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The Barack Obama We Hardly Know

Is Barack Obama a socialist? A Marxist? It is hard to believe that question could even be seriously asked of a major party political candidate.

Nevertheless, there have been a few times that voters have gotten a glimpse of Obama in unguarded moments. Glimmers that remind me of the left-wing academic whom I ran into a number of times while we were both at the University of Chicago Law School.

— When Charlie Gibson asked Obama in April why he supported higher capital gains taxes, even if that meant less government revenue and thus less money to give to those Obama wants to help, Obama didn’t challenge Gibson’s claim. Instead he said: “I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.”

— In the middle of October, when speaking to “Joe the Plumber,” Obama justified higher taxes this way:

"It is not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everyone who is behind you, that they have a chance for success too. I think that when you spread the wealth around, it is good for everyone.”

— A bombshell was released this weekend when a copy of an interview by Obama on WBEZ-FM, Chicago Public Radio, from 2001 was found (bold italics added):

"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 ... and one of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was, um, 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 coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that. ... I think that you can craft legal theoretical justifications for it legally, any three of us here could come up with a rational for bringing about economic change through the courts."

Class warfare rhetoric is one thing. But as Obama’s comments to Charlie Gibson indicate, Obama disapproves of the very notion that people should be successful. Why is making the wealthy poorer “fairness,” even when the poor also get less money? The goal is not to help the poor, it's to keep the wealthy from getting too much. It is apparently better that everyone be poorer than it is to have everyone have more money but a greater dispersion of income.

How is simply giving people money a way to make sure that they “have a chance for success too”? Obama might end up giving people who currently aren’t paying taxes even more money than they currently get from the Earned Income Tax Credit. But he will be doing so at a real cost: he is creating a high effective marginal tax rate that will keep them poor and keep them dependent on the government largess.

Obama’s tax credits are phased out as people earn higher incomes — that is, the government takes money away from you as your income goes up. Someone earning an extra dollar at $40,000 will find that income taxes alone will take 40 cents from that dollar.

Obama’s old comments from WBEZ seem impossible to ignore. Put aside that Obama obviously doesn’t believe that affirmative action represents redistributive justice. Saying that the Supreme Court “never ventured” into “redistribution of wealth” rules that out.

Obama’s constant theme is of transferring wealth, to “spread it around.”

There is so much else beyond his statements. Obama surrounded himself with people who were socialists and communists. Obama’s minister of 20 years, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright with his black liberation theology, a religion described as turning “Jesus into a black Marxist rebel.” Father Michael Pfleger, another Obama spiritual adviser, is also quite leftist. And his associate William Ayers apparently told an author, who was writing a book on 1960s radicals shortly before the foundation was set up in 1995, that “I’m a radical, leftist, small ‘c’ communist.”

In April Obama was caught on tape telling San Francisco donors, in a meeting that was closed to the press, that “it’s not surprising then they get bitter, [small town Pennsylvanians] cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” It was a very elitist left-wing statement. But the despising of people turning to religion is certainly something held in common by those on the far left.

During the presidential campaign Obama’s past positions have generally been ignored. Why wasn’t there one single question during the debates as to why Obama has so radically changed his positions on so many issues within just a few months?

Who is Obama going to put on the Supreme Court? With Democrats controlling a filibuster-proof Senate, will we be seeing the most extreme left-wing academics in law schools fill up the courts?


John Lott is the author of Freedomnomics and a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland.

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