Eugene Robinson Live

Jul 15, 2014

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello, everybody, and welcome once again to our weekly chat. Hazy, hot and humid in the D.C. area at the moment; humidity approximately 137 percent. It's a typical summer day. Thunderstorms probably on the way. Why go on about the weather? Because the news is pretty depressing. We seemed to have a cease-fire in Gaza -- for an hour or so -- but militants fired more rockets into Israel and the war continues. Meanwhile, a bomb blast in Afghanistan has killed at least 89 people. Ukraine and Russia are bristling. "Progress" in the Iran nuke talks looks pretty much like "no progress." It's a messy, complicated world out there -- and now we don't even have the World Cup to distract us. How about this heat wave? Let's get started.

Today, another tiresome column about those mean Republicans criticizing Obam'a foreign policy, as if they're the only ones and only motivated by political ambition. Maybe by now you've read Milbank's column today entitled "A Foreign-Policy Strikeout." Here's your chance to address Milbank's views that seem to echo many of the Republican concerns you pooh-pooh.

No, I believe you're the one not paying attention. I wrote that Republicans are criticizing President Obama but not saying what they would do differently -- in fact, not saying what they would do that he hasn't already done. I see nothing in Dana's column or in your post that contradicts what I wrote.

Hi Eugene -- Thanks for taking questions today. Even though it's summer, if there ever was a winter of discontent for the president, it's this one. Immigration, the middle East, the economy (despite relatively recently good news)...you name it, things don't seem to be going so well for him at the moment. What's a second term president to do?

My advice would be: Keep working. As hard as you can. There are more than 900 days left in the Obama presidency. Not all of them will be sunny, not all will be pleasant, not all will be fun. But if you work hard enough, you can make things better. If you don't, things will make themselves worse. And yes, when possible, play a round of golf.

Do you think the do-nothing Congress will actually allow the Highway Trust Fund to become insolvent? I don't think the Republicans want to do anything that might boost the economy for the next years, like spend money on infrastructure, and they'd prefer to do something to damage it as long as they aren't blamed.

They have to choose between ideology and reality, simple as that. Experience suggests this is not the no-brainer it would appear to be.

Gene, Please take me inside the mind of an editor. Jews in the US are very untrusting of much of the media when it comes to Israeli coverage. While I think many have made a lot of strides into calling Hamas out for its war crimes (like human shields), it still occurs. Specifically the latest headline, ceasefire over after Israel resumes attacks on Gaza is flat out either poorly researched or intentionally dishonest. Israel wanted to accept the cease fire, on Egypt's terms. Hamas clearly dismissed it, while Islamic Jihad called it a joke. Then Hamas fired 50 rockets at Israel after the ceasefire was supposed to start. Israel waited to give them ample time to accept an unconditional ceasefire,and resumed dismantling Hamas attack infrastructure.

I'm not sure what headline you're talking about, but the sequence of events leading to -- and calling off -- the brief cease-fire have been fully and accurately reported. 

I see how this will play out because I’ve seen it before. Many times. People get tired of a president after 8 years. The honeymoon is over. What he (she) might have gotten a pass on early in his (her) presidency gets all blown out of proportion especially because the party out of power can say outrageous things to distort reality because they do not have to govern and make difficult choices. Throwing bombs causes no harm. So the stars align and let’s say the Republicans get into the WH because they swear they’re gonna clean things up; shrink government, lower taxes, get rid of abortion and put God back in everything! Except that never happens with the exception of maybe cutting taxes and maybe some Democrats will remind people of how well that turned out in the Bush years. Here’s my point; that stuff never happens because, wait for it . . . people actually like Medicare, safe food, good roads, Social Security, safe air travel and on and on. Katrina? Sandy? I will NEVER understand why people vote against their own interests. This will forever be the puzzle that I will never solve.

It gets to be silly. This is a big, complicated country that is inevitably going to need a big, complicated government. We can talk about how to make government more effective and efficient, but it is not going away. Not going to happen. Trust me on this.

Katrina van den Heuvel had a long overdue (but certainly not unique or the first one) article today on the "false balance" in public debate. In terms of the climate change debate, I get it. However, In terms of the US policy in the middle east, do you think there is anything similar going on? Is there a consensus among experts for what we should be doing? Is the media doing a good job?

False balance and false equivalence drive me crazy, as in the climate change "debate," which in terms of the science is not a debate at all. We shouldn't pretend that creationism is as scientifically valid as evolution, just as we don't waste space on people who think the earth is flat. That said, coverage of the Middle East is almost a special case, in that the basic attitude of readers is: Unless you agree with my point of view, you are biased. Science can't arbitrate this conflict.

You can argue the republicans don't have good recommendations (they often don't) but you have to be loopy to say he has been consistent. Do you remember the Syria red line debacle? The joke of negioations going on in Iran? Russia? The only thing Obama has done consistently is put out a strongly worded press release, but its never backed up by other actions.

I agree that the Syria red line was a mistake. Beyond that, I think President Obama's foreign policy has been quite consistent: Embrace multilateralism, keep core U.S. interests in mind, recognize that the United States can't shape all events, don't do stupid stuff. You could argue for another philosophy, but this is Obama's.

The initial headline wich many sites still have up was: Israel resumes airstrikes as ceasefire talks fail. No mention of either Hamas denying the ceasefire in the headline. It has now been updated on this site but still exists across many traditional media sources. A more accurate headline would be Israel resumes attacks after Hamas denies ceasefire and resumes rockets. John Kerry exact quotes are extremely critical of Hamas. http://www.jpost.com/Operation-Protective-Edge/Kerry-cancels-trip-to-Cairo-relying-on-Egyptian-brokered-ceasefire-instead-362853

Sorry, but if you're arguing that the U.S. media has some kind of anti-Israel bias, I strongly disagree. 

So are Arab-Americans. They claim media bias just as much as American Jews do. I don't think "the media" can win here.

No, we can't win. All we can do is do our jobs and realize we'll be attacked by all sides.

toward the refugee children from Mexico?

Not shocked. Disheartened, depressed, but not shocked.

Which issues will hurt Republicans in November if Congress does nothing about them between now and then? What about in 2016? (E.g., in 1996, Gingrich's Federal shutdown probably contributed to Clinton's reelection).

It's not clear to me. How can approval of Congress get any lower? And do Republicans pull Democrats down with them, in terms of poll numbers? 

Actually, the refugee children are from Central America, Honduras, Guatamala, and El Salvador. Girls are sold into sex slavery and boys are made drug runners. That is what they are escaping from. Sending them back is signing their death warrants. When did we become a nation that is so willing to send little back to where they are likely to get killed?

Actually, by law, we are not that kind of nation. Legislation signed in 2008 by George W. Bush gives special consideration to undocumented minors from countries other than Canada and Mexico. The aim was to combat human trafficking, and the law makes it impossible to quickly send the children home. Many may eventually qualify for asylum here. President Obama is just following the law in his handling of the crisis.

Do you share my suspicion that from now on anytime a Democrat is elected president Republicans will retaliate through lawsuits, impeachment procedures and treating him or her with disrespect? Your column today and other incidents remind me of how indignant Republicans were whenever "W" was criticized, regardless of how justified. They claimed this disrespected the office and helped America's enemies. But what they are doing is so much worse. Appears they would rather harm the country and the people they were elected to serve than work across the aisle for the greater good.

This isn't true of all Republicans, and it's not even true of all House Republicans -- just enough of them to keep what should be routine legislation from being approved.

Why has there been so little coverage of the testimony by military officers before the House Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform committees to the effect that there was no "stand down" order and there weren't forces available to help the folks in Benghazi. As Adm. Losey said of the four man team in Tripoli, "The guy’s command and control, he’s communications, medical, I’ve got one weapons guy with his foot in a cast. Didn’t make a lot of sense.”

Obviously there's been some coverage, since you know all about it. A better question is, why won't some people accept what has been obvious from the beginning: Benghazi was a tragedy, not a scandal.

As a follow-up to your response, why don't people realize that, in fact, Obama is following a law passed by Congress and signed by George W. Bush?

This has been noted in so many stories and columns that there's only one reason why people would not realize the facts: They don't want to.

 

And that's all for today, folks. My time is up. Thanks for spending part of a sultry afternoon with me, and I'll see you again next week.

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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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