CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. Michel Martin is away. And it's time now for our weekly visit to the Barbershop. That's where 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 author and culture critic Jimi Izrael. He's with us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. At member station WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, is R. Clarke Cooper. He's the former executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. And then, in our New York bureau, Pablo Torre, senior writer at ESPN.com and Kai Wright. He's the editorial director for the website Colorlines.com.
Welcome, everyone, and take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: C. Headlee.
HEADLEE: Jimi Izrael or I guess that would be J. Izrael.
IZRAEL: In the place to be. Shout out to Paul Anthony and Full Force. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?
R. CLARKE COOPER: What's up, man?
PABLO TORRE: I got some Gnarls Barkley on organ into transmission music there. That was great.
HEADLEE: I know. Nice, right?
IZRAEL: Actually, yeah, yeah. I played that. You know I played that.
TORRE: That was you, right Jimi?
IZRAEL: Kai Wright. Kai, it's good to have you back again.
KAI WRIGHT: It's lovely to be here, Jimi.
IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's get it started. The talk of the town this week is about the Supreme Court. The court heard arguments about California's Proposition 8 and DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. Celeste, you want to set that up for us?
HEADLEE: You know that I do. OK. To refresh some people's minds, DOMA is the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, at least when it comes to getting federal benefits. Prop 8, on the other hand, is a California law, a state law that bans same-sex marriage. They had arguments at the Supreme Court this week and we probably will not get a final decision until at least this summer.
IZRAEL: Thanks for thumb-nailing that for us, Celeste.
IZRAEL: R. Clarke and Kai.
IZRAEL: Coop. Coop's in the house.
IZRAEL: Check this out.
COOPER: That's right. I'm in the house from Columbus, Ohio State. Go Buckeyes, which we'll talk about later.
HEADLEE: Oh, go blue.
COOPER: Yeah. Hey, hey, hey.
IZRAEL: Wait. Hold on. Hold on now. Wait a second. Wait a second. Before all-out war breaks out, as it happens, Clarke and Kai, you two are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but you're also both gay. I want to get each of your takes on these cases. Kai, let's start with you. What stood out to you about these arguments?
WRIGHT: Well, I mean, on the arguments themselves, what stands out is how little constitutionally is likely to get resolved, but I think, given, you know, that on both cases, it sounds like they want to avoid ruling directly on the question of marriage and on same-sex marriage.
But I think bigger than that is, you know, every time there's a big moment around gay civil rights and everyone starts talking about it, I'm always struck on how big the difference is and growing between the conversation in officialdom and the rest of the world and normal society.
IZRAEL: Flesh that out a little bit.
WRIGHT: It's, you know, we're debating. There was this moment when Justice Kagan read from the report for the Defense of Marriage Act, from the Congressional report of the Defense of Marriage Act where, you know, it states that Congress wishes to - I forget the language now - but to make mention of its disapproval - its moral disapproval of homosexuality. Right? And it read like something from 1896, not from 1996, and it's - so I guess there's the distance we've traveled in just - what - 15 short years.
But it's also - you know, and at least - and maybe it's because I live in New York and I'm gay, but you know, my partner's niece is staying with us from a small town in Wisconsin, a young woman this week while stuff is - while this debate is going on. And she's just mystified as to what we're talking about and why this is an issue. It's just - and yet, at the level of officialdom, we're debating whether or not Congress can issue its disapproval of homosexuality. Just - it's - there's just such a gap and so, you know, hopefully, we'll get caught up, but there's such a gap.
COOPER: Yeah. Well, speaking of that gap, Bob Barr, who is known infamously as one of the fathers of DOMA - he, in 2011, spoke at a Log Cabin Republicans event and said this was a really, really bad idea and actually called for the repeal of the law. Congressional staffers at the time, people who were on the House Judiciary Committee who are now in the - many of them are in the private sector - said, what the heck were we thinking?
So, regardless - and, as Kai mentioned, you know, the younger the generation, the more likely people have no understanding as to why this law was even created. But, if one just looks at it from a constitutional perspective - and this is what the Supreme Court is trying to parse down - in earlier court rulings at the Circuit Court level last year, at the 1st Circuit and then later in the 9th Circuit, found that it was unconstitutional because it actually was offensive to the constitutional guarantees of federalism and individual liberty.
And it's also, on a big thing, if you're a conservative, even if someone is squeamish about same-sex marriage, they can't deny the fact that DOMA is intrusive and impedes upon states' rights and states' sovereignty. And so that's where, that is where there may be a final success later this year, probably in June, when we maybe get a ruling on this, where the court may come out and say we're not going to rule on same-sex marriage but we can rule on DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, walking all over the Constitution and walking all over states' rights.
HEADLEE: Let me take care of some business here real quick. If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop conversation. In this shop this week, writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, Pablo Torre from ESPN.com, R. Clarke Cooper, former executive director for the Log Cabin Republicans - whom you just heard, and Kai Wright, editorial director at Colorlines.com.
OK. Business done. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: OK. Thanks, Celeste. You know, Pablo, you're our electric youth in the Barbershop today.
IZRAEL: A shot out to Debbie Gibson.
TORRE: Heavy crown.
IZRAEL: I know. Yet, it's on your head. So speak to that whole youth peace. What's your take on this?
TORRE: Yeah I mean well, first off from the sports perspective, I mean, we're seeing NFL players who are publicly wondering in the New York Times what is the big deal? And from that point, if that's a canary in the proverbial mineshaft, I mean that's a pretty significant one. But more than that, I think one of the things; I mean Kai's completely right. It's terrifying how different I think - at least the public that I interact with generally - how unimpressed they are with the sort of the moral panic that is being proposed out of D.C. right now. And the one comment that I want to highlight here is Justice Scalia, who mentioned, you know, there is this considerable disagreement - I'm quoting here - amongst sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not. And there just is - and the Washington Post pointed out - there is just no sort of disagreement among sociologists. It is about the product of stability in a relationship between two parents in the household, socioeconomic resources, all of the stuff that is logically true that you might intuit without any of these sort of artificial moral barriers, I mean that's what's the real issue here.
WRIGHT: I mean Justice Scalia...
WRIGHT: ...is a man who vehemently opposed getting rid of laws that criminalize sodomy not too long ago...
WRIGHT: ...and used language about the deviance of the behavior. So that's Justice Scalia. But I think what is also striking is outside of the court this week, you know...
HEADLEE: The demonstrations in the front you mean?
WRIGHT: Well, actually...
WRIGHT: ...there's the demonstrations in front, which are always colorful. But amongst elected officials, both in the Republican and the Democratic Party. I mean this may also be the week in which the Democratic Party finally fully came out as pro-gay.
IZRAEL: Oh, OK. Oh, and we're going to continue to watch this conversation as it develops. But another big story of the week was the president's press conference on gun control. Yesterday, he gathered family members from victims of gun violence from all across the country. You know, we got a clip yeah, Celeste?
HEADLEE: Of course we do. President Obama talked about some of the major shootings in America's recent history - from Tucson to Aurora, Colorado. Here's what he had to say in reference to the shooting in Newtown.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The entire country was shocked, and the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we've forgotten.
IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Celeste.
IZRAEL: Coop. You know, I'm so glad that, you know, the president, known for flowery language and strong, heavily-worded platitudes, is actually on - he has a mission of value. No, seriously. I mean that's how I feel. I haven't always been - I haven't always felt like that about Barack Obama. I mean he says some awfully pretty words, but when it comes to action, he's not a man of action. You know, he's a lot more Sidney Poitier then Richard Roundtree for my liking. But now he probably...
WRIGHT: Get up off of Sidney Poitier, Jimi.
TORRE: And that is on the record. How dare you?
IZRAEL: He has finally picked out his Afro and put on his leather jacket and he's...
HEADLEE: This is not going anywhere good, Jimi. Let's get to a question.
IZRAEL: So he's ready to work. Coop, what's your take?
COOPER: I was just envisioning a drop-the-microphone moment.
TORRE: Of a certain sort, yes.
COOPER: I'm not going to say it because I don't want the lawyers to get down on me at the mother ship there. Anyway, no the legislation is going to be up for consideration after the Passover Easter recess. And so it has to be a bipartisan approach. And one of the things that needs to be take into account and I'm not sure the president has really taken this into account, is the diversity of the U.S. populace when it comes to the issue of gun ownership - legal gun ownership.
Earlier this month, I was just out at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and it's on the border with Mexico, but it's just down the road from Tucson. It's within Gabby Giffords' district, and many people out there are gun owners for many reasons, for hunting, for sport, but also for protection. And I'm not saying this in a hyperbolic sense. The threat of issues with Mexican drug lords and gangs that are in and around that border area are a very serious real threat to ranchers and folks who live in that Tucson, Nogales, Sierra Vista area. So again, when you're talking about gun ownership, legal gun ownership and the constitutional Second Amendment right aspect of it, one does have to factor all of that in in crafting legislation when they get back from recess. So to simply say that from a speech that there is a moral authority to do this is not enough and there does have to be a real factoring in of the diversity of legal gun owners.
IZRAEL: OK. All right. Well, I'm with that. Kai, go ahead.
WRIGHT: I mean I think at the same time that, you know, to me it is another one of these issues where I'm struck between the difference between the conversation officialdom and, you know, the commonsense wisdom of a lot of folks, normal folks and, you know, I mean the kinds of change. When you actually look at what we're talking about in these bills, these are not terribly controversial things. I mean the universal background check, for instance, you know, is a pretty straightforward idea, that it should be as equally difficult to buy a gun as it is to vote. And I, you know, and the fact that that has rescinded in the conversation is striking. But I have to say, you know, I mean looking at the politics of it, the next, this recess is going to be spirited. You know, I mean all sides of this debate intend to come very hard for these town hall meetings. And Jimi, to get to your point, I am impressed with the president in the fact that I agree with you though, you know, I'm not mad at Sidney Poitier in that way, but...
IZRAEL: I'm not either, Sidney. We're cool.
WRIGHT: But I agree with you that he, you know, has often failed to have, you know, as the Supreme Court asked him this week, the courage of his convictions. And it does seem to be an issue where he has gotten that. And the only way that this, I mean the reason why if it has in fact, you know, we receded from the public conversation it's because the strategy was for folks who wanted to stop gun control, was to delay it long enough for the outrage to go away. And what the presidency offers is a giant megaphone and bully pulpit to put stuff back in front of people. So she's going to spend the next week giving speeches like that it can change the political calculus on this.
IZRAEL: Speaking of outrage. It's March Madness, yeah? You know, spring fever is in the house.
IZRAEL: Yeah, you know, Cleveland State, a little quiet this year, a little quiet, but there's still next year. Pablo, over at the TMM fan bracket, you're getting beat by some listeners.
IZRAEL: Really, bro?
TORRE: Some common listeners.
HEADLEE: And some hosts.
IZRAEL: I think now is the time to remind...
IZRAEL: ...everyone that you're a senior writer for ESPN.
TORRE: I know.
IZRAEL: You picked Georgetown to win the whole thing. What went wrong?
COOPER: Womp. Womp.
TORRE: Needless to say, background checks for March Madness would not have helped.
TORRE: I am an embarrassment to my profession. But look, this is the one of the most upset friendly insane tournaments in recent memories. I mean we just saw the second and third most popular picks to win it all, Indiana and Miami, get wiped out completely. Indiana was President Obama's pick and many others. No perfect brackets, by the way, according to ESPN.com and a bazillion people entered and there are no perfect brackets left. And the story of this tournament to me is Florida Gulf Coast. I mean the school that was formed in 1997; their oldest alumnus is 37 years old, just made this NCAA run. They live on the beach. No one really knew they existed, but that's sort of the magic of this thing, whereas schools like that that no one picked are into the second round and doing very well. So I have no defense for myself.
TORRE: I did pick Harvard because I went there and that's literally only one I got right. Everything else was very wrong. So maybe my credibility...
IZRAEL: Coop. go ahead, man. Now is your chance.
COOPER: Having grown up in Florida, I can tell you it's pronounced Gulf Coast.
COOPER: And yes, that's true. I'm sure the university would agree with...
TORRE: Fort Myers, represent.
COOPER: That's right. West Coast. Outside you, you know, not to hate on the Gators. I am an 'Nole. That's my disclaimer. I went to Florida State. But I am rooting for Florida Gulf Coast because of the Cinderella story. It is absolutely phenomenal how far they've come. And in fact, there are people in that area they didn't even know there was a state university because it is so new. But, more immediately, sitting here in Columbus, Ohio, OSU, I am on campus. Go Buckeyes. In fact, after this program, my stepdad is a professor emeritus, Dr. Tuchman(ph), he is taking mom and I out to Sloopy's Diner to celebrate that victory that happened last night, that thriller part two. Amazing. If anybody watched that game.
HEADLEE: All right. That's kind of enough about, I'm going to have to break it here and call. I'm going to call an audible here. But I want to do a quick lightning round, if you guys are up because we have the controversy of ad coming out from Nike. When Tiger Woods became the number one golfer in the world again, they immediately aired an ad. And the tag line was: winning takes care of everything. Tiger Woods, world, number one. So lightning round. Let's get your response to this. Pablo, does winning take care of everything?
TORRE: It does. Especially in the year of Paterno and Lance Armstrong and all of these folks.
HEADLEE: OK. So Pablo says yes. R. Clarke? Everything good. Winning takes care of everything? Solves everything?
COOPER: That ad's a no go. But victories on the green or the battlefield can wash away the sins of past career failures...
HEADLEE: Oh, there you go.
COOPER: So the caveat, that was career failures, not personal.
IZRAEL: Who said that? McCarthy?
HEADLEE: OK. Kai, what do you think?
WRIGHT: Certainly in the category of using celebrity to sell people stuff, victory will fix it.
HEADLEE: OK. And, Jimi? You've got kids. What do you think? Winning takes care of everything? Wipes away the background?
IZRAEL: Listen, as my grandfather would say, the main thing is he's playing good golf again. That's what he gets paid to do. It's not my turn to watch him doing other stuff. So he's playing good golf, swing on, brother. Swing on.
HEADLEE: It's Lindsey Vonn's turn now. Anyway, that was author and culture critic Jimi Israel, with us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. R. Clarke Cooper, Republican strategist, former executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. He joined us from member station WOSU in Columbus, Ohio. Senior writer at ESPN.com and bracket buster, Pablo Torre. Kai Wright, editorial director at Colorlines.com. They both joined us from our New York bureau. Since I'm the host, I get the last word. So I'm going to say go blue.
Thank you all so much.
TORRE: Thank you.
WRIGHT: Thank you.
HEADLEE: Remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our new Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We'll talk more on Monday.
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