Decision Time in S.C., Detroit Mayor's Scandal

In this week's Barbershop, Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Arsalan Iftikhar and Lester Spence discuss the upcoming Democratic South Carolina primary, negative campaigning, the Economic Stimulus plan and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's latest troubles. Kilpatrick is facing possible felony perjury charges related.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Well, it's not the spa. But it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talk about whatever is in the news and whatever's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, editor and civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, political science professor Dr. Lester Spence and Ruben Navarrette, a syndicated columnist.

Guys, you heard it here, Senator Hillary Clinton isn't giving up on South Carolina. Michelle Obama is in the mix trying to persuade voters to go for her husband. So Jimi, I know you and the guys have a lot to talk about but don't forget my interview with Hillary Clinton, okay?

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Columnist, AOL Black Voices): Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: I may chip in, but take it away, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yo, Yo fellows. Hey, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (National Legal Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations): What's happening, man?

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Writer, The Washington Post Writers Group): Hey.

Dr. LESTER SPENCE (Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University): What's up?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, yo, check this out. You know, there's no truce in sight as Hillary Clinton's campaign lets loose the dogs of war on Barack. Now, I know she's talking about pulling back a little bit. But you know what? I think, you know, Bill Clinton's out there and you know, that's why you leave your people at home when you go to your business because sometime, they run their mouth. And Bill Clinton's out there trying to debo(ph) up on Barack and, you know what…

MARTIN: You want to hear that? There's a…

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: …do you want to - guys, I don't know if you know…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: …what Jimi's talking about. Well, here's a short clip of what something about President Clinton had to say.

President BILL CLINTON: They're feeding you this because they know this is what you want to cover. This is what you live for. And the Obama people know that, so they just spin you up on this and you happily go along.

MARTIN: This specific reference was a reporter was asking him about the complaints by some Obama supporters, who were former Clinton supporters, interestingly enough. One of them, a high-ranking South Carolina political leader who formally supported Bill Clinton, who said that, look, you're out of bounds. I mean, that's what they're talking about. There you go, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. You know what? I'm sure there've been shorter peace accord(ph) but you know what? None come to mind. L. Spence, how did the fighting get so nasty so quickly?

Dr. SPENCE: I think that both President Clinton and Senator Clinton have been taking African-American voters for granted up until the Obama campaign. And now, they realize they actually have a challenge on their hand and it's a formidable challenge at that, so they're pulling out all the stops.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, and I also think that, you know, if you look at it, you know, it's something that I have to give Ruben a lot of props for is that, you know, this whole debate about race is not only a Republican-Democratic debate. This is something that, you know, we as a society have to look at ourselves introspectively. And I think that, you know, President Clinton and Senator Clinton have really stooped to new political lows. I think that President Bill Clinton's ego has been tripped and I think that in many ways, he sees it as sort of a litmus test and an election, you know, on his presidency again, and I think that it must come to an end.

MARTIN: Arsalan, I just want to point out that you are supporting Barack Obama. So you're not feeling this at all.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, not at all.

MARTIN: But some people say he is giving as good as he's getting.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I mean, if you watch the, you know, the MLK debate in South Carolina, you know, the whole slumlord potshot. I mean, I know for many Democrats, that was seen as a new political low. I mean, it…

MARTIN: But that was Clinton, though, a hit on Obama saying that he represented a slumlord. But some people would say, look, you know what? You open the door by dogging her for being a corporate attorney who sat on the board of Wal-Mart, which is an Arkansas company, by the way.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, and it was relevant to the question at hand, which, of course, the slumlord potshot had nothing to do with. And I just think that it just, it sets a new tenor. I mean, you know, I honestly think John Edwards won the debate in South Carolina because he was able to, you know, go above the fray and, you know, and actually talk about issues.

MARTIN: Hey Ruben, as Arsalan said, you did kind of deserve props because you actually flagged this a couple of weeks ago. You said this was going to happen…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Uh-huh. I did.

MARTIN: …I'm just wondering why you thought that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. You know, because of the very delicate relationship between white liberals like the Clintons and African-American voters, and to a degree which they have taken it for granted. And the very simple notion that for any group like this, there's a difference between being in a supporting role and being the lead actor. And I think that it was inevitable when this started to happen, you know, when Barack Obama decided he didn't just want to be the Al Sharpton or a Jessie Jackson who makes a good effort but backs out of the race and then endorses the front-runner, but actually wanted to go for the brass ring himself, that this was going to happen.

MARTIN: You really think this is aimed at black voters? That's the only thing that Dr. Spence said that I'm kind of puzzled by - actually, I'm not sure it's aimed at black voters.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, I think it's more politics as usual, unfortunately. I think it's, you know, for those of us who are politicos and work here in Washington, you know, it's just the politics as usual that we've seen for so many years. And I think what Barack Obama represents to a lot of people is a change from that, you know, is sort of a transcendence from that. And unfortunately, it's sad to see both the Democratic and the Republican primaries sort of devolve into that - again, politics as usual.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you say?

Dr. SPENCE: I actually…

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, wait a second.

Dr. SPENCE: You know what?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I actually…

Mr. IZRAEL: Hold on a second. You know A-train, you know what? The New York Times took Barack to task and they kind of - and that's one of the reasons why they actually endorsed Hillary…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: …because they were saying that, you know, that the Hillary has some solid ideas and she can be ready from day one. Whereas, you know, Barack kind of comes across of these, this nebulous promise of change, you know. And I don't know. I mean, change is good but it can go, but, you know, bad to worse is a change, you know? I think Hillary brings something that Barack may not have and, you know, say what you want, but it's experience.

MARTIN: And Arsalan, I going to have to ask you to pause right there. Coming up is more shop talk from the guys. We also got more national politics plus some news about Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Some mess there. That's all coming up in part two of the Barbershop. That's next.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. And we're going to continue with our weekly visit to The Barbershop.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape up are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, editor and civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, political science professor Dr. Lester Spence and Ruben Navarrette, a syndicated columnist.

So Jimi, where were we? You were saying that all change is not a good change?

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. L. Spence wanted to drop some science. Go ahead, doc. Drop it.

Dr. SPENCE: Yeah. I just want to correct Michel quickly. I actually don't think that what the Clintons are doing is directed at African-American voters but to the extent that Senator Clinton, before Obama came in, was kind of sort of understood to be the candidate and this is what Senator Obama's wife referred to earlier. Because she was - she is thought of as the candidate, when Obama comes in, not only does he change that but then he throws into play a constituency that was taken for granted and that's black voters. So that's - I don't think this is direct and actually, I think this is directed to white voters and I think that Ruben's right. And what they're trying to do is actually spin the South Carolina election before it actually occurs as being about race and this is one of the things that I think Bill Clinton needs to really think carefully about.

MARTIN: Oh, I'm curious about you heard me ask Senator Clinton's question is, are you going to win this battle and lose the war.

Dr. SPENCE: Right.

MARTIN: But this is the kind of thing that in the end, turns off a lot of the people who you're going to need especially if you have a tough fight in November. Let's say it's John McCain as the nominee and that he has a demonstrated record of attracting support from independents.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: So I don't know, anybody?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Michel, best question. The best question you asked about the battle and the war and about what happens down the way when it… What's happening now is that she's abandoned South Carolina to Bill Clinton and she is now focusing on the February 5th contest, more or less. And so it's not just a question of running for the benefit of white folks in South Carolina, but also for white folks out West and then in all those other states. And this is the really cynical part of the Clinton strategy. The worst thing - and get ready for this - the worse thing the Clintons have done, the slimiest thing that they've done is play race against Obama and then make it seem like he's the one who did it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Yeah, right. Absolutely.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: So all those white folks out there say, yeah, you know, that reminds me of a black guy I work with at the office, everything we…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SPENCE: Well - and I also think that it speaks a party identity especially within the Democratic Party. I mean, I have a lot of, you know, proud Democrats telling me that, you know, they're just so disenchanted with the Clinton campaign that if she does get the nomination that they don't even know if they would turn out on election day to actually vote for her. And so I think that, you know, it's going, it's not only going to resonate through the primary season but we're also going to see the resonating effect in the general election, in terms of, like I said, turn out, turn out, turn out, which is going to be the key word here.

MARTIN: Before we go, though, Jimi, I have to ask you about this because you tend to be one of these people who's kind of all's fair in love and war type of thing?

Mr. IZRAEL: Sure.

MARTIN: There are people who would argue that, look, she's just showing how it is. It's going to be tough, you do what you got to do and…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: …and she is doing what she has to do. And that is something that people sometimes appreciate. They might not appreciate it in the short run, but they will in the long run. I think that's the core of her argument. You buy it?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well you know what? I do buy it, but I'll say this. That she's playing crazy dirty on the short game, but she's not thinking about the long game…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: …I think she's going to get it in the end, that's what I think.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: Hmm.

Mr. IZRAEL: And speaking of people that didn't think about the long game, what's going on in Detroit?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh.

MARTIN: Oh, actually, before we do that - I'm sorry, Jimi…

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: …can we - before we go there, Ruben, speaking of going out West, had kind of a big interview, kind of, with a notable out there.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: Ruben, you talked to the Governator.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right, right.

MARTIN: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Break it down. What do he have to tell you?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Very quickly now. The headline of Schwarzenegger is that he is part of a sort of independent wave of post-partisanship, where in the nut of it, he is a Republican that Republicans don't like. He's a Republican that is very popular with Democrats and independents here and around the country. For someone who's prohibited from running for president because of an arcane provision in our constitution that says that if you're born on foreign soil, you can't be president…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But what he laid out for us was basically how he sees this presidential race and how he hopes that the Republicans who are demagogging the immigration issue will knock it off when they come to California, when they get to New York, when they get to February 5th - because he really thinks that's not the way to go. So he's not your father's Republican, I'm going to tell you that right now. This is a different prototype, you know? Schwarzenegger, you know, point 08.

MARTIN: Do you think that they were hearing him, because there was also a Republican debate last night looking ahead to Florida. And then of course, to Super Tuesday - and the tone very different from what there had been, a lot more cordiality than there had been previously. Anybody think that they're actually looking ahead to November already? Arsalan? I don't know.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No. I think that, you know, it depends on the stage. I think it depends on what state you're in. I think if you're in a, you know, heavy - heavily immigrant-populated state, you're going to see this, sort of, make-nice rhetoric. I think if you're going to be in some of the Southern states, you might see, you know, a different kind of rhetoric. I agree with Ruben, but I think that, you know, the whole Schwarzenegger, you know, Bloomberg type of Republican, the sort of new wave of Republican is catching some traction, but I still think that there's a long way to go before it reaches a critical mass.

MARTIN: Hey, Dr. Spence, what do you think?

Dr. SPENCE: Yeah, I think that it's going to take some - I mean, you're talking about - I want to say decades, but it's probably not going to be that long. But the Republicans have a really fierce battle on their hands because what they basically are - and people don't really say this in public - what they basically are is the white political party. That's what they are. So, what they lose…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: What?

Dr. SPENCE: …they lose…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SPENCE: The have potential in the short run…

Mr. IZRAEL: I was waiting for that.

Dr. SPENCE: …to lose…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: (Unintelligible).

Dr. SPENCE: …more anti-immigrant white votes than they gain by picking up immigrant voters who - actually become citizens. So that's the challenge that they have to face. And so when people talk about their base, they phrase their base as them being evangelical Christians. That's part of their base, but their real base is the white male vote. So, I don't know how they win it.

MARTIN: But Republicans in the state races do intend to get minority votes. I mean, Mike Huckabee got, like 22 percent in his race for governor. Connie Mack in Florida, he's gotten like almost 20 percent.

Dr. SPENCE: No, that's local. I'm talking about national.

MARTIN: Okay.

Dr. SPENCE: We're talking about national.

MARTIN: Ruben.

Dr. SPENCE: Nationally, they are the - let me - the governor previous to the current Michigan governor got like 30 percent of the black vote in Detroit. But we're talking about on the national level. On the national level, they're more or less the white party. So until they really come to grips with that - and I don't know how they do without a battle, they're going to continue to lose national elections starting with this one.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: All the races in this election right now is coming from the Democratic side of the fence, not the Republican side of the fence.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: That's a fair point. But, Ruben, we're looking at it historically as why - and I think that both parties are going through an identity crisis right now. Is the Democratic Party really going to be an opposition party or are they going to be more of a centrist party? Is the Republican Party going to, you know, be the, you know, white establishment party or is it going to be more inclusive? And I think that both parties are going through an identity crisis.

MARTIN: Let me just jump in here really quick, guys, to say I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. And we're visiting with the guys at the Barbershop: Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Dr. Lester Spence, and Ruben Navarrette.

Jimi, you have something you wanted to talk about.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, man. I was checking out - you know, the Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit mayor, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, may have lied under oath about an affair. This stemming from a police whistleblower trial that has cost Motown over $9 million. L. Spence, is there any other option for this brother but resignation?

Dr. SPENCE: Let me say at the outset that I live in Baltimore but I am a Detroiter and I actually indirectly know the mayor…

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh.

Dr. SPENCE: …the chief of staff and their families.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh snap. Come on, you better give him some advice, dude.

Dr. SPENCE: So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SPENCE: Yeah, so it's been really, really a hard few days. So it was like I had no Internet access. When I get it, the first thing I see in the Free Press is this story. I think that - I think he's going to have to step down. I don't know if he will, but I think that given that Detroit has been one of the cities hardest hit by the economy, there are a lot of issues that are much more important. And at some point, we need to get back to putting Detroiters back in their homes, getting Detroiters who are trying to sell their homes the ability to sell their homes and getting people jobs. And this just - I mean, I'm so - I was at Kwame's inaugural. I mean, so this is really, deeply painful for me.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? He got busted off some text messages. And text message is generally from your cell phone. They evaporate after you delete them, but because of Detroit's specialized service with city officials and SkyTel, you know, those messages were saved and time-stamped, and some of them are too randy for NPR. A-train?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: What's wrong with this cat?

Dr. SPENCE: Jimi, you said some text messages. Let's clarify, 14,000, text messages. That's just…

Mr. IZRAEL: When you get to the number of 14,000, first of all, you're the mayor…

Dr. SPENCE: That's some serious love.

Mr. IZRAEL: Exactly. I mean, it's like you're asking to get caught. I mean, I'm sorry. That's…

Dr. SPENCE: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, don't forget. There was something else that was also ugly. It was his attempt to manipulate the security detail, the police department's investigation into this - to sort of cover this affair up. And beyond once it happened - I mean, the first big bad is the moral outrage of the infidelity, and then the problem with the relationship. But then it's everything that you do after that that really, sort of, brings up character issues. And…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Ruben, I wanted to add a little context to this. You know, we had the situation with Mayor Villaraigosa in Los Angeles that's…

MARTIN: Well, that was my point. Is he - nobody's telling him he has to step down because he stepped out. He knows, he was wrong. He was married. Why?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, and more importantly...

MARTIN: Why?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: More importantly, I think that if you look at the national - look at Rudy Giuliani, a month ago there were papers released by the state of New York saying that during his tenure as mayor, he may have used city and state funds to, you know, to go on his little trysts with his then mistress. And we don't hear about it at the presidential level. And so, you know, let's have a little bit of context here. We're kind of cherry picking here, in terms of, you know, who we decide, you know, to make a story…

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

Mr. IFTIKHAR: …a story out of and who we don't.

MARTIN: Yeah, Jimi, what do you think?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, I understand that. And I say it doesn't…

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, Motown is hurting. $9 million dollars is a lot of cheddar, bro -for something, for a woman he was shacked up with, man. That's - it's not like it was his wife and it was an anniversary gift. You know, he had to settle a case, you know, because he was doing something he wasn't supposed to. That is a character issue.

Dr. SPENCE: There are a couple of things. One is it's not just - it was his chief of staff, so it's someone who worked with him on a regular basis, has been his chief of staff since he was a state legislator. But there are differences. And I say this as a supporter of the mayor. I support Kwame Kilpatrick personally and as a mayor. But there is a difference between having an affair - because a number of people do that - and then having an affair, lying about it under oath…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Right, right.

Dr. SPENCE: …and then using the mechanisms of the state to actually cover that up. That is something that is analytically distinct and we have to wrestle with that. I mean, it's not just a moral thing. I mean, he just - like I said, it's just…

MARTIN: It is painful. What is it about politics, though? Is it something about, like, the hot house environment of politics that - I don't - what is it?

Mr. IZRAEL: Michel, you know what it is. Michel, you know what it is. Chris Rock said it best that men are as faithful as their options. Anyway - and you know, this is the hip-hop mayor we're talking about. You know, and that's no disrespectf to those of us brothers who are faithful to our women, but - you know, true to the game, you know, if you got the options - you know, and the option is right there in your office, man, I don't know. We all know, we all know.

MARTIN: Go ahead. Ruben's married. Ruben, come on. Tell him, tell him why he's wrong.

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm just trying to keep the funky.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Definitely, I mean, I got to believe you're wrong because…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Surprise, surprise.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I got to admit.

MARTIN: Because your wife is listening to this conversation and she's like…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Anyway, tell you what, Henry Cisneros comes to mind more than Antonio Villaraigosa, because if you talk about a hammer falling on a guy. I mean, this is the guy who was mayor of San Antonio, had an affair, lies under oath when he's being done the background check for HUD secretary to the FBI -ends up with a 19-count indictment, a special prosecutor, millions of dollars in fines, has to be pardoned by President Clinton. So, anybody who thinks that, you know, what's happening in Detroit is, sort of, a - we're going too heavy on this guy, just wait.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's a lot worse.

MARTIN: We're going to have to leave it there, guys. I'll say - I'll tell you, but I guess I don't know what else would you lie about except an affair. But, hey, look, you know, you know, I'm just - I'm just glad it's not, you know, over here.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Right. Jimi Izrael joined us from WFSU in Tallahassee, Florida, where he's a freelance writer and a reporter. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us via phone from San Diego. Arsalan Iftikhar is a contributing editor for Islamic magazine and a civil rights attorney. He joined us from our studios in Washington. And Dr. Lester Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He joined us from WYPR in Baltimore. You can find links to all of our Barbershop guests at our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore.

Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us today.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Thank you, Michelle.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Dr. SPENCE: Thanks for having us.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

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