SOURCE: Media Matters (liberal watchdog group) (10-28-08)
Distorting comments by Sen. Barack Obama from a 2001 radio interview, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh falsely characterized Obama as"an anti-constitutional professor" who has"flatly rejected" the U.S. Constitution. Obama made the comments in a panel discussion of how the Founders addressed the issue of slavery in the Constitution; he did not reject it, as Limbaugh falsely claimed, but called it"a remarkable political document."
During his October 27 broadcast, Limbaugh said:"Obama, ladies and gentlemen, calls himself a constitutional professor or a constitutional scholar. In truth, Barack Obama was an anti-constitutional professor. He studied the Constitution, and he flatly rejected it. He doesn't like the Constitution, he thinks it is flawed, and now I understand why he was so reluctant to wear the American flag lapel pin. Why would he?" Limbaugh later added,"I don't see how he can take the oath of office" because"[h]e has rejected the Constitution."
Limbaugh's assertion that Obama"rejected the Constitution" is false, as is clear from a clip from a September 6, 2001, interview on Chicago public radio station WBEZ that Limbaugh aired later in the show. In fact, while saying that the Constitution"reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day," Obama asserted that the Constitution is"a remarkable political document that paved the way for where we are now."
In a preceding portion of the WBEZ program -- titled"Slavery and the Constitution" -- Obama explained that the"fundamental flaw" was that"[t]he Africans at the time were not considered as part of the polity that was of concern to the framers," and that the framers did not"see it as a moral problem involving persons of moral worth." Without airing that part of the WBEZ program, in which Obama explained his position that the Constitution reflected the"fundamental flaw of this country," Limbaugh criticized Obama for saying that the Constitution reflected a"fundamental flaw," while falsely accusing Obama of saying the flaw cannot"be fixed":"How is he going to -- I asked this earlier -- how is he gonna place his hand on the Bible and swear that he, Barack Hussein Obama, will uphold the Constitution that he feels reflects the nation's fundamental flaw. Fundamental. When he talks about a fundamental flaw, he's not talking about a flaw that can be fixed. Fundamental means that this document is, from the get-go, wrong."
But Obama's identification of a fundamental flaw reflected in the Constitution and" continu[ing] to this day" is hardly unique; several influential Republicans, including President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have articulated a similar view:
- At a July 19 event at the Council on Foreign Relations, Rice said:"In our first Constitution, my ancestors were three-fifths of a man. What does that say about American democracy at its outset? I've said it's a great birth defect. And we have had to overcome a birth defect. And, like any birth defect, it continues to have an impact on us. It's why we have such a hard time talking about race, and dealing with race."
- During a July 10, 2003, interview on CNN's Larry King Live, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said:"It took us a while to recognize that we could not live our Constitution truly unless we eliminated slavery, and hundreds of thousands of young men fought a civil war to end slavery and then it took us a long time to get rid of the vestiges of slavery and we're still working on it to this very day."
- In July 8, 2003, remarks made at Goree Island in Senegal, Bush said that the"moral vision" of abolitionists" caused Americans to examine our hearts, to correct our Constitution, and to teach our children the dignity and equality of every person of every race." He added:"The racial bigotry fed by slavery did not end with slavery or with segregation. And many of the issues that still trouble America have roots in the bitter experience of other times."
Additionally, in an August 5, 2006, interview with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb, Chief Justice John Roberts said of the authors of the Constitution:"They never worked out what to do about slavery and just kind of shuttled that aside and decided we're not going to talk about that. And that taint in the Constitution, took a Civil War to remove." Later in the interview, he said that the Constitution's amendment process"did allow some fundamental flaws to be addressed like slavery -- abolished in the Thirteenth Amendment."
Limbaugh also falsely asserted that during a separate 2001 interview Obama did with WBEZ, Obama said that"if he can come up for a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts, he would do it." Obama actually said that while he could likely develop a legal theory for making economic changes through the courts, he did not think it would work"as a practical matter."
Limbaugh aired an audio clip from the January 18, 2001, interview on WBEZ in which Obama asserted,"You know, the court's just not very good at it, and politically, it's just -- it's very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So, I mean, I think that, although, you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally -- you know, I think you can, any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts." Limbaugh then added,"Right, redistribution. This is how he views the Supreme Court. This is -- he will have the power to populate it with people who believe in these very things." But Limbaugh clipped Obama's comments; Obama actually said:"I think you can, any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts -- I think that, as a practical matter, our institutions just are poorly equipped to do it" [emphasis added]. Indeed, earlier in the interview, Obama stated:"You know, maybe I'm showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor, but, you know, I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn't structured that way."