Eugene Robinson Live

Jul 09, 2013

Live chat with Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hi, everybody, and welcome. I've been paying a lot of attention this week to the tragic mess in Egypt -- today's column points out that this was indeed a military coup, not a "correction" -- and the dim prospects for reconciliation. I'm also fairly obsessed (still) with Edward Snowden's revelations about the extent of the NSA's surveillance, which is mind-blowing; secret legal justifications for secret spying, in America, land of the free? But there's also the Zimmerman trial. In fact, if you watch cable, you'd think there was ONLY the Zimmerman trial. And meanwhile, the ball is now in the House's court on immigration reform. Wish John Boehner luck. As usual, he's going to need it. Let's get started.

Does it surprise you that so many pundits and ordinary Americans are strong supporters of democracy in other countries so long as they vote for America-friendly leaders?

I can't say that I'm surprised, because it's an old, old story. We backed the coup that ousted Allende in Chile, for example, and that was in 1973. You'd think people would learn from history that these military coups never work out the way supporters had hoped. But no, I can't say I'm surprised. Just disappointed.

I agree with your column today on Egypt - this is a scary, unpredictable situation - will the mobs end up massacring MB backers and their leadership? Will the country continue to destabilize? I fear a civil war.

I think everyone fears a civil war, and the only real hope is that this fear leads all side to step back from the brink. Remember that Morsi and the MB have a lot of public support -- not a majority of Egyptians, but a very big minority. This could be really ugly.

So, we can't back Mubarek, we back Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. That doesn't work so now we back -- just whom are we backing? The Egyptian people laugh at our Naif-in-Chief and who can blame them. Chalk this one right up there with Syria as another amateur blunder.

Give me a break. To blame Egypt's woes on the Obama administration is ludicrous. The administration stuck with Mubarak until it became clear that his ouster was inevitable. Once Morsi was elected, the U.S. tried -- and, yes, failed -- to steer the Muslim Brotherhood toward greater inclusiveness. Now the administration won't call the coup a coup because it doesn't want to have to cut off aid, which would mean cutting off any possible leverage. I can't fault President Obama for the way he has played the hand he was dealt. Perhaps you could fault him for not demanding more cards, in the following sense: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are pouring more aid into Egypt than we are, and thus arguably have more leverage. I suppose Obama could have gone to Congress and said "I need $10 billion or $20 billion right now for Egypt so we can influence events." Now, what do you think the response from Congress would have been?

Gene, Staging what was probably a fair election does not make somewhere a democracy. First 10 of the 23 candidates in the previous election, including many moderates were banned from running. Second Morsi was clamping down on society, making himself pretty close to a supreme ruler. Hamas was elected in Gaza, and then banned future elections. It is clear this is the road Morsi was headed down, along with his conspiracy theories (ie the Jews were behind 9/11). The problem was not his removal from office for attempting to ruin the arab spring, it was shooting the protestors for being upset about it. Those crowds while vocal, are not nearly the size of those who opposed Morsi. The only solution now is a quick election that lets everyone run and for future aid to be dependent on not just an election, but allowing a level of freedom where individuals can object without getting shot.

In a quick, free and fair election, the Muslim Brotherhood would win again. I'm no fan of the MB, but it's the best-organized political force in Egypt by far. Morsi was a terrible president, and he overreached disastrously. (In fairness, it should be noted that his attempt to neuter the judiciary was in part an attempt to free himself from the branch of government that most faithfully represented the interests of the old Mubarak autocracy, but that doesn't excuse the power grab.) And I don't accept the notion that a military coup is somehow aligned with the spirit of the Arab Spring.

Gene, Your statements ignore the reality of what was happening on the ground. It wasn't just the public being disappointed in an election or a non-U.S. friendly leader. He was continually removing rights to turn Egypt into an Islamic state. He called for a intifada against Syria, he was trying to enforce Islamic law to the country as a whole. He ignored the right of the Egypt Supreme Court. He was slowly turning Egypt into a land where he was a dictator. When he outright violated the rights and changed the rules he could govern by, he lost his legitimacy. He was also prone to violence against those who disagreed with him. The Military has acted wrong by attacking protestors, but that doesn't justify Morsi's past action. If not now, then where is the "red-line" ?

I don't justify or approve of Morsi's actions. As I said, he was an awful president. But facts are facts, and it happens to be the case that the MB-written constitution he put before the voters was approved in a 64 percent landslide. It's also a fact that Egypt has gone from military rule to civilian rule back to military rule.

Will this new crisis at least tamp down the loons that want us to "fix" Syria?

From your lips to God's ear.

Given the power of martyrdom to ignite and sustain revolt, do you think that the MB arranged to have its own members gunned down in order to claim the role of innocent victim, fighting against the evil powers-that-be? If so, they have succeeded in taking control of the narrative to their advantage by sacrificing a few dozen lives. Brilliant, brutal, or both?

No, I don't. From what I can tell, this was just a brutal overreaction by the security forces.

I am at a loss to understand just what is going on at The Washington Post regarding the NSA and its secrets. The Washington Post publishes NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden and then publishes a blistering editorial condemning the publishing of NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden. Can you provide any insight as to what is going on at The Washington Post?

Business as usual. Here at The Washington Post, we have a wall (figurative and literal) between the news and editorial staffs. Our news staff's judgments are not to be influenced by our editorial staff's opinions, and vice versa. That's the way we roll, and we're proud of it.

What about Portugal's nearly bloodless April 25, 1974, Carnation Revolution, which only took the military 24 hours to overthrow longtime fascist dictator Salazar's successor Caetano? Eventually Portugal found democracy, EU membership, and modernity. True, the little country has its economic woes, but at least it's not in the bad sort of shape that Egypt or Syria is.

I guess I should have been more specific. I was referring to military coups -- like the ones in Chile, Aragentina, Brazil and other countries -- that ousted elected governments.

Zimmerman actions are likely wrong and the result is a horrible tragedy. However there is a massive difference between being in the wrong and being criminally guilty. Do you feel that the media and public pressure caused Zimmerman to be overcharged, making it far easier for him to now walk. Involuntary manslaughter or a similar charge has a chance of getting by self defense argument. However a charge of murder does not seem to meet the obvious requirement of a reasonable doubt. There are far too many outstanding questions. If you can't prove your case when its your turn to present evidence, then the defense is likely going to slam the door shut and get their client off.

I gave up predicting the outcome of jury trials after confidently predicting -- thankfully, not in print -- that O.J. Simpson would surely be convicted of murder. As far as the killing of Trayvon Martin is concerned, I think the prosecution inevitably has an uphill fight when the question is what happened during a struggle and only one of the two parties is alive to tell his story to police. When a grown man with a gun intentionally shoots an unarmed 17-year-old, that's not involuntary manslaughter. You can claim it's self-defense, but not that it's involuntary.

The Simpson trial was basically divided by race. A liberal white atheist in CA, and a conservative church attendee in NE agreed that he was guilty. The Zimmerman case is completely ideological. I think there is a middle opinion, but it's being drowned out by the polarization of the cable channels. Do you agree?

Not at all. I'm black, as you might have noticed, and I've always been convinced that O.J. did it. I know a lot of African Americans who believe the same. And I fail to see what the middle opinion is in the Zimmerman trial. Either it was self-defense or it wasn't. The jury will decide.

I see no advantage for Republicans to pass the reform bill. They will get 0 credit, add 11 million new Democrats to the voter population in 13 years, and can expect court fights from the ACLU to overturn the difficult requirements of the law.

If I wanted to further the interests of the Democratic Party, I'd pretend to agree with you -- and then watch as the GOP sank slowly into irrelevance as a national party. Forget what happens in 13 years. There are millions of eligible Latino voters right now who are unregistered, and if 71 percent of them become Democrats -- Obama's margin over Romney among Latinos -- then it is hard to see how Republicans compete in national elections. If this affinity continues, it becomes hard to see how the GOP competes in statewide elections in much of the country. But hey, don't listen to me. Go ahead, kill the bill.

I am starting to like W a lot more these days. But I just wonder if it is because the Tea Party has made Republicans like him and his brother look like actual responsible moderate adults.

The George W. Bush rehabilitation has just started and already I've had it up to here. Torture was not responsible. Establishing secret CIA prisons was not responsible. Running an illegal domestic surveillance program was not responsible. I could go on, but my blood pressure is rising.

At the outset, let me state that I fully support parts of the Affordable Care Act. Insurance companies should have to cover everyone and not drop them when they get sick or have a car wreck. That said, I do object to two things. One, that young healthy men would have HUGE premium increases to 'pay' for sicker people; I object mostly because I have a son who would get hit by that!. Second, I think it is heinous that companies are switching to part-time or temporary workers to get around having to cover employees. That redefines cynicism (sp?) and is truly hateful. People can hardly survive on what they make now - minimum wage - so fewer hours means economic disaster. What is this country coming to??

But that's how private health insurance works: The premiums paid by people who don't get sick pay for the care given to people who do get sick. If you mandate that insurance companies cover everybody regardless of preexisting conditions, then you need either more revenue from non-sick people. That means either lots more non-sick people or higher premiums. Or both. It would be a lot simpler to have a single-payer system that covers everyone, or to have nonprofit health insurance companies as they do in Japan.

I'm completely for immigration reform but understand how some House Republicans from conservative districts feel. If they have a town hall meeting in which every speaker gives them a earful about illegal immigrants, are they supposed to still vote for the legislation? Even though polls nationwide support reform, aren't they supposed to follow the will of their constituents first?

That's the conundrum. And that's why Speaker Boehner is on the spot. He could do the right thing for his party, which would be to just let the House vote on the Senate bill. Most Republicans would vote no -- thus following the wishes of their constituents -- but enough would vote yes so that the bill, with pretty much unanimous support from Democrats, would pass. The problem is that House Republicans would probably meet the next day and oust Boehner as speaker. But at this point, why does he still want the job?

The 2016 GOP clown car posse for the Presidential campaign appears to be forming already, with first Michele Bachmann and now Rick Perry planning to leave office at the end of their terms -- meaning they'll have more time to devote to running for President and raising the funding to support their campaigns. Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Allen West, Sarah Palin are still lurking, while Ted Cruz and Rand Paul haven't an ounce of shame to call their own. Plus, the conservative wing of the Republican Party cluelessly keeps blaming the moderates for the GOP's Presidential losses in 2008 and 2012, as though a hard-right candidate would've attracted more voters. So I'm cautiously hopeful for the Democrats in 2016.

At this point, it looks as if you could throw that caution to the winds. Things can change, of course. But none of the people you mentioned is going to be president.

Are you mourning the retirement of the TX governor?

As a columnist, I hope we haven't seen the last of him. As a citizen, I say, "Happy Trails!"

 

And it's time to say adios for today, podners. My time is up. Thanks for a lively hour, and I'll 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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