Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama on Redistribution

"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. 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..."
-State Senator Barack Obama, 2001 on Illinois Public Radio

The audio of the interview is available on YouTube. So, the Constitution isn't socialist enough for the true redistribution that should have happened during the civil rights movement? The Constitution is lacking because it isn't socialistic enough? I really don't know what else to say...

1 comment:

The Only Sensible Man Alive said...

It looks to me like what he's saying is that the Constitution's guarantees are an enumeration of things that the state is not allowed to do to you, and so that people who focused on the courts and the Constitution for redistributive relief were looking in the wrong place: that sort of thing has to come from legislation, where the government looks at the list of things it can do and says "This is what we need to do for our citizens to improve their lives, and it falls within our authority" and does it.

With movements, social pressures need to be applied to the legislators so that they get things done. You can't rely on the courts for every form of relief for your movement, because all the courts are authorized to do is interpret the specific application of statutes, and to ensure that they're consistent with the Constitution.

The Civil Rights movements have largely been concerned with getting the courts to deal with this or that which is unconstitutional, but the idea of a movement regarding civil rights has come to revolve around that, revolve around the courts, and if your ideology says that some essential element of social justice comes from a redistributive element, that's not something the Constitution provides you with, so you're barking up the wrong tree trying to use courts and the Constitution to get there.

That's the impression I got from listening to him, and I have to agree with him as a matter of process, if not a matter of ideology: If you are trying to redistribute wealth, then trying to sue for wealth redistribution based on the enumerations of the Constitution is not a viable strategy for that--that's not how the system is set up.