Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama described the U.S. Constitution as having “deep flaws” during a September 2001 Chicago public radio program, adding that the country’s Founding Fathers had “an enormous blind spot” when they wrote it.
Obama also remarked that the Constitution “reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.”
Obama’s statements came during a panel discussion that aired on Chicago’s WBEZ-FM on Sept. 6, 2001, titled “Slavery and the Constitution.”
The discussion that led to the statements took place on the now-defunct Odyssey program, which also aired statements by Obama bemoaning the fact that the Civil Rights movement had failed to bring about an economic redistribution of wealth in America.
Obama’s remarks came toward the end of a somewhat professorial, academic discussion on the Constitution and the evolution of Civil Rights.
The panelists were discussing the compromise struck by the Founding Fathers to avoid a direct confrontation over slavery, as well as the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments after the Civil War. Those amendments outlawed slavery, required “equal protection” under the law, and stated that African-Americans must be provided the right to vote.
Prior to Obama’s statement, Richard R. John, a professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that slavery had been a significant issue for the Founding Fathers. But it was not, John stated, a matter of central importance to them.
John said it was easy to second-guess America’s Founding Fathers for establishing a government that allowed slavery to continue.
“I think it’s easy to be very hard on the Founders, and to be very hard on our governing institutions,” John said. “But I just wish we’d think about what the alternatives were, what the practical alternatives [were], and not some possible, counterfactual dreams we might have.”
At that point, the moderator of the program, Gretchen Helfrich, turned to Obama.
“Barack Obama, what are your thoughts on the Declaration and Constitution?”
“I-I-I think it’s a remarkable document –“ he began haltingly.
“Which one?” Helfrich interjected.
“The original Constitution as well as the Civil War Amendments,” he replied. “But I think it is an imperfect document, and I think it is a document that reflects some deep flaws in American culture, the Colonial culture nascent at that time.
“African-Americans were not -- first of all they weren’t African-Americans -- the Africans at the time were not considered as part of the polity that was of concern to the Framers. I think that as Richard said it was a ‘nagging problem’ in the same way that these days we might think of environmental issues, or some other problem where you have to balance cost-benefits, as opposed to seeing it as a moral problem involving persons of moral worth.
“And in that sense,” Obama continued, “I think we can say that the Constitution reflected an enormous blind spot in this culture that carries on until this day, and that the Framers had that same blind spot. I don’t think the two views are contradictory, to say that it was a remarkable political document that paved the way for where we are now, and to say that it also reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.”
Obama did not elaborate on the “fundamental flaw” that persists.
Conservative talk host Rush Limbaugh pounced on Obama’s remarks during his Monday radio program.
“Good Lord, ladies and gentlemen! I don’t see how he can take the oath of office, which is this: ‘I do solemly swear, or affirm, that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and I will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Said Limbaugh, “He has rejected the Constitution.”
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