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Obama on the Warren Court:
The Drudge Report is blaring this audio of what appears to be an interview of Barack Obama in 2001 discussing the Warren Court and economic redistribution. Based on the accompanying video, it seems that the person who posted the audio is trying to paint Obama as a radical: The suggestion is that the audio shows Obama lamenting the Warren Court's lack of radicalism in the area of economic redistribution.

   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. Of course, there's the separate point about Obama's interest in "major redistributive change" more generally: It would be interesting to know if Obama endorsed that goal in the interview, and what specifically he had in mind.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Obama on Redistribution of Wealth:
  2. Obama on the Warren Court:
cboldt (mail):
The original WBEZ website (I think it's the same audio) is at http://apps.wbez.org/blog/?p=372. It's WBEZ, Chicago Public radio. The audio appears to have been made first available in July, 2008. The comments a the website are brief, and illuminating as to public opinion.
10.27.2008 3:02am
Mike& (mail):
Based on the audio posted, however, I find it hard to identify Obama's normative take

He talks about victories and failures of the civil rights movement. He said the movement succeeded in vesting "formal rights in disenfranchised people." Then he says, "But the court never ventured into [redistributive wealth]."

That sort of sounds like he views that as a failure. What do you interpret that exchange to mean?

Then he says, to a caller, that he's not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive changes through the court. If he didn't think it was a good idea, why would he have answered that question that way?

It's like me saying, "Orin, how can we best prevent blacks from voting." If you said anything other than, "What kind of question is that?" then reasonable observers would think you accepted my premise that we should stop blacks from voting. Especially if we then started talking about whether using the courts or legislative branch was the best way to do this.

So I think you're way off here.
10.27.2008 3:16am
cboldt (mail):
OT, at http://www.wbez.org/Content.aspx?audioID=26889, Titled Michelle Obama Asks Women to Support Husband's Campaign and dated July 28, 2008, I didn't know about this proposed policy. I can see where it would be popular. Might be good to go with 21 days, instead of just 7. Unless, of course, the federal mandate is to actually get sick.
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The Obama campaign introduced a list of policies geared towards working mothers. One of those includes a new federal mandate for seven paid sick days a year.
10.27.2008 3:18am
_ (mail):
And the full program here: http://www.wbez.org/audio_library/ram/od/od_010906.ram

From this page: http://www.wbez.org/audio_library/od_rasep01.asp

September 6, 2001
Slavery and the Constitution
Richard John - Associate professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse
Barack Obama - Illinois State Senator from 13th district and a senior lecturer in the law school at the University of Chicago
Jan Lewis - Professor of history at Rutgers University, in Newark, New Jersey. She is the author of the forthcoming book Women, Slaves, and the Creation of a Liberal Republic
10.27.2008 3:19am
cboldt (mail):
Is this a fair rephrasing the purely hypothetical exchange you posited?
Q: "Orin, how can we best prevent blacks from voting."
A: "I'm not optimistic about bringing about that change through the court."
10.27.2008 3:23am
Bill McGonigle (www):
His take appears to be that since the US Constitution only provides for negative rights, that the founders assumed their successors in the Federal government would take on the task of creating positive rights. It's a theory I hadn't heard before, and perplexes me that a constitutional law professor would come to that conclusion after having, presumably, studied the men and times that created that Constitution.

McCain has proclaimed he's 'not a constitutional scholar' and I'd be quite surprised if he was aware of the idea of positive and negative rights, so I think Obama gets 1/4 point for effort.
10.27.2008 3:25am
_ (mail):
He was also on in January 2001, so it might be this one instead: http://www.wbez.org/audio_library/ram/od/od-010118.ram

From here: http://www.wbez.org/audio_library/od_rajan01.asp

The subject matter seems more on-topic:

January 18, 2001 Audio hosted by Gretchen Helfrich

The Court and Civil Rights
Susan Bandes -- Professor of law at DePaul University and the editor of the book, "The Passions of Law"
Dennis Hutchinson -- The William Rainey Harper professor in the college, senior lecturer in the law school and editor of the Supreme Court Review at the University of Chicago
Barack Obama -- Illinois State Senator from 13th district and a senior lecturer in the law school at the University of Chicago
10.27.2008 3:25am
David Warner:
"the 60s reformers were too court-focused"

This sort of meta-analysis is where Obama's strengths seem to lie. Wouldn't it be a good thing, libertarian law-wise, if he were able to convince his putative fellow travelers to be less court-focused?

