Can Obama Get His Groove Back?

In this week's installment of the Barbershop, guest host Allison Keyes talks with freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar; NPR's political editor Ken Rudin and social commentator Marc Lamont, a social commentator and professor at Columbia University. They discuss President Obama's upcoming address to a Joint Session of Congress and his sliding approval rating, a Yale University study on Unmarried Black Women, pop singer Chris Brown's appearance on Larry King Live and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's possible return to the political scene.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes, and this TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

It's time now 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; NPR's political editor Ken Rudin and Marc Lamont Hill, a social commentator and associate professor of education at Columbia University. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Hey, thanks so much, AK. Fellas, welcome to the shop.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Attorney): Jimi, what's going on, man?

Mr. MARC LAMONT HILL (Professor, Columbia University): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hill, what's up, man? We haven't had you in the shop in a while. Somebody crack a bottle. It's a party, y'all.

Mr. HILL: I thought you was hiding from me at the NBA Finals, man. I didn't know what happened…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Let's not go there. Let's not go there, but you know what, fellas? This just in: Marriage eludes black women who have advanced degrees. Clutch the pearls. New research shows that these women are twice as likely to never have been married by the age of 45. Are these women's standards too high, or are there really no eligible mates? Allison?

KEYES: You know, I have to say first of all, it might not be pearls. It might be amber.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: And second of all, the black women I spoke to earlier in the show actually didn't blame black men at all. They kind of blamed their choices: waiting to pursue their careers, trying to expand their vision of a pool. You know, a lot of people focus more on job than on getting married, and then by the time you look up, you know, it seems like pickings are a little bit slim out there.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, though? The researchers that did this study, their main knock was against black men. They were like, you know, these sisters don't have any reliable mates, quote-unquote, and I take some issue with that. I'm quite reliable. I've been known to get the garbage out on time.

KEYES: Wait, how many divorces again?

Mr. IZRAEL: I am two divorces in, and nobody's perfect, right? You know, but, I found two women that wanted to marry me, so how about that?

Mr. HILL: It's hard out there for sisters, though, for a few reasons. One, this is educated black women. I mean, the number of unmarried black women between 20 and, say, 45 has gone up exponentially in the last two to three decades, from maybe, like, 20 percent to almost 40 percent. So it's a problem for black women period, but a big part of this issue is structural.

Fewer and fewer black men have access to higher education. More and more black men are over-represented in the prison-industrial complex. So when you've got black men not in college, and they're in prison, and they're under-employed or unemployed, it makes it more difficult for black women who are making it in higher education to have what they would could consider marriageable possibilities, marriageable men.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, I guess it depends what you call marriageable. You know, I mean, if you have a Ph.D., you might not want to be with anybody that has a hot dog stand just for the simple reason that y'all don't have anything in common, but if you meet a good brother, and he can take care of himself, and maybe he doesn't have a master's degree, you know, but he's a good dude, why not give him a chance? I mean…

Mr. HILL: That's part of the problem, though.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hold on a second. Hold on. Why isn't it about love? It's more about kind of this corporate-merger mentality. What's that about?

KEYES: Jimi, I have to jump in for a minute because I actually had this conversation with several women that I know with advanced degrees. And to a woman, each one said they didn't care how much a guy makes. They don't care whether or not he's wearing a suit.

They said they wanted a man that would be nice to them, a man that would take them out, a man they could take to the museum and then maybe to the opera and then to the African fest, but they said - but seriously, since the numbers out there, every time you turn around, black women are being bombarded with numbers saying that there's no hope.

A lot of women, and particularly the women I spoke to yesterday, said they are willing to make some effort to expand their pool

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, that's what they say. That's what you say, but I don't know because…

Mr. HILL: Yeah, I ain't found that to be true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: No, you know what's interesting to me, it's like I read these studies, and I hear these sisters, you know, whining about not being able to find good brothers with decent education, but you know…

KEYES: Whining?

Mr. IZRAEL: But everywhere - all my boys are decent men with better-than-average education. It's, like, all my boys got - are toting, like, Ivy League sheepskin. You know, I'm the slacker.

KEYES: And who are they going out with? One of the things that study said was that black men with advanced degrees have a larger pool, shall we say, to date, and it also suggested that women, that black women with advanced degrees were much less willing to date outside of the race than black men are.

Mr. IZRAEL: That sounds personal.

KEYES: So, in other words, a degreed black woman like me should say, ask out Ken Rudin.

RUDIN: Well, to be honest with you, there have been several times at NPR Christmas parties where I have asked Allison Keyes to marry me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh my lord.

RUDIN: There's was too, and actually, she said things are so bad I'd rather marry a black guy than you, Ken.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Oh, come on now. Oh, Ken, don't throw me under the bus like that. It's the shirt. I can't deal with the seven.

RUDIN: Okay.

Mr. IZRAEL: Woo.

KEYES: But Jimi, listen, you've written something about this haven't you? What did you say?

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I wrote a joint for theRoot that's up today talking about the study. You know, and you know what? It is true that 71 percent of black grad students are female and they outnumber black men in the general population 71, so I mean they got it tough. I mean don't get me wrong, but all I'm saying is at the end of the day we all make choices and we all have to live with them, and I think pointing the stink finger at the black man, you know it's always really it's too easy to point the stink finger at the brothers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes and we're in the Barbershop speaking with journalist Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ken Rudin, and social commentator Marc Lamont Hill.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: President Obama's poll numbers have taken a dip. And he's getting no closer to passing his health care plan, so why not call for a joint session of Congress and address the nation again - on health care? Is it too late for the president to win this battle? Arsalan?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, no it's not too late. You know, I think that something we've all learned here in the Barbershop and just in American politics 101 is that we as a society tend to have a very short attention span. And so you know, we've gone through this whole August congressional recess, you know, with a lot of nay saying and things like that.

But, you know, now that Congress is going to come back, I think that the Obama administration, Rahm Emanuel, the Majority Whips in both the House and Senate really, really need to help whip up the Blue Dogs, you know, that have been really, really log jamming, you know, this health care debate.

And take it away from, you know, the 10 seconds soundbites, you know, from the nutty town halls that we're seeing and things like that because that's really taking away from the substance of the issue in that it's a very small group of Blue Dog conservative Democrats that are holding up any sort of comprehensive health care reform and we really need to get back to the politics behind it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Am I the only one sick of Obama on TV? Hill, is being back on TV, is that really the solution? Haven't we had too much Obama TV?

Mr. HILL: Well he's certainly done more prime time press conferences than George Bush did in eight years. I mean it's been amazing to see how many times he's does it. And I think in the past it's made sense because he's the one with the political muscle. He's the one with the political capital. And he's the one who captured the imaginations of the entire country. And so, sometimes you have to go on TV to sway public opinion.

But the fact is, the last time he gave a health care press conference, you know, about a month ago, to me he did very little to convince people who were unconvinced. People on the left understood it, but the Blue Dogs weren't convinced. He didn't give any clear detail as to how health care was going to be funded.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. HILL: I mean the nuts and bolts of it we're done. He's done a poor job in general, I believe, of pushing this through. He should've drafted something himself. He shouldn't have left this to Pelosi and Reid. That was an unwise move. He's come across as a policy wonk, more recently, rather somebody who's appealing to the sort pathos related to health care reform. And now he's held the public option out to dry because of its political expediency.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. HILL: This is my critique of Obama from the beginning. And I think that with the public option off the table, and it seems to be sliding off the table very quickly, I think any type of public, excuse me, health care reform is gone and we've really failed and we've lost the moment.

RUDIN: But sometimes we overate the importance of a joint address to Congress, to both houses of Congress.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: Bill Clinton in September of 1993, the same thing. His health care plan was floundering. He went before primetime broadcast, House and Senate in front of him, and he gave his speech and, of course, the program was dead in a year. So you can overstress the importance of something like this.

KEYES: We need to say that the president's joint session address of Congress is scheduled for Wednesday and it's expected to be the kind of speech that has all the trappings of the State of the Union address.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, it's the darndest thing, you know, Obama stock is going down, but Eliot Spitzer stock is going up.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: What's that about? Dude? You know, disgraced politician, an admitted adulterer, he may be looking to make a comeback on the Bill Clinton styley(ph) tip. You know, we got some tape.

KEYES: We do indeed have some tape. But I need to note there's been no confirmation from Spitzer himself, but there is a rumor that he may run for U.S. Senate for the seat currently held by Kirsten Gillibrand.

Here's tape of Spitzer at a press conference back in March of 2008, when he stepped down as New York's governor.

Mr. ELIOT SPITZER (Former New York governor): As I leave public life, I will first do what I need to do to help and heal myself and my family. Then I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good and to move toward the ideals and solutions, which I believe can build a future of hope and opportunity for us and for our children.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Now, Jimi...

Mr. IZRAEL: I can't stand it. I'm overwhelmed with emotion.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Jimi?

KEYES: Oh, my goodness.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train? A-Train?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Listen, here in the Barbershop we be to rap, what key be to lock, and so I got to unlock this. And you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Listen. Listen. Listen.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mental note. Mental note. Go head.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HILL: This is your back.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Listen, this is a guy who not, he didn't just step out on his wife, but he got caught pimp handed spending $80,000, which is more than what I make in a year, on a prostitute breaking the...

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...same federal laws that he once prosecuted.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Like Eliot Ness, "The Untouchable." They shouldn't call it, "The Untouchable." His movie should be called "The Really Touchable." I swear to God, if he doesn't run for any public office ever again, I hope Ira (unintelligible), the shoeshine guy, beats him because right not Eliot Spitzer has a constituency of like three or four and that is his wife and his daughters and he needs to, you know, take a big piece of the humble pie.

KEYES: Are you sure about his wife though?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I got...

RUDIN: Could I do a little reality check here? We're talking about a New York Post headline, okay?

KEYES: Okay, come on, you got to love the Post.

RUDIN: Well I do love the Post...

KEYES: And having sat in so many of his press conferences with him smiling about whatever terrible thing he had torn down while the reporters basically clapped and his staff clapped. I mean, people in New York were really, really annoyed about this.

RUDIN: He's not.

KEYES: And I'm using a friendly word.

RUDIN: The point is; first of all, let's remember where this came from. This is from the New York Post, so that's one thing. Two, Eliot Spitzer is not going to run for office. I mean his numbers may be better than David Patterson, but of course, that may be more a reflection on David Patterson than it is on Eliot Spitzer. And at three, I think the real thing that Eliot Spitzer needs to do, all he has to do is follow Mark Sanford's footsteps, go to Argentina, and when he comes back he'll be less pompous.

RUDIN: Huh, pompous. Yeah thanks, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, you know, hide your coed because you know he's adjuncting at City College on that poli sci tip, so watch your daughters.

RUDIN: That's right. He may be caught (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. HILL: I like that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. All right. Well, we're wrapping it up with some disturbing stuff. But you know, finally, pop star-turned domestic violence brute, Chris Brown down and broke his silence in a taped interview that aired on "Larry King Live" on Wednesday. Now he discussed the incident between him and fellow singer/former girlfriend Rihanna. He claims he's sorry - he's sorry, but I don't know. Do we believe him? We got some tape of dude and his mea culpa. Is that right?

KEYES: Yes we do. Although, I have to say, it actually wasn't his silence because he had issued a statement a few weeks ago on YouTube saying how sorry he was. And, of course, in his lovely powder blue sweater and matching bow tie and earrings, he sat on Larry King for his first interview about the incident. And here's a clip from that interview.

Mr. IZRAEL: Drop it.

Mr. CHRIS BROWN (Entertainer): I'm not saying domestic violence is a part of relationship. But I feel like, we're young. We're both young, so nobody taught us how to love one another. Nobody taught us a book on how to - how to control our emotions, our anger. So, I'm not trying to fall on the fact that I'm young, I'm just saying it's a lot of stuff that I wish I could've changed that night.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

Mr. HILL: I have problems with that.

KEYES: I have to say as the woman in this group, I can hear women necks snapping all over the country right now.

RUDIN: Men too. Men's too.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, hold on a second.

Mr. HILL: Yeah, we are.

