Opinion Focus

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, July 10, 2007; 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, July 10 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

Resolute Amid the Wreckage (Post, July 10)| Discussion Group: Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

The transcript follows.

Archive: Eugene Robinson discussion transcripts


Eugene Robinson: Hi, folks. No long intro today -- let's get to it.


It's not the heat, it's the humidity: Today is one of those days when I think of what your grandmother once told you (and you included in a chat last summer) -- move slowly and keep to the shade.

washingtonpost.com: 'It Feels Like 100 or 120,' but Relief for D.C. Area Near (Post, July 10)

Eugene Robinson: That's what I've been trying to do all day. All week, actually. We just had a shower that will cool things off a bit, but I think by late afternoon we'll be back in the furnace.


Silver Spring, Md.: I'll miss the chat because I have to go down to the Senate to stop the war. You are right to think that George is just stubborn enough to try and run out the clock, but do you think that the Republican Party will be willing to wear Bush and the war around their necks for another two months like a rotting chicken, as the 2008 elections loom ever closer? There are quite a few congressmen and senators who are interested in keeping their jobs, after all.

Eugene Robinson: What you've seen over the past week is the spectacle of Republican senators sliding away from the president in an attempt to keep their jobs -- and keep the party from complete meltdown. You'll see more of the same, but I don't think the Republicans will start voting with the Democrats on measures that would have actual impact until at least September.


Madison, Wis.: You quoted Churchill today. I suggest you find a copy of Churchill's pre-WW2 book "Step by Step" and read the chapter on Palestine. I'm not trying to bend your thinking, show you wrong or anything of that sort, I just think you'd find what Churchill wrote to be pertinent and interesting background. Although the chapter is on Palestine it is relevant to Iraq today, and to the British motive of getting out to that you alluded in your column.

Eugene Robinson: I'll look that up. And don't hesitate to try to bend my thinking or show me wrong. I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.


Arlington, Va.: Bush became President in part because his political advisors used wedge issues to appeal to certain segments of voters. However, many of the people to whom their arguments appealed most strongly were ideologues, personality types who often are inherently intolerant of heterodoxy. This gave him almost no wiggle room on difficult issues, such as immigration. On the other hand, by governing from the start as a divider, not a uniter, Bush threw away support he might have needed later. By the time Iraq fell apart and he sought an immigration bill, he already had lost many of the voters who were more inclined to take a more nuanced or flexible approach to issues. This was the first MBA President -- he was supposed to have a super-smart team. Why didn't he (or his advisors) see the risks in campaigning and governing as they did? They really seem to have trapped themselves in the end, thereby guaranteeing their own isolation and lack of support now, in foreign and domestic policy alike.

Eugene Robinson: A cogent analysis. The Bush-Rove method of politics and government was the same as Al Davis' motto for the old Oakland Raiders -- "Just win, baby." That limits your credibility later when you ask everyone to join hands and sing "Kumbaya".


San Francisco: Hello, Mr Robinson, thank you for taking my question. Will Sen. Vitter have to resign his seat? He was elected to the House in the wake of the would-be Speaker Livingtons's infidelity, and now his family values rhetoric appears entirely hollow. I can't imagine that the GOP caucus will want to keep someone on Palfrey's list in their midst.

Eugene Robinson: You're referring to the fact that the Louisiana senator's phone number was found on the D.C. Madam's notorious list. I'm not sure Sen. Vitter will be forced out over this. His state is notoriously forgiving of sin -- heck, they reelected William Jefferson after $90,000 was found by the FBI in his freezer. And it's not as if he were chasing underage Senate pages.


Mitchellville, Md.: Each day I absorb as much info as I can about the Iraq war, but never see or hear details about Iraqi military operations and casualties as I do about the U.S. military. It's like the Iraqi soldiers are invisible. Where is the Iraqi army that's supposed to be standing up so we can stand down? Are they fighting side-by-side with our troops? How many of them have been wounded and killed compared to U.S. forces? Is the media just not reporting on their activities and casualties, or have I missed something?

