BRIAN LAMB, HOST, Q&A: Michelle Bernard, when did you first think of running the Independent Women’s Forum?
MICHELLE BERNARD, PRESIDENT AND CEO, INDEPENDENT WOMEN’S FORUM: I can’t say that I actually ever really thought about running Independent Women’s Forum. I joined IWF, frankly, after what I considered a really fun and illustrious career practicing law.
And I had just had a baby, and took a year off from work. And it was time to go back to work, and I had a decision to make. Was I going to go back to practicing law and having the kind of schedule that I had, or was I going to do something a little bit different?
And I really ended up at IWF just by happenstance. I started off part-time. My son was a year old. I was working 20 hours a week.
About four weeks after I joined IWF, the State Department was working to put out – to start making some grants to organizations to do democracy promotion work dealing with women’s rights in Iraq. And I had a great interest in international law.
And I thought, you know what? I’d really like to do that. So, I started working full-time with the hopes of submitting this proposal to the State Department, which we did. We received the grant, and I started working full-time on democracy promotion in Iraq with pro-democracy Iraqi women.
And after about two years – I think maybe after a year, I was made senior vice president of IWF and was getting ready to have another baby. The president of IWF at the time had made the decision to stay home for a few more years with her kids. And there was this great opportunity.
I was out to here, expecting my second child. And I just thought, you know what? I want to do this. Even though I’ve got another baby on the way, I want to run the organization.
So, I threw my hat in the ring and interviewed for the job. And the rest is history.
LAMB: How old are the children?
BERNARD: Five and two.
LAMB: What did Clarence Thomas have to do with the founding of IWF?
BERNARD: Clarence – Justice Thomas was a very close friend of one of our founders, our very dearly beloved Ricky Silberman. Ricky was working with Justice Thomas at the time that he had been nominated to the Supreme Court and the Anita Hill scandal broke out.
And as Ricky used to tell me before she passed away about a year ago, she was watching all of the hoopla in the press and the print news and on television. And she realized that the women who were speaking for Anita Hill acted as if they spoke for all American women. And she said she felt that the media portrayed the women who were backing Anita Hill as speaking for all American women, and American women were not a monolithic voting block, and they still are not, and have different viewpoints on life.
And out of those hearings arose the Independent Women’s Forum. So, we owe our existence to Clarence Thomas.
LAMB: And that was 1991?
BERNARD: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Where were you in 1991?
BERNARD: In 1991 I was probably sitting in a law library doing research for the partners that I was doing work with at the time, doing a lot of legal research and writing, and trying to figure out my way and deciding what I wanted to do with my legal career.
I can remember watching the hearings on television. So, I’d been out of law school for a few years. I had my own apartment. I had my own television.
And I remember being riveted by what I was watching on television and never, ever imagining that I would be at IWF – you know, at an organization that originated because of what was happening with Clarence Thomas during that period in our nation’s history.
LAMB: One of the things I’d like to do is try to get to how an organization like this is formed, why, who funds it, how does it fit in, and how do you fit in.
Another name on the masthead is Barbara Olson …
LAMB: … the late Barbara Olson.
LAMB: Who was she?
BERNARD: Yes. Barbara Olson was married to Ted Olson. She was one of the founders of IWF.
As you know, and probably a lot of the people watching this program this evening, Barbara was tragically killed on 9/11. She was in one of the airplanes that flew off from the Pentagon. I think was going – that she was going on to California to do a television show. And her airplane crashed when it was taken over by terrorists.
I didn’t know Barbara Olson personally. I never met her. I know that she was held in very, very high regard.
She was one of our founding members at the Independent Women’s Forum and was very, very much loved by the other women who started the organization, by our donors and by, you know, members of the organization, and is truly very, very much – very much missed.
LAMB: It’s interesting. She appeared on our call-in show Sunday, and she died Tuesday.
BERNARD: Tuesday, yes.
LAMB: The plane that flew into the Pentagon.
Anita Blair, is she still in the government?
BERNARD: Anita Blair, from what I – I haven’t spoken with her in a long time, but my understanding is that she is still in the government. I think she’s over at the Pentagon in the Department of Defense.
Anita was the first president of the Independent Women’s Forum.
LAMB: So, what does it do?
BERNARD: The Independent Women’s Forum is – we are a nonprofit educational institution, most commonly called a think tank. So, when you think of organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Cato, Brookings, that’s what the Independent Women’s Forum does.
But we are different in the sense that we are an organization made up of all women scholars. And our mantra at IWF is that all issues are women’s issues.
You know, quite often in the media, when people want to talk about public policy issues that affect women, the only thing that you are called to talk about is sexual harassment in the workplace or reproductive rights.
One of the things that I like the most about the Independent Women’s Forum is that our mantra is that all issues are women’s issues. And so, for that reason, you will see IWF scholars talking about terrorism, national security, education policy, health care policy, immigration – you know, whatever the big issues of the day are.
And from our perspective, you really do women a disservice when you put us, you know, sort of pigeonhole us into one area, when really, the issues that impact your life are no different than the issues that impact my life.
We believe in free markets. We believe in personal responsibility. We believe in limited government. So, for those reasons, you know, most people would characterize us as a right-of-center think tank or educational institution.
But we work very hard to reach out to women and men on the right and on the left, centrists. We have a lot of libertarians, as well, that are members of our organization and really promote free market values.
LAMB: Where are you located? How many people work there? What’s your budget for a year?
