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Has Time Been Kind To 'Dubya?'


I'm Celeste Headlee, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. And it is time for a visit to the Barbershop. That's 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. He joins us from Chicago. Here in Washington, D.C., civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. In Baltimore, we have Father Leo Patalinghug. He's a priest with the Archdiocese of Baltimore. And from National Review magazine and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mario Loyola. He joins us from Dallas.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Celeste. How you doing?

HEADLEE: I'm doing great. How are you?

IZRAEL: I'm making it work.

HEADLEE: I'm glad.

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

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: My rent is too damn high.





IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's get things started. Ribbons were cut and babies were kissed. The opening ceremony of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was held yesterday, and the 43rd pres took a moment to honor his parents. Here's a clip.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This is the first time in American history that parents have seen their son's presidential library. Mother, I promise to keep my area clean. You know, Barbara Bush taught me to live life to the fullest, to laugh a lot and to speak my mind, a trait that sometimes got us both into trouble. Dad taught me how to be a president. Before that, he showed me how to be a man.

IZRAEL: Wow. Thank you for that. Super Mario, you had boots in the ground. You attended some of the events. How are the digs?

LOYOLA: Yeah. It was very inspiring. I mean, for all the hatred and all the obscenities and all the negativity that was heaped on Bush, he never failed to turn the other cheek, never failed to really show love and hope for the American people. And that kind of Bush family graciousness - which I think we all agree is typical of, like, everyone in that family - was on full display yesterday, and it was very moving.

IZRAEL: You're making me all teary-eyed, Mario. But, you know, one more question before we let you off the mic. Bush has laid pretty low since leaving office, unlike some other top dogs - Clinton. Has this been a good move for him, you think?

LOYOLA: Well, again, it's part of the Bush family graciousness, I think. I think he said the other day that the only way he can get in the news is by either criticizing the president or criticizing his party, and he's not inclined to do either.

IZRAEL: I thought - yeah. When I heard him say that, I thought it was one of the smartest things I've ever heard him say. A-Train, Arsalan Iftikhar, you know, George W. was a controversial president, but now that he's been out of office for four years, a new poll says his approval ratings are up. You know, I guess that makes sense to me. Does Bush look better to you now?

IFTIKHAR: No. I think that, you know, at the end of the day, the American public, for the most part, has a pretty short-term memory when it comes to politicians. That's why we're, you know, seeing Anthony Weiner again. But, you know, when it comes to the President Bush Library, you know, obviously, I would like to donate a copy of "My Pet Goat" to the library, if possible.


IFTIKHAR: Most people forget the fact that...

IZRAEL: Come on.

IFTIKHAR: ...you know...

HEADLEE: Come on now.

IFTIKHAR: ...when he was Texas governor, you know, he signed 152 execution orders, more than any governor in American history. He, of course, ignored warnings about Osama bin Laden in an August 2001 memo that he got. Iraq, the International Criminal Courts.

IZRAEL: You know, OK.

IFTIKHAR: The whistleblowers, torture at Gitmo.

HEADLEE: This could be a long list. You'd better...

IZRAEL: You know what? But, A-Train, you know I'm not on anybody's team, but I always feel that history is kinder to our presidents than we are in the now. You know, I mean, people - Jimmy Carter, for instance. His approval rating dipped really late in his administration, and now he's kind of remembered as something of the liberal voice of reason, which should scare everybody, But you know, we've forgiven him for his botching Iran and our general relationship with the Middle East. You know, I mean, when he was in office, you know, it was like - eh.

But we tend to forgive. History is often kind to presidents because, I mean, it's a tough gig.

IFTIKHAR: Right. But Jimi, the thing is that there is a difference between being a president and an ex-president. You know, many people would say that Jimmy Carter was one of the worst presidents while he was in office, but he was actually one of the best ex-presidents after he left office. And so there are two different tenures there.

IZRAEL: Well...

PATALINGHUG: There's a...


HEADLEE: All right. Let's get back to Bush Presidential Library here.

PATALINGHUG: As a priest, people sometimes think that we shouldn't be talking about politics, but you know, I met the man once...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Father Leo.

