'Shop Talk': Debating The Legacy Of Elizabeth Edwards
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, 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 blogger Jimi Izrael; Kevin Blackistone, who's a national sports columnist for AOL FanHouse; civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar; along with Matthew Continetti, the opinion editor of the Weekly Standard. Take it away, Jimi.
Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Author): Thanks, Michel. Hey fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?
Group Members: Doing great, how you doing? Hi, Jimi.
Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, we're going to have to kick things off in the shop today with a somber note. Funeral services for Elizabeth Edwards are set for tomorrow in North Carolina. We all know her, in part, as the estranged wife of former Senator John Edwards. She died after a long bout with breast cancer, Michel.
MARTIN: You know, I think she's such a complicated figure, and that's one of the reasons I was interested to hear what you all have to say about her. Because I think maybe - people may remember she was a lawyer and - but kind of had that - kind of classic role of political spouse. And I remember John Edwards was on the vice presidential ticket, and then ran for president again in 2008.
Had a very public struggle with some tragedies, losing her son - their son in a car crash when he was 16 years old; her battles with cancer; and then, of course, this very public break-up of her marriage when her husband was revealed to have been carrying on a very intense affair that resulted in the birth of another child.
And she wrote about all of this in her book - you know - "Resilience." And I just want to play a short clip from an appearance on NBC in June, where she was reading from her book about the end of her marriage to John Edwards. Here it is.
(Soundbite of NBC broadcast)
Ms. ELIZABETH EDWARDS (Author, "Resilience"): I knew I could no longer be John's wife. It was a sad and terrifying decision. I've been trying to reinvent the role of wife for the last two years, trying to find a place where I could be happy and still be John's wife despite his infidelity. Each day, it seemed another piece of my history chipped away. There was little comfort or satisfaction. There was no peace. And at the very end of 2009, I finally gave up trying.
MARTIN: There you go, Jimi.
Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Michel. Of course, our condolences go out to the Edwards family. Guys, let me turn this over to you. Kevin, will Elizabeth Edwards - will she be remember for her resiliency, or kind of as a champion of health care, or as the woman John Edwards cheated on while she battled cancer?
Mr. KEVIN BLACKISTONE (AOL FanHouse): Well, I think it's less of the second and more of the first and third. I mean, I think of all that she went through in her life and the fact that she was able to handle it, apparently, with so much courage and so much strength - I mean, these were all very public incidents; things that, for most of us, wouldn't be revealed as they were for her. But yet she was able to somehow soldier on, keep her head up, and be a spokeswoman and a spokesperson for people and families who were going through the same tragedies.
Mr. IZRAEL: Matt?
Mr. MATTHEW CONTINETTI (The Weekly Standard): Yeah, what makes Elizabeth Edwards interesting to me is, you know, when you look back on our recent political history, she was a leading indicator. You know, when her husband was nominated for the vice presidency in 2004, he was there to balance the ticket. You had the Northern, Massachusetts liberal in John Kerry so they chose the Southern, conservative Democrat, John Edwards, to balance the ticket.
But by the time Edwards ran in 2008, he was running from the left. He was the left-most viable candidate in those primaries. What made the change? Well, when I look back, I think it was Elizabeth. I remember distinctly, her going onto the Daily Kos in, I think, 2006, calling for the immediate withdrawal for Iraq, and also calling for a universal health care.
And she, I think, made those changes in her husband, but she was also a leading indicator of where the Democratic Party was headed. So when I think of her, that's what I'll remember.
MARTIN: That's interesting. Do you think, though, that she - was that because she had a sense of the zeitgeist or because she - that was - people - was she leading or following? That was my question.
Mr. CONTINETTI: I think it's both. And I actually think the good statesman does both things. They can sense where the public is headed - where their public is headed and then also, anticipate and mold opinion. And so one wonders in so many cases of these famous political couples, what would have happened had the tide been turned. And I think Elizabeth proved herself to be just as savvy a politician - perhaps even more so - than her husband.
MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you think?
Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney): Well, I think in a lot of ways, Elizabeth Edwards' legacy might eclipse that of her husband's in the sense that, you know, obviously, with the, you know, the whole infidelity fiasco with John Edwards, he's sort of seen as a political punch line now, whereas Elizabeth Edwards is sort of seen as a role model, you know - a role model for cancer survivors, a role model for mothers, for political spouses, you know, in terms of how to handle things, you know, with grace and dignity. I think that, you know, she captured, you know, the hearts of millions of Americans, you know, even those who have no interest in politics whatsoever. And I think that, you know, I think that her legacy is going to be one that sort of straddles different sociopolitical arenas.
MARTIN: Thats true, although there was this very unflattering portrait of her...
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.
MARTIN: ...in this - a book that was published last year...
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Game Change.
MARTIN: ...called Game Change, which I don't know how widely read it was outside of political circles, but I think in political circles, I think I don't know anybody that did you read it?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Of course.
MARTIN: Matthew did you - I don't know anybody who didn't read it, and it portrayed a very different picture on a personal level, a person with a lot of hard edges, very vindictive and things of that sort.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: So, you know, I don't know. I dont know - I don't know. I think it's, I think being a political spouse is a very tough job, I have to say, because it's very hard to watch your spouse being criticized.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Thats right. It's that...
MARTIN: You know what I mean? I must say that I'm wounded when my husband is criticized publicly, even though I'm not in politics but I'm just saying he's a public figure. And then he just laughs it off and then I'm just, I'm just outraged for days. I think it's a tough job.
Mr. CONTINETTI: I'd also say, having studied Sarah Palin pretty closely, whenever a woman in politics is tough or brassy or tries to get her way, she's often portrayed by the media as vindictive and conniving. And so I think in that sense, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Elizabeth Edwards have all been ill-treated by the media at times.
MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?
Mr. IZRAEL: I think sadly, like Jackie O, shes going to kind of be remembered for all the above. It's like when you think of Jackie O, you know, you don't think of a patron of the arts, or you sometimes think of style maven, but what you remember the most is that she was the wife of that louse and alleged philanderer, JFK. And also I...
MARTIN: No, I dont. I don't. I don't. I really don't.
Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I do.
Mr. IZRAEL: I do.
MARTIN: Well. Well.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Camelot. That's what I think of.
MARTIN: I don't know.
Mr. IZRAEL: I don't think about Camelot. I just, I think of all three of those things, so I think that's going to be the case with Mrs. Edwards, sadly.
MARTIN: Well, once again, as we said, our condolences to the family and all those who loved her. And as we said, services for her will be held tomorrow.
If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Kevin Blackistone, Arsalan Iftikhar and Matthew Continetti.
Back to you Jimi.
Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.
All right, next, let's turn to President Obama, and the showdown there in Washington over tax cuts. Now, the president is taking a lot of heat for a deal he brokered with Republicans that would extend tax cuts for all Americans for the next two years, Michel.
MARTIN: Heres President Obama speaking with NPR's Steve Inskeep of MORNING EDITION - hes on todays MORNING EDITION - about this. Here it is.
President BARACK OBAMA: The issue here is not whether I think that the tax cuts for the wealthy are a good or smart thing to do. I've said, repeatedly, that I think they're not a smart thing to do, particularly because we've got to borrow money, essentially, to pay for them.
The problem is, is that this is the single issue that the Republicans are willing to scotch the entire deal for. And in that circumstances - in that circumstance, we've got, basically, a very simple choice: Either I allow 2 million people who are currently getting unemployment insurance not to get it, either I allow the recovery that we're on to be endangered; or we make a compromise now, understanding that for the next two years this is going to be a central battle as part of a larger discussion about how do we reform our tax code so that its fair. And how do we make sure that we actually are dealing with the deficit and debt in an intelligent way?
MARTIN: Hes in full professor mode there, you can see. But - poor Arsalan.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: You should see poor Arsalan, he's been shaking his...
Mr. IZRAEL: Is he falling asleep?
MARTIN: No, he's been shaking his head so hard. He's like, no, no. Arsalan, just share your pain. Tell us what's going on here and why youre he's like, hes got this pained look on his face.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, you keep hearing the word compromise, you know; this is a compromise. You know, that's like, you know, Lebron James with Miami Heat's 15-and-8 record, saying oh, you know, we've just been compromising with the Boston Celtics and the Utah Jazz when we keep losing to them. Barack Obama is losing, politically, right now. You know, first of all, let's not forget, you know, the talking points put out there - you know, the tax cuts for the rich will help create jobs. Let's not forget, this is an extension of the tax cuts, so we wouldn't be in the recession, almost 10 percent unemployment, you know, with, you know, maintaining the status quo.
Secondly, most importantly, you know, in September 2010, John Boehner, you know, clearly said that, you know, if he was given no choice and obviously, of course, he would vote for tax cuts only for the middle class. So it seemed like, you know, essentially the Democrats just - or the administration, at least -just, you know, handed them this on a silver platter.
It's something that is not only a problem with the tax cuts but, you know, for those of us on the left, you know, when it comes to the, you know, the single-payer system and, you know, during the health-care debate, the failure to repeal "dont ask, dont tell," you know, these are some major, watershed sort of political platform issues that the administration, you know, although they had made these promises during the campaign, have simply not been able to execute while legislating.
MARTIN: I just want to say...
Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, wait...
MARTIN: ...where are the votes, though? He doesn't have the votes. Does he has the votes in the Senate? I mean, he has them in the House because what does he have the votes in the Senate? So you're willing to let unemployment benefits extension go? You're willing to let a payroll tax cut for all workers go?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, first of all, you know, under this extension, this would only increase unemployment benefits by 13 months for those unemployed for less than 100 weeks. And it would give zero benefits to those who are called 99ers -who have been unemployed for more than 99 weeks. So essentially, we're giving more money to the rich, and giving less money to the poor in a time of, you know, economic recession. It seems counterproductive.
MARTIN: Matthew what do you Matthews, Matthews OK.
Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, I love old folk sayings. One is, half a loaf is better than none. And the other is, don't cut off your nose to spite your face. And when I see this deal, I see it from a conservative point of view well, half a loaf is better than none, And I think my friends on the left should see it too, because they get some things in the deal as well. But, so many Democrats, the House Democrats in particular, who have said that they don't want to vote on this deal as it's currently designed, I think are engaging in that second saying - they're cutting off their nose to spite their face, because they forget - and it seems everyone forgot - that just a month ago, we had the Democrats have a shellacking - the worst shellacking since 1938 in this country in electoral returns, and come January, the Democratic Party will be even in a weaker position with which to deal.
So I think this is a good compromise for the country. I think it's a good compromise for Obama, who can now challenge Republicans to commit to real tax reform, to replace this deal at the end of 2012, you know. And I think it be good for the Democrats. Let's not forget the reason - as you said, Michel - the reason why this compromise had to be put in place wasnt the Republicans. Theres still the Democrats in the majority. It was because Democrats didn't want to vote for a tax hike in the middle of a recession.
MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?
Mr. IZRAEL: Whats frustrating for me is the criticism from the left that, you know, he didn't fight. And its like, wait a second. You guys elected him because he wasn't a fighter. You guys elected Sidney Poitier, not Richard Roundtree. You know, you guys - he was elected because he was the great compromiser. Let him do what he does best. And I think it's a pretty decent compromise, frankly.
MARTIN: Jimi - I mean, Arsalan, I'm just still curious about whether you think he had the votes. If he didnt have the votes, what was he - I don't, you're saying he could have what?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Theres a thing...
MARTIN: What should he have done differently?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Theres a thing called principle. I mean, you know, at the end of the day, you know, when we talk about, you know, electing somebody who is, you know, not George W. Bush, you want to ensure that the administration is putting forth policies that are not like George W. Bushs. Now, whether or not that gets passed into Congress or the Senate, let's not forget, you know, Mitch O'Connell and the 42 Republican senators basically said that we're going to -we're going to be obstructionists on every piece of legislation that you put forward to us if you don't extend these tax...
MARTIN: So you'd rather be a noble failure.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean, sometimes somebody has to stand up for principle here.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: No, for what end? I mean, to what end?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: To the end that that's why we elected him, you know. We don't want, you know, triangulators in chief; we want commanders in chief, people who are going to lead and legislate.
MARTIN: Ouch. Snap. Oh, my goodness.
Mr. IZRAEL: Man, youll go - youll go - man, you'll go hungry standing on principle, man. Seriously. He...
MARTIN: No, I mean principle is - but I guess, to what end? The principles...
Mr. BLACKISTONE: But thats - isn't that important for the Democratic Party, as the leader of your party? And it's not just...
MARTIN: To get nothing? Then so everybody gets a tax break in January?
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Well, not to get nothing, but you know what? It's the holiday season. Why not let the Grinches be the Republicans? Why not let this be on their conscience - that the unemployment benefits won't be there. You know, stand up for something. Don't, you know - you look at what's happening to the Democratic Party. I was amazed to find out that 38 Democrats didn't vote for the Dream Act the other day. I mean, how hard was that? And so I think all of this, back to Arsalans point, I think all of this just feeds into the weakening of the party and his base.
MARTIN: Well, the Dream Act - for those who dont know - would offer a path of citizenship for children who were brought here as children, as long as they meet certain conditions. So anyway - well, there you go, divided government. That's why we have difference of opinion in the Barbershop.
Before we go, we got to talk about the Heisman Trophy, college football standout candidate Cam Newton - by all accounts, the runaway favorite for this year's Heisman Trophy, which will be handed out tomorrow night. But then there's all these - there's some allegations swirling around him that his father, Cecil - who is a minister, by the way - shopped his son's talents to another college football program in exchange for - rather, he had allegedly wanted an athletics scholarship for his son and almost $200,000 in compensation.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Right.
MARTIN: So Kevin, what's the latest on that?
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Well, the latest is, is that last night Cam Newton won most of all of the minor sports awards for an offensive player for the season, and that he is very unlikely, despite the fact that some sportswriters are pulling their votes, because of these questions about his eligibility - is very likely to win in a runaway with a Heisman Trophy, as well he should. The thing that seems...
MARTIN: But you think there is any hesitancy - because, you know, Reggie Bush was pressured to give back his 2005 Heisman when allegations emerged, years after the fact. You think there's any hesitancy to say well, gee, if this is going to be tainted later, don't give it now?
Mr. BLACKISTONE: You know what, let the Heisman Trust, the Heisman Committee decide that then. The bottom line is right now, the NCAA has said this kid is good to go for this season. They found nothing improper with his relationship with Auburn,where he's playing now, and I think that voters should really decide on those merits.
MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you think? You're the civil rights guy as well as the sports guy - and what do you think?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean, you know, echoing K.B., you know, a lot of people are not only talking about Cam Newton winning, but they're saying: Is he going to break O.J. Simpson's total ballot record - you know - from 1972?
MARTIN: Theres a role model for you.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Exactly.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Anyway, so yes, thumbs up...
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Its a - I mean, he...
MARTIN: OK, quickly: Yes, give him the Heisman - don't give them the Heisman?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Give him the Heisman. You know, even with the controversy, it's going to be forgotten in a week. He's going to be a good NFL quarterback - and if he has to give it back in a few years, he has to give it back.
MARTIN: Oh, man. Thats a sour - that's a cynical -
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Matthew, what do you think?
Mr. CONTINETTI: We have consensus. You know, my school is better known for its fencing team than its football team, but I'm with the guys: Let's give it to Cam.
MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?
Mr. IZRAEL: Give it to him. Why not?
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Good.
MARTIN: Well see. Well see. No suspense there.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Dont hate the player; hate the game.
MARTIN: OK. All right.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: There you go. Exactly.
MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is the author of "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Kevin Blackistone, a national columnist for the sports blog AOL FanHouse, and a panelist on ESPNs "Around The Horn, is with us here in Washington; along with Arsalan Iftikhar, the founder of muslimguy.com and a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; and Matthew Continetti, opinion editor at the Weekly Standard and author of, most recently, The Persecution of Sarah Palin.
Thank you all so much. Happy holidays.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace. Happy holidays to you.
Mr. CONTINETTI: Take care.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Ho, ho, ho.
Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Lets talk more on Monday.
(Soundbite of music)
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