
Welcome to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. Magazine, a show where we report, rebel and tell it like it is. On this show, we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. On our show, history matters. We examine the past as we pivot to the future.
On today’s show, we ask you to take us with you on Election Day. If you’re heading out to vote in person today, here are some basic rights to keep in mind, courtesy of the ACLU.
- If the polls close while you’re still in line, stay in line. You have the right to vote.
- If you make a mistake on your ballot, ask for a new one.
- If the machines are down at your polling place, ask for a paper ballot.
- If you need assistance, if you run into any problems, or if you have any questions today, call the election protection hotline. For English, that’s call 866-OUR-VOTE. That’s 866-687-8683. For Spanish, call 1-888-839-8682. For Arabic call 1-844-925-5287. And for Bengali, Cantonese, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog or Vietnamese call 1-888-274-8683.
While you do your part to get out to vote today we are here to answer some of your most pressing questions and to have a bit of fun. What have the last four years meant for our democracy? What does the presidential race and other state and local elections mean for the future of our democracy? What can we expect if the Senate flips? Helping us to sort out these questions and how we should think about these issues and more are very special guests.
I’m joined by Senator Russ Feingold. He is the president of the American Constitution Society. He served as a United States senator from Wisconsin and a Wisconsin state senator. He is the author of While America Sleeps: A Wakeup Call for the Post 9/11 Era. And he contributes regularly to various publications and appears frequently on MSNBC and CNN.
I’m also joined by Lizz Winstead. She is co-creator and former head writer of “The Daily Show” and Air America Radio Co-Founder. She now dedicates her life not only to important comedic commentary but also forging new ground as the founder of the Abortion Access Front, a New York City-based reproductive rights organization that she launched in 2015, which uses humor and outrage to expose anti-choice hypocrisy and to mobilize people across all 50 states.
And finally, I’m also joined by Sandra Bernhard. She is a performer, actress, singer and author. She is the host of the hugely popular “Sandyland,” her daily radio show on SiriusXM Radio’s Andy channel 102, for which she won a Gracie Award. A pioneer of the one-woman show, Bernhard brings a completely unique and raucous mix of cabaret, stand-up, rock-n-roll, and social commentary to the stage. She is currently starring as Nurse Judy in one of my favorite shows, “Pose,” which is the Emmy-nominated and Peabody Award-winning show on FX Networks.
Thank you, all, so much for being on the show today. We know that people are going to be in long lines today; they already are. So I couldn’t be happier that you are with us, as we encourage people and inspire people to exercise their rights to vote and to stay in those lines. So I want to hear first about when did you first vote? So let me start with you, Lizz. Do you remember the first time you voted?
00:04:10 Lizz Winstead
I do. The first time I voted was…for president you mean?
00:04:15 Michele Goodwin:
Oh, good question, Lizz. Right back at me. Yeah. So fundamental to our democracy is more than just the presidency, right. I mean it’s also people running for the Senate, people running for the House, people running for governorships, in state legislatures, even for elected judicial offices at the state level, and also at the local level, school boards and city councils. And let me just say, in Vermont there are still people who are electing the dog catcher.
But why don’t we start with the president. When was the first time that you voted for a president?
00:04:46 Lizz Winstead
So the first time I voted was 1980 and as a snotty kid, participated by voting for John Anderson. I was disillusioned with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, so I voted for John Anderson for president. That I remember.
00:05:06 Michele Goodwin:
Okay. And what about you, Russ?
00:05:09 Russ Feingold:
I voted even earlier than that but I do want you to know we now have two votes for John Anderson. I was foolish enough to do the same darn thing, but eight years earlier at age 19, sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. My first vote was for president for George McGovern, who won exactly one state and so there were bumper stickers all over the country shortly thereafter that said “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts,” which is hard to fix on a bumper sticker. The only state that voted for him. Not even his own state of South Dakota. But that was my first vote, Michele.
00:05:48 Michele Goodwin:
Look at that. I love this. And what about you, Sandy? And she’s allowed me to call her Sandy. Okay. Thank you, Sandra.
00:05:54 Sandra Bernhard:
Absolutely. I’m pretty sure, and I’m sorry that I don’t have a more specific memory, but it had to have been Jimmy Carter. Was that 1976? Okay. So that means I would have been 21. That had to be the first time I voted for anybody was Jimmy Carter.
00:06:18 Michele Goodwin:
Do you recall the feeling that you had when you were casting your first vote?
00:06:22 Sandra Bernhard:
No. I had more feeling when I was 13 when Robert Kennedy was running. Of course, I couldn’t vote then. I had more feeling when I was eight years old when John Kennedy was assassinated. My really first strong political memories are all sort of tragic because it was John Kennedy, who was incredible. And then Bobby and the Martin Luther King and those were my formative political years. I was a little kid and then I was a teenager. My brothers all managed to get out of going to fight in the Vietnam War, rock on. My brother, David, was the secretary of the SDS on campus at Arizona State University. I mean I have all these incredible earlier memories. I mean, I submitted a story to Ms. Magazine when I was 16 and got rejected.
00:07:15 Michele Goodwin:
I love that.
00:07:18 Sandra Bernhard:
These are my early memories. So when I actually went to vote, I think it was not as exciting or as impressive. I mean I happen to think Jimmy Carter is one of the most unheralded presidents of all times. I mean this is a man who literally took a vow … he and his wife took a vow of poverty and continue to live … I mean I don’t think they can travel anymore but they traveled around the world building houses for Habitat for Humanity. They’ve done so much and they have asked for nothing, and I just think why isn’t everybody just applauding and celebrating Jimmy Carter every day of the week.
00:07:58 Michele Goodwin:
Okay. So actually, before I get to some other questions, let’s actually spend a moment on that because Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg recently passed away, and he was the president that actually gave her, her first judicial seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and she wasn’t the first woman that he nominated. He actually broke through all sorts of ranks with placing six women on the Federal Courts of Appeals and that was huge because they had never been there before, right? I mean he broke all of that ground, and we’re talking about that being 40 years ago.
