Opinion Focus

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, February 5, 2008; 12:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Feb. 5 at noon ET to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

Discussion Group: Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

The transcript follows.

Archive: Eugene Robinson discussion transcripts

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Eugene Robinson: Hi, folks. SuperDuperOMyGodICan'tStandIt Tuesday is finally here. At this point we have no idea what will happen. But that's never stopped us in the past, has it? So, let's get it on. (Warning and apology: I might have to end our chat a little early today.)

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Oviedo, Fla.: Good column about Hillary, thanks. So women with "big" careers must come without spouses who also meet that description. This is an effort to invert the longtime standard of a mature white male and his supportive, non-threatening wife. I thought her candidacy was a step in upending this. These are the rabid Clinton haters using any in, as a cockroach does, to gain entry.

washingtonpost.com: The Baggage Hillary Bears (Post, Feb. 5)

Eugene Robinson: Well, this is an unprecedented circumstance, at least in this country -- a woman presidential candidate whose spouse is a former president. I don't think anyone -- a least, not anyone with half a brain -- is saying that all women whose spouses have had important careers somehow should be disqualified. Bill Clinton had a very specific big career with unique relevance to this contest.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: I'd like to revisit New Hampshire and your contribution to the racial divide in the Democratic Party. Within minutes -- minutes -- of the New Hampshire results that took all of you media mavens by surprise, you, Gene Robinson, had a ready-made excuse -- it was those ill-edumacated, low-income white wimmins who couldn't bring themselves to vote for a black man and who lied -- lied!-- to the pollsters. The Bradley Effect. Gonna roll it out again if your guy doesn't prevail? Or are you content with the endless insinuations about Bill Clinton's sex life that you'll employ?

Eugene Robinson: Wow, I would have thought Brooklyn would be in a better mood just two days after the Super Bowl. Just to correct the record, the night of the New Hampshire primary I was on MSNBC and I raised the question -- didn't try to answer it, but raised it -- of whether the "Bradley effect" had played a role. I then said it wasn't possible to tell, from what we then knew. A couple of days later, I wrote a column saying that I had looked at the results in more detail, and that I still thought it was not possible to say whether the Bradley thing had happened. After South Carolina, I said on MSNBC that gee, we might have seen a reverse Bradley effect. So what's your problem?

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Natick, Mass.: Your column today expressed exactly my unformed thoughts on the Clintons. She says she has been vetted, but has his work post-presidency been vetted? We've just spent seven years with the drama of complicated father-son presidency, with the son seemingly acting contrarian to everything the father did. I can't stand the idea of returning to the drama of a complicated husband-wife co-presidency.

I admire her as a senator, but I can't judge her on her merits/demerits as there's so much noise around Bill or from Bill. She has chosen to have this noise -- she isn't his victim-wife, and if she was a victim, why should she be elected? I'm posting early -- I am leaving to go to the polls where I will vote for Obama, in part because of his own merits but in part because no one, including the Clintons, is "entitled" to the presidency.

Eugene Robinson: Hillary Clinton does deserve to be judged on her merits. For a long time in this campaign, I think she managed quite well to distinguish herself from her husband. But it seems to me that when she cites his years as president as part of her record of public service, she invites review of that record. And when Bill inserts himself into the campaign, he makes himself the focal point.

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Detroit: Hello Eugene. What are your expectations for tonight? And do you consider any particular state to be decisive for either Democratic campaign?

Eugene Robinson: I have to be honest and say that I really don't know what will happen tonight. Polls, as you know, suggest that California and some other states are really close. If you went strictly by the polls, you'd expect a split decision, but this is the kind of race that could break one way or the other in a big way. By tomorrow morning, we could be saying that either Clinton or Obama is in dire straits.

I'm going to look first at Georgia, where the polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern time -- who wins, and what's the margin. Then Missouri at 8 p.m., because that's a bellwether state and it seems really close. And then, of course, California.

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Bowie, Md.: Hi Gene, an hour early this week. One o'clock lunch date? Now that the Democratic field has been winnowed to two, isn't it time to face the question of whether the party is right in thinking it can apply the logic of affirmative action to nominating a president? If (Ms.) Clinton or Obama were white males they'd be non-entities, but the Democrats expect to win this election in a walk, so let's just pick the best woman or African American we can find to achieve diversity. Never mind that they're half-term to one-and-a-half-term senators. This logic probably sells within the party, but there's still a whole country out there that doesn't think demographic identity is a strong seller.

Eugene Robinson: So, um, what white male was a better candidate? Al Gore? He probably could have had the nomination, but he didn't want it. I seem to recall several white males standing on that stage with Clinton and Obama in the early debates. What happened was that people didn't vote for them. I thought that was the point of holding primaries and caucuses.

