Seven years before Barack Obama’s “spread the wealth” comment to Joe the Plumber became a GOP campaign theme, the Democratic presidential candidate said in a radio interview the U.S. has suffered from a fundamentally flawed Constitution that does not mandate or allow for redistribution of wealth.
In a newly unearthed tape, Obama is heard telling Chicago’s public station WBEZ-FM in 2001 that “redistributive change” is needed, pointing to what he regarded as a failure of the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren in its rulings on civil rights issues in the 1960s.
The Warren court, he said, failed to “break free from the essential constraints” in the U.S. Constitution and launch a major redistribution of wealth. But Obama, then an Illinois state lawmaker, said the legislative branch of government, rather than the courts, probably was the ideal avenue for accomplishing that goal.
In the 2001 interview, Obama said:
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 and as long as I could pay for it I’d be OK
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 it’s been interpreted, and the 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 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.
The video is available here:
In his top-rated national radio show today, Rush Limbaugh reacted to the tape.
The Constitution, he said, “most certainly does spell out things it must do on your behalf. He understands it. He just doesn’t like it.”
“He’s talking about giving things to people,” Limbaugh said. “This is perverted. Some people call this radical. I call it perverted.
“To me, ladies and gentlemen, the Constitution is a gift from God. It’s not a disappointment; it’s a blessing,” he said.
Limbaugh cited unrepentant terrorist William Ayers, with whom Obama has had a relationship for many years, as well as Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor under whose teaching Obama attended church for two decades. Ayers has stated his Weather Underground didn’t accomplish enough in the bombings on the U.S. Capitol and other locations, and Wright has called on God to d*** America.
“I’m beginning to wonder just who taught whom,” Limbaugh said. “How much did Obama teach Ayers, Jeremiah Wright. Obama didn’t have to hear what Jeremiah Wright was saying, Obama may have half written those sermons.”
The change sought by Obama, however, simply couldn’t be accomplished through court action, the Democrat said in the 2001 interview.
“The court’s not very good at it,” he said. “I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way.”
“You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues, the court … engaging in a process that essentially is administrative,” he said.
A commentator on the website American Thinker said Obama “wishes to scrap the limits placed on government powers because they get in the way of his redistributive schemes.”
“What powers are we talking about? Private property rights for one. Since property is distributed ‘unequally’ in Obama’s world, policies must be shaped and laws passed to deal with that situation.”
GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign stated the tape proves Obama is too liberal for the White House.
“Now we know that the slogans ‘change you can believe in’ and ‘change we need’ are code words for Barack Obama’s ultimate goal: ‘redistributive change,’” said McCain-Palin senior policy adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin.
But the Obama campaign called the statements just another distraction.
“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. 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,” spokesman Bill Burton said.
However, reaction to Obama’s comments reached around the globe. In the Telegraph newspaper of London, Toby Harnden said the 2001 remarks are consistent with Obama’s recent statement to the now iconic Joe the Plumber in Ohio, that “when you spread the wealth around it’s a good thing for everybody.”
“Although his remarks were heavily analytical and academic,” Harndon said of the 2001 interview, Obama “spoke warmly of the notion of redistributing wealth, suggesting that there were other vehicles that the courts to achieve it.”
Limbaugh commented, “We know Joe (the Plumber) got Obama to reveal himself.”
But what would be next?
“Would he quote Marx? Would he demand change in the spirit of the Soviet Union? Would he ask us to have Constitution-burning parties?” Limbaugh said.
Limbaugh contended, however, that the “redistribution” was just a distraction.
“It’s part of a process where the government confiscates private property and uses it to secure their own power. It’s not about fairness,” Limbaugh said. “They buy votes with the money they confiscate.”
He continued, “Redistribution is the least frightening part of socialism. What comes after and before is what shocks like a Taser.”
The weblog Right Pundits.com said, “In other words, he sees our money as belonging to the government. He wants to take our money and he will decide how to spend it.”