MARIA HINOJOSA, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa. Michel Martin is away. Now, it's time for the weekly visit to the Barber Shop. That's when the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.
Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer and cultural critic Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar; John Hopkins University political science professor Lester Spence; and Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the former chair of the Republican National Committee.
We have a full studio today. Everyone's here in Washington, D.C. (Foreign language spoken). Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Maria, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey.
HINOJOSA: Oh, yeah.
IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop. How you doing?
HINOJOSA: I'm doing fabulosa.
IZRAEL: Word to Michael Jackson. Hey, hey, hey, welcome to the shop, fellows. What's good?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: What's cracking?
LESTER SPENCE: It's all good, baby. It's all good.
IZRAEL: All right. Well, you know what? Vice President Joe Biden doesn't have his foot in his mouth lately. He's actually, you know, been keeping himself busy otherwise. He stopped by the National Council of La Raza Convention this week and, yesterday, he went to the NAACP Convention in Houston.
Maria, we got some tape of that. Yeah?
HINOJOSA: Oh, yeah. We do. Here you go, Jimi. Here's Vice President Biden speaking at the NAACP.
(SOUNDBITE OF NAACP CONVENTION)
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I believe this election will come down to character, conviction and vision, and it will not surprise you. I don't think it's even a close call.
IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks, Maria. Kind of a locker room moment. He seems to be pumping up the team.
HINOJOSA: You know, he was met with a lot of applause at the NAACP Convention, but when Republican candidate Mitt Romney spoke, he had a different kind of reaction on Wednesday. Here's a clip:
(SOUNDBITE OF NAACP CONVENTION)
MITT ROMNEY: We have to stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we take in every year and so, to do that, I'm going to eliminate every non-essential, expensive program I can find. That includes Obamacare and I'm going to work to reform and save...
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE BOOING)
IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Maria. You know what?
MICHAEL STEELE: That was different.
IZRAEL: I think it was courageous that homeboy went to a - Romney went to see the NAACP. Yeah. But, see, the thing about dude is that, you know, I don't think it's a color thing with him. I think it's a class thing. I think he doesn't necessarily know how to talk to people that, you know, don't shop at Nordstrom's or below his caste, you know, and I think, like many white Americans, he presumes that people of color all - automatically, he sees brown faces and he presumes that they're not his kind or caste.
And he begins stumbling over words and, you know, he should have nuanced his comments about Obama, if only just for appearance's sake, and he just - I think these rhetorical gifts elude him when it comes to talking, you know, to regular folk.
Michael Steele, earlier this week, you were quoted - right.
IZRAEL: Well, you were quoted, the man of steel, you were quoted in an article in Luke21. You said Mitt Romney speaking at the NAACP was a moot point. Tell us what you meant.
STEELE: Well, it's a moot point simply because this is five months before a general election and the idea of going in to the NAACP with any hope of getting the black vote this fall is ludicrous, given that the RNC and national political party figures have done very little, if anything, over the last two years to warrant and to earn that vote.
So - yeah. I think - I applaud the governor for going. I think you do need to be mindful of whose house you're in and what you say about the folks who belong in that house, which Barack Obama is a member of that house, if you will.
STEELE: But I also recognize, and I do note from the clip, that when he said, we've got to stop the spending, we've got to cut the spending and save, he got the applause, until he started talking about what he was going to cut and the people went...
STEELE: ...wait, hold up. You're not going to cut that. So that, to me, sort of sets the argument and the tone for this fall's elections, as well.
SPENCE: You know, a couple of points. One, it's interesting that you bring that up because usually people in general - Americans in general - they want cuts, except when it's the stuff they like. Right? So that's something that's really important to understand.
The second thing. I'll actually disagree. I don't think it's a moot point, but what we have to understand is Romney isn't speaking to the NAACP to speak to black voters. What he's doing with that moment is he's speaking at the NAACP in order to talk to white moderates and show that the face of the Republican Party can be a bit kinder and gentler than it actually has been over the past couple of years.
HINOJOSA: And is that good politics? Is that cynical? Is it - you know, does it work?
STEELE: It's both. It's both cynical and good politics.
IZRAEL: Lester Spence, thank you for that.
SPENCE: Yeah. I mean, well, the data shows - there's research out of Michigan a few - that was conducted when Obama's predecessor was in office, that it actually does work. That particularly among, I believe, white moderate women...
STEELE: Women. Yeah.
SPENCE: ...they're far more likely to express support for the candidate when he shows himself open to diversity.
IZRAEL: Arsalan Iftikhar?
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I would actually take it one step further and say that not only was he speaking to, you know, white, moderate, Independent voters but he was also trying to speak to white, conservative, Republican base. You know, I think, you know, going into the NAACP and saying that you want to repeal Obamacare, you know, nobody can be surprised that you'd get booed. It's like me going to a Tea Party convention and saying that President Obama was born in America.
IZRAEL: Or like going to somebody's house for dinner and saying your mama can't cook.
IZRAEL: I mean it's just - it's just rude.
IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.
IZRAEL: It's just rude.
IFTIKHAR: Right. And...
STEELE: It may be true but it's rude.
IZRAEL: Right. Right. Just shhh.
IFTIKHAR: Well, it's like...
STEELE: You burnt the chicken.
IFTIKHAR: And so I think a lot of it was dog whistle politics to...
IFTIKHAR: ...you know, try to get some more street cred from a lot of the conservative base that's not very enthused about him.
HINOJOSA: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa and you're listening to the weekly Barbershop roundtable. It's my first time here and I'm loving it. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, he's a - and civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, political science professor Lester Spence and former chair of the RNC, Michael Steele.
(Spanish spoken) Jimi.
IZRAEL: Ah, the most beautiful sound.
IZRAEL: Thank you, Maria. All right. Well, meanwhile, back in D.C., members of both political parties were asking, where in the world is Jesse Jackson Jr.? The Chicago congressman's office has said he's been out on medical leave since June 10th. Rumors are running rampant. But Wednesday night, the public got some answers. Yeah?
HINOJOSA: A new statement from his office read quote, "the congressman is receiving intensive medical treatment at a residential treatment facility for a mood disorder. He's responding positively to treatment and is expected to make a full recovery."
IZRAEL: Now you know what? For some people that statement presents more questions than answers. Critics and constituents are asking for more information, saying the public has a right to know what's going on. But others say it's a medical health issue and Jackson's privacy should be respected.
A-Train? Arsalan Iftikhar, you hail from Chicago...
IFTIKHAR: I do.
IZRAEL: ...the land of the flying bullet. Weigh in here.
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I think that this is really a tough one. I think that, you know, when you hear recent statements by Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez and even Illinois Senator Dick Durbin saying that, you know, Jackson's office should come out with more information, it has to do with his constituencies - constituency. I think that, you know, he won the Democratic primary in his district which is, you know, heavily Democratic, but, you know, with the general election coming up I think a lot of people in Chicago - especially in his district - want to know, you know, the extent of his medical leave. He's been gone from Congress for almost two months, since May, and so I think that these are questions that are going to need to be answered.
IZRAEL: Man of Steel, Michael?
STEELE: I agree, and I take a slightly different view of it, as a former elected official and someone who's been under that glass of scrutiny for some time. You do have to recognize that zone and it sounds like there's something serious going on with him, and I would prefer that he get that right with himself and his family...
STEELE: ...before he has to showboat and showcase to the rest of us what his deal is. And I think there's time for that. I agree with Arsalan's point about the upcoming election, but I don't think that's really going to be an issue for him in Chicago...
STEELE: ...this November, in terms of reelection. So I want to see the brother get healed. I have an immense amount of respect for him. I've enjoyed working with him in the past. I've, you know, loved working with his dad. And I think - let him worked that out and then come back and then we can pick up the pieces.
IZRAEL: Lester Spence.
SPENCE: So his voting record has been impeccable, right, so that's, it's important to understand that. So it's not like he's because he's got this long history of actually doing his job, I think people are going to give him the space he needs.
SPENCE: But this is an opportunity. Mental health is actually a public health problem. Mood disorders - rates of mood disorders among African-Americans are the same, but they are consistently misdiagnosed among blacks. Blacks are far less likely to receive treatment for mental health issues than other populations. I think this represents an excellent opportunity to put this back on the radar. Because there are a number of people - I myself, I haven't suffered from mood disorders, but I've suffered from depression...
IZRAEL: Hmm. True.
SPENCE: ...and it's no, it's literally no joke. I think that the more public figures that wrestle with this, particularly political figures like Jackson, given his constituency, the better. And I'm hoping he comes back to his...
IZRAEL: You know what?
HINOJOSA: And you know what? Depression among Latinos, the same thing, and no one is talking about it.
HINOJOSA: And if you can't talk about it, then how do we move on? So it's a about the silence, though.
STEELE: I think it's good for him to heal, start to heal himself before he starts to talk about it, though. I don't want to see him rushed into having to explain stuff.
SPENCE: Oh, no, that's right. No, that's right.
IZRAEL: You know, I mean if I were Jesse Jackson Jr. I'd need a vacation too. You know, I'm just, you know, my dad is just a regular working guy but I feel the pressure of having to live up to him, to his, what he set before me...
IZRAEL: ...and try to make him proud, you know, and it's a lot of pressure. And nobody's talking about that. I mean, you know, MLK III, he keeps a low profile and he should, you know, because it's like being Superman Jr.
IZRAEL: It's like every man has - everybody has all these expectations and when you're in the shadow of a great man it's difficult, you know...
HINOJOSA: So let...
STEELE: Why don't you wear your cape the same way he did, right?
HINOJOSA: You guys, let's turn this all around now and talk about a topic that really just is so hard for all of us. But let's talk about what happened with Penn State.
IZRAEL: Oh, my gosh.
IZRAEL: Well, this is awful because we all know the result of the Penn State investigation into Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse scandal. The university hired FBI director Lou Freeh - Louis Freeh to examine how the school...
HINOJOSA: Former FBI director.
IFTIKHAR: Right. Former.
HINOJOSA: Right. Former. Former.
IZRAEL: ...how the school handled the situation. And the conclusion was ugly. We got a clip from Freeh's press conference on Thursday.
LOUIS FREEH: Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.
IZRAEL: Wow. You know, Michael Steele, it doesn't, it kind of invokes that reaction kind of like a-huh reaction, not because it's funny but because it's so ridiculous.
IZRAEL: That we live in a country that puts the welfare of young children to the side for the sake of football, and it just blows my mind.
STEELE: Oh, it blows mine too. And I've said from the very beginning of this scandal that the program should be shut down for at least a year. There should be a thorough and full investigation to see exactly the extent, where there any other students who may have been harmed in some way, or young freshman or whatever, just to clear the house there completely because this is reprehensible beyond words.
IFTIKHAR: Oh yeah, and this is Arsalan. You know, as somebody who went through the entire 267-page Freeh report, you know, obviously, you know, we knew a lot of the stuff that was in there, but we also learned a lot of the stuff that, you know - new stuff. And what's interesting to me - and this discussion that's been going on in sports talk radio is - you know, should the statue of Joe Paterno be taken down at Penn State?
IFTIKHAR: And I agree with that. I think it should be taken down.
IFTIKHAR: I think, you know, for anybody who is a Joe Paterno fan, you might want to take your picture against that statue, because it's not going to be there long. Even Nike, you know, recently a day or so ago, removed Joe Paterno's name from the center that they had. And it's really going to be interesting, because the Clery Act, it's a federal law which basically requires that if there is any criminal acts on university campuses to be reported to see if there's going to be any sort of grand jury indictments in moving forward in the future against three of the four people that were implicated in the Freeh report.
IZRAEL: Lester Spence?
SPENCE: Penn State has one of the top five most profitable football programs in the nation. I think the best idea I heard was that they take that revenue and just put that totally into dealing with kid's health to make sure something like this doesn't happen again. But one thing I'd like to emphasize: this is what evil looks like.
SPENCE: Right. We tend to put evil, people like the KKK or the Nazis...
SPENCE: But, no. It's...
SPENCE: This is what it looks like.
HINOJOSA: When it's just everywhere and everyone is pretending like they don't see it?
