The McCain campaign has seized on a 2001 interview The Drudge Report picked up of then-State Sen. Barack Obama talking with Chicago Public Radio about the judicial legacy of the Civil Rights movement. From McCain's prepared remarks in Dayton, OH:
In a radio interview revealed today, he said that one of the quote -- "tragedies" of the civil rights movement is that it didn't bring about a redistribution of wealth in our society. He said, and I quote, "One of 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 and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change."
That is what change means for Barack the Redistributor: It means taking your money and giving it to someone else. He believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs. He is more interested in controlling wealth than in creating it, in redistributing money instead of spreading opportunity. I am going to create wealth for all Americans, by creating opportunity for all Americans.
Here's a (rather hastily-compiled, it seems) transcript of that interview, and here's the full audio, so you can judge for yourself.
My understanding of Obama's comments is that he thinks the "tragedy" is that the Movement grew to rely on court decisions for progress rather than grassroots efforts to bring about legislative change. Obama goes on to say that the court's ability to enact change is limited by the Constitution -- a position that conservatives who rail against "activist judges" would tend to agree with.
But forget about what is or isn't a tragedy, or this academic conversation about separation of powers. All that matters is that Obama used the word "redistributive". The context of the conversation appears to be social safety net programs -- Medicare, Medicaid, etc. -- and the ability of lower-income kids to get equal public education. In other words: redistribution through using tax dollars to fund safety-net programs and improve public schools in low-income areas. Obama does not seem to be talking in this interview about some kind of Robin Hood scheme (although, would that make John McCain Prince John? Is Doug Holtz-Eakin Sir Hiss in this scenario? Should I really admit that when I think of Robin Hood it's not Errol Flynn I picture, but a cartoon fox?)
Anyway, here's Obama spokesman Bill Burton's response:
In this seven year old interview, Senator Obama did not say that the courts should get into the business of redistributing wealth at all. Americans know that the real choice in this election is between four more years of Bush-McCain policies that redistribute billions to billionaires and big corporations and Barack Obama's plan to help the middle class by giving tax relief to 95% of workers and companies that create new jobs here in America.