Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 27, 2008

RADIO DAZE.... In 2001, then-State Sen. Barack Obama participated in a radio discussion on civil rights, the judiciary, and economics. The McCain campaign, Fox News, and Drudge have been apoplectic today, insisting that Obama's on-air comments are shocking and scandalous. I checked it out, expecting something fairly damaging, but found the whole thing rather anti-climactic.

Obama was clearly wearing his professorial hat during the interview, talking about "redistributive change," but to hear the McCain/FNC/Drudge troika tell it, Obama was practically reading from the Communist Manifesto. Not only are Republicans wrong about this manufactured outrage, they actually have the story backwards.

Obama in that interview said, "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 suffer from that."

When a caller inquired about whether the courts are the appropriate mechanism for socio-economic progress, Obama said remedies should come through legislation, not the judiciary.

Now, I've let my subscription lapse on Republican Talking Points Weekly, but shouldn't conservatives agree with Obama had to say? Obama may have used a few big words, but his argument included some basic ideas that Republicans need not find controversial -- the courts have never played a role in improving economic conditions of working Americans, and the left should look to policy makers, not judges, to address economic inequalities. Over-reliance on the courts, Obama said, is a mistake.

And yet, the three-headed McCain/FNC/Drudge monster is just shocked by what Obama had to say, pointing to his remarks as evidence of, well, something nefarious. It's not quite clear what. Doug Holtz-Eakin, for reasons that defy comprehension, is pushing this story in the most intellectually dishonest way possible, destroying what's left of his credibility.

The right seems especially hung up on Obama's use of the word "tragedy," but as Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton noted, "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."

This seemed fairly obvious to me. That McCain/FNC/Drudge are hyperventilating today says more about their desperation than Obama's ideology.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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McCain's camp is reflexively ANTI whatever it is that Obama says.

Obama could give a speech saying everyone should vote for McCain, and within a few minutes Tucker Bounds would be on MSNBC telling people you can't trust Obama because he changes his positions too much.

Posted by: rob! on October 27, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Desperate, yes. Surprising, no. It's their job to manufacture outrage.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on October 27, 2008 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

You don't understand. Obama used the phrase 'redistributive change" which is clearly the same as 'redistribute the wealth' which is the same as socialism.

It doesn't matter that Obama's statement is the opposite of what the McCainites thought they heard. Or that it has nothing to do with Socialism.

They hear what they want to hear. I mean, what kind of name is 'Barack Obama?"

Posted by: Dave In Texas on October 27, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Is it too much to ask that the press should ask McCain and Palin to explain why adjusting the tax code is evidence of "socialism", but the government bailout of the financial system, which McCain supports (at least on alternate days) is not?

Also, wouldn't it be entertaining to have Palin explain what she thinks Socialism means?

"In what regard, Charlie?"

Posted by: short fuse on October 27, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

mcCain is obviously attacking redistribution of wealth vs. the alternative which i imagine is the flat tax. let's hear it for the flat tax, senator. keep the wealth just where it is. protect the beer heiresses of america!

Posted by: benjoya on October 27, 2008 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Dave in Texas is right. They're blaring this from Drudge on down because of the word "redistributive." To the moron base, Obama's use of this word is TOTAL EVIDENCE!1!! that he is gay for Stalin.

These people are building a lovely little brick wall at the mouth of their cave.

Posted by: Trevor J on October 27, 2008 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Its just pure and simple Chicago school, anything that isn't pure Chicago school, is socialism, and sends its adherents into panic mode. A minor tax code adjustment to make it more progressive is always socialism. Greatly to be feared. Once the brain goes into a fear of socialism is coming amygdala hijack, it is impossible for it to connect to the rest of the sentence beyond redistributive change.

Posted by: bigTom on October 27, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Short fuse, Brokaw did ask that question yesterday. He skewered McCain on his mortgage buyout plan. It should be running on repeat all week if the media was fair and square. McCain made an idiot of himself as usual. If the race is tight then his performance yesterday should sink him. I'd like to see those clips on repeat on cable news.

Posted by: grinning cat on October 27, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

bigTom: I guess you could say:

Minor tax code adjustment is to Chicago School economists as seven-day waiting period is to the NRA.

Posted by: chrenson on October 27, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

[...] to hear the McCain/FNC/Drudge troika tell it [...] -- Steve Benen

Well, this particular team of horses had never been properly trained, you see. They're used to pulling small loads, down the country roads, while wearing blinkers for their own protection. So that, once the blinkers are removed and they're let out onto the main highway, they're prone to getting spooked and bolting, helter-skelter, in no particular direction...