SPENCE: Yes. And then it's wrapped up, there's all this other good stuff that comes. This is what it looks like. This is what it looks like.
HINOJOSA: It's funny, as a mom it's entirely frightening, I have to tell you - as a mom of a 16-year-old - just entirely frightening.
All right, gentlemen, there is one more topic of what your thoughts on. Yes, the Olympic uniforms. It outfits for the opening ceremony are designed by Ralph Lauren, but made in China - so that's not sitting well with - quickly - with many critics. So, guys - Jimi, do you think it matters that the uniforms are made overseas?
IZRAEL: I challenge you right now to find something that you're wearing that isn't made overseas.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Man, everything I wear is from China.
IZRAEL: You know. Are you serious?
STEELE: I always...
IFTIKHAR: Everything I own is from China.
IZRAEL: You know, my, the, you know, the sandals I'm wearing were made in Israel. These Levis were made overseas. I know this Haines T-shirt wasn't made in Oklahoma, you know. So hey, I do, I think it's a lot of political grandstanding. I...
HINOJOSA: You think it's a little jingoistic?
IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. I just think people just need something to talk about. They need their name in the paper and, you know, they're trying to wave the flag around, which always works. No disrespect to the flag, but it's just hey, every - what's more American than wearing, you know, clothes made overseas?
HINOJOSA: But what's so crazy is that Harry Reid - I mean Harry Reid is sounding pretty radical. He's like, you know...
STEELE: Burn them.
HINOJOSA: ...put them altogether and light them on fire.
IZRAEL: He hasn't had his name in the news a while so now he has. He can put this up on his refrigerator and say look mom, look what I said?
HINOJOSA: Michael Steele, is a smart business, bad politics or both?
STEELE: It's bad business for - certainly for Ralph Lauren right now. I think it's good politics for both the right and the left, who've actually found something in Washington to come together over, as we've seen the House and Senate leadership do. I happen to agree though, that I think given how interconnected we are, globally, to feign, shock and dismay that, you know, this product or that product was made overseas is kind of silly. Although, it's the Olympics. It's national pride and all of that. I still think it's a little bit overblown right now.
IFTIKHAR: Again, man, everything I own is made in China. I wouldn't be surprised if I was made in China.
HINOJOSA: And then taken to Chicago.
IZRAEL: You heard it here first.
IFTIKHAR: I mean this is one of those faux political controversies.
IFTIKHAR: I mean it's like the recent, you know, House vote on repealing Obamacare. I mean we have a lot of things that our House and Senate need to be focused on and this sort of, you know, political circus and grandstanding is, you know, it gets my ridonkulous(ph) award of the week.
IFTIKHAR: I know. Right?
IZRAEL: Lester Spence, come on, man.
SPENCE: I'm rocking a summer scarf from Africa right now so I don't even know...
IZRAEL: And you are rocking it.
HINOJOSA: With style, right.
IZRAEL: You are rocking it.
SPENCE: Straight up. So...
IZRAEL: Ladies and gentlemen, you are rocking with the best.
SPENCE: This is what globalization looks like.
IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah.
IFTIKHAR: You're un-American, you know that, right?
STEELE: But there is something to be said and to focus on...
SPENCE: But I do (unintelligible).
STEELE: ...on getting our manufacturing base back in place here. I've seen in my state of Maryland - go from 38 percent manufacturing base to seven percent over the last 20 years, so there is a legitimate argument to make for U.S. manufacturers.
STEELE: But I don't think this is a way to do it.
HINOJOSA: All right. Guys, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much for being on the Barbershop. Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also an adjunct professor in social media - of film and socials media Cuyahoga Community College. Give me the pronunciation.
HINOJOSA: You see. Lester Spence is a blogger and political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, author and founder of themuslimguy.com, and Michael Steele is a former chair of the Republican National Committee and a columnist for TheRoot.com, an online publication focusing on African-American experiences and ideas.
All of the gentlemen were here with me in Washington, D.C. Thank you so much and hey...
STEELE: Thank you.
STEELE: All right.
HINOJOSA: ...till next time. That's our program for today. I'm more a Hinojosa and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin will be back to talk with you more on Monday. And little scruffy a muchas gracias. Ciao.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.