OK, so a lot of commentators are calling this a pretty big deal, but I'm not sure that I'm impressed.
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 invest formal rights in previously dispossessed people, so that now I would have the right to vote. I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order as long as I could pay for it I’d be o.k. But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society.
To that extent, as radical as I think 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 its 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 doesn’t say what the Federal government or State government must do on your behalf, and that hasn’t shifted and one of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was, um, because the civil rights movement became so court focused I think 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 coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that. …
I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way.
There's nothing here that we didn't know about Obama already if we have been paying the least amount of attention.
Here's the problem- if you haven't been paying enough attention (or have been willfully ignorant of the signs up to now), you're not going to be swayed by anything here. This is a typical "early Obama" answer (by early, I mean before about September of this year- with Obama, there's not a whole lot of late). It meanders about and doesn't really say anything at all specific.
There are two things here that ought to scare the pants off of those of us who fear socialism:
1) Obama strongly implies that he thinks that the Supreme Court's role should, or at least acceptably could, include wealth redistribution (as well as "economic justice," whatever that means). This almost certainly means that the justices that he would appoint, if given full reign by a supportive Congress and still moonstruck press, will make Justices Bryer and Ginsberg look like Pat freakin' Robertson. And those justices will be around for decades. But the problem is, he doesn't ever come right out and say that that is what he supports. There's no sound bite that says this that can be used and echoed.
Look, I don't want us to be in a world where you have to have a sound bite, but we are where we are. Particularly for someone who is still impressionable at this point in the game. You have to have something that can be packaged and grabbed onto, and that's just not here.
2) He imples that the Supreme Court should be, or at least acceptably could be, "set up" in a way that would bring "major redistributive change." He doesn't say for sure what that would be, but the surrounding statements strongly imply that a) that change would involve "break[ing] free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution," and b) that going beyond the constitution would be a good thing (as he stated then that he was "not optimistic" that this would happen- surely he was not envisioning personally appointing justices at the time).
Now, if you already understand that Obama is a socialist, then you didn't have to go through that logical process to get there from here. But, if you already understand Obama is a socialist, you aren't who we need to be talking to right now. The only reason that things like "Joe the Plumber" and "McCain has 7 houses" work is because they are easy to grasp and easy to repeat. This isn't. So it won't help.
Look, the fact of the matter, and I think that this current election shows it, is that most people just don't fear socialism in the form that Obama presents it. We have next to no economic education, and there is little to no understanding that redistribution has to come from somewhere. I have spoken to a number of people that I would have called well educated and informed and am shocked to find out how little they know about the Constitution- even fellow law students want judges that will do what is "right" or "fair" (of course, always in the their estimation), rather than what the Constitution says (and almost as many of them are on my side of the political spectrum as not, I'm sorry to report).
I wish it were different. I'll try to raise my kids to think differently, and I'll try to spread the word through this blog and my general discussions, but the fact of the matter is, most people just won't get it.
Update: Jennifer Rubin and Glenn Reynolds also think that this is no surprise from Obama