Is Obama Implicated By The Blagojevich Scandal? The guys in this week's shop — Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Arsalan Iftikhar and Lester Spence — debate how closely President-elect Barack Obama should be associated with the political scandal. Plus, the shop discusses how "Joe the Plumber," made famous by Republicans during the presidential campaign season, is now an author. And, should Obama distance himself from his middle name, Hussein?
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Is Obama Implicated By The Blagojevich Scandal?

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Is Obama Implicated By The Blagojevich Scandal?

Is Obama Implicated By The Blagojevich Scandal?

Is Obama Implicated By The Blagojevich Scandal?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The guys in this week's shop — Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Arsalan Iftikhar and Lester Spence — debate how closely President-elect Barack Obama should be associated with the political scandal. Plus, the shop discusses how "Joe the Plumber," made famous by Republicans during the presidential campaign season, is now an author. And, should Obama distance himself from his middle name, Hussein?


I'm Michel Martin, and this 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, freelance editor Nick Charles, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, and political science professor Lester Spence. I may jump in here or there but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Yo fellows, what's up? Welcome to the shop. How we living?

NICK CHARLES: Hey, hey, what's cracking, George?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: How you doing?

IZRAEL: Man, you know what? President-elect Barack Obama, he was holding a press conference to name his latest pick for his team, but he had to address the whole Senate seat scandal unfolding in Chi-town, and here you thought the Republicans had a patent on chicanery. Now, yo, check it out. Your boy, uh, Blagovich?

MARTIN: I am sorry. Just for the record, I didn't think that. And it's Blagojevich, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

IZRAEL: Blagojevich, thank you. Thank you. Governor Rod Blagojevich, you know, he is facing allegations he was trying to sell or barter the Senate seat, like it was on eBay, to the highest bidder. And we got some tapes, is that right?

MARTIN: The context for this was that the president-elect has been relatively tight-lipped about this, but yesterday he had already a previously scheduled press conference to announce his choice for the secretary of health and human services but, of course, he had to talk about this, and this is a little bit of what he said.

(Soundbite of President-elect Barack Obaman)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I am confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. attorney reflect that fact.

IZRAEL: A-train, my man.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Well, he talks about the fact that, you know, during this time where Governor Rod Blagojevich was essentially, you know, scheming in a pay-to-play political scheme, where he was trying to gain some sort of cash contributions or some cushy high level position, he had made overtures to several Senate candidates on what they would potentially offer if they were given the Illinois Senate seat.

MARTIN: And when he was quoted as, he was quoted as having approached the Obama people - were having - at least in reference to the Obama folks, he said, he was quoted on this wiretap as saying what?

IFTIKHAR: Well, basically that, you know, every overture he made to the Obama campaign was basically - he wasn't getting anything out of them except appreciation and so, you know, that shows that the Obama camp probably didn't have anything to do with the situation. Which is why, you know, the president-elect and his campaign are not a part of the investigation.

MARTIN: Well, he was a little more colorful than that, Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: Well, yeah, well.

MARTIN: That's that.

IFTIKHAR: Well, yeah, what I was going to say, you know, the thing is, you know, I am glad we had the redunkulous awards of the week because Blagojevich gets it hands down, and I call him Bleepovich because there were so many bleeps in the bleeping manuscript that, you know, just the brazenness and vulgarity of what he was doing, I mean, for all of us. Ali(ph) and I, who are from Chicago, you know, we - it's sad to see, you know, unfortunate, that this is the dirty part of Chicago politics. And Rod Blagojevich gets the golden toilet of the redunkulous award.

IZRAEL: My man, you need to hustle, man. I feel his pain, but it seems like he could have just sold chicken dinners and maybe some bootleg DVDs. My man, he's been all the way out there so deep. You know what, A-train, you're not getting off that easily though, bro. How could Obama not know anything about this, man? Does anybody else buy that? I'm sorry, I don't. Nick, Nick, get it.

NICK CHARLES: Nope, nope. I don't buy it at all. Come on, man. You know, you're talking about - this is Chicago politics, this is politics period. And you know, Obama got on TV and as, you know, the halo had been gone maybe during the campaign but definitely now, he's no longer walking on water because he's been brought down to Earth by the reality of politics, which is...

MARTIN: Wait, a minute, Nick, wait minute. I are you saying - I think you need to be really clear about what you're saying here, because if he has knowledge of an illegal act, that is itself a crime so ..

CHARLES: I am not saying I - no. I am not saying that he had knowledge. No. I don't think he had knowledge of the illegal - the deal that Blagojevich is trying to get, but he knew this guy was crooked. This guy has been under investigation how many years now?

IZRAEL: Right. That's what we say.

MARTIN: Well, I am sorry. Did he have some choices here? He's the elected governor of the state. It's his sole authority under the law to fill that seat. So I guess, what I am curious is, what do you think he should have done?

CHARLES: I think there could have been a lot more distancing between himself and Blagojevich during the campaign, that's one, because all they keep showing is photographs of both them together smiling, that's one. Two, there is nothing that ties Obama or anybody who is, you know, frontlining this campaign to what Blagojevich was trying to do. But at the same time, as I said, this guy has been under investigation for five years - not five minutes.

IZRAEL: L-Spence?

Dr. SPENCE: In Obama's press conference, what he's talked about was that this was kind of the extreme of politics as a business. And I think the governor from Illinois, he is the extreme, but this type of thing is relatively normal. It's just that this guy used the most ghetto way of trying to get paid off of it. I mean, but this is the type - this type of deal has been going on for a long time.


Dr. SPENCE: I mean, it's this type of - once you have the language of the market bleed into politics, this is the natural and most extreme result.

IZRAEL: That's a good point well made, bro. I want to get to Jesse Jackson Jr., now. You know, I'm hard on the Jacksons, but I wonder what the future holds for this young brother. I wonder, is he tainted or can he skate out of this? L-Spence.

Dr. SPENCE: He keeps his seat as a congressman until he doesn't want to run anymore. But he's foreclosed the…

IZRAEL: Do you think he'll ever see a Senate seat?

Dr. SPENCE: Nah, he can't run for Senate now.

Mr. CHARLES: His ambitions for higher office - his ambitions for higher office are dead.

IZRAEL: So he's a - now, that's a wrap?

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah. It doesn't even…

IZRAEL: Really?

Mr. CHARLES: Even if he doesn't - it comes out that he had no knowledge, didn't offer anything, his ambitions for governorship, for a senator seat, for anything beyond what he is holding right now, and as Lester says that he wants to run again. But beyond that, it's a done deal, because definitely now he's not going to get that Senate seat. So, that's a start there.

IZRAEL: Interesting.

MARTIN: But what if it's a special election?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. And what I was thinking about with a special election is, what are the rules that you're going to set? Does it have to be a Democrat that's going to be elected? Is it going to be only registered Democrats that are going to get to vote? Is it going to be all of the state of Illinois? And who are - you know, are both parties going to be able to run for this open, you know, technically open Senate seat?

Mr. CHARLES: Well, the question is, who's going to pay for this $50 million election that, you know, in a recession, right, they don't have any money?

IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. CHARLES: But contrast this with the way that David Paterson is handling the one in New York where, you know, there are a lot of names surfacing. We know he's maneuvering for some political gain. But he is doing it in such a way that people are saying, you know, this is just politics as usual, which is fine. But in the other way, as this guy went out there and said, look, I want to be at this room at this hour with this in my pocket, and you guys can come get me if you want. And they came and got him.

IFTIKHAR: Well, didn't "The Nanny," Fran Drescher, say that she wanted the Senate seat in New York also?

Dr. SPENCE: Yeah, she wants Jay Leno's job too, but I think...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: That makes my tummy hurt.

Mr. CHARLES: She wants your job, Jimi. She wants Jimi's job.

MARTIN: Let me just jump in...

IZRAEL: No, she doesn't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Can I just jump in for a second to say 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, Nick Charles, Lester Spence and Arsalan Iftikhar. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Now, you know, president-elect, pretty soon he's going to be president. And he's planning to maybe use all three of his names when he gets sworn in. That makes sense to me. I mean, he is a junior. And say what you want, but when you're a junior, you really respect your father's name. Besides, those are the names he was born with.

IFTIKHAR: That's right.

IZRAEL: You know what I'm saying. I'm saying. We got some tape, Michel, right?

MARTIN: Well, yeah, he joked about this earlier this year at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner in New York. It was in October. And it was actually kind of an interesting moment because it was such - remember right in the last month of the campaign, it got kind of nasty, and it was kind of a rare moment of levity in the middle of those final weeks. But here's what he said.

(Soundbite of Barack Obama at Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Many of you know that I got my name, Barack, from my father. What you may not know is Barack is actually Swahili for "that one."

(Soundbite of laughter)

President-elect OBAMA: And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president. But in the spirit of full disclosure, there are a few October surprises you'll be finding out about in the coming weeks. First of all, my middle name, it's not what you think. It's actually Steve.

(Soundbite of laughter)

President-elect OBAMA: That's right. Barack Steve Obama.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Obviously, he has better writers than D.L. Hughley. Thank you so much, Michel, for that.

Dr. SPENCE: Yeah, that's about right.

IZRAEL: Me, personally, I can't see what the big deal is. L-Spence?

Dr. SPENCE: Man, I think it's deep. I mean, I still trip on this. It's like a month plus after Barack Hussein Obama. I mean, that's crazy. That's absolutely crazy.

IFTIKHAR: You know, I…

IZRAEL: I mean, it's not like his middle name is Pookie. I mean, what? He's not getting sworn in with a street name.


IZRAEL: You know, like B-Dog. I mean, what?

IFTIKHAR: Well, no. I think it really, honestly…

IZRAEL: A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: For Inauguration Day, I'm going to commemoratively change my name to Arsalan Hussein Iftikhar for the day. But honestly, like, I think it really speaks to the American dream. I mean, if you look at the history book of the presidents, it's like white, white, white, white, white. And now you have, you know, the 44th president is Barack Hussein Obama. I just think it's beautiful American poetic justice at its best.

Mr. CHARLES: OK, you know, that's enough of the flag waving, Arsalan. And you, of all people, to wave the flag and quote Cat Williams at the same time. The thing about it is that to me, it's inconsistent. For two years, he didn't use the Hussein anywhere. On your Web site, in your literature, there was no Hussein. One of the things they say is, well, you know, all presidents sign in with - have been sworn in with their middle name. No, they have not. Some have, some haven't. So it's inconsistent.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: I'm sorry. Wait a minute. What about William Jefferson Clinton? That wasn't on his literature, but he used William Jefferson Clinton when he was sworn in.

Mr. CHARLES: No, what I'm saying…

MARTIN: It's a ceremony, OK.

IZRAEL: Ronald Reagan didn't use his middle name.

MARTIN: Do you wear a top hat and tails to work? I mean, give me a break.

IZRAEL: James Carter.

Mr. CHARLES: No. But the thing about it, Michel, is that, you know, you avoid this name like the plague.

IFTIKHAR: Because you're trying to get elected.

MARTIN: How do you say he avoided the name like the plague? Do you use your middle name every day? What's your middle name, Nick?

Mr. CHARLES: Samuel.

MARTIN: I mean, I've known you for two years, and I didn't know your middle name was Samuel, also. Are you hiding it? What do you have to hide, Nick?

IFTIKHAR: Nicholas Samuel Charles needs to put down the Haterade for a second.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: He just doesn't like his initials.

IZRAEL: I think people put so much emotion in that name. You know, it's his middle name and, you know, it was his father's name. Please give the man his peace and let him do this the honorable way. If he wants to use his middle name, you know, let him do that. Because when I, you know, when I run for president, when they're swearing me in, I'm going to be that dude. So, you all just going to have to deal with that.

MARTIN: What's your middle name, Jimi? Do you have a middle name? What's your middle name?

IZRAEL: My middle name is Bernard.


MARTIN: I can understand why you don't use that one.


IZRAEL: OK. It's - OK. In other news from up under the bus, Joe the Plumber's throwing his old buddy, Senator John McCain, up under the bus. Now he's out shilling for his new book, which I'm pretty sure he put together at his local Kinko's. And he mentions how appalled he was sitting across the table or the bar from McCain as they were discussing his ideas for a bailout. We got some tape.

MARTIN: Yes. Joe the Plumber was on the Glenn Beck show earlier this week. And this is what he said.

(Soundbite of TV show "The Glenn Beck Program")

Mr. SAMUEL JOSEPH WURZELBACHER: You know, there's a bailout. When I was on the bus with him, I asked him a lot of questions about the bailout because most Americans did not want that to happen, yet he voted for it. At the same time, he's talking about how he's going to make somebody famous if they even think about putting pork in the bill. We all know how much pork was in that $700 billion bailout package. And why did he vote for it? And I asked him pretty direct questions. And some of the answers you guys are going to receive, you know, they appalled me, absolutely. You know, I was angry. In fact, I wanted to get off the bus after I talked to him.

IZRAEL: Oh, my lord. Where's he broadcasting from? He sounds like a steaming pile of Wurzelbacher clogging the septic tank of my critical mind. I can't stand it. I wish this cat would go away. Yo! A-Train, what's up with that?

IFTIKHAR: You know, asking Joe the Plumber about the bailout plan is like asking Larry the Cable Guy about intellectual property issues, you know, within cable conglomerates. He just needs to get her done and get out the way because, honestly, he had his 15 minutes, and he's tired. He needs to go.

IZRAEL: Yeah, that's a wrap.

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, Joe...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Nick.

Mr. CHARLES: Joe doesn't need any more press. He needs to, you know, he's trying to extend 15 minutes into half an hour. And that's not going to work. But at the same time, the one thing he does point out in that conversation that makes sense to me is the whole idea that, you know, John McCain knew nothing about economics. He knew nothing about, you know, anything that was going on in the real world about the economy. And that's what tripped him up ultimately. And if you couldn't answer simple questions about a bailout to a guy with a, you know, whatever grade education he has who thinks Sarah Palin is the real deal, then you didn't deserve to be president. So I agree with him on that point.

