In column ABC's The Note called a "Must Read," Wash. Times' Pruden joins conservative chorus in misrepresenting comments Obama made in 2001

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

The Washington Times' Wesley Pruden made several false claims about remarks Sen. Barack Obama made in a 2001 interview on a Chicago public radio station. ABCNews.com's The Note listed Pruden's column among the day's "Must Reads."

In his October 28 Washington Times column, Times editor emeritus Wesley Pruden joined Matt Drudge, Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh in misrepresenting remarks Sen. Barack Obama made in a 2001 interview on a Chicago public radio station, making several false statements.

In spite of the falsehoods, ABCNews.com's The Note included Pruden's column among its "Must Reads" for the day.

Pruden wrote:

The tape recording of an interview that Barack Obama gave to Radio Station WBEZ in Chicago in 2001 surfaced, and in that interview Mr. Obama, then a law professor and a state senator, lays out how he would redistribute the wealth.

[...]

Mr. Obama doesn't think much of the Constitution, or even of the Supreme Court justices who have rewritten it over the years to accommodate notions of "social justice." The Warren Court, which wrote finis to public-school segregation with its unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, has been decried since as radical, but it wasn't radical enough.

But Obama did not say that the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren "wasn't radical enough" during the 2001 interview with public radio station WBEZ. Rather, he stated: "[T]he Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And, to that extent, as radical as I think people try 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." Obama went on to say that it is not the function of the courts to initiate broad social change.

Pruden then purported to quote from portions of Obama's 2001 interview:

One of the "tragedies of the civil-rights movement," Mr. Obama says, is that the Supreme Court did not address redistribution of wealth, probably because of the inherent difficulty of achieving such goals through the courts. The Supreme Court did not break from the restraints of the Constitution and "we still suffer from that."

Pruden advances two distinct falsehoods here. First, Obama did not say that it is a "traged[y]" that "the Supreme Court did not address redistribution of wealth." Rather, as Media Matters for America has noted, the "traged[y]" Obama identified during the interview was that "the civil rights movements became so court-focused" in trying to bring about political and economic justice. Second, when Obama said "we still suffer from that," he was still referring to his belief that the civil rights movement "became so court focused," which he said resulted in "a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing."

Below are the portions of Obama's 2001 WBEZ interview that Pruden misrepresented:

But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.

And, to that extent, as radical as I think people try 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 -- 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 movements became so court-focused, 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.

Later in the column, Pruden baselessly alleged that Obama "clearly thinks the constitution was a 'tragedy,' that the men who wrote it were not the revolutionary heroes plain Americans regard them to be, and their work must be corrected by the surviving radicals of the '60s and their progeny." Again, the "tragedy" Obama identified was not related to the Constitution or its framers, but rather that "the civil rights movements became so court-focused."

From Pruden's October 28 column:

Mr. Obama doesn't think much of the Constitution, or even of the Supreme Court justices who have rewritten it over the years to accommodate notions of "social justice." The Warren Court, which wrote finis to public-school segregation with its unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, has been decried since as radical, but it wasn't radical enough. Earl Warren only pretended to be a soldier of the revolution.

One of the "tragedies of the civil-rights movement," Mr. Obama says, is that the Supreme Court did not address redistribution of wealth, probably because of the inherent difficulty of achieving such goals through the courts. The Supreme Court did not break from the restraints of the Constitution and "we still suffer from that." Mr. Obama is not "optimistic" that the Supreme Court can achieve redistribution of wealth - of taking from the workers to give to the deadbeats - but he obviously thinks he knows how to do it. A president with a compliant Congress, which he expects to be in January, can do it through legislation and "administration."

[...]

There's nothing ambiguous about Mr. Obama's radical views, as revealed in this interview. He clearly thinks the Constitution was a "tragedy," that the men who wrote it were not the revolutionary heroes plain Americans regard them to be, and their work must be corrected by the surviving radicals of the '60s and their progeny. Anyone who listens to this interview, available on YouTube.com, understands why Michelle Obama was never proud of her country until she thought the opportunity was at hand to destroy the country to save it, and why Barack Obama could spend 20 years comfortably listening to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright exhort God to damn America.

From the January 18, 2001, broadcast of the WBEZ's Odyssey program, "The Court and Civil Rights":

OBAMA: Right, and it essentially has never happened. I mean, I think that, 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 the lunch counter and order in, as long as I could pay for it, I'd be OK. But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.

And, to that extent, as radical as I think people try 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 -- 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 movements became so court-focused, 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.

[...]

GRETCHEN HELFRICH (host): Let's talk with Karen. Good morning, Karen, you're on Chicago Public Radio.

CALLER: Hi. The gentleman made the point that the Warren Court wasn't terribly radical. My question is with economic changes. My question: Is it too late for that kind of reparative work, economically, and is that the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place?

HELFRICH: You mean the court?

CALLER: The courts, or would it be legislation, at this point?

OBAMA: You know, maybe I'm showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor, but, you know, I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn't structured that way.

You know, you just said -- look at very rare examples wherein, during the desegregation era, the court was willing to, for example, order, you know, changes that cost money to a local school district. And the court was very uncomfortable with it. It was hard to manage, it was hard to figure out. You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues, you know, in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time.

You know, the court's just not very good at it, and politically, it's just -- it's very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So, I mean, I think that, although, you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally -- you know, I think you can, any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts -- I think that, as a practical matter, our institutions just are poorly equipped to do it.

SUSAN BANDES (DePaul University law professor): I don't necessarily disagree with that, but I think it also depends on -- much of the time what we see the court doing is ratifying the status quo, and, in fact, the court makes redistributive decisions or distributive decisions all the time --

OBAMA: Right.

BANDES: -- and it --

OBAMA: But, but, but --

BANDES: Let me give you an example, which is that the court considers whether it's OK to take a program, a federal Medicare program that provides -- you know, that recompenses people by insurance for every medical procedure they can have except abortion. And it upholds that --

OBAMA: Right.

BANDES: -- and says we can except abortion from that. Well, that's a decision about what kinds of subsidies we're willing to uphold and what we're not.

OBAMA: Although, typically, I mean, the court can certainly be more or less generous in interpreting actions and initiatives that are taken by the legislature, but in the example of, for example, funding of abortions or Medicare and Medicaid, the court's not initiating those funding streams. I mean, essentially what the court is saying is, at some point, OK, this is a legitimate prohibition or this is not. And I think those are very important battles that have to be fought, and they do have a distributive aspect to them.

Posted In
Government, The Judiciary
Network/Outlet
The Washington Times, ABCNews.com
Person
Wesley Pruden
Show/Publication
The Note
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