Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, May 11, 2010; 1:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.Read today's column: <a href='http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/10/AR2010051003692.html'>Lena Horne: A glamorous revolutionary</a> in which Gene writes: "Horne, who died Sunday at 92, was an infiltrator. She strode confidently through doors that had been closed to African American entertainers, and she was able to do so because white audiences found her not just beautiful and talented but also non-threatening. Late in her life, she gave a sense of how difficult that role had been to play."

_______________________

Eugene Robinson: Hello, everybody, and welcome. As usual, any and all topics are up for grabs. Today's column was an appreciation of the magnificent Lena Horne, who died Sunday at 92 -- what an amazing American life she led. Of course, there's big news to chew over -- the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, the unabated oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, the stunning pre-primary defeat of Republican Sen. Bob Bennett in Utah... Lt's get staarted.

_______________________

The Passing Of a True Woman/Talent: Lena Horne was a true lady & talent, and though her public life is writeable you have not mentioned her personal life and how her marriage to Lenny Haydn was somewhat a thorn in her life. At 77 I remember the joy and rapture her audiences have had over the years just seeing and hearing her sing and talk. Why not tell more about this beautiful women?

Eugene Robinson: They only give me 750 words. I wanted to write about what I thought she meant to America. But yes, there's lots more that could have been said.

_______________________

Lena Horne's courage: Lena Horne's courage in confronting the bigotry against African Americans in the entertainment industry comes from the same hunger for justice as the repression that motivated Martin Luther King to seek within himself for the most powerful understanding of one's own human rights and inspire others with this awareness. She didn't compromise herself in order to succeed and neither did MLK and his followers in the struggle for civil rights. Now we have the first African American family leading our nation and the question is whether President Obama is expressing the same courage of his convictions in his governance afforded him by the sacrifices and struggles made by Lena Horne, MLK, and so many others. History will reveal the truth, but it seems for now, President Obama is failing the movement for progressive change that brought him to power with too many compromises to Wall Street and other predatory and greedy corporate powers that are exploiting and repressing Americans' hope for justice and change.

Eugene Robinson: I suspect that you and I would agree on some specific policy issues, but I think there's a problem with your general point. An activist, an entertainer or even a columnist can afford to look at the world in terms of absolutes. A president can't. That said, I do think a president should be clear about where he (or she) stands. I wish President Obama had started with a more ambitious bottom line on health care. I think he has been clearer and tougher on financial reform, although I believe there's room to be tougher still on the big financial institutions. But overall, I think it's hard to argue that he's not pursuing a progressive agenda.

_______________________

Today's Lena Horne Eulogy: Hi, Gene! Loved your eulogy to the divine Ms. Horne this morning. More than a few comments at the bottom of the piece accused you of being a racist, implying that you were unable to write a piece on her life without dragging race into the equation. My question is does it annoy you (as it annoys me - AND I'M WHITE!) that some white people refuse to accept the fact that for black people of Lena Horne's generation - and yours, too, I suspect - that the subject of race in America really is a big part of the picture? As far as I'm concerned, you knocked another one out of the ball park this morning, Genie! All the best, Tom Degan. Cheers!

Eugene Robinson: Thanks, Tom. To tell the truth, I can't really be annoyed by those comments. Anyone who doesn't understand that race was central to Lena Horne's life story, and to her meaning in American society, is just ignorant -- of history, of American culture, of many things.

_______________________

Lena and race: Gene, that was a great article and one of the best ways to pay tribute to this legendary actress and the symbol which she morphed into. Your article brings this question to my mind - do you think that race is still a factor? Obviously the country has made strides in this respect but I would like to know your take on it.

Eugene Robinson: A factor how? It's still a fact. It's not a factor in the way that it was fifty or seventy-five years ago, obviously. In some contexts, it still is. We've come a long, long way in the country, but we still have some ground to cover.

_______________________

London: The foreign correspondent in you is calling, "To London, to London." Labour will probably fall by the end of your chat.

Eugene Robinson: And who, or what, will rise? I admit that I'm tempted to head back to my old haunts, where there's a dandy of a political story unfolding. The only thing I can say with confidence is that whatever emerges -- a Labour-LibDem "coalition of the losers" or a Tory-LibDem coalition of parties that don't agree on anything, the next government isn't likely to last long.

_______________________

Two anecdotes from Lena Horne obits: Gene: I read obits from domestic and foreign papers yesterday and two stories stood out. One was that Ms. Horne, upon overhearing a racist remark in a Hollywood restaurant, actually threw a lamp at the guy who made it. Someone not to tangle with! The second was that, when she wanted to rent a home in Beverly Hills, she had a white friend sign the lease because blacks weren't allowed. When it was discovered, the neighbors sent around a petition to force her to move out. Fortunately, one of those neighbors was Humphrey Bogart who told everyone to shut up and told Ms. Horne that if she had any trouble to come to him. Bogart was like a Bogart character! A

Eugene Robinson: I read that same great Bogart story. And no, I do not believe she was someone to take lightly.

_______________________

Sen Bennet: Eugene, is Sen Bennet's defeat indicative of an alignment of public opinion with Tea Party positions? And, if so, how dangerous will this alignment prove to be in your estimation?

Eugene Robinson: The immediate impact of whatever traction the Tea Party has gained is within the Republican Party, where incumbents might want to fasten their seat belts, because it's going to be a bumpy ride. In terms of the general electorate, it's interesting that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who got Tea Partied and is running for the Senate as an independent, is currently leading in the polls over both his likely Democratic opponent and the Republican, Marco Rubio, who has Tea Party support.

