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Eugene Robinson Live

Sep 11, 2012

Robinson discussed his latest columns and political news.

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to the first Homestretch Edition of our weekly chat. The infomercials, I mean conventions, are behind us. Amen to that. The overwhelming Big Media consensus is that the Charlotte meeting was livelier, better orchestrated and more successful than the Tampa meeting, and the polls seem to agree. Romney didn't get a bounce; Obama did. There's still plenty of time, but Republicans appear increasingly mystified at the Romney campaign strategy, which seems to be: "Vote for me; it's enough that I'm not President Obama." Today's column attempts to sort out Romney's ever-changing position on Obamacare. At this point, your guess is as good as mine. Let's begin.

The DNC took God and Jerusalem out of their platform., then they put both back in - but they clearly didn't have the two-thirds vote to legitimately do. so. Sandra Fluke and other liberals were still complaining about Rush Limbaugh's "slut" comment but were still totally silent about the non-stop hatred that Bill Maher spews out of his mouth. Jennifer Granholm's speech was apparently delivered on caffeine overload, Bill Clinton's speech was 20 minutes too long, and President Obama's speech was all hat and no cattle. So do you think this circus/convention was a success?

The American people seem to think so. Clint Eastwood and the empty chair may disagree.

As you know, there is a new piece in the New York Times by Kurt Eichenwald suggesting that the Bush administration, including Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, etc. not only ignored the infamous Aug 6, 2011 PDB, but many other warnings that summer about an al Qaeda plot. Given that, do you think the Bush administration was merely incompetent, or were they actually hoping that al Qaeda would pull something that would give them an excuse to attack Iraq? My hypothesis is the latter, although I give them credit for a little compassion - I don't think they had any idea the attack would be as bad as it was. That part is a failure of imagination (although Tom Clancy's 1994 novel "Debt of Honor" spelled it out). But I think they figured it would be like the USS Cole, and would accept the collateral damage as necessary to their higher goal of invading Iraq. That part is spelled out in the New American Century document written by a bunch of neocons who were part of the Bush administration. What do you think? Incompetent or evil?

First, let me take the opportunity to note the anniversary. We must remember the innocent people who lost their lives. To your question, I have no patience for 9/11 conspiracy theories and don't believe there's a shred of truth in any of them. Anyone who reads my column knows I fault George W. Bush and his administration for many, many things, but the suggestion that he or any other official was "hoping" for an al-Qaeda attack is ridiculous. Nobody wanted 9/11 to happen except al-Qaeda.

Do you agree that the pace of folks trying to disassociate themselves from Romney is on the upswing? Gerson's column today left that impression with me. Or is it still too soon to tell?

Michael Gerson is certainly not a rat. He's a good columnist with whom I disagree about many things. That said, as I noted in my intro, Republicans seem increasingly mystified by Romney's campaign strategy and performance. I think they realize that the race could tip decisively at any time, and that at the moment it certainly doesn't seem to be tipping in Romney's direction.

Are the Republicans panicking about Mitt Romney? Panic within his own campaign. Panic by GOP elected officials.

At this point, puzzlement and concern. Not panic. Not yet.

Have we ever had a candidate for President like Romney ? I picture him at the head of the table of his advisors slamming his fist on the table and barking - "WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT I NEED TO SAY TO GET ELECTED!", and his advisors all talking at once throwing ideas at him while Romney absorbs it all. Then he goes out and it all comes out like some mash-up. It was much easier in the primary where the words he needed to say went out to a less ideologically diverse audience. He really seems to have no internal compass.

That appears to be the problem. Who is he and what does he propose to do? Those really are relevant questions and I wonder why he doesn't answer them.

Gene, why is it that both sides want to ignore Mr. Obama's convention bounce? It feels like Dems are still skittish and the GOP is in complete denial. The reality is, most folks thought Obama was going to win at the beginning of the year and while that confidence has been shaken by tight polls, it appears that this bounce is starting to show a solid, although slight, lead for the president. The Romney campaign obviously knows they're losing so why is it that they still can't seem to be able to pivot to a more centrist campaign?

