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Eugene Robinson: Obama's Temper, Winning a Pulitzer, More

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, April 21, 2009 1:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, was online Tuesday, April 21 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns, including today's recommendation that President Obama should show his temper from time to time, and the latest news.

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Eugene Robinson: Hi, everyone. Today, for a change, I'm speechless -- at least as far as this preamble is concerned. I'm in an extraordinarily good mood, too. Let's just jump in.

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Laguna Beach, Calif.: How did you all celebrate last night?

Eugene Robinson: What we were celebrating was the fact that -- and this is the first time I've typed these words -- I won a Pulitzer Prize. We had a celebration in the newsroom and a party later on, with lots of friends and family and colleagues. Champagne was consumed. I am humbled, amazed, honored and exhausted. I've believed from the start that this column-writing gig is a collaborative effort, because a writer's not much good without readers. So thank you.

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Baltimore: In your column today you twice, within three paragraphs, refer to U.S. treatment of Latin American countries as "sordid." But I recall that over the years the U.S. has poured millions (billions??) of dollars in humanitarian aid into Latin America. Please explain how U.S. generosity that has saved and improved thousands of lives fits in with your condemnation of "sordid" treatment.

Eugene Robinson: I was referring to the habit of invading small countries and propping up murderous dictatorships in bigger countries. Happily, we have done much less of this in recent years, except for the invasions of Panama and Grenada.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Congratulations, I never miss your columns. Well-deserved honor. Enjoy your appearances on MSNBC, as well. Question: Despite warnings to the GOP of shrinking to just their hard-core base by not reaching out to independents, they appear to be growing more, not less, strident, and that includes their many "commentators" (Rush is likely to explode any day now). Is there any sign of discontent from GOP elected officials in DC about this? They appear to remain quiet, and cowed. Who's expressing concern among elected officials on the Right about the direction this is going?

Eugene Robinson: If by "elected officials" you mean the GOP members of Congress, remember that their ranks are pretty much reduced to the conservative, the very conservative, and the beyond-the-pale. The few Republican moderates left around town are suffering existential despair.

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Florida Chick: Shocked and disappointed to see this award given for those columns. Opinion-writer or not - the way you took after the Clintons was unfair. Hillary stayed in, in my view, because of the millions of Fla. and Mich. voters - like me - who voted for her but were gyped out of proper vote counts in engineered deals by Howard Dean. She knew we were "out here" and crusaded on bravely trying to represent us. Your indignant "step off" to her was offensive and would have been had the roles been reversed. Shocked that this irresponsible stance won a Pulitzer. And I would be no matter who the pols were, if arrayed this way. You knew perfectly well they cherry picked the primaries and caucuses to "count." It was dreadful, and you piled on. No prize there, sir. Stunned and disappointed in your remarks also. You might be better off working there and letting someone with balance and perspective have a turn.

Eugene Robinson: Nice to hear an opposing view. If you look back, you'll see that I was pretty close to the last columnist to suggest that Hillary Clinton pull out, and I did this only after the arithmetic was definitive and her campaign's attacks had become, I thought, heedlessly divisive. And I was the first to note how classy her exit was and how admirably she handled herself and guided her supporters during the general election campaign.

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Anonymous: Congratulations on nailing a Pulitzer. You had that coming.

On today's column, don't you think that there's a strong case for President Obama not lending dignity to Mr. Chavez and Mr. Ortega, by offering NO response?

Eugene Robinson: This is about today's column, in which I suggested that President Obama had ben ill-treated at the Summit of the Americas by Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega, and should have responded in kind. I absolutely agree with his decision to shelve the arrogance and presumed superiority of the past. He was right to meet with Chavez, to listen to what Ortega had to say, and to speak with the assembled leaders as peers, not vassals. But Chavez was trying to play him, and Obama should have called him on it. Likewise, Ortega went out of his way to give insult. Obama shouldn't have made a big deal of any of this, but he could have handled it with a cold stare or a few pointed words. Nothing more, then back to brotherhood.

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Sewickley, Pa.: Gene, thanks so much for all your work and especially for talking to your faithful readers in this forum. I expect any day now you will be too much in demand to hang with us. Do you sense any feeling in the Obama administration that the task is so overwhelming that their efforts may become more focused and that they might be contemplating shrinking their agenda?

Eugene Robinson: I'll never be too busy to hang with my peeps. My sense is that the Obama administration is moving ahead on all fronts, realizing that not everything will get done at once. Health care is definitely teed up for this year. Energy is complicated but they want to make a start. Education is a longer-term project anyway.

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washingtonpost.com: Eugene on Hillary Clinton: If Obama Went 0-for-10...

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New York: Gene, congratulations. What should Obama have done when presented with the book by Chavez? You imply that he should have exhibited anger or annoyance, but I'm not sure how that would have worked in the situation. Thanks.

Eugene Robinson: Of course there was nothing he should have done when he was given the book, but maybe he could reciprocated with a tome that was similarly critical of the Chavez regime. Or maybe something more creative. I think the main thing he should have been watchful for was the photo of the two of them smiling together -- which wasn't truly representative of their encounters, but which Chavez will try to portray as his "tutelage" of the rookie president. Hard to be on your guard every minute, but Chavez is really good at this sort of thing.

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Waterloo, Iowa: If Barack Obama is really trying to "turn over a new leaf" when it comes to our foreign policy and relations, why does it hurt to ignore cheeky rhetorical attacks? Much of his administration has been about rejecting traditions that make our presidency "untouchable" and "superior" to others. Will it hurt us to break these traditions? Will we lose power and security?

Eugene Robinson: No, Obama is absolutely right about all of this. I think it would have been appropriate to respond to Ortega, however, by saying look, I'm here to forge a different kind of relationship and either we can try to do that or we can argue about the past.

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Austin, Texas: "I've believed from the start that this column-writing gig is a collaborative effort, because a writer's not much good without readers. So thank you." Well deserved and congratulations to you! How much "credibility" do you thing Cheney has when he spouts completely obsene idiocies defending barabarous practices? Do you think the MSM is paying too much attention to this discredited fool?

Eugene Robinson: Thanks so much. It's hard to ignore Dick Cheney when he insists on making such a spectacle of himself. At some point, I think, everyone will lose interest. But it's just bizarre for an outgoing vice president to be carrying on this way.

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Los Angeles: What do you think it is going to take for Norm Coleman to concede? And, how long will it take? Are you and your fellow pundits making bets?

Eugene Robinson: I'm not taking bets. I think there's a chance that if the Minnesota Supreme Court rules in Franken's favor, Coleman may concede without trying to take the whole thing to federal court. But I'm not sure.

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Gulf Shores, Ala.: I add my Congratulations!! Well done!! What are your thoughts and Marc Thiessen editorial today? How does he or anyone else know that the torture worked? Is there something I missed?

washingtonpost.com: Thiessen: The CIA's Questioning Worked

Eugene Robinson: We have heard these claims that the torture worked, and they're essentially unprovable. Let's say that one of the detainees who was waterboarded gave up valuable information about a genuine terrorist plot. How can anyone prove that this information couldn't have been obtained through non-torture interrogation methods that experts tell me are more effective? And how much useless, made-up information was offered as a way of making the torture stop? I have heard not a single claim of immediate, ticking-bomb information that came from torture, and if such a claim could be made, I don't think they'd keep it secret.

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Bethesda, Md.: Is your criticism of Pres. Obama real or is it an attempt, through finding picayune fault with him, to demonstrate that you are not a closet supporter of him? Isn't the so-called liberal press criticized for its favorable coverage of this new president, and isn't it responding by finding fault where it can with anything this man does or says, or fails to do or say?

Eugene Robinson: I'm an opinion columnist. All opinions guaranteed real.

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Atlanta: Congratulations Eugene,

Do you think people should be prosecuted for the act of terror performed on captives during the Bush administration?

Eugene Robinson: I've been wrestling with the question of whether those who participated in torture should be prosecuted, and I've finally decided that in some cases they probably should be -- or at least that prosecution shouldn't be ruled out. I started out thinking that it was just unrealistic to expect prosecution and that, in any event, it would be wrong to subject the low-ranking interrogators to legal jeopardy while the higher-ups skated free. But when I read the Red Cross report, I came to believe that "following orders" wasn't good enough. I don't think you could waterboard somebody without knowing, at some level, that it was wrong. I still think, though, that the greater responsibility resides higher in the chain of command.

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Marc Thiessen's article: Eugene, your argument can be used against you. How can you prove you could get the information without interrogation? You can't.

Eugene Robinson: True. So it would be one set of experts against another, except for one thing: Torture is illegal, under national and international law. It's a crime. Period.

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New Orleans: I read your column in the Times Picayune and agree with you most of the time. My question is a more general one concerning the demise of "paper" news and just wanted your thoughts about where the industry is headed. Have to have my morning coffee reading "the paper"! Oh and bravo on your award!!

Eugene Robinson: It's no secret that the newspaper business is in the midst of a wrenching transition. I believe -- I hope -- that the ink-on-paper newspaper will be around for a long time. But it will change as the economics of the industry change, and more of what we do will migrate to the cyber-realm.

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Obama response: I just thought that the Pres. did what he should have done...just brush his shoulders off and continued his swag. (I would be surprised if this gets in).

Eugene Robinson: Surprise.

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Eugene Robinson: Thanks so much, everybody, for joining in today. I'm exhausted but very happy and gratified. See you again next week!

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