Bill Clinton To The Rescue
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, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre, and back in the shop, 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. Fellas, what's up? Welcome to the shop. How we doing?
Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Hey, hey, hey.
Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Attorney; Editor): Doing good, man.
Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Great.
Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, so Judge Sonia Sotomayor in like Flynn as the first Hispanic member of the Supreme Court with fewer than 10 Republican votes. Oh my gosh. Yo, Michel, we got some tape on that, right?
MARTIN: Yeah, we actually have some tape of Mel Martinez of Florida. He, of course, is retiring. He's a Republican, but he expressed some, I think it's fair to say, disappointment with his colleagues in the Republican Party about their decision not to vote for her. Here it is.
Senator MEL MARTINEZ (Republican, Florida): There was a time when members of the Senate seemed to better understand their role, where senators expected a president of the other party to pick a judge who would likely be different than someone they would have picked.
MARTIN: Ruben, can I ask you a question? One of the things I'm curious about is that John Cornyn, Texas, voting no; Lamar Alexander, Tennessee, voting yes; Lindsey Graham, South Carolina, voting yes; John McCain voting no. And one of the things I'm curious about is why is it that the senators from the states with some of the largest Latino populations are voting no. It just seems to curious that me that…
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Jon Kyl is no.
MARTIN: Jon Kyl is no. People who have the most, quote, "political wiggle room" are the ones who aren't using it because you could argue, at least to your base, well, look, you at least have to represent your entire constituency, not just a part of it. So I'm just curious why it is, and John Cornyn, he is not up until 2012. So presumably, if this was going to be a difficult vote for him, he has time to recover. So I'm just curious what your take is on that.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's a good point. I mean, initially what the rap was during the hearings itself, that the reason you have Jeff Sessions, who's from Alabama, and Tom Coburn from Oklahoma and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina throwing the hardballs at Sotomayor, the reasoning went, well, they're able to do that because they don't come from largely Latino states. They won't have a backlash to face.
Now we sort of see that turned on its head because, as you correctly point out, it's counterintuitive that you have people from large Latino states voting against her.
I think that there is sensitivity, if you're Kay Bailey Hutchison, to the fact that there are people in Texas, white Texans in fact, who are upset with Sonia Sotomayor over her wise Latina comment. And I think they are sensitive to that. And in a weird way, you know, let me put the question to you. Are race relations between blacks and whites better off in a largely black state like Georgia or in one like Minnesota, where you don't have so many African-Americans?
You can debate it either way. It may be that in a place like Texas, you have a good number of white Texans who are not too sure about Sonia Sotomayor. That is who Kay Bailey is speaking to.
Mr. TORRE: Well, and this is Pablo here. I mean, it just is pretty much just another example of a terrible GOP strategy, which is catering to people who you were never going to lose. And I mean, I would like to think that this is a matter of putting principles over votes. But at the same time, I just feel it's another example the GOP contracting and kind of ossifying that same base that they've always had. And from their perspective, I don't understand why you would do that. I mean, to get to your original question, it really doesn't make much sense. I just think it's part and parcel of catering to the same people who you weren't going to lose in the first place.
Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, Pablo? I've got to push back on that because I'm no big GOP dude, right? But it seems to me that a lot of these people, I think they might be a little skittish because she bobbed and weaved her way out of all these really important questions, you know, and I think they're a little skittish about that.
Mr. TORRE: Sure, sure. I mean, I just find her pretty uncontroversial except for those few flashpoints with the firefighters case and the Latina comment…
MARTIN: You know, the argument I have to make to Jimi is that the comments that she has a 17-year record on the bench. She has more judicial experience than any of the current Supreme Court justices did at the time that they were confirmed. So it seems to me she has an ample judicial record to draw from. What she said in a couple of speeches, it seems to me, that the weight of the evidence should go toward her record on the bench.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: This is Arsalan. You know, being the resident lawyer on the Barbershop, you know, for me, the Senate confirmation hearings…
Mr. TORRE: Wow. I'm keeping your card in case I need you later.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Please do. I mean, let's be honest. I think any reasonable observer would find that the current Senate confirmation process has become a political circus. The Constitutional requirements of seeking the advice and consent of the Senate has essentially turned into senators running for re-election, making soundbites for their own, you know, local political upcoming campaigns, for primaries or for PACs. I think that especially in the case of Supreme Court nominations because of the concept of stare decisis, which basically honors the tradition of legal precedence set forth by previous Supreme Courts. Most judges aren't going to answer many of the substantive policy questions and essentially it's really just become a big game of gotcha.
MARTIN: Can I ask you a question here?
MR. IFTIKHAR: Sure.
MARTIN: What would change it?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: I don't know. I mean, I think that the Senate should confirm key appointees of the president in order to maintain checks and balances. I just think that the way we've now manipulated our systems, there are special interest groups like the NRA and issues around abortion, for example, that really has skewed and tainted the Senate confirmation process in general.
MR. NAVARRETTE: This is rude but I'm going to jump in here real quick. I think the way to change it is to - you go back to the Bork example. I had after the Sonia Sotomayor hearing a lot more respect for Robert Bork. I want to explain that comment. Whether you're Bork or you're Roberts or you're Alito or you're Sonia Sotomayor, you're a sitting federal court judge. You have forgotten more about constitutional law than these imbeciles standing before you.
Mr. TORRE: Right.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Who in many cases are barely lawyers. They have to recall when they were back when I was a country lawyer 30 years ago.
Mr. IZRAEL: Amen. Amen Ruben.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: None of them are judges and there's - these guys just can't be smarter. Alito would eat their lunch, Roberts would eat their lunch, Bork ate their lunch. And in return they pay him back by voting against him, by Borking him, right? So I think what changes it is you start electing - forget about your quality of judges, elect better Senators.
MARTIN: 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 Navarette and Pablo Torre. Back to you, Jimi.
Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks Michel. In good news that we can use this week - President Bill Clinton negotiated the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee from North Korea. Wow. Man, if you're my stock Clinton buy, buy, buy.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: Even his wife had given them up. We got some tape on that, right?
MARTIN: She did. But really even if his wife had given up, Jimi you surely don't think he'd slip off without telling her, leaving a note on the fridge -hi honey I'm off. No, I think this was - here is, yes - here is a comment, yes here is a comment from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Here it is.
Secretary of State HILLARY CLINTON: He was so relieved and so happy to be bringing these young women home. I think it's, in a way, even more personal since we have a daughter approximately the same age. And he told me it was, you know, a very moving experience. So, on the basis of the humanitarian mission, we feel very good.
Mr. IZRAEL: Man, thanks for that tape, Michel. Hillary's on Team Bill, you know, let's mark this date on a calendar. That's deep.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: You know, what I wondered. Help me out here, A-train.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yes sir.
Mr. IZRAEL: What is the Clinton magic when a dude can just hop on the plane and people are asking for him to come make these international politics right.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh, you know, he's now going to be known as the global diplomatic fixer. I think that, you know, this was a major political coup for him to be able to secure the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna lee. And this issue speaks to the greater global issue of journalism worldwide. We need to be able to live in a global community where journalists who seek to get the news and information of these societies out are protected. and I think that, you know, this was a major victory for human rights and international law.
MARTIN: Of course, not everyone was pleased with former President Clinton's visit to North Korea. Former UN ambassador John Bolton, who of course served in the Bush administration, criticized the mission saying that he felt that the symbolism of a former president going to meet with Kim Jong-il is something that benefits Kim Jong-il a lot more than the United States. But I don't know, on a human level it's very hard to not applaud the fact that these are two women who, I don't even know if they knew that they were that close to the border, one of them having a child and…
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, you know, actually I'm glad you brought that point up again, you know, from a legal perspective, you know, they were granted amnesty which in a legal sense infers a pardon of some offense that North Korea believed that they had committed. And essentially what that is saying is that we seek amnesty, we ask forgiveness for the offense that we created and that allowed Kim Jong-il to save a little legal face domestically before his people in Pyongyang.
Mr. TORRE: Right, and this is Pablo again. Just that the people who are criticizing, it doesn't really make much sense to me. What is the harm in that Kim Jong-il propagandizes more to his people. I mean that's not a concern. And there's no real North Korean Diaspora that you're worrying about, you know, people abroad looking at this as a sign of weakness of the United States. What I think it was, was Clinton, you know, conceding yes on that - am I going to negotiate, yes but at the same time there is an imperative. And I think Obama in authorizing the move basically complied with his second obligation after complying with the constitution, which is to protect American citizens and with journalists as Arsalan said it's incredibly important if we're going to, you know, survive as a society and want to know exactly what's going on in these places.
MARTIN: But what do you think of Obama though, don't you think that it does -it's the kind of thing that speaks well of all the parties involved, that President Obama, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have their egos in check sufficiently to allow Bill Clinton to grab the headlines.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: I mean it's also very convenient from the whole controversy aspect that he's not an actual official of the United States government. I think that, that had to enter the calculus also where it's, you know, at the same time a double bonus where you've got a guy of influence and a guy who is not actually in the Cabinet to actually do that job for you.
Mr. IZRAEL: Well, speaking of hard negotiations and tough conversations, Americans here are having some rough conversations and taking a different look at race relations in the aftermath of the arrest of black academic Doctor Henry Skip Gates by Sergeant James Crowley, a white police officer. What I've found people that commented…
Mr. TORRE: …theroot.com
MR. IZRAEL: Are a little, some of those people are really happy that the whole kerfuffle is over. That they went and they had beer and everybody's singing "Kumbaya." They're going go see a baseball game together. But some people are really disappointed that this incident didn't radicalize Skip. He didn't become this new Jesse Jackson-type firebrand…
Mr. TORRE: He didn't become Mike Tyson.
MARTIN: No, that's a - I think that's a good point. I think that's a good point. And just an example of that there's a little bit of tape from Professor Gates. He's at Martha's Vineyard Book Festival on last Sunday. And he's talking about…
Mr. TORRE: I don't think Mike Tyson went to one of those.
MARTIN: I don't know if he did but anyway here's Professor Gates talking about the whole thing.
Professor HENRY GATES (Harvard University): I asked him if he would have lunch with me one on one. I asked him maybe we could go to a Red Sox game together, maybe could go to a Celtic game together, you know, maybe we could have dinner with our families, you know, why not. You know, I also could get his kids into Harvard.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. GATES: If he doesn't arrest me another day.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: You know Jimi's tapped into something I think it's kind of interesting. There's kind of an intra-racial thing going on here. I mean we talk a lot about the inter-racial dynamics but the kind of the intra-racial thing is that there are some people who are annoyed that he got this attention to begin with. They say well…
Mr. IZRAEL: Right.
MARTIN: …what about all these others out here who aren't famous and who get far worse treatment.
Mr. TORRE: They don't sell books in Martha's Vineyard.
MARTIN: And he was saying, you know, and he and then he had to do with that saying well, I was only in custody for four hours. I get it. But then are other people who are saying, as Jimi pointed out, well, you know, he should sue him. I mean, the issue here is not just that he and the guy hoisted a few and it's all nice with them but that you really need to use this platform to make the broader point. But I don't know, I think Jimi's just tapped into something interesting that there are just still a lot more conversations going on about this.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: This is Ruben. Let me jump in if I can because I missed the last few weeks, but I tell you what, this has been a lesson all along not on racial profiling but on how you speak to police officers. Skip Gates never figured that out. His keys notwithstanding he should have figured out how to talk to a cop and don't talk to a cop and a lot of brothers out there. And a lot of Latinos out there as well will say to themselves, wait a minute, the first thing I teach my young African-American teenage son or my Latino son is how to talk to a police officer. If they're not armed with a PhD and they don't teach at Harvard, they shouldn't be thinking they can mouth off to a cop talking about I'm must talk to your mama outside.
