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Barbershop: The Alabama Senate Race And Accusations Against Russell Simmons


Now we'll head into the Barbershop, where we talk to interesting people about what they're thinking about this week. Sitting in the chairs for a shape up of the week's news - we have Julia Craven. She covers race in America for HuffPost. Hi, Julia.


SUAREZ: Next - Jennifer Rubin, writer at The Washington Post's conservative "Right Turn" blog. Jennifer, welcome.

JENNIFER RUBIN: Nice to be here.

SUAREZ: And Dru Ealons. She's a strategist and founder at the Ealons Group and served as a senior official at the EPA in President Obama's administration. Welcome to the program.

DRU EALONS: Good to be here.

SUAREZ: All right, first up this week, the Alabama Senate race - no surprise there. Democrat Doug Jones won in this deeply red state. His opponent, Roy Moore, faced allegations of sexual misconduct in the last weeks of the campaign. Jennifer Rubin, let me start with you. This was a close race. Doug Jones wasn't projected to win by many pollsters. What has the GOP learned from this loss?

RUBIN: I'd like to think they lost and learned something. Unfortunately, I think they haven't learned very much. The inclination is to write this off as an anomaly - that Roy Moore was a deeply flawed candidate even before the allegations of child molestation came out and that they just need to pick better candidates would be their takeaway. I think that's foolhardy.

They should look at the pattern that was set, I think, in Virginia - continued in Alabama - where Republican enthusiasm has declined. You see this coalition of college-educated, all women, young people and non-white voters and that they are turning out in huge numbers in a backlash against Donald Trump and the Republican Party. And I think they're whistling through a graveyard if they think this isn't going to continue into 2018.

SUAREZ: Well, as you mentioned, after the election, #blackwomen started trending on Twitter as people thanked black women voters. Exit polls showed 98 percent of African-American women in Alabama went for Doug Jones. Black voters were a greater share of Alabama's electorate than they are in the state's population. Julia, you wrote this week that the power of the African-American vote has been taken for granted by Democrats. Will this election at least start to change that?

CRAVEN: I'm not that optimistic that things will start to change. Pretty much what we saw in Alabama was black women, black people mobilize one another and guide each other to the polls, which is what we always see. And the Democratic Party has historically taken that for granted. In his...

SUAREZ: So it wasn't Doug Jones and Joe Trippi. It was people getting themselves out?

CRAVEN: Yeah. There was this thread on Twitter - I forgot who did it - about how the NAACP in Mobile, they went through the list of people who didn't vote in the 2016 general, and they called all of them to see how they could help them get out to vote. And it was a list of black voters just to see what they can do to mobilize this demographic further.

SUAREZ: In an off-year election, 78 and 80 percent turnout in precincts. You don't even get that in a general election time. Dru, after the 2016 election, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not the Democratic Party should lean into so-called identity politics or stay away from it. Tom Perez, head of the DNC, tweeted, black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and we can't take that for granted, period. Does Alabama's race make a case for stopping the hand wringing over so-called identity politics?

EALONS: I would say absolutely. It pains me to see - you know, a lot of times, I think about identity politics as I think about diversity and inclusion. And I think we've tried to make identity politics such a negative term when in all actuality, it is we are speaking to different sectors of voters, to their needs and their concerns. It doesn't mean that you negate somebody else as much as you're saying here is what we are going to do for you. Also, though, stop waiting on hearing from what you're going to do for us. We're going to tell you, here's what we expect, and your policies and legislation should reflect that.

And one thing I wanted to go back to is I'm a native of Alabama. I'm a Birmingham, Ala., person, and I kept telling everyone - and even African-Americans in Alabama said it's not enough of us to flip the state. And I disagreed with that because if we, not only energize and mobilize ourselves - we shouldn't have to wait on a party. We shouldn't have to wait on anyone else and get engaged in our civic responsibility to say, listen, we do not want that person to represent us.

But then also Doug Jones as a candidate had a relationship with the African-American community. And so when you look at that, the NAACP had no qualms with actually going out and saying across the state, we want you to do this. You also had organizations like Black Voters Matter as well as the Black PAC who said, we're going to contribute and fund this initiative to make sure that churches are able to register people to vote.

They did a distinct - they did a clear - it was also in part with Doug Jones campaign as well as the rest of those organizations I mentioned to say, listen, we're going to make a drill-down method. And he also went to those small counties - to those small churches and big churches to make sure he said, we're going to get that vote out, and we want you to know I'm here for you.

SUAREZ: Jennifer, from your initial remarks, it sounds like the Republican party is ignoring what our two other guests are saying.

RUBIN: Sadly, I think that's right. Just to go back to what Dru was saying, I think Doug Jones did something that the Republican Party should do looking ahead, which is he not only mobilized and had mobilized, for him, African-Americans, but he campaigned on bread-and-butter issues that appealed to moderate Republicans, to many women who now find themselves completely disaffected from the Republican Party. And there's always been presented as this either or - either you mobilize the base or you appeal to the center of the political spectrum. I think that's a false choice, frankly. And I think Doug Jones showed that it's a false choice. And Ralph Northam showed it's a false choice in Virginia.

So as for the Republican Party, I think they, as you see from this tax bill, they have learned really nothing. They are doubling and tripling down. They think their base is going to save them. They somehow think that they will, I think, create a - confusion among the voters as to what the tax bill actually says. I think they are counting on low turnout from African-American voters who traditionally in midterms have not turned out in large numbers.

So I would like to think that they've had a come-to-Jesus moment literally as well as figuratively. I don't think that is happening. And I think it's going to take, really, across the board, huge losses in 2018 before it dawns on them that this new Bannon/Trump Republican Party is a disaster.

SUAREZ: Another big headline this week. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons is being publicly accused of sexual misconduct and rape. Simmons denies the allegations. But he's been such a powerful force, Julia, in a music genre known for treating women in a way that can be hard to differentiate from harassment. Sometimes it's harassment right on the TV screen. I wonder what effect this could have on the industry?

CRAVEN: Well, one thing I want to say is that I don't want to characterize hip-hop as the only genre that treats women like trash.

SUAREZ: Absolutely not, absolutely not.

CRAVEN: I just want to put that out there because it's not. It's not the only one. But as far as the industry goes, could you just explain a little bit what you mean by how the industry will change in light of Russell Simmons - these allegations?

SUAREZ: Well, when you have somebody who has such a large force in the creation of the industry and in locating acts, picking the next generation of stars, does it change that whole process when someone so central to the creation of a music - you know, obviously, there's a lot of people. But after all, he is the co-founder of Def Jam. He's not a nobody. Does this send a shiver through that whole industry?

CRAVEN: No, I don't think - I don't think powerful men being accused or stepping down because they've done bad things to women changes an industry. I don't think it changes any industry.

SUAREZ: Really? So there's no message going out? There's nobody who's a peer of Harvey Weinstein who's saying to themselves, uh oh, I hope people I've done this to don't talk?

EALONS: Of course. I think that's - I think people are worried about that. But I don't think that that's going to change. I think the only thing that really changes is more people, more women or men who have been sexually assaulted or there's been sexual misconduct in an industry or a workplace feel more comfortable to come forward. But I think you still, as a woman - we still operate in a male-dominated society, male-dominated industry. My concern is maybe what happens as far as a backlash, especially in corporate.

CRAVEN: Exactly. Does the system change, right? Are there going to be any institutional changes because of these?

SUAREZ: But nobody is going to change their behavior? Nobody's going to take note and say, uh oh, I may be taking my future in my hands here?

CRAVEN: I think the behavioral changes will be things like, oh, well, maybe I just shouldn't be alone with women. Like, there's just going to be...

EALONS: Yes, right. They'll take the Vice President Mike Pence.

CRAVEN: ...These crazy irrational changes.

RUBIN: I think the central problem here is that we don't look at this in a vacuum. This is a residual effect of a industry in which men dominate to a disproportional sense. So unless you're going to get at that core problem, you're not going to get at the residual effects, one of which is sexual harassment.

There's other effects as well - pay differentials, all sorts of issues. But I think the problem is when you look at the entertainment industry, when you look at the news industry that's been hit as well, when you look at politics, it is still a largely male-dominated structure and until you have large numbers of women in positions of authority, that framework is not going to change. And you will still have very powerful men abusing less powerful women.

SUAREZ: That's Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post. We could go on for another half hour but we can't. Julia Craven of HuffPost and Dru Ealons of the Ealons Group. Thank you, everyone.

RUBIN: My pleasure.

EALONS: Thank you.

CRAVEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.