Eugene Robinson Live

Aug 28, 2012

Robinson discussed his latest columns and political news.

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Hi, everyone, and greetings from Tampa, where the sun is shining. The humidity is pretty oppressive today, but you've probably heard enough weather-related complaints about this convention. Other than that, we're still waiting for something to happen. Ann Romney speaks tonight, and so does Chris Christie, so we'll have something to write about tonight. Today's column was about how the GOP has adopted Medicare as its very favorite government program. Who knew? Let's get started.

I see the recent Washington Post/ABC poll that shows Romney a point ahead of President Obama, and I am deeply worried. Please tell me something encouraging, something about polls fluctuations and the likelihood that President Obama will win. Please.

Polls do fluctuate, and I'd start taking them seriously a month from now, after both conventions are over and any bounce for either candidate has dissipated. That said, I think it's been a good week or so for Romney (after a good couple of weeks for Obama).

The Republicans seem to be doubling down on their welfare commercial that Obama wants to eliminate the work requirements. Numerous newspaper articles have basically concluded that this is a falsehood based on requests from Republican governors for flexibility. Yet, articles and commentary seem to mention this in passing, at best, and go on to whatever shiny object got their attention recently. Is the media really giving Romney a pass for making a lie a center piece of his campaign? I don't get it.

We don't have the power to force a candidate to stop telling a lie. We can report that it's a lie -- and we've done a pretty good job of that, in my opinion, although we can still do better -- but we can't stop the Republicans if they want to continue to trumpet this blatant falsehood. Ultimately, voters will have to decide whom to believe.

This senior realizes the current system is wholly unsustainable. Apparently, you do not as you support the tired Dem catchphrase of the Repubs wanting to "end Medicare as we know it." Every responsible citizen knows that if we don't significantly change (yes, that means "end") the current system, disaster awaits.

I don't believe that's true. I don't believe it is necessary to destroy Medicare in order to save it. What we really need to do is slow the skyrocketing increase in medical costs -- something Republicans used to support but now, apparently, oppose.

Gene, whose speech matters the most and whose would have the least impact, outside of Mr. Romney? It feels like that for the GOP, the two most important speeches are Gov. Christie and Sen. Rubio, but for Mr. Romney, it's gotta be Ann's speech tonight, right?

Gov. Christie's speech is important to Gov. Christie, and Sen. Rubio's to Sen. Rubio. Ann Romney's speech and Paul Ryan's have impact that's more than just personal, but the one speech that really matters, in my opinion, is Mitt Romney's. He's the one on the ballot. He's the one who wants to be commander in chief.

I've read about many, many Republicans (led by Romney whose criticism was swift) calling for Akin to drop out of the MO Senate race as a result of his comments. Where are the Dems calling for the same? And please, don't answer by referring to the Republican platform. This question is addressed solely to what seems to be a desire by the Dems to win a Senate race rather than make a principled stand. Oh, yes, the Dems contributed $1.5 million to support Akin in the primary (according to the Post), so aren't they responsible for his comments?

Karl Rove predicts that Akin will lose by the biggest margin of any Republican senatorial candidate in history. I'd like to know when either political party has called for a week opponent to withdraw in favor of a stronger opponent. Seems to me that Democrats who sincerely believe in their party's policies should want to win that Senate race.

Gene, wouldn't it be nice for the debates to be focused on the candidate's jobs plans? Mr. Obama has a Keynesian plan to generate jobs, the American Jobs Act, which the public virtually has forgotten. Meanwhile, Mr. Romney's plan is to cut taxes and unleash this pent up economy. Okay, so can we please have a forum where expert opinions on the viability of these plans are submitted to the candidates for comment and rebuttal? Or, is that too much to ask for in a campaign where all we should be talking about is jobs?

After we've exhausted all the extraneous stuff, maybe we'll get to substance.

When will either party talk honestly about realistic ways of getting America's debt under control?

See previous answer.

It seems clear to me that a lot of Romney's appeals are predicated on, at least, covert racism. I mean, the disproportionate emphasis on bogeymans of welfare-past doesn't work because people are objectively prioritizing their concern about welfare. It works because it touches on this nerve of resentment and that nerve is rooted in race. So all that galls me. But what really makes me want to pull my hair out is that when those tactics get called out, it seems to only to amplify the effect of these tactics -- by further stoking a resentment towards this presidency via racial animosity. Is there a way to call it out without amplifying it? It feels like a dirty, nasty lose-lose.

If you ignore dog-whistle racial politics, you let the practitioners get away with it. If you call them out, you get accused of "playing the race card" -- and you give wider circulation to the slimy stuff in question. I say call them out. I don't believe in suffering in silence. However, I think you do try to calculate how best to do the calling-out so that your message gets heard. 

How many people still watch the conventions, and who are these people? I ask because if the viewership has diminished to 10 million or so people, then their true impact is effectively nil and we're wasting a lot of time with the blanket coverage.

What blanket coverage? The broadcast networks are giving very limited prime-time coverage to the conventions, and while the cable networks are going wall-to-wall -- except for the cutaways to the Isaac story -- I have to wonder how many people are watching. It will be interesting to see what the ratings are. My guess is that from now on, conventions will be three days, maximum. These used to be party gatherings to select candidates and set policy. Now they are giant infomercials.

I apologize in advance for asking you to predict the behavior of all African Americans in November. I'm sure you get too much of that. But I'm going to do it anyway. Is your gut feeling that blacks will turn out and vote for Obama the way they did in 2008? Because, to put it crudely, I have a strong feeling that the only way Romney can win is if only old white people show up at the polls.

If I had to guess, I'd predict that one unintended consequence of the Republicans' decision to blow the "welfare" dog whistle will be a measurable boost in African American turnout from what it otherwise would have been.

Are you surprised that the GOP has tried its best to keep the more divisive figures such as Trump, Palin, and West away from speaking?

Not at all. The party knows how divisive these figures are.

Pat Buchanan went full-on culture warrior at the Republican convention in, I believe, 1992. A lot of people think he contributed substantially to Clinton's victory by turning so many people off. Any chance we'll see something similar in Tampa?

I doubt it. Most of those who might have been capable of a Buchanan Moment have been neutralized or kept away.

Do you think the upcoming debates will have an impact on the election? It seems like nothing is moving the needle one way or the other in a big way during this presidential election.

The debates seem likely to be hugely important. If no one scores a knockout, the election may come down to which side has the better ground game and is more able to get its voters to the polls.

I find it amusing the GOP put up a debt clock. I bet you will not hear any responsibility they have for amassing a majority of it, especially the last decade

Not a peep.

Okay, I'm middle aged and doing okay. And I certainly know better than to lump entire demographic groups of people together. But honestly, in my heart of hearts, I'm feeling pretty resentful of the over-65 (or maybe over-70) crowd lately. So many of them seem to have done well (often with relatively limited skill sets, union support, generous paternalistic companies with defined benefit pensions and good health plans, and/or assorted government programs like the GI Bill), and yet are eager to pull all of those things out from under younger people. I know that my anger is over-broad, and that many seniors don't fit in that group. But am I the only one who finds himself thinking those thoughts almost in spite of myself? Do you see where I'm coming from?

I do, in this sense. I see the Romney-Ryan position -- we won't touch Medicare for those over 55, and we'll voucherize it for those who are younger -- is an invitation for those over 55 to be selfish. In effect, they're inviting older Americans to say, "I've got mine, too bad there's none left for you." It's a gamble. I'm betting that a lot of people over 55 believe that the essential promise of health care on one's golden years should be maintained for younger Americans, too.

Gene, at what point does the Romney campaign's overt tilt to go after so-called blue collar whites backfire? While people may be upset about the economy, they genuinely liked the idea that America had gotten over it's racist past. This strategy feels like it could convert some potential Romney voters into the None of the Above category rather than moving voters from Obama to Romney.

It's risky. Most people do not like to be thought of as racist -- and for many, I believe, this includes wink-wink appeals to get in touch with their assumed racial fears and resentments. So votes the Republicans win in a working-class Ohio city like Youngstown might be offset by votes they lose in the affluent white suburbs of Cleveland.

That's all for today, folks. My time is up. Thanks, and see you 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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