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Shop Talk: Hollywood-Style Obama Ad, Hit Or Miss?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in their chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance journalist Jimi Izrael. He's normally based in Cleveland, but he's visiting us in D.C. today. Nice to see you.

JIMI IZRAEL: Nice to be seen.

MARTIN: Also here in our Washington, D.C. studio, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. From New York, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre. And in Austin, Texas, we have Mario Loyola. He's from National Review magazine and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Jimi, take it.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.


IZRAEL: Wow. Super Mario Loyola, what's up, man? P dog.

MARIO LOYOLA: P dog. What's up?

IZRAEL: I've got the whole family here. I feel like I should get together a pitcher of...

MARTIN: Cook some chili...

IZRAEL: Yeah. No. Get together a pitcher of Kool Aid, but speaking of Kool Aid, last night I was watching a film. It was called "The Road We've Traveled." Anyone else seen it? I'm talking about the new Obama, quote, "documentary," unquote. It chronicles President Obama's time in office.

Michel, we got a clip. Yeah?

MARTIN: Yes, we do. It is just a part of the 17 minute video and it's got some Hollywood star power behind it. It was produced by Oscar winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim. People would remember him, maybe, from "An Inconvenient Truth" or he did "Waiting for Superman." I think he also did the campaign video at the Democratic convention in 2008 and so...

IZRAEL: So liberal propaganda is his thing.

MARTIN: So I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Was I finished? Narrated by Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks. Here is a clip. Here it is.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So don't bet against the American worker. Don't bet against the American people. We are coming back.

TOM HANKS: Because of the tough choices the president made, the stage was set for a resurgent U.S. auto industry and it wouldn't be the last time this president would face a crisis that others would rather avoid.

IZRAEL: Oh, man.

MARTIN: I'm sorry. Wait a minute. Is somebody - I mean - yeah. Did somebody strap you down and make you watch this, Jimi? I mean, it's like it's a campaign ad. Excuse me. Hello.

IZRAEL: You know, I...

MARTIN: Oh, OK. Maybe we did, but regular people...

IZRAEL: I kept waiting for Rob Reiner to reprise his role as Meathead and, you know, come in, you know, with some kind of liberal - more liberal propaganda, but God bless Tom Hanks.

MARTIN: So conservative propaganda OK. Not liberal propaganda?

IZRAEL: Forest Gump is my dude, but you know - so I saw it. Right? And it just is what it is. It's just liberal line dancing. All we need is Checkers - you know, Checkers the dog to kind of jerk a tear from those of us that aren't drinking the Kool Aid.

You know, but there is no surprises. You know, Obama and his people, his crew - they're great at the scripted plea for reason. David Ogilvy, the ad exec - he'd be proud. A-train?

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: Arsalan Iftikhar.

MARTIN: That's because it's an ad.

IZRAEL: Well, duh. But Coke is it and so is Obama.

MARTIN: (Unintelligible) OK.

IZRAEL: But, Arsalan, A-train, you've been an Obama fan from the start. Did you like what you saw?

IFTIKHAR: I did. And before I get into it, I'm going to trade my Kool Aid for the Hateraid that you've been drinking this morning.


IFTIKHAR: You know, first of all, I will...

IZRAEL: I think I'll take a sip.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I know. You know, I'll listen to anything that Tom Hanks is voicing over, "Toy Story," "Forest Gump," "Bosom Buddies." But, you know, I think it was really interesting that, in this 17 minute documentary, you know, it hit upon all the major accomplishments of the Obama Administration, from passing health care legislation to taking out Osama bin Laden in Pakistan to, you know, the affordable care, all the things that, you know, are not getting highlighted, obviously, in the Republican presidential primaries.

I think, you know, I would have made that a little shorter than 17 minutes to make it more sort of YouTube palatable for our - you know, general society's five minute attention span. But, overall, I think it was a well made video.

