Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Defining "Freedom"

There is no shortage of stupid and overblown political rhetoric in these unhappy times, and we face the prospect of much, much more of it as we approach the 2012 presidential election (old joke: "Do you know the difference between a political race and a horse race? In a horse race, the whole horse runs"). For a person who loves language and good expression as much as I do, this is a very painful time.

With that in mind, I would call your attention to this interesting op-ed article by E.J. Dionne from yesterday's Washington Post - Romney's Flawed View of Freedom. The article discusses comments made by presidential wannabe Mitt Romney at the announcement of his candidacy which deal with the meaning of freedom. The entire article is great, but let me just summarize it with this excerpt:

“'Did you know,' he (Romney) asked, 'that government — federal, state and local — under President Obama, has grown to consume almost 40 percent of our economy? We’re only inches away from ceasing to be a free economy.'

"Actually, the federal government of which Obama is in charge 'consumes' about a quarter of the economy — and this after a severe recession, when government’s share naturally goes up.

"But even granting Romney his addition of spending by all levels of government, the notion that we are 'inches away from ceasing to be a free economy' is worse than absurd. It suggests that the only way we measure whether an economy and a country are 'free' is by toting up how much government spends.

"Are we less 'free' because we spend money on public schools and student loans, Medicare and Medicaid, police and firefighters, roads and transit, national defense and environmental protection? Would we be 'freer' if government spent zero percent of the economy and just stopped doing things?

"Romney, presumably, doesn’t think this, but the logic of what he said points in exactly that direction. We thus confront in 2012 nothing short of a fundamental argument over what the word 'freedom' means. If freedom, as the conservatives seem to insist, comes down primarily to the quantity of government spending, then a country such as Sweden, where government spends quite a lot, would be less 'free' than a right-wing dictatorship that had no welfare state and no public schools — but also didn’t allow its people to speak, pray, write or organize as they wish."

The word "freedom" is one of the most misunderstood and abused words in the modern political lexicon. Many years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was taking the Civics lessons that were once required of young students, we learned the difference between "freedom" and "license." My Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines freedom as:

"The quality or state of being free ... a political right."

And it defines license as:

"Freedom that allows or is used with irresponsibility ... disregard for rules of personal conduct."

I think the angry, blustering buffoons that are doing their best to wreck the country could use some good old-fashioned civics lessons in freedom - vs - license. I think they should realize that there's no such thing as a free lunch ... that you get what you pay for ... that principled compromise is the essence of good citizenship, not something to be scorned ... that if "everything but taxes is on the table," everything is not on the table.

Freedom, however you choose to define it, is not free. Freedom, and all the things we cherish that it makes possible, is paid for with blood and treasure, and it carries with it the requirement to realize that absolute freedom is a myth - we accept that we must give up absolute, unrestricted freedom in order to maintain the peace that allows us to live together in peaceful communities.

And, Mr Romney, it's not defined by how much the government spends.

Have a good day. Think about what it costs to maintain the freedom we enjoy ... and about how little those who would lead us understand about it.

More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...


I'm really not looking forward to the next election...and then there is that idiot Santorum running too..

Scary scary scary.

Mike said...

I swear I heard a band playing America the Beautiful at the end of this post. Good post.