Eugene Robinson Live

May 06, 2014

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

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly therapy session. Let's see, we've got the big climate change assessment released by the White House today, we've got great economic numbers from Friday, we've got a worsening situation in Ukraine. And we've got a beautiful day here in Beltwayland. Let's get started.

Gene: We don't know for certain if Hillary Clinton is running for president, but if she does, does she risk having a "Roger Mudd" moment a la Ted Kennedy, which is that she, too, will not have a good answer for why she wants to be president other than she just wants to be president? Even though she has been in the public eye for three-plus decades, I still don't have a good sense what really matters to HRC and what she wants to use the office of president for.

First things first. If and when she decides to run, that will be a natural question to ask. She's a pretty experienced politician, so I'm betting that if she runs, she'll have an answer.

Distraction or turning into a big problem for the administration?

Distraction. It's going to be a hassle for the administration because people are going to have to respond to subpoenas and show up for show-trial hearings, but in the final analysis it looks to me like a big waste of time. Politically, it will fire up the GOP base but do nothing for moderates.

Gene, Dem here. I volunteered last week with a group in DC looking to get low income adults without a college education into career jobs. Listening to one HR person describe the lack of job prospects, especially for those not wanting to do manual labor (ie construction) was depressing. Unemployment is a very misleading stat because people giving up looking for work can cause it to drop, as it did in this case. The jobs just don't exist and people don't have the required skills for this economy. Its not getting better and I don't see how we are going to get these people back in a career workforce. The positions they used to be qualified for (administrative assistant, office filer, assembly line worker) are either now not as typical, obselete or have been moved out of the country. Rasing the minimum wage would clearly help some, but could also really hurt those working in fast food or at a grocery store register where they can be replaced with a machine.

The question about the minimum wage is whether we're going to have one or not. If we are, then it needs to be at a level where a full-time worker doesn't live in poverty. The minimum wage hasn't come close to keeping up with inflation. Even Republicans like Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum say it needs to be raised.

Good afternoon Gene, It is disturbing to learn that some members of Congress who proudly deny basic facts of science (a 6,000 year-old earth?) are making policy and laws regarding technology, science and innovation that affect the lives of everyone else, much to our peril. One is free to believe whatever one wishes to, but not to make policy that defies reality and is then forced on everyone else. If science-deniers are elected, can they then be restricted from voting on any issue that involves science? I have asked this of many reporters and have yet to get a response other than to be told that there are certain questions that they will neither raise nor answer, so I thought I'd ask it of you and perhaps get a response. Many thanks!

I don't think there is any way to keep a member of Congress from voting on certain issues because of his or her beliefs. The solution is to vote the know-nothings out of office.

You write that Democrats "fixed the economy". If a Republican had stated the economy was "fixed" with an African-American poverty rate of 28.1%, you would have rightly taken him to task (as you did when McCain said the "fundamentals of our economy are strong" in 2008).

The figure you cite is wildly wrong. African American unemployment is 11.6 percent. That's too high, to be sure. But to compare the economy now to when McCain said the fundamentals were strong? No comparison at all. As McCain spoke we were teetering on the edge of a cliff.

what are the key attributes of a Democrat presidential candidate to retain the White House? Republican Party candidate to win the WH in 2016? Thank you

The biggest thing for a presidential candidate from either party will be to find a way to connect with the many voters who feel our political and economic systems ignore them. Specifically for the Republican, if that party doesn't find a way to attract a reasonable share of the Latino vote, it's hard to see how a GOP presidential candidate gets elected.

Regarding your death penalty article from last week, there's at least some hope that things are changing. A number of states have outlawed the death penalty recently and public opinion is trending significantly toward opposing it. According to Gallup, in 1995, about 80% favored the death penalty and only 16% opposed it. By 2013 that had changed to 60% favoring and 35% opposed. I think the decrease in violent crime and a number of DNA death row exonerations have played a large role in the change. I'm hopeful that we'll see a federal law banning capital punishment within the next ten to twenty years.

The needle has moved in terms of public opinion nationwide -- down from around 80 percent support at its height, to the low 60s now -- but I wish I could be as optimistic as you are. I don't see how a federal law against the death penalty gets through Congress. If change comes, it will be state by state -- as has been the case in recent years.

What did you think of the Supreme Court ruling yesterday for prayer at town meetings. I am Jewish, grew up in the south, learned to sing "Jesus Loves Me" and to say the Lord's prayer in public elementary school. I thought the constitution protected us to be the people we are.

I thought so, too, and I didn't like the Supreme Court ruling at all. I wonder what the implications are for other situations in which religion might encroach on public life.

Why are Republicans so worried about passing on debt to future generations, but not worried at all about passing on a warmer planet that will cause catastrophic damage and will make the debt seem like chump change (not to mention causing much misery and loss of life)? While we are at it, why do many Republicans believe scientific evidence that the earth had previous cycles of warming and cooling, when we weren’t even around, but not scientific evidence gathered today in real time, that suggests human activity is a major cause of global warming now? This willful denial of science and the obvious contradictions in logic, only when it’s convenient, is alarming. I also think it’s unpatriotic. There, I said it. And I think Democrats should too.

That's a very good question, one that should be put to public officials who scream about the debt but don't care about the environmental legacy we're passing on. They'll be sorry. But unfortunately, our grandchildren will be sorry, too.

Gene, As someone not beholden to either party, I find what you are saying a lot of spin. Unemployment numbers dropped because people stopped looking for a job, so trumpeting the change in numbers is very poor statistical analysis. Obama, for all the talk about criminalizing banks, is in the pocket of Goldam Sachs and other investment firms. This is even more proven that his administration is very friendly with Comcast, one of the US most evil coporations (because of cable, not because of anything else) He is not the populist he is made out to be. You come off as the coach of a team down 4 TDs in the 4th quarter, and I have to wonder why anyone would believe this spin anymore. It doesn't mean the GOP is better, but your comments are not exactly realistic. (job related numbers)

The unemployment rate is the unemployment rate. It has been a key economic benchmark for many decades, throug ebbs and flows of workforce participation. So no, it's not poor statistical analysis on my part. Regarding Comcast, you might be aware that I also work for MSNBC, which is owned by Comcast... which probably makes me a part of the evil conspiracy. And people should really make up their minds whether they want to call President Obama an elitist or a populist. Hard to be both.

I enjoy your work, but dispute the contention that a supporter of the death penalty should have no problems with the botched execution in Oklahoma. I support interrogation of suspects, but do not support torturing a suspect.

The difference is that we know that torture is inhumane because survivors tell us so after the fact. What I don't know, and you don't know either, is whether there is any humane way of executing a human being. There is no one who has gone through the experience who can tell us what it it felt like.

General Breedlove was emphatic in an NPR interview regarding NATO's Article 5 support of Latvia and others bordering Russia in the region. Do you sense the same resolve from the White House and Congress if Putin crosses the line in the Baltics?

The NATO treaty is clear an unambiguous on the fact that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. Renouncing that provision would effectively be the end of NATO, seems to me.

They are only worried about this when a Democrat is in the White House. They blithely doubled and tripled the budget deficit under Reagan and Bush, but you don't hear them acknowledging that.

Most of them don't. A few do acknowledge George W. Bush's budget-busting, but hardly any Republicans dare speak in that manner about Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Robinson, everyone has been talking about Bundy, Sterling and the NBA, but I have seen no subsequent discussion concerning how many black Americans are working in jobs where their managers, VPs or CEOs (people who have control over their raises, work assignments, etc) have the same racist views as the Bundys and Sterlings of the world or the people who have control of admissions to colleges and universities who may harbor the same racist views as Sterling and Bundy. This is why the Supreme Court decision regarding affirmative action is such a joke. Their arguments would have merit IF we lived in a race neutral society which we do not. I'd like to see your thoughts on these topics in an opt ed and then discussed on Morning Joe and/or Chris Matthews shows. Thank you for your time. Deidre Young

Gee,  I wrote a whole column that began with the observation that Bundy and Sterling are by no means the last racists in America. The column went on to make the points that you just made. I don't think the Supreme Court is listening, though..

As you know, there has been national outrage at both Sterling's and Bundy's racist comments. But despite their vile racism, nothing they could say could stop someone from voting. So, why is there no national outrage when politicians draft these racist Jim Crow laws in the guise of voter ID laws? Reducing polling hours, ending same-day registration, etc... have nothing to do with showing ID. It is clearly directed at keeping ethnic minorities and low income people from voting. Where is the national outrage on that? If there were, maybe politicians would stop drafting these ridiculous laws.

There's plenty of outrage. It should be directed toward electing state legislatures and governors who will repeal these onerous laws. The Justice Department under Eric Holder will fight them whenever it can, but I don't expect the courts to save the day.

It's hugely frustrating to me that even where I live, in the very blue San Francisco Bay Area, the right wing seems to own the AM radio airwaves. Not a liberal voice to be heard when driivng around. It's horrible, just Beck, Rush, Levin, all the ugly hateful lies. Is it big Koch money buying up airwaves? Anything we can do about it?

So far, attempts at establishing a progressive beachhead on the AM spectrum have not achieved much traction. I really don't know why that medium is so congenial to right-wing craziness.

Gene, Earlier poster here. I would agree with you that it needs to be raised, however can we stop using the term living wage? A recent study showed that due to the rising cost of housing a person really needs to make close to 25 dollars an hour to afford living in DC. The problem can't besolved by wages alone and even 15 dollars may be unsustainable, forget about the 25 + it takes to reach the correct wages vs rent tradeoff.

Unfortunately, "living wage" doesn't mean living in increasingly expensive urban cores such as D.C. It means living in cheaper, often distant suburbs -- and then having to deal with transportation issues.

More and more, as the Court's right-wing majority continues to issue incredible decisions, I start to wonder if there's a different country I can move to. I'm not sure it would be any better, and I'm including a country where I'd be in the majority.

Stay and help elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who will issue better decisions.

Yes, there is outrage, but from people whom it affects. I have seen no similar outrage from people who are not affected...

Some of the outrage should be (and is being) channeled into working on the ground to make sure these efforts at voter suppression do not succeed. Thats what happened in Ohio in 2012, and it can happen elsewhere, too.


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