The Barbershop Guys Look To A Full Week Ahead

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In this week's installment of Tell Me More's Barbershop segment host Michel Martin talks with freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR's Political Editor Ken Rudin. They discuss the scheduled vote on health care expected this Sunday, this weekend's pro-immigration rally in Washington and the tip-off of the NCAA March Madness tournament.

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 Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR's Political Editor Ken Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, thanks, Michel. Fellas. What's good? Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Doing good, man.

KEN RUDIN: Great.

IZRAEL: Well, you know, the big push, the final push for health care is upon us with a showdown vote in the House taking place on Capitol Hill, scheduled for Sunday, Michel.

MARTIN: And, you know, the president even postponed his trip to Indonesia and Australia, again, so he could be here in Washington for the vote. And I have to say, it's been very interesting to be here. I know a lot of people outside of Washington think, oh yeah, it had to be. But this is like watching paint dry around here. But it's been really, you know, tense. I mean, you can kind of feel the excitement.

There have been a number of Democrats who've been, obviously they're being squeezed to vote yes. We just had Congressman Luis Gutierrez on the program. He said earlier he was going to vote no and he's changed his mind. You've heard him explain why. So, let's wait a minute Ohio's Dennis Kucinich who voted against the bill last year, on Wednesday announced he would support the final package.

This is kind of significant 'cause during the presidential campaign last year, Dennis Kucinich was the only candidate running he was one of the nine running for president who campaigned on universal single payers - his core issue. I'm just play a short clip of what he had to say, if you're interested. Here it is.

Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see it, but as it is. My criticism of the legislation has been well-reported. I have doubts about the bill. I do not think it is a step toward anything I've supported in the past. This is not the bill I wanted to support, even as I continue efforts, until the last minute, to try to modify the bill.

However, after careful discussions with President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, my wife Elizabeth and close friends, I've decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation.

IZRAEL: He asked everybody but his bookie. Thanks, Michel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: And I love Dennis Kucinich. I see him about every weekend here at Cleveland's Westside market. But, you know, Ken dog, I wonder, will Dennis Kucinich and the rest of the Democratic flippers, you know, are they going to catch heat down the road for flipping like this?

RUDIN: Well, not Dennis Kucinich. He's in a solidly Democratic district. It's the other people who are switching who have indicated all along that they would vote no. Those are the ones you have to watch for, because since Dennis Kucinich switched his mind, Betsy Markey, a freshman from Colorado, John Boccieri today from Ohio, also a no vote last time said he'll vote yes. Bart Gordon of Tennessee said he'll vote yes after having voted no.

Bart Gordon is retiring, but people freshman like Boccieri, by Betsy Markey they're under tremendous pressure. There's allegedly a strong Republican tide in this country, or at least Scott Brown makes us think that there's a strong Republican tide. And what Nancy Pelosi has to do, and basically she will have there's no question that when the votes come, when the vote is taken on Sunday, she will have the 216 votes she needs.

The question is, what Democrats can she give a pass to? If she gets to 17 votes, maybe she could let somebody else vote no to protect their selves back home.

IZRAEL: Wow. Yeah. The R, what's up?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Well, the reason, you know - Ken's right the reason these people need protection back home is because this remains a wildly unpopular bill, not just with the Kucinich faction of folks out there who think it's watered down, too conservative, didn't go far enough. You know, it's a mess for folks on the left. It's also a mess for folks on the right who think that it's too aggressive, goes too far, makes too much of a grab for power.

There's a lot of good ideas wrapped up in a bill that got lost with all the other stuff. I mean, I'm all for the idea, for instance, of letting people who are between the ages of 18 and 26 or so stay on their parents' health care plan. There's nothing revolutionary about that. That could've gotten through. But it's so heavy and so laden down with other stuff that I think it's there's a reason that Pelosi needs to protect her members.

So, some big things are happening here. This is not just about getting a bill passed on Sunday or not getting it passed or whatever. There is a revolution out there, an uprising in terms of the process. A lot of the stuff that happened in passing this bill really left a bad taste in people's mouths. You know, the money to Nebraska, the money to Louisiana, all the various bribes and kickbacks and all those things.

And you know who objected to that stuff, too? President Obama. He likewise said, you know, you guys want to send me a bill, you got to get out of that stuff, you've got to get away from that.

