Eugene Robinson Live

May 20, 2014

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

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly get-together. Lots in the news today, including more GOP primaries (Mitch McConnell should win pretty handily in Kentucky, I think) and continued fallout from the VA affair, which is the subject of today's column. As usual, we can talk about whatever you like. Within reason. Let's get started!

Obama is getting poor marks of lots of things lately but this VA scandal strikes me as yet another mess that he has to clean up from the previous administration. They (Bush team) put the wars on the credit card and then put thousands of troops in harms way without planning for when they would return home . . . broken. When his history is written I think we'll look back and wonder how did as well as he did as president.

Well, yes, of course Bush launched the wars and increased the demand for VA medical services, but it's not as if the wave of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans is a surprise at this point. Look, the Obama administration has been in office five years. I think it's correct that they've done a lot to improve VA services. But obviously they haven't done enough.

Thanks for taking our questions. I wonder if the scandal at the VA is the result of a lack of funding for staff at the VA. If that's the case, then part of the blame for this has to fall on Congress for failing to provide adequate resources for soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Am I too far afield on this?

No, funding is always an issue and Congress always bears some responsibility. But no one was forced to hide the number of veterans seeking help. That was just wrong, period.

One good thing about having an open primary in GA is that Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, two congressman who are prone to foot in the mouth disease, are polling last in the race and will be leaving Washington next January. Maybe the R's are not going to lose their minds this time around.

Republicans are trying very hard this year not to nominate fruitcakes. However, the party is being pulled even further to the right (as if that were possible). The GOP will be even more out-of-sync with the American public on the major issues. The question is whether moderates, independents and Democrats vote in November.

Hashtag diplomacy on the Nigerian children? How utterly silly for the First Lady to think a handmade poster like that has any impact on the thugs who are holding the children? Does she not have their e-mail addresses so she could contact them directly?

What an utterly small-minded and hard-hearted view of an awful situation. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign is a worldwide phenomenon that brought a level of attention to the kidnappings that otherwise would not have been possible. As a result, U.S. experts are helping in the search and other countries are also volunteering aid. Do you think Boko Haram is better off or more secure than it was before the hashtag campaign? I'm proud of the First Lady's show of concern. Oh, and if you think the kidnappers are not internet-literate, you really should get out more.

You make some good points about the Veteran’s hospital situation in your column today. Still, I think the key issue is funding. Waiting times are only the tip of the iceberg. My father, a WWII combat veteran, was turned down for treatment at a Veterans hospital, even though by law on paper he was entitled to it, because they weren’t funded for any but the most serious service-related conditions. I, a Vietnam era veteran, was told on discharge I could go any time to a veteran’s hospital and get treated. I, too, have been turned down for the same reason. I was lucky; my condition turned out to be not serious. Imagine, though, how many others were refused--the “broken promise” you talked about--who have since died or become disabled as a result.

Funding may well be the fundamental issue. But falsifying records to hide the problem only makes things worse. In this case, it seems to have contributed to the premature deaths of some veterans who otherwise might have been seen on an expedited basis because of the seriousness of their conditions. (That's mostly speculation on my part, but seems reasonable.)

Why haven't the Republicans been making a bigger deal out of the VA scandal? They continue to shout Benghazi over and over, but are ignoring the one true scandal that has erupted. Do they feel the political gain isn't as great as with Benghazi?

Maybe they just don't know how to deal with reality and prefer to dwell on fantasy.

I'm all for a female president, and think Clinton and Jeb Bush are more than qualified for the office. However, I am tired of these two families dominating our politics. There are plenty of governors and senators from both parties that are qualified.

This is one of the biggest issues that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush would face if they decided to run. I think each must be hoping that the other jumps in, because if it's Clinton vs Bush, the whole dynastic thing becomes a wash. The message for the country is: Look, this is the choice you've got, so deal with it.

Do you attribute McDonough's poor performance on CBS regarding the VA scandal to him being a bad messenger, or that no one can defend the situation?

If McDonough had an affirmative defense to make -- e.g., none of this happened, these charges are false -- I'm certain he was capable of making it. His Sunday appearance on Face the Nation seemed unsatisfying, in my opinion, because he wasn't given more to work with. If the president had decided on, say, a thorough housecleaning at the VA, starting at the top, McDonough would have sounded like a more effective messenger.

I think the Republicans are going to have a very good year, unless they turn these Bengahzi hearings into a complete circus. Do you think they will retake the Senate?

This sounds like a cop-out, but I think the chances are about 50-50. Most of the predictive models that everyone seems to be running these days peg the chances of a GOP takeover much higher, upwards of 70 percent. However, my view is that the endangered Democratic incumbents are running smart and effective campaigns; polls, so far, support this view. Pryor, Landrieu, Begich and Hagan are proving tougher to dislodge than the models suggest.

My sister works in the medical field at a VA Hospital. She says the "scheduling problems" are rampant in facilities and that administrators get paid more when those numbers appear good. She is too frightened of retaliation (she is near retirement) to report what goes on because others who have been characterized as "disgruntled", "not right in the head", and "vindictive." In other words, it's even worse than it looks on the surface.

I hope your sister comes forward. If this is a systemic problem, the administration needs to know and address it. 

What do you think the Clinton response to Karl Rove's implication that Hillary suffered brain damage from her 2012 concusssion should be? Did Bill Clinton go too far in his response? Will Karl's dirty tricks hurt her campaign should she run for president? As a Texan who supported Ann Richards for governor I couldn't help but think "here we go again," recalling how his character assassinations against her helped George W. beat who had been a very popular incumbent..

They've tried character assassination on Hillary Clinton before, as you might recall. She's still standing.

Why not just give all military members Tricare like retired military get or Obamacare and let them get their own medical care? Maybe we should just do away with VA!

As I pointed out in my column, VA care rates extremely high in customer satisfaction. Veterans like it. The issue is how long they have to wait to get it. Abolition doesn't make sense to me,

It took this campaign to get the Nigerian president off his backside and accept international aid, for goodness sake!


Why is this an issue? I had no problems criticizing Hillary Clinton when she was first lady because she was very much apart of the administration. But to criticize Mrs. Obama for a tweet that brought attention that most Americans did not know what was going on??? What is she supposed to do, helicopter in there herself? Geez!

If she did chopper in with a Special Forces team, some people would criticize her for being, I don't know, unladylike or something. 

I've seen him interviewed and read articles as he's been flacking his book. "Clueless" is my overwhelming reaction. He contends that, well gosh it was bad but it wasn't illegal. How are company policies on fraudulent foreclosures, robo-signing, etc., not criminal? I think Obama's financial team was a series of misfires and the his weakest policy link.

I think the administration tackled the financial crisis with the mindset that they wouldn't be pursuing criminal charges. I think this was wrong.

Now that we have an all volunteer military, I would think the need for a VA (whether or not it rates highly by the users) should be eliminated. The military budget for military medical care is a huge drain on the economy. Others who are hurt in the workplace have to use the medical care their own insurance affords them so why not the military? I know people think the military is special but it is a profession they chose to be in; it's not compulsory anymore.

The military may be non-compulsory but it is, indeed, special. The battlefield is not a normal "workplace."

Thanks, everybody. My time is up for today. 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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