To inquire into such matters is to make intimate approach to the very essence of constitutional government; but we approach that essence still more intimately when we turn from the community, from the nation, and from the assembly which represents it, to the individual. No doubt a great deal of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual, and a great deal that was mere vague sentiment and pleasing speculation has been put forward as fundamental principle. The rights of man are easy to discourse of, may be very pleasingly magnified in the sentences of such constitutions as it used to satisfy the revolutionary ardor of French leaders to draw up and affect to put into operation; but they are infinitely hard to translate into practice. Such theories are never 'law, no matter what the name or the formal authority of the document in which they are embodied. Only that is 'law' which can be executed, and the abstract rights of man are singularly difficult of execution.
Time after time, Woodrow Wilson talked a very good game about liberty. But as I already pointed out here progressives have a very different definition of the word 'democracy' than you or I do. So too with 'liberty'. If "Only that is 'law' which can be executed, and the abstract rights of man are singularly difficult of execution" then a government such as what the founders created, in which people are actually free to live their lives and government keeps it's hands off, that can't exist. The government needs a little bit more liberty to execute positive laws, the only true kinds of laws. Woodrow Wilson also stated:(when referring to governmental checks and balances)
The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. ... No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live.
So you see, your government can't even survive if it doesn't have more controls and freedom to lord over your life, more 'positive liberties'. When Barack Obama said:
It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, at least as it's been interpreted, and the Warren Court interpreted in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can't do to you. Says what the federal government can't do to you, but doesn't say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.
This is what he's getting at, all of these things are related. If a law cannot be executed, then it can't really be a law. A lack of a law is not a legitimate function of government. Woodrow Wilson also spoke about a government of negation, just as Obama did. Here:(page 284)
But I feel confident that if Jefferson were living in our day he would see what we see: that the individual is caught in a great confused nexus of all sorts of complicated circumstances, and that to let him alone is to leave him helpless as against the obstacles with which he has to contend; and that, therefore, law in our day must come to the assistance of the individual. It must come to his assistance to see that he gets fair play; that is all, but that is much. Without the watchful interference, the resolute interference, of the government, there can be no fair play between individuals and such powerful institutions as the trusts. Freedom to-day is something more than being let alone. The program of a government of freedom must in these days be positive, not negative merely. Well, then, in this new sense and meaning of it, are we preserving freedom in this land of ours, the hope of all the earth?
In one fell swoop, the entire meaning of liberty is turned on it's head. Yet knowing how progressives look at democracy, how they look at liberty, and how too they look at law, it "all makes sense". Talk of inalienable rights necessarily means government keeps it's hands off in a lot of very important ways. But to progressives, that sort of sentiment is nonsense.