MARTIN: Yeah, but the Democrats are making, I think the calculation here is that the substance will override the process. I mean you remember when the Civil Rights bill was passed in 1964, the process of getting there was not pretty at all. In fact, one of the reasons gender is covered is that they thought it would kill the bill. It was called a poison pill. People thought it was so ridiculous...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's true. That's true.

MARTIN: ...to extend, you know, equal rights to women. They thought, oh that will surely kill the bill.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And it didnt so...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's right.

MARTIN: And so there's that. And also...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That takes time. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...people also forget that Medicare, what people, there was a huge outcry around Medicare when that was passed. People said oh, this is socialism. This is a government takeover. This is the end of the country as we know it.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: And now what do you hear, the Tea Party people saying, dont touch my Medicare.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Michel, let me make this point.

RUDIN: But one big difference is...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Forty years from now, we'll look back on this 40 years from now and laugh, but the Democrats are going down in November.

RUDIN: Ruben, you may be right about that, but the big difference between Medicare in 1965 and health care in 2010 is that back then, Democrats and Republicans talked to each other. They do not talk to each other now.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

RUDIN: This bill will pass with not a single Republican vote.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

RUDIN: I mean President Obama is so upset that he's cancelling his visit to Indonesia to get his birth certificate. And I think what's really important now...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: ...this (unintelligible). No, no, but really, this is really something that the fact is so many people have their votes, their careers on the line and we talk about profiles in courage.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

RUDIN: There are a lot of members who lost their seats by voting for civil rights in '64 and '65.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

RUDIN: There may be, as Ruben says, a lot of voters who will lose - a lot of members who will lose their seats in November.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: Can I ask Arsalan, what do you think about this? Because youre among the people, youre a very early Obama supporter like Luis Gutierrez was who said he came - he was on the verge of not voting for the bill because of -despite his personal relationship with the president and his long-standing political affiliation with him. And I just wanted to ask how this is striking you? You think it's worth it, the compromises that have been made are worth it?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I think as a pragmatist, I think something is better than nothing. I think, you know, at the end of the day, you know, with the recent resignation of Congressman Eric Massa now, with the number of House Representatives down to 431, 216 being the magic number, you know, I think it's important, you know, even for us people who supported the single-payer public, you know, option and, you know, we weren't able to see that, I think that at the end of the day, if we are able to ensure 32 million Americans who did not have health insurance because of this bill, then, you know, I think that at the end of the day pragmatism should trump any sort of partisanship.

And one last thing that I'd like to add is, I think a lot of this, especially for us here in the Beltway, I think we've focused a little too much on the inside baseball, the sort of congressional tactics, the reconciliation, threats here and there when, you know, early on, the polls showed that a plurality of Americans supported a single-payer public option and I think that weve just, you know, focused too much on the legislative process.

MARTIN: Well, can I - but that's our - well, I would argue that's our job. That's why we're here. I mean...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...but heres the one thing that I still can't settle in my mind. Ruben, youre writing a lot about why this bill is so unpopular.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: You know, people on the left say, health care is a right. But if it's a right, how can you force people to pay for a right, because it's people on the right who oppose the bill. In fact, they're a number of moves by attorneys general to say you cannot force members of my state - the citizens of my state...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: ...to pay for health insurance. How do you force people to pay to exercise a right?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No, that's a very good question.

MARTIN: That's the piece I'm not getting.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: There's a debate about whether or not its a right or a privilege to begin with even for folks who believe it's a right. Another way I think he could've gone about this is target children. You know, it was Bill Bradley who, when he ran for president, talked about this idea of insuring children across the board, make sure that every child in America has health care. And that is a popular thing. That's how you win elections. And this idea of going full boat across the board, that's how you lose elections.

Now the right wing does it too. The right wing overreaches, they go nuts, they get power and then they pay for it in elections. And, likewise, this is just how the circle goes around. Now Democrats are going to pay for it. So it is a debate about whether or not people actually see it as a fundamental right or not, but they are freaked out, Michel. It's too big. It cost too much. There's too much of a burden on our children. And this whole notion that somehow government's going to get between you and your doctor has never been completely dispelled.

