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Forget Shutdown, How About Kimmel & Kanye Showdown?


I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It is time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop. The guys are going to talk about what's in the news, what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week, writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael. He joins us from Cleveland. In Chicago, Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor of the Islamic Monthly, founder of Neil Minkoff is a healthcare consultant and contributor to National Review magazine. He joins us from Boston. And Michael Steele is the former chair of the Republican National Committee and a columnist for theGrio. He joins me right here in our Washington, D.C. studios. So, Jimi, take it away.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, C. Hey, everybody, how we doing?

MICHAEL STEELE: What's up, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop.

STEELE: We good. We good. We good. We're doing good.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey, what's poppin'?

IZRAEL: The man of steel, where you been? Off saving the world? Good to see you, man.

STEELE: Hey, baby, we've just been plowing through it all.

IZRAEL: Yeah, man. I know you been out there fighting crime.

STEELE: Just trying to work through crazy, that's it.

IZRAEL: Right. Right. Well...

IFTIKHAR: And there's a lot of crazy to go around.

IZRAEL: ...When you figure out how to do that - when you figure out how to do that, why don't you bottle it - why don't you bottle it, then we'll go on the home shopping network and sell it. OK, so - all right, anyway, anyway, anyway. Let's get things started. It's a battle of the budget, and you know how much I love a good battle. Time is short and the deadline for a government shutdown is nigh. Isn't that right, Celeste?

HEADLEE: That is correct. The Affordable Care Act is kind of at the center of this stand-off. House Republicans are trying to block funding for Obamacare and the Democrats are pressing them to just drop that. If there's no solution, though, the government could shut down by midnight on Monday night.

IZRAEL: Wow, thanks for that Celeste. Michael Steele.


IZRAEL: Are you having those flashbacks, those '90's flashbacks?

STEELE: I am having '90's flashbacks.

IZRAEL: You know, so what's the difference this time, if any?

STEELE: The difference this time is that there is a great deal of more vitriol around the idea of solving the problem. And falling into political partisan positions and refusing to move from them is very difficult right now for either side to get any gains moving in trying to solve the problem on the debt, as well as addressing legitimate concerns about the Health Care Act. I mean, you know, you can't take that off the table and say there aren't issues there, as the polls and those who are implementing this have revealed.

But I do think kind of linking the two at this point is more problematic, particularly in the face of, you know, shutting down the government, which has an impact on people who are just literally innocent bystanders here. Those who get monthly checks, our veterans, our seniors, those in hospitals who need medicines and other forms of care.

So there's a real problem I think that the GOP is confronting - and not too well, I might say - in terms of addressing these issues that could blowback in a way that, quite frankly, going into next year, will put them in a hole unlike any they've seen in a while. Because on top of Hispanics being ticked off about the lack of effort on immigration, African-Americans ticked off about the state of the voting rights, laws in this country, you now have the rest of us ticked off.


STEELE: It's going to be a problem.

IZRAEL: Dr. Neil. You know, man, you might have to put on the cape and cowl and go up to Capitol Hill and, you know, give them some of that Jungian love, man. I mean, 'cause they can't figure it out on their own, you know. But a lot of us - a lot of people are still trying to figure this out. And really, you know, this might affect them. Do you care if there's a shutdown, bro?

NEIL MINKOFF: Well, I mean, I have to care that there's a shutdown. We all have friends and relatives and colleagues and people and neighbors that depend on the kind of things that our colleague was just talking about, you know, the checks that are coming and the people - even just simple things like processing those - there are about 7,000 to 10,000 people every day who are aging into Medicare and Social Security. Nobody's going to process those. That's going to be a giant backlog.

We need to make sure that people can come to the country and leave the country with visas and passports and all of that kind of thing just to keep the economy going. So we have to care. But we also have to make sure that people have some perspective around what really is at risk and what really isn't at risk because, you know, look at the giant fuss about the sequester, and so far, it's been more of a whimper than a bang.

HEADLEE: Although, I should point out that if there is a shutdown, the National Zoo turns off the panda cam. Just so you know.

IZRAEL: Oh, my God.

MINKOFF: I love the panda cam. Seriously. My kids and I love the panda cam.

STEELE: You know...

IZRAEL: Then we have to save it, right? You know, you know....

STEELE: First the White House tours, now this, come on.

HEADLEE: Yeah, this is what I'm saying.

IZRAEL: I know, right?


