'Shop Talk': Who Scored And Fumbled In GOP Debate

Herman Cain announces his run for Republican candidate for president at a rally in Atlanta, May 21, 2011. i i

hide captionHerman Cain announces his run for Republican candidate for president at a rally in Atlanta, May 21, 2011.

David Goldman/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Herman Cain announces his run for Republican candidate for president at a rally in Atlanta, May 21, 2011.

Herman Cain announces his run for Republican candidate for president at a rally in Atlanta, May 21, 2011.

David Goldman/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Barbershop guys weigh in on former Rep. Anthony Weiner's resignation, the Republican debate, and why candidate Herman Cain doesn't identify as an African American. Host Michel Martin hears from author Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, foreign policy analyst and conservative columnist Mario Loyola, and The National Review deputy managing editor Kevin Williamson.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

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 shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, Kevin Williamson, who is the deputy managing editor of The National Review, and Mario Loyola, he's a columnist. He's also a director at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a conservative think tank.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doin'?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

KEVIN WILLIAMSON: Hey, what's going on?

IZRAEL: All right, let's get some coffee. Come on.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: It's Friday.

IFTIKHAR: (unintelligible) today.

MARTIN: Friday.

IZRAEL: I know, right? I guess everybody's kind of down because, well, Weiner's out. And, you know, the latest...

MARTIN: Well, I don't know about everybody.

IZRAEL: Well, right. Exactly. But the whole Weinergate scandal has kind of come to a head. The now resigned congressman trying to put an end to all the craziness since he mistakenly tweeted a lewd photo of himself three weeks. Doh. I hate when that happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Now, he said he was stepping down due to all the distractions. But there were a lot of distractions going on during his four-minute speech, Michel. Geez Louise, that was so ill-advised. Why didn't he just, like, tweet his resignation?

MARTIN: I don't know. I'm always fascinated by that. But I don't know. In case people won't know what we're talking about, I'll just play a short clip and this clip is almost as long as the press conference. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

Representative ANTHONY WEINER: I had hoped to be able to continue the work that the citizens of my district elected me to do: To fight for the middle class and those struggling to make it. Unfortunately, the distraction that I have created has made that impossible. So, today I'm announcing my resignation from Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah. Goodbye, pervert.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Weiner roasted at his own press conference. Thank you for that, Michel. Holy mackerel. Well, all right. So I guess my question is simple. Do we think Anthony Weiner stepped down due to the distractions or maybe because he's a little untrustworthy? A-train, let's hear from you first.

Well, I think it was a little bit of all of the above. I mean, I for one am glad, you know, Weiner-palooza is finally over. It's, you know, it really did distract from a lot of the issues that Congress and our government were trying to deal with. And, you know, I think it didn't help that, you know, his Democratic leadership also threw him under the bus, you know, during this whole process. But, you know, I think that it was right for him to resign.

Yeah, I thought that was really fascinating that the Democrats, his whole party line, you know, lined up the wagons and said, bro, it's time to go.

K-dub, what do you think?

WILLIAMSON: Well, you know, I think that the main problem for Weiner isn't so much that he was behaving in a lewd fashion. But, you know, New York needs a congressman who knows how to use Twitter properly.

MARTIN: Oh, snap.

WILLIAMSON: If you can't handle the basic technology, I'm not sure that you can represent the city. You know, it's like watching a car crash. It's like being in a car crash, actually. You know, when he saw that first picture go up and knew that he had hit the wrong button, you know, at that time you either tell the truth, fess up to it and you probably live through it or you do what he did, which is invent some fantastical story which is going to get found out. And then you end up having to resign.

You know, he made the wrong decision right there afterward. Not just morally wrong decision, but also the tactically wrong decision. He probably would've survived this if he just told the truth, fessed up, said, yeah, I hit the wrong button and my wife's mad at me and (unintelligible).

IZRAEL: Yeah. I totally agree with that.

MARTIN: You really think? You think you can? Because it's not one - you really do, Jimi, really?

WILLIAMSON: I mean Charlie Rangel down the street.

IZRAEL: I totally agree with that. Yeah. Yeah. I totally...

IFTIKHAR: David Vitter is cold chilling right now.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, hold on. This is the same country where, you know, you know, crack may kill, but it might get you elected. So it's, like, guess what? You know, I mean, if you just come out and just tell the truth, you know, the people are forgiving. And his constituents were obviously on his side. But you know what? I think wifey came home.

And let me just tell you, because I know this - because it's my life - wifey changes everything. You know, you might...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: One would hope.

IZRAEL: You might be able to talk that big and bad stuff, but when wifey gets home, well, that's it, you know? It could very easily be a different story. And that's what happened, I think. You know what? I really admired him. Like last week, I told you, I really admired the fact that he was just like, you know what? All of you all can kick rocks. I'm staying. I'm staying. But then wifey came home and then changed that tune real quick.

MARTIN: I don't know. Mario, what do you think?

IZRAEL: Super Mario, give it.

MARIO LOYOLA: Well, I mean, tell me what you guys think. If all this scandal had involved his home computer and his personal accounts, I think that it might have been a little different. I worked in the Senate. I worked for Senator Hutchison in the Senate and I can't believe that anybody would use a government computer for this. I mean first of all, it's a violation of the public trust, if it's not unethical. And second of all, it's so stupid. I mean you know that the NSA's monitoring your computer. The government computer is public, everything on it is public. I mean what was he thinking? I mean I can't think of any 22-year-old staffer that would do this.

MARTIN: Hmm. I just don't...

IZRAEL: Well, you know, what Michel?

MARTIN: Go ahead. The thing that sticks with me though is what...

IZRAEL: Let me be the first one to...

MARTIN: ...Dave Zirin said last week is part of what - is I think the pictures, I don't think you get around the pictures. I mean you can, David Vitter, like Dave Vitter, there have never been any pictures of him doing whatever it is he was doing, OK? So the...

LOYOLA: But he also didn't have the D.C. Madame in his office.

MARTIN: He didn't have them exactly, in his office.

IFTIKHAR: There's that...

MARTIN: But also for me I'll tell you what Dave Zirin of The Nation said last week on this program, which is, these young women for the most part emailed him to say great speech. OK?

IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: So he emails back, you want to see my package? Or whatever it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: This is the part that...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...that, OK, so this is what happens? So here you are, I mean I've been an intern. I've been a young woman in Washington and I think, you know, you should be able to engage public officials on matters of substance without having them email you back, you know, about their equipment. And I think for me that's the piece I don't think you can - the lying all, I mean who wouldn't lie about that initially. I mean who, so...

WILLIAMSON: Right. And there's that. Anybody with a lick of sense would.

MARTIN: So I think it's just so disrespectful. And I think to, you know, to your point, I know that Republicans and conservatives often say that there's a double standard. They feel like Republicans are kind of jammed up on these - or conservatives, more to the point, on these social issues because they say oh, well, you guys are the ones always beating the morality stick. But progressives have to answer to this too. If your attitude is, you know, human rights and equality and we're all equal and all this thing, how is it that a young woman can if a young man emailed you to say nice speech, is that what they get?

IZRAEL: So wait, Michel.

MARTIN: So that's just my problem with it, you know.

WILLIAMSON: That 's what they get from Eric nowadays.

MARTIN: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I'm not saying any of this is right. I mean Weiner was totally wrong. But some of those women were kind of giving quality flirtatious tweets Weiner's way.

MARTIN: So what?

IZRAEL: I'm not saying I'm saying I'm not saying it's right but I'm saying it's not fair to say, you know, I'm not saying Weiner's right. I'm just saying that maybe he was seeing, you know, he was seeing it as some kind of opportunity which he shouldn't have. But to say that they were all tweeting him, you know, nice speech, I don't not all of them were.

MARTIN: Jimi, you really don't think you can talk your way around...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I'm defending - I'm not defending Weiner. I'm just pointing this out for the record. I'm just pointing this out for the record, that's all.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: All right. Well, if you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop segment. We're with author Jimi Izrael, who is just going to spend the next few minutes digging himself out of the hole he just climbed into.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I'm fine.

MARTIN: Civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, editor Kevin Williamson and conservative columnist Mario Loyola. Excuse me guys, I'm going to have that coffee that Jimi recommended. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thank you. Yeah, drink up. All right. Moving on to the other side of the aisle, Republican candidates took part in a CNN debate earlier this week. Now all I can say is that I'm glad to know that Newt Gingrich likes "American Idol" more than "Dancing With the Stars." Good to know. But what do you guys think? K-Dub, my man.

WILLIAMSON: Well...

IZRAEL: What do you think?

WILLIAMSON: I don't think the nominee was there, is what I think.

IZRAEL: All right.

WILLIAMSON: I don't think any of those guys is going to be the next president of the United States of America, it seems unlikely. You know, a few of them improved their stature a bit as, you know, it's a fairly low bar to clear. I mean Michele Bachmann just had to come out and not seen insane. Mitt Romney had to come out and seem like a good approximation of a human being, and everyone, you know, cheers and claps and all that. You know, our elections are really long and I'm going to get really tired of hearing about this and talking about this before we get through it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMSON: But I don't think that, I don't think any of those folks here are going to be president, especially not Newt. Newt's...

MARTIN: OK. Note to self, bring snacks for Kevin next time.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: Just try to keep him interested. OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: We've got to keep you in the loop, man. It's a long road, so...

