Where his heart is: Obama, in 2001 Interview, Lamented Failure of Civil Rights Movement to Redistribute Wealth

In a radio interview in 2001, Barack Obama said the civil rights movement failed when it became so dependent on the Supreme Court that it never got around to working toward redistributing income.

A 7-year-old radio interview in which Barack Obama discussed the failure of the Supreme Court to rule on redistributing wealth in its civil rights rulings has given fresh ammunition to critics who say the Democratic presidential candidate has a socialist agenda.

The interview — conducted by Chicago Public Radio in 2001, while Obama was an Illinois state senator and a law professor at the University of Chicago — delves into whether the civil rights movement should have gone further than it did, so that when “dispossessed peoples” appealed to the high court on the right to sit at the lunch counter, they should have also appealed for the right to have someone else pay for the meal.

In the interview, Obama said the civil rights movement was victorious in some regards, but failed to create a “redistributive change” in its appeals to the Supreme Court, led at the time by Chief Justice Earl Warren. He suggested that such change should occur at the state legislature level, since the courts did not interpret the U.S. Constitution to permit such change.

“The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of basic issues of political and economic justice in this society, and to that extent as radical as people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical,” Obama said in the interview, a recording of which surfaced on the Internet over the weekend.

“It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as it has been interpreted.

“And the Warren court interpreted it generally in the same way — that the Constitution is a document of negative liberties, 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 state government must do on your behalf, and that hasn’t shifted.

“And I think one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement was that the civil rights movement became so court-focused, I think there was a tendency to lose track of the political and organizing activities on the ground that are able to bring about the coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still suffer from that,” Obama said.

The 2001 interview evokes recent questioning by Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher, the Ohio man who asked Obama about his proposal to raise taxes on people making more than $250,000. Obama told Wurzelbacher he wants to hike taxes on the wealthy so that the government can spread the wealth.

Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said Monday the comments on the tape have “nothing to do with Obama’s economic plan or his plan to give the middle class a tax cut.”

“Here are the facts. 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,” Burton said..

“As Obama has said before and written about, he believes that change comes from the bottom up — not from the corridors of Washington. … 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,” Burton continued.

John McCain’s campaign said the tape proves that Obama is too liberal for the White House.

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,'” said McCain-Palin senior policy adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin.

“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,” Holtz-Eakin continued.

National Review reporter Byron York, a FOX News contributor, said the U.S. government already has a progressive tax system that gives money earned by one group to another group, but it’s a matter of degree. He added that Obama’s outlook on that system hasn’t changed.

“It seems clear from listening to this that the Obama of 2001 and probably the Obama of today feels that the government doesn’t do that enough, and I think that’s probably the big point in this tape,” York said.

“You’ve got to take him at his word,” York added. “It seems to me that the tape shows that this is simply a goal he has had for a long time.”

In a speech in Cleveland on Monday, McCain said the Obama interview is just another indication that the Democrat wants to increase sharply the amount of government spending.

“Today, he claims he will only tax the rich. But we’ve seen in the past that he’s willing to support taxes that hit people squarely in the middle class, and with a trillion dollars in new spending, the most likely outcome is that everyone who pays taxes will be paying for his spending,” McCain said.

Click here to hear the interview.

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