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.