Eugene Robinson Live

Mar 18, 2014

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

Hello, everybody. Welcome to our weekly tete-a-tete. Plenty of moving parts today, as usual. Vladimir Putin appears to have swallowed Crimea whole. The Malaysia jetliner is still missing, and searchers seem to know less and less about where it might be. Big announcement in physics that gives new confirmation to the big bang theory of creation. And of course there's politics -- today's column advises Democrats to stop apologizing for Obamacare and start telling people what's great about it. Let's get started.

Thanks for your column this morning. Hammering home the point about ACA is critical. In the Senate races, the Supreme Court is monumental. We're one justice away from overturning Roe - and goodness knows what else. SCOTUS already has shaped the future of justice - or injustice for that matter. I wish voters would remember that.

I wish they would, too. One more conservative vote on the court could set the country back disastrously. Thanks for reminding us.

Eugene, this is the cost of electing someone with no foreign policy experience. Putin is laughing at us, our allies can't trust us and the world stage is shifting. I'm guessing Red-Lines don't work with Russia

Um, you mean just like he laughed when George W. Bush was president, Dick Cheney was vice president and Russia invaded Georgia? Perhaps you think there's some way to push Russia around when it doesn't want to be pushed. There isn't.

Hardly any legislation has passed with the current Congress. If the Republicans hold the House and take the Senate in the fall elections, could we see even less (hard to imagine that there is anything less)? Also, the Democrats have never taken state legislative races as seriously as Republicans, is anyone trying to change that? We've got six years before the next census, that would seem like enough time for them to accomplish something at the state level.

Yes, we could see an even less productive Congress. And yes, Democrats have awakened to the fact that state-level elections are really important. We'll see how that translates into results.

Gene: I enjoy your columns and chats; thanks for doing them. This is more of an observation than a question, but I was struck by the tone of last week's discussion. You indicated that we would be well-served by a more complete understanding of slavery in our country's history. In reaction, a number of commenters responded with some version of either "what about the fact that other countries had/have slavery", or " why don't you mention that black people owned slaves", or something similar. It seems that a numerically significant group of people have chosen not to understand that a better understanding of slavery doesn't necessarily equate to a condemnation of 21st-century white Americans. Understanding our history is an important goal. After all, if we present a whitewashed version to students and others, then we might as well outsource our textbook production to 1950s-era Soviet editors.

Thanks for the observation. What struck me about the comments last week was how many people wanted to change the subject -- other countries' experience with slavery, etc. It proved my point that we really haven't examined what happened here and how it has shaped American history from the beginning. 

Hi Eugene -- thanks for your on-target column today and for taking questions. It seems to me like the Democrats are mostly playing defense in the upcoming midterms -- not a very effective strategy when it's looking more and more like it could be bad for them, especially if they lose the Senate. And when it comes to the ACA, it seems like they're flailing in trying to come with a strategy to trumpet the benefits of the law (most recently Obama going on wacky talk shows, trying to latch on to March Madness as a vehicle, etc). What has been the problem with their messaging? Or was the law, at least as a matter of public relations, doomed from the start given the Republicans' relentless criticism?

I just think that tryng to meet GOP critics halfway is a losing approach. The ACA is a huge and important step toward making quality health care available to all. It seems to me a no-brainer that Democrats should talk about the law's benefits. Any other approach, it seems to me, just reinforces Republican talking points.

My mother was born in Latvia in 1931. She spent most of WW II in a displacement camp in Germany before getting a sponsor for her family to move to the US. Of all the people I know in my life, few have benefited more from the New Deal than my mother but she is a staunch Republican. Hard core. When I confronted her with this and I asked her why she said, "Because a Democrat gave my country away." I did not try to reason with her but I have a similar feeling today regarding the ACA. My then 14 year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. She is now 19 and cancer free but with a pre-existing condition. I will NEVER vote Republican because they want to take the ACA away. How could I as a father face her if I ever did? And if anyone ever thinks that bad things won't happen to them (health wise) they are either stupid, rich or stupid. Go on offense Mr. President, I have your back and vote.

My extended family, too, has experience with cancer, heart disease, kidney disease and other chronic conditions. Before the ACA, virtually everone was at risk of having a family member frozen out of the health insurance market. That can't happen anymore. Democrats should tell people the news.

It's off topic from your column today but you've written before about this issue. It seems our government does indeed listen to our phone calls. At this point I could never believe they wouldn't use it on us if it was possible and it's possible. I never thought I would vote for a Rand Paul but I'm getting there. Sorry for the rant. My question: do you see something along the lines of the Church Committee coming?

You're talking about the big scoop that broke in The Washington Post about an hour ago: The NSA has technology that lets it capture all the phone conversations in a country for 30 days on a rolling basis. This allows analysts to listen to a specific conversation that took place, say, two weeks ago. The Post did not name the country involved -- or the several other countries where this technology may also be employed. My understanding from a quick read is that this is not something the NSA does or would do domestically -- in other words, the United States isn't the unnamed country. But if the technology exists, what are the assurances that this sort of thing can't happen here? Lots of questions that need to be answered.

When the President gives a top honor to a rapper whose "work" features the "N-word," when blacks say it's OK for other blacks to call them the "N-word" or variant thereof -- but not for whites to use it -- then how can the NFL even be thinking of looking at penalizing use of the "N-word"? To be consistent, wouldn't the NFL only be able to penalize white-on-black "N-word" use? And would that be discriminatory? This is where all this nonsense has taken us.

All what nonsense? It's simple. I don't use that word. The NFL is a private enterprise and can set policies on offensive language, just as many companies do. Black people can use the word if they want to, but white people can't. Because American history. It's not complicated.

Thank you for the timely column today. Dems need to up their game and message just as aggressively as the Tea party/GOP. I'm tired of hearing those on the right start out with "I'm for upholding the constitution", --implicitly meaning that those on the left are not. Well, I lean left and I'm for upholding the constitution too! The idea that those of us on the left are deep thinking and data driven and that should be sufficient to convince everyone is not good enough.

Right. It's my Constitution, too. Liberals have as much right to our founding documents and national symbols as conservatives do.

In order to get a complete in depth picture of slavery, we need to learn about the culture and beliefs of West Africa and its involemenment in the slave trade.It wouldn't have happened without its participation but that is difficult for many to take. Instead all we learn is that a few of our forefathers owned slaves. Isn't this too simplistic?

If you're implying that the institution of slavery in North America was in any way brought about by the "culture and beliefs of West Africa," you're wrong. It's true that there were Africans who trafficked in slaves. Of course they were wrong to do so. But they were responding to demand from Europeans who wanted unpaid labor. And it wasn't that "a few" forefathers owned slaves. There may not have been many plantation owners who owned human beings by the dozens or hundreds, but many, many early Americans owned one or two slaves -- and not just in the South, either. It's your knowledge of slavery, frankly, that seems "too simplistic."

I think Putin is a miserable thug, pining for Russia's past glories. I don't think, military geniuses Graham and McCain notwithstanding, that the US has that much leverage to affect the matter beyond steps already in progress. If Europe was so horrified by our spying and interference in their affairs, perhaps they'd like to police their own sphere of influence for once.

The United States and Europe have very little leverage -- at least that they're willing to apply. Crippling, Iran-style sanctions would hurt Russia (though I doubt they would force Putin to give up Crimea), but European leaders won't go that far. 

Years ago, after we got invasion happy here in the US, Putin figured he would just wait until we ran out of money and stamina to make his move.

I don't quite buy your theory, I'm afraid. I think Putin believes that Russia is a great power that deserves a sphere of influence. I think he wants to be surrounded by friendly, compliant governments -- especially in Ukraine, which many Russians, right or wrong, consider part of the Motherland. I think Putin believed he had what he wanted in Yanukovych and was alarmed at the prospect that the new government would tilt toward Europe and away from Moscow. And I think trying to understand how Putin sees things doesn't mean you agree with his point of view.

In my lifetime the inhumanity and immorality of slavery have (almost) never been questioned. It's only recently I've been made aware of the ENORMOUS economic impact slavery made on the development of our country. All us white guys not only have a headstart in most things but came up with riches derived from the dehumanization of others. I heard on a recent NPR interview that the estimated value of southern slaves far exceeded the value of northern industry.

Especially in the South, governors such as James Monroe of Virginia spoke of slaves as the biggest component of their states' "wealth." Some of our leading universities were built with money that came from the slave trade (see the recent book "Ebony and Ivy.") Some of the first great fortunes on Wall Street were built on the cotton trade, which in turn was built on slave labor. You are right: The economic impact was enormous. Scholars are just now beginning to tally it up.

I'm reading "Team of Rivals," and the biggest takeaway and surprise is how much at the start of the Civil War Northerners as well as Southerners did not want slavery to end. Too much money being made by Northern manufacturers and even slave traders. Even Lincoln didn't want to make slavery in the South the reason for the war. Wow!

And the thing is, everyone knew it was wrong. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, the other Founders who owned slaves -- they knew the "ownership" of human beings gave a lie to their stirring words about how all men are created equal. They just didn't want to suffer the financial loss.

In your gut, do you think it will ever be found?

I'm starting to think it may never be found. As far as I can tell, nobody seems to have a clue where the plane might be. The area they're searching is vast -- and seems to grow every day, rather than shrink.

If Jeb Bush decides to run against Hilary Clinton, do you think this will energize the parties or make voters just stay home with the attitude oh, no not again, another Bush, another Clinton?

The latter. But I think both candidates would be pleased, in a way, because the whole dynasty thing would cut both ways.

First get a time machine. Go back to the split up of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Have the West not do anything to bring any of those countries into trade agreements or alliances with the West - yes, that means not unifying Germany. With absolutely no encroachment on Russia's sphere of influence, you might have prevented Putin from putting his fist down at this moment. Maybe. Oh, or you could have let the Ukraine keep all the nukes and risked them being sold to various unfriendly bits of the Middle East. Overall, I think what we have right now is better.

Maybe this is what John McCain is talking about. Quick, dust off the time machine.


And speaking of time, mine has just run out -- as far as this chat is concerned, I mean. Thanks, everyone, for participating, 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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