Steele-Limbaugh Showdown: 'He Said, He Said' The guys in this week's Barbershop — Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Arsalan Iftikhar and Ruben Navarrette — discuss the highly-publicized crossfire between RNC Chairman Michael Steele and conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, Jimmy Fallon's debut on late night television, and recently announced plans by pop superstar Michael Jackson to revive his music career overseas.
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Steele-Limbaugh Showdown: 'He Said, He Said'

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Steele-Limbaugh Showdown: 'He Said, He Said'

Steele-Limbaugh Showdown: 'He Said, He Said'

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CHERYL CORLEY, Host:

I'm Cheryl Corley and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin returns next week. 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. And 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 syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette.

I may jump in here and there, but for now, go ahead and take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: C-love, thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yo, what's up, everybody? Welcome to the shop, how we doin'?

Unidentified Panelist #1: Hey, hey, hey.

Unidentified Panelist #2: Pretty good, Jimi, how are you doing?

Unidentified Panelist #3: Good, great.

IZRAEL: Okay, well, what's going on? Because I don't know if I'm taking crazy pills. Somebody has to tell me 'cause I seem to recall there was some talk about Barack Obama. At first he was - he wasn't black enough, but now he's too, too black? What's up with that? Political had a piece about his alleged dog whistle politics. Yo, C-love, we got some tape, huh?

CORLEY: Absolutely. Now, this is Barack Obama before the inauguration, when he showed up at Ben's Chili Bowl to get something to eat. And this is after he was served, and they asked him if he wanted some change back and he said...

(SOUNDBITE OF RESTAURANT CROWD)

Unidentified Woman: Here's change for you, sir.

BARACK OBAMA: No, we straight.

CORLEY: No, we straight.

Unidentified Man #1: Okay.

Unidentified Man #2: That's right, we straight.

IZRAEL: Thanks for that. That's for that, C-love. So apparently his usage of African-American vernacular English is little beknownst to us, some kind of coding to black America and people of color, that it's kind of this virtual black fist and afro to let you know that he's down. The (unintelligible) down. Take the first swing at this, man.

Panelist #1: This is all news to me, Jimi. You tell me that Barack Obama is black, it turns out? What does (unintelligible).

IZRAEL: As it turns out, bro. And grey, according to The New York Times.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: It's a little funny. I know he's turning grey. I don't blame him. I mean if you read those daily briefings about terror warnings, your hair would turn grey and then fall out.

So I'm with them on that. I'm with them on that. But it's kind of silly to read this set of stories put together by, let me just say it, a mostly white press corps in Washington that is sort of, you know, coming to this realization that yes, in fact, we did elect a black president.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF GASP)

IZRAEL: And I think it's great that Obama says, you know, this at the Chili Bowl, and he does the fist bump and whatever else and the way he walks. Whatever, it's just - it's no big deal. It's not some sort of secret code, it's just who he's.

Panelist #2: (unintelligible) black.

IZRAEL: What I am interested in is that this, again, Ivy League educated, mostly white Washington press corps is just sort of scratching their heads figuring out that this guy is still, you know, though he be the president of the United States, he's still authentically black.

Panelist #2: Right.

Panelist #1: And they're trying to reconcile all that and figure that out. So let's hear it for diversifying the press corps. Get some folks in there who wouldn't be shocked by all this.

IZRAEL: Mr. Nick Charles.

NICK CHARLES: (unintelligible) need as (unintelligible) that any more black folks in the audience when he gives these speeches so they can, you know, the white folks, in terms of, what did he say?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Sort of like Michael Sanfranson(ph) where they were (unintelligible).

CHARLES: Exactly.

IZRAEL: And the black officer, you know, translates.

CHARLES: Exactly. Translate. What do you say?

IZRAEL: I imagine that that was wonderful piece of the first "Airplane" where these two black guys are talking and the nun has to translate for the rest of the folks. You know, it's really a non-issue, but it does point out the fact of how homogeneous the press corps has been and is. That he's like them: Ivy league trained and very educated and to some extent an elitist. But he's also at some level a black man and he's going to come out now and say, no we're straight, we're good and they may not get it but they better get it soon because he's going to be around for a while.

IZRAEL: At some level, on the surface level absolutely and probably deeper than that. A-train, my man.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Number one, that's right we straight. Number two you know...

UNINTELLIGIBLE

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

Panelist #1: Hey. Put down that hater (unintelligible), Ruben.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: Number two, listen - you know the interesting thing is you know, we talk about code words and dog-whistle politics. You know, we forget that George W. Bush you know, talked about crusades and culture of life, you know, to sort of reach out to his core constituency.

CORLEY: You mean evangelical Christians.

IFTIKHAR: Evangelical Christians, right. And so you know, presidents have always used code words to get to their core demographic groups and you know, like Ruben has always said we should you know, have the same set of standards for everyone. Finally, on this whole, you know, swagger thing, you know, George Bush had the bow-legged cowboy swagger, you know.

Panelist #1: Right, right.

IFTIKHAR: Obama has that you know, Michael Jordan hitting the last shot over Brian Russell in the '96 finals to win the game swagger. He had the swagger of a champion. He just walks like Michael Jordan, that's it.

IZRAEL: Well, you see, for me not even and jokes aside just for a moment, It is troubling for me - and just for the record, I believe a sister wrote the piece of note on this, beyond political piece, I believe, a sister wrote the joint for The New York Times - but what's troubling for me is these pieces where, it's as if we haven't been here for hundreds and hundreds of years and white people are just now noticing that black people have distinct cultural markers. You know, we have a certain way that we like to function in the world. It's just disappointing to see stuff like this on the cover of the newspaper like its news. Like, I remember when Barack gave his wife a pound. It was like, it was international news. You know, when it's - and when we've been doing this for years. We've been doing this since the '60s and before. It's really disturbing to be discovered in, like, this way, like we haven't been here.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: It's like that thing with Mexicans - Latinos have been here for long time just like African-Americans have been here for a long time but it's almost like some folks figured they didn't have to figure us out because they were just hoping we'd go away.

IZRAEL: Right, right.

NAVARRETTE: Didn't quite work out that way.

CORLEY: Well, guys you know, that how people talk and what they say was a big thing in the news this week as well when we're talking about Republicans. Jimi, you know, we had Rush Limbaugh.

IZRAEL: Yeah, man - Rush Limbaugh. What's up man? It's like, you know, you're Michael Steele, you're the RNC's man and you find yourself apologizing to Rush Limbaugh who essentially is just some cat on the radio. Dude, you failed. You failed. You just got punked. It's over, it's a rap. You're the man.

Panelist #1: Well, is he the man?

Panelist #1: It's Ruben.

CORLEY: Well, well, before you go on, let's listen to a clip of a tape. This is Michael Steele on Saturday night on CNN's "D.L. Hughley Show." And this is what he had to say about Rush Limbaugh. When he was asked about Limbaugh's comment that he wants to see President Obama fail.

MICHAEL STEELE: Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh - his whole thing is entertainment.

HUGHLEY, Host:

(unintelligible) the Republican Party, right.

CORLEY: And this is what Rush Limbaugh had to say in response on his show on Monday.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Why do you claim you lead the Republican Party, when you seem obsessed with seeing to it that the President Obama succeeds?

CHARLES: You know something Jimi - and this is Nick. You know, I'm with Ed Rollins, who was the long-time Republican strategist who says, you know, basically they're fighting over who gets to stay in the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. And the problem with that is that nobody really wants to take the helm. And Michael Steele should have stepped down last week while he should step down now since he apologized. Because Rush Limbaugh has no legitimacy besides the pulpit of talk radio. And if people want to follow...

Panelist #1: Hey, nothing wrong with talk radio, baby.

CHARLES: But if you follow Rush Limbaugh like of bunch of lemmings off the cliff, let them do so because the fact of the matter is - you know, when Rush Limbaugh says that Michael Steele only wants to see President Obama succeeding (unintelligible) President Obama succeeds, America succeeds. So my question is: Where is Rush Limbaugh coming from? He wants to see the president fail so Americans can fail? So Americans can lose their home because Americans can keep losing their jobs? Is that his attitude, that the worse we do, the better for the Republican Party? And that's the problem with Republican Party. They don't have a strategy beyond, you know, something negative. So, it's not what we can offer to the alternative, it's if it fails it's great for us.

IZRAEL: All right, Ruben my man, what's up with that?

