Even though I’m mostly staying out of politics I wanted to do a follow up on Pang’s comment to the “Obama Redistribution” audio. Pang’s comment first:
“I actually heard the piece before on NPR. They replayed it a few months back. In my personal opinion, I think this whole “redistribution” of wealth has been blown a bit out of proportion. I won’t get into it here because it’d take too long. I don’t think that’s what he meant. He doesn’t really have the power to stripe the wealthy from their money, so I think “redistribution” is too strong of a word to be used by him or anyone. But that’s just my impression.”
Generally, I think that the “redistribution” comment both has and has not been blown out of proportion. Why it has: Its simply a long-held Republican charge against Democrats which Obama opened up by making a very public gaffe.
But more importantly why it hasn’t. I say more importantly not because I have a firm opinion one way or the other but because I think that generally we as a society do not quite grasp current tax policy. My numbers might be a bit off, but I think that right now something like 20% of Americans pay no federal income tax. Under either candidate that is expected to grow to about 40% of all tax-filers.
But what was Obama really saying? I think he was saying that (1) to the extent that you want economic redistribution, the Judiciary is not the proper vehicle for accomplishing it, (2) the Warren Court really wasn’t as radical as some people charge because it didn’t get into economic redistribution and (3) “one of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was, um, because the civil rights movement became so court focused I think 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 coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that…”
So, yes, in fact, he was talking about what would be the right way to go about instituting economic redistribution, but he doesn’t say what he actually thinks about economic redistribution. In other words he thinks that to the extent that we want economically redistributive policies the best way to do that is through the legislature and not the courts.
But to what extent is Obama in favor of economic redistribution? That’s simply another question that no one is going to make him answer before you put him in the White House.
If you want more, I would suggest reading this analysis by a mostly centrist law professor (She voted Gore, Bush, and now Obama), defending Obama.
One other thing: Read the above Obama quote again: “one of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was, um, because the civil rights movement became so court focused I think 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 coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that…”
The central premise of that statement, I think, fingers the fundamental scar from the 1950’s/60’s/70’s which still profoundly and negatively influences culture war politics between left and right today: that so much societal change was implemented through the courts and not legislatively.
We’re familiar with criticism from the right about this judicial “activism.” What’s interesting is that Obama is pointing out how he thinks that reliance upon the judiciary in the past negatively affects the Lefts ability to implement legislative change today.