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Opinion Focus

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Oct. 14 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

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Eugene Robinson: Hello, everybody, and welcome to our weekly free-for-all. Tomorrow we'll have the last presidential debate. If I were Bob Schieffer, I might ask "at this point, why would either of you want to be president?" The winner will have to be not just commander-in-chief, but banker-in-chief as well. Anyway, Obama's up in the polls, McCain's vowing to fight on, and for reference, this morning's column is about the sorry state of the Republican Party -- about which I think we all can agree. I think I used the phrase "lurching incoherence."

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Alexandria, Va.: "The Republican Party said it believed in free and unfettered competition, but it picked winners and losers through a system of crony capitalism." Thank you, sir, for neatly summing up our economic system of the last eight years. However, I've seen enough Democratic kowtowing to big money during the last two to worry that unless we get campaign finance reform, crony capitalism will remain a fixture regardless of political party.

washingtonpost.com: Time to Be Outward Bound (Post, Oct. 14)

Eugene Robinson: I can't argue, but I confess that I find it hard to imagine any regimen of campaign finance reform short of public financing that would work. Then there's the constitutional question. I think you could argue that the Obama campaign's use of the Internet for fundraising -- small amounts from lots of people -- is a promising model (although Obama got tons of money from the rich and powerful as well).

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Greenfield, Mass.: Good morning Mr. Robinson. Is it deja vu all over again? As a product of the 60's and the Vietnam war, I remember the us/them fostered by Nixon and Agnew, and being accused of being an effete intellectual snob. America, love it or leave it. Gooks. Hippies. Yippies. I tell ya, I shut my eyes and listen to McCain and Palin and I feel 20 years old again (which in this case ain't a good thing). Help us. When will we ever learn? Your thoughts...

Eugene Robinson: I'd comment, but I don't want to be called a nattering nabob of negativism.

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Falls Church, Va.: It was sad to see John Lewis shaming his legacy last week. He's an American hero, and to see him shilling the race card as just another campaign prop is discouraging.

washingtonpost.com: The Trail: John Lewis Condemns GOP Campaign Tactics (washingtonpost.com, Oct. 11)

Eugene Robinson: Agree or disagree with what John Lewis said, he wasn't "shilling the race card." First of all, race isn't a card. Where does that ridiculous formulation come from? Lewis was justifiably upset about what we saw at those McCain-Palin rallies. I applaud John McCain for taking pains to cool things down, but the fact that he had to do so indicates that even he thought there was ugliness at those rallies that was getting out of hand. I know John Lewis well enough to know that he doesn't invoke the name of George Wallace lightly. I also know that he doesn't mince words.

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Atlanta: We've heard a lot about a few isolated hateful people at Republicans rallies and a lot of implication that McCain and Palin are "stoking hatred." Why does the media ignore the much more pervasive hatred found among liberals at the Huffington Post and The Post's own comment sections? To what degree are partisan pundits like yourself responsible for that hatred?

Eugene Robinson: I'm not aware of anyone at Huffington or The Post who has yelled "terrorist" or "kill him" in reference to John McCain.

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Richmond, Va.: Oh, those endless "Bradley Effect" punditries. Maybe there is a twist to these nonstop speculations: What if there are a lot of people who openly say they are voting for McCain (people who, under pressure, for example, put McCain/Palin signs on their lawns), but will -- when they get in the voting booth -- vote for Obama? Is that a possibility?

Eugene Robinson: Sure. My view is that you can convince yourself of anything you want to believe about the "Bradley effect" -- that it's real, that it's a thing of the past, that it never was as real as some people say, that it was worse than previously believed, whatever. It's a theological discussion until we see the results on Nov. 4.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: Eugene, I think your article today was right on the mark, particularly regarding Bush/Republican tax policy. I wish Obama would articulate to the American public that it has been the Republican's regressive tax scheme that has played a large role in the current economic situation -- when all that wealth accumulates at the top, it eventually causes the economy to seize because those who aren't at the top have nothing to spend. Speaking of the economy, what is with McCain's ever-changing economic plans? It seems that at least once a week he is proposing a new harebrained economic scheme. No wonder he and Palin keep bringing up Bill Ayers; only a Weatherman knows which way McCain's economic winds will blow.

Eugene Robinson: That's a good line. It's true that if you want to prime the economy, you give money to the middle class -- they will spend it, whereas the wealthy won't. I think McCain is fundamentally a believer in textbook trickle-down Republican economics -- maybe more of a believer than George W. Bush. I don't understand the multiple rescue plans -- one or two a week -- and I think this back-and-forth is one of the reasons why voters have lost some confidence in his ability to handle the economy.

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October Surprise: Eugene, mark my words, you will see a kinder, gentler John McCain tomorrow night. I believe he may even offer Obama a hug before the debate is over.

Eugene Robinson: That's what I expected at Debate Number Two, but maybe you're right this time.

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Alabama: At the end, Wallace was born-again and repented for his sins. Should we judge him?

Eugene Robinson: Judging is the Big Fella's job. Ours is to be honest in recording history. I'm glad Wallace repented, but there was a time before he saw the light that shouldn't be forgotten.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Mr. Robinson, thank you for your succinct connecting-of-the-dots. People are asking why the GOP isn't bringing up Rev. Wright. Why should they, when they can intone (a la Joe Scarborough) that Sen. Obama hung out with "an unrepentant terrorist"? Never mind that the coffee fundraiser was held in 1995, and that Ayers made his vile statement in 2001. What are your thoughts?

Eugene Robinson: I think the GOP hasn't brought up Wright because strategists are afraid it won't work. The Ayers thing, for all the noise Palin and McCain have made, doesn't seem to have worked in their favor. On the contrary, by talking about associations at a time when voters are intensely focused on the economy, McCain and Palin may be hurting themselves.

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Lisle, Ill.: Why is that three major financial frauds happened in the past decade (the IPOs during the tech boom, Enron, and the subprime mortgage crash) and why is it caught only fairly late or afterward? Is it simply because of deregulation?

Eugene Robinson: My opinion? Okay, but remember that I've never been accused of being an economist. I think the bursting of the tech bubble was just that; there was, in retrospect, a kind of delirium that led people to pour so much money into half-baked startups just because there was a .com in the company's name. Enron and the credit crash were, I think, made possible by deregulation and lack of oversight. Enron claimed the marketplace it created was real, and nobody looked under the hood to check. Wall Street said those exotic mortgage-related securities had real value, and nobody challenged the geniuses to explain what would happen if housing values went down.

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Rockville, Md.: Hello Mr. Robinson, and thank you for your wonderful, insightful articles. As for the Republican Party -- to me, a conservative middle-aged woman (close to retirement), it has turned into a laughingstock of ridicule and pity. To me, this all started -- or quite honestly took a turn for the worse -- at Katrina and the way the president handled it, let alone all of the scandals, etc. I'm embarrassed and ashamed of my party. Just my two cents' worth ... that I think a lot of people are feeling the same way but are too afraid to say anything.

Eugene Robinson: Thanks for your note. I've heard from quite a few self-identified Republicans today who feel the same way. The party will get its act together eventually, I'm sure, but I don't know who will lead the GOP out of the wilderness.

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Bethesda, Md.: Didn't the term "race card" originate from the (first) O.J. trial? Or was it around before that?

washingtonpost.com: One explanation.

Eugene Robinson: My able and resourceful enabler in these discussions, Chris Hopkins, came up with that etymology.

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Tampa, Fla.: Gene: What are the messages you think the candidates will try to get across in tomorrow's debate, given each of their current position in the horse race?

Eugene Robinson: I think Obama's aim, as it was in the first two debates, will be to come across as cool, smart, reasonable, "presidential" and optimistic. McCain clearly wanted to show in the previous debates that he is passionate, patriotic and pugilistic in his determination to fight for the American people. Given that Obama was seen by viewers to have won both debates, I expect McCain will be kinder and gentler this time.

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Washington: I have to say that, as a woman, the idea that any Obama supporters would wear T-shirts calling Gov. Palin the "c-word" is just appalling to me. It completely undermines any complaints about the goings-on at the McCain rally -- what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so all these articles complaining about the antics by isolated groups of supporters (let's face it, the majority of McCain fans are behaving just fine) are hypocritical, so say the least. I hope that Obama's campaign calls those idiots with the T-shirts to task, and reminds them that just as Obama would not like to see that word directed at his wife or daughters, so he wouldn't want it directed at Palin.

Eugene Robinson: I haven't seen those T-shirts, but it seems to me the Obama campaign should make clear that anyone wearing one is not welcome at Obama rallies. Sounds vile and unacceptable.

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"But I don't know who will lead the GOP out of the wilderness": I think Mitt Romney, the real Mitt Romney, would be excellent at this -- conservative and practical. But I'm not sure the fake Mitt even lets the real one out to play anymore.

Eugene Robinson: Does the real Mitt even exist anymore? I think fake Mitt may have done away with him. A shame.

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Washington: The question about Ayers you are afraid to address is why Obama tried to cover up his history (a political event at Ayers home, service on boards together, speaking on the same platform courtesy of Michelle) by saying he was just a guy in the neighborhood.

Eugene Robinson: Um, I'm just guessing here, but maybe because the number of people who have hosted political events for Obama in their homes, served on boards with him and/or spoken on the same platform with him surely numbers in the hundreds, if not the thousands. Which might lead Obama to consider these associations not such a big deal.

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Louisville, Ky.: Hello, Gene. Thanks for taking questions. To follow up on your column, and more specifically David Brooks' column today, I'd like to make a prediction for life after January. The Republican (deficits don't matter) Party suddenly will be very interested in how Obama's liberal big-spending policies will add to the deficit. Deficits suddenly will matter a great deal. The spin will be that George Bush may have caused the problem, but Obama just isn't doing enough to fix it already. Also, lots of Obama policies will be shot down and spun down by Republicans because we "just can't afford that sort of spending on top of our deficit." Am I wrong?

washingtonpost.com: Big Government Ahead (New York Times, Oct. 13)

Eugene Robinson: That depends on whether Obama wins and whether the Democrats substantially boost their majorities in the House and the Senate. If both things were to happen, it would be hard for Republicans to shoot down much of anything. That's a big "if," though.

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Eugene Robinson: Time's up for today, folks. See you next week.

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