'Shop Talk': Where Does Rand Paul Stand On Civil Rights?

Everything is everything in Tell Me More’s Barbershop segment. This week, guest host Allison Keyes gets the run down on the new Miss USA 2010 and Kentucky senatorial nominee Rand Paul’s civil rights controversy. Her guests this week are journalists Jimi Izrael, Gustavo Arrellano and Arsalan Iftikhar, and Reihan Salam.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes, and this is 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 shapeup this week are freelance writer, Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney and editor, Arsalan Iftikhar; syndicated columnist, Gustavo Arellano, who writes the column Ask a Mexican for the OC Weekly; and Reihan Salam, a fellow for the New America Foundation.

Jimi, it's all you.

Mr.�JIMI IZRAEL�(Writer): Hey. Thanks, Special K. How you doing today?

KEYES: I'm good. How you doing?

Mr. IZRAEL: Chi town's finest. Well, actually, no, not...

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: I thought I was Chi town's finest, but...

KEYES: We're both Chi town's finest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. GUSTAVO ARELLANO: What's up?

Mr.�REIHAN SALAM: Hey.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what? There's lots onboard today. Look, we got primaries in four states. And we'll get to that in a minute. But, hey, this week at the Barbershop, let's kick things off with, what else, Rima Fakih.

Allison, what's up with that?

KEYES: This is what happens when you're in a room full of virtual guys. All right. Let's go there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: She's 24. She's from Dearborn, Michigan. She is believed to be the first Arab-American woman to win the title. And, yeah, we know, there's been talk about the 1983 Miss USA, who, by the way, was not Arabic. But almost immediately after her title win - I'm meaning Fakih - she received a little flak over some racy photos that surfaced on the Internet. I'm sure you all have seen them somehow.

She was standing on a stage in a tank top and shorts and behind her was a stripper pole. How did that get there? Here she is on Fox explaining the photos.

(Soundbite of radio interview)

Ms. RIMA FAKIH (Miss USA 2010): I actually want to, yeah, clarify that up. It's not a contest and it wasn't a pole dancing. It was more of a morning event. It was a promotional event held by...

Unidentified Man: A radio station.

Ms. FAKIH: Yeah. You know, you ever did those exercise pole dancing classes? That's what it was. And my friend, who's a DJ at the station, said why don't you get up there and get the women a little bit confident on showing what they learn. I hopped up on there and a few pictures were snapped.

KEYES: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah, that kind of thing happens, right?

Mr.� SALAM�: Sometimes you just need a pole...

KEYES: All the time.

Mr. IZRAEL: Reihan?

Mr. SALAM: Sometimes you just need a pole to like really just make it happen. I mean, I think that's what makes it happen sometimes.

Mr. IZRAEL: Reihan?

Mr. SALAM: Yeah, what's up?

Mr. IZRAEL: My man. You're first time in (unintelligible). Welcome to the shop, man.

Mr. SALAM: Thanks for having me. I'm very - I don't have any hair, which is the tragic irony of this, but, you know, I'm happy to be here anyway.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ok.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Ok. Well, as it happens, I have enough hair for everybody. So check this out. Does Rima Fakih, her victory, does it signal a change in the standard of American beauty or is this an example of political correctness gone too far?

Mr. SALAM: Here's one thing I found interesting. There were so many brunettes during the Miss USA Pageant. And it's interesting, because it's a subtle change. Like the Miss USA Pageant, let's not forget, it's kind of like - it's not like Miss America. It's not a scholarship event, per se. it's quite different, you know.

I mean, everyone was surgically enhanced, as far as I could tell. And there were a lot of eyebrows - a lot of raised eyebrows that didn't show any kind of crinkling of the forehead. You know what I'm talking? There was a lot of like weird, surgically-enhanced cyborg women.

And I think that that's...

Mr. IZRAEL: You made this into a science, bro.

Mr. SALAM: So I think that like - I think that, yeah, I mean, it's - I think that beauty standards are changing. I think that that's, you know, something that's been going on for the last 20, 30 years. And I also thought that - one think that I thought was interesting, because this is Miss USA, it's not Miss America. I was surprised by how intelligent everyone seemed.

I mean not - that sounds wrong. But, I mean...

KEYES: Wow, Reihan.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh.

Mr. SALAM: ...when they were asking questions about current events...

Mr. IZRAEL: You're all out there by yourself, brother. You're all out there by yourself.

Mr. SALAM: No. No. No. No. Here's why. Here's why. Because I don't think that Donald Trump is looking for brainiacs in the Miss USA competition, I mean, frankly. And I think that the standard was unusually high. When they were asked current events questions, Rima gave a very impressive answer about reproductive rights. She's an impressive lady. I was, you know, I was very impressed.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-train?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney, Editor): Yes, sir. You know what? What I found most disconcerting was obviously, you know, the fact that, you know, Rima Fakih is a Lebanese-American and purportedly both the first Arab and Muslim to win the Miss USA contest.

You know, you had certain right wingers out there in the blogosphere saying that this is somehow either A) affirmative action towards Muslims, because they can't stand the narrative of Muslims or Arabs outside of the terrorism context. And two, the fact that just because she's Lebanese and, you know, maybe she's tied to Hezbollah for some reason.

KEYES: Yeah, I saw that.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Just like Casey Kasem, Doug Flutie or Tony Shalhoub would, you know, be tied also, because they're Lebanese. And so, you know, this whole narrative for at least, you know, a certain wings of the right wing blogosphere who just cannot stand...

Mr. SALAM: I think you see that if you're looking for it.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No. Dude, it was - Reihan it was everywhere, man. I mean, these were making - it was making the rounds on Fox News.

Mr. SALAM: I think that the number of crazy remarks in the comments threads on any article that I write, I mean, I could take that as America as a dastardly county and there is an army of racists everywhere, or I could take it as there are people who are fools who are blowing off steam and that's life.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, but Reihan, I'm not talking about comment section on websites, I'm talking about news articles on foxnews.com. And so, you know when this is entering into - you know, if it was...

Mr. SALAM: I would like to see...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Hold on, hold on...

Mr. SALAM: I would like to see the...

Mr. IZRAEL: (Unintelligible) Ease back, ease back...

KEYES: Come on, gentlemen. Calm down.

Mr. IZRAEL: Let A-train get this.

KEYES: Let's be nice.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, if a Sri Lankan lady won Miss USA and they, you know, were insinuating that she was part of the Tamil Tigers or an Irish American lady and, you know, people were insinuating that she a member of the IRA, Octavia Nasr of CNN had to do an interview with Rima Fakih yesterday and asked her the Hezbollah question, Reihan. So, yes, it has made the mainstream and it's not just with...

Mr. SALAM: No, I promise you, she asked the question because it generates ratings. Because it generates heat, it generates controversy. That's why we're talking about it right now.

KEYES: So you dont think that there's any way that you would have to address what you're calling craziness out there?

Mr. SALAM: No, no, no, no, no, of course she has to address it because Miss USA is a commercial entity. It is designed to generate revenue; it's designed to draw attention to her. And more power to her, I'm glad, because I think that this is going to keep her in the public consciousness. Now granted, like last year, Miss USA made a huge splash because of a similar political controversy. And I think thats all to the good. I have no problem with it. But let's be real about what's actually going on.

KEYES: Before we move on...

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, well I - yeah, I mean, I just think it's a way for, you know, Donald Trump to shop for a new wife personally. And I saw those pictures...

KEYES: Jimi, Jimi, Jimi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: And I saw those pictures and I didnt see the scandal. Now was I the only person that saw them pictures and didnt freak out? I guess so, right?

KEYES: Dead silence.

Mr. IZRAEL: It went quiet and everything. I guess everybody was just scandalized by a woman in small shorts, you know, cavorting. You know, I'm sorry, I guess my standards are - I dont know, I dont know.

KEYES: Yeah, Jimi, we dont need to know...

Mr. IZRAEL: (Unintelligible)

KEYES: We dont need to know about that. We dont need to know about that.

Mr. IZRAEL: That's what I'm saying.

KEYES: But before we move on, I should say that Rima Fakih is actually going to be right here on our show next week. So you all can listen in and I guess look at pictures depending on where you are.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wait, Special K, no, wait a second. No, no, you're not getting away that easy. So wait a second, Special K, you were scandalized by those pictures, really?

KEYES: I was not scandalized by those pictures but...

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

KEYES: ...we're all about the men this segment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, whatever.

KEYES: So moving on.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. All right, well, okay...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Isn't this the part - isn't there like reset somewhere in here?

KEYES: Sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: I could do that now. If you're just joining us, throughout the crickets and the silence, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're in our weekly Barbershop roundtable with journalist Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Gustavo Arellano, and Reihan Salam. Go on, Jimi, you can take it back.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Special K, you know I just work here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what I'm saying?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: For the moment anyway.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Okay, okay, okay, okay, all right, so keep it in motion. Let's get on to those primary elections. Rand Paul, the Tea Party candidate, was riding high on that wave all the way to victory in the Kentucky GOP Senate primary. But then, he found himself at the center of a controversy over comments he made about civil rights.

KEYES: Rand...

Mr. IZRAEL: I think somebody's put a little Maker's Mark in his tea.

KEYES: Wow.

Mr. IZRAEL: What do you think, Special K?

KEYES: Listen he - Rand Paul, we should note, is the son of Texas congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul. And after Rand Paul's victory, there were reports surfacing that he said the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 should not have given the federal government the broad powers to integrate privately owned businesses.

Both he and his father were saying there's just a lot of drama, this flap is overblown, it's unfair, people are being mean to him. But then Thursday, he kind of backed off and said that he does, in fact, support the civil rights legislation and he would have voted for it if he had been in the Senate at the time, when he was 2-years-old.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Whatever. He's saying it now.

KEYES: But Jimi, you lived in Kentucky where he is. What do you think about this?

Mr. IZRAEL: Listen, let me just put this out there. Kentucky is a great wait -a watch - race to watch for a number of reasons because unemployment there is higher than the national average. They are bleeding jobs and there is a real class divide among political, cultural and educational levels there. So it's a great race to watch.

Now the Lexington Herald Leader, my old stomping grounds, they backed Paul and they called him, quote-unquote, "the anti-tax activist with an independent streak." I guess if that's what you like, whatever, but, you know, another piece about this - another piece about the race is that the highest ranking Republican, macho Mitch McConnell, he threw all his support behind the - and all his money behind the opponent and Rand still ran away with it. So I dont know. I'll be curious to see how his statements affect his standing in the race. And I'll also be curious to see if the newspaper pulls back their endorsement.

But it's a great race to watch because in Kentucky, they're Americans like everywhere else. And a lot of Americans, you know, they want change. And they have some buyer's remorse behind Obama. And they're looking for the Tea Party to represent the change that they want, which is back to an America that they recognize, an American ideal that they recognize. So I think - so it's going to be a pretty hot race to watch.

KEYES: Hey Jimi...

Mr. IZRAEL: (unintelligible)

KEYES: ...lets get Gustavo in on this though before...

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh.

KEYES: ...before...

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, my fault, man. Gustavo, man, get it.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah, well, Rand Paul, of course he's going to be saying these things. He and his father they're - his father, of course, is a libertarian icon. And there is a certain segment of libertarianism that does believe that the Civil Rights Act was an abomination, an abomination of federal powers. These are the same people who think Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant that...

Mr. SALAM: Right.

Mr. ARELLANO: ...FDR was three or four steps removed from Benito Mussolini. And so, I dont think Paul is going to have any blowback whatsoever, only among the mainstream. But this is red meat to those people who put him in office. They say yeah - and thats not to sound - I'm not accusing Rand Paul of racism. In fact, I think he did make it clear that he does not believe in racism, but these people believe...

KEYES: He did say that, absolutely.

Mr. ARELLANO: ...that the market - exactly, that the market, that the free market, their all encompassing god, will correct any and all mistakes that might exist in society and they dont really allow, or they dont really believe that sometimes you do need the government to push the majority out of their idiocies and toward, you know, a better society.

So Rand, I dont think he's going to suffer anything from this at all. And of course he's got to go a little bit back because he still needs that money of the mainstream Republican. The grassroots can only take him so far, he still needs to play nice with everyone else.

Mr. SALAM: Well...

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what (unintelligible), one of the troubling things about Rand also is that, you know, he kind of represents a lot of Libertarians. You know, they look good on paper but then, you know, when the mic is on, you know they say something kind of off the hook. And it can throw them one way or the other. What do you think?

Mr. SALAM: He said a lot of things that were, quote-unquote, "off the hook" throughout the campaign. Basically, here's a guy who's running in 2010 who was criticizing President Bush as much as he was criticizing President Obama. I think Gustavo gets it almost right, and I'm actually a huge fan of Gustavo's column.

Mr. ARELLANO: Oh, thank you.

Mr. SALAM: But, basically...

Mr. IZRAEL: Hey now.

Mr. SALAM: And I think that people have a fantasy about what happened during the civil rights era. Here's what happened in my view. There was something called the Cold War and American, you know, the elite American leadership had to win over the developing world. This is why they pursue this agenda, not because, in my view, of any deep sympathy for the plight faced by real world African-Americans. I think that there was a broader political context.

And I think that when you look at what really happened on the ground, actually lots of African-Americans didnt make real gains. The things that would have required people to make real gains werent just legislation, there were a lot of things that people did as individuals, as groups, as churches, et cetera.

This was something that it wasnt a matter of someone giving something to black folks. This was a matter of black folks building institutions themselves and taking things and making their way in the world. And so I think this whole narrative that it was government that actually made this happen in some way, I think is pretty...

Mr. ARELLANO: I...

Mr. SALAM: I think that Rand Paul is someone who understands that. I dont think that that's what you're saying, Gustavo, but this is something that Rand Paul understands that - and here's another basic problem. So I think that what Rand Paul got wrong in a serious way is this...

KEYES: Okay...

Mr. SALAM: If you decide I'm going to throw someone out of my lunch counter or something you're - and he said, well you can't do that yourself physically because then you go to jail. So then you have to call the cops to say I am not going to let a Bangladeshi kid eat at my lunch counter.

And the cops, I think, have - and what the Civil Rights Act established when they said public accommodations have to be integrated are saying, you know what, the cops dont have to follow your racist rules for who gets to sit at your lunch counter or not.

I think that's a somewhat different way of looking at it and I think that's something that Rand, I think that if he - I think that that's what he came to understand which is why he backtracked from those comments. But I think that, you know, really, there are a lot of fantasies about, you know, who are the good guys who are the bad guys?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Okay, you guys, as the resident...

Mr. IZRAEL: A-train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: As the resident civil rights lawyer of the Barbershop...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yes, sir.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...and who's wife is from Kentucky, I actually do have a horse in this race. Rand Paul...

Mr. IZRAEL: Pop that collar, brother.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Listen, Rand Paul actually admitted on - with Robert Siegel, here on NPR, that he's actually never even read the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And so, you know, first of all, to claim that the '64 Civil Rights Act was, you know, something, you know that it was part and parcel of this whole Pax Americana foreign policy of the cold world is ridiculous.

Mr. SALAM: It's (unintelligible)

Mr. IZRAEL: Hold on, hold on, (unintelligible), that's not how we do it.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Reihan...

Mr. IZRAEL: That's not how we do it. Let A-train get it.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Everybody gets a chance in the Shop here. Listen, we had marches on Selma, we had Jim Crow, these were the reasons that there was a '64 Civil Rights Act. And if Rand Paul is such a constitutionalist, he should know about the commerce clause - the Article 1, section 8, clause 3 - which deals with interstate commerce. When you deal with discrimination issues in public accommodation, the '64 Civil Rights Act very clearly states, Titles II, that in public places, hotels, restaurants, you cannot discriminate. In private clubs, you can.

More importantly, in Title VII of the '64 Civil Rights Act, which is probably the biggest legacy of the act, it bars employment discrimination in the workplace.

And so, you know, for somebody who has publicly stated that he's never even read the 1964 Civil Rights Act and he claims to be proponent of states' rights but says that we shouldnt allow abortion to be a state right issue, we should follow the federal drug laws and not let, you know, marijuana be legalized at the state level...

Mr. SALAM: He actually supports that. He says that...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...is...

Mr. IZRAEL: Hold on.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It seems like, you know, Rand Paul, you know, doesnt know up from down on this issue.

Mr. SALAM: Okay, there are a number of things...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Go ahead, (unintelligible).

Mr. SALAM: Okay, well...

KEYES: And I just need to say, tick, tick, tick, but go on.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, man, that's...

KEYES: Keep it short.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SALAM: Okay. The idea that the Cold War was part of the context of the civil rights movement is not an exotic idea. It doesnt have to be in the legislation to say that. There are many reasons we do things that are not stated in legislative text. It was the broader context. And that's what I'm advancing and it's an idea that's advanced by many historians, regardless of political affiliation.

And as to the - I think you're absolutely right, I think that Rand Paul didnt understand. That was the point of my remarks. I mean, I think thats why he was trying to introduce people to this idea of the state action doctrine. Actually, that's why he had to backtrack. He didnt - you know, he'll say whatever. I mean, this guy will say whatever's on his mind. He's not the one who's kind of normally inclined to backtrack for no good reason. I think that he backtracked because he discovered that he was actually wrong.

KEYES: And I think I've got to jump in here, because we are so out time, it's not...

Mr. IZRAEL: All right.

KEYES: ...cheap here. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Gustavo Arellano is a syndicated columnist who writes the column, "Ask a Mexican." He joined us from member station KUCI in Irvine, California.

Reihan Salam is a fellow at the New America Foundation and co-author of "Grand New Party" who joined us from New York. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, sitting right here in Washington. He is founder of muslimguy.com and a legal fellow for the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding. Thank you all so much. Wow. Men had a lot to say today.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. SALAM: Always.

Mr. ARELLANO: Gracias.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yep, yep.

KEYES: And that's our program for today.

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