The Washington Post

Eugene Robinson Live

Apr 29, 2014

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

NOTE: Today's chat will take place at 2 p.m. Next week we'll be back at the normal time.

Hello, everyone. Sorry to be late. I see that the NBA is just about to start its press conference on Donald Sterling -- I guess that's my competition for the hour. Let's get started.

Are you taken aback that a racist NBA owner is a lifetime member of the NAACP and financially backs many Democratic members? If he were a Republican you'd probably have a lot more to say on the matter.....

Um, actually, Donald Sterling is a registered Republican. And I hardly think I could be harder on him than I've already been.

You were long on emotion last week on the SCOTUS decision re affirmative action. Perhaps by now you read the decision which simply says that the Constitution permits but does not require affirmative action in some circumstances, and the people of a state have the power to decide whether that policy should be allowed in their public institutions. This cannot be expanded, despite your efforts to do so, to equate with a decision to deny voting rights where those are required by the Constitution.

ACtually, re-read my column and then read Justice Sotomayor's dissent. The issue, as she saw it, was whether the state of Michagan had the right to change the political process in the way it did. She made clear that if the political process for influencing admissions decisions had been different, as in some other states, then the initiative barring affirmative action would have been proper. It would have been unwise, in her (and my) opinion, but proper.

Hi Eugene -- thanks for taking questions today. Today's WP poll has to be pretty disheartening for the Democrats, despite signs that a corner seemed to have been turned re: the ACA. What now? Is there anything they can do or is the cake, as they say, pretty much baked?

Nothing is baked at this point. There was no need to break out champagne a couple of weeks ago, when polls showed endangered Democratic incumbents leading in several Senate races that most people thought were lost, and there's no need to play funeral dirges now that a poll shows a gloomy picture for Democrats. Let's see what things look like in the next round of polls. And then the next.

There's a whole other element to Cliven Bundy's racism. The pioneers who went into the West sure did love them some federal government who cleared out the land of "pesky" aboriginal tribes. As somebody from that middle-of-nowhere kind of place, when aboriginal descendant talks about "Ancestral rights" to land, he or she is called a whiner or lacking the ability to "pull up their bootstraps".

True, and rarely noted. Thanks.

Does it seem ironic that the SCOTUS blithely opines that there is no real need for affirmative action any more -- at the same time that two public figures (Bundy and Sterling) feel no shame at airing their racist, bigoted views? Judicial blinders too much?

You think. I mentioned near the end of the column that a majority of the court apparently believes this kind of old-school racism is history. I hope they're paying attention, though I doubt it will change their minds.

NBC, citing the ever-popular unnamed sources, is reporting that Sterling will receive a $5M fine and indefinite suspension. I don't think that is sufficient, if it is true.

I'm hearing the same reports -- and waiting for the press conference to begin. The fine is chump change for Sterling, but it's bigger than the largest fine the NBA has ever levied for any reason. Probably the most the commissioner could do with his limited powers. The key thing is what "suspended" means -- how divorced must he be from the team.

Adam Silver now speaking -- says the "hateful opinions" on that tape are indeed those of Sterling. It's his voice.

Do you ever read the comments section after you post a column? You really hit a nerve with this one and the nasty comments do prove your point.

Sometimes. When I'm feeling lonely. 

Wow. Sterling banned for life from the NBA. Can't come to games, participate in the running of his team or the league, attend practices, etc. No involvement. Fine is $2.5 million and Silver will try to get him to sell the team. Banned for life.

He is an idiot and a racist, but he is not a public figure. We could go across the country to virtually any race or religion and find idiots who want to take an unjustified stand. The media (mainly Fox because CNN was too busy on their 9 billionth hour on Flight 370) made him. Sterling on the other hand IS a public figure.

Bundy made himself a public figure. Unwisely, in my view.

How would you answer this. With the latest racist rant by another prominent business man, I have continued to read comments about how people have a right to their opinions and that all of this hoopla over punishing people who don't believe the way "liberals" want society to believe is anti-freedom, anti-American, and goes against the Founding Fathers' values. It is apparently true that our Founding Fathers seemed to be willing to overlook the issue of slavery for economic reasons and to insure the Southern states joined the fledgling US. However, the rest of it, IMHO, is utter nonsense designed to put individuals on the defensive. No, racism is not okay. I wonder, though, that generations born after the 1970s may not truly understand what actually happened in this country in the 1960s. Not having lived it, we learn through history but are also susceptible to those agenda is to downplay events in order to sweep change under the carpet. So, I guess there isn't so much of a question here as a comment. Would like your thoughts nonetheless.

It wasn't that long ago. I think the nation has an obligation to ensure that this recent history is not forgotten. I remember the days of Jim Crow. Granted, I'm no longer "the kid" in the newsroom. But geez, I'm not that old...

The NAACP (LA) was going to give Donald Sterling an award. The NAACP gave us Clarence Thomas under Benjamin Hooks. To maintain our credibility they have to be questioned also. Can you inform us about what's going on?

I'd like to know the details. First, let's make clear that it was the L.A. chapter of the NAACP, not the national organization, that was about to give Sterling an award. I see from news reports that he made some contributions to the chapter, and I assume those were, shall we say, influential. The lawsuits against him for racial discrimination against African-American and Latino tenants in his apartment buildings have long been a matter of public record. Somebody should have looked them up. That's "lifetime achievement" in the negative sense.

I'm delighted. And I'll bet the Clippers -- the players -- are, too.

I don't think the league had much of a choice. The NBA has built its business strategy around its star players, not its teams. Nearly 80 percent of the players are African American. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the other Clippers were in an untenable position. How, as a black man, could you happily continue to work for a man who evidently thinks of his organization as an antebellum plantation? It became a matter of dignity and self-respect. Some words can't be taken back. 

Gene, During the past week, 2 conservative Washington Post writers identified two problems for the continued survival of The Republican Party. Jennifer Rubin linked the emergence of violent anti-government extremists such as Cliven Bundy to the words of Ronald Reagan's 1981 Inaugural Address: 'Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.' At the same time, Michael Gerson wrote that anyone who believes that the earth cannot be more than 6,000 years old should never be allowed to make laws or wield political power, which would effectively remove about 1/3 of all Republicans from political office. Have pigs begun flying, or is this an effort to remove Tea Party influence from the Republican Party? Many thanks! Curious in Arlington

Those pieces by Jennifer and Michael were right. But the tea party isn't going away anytime soon, in my opinion.

How can someone be forced to sell a business for expressing his personal thoughts (as disgusting as those thoughts might be). He owns the team, what does a 'ban' mean for him?

Ownership of a pro sports team means belonging to a private club of owners. Literally. There are rules that you agree to when you buy a team. In the case of the NBA, Silver just said, one of those rules is that by a three-fourths vote, the other owners can kick you out of the club. Short of that, they can make it clear to you that you're no longer welcome, and perhaps they can help make sure you get a good price for your soon-to-be-former team.

Just a comment. Whatever our beloved billionaires previously thought about the great unwashed masses, they thought it and kept it themselves. Now, with the GOP's ongoing strategy to divide us into "job creators" and leaches, pushing tax cuts for the rich, Citizens United, and the Tea Party's mindless rant about Govt overreach, it has given permission for the unspoken to become spoken. That is why we have the Romney 47% comment, Donald Sterling's nonsense about granting homes can cars, and all the rest. We need to get back to the era of generally silent billionaires who may have chafed at the social contract, but did it anyway as a citizen of this country.

Donald Sterling was like this long before Mitt Romney drew the 47 percent line in the stand. He strikes me as not just a racist but a narcissist. If he thinks people come to Clippers games because of him, rather than because of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, he's truly out of touch with reality.

How would you propose to better race relations in the US? I'm white and am convinced that a micrometer under the skin of every black person is hatred for or at least animosity toward whites arising from slavery and discrimination. At age 64, I'm convinced that black hatred for whites mixed with white guilt about slavery and discrimination will result in our never getting past race. You and I will continue to judge others at some level on the color of their skin. I'll look forward to your proposals to improving race relations.

Speak for yourself, not for me. I do not believe every white person is racist. You believe every black person is racist. My proposal to improve race relations would be for you to examine your prejudices.

Kevin Johnson, who had said this was a "defining moment" for the NBA, is now expressing his pride at the outcome. He's saying, in effect, that the players presented a united front.

The Clippers website is now a blank screen with only the words "We Are One."

Cliven Bundy is not a shy man. This guy must realize he is a national media storm, so he decides to give a press conference (not exactly your average Joe humble move) and go off on his views about African Americans. Somehow this feels worst to me then the LA Clippers owner since his tapes were leaked and I do wonder about motives of people who leak. I still doesn't change things and the owner of LA Clippers is a public figure. Bundy being a spotlight seeker (the guy rode around a horse waving an American flag just for Hannity teaser) on top of being a criminal seems worst to me. Do the circumstances of how these people came into the spotlight matter?

Interesting perspective. I suppose you could say that Sterling was unlucky that someone decided to leak that conversation (the woman involved, V Stiviano, denies through her lawyer that she leaked the recording). But I don't feel sorry for him.

Some people apparently think that "free speech" means that you can utter anything you want, regardless of the harm it causes (both emotionally, and financially (which is apparently the real issue that counts)). Apparently these same people were not taught, or did not learn, that there are consequences as a result of these utterances. Sterling has just been handed his consequences, for which I am very happy. May others get their consequences, as well. That the majority of SCOTUS apparently do not believe that racism is a big deal anymore (including Clarence Thomas, alas), they have a lot more learning to do, too. Keep at it Gene. There are a lot of us behind you.

Thanks so much. What we say and do has consequences. 

gene, I am a loyal Dem, but like Boxer I am very troubled by this statement by Kerry. This administration has consistently ignored the central point that makes the negoiations in the ME impossible. One side wants the other dead. Hamas is now part of the government, and they are a terrorist organization. Its impossible 9or just extremely unwise) to have a real negioation with a groups whose main goal is to kill you or at least wipe out any defining chariteristic, such as being a Jewish state. I hope this administration realizes the error of their ways and stops sounding more like President Carter, who is the only other President to use the extremely charged word apartheid.

When you say "the only other President" you really mean "the only President," since the phrase was used by Secretary of State Kerry, not the president. And it was promptly taken back. However, the point Kerry was making is absolutely correct. If there is not a two-state solution, Israel will eventually become a country with a Jewish minority that has political rights and a Palestinian majority that does not. I don't see a way around this.

Thanks, everybody, for a fascinating hour of breaking news. 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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