Eugene Robinson Live

May 29, 2012

Note to readers: Gene's next chat will take place on June 12. Thanks.

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

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Hello, everyone. Not that it's a surprise, but Mitt Romney will go over the top tonight and win enough delegates to become the nominee. So we've reached the end of the beginning, at least. I imagine we'll talk politics today -- that's what this morning's column is about -- but, as usual, we can take the conversation in any direction you'd like. Let's begin.

Nice column defending Obama's spending record, except I guess you don't read your own paper's "FACT CHECKER" column. When the facts don't support your argument, just ignore them! Maybe no one will notice and those pesky facts will just go away.

I suppose it's too much to ask that you actually read what I wrote. My column says that Romney's claim that under Obama "federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in modern history" is a lie. It remains, in fact, a lie. Glenn Kessler's fine Fact Checker column is an assessment of a claim the president made about spending. While Glenn disagrees with the central assertion of the Market Watch column that I cite -- that spending has risen at only 1.4 percent a year under Obama -- he sets the actual figure at 3.3 percent for the period in question. This is still far, far lower than the rate at which spending increased under Bush, Bush or Reagan. Funny how the big-spending presidents are all Republicans... I should add that Poynter's Politifact truth-squad accepts the 1.4 percent figure, but I included the 3.3. percent number in my column because one doesn't diss the home team. Glenn makes the point that Obama would have spent more if the Republicaans in Congress had let him. I acknowledge that fact, but still there is still no way to justify Romney's false claim. 

Gene, Thanks for another great column today, calling out Romney for the falsehoods he has built his attacks on Obama around. But the real question is, does it really matter whether or not he is telling the truth? The increased polarization of the last couple of decades has seemed to show us that the facts just don't matter as much. People will believe what they want to believe; just look at the continued incidences of "Birtherism," despite what evidence is provided by the White House and the State of Hawaii. Call me cynical, but are there really enough people out there who are open-minded enough to be consider whether something is the truth, even if it doesn't square with their world-view?

There are open-minded people out there. The "birther" people are not among them.

How many manufacturing jobs has Romney lost at Bain and how many manufacturing jobs did he add that didn't require ANY government assistance of ANY kind?

Good questions, given the way Romney touts his prowess as a "job creator." Which, by the way, is absurd. The CEO of a private equity firm is not in the business of job creation; he or she is in the business of wealth creation. Imagine two subordinates walking into Romney's office when he was running Bain. One says "I hired 500 people yesterday," and the other says "I laid off 500 people yesterday." Which one, do you think, gets the bonus and the promotion? The one who cost the company a lot of money, or the one who saved the company a lot of money?

I was an enthusiastic 2008 Obama volunteer and have already volunteered several times here in northern Virginia (starting in December). I am feeling disappointed, not to have a more positive message as well as the anti-Romney one. I have been thinking for four years that this would *finally* be the chance to amaze people who haven't been paying attention with a barrage of info about the huge number of achievements of the Obama administration. Why not campaign on what I think is a really great record? I'm so proud of our president and wish his campaign felt the way I do. With the anti-Bain stuff, I feel double-scarred after canvassing for Creigh Deeds door to door on his all-negative platform; that did not go well.

You make an excellent point. I understand that the Obama campaign wants to define Romney. But I don't think that's really enough. I do think there has to be a positive message, not only about Obama's record but also about the future. 

It wasn't that long ago that Hillary made this comment about Syria being better than the rest of the Middle East. Its now clear this was the exact opposite of what happened. Obama lack of inaction in Syria has not only lead to the deaths of thousands, but has also encouraged Al-Qaeda to take an increased roll in Syria. At some point, Obama is going to have to do more in the ME besides say, look I got OBL (when the amount of credit he should be taking is questionable). His desire to be friendly with our former enemies has clouded his judgement.

The administration was wrong to believe that Assad was a reformer -- but the president and the secretary of state made clear long ago that they have abandoned this view. Our policy is that Assad must go. What do you suggest? An invasion on the scale of the Iraq war? That's what it would take to pry him out by force. Oh, and the Russians and the Chinese would be implacably opposed. Who cares? Well, we all should care, if we expect help from the other great powers on the Iran nuclear issue. Diplomacy may not be a terribly attractive option, but it looks like the only one we have at this point.

We keep hearing that the economy will be paramount in November, with the deficit a big factor. But the Republicans voted for big Defense Department spending, including an extra $1 billion for an air defense system for Israel. One can certainly argue that such spending is worlthwile, but will the Republicans say it doesn't worsen the deficit? If one says they will cut only spending they oppose, doesn't put them in the same boat as they say the Democrats are already in?

Uh, yes.

Hi Eugene -- Thanks for another thoughtful column. The problem, in my view, is that the media (except for Fox News which, let's face it, doesn't really count) has been given so little access to Romney for any serious questioning that most of his distortions go unchallenged, and the longer that goes on the more risk that voters see them as the truth. Are we going to have to wait for the debates for him to explain his positions beyond talking points and sound bites?

Apparently. Romney is just doing what has become standard procedure -- limit media access, answer only friendly questions, wave and smile a lot while spouting patriotic nostrums. Virtually all candidates do this to some degree. We in the media need to up our game.

Your colleague Chris Cillizza, among other writers, is questioning why Romney is tying himself so tightly to Donald Trump--including a fundraising venture in Vegas being promoted with a send up of the iconic Uncle Sam poster with Trump doing the fingerpointing. I'm perplexed too. Romney has enough money. Trump is a self-promoter now better known for being on TV than being a businessman. Can you explain it? Thanks.

No, I can't, except that Romney seems disinclined to say or do anything that would alienate even a single supporter. I really don't see how Trump is a plus for him.

Politicians can certainly suffer for lies - if the lies are about sex, money, and a few other select items that raise the public's fury. But politicians rarely, if ever, suffer for lying about their opponent's record. (Ask Bob Dole.) Why is that?

Good question. Perhaps it's because people don't much like politicians and are willing to believe just about anything about them.

"The House tramples again on the District's rights"  just adds to my frustration over the lack of full citizenship for DC residents. Do think this issue has any chance of gaining traction in a 2nd Obama administration? (I'm 99.9% sure Romney could care less....unless the District was magically repopulated by Repubs.)

Shamefully, I don't see any indication that the issue of full voting rights for D.C. residents is gaining traction. It should, including among Tea Party types -- it's a classic example of taxation without representation. A disgrace.

Hi Eugene - You really touched on something that resonates with me; my growing dislike of politics is due to the exaggerations, and yes, lies, that are so increasingly commonplace. What can possibly be done to fix this? I'm not one who is in favor of frivolous lawsuits, but maybe it's time a candidate sues the hell out of one of the "independent" groups (or rival candidates) for libel/slander?

Our libel, slander and defamation laws wouldn't be of much help, given that politicians are by definition public figures. Maybe the solution is for people to vote only for candidates who tell the truth.

I read in the Post that lately a few Republican candidates, and even the stray incumbent, are starting to stand up to Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge -- one House freshman is claiming that his pledge is only good for his first term, not in perpetuity. My question: Who do you think will be the latter-day Joseph Welch who defies Norquist's bullying with a version of "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" that defrocks Grover the way Welch did Joe McCarthy?

I dont' equate Grover Norquist with Joe McCarthy. Grover lobbies against taxes, which is his right. Elected officials should have enough backbone to stand up for what is necessary and right. I blame those officials who take the pledge, not the man who asks them to.

Eugene.... This appears to be a Romney speaking/speechwriter gaffe. If Romney referenced Obama as the largest grower of the deficit... then no one would be in a position to disagree. $5 trillion in less than 4 years is beating his own 10 year budget proposal from 2009. Also, you and the rest of your ilk are not looking at the spending as a % of GDP. Obama's spending in this category certainly puts him near the top of the heap. So stop with the victory lap over this one quote... because if this is all Obama has to hang his hat on.... then he's in trouble.

I don't hang the president's hat for him. I simply wrote about several Mitt Romney claims that are not true. I have no idea what my ilk might be up to -- didn't even know I had an ilk -- but no, I don't look at spending as a percentage of GDP as a way of measuring presidential spending from year to year, simply because that figure involves two variables, not one. In a recession, with the economy shrinking, a smaller increase in dollar-amount spending may look like a bigger increase as a percentage of GDP. It's a useful measure for some purposes, but surely you see why it isn't useful in supporting Romney's false claim.

Does the Democrat Party realize they are going to get drowned in November? There's TONS more SuperPAC money helping Romney than Obama, which should let Romney's story about the economy dominate once we get past the conventions. But more importantly, SuperPAC money will be dumped in races around the country to destroy Democrat candidates such that the GOP GAINS rather than loses seats in both the Senate AND the House.

Is that the Republican Party's dream? To buy the election with Super Pac money? Last I heard, Americans weren't overly fond of the idea of being bought.

Why am I not in shock that the first thing the left wants to do is slash our defense spending? It's the cutting edge defense products that eventually become the products which massively change out lives. You realize the evil DOD is the reason we have GPS and the Internet.

Nobody said the Defense Department was evil, just that it's expensive. I thought Republicans were the ones who favored fiscal discipline. How can you want to shrink government and yet leave untouched our biggest expenditure outside of entitlements? That said, you make a good point about GPS and the internet. It goes to show that government does, too, play a huge and necessary role in shaping our economic future. Why do Republicans want to curtail funds for basic research that lays the groundwork for these world-changing innovations?

Mr. Robinson: Do you think a Republican group or groups always have lukers in your chat to throw out accustations which prove they haven't really read your column(s)? Sure seems that way to me.

Republicans are always welcome. My hope is that this environment will be a good influence.

One difference, and not in a good way, is that no one ever elected Grover Norquist anything, so he has no accountability.

He also has no innate power except to advocate his position. Grover Norquist is wrong, but he's not evil. Nothing forces elected officials to pay him the slightest attention, except their perceived self-interest...

That's all for today, folks. My time is up. No chat next week, but I'll see you in a fortnight.

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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