And it's hard to dispel something when it's 2,000 pages long. They drop it three days before it's supposed to be voted on. And then, get this, then just when they're down, they say, you know what? We have this other clause. We're going to say we're basically, we self-execute the bill and we're going to be able to pass it without a vote. I mean that stuff resonates way beyond the Beltway. That's just nonsense.

MARTIN: Well, Ken has a quick thought on this.

RUDIN: Ruben, quick question though: Do you think the Democrats suffer more if they pass it or they dont pass it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's a good question. They're so far on a limb now that the backlash from the other side - from the Kucinich crowd is going to be very strong if they dont pass it - they get a sense of doing nothing. But I think the damage is already done to Obama, to his presidency and to...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: We're talking about a one-term presidency. We're talking about a one-term...

Mr. IZRAEL: I dont know about that.

MARTIN: No. The party in power always loses seats in midterm.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No Michel. I called it now. I have called it now. Predict it now.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It is not just about health care. It's about a whole thing going on this weekend.

RUDIN: Bill Clinton too, one-term president.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Lots of folks on the left are not happy with Obama.

MARTIN: Yeah, okay. Well, okay.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, Michel?

MARTIN: Go ahead Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? This is Obama's "Rocky" moment. You know, he has to, you know, this is him against Apollo Creed. He's been talking all this stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Yo, Adrian. He has to come out and he's got to make it happen. This is what's going to determine whether there's a "Rocky III" or not. This is going to determine his legacy.

MARTIN: Well...

Mr. IZRAEL: He's got to make it happen. There's no choice.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: This is more like Rocky versus Drago here. I will break you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I got to tell you though, Vin Weber on this program months ago said that the politics would fall out exactly this way. He said the Republicans would pay no price for voting against it, which is why they were going to.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: And that the Democrats would have to because the strength of their ability to pass anything else would rest on their ability to get this done and to show that they can lead and he turned out to be right. So we'll have to give him a TELL ME MORE mug and thank him for that.

If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and Ken Rudin.

Back to you Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yo, Adrian. Thank you, Michel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: In other political news, President Obama faces mounting pressure from immigration reform advocates. And on Sunday, tens of thousands of people are expected in D.C. for a pro-immigration rally to get the president's attention.

MARTIN: You know, and you heard Luis Gutierrez explain kind of all the back story of how that particularly Latino advocates and immigration rights advocates have been building pressure for this. But one of the questions - you know, Ruben, youve been writing a lot about this. One of the questions I still have is, if Americans can't bring themselves or are ambivalent about moving forward on health care for the 47 million people who dont have it, how do you argue that the president could prioritize the 12 million undocumented immigrants...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...particularly, who want legalization?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Particularly, in the middle of a recession where...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Totally.

MARTIN: ...one out of 10 people is unemployed? I have never understood your argument on this.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, heres my well, here's a series of arguments. First, youve got to look at the big picture. I started saying earlier the reason the Obama presidency is in trouble isn't just because of his opposition from the right. He can withstand opposition from the right. Republicans know how to lose elections really well. But it's problems on the left. And we have going down right now, you have gay rights protestors being arrested outside the White House. You have an ad by the ACLU calling - morphing Obama into Bush. You have African-Americans holding a summit - the Tavis Smiley summit saying, you know, where's the black agenda? You have Latinos marching on Washington saying where's the immigration reform?

Hello. There is a whole uprising on the left against Obama because they think he has been either ineffectual or too conservative or too moderate, you name it. So in that context, this is not so much about selling the country. This is about keeping a promise to a constituency that really delivered for Obama.

Two-thirds of Latinos voted for Obama against somebody who was like a compadre - John McCain - who was their boy, who loved them, and he loved them and they loved him and all that. So there is a payback factor just like there is with all these other constituencies. They have as much of a right to make that demand as civil libertarians have a right to make a demand of him. So that's the practicality of it.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: In terms of sort of the - we have a problem that needs fixing. I mean independent of how you fix it, I dont think Congress gets to throw up its hands and say oh, this one's too tough. We can't deal with it. That's going to hurt Congress. And I think that's just working really in favor of reform, so.

MARTIN: Okay. Ken, a quick thought on this before we got to...