PATALINGHUG: ...because I was actually supposed to be speaking at an event, and he actually bumped my keynote speech position. And so I was a little miffed by the whole thing. But speaking with the man, I realized that he is very decisive. What he says, he does. And what he does is tries not to judge based on popular opinion - which I think, you know, polls will tell us people are very fickle.

HEADLEE: And that voice there - to remind everyone - is Father Leo Patalinghug of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. OK. Keep going, Jimi.

IZRAEL: And I was just going to say, not for nothing, you know, he will be remembered as a good president - because and this is what I believe, this is what I...

HEADLEE: George W. Bush?

IZRAEL: Yes. I believe this. I believe this because, you know, he made some tough decisions - right or wrong - but he made them at the point and there's something to be said for a decision-maker, whether he's right or whether he's wrong.


IZRAEL: I firmly believe also that Barack Obama will be remembered as Bush's cleanup man, having benefited from a lot of the programs that Bush put in place and having to continue on.

LOYOLA: Yeah. Jimi.

HEADLEE: We're better move on to our next subject or we're going to spend the entire Barbershop about George W. Bush.

IZRAEL: Yeah because Mario's about to catch - yeah, Mario's about to catch fire over here.


HEADLEE: Yeah so...

IZRAEL: All right. So, you know, not, you know...

HEADLEE: Next up?

IZRAEL: You know, Bush's presidency was marked by the war on terror. And the Boston bombing, that put that back on folk's mind. It's been a week since the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Do I got that name right?

HEADLEE: Tsarnaev.

IFTIKHAR: Tsarnaev.

IZRAEL: Tsarnaev. Authorities believe he and his brother are responsible for the Boston bombings and Tamerlan died during the manhunt. Funerals have been held for the victims. But, you know, I've got a tough question for you, Arsalan.


IZRAEL: You know, the dead suspect hasn't been buried yet. He was a Muslim. Some Boston Muslim leaders believe that, you know, they don't want anything to do with his funeral. What do you think?

IFTIKHAR: You know, this is a very tough question and, you know, I have to preface it by saying that I'm not an Islamic religious scholar, although I do understand what the normative understanding of an Islamic funeral entails, since I've taken part in them several times. In an Islamic traditional burial, you know, not only is the body cleansed according to Islamic tradition, but the people who are in attendance actually pray over the body before they place them in the ground. And I think this is the quandary that many Muslims in the Boston community face, in terms of not wanting to pray over the body of this person, you know, asking for his forgiveness. What most people don't remember, actually, after the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India in the city formerly known as Bombay, the Muslim community in India actually refused to bury the terrorists in their Islamic cemeteries, calling them a quote, "staying on our religion." I myself would not lose any sleep if Tamerlan Tsarnaev does not get a Muslim burial and I can understand whatever decision the community makes in Boston.

IZRAEL: Father Leo, you're a man of faith. What's your take?

PATALINGHUG: Well, you know, with anybody, in a Christian tradition the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and so we treat that body with dignity, which teaches us to respect people because they are made in God's image and likeness. We'd have to realize that a funeral burial is also to not just simply grieve that person, but to hopefully console the people who did love him. You know, we also have to pay attention to the people who did care about him, namely his parents, and we have to treat the body with respect. We can't succumb to the level of say our enemy combatants who want to parade the bodies of American soldiers down the streets and, you know, and belittle it. We can't stoop to that level.

IZRAEL: Mario Loyola, you know, Osama bin Laden was buried at sea and his Muslim funeral rites were intact. Why not this time?

LOYOLA: Look, I mean first of all, I don't believe in showing a lot of regard for somebody who would not have shown any regard whatsoever for my religious sensibilities. So I think because I'm a Christian and, you know, it's a Christian community, we should give a Christian burial to give Christians the opportunity to pray for this guys eternal soul, which is probably headed very much in the wrong direction.

IZRAEL: All righty then.


HEADLEE: You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Father Leo Patalinghug and columnist Mario Loyola.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Celeste. OK. Now we're going to lighten up a bit and talk about political characters.

HEADLEE: Ooh, thank goodness.

LOYOLA: Thank God.


IZRAEL: You won't believe this, but Anthony Weiner, he's back. He's the former congressman who posted some racy photos of himself to women on Twitter. Now he's looking to run for mayor of New York City. In a TV interview, he was asked if there might - might be more embarrassing photos of him out there and here's what he said.


