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Eugene Robinson: Dick Cheney's dose of reality on 'don't ask, don't tell'

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Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, February 16, 2010; 1:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Feb. 16 to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

Read his column: Dick Cheney's dose of reality on 'don't ask, don't tell' in which Gene writes: "If a long-overdue policy shift that would allow gay people to serve openly in the armed forces is fine with three-fourths of the American public, the top officers in the Pentagon hierarchy and Dick Cheney, too, then the times aren't just a-changing. They've already changed."

Archive of past discussions.

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Eugene Robinson: Hello, everybody, and apologies for having missed last week's discussion -- I was snowed in, and my broadband connection was down. I'm pretty good at typing on my BlackBerry, but not good enough to keep up with this crowd. Plenty to talk about, as usual. Today, the column takes advantage of a rare opportunity to praise Dick Cheney -- well, kind of -- for his pretty enlightened stance on "don't ask, don't tell" and gay rights in general. And of course there's Evan Bayh's decision not to run for reelection, and the upcoming health-care summit, and the big offensive in Afghanistan, and the Olympics... Let's get started.

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Cedar Rapids, IA: I think Cheney's stance on both issues--gays in the military and gay marriage--are not indicative of a liberal bent; rather they are the response of a father who loves his daughter and wants the world to be fair to her.

Eugene Robinson: Nobody's ever going to call Dick Cheney a liberal, but there's an old-fashioned, Goldwater-style, near-libertarian streak in him where some social and cultural issues are concerned, I think. And a Washington Post poll last week showed that Americans who say they have a friend or family member who is gay are overwhelmingly likely to be more supportive of gay rights.

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Cheney & Water Boarding/Torture: In his ABC interview Sunday, did former VP Cheney admit to war crimes in saying he supported using water boarding during his term in office? As Exhibit 1, both Christopher Hitchens and Erich "Mancow" Muller (no left wing liberals) were videotaped being water boarded for a short period of time and both said it was torture pure and simple. Calling water boarding an enhanced interrogation technique is euphemistic but no less a violation of the Geneva Conventions to which the US has agreed long before Bush/Cheney and 9-11.

Eugene Robinson: That pretty much describes my feelings on the subject, although you shouldn't hold your breath waiting for Cheney to be held accountable in some way for torture. Same goes for George W. Bush and all the rest who ordered and sanctioned "techniques" that clearly amount to torture. I have argued for a full, no-holds-barred "truth commission" investigation as a first step, but the Obama administration has no intention of doing any such thing.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Mr. Robinson,

A tough question I'd like you to address:

In the past few days, reports have emerged about the Obama administration targeting al-Qaeda figures for assassination rather than capture.

What is the moral difference between Cheney's sanctioning of capture-and-torture, and Obama's sanctioning of assassination?

Eugene Robinson: There is a difference, but that doesn't mean that targeted assassination is some kind of moral walk in the park. If you accept that warfare is ever justified, then you accept that killing people -- those who are trying to kill you -- is justifiable. As recognized by the Geneva Conventions, there is a special horror in taking prisoners into custody, where they are powerless to defend themselves, and deliberately inflicting pain. My problem with the drone killings is that the practice virtually assures that noncombatants -- family members, whoever happens to be around -- will be killed along with the target. That's not the same kind of unambiguous war crime as torture, in my view, but it's really troubling.

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Kensington, Md.: Regarding the numerous recent stories of "Snowpocalypse" derailing the agenda for tackling climate change, I don't know how to ask this delicately. But Gene, is there -anyone- in Washington who grasps the difference between temperature and precipitation amounts? I had always sort of assumed this was something a 6-year-old could comprehend. But apparently not Jim De Mint and the entire Republican caucus. I'm still reeling at this discovery. It's another level deeper of either disingenuousness or utterly childlike ignorance. Neither one is heartening.

Meanwhile, our planet just passed through the hottest January since satellite measurements started in 1979. (Linking here to a well-known -skeptic- blog.)

Eugene Robinson: I think some are being disingenuous and some are being ignorant. There also seems to be a failure to understand that on a given day it can be unusually cold in the northeastern United States and unusually warm in other parts of the world AT THE SAME TIME. Hard as it is to believe.

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Washington, DC: Senator Bayh's retirement announcement reminded me of Ted Kennedy's memoir. To paraphrase, Kennedy said when the day came that he didn't get a thrill about showing up to work, he'd quit. Should we be more cynical about Bayh's chances at re-election or just accept the fact that he's burned out?

washingtonpost.com: Democratic Sen. Bayh of Indiana won't run for reelection (Post, Feb. 16)

Eugene Robinson: Maybe I'm being naive, but I take Bayh at his word -- and I think others in Washington, especially those who do want to be reelected, should pay attention. It was amazing to hear a U.S. senator -- a man who practically grew up in the Senate and has reverence for the institution -- say, essentially, that the place is a waste of his time. The biggest complaint I hear from people outside the Beltway is not about partisanship (which is how Bayh put it) but about inaction -- the inability of Washington to address, let alone solve, problems that have been obvious for years. Bayh almost surely would have been reelected if he ran.

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Birmingham, AL: Will any of the chicken-little liberals be able to show that they are mature enough to apologize to Sen. James Inhofe? Inhofe was one of the few who made the correct call that global warming was a hoax and was ridiculed for it. Now that we see faked data, coverups, attempts to prevent the other side from being heard, and a seriously flawed U.N. report, I think it's obvious that we can worry about things other than phantom global warming.

Eugene Robinson: Tell it to the polar bears. Better yet, pay attention to Sarah Palin -- not the Palin of today, but the Palin who as governor set up a top-level global warming task force in Alaska. She was just responding to facts on the ground, or in the ground -- the permafrost is melting. So is the sea ice, and so are the glaciers. Several Alaskan coastal towns are having to be relocated because of rising water and sinking land. That's no hoax.

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Anonymous: 9/11 wasn't a "fairy tale."

Iran with nukes is not a "ghost story."

Do you really wish that Saddam was still in power with his nuclear program under ground?

Why would you try to to down play and belittle the very serious and mature national security issues that we face from our enemies?

Eugene Robinson: It is amazing that people still try to link 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. There was no link. There is no link. None. The Bush administration looked high and low for one -- just as it looked high and low for those phantom weapons of mass destruction -- but there was no link and there was no WMD. Saddam Hussein didn't actually have a nuclear program, not underground and not over the rainbow.

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Monterey, CA: Hey Kensington, You may want to read the article on the UN climate scientist who just finally admitted that there has been no significant global temperature increase in the last 15 years. The fact that the entire CONUS had snow of some sort last week is just another obvious, telling rebuttal.

Eugene Robinson: Don't mean to but into your private conversation, but the widespread snowfall last week is in no way an "obvious, telling rebuttal" of climate change. Two reasons. First, as I pointed out, we live on a great big globe. Really, really big. So big that it can be cold in one part and warm in another part AT THE SAME TIME. Second, warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. One thing you'd anticipating in a warming world would be more precipitation. Even snow.

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New Carlisle, OH: Any thoughts on the luge track death? Seems like an admission of a track problem that a higher wall was built and those large steel poles were padded after the accident. Thanks for your columns and commentary!

Eugene Robinson: My colleague Tracee Hamilton and the whole WashPost team have been doing a great job on this story. The IOC's position makes no sense. Essentially, they're saying that there was never a problem with the track -- and that now they've fixed it. The track accelerated the athletes to speeds about 10 mph faster than other tracks. Obviously those exposed steel poles shouldn't have been there. The IOC should just admit the obvious.

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Palin's War Card is a Joker: In an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday last week, Sarah Palin said it would improve President Obama's re-election chances to "play the war card" and declare war on Iran. Wasn't that an obtuse statement? Is this position she espoused a result of her being briefed weekly on national issues as recently reported, and if so who is briefing her (bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran McCain or those neo-cons who advised Bush it made sense to go to war with Iraq)?

Eugene Robinson: That was a profoundly weird and scary moment. What was she talking about? I have no way of knowing what was on her mind, so this is pure speculation, but it sounded to me like part of her calculation as to whether she should try to run for (shudder) president in 2012 -- that if there were some kind of conflict with Iran, people would rally around the president and she would be deprived of a potential national security issue. Again, I don't know that this is what she was thinking, but that's how it hit me.

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Jerusalem, Israel: DO you see any future for Sarah Palin politically? I personally see her as a charismatic (forgive me) fool. What are your views?

washingtonpost.com: The Tea Party queen (Post, Feb. 12)

Eugene Robinson: Our polling suggests that the longer she remains a prominent figure, the less popular she becomes. To echo what British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said about a rival in Parliament: The more she talks, the less she actually says.

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Manassas, VA: So, Dick Cheney is only lucid when he offers an opinion with which you agree?

Eugene Robinson: Basically, yeah.

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Arlington: "It's also worth mentioning that Cheney has said that he has no objection to gay marriage and believes that the issue should be left up to the states -- a stance that puts him considerably to the left of President Obama, who says he opposes gay marriage."

Once again, Gene, you write from the heart, not the head. Opposition to Federally imposed regulation, and the empowerment of state and municipal governments are at the very core of conservatism in this county. That's true for gay marriage, as well as opposition to federally mandated abortion rights. You need to do your homework. Maybe then you would come across as intelligent to those of us who have.

Eugene Robinson: Name all the self-described conservatives in Congress who have come out in favor of gay marriage, as Cheney has done. I'm waiting.

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Washington, DC: But wouldn't it have been nice if Bayh had announced that he wasn't running more than one day in advance of the filing deadline for candidates for the Democratic primary? Now the party (probably) gets to choose the candidate, not the voters.

Eugene Robinson: He definitely did the Indiana Democratic Party no favors by waiting so late. I suppose it would have been worse to wait until the deadline had actually passed, but still... His frustration with the Senate obviously didn't develop overnight.

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To Arlington: I seem to remember it was conservatives who pushed for a FEDERAL amendment to ban gay marriage...

Eugene Robinson: I do believe that was the case.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think about the independent findings that Marion Barry has been involved in bribery, earmark abuse, and kickbacks?

Not, of course, that he'll face any consequences. Still think he's just a harmless rascal? This is a sad business for those of us who support home rule.

washingtonpost.com: Bennett report: Barry benefited from city contract obtained for ex-girlfriend

Eugene Robinson: This looks bad. There's something pure Marion Barry about the sequence of events as I understand them. He gets a girlfriend, he lends her money (that he can't afford to lend), he gets her a city contract so she she can pay him back. I'd like to read the whole report, but it looks bad. As far as home rule is concerned, it's the local government that is chasing down the facts and bringing them to light,

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Eugene Robinson: Folks, my time is up for today. Thanks, and I'll see you again next week.

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