Comedian Chris Rock A Political Pundit?
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guts talk about what's in the news and whatever is 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, syndicated columnist, Ruben Navarrette. I also like to welcome to the shop, assistant news director Brian Bull from Wisconsin. I may jump in here or there. But for now, take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks so much, Michel. Fellas, yo. What's up? Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?
ARSALAN IFTHIKHAR: Hey, hey.
RUBEN NAVARRETTE: We're good, man. We're good.
IZRAEL: You know what, before we jump right in, I got a shout out Laura Rice (ph) and Kelly O'Kief(ph) were some of the Barbershop fans who reached to me through the Internet. That's crazy love. So you know what, let's jump right in. You know, when both have reached a fundamental agreement on the bail-out package. Senator John McCain, you know what, he's still not sure he's going to be at the debate. B, I'd say that the smart money puts him in the seat. The R, what do you say?
NAVARRETTE: I'm with you. I say he goes to the debate. There's been some talk about a bailout, the fundamental negotiation happening. I don't think there's any reason for him not to go to the debate now. If you still had an impasse, you could make the argument that he was providing real leadership by going to Washington. I'm sort of with you thinking that this was a masterstroke. Whatever you think of it, this was great politics by John McCain. But now, frankly, apparently, all that Harry Reid needed to do was see John McCain marching up the steps to the Capitol to make Reid want to do some business real quick.
NAVARRETTE: So Reid got together scared him - yo, victory.
IFTHIKAR: Give me a break.
IZRAEL: You know what, A-Train, say what you want, man. This is political chess, not checkers. Denzel said it best. You know, your boy McCain went in there, he played the few pieces that he had. He stalled for time. He's trying to come off like he's got the cape and cowl on and that he saved America. You know, A-Train, kick it.
IFTHIKAR: You know what - I mean, McCain is just pulling out, you know, the last trick play that he has in his arsenal. You know, this is the flea flicker, this is the end of the around, this is the Statue of Liberty, this is the Hail Mary. Or in McCain's case, the Hail Sarah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
IFTHIKAR: Because you know, from what I've been hearing, he's trying to get the debate postponed.
NAVARRETTE: Why said you all, you all are a bunch of haters.
IFTHIKAR: Oh, you have not heard the hater-ation yet. Listen. You know, I've been hearing that McCain is trying to get this postponed in lieu of the October 2nd vice presidential debate at my alma mater, Washington University, where Sarah Palin was going to get smacked all over the schoolyard by Senator Joe Biden. I think that, you know, when you're injecting Capitol Hill politics into presidential politics, you know, Barack Obama said it best. Presidents are supposed to multi-task. There is absolutely no reason that this debate can't go on, and it is literally just the last straw that McCain is drawing at here.
IZRAEL: Ladies and gentlemen, also remember that A-Train is on the record as an Obama supporter. The Bull, my man.
Mr. BRIAN BULL (Assistant News Director, Wisconsin): Hey.
IZRAEL: You know, how do you call this? And of course, welcome to the Shop. How do you call it, bro?
Mr. BULL: Thank you, thank you. I'm thinking if they have a resolution reached there's not much room for McCain to slip out of the debates.
Mr. BULL: He's got to be a show. If he doesn't show even if there's disagreement on the background, it's going to give a lot of feel for Obama at some point. You know, this man is not going to come and talk about the issues. We're talking foreign policy. That's supposed to be his strength. He can't speak to his strengths and so, he's got to be a show. And when you're in a campaign that's like a runaway train, you don't jump off and say I'll join the rest of you later. You keep up with the momentum, and that's what he's got to do if he's going to keep his campaign in afloat, he's got to be down there.
MARTIN: Let me play devil's advocate. The buzz in the days leading up to Friday's debate that Obama is not that great of a debater, really.
Mr. BULL: True.
MARTIN: I mean, he's a great speaker, but not that great of a debater. And when you ask the McCain people about these ads that a lot of people have criticized as being deceptive if not outright false, they say, well, if he just agree - if Obama had just agreed to the town halls that we wanted, then we wouldn't be having this. And number two, the fact that is the first debate one could argue was on McCain's turf. It's in Mississippi, it's at the University of Mississippi. You know, Hailey Barber, the governor state, being a Republican, former RNC chair on foreign policy, which is considered to be his strong suit.
NAVARRETTE: Sure. Right.
MARTIN: So the argument is that why would he trade his strong suit...
MARTIN: If he didn't have good reasons, Ruben?
