Radio talk show host Abdul doesn't want to waste either
The Abdul in the Morning show began airing in September, but its host, Abdul Hakeem Shabazz, is already rocking the airwaves. He labels himself a conservative Republican, but he's pro-choice. He says he's not a liberal and yet rails against the Defense of Marriage Act.
Abdul's activities are as varied as his positions. He is - simultaneously - a radio talk host, a lawyer, an educator at Ivy Tech and a stand-up comedian.
Despite his busy schedule, Abdul recently spent some time with us. NUVO began by asking him what he means when he calls himself a "consistent conservative."
Abdul: If conservatives truly believe in less government and more personal freedom and personal responsibility, then you have to let the individual make decisions for themselves. Most social conservatives are the biggest hypocrites to ever walk the planet. They don't want the government telling them where their kids can go to school but they want the government to tell them how many kids they're allowed to have. They don't want a woman to have an abortion but they don't want to pay for welfare or childcare when she has that kid. And if that kid grows up to be an ax murderer then we'll give him the death penalty. What kind of sense is that?
NUVO: So it's about personal freedom?
Abdul: It all boils down to common sense. Give people enough information, they will make the right decision. It may be hyperbole but America is very live and let live. Do what you want, but keep it in your own house.
Take Michael Powell [FCC chairman], for instance. When people talk about the great digital divide, and wanting to get Internet out to the rural areas. Should the government pay for that? He says, "NO! Let the free market decide." Fine, I agree. But then don't fine CBS a half a million dollars because Janet Jackson flashed a nipple on TV. Let the free market decide that as well. People can vote by boycotting CBS.
NUVO: How do you think Indianapolis listeners are taking to your unorthodox style of talk radio?
Abdul: I think a good chunk of people - at least the ones that "get it" - appreciate the straight talk. I have a philosophy that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas and nobody has a monopoly on stupidity. When politicians on either side of the aisle do well we credit them for it. When they screw up we call them on the carpet; but we do it fairly and evenly. What I'm trying to do here is adopt the college professor model and just lead a discussion. I'm not here to get the listeners to change their minds. I'm here to get them to use them. As my Grandma said, "Use that head for something besides a hat rack!"
The problem with mainstream conservative talkers is that when I turn it on I know what I'm going to hear. There's no surprises. Rush [Limbaugh] the other day did a whole segment on Kerry supporters supposedly needing therapy. I'm thinking, "Dude, the election was over weeks ago. We won. Get over it."
NUVO: So what does conservative radio talk about now that it has all the power?
Abdul: The only thing left now is for them to start feeding on each other. Joe Scarborough on MSNBC with the whole Arlen Spector thing. You had Laura Ingram beating up on him! When the CBS scandal broke with Dan Rather, Bill O'Reilly said, "Let's wait till we get all the facts." The other conservatives were calling for [O'Reilly's] head.
It disappoints me. Do we have to start feeding on each other because we have no common enemy to hold us together? When the whole market starts to sound the same it's ready to implode on itself.
NUVO: What about local talk radio?
Abdul: Local markets are in the same boat. With all due respect to Mister Garrison [Greg Garrison WIBC], what are you going to hear him say today that's different than yesterday? It's all the same thing. People gravitate toward traditional talk media in hopes of re-affirming what they already believe. I want people to listen to me and think about why they believe what they do, because your mind and my time are terrible things to waste.
NUVO: Who do you get more heat from: your fellow Republicans or your fellow African-Americans?
Abdul: Both. Older black men seem to appreciate my personal responsibility, and the younger ones usually can't stand me. I feel like I've done my job when I'm making everyone a little mad. Someone called me up and said, "You know why people think you're a liberal? When was the last time you beat up on the Democrats?" I just said, "The GOP has all the power! I may be tough but I'm no wife beater."
NUVO: Fill me in on your background.
Abdul: I grew up in Chicago, but Dad was in the military so we spent four years in Europe. After Europe we came to Indy in 1990 and stayed till '94. After I graduated high school I moved to Bloomington, Ill., to be a radio reporter. I had this big desire to be a network anchor one day. My dad was pressuring me to go to law school and make some "real money," but I went and got my master's in public affairs instead. I was still on the radio during this time and the Illinois attorney general called me to be his spokesperson. I stayed with the Attorney General's Office through the 1998 election and then I finally was ready for law school. So [at that point] I'm teaching, doing radio part-time in Springfield and going to law school at night and I get a chance to sub for the midday guy at the station, and the response was overwhelming. The rest, as they say, is history.
NUVO: It seems that all your jobs are about arguing with and influencing others. Who are you trying to influence on your show?
Abdul: I'm after that middle-aged white guy who's afraid that the world he grew up in is gone forever. I'm trying to convince him that it's not that bad. It's going to be all right. The guy that's scared to death that Bob and Steve next door are getting married and now they're coming over to play "YMCA" and redecorate his house.
NUVO: It strikes me that all your careers are a lightning rod for blame. Everyone wants to blame the media, or trial lawyers or the education system for our societal woes. How does it feel to constantly be the scapegoat ?
Abdul: What better way to dispel the myth?
NUVO: Defend trial lawyers.
Abdul: Easy. When your kid is killed because some swimming pool manufacturer won't install a 5 cent fix on a design flaw, ask yourself, "How much is my kid's life worth?"
It's like the ACLU. Everyone hates the ACLU till it's their sister that gets arrested.
NUVO: What do you say to people who blame educators or the current state of public education?
Abdul: Parents and educators share the blame, but I do blame the school system for getting away from actually teaching kids. Teachers are there to teach not to baby-sit. But when you have kids coming to school hungry, with all this social and mental baggage from their home life that doesn't leave much choice. In my opinion, teachers should have merit-based pay, not automatic raises. The unions wield too much power. I'm definitely a proponent of school choice but there also has to be steps taken to insure that the playing field is even.
NUVO: What about the ISTEP test? Good thing or waste of time?
Abdul: I don't necessarily think it's a waste of time, but now the test has become a priority and you have teachers that are just teaching kids how to take a test. Now you know how to take a test but you don't know how to think.
NUVO: Defend the media.
Abdul: People give the media way too much credit. If anything the media is lazy. You as a parent have more influence over your kid than television. Here's a thought: "Be a parent!" If anything Eminem says is influencing your child then maybe you do need children's services to come in and take your kids.
NUVO: So is there an enemy to cast the blame on?
Abdul: Yes, us. "We have met the enemy and he is us." Individuals make choices. Hitler had a bad childhood, too, but that doesn't excuse starting World War II and killing millions of people. It's dangerous to accept any premise where individuals are not responsible for their own actions. If you're going to do that then I can't blame some Southern Indiana Klansman for hanging a black guy because that Klansman is a product of his environment as well.
NUVO: How did AM radio become this fortress of the right?
Abdul: Because someone got smart. There was a bias in the media. People weren't getting to hear what they wanted to hear, so someone said, "Let's invent a new forum and give them what they want." It was a brilliant marketing decision. Doesn't have anything to do with principle, but it's great business. It sells. I'm not going to name names but I'd be shocked if half of the people in talk radio really believe all the positions they espouse.
NUVO: If extremism from either side is the problem, how do moderates wrest the spotlight from the extreme right or the extreme left?
Abdul: The problem is moderation doesn't sell. I don't agree that most of the country is in the middle. I think most of the country leans just slightly to the right or slightly to the left. Extremism gets the attention because the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Take PETA, for example. They're in the news this week because they're protesting that "fish have feelings." The only thing a fish is feeling is the garlic butter I'm spreading on it.
NUVO: Will the left ever gain a foothold in talk radio?
Abdul: What the left needs to know is that principle is fine but you still need to be entertaining. They forget that entertaining element. The inherent problem with liberalism is that they want everything to be equal. No, it's not equal, some things are just stupid! Like the whole political correctness thing. It's dishonest. Calling someone hearing impaired instead of deaf. I'm sorry, their hearing is not impaired. They have none. They're deaf!
NUVO: What about the gentrification of Indianapolis' older neighborhoods?
Abdul: Until the government decides that it's not going to support itself on property taxes it's necessary. An old building does you no good if you're the government. It's unfortunate but it's necessary. If property taxes are the primary source of income then you need to attract a certain quality of life. If I'm a big city mayor I want young urban professionals close to my downtown.
Having said that, lower income people still need a place to live. I don't know what the final answer is. Maybe affordable housing a little farther out?
NUVO: Affirmative action?
Abdul: I pray for the day that we don't need it but we're not there yet. Affirmative action is like the speed limit. If you could trust people to obey the laws you wouldn't need it. But I'd rather see affirmative action based on income levels rather than race. Poor and white in Appalachia need the help just as much as poor and black in the inner city.
NUVO: How about jail overcrowding?
Abdul: I have no sympathy for prison inmates whatsoever. You went out of your way to violate the laws and rights of your fellow citizens. However, the current situation is not safe for the guards. You have felons sitting in hallways waiting for trial while witnesses and judges are walking back and forth. That's ridiculous. Change the sentencing laws so that people that are caught with an ounce of marijuana don't go to jail for 10 years - or else build new jails. That's the problem with most issues. Everyone wants an answer but nobody wants to do the hard work. It's like heaven. Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there.
NUVO: Are you in favor of capital punishment?
Abdul: I've always believed in the death penalty. I've been the witness at two executions and it didn't change my mind. Some people have done things that are so wrong they have reneged their membership to the human race. They need to go away. Use DNA testing to be sure but then strap them up and send them to the next world. However, no one should ever be put to death on circumstantial evidence.
Abdul: I seriously doubt that any rational thinking person wakes up in the morning wanting to have an abortion. This is a decision you agonize over. You suffer over it and it's a decision that should be left to a woman, her husband, her doctor and her conscience. The government needs to stay out of it altogether. If men could get pregnant, abortions would be available at the drive through.
Seriously though; do I think it should be legal? Yes. Do I think they need reasonable restriction on it? Yes. Do I think the government should fund them? Only in the case of rape or incest.
NUVO: Gun control?
Abdul: You have the right to own a gun, sure, but what the hell do you need an assault rifle for? The whole argument was originally that you needed to keep and bear arms to protect yourself against a tyrannical government. In 1774 maybe, but in 2004 you'll never be equally armed. I don't have the right to own a tank. I'm all for hunters but if you need an AK-47 to bag that deer maybe you need to be a better shot.
NUVO: How about taxes? Flat tax or property tax? What's the right idea?
Abdul: I prefer a flat tax. We can argue about the rate later. The tax code is so complicated but that's not because of government. That's because of all the lobbyists who've gone to the government looking for loopholes. I like the flat tax but I always ask the callers, "What are you willing to give up? Are you willing to give up the tax break on your kids?" Because with a flat tax it all goes away.
NUVO: Is tax abatement ever worth it or is it just corporate welfare?
Abdul: That depends. As long as it's just temporary I'm fine with it. But where are you going to make up the difference? What are you willing to give up? Look at the Colts stadium controversy: At first I was dead set against it. But now that I'm looking at the whole package, the convention center, the trade shows, I think it might be a good idea after all. I do, however, think the Colts ought to foot some of the bill. I think the rest of the state ought to kick in some, too.
NUVO: What's your take George W?
Abdul: A very likeable guy but extremely stubborn. He will never admit when he's made a mistake. I admire his ability to see things clearly, but things are not always that black and white. Most of the world is light gray and dark gray.
NUVO: What about Clinton?
Abdul: He was the Roadrunner of American politics. You can't kill him. If he's out on a limb and you try to saw it off your tree will fall down instead.
NUVO: What's up with your Superman connection?
Abdul: Eternal optimism. Inspiring people. Giving people the hope that one man can make a difference. I'm a firm believer that if you want to know how your relationship is going to go, look at the kinds of science fiction your other half watches. If they're into Star Trek with its positive, better future, or Star Wars (good guys win, defeat the Empire) then it's going to probably be OK. But if she's into watching Alien or Predator, all that dark and gloomy stuff, run away. Run away!
NUVO: What about your political heroes?
Abdul: This may sound weird but Reagan and Clinton. They were both eternal optimists and great public speakers. They were both about inspiring people to be more than what they are. I'm of the opinion that people have a duty to rise above their station and leave this place in a little bit better shape than they found it.
Wayne Bertsch contributes Gadfly and Barfly to NUVO each week.
The Abdul in the Morning show
Monday-Friday, 6-9 a.m. on AM 1430 WXNT
Contact Abdul via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org