Obama's Second Inaugural: Definition of 'Liberty' Subject to Debate
In an Orwellian speech reversing the plain meanings of terms like “liberty,” “freedom,” and “tyranny,” President Barack Obama today laid forth a leftist agenda in the guise of universality. But even in doing so, he exposed just how divided America is – and why America may no longer be a single nation, but two nations kicking within one womb.
Obama began by quoting the Declaration of Independence. From there, though, his task was to twist founding principle to meet leftist needs, an Alinskyite strategy that reeks of falsity. Equating ending slavery with collectivist central planning, heavy-handed economic regulation and establishment of the welfare state, Obama claimed that leftism was part of the “founding creed”:
They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
For more than two hundred years, we have.
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.
Then Obama spelled out his true agenda: destroying founding principles about limited government to meet changing times. While paying lip service to “our skepticism of central authority,” Obama said that times have changed, and “so must we”: “fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges … preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” This was the sheerest form of rhetoric sophistry; equating freedom with government control is an perverse reversal of language. Of course, the Constitution was written based on the notion that human nature does not change – people are not angels, nor devils, but self-interested creatures capable of greatness or evil, who must be checked against each other. But Obama doesn’t believe that. He believes that man can be made anew.
But only by government. And so Obama demonized limited government as anarchism, suggesting that meeting “the demands of today’s world by acting alone” is like forcing American soldiers to meet “the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias” – a straw man argument so blatant it appeared Obama would wheel out Ray Bolger to present it. In pursuing his agenda, Obama made clear that he will ignore basic realities – “we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.” He made clear that he will create false histories – “we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.” He made clear that he will redefine taking and giving – those who wish to save their money for their families and children are “takers,” and those who wish to confiscate the wealth of others “strengthen us.”
In the end, Obama’s argument was a collectivist one. And it was an argument designed to irreparably tear this nation apart. Obama himself said it: “Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way …”
But this renders the Declaration of Independence Obama cited completely meaningless. The founders may have disagreed on many things, but they agreed on the meaning of liberty: the right to live as an individual, without centralized planning infringing basic property rights, economic opportunities, and religious freedoms. Obama’s fundamental redefinition of liberty to include communitarianism is not merely wrong, it spells the end of the political commonality that has held the fabric of the nation together. If we define liberty differently, then there is nothing to talk about: my liberty is your tyranny, and vice versa. Our goals can never be shared. That gap can never be bridged.
Obama does not wish to bridge that gap. He wishes to destroy his opposition. And he wishes to do so by spitting on the ideals of the founders, all the while cynically citing “ancient values and enduring ideals.”
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the book “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).