So why is it that Jimmy Carter isn’t heralded for all that he did? Also with some of the first Black people and people of color ever to serve on the federal bench in the United States. How come people don’t think about him in that way?
00:08:44 Sandra Bernhard:
I personally think it’s because he wasn’t glamorous enough and I think that he didn’t elicit that sort of excitement and joie de vivre, and I think that’s the problem with America right now. We’re so caught up in this phony drama of Trump and his spectacle—not us but so much of America. It’s just like this is what they’ve been spoon fed for the past 20 years with reality television, so they can’t even parse or separate in their own minds what is their actual life and needs from the adrenaline and the excitement of somebody who is a total fucking … a total runaway train. See, I edited myself.
00:09:32 Michele Goodwin:
Lizz and Russ, you’re both nodding to this.
00:09:38 Sandra Bernhard:
Yeah. Because I haven’t given them a word in edgewise. Sorry, you guys. Now you talk. I’ll be quiet.
00:09:41 Russ Feingold:
Look, it is absolutely essential that you give credit to what Jimmy Carter did. I’ve only been president of this American Constitution Society for eight months, but it’s hardly a week that goes by that somebody doesn’t recognize what Carter did in terms of judicial appointments. Even though I worked closely with and served with President Clinton and President Obama, the fact is those administrations didn’t give the focus to filling those judgeships in the way that Carter did, particularly with the diversity you talk about. So that’s an ideal that we should live up to. I’m glad this is coming to light. I’m glad he’s still around to hear this because he wasn’t a lawyer.
Here’s a guy who simply made it his business to understand the importance of the judiciary and finally I think we’re getting it because of Ruth, how important this is and what’s just happened. The progressives have sort of fallen behind on this one, and we need to fix that, especially if there’s a change in administration.
00:10:45 Michele Goodwin:
Yeah. He was the peanut farmer. Liz, what were you going to say?
00:10:47 Lizz Winstead
I just have to say, I pulled this out. You guys can’t see it. It’s Jimmy Carter. I wear a Jimmy Carter medal around my neck.
00:10:55 Michele Goodwin:
Look at that.
00:10:57 Lizz Winstead:
As inspiration. I’m a Minnesotan, born and raised, live in Brooklyn, New York now and Minnesota both. Conservative parents. My dad was a Reagan Republican, World War II vet, First Marine Division Guadalcanal from Mississippi. Met my mom in D.C. so growing up in Minnesota with very progressive surroundings, very conservative home life, youngest of five kids. I, like you, Sandy, my brother avoided Vietnam but really had this progressive Catholicism, thank God, in my life. So for me, and it goes to Russ’s point that the Democrats have missed it. To me, when I look at the fundamentals of why I am who I am and why I have the political philosophy is that I want to answer the call because I understand that this is my democracy.
So when I answer the call and I’m an active human in it, I feel rewarded. I feel like I’m doing my part. I feel like I am seeing things I wouldn’t see, and I don’t need someone to take care of me. I’ll never forget watching George Bush driving around in his golf cart on his ranch versus John Kerry on a windsurfer and thinking even though I am not a George Bush person at all, that seems more interesting and relatable to me than John Kerry. What are you asking of me? I don’t want someone to tell me they’re going to take care of me. I want someone to tell me what can I do to make the world I live in better for the people around me, and Jimmy Carter, to me, embodied that. Here’s what we can do to make the world better. I don’t live in a cave. I live in a community and I have a pact with my community to…if we’re talking about right now, wear a mask, make sure you can eat, make sure you don’t live in the street. Make sure that if I am engaging in a world that I am not harming those around me. Things that are just things that people do because you are a human being.
00:12:57 Michele Goodwin:
I love that. So then what does this election mean to you, especially given the efforts that you each have been making over time.
Sandy, your work on HIV and AIDS and in gay communities.
Lizz, you’ve been working on abortion issues. You’re the founder of Abortion Access Front. Russ, you’re now in the space of the American Constitution Society. I mean each of you, not just in the areas of which you’ve been known for, you also have been committed to issues outside of what people know you for. So why is this election so important to you and to our country? I’ll start with you, Sandy.
00:13:37 Sandra Bernhard:
Well, I’ll jump in and say that I still am stunned that we didn’t elect Hillary Clinton to the presidency. I think she was overqualified. I think she was incredible statesperson. I’m sorry that she had “baggage.” It again reflects to me the unsophistication and underdevelopment of the intellect and the imagination of the American public. So putting that aside, I feel that we’re at the tipping point. We’re over the edge. It’s just complete and utter insanity. I don’t want to be redundant. We all know why this election is everything. For me, my daughter is 22 years old. I want her to have health insurance. I want her to be able to have an abortion if she chooses to have one. I want her to have a job that she loves and a safe environment, and I want to continue to travel and do my work in a way that is reflective of our democracy.
All of these things are on the line, and I’m not going to beat people over the head with the obvious. We all know it but that’s what is moving me every minute of the day right now.
00:14:59 Russ Feingold:
I guess I’ll kick in here as the elder on the call and speak in terms of, they talk about the greatest generation, the World War II generation. Well, we had an idea that we were going to be a pretty good generation, and I’m not saying we did everything right. But this election seems like the last chance. Basically, we got screwed. Sandy pointed out, bullets took away three of our most wonderful leaders of our lifetime. Then we got screwed out of a presidency in 2000. Then we got screwed out of another presidency in 2016. All of these were illegitimate things that completely altered the course of history of the last 50 or 60 years.
So I’m a happy guy. I’ve had a great life. I’ve enjoyed everything about it, but if I look at that I go, we weren’t exactly lucky and now we need a little luck. Of course, my organization doesn’t take a position about who should win the election. All I’m saying is that somehow we’ve got to get back not only to preserving the rule of law, which is critical, but something that a student at Howard University said to me my first day on the job. She said, Russ, for many of us in our communities the law doesn’t make us comfortable. She was talking about the rule of law is not something good always because we’re turning to an old rule of law with its racist and other implications is not the way to go.
