One of the tragedies of the Civil Rights movement is that it failed to lead to income redistribution in the United States, Barack Obama appears to state in an audio excerpt of a Chicago public radio program recorded in 2001.
Obama, who then was an Illinois state senator, also stated that people continue to “suffer” because there is no government program to take money from the rich and redistribute it to Americans who are less well off.
The excerpt, posted on YouTube.com, has set the blogosphere abuzz.
It also caught the attention of GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who is using it to help drive home the Joe the plumber theme. McCain states that Obama’s plan to “spread the wealth around” amounts to income redistribution.
The YouTube excerpt attributes the post to a Sept. 6, 2001 interview on Odyssey, an issues-oriented interview program that formerly aired on Chicago public radio station WBEZ-FM. On Monday afternoon, a WBEZ blog listed the actual date of the program, titled “The Court and Civil Rights,” as Jan. 18, 2001. Obama’s remarks came in the context of a somewhat professorial discussion of the Supreme Court’s impact on the Civil Rights movement. In the YouTube excerpt, Obama begins by stating that the strategy of relying on litigation during the Civil Rights movement brought both “victories and failures.”
Where it succeeded, Obama states, “was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples. So that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at a lunch counter and order, and as long as I could pay for it, I’d be OK.”
Then Obama adds, “I think one of the 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 throughout which you bring about redistributive change. And in some ways, we still suffer from that.”
The audio post, which has been edited heavily, also includes Obama’s response to a caller who asks whether it’s too late to enact a program of income redistribution in America, and whether the Supreme Court could initiate it.
Obama replies, in part, “The court’s just not very good at it, and politically it’s just very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard, so I mean I think that, although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally, I think any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts.”
The McCain campaign issued a statement offering a pointed response Sunday to Obama’s 2001 remarks.
“The American people continue to learn more about Barack Obama,” said McCain senior policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin. “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.'
“In a previously uncovered interview from September 6, 2001, Barack Obama expressed his regret that the Supreme Court hadn't been more 'radical' and described as a 'tragedy' the court's refusal to take up 'the issues of redistribution of wealth.' No wonder he wants to appoint judges that legislate from the bench — as insurance in case a unified Democratic government under his control fails to meet his basic goal: Taking money away from people who work for it and giving it to people who Barack Obama believes deserve it.
“Holtz-Eakin’s statement concluded: “Europeans call it socialism, Americans call it welfare, and Barack Obama calls it change."
Obama also was a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago law school at the time of the interview. The Odyssey program, which Gretchen Helfrich hosted, apparently wasn’t profitable, and the station canceled it in September 2005.
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