Southern GOP Activist Likens First Lady To An Ape
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, fellows, how we doing? Welcome to the shop.
Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil-rights Attorney): Hey, hey, hey.
Mr. LESTER SPENCE (Political Science Professor): Hey.
Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): Good man, great.
Mr. IZRAEL: All right, well you know you? Over in Iran, the incumbent independent conservative party declares a win for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but supporters of his reformist rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, are like what you talking about, Willis? You know what, A-Train? A lot of people want Mousavi in there because he used to be the prime minister. He was the prime minister from '81 to '89. So people really want him in that seat, but it's really hard to get a read on what's happening over there.
You know what? We have some tape on you giving a read on CNN. Is that right, Michel?
MARTIN: Yeah, Arsalan has been very much heard on this issue recently, as you might expect, given his expertise in that region. Here it is. Here's a short clip.
(Soundbite of television program)
Mr. IFTKHAR: You know, we want to make sure that this does not turn into Iran's version of Tiananmen Square in 1989, with prolonged protests. And we want to make sure we have international observers. I think we need to push for a Security Council resolution where either the EU or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe send international observers to either certify the vote or do a re-vote.
MARTIN: I want to know is who's this we? Who is this we that's supposed to exercise this leverage?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: It's called the international community, and I think, you know, in Iran, Gil Scott-Heron once said the revolution will not be televised, and I think that's a lot of the problem that we are starting to see is the fact that mainstream, global journalism entities like the BBC for example - the BBC Persian service, both their television and radio were being jammed by satellites from within Iran.
So a lot of the velvet revolutionary stuff that we're starting to see is coming from social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, what that also lends credit to is a lot of false propaganda, actually.
I mean, I've seen so many sort of, quote-unquote, "internal, unreleased memos" saying that Mousavi won, showing the results that Ahmadinejad won. One of the most interesting facts to me is, and I think this is one of the main reasons that the protests have last lasted so long, is that it's not only the supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi who are taking to the streets. It's former president Mohammad Khatami, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who all support the protestors also. And I think the Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei really, really did a disservice to the Iranian people when he decided one day after the election to call the results when, in Iran, they have paper balloting, and everything is counted by hand.
So there is no way that 40-million votes, 85-percent voter turnout, could be counted in less than 24 hours.
Mr. IZRAEL: You know, that's interesting that you mention the ballots because Mousavi says that over 14-million unused votes are missing, this according to CNN. And yeah, I mean, that strikes me weird. Lester, how can we really know what's going on over there?
Mr. SPENCE: We can't. But a lot of people use Twitter and Facebook just to communicate, just to talk about their day. I think this is the first example, really, where people are really using and emphasizing its revolutionary potential, right? So you look at Flickr, which is a Web site that photographers like myself use to put their pictures up, and you just do a keyword search on Iran, and all these pictures are coming up of people who are protesting. And what's interesting is, in the American context, people are Photoshopping the pictures so instead of Arabic language on their placards, the placards all say where's their vote? And that communicates to the American viewer exactly what people are protesting on. And then in Twitter, people are giving 140-character sentences about how they help participate, even here in the States.
MARTIN: But that does raise the same question that Arsalan was raising earlier was because these pictures are being Photoshopped, there's an authenticity and credibility question.
Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, can a re-vote even happen?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Re-votes don't happen. They didn't happen in Florida, they can't happen now because, you know, you can't like un-ring the bell. I mean, an election is a snapshot of what happened at that particular moment. The votes change from day to day.
Now if you have a re-vote, you'll have a different outcome than you had before. So it's never really going to be a pure exercise. My thing is, now in Tehran, you have people who are really showing up to protest in a way that most Americans can't appreciate. Our idea of protest is, you know, when moveon.org goes out and protests against Bush or when, you know, the right-wingers go off and protest against Obama, or they go gather in the mall, then they go out and have brunch later.
In Iran, people are protesting behind a curtain against somebody who will cut their head off as sure as look at that them. And that is an incredible, courageous, inspiring thing to see. I am filled with awe and pride at seeing that and we all should be. Here back in Washington, you have a weak and feckless response by the president of the United States, okay? Like Arsalan says, I'm about to open up my Hater Raid, baby.