Eugene Robinson: In part, the dearth of information about Iraqi military actions reflects the fact that it's difficult for correspondents to cover those actions -- Iraq is such a dangerous place that one of the few ways to move around is in the company of heavily armored U.S. forces. In part, it's because of a dearth of Iraqi military actions.


Washington:"The Bush-Rove method." Please Mr Robinson, get off the Karl Rove conspiracy theory band wagon. So you're saying Clinton and the Dems didn't play tough politics? Please.

Eugene Robinson: Not at all. I was just stating a fact -- Karl Rove has been George Bush's chief political adviser since his Texas years, and if you don't think he is the major force shaping Bush's political strategy, you haven't been paying attention.


Cincinnati: July 8 Washington Post articles: " Base to Bush: It's Over," " Cheney Fatigue Settles Over Some in GOP." Wow the GOP is now fatigued with these two? Join the rest of us. But I don't see any acceptance of their responsibility in the six-year fiasco they helped bring about. I understand impeachment, while justified, will not occur, but isn't it high time the GOP throw these two under a bus by agreeing to hold them "accountable" for current scandals and misdeeds? Nevermind that this is a just cause and good for the country. Don't they realize in a crass political way that if the GOP hopes to avoid 40 years in the wilderness, they need to take responsibility for cleaning up their own mess? Your thoughts? By the way, I am rereading "Man of La Mancha" this summer! Thanks.

Eugene Robinson: I think that even the Republican officeholders who are most fed-up with Bush and Cheney doubt that turning against a sitting Republican president is a winning short-term or long-term strategy.


Seattle: One thing I thought when I read your column and The Post's stories on GOP defections is that either the GOP defectors will have to embrace some of the more radical positions of the Democratic party's anti-war wing, or that there will have to be enough defections to overcome Bush's veto and Democrats refusing to vote for anything less than a full and immediate withdrawal. Do you see either of those scenarios happening in September? Or am I overestimating the anti-war Democrats?

Eugene Robinson: My guess is that events on Capitol Hill will move in stages. Republicans, I think, may first begin voting with the Democratic for indirect antiwar measures, like Jim Webb's amendment that would limit these repeated National Guard deployments -- and thus starve the war of the manpower Bush wants. The next step would be timetables of some sort. But I don't think there will be veto-proof majorities anytime soon, and meanwhile the White House will probably try to head the whole thing off at the pass with some sort of repackaged "new" strategy or some sort of illusionary "withdrawal" that's really just moving people around.


West Los Angeles: In 2000, Bush mocked Carla Faye Tucker's death-row clemency request in a crass display of his real character -- a revealing contradictory moment for someone who claimed "every human life is precious" and Jesus Christ as his preferred philosopher. However, Libby remains silent since his indictment, and Bush rewards him with a get-out-of-jail card and hints of a full pardon -- an interesting juxtaposition for someone who as Texas Governor denied 152 execution clemency appeals with blind rapture.

Other than a congressional investigation, do you know of any other way the public can be assured that the Libby commutation is not part of a continuing criminal conspiracy by Bush and/or Cheney to keep federal prosecutors from learning the truth about Cheney's involvement in the Plame disclosures?

Eugene Robinson: Congress is eager to investigate, but I don't have high hopes that they'll get anywhere, at least not anytime soon.


Mount Horeb, Wis.: Mr. Robinson, thank you for the discussion today. Sen. David Vitter, whose phone number is linked to the D.C Madam stated "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling." While I am sure many will be impressed by God taking time out from His busy schedule to let the senator know he was granted forgiveness for his serious sin, what is the likelihood that the hapless Vitter will face consequences on this mortal coil? Are the prosecutors of the D.C. Madam only going after the service provider, or are they interested in filing charges against customers as well?

