BRITTANY LUSE, HOST:
OK. I'm ready to welcome you. That's - I was like, what do I normally say? Welcome. Hey, girl, hey. That is actually what I say literally every - I say it to my dad. I say it to my husband. I say it to literally anybody that I talk to. Hey, girl, hey.
STACEY ABRAMS: (Laughter) Oh, excellent. Yes, excellent.
LUSE: Hey, girl, hey. I'm Brittany Luse, the new host of NPR's IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. That's right. From now on, I'll be here every single week, coming through your speakers, hosting this show. I'm so thrilled to be here and super excited for today's episode. That's because we're unpacking one of the biggest decisions in front of Americans right now - the midterm elections. And this fall, my first guest wants to make history.
LUSE: Former Georgia House Minority leader and 2022 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
So you recently did an Instagram Live with R&B singers Ciara and Monica, two Atlanta legends. And you called Monica by her internet nickname Goonica. And people went wild. So I have to know, what is your favorite Monica song, since obviously you're a fan?
ABRAMS: "Angel Of Mine."
ABRAMS: I love that song.
LUSE: Good choice. Good choice.
ABRAMS: I just remember the boy I liked and the fact that he didn't like me as much as he should have...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANGEL OF MINE")
MONICA: How you changed my world you'll never know - I'm different now. You helped me grow.
ABRAMS: ...And how important that song was to explaining to myself what was wrong with who he was. Yes.
LUSE: In 2022, there are three Black women running to be governor from a major party. There's Yolanda Flowers in Alabama, Deidre DeJear in Iowa, and Stacey Abrams in Georgia. If any one of them becomes governor, they will have broken through hundreds of years of history because no Black woman has ever been elected governor in the United States. And today I'm asking, why not? Of the three, Abrams is most likely to win. She's going to lay out her vision for governing and what it would mean for a Black woman to win in the Deep South. But first, I need to clear up a tiny misconception with a woman who has spent her career studying Black candidates - Dr. Christina Greer.
I have to admit that it's surprising to me that the first Black female gubernatorial candidate that has actually had a real shot at winning comes from the South. Like, I'm from the North. And, you know, I know that that racism knows no geographic bounds, clearly. But the long-held narrative has been that Southern anti-Black racism is harsher, is more obvious, is more direct - like, not exactly the prime environment for America's first Black woman governor.
CHRISTINA GREER: Yeah.
LUSE: I know I said that I'm surprised (laughter). And I feel like - like, am I - is it strange that I'm surprised? Am I totally wrong?
LUSE: Like, is it surprising to you that the South would lead this history?
GREER: It's not surprising that the South would lead. And here's why. One, we have to remember what Malcolm X reminds us, that anything south of the Canadian border is the U.S. South. So, yes, indeed, the South may be more direct and overt with their racism. But wouldn't that be a lot more helpful when you're running for office?
GREER: Because you know who is and who is not voting for you, right?
LUSE: That's a good point.
GREER: I mean, I think that directness is actually quite helpful. Keep in mind, Southern states have way more percentages of Black people.
LUSE: It's true. That's true.
GREER: Like, hey, listen, let's leave Detroit. The Michigan Black numbers aren't that robust outside of Detroit and a few other, you know, sort of small cities.
LUSE: I can just seriously attest to that.
GREER: Exactly. Right? I mean, listen, think about New York. I mean, we've got six major cities, sure, that have significant Black populations. But...
GREER: ...You know, like, when we think about African Americans - we are not diffuse in record percentages.
LUSE: No. The majority of folks are in the South. And people also are - I considered it myself - migrating back down south.
GREER: Yes. Reverse migration is real - as is, you know, sort of Black immigration. And folks are going for political, social and economic networks.
GREER: So this idea that Stacey Abrams would find success in the state of Georgia isn't terribly shocking to me because Georgia has been diversifying in all senses of the word for quite some time.
LUSE: Stacey Abrams has run for governor before. She tried and lost in 2018.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ABRAMS: We are a mighty nation because embedded in our national experiment is the chance to fix what is broken.
LUSE: And for four years, she's been working on her second bid while also making earth-shifting strides in voter protections in Georgia and throughout the country. And for four years, the nation has watched to see if she could make history.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ABRAMS: And I promise you we will get it done. Thank you.
LUSE: You know, you are so close. You are, again, so close to making history as the first Black woman governor ever in the United States. But in 2018, you're fresh on the national stage. And now you are, I think it's an understatement to say, very well known and something of an icon for many people. But I think what can come with that is, in my view, this aspect of saviorhood that I have noticed people projecting on to you. And that would be a lot for me. Is that a lot for you?
ABRAMS: So there is a recent story that said that, you know, have I lost my magic? I've always chafed at the Black girl magic narrative. Because it presumes a lack of agency on the part of the people voting - a lack of agency on the part of the people I'm talking to. And it imbues me with an almost messianic responsibility that I didn't ask for, don't accept and will not do. Look, I can't be brand new again. There's no way to go back and be who I was in '18 before people had heard my name, before they cared about it. And I don't want to because that would also erase all of the progress we've made. It would erase the communities that are finally getting a seat at the table because we've had these public conversations. I am an avatar, and people pour into avatars both their loves and their hates. I can't do any of this alone, but I can be a part of changing systems, changing access, changing opportunity. And that's the job I want.
LUSE: You know, it's making me think back to 2018 and specifically what many people called the Year of the Woman. There are some stark differences and similarities between your race now in 2022 and the one that you ran back in 2018. And, I mean, that was a really unique moment. Like, we were a year out from the #MeToo campaign, which erupted in 2017. And not only were there more women running for office. There were also more women registering to vote. And the possibility for change felt palpable to a lot of people. In 2022, we're seeing some of the same trends as we did then, but this time, we're having conversations about abortion and women's rights that we haven't really been having since 1973. And so I wonder, was the Year of the Woman bad branding?
ABRAMS: When you see branded years, it is aspirational. It's opportunistic. What we're facing in this election year is lack of trust. We have trusted our institutions for 50 years, almost, to protect us, and yet those protections have been eviscerated - that based on the state that you live in, you may or may not have the protection to take care of your own body. Access to an abortion if you're below the Mason-Dixon line is nearly impossible. The idea that we call a year a Year of the Woman because of either the policy issues that are galvanized or the people who run suggests that every year is not the Year of the Woman, that every year, we shouldn't have women engaged, that every year, women are facing an existential attack on our ability to navigate our spaces. It is facile, and it is reductive, but it's sometimes necessary to focus the mind and focus the attention. But when it distracts us from the underlying fundamental foundational problems, which are that women's rights are often completely subject to who gets elected...
ABRAMS: ...That should be what is terrifying, and that should be what is galvanizing most often in our society.
LUSE: But if you had to name the moment that you're in now, what would you choose?
ABRAMS: Well, I'm going with Year of Unfinished Business.
LUSE: Oh, unfinished business.
ABRAMS: Unfinished business. We have unfinished business on a range of issues. The fact that we thought women's bodily autonomy had been, if not completely settled, at least that there was a foundational premise that it wasn't subject to the whims of governors across 50 states means that we have unfinished business with how women's bodily autonomy should be addressed. Racial justice remains an issue when voter suppression continues to flare up, when we are grappling with the issues of police violence and also how we talk about the twin responsibilities of both accountability and safety.
I want to be safe. I want my mom and my dad to be able to call for help and have someone answer. But I also want my brothers not to be worried about driving while Black. I want my brother, who's been in and out of the carceral system, to not lose his humanity simply because he loses his freedom. And so across the board, we have unfinished business in this country. And so my race for governor, my conversations about all of these issues are grounded in the fact that we have unfinished business. And I'm not saying we'll finish it in 2022, but we've at least got to return to the narrative thread and say, we've got work to do.
LUSE: You recently stepped into the national debate over abortion access when a clip of you speaking at an event made the rounds on social media via an RNC account. And in it, you say...
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ABRAMS: There is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks.
LUSE: There's no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks. It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman's body. And a later comment from your team said that the video clip cut off before you said, six weeks is too soon for many people to even know that they're pregnant, let alone, like, be in a doctor's office, you know, getting an ultrasound. Now, medical experts agree with you that the heart tones one can hear at an ultrasound appointment do not constitute a heartbeat as we commonly think of it in a child or an adult. But much of the broader public isn't on that same page. This debate about facts really frustrates me. How do you navigate that?
ABRAMS: I was sitting on the stage of a college campus with college students who were using information that had been provided by the state that was wrong. So the first responsibility, not simply as a politician but as a person who has taught college, is that the only way to confront misinformation is with actual fact. Every fragment of my message was actually quite accurate. But let's put that aside for now. It is not wrong to raise questions. In a democracy, in a society, we should always ask questions. But those questions have to be grounded - or at least the answers have to be grounded in fact. They have to be grounded in science. They have to be grounded in truth. And we can't get there if we let misinformation and disinformation sort of swirl about and take on the guise of truth.
LUSE: We're going to take a quick break. But when we come back to my conversation with Abrams, we'll look at the criticism that's been leveled at her campaign.
ABRAMS: As a politician, my responsibility is to always investigate and say, is it real? So we did.
LUSE: We'll be right back.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LUSE: You know, there's a criticism of your campaign, even from within your own party, that you're not doing enough to reach out to Black men. And some recent polling has shown that you're not as popular with Black men as you were around this time in 2018. I see your campaign is doing some events to speak directly with Black men, like the one you just held with Charlamagne tha God and 21 Savage very recently at the time of our conversation. How do those campaign events address that criticism that you've received?
