Monday, October 27, 2008

Anybody concerned about the WBEZ interview?


Stephanie said...


Stephanie said...

"What the critics are missing is that the term 'redistribution' didn't man in the Constitutional context equalized wealth or anything like that. It meant some positive rights, most prominently the right to education, and also the right to a lawyer," Sunstein said. "What he's saying - this is the irony of it - he's basically taking the side of the conservatives then and now against the liberals."


Sunstein argued that in the context of a long, legalistic interview, the words referred to the narrower forms of redistribution -- education, legal filing fees, legal representation, and other issues -- that had been discussed in the case Obama cited and in discussions around it.

Stephanie said... A University of Chicago law professor who appeared on the 2001 WBEZ program with Obama, and who also supports him, Dennis Hutchinson, described the interview as "not a bombshell."

"He's saying you dont achieve stable social change through judicial activism," Hutchinson said. As for "redistribution of wealth," "that's what a progressive tax system does," he said.

"It's two minutes and 17 seconds of what I could say in front of a class," he said, suggesting reporters go back to speculating about Obama's cabinet picks.

Stephanie said...

Based on this interview, it seems unlikely that Obama opposes constitutionalizing the redistributive agenda because he's an originalist, or otherwise endorses the Constitution as a "charter of negative liberties," though he explicitly recognizes that this is how the Constitution has been interpreted since the Founding. Rather, he seems to think that focusing on litigation distracts liberal activists from necessary political organizing, and that any radical victories they might manage to win from the courts would be unstable because those decisions wouldn't have public backing. The way to change judicial decisions, according to Obama, is to change the underlying political and social dynamics; changes in the law primarily follow changes in society, not vice versa. Again, he's channeling Rosenberg and Klarman. And this attitude on Obama's part shouldn't be surprising, given that he decided to go into politics rather than become a full-time University of Chicago constitutional law professor, as he was offered. Had he been committed to the idea that courts are at the forefront of social change, he would have been inclined to take a potentially very influential position at Chicago. (And judging from this interview, he would likely have been a great con law professor, both as a teacher and scholar, and, had he been so inclined, legal activist.)

All that said, there is no doubt from the interview that he supports "redistributive change," a phrase he uses at approximately the 41.20 mark in a context that makes it clear that he is endorsing the redistribution of wealth by the government through the political process.

What I don't understand is why this is surprising, or interesting enough to be headlining Drudge [UPDATE: Beyond the fact that Drudge's headline suggests, wrongly, that Obama states that the Supreme Court should have ordered the redistribution of income; as Orin says, his views on the subject, beyond that it was an error to promote this agenda in historical context, are unclear.]. At least since the passage of the first peacetime federal income tax law about 120 years ago, redistribution of wealth has been a (maybe the) primary item on the left populist/progressive/liberal agenda, and has been implicitly accepted to some extent by all but the most libertarian Republicans as well. Barack Obama is undoubtedly liberal, and his background is in political community organizing in poor communities. Is it supposed to be a great revelation that Obama would like to see wealth more "fairly" distributed than it is currently?

It's true that most Americans, when asked by pollsters, think that it's emphatically not the government's job to redistribute wealth. But are people so stupid as to not recognize that when politicians talk about a "right to health care," or "equalizing educational opportunities," or "making the rich pay a fair share of taxes," or "ensuring that all Americans have the means to go to college," and so forth and so on, that they are advocating the redistribution of wealth? Is it okay for a politician to talk about the redistribution of wealth only so long as you don't actually use phrases such as "redistribution" or "spreading the wealth," in which case he suddenly becomes "socialist"? If so, then American political discourse, which I never thought to be especially elevated, is in even a worse state than I thought.