Eugene Robinson Live

Mar 05, 2013

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

Submit questions and comments for Gene to respond to now.

Hi, everyone, and welcome to our weekly discussion. Even if there isn't much to discuss, with the federal government and the political process being sequestered and all. Today's column was about how I hate the sequester with a passion, for any number of reasons. But you probably hate it too. The other phenomenon in the news here today is the dreaded, much-ballyhooed "snowquester" -- a word I like even less -- which is what people in the rest of the country  would call, you know, a snowstorm. Humbug. Anyhow, let's get started.

Gene, As someone who often finds your work far "too pundity" and often disagrees, you hit the nail on the head. Washington gets far too caught up in scorecards. Did Dems embarrass Republicans, did Republicans get the Dems to cave to their terms etc. Who is going to break who? Its like watching the trading places movie from the 80s where two 1% percent bet a dollar with the only concern of who is proven right. So while I would like to give you a rare tip of the hat (to steal a colbert segment), I hope this in the long term this will inspire both politicians & media pundits to focus less on yelling/demonizing the other side and more on proposing solutions. Because its the demonization of the "enemy" that has resulted in such entrenched stances and the sequester.

Thanks. I think. What does "pundity" mean, exactly?

Hi, Eugene. I know it's not strictly a politics question, but do you have any opinion on the Post's decision this week to eliminate the independent Ombudsman position and replace it with a "reader representative?" Thanks.

My first reaction was to worry about the signal it sends. After thinking about it for a few days, I do recognize that the media world has changed and is nothing like it was when the ombudsman position was created. Readers once might have felt anonymous and powerless, but I assure you they don't feel that way today. When they have something tell us, we'll get the message. My main concern is that I believe there should be someone whose job it is to air our linen, both clean and dirty, in public. I hope the new "reader representative" will have a forum to do that.

Thanks for chatting Mr. Robinson. I share your outrage/confusion regarding the sequestor. I am a health care provider at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. If nothing changes, I'll be furloughed and receive a 20% paycut. More importantly, the clients I treat will not have as much access to services. I understand people want cuts, but no one wants this. I hope those who are cheering for these cuts are aware of what they are really cheering for.

I doubt anyone was cheering for fewer services being provided to our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. But here we are. Ridiculous.

Hi Eugene, Your last column was pretty harsh on Obama, holding him partially responsible for the sequester mess. Has anyone in the White House said you would "regret" writing the column? All kidding aside, how has the Obama administration treated you and the newspeople you know?

Nobody has suggested I would regret anything, I'm happy to report. In my experience, relations with the White House have been what relations with the White House always are. Democrat or Republican, they want you to see things from their point of view. When you don't, they object. There are sunny people and scratchy people, and at various times you deal with both. They have secrets they want to protect and talking points they want to broadcast. The way it always is.

Just wondering how influential The Daily Show is with journalists. Do his barbs about journalists focussing on shiny objects instead of substance ever cause serious discussions among journalists? For example, he did a bit a year or so back when he compared the cover pages of Newsweek (or maybe it was TIme Magazine) in which the international edition had a serious news item on the cover and the American edition had celebrity fluff. Just recenlty he did a bit about how all the news outlets seemed to focus on Obama's mind meld comment instead of substantive comment on the sequester. I'd be embarrassed if I were a journalist, but do journalists tend to just shrug and move on?

You're asking if we're too shallow to be embarrassed? I have a lot of appreciation for what Jon Stewart does but I don't think he would claim to be a role model for all of journalism -- and I certainly wouldn't see him that way.

I see that the President's ratings are taking quite a hit over this sequester. How about the Republicans? Can they even go any lower?

The Gallup tracking poll showed a big dip in the president's approval yesterday, to 46 percent, but that looks like an anomaly; today, it's up three points and I'm betting that by tomorrow it will be back over 50. Whereas the Republicans are threatening to go subterranean, approval-wise. No one will profit in approval from the sequester -- no one should -- but I'm pretty confident that Republicans will fare worse than the president.

I was a little taken aback today with your post. Normally, being that you are a Democratic cheerleader, you rarely have anything negative to say about your hero Obama. Don't you think it's long overdue that he starts leading? He should start by getting the Democratic controlled Senate to do a budget. If our elected representative cannot fix this, I think we need to start voting them out in 2014. What do you think of a new party to challenge these dinosaurs in both parties?

This "long overdue that he starts leading" line is nonsense. Repulicans control the House and have resolved not to do what the president would like them to do. When he takes executive action -- as he did in enacting his own DREAM act by fiat -- critics scream that he's some kind of dictator. I just think the sequester was a bad idea. When I think the president makes a mistake, I point that out.

I also hate the current politics; it seems - no, is - even more shallow and transparently false than usual. Following it is bad enough, I can't imagine being in the business of having to comment and write about it. Do you ever get so discouraged that you feel like transferring to the Sports Desk?

Have you read the Sports pages recently? Doping scandals, point-shaving in soccer, the horror at Penn State...

Can PBO afford to wait out effects of sequestration? Does he have to give in to GOP demands to cut entitlement?

One of the many bad things about sequestration is that there's no obvious off-ramp. Reports indicate that in the continuing resolution that must soon be passed, the House plans to make small changes that could blunt a few of the sequester's more egregious ill effects, but nothing major. The president has basically told House leaders to call him when they're ready to talk revenue. There have been talks with some individual members and I think the White House would like to vault past the whole thing and do a tax-reform deal with new revenue. But this doesn't sound all that promising, at least to my ears.

It doesn't matter if Republicans are intransigent, the president's job is to LEAD. Remember Reagan and Tip? Why can't we have that anymore? Would things be different if David Broder were alive to suggest a moderate, non-partisan centrist solution to this impasse?

What's in the center between "we can have more cuts, including to entitlements, but we need to do eliminate tax loopholes and raise a bit more revenue" (Obama's position) and "not a penny more revenue, no matter how much we cut" (the House position)? Seems to me that either there's going to be more revenue or there isn't.

Joni Mitchell once famously remarked "I'm ashamed to be a part of the music business." Do you ever feel ashamed to be a part of the pundit business? I would if I were you.

I'm happy and proud to do what I do. (I have no idea how I'd feel about being in the music business.)

Hi Gene- I find it interesting that you write a "pox on both their houses" column lamenting that the sequester allows for a "pox on both their houses" meme. See any irony or is it just me?

It was meta-double-reverse irony, I guess. I hate "pox on  both their houses" columns because it's almost never true to say  that both sides are to blame. In the case of the sequester, though, I can't escape that conclusion, and it annoys me to have to write the kind of column that I would normally criticize as lazy, tepid and reeking of the "conventional wisdom." Which is seldom wise.

I'm old enough to remember what you might call the Good Government branch of the Republicans: fiscally responsible, conservative in the sense of being cautious, and quietly dedicated to making government work well. George Romney comes to mind. How can today's GOP cultivate centrists whose goal is to make government more effective, with so many narrow extremists making so much noise?

The party's establishment wing will try to do just that. But it's unclear whether the GOP can move back from la-la land and still retain the enthusiastic support of the Tea Party wing.

You'd think the election would have sent a signal that Americans believe that the deficit is a legitimate problem, but that the responsible way to deal with them is a balanced approach. Republicans act as if this didn't happen, and instead push forward with their "no revenue, all cuts" approach. Do you think this is a failure of representative democracy?

Republicans in Congress are responding to the activist conservative voters who elected them. As has been asked in another context: When will they show some leadership and somehow change these recalcitrant voters' minds?

I'm not sure I see how the modern era of media means there's no need for an ombudsman. Sure it's easy for readers to email complaints to a newspaper now, but how's anyone supposed to weed out the legitimate concerns from the rants and tirades? An ombudsman gave a complaint weight. If I email a complaint to the Post editors is it likely to get the same attention as one from the ombudsman? No. And ombudsman was akin to the people's representative to the paper. If the Editorial Board was God, then the ombudsman was like the Pope. I think it's a bad sign.

I don't worry about complaints getting through. There will be a reader representative who I'm sure will be empowered to make sure complaints are heard and acted upon. My concern is for transparency. I think it's worthwhile having someone write for public consumption about how we at the Post do our jobs, how we think of our role, how we apply our standards of fairness and accuracy, etc. I hope that continues in some form.

That's all for today, folks. My time is up. Thanks for participating in another 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.
Archive of Eugene Robinson's columns
Recent Chats
  • Next: