'Shop Talk': What Does Michael Steele Bring To The GOP? In this week's installment of The Barbershop, host Michel Martin and the guys discuss Michael Steele's bid for re-election as Republican party leader, the waning of NFL star Brett Favre's fortunes and name their 'Person of the Year'. Weighing in on the discussion are author Jimi Izrael, columnist Ruben Navarrette, sports editor Dave Zirin and Republican Strategist Ron Christie.
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'Shop Talk': What Does Michael Steele Bring To The GOP?

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'Shop Talk': What Does Michael Steele Bring To The GOP?

'Shop Talk': What Does Michael Steele Bring To The GOP?

'Shop Talk': What Does Michael Steele Bring To The GOP?

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In this week's installment of The Barbershop, host Michel Martin and the guys discuss Michael Steele's bid for re-election as Republican party leader, the waning of NFL star Brett Favre's fortunes and name their 'Person of the Year'. Weighing in on the discussion are author Jimi Izrael, columnist Ruben Navarrette, sports editor Dave Zirin and Republican Strategist Ron Christie.


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 shapeup this week are author and blogger Jimi Izrael, columnist Ruben Navarrette, Republican strategist Ron Christie and sports editor from the magazine The Nation, Dave Zirin. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Author, Blogger): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas. How are we doin'? Welcome to the shop.

Mr. DAVE ZIRIN (Sports Editor, The Nation): Good day, gentlemen, Michel.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Hey, man, how are you doing?

Mr. RON CHRISTIE (Republican Strategist): Ah, yes.

Mr. IZRAEL: OK. Well

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHRISTIE: A little bit of everything there.

MARTIN: That's right.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Potpourri.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Well, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele gave many in the GOP a gift they maybe didn't want. And that gift was more Michael Steele. And after staying relatively low key since the November elections, on Monday, he emerged to announce he's running again for reelection, Michel.

MARTIN: And it's - the conversation why this has been so interesting, because you would not think that after the election, the midterm election's success that the party had, that there would be all this grinching, but there is. And that's something that Michael Steele talked about. He talked to Fox News, of course, on Monday, about why is it - why are people on his tail so much. And here it is. Here's what he had to say.

Mr. MICHAEL STEELE (Chairman, Republican National Committee): If we had not won the seats we won, some 64 seats in the House, 21 state legislatures that flipped from Democrat to Republican, yeah, then certainly that would rest at my doorstep because we hadn't put the appropriate mechanisms in place to win, or raise the money to win.

In the '09, 2010 cycle, we raised $179 million. A lot of that was small dollar donations because that's the new political playground for committee parties. And we've got to be able to adapt to that and we did.

MARTIN: Mike Stizzle double dizzle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: He's on the street level.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Michel.

MARTIN: OK, but in fairness, but he does make the point that - well, the critics are making the point that if somebody else had been a chair, they could've raised more money and won more seats. And I'm always fascinated, like, how you prove a negative. I just don't get that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. If ifs were fifths, we'd all be drunk, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: So the elections in mid-January, there isn't a whole lot of time for Steele to drum up support, which he clearly doesn't have. Is it a wise idea for him to buck the party again and seek reelection? Ruben, get it.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yo. Yo. You know, Michael Steele's tenure has taken such a weird series of twists over time. I mean, at the very beginning in a very cynical way, as we have said many, many times on this show, it cannot be denied that one of the main reasons Republicans elected Michael Steele in the beginning was because it thought - they thought it would be cool to have a black chairman heading the RNC. Yes, when you have a black president

Mr. CHRISTIE: It's a colorblind party. How can you say that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yes, I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's a very color - it's a color conscious colorblindness, though. And so this idea somehow, this would inoculate different charges of racism by having a black person heading the RNC. But over time, something weird happened, he actually took that job seriously in terms of trying to reach out to other constituencies that make Republicans uneasy - other Latinos, African-Americans and the like.