MARTIN: Well, let me just stop you right there. Let me just stop you on that because he specifically denies that comment was ever made. Let us just remember there were only two people who were privy to the initial confrontation. Those are those two people. I may have a specific disagreement about a number of the facts. The other thing that I find interesting about this is that there are people who are criticizing him for knowing his rights as if it is somehow elitist to know your rights. Ruben, as you know I come from a police family.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Indeed.
MARTIN: Also, I've have six police officers current or former in my family too. I think I win between you and me. But the idea that somehow that being rude to a police officer is not against the law.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: (unintelligible) that I said.
MARTIN: …and so it seems to me that you…
Unidentified Man: Let's put that on tape.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's a black police officer or a Latino police officer. That's your brother or my father. And they're getting lip from a white guy who disrespects them, okay?
MARTIN: Nobody likes that but that doesn't mean it's against the law. There's also an abuse of power. So, there's that.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I will argue in that case I wouldn't take the white heckler's part…
MARTIN: You and I weren't there.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: I wouldn't take the white heckler part…
MARTIN: Who said? The charges were dropped so that indicates to me that Cambridge did not feel that they had a very strong case. So if they felt that they had such a strong case they were free to press it as well, were they not?
Mr. IZRAEL: They were. It's such a penny-ante charge, and that's what I wrote on theroot.com but, you know, what Sergeant Crowley played the cop card. You know, he could have very easily let it slide, but he made a choice to go ahead and press his penny-ante charge, to me, to make Dr. Gates look silly. And mission accomplished? A-train.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, let's say hypothetically, arguendo, that the yo mama comment was made by Dr. Gates. To me, that would represent a fundamental flaw in what we teach our kids on how to deal with the police. And honestly, I do cosign Ruben on this argument, you know, as the civil rights lawyer, I will do a public service announcement right now. Do not ever say yo mama to a police officer.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IFTIKHAR: You will get arrested. I don't care if you're black, white, brown or green, whether the cop's white black brown or green, you don't say yo mama to a police officer.
Mr. TORRE: Pablo, well, can you holler unto the police - holler to the squad car, but you didn't arrest Gates, you know, you let him go. Let me go.
MARTIN: In his house.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: You're not Gates.
Mr. IZRAEL: Pablo, wrap this up for us, please.
Mr. TORRE: Yeah, I mean, you know, at the center of it is, I think, this issue of machismo and it's about ego. And I think you know going back to the original question about this intra-racial kind of, you know, discomfort now, yes I think the fact that Gates is of this certain class and he's going to make jokes about getting his kids into Harvard. At that point I can't help but feel that he is not abandoning the cause but distancing himself from the people who do, you know suffer this kind of thing every day.
Mr. IZRAEL: Right.
Mr. TORRE: It's not - I mean, it comes off completely insensitive when you sort of joke about that kind of thing in daylight with your Martha's Vineyard as opposed to the actual situation at hand, which was when he actually did revert to, you know, one might say his true instincts and feelings about the case.
MARTIN: Jimi says he is inviting us all to his summer place.
Unidentified Man: Oh, wonderful.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Skip Gates is writing a book about his four hours incarceration at the hands of the man. He's calling "Beluga on Ice."
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: Well, yo, I think that's a wrap, ladies and gentlemen. I got the keys to my house and I'm out of here.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks so much for another day in the shop. I got to push it over to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.
MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist, who writes for theroot.com. and is a guest lecturer and presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. And he joined us from our studios in New York. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney. He joined us in our studios in Washington. And Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist. He's featured frequently on cnn.com and he joined us from member station KOGO in San Diego. Gentlemen, thank you.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.
Mr. TORRE: Thanks.
MR. IZRAEL: Yup. Yup.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: And that's our program for today.
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