So a 2001 radio interview with Obama has the airwaves buzzing. It’s even made the Post as a fact-check to the McCain campaign’s charges that Obama had criticized the Warren court for not being radical enough. Listen to the whole thing yourself.
Here’s my friend Bill Whittle, at NRO (hey, cool that he has a gig there, btw…):
If the second highlighted phrase had been there without the first, Obamaâ€™s defenders would have bent over backwards trying to spin the meaning of “political and economic justice.” We all know what political and economic justice means, because Barack Obama has already made it crystal clear a second earlier: It means redistribution of wealth. Not the creation of wealth and certainly not the creation of opportunity, but simply taking money from the successful and hard-working and distributing it to those whom the government decides “deserve” it.
This redistribution of wealth, he states, “essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time.” It is an administrative task. Not suitable for the courts. More suitable for the chief executive.
Now thatâ€™s just garden-variety socialism, which apparently is not a big deal to many voters.
Here’s Jeff Goldstein:
In Obamaâ€™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…
Pardon me while I fan myself.
It’s obvious that neither of them is a big fan of Charles Beard. He’s the author of “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States,” a book everyone interested in US politics ought to read. While I don’t agree entirely with his analysis, the history that he lays out shows clearly how the creation of the Constitution was a balancing act firmly grounded in the affairs of the day, and the conflicts between merchant traders, farmers, land speculators, currency speculators, tradesmen, and landed gentry.
Look, most of my academic career was spent studying political theory and political history. All politics is redistributive; it distributes power and goods (tangible and intangible). For Obama to call for a political effort to tip the balance doesn’t seem any more outrageous to me than, say – Arthur Laffer’s.
The reality is that we have for all of American history had redistributive battles – does Teddy Roosevelt ring any bells? – and had a government that was waist-deep in the economy. It is certainly legitimate fodder to debate what the policies of that government ought to be, and who they are unfair to.
But let’s start by dropping the outrage over the notion that politics can be around distributive issues – if you’re making that argument, you need to read more about the history of politics to have much standing. For Obama to have said this is hardly something to lose one’s water over, whether in genuine or feigned outrage.
It is certainly appropriate to discuss the shortcomings of policies that benefit the poor – I certainly do that enough. But in a world where the wealth and income gaps are widening, and where social mobility is declining, arguments against government even attempting to do something to make some efforts at rebalancing things to a Burkean mean would have be powerful indeed for me to take them seriously.
I’m sure I’ll see some in the comments..
Update: Lawprof Ann Althouse weighs in:
If this alarmed you, chances are, you are not a law professor. Let me tell you that, in this radio interview from 2001, Obama is making the most conventional observation about the limits of constitutional law litigation: The courts will recognize rights to formal equality, but they hesitate to enforce those rights with remedies that become too expensive or require too much judicial supervision and they resist identifying rights to economic equality. Such matters are better handled by legislatures, and courts tend to defer to legislatures for this reason.
Go read her whole post – she deals with all the issues pretty neatly.