BERNARD: Sure. We are located in Washington, D.C. We have 12 full-time staff. We also have a lot of scholars that we call visiting and senior fellows. They are scholars that do work with our organization, but also do work with other organizations, you know, here and frankly, all over the United States.
Our budget is about two – just a little bit under $2 million a year. We sort of hover about – anywhere between $1.9 and $2.1 million per year.
I like to call us the little engine that could. We do an enormous amount of work with a very, very limited number of scholars.
LAMB: First, you, and how did you get to think like the Independent Women’s Forum group does, the whole marketplace decisions and all that kind of stuff? Where does it come from?
BERNARD: You know, I get asked the question all the time. And I really think it was just the values that I’ve been raised with.
You know, my – I’m a first generation American. My family is from Jamaica. My parents came to the United States in the ’60s to attend college and graduate school, and they’ve been here ever since. I have two sisters and a brother. All of us were born here. We were educated here.
And I think it’s just – I never thought of myself as being a conservative or a free market thinker. I was just raised a certain way. And then, as you get older, people start putting labels on the way that you think. But I was never raised to be attached to labels.
But I’ve always believed in less government. I have always believed in free market. We have always been raised to believe in personal responsibility.
And I would say that my Jamaican background and the way that my parents have raised me are really solely responsible for the person that you see sitting beside, before you today.
LAMB: Tell us about your mother.
BERNARD: Oh, my mother’s amazing. She’s really – she’s my best friend and I think one of the most amazing women I have ever met in my entire life.
She immigrated, like I said, from Jamaica many years ago. She and my dad both attended Howard University undergrad and for graduate school.
LAMB: Here in town.
BERNARD: Here in Washington, D.C. It’s, I think, probably the – in my humble opinion – the most prestigious historically black college and university in the nation. So, I was very, very proud to call Howard my alma mater.
My mom had four children at a very young age, and grew up at a – you know, grew up in a time period where – for example, today, you don’t see women getting married at such a young age and having children at such a young age. And she did it. She finished college. She got a graduate degree. She raised us.
She has always been there for us and always taught us that there is nothing that any of us could accomplish, regardless of race, national origin, whether we are – you know, she was talking to her daughters or her son. We have always been raised to believe that with hard work there is absolutely in this world we can’t
LAMB: What was it that got her to leave Jamaica and come to Howard?
BERNARD: You know, I don’t know. It’s interesting. She talks about looking at catalogues, you know, the catalogues that you get when you’re applying to college.
And I’ll have to ask her that. I think that, you know, leaving Jamaica to come to the United States, it was important to go someplace where you would feel comfortable.
Howard University has always had such an excellent reputation in the African-American, and particularly with students in the Caribbean and in Africa. And she knew that she would be going someplace where she would get an excellent education. And there were also other Jamaican students in whose footsteps she would be following.
So, I would gather that if I asked her this question directly, those would be the reasons that she would say that she selected Howard University.
LAMB: What’s she do today?
BERNARD: My mother is very, very big in development at Howard University. So, she is – that’s where she is, raising money so that other students can come through the university and get the type of education that she received and that I received.
LAMB: What about your dad? What’s he all about?
BERNARD: My father is an absolutely amazing man. He is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. He still practices. He’s here in the Washington metropolitan area. Also Jamaican.
I’m so proud of both of my parents. My father has been an incredible role model to me and my siblings – and all of our friends. And he’s just a very strong man. He’s always done the right thing by his family.
You know, you think about it, I can’t imagine me or anyone that I know having children at the age that my parents did. But they were kids. They had kids. They have raised all of their children. They have taught us a sense of honor and doing right by your family and having pride in every single thing that you do, and working hard to be the very best.
We were always raised very competitively, but not so much to compete against other people, but to compete, you know, so – to compete within yourself. So it’s always a challenge, you know, how does Michelle Bernard make herself the best that she can absolutely be. And we get that from our father.
And it’s interesting, because coming from his generation, and coming from Jamaica, you are coming from a society where men are really, really revered. I can remember early on as a child, talking about the possibility of going to medical school, and my grandfather saying to me, ”Well, how are you going to get a husband?” You know?
But my parents, they didn’t really think that way. It was always, what can we do to push you to achieve greatness in this country. And they really ignored the roles that we hear about for men versus women.
LAMB: What’s your maiden name?
BERNARD: Bernard. I never changed it. I like my name, and so I’ve kept it.
LAMB: So, do you consider yourself a Jamaican American or an African American …
BERNARD: You know what? I don’t even – I dislike the question. I mean, I will jokingly call myself a Jamerican. I’m really happy with just being called black.
You know, one of the things I think that has happened as we started using the term African American in this country, is that you ignore a large part of the African diaspora.
So, how do you define – if you ask anyone who’s black, how do you define African American, does it mean that you actually are an immigrant from Nigeria or from – you know, from Africa? Does it mean that you are what we might call a homegrown African American, and you are somebody who has been in this country for generations? Are you from the Caribbean?
And I don’t want to ignore any part of the African diaspora, so I just – I call myself black. I’m happy with that.
LAMB: Where did the Bernards come from originally?
BERNARD: We are such a hodge-podge. In Jamaica we have this notion of ”out of many, one.” And we’ve got everything in our family.
I have a great-grandfather who we believe was Scottish, you know. And his nickname was ”the Kaiser.” And we have family members that look like you, with blond hair and blue eyes. And we’ve got Arawak Indians and Africans and blacks.
