Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Jan 18, 2011

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson discusses his recent columns and the latest news.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly discussion. As always, anything and everything is on the table. Today's column was a polite request, in the new spirit of civil discourse, that Sarah Palin consider refraining from further attempts at presidential-style addresses to the nation. Her videotaped reaction to the Tucson shootings started off well enough, but when she veered off into "blood libel" territory she lost me -- and, apparently, everybody else. She has already vowed, however, not to let critics shut her up. I try not to be reminded of Evita Peron, but I fail. Let's get started.

Mr. Robinson, this comparison bears some explanation. Eva Peron was a darling of "the shirtless ones" and a showgirl prior to her marriage to Juan Peron. Her interest in politics was not evident before her alliance with Peron. What similarity do you see (other than they may both have been photogenic)?

I lived in Argentina for four years -- long after the Evita era, of course, but she was still revered like a saint by the Peronistas. I'm really just thinking about the dual identity as crusader and victim -- and the unquestioning reverence of followers. These are qualities they seem to share.

I'm just sort of baffled. All Sarah Palin needed to do was say that she was sorry about the tragedy and that she never intended her symbolism to provoke violence and hoped that it wasn't a factor in Tucson. Instead she decided to make herself a victim and kill (what little) credibility in the eyes of everyone except her most ardent followers. Is she really this poorly advised and self-absorbed?

My understanding is that she is offered no shortage of good advice but chooses to do her own thing. For better or worse.

Please name three direct, specific, instances where Sarah Palin is directly responsible for the Arizona shooting. If there is none, would you withdraw your allegation of 'alleged persecution' of Palin in your most recent column?

Of course not. When you pepper your speeches with gun-related metaphors and your Facebook page with gun-related images, and an official whose district was put in crosshairs by you is shot, people are going to ask whether there's any connection. If there is not -- and that appears to be the case here -- then that will be reported, too. This isn't persecution, and it doesn't make you a victim.

I interpret her interview yesterday as essentially declaring that she's not gonna run in 2012, since it was designed to appeal to her base, and not to the wider American audience. Is this your take as well?

Actually, I think it was more likely an attempt to speak to that wider audience. Otherwise, why go to the trouble of having a professional production, with the flag in the background and everything? I think it just went off the rails when she stopped talking about the victims and began talking about herself.

Palin is clearly interested in building a base and is successfully building a very passionate one. My hope is that, in doing so, she is also painting herself into some corner way off on the fringes. But, I'm continually surprised by what people will accept, so I have to ask...are Palin's continued comments and posturing developing her base at all, or is she simply firming up support among those already converted? thank you

So far, not working. Last week's statement was clearly a setback in any effort to widen her support. A Washington Post poll reports that just 30 percent of Americans approve of her response to the Tucson shootings.

Why the lack of reporting on the serious issues pertaining to the lack of mental health facilities and care and the stranglehold by the NRA on gun control? It seems we are obsessed with the shooter's motivation instead of a disturbed person's ease of getting a gun and the llack of proper health care to avoid such a tragedy.

I wrote a column about gun control and Tucson last week. My colleague Steve Luxenberg has an excellent op-ed in the paper today about mental health. And in the news pages of this and other newspapers, there have been lots of stories about both subjects. The problem isn't a lack of reporting. We could force our elected officials to pass meaningful gun control and establish a functional mental health safety net, but we don't.

Poll shows high marks for Obama on Tucson, low regard for political dialogue

In Tucson, words to bind a nation

The mental-health 'system' that brought us the Tucson tragedy

What's your best guess with respect to how long a political figure such as Palin can remain a force in public life? Although she has some very loyal supporters, she also seems to lose more of the public as time goes by. Does it depend on how successful she is or is not in the 2012 presidential race? Or does the heat that she generates inevitably burn out?

That's an excellent question. Palin's problem, in terms of being a viable candidate for president, is that since her debut on the national stage, her approval numbers have gone steadily down while her disapproval numbers have gone steadily up. These wrong-way trends make it hard to imagine how she could ever be elected president. But her presence on Fox News, Facebook and Twitter continues to give her a high national profile -- and a ton of influence in the Republican Party. I don't think it's inevitable that her popularity among her most loyal followers will burn out.

Great column, and obviously there are a lot of fundamental differences between Sarah Palin and Eva Peron. Speaking more generally, do you think Sarah Palin serves as a national Rohrschach test of sorts? That is, these near-weekly discussions we have about her (here and elsewhere) are more about what we as Americans think of the other side of the red/blue divide? It strikes me that she, as a half-term governor of a small, remote, sparsely-populated state, would not inspire so much commentary from all sides if there weren't something greater at work here. Thanks.

I agree with everything you say (except the part about Alaska being a "small" state, of course). Something about Palin evokes strong feelings and provokes heated discussion. It has something to do with red/blue, something to do with gender, something to do with Tina Fey...

Mr. Robinson: You: "When you pepper your speeches with gun-related metaphors and your Facebook page with gun-related images..." Have you ever called on Mr. Obama to apologize for saying "If they bring a knife to the fight, we'll bring a gun?"

I remember that quote. It stands out, because it's the only time I can recall his using that kind of violent metaphor. He should apologize. So should you, if you're suggesting that there's an actual equivalence between the rhetoric we've been hearing from the president -- for that matter, from the left in general -- and the kind of gun-related rhetoric we've been hearing from the far right. Come on. Be real.

Do you agree with your colleague Richard Cohen about Pres. Obama's lack of connectedness? Is that why he has not chosen a 'home church'? That he understands intelectually and can rise to the occassion but not personally?

No, I don't. Actually, I think President Obama's history and record suggest the opposite -- that his connections or attachments are sometimes too strong. I think the "he's a robot" complaint usually means "he's not doing what I think he should do."

You say we could force our elected officials to enact "meaningful gun control" but we don't. Why don't you acknowledge the majority of Americans do not want gun control. You could also mention Washington D.C. has extremely restrictive gun laws (they violate citizens rights) but has high gun violence. Laws do not solve the problem.

A majority does want gun control, actually, but it's not a big enough majority. A huge majority of Washington residents supported this city's handgun ban, which was struck down by the Supreme Court. The Second Amendment is a fact of life, but we can and should do all we can, within the framework that the Court has established, at least to get assault weapons off the streets. You don't believe laws help solve the problem? Ask any police chief.

Public sentiment seems to have changed on health reform and the numbers we see seem to mask the fact that many feel the bill didn't go far enough. Shouldn't Democrats welcome a vote on repeal in order to get Republicans on record?

I think so. It turns out that Democratic predictions were right: Health reform has become much more popular. It just took longer than Democrats expected.

Interesting. Almost 1,400 comments regarding your article and less than fifteen questions posted to you in the hour!

We got lots more than that. It's just a function of how fast I can type.

So Sarah Palin should NOT express her opinions, but it is OK for you to express your opinions? Is that what you are saying?

Of course she has the right to express her opinions. I was just offering a bit of advice. I'm fairly certain she won't take it to heart.

You and your ilk dragged her into this drama. Why shouldn't she be able to defend herself in any way she sees fit?

My elk? Oh, you said ilk. I thought you might be making some oblique caribou reference.

 

And with that, folks, my time is up. Thanks for joining in a lively free-for-all. See you again next week.

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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