REPRESENTATIVE ANTHONY WEINER: I'm not going to participate in that anymore. If reporters want to go and try to find more, I can't say they're not going to be able to find another picture, find another, you know, another person who may want to come out on their own. But I'm not going to contribute.

IZRAEL: Oy vey.


IZRAEL: You know...


IZRAEL: Yeah. I keep telling you guys to stay off the Twitter.


IZRAEL: And if Anthony Weiner had any sense at all he would stay off the Twitter. Arsalan.

HEADLEE: Number one, Jimi, we don't call it the Twitter, just...


IFTIKHAR: He does.

IZRAEL: I calls it the Twitter.


IZRAEL: So, so put that on your Facebook page. Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: Are you going to follow Weiner's feed? Yikes.



IZRAEL: Yikes.

PATALINGHUG: I'm praying right now.


IFTIKHAR: No. No. No in so many different ways. You know, I really, you know, this speaks to our, you know, our growing cult of celebrity that we have here in the United States - both at the political and social levels. You know, you recently had, you know, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, you know, try to, you know, run again for political office. Here you have Anthony Weiner, you know, with celebrities you have reality shows where a bunch of has-been, B level celebrities try to make comebacks. You know, at the end of the day, he really just speaks to the amount of hubris that a lot of our politicians and celebrities have today. And I would be thrilled if Anthony Weiner would just go be a good husband to Huma Abedin and raise their son and, you know, probably make a lot of money in the private sector. I don't want to see in an office again. Yeah.

PATALINGHUG: Father Leo, he brings up a good point. You know, we know Weiner's wife for gave him and I personally believe in the power of forgiveness. Should voters give him another chance?

Oh, my goodness gracious, I mean who of us has not sinned, cast the first stone is what I would say. But as far as his ability to tweet well or badly, everyone has the need to express themselves. He just needs a good PR person to express himself in a limited fashion in 140 characters or less.

IZRAEL: Ah, yeah, he needs to hire an intern to do that for him. Super Mario, Mr. Loyola...

HEADLEE: No pictures, Anthony. No pictures.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARIO LOYOLA: Yeah. I think...


LOYOLA: Look, Arsalan's word hubris is particularly apt in the case of Anthony Weiner, right. I remember when he was a congressman, the thing that I sort of first struck me about him and always struck me about him is that he would get up and have these like over-the-top like pontificating attacks on the ethics and motives of, you know, perfectly decent people on the other side of the isle. And it always reminded me of what Truman's Secretary of State Dean Acheson once said that moralizing and being world are not the same thing. So I would say if Anthony Weiner is going to run for office again, let it be a demonstration of the opposite of hubris this time around.

HEADLEE: All right. Well, the voters of New York will decide whether he gets that comeback or not. But, since were talking about comebacks, who could forget this guy.


JIMMY MCMILLAN: (Raping) Rent is too damn high. My mustache and hair cut is too damn fly. I'm on a mission again to give the people my word. The rent around here is too damn absurd. Rent...

HEADLEE: That is Jimmy McMillan, political activist, founder of The Rent Is Too Damn High Party, already running for mayor of New York City. He ran for governor back in 2010. So we're going to try and test you guys on the waters on this guy's chances. Let me begin with you, Arsalan. You're a renter and rent is pretty high. What do you think?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: I just want to grow some facial hair just so I can say my beard and mustache is too damn fly.


IFTIKHAR: You know, this is just a, you know, this is just another shot for Mr. McMillan to get his 15 seconds of fame. It is a well-made video, you know, it does have a good flowing beat. But, you know, there is less than zero chance of anything.

HEADLEE: So Father Leo...


HEADLEE: I'm sorry for using the damn word. But McMillan is talking about - at heart what he's talking about is economic justice, right, and the plight of the poor. So does this turn it into a joke?

PATALINGHUG: Well, I'm sure that his message is very serious for people who can't afford proper housing. I'm just glad he didn't say G-damn high.


HEADLEE: OK. Well, there you go. Father, you're just bringing the bright side to all of these conversations.

IFTIKHAR: He's just keeping it real.

