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Is Coffee Still For Closers?


I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. And 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, writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar and Lenny McAllister, a contributor to the Chicago Defender and a Republican strategist. They're all with me here in Washington and joining us from Miami, we have Fernando Vila. He's the managing editor of Univision News in English.

So take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, C. Headlee. You back.


IZRAEL: Thanks so much.

HEADLEE: Nice to be here.

IZRAEL: It's good to see you again.

HEADLEE: Nice to see you, too.

IZRAEL: Fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

LENNY MCALLISTER: Doing well. How you doing, man?

FERNANDO VILA: What's up, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Making it work, brother. Making it work. Well, let's get started talking with - talking about - I don't know - maybe the V.P. debates last night starring Joe Biden - Uncle Joe - and Paul Ryan.

The two faced off in Danville, Kentucky last night and they were ready to rumble. My friend, Celeste, we've got some tape. Yeah?

HEADLEE: Yes, my friend, we do. While Vice President Joe Biden kept the punches coming, Congressman Paul Ryan got some hard hits in, as well. Biden brought up Mitt Romney's comments about 47 percent of Americans not taking responsibility for themselves, and here's how Ryan responded.


PAUL RYAN: I think the vice president very well knows that, sometimes, the words don't come out of your mouth the right way.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But I always say what I mean, and so does Romney.

HEADLEE: And we have another clip here. It features what arguably became the word of the night, malarkey. Here is Vice President Biden responding to Congressman Ryan's statements about Iran policy.


BIDEN: This is a bunch of stuff. Look, here's the deal.

MARTHA RADDATZ: What does that mean? A bunch of stuff.

BIDEN: Well, it means it's simply inaccurate.

RYAN: It's Irish.

BIDEN: Exactly. It is. We Irish call it malarkey.

RADDATZ: Thanks for the translation. OK.

BIDEN: No. We Irish call it malarkey.

IZRAEL: Oh, nice. Thanks for that, Celeste. You know, malarkey is now trending on Twitter, but that's really as it always is, quietly. But, anyway, you know, I thought it was interesting. You know, I love Uncle Joe. You know, and this is what he does best. He's that guy - I mean, really, to my mind, when I watched the debates, this was like - you know, this debate is going on in every bar, every barber shop, you know, every poker game everywhere. And it's these two guys and - with more alcohol, I'm sure.

But what I'm getting at is, you know, this style of debate is what people were kind of expecting to see the first time around, which in my mind, in some ways, is sad because I think we've kind of - we've kind of reduced ourselves to expecting like a reality show way of engagement, you know, where if you have a problem, I have a problem with you. Out come the champagne bottles or I'm going to start snapping on your mama at any minute now.

Arsalan Iftikhar.

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: You know, you're the Obama supporter in the house. You're the tankster.


IZRAEL: Did Joe Biden - did he score a knockout?

IFTIKHAR: He did. You know, I think, for many of us Obama supporters, before the debate, you know, we were kind of looking at Vice President Biden and saying, you know, we need you here. Please, don't screw this one up. You know, we're already behind in the game. And I think he showed up. I think he brought his A game. You know, he was able to go toe-to-toe with Paul Ryan. You know, he essentially brought his foreign policy chops, you know, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was able to bring, you know, the 47 percent talking point and other important points that, you know, President Obama wasn't able to bring in the first debate.

Whatever, you know, Joe Biden was eating last night, they need to put that on the plate of President Obama stat and, you know, I think that...

IZRAEL: Oh, come on.

IFTIKHAR: You know, I think it was a net positive for Democrats.

IZRAEL: Listen, you know, when you're president, you got to be presidential. You know, cut Obama some slack. You know, like I said, it's not "Real Housewives." This is politics, homey.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. But politics is a full contact sport and, you know, as we saw last night, you know, I think both Biden and Paul Ryan stood their ground. You know, obviously, I think that, you know, Paul Ryan, you know, got away with a few untruths. You know, talking about the attack in Libya and saying how the president didn't call it an act of terrorism when, actually, the next day, on September 12th in the Rose Garden, President Obama called it an act of terrorism.

IZRAEL: Oh. Lenny McAllister, you've worked with the Republican Party. Did power Paul Ryan - did he do you proud, brother?

MCALLISTER: He did the job he was supposed to do and I think that his job was to hold surf. His job was to make sure that the momentum that Mitt Romney garnered last week on Wednesday, he was able to hand back over to Governor Romney for Tuesday. He did that job very well.

