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Tue December 31, 2013
'Tell Me Awards' Spotlight Year's Political Highs And Lows
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Later today, we'll talk about one of this country's most difficult and emotional issues - immigration reform. One of the reasons it is so difficult is that kids are involved. We're going to talk about what happens to some of the 5,000 children in the U.S. placed in foster care when one or both of their parents were deported. But first, we want to talk about the big picture in politics - the year that was and the year that will be. Now we assume that many politicos are coming up with New Year's resolutions like, say, this one from President Obama.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My New Year's resolution is to be nicer to the White House press corps, you know. Absolutely.
MARTIN: But before we look ahead, we want to look back at 2013. It was, well - let's use a technical term - a doozy. There was the government shutdown, there was the threat of a default, negotiations down to the wire. So much material for the judges of our annual Tell Me Awards. Now that's where we talk about the best and worst performances in politics depending on your point of view, of course, which is why we have two different views - two of our seasoned observers with different perspectives.
Corey Ealons is with us. He's a former communications advisor to the Obama administration, now a senior vice president at VOX Global. Also joining us, conservative commentator Lenny McAllister. He's also behind the nationally syndicated McAllister Minute heard on the American Urban Radio Network. And he's with us from member station WESA in Pittsburgh. Welcome back to you both. Thank you both for joining us. And happy New Year.
COREY EALONS: Happy New Year. Good to be here.
LENNY MCALLISTER: Happy New Year. Thanks for having us.
MARTIN: So let's start with your picks for best male pop vocal performance. Lenny, your pick was Peter King, Republican congressman from New York. He was an outspoken critic of the government shutdown, which was surprising to some people. Here's a clip of him talking about this on Fox News.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS")
CONGRESSMAN PETER KING: I'm saying the president should negotiate, but I'm saying this was caused by Ted Cruz and his acolytes in the House of Representatives. They led us down this dead-end street. And that's why - Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove, Tom Coburn, all solid conservatives said this was a terrible policy to begin with. We had Republican senators...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Right.
KING: ...Say it was the dopiest idea they ever heard of. Ted Cruz is to blame, and those in the House who stand with him have brought about this train wreck.
MARTIN: One of these days, he'll come out of his shell and tell us how he really feels. So, Lenny, why was he your pick?
MCALLISTER: Because he was a voice that I think many people - both conservatives and liberals were waiting for somebody in the Republican movement, in the Republican Party, that had some type of gravitas to the voice to finally say about the Tea Party, which was, hey, we agree with you on many, many principles obviously, but there are things that we just can't do. And you're going to lead us down a path that's not going to only be destructive for the party, but can be destructive for the nation. And we've speculated about this in the punditry world. But you finally heard an elected official with a level of respect about him say it on a very grand scale. And it was in many, many ways refreshing.
MARTIN: Corey, interestingly enough, you're a Democrat, but your pick for male pop vocal performance of the year was also a Republican. This time, a governor who won easy reelection in November. And I think people will know who this is. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: The biggest thing I've learned over the last four years about leadership is that leadership is much less about talking than it is about listening, about bringing people around the table, listening to each other, showing them respect, doing what needed to be done to be able to bring people together and to achieve what we needed to achieve to move our state forward. Now listen, I know that if we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, maybe the folks in Washington, D.C. should tune in their TVs right now to see how it's done.
MARTIN: I think people will know - people who follow politics know that that was New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie. Why was he your pick, Corey?
EALONS: Yeah, I'll tell you, this was a tough category for me because I had Harry Reid because of his leadership during the government shutdown. But if you want to talk about somebody who had a fundamental impact on politics and elections and how things really went down this year, I think you got to give it to Chris Christie, no matter your political ideology.
MARTIN: No you don't got to because...
EALONS: No, you do.
MARTIN: ...There are a lot of people who would disagree.
EALONS: Well, I - well, we're...
MARTIN: They think that he is all hat and no cattle, to use a term that I think people associate with, you know, Southern politicians.
EALONS: Well, I think that...
MARTIN: There are a lot of people that think he's just luster and theater and no real governing substance.
EALONS: Well, here's the thing, when you want to talk about how this category was described that - someone who had an impact on the political scene based on their rhetoric, it's definitely Chris Christie. Take a look at, first of all, his moves in making sure he wasn't caught up in the Booker election for the Senate. That's a shrewd political move. Second...
MARTIN: Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark...
EALONS: Who is now the...
MARTIN: ...New Jersey, who's now the senator - one of the senators from New Jersey.
EALONS: Absolutely. Take a look at...
MARTIN: And a lot of people think that they're friends, so that would have been kind of a tough...
EALONS: I don't know that they're friends.
EALONS: But he was shrewd enough to know that he didn't want to get caught up in the wash of a Cory Booker election for his election - for his reelection. And then you look at everything else that he's done in the state of New Jersey, plus the issue with the gay marriage deal. First of all, first he opposed it, and then he stepped to the side and said, I'm not going to do anything with it. So I think he's made some really shrewd moves this year. I think that he is the one who has demonstrated to Republicans the way forward and how to bring people together and build a coalition that may very well have him moving up coming 2016 when he runs.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're handing out our annual Tell Me Awards. We're asking about the best and worst performances in politics with two of our seasoned political observers - former Obama administration advisor Corey Ealons and conservative commentator Lenny McAllister. So, Corey, we're going to go to you first on this next category - best pop vocal female. Your pick is a state senator who's now running for governor in Texas after filibustering against an abortion bill for more than 11 hours. And I think many people will remember this. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVAL RECORDING)
WENDY DAVIS: Women who are 18 months - or excuse me - 18 weeks gestational age of their fetus, those women will have a very hard time finding a doctor who doesn't want to risk violating this because the doctor can't be clear about the $20 million question of when fertilization occurs.