(Soundbite of overlapping voices)
NAVARRETTE: ...Obama elixir, okay? I think that this is an incredibly momentous time for the president and for the United States. If we can't stand up for the little guy like it says that we should in our brochure, and the president says, what, I don't want to meddle in the outcome of this election, I mean this is insane.
MARTIN: What exactly should he say?
IZRAEL: What would you have him do?
MARTIN: What should he say?
IZRAEL: What would you have him do, Ruben?
MARTIN: What exactly should he be doing?
NAVARRETTE: All I - here's what I want him to do. All I want the president to do is to say definitively we are on the side of freedom. We've gone in this country from Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall, to Obama saying, I'm deeply concerned. You know, be a grown-up man. You want to be the president? Be the president.
IZRAEL: Okay. All right.
MARTIN: Arsalan has something to say.
IZRAEL: Yeah, go ahead A-Train.
IFTIKHAR: Well, first of all, you know Ruben's suck up elixir was only reserved for George W. Bush and...
(Soundbite of laughter)
IZRAEL: That's what I thought he was going to say.
IFTIKHAR: I had to start out like. Now, Ruben does bring up some very fair points. You know, the problem comes in terms of polling and statistics. The fatal flaw that I think that the Khomeini regime made in Iran was the fact that they announced a winner in less than one day. Whether or not - I mean Ahmadinejad might really get 63.2 percent of the certified vote, we don't know that. But the fatal flaw here was the supreme leader of Iran declaring victory and misjudging the mood of the protestors on the ground.
MARTIN: And as evidence by the fact that guardian council is now meeting with the opposition this weekend after...
MARTIN: We have to jump in right here just to say, if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette, and Lester Spence in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Speaking of Twitter and Facebook and public opinion, and getting caught out there, GOP activist Rusty DePass apologizes for implying that First Lady Michelle Obama was related to an escaped gorilla. And a state Senate aide is reprimanded for sending out an offensive Obama email. Dr. Spence, tell me, are we post-racial yet?
(Soundbite of laughter)
IZRAEL: Are we having fun yet?
SPENCE: No, not quite yet. And the thing is, I was talking to a friend of mine about this last night, asking me about what the GOP should do and why the GOP is crashing and dying as it were, reverting in a lot of cases to implicit racial language against Obama. And what they have to deal with is the fact that the nation is becoming more and more non-white while they remain white, and in a lot of cases rural, and there's a lot of anger and frustration that political officials and political appointees have to somehow manage. And in managing that, they're usually siding with the side of the racist right as opposed to actually moderating that in a way that can lead them to become a more palatable choice for American voters.
IZRAEL: You know what? It just seems that there's a different set of rules for going at the Obamas than there was going at Bush. Because you know, Bush, George W. was frequently compared to monkeys. I mean like...
MARTIN: I don't recall anyone comparing him to a gorilla.
SPENCE: Like when?
MARTIN: Or specifically, I don't recall Laura Bush being derided in this way.
IZRAEL: To your point. But it just seems like there are different rules for the Obamas and when we criticize them, and I get that to some degree because…
MARTIN: Maybe because it means something different when you call a black person a gorilla than it does if you call a white person one.
SPENCE: Correct. Absolutely.
MARTIN: Perhaps the history of this country would indicate that there's a different context.
MARTIN: Might that be the case?
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, when South Carolina GOP activist Rusty DePass on his Facebook said, you know, said I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors, probably harmless, about (unintelligible) South Carolina gorilla who escaped, I wonder if he would go up to the head of the RNC, Michael Steele and say the same thing. I'm sure it was just one of Michael's ancestors, probably harmless. I think that that would be an interesting litmus test to use here to see whether or not there was any sort of a racialism involved.
MARTIN: You know, he did - he wrote Mrs. Obama, Rusty DePass did, a very clear letter of apology immediately when this issue became public.
MARTIN: And of course, people can argue about, well, if he hadn't gotten caught would he have written the letter?