IZRAEL: Well, that's a really good point. L-Spence, what's up?

Dr. SPENCE: This is usually the type of thing that would happen with blacks, right? So you'd get somebody who just happens to be black and actually make them an expert, right? So somebody like John McWhorter, who technically is a linguist specialist, all of a sudden is talking about black politics or black economics or black health. I mean, this is actually the first time that I'm thinking about where you just have this normal white guy actually asked to be an expert on American economic and foreign policy. And for me, this moment is bittersweet, right. So the one time where we really, really need expertise is like, we get somebody who's treated like a black pundit.

Mr. CHARLES: Now, let's be nice, let's be fair. John McWhorter has a Ph.D. Joe doesn't.

Dr. SPENCE: Well, no, but...

MARTIN: He has a Ph.D. in linguistics.

Dr. SPENCE: He's a linguist, right. So he doesn't come and talk about - he doesn't talk about Ebonics anymore. He talks about a range of issues that have nothing to do with being a linguist.

MARTIN: I think in America, we have a very complicated relationship with authority, who's allowed to tell us, you know, things.

IFTIKHAR: Well, and let's not...

Mr. CHARLES: But the only people who conferred on Joe any kind of authority or legitimacy was the media. And that's the sad thing, is that it wasn't anybody in authority actually picked Joe and said, you know, you're the man. But it was the media that conferred upon him this kind of legitimacy where, you know, he is speaking for middle America and, you know, the white working class folks who are feeling the squeeze of the economy, when he's not.

IFTIKHAR: And gentlemen, let's also not forget that Joe the Plumber, his name is not Joe. And he is not a plumber.

IZRAEL: OK, well, check this out. Now, your boy, "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, he's planning to move his show to 10 o'clock. He can be unfunny even earlier than ever, and I'm down with that, you know, in so far as - well, actually, I'm not down with that because I have a lot of friends that write for television and what this really is is a cost-cutting measure to save the network to having to pay writers and producers. Yo, do we have any Jay Leno fans up here?

Mr. CHARLES: Nope, not me.

IZRAEL: Spence?


IFTIKHAR: I ain't going to hate on him.

MARTIN: I'm not hating either.

IFTIKHAR: I'm not hating him.

MARTIN: What's with the hating him?

Dr. SPENCE: I didn't say I hated him...

IFTIKHAR: Jay Leno's gangster.

IZRAEL: You know what? I look at it differently. I look at it differently, because there are some writers, some producers, some creative people being put out of work. You know, so this cat can be even unfunnier earlier. You know, I don't want to hear that, yo.

Mr. CHARLES: You know, I'm a Letterman fan, one...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Nick.

Mr. CHARLES: I'm a Letterman fan, one. Two, my whole thing is, you know, I was hoping that Kevin Eubanks would start to go back to playing jazz again and to get rid of that band. But, you know, Jay Leno could do whatever he wants to do and be unfunny. I don't have to watch him. So I don't care.

IZRAEL: Spence.

Dr. SPENCE: TV's going to a really interesting place. And you know, we'll see what happens. Seriously.

IZRAEL: It's called the toilet. A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: Well, I mean, I prefer Letterman, as well, but Jay Leno is gangster. He's an OG.

Mr. CHARLES: You did not say gangster for Jay Leno.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, Jay Leno, come on. He's paid his dues. Don't be...

Mr. CHARLES: Paid his dues doing what?

IFTIKHAR: Put your Haterade down, dog.

DR. SPENCE: He's an OG?


IZRAEL: He's an OC. He's an old chin, is what he is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. CHARLES: It's AC, all chin.

IZRAEL: You know what? For me this is just - yet another sign of the apocalypse. You've got Jimmy Fallon with his band, the Roots, taking over for Conan O'Brien. And now this. I swear to you that these are the signs of the horsemen, my friends. And with that, I think that's a wrap. Ladies and gentlemen, I've got to thank you for coming to the shop. And I have to pass it back to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Thank you, Jimi. I didn't know that Jay Leno was associated with the end times. I didn't recall reading that in the good book. But I'll take your word for it, Jimi. I'm sure you read that on a blog somewhere. So it must be true.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for and TV ONE online. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Lester Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He joined us from member station WYPR in Baltimore. Nick Charles is a freelance editor. He joined us from our bureau in New York. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of and a civil rights attorney, and he joined us from our bureau in Washington. Gentlemen, thank you so much.


Mr. CHARLES: Thank you, Michel.

Dr. SPENCE: Peace.

IZRAEL: Yep yep!

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