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Obama and redistribution

What does “spreading the wealth” mean?

There’s little that’s new about Barack Obama, said Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times. He may be shying away from “old liberal ideas,” but “only to embrace older ones”—like Woodrow Wilson’s pledge to “spread the prosperity around.” Team Obama rolls its eyes at “socialism” charges, but in a “just-unearthed 2001 interview” with Chicago public radio, Obama laments “that ‘the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth.’”

That’s a “wildly inaccurate reading” of Obama’s remarks, said Joe Klein in Time online. In fact, he’s saying the opposite: We should decide tax distribution issues through politics, not the the courts. We’ve had a “redistribution of wealth, upward,” in “the Reagan era”—calling Obama a socialist because he wants to “redress this imbalance is as accurate as calling McCain an oligarch because he doesn’t.”

Still, it’s clear from the interview that “he supports ‘redistributive change,’” said David Bernstein in The Volokh Conspiracy. That may not be particularly surprising, and it isn’t socialist, but it’s not a political winner, either. Polls show that voters think “it’s emphatically not the government’s job to redistribute wealth.”

Then voters should think twice about Sarah Palin, too, said Steve Benen in Washington Monthly. Just last month she said Alaskans “share the wealth” from oil companies—they don’t pay income or sales taxes, and they’re each getting a $3,200 check this year. Obama’s the socialist? “Palin’s Alaska is about as close to socialism as America gets.”

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