Obama won the Iowa straw poll: Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Aug 16, 2011

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson discusses his recent columns and the latest news in a live Q&A.

Hi, everyone. Looks like the campaign has begun -- President Obama is on the road in his new souped-up presidential bus; Republicans have had their quadrennial Iowa straw poll, boosting Bachmann; T-Paw is out; Perry is in. Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy ride. Let's begin.

Peter D. Rogers, the publisher of The North Platte Telegraph, North Platte, Ne, writes:"...50% of tax payers essentially pay nothing." The Tax Foundation in 2007 states that "half of taxpayers paid 97% of taxes. Of those taxes, the wealthiest 10% paid 70% and the wealthiest 1% paid 39%...The rich are paying far more than their fair share now." He concludes that it would be unfair to ask the rich to pay more. What is your opinion about this conclusion? I think the rich should pay more.

The incomes of the wealthy have skyrocketed while middle-class incomes are stagnant over the past decade. It's legit to question whether raising taxes for the wealthy only is enough; I think that ultimately, all income tax rates should go back to where they were during the Clinton Prosperity. But it's absurd to argue that the rich are paying their share, because they aren't.

Gene: Way early to predict, but who do you think will receive the nomination from the Republican party? My guess is Rick Perry, as he is an acceptable choice for each of the two branches of the radical right that drives the GOP these days. I'll go even further and predict that Perry will win the general election in November 2012. The right is energized after holding the economy hostage, and the left is demoralized by Obama's constant caving. The middle will be voting on the economy, so Perry doesn't need to win, he just needs Obama to lose.

For an inevitable winner, Perry sure is having a rocky start , isn't he? So far, he has questioned the president's love of America, questioned the military's loyalty to the president (and the Constitution), and threatened the chairman of the Federal Reserve. That's a trifecta, and the campaign is just two days old.

Mr. Robinson, I'm an Obama Supporter and I don't quite see it the way you do. I've noticed that these Republicans are showing a united front. In other words, they are not willing to attack each other, but instead focus their attacks on Obama. Though Bachmann and Pawlenty sparred a bit, most of the candidates aimed their fire @ Obama. How can Obama fight the narrative that these Republican candidates are trying to lay out?

He needs to write his own narrative -- preferably, in my view, one about creating jobs and getting past GOP obstructionism. Obama's poll numbers are low, but Republicans are held in even lower esteem, at least so far. We'll see if any candidate can begin to get traction.

It was refreshing to see Gov. Branstad handle your silliness on Meet the Press. When he talked about Canada's recent economic success, you chimed in by noting that they had found a lot of oil. He responded while you were admiring your comment with "so did we, but this Administration won't let us use it." You never felt the knife as he slipped it in because you were still admiring your cleverness. It was good to see. P.S. I know this will never appear on your chatline today, but I had to let you know how happy you made my wife and me, and we are registered Democrats!!

I thought you were bigger than that. The governor was being disingenuous, because he knows that oil companies have plenty of concessions they could be exploiting in this country already, but are not. I only regret that I wasn't able to point out (since Canada was being held up as a paragon) the clear economic benefit of Canada's "socialist" health care system. Or note that all the remaining S&P "AAA" countries have single-payer health systems.

How does a clown like Perry get elected in the first place and what makes anyone believe he could be president? I think he would be easily trounced, especially if he keeps saying the stupid stuff like yesterday. And I just don't see a country still traumatized by 8 years of GWB voting for GWB on steroids. The "liberal" press has already started doing a good job debunking his alleged credentials on things like economic issues. And ultimately the governorship in Texas is a very weak office. But I am not sure most people understand or appreciate that so maybe it doesn't matter.

It all matters. Look, being governor of Texas isn't a trivial thing. It's the second-most-populous state in the country, a big and complicated place. But we don't know whether Perry is remotely ready for -- or even suited for -- a national bid. Some people who know him tell me they have their doubts.

Do you think Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry could possibly move toward the center if they get the nomination or will they just move the center even further to the right?

I don't think Bachmann is remotely interested in moving toward the center. Perry would surely try to do so, but the campaign may leave the eventual nominee so far out in right field that there's not enough time to get back.

I note in your column that the GOP primary represents a significant shift right, which I agree. You don't mention, however, that President Obama has made a significant shift right as well, as though he were tacking just to the left of the most extreme right wing of the GOP. In other words, staying left of the right wing nutjobs, which places one in what was once the conservative camp of the old GOP, is the new middle in American politics. Don't you think that this shift hard right in American politics demands a third party from the progressive left, now that the Democratic Party of Barack Obama is little more than a moderate wing of the Republican Party? Don't you agree that the reason "Obama's base" is so disappointed is because Obama is more George H.W. Bush than he is FDR?

Let's be honest: Obama is very much in the same ideological zipcode as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (as presidents, not as ex-presidents). Unlike either of them, he managed to pass health care. It's true that the political spectrum has shifted to the right, but that started with Reagan -- who would practically qualify as a mainstream Democrat these days, and who definitely would be banished from the GOP as nothing but a RINO. I believe President Obama should have stood his ground more during this first term, and have said so on numerous occasions. Politically, though, the smart thing for him to do as he seeks reelection is occupy the space vacated by the GOP candidates as they lurch to the right.

Last week's decision by the 11th Circuit on Obamacare's mandate. Sure, we know it's going to SCOTUS, but you could have mentioned the decision. Oh, and wasn't it refreshing to see the Court quote from Federalist 45, ""The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined." We all know you don't agree with that, but that is what the Founders clearly said and intended.

I also didn't write about the previous appellate court ruling upholding the individual mandate (which is what this court ruled unconstitutional, leaving intact the rest of the Affordable Care Act). SCOTUS will rule.

