Dick Cheney's Third Term?
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 attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, political science professor Lester Spence and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette.
I may jump in here or there. But for now, take it away, Jimi.
Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey yo, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we living?
Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): Hey, hey, hey.
Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil-rights Attorney): Hey man, doing good.
Professor LESTER SPENCE (Johns Hopkins University): Nice to talk to you.
Mr. IZRAEL: Man, you know what? Former Vice President Dick Cheney won't go quietly and takes every opportunity he can to second-guess the president. Now, you know what? The visibility has been kind of good for homeboy's stock because 37 percent are digging on Cheney, up eight percent from when he stepped down back in January - this according to CNN. Yo, Michel, we got some tape, right?
MARTIN: Well, we've got - one of things I think is most on people's minds is that there were dueling speeches on national security yesterday. President Obama gave his, and actually interestingly enough, former Vice President Dick Cheney's was scheduled first. So we might have an argument about who's in whose face. As you know, former Vice President Cheney has taken it upon himself to defend the Bush administration's policies, particularly on the war on terror.
So President Obama, pushing back. We're going to hear first from President Obama, and he was talking at the National Archives in Washington. And then we'll go right into hearing Vice President Cheney, who spoke a couple of minutes later. Here it is.
President BARACK OBAMA: I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. As commander-in-chief, I see the intelligence, I bear the responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.
Vice President DICK CHENEY: In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists.
Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Yeah, Cheney's hard-core. Thanks for that, Michel. Now you know what? L-Spence, the good doctor, you know what? You'll never see me with a Cheney T-shirt on, but you know, I think his criticism is good for the country and good for the conversation because, you know, in the middle of the, you know, Obama love-fest - what do you think?
Prof. SPENCE: I think you're right, but it's important to note that Cheney's case is just really weak. I mean, there's absolutely no proof that torture works in keeping Americans safer - like none. Furthermore, Cheney's argument is cloaked, like, under the mantle of preventing another 9/11, but this is the key: The Bush administration had knowledge that terrorists were planning an attack against American populations before 9/11, information garnered using legitimate means, and they ignored it, right?
So Cheney's making a case for torture even though it doesn't work, and he's ignoring his own complicity in 9/11 in doing so. So I appreciate him bringing this speech up, but nobody's talking about that stuff. So that means that there's all this stuff that's uncovered that nobody's really dealing with.
Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train, you know, Cheney's really off on Gitmo. I wonder, too, if emptying out Gitmo really does put America at risk. That's your boy, Obama. What do you say?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well first of all, you know, whenever Darth Vader pops his head out of the Death Star, his numbers are going to jump a few points. And I'm talking the Rick Moranis "Spaceballs" Dark Vader here, not even the original one.
Mr. IZRAEL: Got it.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: But, you know, I mean, here - I think this whole Cheney debate, I think what's interesting is the fact that the Republican Party could find no one within its current elected leadership ranks like, you know, Bobby Don't-Call-Me-Kenneth-the-Page Jindal or any other of the, you know, water-carriers, that they had to resort to someone who's not even in office anymore, who has served his time. It's like having Spiro Agnew, you know, come out after he was, you know, shamed from office, and, you know, serving as the mouthpiece of the Republican Party.
MARTIN: Well, I don't know, is that fair? I mean, Dick Cheney wasn't shamed from office. They served their two terms. The Constitution said you can't get anymore. I mean, come one.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: He did shoot somebody in the face, though.
Prof. SPENCE: In Arsalan's world, it's shaming.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, when you lead us into a false…
Prof. SPENCE: Dick Cheney, popping in shame.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: …this and…
Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, Ruben, go ahead.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Listen, I want to start off with where Jimi started off, and that is in a democracy, it really does help with issues that are as incredibly important as this to hear both sides of the story.
If you ask the American people whether they believe that people who go to Guantanamo should have basic civil liberties and protections, they'll say yes. And if you ask them if they feel safer somehow having terror suspects offshore as opposed to within their own neighborhood, they'll say yes too. So we are ambivalent on these issues because these are tough ones.
