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Eugene Robinson Live

Oct 16, 2012

Robinson discussed his latest columns and political news.

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly chat. (Except that I missed the last couple of weeks, but who's counting?) It's all about the debate today. Have to apologize in advance, because I can only do about 45 minutes today before I head out to Long Island and Debateland. Let's get started.

Gene, even with the Debacle in Denver, Romney has only nudged into a tie and his prospects outside of the south are still dim. But without Ohio, his path seems virtually impossible considered the polling averages. Is there an alternate route to 270 that would be viable even with the tailwinds he currently has?

Yes, but. There's always an alternative way, involving Wisconsin and Colorado and some other states, but it's very hard for Romney without Ohio. 

If I had a guest in my house, and that guest acted the way Joe Biden acted last Thursday, I would have thrown him out on his ear. Smirking, giggling, constantly interrupting, laughing at inappropriate times - so why did liberals celebrate his debate performance?

Because a lot of people focused more on what he said than how he said it. He was clear and well-informed, and he got Paul Ryan to own up to some of his more ridiculous ideas. The fact that conservatives are so focused on facial expressions and the interventions of the moderator tells me that in substance, Biden clearly won the debate.

Gene, what's the one debate question you can predict will neither be asked nor answered?

Mr. Romney, a lot of Americans believe you're hiding something about your finances. Did you take advantage of the Swiss bank amnesty?

Hi Gene, Are you surprised at how easy it has been for Romney to morph from the extremist conservative of the primaries to moderate almost liberal for the general election? Is this simple transition all the fault of the Obama campaign or does the media have some responsibility for pointing out Mit's old positions vs. new ones?

The media are pointing out the many shifts, as evidence by the fact that you know all about them. The Obama campaign can't control what Romney says. All they can do is contrast his words today with what he said yesterday. Voters can assess for themselves how since he is, or was.

Gene, it seems rather odd that some polls are tightening while others remain consistent. What's the likelihood that Romney got an enthusiasm bump and maybe some leaners to commit but did not, in fact, turn Obama voters?

Very strong. There was very little movement by committed Obama voters or committed Romney voters. But some persuadable and undecided voters clearly shifted to Romney. Now the Obama campaign will try to shift them back.

You know, the really impressive thing about Mitt's performance is how much better it gets with age. A week and a half ago, it was just "strong," but when you listen to the previews today, it was "dominating" and "devastating" to Obama.

It was pretty dominating at the time, if you ask me. Obama will try to erase that memory tonight.

Gene, it appears that both sides are complaining about polls. Does that communicate a nervousness or are folks trying to gin up enthusiasm?

I'm mystified, because all the complaining from both sides communicates weakness and anxiety. They're trying to keep up the spirits of the faithful and generate or sustain momentum, but whining is never attractive.

I went to school in Potomac, MD at a private school in the same athletic division as Obama's daughters school. There were numerous African American families who were extremely well off and did not need any additional help. Should we change the focus of Affirmative Action from something that is purely race based to something that is poverty based (assuming this can be designed). The whole point was to create oppertunities for those who otherwise would not have it. Is the white kid who lives in a trailer park or a Asain kid growing up in a high crime area any less deserving of special treatment? There are reasons to help foster a upwardly mobile higher education (and not limit it to the middle or upper class), I don't see the reason to conduct this based on race.

I wrote a book, "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America," that came down for means-testing affirmative action. But I didn't call for race to be taken out of the equation, and I don't think it should be. Perhaps someday it will be possible to draw a bright line between race and class, but we're not there yet.

I suspect you won't post this observation, but I am not the only woman who feels that the press has failed badly in not pushing Romney to state where he agrees or disagrees with his church's teachings on women. This is not a Kennedy-esque character who sat in the pews on Sunday morning. Romney held a position for many years that was equivalent to a Catholic archbishop. His church's website contains a statement from the president -- who Mormons consider to be a modern-day prophet -- that men are to "preside" over the family and women are primarily responsible for nurturing children. Given Romney's statements on fair pay, contraception, and abortion, he should have been asked whether he supports the church's "revelation" on women's roles. Romney has said his religion is off-limits, despite his role as a bishop. Would the press have treated a Catholic bishop running for office in the same way? I doubt it.

I don't believe Romney's position in the Mormon church and the position of a bishop in the celibate Roman Catholic clergy are the same. Nonetheless, when candidates talk about their faith I believe it's fair to ask how those beliefs affect their views on policy.

Word has it that Romney very successfully employed the "Gish Gallop" at the first debate, a technique named for creationist Duane Gish. It involves smothering your opponent in a barrage of lies, half-truths, and straw-men arguments that an opponent cannot possibly respond to satisfactorily. Sam Harris calls it "starting 10 fires in 10 minutes." Obama underperformed, no doubt, but I was amazed that the media simply declared Romney the "winner" without stating the obvious -- he won on a blitzkrieg of lies. For heaven's sake, he would have been disqualified at a high school debate competition, where inventing facts is not allowed.

This isn't a high school debate competition, and candidates cannot be deterred from making up "facts" on the spot. All an opponent (or moderator) can do is call them on those non-facts. Look, Romney wasn't Seneca out there or anything. He's gotten good at these debates, but he's not invincible.

Gene, thanks for taking questions. I know I am committing a sin here by mentioning this, but I honestly think that Obama's 1st debate performance was not as bad as the post-debate consensus states. I mean, it definitely does not pass for good, but upon closely watching the debate a second time I honestly was looking for the capital blunders and horrible body language, but could not match reality with that narrative. Yes, Obama was looking down too often and wasn't teeming with energy, but what he actually said was convincing and to the point. With a mere stylistic change and a bit more projection of the next 4 years of Obama policy, he should be able to handily change the narrative after 2nd debat. Your take?

I agree with your prescription for tonight's debate. As I've made clear, I didn't think much of the president's performance in the first debate.

How is the 47% statement not the fat lady singing? Shouldn't every Democrat from the President down just be repeating that every day, in every public comment? Also, doesn't Romney's insistence that he loves 100% of Americans just emphasize the 47% statement?

I agree. The 47% revelation was huge and I don't know why we're not being bombarded with it.

As I understand it, they look for undecided voters to participate. I admit to being very suspicious as to how anyone could be undecided at this point after the barrage of ads, punditry, propaganda, and verbiage we've been subjected to for the last six months. Granted, I'm in a swing state, but the candidates have been covered to the nth degree. You'd have to be incredibly low-information to be still wavering, wouldn't you?

There aren't many undecided voters out there, but apparently there are still a few. Maybe the better term for them would be "unimpressed," because I think they're not wild about either candidate.

Do you think Romney will succeed in walking back his "47%" comment, or can the Obama campaign manage to make hay out of it?

It's captured on video. Perhaps the Obama campaign will play the tape and let voters decide.

Pew Research Center polling found that 46 percent of Americans say they're worse off since late 2007 and only 31 percent say they're better off; the rest see no change. Why should America not change leadership to an experienced business man, Mitt Romney, who knows something about creating jobs?

Um, maybe because running a country isn't the same thing as running a business? Or maybe because Romney's business, private equity, is about creating wealth, not creating jobs?

Funny thing -- when Mitt shouted down and interrupted during the first debate, Republicans spun this as a sign of his leadership and strength. When Biden did it during the VP debate, they called him rude.

Funny thing indeed.

I think the left would throw a fit if someone asked him, how did growing up (or living) in an islamic country affect his beliefs, there would be screams so loud glass would shatter across the northeast.

That would be like asking a Catholic who grew up in Utah about the Mormon faith. If Obama were a Muslim, I'm sure people would ask him about it. He's not. 

Do you have any idea why I'm not seeing as many political ads in VA/DC anymore? We're still a major swing state, no?

Just the lull before the storm.

I must say that since Obama is "supposed" to be the leader of the US Government, I attribute most of the failings of the current Congress on Obama. While that may not be totally fair, it is how I feel. If Obama can take credit for the bills that Congress passes, he must also take the blame for bills they fail to pass. A few years ago, there was a lot of attention on the economy and the stimulus. When the stimulus failed to bring the jobs, the economy seemed to fade into the background. I kept waiting for someone to come up with a new plan to boost the economy, but that never happened. If Obama says "he has a plan" then I say, "why are you waiting to implement your plan?" He is the President and shouldn't have to wait to see if he is re-elected to do something.

The Congressional Budget Office reported last year that the stimulus created up to 3.3 million jobs. It's simply not true that "the stimulus failed to bring the jobs."

I am less bothered by the fact that Romney thinks he does not need to worry/cater to almost half the population than I am by the next comment he made (paraphrasing) that anyone in that 47% is too worthless or needy to be responsible to run their own lives successfully. Seriously; the WWI veterans that are now on SS and Medicare - not sure how they saved the world from facism since they are apparently all 'pathetic victims'

"I'll never convince them to take personal responsibility or care for their lives" is the quote, I believe. Incredible.

In 1983, over 5 times the number dead in Benhazi were wiped out when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed. Were there Congressional hearings then? Was Reagan blamed? Many have died overseas since then. Where was the interest until an ambassador was killed shortly before an election? I wonder if those outraged now have any idea what it's like for Foreign Service personnel overseas (or really care, for that matter). Do they think diplomats stay inside embassies? Once the election is over, the interest will likely subside.

Ys, the Benghazi tragedy is being shamelessly politicized. No, sigh, I'm not surprised.


Folks, my apologies, but I have to run. Back next week. Watch the debate, and try not to throw things at the screen!

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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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