And many years ago when I was – my father went to a very famous high school in Jamaica called Calabar. And years ago when I was practicing law, I had the honor of doing some legal work in Nigeria. And I actually went to Calabar in Nigeria, which is where we believe Nigerian missionaries left Africa, went to Jamaica and started – maybe started – this high school in Jamaica.
But that’s the best description I can give you. ”Out of many, one.” We’re a little bit of everything. And I don’t know how all of our relatives made it to Jamaica, but they did.
LAMB: I first saw you on ”The Chris Matthews Show.”
LAMB: What’s your relationship with that show? And when did it start?
BERNARD: I am an MSNBC political analyst. I signed on as an analyst with MSNBC in January.
I had – as part of the work that we do at IWF, all of our scholars make a great deal of television appearances and radio appearances on different networks to discuss various public policy issues.
So, I had appeared on ”The Chris Matthews Show” – on ”Hardball” – before. But starting in January, I started to get called a little bit more often. And, you know, if there was ever a time to get involved in any way in political analysis, this is the time to do it, with these very historic campaign that we were looking at, particularly on the Democratic side.
And so, I’m a regular on the show, and it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
LAMB: What do you – what do they expect you – what positions do they expect you to take?
BERNARD: They don’t. They expect you to come and tell it like you see it. So, I have never, ever felt that they are expecting to hear anything from me in particular.
I would say, with the kind of analysis that I give, that I’m sort of a twofer, because I – you know, sometimes it’s hard to divorce your personal feelings from what you see. And, you know, obviously I’m black. I’m a woman. I have very strong opinions about what we have seen during this election cycle with regard to the historic campaigns run by Senator Clinton, as well as Senator Obama – and all of the people that have run for president in this election cycle.
But, you know, the most important thing is to give analysis and, you know, from your perspective.
LAMB: How are you able to do that, given the fact you work for a 501-3c – or 4c?
BERNARD: The Independent Women’s Forum is a 501c3. We also have a 501c4 called the Independent Women’s Voice.
So, any of the work that I do for MSNBC is in no way connected to my role as president of the Independent Women’s Forum. It is connected to my role as president of Independent Women’s Voice, which is our c4.
But also, it’s important to note for the viewers this evening, I am – me as a person or as an individual, as well as IWF and IWV, we are not advocating that anyone vote for any particular candidate – at all.
So, for example, I will never say to anyone, you must vote for John McCain, you must vote for Barack Obama, you must vote for Senator Clinton. We are doing pure and simple political analysis of what we see happening, and we leave it to the electorate to decide who is the best candidate for them to vote for.
LAMB: If you did say something like, ”I think Americans ought to vote for Barack Obama,” just for the moment, what would happen to you in the job you’re in?
BERNARD: I think I’d be fine. I think – I mean, there’s a reason we’re called the Independent Women’s Forum. We are very independent minded women. We are – our membership is made up of Republicans, primarily, but also libertarians, some Democrats, a lot of independents.
And there is a thing out there called Obamicans, which are a lot of Republicans who support Barack Obama for a wide variety of reasons. There are conservatives and there are Republicans that support his candidacy.
And our board and our membership has been very good about allowing us to be independent thinkers. We will always be aligned with one another, because of the fundamental principles that we believe in – again, those being belief in the free market, limited government and personal responsibility. But we’re allowed to be individualists and have independent ways of thinking.
LAMB: The reason I ask is, because in the Wikipedia, it has a rundown of the funding.
LAMB: And this is over a period of years. There’s $7.6 million in funding to the Independent Women’s Forum. And three of the top funders are Richard Mellon Scaife …
BERNARD: Who just gave, I think, $100,000 to Bill Clinton. So …
LAMB: I know.
BERNARD: … go figure. Yes.
LAMB: But he was – which, you mean, to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
BERNARD: No, he actually gave to the Clinton – I could be wrong, but I believe I read that he gave $100,000 – he met with Bill Clinton, talked about his new book, ”Giving,” and maybe gave $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation.
LAMB: But Richard Mellon Scaife was the one that funded the Clinton project …
LAMB: … the Arkansas Project, which goes back to the ’90s and all.
Also on the list, though, John M. Olin Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation, which is Coors. If you go down the list they’re mostly conservatives.
LAMB: I mean, they wouldn’t be terribly happy with you, though, if you supported Mr. Obama, would they?
BERNARD: Probably – you know, I don’t know. I really don’t know. For all I know, any one of them could be supporting Barack Obama and we don’t know that.
I know that our – I would assume that most of our donors are going to be the happiest with the candidate who is supporting an agenda of limited government, free markets and personal responsibility.
Now, that being said, it will be interesting to see, now that we know who the Republican and the Democratic nominees are going to be, it will be interesting to actually start talking about policy, which we haven’t done during this election cycle. We’ve just been talking about the personalities of the candidates and who’s voting for whom.
But once we start talking about policy, it will be very interesting to see exactly what the policy differences are between Senator McCain and Senator Obama.
And what you have seen, I think, during this election cycle is that the Republican Party is really splintered. And there are a lot of Republicans who are disaffected with the Republican Party.
I think you will see some who decide not to vote at all, and you will see some who will feel that there’s not much of a difference between Senator Obama and Senator McCain on a lot of critical issues. For single-issue voters, it will be interesting to see what they decide.
So, I would say on the Republican side of things, there’s a long spectrum of what people are interested in. There are economic conservatives. There are social conservatives. There are fiscal conservatives. There are the neocons. And it’s a broad base, and I believe I represent, you know, as an individual, the broad range of people that you see that self-identify as being right of center.
LAMB: Define what you think limited government is.
BERNARD: Get out of the way. You know, we just – I mean, I think that government has a responsibility in our lives, but we are – to the extent that we are just inundated and inundated with regulations, for example, you have to sit back and ask why, and what purpose does this serve.
You know, one of the things that we talk about at the Independent Women’s Forum is how women, for example, balance workplace, life and family life. And you will see that some of the largest, growing businesses in the United States are women owned and operating businesses.
Some of those women want to be Bill Gates and build their own Microsoft. Some of these women start businesses, because it’s a way to be able to raise their children and also earn income, and their businesses get slaughtered, because they are inundated with regulations that make no sense and do nothing to improve your business or to improve anyone’s lives.
And so, that is an example I give of why I am a proponent of limited government.
LAMB: When did a politician in your life actually bring about limited government?
BERNARD: In my lifetime, we have been – we have been working, I think, to actually get to a point in time where a politician is enacting limited government. But we’re getting there, slowly but surely.
I mean, you’ve seen – we’ve seen – one of the things we’ve seen under the Bush administration is that the government has just grown by leaps and bounds. It’s a lot of why I think President Bush’s approval ratings are as low as they are within the Republican Party, because people felt that he would come in and really sort of, you know, limit the role of government in our lives. And what we’ve seen is one of the biggest expansions of government that I think we’ve ever seen in our lifetime.
LAMB: Explain this position. Conservatives are pro-family or anti-abortion.
BERNARD: Well, you know …
LAMB: And if the – you know, it seems to me that what their position is, they want the government to get involved and restrict abortion.
BERNARD: Well, you know, here’s what’s interesting about and another reason why I don’t like nametags. There are conservatives who will define conservatism the way you just defined it.
Then there are people, particularly from the Reagan era, who will tell you that they define conservatives as being people who believe in limited government, and that the term conservatism was sort of overtaken by Christian conservatives and evangelicals, who actually are looking to have the government more involved in our lives.
So, it’s difficult to talk about, because when you use the term conservative, who are you – you know, it’s hard to know who you’re talking about, because even within the Republican Party, or for even people who say – there are many people who will tell you there’s a difference between being a Republican and being a conservative.
So, I don’t know what to do with that definition. But yes, there are people who self-identify as conservatives that are actually looking for more government intrusion in our lives.
LAMB: How do you decide at the Independent Women’s Forum what positions you’ll take?
BERNARD: Well, it’s actually very simple. We stick with adhering to the three things that I’ve talked about today already, which are limited government, free markets and personal responsibility. It makes it very, very easy.
LAMB: Define free markets.
BERNARD: I guess the way I would define free markets is that it is, again, an offshoot of getting the government out of our way.
So, for example, when we talk about – last summer, for example, there was a lot of talk about ethanol, and whether or not there should be more government regulation, so that we increase the use of corn for ethanol and we deal with – you know, as a way to deal with gas prices, and this and that.
And one of the things that we were advocates for as advocates for the free market was, let the free market decide. The government doesn’t need to come in and impose new laws that say that you must use ethanol and that you must buy a hybrid vehicle, and, you know, your gas needs to look a certain way. The free market will decide.
If people want to buy hybrid cars that run on ethanol, well, buy it. You don’t need a government mandate to do so. And when you start mandating types of things, there is always an unintended consequence of doing so.
LAMB: Do we get – did we get a free market when Ben Bernanke and the Fed moved in to save a bunch of New York-based financial institutions?
BERNARD: No, we didn’t. And quite frankly, I was completely against the bailout. I was – and I know that there were others who thought that the bailout was a good idea. And by ”others” I mean people who espouse this notion of free markets.
But I was completely, personally, against the bailout, and that was not the work of the free market.
LAMB: But that comes from a Republican administration and all that. What makes you think that in the future you’re going to get somebody that is in favor of really a free market?
BERNARD: I don’t – I don’t know that for a – you know, it is wishful thinking. And all I can say is that time will tell. I have no – I cannot point to anyone and say, I know for a fact that this person will think the same way that I do on all of my issues. But I think that that’s not uncommon.
You know, there are places where all of us have common ground on certain issues. And on certain issues we completely disagree. And I think that that’s just the way it is when you’re dealing with humans.
LAMB: Go to the personal responsibility part of your thesis of government. What’s that mean?
BERNARD: Let me use it – here’s an example. One of my big, big issues is education and education reform. But also, what’s connected with the way that we educate our children is how we take of our children.
So, for example, you will see politicians that go out and they say, you know, we need to empower teachers to do this, this and this. Well, sometimes that’s true. But more often than not, what we are expecting to come from teachers really should be coming from mom and dad. And if you get that from mom and dad, it makes the teacher’s job easier.
So, for example, a lot of the things that you see Bill Cosby talking about – and I’m a big fan of Bill Cosby – but when you see him going out and he’s talking to youngsters today, and he’s kind of saying, pull up your pants. Don’t focus on buying a pair of tennis shoes that cost $150. Go to school. Pay attention. Learn how to read and write.
That’s personal responsibility. You can’t blame your failings on other people, if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do to run your life and run it responsibly.
LAMB: Do you know either Barack Obama or John McCain?
BERNARD: No, I do not. Do not.
LAMB: And you live here in the middle of all this?
BERNARD: I do. I live here in the middle of all this. And like everyone else, I watch them on TV. I catch the speeches and read everything that I can about them. But no, I don’t know either of them personally.
I would love, frankly, to meet both of them in person. And I was intrigued by the idea Senator McCain had the other day when he challenged Barack Obama to have 10 town hall meetings between now and the November election.
And what I would really like to do is challenge both candidates to sit down with the Independent Women’s Forum. I would like to host two town hall meetings, one on women’s issues, one on African American issues. I think it would be one of the most intriguing things to see in our lifetime, particularly in this election cycle, because so many Americans are talking about the women’s vote and the historical significance of Barack Obama being the first black Democratic nominee.
And, you know, we’ve spent a lot of time – almost – it’s almost distasteful, but we have spent so much time talking about how white women vote and white women of a certain age, and how African Americans vote or don’t vote.
But I think to sit down and really talk about how their issues and how their views of the world will impact the lives of women and of African Americans, I haven’t seen it done yet. But I think it’d be intriguing, and I think it’s something that the American public would love to see, and I’d love to be a part of.
LAMB: How have we gotten this far in the election, spent hundreds of millions of dollars, had some 20 candidates running, and not talk about the issues?
BERNARD: It’s absolutely – it’s absurd. It is absurd. It is, I guess, a byproduct of the way that we run elections. Talk about the need for election reform in this country.
We’ve talked about the issues, but very tangentially. And it’s always been – there’s always been a gimmick to it, you know. My personal opinion, for example, is the idea of suspending the gas tax for the summer is a gimmick.
Anyone who lives in Washington and really understands the way that legislation works knows that, even if it sounds popular, it’s not possible. It couldn’t possibly happen in time for the summer – not even to mention the fact that I don’t think it would make a difference in the way that anyone lives their life.
So, it’s – we have sort of tangentially talked about an issue, but it’s time that both candidates sit down – you know, they’ve got the primaries behind them – and really talk about the issues. I would love to see something very similar to the Lincoln-Douglas debates happen.
LAMB: If you were to sit down with either John McCain or Barack Obama, what’s the first question you’d ask each man?
Well, a couple of questions that you want answered.
BERNARD: I think, I would – I mean, one of the things that I would want to know from both of them, I think the first question I would ask them is, how are you different?
You know, to John McCain, if your vision for the future of our nation is one that is based on limited government and free markets and personal responsibility, how is your vision different from Barack Obama’s? And give it to me in a way where you talk about how it impacts pocketbook issues, such as the price of gasoline, and getting my kids a good education, and balancing work and family, and keeping my family safe from terrorists.
I mean, I really want to know, not just for myself, but I want the entire nation to just see what the difference is, if there is a difference. And whatever their policy prescriptions are, how do we get there?
I think my number two question would be education. What are we going to do about our K through 12 education system? I know that a lot of people are focusing on climate change. And the question I always ask is, how many more children are going to be born into poverty, live in poverty and die in poverty, because they cannot read or write before the planet warms or cools another degree?
And we have not heard the candidates really set forth for us what they are going to do with regard to education reform. We keep hearing about the lack of jobs. We keep hearing about the 21st century work force. We keep hearing things about NAFTA and other free trade agreements.
But no one’s gotten to the basics yet. And the basics, really – it’s education. If you are unable to get a good education, you will not be prepared for the 21st century work force. And that would be my number two question for both candidates.
LAMB: Let’s assume for a moment it’s January the 20th. It’s inauguration day, and Barack Obama is the new president – or John McCain is the new president. What would the difference be, in your opinion, for the country?
I’m not talking about political difference. But what do you think the country’s reaction would be if one or the other got elected? What’s it going to be?
BERNARD: Well, I mean, I would like to think that most of the nation, that the majority of Americans, regardless of who is elected president and is sitting in the Oval Office in January, is going to rally around that president and have a sense of pride that we are the, I think – we understand democracy in our country better than any other country in the world. And the fact that we could have such a contentious election and actually elect someone without going to war, without there being a civil war at home, really says a lot about our country, our strengths and how the rest of the world views us.
So, that’s what I’m hoping we will see in January, regardless of who the president is.
LAMB: Well, but let’s just say for a moment it’s Barack Obama. What’s the reaction to the country and in the world?
BERNARD: Well, I think that the reaction is going to be, I mean, enormous. There will be two reactions. The first reaction will be, ”My God. What a long way we have come.”
For a country where we know that our original sin as a nation was slavery, and in a country where so many African Americans really worked as slaves to build this country, to come where we are and actually elect an African American as our president, I think says nothing but positive things about the United States of America.
And I think the rest of the world will sit back in awe and say, ”What an amazing country America is. I want to live there.”
LAMB: What about John McCain?
BERNARD: But the other thing I would say is that there will also be people who will be sitting back and thinking, ”Oh, my God. How high are my taxes going to go?” You know, how high is he going to raise my taxes.
I think with John McCain it’ll be the same thing. I was looking at one of Senator McCain’s recent ads, you know. And you can’t help but look back and think about the sacrifices that he has made for our country. I mean, the man was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and he has served this country so honorably as a member of the United States Senate. He is a patriot. He loves this country.
And I think that the world will sit back and they will be also proud of us as a nation, because we have seen a virtue in John McCain, regardless of whether there are people who – for both candidates, whether you agree or disagree with all or some of their policies, they are both very good men.
LAMB: Will we get limited government out of either man?
BERNARD: I think on some, in some areas we will, and in some areas we will not. That is truly …
LAMB: What’s that mean?
BERNARD: … what I believe.
Well, for example, I mean, John McCain right now is talking a lot about climate change and what we do with regard to the perception that man is causing all the problems that we are seeing with regard to our climate right now. And it sounds like the prescription will be big government – more government, not less government.
And that’s probably the same for Barack Obama. So, in that sense, we won’t see limited government.
I think with both of these men, if we’re talking education reform – and I would say that Senator McCain is probably a little bit stronger on this than Barack Obama. But I know that Senator Obama has said, for example, that he is open to the notion of charter schools.
I think that we will get to a point in time with both of them, where we will begin to see a little bit of limited government. We will see competition interjected into our K through 12 public education system. And, you know, obviously, given my philosophical perspective, I think that is nothing but good news for the country.
LAMB: Will we get free markets out of either one of them?
BERNARD: I think we will, but it just depends on the issue. I don’t think we’re going to see free markets when it comes to environment and how our nation handles the environment. We might see it in education.
We might see it in health care. I know that Senator Obama seems to be someone who is a proponent of universal health care, maybe not as far as Senator Clinton was.
I was happy to see during one of the 21 or 22 debates that the Democrats were involved in this year, I think someone asked Senator Obama a question about providing health care for illegal immigrants. And as I recall, his answer had something to do with the fact that we are a country of limited means.
So, I don’t know what’s going to happen with health care, with health care reform. I would expect to see a little bit of the free market interjected into health care. But with a Democratic Congress, I just – I don’t know. There’s the possibility that government will grow, and grow wildly.
LAMB: What are your own ambitions? What would you hope to be doing five years from now?
BERNARD: Oh, I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing right now. I really just want to – you know, we want to grow the Independent Women’s Forum as much as possible. We want to reach out to women on the right, on the left and in the center, increase our donor base.
I want to be a good mother and spend as much time raising my kids as possible.
LAMB: How old? You said your kids are two and five?
BERNARD: Two and five.
LAMB: What are their names?
BERNARD: Logan and Avery.
LAMB: And what’s your own philosophy of how you’re raising them? Anything different than the way you were raised?
BERNARD: No. Absolutely the same.
One of the greatest things that my parents did for us while we were growing up – in addition to many, many other things – was that we also had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with cousins. And by cousins I mean cousins by blood as well as extended family. So, they really built a very great sense of community for us.
And that is one of the things that I want to make sure that I’m able to do for my children, so that they have a very good understanding of our country and our nation, but also of Jamaica and where their grandparents come from, and our culture and the way that my parents were raised in Jamaica.
I want them to have a sense of community with their family and with their friends. And I want them to really have a very good respect for family, respect for self. And obviously, I want them to be achievers.
LAMB: When you were – you worked for Patton Boggs, the law firm?
BERNARD: I did. I did.
LAMB: That’s Tommy Boggs?
BERNARD: It is Tommy Boggs. Tommy was my mentor at the firm.
LAMB: Often called the dean of Washington lobbyists.
BERNARD: Yes, that’s what I’m told.
LAMB: Did you lobby?
BERNARD: No. I mean, I had a few clients that I lobbied for.
I started off as a litigator doing white collar criminal defense. And I use that loosely, because I was a kid who just graduated from law school and didn’t know anything. So, I was really stuck in a library doing legal research and writing. But I …
LAMB: It’s Georgetown Law School.
BERNARD: Georgetown Law School. And I started off doing white collar criminal defense and sort of civil enforcement fraud work. And then it sort of escalated to political law.
Washington being Washington, whenever there was a change of administrations and there was a division between who was in the administration and who was in Congress, inevitably, somebody was under congressional investigation for something. So, I got very interested in politics.
And then, by the time I went to Patton Boggs, I really started having an interest in the international community. So, I represented corporations that were doing business in foreign countries. A lot of my work was in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Caribbean and Central America. And I represented a foreign government that was trying to get some assistance from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and that kind of work.
LAMB: What do you say – you’ve lived in Washington for how long?
BERNARD: My entire life. Born and raised here.
LAMB: You’ve never lived anywhere else?
LAMB: And as you know, we were talking earlier about the funding for Independent Women’s Forum. Every organization in town has some of the similar characteristics, where when they are created, certain kind of people find their way to funding them.
LAMB: The public outside of Washington doesn’t seem to be very happy with this town. Members of Congress, below 20 percent. President’s below 30 percent.
Is there any way to convince the folks out there in the country that they’re getting a good deal out of this town, and that …
BERNARD: Out of Washington?
LAMB: Out of Washington. In other words, you’re talking about limited government, free markets, personal responsibility. And they’re looking at this town and saying, it’s all establishment. They’re all alike.
And as a matter of fact, I want to ask you about Barack Obama in a moment.
But one of his first choices in his whole campaign was Jim Johnson to find a vice president. And there’s no more connected human being in this town than Jim Johnson.
Is there any way in the future you’re going to get an independent look at this town and the way it spends its money?
BERNARD: Well, I mean, what I do versus what the federal government does – and by ”I,” I mean what I do, what the Independent Women’s Forum does versus the federal government, are two very entirely different things.
I think the challenge for all of us, whether we are just, you know, your average American watching this mess on television every day, or you are a policymaker, or someone who’s interested in policy as I am, the challenge is to figure out how to make your government work for you.
And one of the best ways to do that is, you know, your biggest currency is voting. If you get someone who is not doing what you don’t like, vote them out of office. They work for you. It is your tax dollars that pays the salaries of the people that we elect to represent us. And there’s an easy way to fire them – vote them out of office.
I believe, truly, that this is the greatest nation on earth, and that it can change, and that we can find a way to make it work for the rich as well as for the poor, as well as for our middle class. The challenge is how to get there.
