Michelle D. Bernard is CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum and an MSNBC political analyst. The author of “Women’s Progress: How Women Are Wealthier, Healthier and More Independent Than Ever Before,” she also created, co-produced and hosted the television program “About Our Children,” featuring Bill Cosby. The program explored poverty and education reform.
A lawyer, she maintains that U.S. schools are as segregated as ever. We spoke by phone Tuesday as Republicans grappled with a controversy that continued to swirl around their chairman, Michael Steele.
Q: Let’s start with Michael Steele. Should he stay or should he go?
A: It’s a double-edged sword. Many people believe that the Republican Party looked up and said, “Wow, first African-American president. The next chairman of the Republican party should be an African-American.” And they didn’t look at Michael Steele’s qualifications and just said, “Let’s pick him.” And what you see is what you get. … If they dismiss him, it could look really bad. … The bottom line is that given how things are going in Republican politics right now, I think that they should probably play things as conservatively as possible.
Q: How big a rift is there among Republicans over this?
A: I would say that the party is probably looking for a fall guy. The larger rift within the Republican Party are the people who feel that the party is being taken over by the far right wing … and then those who say that they are conservatives, not Republicans, and that the party has been destroyed by “mainstream Republicans.” I see more of a rift there than whether or not Michael Steele is destroying the Republican Party. There are the free-market economic types who are registered Republicans because of their belief in limited government, free-market economics. And then there are those who are deeply conservative or are single-issue people. Tea party people are deeply conservative religious people. Those different factions are at odds within the party. That might be more of a problem going into the elections than Michael Steele: How do you unify the different groups that make up the Republican Party?
Q: Congress returns next week from spring recess. What are the challenges facing the Republicans?
A: The biggest challenge is how do they move forward and eliminate this notion — people feel that the Democrats have been somewhat successful in painting the Republican Party as the party of “no.” So the Republican party is now … the party that is saying “repeal and replace.” And by saying repeal and replace, they’ve put themselves in the position of saying that there is some room for government involvement in health care … which might be somewhat of a messaging mistake. They’ve got to find a way to fulfill this promise in order to get the American public to vote for Republicans in the elections in November.
Q: Your group, the Independent Women’s Forum, this week launched the Balanced Education for Everyone campaign, advocating that parents take control of their children’s education, especially when it comes to global warming. What are they teaching in schools today?
A: This campaign really focuses on the fact that when you look at issues like climate change and global warming, both sides of the issue should be taught. … Whether it is science education, physical science, even history, all through public schools throughout the country kids are taught only one side of the story. And many children are forced to watch “An Inconvenient Truth” as the truth about global warming. A lot of kids come home and they are frightened. They are told that polar bears are dying and that … the world is going to come to an end. And there are a lot of parents who feel that their kids should be taught both sides of the story and be allowed to make a decision themselves. They feel this is alarmist, that it is political indoctrination.
Q: You’ve been called some pretty nasty names. Does it worry you that someone might try something against your family?
A: It’s always a concern because there are nut jobs out there. There are a lot of nut jobs out there on both the right and the left, and I basically just try not to think about it too much and to keep my family as protected as possible. There are people out there who think I’m great and they scare me too. So it swings both ways. A couple of years ago, I was doing political commentary for MSNBC at the Democratic convention, and a husband and wife come up to me and the husband wanted me to autograph his wife’s breasts and take a picture with them. They were going to hang the picture of the three of us together over their headboard in their bedroom.
Q: You’ve said that since Barack Obama’s election we are definitely a nation of red states and blue states and we are going to see that in November. What kind of turnover are you looking at?
A: I wish my crystal ball was not as foggy. … We are still really far away. I think there is definitely going to be some turnover, but I don’t think it is going to be a colossal turnover of Democratic seats that many people are forecasting. I don’t think it’s going to be as massive.