ABRAMS: So I want to actually dispel some misinformation. So, No. 1, around this time in 2018, I actually was in almost the exact same place when there is rarely polling that actually breaks down Black men versus Black women. It's usually aggregated. And I am polling fairly comfortably with - now, there are some polls with Black men versus Black women. And across the board, Black men tend to be more conservative than Black women. It is always true. And I am polling around the same with Black voters as I did in '18. But what we have to remember is that Black voters tend to be treated as turnout voters, meaning you only ask who they're going to vote for but not if they're going to vote.
I understand that for our communities, the persuasion question is, are you going to vote or not? And so when you look at the undecided number, it is typically not a question of will they support me or my opponent. It's will they vote or not vote? And that's not a commentary necessarily on me. It's a commentary on our politics. And so my response has been - both in 2018 and 2020, too - to have conversations. This is not new. I'm getting a lot of attention for these conversations, but I had these same conversations in '18. It's one of the ways we built the multiracial, multiethnic coalition that turned out in such strength.
It's just that this time, because I'm being, as I was before, very forthright about the fact that I need to engage every single facet of this community, that suddenly it is a stark narrative about, oh, my God, how is she doing? - as opposed to, isn't she doing the right thing? I've had conversations for the last year about these issues because Black men are not monolithic. Black people are not monolithic. Our needs are not monolithic, and thus anyone saying they're standing for office has to be willing to engage those substantial populations in conversation. And so I think it's very important that we not let punditry masquerade as truth.
LUSE: The conversation around Black male voters - it feels more public for you right now.
LUSE: But you were having those same conversations back in 2018. And also just something that I know from just being a Black woman in the world is that that criticism follows a lot of Black female politicians...
LUSE: ...And also just Black women who have power in general. And I wonder - you know, you're a sister. You're a daughter, a friend. Does that criticism hurt you, like, emotionally?
ABRAMS: Well, as a politician, my responsibility is to always investigate and say, is it real? So we did. When I heard this rumor, I'm like, oh, my God, is it true? So we asked. We oversample in our polling. And that's why I'm not worried. I'm not worried because our numbers tell us that I'm where I was, but the numbers also tell me that the reality in Georgia of the last 20 years has soured Black men on politics, legitimately so. They are overincarcerated. Georgia has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, and Black men are disproportionately represented. Georgia is a booming economic state, but Black people only get 2.2% of the business revenue, even though we're 32% of the population. Our unemployment rate for Black men is higher than it is for other populations. And so there is a legitimate distrust of politics and of politicians that I refuse to be - again, to use my word - to be facile about. I refuse to pretend it doesn't exist. And because I'm running for governor, it's kind of in the public space that I'm having these conversations.
But to your underlying point, it's always painful to me when I know that my brothers, that my dad, that my brothers-in-law, that my friends are in pain and that it is always a reflexive pain to think that someone thinks I'm not paying attention and to read stories about how I'm not paying attention or how Black people don't like me - of course you don't want to hear that. But I am sufficiently comfortable in my approach that I will never take a population for granted. But I will also not be told a story about who we're talking to that's not told by the very people I'm speaking to.
LUSE: How would a Stacey Abrams win in 2022, governor of Georgia - how would that shift the political climate of the Deep South?
ABRAMS: No. 1, so, yes, I will be the first Black woman governor in American history, and what that means in the Deep South is seismic. Black women have just recently started coming into their own in executive positions. But in Georgia, the governor is an extraordinarily powerful job. Stand your ground was signed by a governor, not by a president. The evisceration of the social safety net started with a governor, not with Congress. Mass incarceration didn't start in D.C. It started in California. Jim Crow started and - was the product of Southern governors. And so having a governor from the South whose grandfather, my mother's father, was born 25 years after the end of slavery - I carry with me a legacy and a vantage point that says that I'm going to work harder than anyone ever has to live up to the legacy and the opportunities I have been granted.
But I also understand that as a woman, I can make certain that Georgia becomes an oasis state for those women who cannot get access to reproductive care across the entire swath of the Sunbelt unless they can make it to Georgia, if I'm the governor. I can make certain that we reduce access to guns in the state of Georgia by making certain that we have gun safety, that we have more background checks because right now, Georgia's part of what's called the lead pipeline. I mean, in the past two weeks - I watch the show "FBI" and all of its iterations, "FBI," "FBI: Most Wanted," "FBI: International" - there have been two episodes about Georgia, one about how guns purchased in Georgia are used to commit crimes across the country and the second about how getting an abortion in Georgia was made impossible for a woman who was raped because she lived in Tennessee, got raped in Florida, tried to come to Georgia for help and could not get the help she needed. Those are fictional representations of a very strong reality that as governor in Georgia can be transformative for the South. Having a governor who actually believes in a woman's bodily autonomy, who believes in economic access, who believes that communities of color deserve economic parity - it's not about taking away from anyone else. It's about the politics of expansion. And that's what I want to do.
LUSE: Well, Leader (ph) Abrams, thank you so, so much for joining us today. It was a pleasure to have you on the show.
ABRAMS: Thank you for having me. It's been delightful.
LUSE: So now we've heard from Stacey Abrams, but let's put her in context. Abrams wants to be the first Black woman to be elected governor in the United States. But for Dr. Christina Greer, someone who has long studied how Black political leaders gain power, Abrams is the culmination of a long history of Black women fighting for influence.
GREER: If Fannie Lou Hamer and Barbara Jordan had a baby, 50 years later, it would be Stacey Abrams.
LUSE: Fannie Lou Hamer and Barbara Jordan - two iconic Black political leaders, both from the South and both effective change-makers in radically different ways. Barbara Jordan was an insider who built coalitions first in the Texas State Senate and then as the first Black woman from the South elected to the House of Representatives. Fannie Lou Hamer was an outsider who mobilized grassroots networks to challenge the Democratic Party. For Christina Greer, Abrams is a hybrid, someone who organizes inside and outside the system.
GREER: It's really important also to remember Barbara Jordan was a Black American, as is Stacey Abrams, as is Fannie Lou Hamer. As someone who wrote a book called "Black Ethnics," I do actually think about the power of ethnicity - so Shirley Chisholm, Guyanese; Kamala Harris, Indian and Jamaican - right? - Barack Obama, Kenyan and Kansan. So when we think about people who are able to be on this kind of national stage...
GREER: ...It isn't lost on me that they're not Black American. Right? If U.S. chattel slavery is the original sin of America, I do think that there is still something about the dichotomous relationship between Black people and white people, Black people who are descendants of U.S. chattel slavery, that is still unresolved.
LUSE: You know, you brought up a really great point, which is...
GREER: Tell me more.
LUSE: (Laughter) Well, in talking about Barack Obama, Shirley Chisholm, Kamala Harris being not of what I call, like, African American or Black American heritage, Stacey Abrams is.
GREER: The JBs.
LUSE: What did you say? The JBs?
GREER: When people are like, oh, where are you from? It's like, oh, I'm from Detroit. It's like, no, where are you from-from? It's like, Louisiana, then Detroit? And then it's like, no, where are you from? Like, where are your people from? You're like, oh, I'm just Black. So, you know, in college we were just like, oh, we're the JBs. We're the Just Blacks - right? - 'cause everyone else is like, Guyana, you know, Bermuda, whatever it may be.
LUSE: Yeah, they're, like, bringing a whole extra flag and, like, different music, a whole national cuisine. And I'm just like...
LUSE: I'm like, here I am, JB.
GREER: Yeah. But we also - but here's the thing. We also have our own cuisine.
LUSE: We absolutely do.
GREER: Like, we also have our own customs and traditions. Like, I mean, that's the thing that, like, we can't forget, that the JBs actually are an ethnic group.
LUSE: How does that - like, how does Stacey Abrams being a JB - translate to how people read and understand her?
GREER: Well, I think being a descendant of U.S. chattel slavery does give you a perspective on what this country is and what she can be. And so I'm going on the research for my book, "Black Ethnics," but, you know, I asked a question about sort of the pursuit of the American dream and, like, how feasible it was. And I hypothesize that sort of Africans would be the most invested, Caribbeans in the middle, Black Americans the least invested. We've been here the longest, and, you know, that sort of tracks.
GREER: But what happened and what I found in my data was that Africans - not surprisingly, the most invested in the American dream. Part of that has to do with an exit option. Part of it has to do with length of time, as the various groups have been here.
LUSE: Sure. Sure.
GREER: But then Black Americans were in the middle, and Afro Caribbeans were the least invested in the American dream. And I think what I found with my interviews of Black Americans in the data was that Black Americans, like - we know who this country is. You win some; you lose some. That is literally the phrase that people kept saying - you win some; you lose some. So it's like, hey, you might end up going to a top college and getting a great job at NPR. You might get caught with some weed and end up in jail for five years, and the rest of your life...
GREER: ...Is history. Hey, that's just what this country does. Like, we've seen it. I think the frustration that we're seeing with Caribbean immigrants is that - you know, my data showed - they were like, well, wait a minute. I came here the same time as someone from Asia, someone from Latin America. Why is it that my life chances are totally different just 'cause I have a Black prefix to my immigration status?
So this is a much larger conversation about the power of Black ethnicity. And so I think a lot of Black Americans, Stacey Abrams included, fundamentally understand who this country is, but they also understand the possibility of this country. And that's why I call Stacey Abrams a pragmatic progressive. I don't think that she's like, I'm building a utopia. I don't think that that's what she's doing at all. I think that she's taking the facts that we have and understands the limitations and capacities of various people within the state of Georgia to move forward. And she's pushing them to think about a different vision. And it's not just whites. It's not just Blacks. It's, like, a holistic vision of, like, what Georgians could look for.
LUSE: You know, you brought up this whole, like, pragmatic, progressive thing a couple times. At what point do you think Black candidates running for office in the United States - at what point do you think they'd be able to move beyond pragmatism and have that be a central part of their platform?
GREER: As long as there's white racism, I don't think you can move beyond pragmatism. I mean, Black voters are the most strategic voters. We oftentimes have to vote against our own first-choice options because we understand white voters. We understand that the vast majority of white voters see any gains for anyone else as a loss for them. So this is, you know, where you have, you know, people dying of whiteness. Jonathan Metzl has that great book "Dying Of Whiteness" where white voters consistently vote against policies for themselves that could help them, whether it's gun violence or health care or the environment - you name it - because they fear that somebody else would get something. It's like, that's not even - that's not how it works, guys. But, you know, again, as LBJ said, if you can convince them that it's going to - for someone else, then you can just keep them under your thumb.
And so I do think that, you know, Black people understand white people. We have to understand white people. We have to know the capacity of white people 'cause that's the only way you survive in this country, let alone thrive. We have to. It is a survival tactic. So you may want something, but you understand the capacity of a white voter, where it's like, well, that's not going to happen. So you vote pragmatically. Like, I don't think that the vast majority of Black voters were like, I love Joe Biden; this is going to be the greatest vote in my lifetime.
GREER: But they're like, you know what, Bernie Sanders? This isn't going to sell. So we understand our mere survival is such that we have to understand our communities but also the capacity of white voters to agree or disagree.
LUSE: So Abrams is not the only Black candidate on Georgia's statewide ballot. In a Senate race, we've got incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock. He's also on the ballot with his divisive opponent, former football player Herschel Walker. There's been some talk that some voters may decide to vote the Democrat Warnock into the Senate and keep the sitting governor, Republican Brian Kemp, who's white...
LUSE: ...And Stacey Abrams' opponent. Kemp and Warnock have completely different platforms, and yet people are projected to vote for both of them?
GREER: I didn't say voters were rational.
GREER: Not all voters. I said some were...
GREER: ...Strategic, not all of them rational.
LUSE: I wonder, what does that split say about Georgia's willingness to elect a Black woman governor?
GREER: Well, I mean, I think, you know, the purpleness of Georgia is happening, and it's real. I think we also have to just be very honest. There are a lot of people who will not vote for a woman, ever. There are a lot of women who won't vote for a woman.
LUSE: We saw that.
GREER: And they'll tell themselves whatever they need to tell themselves. But the mental gymnastics, when someone is explaining to you why they couldn't vote for a qualified woman, is the most interesting series of gymnastics you've ever seen because it's just excuses and musings, you know? And so I think that's going to be a percentage of the population, where no matter what it is, they just can't do it. And we have to remember, that's women, especially white women specifically, right? White women have always voted for the Republican presidential candidate every single year since 1952, except for two times - 1964, my favorite president, LBJ, and 1996 second election of Clinton. Other than that, white women have voted for the Republican candidate. So we can't just assume that Stacey Abrams is a female on the top of the ticket, that she's going to just get women.
LUSE: Pull the women vote, yeah.
GREER: I think it's also different when someone is an incumbent. Stacey Abrams is not a sitting governor. So...
GREER: Raphael Warnock is. So I think being a sitting member of the Senate is also an advantage. And some people do have the common sense to recognize that someone like Herschel Walker does not have the mental capacity to handle some of these hard questions that are asked of a U.S. senator. I think that you are going to have a percentage of people who are like, this is a bridge too far. So either they're going to vote for Warnock, or they're just going to leave it blank. If they can't bring themselves to vote for a Democrat, they might just say, you know what? Herschel Walker can run a football, but that's - I think that's where our talent lies.
LUSE: OK. So I have to ask you - I mean, this is like the big summation question. After everything we talked about, the books you've written, have yet to write, are writing currently...
GREER: Now you sound like my editor.
GREER: Tick tock, Greer. Tick tock.
LUSE: Well, I'll say this also. I mean, in addition to Stacey Abrams, there are two other Black women who are also running gubernatorial races - one in Alabama, one in Iowa. So we got three.
GREER: To say nothing of the Senate.
LUSE: Speaking specifically, though, about governorship, do you believe that a Black woman will win a governorship in 2022? I see you waffling. Like, physically, you are waffling. You are back and...
LUSE: ...Forth, vacillating.
GREER: I would love to see it, but so much of what I teach my students is, you know, differentiating between what you want to happen and what you think will happen. If we are going to see a Black female governor, I think the best chance is encapsulated in Stacey and her team, by her team that understands the full state. They're not putting all their eggs in the Atlanta basket. Like, they fully understand this is a statewide strategy.
LUSE: What are the costs if Stacey Abrams loses again in 2022?
GREER: Yeah. I hope that it doesn't dissuade people who were really galvanized into feeling like, oh, this system is rigged, and, you know, there's no need in participating. I really hope that that's not the case. And I know that, you know, obviously, Stacey Abrams has talked to voters about like, hey, sometimes, your candidate doesn't win. That doesn't mean that you pack up your marbles, and you leave democracy forever - you know, that that's not how it works. But I do - you know, in talking to my students, especially for first-time voters, it's sort of - if their candidate doesn't win that first time and that sense of disappointment is so severe, it is really imperative that you sort of capture them to make sure that they don't feel like this has been it because that's sure-fire way for nothing to change in the future.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LUSE: Dr. Greer, this was fantastic. Thank you so much. It was a real pleasure and very enlightening to talk to you today.
GREER: Thanks for having me.
LUSE: Dr. Christina Greer is a professor of political science at Fordham University and the author of "Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, And The Pursuit Of The American Dream." We're going to take a quick break. And when we get back, NPR's Ayesha Rascoe and Asma Khalid are joining me for a little game we're calling Tired, Wired or Inspired. We'll be right back.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LUSE: Now, we are going to play a game. It's a new one. It's called Tired, Wired Or Inspired. And before we get to it, I got to introduce my wonderful guests, Weekend Edition co-host Ayesha Rascoe and NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Say hi.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, there.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hey. Hey, hey, hey.
LUSE: Welcome, welcome, welcome. OK, so this game is very much like a different one you may have played - Date, Marry, Kill, but instead of people, we're doing moments from pop culture. And you have to tell me whether you think they're tired, wired or inspired. So if you think something is tired - you hate it, boo, tomato-tomato, thumbs down. It's tired. It's done. If you think it's wired, you could get into it. You're into the vibe, but you're not writing home about it. And if you think it's inspired, this is, like, stellar, 11 out of 10, can't get enough. Does that make sense?
RASCOE: Yes, that makes sense.
KHALID: Sounds good, yeah.
RASCOE: OK, OK, I can get with that.
LUSE: OK, OK. Y'all are so game. This is why we want you here.
KHALID: We haven't yet participated in the game. Let's see how...
LUSE: OK, so since this is an episode on politics, I'm going to give you three moments from fictional politics, one by one, and you have to tell me if they are tired, wired or inspired, OK?
LUSE: So the first one I think you both know. In the film "Love, Actually," Hugh Grant is the U.K.'s Prime Minister, and he kisses a member of his staff...
KHALID: Oh, yes.
LUSE: ...On stage at a Christmas school concert.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE, ACTUALLY")
HUGH GRANT: (As The Prime Minister) Right. So not quite as secret as we'd hoped.
MARTINE MCCUTCHEON: (As Natalie) What do we do now?
GRANT: (As Prime Minister) Smile.
LUSE: Tired, wired, inspired?
KHALID: See - I know what I should say...
KHALID: ...But then I also love "Love Actually." So this is real tricky.
RASCOE: I wish I could see my face for this.
KHALID: I'm going to go with the unpopular opinion and say - no, I feel like I'm going to get blasted on social media about this, but I'm going to go with wired because I believe there was actually a real moment between the two of them. Yes, I know he was her superior...
KHALID: ...And it's kind of really unpolitically correct. But, you know, I love that movie, and I will stand by it, despite all the haters who are going to come in my mentions.
LUSE: So you thought that they were in love, actually.
KHALID: I thought they were in love, actually. Yes.
LUSE: (Laughter) Ayesha, what about you?
RASCOE: OK. So let me tell you a little something about me, Brittany. The type of movies I like to watch, they usually involve murder or a supernatural killer or the U.K. prime minister running from a zombie. I have not seen "Love Actually."
KHALID: You haven't seen "Love Actually"? OK.
RASCOE: I don't like love. I - this is something people don't know about me. I do not like love movies.
LUSE: Ayesha, that's not really what the movie is about. It's about Christmas.
RASCOE: (Laughter) Well, I believe in love personally, but I don't like to see it. It's like, oh, romantic comedies. Oh, they falling in love.
LUSE: Oh, my God.
RASCOE: Who cares? Where is the killing? So - but from your description of it, I guess, and because of my feeling, I guess I have to say tired because...
RASCOE: ...I'm like, what - love - what's love got to do with it? I don't - I'm not into it. I'm tired, tired (laughter).
LUSE: Ayesha, I'm going to give you - what is it? Is it October? I'm going to give you three months to watch "Love Actually." It is a holiday film. It's a holiday film.
RASCOE: People always holding up them signs and stuff.
RASCOE: First of all, I did not know that what you call it from "Walking Dead"...
LUSE: Oh, yeah.
RASCOE: Rick - Rick Grimes, that's who he is. I don't know nothing about no signs. That's Rick.
LUSE: OK, so, look, you have until mid-January. You have until mid-January. I'm giving you three months - a quarter - that's a full quarter - over the holiday season...
RASCOE: To watch this movie. OK. Everybody always talk about it.
KHALID: I mean, once you do see it, I do kind of want to hear your thoughts because, look, I'll be real and say there are some troublesome love stories as we view them here in the year of 2022.
KHALID: But if you can suspend judgment, you know...
RASCOE: OK, OK.
KHALID: ...You could get down with it.
LUSE: I can't say it is great, but it is very easy to watch. No death, though, I'm sorry.
RASCOE: No death. OK.
LUSE: No death, but, you know.
RASCOE: No ghosts - no ghosts from exes...
LUSE: No ghosts.
RASCOE: ...Coming back with - for vengeance.
KHALID: No. None of that.
LUSE: No. I'm sorry. (Laughter) I guess we can move on to our next example from pop culture. OK. So I don't know if either of you have seen this music video, but I personally love it. In the "Positions" video by Ariana Grande, she plays the president of the United States. She bares shoulders with sweetheart necklines all around the West Wing. She sits in the Oval Office in cocktail attire and at least three different packs of ponytail hair. She very sexily makes pasta in the White House kitchen in lingerie.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POSITIONS")
ARIANA GRANDE: (Singing) Cookin' in the kitchen, and I'm in the bedroom.
LUSE: She also gives medals to Postal Service workers. And I don't know. What are you feeling - tired, wired or inspired by Ariana Grande as president in the "Positions" video?
RASCOE: I'm going to look it up.
KHALID: Yeah, I was just looking it up, too, because I also have not seen it.
LUSE: Oh, my gosh.
KHALID: I know.
RASCOE: OK. OK. I see. I see. I'm looking at a White House. This looks inspired.
KHALID: I think it's inspired, too. I mean, hey, we've never had a woman as president. So I think for that alone, I feel inspired...
KHALID: ...Even if, you know, it's Ariana Grande. You know, she's kind of down with politics sometimes. Wasn't there that moment she met Bernie Sanders...
KHALID: ...And they had that all up on their Instagram or Twitter or something? I remember that.
LUSE: Yeah, yeah.
RASCOE: I love the fashion. I do think that politicians to lean more into fashion, I don't know why everyone has to wear the boxy suits or whatever.
LUSE: Right, right, right. Shoulder pads.
RASCOE: I don't know why I think people should, you know, get more into it and that women should be able to look, you know, very attractive...
RASCOE: ...And wear lingerie and be taken seriously as political leaders because we do it all anyway, you know? So I'm into it. I think it's inspired.
LUSE: Inspired. You know, I agree, actually, honestly, I can't say that president is a job that I want. I feel like I can barely keep track of the hundreds of people that work at NPR. I don't think I can keep track of a nation of 300-some million people.
RASCOE: Well, you don't have to keep track of everybody. (Laughter).
LUSE: But I have to keep track of general things. And, I mean, like, I only - I barely keep track of what's in my refrigerator.
RASCOE: But the thing about president - and I think we've learned this - is that, really, other people do the job, and then you kind of tell them what to do. I mean, we've learned you really have to have a lot going on to be president, right?
LUSE: Yeah, yeah.
KHALID: You need to win. You need to have charisma enough to win.
RASCOE: Yeah, you win, and then the other people will do it. Like, you just got to be there. But other people will make it happen.
LUSE: I don't know. I mean, so maybe that is a job for me. I don't know.
RASCOE: I think so. Why not? Look.
KHALID: Good - you have to have good judgment, I guess, on hiring your deputies, you know, 'cause that's key.
LUSE: Oh, that's a good point.
RASCOE: But see - y'all are talking about being good presidents. I'm just saying what it takes to be president.
KHALID: You're saying just be a president.
RASCOE: Yeah, if you want to be good at it. I'm talking about if you just - but if you just there. That's all.
RASCOE: OK, I've looked at the whole video. I think it's amazing. I love the little pill hats and stuff like that, giving a little Jackie O. So I think it's inspired.
KHALID: Yeah, I'm going to go with inspired, too. Like I said, I just think it's, like, intriguing to see, even if it is fictional, a woman in the White House.
LUSE: One (laughter). It's a little sad how much of a fantasy this is.
RASCOE: Unfortunately, yeah.
LUSE: But, you know, on the note of women in the White House, I think that actually brings us to our third moment. Have you both seen "Scandal?"
KHALID: I have started - OK. So I have a lot of thoughts on the show. I'm going to say I'm tired of "Scandal" because I tried. I couldn't get into it. I could not get into it.
LUSE: It's a little too implausible. Is that it?
KHALID: I also like her, but her acting in there was just not for me. Let me say that, you know?
LUSE: Ooh, hot takes.
KHALID: I know.
RASCOE: Oh my goodness. I mean, I watched some of "Scandal," but I didn't watch all of it.
LUSE: OK. But you both have - you've seen a few episodes.
KHALID: Yes. Yeah, yeah.
RASCOE: Yes. My mama loved it. My mama - and my husband, they were both very into it. OK. So...
LUSE: OK. OK. So here's our final moment. OK. So on "Scandal," the main character, Olivia Pope - she famously, famously has an affair with the president. And the president, Fitz, he promises Olivia he is going to run away from the White House, his wife, his children, the presidency to go with Olivia to Vermont to make jam and have babies.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCANDAL")
TONY GOLDWYN: (As Fitzgerald Grant) You can make jam. And there are bedrooms for lots of kids. This was going to be you and me raising a family and growing old together in this house.
KHALID: I didn't know this whole storyline.
LUSE: It never panned out. So these were kind of empty promises. But telling your mistress that you will leave your family and your job, which affects, like, everybody around the world, to go to Vermont and make jam and have babies with her - tired, wired or inspired?
KHALID: Oh, tired. That's so tired.
RASCOE: I think - look. You think so, Asma? You think that's tired?
LUSE: I kind of think it's tired, too.
RASCOE: I think it's actually inspired because...
RASCOE: Let me tell - I'm going to be the opposite. I'm going to say it's inspired because in that moment, he was - clearly, he loved that woman. He loved Olivia.
RASCOE: That's who he loved. He had all these obligations that he felt like he had to do, but the woman that he really loved was Olivia. And they couldn't stop, you know, with each other.
KHALID: I thought you didn't believe in love, Ayesha.
RASCOE: They couldn't stop with each other. So I'm like, blow everything up and just go with the person you want. Now, it probably won't work out, but, hey, it's entertainment. Are we looking at entertainment? It's entertainment.
LUSE: I mean...
RASCOE: It's something to talk about. Give the people something to talk about. It's inspired.
KHALID: I mean, it reminds me way too much of that Mark Sanford story, right? Because I was looking it up again, trying to remember all the details. And he - you know, his staff said he was out hiking the Appalachian Trail. In reality, he had run off with his mistress to Argentina, leaving his wife behind, leaving the state behind.
LUSE: Oh, my gosh.
RASCOE: He was in love. Look. And that was an interesting story for us to follow. We still talk about it now. If he had just stayed, would we know him? No. So sometimes, you got to...
LUSE: Shake the table.
RASCOE: You got to follow love.
LUSE: Wait. OK. So wait - I have a question. I'm going to ask each of you. Ayesha, you're saying follow love. But I want to know - and I think we all know if you're in Olivia's situation, you don't believe it. Asma, if you are Fitz, though, do you run, or do you stay in the presidency? Which do you choose?
KHALID: See - I feel like you took that oath. You stay in the presidency. I'm a deeply loyal individual.
KHALID: I mean, doesn't he owe us something, the public, the American public anything? You know, love comes. Love goes.
KHALID: I feel like you got to stick with the American people who you pledged something to.
LUSE: That's true.
KHALID: I mean, what did he think was going to happen? The VP was going to take over?
LUSE: Is that what happens?
RASCOE: That's what would happen. That's what would happen, and then life would keep going. And I say, you only get one life. Run. Run to Vermont. They say it's beautiful.
LUSE: So you're running.
RASCOE: I would run. I would run.
KHALID: I mean, what about the poor wife? And like, if they got kids, I feel like that is just...
RASCOE: He can see them on the weekends. And then there should be - in Vermont, there should be a serial killer on the loose. And then they got to fight the serial killer, and then it's really entertaining.
LUSE: There is nothing that serial killers love more than a young family to haunt or murder. Or, no - ghosts love to haunt the young family that moves into the country house upstate.
LUSE: Or up in New England...
KHALID: In Vermont.
LUSE: That actually is actually a really good idea. Like, on some level, I think ghost knows that the...
RASCOE: What they had done.
LUSE: That the president was cheating. Yeah.
RASCOE: Yeah. That would be a great backstory. Yes. It would be...
LUSE: And so they want to haunt them.
RASCOE: So that brings that all together.
KHALID: Brings it out of the love story genre.
LUSE: I'm telling you all, Lifetime is shaking. They're shaking.
Asma, Ayesha, that is all for this round of Tired, Wired, Inspired. Thank you so much for joining me.
KHALID: Oh, thank you so much for having us.
RASCOE: Thank you. Thank you. This was a lot of fun. And congrats on the first show. Thank you. It's an honor to be here on the first one.
KHALID: Yes. Congratulations.
LUSE: I'm really glad that you decided to stay, Ayesha, and not run.
LUSE: I'm - I knew you were going to be here, loyal.
KHALID: I appreciate that. I appreciate that.
RASCOE: Well, I am a loyal person in real life. But in entertainment, I say burn it all up. I love mess for other people. So I'm like, burn it all up.
LUSE: Thanks again to Weekend Edition co-host Ayesha Rascoe and NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid for playing Tired, Wired or Inspired with me. You can find their work at npr.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LUSE: This episode was produced by Barton Girdwood, Liam McBain, Jessica Mendoza, Janet Woojeong Lee and Jamila Huxtable. Our editors are Jessica Placzek and Kitty Eisele. Our executive producer is Veralyn Williams. Yolanda Sangweni is our VP of programming, and our big boss is NPR senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann. I'm Brittany Luse, and thank you so much for listening to my very first episode as the new host of NPR's IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. You can catch me here next week, same time, same place, whole new show.
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