Opinion Focus

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, August 19, 2008; 1:00 PM

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

Discussion Group: Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

The transcript follows.

Archive: Eugene Robinson discussion transcripts


Eugene Robinson: Hi, everyone. Well, who's the veep pick? I'm betting that we don't find out today, but I confess that I don't know -- I don't think anybody knows what Obama is going to do or when he's going to do it except the inner circle, and they're not talking. We, on the other hand, talk about everything. What's on your minds?


Rockville, Md.: Greetings. The "other Gene" (Weingarten) says we should expect a Hillary surprise at the Convention. Do you?

Eugene Robinson: I don't expect a lot of surprises at the convention. But then again, by definition, one doesn't expect surprises...


Indianapolis: In recent days, Senator Obama has addressed the fears that many of us are having about the election. What I have not seen is a response from his camp that universally would be seen as a strong preemptive strike against Sen. McCain. I am confident Sen. Obama will prevail in the fall, but I would be more confident if I saw his campaign really bludgeon the GOP and open up an insurmountable poll lead. The Rove garbage from 2000 and 2004 is never far from my mind. Are we right to worry?

Eugene Robinson: If you believe the polls, the election is close. I'll take the polls a lot more seriously after both conventions -- and remember, we still have the debates to go through. But would the Obama campaign like to be seeing a bigger lead in the polls right now? I'll be they would.


Washington: I read all of your columns and think you have some of the best political insights in the media, thank you. Building off of your column today, do you think Americans are ready to hear and accept that the United States's time as the dominant global power is coming to an end, and that we really must face a new reality?

Eugene Robinson: I think politicians are always wary of talking about the limits to American power, and perhaps rightly so -- people don't like to hear about what they can't do. But this interlude in which the U.S. was the only superpower was just that -- an interlude. I think maybe that's beginning to sink in.


Harrisburg, Pa.: If the Democratic National Convention allows delegates from Florida and Michigan to have their full votes, as appears likely, what thus is the final contested delegate count between Obama and Clinton?

washingtonpost.com: If my math and this page are right, Clinton 1972, Obama 2,312.5. For only pledged delegates, Clinton 1725.5, Obama 1,834.5.

Eugene Robinson: That tally sounds right to me. This was always going to be the scenario -- after someone one and the rest all conceded, the Democrats were going to find a way for Florida and Michigan to be fully represented at the convention.


Southwest Nebraska: In 2004 I couldn't have told you who wrote the book "Unfit for Command"; this year I know the name of Jerome Corsi. Going after the author and holding him up to ridicule (he has written hit jobs on McCain, after all) seems to be the effective way of pigeon-holing this jerk. Will that work, or is the American electorate slobbering for the delicious, fat-laden smear he's serving up?

washingtonpost.com: Obama Faces The Smear Machine (Post, Aug. 15)

Eugene Robinson: Unclear what impact the Corsi book will ultimately have, but I think the initial coverage made is motivations pretty clear. He cheerfully told any and all interviewers that his intent in writing the "book," which is really more of a screed, was to keep Obama from being elected.


Waterford, Conn.: Obama will announce that he has picked McCain as his running mate and McCain will pick Obama as his running mate. They will pledge upon election to run a coalition government designed for bipartisan cooperation. Okay, I know this won't happen, but if it does, I do believe I am the first to predict it.

Eugene Robinson: The first and last, I'm afraid. Not gonna happen.


Columbia, Md.: Boy, Bush sure can pick 'em -- Putin, Musharraf, Gonzales, et al. Is he the president with the worst ability to judge character in American history?

Eugene Robinson: His preferred method of choosing his allies -- soul-gazing -- hasn't been proved effective in clinical tests.


Memphis, Tenn.: Hello. Howard Fineman says on the MSNBC Web site that the running mate for Obama is most likely Joe Biden. Do you think he is correct? Do you think a white male senator from Delaware will make the Hillary Clinton supporters feel more supportive? Thanks very much.

Eugene Robinson: If I had to place a five-dollar bet, I'd put my money on Biden too. He takes care of the "experience" question, especially on foreign policy, and he wouldn't be shy about filling the role of attack dog. His logorrhea seems to be in remission. That said, I still wouldn't bet more than five bucks on anyone.


Montgomery Village, Md.: Gene, not to rehash the past, but to consider the future if all of the Michigan and Florida get full votes, how does anyone prevent states from breaking party rules in the next primary sequence? The "half-vote" scenario is bad enough, but full votes? Come on! There's no punishment, except for those who played by the rules.

Eugene Robinson: I see your point. But one could argue that Florida and Michigan were effectively punished, since their primaries were not contested and their delegations will only be seated (I presume) after it's clear that they can't effect the outcome -- which was decided by the states that played by the rules.


Boston: Now that they are flush with oil revenue, will Russia bankrupt America with military spending competition, like we did to the USSR in the 1980s?

Eugene Robinson: The Russians don't have enough money to do that. But they do have enough money to begin to modernize their aging military infrastructure, and I think that's what they'll begin to do. The new Russia does differ from the old USSR in that now there's no ideological crusade driving the country's actions. But it's still a heavyweight, folks.


Silver Spring, Md.: What did you think about Sen. Obama saying that he would not have appointed Justice Thomas because of Thomas's lack of sufficient judicial experience and inferior legal mind, while then praising the intellect of Roberts and Scalia? Even as an Obama supporter I found the statement off-putting. I disagree with Justice Thomas on most issues, but I don't think it is fair to attack the credentials of the only black man on the Supreme Court and then praise the intellect of white conservative justices.

As a graduate of Yale and sitting Circuit Court Judge, Thomas more than met the qualifications for the Supreme Court. As a Justice he has proven the intellectual equal of his colleagues. I think he is wrong on the issues, but that's a different question. Ultimately, Sen. Obama said he would not have nominated Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Scalia, so it was completely unnecessary to single out Justice Thomas.

Eugene Robinson: Justice Thomas had scant judicial experience when he was named to the court. That is not a disqualifier, of course -- nothing in the Constitution says that a Supreme Court justice even has to be an attorney, much less a judge. I'm not a lawyer, but my layman's eye sees a lot more erudition and dazzle in Scalia's opinions than in Thomas's. (Although in most cases I'm likely to disagree with both.)


Fairfax, Va.: Why don't either of the candidates present a narrative (even a brief history) of our recent politics with an idea of where we are heading? Why don't they talk about the class warfare going on in America?

Eugene Robinson: I think they're correct in assuming that narratives about class warfare aren't going to get anybody elected. One striking thing about American society the number of people whom I'd consider lap-of-luxury rich or just-scraping-by poor who consider themselves middle class. Studies clearly indicate that income distribution is worsening and economic mobility is lessening, but we still basically all consider ourselves middle-class.


Washington: Mr. Robinson, I believe Condi Rice has been engaged in some low-profile shuttle diplomacy to help ease Russian-Georgian tensions, but where was she in the 7 1/2 years up until now? I thought the one advantage to having a secretary of State who was an expert in a seemingly obsolete subject matter would mean that at least we'd be covered if that subject matter suddenly became relevant again. Did we not see this coming? Thanks.

Eugene Robinson: I have to admit that I'm puzzled as well. Other Russia specialists have cautioned about the implications of expanding NATO to the borders of Russia, for example, but that's what she and the Bush administration are doing. My colleague Richard Cohen wrote an excellent column today wondering whether anyone has thought this through.


Florida: In watching the Olympics (a little) I've been thinking about the end of the U.S. as the leading superpower. You'd think that no longer leading the world would relieve us of some of the responsibility too, but we're still the only democratic superpower, and the only superpower still trying to promote freedom and "good" in the world ... so we'll still have to be the defender of the weak and protector of the innocent. This is gonna be a tough couple of decades...

Eugene Robinson: One of the truly good things this country is doing -- and here I have to give the rare plaudit to George W. Bush -- is pouring life-saving resources into the fight against AIDS in Africa. That's one kind of thing America can do proudly and effectively.


washingtonpost.com: Richard Cohen: Is Ossetia Essential? (Post, Aug. 19)


Washington: What do you think of Obama's strategy regarding Republican attacks so far? Do you think he needs a more aggressive response, or do you think people are overplaying the analogy to Kerry?

Eugene Robinson: Both. I think the Kerry analogy is somewhat overdone, since the candidates are very different. But I've thought for a while that he needed to respond more vigorously, and now that he's back from his vacation he seems to be doing just that. He has been quite aggressive the past few days.


Rockville, Md.: A nuclear heavyweight, to be sure, but one with a population that is getting old and an industrial base that is fading. They are bluffing for the most part -- but that means we got to be very careful. We may need to take a loss here.

Eugene Robinson: You're referring to Russia, and let's face it, we've already taken the loss. Nobody is going to make them get their troops out of Georgia until they're good and ready. Threatening to keep Russia out of the World Trade Organization -- which was not going to admit Russia anyway -- is not going to bend Putin to our will.


Saddleback Format: I actually liked the format of asking the candidates the same questions and allowing them to answer. However, I thought the majority of questions either were stupid or too simplistic. I don't think this is a forum that should replace questioning or challenging them on their answers, but I would like to see more of this -- only conducted by some reputable moderators with no agenda, unlike Mr. Warren.

Eugene Robinson: I thought it was refreshing and useful to have candidates answer nontraditional questions. The weakness of the format is that it basically eliminates the possibility of follow-up questions. Also, we've learned today that apparently both candidates were given some idea of the questions beforehand. I thought the idea was supposed to be to hit them cold.


Southwest Nebraska: There's a picture of Obama with Fareed Zakaria's book "The Post-American World"; have you read it? Did it influence your recent column?

Eugene Robinson: I haven't read Fareed's book but I plan to. It's probably smart and relevant.


Arlington, Va.: Now that Russia has rolled SS-21 missiles into Georgia, have the stances of our candidates changed? Will McCain take out those missiles? McCain's stance so far has seemed to imply that Bush is being too timid on this. Agree?

Eugene Robinson: It is insane to talk about "taking out" Russian missiles in South Ossetia. The United States and Russia cannot think of attacking each other's missiles. I lived through one Cuban Missile Crisis and don't want to have to sweat through another.


New York: This may be a little off the point, but do you think that the whole Edwards affair revelation came out because Obama's people were vetting him as a vice presidential candidate?

Eugene Robinson: No. The National Enquirer published its first story on the Edwards affair last year. The tabloid pursued the story until it cornered him in the men's room at the Beverly Hilton. Nothing to do with the veepstakes.


Eugene Robinson: Thanks, everyone. My time is up. See you again next week, when I'll be chatting from Denver -- the special Mile-High Edition of our weekly get-together.


Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company