Eugene Robinson Live

Jan 15, 2013

Live chat with Eugene Robinson about politics and his latest column.

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to our weekly encounter group. We're in a welcome lull between needless, self-inflicted fiscal crises, so that's a good thing. Cool, gray Washington is preparing for Inauguration Day, less than a week away. In the "News About People Named Chuck" department, Hagel got an okay from Schumer, which pretty much guarantees that Hagel will be the next secretary of defense. Mali appears to be the new Afghanistan. And Oprah won't tell us exactly what Lance Armstrong told her, except that he came clean in some fashion and everyone should watch. Lots to talk about, so let's get started.

I don't understand why anyone thinks President Obama would have more success if he were a better schmoozer. At the start of his first term, the Republicans adopted a conscious policy that they could defeat him in 2012 by denying him any successes. They opposed his bills, everything he said, bills they supported if he supported them, the First Lady's causes, and where he and his family go for vacation. His daughters are lucky the Republicans didn't get to grade their papers. He would have to be the greatest schmoozing President of all time to overcome that obstacle. And now, since he won reelection, they hate him even more. So why is the media fixated on this?

Nostalgia for a golden age that never was. It's true, in my view, that there was a time when Washington was less ideological and members of Congress spent more time together, rather than flying home to their districts every Thursday night. But this was never the Bipartisan Valhalla that some claim, and in any event there have been sharp and bitter divisions for quite a while. It cracks me up when people talk about how well Republicans got along with Bill Clinton. Remember, they impeached him. And anyhow, President Obama keeps inviting the GOP leadership in Congress to state dinners, and they keep declining. What's he supposed to do, subpoena John Boehner for another round of golf?

Someone who voted against increasing the debt limit as a Senator probably deserves to take all this grief from Congress about the debt limit when they become President. I completely disagree with Congress for playing this game of fiscal chicken with the President, but sometimes what goes around comes around.

You have a point, I'm afraid. President Obama has acknowledged that his 2006 vote against raising the debt ceiling was "a political vote." He -- and other Democrats -- knew there were enough votes to raise the limit, so he got to sound like a hawk on spending. I think a complete rollback in the "I was totally wrong, it was a dumb thing to do" vein would be appropriate.

Since the debt ceiling amounts to paying for bills already accrued, why not post all these expenditures by name, amount, date (including how long in effect), and who requested such expenditures on The Congressional Site? This will allow the public to see why the debt ceiling is so high and might force same public to do away with the sensational appetite for wars.

More transparency would be a very good thing.

I would be happy if the vast majority (if not all depending on the proposal) of the ideas floating around about gun legislation passed. However its going to have to take baby steps and the Dems will not get everything at once. This is a major chance for the movement. If the dems make reasonable requests that have a chance of passing (ie assualt weapons aren't getting banned) then this could be a real turning point. However if the left uses this as an opportunity to grandstand and point fingers, very little will get done. The Assualt weapons ban will only have minimal impact anyways, since research shows most guns used in crime are handguns. Which do you think will happen?

I'm not hearing a lot of optimism about an assault weapons ban, and I think that's a real shame. I hope something gets through Congress -- large magazines, background checks, something. And I hope that advocates of sensible gun control, perhaps led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, get organized and financed and in a position to push back against the NRA. Leveling that playing field would be a game-changer.

At first glance, it's unclear what the extremists among House Republicans hope to gain with their game of chicken over the debt ceiling, risking both their party and their country. I doubt that their goal is extracting concessions from Obama or even making him and the Democrats look bad to the voters. These folks seem to be running mostly on emotion, mostly fear and ignorance. It's partly that Obama, as an educated black man, symbolizes the decline in automatic status from being white and male. But partly also that they lack even a basic understanding of macroeconomics, treating it like a household budget. My theory is that they spent years watching Fox News or listening to Limbaugh and just decided to run for office, imagining themselves as John Wayne chasing the bad guys out of town. Does that theory sound credible to you?

I think some House Republicans really are prepared to cause a default because they believe doing so would be less harmful to the nation, in the long run, than continuing what they see as uncontrolled spending and borrowing. They are wrong; default would be catastrophic. This is what Speaker Boehner, I believe, is trying to explain.

So is Lance Armstrong confessing so that he can pave his way into politics. I think he'd be well suited for Washington.

I assume you're joking, but never underestimate the power of an Oprah Confessional. It's sad. He cheated and lied in a sport where everyone, essentially, was cheating and lying. And it was all unnecessary. If everyone had raced clean, I'll bet he still would have won those Tours. Some of them, anyway.

He could also say, "A 'no' vote in 2006 might have prevented the reckless spending that got us where we are today; a 'no' vote in 2013 ensures we stay here - or worse." Just sayin'...

No, he can't say that. His position now -- and it's the correct one -- is that the debt ceiling has to be raised to pay for spending Congress has already authorized. That's true now, and it was true in 2006.

The reaction to Colin Powell's appearance on MTP has been totally predicatable. Do you ever see the GOP trying to get away from its image of being a small tent party that represents the rich? It seems like the Colin Powell's of the GOP are being forced out

I thought Gen. Powell's remarks were fascinating, because clearly they were purposeful. David Gregory didn't lead him there; he clearly wanted to call out the party for its dog-whistle racial politics and its xenophobia. Either the GOP can react like John Sununu during the campaign -- he said Powell only endorsed President Obama because both of them are black -- or the party can take Powell seriously. I recommend the latter.

