Fact Checker Debunks Attacks on Obama and Redistribution of Wealth

I debunked the claims being made about Obama wanting to redistribute the wealth in a post earlier today. Those who read it earlier might want to check back as I have updated it with links to several other bloggers commenting, as well as responses from one of Obama’s economic advisers. The Fact Checker at The Washington Post has now looked into this and finds the charges being made against Obama are untrue. They conclude by saying, “The McCain camp is wrong to suggest that the Illinois senator advocated an ‘wealth redistribution’ role for the Supreme Court in his 2001 interview.”

Since my earlier round up of comments on this story, Joe Klein has also weighed in:

Well, we’ve seen this sort of thing the entire campaign,occasionally from the Obama camp, relentlessly from McCain. Today’s edition of scrofulous mudslinging–aided and abetted by a banner headline from the Drudge Scourge–involves a wildly inaccurate reading of remarks that Barack Obama made in a 2001 radio interview. It turns out that he wasn’t criticizing the Supreme Court for its failure to “redistribute” wealth. He was saying the exact opposite: that the Supreme Court wasn’t the way to go. He was saying that political power was the only real way to make decisions about the distribution of taxation. Obama’s sentiment is, of course, a wildly radical notion–or, at least it was, before the American Revolution.

To state the obvious, once again: We have had a redistribution of wealth, upward, during the Reagan era. Taxes on work, a.k.a. payroll taxes, have increased. Taxes on wealth, the upper margins of the income tax plus capital gains plus estate taxes, have decreased. To call Obama a socialist because he wants to redress this imbalance is as accurate as calling McCain an oligarch because he doesn’t.

Now that McCain’s been called out on this, you figure he’ll stop using it, right? Yeah, sure. After all, this is mild compared to the trash going out in those robo-calls. You wonder how McCain returns to the land of the living after this campaign is over–after all, his voice and vote, and his pre-campaign moderation, would be valuable on issues like immigration and global warming. There must be some sort of political detox, right?

Obama As Close As Two Points in Arizona

There have been a number of polls recently showing that John McCain is only leading by a small margin in Arizona. They have been widely cited around the blogosphere, but I don’t think many people really have much hope of Obama beating McCain in his home state. The closest I’ve found so far is the Zimmerman poll, showing Obama only trailing by two points in Arizona. Other polls show the race to be close. Rasmussen shows a five point difference today. Project New West shows McCain leading by four.

While I doubt Obama can really carry Arizona, it doesn’t help McCain to be forced to answer questions from the press about whether he’s worried about carrying his home state. With so little time remaining, I doubt Obama would spend any time there as opposed to the battleground states where he has a real chance, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth spending some money on last minute advertising money in Arizona. This might force McCain to devote some of his limited resources to ensuring that he is not embarrassed by losing his home state.

Even if Obama doesn’t choose to advertise in Arizona, I’m glad that he will be on prime time nation wide this week for a thirty minute paid show. This guarantees that even areas where he didn’t think it was worth spending much on ads will see him at the end of the campaign, possibly boosting his numbers in the popular vote and maybe even tipping a state which he doesn’t expect to win.

Obama’s Closing Argument


The conclusion of Barack Obama’s “closing argument” in Canton, Ohio. The full text is under the fold.


More Conservative Hysteria on Economic Discussion

The right wing continues to practice what Mark Halperin and John Harris described as the freak show in The Way to Win. Today they are going wild over a YouTube video dug up by Matt Drudge–which is the first sign it should be questioned. A heavily edited segment from a 2001 interview is distorted to claim Obama supports redistribution of the wealth in a Marxist sense. The full show, which sounds quite different from the segments taken out of context by many right wing bloggers, can be found here.

Obama uses what Ben Smith accurately describes as “professorial talk” about “redistributive change.” The conservative writers who are distorting Obama’s statements in this interview appear ignorant of such language and fail to understand that redistributive change occurs under capitalism and does not necessarily indicate Marxism. Such ideas are really nothing more radical than can be found in the works of Adam Smith. It is a perversion of capitalist ideas in recent years by the extreme right to claim that any form of economic assistance to the poor represents socialism.

Much of the economic aide to the poor which Obama actually talks about in the interview is using tax funds for education for the poor. The far right might object to this, but this is hardly socialism. Obama is bound to support things which the far right oppose, and even things which I disagree with, but such plans come far short of redistribution of the wealth. On irony of this is that in many ways Obama is actually making a fairly conservative argument. A key point he makes throughout the interview is that such economic policies need to be handled at the legislative level as opposed to through judicial action. One would think that conservatives who are frequently attacking judicial activism would back Obama on this point.

Just as they did with his response to Joe the Plumber, conservatives are distorting a statement from Obama to attempt to portray him as a socialist. Besides originating with Drudge, there are other clues that this should not be taken very seriously. With all the interviews Obama has given, and all he has written, it is strange that they have to rely on an obscure interview from 2001, and then heavily edit it to give the impression they desire to give. To understand Obama’s views we must consider the full body of his statements on his economic beliefs as well as his specific proposals at present. The “redistributive change” he actually advocates is a tax cut to the middle class and reversal of the Bush tax cuts for families making over $250,000 per year. This falls far short of Marxism.

By relying on the politics of the freak show the right wing has wound up reducing McCain’s chances to win. If McCain had run as a reasonable moderate he might have had a shot. By making absurd claims about Obama palling around with terrorism and being a socialist the Republicans have lost all credibility among voters who are concerned about seeking solutions to our current problems in place of partisan attacks. This type of attack will go viral and excite the far right, but will further alienate the independent voters who the Republicans have lost.

Update: As the day went on, there has been more comment on this from beyond the right wing blogosophere. Ben Smith has the response from the Obama campaign. Cass Sunstein also posts at The New Republic. More discussion from Greg Sargent, Marc Ambinder Matthew Yglesias, Michael Scherer at Swampland, Justin Gardner, and Andrew Sullivan.

Update II: With all the responses to these charges, I’ve added a second post on the topic containing debunking from The Fact Checker and from Joe Klein.