Opinion Focus: Team of Egos, the MSM and Bush as Lame Lame-Duck

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, December 2, 2008 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Dec. 2 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, and welcome to our weekly get-together. Lots to talk about today -- the Obama "Team of Egos" cabinet, the moribund economy, the murderous rampage in Mumbai. Oh, and George W. Bush acknowledges that it would have been nice if the intel on WMD in Iraq had been, you know, right. Let's talk.


Dallas: The "Clean Air Act" did anything but. The WMD intelligence was "wrong," instead of "selectively interpreted." Heckuva job, Brownie.

Establishing a baseline here ...

All that said, how did the current administration get away with the past twelve months of economic happy talk (or, at least, dismissal of concern) about how we're "not technically in a recession," and then yesterday we find out from ... uh, the current administration ... that we've been in a recession since December '07?

I understand spin and disingenuousness, but ... how does that jibe?

Eugene Robinson: We should go back and look at all the "happy talk" economic forecasts from the administration and find out what (imaginary) data they were based on. Virtually everyone else was saying that it was obvious that we were in a recession, but the administration insisted we weren't. Were there even cooked numbers underlying the White House assertion, or did they just make it up?


Barrington, Ill.: Today you predict Eric Holder will begin further investigations into the question of abuse at Guantanamo where the problem of what to do with these prisoners has become a real conundrum. What is your suggestion for the future as to what is the best course to follow regarding prisoners of the war on terror? For example, leaving them in the care of the Afghan government doesn't in my mind insure they will be treated more humanely than at Guantanamo. But I guess "out of sight, out of mind" will be the way to go now.

Eugene Robinson: "Out of sight, out of mind" isn't good enough. First, I think, there needs to be an examination of the individual circumstance of each case. There are probably some detainees who should be charged and tried for their crimes, and there are probably others who are no threat to the United States. It will not be easy to "outplace" these detainees, but we won't know how hard it is until we make a serious effort.


New York: This sticks out like a sore thumb, to our everlasting shame. Home Minister Shivraj Patil,India's minister for security, submitted his resignation less than 24 hours after the shooting in the streets of Mumbai ceased.

Refresh my recollection: how many members of the US government, executive, administrative or otherwise, lost their jobs after the collection of outrageous blunders and stupidities we call 9-11? Oh, there weren't any, were there? I seem to remember that the CIA chief got the Medal of Freedom, and the National Security Adviser was promoted to Secretary of State.

Accountability? Responsibility? What a sick joke.

My advice to President Obama: Mr. President, if someone screws up, fire them!

Eugene Robinson: Agreed. Any way you look at it, our intelligence apparatus spectacularly failed to see 9/11 coming. It also failed to get the WMD-in-Iraq question right. Yet George Tenet did get the Medal of Freedom. The word "accountability" appears to have lost all meaning.


Florissant Valley, Mo.: Here's to you, Mr. Robinson! Do you think it is maybe time to shorten the transition period between presidents? FDR discovered in '32 that four months was too long. Maybe now, the new president could at least be sworn in on the same day that Congress meets, first week in January. Better yet, like the Brits, maybe we could ask our two presidential nominees to identify their cabinet picks DURING the campaign, so we know what sort of brains and attitudes we are going to get with the new leader. Your thoughts? Thanks

Eugene Robinson: We couldn't emulate the British parliamentary system, for a variety of reasons, and the new president does need a few weeks to get his act together. This transition is actually working better than most, in that the Bush administration was quick to facilitate security clearances for Obama's people so they could get up to speed. The real problem is the effect the lame-duck twilight of the Bush years is having on the economy. I don't see much that can be done about it, though.


Washington, D.C.: Gene,

Love you! I think the MSM (how I hate that) gets beat up for not covering something because a lot of us feel so powerless, especially after the last eight years, that we want you to go after the bad guys and feel let down when you focus on something else.

Just my theory - what do you think?

Eugene Robinson: Thanks, and I think you have it right. The thing is, though, that I'm always getting e-mails demanding to know why the "MSM" (I hate that, too) is "covering up" some scandal that the writer knows in intimate detail... from reading about it in the Washington Post or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. I think people get angry because coverage doesn't reflect the sense of outrage that they feel -- not because the story in question isn't being covered.


After Bush's term: How worried are WH personnel about their futures? It seems to me that even a presidential pardon and/or Freedom Medal might be a stain on a resume after this president. Not to mention wondering about the safety of traveling to Europe, a la The Hague.

Eugene Robinson: I think some White House personnel should indeed be careful about how they make their vacation plans. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see attempts by judicial authorities elsewhere -- especially in Europe -- to hold officials accountable for Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, secret CIA prisons, etc. Governments will want to let bygones be bygones, but not all judges and prosecutors will be so forgiving. At least that's my prediction.


Grand Rapids, Mich.: How does the incoming administration prevent the carnage in Mumbai from escalating into a full-fledged war in South Asia?

