Eugene Robinson Live

Apr 09, 2013

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

Submit questions and comments for Gene to respond to now.

Hello, folks, and welcome. Anything and everything is on the table today. My column is about Margaret Thatcher, not as a poitician or an ideologue -- roles in which I would have opposed most of what she did and stood for -- but as a feminist icon. She would have hated that epitaph, but that's what she was. Closer to home, there's the White House budget coming tomorrow, and meanwhile the gun control and immigration pots are reaching full boil. Let's begin.

Any chance the families coming from Newtown will move the Senate to act? Could you help us understand what Mitch McConnell has issues with and why he will filibuster. Is there a word available to describe something that 90% of the population wants to see happen and the Senate stonewalls?

I can think of several appropriate words but none is fit for a family newspaper. It is a huge mistake for Republicans to filibuster this, I think. Tactically, wouldn 't they rather make red-state Democrats take a tough vote?

My husband is an AUSA, and it looks like he's going to get by without being furloughed. Maybe some IT and construction work will be deferred, but no big deal. The Federal Public Defender in our district, on the other hand, is looking at 20 to 25 days of furlough from this past week through September 30. They are also slashing experts and stuff just to get to that number. I know in public and in law school classrooms we're supposed to say, oh no, boo hoo, how can this happen, why don't judges dismiss cases because there's no counsel, Gideon's 50th, blah blah blah. Instead, all I can say is GOOD. It makes it that much easier to convict people. No more Barry Schecks talking about the cops' biases or messed up drug labs or whatever. Look, even if the guy didn't do that specific thing they're charged for, so what? The indictment is just an opening bid. You charge with like 30 years to get to 1 to 3 or something. Fact is, if you get in the crosshairs of the US Attorney, you're guilty of something. If they serve an extra 10 years or so because my husband has more leverage on plea bargains, that's ten more years this guy isn't standing on a street corner, or this illegal isn't taking jobs from real Americans. That's also puts good hardworking prosecutors like him that much closer to promotion, so we can have a system where we really do put the bad guys away.

We do put the bad guys away, and some of the not-so-bad guys, too. We put more people away per capita than any industrialized nation on earth. Lots more. And the idea that anyone investigated by federal prosecutors is automatically guilty of something offends the Constitution. Probably offends some participants in this discussion as well.

Now that the effects of this noxious action are being felt any hope that Congress will actually do something to counter act it?

Unclear. It would be absurd for the sequester cuts to just be left there, with everyone agreeing they're wrong, but it seems possible.

Hi Gene - In your column you write: "Thatcher delivered a speech as planned later that day as "a sign not only that this attack has failed but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail." I was never a fan of the IRA's tactics, but can you really argue that Thatcher (and the British government) stood for the democratic way in Ireland? Carve 6 Protestant (and really Loyalist) counties apart from the other 26 and then allow 50-60 years of discrimination of the minority population, namely Catholics? While not responsible for partition Mrs. Thatcher certainly supported it and continued policies to this effect. If she really stood for democracy she would have put together a referendum on Irish unity with the whole of Ireland voting and then pledged to follow through to implement the results. The war would have ended 20 years early and Ireland would have been a united nation. Be careful with admiring Mrs. Thatcher by using quotes putting her as the arbiter of the democratic way.

I was quoting her, not endorsing her interpretation of the history of the Troubles. I agree that, obviously, Thatcher's hard-line approach did not bring peace to Northern Ireland. Her supporters would argue that it was necessary to convince the IRA it couldn't win through violence, and thus had to negotiate. Opponents would say she delayed peace rather than advance it. 

Considering how quickly and easily information can be acquired today, does it surprise you how many people are willfully ignorant and almost proud of it?

It surprises me how many people "know" things that are objectively untrue. High schools should have classes in fact-checking.

With the recent massive leak in a tar sands oil pipeline in Arkansas, is there a chance that the Keystone pipeline will finally get axed by the administration? Or is no one really paying much attention beside some of us Lefties?

I think the pipeline will get built. I have no special knowledge of how the administration will finally come down on the issue, but my sense is that the president would rather fight on fuel economy standards -- and perhaps, I hope, coal-fired power plant emissions -- than block this pipeline. There's an argument that the tar sands will ultimately be developed anyway, whether the pipeline is built or not. The recent leak is quite large, as pipeline leaks go, but I don't think it has changed many minds.

Why do you and the rest of the press focus exclusively on the 'tawdry angle' - adultery - and NOT that Sanford misused taxpayer funds, kept lying until caught, and was hit with a $74K ethics fine?

Um, you wouldn't have the ethics violations or the lying without the tawdry stuff. But yes, we probably should mention the official consequences more often.

Hi Eugene. Why can we just mandate that gun owners must possess insurance? Let the insurance companies determine how dangerous a gun might be and charge accordingly. When a gun is sold or given away, transfer the title and the new owner must purchase at the least liability insurance.

Interesting idea.

As long as the Republicans maintain control of the House, nothing passed by the Democratc-led Senate will everbe passed by the House. So, what is the purpose of the Senate just about filibustering everything? Also, whatever happened to Mitch McConnell's "gentlemen's agreement?" BTW...I must applaud both Michael Steele and John McCain who were willing to stand up to their own party and called them, "being ridiculous." I

Like I said, I don't get this one. It may elevate the party in the eyes of the NRA, but hardly in the eyes of the voters. 

Will the President hold tough with the GOP on the tax/entitlement mix this time or are we looking at another cave?

The budget comes out tomorrow, but from what we already know, I guess I'm not sure what we're looking at. The president is announcing his "compromise" position at the outset -- including the Social Security cost-of-living cuts that are called "chained CPI," a phrase I will try not to repeat. Where you start in a negotiation is rarely where you end up. And the White House position used to be that Social Security should be taken up as a separate discussion about sustainability, not as part of an omnibus budget plan. I'm trying to be calm until we see the documents.

Gene, All over the globe, tributes are pouring in on the news of the passing of a true heroine, role-model and portrait of courage...Annette Funicello. In the face of a devastating and incurable disease, she gave, and continues to give, hope to millions with her grace, optimism and kindness. She is an icon of empathy, for both men and women, and represents the best qualities we all aspire to achieve. Requiescat in pace, Annette.

Amen. When I was a kid, she was my favorite Mouseketeer. Sad to hear of her passing.

What do you think of Beyonce's recent honeymoon anniversary trip to Cuba? Should Americans be allowed to visit Cuba?

Yes, they should. The trade embargo and travel restrictions against Cuba constitute one of the dumbest , most counterproductive U.S. government policies I can think of, and that's saying a lot. I wrote a book on Cuba; as a working journalist, I can come and go as I please. I can attest that our policies have the impact of strengthening the Castro regime's grip on power, not weakening it. The Castros use the embargo and the travel ban as justification for repression; we can't have freedom of speech, assembly, whatever, while the enemy is trying to destroy us. That's what they say. Do Cubans buy it? Not really -- but they hate the embargo and the travel ban, and wonder why we persist in this manner. Every leading dissident on the island, including people the Castros have persecuted and jailed, believes we should end the embargo and let Americans travel to the island. They know that an influx of American businesses and ideas would undermine the government. We should listen to them.

Hi Eugene, What is you opinion on Pres. Obama conducting the majority of his work via campaign-like appearances. It seems with every issue, he gathers people stereotypical of the type that's affected by such-and-such a proposal, gives a speech, and then relies on his staff to give the follow up explanations to the media. Can this go on effectively for another 4 years? Or should he get more hands on, and actually govern?

When you say "actually govern," what do you mean? He lays out a program, House Republicans reject it. He lays out another program, House Republicans reject it, too. He meets with House Republicans and they decide they don't want to meet anymore. It's the House GOP majority that doesn't want to govern, and it seems reasonable that the president would go to the voters and get them to pressure these elected officials to do their jobs.

I also use that label for Thatcher but only grudgingly, because she herself was hostile to feminism and her policies did nothing to break down barriers for women. She's often compared to Reagan but I think her closest ideological equivalent in the US is Paul Ryan. Would you agree?

In the rhetorical sense, perhaps. But she didn't turn the National Health Service into a voucher program, as Ryan surely would have tried to do. As for her animus toward feminism, I do think that her example advanced the cause -- whether she liked it or not. 

The message from the AUSA wife was mildly entertaining, but why respond to that kind of stuff? I can't imagine what kind of material gets sent in that you don't respond to...

You have no idea.

It's simply a petty act of protest against Obama, and against the demographics that are turning the GOP into a regional party. The filibusterers will look like heroes back home. The same mentality behind the North Carolina GOP attempting to endorse Christianity - they know this won't last five minutes in federal court, but they still get credit from the base for going down swinging.

I guess you're right, but the GOP's problem going forward is not with its base. It's with independents, young people, minorities. This will not help.

Hard to believe it's now been 45 years since we lost him (and Bobby Kennedy). I wonder what he would think as he looked at America today? He believed so strongly in social justice that I'd think he'd be pretty unhappy about the yawning gap between our richest and poorest citizens.

I agree. I think he would be pushing hard for change, no matter which political party was in charge.

Clearly the wrath of the NRA is scarier to the legislators than the wrath of those who want to see something--anything--done to make guns less accessible.

Then we have to change that. When reasonable people begin to make gun control a voting issue, unreasonable people will no longer win these battles.


That's it for today, I'm afraid. I'll be away next week, so I'll see you in a fortnight. 

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: