Monday, November 26, 2012

What Obama Thinks of Liberty

This article was originally published on the Christian Voice website. It is reprinted here with permission.

Obama’s re-election has huge symbolic value, since he epitomizes changing attitudes towards liberty in America. He represents a growing constituency which believes that maximization of liberty means removing all barriers to sexual license.

It is common knowledge that no president has been as virulently pro-abortion and pro-homosexual as Obama. But the real significance of this is that as Obama attempts to overturn centuries of Christian morality, he does so in the name of liberty.

In the case of Obama’s support of abortion, the policies he embraces actually remove liberty from the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. Similarly, his recent support of same-sex ‘marriage’ could see unprecedented restrictions on freedom of speech and even thought. However, Obama pursues these policies in the name of greater freedom for the American people. This is significant since it shows that America is involved in a sea-change shift of what liberty actually means.

In the older tradition, the government’s role in preserving liberty was primarily negative, with the state acting as a hedge against outside threats to life, property and the pursuit of happiness. In this framework, liberty was as much a restriction of the state as it was anything else. Put another way, liberty was essentially negative.
Since roughly the time of Franklin Roosevelt, however, rights and liberties have increasingly come to be seen as something the state has a responsibility to proactively create. In his 1944 State of the Union Address, Franklin Roosevelt created the template for a new way of thinking about liberty when he called a “second Bill of Rights” on the grounds that “Necessitous men are not free men”. If a man is necessitous—that is, if there are things he needs but doesn’t have—then he is lacking true liberty. Of course, if this be granted, then the only way for the state to preserve liberty is to satisfy people’s needs. Roosevelt thus went on to suggest that the state should provide a “new basis of security and prosperity” which included “The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.”
Now there is nothing wrong in principle with the state providing medical care to its citizens, provided it can afford to do so. The problem is when we assert that anything less represents a deficit of liberty, and that I can only be truly free in a society where government meets my needs. To confuse freedom with provision in this way is to imply that for most of the United States’ history the citizens have never been truly free and that the ideals of liberty can only be realized under modern activist government.
This new concept of liberty is analogous to evolving notions of human rights. No longer are rights God-given conditions that the state simply protects; rather, rights become benefits that government is responsible to actually create.
It's interesting to see how this played out in two of the most contentious issues during the election: contraception and Obamacare. Significantly, Obama has not simply argued that the state should provide free contraception and healthcare to all its citizens. On the contrary, again and again he has suggested that government must do this because Americans have a right to it. By converting a growing amount of needs and desires into inalienable rights, Obama has given the American government a burden it cannot afford (literally) to bare.
The shift in the concept of liberty and rights arises from confusion over where our rights actually originate. Do our most basic inalienable rights and liberties come from God, who then ordains the state to protect those rights and liberties? Or are our most basic inalienable rights the creation of the State?
According to America’s Declaration of Independence, our inalienable rights come from God. It reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Because our most basic rights come from God, the role of the state in preserving liberty is primarily negative, acting as a hedge against people and forces who would take away those rights.
Obama has made it clear that he disputes the notion of negative liberties. In a 2001 interview on Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ FM, he referred to needing to "break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution" and he criticized those who believed " the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties." Bruce Walker had this to say about the utter absurdity of these new "positive liberties" that Obama hoped to introduce:
The 2001 audio tape of Barack Obama describing the Constitution as a document of "negative liberties" reveals an utterly Orwellian Obama.  How can liberty be anything other than negative?  Liberty is the absence of external control.  Only in our age of collective thinking and untidy language could such a thing as "positive liberty" be conceived.  The state power to coerce is not liberty.
Notions like "positive liberty" are part of the web of thought control by language manipulation which Orwell  described in 1984. If Obama cannot think of "positive liberty" as a contradiction in terms, then he simply cannot think.  The conscious surrender of language to the needs of the party creates a self-made prison from which escape is, quite literally, inconceivable.  These unguarded remarks by Obama display a mind trapped in a reality in which words are phantoms.
Obama could have spoken about the limited value of liberty.  Government does some things which reduce our private rights and yet which increase the common good.  Politics is all about where the boundary between broad notions of promoting the general welfare by state coercion and preserving liberty should be.  Politicians on the Left have often argued that liberty should be reined in more tightly so that "the people" can live better.  But implying that more state power somehow increases liberty is beyond mere Leftism.  It is entry into that dead realm of Newspeak in which language is pureed into nonsense, and then nonsense is presented as argument.
Behind Obama's Newspeak is a certain worldview that we must be attentive to. In Obama's world, because liberties and rights do not have any objective a priori grounding, it is totally consistent to turn them into the plaything of an all-powerful state. Since rights and liberties do not come from God but from the state, government has the responsibility to invent and then dispense these positive liberties to the populace (and indeed, to the world).
But how do we know that Obama does not believe that rights and liberties originate with God? Listen to Obama when he tries to quote this passage (taken from a speech made at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Rockville, Md:
As wonderful as the land is here in the United States, as much as we have been blessed by the bounty of this magnificent continent that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, what makes this place special is not something physical. It has to do with this idea that was started by 13 colonies that decided to throw off the yoke of an empire, and said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that each of us are endowed with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Do you notice something missing when Obama quotes the Declaration? He leaves out part which says that our certain inalienable rights are endowed to mankind “by their Creator.” Could this be a simple oversight on Obama’s part? Perhaps, if it was only this one speech. But in fact, Obama has misquoted the Declaration on at least two different occasions, making it difficult to dismiss as a simple mistake. This apparently deliberate omission is a powerful statement about Obama's worldview, in which it is not God who gives us our most basic rights and liberties, but the State.
Ken Myers put his finger on the pulse of this attitude in his Mars Hill Audio Journal, when he commented that “Modern liberal societies are structured around the assumption that since there is no one definition of happiness that everyone can agree on, the state and state-approved social institutions will promote freedom and equality so that everyone will be able to pursue happiness on their own terms. However, in the absence of any substantive understanding of happiness—of the ends of human life—freedom and equality become variable, plastic, elusive terms, defined relative to the cultural status quo and not objectively.”

Further Reading

What Obama's Re-Election Means for America


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