Posted by: exlibra on October 27, 2008 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Are there problems with your server? I keep getting dropped from your site with messages stating connectivity problems.
I trust it is nothing to do with you political positions. We need you, now.
st john

Posted by: st john on October 27, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Troika? I think you mean 'threesome.' :)

Posted by: doubtful on October 27, 2008 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

The biggest problem of the McCain campaign is that they still don't realize that except for their diehard deadender base, people are just too tired and worn down by reality to get all whipped up over every piece of fake outrage that comes out of McCain's HQ.

That's why they seem so confused and bewildered. People are just not reacting like they used to, and the McCainanites just can't figure out why.

Posted by: Curmudgeon on October 27, 2008 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Ed Henry (CNN) and David Schuster (MSNBC) are both buying the argument (Schuster more than Henry, believe it or not) that Obama was calling on courts to change their behavior. Idiots!

Posted by: Danp on October 27, 2008 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

I've been reading you for a long time, and I think you're great.


You just gotta stop writing lines like " for reasons that defy comprehension".

After watching Republican politics so closely, and for so long, does it really defy comprehension? Are you really going to continue to measure their statements against everyday notions of rationality?

Your writing would improve immeasurably, and your readers would be better served, if you'd stop throwing up your hands at the incomprehensibility of it all, and, you know, actually comprehend it. Because it is comprehensible.

I mean, sometimes, they're just out and out stupid, and, in fact, incomprehensible, but for the most part, they say what they say because it's part of their plan.

Posted by: on October 27, 2008 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's pretty easy to comprehend Hotz-Eakin's reasons, which are the same ones behind any number of bat-sh*t inane comments this campaign - he sees his job as getting McCain elected, not as presenting any point of view reflecting intellectual honesty. This is just the latest time he's chosen to push a McCain position that makes no sense. (I'm guessing he sees a job in the McCain administration in his future.)

Posted by: biggerbox on October 27, 2008 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

I've decided that Joe Biden and Barack Obama are in fact very smart. Continuing McCunt attacks on William Aryes and added ones on Reverand Wright, while groundless, would have been damaging.

Attacking Obama on his readiness to lead and his 'socialist' ideas, while they churn the muck of the Republican't base, will not win McCunt the election. So I think Joe and Barack has wisely laid traps for the McCunt campaign and the McCunties have walked right into them.

I just have to pray I'm right.

Posted by: Lance on October 27, 2008 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

This isn't even grasping at straws. This is grasping at the illusion of straws.

Posted by: Rapid Eddie on October 27, 2008 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

Gingrich was similarly lamenting the redistribution of wealth theory, trying his best to scare the masses listening to the ever-downer KKKHannity radio program.
Meanwhile, those silly faithful following these wealthy right winger radio talking heads would in fact benefit from Obama's tax plans.
Again, mindless hate and prejudice from the right.
I mean, the wrong.

Posted by: consider wisely always on October 27, 2008 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

But having a cap gains rate lower than for earned income as conservatives like, spreads wealth in effect from wage earners to CG traders. The latter don't even do useful work after the original capitalization.

Posted by: Neil B on October 27, 2008 at 9:46 PM | PERMALINK

They went berserk when Clinton co-opted their ideas and language and they're going there again with Obama. They can't stand seeing their ideas transformed into something meaningful and useful.

Posted by: dennisS on October 27, 2008 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

They went berserk when Clinton co-opted their ideas and language and they're going there again with Obama. They can't stand seeing their ideas transformed into something meaningful and useful.

Posted by: dennisS on October 27, 2008 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

They went berserk when Clinton co-opted their ideas and language and they're going there again with Obama. They can't stand seeing their ideas transformed into something meaningful and useful.

Posted by: dennisS on October 27, 2008 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK
pointing to his remarks as evidence of, well, something nefarious.

Yes, an African-American has a good shot at the White House. IT'S A PLOT!

Posted by: tAwO 4 That 1 on October 27, 2008 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

Well, it wasn't really the Supreme Court that did it, but it's the Supreme Court (though not the Warren Court) that was the tool and gets the blame for what may have facilitated one of the most profound redistributions of wealth ever when this happened.

Posted by: Avedon on October 28, 2008 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK



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