We need a rule of law that actually allows our diverse country to go forward. So for me, that’s what’s at stake in this election.
00:16:39 Lizz Winstead
And I will just jump on, both of what Russ and Sandy said are great but when we talk about the illegitimacy of the president we now have an illegitimate high court. And to look at how this language and gaslighting that we have been handed that Democrats wants to stack the court. The lower courts were stacked with 200 people that were stacked onto that court and forced in. Amy Coney Barret, forced in. We now have a situation where we have an activist court. I don’t even understand originalism because I don’t understand how you live in a world where you say this is the way it was and this is the way it is and we’re going to rule on that.
00:17:27 Michele Goodwin:
And you weren’t even there.
00:17:27 Lizz Winstead
And you weren’t even there, right. So it all seems like what my goal is as a reproductive rights advocate and somebody who started my advocacy realizing that the progressive movement and Democrats checked out on mid-term elections, checked out on what exactly it is that state and local government does and how powerful they are. As we sit and think about reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, over policing, prison, all of the things that come out of our state legislatures that we all have to advocate and do everything in our power to make sure that crackpots don’t get elected because the second they do and they pass laws that are whackadoodle, those whackadoodle laws go through a court system that’s going to say, yeah, that seems legitimate to me and it’s not.
So our jobs, all of us, in thinking about this is how do we make sure we educate people on state and local government. How do we make sure that people are paying attention to the issues they care about and making sure…because sometimes they’re not going to front lead with guess what, I’m a white supremacist, people. They’re not necessary going to lead with that. Typically not.
00:18:50 Michele Goodwin:
David Duke, yes, but typically no.
00:18:52 Lizz Winstead
Yes. We have to make sure we’re looking at and finding out and exposing that, and not allowing the Lincoln Project, because they didn’t like this kind of Republican. By the way, I’m just going to say it. They are people who would like to have a Republican brand that gave us Donald Trump, not Donald Trump. Donald Trump says the quiet things out loud. So I’m glad they’re working really hard to expose Donald Trump the creep, but when you go back and lay back and say but we do like a John Kasich, we’re fine with a Rick Santorum. We were really great with a Tom Cotton. It’s like, whoa. No, no, no. We need to have our own Lincoln Project and that’s what we do at Abortion Access Front is that we’re never Republicans, but we will drag people for filth who we think are disingenuous, humorless, terrible for the nation. That’s what we do.
And on Election Day, I’m super excited to say that we have a 12-hour marathon live comedy show at Abortion Access Front streaming on all of our channels. So for those who are in line all day, you can have your phone up and watch some of the greatest comedians just telling jokes from noon until midnight at AAFront.org, all the places. It’s going to be fun.
00:20:05 Michele Goodwin:
Yes, we want to keep people in line. So stay in line. Voting today is really, really important. Lizz, I want to tie into something important that you were talking about and that is our political parties, Republicans, and I just think about the times in which there were Republicans who did some really heroic and important work. I think about Justice William Joseph Brennan. I mean what a fabulous justice he was, a real civil rights warrior, civil libertarian warrior in all of the right ways. When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was going through her confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, the two justices that she mentioned the most, Thurgood Marshall and also William Brennan. And I think about Roe v. Wade, a seven to two opinion and of those seven justices, five were Republicans.
In fact, Justice Blackmun, who wrote the opinion in Roe v. Wade was Republican appointed. He was appointed by Richard Nixon. So what explains the differences that we are seeing today?
00:21:12 Russ Feingold:
Well, it’s sad because the one thing we remember about the court, even when we were young, is that we had this sense that it was kind of a legitimate institution. That everything wasn’t decided in advance and that people weren’t basically forced to go through a litmus test on abortion or same sex marriage before they became judges. And we were always so excited when somebody like Chief Justice Warren or Justice Brennan proved to be actually more liberal than a Republican might have wanted and vice versa.
John F. Kennedy appointed Whizzer White, former football star, and people were disappointed that he was too conservative. But the reality is people thought wait a minute. This group is on the level. Apparently, these nine people talk to each other and they haven’t decided the case in advance. I remember I managed to win reelection in 2004, even when George Bush won Wisconsin. I was very proud of that. But I said to people, why did you vote for me? They said because we never knew what you were going to do. Not that I was crazy, hopefully, but that maybe I would look at the issue at the moment. That’s what the court used to be.
Well, the rightwing in this country didn’t like that. So they, in 1980, created the Federalist Society that basically requires for being in the good graces of the Federalist Society you have to agree to these antiabortion, anti gay marriage, totally pro-corporate, big interest agenda. So as Lizz said, this Supreme Court is no longer on the level. It’s not legitimate anymore and that is because of that process that…they’re even mad about John Roberts. They thought they had vetted him but apparently he isn’t conservative enough for them, which is pretty crazy.
00:23:04 Michele Goodwin:
So let’s think about Chief Justice John Roberts for a moment. So he cast some decisive votes over this past year’s Supreme Court term. June Medical being one, the case in which he joins with the liberals on the court to strike down a Louisiana anti-abortion law. Joining again with the liberals in Bostock, the Clayton County expanding employment protections for LGBT employees. Then he joins the liberals again in the DACA decision. But what’s interesting is that in the face of these decisions, he also drew the ire of conservatives, including Vice President Michael Pence, who claimed that John Roberts had disappointed conservatives and he singled out the ruling in June Medical. But there were also others like Ted Cruz, who accused the chief justice of abandoning “his oath of office.”
There were others, this is Mike Pence saying that John Roberts and what he did should be a wakeup call for pro-life voters around the country so that they actually understand that the Supreme Court is on the ballot. There were others who said that he should actually repent for what he did. And he was even called a national disgrace by other Republicans. So how do we understand that?
00:24:25 Lizz Winstead
Well, I think to me, another reason that I do not adhere to the philosophy of these people calling for him to come down is because the one thing the Republican Party is, and you can rely on constantly, is being shortsighted. The way that they give tax breaks for the rich, the way they do all this stuff. There’s never any long-term plan. It’s always how do I benefit anything immediately and satiate myself. And the thing that’s super interesting about John Roberts on the June Medical case, which was an abortion case, is they had ruled on the exact same case three years earlier.
Not a word had changed. Same case comes up, right. So John Roberts said this isn’t the right case because we just ruled on it. Bring me another case and we’ll shut this down for you, but what did they hear? You didn’t do it right now. So progressives should be terrified. He’s not our boyfriend. He’s not helping. He’s actually saying, I’m in it for the long game if you really want this stuff to really permeate into the fabric of society. You should be listening to me. Progressives are, sort of. Rightwing isn’t really, so I fear that John Roberts is one of those people that might fall through the cracks as somebody who’s really thinking about things moderately when really he’s just looking at a long game for this conservative oppression that none of us, I think, want to live in.
00:25:51 Michele Goodwin:
So I’m wondering right now, as people are in these long lines, Russ, how did we get here? How did we get to a point in this democracy where people have to wait five hours, six hours, seven hours in the middle of a pandemic in order to be able to vote? How did we get here? In your home state of Wisconsin, and I was born there, too, and Lizz went to a Halloween party there one time. How did we get to this point where in the middle of COVID you’ve got these high rates of infection and death amongst Black people in Wisconsin and the Supreme Court, seemingly, according to some, is just given short shrift to all of that.
00:26:34 Russ Feingold:
Let me first answer by saying something that I’ll repeat if you like and that is if people are in line right now and they’re having a problem they should call 866-OURVOTE, which is an election protection line, and we’ll have volunteers ready to help you if you’re having that problem. So how did this happen? Well, I’ll tell you it’s completely confusing to me based on the fact that elections seem very clean in Wisconsin right up until about 2011.
We didn’t have Republicans or Democrats messing around with poll workers or trying to force people to have identifications cards of shutting down polling places. There was a consensus that you don’t mess around with this. Well, in 2010, the Tea Party came in and all of a sudden they figured out that they could come to Wisconsin with our governor, Scott Walker, and hand him an agenda from this ALEC group and from the Koch Brothers, which involved gutting the voting rights of the people of Wisconsin, and they did it very successfully with a conservative majority in both houses of the legislature and the governor as well is destroying our labor laws in the state.
So we were one of the first states where they did this and it’s been growing ever since. Buffeted by, of course, as you know, Michele, the horrible decision in Shelby County, which basically was a green light. Go ahead. We grew up thinking that they denied African Americans to vote in the South. Well, all of a sudden right in the middle of Wisconsin, African Americans are being told on Election Day in April, you can go and get COVID and stand in line at only six out 105 polling places that were supposed to be there. So it’s a terrible shift that was driven by the billionaires in this country that do not like the fact that the real majority of this people should be running this country. They want a minority rule by people that don’t represent the diverse nature of the United States of America.
00:28:30 Michele Goodwin:
And you said six out of 105 polling places?
00:28:37 Russ Feingold:
Yeah. Of course, in Texas the governor down there has said there’s only one drop box per county, including Harris County, Houston I understand. One drop box.
00:28:48 Michele Goodwin:
You just simply can’t make that up and that’s in 2020. We’re not talking about 1820.
So Sandy, as a fan of your work and also in research for the show, as I look back from your interviews with Arsenio Hall, David Letterman, your comedic standup, your recent interviews, one of the things that I see in common across all of the years has been your commitment to social justice. Standing up for homeless folks. Standing up for women. Standing up for folks who experience HIV and AIDS. In fact, in looking back at one of the Arsenio Hall shows, on there you were talking about George Bush I not doing enough to protect people who were dying from AIDS. You spent a lot of time talking about how important that was. So you’ve always been standing up.
As we think about this election, this time, it’s really not just the White House that happens to be at stake. I know that you’ve been doing a lot of work on the ground about down ballot races like the Senate. So tell us a bit about that work and why it’s so important to you.
00:29:50 Sandra Bernhard:
I mean I think without the Senate this time, I mean obviously this is just going to keep going on and on. We’ve got to flip the Senate. There’s so many viable people. There’s Jamie Harrison. There’s Mark Kelly. There’s Cal Cunningham. There’s an endless list of very good people and I feel good about it. I don’t know. Unless you’re on the ground in different states you can’t always tell exactly what’s going on but certainly the word is good and that’s the key right now. We’ve got to get back the Senate and hold the House.
00:30:36 Michele Goodwin:
For people who are wondering about that, because a lot of people don’t know and they see this as it’s really just about the presidency. And it’s clear that a president has an enormous impact on a nation. We’ve come out of four years children being put in cages, Muslim ban, all sorts of things. So clearly that’s an important office. But when you think about the Senate and the role of what the Senate can do, maybe Russ, you can fill us in just a little bit about why that’s such a critical space within our democracy.
00:31:08 Russ Feingold:
Well, first of all, it’s every single nomination. Under the Constitution of any significant office, whether it’s a judgeship or whether it’s any major administration position. Every single one has to get a majority vote in the United States Senate. That’s very unusual. Most systems of government don’t have this. The founders of our country thought it would be good to have this kind of check and balance, but it means it’s absolutely critical if a new administration is going to get anywhere.
The other is legislation. There’s a lot of talk about maybe reforming the courts. Some people think we should add some new justices. Some people think maybe we should limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. All those ideas are out there and many of them can be done by legislation. Now, it wouldn’t be hard to get some of that potentially through the house but in the Senate you still have the filibuster. And so you might get a majority in the Senate, but if you don’t have 60 votes on a bill like that, unless you change the filibuster rule, it still can be the place where legislation goes to die.
00:32:05 Michele Goodwin:
And what’s a filibuster, for those who don’t know what filibustering is?
00:32:10 Russ Feingold:
Well, filibuster, people think based on the movies and history it used to be the idea that somebody would get the floor of the Senate and you could hold the floor as long as you can stand it. So Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington famously talks until he collapses. That’s the old romantic notion of the filibuster. But the filibuster really is a combined effort to kill a bill by constantly talking. This is how the southern senators prevented the Civil Rights Act from passing for many years until Lyndon Johnson forced it through.
But it has become, instead of just something that’s done occasionally or on behalf of your state, it’s now become a routine practice where the rules were setup 20 or 30 years ago where you don’t even have to talk. You just say I want to do a filibuster and so it kills all kinds of legislation.
00:33:00 Michele Goodwin:
So you don’t even have to be dramatic.
00:33:02 Russ Feingold:
No. In fact, it’s really terrible. Now, what Senator Reed did when he was in the majority a few years ago is he eliminated the filibuster for nominations for everything but the Supreme Court and then McConnell eliminated for Supreme Court. So that’s now just majority but legislation is still 60 votes for most kinds of legislation, not all legislation.
00:33:27 Michele Goodwin:
All right. So this brings me to something that’s a critical point right now. There’s a lot of talk about reproductive health rights and justice. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has passed away, of course she was a valiant warrior on all sorts of civil liberties and civil rights issues, but many people associate her with reproductive health rights and justice and also with sex equality. She has recently passed away. Judge Amy Coney Barrett has now been confirmed by the Senate and has also been sworn in by Justice Thomas and also Chief Justice Roberts.
I want to spend some time thinking about what reproductive health rights and justice mean, and I want to turn to you, Lizz. Because people know you as a comedienne, as somebody who really pushes the envelope and helps people to think about issues in a nuanced way that brings humor but a lot of people may not know that you’ve also committed your life, your passion, your work to also expanding access to reproductive rights and that you’ve taken this on in just the most sophisticated and strong way and you’ve got a lot of people with you. So I’m wondering why you have turned to this when you could be doing anything else but you’re now making inroads here.
00:34:55 Lizz Winstead
I think part of it is that it’s an issue that is often forgotten, which is massively frustrating. The media doesn’t talk about it enough. I think oftentimes our friends who are “pro-choice” have been…even said abortion’s a wedge issue and we can make compromises on it. I think for me, helping try to center what it means for somebody to have every avenue of self-determination and for so many people and for most women and people that have uteruses, that is making the fundamental decision of when and if you want to have a child and your capability to do so.
If we don’t focus on making sure that that path is clear, we are saying that you are a second-class citizen and your rights to that can be put into the hands of the government. For me, I can’t stand on that. Oftentimes, we couch it Roe or we couch it when there is a crisis that is happening, whether it’s the person replacing Ruth Bader Ginsberg is an anti-abortion activist as well as now the Supreme Court Judge, whether there is legislation in some states that are putting all out bans. I am trying to reframe it so that we’re having the conversation all the time and that it’s living in the landscape of things we care about and that we are talking about the destigmatization of abortion, why people have it, centering marginalized people, Black and brown people, people of color who really are the ones who suffer the most from having stripped of agency over their own bodies and their decisions when and if they want to have kids.
Because when we talk about abortion access, truth be told, we need to become a country that says we will honor all pregnancy outcomes. If you are a poor person who is pregnant and wants to have a child we should be a country that says we want to make sure that we provide every avenue we can to make sure that you have a healthy family.
00:37:15 Michele Goodwin:
And that you don’t die in the process.
00:37:16 Lizz Winstead
And that you don’t die in the process. If you are somebody who gets pregnant and says I cannot have another child or I am not capable of doing so, we should honor that person’s decision to understand who they are and how they would be. A lot of people don’t realize that when the pandemic hit one of the first things that eight, nine governors did in conservative states was to say we’re going to shutdown access to abortion in these clinics because abortion is not an essential service. I cannot tell you how many calls and emails we got from people saying I am pregnant, I am housing insecure, I’m job insecure. I am living with my abuser and I found myself pregnant. Help me get access to what I need and so Adam Serwer the great journalist has often said about where we’re at, the cruelty is the point, and I really do believe, oftentimes, that the cruelty is the point.
So bringing people back into this conversation, helping progressives who have been passively pro-choice to say, you know what, maybe I’m going to take another look and have more conversations so that I can expand how I do my activism to include making sure that access to reproductive care is available because if we don’t, we are literally giving over somebody else’s rights to the government and that means that you are saying that women are less than as citizens, and I just can’t let that stand.
00:38:53 Michele Goodwin:
To your point, as you say that, I think about in those very same states that sought to roll back abortion access during COVID are the states where it’s the deadliest for people to maintain their pregnancies. I mean the United States ranks 50th, 51st in the world in terms of maternal mortality. It’s actually safer to have a pregnancy in Bosnia, a former genocidal, war-torn country than in the United States. Saudi Arabia. It’s actually safer to have a pregnancy and carry it to term in Saudi Arabia than it is in the United States and Texas and Louisiana go back and forth as being the deadliest places in the developed world for a person to be pregnant.
That’s all really important, so I get exactly why you’re in the fight. So how did we get here? Lizz, were you feeling this same way 20 years ago, 25 years ago? Did you feel the urgency of this as you feel it now?
00:39:52 Lizz Winstead
Well, I’m going to try to not get too wonky.
00:39:56 Michele Goodwin:
Get wonky, it’s all right.
00:39:59 Lizz Winstead
Twenty years ago, we were at a place where I think that when people talk about the larger picture of abortion access and we think about Roe v. Wade, I think that people need to educate themselves on a Supreme Court case that’s called Planned Parenthood v. Casey that came out of Pennsylvania. And it was that Supreme Court ruling where the State of Pennsylvania said, okay, fine. Abortion, but we think the state should be able to put caveats and restrictions on it, and the Supreme Court said that that’s fine. We’ll hold up the tenants of Roe v. Wade but states can put restrictions as long as there’s not, and this is huge, “an undue burden,” and they never defined what an undue burden was.
