Apparently he doesn't comprehend liberalism.
It works like this: The ghetto resident, the denizen of the barrio, the abandoned and divorced waitress with three young children, can all chart their poverty and unhappiness not to accident, fate, bad luck, bad decisions, poor judgment, illegality or drug use, or simple tragedy, but rather exclusively to a system that is rigged to ensure oppression on the basis of race, class, and gender—often insidious and unfathomable except to the sensitive and gifted academic or community organizer.
So Obama combines the age-old belief that the state is there to level the playing field (rather than protect the rights of the individual and secure the safety of the people from foreign threats), with the postmodern notion that government must recompensate those by fiat on the basis on their race or class or gender. Remember all that, and everything from the Professor Gates incident, to the dutiful attendance at the foot of Rev. Wright to Van Jones become logical rather than aberrant. Michelle Obama could make $300,000 and she will always be more a victim than the Appalachian coal miner who earns $30,000, by virtue of her race and gender.
The above may seem cruel and unsavory - but only in the context of a society in which many view the fetus (even the zygote, often) as a complete human being. I find the hunting of large mammals as cruel and unsavory - especially the part where they are stuffed and hung on the wall. But I recognize that my feelings are relative to my own moral compass, its bearings aligned with my religious, political, and cultural views. There is no overwhelming rational clarity that places either abortion or hunting into a clear moral category.
Unlike, say, the murder of a ten year old, the gutting of a family pet, or incest. Those fall into specific moral domains defined by broadly agreed upon - universal among humans - moral and social codes. These codes may someday change, and individuals may develop personal convictions contrary to norm, but until they achieve politically viable status, they will remain subject to democratically achieved laws. This has no bearing however, upon whether any of them are morally correct - that will be up to the individual to determine for him or herself.
But governing laws are not passed on the moral compass of individuals, but on that of the state, representative of the will of the people. Thus, while I personally feel hunting as despicable, not only do I respect my fellow citizens' moral trajectories, more importantly I respect the will of the people and all laws it passes within that context. Were my convictions strong enough, I would be well within my ethical rights to break the law in order to do what I felt was right. Legal rights, of course not, but ethically speaking, yes. If a ten year old boy was going to be murdered legally before me, I would be ethically obligated to stop the act, as long as I felt sufficient conviction (I would!).
So while it would be ethical to oppose abortion (or hunting), one would have to be sufficiently confident enough in their convictions to oppose its legal practice, much less otherwise illegal personal actions to stop it. And yet while I am confident in my ability to evoke powerful logical and rational arguments against murdering ten year old children and having most reasonable people accept them, I am not nearly as confident in my ability to persuade foes of abortion or hunting enthusiasts. Thus I cannot expect fellow citizens to consider banning either. Until abortion or hunting become as morally compelling to the will of society as murdering young boys, we cannot expect others to go along with our personal convictions on the matter.
What is surprising is the growing evidence that the low-benefit, low-tax alternative succeeds not only on its own terms but also according to the criteria used by defenders of high benefits and high taxes. Whatever theoretical claims are made for imposing high taxes to provide generous government benefits, the practical reality is that these public goods are, increasingly, neither public nor good: their beneficiaries are mostly the service providers themselves, and their quality is poor. For evidence, look to the two largest states in the nation, which are fine representatives of the liberal and conservative alternatives.
Governments can be, and are, defined in many ways. I think the modern world is pretty well discovering that, while not perfect, a capitalist social democracy is generally best. We enjoy electing our leaders, starting businesses, and the provision of public education. I think it’s safe to say that neither extreme communism nor libertarianism are sensible options.
At its most basic level, government is formed to provide for individual security and freedom. How these come to be defined, and then achieved, present a formidable philosophical and practical challenge. Yet I believe a key insight into where we must begin on this matter, is the question of Contra-Causal Free Will (CCFW). In order to define what government ought to be, you need to determine whether CCFW exists. A large enough subject in its own right (although one I firmly believe has been settled, due in no small part to the discoveries of modern scientific research), for the purposes of this discussion, I will avoid much of the arguments for and against the question of CCFW, and concentrate mainly on the implications of its resolution.
