Oct 05, 2010

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

Read today's column: Midterm campaigns, brought to you by . . . ?, in which Gene writes: "The Republican grab for Congress is being funded by a pack of wolves masquerading as a herd of sheep. How sweet and innocent they seem, these mysterious organizations with names like Americans for Job Security. Who could argue with that? Who wants job insecurity?"

Hi, everyone, and welcome. It's a busy day for me, to say the least -- my new book, "Disintegration," comes out today, and I'm pretty much in Fanfare Mode. As usual, we'll discuss anything that you'd like to talk about today. But I did want to mention the book's thesis, which is that we continue to talk about "black America" as if it were a single entity, when it's not. I believe it's not one, but four: a Mainstream black middle class majority, a too-large Abandoned black minority that is mired in poverty and dysfunction, a tiny Transcendent elite with wealth, power or influence on a scale that African Americans have never had before, and two Emergent groups -- immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, and growing numbers of biracial Americans -- who expand the definition of what "black American" means. 

And now, after that somewhat long-winded plug, let's get started.

Heard you on NPR this morning and was fascinated. On the issue of class, it seems to me that''s almost as problematic as race in this country. Middle class people of all races share pretty much the same values, and find it hard to connect to the left behind of all colors. Much of tea party is further away from me in values than my African American colleagues.

Thanks. Class is a growing issue in this country for all of us, regardless of race. The rich get richer, the middle-class stagnates or slides, and I do believe that a values gap is emerging.

One thing I love about "How will Republicans attrack Black voters" is when people point to Tim Scott in South Carolina or (tentatively) Allen West in Florida. Does nobody forget J.C. Watts, congressman from Oklahoma and a primetime speaker the 1996 RNC as well as a national co-chairman for the presidential campaign of Dole-Kemp (although being involved in Dole-Kemp '96 is a sure fire way to be forgotten). Guess having two radically conservative Black congressmen rather then just one will be the difference, right?

Yeah, that's the ticket. It's really a shame that the Republican Party hasn't made a serious play for African-American votes. Competition is good, and there's effectively no competition -- the Democrats can take black voters for granted, and frankly they do.

When I hear Sarah Palin and her blinders-bearing minions--those so-called Tea Party people--say "We need to take our country back," sometimes I cringe, sometimes I smile in amusement, but I always listen closely for any indication as to whom (or what, perhaps) they want to take the country back from. To date, I have not heard any of them specify, so my question is, "What is your read as to whom or what they want to take the country back from?" Marshall S. A Fellow South Carolinian (from the Upstate)

I wonder, too, just who it is who has taken custody of "their" country. Could it be that some Americans are more "American" than others? And who might those "real" Americans be?

This country down the road has some real tough choices and decisions to make. I find it bizarre that some in the conservative movement do not even avail themselves for interviews or debates (i.e. Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell). How are these people going to be able to deal with those in Congress if they cannot even take a hard question or two. This is the media strategy of Sarah Palin in such an extreme

Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell don't want to participate in debates because they're not ready for prime time. I mean, really. Have you seen O'Donnell's latest ad? The one that begins with her looking into the camera and saying, "I'm not a witch"? When you're a candidate for the U.S. Senate and you feel compelled to deny being a witch, you're having a bad week.

Much ado about nothing in today's column. What's important to the political system is that all of the spending by these groups is public. Everyone can see who and what they're supporting, and can make informed decisions based on that information. Information about who's funding these groups, by contrast, is just ad hominem. Judge a candidate or a piece of legislation by their merits. How do they somehow become better or worse because Koch or Soros supports them?

You're referring to today's column, and I really disagree. How can it be relevant to know the name of an organization that's spending money to get someone elected -- an organization that might be nothing more than a shell -- and not to know who's funneling the money through that shell? These groups like Americans for a Brighter Tomorrow (I made that up) or whatever aren't real, they're Memorex.

Eugene, thanks for your article today. To suppress my utter dispair for the future of our democracy, I've thought of positive alternate scenarios that could occur: (1) The public catches on that these shadow funding organizations are simply fronts for big business and disregards their propaganda; (2) alert shareholders start lawsuits to compel CEO's to divulge how much money they are spending on political advertising; (3) the Republicans agree to pass the DISCLOSE act after George Soros and other wealthy liberals outspend them in certain races. Are any of these plausible to you? Thanks again.

I hope the public catches on. Shareholders are never going to stand up and exercise their rights, I fear. And Republicans won't pass disclosure legislation as long as they think it's in their political interest to resist.

Saw you on the Colbert Report and you couldn't keep a straight face. Come on, how hard is that?

I did my best. I've done a good amount of television, but I've never been as nervous as before facing Colbert. I had no idea what might happen. He's just amazing.

As a relatively young (41y/o) african-american from the south, grew up lstening to guys like ennie thompson, louis stokes, and horace buckley--you know the appointed successors from the civil rights movement. Now the people of my generation and younger are looking for a political representation that is broader than the civil rights meme. I am heartened and dismayed by guys like Corey Booker or Artur Davis, but it seems that the older generation of black politicians are either afraid of being left behind or just too stubborn to release their grips on the reins of political power. How we develop a new class of political leadership with all of the in-fighting that goes on in our community?

I never dis' the Civil Rights generation, because they literally moved mountains. They needed those rough edges to survive and succeed. Now, to be honest, most of them are out of date -- both in style and substance. The generational shift is already taking place. What's different now, I think, is that there was a clear "black agenda" back then, and there's not such a clear path now. One reason I wrote the book was to try to point this out, survey the current landscape as it is (rather than as we remember it), and suggest some possible paths we might take.

