Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Mar 01, 2011

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

Hi, everyone. Welcome to our regularly scheduled therapy session. Anything been bothering you lately? Plenty, I imagine. I wrote today about the lackluster quality of the GOP presidential field for 2012 -- rather, the likely GOP field, since no prominent figure has actually announced his or her candidacy. A few months ago, the prospect of running against President Obama must have been attractive. Now, apparently, not so much. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin standoff continues. But my real obsession has been the revolution sweeping the Arab world -- focused now in Libya and Yemen -- and the question of whether the democratic wave begins to crest in other parts of the world as well. Just before signing on, by the way, I noticed that there are fresh protests in Iran today. This upheaval may have just begun.

Recalling your recent column on how the Republicans abandoned the idea of curtailing earmarks (laughter) and your other whopper on how today's Dems are the heirs of Ronald Reagan (hilarious laughter), today's column continues your scoreless streak. What you utterly fail to recognize is that there is a growing force in America that believes the current (mis)Administration has abandoned the most basic principles of this country, especially that the federal government is a limited government with certain defined powers, the remainder of which are reserved to the states and the people. Until you understand that basic notion, your musings will continue to miss any mark.

If your assertion is true, we're not only failing to teach our children math and English, we're doing a lousy job  of teaching history, too. The consolidation and expansion of federal power began with George Washington, and has proceded under presidents of every party. This administration has been, in that regard, just like its predecessors.

I think you're wrong about him. I believe he is in a perfect position to repudiate the current health care reform law. He can say, "The Framers were wise, knowing individual states should be the laboratories of democracy, where new ideas can be tried before being unleashed on the whole of the nation. We tried health care reform in Massachusetts and it hasn't held down costs as promised. In fact, since it was passed premiums have gone up an average of 12% a year and costs to the Commonwealth have increased 42% and are projected to double by 2020. We tried what Washington just passed and it didn't work. It's bad for Massachusetts and it's bad for the United States."

I'm not sure that will work. In fact, I think it won't.  But he can give it a try.

Hey, Gene. Thanks for your good column. I hope you're right. But I have to say, think back to 2000. US economy in splendid shape for five years; a thoughtful if nerdy Dem candidate. A popular president in spite of impeachment effort by fractious and mean R's. And yet the R's put up a genial but inarticulate fellow whose v-p consultsant names himself as v-p. Now you may say that that slate lost ,but the Supremes disagreed. In short, who needs a responsible or adult opponent when it's the American people making the choice? Thanks

Your point is well taken, but it's harder to defeat an incumbent president (than an incumbent vice-president). The real caveat is that lots can happen between now and Election Day.

Don't you think we just saw the most viable Republican candidate on the "Morning Joe" show? Mr. Thune?

He looks and sounds the part, but he's not running. He gives every indication of having decided thata 2016 may offer a better chance.

The idea of charging Libyan pilots and soldiers who fire on civilians with war crimes sounds a nice idea, but didn't we do the same thing in Japan and Germany during WW II? As for the fact that it's his own people Gaddafi is killing, didn't we choose up sides and kill a staggering number of our fellow Americans during the 1860s? Should the international community have intervened on behalf of the Confederacy? I do realize there is a difference, but let's be careful about how we approach the situation in Libya and other countries where unrest is fomenting. I'm mainly worried that whatever we do is going to blow up in our faces. The Arab world, for the better part of a century, has largely resented any intervention from us no matter how well-intentioned.

Your point about the unintended consequences of U.S. involvement is well taken. I certainly would oppose any kind of U.S. troop presence in Libya. But it is difficult, in the moral sense, to justify watching as a tyrant uses fighter jets and heavy weapons to mow down unarmed civilians. The Europeans, especially the UK, are talking openly about declaring a no-fly zone for Gaddafi's warcraft, and I think we should support them in such a measure.

In your column last Friday, you were quite critical of the Obama admistration's slow response to the Libyan situation. The administration says the slow response was to get all American personnel out first. It seems like the hostage potential could have been real. Does this quell your criticisms of the administration? Now that there are embargo's and asset freezes and war crimes being openly discussed by the US and the UN, do you think the administration is back on the right track, or should they be doing more?

I now grasp the concern about a possible hostage situation, which the administration had to keep in mind. I'm not sure exactly where the rhetorical line should have been drawn. My instinct still is that the administration response could have been quicker and tougher, but I can't be sure. The measures that are being taken now are the right ones, I believe.

Hi Gene -- did you notice that in all of the comments to your column, not one person was able to name a Republican candidate who could both survive the Tea Party-dominated GOP nominating process AND then go on to beat Obama?

I hadn't noticed, but that's really the point, isn't it? To win the GOP primaries may require veering so far to the right that it's impossible to return to the land of reason for the general election.

"Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty? Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels? Each would have to find a way to stand out from the crowd - and neither, frankly, has political gifts that approach Obama's. " How convenient that you gloss over the two candidates that are the most respected among both sides of the aisles (with the exeption of the fringe ineach party). And by "political gifts" I am assuming you mean they are not minorities?

Your question is insulting on any number of levels. Tell you what: Listen to a speech by Tim Pawlenty, then listen to a speech by Mitch Daniels, then listen to a speech by President Obama, and then concentrate real hard and see if you can figure out what I meant.

Since the Clinton surpluses, we have had two Bush tax cuts, two unpaid wars, an unfunded Medicaid Part D, and a recession that required stimulus funding, driving us into deficits. So why is the solution to cut funding for public television, family planning, education, and aid to women and children? These were not the drivers of the deficits.

Of course they weren't. But those do happen to be programs that Republicans have always wanted to cut. Coincidence, I'm sure.

I don't know if I should be excited about democracy spreading through the muslum world or scared about the muslum brotherhood getting the red carpet into controlling the muslum world.

You should be more excited about democracy. The biggest single factor in the growth of Islamic radicalism, in my view, has been the political and economic tyranny imposed for so long by despots -- who, incidentally, were happy to whip up anti-Israel and anti-Western fervor, to deflect anger that should have been aimed at the despots themselves. If religious parties are not the only outlet, if they have to compete with secular political parties, this will be a much safer world.

If I understand Wisconsin's situation right, the state actually has a balanced budget except for about $150 million in unpaid tax cuts that Governor Walker championed. This has lead to him blaming the high costs of unions. The unions, quite reasonably offered to accept the financial terms that the Governor offered. This wasn't good enough because they wouldn't give up their decades old right to collectively bargain (which is basically the point of a union anyways). Now, the governor wants to take $165 million that was set aside to pay the states debt and refinance it, using the money to cover the budget gap he created and add about $200 million of debt on the states ledgers. So here's my questions: a) does Governor Walker ever get out of this, or has he killed his term as governor in the first two months and b) won't the Wisconsin situation only further motivate the Unions and other liberals going into the 2012 election cycle (rallying behind a cry of the billionaire's want to take away your rights)?

Walker has indelibly defined his term, for better or worse; he will always be the Wisconsin governor who tried to bust the unions. And he has managed to do something that union leaders haven't been able to do in decades: He has made organized labor cool and relevant, putting it at the heart of national debate.

Given your past positions on the filibuster, why no article condemning those legislators who skip out of the state to avoid voting on a specific issue?

What past position on the filibuster? I wasn't happy when Republicans used it to great effect in the Senate, but I've never called for ending the filibuster. I do think a filibuster should require actually holding the floor, however, the way it used to. Just as denying a quorum -- a tradition as old as the republic; Abraham Lincoln once jumped out a window of the Illinois state house to deny a quorum -- should require actually going on the lam.

What about Chris Christie?

He says he's not running. If he were to change his mind and enter the race tomorrow, I think he would immediately be the front-runner for the nomination.

It seems that the Republican plan is to eat the seed corn, as someone smarter than I am said recently. Where do you see this going? If you gut education -- is that going to make us more competitive in the world economy? Do the Republicans honestly think that these cuts are going to be good for our country? Is there really an agenda to destroy the middle class and create a pool of cheap labor for the exploitation of the uber-rich? Because that's the way it looks to me.

I don't think it's that sophisiticated, at least not for most Republicans in Congress. They're just being short-sighted. And I shouldn't exempt Democrats from that accusation, either. We've all neglected to invest in the nation's future -- in infrastructure, R & D, education, etc. -- and if we don't start doing so, we'll pay the price.

It seems to me that the Republicans, who were all about jobs, jobs, jobs...until President Obama actually is doing something about jobs, now has shifted to their mantra to cuts, cuts, cuts. We needs jobs to get the economy going, more than we need cuts. This just proves to me that the Republicans are against anything that our President is winning on.

All the commentators who excoriated President Obama for focusing on health care instead of jobs should be raking Republicans over the same coals for focusing on small-government ideology instead of jobs. But hey, if the GOP wants to spend its political capital that way...

Hey, whoever heard of a little unknown community organizer before his election? Perhaps, there's a little unknown Republican out there somewhere? Be very afraid Mr. Robinson! All three branches. Ouch!

Um, he was a U.S. senator. I think we know just about all of them.

Is Wisconnson the solution to budget problems or the repubs just union busting? Also do you miss working w/ Keith Olbermann?

1. The unions have already agreed to the governor's financial demands. This is union-busting.

2. Yes.

it seems that the right is idealistic these days, where the left has been forced by their 2/3 legislative power majority (executive and senatorial) to accept a severe sense of the real. republican governors are reshaping social policy where it relates to classically unionized sectors, thus creating a social experiment, as did affirmative action. were democrats too ostentatious in their choice of rhetoric during the previous administration, given the dramatic global post-9/11 shakeup--given that the obama administration's foreign policy varies little from bush's--to now have the audacity to criticize republican idealism in various governorships and in the tea-party constituency in the house? have democrats been too historically idealistic to truly critique republican maneuvers to change social policy?

I'm not sure I entirely understand your question, but I think the answer depends on how you define idealism. You could define idealism as "helping others." You could define it as  "reducing the size of government." My definition is a lot closer to the former.


And with that, folks, my time is up for today. Thanks for participating in 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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