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Did Biden Cross The Line Or Just Offer Tough Talk?


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Michel Martin is away. Now, it's time for the weekly visit to the Barber Shop, 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 writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, Johns Hopkins Political Science Professor Lester Spence, from the Log Cabin Republicans, Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper. He's also an Army Reserve captain. And you three are all here in the studio with me. Hello to everybody.



JIMI IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah.

LYDEN: And, in Boston, we have Neil Minkoff. He's a doctor now working as a health care consultant and a contributor to National Review magazine. Hello, Neil.

NEIL MINKOFF: Hey, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. I'm happy to be back in the Barber Shop.

IZRAEL: Dr. Neil, what's up, dude?

MINKOFF: I'm just living the dream, baby. How you doing?

IZRAEL: You're the man. If I could just be you just for a day. All right.

MINKOFF: And I say that to you, babe.

IZRAEL: Right. How's everybody? Welcome to the shop. How's everybody?

SPENCE: Hey, what's up, man?

COOPER: All right.

SPENCE: Cool and chilling. Cool and chilling.

COOPER: Getting ready for Tampa.

LYDEN: Take it away, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Well, you know what? And thank you, Jacki. It's nice to have you back. I haven't...

LYDEN: It's great to be back. I love the Barber Shop.

IZRAEL: All right. And it loves you. OK. So let's get things started, talking about vice presidential politics. You know, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate on Saturday. Now, we'll get to that in a minute because Joe Biden is back on his grind. The gaffe machine is back at it again.

The current vice president - he made news this week. Jacki, we've got a clip. Yeah?

LYDEN: I don't any - if there's anyone who hasn't heard this clip, but just in case, let's play it again.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Look at what they value and look at their budget and what they're proposing. Romney wants to let the - he said, in the first 100 days, he's going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, unchain Wall Street.


BIDEN: They're going to put you all back in chains.


LYDEN: I just want to say that Vice President Biden said that in Danville, Virginia on Tuesday in front of a largely African-American audience.

IZRAEL: Oh, man. I love him. He's like the Yogi Berra of vice presidential politics. Thanks so much for that, Jacki. Now, Mitt Romney called the comments demeaning. Virginia's first and only black governor, Douglas Wilder, also said Biden was off-base. Really? You think so?

Lester Spence, you're the political science guy. What do you think?

SPENCE: Yeah. There is this long history of both parties actually speaking down to black audiences and it's funny because, in this case - well, Biden's a unique character, anyway - right - in that he just happens to speak off the cuff and, oftentimes, his speaking off the cuff actually has benefits that we now, you know, have large scale support for same-sex marriage because he ran his mouth.

IZRAEL: Right.

SPENCE: But this is the flipside of that, where he runs his mouth and he ends up putting his foot in it. But, with that said, it's important to understand that there's a qualitative difference between the comments that somebody like Biden makes and the comments that others make, because at least African-Americans understand that somebody like Biden supports policies that they do.

IZRAEL: Yeah. And you know what? Me - you know me. I'm whatever, you know, about race politics.


IZRAEL: And I look at it - just another gaffe. You know, it's just another gaffe in a series of gaffes. I do not read anything to it. I love Joe Biden. I would invite him to every dinner party just so I could have some entertainment.

COOPER: Oh, real talk. Yeah.

MINKOFF: Yeah. This is Neil and I...

IZRAEL: Can we get Neil in here first?

COOPER: Oh, sure.

IZRAEL: Neil Minkoff, go ahead.

MINKOFF: I would love that. I would love to have Joe Biden at every barbecue I ever attend...

IZRAEL: I swear to God.

MINKOFF: ...just for the entertainment factor, but you know, what I want to do here is, just for a second, draw a contrast between, you know, Romney's speech that he made where he talked about - to an African-American audience, where he talked about ObamaCare and whether or not that speech was racist, and compare and contrast a very serious speech where he brought up serious issues to some sort of ridiculous one-liner from Mr. Gaffe over there. And yet they're both being torn apart as racist and I don't think that they're at all similar.

IZRAEL: R. Clarke Cooper.

COOPER: So the gift of gaffe that keeps on giving...


