The volatile U.S. economic and political landscape was evident in reflections of syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson during a Sept. 25 lecture at Samford University. Robinson is associate editor of the Washington Post, and his column is nationally syndicated.
Less than 24 hours before the first scheduled presidential debate, Robinson adjusted his remarks to reflect up-to-date events and the uncertainty of what was happening both politically and economically. Earlier in the day, President George W. Bush and others had tried to broker a deal to handle the U.S. economic crisis. Even as Robinson was preparing to speak, the talks stalled.
"I wish I knew what to say about the effort that is going on in Washington to fix this," Robinson said. "Four hours ago I told one of the classes, They've got a deal.' That was before the whole thing fell apart or didn't or is being made to seem like it fell apart."
It will take time to get the economy back on track, he said. At the same time, "the next president is going to have a whole lot less money than he thought he was going to have for new initiatives."
While both McCain and Obama have "lots of new idea, to do any of that is going to require some tough choices about where the money is going to come from to pay for it."
Robinson called the 2008 presidential election "the most incredible presidential race any of us have ever seen. Most exciting. Most suspenseful. Most historic. The one with the highest stakes."
Noting that 80 percent of Americans consistently tell pollsters that they think America "is going in the wrong direction," Robinson called the race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain a "change election."
"People are looking for someone not just to take the country in a different direction but to inspire us. I think that is something that both Obama and McCain believe in. I think that's what this country desperately wants."
The next president will face many challenges, Robinson noted, not just the current economic situation. Noting that the 20th century often is seen as "the American century," he said the next U.S. president "will inherit a world that believes the 21st century will belong to someone else."
As a political columnist who often has been critical of the current administration, Robinson said it was difficult to determine who might win the election because of something called the Bradley effect. Robinson explained that the former late Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley ran for governor of California and was comfortably ahead in the polls. But, he ended up losing. Later, Douglas Wilder was running for election as the first African-American governor of Virginia. He ended up winning by a small margin, despite what polls indicated.
"My favorite theory of what actually happened in those races is that the polls accurately predicted the final vote totals of the black candidate, but the polls underestimated dramatically the final total of the white candidate," Robinson said. "Those votes came out of undecided voters, and the obvious question today is whether the Bradley effect will impact Obama on election day."
Robinson was guest speaker for Samford's combined J. Roderick Davis Lecture and the Timothy Robinson Sumner Forum co-sponsored with the Post. Eugene Robinson is no relation to Timothy Robinson, but the two did work together.
"When I got to the Post, one of the famous and esteemed journalists who was kind to this rookie was Tim Robinson," Eugene Robinson said. "It is an honor that I feel both personally and professionally to be here to present this lecture."
Robinson was introduced by senior journalism student Christopher Smith, who served as Samford's Robinson Fellow intern at the Post during summer 2008.
Political columnist Eugene Robinson says race will matter on election day