The Corner

Obama 1998: Redistribution and Regionalism

Drudge has linked to an audio someone dug up from what is reportedly an October 19, 1998, conference at Loyola University where Obama spoke. In the audio, Obama says, “I actually believe in redistribution.” It’s certainly interesting, although not surprising, to hear Obama explicitly defend the notion of government as an instrument of redistribution. As Katrina points out, his position now is more or less the same as in the video, although nowadays he’s careful to leave out the word “redistribution.” What particularly interests me, however, are the comments immediately prior to the statement about redistribution.

Here is my quick transcription: “The trick . . . and this is one of the few areas where I think there are technical issues that have to be dealt with, as opposed to just political issues. I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”

I would like to know more about this conference, and more about Obama’s entire talk, assuming that this really is Obama speaking. Having said that, my first take is that Obama is almost certainly referring here to the “regional-equity movement” he supported throughout his time in Chicago and continues to support from the White House today. I lay it all out in Spreading the Wealth.

The whole idea of the regional-equity movement is to restructure government systems so as to pool resources, in the service of redistribution. What Obama is describing here certainly sounds like exactly what the regionalist community organizers he was funding and working with were trying to accomplish. There are different regionalist strategies for restructuring government systems so as to pool resources and redistribute. This is the sort of “technical” issue regionalists like to argue about.

So while it’s interesting and important to hear Obama explicitly endorsing redistribution, it is equally interesting to see him apparently pointing toward regionalist strategies for doing so. I argue in Spreading the Wealth that regionalism has been the sleeper story of Obama’s first term, and will move to the forefront if he gets a second term. At least on first hearing, this audio clip from the past has everything to do with Obama’s present and future.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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