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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The Bible played a critical - some say decisive - role in the battle over Proposition 8 in California. Many supporters of the gay marriage ban maintained that Scripture defines marriage as between one man and one woman and specifically denounces homosexuality. Not so fast, argues Lisa Miller in a new and controversial cover essay. The religion editor of Newsweek concludes that scripture, quote, "gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be civilly and religiously married and a number of excellent reasons why they should." Lisa Miller has received a lot of feedback over the past few days - hundreds of comments on the Newsweek website, rebuttals in magazines, and on blogs. And in just a moment, Lisa Miller joins us, and we'll hear later from one of her critics.

Also, we'll decode the message of the shoes launched at President Bush in Baghdad yesterday and talk about the world of insults. But first, religion and gay marriage. And we want to hear from religious listeners today. Do you look to Scripture for guidance on homosexual rights and gay marriage? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255 is our phone number. The email address is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Just click on Talk of the Nation. Lisa Miller joins us now from a studio at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Her essay is titled "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage," and it's good of you to be with us today.

Ms. LISA MILLER (Senior Editor, Religion and Society, Newsweek): I'm happy to be here.

CONAN: This is a provocative piece, an opinion piece, even coming from an editor at the magazine, an unusual cover story for Newsweek maybe. What prompted this? Is it Proposition 8?

Ms. MILLER: Oh, definitely. I mean, I think that all of us at Newsweek were so wrapped up with the election that we weren't quite paying enough attention to how hot the Prop 8 fight was before Election Day. And then afterwards, you know, the aftermath was just huge. We did a bunch of stories before Proposition 8. We had an editor who got married in California before Proposition 8, and he wrote a story that got a lot of attention, and then after Prop 8 passed, he wrote another story that got even more attention. Anna Quindlen wrote a story after that talking about how the gay marriage battle was very much like the interracial battle - interracial marriage battle, you know, 20, 30 years ago. And this prompted us to sort of follow up and say, you know, what is the religious argument for gay marriage? All of the voices have been - all of the religious voices have been loudly on the right. You know, what is the argument for gay marriage religiously?

CONAN: And as you go through the Bible and talk about the various passages that remark on this, am I fair in saying you come to the conclusion that yes, the Bible in several places does have terrible things to say about homosexuality in general - doesn't mention gay marriage in particular, but that it says terrible things about ways of getting your hair cut, too.

Ms. MILLER: Right. I mean, the argument was sort of a three-pronged argument. The first is that marriage today - the way we are all married today - looks so unlike marriage in the Bible that it's almost ridiculous to look at the prescriptions in the Bible as prescriptions for modern couples. That's sort of the first thing - I mean, the patriarchs were polygamous, Jesus himself was celibate, Paul - the Apostle Paul - also celibate and said, well, get married if you have to, better to marry than to burn with passion, but best to stay unmarried completely. These recommendations are not really relevant to those of us who are trying to work out an egalitarian, romantic, pragmatic family life. And so, that was the first point. The second point was, although the Bible does condemn homosexuality in a few places, it's not that many places, and there are good arguments that say that what the Bible is condemning is actually very wicked, depraved, craven, licentious behavior, and not what we would call modern committed homosexual relationships at all. And then the third part of the argument is that both the Old Testament and the New Testament in different ways argue for family, for committed relationships, for social stability, for a kind of loving unit that reflects God's will. And there's really no reason why gay people shouldn't be able to partake in that as well.

CONAN: And the - a lot of people would say, the Bible begins defining marriage though with Adam and Eve.

Ms. MILLER: Well, I talked to this very brilliant Bible scholar at Barnard University named Alan Segal who is among the country's best Bible scholars. And he pointed out that, you know, if you don't believe that the Bible was handed down by God in its completed form, but was written by people over a series of centuries, then the Adam and Eve verse was actually written by people who - for whom polygamy was the natural course of things. And, you know, Abraham fathered children with both his wife and his wife's servant. Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, was a polygamist married to two sisters and had children with their servants. All the great kings of Judah and Israel were polygamists, David, King of Israel, was a polygamist. So, you know, the norm in Biblical times is nothing like what we have today.

