Roundtable: Clinton's Legacy, Rice on the Rise
TONY COX, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox.
On today's roundtable, should former President Clinton's impeachment be included in school textbooks? Condoleezza Rice's popularity is on the rise and Canada blames the US for exporting violence. Joining us today to discuss these topics from our headquarters in Washington, Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture"; at our bureau in New York, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; and Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show, "Freestyle," who is at a Spotland Productions office in Nashville, Tennessee.
Welcome to all three of you.
Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Host, "Freestyle"): All right.
Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author, "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture): Hello.
Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (New York Civil Rights Coalition): Thank you.
COX: OK, they're there, so let's go. We got a lot to cover today. Let's start off with the impeachment of former President Clinton as an historic event that most assumed would go down in history, and it has. Also it has in the textbooks of millions of students. Now here's the question that I have for the three of you. What would you want your kids to know about the impeachment? Would you want every lurid detail to be gone over? Michael, let's start with you.
Mr. MEYERS: Well, I would say this: Who knew that a White House intern, Ms. Monica Lewinsky, would literally go down in history? The Clinton sex tales are just too lurid, too sordid for textbooks. It is a tale for oral history, so to speak.
Mr. CARR: So low.
Mr. MEYERS: I would want my children to know that...
COX: Yeah, Yvonne, what--go ahead. Go ahead.
Mr. MEYERS: ...that they had a president of the United States who was unfortunately a notorious liar. And who can ever forget `I did not have sexual relations with that woman,' pause, and then he had to say, `Ms. Lewinsky.' Because we didn't believe him. We wanted to know who he was talking about.
COX: All right. But let's bring the others in. Yvonne, what do you say? You want your kids to know?
Ms. BYNOE: I would have to say I would agree with Michael. I think certainly we need to discuss it within the context that he was impeached in that process. I don't think that we need to go through all the lurid and bawdy details of whether or not it was sex and all that parsing that went on. I guess where I kind of differ slightly, I think it has to have some context, too. And just from what I've read, I'm just not sure is it enough to say he had improper relations and just cut it off at that. I think it has to be put in the context of what was going on at that point in time politically and socially. Why was it relevant? Because if you come from somewhere else, and people who came from Europe, people come from other cultures, they just didn't get a grip on what we were so uptight about.
COX: Yeah. Why was such a big deal, right?
Ms. BYNOE: Yeah, why it was such a big deal. So I think you need to talk about him as the lying aspect, and also the social and political that we have, you know, fundamentalist Christians, we have other people with religious ideas about this whole thing. So just--and it was, in some cases, politically motivated. People who didn't like him from the door now had some actual ammunition to use against him.
COX: To use--all right. Let me bring Jeff in. Jeff, what do you say?
Mr. CARR: Well, you're still dealing with issues that are still very, very current, still very, very much unsettled. And these issues are still being debated to this day. There are people who philosophically don't see anything wrong with what Clinton may or may not have done as long as he didn't involve taxpayers' money, as long as he didn't do anything in the presidential office that would have had a negative effect on the population. It was a personal problem. I personally believe that it's intellectually irresponsible to speak of the impeachment without dealing with the root cause, and that's the cause that many people still believe is somewhat nebulous.
COX: Would you all agree, before we move on to the next topic, that...
Mr. CARR: Really, I wouldn't argue.
COX: Well, no, not with that. I haven't said it yet.
Mr. CARR: Oh, OK.
COX: Would you agree with what I am about to say, which is (laughter) you guys give me a chance.
Mr. MEYERS: Chomping at the bit there.
COX: Oh, boy, you guys are ready today. Timing is everything is the point that I was going to make. So the question would be whether you agree with is it too soon for proper perspective on Clinton's presidential legacy in terms of what is to be told to young impressionable minds?
Mr.MEYERS: This is Michael Meyers. I don't think it's too soon.
