In today’s Los Angeles Times, David G. Savage, the Times’ Washington correspondent, regales us with a lengthy piece on Two Visions of the Supreme Court (May 19, 2008, p. A8), as presented to the electorate by presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.
As befits an old Navy man, McCain minces no words — he has made it crystal-clear that he despises the Supreme Court’s handiwork in the Kelo case. You may agree or disagree with him, but you can tell where he stands. He is opposed to the abuse of the eminent domain power in ways that transmogrify the constitutional term “public use” into a tool of private enrichment of today’s robber barons. But where does Obama stand?
That turns out to be a good question because, after a Lexis search we have not been able to find any forthright disclosure of his position on that subject, and the clues he has left in his public expressions, at best amount to talking out of both sides of his mouth.
On the one hand, Obama professes to empathize with the poor, the downtrodden and the powerless. Savage quotes him as saying that he is “most concerned about a conservative [supreme] court that tilted to the side of ‘the powerful against the powerless,’ and to corporations and the government against individuals. ‘What is truly elitist is to appoint judges who will protect the powerful and leave ordinary Americans to fend for themselves,’ he said in response to McCain.”
Golly. This sure sounds like Obama should be harshly critical of the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision where a 5 to 4 majority took the side of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, a large corporation, and of “the government,” namely, the City of New London that — in a prime example of what the Wall Street Journal has likened to “kleptocratic” practices — has kicked out lower middle class folks out of their modest homes, razed them to the ground, and leased their cleared sites for 99-years for a dollar a year, to a Boston redeveloper who, when last heard from, was scrounging for federal funds with which to build top of the market condos, for its private economic benefit. That sure sounds like the kind of outrage that should get Obama’s pulse racing — if he is to be believed.
But guess what? Instead of criticizing the Justices who are guilty of perpetrating this outrage, it turns out that Obama likes them, and holds them out as exemplary. He says he is particularly fond of the views of Justice Stephen Breyer who not only joined the Kelo majority, but has also been providing lame excuses for the court’s handiwork, in the face of an outraged public. According to Savage, Obama has “praised current Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David H. Souter, [saying] ‘I want people on the bench who have enough empathy, enough feeling, for what ordinary people are going through.” So how come Obama voices no sympathy for Suzette Kelo and her displaced neighbors, and favors the judicial Troika that is at the forefront of giving the back of its hand to “ordinary people” being kicked out of their modest homes in order to fatten the purse of big, bad corporations out to make a buck on the backs of ordinary folks?
Remember that use of eminent domain in recent times has often been an engine of enrichment of the real biggies. Who have been the beneficiaries of the most high-profile eminent domain cases? We’re glad you asked. How about General Motors, Daimler-Chrysler, Nissan, the New York Stock Exchange, The New York Times, the Bank of America, and Otis Elevators, as well as retailing giants like Costco, Target and Best Buy, to name a few, to say nothing of countless major shopping center developers, large car dealers, race track operators, and even gambling casino operators. All these worthies (and others) have been the beneficiaries of municipal sweetheart deals whereby cities seize properties of lesser folk and turn them over at huge discounts (known in the redevelopment business as “land write-downs”) or even gratis to these corporate giants for their avowed financial gain.
So how come we don’t hear from Senator Obama about this ongoing scandal where not only private but also public resources are being squandered for the benefit of outfits that, whatever else you may say about them, do not deserve or need any public subsidies? If Obama is so worried about “ordinary people” being driven from their homes for the benefit of corporate giants — as he claims to be in the context of the mass foreclosures of homes, that are sweeping the country — shouldn’t we hear something from him on that score in the context of eminent domain abuse? We should indeed, but our advice is that you not hold your breath waiting for such a statement.
What is actually at work here has nothing to do with fairness to “ordinary people” or anyone else for that matter — it’s pure ideology. We deal here with people who have become so alienated from the benign society that has nurtured them and conferred upon them a degree of freedom and prosperity unprecedented in the history of the world, that they are unable to appreciate the bounty that is theirs, and strike out reflexively at anything and everything that even smacks of traditional American values, including — as it now turns out — individual home ownership that is supposed to be a highly favored government policy. It is they, not the displaced condemnees, who deserve the back of the hand of enlightened Americans mindful of the freedom that is theirs.
And as for Senator Obama, it’s now up to him to demonstrate which side he is really on: “ordinary people” to whose welfare he pays lip service, or the latter day corporate robber barons.