2001: An Obama Odyssey to the redistribution of wealth

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Obama's answer to Joe Wurzelbacher was no fluke. He's been talking about "spread[ing] the wealth around" for a long time.

On January 18, 2001, then Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama participated in a panel discussion on civil rights and constitutional law on Odyssey, a public affairs program on Chicago public radio station WBEZ.

The discussion deals with Supreme Court intervention in legislative acts. Obama had some interesting things to say about the court and redistribution of wealth. The Power Line news forum has the transcript and the link to a YouTube video embedding the key quotes.

OBAMA: 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 vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples. So that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order and as long as I could pay for it I'd be okay.

But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent as radical as people tried 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 it's been interpreted, and the Warren court interpreted it in the same way that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. It says what the states can't do to you, it says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn't shifted. One of the I think tragedies of the civil rights movement was because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think that 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 coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributed change and in some ways we still suffer from that.

Support Class Envy!It's clear that in Obama's mind, the civil rights movement was right to work to "bring about redistributed change"; their mistake was to expect the court to do that, rather than pursuing "political and community organizing and activities on the ground" to accomplish it through the legislative branch.

He's not explicit about it, but it appears he thinks it's a deficiency that the Warren court didn't interpret the Constitution as saying "what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf."

The lead-in to that quote was another panelist talking about using the "due process" clause to pursue redistribution of wealth through the courts. It comes at about 39 minutes into the program.

Later in the program, a caller asks Obama to expand on his point about the Warren court and "redistributive change":

MODERATOR: Let's talk with Karen. Good morning, Karen, you're on Chicago Public Radio.

KAREN: Hi. The gentleman made the point that the Warren court wasn't terribly radical with economic changes. My question is, is it too late for that kind of reparative work economically and is that that the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place - the court - or would it be legislation at this point?

OBAMA: Maybe I'm showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor, but I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn't structured that way.

You just look at very rare examples during the desegregation era the court was willing to for example order changes that cost money to a local school district. The court was very uncomfortable with it. It was very hard to manage, it was hard to figure out. You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time.

The court's just not very good at it and politically it's very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So I think that although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally. Any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts.

Obama's comments on the Bush v. Gore case are interesting, too. He suggests, admiringly, that the Florida court acted in that case much like the Warren court had in the 1960s in the way they interpreted the state's election laws.

(Via Ace of Spades HQ, where you can watch a YouTube video with the key excerpts.)

MORE: The Daily Telegraph has an apt summary: "Although his remarks were heavily analytical and academic, he spoke warmly of the notion of redistributing wealth, suggesting that there were other vehicles than the courts to achieve it."

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Pamela Author Profile Page said:

I read about this on another blog. I have already sent this out to my friends across the country.

I may be able to sway one of my good friends from voting from Obama. She does not really like either of them. I told her that I was not excited about McCain. I informed her about his idea of government taking over everything. She said she may call me tonight because I mentioned information she had not heard before. She also got my email.

I believe the tide is turning. I do not believe it is the way the media is trying to paint it.

I also find it interesting that Hawaii AND Kenya have sealed access to Obama's birth information until after the election. It will come out. I doubt that the media will refuse to report that Berg plans on going to the Supreme Court in a few days.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

I just wonder why it's just now, (w/i the last couple of weeks) that this stuff comes out? I'm going to listen to the entire audio tonight, but this is rather bothersome, to say the least.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 26, 2008 11:46 PM.

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