And ever since that Supreme Court ruling happened, we have seen these states create barrier after barrier after barrier. And when 2010 happened, and we go back to 2010 because Russ brought it up. It was when the uprising happened in Madison with labor laws. It was there’s a group that’s called the AUL, Americans United for Life, and they’re kind of like ALEC, which is the American Legislative, I can’t remember what it stands for. But they create these packages of laws and they drop them into state legislatures.
So they created this big, bulky law and gave it to like-minded state legislatures and they got 27 states passed the same omnibus abortion bill and clinics shuttered down instantly. That same year, we saw so many LGBT constitutional amendments on ballots and that same year was the year that the Tea Party came in. So the Tea Party came in and all this stuff started happening.
So the reason we got here was because in 2010, America was like we’ve had two years of a Black president, turns out we’re kind of racist and kind of hate a lot of stuff and so we’re going to get people in, and we’re going to start shifting the balance of power to this very extended white supremacist viewpoint and here we are. That’s my take.
00:42:14 Michele Goodwin:
All right. So let’s talk about racism in the United States because we see it all around us. In the streets people are uprising and at the same time we see that there are threats to kidnap a governor and possibly do harm. The Confederate flag has made its way all the way up to Michigan and to other places. So let’s talk about race in America. Do you see any hope for a united country, or do you see this as a time in which we really are having to rethink our values?
00:42:52 Sandra Bernhard:
I don’t think we’ll ever be united. I don’t think it. I don’t see it. I don’t feel it. I think there are great swaths of thinking people where it’s a no-brainer but there’s a bigger swath of people who feel less than, who feel they haven’t gotten what they feel is their fair share. I’m talking about white people. I’m talking about people that live on their own fringes and they’re always going to blame people of color, they just are. There’s always going to be that animosity and what we have to do is find a way to strengthen our coalition and to try to present them as much as possible with the idea that we can all share it and live together, but I mean I think there’s just going to always be those people who are just freaked out by people of color. That’s just the way it is. It’s inherent and deeply seeded in the American psyche.
00:43:56 Russ Feingold:
Just like the other subject we talked about. Over 50 years ago, I had the thrill of seeing Martin Luther King speak at Soldier Field. If you could have told that teenager that I’d be talking about this 50 years later I would have just been sick to my stomach. So my view is, Sandra, 50 more years. The reason I say that, I won’t be around to see it. The reason I say that is it’s about political power. The power dynamic is going to shift. It is going to be a situation where people who don’t respect diversity aren’t going to get elected and they’re not going to have political power because fortunately there is not enough people that have that attitude. Ultimately, they can cheat in a few elections. They can try to stack the Supreme Court for 20, 30 years but I think ultimately people that want to be part of moving forward in this country will realize it’s foolish to try to rule this country with what will be an increasingly small minority. But I won’t be around to see it.
00:45:04 Sandra Bernhard:
Maybe you will. I don’t know. Who knows.
00:45:09 Michele Goodwin:
Why is it early on were white folks so offended by Black Lives Matter? I mean it set off fire storms for folks to just say that Black lives should matter in the United States.
00:45:24 Lizz Winstead
I mean I think that it goes back to white people have centered themselves always and have not understood how to not be centered. So when a group of people simply said, see me, we matter, that was too much. That was, what is your agenda. It’s so off and so interesting where people of privilege look at sharing as taking from them and that has been rooted in who we are, and this dismissal of looking at the complete sort of history of how our country came to be. You’re never going to grow unless you do internalized work as a nation, as a person, as anything.
So I think when you have an institutional structure that is based on only certain groups were allowed to thrive, talent, whether or not you were the best didn’t matter. You were just the person that got to be in charge. When all of a sudden people who weren’t part of that demography, mostly white male power structure, all of a sudden were going to college, actually had ideas, actually asked to be in the mix, and then provided a challenging position to somebody who has unearned power. The lash back is profound, and I think what we are witnessing is a last gasp of unearned power being found out, being seen, and being challenged and losing those challenges and we’re seeing a backlash of that.
Going back to Sandy and back to Russ, I feel like we’re just going to have to marginalize those who are full of hatred and the ideas that come forth from our Black and brown leadership and the more we put them in are going to eventually prove to them what the great Paul Wellstone lived his life saying, when we all do better, we all do better. That is going to be what we’re going to have to see and sadly, it’s just something that you have to prove. It’s like being in a good relationship. I don’t trust you instantly. You’re going to have to prove that. We have to show those people with doubt that they’re not going to be left out.
00:48:15 Michele Goodwin:
On this show, we like to think that we’re informed by the past, that it helps us to think about the future. So I want to play a clip now from fellow comedienne, Wanda Sykes at the 2009 White House Correspondents Dinner, where she’s doing a roast of President Barack Obama.
00:48:30 Wanda Sykes:
I must say, Mr. President, I thought that when you got into office that you would put a swift end to your basketball pickup plan. Pickup basketball plan. I mean come on, first Black president playing basketball. That’s one step forward, two steps back. And really are you any good? I bet you think your game is really nice right now, don’t you? Yeah. You really think you got good moves. I mean nobody’s going to give the president a hard foul with the Secret Service standing there. He’s probably bragging and everything. You should have seen me today, baby. I was balling. Yeah.
They’re just stroking your ego like, oh, Mr. President, you really shook me that time. I thought you were going this way and then I saw Secret Service do this so I went that way. Right to the hole, sir. Right to the hole.
00:49:38 Michele Goodwin:
So Lizz, why weren’t Michele Obama and Barack Obama enough? I mean remember the days when he talks about arugula. That was the big controversy.
00:49:49 Lizz Winstead:
00:49:52 Michele Goodwin:
He wore a tan suit, exactly. To only think if it were only a tan suit. So why weren’t they enough? And the kids, such great kids. I mean really.
00:50:04 Sandra Bernhard:
I think they were threatening to people. I think their perfection and ability to read the room and be so sentient and wonderful and kind and brilliant all at once was very threatening to a lot of Americans. Who do they think they are? They enjoy all the good things in life. How dare they? I mean that’s sort of the backlash. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.
