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Obama at Portsmouth: ‘Civil Rights’ for the Sick

Obama spoke of "civil rights" and "discrimination," but his definitions of the terms were something else entirely.

by
John Rosenberg

Bio

August 13, 2009 - 12:16 am
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A Wall Street Journal editorial has just pointed out that insurance rates in the five states that prohibit what President Obama calls “discrimination” against people with preexisting conditions is considerably higher than in all the states that don’t, and that “ObamaCare would impose New York-type rates nationwide.” Forcing higher rates on private insurers while simultaneously offering a subsidized “public option” that could offer lower rates would eventually fulfill Obama’s dream of doing away with private health insurance and having a single-payer system.

In short, President Obama’s health care vision — prohibiting private insurer “discrimination” — is of a piece with his civil rights vision of eradicating all “structural inequalities.” And both are manifestations of his overarching goal of replacing “boom and bust” capitalism, “built on sand,” with a system that would promote a massive redistribution of wealth.

Indeed, in a candid interview on WBEZ, a public radio station in Chicago, on January 18, 2001, then state senator and Chicago law professor Obama was critical of the civil rights movement for relying too heavily on the courts because the Constitution, “at least as it’s been interpreted” by the Supreme Court, “never entered into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.” The audio of that interview can be found here and here (the video has been removed from YouTube), and the following relevant passage was quoted here:

You know, 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 vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples. So that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at a lunch counter and order and as long as I could pay for it, I’d be okay, but the Supreme Court never entered into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.

And uh, to that extent, as radical as I think people tried 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 it’s been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties: [It] says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.

And that hasn’t shifted, and one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil-rights movement was because the civil-rights movement became so court-focused, uh, 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. And in some ways we still suffer from that.

Now President Obama is attempting to correct “the tragedies of the civil rights movement,” to expand dramatically “what the federal government or the state government must do” for their citizen subjects through “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.”

And who knows. Another Supreme Court appointment or two and the Court itself may lose its hang-up on “formal rights” and join the Obama revolution by forthrightly entering “into the issues of redistribution of wealth.”

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John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.
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