Smells Like Socialist Spirit; Update: Team O responds
posted at 7:24 am on October 27, 2008 by Ed Morrissey
If people thought Joe the Plumber was some kind of stumble for Barack Obama, a rediscovered interview from 2001 should dispel any doubts about Barack Obama’s redistributionism. Seven years ago, Obama told Chicago Public Radio that the Warren Court was too conservative and missed its opportunity to redistribute wealth on a much grander scale. In fact, Obama wanted them to break the Constitution and reorder American society far outside of what the founders intended.
If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court. I think where it succeeded was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed people, so that now I would have the right to vote. I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order as long as I could pay for it I’d be o.k. But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society.
To that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as its been interpreted and Warren Court interpreted in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the Federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the Federal government or State government must do on your behalf, and that hasn’t shifted and one of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was, um, because the civil rights movement became so court focused I think there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that. …
I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way.
People have assumed that Obama merely offered a rhetorical stumble, and Obama and Joe Biden have strenuously attacked anyone that claimed he intended to bring about radical socialist change. This sounds very much like socialism and radical change, and there is no mistaking the context of this statement. While Obama recognizes in this passage that the judiciary doesn’t have the “structure” to make radical changes to the Constitution, he doesn’t sound at all happy about it.
Instead, Obama sees community organizing as the essential path to move from a Constitution of personal liberties to a Constitution of federal mandates. He wants a new governing document that essentially forces both the federal and state governments to redistribute wealth, and he sees that as the natural outcome of the civil rights movement. That certainly smells of socialism on a far grander scale than ever attempted in the US, with the New Deal and Great Societies looking like pale imitations of Obama’s vision.
In fact, as Jeff Goldstein notes, that’s almost classic Marxism, and it would leave America somewhere to the left of 1970s France:
In Obama’s America, we’ll finally be able to break free of the “constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution” — and in so doing, achieve “social justice” through “redistributive change.”
Well, then. Fine .
But this is not the America I knew…
The government does not exist to determine the acceptable level of wealth of its individual citizens. For government to assume that role, it would have to end private property rights and assume all property belonged to the State. That is classic Marxism, and as Barbara West of WFTV noted, it runs in Marx’s classic philosophy of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”. That economic direction has been an abject failure everywhere it has been tried, and in many cases resulted in famines that killed millions of people.
The RNC and the McCain campaign has to get these quotes out to the American public in the final week of this election.
Update: One more clarifying thought is in order. Barack Obama complains that the Constitution is a “charter of negative liberties”. That’s because the Constitution was intended as a limiting document, to curtail the power of the federal government vis-a-vis the states and the individual. The founders intended at the time to limit the reach of the federal government, and built the Constitution accordingly.
Barack Obama wants to reverse that entirely. And that’s radical change you’d better believe in, or else.
Update II: Via Jake Tapper at ABC (who gives us a nice link), Team Obama responds. I’m including the entire statement, to avoid more accusations of context shifting:
“In this interview back in 2001, Obama was talking about the civil rights movement – and the kind of work that has to be done on the ground to make sure that everyone can live out the promise of equality,” Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton says. “Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with Obama’s economic plan or his plan to give the middle class a tax cut. It’s just another distraction from an increasingly desperate McCain campaign.”
Burton continues: “In the interview, Obama went into extensive detail to explain why the courts should not get into that business of ‘redistributing’ wealth. Obama’s point – and what he called a tragedy – was that legal victories in the Civil Rights led too many people to rely on the courts to change society for the better. That view is shared by conservative judges and legal scholars across the country.
“As Obama has said before and written about, he believes that change comes from the bottom up – not from the corridors of Washington,” Burton says. “He worked in struggling communities to improve the economic situation of people on the South Side of Chicago, who lost their jobs when the steel plants closed. And he’s worked as a legislator to provide tax relief and health care to middle-class families. And so Obama’s point was simply that if we want to improve economic conditions for people in this country, we should do so by bringing people together at the community level and getting everyone involved in our democratic process.”
I’d say that the first hint that the initial analysis was correct was in Obama’s estimation of the Warren Court — one of the most activist in history — as somehow not radical in its nature. Second, in the quote itself, Obama calls the failure to “bring about redistributive change” a tragedy. That doesn’t sound like someone who hails the court’s limitation on redistributionism — or, to use Obama’s analogy, liked the fact that the court allowed him to eat at the lunch counter but didn’t pick up the tab for him as well.
The point about the courts is really secondary. In this passage, Obama identifies himself as a redistributionist, even if he’s saying that the courts are not going to be a successful venue for it. Despite Burton’s little bit of misdirection, it’s very clear that Obama is highly sympathetic to “redistributive change” — and with an Obama administration coupled with a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress, the courts won’t be necessary to effect that redistributive change anyway.