Nov 02, 2010

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

Read today's column: What's behind the Tea Party's ire? In the column, Gene writes: "There's something about the nature and tone of the most vitriolic attacks on the president that I believe is distinctive -- and difficult to explain without asking whether race is playing a role. "

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the special Election Day edition of our weekly chat. Actually, it's pretty much like the regular edition, only I'm guessing that we'll talk even more politics than usual. The question, according to all of the polls, is how big the Democratic losses will be. It's hard to predict what happens next until we know what happens today, and it may be very late before the picture is clear. That would be a good-news scenario for the Dems, because the only outcome that would become pretty clear early in the evening is a massive Republican wave that sweeps aside all in its path. I'll be on the set at MSNBC from 6 p.m. until the bitter end. Today's column, just for reference, was about the Tea Party's rise and the president's race, and whether there's a relation between the two. Let's get started.

I read your column this morning and after finishing it, I sighed relief that what I have been feeling for a long, long time was justified. As much as it pains me that my "fellow Americans" could still be harboring racial animosity in the 21st century, it doesn't surprise me. Disappoint me, yes, but surprise me, no. Our President has done more than any other in my lifetime, yet he continues to be vilified by people like Sarah Palin, Rand Paul and the rest of the so-called tea party people. When President Obama was elected, I was never more proud to be an American. What I see them doing now makes me feel never more ashamed to be an American. Oh, and for whatever it's worth, I'm a 64 year old white guy.

Thanks. I thought long and hard about that column, because I know that not all Tea Party people are racist. But, as I said, I just don't think it's a coincidence that this passion and vitriol boils over just as the first black president takes office. 

When a President calls opponents "enemies" in a crass attempt to get votes, when he says people don't see the wisdom of His policies because they're scared and not thinking straight, when he ignores overwhelming popular opinion to cut Medicare to pay for a budget-busting healthcare plan, he has blown it, big time. It is not racism, it is arrogance that has caused so many independents who previously supported Obama to run the other way. Why can't you see that? Is it because you have racial blinders on?

I hope not. I wasn't writing about disillusioned independents. I was writing about the Tea Party and its blossoming into a full-fledged phenomenon. As I wrote, there's nothing racist about opposing the president's policies; I oppose some of them, too, and have written as much. There's certainly nothing wrong with advocating the rights and freedom of the individual. But there is an edge to the Tea Party's rhetoric that I believe is there, at least in part, because of race. And they pay me to write what I think.

When health care was up for a vote, I emailed my Democratic Congressman with a list of my concerns and some questions. He responded that he was sorry I was incapable of understanding the need for the bill and was sure that once it was passed and I started receiving benefits, I would be grateful for his vote. Well he needn't think he can be grateful for mine as I voted for his opponent this morning. I want someone to represent me not talk down to me. If he had at least answered my concerns/questions with respect for an opposing opinion, I might feel differently.

Well, I don't know who your congressman is, but he seems to have acted like an idiot. Anyone who gets elected to Congress, and wants to stay more than one term, knows that responsiveness to constituents is a basic requirement. He didn't earn your vote.

Gene - No matter how insightful you can be it times, it always comes back to race for you. Take a look at Juan Williams; why is he so widely regarded? Could it be he's gotten beyond race in his commentary. You see what you want to see in the Tea Party, or only what you can see with your blinders on. The Tea Party in its infancy, before you paid attention, before it was deemed Astroturf....was anti: 2-party big government dominance, fiscal irresposibility, and Washington knows best. They are down on Obama becauses he governed with the same arrogance Bush did, as if he had a mandate, and then steamrolled his big government/redistribution agenda through Washington scarcely playing lip service to his campaign promises to govern from the center, to mediate, to end business as usual in Washington. How do you as a racially sensitive pundit reconcile that with Obama's telling Latinos to "punish their enemies"??? Calling his grandmother a "typical white person"? If you want to speak out from a primarily racially-based sensitivity, that has its place, but how about going beyond seeing whites that way and taking a good look in the mirror as well as at Obama and look at how the race card is played these days and who plays it.