These are really, really tough issues and so we ought to be able to hear both sides of these stories. I think - and I wrote this today in my column for cnn.com - I think that both of these speeches were good. I liked them. I found them both to be at times to be persuasive. I think both had various inaccuracies in them, but I liked the conversation. I give these guys, Cheney and Obama, much more credit than I give the folks in Congress, including people like Harry Reid, the Democratic leaders, who blindsided Obama by basically saying that, oh yeah, we are with you on closing Gitmo, but we don't want these prisoners on U.S. soil. And Obama's like, what's up with that, you know? I mean help me out. Is there a third option? Share it with me. So I think Democrats in Congress blindsided Obama by basically wanting to have it both ways. That's not leadership. What Cheney and Obama showed yesterday was leadership.
MARTIN: You know, can I just say one thing. The Washington Post makes the point that this is in fact the debate on national security that we should have had during the campaign and didn't.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.
MARTIN: And part of the reason that we didn't is that John McCain, the Republican nominee, agreed with Obama on some of these essential questions like closing Guantanamo and like these enhanced interrogation tactics. So I'm kind of curious now was where is he in this. As a loyal Republican, as a Republican, he is the Republican standard bearer, I mean the nominee in the last election generally is perceived in that role, so I'm curious whether he's going to come out now and participate in this conversation. So anyway…
Mr. NAVARRETTE: McCain is - this is Ruben - I think McCain is - basically he wants to close Guantanamo. He doesn't believe in torture, but at the same time he doesn't - he has not stood up to say that he would welcome these people, these terror suspects, into Arizona.
There are various people, I think, who get real squeamish when they have to go down to their local Rotary Club and say that they're going to have these folks. It's a silly debate, really. You have 240 people. You can put them in maximum security prisons. The idea somehow they're going to come into - their posse is going to break into Alabama to help break them out of prison, I mean, this is insane.
But this is what people in both parties are saying and that's why I think Obama deserves credit. Now, one thing Obama doesn't deserve credit for, I'll tell you right now, is he has trouble walking it like he talks it. His speech was so pretty, it was full of all these pretty words, but just a couple of days ago, Eric Holder…
MARTIN: And that's terrible, right? No pretty words allowed.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: None of us is in the pretty words business.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Let me see the action. Show me the action. And the actions show me that they're basically talking about locking people up and throwing away the key. He, Obama and Holder, okay, let me make the Arsalan civil rights intervention here…
Mr. IZRAEL: Uh-oh.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: …make the argument for civil rights here. They're basically talking about - they're basically talking about - they said, today's papers saying, ultimately, we will not let anybody go - we will not let anybody go if they are a threat to national security or a threat to the American people. That means either you're not going to try them or if you try them and they're acquitted you're not going to let them go. And so…
Mr. IZRAEL: What's up?
Prof. SPENCE: I'd like to add something…
Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, doctor.
Prof. SPENCE: I'd like to agree. So this - and this is the other part. So Obama's case is that we are a nation - we don't torture because doing so violates American values. But the thing is, if supporting American values also means the truth and reconciliation process that at least uncovers American violation of international American law. Right? So its like he's trying to - it is - he's doing - he's trying to split the middle and he's not going - this is where Cheney is right. You can't have, excuse my language, you can't half-ass this. If you're going to take a position, you have to go all the way.
MARTIN: Can I just - can I just ask one thing. I want to pick up on something that Ruben said, which is - it's intriguing to me - and I understand politically why members of Congress are squeamish about having these - but I do find it odd that they find American - do they really think our American penal and military system is incapable of policing these people? I mean are these people superhuman? They are removed by thousands of miles from their countrymen, they do not speak the national language. I just find it strange to think that these people - are these people superhuman now, that they somehow can defeat our entire police and military apparatus?
Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, Michel, to that point, I mean, the thing that troubles me about Obama, you know, I'm not all bushed up like that, but the thing that troubles me about Obama is that, you know, he has an idea but he has no long term plans; it's just - you know, again, you know, put these cats in the jail and throw away the key, whereas, you know, the Bush administration, they had plans but no big ideas.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: As long as we all have our light-sabers out, you know. We do have - you know, I do agree with Ruben in the sense that, you know, if we're going to keep military commissions but, you know, restore habeas corpus, you know, get rid of the hearsay evidence, all these sorts of things, to many people on the left and in the legal communities, you know, we do see a little bit of, you know, the hedging of legal bets, if you will.
MARTIN: I just need to jump in just briefly 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, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and Lester Spence. Back to you, Jimi.
Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks Michel, you know what? RNC Chair Michael Steele fiddles around as the Republican agenda roams. Now, you know what? He told a gathering that the era of apologizing for Republican mistakes of the past is now officially over. Now we will focus our energies on winning the future - this according to Associated Press. And I believe we even have some tape - is that right?
MARTIN: Yeah, but you just read it, so I don't know why we…
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: You read what he was going to say, so - he's the gift that keeps on giving, isn't he?
Mr. IZRAEL: He really is.
MARTIN: You love him so much.
Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, L. Spence…
Prof. SPENCE: He's getting better, come on now. At least he's not doing his impersonations…
Mr. IZRAEL: I have been waiting for you (unintelligible) how can Steele repair his reputation, bro? What's up with that?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: (unintelligible) problem is not a branding problem, right? I mean so…
Mr. IZRAEL: Really?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: He's like a dead man walking, but in a certain way he like perfectly represents the Republican Party, like where they are, right? I mean they reveal - just like he showed himself to be uniquely incapable of running the Republican Party, the Republican Party itself has revealed themselves to be uniquely incapable of governing. Right? They've bankrupted the American economy, neglected American infrastructure, and they've ignored American values, right?
The solution to foreign policy - torture; to infrastructure issues it's the equivalent of bake sales; to the American economy, tax cuts. I mean you can't fix this stuff by turning to hip-hop, by making the party younger and more hip. Americans just don't roll like that no more.
MARTIN: I'm sorry, we need to get Lester to come out of his shell at some point to share his views. Really tell them how you really feel, Lester.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NAVARRETTE: This is Ruben chiming in. I think - I think - and I criticized Steele a few weeks ago and I think I'll stand by that. When he was sort of getting his sea legs he was doing this whole urban rap business and trying to, I think, you know, be more black than that, and I think that that ultimately rang hollow to a lot of folks. He also did all these TV interviews with everybody who would ask and he just wasn't very good. But I think if he is -lately I've been listening to him. He's hosting a popular radio talk show host - radio talk show as a guest host, and I think that…
Mr. IZRAEL: Is that a mix tape show?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: No. No. I think he can get his message out, but he just has to be himself and speak from the heart. There's obviously something about the Republican Party that he finds appealing. Now, I do think that sometimes the Obama administration is a willing target and an easy target for Michael Steele by doing things like trying to take over GM and other things, and I think it would make it harder on Steele to sell his goods if Obama just sort of stuck to the program and didn't go off in these different directions and make it easy on him to be attacked.
Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, yeah, you know what, Ruben, yeah, I mean he was really early on trying to sell that, you know, I'm the Republican Obama deal upfront. You know what - if you were the boss, if you were the boss of Steele, what would you tell him to do right about now, if you were his boss? He'd listen to you.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Listen, man, I'd tell him to just forget about this…
Mr. IZRAEL: Just chill out, bro.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: …urban appeal thing. Just speak from the heart and tell me why you're a Republican. I mean this can't be simply because - you know, there's some people that think that Colin Powell is a Republican because it served his career. He's not really a Republican underneath the surface. But if Steele really believes it, and it seems like he believes it, then you know, just speak to that, but don't try to out-Obama Obama. Don't go down that road. Just be yourself.