IZRAEL: Listen, you know, I look at this as kind of a failure of our president. I think he did a poor job at the start explaining this and kind of drawing it out. I know this is a very emotional issue with Medical care because of the things he went through with this mom. And I think he went into it thinking, well, medical care for everybody. I mean, that's like a no-brainer, but it's not a no-brainer. And I think it's just made a lot of people nervous, including people that hold office. And I think if there is a shutdown, I think it's going to be a failure of leadership and a failure of government. But, Arsalan, we know stuff like that never happens, right?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I know, right. And what's interesting to me, I mean, to me it seems as though, you know, when you're making Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, the central tenet of your, you know, platform here, it's, essentially being sore losers. You know, you have a law that has passed, both in the House and the Senate, and then was considered constitutional by the Supreme Court in June 2012 in a decision written by - wait for it - conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.

And so, you know, it's gone - as a piece - you know, the whole, you know, "Schoolhouse Rock" of how a bill becomes a law. This thing is law, and to use this to sort of, you know, hang the economy, as White House spokesperson Jay Carney said, you know, elected officials in Congress are not elected to tank the economy.

HEADLEE: Well...

IFTIKHAR: And I think that's what they're doing here.

IZRAEL: All right, I think if he had given it a "Schoolhouse Rock" approach in terms of how he explained it, I think he would've quelled a lot of people's concerns. I mean, I don't know. Michael Steele...

HEADLEE: That's a good suggestion.

IZRAEL: ...You feel me on that?

HEADLEE: Let's talk about some of the elected officials because there's squabbling going on, Jimi, and there are strong words being thrown back and forth, right?

IZRAEL: Yeah, I mean wacko bird, right. I mean, that's what Senator - Arizona Senator John McCain has called Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and that was before Cruz made a 21 hour speech to support House Republicans who want to stop Obamacare. With friends like that, who needs enemies? Here's some of that. Drop that tape.


SENATOR TED CRUZ: That Sam I am, that Sam I am. I do not like that Sam I am. Do you like green eggs and ham? I do not like them, Sam I am. I do not like green eggs and ham.

IZRAEL: All righty, then.

HEADLEE: That's not Dr. Seuss, we should point out that. That is Ted Cruz.

STEELE: That's not Dr. Seuss, that's Ted Cruz.

IZRAEL: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for that, C. Listen, Neil Minkoff, what was that? Do you see Cruz as a political superstar or - as McCain opined - a wacko bird?

MINKOFF: Well, first of all, I think you can be both. I'm not sure that it's an either or. But I'll tell you this, which is, I mean, you know, you mention every time I do this, I'm a healthcare consultant. I go all over the country and I talk about health care reform and it's literally my business to know what it means for a lot of different people. And I would say that throughout the South, the Southwest, the middle of the country, there are a ton of people who are scared and worried about what this means to them or their families or their health care or their jobs. And they are delighted that somebody got up and fought for them, even if it was futile and looked stupid.


IZRAEL: Right. Right.

STEELE: And that's the piece that I think a lot of folks, particularly in Washington, seem to miss is that Ted Cruz is not playing to, you know, that audience of senators and congressmen and insiders. He's talking to a broader constituency, many of whom elected him to the United States Senate in Texas with the sole purpose of coming here and stopping the, you know...


STEELE: ...The spending and the growth of government. So I think, you know, the way he's done this I think has been a little bit more showboat-y and ham-handed. As the president has kind of stood on the sidelines and let this thing kind of bubble this way, you have folks on the other side who just overplayed their hands to the point where both parties, in my view, look ridiculous because at the end of the day...

HEADLEE: What a shock.

STEELE: Right exactly. At the end of the day, C...


STEELE: ...It's just a matter of getting it done because that's why you were sent here, to solve the problems, not to get to these cliffs...


STEELE: ...And these artificial moments and pretend that you're doing something.

HEADLEE: You are listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We are joined by Michael Steele - you just heard - former chair of the RNC. Also, culture critic Jimi Izrael, commentator Arsalan Iftikhar, and contributor to the National Review, Neil Minkoff. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Ok, all right. Thank you for that, Celeste. All right, so let me see if I can descent from greatness for a moment to continue talking with you all, and...


IZRAEL: Yeah, that's right. I'm channeling a little Kanye West, you know. Well, as it turns out - I don't know how you do this - but he has beef with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel and it's ugly, Celeste.

HEADLEE: Yeah. Just so you know, Kanye West did a BBC One interview and he talked about how great he is, not just musically but just in general. He also apparently came up with a fashion idea for leather jogging pants, which is the worst idea ever. Kimmel mocked that interview on his show because he had kids recreate it word for word. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED BOY #1: I brought the leather jogging pants six years ago to Fendi and they said no. How many [bleep] have you done seen with leather jogging pants? Where's the culture at? Where is the culture at?


UNIDENTIFIED BOY #1: We culture. Rap is new rock'n'roll. We're the rock stars, and I'm the biggest of all of them.


IFTIKHAR: Oh, man.

IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Celeste. Well, so yeah...

IFTIKHAR: Oh, man.

IZRAEL: ...As it turns out, you know, Kanye, he's self-conscious but in a bad way. He didn't really appreciate the video. He blasted Kimmel via Twitter. Most words that he used are probably...

HEADLEE: Let's not use them.

IZRAEL: ...Not appropriate for radio, you know. But my thing about Kanye has always been - you got to know Kanye's story. I mean, Kanye's kind of earned a lot of his hubris. You may not believe it, but he kind of has. And he's eccentric, but he's brilliant. And I think, I'm - I ride with him. I ride with him. You know, and I don't know, maybe that's just me. A-train, you're from around the Windy City, Chicago - Kanye's stomping grounds. You know, are you wearing leather jogging pants, bro?

IFTIKHAR: Well, first of all, Jimi, I'm going to let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best music videos of all time - of all time.

STEELE: Period.

HEADLEE: That was bad.

STEELE: Period.

HEADLEE: Come on, now.

STEELE: Period.

IFTIKHAR: In the history - in the six-year history of Barbershop, I don't think anybody has won more ri-dunk-ulous awards than Kanye West, and he wins it again this week by, you know, taking on Jimmy Kimmel in that brilliant, brilliant spoof of the kid doing the interview - the BBC one. When it comes to Team Kanye and Team Kimmel, I'm always going to be on Team Kimmel.

IZRAEL: Wow. Michael Steele.

STEELE: Let's just double-down on that. If you're Kanye West, you don't want to go up against a guy who's on television every night talking to millions of people...


STEELE: ...Who can make you a joke every single night. So he needs to back that down, check his stuff, check his hubris because Kimmel will wipe the floor with him.

IZRAEL: Well...

MINKOFF: But, Jimi, I'm...


MINKOFF: No, I'm with you and Team Kanye on this one.


MINKOFF: The guy is fantastic. His beef makes life interesting. His music is creative, and clearly the only thing we've learned is that Jimmy Kimmel doesn't care about black people.

IZRAEL: Yeah, well, I don't know about that.

HEADLEE: Oh, come on, now.


HEADLEE: Opinions expressed here are not the opinions of National Public Radio.

IZRAEL: He's kind of the Basquiat of the hip-hop culture, you know, and I really admire that. I'm sorry. You know, I mean, it just seems like...

STEELE: Oh, I admire it, too. But, I mean, there is a bright line that you just...

HEADLEE: Take a joke, yeah.

STEELE: You take the joke and you move on. I mean, his response to show - he is the better man would have been to laugh at himself along with the joke.


STEELE: I mean, come on, leather shorts? Come on. I'm serious.

HEADLEE: No, pants.

STEELE: Pants.

HEADLEE: But, Jimi, that's not the only beef we've got going here. There's also...


HEADLEE: ...Team Durant and Team Wade.

IZRAEL: Yeah, apparently, they had words on social media about Durant suggesting Wade didn't belong on Sports Illustrated Top NBA Player list. Wow.

HEADLEE: We're talking about Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Miami Heat's Dwayne Wade.

IZRAEL: A-train...

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir?

IZRAEL: ...Do you really think this is for real or that they just both need a hug?

IFTIKHAR: I think it was for real by accident. And if you watch the Kevin Durant interview where he's asked about, you know, the Sports Illustrated Top Ten list, you know, he wanted to make a point that his former teammate James Harden, who's now on the Houston Rockets, should have been on the list. And then the anchor - the host asked him, well, who should've been taken off? And he said, D-Wade. And right when he said that you could tell in his head was like, oh, snap. I shouldn't have said that. 'Cause they both - as you know, Kevin Durant and D-Wade were both in a Gatorade commercial together where they both dream about playing each other. And what I like about it is that it's sort of a throwback to old-school NBA beefs. You know, now, everybody's, like, kissing and hugging before the game. You know, back when we were growing up in the '80s, it was Larry Bird telling Patrick Ewing, I'm going to drop a dime from this point on the court, and then he did it. And so, I like the throwback to the old-school NBA basketball here.

