Eugene Robinson Live

Jan 28, 2014

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

Hi, everyone. Computer trouble today -- sorry to be late -- so, without preliminaries, it's SOTU day and let's get started.

I understand that it's supposed to be cold in winter and I understand the difference between climate and weather. You and many others have taken advantage of the hot days of summer to advance your beliefs of global warming, so, in the interest of balance, let us "denialists" savor the perception of "global cooling," even if we aren't certain what's going on.

You refer to today's column, which takes the occasion of single-digit temperatures to remind everyone that global warming is real. There's one difference between the examples you cite. I've mentioned global warming during heat waves that were truly historic, with records broken, etc. The cold we've seen this winter has been unusual, to be sure, but isn't breaking all-time records (although that may change in terms of snow in the South; we'll see). Your overall point is valid -- no one weather event can be definitively linked to climate change -- but come on, look at the science, the trend is quite clear.

Hi Eugene -- thanks for taking questions today. Chuck Todd on MSNBC essentially said this morning that the President Obama has one more opportunity tonight, and perhaps not even that given his approval rating and other factors, to engage the American people in his vision for the remainder of his presidency. He also seemed to say that even though he has three years to go, a lot of the public has already tuned out, so any impact he might have will be minimal at best. What's your take? What does the president need to do? How does he continue to work with a House that refuses to cooperate with him?

Chuck is one of the best political reporters alive but I disagree on this point, for one simple reason: There are three years left in the Obama presidency. A week can be an eternity in politics (ask Chris Christie). I think it's illogical to say any presidency is effectively over with three whole years to go. 

I get it that the frigid weather in the Midwest and East has the most dramatic, dangerous, inconvenient and unpleasant effects on people in the U.S. right now. But I appreciated your attempt to remind everyone that a) it's not freezing everywhere; and b) there are still many alarming signals of climate change happening right now too. You didn't have to go to Australia to find it, though. In all the coverage of the polar vortex, I can understand that those of us out here in California won't get much sympathy (not what we want anyway), but we're having our own crazy, disturbing weather. I'm in San Francisco, where 2013 was our driest year EVER. It has not rained AT ALL in January, which is what winter is supposed to be all about. Yes, it's been lovely to have sunny, warm days rather that what the rest of your are enduring. But our drought and unseasonal warmth is probably a bigger climate change story and will have lasting effects into the summer and beyond, when we'll be facing water shortages/rationing. By that time, you'll all be complaining about heat and humidity, and the vortex will be a distant memory. I wish the TV news folks would give the whole picture. Thank you.

Thanks for your post. I think human beings are probably born with a bias toward the now. It makes sense -- if you're being chased by a predator across the grasslands of the Rift Valley, you need to be focused on what's happening this second, rather than what might happen a few years or decades from now. But if we don't rise to meet this future challenge, we'll be sorry.

While it may be easy to dismiss critics by calling them "denialists", what is wrong with skepticism? In 2007 leading climate scientists predicted "ice-free Arctic summers by 2013". They were wrong. Al Gore predicted increasing ocean temperatures would lead to an increase in the number of hurricanes. He was wrong.

Because there are indicators that can be objectively measured, and denialists won't accept these unchallenged facts. Sea levels are rising. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 40 percent. Temperatures, on average, are rising. It's true that climate scientists don't know all the ramifications of a warmer world. But that world is coming.

When will the mainstream media get serious about communicating the urgency of climate change?

Jeez, how many columns about climate change do you want me to write?

I am a woman. I pay very hefty premiums. My birth control may come without copays (like prostate exams, vaccines, and diabetic counseling) but it is not "free." Why don't the Dems push back on this?

They do. It's just that some people are determined not to let facts get in way of the story they want to tell.

I used to always watch the SOTU and then someday during Clinton or Bush 2, I realized the WHOLE speech is just a laundry list of wishes that never get realized. And except for references to our brave men and women in the military, every 30 seconds half of the room gives a standing ovation while the other half sits on their hands. Please give me a reason, any reason, to watch tonight. Signed, a recovering political junkie.

It's true that the SOTU has become a scripted event. Some years, yes, it's pretty boring. But other years, depending on events or what the president has to say, it's riveting. One reason to watch is on the chance it's one of those riveting years.

We agree on global warming, but note that almost every scientist knows that global warming is measured in years or decades, not from a few "all-time records" in the summer. When you use these simple examples, you hurt your case, not help it.

You're right that it's necessary to take a long view. But if we're seeing lots of all-time records on the high side being set somewhere, practically every year, and we're seeing few if any all-time records being set on the low side, that does tell you something. Not necessarily from one year's data, but from multiple years.

Wisely or not, the President has staked much of his legacy on Obamacare. Who do you know that is writing objectively (as much as possible) about how well the implementation is now going and how well it is or is not working. I am not interested in the Fox News "Obamacare is the end of America" perspective, nor do I want the apologists' attempt to dismiss the bungled rollout as insignificant. This strikes me as a massively important story, but it's hard to know who to trust when so much purported analysis is ideologically driven. For example, how different are the demographics from what was antipated, and how much does this affect the program?

Sarah Kliff, who writes about health care for this paper, is the gold standard, as far as I'm concerned. Her explanation today of how "risk corridors" work is terrific. Read her.

Why is that despite poll after poll showing that the american people view the GOP unfavorably the are expected to easily retain the House and have a good shot to take the Senate? I don't get it.

The short answer is that gerrymandering makes so many House seats safe for the incumbent party that it is hard to dislodge the GOP majority; and that the Democrats have more swing Senate seats up for grabs this year than Republicans do. The even shorter answer is that while voters think little of the GOP, they don't think much more of the Democratic Party.

"The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 40 percent" At least based on what I could see quickly, this "fact" isn't true (even recognizing that you don't give a time period). Isn't this one of (admittedly not the only) reasons for skepticism -- people throw around facts and predictions that are inaccurate or selective or proven wrong. Isn't this what we accuse the right wingers of doing???

I gave the time period in the column -- since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution -- and this is an undisputed fact. This is ascertained (perhaps among other methods) by examining the air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice. Since the late 18th century, the concentration has gone up from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm today. That's an increase of 120 ppm, which is a little more than 40 percent of the original 280 ppm. Not inaccurate, not selective, not proven wrong. In fact, proven right.

How much leeway does the president have to act on his own? It could get challenged by the House/Senate Republicans like in the case of recess appointments.

Hard to give a general answer -- he has a lot of leeway on some issues, not much on others. It has already been anounced that he will increase the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10, for example. House Republicans could presumably pass legislation that tries to stop him from doing this, but that bill wouldn't get through the Senate -- and if it somehow did get through, the president would surely veto it.

So they're up to four now? Will all of them be televised (I understand at least one is a website post, but so what)? What are the networks obligated to do under the so-called equal time rules? And while it likely has nothing to do with it, how much hay can be made out of three men trying to upstage a woman tasked with the "official" response?

It seems to me that the proliferation of GOP responses would tend to dilute the party's message and confuse the public. But that's just me.

I wonder if you agree or disagree with George Will that the SOTU address should be done away with. I think it should be. The president has so many ways to get his or (someday) her message out that a big event like this is not necessary. Plus, it just leads to one long night of political grand standing.

I don't see what the problem is? Why shouldn't there be an occasion when the president lays out his policies and his agenda before Congress and those of the American people who care to tune in? Anyone who's bored can switch off the tube and read a book.

Hi Mr. Robinson, I know it is an old column but I wanted to thank you for being one of the few in the media to continue to speak out on UI. I was lucky enough last week to be hired for a job (much less than what I was previously making) after being unemployed 7 months. I went in to unemployment a down the line Republican, but now, seeing how delusional my congressman and other Republicans are to what it is like for their constituents who can not find work, my world view has at least changed to moderate. I hope in a year, when I am established again, I don't forget what it is like to be disadvantaged. Thanks again.

Thanks so much for your post. I hope I don't have to return to the issue in an upcoming column, but I fear I will.

Folks, so sorry, but I have to quit a few minutes early today. I'll make it up in a subsequent chat. Thanks for dropping by, 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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