Full audio of 1998 ‘redistribution’ speech: Obama saw welfare recipients as ‘majority coalition’

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The Daily Caller has obtained a complete audio recording of the October 19, 1998 Loyola College forum on community organizing and policymaking during which a future President Barack Obama said he favored the government redistribution of wealth. The audio demonstrates the context of that remark and reveals other far-left positions that Obama held as a state senator.

Those positions encompass issues as wide-ranging as gun control, universal health care and welfare reform. Obama also said he viewed welfare recipients and “the working poor” as “a majority coalition” that could be mobilized to help advance progressive policies and elect their champions.

Last week the liberal Mother Jones magazine published video footage, shot during a campaign event, showing Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney opining that 47 percent of Americans are captive Democratic voters because they receive government benefits without paying income taxes. (RELATED: Romney controversy points to power of viral video)

Loyola College refused repeated requests from TheDC for a copy of the full one-hour and 42-minute videotape from 1998. But a source in Chicago who gained permission to view it recorded the sound secretly, confirming the accuracy of — and expanding on — initial accounts that featured only a brief audio excerpt.

“I actually believe in [wealth] redistribution,” Obama said in that 96-second excerpt, published September 18 on YouTube. “At least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”

The following day, NBC News said it had obtained what it called “the entirety of the relevant remarks,” and complained that Republicans had taken the original lines out of context.

NBC published only 35 seconds of video, however, more than half of which overlapped with the YouTube audio from a day earlier. The news agency claimed the full context demonstrated that Obama only “seems” to support “redistributing wealth.” (RELATED: 1998 audiotape surfaces: Obama urged “trick” to aid wealth redistribution)

“How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities?” Obama asked in the seconds NBC added to the national discussion.

But Obama’s voice is heard during more than 29 minutes of the recording, including his prepared remarks and his answers to questions from the audience. At one point on the tape he suggests that the “working poor” on welfare are a political voting bloc that can be harnessed.

Obama is also heard lamenting Americans’ distrust of “government action”; identifying his political opponents — that is, Republicans — as “the bad guys”; declaring his support for labor unions and community organizers; endorsing the public financing of political campaigns; and staking out liberal positions on gun control, government-run health care and welfare reform.

Many of those positions, he conceded, had “no chance of seeing the light of day in Springfield” — the Illinois state capital — “or in Washington.”

It’s unclear if NBC News had a complete recorded copy including Obama’s unedited remarks.

Listen to the complete 102-minute session:


“I think that what we’re gonna have to do is somehow resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all,” he told an audience that reportedly consisted of some 400 people. “There has been a systematic — I don’t think it’s too strong to call it a propaganda campaign — against the possibility of government action and its efficacy,” he said.

“And I think some of it has been deserved. The Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policymaking. And neither, necessarily, has been the Chicago public schools.”

“What that means, then is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we’re all in this thing together — ‘leave nobody behind’ — we do have to be innovative in thinking.’What are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live?’” he said.

It was at this point that Obama launched into his now-famous line about constructing government systems that redistribute wealth.

The full recording reveals that Obama saw welfare recipients and the working poor in Chicago as a “majority coalition” who could be leveraged politically. (RELATED: Pat Buchanan: “Fabian socialist” Obama “is a drug dealer of welfare”)

“What I think will re-engage people in politics is if we’re doing significant, serious policy work around what I will label the ‘working poor,’” he said, “although my definition of the working poor is not simply folks making minimum wage, but it’s also families of four who are making $30,000 a year.”

“They are struggling. And to the extent that we are doing research figuring out what kinds of government action would successfully make their lives better, we are then putting together a potential majority coalition to move those agendas forward.”

Obama also said he did not support the bipartisan welfare reform Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton hammered out during the 1990s, despite more recent claims that he favored the legislation. In the 1998 recording, he called it a bill that “I did not entirely agree with and probably would have voted against at the federal level.”

“But one good thing that comes out of it,” he conceded, “is that it essentially desegregates the welfare population,” merging urban blacks with “the working poor, which are the other people.”

“Now you just have one batch of folks. … That is increasingly a majority population,” Obama concluded, and one whose policy needs would grow to encompass, health care, job training, education and a system where government would “provide effective child care.”

The recording also shows Obama in 1998 identifying with what he said was an American majority angling for new limits on the Second Amendment.

“The vast majority of Americans would like to see serious gun control,” the future president said, noting that “it does not pass. Why does it not pass? It doesn’t pass because there is this huge disconnect between what people think and what legislators think and are willing to act upon.”

Obama also revealed his early disdain for Republicans, referring to his policy opponents as “the bad guys” who stood in the way of crucial reforms — while progressive activists often failed on their own to protect oppressed minority communities.

“The people who are guilty of disempowering the population are not only the bad guys — I won’t be partisan here and say who the bad guys are,” Obama said. “It’s not only the folks who are representing the special interests, quote-unquote, and the guys with the pinky diamond rings and the fat cats. Sometimes it is also us.”

Some of the mechanisms Obama suggested to create a more engaged voter base included progressive policy prescriptions that would be easily recognizable in his 2012 White House — among them the need to give unions and community organizers more “access” to the political decision-making process.

“How do we think about some of the systemic changes that might be required to reengage the citizenry on these policy issues?” Obama asked. “I would have some suggestions that I would be happy to toss out during the question-and-answer: things like public financing for campaigns. How do we strengthen the mediating institutions like churches, unions, and community organizations and provide them with the resources and access to decision making?”

On health care, Obama laid the groundwork for his eventual government-controlled system.

“In the midst of the greatest economic boom in my lifetime and probably most of yours,” he said, “we have actually record numbers of persons with no health insurance. And yet there is virtually no movement of, ‘How do we provide insurance to these uninsured?’”

“There’s a lot of talk about HMO reform, which looks good, partly because it doesn’t cost that much. It’s a matter of just passing a couple of laws. I support this HMO reform but it certainly doesn’t get at the more fundamental issue of, ‘What do we do with this burgeoning number of people who have no health insurance and are one illness away form bankruptcy or worse?’”

During the question-and-answer session that followed, Obama singled out United Power for Action and Justice, a left-wing community organizing outfit, for high praise for “incorporating unions in the organizing process.”

“It’s that kind of community organizing model that ends up being absolutely vital to connecting policy with actual implementation, and empowering citizenry to make these decisions.”

Obama also said the community-organizing political model held advantages, “particularly institutional-based organizing, church-based organizing, [and] incorporating unions in the organizing process.”

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