Eugene Robinson Live

May 22, 2012

Eugene Robinson chatted about his columns and the latest in political news.

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Hi, folks, and welcome to our regular fix-the-world session. It feels like I should begin with some sort of Bain Capital "rain-in-Spain-falls-mainly-on-the-plain" pun, but I can't think of one. But it does seem to be all about Bain at the moment, inside the chattering-class echo chamber, at least. And, of course, Cory Booker. The real news, however, seems to be that there was no discernible news from the G-8 meeting on how to restore the European economy and/or currency union to health. Muddling through is often the least-bad option, but if you're muddling steadily downhill... Anyway, there's also the J.P. Morgan fiasco to talk about; and this morning's column, for reference, was about the NAACP's decision to come out strongly for same-sex marriage rights. Let's begin.

After our postracial presidency, the NAACP has grown irrelevant and obsolete. What better way to atract attention and $$$ than get involved in the culture war, even though it has nothing to do with its mission?

Your premise that the Obama presidency somehow ushered in a "postracial" era is wrong. Long before the election I was critical of the NAACP for its seeming lack of direction, but I never considered it obsolete; I just thought it needed new energy and focus, and a vision that recognized the ways in which black America has changed. I think the decision to support same-sex marriage as a civil right is smart, timely, and completely relevant to the NAACP's mission -- and to the moment. 

Will someone please tell me how Romney's proposed poilicies for the economy would be any different than that of Bush? The latter cut taxes to the wealthy, discouraged regulation for the "job creators" and had a Repulbican Congress for 6 of his 8 years. So, how did that end up? Can't Obama run on a variation of "It's Morning again in America" least as compared to the Bush Romney policies?

I think he has to. Perhaps someone can explain how Romney's economic policies differ from those of George W. Bush, but so far no one has. This should be highly relevant to voters as they make their choice in November.

Gene, did Mr. Booker basically lose his opportunity at the Presidency? He wasn't really a viable candidate in 2012, but following a potential Senate or Governorship, he would have certainly been on the dais come 2020, in some capacity. Is that lost or just set back? And is Harold Ford even a Democrat anymore? He seems to forget he moved to NYC and doesn't have to be a conservative Democrat anymore.

You're talking about the remarks by Cory Booker and Harold Ford Jr. that essentially torpedoed the central theme of this phase of the Obama campaign. Booker certainly didn't advance his cause with the party establishment (big understatement), but he seems to be working hard to take it all back, and I wonder how important all this will look in a few months, to say nothing of a few years. Harold is indeed a Democrat -- a DLC Democrat who works on Wall Street -- and I respect his consistency, even if I often disagree with his views on financial regulation and related issues.

Gene, it seems like the Romney team's plan is to keep their guy hidden as long as possible. Sure, he's out there doing Bush like events to the faithful, but he doesn't appear to be doing anything to expand his weak support. This feels more like an incumbent strategy than a challenger strategy and it's beginning to reek like entitlement.

As long as Romney continues to do pretty well in the polls, I doubt the campaign will let him out of the secure undisclosed location where they keep him between carefully staged appearances. 

Gene, in your organization's latest poll, the President appears to have closed the gap on who is better on the economy and jobs. If this is a split, then what wedge or issue does Mr. Romney have? It doesn't mean that Mr. Obama will blow him out, but it does point towards narrow knife cut victories in the wishy-washy, excuse me, swing states. Combine that with the auto bailout narrative that Romney doesn't seem capable of getting out from under and we could potentially see extremely narrow rust belt victories for the president and nail biting from his supporters as the western state results come in.

That sounds like a reasonable analysis, with the caveat that we still have quite a while to go before Election Day. I think you'll see Bain-killed-jobs ads focused on the Rust Belt states that the president needs to win, especially Ohio. Hard to see Romney winning without Ohio.

So if the GOP (or a major GOP group) was to come out and make a statement that gay marriage is a right everyone should have, would you also congratulate them, or would you say they are behind the times?

I would offer congratulations. I hereby congratulate Dick Cheney, who was way ahead of President Obama and many Democrats on the issue. If you're implying that the NAACP was late, however, I'll note that the group's statement actually goes far beyond that of President Obama.

Unions are about to take a pretty tough blow in Wisconsin and I couldn't be happier. The left's idea that because unions were needed for everything in the 1920s, they are now the solution to everything is just wrong. There are groups that still need unions (like the police or others in life threating environments) however there are also some very real problems that the left ignores, such as massive pension costs often bankrupting local economies (Just check out Metro or teachers pensions in MD). Hopefully the failure of the recall in Wisconsin shows the left they will have to respect that some states think being right to work is ideal.

I really hope you're wrong about the outcome of the Wisconsin vote, because you are dead wrong about unions. I don't want to return to a world in which workers are not able to band together to negotiate wages, benefits and working conditions. Why would you offer those rights to police and not, say, teachers? Because police are in life-threatening situations? Then by that logic, you'd offer the same rights to members of the armed forces. The fact is that unions obtained benefits for their members through collective bargaining; they had no power to award those contracts to themselves. And unions have been smart and flexible about adapting to new economic realities -- when they are taken seriously as stakeholders, that is. The Republican goal has not been to engage unions in fruitful negotiation. It has been to crush them.