Because I don't believe in CCFW and the processes underlying what makes us who we are, I don't believe it is fair for a child born to a family poor in social capital to have to compete with a child born to a family rich in social capital. Therefore, any government system that does not actively seek to redress this inequity of means not only does not guarantee freedom, but through inaction actively promotes the continuation of a status quo that is anti-freedom.
For instance, in our modern economic system, if one man is able to live richly off the low wages of thousands of others, whose freedom are we talking about? Should his wealth be relative to the stability and basic fairness of the larger society upon which his market is based, or is it simply relative to what he can buy with it?
These are certainly not easy questions. And we see them being labored over intensely in current debates over healthcare - does our modern society owe it to each individual to guarantee a minimum of health services?
Conservatives know exactly where they stand on the issue of free will and why it is so central to their concept of government. They come back to it again and again as a justification for their interest in maintaining the status quo. They see a socially activist government as entirely unethical: not only does it seek to unfairly redistribute income through progressive taxation, but it seeks to fritter it away on services that would be unnecessary if people would only choose correctly (drugs, parenting, education, hard work, crime, etc.).
Liberals are the ones I always find oddly oblivious to the inconsistency in both holding that society has a responsibility to promote fairness, and that free will does indeed exist. I think the reason has more to do with free will having an entrenched philosophical advantage in being the incumbent world view, well, for most of recorded history.
But I think the paramount example of why CCFW matters is in constructing a criminal justice system. Currently, we inflict terrible punishment upon convicted criminals – a prison sentence is certainly cruel, if not unusual. Yet if CCFW does not exist, then what business do we have in exacting revenge upon people who could not have chosen any differently? Going back to my point regarding children: we treat them with forgiveness to the degree we attribute to them a lack of CCFW. The reason we treat them with the full harshness of the justice system when they reach 18 years of age is precisely because we deem them as suddenly possessing full CCFW: they could have made better choices.
Were we to instead deny CCFW, we would then have to treat adult criminals with the same sort of understanding that we do children: that they were not really responsible for their behavior: that society and genetic chance was. While acknowledging any continued threat they may pose society, as well as providing a message of deterrence, we should certainly still hold them accountable and protect society from them. But we ought to treat them with dignity, at least attempt rehabilitation, and certainly not subject them to the sort of violence and abuse rampant in today’s prisons.
On the flip side, neither does rejecting CCFW allow us to treat the millionaire as if he is responsible for his own success, rather than society and genes – at least in so far as he enjoys a level of power and privilege due to simple circumstance. This is why we no longer tolerate kings and aristocracy. What right does the wealthy man have to his wealth when it was obtained through no doing of his own? A civilized society is based in the concept that every man ought to be free to “pursue their own happiness at minimal detriment to everyone else's”. Implicit in this assumption is that we all ought to begin that pursuit at a reasonable level of equality of social capital.
So it would appear to me that not only does the question of free will have great bearing upon our personal values, but it must be dealt with if we are to structure a government that is able to best deliver freedom of opportunity to society. Fittingly, just as whether or not CCFW exists we must act as though it does, we must also structure our society according to whether or not we believe in CCFW. The consequences for either belief or disbelief could not have more dramatically different political implications.
It is an iron-clad rule, presumably taught in journalism schools, that when discussing black single mothers and their children, one must never, ever ask: Who and where is the father, and how many fathers are there? Tens of thousands of articles have been written about the struggles of black single mothers, and the appearance of their children is always treated as a virgin birth. Not only are there no fathers in sight in such articles, there is no curiosity about where the fathers are and why they’re not stepping up to the plate. ... But no amount of government programs can possibly compensate for the wholesale exemption of males from the responsibility of caring for their children. The fiction of the inner city virgin birth makes for a booming social service sector, but it otherwise spells disaster for a culture.Where are they?