Kennedy Emerged From Scandal To Civil Rights Champion

In the latest installment of the Barbershop, guest host Jennifer Ludden talks with freelance journalist Jimi Izrael, of TheRoot.com, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin and civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of the MuslimGuy.com. The guys talk about the recent passing and legacy of Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Obamas' first vacation as the first family to Martha's Vineyard and the controversy surrounding Michael Jackson's personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

I'm Jennifer Ludden, 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, we have freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin. Jimi, take it away.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (TheRoot.com): J-Lu, what's up?

LUDDEN: How are you?

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you so - I'm good, good. It's good to have you back in the shop.

LUDDEN: Thanks.

Mr. IZRAEL: Fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

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

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Attorney; Founder, MuslimGuy.com): Good, man, great.

KEN RUDIN: Well, you know, Jimi, let me tell you. It's the first Barbershop without Senator Edward Kennedy in the U.S. Senate.

Mr. IZRAEL: It's a rough, rough week, man. Senator Ted Kennedy died this week, and he leaves behind this incredible legacy, you know, and I wrote about it for TheRoot.com, in this piece I wrote called "Brother Kennedy, Good White Folk." And the Kennedys in general, in my opinion, because I'm not the spokesman for all black people this week, the Kennedys showed a lot of black people, frankly, that whites were not inherently bad.

They could be partners in helping to create a better, prosperous America for everybody, you know, and in my opinion Ted was the last great true liberal. I mean, he was very altruistic. He wasn't working for political gain but seemed to be working for the good of all mankind. What do you think?

RUDIN: One thing I noticed about this completely is that once Ted Kennedy realized he was not going to be president, once the carousing stopped, once the imperfections in his personality disappeared, he became a lawmaker's lawmaker and became one of the giants of the U.S. Senate.

Mr. IZRAEL: But Ken, I've got to ask you. Will his legacy be able to withstand unanswered questions around the Chappaquiddick incident that happened on July 18, 1969, where he left Mary Jo Kopechne to drown at the scene of an accident?

RUDIN: Well, it's been part of his legacy ever since. Perhaps he would have been president by now. The accident was in 1969, as you say. They still wanted - Democrats still wanted him to run for president in '72. He said no. In '76 he said no. When he finally ran in 1980, against a fellow Democrat, Jimmy Carter, Chappaquiddick came up again.

Chappaquiddick was always part of his life. He never defended it. He said it was indefensible. The point is that with all of us we have made mistakes. We have done good, we have done bad in our lives. I think when you judge Ted - when somebody judges Ted Kennedy, the enormity, the entirety of his career, it would be far more good, but that asterisk of Chappaquiddick will always be there.

LUDDEN: President Obama is one of many who have come out to eulogize the senator. Let's just tell people that the funeral is tomorrow. Senator Kennedy was 77 years old. He died after a year fight with brain cancer, and here are some of the words President Obama had to say when news broke of his passing on Wednesday.

President BARACK OBAMA: While these months have no doubt been difficult for him, they've also let him hear from people in every corner of our nation and from around the world just how much he meant to all of us. His fight has given us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us.

LUDDEN: Arsalan.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, Jennifer, something that's interesting to me - I mean, I wasn't born when Chappaquiddick happened, and so, you know, to me, when I look at the totality of Ted Kennedy's life, I look at his legislative work, and you know, you look at 1971, you know, he established a federal cancer research program that quadrupled the amount of money spent fighting cancer.

He helped pass Title IX in 1972, which called for the NCAA to give equal funding to both women and men's sports. He actually was successful in spearheading the override of President Reagan's apartheid sanctions veto in 1986.

RUDIN: Robert Bork, stopping Robert Bork.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Family Medical Leave Act in 1990, and over the objections of some of his own fellow Democrats helping to pass No Child Left Behind in 2001. And so, you know, not only was Ted Kennedy a liberal lion in the Senate, he was also somebody who could successful straddle the velvet rope and reach across party lines to help pass very, very important legislation that not only affected his constituents but affected all Americans of all different stripes.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, the R, who's going to inherit his mantle of leadership, bro?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You know, you have to take that questions in two pieces: the mantle of leadership in the Kennedy household, in the Kennedy family, in the popular imagination with the Kennedys, and secondly with the Senate.

Let's do the Senate first. It's easy. I think that you will find people, you will find people step to the plate. People like Chuck Schumer in New York, who's already come up to take hold of one of Senator Kennedy's big issues, that's immigration reform, and so Schumer stepped up to that.

I think you will find some truth to what John McCain said fondly about Senator Kennedy, that he was as close to irreplaceable as you get in the Senate. The other void though, in the family, is much harder to fill. I don't think you're going to be able to fill that because you see now this other generation sort of fading from memory. You have all four of the brothers gone and now you have what's left over.

You have the Kennedy grandchildren, and with a couple of exceptions, people like Rory Kennedy, who's a documentary filmmaker and Citizens Energy's Joe Kennedy and, you know, Robert Kennedy, Jr., who's a noted environmentalist, you still have a lot of Kennedy folk out there, a lot of Kennedy grandkids who just aren't worth a plugged nickel because they really embody what's wrong with a family where everything is given to kids, that they don't necessarily produce, that they had to deal with divorces and drug problems and drug addictions. It's just been a real downhill slope, I think, for this next generation of Kennedy kids.

