Eugene Robinson Live

Mar 19, 2013

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

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Greetings, and welcome to our weekly chat. It seems almost too easy -- the CPAC gathering, which had an unmistakable "Rocky Horror" quality about it; the GOP "autopsy," which effectively pronounced that the patient is still dead. No, things don't look good for the Republican Party, but my view is that progressives shouldn't gloat too much. Eventually, the GOP will get its act together -- maybe not for a few years, but maybe sooner. At the moment, liberals don't even have to break a sweat; Republicans are doing a great job on themselves. But at some point, the progressive movement is going to have to come up with some new ideas for moving the nation forward -- about which more in future columns. Let's begin.

After CPAC, I may be less than optimistic than you about the future of the Republican party. Mostly I see resentful grumps trying to hold onto their privilege. The one bright spot for me was Jeb Bush, and even he tried to have it both ways. He gently reminded these folks that the world isn't a just place, and then backtracked by accusing liberals who say the same thing as allegedly attacking the very idea of "success," a term that implies a inherently just world. Bush came across like the old stereotype of a bar band wanting to play its own music while the patrons want to hear "Free Bird." What do you think Bush's chances are of being the 2016 nominee? I disagree with most of his views but I would greatly prefer him to a reactionary like Ryan or Paul.

I thought Jeb Bush's keynote address was underwhelming, no matter how you look at it. He might be the guy for 2016, I guess, but he'll have to do better. That speech flopped with conservatives and, frankly, didn't do much to excite moderates, either.

It is interesting that they are still taking an Us vs Them mentality, then say they need to expand the Us. As someone who is conservative, but a Democrat, they just can't seem to get away from the hands that feed them. I think Jeb Bush hit it on the head. If the GOP can speak to those he mentioned as having the cards stacked against them, they could be formidable opponents. However, they need to get past the mindset that the Govt cannot create opportunity.

Right. They have to get rid of this sophomoric "makers vs. takers" stuff and get back to the idea of an opportunity society in which everyone gets a chance.

I never thought I'd say this, but Rush Limbaugh has a point about the likely effects of Republicans endorsing same-sex marriage. Apparently the aging reactionaries who dominate the GOP base would simply throw up their hands in frustration, staying out of the caucuses and primaries. Do you think this might happen? I can imagine some of the younger folks and establishment leaders in the party actually encouraging this, since the base is alienating voters.

Sorry for the technical difficulties; we're live now. I think Limbaugh's near-perfect record of being wrong is intact. There were those who said President Obama's support of gay marriage would cost him enthusiam and votes among the congregations of those African-American ministers who vehemently oppose same-sex unions. This did not happen. I think that when the GOP shifts, social conservatives will grumble -- but not defect.

It seems to me that many in the GOP hold core beliefs, especially on social issues and immigration, that are not shared by the majority of Americans and a growing tide of young people. How will better messaging bring these voters into their tent? The fundamental attitudes and beliefs on these issues are still them same and are hostile to many of the people they want to attract.

This is really the nub of the problem. The GOP is going to have to change some of its positions. Take health care, for example. Obamacare is enormously popular among minority voters. If the Republicans are trying to sell a health care plan that amounts to "Go to the emergency room," then it won't matter how many missionaries they send into African-American, Latino or Asian-American neighborhoods. They have to come up with something that's consistent with their principles but that makes sense to the voters they're trying to attract.

Are the pundits reading too much into Hillary's change of heart on gay marriage? While I hope this is not merely pandering on her part, I would like for her to make another presidential run. Interestingly, yesterday I saw a Hillary yard sign in my neighborhood for the first time in four years but wasn't able to see anything but ner name on it clearly as I drove by so I don't know if it was one from 2008 being brought out again or someting new. BTW - I live in Texas, where polls show she would beat our Governor Rick Perry should the two run compete for president.

I'm not among those who thinks that Clinton's switch on gay marriage means she has decided to make another run. I believe she wants to keep the option open. I also think she truly believes what she said the other day, and wants to add her voice to the debate at what looks like a tipping-point moment.

It seems that a majority of the American public favors government spending reductions, but when you actually ask them about specifics, they often balk at cuts in social Security, Medicare etc., which are the major problems! Why have Democrats not been able to win the narrative that we need to spend a bit more (and pay for it with increased taxes) for services that we want? And this will not hurt the economy?

Democrats have won the argument, as far as public opinion is concerned. They just haven't won it among the GOP caucus in the House.

I'm a pretty smart guy but when Paul Ryan talks about making Medicare into a voucher program, I'm not exactly sure what the means. If it means that the government is giving me enough money to buy health insurance I'm not sure that's a bad way to go. But if by voucher he means the government will give me X dollars and if my health insurance costs X+Y and then if you have problems (like cancer) and you have to go X+Y+Z and Y and Z are out of my own pocket that I have a problem with that. Is that what a voucher program is?

As I understand his proposal, you'd definitely have to pay Y. As for Z, I assume there would be some provision for catastrophic coverage.

So is the takeaway from the conclave of the GOP's dimmest lights: "Don't change but give the illusion of change"?

The takeaway from CPAC is to double down and pick a "genuine" conservative next time. But that's not what the GOP establishment wants to do. This will be an ongoing struggle.

While at the national level the GOP may be struggling, they have managed to engineer things in many states to give themselves almost total control. And we see it with the US House districts as well. The Dems will have a hard time breaking those walls down with the way the deck is stacked against them. And I think we also see that the way progressives cluster in cities and on the coasts means that to a large extent we have abandoned large swaths of the country to the Republicans. I think we have basically become two countries with little in common politically. The head scratcher for me has always been that even large numbers of self-described Republicans agree with lots of progressive policy ideas and goals. And yet they keep on voting for Republicans. Maybe they need to hit rock bottom before they change their ways?

There was a time when the Democratic Party looked utterly hopeless; remember Dukakis? But Bill Clinton and others arose to pull the party more toward the center. Unless the Republicans completely self-destruct -- which I admit is possible, but unlikely -- an analogous movement will arise in the GOP and pull the party back within shouting distance of reasonable. As for the gerrymandering, yes, it's hard for Democrats to crack these district maps, but not impossible. Especially if the GOP keeps helping by making a public spectacle of its dysfunctionality.

I have just come to the conclusion that there is no way Jeb Bush could win the nomination. He is too middle of the road and I think even Republicans just can't take the thought of another Bush. So on to Rand Paul. He obviously has appeal to younger libertarians. But do they realize that he is so vehemently anti-abortion? I just don't see how that will play with what would otherwise be his target audience. I would appreciate your thoughts -- as a Democrat, this is a fascinating process to watch.

Abortion is only one of many problems Rand Paul would face. I have to admit he's having more impact than I thought he would, so I'm wary of underestimating him. But his isolationism so freaks out the GOP establishment that it's hard for me to imagine his ever becoming the party's nominee.

with all the media coverage and online analysis/discussion, we're living in a time where we have an unprecedented view into the political sausage-making process. To me, it seems hard to believe that anyone could react to anything coming out of CPAC or the Republican leadership without also realizing that it's all the result of spin and manipulation and carefully crafted messaging. I mean, we all know that both parties get together and, essentially, discuss, "okay, how can we frame our ideas to get the most people to agree with them?" This is about market share. It is empty of conviction or integrity. How could any thinking voter not feel exploited?

I agree about our unprecedented view of the sausage-making. But for me, the one admirable thing you can say about CPAC is that those who attend are full of conviction. The problem is that the ideas they so fervently believe in are, in large part, nuts.

Dems win social issues (like gay marriage and immagration reform) by a wide margin on the social issue, but are light years behind when it comes to reality with entitlements. When SS has barely been adjusted once in 70+ years but life expectancy has risen sharply, a lot of the younger folks, like myself know we are going to be given an impossible burden. We just refuse to throw our gay friends under the bus to get there.

Don't lose sleep over Social Security; it's fine now, and with a little obvious tinkering it will be fine when you retire. If you want to worry about something, worry about health care costs. (And hope that the current trend, which is that the increase has slowed markedly, continues.)

The core of the GOP's problem is so much deeper than just going out into communities to sell their message. Courting Latinos through immigration reform promises has the distinct whiff of someone still not getting it. People of all races are more complex than just one issue and any attempt to get votes this way comes across as racist and pandering. I predict that even if the GOP does a huge turnaround on this issue it will still result in neglible numbers in terms of actual votes.

Agreed -- a GOP shift on immigration will not shift votes. It might get some people to listen to what the party has to say on other issues, though. But then Republicans will have to come up with something new to say about health care, education, employment, housing, etc.

I want to understand your response to an earlier question. Increased spending funded by tax increases will not hurt the economy. Are you kidding, how long can we spend more than we take in, and how can our economy fund an out of control Federal Government?

As economists have tried to explain, our nation -- like others -- can run deficits indefinitely. But they should be small enough so that debt does not grow -- or, preferably, shrinks -- as a percentage of GDP. 

So Congress cuts funding drastically. As a result, the government agencies must cut government programs drastically. Then Congress brings the government agency heads to committee hearings and asks them why they are cutting funding so drastically. What am I missing? These are our the people we elected?

I'm afraid they are.

So how do you handicap the impending Clinton - Rubio matchup? How much depends on Obama's success/popularity over the next three years?

If you're right about the matchup, then much more depends on whether Rubio can raise his game to a competitive level. Right now, he looks like a college basketball star who graduates to the NBA and finds that the game is faster and harder-hitting than anything he's seen before. 

Clint Eastwood having a terse conversation with an empty chair. Sorry, but this is what I think of when I think of the Republican Party these days. It does not inspire confidence in their ability to lead in the 21st (yep) Century.

Eastwood at the convention: The gift that keeps on giving. 


Alas, folks, I can't keep on typing -- my time is up. Thanks so much for participating, as usual, and I'll see you again next week!

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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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