Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, January 20, 2009; 2:00 PM

Live from the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the historic day, as well as his recent columns and the latest news.

The transcript follows.


Eugene Robinson: Hello, everyone, on this historic day. What can I say to add to what we'e just seen? I believe the American reality has just come a lot closer to the American ideal. This is a day I thought I'd never see.


Cincinnati, Ohio: Dear Eugene. Every thing had been said, everything has been pondered, history has been made. My question is simple....what does Obama's election mean to YOU? Thank you.

Eugene Robinson: It means that the words of this country's founding charters are more real than they have ever been before, at least for me. It means that eight years of a consequential but (in my opinion) tragic presidency are over. It means that our leaders are going to try, finally, to deal with problems that have festered and grown for years. It doesn't mean that everything is peaches and cream from now on, but it feels like the start of something big.


Takoma Park, Md.: Hi, Gene. Sorry to do this, but this was posted yesterday and I wanted to comment and get your take: "Latest tally on the cost for this year's inauguration: $150 million and counting. Totally unnecessary, inappropriate, and uncalled for, especially during these tough economic times."

Fair enough. Let's throw in the Super Bowl... Bowl Championship Series... Iraq War...

Eugene Robinson: My take is that if 2 million (or however many) people want to come to an inauguration, it's going to cost some money.


Sanibel Island, Fla.: There are many things that make the election of Barack Obama thrilling. One that resonates with me (as the father of two mixed-race sons) is a comment I heard from one young man who has always seen Michael Jordan as his hero -- as he now says, "I now have a new hero."

Eugene Robinson: I do think the fact of Obama's inauguration as president will have an impact on many young African American boys and men who, in the past, have been able to cite evidence to justify a lack of ambition to succeed on the terms of this society. Yes, you can be anything when you grow up.


Logansport, Ind.: Good Afternoon Mr. Robinson:

In watching the ceremonies today on MSNBC, I could not believe the size of the crowd. Can you remember an inauguration with a crowd of this size? Also, your thoughts on his speech.


Eugene Robinson: The crowd is incredible and unprecedented. I've never seen anything quite like this, at least not in the United States. There is a palpable sense of a new beginning.


Lexington, Ky.: What can we expect to be the five points of emphasis/achievement between now and May 1, which seems a reasonable period of time to get some big things done?

Eugene Robinson: Number one is the stimulus package -- the adeministration can't do anything else before it gets the economy going again. Also, I think there's going to be a quick announcement on Guantanamo, but it will take longer to actually close the place.


The speech was direct!: Hi Gene,

The Obama speech didn't have the "pop" of some of his, or, of other speeches I've heard. However, it said what was needed to be said and he spoke to the moment.

Basically, the hoop-lah is over and it's time to get seriously to work. Period!

Eugene Robinson: Exactly. It was a call to work. I think he made a decision not to go for high-blown rhetoric and instead to deal with nuts and bolts.


Nantahala, N C: Were your parents able to be there today? Having briefly lived in Orangeburg in the 1960s I know that their pride in you and in Obama must be beyond description but could you try to describe for us ?

Eugene Robinson: My mom wasn't able to be here today, but she's watching. My dad passed away January 2 at the age of 92. I'm sure he's watching, too.


Lynchburg, Va.: I can easily understand the excitement of all the blacks in America but I have not heard not even one give thanks for all the white people who helped make Obama President. Do you believe if we could reverse the situation in population that black people would have allowed a white man to become president today?

Eugene Robinson: There have been 43 white presidents. Black people voted for all of those elected since black people were allowed to vote. Remember?


Stafford, Va.: Aren't you on MSNBC while doing this chat? I just saw Matthews introduce you! What a multitasker you are!

Eugene Robinson: I'm doing my best. Chris tendds to keep the floor when he gets it, so I can type. But I may have to chill for a while.


Palo Alto, Calif.: Eugene,

It appeared that Justice Roberts apologized to the president when they shook hands at lunch for flubbing the oath? Any inside knowledge on this?

Eugene Robinson: Not yet, but I'm sure we'll truth-squad the oath when we can. Somebody messed up.


Lahaina, Hawaii: Maybe it was a "nuts and bolts" speech to you, but I was moved. There was lots of stirring rhetoric, from "the bitter brew of slavery" (was that it?) and "reach out with an open hand and not a closed fist"... he has a gift.

I wish he'd get less stirring, I'm getting tired of crying every time he speaks.

Eugene Robinson: You have a point. Prose from this guy sounds like poetry from most folks. Just objectively, it should be against the law for a politician to write as well as he does.


Anonymous: Eugene, I am struck by extent of the global approval of Obama. Do you think this has more to do with Obama's personal biography or Bush fatigue?

Eugene Robinson: A lot to do with both.


Santa Monica, Calif.: Mr. Robinson,

Do you think Americans are really ready for hard decisions, public service, and shared sacrifice? I fear that, when push comes to shove, we will resort to partisan, regional, and tribal bickering. If 9/11 and two wars didn't unite us with a common purpose, what can a man, even one as inspirational as President Obama, truly achieve in this area?

Eugene Robinson: We'll see. No, it won't be easy. But a couple of million people came out here in the cold to stand for hours and witness history today, so maybe that's a start.


DC: I was one of the few who stayed home to watch the spectacle on TV (nice and warm, I might add).

What has struck me from the beginning about Barack Obama is that finally, FINALLY, we have an -adult- in the White House, leading this complex, yet resilient, country. His speech, in its imagery and its directness, with a decided lack of euphemisms to shroud the difficult tasks awaiting him and us, was from one adult to all of us as co-adults. It was inclusive and was an invitation to join him -- as we must if we are ever to get ourselves out of the mess made by the past 8 years (at the very least).

One of your earlier posters mentioned that the speech didn't "pop" for him/her. For me, I didn't need a "pop" -- I needed a leader, and one who will never, ever, feel the need to call himself one, because he is a natural leader and not just a pretender.

As a 62-year-old white woman, I couldn't be happier or more excited on this day -- the best since the election barely two months ago. Finally, we have our country back. Let's now get on with it. All of us.

Eugene Robinson: I agree that there is a sense of adulthood about this new administration that's really encouraging, including to many conservatives.


Atlanta, Ga.: Rev. Lowery's payer gave me tears and smiles. There were two poets today.

Eugene Robinson: I agree. Lowery was outstanding.


London: What was most memorable phrase from the speech? Also can you explain why Gates and not Biden is to take charge in moment of crisis?

Eugene Robinson: Gates was today's designee -- there's always one cabinet member held in reserve at the State of the Union or any other event at which all high-ranking officials are expected to attend. I'll have to read the speech again to come up with one single greatest hit.


Annapolis, Md.: Gene, the early line from some commentators is that the speech was flat. What did you think of the speech as a speech? I certainly didn't think it was as soaring or inspirational as, say, his New Hampshire primary speech, but I thought it was a good one: sober determination mixed with hope, confidence, and a restatement of American ideals.

Also, in the absence of the Tony Kornheiser show: where will you go to talk about Idol?

Eugene Robinson: I thought it was a very good speech that gets better as you reread it. It did not soar like some of his campaign speeches, but I think he decided it wasn't that kind of occasion. I do think that some of his key phrases might have been hones a bit to make them more instantly memorable, but that's just a first impression. We tend to hold Obama to the highest of possible standards.

I'll have to find SOMEWHERE to talk about Idol. Any ideas?


We Are All Included: A woman Speaker of the House, a Mormon Senate Majority, a Catholic Vice-President and an African-American President. Seriously, there are flaws in the country and in the Democratic party but this is just incredible.

Eugene Robinson: Incredible indeed. What a visual.


Hamilton, Va.: Roberts messed up. I knew it the second the words came out of his mouth.The way he said it is grammatically correct. The adverb follows the verb etc. The actual oath has the same mistake as the opening to the original "Star Trek" when we were told the Enterprise would "boldly go".

Eugene Robinson: Beautifully said. Or said beautifully. Whichever.


Washington: What did you make of the expression on Bush's face during the inauguration? He has a terrible poker face.

Eugene Robinson: There were actually some moments at which he seemed happy and relieved. Who wouldn't be?


Eugene Robinson: Sorry, everybody, I have to stop a few minutes early today. See you again next week, when we'll have had a little time to reflect on the history that was made today.


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