Mr. IZRAEL: I have a question but it might get me in some trouble. But I'm going to ask the resident lawyer in the house, JD...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...the man, the myth, A-Train?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: What's up?

Mr. IZRAEL: Help me out here. I know in most states when there's a domestic violence squabble and both parties on record as having assaulted each other…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

Mr. IZRAEL: …they are both charged by the state because the state steps in, because neither victim has to cooperate with that.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: And I'm confused as to why, we have on record that…

KEYES: Wait. Are we actually on record that both are on record of the assault? I believe the LA case is strictly his alleged assault of her.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. I was going to explain this.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, according to those documents, she hit him first. According to those documents, she did hit him first.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I mean in this case, as Mark Geragos, Chris Brown's attorney on Wednesday night on "Larry King Live" explained, the California felony assault statute is different than many other states. Like you said Jimi, every state has a different felony assault statute, and in this case, had Rihanna even decided that she did not want to press charges against Chris Brown, under the California felony assault statute - which says that, you know, whether Rihanna wanted to press charges or not Chris Brown was going to be charged. And it is the, you're right, it's prosecutorial discretion.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

Mr. HILL: And I think it was appropriate.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yes. Absolutely. You know, for me personally, very quickly to get my piece in, the only part that I find kind of surprising was when Larry King asked him if he actually remembered hitting her in the car and he said no, and then I thought to myself well, is he the Incredible Hulk? Was he Dr. Bruce Banner, like you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Wow.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: …busting through?

Mr. IZRAEL: And we think he was...

KEYES: Interestingly, since then, he issued a statement saying that he didn't really mean to say that he didn't remember.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Ah.

KEYES: The statement on the Larry King interview he said was not "representative" quote, "of what I said."

Mr. HILL: I think he was flustered...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead Hill.

Mr. HILL: …and I think he was trying to get out of that conversation because Larry King, by Larry King's standards, and he was pretty you know, pretty deep in his investigation, he was going pretty hard at him. And I think, and that was my frustration. Chris seemed a bit irritated. He seemed agitated. He didn't seem well prepared for the interview. Almost as if he didn't understand that he's going to go through this for an entire hour.

And I think what was most disturbing for me though, was the fact that he kept talking about this as if it were just an individual bad choice. I wish I hadn't done that thing, as if this weren't part of deep and dark pattern of family abuse on his end, on consistent relationship abuse between him and Rihanna.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. HILL: I mean this was a deep issue that he sort of reduces to one bad choice, which makes me think he doesn't quite get it. I don't think he's being dishonest. I don't think it was some kind of sophistry. I think what happened was he just really needs more counseling. He needs more advice. He needs people in his ear to tell him that what you did was not only wrong, but that was part of a deep problem that you need to fix or you're going to be a danger to other people and yourself.

RUDIN: And Larry King kept saying, well maybe it's because there was abuse in your family with your parents or with your mother and her then boyfriend or something. I'm saying how do you excuse violence by saying that it happened to somebody else and therefore, now we understand it? That's what's just so…

Mr. HILL: But I think that does help though. I think that's important though. I mean it's not an excuse. It's not exculpatory, but what it does, it does give us a window into how people do this. People who are abused tend to abuse people. I mean there's a direct correlation between that. It's not to excuse it, but maybe if Chris can come to terms with his own family patterns of abuse, through therapy, through his own religions traditions or whatever, both, you need Jesus and a shrink. You know, if you could do all of that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HILL: ...then I'm saying perhaps he can get deeper into this and resolve it. But I think coming to terms with your own abuse is necessary.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Amen, brother.

Mr. IZRAEL: I think that has to be a wrap. I want to thank you so much for coming out to the Shop. I have to pass it over to the lady of the house sitting in for the lady of house, A to the K, Allison Keyes.

KEYES: 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. Marc Lamont Hill is an associate professor of education at Columbia University and author of "Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life." He joined us from Philadelphia. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney and Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. They both joined us here at our Washington studio.

Thanks a lot you guys. This was a blast.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

RUDIN: Kilo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup. Yup.

(Soundbite of music)

KEYES: And that's our program for today.

I'm Allison Keyes. You have been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Let's talk more on Monday.

(Soundbite of music)

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