Opinion Focus

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, August 26, 2008; 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson was online live from the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Tuesday, August 26 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, folks. Greetings from Denver, where our quadrennial pageant of democracy is underway. No prelude -- let's get down to business.


Annandale, Va.: I think you made a key point in today's column: If Hillary emphasizes in her speech that a vote for McCain is a vote for a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade, there won't be a single Hillary supporter who will vote for him. Even the perky woman in the McCain ad publicly will announce she has changed her mind and regrets the ad (which I suspect she'll do anyway).

I'd like to see an Obama ad with a similar perky woman who announces "I was a Hillary supporter but I'm going to vote for John McCain because I discovered I'm really not in favor of improving the economy or a woman's right to choose or ending the war in Iraq or universal health care -- and neither is John McCain."

washingtonpost.com: The Worrywart Party (Post, Aug. 26)

Eugene Robinson: Sounds like a good ad. I hope Hillary Clinton makes that case tonight, because it's serious business. The next president is going to have at least a couple of Supreme Court picks, and McCain has promised to pick the kind of judges who are going to overturn Roe. If people care about that, they should pay attention.


First Night a Flop?: Hi Eugene. Despite the great speeches by Sen. Kennedy and Michelle Obama last night, some pundits on an unnamed network (not MSNBC) gave Night One of the convention low marks because they didn't go after McCain strongly enough, and for squandering precious TV time by featuring a speech from Jim Leach, a Republican. What did you think?

Eugene Robinson: It's one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't dilemmas. If the Dems had spent the whole night bashing McCain, critics would have complained that they didn't invest that precious time in introducing the nation to the Obamas or setting a tone of unity for the convention. My opinion is that making Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama the highlights of the evening was a necessary decision -- and that it appears to have worked out pretty well


Tampa, Fla.: How much stock do you put in polls? I never have been called for a poll, and I have voted in every election for 30-plus years. I also do not have a land line phone. I cannot believe that Democrats who showed up two-to-one compared with Republicans in every state in the primaries either will not vote or will vote for McSame. Do you?

Eugene Robinson: Polls are snapshots, and polling is an inexact science. Attempts are made to compensate for the fact that fewer and fewer people have land lines, but clearly no one poll is giving us a precise picture of the landscape. I would start looking at the polls more seriously after both conventions, and I would also start paying more attention to the state polls. As we've seen, it's possible to win the popular vote and lose the White House.


Stony Brook, N.Y.: Hillary's most vehement supporters seem to be older baby boomers. Because baby boomers in general tend to be a tad narcissistic, and because Roe v. Wade may not be biologically relevant to this group anymore, the state of the court is a lesser matter.

Eugene Robinson:"A tad narcissistic"? As a card-carrying boomer, I believe we've retired the trophy as far as narcissism is concerned. But if we're talking about boomers who care deeply about women's issues, I don't think people who worked so hard to guarantee a woman's right to choose would just surrender it so easily.


Atlanta: Where do liberals get the absurd idea that Republicans are running a more negative campaign than the Democrats? Is Obama's mocking of McCain's houses any more "positive" than the Paris Hilton ads? Is accusing your opponent of running a campaign that plays on racism "sticking to the issues"?

Eugene Robinson: I think Democrats have the entirely reasonable idea that the McCain campaign started bashing Obama with the Paris Hilton ad, and the Democrats bashed back for a change.


Tampa, Fla.: What actually happens at these conventions during the day? Based on the coverage, you would think that nothing happens until about 7 p.m., but there must be all kinds of other interesting things that take place when the cameras aren't around. Can you share? Also, I understand that there are about 15,000 credentialed media/press covering the convention. How do they all get around? Find places to eat? Have space to work?

Eugene Robinson: Each state delegation has a breakfast at the delegation's hotel in the morning. During the day, there are events all over town -- I'm going to a luncheon discussion organized by Arianna Huffington (name-drop alert) after I finish this chat. The focus at the Pepsi Center is on the evenings, however, starting around 7 Eastern time. How do all the reporters get around? Some news organizations have shuttle vans or cars to take people back and forth; sometimes you have to hail a cab or hitch a ride downtown from a colleague (or competitor). Once you're downtown, you walk -- at least I do, since it's much faster. There are huge media work spaces in and around the Pepsi center. MSNBC has an additional workspace in an office building near Union Station. Everyone is finding food and drink -- although when I got back to the hotel last night, the bar was closed. The horror, the horror.


Rockville, Md.: What exactly were you trying to say in your column? Seems to me like there were two entirely contradictory things: That conditions are such that the Democrats should win in a walk, but also that presidential elections are never easy, so they gotta stop worrying and start working to win. The fact is presidential elections often are easy -- take Nixon in '72 and Reagan in '84, just to mention a couple. All the polls show the Democrats have plenty to worry about; those worries should motivate them to work harder to win.

Eugene Robinson: My point, as I thought I stated pretty clearly, was that no non-incumbent Democrat has had an easy cakewalk to the presidency since FDR in 1932. It was always going to be a fight. Getting out and working hard wins presidential elections; sitting home and fretting does not.


Carrollton, Ga.: An observation: When Sen Biden left home Saturday to join Sen. Obama in Illinois, I watched as he hugged his mother and children and said goodbye to neighbors and other family members. He started to step into the SUV and stopped and turned and went back and hugged his mother again. My wife and I are in our '70s -- we don't have our Mothers now. We both were touched by his gesture. He has a heart.

Eugene Robinson: And he wears it on his sleeve. He's one of the most genuine people in official Washington, in my view.


Crofton, Md.: So I was channel surfing last night and saw what I thought was a panel of speakers at a college sporting event. Then I looked again, and it was Gene Robinson and company at the Democratic Convention! What was that like? Having a crowd has to be a lot different than being in the studio or listening to a polite, civic debate.