Excuse my language but who give a rat's patootie whether we get a credit downgrade? Aren't these the same companies who rated all these CDOs and credit default swaps as AAA safe? Why do people even listen to them anymore?

I've waited years to get the phrase "rat's patootie" into one of these chats! I disagree with you -- I do think a stellar rating is important -- but I have to acknowledge that our earlier downgrade had zero impact on the nation's ability to borrow. Theoretically, though, it will eventually cost us more in interest payments, in addition to lost prestige.

I keep seeing that there is a disconnect between the rank and file of the NRA with its leadership and that the members mostly do support common sense regulations. Notwithstanding the new organizations springing up, don't you think that in order to reduce the NRA influence, the best idea is to peel off their membership. What do you think of a left leaning RKBA organization that supports the 2nd amendment explicitly and that targets NRA members to join and thereby reduces the NRA influence at the grass roots.

Great idea. Mayor Bloomberg, are you out there? Do you have your checkbook handy?

You know who is NOT asking to carry guns (at least, in large numbers)? TEACHERS. We already ask them to do so much. We ask them to educate our kids, we don't pay them what they're worth, we don't give them the proper supplies - AND now we want them carrying guns? I don't want my kid's teacher with a gun, going after the gunman. I want her going the other direction, getting my kid OUT of the school.

Fortunately, this crazy idea is completely out of the question. Imagine the liability issues involved in having loaded firearms in a classroom, even under lock and key. Not going to happen.

I don't care that Lance cheated in a sport. I care that he lied about it, and destroyed scores of other people. How can he make it right for them?

the short answer, probably, is that he can't. A lot of people depended on him. Some who have a financial stake will probably sue him.

It takes two to play chicken. Perhaps if the President hadn't been so quick to brag about winning the last round and making the Republicans relent on their long-held principle of not raising taxes, he might find it easier to work with Republicans.

Really? Do you really think so? I honestly don't. You will recall that the president already had a fight with Congress over the debt ceiling, and he was forced into concessions. His position this time makes sense: You want to talk about budget cuts, let's talk about the sequester and the continuing resolution. The debt ceiling is not about future spending, and therefore is not up for discussion.

He was grandstanding in 2006, just like Republicans did under Clinton and the Democrats did under Reagan and the first Bush. The difference is that NO ONE was going to defeat the increase. This was just playing silly games.

Absolutely true. But in retrospect, those were dangerous silly games. I hope everyone is cured of the impulse.

Isn't the real point of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal that competitors who WANTED to be honest and compete by the rules (no PEDs) were effectively pushed out of the sport, either for lack of the chemical advantage or because Armstrong bullied them?

You're right, of course. Armstrong lied, cheated, and lied some more. It is right that he should be punished harshly -- and wait until the lawsuits come. I guess what I was trying to say is that while he bears considerable responsibility for the way cycling became a dishonest sport -- because he was the sport's most prominent and acclaimed figure, the face of cycling -- he didn't create this cesspool on his own. Most of his most prominent competitors were doping, too. And of the major cyclists still believed to have been "clean" during that era, I wonder how many simply managed not to get caught. Anyway, I have mixed feelings in general about "performance-enhancing drugs" in professional sports. Of course we don't want kids to emulate drug-taking behavior, and so maybe that's a reason to be absolutist on the subject. I just think it's more common, and less frequently detected, than most people imagine -- and, given the incentives, it's easy to understand why.

Can they really get away with their "can't solve everything so don't do anything" response? Since a lunatic has now murdered responding firemen are we going to add a sniper on every fire truck?

Please don't suggest this to the NRA, because they'll add it to their list of demands.

And can we talk about gun shows? I mean, really. Why is it a sin to propose regulating these things?

It's not a sin to talk about gun shows. It's just a huge inconvenience, and potential loss of profits, for gun and ammo manufacturers.

the fact checker had this in his recent post. Any fauxrage about the idea that concessions will have to occur cannot be taken serious. Both sides have been playing this game for decades.

Right, but the difference is that the minority party generally makes a lot of noise -- but everyone understands that in the end, the limit will be raised in an orderly fashion. That's not what House Republicans are doing this time. It was wrong to play games with the debt ceiling in the past, and now we understand why.

Except where I live, in Texas, teachers in some districts are already allowed to carry firearms. If they have a concealed carry permit and with the principal's permission. AND, the parents don't have to be told.

Yikes. I'm going to have to find out more about that. And I guess I'll have to be extra nice to Texas teachers.

We all know there are some dangerous groups out there who are convinced that the government is plotting to take their guns away. These folks aren't harmless; they are preparing for a full-scale insurrection (think the groups being watched by the FBI and Southern Poverty Law Center). While I don't believe in rolling over for extremists, I hope that those looking to reform our gun laws are doing so in a way that would reassure most reasonable people that no one is taking away guns or their right to own one. My fear is that enough bluster from right-wing bloviators could turn into something very ugly.

The president, the vice president, members of Congress, gun-control advocates and others have all said repeatedly that nobody is talking about taking anyone's guns away. I don't know how it could be stated more clearly. The bloviators are being irresponsible, but what else is new?

"Well-regulated." Those words are IN THE SECOND AMENDMENT.

Yes, they are. We should heed them.


And now I must heed the clock, everyone. Time's up for this week. Thanks for 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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