NAVARRETTE: Well, because the notion of the bailout - listen, we're talking about, whether you believe or not, an incredible story with regard to the $700 billion dollar bailout. Bush saying to the country, the entire economy is in jeopardy. In a moment like this, no matter what happens in a 50-50 country where most polls show that two guys tied, you're going to end up getting some points for leadership by just backing away from the table. What I found very, very confusing was Obama's mixed message saying on the one hand telling people I'm on the same page as McCain, I actually called McCain, I said we should do something together, and then all of a sudden, McCain marches off to Washington, Obama says well you 're going to have to go without me. Now Obama - that's classic Obama. He wants to have it both ways. He wants to have the benefit of saying...
NAVARRETTE: Wait, no hold on. He says on the one hand Obama wants to have it both ways. He wants to say, I want the credit if this turns out to be a good move politically, and it turns out people do want leadership and do want us to put this stuff aside, imagine the imagery of both these guys walking up together the Senate steps to go do business.
IZRAEL: I got to get at you with this man. I think to Joe Average, the McCain move really scans heroic. That you got this guy, you know, with - kind of with the Mighty Mouse, you know, "Here I come to save the day!" kind of theme music on the background. He steps away from the desk and jumps out the window and flies to Washington. And I got to say, you know, like it or not, I think it was brilliant.
Mr. BULL: But it's interesting too, the whole timing of it also is that I guess the Palin effect has worn off since the RNC convention, and this is a well-calculated, well-timed stunt.
MARTIN: I just have to jump in here to say, I'm Michel Martin, and if you've just joined us, you're listening to Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Arsalan Iftikhar, and Brian Bull in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: OK, well, speaking of stunts, a lot of us are getting these crazy emails admonishing Obama supporters not to wear Obama t-shirts to the polls, lest they be turned away. Now some research from the good folks at the U.S. Election Assistance Committee. It doesn't matter what you wear to the polls, as long as you're there. You can dress, you know, as one of our producers Jennifer Longmayer said, in a chicken suit and still exercise your right to vote...
MARTIN: But isn't this interesting though that this has gone around. I mean, I personally got this three times in one day, but from different parts of the country.
IZRAEL: Well, you're Michel Martin, so that's why you get all the propaganda. But I didn't get anything.
MARTIN: You have no friends.
Mr. BULL: I'd like to ask. Is that an Obama chicken suit?
(Soundbite of groans and laughter)
IFTIKHAR: Anyway - I mean, anyway, either way it's voter...
IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.
IFTIKHAR: It's an attempt at voter intimidation. You know, again, you know, Michel could go dressed as Gladys Knight, and Ruben and Jimi and I could be the Pips, and you know what, it wouldn't - they couldn't say boo about it. You know, this is a lawyer talking.
MARTIN: What they're saying is if you're a poll worker. If your job is to sit there at the desk and check off the voters and do whatever it is, that you can't wear anything that identifies you. But that email going around says...
Mr. BULL: As a voter you can't...
MARTIN: As a voter you can't wear anything. They're going to turn you away. And I just think that this is indicative of the level of anxiety and distrust that people have about the system. I mean, I just find it remarkable that all these years after I've been voting, that people are going around saying, don't wear any t-shirts or buttons. They're not going to let you vote. They, they, aren't going to let you vote.
IZRAEL: Who are they?
MARTIN: Well, you know...
IFTIKHAR: I'm going to wear my biggest Obama t-shirt on Election Day and see what they can do to me if they do anything...
IZRAEL: I'm going to wear my Jimmie Walker "Kid Dynamite" t-shirt on Election Day, and dare anybody to say anything about it. Now...
NAVARRETTE: You know that distrust that Michel talks about though, Jimi. That kind of distrust runs both ways because a lot of conservatives out there, and I disagree with them on this, they see voter fraud happening everywhere. They see it as code for African-Americans voting when they shouldn't, Latinos more precisely, Immigrants voting when they shouldn't. And so it's not just a question of minorities and others having lack of trust in the system, likewise, there's a lot of cynicism on the other side. I don't agree with that, but I definitely pick up on that paranoia.
MARTIN: I mean, I find that so remarkable that people think that people who are too afraid to go and get health care if they're undocumented or afraid to use public swimming pools now...
NAVARRETTE: Right, exactly.
MARTIN: Are going to show up and try to Bogart their way into the voting booth. I just find that remarkable. But I think Ruben is right. I think it's indicative of this sort of a general attitude of, you know, distrust. Speaking of distrust, did anybody catch Chris Rock on Letterman earlier this week?
IZRAEL: You know the thing about Chris Rock, he is America's mailroom clerk, you know, because he's that one black guy that works where you work that you love, and he always says something funny, and you can kind of take him halfway seriously. Yo! We've got some tape on that, right?
MARTIN: Yeah, do you want to hear? Well, the issue was that former President Bill Clinton was on David Letterman, and then Chris Rock followed his appearance, and then this is a little bit of what he had to say. Here it is.
(Soundbite of TV show "Late Show with David Letterman")
Mr. CHRIS ROCK (Comedian): Is it me, or he didn't want to say the name Barack Obama?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (TV Show, Host): Well, I...
Mr. ROCK: He did not...
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. ROCK: He went through everything he could do. Well, like Hillary would want to do with the economy - Hillary ain't running.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NAVARRETTE: It was perfect, beautiful. Chris Rock was absolutely right. He was making a very serious point. And here's the point. In fact, Bill Clinton has been singing the praises of John McCain all week long. Even before this, he's been praising Hillary Clinton again as if Hillary is still in the race. He refuses to acknowledge much being done by Barack Obama.
As Chris Rock pointed out, he somehow managed to appear on a Letterman show, didn't say a word about Barack Obama and didn't even mention his name. And here's the secret to all this. The Clintons are always scheming. The Clintons always have a game, they always have an agenda, they always have a plan. In this particular case, their agenda does not include Barack Obama getting elected president. Because if Barack Obama gets elected president, he will probably be in there for not four years, but eight years. And that will take Hillary Clinton out of the mix permanently. That will end her political career.
It is highly unlikely she will run for president eight years from now. And even if she did, there'll be somebody else waiting in the wings, like a Joe Biden, to run against her. So in that respect, let's put it out on the table, let's make it plain, the Clintons do not want Barack Obama elected. They want John McCain and Sarah Palin to be elected so that Hillary can come in in four years. Everybody knows it. All America knows it.
IZRAEL: Bull, are you buying that?
Mr. BULL: I listened to it...
NAVARRETTE: Who said Bull? What are you talking about Bull?
(Soundbite of laughter)
NAVARRETTE: I'm joking, Jimi.
Mr. BULL: You know, I kept track, and I think Clinton mentioned Obama's name about three or four times. But it's not a very showering, very glowing way that he used it. I mean, he used it in a very referential sense. You know, it's like they are holding back. And I think for a lot of people that's really disappointing, because one of the things I read up on is that after Hillary Clinton did her speech at the Democratic National Convention, a fair number of her backers moved to the Obama camp.
Well, that number, that percentage hasn't changed since June. And so, I think that frustrates Obama and his supporters because they say, you know, you're behind us, right? You got to get on the train, right? You're going to really make this happen. And then to have a former president up there on national TV just using him as almost kind of a footnote has made a lot of people really irate and question what their commitment is and what their role is in this entire campaign. And so, when you bring up the idea that maybe Hillary is already working on her - you know, Clinton 2012 bumper sticker design already, you know, I think that really feels it when you have such a reserved endorsement of the Democratic ticket.
MARTIN: Does anybody really think though, and I could just be wrong, that Bill Clinton moves votes?
IZRAEL: When he wants to. But I mean...
MARTIN: No, I mean...
NAVARRETTE: Oh, yeah...
MARTIN: No, no, no, it's not about him. I mean, is it do you really think that voters...
NAVARRETTE: For himself.
MARTIN: That voters are sitting there really hinging on, you know, hanging on his every word to see whether they should vote for Barack Obama?
IZRAEL: Yes, I do. I think Bill has that "Clintonacity." Yeah, he's got that certain je ne sais quoi, you know, that...
NAVARRETTE: Look, in a 50-50 country, where it's going to be this close, if John McCain wins this election, it will be by a whisker. And if Barack Obama wins this election, it will be by a whisker. In that respect, all those votes count. And all those white Democrats, white-women Democrats who were flocking away from Barack Obama toward McCain and Palin, for whatever reason, those are the people who loved Bill Clinton.
MARTIN: Except that the polls have moved back. They're now even again. The surge has ended.
NAVARRETTE: Well, I don't know about ended, but I mean, we're (unintelligible) because of the economy.
IZRAEL: And also those older black people that don't trust Obama, they love the Clintons. So yeah, don't downplay that Clinton...
MARTIN: Forgive me, that's just a myth. Those so-called older...
IZRAEL: No, no...
MARTIN: That is a myth, Jimi. Those older black people, whoever they are, three of them, I don't know, have long since consolidated behind Barack Obama and had nothing - and it all happened after South Carolina which is when Bill Clinton was teeing off on Obama...
NAVARRETTE: I think we're clear that African-Americans cannot elect Barack Obama on their own.
NAVARRETTE: They need to have white voters. They need to have Latino voters. They need to have Asian voters. They don't have the juice...
MARTIN: OK. But Latino voters are consolidating behind Obama.
NAVARRETTE: African-Americans don't have the juice to elect Barack Obama on their own.
MARTIN: But my point is that....
IZRAEL: Even if we all voted for him, right?
NAVARRETTE: You can't discount Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton is a significant - I'm not saying he's right. I'm saying Chris Rock was right.
MARTIN: But you know, it's interesting how so much politics is on late night these days. I mean, it's just - do you know what I mean? If you really want to keep up with politics and what the kind of the zeitgeist is, you've got to watch late night television. Did anybody - I mean, Letterman, did you again catch how McCain was apparently supposed to be on Letterman?
MARTIN: That was one of the things that he canceled when he decided he was going to suspend, fingers in the air, air quotes, "suspend his campaign." Do you guys want to hear that clip?
NAVARRETTE: Yeah, yeah, drop it. Let's hear that.
MARTIN: He was not pleased. Do you want to hear it?
IZRAEL: Drop it.
MARTIN: All right.
(Soundbite of TV show "Late Show with David Letterman")
Mr. LETTERMAN: He says to me on the phone - I took a phone call from John McCain. A lot of senators don't call me.
Mr. KEITH OLBERMANN: Yeah, I know.
Mr. LETTERMAN: And so I felt like OK...
Mr. OLBERMANN: It's a thrill. It's fun.
Mr. LETTERMAN: As part of the national good, I understand. And I said, good luck. Thank you for being attentive to the cause. And he said, maybe next time I'll come in. I'll bring Sarah Palin. I said, fine, whatever you need to do that's just fine. He said, yeah, we're going to go save the country. And then you get plenty - it's like we caught him getting a manicure or something.
(Soundbite of laughter)
IZRAEL: Jeez Louise.
MARTIN: Instead of racing back to Washington, actually he was being interviewed by Katie Couric about three blocks away from David Letterman's studio. And apparently they were able to catch him getting his makeup on, or something like that.
MARTIN: Yeah, how embarrassing. I never let people watch me get my makeup put on. Oh, no.
IZRAEL: Yeah, and you wear makeup. Michel?
MARTIN: No, no, no.
IFTIKHAR: You know, and then - you know, and then you have people comparing him to Mighty Mouse. You know, we have to - you know, again, you know, you look at the Sarah Palin phenomenon. You know, Letterman went on to actually say that, you know, it's like, you know, a second-string quarterback situation where you have Palin, you know, last week doing her speed-dating rounds with foreign leaders at the United Nations, and now she's on the campaign trail. And she can't fart without the McCain camp vetting it and approving it. That's right. I said it. You know, this is Karl Rovian politics. You can admit it, you can not admit it, this is all political trickery.
MARTIN: Look, we're just bitter that he didn't cancel to come and talk to us. Who are we kidding?
IZRAEL: It's redunculous, is what it is.
MARTIN: Who are we kidding? We're right here in Washington. We think he should have come to see us. Am I right?
NAVARRETTE: Arsalan, you're such a hater. No more hate. Stop the hate, stop the hate.
IZRAEL: Hateration in the Barbershop. No holleration, no hateration.
IFTIKHAR: They're using my words against me.
MARTIN: I have to call you out on this speed-dating thing. That is sexist. It's wrong.
IFTIKHAR: No, I mean, if it was a male candidate doing the same thing, I would have called it speed dating also. You know, it's like, oh, you know, I met with the President Zardari of Pakistan on table 56, he told me I was gorgeous. Come on now. Let's call a spade a spade. That's our foreign policy. You know, she's watching Russia from the back deck of her house. I'm going to call a spade a spade.
MARTIN: I tried. I tried.
IZRAEL: And with that, gentlemen...
NAVARRETTE: Well, I'm up for speed dating.
IFTIKHAR: If I had do it, I would have called it speed dating too. Come on, Ruben.
IZRAEL: That's a wrap, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank you so much for stepping into the Barbershop. I have to pass it on back to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.
MARTIN: Have you noticed how he's trying to placate me? I know when I'm being worked. I got it. I understand. Jimi Izrael is a freelance writer who blogs for TV ONE online and TheRoot.com. He joins us from Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for The San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joins us from San Diego. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and a civil rights attorney. He also joined us from our Washington studio. And Brian Bull is the assistant news director at Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wisconsin, which is where he is. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us.
NAVARRETTE: Thank you.
Mr. BULL: A pleasure.
IZRAEL: Yup, yup.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today.
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