Eugene Robinson: I'm tempted to hire that crowd to follow me around 24/7. Talk about an ego boost...


Sewickley, Pa.: Is there a shelf-life on Sen. McCain's campaign using his POW status in order to duck legitimate questions? Our little military family has been associated with the U.S. Army for 21 years, and the tendency of the Republican candidate and his campaign to bring this up at every opportunity makes us cringe. Will it work all the way to November, or will it dawn on the public/press that this is a handy dodge?

Eugene Robinson: A good question. I'm at pains to understand what having been a POW has to do with an inability to recall how many houses one owns. But how can Democrats point that out without seeming to diminish McCain's service and suffering in Vietnam? Touchy.


New York: Following up on the "horror" of the hotel bar being closed, your colleague Howard Kurtz just wailed in his chat about having to use a Port-a-Potty at an urban event attended by tens of thousands of individuals --- who'd have thunk it? Are pundits now completely detached from the day-to-day realities of the lives of those they would "pundit" to?

Eugene Robinson: We pundits are definitely more detached than we should be. I understand perfectly the need for port-a-potties and have no complaints on that score. But a closed hotel bar? At midnight? When scores of journalists are coming back from an exhausting day of work? O cruel fate.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good afternoon. When watching Michelle speak, was there a specific woman from your life -- your mother, your wife, an aunt -- that you thought of, whose struggles and triumphs you saw represented up on that stage?

washingtonpost.com: Post Partisan: Michelle Obama Owned Her Moment (washingtonpost.com, Aug. 26)

Eugene Robinson: As I wrote in the blog post, I thought first of my wife, my mother and my sister -- the three most important women in my life. And I smiled.


Richmond, Va.: Were you at the Jon Stewart breakfast for the press that Howard Kurtz wrote about? I don't really see much difference in Fox hiring Rove as an analyst and ABC hiring Stephanopolous as a host.

washingtonpost.com: No Joke: Jon Stewart Takes Aim At 24-Hour Cable News 'Beast' (Post, Aug. 26)

Eugene Robinson: I wasn't at the breakfast. I don't really have a problem with Fox's hiring Rove, as long as there's full disclosure.


Silver Spring, Md.: Eugene, re: today's column, how much of the worrywart-ness of the Democratic Party is the result of mainstream media, particularly 24/7 cable, conjuring up many of these issues merely to fill their air time? Do these issues merely become echos for people to recite because they heard it somewhere?

Eugene Robinson:1. A lot of it.

2. Yes.


Cleveland: Do you think it's at all possible for Sen. Clinton's speech to satisfy the media about her support of Obama? I'm not a huge Clinton fan but it strikes me as an impossible task. The pundits and reporters at CNN looked especially bored last night; sometimes I think the media just wants to stir up controversy to give themselves something to do.

Eugene Robinson: Us? Look for controversy? How could you think such a thing!

Seriously, I don't think it's remotely possible for Hillary Clinton to satisfy absolutely everyone tonight. I think back to her concession speech, which as you recall came several days after Obama had achieved mathematical victory. I thought it was a terrific speech, gracious and note-perfect in tone. But others disagreed -- she didn't praise Obama enough, or she talked about herself too much, blah blah blah. There's only so much that one speech can do. I suspect she'll give a really good one tonight, but someone will be unhappy with it.


Indianapolis: Do you actually believe that either Clinton wants Obama to win in November?

Eugene Robinson: I do. I don't see what's in it for either Clinton if Obama loses. The Clintons are in the position of having to work as hard as they can for the ticket or be accused of sabotaging the party's chances of retaking the White House. I don't think it's in either of them to spend a lifetime in the Democratic Party and then turn away out of pique.


Richmond, Va: Looks like Richard Cohen has a different take on Michelle's speech than you did.

washingtonpost.com: Michelle Obama's Sad Transformation (washingtonpost.com, Aug. 26)

Eugene Robinson: A hugely different take. I didn't hear any kitschy self-effacement last night. What was she supposed to do, spit fire? Come on.


Alexandria, Va.: How about your old boy Castro and Cuba? Really good international relations and sportsmanship they exhibited, with Castro throwing his support towards a Cuban athlete who attacked a referee at the Olympics. I don't recall Nastia Liukin throwing her wrist straps in the judges faces when she lost via tiebreaker rules to an underage gymnast on the uneven bars.

washingtonpost.com: Castro Defends Athlete Who Kicked Judge in Face (AP, Aug. 25)

Eugene Robinson: This proves, for anyone who doubted it, that Fidel is still alive, if not well. I can't think of anyone else, in Cuba or elsewhere, who would defend an athlete who kicked a ref in the face when he got a bad call. Cuban athletes had a pretty mediocre Olympics, with the exception of their great hurdler and a couple of boxers. The state athletic apparatus is creaking.


New York: Do you think Biden will be too old to run for president in eight years if Obama wins two terms? It seems that going with Biden was intended to clear the way for Hillary so that she wouldn't have to compete against a Kaine or Bayh with eight years as vice president under his belt.

Eugene Robinson: I don't think any consideration was given to anybody's prospects in 2016. I think the pick was all about 2008.


Fort Lupton, Colo.: What hotel was that? Tell me so I'll never recommend it to anyone. We're just 20 miles up the road, drop in anytime for a cold beer and a big ol' glass of Makers Mark.

Eugene Robinson: I won't dis' the hotel -- they're trying hard to cope with an onslaught of aliens who can only be described as needy, and I'm confident they'll do better tonight. If they don't, though, which way to Fort Lupton?

Thanks, everybody. Gotta run -- but I'll be back next week, chatting from Minneapolis-St. Paul.


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