MARTIN: You know, okay, we can argue about...
MARTIN: ...but I just found it really interesting that he immediately apologized in a very clear, unambiguous way instead of this usual if I offended anybody, then I'm sorry, none of that.
MARTIN: But whereas, in Tennessee, the aide to the state senator who sent this email on a state computer, by the way, received a written reprimand and the usual conditional - well, if I offended anybody, then I'm sorry, and - I sent this to wrong people.
NAVARRETTE: Yes. This is Ruben.
MARTIN: What's going on? Mm-hmm.
NAVARRETTE: Let me say. Absolutely. I mean both this Tennessee thing, you know, to clarify this was. This was a calendar. This was a portrait of all the various presidents, and then when you got to, after you got off the Bush picture, you went over to where the Obama picture should be, right, president 44, you end up with this black screen and two white eyes. And it is offensive, it is racist, and it is sad. I mean I don't feel mad anymore when I see this stuff. I just feel sad.
NAVARRETTE: Because I think what you have here is a party that is flailing around in the wind and you have a mostly white party, mostly rural party, and instead of sort of, you know, trying to rectify that, they go down that dirt road and they just sort of start making fun of Obama, making fun of Sonia Sotomayor, the nominee for the Supreme Court, all this stuff, and basically just sort of conceding that they're never going to improve their current lot. It's just really sad. It's sad.
IZRAEL: You know what? Not for nothing, it's worth mentioning, DePass says his comment was in reference to Michelle Obama, what he thought was Michelle Obama's comments about...
NAVARRETTE: About evolution.
IZRAEL: ...evolution. But, you know...
NAVARRETTE: Because nobody does that, Jimi. Nobody supports evolution. Yeah.
IZRAEL: I got, you know look, look, I got the Internet and I Googled and I found no such comment. Although President Obama is on record supporting evolution in the schools.
IFTIKHAR: Well, Jimi...
IFTIKHAR: And I think, you know, another, a point that Michel brought up that was really quite telling was the Tennessee Senate aide, her name is Sherri Goforth, instead of, you know, apologizing like Rusty DePass did, she said that she sent it to, quote, "the wrong list of people." And right away I thought, wait, what does that mean? You sent it to people who aren't racist like you or wouldn't snitch on you for doing that?
SPENCE: So these are the numbers. Forty percent of Americans under 17 are non-white, right? That number is going to increase. By 2030 we're going to live in a majority non-white nation, right? This is - what the GOP is dealing with are actually the consequences of racial segregation for whites, right? So if whites in rural areas weren't just living with other whites, they'd have to wrestle with diversity and the people who seek to represent them politically would have to somehow deal with diversity.
But you don't have to deal with that. They get their news from Fox. They get their radio from Rush. They're in this box, right? And all they're doing in that box is just talking to each other and they're reproducing and making that racist language even louder.
IZRAEL: All right. Well, onto the world of sports. Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers take the NBA finals.
IZRAEL: And Kobe finally proves he did not need former teammate Shaquille O'Neal to win a championship. We got some tape, right, Michel?
MARTIN: We do. We do. It's not like we did not hear from Kobe over the course of the week, but here it is. If you want to savor the moment.
(Soundbite of tape)
Mr. KOBE BRYANT (LA Lakers): You know, we have a young team, you know, a team that has a lot of chemistry, and we're all hungry. You know, we feel this championship, we feel the energy of the city, we want to do this thing again and again. So, you know, we'll be back next year ready to go.
MARTIN: And that was Kobe Bryant at a post-win rally for the Lakers.
IZRAEL: Wow. I am glad they trounced the Orland Magic.
NAVARRETTE: They are dominant.
IZRAEL: Give it to us raw, bro.
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, Michael Jordan has six championships. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has six. Magic Johnson has five. Kobe now has four. Tim Duncan has four. Shaq has four. You know, he did prove that he did not in fact need Shaquille O'Neal to win a championship. And the Los Angeles Lakers were the best team in the NBA this year because Kevin Garnett was injured. But I think that next year we're going see...