00:50:36 Michele Goodwin:
On that point, Sandy, about they enjoy the good life, what’s so interesting is that they came into the White House with student loan debt. These were people that were still paying off their student loan debt.
00:50:48 Sandra Bernhard:
But they were still highly educated. They were still able to articulate in a way that many Americans cannot. They were already sophisticated and aiming high for what they wanted in their lives as politicians and as people. I think that is very threatening to many white Americans.
00:51:12 Michele Goodwin:
What’s also interesting about that is in many ways the thing that working class and middle class white folks have clung on to is this idea that you can make it in America. You can pull yourselves up by your bootstraps. There is an American dream. I mean Michelle Obama grew up on the Southside of Chicago. Barack Obama traveled from country to country as his mother was doing her research and whatnot and then grew up with his grandparents. These are not people who had second homes on the Cape or Martha’s Vineyard or wherever. So in some ways they should have been able to resonate, you would think, with white Americans who had been working class and middle class because they certainly didn’t grow up with silver spoons in their mouths.
00:51:53 Sandra Bernhard:
Well, they didn’t appreciate Jimmy Carter and they didn’t appreciate the Obamas.
00:52:00 Michele Goodwin:
True. They didn’t appreciate the peanut farmer.
00:52:02 Lizz Winstead:
I think there’s something fascinating about what it means to be smart in America and how that’s evolved. It used to be that you would be excited that somebody had a Harvard education and they would be running a department of your government because it seems like they might be the smartest person to do that. And so often the rhetoric that I hear from these folks that we’re talking about is that smart people will fool them. It’s not that they’ll do a good job. It’s like your education affords you this position to where you might try to pull something over on me so now I can’t trust you and I need to demonize the Harvard elite or whatever that is. I feel like that’s a real shame, and part of that I think is that access to education has not been afforded to everyone and I think that that’s real.
So when you don’t have access to things that you want for your own betterment, who does get the access comes into question not how the government opens up to you. I think we need to reverse how that conversation goes. We need a government that provides the access so that you can have that path rather than, what’s wrong with you that you got that path. I think you’re going to try to fool me.
00:53:20 Michele Goodwin:
Yeah. I agree with Sandy, too, in terms of how the Obama…who they were and who they are in substance and then what the response was. There was an op-ed that I wrote during the time of their administration that required me to look into things that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Such as online hate groups targeting them. I was stunned. I was stunned that there were websites. I mean I otherwise would not have known except doing this op-ed. But websites devoted to killing their children, to targeting them. Who gets a domain name like this and don’t people check these things?
I thought how horrific for folks who are just simply doing their jobs and trying to lift up the United States. I think it says so much and even during COVID and this crisis of education. Don’t we see it when the president says why don’t you try some household cleaning products and then you see just days later these poison centers in cities across the country reporting that they had spikes in calls of people drinking poisons over the weekend after the president says just try some household products because they might work in addressing COVID.
00:54:43 Russ Feingold:
Well, I think there’s something even more sinister here, although I agree with what Lizz said about the elitism. It’s what I witnessed being said about Obama in November and December of 2008. So he hadn’t even been sworn in, and I went to every one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties and held a town meeting. They had been very pleasant exchanges over 18 years. All of a sudden, these people came in extremely angry. People I’d never seen before saying that Obama was a socialist and he was going to do this, he was going to do that. I mean I don’t think there was any question in my mind that there was a racial bias to this and that was driving it much more than the economic collapse that was going on.
So all I can say is I’m issuing a warning. If things go a certain way on Tuesday that the people in line might be wishing for, what we’re going to see in November and December about a new administration could be very disturbing from this point of view. You can see the president already talking about Kamala Harris in a way that is clearly trying to play this game again only this time it’s a woman as well.
00:55:56 Michele Goodwin:
Yeah. So it’s been race and sex, hasn’t it, Russ?
00:55:57 Russ Feingold:
00:55:57 Michele Goodwin:
Calling her nasty and all…he has a whole litany.
00:56:02 Russ Feingold:
He’s setting up the play.
00:56:04 Sandra Bernhard:
That’s how he is. That’s how his people are. I mean you look at Amy Coney Barrett and when Kamala was questioning her, I mean you could just see the daggers shooting out of her eyes. She couldn’t believe. She was indignant that this brilliant woman who’s running for vice president would dare question her. It’s insane. I mean the gloves are off and it is ugly. So we have got to find our way back in and we have got to get down to business with all of this racism and insanity. We’ve got to roll up our sleeves. We’ve got to get Joe and Kamala elected. That’s all I can say and I’m saying it because I’m not associated with anything and that’s what’s got to happen.
00:56:57 Lizz Winstead:
I feel, too, it’s really incumbent on white folks. It’s really incumbent upon us to call in our people. Karens exist because they’re the aunts and the cousins and the moms that we have that say uncomfortable stuff at holiday dinners and we go I’m just going to let that one go because I don’t want to make any trouble. At some point, you’ve got to make trouble because if you don’t correct the record, if you can’t stand up to your racist aunt at Thanksgiving then you’re not going to stand up for Black people on the street. You know what, it’s kind of like if Trump can’t stand up to Lesley Stahl how can he stand up to Kim Jung Un or anybody else.
Honestly, Black folks are tired. You guys are tired. You fight this fight, you live this world. If you’re going to be a good ally just call out the shit. Call it out. Just call it out because we’ve got to. We cannot be incumbent upon our Black friends and our brown friends to have to defend themselves and live in a world that is constantly assaulting them.
00:58:03 Michele Goodwin:
So we’ve talked about some pretty dark things that have taken place over the course of this administration and even longer because what’s happened in this administration is only the result of other things that allow it to take place. It’s not just the rule of law being attacked and the Constitution being attacked and this democracy being attacked by just one party. It really happens to be across myriad areas that we get to this particular point. That there are multiple people who get involved in constraining civil liberties and shackling civil rights.
