Politics

‘We The Government’?

Before Barack Obama was a presidential candidate, his every word parsed for public consumption, he was a relatively anonymous state senator and presumably had the kind of intellectual freedom afforded most scholars, activists, academics and low-level politicians, to talk about actual ideology and not just platform issues.

And in a particularly professorial conversation on civil rights and the Constitution, preserved for posterity by Chicago Public Radio, Obama is heard lamenting, "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."

After dismissing his suggestion to Joe the Plumber that we spread Joe’s wealth around as innocent, these comments, spoken nearly eight years ago, reveal Obama to be far more comfortable with wealth redistribution than even he lets on. "I don’t mind paying a little bit more," he said in the last presidential debate. But more importantly, he clearly thinks it should be the role of the Supreme Court to make sure he pays a little bit more. And you too, if you happen to have been too successful one year.

The Constitution, according to Obama in this 2001 radio broadcast, "[s]ays 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."

Rush Limbaugh is arguing now that from these comments it’s clear Obama "doesn’t believe in the US Constitution." He most certainly believes in it — he just thinks the government has failed to use it to its overweening advantage.

This provides some incredibly revealing insight into Obama’s interpretation of the role of government. For him, it is ideally up to the courts to assure social and economic justice is meted out, not lawmakers. We call this legislating from the bench, of course, and most agree this is an abuse of power that directly contradicts the tenets set forth in the Constitution.

But here’s the main point: the Constitution doesn’t exist to empower government, but to empower people. It begins, "We the people," not "We the government." He’s absolutely right that it limits what government can do, and necessarily so — at the time it was authored the United States was emerging from under the thumb of a ruling monarchy. Obama’s apparent willingness to use the Constitution as a means of giving government more power isn’t necessarily surprising, unless you’ve been in hiding the past year, but it is very frightening.

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