|Pickens County Democrats
Pickens County, Georgia
From: Chapter 5, The Philosophy of Progressive Values in Voicing Our Values: A Message Guide for Policymakers and Advocates (Fourth Edition, 2019), Bernie Horn and Gloria Totten, Public Leadership Institute.
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We intentionally adopt a limited definition of freedom, often called "negative freedom." Why? That’s the only way it works. When defined too broadly, freedom becomes an empty platitude that can be wielded as a bludgeon to pummel any side of any political argument.
Freedom is the cornerstone of America's value system. For two centuries, America has been defined by its commitment to freedom. One poll found that Americans believe—by a margin of 73 to 15 percent—that freedom is more important than equality. But because it's so popular, freedom is the most misused of all political terms.
For nearly 20 years, conservatives have proclaimed that both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the "war on terror," were and are in defense of our freedom. But it's not true. Our freedom was never in jeopardy—the Iraqis, the Taliban, ISIS and al-Qaeda, none of them attempted to invade America and control our government. U.S. military and police actions might be said to protect our security, but not our freedom. So don't use the word freedom when discussing current military adventures—it just provides a false justification for war.
Similarly, conservatives equate freedom with capitalism. But it's not true. Our nation's market economy is not free from government control—actually, it is dominated by government. Markets are based on a dense web of laws enforced by multiple layers of federal, state, and local agencies. Businesses are not free to sell diseased meat, make insider stock trades, pollute our air and water, or discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity. So don't be fooled by the terms free market, free enterprise, or free trade, because they all support right-wing policies.
Most astonishing is the way religious extremists use the word freedom to mean the very opposite. They argue that freedom gives them the right to use the power of government to impose their religious views on the rest of us. When they pressure school boards to mandate the teaching of intelligent design in schools, when they erect monuments to the Ten Commandments on public property, when they work to ban all abortions, when they seek to promote prayer in public schools, right-wingers assert it's an exercise in religious freedom. But it's simply not true. Freedom is the absence of government intervention.
Dear friends, we have a solemn responsibility to fiercely guard our constitutional and human rights to freedom. We must use freedom as our bully pulpit when arguing that government is out of control. We must point out that freedom is one of our most cherished values. We must insist that Clarence Darrow was right when he said, "You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man's freedom. You can be free only if I am free."