The definition of a bounce is that it goes up and comes down. But maybe it doesn't come down all the way. Maybe it doesn't come down very much at all. So it's prudent to be cautious. The general view is that here's what is significant: Obama got a bounce but Romney didn't. That probably tells us something, and the numbers we're seeing are real, but there's no reason at this point to be popping any champagne corks.

Gene, all signs point to the first debate as the last potential game changer. Seeing as most Americans will probably only watch the first presidential debate and then maybe the VP debate, it feels like this is Romney's last shot at altering the race. Even though some folks point to his strong debates during the GOP primaries, there are two things to consider. One, those folks were clowns. Two, Mr. Lehrer is very skilled and smart and apparently has some flexibility to move the debate around, which could be potentially harmful to Mr. Romney who has shown a propensity for gaffes in unscripted moments and chafes when he's questioned directly or harshly. Do you see this as the last chance for any shift in the race or could some major flub in the later debates be just as harmful?

It's never too late for a shift. Somebody could make a huge mistake. Events could intervene. I agree that the first debate will be important, but it won't end the potential for turning points.

How can you assert that Romney's Medicare plan wouldn't cover the full cost for seniors? The Ryan-Wyden plan has private insurers plus Medicare bid on providing a set level of coverage for seniors in a given geographic area. The government reimbursement rate is set equal to the cost of the second-lowest bid. So there would always be two plans that provide the government-mandated level of benefits available that are fully covered by the voucher. The bidding system should reduce costs, but seniors will not face any increased out-of-pocket expenses.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that voucherizing Medicare would cost seniors an average of $6,400 more per year. So that's how I can make that assertion.

Hi Gene-Despite the fact of your intro characterizing Romney's strategy as "Vote for me, I'm not President Obama" isnt the broader strategy aimed at motivating the base to get out and vote? This seems so competely off base as the republican base can not be more motivated despite their nominee and his policies(whatever they maybe). This election will undoubtedly come down to independents and Romney has vacated the middle to Obama. In additon, his rightward tilt with the VP pick and overall strategy of cowtowing to the right wing of his party has actually motivated more democrats to get out and vote. If anything, a middle right campaign seems the logical choice but obviously this was discarded by Romney and his team early on. Am I missing something? Is there internal polling or some other matrix I haven't seen motivating this strategy?

Beats me. Maybe the Romney folks think this is a total "base" election and will depend entirely on each party's ability to get its most fervent supporters to the polls. It's true that there are not many undecided voters this year, but there are enough to make a difference. The Obama campaign believes these undecideds have to break heavily for Romney for him to win the election. If this is true, you'd think Romney might ask for these people's votes.

Do you think the strike will impact the presidential race? If so, how?

Good question, and I don't know the answer. My guess is that the White House just wants it to end, and soon. If he wanted -- or thought he needed to -- I suppose Obama could use it as some kind of Sister Souljah moment and come out in solidarity with Mayor Emanuel. Or he could just stay out of it.

Gene, I think we need to christen a new Carville-ism. The election fundamentals are terrible for the president, he should be in the for the worst incumbent defeat in a generation instead of a potentially strong victory, or what I would call the narrow landslide, where the president racks up a bunch of electoral votes on 1-2 point statewide victories. Can we now put to rest the idea that campaigns don't matter? It appears that the GOP has run god awful campaigns in two straight cycles and are going to lose two winnable races.

If Obama wins, I think there's a chance we'll look back and say two things about the GOP. First, they need to pick better candidates. Second, they need to stop alienating Latino voters.

Gene, Romney is obviously not going to carry his "home state" of MA (he's barely competing). I have asked all my politically savvy friends if anyone has ever won a presidential election and lost his home state and the best answer has been Gore, who lost TN but won the popular vote. Do you think this is significant or will most people just assume that MA is too blue (the Senate race notwithstanding) to make a difference?

Both campaigns see Massachusetts as a big pot of campaign money. Neither will lose sleep over the fact that Obama will win there handily.

Gene, I know that there are folks out there who think Romney can win the debates. I remember John Kerry abusing Mr. Bush and he still lost. Does Mr. Obama have that level of cushion to survive the debates or does he need a draw or win to maintain his advantage? While there is a strong GOP narrative of Obama the Teleprompter Man, they apparently forgot about the time he made the GOP House caucus look like schoolchildren when he attended their conference a few years ago and opened himself up to their question time.

I don't expect a knockout in the debates. If you recall, Romney got better and better during the GOP debates; he'll be no pushover. Obama will hold his own. Romney will be at a disadvantage in the last debate -- on foreign policy -- but the first, on domestic policy, is likely to be more important.

On MTP Sunday, Romney said rich people will pay the exact same taxes as they do not; they'd have a lower rate, but their loopholes would close. My 2 questions are 1) if the job creators are paying the exact same taxes, then what will they create jobs with? And 2) if rich people will pay the exact same taxes, why bother wasting time on this and why not focus on our problems? Thanks!

Good questions. Romney's policy on taxes is perhaps even more opaque and disingenuous than his policy on health care reform.

Eugene: Thanks always for your thoughtful commentary. I was in Tampa for the RNC (as a guest, not a delegate), and ended up in a bar on Wednesday with a lot of Ron Paul delegates who had walked out of the convention, being very unhappy with how they and Dr. Paul were treated. All of them said they now intended to vote for Libertarian candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. How well do you think Johnson will do nationally and in key swing states? Is it a given Johnson takes more votes from Romney than Obama or does he draw from both? Thanks!

I'd be surprised if Johnson has a meaningful impact on the race, but it's something Romney has to be more worried about than Obama. 

You noted that some "Republicans seem increasingly mystified by Romney's campaign strategy and performance." I recall reading that when Romney met with Rupert Murdoch and a few other GOP lords, he similarly mystified them. The article said that Murdoch & Co. was looking for a passionate vision from Romney. Instead, they got a PowerPoint presentation full of numbers.

Remember a few weeks ago when Romney used a whiteboard at a campaign stop? I said at the time (on MSNBC) that if he ever actually gives a PowerPoint presentation during the campaign, he loses. I don't think Americans want The Guy Who Gives PowerPoint presentations as their president. Romney's campaign people should be working to curb this tendency.

Hi Eugene, If Mr. Romney meant what he said about allowing fallibly coverage “up to whatever age they might like” his proposal is more generous than the cursed Obamacare. Is Mitt a puppet that need to be corrected by his handlers who will say he didn’t mean this either?

You're talking about what Romney said about family health insurance coverage on "Meet the Press." I have no idea whether he meant what he said -- which is that there should be no age cutoff at all for family coverage. How, exactly, is that going to work?

One big talking point for the GOP is about how the Dems in the Senate have failed to submit/pass a budget for years. I really haven't heard a response/excuse to this from the leadership. Being as how you're the apologist for all things in the DP, I'm interested in hearing your spin.

I've criticized congressional Democrats for this failing many times. We elect our national lawmakers to do a job, and they should do it.

Mainly missing from today's news, but the anniversary still means a lot to most people. I recently was at a restaurant overseas called "New York," which had an oil patining of the Manhattan skyline. Including the Twin Towers. It hit home. Yesterday, I saw a news report of Mitt Romney standing on a stage with Pat Robertson, apparently getting an endorsement from Robertson but not mentioning the fact that Robertson had said right after 9/11 that the events were God's vengeance for our country's wicked ways. Rep. Akin was chastized even by his own party for much less. Yet Robertson still has influence and is apparently courted by a candidate wanting to appear conservative.

Americans have short memories.

Every time you write about Paul Ryan's Medicaqre plan you omit that his plan is co-authored by liberal Dem. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon? This senior feels you are simply trying to mislead by omitting this fact. Your comment?

Because that's not true, according to Sen. Wyden. He and Paul Ryan did co-author a policy paper -- not a piece of actual legislation -- that contains some provisions similar to those in the Ryan budget. But there are important differences, among them that Wyden's proposed ideas are within the framework of the Affordable Care Act while Ryan, of course, wants to repeal the ACA. Even Ryan doesn't claim that Wyden is in any sense a co-author of his plan.

How, exactly, will "the marketplace" take care of those with pre-existing conditions if Obamacare is repealed? It's done a bang-up job so far.

We all know what the marketplace will do, and it's not pretty.

Well, folks, my time is up for today. Thanks for another lively hour of conversation, 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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