And also, realizing that change doesn’t happen overnight. It happens incrementally. It’s almost like, you know, I sort of imagine this really large rock – Fred Flintstone type rock – and you just have to chip away at it a little bit at a time. And sometimes huge pieces fall off, and sometimes just little tiny pieces fall off.
LAMB: What evidence do we have that anything has changed in the last 20 years?
BERNARD: Well, welfare reform during – in the 1990s, that President Clinton worked on with a Republican Congress, you know, I think shows that there is – there can be bipartisanship in Washington for the greater good of the nation. We succeeded in taking millions of Americans off of welfare rolls around the country and getting people into jobs, getting people better educations.
And so, I think that is a good example that change can happen. And reforming the welfare system is something that I think people had been talking about since before I was born.
LAMB: Would we be better off as a country if the president was a Democrat next time around, and the Congress, both sides were Democrats? Or …
BERNARD: Well, you know, I really like this – I like the notion of checks and balances. And I really – this is just my personal opinion – but I really – I like there to be a difference.
I think there is always the chance for a little bit of danger when, for example, the White House, for example, is occupied by a Democrat and the Congress is occupied by Democrats.
Now, that being said, the other side of the coin is, if they are divided, then there is no bipartisanship. And people are fighting and nothing gets done in Washington. So, you know, there are always two arguments.
But I like to see a difference, and I like to – I like our system of checks and balances.
LAMB: You have a book that you wrote last year called ”Women’s Progress: How Women Are Wealthier, Healthier and More Independent Than Ever Before.”
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
BERNARD: I do, sort of. It depends on how you use the term. I am – I would say that I would be the sort of feminist that you would have seen in a much – in a bygone era that was fighting for equality for women, that was fighting for women’s suffrage, and that was fighting for the abolition of slavery.
I am not the type of feminist or the type of woman who sees every man walking down the street as a potential rapist. I am not the type of feminist that dislikes men. I am the type of woman that just wants an equal society.
There are some people that get locked into that camp where everything is anti-men. Well, I have a son and I have a daughter, and I love them equally. And I want them to both have equal opportunity.
So, if that’s how you define feminism, that’s me.
LAMB: Your organization is often called anti-feminist.
BERNARD: We are. We absolutely are, and quite often. And I think it’s from people that either think it’s, you know, it’s cute to throw bombs to get attention, or people who really don’t understand our mission.
We have always felt that any woman who is going to divorce herself from the needs of her spouse, or from the men in her life, is really a silly woman. What we want to do is make America a better country for our sons and our daughters.
So, for example, while promoting equality for women, we don’t want to do it to the extent where we raise women and lower the opportunities for our sons. We want true equality.
LAMB: In your book you have all kinds of charts. And it seems to me, depending on where you’re coming from, you could say either the feminists have been successful, or – and I want you to explain why it wouldn’t be the feminists.
When you look at the chart, percentages of medical degrees conferred on women. It’s gone straight up from 1970, from eight percent up to 43.3 percent.
LAMB: Percentage of degrees in dentistry conferred on women, it was almost zero back in 1970. It’s up to 38.6 percent of all dental degrees that are given.
Your book shows a chart of percentage of law degrees conferred on women. It’s gone from five percent back in 1970, up to 43.3 percent currently.
Percentage of doctoral degrees conferred on women, that’s gone from 13 percent back in 1970, up to 44.9 percent recently. Let me just keep going for a minute.
Percentage of master’s degrees – that’s way up to 58.8 percent of the total nationally, meaning that you’re way ahead of men in that category. It started out, it was way down at the – actually, it was fairly high back in 1977, up around 45 percent. But you can see where I’m going with this.
LAMB: OK. Who made that – how did that happen?
BERNARD: Well, I mean, I give that credit to so many of the women that came before me. I mean, I absolutely in no way denigrate the work of the early pioneers of the feminist movement.
Here is the difference. To me, all of those numbers are absolutely fantastic, and it is the proverbial question: Is the glass half full or half empty?
I say the glass is half full. A lot of my very dear friends on the left would say that the glass is half empty – you know, isn’t it terrible that only 60 percent of the law degrees given, you know, at universities today go to women instead of, you know, 99 percent.
And from our viewpoint, things are getting better. They continue to get better. And for women of my generation, we would not have a lot of the opportunities that we enjoy today, if it was not for the women of the early feminist movement. It’s just that times have changed. And thanks to their very, very hard work, we’re able to make choices that so many women before us were not able to make.
I remember when I first started practicing law, I had just graduated from law school. And as was the case with many law firms in the country, there were probably, I mean, a handful of female partners at my law firm. And making partner is a very difficult – it’s very difficult to do.
And I was astounded that one of the women partners at our firm told me that, in that very law firm, when she graduated from law school – and I’m positive she graduated from Harvard or another Ivy League law school – she was first only hired as a legal secretary. And then when they allowed her to start practicing law, the only legal work she was allowed to do was for her husband’s business.
And that just wreaks of horrible sexism, and, you know, the unequal treatment of women. But we live in a very different country today.
And I don’t say that sexism doesn’t exist anymore, because it does. But things are radically different than they were 20, 30 years ago.
LAMB: What’s the point of this book?
BERNARD: That women are achieving, that women are doing well, and that when you are told that the plight of the American woman is almost as horrific as the plight of a woman in Iran, who is being murdered for one reason or another, that it’s untrue. We are doing well. We are excelling by almost every metric that is possible.
