Eugene Robinson : School Address, Van Jones, Health Reform, More

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, September 8, 2009; 3:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 3 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.


Eugene Robinson: Hi, everyone. Great to be able to resume these weekly get-togethers. I missed you all. Anything going on this week? (That was a rhetorical question.) Let's get started.


Madison, Wis.: Eugene, thanks as always for your column and for taking questions. This time I have to disagree with you. The town hall screamers are representative only of one or two factions of a dismembered Republican party. There are still Republicans out there who are interested in reaching a "deal" with Democrats, but they're hung up on the "public option."

It's safe to abandon the middle ground when faced with the obdurate screams of the lunatic fringe. But deals can still be struck with those (few) Republicans who remain close to the center. And the center is where the deals are made.

Am I wrong? How? Thanks again.

Eugene Robinson: You're referring to today's column, in which I maintain that the "center" is a dangerous place to be these days, given the Republican strategy of total non-cooperation. I agree that there are Republicans who are interested in health care and bipartisanship, but they aren't the Republicans in Congress. The Republicans who get to vote have made clear that they don't intend to play ball. I just don't see what the middle position is between doing health care reform and not doing health care reform.


Pittsburgh: Since the President is scheduled to speak to (some) schoolchildren today -- extolling the values of staying in school, studying hard, not doing drugs, & other assorted virtues -- may I suggest the ideal equal-time speaker to rebut his arguments?

Levi Johnston.

He's eminently qualified, being a high school dropout, having a mother accused of being a meth dealer, having gotten an underage girl pregnant whom he never married, & reportedly being willing to allow a photograph of himself in his birthday suit (including displaying his family jewels) to be published in a magazine -- that is, in the fine capitalist tradition, provided they pay him enough money.

Seems the ideal choice, dontcha think?

Eugene Robinson: Great idea. Levi Johnston is becoming a player. Are we sure he's a Republican, though?


Seattle: "A government-run program is not a prerequisite for universal health care".

Sorry, Mr Robinson. Universal coverage in America without a so-called public option (or a single payer system) is nothing more than an individual mandate.

And an individual mandate in America is nothing more than a massive cash give-away to the medical insurance companies. Government penalties against persons unfortunate enough to work for a company that doesn't provide group coverage.

Can that really work in the context of the American system? Cherry-picking. Denial for pre-existing conditions. Rescissions. An average expense of $12,000.00 per year, assessed against people making at, or close to, minimum wage. I for one am not convinced. Can you convince me?

Eugene Robinson: Maybe I wasn't clear enough. I was referring to the so-called "Bismarck" systems -- such as in Germany, France and Japan -- in which there is a universal coverage through private insurance companies. But the companies are basically non-profits. If you were to institute such a system in this country, you'd have to regulate the insurance companies strictly to keep them from gouging everyone.


Richmond, Va.: I believe that Obama's biggest problem with health care so far is that the vast majority of the people don't believe you can expand coverage and reduce costs at the same time, without explicit rationing by some sort of bureaucracy. This credibility gap is exacerbated by the statement being made that "If you like your current insurance, nothing will change".

Obama's response that we will resolve this by getting rid of unnecessary tests and procedures sounds a lot like "tax cuts will pay for themselves" or "we can balance the budget by getting rid of waste fraud and abuse." The definition of an unnecessary test is one being given to someone else.

Eugene Robinson: The thing is, though, that all other industrialized countries have universal coverage and lower costs -- and equal or better outcomes, in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, etc. Administrative costs in other countries are a fraction of what they are here. So it is possible, clearly.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. Robinson,

I think the central flaw in your column is the fact that the vast majority of American do, in fact, inhabit the political middle. If President Obama caters to his base and ignores the desires of the majority of Americans, he will be betraying the concept of our representative republic. Additionally, by ramming a health care plan through because he knows better than the average citizen he will be reinforcing a common complaint about the elitism in Washington.

Thank you.

Eugene Robinson: We are a republic, though. We don't govern through referendum. We're supposed to elect smart, capable people, and if they do a lousy job, then we elect somebody else. When one party is given the White House and big majorities in both houses of Congress, that's called a mandate. The Democrats campaigned on health care reform, so what should we expect them to do?


Frederick, Md.: When Bush was in office, it seemed that the Republican congress (even without 60 votes in the Senate) was able to pass whatever Bush wanted. Why is President Obama having so much trouble getting his signature program passed in a Democratic congress?

Eugene Robinson: Beats me. If there's no health care reform, the Democrats will look ineffectual and incompetent. Voters would be entirely justified in punishing them at the polls in 2010. And who would lose? Not Nancy Pelosi or Barney Frank or anybody in a safe seat. It's going to be the Blue Dogs in the House and the moderate senators from swing states -- the ones who are balking on health care reform. Doesn't seem to be in their self-interest.


Seattle: Why are we arguing over Bismarck options when the cold hard reality is that three-quarters of American citizens WANT a single payer national health care plan, and the Senators opposed to any such reform only represent - at best - one-tenth the population of the USA?

Eugene Robinson: A decision was made not to utter the phrase "single-payer." Maybe this was just realpolitik, but I wonder what might have happened if single-payer hadn't been ruled out before the debate began.


New York, N.Y.: Afghanistan is a collection of individually run villages with little to no connection to the central government. When will we learn, as did the Soviets and others before them, that the people do not like a foreign military power? Wouldn't it be far better if we used the resources we put in military to economic aid to show we care, to possibly pay farmers to produce crops other than the ones we do not wish them to produce, and to allow them to hate the Taliban, who try to force their will, then hate us because we seek to force our will?

Eugene Robinson: Who was it who called Afghanistan the graveyard of empire? The Brits failed there, the Soviets failed there, and if we aren't careful, we will fail there too. We should seriously limit our goals, and we should keep in mind that every time we add troops we may increase our odds of achieving short-term ends but also increase the odds that our long-term ambitions will be thwarted.


Anonymous: Do you think there's more real hatred for Obama than there was for Bush? I hated Bush. I mean hate the man. But that was for how he ran things. I didn't want him to be president, but when he won I wanted him to do well. It's my country, after all.

But the hatred for Obama is so deep and from such a dark place, it's frightening. They try to make it look like their hatred is based on his views, but we all know it's not.

Why is no one decrying this? No doubt it's wrong, but it's certainly can damage the institution of the office if we let it continue.

Eugene Robinson: Let me join you in decrying this ugliness. Yes, there is a rejectionist hatred for President Obama that is different from the strong feelings many people, including me, had about President Bush. Is it because of his race? Is it because the haters would feel the same about any Democrat with even moderately progressive views? Whatever the cause, it's real and it's different and it's hideous.


Anonymous: There seems to be a sort of code language and tone for those who want to disguise their racist views toward Obama. I don't have the lexicon, but I can tell it when I see it. It's in the overboard, hyperbolic word choices they use.

I saw it in the whole socialism thing, and in the birthers movement. Now it's the brainwashing of their children. These criticisms are just so over the top and irrational, that there can't be another explanation.

They believe Obama is the boogey man.

Eugene Robinson: I guess the boogey man theory is as good as any other.


What's the best rejoinder...: folks who say health insurance (or health care) is not a Constitutional right?

Eugene Robinson: That it's a moral obligation, and that it's also in every American's self-interest for the nation to be healthier.


Richmond, Va.: Obama's speech to school kids today: I would really like your opinion. I am in a school district that will not show the speech at all. At first, this was understood as an odd, "Orwellian" hover around the TV and watch the Leader, then dutifully write an essay how we (the kids) can help the Leader. Then it seemed to shift to Obama telling kids to wash their hands and stay in school. Did Obama and his aides have to FLIP the subject matter of this speech to meet the varied public outcry?? I suspect there would also been a outcry by the Democrat leaning people if Bush had announced he was giving a speech to kids and they needed to write how they could help him? I would enjoy reading your view on all this.

Eugene Robinson: I'm amazed that this is an issue at all. I pretty much guarantee that a similar speech by Bush would have gotten little or no press coverage and would have generated no outrage, because it never would have occurred to anyone that children could be "indoctrinated" by any speech of any length that George W. Bush could ever deliver. Laura Bush supports Obama's presidential address to schoolkids. Any presidential encouragement to study hard and stay in school is good. Or am I missing something?


Washington, D.C.: Gene,

I have concluded that Obama's strategy has been to let the many voices in the health-care reform debate be heard, for better or for worse, before forcefully leading the parties to a successful outcome over the next few months. By showing that no one was excluded in the deliberations, and that no one but the president could bring people together in the end, he emerges as a successful listener and chief executive. It's a "change" from the arm-twisting and head-banging that we were supposed to observe, but it will yield a result we can respect.

Eugene Robinson: I agree that it's good to reach out to opponents, and that politically it's good for Obama to be seen to reach out to opponents. But at some point, you have to decide whether you're going to move forward or not. I think the Democrats have to move forward.


Ijamsville, Md.: With the 24-hour -- hyperpartisan in some cases -- cable chatter, do you believe that other presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln or FDR would "poll" any better than President Obama?

Eugene Robinson: They didn't -- in the sense that both Lincoln and Roosevelt had bitter opponents who were more vicious and rabid than Obama's.


Juneau, Alaska: Hi Gene,

After asking the head cheerleader to go out with me several times, and she always says shes washing her hair, I kinda thought maybe she didn't want to go out with me.

At some point (passed long ago in my opinion) haven't the Republicans shown that they would rather be washing their hair?

The biggest "wash" one of my senators has is that she wants to reform health care, but wants to do it slooowly. Like the last six (or ?) years weren't slow enough?

Eugene Robinson: With all the Republican hair-washing, it's a wonder there's any shampoo left on the shelves. Time to get the message, already.


Philadelphia: Bob McDonnell made disparaging remarks about women, homosexuals, and fornicators. What size of a voting group do these groups consist of in Virginia?

Eugene Robinson: You're referring to the thesis GOP candidate McDonnell wrote at Regent University. Women alone are a majority, so you don't even need to tally the homosexuals and fornicators. The issue is how his bigoted sentiments will play in northern Virginia, the bluest part of the state. A month ago, I'd have told you it looked like McDonnell would win. Now, I think the whole thing is up in the air.

That's it for today, folks. My time is up. But I'll be back next week, same time, same station. See you then.


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