And I think Republicans began to think, well, what are we getting for our gesture here? This is not going to be just a figurehead. This is going to be somebody who actually, you know, tries to bring different people into the party.

Mr. CHRISTIE: I'm sorry, but did you say gesture or jester?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And then there are going to be all these other kind of things that happen later, in lapses in judgment that Steele deserves to be faulted for. So it's been, I think, a very mixed bag for Republicans. But I just don't think that it would serve the RNC, you know, interests, to replace him with somebody who is just a bland figure that doesn't take seriously the idea that the RNC and the Republican Party needs to change and greet these enormous demographic changes that are coming. So, Steele may not have been the guy, but I know something else. I know that pretty much every RNC chairman before Steele has also not been the guy.

MARTIN: Interesting.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hmm. All right.

MARTIN: What does Ron think?

Mr. CHRISTIE: I couldn't disagree more. I think that Michael Steele started the year - we wanted a very telegenic, a very articulate, a very forceful chairman out there to counterbalance the euphoria over President Obama. And I say painful, because I've been friends with Michael Steele now for, gosh, about 15 years. But I think his tenure in office has been marked by many self-inflicted wounds, from paying for some bondage club in L.A. to not raising money.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's always bad.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Yeah. And bondage is always bad. And I just

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, stizzle, y'all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHRISTIE: I think he needs to go. I think the discussion has been all about Michael Steele. The Republican National Committee is nearly $15 million in debt. After all the victories that we had really accomplished in November, why are we in debt?

We need a chairman who is going to stay out of the limelight and who's going to raise money and do what a party chairman should do. It's time for Michael Steele to hop along partner, and move along and let somebody else take the reins of the party.

MARTIN: Ron, do you mind if I ask you though, is it personally painful for you to say that? I mean you seem OK. But is it...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ... but is it personally painful for you?

Mr. CHRISTIE: It is.

Mr. ZIRIN: No he seems tortured.

MARTIN: Because he is a friend of yours and because he is an historic figure.

Mr. CHRISTIE: It is very...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Et tu, Ron.

Mr. CHRISTIE: It's very painful for me because I like this guy. I've known him since he was running the party in Maryland and frankly, before that when he was running the party in Prince George's County in Maryland, and I like the guy. But you have to judge leaders based on their competence and their ability to generate those to follow them and I don't think he's generated much momentum behind him. And it hurts me but he needs to go.

Mr. ZIRIN: Look, you just, I think you just heard...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Dave.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah. I mean Michael Steele, and you could - I sort of parse and translate what Ron said, he's outlived his usefulness to the party. In 1984, the Republican National Convention was actually more diverse than it was in 2008 statistically. It's become more white and older between '84 and 2008. So the idea that Michael Steele was put forward as a cynical maneuver to counter the image of the Republican Party as an aging demographic dinosaur, to me seems pretty obvious and pretty savvy.

But the fact is, is now that the Republicans are back in power and after they've used Michael Steele as window dressing for two years of very racially sharp attacks on Obama's heritage, birth and all the rest of it, now that they've done that, now that he's outlived his usefulness, hey, time to find Katon Dawson or some other good ole boy.

MARTIN: But...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But the problem with that - this is Ruben again - the problem with that is it takes basically all the responsibility off of Steele's shoulders. And the main criticism I think they had about Steele is that when you're the RNC chairman you got to make it all about the party and not about yourself. And there have been times when Michael Steele, when he goes on tour, I mean he's going to have a great afterlife whenever he leaves this office because he wants to go off and give speeches and write books and do everything else. He thinks he's the candidate. Michael Steele thinks he's the guy. He's forgotten about the party. It's all become about Michael Steele. That is a fair criticism.

MARTIN: That's true.

Mr. ZIRIN: The other thing...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's how he blew it. That's how he blew it.

Mr. ZIRIN: That's true. It's also his, you know, he won because...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Dave.

Mr. ZIRIN: ...of Guam and the Marinaras(ph) Islands and that's he - I mean really, if you look back at the actual election when he won, he just cleaned up in all the places that don't actually vote. So he was, I would argue, he was never actually the choice of Republican power in the country itself.

MARTIN: But that's the electoral college system. I mean by that standard, you know...

Mr. ZIRIN: But the Marinaras Islands.

MARTIN: Mariana Islands.

Mr. ZIRIN: Mariana Islands.

MARTIN: Mariana. Well, OK. But when you talk about cynically pushing him aside though, I mean, why couldn't the previous chairman, Mike Duncan, the same argument? I mean here's a guy who was a good business person, who ran a tight ship financially and did want to run for reelection. And when the party decided that Michael Steele was a better candidate for the times, if you could say because there was an African-American president...

Mr. ZIRIN: Sure.

MARTIN: ...they say bye-bye, Mike. So, and, so he was a nice guy too. So what's the difference?

Mr. CHRISTIE: Let me touch on that, Michel. It's Ron again.

MARTIN: Go ahead.

Mr. CHRISTIE: It's not just that Michael Steele was black. I mean really, really don't like folks saying oh, the Republicans were cynical, they were going to put their black guy out. I don't think that's true. We needed at that point, when Barack Obama was first coming into the office of the presidency, we needed somebody who could match his charisma and match his eloquence and that was Michael Steele. The fact that he also happened to be of color I think is a bonus.

But to suggest that Republicans have been attacking the president for his race and racially insensitive attacks - name one. There have been a couple of nut jobs out there, but I can't think of one member of the Republican leadership in the House or the Senate who has attacked this president based on his race. I can't think of one.

Mr. ZIRIN: I'm shocked that there is gambling going on in this casino.

MARTIN: Well, Dave, answer the question. Or I mean is there one in the Republican...

Mr. ZIRIN: Sure.

MARTIN: Name one.

Mr. ZIRIN: Well, here's the thing, it's that what you've seen first of all, is Fox News adopt a 50-state Southern strategy over the last two years. And the degree to which the number first of all of the Republican Party candidates who are running in 2012 are actually employed by Fox News, I mean it's no secret that Fox News and the Republican Party have an inter - I mean they basically have strategy sessions together. I mean we've seen this time and again.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Except that - Dave, but wait a second.

Mr. CHRISTIE: I have to take issue with that.

Mr. ZIRIN: So the a problem is the amount of people employed by Fox News who are leaders in the Republican Party and the amount that Fox News has played, and we could go chapter and verse on this, played racial politics over the last two years.

MARTIN: Well, that's an interesting point. I'm going to let Ron answer this question and then we're going to move on. But his point is that basically the race-baiting has been delegated to an out - to outsource, so I mean answer that, Ron.

Mr. CHRISTIE: But again, it's absurd. I mean for Dave, for being a member of a congressional staff and for being a part of the White House for most of my professional career, I can never remember any synergy with Fox News or talking points. So this - there's a firewall that exists there, and for one who's actually been there, I don't know how you can make the comment that oh, that they are in collusion and you never answered my question.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You're kidding, right? Ron?

Mr. CHRISTIE: Of course, I'm not kidding. You never answered my question.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Two words, Ron. Ron, two words, Tony Snow. Tony Snow. The fact that...

Mr. CHRISTIE: Tony Snow.

MARTIN: Who is - Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You could have somebody go from being a host on Fox News to being White House Press Secretary. Ron, wake up.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Oh, OK. So, Jay Carney leaving Time Magazine going to be the communications director for Joe Biden...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, no, that doesn't disprove what I said.

Mr. CHRISTIE: No, but wait, my question was - my question...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You made a ridiculous statement. You made a ridiculous - you went on...

Mr. IZRAEL: OK. Hold on. Hold on.

Mr. CHRISTIE: My question was never answered. Dave, my question was never answered.

Mr. ZIRIN: Firewall. That is it.