Vice President Biden had a different role to fill. He had to close the enthusiasm gap and I think he did that for Democrats. But when it came to some of the things that needed to be taken off the table that the Obama-Biden ticket likes to brag about, for example, pulling troops out of Iraq, I think that the congressman did a great job of saying, we didn't pull these troops out of Iraq because this was the direction. It was because Vice President Biden was supposed to go in there and broker some negotiations that he failed at securing.

So he was able to take that off the table to some undecided voters and remind them of the circumstances around the pullout. I think, as well, he was able to pin down Vice President Biden on the Benghazi situation, where he said, well, they didn't ask for more security. I think everybody is starting to see now that you're having a lot of inconsistencies coming off from this administration. He was able to pin them down on that. He did enough to hand that momentum back over Mitt Romney for Tuesday. Now, it really is up to President Obama to try to take the enthusiasm gap that is closed for Democrats and actually perform Tuesday night.

IZRAEL: Wait a second. Hold - wait a second. Hold on. Let's cut to the chase 'cause you were a big critic of the way Obama handled the first debate. You know, your boy Ryan, he looked like somebody stole his bike. I mean...


MCALLISTER: That's true. But Paul Ryan, that is who he is. He is a policy wonk.

IZRAEL: He's a really? And that's what we want in the White House?

MCALLISTER: He's a policy wonk.

IZRAEL: Really?

MCALLISTER: He is a policy wonk. He has been in Washington his whole life and he is a numbers guy. So he is who he was. And for the Tea Party and fiscal conservatives, that's exactly who they expected to show up. People expected the president to show up like he did in 2008 as Senator Obama. And I've said this previously, if President Obama from last Wednesday shows up on Tuesday instead of Senator Obama from 2008, Mr. Obama...


MCALLISTER: ...is going to be moving back to Chicago in January.


IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

HEADLEE: Right. There's a Republican. We heard Arsalan the Democrat. But we do have a kind of objective voice, right, Jimi?

IZRAEL: We got Fernando.



HEADLEE: Fernando, what do you think?

IZRAEL: Fernando Vila, the polls seem to, you know, have split decision on this round. What's your take?

VILA: I do think it was sort of a net positive for Biden and the Democrats. Although, it wasn't, it was by no means a knockout blow. I think it was sort of a strong body punch. You know, I love these sort of political speak - pundit speak, right? But, you know, I do think that Biden was effectively able to put Paul Ryan on shaky ground, especially when he got him to admit that he requested for stimulus funds for his own district.


VILA: When he exposed the sort of big hole in the Romney/Ryan tax plan and how they're actually going to fund it. And I do think that - however, he was on shaky ground in the whole Libya thing. I think that's shaky ground for the administration in general. However, I do think it was a net positive for Biden and the Democrats. I do agree that they closed the enthusiasm gap a little bit. They definitely stemmed the bleeding, but it was by no means a decisive turn in the campaign...

IZRAEL: There's a lot of shaky ground going on, Mr. McAllister.

VILA: A lot of shaky ground.


MCALLISTER: Well, that...


HEADLEE: Hold on. Hold on.

IZRAEL: Let's move. Let's keep it in motion.

HEADLEE: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee and obviously you're listening to the weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Republican strategists Lenny McAllister and Univision journalist Fernando Vila.

Back to you, Jimi. Well, actually...

IZRAEL: Well, no.

HEADLEE: Before we leave the vice presidential debates...

IZRAEL: Yeah. Well, I mean there's a whole lot of shaking going on, but...

HEADLEE: That's right.

IZRAEL: But, right.


HEADLEE: We got to talk about the photos that Time magazine posted.


IZRAEL: Oh, yeah. Mr. P90 X.

HEADLEE: And, you know, I feel comfortable bringing this up. But, yeah, he's a big P 90X...

IZRAEL: He says...

HEADLEE: ...fitness fanatic. That's what he...


HEADLEE: Well, he looks very, very fit.

IZRAEL: I guess.

HEADLEE: He was in workout gear. He was curling, right? He was showing off his muscles. Jimi, what you think? I mean, there's some people who think that Ryan's looks are actually a net benefit for the ticket. Do you think it works for voters?



IZRAEL: I mean just because you've got, just because you're holding a dumbbell that makes you a tough guy? That's, you know, I mean, I don't know. I think it really, that...

HEADLEE: Easier to sway people.

IZRAEL: No. and I don't think he looked very - that isn't the guy. The guy with the hat turned back and the dumbbell, that isn't the guy I want getting the call in - the 2 AM call. You know what I mean? If the president is not available. That's not the guy I want.

HEADLEE: But - may I?

MCALLISTER: I mean come on. I mean, yes, that's - you see a different side of him. But let's be real. How did President Obama gain his momentum five years ago? Obama Girl - I'm in love with Obama.

IZRAEL: He didn't have anything to do with that.

MCALLISTER: The girl that had a crush on him.

HEADLEE: But Obama Girl not a candidate.

MCALLISTER: But it tens of millions of hits, and it made somebody with a funny name going against a former first lady all of a sudden get this name cachet that he was able to ride and then uses policies that come into play.

HEADLEE: Right. Right. OK.

MCALLISTER: So that could be something that could be leveraged out.

IZRAEL: He wasn't dancing with Obama Girl.

HEADLEE: That's Lenny McAllister...

IZRAEL: I mean, and they didn't kick it.

HEADLEE: ...he's always the strategist, right? OK. But, Arsalan...

IZRAEL: Although, I'd kick it with Obama Girl. I'd take Obama Girl.


HEADLEE: Let's take - OK. Paul Ryan, good-looking guy. We can all agree on that.

IZRAEL: You can, I guess.

HEADLEE: But Arsalan, I want to take you the other side 'cause Politico has reported - I don't know if you've seen this - that Joe Biden is a bit of a sex symbol for some senior women. What do you think? Maybe looks count on his side.

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I do think that looks do play a factor. And I'm reminded of the V.P. debate last night. You know, watching it on CNN they, you know, they had the men and women emoticon graphs on the bottom.


IFTIKHAR: And every time Paul Ryan spoke the women spiked to the top, while the men kind of stayed, you know, flatlined in the middle.


IFTIKHAR: You know, I do think that, you know, the whole Time magazine spread with him, you know, flexing like he was The Situation from "Jersey Shore" was kind of redonkulous(ph). But...


VILA: Yes.

IFTIKHAR: You know, I think that, you know, at the end of the day, you know, looks do matter. I mean, let's go back to, you know, Kennedy and Nixon. You know, one of the reasons that people said that Kennedy was, you know, more of an attractive candidate than Nixon was. And so I think that that's going to play a role as well.

HEADLEE: All right. Let's get you in here, Fernando Vila. Because I'm sure you've heard that age-old truism that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people. So often, we identify the entertainment industry with Democrats. Maybe Paul Ryan adds a little glamour to the Grand Old Party. What you think?

VILA: Well, I mean maybe, I don't know, I think the pictures were kind of strange. I mean, I think that they were, it looks like they were pulled straight out of the Paul Ryan Gosling fake Twitter account. You know, like, hey girl, come look at me or something. And, you know, just the picture of him pointing at the camera was just so funny to me. I mean, he looked like a frat boy, you know.


IZRAEL: You know, we really look like? He looked like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite.



IZRAEL: He's flexing for the camera. He just over the top.

HEADLEE: Oh, come on. All right. Enough of that. Enough of that.

IZRAEL: All right. Yeah. Yeah. All right. Let's...

HEADLEE: Let's move on.

IZRAEL: Let's keep it moving. So, you know, we go from political stage to like the gym stage to the real theater. For those of you that are theater buffs, like myself, it's the 30 year anniversary of playwright David Mamet's first film, first time he put "Glengarry Glen Ross" on the stage. And it's a study of men trying to earn their manhood in the commission in a real estate office. The play, which was later turned into a movie, tells the story - like I said - of real estate agents. And we've got a clip from - it's starring Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin. Can we drop it?


ALEC BALDWIN: (as Blake) As we're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired.

IZRAEL: D'oh. You got to hate when that happens. I've totally gotten that speech. But anyway, there is a revival of "Glengarry Glen Ross" and it's about to kick off in New York City. And it's running at the La Jolla Playhouse on the West Coast as well, I believe. So it's one of my favorites. I think it's a study of not just human nature, but this is also the kind of the post-modern reemergence of the angry white male. You know...


IZRAEL: I mean, they - yeah, this is really - this isn't a study of manhood, so much as it is a study in white manhood, to my mind. You know, because the following year we had Michael Douglas in "Falling Down," which is another great study in modern white male manhood anger. And I think "Glengarry Glen Ross" is another. You know, it proceeds "Falling Down," but I think it's really important - more so than "Falling Down." And not just because I'm a David Mamet fan. But Lenny McCallister, you know, the play is set in Chicago.


