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Shop Talk: Obama Jumps In The Polls


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes, sitting in for Michel Martin. Now, 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.

In their chairs today for a shape-up are: author Jimi Izrael, Republican strategist Ron Christie, sports editor Dave Zirin at The Nation magazine and Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris.

All you, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Allison. Hey, and good to have you back in the Shop.

KEYES: You, too. Always glad to be here.

IZRAEL: Hey, fellows, welcome. How we doing?



WESLEY MORRIS: Merry Christmas. Happy everything.

IZRAEL: Happy everything.

KEYES: There's that, there's that.

MORRIS: That's what I say. You just never know.

IZRAEL: I guess you don't. So let's get started, talking about President Obama's Christmas present. In addition to, you know, House Republicans doing their kind of dance with the payroll tax. His poll numbers are on the rise, but who knows how long that's going to last?

A recent ABC News Washington Post poll shows the president's approval is now close to 50 percent. That's compared with just 13 percent for Congress according to RealClearPolitics. And...

CHRISTIE: Wait. It's up? It's 13 percent now?

KEYES: For Congress. Yeah.

ZIRIN: For Congress.


CHRISTIE: I thought it 9 percent.


KEYES: No. It's up to 13 now.

MORRIS: On the upswing.

KEYES: But we have to say these polls predate the vote that happens, so they could be changing tomorrow.

IZRAEL: They could change any minute now. We've got some tape, right?

KEYES: Sure do. President Obama talked about the political in-fighting yesterday before the House Republicans agreed to the two month renewal. He sounded a little annoyed. Here's a clip.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I mean, has this place become so dysfunctional that, even when people agree to things, we can't do it? It doesn't make any sense.


OBAMA: Enough is enough.

KEYES: I should note that he was surrounded by people who wrote to the White House talking about how the end of the payroll tax rate would affect their lives and...

ZIRIN: You know, it's funny because I thought he was talking to the press pool. I'm like, whoa.


KEYES: That's funny. Wait a minute now.

IZRAEL: RC, RC, hold them back. Hold them back. You'll get in here. You'll get in here.

KEYES: Come on, Ron. Let's be a little fair. OK. And this whole tax cut would boost the paycheck of the average worker by about 20 bucks a week. The Senate had already approved it. The House has. And Jimi - not Ron - but Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thank you so much. All right. RC, Ron Christie. All right, man. You're chomping at the bit here, man, Come on now. Come on, come on.

CHRISTIE: I'm raring to jump right in here. Let me be honest.


CHRISTIE: I think it is somewhat predictable that the president's approval numbers have gone up as we head in the holiday season. I think the House and the Senate have looked ridiculous in these payroll tax negotiations. The president wisely stayed out of sight and let Congress kind of take the face of the ugly Washington. I mean, you heard his indignation from the tape that we just played.

The question is, once January comes, the holidays are behind us and the Republicans are in full speed ahead. January 3rd for the Iowa caucus and, a week later, New Hampshire for the first primary. Does the shift towards the Republicans make the president not only a little less relevant in the news, but do folks start looking back at him and say, do we really want President Obama to have another four years?

IZRAEL: Ron, Ron Christie, the Grinch, everybody. Wild, wild Wes. What's good, man? What do you think?

MORRIS: I don't know. I think that, as long as the Congress continues to be Congress in the way that they have been being Congress the last, like, two or three years, I think all he has to do is stand back. At some point, he'll have his hands busy with, you know, Newt Gingrich or, you know, Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann or whoever they decide the like long enough to give the Republican nomination to.

I don't know. He's done a very good job of just saying, look at these people. I mean, this is clearly not my problem. I mean, he's got other things to do, as well, so I don't know. I don't know. I mean, I think his poll numbers go up because he's the person seemingly acting most like an adult.

IZRAEL: Well, Wesley Morris gives us the view from Beantown. Dave Zirin.

ZIRIN: Yeah.

IZRAEL: What do you got?

ZIRIN: I have two things. First of all, I think there's something essentially wrong about Ron's calculus because he's right that the spotlight will turn to the Republican primary in January, but the only people who that makes happy is Jon Stewart, Jay Leno and David Letterman.

I mean, this is the weakest Republican primary in memory. Every week brings a new scandal, whether it's Ron Paul's racist rantings that he didn't write but put his name to...

KEYES: Although those...

ZIRIN: ...20 years ago.

KEYES: Twenty years ago.

ZIRIN: Twenty. Oh, 20 years ago, he just put his name to it.

IZRAEL: A whole 20 years ago?

ZIRIN: My goodness. He's calling for a race war 20 years ago? It's an irrelevancy. Or Mitt Romney, that's not what I think. No, yes it is. No, no, no it's not. I mean, there's so much comedy there. Newt Gingrich and his 57 wives. I mean it's just, there's a lot there that's going to make it actually good for Obama.

KEYES: I don't really have to say it's just three, right? But...




MORRIS: It good for Obama? Come on.

ZIRIN: And then the second thing is...

IZRAEL: Fifty-three?

ZIRIN: And then the second thing is the economy too, which we've got to talk about. Lowest unemployment filings since April 2008, before people even were thinking of this as a great recession, and so that's helping Obama's numbers as well.

IZRAEL: Right.

KEYES: If you're just joining us, and I feel like I'm the gatekeeper today.


KEYES: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes and you're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by Jimi Izrael, Republican strategist - not the Grinch -, sports editor Dave Zirin and film critic Wesley Morris.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Allison. OK, fellas. NBA fans get five games as gifts on Christmas day, including a rematch of last year's battle between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. We got some kind of something.

KEYES: We do have a clip.



UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And the celebration will begin. The Dallas Mavericks are NBA champions. Their first title in franchise history.




ZIRIN: Oh, yeah.

IZRAEL: Mr. Zirin, the Mavericks, you know, they're the defending champs but many casual fans remember it more like, as the championship that brought Lebron James and his crew that hard loss. The Mavs...


IZRAEL: Are they the least-respected champs ever?

ZIRIN: No. But going into this year they deserve to be less respected because they gave away the glue of their franchise to become one "Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."


ZIRIN: They gave away Tyson Chandler, the only person on that team who played defense and J.J. Barea, the sparkplug of all sparkplugs. And who did they replace them with? Vince Carter and Delonte West. Vince Carter? My goodness. Vince Carter, remember the Vince Carter who used to be able to jump?

IZRAEL: When was that?

ZIRIN: He doesn't play anymore. That was in the Lincoln administration.




ZIRIN: Not he's growing this neck beard to cover the double chin. This is not the Vince Carter you want to see.


ZIRIN: Sorry. Calming down.

CHRISTIE: RC, Ron Christie, jump in here, man. You're going to watch any of these match-ups?

I am. And I'm going to keep my anti-Grinch mode. Before...


CHRISTIE: Before I was like, man, these greedy players, these owners, can't they get it together? And now on thinking my Lakers, I am psyched to see some hoops on Christmas Day.

KEYES: Aw, see, now I've got to get you because they're playing my beloved Bulls. And Dave, how are they looking this season?

ZIRIN: I have the Bulls in the NBA finals this year. I think Rip Hamilton is the undervalued addition in the entire NBA.

KEYES: Do you hear that? The finals. The finals, Ron.


CHRISTIE: And Kobe...

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

CHRISTIE: ....this is hot off the press news that Kobe tore a ligament in his wrist. That Kobe says he's ready to go, even with a torn ligament. And nobody, I mean nobody in the NFL plays with pain like Kobe Bryant.

IZRAEL: Wait, wait, wait. Did he tear a ligament in his wrist or did his wife tear it...


KEYES: Oh, she sold it.

IZRAEL: ...pulling the ring off of his finger. You know, give me that ring, boy.


ZIRIN: She gets half of his ligaments and Kobe was bleeding.

IZRAEL: Right. Right. Right.

KEYES: And you know they had no pre-nup, so....

IZRAEL: Right.

KEYES: Yeah, that's not going to be cute.

ZIRIN: Yeah. One word: half.


KEYES: But the whole off-the-court NBA, it's like reality show. There's Kobe and Vanessa. There's Khloe Kardashian and Lamar making the tabloids for house hunting. And poor Kris Humphries, who was getting booed, booed, booed. What's up with that?


IZRAEL: Well, I don't know.

KEYES: Could it be that 72-day marriage? I don't know.

CHRISTIE: It could be.


ZIRIN: I was going to say I think it's more because he's an overpaid el stiffo would have is to be caught on television berating America's sweetheart, Kim Kardashian, which probably says...

IZRAEL: What American is that? South America?


KEYES: I don't think she America's sweetheart. I don't think so.



IZRAEL: I don't know. You got me on that one.

ZIRIN: I heard that Kim though, was coming in third in the Iowa caucuses, though.

IZRAEL: You know what? Daffy Duck can come in third in Iowa caucuses. Wild West, you know...

KEYES: This is a harsh room today, boy.

CHRISTIE: Keep yucking it up man. I tell you what, president Obama is going to have the moving van out and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Yuk it up, fellas. We'll talk about this in a year; we'll will have a new Republican president.

IZRAEL: I don't think so, man. I think he's already, I think he's already...

KEYES: Stop talking over each other. We can't hear you. Go, Jimi.

IZRAEL: I think he's already booked The Roots for his band for Inauguration Day, man...


IZRAEL: ...so I don't know. But - Wild West, Wesley Morris, you want to talk about the New Jersey Nets, man? And what's going on with - why is he the NBA's - Kris Humphries, why is he the most disliked player? What's up with that?

MORRIS: Because he's an easy target. You know, it's the - well, I just want to back up for just one second and...


...and express a little bit of surprise that nobody's sort of feeling a little bit anticlimactic about this whole thing. They are people who are like having, you know, the thank God the NBA is back parties. I'm going to one. You know, I'm sure when I go over to Christmas on Christmas Day, you know, everybody but will be so like, you know, thank God it's Thanksgiving not Christmas, you know, we have our basketball back.

But these people, I don't know. I thought...


KEYES: We should note that Kris Humphries plays for the Nets, just so we're clear. It's just he's not just playing for any team.

IZRAEL: Right.

MORRIS: I can't say don't care...

KEYES: The Kardashians don't have a basketball team, do they?


MORRIS: Not yet, but they're working on it. You know, enough of those babies come out, you know, they'll be able to field the team pretty soon.

KEYES: Ooh, ooh.

ZIRIN: And I think Wesley is just sour because he lives in Boston and I think Betty White's playing power forward for the Celtics.

IZRAEL: Again?

ZIRIN: Oh, no.

MORRIS: But you know what? If Betty White came in, Doc Rivers could make her an NBA star.



MORRIS: She would get to the playoffs and maybe to the finals. So just back off.

CHRISTIE: Where is the love with this crowd right here?

IZRAEL: OK. OK. Hold on. All right. All right. All right, everybody. Wait a second. So wait, if sports is not your thing, Wild West, Wesley Morris, what is the must-see flick coming to a theater near you this holiday season?

MORRIS: I just want to say it's not that sports isn't my thing, I will just probably be watching something else tomorrow. I mean I'll watch the games...


MORRIS: ...but it just, I just I...

IZRAEL: Whatever...

MORRIS: They...

KEYES: Christmas is Sunday.

MORRIS: They wiped me out. They, I don't know.


MORRIS: Movie-wise, "Mission Impossible 4" is actually really fun. Try to see it in IMAX, you know, there's a couple of really good action sequences in it. And I, you know, Tom Cruise - there's another person who could play in the NBA, no problem. Just, you know, give him a team...

KEYES: For the running.

MORRIS: ...he'll get you to the finals.


MORRIS: He who work - he will eight you know he is working really hard to get you...

IZRAEL: Yeah. He'll give you that Zoolander-style Blue Steel-look into the camera them to automatically put like 15 points on the board.

MORRIS: He just has to stand there and grit his teeth.

ZIRIN: (Unintelligible) can play the NBA than Tom Cruise could play in the NBA.

IZRAEL: He'll blind you with Scientology. We've got some...


KEYES: Oh, boy.

IZRAEL: We some - he is back again, though. Tom Cruise is back again as Ethan Hunt and we have a little bit of sound from it.

KEYES: We do. I think he might be running.

IZRAEL: Again?



TOM WILKINSON: (as IMF Secretary) An hour ago, a bomb blew up the Kremlin.


WILKINSON: (as IMF Secretary) The president has initiated Ghost Protocol. Now, I've been ordered to take you to Washington where they will hang the Kremlin bombing on you and your team, unless you were to escape after assaulting Brandt and me.


TOM CRUISE: (as Ethan Hunt) Who are you, really, Brandt?

JEREMY RENNER: (as Brandt) We all have our secrets. Don't we, Ethan?


IZRAEL: This totally sounds like Thanksgiving with the in-laws. Thank you for that.


IZRAEL: Well, but, you know, me personally, I'm going to see "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I'm not really a big fan for these American remakes of foreign films. The U.S. version of "Death at a Funeral" was dreadful.


IZRAEL: But my homeboy, Clevelander Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, he scores in the film so I have to go support that, especially after he won a Grammy for the score of the "Social Network," so I'm down with Trent. And so I'm going to have to get...

MORRIS: He won an Oscar too.

IZRAEL: Hey, that's right. So...


IZRAEL: Go ahead.

