Bloggers' Roundtable: Politics and Pop Culture Today's topics include the potential of a Clinton-Obama presidential ticket, progress in the Iraq war, and the controversies surrounding football star Michael Vick and R&B singer R. Kelly.
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Bloggers' Roundtable: Politics and Pop Culture

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Bloggers' Roundtable: Politics and Pop Culture

Bloggers' Roundtable: Politics and Pop Culture

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Now, we've got our bloggers' roundtable and some of the hot topics they are talking about online. So we've got Barack and Hillary. They might be slinging mud now, but could they kiss and make up and become running mates? Plus, has the troops surge helped Iraq, and what should we think of Michael Vick and R. Kelly? Here to help us sort it all out, some of our favorite bloggers. We've got political commentator Jasmyne Cannick of, Michael David Cobb Bowen, creator of He also founded the blogger group, The Conservative Brotherhood, and Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American studies at Duke University. He also writes for Vibe magazine's blog, "Critical Noir."

Welcome everybody.


Mr. MICHAEL DAVID COBB BOWEN (Blogger, The Conservative Brotherhood): Hey. Good to be here.

Professor MARK ANTHONY NEAL (Department of African and African-American Studies, Duke University): How are you doing?

CHIDEYA: So let's start out with Obama and Senator Clinton. So Senator Barack Obama called Hillary Clinton, Bush-Cheney light, and that's pretty stiff talk for a Democrat. This week, pundits, like Newt Gingrich, are speculating that if Hillary wins the nomination, she will choose Barack Obama as her running mate.

Now, Mark, I'm going to go to you. Will that even be an option after the two candidates finished the mudslinging that's going to go on during the primary?

Prof. NEAL: Well, you know, when you think about the folks who have been paired together - I mean just go back to, you know, the first Reagan candidacy and, you know, when they were going to the primary season, and George Bush referred to his economic policy as voodoo economics, you know, they don't have a problem with that mudslinging when they decided to come together and be president and vice president.

So I think this is all stuff that's just a process of the primary period and trying to establish who's going to get the nomination. I think folks always kiss and make up, you know, if what's on the line is the ability to win the White House.

CHIDEYA: Jasmyne, is this in and of itself being presumptuous in saying, okay, well, Senator Clinton is going to get the nomination and Senator Obama is going to have to decide whether or not to get on her coattails as opposed to what if he has to ask her or would he ask her?

Ms. CANNICK: It's definitely presumptuous. I think it also speaks volumes again about whether or not America is ready to elect a black man as president. But going back to the whole vice president thing, you know, I work in politics, and there's a saying that there are no permanent enemies or friends in politics, and it's very, very true. This is all a part of the game. This is what they have to do. And at the end of the day, if it comes out to a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket, they'll make it work.

CHIDEYA: There had definitely been cases in the past where the presidential and vice presidential candidate haven't gotten along particularly well.

Michael, what comes to mind for you out of some of these unlikely partnerships that have actually worked out in the long run or that haven't?

Mr. BOWEN: Well, I don't think Jimmy Carter did Walter Mondale any favors. So there's a kind of an assumption that the vice presidential position is a good place to jump off to become a president, but that doesn't necessarily work. In the case of - I guess, we had - I can't even remember the guy's name who was kind of disappeared when we talked about his life a lot from the Republican Party. But I hope that Obama sticks to his guns and go...

CHIDEYA: Are we talking Dan Quayle? I'm trying to figure that...

Mr. BOWEN: Dan Quayle. Yes, that was Dan Quayle.

CHIDEYA: Dan Quayle was represented. Now I remember on Dunesberry the two of them - George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle - were represented by a feather and then a little tiny floaty thing. I can't remember which was which but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOWEN: That's right. And Dan Quayle was kind of - the kind of profile that everybody thought they would go for this young guy. And he kind of reminds me as Edwards sometimes because Edwards had a really brilliant campaign last time around. But this time he hasn't been able to parlay it. So anything can happen during the - before the primaries and during this campaign season, which is extraordinarily long. Anything can happen.

CHIDEYA: Michael, I'm going to stay with you, talk about the Iraq war. Critic Michael O'Hanlon wrote a New York Times op-ed piece about his recent visit to Iraq. He called the piece, "A War We Just Might Win." He said things are getting better. Basically, he goes on to really say this could turn around, yet at the same time, at least 70 people were killed in two bombings in the capital city. Is his optimism premature?

Mr. BOWEN: I don't think so. I think people who've been following this, especially the counterterrorism experts and some of the geopolitical folks and ex-military folks, are really glad to see this kind of thing come out. I follow Michael Yan, especially, who has been on the ground with the troops, and as well, John Burns has come out this past week saying...

CHIDEYA: What publications are they with or outlets?

Mr. BOWEN: John Burns is with the New York Times. I think he is the foreign correspondent or with Times of London, I forget which. And he had an interview with Hugh Hewitt(ph) last Friday, a very in-depth one that described the situation on the ground that the areas outside of Baghdad are indeed being turned around.

So 30,000 combat troops are indeed making a difference, and that is very significant in terms of what may happen if we withdraw those troops. So as badly as the war was going and we were used to saying the war is going badly, the addition of the surge troops have turned that around. And then, of course, if we took them out, it would go badly again.

CHIDEYA: Jasmyne, how's the war playing in the bloggersphere?

Ms. CANNICK: You know, on the blogs that I read, you know, we're talking about other things. We're - a lot of us are talking about a lot of the cultural issues, a lot of the issues, and that defines us as African-Americans. And I'm not saying that this war isn't relevant to us, but I think that we're a little desensitized, and we're - a lot are focused on some of those commonplace issues that deal with whether or not I can go to emergency care, I have food on my table, I have a job to go to in the morning.

CHIDEYA: So domestic issues...

Ms. CANNICK: Yeah.

CHIDEYA: Well, Mark, your blogging through Vibe magazines blog. And Vibe, of course, primarily does pop culture or hip-hop culture, but also is going to have Senator Obama on the cover. How do you parse out how much politics to put in that mix?

Prof. NEAL: I think you - we're looking at a moment now where the hip-hop generation is really - hip-hop generations are really serious about trying to establish a political identity. And we know we can go back in terms of presidential elections for the last 12 years or so, or go back to the 2004 and then really celebrated stuff with Diddy and Russel Simmons.

But I think for the ranking file folks on the ground who claim hip-hop as some part of their identity over the last 15 to 20 years, many of which who are parents now and adults and 401ks and all those kinds of issues, I think now is the moment where they're trying to establish their political identity and feel the need to be able to voice and articulate, you know, where their politics are.

So I think, you know, the fact that Vibe chooses at this point to have its first political figure on the cover of Vibe magazine just really speaks to where the hip-hop generation is at this point.

CHIDEYA: I want to switch to pop culture or maybe criminal culture or many different ways to describe this. Just allegations at this point, but Falcons quarterback Michael Vick pleaded not guilty last week to dog-fighting charges. However, yesterday, one of his co-defendants Tony Taylor pleaded guilty and the operation is Bad Newz Kennels. Taylor agreed to testify against Vick and two other co-defendants. Taylor says the Bad News Kennels operation and gambling money were almost exclusively funded by Vick.

Now, here's the strange part. Reverend Al Sharpton and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons have come out against animal cruelty, though not squarely against Vick. Meantime, the NAACP has come out in support of Vick, saying he's been unfairly treated. Jasmyne, how do you read the tealeaves?

Ms. CANNICK: You know, this has all got me very, very, very boggled because I just don't think it's that huge of an issue. You know, when I looked at CNN and I looked at the courthouse, you had it clearly divided. His supporters were black. You know, the peter(ph) folks were white. It's definitely becoming a race issue. And I just think there are more important things like R. Kelly, like in black folks...

CHIDEYA: Oh, we're going to get to R. Kelly in a second.

Ms. CANNICK: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CANNICK: If we can get so upset about - like this and want to come out to defend this man, I mean, what is the issue with some of the other issues that are - that don't deal with dogs but human beings?

CHIDEYA: All right. Mark?

Prof. NEAL: Well, you know, the Michael Vick thing to me is - I can't see, you know, at this moment where someone like Julian Bond is trying to argue about how important the NAACP is after 100 years, the idea that one of the satellites will be spending any amount of time or energy, you know, going after the Atlanta Falcons for their racist treatment of Michael Vick. I mean, I wish someone would put me on paid administrative leave for $8 million a year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CANNICK: Okay. Hear, hear.

Mr. NEAL: And I'm asking for that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. NEAL. You know? And, you know, the idea that people protesting about that, and given what's happening in the city like Atlanta that the resources for that organization obviously could be used better than that. But it does raise some really interesting questions about, you know, on both sides of this story. You know, when I'm seeing the protest, suddenly I saw that Aaron McGruder episode of "The Boondocks" from last year, you know, where he did his spoof of the R. Kelly trial. And it's like, you know, what are we invested in as a community that we feel the need to have spent any energy to have this conversation?

Ms. CANNICK: Right.

Prof. NEAL: At the same time, you know, R. Kelly has sold how many millions of records since the initial indictment, right? And no one has ever come out to protest R. Kelly or even the issue of gender and sexuality, and sexual abuse of children and girls in our communities, or women in our communities to the same extent that they feel the need to defend Michael Vick, you know, for some dogs.

CHIDEYA: Now, you wrote a really great piece, a great commentary about how you love R. Kelly but you could not, as the father of girls, listen to it again in, you know, in the context of what the allegations against R. Kelly are.

Prof. NEAL: You know, I'm a critic and a scholar of popular culture so I always have to accept and recognize the genius of the art, right? But also, we have to hold the folks, who create this art, accountable and have them face some scrutiny the same way that Pearl Cleage goes after Miles Davis in "Mad at Miles," you know, 17 years ago. We have to make those same kind of critique of the geniuses within our community.

Great art, yes, recognize the art. But when it turns to some of the personal politics of these folks, you know, these folks need to be accountable. And the worst-case scenario for R. Kelly that means he may need to go to jail, and he may need some counseling, and all that stuff needs to happen. But, you know, he can't get off the hook if this, in fact, happened.

CHIDEYA: Michael, just to recap some of the things that had been going on with R. Kelly. He's finally set to get his day in court beginning October 13th. He's going to stand trial on 14 counts of child pornography. The case goes back to 2002 in a video that allegedly showed him engaging in sexual intercourse, among other things, with an underage girl. Why are people supporting him so much? Do you think?

Mr. BOWEN: I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOWEN: I can't understand how we've kind of lost our sense of propriety here. I mean there are things that we have come to accept from the celebrities that we never accepted before. I mean can you imagine what happened to Michael Jackson? We were all shamed by that. But then, we look at Stevie Wonder, and we know Stevie Wonder would never do anything like that. And he is truly a genius. So we have to, you know, kind of police ourselves and have some standards here. And as for R. Kelly, you know, we all have an old saying, put him under the jail.

CHIDEYA: Jasmyne?

Ms. CANNICK: Well, tying the NAACP back into this conversation a little bit. And remember, this is the same organization that nominated him for an image award even though all of this was going on. But, you know, I often wonder, like, at what point will it be not be so relevant to us? Like, we're still interested in his music and the beat. And everywhere you go, family reunions, it's step, step, blah, blah, blah. And I'm like, okay. But look, if he had sex with a 14-year-old boy, would you all still be bumping to his music? Would you all then be calling for his head? But it was a 14-year-old girl.

Mr. BOWEN: Yeah. That's true.

Ms. CANNICK: And regardless of whether or not she did it willingly, she - or whatever, she still was a minor. And she - and unlike Michael Vick and his kennel of dogs, she was a human being. And it seems like we can come to the defense of a man and his dogs, but we can't come to the defense of an underage, young, black woman.

CHIDEYA: Now as the father of daughters, are you afraid? Are you afraid, Mark, about what this says about the value put on girls - black girls?

Prof. NEAL: Oh, absolutely. You know what I mean? Whether or not I'll be talking about R. Kelly or hell, you know, Duke lacrosse. I mean, I think we're in a moment now where it is very tenuous to be a black woman in a society and clearly to be a black girl in the society. There are just dangers out there. And even when you talk about fathers who view themselves as progressive politically or just engaged as fathers, I mean, there are just simply threats out there that we can't always be around to control.

And it's not about thinking of ourselves as fathers as being the protectors of our daughters, right? But how do we equip them to be able to make the kinds of decisions in their every day lives? And not just us but, you know, all the folks that be involved in the raising of these young girls. How can we equip them to make decisions that don't put them in tenuous situations, that speak to their best interest, in which they're not doing things based on some notion of not feeling good about themselves and to just be satisfied in who they are and make decisions based on being empowered from that standpoint?

CHIDEYA: Well, Mark, Jasmyne and Michael, thank you so much for whipping through these important topics.

Ms. CANNICK: Thank you.

Mr. BOWEN: Hey, great to be here.

Prof. NEAL: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: We were just speaking with Mark Anthony Neal. He was at the studios of Duke University. He's a professor of African and African-American studies. He also writes for Vibe magazine's blog, "Critical Noir." We also have political commentator Jasmyne Cannick of She joined me here in our NPR West studios. And Michael David Cobb Bowen is the creator of He's founder of the blogger group, The Conservative Brotherhood. You can find links to all of their blogs and ours at out Web site,

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