Drudge Tape Exposes Young Obama As Neoliberal

Barack Obama poses in the office of The Harvard Law Review on Monday, Feb. 5, 1990, after being named President of The Harvard Law Review.
What if one of the authors of one of those books is a Marxist? WHAT THEN? Photo: Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Matt Drudge, the respected journalist who is in no way a mere delivery system for Mitt Romney’s message of the day, has a startling scoop splashed across his front page: “I Actually Believe In Redistribution,” which takes readers to a Shock Video of Barack Obama uttering the offending lines in 1998.

I am sure that this revelation, which Romney himself immediately began talking up, is in no way related to Romney’s leaked video problem. The interesting thing about it is that it actually shows Obama in 1998 as a decidedly moderate figure. Listen to his comments:

Obama begins by decrying the successful conservative effort to discredit any government action to help the poor. But he immediately conceded that some elements of the attack on government are right!

Some of it has been deserved. The Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policymaking. And neither necessarily have been the Chicago public schools.”

Obama proceeded to argue that the crucial thing was to design programs that worked well, the sort of comment that would have positioned him with the moderate (or “neoliberal”) wing of center-left thought:

We do have to be innovative in thinking about what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live …

The controversial line at the end of the clip is likewise surrounded by a couple crucial qualifications:

I believe in redistribution, at least a certain level, to make sure that everybody has got a shot.”

Obama asserts that he believes in redistribution, but only to a degree, and that it is necessary in order to provide greater opportunity to participate in the market, which is also one of the least radical justifications for redistribution. (I would argue for redistribution on utilitarian grounds myself, which would place me to the left of 1998 Obama.)

Now, the power of the clip comes from the word redistribution. Politicians shy away from it, even though all of them actually favor it. It sounds scary, even though highly popular programs like progressive taxation, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and many others are explicitly designed to foster redistribution. So what we have here is a figure who was not yet a national politician using a term that national politicians would never use, in order to convey a sentiment well within the mainstream of public opinion. I actually would have guessed the 1998 version of Obama was more liberal.

Drudge Tape Exposes Young Obama As Neoliberal