Redistributive Change

It’s amusing to see some Obama partisans arguing that Obama’s comments on “redistributive change” in fact reflect a conservative view of the Constitution.  First the comments (snippet audio here; transcript and full audio):

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. 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 its been interpreted and 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, um, because the civil rights movement became so court focused I think there was a tendancy 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.

And, later, in response to a caller’s question about bringing about “change”:

I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way.

These comments aren’t as surprising as some seem to be saying they are; they fit well within the way Obama has approached and developed his policies.  He definitely wants to expand the role of the state, perhaps towards the aim of some “major redistributive change” (whatever that means).  He’s chosen to try to effect this change through the legislature and, now, the pursuit of the presidency.  Of course, the fact that he’s working through the legislative process does not necessarily make his policies moderate.

And he definitely wants judges who will be favorable to his notion of change.  He doesn’t really seem in these comments to be endorsing the notion that the courts should stick closely to the text of the Constitution and not make a radical break with the Founding Fathers; he’s merely saying that they have not done such things yet (which may or may not be true—I’ll leave that for others to debate).  A president, with a radical Congress, could certainly appoint judges who would be willing to “break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution.”  Remember what Obama says is his “criteria” for judges:

“We 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.”

Obama criticized Chief Justice John Roberts for believing the judge to be an “umpire.” Instead of the idea of the judge as someone scrupulously and closely interpreting various rules (the Constitution and various laws), Obama advocates for judges ruled by “empathy,” which probably means a willingness to support his agenda.  That’s conservative, for sure.

Another takeaway point: he’s said that control of the legislature (and executive office) is key for bringing about “major redistributive change.”  That’s what he’s trying to do in running for the presidency and roll up huge Democratic majorities in Congress.  Obama’s wavered and distorted and twisted on a lot of issues, but he’s always been consistent in his support of change.  Do you really want to give this change total power?



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