washingtonpost.com
Mr. President, some leadership, please - Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 1:00 PM

_______________________

Eugene Robinson: Helllo, everyone, and welcome. Let's see, our last discussion was Tuesday afternoon, so that was before the Tea Party rampage. As we survey a landscape that, to some, looks post-apocalyptic in the political sense, President Obama is in Indonesia and may depart early for his next stop because of a literal apocalypse -- the eruption of Mt. Merapi, which is fouling the airways with volcanic ash. Today's column, for reference, found scant inspiration in the president's "60 Minutes" interview, which seemed flat and reactive. Maybe the change of scene will offer a different perspective. Let's get started.

_______________________

a stronger, more focused democratic caucus?: Eugene, thanks again for your column! My question pertains to post-election self-queries such as who will become the minority leader, direction of democratic party, agenda for next two years, etc. In sorting out all of these questions, the overall looming thought on my mind is do you believe that the smaller democratic caucus in Congress will be more effective and unified after last week's elections? It seems like between 2008-2010 the Democrats had a tough time rally everyone in the party together on certain issues and eventual votes on those issues (blue dogs, progressives, centrists). But now that they are a lot fewer in the House and Senate, will the Democratic Party be more adept and unified in trying to legislate/enact policies?

Eugene Robinson: Well, it will definitely be a more focused and perhaps more unified Democratic caucus, since so many of the Blue Dogs lost. But it won't be stronger, because it will be so much smaller. As a practical matter, it will be harder to get progessive legislation through the Senate (as if it needed to be any harder) and basically impossible in the House. But I think Democrats in the House will be revved up to fight against any rollback of the Obama-Pelosi legislative record.

_______________________

One part I hated in your article: There was one part I hated in your article. The one where write that Presidents "are allowed." I think Pres. Obama needs to disregard this whole notice of what a President is allowed and not allowed to do, especially by the D.C. press. I love Doris Kearns Goodwin as much as anybody, but Pres. Obama needs to read less about Abraham Lincoln and more about Apple marketed the iPad. Modernizing is key. Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn't create make his radio addresses "presidential" but rather a "fireside chat" since that's how other radio programs of that era were done and that's what Americans expected on the radio. Just one example would be Pres. Obama's weekly address on YouTube. Great it's on YouTube, but doesn't use YouTube. It's just him sitting there saying his talking point. YouTube viewers expect more. Here is where he can use digital graphics or interview "regular folks" via Skype from Barrow, Alaska to Key West, Florida and anywhere in-between. Team Obama needs to understand what people expect from YouTube and why they watch it.

Eugene Robinson: Good points -- I do think it's pointless to go to the trouble of using a medium, then not use it well. I think presidents should keep reading about Lincoln, though. There is much about leadership that translates directly through the ages.

_______________________

Honest numbers about healthcare reform: In their arguments for a repeal of the health reform bill Republicans constantly state that the overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed to the reforms that have been passed.. This is particulary disengious since it never includes the percent of Americans who oppose the reforms because they don't feel that they don't go far enough. According to an AP poll the number of Americans who support government involvement outnumber those who feel that the governernment should stay out of healthcare reform. In addition a majority of the Americans support most of the elements of the bill when asked about them individually. It's only when queried about the complete package that people are in oppositon. Much of this contradiction is due to Republican propagand which lagrely goes unanswered. Finally (maybe not) polls also show that a mjority of Americans would have supported the bill if it had included a public option. It's hard to understand why Democrats didn't fight back with these facts. It is even more apalling that the media failed to present the full story to the public, choosing instead to spout the arguments of the Republicans.

Eugene Robinson: All these facts were reported -- you are fully aware of them, after all -- but yes, the truth did get out-shouted by GOP and Tea Party critics who defined the language of the debate. Instead of even shouting back, much less fighting back, too many Democrats ran away.

_______________________

congressional hearings and the Dems misuse: Was it a mistake for the Democrats not to do investigations? I mean, they didn't have to have criminal investigations but talking about 'no bid contracts', "no wmds', 'torture', etc., this would have kept the Republicans on the defensive. Instead, the Prez went with the olive branch. Should not Obama and Dems have been tougher out of the gate, and now? Where is the angry black man now that we need him?

Eugene Robinson: If candidate Obama had been seen as an "angry black man," he'd never have become President Obama. I wrote during the campaign that to be elected he had to come across as the "least-aggrieved black man in America," and I still believe that was true. That said, I do believe there were too many "hands across the aisle" gestures to the GOP. After your hand has been slapped away three or four times, you should get the message.

_______________________

Leadership: Why is it that the GOP seems to have won this PR battle? It's not I think that Dems haven't done a good job. I just don't think voters want to educate themselves.