Eugene Robinson: One problem is that the incoming administration can't do a thing until January 20, which means the outgoing administration has to keep the lid on until then. Assuming that Secretary of State Rice manages to do so, the Obama team can quickly get to work on the Kashmir problem. Lowering the temperature on that issue would help.


Washington, D.C.: First, you're a jewel. Thanks for all the great commentary. What did you think about yesterday's opinion piece my Maria Arana -- "He's Not Black?" It has gotten a tremendous amount of reader response and comment.

Part of my thoughts were that people get to choose how they define themselves, including racially. Also, all this post-racial talk and the desire for color-blindness dismisses the fact that blackness has historically been devalued and whiteness elevated in our nation (and around the world). There have been and continue to be tangible consequences for this reality. President-elect Obama was loved by a dynamic, young white mother, adored by wonderful white grandparents, abandoned (and loved in his way) by a brilliant black father. He now is enveloped in the love of a beautiful black family and a loving sister and relatives of Asian ancestry. It's not a neat checkoff box, but neither is America. He knows who is and it's not just based on race. We have to be able to have more than one ball in the air at time.

washingtonpost.com: He's Not Black (Post, Nov. 30)

Eugene Robinson: I think Marie's piece was provocative and incisive. I don't agree with it, though. I've written a lot about racial identification, skin color and all those issues, and I don't think we're anywhere near a post-racial phase in this country. I could give a longer and fuller answer, but it would take a book. (Actually, my first book, "Coal to Cream," was about racial identity.)


San Francisco: Terrorists don't wait? Doesn't that reinforce the Bush message that his administration has kept us safe for the past seven years? Or do they just not wait once your man's in office, and the Dems actually have to answer for their national security decisions?

Eugene Robinson: I don't see how that statement of fact reinforces any Bush administration message. It just means that events move on and that the actors don't care whether the occupant of the White House is an R or a D. (They might care whether the president invades other countries on trumped-up evidence, or sanctions torture. But that's another issue.)


Alexandria, Va.: Just some verbal acrobatics here Mr. Robinson, but who do you suggest be held responsible for "terrorism" and how? Your column leaves it unclear given that you have defined "terrorism" as a tactic. Who will the "war" be prosecuted against? the nation-states where the "terrorists" operate? Or, are you suggesting the Clinton approach where "terrorism" is handled through a more traditional law enforcement manner (i.e., arrest and prosecute)?

Eugene Robinson: I'm suggesting that thinking in terms of prosecuting a "war" is problematic. Clearly, we are indeed at war against al-Qaeda. The Taliban government in Afghanistan sheltered and sponsored al-Qaeda, so it was reasonable to go to war with the Taliban. But 9/11 was largely plotted in Hamburg, and no one is suggesting a war against Germany. Nor is it possible to have a "war" against Pakistan. Because our enemy is stateless, the way we go after them necessarily will have more in common with police work than with traditional military maneuvers. And we shouldn't forget that, ultimately, it's al-Qaeda that's the enemy.


Seattle: Gene, How would you advise Obama on balancing or deciding between "Reconciliation" and "Renewing the Rule of Law" with regards to torture? I'm pretty furious about the subject and think that a secret CIA prison in Eastern Europe is a great place to stash Bush, Cheney, Addington, etc., but can also see how divisive that could be.

Eugene Robinson: Arresting Bush, Cheney and Addington isn't something the new administration should or would attempt. Divisive isn't the word -- and I'm guessing that Bush may pardon everybody in advance, anyway. I do think, however, that it's important to have a thorough investigation of the Bush administration's excesses so that we know what was done in our name. We can't just move on without knowing the full truth.


"He's Not Black": Sad to say, if someone's black enough to get stopped by the police for DWB (Driving While Black), they're Black. Wouldn't you say this covers Tiger Woods, Hines Ward and the President-Elect? Not so sure about Halle Berry or Mariah Carey, though.

Eugene Robinson: During the campaign, back when the media (but no one else) was asking the "Is he black enough?" question, Obama routinely pointed out that if he had to try to hail a taxi late at night, as far as the cabbies were concerned, he was black.


A new role for the Vice President: Hosting ice cream socials in order to get Obama and Clinton in the room together so they can make up whenever they fight.

(Actually, in all honesty, I'm a little tired of people seriously acting as though they're going to be at odds all the time. Wasn't she one of his biggest fundraisers after the primaries? And what has she done to show she's not a team player?)

Eugene Robinson: I, too, think this whole thing is silly. If the secretary of state won't do what the president wants done, the president can fire him or her. Obama and Clinton will get along just fine. They might even do great things together.


Condi?: Any rumors on what Condeleezza Rice will be doing after January 2009? She apparently charmed Queen Elizabeth with her recent musical performance -- so, is she good enough to turn pro?

Eugene Robinson: She decided long ago that she wasn't a pro-caliber pianist. She's good, though, and I'll bet she had great fun playing for the queen.

Folks, my time is up. Thanks for dropping by, and I'll see you again next week.


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