Eugene Robinson Live

Oct 23, 2012

Robinson discussed his latest columns and political news.

Follow @PostLive on Twitter

Hello, everyone, and welcome. Last night, we witnessed the final presidential debate. Most watchers agree that President Obama won the third encounter, just as he won the second. But it's clear from the polls that Mitt Romney got a real boost from his performance in the first debate, and now we have a race that appears to be, as my friend Dan Rather would say, "as tight as a tick." Whatever that means. Anyhow, just two weeks left. Let's begin.

I'm very puzzled by Romney's cautious approach in last night's debate. He seems to think that he is winning this thing and chose not to rock the boat. Even more puzzling is that many on the right (Ed Rogers, Jennifer Rubin, Ramesh Ponnuru -- and that's just from reading the Post) agree with that strategy. Are we witnessing the self destruction of the right wing feedback machine? Can they no longer distinguish their own propaganda from facts? I'm not saying that Romney has no chance, but any objective reading of the polls -- particularly when you account for the electoral college -- shows that it's a close race with an edge to Obama at this point. But all we're hearing from the right is that the "momentum" is with Romney (whatever that means). Things are better for him than they were a month ago, but that's a far cry from winning. Do they really believe that Romney's in front?

I, too, am skeptical that the rock-no-boat strategy last night wa the right one. The feeling in the Romney camp is that he does have momentum, even if it's glacial, even if Obama still has an edge. I wonder why anyone would look at movement in the polls at this point and decide it's inexorable. 

I always thought that the GOP had moved so far to the right that the presidential candidate could no longer win the general because of the positions he would have to take in the primary. It looks like their strategists decided that the candidate would say whatever it took the placate the far right, and then ditch all of those positions once the candidate made it through. Mitt Romney, an accomplished and virtuoso liar, was the perfect fit. If this is true, it means that truth means nothing and anyone, with the right financial backers, can lie his way to the presidency. Facts simply don't matter when one half of the country refuses to believe the fact checkers, and the GOP declares "we won't let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers." (Read: lying doesn't matter.) I find this all not just depressing, but frightening. Where do we go from here?

And your point would be...?  Seriously, I think the GOP playbook always invoved moving to the center in the general election. And I think it was always clear that Romney, with his history as a moderate, was better able to take this path than his more conservative opponents. As for the fact-checkers, how many electoral votes do they have?

Should Romney lose, it won't be by much. On that I think we can agree. Given that likelihood, what are your thoughts about how the Republican leadership will handle that? It seems to me that if he loses it will be in large part because of how he had to get the nomination through that idiotic primary circus thereby forcing Romney to become “severely conservative -  then doing the "Etch-A-Sketch" just a few short weeks before the election. Will the Republican leadership take a look in the mirror and relent that the Tea Party and the extreme hard right turn conservatives have taken doesn't work?

If Romney loses, one reason will likely be an overwhelming margin for President Obama among Hispanic voters. I believe the GOP will take the lesson that it's not possible to write off this segment of the electorate and expect to win national elections.

Hypothetical for you: Let's say Romney gives a speech today calling for a "new American humility" in foreign affairs, a dedication to universal health care, and a concerted government effort to boost the economy through public sector investment. "A New Deal for a New Millennium" he could call it. Now, I (barely) think he wouldn't do this, but if he did what do you think the reaction would be?

If he went that far, he'd be viciously attacked from the right.

Climate change was not mentioned once in any of the debates. Are both Obama and Romney ignorant that it is happening, or are they just playing to the American audience which seems incapable of understanding the science?

I wrote a recent column about this. Obama understands and accepts the scientific consensus about climate change. So did Romney, at least while he was governor of Massachusetts. Yet both sounded as if this were a contest to be Mr. Carbon instead of Mr. President. Depressing.

Gene- Is it fair to say this was the MOST important debate of the three? Foreign policy, trade issues, military structure and prioroties, etc. are all areas over which the President has somewhat direct control or, at a minimum, distinctly more influence over than any domestic agenda. Congress tends to play a very limited role in these areas and the election does REALLY matter as to whether we attack another country, what our policy to contain insuregents forces and militant Islam is, along with a host of other important issues. In my view, President Obama has a tremendous record in these areas and Mitt Romney is a unknown. Regardless of who wins the election, I would be very surprised if dramatic changes occured with domestic policy(given the partisanship in Congress and newly created constitutional requirement of 60 votes to pass law in the Senate!) but the issues discussed last night(when they stayed on topic at least) will be more important and achieveable for the next President.

That's one theoretical way of looking at it. But now that debate season is over, it's clear that the first debate was the most important -- at least in terms of the campaign to elect the next president. Let's face it: The first debate moved the polls pretty sharply in Romney's direction. The second may have halted that movement and the third may even have begun to reverse it. We'll see. But the first, in terms of impact, was huge. And I would argue that the two different philosophies greatly effect how the two candidates would tackle the domestic issues discussed in the first debate.

I only recall one fleeting mention of Latin America during last night's debate. Which candidate do you think this will help (or hurt) more with the Latino vote?

Polls show more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote going to President Obama. I'm not sure anything coud change that, at this point.

I agree with your comment about the HIspanic vote. The R's should have swallowed hard and accepted the Dream Act and passed it thereby eliminating it as a campaign tool. The D's will beat them over the head with it until it is nullified as an issue. The R base would have been furious, but it's clear from events in the last few weeks that they'll accept any policy position as long as they win the election.

That's basically my analysis as well.

What do you think is behind the peculiar remark about Syria being Iran's route to the sea? Is he clueless, or is he appealing to the ignorant, and knows he will get away with it? Is Romney ignorant or contemptuous?

Had to be sheer ignorance. He didn't know that Iran and Syria do not share a border. But even more amazingly, he didn't know that Iran has a thousand-mile coastline. Why does he think they call it the Persian Gulf???

I have seen headlines in other publications today, stating that if President Obama loses reelection, that there would be riots in the streets. My friends that watch Fox News, but are otherwise very reasonable people, go absolutely ballistic if I mention that I am thinking of voting for the president. I would think that they are the ones whom would riot if Romney lost, since they have such really strange takes on Obama which they learned on TV.

The apocalyptic rhetoric is all coming from the right. I'm a lot more worried about riots if Obama wins than if he loses.

I really don't understand why this is an issue, with a little research you will learn that Climate Change has been happening for millions of years. In the years between 600-700 AD, there were dairy farms on Greenland. These were driven off by the glaciers. There were no cars or coal burning power plants. Climate Change is inevitable. We would have as much success controlling the tides.

I don't follow your argument. Yes, there have been changes in our climate in the past, some of them abrupt. But we are the ones who are changing the climate now, by dramatically increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- and yes, we're doing it with our cars and our coal-burning plants.  This is an unnatural shift in climate and if we don't take action, it will have unnatural consequences.

Gene: Have you heard anything in your reporting that explains the president's wan performance in the first debate, which completely altered the narrative of the race? As a Democrat and sports fan, my thought beforehand was that this was a chance to land knockout blow by being sharp and assertive, yet the president acted like he really didn't want to be there. It wasn't as bad as George HW Bush looking at his watch during the first debate with Bill Clinton, but it wasn't good.

In retrospect, I think President Obama's performance in the first debate was responsible for no more than half of the movement we saw in the polls, probably even less. I think the greater factor was Romney's good performance. He came across as sharper, warmer and funnier than people expected, and I suspect that for some voters who were on the fence, he began to look like a viable option. 

I'm willing to bet that this came up in debate prep, and Romney was handed this "fact:" about Iran by a staffer.

Really, I don't know where he could have gotten that "outlet to the sea" nonsense. I checked, and even the flawed new Apple maps app recognizes that Iran has a long coastline and no border with Syria.

I am still perplexed by everyone's take on the first debate. As I was watching it I thought Romney was annoying like the dog next door who won't stop barking. He stammered badly and had to fake that he knew what he was talking aobut. I thought it wasn't the President's best performance but he was the cool, thoughful person I had come to admire. I do think he was thrown off my Romney's non-stop talking (while fabricating new talking points) but I didn't think he lost. I was so surprised when it was over by the reaction of the pundits - what I consider to be an over-the-top assessment that Romney won! His first debate wasn't any better than last night's debate, or the second debate. It was Obama that was different, but not dumber or less Presidential - just not as forceful. I would love to hear you change your assessment of the first debate on TV tonight. Love your columns. :)

Thanks very much. Not changing my assessment, though.

You say,"I'm a lot more worried about riots if Obama wins than if he loses." I'm skeptical since the right-wing base is suburban and rural -- it has hardly any city dwellers. Riots tend to happen when a lot of angry people are packed into a small area. A lot of angry people spread out over suburbs and farms won't get together to riot.

Perhaps I should make clear that I believe riots are highly, highly improbable in either case. 

When you say " This is an unnatural shift in climate and if we don't take action, it will have unnatural consequences." this is a theory, there are just as many experts that don't believe that theory. As the oceans warm C02 is released into the atmosphere, it is a reaction not a driver of climate. The gas most responsible for the green house effect is methane, it is increasing in our air due to an increase in Beef farming. There have been significant non-partisan sudies supporting this theory.

No. Virtually all of what you say is wrong. It is true that methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas. The rest is bunk. There are not "just as many experts" on the denialist side of the climate change argument. The scientific consensus is overwhelming. If you want to argue that carbon dioxide does not cause atmospheric warming, you have to develop your own theory of physics that supplants quantum mechanics. The latest research indicates that various feedback mechanisms may be causing man-made warming to accellerate. 

Chuck Todd (via twitter), and numerous other reporters said that Obama was acting like he was behind in the race. If you knew nothing about either candidate and watched the debate last night, Obama came off as the attacker, while Romney seemed more composed. Were you surprised by each candidate's personality?

No. I think both campaigns believe the race is close. From Romney's point of view, what did he have to gain by picking a fight with Obama on unfamiliar turf -- foreign policy -- where one mistake, like Gerald Ford on Poland, can be a killer? From Obama's point of view, how could he forgo the opportunity to attack and score points, knowing that he was much more familiar with the issues and personalities involved than Romney? 

Do you think he will try to cut everyones taxes by 20% and spent lavishly on the military? What will the effect be on the middle class if that happens and how will he deal with its reaction?

Do I think he'll actually do what he promises? No. If he did, the middle class would inevitably get soaked -- sooner or later, but inevitably.


And speaking of the inevitable, my time is up for today. 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.
Archive of Eugene Robinson's columns
Recent Chats
  • Next: