Obama’s true radicalism

In a radio interview in 2001, quoted by Bill Whittle at National Review Online, Barack Obama made it crystal clear that he is not a liberal but a man of the left, that is, he is a person who opposes the U.S. Constitution because it stands in the way of the redistribution of wealth and the imposition of economic equality. The interview, in which Obama said inter alia that the Warren Court was not really radical because it left property rights in place, is revelatory from several angles. Here for the moment are two.

First, it shows what Obama was really talking about in his race speech last March where, as I’ve demonstrated, he said that the kind of racial anger expressed by Jeremiah Wright could only be brought to an end when white people take action to end racial inequality of results in America. Now we understand specifically what Obama was calling for: the end of whatever remains of the classical liberal regime of negative rights, in which government is restrained in what it can do to people, and its replacement by a new regime founded on positive rights, in which people, namely poor people and nonwhites, have a positive right to economic equality with those better off than themselves, and the government has the obligation to provide it to them.

Second, if ever you’ve been amazed when you heard people on the left say that mainstream liberal media outlets such as the New York Times are not liberal but “conservative,” Obama’s remarks about the Warren Court reveal where such people are really coming from. The reason they regard the mainstream media as “conservative” is that the mainstream media do not advocate the overthrowing of the U.S. Constitution, of free enterprise, and of property rights—and those are the things that true leftists/progressives, such as Obama, seek.

Below is Obama’s disquisition. Also see Bill Whittle’s commentary on it at NRO.

You know, 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 vest 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 okay, but the Supreme Court never entered into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.

And uh, to that extent, as radical as I think people tried 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 Warren Court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties: [It] says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.

And that hasn’t shifted, and one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil-rights movement was because the civil-rights movement became so court-focused, uh, 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 through which you bring about redistributive change. [Emphasis added.] And in some ways we still suffer from that.

And this:

You know, I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn’t structured that way. [snip] You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues, you know, in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time. You know, the court is just not very good at it, and politically, it’s just very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard.


He spoke of the need to “put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change.” Well, as president of the U.S. with a leftist Democratic Congress on his side, Obama will be in the best possible position to put together such coalitions of power and bring about such restributive change.

Now I’ve just read the section on poverty at the Obama website, and while there is an endless list of programs he wants to initiate or expand, a list so complicated we would need a policy expert to explain their real thrust, his proposed programs do not sound different in kind from the vast network of federal programs we have now. There is nothing about redistributing wealth. Of course that doesn’t mean that it is not his aim. If Karl Marx came back from the dead and ran for president of the U.S., he would not come out and tell us that his aim was redistributing wealth.

Still, the interview was in 2001. Is redistribution still Obama’s aim now? Or has he moved to the center? And even if he did still believe in it, would he be willing to engage in the political warfare that would be necessary to pass it and thus incur the enmity of a large part of the country?

These are the familiar Obama questions to which we cannot know the answer unless and until he becomes president.

- end of initial entry -

Paul Nachman writes:

I’ve been aware of this developing story on Obama and his 2001 interview, but your post is a big, insightful step. Your point #2 is very clarifying.

Notice, though, in the actual Obama quote, he’s explicitly complaining that the Warren court wasn’t “radical” enough. In other words, Obama here is almost explicitly calling himself a radical, no?

LA replies:

Absolutely, he’s identifying himself as a person of the left.

So, does this make you think of voting for McCain?

Paul Nachman writes:

It hadn’t occurred to me before you asked. And the answer is still “No.” Too weak a reed. [LA replies: You’re a rock.]

And I do think that Obama may well be an existential threat (not a sure thing, since we can’t know how the spoiled brat—which is what he is—will actually react when Harry Truman’s “moon, the stars, and all the planets” actually fall on him). But it might as well be fought directly if it’s going to be fought at all. McCain is doddering and worse than useless.

LA to Ken Hechtman:

The interesting thing about his 2001 radio interview is that he’s invoking the older, dare I say traditional, leftism of enforced economic equality, rather than its post fall-of-the-USSR replacement, cultural equality. Does this surprise you?

KH replies:

It doesn’t surprise me at all. Alinsky organizers (like Obama was) can be very old-school about that stuff. They’re not afraid to talk about class. They might talk about “Haves” and “Have-Nots” rather than “Bourgeoisie” and “Proletariat” just so nobody’s eyes glaze over but the subject itself isn’t taboo. They can also be very suspicious of identity politics, especially when it divides the “Have-Nots.”

What struck me in the interview is that Obama doesn’t like legislating from the bench for the same reasons I don’t.

Kevin writes:

I just don’t see any real possibility that Barack Obama has changed since this radio interview from 2001. Did his associations change? Did he stop going to Jeremiah Wright’s hate America church? Less than a year ago he was still talking about Wright as his mentor. No, this is a true believing socialist radical who sees America from a position of grievance and deems it inherently bad.

John Hagan writes:

Though I will not vote for McCain under any circumstances, to read Obama disparage negative rights in his 2001 interview was chilling. I went over to Free Republic and of course they were convinced that this was finally the silver bullet that would sink the Obama campaign. And perhaps this would have sunk it … 30 years ago. Now, in this America, will most of the public understand just what Obama was even talking about ? I have grave doubts that they will.

I’m in a battleground state. It’s not easy for me to vote third party this year, but John McCain would only prolong the confusion in the conservative movement if elected. It’s time to rebuild the conservative movement, and that can’t be done with people like Bush and McCain in it. They need to be repudiated.

Dale F. writes:

One of the most interesting thing about that tape of Obama speaking about the courts and redistribution is how he starts out the critical paragraph:

“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 as long as I could pay for it I’d be o.k.”

Obviously, this is what was flawed with the civil rights movement. He now had the freedom to sit at the counter (a formal right), but he still might not have money to pay for a meal. That’s the responsibility of government, to step in on his behalf and buy his lunch.

October 28

Alec H. writes:

Obama’s “Redistribution” Constitution discussed at the Wall Street Journal.

LA replies:

In the WSJ article, Steven Calabresi writes:

[The numbers of judges a President Obama could appoint] raise serious concern because of Mr. Obama’s extreme left-wing views about the role of judges. He believes—and he is quite open about this—that judges ought to decide cases in light of the empathy they ought to feel for the little guy in any lawsuit.

Speaking in July 2007 at a conference of Planned Parenthood, he said: “[W]e need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.”…

Nothing less than the very idea of liberty and the rule of law are at stake in this election. We should not let Mr. Obama replace justice with empathy in our nation’s courtrooms.

[end of quote.]

Obama’s comments are pretty shocking, right? But they are less shocking than they seem, when we remember that President Bush has enunciated very similar views, repeatedly speaking of his requirement that the judges he appoint have a “compassionate heart.” And to whom were the judges to be compassionate? Obviously toward those “on the outs.” Such an attitude is of course both irrelevant and highly destructive to the job of correctly interpreting the Constitution. Yet I never saw conservatives express shock or dismay as Bush made possession of a “compassionate heart” a requirement for federal judicial appointments. And now Obama has simply taken Bush’s “compassionate constitutionalism” idea further.

Ben W. writes:

Excellent article at FrontPage Magazine explaining and providing a context to Obama’s notion of redistributive justice.

Spencer Warren writes:

I just heard on Hannity another excerpt from Obama’s 2001 interview with the Chicago PBS station in which he compared unspecified U.S. domestic actions during World War II (presumably internment of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans) to Nazi actions. Even if one accepts that the internment was unjustified (contrary to the intelligence information known to President Roosevelt in 1942, as adduced in Michelle Malkin’s book, In Defense of Internment 2004), the forced relocation of these civilians to internment camps where, although they were under guard, they lived in peace is in no way comparable to Nazi deeds. Most of the internees were released by the end of 1944; some enlisted in the armed forces. This statement further confirms that if Obama is elected, he will be the first disloyal, anti-American, radical leftist to become president.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 27, 2008 04:07 PM | Send

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