LAMB: Do you have people that, if you had to make a list of who you admire the most, beside your parents, people that are either – been in public life, who would they be?
Presidents that you might – who’s your favorite president?
BERNARD: Well, you know, I would say one of my most favorite people – someone who’s not with us any longer, but somebody who I have always had a great deal of respect for was Sojourner Truth.
She was a black woman. She was a slave who escaped slavery. She went on to be one of the greatest feminists and abolitionists of our time. I think I’ve probably read every book ever written about her.
I have always been a huge fan – I would love to sit in a room with Frederick Douglass and talk to him about his life and his life story, and how he achieved everything that he went on to achieve, despite all of the odds being against him.
You know, I don’t know if I could say that I’ve had a favorite president. I am more someone who really loves history and who loves philosophy, and likes to look back at where we’ve been and how we have arrived at where we are.
LAMB: How conflicted are you that there is a black man will be the nominee of the Democratic Party, and based on what I can see, you’re not a Democrat?
BERNARD: No, I am not a Democrat. I’m an independent.
LAMB: And you’ve been hired by MSNBC to be an analyst. And I suspect they thought they were getting somebody who was on the right of center.
BERNARD: Yes. Well, they know – I mean, they – I am an independent. And I’m an independent thinker. I’m not conflicted at all. I mean, I don’t even know why I would be conflicted. I think …
LAMB: I’m talking about politically.
BERNARD: Yes, oh …
LAMB: In other words, you’re sitting there watching this process unfold. And do you – I mean, in your heart, do you say, I want this racial breakthrough this time around?
BERNARD: I mean, you can’t help but want it. I mean, and I am no different than Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell, or many other African Americans that are either independents or conservatives or Republicans, or self-identify as right of center. You can’t help but sit back and say, that’s fantastic. I’m so proud of you.
I mean, I think that Barack Obama and what he stands for is one of the most important political figures in our nation’s history, regardless of whether he wins or not.
I may agree with some of his policies, and I probably disagree with a lot of them. But I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I sat back, and I look at him with pride. I look at him and I think, you know what? That could be my son one day.
And it’s nice to know that my children will be able to look at him and say, ”I can be the president of the United States.”
I remember years ago, I used to love to sit and listen to my parents and their friends talk when I should have been sleeping. But years ago as a child, listening to some of my parents’ talk with their friends from the Caribbean and their friends from the United States.
And one of the topics of conversation one evening was the degree to which we’ve seen so many West Indians do so well. And one of the things that they talked about was that slavery ended in the Caribbean much sooner than it did here.
And it was nothing to grow up in Jamaica and see that your prime minister was black. So, you never, ever thought that you couldn’t be prime minister because you’re black, or in spite of the fact that you were black. You just grew up knowing that you could be anything that you wanted to be, because that’s what you saw every day.
So, living in this country, it will be nice historically, regardless of what happens, for my kids to be able to look one day and say, ”I can run for president.”
LAMB: Have you seen this blog from this unapologetic black liberal?
BERNARD: No. I don’t read any of them.
LAMB: Well, I just wanted to know. This is …
LAMB: You’re in a public light, and this is the kind of thing they’re writing.
”I went to law school with Michelle and was a member of her wedding party. The reason why Michelle is a supporter of Obama is that she is an opportunist.”
This is somebody named Joyce. Do you know who we’re talking about?
BERNARD: No. I have no idea.
LAMB: ”In law school she was a liberal Democrat and supported the party. A black male friend of ours, Vernon Parker … ” Do you know him?
BERNARD: I know Vernon. He’s a good friend.
LAMB: ” … changed his party to become a Republican. He got a political appointment and shot up through the administration. Michelle thought this was a great way to move up the ranks in politics. Fewer black conservatives gives her higher visibility.”
You can see where they’re coming from. I mean, people – this is not, you know – this town’s not a lot of fun sometimes.
LAMB: What’s your response to something like that?
BERNARD: I don’t even know who it is. I absolutely don’t know who it is. And, I mean, it’s unfortunate that somebody who says that they know me and was in my wedding party feels that they need to go hammer out something like that on a blog, instead of calling me up and discussing it with me.
LAMB: But you are very public now.
LAMB: Does that worry you at all that you are public, and that people, you know, both in your job and on television – are you fair game?
BERNARD: Well, I think that that sort of comes with the territory. And my way of handling it is just not looking at it. I’ve always – I mean, for me, I don’t understand who has time to go out on a blog instead of taking care of their family or doing their job instead of writing something as ridiculous as that.
I mean, it must be somebody who in some way knows me, because I know Vernon Parker very well. He was one of my very close friends. And we were students at Georgetown at a very interesting time. They had an increase in the number of black students at Georgetown, so it was an interesting time at Georgetown. And people were trying to find their way.
And there was a small group of students. I think we were called Blacks for Bush. And one of the things that you might have seen at that time period was people not understanding how you could be black and also support George Herbert Walker Bush during that period of time.
And there was always the feeling – and it’s not just among whites, it’s among African Americans and women as well – that African Americans are a monolithic voting block, that we all think the same way. And that if you believe in one policy position, then you must believe in another. And it’s just not the way it is.
LAMB: Born in Washington, D.C., schooled at Howard, Georgetown Law School, worked at Patton Boggs, and run the Independent Women’s Forum now for two years?
BERNARD: I’ve been the president for two years, and I’ve been at the Independent Women’s Forum for four.
LAMB: And two children, one five, one two.
LAMB: Michelle Bernard, we’re out of time. Thank you very much.
BERNARD: Thank you.