Eugene Robinson Live

Sep 17, 2013

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello, everyone. Welcome to our weekly discussion. Sad day today, in the aftermath of the Navy Yard shootings. Will we learn anything from this one? Can't be optimistic. Let's get started.

So where's the red line now? What a great job this president is doing.....foreign and domestic experience really showing. Shame we can't check IDs at the door and have the occasional stop & frisk, might have kept that horrible shooting from occurring.

When we have Obamacare (vastly expanded access to mental health care) and sensible gun control (in my dreams) we'll stop a lot of horrible shootings.

What will it take to have a real discussion on firearms in this country? The names roll off the tongue too easily- Sandy Hook, Aurora, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, the Navy Yard... I realize the NRA has a lot of influence, but what will it take to finally say "Enough!" and limit what types of firearms are available to people? When will it become obvious that the answer to gunmen is not more guns?

I honestly don't know. Not every shooting is the same, and not every one has the same lessons for gun control policy. But if ever there were an argument for actual background checks, this looks like it.

So how did this crazy guy get a security clearance?

I don't think we have a full answer yet. The Post's story this morning quotes the head of the firm he worked for -- an HP subcontractor -- as saying that nothing came up in the employment background check. Which obviously means something is wrong with the way those checks are done.

Gene, Will the left, at least temporarily, abandon the continued protest about rifles and move on topics where there is some uniformity from the public. Handguns, nor the number of handguns will not be banned. The same is probably true for a standard shotgun. What would gain support is strengthening mental health laws. The one common thing between, VT shooting, Connecticut and Arizona and here is that the people had serious mental health issues and NEVER should have had access to a weapon. The conditions were very severe and appear to be known far before the incident. We should have a honest discussion about guns, but its absolutely wrong to use these deaths as a mechanism to push a somewhat unrelated political motive.

I agree that there probably will never be a law that keeps an adult from buying a shotgun. What I don't understand is why so many people who say we should focus on mental health are opposed to Obamacare. Millions of people will have access for the first time to the kinds of mental health services you advocate. And if we had truly universal health care, millions more would have it.

When the news first starting the break about a school shooting in Connecticut, I admit I wasn't that interested. School shooting at high schools (even with single digit fatalities) happen and get a bit of national coverage, but not really. It took the news that 20-something 1st graders were gunned down for that story to really break. It's just weird how this nation treats mass shooting like getting in a bath where the bathwater is too hot... we'll adjust and notice less and less each time.

We seem to accept the fact that there will be one or two of these every year. Recall that we almost had one last month, in Atlanta, but the day was saved by that amazing school administrator who talked the guy into surrendering. These things wouldn't happen if we had sensible gun control, but that's a distant dream at this point.

Greetings, Mr. Robinson: Yet another tragedy involving guns and mass killings. Yet another law enforecement shooting of an innocent. A successful Colorado recall election paid for by the N.R.A. What will it take for Congresses, both federal and state, to do something about easy access to weapons and our society's old-west love affair with "shoot first, ask questions later?" I live in Texas, so I know nothing will change here. But nationally, how do we get the N.R.A. out of our polling places? Thank you.

The NRA wins on both the state and national level because of intensity. People who oppose gun control feel much more passionately about the issue than people who support it. Unless that changes, there will be no sensible gun control.

It's been often pointed out that Obamacare is ultimately a Republican program. The Heritage Foundation incubated the core principles, and Romney put them into practice in Massachusetts. In spite of its Republican roots, the Republicans of course despise Obamacare. Do they feel Obamacare is fundamentally different from the original ideas propagated by them? If so, how? If not, how do Republicans account for this inconsistency? My natural instinct is to assume they just hate it because it came from Obama, and they hate all things Obama, but still there must be some non-emotional explanation out there that addresses this inconsistency. What is it?

That's an excellent question, and I'm still looking for a good answer. The Heritage Foundation, if I recall, issued a mea culpa saying it had been wrong to promote the mandate-and-exchanges idea that lies at the core of Romneycare/Obamacare. But I've yet to see an explanation that makes any sense of why this Republican idea suddenly became so awful when a Democrat adopted it.

From not fully explaining the benefits of his policies/legistation, especially, "Obamacare," to the way he has handled Syria, the President has been criticized by not only the opposing party, but by his own for his lack of leadership. Your thoughts on his leadership ability, especially how he is handling Syria, which some leaders both at home and abroad see as weak.

I thought the use of poison gas was so horrific that it merited a punitive military strike. My colleague Greg Sargent has a fascinating post on explaining that my view, and that of other critics, is wrong -- according to overwhelming public opinion. What looks like vacillation to inside-the-Beltway "elites" looks like prudent leadershisp to most Americans.

I know there are exception (the killing of Dr. George Tiller inside his Lutheran church being just one example), I'm tired of the "He's a right-wing nut" "No, he's a lefty nut" stuff. I'm a liberal, but it wouldn't matter to me if a mass shooting was done in the name of saving the whales and Rachel Maddow as the shooter. I'm for gun safety and don't care about the politics of a crazy person.

Put down the weapon, Rachel...

Given the troubled history of Aaron Alexis, the alleged shooter, would a background check have prevented him from purchasing weapons? And what are the chances we can finally require real background checks for purchases?

The question is what the criteria are for denying a purchase. How would you weed out somebody like Alexis, who has these episodes of recklessness with firearms in his past? Seems to me that should be disqualifying. But how do you get that information -- that he shot through his ceiling into a neighbor's apartment and shot out somebody else's tires -- to the point of sale?

Ironic that Mitch McConnell is being lambasted by an intraparty rival for being insufficiently anti-Obamacare. No sympathy for folks like him - they gave their base ridiculous promises that they couldn't keep. Too bad the base wouldn't be satisfied with more visible acts of protest, such as McConnell and his colleagues staging hunger strikes. What do you see as the likely outcome of the budget standoff?

Beats me. Ted Cruz is successfully goading House Republicans into painting themselves into a corner. It may be time to bring out the old discharge petition ploy, which could be the only way to get a continuing resolution and a debt ceiling increase out of the House if Speaker Boehner won't defy his crazies.

Gene, With all due respect you didn't really touch on the poster's point. If we want to stop violent attacks, we need to focus on mental health. Making sure the ACA act provides affordable mental health is a good point. There is also a stigma against getting help in the cleared community. Did you know that visiting a mental health professional triggers an automatic reinvestigation if you have a clearance? That doesn't sound like a rule that encourages people to receive professional help. What else can be done in your opinion to prevent the truly disturbed from getting guns (knowing that wholesale policies will likely fail).

I didn't know about that rule, and it sounds as if it needs to be changed. I do believe that focusing on mental health will help, but let me be clear: The biggest reason why there is so much more gun violence in the United States than in other industrialized is the easy abundance of firearms. You can find mental illness and violent video games anywhere in the world. 

In the span of less than 24 hours, the media was able to dig up a ton of information about Alexis. So how does a background check for a secret clearance turn up absolutely nothing? Is the firm who did the check the same one who cleared Edward Snowden?

Good question. Maybe all government contractors should hire a bunch of experienced reporters, along with a few overcaffeinated editors to yell at them.

Yes? No? Probably yes? Probably no? Toss up? What are the dynamics in play? If sticking to the Hastert Rule means yes on the shut down, will that be the deciding factor?

If I had to place my bet today, I'd say yes to a shutdown. Which is absurd, because only a minority of House Republicans think a shutdown is a good idea. They just can't figure out how to stop themselves.

Just an observation, and no offense to your "currently online" numbers, but I was excited to see the Obamacare Q&A that just ended on the Wapo had about 150 people online and a ton of widely different questions. Sort of cool to see regular people grappling with the real-life details of what it can or can't do for them, whether it applies to their situation, how it can help, etc. -- like seeing a real landscape emerge from a fog of partisan fantasies of all types. We're meeting healthcare reform at last. My big regret is that everyone, including me at this point, calls it Obamacare. I really wish Democrats had picked a more neutral name and pushed back at this right-wing label. Fortunately the state-based labels (Covered California, etc.) will really be the way that many encounter it from here on out.

I think it's just that Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is quite a mouthful, and the president decided to try a bit of linguistic jiu-jitsu by adopting the Obamacare label as his own. But you're right that most people will encounter the new law by other names.

I think this tells us the military and defense contractors have to get through too many background checks to do the kind of thorough job that reporters just did, post-mortem, on Alexis. Senator Moynihan used to point out the huge costs, both financial and in real security, of using classified status as the default for all data instead of a rare exception. Once too many programs and too much info is classified (because nobody ever got fired for OVERclassifying...), you logically have to get way too many people clearances, so they can work with all this stuff that didn't really have to be secret. More selection and care would create a safer system in many ways. Quite a mystery how to accomplish that when everyone errs on the side of too much classifying.

You raise an excellent point about overclassification of, well, everything. It's absurd and counterproductive. I've talked to very senior administration officials who acknowledge that far, far too much stuff gets classified, and yet I've seen no effort to change this practice. Moynihan is right: if everything is secret and secure, nothing is secret and secure.

USIS is under a federal investigation (which is somewhat ironic given their line of work) that they have on multiple occasions failed to properly vet individuals given a clearance. However the clearance are all investigated by a third party. Its the same investigation for federal and contractors. Both have to fill out SF-86. That said, as the poster said earlier, this information should have easily shown up in the clearance investigation, as mental health is one of the areas investigated. Snowden is far less obvious, as political views, private message board postings etc are not evaluated explicitly in the clearance process. It mainly focuses on mental health, foreign contacts, financial stability, criminal activities and substance abuse.

Thanks for the info. I've only ever seen the process from the outside: Interviewers have dropped by my house to ask about various neighbors who were up for clearance or re-clearance.


That's it for today, folks. My time is up. 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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