IZRAEL: He should have did the Dougie. You know, that way it would have went even more viral. Super Mario, you're our conservative friend.

I hear you've been hanging out at the South By South West Festival in Austin this week. Thanks for joining because I know there's a lot of festivities down there. That's kind of a ground zero for young techies and the generation that President Obama would like to reach. Do you think this video will speak to them?

LOYOLA: I don't - I think they're too busy to watch it right now.

IZRAEL: Too busy or too hung over?

LOYOLA: Yeah. Well, that's a - they're too hung over right now and in about an hour they'll be too busy, but anyway, I mean - yeah. South By South West is great. Y'all should come down for it. Look, I'm saying y'all even.


IZRAEL: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Romney.

MARTIN: I know. We'll all crash at your place.

LOYOLA: Can we use the homeless Wi-Fi spots?

IZRAEL: And we can hunt (unintelligible) in the wilderness. OK. Pablo...

LOYOLA: And it's happening - in South By - you know, it's not - I haven't been attending South By. South By has been happening all around me. Like, you walk out of your house and it's 3,000 bands playing in - 2,000 bands playing in three days. I mean, it's like every possible venue, every place that serves breakfast has shows booked all day long. It's amazing. I've never seen anything like it.

IZRAEL: All right. There's that. Pablo Torre.

TORRE: Yeah. So...

IZRAEL: My man. You know, I know you've been watching hoops videos for Sports Illustrated.


IZRAEL: But what do you think of this particular video?

TORRE: Yeah, it was not quite a slam dunk, if you'll excuse the pun off of your previous comment.


TORRE: I mean for it was just the substance I didn't even disagree with. It was just the presentation made me, kind of, made my skin crawl a little bit.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

TORRE: You know, and not because I disagreed with the overall message, but just because it was packaged in such a way that made it just feel like more propaganda. You know, and that that's something that's even against Obama, personally, it's just any time you try to package something in a documentary kind of style, I feel like that just creates this cognitive dissonance for somebody who knows that it's more of an infomercial.

IZRAEL: Right.

TORRE: And I sort of kept on thinking about that more than I thought about the actual message. I was just thinking about what it was like to listen to a documentary as if the Obama campaign was controlling it.

At no point was I like oh my god, what a great interview. They got Barack and Michelle Obama? Like geez.


TORRE: No. I was wondering, you know, what's the, where are the strings, you know, from the ceiling that they were sort of puppeteering here?

IZRAEL: I'm just glad it wasn't just me.

MARTIN: I just think that's for me though. Best here's the thing - the reason why I find this very funny is that I think that this is something you have to go look at, you have to go and seek it out. So all this grinching about what it is or supposed to be, you went and looked at it.

TORRE: Sure. Sure.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: So it's not like, this is not like the old days where like music videos were just kind of there and it's like you turned on MTV or MTV 1 and whatever they said...


MARTIN: ...is what you are going to watch. This is why I think all of it - other, sort of conversations about, you know, censoring music videos and so forth, these days you have to go find it. So quit your beefing if you don't want to look at it.


MARTIN: I just think it's funny. And also the idea that it's a documentary.

LOYOLA: Well...

MARTIN: And also the idea that...

LOYOLA: Yeah, I think it's...

MARTIN: Who said it was a documentary? It's a campaign ad by the campaign.

TORRE: It felt like a documentary.

LOYOLA: Yeah. And this is...

IZRAEL: Yeah. I hear you.

TORRE: It was shot like a documentary, though.

MARTIN: So like, yeah, but so what? That's the style these days.

IZRAEL: They should've just thrown a George Forman grill in there just for good measure.

Super Mario, did...

MARTIN: That's the style.

IZRAEL: Did you have anything to add?

LOYOLA: Yeah. I was going to say that this is a, I mean I think it's a good inspirational. It's very interesting, because it's clearly aimed at the base. It's not...

IZRAEL: Right. Right. Mm-hmm.

LOYOLA: ...trying to convince Independents or people on the other side. It's trying to convince, you know, the people who think that it's great that we have the world's highest corporate tax rates and that we have crushing regulations on business and that we have high gas prices like - approaching those in Europe. I mean there are people who think that's great. And...

MARTIN: The Republican National Committee has mocked it. They've put up movie posters that rename the video "The Road We've Traveled Wasn't Shovel Ready and It Wasn't Even Paid For."


MARTIN: It says it's not starring 13 million unemployed Americans, three records deficits and a coherent energy policy. So to me it seems like that's the way to go. If you want to attack it, then be funny about it. That seems to me the right approach if you want to criticize it...

IZRAEL: Yeah. It's...

MARTIN: ...rather being like oh, it doesn't meet my standards for filmmaking. Excuse me.


LOYOLA: Yeah, but it's interesting...

TORRE: Michel, is that your me impersonation?

LOYOLA: But it's interesting that the president...

IZRAEL: You should see the face that goes with the impression.


MARTIN: All right. So let's talk about - so let's pick on the GOP for a minute. They - fight heads to Missouri tomorrow. You want to talk about that, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Well, yeah.

MARTIN: What about Rick Santorum? What's he doing?

IZRAEL: Oh, he's on his way to Puerto Rico on Sunday. And while Rick Santorum is coming off wins in Alabama and Mississippi, he may have stepped in it with the folks in the Isle of Enchantment.

Now while the visiting Puerto Rico, the former Pennsylvania senator told local news organizations that if Puerto Rico wins statehood it should make English the main language. Way to win over friends and influence people.


IZRAEL: Michel, we got some sound, yeah?

MARTIN: Right., and, yeah, this is what he said so you can, you know, judge for yourself.


MARTIN: And it's a little hard to understand, but I think you can understand it. So here it is.

RICK SANTORUM: As a condition for entering the union. If you're going to participate as a state in the United States, then you need to participate in the language of people speak in the, uh, in the States.



IZRAEL: Wow. It sounds like he's trans – wow, I'm just, my mind is blown that he would even go there. You know, Mario Loyola, now you're from Puerto Rico, so weigh in on this first. What do you think about his comments, and will it cost him votes on Sunday?

LOYOLA: Yeah. I think that it goes - well, it certainly will cost him votes and, you know, I think it goes to a very philosophical question. I mean is the United States - can the United States be a multi-national union, or does it have to be a single national nation state? Because I'll tell you one thing, in Puerto Rico, you know, and I'm you could probably say I'm as conservative as they come and I'm very patriotic...

IZRAEL: Noted.

LOYOLA: ...you know, you know, American and everything, but I'm also a patriotic Puerto Rican. And from my point of view, Puerto Rico is a country. And the fact that, you know, I look at it from the point of view of the rest of Latin America: how does the rest of Latin America - how do people in Colombia view Puerto Rico? And when you look at it from that point of view you realize that, you know, the fact that United States happens to control Puerto Rico now is really sort of irrelevant. It's - nothing can change the fact that Puerto Rico is a Latin American country, it's a major Latin American country, it's not just a Latin American country.

I mean, Panama has one major salsa star, Puerto Rico has like 20. And, you know, Puerto Rico is a major driving force in Latin American music. The culture is completely Hispanic. The food is completely Hispanic. And, you know, if you admit a country as a state of the United States, you're making a real change, you know, and that's something that people have to think about.

MARTIN: You know, there's a referendum on the island's political status on November 6th, for statehood independence and no change in status are the three options. But, you know, the governor of, the current governor, Luis Fortuno, who's Republican, is embracing statehood. So, Arsalan, you wanted to get in this?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean I think there's several reasons why, you know, Santorum should offer our Puerto Rican friends an apology. First of all, he said that this was...

MARTIN: You think he should offer an apology?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Because he said that...

MARTIN: Why should he apologize for something he believes is true?