IZRAEL: Yeah, but I agree with him on that point. I mean it's too early on for you to take any of it seriously. You know, I watched that thing. It's like an ugly dog pageant. Like the only question is, you know, which one of these dogs is the ugliest as far as I'm concerned. You know, it's yeah, I can't take them serious. I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Wait. Wait a minute. But Arsalan thinks that, wait a minute, Arsalan's got something to say about this. He does think you have to take this seriously at this stage of the game. And why is that?

IZRAEL: A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, in the debate that plays in New Hampshire, you know, you had people like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, you know, instead of talking about, you know, the actual issues that are affecting all of us as Americans, you know, talked about the creeping threat of Islam. You know, hide your kids, hide your wives, the Muslims are coming. You know, Herman Cain has gone on record over the last few weeks and said that he would not feel comfortable appointing a Muslim to his cabinet unless they took some sort of loyalty oath. Apparently they he failed Civics 101 in fourth grade because Article Six, Clause Three of the Constitution says that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

You know, and then you had Newt Gingrich, you know, talking about how, you know, Shariah or Islamic law is, you know, threatening to creep inside America and circumvent the Constitution. He apparently also failed Civics 101 because in the same Article Six, Clause Two, is called the supremacy clause, which says that the Constitution shall be the supreme law of the land and nothing can circumvent that. You know, and so what we're starting to see here, at least with Gingrich and Cain, you know, is pandering to the lowest common denominator of politics.

Even Matthew Dowd, a former chief strategist for George W. Bush's 2004 campaign, said that, you know, Newt was taking it too far and if he actually believes this stuff it would be crazy. But again, you know, when you don't really have any policies, you know, substantive policy initiatives and your entire staff resigns last week en masse, you know, you're going to resort to these political red herrings.

MARTIN: But doesn't that suggest then that these aren't serious people so maybe it isn't that significant? I mean that's...

IFTIKHAR: This is true. But this would be true if, you know, in the 2008 presidential campaign, you know, we had severe whisper campaigns of Barack Obama being some sort of crypto Muslim Manchurian candidate. Again, the whole otherization of, you know, Barack Obama. You know, this it sadly to me seems as though it's going to be, you know, we have 13 states right now that have anti-Shariah referendums which will all get struck down in the courts. But they know that it's a political winner for, you know, especially Tea Party conservatives. And so, again, using these political red herrings are in my opinion is going to be one of the ways that they're going to try to steal this election.

MARTIN: Hmm. That's tough. Mario, what do you think?

LOYOLA: Yeah, it's a difficult question. I mean I've spent a lot of time traveling in the Middle East and, you know, I've spent a lot of time around Muslims. I think that they're a wonderfully gentle and affectionate people. But, you know, there's the, a Nazi-like frame of mind in terms of a really virile and hatred of the Jews and the view of all democratic governance as corrupt, conspiracy theories...

IFTIKHAR: Wait, are you saying this all Muslims?

MARTIN: Are you saying all Muslims?

IFTIKHAR: You're saying Nazism and Islamic and...

LOYOLA: No, no. I'm just saying. No, hold on. Hold on.

MARTIN: Go ahead.

LOYOLA: Please, I'm just saying that these sentiments, you can't be denied, are very prevalent in the Middle East, at least. I mean, you know, in Gaza it's horrifying the cartoons that they make for their children. I mean these, it's horrifying that Jews are portrayed as animals to young children.

IFTIKHAR: What about the Arab Spring, where you have nonviolent pro-democracy protests by youngsters happening all around the Arab and Muslim world right now?

LOYOLA: Yeah.

IFTIKHAR: I mean, you know...

LOYOLA: Nonviolent except for the attacks on Coptic Christian churches.

IFTIKHAR: And if you actually read the stories about that, it actually had nothing to do with the fact that they were Coptics. It was apparently a Coptic woman had converted to Islam and then Copts in Egypt had taken her back. And so it was not sectarian. Even a Coptic Egyptian is slated on the presidential ballot for Egypt. So, again, you know, you're using these small microcosms, you know, equating Nazism again? Really? I mean this is the kind of rhetoric that Newt Gingrich uses. This is absolutely absurd to equate Nazism and Islam in one fell swoop.

LOYOLA: Yeah. I didn't equate Nazism and Islam. I'm just saying that that mindset is prevalent...

IFTIKHAR: No the first sentence...

LOYOLA: Yeah...

MARTIN: OK.

LOYOLA: ...that mindset is prevalent in the Middle East. It can't be denied. I mean and to deny...

MARTIN: And so what's your...

LOYOLA: ...that Palestinian political culture, what qualifies as a moderate among Palestinian politicians would be considered an extremely racist person for an American politician. I mean it can't be denied.

MARTIN: So what's your point about what role that should play in the...