Mr. MEYERS: I think that this was a president who was not only exposed by a stained dress, he was exposed by a president who was actually a party to litigation, a person who--a president who had an answer, a lawsuit while he was president. And you had judicial rulings and Supreme Court rulings on that. And that's what brought him down, the process itself, the judicial process and his lying in that context. I mean, when all is said and done, I think Bill Clinton's presidency was quite mediocre.
COX: All right. Is it too soon, Yvonne, to have...
Ms. BYNOE: No, I would tend to agree. I don't think that it was too soon. I think that as was stated, a lot of these things are on the public record, the court records. They've been in the media. So certainly by talking about the facts as we know them, I think it's certainly sufficient to do that. I think what we will need some time to gather is what is the final judgment on how significant this incident was in his overall presidency. And I think for that analysis, it is still a little too soon.
COX: All right. Let's move on to another topic. Jeff, I'm going to bring you in on this one.
Mr. CARR: Oh, sure.
COX: Canadian officials are blaming the United States for a record year for gun-related deaths. Prime Minister Paul Martin and Toronto Mayor David Miller both express concern that Canada could become like their neighbor to the south after yet another fatal shooting just Monday on a busy street in Toronto. A 15-year-old girl was killed, six others wounded. So do they have a point?
Mr. CARR: I think they do have some validity there, but you got to be able to take the good with the bad. And that's in everything, in relationship, it's in the context of imitation and the society of imitation, and the bottom line is that the United States exports everything. And the world sets the clock of human history accordingly. We export styles, we export music, we even export pseudo democracy and tongue-in-cheek freedom. So it's only logical that the cultural violence is going to go out worldwide as well. And Canada's gun-related deaths have doubled in just a year and there's got to be some validity to the notion that proximity and availability and the whole cultural imitation kind of mind-set is real. There's some validity to that, yeah.
COX: So, Mike Meyers, then what should our response be? Ignore it, say something, do something? What?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, I think the response--our response? You mean, the Canadian response or the US response?
COX: The US response.
Mr. MEYERS: Well, the US response is: Hey, what took so long for the worst of our culture to go across the border up there? And I think that there is a similarity and a difference between the United States and Canada. And I have enjoyed the differences between the United States and Canada when I visit Canada. I mean, it's kind of--it's civilization. It is--it does not have a culture of violence, certainly gun violence. You feel safer. I'm not even profiled. I'm not followed when I go into Canadian stores. And they have clean subways in Montreal.
COX: But that's their point, Mike. Mike, that's their point. They're saying it's changed. That's the way it used to be.
Mr. MEYERS: Absolutely.
COX: But it's not like that anymore.
Mr. MEYERS: But Canada has changed, and I don't mean in terms of population, but Canada has changed in terms of poverty and economic crisis, in terms of drugs and no wonder--and gangs even in Canada now. And no wonder they have crime. But they don't even only have crime in Toronto, they now have crime also in the suburbs. Something is really going on in Canada, a culture clash, and I think somebody has got to get a hold on it, a grip on this increasing crime...
Mr. MEYERS: ...and they can look to New York and other places on how to clamp down on it.
COX: So, Yvonne, so since the United States has a number of border issues, is this one that we should be concerned about?
Ms. BYNOE: To be honest, I take a different stand. I'm a little offended. I mean, frankly, you know, this is the same argument that, you know, people from Latin America countries use about drugs that we are purchasing, our citizens are purchasing, so ultimately, it's our responsibility to handle the demand. And then I pass that baton...
Ms. BYNOE: ...back to Toronto and to the rest of Canada then. If you have a demand for illegal guns, they have to deal with that demand and I think it's right. I'm on my way to Toronto in a couple of weeks. I love Canada, but they are changing. A lot of the programs and ideas that they had are not working any longer with new populations. There is poverty. There is gang violence, and we didn't import that. This is not necessarily MTV driven. This is a reality based in demographics. This is a reality based in access to opportunity, and this is a reality based in poverty and, yes, discrimination. So I think they need to deal with their own issues on their land before they just continue to point fingers as we're the devils that are making everybody do it.
