Eugene Robinson Live

Jun 19, 2012

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

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Hello, everyone, and welcome. We're in the to-and-fro season of a tight presidential campaign, with President Obama having had a tough couple of weeks before hitting back with his immigration announcement on Friday. And where, by the way, is Mitt Romney on the issue? Bob Schieffer asked him four times and is still waiting for a straight answer. Meanwhile, we're all waiting for the Supreme Court to deliver its summer blockbusters, including on health care reform. Lots ot talk about, so let's get started.

By singing the praises of President Obama's refusal to enforce the current immigration statutes, you are ignoring the poisonous effect of trying to accomplish this through executive order. Maybe you can yawn about the notion of bypassing Congress over this, but I refuse to. And simply taking people who believe in enforcing our laws regarding immigration and border control and labeling them all xenophobes reveals yet another example of the left-wing's version of debate - just resort to ad hominem and be done with it. Sorry, but you guys tried to do that with the Tea Party movement, and the tactic failed.

Come on, now, take a deep breath. Exhale. Better? It doesn't make a lot of sense to accuse President Obama of not enforcing the immigration laws vigorously enough, since -- as you might have heard -- deportations have risen sharply compared to the Bush years. As for the allegedly poisonous effect of using prosecutorial discretion, early indications are that the president's common-sense approach has broad public appeal. As for this Congress, it all but begs to be bypassed. And I didn't label anyone who believed in enforcing laws and border controls a xenophobe; I said that the GOP opens its arms to nativists and xenophobes without challenging their noxious views, and that's true. 

Eugene, now please. Black unemployment is almost double that of whites, Hispanics, and Asians. What the President did regarding his policy on young illegals is just going to cause more competition for jobs. Not to mention more competition to gain entrance into our already struggling state institutions. Regarding his argument that they will create businesses, we really don't know that especially when the President has not done enough to create a better business environment for the private sector. More than lilkely, these young people will compete for Government jobs and entrance into state universities. What's your take?

I believe the studies saying that immigration is a net positive for the economy -- even in the short- and medium-term, to say nothing of the long-term benefits. One effect of immigration is to lower the median age of the U.S. population, which is a huge factor when you look at the future of programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Gene, what's the GOP's play for Latino votes now? Romney's team is so tone deaf, they're just replaying their regular ads translated into Spanish. And now it appears that Mr. Rubio is out of the Veepstakes and his DREAM-lite legislation is DOA. What move can Mr. Romney make that would garner any inroads into Latino voters without a severe and public backlash from the right? He almost has to straddle because it would seem that the backlash would be much more harmful than his nothing burger.

I have no idea. GOP strategists know they have to try to do something about the Latino vote, but President Obama seems to have preempted what might have been their best play. What's left is trying to suppress the Latino vote so that the impact isn't as damaging as it might be.

Gene, why is it that when the road gets tough Dems start to panic? The fundamentals of the election haven't shifted after Mr. Obama's so called bad three weeks. Mr. Romney is hiding from reporters and still speaking in vague platitudes and still can't move the needle in his direction. The election still looks like a W. esque squeaker for the incumbent. Instead of rallying support or hitting the GOP on their complete obstruction of this administration, they complain about campaign strategy and weakening on raises taxes on the wealthy. Is this just Beltway panic or is this permeating through the Dems across the country?

Mostly just inside-the-Beltway stuff. You're right that the fundamentals haven't changed. I've always said this would be a close election, and that's what I still say.

Gene, the right always chatters about there being a media bias towards the left. However, in this campaign season, it appears that Mr. Romney is constantly given a pass in favor of harsh rhetoric against the president. He is constantly repeating blatant falsehoods, he is extremely vague about every policy there is and he doesn't allow anyone to talk to him outside of Fox, granted he did a rather milquetoast interview with Mr. Scheiffer. When will Romney get the full attention of the media in a way that's informative?

I had a lengthy e-mail exchange last night with a reader who complained about that same kind of media bias -- but in favor of President Obama, not Romney. I don't see any bias beyond the herd effect -- the media pack tends to rush this way and that in a clump, the way that little kids playing soccer all rush toward the ball. So minor setbacks become catastrophes and minor advances become game-changers.

