Opinion Focus

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, August 14, 2007; 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson will be online Tuesday, Aug. 14 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

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Archive: Eugene Robinson discussion transcripts


Eugene Robinson: Hi, everybody. I'll be here for an hour, as always, to discuss whatever's on your minds. Today's column is about Karl Rove's departure from the White House. You'll be shocked to learn that I'm not one of his biggest fans.


Washington, D.C.: Wow ... pretty harsh words on Karl Rove. It's funny because you in the media always tried to pin things on him. There was Plame, and then the AG story ... which always confused me why the media allowed this to play on since firing the attorneys wasn't even illegal. Through it all, Karl Rove beat the media at every turn, which is why I think the media has done such a good job playing up the evil genius role. Today's column from you, as usual, was a cheap shot void of substance and just a blind attack that has characterized your move from a journalist to a left-wing columnist. How could any journalist not simply state that Karl Rove is one of the biggest political geniuses of the 21st century?

Eugene Robinson: Well, the century is young. ... Actually, I didn't call Rove an "evil genius" because I don't think he's any flavor of genius. I think, as I wrote, that he is a very smart political strategist and tactician. He was brilliant at getting George W. Bush elected, but I think his "wedge" technique has not served the president well. There was a time, after the Sept. 11 attacks, when the country was more united than it had been in many years. Rove helped split it apart.


washingtonpost.com: Goodbye, 'Boy Genius' (Post, Aug. 14)


Arlington, Va.: Dear Mr. Robinson,

I think that you are one of the few journalists who "say it like it is!" Your opening paragraph in today's column hit the mark.

My question is: Will congress be able to question Mr. Rove -- or is he still covered by executive privilege?

Eugene Robinson: I'm certain that the White House will say he's still covered by executive privilege. I don't think the White House could keep him from testifying before Congress if he wanted to, but he will probably be "advised" not to testify and I doubt he'll find it in his interests to defy the president's advice.


Rochester, N.Y.: I enjoyed your piece yesterday on Karl Rove, which was quite well-written.

I have a question for you about others' reactions to Rove: nearly all opinion writers decry the "extreme partisanship" (to use their words) that "mars" contemporary politics, yet many have kind words for Karl Rove? Why is this, since Rove is in some sense the godfather of contemporary, anger-drive politics?

Eugene Robinson: Rove didn't invent anger-driven politics -- the late Lee Atwater, for one, figured it out long ago. Rove was just good at it. His most skillful political feat, in my view, was getting Bush reelected in 2004. Remember that Kerry got more votes than Gore did four years earlier, but Bush actually beat Kerry in the popular vote. Rove very skillfully organized a get-out-the-vote machine that worked better than anyone expected.


Baltimore, Md.:"Okay, you're right, the first time he needed big assists from Katherine Harris (speaking of lipstick) and the U.S. Supreme Court, but still. Honesty requires the acknowledgment that Rove was very good at what he did."

I think this quote says it all. Democrats are constantly bringing up how he needed help from the Supreme Court or how he "stole the election." Didn't your own newspaper and many other investigations come to the same conclusion; namely that Bush would have won on the recount? This notion that Bush should never have been president is constantly thrown around, and I believe the cause of much of the animosity thrown his way. Am I wrong?

Eugene Robinson: I think you're wrong. Most people got over the 2000 election mess long ago, regardless of what they thought about it. I'm not mad at George W. Bush over 2000. It's all the stuff he's done since.


Boston: Do you think any of the Bush administration figures who devised and marketed the Iraqi war (including Rove for his work selling the war beforehand as part of the Iraq Study Group) will ever have a "McNamara moment" of regret later in life and take responsibility for their involvement in one of the worst foreign policy disasters in U.S. history? Or will they take comfort from a new cottage industry of conservative history writers?

Eugene Robinson: I don't think history will be kind. But I'm not holding my breath for one of the "principals" to get teary-eyed and repent.


Creswood, N.Y. : Mr. Robinson, I'll be the first to admit that I know precious little about the newspaper business, and how editorial decisions are made, but how in the wide world of sports can the media have ignored the story last week where Anthony Cordesman came back from Iraq and casually remarked that the British have been defeated?

Hello? You mean we're fighting the neo-con's great battle for the preservation of western civilization by ourselves? Winston Churchill has surrendered to Hitler and we're all waiting to see what kind of tap dance that some political general is going to do in Sept.?

To me this is a huge story. What do you think?

washingtonpost.com: Here's an editorial on it.

Eugene Robinson: I think you could make a good argument that the British war experience in southern Iraq has been under-covered by the U.S. media, but in fairness we've kind of had our hands full trying to cover the rest of the country. This has always been mostly an American war anyway -- just compare our troop levels with Britain's.


West Chester, Pa.: Regarding Rove, do you see his legacy as one of eternal campaigning? Every policy issue became yet another opportunity to drive wedges, to demonize opponents. It seems to me that both Rove and Bush have never grasped the concept that those skills which serve you well during a campaign are anathema to actually governing.

Eugene Robinson: And the failure to grasp that concept was truly tragic, in my view. Americans who have been demonized by the White House in one of its wedge campaigns aren't likely to respond favorably when the president calls on all of us to pull together.


Arizona: With all due respect, in addition acknowledging Mr. Rove's skill at getting out the vote, isn't it also necessary to acknowledge the lengths to which Mr. Rove's machine went to stop the vote in historically Democratic precincts?

