Opinion Focus

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, June 19, 2007; 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson will be online Tuesday, June 19, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

Sunni Shrine Leveled In Apparent Reprisal (Post, June 19) | Discussion Group: Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

The transcript follows.

Archive: Eugene Robinson discussion transcripts


Eugene Robinson: Hi, everybody. Welcome, and please join the conversation. I'll be here for an hour to talk about politics, Iraq, this morning's column (about Obama's focus on absent black fathers) or whatever you'd like to bring up.


Out of Wedlock: I do not understand the desire to have children when young, poor, just-getting-by, uneducated, unmarried or in any other condition that is not "optimal." It is not even about race -- there are many whites out there with children that should not have become pregnant.

I am in my mid-thirties, married with a great husband. We have more money in just our bank account than most Americans have in their 401(k). We both hate our jobs and are trying to get our careers on track before we even think of having a child. Is my biological clock ticking? Yeah, I am sure it is. I care more about stability and my long-term happiness and how that translates for children we might have.

I see 20 year olds who are uneducated, poor, from a horrible family with one kid and another on the way, and I wonder what would possess them to get pregnant. The issue is not sex -- it is easy to prevent pregnancy -- go ahead and have relations, but use some protection!!

My sister and her husband spend a fortune just providing for their kids, and they are your average middle-class couple. I don't know how they do it. I really don't know how someone making $12 an hour does it. These girls getting pregnant and boys impregnating young girls need to wise up.

Eugene Robinson: Through the years, The Post has done some fascinating stories that help answer your question. A Pulitzer-winning reporter named Leon Dash once spent more than a year examining the phenomenon (that was a long time ago, but I think what he found is still valid). There are complicated reasons why young women make the decision to have a child, among them the desire to establish her independence and her own household.


Washington: Hello Mr. Robinson, thanks for these chats! This morning your colleague Richard Cohen has an op-ed piece arguing that Scooter Libby has been railroaded and should not go to jail. My jaw dropped at his entire column. I know you don't want to speak ill of your colleague, but really, has the Washington crowd become so separated from reality? I note that almost every paper outside of Washington has editorialized for the rule of law -- yet The Post remains silent in general.

My question (finally!) is this: Shouldn't Mr. Cohen et al who have jumped the Libby pardon train on the grounds that this was no big deal be arguing that perjury and obstruction of justice in general should not be crimes? If they are no big deal in Washington, then why should anyone else have to fear them? What's your take on this? Is perjury a serious offense or not?

washingtonpost.com: The Runaway Train That Hit Scooter Libby (Post, June 19)

Eugene Robinson: I'm not going to attack my friend Richard or his provocative column. But I think Scooter ought to go to jail. He committed perjury and obstruction of justice, and those are serious crimes. Yes, the judge threw the book at him when it came to sentencing, but when the top adviser to the vice president commits serious crimes, he ought to do serious time.


Orlando, Fla.: I've seen you on television several times recently. Do you feel any pressure to be more moderate or "reasonable" when on these shows? Thanks for your great work.

Eugene Robinson: I apologize if I've seemed "reasonable" on television and promise it won't happen again.


Washington: Good afternoon. The surge is failing, Iraq is No. 2 on the failed state list, and, what a shock, our soldiers are experiencing serious mental health issues. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? What's a voter with nothing and nobody to vote on for the next 17 months to do?

washingtonpost.com: Walter Reed and Beyond: The War Inside (Post, June 18)

Eugene Robinson: The realistic answer is: Not much, except work to elect a candidate who will get us out of this incredible mess. I've written that I don't expect George W. Bush to change course on Iraq, whatever anybody says or does. The White House already is reneging on its promise of a fact-based look at Iraq policy in September. There likely will be a big fight concerning the Defense appropriations bill in the fall, but is Congress really going to cut off funding for the war? Really?


Gulf Shores, Ala.: While I welcome Obama's remarks to the black youth, let all be aware that this is not just a black problems. I can't tell you how many single White mothers do not get child support or spend years in and out of court. The fathers pay for a while then stop, they go back to court, they pay for awhile. Endless cycle. Many states, including mine, offer little help to mothers trying to get support for their children. I just can't understand how men, fathers, can do this to their children!

Eugene Robinson: Nor can I. I realize there are many reasons why couples break up and there's always a question of who's at fault etc., but if you've agreed or been ordered to pay child support, guys, pay up.


Manassas, Va.: Hasn't the legality and widespread availability of abortion, making pregnancy and children the woman's "choice," contributed greatly to the irresponsibility of men? If so, don't Obama's calls for responsibility ring hollow while he continues to support abortion-on-demand?

Eugene Robinson: I don't follow you. If abortion were not legal, there would be more children born to single mothers, right?


Washington: My recollection is that you wrote a column about the wider implications of the Duke lacrosse team "incident." Now that three players have been vindicated, Duke University has paid them some unknown amount of money to avoid a lawsuit and Mike Nifong has lost his job, his law license, and whatever credibility he might have once had, what are you current thoughts on this event?

washingtonpost.com: Tough Questions in Durham (Post, April 25, 2006)

Eugene Robinson: My views are that Nifong was an out-of-control prosecutor who brought charges against three young men without reliable evidence that they had committed a crime. Also, I'm still disturbed by the idea of these well-to-do college jocks hiring strippers for their evening's entertainment.


Washington: Hello Mr. Robinson. My brother has a daughter (living in another state with her mother) that he has absolutely nothing to do with, and my sister-in-law is partly to blame as she gets upset and annoyed when the subject of my brother's child comes up. So when my niece want to know about her father, she calls her grandmother (my mother) and asks about her father, as she can't call him directly (at his home) because my sister-in-law would get upset and my brother is afraid to take the call, fearing his wife's wrath. So my brother has nothing to do with his daughter.

I'm not excusing my brother -- if he had guts he would tell his wife to get a grip and get over it and form a relationship with his child, but he has no guts. It's really tragic, because my niece really wants a relationship with her father. My brother's situation is not unique, as I have other male family members and friends who are involved with a wife/girlfriend who does not want their man dealing with his children from a previous relationship. What do you make of this? Thank you.

Eugene Robinson: I think your brother has a responsibility to his daughter. Even though his wife doesn't want to acknowledge his responsibility to a child he fathered with another woman, that responsibility still exists.


New York: So why did Obama's dad bail, Gene? From all the biographical information I've seen it seems he had no excuse ... good education, well-off guy, ambitious ... just a serial deadbeat. I also read he had a whole family in Africa that he bailed on before he met Obama-mama. Doesn't look like a racial thing to me, doesn't look economic ... looks like Dad's an irresponsible sleazeball of the kind that comes in any color. My daddy taught me your kids come first. What are we supposed to do about those idiots?

Eugene Robinson: My father also taught me that your kids come first. Obama's father seems to have been brilliant, charismatic and flaky.


Alexandria, Va.: To what extent do you feel that the absence of "suitable" husbands accounts for high rates of unmarried women having children? Although I don't have the numbers at hand, we hear often about high incarceration rates for black men, and only about 50 percent of black males graduate from high school. If the "crop" of potential husbands (i.e. husbands who can stay out of trouble and support a family) is so limited, it may make sense for women who want to be mothers to simply get pregnant, recognizing that they may well have to raise the child by themselves. To the extent that black women cannot find men to marry, doesn't that suggest that we should be doing more to help boys and young men, rather than simply trying to suppress pregnancy rates?

Eugene Robinson: I think the woman's level of education and future prospects have a lot to do with these decisions. I know a few well-educated, professional black women who would like to be married but see a shortage of suitable life partners, and have decided that they have the wherewithal to support a child on their own. The low-income "pathology" of teen pregnancy is quite different. Marriage, I think, has come to be seen as a distant, fairy-tale goal -- a more serious commitment than having a child.


Dry Cleaner Debacle: What are the possible outcomes for Roy Pearson based on what seems like an outrageous case and amount to sue individuals over? If the dry cleaners are found not guilty, do they have any grounds to sue Mr. Pearson for his actions? Could his position as an administrative judge be in jeopardy?

Eugene Robinson: This question is about the administrative law judge here in D.C. who is suing his dry cleaners for $54 million over a lost pair of pants. I don't understand how the case got this far, and from what we've seen in court -- the judge, Roy Pearson, at one point was crying over his pants -- I think he has some unaddressed mental issues.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: Do you think this country is ready to elect a woman as president or a black man as president? To be blunt, I don't. I think there is still a lot of sexism and racism in this country and believe that neither Hillary Rodham Clinton or Obama can win the general election. I also believe that if Gore didn't pick a Jewish running mate that he would have won. Does anyone think the number of anti-Semitic registered voters in Florida doesn't exceed the narrow margin of victory? This seems to be the white elephant in the room -- I never hear anyone saying this. I think people want to believe that if they lose it's on merit alone. Sorry to be a downer, but I believe I'm a realist -- though I would love to be proved wrong.

Eugene Robinson: Given that a white woman and a black man are the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination, maybe we'll get a chance to see if you're right. I think there is a segment of voters who would vote against any woman, and a segment who would vote against any black man -- and who would not necessarily confess these prejudices to pollsters. But I don't think these groups of voters are big enough to completely rule out either possibility. If you want data on which to base a prediction, you might look at the fact that there are something like 16 female senators but only one black senator, and there are 9 or 10 female governors but only one black governor (and only two in history). If these statewide races are any indication, Hillary is more likely to get elected than Barack.


Re: Manassas, Va.: The question about the availability of abortion and male responsibility involves the issue that contraception is almost exclusively the responsibility of women in the U.S. today. Many (most?) men simply rely on women to take the responsibility of avoiding a pregnancy, and even though condoms are the cheapest, simplest and easiest on the woman, men go to extraordinary lengths to avoid wearing them -- partly in the belief that if something "goes wrong" the woman always can get an abortion. That's the point being made: if abortion were not so easily available and men knew they were buying a potential lifetime of responsibility for a child in return for sex outside a committed relationship, perhaps they would be less interested in sex with someone they do not intend to stay with -- or they at least would see contraception as as much their responsibility as the woman's.

Eugene Robinson: Sorry, but I still don't follow this line of reasoning. You say that "if abortion were not so easily available and men knew they were buying a potential lifetime of responsibility for a child in return for sex outside a committed relationship," then maybe there would be fewer unwanted pregnancies. But men know that the woman can decide not to have an abortion, so the risk of this lifetime of responsibility has been there all along. It would be a greater risk if abortion were not an option.


Washington: College fraternities or sports teams hire strippers all the time. You in the media are just as guilty as Nifong for jumping on the "three white kids vs. one black woman" train and using the media to destroy three lives. You saw the ratings that come from a "white vs. black" situation and exploited them for your benefit. Have you even apologized, sir? I hope this women is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If the three kids were black and the woman white, this situation would be called racism. So why isn't this racism?

Eugene Robinson: I don't have anything to apologize for. And when I pay $40,000 a year to send my kid to college, I don't want him spending his weekend nights in drunken parties featuring strippers.


Absent fathers: Agree that it's not a racial thing -- I wonder, is it an American thing? How common is the absentee father in Europe? In Africa? On an anecdotal level, I know a recent immigrant from Africa who got pregnant unexpectedly by another recent immigrant from Africa. The father wanted to send the baby back to Africa to live with family; when the mother refused, the father refused to be involved in the child's life and now successfully is avoiding her legal pursuit of child support. Would his community in Africa have abided by this behavior? Did the prevalence of these situations in American convince him that this was okay? Is it something deeper -- biological perhaps -- about men (as the daughter of an amazing father, the wife of an amazing husband, and the mother of a wonderful little boy, I don't think I believe this)? What is it?

Eugene Robinson: I wish I knew. The case you cite sounds as if it might have something to do with cultural traditions -- he had the expectation that the baby would be sent to live with family, she didn't. Seems like the kind of thing they should have discussed beforehand -- unless he is just using that as a smokescreen to cover his own irresponsibility. The marriage rate has fallen considerably in Europe -- and I'm talking about Europeans in general, not just immigrants -- but the social safety net has prevented a single-mother crisis. Biology's contribution is obvious, as it gives him the option of tipping away, should he choose to do so, while she has to go into labor.


Re: Abortion and Responsibility: I think I have read a number of times that women seeking abortions frequently are married, have children and a husband, and simply cannot afford anymore children. The only two people I know who needed to terminate pregnancies were married women with children and had no health care coverage.

Eugene Robinson: Noted, and thanks.

My time is up, everyone. Thanks for participating, and see you next week.


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