Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson: Herman Cain's bigotry

Jul 19, 2011

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson discusses his recent columns and the latest news in a live Q&A. In his recent column, "Stand up to Herman Cain's bigotry," Robinson writes, "On Sunday, Cain took the position that any community in the nation has the right to prohibit Muslims from building a mosque. The sound you hear is the collective hum of the Founding Fathers whirring like turbines in their graves."

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Hello, all, and welcome to our weekly discussion. Are we there yet? By "there," I mean anywhere near an end to the debt ceiling crisis? Which shouldn't even be a crisis, or even an issue? Doesn't look as if a lot of progress is being made today. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch and his friends and family are testifying before Parliament about the phone hacking scandal. And today's column, for reference, was about Herman Cain and his unapologetic bigotry toward Muslims. Let's get started.

You reject everything they believe about a limited central government with a few defined powers (read Federalist 45, it's not too long or complicated), yet you drag them out to fill in in another column blasting some Republican. Once again proving the adage that even the devil can quote scripture.

Sorry, but they're my Founding Fathers, too. Just like it's my country, too. I get to quote them as selectively as you do.

Thank you so much for very accurately describing Herman Cain's open, unashamed bigotry. I don't care if Herman Cain is black or white, a man or a woman. Nobody should be promoting that kind of ugly prejudice. It's disgusting and it's not what America is about. What kind of idiot does not understand the concept of freedom of religion? By the way, this isn't the first problem Mr. Cain has had with his unexamined stereotypes and assumptions. He also says that he, unlike Barack Obama, is "a real black man." He's never been able to explain, in words that he is willing to make public, what the heck that means. But I think we can guess. A bigot in one sphere is a bigot in others.

That is often true. Cain also doesn't seem to understand that a president has to represent all Americans, not just the ones he likes. And with the "real black man" thing, he sounds stuck in some bygone era.

As an American Muslim, I really appreciate you being one of the FEW people to call out Herman Cain. Even most liberal sources have been largely quiet about Herman Cain. Do you think that it might be better to give him the "Silent Treatment" (as many have) and treat him as a completely nonserious candidate? Put another way -- do you think Fox News does a disservice (heh) by even having a such a bigot even on? I cannot imagine David Duke being interviewed by PBS, being asked about his stances on other issues, and his anti-semitism being challenged as just one of a series of questions.

The thing is that Cain has been doing surprisingly well in the polls -- often, for example, better than Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman... Actually -- and you might want to archive this, since it happens about once a decade -- I praise Fox News for taking him seriously, and I praise Chris Wallace for being persistent in challenging him on his views toward Muslims. 

I'm reminded of (here's one for the teenagers) David Frye's routine about Richard Nixon's Watergate Saturday Night Massacre speech: "I accept the responsibility...but not the blame."

You're referring to Rupert Murdoch's testimony this morning. That's a great analogy. But is Murdoch even accepting full responsibility? I'm not sure.

From what I understand, the debt ceiling has been raised without much issue by the past several presidents/congresses, from the 1980's through the 1990's and 2000's. It is also my understanding that this has never before been tied to budget talks and the issue of spending cuts and revenue increases. In Monday's press conference, President Obama stated that he is waiting for proposals by Congress for how resolve raising the debt ceiling. Why does he not just propose a raise in the ceiling as has always been done in the past and leave budget debates as a separate (and later) issue to be solved? And why is he alllowing the debt ceiling to be tied to the budget (spending vs revenue) debate instead of keeping these issues separate as has been done in recent administrations?

He did ask for a simple, no-strings increase in the debt ceiling. It became quite clear that he wasn't going to get that from the House. He then decided to try to use the debt ceiling vote to get a big budget/debt reduction deal, figuring that wrapping everything up in a big bill would result in a better bargain. I'm not at all sure this was the right calculation.

Gene, if the GOP is so adamant about balancing the budget, then why didn't Paul Ryan balance the 2012 Fiscal Budget in his proposal? Could it be because it's impossible to balance a budget during a virtual depression without ending Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and probably the military on October 1st?

That could have something to do with it. But yet, we should recall that Ryan's budget not only doesn't balance the 2012 budget, it requires huge future increases in the debt ceiling.

Thank you for today's column. Don't you think that the lack of Republican voices expressing outrage about Mr. Cain's stance reflects the timidity of many politicians who are afraid of alienating the "base" and thus contributes to the polarization and stuckness so rampant in our political system today? If so, what remedies are out there now?

Leadership would help. Signing fantasy pledges -- not to raise taxes or increase the debt ceiling, ever, no matter what -- is not leadership. It's pandering.

You have to admit, Mr. Robinson, that being Muslim really *is* a choice; people can choose to convert into or out of the Islamic faith. Choosing to judge people for that choice isn't the same thing as judging people for things they can't control, like their racial or ethnic background.

That's where the Constitution comes in, with its guarantee of freedom of religion. So it's not an ordinary choice, it's a constitutionally protected choice.

You gotta give it to the Republicans, they sure are practiced at reading off the same page. On the same "Fox News Sunday" that featured the Cain interview, there was Liz Cheney, reciting the oft-repeated notion that revoking the Bush tax cuts would wreck job growth. But from what I've read, only a minority of the people in that tax bracket are actual employers. Why can't there be a discussion of tax BREAKS specifically for the job creators and not for everyone who makes a lot of money?

It's the old technique of repeating something so often, and so loudly, that people start to believe it's true. The fact is that deep federal budget cuts will do vastly more to kill jobs than any of the tax increases that are being talked about, including elimination of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Yet the GOP sticks to the party line -- and gets its message across, even if the message is demonstrably wrong.

I'm no fan of Cain's, but I suspect what he's trying to say is that Barack Obama isn't descended from African-American (or Afro-Caribbean) slaves. Not that the distinction matters when one's singled out for discriminatory treatment based on racial appearance...

But he didn't say "real inheritor of the African-American experience" or anything like that. He said "real black man," which seems to refer to the fact that the president is biracial. If that's not what Cain meant, he should explain.

A few weeks back I posted a question about Hermain Cain having watched him in the first debate and at the time was attracted by his outsider and direct approach to some of his answers. As you eloquently wrote regarding his more recent statements it is hard as a Republican to stomach yet another "off in left field" candidate. Romney seems to be a front-runner for me now albeit one that probably is not palatable to my party. Who as a conservative should I be excited about? Should I now pin my hopes on someone outside the race like a Rick Perry or perhaps even Chris Christie (is there any chance he will run this time around)?

GOP grandees are conducting yet another full-court press to convince Christie to run, but I take him at his word that he won't. My guess is that Perry will be a better candidate in the primaries than in the general, but I could be wrong. I've always thought that Romney is the GOP's best hope in the general -- but will have a hard time getting there.

didn't know I was chatting with the devil. Thanks for taking questions. Tavis Smiley on last night's show asked his guest why did Pres. Obama let the GOP make the debt ceiling the issue rather than Jobs. I know Tavis is smarter than that and remembers the 2010 election in which the House is now overwhelming Republican and as they are the ones that raise the debt ceiling, not the Pres., obviously they can make that and have the focus of the debate. That said, you and many Dems have lamented the Pres. seeming lack of focus on Jobs--- but I have some sympathy for him in this case. Chuck todd made the point that the Jobs talk is a double edged sword since there really isn't much more that the executive branch can do to make companies hire. My question is that it seems to me that a lot of progressive pundits aim their fire at the Pres. rather than the opposition party which is united against doing anything moderate much less progressive. Latino groups blame the Pres. rather than Repbul for failure of Dream Act? etc... I too am frustrated that more of what Obama promised hasn't been realized, but I don't think blaming him for all of it night after night is right or helpful. He is blamed for compromising with the GOP, when progressives are hollering blooody murder that the GOP won't compromise with the Pres. I am not sugessting equal obstruction, but I am suggesting that Dems are more likely to turn their fire on themselves and the Pres. rather than the oppositon. As a moderate, I find this disturbing. I would rather a moderate Obama than a conservative romney, Perry, Huntsman,etc...

Not sure I agree with your analysis. Grumbling among Democrats is nothing compared to the intraparty warfare in the GOP. And I think it is, too, useful for President Obama to be pulled and tugged from the left.

Has anyone asked Boehner et al why these alleged "job creators" that we aren't allowed to tax haven't created any jobs up until now? And why we should expect that they will in the future? Does anyone believe this mantra of theirs other than their wacko "base"?

Many have asked, to no avail. 

There was a lot of talk in the Dem primary from blacks that Obama wasn't"black enough". Since I don't really understand that except that it may refer to a class thing-- I wish there was more discussion about what being a real black man means-- to Herman Cain and what being black enough means to the community in general.. Cornel West has made controverstial remarks that refer to his having a white mother as well. You wrote so beautifully about some of the racial issues of Obama's run and election, I would love to see some columns on the " black man " in this political context.

I wrote a book, "Disintegrtion," about economic, social and cultural diversity among African Americans. I think most people understand there is no single template that fits every African American life. Well, just about everybody gets it except Herman Cain.

Now President Obama is all excited about the Gang of Six (actually Seven, since there's another GOP Senator on board) has sent him something on the debt/deficit. Why are these gangs important, especially when they eliminate the majority party's advantage by being equally balanced by party? Or, in this case, actually skewed to the GOP 4-3! Don't we need some anti-gang enforcement on Capitol Hill?

Some sort of Gang Task Force might be in order. The track record of these gangs is pretty disappointing, in terms of actually coming up with solutions. And no, I don't see a reason for Democrats to be happy about abdicating their control of the Senate, such as it is.


And such as it is, my time's up for today, folks. Thanks for joining in, 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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