The Washington Post

GOP still fed up with the field: Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Aug 30, 2011

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

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly therapy session -- I mean, political discussion. Where to begin? Last week's chat was cut short by an earthquake. Since then, we've had a hurricane. I'm thinking the plague of locusts should arrive any minute. How spooky is it getting around here? Well, Rick Perry is leading the Republican field. Buh-bye, Social Security. See ya later, Medicare. Hasta la vista, evolution. Meanwhile, we're awaiting President Obama's jobs plan. Today's column, for reference, urges him to go big, not small. If House Republicans decide to obstruct, they should have to explain why. Let's begin.

You mention Rick Perry's comment on Social Security but fail to mention the rest of his statement or even address the real issue. Social Security and Medicare are not sustainable and in fact is taking money from people who under the present form will never see it.

Don't be so touchy, Gov. Perry. Seriously, your premise is wrong. Social Security is totally sustainable, even if the obvious, relatively simple fixes are not made. To date, it's more than $3 trillion in the black. Over the next 75 years, if left totally "unfixed," it will cost only a tiny fraction of GDP over what workers contribute. Medicare, it's true, is a problem. The simplest solution is a single-payer health care plan.

Why is Eugene Robinson writing about what the Republican electorate thinks? As a member of this group, Mr. Robinson's regular vitriol, misunderstanding, and misinformation about everyday Republicans is offensive to me as a regular reader of the Post and his pieces. Trapped inside his liberal bubble of the Washington, D.C. elite chattering class, I cannot see how the Post would pay him to have an opinion on this topic. Here's an idea: stay in your lane. Write about how Democratic party is unhappy with Obama. That's a topic you may have some knowledge about.

Folks were nice to me at the Ames straw poll. Perhaps some realize that if only Republicans vote for the eventual GOP nominee, he or she loses. Big time.

Poll after poll shows that Americans are far more worried about jobs than they are about the deficit or debt, yet Obama has allowed Republicans to focus soley on the debt. Republicans have almost been hostile toward job creation and those affected by unemployment. Even there current proposals aren't really about job creation - they're about eliminating regulations. Any economist will tell you that whatever changes they are likely to push through, would have only a small impact on the econocmy, and probably no impact in the short term. Why does Obama choose to let his opposition set the agenda?

I don't understand why the White House -- and Democrats in general -- were so slow to understand that unemployment is a bigger crisis, and a bigger issue, than debt. Yes, debt is a problem. But it's one that's better solved, and more easily solved, once the economy is growing again. That has to be the priority.

I fear this is Obama's last chance to really be a bold leader in this area. Will this plan make or break his re-election chances?

No. I truly believe that if he chooses to do so, the president can play "small ball" and still put together the 270 electoral votes he needs to win. But I think he -- and his party -- will do better, and the country will benefit, if he goes big with the jobs plan he knows we need, rather than the jobs plan he thinks he can get through an obstructionist House.

Dear Gene, I am not so concerned about the content of the speech as the apparent breakdown of the White House communications process. Why are there front-page stories right now that the president hasn't settled on what goes in the speech and policy? Why was he so missing from the hurricane Irene coverage when he cut his vacation short (nobody knows this), got a great FEMA director in place, and went on TV on Sunday? Why no clear victory lap re Libya, as there was for bin Laden's death? Why no vision for our presence in space or preparation for possible loss of the space station? If they can't get their house in order over there so that ordinary people can check in and have a sense of what's happening and who's in charge, I think the issue goes far beyond one speech or policy. If you say none of this has to do with jobs, I disagree. Getting the tea party out (or reducing it to insignificance) and Obama another four years is my jobs recipe. He's done so much to build up the country and economy and they have done so much to destroy it. But man, they are way better communicators.

I could quibble with a few of your specifics, but I won't argue with the general point that Republicans have been miles better at communication than the White House and the Democrats. The GOP has managed, time and again, to define the issues in language favorable to the Republican point of view.

What are the odds that he'll actually push for something meaningful in terms of job creation? Have we reached the point where he might abandon his conciliatory inclinations to fight for what needs to be done? And can he get anything through the GOP House?

I don't know. Reports this morning indicate they're still deciding whether to go big or small. The House will resist any substantial jobs plan, but should be made to defend that position. Public opinion can work wonders as an election approaches.

In your opinion, why has President Obama seemed so hesitant to focus on the economy? From the beginning of his campaign in 1992, Bill Clinton got it. Is it the advisors Obama has surrounded himself with? Is it the fact that he'd never been a governor? Notwithstanding the example of John Kennedy, it looks more and more as if we should insist on experience as a governor (or perhaps even a mayor of a large city) before we elevate someone to the presidency.

It's not true that President Obama hasn't focused on the economy. He took office in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. What the administration failed to do, in my view, was focus sufficiently on the jobs issue.

Eugene, Even if Obama is able to find some miraculous to create jobs, he is creating a very very temporary solution. Democrats, due to their tie ins with unions continually point to low skilled -higher paying jobs that bring in unions dues such as construction and manufacturing. When are democrats going to be honest with the public that many of the types of union jobs (such as manufacturing) can't be done at a cost competitive basis anymore when compared to overseas. Instead of focusing on jobs that will place money in unions pockets, how about focusing on high tech areas, where there is real room for growth and the jobs would be long term. They may not bring in union dues, but they would provide long term stability for a lot of people and they are jobs that will allow many across the country to not take a lower standard of living. The world is evolving and some professions are just outdated, its time we evolved along with this fact.

What you say is self-evident -- globalization has sent offshore some industries that will never come back. But what do you have against construction jobs? If we were talking make-work jobs, I could understand. But look at our infrastructure, compare it to other developed countries, and tell me we don't have work to do.

I voted for the President and, in fact, actively campaigned for him. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He has inherited a huge mess and I think he is trying his best to make things better. He certainly has tried to work with the Republicans but we cannot say the same about them. Why now, though, do you think (if you do) that the President will get tough and bold? I have been reading your columns, along with Paul Krugman's and E. J. Dionne's, just to name a few, for quite a while now. I read the articles, agree with the ideas and few in the Democratic party have been taking the tough stance necessary to get things moving in this country. (I think a few people, like Nancy Pelosi, have been working hard but to no avail.) Is there any hope here? C. Grant Columbus, Ohio

There's always hope. Keep hope alive. Imagine where we'd be if John McCain and Sarah Palin had won the 2008 election. Feel better?

Gene, Ezra Klein reported today that the Government is basically borrowing money for free. Is there anyway that Dems and the President can effectively communicate this as a basis for more spending now with cutting later?

I don't know, but they could try. If they're worried that Republicans will demagogue the suggestion that we take advantage of free money, here's a little secret: Republicans will demagogue anything Democrats say. Given that fact, why not tell the truth?

Gene, it appears that the Democrats could run on a jobs now message, but don't they need a credible and severe program for the out years as a backstop to current spending in order to win that argument? They can't keep saying no cuts, only tax increases on the wealthy and massive spending now, that message has hit the ground, bounced and hit the ground again following the 2010 midterms.

Yes, they need a credible plan for approaching debt reduction in the out years. But I don't see why it should be so hard to explain that it makes sense to create jobs now and get the ecoomy growing again, which will make it easier to bring the debt down.

Gene, why aren't more pundits making this point? The data we have is only past data and not necessarily predictive data. You can say a president can't win re-election with over 7% unemployment until Reagan does it or 17% until Roosevelt does it. Context matters, so doesn't the GOP candidate and the conditions in the fall of 2012 have more to do with the election than current approval ratings or the economy as it is today?

Absolutely true.

LOVED the column today!! Do you think one of the 'craziest' work programs Obama could propose would be the creation of the world's finest high-speed rail network? I don't mean segmented lines scattered hither and yon, but a full-blown national grid of superfast trains. It's a no-brainer to me; not only do the railways themselves need to be built, but also the trains, the depots, the hiring and training of the railway staff and so on, not to mention the need to re-boost the manufacturing base for concrete, lumber and metals. This absolutely should be publicly-owned and fares should be very affordable. So that's my dream. Eugene, what sort of incredibly huge project would you like to see in a jobs program? (Hope to see you on Rachel tonight talking about this topic!!)

As a regular user of Amtrak's (not very high-speed) Acela, I'm a big fan of high-speed rail -- where it makes sense. For some corridors, it's a no-brainer; for transcontinental travel, I don't see how it does. I believe our airports need an overhaul. We also have rickety bridges that need to be repaired or replaced. Just as important, if not more important, is making sure that our fiber-optic network is ready for the much higher speed Internet traffic of the future -- actually, of the present, in places like South Korea.

Hi Eugene. Sarah Palin, in or out? Your thoughts? And if she is in, like I believe she will be, does she immediately become the front runner?

My guess is that she's out. But honestly, I have no idea. We're reaching the point where some of the logistical hurdles are getting pretty high.

So, Ron Paul has reduced the efficacy of FEMA to a failure that only exists because we throw money at the problem. Fair enough. Does he support any federal funding being allocated to assist state and local governments to respond to natural disasters? If not, I wonder how state and local governments would fare given a sustained period of budget shortfalls?

A confession: At times, I've been perhaps more dismissive of Ron Paul than I should have. But really, his anti-FEMA stance is just nuts. Makes no sense on any level.

Hi Eugene -- Thanks for your thoughtful column today. Like many, while I respect the president greatly and would vote for him in a heartbeat, I wonder where all that passion that we saw from him as a candidate has gone. I know some of that is expected, give the pragmatism required to do the job, but is it possible that there's something more fundamental going on? Maybe being president isn't all that it's cracked up to be, and his disillusionment is showing. In some ways it seems like he's just going through the motions, and maybe wouldn't mind so much turning over the reins to somebody else next year. Am I off base here?

Way off base. From my observation, at least, President Obama seems to relish the job and will go to great lengths to avoid giving it up.

So what's more important: Obama winning re-election? Or our nation surviving and moving on with prosperity for all? Not important to you. What's most important to Mr. Obama and his team. I know how I would answer that question if I were in charge.

Of course the president would say the well-being of the country is more important. But I think he'd also have to look ahead and ask what's better for the country for the next four years, his administration or Perry/Romney/Bachmann's?

Why does no one in Washington understand that the deficit will continue to rise unless we get people back to work????

Why, oh why?

Why not accept some big Republican proposals (delaying the ozone reg from EPA for example). Frankly, if he does not embrace any big Republican ideas, his calls for compromise will ring hollow.

Ring hollow? Are you suggesting the president hasn't compromised? Does anyone in Creation doubt, at this point, that he's the sort of person who likes to find consensus and compromise?

Have any economists weighed in on what she claims she can do? Thanks!

When last seen, all economists were doubled over with laughter.

RIP legendary bluesman David 'Honey Boy' Edwards.

And Nick Ashford, of course.


With that, my time is up, folks. 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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