'Shop' Weighs In On Obama Transition, Palin's Interviews

It has been an active week in both politics and pop culture. Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Eric Deggans and Marc Lamont Hill mull over the latest headlines, including President-elect Obama's White House transition, former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's not-so-quiet exit from the campaign trail and — from the sports world — fresh NBA predictions.

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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 lawyer and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, media critic Eric Deggans and Professor Marc Lamont Hill. I may jump in here or there, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, Michel. Thanks so much. Yo, fellows. Welcome to the Shop. How are we doing?

Mr. ERIC DEGGANS (Media Critic): Hey, hey, hey.

Dr. MARC LAMONT HILL (Urban Education and American Studies, Temple University): Yo, man, what's going on?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Wonderful. Never better.

IZRAEL: Man, well, you know what? President-elect Barack Obama wasting no time this week, putting his transition team in place. Now, hell, my man. What do we know about his crew?

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Oh, man. I don't like the sound of that. Yeah. What do we know about his crew, man?

Dr. HILL: I'm not happy, man. First of all, his first move was Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, right? Which for me is a, not only a bad move strategically - strategically, it might be a fine move, he's an attack dog, he's bitterly partisan, he can be bad cop to Barack's good cop. But in terms of, you know, his centrist stance, I'm talking about Rahm Emanuel's centrist stance, his pro-business policies, his anti, you know, fair trade policies, it's not a good start and it sends a bad message to the many leftists who voted for him hoping that he'd be moving to the left and not toward the center.

IZRAEL: Thanks for spelling that out. Hey, yo, Diggy, you're aching to get in here. Go ahead.

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, I was going to say, number one, any leftists that thought that Obama wasn't going to be a centrist president were fooling themselves.

IZRAEL: Right. Absolutely right. Yeah, just say it, just say it.

Mr. DEGGANS: And secondly...

IZRAEL: Just say it out loud.

Mr. DEGGANS: Secondly, I thought the Rahm Emanuel pick made sense because Obama's got to get tough with Democrats. His problem is not going to necessarily be Republicans. It's going to be the knucklehead Democrats who now are now running Congress and couldn't get anything done for the last two years. He's got to get them to get with his program and not go off the range. And he needs somebody like Emanuel, who can ride herd on these guys and can claim to have brought the first majority in 2006 anyway.

IZRAEL: How do you feel about that, A-Train, our resident Obama supporter?

IFTIKHAR: Man, I mean, both Dr. Hill...

MARTIN: Can I just say one thing? That group has suddenly gotten a lot bigger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Truly, truly, truly.

MARTIN: Have you noticed? All these people who couldn't find the pens and all of a sudden they're scrounging, and they're going online, they got to get their pen...

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: They got to get - I'm just - that's all my trying to say.

IFTIKHAR: Day one...

MARTIN: Arsalan...

IFTIKHAR: Day one.

MARTIN: Arsalan was there from the beginning. He was with the man when he was a state senator.

IFTIKHAR: From Union Station in Chicago.

MARTIN: All right, all right.

IFTIKHAR: I appreciate that.

Dr. HILL: Even when he was Barry.

MARTIN: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. HILL: I'm just messing with you. I'm just messing with you.

IFTIKHAR: No, he was just - he was Professor Obama...

MARTIN: That's right. All right, go ahead, Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: You know, like I said last week on the Shop, I think the Rahm Emanuel pick was the safe pick. I think it was the pragmatic pick. I think it was the practical pick. You know, obviously anyone will come with some sort of political baggage, and if you've been at the highest levels like Rahm has, you're going to come with a certain amount more. I agree with Diggy. I think that, you know, he's there to herd the cats of the Democratic caucus in both the House and the Senate. I mean, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, in my opinion, have been subpar at best, and I think that Barack has his eye on the prize and wants to move down the field.

Dr. HILL: Am I the only one here that really appreciates the diversity that - it seemed like he went out of his way to have a really diverse team. I mean, Michel, I mean, he's got some women in there. I mean, he's got Cassandra Butts, he's got Devorah Adler. I mean, how do you feel about that? Am I the only one that's really kind of geeked on that piece of it?

MARTIN: Yes.

IZRAEL: OK. Clearly. OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: That is just you...

MARTIN: Yeah, yeah, that is just you. I think it's very interesting because I've been out and about a lot the last couple of days here, and this is a big conversation, particularly among women. Professor Hill gave you the - what do you want to call it, the left-of-center perspective and lot of women think that there isn't enough female representation on the transition team. If you looked at the folks who were arrayed around him at his opening press conference, you know, yes, Valerie Jarrett is the co-chair of the transition team and, of course, Jennifer Granholm was there, Richard Parsons, former chairman of Time AOL, was there, who's African-American.