CONAN: We're talking with Lisa Miller, the religion editor at Newsweek magazine, about her cover essay. Is it unusual for Newsweek to lead the cover - the issue with an essay, an opinion piece?

Ms. MILLER: Well, we've gotten, you know, we've gotten a lot of comments about that. I would argue that we've done this before. We did this famous cover when George Bush, the first George Bush, was president called "The Wimp Factor." Fareed Zakaria wrote this famous cover called "Why They Hate It" - excuse me, "Why They Hate Us." So, sort of journalistic, reporting-driven arguments have always been something that we do.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. We want to hear from religious listeners today. Do you look to the Bible, to Scripture, for guidance on this issue? And let's begin with Aaron(ph). Aaron's with us from Nampa in Idaho.

AARON (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.

AARON: Well, I just - before I make my comment, if I can just explain a little bit about where I'm coming from. I'm a Christian, and I believe in the Bible both as truth and fact, and I grew up in a very diverse environment. My close friends in high school, many of them are homosexuals, very comfortable around homosexuals. My own father had a sex change when I was 12. So, these sexual issues are not far off, uncomfortable things for me. I think it's entirely inappropriate for Christians or anybody to be appealing to their holy book as an argument for making laws in America because that's not the way that we're set up. We're set up to have laws that are made based on sound reason that can govern a diverse group of people, not, you know, well, the Bible says it, so that's the way it is, even though I personally do believe in the Bible. And I do think that sound reason tells us that there's something different about union between a man and a woman. Just the mere fact that they're able to reproduce and that homosexuals are not is something that's kind of a glaring, natural phenomenon. So, that's my opinion on the subject.

CONAN: Aaron, a lot of people would point out that people over the age of 55, 60, 70 can get married, if they're a man and a woman, in many a state of the Union and they're not likely to have children either.

AARON: I think that has more to do with deterioration of the body in death than it does design. And there's clearly a difference in design between the sexes, which is what makes the continuation of our species possible, you know. And to make an argument that there's not a difference between a male and female couple and a same gender couple, I think it's kind of silly, you know, because there is a difference.

CONAN: All right. Let's get Lisa Miller to respond. I'm sure you've heard many arguments on this exact point.

Ms. MILLER: Well, the first thing I wanted to say was, you know, I agree with you. The Bible also condones slavery, and we have long ago decided that the Bible's condoning slavery is not something that we want to participate in or agree with. So, there are things that the Bible says that we no longer agree with. And so why should we not offer the same rights to gay people as we do to straight people, now that marriage is really so different than what the Bible says it is. So, that's the first point. And the second point is, I would agree that, you know, the "be fruitful and multiply thing" is something that we've heard a lot from a lot of different people. And as you say, Neal, you know, people who are past the age of reproducing or even, you know, people who are of reproductive age but infertile get married all the time. They're well within their rights to do that.

AARON: I'm saying don't base laws on what the Bible says. I'm not saying - I'm not appealing to the Bible. I'm saying…

Ms. MILLER: No.

AARON: Let's set that aside and make laws to govern people that aren't based on what the holy book says. And let's just base it on sound reason and say, well, there's a clearly a difference between men and women, so many of them. And there's a difference between a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple. And whatever, you know, words we need to come up with to say, hey, this is different, it's not the same, you know, and still give people all of the rights that they deserve as human beings to be able to, you know, share property and visitation in the hospital and to express commitment to each other. Great, let's go for it. But there's a difference, and it's not something that religious people have made up. It exists in nature.

CONAN: Biology is what you're saying. I don't mean to hustle you off. I wanted to get another caller on the line before we had to go to a break, Aaron. But thanks very much for the call. Let's go to Aaron(ph) - another Aaron, this one in Sacramento, California.

AARON (Caller): Yes, hello.

CONAN: Hi there. Go ahead, please.

AARON: Yes. I believe the Bible is the authoritative way to live life. And I personally live by it. And I've seen following Jesus Christ, who freed us from the law by giving us love and just giving us two commands to follow - love our neighbor and love God - is - has had a tremendous effect on my life, transformative.

CONAN: And what does it say about gay marriage to you?

AARON: Well, if you look back in Deuteronomy, which is in the Old Testament, it says that homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord, our God. And...

CONAN: And Aaron, just to, again, get back to Lisa Miller's point, the Bible also condones slavery. Is slavery OK?

AARON: Well, not necessarily, because it actually says that we are all of the same blood, so we're all equal. And slavery is based on the concept by Charles Darwin that black people came from the Negroid, which came from monkeys. And that's evolution. That goes against the Bible.

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CONAN: Aaron, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

AARON: Thank you. Jesus Christ blesses you.

CONAN: We're talking with Lisa Miller of Newsweek magazine about her cover essay on the religious case for gay marriage. We'll speak with her and one of her critics when we come back from a break. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Lisa Miller's cover essay in Newsweek magazine is titled "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage." Albert Mohler writes, now, just wait a minute. In the Old Testament, he argues, the notion of marriage deeply rooted in its procreative purposes on unambiguously heterosexual. Albert Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He joins us in just a moment. Lisa Miller is religion editor at Newsweek. She's still with us. We want to hear from our religious listeners today. Do you look to Scripture for guidance on homosexual rights and gay marriage? 800-989-8255, email talk@npr.org. There's also a conversation under way at our Web site. That's at npr.org. Just click on Talk of the Nation. And I would like to welcome Albert Mohler, who's with us today from a studio on the campus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Nice of you to be with us today.

Dr. ALBERT MOHLER (President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary): Neal, glad to join you.

CONAN: And what's your basic response to Lisa Miller?

Dr. MOHLER: Well, it's a fascinating conversation that she started, and if Newsweek's intention was to start a conversation, they have certainly succeeded.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. MOHLER: You know, the first word I would think of here is audacious. And listening to Lisa Miller speak - and she's very articulate as she speaks about Newsweek's interest in all this - the word audacity comes to my mind because, let's face it, what the sum and substance of this cover story really attempts to do is to say that Christians have basically been wrong for the better part of 20 centuries in understanding the Scripture and that the vast majority of believers in this country are wrong in believing that same-sex marriage is prohibited by scriptural injunction. And that's no understatement. I mean, you're talking about an extremely thin slice of a very far-left denominational core that is even contemplating same-sex marriage. What is really interesting here is that Newsweek decided to write on the religious case or to try to propose a religious case for same-sex marriage. And I think it's fairly safe to say that among the vast majority of believers, it's falling flat and to no surprise.

CONAN: And Lisa Miller can make her own her arguments, but just to point out that for nineteen centuries or so, a greater part of them, a lot of Christians were wrong about slavery, too.

Dr. MOHLER: A lot of Christians were not only wrong but horribly, inexcusably wrong about slavery, and especially about slavery that is race-based, the kind of chattel slavery that was known in the horror of slavery, "the peculiar institution" as it was called in the United States. You put slavery in a larger context, in a global historical context, and the vast majority of human beings, it can be argued, were slaves rather than slaveholders or masters. You can go back to Marx and Lenin arguing in "The Communist Manifesto" and "Das Kapital" that anyone that - who lacks the ability to produce capital is a slave. When the Scripture talks about slavery, we need to be honest about what it is and isn't talking about, the same way we would have to be very honest about polygamy. I'm not going to deny for a moment that the patriarchs were polygamists, but that could be a separate conversation. It is to say, though, that the irreducible core of marriage in the Bible, both testaments, is that it's heterosexual, and that it is tied to procreation and that's the simple issue there, as at least two of your Aaron callers have recognized.

CONAN: Indeed, and we'll get more callers in on the conversation. But the institution of marriage, as you've just suggested, has evolved over the years, over the centuries. It's very different today than it was in the time of the patriarchs. So, well, the institution can change. Indeed, it can be - include a lot of different people.

Dr. MOHLER: Well, the institution has certainly changed. But I'll tell you what, over millennia, it has not changed in terms of its gender reference. The one irreducible issue is that it has always been - and by the way, even where the Scripture has never reached, even where the Judeo-Christian Scriptures have never had a direct influence, by natural law and by natural reasoning, the institution of marriage as a heterosexual institution privileged for procreation and the raising of children has been central to civilization. And I believe it is simply no accident.

CONAN: Lisa Miller, let's you bring you back into the conversation. I'm sure you've read Al Mohler's comments about your essay.

Ms. MILLER: I have. Hi, Dr. Mohler.

Dr. MOHLER: Hello.

Ms. MILLER: I wouldn't say that our story is saying that, you know, Christians have been wrong. What I'm saying is that, as you said, Neal, social institutions change. They change over time. Marriage has changed so much that the patriarchs and their multiple wives wouldn't recognize what my husband and I try to do every day as marriage. And what's so great about the Bible, what I find so inspiring and moving about the Bible, is that its truths speak to us over 2,000 years, that we can be flexible and we can say, OK, what it says about slavery, we're not going to accept that anymore. Interestingly, we've decided not also to accept what it says about divorce, which is much stronger in the New Testament than whatever it says about homosexuality. We've said, OK, well, we're not going to care about that either because half of Americans are divorced. And it's beautiful to look at the Bible as this living document that applies to us even as we change through history.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers back in on the conversation, and let's go to Ara(ph). Ara, I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly, in Ithaca, New York.

ARA (Caller): You got it.

CONAN: Go ahead.

ARA: Hi. So, I'm a Christian from Ithaca, New York and I'm also a lesbian. I'm in a relationship, and we're starting to talk about marriage, not quite ready yet, but - and so, it's a really interesting time.

CONAN: And do you look the Scripture for instructions on this?

ARA: Well, so the hard thing is there's so many rules. And it's the whole thing of what rule - how do I decide which ones to follow and which ones not to. So, the thing for Christian for me is that it offers a lot of comfort and a lot of - in the New Testament, it's the idea that it's a freedom from the law and so God is love and all of that. He's the most important and it's OK to not be perfect.

CONAN: Al Mohler, did you want to respond to that?

Dr. MOHLER: Sure. And I'd like to respond to both Ara and Lisa, two very interesting comments there.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Dr. MOHLER: Ara, glad to meet you. Let me just say that in the New Testament, what you have is certainly a gospel of grace. The law is that which shows us our need for Christ. The New Testament shows us the provision whereby Christ came to pay the penalty for our sins. But the New Testament also presents Christianity as a way of discipleship, of following Christ. And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was certainly not suggesting that grace means there is no law. As a matter of fact, he says it's more urgent than ever before. He takes it to the heart - it's not enough not to commit adultery, you can't lust. It's not enough not to murder, you can't respond in anger.

What you have in the New Testament is not the detailed Levitical law you find in the Old Testament. The New Testament's not concerned with whether you wear synthetic fibers. It's concerned with whether or not you're following a life of holiness. And in that, by the way, marriage is very clear. Jesus could not be more clear, actually. Whenever he confronts marriage, he speaks of it. In Matthew, he says from the very beginning, God intended it to be one man and one woman. And so, to follow Christ in discipleship means precisely to follow, you know, what Christ said - to act in obedience.

Lisa Miller said when she was - and very helpfully, I appreciate what she said - when she was making her three points, she mentioned the authority of Scripture and she said you either believe, as Alan Segal, she cited, believes, that it's more or less a human book marked by history, and we correct it by our contemporary understanding. Or you believe as I believe and as evangelical Christians and what you'll find most conservative believers in the Judeo-Christian traditions, whether they're Orthodox Jews or conservative Protestants or traditionalist Catholics - what you're going to find is the belief that what we have to do is understand and interpret the Scripture, but with the goal of obeying it. Because we genuinely believe that it's not a prison into which we are forced by God, it's indeed his gift whereby he shows us how he would have us to live, not only for his glory but for our good.

CONAN: Lisa Miller - that point about Jesus, do you read that passage the same way?

Ms. MILLER: There are many, many parts of the New Testament where Jesus - I mean, they're so numerous, it's hard to even count them - reaches out to people who are on the margins, people who are outcast, people whose own social behavior defies convention. And he says come with me. That's his message. It seems to me that the gays and lesbians among us would be - that he would be - he would include them in that message and he would say come, follow me. There's this beautiful psalm, Psalm 1:39, that a priest I know quoted to me and it's the psalm that says, you know, I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And it's a psalm that talks about God seeing your secret self, even when nobody else can see it. It's quite inspirational, and I think it speaks to this whole issue.

CONAN: Ara, thanks very much for the call.

ARA: Thank you very much.

CONAN: So, long. Let's go now to Mark(ph), Mark with us from Cleveland.

MARK (Caller): It's interesting, everything I've heard, with the exception of Scripture, supports polygamy. And if we're going to allow same-sex marriage, then what keeps us from allowing polygamy or incest or whatever?

CONAN: Lisa Miller?

Ms. MILLER: I guess the point is that conventions change, right? Polygamy was conventional in biblical times. It is no longer conventional now. That the Bible contains truths that we apply to our lives - inspired truths that we apply with reason to our lives - and polygamy is not what we do now.

MARK: Well, gay marriage isn't what we do now either.

Ms. MILLER: But loving relationships between two people for social stability, for the raising of children if possible, for loving each other the way God loves us - that is a sacrament in a lot of religions and there's no reason on Earth why gay and lesbian people shouldn't be able to partake of that sacrament.

MARK: But when you say social stability, loving relationship, raising children - polygamy supports all that, too.

Ms. MILLER: Right. It's not so great for the women in the situation, I think. And the rights of women have evolved to the point where I don't know many women who would stand for it.

MARK: Well, I mean, I think that you're living a very sheltered, if you will, existence, that if you talk to people in Utah, many of them will like - enjoy that polygamous relationship. It's done. We forced the Mormon Church, as a condition of Utah being accepted as a state, to give up polygamy. I don't see how you can - how one can logically make this argument for same-sex marriage and in the same argument say polygamy doesn't work.

CONAN: Let me ask Al Mohler to comment on that. Is part of the opposition to gay marriage this, as Mark would have it, this slippery slope argument?

Dr. MOHLER: Well, I don't think it's just a slippery slope argument. I mean, clearly his logic is pretty irrefutable there in terms of - once we allow marriage to mean something other than the union of a man and a woman, then it can mean virtually anything other. It would be purely arbitrary to draw the line, for instance, at same-sex marriage. But I think there's a larger issue here, which is the fact that every society decides that there are certain sexual behaviors and certain intimate relationships that it allows and certain that it disallows. By the way, in the Old Testament, of course, there are prohibitions against incest, bestiality, any number of things. It's amazing frankly - I have to say, as a theologian - how candid the Bible is, looking at it even with 21st-century eyes looking back. And it tells us something about the rather corrupted nature of human sexuality that - by the way, even, you know, when you're into discussion about same-sex marriage, people will say well, we want to clearly draw the line such that we sanction these relationships and not others. Well, Lisa Miller is right, sociologically speaking, that mores change. And I think one of the great brakes on mores absolutely falling into irrationality has been the institution of marriage. I think once you compromise that, then not only on biblical grounds, but just looking at that at the way the world works, just looking at the evidence of the natural world around us, you're really inviting chaos into civilization itself. It's going to be hard to prevent anything once you make marriage a malleable, plastic, liquid institution.

CONAN: Albert Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Also with us, Lisa Miller, the author of "Our Mutual Joy: Opponents of Gay Marriage Often Cite Scripture But What the Bible Teaches About Love Argues for the Other Side." That's in the current issue of the Newsweek magazine, where she's the religion editor. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

And here's an email from Jamie in Lake Oswego, New York - Lake Oswego, Oregon, excuse me. I take exception with your statement today that all religious voices are loudly on the right on gay marriage. I'm a priest in the Episcopal Church, recently graduated from seminary, and the majority of our scholars and leaders agree with your guest that the Bible does not provide a sound basis for opposition to civil recognition of committed, loving relationships between people of the same gender. Many of our members, including at least one bishop, are supported in their work of loving God and their neighbor by the love of another person of the same gender. The only law Jesus gave us is to love God with all our hearts, minds and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving my neighbor, I've come to believe, means wanting them to have equal rights with me. And Al Mohler, I guess that's to you.