PATALINGHUG: I sure am. I'm an optimist. I'm a hopeful person. And I do think that his message is clear and he's just trying to be kitschy and gimmicky and so he's going to attract a certain amount of people. But I also think that the gimmick is shooting his message in the foot. You got to be appropriate as a messenger just as much as the message has to be appropriate.

HEADLEE: Well, Mario, what do you think? Do these kinds of gimmicks really change political conversations?

LOYOLA: I - well, I don't know. I mean not really because he didn't have a point. I mean is his point that we should have, you know, the rent is too darn high so we need more taxation and more regulation, or that we need less taxation and less regulation? It's sort of impossible to tell what his solution is so he's not saying anything. But, on the other hand, I have to say, he has raised the bar on cool politicians. Like I want to see a Hispanic run for office just to prove that a Hispanic can have a cool politician music video like this one.

HEADLEE: Well, they need a great big mustache.


LOYOLA: Mm-hmm.

HEADLEE: That's I think is the key. Jimi, what do you think? I mean is this - I mean we're laughing about it and it is funny to a certain extent. And I think that is Jimmy McMillan's point.


HEADLEE: But in the end is effective?

IZRAEL: No. It's just the worst kind of Internet blaxploitation there is. No, not only is he the founder of The Rent Is Too Damn High Party, he's a registered Republican. And so he's already a kind of a - well, I don't know. Maybe the GOP stands a chance with this guy. I mean certainly, he's talking out both sides of his neck, so maybe he'll help save your party there, Mario.

LOYOLA: Oh, thanks. Yeah. Well...


LOYOLA: I mean when I was at University of Wisconsin, like the local like, you know, pro-marijuana legalization dude was always running on the Republican ticket and he explained his theory of why to me one time but I can't remember exactly what he said.

HEADLEE: You know, I find it very...

IZRAEL: But not for nothing, though - Jimmy...

IFTIKHAR: But was it a haze, Mario?


IZRAEL: Not for nothing though, but Jimmy McMillan lives in a rent controlled apartment with his son...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, he does.

IZRAEL: ...so he's already a real Republican. He's already...

HEADLEE: Oh, oh, oh.



HEADLEE: Ba dum shake. I do want to say Mario, that by calling the person who is supporting legalization of marijuana dude is really steer you to go of you and I hoped for better.


LOYOLA: I'm sorry. Sorry, dudes.


HEADLEE: That is just not fair. All right, guys, I mean we have a minute left so this is the lightning round. Vikings land the first, the three first-round draft picks. Arsalan, fair?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean they did well. You know, the surprise pick was of the NFL draft last night was my beloved Buffalo Bills at number 16...


IFTIKHAR: ...picking Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel. You know, a lot of people thought that Gino Smith and Ryan Nassib would be picked, but it should be interesting.

HEADLEE: OK. Father Leo? Do you follow sports?

PATALINGHUG: I do enough. I just I'm a fair weather fan.

HEADLEE: Ah, there you go.

PATALINGHUG: I would place a bet on the people closest to the win, so...

HEADLEE: So if the Vikings start winning. Mario, what about you?

LOYOLA: Well, we'll see how the - you know what? If you are Michel, you see, Michel would know that I was going to talk about the Packers. You might as well just bring up the Packers if you asked me what I think.


PATALINGHUG: Or the Ravens.


HEADLEE: Well, then let me go to Jimi. You don't really follow the draft picks, do you, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Not unless the Browns are winning. And the Browns aren't winning.

HEADLEE: Good luck with that...

IZRAEL: Yes, so...

HEADLEE: ...dude.

IZRAEL: Right. Exactly.


HEADLEE: Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He joined us from NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago. Mario Loyola is director of the Center for 10th Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He's a columnist for the National Review. He joined us from Dallas. Father Leo Patalinghug is a priest and the author of the new cookbook "Spicing Up Married Life." He joined us from Baltimore. And Arsalan Iftikhar, civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com. He joined me here in the Washington, D.C. studios.

Thanks all so much.



LOYOLA: Chow-chow.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

HEADLEE: And if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, you can get the Barbershop Podcast. It's in the iTunes store. You can just find it at NPR.org. That is our program for today and for the week. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We'll talk more on Monday.

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