LOYOLA: Well I mean it's, we have a problem and we have a problem as Americans even talking about it because we don't want to say things that come off as racist. And we have...

IFTIKHAR: Well, what about seven Mario, again...

LOYOLA: Yeah.

IFTIKHAR: You know, not all - there's seven million Muslims living in the United States today. Not all...

LOYOLA: Yeah.

IFTIKHAR: ...none of - I'm not an Arab. I'm not Palestinian. I'm not from Gaza. We have African-American Muslims, we have white Muslims, we have Hispanic Muslims. I mean...

LOYOLA: Yeah.

IFTIKHAR: This is, I mean...

LOYOLA: Look. Hold on. Wait a minute.

IFTIKHAR: ...this sort of reductive, you know, analogies is absolutely absurd. It's, you know, it's the moral equivalent of saying that, you know, just because we have urban crime in America that we should somehow castigate all African-Americans or there's an immigration problem, we should castigate I mean that's a whole, you know, anti-Hispanic, anti-Latino sentiment that we've seen in the immigration debate.

MARTIN: Well...

LOYOLA: Look, I'm not making any such argument and I'm not castigating anyone. I started off by saying that, you know, I've spent a - I think that Muslims by and large, the ones that I've met in the Middle East in particular, are very affectionate and gentle people, I love being around them. I spent, I was very happy to be around them. I look forward to being around them again. But these attitudes, I mean racism in Arab culture as I saw it in the Middle East is much more acceptable than it is in America, and it's a problem.

MARTIN: Do you think, Mario, I got to ask you, if you were to substitute some other group for the language you were just using, do you think you'd find it acceptable? For somebody else to say well, I've been around a lot of Latinos. They're a lovely gentle people, do you feel you'd think that was OK?

LOYOLA: I come from, I mean I'm from Latin America, which is a part of the world where people love insulting each other and don't ever care about stuff like that.

MARTIN: OK.

LOYOLA: I mean I don't, I'm not touchy so I think generalities, cultural generalities are perfectly acceptable.

MARTIN: OK. I hear you. I'm hearing, I'm, that's Kevin, what do you want to say about this?

WILLIAMSON: Well, in terms of the loyalty oath stuff, if you're looking for stealth jihadists, that's probably not the best strategy for finding them, you know, because hey, are you happen to be a terrorist sympathizer? Do you happen to be a, you know, some kind of wacko extremist? I don't think they're going to probably tell you the truth in that situation. I mean that's the whole point about being a Fifth Columnist type.

So I think that kind of talk is silly and it does play to, it gives you an excuse to talk about things that are easier to talk about than the real problems of dealing with terrorism, dealing with our confrontation with various elements in the Middle East and the long-term implications of those things. I mean, you know, people sort of go on about the Shariah and I understand the concern. I understand the emotional impact it has. But I mean we are not going to become a Shariah state. I mean it's just not...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

WILLIAMSON: It's not in the cards.

MARTIN: Jimi...

WILLIAMSON: It's not going to happen in Oklahoma. It's not going to happen in Texas. It's not going to happen in New York. It's not going to happen in New Jersey. And but we do have, you know, other real problems we have to deal with, some of those emanating from the Middle East, some of those having to do with Islamic attitudes toward the West and Western attitudes towards Islam. And it's a lot more complicated and it's a lot harder to deal with than saying, well, you know, I'm not sure I'd like to have any of those in my cabinet.

MARTIN: Jimi, take a final thought on this? What did you think about the debate? What struck you? We only have a minute left.

IZRAEL: I think nothing good can come from comparing anybody to Nazis is what I think. Nothing good can come from that. Everything you say after that, no one's listening, just FYI.

MARTIN: Yeah, I hear you. We only have a, we have another like 30 seconds left. But Jimi, you wanted to mention that Herman Cain said in a recent Bloomberg interview that he does not identify as African-American and he says that he feels a stronger affinity for the term black. And I'm just curious what you think about that as a person who's thought a lot about this.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I agree.

MARTIN: Your black too.

IZRAEL: That's right.

MARTIN: OK. All right. There you go. All right. To be continued. Just one clarification. Mario mentioned that Weiner used government issued computer and BlackBerry to tweet and send these photos. That's not confirmed, by the way. Just wanted to mention that he said he used his personal BlackBerry in all that but I don't know that that makes it any better. But just FYI on that.

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He was joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Kevin Williamson is the deputy managing editor of The National Review and author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism." He was with us from our bureau in New York. Mario Loyola is a director with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a conservative think tank that assesses how federal policies affect Texas and the rest of the country. He's also a former speechwriter at the Pentagon. And Arsalan Iftikhar - he was with us from Austin, Texas. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com and the author of a forthcoming book. He was with us in Washington, D.C. Thanks, guys.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

WILLIAMSON: Thanks.

LOYOLA: Thanks.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: