'Barbershop' Guys Weigh In On Don't Ask, Don't Tell

In this week's installment of the Barbershop, Host Michel Martin talks with freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, writer Keith Boykin and NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin. They discuss the military's recent steps to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on openly gay service members, the heated race for Illinois governor and details suggesting he may have abused his ex-wife. The men also offer predictions for who will win the upcoming NFL Super Bowl.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Its time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about whats in the news and whats 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, author and editor Keith Boykin, and NPRs political editor Ken Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. Looks good.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. KEITH BOYKIN (Writer): Hey, hey, hey.

KEN RUDIN: Dont ask, dont tell.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Dont ask, Ken.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, everybody. Well, listen, there were two people there were two the highest, the biggest of representatives in the land were on Capital Hill Tuesday talking about dont ask, dont tell. Well, weve been talking about it a lot ever since Barack Obama mentioned it.

MARTIN: It was - I think it was very interesting testimony for people who saw it. Of course, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, in essence, Im following the lead of my commander-in-chief. As Jimi pointed out, Barack Obama said at the State of the Union, hes committed to repealing the policy and working with Congress.

But Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now hes the top ranking military officer, uniformed officer, went even further when he told lawmakers that he personally believes that the policy is wrong.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN (U.S. Navy; Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.

MARTIN: So there you go, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Ken, how do you read that, man?

RUDIN: Well...

Mr. IZRAEL: Is it really the right time?

RUDIN: Well, some people will say that its well beyond the right time, far overdue. Now, the problem is its really its not dont ask, dont tell, its dont ask me to vote, because ultimately it will be Congress who will decide how to deal with this policy, whether to change this policy.

And in an era where there seems to be a conservative backlash or at least a Tea Party backlash, you need to you got to see that if members of Congress are too afraid to put their careers on the line, which could be for a very controversial vote.

MARTIN: Let me just play another clip for you just so you have that here. And Im not, by playing this, implying that John McCain and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the senators, Republican senators are taking this position out of political fear as, you know, because Im not in a position to assess that. But Im just going to tell you what they said. Here it is.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): The essence of military capability is good order and unit cohesion, and that any practice which puts those goals at unacceptable risk can be restricted.

Senator Saxby Chambliss (Republican, Georgia): The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would then likely create an unacceptable risk to those higher standards of morale, good order and discipline, and effective unit cohesion and effectiveness.

MARTIN: Now, again it - you know, because - forgive me guys, old school, you know, we dont have...

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

MARTIN: ...weve been trying to figure out whether thats the sentiment of the rank and file now because these gentlemen served a long time ago. So I dont know. But Im interested here in Keiths point on this.

Keith, you were an adviser to President Clinton when the policy was introduced in 1993. You were, at the time, the highest ranking openly gay official in the Clinton White House at the time that the dont ask, dont tell was implemented. So, this must be kind of - I dont know whats the word - deja vu all over again for you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYKIN: It is. Its old news, Michel. I mean, this story has been going on since 1993 when President Clinton tried to do this. I cant believe were still having this conversation. What John McCain said is frankly hypocritical because just a few years ago, four years ago, when he was asked about dont ask, dont tell, he said if the leadership of the military comes to me and says, we need to change the policy, well change the policy. Well go along with it. And what happened? The leadership of the military comes along and says lets change the policy and John McCain says, oh, we dont want you to change it.

You know, its a part of the hypocrisy in politics. And I think its similar to what Saxby Chambliss was saying earlier, the whole idea we have to worry about unit cohesion because the gay people cant serve in the military. The reality is theyre already there. There are gays and lesbians all throughout the military. Everybody knows that.

And even General Powell knew that, and Admiral Mullen knows that. So, the idea that these two old white guys who are totally out of touch have no clue about whats going on and want to use that as an excuse for stopping justice in America just doesnt seem to hold water.

MARTIN: Well, just to clarify again, John McCain, of course is, you know, I think by all - a revered war hero. I mean, he was a POW for five years and, you know, went to the Naval Academy. Of course, Saxby Chambliss never served in uniform. So, well, gentlemen, thats the whole, you know, civilian control of the military is this core principle of, you know, American life. But Saxby Chambliss really doesnt have any direct experience in terms of being in the uniform. Arsalan, you wanted to say?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, yeah. I mean, I think Keith really hit the nail on the head right there. You know, I think that, you know, when we talk about integration of the armed forces, you know, the whole troop morale, unit cohesion thing was the same that was used against African-Americans until President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in July of 1948 calling for the integration of the U.S. military. You know, I think its absolutely unconscionable that gay and lesbian soldiers have to lie about themselves in order to sacrifice their own lives for their country.

And, you know, you want to talk about morale problem and unit cohesion? How about, you know, the rape and sexual assault of female American soldiers which some studies have shown, you know, from 30 to 70 percent of women in the military have been sexually assaulted or raped at some point by their own service members.

And so, you know, Keith was absolutely right. John McCain in 2006 went on TV and said, you know, if our military leaders, you know, call for the repeal of dont ask, dont tell, then I will support that. Now that Admiral Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has come out, you know, McCain has now flip-flopped and so, you know, the...

Mr. BOYKIN: Even General Powell.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. And so, you know, the same...

MARTIN: Well, just to clarify, Keith is right. I think Colin Powell, when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that - supported dont ask, dont tell. He has now publicly said that he thinks its time to change the policy.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. And, you know, using that same logic, you know, about, you know, morale or unit cohesion, you know, the same could be said about, you know, old people serving in the Senate. We know that John McCain is like 342 years old and then we can say...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...you know, the morale of the Senate is, you know, lowered when people like that are serving.

MARTIN: Well, I think our moral is being lowered by these shots at peoples demographic. Come on, Arsalan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Dont become to thing you hate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Well, he really went...

MARTIN: Whats that study, well, let me ask just, Arsalan, whats that study you were talking about to that describes the extent of sexual abuse directed...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: There have been...

MARTIN: ...at women and that can take a variety of form, as we know. But...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Absolutely. And there is a wide range, there are several studies that have been done and thats why the range has been anywhere from 30 to 70 percent. Some say (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...30 percent, some says thats on 70.

MARTIN: Okay. Well see if we can find it and well find a link...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Sure.

MARTIN: ...and we put it on our site if we can. Keith, final thought on that?

Mr. BOYKIN: Michel, the reason why age is relevant is because younger troops dont care about this. Its the older guys who are still caught in the past about this issue. And I think this is an issue where the Democrats really need to lead, along with the health care issue. This is an example where the party of the left have to stand for something if it wants people to vote for them.

I remember I was seating in a meeting with President Clinton in 1993, where it was the first meeting he ever had with the gay and lesbian leaders in the country. The first time any president ever met with them actually. And he predicted in 1993, in the first year of his administration, he had been known for two things. He said one for universal health care and two for changing or lifting the ban on gays in the military.

Neither one of those things happened. And now here we are some 17 years later, were still talking about these issues, and Democrats are still afraid and still timid to do the right thing. This is just unacceptable.

RUDIN: Can I just add one quick thing. I agree with everything that Keith is saying, but and I think that age is a factor in who supports it, who not. But the fact that McCain and Chambliss are white, I think that has nothing to do with it. So, if were talking about who supports what, I dont think race plays a role in this debate anyway.

MARTIN: Yeah, I dont know...

Mr. BOYKIN: Youre right.

MARTIN: ...it plays a role in it because, frankly, Mike Mullen has been in the military his entire life and his entire adult career. And so, hes an old white guy too who says that its time to change the policy. So, I dont know.

One of the things Im struck by is that, you know, weve tried to find various ways to measure the sentiment of the rank and file troops in is using whatever means we have available, you know, Facebook and social media and all these other things, very hard to do. And, you know, some people say just because theyre afraid to speak out, but others might say its just because its ho-hum to them. Its not a big issue.

Mr. BOYKIN: Right.

MARTIN: Its just, I would be really interested the military says that theyre going to study this and they say they are going to assess the sentiments of the...

Mr. IZRAEL: You know...

MARTIN: ...troops or service members. Thatll be interesting. Jimi, final thought.

Mr. IZRAEL: Michel, at the end of the day, this comes down to the fact that nobody likes change, you know. And theres going to be a period when this is repealed, a period of discomfort. But after that, itll just be really pedestrian and well get over it.

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Were having our weekly visit to the Barbershop and were joined by Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Keith Boykin and Ken Rudin. Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, its an election year and the scandal is already brewing in Illinois. Now, Democrat Scott Lee Cohen who was running for lieutenant governor is refusing to step away even as hes catching heat over this arrest in 2005 for an alleged domestic violence episode with this ex-girlfriend. Thats no good, Michel.