So for that reason, I think that people can feel daunted and could be wondering why the heck am I staying in this line. Can anything really change in this country? It’s been 400 years of racial suppression, of racism in the United States and we’re only now being able to use the term white supremacy in a way that then heads don’t explode. I mean I think that if we talked about the term white supremacy 10 years ago folks would have said that’s just playing the race card. That’s just race baiting. That doesn’t exist. Look, there’s a Black president.
But now after Charlottesville, after Kenosha with a young kid who goes and guns down three people, after South Carolina, a Black church being shot up, after Black churches being burnt down. Not in the 1940s or ’50s but in these recent years we’re now able to speak more plainly and clearly to what these things are all about but there must be silver linings, right? I mean there’s some form of hope. So I want to know what that hope is that you see. What is it that you’re hopeful about or that you see as being part of change that’s taken place?
01:00:03 Sandra Bernhard:
Well, I feel that early voting has been so inspiring this year. It’s been phenomenal and I have to believe that the majority of people voting early are voting in the right way. They’re illuminated, they’re electrified, they want to make a change. They don’t want to live like this anymore. I feel that there is great hope. Joe Biden is somebody who is the every man. He went to a state university. He’s somebody who’s accessible paired up with a woman who is powerful, a woman of color. I think a lot of great changes will be made and made quickly.
01:00:50 Russ Feingold:
I would just say, again playing the age card, look, when I was in high school the only sports for women or girls was badminton and water ballet. There were no women in any of these positions. I wouldn’t have been on a show like this with you. I wouldn’t have looked at the Supreme Court and seen that. Enormous change and I know there’s much more to be done but the change in the course of my lifetime is incredible and the same thing goes for LGBTQ issues.
Look, when I was in high school nobody would even talk about that. Nobody even knew what it was basically, openly. And to have that be transformed in the course of my lifetime where it is now the law of the land that people can have same sex marriage. I mean I know it’s hard to look into the future and say that that can happen on other thing, but it can. Yes, some of these things could be reversed, but I think those are two areas where the progress is very real and is going to stay. So that’s my cup half full where I almost always end up.
01:01:56 Lizz Winstead:
For me, it’s a couple of things. I feel we got here because we made space for people to tell their stories and then people got to know who they are and learn their lived experiences. White supremacy happened because those stories…we’re talking about white supremacy because we’re seeing those stories and we’re having lived experience. LGBTQ folks, we know them, they’re part of our families. We made space for their stories. I’m seeing that more with abortion access as well. Where it’s like people are living their stories.
For me, one of the great hopes, just in a very incidental way is I grew up in Minnesota in the district that Ilhan Omar represents. She had a primary this year with a Black, sort of moderate guy [Antone Melton-Meaux] who was challenging her. To watch a conversation about that Black man challenging Ilhan and have the debates be about his record, what he would do for Minnesota and challenging a Muslim refugee person having a primary happen and then having Ilhan re-win her seat in an 85 percent white district with overwhelming success. To watch that play out says to me we’re moving in the right direction. That was really cool to watch.
01:03:27 Michele Goodwin:
I want to thank you all for being with us today and helping folks who are in lines today. Before we close, any last words? I mean those were absolutely great but any last words to those folks who are in line and who may be there for a while?
01:03:50 Sandra Bernhard:
I would just say that I have incredible admiration and love for the majority of American people. It’s a great country. It’s a beautiful country and I think on a spiritual and a physical level it’s a turning point and I feel like we’re going to go in the right direction.
01:04:11 Russ Feingold:
I would just say that based on our experience in Wisconsin in April, even use the US Supreme Court to try to prevent a Supreme Court election from going in a certain direction and it failed. All their nasty tactics failed. So that’s what you’re doing right now. You’re making sure they fail.
01:04:29 Lizz Winstead:
And I would just say if you’re heading out to the polls, bring water, bring a collapsible chair, bring a snack and if you don’t need the chair you can offer it to somebody else and if you’re sitting there for hours go to AAFront.org and watch some dope comedy to keep you entertained because from noon until midnight you have some really great people who are just there with you all day.
01:04:58 Michele Goodwin:
I love that, too. We’re going to close out today’s show with a clip from Sandra Bernhard and her amazing one-woman show Without You I’m Nothing. Friends, thank you for being with us and staying in those lines to vote. Here’s Sandra Bernhard.
01:05:16 Sandra Bernhard:
I think it’s time to mellow things out a little bit right now. I know you’re in the mood because I certainly am. Let’s get to know the crowd just a little bit better. What do you say? Do we have any Scorpios in the house? Oh, yes, I feel your sexual energy knocking me off my chair. Virgos, will you please stop cleaning and pay attention to the show? Leos, can we talk about me for a change? Geminis, there’s so many of you. Pisces, Cancers, don’t bother to show your faces I can’t deal with you tonight.
The show is being brought to you tonight by the wonderful Mustang Motel. Where you get your closed-circuit TV and everything else that’s so wonderful including the stereo jazz sounds of KKGO. And we’ve been breaking this song in at a club that no longer exists but did exist when we broke this song in the Parisian room with my very, very dear friend Miss Cardella Di Milo. For those of you who remember Cardella, she did things her way and we did things our way all the time, darling.
And the show also goes out tonight to all of you who enjoy relating to a pretty lady like myself.
01:06:46 Michele Goodwin:
Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.” I want to thank my guests, Senator Russ Feingold, Lizz Winstead and Sandra Bernhard for joining us and being a part of this critical and insightful conversation. And to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you join us again for our next episode where we will be reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is with special guests tackling issues related to an extremely relevant issue — Did we have a fair election? And we’ll be joined by Vanita Gupta. It will be an episode you will not want to miss.
For more information on what we discussed today, head to MsMagazine.com and if you believe, as we do, that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed and that rebuilding America, being unbought and unbossed and reclaiming our time are important then be sure to visit us at Apple Podcast. Look for us at MsMagazine.com for new content and special episode updates. Rate and subscribe to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher. Let us know what you think about our show and support independent feminist media.
This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers for the episode are Maddy Pontz, Roxy Szal and Mariah Lindsey. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandy Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Marsh Alan and music by Chris J. Lee. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.