MARTIN: That was Texas Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis. Now the bill that she was fighting against that night eventually did get passed. It was signed by Governor Rick Perry, but she got a lot of attention for that filibuster. So, Corey, why was she your pick?
EALONS: Wendy Davis came from out of nowhere, and she immediately became a rock star in the national scene and someone the Democrats could look to to say here's the future of the party. Right now, Republicans aren't doing a very good job across the states in manifesting themselves at the state legislature and the governorships. They have more than 30 governorships across the country. Wendy Davis was a bright blue light in a very red state, and a state that may be turning if you look at the demographics of Latinos and Hispanics in that state. It may be changing. So while some may think that her run for governor may be quixotic, others may see it as an opportunity for that state to turn purple, at the very least, potentially blue, by the next cycle.
MARTIN: So same question, though. I mean, a lot of people would look at the result and say she did win. So why is she the person - why are you kind of highlighting - it got a lot of attention, but she didn't get the result.
EALONS: Well, ultimately, it's about how you go about positioning yourself and positioning your cause. And I think she did a good job of manifesting that opportunity for herself and for the cause itself. And it put her on a road that I don't think any - nobody knew who Wendy Davis was before she stood for 11 hours in sneakers and had a chance to tell her story and to tell the story of the women in Texas. And so just the fact that she was able to put herself on the scene in the way that she did and have that medioric rise, I think you got to tip your hat to that.
MARTIN: And speaking of which, there was even a run on those speakers.
EALONS: Exactly right.
MARTIN: As I understand, there was even a run on those sneakers that she was wearing. I think there was some - I know they were pink.
MARTIN: That's all I remember, is that they were pink.
MARTIN: So, Lenny, your pick for best female vocalist, and of course we're being tongue-in-cheek here, is not a political person at all. In fact, she's a very young woman. She's not even, really, old enough to run for office in most places. That person is Malala Yousafzai. Tell me, why did you choose her? In fact, we're going to hear from her again tomorrow. I spoke with her earlier this year and we're going to hear from her again on the program tomorrow. Why was she your choice, Lenny?
MCALLISTER: I think that she epitomizes everything that not only do we stand for as a nation, but what we need throughout the world. And if you look at what we're going up against in the Middle East, when you start looking at the type of opposition that we're having, it's not just the military war or military conflict that we're at.
We're talking about a cultural conflict. And for somebody as young as her to stand for the rights of young women - particularly when it comes to educating themselves and being full participants in the global society in the 21st century - to take a bullet to the head, recover and come back without fear and then go stand and speak in New York City in front of the United Nations - I don't think anybody beats that type of performance in regards to standing for what's right, having a sense of fearlessness, having a sense of vision and being able to inspire a new generation of folks to stick in there and go after the types of issues that need to be addressed.
And if we're going to have a stronger global society - global economy, we need countries that are holding back young ladies to finally get with it. And she's a symbol of that.
MARTIN: You know, it's interesting that - and I think people will see this in the conversation tomorrow that I had with her - it's a reprise of an earlier conversation that I had with her and her father. And I think a lot of people wonder when you see somebody that young who's outspoken, you kind of - there's a part of you that says, well, that's a creation of the parents. You know, that the parents are actually speaking through her. It can't really be her. I think that when you hear her speak, you realize it really is her.
And one of the things that was fascinating to me when I spoke with the two of them together, is how often her father did, in fact, defer to her. And I mean that in the most respectful way. He actually looked to her and said, well, how would you - what do you think about that? I mean, so yes, certainly, it's a tribute to her parents and how they raised her, but she - if I may say, I think she's the real deal, Lenny. I really do. Both of you just - we need to take a short break in a minute, but before we do, I wanted to hear from each of you. Both, when we asked for lifetime achievement award, you both had the same pick, the former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela. Corey.
EALONS: I think when you look at the breadth of his work, the challenges that he faced for nearly 30 years in prison, how he came out of that situation, rose to become president of South Africa and inspired millions around the world to fight for freedom, their individual freedom and the freedom of others, I think it's just hands down. He is an extraordinary individual, and he will certainly be missed.
MARTIN: Lenny, is there something that you would wish American politicians would learn from Nelson Mandela? He was also your choice.
MCALLISTER: Grace and healing. The ability to look at a fellow countrymen and say we may disagree on tactic or methodology, but we are countrymen. We should love each other and we should support and move forward with each other, and not hold a sense of political or cultural bitterness that's going to keep our nation divided. That's something we sorely, sorely need in America today.
MARTIN: We need to take a short break, but when we come back, we will have more with author and conservative commentator Lenny McAllister. That's who was speaking just now. Also with us Corey Ealons, former advisor to the Obama administration, now senior vice president at VOX Global. Please stay with us. We will have more as we talk about some of the big awards like best rising star and of course best comedy album. We're giving out our annual Tell Me Awards on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We hope you'll stay with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.