Dr. MOHLER: Yeah. I would just point out that that's actually a misreading of Matthew. Jesus didn't say those were the only rules, so to speak, of discipleship. He said on those two commandments, all the law hangs. He said that those two are a summary, a distillation. And indeed, they are so powerfully a distillation of the law that we learn from Jesus to read the law through those commandments, such that we begin, first of all, the priority of love of God and then love of neighbor. That means, by the way, that if we really love God, then we're going to follow his way for our lives. And if we really love our neighbor, we're going to want what is best for them. And what is really going here is that conservative Christians and those who hold the biblical authority believe that what is best for them is to align their lives and their sexuality with God's plan.

By the way, I want to belong to a church - I wanted this to be very clear - I want to belong to a church that includes heterosexuals and homosexuals and robbers and thieves and liars and gossips and all the rest, because in the New Testament we are told - Paul says this beautifully - he lists a whole list of sins and he says do you not know - homosexuality among them by the way - do you not know that those who practice such things are deserving of death? And then he says, but such were some of you - such were, basically, all of you. In other words, we're all sinners and we're all in the church - the believing church of the Lord Jesus Christ because we were sinners who came to Christ by grace. But then we follow him in obedience. It's not then that we are then liberated just to be whoever we want to be. The essence of Christianity is that we now belong to Christ.

CONAN: Let's get one last caller in. Kate's with us, Kate with us from South Bend, Indiana.

KATE (Caller): Hi. Yes. I am an evangelical Protestant and I was just married. I'm 28 years old and I was just married this summer. And I remember as I was filling out all the forms for my marriage - I was married in the Christian Church by an evangelical pastor. And it was so clear to me that there is such a difference between going to the courthouse and filling out the forms to get married at the courthouse versus what being married in the Church meant to me in the sense that I was making a commitment before my friends and family and before God that this is a union that was different than the marriage that I was conducting by the state. So, I guess my question is, I really don't see - I would not attend a church perhaps that would sanction gay marriage. But I just don't really see why I should have an issue with the state allowing gay marriage or civil unions. And also, getting back to Lisa Miller's comment on the issue of divorce, I think that's done much more to destroy the institution of marriage - heterosexual divorce. I guess I sometimes wonder why there is this emphasis on gay marriages as being this thing that we have to care about above all other things when I think divorce is actually a much bigger problem. And I'll take my comments off the air.

CONAN: All right, Kate. Thanks very much. And Lisa Miller…

Ms. MILLER: Well, what you make me think of is some polling numbers on gay marriage and white evangelical Christians. And you find in the polling numbers that younger evangelicals are much more favorable toward gay marriage than their parents and especially their grandparents, that even in the white evangelical community, the conservative Christians that Dr. Mohler is talking about, there is this inching toward approval. So, in my mind, I think it's just a matter of history, it's just a matter of time. As Martin Luther King said, the arc of history is long but it's bent toward justice. And I think that in 10 or 20 years, this is not going to be an issue anymore.

CONAN: Well, thank you both for your time today. Been a fascinating a conversation. Lisa Miller, appreciate it.

Ms. MILLER: Happy to be here.

CONAN: Lisa Miller is the author of the cover essay of this week's Newsweek magazine, where she is religion editor. She joined us today from Carnegie Hall in New York.

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CONAN: And Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, joined us from a studio on the campus there in Louisville, Kentucky. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Dr. MOHLER: It's good to be with you, as always.

CONAN: Up next, President Bush ducked both of the shoes tossed at his head yesterday, but we suspect he got the message. We'll talk about the world of insults. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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