IFTIKHAR: Because he said that this was a condition for entering the union, which is factually incorrect. There is no part of federal law that says that in order to become a state you have to speak English. I mean, this is part of the rhetoric that's been going on in the Republican Party.

Let's not forget when Newt Gingrich famously, or infamously, said that Spanish was the language of the ghetto, whereas English is the language of posterity. And, you know, as Stephen Colbert said, it takes some serious cojones to go into Puerto Rico, to tell them to stop saying cojones.


IZRAEL: Right. Right. Right. Right.

LOYOLA: I don't think that we need to use Spanish vulgarities on the air, by the way. But I'll say this thing, don't you think Arsalan, that speaking English should be a condition of admitting a state into the union, or do you think that we can just admit like Iran as a state into the union? I mean what are our standards of - what makes someone sort of eligible to be, to join the union? Isn't any cultural factor relevant there?

IFTIKHAR: Not when it's not a part of federal law already. If you're going to misstate, you know, something as federal law or as part of the Constitution, you should probably retroactively fail ninth grade civics class.

LOYOLA: So do you want to admit like all of Latin America as states of the Union?

IFTIKHAR: I don't care, really. I'm just saying if they want to...

LOYOLA: All right.

IFTIKHAR: ...you know, pass a referendum, you know, advocating for statehood that's their business and I'm just saying that if somebody is running for president they should have a good understanding of American law.

MARTIN: Well, just for...

LOYOLA: Well, I for one don't think...

MARTIN: ...before, we just to clarify, because I'm not sure everybody knows that Puerto Rico is already a U.S. commonwealth and its residents are already U.S. citizens. I'm not sure, just to make sure that people understand this because...

IZRAEL: That's right.

MARTIN: So – all right. If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the roundtable - or to the Barbershop - with freelance journalist Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Mario Loyola, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre.

Before we move on to sports though, Pablo, we haven't forgotten about you, you know that GOP candidate Mitt Romney is also getting some attention when he told a Missouri television station that he would quote, "get rid of" unquote, Planned Parenthood to balance the budget. Later his campaign clarified that Romney didn't mean he would eliminate the organization altogether, just its federal funding.

I don't know how you could eliminate a private organization, but I don't know. Does anybody think - I'm surprised that this hasn't gotten a little bit more attention. I don't know. Mario, what do you think? It's just sort of drowned out in the overall noise of the primary, that people are kind of charged countercharge - they're over it?

LOYOLA: Yeah. I think that I just I can't wait for the Republicans to elect a candidate and get into the election.


IZRAEL: Yeah. I don't know. I couldn't take - I don't take Romney seriously. He needs a new set of batteries. You know, I don't buy him. He's like the, you know, right wing Al Gore with a better haircut. You know, I don't...

MARTIN: But he could be the nominee so how can you not taken seriously?

IZRAEL: I won't take him seriously once he's the nominee. I mean, I said a couple of weeks ago that we're really just trying to figure out who's going to take the hit for the Republican Party. You know, this is the ugliest race the GOP has put forth in quite a while. You know, there's no winner. There's no winner here. I'm sorry. It's...

TORRE: You notice the Obama video did not - made one reference to a Republican candidate and that was Mitt Romney.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Well...

TORRE: Rick Santorum, sadly, was not name checked in that scenario.

IZRAEL: So basically, we're trying to figure out the guy who's going to get into the dunk tank, basically.


IZRAEL: Is it going to be you or is it going to be me? You know, we, but you're going down. And we all know you're going down, homey.

IFTIKHAR: And then what?

IZRAEL: You know?


MARTIN: OK. All right. So, all right. Well, let – all right. Well, we'll just jump right back into March Madness. Pablo, you're our sports guy.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Dare we throw out our picks for the final bracket. Pablo?

TORRE: Yeah. I mean I have - in the Final Four, I guess I have Kentucky. I have Michigan State. I have Ohio State, North Carolina, and I have Michigan State over North Carolina in the championship. Tom Izzo is an institution, a guy who lives for this time of year. I pick coaches over players when it comes to the final game - just because college basketball, for better and for worse, we're not paying any of them. It's about the coaches who get paid and are the institutions who survive year after year. So Michigan State is my incredibly, incredibly foolhardy pick.


MARTIN: OK. Arsalan, what about you?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, for those of us sports junkies out there, you know, if Jim Boeheim's cousins weren't refereeing the game we would've seen history when number 16 UNC-Asheville would have beaten Syracuse.

TORRE: That's right.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

IFTIKHAR: But my Final Four is going to be Kentucky, Kansas, Mizzo and Ohio State. And my wife is from Kentucky so she'll kill me if I don't pick them to go all the way.


MARTIN: Oh, smart man.

TORRE: Right. As good a reason as any to pick...

MARTIN: Exactly. Jimi, you pick?

IZRAEL: Well, you know, my beloved Cleveland Vikings, they got knocked out a few days ago.


IZRAEL: Stanford took them out the game. So Cleveland State Vikings, what's up? But, you know, I'm from Ohio. I got to roll with O State to take the whole pie. That's my whole thing. So, all right, Super Mario, you want to check in?

MARTIN: I think the man is trying to get back...

LOYOLA: I'm just – I...

MARTIN: ...to his film Festival.

IZRAEL: Right. Right.


MARTIN: I don't think he's really even feeling us at all.

LOYOLA: Yeah. And besides...

MARTIN: He's like how long do I have to sit here with these people until I can go back to my festival.


LOYOLA: Right. Exactly. It's like right next door. No. You know, I'm just counting the days until the Packers season opener, so...


IZRAEL: And there's that. Yeah.

TORRE: Yeah. That's fair.

MARTIN: I'm still in mourning about my Knicks falling apart.

IZRAEL: Yeah. They're coming apart at the seams.

TORRE: Well, we'll talk about this off the air. Leave some off the record venting to them.

IFTIKHAR: That's a whole Barbershop segment on its own.

MARTIN: But I don't know, I don't know how off the record it's been. I've been pretty - on the record of it, the New York Knicks coach was, you know, first we had that great run with Linsanity...

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...and then...

TORRE: Leave it to the Knicks.

MARTIN: ...you know, he powered a run of wins for the team, and now the star Carmelo Anthony is back from an injury and then the coach is gone. You know, Pablo, you were just saying that, you know, in college is all about the coach. Well, not in the pros. Not in the pros.

TORRE: Exactly. That's the flipside. Well, leave it to the Knicks, you know, to get the best sports story maybe ever and then just completely, completely let it fall apart and disintegrate like this. It's amazing how much goodwill - I mean you talk about in New York, how you feel it when the Knicks are good, you feel basketball in the city. But when it's bad it's equally as depressing, and that's where we are right now in Manhattan.

MARTIN: And then to add insult to injury, you remember Jeremy Lin, who I claim, even though I'm not Asian-American, because he went to Harvard as, you know, I played hoops for Harvard.

TORRE: Of course.

MARTIN: And then Harvard, of course, Harvard gets eliminated from the NCAA.

TORRE: I know.

MARTIN: First time they've made it into the 64 - since like 1946. So OK, it's a bad week for Michel. That's all I'm saying. OK, I'm sorry.


MARTIN: Jimi...

TORRE: The Jets are looking good.


MARTIN: Goodbye. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com and author of "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims In The Post-Osama Era." Jimi and Arsalan were here in Washington, D.C.

Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He joined us from our NPR studios in New York. And Mario Loyola is director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a think tank focused on the impact of federal policy on the states, also a columnist for the National Review. He was with us from Austin, if he hasn't left already to go back to South by Southwest.

Thank you everybody.


TORRE: Thank you.

LOYOLA: Chop-chop.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.