MORRIS: This is good. This is good. I mean it's, I don't understand exactly why we needed to have it since there was a Swedish version of the Stieg Larsson books. But it to David Fincher film. It's as good as David Fincher. It's, you know, it's him sort of doing that clinical serial killer thing that he does so well. And, you know, it's, the books are just trashy and lurid enough to be entertaining and the movie is kind of the same way, although it tones down some of the overheated trashiness. But you still have all the sort of uncomfortable subject matter of like a woman being sexually assaulted and then getting revenge on the man who did it and...

KEYES: A little more than uncomfortable, just saying.

MORRIS: Yeah. No, I mean yeah, you're an...

ZIRIN: So that's what the question of 'cause I've got a question.

IZRAEL: Wesley Morris, you have a question for him?

ZIRIN: I have question for Wes.


ZIRIN: Rooney Mara...


ZIRIN: That's what everybody is asking about. It comes from an incredibly wealthy family. NFL owners are his grandparents, the Maras.

MORRIS: Mm-hmm.

ZIRIN: Rooney named after Art Rooney. The paterfamilias of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Her first big starring role. Does she have the chops to play Lis Salander?

MORRIS: Yeah. She's great. She's really good. I mean it's interesting because the same part was played - Lisbeth Salander will now be sort of like the Medea of the, you know, the next few centuries. Not, you know, Euripides Medea, not Tyler Perry's Madea.

IZRAEL: Yeah, you know, not Tyler Perry's Madea. Come on now.


IZRAEL: Come on. Come on.

MORRIS: Although wouldn't you like to see that?

KEYES: I just had this really unfortunate image in my head now.

MORRIS: I think this is the part that, you know, there will be other versions of this character someplace else. I think her version is actually really smart in some ways because she taps into a kind of sadistic comedy that is kind of a break from the awfulness that she subjects others two and is subjected - that she subjected to.

ZIRIN: Better than Noomi Rapace?

MORRIS: Noomi Rapace, see, that as a great piece of acting sustained over three movies. This is something slightly different. We don't know what the other two films will be, but, you know, we know by the third movie she won't have anything to do really. She'll be in a hospital bed.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. For those of us that don't know, this is the first film in a trilogy of films, and not unlike the trilogy of books of the girl with – yeah, "The Girl with the Tattoo."

MORRIS: With the Dragon Tattoo.

IZRAEL: Then there's another one. She gets of Mickey Mouse tattoo and then puts one on.


KEYES: Really quickly. Really quickly.

MORRIS: But I...

KEYES: Really quickly. I'm talking. I'm talking.

MORRIS: I'm sorry, Allison.

KEYES: So it is the holidays...


KEYES: ...as Dave said, all of them. So really briefly, what do you guys want? What are your holiday wishes? Dave, let me start with you.

ZIRIN: My holiday wishes just for the fans of Los Angeles to have the opportunity to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers. There's a movement in Los Angeles to follow the Green Bay Packers' model of fan ownership. That is my holiday wish.

KEYES: Ron, what about you?

CHRISTIE: I have to tell you, this recession has been a drag. My holiday wish is that for the United States economy to come roaring back next year. And that those folks who haven't had the opportunity to have a job can find one. And actually put a little aunt actually put away a little nest egg. This has just really been a drag and it's been a tough year for all of us.

KEYES: Wesley?

MORRIS: I don't want to follow that.


MORRIS: I was going to say I...

IZRAEL: We've got Bartleby in the Shop, everybody.


IZRAEL: He prefers not to. Go ahead, man.

KEYES: Exactly.

MORRIS: I just, you know, I was going to say I hope Tyler Perry and - you know, breaks down and makes in August Wilson play into a movie. I don't know...

IZRAEL: And then you wake up.

MORRIS: And then I wake up.

KEYES: That's going to make my head explode. Jimi, you get the final word, of course.


IZRAEL: Well, of course, I wish for health and prosperity for all my friends and family. But, you know, these days I'm especially wishing for a speedy recovery for our own Teshima Walker.

KEYES: And she will be fabulous. Teshima, we know you're listening.

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." Dave Zirin is sports editor for The Nation magazine and host of Sirius XM Radio's "Edge of Sports Radio." They were both right here in Washington, D.C. Also with us today, the quiet Wesley Morris who is a film critic at The Boston Globe, who joined us from member station WAMC in Albany. And Ron Christie is Republican strategist and a former aide to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He joined us from New York.

Thanks so much. Happy Holidays. And Mo, we're going to miss you. Our director, leaving today. Happy Holidays everybody.

MORRIS: Peace.

CHRISTIE: Merry Christmas.

MORRIS: Bye, Mo.

ZIRIN: Happy Festivus.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

KEYES: That's our program for today. I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.