_______________________

You mention the GOP alienating black voters in the 60's: Sir, In your last chat, you made the reference to the GOP alienating black voters with the southern strategy in the 60's, and compared is to the current strategy in supporting tough measures on illegal immigration and the affect it will have with Latino voters. While I agree with this, I wish you would look at the affect black voters unquestioned loyalty to the Dems has had on the black community. The black community has, nationwide, seen an increase in single parents, incarceration, etc that far outpaces the national average since the 1960's movement you spoke about. Why? I say that some of it has to do with the welfare culture and dependence the Democrats have successfully instilled -- not your fault, you aren't responsible, vote for us and we will provide for you. This isn't all of it, but it's a big part -- and as a black leader you should admit that to actually help people. If you think this isn't true, than what in your opinion, has caused the facts I mention above? It is a fact that these things in the black community outpace the national average, so please don't deny it. I only hope the Latino voters don't fall for the same line. Sometimes tough love is needed to help the greater good of any given community, and the nation.

Eugene Robinson: The majority of African Americans have done exceedingly well since the 1960s, with enormous gains in income, education, and any other measure you care to look at. A large minority has not made the leap into the middle class. They're stuck in communities where the public schools have been dismantled or allowed to fall apart, where working-class jobs have disappeared (as manufacturing basically died in this country) and the middle-class is absent. Sounds to me like pretty tough love already.

_______________________

Bennett/Kagan: Good Afternoon Gene,Great column this morning. Touching homage to an important American icon.Republicans (and Democrats to a lesser extent) tend to overplay a winning hand but not in the same election cycle. The defeat of Bob Bennett, although still a safe seat for Republicans, I think is a very significant event this year and is not good news for the GOP. It emboldens the hard right wing of the party and makes their purity test even harder to pass. Democrats should be able to make some headway if this strategy continues. They'll still lose seats but the damage could be minimized.Also, do you think Obama's selection of Kagan is a deliberate attempt to pick a winning fight with the Republicans in order to make them look even more obstinate in the Fall?

Eugene Robinson: I agree that the Bennett defeat is a real challenge for the GOP and that it suggests a new window of opportunity for the Democrats to cut their fall losses. With Kagan, I believe Obama is trying to have a lasting impact on the court. It's already pretty clear that there isn't much Republican enthusiasm for a fight.

_______________________

British elections: Gene: On the subject of the British elections, pundits here (some jokingly and some seriously) predicted that if the US electoral system were reformed to allow a third party to compete in the general election, then that third party would be the Tea Party. But would the Tea Party not lack legitimacy as a political party?

Eugene Robinson: Nothing stops a third party from competing here, although some state election rules make it hard -- but not impossible -- to get on the ballot. It's true, though, that third parties tend not to do well in the United States. Could the Tea Party become the exception? If it wanted to be a party, as opposed to a movement, it would need a leader, a philosophy, a platform... A whole bunch of stuff the movement now lacks. What it has is energy.

_______________________

Lena Horne: What do you think about the lack of social conscious of African-American or African-descended entertainers and sports figures in comparison to Horne and her contemporaries?

Eugene Robinson: There are lots of African-American entertainers and sports figures who are socially conscious and active, and lots who aren't. The times and the issues are different. I'm not defending those who use violence and misogyny as a marketing strategy. I'm just saying that the segregation and repression of the Jim Crow era were qualitatively different from anything that African-Americans face today. It was harder to sit on the sidelines.

_______________________

Nomination of Elena Kagan: Eugene - do you think that Ms Kagan could act as the liberal antidote to someone like Chief Justice Roberts (who is known to be a staunch conservative) in the SCOTUS? Also, do you believe that that was the reason she was chosen by the President who has voiced his opposition to some of the positions the court has taken?

Eugene Robinson: Kagan will be an intellectual counterweight to Roberts, and that she will use her demonstrated ability to sway opinion and build consensus. Plus, she's young and will be around a long, long time.

_______________________

Border Drug Violence and Illegal Immigration: Drug violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and illegal immigration are blamed entirely on Mexico. Instead of pointing fingers at others, why are Americans not angry at themselves for the insatiable appetite for illicit drugs and the perverse demand for cheap labor that help fuel these industries in the U.S.?

Eugene Robinson: An excellent question. There would be no drug violence -- there would be no drug business at all -- if Americans didn't demand a steady supply of illegal drugs. But we tend to blame everybody except ourselves.

_______________________

Why Titanic is such a long lasting metaphor: When I see those videos clips of "Drill Baby, Drill" and Pres. Obama saying how safe offshore drilling is, it reminds of of those "Unsinkable Titanic" ads when the ship was first launched.Plus on April 14-15, 1912 when the Titanic sank, it was perfectly legal for ships to not have lifeboats enough for the people on-board and 1,500 had to die that night because that moronic law.Now we are getting the same thing with oil spill on the Gulf Coast.

Eugene Robinson: Fortunately, we haven't had the loss of human life that was suffered in the Titanic disaster. But I do see the parallel, in that this well is in extraordinarly deep water and no one really knew whether the standard safety devices would work down there. Unfortunately, they don't. "Think Before You Drill" would have been a more appropriate bumper sticker.Folks, my time is up for today. Thanks, and I'll see you next week.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company