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College Park, Md.: What effect with a woman president have on our international relations? Perhaps we can look toward Condoleezza Rice for answers. Has she had more or less difficulty with diplomacy? How about others' perception of her power/strength?

Eugene Robinson: Remember that the United States is way behind much of the world in electing women to high office. Margaret Thatcher pretty much settled the question of whether a woman could be a strong, transformational leader of a major country. But it would present a new face of America to the world.

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Vienna, Va.: In your column, you mentioned President Clinton's charitable activities. It brings to mind Clinton's remarkable trip to Kazakhstan with Frank Giustra, where President Clinton supported Kazakh President Nazarbayev for a human rights position, Frank Giustra ended up with uranium mining rights, and President Clinton's charities somehow got $31.3 million. Have Bill or Hillary explained why a dictator is fit to head a human rights commission, or whether there was any quid pro quo? It does make one wonder what Bill Clinton might get into as First Husband.

Eugene Robinson: You recount an excellent story that appeared recently in the New York Times. What it suggests, I think, is that Bill Clinton's business and philanthropic activities necessarily will come under scrutiny, even if there's nothing untoward about them. The potential for conflicts of interest is there and has to be examined, just as Obama's relationship with the indicted Chicago developer Rezko has to be examined.

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Bowie, Md.: Am I the only one offended by the comments in The Post story yesterday regarding the mayor of Boston's machine? I am a Democrat and am not a fan of the Clintons; therefore, I can understand crossing the party lines in the fall to vote for McCain. However, I am bothered by this notion that voting for a woman or African American is unacceptable. I guess we're only supposed to have white males for president. After spending four years in Massachusetts to obtain my degree in economics, I see it's still not the liberal state it proclaims to be. I am so glad the Patriots lost!

washingtonpost.com: Mayor Mobilizes for Clinton (Post, Feb. 4)

Eugene Robinson: There are lots of better reasons to be happy that the Patriots lost. (Bill Belichick's habit of espionage, for one; his lack of sportsmanship, for another.) Boston has changed dramatically in recent decades, and is a much more tolerant place than it used to be, but I don't think anyone should be surprised that it's still possible to find diehards who see the city through the same old racial/ethnic prism.

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Madison, Wis.: No more Boomers! I think you hit the nail on the head in Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood. The Clintons and their supporters are obsessed with fighting past fights -- their policies and goals are derivative of a past time. Their big campaign promise seems to be "let's relive the '90s!" No thanks. Clinton always is talking about the past, Obama the future. I think that, in a nutshell, is why younger people support Obama. The Clinton era has passed.

washingtonpost.com: Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood: Talkin' About My G-G-G-G-Generation (washingtonpost.com, Feb. 5)

Eugene Robinson: Well, um, I do happen to be a Boomer, you know. But I do think it might be time for us to entertain the notion that the whole universe might not be about us...

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Curious in Pennsylvania: Mr. Robinson, when do you find time to sleep? I see you have become a guest on four MSNBC shows as well as writing your witty column -- do you have a twin brother, or are you just putting a little extra money away for retirement ?

Eugene Robinson: ZZZZZZZZZZZZ -- whoa, I must have nodded off. Retirement? I've got kids to put through college. Sleep can wait, unfortunately. I love sleep.

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Philadelphia: "The potential for conflicts of interest is there and has to be examined, just as Obama's relationship with the indicted Chicago developer Rezko has to be examined." Kinda like Cheney's relationship with Halliburton? Only that scrutiny came too late. We all know that scrutinizing Democrats is much more fun than scrutinizing Republicans.

Eugene Robinson: As I recall, Dick Cheney's relationship with Halliburton was well known before the 2000 election -- he used to run the company, after all. People voted for Bush/Cheney anyway -- almost as many as voted for Al Gore.

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No more Boomers!: They're so irrelevant, in fact, that the most important endorsements to date have been by (drumroll please), a family from the Boomer '60s!

Eugene Robinson: Ted and Ethel Kennedy are pre-Boomer, though they'd probably appreciate the compliment.

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Bethesda, Md.: Gene, all these celebrity endorsements -- do you really think people care about them? Doesn't it make it seem as though voters can't make up their own minds? Why should I care whether a celebrity endorses a candidate? I just wonder if they really want to help America or just want get their views known and their faces seen.

Eugene Robinson: The short answer is: I don't know. Most endorsements mean little, I think. Some mean something, but it's unclear what the net impact is -- even of somebody like Oprah. Maybe, after the election, some academic will look at the question and try to give us a definitive answer.

And that, alas, has to be my definitive answer for today -- gotta run. Thanks for participating, and I'll talk to you again next week.

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