'Shop Talk': Did Obama Missteps Lead To Massachusetts Defeat? Host Michel Martin talks to the Tell Me More Barbershop guys about U.S. Senator-elect Scott Brown's recent victory in the Massachusetts special election to fill the seat vacated by the late Ted Kennedy. The men also discuss former presidential candidate John Edwards' recent admission that he did, in fact, father a child by his mistress Reille Hunter and Conan O'Brien's mega-million dollar payout to leave NBC's "Tonight Show." Hear opinions from freelance writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar and NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin.
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'Shop Talk': Did Obama Missteps Lead To Massachusetts Defeat?

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'Shop Talk': Did Obama Missteps Lead To Massachusetts Defeat?

'Shop Talk': Did Obama Missteps Lead To Massachusetts Defeat?

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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 shape-up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR's political editor, our political junkie Ken Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr.�JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, what's good? Welcome to the shop. How we doing?

Mr.�ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney): Hey, hey, hey.

KEN RUDIN: Some week this week.

Mr.�RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): Hey.

Mr.�IZRAEL: Well, yeah, tell me about it. Well, there's change a-coming to Washington and apparently, it arrived in a truck. Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts takes over the seat held by the late Ted Kennedy for nearly 47 years, Michel, seriously.

MARTIN: Yeah, sure. There was a special election, of course, as people remember. Scott Brown, the Republican, defeated Democrat Martha Coakley - who was the only woman elected statewide in Massachusetts, if that's of interest to folks.

And like you said, the election was to fill the seat of Senator Edward Kennedy. He died in August. And then Brown has become kind of a rock star for the GOP. He's handsome. You know - he's handsome. Did I mention he's handsome? Here's a clip of his victory speech on Tuesday night.

Senator-elect SCOTT BROWN (Republican, Massachusetts): I go to Washington as the representative of no faction or no special interest, answering only to my conscience and to you, the people.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator-elect BROWN: However however, I know, I know I have a lot to learn in the Senate, but I know who I am, and I know who I serve. I'm Scott Brown. I'm from Wrentham, and I drive a truck.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr.�IZRAEL: Wow. Good for you, bro. Thank you for that, Michel.

RUDIN: Quite a resume for you.

Mr.�IZRAEL: Right, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�IZRAEL: Ruben.


Mr.�IZRAEL: Yeah, live from Mars. First up, what's up with the truck reference? And second, is Scott Brown, is he the new face of the GOP? What's up with that?

Mr.�NAVARRETTE: Yeah, you know, if the GOP's lucky, Scott Brown will be sort of the new face of the GOP because the GOP could use some new faces, and a lot of what Brown is talking about isn't just a criticism of Democrats, it's a criticism of establishment, professional politician Republicans.

And so if you could sub out, you know, Scott Brown for some of the, you know, older-but-not-necessarily-wiser Republicans in the Senate, you'd be in good shape.

On the truck reference, it wasn't just a question of, like, you know, him playing this up out of nowhere. He had a commercial that ran in Massachusetts that says, you know, he gets in the truck, he drives all over Massachusetts to find out what's up. People start telling him about the bad economy and they voice concerns and stuff. At the end of the day he comes home, and you know, they welcome him back, hi daddy.

So Obama, I think in a colossal blunder, when he went to campaign for Martha Coakley the weekend before the election, he tried to make fun of the truck, and he tried to say the president said, well, basically anyone can buy a truck.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�NAVARRETTE: You know (unintelligible) Brown comes back and says, actually, Mr.�President, in your economy not everybody can afford to buy a truck.

Mr.�IZRAEL: Wow.

Mr.�NAVARRETTE: So he turned it into an asset. Here's the significance about the truck. When I was growing up, the GOP was thought of as the party of rich folks. But in that election, they chose, the voters chose the guy in the truck over the guy who made $4 million in book royalties before even becoming president. So somewhere, the world got turned upside-down.

Mr.�IZRAEL: Ken?


MARTIN: Ruben, how much did your book make? Seriously, we're not hating, but...

Mr.�NAVARRETTE: That's the real tragedy. Let's not lose sight of that.


RUDIN: I think every copy of Ruben's book is in his truck.

Mr.�IZRAEL: Ken, you've been covering this whole thing that's going on in Beantown. What does Scott Brown's victory mean for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who is Democrat and black, and up for re-election in November?

RUDIN: Well, the whole Democratic Party is, you know after Tuesday's election, the Democrats, the White House, President Obama said, we got a wake-up call. If they need until - waited until January 19th for a wake-up call, they could be still sleeping in November.

We saw, last summer, with the anti-tax, the anger coming out of the town hall meetings, the Tea Party activists, all that stuff, the losses in New Jersey, the losses in Virginia and now in Massachusetts, whether it's a referendum on President Obama - which I don't think it is - whether it's a referendum on health care - I don't think it is - but there's anger, there's an uncertainty out there. And if you're going to mock as Ruben points out, if you're going to mock the trucks, the blue-collar image look, the reason Scott Brown ran as an everyman is because the Republican Party had no choice.


RUDIN: There was no way they were going to win this seat. They haven't won a Senate seat in Massachusetts since 1972. They have - you know, one out of five people in Massachusetts is a Republican, and very few of them would admit that. But the fact is...

MARTIN: Well, there were two Republican governors: William Weld, Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney, who incidentally was the architect of the health-care reform in Massachusetts, which the rest of the country is now trying to - well, some people in the country are now trying to get, so for...

RUDIN: That's true. And out of 40 state senators in the Massachusetts state Senate, there are five Republicans appointed. I think sometimes Massachusetts will vote for a Republican governor because they're so sick of one-party rule and that's what basically - what the case is. You know, I mean after Dukakis, you did get a bunch of Republican governors. But for senator, it was Ed Brooke in '72, was the last time. So, I don't know if it's a long-term thing. I don't know if Scott Brown has a long-term future for a national voice. He's pro-choice. If you remember, the Republican Party is not known to like pro-choice candidates. Try going to a Republican convention, running as - for president as a pro-choice candidate. Forget about it.


RUDIN: But for now, the Democratic Party's taking a hit. And that they still need wake up calls like this, they're in bigger trouble than we thought.

MARTIN: The president...

Mr. IZRAEL: Well...

MARTIN: Just a second, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead.

MARTIN: The president has an - I mean, there's obviously in the wake of a defeat, the finger-pointing, just - it's like the chorus of finger-pointing. Some people say Martha Coakley, bad candidate. There's some evidence of that. I mean, kind of made a mistake. After the primary, coasted in the primary, then took a break.

RUDIN: Slept ..

MARTIN: Not a great - not a lot of charisma, you know, and then there's that piece. But then president had an explanation, too. The president talked toABC's George Stephanopoulos - had a sit-down interview with him right after this, and this is - kind of his explanation of what he thinks is going on. Here it is.

President BARACK OBAMA: One thing that I regret this year is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of, you know, speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are, and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values. And that, I do think, is a mistake of mine.

MARTIN: There's some interesting body language, and Ken is shaking head. I'm not sure why. Arsalan is - Arsalan, where are you on this?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, for me, I want to sort of look at the greater picture here. Just a quick hit on the truck reference. I think that he was sort of trying to, you know, pander to the Sarah Palin, you know, Joe six-pack constituency there. I think that what's important now is that obviously since the Democrats do not have their 60 votes in the Senate, you know, how are they going to, you know, pass legislation? And so a lot of people are...

MARTIN: The relevance of the 60 votes is because obviously...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It's a, right.

MARTIN: ... 50 is a majority is...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It's a filibuster-proof majority. And so now what the Democrats will have to use, if they want to get their health-care bill passed, is the reconciliation aspect of parliamentary procedure, which allows for 51 votes, because Senate rules call for 20 hours of debate on a topic. The problem is the Democratic Party seems not to have a spine right now. We need the, you know, if they have some legislative cojones now...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right now.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Listen, well, that's the thing. You know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...looking at the last, you know...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Waking up.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, when the Republicans had the majority 55-45 during the Bush years, you know, they rammed USA Patriot down our throat. They rammed the Military Commissions Act down our throat.


Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, essentially, Harry Reid needs to, you know, grow a legislative spine and essentially say listen, there are millions and millions of Americans who voted for the Democratic majority in the Senate, and we need to start pushing our agendas through.

MARTIN: You know, that's - I want to hear from Ken, because this is one of the interesting things that's happened in the wake of this defeat, is that many people on the left have been saying, this is the problem. You ran away from your base, and this is why this happened. And I don't know. Ken, what do you say about that? You're going like...

RUDIN: Well yeah. I'm just listening to the president with Stephanopoulos, saying that we were so busy doing the people's work we didn't pay attention to what was happening. First of all, if they weren't so busy trying to buy off the Joe Liebermans, the Ben Nelsons, the Mary Landrieus of the world...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: ...or at least let them stymie the whole process, now they're saying, oh my God, we only have 59 seats. First of all, 59 seats is a lot.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Is a lot. Exactly.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Geez.

RUDIN: I mean Bush only had 53, 54. And so, if they knew, if they realized what they had, they had a 60 vote, why couldn't they pass it then? Why do they have to wait for a wake-up call, like Scott Brown, saying oh God, now we're really serious about health care.


MARTIN: Can I ask Ruben, what do you think about that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, Ken's right. I mean, way back when, the way you get out of the vice grip of a Ben Nelson or a Mary Landrieu is to make deals with people like Olympia Snowe. If you reach out to Republicans - moderate Republicans -now they're going to end up in the crosshairs of their own party. But if she's willing to go there in exchange for say, getting rid of the public option, you bring her to the table. You're going to get rid of the public option anyway. And what you do there is, you lessen the significance of the stranglehold that Ben Nelson has on you.

But they played it wrong. They went and made deals with their own folks. It was their own folks who held them up at gunpoint and said, I want this for my state, and then they end up with no Republican support. But this notion - the president doesn't get it. He keeps talking about how he worksso hard. The American people are saying, you're doing too much too fast, spending too much money. You're becoming too detached. You guys are right about this being the base moving away from the left on terror policies, on the public option, governing like a Republican in some respects, not focusing enough on jobs, breaking too many promises. Have they closed Gitmo yet? I don't think so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: So there's a lot of stuff he's doing wrong, and he doesn't know how to own it. He doesn't know how to stand up and say, I messed up. He's basically saying, I've been working so hard for you folks that I lost sight of this other thing - instead of, I was wrong; I made mistakes.

MARTIN: I sure hope Ruben will tell us how he really feels one day. I mean, it's just a shame.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. We're getting a shape-up with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and Ken Rudin.

Jimi, I have to ask you about this next topic because you've written a lot about, you know, men and fatherhood and so I'm sorry, I have to go there. Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards finally comes clean and does a Maury Povich...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: ...announcing he's the father of the baby by his former mistress -da-da-dum-dum...

Mr. IZRAEL: You are the father. Right.


Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, he...

MARTIN: So what's your - he releases a statement saying, I'll just tell you, it was wrong for me to ever deny she was my daughter - duh.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: I inserted the duh - and hopefully, one day when she understands...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: I am your father.

MARTIN: ...she will forgive me. I've been providing financial support for Quinn and have reached an agreement with her mother to continue providing support in the future.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right on.

MARTIN: Ken wrote about this, too. But Jimi, I'm dying to know how you feel about this?

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? There is the political angle, but - and go with me here for a minute because the one - if there is an upside to stuff like the Edwards scandal, Levi Johnson's custody battle and other celebrity baby daddies in the news, that I think if enough of these, you know, clean-cut, white guys, you know, when they start having - when and if they start having inevitable friction with the mommies down the road, it may cause a critical examination of fathers' rights issue in this country. Because, you know, single fathers ought to have to fight for the right to parent their kids. You know, so I mean, God bless.

MARTIN: We don't seem to have that here.

Mr. IZRAEL: We don't seem to have what?

MARTIN: We don't seem to have him fighting for the right to parent his child.

Mr. IZRAEL: Not yet. I'm saying - I think I said when and if. I think there might be some friction down the road because I mean, suppose he wants to bring the baby over with him and his wife?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Or you know, or just there's always baby mama drama. Let me just tell you that as the single dad in the shop, trust me, it's always something. So...

MARTIN: But it's interesting. I take your point, though, that this is the kind of thing that, you know, minority men are always being tagged with this label of being the irresponsible dad, and it's kind of interesting...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: ...to see the script flipped here. I mean Ken, you wrote about the political implications of this for your blog, on "Political Junkie," and obviously, he's out of politics. He's done. But...

RUDIN: Did you know that his father worked in a mill all his life?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Oh, I'm sorry. No but...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I heard that somewhere.

RUDIN: But here's the thing that just drives me nuts. It's - the fact is that here he is - look, everybody has affairs. And we can talk about the Ensigns and the Sanfords and the Clintons and everything like that...

MARTIN: Well, no, everybody doesn't, but I take your word.

RUDIN: Well, no, no. Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Careful, Ken.

RUDIN: I'm sorry. What I meant was that this is not unusual in politics. But there's something about John Edwards, the way he wrapped his - rubbed his morality in our faces at all times.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Hey now.