COX: All right. Let's go on to another topic. Condoleezza Rice. While President Bush has shown signs of improvement in the polls, he still falls far short of the popularity achieved now by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Apparently, she has become the most popular member of the Bush administration and a potential candidate, some say, to succeed her boss in the White House. So let me put this question to you--I'm going to start with you, Mike Meyers, and we're going to spread it around. How much is her and her style, and how much is the nature of her job responsible for this? After all, she is now our top diplomat, with the emphasis being on diplomat.
Mr. MEYERS: If she is popular.
COX: All right. OK.
Mr. MEYERS: She's the only popular member of the Bush administration. I don't know. This is a media invention. Journalism and pundits in Washington, DC, like to talk to themselves and they are itching for what they call a cat fight. They want to see Condi Rice up against Hillary Clinton, and this is what it's all about. She has more likely of a chance of becoming president of a university before she has a chance of becoming president of the United States, notwithstanding her stellar qualifications. I mean, Colin Powell, let's not forget, was also popular when he wasn't running for president.
COX: Well, that's...
Mr. MEYERS: When you run for president, you're in that bubble, and people start looking and asking real questions, and I don't want to start asking questions of Condi Rice right now, but there are lots of--the same media that want to see that cat fight, they're going to turn on her.
COX: Well, Jeff, has Condoleezza Rice achieved what former Secretary Colin Powell failed to, or perhaps has she built on what he started?
Mr. CARR: I think she's built on it. I think she's benefited from the whole notion of being a double minority, so to speak, and we got to keep in mind that all of this is relative. Michael is the most popular of the Jackson 5, but that may or may not be a good thing, depending on who you ask. Death by poison may be...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CARR: ...well, you have to look at it like that. Death by poison may be relatively more popular than a bullet to the head, but it's still death in the end.
COX: I gotcha.
Mr. CARR: And many people here are still torn on the issue of Condi's mentality, whether Rice is brown or white. So the White House will continue to tout her as a double minority--parade her to all sides as a symbol of accomplishment, but in the end, her personal philosophy still remains kind of cloudy, and I don't think she's established her own personality and philosophy to the extent that she could be a quality candidate for president.
COX: Well, Yvonne, do you think that her changing status--or let me put it another way. How do you think her changing status has affected someone like Bush? Is she a leadership threat in any way?
Ms. BYNOE: Well, first of all, I don't know, frankly, that I agree with the whole notion that she's being touted out as anything. We had Madeleine Albright, then we had Colin Powell; so we've already seen the woman, we've already seen the black. So this whole idea of double minority--that's just a fact of life, so I don't know that that's necessarily how she's being displayed in public. I just think that the woman is smart. Colin Powell did not like to travel; that was a given. Everyone knew that he certainly liked to use the phone, he certainly made the trips that were necessary. But in terms of his tact for diplomacy or rather his methods for diplomacy, he did not like travel. She, on the other hand, may like travel because it keeps her out of the Washington fray, or she might just have an idea that this is the best way to handle diplomacy. Either way you cut it, she's been out of the beltway fracas, and she's been able to establish herself.
I think we have heard Condoleezza Rice. I think we've heard her opinions. I think that whether or not we like them--that's a totally different ballpark to deal in. But I think we've heard who she is, and I think that she is a bright woman and she has been able to moderate those same opinions to fit different audiences. But frankly, I haven't heard a whole lot different from her from the very beginning. So I think we know who she is. I think she's too smart to run for president, frankly. I think this is a media concoction. I think that she'd do far better to probably be the baseball commissioner, which is the real job that she wants...
COX: That she wants, yeah.
Ms. BYNOE: ...or go back to Stanford or some other high-end university and call it a day.
COX: Well, is she getting a pass? Is she getting a pass?
