[UPDATE: Welcome, Fox News “Embeds” readers! Feel free to have a look around.]
Joe the Plumber is getting more and more difficult to dismiss as the concoction of Fox News and Karl Rove. (By the way, I’m thinking of starting an informal betting pool on how many years it will take for Democrats to stop blaming their own PR goofs on Karl Rove’s mind control rays.)
With the emergence of a new audio clip from a 2001 radio interview with then-State Sen. Barack Obama, the uncomfortable whiff of socialism rising off Obama’s “spreading the wealth around” gaffe two weeks ago in his exchange with Joe Wurzelbacher is getting tougher to write off as something blown out of proportion by “desperate” McCainiacs.
Details and excerpts below the break. (Miz Michelle points out that a private citizen with no special resources uncovered this clip, scooping all major media organizations in doing so. Aren’t they supposedly paid to do this kind of thing?)
Obama opines thus:
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 tendency 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. …
I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way.
In this radio interview, Obama laments that Earl Warren’s Supreme Court during the civil rights movement didn’t expand its activism even further than it did, to include “bringing about major redistributive change through the courts;” i.e. a massive mechanism for “spreading the wealth around” by order of a panel of judges.
Obama also calls it “one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement” that public dependence on the Court’s activism on the social front led to an atrophying of the more democratic aspects of the political process on the economic front, such as “political and community organizing,” by which this wealth-redistribution machine might otherwise have been inflicted on the masses.
Obama has a point in that a government should not surrender too much power to the judiciary branch. However, the reason this is so is because it is unfaithful to the spirit of the Constitution, whose engineers hoped to keep the three branches of government distinct, equal, and in a state of general equilibrium. Obama, rather, takes issue with the Warren Court’s activism simply because it made things inconvenient. When the Court didn’t take it upon themselves to implement a centralized, planned economy in which wealth is redistributed according to the government’s whim, Obama would have preferred community organizers to pick up the slack and to do so through direct political action, except the “court-focused” political process of the time had sapped the strength of such political forces.
The Obama campaign today rushed into damage-control mode, saying:
“In the interview, Obama went into extensive detail to explain why the courts should not get into that business of ‘redistributing’ wealth. Obama’s point – and what he called a tragedy – was that legal victories in the Civil Rights led too many people to rely on the courts to change society for the better. That view is shared by conservative judges and legal scholars across the country.
“As Obama has said before and written about, he believes that change comes from the bottom up – not from the corridors of Washington… He worked in struggling communities to improve the economic situation of people on the South Side of Chicago, who lost their jobs when the steel plants closed. And he’s worked as a legislator to provide tax relief and health care to middle-class families. And so Obama’s point was simply that if we want to improve economic conditions for people in this country, we should do so by bringing people together at the community level and getting everyone involved in our democratic process.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a load of crap. Obama never once said that the courts shouldn’t get into the business of redistributing wealth; only that they didn’t during the civil rights era, and in fact he was of the opinion that it was a shame that they didn’t, because community organizers at the time couldn’t in the political arena. Obama is as enthusiastic about redistributive economic policies in this interview as he was during his conversation with Joe Wurzelbacher; with him, it’s not a question of whether such a policy should be enacted, but how.
Now, when someone raises warning flags about impending socialism, the object of the warning flags is almost obliged to answer with the ghost of McCarthyism. That is to say, to kill the messenger, making the party pointing out socialistic tendencies the villain, in an effort to deflect attention from the original bone of contention that invoked the specter of socialism in the first place:
Question: Doesn’t that sound like socialism?
Response: Right-wing Red-baiting piece of crap! Who sent you??
And so on. As I wrote earlier, Joe Wurzelbacher took advantage of a chance encounter with Sen. Barack Obama to try to find out how he’d possibly avoid paying higher taxes if he tried to start his own plumbing business. Joe had the misfortune of getting an unintentionally frank answer from Obama, which was caught by a bystander with a camcorder and a YouTube account. The video went viral, and Obama’s answer hit such a nerve with the millions who saw it that Joe the Plumber was born.
In the days that followed, after Obama’s answer to Joe’s question came back to bite him during the third presidential debate, Joe was dragged through the mud by reporters desperate to get Joe the Plumber out of the public dialogue. This clip will be a little harder to discredit, since the source is Obama himself, and it’s a second instance that establishes a pattern of redistributionist advocacy.