NAVARRETTE: Okay. Two things going on here. First of all, you know, Limbaugh said that he hopes the Obama policies fail. He doesn't hope for that the country fails. He doesn't hope for the country goes down the tubes. He hopes that the policies fail. Or better for worse - and we may disagree with him about this - he thinks that the idea of throwing all this money at the problem, and another banking bailout, is bad for the country and bad policy. Now people can disagree about that.

The other question is about Michael Steele. And I don't think he got in trouble for calling Rush an entertainer. He said - he got in trouble for saying that he was incendiary and ugly. And I think that when you do that with somebody who has 20 million listeners who are also - many of them conservative Republicans and you're the head of the RNC - you're bound to have some sort of conflict. Lastly, you know, I don't understand what Michael Steele's doing on D.L. Hughley's show anyway. We talked earlier about Obama sort of being authentically black. I think Michael Steele is pretending to be black. You know...

Man #1: Wow.

CORLEY: Well...

NAVARRETTE: So much of what he has said, so much of the lingo that he's used has been, sort of, try to urbanize the RNC and try to somehow put forward this notion that this not your father's Republican Party. But I'm not sure how much of that is authentic. He used a comment the other day about white bread. He said...

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: ...we can't be so white bread and then he's shocked somehow that white Republicans are upset at that. At some point, he's going to have to pick a lane. Does he want to be the head of the Republican Party or does he want to try to urbanize and, sort of, pretend to be - this is not your father's Republican Party. That's the problem.

IZRAEL: Ruben's on to something. I'm sorry.

CPAC: Guys, I'm going to quote from Rush Limbaugh's from the CPAC conference here in Washington, quote, "To us bipartisanship is them being forced to agree with us after we have politically cleaned their clocks and beaten them," end quote. This is a man who has said that Michael J. Fox is, quote, "Exaggerating his Parkinson's disease." You know, this is a person who, you know, dresses up in black shirt and black coat, like, you know, he's Vito Andolini Corleone. And, you know, he expects Michael Steele, you know - and I call Michael Steele out for saying one thing on "D.L. Hughley" then going to kiss the godfather feet. It does send a disingenuous message about where the Republican Party stands. Ed Rollins was absolutely right in his CNN piece when he said Rush Limbaugh is not the Republican Party and they're just going through an identity crisis right now.

CORLEY: If you're just joining us I'm Cheryl Corley. You're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News, and we're in the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Ruben Navarrette and Arsalan Iftikhar. Back to you Jimi, but first, you know, we've been talking a lot about Rush Limbaugh, so listen to this.

JIMMY FALLON: So I've been getting so much encouragement - in fact, just before I went on Rush Limbaugh called me up and said he wants me to fail.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FALLON: That was nice of him. I thought...

IZRAEL: Wow man. It's so funny because - not funny ha-ha, funny peculiar - but I just wish Jimmy Fallon was funny, you know. I mean, I wish he actually had his - he could actually write and I wish he had comic timing. And, I mean, obviously, you know, he's somebody's nephew because he's got this gig for, you know...

CORLEY: So you don't think his debut worked, eh?

IZRAEL: (Unintelligible) Conan's show, yeah. (unintelligible) go ahead, A- train.

IFTIKHAR: The best part of the new Jimmy Fallon show is having the Roots as his house band, Questlove and Black Thought. I mean, I think going from the whole, you know, David Letterman and Paul Shaffer and Max Weinberg, you know, to bring it to the Roots, to have them perform every night - I thought was gangster and I added Black Thought as a friend on Facebook so let's see if he accepts.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I mean, he has to have something to get you to watch his show. I mean, he's not funny. Go ahead, Nick.

CHARLES: He's not funny and, you know, I'm with Arsalan a hundred percent on this one. I love the Roots. Hopefully, this won't go dull the creative juices to be on that show every night. But Jimmy Fallon is - when the history of SNL is written, he's not even going to be in the top 60 percent of the great SNL performers. And this guy is now the host of a major late night show? You know, (unintelligible) somebody's nephew or he has photographs of somebody with a goat, because I don't understand how he got the gig.

IZRAEL: You know what's interesting. You know what's interesting about Conan O'Brien - before we'd ever heard of him, you know, he was a comedy writer. He was a story comedy writer. He's hilarious. You know...