President Obama was wrong to talk to Latinos about "enemies," and I didn't like the way he phrased what he said about his grandmother. But you're making assumptions about my "seeing whites that way" that are wrong. If I'm in the habit of making sweeping statements about white people, please remind me of a few instances. And as for this business of the "race card," look: It would be nice if we lived in a post-racial world. You may believe we do. But I don't, and polls indicate that most African Americans and Latinos don't believe we're there, either.

I can understand Mr. Robinson's perspective. I can grant him an accuracy rating of about 40 percent. What he misses is that the supercilious attitude of liberal Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank and Rahm Emanuel are corrosive, and eat away at the good will that would otherwise be available to the President. Mr. Obama too often sounds condescending; that combines with the down-the-nose or flippant persona of leading Dems. Taking the heat goes with being the top chef in the D.C. kitchen. Harry Truman knew that. R. Walker (Houston)

Well, then, that's just political malpractice. If the party that champions the poor and the working-class comes off as condescending, then it has a problem.

Gene, I am in despair this morning. Is this country about to lose its collective mind? The Republicans had 8 years to bring us to the edge of financial disaster, and we are only giving the Democrats two years to clean up the mess. I give credit to Obama for having a steady hand on the tiller. He has accomplished much in two years, in spite of the party of no. They don't want to govern, they just want to win the elections. I think the country will have one huge hangover tomorrow morning from too much tea party.

The interesting question is: What happens two years from now? If Republicans win the House, they share responsibility for governing. If they continue to say no for the next two years without offering anything positive, well, we've seen how dramatically the political climate can change in two years.

I think the Tea Party is explained more accurately, in part, by people feeling belittled. When Jon Stewart laughs at Sarah Palin, the x% of Americans who personally identify with her feel attacked. Take the O'Donnell "church & state" issue. What she said was that she doesn't see the separation of church and state in the Constitution--people, including those on the left LAUGHED. While she could have been more articulate, what she meant (and conservatives understood) was that a literal reading of the Establishment Clause does not necessarily imply a "separation of church and state." When liberals laugh at this view, held by a certain percent of the country, they belittle the opinion rather than have an honest debate, hence the growth of an angry tea party.

But if that's the subtle point she was making, why didn't she just say so? Why didn't she say "many people believe the language of the First Amendment doesn't necessarily mean separation of church and state" or something like that? I'm pretty sure that most constitutional scholars would disagree, but there are some who share that view. Instead, she sounded as if she didn't have the slightest idea what the First Amendment said.

I'm on record as believing that we should elect smart people to high office. It's great if they're "regular" people, too, but I'd rather they be aloof or snotty or whatever but have the brainpower and sophistication to address the many complex issues our country faces. I don't think "regular" is going to cut it. 

As a hard working, educated, successful, small business man who has seen the best and worst of capitalism from the inside, would you give me your opinion as to why so many highly educated progressives tend to lean toward socialist type big government policies and look down on the capitalistic ideals that made it possible for the educated progressives to get where they are now? Helping your fellow man or social justice is not the answer because virtually all people are willing to help the truly unfortunate.

I really don't know when it became so fashionable to toss the word "socialist" around. Most "highly educated progressives" believe as strongly in capitalism as you do, at least in my experience. But progressives don't think capitalism is blind to the concept of the common good. If we do a better job of educating all Americans, for example, our capitalist system will be more successful in the Information Age -- more successful for all of us. We saw during the financial crisis how tightly interrelated the nations of the world have become. Are we supposed to act as if the same isn't true of our own people -- that our success is to some degree codependent?

As a white guy who deals with white people in more unvarnished settings, am I wrong in thinking the word "Muslim" has supplanted the "N" word as a pejorative to describe people who are not like me - a WASP? When I share the fact that I voted for President Obama with some of my white conservative friends, I am frequently characterized as a "Muslim lover" despite the fact that President Obama is not Muslim but rather Christian.

