Eugene Robinson Live

Jul 31, 2012

Robinson discussed his latest columns and political news.

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Olympics Edition of our weekly chat. Actually, I don't think we'll spend much time talking about the games themselves, but I guess we might touch on Mitt Romney's faux pas in London -- and maybe, if anyone is following it, the progress of his dancing horse. Today's column is about Mitt's Excellent Overseas Adventure. Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome. Time for this one to come home. (Extra points and an AARP card for anyone who gets the reference.) Let's get started.

Gene, I see the democrats are constantly trying to shift the focus from the disastrous economy, to minor stories. Do you honestly think anyone is going vote for Obama over Romney because he made what was by almost all accounts a true statement ( that London has been poorly prepared and the games are being mismanaged). London has a media that makes Rush Limbaugh look tame, so its no surprise about how they reacted. Obama would be wise to concentrate of fixing the economy, but so far he and his supporters appear preoccupied with taking shots at Romney over meaningless issues like insulting the Olympics.

Um, actually it was Mitt Romney who shifted the focus. By taking this trip. And making a big deal about it. He believed, rightly, that demonstrating an ability to walk boldly and confidently across the world stage was important to his prospects of winning the election. I'm sure you believe it all worked out just as he had hoped.

So, Romney went to Israel and praised their government mandated health care system. And wondered in awe how they keep their costs so low but the outcomes so good. So it's good enough for Israel, but the most horrific affront to liberty at home? Explain to me how this guy might actually win?

It's a mystery, but that's what the polls say. Actually, it was a pretty amazing moment, wasn't it? But we knew, didn't we, that Romney was a fan of "socialized medicine." I mean, he did invent Obamacare...

After watching Romney stumble all week traveling the world, I can't see how any two people (Romney & President Obama) can be any more different. How can someone still be undecided at this point? Who are these people?

Actually, some polls suggest there are fewer truly undecided voters this time. If that's the case, the campaigns are really just fighting for a few votes here and there at the margins. Imagine how much each vote is costing...

They can't handle the truth. Why are you having bouts of amnesia regarding the problems the Brits were having with the Olympics? A private security firm coming up 6,000 workers short for the games, airport security workers threatening to go on strike - and now they keep having a bunch of empty seats at all these venues. Meanwhile, my favorite Romney moment in Israel was when he reminded everybody that Jerusalem is the capitol of Israel, a fact that Jay Carney just couldn't bring himself to say last week. Now that was embarassing.

The simple answer is that it is impolite -- some would say boorish -- to insult one's hosts, especially on a matter of no geopolitical importance whatsoever. And about Jerusalem: The Obama administration's policy is the same as that of every White House since Richard Nixon's, which is that the stataus of Jerusalem is to be determined in final status talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That's what Reagan said, that's what George W. Bush said, that's what every president has said since the 1967 war. Just to clarify.

Gene, does Mr. Romney know that the Republican primary season is over? I'm shocked at how he continually appears to make statements and appearances that appeal to his base as opposed to the Etch-a-Sketch move to the middle. The conventional wisdom is that you run to the center in the general and it doesn't appear that Romney is capable of doing this. He should be ahead in the polling, it should be his election to lose in a stagnant economy following financial collapse, but he's on a steady trajectory to lose an election based on electoral votes and not the national mood of the electorate towards the incumbent.

I hear often from Republicans who don't think Romney has shown himself to be a particularly good campaigner. Given the lineup of primary contenders, though, I wonder who would be doing better?

I think that voting is a right of every american citizen but it is also a responsibility. While I think that it should not be difficult to vote it also should not be taken lightly nor designed to facilate fraud or abuse. In this post 9/11 era when citizens have given up most of their freedoms in the name of security I can not understand how people in this country can function without proper identification. Requiring an ID to vote does not seem like a big deal especially since anyone who does not have one can get it for free

Voter ID remains a solution in search of a problem. There is no voter fraud of the type that voter ID is designed to prohibit. In the Pennsylvania court case over that state's voter ID law, the state stipulated that it will make no claim that impersonation fraud has been prosecuted -- or even that it has occurred. At all. There are people who live their lives without a state-issued piece of identification. That's freedom, right? And when you make these people go to a state office -- often miles away -- to get one, in order to exercise their right to vote, you will inevitably disenfranchise someone. This is acceptable only if there's a good reason, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has admitted that there isn't one.

Gene, while I understand the the GOP absolutely hates Mr. Obama, they aren't necessarily thrilled about Mr. Romney either. At some point, do you think that the graybeards of the GOP will start coming out and voicing their discomfort with Mr. Romney's apparent lack of foreign policy command? The presidency is about the unknown. What you deal with in the election is not what you'll deal with in office. Mr. Romney does appear to be nimble enough to handle a foreign policy crisis or any crisis outside of his laser focus on the economy. My point is that Mr. Obama was elected due to his opposition to a failed war and that war has been completely inconsequential in his presidency. If Mr. Romney is elected to handle a stagnant economy and while in office is tasked to handle something having to do with foreign policy, does anyone have confidence in his competence at this point?

That's a good question, but I tend to agree with the conventional wisdom that the election will be decided primarily on economic issues. Romney's lack of savoir faire, however, won't help him. And you never know what events might shift the focus overseas.

Gene, it's striking to see that whenever Mr. Romney's handlers let him out of his controlled box, he stumbles and bumbles his way through events. While this may have worked for a weak incumbent, it will never work for a weak challenger. Do you think that Mr. Romney's propensity to say inopportune things will finally catch up with him or will his campaign be able to hide him away long enough for the voters to not see him in action?

You can run in a presidential campaign, but you can't hide. Actually, if you recall, Romney is a pretty good debater. In those set-piece confrontations with President Obama, Romney may well hold his own. But as for his performance in uncontrolled settings, he will have to get better if he hopes to win.

What garbage from Boston and Chicago officials. Let's try this on them: Suppose your state (as many do) defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Let's suppose you as a business owner advocate gay marriage. Would an official in that state be justified in saying your business should not be able to operate there because the owner advocates something against the state's policy? Of course not. No difference with Chick-fil-A is there?

I've never eaten at Chick-fil-A, and now I never will. Individuals have an absolute right, in my opinion, to express their disapproval of a business owner's political views by not patronizing that business. There's a well-known barbecue restaurant in my home state of South Carolina that's owned by one of the last dyed-in-the-wool, unrepentant segregationists, and I would eat my shoe before I ate his food (or mentioned the establishment's name). That said, I actually agree that public officials don't have the latitude to bar a business simply because of the owner's views. If the business violates the law -- say, by discriminating against gay people -- then such action can of course be justified. I think a mayor can also use the bully pulpit. But I'm uncomfortable with the idea of barring a business absent some violation of law.

Do you think Romney really didn't know Israel has socialized medicine? Wouldn't that have been one of the points in Briefing 101?

If not, the briefer should be fired.

What is more disturbing than Romney's statements is how his defenders (and I'm talking about general people, not campaign staff or pundits) keep saying he was just being honest, and analyzing like a business man. Do you think they really don't understand the diplomacy deficit, or are they intentionally trying to frame the issue differently?

I think it's denial. And I'm not talking about a river in Africa.

Eugene: I was dumbfounded to see Sheldon Adelson palling around with Mitt Romney in Israel! What is your opinion on Sheldon Adelson's support of Mitt Romney? #1...I thought these super PAC donors were not supposed to coordinate with the candidate. #2...Sheldon Adelson has close ties with Israel and numerous foreign investments, including Israel and Macau. Does not this give credence to concerns of foreign money influencing U.S. elections? Thanks, Joyce in Arizona

I have to assume that Adelson and Romney were smart enough to keep up the fiction about the campaign and the "independent" SuperPac being totally separate and uncoodinated. So no casual chatting about airtime buys in Ohio and Florida. Look, Adelson is so rabidly opposed to President Obama that he's apparently prepared to spend up to $100 million to try to defeat him. If he calls, Romney's going to pick up the phone. As for the sources of Adelson's money, assuming everything he does is legal, we should just report and the people can decide.

It is obvious to me, a privileged, late middle aged white male, that voter ID laws are specifically targeted at the poor and elderly. There are entire counties in Texas where there is no office of the state's motor vehicle department, where official IDs are available. What person without a car, trying to get by on a $6 an hour job, is going to take a day off from work and try to get to the next county by bus or some other conveyance?

You're absolutely right. People will be disenfranchised, and Republican officials are convinced those people will be Democrats.

Hi Gene, Are you amazed at the percentages of people still thinking Obama is foreign born and Muslim? Do you think those that say it really believe it or just like pretending when asked by a pollster?

Some of both, probably.

I have actually made these points before on this chat but it appears some have missed them. The *states* provide the ID for free--that is true. But *every* state requires a birth certiciate in order to obtain that ID. That can cost as much as $50 in some states--AG Eric Holder is correct--that is a form of poll tax. Additionally, during the Jim Crow era, unfortunately, Black people were considered less than human--so many were not even given birth certificates or some hospitals would not accept Black, pregnant women. Therefore, elderly Black people are disenfranchised. Also, this is new but did you hear about the former GOP head in Florida who said that the purpose of the voter purges was to "keep the blacks from voting" or the Republican in PA who admitted voter ID would help Romney win the state?

Thanks. At this point, Republicans should just drop the pretense and say, "We're doing this because we can and because we know it will help us win elections."

I don't understand how sequestration can be labeled "Obama's fault" or "Obama is cutting the military." Everyone and their mother knew that across the board cuts (including the military) is what would happen if Congress couldn't get their acts together and figure out how to play nice. Even the Congressmen and women knew (by agreeing to it) and they STILL couldn't work together. It baffles me know to hear Congressmen and military contractors "blame" the President for this. Will this "blaming Obama" actually work even though it goes against what really happened?

As you know, "blame Obama" is the standard GOP tactic for every circumstance. But it doesn't always work.

Gene, after seeing Mr. Romney continually flail whenever he has unscripted moments, do you think his campaign will nix that town hall style debate that is usually the format of at least one of the presidential debates? They have to be worried that if their man gets asked a question he hasn't prepared for like a dozen times that he'll go into Romney mode from autopilot and tell the voters what he really thinks which hasn't worked out all that well for him so far.

I don't know if they can avoid it. They might just have to give Romney a long list of topics to stay away from: firing people, Cadillacs, car elevators, Israeli health care, any Olympic Games other than Salt Lake City, culture, Bain, income taxes...

Gene, in all of the national polling, this presidential race is as tight as can be. With the recent missteps and gaffes of Mr. Romney, it makes one wonder whether voters are really in the mindset to judge Mr. Obama strictly on something he has little influence on, the economy, instead of his plans and policies. It seems reasonable to assume that if this were a competition between the candidates, Mr. Romney would lose terribly. Does it make sense to continue to frame the election around an issue that cannot be controlled by the office as opposed to the issues that can?

Presidents get credit when the economy is good and blame when it's bad. Neither is really deserved, but that's the way it is. Presidents are also judged on intangibles like "likeability," which may not be fair, either. If you run for president, you know what you're getting yourself into.


That's all for today, I'm afraid. My time is up. Thanks so much, and (SPOILER ALERT) congratulations to the U.S. women's gymnastics team! 

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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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