RUDIN: Well, just that I mean the Democrats were very eager to sit back during the Bush administration to let Bush and McCain and the Chamber of Commerce on one side and the more nativist(ph) Republicans on the other side battle over immigration and sit back and do nothing. Now there is pressure on Obama because the Democrats have had control of Congress since 2007 and nothing is done.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

RUDIN: And now you see similar fault lines between labor and Latino groups and I think the Democrats...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Absolutely.

RUDIN: ...may have the same problems that the Republicans used to have.

MARTIN: Yeah, but I guess you can't separate the politics from the government.

RUDIN: No.

MARTIN: It's like I said, you know, politics is a means by which government happens. You can't separate the two. But anyway, before we go, anybody want to talk about the brackets?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Of course.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, it looks like that time of year again.

MARTIN: I'm still in mourning because Georgetown went down.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh, let's not get...

RUDIN: Oh Alonzo Mourning. Alonzo Mourning. Very good. Good one.

Mr. IZRAEL: So people aren't getting a lot of work done...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh man.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...because it's NCAA March Madness. The time is upon us.

RUDIN: Jimi. Jimi. That's my favorite civil rights organization. I think Julian Bond did a great job with it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Anyway.

MARTIN: Oh.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know, my Cleveland Vikings aren't even in the running, so you know, I'm out of this game.

MARTIN: That's so true.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: And the Hoyas are out.

RUDIN: Wow. Wow.

MARTIN: I dont know what I'm going to do with all my free time.

RUDIN: Murray State, Arsalan, Murray State.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Listen guys, honestly, from office pools to Coker(ph) leagues around the country Bracketology 101 has started. And yesterday, day one, we saw so many upsets that most people's brackets are busted like Tiger Woods's Escalade. You know we had number...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: We had number 13, Murray State stunning Vanderbilt at the buzzer, 66-65. As Michel Martin mentioned, Georgetown, a number three seed, lost to Ohio U.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: We had St. Mary's beating Richmond, Old Dominion beating Notre Dame. At this rate, we're going to see a Murray State, Old Dominion, St. Mary's and Northern Iowa Final Four.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Oh no, are you busted, Arsalan? Tell us?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Duke baby. It's all about Duke baby.

MARTIN: Like I said, my bracket's as busted as Tiger Woods's Escalade.

MARTIN: Ruben, what are you saying?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm hearing about Duke a lot. I'm hearing about obviously Duke and Kentucky. Ohio's looking good now, BYU. I mean Asalan's right, that everything's upside down. Everything's upside down. But there's some good teams out there slugging it out. I tell you, this is, it's hard to look away.

MARTIN: Ruben's a contrarian so he likes it like this. Well, the president picked Kansas to win it all. Ken, what do you think?

RUDIN: Probably Kansas vs. Kentucky.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. No bias there, right?

RUDIN: But you know something? One thing you can say though, that there is pure beauty and drama and emotion...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: ...you see in college basketball, especially the Murray State upset...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It was fantastic.

RUDIN: ...that you dont see in the pros. It's just these are kids. These are not people who are making billions of dollars and its just a joy to watch.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, it's the one time of the year where everybody roots for the underdog. I remember I was actually at the game where George Mason, a few years ago, went to the Final Four, and I'll never forget every UConn fan in the stadium was rooting for George Mason at the end. Everybody roots for the Cinderella during March Madness.

MARTIN: And we're going to go for - and, of course, on the women's, I know youre following the women's game closely.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I know this. I know this. So Arsalan, call it for us.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean I've always liked Tennessee and UConn. I mean they're the two powerhouses in women's basketball.

MARTIN: All right. Ken?

RUDIN: Connecticut can't lose. No.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?

Mr. IZRAEL: I have no opinion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'm just so over you, I am so over you.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Only Connecticut.

Mr. IZRAEL: Until the Vikings get in I have nothing to say about March Madness. I'm March mad.

RUDIN: UConn is good, but I like Manitoba as well, my two favorite provinces.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: March angry.

MARTIN: He's - Jimi just doesnt want to admit it but he's busy reading like, you know, Voltaire once again. That's really all it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: That's exactly what it is.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He's a hater. He's a March hater.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. And Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor and they all joined us - they joined us in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Thank you so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

RUDIN: I'm betting on disco tech.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin and youve been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Radio Public Consortium.

Let's talk more on Monday.

(Soundbite of music)

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