Shop: More Drama With The Clintons

The Barbershop guys reconvene to comb through the latest headlines. Jimi Izrael , Ruben Navarrette, Arsalan Iftikhar, and Pablo Torre weigh in on the hostility expressed across the country at town hall meetings on health care, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's pointed response to a question posed to her that included a reference to her husband — former President Bill Clinton — and legendary basketball coach Rick Pitino's sex scandal.

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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 freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre.

I may jump in here or there, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, what's up? Welcome to the shop. How you doing?

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Attorney; Editor): Doing good, man.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Pretty good, dude.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? Members of Congress are holding town hall meetings on the subject of health care, and there's been some tough talk and raucous discourse that's reportedly got a little physical. A-Train, what's up with that?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Personally, I haven't seen such, you know, fake, manufactured outrage, you know, since Glenn Beck's fake tears on Fox News Channel. This, you know, really is taking away from the substantive debate that should be had. I think that we need to maintain a civilized discourse and understand the organizational foundation of the protests that are going on.

MARTIN: But what does that mean, though? Just for the sake of analogy, since you're the civil rights lawyer - that was leader-led, that was organized, but it didn't mean it wasn't authentic.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: We're not addressing the authenticity of the issue. We're getting into the tactics of the issue. So when…

MARTIN: No, I think you are. I think you're doing both. When you're saying this is ginned-up and fake, in a sense you're saying it's not authentic. And it may be rude, it may be obnoxious, it may in your view cross the line beyond what's civil, but you see my point? Just because it's organized, does that mean it's not authentic?

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, to your point, it's got so far beyond debate, it's gotten more like WWF.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, it's "Fight Club."

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, it's "Fight Club."

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's Ruben. Listen, it's "Fight Club" on both sides, because people feel passionately about the health care issue. And nobody's hands are clean, and the reason is because health care, unlike any other issue - forget the war, forget immigration - health care hits people where they live, particularly senior citizens, who have to worry a lot about their doctors, prescription health costs, all that stuff, the cost of pills. And so I think this was always going to be a really volatile and explosive issue.

I think the White House made a series of mistakes. It miscalculated exactly how people feel about this. It also made a mistake in saying that it didn't need any Republican support to pass this, but then it turned around and it lost the Blue Dog Democrats. And so all of a sudden it needed the Republicans more than it thought.

MARTIN: First of all, I think I challenge the accuracy. I don't think the White House ever said that they weren't trying to get Republican support.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, they said it just a couple days ago. They said it just - I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Okay, but that's a couple days ago. Why was Max Baucus trying so hard to keep Republicans on board in the Senate if the White House didn't think that they wanted - if they only wanted to work with the Democratic Caucus, they could have done that from the beginning. So I guess I don't - I don't buy that.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Here's what I heard. Six months ago, and then recently, President Obama, just last week, but six months ago they basically said we're able to do health care reform without Republican support. If they don't want to come along, fine.

It's a nice negotiating tactic. It says basically, you guys can come to the table if you want to but we really don't need you. And just last week, President Obama said he's prepared to do this without Republican support.

That's okay, if you can deliver all of your team members, but he can't. That's the whole problem. He's losing the Blue Dog Democrats, and so that is a strategic mistake of the first order, and I think this has just been - I think a lot of the criticism of Obama has been overblown. You know, socialism, forget that. Depicting him as Hitler, forget all that. But a lot of what the White House has done here is kind of like George Bush was boneheaded on immigration. He really didn't understand how deep the opposition went on that. Same thing here for Obama and health care.

MARTIN: Well, I want to go back to a point that Jimi made, that he wrote about in The Root earlier this week. I mean, you've talked about - just getting back to the tenor of this alleged debate and the kind over-the-top rhetoric that has been seen in some of these places, these signs and stuff - and Jimi, you made the point - why don't you just tell people what you said. Well, I can describe it sort of briefly, and you can sort of pick up the point that, you know, let's look at the demographics of the people who seem to be showing out at these events and using this kind of language and their behavior.

There was an incident at Claire McCaskill's - you wrote about this before this happened - at Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill's town hall, where a woman, an African-American woman, had a sign of Rosa Parks. A man goes up, rips the sign out of her hand, and then she is the one who is escorted out. And you made the point that, you know, what's up with that?

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, she's escorted out by the phalanx of security, and the only thing they do to the guy, they make sure he has a seat. They're like, go back to your seat, and they tell her to leave. You know, and what's interesting to me is we know there are brown faces on the right. I mean, Ruben, right?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: There you go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Come read my mail, brother. I'm an equal opportunity offender.

Mr. IZRAEL: Exactly. You know, so both of you, where are you guys in the debate for health care? I mean, all the pictures that I see - I don't see a whole lot of brown faces.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. It is…

Mr. TORRE: You know, what's up with that? What's up with that?

Mr. IZRAEL: Hold on. Let me say this. If there were a bunch of brown-faced people out there yelling and screaming and hollering, you know what?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Out would come the dogs, the hoses…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Right. Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: …and the stabs of blackjacks. I promise you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I promise you, it would be on and cracking.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Amen.

Mr. TORRE: Well, and this is Pablo here.

Mr. IZRAEL: Pablo, go ahead, man.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah, I mean, let me say first off, that I'm in favor of town hall meetings, of the notion of (unintelligible). I think the fabric of, you know, democracy (unintelligible) backs it up.

Mr. IZRAEL: Of course it is. Of course it is.

Mr. TORRE: Ancient Athens and debating underneath the olive tree and everything like that. At the same time, A, it is ginned up. But B, I think we have just to realize that it's a self-selecting population of people. Anybody who's willing to walk to a town hall meeting feels really strongly about this. I don't necessarily think it's an accurate cross section of America, whether it's black or white, liberal or conservative.

I mean, obviously, the rest of the country's different from the coasts, for example. But at the same time I feel like - like, people who write letters into magazines, like people who are willing to physically take the activity and go to a town hall meeting, they're going to be on the extremes no matter what, even before it's ginned up in the first place.

MARTIN: But why? Why?

Mr. IZRAEL: Really? No. No. No.

MARTIN: No, but why? I mean people stand on lines to get Springsteen tickets. I'm sorry.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Michel? Michel?

MARTIN: Go ahead, Arsalan.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: My - the analogy that I use that I think really simplifies and boils down the issue in essence is that imagine if the white guy, John McCain, had won the presidency.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Would we ever have seen the Birthers movement? Would we have ever seen this sort of visceral physical hatred at angry town hall meetings? I hardly think so.

MARTIN: I'm going to take the easy road right now and jump in and say…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: …if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Pablo Torre and Ruben Navarrette in the Barbershop.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, you know, Secretary Hillary Clinton got a little salty during the Q and A session on her seven-nation, 11-day tour of Africa to illuminate human rights issues. We got some tape on that, right?

MARTIN: Yes, we do. I'm glad you mentioned that this is a seven-nation tour. It's an 11-day trip. It is the longest trip that she's taken as secretary of state. I think those are all important points to point out when we mention this 30-second exchange in the Congo.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

MARTIN: But I'll just play it for you. She gave this - she was asked a question about what her husband, the former president, Bill Clinton, thinks about a particular issue. And this is what she said. Here it is.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Wait, you want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state. I am.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

Sec. CLINTON: So you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I'm not going to be channeling my husband.

Mr. TORRE: Wow. Snap.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what A-Train?

Mr. TORRE: That's the second rumble in the jungle.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You can't talk to a brother like that. That's a hate crime right there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Wait. Wait. But you know what? You know what, Ruben? I totally understand where she's coming from. 'Cause it's like when people ask me you know, what my girlfriend thinks. And I say, you know what? If you want to know what Condoleezza thinks…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: …you need to…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You need to go ahead and talk to Condoleezza.

Mr. IZRAEL: …you need to talk to her. You know…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: All right.

Mr. IZRAEL: …my name is Jimi, and I cannot speak for my…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I thought you were going to say, if you want know what Beyonce says, you know, you can talk to her.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I cannot speak for Condi. But Ruben, what's up with your girl, man?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Two problems, she went off okay? She went off.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, she went in.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: She went crazy.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: This is all about what happened with Bill Clinton in North Korea. I called it last week. I said it right. You can only have one secretary of state at a time. Bill Clinton upstaged his wife. I don't care if she put him up to it. I don't think she had any idea, one, how successful he'd be and how much, you know, public adoration would be headed his way as a hero, coming back from North Korea with these freed journalists.