But a lot of people, particularly I think some of the women's groups, feel that he really hasn't - that they're not comfortable with that. And they have the same objection to Larry Summers that Marc Lamont Hill has. He feels that he threw down some sexist stuff at Harvard. Although I disagree with you. I don't think he brought down the African-American Studies Department at Harvard. I think that they're, you know, going strong. But I do think there are a lot of women who weren't seeing enough female faces at the table, and they want to see what happens going forward, so, yeah.

Dr. HILL: I really think - he did pick some polarizing figures, but you know what...

MARTIN: Well, he hasn't picked any of these people yet. I mean, Larry Summers is just a name in the newspaper.

Dr. HILL: I know. That's true. That's true. Well, speaking of names in the newspaper, inexplicably, Governor Sarah Palin still manages to catch ink.

IFTIKHAR: Oh, Lord.

IZRAEL: And remain relevant as she continues to make the media rounds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Wait a second. And I believe we have some - we got some tape, Michel.

MARTIN: Yeah. And amazingly, there was an awful lot to choose from.

IFTIKHAR: Oh, my God.

MARTIN: An awful lot to choose from.

IFTIKHAR: Oh, my God!

MARTIN: This is her - Governor Palin's interview with Larry King, one of the many. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show "Larry King Live")

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): I wish could have done more interviews along the trail. And in retrospect, in hindsight, I wish I would have had more opportunities or that we would have seized more opportunities to speak more...

Mr. LARRY KING: Why didn't you?

Governor PALIN: To American people through the media.

Mr. LARRY KING: Why didn't you?

Governor PALIN: I didn't call the shots on the - I didn't call the shots on a lot of that strategy. But I'm not going to look backwards and point fingers of blame in regards to the strategy.

IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel, for that...

Mr. DEGGANS: Dude, dude, can I point out the point of all these interviews she's been doing?

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Dig.

Mr. DEGGANS: It's not my fault. That is the point of every one of these interviews.

IZRAEL: Really? That's not what I - I see it a little differently. I mean, I just see it as her trying to hold onto that 15 minutes. I mean, that spotlight, it warms, but it burns, but it also warms. You know what I'm saying? And I think she...

Mr. DEGGANS: Nah, what she's doing is she's trying to avoid...

IZRAEL: She warmed a little too much toward the spotlight. I thought when I saw her, you know, pushing it up on "Saturday Night Live," I said, OK, she's liking this a little too much, man. You know? And...

Mr. DEGGANS: No, no. She's trying to avoid blame for losing John McCain the presidency so that she can seem to be a viable candidate in 2012 because what the Republicans really need to do is move towards the center. And they need moderates like our old governor here in Florida, Charlie Crist, to really be the face of the party, because this extreme right stuff did not work and will not work going forward. But if that's not the face of the party, then she doesn't have a shot in 2012. So she's got to shake off the mantle of blame for the loss.

IZRAEL: My man, wait a second. In 2012, what, she's going to host "The Muppet Show"? I don't see her, like, running for office.

Dr. HILL: Here's what I think. This is Marc Hill. I think that the problem...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Hill.

Dr. HILL: If she is going to be a viable candidate, it's not going to be in 2012 because she would have - she'd likely have to appoint herself to Ted Stevens' Senate seat. And I don't think 2012 will be soon enough. And the other thing is most people who appoint themselves - historically, people who appoint themselves don't get re-elected in the special election two years later. So what she probably has to do is make a hard case for the Senate, and then show that she's committed to the Senate and not trying to just be the next president. Which means that she probably will have to hold out to two thousand - what would that be? Good God, 2016.

But I think she is the future of the party. People like her and Bobby Jindal and Crist and other people are the future of the party. And I think she's doing the right thing strategically to say, look, I - it wasn't my fault. I ain't blaming nobody, but it wasn't my fault.

MARTIN: Wait, can I ask - can I ask...

IZRAEL: My problem with Palin...

MARTIN: Wait, wait, Professor Hill. Wait, hold on a second. Let me ask Professor Hill a question.

IZRAEL: Go ahead.

MARTIN: First of all, I don't think she can appoint herself to the Stevens seat. And second of all, why isn't she better positioned to run again as governor? Because historically, this current election notwithstanding, historically, aren't governors generally more successful candidates than senators are?

Dr. HILL: True. But presidential candidates are generally smart. And she didn't have a complex understanding of many legislative issues outside of maybe energy and foreign policy with Russia.

MARTIN: I see.

Dr. HILL: So, you know, I think what she's trying to do is show that she has a more complex or robust sort of range of knowledge.

IZRAEL: Yeah.

Dr. HILL: And she's conceived to do that from the Senate. And it could keep her in the national spotlight in a different way.

MARTIN: I see.

IFTIKHAR: Well - and...

IZRAEL: I'm not going to go there to her intelligence, but I just wish somebody would crystallize her political message for me without using the phrase, you betcha. You know what I mean? I don't know what she knows.

IFTIKHAR: That's impossible.

IZRAEL: Do you know what I mean? And it frightens me.

MARTIN: Wait, Arsalan - Arsalan's trying to get in.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: And you know, what I was thinking about when I was watching this plethora of interviews was, I will bet all the money in my pockets, which is $12, that Geraldine Ferraro did not get this much post-game love after the 1984 presidential elections. And I'm going to break it down real quick. In the NBA finals, the playoffs, you win or you go home. So this is why Sarah Palin's a little like Kobe Bryant, because it's like last year's finals. It's like the Celtics beating the Lakers, but then having all the media going up to Kobe being, you know, like, so what you going to do now, Kobe? Well, I'm going to go grocery shopping, jump over some Aston Martins. You know, after a while, he's going to be like, you know, we need to talk to Paul Pearce and Kevin Garnett. Joe Biden, nobody has heard boo from him.

MARTIN: OK, let me just say, I'm not hating, because I want my interview, OK?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK? I want my interview. I'm not hating. So, Governor, if you're listening. You know, check out Tell Me More.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: Way to bring it home. Way to bring it back.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Eric Deggans and Marc Lamont Hill in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. You know what? Since President-elect Obama is, you know, doing his thing, you know, many people are wondering aloud what effect a black president could have on pop culture. And what's dude's name that's playing James Bond right now?

IFTIKHAR: Daniel Craig.

IZRAEL: Yeah, man. He looks like a baseball mitt. But yeah, dude said that he thought that now that Obama's been elected, maybe there could be a black James Bond, which is really, really ridiculous. As if black actors don't play traditionally white characters. I mean, Will Smith played Spooner in "I, Robot." And that certainly wasn't Isaac Asimov's vision.

(Soundbite of Bond theme song)

MARTIN: That's for you, Jimi. We're just bringing in the theme for you. Just for you.

IZRAEL: Thank you so much.

Mr. DEGGANS: Because you're that cool, man.

MARTIN: Who do you think is a good candidate, Jimi?

IFTIKHAR: Oh, I got a candidate.

IZRAEL: Well, it - I don't know. I mean, I don't know any black actors with any kind of swagger.

IFTIKHAR: Jimi, Jimi, actually, it was funny...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: I remember when Pierce Brosnan was selected to be 007 they said that...

IZRAEL: He stank.

IFTIKHAR: Well, check this out. During - there was speculation that the list of finalists included Sharon Stone and Wesley Snipes at the time. You know, they were going for a complete Bond makeover. They obviously chose Pierce Brosnan and now it's Daniel Craig, but you know who I think would be a gangster James Bond is Chiwetel Ejiofor, the guy from David Mamet's "Redbelt," from "American Gangster," from "Love Actually." He's a British dude.

IZRAEL: Oh, yeah, yeah!

IFTIKHAR: He's got the accent. The thing with Wesley Snipes, he wouldn't have the accent. He'd have the wackest British accent ever. But if there is ever a black James Bond, mark my words, it would - it will be Chiwetel Ejiofor.

IZRAEL: The dude's got range. Yeah, that could happen. Yo, Diggie, he gets your vote? I mean...

Mr. DEGGANS: He definitely gets my vote. And I would love to see them reinvent. But, you know, if they were to come with a black James Bond, frankly, I would love to see them Americanize him, too. You know, if we're going to change him that much, let's bring him to the hood, man.

IFTIKHAR: No, keep him British, man. Keep him British.

Mr. DEGGANS: Let's bring him to New York. Bring him to LA.

MARTIN: Idris Elba.

IFTIKHAR: It's 007. It's MI5, dog. It's MI5.

MARTIN: Idris Elba.

Dr. HILL: That's who I was thinking of.

MARTIN: You know, the guy from "The Wire."

Mr. DEGGANS: Yeah, yeah.

