Did The President Completely Strike Out?

Host Michel Martin and the Barbershop guys bat around the week's news, including Major League Baseball's first "Triple Crown" winner in 45 years, the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera. They also take a swing at the political headlines, like whether President Obama struck out at the first debate and where the campaign goes from here.

Copyright © 2012 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. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, 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 writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and author Arsalan Iftikhar. They're here in Washington, D.C., along with, visiting D.C. this week, Neil Minkoff. He's trained as a doctor. He is now a health care consultant. He is also a contributor to that venerable conservative magazine, the National Review. Another contributor to National Review, also from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mario Loyola - he's with us from Austin. Sorry, Mario, you're not at the party.

JIMI IZRAEL: Oh, Super Mario couldn't be here.

MARTIN: Sorry.

IZRAEL: But you...

MARIO LOYOLA: That's OK.

IZRAEL: But you're in our hearts, brother.

LOYOLA: And you're in mine.

MARTIN: Exactly.

IZRAEL: Hey, everybody, welcome to the Shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

NEIL MINKOFF: We're doing good.

IZRAEL: All right. OK. Well, check this out. Debate night, da, da, da, da. Let's just jump right in. President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney faced off Wednesday in the first of three presidential debates, and well, I don't know any other way to put this. President Obama got served. Isn't that right, Michel?

MARTIN: I think he put it differently, but even some of the president's allies said that they thought he lacked energy. He seemed, like, irritated to be there. But the next day he was more upbeat on the campaign trail. At a Denver rally on Thursday, President claimed that Mitt Romney - Governor Romney, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney - was just pretending to be a moderate at the debate. Here's a clip.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that.

IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks, Michel. You know, it was as if...

MARTIN: You're welcome.

IZRAEL: It was as if Romney had suddenly eaten his spinach or he was backstage chugging 5 Hour Energies. I don't know. You know, A Train, Arsalan Iftikhar...

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: You know, Nielsen numbers show that about 70 million people tuned in and saw President Obama fumble the ball. This is your boy. What happened, man?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, first of all, before Republicans try to, you know, high-tail it into the end zone like they were Dion living on the corner of 21st and Prime Time Sanders, you know, I'd like to remind people - I'd like to remind people that the Oklahoma City Thunder won game one of the NBA finals before LeBron James and the Miami Heat ran the tables.

You know, this is a four quarter game. Yes. You know, Romney won round one, but you know, ultimately I think that, you know, the next two debates and the vice presidential debate and then the election will truly tell the tale, and I think one of the under-reported things - and I think it's important to keep in mind - is that - let's be honest. You know, the moderator, Jim Lehrer, made the NFL replacement referees look good because, you know, Honey Boo Boo would have been a better moderator because she would have at least said, uh-uh, Mitt Romney, your time is done.

You know, it was just one of those things and it's a 12-round fight and round one went to Romney.

IZRAEL: Mario Loyola, you're a policy guy. What was your take, bro?

LOYOLA: Well, Arsalan didn't answer the question about what happened to Obama, but I've got some ideas on that.

IZRAEL: Uh-oh.

LOYOLA: And I think - by the way, Arsalan, Obama talked four minutes longer than - I mean, winning - it's really hard to beat Obama on over-talking. You've got to admit that. But look, I think that - I was amazed by how well prepared these two candidates were substantively. And I was also amazed by how quickly the mainstream - supposedly left wing liberal mainstream media declared Obama the loser.

Now, there's not - we haven't really absorbed what happened. A lot of people say it's an energy thing, especially MSNBC and stuff, but I think that the reason Obama lost this debate - if he did lose the debate - is because so many of his talking points have been massaged for the stump that they're kind of really easy to refute with basic facts.

I mean the fact that, you know, Michel played a clip from the following day when he was back on the stump, well, he's great with a crowd when he can just throw out the talking point and nobody can refute him, but if he's without an audience and he's got somebody right there who can say I don't have a $5 trillion tax plan, I've been in business for 25 years, I have no idea what you're talking about...

MARTIN: But, actually, Mario, the fact checkers actually say that Romney was the one who was making the more questionable statements, so he was making them with a lot of vigor, but in fact, in point of fact, in terms of people who are actually being criticized for being inaccurate, that would be Mitt Romney.

LOYOLA: Well, no. Hold on, Michel. The fact checkers have gone both ways. Right? I mean, there's a lot of stuff...

MARTIN: OK.

LOYOLA: You know, I'll throw out a couple of examples. Obama claims credit for a boom in oil and gas production. He does this a lot, by the way. He claims credit for a boom in oil and gas production when he came into office backed by an environmental base that wanted him to resist any further growth in oil and gas production.

He, you know, threw 30,000, 40,000 people out of work with a completely unnecessary moratorium in the Gulf. He's cut licenses for drilling on federal land, oil and gas drilling on federal land down to half of what they were when he came into office. EPA has moved to...

MARTIN: OK, OK. We get it. I think we get it.

LOYOLA: ...clamp down on fracking. So...

MARTIN: And Jimi's doing a Lehrer here. He's letting us fight it out, so - All right. OK, alright.

IZRAEL: I mean, you know, I watched the debates and it reminded me of any good fight. You know, I think Obama - I'm not for or against anybody, but I think Obama is letting Romney punch himself out. I mean this is the classic...

MINKOFF: Rope-a-dope.

IZRAEL: ...classic, classic rope-a-dope. You know, you, you know, it's a chess game. You let the dude, you know, played his best pieces first and then you go in then, it's checkmate. I mean it's, you see...

MARTIN: How many sports and game metaphors are we going to fit into this conversation?

IFTIKHAR: Barbershop. Barbershop.

IZRAEL: If not...

MARTIN: Between the two of them I think they already, Neil, I don't think they left any sports. You got tiddlywinks, some hockey, some...

MINKOFF: Mixed metaphor radio. The thing that would worry me is I think your theory would be true if Obama comes out the same way next time or slightly more forceful. What would worry me if I were on that side of the aisle is an overcompensation and going the other direction and going the other direction and being too energetic and too battle oriented...

IZRAEL: I don't think you have to worry about that.

MINKOFF: ...and coming in and being too attack.

(LAUGHTER)

MINKOFF: Well, you know what? I was wrong a few years ago when every debate a different Al Gore showed up. There were three different Al Gores. There was tender Al Gore, know it all Al Gore and fight it out Al Gore and each one seemed like so different from the last debate that it was confusing to those of us who actually watched these things. So that's what I'd be worried about in going too far the other way.

MARTIN: Interesting. One thing though, that...

LOYOLA: But this is Mario. I...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Mario.

LOYOLA: I'm sorry, Michel. I just wanted to jump in and say...

MARTIN: Quickly. Go ahead.

LOYOLA: ...that Al Gore is quite possibly the most contrived politician of modern times. I think that Obama is a lot more authentic than that, so I don't think we have to worry.

MARTIN: Oh, actually there's a lot of competition for that title, speaking of.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yeah. I know. Yeah.

MARTIN: Anyway, president got grief for not - one of the things that a lot of people in Twitter world and so forth criticized the president for not addressing the whole question of those comments that Mitt Romney made that were secretly recorded of the 47 percent, I'm not worrying about them - that believe the that government has the responsibility to care for them and so forth. We talked about that previously. But now in an interview on Fox News, he walked it back substantially. Remember, originally he kind of doubled down and said yeah, I said it wrong but that's what I meant and, you know, that. And he took a very different tack on Fox News last night. Here's a clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS)

MITT ROMNEY: Now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right. In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong. And I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about 100 percent and that's been demonstrated throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent.

IZRAEL: Oh man. I love a good Kerry shuffle. Man, I love that John Kerry two step back. I love it. I mean this guy, he's a flip flopper. Can he make up his mind? Can he say one thing and mean it? I mean how can we trust him? How can we trust him when he says one thing at the dinner party, but when he's around people that care, when there are stakes involved he's going to say something else? You know, Dr. Neil?

MINKOFF: OK. So I'm going to sing the tomato/tomato song. So you save 47 and I'll say bitter clingers. And you say abortion and I'll say Gitmo. Let's call the whole thing off.

IZRAEL: But...

MINKOFF: I mean it's browned on both sides.

MARTIN: He's referring to - just for people who want to know what he is talking about, he's talking about these comments that President Obama made - then Senator Obama - made four years ago where he was also recorded secretly at a fundraiser saying that people are bitter and clinging to their guns and - but the difference in, Neil, as we discussed, is that instance he was saying I'm not writing these people off. Our challenge is to get people who are bitter reengaged. That's the difference. That's the end of that sentence, if the substance of it matters versus saying I don't have to worry about these people. I mean I would agree with you that there's some semantic point that is being made.

MINKOFF: I'm not sure that he was saying he wasn't worrying about the people or he wasn't worrying about the vote, and I think there's a difference there in terms of policy versus politics.

IFTIKHAR: Well, and...

MARTIN: Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: ...I think, you know, piggybacking off of Jimi's point about, you know, the debate being a game of rope-a-dope, I also think it was Obama pulling his punches. You know, the 47 percent comment, you know, Romney's time at Bain Capital, immigration, abortion, you know, none of these hot button domestic issues were brought to the fore. Now I don't know if this was, you know, a strategic move on the part of Obama, you know, and whether he's going to bring this up in the second town hall or the third debate, but I think about something important to keep in mind...

MARTIN: I just find that whole argument that the moderator was supposed to take care of me lame. I just - I just personally...

IFTIKHAR: No. But like the...

MARTIN: ...find this as a person who hosts a program, your job is to get people to engage and to talk, I find that lame. You are supposed to take care of me. I'm sorry.

IFTIKHAR: No, no, no. It's not taking care, what we're saying, just like the NFL replacement refs, it's losing control of the game and that's what Jim Lehrer did. He lost control of that debate. He was not able to shut either side up. He wasn't able to move on. He was taken advantage of. I mean it was like the NFL replacement refs.

MINKOFF: Yeah, but...

LOYOLA: I disagree.

MARTIN: Does Mario, Mario, disagrees. Mario?

LOYOLA: I mean I think that Jim Lehrer moderated what was actually a pretty substantive debate. And he, you know, he had to compromise keeping them within time versus letting them finish their points, thesis and counter thesis and fact and counter fact. And I thought that it was a very, it was one of the most impressive debates on substance that I've seen in a long time.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop, with writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, National Review columnist Mario Loyola, health care consultant, he's also a National Review contributor, Neil Minkoff.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, many people who were not to into the presidential race were following the pennant races in baseball. Wednesday night, the Detroit Tigers beat the Kansas City Royals one to zero. But the score wasn't the highlight, Miguel Rabrera(ph) becoming...

MARTIN: Cabrera.

IZRAEL: Didn't I say that right?

MARTIN: No.

IFTIKHAR: You kind of muffed it.

IZRAEL: I muffed it? Really? Cabrera.

IFTIKHAR: But it's all right.

IZRAEL: Cabrera. I'm sorry, man.

MARTIN: He dropped the ball.

IZRAEL: I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: You know, but he became the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown. That means he had the best batting average, home runs and runs batted for the American League, right, Michel?

MARTIN: And he was really humble about it. I'll just play a short clip from what he said after the game.

MIGUEL CABRERA: I will say thank God to give me this opportunity and share with you guys and share with my family and share with my country, Venezuela and everybody here..

IZRAEL: Wow. That is humble. Thanks for that, Michel. You know, I'm not really a baseball fan, go Indians, but...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Just thought you'd mention.

IZRAEL: But Neil Minkoff, you're psyched up about so, you know what? Take the floor, man. Weigh on what this means.

MINKOFF: So I just think that MLB is in like the best position right now. Obviously the NFL has replaced them as a national pastime. But Major League Baseball isn't in a fight with its officials, hasn't had a work stoppage in decades, has exciting pennant races for the first time in years, a Triple Crown winner, the most exciting rookie in a decade. And look, my Sox were out of it months ago. And I've been following along because, you know, for Oakland to come back on the final game of the series, the season, for the Tigers to, you know, why did Cabrera actually even play in those games? He had the Triple Crown sewn up and he risked that. I mean this was an incredibly, incredibly seductive season.

IZRAEL: You know what? I mean as a like a pseudo-fan, I wonder how you can't look at any of these accomplishments without like a jaundiced eye in the age of, you know, steroids and, you know...

MARTIN: I think that's over...

IFTIKHAR: And...

IZRAEL: I don't know that it's over.

IFTIKHAR: You know...

MARTIN: Well, Neil - wait a minute. Neil you're the health care guy. I mean is it? Yes?

MINKOFF: Well, I actually wrote a piece about how I think "Moneyball" was in the old days were 100 percent steroid dependent because it was waiting for the three run home run. And the teams that won this year won by being quick on the bases and defending and doing the fast twitch muscle stuff that steroids aren't as helpful with. So it might be there also the home run totals aren't 60, it's 40.

IZRAEL: OK.

IFTIKHAR: And this is Arsalan. You know, just to show the gravity and magnitude of what Cabrera was able to do, you know, for any sports fan that's like, you know, leading the NBA in points, rebounds, and assists. It's like a tennis player winning all four grand slams. I mean to lead the league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average is quite a monumental thing and that's why it hasn't been done since Carl Yastrzemski did it in '67.