Mr. Rove is not now, and never has been, a political genius. He simply has a stronger stomach than most strategists. His willingness to put partisan ideology above national interest has no precedent. But in the end, Mr. Rove has only one vote ... just like the rest of us. That he was able to elect the wrong president at the wrong time ultimately reflects on our willingness to buy into the emperor's new clothes scenario he was selling.

Eugene Robinson: Thanks for noting my failure to mention the voting problems in historically Democratic precincts. We still haven't gotten to the bottom of that.


Seattle: Does it seem to you the Democrats are getting overconfident about the next election? Yes, the Bush administration has been a disaster on every level, but I think people out here will now repudiate neo-conservatism and corporate cronyism rather than embracing the liberal agenda of gay marriage, abortion rights, and undying support for the teachers' unions. Are the Democrats just taking it for granted that whomever the nominate will win?

Eugene Robinson: Of the three leading Democratic candidates, none supports gay marriage; all are pro-choice, like most Americans; and one, Obama, has challenged the teachers' unions on the issue of merit pay. I don't think Democratic Party strategists are taking anything for granted. It may look like a slam-dunk election now, but it won't a year from now.


Exeter, N.H.: My sense is that Rove's policies hastened the demise of Northeast Republicanism. As a former New Hampshire Republican, I never thought I would see New Hampshire go Democratic as strongly as it did in 2006.

What is your take?

Eugene Robinson: I'm not an expert on New England politics, but I would tend to agree. There's no comfortable place for "moderate" Republicans in the party these days.


Bethesda, Md.: How about a non-Rove question? This is probably more in Howard Kurtz's area, but love to get your opinion. Over the weekend, CNN gave several "breaking news" stories that basically said "Miners still not found!" I'm reminded of Chevy Chase saying "Top story tonight -- Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead." Has the "breaking news" turned into a marketing tool to keep viewers tuned in?

Eugene Robinson: The cable networks have established a hierarchy. "Breaking news" usually means something is actually happening, even if it's a press conference to announce that they haven't found the miners yet. "Developing Story" means they're going to tell you what they already told you an hour ago. "Live" means the reporter is speaking in real time, even if the event happened hours or days ago.


Redwood City, Calif.: I always love your chats -- wouldn't miss them for the world! Do you give much weight to the theory that Rove is getting out in advance of some as yet unknown/undiscovered situation that could cause even more damage to Bush/the Republicans if and when it comes to light?

Eugene Robinson: I don't give much weight to that theory. And I don't even want to imagine what that "unknown situation" might be. Yikes.


Wayzata, Minn.: The Republicans, when talking about Democratic Presidential candidates, always mention Obama and Clinton -- never Edwards. Do you think that this was a political ploy of Rove to encourage the Democrats to think and eventually select a candidate who could be most easily defeated by the Republican nominee? Did Rove perceive Edwards as the most formidable Democrat and kept him out of the discussion.

Eugene Robinson: No, I don't think Rove is practicing some kind of voodoo mind control. I think Edwards gets left out of the discussion because he's been running substantially behind Clinton and Obama in the polls. I have heard Republicans note that the election of either of the Democrats' leading candidates would be "historic," leading me to believe they're ready to run a campaign questioning whether the country is "ready" for a female or black president. So if either gets the nomination, Democrats had better be prepared.


St. Louis, Mo.: Mr. Robinson, did you find Bush's parting words for Rove as odd as I did? Bush noted that Rove is still going to be his friend. That just sounded weird to me. In fact, this whole thing is just odd. Thanks for your always astute words.

Eugene Robinson: That scene on the White House lawn was indeed a little weird, or at least awkward. I think it was hard for either man to imagine not working every day with the other. But I don't think there's anything particularly odd about the timing of Rove's departure. Bush is a lame duck. He doesn't need a chief political adviser, since he's not running for anything -- and since his major domestic initiatives aren't going anywhere. The Republican party isn't going to pay the same kind of attention to Rove following the debacle of November 2006. So what would be the point of sticking it out to the bitter end?


Bethesda, Md.: Maybe I've missed it but why has there been so little coverage of the four black college students (three current students and one about to enter) that were shot execution style. Three died, one lived. I don't hear any outcry. It was allegedly done by an illegal immigrant. There was such an outpouring of concern for the VT murders, the "nation" is waiting to find those miners in Utah. But I haven't heard any sort of national cry of grief for those teenagers. Why? Because it was in Newark, because they're black, because it was only three dead and not 30. And where are the anti-immigration bill policy people? You think they would jump all over this one.

washingtonpost.com: 3rd Suspect Arrested in N.J. Shootings (AP, Aug. 10)

Eugene Robinson: Actually, I've been surprised at the amount of coverage the Newark murders have received. Maybe not a full-blown "outcry," but there's been a good deal of coverage on cable, on the nightly newscasts and in all the papers.


Re: Elizabeth Edwards: Is it a good or bad thing that Elizabeth Edwards is criticizing the Democratic candidates? ABC is reporting that, in an interview, in Aug.'s edition of The Progressive magazine, she is criticizing both Obama and Clinton. It's annoying me. There was a time when I liked her a lot, more than her husband as a matter of fact, but this continuous pit-bulling the Democratic candidates seems to be over the top. Any thoughts on the role spouses should play?

Eugene Robinson: I like Elizabeth Edwards a lot. I don't see a lot of substance in her recent attacks on the other Democratic candidates, but she really believes in her husband's candidacy and she's going to fight on his behalf. I think political spouses should be themselves.

My time's up, alas. Thanks for tuning in, and I'll see you next time.


washingtonpost.com: Want more politics? Check out Mark Plotkin, our last political chat of the day.


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