RUDIN: The sainted Elizabeth, the fact, you know, the fact that here I am not only running for president but if I can't get the presidency, I'll offer myself up as vice president. If the National Enquirer didn't break it when they broke it, and John Edwards did get on a ticket, and if they broke it in October of 2008, I mean, President McCain and then Vice President Palin would be sailing away right now.

MARTIN: So what's the bottom line here? You think we should do more reporting on these issues?

RUDIN: I don't know. That's exactly it. I don't know. I don't know what role the media should play in that.


MARTIN: Ruben, can I just ask you just because you're the other guy who's written about the dad, you know, the responsibilities of dads a lot.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. Right. Right.

MARTIN: I just wanted to ask your perspective on it.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, let me just follow up on Ken's point quickly. The one thing about the saintly John Edwards, he cared more about poor people than the rest of us. You know, he would go down, he, you know, go down to New Orleans, start his campaign there, you'd see him with a hammer building a roof or something right...

RUDIN: He's in Haiti right now.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. I mean, it was always like, you know, I am more moral than you, as evidenced by the fact that I care more about poor folks. The problem is that Edwards had all this money - he made all this money as a trial lawyer, he lived in this big, huge house in North Carolina and all this stuff, and it didn't really fit the image. Here's the thing that I think about fatherhood, to make Michel's point. This story tells us that there's a lot of things you can do for your kids. And this business about providing - you know, the most offensive thing he said was that, you know, I keep providing for this - I've supported this child, Quinn, all along. I've been giving her money.

RUDIN: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You know, forget that, dude. The fact is, you ran away from this baby. And he says so in his statement. He says: One day, I hope that the baby's able to forgive me, right? The baby grows up, forgive me.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hmm.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: This tells me that no matter what else you do for your kids, we all know that it's more important to spend time then to buy them nice, you know, new toys. Whatever else you do, you own up to your responsibilities, you set a good example, right? You teach them values. That's how you become a dad - not, you know, providing toys and money.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: I hear you. No. No. I hear you. Finally, we just have a minute and a half left and I just - and Jimi, collect yourself. I know you're going to need a minute that, you know, the Conan - Conan O'Brien is walking away from that program. And I know Arsalan, I don't remember whether you are in tears as well. I see you're kind of dabbing your cheeks here. But what do you think about that?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I'll try to compose myself.

MARTIN: Well...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, I think a $40 to $45 million payout, you know - this whole late-night, you know, debacle that we've seen is pretty ridunkulous(ph), if you ask me. You know, I think that at the end of the day, you know, we're dealing with a, you know, almost - a double-digit unemployment rate. We're dealing with one of the worst recessions that we've ever seen. Now we're, you know, talking about a bunch of, you know, elite comedians who are getting paid tens of millions of dollars...

MARTIN: Aw man, talk about buzz-kill. Come on, man.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Sorry, dude.

MARTIN: That's something to talk about. It's like a boxing match except there's no blood.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Jimi. What do you think? I know you're - try to compose yourself and, you know - your grief, I know, is palpable but...

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, Conan's getting $32 million, and he's making sure his staff gets $12 million in severance pay to walk away - or to be shoved away. And I think it's a sad day, you know, because like, I've always contended that Conan is probably one of the more talented people that have held that seat, right behind Johnny Carson and Jack Paar. And, you know, it is a sad day. But he'll land on his feet because Conan's one of the most talented cats in this business, so.

MARTIN: Why do you like him so much?

Mr. IZRAEL: Again, you know, as I said before, I like him because he's a writer that rose up off the desk to become a talent, and that's not easy. That's not easy in television. That's not easy in Hollywood. You know, and he's a massive talent - massive talent.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: This is Ruben. He's also the future because he's got such a great appeal for that under-30 crowd.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And Leno is very much the baby boomer, you know, comedian, good for him, and Carson was the World War II comedian in terms of the generation. But you know, Conan certainly is the future. I look forward to a match-up one day of maybe him at Fox, someplace else, him against Leno. Leno, I think, is funnier - I've got to tell you - I think funnier than Conan.

MARTIN: Thank you. Thank you. We're on team Leno over here - Ken and I and you. All right, we have to leave it there for now.

Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for CNN.com and San Diego Union Tribune. He joined us on the line from San Diego. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for theRoot.com. He's also a presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, the founder of themuslimguy.com, and a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. And Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor, and they both joined us in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Gentlemen, thank you.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.


Mr. IZRAEL: Yup. Yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more on Monday.

(Soundbite of music)

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