Bush And Football Take Center Stage In 'Shop' A week before the nation changes leadership, the Barbershop guys debate the legacy of President George W. Bush. The gloves come off as regular 'shop' patrons Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar and Ruben Navarrette weigh in on notable events from the Bush years. Also, the men discuss Roland Burris' recognition by Congress, and more NFL predictions.
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Bush And Football Take Center Stage In 'Shop'

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Bush And Football Take Center Stage In 'Shop'

Bush And Football Take Center Stage In 'Shop'

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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 shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and civil-rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar. I may jump in here or there, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Yo, fellas. Welcome to the Shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Oh, good, man. Great.

IFTIKHAR: We're cracking.

IZRAEL: Hey, we're just - we're doing it to death, man. Yo, and President George Bush, now he's preparing to turn over the big chair. I think it's time we reflected on his legacy. Now, I know it's easy to look back on the Bush joint to be like, ah, man, he really messed up. But you know what? He kept it safe during 9/11, he doubled the money we spent on AIDS in Africa, and I don't care what you think of the surge, it worked. A-train, my man, what do you think the Bush legacy is going to be?

IFTIKHAR: Jimi, in my opinion, the legacy of George W. Bush will be empirically and factually known to be the worst presidency in American history, and I say this actually with a degree of reflection. You know, even the 13th president, my man, Millard Fillmore, was more mediocre than George W. Bush.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: My man.

IZRAEL: Keep it nice.

IFTIKHAR: Listen...

IZRAEL: Nice.

IFTIKHAR: When we have 56 presidents, George Bush will be ranked 56th. When we have 212, he'll be ranked number 2-1-2. Unless we elect an astronaut chimpanzee to the presidency...

IZRAEL: Oh, come on. I've got to...

IFTIKHAR: George Bush's presidency will be known as the worst presidency in America.

NAVARRETTE: No, no, no.

IZRAEL: I've got to push back on that, A-train. I'm sorry, bro.

NAVARRETTE: What a partisan hater. What is that partisan-hater business?

IZRAEL: Yeah, man. I mean, yeah, you...

IFTIKHAR: And an empirical hater, an empirical hater.

NAVARRETTE: Partisanship.

IFTIKHAR: Empirical, dog.

IZRAEL: I mean, you know what? I mean, the R, my man, get some of this, man. Don't let him get away with that.

NAVARRETTE: Well, I think typically, the best presidents always ranked up top with Roosevelt, Washington and Lincoln, and the bottom part have typically been Clinton and Nixon, who obviously was driven from office. You know, so I think that George Bush will fall somewhere in the middle. I don't think he will be thought of as a great president, but he is someone, I think, who did some pretty significant things, I had a couple on my list. One is, you mentioned, Jimi, preventing another attack after 9/11.

IZRAEL: Yeah.

NAVARRETTE: Say what you will, and I think President Obama, having now seen the threat assessments, is suddenly not so interested in giving away some of those extra powers that he was criticizing the president for having.

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: Because this is the number one job of President-elect Obama now, is to protect us and keep us safe. And just because we've changed doesn't mean that the people outside and the rest of the world have changed. They still want to kill us. So, I think that's significant for the president. Secondly, he fought for immigration reform, even going against his own party. Took a lot of criticism and heat from members of his own party, from Republicans. Stood his ground, that stubbornness, I think, served him well with that issue. He couldn't deliver on it, but obviously, he's on one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue wasn't having it, particularly since Democrats, carrying the water for organized labor, did their part to kill the bill.

Beyond that, he did what he was right - what he thought was right all the time. He did not cow to notions of popularity. Obviously, this is a very unpopular president, but I've had enough of presidents who just want to be popular. I like one who does what - at least what he thinks is right. And in the Bush doctrine obviously, the idea that if there are human-rights violations and genocide around the world, you're willing to go it alone and do what you need to do and you don't necessarily need the UN behind you. Lastly, you want to talk about civil rights? There's a reason that the black community and the Latino community and those civil-rights groups that represent those communities have gotten behind No Child Left Behind.

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: They support No Child Left Behind, and despite the fact that it puts them at loggerheads with mostly white teachers unions that occupy - that run our school system for the benefit of the adults who work there, not the kids who learn there, and it was thanks to George Bush that we now, according to the law, break down how black kids and brown kids and white kids are doing according to race. And that's a very important thing to have.

MARTIN: Can I jump in this for just one second?

IZRAEL: Absolutely.

MARTIN: I think, though, if there is one thing that - particularly where African-Americans are concerned, where I think is a defining moment in - as a group, thoughts about President Bush, it's - along with the war in Iraq - I think it's Katrina.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: And the president was asked about this in - the way his administration handled Hurricane Katrina in his final press conference earlier this week, and here's what he had to say.

(Soundbite of press conference, January 12, 2009)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I thought long and hard about Katrina. You know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge? The problem with that and - is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission, and then your questions, I suspect, would have been, how could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?

