Drudge is hyping some audio clips of a 2001 Obama interview with the headline “2001 OBAMA: TRAGEDY THAT ‘REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH’ NOT PURSUED BY SUPREME COURT.” Here’s the YouTube:
This is the Obama quote in question:
One of, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement, was that 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 that bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that.
So you can see that the Drudge headline is misleading, to say the least. The “tragedy,” according to Obama, is that the civil rights movement focused on the courts too much. The other included clips continue in this vein, with Obama arguing that the legislature, not the courts, is the most appropriate venue through which to enact a progressive agenda. Gosh, but this all sounds so familiar. Who else is it who is always making the same point? Let’s see…
Color me un-alarmed.
Based on the audio posted, however, I find it hard to identify Obama’s normative take. When Obama says that he’s “not optimistic” about using the courts for major economic reform, and when he points out the practical and institutional problems of doing so, it’s not entirely clear whether he is (a) gently telling the caller why the courts won’t and shouldn’t do such things; (b) noting the difficulties of using the courts to engage in economic reform but not intending to express a normative view; or (c) suggesting that he would have wanted the Warren Court to have tried to take on such a project.
My best sense is that Obama was intending (a), as his point seems to be that the 60s reformers were too court-focused. But at the very least, it’s not at all clear that Obama had (c) in mind. It doesn’t help that only parts of the audio are posted: Given the obvious bias of the person who edited the audio, it’s probably a decent bet that the rest of the audio makes the comments seem more innocuous than they do in the excerpts. …
Full transcript of the Obama interview is here.
UPDATE 2: An Obama spokesman said, “In this seven year old interview, Senator Obama did not say that the courts should get into the business of redistributing wealth at all.”
That’s a good PR sentence. It’s carefully phrased to sound like the equivalent of this: “Obama said that the courts should not get into the business of redistributing wealth at all,” which would not be true. But all it’s really saying is that Obama took no position on whether the courts should redistribute wealth, which is true. It’s almost lawyerly!