McCain Campaign Cites Comments in 2001 on Courts in Attack on Obama

The McCain campaign and Republicans on Monday seized on a seven-year-old interview that Senator Barack Obama gave about the courts and civil rights, contending it provided further evidence of Mr. Obama’s extremist economic positions.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee, pounced on the interview, which Mr. Obama gave on Chicago Public Radio in 2001.
At a rally in Dayton, Ohio, Mr. McCain said the interview showed that Mr. Obama “believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs.” In doing so, Mr. McCain continued to strike a campaign theme that began with an exchange that Mr. Obama had with “Joe the Plumber” on Oct. 12 about taxes.
The interview with Mr. Obama, which made the rounds on conservative Web sites in an edited form on Monday and was posted on YouTube, probed his views on the civil rights-era Supreme Court. At the time, Mr. Obama was a state senator and professor at the University of Chicago Law School. He said the Warren Court, as it was known, “never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth.”
Further into the interview, Mr. Obama seemed to lament that the civil rights movement became intensively battled in the courts and never took the grassroots steps to achieve “redistributive change.”
“One of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement was 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 coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change,” he said. “And in some ways we still suffer from that.”
Mr. Obama did not express regret that the courts did not take steps to spread wealth, as Republicans contended. But neither did he speak dismissively in the interview about the concept, according to the edited tape.
“Any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts,” Mr. Obama added, “I think that as a practical matter that our institutions are just poorly equipped to do it.”
His spokesman Bill Burton emphasized that point in a statement on Monday.
“This is a fake news controversy drummed up by the all-too-common alliance of Fox News, the Drudge Report and John McCain, who apparently decided to close out his campaign with the same false, desperate attacks that have failed for months,” Mr. Burton said. “In this seven-year-old interview, Senator Obama did not say that the courts should get into the business of redistributing wealth at all.”
David E. Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason University who has been critical of Mr. Obama in the past, noted that Mr. Obama’s comments amounted to a criticism of “the strategy pursued by the elite lawyers of the 1960s to constitutionalize welfare rights.” However, he said it was typical of Mr. Obama to be so vague as to leave open to interpretation whether the critique was philosophical or pragmatic.