I'm sorry, Eugene, but we really don't know much about our President. Much that was written was by Pres. Obama himself and even he can't get it right. For example, he said that he could not disavow Rev. Wright, and yet he practically tried to force him from not preaching while he was running for office; then there is the wrong country of birth (Kenya) that he allowed his publisher to put in his literary profile; not to mention that in his bio he made a composite of his girlfirends without informing the reader beforehand.

Really, you are grasping at straws here. There are umpteen Obama biographies at your local bookstore. Read one. This idea that there breathes a human being who has not been inundated with details about the president's family, his upbringing, his parents, his friends, and every phase of his life is just crazy. Your frustration, I fear, is that no one has been able to prove any of the various conspiracy theories about Obama. The reason is that they happen not to be true. Four years in office surely constitutes vetting. If you don't like how he does the job, I suggest you consider not voting for him.

for being a straight ally and friend to the Gay & Lesbian community in our struggles for dignity and equal rights. We can't/haven't done it alone and I for one want more of our community's 'leaders' and self-appointed/media-appointed 'talking heads' to do a better job acknowledging our friends and allies. So again, thank you (and please keep walking with us).

Thanks. This is a civil rights struggle -- not exactly like the one I lived through as a child, but a civil rights struggle nonetheless. I was so pleased to see the NAACP, our oldest and largest civil rights organization, taking a stand.

Obviously, the NAACP support for gay marriage will have some impact on African-American voters. But how strong will that impact be? That is, do you think it will result in a substantial softening of opposition from here on out among African Americans?

I do, and that's why I wrote the column. Obviously, the NAACP doesn't occupy the central position in African-American life that it once did. But it is still an important institution with deep community roots. The important thing, to me, was the recognition that this is a matter of civil rights. Framing the issue this way, as opposed to as a religious or cultural question, will change a lot of minds, I believe.

I have no brief against gays marrying but suspect that occasionally same sex couples may not be gay but claim they are in order to get the tax advantages legal marriage offers.

Wasn't there a movie a while back with this premise? I think this will remain fodder for lesser Hollywood efforts. Um, what would keep a heterosexual couple from doing the same thing? 

Have I missed something, or is the environment MIA this election cycle? It seems that every day is a bad news story for the environment, but I never seem to heal politicians talking about it-- except to denty global warming. Seems to me that President Obama could open some real daylight for himself here, bust by making the reasonable statement that anthropogenic global warming is a reality.

What environment? It seems as if nobody wants to talk about the environment anymore. It's infuriating and depressing.

I'm torn. I don't agree with Mayor Booker, but I kind of respect him for coming out against the mainstream. I'd rather have a Democratic Party where there is room for different opinions than the current Republican Party idealogical purity test.

I'd rather have a diverse party, too. The thing about Booker, though, was that he went on Meet the Press as an "official" campaign surrogate, which meant that wasn't the time or place to blast the campaign he was supposed to be representing.

The NAACP's action seems to be that same-sex marriage is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution. Since the definition of marriage has historically been a state obligation (in some states cousins can marry, the age of consent is different in different states, etc.), the only way to set forth the parameters of that right are by federal law or a Constitutional amendment. If you were granted omnipotent legislative power on this issue for one day, how would you define the right? What age? How close a relation can the spouses be? What would the barriers be to someone getting married? Right now the states cannot agree on all those details for heterosexual marriage. Do you think the federal government could ever agree on a national standard for civil marriage?

It doesn't have to. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that laws in the books in 16 states barring interracial marriage were unconstitutional. There was no need for the federal government to set some sort of nationwide standard for interracial marriage. It was enough to say that it cannot be banned.

Does Mr. Right to Work know that Wisconsin public employee unions agreed to significant givebacks *before* Walker put forward the law to take away bargaining rights altogether? I have to wonder what kind of la-la lands some of these people live in, where employers always do right by their workers just because, and lack of health care is no problem-o because you'll never actually be sick or injured.

I think the place you're trying to find on the map is Right-Wing La-La Land.

So if gay marriage is a civil right, how can Obama justify leaving it to the states to decide?

That is an excellent question. The president did not say he believes it is a civil right; that's my view, not his. On the other hand, he quite rightly refuses to argue in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which he seems to believe is an infringement of somebody's rights. I'm looking for the consistency there.

Prior to the Loving decision, if an interracial couple married in a state that permitted it, then later moved to one of those 16 states whose laws forbade interracial marriage, was their marriage nonetheless still recognize under the full faith and credit of the Constitution? Or were they not considered married in those 16 states?

Those marriages were not recognized in the states that banned interracial marriage. If I recall correctly, this was at the heart of the Loving case -- the couple's marriage was not recognized in the state where they lived.


That's it for today, folks. Thanks for tuning in, and I hope you join us again next week.

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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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