Dr. HILL: He's got the accent. Or Don Cheadle. I think it should be someone - I like a nice, dark-skinned James Bond that's - you know, but somebody said Wesley Snipes. Wesley Snipes ain't even going to be out.

IZRAEL: No, Wesley probably can't see that either. No, no.

IFTIKHAR: But Ejiofor has...

Mr. DEGGANS: He will need the work.

IZRAEL: Yeah, right!

MARTIN: Eric, can I ask you this? I was curious, and Jimi too, because you know, this culture is your thing, pop culture is your thing, also. There's this whole question that we saw all the artists and entertainers who got involved in this campaign. It wasn't just a campaign. You know, when was the last time you had a political candidate inspiring videos and all this other cultural product, OK? So I'm just wondering what happens after that. It's one thing you're on the outside, because so much of music is identified with on the outside. So what happens when your folk are on the inside? What happens?

Dr. HILL: That's an excellent question.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Diggy. I mean, what, you want at that first?

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, what's interesting to me is, you know, we've had presidents who seemed friendly to black culture, like Bill Clinton. But this is the first time we have a president who knows the lyrics to a Jay-Z tune. You know what I'm saying? And I think that means a lot to people. And I think artists are going to take that feeling. We've already seen some rappers come up with some tunes that incorporate this new feeling that there is somebody in the White House that not only appreciates black culture, but is of black culture and luxuriates in it, will listen to their tunes, will pay attention to what they have to say. Now, we'll see what that means in the future, but as far as inspiring artists to create art, I think we're seeing a lot of that now because people feel like there is somebody of their culture in the White House rather than just friendly to it.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, from the beat to the ball, we got to get on the court and talk about the L.A. Lakers smacking down the Hornets this week to remain undefeated. Fellas, who do we think is going the distance? You know, can we take some predictions? Now of course, despite what my head knows, my heart says the Cavs. A-Train, what do you say?

(Soundbite of groan)

Dr. HILL: Well, I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, exactly.

Dr. HILL: I'm sorry, did I do that out loud, Jimi? I'm sorry. I heard Cavs. I had a visceral response.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: Well, I think - for me, the interesting NBA storyline for the year is going to be Allen Iverson to Detroit. I want to see how AI does in Detroit. AI is gangster, the Pistons are gangster. If that chemistry works, I think you can see a resurgence of them in the East.

MARTIN: Do you think it will?

IFTIKHAR: No. I think it's going to be - it's Lakers-Celtics again and again. Paul "The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth" Pearce, Kevin "Big Ticket" Garnett and Ray "Jesus Shuttleworth" Allen will repeat and raise the 18th banner to the rafters of Boston Garden.

IZRAEL: Diggy? ..TEXT: Mr. DEGGANS: Man, I'm stuck with Orlando and Miami. What can I say, man?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEGGANS: I mean, and Florida. I would much rather talk about baseball.

MARTIN: What is it? You can't go out to eat if you don't call it that way? I'm sorry, what's going on?

IZRAEL: Hill?

Dr. HILL: Well, first, I should say my predictions are the most valid in the room because I'm the one that said the Phillies would win the World Series, and everybody clowned a couple of weeks ago.

Mr. DEGGANS: Bring that up, ok.

Dr. HILL: Yeah, I'm bringing that up. Especially around Celtics fans, you know what I'm saying? You know, the Sixers are going to be a powerhouse this year with the addition of Elton Brand. We got off to a slow start. We're still trying to find somebody that can make a jumpshot other than Maurice Cheeks. So you know, we're going to have some struggles the first half, but by the end we're going to compete for the Eastern final. But I think the Celtics are going to pull it out again. I think they're going to repeat as champions. And I think that the Lakers are going to probably be there in the finals again, with some big help at power forward now.

IFTIKHAR: It'll be seven games, wherever it is.

IZRAEL: Well, with that, with three points out and from the foul line, your man is putting it up in the air. And I think that's a wrap, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank you for coming to the Shop, doing your thing. And I have to kick it over to the lady in charge. The woman of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: All right. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes, if you can call it that, for TheRoot.com and TV ONE online.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and a civil rights attorney, and he joined us from our bureau in Washington. Eric Deggans is a TV and media critic for The St. Petersburg Times. He joined us from St. Petersburg. And Marc Lamont Hill is an assistant professor of urban education and American studies at Temple University, and he joined us from Philadelphia. Gentlemen, thank you all so much.

Mr. DEGGANS: Skadoosh.

Dr. HILL: Thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

IZRAEL: Yup yup.

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