Guys Weigh in on Jackson Family Drama, Romney's Woes
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Just ahead, Backtalk where we hear from you.
But first, it's time for Barbershop, where the guys talk about whatever's in the news and whatever's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for our shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, sportswriter Terrence Harris, blogger and writer Michael David Cobb Bowen, and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. I may jump in once or twice, but for now, take it away Jimi.
Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Columnist, AOL Black Voices): Hey, hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How are we doing, man?
Mr. TERRENCE HARRIS (Sports Writer, Houston Chronicle): Hey, man, we're chilling.
Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Writer, The Washington Post Writers Group): (Unintelligible).
Mr. MICHAEL DAVID COBB BOWEN (Blogger): (Unintelligible).
Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, once again, unfortunately, we have to open up the shop with some bad news - 19-year-old Robert Hawkins walked into a mall in Omaha and shot eight people at random before killing himself. He left a suicide note with his landlady apologizing and saying, well, now, he'd be famous. Our condolences, of course, go out to the victims of this tragedy.
Now, Ruben, this young man had an AK-47. How can we strengthen the gun laws and not encroach upon our right to bear arms?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I'd say there's a lot going through this story. A lot of threats. And one of them, you're right, it's the gun laws and let's just take that on. You need to make it more difficult for people - as best you can for people to get this kind of heavy artillery. But my problem with attacking it that way only exclusively is it lets the parents off the hook, it lets society off the hook. The story keeps replaying itself over and over again. There's something going on with young people and that means that their parents and the rest of us have to get involved and figure that out.
Mr. HARRIS: I'm 38 years old and I've never touched a gun. I don't understand kids and guns period - and when it's ever even necessary to put a gun in a child's hand. I mean I think we got to get - we got to get rid of that mentality, you know, get rid of that curiosity. I mean the whole (unintelligible) because - that just bothers me.
Mr. IZRAEL: Mm, wow.
Mr. HARRIS: Well, it's interesting, I mean, in my neighborhood, the only people that had guns - because I grew up in the city - were really the cops and the robbers. And so we - I never had a context for a responsible gun use. And I always used to, you know, jack on the NRA, but in fact, you know, the NRA was supervising us and they actually made it to the point where it was so safe that it got boring. You shoot 50 shots with a rifle and it gets boring, you know, like, okay, what's the big deal?
Mr. IZRAEL: You know, what interests me about the four men accused of shooting Sean Taylor in Florida - they're being held right now in Florida - is that the gunman is the youngest guy. He's 17 years old and he may be charged as an adult. And another piece that's interesting to me is that what some thought was a byproduct of Taylor's alleged thug life appears to have been just kind of burglary gone bad. Now what do we make of that?
I mean Terry, you know what, your brother from another mother, Jason Whitlock, he said early in the game that the Taylor incident looked to him like another case of what he called the Black KKK striking again. Now, do you think that was accurate?
Mr. HARRIS: No, I mean - and obviously, he was wrong for that and everyone else who jumped the gun on that. They were wrong as well. But I mean but there's some context to it as well. I mean some that has some issues, you know, some years back where he'd had some problems like that so it seemed like that could have been the problem but what you run into there and that's thing that you can't cross that line is you just can't make that type of assumption when someone dies that, you know, it was because of his background or his life. I mean you have to let this thing play out and I think, you know, some of us really got that - got a little bit ahead of ourselves there and my boy Jason did too.
MARTIN: Wait a minute. But what if the basic facts were true? I mean he said, well, chances are nine times out of ten this is a black on black thing and he was right about that.
Mr. HARRIS: Right. I mean that but…
Mr. IZRAEL: Well, he - Michel, I think, he was right about that piece but I think the underlying piece is what that, you know, this was Sean Taylor's life coming to catch up with him, that something he had done had precipitated this and I think what Jason was trying to say. Cobbski?
Mr. BOWEN: No, there's no cosmic justice here and Whitlock jumped the gun. I mean that was a stretch. It's true that, you know, Taylor had his problems in life and you're never far from the Michael Vick's story here of pro athletes hanging out with gangster folks. But when I think about - if this is going to be a black on black thing, we know that, you know, race is a kind of self-selecting thing - you decide if you're in the race. And I say if those four gunmen, robbers - if that gets to represent black, then I'm not that kind of black. And if I get to represent black, then they're not black like me. So I don't buy this black on black crime thing. It's a crime. And those knuckleheads deserve to pay and what they're going to get for it.
Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, how do you read it?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Listen, I want to plead guilty myself because I think that I didn't go down the Whitlock way of making this black on black but I talked about professional athletes. And I think Michel jumped on me appropriately to say, hey, wait a minute, you know, this kid doesn't look like he had that kind of trouble-magnet background.
But my point was just forget about the black-on-black crime thing. Talk about professional athletes. They have - for better or worse - this reputation from various sports of getting into a lot of trouble. And so I want to just apologize and plead guilty because I - just because I said that people do that, it's no excuse for me to do it, you know? Just because that's an existing narrative, it's no excuse for me to feed the narrative.
MARTIN: Let me just pause right here just to say, I'm Michel Martin, and if you just joined us, you're listening to Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Terrence Harris and Michael David Cobb Bowen. They're in the Barbershop.
Back to you, Jimi.
Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Let's switch gears for a moment, if we can. Now, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is catching heat for hiring a landscaping company that used illegal aliens despite some assurances otherwise. He since fired them.
Now, Cobb, is this an honest mistake being blown out of proportion?
Mr. BOWEN: Well, you know, Mitt has presented himself as a businessman and not a politician as usual, somebody who knows how to handle their business. And you know, with a name like Mitt, you think he wouldn't drop the ball.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: Not bad. Not bad.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: That was good.
Mr. BOWEN: But he dropped the ball twice.
Mr. IZRAEL: That was good.
Mr. BOWEN: Twice. And this is no excuse. This is a black mark on his record. Sorry.
Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, is this going to affect his candidacy?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: It really should. It really should. And not because of the blatant hypocrisy of going out there and scoring points one minute on the backs of the illegal immigrants - sort of coming off as a tough guy in this race and then this sort of stuff comes out about you. The hypocrisy is bad enough but the real reason, I think, he should pay for this is because he's been trying to package himself to these conservative Republican voters in Iowa who legitimately care about the illegal immigration issue as a top issue as sort of, you know, I hear you. I feel your pain. You know, I'm with you. Your concerns are my concerns. Your causes are my causes. And now, we finally figure out that he doesn't take this cause very seriously because he not only was -hired this company to do his landscaping, but even after the story broke a year ago, he didn't let go of the company. He kept the company until this week, which is really a foul of it. So…
MARTIN: I mean, don't you think that's funny?
Mr. IZRAEL: You know what…
MARTIN: Don't you think that's weird, though? Why do you think he didn't fire them?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: A couple of reasons. I think…
MARTIN: I'm sure they do a heck of a job.
Mr. IZRAEL: I was going to say…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BOWEN: I'm sure they do.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm sure - yeah. Yeah, good help is hard to find also. Who's to say that he didn't go find another landscaping company, they we're going to have the same problem.
Mr. IZRAEL: Right.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: So they probably thought about all those same situations and he said, oh, you know, I gave them a second chance and all that. But I'm sorry, this doesn't ring true. He fired these people only after The Boston Globe called this week to tell Mitt Romney - they were running another story. At that point, he fired them.
Mr. IZRAEL: I thought he really asked an important question when he asked, you know, so if you hear somebody in your yard with a strange accent, what, do you just run out, you know, to immigration and try to bust them out? I mean, how do you police something like this? I don't know. For me, it looked like - it's embarrassing but, yeah, I mean, maybe he should have known but, I mean, doesn't he have better things to do than check the accent of his yard help?
Mr. BOWEN: Yeah. Apparently, because (unintelligible).
Mr. HARRIS: Exactly. Where does this end? I mean, are we, I mean, is he going to be responsible for the people at the grocery store as well?
Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Right.
Mr. HARRIS: I mean, he was doing business with these people. These people weren't employed by him. I mean, they weren't on his payroll. He wrote a check. I mean, how was he responsible for this? I don't get it.
MARTIN: I think for this point too. But I think if the point is that you're going to take this issue on and tell everybody what they are supposed to do, I think it points out just how much a part of the economy undocumented workers are. You know, I mean, it's not that that you've…
Mr. HARRIS: Yeah. It all points to…
MARTIN: I think he's making…
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.
MARTIN: I think Ruben's point is that on the campaign trail, he acts like this is easy. But in real life, it's not easy.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's right. It also points to the hypocrisy. You know, the reason that Larry Craig became an issue was because this was a conservative Republican hood railed against gay rights. And so there's kind of, hmm, irony there. And likewise, you know, the reason that we were all of a sudden concerned about whether Strom Thurmann may have African-American relatives in his history was because he was a segregationist.
There's a lot of Americans out there who hire illegal immigrants either directly or indirectly. But not all of them are running for president on the backs of illegal immigrants.
Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? I'm curious to see how he's going to handle it going forward. It's hot where he is. It's caliente, but we'll - we just have to hold our - we have to, you know, just hold our breath to see how he does with this.
Now, you know what? Your boy, Jesse Jackson Jr., now, he takes on his father -takes on the task in a letter to the editor in Chicago's Sun Times. Now, Jesse Jr. says senior's criticisms of Barack Obama's commitment to black America are misguided.
Now, I don't know. Terry, was it right for junior to air out his dad on the ed page? What's up with that?
Mr. HARRIS: Oh, yes. I mean, definitely. I mean, because I don't expect him, as a representative, to have to agree with everything his dad does or says. I mean, I don't think he was disrespectful. I think like he said, you know, he says something about the thunder strikes again. And in this situation, I mean, thunder was wrong. Jesse probably has some issues with Obama. But I mean, at the end of the day, I mean, junior likes him.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.
Mr. IZRAEL: Right. I wondered if this was a discussion between, you know, father and son, and not necessarily something to be hashed out on the ed page.
I mean, Cobbs, how do you feel about that?
Mr. BOWEN: Oh, it's good. It's good.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BOWEN: It should be hashed out on the ed page. I think junior represents, you know, our generation. And there's a second generation of black politics, and we are not necessarily happy to see, you know, even moral leaders like Jackson Sr. But we want to see people who are competent insiders, professionals, the Harold Fords, the guys who can go out there and say I'm an insider. I have the power. I gained it. You know, the good old-fashioned way by appealing to a broad variety of voters. And that's a new generation. It's a new kind of power in African-American politics.
Mr. IZRAEL: Now, Ruben, what about that? You think junior had something there by saying that, you know, Jesse Jackson Sr. shouldn't be poking elbows at Barack Obama?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: I think he did have something there. And here's what this is really about. The criticism that Jackson launched against Obama is that he -Obama should have been more vocal over Jena. And he should be more vocal on civil rights issues. He should run, essentially, as an African-American candidate, like Jesse did, twice before in 1984 and 1988.
Mr. IZRAEL: That's right. Right.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Jesse ran for president as a black candidate. And now you have, I think, running through Jackson Sr., a lot of jealousy because if you sees someone like Barack Obama, and he's envious for the fact that he's on the cover of Time magazine, he's leading in Iowa.
Mr. IZRAEL: Right.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: People are talking about Barack Obama becoming the Democrat nominee. Some people are even talking about him becoming elected president. That was never a conversation we were having about Jesse Sr. What junior is saying is look, the (unintelligible) hooked up on Jena and housing laws and all these stuff. But dad, what would it mean to elect an African-American president? Okay? And you really want to blow that over this other stuff? I mean, if he becomes president, I have no doubt that he'll do the right thing on the Jenas of the world.
Mr. IZRAEL: Right. I think Jesse is just trying to, you know, pretend as if he's relevant. You know what? And Reverend Jackson, if you're listening, bro, don't play a hate - congratulate. And gentlemen, with that, it's a wrap. I kick it over to the lady of the house.
MARTIN: Jimi Izrael joined us from WFSU in Tallahassee, Florida, where he's a freelance writer and reporter. Ruben Navarrette joined us from KPBS in San Diego. He writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. Terrence Harris joined us from KUHF in Houston. He's a sports writer for the Houston Chronicle. And Michael David Cobb Bowen is a blogger and founder of the conservative brotherhood. He joined us from NPR West. You can find links to all of our Barbershop guests at our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore.
Gentlemen, thanks so much for coming to the shop today.
Mr. BOWEN: Thank you.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.
Mr. HARRIS: Thanks for having us.
Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.
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