Mr. IZRAEL: A-train?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I think, you know, it serves right to the heart of the whole sort of Republican Party identity crisis - you know, Steele is looking for a heartbeat, a soul, identity for the Republican Party and they're just not able to, you know, get their hands around it at this time.
MARTIN: I think he is speaking his heart. I do. I think he is speaking his heart (unintelligible) I really do think he believes in the core Republican values as they are currently - you know, sort of a free enterprise in business, and he is a social conservative, and he does believe in outreach.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: I'm talking about finding the collective Republican voice, the collective Republican heartbeat, if you will.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, it's about responsibility, it's about personal responsibility, about accountability, but they always go off on these fool's errands with regard to things like gay marriage and abortion.
MARTIN: Or renaming the party, the Democratic Party.
Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, let's keep it in motion. Speaking of people who need to take accountability, you know what, Mike Vick looking for a job, convicted dog fighter out of jail looking for work.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Convicted dog fighter.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: And he will find work.
MARTIN: You know I'm out of this one, right? Everybody knows this. For those who don't know this, you know my husband is one of his attorneys, so I won't be participating in this conversation, but carry on.
Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, it's bad enough that the style of the game has changed since he's been for - what - he was doing a deuce, right? He was doing like two, something like that? His numbers were waning even when he went in the joint, so now he's out looking for work and, you know, it's the middle of a recession son. Nobody's hiring. A-train, what's he gonna do?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Let us not forget, ladies and gentlemen, that Michael Vick was on the cover of Madden 2004. This guy, when he came out of…
Mr. IZRAEL: A video game.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: A video game, the video, the football video game. You know, we have knuckleheads like, you know, Adam not much smarter then Pacman Jones and Plaxico Cheddar-Bob(ph) Burress, you know, having, you know, weapons bans and things like that. This guy, Michael Vick, this is - like Adam Sandler, this is going to be his longest guard back, but some reports are that the Oakland Raiders are interested. How gangster would a black Michael Vick number seven jersey be?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh, that would be gangster.
Mr. IZRAEL: It would be gangster if he could tighten up his short game. Yo, Ruben.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: My Raiders, baby, that's the least shocking part of this story right now. They'll take these folks. They got a rap sheet a mile long in some of these cases.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Those are my boys up in Oakland, those are my boys.
MARTIN: What's (unintelligible)
Mr. IFTIKHAR: No. Not at all. No, no.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's part of the charm.
Mr. IZRAEL: I mean it isn't just that he was in the joint, y'all. I mean nobody's throwing the long ball anymore. His short game is always leaking. You know, so I mean we're not just talking about him being in the joint, we're talking about diminished skills.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Dude, he's bionic.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's a natural quality here. Listen, if you're going be successful in the NFL, it's such a public property, you're going to have to not just throw the ball well and be good on the field, but you got to have a marketable persona off the field, and what he has done here is hurt that. You know, there are a lot of other very accomplished black athletes, and athletes in general, who have protected their brand and have behaved well off field, but this is something, I think, that is going to continue to haunt him. It's not going to be something that he can get away from, no matter how many, you know, PSAs he takes for the Humane Society or Alpo commercials he does or whatever.
Prof. SPENCE: We've forgotten - I'm sorry, this is Lester. Ray Lewis is a star in Baltimore, but in I think it was 2000, he was facing like homicide charges, right? Vice President Cheney shot somebody…
Mr. IFTIKHAR: He didn't kill a dog though, that's the difference.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: Hold on a sec. L. Spence, I gotta hike the ball to Michel. Back to you.
MARTIN: Thank you. I was getting worried there. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com and TV One Online. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Lester Spence is a professor of political science at John Hopkins University. He joined us from WEAA in Baltimore. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of the Muslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney and he joined us in our Washington D.C. bureau. Gentlemen, thank you so much.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.
Prof. SPENCE: Thank you.
Mr. IZRAEL: Yup yup.
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