Mr. MEYERS: Call it a decade.
COX: Seriously, is she getting a pass?
Mr. MEYERS: Sure.
Ms. BYNOE: I think that we're focusing--I think the media likes to focus on what she's wearing and all that kind of nonsense. So on that level perhaps she is getting a pass. But I think--again, it's easy for people to keep saying, `Oh, well, we don't know what she thinks. She's, you know, punting for Bush.' I think we've already heard what she has to say and, again, either we like it or don't like it, but to keep saying we don't know where she stands--I think it's been on the record and continues to be on the record. What she's saying is where she stands.
COX: All right.
Mr. MEYERS: Well, she's not getting a pass in the sense that Bush is not getting a pass. She has to articulate his policy or she has to convince him of what his policies are supposed to be. So she has to defend those policies now--and if, in fact, she runs for president, she has to defend that. And then she's going to be in the midst of that culture war in America in terms of articulating a vision about reproductive freedom...
Ms. BYNOE: That's why she's not running.
Mr. MEYERS: ...gender issues--exactly.
Mr. CARR: That's why she's not running.
(Soundbite of panelists speaking at the same time)
Ms. BYNOE: That's why she's not running, 'cause she's an unmarried woman. She can't defend those points for quite a few of those people who will be jumping out of the woodworks at her. So, no.
COX: All right, and we're going to end on--we're going to end. We've got a couple of minutes, and I'm going to count on you guys to help us get through this one and get out on time because this is a hot topic, I think, for black folks who travel--anyone who travels--as many of us do. US Transportation Security Administration wants to expand the use of, quote, unquote, "small talk" as a means of screening potential terror suspects. Now I guess folks aren't going to want to talk at all if it means now getting pulled out of those already long lines at the airport. You all know what I'm talking about.
Mr. CARR: Yeah.
Ms. BYNOE: Yeah, I think I need to get ready now, then, 'cause I don't like talking. I'm very offended a lot of times with the small talk. So I think I need to get my traveling shoes ready 'cause I might not be flying.
COX: Well, this is just straight-up profiling, isn't it?
Mr. MEYERS: No, it's not.
Mr. CARR: It can be. I'm a pretty friendly guy. I like to talk. I'm from the South. I like to talk to people. But what that's gotten me, I seems, especially if I wear a piece of kente cloth or a little rag around my head or something, it seems to get me screened all the time.
COX: Well, that sounds like profiling to me.
Mr. CARR: Well, it's--yeah, exactly. But they say they're going to teach people to talk so they can tell who--what people are nervous or evasive.
Mr. MEYERS: In which way?
Mr. CARR: But as for me, I've run into screeners--yeah, I've run into screeners themselves...
Mr. MEYERS: Yeah.
Mr. CARR: ...who were nervous or evasive, so some people are scared of me.
COX: Well, you know, Michael Meyers, you seem like--we haven't met, but you seem like a talker. I don't know. Are you worried about this?
Mr. MEYERS: No. I'm not--I don't understand it. I'm not screened at these airports. I get through. I take my belt off, I take my shoes off. I don't take my goatee off, and I get through. And some of the national transportation people, security people know me because of TV and stuff, and they still don't stop me. But if they did, I'd say hello in English and--but the problem is, what about those people who don't speak English and don't have small talk?
COX: Well, that actually--or don't want to talk, I guess, exactly.
Mr. MEYERS: Or don't want to talk.
COX: That could be an issue. All right. We'll leave that on the table. You guys did great. We got out on time.
Mr. CARR: Thank you.
COX: In Washington, Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture." In New York, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. And Jeff Obafemi Carr, kente cloth and all, host of the radio show "Freestyle"...
Mr. CARR: Thank you.
COX: ...at Spotland Productions at Nashville. Hey, thank you guys for being with us.
Mr. MEYERS: Thank you.
Ms. BYNOE: Thank you.
Mr. CARR: All right.
COX: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.
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