IZRAEL: All right.

HEADLEE: None of that kissing and hugging, you guys.

IZRAEL: Neil...

MINKOFF: I thought that the...

STEELE: I think they both just need to come into the Barbershop and just...

IZRAEL: OK, Michael.

STEELE: ...Take a chill pill with the rest of us, you know what I'm saying?

HEADLEE: Chillax.

STEELE: Let's work it out here at the shop, fellas, come on.

IZRAEL: Truth. Spoken like a true RNC chairman - a former RNC chairman. Neil, you know, Durant said that Houston Rockets' James Harden should - you know, he said D-Wade should've had the spot. Who do you think should've had the spot, bro?

MINKOFF: You know, look, I would give it to Harden over Wade, a little bit. But I thought that the interesting thing wasn't so much the minor beef between Durant and Wade, is the fact that Durant was kind of publicly saying, I wish Harden were still here, and my God...


MINKOFF: ...How could they have traded...


MINKOFF: ...Him, and that's the reason we don't have a ring and D-Wade has three, and I don't have one. I thought that was the interesting part.

IFTIKHAR: It's a true story.


HEADLEE: Well, before we move away from sports completely, we may see King James or The Truth on the backs of some NBA jerseys. You guys probably all heard this again. Reportedly, the NBA has given permission for both Miami Heat and the Brooklyn Nets to put nicknames on the jerseys instead of their actual, real names during their match ups. Michael Steele, already over here shaking his head. But, Jimi, let me get a response from you. What do you think?

IZRAEL: Well, I mean, you know, the wait staff at Applebee's, they put their nicknames on their nameplates. So, I mean, why not? I mean...

HEADLEE: How many people are watching footage of that, Jimi?

IZRAEL: I mean, well, hey, if you don't want to be taken seriously, I mean, then you put Pookie on your nameplate or on your back. But seriously - but seriously, if you are at the job - if you are at the job...

STEELE: And there go Pookie for the lay-up.

IZRAEL: I don't want to be waited on by Pookie. But any rate, if you're at the job - no matter what it is that you you do - please, use your government name, B, Seriously. Seriously.

IFTIKHAR: Listen, Jimi - this is Arsalan - you know, as a die-hard Boston Celtics fan, I would've been the first person to go out and buy a Boston Celtics Jesus Shuttlesworth, KG or The Truth jersey. The fact that they're going to be on the back of Brooklyn Nets jerseys, make me vomit in my mouth a little bit.

MINKOFF: I'm in. I'm in.

HEADLEE: Neil Minkoff, what about you? You are in?

MINKOFF: Well, I think - I'm in, but let's make it like All-Star and let the fans vote on what the nicknames should be. So you get...


MINKOFF: ...The Cleveland fans to jump en masse on the Internet, and all of the sudden, LeBron James is playing with Traitor Six on them.

HEADLEE: I don't even want to see what they'd give to A-Rod, if we moved to baseball.

STEELE: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. This gets ugly.

MINKOFF: But that would be entertaining.

STEELE: They need more letters.

HEADLEE: Michael Steele, you're not on board.

STEELE: No, I'm not on board. I think this is bogus, crazy nonsense. And, you know, the NBA's trying to, you know - trying to bring some excitement. The excitement is not on your back, it's what you do on the court. So, you know.

HEADLEE: Maybe I'll get an NPR jersey that says Divalicious on the back.

STEELE: Divalicious.

IZRAEL: I'm out of that.

HEADLEE: Yeah. There you go. Anyway, we'll have to end the Barbershop there with that very feminine comment. Michael Steele, you just heard, former chair of the Republican National Committee and a columnist for theGrio - joined me here in our D.C. studios. Neil Minkoff, healthcare consultant, contributor to the National Review - joined us from NPR member station WGBH in Boston. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of He's also senior editor for Islamic Monthly. Arsalan joined us from a member station WBEZ in Chicago. Jimi Izrael - writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College, and he joined us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland. Jimi, what would your nickname be?

IZRAEL: That Dude.

HEADLEE: That Dude.

STEELE: That Dude.

HEADLEE: I'd like to see that on a jersey. Thanks to all of you.

STEELE: Mine would be Pookie.


STEELE: Pookie Steele.

HEADLEE: Remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, you can look for us - for the Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes store or at And that is our program for today and for the week. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. We'll talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.