Gene, I usually agree with you, but I was taken aback by your suggestion that Obama re-think his Martha's Vineyard vacation. Do you not think he deserves a vacation at all, or are you in the camp that the Vineyard "sends the wrong message"? The guy deserves some peace and privacy. He doesn't have his own ranch. He can't go to the Jersey shore or Disney World without being mobbed. If he wants any kind of normal life with his family for a week or two, it has to be within the confines of a highly secure and private estate/compound/what have you. These tend to be in exclusive locales (Hawaii and Martha's Vineyard being two examples). Someone is going to rage against him no matter what he does, so he might as well go where he and his family can enjoy what peace and privacy they can for a few weeks out of the year.

We don't always get what we deserve. I want the president and his family to be as rested and renewed as possible. But even if you leave politics and the reelection campaign aside, to be able to lead effectively he needs as much popular support as he can muster. Deciding to stay home and work would be a gesture, more theatrical than substantive. But theatrics are a tool that leaders can use to great advantage.

Gene, with Mr. Perry now fully engaged, doesn't Mr. Romney have to tack right in order to not blow his chance at the nomination? Does Perry's entrance and Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann's showing in the Straw Poll make it extremely hard for the GOP to beat a weakened Obama?

I believe you're right, and as evidence I cite the fact that the GOP establishment obviously agrees. Both Karl Rove and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal have weighed in with warnings that the party risks veering too far to the right. But the establishment doesn't seem to be in charge anymore.

Isn't it true that most of the time, the winner does not become the nominee?

I don't think you could convince Tim Pawlenty that it's meaningless. If the party thinks it's important, then that's what it is. Crazy, yes, but important.

I'm not convinced Obama came out on top. Months ago I wrote that it doesn't matter who the nominee is that their positions were predetermined and Republicans were looking for a messenger to challenge Obama, because they felt he got elected because of his oratory skills. You graciously took my question and argued that it does matter if Republicans hope to win over independents and the general election. Normally, I would have agreed with you but I feel like enough Americans have turned a page and crossed over into Bizaro world. I don't have a percentage but clearly enough Americans believed that not raising the debt ceiling and defaulting on our debt would magically riegn in spending costs. Too many Americans continue to believe Obama wasn't born in this country and thus is not qualified to be president, and despite taking back the House on a platform of jobs jobs jobs the House continues to ignore jobs as a priority. These are just a few examples and admittedly the verdict isn't out on the last one as the House may change hands again in 2012. And when you factor in some certifiable statements both Bachman and Perry have made and Romney's constant flip flops I can see how a sane and rational person would think it would be a relatively easy victory for Obama if one of them were nominated. However I think there may be a perfect tide of apathy, ignorance, and general undirected disdain for government that could sweep even a Santorum into the White House, and that scares me.

I wouldn't spend a whole lot of time worrying about Rick Santorum -- who, by the way, sounded positively moderate in last week's debate, compared to the rest; he had to explain to Michele Bachmann, a member of Congress, that sometimes legislators do compromise. In any event, I don't think anyone should expect an "easy" election campaign for Obama, but I also don't think anyone should conclude at this point that All Is Lost. There's lots of time between now and November 2012, and if this is a low point for Obama, he's much rather go through it now than a year from now.

The Republican Party needs to grow up -- there isn't anyone who can swoop in and save them from disaster. If it comes down to Bachmann, Perry, and Romney, Romney should win, because Perry and Bachmann will out-crazy each other and scare moderate Republicans to the polls (at least that's what I'm hoping). And now we've got Perry accusing Bush appointee Ben Bernanke of "almost treasonous" behavior while running the Fed. I want massive coverage of Rick Perry -- start by covering the fact that he disdained the stimulus money, then turned around and used it to balance the state budget.

Also that he "balanced" the budget with some accounting tricks of the kind that some people would consider, well, "almost treasonous."

re: the first question this stat about 50% of taxpayers paying nothing needs to continue to be debunked. They may not pay income tax, but they (at least the ones with jobs) pay payroll taxes. Which take a substantial bite out of their paychecks. I still have to wonder about these allegedly smart super-rich people...who do they think is going to buy their goods and services when the middle and lower classes can barely make ends meet?

Beats me. And why do companies sitting on piles of cash not realize that when they move some of that money, economic activity picks up and everybody wins -- even if it means not maximizing short-term profits, in exxchange for long-term gain.

Let's not forget that Perry might well have been bounced from office in 2006 had there not been four candidates in the general election for governor in TX - he won with a whopping 39%. He's not universally loved in Texas (those with kids in the education system here can't be happy), and he's pretty much reviled here in Austin. I sure hope we don't send him to Washington, because he's been (yet another) lousy governor.

Another satisfied customer.

Eugene: I read another WaPo op-ed today which opined that with the recent layout of the Republican presidential candidates, Barack Obama seemingly gets a boost simply by observing their political nature (similar to your column today). It also stated that we're left in the end with Barack Obama, who isn't so much himself anymore. How can the President rally his base in these politically harrowing times? Will supporters ever see some core ideas of 2008 Barack Obama come to be? Can simple, kind-hearted exchanges which focus on the heart of the matter even be considered anymore, or have we gone over the cliff of partisan politics? Robert Gibbs said today that the President isn't 'obsessed with keeping his job,' and I suppose if I were in his shoes, I'd say the same thing.

What Gibbs said was that the president is focused instead on doing the right thing for the American people -- which is exactly what a president seeking reelection always says. The number-one issue is unemployment, and what I'd like to see the president do is put forward a big-picture plan to put the nation back to work. Send it to Congress and let the GOP try to kill it. Talk about it every day.


Meanwhile, I've done my share of talking, or typing. Thanks for dropping by, and 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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