Sounds as if it has. Muslims have lived in America since long before independence, yet now some people apparently believe it's okay to treat them as pariahs.

Thanks for taking the question. I can't help but think that much of the tea-party ire about taxes and big government is pure self-interest. Nobody likes taxes, but if you want your kids educated, your roads paved, your nation defended, etc. you need the money to pay for it. Have any of the tea-party candidates given specific examples of how they would reduce government if they ran the show? If social security, medicare, defense are off the table, there isn't much left

Good question. How do they arrive at those Tea Party rallies? Do they drive? Who built and maintains the highways? Do they fly? Would they like to try that without air traffic controllers? Are they really proposing to privatize Social Security? There has been a near-total lack of specificity about just what should be cut. The fact is that unless you slash entitlements and/or defense, or stop paying on the national debt, you're left with relatively little "discretionary" spending -- and much of that isn't really discretionary at all.

I was reading an article in Harvard Magazine about a Harvard Business School professor (Amy Cuddy) examining the nature of our reactions to others being based on two major characteristics - how warm we perceive them as being and how competent we perceive them as being. All the classic stereotyping information flows into this construct. On that vision, Obama as elitist is suggesting he is cold and the delegitimizing effort is to make him look incompetent. Cold and incompetent viewed persons as held in contempt. It seemed to me this was an accurate vision of the Tea Partiers view of Obama .

Interesting -- I'll have to read that piece.

Thank you for putting into print what I've been saying to friends about the Tea Party for the last 12 months. For what it's worth, I don't think the tea party is a group of racists, I just think that they harbor a mistrust of minorities and have come to a realization that they themselves are becoming a minority in this country. I also think that many of them are hypocrites since they seem to remain silent when it comes to things as gay rights, the downsizing of the military and the wasteful wars we're in, as well as ending 'entitlements' that they themselves take advantage of (social security, medicare, public schools, farm subsidies, etc.) I, as a gay black man, would actually agree with them if their actions reflected their beliefs.

Thanks for writing. And I, too, wonder how a movement so dedicated to "freedom" wouldn't champion such issues as gay rights. (This doesn't apply to actual libertarians, of course, but that doesn't characterize most Tea Partyers, I think.)

I wholeheartedly agree with your column. I do have to take issue with your statement "it is not racist to have conservative views." But what exactly are conservative views? Isn't conservatism a euphemism for jingoism, bigotry, xenophobia, and outright racism? My point: one has to be racist to be conservative (in today's sense of the word).

Thanks, but I disagree. It's possible to be conservative without being racist, jingoistic, bigoted or xenophobic. I'm using the real meaning of the word conservative.

Gene- The evil is socialism. And the answer to your question is simple. We want to take our country back from the socialists. By the way, I know what socialism is.

No you don't. If you believe that actual socialists are running the country, then no, you have no idea what socialism is.

They want to close down government...either by gridlock or by budget stand-off. I wish the DNC would have done commercials showing the public what a real government close down would be like: no flying (close down FAA); no visiting national parks; no social security or medicare payments; no Amtrak; and on and on. Let the people see just what the government really does for them every day.

I don't think the Republican establishment will allow the Tea Party types to force a shutdown of the government. The GOP leadership certainly doesn't want any such thing to happen. The last time Republicans shut it down, they were blamed for their irresponsibility and suffered at the polls.

Don't you think the best way for Obama to get re-elected if for a few of these Tea Party nutjobs to win some seats today? I can't think too many independents would like to see a Republican President with a Republican Congress again.

If the polls are correct, today's election will be bad for the Democrats in Congress but good for President Obama's political standing and prospects. The Democrats wouldn't have to bear the political burden of governing all by themselves. Republicans would have to pass a budget -- and yes, it would include a huge deficit. They would have to increase the debt ceiling. Welcome to the real world.


My time is up, folks. See you again next week. Don't forget to vote!

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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