Barbershop: Jobs Plan Scuffle, MLK, Jr. Quote

Guests:

Jimi Izrael, freelance journalist and author of The Denzel Principle

Arsalan Ifkithar, civil rights attorney and founder of TheMuslimGuy.com

Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation

Mario Loyola, contributor to The National Review and Director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies, Texas Public Policy Foundation

John Boehner refuses Barack Obama's request for a joint session of Congress next Wednesday to discuss jobs. CBC members exchange heated comments about the Tea Party. Poet Maya Angelou criticizes the quote engraved on the MLK, Jr. Memorial. The Barbershop guys weigh in.

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 shape-up this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Ifkithar; Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, and Mario Loyola, who writes for The National Review and works with 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 doing?

ARSALAN IFKITHAR: Jimi.

MARIO LOYOLA: Great, how are you guys?

IZRAEL: Good, man. Dave Z, Super Mario, A-Train, what's good? Let's get it popping. All right, let's start things off with a scheduling smackdown. For the first time in history, a president's request to address a joint session of Congress has been publicly rejected.

House Speaker John - what do I want to call him...

MARTIN: Boehner. I don't know why you want to call him - let's not even say what you were - Boehner.

IZRAEL: Well, yeah, I mean, he told President Obama, he told Obama to kick rocks and pick another day, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Scheduling smackdown, I like that. Yes, that's what happened. Remember, the - for those who don't know, the president wants to give a major address on the economy next week. He asked for Wednesday night. Members of Congress are getting back from their August break. They're traveling on Tuesday, so they're asked to report back by a certain time on Wednesday, so he wanted to come Wednesday night.

Then the White House says that they consulted with the speaker, but the speaker says no, they didn't. And so he says that it's too - he says it - the speaker he raised parliamentary and logistical objections. So he said: How about Thursday? So Thursday, now, he competes with - the president said OK, and he competes with the NFL's regular season opener.

And oh, by the way, Mr. Boehner is going to give his own speech on jobs a week later. Jimi.

IZRAEL: Wow, wow. You know what? Fellas, is it just me, or does it always seem like the president - first of all, how is he going to come out over this? Because, you know, from the tax-cut compromise to the debt ceiling debate, it always seems like he's getting pushed in a corner. A-Train.

IFKITHAR: Yeah, I mean, you know, instead of saying that it was logistical or security reasons, you know, House Speaker Boehner should have just said, you know, I have a spray-tan appointment. I mean, essentially, what he's been doing and what the Republican Party has been doing is saying no to everything that President Obama says.

If President Obama says up, they'll say down. If he says the sky's blue, they'll say it's green. I mean, you know, like you noted, Jimi, this is the first time in congressional history that this has ever happened. This is the commander-in-chief, mind you. You know, this is not, you know, some manager at a Chuck E. Cheese. You know, this is, you know, the leader of the free world. And, you know, when your own, you know, when your own second chamber of the House of Representatives is not according you the respect that you deserve as commander-in-chief, I think it really, really says a lot about the oppositional party that we have right now.

IZRAEL: Mario.

MARTIN: One thing - can we just point this out before Mario says it? Just that - Mario - is that there's a Republican presidential debate that night, too, which has been scheduled for some time, too. I just want to point that out, as well. But, Mario.

LOYOLA: Yeah, I mean, I think - I mean, Arsalan's point is well-taken, and, you know, the opposition party is the part of no, you know, under any administration, pretty much. But this is - the White House really stepped on a landmine here. I mean, they didn't - apparently, it's pretty obvious that they didn't - when they coordinated in the morning with Speaker Boehner on when - you know, the morning of the announcement, they didn't coordinate the time that they wanted to do it.

Boehner said sure, you can do it, you know, and that day seems fine. But, you know, and then when the president announced the time, apparently nobody in Boehner's office knew that they were going to pick the time slot that - exactly the same time slot as the Republican debate.

MARTIN: They always pick the same time, though. It's always eight.

LOYOLA: And, you know, and that's - I mean, what did the president expect to happen? I mean, he stepped in (unintelligible)...

IZRAEL: Wait a second. You know what this is like? This is like when my son is trying to tell me when we're going to go to the amusement park. It's like, wait a second, I'm the dad, you know. You listen to me, bro, you know I mean?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOYOLA: Wait a second, wait a second. (unintelligible) Article I...

IZRAEL: You don't have any scheduling conflicts. Go ahead, man.

LOYOLA: Article I of the Constitution is the legislature. I mean, it's at the pleasure of the legislature that the House and Senate convene to hear the president speak on a joint session. It's not the president. The president doesn't get to do whatever he wants.

MARTIN: It's not his house, in essence. It's not his house.

LOYOLA: And, you know, and these guys didn't - you know, the president didn't - and Jim Carney, the White House spokesman, stood up and said, well, you know, it's no big deal. There's 20 debates, and these guys didn't, you know, the president didn't, you know, and Jim Carney, the White House spokesman, stood up and said well, you know, it's no big deal. There's 20 debates and there's three debates this month. What's the problem with scheduling because (unintelligible) this for the debate.

IZRAEL: Okay. Let's...

LOYOLA: I mean...

IZRAEL: Okay Mario, let's let Dave jump in.

DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, man.

ZIRIN: First I don't know, Mario, I don't know when they thought that Obama was going to speak. At 10 a.m.? It was going to be over Bloody Marys? No, it's always prime time. Look, when this story kept going back and forth with the tick and tack, honestly, what I kept thinking is Obama, Boehner, why don't you guys just make out already. I mean it's...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ZIRIN: I mean my goodness. They act like there's this like tension between them - that like some sort of ex-couple that keeps having to get back together and then coming apart again. What's disturbing to me about it is that you're starting to see a meme, if you will, develop - a media theme that Obama is a wimp when faced with Republican opposition, that there is Obama backing up every time they get in his face. In basketball terms Obama keeps getting boxed out.

MARTIN: Do you think that's true? Dave, so speak on it. I mean do you think that that's true? I mean there's that, so that's a meme. Is that true?

ZIRIN: It's weird. Sometimes memes create their own truth. I mean we can analyze it and say well, there were real concerns here by Boehner and maybe Obama will get a bigger audience before the first NFL game. I mean there are all kinds of ways you can look at it and turn it around, but sometimes the meme takes on the quality of truth, and I think the meme is Obama gets pushed around.

MARTIN: But reasonable people could argue why is he putting himself in a position to be pushed around because he has a very nice office? It's called the Oval Office and he could...

LOYOLA: Well, look at what he did on Thursday though. I mean when they moved it to Thursday all of a sudden they're surprised to find out that it's the Packers-Saints game, the last two Super Bowl champions, right? And...

MARTIN: Oh he's not surprised. I mean he's a football fan.

LOYOLA: And then, well, right. Then they had to - well, hold on then. They had to move it to before the game in order to not preempt the game, which would have cost him like a million votes in Wisconsin alone, right? And now it's not prime time on the West Coast.

MARTIN: But the question is why is he going to Congress? Why can't he just give a speech from the Oval? Why can't he give a speech from the Oval?

ZIRIN: Oh, he doesn't have - I don't think you have nearly the presentation and power giving the speech from the Oval Office. I mean one of the things that Obama's people have said, which I agree with, is that given the tumult that we've seen globally and nationally over the last couple of months, you need that setting. And honestly, with Romney doing an opposing speech, Boehner doing an opposing speech, the setting is Obama's great advantage.

MARTIN: Jimi, before we move on from this, why don't you have the last word on this. You think this is a big deal or you think it's much ado about nothing?

IZRAEL: I think it's a little bit of both. I don't know. I'm glad I'm not president because I would have been on somebody's head by now, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: This is crazy. Don't vote me in office because I'll be...

MARTIN: You'd had been rolling up there in the motorcade anyway, let me in.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: Get out of here.

ZIRIN: Pull a Berlusconi.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yeah. I would've hit the dude with a bag of nickels, by now it would have been over.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Remember when Maxine Waters rolled up after the LA riots and she was not invited to a meeting at the White House, and she went anyway. She said this is my district, yo.

ZIRIN: Mm.

IZRAEL: Mm.

MARTIN: And so she rolled up at the White House anyway, even though she wasn't on the list. She said I am Congresswoman Maxine Waters. I will be in that meeting. And she - they let her in the meeting. But I'm not sure the president can do that. He does travel with a bigger posse though so maybe.

IZRAEL: Right. I was going to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: ..TEXT: MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop segment with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Dave Zirin and Mario Loyola. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. So, Representative Andre Carson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus said some things at the town hall meeting sponsored by the group that got a few people riled. Now I know we got some tape of that somewhere, Michel. Can we hear it?

MARTIN: Yeah. Just to give you the context, we've about this big whole issue around unemployment and jobs. And the Congressional Black Caucus has been particularly upset about this because African-Americans, as we know, followed by Latinos, have been are more likely to be unemployed, the unemployment rate much higher. So over the course of the summer break, they were having a series of sort of town hall meetings around the country to talk about the employment issue. And at one of those meetings, this is what Andre Carson had to say. He's a Democrat from Indiana. This is what he had to say. And I just have to tell you that the quality of the audio is not that great, so I'm going to repeat a little bit of what he had to say just in case it's hard to hear. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

Representative ANDRE CARSON: The Tea Party is stopping that change and this is beyond symbolic change. This is the effort that we are seeing of Jim Crow. Some of these folks in Congress right now would love to see us as second class citizens.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CARSON: Some of them in Congress right now of this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me I'm sorry - hanging on a tree.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ..TEXT: And in response to that the lone Republican in the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Allen West of Florida, who's also been a guest on this program many times, along with Mr. Carson, says he's now reconsidering his membership in the Caucus because he says that he feels that this is just a step too far. So I don't know. What do you all think?

IZRAEL: Yeah, I agree with that. You know, you're an elected official. You shouldn't ought to be brokering in race politics in this way. You know, I mean, you're...

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Jimi, Jimi

IZRAEL: Oh, naturally I have it wrong. Go ahead A-Train. Go ahead.

IFTIKHAR: You got to dig this and dig it deep. You know...

IZRAEL: Okay, bro.

IFTIKHAR: Representative Allen West, you know, calling this offensive is the pot calling the kettle black. This is a man who is called the Obama administration quote "a tyrannical government." He has said that it's unfortunate that gays get to serve in the military. He says that Obama, quote, "does not care for this country." He has said that the Bible proves that Arabs are, quote, "wild people." And wait for it. His chief of staff, when he first won in his election, Joyce Kaufman, a right wing radio host, said that illegal immigrants should quote "be hung on the Central Square," which...

ZIRIN: Whoa.

IFTIKHAR: ...in my definition is pretty much the same thing as lynching. So as we've said before, and I have said before, you know, Allen West has stuck his foot in his mouth so many times that he should open up a Payless Shoe Source.

IZRAEL: Mm. In his mouth? All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Okay. Mario, what do you think?

IZRAEL: Dave. Hold on.

ZIRIN: The story is not about Allen West.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Mario.

LOYOLA: I mean the story is not about Allen West.

IZRAEL: Right.

LOYOLA: The story is about, you know, playing race, you know, the eternal charges of racism against the Tea Party. And, you know, and that I find ridiculous. I mean I know a lot of conservatives and I don't really know anybody who is that kind of a racist - that the caricature...

IZRAEL: Well, what kind of a racist are they?

LOYOLA: Well, I mean it's not yeah, I know, I stepped on that one, didn't I?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: There you go. Sorry like Mario.

LOYOLA: Look, I mean look, what I mean is look, this is, you know, we live in a - I think conservatives as much as liberals now, everyone agrees that tolerance of diversity is the hallmark of a free society and of a good society. We're all on board with that. And I think conservatives are as quick to slap down what's truly racist in our ranks as people on the left are. I really

IZRAEL: Hmm.

MARTIN: See I don't, I think I've got to go back...

LOYOLA: But the question is...

MARTIN: ...with Jimi on this is what the definition of what is truly racist seems to be a moving target.

LOYOLA: Right.

MARTIN: Because the fact of the matter is, you know, you have people making comments about on what were respected forums about the daughters of the Obama daughters, about Michelle Obama, about her appearance, (unintelligible). So why, you know what I mean? And some people would say oh, well, that's, you know what I mean? This comment what is truly racist is exactly what we're talking about - who gets to define that, you know, I think.

LOYOLA: But the ultimate question here and it's the question that we're facing in the next election, and it's the eternal debate of American politics is, is the way to achieve social justice an opportunity for minorities an opportunities for the disadvantaged through government policies or is it through the free market and a free society? That's what - and the conservatives believe that those inequalities can only be solved by the free market. And they can only be solved and the only way to create jobs for those people is to help them - for the disadvantaged is to increase the level of education to make it more competitive in the workforce and to let the free market create those jobs.

And the problem that the Obama administration is facing is that, you know, to create jobs the government has to embrace policies that are pro-business and the Obama administration is anti-business. It's not new left like Clinton or Tony Blair. It's old left.

MARTIN: (unintelligible)

ZIRIN: Yeah. I was going to say...

MARTIN: Here's Dave.

ZIRIN: ...the problem though is when the free market is defined by institutional racism. And the problem is because - is also like when you have these attacks on government workers that we've seen in state after state. What it also becomes is an attack on black wealth, because government programs and government jobs were a way that created employment out of the Great Society programs in the 1960s. Because - not because the free market didn't also have jobs, but the free market was failing black America, and that needs to be a part of this discussion.

MARTIN: But I think the question though is should lynching then be part of this discussion?

IFTIKHAR: Well, and, Michel...

MARTIN: Because that's the question is should lynching be part of that discussion...

IZRAEL: No.

MARTIN: ...or do - when you bring that up, does that just take it to a level where people can't hear you? And Arsalan, you think it was appropriate?

IFTIKHAR: Well, no. what I'm condemning with Allen West is his fake outrage. You know, again, when he has said that the Bible proves that Arabs are wild people and his former chief of staff said that illegal immigrants should be hung out in the Central Square, that is as patently racist as the thing that he showing his fake outrage against. And so, you know, it's this duplicity that we're seeing where it's a one-way street, where essentially Republicans can say whatever they want about whoever they want with complete impunity and then played his fake outrage card when they feel that something has crossed over the line.

And so, you know, we have to play by the same, you know, as our colleague Ruben Navarrette always says, we have to play by the same, you know, set of rules and it seems like the Republicans are only playing with their set of rules.

MARTIN: You know, this is actually a richer topic than I think many people would have thought. And I appreciate this because it started out as being this kind of tit-for-tat and you all are actually amplifying it into something that is worthy of discussion, which is why you kind of wish there would be more discussions like that about these...

ZIRIN: Agreed.

MARTIN: ...issues and I'm appreciating that. But talking about the power of words, before we go, I do want to raise this one question because all of you are writers, and so I'm interested in your take on this. Many of you have had the opportunity to, and if you haven't I hope you will, visit the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial here in Washington.

ZIRIN: Yup.

MARTIN: Just a kind of a very profound moment for many people, even though the official dedication was washed out. Now Maya Angelou, the poet, said - who was part of the kind of the committee to help get the memorial up and going, she was one of the advisory groups - said that the quality from King, which is engraved on the side of his statue, which was in fact edited, says it makes him look like an arrogant twit. And it's the quote that speaks to: I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness. I just, do I have time to play it? Do I have time to play it? Okay, let's play it just so you hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MARTIN: Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.

So the quote that is on the memorial takes out the if you want to say and says I was a drum major. And she says that that is totally opposite of the spirit of the memorial. So I have to ask each of you for we only have a minute - just very briefly, is she right? So Dave, do you think she's...

ZIRIN: She's absolutely correct because what Dr. King is doing in that speech is going at his critics who are saying oh, you're just a drum major for rabble rousing, you're just a drum major for riling people up. And he's saying no, I was a drum major for righteousness.

MARTIN: So you're saying they should change it.

ZIRIN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Mario, what do you think?

LOYOLA: Yeah. I think it's really terrible to put a quote up that's not what he said.

MARTIN: And Arsalan, what do you think?

IFTIKHAR: I don't think. I mean I don't think anybody's going to confuse Dr. Martin Luther King for, you know, somebody with arrogance and hubris.

MARTIN: So you think it's fine?

IFTIKHAR: I think, I mean it was taken out of context, it was, you know, poorly worded. But I think that, you know, his life and legacy speaks for itself.

MARTIN: Jimi, what about you? Final word on this?

IZRAEL: These things are always a source of controversy with these memorials. You had controversy with the Lincoln Memorial being kind of looking like a Greek temple. You had controversy over the Statue of Liberty looking like, you know, somebody's mother. So there's always going to be some problem. So, you know, that said, this all follows a hollowed tradition. Let it stand.

MARTIN: All right.

IZRAEL: Sell ice cream over by the, you know, by the tidal pool. Let's get it cracking.

MARTIN: I love the difference of opinion as usual. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is a legal civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com, and managing editor of the Crescent Post. He was with us from member station WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky. Mario Loyola is a contributor to the National Review. He's also director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies that's at the Texas Public Policy Foundation - that's a conservative think tank. He was with us from member station KUT in Austin. And Dave Zirin is sports editor with The Nation. Dave was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Thank you all so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

ZIRIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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

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