Eugene Robinson Live

Nov 19, 2013

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

Hi, everyone. Welcome to our weekly discussion, wherein we solve the problems of the known world. Today's column is about how awkward the holidays will be for the Cheney family, given their very public dispute over gay marriage. But of course there's other news as well. Let's get started.

Gene, your partisanship makes it hard to take anything you write seriously. After millions of people lost their health insurance due to a President that knowingly lied and a democrat led congress that shoved a bill down our throats you still go to bat. Is it because they are Democrats? Please - show some balance for once in your life. I'm sure if this was President Romney you'd have no qualms

First, as I keep pointing out, I write an OPINION column. I express my own opinions, not anyone else's. As for your question, as it turns out, Mitt Romney did inaugurate precisely this kind of health insurance reform when he was governor of Massachusetts. Now, something like 98 percent of state residents have insurance -- it worked! So indeed, I salute him. I also salute President Obama for his Romneycare-modeled reforms, and despite the problems it's having now, it's going to work, too.

Perhaps the most galling talking point I have heard from your side about the Obamacare fiasco is that, well gee whiz, those people who lost their health insurance coverage had a lousy, sub-standard plan to begin with. Mr. Robinson, the American consumer should decide which plan is good and which plan is lousy, not Big Daddy federal government. With this talking point, you are saying that these consumers are too stupid to choose a decent plan for themselves. Don't you see how insulting this is?

Some of the people who are losing their current plans will feel that way. Others will see that they now have more choice, and better choices. We'll see which view predominates. And by the way, some people will still lose their insurance plans, but not by order of the ACA. It will be because the insurance companies decided to cancel them anyway, which, you might have noticed, happens every year.

Gene, I hope I'm not alone in this, but I think it's greatly premature to say that the ACA is a failure and it automatically spells doom for the president and Democrats. Yes, it had a difficult launch, and yes, the president had to backtrack in order to keep a campaign promise of keeping coverage you like, but technical issues do not make or break an entire law or program. We need to see how this whole program pans out over time; then and only then will we see the fruits of this labor. We all too often forget that in this instant-gratification world we live in. And speaking only for myself, my insurance premiums for 2014 went down by $60 a month, with coverage comparable to what I had this calendar year.

I agree entirely. All the hysteria is wasted effort, basically, because President Obama is committed to the ACA for as long as he's president. That means there will be time to make it work right. 

I'll preface this question, by saying I support same sex marriage and think Liz Cheney is position is based on political opportunity. However, do you believe that if someone opposes "marriage equality" that they are a bigot? In my opinion it's not the same as the African American struggle. No one is denying gays the right to sit at a lunch counter, there is no poll tax, etc.

No two struggles are ever the same, and certainly no strugle is like the Civil Rights Movement. But I agree with the NAACP that marriage equality is a civil rights issue, and I see no non-discriminatory rationale to oppose gay marriage.

Hi Eugene -- thanks for your on-target column today and for taking questions. There's many things that are troubling here -- namely the idea that one sister would disown another for political gain, and their parents giving their blessing to that act of betrayal. But none are more offensive to me, as a gay person, than the Cheney's suggestion that Liz has treated Mary with "compassion." That's nothing more than code to Wyoming voters who buy into the outmoded view of homosexuality as an illness, and all we can do is is be nice to poor Mary and feel sorry for her (and vote for Liz while you're at it). The Cheneys are truly a piece of work, and how I wish all of them would exit the public stage once and for all, but I know that's not going to happen.

Thanks for your eloquent explanation of why the "compassion" line is so offensive and harmful. Maybe if we made the "Exit" sign a little bigger and brighter?

I have been an Obama supporter since his inauguration, and I still am--but recently he's been testing my patience and my willingness to give him latitude. He first upset me with his administration's defense of the NSA snooping into private phone records. I'm still steamed about that. That problem has only seemed to grow worse over time. Now, I'm trying to understand why he blatantly lied in telling people they could keep their health plans (if they liked them), period. His words, not mine. He certainly had to know better. He had to know that insurance companies had the right to cancel policies that would not meet ACA standards. Yes, those policies were grandfathered in, but he had to know that there would be little incentive for insurance companies to continue a policy that would have no enrollment incentive in the future--because it would violate ACA law. I just can't understand why Obama would repeatedly make a statement that he MUST have known was not true. Yet he stated it repeatedly. Can you understand why he would say something that was clearly destined to come back to bite him? Please tell me something that will restore my faith in Barack Obama. I suspect that I speak for millions here.