Eugene Robinson: Looking strictly at the PR aspect, I believe the Republicans were brilliant at coming up with memorable language that came to define the issues. So, for example, we didn't have a debate about "end-of-life care," we had a shoutfest about "death panels." There were no death panels, of course. But to deny that there were death panels, you had to repeat that impactful language. Time and again, the GOP was quicker to find that definitional soundbite. I suggested to a senior administration official, only half in jest, that there be a White House Office of Pithy Phrases or something like that. The president's political problems aren't all a matter of PR, but language does make a difference.

_______________________

Obama's 2012 Chances: Hi Eugene,I am a lifeling conservative but read your columns because I always like to see where opinionists of the 'other side' stand. You seem to be optimistic about President Obama's chances in 2012. A decent number of folks are feeling the same way, and using Reagan's victory in 1984 and Clinton's victory in 1996 as examples. I think people are missing the fact that Reagan and Clinton each got huge 'assists' in the two years after the midterm elections. Reagan's was an economy that grew 4+ percent in '83 and 7+ percent in '84, and Clinton had a Congress that turned unpopular, a forced move to the middle, and a rising stock market.Can Obama do it in 2012 without an 'assist', and if he needs one, where is it going to come from?ThanksBrian

Eugene Robinson: If the economy grows at a reasonable rate, and people feel that growth, he should be fine in terms of reelection. Whatever happens with the economy, I expect the GOP to provide an assist if it spends the next two years on theatrics (We're going to repeal health care! Not really. We're going to end earmarks and cut spending! Not really). Or when the Establishment wing and the Tea Party wing go to war. Or when they nominate Sarah Palin.

_______________________

Decision Points: George W Bush is back int he news with his new book. Do you think this is part of the strategy of his supporters to rewrite history. The War In Iraq will always stain his legacy. Do you ever think he will ever admit to not being inquistive enough with the hyped up intelligence to get this country into a war, and diverting attention and resources from Afghanistan?

Eugene Robinson: No, I don't. And I don't think he will ever regret his policy of torture.

_______________________

Debt Ceiling: I heard Rand Paul saying that he would vote against raising the debt ceiling because enough other people would vote to pass it. I honestly think that the Dems should tell the Republicans that 4 Democrats will vote to raise the debt ceiling on an absolutely clean bill. Everyone else will vote no. Not a single Dem in the House should vote for it. Therefore Republicans will have to own this *because they know it needs to be done* instead of playing coy like with TARP. And the Dems should be totally straightforward about why they are doing this, i.e. Republicans got the control they wanted, so now they have to prove that they can act like adults. No more depending on the Democrats to act responsibly so they can posture.

Eugene Robinson: in my opinion.

_______________________

2012? Bring it on: With Democrats having to defend many more Senate seats than Repubs in 2012, they will have to be very careful in the Seante to reject items sent over from the House having to do with spending. They might well punt to the WH for a veto, but then Obama gets the blame in 2012. If you think for a minute the House Repubs are not going to pass stuff to reduce the budget, you just keep believing that and get your clock cleaned again by the voters.

Eugene Robinson: Let's see it. Let's see them actually cut something -- actually take federal funds out of the hands of their constituents. Already, the whole no-earmarks thing is no longer operative.

_______________________

Torture vs Assassination: Saw you on Morning Joe today and he posed a question to which you did not provide an answer. Why is it more moral to assassinate terrorists (and whoever is standing around them) than it is to waterboard them?

Eugene Robinson: I wasn't given a chance to answer the question. It's a false choice -- either kill suspected terrorists with bombs, thus also killing innocent bystanders, or interrogate the suspects with torture. It is obviously possible to interrogate suspects without torture -- and, according to most experts, much more effective and reliable.

_______________________

Policy or marketing?: Eugene, do you believe Obama's talking point that he has a marketing problem, not a policy problem? Do you really think the Tea Partiers will change their minds and say, 'Oh, I see -- we really need massive deficits, bailouts for favored political classes, class warfare, and ballooning unaccountable bureaucracies"? Or at some point will he have to accept that most Americans think government is too big and we need across-the-board spending cuts?

Eugene Robinson: But that's just my guess.

_______________________

Educated Electorite: Eugene, I consitently read your columns because I generally find you to be a very intelligent and insighful person. However, I am always struck by your, and many of your fellow journalist', apparent disdain for the intelligence of the American electorate. You always appear to attribute any disagreement with Obama or liberal policies as a lack of knowledge, or being poorly informed, or a failure to communicate, or better/louder PR by the GOP, or a combination of the above. You never seem to attribute other views to educated, well informed positions. Does this reflect your generally poor view of the level of American education?

Eugene Robinson: There are, of course, educated and well-informed opinions that differ from mine. But I have to paraphrase the famous quote often attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan: You're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own set of facts.

_______________________

Health Care Reform and talking out both sides of my mouth: My spouse's co-worker hates the Health Care Reform but signed his uninsured 23 year old on to his health insurance. Go figure.

Eugene Robinson: I'm trying. My head hurts.And that's it for today, folks -- my time is up. See you again next time!

Post a Comment


Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company