So she got a little jealous and a little hot under the collar saying, hey, wait a minute. I'm supposed to be the nation's chief diplomat and here…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …Bill is you know showing me up. And she let it out in Africa during this conversation. And I think the only thing worse than this, Jimi, was the weak, weak, weak explanation coming out of the Secretary of State's office to explain this…

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …about somehow this was a stand that Hillary took against women's oppression in Africa and how women don't have enough of a voice in Africa, and she was responding to that whole culture of paternalism.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I mean, that was just far-fetched.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what? I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Ruben. I got to push on that because, you know, it occurred to me as kind of sexist, too, I mean, to have some brother stand up and ask this. I mean…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He didn't say that. The brother didn't ask that question. The brother asked about President Obama.

MARTIN: They are two different, actually, versions of this that's, you know, partly they're responsible for this confusion.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: The first version that the State Department put out was that it was - is a mistranslation.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: The second version they put out was that he was nervous…

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: …and that he misspoke. He didn't mean to say President Clinton. He meant to say President Obama. So anyway, Arsalan?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, it was a human moment. I think that she did not do a good job in being the chief diplomat of the United States in that instance of public diplomacy. I don't think this speaks to her talent or her wisdom as secretary of state. And, you know, I think that we're all going to have to come to terms with the fact Bill Clinton will always be an international gangster. Right?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Or - right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: He's always going to be a part of the global zeitgeist.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. TORRE: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And so, you know…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Let the player play.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Don't - it's like, you know, you got to hate the game.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, Pablo? I think maybe Hillary had been reading some recent polls. You know, the Rasmussen Reports reported that even now - she's secretary of state and her husband is beating her out in the polls in popularity.

Mr. TORRE: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, 58 to 53 percent. What's that about?

Mr. TORRE: Well…

Mr. IZRAEL: I bet - go ahead, Pablo.

Mr. TORRE: I mean, I do think it's kind of unfortunate that the trip itself is kind of been under the rug a little bit because of it. It's fantastically admirable. She's going to the Congo and confronting the issue of rape as a crime of war, going to Nigeria, which might be the most important part of Africa nowadays according to the State Department, the genocide in Zimbabwe, and Somalia.

I mean, what she's trying to do is bring a spotlight - if not in this moment, but in the larger scheme - to exactly the problem of, you know, women being oppressed, to accountability to bring deterrence to these places and the militias that kind rule them.

I think what her trip and sort of showing that America and the international community at the very least is watching Africa is a huge, huge thing that - you know, and it's sort of unfortunate that everyone's been talking about this outburst, although understandably, instead of the actual point of her trip at large.

MARTIN: Which is the kind of thing that makes me wonder again, you know, what is this really about? I mean, is there a point at which we can actually focus on the substance as opposed to, like, the gender and the whole Clinton drama piece? I mean, I know - look, you know, it's hard to say. If the situation were reverse and this were a male who kind of snapped on somebody and had like the neck going and be like, oh no you didn't, you know - or is it because it's a woman, because it's Hillary Clinton, that becomes the focus of the conversation? I don't know.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: This is Ruben. If it were a male, Todd Palin, if it were someone who is overshadowed by her, by his wife, you know, his wife…

MARTIN: I think so.

Mr. IZRAEL: That poor soul.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, if he said, you know…

MARTIN: Todd Palin…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …if he likewise felt or, you know, back in the day with Geraldine Ferraro and John Zaccaro, I mean, if you are Mr. Ferraro to the minds of some people and you snap at somebody, you know, this isn't so complicated. This is just about what it…

MARTIN: She's a distinguished public servant in her own right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. And this…

MARTIN: Todd Palin is not. I don't think those analogies work.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. But I think for most Washingtonians, I think, you know, we all have come to terms with the fact that Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Clintons are sort version of our The Real Housewives of Washington, DC.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: But okay, you know what? Speaking of accountability, Rick Pitino, University of Louisville's legendary men's basketball coach, my man got some 'splaining(ph) to do for…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Let me help you here.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: He issued an apology this week…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: …for a sexual encounter he had with a woman in a restaurant back in 2003.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: She allegedly blackmailed him over this incident.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: But then it emerged in the course of…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: That's how this public spurred…

MARTIN: …when this incident went public that, in fact, he had to acknowledge he had a consensual sexual relationship with, or encounter with this woman…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: …in this restaurant. Both parties are married.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. It's redonkulous(ph).

MARTIN: There's other unpleasantness, and, of course, he apologized. If you want to hear what he had to say about that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. We should check it out.

MARTIN: Okay. Here it is. Here's what he had to say.

Mr. RICK PITINO (Coach, University of Louisville Men's Basketball Team): The past seven months have been very difficult on the people I love. And I made a decision seven months ago because it's something I preach to my players for the 30-some-odd years I've been coaching. They've heard it once a week for 30-some-odd years, and it goes like this: I said when you have a problem, if you tell the truth, your problem becomes part of your past. If you lie, it becomes part of your future. And I made a very difficult decision to tell the truth to the federal authorities, the local authorities, to university officials, and most importantly, the people that love me the most: my family and friends.

Mr. IZRAEL: Pablo, should he be fired? Should he lose his job for this, or should his conduct be relevant to his gig?

Mr. TORRE: Well, if it was up to me, he would be fired. This is bad, first off. We first heard about this in April, the extortion over $10 million. And there's also the other element of paying for an abortion/health insurance.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh, yeah. Exactly.

Mr. TORRE: Which, in Kentucky, you'd think wouldn't go over too well, but that's the power of college basketball. I mean, college basketball is different from pro basketball. If it's a pro coach, I don't think I'd take as hard a line as I would with Rick Pitino at Louisville because his job, ostensibly…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TORRE: …is to teach young minds. It's not just to, you know, win games, which he does as well as anybody else. And that, you know, if you still buy into that dimension of college basketball as this place for young men to grow and learn, then you fire the guy. If you don't and if you think it's about winning and it's big business and a multimillion dollar industry…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. TORRE: …which, in reality, it probably is, then, yeah. You keep the guy. But in my mind, in a perfect world, he'd be gone.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: That's a good point, and this is Arsalan. I mean, I agree with everything that Pablo said. From a layman's perspective who is a sports junkie, you know it's really disappointing to see just the level of impunity that we're starting to see in many different places. Let's also keep in mind this is not is not some, you know, Rick Pitino coming clean…

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: … you know, sort of, you know, I'm the victim in all of this. He knew that eventually it was going to be part of the public record and…

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: …it would obviously, you know, soon be found out, and, you know, he was trying to cut it off at the pass.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, Ruben, help me out here.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: How I see this is as a father, and at one point, I was a husband, it's like, you know, I think when you're a man and you got kids at home and a wife and you're setting it out in a restaurant, in bathrooms…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: …you know, the state of manhood generally - and your manhood in particular is in crisis. That's what I think.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, help me out.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's bad form, baby. That's bad form.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm not that, I'm not in court to…

MARTIN: Ruben is trying to be very quiet on this. You seem to be very quiet.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Listen, I'm not an expert on sports, but I'm an expert on restaurants, I'll tell you right now…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …this is bad for all restaurants.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I don't want him in the kitchen.

Mr. TORRE: Absolutely.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I don't want him anywhere near the kitchen. I eat in those places. I don't want him - that's not the stuff you do in a restaurant.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It's the Pitino rule, the Pitino rule.

MARTIN: Can I just ask one more question? I'm curious, Arsalan…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yes, of course.

MARTIN: …because he's the other sports guy here. You said you think he should be fired. Do you think he will be?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No. Not at all.

Mr. TORRE: No. I don't think… (unintelligible)

MARTIN: Nobody thinks…

Mr. TORRE: No. I don't.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: What I, I agree with Pablo all the way. And what I was going to say is come March 2010, if Louisville gets to the Sweet 16 early date, nobody will ever, ever remembered this situation in our (unintelligible).

MARTIN: But you all say you will. But you all say you will.

Mr. TORRE: Well, we're naive guys, I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: At a core, we're sort of - we try to look at sorts, I think - and I speak for Arsalan as well in this. I think we hope for a higher standard for…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. TORRE: …what we want out of college sports, which has been such a battleground in terms of this issue, whether it's - do we pay players? Do we kind of adhere to standards of amateurism? I mean, at what point do we realize that these kids are mercenaries instead of students? If you vote for them as mercenaries, then you let him play. If you vote for them as students, then you fire him.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, gentlemen. Well, I got to clear off the table, and that's a wrap.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, I want to thank you so much for coming out and doing the Shop, and I have to pass the ball to the woman of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Why, thank you.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com. He's also a presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney. And they were both here in our studios in Washington. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated, and he joined us from our studios in New York. And Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist, and he's frequently featured on CNN.com, and he joined us from member station KOGO in San Diego.

Gentlemen, thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. TORRE: Thanks.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup. Yup.

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