Hi Eugene -- Thanks for taking questions today. Supposed Obama allies are questioning his campaign strategy, while campaign strategists are responding with reassurances that everyone should just calm down, they know what they're doing. What do you think? Business as usual, or a circular firing squad? Is there a difference?

I'm obviously not privy to the thinking of the Obama campaign's inner circle, but that crowd is nothing if not systematic. They don't panic, they have a plan and they will execute it.

When the whole Edwards trial concluded, I remember hearing a reporter on TV say that the reporter contingent following Edwards during his campaign were aware that he wasn't very bright, etc. I understand that they had to be unbiased in their reporting, but when do they have an obligation to expose their first hand knowledge of a story/candidate/etc? What is the line between fact and unbiased? I think we've seen a lot of this also in general reporting on GOP antics, i.e. "this happens on both sides" etc.

You've touched on two different issues. I think the "two sides to every story" approach to journalism has seen its day. Sometimes there are more than two sides. Sometimes, one side invents "facts" to fit its position. I think we have an obligation to report the truth as best we can ascertain it. The other issue you raise -- reporters' personal impressions of candidates -- is tougher. I think those impressions will come through if reporters do a good, accurate job of covering what candidates say and do.

Romney is trying so hard to be a kind of blank slate that people can write upon what they'd like him to be that he's rather, well, featureless. If I had to guess, he will try to avoid changing the policy if he becomes president, but will rescind it if the far-righters insist (which they probably will). And nothing will get through congress on immigration anytime soon, too many ideologues for action.

I think you're right. Across the board.

When Romney pans absolutely every single thing the President does as completely wrong and bad for America, doesn't he lose credibility?

I think so. At the beginning of the primary campaign, Romney took what sounded to me like a better tone, in terms of his prospects. He basically said that President Obama was a good man, that he had tried to do good things, but he was just in over his head. But during the primaries, Romney had to outflank his opponents by throwing red meat to a crowd that demanded nothing less. 

I have worked with Hispanics in the DC area, and after talking with them they are also concerned about abortion (many are Catholic and pro-life) and gay marriages, which many oppose. So do you think that Romney can attract them to his party by focusing on these two concerns?

No. Immigration is a threshold issue. It's not that all Latinos take the same position on illegal immigration, but that this is a personal, human, gut-level issue in communities where everybody knows somebody who has some kind of issue with residence documents. Republicans have managed to convey cold indifference, even hostility.

Wow, really Gene? Do you check under your bed for Lee Atwater every night? Since almost every single state- especially the border states- have made it that much easier to secure legal identification for citizens (often with all fees waived), I'm not sure how this is going to be a factor for the boogieman scenario that you're fantasizing about. Unless, you know, there's a suppression of the illegal vote- but who would want to do that?

Actually, I was talking about suppression of the kind that consultants talk about openly -- discouraging Latino voters from going to the polls. You do this by convincing then that their votes won't make a difference one way or the other. Or you do it through relentless negative ads that make people think all of politics is one big cesspool. Oh, and voter ID laws can help, too; but that's not what I had in mind when I answered the earlier question.

I always considered myself about as liberal as they come but then came this debate. Those who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas knew they were breaking the law and risked deportation. Why reward them at the expense of those who followed proper channels or are still waiting for the lottery to tilt their way? If I entered a country illegally I would expect to be arrested and deported. How is their situation different?

Um, in this case you were a child who had no choice in the matter when your parents brought you here. You didn't even learn you were here illegally until you were in your teens. You have lived your formative years as an American, and you have done nothing wrong.

I don't understand how people can applaud the President's action on immigration. Illegal aliens are queue jumpers. We all learned the principle of standing in line in kindergarten. You wouldn't tolerate someone breaking in line in a grocery store; why would you with respect to entering the country. I recognize that the people affected by the President's order were brought here as kids, but most people want a better life for their children, and the President's order therefore increases the incentives for people to come here illegally. The case of those children is sad, but it is their parents who are to blame for breaking the law.

So your solution is to round up and deport the 11.5 million people who are here illegally? Really? I hate to break it to you, but that isn't going to happen, no matter who gets elected in November. 

Why is the beltway inherently "conservative" as Rachel Maddow says? Moreover, the things that are accepted "truths" are often disparate from the rest of the country. An example would be all the hand wringing over a relatively mild Obama Campaign piece about Bain Capital. Are beltway types just dedicated to imposing their viewpoint upon all the rubes from outside? Or is there a bigger problem with their detachment? Certainly, basing the Obama reelect campaign in Chicago reflects this.

People who live and work inside the Beltway are not stupid and I wouldn't say they're conservative. They do tend to gravitate toward the agreed-upon conventional wisdom about EVERYTHING. Actually, let me take back part of that answer, because they -- we -- could accurately be described as small-c conservative, in the sense of being resistant to change. We're comfortable with the old R's vs. D's narrative, and we tend to discount anything that challenges this framework.

"The Latino vote" meme, and its application to campaigning, implies -- insultingly, IMO -- that people of Latino origin are all pretty much the same. We're not. We or our ancestors hailed from a wide range of nations, and some of us might be so Americanized that we don't even speak Spanish (or Portuguese, in the case of Brazil). Some may have arrived recently, while others (e.g., Linda Chaves, Eva Longoria, both of whose genealogies Dr. Gates profiled on his PBS series) trace their families back to long before the American Revolution.

The same can be said of African-Americans or any other group. But Hispanic-Americans did vote for Obama over McCain by two-to-one, and are favoring Obama over Romney by the same margin. 

Our history has been one of current residents fighting allowing more immigrants into our nation. History also tells us that we have grown as a nation by allowing more immigrants. Indeed, more so today in a global economy with extreme global competition, I believe the nations that will grow will be the ones that attract an increasing labor supply, not those that shut them out. I hope we realize this.

I hope so, too. Our skill at welcoming immigrants gives this country a huge competitive advantage, and it would be insane to give this up.

Who really are the independents: are they more liberal or conservative, and which candidate is more likely to win them over to his side. Thanks...

You can make any argument you want about the independents -- they're center-right, they're center-left. My view is that, by definition, they're center-center -- and yes, they're up for grabs. 

How? C'mon, Gene- you can do better than to spout a tired platitude and pass it off as a fact. The states have practically run a GOTV campaign for people to get registered, and to secure proper ID for citizens who do not have it- between vans taking people to DMVs, and mobile units getting to areas that might have transportation issues, it's almost a conspiracy of *GASP* civic mindedness. Added the fact that you can't buy tobacco, rent/lease/buy a car, receive government assistance, or get on an airplane without ID, the social benefits have exceeded the intended goal. Just the facts, man.

On the contrary: Some states, including Florida, have made it much more difficult to conduct voter registration drives. I've written that voter ID is a solution in search of a problem. It would be worth debating if we had a problem of voter fraud. We do not.

Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona arrested a 6 year old yesterday on suspected immigration violations. When the states do not show reasonable discretion in discharging their duties, then the federal government has every right to step in.


In a perfect world, everyone would follow the rules and we wouldn't have an issue with illegal immigration. Clearly, we do not live in a perfect world. We also don't have endless resources to spend on rounding up all of the undocumented immigrants in this country. That means we have to set priorities. I'm absolutely in favor of the approach Pres. Obama is taking, since I would rather our limited funds go toward deporting those who have committed crimes (I don't believe illegal immigration itself is a crime - it is a violation of a civil law, not a criminal one) or are otherwise dangers to society. It is cruel to focus on the children who did nothing wrong when we have other priorities. Or, are all of the anti-illegal immigration people willing to have their taxes raised by the large percentage needed in order to carry out this mass deportation? My guess is No.

You are correct. Look, everyone knows there isn't going to be a mass deportation. So, given that obvious fact, where do we go? Your approach is quite reasonable.

So why not start with Rubio's proposal that we only allow this for those who want to give back to the country by joining the military. Oh wait, that would actually require acknowledgement that conservatives aren't the boogiemen MSNBC & the DNC want to make them out to be. Hell you might even have to find common ground. You would rather ferment hate then push compromise.

My understanding is that Sen. Rubio has decided not to go forward with his planned legislation. Maybe some other Republican senator or representative will present a bill. I'll be waiting patiently.


And that's all the patience, I mean time, I have for today, folks. Thanks, as always, for joining the discussion, and I'll 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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