Eugene Robinson Live

Apr 24, 2012

Live chat with Eugene Robinson about his columns and the latest in political news.

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Hi, everyone, and welcome. It's primary day in a bunch of states, but there's almost zero national coverage; Romney's only remaining opponents are Gingrich and Paul, and, well, even the most hypercaffeinated political analysts can't drum up any suspense. For all intents and purposes, the general election campaign has begun. Lots of buzz about immigration today, with the Arizona law going before the Supremes. Today's column, for reference, was about how overseas events could send this campaign in unanticipated directions. Let's begin.

Top news story is reduction in immigration from Mexico. How will this affect the platforms of Obama and Romney. Will immigration now be a non-issue?

You're referring to the news that the net flow of Mexico-U.S. migration has reversed -- more people going there than coming here. Democrats, including the president, will likely have lots to say about the immigration issue because their big lead among Latino voter could be decisive in November. Republicans, including Romney, will likely try to avoid the issue like the plague.

Do you think Pres. Obama's numerous golf outings and Michele Obama's numerous and expensive trips abroad will convince voters that not only Romney is out of touch with the average American but so is the President and First Lady?

Not a close call, in my opinion. Lots of people play golf. Not so many have car elevators in their homes.

Gene With polling consistently favoring ideas supported by Democrats (keeping medicare as is, compromising, infastructure bill, spending on education, raising some taxes, contraceptive, etc), why is this election cycle in both Congress and the Presidency even close?

Because the country is divided, and because the Republican party-of-no act has been effective, in a scorched-earth kind of way.

I am already tired of this campaign. I don't think I can deal with 6 more months of all this utter and complete nonsense. Can't we just vote now and get it over with? I can't imagine that anyone is going to change their minds between now and November. Or at least can we call a moratorium on all punditry for all sides?

A moratorium on punditry? You're hitting pretty close to home. But I feel your pain. I wrote a while ago that this was likely to be a grinding, joyless campaign, and that's certainly the way it's shaping up.


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Although they won't be able to scare their xenophobic base with images of immigrants flooding over the southern border anymore, I wonder if the Repubs will secretly rejoice in this news b/c that the demographics of the country may not change after all.

The demographics will change regardless of this shift in the migration flow. And in any event, immigration will surely increase when the economy finds its stride.

Jonathan Bernstein wrote an interesting post today about Ds laying a trap for Romney: best way to win voters is to go against R party line (like college loans). This relies on Mitt's flip-floppery AND his trouble still winning over the R base. How effective do you think this is? Do enough R voters have such an irrational hatred of Obama that it doesn't matter what Romney does, or even if he's the nominee at all? Or would playing Romney's flip-floppery against the base's ideological purity make enough R voters stay home or pass Romney over to make a difference in the race?

Who knows? My guess is that Romney, who still needs to come out of the convention with a semblance of party unity, can't stray too far from the orthodox line at this point. Hence the Obama campaign's effort to paint him as too "severely conservative," in Romney's own words, to be president. This is aimed at independents, not dyed-in-the-wool Republicans who will likely support the nominee no matter what.

I do not know if Romney is snootish or just plain dumb. Yes, Obama ate dog meat when he was six. But he was a child growing up in extreme poverty. He had to eat what he could to survive. Plus he was SIX! SIX! So, Romney is attacking Obama for what he did at six. Sheesh! Another way to look at this: a son of an ultra-rich father who became ultra-rich himself is blaming an adult who managed to escape poverty and become President for what he did at the impoverished age of six in order to make it to seven... What do you make of this? Will he ever return to issues? Well, to be fair, he did...he wants to gut a lot of social programs...I do not see how he can be statistically in a dead heat with Obama givien his extreme views...

I think there should be a law making it a felony for any journalist to write or pronounce that "this campaign has gone to the dogs."

You wrote today: "It may be that in 2012 it's the euro-zone crisis, stupid. And there's nothing Obama or Romney can do about it." I agree; especially, since Romney won't take office as President until January 2013. I believe that Romney understands how to approach economic issues better than Obama but I'm not going to expect him to possess the gift of retroactive economic intervention.

I don't understand. Are you saying that if Romney is elected, you expect him to be able to set fiscal policy for the countries of the euro zone? I'm putting that down as unlikely.

I voted for the man several times while I lived in the District including the time that he won the three-way primary against Tucker and Washington. I am somewhat amazed about his anti-Asian comments. Is it time to just accept that what he says is not worth listiening to anymore?

My first job at the Post was covering Barry -- who won that first election, you will recall, by reaching out to whites, gays, immigrants and others left on the margins by his opponents. I, too, am stunned and appalled by his anti-Asian comments. He is a deeply flawed man, to say the least, but I always thought of him as being inclusive -- and respectful of minority rights and sensibilities. Guess I was wrong.

Gene, I'd love to read something about the similarities and differences of a CEO and US President - what business practices would work well in governance, and which ones would not. Has anything good been written on this, do you know? Thanks!

One big difference is that CEO's rule by fiat whereas presidents have to deal with Congress. Not at all the same thing.

I see that this has somewhat fallen off of chatter's radar, but a question that keeps occuring to me - we hear about skittles, we hear about the head injuries, we hear about everything but... George Zimmerman was told by the watch group not to carry a gun. George Zimmerman was told by the 911 dispatcher not to leave his car. These should be defining issues in this case. We haven't heard about either one since day 1 or 2 of this situation. When we will ever be able to stop the constant white noise of nonesense and focus on facts in this country?

I agree with your analysis but disagree that we haven't heard these facts discussed. Everything about the Martin case has been chewed and re-chewed ad infinitum. I'm confident that the prosecutor won't forget how Zimmerman disregarded instructions.

As you point out, and as the note from your producer illustrates, this is going to be a long and very negative time until early November. I'm sure you love your job, but is this a bad time to be a pundit and have to discuss (and write about) this almost every day?

I'm not sure there's ever a truly bad time to be a pundit, to tell the truth. It's a pretty agreeable job.

Have you seen the stories recently concerning the marked reduction in birthrates in Mexico and Brazil where they are now growing very large tracts of GMO soybeans? There was a story in the Washpo last week on teenage males not chasing girls like they used to. GMO foods which cause sterility, and organ damage have been in our food supply in the U.S. for 16 plus years now. Is this an attack on Social Security by reducing the number of kids born to grow up and work and pay into the Social Security trust fund. The birthrate in Brazil has been reduced from over 7 kids per family down to just over 1. That is huge. Is this some Republican plan?

Whoa, whoa. Without taking a position on genetically modified food (which is a huge issue in Europe, but not so much here), I can confidently report that birthrates decline as countries become more developed -- and, especially, as women have greater access to education. If teenaged boys are no longer chasing teenaged girls, then maybe the Mayans were right and the world is ending.

Gene: You are exactly right that the demographic shift will continue despite the returns to Mexico because of one immutable fact: Hispanics tend to have much larger families than other ethnic groups. One would think that Republicans, with their overt appeal to religion and what they call "family values" would realize that Hispanics, overwhelmingly Catholic, might naturally be attracted to the party if it weren't for the fact that Republicans have spent the last 20 years telling their aging, white, rural base that Hispanics are The Other.

I've long believed that Republicans could win significant support from Latinos, and African Americans as well, if the party made a sincere and concerted effort to win those votes. Eventually, the party will either do so or go the way of the Whigs.

The question about CEOs and government brings up a point about the GSA scandal I'm surprised no one's made. GSA was told to act like a business, like the private sector. So it did--I worked in the private sector on Wall Street for many years (a proud Fed now) and this kind of thing was commonplace. So when the GOP says they're going to run the government like a business, this is what you can expect.

That's a great observation. This GSA meeting -- indeed, the whole region -- clearly got way, way out of hand. But the idea was to boost performance by providing private-sector-style motivation and incentives. The whole thing is a great illustration of why government does not equal business. What ever happened to respect for public service? We should have seen more from the GSA clowns, but also from the Republicans who treat government workers as useless and unworthy.

I know I digress but how does someone that grows up in extreme poverty go to Punaho (sp) one of the top high schools in the US?

It's spelled Punahou. President Obama attended on scholarships.

My nightmare is that Israel attacks Iran in October. Maybe with Romney's prior knowlegde/blessing. Romney immediately goes off with "support for Israel 100%, fight the terrorists, Dems weak on defense, doesn't support our allies" etc. Obama being somewhat sane doesn't jump into this catastrophe allowing Romney to beat war drums/play on fears and enough voters are swayed. Gene, please talk me down.

Take a deep breath. In your scenario, would Israel be trying to influence the outcome of the election? If I were an Israeli official, I'd worry that most Americans wouldn't take kindly to that sort of thing. I'd also realize that on the day after the election, President Obama would still be in office for at least a couple of months and perhaps four more years -- and, presumably, not thrilled with Israeli meddling. No, if I were trying to time an attack to the election, I'd wait until I knew who won.

It's interesting that President Obama, and President Clinton before him, are perfect examples of the great American archetype of poor boys growing up to be President. And yet they have spurred intense visceral dislike among Republicans who, despite their spouting off about the greatness of the common man, keep nominating Bushes and Romney and, let's face, it McCain, who was an Admiral's son.

This is one of the enduring mysteries of modern American politics. Beats me.


Further revelations will have to wait until next week, folks. My time is up. Thanks for dropping by, and please come again.

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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