NAVARRETTE: He was a nobody.

IZRAEL: Right. But he was a funny nobody.

NAVARRETTE: I'm with you. Conan O'Brien was a nobody who had been a accomplished comedy writer but hadn't in front of the camera. And all of a sudden he was thrown in to take David Letterman's place at midnight you know following the 11:30. And I think that a lot of people wrote him off and said this guy is going to be gone at 13 weeks. This guy won't even make it. So, you never know. But I got to jump on this Fallon thing with the Roots band and everything else. Again, this is the thread all afternoon long here. Everybody is trying to be black. I don't think - it's...

IZRAEL: No, no get this, get this.

NAVARRETTE: I think - if you want a short cut to just show how cool you are then do this.

CHARLES: So, Ruben, so really to be hip or to really go to the next level we should have (unintelligible) as the band.

NAVARRETTE: No. That would be I think the same thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORLEY: You know guys.

NAVARRETTE: I would say the same thing. Just book who you want to book. You know, I mean don't try to be something you're not. I guess that's - maybe it's marketing...

IZRAEL: It just comes across like he's trying too hard in some ways.

CORLEY: Well, let me ask you guys, you know Branford Marsalis was on "The Tonight Show." Isn't it the same sort of thing happening here?

CHARLES: I think it's a different thing. I think it's a different kind of genre of music. Branford was much more established. I think the band he brought Kenny Kirkland, Jeff Tain Watts and himself was brilliant. And they wanted a steady gig. This was the '90s when, you know, jazz musicians were making nothing. This was before Winton, you know, took it to different level with what he does here in New York. I don't think it's bad thing to have the Roots as a band because I don't think anybody has complained about Max Weinberg's band being mostly white.

CORLEY: Another thing that happened this week, the comeback. Well, I don't know if you will call it a comeback. But there you go, Michael Jackson, so what's happening with that, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Yo. Yeah, homeboy has just committed to doing ten dates at the O2 stadium in London. Now this stadium is getting a reputation for these kinds of big name concerts. Lionel Ritchie is doing a joint there. So you know it must be the hot spot, right? But, you know, I mean, if it's not a cry for help it certainly a cry for money. I mean, I doubt that he's coming back for the love of it. I mean, look at him, you know, I mean, you've got a 50-year-old up there popping and locking. You know he's obviously doing it for money. You know, so...

CHARLES: (unintelligible) it's unfair to say that. When you have...

IZRAEL: Okay, okay.

CORLEY: When you have the Rolling Stones who are 400 years old.

IZRAEL: Also doing it for money.

CHARLES: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHARLES: At least the average age of Rolling Stones is like 66 now, or 65. Michael Jackson wants to come back at 50 and I won't pay to see him.

IFTIKHAR: Well, listen guys.

IZRAEL: Now, look. I wasn't knocking - if I could pop lock and drop it somewhere for money to get out these bills man, I'd be there on my piece of cardboard with my Pumas on.

IFTIKHAR: Jimi, all I got to say is this album better be "Thriller 2.0." You know 750 million copies of "Thriller" sold around the world. I mean, I got six words for MJ: this is your last chance, homey. Like, if I don't hear at least 30 percent black Michael on this album I'm throwing the CD out.

IZRAEL: There is no talk of a release. Although we suspect that after he does these dates there will be some kind of release. Go ahead, go ahead, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: Jimi, I got four words for why Michael Jackson has to do the London deal: Got to pay attorney fees.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: Got to be a smooth criminal on this one.

IZRAEL: You got it man, look leave me alone. I can't help it if I want it to. (unintelligible) off the wall with it, man.

CORLEY: Thank you.

IZRAEL: It's my time to beat it.

CORLEY: It is, it's time to beat it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: Somewhere a brother - somewhere out there Michael Steele is taking notes on the lingo.

IZRAEL: Ruben, you want to be starting something, man.

CORLEY: All right, guys, all right. Jimi Izrael, a freelance journalist who writes for theroot.com and TV one online joined us from member station WCPN, in Cleveland. Ruben Navarratte, who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and cnn.com joined us from San Diego. Nick Charles is a freelance editor. He joined us from our bureau in New York. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney, and he joined us right here in Washington.

Gentleman, Thank you.

CHARLES: Thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

IZRAEL: Yup yup.

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