Dr. King was turning his attention to economic rights at the time of his assassination. Given what we know now, post-Clinton, it's unlikely that Obama's picking up that torch would be in any way as socialistic as King envisioned.

Besides, it seems to me that the choice is between some level of redistribution in the present or redistribution from unrepresented future generations to this profligate one. Which is the less fair?
10.27.2008 3:26am
Mike& (mail):
Is this a fair rephrasing the purely hypothetical exchange you posited?
Q: "Orin, how can we best prevent blacks from voting."
A: "I'm not optimistic about bringing about that change through the court."


Right. I listened to that audio 5 times to ensure I heard what I thought I heard.

Obama's answer assumed the premise of the question. Isn't that strong evidence that he supported the premise? Again, in my hypo, could you imagine anyone (other than someone like David Duke) saying, "What kind of question is that?"

Obama just went with it, and then talked strategy.

Please listen to the audio and tell me if I heard Obama's exchange with that caller incorrectly.
10.27.2008 3:28am
Alex T.:
He says it's a "tragedy" the Court didn't do more in terms of redistribution of wealth.

How does this not suggest (c)??
10.27.2008 3:35am
cboldt (mail):
-- Please listen to the audio and tell me if I heard Obama's exchange with that caller incorrectly. --
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I'm a bit on the "time to sleep" side of a long day, and doubt I'll hear it tonight. But, I was re-reading Orin's post (in light of your comment that you thought he was off base), and Orin's comment seems to be on the subject of the agent of change (the courts), and not at all on the question of whether the change itself (whatever it is, seems indefinite at this point) is "appropriate" or "good."
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I'll have to read Orin again, but I think he didn't express any opinion at all on the underlying "redistributive" action.
10.27.2008 3:37am
cboldt (mail):
I think my interpretation of Orin's stream/order of logic was right.
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Of course, there's the separate point about Obama's interest in "major redistributive change" more generally: It would be interesting to know if Obama endorsed that goal in the interview, and what specifically he had in mind.

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So, whether one picks, (a), (b) or (c), there is that separate point, that Orin wonders about, and that several here see a clear inclination expressed by Obama circa 2001. He took "major redistributive change" as a desirable object. I'm with Orin on wondering WTF "major redistributive change" is, in more concrete terms.
10.27.2008 3:44am
cboldt (mail):
-- His take appears to be that since the US Constitution only provides for negative rights, that the founders assumed their successors in the Federal government would take on the task of creating positive rights. It's a theory I hadn't heard before --
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Me neither. But then, I'm one of those heretics who subscribes to the unorthodox "limited government with enumerated powers" interpretation. Somebody will have to hook me up to some sort of powerful generator to transform my way of taking that.
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Not to say that I can't grok the nature of schemes that would flow from a "positive rights" approach; and "negative rights" seems to be to be just another way of saying "enumerated powers."
10.27.2008 3:54am
WB (mail):
Orin, if you take into account Obama's remarks to Joe the Plumber, can you really pretend at wondering what his normative take is? I think you'er going the extra mile to cover for Obama in this case, and your bias is clear in use of the word "blaring". It shows you don't believe the recording is damaging to Obama. I am sitting here in Sydney with no vote in your election, but I can hear Obama's position. He does like to sound all learned and quiet and respectful but his words reveal a radical point of view. Can't agree with you on this one.
10.27.2008 5:09am
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
Well the youtube video is deceptive - just from the parts they broadcast Senator Obama's 'tragic' referred to the civil rights movement, not the courts. What was tragic was by primarily using the courts the 'movement' didn't do the grass roots kind of organization that could actually have build positive political and commercial power in the disenfranchised.

And then answering a caller's question he confirms that the courts are not the way to go for mandating economic equity. We did legislate redistribution of wealth with all manners of affirmative action programs all without Senator Obama's input.

Senator Obama is saying what most of us probably believe - that the courts are not for correcting problems of economic disenfranchisement or inequity and that if there are to be such things they should be done voluntarily by legislation which is exactly what happened historically.

Another case of 'nothing to see here, move along'.
10.27.2008 5:22am
jes82 (mail):
Full audio available here:

http://www.wbez.org/audio_library/ram/od/od-010118.ram

Begin at 32:39 for the discussion that is excerpted by Drudge. "Karen's question" is at 46:02. It seems Obama's words are in reference to San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez.
10.27.2008 5:33am
jes82 (mail):
Addendum: Beginning at 38:38, Prof. Dennis Hutchinson adds some context to Obama's words. Hutchinson and Obama had been discussing welfare rights, and Hutchinson cites Goldberg v. Kelly and Mathews v. Eldridge and refers to using the due process clause for "redistributive ends socially."
10.27.2008 6:08am
Mike& (mail):
I think you'er going the extra mile to cover for Obama in this case, and your bias is clear in use of the word "blaring".

Nah, no pro-Obama bias. But Orin does make a thinking error. Orin seems to have been thinking: "Obama sounds like a professor. As a law professor, I talk in general about things courts have and have not done without taking a normative position. So that's probably what he was doing - just talking law."

In the context of the interview, though, it seemed pretty clear that it was Legislator Obama discussing strategy rather than Professor Obama talking theory. Heck, Obama even prefaced one comment with, "As a legislator....."

So it seems clear that Obama's normative view, vague thought it is, involves substantial wealth redistribution.

Now we could say, "Well, that's abstract. How will that view shape in terms of concrete policy?" Sure. Totally. But to suggest he's not in favor of pretty broad wealth redistribution would require us to ignore much of the interview.
10.27.2008 6:27am
AlanDownunder (mail):
Why is a minor reversal of measures that caused the upwards redistribution of wealth in the US over the past two decades to be feared?

A general public not resorting so much to debt in order to retain past levels of spending power might have averted much of the economic calamity the US has exported to the world.

A lesser pool of surplus wealth looking for higher investment returns would have been useful too.
10.27.2008 6:37am
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
But to suggest he's not in favor of pretty broad wealth redistribution would require us to ignore much of the interview.

No just to listen to it. He refers to an example of bussing as 'wealth redistribution' - he is talking about the courts mandating anything that 'costs' by the court itself. And throughout the program he talks about how this just doesn't happen often and when it does its is limited, forced and unstable.

The propaganda video in the link misrepresents his use of the word 'tragedy' associated with the 'tragic' focus of the civil rights movement on court action as referring to the lack of court action. Later in the program a caller asks why there was this 'tragic' lack of community organization and Senator Obama replies because community organizing is hard.

Make no mistake this radio roundtable is being misrepresented - of course this isn't shocking but it is that people don't recoil from sources that lie to them in this manner.
10.27.2008 6:53am
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
as referring to the lack of COMMUNITY action.

Its late. ;)
10.27.2008 6:55am
Tom Perkins (mail):
I'm sure it will be claimed this is confirmation bias, but yes, Obama is a socialist.

The questions were perfectly fair. The station is being punished because the answers to the questions, if honestly made, would show Obama is a socialist, and because Biden and Obama can't make a false denial that won't be seen as an evasion.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
10.27.2008 7:30am
lesser ajax:
I wish we knew what was meant by "redistributive change". It seems to me that this phrase could mean "take money from the rich and give it to the poor" or could just as easily mean "creating mechanisms by which the poor may access financial resources, accumulate wealth, and assume positions of economic leadership". The former (if done in an extreme way) is probably something close to socialism, while the latter is not that far from Republican talking points. Given that the right wing editor of the clip has removed the definition, I must assume it was damaging to his position and was therefore the latter.
10.27.2008 7:39am
Tom Perkins (mail):
[Deleted by OK on civility grounds. Tom, I hope you can agree with me without engaging in junior-high level insults. If you cannot achieve this, I will ban you from commenting.]
10.27.2008 7:43am
jes82 (mail):
I wish we knew what was meant by "redistributive change". It seems to me that this phrase could mean "take money from the rich and give it to the poor" or could just as easily mean "creating mechanisms by which the poor may access financial resources, accumulate wealth, and assume positions of economic leadership".

Start at 47:49--Obama and Prof. Bandes mention Medicare and Medicaid.
10.27.2008 7:53am
A Berman (mail):
The question is fascinating and important and naturally leads to another question:

If the New York Times and other major media had done what they were supposed to do six months ago, would we and the American People have an answer to the questions raised by this interview?
10.27.2008 7:54am
Tom Perkins (mail):
[Deleted by OK. Tom, if you have substantive comments to make, please make them: Mere snark and sarcasm isn't welcome.]
10.27.2008 8:21am
Ryan Waxx (mail):

If the New York Times and other major media had done what they were supposed to do six months ago, would we and the American People have an answer to the questions raised by this interview?


Except no one can hold them to any manner of investigating standards, and few even castigate them when it becomes obvious they aren't even attempting to do so.

For example, can you imagine Orin saying:


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.


If the editor was from the MSM, making a point that agrees with his worldview?

[OK Comments: Yes, I can. Of course, the editor was making a point that I agree with: I oppose Obama based on significant part on his view towards the proper role of the courts. I just think it's helpful to make criticisms on actual evidence, not fear.]
10.27.2008 8:31am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
Its worth noting that for all people complain about Fox News, they are also guilty of not doing serious investigating. This is because like many media outlets they are mostly dependent on the AP to do their investigating.

Funny how the organizations that are investigating one candidate but not the other are considered less partisan by certain individuals here.
10.27.2008 8:36am
OrinKerr:
Tom Perkins says: "I'm sure it will be claimed this is confirmation bias, but yes, Obama is a socialist.

Tom, based on past experience, everything you say about the election is entirely predictable: You deeply and strongly oppose everything that is not relentlessly negative about Obama. I think we all get the shtick by now.

Mike,

The difficulty is that when you're on a teacher and a student asks a question, it's often easier and more natural to accept the premise of the question and to answer the question rather than to stop and give your take on the premise of the question instead. The same dynamic applies to a radio call-in program, where you're responding to a question by a caller. In my experience, you can't assume that the speaker agrees with the premise based on the lack of challenging it.
10.27.2008 8:43am
Ryan Waxx (mail):

Tom, based on past experience, everything you say about the election is entirely predictable:


Whereas no one can predict your take. Uh-huh. Ooo-K.
10.27.2008 8:58am
cboldt (mail):
OrinKerr: -- The same dynamic applies to a radio call-in program, where you're responding to a question by a caller. --
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It depends on the role of the person being questioned. As a purely intellectual activity, I agree with your take. No premise is absurd or out of bounds. Many fruitful discussions start with a toxic premise, and as discussion proceeds, the participants come to understand facets of an issue they would not otherwise obtain.
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The role of Obama hes is mixed. He is both a lecturer and a legislator. Now that's what I call handy, seeing as legislators are averse to taking clear positions.
10.27.2008 9:01am
Sarcastro (www):
Ryan Waxx has a point! Orin Kerr is suuuch an Obamabot!

I would also like to join everyone else in disregarding jes82's 5:08am explication of the use of the tern "redistribution" since that doesn't fit in my narrative.
10.27.2008 9:55am
ThomasD (mail):
Why is a minor reversal of measures that caused the upwards redistribution of wealth in the US over the past two decades to be feared?

This is a false premise, upward redistribution of wealth implies that the rich got richer at the expense of the poorer. A fundamentally inaccurate assessment of the situation. They all got richer, the rich merely did so at a greater rate.

And, based upon Obama's chose modus for achieving social justice via redistribution, there would be no limit to the manner or extent of any further such efforts. In the United States it is not the government's function to determine acceptable level of wealth for individual citizens. Once government assumes that role, regardless of the justifications used, it would mean a de facto end to private property rights.
10.27.2008 10:06am
JosephSlater (mail):
I, for one, can't predict Orin's substantive conclusion on many issues. On the other hand, I know his analysis will be thoughtful and his ultimate opinion will be supported by actual facts, even when I personally may not agree with it. Which is the main reason I come here.
10.27.2008 10:06am
SeaDrive:

I wish we knew what was meant by "redistributive change". It seems to me that this phrase could mean "take money from the rich and give it to the poor" or could just as easily mean "creating mechanisms by which the poor may access financial resources, accumulate wealth, and assume positions of economic leadership". The former (if done in an extreme way) is probably something close to socialism, while the latter is not that far from Republican talking points.


If you look at the social mechanisms of the past, say 150 years ago, you find that access to credit was given on a person to person basis. A rich man was expected to give loans and mortgages to his poorer relations and other connections. In many cases, he also provided employment. Rich men who met these obligations were honored, and those who didn't were scorned.

Since many of these functions, such as loans, have been institutionalized, it may be necessary in the interests of a smoothly functioning society to institutionalize others, and we have. Even such well-accepted institutions as public schools and libraries could be looked at in this framework.

One of my problems with the conservative view of a society of free men as independent actors, each providing for himself, is that it has never been true anywhere.
10.27.2008 10:20am
Observer:
Obama said that he is not "optimistic" about the prospect of implementing redistributing change through the court system. Is that not implying that his view is (c)? If you say that you are not "optimistic" about X winning, doesn't that suggest that you support X?
10.27.2008 10:37am
Lily (mail):
The problem with "institutionalizing" such function as lending, is that in doing so, the process becomes divorced from rational action, rational thought. Look at what has recently happened in the mortgage market - brought to us by the 'community organizing' activity in our own gov't via FNMA et al. And I think the current operations of American public schools also support my point. The cause is laudable, but the results are dismal. (or spotty, at best)

The conservative view of a free society is not perfect, but, it remains the best system in a real world. I would also note that, in a real world, people do not tend to act as 'independent actors', but rather form groups and associations that support each other. But, and here is an important distinction, these associations are VOLUNTARY, and can be broken at will when necessary or desirable. When Gov't takes over, these 'associations' are forced and cannot be broken without severe consequences.
10.27.2008 10:45am
Melancton Smith:
Alandownunder wrote:

Why is a minor reversal of measures that caused the upwards redistribution of wealth in the US over the past two decades to be feared?


This is what I don't get. How is reducing the already higher tax rate on the 'rich' to a lower but still higher tax rate considered redistributing wealth upwards?

To me, redistributing wealth upwards would mean taxing the poor and giving that money to the rich...like the Sheriff of Nottingham or something.

Even after the Bush tax cuts, the 'rich' were still paying more into the tax coffers than the poor.

Clue me in.
10.27.2008 11:31am
Sarcastro (www):
Melancton Smith's clear consideration of tax policy made me think.

even under a flat tax, the rich will pay a lot more into the coffers than the poor, on account of their being richer than everyone else. Unfair!

So clearly if we want to climb out of the current pit of Marxist-Socialism America has fallen down into, we really need a truly flat tax, where everyone pays the same amount!

Anythign else is UnAmerican and makes Baby Hamilton cry!
10.27.2008 11:35am
Anderson (mail):
He says it's a "tragedy" the Court didn't do more in terms of redistribution of wealth.

Sorry, no. Andrew Sullivan has the context:

"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 vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples, so that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at a lunch counter and order and as long as I could pay for it I'd be okay."

"But," Obama said, "the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent as radical as I think people tried 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, as least as it's 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 it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn't shifted."

Obama said "one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement, was 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 activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still stuffer from that."


Drudge lied. In other news, dog bites man.
10.27.2008 12:53pm
Anderson (mail):
Bonus: Here's Michael Scherer @ Time, discussing McCain's attempt to use the above quote vs. Obama:

More concretely, McCain is criticizing Obama for wanting to take away the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and replace them with targeted tax cuts to those with lower incomes.

This argument remains problematic for McCain, because back between 2000 and 2004 McCain also had concerns about the distribution of wealth in America. More specifically, he opposed the Bush Tax cuts because a "disproportional amount went to the wealthiest Americans."

NBC's Tom Brokaw asked McCain about this on Sunday, during a Meet The Press sit down. McCain's answer is a bit difficult to parse. He seems to suggest that some progressivity is good in the tax code, but that progressivity should be minimized (or at least not increased) during difficult economic times.


I would think that "difficult economic times" would be precisely when one *would* want to make the tax rates more progressive. But, like McCain, I don't know much about economics.

(And of course, here's another occasion to wonder what the campaign would've looked like if we'd had "between 2000 and 2004" McCain running.)
10.27.2008 12:58pm
cboldt (mail):
-- Drudge lied. --
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Yeah, but it's an easy error to make, given the complexity of expression by Obama.
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Obama seems to be seeing tragedy in that that there wasn't more in the way of redistribution of wealth. Period, full stop. When he further speculates, it is on the subject of tactics of means, not as to the desirability of the end objective. He says that had the proponents of this redistribution of wealth expended their energy on political and community organizing activities on the ground, instead of on obtaining Court orders, the objective (do more in terms of redistribution of wealth) would be more advanced.
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I'll give him credit for putting his money where his mouth is. He's active in obtaining the goal of doing more in terms of redistribution of wealth via political means.
10.27.2008 1:03pm
cboldt (mail):
-- I would think that "difficult economic times" would be precisely when one *would* want to make the tax rates more progressive. --
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You aren't alone in that belief. The trick is to figure out the point at which more tax results in less production. See Mitchell's yacht tax, which was supposed to affect only those who paid the tax. Or didn't, as their choice may be.
10.27.2008 1:09pm
Elliot123 (mail):

"Based on the audio posted, however, I find it hard to identify Obama's normative take."

I suspect any reasonable person listening to the audio would think Obama supported redistribution. Communication is much more than parsing. Maybe parsing works in court, law school, and for contracts, but that's not how most people communicate unless they are trying to deceive, demonstrate how smart they are, or get their guy out of a hole he dug himself.
10.27.2008 1:17pm
Melancton Smith:
I think many, like Sarcastro, are missing my point.

My point isn't that we all should pay the same dollar amount in taxes.

My point is made to highlight the problem with this campaign rhetoric about 'fairness' and 'tax cuts to the wealthy'.

When one such as I am already paying a higher percentage rate on portions of my income, and given that even a flat rate would mean I am paying more in a dollar amount sense, how could one claim I am not paying my 'fair share'?

In the current tax scenario, how has wealth been redistributed upward? It is clearly insanity.

I have never before complained about my taxes. I have never voted my pocketbook. However, this is the first time I have ever felt insulted. I don't mind paying as much as I already do, but don't slap my face as I hand over the money.

P.S. you know that I am speaking figuratively...since my tax payments are taken out before I even see my money, I don't really 'hand' over the money.
10.27.2008 1:18pm
js5 (mail):
cboldt: I don't think this amounts to Drudge lying so much as it is piss-poor professionalism; I think it's more about taking advantage of the uninclined. I definitely think Drudge should link to the two posts on Volokh about this...
10.27.2008 1:19pm
cboldt (mail):
-- I suspect any reasonable person listening to the audio would think Obama supported redistribution. --
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I think that's the only reasonable take, in part because the naturally-taken conclusion (which is often wrong because people are bad listeners) and the parsed conclusion are identical. And, the conclusion is harmonious with Obama's "do more for the poor" worldview.
10.27.2008 1:20pm
Anderson (mail):
Yeah, but it's an easy error to make, given the complexity of expression by Obama.

???

You just can't make Obama's words say what Drudge's headline makes them say. I am not giving him a pass on functional illiteracy.
10.27.2008 1:24pm
cboldt (mail):
-- I don't think this amounts to Drudge lying so much as it is piss-poor professionalism --
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Journalistic professionalism? Hahahahahahahahaha.
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It's a business. He hypes stories to get traffic. My post aimed to debunk Anderson's "Drudge lied" by drawing out the distinctions that appear in the raw source material.
10.27.2008 1:24pm
cboldt (mail):
-- You just can't make Obama's words say what Drudge's headline makes them say --
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I agree. "[Obama] says it's a 'tragedy' the Court didn't do more in terms of redistribution of wealth." is incorrect.
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An accurate rephrasing would be, "[Obama] says it's a 'tragedy' the government, acting through legislative and executive means, didn't do more in terms of redistribution of wealth."
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IOW, Drudge got the "means" wrong, but he got the ends, redistribution, correct.
10.27.2008 1:29pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
That doesn't even sound like Obama at certain points. How do we know that the tape wasn't doctored by Karl Rove using an imitator to make Obama say what he wants?

Funny how this comes out right before the election. A typical Karl Rove trick. I'm not fooled.
10.27.2008 1:38pm
freedom fighter1776 (mail):
what obama is talking about is reparations
10.27.2008 1:42pm
cboldt (mail):
I'm pondering the ramifications of adopting a point of view that the Constitution embodies the notion of individual positive rights, in the nature of entitled, mandatory receipt of direct payments from the government.
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If that's so, then the entire period of US history, until entitlements were implemented, embody the government acting in a way that Obama sees as unconstitutional.
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Anyway, where I'm headed with this is that to take the constitution as mandating positive rights may well qualify for the label "anti-American."
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I have no quarrel with a person advocating a positive rights view, any more than I have a problem with them advocating Marxism, socialism, or a dictatorship. Just do so in the open. But at some point, it becomes legitimate to call the advocacy to cross the line from being in accord with the constitution, to being substantially out of accord with it. I think advocating "positive rights appears in the constitution" is perhaps a reasonable place to draw the line between "pro-American" and "anti-American."
10.27.2008 1:52pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
An accurate rephrasing would be, "[Obama] says it's a 'tragedy' the government, acting through legislative and executive means, didn't do more in terms of redistribution of wealth."

No listen to the entire program - the word 'tragedy' is associated with the civil rights movements focus on courts rather than community organization - we know this is true from the subsequent viewer call that asked specifically as to why this tragedy happened and Obama replies its because community organizing is hard. The word 'tragedy' has nothing directly to do with the courts at all as punctuated by the subsequent viewer question about why this 'tragedy' of lack of community organization occurred.

Its clear from listening to the 53 minute discussion that Obama thinks that a government advocating for 'positive' rights via the courts is radical, not being done to any large extent and unlikely to be so without a 'radical' change by the courts.
10.27.2008 2:19pm
cboldt (mail):
-- No listen to the entire program - the word 'tragedy' is associated with the civil rights movements focus on courts rather than community organization --
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To call the "means" a tragedy is to corrupt the common use of language, and Obama is no dumb-azz at the use of language.
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Obama said "one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement, was 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 activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still stuffer from that."

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Now a pair of my "paraphrases," to simplify the statement:
Obama said "one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement, was because [the why is irrelevant] ... [a failure] to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still stuffer from that."
One of the tragedies of the civil rights movement, was a failure to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still stuffer from that.
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I think he is touting two objectives here. The first being developing the actual coalitions of power, the second being to bring about redistributive change. He may see each of these as a tragedy, but failure to obtain the ultimate objective is the ultimate tragedy.
10.27.2008 2:53pm
Matthew K:

Obama seems to be seeing tragedy in that that there wasn't more in the way of redistribution of wealth. Period, full stop.

In other news, Obama is a DEMOCRAT. What exactly did you expect him to believe? It isn't radical to support 1.) a more progressive income tax or 2.) social programs that have redistributive effects (social security, medicare, medicaid, school lunches, public schooling in general etc etc). The "scare" of this exchange is supposed to be that Obama wants the courts to mandate some radical assault on property rights in the name of equality. Like Orin, David, and Andrew Sullivan (an unlikely trio), I'm not seeing much evidence of that.
10.27.2008 3:23pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
He may see each of these as a tragedy, but failure to obtain the ultimate objective is the ultimate tragedy.

Interesting spin but since our whole taxation-driven government is about the kind of 'redistribution' he is talking about it again then just becomes old news that all but the the most hard core fiscal conservatives support.

Yes if your goals are urban renewal, promoting assets being spent to improve the social support of your demographic yes it is a tragedy to not do the things you need to do to accomplish these goals. Again, his statement is common sense and hardly radical.
10.27.2008 4:07pm
runape (mail):

I think advocating "positive rights appears in the constitution" is perhaps a reasonable place to draw the line between "pro-American" and "anti-American."


Understood in context - that is, the University of Chicago Law School in the 1990s - Obama was most likely drawing on the influential work of Sunstein, Stephen Holmes, and others on the cost of rights thesis. The supposed distinction between "positive" and "negative" rights in the Constitution has been refuted, or at least drawn into considerable doubt. You might read Adrian Vermeule's recent discussion of the work here.

Why this body of work is "anti-American" is unclear to me.
10.27.2008 5:27pm
cboldt (mail):
-- The supposed distinction between "positive" and "negative" rights in the Constitution has been refuted, or at least drawn into considerable doubt. You might read Adrian Vermeule's recent discussion of the work here. Why this body of work is "anti-American" is unclear to me. --
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Adrian Vermeule's recent discussion, inasmuch as it describes "positive rights" uses an entirely different definition from the one that I summarized above. Given that difference, it's no wonder your conclusion (that I would view Adrian Vermeule's recent discussion as anti-American) is wrong.
10.27.2008 7:17pm
cboldt (mail):
-- Interesting spin but since our whole taxation-driven government is about the kind of 'redistribution' he is talking about it again then just becomes old news that all but the the most hard core fiscal conservatives support. --
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You've shifted the argument from the one I rebutted. You first said that "the tragedy was failure to use the courts" with no objective attached to use of the courts. This seems an odd sort of tragedy, because using a tool (or not) is void of substance as to outcome. Apparently you now agree that Obama stated that he saw as tragedy (maybe "also" if you need that to assuage your sensibilities) the failure to put together the actual coalitions of power through which redistributive change is made.
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In order to have any sort of debate about "redistribution" have meaning, it's necessary to have some sort of definition of 'redistribution.' Most of the debate on this thread has been over the definition - i.e., our current progressive tax structure is redistributive, therefor it is good/bad. My comment was completely different, and what I take issue with is the contention that a progressive income tax regime is mandated under a positive rights view of the US constitution. I think that misreads the US constitution.
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But Obama is not satisfied with the status quo of our progressive income tax system - and sees as a tragedy that it is not "more progressive." One of the arguments he fronts to support moving in a "more progressive" direction is that the Constitution embodies positive rights of redistribution, which inhere to individuals of the governments choosing.
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When you hear "un-American" attached to that, you recoil. Is there no point at which a progressive redistribution arrangement (which Obama says is embodied in and enabled by the Constitution) at which the redistribution becomes so stifling of individual spirit, that reasonable people would call it un-American?
10.27.2008 7:31pm
cboldt (mail):
-- You first said that "the tragedy was failure to use the courts" with no objective attached to use of the courts. --
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My screw up there, clarified by reading above. My argument that a focus on means ("means" is either courts or community organization), to the exclusion of objective, remains the same. That is, that "tragedy" attaches to a failure to obtain the ultimate redistributive objective.
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In other words, what I should have typed was: You first said that "the tragedy was failure to use community organization" with no objective attached to use of community organization.
10.27.2008 8:30pm
kevinmcd (mail):
What is the difference between what Obama said and what John MccAin said a couple of years back: it's only fair that the rich pay a higher percentage of income taxes. There is none. Mccain also voted to re-distribute Billions to help corporations and wants to bail out those who can't afford to pay their mortgages. More wealth redistribution. THe only difference is that Mccin's redistribution goes more to the middle and working class and Obama's appear to incllude the poor, meaning more blacks and other minorities. That is what really is at the core of these attacks-simply attempts to portray Obama as a black radical and therefore "so very scarey" just in time for Halloween and before the election.
10.27.2008 10:59pm
AlanDownunder (mail):
Me: Why is a minor reversal of measures that caused the upwards redistribution of wealth in the US over the past two decades to be feared?

Thomas D 10.27.2008 9:06am: This is a false premise, upward redistribution of wealth implies that the rich got richer at the expense of the poorer. A fundamentally inaccurate assessment of the situation. They all got richer, the rich merely did so at a greater rate.

Me again: No Tom. Median and average income have been flat since 2000 while costs of staples have risen. Hence what I wrote: "A general public not resorting so much to debt in order to retain past levels of spending power might have averted much of the economic calamity the US has exported to the world." Better preemptive petty 'socialism' then gargantuan emergency socialism. This not about property right absolutism or ideological absolutism. Just pure ideology free pragmatism.

Melancton Smith 10.27.2008 10:31am: This is what I don't get. How is reducing the already higher tax rate on the 'rich' to a lower but still higher tax rate considered redistributing wealth upwards?

Me: Wealth distribution changed. The effect of that change was disastrous. How you characterise causes of that change in terms of principle, logic or ideology is irrelevant. Demand enough to drive the real economy came to be sustained by debt rather than income, with inevitable results, the only cure being massive socialisation of financial institutions. Preemptive socialism (if that's your hyperbole of choice for a more progressive tax system) would have served everyone in the US and everyone on this planet far better.

Greenspan is now putting space between himself and John Galt. Lesser acolytes could usefully do likewise.
10.28.2008 12:57am
foutsc (mail) (www):
Who cares if Mr. Obama is a redistributionist? More important is his view of the constitution. Why would he want a court to "break free from the constraints of the founding fathers?" He laments the fact that the constitution essentially limits government's powers and is not more prescriptive.

This is scary. Bend it, twist it, reshape it like Play-doh. This is our constitution he's talking about.


And uh, to that extent, as radical as I think people tried 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 it's been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties: [It] 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 the state government must do on your behalf.



-- Nietzsche is Dead
10.28.2008 9:36am
MarkField (mail):
foutsc, breathe. Obama was simply pointing out that the Warren Court was not as radical as the hysterics of the time were claiming, that in fact it stayed within the boundaries set by the Constitution.
10.28.2008 12:36pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Alandownunder, that was exceptionally cogent and correct. Thank you.
10.28.2008 1:03pm
David in NY (mail):
"This is a false premise, upward redistribution of wealth implies that the rich got richer at the expense of the poorer. A fundamentally inaccurate assessment of the situation. They all got richer, the rich merely did so at a greater rate."

True only if you mean ordinary people got maybe 1 or 2% more income each year while the top few percent got maybe 45% greater income. The graph is pretty remarkable. Fundamentally, society (and the Republican party in particular) stopped helping wage-earners, who got screwed.
10.28.2008 1:55pm
David in NY (mail):
And as for the assertion that Obama's view "involves substantial wealth redistribution" the question is whether that's its only aim, or whether that's a byproduct of important social programs. Take the interstate highway system: distributed taxes to the benefit of interstate truckers and auto companies mainly. Take social security: distributes it to your grandparents. Take medicare: ditto. But all make a far, far better society than the alternative. Now on to health care, at long last.
10.28.2008 1:59pm
David Warner:
"True only if you mean ordinary people got maybe 1 or 2% more income each year while the top few percent got maybe 45% greater income. The graph is pretty remarkable. Fundamentally, society (and the Republican party in particular) stopped helping wage-earners, who got screwed."

People or households? The extraordinary surge in illegal immigration would skew your median income numbers in either case, while the breakdown in ordinary families created a lot more households per capita.
10.29.2008 12:03am