IZRAEL: Wow.

MARTIN: So...

IFTIKHAR: Did he really mean that?

MARTIN: Yeah.

IFTIKHAR: Unbelievable.

NAVARRETTE: He's right. He has a point. He - that's exactly how I would have spun it. I think the media would have spun it that way.

IFTIKHAR: What? Are you serious?

IZRAEL: It is a spin, though. Let's just say that it's a - go ahead, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: People are dying on the rooftops of their houses, and you're going to talk about airport logistics as your only mistake? How about, you know, appointing Mike Brown as FEMA director, and then how about, you know, saying, good job, Brownie?

NAVARRETTE: Right.

IZRAEL: Heck of a job, Brownie.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Heck of a job, Brownie. I mean, it actually shows my point that he is the worst president ever when he can't even address one of the major domestic issues that affected our country as a nation. And he's going to blame it on airport logistics and think that we're going to fall for that?

NAVARRETTE: I hear it differently...

IZRAEL: I think it's just emblematic of a real basic disconnect with this - with America, period. But go ahead, R.

NAVARRETTE: Well, I think it's a read on the liberal media and the way that, independent of how he played it, the folks in the media were going to criticize him. If he stayed out of it and flew over it and didn't get down on the ground, he was going to be criticized, as he was. But had he gotten down on the ground, he would have been criticized for that and for taking resources away. That's just the way it is. I think most Republicans go to Washington, and they understand that they're not going to get a fair break most of the time. And those of us who are looking at the transition now see a difference in treatment from the way that we treat, for instance, you know, white Democratic senators versus white Republican senators on an issue like race.

MARTIN: Can I just jump in here? I'm sorry...

NAVARRETTE: I mean, you really have to bend over backward to say there aren't two standards.

MARTIN: The issue is not whether he landed Air Force One into the ground.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: The issue was that 1700 people died...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: Who, I think, many people feel in a country like the United States should not have died.

NAVARRETTE: Well...

MARTIN: Forgive me.

IFTIKHAR: And...

MARTIN: I think it's the performance of his government in addressing this issue.

NAVARRETTE: Right, right.

MARTIN: This was a tri-state disaster.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: This was not, like, some - like, whoops, you know, a mistake here...

NAVARRETTE: I'm going to...

MARTIN: I just don't agree that it's about whether he arrived in Air Force One...

IFTIKHAR: John McCain, if it was John McCain, he would have said, I screwed up. That's what he would've...

MARTIN: He would have said that he put incompetent people...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, yes.

MARTIN: In - with no background.

IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: It shows a contempt for government and the functions of government.

IFTIKHAR: Don't talk about airport hangars.

MARTIN: It has nothing to do with the airport.

IFTIKHAR: Right, absolutely.

MARTIN: It has to do with contempt for government and a lack of respect...

NAVARRETTE: I'm not going to vouch for Brownie's competence, but I think there was a difference with how the hurricane hit Houston - it was Hurricane Rita that went to Houston after Katrina - and the people in Houston, having the benefit of what happened in New Orleans, reacted differently. At the end of the day, I hope that African-Americans, and all Americans, learned from Katrina that if you are sitting on the top of your house with a sign that says Save Us, waiting for Dick Cheney to come and save you...

IFTIKHAR: He ain't coming.

NAVARRETTE: You're a fool because Dick Cheney ain't coming. You need to save yourself.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: OK.

IZRAEL: OK. Well, heck of a job, Ruben.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: All right, let's keep it in motion.

MARTIN: That was just mean. I wouldn't have even said that about you, Jimi. That's just not nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: I'm sorry. Let's keep it in motion. Yo, Roland Burris...

MARTIN: I'm standing up for you, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: That's OK.

IZRAEL: Can somebody stand up for me for once?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: No, no.

MARTIN: No, no.

IZRAEL: Never.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: OK, keep it in motion. Roland Burris, Chi-Town's finest, you know what? Sworn into Illinois' Senate seat yesterday. Now, I heard there were rumors that he was crump dancing at the podium. Now, you know what?

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Now, I always knew...

NAVARRETTE: A little fist bump there, a little fist bump.

IZRAEL: Or something. You know, I always knew he'd prevail. But I have to co-sign the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus who said yesterday that, quote, "If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can think more than one chess move ahead, he certainly didn't demonstrate it on this one," unquote. You know what it's like? Whitney Houston said, "It's not right, but it's OK."

IFTIKHAR: Right.

IZRAEL: Wow, go ahead, R. Get it.

NAVARRETTE: Well, check it out. We have learned from this whole episode, Roland Burris episode, that Harry Reid is incredibly and increasingly tone deaf. He is not up to the job in many ways. But I'll tell you what. After he was basically ordered by Barack Obama - there was a story out that he was ordered by Barack Obama to seat Burris and resolve this. We have played this game enough. And basically what this was about was Harry Reid, nothing personal against Roland Burris, trying to handicap who was better able to win reelection in the 2010 - mind you - Senate reelection race, already thinking downfield because he wants his majority to be preserved and he wanted that seat to stay Democratic. So, what does he say then to Roll Call Newspaper, Harry Reid? He says, I don't work for Barack Obama. I will work with him, but I don't work for Barack Obama. And with Democrats like that, who needs Republicans?

