Eugene Robinson Live

Dec 11, 2012

Live chat with Eugene Robinson about politics and his latest column

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Hi, everyone, and welcome to our weekly session at which we contemplate the view from the terrifying heights of the "fiscal cliff." Scary up here, they say. The president and the speaker met over the weekend, and for all we know they may have talked about their golf swings. Today, Boehner reacts to the president's detailed plan by charging that the president has not, in fact, presented a detailed plan. And he accuses the White House of stalling? Anyhow, today's column offers advice to the Republican Party: Take the hint that people don't really like the policies you're pushing. Let's get started.

Wow. A majority of Americans agree with the idea of raising taxes on OTHER people? Color me shocked. Here's the thing - my wife and I are within striking distance of having a combined income of $250/year. While that's certainly a good amount of money, I know for a fact I work harder and more hours than I did ten years ago, that my current position and recent promotion are the result of damned hard work and dedication, and that our income in Northern Virginia doesn't exactly have us eating off of gold plates. Raising taxes on me will most assuredly affect my spending habits to the detriment of the economy. I apprectiate I make a good living but I frankly resent the President and his enablers treating me like I should be punished and that I'm not paying my "fair share."

I feel your pain, I really do. I know what it costs to live around here. But folks like us, in the worker-harder-than-ever class, have choices -- how big a house we need, how many cars. If you were making the median U.S. income, you'd have a lot fewer; if you were making less, you wouldn't have many choices at all. That's the fairness question, and it's not that people who make more are being punished, it's that they've done better than others and can be asked to kick in a little more.

As we write, no decision yet on the Fiscal Cliff. If we go over some say people will blame the Republicans. But won't most people blame the President, as he is the most visible and the public is not that educated on the check and balances. The buck stop with him...

Pollsters have asked that very question: Whom will you blame if there's no deal? People say they intend to blame the Republicans. I don't think anyone will come out smelling like roses, but that's what the pollsters tell us.

Doesn't your column today turn reality on its head? The story of US politics in the last 30-odd years is that the GOP moves further and further to the right on economic and social justice issues, in its quest to roll back the New Deal and then go after the achievements of the Progressive Era. And the Democrats chase afterward, moving the definition of the "center" steadily to the right. It is the Democrats who have the power to arrest this shift, by taking forthrightly progressive populist stands, the ones that polls show are popular, and forcing the GOP to chase after them. But they don't -- an example being Obama's cave-in on single-payer health insurance. It all suggests that there is more than intellectual laziness at work...

You're right, except that I think the story line of the past four years has been quite different. Democrats are trying to swing the pendulum back, and on the issues are making progress. If Republicans were more aware of what's happening with public opinion, they'd have more to offer than "tax cuts and deregulation." And Democrats would have to be stronger and more specific. This year, they did quite well with "we're not crazy like the Republicans" -- which shouldn't be enough.

Eugene, in today's column you wrote "Where is the incentive for Democrats to get serious about fiscal matters?" The incentive is for them to do their jobs and preserve the country's standing in the world. If their only incentive is to win a game of political gotcha with the Republicans, we are doomed.

If you're shocked -- shocked! -- that politicians in Washington care a lot about self-preservation, I'm going to have to sign you up for our Remedial Chat. Someday, all members of Congress will take every vote with the noblest of motives and not a thought about reelection. Someday.

The ideas of the mainstream Republican patry aren't unpopular, with the exception of immigration (which admittedly must change). The media, which with the exception of Fox News, talk radio and a handful of newspapers was in the tank for Obama from the get-go, did a great job selling the idea that idiots like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin represented the bulk of Republicans. The whole "war on women" thing was effective but dishonest, as was the imagery of Paul Ryan pushing grandma off a cliff. I'd love to have a frank, national discussion about the actual issues but nobody is interested (on both sides). Until politicians are willing to tell the American people that raising taxes on the rich won't do it (as you implied in your column, to your great credit), things will get worse before it gets better.

Republicans could start by changing their party's platform, which sounds much more like Akin and Mourdock than like your reasonable words. And it would help greatly if politicians would tell the American people that pledging never to raise income taxes on anybody for any reason is absurd.

The Republicans lost the last election, but they do not seem to realize it yet. Republican governors continue to work to take away the rights of the 47% and give more power to the corporate elite. This does not seem like the American way or continuation of the American dream for most Americans. I fear that the Republicans are not going to stop taking away the rights of most Americans with all the money they have backing their efforts even though Americans are against their ideas and policies. What do you think?

The old cliche: Elections have consequences. Democrats will have to take back state legislatures and governors' mansions if they hope to reverse these GOP gains.

Seriously, there are people out there who can't seem to figure out how to live on more than $250,000 a year? Since the 1st $250,000 would be taxed the same, and just the part over $250,000 would be taxed at a higher rate. . . can I just ask how much money does that first writer think he needs to live on?Exactly how much more stuff does he need? Maybe he should consider this, 1 in 5 children report going to bed hungry at least some part of every month. In this country; we should all be ashamed.

You're right, but I said I felt the first writer's pain and I do. In this sense: Three of the five richest counties in the nation are in the Washington area. We get caught up in our harried, workaholic lives and literally forget how affluent they are -- literally forget that many of our "necessities" are unthinkable luxuries for most Americans. Everyone should read the amazing piece in The Post last weekend by Pulitzer-winning writer Anne Hull. It's a profile of a young woman living in a Rust Belt town outside of Pittsburgh, and it's been a long, long time since I've read such a powerful depiction of what life is like in the rest of the economy.

I'm a President Obama-loving liberal, but I can't get my head around forcing people to join a union they may not want to join. Can you explain the pro-union stance? Thanks

Those workers are going to get salaries and benefits that were negotiated by the union -- and that are better than in non-union shops. And if enough workers become free-riders and union membership drops far enough, everyone's pay and benefits will fall to non-union levels. That's the union argument.

Do you think the President's arroogance and ideaology are preventing him from reaching some sort of compromise with the Republican's. Why is he acting so different from Pres. Clinton who was also liberal but realized he had to be pragmatic.

You do understand that the president is just asking that the top marginal tax rate be returned to where it was under "centrist" President Clinton, right?

I work for some very wealthy people at a not-for-profit organization. I get paid a decent, but modent salary. I love my work and I love the people for whom I work. I don't know what they pay in taxes, and they don't ever say a word about this subject to us, but these are decent people who do good and do well. I really have mixed emotion on whether they should pay a lot more in taxes. I do not begrudge people who earn over $250,000 (and this amount in this area is no great shakes) paying lower taxes. I think I'm more in favor of getting rid of loopholes.

The first $250,000 would be taxed at the same rate as currently; only income above that amount would be subject a higher rate. Very wealthy people did fine in the Clinton years, and President Obama is only trying to bring back that tax rate (and only for the top 2 percent). And what loopholes would you close? My opinion is that cutting or capping the home mortgage deduction would hurt both the middle class and the housing industry, and capping the charitable contributions deduction would decimate the non-profit sector. It's telling that Republicans won't say which loopholes they want to close. I don't believe that progressive taxation -- in which the better-off pay at a higher rate -- is in any sense "begrudging." I think it's just sensible tax policy.

I know it's too early, but there's a lot of talk about Hillary Clinton not only winning the nomination but unbeatable for any Republican. What do you think? And do you think Gov. Cuomo, who is obviously interested in running, has a chance?

If Secretary Clinton decides to run, I assume she will win the nomination and be difficult to defeat in the general election. I assume that Gov. Cuomo would be a top-tier candidate if Clinton does not run. And I assume that assumptions made this far ahead of the actual campaign aren't worth very much at all.

Gene, do you think that because Romney had to stick it out longer in the primary, because Gingrich and Santorum wouldn't step down, he had to use a lot of his time fighting them instead of the Democrats? And do you think that in the future, both the Democrat and Republican machines will encourage those with less of a chance to win the nomination, to step out so the front runner can start campaigning the other party earlier?

The Republican debates became a hot-mess reality show. Those frequent opportunities for free exposure, plus the proportional allocation of delegates, helped keep marginal candidates in the race. I think the party will address these issues before 2016.

Since I know that you are in favor of government recognizing same-sex marriages, I thought you would be a good person to whom I should ask this question. Many commentators point to the fact that national polls show that younger Americans are more supportive of same-sex marriage than older Americans and, therefore, that this issue will "resolve itself" in a few years as those who oppose same-sex marriage die off. Doesn't that ignore the historical trend that, as people get older, they tend to be less liberal and more conservative? Isn't it possible that these same people will change their minds as they get older? After all, the people who are now making decisions on our nation's role in the world (drone attacks, involvement in Libya, Egypt, Syria and other countries involved in the Arab Spring, the war in Afghanistan) are largely those from the 60s who opposed U.S. involvement in a war in Southeast Asia that we had no business being in and who opposed bombing that resulted in the injury or death of innocent civilians. I think it does a disservice to the real discussion that we need to have on this issue to try to portray it as a old/traditional vs young/enlightened dichotomy.

I disagree. Every groups struggle for inclusion is unique, but there are some parallels: There was a time when you could have said that young people were more accepting of racial equality than older people, but when those young people aged they didn't also become more racist. I don't think young people who are now accepting of same-sex marriage will someday ask to have returned the wedding gifts they bought for their gay-married friends.

Forgive me if i missed something, but the election was pretty much the exact status quo. The house stayed conservative, and almost everyone (except for a few tea party nutjobs) kept their seat. There was no overwhelming mandate. If anything the general public said it hated the alternatives more than the current problems. Why do pundits keep saying there is some mandate, when this was an extremely uneventful election.

Well, the president did win reelection. Democrats did pick up seats in the Senate -- in a year when most analysts thought this was literally impossible. Democrats also won seats in the House, and Democratic candidates in the aggregate received more votes than Republican candidates for House seats, although redistricting saved the GOP majority. I'm not sure I would call that a landslide, but it wasn't uneventful. Ask Allen West.

I, too, am bumping up near the $250 for next year. My wife and I diligently paid off our mortgage after 24 years this year. I have been trying to fund my 401(k). And I have two sons in college. What does that mean? It means I get stuck with the AMT. No deduction or credit for my two sons college expenses (and like my wife and me, they won't be college loan deadbeats, it's funded). Greatly reduced credit for even state and local income and property taxes. And 26-28% of what's left - oh wait, not of what's left, add back in the $75,000 we paid to colleges, raising cost effectively from $75,000 to over $90,000. And that money we "responsibly" locked away in the 401(k)? Good news, it's going to get taxed at a higher rate than what the rates were when we earned it. Financial responsibility = Grossly Overrated.

I can't believe whatever financial strain you feel isn't more than compensated by having paid off your mortgage. Congratulations. I get back to what I said in my first answer about choices. Sounds like you made some good ones. And your two sons should be really, really thankful.


That's it for today, folks. Thanks for participating in a lively hour, 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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