'Shop' Weighs In On Biden-Palin Showdown
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, media executive Nick Charles, Civil Rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar and bloger and writer Michael David Cobb Bowen. I may jump here and there but for now, take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, yo, fellas. What's up? Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?
Mr. NICK CHARLES (Media Executive): Pretty good, Jim. How are you doing?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.
Mr. MICHAEL DAVID COBB BOWEN (Writer): Rough and ready.
IZRAEL: Oh, my man. Yo, check it. The vice presidential debates last night were in St. Louis and they were kind of surprising and entertaining. Now, CNN polls suggest that 51 percent of us think that Senator Joe Biden bested Governor Sarah Palin. Me? I'm not so sure. Hey, yo, Michel. You got some tape on Biden, right?
MARTIN: I do and I think this is - I think the cup we want to play is not one of the - kind of the fun moments where you'd have kind of made people laugh. I think it was a moment that had - I don't know what's the word I'm looking for. It's more of an emotional...
IZRAEL: He showed that he was - yeah, he showed us he wasn't the attack dog but really he was more like, you know, old yeller.
MARTIN: OK, well, you could put it that way if you want to.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: You would be wrong as usual but, but that's not new of course. OK.
IZRAEL: He showed that he's new like saying single father.
MARTIN: All right. Well, here it is.
Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware, Vice-Presidential Nominee): Look, I understand what it's like to be a single parent. When my wife and daughter died and my two sons were gravely injured, I understand what it's like as a parent to wonder what it's like if your kid is going to make it.
MARTIN: We have a little bit more of that if you want to hear - I'll just play it just so you can hear a little bit more. Here it is.
Senator BIDEN: The notion that somehow, because I'm a man I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone. I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to make it. I understand.
MARTIN: Uh huh. There it is.
IZRAEL: Wow. That was really powerful. All jokes aside. He really repped for single dads. Thanks, Michel. You know what? I got to put this out there. Cobbski, my man. Welcome to the shop. I haven't seen you in a minute.
Mr. BOWEN: Yeah. Ah good to be here.
IZRAEL: Was there a clear winner?
Mr. BOWEN: I think Palin was a clear winner for people who had panicked the day before and I count myself among those people who did. And I was getting emails saying you know, get rid of Gwen Ifill and I was like - if people are thinking that - especially on the right who's talked about the mainstream media being biased and are worried that our vice-presidential candidate can't handle, you know, a PBS reporter, then we're in trouble. But I think she...
MARTIN: Oh, Michael, just to clarify, you're a McCain supporter, right?
Mr. COBB BOWEN: Yes, I am.
MARTIN: And you have been since the primaries, I mean, he was your guy in the primaries, right?
Mr. COBB BOWEN: Oh yeah.
MARTIN: OK. Just clarifying. There you go.
(Soundbite of whipping noise)
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CHARLES: That was Arsalan.
IZRAEL: No, no. That was me. Yo, Nick. Oh, welcome to the shop.
Mr. CHARLES: Hey, man.
IZRAEL: Well, what do you think about - who won, man? Who won.
Mr. CHARLES: I think I don't know what the other 49 percent of people were watching because clearly, she can recite very well.
IFTIKHAR: Governor Palin, you know, she was - I call it Palin Joan where she just kept going on and on. She wasn't really answering questions. Joe Biden showed a real impressive grasp. He didn't make a huge - any huge mistake. He choked up once, but she - this evening allowed that but he didn't do any real mistakes and I think, to Jimi's part about him being old yeller. He was very restrained. He could have gone after her in several points.
IFTIKHAR: He could have corrected her and said things and he did not. And I think he showed a lot of good restraint. He let her be herself. She only had to overcome Sarah Palin and she was able to do that but anything else, you know, it's just, you know, I guess it's people's figment of imagination that people were hoping she'd do better, and she had - she did do better, that...
MARTIN: Well, hold on. Let me say, she did connect. I think this is one of the things you have to credit her as a political gift. I mean, she - it is one of her gifts as a political player. She has an ability to connect with an audience and I want to play a short clip of Sarah Palin and here it is.
IZRAEL: Drop it.
Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska, Vice Presidential Nominee): One thing that Americans do at this time also though is let's commit ourselves - just every day, American people, Joe six pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say, never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars.
Mr. CHARLES: Joe six pack, hockey mom, are we in Canada?
(Soundbite of laughter)
IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah. You know, you know what? For me, thanks, Michel. You know what? For me, for me, and I don't know if this is just me but help me out here. I felt like that was coded language. I mean, who - who drinks beer out of cans anymore? And you know, and who's taking the kids to hockey practice?
(Soundbite of laughter)
IZRAEL: Certainly not people that look like you or I.
MARTIN: I'm sorry. We right...
Mr. COBB BOWEN: Well, try to think...
MARTIN: We have tried.
Mr. COBB BOWEN: Sarah Palin - Sarah Palin used the word working class.
IFTIKHAR: Go ahead, Cobb.
Mr. COBB BOWEN: And Biden always talked about the middle class. And I think that's a significant difference that people recognize. I would say that Palin did have some real strengths. One thing that I was kind of surprised about is when Biden went to Afghanistan and said, you know, our commanding general over there said this, he didn't even mention his name. And Palin said it was McClellan. And she went deeper than just talking about these - the strategy of the surge, but talking about the counterinsurgency kinds of methods. And so...
IFTIKHAR: And she was wrong. She was wrong.
Mr. COBB BOWEN: I think she did...
Mr. CHARLES: She was wrong. She got the name wrong.
IFTIKHAR: Jimi, Jimi, Jimi, you got to...
IZRAEL: A-Train, A-Train, jump in here, man. You're about to burst, man. Go for it.
IFTIKHAR: All right. Here are my quick hits. Now, I was watching the debate, and I was thinking, did the governor of Alaska just wink at me? Number two, she never answered any questions like what promises can't you keep? What are your Achilles heels? Number three, Governor Palin, it's pronounced nuclear, nuclear, nuclear. Number four, she said the word maverick so many times I thought Iceman and Goose were going to come out in their "Top Gun" uniforms. And I - and again the commanding general in Afghanistan, his name is David McKiernan not McClellan. And I felt that she should have finished the debate by saying "live from New York, it's Saturday night."
IZRAEL: Oh, A-Train, now wait, wait, wait, wait. You got - OK, A-Train, you're on the record as an Obama supporter so let's just give that right up front.
MARTIN: I was going to say that. Could I say that for a change, Jimi? You always get to say that. I want to say it.
IZRAEL: I'm sorry.
MARTIN: Arsalan, you are an Obama supporter.
IFTIKHAR: That's right, I am.
MARTIN: OK, there you go.
IZRAEL: OK. But let's give that she really reached out to her base. Whether you like it or not, I mean it was ugly to me, because it was coded language as far as I'm concerned. I mean, she - in my opinion, she was really clearly speaking to the white, blue-collar, lower to middle, middle to middle class people. I mean, was that just my imagination Cobbski? I know what you're going to say. Go ahead, man.
Mr. COBB BOWEN: Well, I think both candidates speak to their base. And you know, overall, I think that, you know, America is comfortable being red if you're red, and you're comfortable being blue if you're blue. And anybody who has approached any of these topics before really didn't hear anything new. We heard what we expected to hear, and there wasn't any - many surprises here. So I think even in the attitude of the candidates to each other, I mean, we're kind of used to being on our sides of this and we're listening to our guys.
MARTIN: Michael, can I ask Michael a question though? You - clearly there was a big difference in her performance at the debate than there was in these interviews that she stumbled through. I mean, she sort of - she seemed to get worse as time went on. She was OK with Charlie Gibson, and then in her encounter with Katie Couric, she was - I don't think there was much dispute that she was pretty terrible, and then tried to blame it on, I don't know what, you know, journalistic ethics or something. So my question is what do you think happened there to contribute to her performance? You know, to - that it was credible at least, and I think in a lot of ways very effective. But is that a game changer? Or is it enough to help the ticket?
Mr. COBB BOWEN: I don't know. I think one of the things that McCain made very clear, he said, you know, really if we have a chance to go out and go to a town and talk to 50,000, 60,000 Americans and voters, we'd rather do that than talk to an interviewer for one hour on TV. And I think that's where Palin kind of has her strengths, talking to the people straight to the people. And she did make a point of that last night. She said, well, you know, you may have your debate points, and you may have your experience in the Senate. But I want to talk to the American people. And I think she did that. I think she talked to the people who wanted to hear her.
IZRAEL: Man, she was in her notes though, man. You can't - now look, I mean, she was flipping off the head, but she was also in her notes. And even the stuff that she said off her head sounded scripted to me. The Joe six-pack, forty ounce, whatever and the hockey mom. All that stuff - all that stuff sounded...
MARTIN: Like Jimi never uses notes. That never happens.
IZRAEL: Well, I'm not running for vice president either. Thank God. I wouldn't live in that country, right.
Mr. CHARLES: Jimi, Jimi, that's the whole thing. You're not running for vice president. For someone to say, and I'm only five weeks on the job, to be running for the second toughest job in the world, there's no preparationary period. There's no, you know, learning on the job. And I think fundamentally, as well as she has done last night and maybe, you know salvaged some of her reputation and shown folk, OK, she can read from a prompt or she can read from notes and she's, you know, she can connect, she's folksy, she's attractive and she's smart in her own way. I still don't think this is the right pick for vice president. I still don't think McCain made the right choice. And I don't think it's the right pick for the American people.
IFTIKHAR: And you now that, you know, the only time she went off script was when she was giving shout out to the third graders at Bullwinkle Moose Elementary School.
IFTIKHAR: You know, she's talking about...
(Soundbite of laughter)
IFTIKHAR: She's, you know, she's talking like, you know, dog gone it, you betcha, you know, heck of a - you know, winking at the camera every fourth minute. I mean, that's not vice presidential, I'm sorry.
MARTIN: I'm sorry, I have to...
IZRAEL: It's very Shirley Temple.
MARTIN: I'm sorry, I have to - the winking thing, I'm not even dealing with that. But the whole dog gone it and you betcha, why not? I mean, if, you know, we use regional colloquialisms here. Why isn't she allowed to use a regional colloquialism? I mean, why not?
IFTIKHAR: Because she was on the debate stage at Washington University in St. Louis, my alma mater, for a vice presidential debate. This is - you know, this showed how little substance that she had. She didn't answer any of the questions, especially the ones that caused her to be self reflective and say, you know, what promises can't you keep? What are your Achilles heels?
MARTIN: I hear you on that. But what I'm addressing is why is it that when it comes to her, why isn't just substantive argument enough? Why is it that you have to attack style? Who cares whether she says you betcha and dog gone it? I mean, those are colloquialisms. If you - if she said, you know, what's up dog? I mean, would you be dogging her about that?
IZRAEL: Yeah, A-Train?
IFTIKHAR: Well, well, again, if she had the substance. And I think, you know, the McClellan gaffe, you know, when the commanding general's name is David McKiernan, that showed that she's just out of her league in terms of foreign policy. She has to resort to the folksyisms in order to, you know, connect with people. And she can't connect on the substantive level.
MARTIN: OK, well let's talk about Biden then just for a minute. Because I know there's other things you want to talk about. But Arsalan, do you think that Joe Biden should have called her on that? And overall, how do you think that he did?
IFTIKHAR: I think he did a good job. I think he should have called her out on it. I think that from a strategic vantage point, he was hoping that the pundit class, like us, the chattering class is going to call her out on it. But I think it's important for - you know, she was namedropping there and she got it wrong. You know, and that's a big deal. That shows that you're not well-informed, you know. For as well as she did at debate camp with the Republican strategists, you know, it just shows, you know, a very superficial level of understanding about foreign policy initiatives that are going to dictate the next presidency.
MARTIN: Let me just jump in, just for a - let me just jump in for one...
IZRAEL: You got to know the job. You got to know the job.
MARTIN: Hold on one second guys. Just one second to say if you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Michael David Cobb Bowen, and Arsalan Iftikhar in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks. You know, I think what A-Train is trying to say is that you got to know the job. You got to know the job, you know, unrehearsed. I think there's - I think both him and Michel are making great points. Don't attack her on style, but by the same token, know your job. You know what I'm saying? Know your job. You know, what I was upset about is that all this talk and all this winking hey, how you doing, and you betcha, we didn't hear anything about Katrina, we didn't hear anything about the poor in this country. And according to U.S. Census Bureau, in 2007 there were 37.3 million poor people in America. That's a lot of people to ignore, bro. You know, Cobbski, what's up with your people, man?
Mr. COBB BOWEN: Well, I mean, she was the only one that brought up education. And she was the only one who talked about paying teachers better salaries.
IZRAEL: You mean with the third graders?
Mr. COBB BOWEN: No. She actually got in that point about raising the standards of education. She said that No Child Left Behind was not working well enough and it needed to be reformed. And so it's not as if she didn't say anything at all. One thing that she called out that kind of left Biden on the table, he didn't say anything about the fact that they want to increase government spending by a trillion dollars. I mean, he didn't even blink at that point. And the current - the budget in 2007 was 2.5 trillion. So that's a 30 percent increase in federal government spending. That is the big elephant in the room. I don't see how you can talk about McClellan versus McKiernan when there's a trillion dollars of new government spending that...
Mr. CHARLES: Well, there's two things. First of all she goes to education...
IZRAEL: All right, Nick. Go ahead.
Mr. CHARLES: She goes to education and mentions a program that everybody universally knows has failed. You know, No Child Left Behind was left behind because the money was left behind, as Joe Biden said. And for her to bring up a failed policy that McCain tacitly supported, and now, you know they want to throw away, but - well, the thing about it, she didn't proffer anything else. She didn't offer anything new. Then on the trillion dollars, we're trying to rescue the $700 billion bailout. So there is going to be increases in taxes. People may not like it. People may not want to hear it. And they may not see it until after November 5. But that's the reality of it. And the more you try to hoodwink people and say. I'm going to cut your taxes when you're trying to spend $700 billion to save the financial system is, you know, that's criminal.
Mr. COBB BOWEN: The Democrats are not voting for that.
Mr. CHARLES: We'll see if it passes.
IZRAEL: All right. Well, check this out. Let's wrap this particular issue up round robin style. Now, who won? I'm going to say Palin. Cobbski?
Mr. COBB BOWEN: I think Palin did a gosh darn good job.
Mr. CHARLES: You know, I don't like winners and losers, but Joe Biden had this hands down.
IZRAEL: Really? And A-Train?
IFTIKHAR: Joe Biden, wink, wink, wink, wink.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Well, let me quickly, quickly ask, game changer in any way? I want to - can I go round on this one? Go the other way. Arsalan, game changer in any way?
IFTIKHAR: No, it's not a game changer. They both held serve.
Mr. CHARLES: Not a game changer at all.
Mr. COBB BOWEN: End of Republican panic. Confidence again.
MARTIN: OK. Jimi?
IZRAEL: I cosign Cobbski.
IZRAEL: All right.
MARTIN: All right. What else you got?
IZRAEL: Let's keep it in motion. Can we keep it in motion?
MARTIN: What else you got? Got a minute, yeah. Go ahead. You got a couple of minutes.
IZRAEL: OK, well, yo! Rapper Jay-Z out of nowhere, with others, they're trying to, you know, agitate the whole electorate by registering people to vote at their next concerts. Now I guess it's kind of weird because we know that Senator Barack Obama has a strange relationship with the hip-hop community. One minute he's got Ludacris in his iPod. The next minute, he's dissing Ludacris. Now, A-Train, it's strange to me. Now this is your boy. Now guess who's bizzack(ph) with the hip-hop community. He's on the cover of the VIBE magazine November issue, which is the very first time they're even endorsing a political candidate. And he's talking about, I need you. Now all of a sudden he needs the hip-hop community.
MARTIN: Well, I'm sorry...
IZRAEL: What's up with that?
MARTIN: What's complicated about this? Why shouldn't people register to vote, whoever - who they are?
IZRAEL: Well, no, it's not they shouldn't...
MARTIN: Oh, oh, let me get this right. Oh please stay home and don't support me, if you would be so inclined to do so. Please don't bother. I just - I cannot, because I don't agree with all of your lyrics that appear in all of your - please.
MARTIN: Go ahead, Arsalan. I'm sorry, I just...
IFTIKHAR: No, you know, I'm waiting for Barack to be on the cover of The Source next to Five Mikes next to him. Now, the difference here...
(Soundbite of laughter)
IFTIKHAR: Listen. The difference here is that, you know, when Luda came out with his pro-Obama rap, he dropped the B-word on Hillary Clinton. You know, and like I've said before, quoting Chris Rock, "it is hard to defend, I got hos in different area codes" on an intellectual level. You know, Barack has, you know, not only to go to his base, but you know, he also has to be, you know, a man of the people. And I think that, you know, distancing himself from a certain rapper does not necessarily mean that he can't go out and seek, you know, the support of the hip-hop community in general.
IZRAEL: All right. Well, you know what, I think that's a wrap. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being in the shop. I got to throw it to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.
MARTIN: All right. Well, thank you. And you know we were wrong last week about the whole T-shirt thing. You can't wear your T-shirt.
IZRAEL: So we were wrong.
Mr. CHARLES: Don't do it.
MARTIN: OK. All right. Jimi Izrael, a freelance journalist, writes for TheRoot.com and TV ONE online, joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Michael David Cobb Bowen is a blogger and founder of the Conservative Brotherhood. He joined us from NPR West. Nick Charles is the managing editor of Essence.com. He joined us from our bureau in New York. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and a civil rights attorney. He joined us from Chicago. Gentlemen, thank you so much.
IZRAEL: Yup yup!
MARTIN: And that's our program for today.
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