COOPER: ...is definitely Uncle Joe, as some people like to call him, but let's look back at what Governor Wilder said. That was mentioned earlier. So, you know, the first African-American governor of Virginia - the speech took place in Virginia and, as Wilder said, Obama is stuck with what he's got now, and that's true.

And so, you know, when you look at what Biden has to run up against, our guy, with Paul Ryan - I am really looking forward to these vice presidential debates because I really do think Paul Ryan is going to mop the floor with Joe Biden. He's not going to be able to keep up. You've got now a young, sharp technocrat against Uncle Joe over here, who's great for a barbecue, but how's he going to perform on the debates?

IZRAEL: I'm glad you brought him up because we can't get out of here without - off of the particular subject - without talking about Paul Ryan, you know, because Democrats hate him because he's got a well-publicized plan to cut government programs, but the Republicans love him for the...

COOPER: Reform the programs.

IZRAEL: Right. For the exact same reason. So I don't know. Captain Coop, you're down with him, obviously. Dr. Spence.

SPENCE: I'm really glad they selected Ryan because I think this is the first election that I can remember where you've got the chance to have a really important debate not about a guy...

MINKOFF: Here. Here.

SPENCE: ...right, not about a whether you like Obama or you like Romney, but actually about very different ideas about government and how it should operate, right? Even though they're very - they both talk about opportunity, but how the two parties actually believe in getting to that opportunity are very, very different. And I actually hope Ryan does not run away from his budget or even his support for somebody like Ayn Rand so we can actually have that conversation.

LYDEN: I thought you were going to say...

MINKOFF: I totally am down with that.

LYDEN: ...Democrats hate him Jimi, because of his hair. This is the Barbershop, after all.


IZRAEL: Well, that's not why they hate him. And, but I got to tell you something, you know, I really like this new ticket, Ryan and Romney.

COOPER: Yeah, I do too.

IZRAEL: You know, not just alliteration, it's just to me there's something, there's something, they have like a Reaganesque sexy about them. You know, they have a symmetry - kind of like Fred Munster and Eddie.


IZRAEL: Or, or...

SPENCE: You see that picture on Facebook?

IZRAEL: Yeah. Laurel and Hardy.

COOPER: Yeah. God forbid, there would be a positive (unintelligible).

IZRAEL: You know, or even James Caan and Billy D. from "Brian's Song."


IZRAEL: I mean, you know, which is something the Obama-Biden ticket doesn't have for me. I mean, they're clearly not cut from the same cloth, Obama and Biden, you know, whereas, Romney and Ryan clearly, I mean, they could be frat if they wasn't like 20 years apart, right?

MINKOFF: But that's an important piece of it.

IZRAEL: Go ahead. Go ahead, Neil.

MINKOFF: This is Neil. There's a whole generational successional piece of it that I don't think has gotten enough play, where there's clearly, there's almost like a Reagan-Bush dynamic there that you eluded to, where there is a current leadership and then the potential to pass the baton down to the next leadership.

IZRAEL: Right.

MINKOFF: And I think the other reason that we, that people on the right dig Ryan is that he stepped into this huge power vacuum when the president's budget lost 97 to 0 in the Senate, the Senate doesn't put forth a budget. It would have been really easy for the guys in the House to turtle under and do nothing. And he didn't just put forth a budget, he put forth a really different budget.


LYDEN: I just want to bring up, Neil, Lester mentioned a moment ago Ayn Rand. Now you're consulting company is called the FountainHead HealthCare, named for...

MINKOFF: Yeah, you noticed that, huh?

LYDEN: Hard to miss. Hard to miss these things.


LYDEN: "Fountainhead," for those who may not know, title of the novel by the late author Ayn Rand, an icon for conservative thinkers. Paul Ryan seems to be backing away from her when he had been clearly very, very much influenced by her ideas, says is why he got into public service. Do you think he needs to back away from her?

MINKOFF: Well, I'll tell you my experience and maybe we can extrapolate backward, which is I think that one can fall in love with some of the ideas in "Atlas Shrugged" or "The Fountainhead" and yet still not be an atheist or amoral or believed in her views on a proper woman's role to a man. I mean, I think that there's this little nugget of truth about what the individual should be in relation to the government that doesn't necessarily mean an endorsement of everything in the books. I mean, I actually went back and pulled out "Atlas Shrugged" to find the place where they - Ayn Rand's heroes talk about how everybody's moving to Colorado because the government there does certain things and doesn't do certain things, and read that in contradistinction to the, you didn't build that. Because I don't think anybody on the, even the deepest Randians - including Rand herself - is saying that anybody does anything purely alone.

