MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. Well, it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about whatever's in the news and whatever's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for shapeup this week are freelance writer and reporter Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarette, civil right attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, and political science professor Dr. Lester Spence. I may chip in once or twice but for now, take it away Jimi.
Mr. JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, yo fellows. Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?
Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.
Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Hey. Great
Mr. LESTER SPENCE: Hey, good man.
IZRAEL: And what, I tell you what. Senator Barack Obama and John McCain went head to head on the debate tip this week in Nashville, Tennessee. Now CNN and just boys at the bar basically say Obama was the clear winner but, I don't know it's kind of hard. Well, I don't know if it's hard to say or not, but I tell you what, McCain has no love lost for your boy Obama. We got some tape, we kind of put the shoe on him a little bit, Michel, don't we?
MARTIN: This is something that we heard a lot about in the couple a days, since the debate, in fact immediately after the debate. There was this whole body language thing going on where it appeared that McCain didn't really want to look at Barack Obama, and then there was this one exchange where they were talking about energy policy and John McCain was talking about this energy bill that he didn't like and this is what he said.
(Soundbite of debate)
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Arizona, Republican, Presidential Candidate): You know who voted for it? Might never know. That one. You know who voted against it, me.
IZRAEL: Wow, man. He comes across all crotchety and like maybe he could use a little fiber in his diet. Yo, L. Spence, man. What's that, who won now, you tell who won?
SPENCE: You know what I showed to my kids in my public opinion class, a clip of the first Kennedy Nixon debate, and Kennedy Nixon debate's first televised debate. And it's really clear that Kennedy beats Nixon not based on just on what he says but because like Nixon didn't have makeup, looked extremely like evil. I looked at the Obama McCain debate in much the same way, in that if you take away all the hurdles that McCain is facing - is his political party, his economic philosophy that's basically flailing in the wind. You take all that stuff away and you've got an old man who looks decrepit next to this young, virile, handsome male and he just can't cope with it.
IZRAEL: There was also the moment where - and some people have perceived this differently, there was also the moment where he wouldn't shake Obama's hand at the end of this, after everything said and done. And I don't know what's up with that. You know, it's like I wrote about today for the root.com, is that yo, that's a very serious full faux pas. We won't shake another man's hand. The R, help me out here.
IFTIKHAR: Absolutely, Jimi. I think McCain sort of made the mistake in both of the debates against Obama, both of the debates I think he lost by the way, and the polls show that most people agree that Barack Obama won both debates. But I think John McCain made the same mistake that Joe Biden made in debating Sarah Palin. And that is when Palin was busy looking at Joe Biden and saying, may I call you Joe? And folksy and all that. Biden was looking at Gwen Ifill, you know, by the way, Gwen, she didn't answer the question, wouldn't even refer to Palin, right? I think after a while I realized that something happens when you go to the Senate, and when you spend 25-35 year in the Senate, you forget how to talk to regular folk. And I think that's true with Joe Biden, I think it's true with John McCain, and it is a powerful thing for Obama to be able to look in the camera, speak directly to us, or in the case of the town hall forum, to talk to people who asked him a question and look directly to them. He gave, I think, McCain a lot of respect. McCain gave him no respect in return. It wasn't just the that-one comment, it was the dismissive and arrogant tone that McCain had in both debates, in the first one and in the second one. And I think that's really a problem because at the end of the day, we like to think that we're picking somebody based on intelligence and decisiveness and all that, but do not underestimate likeability. We want our president to be likeable. Al Gore was not, he lost. John Kerry was not, he lost. John McCain is not likeable, he may lose.
IZRAEL: You know what, (unintelligible) I'm not going to let your boy off the hook, man. You know, I what irritated me, your boy Obama had been taking a trip to the country club or something, because he was pronouncing Pakistan Pah-kis-tahn and he was doing this thing with - he was like Eye-rahn. And I wasn't the only one catching it, a lot of people were like wait a second, you know.
MARTIN: Oh so he's wrong that he's actually pronouncing things properly. I'm sorry, Jimi.
(Soundbite of laughter)
IFTIKHAR: Yeah, hold on.
IZRAEL: Ok, well I'm just saying, I'm sorry, I telling you the way it came off. I'm just like because colloquially we all say it differently, but all the sudden he's going to say it the right way, it came off like…
MARTIN: Oh, he's going to say the right way, that's disqualified, go ahead Arzalan. This is reason when I'm 137 why Jimi will be never be president, but go ahead.
