Radio daze

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.