John McCain

Since When Is McCain Against the Redistribution of Wealth?


The McCain campaign claims that in a 2001 interview with a Chicago public radio station, Barack Obama "expressed his regret that the Supreme Court hadn't been more 'radical' and described as a 'tragedy' the Court's refusal to take up 'the issues of redistribution of wealth.'" Not quite. Here is what Obama, at the time a state legislator and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, actually said (emphasis added):

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…But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.

And to that extent, as radical as 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, at least as it's been interpreted, and the Warren court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. It says what the states can't do to you, it 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, and one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement was that, 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 and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that.

While Obama clearly favors redistribution of wealth and sees it as an issue of "economic justice," he also clearly seeks to accomplish it through the legislative process, not through the courts. Asked by a caller whether the judicial branch is "the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place," he says "you can craft theoretical justifications for it" but emphasizes that he prefers a legislative approach:

I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn't structured that way….You start getting it all sorts of separation-of-powers issues…The court's just not very good at it, and politically it's just very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard.

So there is little basis here for McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin's claim that Obama "wants to appoint judges that legislate from the bench…as insurance in case a unified Democratic government under his control fails to meet his basic goal: taking money away from people who work for it and giving it to people who Barack Obama believes deserve it."

And without the judicial philosophy angle, there's no difference in principle on this issue between Obama and McCain. Both want to take money away from people who work for it and give it to people they believe deserve it. How else would you characterize McCain's plan to rescue reckless lenders and borrowers by using taxpayer money to buy "bad home loan mortgages"? Medicare, Medicaid, progressive income taxation, and Social Security, to name just a few redistributive programs that both candidates support, also entail taking one group's earnings and giving them to another group, and in some cases the beneficiaries are more affluent than the people compelled to subsidize them. McCain's outrage over "redistribution of wealth" is awfully selective.

[via The Freedom Files]