Eugene Robinson: To my knowledge, there isn't any attempt to prosecute or even identify the alleged customers of the D.C. Madam's "escorts." So I think the senator faces no legal threat.


Washington: Since you're turning into a TV guy, Gene, wondered what you thought of Katie Couric's interview with New York Magazine, where she seems to be paving the way to leave. Is "60 Minutes" a consolation prize for her ego? Couldn't they get rid of her and her hideous lipliner altogether? Thanks.

Eugene Robinson: I thought Katie Couric's extended interview with New York was weird. That was my impression, too -- that she was paving the way for a possible exit. It doesn't sound to me as if she's having a very good time at CBS.


Bethesda, Md.: Eugene -- love the chats. This question has more to do with journalism and writing than politics: why to writers and news anchors often say "troops" when they mean "soldiers"? Doesn't a troop mean a group of soldiers? For example it is correct to say "The general sent some troops over the hill," but when talking about a definite number, the correct form is "10 soldiers were killed on the battlefield today." Thoughts? Is common usage doing away with this form?

Eugene Robinson: I think one reason is to avoid having to distinguish between soldiers, Marines and airmen.


Washington: Not really political ... but at a 26 year old I am hurt that neither party is talking about the biggest threat to my generation runaway entitlement spending on your generation through Social Security, Medicaid, etc. I know it is tough to talk about reforming such institutions. Bush had a good idea on Social Security and it was shot down before ever getting started. Why? Because neither party has the courage to step up to the American people and say this has to be fixed ... and we are doing it. They would rather pander.

Eugene Robinson: I love it when you answer your own questions.


Houston: So the Pope reaffirms that I, as a Protestant, do not have the means of salvation, and only the Catholic Church can get me to God. Why isn't this story all over the news?

washingtonpost.com: Pope: Other Christians Not True Churches (AP, July 10)

Eugene Robinson: Um, I don't think this is a new position. Pope Benedict is more willing to say it out loud than his recent predecessors, but the bottom line for the Catholic Church has always been "our way or the highway."


Richmond, Va.: It appears, that to appease the growing number of high-profile Republicans abandoning the administration on Iraq, that Bush is going to launch a "new" political initiative, focusing on the "post-surge" (which seems to include a timetable for a drawdown). Please help me to understand how this works: This initiative is a political, not military, strategy -- which means apparently that the underlying aim is about saving the GOP, not Iraq. So, bottom line -- does this new political strategy just disregard all the deaths and destruction that has taken place in Iraq up till now, in the face of possible GOP losses? I am at a loss to try to reconcile these two things.

Eugene Robinson: My theory is that George Bush is intent on not being forced to withdraw significant numbers of troops from Iraq -- or being forced to alter his Iraq strategy in any meaningful way. Any concessions to nervous Republicans will be to keep them from voting to shut down his war.


Anonymous: Ever notice how many names, like yours, that end in -son, and how few end in -daughter? Why is that?

Eugene Robinson: I think we all know the history of how women were regarded. But that's not true in Iceland, where girls' names end in "-dottir".


Wokingham, U.K.: We are linked to the Middle East not only through Iraq but through Israel/Palestine, a continuing source of terrorist threats for both our countries. Is the mission to this area of my former glorious leader Blair treated with any seriousness by Bush?

Eugene Robinson: Tony Blair is said to have pushed George Bush for years to make a serious attempt at forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Bush gave him nothing -- less than nothing, actually. Bush allowed the peace process, such as it was, to disintegrate. I'm not holding my breath for Blair to bring about peace in the Middle East in the next 19 months.


Rochester, N.Y.: You write of the Libby machinations "Congress is eager to investigate, but I don't have high hopes that they'll get anywhere, at least not anytime soon." Why isn't there more outrage regarding the White House's stonewalling against legitimate investigations?

Eugene Robinson: I guess I'd disagree that there is an outrage deficit. People are plenty outraged. Only since the election is Congress back in the business of oversight, and it looks like eventually some cases involving Bush administration stonewalling will get to the courts. But that takes time, alas.


Baltimore: Why does it seem to me that the only thing that Congress cares about is investigating Bush. It seems like he can't do anything without being investigated. I don't agree with some of the things his administration have done, but doesn't Congress have more important things to do than continue pursuibg investigations that likely will result in nothing?

Eugene Robinson: There's plenty to investigate. And some of these investigations might indeed lead to something.


Pittsburgh: Hello, Gene. What sort of ex-president will Mr. Bush be? How do you see him spending his retirement years?

Eugene Robinson: Out at the ranch, clearing brush and riding his mountain bike? I really don't know what his post-White House profile will be. I imagine him spending the rest of his life waiting for history's vindication.


Forced School Integration: My mother-in-law was a teacher for 30 years. She said she received complaints from both black and white parents who were against busing their children away from their neighborhoods. These children always were tired from having to wake up extra-early to ride the bus to a school an hour away from their homes. Why, do you think, were whites attacked regarding the recent forced integration rule changes, when black parents did not like having their children forced to attend schools an hour away from home either?

Eugene Robinson: The integration plans in Seattle and Louisville that were knocked down by the court actually had the support of their respective communities. They were not broadly unpopular among blacks or whites.


Seattle: Which would you find more informative: Bush on a psychoanalyst's couch, or Cheney hooked up to a lie detector?

Eugene Robinson: Give me Cheney on the polygraph.


Washington: Mr Robinson, a question/comment from a conservative reader. Surely, in any government program, agency or outfit there are going to be missteps and illogical actions. The so-called firings scandal is the biggest example of a made-up media story, which was fed to the press from the DNC. I mean, no laws were broken ... he could fire them for not liking their clothes! Just like Clinton fired the Whitewater prosecutor ... a fact never mentioned by the media. It is government ... which today serves as more of a welfare net for less-qualified workers than a productive work force.

My question/hope for you is that if a Dem is elected in 2008, the media is just as hard on them as it has been on Bush. Let's not forget, the media gave Clinton a pass on refusing to take custody on Osama bin Laden, giving North Korea a sweetheart deal it never followed up on, shoddy dealings with China's entry in the WTO, etc.

Eugene Robinson: The media gave Bill Clinton a pass? That's not how I remember it. Ever hear of Whitewater? Does the name Monica Lewinsky ring a bell?


San Bruno, Calif.: Secretary of Defense Gates has proved to be a real disappointment. He does not seem to have the intellectual firepower to push the president toward a new direction in Iraq. What does the Hill think of Secretary Gates?

Eugene Robinson: I think he's still viewed pretty sympathetically for trying to bring sense and order to the Pentagon. But no one is under the illusion that he's running the war.


Midwest: Thanks for your fine column this morning. Given the information in the excellent series your colleagues did on the vice president's influence on the affairs of the country, maybe the real issue is when (if ever) Cheney will be ready to call it quits in Iraq?

washingtonpost.com: Angler:The Cheney Vice Presidency (Post, June 24-27)

Eugene Robinson: That was a great series indeed on Cheney. And I don't think he's ever going to give up on Iraq.


Glenmont, Md.: Bush clearly plans to wait it out in Iraq until he's out of office ... but that presumes there will be no turn in events that forces his hand sooner -- such as a Turkish invasion. And if he does manage to keep troops over there until Jan. 2009 -- what kind of mess is his successor going to face? What do you see as the upshot?

Eugene Robinson: His successor, I am confident, will face a huge mess. I don't see any way around that.


Names ending in -son: Some of those sons are named after their mothers (matrinymic). For example, anyone named Tillotson is descended from Matilda's Son.

Eugene Robinson: See. you can learn a lot from these chats.

Folks, I have to sign off a bit early today. Thanks for participating, and I'll be back next week, same time, same place.


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