IZRAEL: And, which is also your hometown.


IZRAEL: Do you think the play's themes, do you think they're relevant today?

MCALLISTER: Yeah, I do, because I think that it goes back to the level of what people will do to prove their manhood, including and especially setting aside their ethics, and allowing their definition of manhood to be tied to economic success. And I think that particularly in these economic times, there's a tendency for those that are still trying to save their identity as far as being American middle class. There's more of a tendency to buy it and sell it and be defined as a, you know, as a price tag, as your job, as your title, and not be one of the folks hiding underneath that 15 percent of the poverty line.

I think one of the things that when we talk about these economic times, we're not talking about the esteem recession that we're having here. And I think that this play and this movie talks to how these type of behaviors play into the results that we're seeing even today. So I think in some regards, it's even more relevant. And I think it's a cautionary tale as far as how we treat each other and how were going to climb out of the situation because if we're creating these huge winners and losers with these big of stakes, you're bound to have the social dysfunction that we continue to have in America.

IZRAEL: OK. Fernando Vila? I know you weren't born when the play first debuted, man.


IZRAEL: That's not a dig. But I understand that you've seen the movie. What do you think? What prompted you to watch it?

VILA: Well, the iconic Alec Baldwin scene, obviously, is what drew me in in the first place.

IZRAEL: Right. Mm-hmm.

VILA: But I think works really effectively today as sort of a broad critique on the American dream, really. I mean, it's sort of the American dream of owning a house and owning property, right? And this kind of pulls the curtain back to see like sort of like the ugly side behind it and the sort of despair that drives that engine, right, the selling of hot air. I mean, these people know that they're selling, you know, essentially nothing to their...

IZRAEL: Dreams. Mm-hmm.

VILA: ...clients and their - yeah, they're selling hopes and dreams that are backed in nothing. And sort of in the wake of the Great Recession and the housing crisis, I mean, I think that really, really resonates today. And then, obviously, Alec Baldwin is, like, unbelievable in it. It's just like stealing the show...

IZRAEL: Well, yeah. Mm-hmm.

VILA: Stealing a movie like unlike anyone has done I think ever.

IZRAEL: And not for nothing, Mamet tacked, he tacked Alec Baldwin's scene on for the film. It's not actually in the play.

VILA: Right.

IZRAEL: Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You know, for me, I'm always you minded of "Death of a Salesman," right? And so to me this was sort of like a 1990s, you know, version of "Death of a Salesman," in that, you know, if you showed and I think in a very poignant way - especially with Alec Baldwin's monologue - you know, how American individualism, you know, essentially gets crushed under the weight of, you know, corporate greed. You know, he said that, you know, first prize is a Cadillac, El Dorado, second prize is steak knives, third prize is you're fired.


IFTIKHAR: You know, I think...

MCALLISTER: It's great.

IFTIKHAR: ...what it shows about the American dream is that it's a financial dream. It's not an ethical one. You know, it's one where, you know, if you have the white picket fence house, if you have the 2.56 children, you know, if you're driving the Honda Accord and the Toyota Sienna, that means that you've made it to the American dream. And I think that that reality is one that's pretty jarring for a lot of Americans.

IZRAEL: I think the critical difference between those two works is that "Glengarry Glen Ross" is really about how these men are relating to each other versus "Death of a Salesman" is how does man option in a family setting and what other people mean to him.

MCALLISTER: It goes back to, you know, manhood's on identity, whether it's within his family unit, whether it's within a greater, you know, social circle.

HEADLEE: And if I can jump in here, as a female watching this movie...


IFTIKHAR: Drop it.


HEADLEE: ...it's actually very enlightening to see that this is the way - that this is part of the environment in which men kind of live their lives. So it's educational for women as well.

Anyway, Jimi Izrael, writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. Lenny McAllister, Republican strategist and contributor for the Chicago Defender. And Fernando Vila, managing editor of Univision News in English. He joined us from member station WLRN in Miami. Jimi, Arsalan, Lenny, here with me in our Washington, D.C. studio. Thank you all so much.


MCALLISTER: Thank you, ma'am.

VILA: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

HEADLEE: If you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our new Barbershop podcast. It's at iTunes store or@npr.org. That's our program for today. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel will be back to talk more on Monday.

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