IFTIKHAR: ...we're going to see a rebirth of LeBron. I think he has a lot to prove now that there's rumors of a Shaquille O'Neal to Cleveland trade to help LeBron.
SPENCE: Oh my god.
IFTIKHAR: If that actually happens, that would be behemoth.
IZRAEL: I can't see Shaquille O'Neal trying to climb up the Terminal Tower. Yo, go ahead.
SPENCE: I got two quick comments. First is, I think is, what's really important about that, this win, is that Kobe's the first player in the modern era other than Hakeem Olajuwon to win a championship without a top 50 player with him, right? So every ring that Michael Jordan got he got with Scottie Pippin, who's a top 50 player.
SPENCE: Kobe had to do this by himself. This puts him in a class alone. Second thing is, it's really interesting politically that this big time parade they had - because LA didn't have any money because of the political setbacks, because of budget cuts...
SPENCE: ...that they had to get big ballers to basically donate the money for the parade.
SPENCE: I thought that was really, really interesting, something that people need to cover more.
MARTIN: Hmm. I was over, I wanted to see the LeBron/Kobe matchup.
SPENCE: I really did.
IFTIKHAR: We all did.
MARTIN: That's what I wanted to see. I'm over it. Until next year.
IZRAEL: Well, right...
MARTIN: Okay. I cannot let you go, I cannot let you go without asking, telling the fathers Happy Father's Day.
SPENCE: Thank you very much.
IFTIKHAR: Happy Father's Day, everyone.
MARTIN: (Unintelligible) deserved, and the father - well, eventually, eventually. I'm not trying to announce anything, Arsalan.
IFTIKHAR: Father at some point.
MARTIN: And I just have to - I feel I would not be doing my job if I did not quickly go around and ask each of you what it is that you would most like for Father's Day. See if I can plant any seeds anywhere. Dr. Spence, you're the father of five.
SPENCE: Yeah, I'd like to spend it with my five children and the father of my generation in Maryland I have the most respect for, my man Al Robeson(ph). I mean he's taught me a great deal about fatherhood, and the fact that he's younger than I am says a lot about him. I give a shout-out to my wife and my kid. Imani's actually in the audience.
MARTIN: Oh, okay. Happy Father's Day. Ruben, what about you? What can we do for you for Father's Day?
NAVARRETTE: Give me some time with my kids and just let my kids listen to me for one time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NAVARRETTE: I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old. Michel can vouch for this because she has little ones too, and you can squeeze a lot of attitude into a little frame of a two-year-old or a four-year-old.
IFTIKHAR: Terrible twos. Terrible twos.
SPENCE: That's right.
NAVARRETTE: I love them, but they just don't listen to daddy at all.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SPENCE: I'll give you some tips.
MARTIN: What are you going to do for Father's Day, Arsalan?
IFTIKHAR: I am going to spend my Father's Day thanking my father for having to put up with me for 31 years of his life.
MARTIN: Jimi, what about you?
IZRAEL: I will be watching my son play baseball. Me, my daughter, and my oldest son will be watching Jaelin do his thing on the baseball diamond. That's how I am going to be spending my Father's Day, so it's going to be a great day.
MARTIN: And I take it you don't want a tie. Do you know what those are, by the way? I'm just curious.
IZRAEL: Here we go.
(Soundbite of laughter)
IZRAEL: Here we go. We can't get through a show without, without Michel going in on me. What's that about? You know what...
MARTIN: Okay, for a special Father's Day treat I'll rescind my last comment.
IZRAEL: Oh. Oh, Elizabeth, I'm coming to join you, honey...
(Soundbite of laughter)
IZRAEL: ...with a tie on my neck. And with that, we got to call it a wrap. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming to the shop, but I have to pass it over to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.
MARTIN: Why, thank you, Jimi. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for the Root.com and TV1 online. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego. Lester Spence is a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney, and they were both here with me in our studies in Washington, D.C.
Gentlemen, Happy Father's Day again to those to whom that applies, and thank you so much.
NAVARRETTE: Thank you.
IZRAEL: Yup. Yup.
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