There was a brilliant (Frank Rich) column in this week's NYT about the "useful idiocy" (I think that was the term) of candidates like Christine O'Donnell and this is all the more apparent with the "I am you" campaign ad. The author argued that folks like Ms. O'Donnell mask the with a kind of grass roots folksiness the corporate interests that support the Tea Party and back rather radical pullbacks of government help for the needy, support for the unemployed and elderly, and regulation of corporate activities that might have a negative impact on consumers (pollution, etc.). Did you see this column? Do you agree? In a way, this makes the presentation of a TP candidate as "everywoman" (or man) even more nefarious.

I did see the column, and I thought it was quite good. The folksy, folkloric face that O'Donnell et al are putting on the Tea Party is a mask -- at least if you follow the old dictum about following the money.

Mr Robinson, According to a recent poll 91% of black people approve of the job that Obama is doing. Doesn't this seem to suggest that black America *is* a single entity? Obama has done too little as far as jobs go. People call him a socialist so he may as well have gone all in and started jobs programs like FDR did. I believe that black people have been more affected by unemployment, foreclosures, and all of the other ills of the recession than have other groups. But they still approve of Obama.

The one way in which black America is indeed still pretty monolithic is in its electoral choices. The 90-plus support for Obama can be explained, I think, by two factors. First, there's an undeniable pride -- and, frankly, almost astonishment -- at the fact that the president of the United States is a black man. Second, what's the alternative? What have Republicans said or done to lead African Americans to believe that their lives would be improved if the GOP were in control? 

Great, great job on the campaign finance piece this morning. This is complex stuff, and your writing was both edifying and morally compelling. On the book, can you take your thesis a step further? There are 4 black Americas--so what?

So we need to focus our attention on the far-too-large minority of African Americans who did not manage to climb the ladder into the middle class -- and now, the traditional rungs of that ladder  (education, blue-collar jobs, etc.) are broken or missing.  

Have you talked with any legal scholars about what legislative solutions might be crafted to undo the Citizens United decision that could pass muster with the Supreme Court? Considering that I'm assuming that Congress would do something to make campaign funding transparent to the voters, perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

You are indeed getting a little ahead of yourself. But assuming there was the congressional will -- and the means -- to make campaign funding transparent, that would be relatively easy, I think. Republicans don't want to vote for the legislation that would compel disclosure. Beyond that, I don't think the Supreme Court would look kindly on legislation that actually sought to limit the flow of corporate money. After all, the court has ruled that corporations are people, too, just like you and me.

If you and yours could see past your biases and blinders, you'd understand that the idea behind the Tea Party is taking control of the country back from the professional political class. Quixotic? Probably. Racist? No--despite what you'd like to think.

I-and-mine will do our best. Here's our problem: It's one thing to have all these "ordinary citizens" on the front lines of the movement, but isn't it a bit contradictory to have so much of the money coming from card-carrying members of the professional political class? Shouldn't that concern the Tea Party people? It sure concerns me.

Yawn........Sorry, this is the 21st century in which American Americans arent even the largest minority in the country. Its always what we can do for the black community, what can we do for the black community,....what about what the black community can do for itself? A few no-brainers. 1. End the no snitch culture 2. End the "he acts white" mentality ....victim #1 Adrian Fenty 3. Prevent babies from having babies

Try to stay awake. End the no-snitch culture? Great, let's end it, by all means -- but it's not likely to end until people have some assurance that they can be adequately protected if they cooperate with police in solving violent crime. End the "he acts white" mentality? That's not why Adrian Fenty lost his job; he was just an inattentive politician who lost touch with the voters who had the power to fire him. Prevent babies from having babies? Again, great idea, and when you come up with a solution that's a little more practical than smug preaching, let me know.

The notion that corporate entities are like individuals ("I am you" -- just like O'Donnell) is nonsense. A corporate entity is created for the purpose of generating profit. They have no inherent right to "free speech," as do the citizens of this country. Right-wing lawmaking has gone off the rails.

This was right-wing judicial activism, I'm afraid.

The only reason that the Disclose Act failed in the Senate was because of the carve outs and exemptions given to certain special interests group. Sen. Schumer (D-NY) was too willing to compromise. The bill should have been an all or nothing deal. The NRA, Sierra Club, and others were going to be exempted from disclosing information about donations and ads. The Dem's were only talking about partial disclosure.

You are right, in part, and thanks for reminding me. The fact is that neither party is truly interested in full and absolute transparency. The Democrats did carve out some ugly exceptions that had no real justification except as favors to important constituencies. That said, the Republicans had no intention of supporting full transparency, either. And in the end -- as always -- money flows through hidden channels. 

Everyone who is yelling about :"taking our country back:" are certainly welcome to try, as long as they kep their grubby little mitts off MY (multi-racial, multi-ethnic, culturally diverse, broadly secular) country!

I think you and I live in the same country. 

My late wife was black and I am white, both academic professionals. Our kids and the children of our black friends were under some pressure to "act black."This translated into social pathology that characterizes the "Left Behinds." Why are the Left Behinds allowed to claim the banner of authenticity - is it similar to Palin's claiming the same banner, only as a "real" white person? And to what extent is this phenomenon abetted by the media (music, news, movies, etc.)?

We could probably spend another hour on this question -- and maybe we will, one Tuesday. I wonder -- is the pressure that your kids felt to "act black" any different from the pressure that some white kids might have felt to "act Goth" or "act 'stoner'" or "act jock" or whatever? And yes, what about the role of the media in perpetuating stereotypical images?


So we'll come back to these themes. Meanwhile, my time is up for today, folks. Thanks so much for dropping by, and I'll see you again next time.

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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