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Eugene Robinson on Michael Steele, Gay Marriage, More

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, April 7, 2009 1:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, April 7 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the global reaction to President Obama's trip abroad, his recent columns and the latest news.

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Eugene Robinson: Hello, and welcome. It's another busy day in the middle of a busy week in what looks like a busy month... The president made a surprise visit to Baghdad this morning after wrapping up a week-long European tour. Since last we chatted, we've had the G-20 meeting, the NATO summit, the gesture toward Islam in Turkey, and now the meeting with U.S. troops in Iraq. Hope he enjoyed the trip, because given the economic situation back home, that's probably the closest he'll get to a vacation. What's everybody thinking about?

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Downtown DC: I didn't really understand the premise of your column today. You start out by stating how good Michael Steele is for the Republican Party by citing examples of his breaking out of the party box on conservative issues like abortion, gay rights and Limbaugh. Then you mention, correctly, how he was forced to backtrack and apologize on each of those issues. What exactly is good about that?

Eugene Robinson: I think the fact that the chairman of the party raised these issues at all -- however briefly -- should ultimately be good for the party. I said the party ought to listen, but didn't go so far as to predict that it would.

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Kingsland, Ga.: As you pointed out in today's column, Michael Steele, Chairman of the RNC, has made some spot-on remarks about how the GOP is out of sync with most of the public; but he keeps taking back his remarks. This would seem to inflict double damage on the party: they still project the same out-of-touch ideas, AND it looks like Limbaugh is taking their lunch money. So my question is this: If Steele has the insight to realize (and say) what the GOP is doing wrong, why do you think he feels the need to take it back?

washingtonpost.com: Chairman Steele's Crazy Talk

Eugene Robinson: He has to take this stuff back because such heresy is forbidden in today's Republican Party. To the extent that he has any formed political ideology of his own, I think Steele is a pretty moderate Republican. Either the party is going to welcome moderates back into the tent, or it's going to limit its appeal to the independent voters who decide national elections.

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Fairfax, Va.: Mr. Robinson, I agree that race SHOULD NOT matter when it comes to having the ability to lead this great nation (and Mr. Obama is proving that in a mighty way). But... now that the black man has finally achieved the position of POTUSA, please don't say his race does not matter because OH YES IT DOES. President Obama has helped validate the black men who have had the same abilities as he, all along, but were not able to break through that glass ceiling. Now that the glass has been broken, other black men will be able to climb through and will succeed if they too have the highest of qualifications as does Mr. Obama.

Eugene Robinson: Thanks for your note, but that's not quite what I said, or at least what I tried to say. My point in that column was that we see a black man performing the world's toughest job, and we realize that any preconceptions that anyone might have had about race are irrelevant to his ability to perform. As you or I might have said: Duh... But people who didn't want to deal with the fact that race has nothing to do with ability can't avoid all this evidence to the contrary.

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Talbot County, Md.: In the history of human history, could you tell me when, until very recently, that any society has granted homosexuals the right to marry? Isn't the recent conversion to homosexual marriage confined to morally decadent nations and states like Massachusetts and Holland?

Eugene Robinson: Through most of human history, slavery was seen as just dandy and women were considered little more than property. So change is sometimes a very good thing. And have you ever been to Massachusetts or Holland? They're perfectly nice places.

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Re: Ted Stevens: While reading the AP story on the judge overturning former Sen. Stevens' conviction, I thought of all of those Republicans calling for a new election when I saw this paragraph:

"At trial, he argued that he didn't disclose the items he received because they were not gifts. A $2,700 massage chair, for instance, remained in his house for seven years but Stevens said it was a loan. He said he assumed a $3,200 stained-glass window was paid for, since his wife takes care of such things. A $29,000 fish statue was a donation to his foundation, he said, and only remained on his front porch because that's where the donors shipped it."

Somehow they seem to forget these small details when howling about the injustice heaped upon him.

Eugene Robinson: I'm glad we have a justice system that enforces rules of conduct on prosecutors and law enforcement officers. Perhaps the Stevens case will remind some Republicans of why we have the exclusionary rule.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Mr. Robinson,

Thanks for these discussions. Your writing on race is top-notch, so please read this question/comment in that vein. As I recall, you expressed the view that many others in the African-American community held, that the possibility of the U.S. electing a black president was unthinkable in your lifetime.

I remain troubled by this and believe that it is an urban phenomenon that reflects a lack of understanding of the broader country and the bias of urban-based media. I also believe there is a lot of black racism that is not discussed but is also part of the ingrained belief in the prevalence of white racism.

Eugene Robinson: Thanks for your note, but I confess that I don't quite understand why you're troubled, and I'm not sure what you mean by "urban." I grew up in a small town in South Carolina under the Jim Crow system of racial segregation. We had separate schools, separate water fountains, separate playgrounds, etc. It's simply a fact that nothing in that experience would suggest that a black man would be elected president in my lifetime.

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Texas: What do you figure is the reason why Obama has had such a short honeymoon? The venom with which the conservatives are attacking him seems a bit unusual for such a short time in office & high approval ratings. Are the Republicans trying to appeal to a white conservative base that has a problem with a black man in the WH? Also, do you think that Obama feels any more pressure to succeed so as to make it easier for those minorities that follow him seeking the highest office?

Eugene Robinson: By "honeymoon," I gather you're referring to the way he is treated by the Republican opposition as opposed to the way he is being received by Americans in general. As you note, his approval ratings are still high and the percentage of Americans who believe the country is on the right track is rising sharply. It seems to me that Republicans take a risk by attacking him when most people seem to think he's doing the right things, but I won't venture a guess as to why they're taking this stance, except perhaps that they don't know what else to do. As for Obama and those who might follow him, I think that if he wanted just to be a successful "first" -- don't mess up, don't rock the boat, don't ruin it for everybody else -- he would be setting a much more modest agenda. Whether you agree with him or not, it's clear that he wants to do big things.

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Gay Marriage: I am thrilled with the recent events of Iowa, Vermont, and now D.C. acceptance of gay marriage. But I am concerned about them happening so suddenly that it will cause a political backlash. I expect Obama to issue a "I like the traditional definition of marriage between a man and woman, but I won't overturn these decisions" statement, but I do worry about the backlash diminishing his popularity and/or ability to continue getting things done. Thoughts?

washingtonpost.com: D.C. to Honor Same-Sex Marriage

Eugene Robinson: My guess is that Obama can avoid getting in the middle of gay marriage issue by saying it's being handled in the states.

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Los Angeles: Hi, Gene! I was stuck by your comment in "What We're Not Talking About" regarding the abundance of high-quality journalism on the subject of race. I agree, there is so much out there! The first pieces that come to my mind are the NYT's How Race Is Lived in America, the Post's Being a Black Man, Dawn Turner Trice's Exploring Race at the Chicago Tribune, some of Sandy Bank's writing for the L.A. Times.

Yet if you don't happen to see it when it comes out, finding these great pieces can be hit or miss. As someone engaged in compiling a selective resource on the African- American, and black/white biracial, experience in America, I'd greatly appreciate any other good ones you can throw out there!

washingtonpost.com: What We're Not Talking About

Eugene Robinson: Thanks for the links, which lead to a wealth of fabulous journalism.

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"My guess is that...": "My guess is that Obama can avoid getting in the middle of gay marriage issue by saying it's being handled in the states."

Which is funny since that's such a Republican view, "being handled by the states."

Eugene Robinson: When I was a kid, "states' rights" was the rallying cry of the Southern Democrats; it was code for continued segregation. Then the whole "leave it to the states" thing became the property of the Republicans. Now, it seems to depend on the issue. Republicans, for example, seem to think it's fine to leave gun laws to the states but not marriage laws. I guess they're worried that gay Iowans might (horror of horrors) take their spouses to, say, Texas -- but not that Texans might take their guns to Iowa. Hmmmm...

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Los Angeles: With results of Minnesota's Senatorial recount trial that Al Franken increased his lead over Norm Coleman to about 312, aren't Senator Cornyn's and other Republican threats of a Republican-lead federal challenge for "years" hypocrisy pure and simple? It's disingenuous for politicians to preach state rights as a fundamental principle on the one hand and then whey they don't like a state result run to federal court to drag things out on the other hand. Appeals of this sort are billing opportunities for trial attorneys against whom Republicans generally rile.

Eugene Robinson: True. My guess is that at some point -- after the Minnesota high court has its say, but before the election gets into the federal courts, I hope -- the candidate who's behind, presumably Coleman, will concede on the grounds that it's unfair to deprive Minnesotans of their due representation in the Senate.

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Eugene Robinson: My time is up for today, folks. Thanks for tuning in, and see you again next week.

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