(Soundbite of laughter)
IFTIKHAR: Here we go. These are my quick hits from the debates, Jimi. Number one, McCain proved that he's more scattershot than Dick Cheney on a duck hunting trip. Last week when Sarah Palin said maverick so many times I thought Ice Man and Goose were going to come out in their Top Gun uniforms, this week The Los Angeles Times reported that John McCain said the term, my friend 24, times. He said it so much that I thought - I thought Mr. Rogers was going to come out of his neighborhood and ask us to be his neighbors. Now of course the A-Train redunculous item of the week was when Senator McCain looked at Senator Barack Obama and called him, quote, that one. I swear to God, myself and probably 92 million other Americans were like, oh, hell no. To be honest, you know, whether you call it racism or whether you call it just old men grumpyism, it probably is in between the murky waters of what Ali G would call racialism. I mean, overall this debate, this presidency, has been LeBron James versus Grandpa Simpson or maybe Montgomery Burns, excellent. But this is - I mean, it's man against boys right now.
MARTIN: He didn't - I think it's partly - it's also that he didn't look at him. And it's interesting because this was one of those things that I think is being hotly debated with the people who have time to debate these things. Because everybody does have it very real(ph) about that.
NAVARRETTE: Yeah, I got to say...
MARTIN: But I think that when people say is it racialism, or is it just demeaning and condescending and objectifying. I don't know. Ruben, what do you think?
NAVARRETTE: I think it's an - well, Michel, I think it's an age thing. More than anything else, I think it was a dismissive, this kid does not belong on this stage with me. And I certainly picked that up the first time around, the first debate. I picked it up again. It's no more acceptable than racism. But it's about sort of this sense that McCain doesn't respect Obama. And I'll tell you what. He should have some respect for Obama because McCain dispensed with his challengers in the primary pretty easily. It wasn't McCain who had to go deal with Hillary Clinton. And I think Obama has earned his spot on that stage. And I do not sense from McCain that he gets that. But Obama has made his own mistakes in this campaign. He has not always done well to answer questions consistently from day to day, not been as decisive that he needs to be. I'm faulting John McCain but I think we've really sort of let Obama off the hook.
MARTIN: I'm going to push back on this whole Biden-Palin thing that you said earlier. I think a lot of people think that Joe Biden won that debate. I think Sarah Palin was effective with the people with whom she was already effective.
MARTIN: But I don't think that she persuaded a lot of people. And I think you can't have it both ways. You can't fault Joe Biden for actually answering the questions and then criticize - you see what I'm saying? I think you're sort of using two different standards there.
NAVARRETTE: Yeah. I'll push back on that, too because the very first comment that Gwen Ifill made as moderator was she pointed to them and said, neither of you answered that question. And so the rap has been that Palin was evasive. Absolutely right. But the same people who work in my business and take paychecks from my bosses have been giving Biden a pass when it was Gwen Ifill who said, neither of you answered that question.
DR. SPENCE: But Biden answered more.
MARTIN: Yeah, exactly. That was one...
IZRAEL: Which is more relative.
NAVARRETTE: I'm sorry. OK, it's a more thing.
MARTIN: Hold on one second guys. Just one second to say if you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Dr. Lester Spence, and Arsalan Iftikhar. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks. You know what? Speaking of people that were having a rough time, like Gwen Ifill going into it was having a rough time, but Tom Brokaw couldn't manage the room. I don't know what's up with that. And there was this thing where people thought he was favoring one over the other. I just thought he was out of his depth to some degree. And I shouldn't say that about Tom Brokaw, because I'm just Jimi Izrael. But I know how to referee. You know what I'm saying? And he didn't do his job in my opinion. We got us a little bit of tape of Tom don't we?
MARTIN: Well, can - yeah, can I bring this up because I am curious what other people's opinions are. And obviously in the spirit of full disclosure, I wrote a piece for TheRoot.com about the fact that I thought that the commission erred in the fact that, you know, Gwen Ifill was the only moderator who was under 70. I mean, every - all the commission selected moderators who were all, you know, older, white men over 70. And given that one of the candidates is a white man over 70, I felt that there was just something about that that just didn't sit well with me. I just found it hard. In fact I thought, you know, Ruben would have made a fine, you know, moderator.
IZRAEL: Michel, you got to stop busting on the white man's show.
NAVARRETTE: They never get anything. They never get anything. The poor white men never get anything.
MARTIN: But anyway - true. But we had a spirited discussion in the office about whether people thought that Tom Brokaw was fair or not. And it just - it was kind of an intense discussion about it. And also I've noticed that there has been a discussion on the blogs about this question also. I just want to play one exchange that speaks to this point.
(Soundbite of debate)
Mr. TOM BROKAW (Moderator): Senator Obama, we have another question from the Internet.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Illinois, Democrat, Presidential Candidate): Tom, can I respond to this briefly because...
Mr. BROKAW: Well, look, guys, the rules were established by the two campaigns, we worked very hard on this. This will address, I think, the next question.
Senator OBAMA: The tax issue, because I think it's very important. Go ahead.
Mr. BROKAW: There are lots of issues that we are going to be dealing with here tonight. And we have a question from...
MARTIN: I think just to clarify the issue here is that he did push back on McCain a bit. But just there are a lot of people including, you know, Tom Shale who's the TV critic for The Washington Post - this is not an exclusively minority thing - felt that, you know, he was favorably disposed to John McCain. I was just interested if you guys had an opinion about that.
IZRAEL: Well, I mean, I just thought he didn't manage the room well. What he needed was a sock full of nickels, just to swing it, he'd be like, yo, look, I'm the one that's in charge here. I'm conducting the room. But, you know, he kind of let both of them kind of go off on their own little tangents. And for me as a voter, I want to see these candidates focus on the issues. I think it's easy to go off on these five minute, six minute soliloquies. I think it's harder to encapsulate your ideas into one minute, you know, and to bring it across to the American people. But that's just me.
DR. SPENCE: I think it is harder. But I think we need to move away from soundbite politics. So one of the ways in which the debate was constrained is that they agreed to rules where they'd only speak like a minute. I mean, where they would only speak a minute. Kennedy's first - you know, when I'm looking at this Kennedy-Nixon debate, Kennedy spoke for like eight minutes. He was able to lay out his philosophy, apply it to domestic and foreign policy, and connect it back to the Democratic Party and distinguish that from the Republican Party. That's the type of meat and the type of weight and the type of time that we need to give these candidates. But because they're hamstrung - and Tom is just doing his job - so I don't really think that to the degree he favored McCain over Obama, I don't think that really means anything because McCain again is looking like dead man walking. So he needs all the help he can get.
DR. SPENCE: What we really need to do is think about how to restructure the debates such that, you know, more people can get more interesting questions from the bottom up. And then we get young people like Michel Martin - so Michel, you're the first person, one of the first two people I thought about who would be excellent at doing this. And then the third is we need more time.
MARTIN: Arsalan had something on this.
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know...
MARTIN: But thank you, Lester. That's very kind.
DR. SPENCE: You're welcome.
IFTIKHAR: For me I just - you know, I've been like many of you watching Tom Brokaw my entire life, and he just seemed old. He just seemed like he wasn't - you know there are a few times where I wanted to look for a yellow sock to throw at, you know, at the television because I thought that Brokaw should have thrown a flag. I remember once he even giggled at something that McCain said. And so it was just - you know, and people were willing to scream holy hell over Gwen Ifill and, you know, this book that's not even completed yet. But you know, they don't place the same sort of, you know, moderator scrutiny on Tom Brokaw when he just did a sub-par job.
IZRAEL: What's up with McCain's girl, Governor Sarah Palin?
DR. SPENCE: Well, she's a full grown woman, for the record.
MARTIN: Thank you.
IZRAEL: But she's...
MARTIN: I think that would be Governor Sarah Palin.
IZRAEL: She's out there flipping kind of crazy. She's got this terrorist talk about Barack Hussein Obama. And it's really bugged out because for me it's like she just wants an excuse to put Barack's name in the same sentence with terrorists. Now...
MARTIN: OK, now let me just clarify it though. She did not call him Barack Hussein Obama. It was a Florida sheriff at a rally that was calling it. But she did say at a rally that he's palling around with terrorists.
IFTIKHAR: And can I take the first swing at this, Jimi?
IFTIKHAR: Now, first of all, Sarah Palin, Governor Sarah Palin, has absolutely no business launching into ad hominem attacks when she still hasn't fully, you know, conquered her note cards given to her by, you know, Republican Karl Rove camp on the issues. Second of all, most importantly, you know, not many people call it up for what it is, but I truly believe this terrorist talk is a smokescreen. This is not meant to conjure up images of William Ayres and the Weather Underground. Sarah Palin would probably not even know what the Weather Underground was. What it is meant to do is have a sort of olive-skinned falafel smell to it. You know, it's code language because, for example, when we talk about the man, we know the man does not look like Mr. Miyagi. The man looks like an old, white Republican dude who...
IZRAEL: He doesn't?
IFTIKHAR: Montgomery Burns. And who's probably on the board of AIG and Lehman Brothers. This is coded language. You know, they're going to...
MARTIN: For what?
IFTIKHAR: Well, for trying to insinuate that Barack is, you know, is crypto Muslim.
IZRAEL: He's not like us.
NAVARRETTE: How come he's a Republican guy, that caricature? Can't there be an old, crudgy, old, white guy who's a Democrat?
IFTIKHAR: Yeah. But most of them are Republican.
MARTIN: Well, let me ask you this, Arsalan. How is this striking you? You feel that this is really aimed at Muslims? It's aimed at all people of color?
IFTIKHAR: Yeah, it's just...
MARTIN: It's just you're the other.
IFTIKHAR: Right. It's the other.
MARTIN: You can't be a real American.
IFTIKHAR: Exactly. You know, it's not specifically islamophobia, but again it's as general as xenophobia, you know, whether we're dealing with, you know, the immigration debate and the amnesty issue, you know. If they said amnesty over and over again in their campaigns, you would know that that's a code word for anti-Latino immigrant sentiment. You know, there are catchphrases out there that are well-known coded terms. And you know, I really think that the McCain camp is grasping at straws in terms of...
MARTIN: Well, can I...
NAVARRETTE: I think the William Ayres thing is more complicated than that though.
MARTIN: Yeah, I was going to ask Ruben what do you think about that?
NAVARRETTE: The William Ayres story is complicated for one simple reason because Barack Obama it seems was not completely forthright when he first was asked this question. I wrote a column about a month ago. I have friends who have been saying for a long time, write about William Ayres. They think it's relevant. I wrote a column saying it's not relevant. The last thing people want to hear about now is Obama from the Weather Underground who blew up things when Obama was eight years old. You know, I want to hear about my 401(k). That's still a valid point. But when I wrote that column, I was trusting Barack Obama at his word when he said that Ayres was just a guy who lives on his block. And since then we've found out about the Annenberg Challenge in Chicago and the educational fund, the foundation they both sat on, the long association they had together. I still think it's not a top issue and shouldn't be relevant in the context of a presidential campaign, but I'm a journalist. I don't like being lied to.
IFTIKHAR: Ruben, let me just ask you one simple question. Do you think Palin's terminology of palling around with terrorists was coded language at all?
NAVARRETTE: No. I don't think it was about Muslim terrorists. I think that Palin was talking about - and you continue to see her talk about William Ayres. She went on at length describing Ayres and the bombing of the Pentagon and all this stuff. I think she was playing not the race card, not the Muslim card, not the Latino card, I think she was playing the left-right politics card, and she was trying to portray Obama as unpatriotic and not sufficiently American.
MARTIN: And is that a legitimate line of attack?
NAVARRETTE: My answer to that question is no. It's not a legitimate - but let's not put...
MARTIN: But what you're saying is a different issue which is his voracity.
MARTIN: And you think that is a legitimate issue.
NAVARRETTE: Totally. And the problem, Michel, is we put it all in one pot and we whip it all together, and it's just not fair. You've got to separate it out.
IZRAEL: OK. And with that, I've got to call it a wrap. Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you so much for coming into this shop. It's time for me to pass it over to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.
MARTIN: Thank you, Jimi. Jimi Izrael joined us from WCPN in Cleveland where he's a freelance writer. He blogs for TV ONE online and TheRoot.com. Ruben Navarrette 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 civil rights attorney. He joined us from our bureau here in Washington. And Dr. Lester Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He joined us from Baltimore. Gentlemen, thank you so much.
DR. SPENCE: Thank you.
NAVARRETTE: Thank you.
IZRAEL: Yep yep.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.