LUDDEN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

I'm Jennifer Ludden and we're in the Barbershop speaking with journalists Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ken Rudin and Ruben Navarrette.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Jennifer. I'm sure I can speak for all the fellows in the Shop and say that we want to extend our condolences to the Kennedy family at this rough time.

So the Obama's, they're chilling out at Martha's Vineyard, which is, I hear, because, you know, I'm not one of the…

LUDDEN: You're not there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I hear it's tradition among well-healed black Americans, and there are various opinions about the first family's vacation. Ruben?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah?

Mr. IZRAEL: What? What? Obama can't take a rest? He doesn't deserve a little R&R? What's good?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Well, listen, I think it's a bum rap. I think that the president, you know, has a right to take a vacation just like every other president. Clearly you'd have to take a lot of vacations to equal what President Bush 41 and 43 did in terms of vacations.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And certainly Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was always out there, whenever things got hot, which was often in the Clinton household. I'm more troubled though, Jimi, by this ugly charge of elitism, that somehow black folks can't vacation on Martha's Vineyard.

I've read stuff about that from some really clueless columnist and bloggers out there who aren't aware that black folks have, in fact, been vacationing on Martha's Vineyard for a long, long time. And so I think that we have this narrow stifling perception of what is appropriate behavior for our first black president...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...and this another example where even some well-meaning liberals come forward and really wonder if he belongs in Martha's Vineyard, and I say hell yes he does.

RUDIN: I would feel much more comfortable - I would feel much more comfortable though if he were clearing brush...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: ...to me - on Martha's Vineyard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Because that's what a president should be doing.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Is there a brush on Martha's Vineyard?

Mr. IZRAEL: Where is he supposed to be doing a holiday, in Detroit?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, the churches don't like this.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right on.

Mr. IZRAEL: The conservatives don't like this and they put out a little piece of tape. Isn't that right, J?

LUDDEN: They certainly did. You knew it was coming and this ad is called "Surf's Up" and it was released this week by the nonprofit organization...

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: ...Conservatives for Patients Rights.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Woman: The beach is nice this time of year, but while President Obama vacations, concerns mount about his health care plan. Why? Because his public option health plan could lead to government-run health care, higher taxes on everything from paychecks to soda, and add a trillion to the deficit.

Mr. President, when you go back to D.C., drop your government-run public option plan. Let's get on with real reform to lower cost and protect patients' rights.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Jennifer. You know what I think, A-Train? I think people see a black man in the White House and they expect that he should work as hard as humanly possible to get whatever has to be done, that - look, he's there and he doesn't deserve a vacation. He should just work it out.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Presidents are human beings, just like anyone else, and especially when you have the weight of our current economy, you know, the health care reform debate. I mean I would probably try to take more vacation days if I could.

RUDIN: Yeah, but Arsalan, should...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ken.

RUDIN: Should the president be, while he's on vacation, I mean he's, people are killing my grandparents.

Mr. IZRAEL: What?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: The death panels.

RUDIN: Hell, I mean something should be done about this.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. So in other news, pop star Michael Jackson's death, ruled a homicide. You know, but his doctor, Conrad Murray, has yet to be charged. Authorities believe Dr. Murray gave Michael Jackson quote-unquote "lethal levels" of a powerful anesthetic called propofol as a sleep aide. Wow. We got some tape. Yes?

LUDDEN: We do. We have the first public remarks since Michael Jackson died on June 25th. These are the first remarks from his doctor, Conrad Murray, who is the subject of the death investigation here.

He actually released a video last week on YouTube explaining to family and friends that he has been afraid to answer emails and phone calls, but telling them that he's done nothing wrong.

(Soundbite of video)

Dr. CONRAD MURRAY (Physician): Your messages give me strength and courage. They mean the world to me. Please, don't worry. As long as I keep God in my heart and you in my life, I will be fine. I have done all I could do. I told the truth and I have faith the truth will prevail.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. That sounds like a Michael Jackson lyric. Is that just me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: That sounds like throwaway lyrics from "Man in the Mirror" or something. It's really sad that Dr. Murray can't confront what very well may be the truth, that as much as he wanted to help and service his client, Arsalan, that he may in fact have contributed to his death. Should he be charged with MJ's death?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I don't think so.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: What?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And I'll break that down for you in a second.

Mr. IZRAEL: Sure.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: After hearing that audio clip, you know, I'm not sure if he went to the Bobby McFerrin School of Medicine, but you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...when you look at...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: (Unintelligible) actually, huh?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: When you look in the legal...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Don't worry...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: The term homicide in any legal dictionary is the killing of one human being by the act or omission(ph) of another human being...

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And so criminal homicide is when a person purposefully, knowingly, recklessly and/or with extreme negligence causes the death of another, and so murder and manslaughter are examples of criminal homicide. Now, this is going to hinge on negligence. Now, you know, there are newspaper reports that said that, you know, Michael Jackson referred to propofol as his milk, so you know...

