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In a 2002 speech charged with racial and class warfare undertones, Barack Obama asserted the “rich” in society are using accountants and tax loopholes to keep people down.
Obama also claimed the country’s “powerful” lack empathy for minority schools, poor seniors and “black men and the Latino men” in the “burgeoning prison industrial complex,” since those affected are not like the purported “powerful” citizens.
Obama, then an Illinois state senator, was speaking on Jan. 21, 2002, at the University of Chicago’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day memorial service held in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.
The future president adopted a Southern preacher’s accent and used a cadence that is likely not familiar to most Americans who have heard his many other public speeches.
During the speech, Obama extolled King’s virtue of empathy, which he described as being “willing to walk in someone else’s shoes.”
Obama criticized the “powerful” and “rich” in society for lacking empathy.
Stated Obama: “Yet today no less than 40 years ago [empathy] seems to be so hard to put into practice. It’s hard to imagine that the powerful in our society would tolerate the burgeoning prison industrial complex if they imagined that the black men and the Latino men that are being imprisoned are something like their sons.”
He continued: “It’s hard to imagine the powerful in our society would tolerate schools that don’t teach, that are chronically underfunded that are chronically understaffed, that are chronically under-inspired if they believed that those children could learn just like their own children.
“It’s hard to believe that we would have senior citizens in this country confronted with the choice of paying the rent and purchasing the prescription drugs that they need if the powerful in the society thought that those seniors were just like their parents.”
Obama exclaimed that King’s philosophy of nonviolence “only makes sense if the powerful can be made to recognize themselves in the powerless.”
He then launched into a class-warfare tirade against “rich people.”
Stated Obama: “It only makes sense if the powerless can be made to recognize themselves in the powerful. You know, the principle of empathy gives broader meaning, by the way, to Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but rich people are all for nonviolence. Why wouldn’t they be? They’ve got what they want. They want to make sure people don’t take their stuff. But the principle of empathy recognizes that there are more subtle forms of violence to which we are answerable.
“The spirit of empathy condemns not only the use of fire hoses and attack dogs to keep people down but also accountants and tax loopholes to keep people down.”