MARTIN: Yeah, how do you spell drama? The Illinois primaries - I mean, how do you spell it? So, lets just - Scott Lee Cohen running on the ticket with the incumbent Governor Pat Quinn who, of course, you remember got that seat when Rod Blagojevich went down over this pay-for-play scandal trying to allegedly auction off Barack Obamas seat to the highest bidder. Got that?

Now, the Quinn-Cohen ticket won the Democratic primary apparently on Tuesday by very slim margin. Now, they are on the ticket for the general election. Cohen is refusing to step down. Let me just play a short clip of how this story is been covered in Chicago. Here it is.

Unidentified Woman: Court record show a violent fight where Cohen put a knife to the womans throat and pushed her head against the wall. Chicago Police also noted seeing, quote, minor knife wound abrasions, on the womans neck and defense wounds on her hands from when Cohen swung the knife at her.

Cohens former girlfriend was attested for prostitution six months before the incident. Cohen claims he didnt know and thought she was a massage therapist.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now, thats from - Im not sure I needed to know all of that. Thats more than I really felt I needed to know about this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That will do it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Michel. Wow, Ken, whats in the water up in Illinois? Whats going on with the politics up there, man?

RUDIN: If the Democratic after Rod Blagojevich and, of course, the illustrious Senate career of Roland Burris didnt sway them up. I mean, this is the last thing that Democrats wanted. Its not Pat Quinns fault that Democrats nominated Scott Lee Cohen, but the point is Cohen spent $2 million of his own money. He did say that there was some kind of altercation during the campaign, but not that his girlfriend was a prostitute or that he allegedly put a knife to her neck.

And, you know, if you think of all the problems hurting the Democratic Party with the Tea Party protests, with the uncomfortable feelings and the unease about what health care may mean to so many people, the last thing the Democrats needed is something like this. And they also nominated a guy named Alexi Giannoulias for the Senate in Illinois who has ethics problems regarding his familys bank and ties to Tony Rezko. The last thing the Democrats wanted and this is the first primary of 2010. Lets see what comes in the next primaries.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oy.

MARTIN: I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Arsalan is from Chicago. Hes trying to hide under the desk.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: As a resident of Chicago and in the Barbershop, you know, Illinois politics has turned into a bad episode of Jersey Shore here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, lets not forget that, you know, this...

RUDIN: This is not a good episode?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Good point. You know, lets not forget in 2004, the Democratic senatorial primary where Barack Obama won the Democratic frontrunner Blair Hull who is actually, you know, pegged to win the whole thing was actually, you know, accused of beating his ex-wife and then obviously Barack became the Democratic nominee. And then the Republican frontrunner Jack Ryan, you know, had his divorce records unsealed about, you know, taking his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan to sex clubs in Chicago which then...

Mr. BOYKIN: Hmm.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...which then led to the Republicans nominating their own version of the great black hope, Alan Keyes, to run against Barack Obama. We all know what happened there. He lost 27 percent...

(Soundbite of whistling)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...to 70 percent. You know, so again, Illinois politics has gone a wee bit absurd.

MARTIN: Why is that?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I dont know. I mean, its been part and parcel of Illinois politics for decades. I mean, weve had, you know, George Ryan, Blagojevich. Weve just had, you know, patently corrupt officials within the Illinois political establishment.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what, Michel...

Mr. BOYKIN: You know, what I dont think its gotten absurd...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Go ahead, Keith.

Mr. BOYKIN: ...but it wasnt - its always been that way. Its a kind of a traditional Illinois politics.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, Keith...

MARTIN: Which produced Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, what I think...

MARTIN: Im sorry, I just think...

Mr. IZRAEL: I think, you know what, Im of two minds on this. Because, you know what, I dont want a woman beater holding office, right?

Mr. BOYKIN: True.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, but I dont think Cohen should quit and Im going to tell you why. We live in a society now where too much of what happens behind closed doors has become public fodder. Now, these are all allegations. Now, if all our, like, domestic foibles were documented for public consumption, I dont know how many of us will be able to hold a job - man or woman. And thats real talk. Now, that said...

RUDIN: Isnt that relevant though? Isnt that relevant to your, I mean, to your demeanor or your...

Mr. IZRAEL: These are allegations. Theyre allegations - maybe, maybe. But also, Keith, youre always on your best behavior in your relationships, really, seriously?

IFTIKHAR: But Keith, but Keith is not running for lieutenant governor.

RUDIN: No, Im not a public official.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. But, I mean, hes not a Superman. He doesnt walk on water. Im not making any excuses for Cohen, like I said. I dont want a woman beater holding office, but at the same token, you know, these are allegations. And, you know, all these having been said, he should step down for the good of the party.

MARTIN: I think you just reversed. I thought you just said he shouldnt.

RUDIN: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: What he, you know, I told you, I have two minds on this, you know, I...

MARTIN: I see, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Every time theres...

Mr. IZRAEL: I like them both.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. IZRAEL: He shouldnt really step down, but Im flipping like Kerry in a pancake house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: But he shouldnt step down, but for the good of the party he might have to.

MARTIN: Oh.

Mr. BOYKIN: But see, this is another example of the weakness of the Democratic Party. Im really shocked and surprised. Here we have a president of the United States from Chicago. We have the Chief of the Staff Rahm Emanuel who is also from the Chicago area. These are two guys that have enormous power and yet they cant have more control and get some order about whats going on in the Illinois politics. It just doesnt seem to make any sense.

MARTIN: But maybe thats (unintelligible) party.

Mr. BOYKIN: Oh, we never tried to get...

MARTIN: Dont have that (unintelligible).

RUDIN: We tried to get Lisa Madigan, the state attorney general to run and she refused to run because she has some young kids and she wants to be governor. So, the Obama and the Democratic establishment tried to butt in and they just couldnt get the right candidates. And theyre stuck with a lieutenant governor candidate and a Senate candidate who could bring back down the party in November.

Mr. BOYKIN: Well, in...

MARTIN: Im sorry, I have to cheer up. I have to - Im sorry guys, I have to cheer myself but we must talk about the Super Bowl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: We must talk about something inspiring and do you just want to go ahead, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Finally, the game weve been waiting for. The Super Bowl is Sunday. And the Indianapolis Colts take on the New Orleans Saints down in Miami. Keith, youre down there, son. And whats going on dude?

MARTIN: I know.

Mr. BOYKIN: The NFL has officially taken over Miami. Ive been here for the past few weeks. But last week, with the Pro Ball, the NFL came, they took over South Beach. They put all these tents and stages everywhere, put a big football shaped arch over Ocean Drive, hundreds and hundreds of people just walking down the streets everywhere (unintelligible) all the time.

MARTIN: This is...

Mr. BOYKIN: Its incredible. I have never seen anything like this.

MARTIN: This is the one guy who doesnt want to be there right now. Can you give up your spot, okay? Get on a plane right now and leave your spot for somebody who wants to be there.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYKIN: Im actually leaving unfortunately.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYKIN: Im going to the snow, for some reason.

MARTIN: Oh, boy. Okay, Arsalan, whos it going be? Call it?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Its going to be the Colts 35-31. I mean, Drew Brees, Marques Colson and Devery Henderson have had an amazing season. My buddy Mike Stanfield is the VP of the Saints, but Peyton Manning is the Rodger Federer of football. And when it comes to his trio of wide receivers...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...listen, he has, you know, he has Reggie, you know, no relation to John Wayne. He has Austin, my dogs name is Lassie and yes she is a collie and (unintelligible). Im a grown...

Mr. BOYKIN: Grown man, dont dare call me (unintelligible).

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Were going to win - last two minutes drive 35-31.

MARTIN: Got all that. Ken, call it.

RUDIN: Well, I think, look, I love the Saints story. Its a heart warming story, listened to Gralen Banks before. It was a great story. But Peyton Manning is spectacular. The only question with the Dwight Freeney, the defensive guy for the Colts, whether he can play well or not. But I think the Colts will win and should win.

MARTIN: Okay, Keith, you want to call it?

Mr. BOYKIN: Im predicting the same Saints by six. I cant go against the Saints. I have to tell you, Im really a Jets.Giants fan.

MARTIN: Thats it. Thats it. Right here, right here. Jimi, call it. Who?

Mr. IZRAEL: Im rolling with the Saints. Im rolling with the Saints. You know, it was not going to be Browns, it got to be the Saints.

MARTIN: Its not going to the Browns, honey. Let me...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay, all right. Well check in next week and see whos right. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com. Hes also a presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Keith Boykin is an author and editor of the online news site The Daily Voice. He was kind enough to join us from member station WLRN in Miami.

Ken Rudin is NPRs political editor. He joined us from his home office. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, the founder of themuslimguy.com and a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He was with me in our D.C. studio. Thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. BOYKIN: Thanks guys.

MARTIN: And thats our program for today. Im Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Lets talk more on Monday.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: