'Shop' Weighs In On Obama's Cabinet Picks
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 guys 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 and blogger, Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, newspaper editor Marcus Mabry and civil-rights lawyer and editor Arsalan Iftikhar. I may jump in here or there, but for now, take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Yo, yo, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.
RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Hey. Doing well, doing well.
Mr. MARCUS MABRY (International Business Editor, New York Times): Doing good, man. Great.
IZRAEL: Oh, the R back, my man. Welcome. We haven't seen you in awhile.
NAVARRETTE: I know.
IZRAEL: While you were...
NAVARRETTE: I know.
IZRAEL: While you were gone...
NAVARRETTE: Yes, sir?
IZRAEL: President-elect Barack Obama, my man is making a list and he's checking it twice as he prepares to take office now. The R, you're first up. What do you think about some of the names you hear kind of bouncing around? Now, we know Eric Holder is kind of in like Flynn. What do you think?
NAVARRETTE: I think there's a nice little mixture there. On the one hand, I think that some of his White House appointments were rightly criticized by the National Organization for Women as being sort of same old, same old. The first three White House appointments that Obama made were three white males. I think he saved himself a little bit by coming in with the very qualified and capable Valerie Jarrett as choice number four. Then when he turned to the Cabinet, I think he's been batting, you know, near 1,000, putting in lots of qualified, experienced yet diverse candidates because he's choosing people like Governor Napolitano out of Arizona to do homeland security, Eric Holder, as you mentioned, was a former Justice Department official for Clinton. These are people who know how to do the jobs they are being chosen to do and they know the terrain pretty well, so I think I've been very pleased in the overall; I can see more of it.
IZRAEL: So, at first you weren't crazy about it, but you know, he's kind of gotten in your good favors as time goes on; is that about right?
NAVARRETTE: I pledge a bias. If you come in and you name - after a campaign about change, change, change, you pick three for three white males, OK? Including the very first pick is a former Clinton official from another White House, Rahm Emanuelm I'm going to be a little skeptical.
MARTIN: I'm sorry. Can I just point out that the deputy...
NAVARRETTE: Sure, Michel.
MARTIN: Chief of staff is a woman and a woman of color?
NAVARRETTE: Who's that?
IZRAEL: What's her name again?
MARTIN: Mona Sutphen.
NAVARRETTE: Oh, I didn't see that in the press accounts, but I - maybe now I didn't see it either because they were talking about the fact that - I think it's Kim Gandy, president of NOW, was talking about the fact she would like to have seen more women in the Cabinet or in the White House ranks. I don't care whether you're a Democrat or Republican; there should always be that kind of pressure to diversify the ranks, because oftentimes if you go to the usual suspects, you end up with an abundance of white males, unfortunately, in Washington, and that's something that we need not do.
MARTIN: Could I just ask this, though, Ruben, and I'm not trying to make the expert on this whole situation, but...
MARTIN: There's this whole thing now about whether Hillary Clinton should be - will be the secretary of state.
NAVARRETTE: Right, right.
MARTIN: I'm having - I understand the appeal on the one side, but I'm having a hard time understanding why she's more qualified to be secretary of state than Bill Richardson is.
NAVARRETTE: Well, yeah, because she got 18 million votes, but I sort of agree with you.
MARTIN: But she was not on the same side as the president-elect on the war.
NAVARRETTE: No. I hear you. I agree with you that given the foreign-policy resumes, someone like a Bill Richardson, I think, sort of proves my point about the fact you could have somebody who is a Hispanic on the Cabinet and yet he is somebody who is so incredibly qualified for this job of being America's top diplomat. But there's something to be said, I think, for making peace with the Clintons, and I think that Obama's trying to do that. I do think there's a cost to that, though, because a lot of people who were with Obama and came out against the Clintons have said basically if you read the blogs, hey, if I wanted a bunch of Clinton retreads, OK, I would have voted for Clinton. Why did I vote for Obama if I'm going to get the second Clinton administration?
MARTIN: I mean, I understand the importance of personal relationships. Like, I think it's very - we've been talking to a lot of the ambassadors in Washington and they say a lot of people in our county were excited by Hillary Clinton because we feel we know the Clintons.
MARTIN: But Bill Richardson was you know, and I'm not - I'm not, you know, carrying...
NAVARRETTE: Also, Michel, how I hear you...
MARTIN: Water for the man. I've met the man once, so it's not like I'm carrying his water. He was United Nations ambassador.
MARTIN: He was energy secretary.
Mr. MABRY: Yeah, this is Marcus.
MARTIN: Worked with the most important issues in the world - energy, security, national security. I just don't understand.
Mr. MABRY: Yeah.
MARTIN: And he's bilingual.
NAVARRETTE: Well, don't forget to add this...
Mr. MABRY: This is Marcus. I just got - I just have to interrupt the - name one accomplishment of the Richardson tenure.
MARTIN: Name one of Hillary Clinton's, forgive me.
Mr. MABRY: No, no, no. What I'm saying is Hillary brings other attributes, not - but if you're going to say that Bill Richardson's attributes is his, you know, wealth of experience, then let's hear what...
MARTIN: How about negotiating ceasefire in Darfur?
Mr. MABRY: Hillary is an international figure. Obama's - one of the things President Obama's going to have to defend himself against is going to be these charges that he's too weak or too willing to talk to people, all these, you know, extraneous charges. It is useful to him to have Hillary Clinton, who is - has a reputation as someone who is more of a hawk on foreign policy and on national-security issues, who is also going to go up and fight for what this president wants to do on Capitol Hill and fight the Republican opposition. It is to his advantage to have Hillary Clinton, who's a strong, well-known public figure in that role.
IZRAEL: Wait. Can A-Train get in here, man? I'm sure he's bursting. I'm sure his head is about to explode.
NAVARRETTE: Can the brother have a word, man? Let him do it. Let him do it.
IFTIKHAR: Now, you know, as an Obama supporter from the beginning, what many of us have a question on is if we wanted a Republican administration, we would have voted for John McCain. In my opinion, I take all of your points. I think that by picking Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, if indeed that is what's going to happen, I think it's more of a political appointment in two different ways. The first one, most importantly, is that it takes her out of play for the 2010 and maybe for 2012 in the sense that now she's going to have as much of a vested interest in the success of the Obama administration as all of the rest of us Americans.
And secondly, you know, to make peace with the Clintons, you know, I think that these overtures may have been made now. Will it come to fruition? Will Bill Richardson come in as a dark horse? I don't know. But you know, at the end of the day, look at Joe Lieberman keeping his homeland security post in the Senate. That was absolutely atrocious. As someone who, you know, is a member of Generation Obama to think that a senator can attack his own party with impunity, if it was a Republican who went independent and was doing this, you know, out campaigning for Obama, he wouldn't last a second in any chairmanship.
NAVARRETTE: Yeah, this is Ruben, real quick. I hear what Arsalan's saying. I think he makes a very good point, and there's going to be more criticisms like that to come because what Obama's trying to do now in sort of like governing from the center, it won't gel with everybody. But the big problem with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, and it's been pointed out so far by David Broder and Tom Friedman and a lot of other really good columnists out there, you cannot have two America's top diplomats. This is either going to be the Clinton foreign policy or the Obama foreign policy. If you were to put Hillary Clinton at the State Department, you would eventually end up with these two at loggerheads over each of them trying to decide foreign policy. I don't think that's a good role for Hillary Clinton, and I think it would probably be a disaster in governance.
IZRAEL: You know what, though?
MABRY: This is Marcus again. This is Marcus.
IZRAEL: You know what? Hold on, Marcus. It could all just be speculation, because, you know, Ted Kennedy wants to get down with Clinton for his universal-health thing. So, for me I think she'd be better suited for that. That's that, dude. Go ahead, Mr. Marcus. Bust it.
MABRY: I'm just saying, as the only one, as far as I know, who's written a book about a secretary of state, meaning Condoleezza Rice in my case...
MARTIN: Excuse us. Excuse us.
MABRY: I'm just saying.
MABRY: This is good. This is good. It's a title. We all know why.
MABRY: So, I'm just saying, I just think the crazy fear about Hillary Clinton up there - what it testifies to is people's belief that Barack Obama may be a weak president, the fact that they think that he might not be able to control his secretary of state. That's a weak president. And if he is that weak a president, then there's going to be much larger problems in the Barack Obama administration than who happens to secretary of state.
MARTIN: Sorry, Jimi. I have to jump in just for a second to say if you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News, and you're listening to Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Marcus Mabry and Arsalan Iftikhar in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: We've got to get to this Proposition 8 on the left coast. Banning gay marriage was upheld, and this has sparked much controversy due to the exit polls which suggest that 70 percent of the black electorate supported the ban. And this has caused a very serious flame-up, sorry, in the gay community against African-Americans. Mr. Mabry, you want this?
MABRY: Yeah. I was going to say, do I have to, you know, use my own credentials again, as not only the one who's written a book about a secretary of state, but the only one who, as far as I know, is an openly gay, proud black man on our program today?
NAVARRETTE: You can say that. You can call that one.
IZRAEL: Yeah. I mean, you're whipping out all your credentials, bro, so you might as well. I mean, go ahead.
MABRY: No, the fact is I think it's unfortunate that that's what happened in this election. The white vote and the Latino vote was much more 50/50. So, there are some in the gay community who say, oh, this is an example of the continuing homophobia in the African-American community. I think there is certainly some truth to that. Just like there is racism in the gay community, there is homophobia in the black community. Why would there not be? I mean, we are all normal people. It's not that blacks or gays as marginalized groups are any somehow exempted from discriminating and hating other groups. That's not the case. That never has been the case.
think the organizers, the people who were opposing Proposition 8, which means that same-sex couples can't marry in California, right now it's being - it's going to be adjudicated whether or not all those who have married will now have their marriages ripped away from them. It is hard to imagine that happening to a straight couple. How would you all feel about it? In addition to that, though, the opponents to Proposition 8 really didn't reach out to the black community as they should have. I think they assumed it wasn't going to be an important vote. I think they've reached out to the Latino community and to the white community. I think they should have done more to reach out to the black community and speak to us in terms of, actually, civil rights.
And the other thing I think about is, you know, I really wonder if Coretta Scott King had still been alive, would it have been different? Because Mrs. King was very, very vociferous about her support of equal rights for gays and lesbians, and she actually did see it as civil rights. And she was, I think, one of the most eloquent spokespeople, certainly in the African-American community about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. And I think if she had been alive, we might have seen a very different result. I think it's important to note that I don't think black people are the reason it failed. I think if white people had been convinced, then it would have passed. So, I think we can't say that, you know, the reason same-sex marriage was stripped away was only because of black people. I don't think that's fair.
MARTIN: Can I ask a question, though? Let me ask a question about this, though. African-Americans, as a voting bloc, we're not the only people who voted against this. Sixty-five percent of older voters also voted for Proposition 8. So, I'm curious about why the dialogue is all about what's wrong with these black folks, when here are, what, something like 10 percent...
NAVARRETTE: I'll tell you. This is Ruben.
MARTIN: Can I just ask? Whereas not older voters. And secondly, it's my understanding that part of the underpinning from just listening to people who we have interviewed talk about this, a lot of the underpinning of black voters' objection was religiously based. I never hear any religiously based outreach on this question. I heard very little. So...
NAVARRETTE: Well, let me answer your point.
MARTIN: Go ahead, Ruben. As a person, particularly who's in California, I'd love to hear from Ruben on this.
NAVARRETTE: Correct. From California.
IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ruben.
NAVARRETTE: Let me tell you about this. I think from - the reason it's become not a big storyline but a storyline nonetheless about the African-American support for Prop 8 is simply, in one word, irony. The idea that the African-American community shows up in an election to open the door of opportunity and freedom and kick it wide open and gives with one hand and takes away with the other, literally shows up to the ballot box in record numbers in California, unlike the seniors, post-65, that you talked about, Michel. This was a time where every single African-American in California couldn't wait to go out and cast their ballots for Barack Obama. And then, as I said, before they walked out the door, they decided to close that other avenue off and deny another basic freedom to another group of people. And that's...
IZRAEL: It's not quid pro quo, bro.
MARTIN: But can I just point out...
NAVARRETTE: That's irony. It's irony, and it's unfortunate.
MARTIN: But isn't this a situation where people view the same facts in a different way? For example, you are a person who writes a lot about the whole, forgive me, you know, the narcissism of the majority, particularly of white liberals.
MARTIN: It seems to me that you've got a group of people who were perhaps behind the outreach on this issue who assume that African-Americans are being progressive in the same way that they do. And a lot of African-Americans just don't see this as a civil-rights issue...
NAVARRETTE: I don't think it's an assumption.
MARTIN: And was the argument effectively made?
NAVARRETTE: I don't think it's an assumption. I mean, there was lots of polling beforehand. Anybody's who's paid attention to the gay-marriage issue for the last 10 or 15 years knows that African-Americans and Latinos, both - Karl Rove knew it; Karl Rove knew it in the Bush reelection. That became a whole part of the storyline about how social-conservative issues had done well with those two minority groups. So, to put the shoe on the foot of the Latino community, for Latinos to come back and say, oh, gee whiz, it's just that you didn't put enough ads up in Spanish, I might have been more tolerant, you know, is nonsense. I mean, they believed what they believed. And they went in and they voted their beliefs. Is it because of religious beliefs? Fine, perfect. But don't say it's because you didn't put enough ads out there, and I just didn't understand the issues. That's much too accommodating.
MARTIN: But I would also say the Latino vote is younger. Latino voters are younger. The Latino vote is younger.
NAVARRETTE: That's much too accommodating. It's an ironic decision. It's really unfortunate that it came down this way. And again, the Constitution doesn't exist to protect majorities. Majorities can protect themselves, you know. Strength and power in numbers. It exists to protect minorities. And in this case, gays and lesbians in California, you know, I think they really got cheated out of something that was important to them and important to the rest of us as well.
MABRY: I think Ruben points out an important, you know, issue here. If you were to put slavery to a referendum, we'd all still be in chains. The American people would not have...
MARTIN: No. Probably after a certain point you have to persuade the majority, and the question is, why is this particular group not persuaded?
MABRY: I don't think they tried enough to persuade us.
NAVARRETTE: Marcus is right that you don't put up to the majority. You know, let's have the majority vote after 1954, Brown versus Board of Education; let's have a referendum in 1955 and poll all the folks and see if they want to roll the clock back. And all the white folks say, yeah, it sounds like a good idea. There are some things that should not be put to a vote to begin with, and this was a case where a very thin minority of people took away again a right, I think, that was - it's frankly a discussion that's none of their business to begin with. It was a very ugly campaign, a deceitful campaign where they convinced parents that suddenly if you allow gays to marry, you know, my kids are all going to come home and say, I want to be gay. I want to marry, you know, Susie in my class. That's just not fair.
MARTIN: But if you are going to insist it's nobody's business, then the state has no business in marriage, period.
NAVARRETTE: Yeah; but...
MABRY: Well, that's the way other democracies have organized it.
MARTIN: That's an argument. Exactly. Exactly.
MABRY: That would be great. But unfortunately it's not the way that our democracy is organized.
NAVARRETTE: But basically, the way it's - the latest from California is this, guys. We have the initiative. It's passed. It's going to work its way through court. Just this week; the California Supreme Court said that it's going to hear a motion about whether or not it's constitutional. We will be probably having this debate in this country for the next generation or two. It's not going to go away.
IZRAEL: It's almost like everybody has an opinion, including Prince.
(Soundbite of song "Kiss")
IZRAEL: I mean, he's hit a sour note recently in New Yorker Magazine dissing gays. So...
NAVARRETTE: Prince said this?
IZRAEL: Prince said it.
IFTIKHAR: Oh, yeah.
IZRAEL: He said it in New York Magazine.
MARTIN: The New Yorker.
MABRY: In the New Yorker.
MARTIN: The New Yorker.
MABRY: It was a really freakish column.
IZRAEL: Help me out, A-Train.
IFTIKHAR: You know, Prince is gangster. You know, let me...
IZRAEL: What gang is that?
IFTIKHAR: No, no, no, no, no.
NAVARRETTE: Hazy gangster.
IFTIKHAR: Listen, listen.
NAVARRETTE: The purple haze, baby.
IFTIKHAR: I'm getting that out of the way. I love...
IZRAEL: The blouse(ph) gang!
IFTIKHAR: Like Chris Rock said between Prince and Michael, Prince won. But for Prince to be talking trash about anyone in his, you know, white lace, cutoff-finger gloves, eyeliner, mascara, honestly, he needs to put on his raspberry beret, get in his little red corvette and drive off into the purple rain because this is the redunculous(ph) item of the week.
(Soundbite of laughter)
IFTIKHAR: That's right. I said it. I said it on National Public Radio. I said it.
IZRAEL: Well, done.
NAVARRETTE: That's copyrighted. Don't mess with that.
MABRY: It was beautiful. That was beautiful.
IZRAEL: Ruben, the R.
NAVARRETTE: Sir. I'm not sure that folks who need to be lecturing on this issue are, one, the Mormon Church which contribute about $13 million to this initiative, some estimates as much as $20 million, not directly from the church, but certainly from church members, and has a rather colorful history with regard to polygamy and other standards of marriage. You know, the Catholic Church...
MABRY: And racism, the fact that black people couldn't go to Heaven according to them for a long time.
NAVARRETTE: The Catholic Church, which obviously, you know, wasn't long ago they were telling people, mind your own business about what happens in the Catholic Church. And I think there is a real unfortunate thread here that as long as it's somebody else's rights that are being discussed, it's not something you're concerned about.
IZRAEL: And with that, I think we're going to have to call it a wrap, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you so much for being in the shop. And I have to pass it back to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.
MARTIN: Why, thank you, Jimi. Jimi Izrael is a freelance writer who blogs for TV ONE online and TheRoot.com. He joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego. Marcus Mabry is the international business editor for the New York Times. He joined us from our New York bureau. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and a civil-rights attorney, and he joined us from our bureau in Washington. Gentlemen, thank you all so much.
NAVARRETTE: Thank you.
MABRY: Thank you.
IZRAEL: Yep, yep.
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