LUDDEN: And asked for it.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And so, you know, I don't know if the requisite intent for Dr. Conrad Murray is going to be there in a legal court of law. Now, I think that, you know, there are people who are, you know, out for blood, so to speak, in terms of, you know, wanting someone to be responsible for MJ's death. But I think at the end of the day, being the lawyer in the Barbershop, I really don't see, you know, I mean I can see his medical license being revoked and things like that, but...

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what though, A-Train - well, can I just pushback on that a little bit?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Go ahead. Go ahead. Please.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, see, the piece of that that's the problem is that propofol is mad serious. I mean because, you know, even...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...people that use it in the hospital, there has to be, they use it during surgery and there has to be somebody in the room that knows how to do CPR...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...because people tend to stop breathing when on propofol. So this doctor, knowing this, we hope, because he, I mean he got his Ph.D., you know...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Somewhere. His M.D. Somewhere.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: His M.D.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Somewhere.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: The Bobby McFerrin School of medicine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, his M.D. Thank you. He knew this...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And to be fair, he wanted to contact his medical school later, but apparently he had thrown the matchbook away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: He knew this and he also gave Michael Jackson before he gave him the propofol a whole grocery list of other drugs.

Ken Dog, you want to chime in?

RUDIN: Well, the only reason, well, to be honest with you, the only reason I've been staying out of the conservation is...

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

RUDIN: ...since 1983 I've been abusing Mylanta. And but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh no.

RUDIN: Yeah. It's sad.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oy.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Good luck with that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Moving right along.

LUDDEN: Quickly, please.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yes. Microsoft this week apologized for swapping a black model for a white model in one of their online ads. Now, the ad features three business people, one Asian, one black, and one white, but one of the models was altered for a Microsoft's Web site in Poland.

Now, some people on the Internet say that it's just target marketing. Other people just say it's racist. But I wonder if we're just being a little naïve because, you know, back in the day, in order to sell certain products - like Percy Sledge, for instance. On the cover of Percy Sledge's records, there were very often white families, white couples. And on the back of the record there was this small picture of Percy Sledge, you know.

And you know, and businesses aren't really in the business of social change. They're in the business to make money. It's like when Colgate bought Hazel and Hawley Chemical Company back in 1995, they inherited this product called Darkie Toothpaste.

Now, on the cover of the toothpaste there's this Sambo with his top hat and with a big, big, you know, black-face grin. Now, they renamed it Darlie only after a whole bunch of protests from civil rights groups. You know, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. I know, right? But at the end of the day...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: The things you learn in the Shop.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. I wonder as Americans if we're naïve about the way, you know, target marketing works overseas in other markets.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, Jimi?

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Jimi, I think what you're saying is a good point except for the fact - and you know, some people are saying that, you know, they removed, you know, the black model because of, you know, the racially homogenous, you know, Polish...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right, it's Poland.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, no, no. But the one thing that I think you're is they kept the Asian guy in the ad right next to him, and I don't know if they're that many Asians, if there are, you know, less blacks in Poland than Asians.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: So I would say, I would agree with you if it was across the board, if they changed, you know, everybody of color to fit white people, but to sort of Photoshop the first, the person in the middle, but still keep an ethnic Asian guy on the left I think was a major gaffe on their part.

RUDIN: But there is good news though. There is good news. The black guy who was - became a white guy, a cab stopped to pick him up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: Can I say, I just think Microsoft was being...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Happy ending.

LUDDEN: ...cheap. I mean for crying out loud, it was an Internet ad. You can't just take another picture? You know, if you're going go, fine. Have some Polish looking people in your ad for Poland. Why try to, you know, and then do it, to do it badly and only Photoshop half the guy's body, it's just cheap.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's no big.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, wrap it up for us, please.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's no big deal. I mean Microsoft has been quoted in this story as saying, you know, we're going to get to the bottom of this. We're not sure how this happened.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: At that point they just sort of - they just started making too much out of it. They probably know how it happened. If they want to do business in Poland, fine. If they want to take a hit, you know from, people who are outraged...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...that's fine too, but I wouldn't put them in the PC penalty box for this. I got bigger fish to fry right now.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Yeah. Seriously. You know, if they want to create some kind of ad gremlin that defaced their ad, they have no idea how this happened, that's - whatever, man. Just get Windows Vista to work for me, please?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, so - and with that, ladies and gentlemen, we got to call it a wrap. Thank you so much for coming out to the Shop, and I have to throw it to the lady of the house.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Jennifer.

LUDDEN: 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 he joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland.

Mr. IZRAEL: That's right.

LUDDEN: We have Ruben Navarrette, syndicated columnist. He is frequently featured on CNN.com, and he joined us from member station KOGO in San Diego. And here with me in our Washington studios - Arsalan Iftikhar, the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney, and Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor.

LUDDEN: Thanks all so much. It was fun.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

RUDIN: Two words: Mylanta.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Take care.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup. Yup.

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