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Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Dec. 23 to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

Discussion Group: Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

A transcript follows.

Archive: Eugene Robinson discussion transcripts

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Eugene Robinson: Hello, everyone, and I hope you have a joyous holiday season. The news isn't taking much of a break. The column this morning was a look at the arguments George Bush and Dick Cheney are making for an honorable place in history. (I found those arguments lacking, alas.) But we've also got the continuing Blagojevich saga, the Rick Warren mess, the continuing disintegration of the economy... Lots to talk about, so let's get it started.

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Washington, D.C.: Wow, Mr. Robinson!!! While your Pavlovian contempt for all things Bush is well documented, it seems today that you're foaming more than usual.

Seriously, as an American wouldn't you hope that as history goes on the actions of the current administration be vindicated? Wouldn't it be better to learn after 10 or 15 years that what the United States between 2000 and 2008 was justified?

While not an Obama supporter in any way, I fear that this next administration will be a colossal flop. As an American, it is my HOPE that it is a success.

Eugene Robinson: I don't hope that torture is vindicated, or the trashing of habeas corpus, or unwarranted domestic surveillance. Bush and Cheney took the position that the president could do basically whatever he wanted, regardless of what U.S. or international law might say. I hope that's not vindicated, either.

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Fairfax, Virginia: Eugene, I missed the interview that Bush had with ABC News when he answered, "So what," regarding the lack of al-Qaeda forces in Iraq until after the U.S. invasion. This kind of arrogance from a United States president, and similarly his vice president, is unimaginable. Unfortunately our Congress did not have the judgment to impeach and remove these two. We must be vigilant to never again elect people who are so flawed in democratic values.

washingtonpost.com: Transcript: President Talks With Martha Raddatz About Iraq and His Legacy (ABCNews.com)

Eugene Robinson: I found it pretty breathtaking. Here's the transcript.

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Anonymous: Many of your colleagues, I believe you, and the editorial pages of all major papers seem to be silent, refusing to call out the president-elect on the choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation. While granting that the president-elect seems headed in a progressive direction on many issues, giving Warren such a vaunted platform and marketing tool beyond what he already has gained for himself, in light of Warren's virulent opposition to gay civil rights, seems to cry out for a mainstream progressive response. I am not looking to spar, just for an understanding as to why mainstream media and commentators think it's ok to take a pass on this issue ever, and/or particularly at this time, with hate crimes against gays on the rise and when it would be so very easy for this president-elect to say (through words or deeds) I will give dissenting "views" (that is, bigotry in all its forms) a seat at the table, but the conversation begins with treating everyone with dignity.

Eugene Robinson: Two of my colleagues, E.J. Dionne and Richard Cohen, wrote about the Warren invitation this morning on the op-ed page; I'll give you links to the two columns in a minute. I haven't written about it yet, but I might still -- I don't like the choice of Warren, especially in this context. An inauguration is all about symbolism, and it seems to me that choosing Warren -- so soon after Proposition 8, which he supported, and his offensive linking of gay marriage to incest and polygamy -- can only be seen as a slap in the face to the millions of gays and lesbians who voted for Change. I'd have no objection if Obama invited him to the White House, but the inauguration is such a symbolic moment.

That said, I have to defend the right of any columnists to take a pass on any issue, if he or she feels the need to write about something else. We only write a hundred columns a year, so nobody's going to hit every subject.

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N.Y., N.Y.: I, too, hope that historians will give the Bush Cheney tragedy a full review... but I'm not holding my breath. Bushco has already done everything it can to destroy documents (those pesky emails) and classify those they haven't. I was watching C-SPAN over the weekend and saw a call-in segment with a Reagan biographer who was busy sugarcoating Reagan's legacy and dismissing Iran-Contra as inconsequential. Reagan's shadow foreign policy was small potatoes compared to Bush. P.S. - today was the first time I have ever completely agreed with your colleague Richard Cohen. Sadly, Mr. Dionne (on the same topic) is as mushy and meaningless as ever.

washingtonpost.com: Richard Cohen: Warren On? Party Off. (Washington Post Op-Ed, Dec. 23)

E.J. Dionne Jr.: A Gamble for Obama (Washington Post Op-Ed, Dec. 23)

Eugene Robinson: Thanks, and here are those links to the Dionne and Cohen columns.

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Washington, D.C.: With the recent revelation that this fellow Rick Warren will participate in the Inauguration, why do we Americans feel as though we have the right to tell the folks who are really in charge of planning the Inauguration who should be involved and who should not? It's one thing to have the right to express an opinion, it's another to demand that Mr. Warren be removed from the program.

Eugene Robinson: I think we have the right to see the inauguration as an important moment, in terms of setting the tone for administration, and I think everyone has the right to offer an opinion on the tone they're hearing.

The thing is, I expect the Obama administration to be very supportive of gay and lesbian issues. But if that's the administration's intention, this is getting off to a bad start.

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Arlington, Va.: Not so much a question but a comment, but with all these exit interviews from Bush, Cheney, and company, I keep thinking of one of Richard Nixon's most jaw-dropping quotes: "If the president does it, then it's not illegal." Clearly this was a belief held by the Bush team.

Eugene Robinson: Literally. Cheney and his team have avidly promoted the idea that at a time of war -- and the president decides when we're at war -- the president can do almost anything he (or, someday, she) wants.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: If we are expecting our country to be all inclusive and accepting of all Americans, why is it a problem to have Warren give the invocation at the inauguration?

Eugene Robinson: A good question, and I agree that it's good to have a variety of views represented. Because of that, by the way, I don't see how Obama could possibly uninvite Warren at this point. But I wouldn't have invited him in the first place, and timing has a lot to do with my opinion. Many people don't realize what a blow Proposition 8 was to many gays and lesbians, who felt they had made great progress in winning acceptance from the larger society. That wound is still raw, and giving a high-profile inaugural role to a high-profile supporter of Prop 8 seems like rubbing salt in it.

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Hagerstown Md.: Mr. Robinson, as an advocate for drug-policy reform, I am very discouraged, to the point of feeling "swindled" by President- Elect Obama, after seeing all of the "drug warriors," he has so far appointed to his cabinet. Namely, Joe Biden, Eric Holder and Rahm Emanuel. I would really like to see an end to mandatory minimums, along with an end to the prosecution of sick citizens for their use of marijuana. Not to mention the continual imprisonment of non-violent drug offenders, and a host of other tragedies imposed upon families and citizens as a result of our current drug policies. During the campaign, I saw then-Sen. Obama share the views of many Americans when it came to reforming our drug laws. He has since changed his stance and hired people who have antiquated views on the issue. What do you think?

Eugene Robinson: I think Obama has made it clear that he intends to set broad policy. If he wants to reform the drug laws, I'm sure his cabinet will do -- or try to do -- just that.

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Herndon, Va.: Given that European "allies" are falling all over themselves to offer help to Obama with respect to Guantanamo detainees, isn't it possible that the Bush administration has been trying to do the right thing for a long time be has been rebuffed? Yesterday's story reported that Bush had been trying for some time to enlist the help of our allies but was essentially extended the middle finger. The "he made his bed" philosophy is neither mature nor helpful.

washingtonpost.com: European Countries May Take Detainees: Under Bush, Nations Refused to Resettle Guantanamo Prisoners (The Washington Post, Dec. 23)

Eugene Robinson: Neither mature nor helpful, perhaps, but maybe understandable. The Bush administration displayed great contempt for multilateralism, essentially giving the finger to Europe on global warming and several other borderless issues. Without telling important European governments, the administration set up secret CIA-run prisons on the continent and apparently used them for "alternative" -- meaning cruel -- interrogation of prisoners. Bush decided to go it alone, and so it's perhaps understandable that European governments would say, "Be my guest."

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Washington, D.C.: Hello, I am not certain whether you caught the segment on Morning Joe this morning where Jonathan Capehart was challenged for his stating the analogous elements of the civil rights movement of the 20th century and the movement for gay rights. Do you (as many black folks I know, including my family members do) recoil when folks do this? Do you view the gay rights movement as anathema, and almost an Antichrist (false supplanter of the _true_ civil rights movement)?

Eugene Robinson: I didn't see the segment. I see the gay rights movement as an important and righteous struggle, which I have consistently supported. However, I don't like trying to compare struggles -- black people, women, gays and lesbians, Latinos... No two groups or situations are alike, which means that if you try to compare them, you soon reach a dead end and people just start shouting. Some aspects of the various movements are analogous, some are not, and in the end it doesn't matter.

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Seattle: Do you think there is an opportunity in the formation of a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" to consider the abuses of the Bush/Cheney administration? I'm thinking of South Africa, the exclusion of testimony from being used for prosecutions, and just finding the truth wherever it leads. What do you think?

Eugene Robinson: In my columns this year, I've mentioned several times that I think we need to investigate deeply and find out everything we can about what this administration did in our name. I will probably devote a full column to the subject soon.

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Washington, D.C.: I love how you are blaming Rick Warren for the passage of Prop 8, rather than the African American Community, who voted 70-30, higher than any group, for it. This is the reason it passed, yet you seem to ignore this. Afraid to criticize black leaders for some reason?

Eugene Robinson: If I'm afraid to criticize black leaders, I'm out of a job, since the country now has a black leader. I don't recall having ventured an analysis of why Prop 8 passed -- I just noted that Warren was a high-profile supporter. It is certainly true that African Americans voted for Prop 8 heavily, and to me this suggests that gay rights activists should work with black political leaders -- who generally opposed Prop 8 -- to start turning these numbers around.

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Minneapolis: Hi Eugene -- As a Gay American, I am as angered by the Warren pick as anybody and appreciate the outrage by sympathetic straights. But let's be honest -- where else are we going to go? At least we're done with Bush/Cheney, who had no compunction about using antigay sentiment to get votes.

Eugene Robinson: I think most people would agree. And, as I said, I do think this administration will be radically more gay-friendly, in terms of policy, than the outgoing crew.

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Calabasas, Calif.: I hear that the Senate Republicans are going to bring up Elian Gonzales in Eric Holder's confirmation hearings. Do the Republicans really want to look like they favor keeping a son and father separated because of ideology?

Eugene Robinson: I think they should actually subpoena Elian himself -- fly him in from Cuba. Actually, I don't know where the Republicans are going with this.

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New Orleans, La.: Mr. Robinson,

Do you read the comments your readers leave? NUT JOBS! Is the Economist the last publication to attract rational debate?

Eugene Robinson: You mean the comment strings on the column? Yes, I must admit, there are some nut jobs. But I feel kind of protective of them. They're MY nut jobs.

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Fort Myers, Florida: Hi Eugene! Thank you for your column and the questions you answered today, it honestly helps keep me sane during this insane period of our country's history right now. My question is this: Can Bush pre-pardon as yet un-prosecuted individuals? i.e. Rumsfeld, Addington, Cheney, himself, etc.?

Eugene Robinson: The model would be Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon.

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Maryland: Hi, Eugene. Sometimes I mix you up with your colleague E. J. Dionne. This is because I like both of your columns and "Eugene" and "EJ" sound a lot alike. What is the biggest difference between you two, so I can finally always remember who is who?

Eugene Robinson: To further confuse the issue, the E in EJ stands for Eugene. Sometimes even I can't tell us apart.

My time is up for today, folks. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy New Year, and I'll see you again next time!

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