As I blogged yesterday, I think that the 2001 interview with Barack Obama is unclear as to whether he believes that the constitution should be interpreted to confer rights to certain redistributive policies. That is one plausible reading. But it also may be that he is saying that the courts are a poor forum for pursuing such policies. The only thing that is clear is that he is sympathetic to what a caller calls "reparative economic work" and that, whether rightly or wrongly, its not going to come from the courts.
This has resulted in two lines of attack on Obama. One is that he favors the type of judicial activism that constitutionally mandated redistributive policies would constitute and that he would appoint judges who would want to bring that about. I agree that the interview, standing alone, does not prove or disprove those charges. I would note, however, that some of Obama's key legal advisors and defenders, including Cass Sunnstein, a prominent legal academic often mentioned as a potential Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, seems to favor precisely that.
The second line of attack is that, whether or not, he wants to do it through the courts, Obama favors substantial additional redistribution. As blogged yesterday, part of the response to this is too cute by half. We know that the government already redistributes money and that neither John McCain or Sarah Palin has argued that it never should do so.
But will Obama favor a substantial increase in redistributive policies? Professor Sunstein and Emily Bazelon say that there is no evidence for this.
But there is.
Obama has proposed tax credits (he calls them cuts) and spending increases that may cost at least 4.3 trillion dollars over the course of his administration. In addition to what he has proposed, his rhetoric - calling for the government to (as if for the first time) heal the sick, provide jobs and stem the rising of the sees suggests even more.
What do we know about Obama's past? We know that he had a very liberal - and very partisan - voting record in both the Illinois and United States Senates. We know that he was a "community organizer" working for things that can fairly be called "reparative economic work." We know that he is steeped - this is where Ayers, Wright, Pleger and ACORN come in - in the leftist politics of Hyde Park and the south side of Chicago. We know that, if he wins, he is likely to have large Democratic majorities who believe it is their time.
Is it possible that Obama will recognize that there is only so much "reparative" work that can and ought to be done. Possibly. But we know that he has no compunctions against shifting his positions and that his history suggests that he is to the left of every Democratic nominee since McGovern.
I hardly think this is a phony issue.