Eugene Robinson Live

Jul 01, 2014

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

Hi, everyone, and welcome to today's chat. I'll try not to be too preoccupied with the upcoming USA-Belgium match later this afternoon (although I confess that while we converse I'll be watching Argentina-Switzerland out of the corner of my eye). In other news, the Supreme Court made what I see as two especially bad rulings yesterday. In Iraq, the group formerly known as ISIS or ISIL is now calling itself simply Islamic State -- although other Sunni groups, even radical ones, reject the notion of some kind of new caliphate. The cease-fire in Ukraine is off and there's ominous rhetoric coming from Kiev and Moscow. Why wouldn't any sane person seek refuge in obsessing about the World Cup? Let's get started.

The Supreme Court correctly ruled that the owners of Hobby Lobby should not be forced to provide birth control coverage to their employees. Here is what is being under-reported: Out of 20 forms of birth control, Hobby Lobby wanted to opt out of four of those that they believed were abortion-inducing. Yet if you listen to left-wing reaction, you would think that a bunch of theocrats are forcing all their female employees to be barefoot and pregnant throughout the corporate world. And why oh why did you go on MSNBC and claim that Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs are only "perhaps a bit different" from segregationists from the past who used the Bible to justify their bigotry? Don't you think that was, to put it mildly, irresponsible of you?

I was being historically accurate and, I think, quite responsible. I pointed out that some segregationists claimed that their bigotry was justified or mandated by their reading of the Bible. The court, in Hobby Lobby, tried hard to say that its decision would not allow racial discrimination based on religious belief. The court seemed, in fact, to be acknowledging that the principle is the same.

You wrote today that Hillary can recover from her recent gaffes by emphasizing that she cares about ordinary Americans. But isn't her problem really hypocrisy -- the refusal to admit that she was born wealthy, grew up wealthy and now is unimaginably wealthy? Shouldn't she say that while she is one of the fortunate few, her goal is to acquire power so that she can help the less fortunate?

Yes. I'm sure the Clinton family went through some lean years, in terms of net worth, and it's certainly true that Bill Clinton grew up poor. But come on. Yes, she should just say that she wants to help the poor and the struggling middle class.

I am fearful for the slippery slope that the Court made in favoring Hobby Lobby's argument. Judge Ginsburg is absolutely right when she noted the Court may have entered a minefield. OY!

I agree that it's a minefield. what's a "closely held" company? What, besides apparently race, is not subject to the vagaries of religious belief?

With all of the many Supreme Court decisions steadily giving rights given to a person to the legal fictions known as corporations, is it going to take a Constitutional Amendment to remove this notion? Because I don't think I have the patience for Judges Alito, Scalia, Kennedy, Roberts, or Thomas to die off. There is a "Move to Amend" group going around.

Good luck. But this court clearly believes that corporations have been people, my friend, for a long time -- and will, I guess, flower ever more fully into personhood.

If anything should energize the Democrats to get out the vote, it is the Supreme Court's decisions yesterday. If there is any chance of doing something about these decisions, the Senate has to remain in the Democratic majority...and it would great to take over the House. Do you agree?

I agree that this should energize progressives to vote. But will it?

Putting yesterday's rulings aside, the court did ruled unanimously this session that the President of the United States overstepped his Constitutional authority with his "recess" appointments, yet there he was yesterday pontificating that he would continue to ignore the law of the land to push his agenda on immigration. Our legislature may be broken, but it's not the role of POTUS to circumvent the process.

The president has duties and responsibilities. Executive power is limited but does exist, and there are times when the president has an obligation to use it.

After Roberts' performance upon taking office, who will ever believe anything a nominee says during a confirmation? He practically made "stare decisis" a mantra at the hearings and has been dismantling rulings since he donned the robes.

You noticed. This is an activist court with an ideological agenda. I'm just saying.

Good afternoon, Gene. I presume that if Hillary Clinton runs for President, as most people suspect, it would preclude Vice President Joe Biden from running. If she does not run, does Biden automatically become the frontrunner on the Democratic side? As a follow-up: He would be 74 years old on the next Inauguration Day. Do you think age is less of an issue than it was during the campaigns of Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and even John McCain not that long ago?

If Clinton doesn't run, Biden wouldn't be the kind of prohibitive frontrunner she now seems to be. So I( think others would jump in, and it's not at all clear to me that Biden would get the nomination.

While I'm on the fence regarding the Hobby Lobby decision, I must stand and applaud the ruling against public service unions. As a worker forced into union membership by my profession, I can sympathize with those that have their income "taxed" by greedy (as greedy as those evil corporations) trade and service unions that symbolically represent the "little guy". Sadly, the ruling does not apply to me, but I hope that one day a brave group of unionized workers will have a case heard by the Court to allow tradesmen to decide for themselves if they want to pay for union membership, and still be treated the same as unionized workers.

I think it's a terrible ruling with one objective: to weaken public-employee unions, which are thriving. We can't have that, can we?

The Hobby Lobby poster neglects to mention that the company's contention is NOT supported by scientists and medical professionals. Hobby Lobby's owners may also believe they can fly but that doesn't make them birds.

You'd think this would have factored into the ruling. You don't approve of abortion? Fine, science says these four disputed forms of birth control are not, in fact, abortifacients. Doesn't there have to be a reality check of some kind?

Regarding an earlier post about belonging to unions, would the poster be willing to give up weekends and safety regulations? I also belong to a public-service union, and the leadership is less than par, but I now how long the benefits unions fought to establish would last if it weren't for unions: not long.

They would be gone in a New York minute.

Back in April, Forbes applauded a Mother Jones piece that revealed Hobby Lobby's 401K plan invested in funds whose holdings included companies that make the same sort of birth control medications that the owners now say offend their religious values. As the article also noted, there are funds that specifically bar investment in such companies, just as there are funds that won't invest in liquor or tobacco companies. Forbes, hardly a communist journal, found this hypocrisy appalling. And if I could invent a time machine, I'd take us back to November 2000 and let the Florida recount continue. We might have a VERY different SCOTUS today.

You would need both a time machine and another seat on the Supreme Court.

If John Kerry is successful as Secretary of State, why couldn't he run for President in 2016? After all, he's a couple years younger than Biden. Presumably the Democrats would know how to turn the "Swiftboating" back on those who tried it in 2004, right?

Democrats are generally not eager to give one-time presidential nominees a second chance. But you never know.

It galls me that Hobby Lobby touts their "strict moral standards" but has no compunctions against cramming their stores full of merchandise made in China, a country with strict FORCED abortion policies and abhorrent labor practices for children as well as adults.

Interesting observation. I doubt the company has filed suit in Beijing.

Your religious beliefs are not protected only to the extent judge consider them reasonably related to scientific facts or logic. And talk about a slippery slope! Do you really want judges to be determining which beliefs are reasonable (and therefore subject to protection) and which are not? Judges don't get to decide whether someone's conscience has been violated.

Wrong. The court went out of its way yesterday to say that none of the horrible things that folks say could happen (because of this ruling) will in fact happen. If that is a sincere promise, and not a disingenuous one, judges will absolutely have to decide what religious beliefs are reasonable and whose consciences are genuinely violated.

I am sad to hear that you think government should be able to prevent the WaPo from editorializing. After all, if corporations don't have rights, then the Washington Post does not have rights either.

Where is it written that corporations should have all the same rights that people have? I don't believe it is necessary in our democracy for a for-profit corporation to have the exact same religious rights that an individual has.

Hobby Lobby contended that the 4 out of 20 methods that they did not want to cover could cause a fertilized egg to not implant in the uterous. Even the government acknolwedged in their briefs that those 4 mthods could cause a fertlized egg to not implant.

Does prohibiting the implantation of a fertilized egg constitute an abortion? Is that a question Hobby Lobby should answer on behalf of all its employees?

The President said he would need to act alone on immigration since COngress had failed to act. But Congress has acted, many years ago. They made crossing the border without following the established procedures illegal. So actually, the President is saying he has to act becuase he disagrees with Congress. What am I missing?

What are you missing? The fact that  there are 11 million undocumented people here, woven into the economy. Even Congress agrees that this is true. Congress just won't do what it needs to do.

Yesterday's decision was a great relief. If Ginsburg's reasoning had one the day, I would have had to explain to my children that because they are Catholic, they're not permitted to own businesses with more than 50 employees when they grow up. If the choice is between obeying God and obeying Caesar, you have to obey God. In Ginsburg's world, no faithful Catholic could be a successful business owner unless she was willing to pay substantial fines.

I think that's why we separate the realms of church and state. I believe the Bible says we must render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. The way a corporation treats its workers in terms of health benefits is in Caesar's terrain, in my view.

That's it for today, folks. My time is up. Go USA!

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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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