Mr. CHRISTIE: You said...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Ron, you...


Mr. NAVARRETTE: Firewall?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHRISTIE: Excuse me, you never answered my question. I said name one person.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You overplayed your hand, Ron. Ron, you can say...

MARTIN: Wait. Wait. Wait. Stop. Stop. This has to stop.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Excuse me.

MARTIN: It has to stop.

Mr. CHRISTIE: I said name one person...


Mr. CHRISTIE: ...in the Republican Party who has made a racially-tinged attack against President Obama and you come out with Fox News.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'd liked to name one. I'd liked to name one.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But first I wanted to correct the ridiculous idea there's a firewall between Fox News and the White House or in the Republican apparatus. The one person I would name is that it was really irresponsible for a presidential prospect, Newt Gingrich, to take a line from Dinesh D'Souza and suggest that President Obama had an African way of thinking.

Mr. ZIRIN: It was a Kenyan anti-colonial world view. Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Kenyan. Yeah. I think that was a bad look for Newt. I think that was not something he should have done. Newt is not on the outer fringe. He is somebody who is seriously being thought of as a perspective for 2012, and there is probably my best example of someone who dabbles in this stuff. I don't think it makes Newt a bad person but I think that those - that kind of rhetoric, this Kenyan-mentality rhetoric colonial stuff really insights the base and I think that's what some people in the GOP...

Mr. ZIRIN: Sarah Palin talking about the difference between Americans and real Americans. Sarah Palin writing in her book about Michelle Obama has a distrust of white people after years of listening to Jeremiah Wright. Sarah Palin coming out publicly and saying she wished they'd stoked the Jeremiah Wright fires more in the 2008 campaign. I mean so much of this is loaded in politics and in race.

MARTIN: I'm going to let - I'm been ask Ron to give one final thought, then we're going to move on this, not because this is not an interesting topic, but there are other things we could talk about too. Ron, final thought on that?

Mr. CHRISTIE: I think it's interesting that President Obama came to office with the media very much giving a pass on his, what I would call, controversial background: his drug use, his association with Jeremiah Wright. Those are facts. And the fact of the matter is now, when after people having seen him in office after two years, question some of his associations, somehow they are being branded as racist?

I think the media frankly, fell down on the job of truly examining who is going to be the most important person in the world, and it doesn't matter what the color of their skin is. It matters what's the content of their character and the associations that they've had over a lifetime in politics.

MARTIN: Jimi, you haven't had anything to say about this. So, is there something you want to add to this before we move on?

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, I like a contrarian. You know, I always like a guy that wants to flout convention, so I think Michael Steele, yeah, I think that's him. So, yeah, come on, come on, bro. Bring it on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean I...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: The more the merrier.

MARTIN: I think there's more to say about all of this issues. I mean, I don't remember the media making a lot of conversation about George W. Bush's multiple - and Dick Cheney's, for that matter - multiple, you know, problems with alcohol. So there's that. But, you know, but you're - but, hey, that's why we have the whole group here.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Oh, so, but the media also had the Dan Rather case where they tried to frankly, derail his reelection...

MARTIN: I don't know if that's the media or is that Dan Rather. I mean I don't know, was there a committee? You want to talk about a firewall, I was never invited to that meeting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But, there you go. That's why we have a whole - that's why we have a group of people.

If you're just joining us, we're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. It's a spicy one this week. And we're with author, Jimi Izrael...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Ruben Navarrette, sports editor Dave Zirin and Republican strategist Ron Christie.

OK. Back to you Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. This is like holiday dinner, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's a warm-up, baby.

Mr. IZRAEL: I know, right? Let's move on and talk about a little sports right now. Minnesota Viking quarterback Brett Favre is back in the news. And no, it's not because of the sexting scandal, thank goodness, not because he's waffling about retirement. On Monday night, Favre's legendary consecutive games-played streak came to an end. He started 320 straight, including the playoffs, Michel.

MARTIN: If you include the playoffs. So that's 297 straight regular season games. Started the streak back September of 1992. Well, you know what? People know all that.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Remarkable.

MARTIN: You want to hear him talk about this for just one - just one minute. He's talking on Monday night about the streak coming to an end. Here it is.

Mr. IZRAEL: Drop it.

Mr. BRETT FAVRE (NFL football player): Whether it ended today, several weeks, end of last season, it's been a great run. Great run. So, I'm very proud of it. It's a very difficult thing to do. I realize that more so now. Pretty amazing that God has blessed me, no doubt, with the ability to play at that high level and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. He sounds like he's in pain. Thanks for that, Michel.

MARTIN: It does sound like he's in pain.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Class act.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: Do you think - so, Jimi, what - well, I know, Jimi, you don't care. I'm going to ask, Dave.

Mr. IZRAEL: Of course, I care. But, go ahead. Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: I am the Brett Favre partisan in this crew.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: This isn't basketball.

MARTIN: Is this the end of the end you think?

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah. This, I think this is the end the end. I would be shocked to see Bret Favre come back next year in any kind of a uniform. And you know what, 297 in the NFL at the quarterback position, people should look up online. Just do a Google search of the amount of quarterbacks the Chicago Bears alone have had since 1992. It's a remarkable feat.

But I'll tell you something else, as remarkable as it is, there's a gentleman named Peyton Manning whose got a streak going on his own. I believe it's up to about 175 or so. So the idea that it could be broken is not inconceivable. When you look at baseball with Cal Ripken, I don't think that's ever being broken.

MARTIN: Well, before we...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Still, that's a long way.

MARTIN: It is a long way.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's a long way for, yeah, to go from Manning to - I mean that's up, another 100 games, right? Another...

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Yeah, it is. It's - I don't know. It's amazing.

Mr. ZIRIN: Eight years.

MARTIN: For whatever else has happened in his life that is amazing.

Mr. ZIRIN: Seven years. Yeah.

MARTIN: Before we let everybody go, I wanted to highlight that Time Magazine announced its person of the year this week. And I did want to ask everybody else what their choice would be. Among their list of finalists was Julian Assange, Glenn Beck, the Chilean miners. But they ended up with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. So I just wanted to ask you guys what you think. Dave was going like, blah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Who was your pick?

Mr. ZIRIN: Wow. My pick actually is DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFL Players Association because, first of all, the NFL is the closest thing to a national pastime we have in this country and DeMaurice Smith is facing a lockout at the end of this year and he's waging a public battle to make the case that NFL football players deserve sympathy from working people. And that is a tough sell and I think he's doing a great job of it.

MARTIN: Ron Christie?

Mr. CHRISTIE: I've thought about this quite a bit, and I actually think the person of year is the tea party voter. I think that a year ago...


Mr. CHRISTIE: ...you never would have seen people rise up to the level that they did and over the summer, and frankly, to change the course of power in American politics. So I have to say it's the tea party voter.

MARTIN: Ruben, what about you?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Brace yourself. I'm going to agree with Ron. It's the tea party voter.

MARTIN: Oh, my goodness.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And for the following reasons - for the following reasons, part of is the direction...

MARTIN: We don't have time. That's OK. I'm sorry, we don't have time. We just have to hear from Jimi. I'm sorry guys.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...for Republicans. Yeah.

MARTIN: All right. Jimi?

Mr. IZRAEL: LeBron James or Antoine Dodson. Take your pick. Run and tell that, homeboy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Good choice. Good choice.

MARTIN: OK. OK. Well, happy holidays everybody.

Jimi Izrael is the author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group and CNN.com. He was with us from San Diego. Ron Christie is a Republican strategist and author most recently of "Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur." He was with us from New York. Dave Zirin is a sports editor for The Nation and is the author of "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love." He was here with me in Washington.

Gentlemen, thanks so much.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Take care.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. ZIRIN: Happy holidays.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

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