On June 8th, 1998 the Brookings Institution invited then-State Senator Barack Obama to speak on a panel it was holding in Chicago. The panel covered the economic revitalization of the inner cities and was moderated by NPR host Ray Suerez.
At one point in the three hour long panel, Obama was chided by Suarez about the poor economic condition of his district. When talking about the downtrodden parts of Obama’s district Suarez snipes, “There is not a single building on two-thirds of Oakwood Boulevard. It’s pretty amazing.” One of the other panelists chips in, “He’s gonna get depressed up here, Ray,” referring to Obama.
The moderator jokes sarcastically, “Hey, I’m your straight man,” to Obama, “I’m giving ya a chance to give all the great news.”
Head down, Obama answers the question. He notes that the communities with good locations are areas he does not “worry about so much” since an “enlightened city government” could fix the economic conditions there. He adds that there are inner city neighborhoods with no “locational advantages,” noting that you can’t “steer the market entirely” to the poor inner city.
Then comes a very intriguing quote. While discussing the “bold” proposals that he and some other corporate leaders support, including lifting housing restrictions in the suburbs and revenue tax-based sharing, Obama admits the ideas sound radical” for corporate America and even jokes that the speaker of the Illinois house called the proposals “Soviet.” The audience laughs, as does Obama, before noting “there is gonna be political resistance to some of these proposals.” He concludes by saying such a reaction is “a good sign” that certain proposals, even the controversial ones, are being discussed.
The joke is interesting given recent audio from the same year of Obama claiming to “believe in redistribution.” It seems the “Soviet” and Communist labels regarding Obama’s ideas have been around for quite some time.