I generally deal in analysis, not faith. The fact is that for 95 percent of insured Americans, what the president said is true. That doesn't excuse making a categorical statement that is not categorically true, but it's a fact that we're talking about relatively few people. The president's false blanket assurance is being seized on by people who simply oppose the law and are trying to cudgel it to death. Won't work. On the NSA, by the way, I agree with you and have said so in several columns.

As usual, you're missing the point in your drive to be partisan in all things. Real conservatives believe that each state should be able to set its own policies except where those policies interfere with interstate activities like commerce, defense, etc. -- And while I am against nepotism in all forms, to be sure: Liz Cheney is no less a carpetbagging hack than, say, Hillary Clinton was.

As someone born in an era of segregation and discrimination -- all perfectly legal, according to the duly elected authorities of the state of South Carolina -- I will never endorse the idea that states' rights are somehow absolute. They are not, as the Constitution makes clear. As for your comparison, Liz Cheney is much, much less than Hillary Clinton on any grounds I can imagine.

Mr. Robinson, Positions on Same Sex Marriage is a religious decision, why are you trying to make it political. I personally know more Democrats the support one man/one woman than Republicans.

The religious freedom we have in our country means that no faith or sect gets to impose its views on everyone else. If you don't want to marry someone of the same sex, you don't have to. I believe, however, that others should have the right to do so if they choose. 

Do the bloviators have perspective on exactly what they're doing when they enter the hyper-bloviation zone? Do those portending the end of Obama's presidency and the collapse of the ACA realize that three months from now they'll be talking about something else altogether, that the President will be still doing his thing, the ACA will be stumbling forward, we'll be adapting, etc. Or even better they'll get a chance to write the "comeback story." Why does everything need to be this dramatized? And do these same people not realize that every single President is vexed with the same array of problems and crises? That approval ratings have far more to do with personal pocketbook issues, often out of a President's short-term control, than anything else? There's nothing that will fix the President's current approval "crisis" like a sequestration fix and a bit more money flowing into people's pockets!

It seems that there is some obligation to be in a constant state of hysteria. I think a lot of the hair-on-fire bloviating is absurd.

Richard Cohen got into trouble talking about the next New York City Mayor and how a lot of people wouldn't understand an inter-racial marriage. It strikes me that there are a lot of people in the red states who would not understand or like inter-racial marraiges or same sex ones. Do you think that the abuse that Cohen has taken has been overdone?

I'm sure there are still people out there who have conniptions at the thought of interracial marriage, but those are certainly not "conventional views," which is what Richard called them. Every poll says that interracial marriage is overwhelmingly accepted these days. An awful lot of extended families include at least one person of a different race, and somehow people manage not to faint at the Thanksgiving table.

You should only write an opinion column if you reflect MY opinion. SIgned: The First Poster.

Well, a lot of people seem to feel that way. I'm used to it.

There are literally thousands of spousal benefits that gays are being denied when they cannot marry.

True. I should have pointed this out.

and I will show you someone who has never been ill. Wonkblog did a great explanation of how the insurance companies would change the policies just enough every year so that only healthy people could get into the new one, leaving sicker and sicker people in the old policy which would raise the rates on the old policy with the sicker enrollees so much that those people would have to drop their coverage entirely. Backdoor way to never have to insure a sick person for more than a year or two.

The old system did not work for a lot of people. It didn't work for the 50-odd-million uninsured. It didn't work for people in the individual market who got their rates raised and their benefits trimmed every year. Polls continue to show that despite the best efforts of ACA opponents, most Americans do not want to see it repealed.

... is the Republican model, using exchanges as a way to keep private insurers. I have never thought it was the right way to go, but at least it addresses the problem of 40 Mil+ without healthcare. My question is: do you think Obama went with this model believing that the right wing would hesitate to criticize it?

Basically, yes. I think he believed this would be easier to get through Congress than, say, a single-payer plan (perhaps Medicare for all). People in other advanced countries can't understand why such a modest reform is causing such a stir.

I'm actually a little amused (when I'm not angry) by the outrage that the ACA isn't working smoothly coming from the very same people who have been working to hobble it out of the gate. If more states had taken charge and created exchanges (what the law was written for), we would be seeing better enrollment results.

Right -- try your best to sabotage something, then complain it doesn't work well.

I think the ACA will turn out to be a wonderful program. I don't need it since I have my insurance through my employer, as do most people. But, I just wish the President had said: "you can keep your insurance, assuming your plan conforms to the better standards under ACA; and, you can keep your doctor, assuming your doctor doesn't retire or opt out of insurance plans as many doctors are doing anyway." Who on earth advised the President to be so emphatic? That was the big mistake, as I see it.

I have the feeling the president wishes he had used your phrasing, too.

Where does the 'millions of people' figure come from in reference to those whose current insurance plans were cancelled? How many of those cancelled plans covered hospitalization, surgery, and long-term care for illnesses like cancer?

Those are two questions. The number of individual policy holders who are being canceled probably does reach into the low millions, far as I can tell. But you really should subtract the people whose policies would have been canceled anyway, regardless of the ACA -- that probably amounts to millions each year. As to what those policies cover, the answer is generally "not nearly enough."

Another former and current Obama supporter here. I'm aghast at the botched ACA rollout, too, but for the life of me I don't get the blind trust the loudest opponents put in insurance companies. They operate in ways that would make cable TV companies blush and for many people, Sarah Palin's "Death Panels" have been a reality with them for years. Disconnecting health insurance from employment is a huge step forward and I really think this will eventually sort itself out.

It is really just an accident of history that health insurance is tied up with employment in this country. Obamacare doesn't really sever this connection, though. It just gives options to those who are not covered through their employers.

To the previous poster - give me a break. We all know that approach is code for No Gay Marriage Ever. It is difficult to make marriage a solely state issue, because then you have the issue that married gay couples currently face, that their marriages are acceptable in some states but not others, and there are legal and tax (federal and state) implications to this. Heterosexual marriages are marriages in all states, even if the married couple does not meet the approval of all citizens of that state. Why should homosexual marriages be any different?

Cleary, they shouldn't be treated any differently.

While I think President Obama is a smart man on many levels, the fact that he was elected twice doesn't mean anything other than he's a good campaigner. The actor Will Smith once said, he could get elected president. My point exactly...then what!!!

Actually, the fact that he was elected twice does mean something. It means he's president, with the powers and responsibilities of the office. It also means he has put his policy proposals -- including health care reform -- before the voters twice. They said yes.

So, if I understand correctly, back in 2010 the President said that people who had plans they liked in 2010 would have those plans grandfathered in. In the three years between then and now, insurance companies have changed plans and cancelled plans and started new ones, and almost no one has the plan they had in 2010. So why aren't people mad at the insurance companies, and why didn't insurance companies notify people that if they changed plans (whether they sought out the change or had the change forced upon them) they would no longer be grandfathered in? I understand that to a certain element it's all about blaming the President, but how about a little logic?

Because, for some reason, the insurance companies have been allowed to skate. That won't last.

As much as I think the problems with the rollout of the full PPACA changes, I think that they may be just the first of many. The next thing to come up will likely be privacy/security issues (where the healthcare web site is hacked). And, the real problems will be in a few years where the real rubber will hit the road--when doctors, nurses, and hospitals are told that what they are charging for services is "too much". If the concept of the health care changes is that prices will be controlled, that means that doctors will be paid less over time. At some point, that will reach a tipping point, where the government--through the health care insurance regulations--tells doctors that they cannot get paid what their services are worth. It may take a few years, but I don't see how this country can avoid that situation in the future. Your thoughts?

Where have you been? Doctors have been under pressure -- especially from the insurance companies -- to keep their prices down for a long, long time. Docotrs' incomes are not what they once were.

The most famous parts -- before the botched website -- were insuring children through age 26 and covering many prescription drugs, including contraception, for free. Something I take for debilitating migraines became free more than a year ago thanks to the ACA, and I don't have an Obamacare policy.

Thanks. That's why I don't buy the "Obamacare in Peril" thing. Whatever people think of the president, they like the benefits the law is providing.


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