IZRAEL: He needs to slow his roll and know his role. I'm like, dude. That said it. Yo, A-Train, get it.

IFTIKHAR: Well, I mean, I think, you know, just the political absurdity with what we've seen with the whole Roland Burris/Rob Blagojevich Senate seat, you know, fiasco, you know, I - it's a political, you know, three-ring circus. I mean, we have to remember that a lot of the fight's just here in Washington. You know, it's not something that, you know, the average person on the street, you know, who can't pay their mortgage or get health insurance for their children, I mean, are not really concerned about it. I just think it's part of the three-ring circus that we deal with here in Washington...

MARTIN: But you know...

IFTIKHAR: I'm glad it's over.

MARTIN: But some people argue - Ruben, you've made the point that this speaks to Harry Reid's set of political skills or lack thereof.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: But some argue that this speaks to Obama's political skills or lack of...

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, he made a mistake.

MARTIN: That he made a mistake, that he allowed himself to get rolled. See, the argument - it was interesting, you made this argument that, you know, Reid, you know, Reid saying, I don't work for Obama. And the truth is he doesn't. I mean, it is a co-equal branch of government, and people should get that straight.

NAVARRETTE: Right, right.

MARTIN: But what - I think what some are arguing is it shows that Obama doesn't yet - doesn't still - I mean, obviously, he doesn't work for Reid, that he is no longer one of the many...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: That he is the one and therefore should be...

IFTIKHAR: Thank you, Oprah.

MARTIN: Making his own independent judgment. So...

NAVARRETTE: Exactly.

MARTIN: Sorry...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I am quoting...

IFTIKHAR: No, you're right.

NAVARRETTE: That's copyrighted. You can't be doing that.

MARTIN: Anyway...

NAVARRETTE: It's exactly right, though. I mean...

IZRAEL: I was really thinking "The Matrix." But go ahead.

NAVARRETTE: Michel is right. Michel is right. And it's best, I think, that Obama understand from this episode that he and Reid, and for that matter, he and Pelosi, over the stimulus package, over his nominations, that he and the Democratic Congress are going to have to part ways on various issues. And it is now every man and woman for himself.

IZRAEL: You know what? Speaking of fights, the battle for supremacy continues in the NFL playoffs. Now, you know what? Sadly, the Browns aren't down. But this isn't a surprise. But I don't really have a dog in the race. But you know what? I've got to go with the original Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, right about now. I'm thinking that's how I'm rolling. A-Train?

IFTIKHAR: Well...

MARTIN: I'm sorry - I have to be the one, because Arsalan is not going to point out that every single one of his picks from last week turned out to be right. And it kills me to say this, but...

NAVARRETTE: Oh, my goodness.

MARTIN: I have to roll in and...

IZRAEL: Really?

MARTIN: You know, I don't like...

IFTIKHAR: Giving me credit...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I had to - I'm just going to fall on my sword.

NAVARRETTE: I could have made money on this. Oh, I can't believe it.

IZRAEL: Oh, man.

MARTIN: I'm just going to fall on my sword and say, Arsalan, all of his picks were right.

IZRAEL: That's redunculous.

IFTIKHAR: Ah...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: I'm sorry...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: (Laughing) Go ahead, A-Train.

NAVARRETTE: And my bookie didn't call me back. Can you believe that?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I'll be honest. As a football purist, you know, I did feel bad for the New York Giants in that I really think Plaxico Burress, his whole fiasco really ruined their chances this year. I mean, he caught the winning pass in the touchdown last year, and I think it speaks to a greater dynamic. In terms of the people that are left, I was the only one who picked that Pittsburgh and Phillies, all Pennsylvania Super Bowl, and I think Big Ben is not just a clock in London. Roethlisberger is going to win his second Super Bowl.

IZRAEL: Wow.

NAVARRETTE: I'll tell you what. It took guts for Arsalan to stand up to Michel last week and say that her Giants were going down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: I thought that was gutsy.

IZRAEL: Yeah, really, especially in the studio, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: I had water bottles flying at my head, man.

MARTIN: I know. I was looking so hard.

IZRAEL: It was a huge water bottle...

MARTIN: He was getting such a mean mug, it wasn't even funny.

IZRAEL: All right, well, I think - speaking of wrapping up, I think that's a wrap. I want to thank everybody for coming to the Shop. I've got to throw it over to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Well, thank you, Jimi. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com and TV One Online. He joined us from Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com, and he joined us from San Diego. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and a civil-rights attorney and a writer, and he joined us from our bureau in Washington. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yep, yep.

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