MARTIN: Mario, are you into it?

LOYOLA: Yeah. I mean one thing that I love about this is that America's great pastime is being kept alive by essentially five or six Latin American countries and their, you know, their descendents in the United States.

IFTIKHAR: True.

MINKOFF: That's true.

LOYOLA: I mean this is Cuba - when you look at what these countries are too, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and these - Venezuela, of course, is where Miguel Cabrera was born and raised, these are some of the most culturally and racially integrated societies on Earth, right? And so it's no surprise that they have great music. It's no surprise that they had a near monopoly on the world's most beautiful women.

(LAUGHTER)

LOYOLA: But the interesting thing is, why does it give them a monopoly on baseball as opposed to basketball or football or something like that? And I think that the reason is, the lesson here is that baseball is quintessentially the sport of the well-rounded athlete. And the Triple Crown is the prize of the well-rounded athlete within baseball.

MARTIN: But I do...

LOYOLA: So that's what, you know, that's what it means to me.

MARTIN: I am curious about, we're not going to answer this here, but one of the things that I am curious about is, you know, we still call baseball America's pastime, but that's really not true, it's the NFL.

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

MARTIN: I mean the NFL is the most watched sport. And I'm just puzzled by that, because baseball, you know, the diamond, the playing field seems to be perfect for the small screen. I remember my dad, you know, watching, you know, baseball, you know, for hours and I'm just wondering why it is that football has surpassed it? People say well the pace of baseball is too languid for the modern world. I don't know. I'm just, I don't know, it's just something to ponder. I'm puzzled about that. OK. One more topic I want to run past you.

IZRAEL: OK.

MARTIN: The new host, the host of the - the latest new host of the Oscars. It's this guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FAMILY GUY")

SETH MACFARLANE: (as Peter) (Singing) It's peanut butter jelly time. Peanut butter jelly time. Peanut butter jelly time. Where he at? Where he at? Where he at? Where he at? Now, there he go. There he go. There he go. There he go. Peanut butter jelly. Peanut butter jelly. Peanut butter jelly.

MARTIN: Obviously it's a deep intellectual. It's actually the creator of "The Family Guy." Seth MacFarlane. And just in fairness, he does lots of character voices. That's just one of them. I just want to ask you guys quickly, what do you think of the pick?

IZRAEL: Brilliant.

IFTIKHAR: Love it.

IZRAEL: This is Jimi. I think it's brilliant. I think he's a comic genius. He's not going to need a whole team of writers. He is a whole team of writers. This guy, and not just that, he can sing. He can sing. I love Seth MacFarlane.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK.

IFTIKHAR: I will...

MARTIN: Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: This is Arsalan.

I will watch anything that Seth MacFarlane does, whether it's "Family Guy, whether it's "Ted," whether it's anything. I think it's a great choice.

MARTIN: Neil?

MINKOFF: High risk, high reward. It's either the most entertaining show in decades or he completely flops and it becomes horrible.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: It becomes like a cavalcade of bleeps.

IFTIKHAR: Go big or go home.

MARTIN: OK.

MINKOFF: High risk, high reward.

MARTIN: Mario, what do you think? Yes? No? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

LOYOLA: Well, yeah, it's great. I mean I think it's another sign of the mainstreaming of what's young and indie in our culture and it's great.

MARTIN: He just seems really a -can I just say this? And I'm sorry, jeopardizing any possible interview I'll ever get with him. I love his interviews more than his work.

IZRAEL: Hmm.

MARTIN: I mean I think that his interviews with people like, you know, Jay Leno or Letterman are just hilarious and brilliant and nimble and he's got so many interesting things to say. I think his shows, I just, I could live my entire life and never see one and would not feel the poorer for it.

IZRAEL: Well, he's...

MARTIN: I just think that's different. I'm sorry. That's me.

IZRAEL: Well he - it might not be your kind of humor, Michel.

MARTIN: You think?

IZRAEL: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media - couldn't have guessed that - at Cuyahoga Community College. Neil Minkoff is trained as a doctor. He's now a health care consultant. He's a contributor to the National Review. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. They were all with me in Washington, D.C. Mario Loyola doesn't love us anymore. He's still in Austin. He's the director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a think tank focused on the impact of federal policy on states.

And, thank you all so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

MINKOFF: Thank you.

LOYOLA: Chow, chow.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

MARTIN: And if you cannot get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our new Barbershop podcast. It debuts today and it can be found in the iTunes Store.

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)

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