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Eugene Robinson: Health Care, Obama in the Middle East, More

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Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, June 9, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, June 9 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

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Eugene Robinson: Hi, everyone. Welcome to our weekly conversation. Today's column, for reference, was about Obama's persona and history as instruments of foreign policy. I had been skeptical, but less so after the Cairo speech. Meanwhile, there's lots of other news, as usual -- the toughness of Sonia Sotomayor, who plays hurt; the travails of the auto industry; the travails of the Republican Party; the re-launch of the stimulus, which I thought was supposed to have begun stimulating already... And, of course, the insanity that is North Korea. Let's jump in.

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Burke, Va.: Mr. Robinson, You stated in your article that " There are those who believe that admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness. I think it's a sign of confidence and strength, and I believe that's how it was received by Obama's intended audience." You ended by saying "It turns out that being Obama matters more than I thought."

I applaud you for admitting a perception you had about Obama. It shows that you are a person of confidence and strength.

washingtonpost.com: The Importance of Being Obama

Eugene Robinson: No, just a person capable of not getting it quite right the first time.

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Rockville, Md.: Do you think after four months in office that President Obama is starting to feel a little empathy towards George W. Bush? Actually governing vs. running for president and sounding knowledgeable are such different positions to be in.

Eugene Robinson: If he's feeling a whole lot of empathy, he has a funny way of showing it -- he blasts the whole way Bush and Cheney ran the country pretty regularly. It's true, though, that occupants of the Oval Office have experiences in common that no one else can share, or even imagine. So there's inevitably an appreciation of the pressures that predecessors faced, even if there's no agreement with the policies they chose.

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Kansas City Mo: Hi Eugene!

In what ways do you think 'being Obama' helps in negotiating the Israel/Palestine problem?

Eugene Robinson: Obviously it doesn't untie that impossible knot. But it does seem capable of lowering the temperature, at least among the Palestinians -- at the moment, it seems to be making things hotter in Israeli politics. It's unrealistic to expect a peace deal anytime soon, but if some kind of process can be initiated, that alone would be huge at this point.

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Atlanta: Can you tell me why it's so important that Obama get the health care package passed his first year in office (indeed, some have said by October of this year). We did, after all, elect him to a four-year term.

Eugene Robinson: It makes sense to tackle big, controversial projects early in a president's term, when his approval ratings are still high and his political mandate is still fresh in everybody's mind.

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Herndon, Va.: In all seriousness, doesn't the apparent takeover of the private sector by the federal government worry you at all? Or are you OK with unelected bureaucrats running the health care, energy, auto and banking industries (so far)?

Eugene Robinson: I'm quite happy that our government is finally trying to do something about the shameful fact that tens of millions of Americans lack health insurance. On energy, it's obvious that there's a big role for government to play, because that has always been considered a matter of national security; but I have some issues with the Obama administration's approach, and wrote a column last week saying that carbon capture and storage -- a centerpiece of the whole "clean coal" concept -- is unproven at scale and looks unwise. On cars and banks, what choice did the administration have? I'm not up for soup lines.

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Mount Horeb, Wisc.: Gene:

A number of prominent folks in the GOP have been critical of President Obama's conduct of foreign policy, calling his recent overseas trip an "apology tour". Angelina Jolie's father even went so far at last night's GOP fundraising dinner to claim that he is "embarrassed by Obama."

Do you think Obama's recent actions and statements merit the charges leveled by the conservatives? Is Obama apologizing too much?

Do you think folks will line up burn copies of the movie "Midnight Cowboy," as they did with CDs when Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks expressed her embarrassment at George W. Bush being from her home state of Texas?

Eugene Robinson: I don't think anybody's going to be burning "Midnight Cowboy," which is a great movie. I didn't hear any apologies on the tour. I wonder how anyone expects Obama to campaign on promises to change Bush-Cheney policies, get elected on that basis, change the policies, and then go out and defend them.

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Brooklyn, NY: There's a Gitmo detainee in New York City today for a federal hearing - the first to be brought to American soil.

A terrorist in my own backyard!?! The Republicans were right!!! Help me. Is it time to panic? Will our law enforcement be able to contain this super criminal, or will he break free and run amok in my city like the republicans predicted?

I'm scared and don't know what to do!

Eugene Robinson: Run in circles! Immediately! Maybe while unleashing a blood-curdling scream!

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Hyattsville: Obama has come under fire for not overturning some Bush national security policies. I've noticed two patterns:

An unwillingness to give up any the prerogatives of the executive branch. I suspect any president would feel this way.

An avoidance of anything that would anger the career people at CIA, Defense, or State. Clinton and George W. Bush had some real problems with these folks. I suspect that Rahm Emanuel, Leon Panetta, and other veterans of bureaucratic warfare would advise Obama, "Don't tick these people off."

Eugene Robinson: I think your analysis is basically right, but those reasons shouldn't hold water with the electorate if the policies should, in fact, be changed. Like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Polls show support of around 70 percent for changing the policy and letting gays serve openly. Sounds like a mandate to me.

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Los Angeles, Ca.: What happened to our "fierce advocate" for gay rights, Mr. Robinson? Will we have to get Adam Lambert elected POTUS for ENDA to pass?

Hey -- that's not such a bad idea.

Eugene Robinson: I agree that the fierce advocate has been much less than fierce on the biggest gay issues. But no Adam Lambert for president. He's wildly talented, but there's too much screeching.

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New York City, NY: In you answer to Atlanta you speak of Obama's political mandate, still fresh in people's mind.

What was his political mandate, in you opinion?

Do you recognize that he was falling significantly (3-4 points) behind McCain in the polls when the financial crisis erupted, with the Lehman bankruptcy in mid September, and the Republican's campaign collapsed.

Has Obama a mandate other than bringing the economy back on an even keel?

Eugene Robinson: Come on, he won a very comfortable victory. Elections have consequences. George W. Bush claimed mandates with much slimmer margins. Democrats solidified their control of the House and Senate. People voted for a new direction. Just because you voted the other way doesn't mean you can pretend that the vote didn't happen.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: Health Care Reform is the issue of the hour. The Blue Dogs in Congress are reluctant to go with a public option. What is the point of HC Reform if their is no competition for the private sector to bring down their cost? If I can understand this, why can't the Blue Dogs?

Eugene Robinson: Beats me.

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Chicago: Does the gay community really have much leverage over Obama? It's not like they're going to vote Republican (for Romney? Huckabee? Palin?) Obama can always raise as much money as he wants, even if not a single gay person gave him a dime. It's not like he's going to lose California or New York.

Eugene Robinson: True, but I think it would be unwise for Obama to treat gays, and also the left wing of the Democratic Party, the same way that Republican presidents always treat Christian conservatives -- lots of talk, little action.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Robinson,

You seem to agree with many, if not all, of President Obama's policies. Which policies do you not agree with?

Eugene Robinson: I believe that "clean coal" is little more than rhetoric at this point. I thought he got played by Hugo Chavez at their meeting. I thought the bank bailouts, which probably were necessary, should have been structured to avoid rewarding the irresponsible people who created this mess. I believe his administration should be challenging more of the fundamental assumptions -- huge leverage, gossamer derivatives, etc. I've written all of this in my column, by the way.

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Birmingham, Alabama: Ls there any other country, with the exception of Spain, investigating the Bush administration for war crimes? Is the DOJ ever going to do any about it? The President took an oath to uphold the Constitution. I firmly believe allowing Bush and Cheney to get away with the crimes they committed is not in the best interest of our country. Mr. Robinson, I think your winning of the Pulitzer Award us most wonderful. I am a faithful viewer of MSNBC.

Eugene Robinson: Thanks so much. In the previous answer, I should have added that I disagree forcefully -- and have in print -- with his decision to oppose even a truth commission to investigate the Bush-Cheney abuses, much less an investigation that could lead to charges. I've written that too.

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Vienna: Is there any potential 2012 Republican that makes Democrats at least a little nervous? Romney certainly exudes competence, but not warmth. Huckabee exudes warmth, but not competence. Both have their own "God" issues: Romney's Mormonism is still a problem, Huckabee wears his evangelical religion a little too much on his sleeve for most voters. So maybe Tim Pawlenty?

Eugene Robinson: Too soon to tell. Who most worries the Democrats will depend on what happens between now and then. If, when we get closer to the election, national security is the defining issue, then someone with those credentials might be the most formidable opponent. If it's the economy, somebody like Romney might be seen to have more credibility.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: Deficit Spending has been a big issue in light of the ARRA and TARP expenditures. Last week Bernake came out saying that we need to address the deficits we are creating. How can the government rescue the economy and generate revenue without raising taxes?

Eugene Robinson: In the long run, or even in the medium run, I don't think it can be done. We demand what we want from our government, and ultimately we're going to have to pay for it.

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Eugene Robinson: My time is up for today, folks. I'll see you again -- well, it will be a slightly longer separation than usual. I'm going to take the summer off from these weekly chats, temporarily throttle back some of my other duties and bring everything back up to full speed after Labor Day. I won't be lazing or frolicking or anything like that, I'll be finishing a book that my publisher has been awaiting patiently. I'm already looking forward to our next chance to get together and solve the problems of the world.

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