LYDEN: And if you don't like the book you can see the movie, you were saying, Clarke.

COOPER: Well, yeah, the book is much - the books are usually better than any movie. But I concur on the individual responsibility, and this is what all conservatives really do rally around. So, yeah, you take nuggets out of there is that government is not always the answer. And that's where Paul Ryan and fellow conservatives who are really looking at it said, OK, government has a role but it doesn't have to have a role in every aspect of the life. It should not be an impediment upon private business. It shouldn't be an impediment upon economic growth. And, you know, we're talking about the generational issue, Ryan is particularly attractive to younger voters because it is the younger voter that is concerned about the solvency of government programs like Medicare, like Social Security. I'm in Generation X. I have siblings in generation Y. You got the Millennials who are concerned about if those programs are going to be there and how much longer we're going to work. So having a plan is very attractive to all voters regardless of their party affiliation.

LYDEN: OK. And Clarke, let's remember, R. Clarke Cooper, you are executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans.

If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden and you're listening to the weekly Barbershop roundtable, as you can hear. And we're joined and hosted by writer Jimmy Izrael, our barber, political science professor Lester Spence, Neil Minkoff from Boston, a contributor to National Review and, as we just said, Clarke Cooper of the Log Cabin Republicans.

And back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thank you, Jacki. All right, well, let's talk about what's going on with Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Now this week, the Mayo Clinic released a statement that he's being treated at their facility for bipolar disorder. And yesterday, Jackson got a visit from former U.S. representative Patrick Kennedy. Now Kennedy has been very, very public in the past about his own battles with bipolar disorder. After the visit, Kennedy told reporters Jackson is in a, quote, "deep depression" and has a lot of work ahead of him.

Guys, I want to hear your thoughts on this. Dr. Spence, Lester, you first - not just because you're a poli-sci professor - but you also talked with us about depression not long ago. How do you think this could or should change the way we talk about mental health?

SPENCE: So what I talked about before is - let me just - a couple of things.


SPENCE: First, that I haven't suffered - I'm not bipolar but I suffered from depression.


SPENCE: The second, I'm also familiar with the literature on depression. African-Americans suffer from mental health issues about the same degree that whites do but they get treatment far less, right and stigma. And one of the reasons for that, there's structural disadvantage reasons. But another reason for that is that they feel, they take that burden on themselves and because they take that burden on themselves they think that something is wrong with them. That, it's weird, they think that something is wrong with them but they're not willing to take the step, that extra step to get treatment. Right? So what I was hoping was at first, that he gets better with that this, but that he uses this opportunity to actually create more space for blacks and for other non-whites to actually talk about this issue.

LYDEN: Mm-hmm.

SPENCE: And I'm hoping that, I think he's got - to be fair, I think he's got too much weight on him to probably continue as a representative. But I'm still hoping he uses this opportunity to really create more space for us.

IZRAEL: Dr. Neil, you're not a psychiatrist, you are a primary care doc.


IZRAEL: What's your take?

LYDEN: Look, I took an oath and I was a doctor and this is, I am not going to take any pot shots at somebody who's clearly suffering. This is - mental health problems are an epidemic in this country, stigma is a huge part of that. I completely concur with what's been said about removing the stigma and trying to make sure that anybody suffering from a mental health problem can find a way to get access to therapy.

We just have a few minutes left and we have to get to this, the new NBC reality show "Stars Earn Stripes." Now, it's come under fire and I do not ask for a pardon on this pun, by some veterans and Nobel Peace Prize winners too. They claim it glorifies war and mocks the military. I hadn't heard about it before. It's quite something. Let's listen to a clip.






PICABO STREET: Where is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Take your time.




UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Got 'em. She got 'em.

LYDEN: Now, the person screaming sounds intense. That was believe it or not former Olympic skier Picabo Street firing at targets with the help of her trainer.

R. Clarke Cooper you've served in combat. What are your thoughts on this reality...

COOPER: Absolutely ridiculous. So current members of the military, prior service, everyone I've talked to - and now granted, it's anecdotally, but I'm still serving and I have friends who are still serving and what a joke. I mean, you know, Nick Lachey, here you have a former pop star saying, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Well, I have a great recruiter I would like to introduce him to over at Fort Meade, Maryland who can guarantee a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I mean, this is the most ridiculous thing I've seen come out of television. And when you have this effete producer wearing an ascot saying that he's developing the show to honor the military, really? Give me a break.

LYDEN: And Wesley Clark is the advisor on this show, General Wesley Clark?


COOPER: Unfortunately, I think General Clark, here's the former NATO allied supreme commander. His post-military career has jumped the shark - to use a term.

IZRAEL: Mm. Mm-mm. Well...

MINKOFF: Are we really search...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Neil.

MINKOFF: Are we really searching for meaning in reality television? I mean, if reality television has taught us anything it's that the outlandish is what garnishes respect in that part of the world and that it's this very twisted mirror into the American psyche that scares me.

SPENCE: You know, I think that - real quick.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Lester.

SPENCE: I think they're trying to get some of that "Call of Duty" money, like real talk.

IZRAEL: From the video game.

SPENCE: Yeah, from the video game.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

SPENCE: It's sold like almost 50 million copies over the last three, four years.

IZRAEL: Right.

SPENCE: I think they're trying to get some of that money.

LYDEN: And it's trying to have a broad appeal?

IZRAEL: Well...

LYDEN: Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali, the boxer, says it honors the military. She's in the show. She cites the former members of the military who serve as trainers.

IZRAEL: Well, you know what?

LYDEN: You're shaking your head, Lester.

IZRAEL: Go ahead.

SPENCE: Yeah, I - and I'm with the Captain. I think it's a bad look. I was just thinking about the economics, right?


SPENCE: I mean so they're going to come up with any reason that's semi-plausible to justify what they're doing. What it really is is for the show members, for Laila and the rest of them it's about them trying to get their star thing.

LYDEN: Yeah. I guess and each mission the star earns a stripe and $10,000 for military based on charity. And the final winner gets to give $100,000 to their charity.

COOPER: And when they're in trouble they get pulled out by a producer on a jet ski.

LYDEN: Yeah. Yeah.

COOPER: I mean, come on.

LYDEN: Yeah. Yeah.


IZRAEL: Coop. Coop. I didn't know you served, man. Thanks for your service, by the way. And respect to that.

MINKOFF: Absolutely.

IZRAEL: What I want to say here as the creative in the shop is that, you know, I'm saddened to see this because, you know, we're seeing scripted drama die more and more and more.


IZRAEL: And in terms of whether this is the line in reality TV, it's like you know what, to me that isn't even conversation because it's like, you know, there was Ice Cube's show where you could, where families switch colors, you know?



IZRAEL: You know, and there are shows where people, they redress you, they change your style. So, you know, in terms of, they're all kinds of ways to lose your dignity on cable television now.

SPENCE: Cheap.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

LYDEN: But could it inspire people to enlist, do you think?

IZRAEL: Well...

COOPER: You talk about popular culture, books, films, John Wayne, you know, that does sometimes enlists people to join and join our ranks. Fine. I seriously question a show like this. And I would suggest that if someone is watching that show and thinks that's how it is, no. Go to an open house or one of those visitation days that we have on installations across the country. There are a lot of open houses where people can actually get hands-on experience. Or go visit a recruiter, it's that simple.

LYDEN: Yeah. Yeah. Well, a lively Barbershop, as always. Thank you, everybody.

Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. R. Clarke Cooper is the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. That's a group advocating gay and lesbian rights within and without the military. And he's also a captain in the Army Reserve. Lester Spence is political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. And those three gentlemen were here with me in our Washington, D.C. studio. We were also joined by Neil Minkoff from Boston. He's a doctor turned health care consultant. He's also a contributor to the National Review.

Thank you everybody for making it a great Friday.



MINKOFF: Thanks, guys. Great weekend to all.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

LYDEN: And that's our program for today. And before we go, we'd like to welcome a new station to the TELL ME MORE family, WDDE in Dover, Delaware. And I pass that going up to New York on I-95. We're happy to have you. I'm Jacki Lyden. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Tune in for more talk on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.