I was perusing patriarchal blogger Lori Alexander’s recent posts, and found this line in a piece endorsing Donald Trump:
We are voting for liberty, freedom, and the Constitution; everything the Democrat party seems to be trying hard to get rid of and replace with socialism, radicalism, and free wheeling judges instead of the rule of law.
Notice the contrast Lori presents: liberty, freedom, and the Constitution, versus socialism, radicalism, and free wheeling judges. Let’s take a moment zero in on the bizarre idea that conservatism is the party of liberty and freedom. But first, I’m reminded of a conservative cartoon I came upon after the vice presidential debate.
Have a look at the words on each candidate’s plexiglass shield:
I realize that, to a certain extent, we all live in echo chambers. But this is some extreme echo chamber.
The Republican Party is working to ban abortion and tell women what they can do with their own bodies. Is that freedom? They worked hard to prevent same-sex couples from being allowed to marry. Freedom, really? The Republican Party wants to require voter IDs, works to keep polling places out of low income areas and college campuses, and wants throw out ballots that are postmarked by election day if they arrive after election day. Is that freedom? Really?
The Republican Party isn’t the party of freedom. They’re the party of social control. They want to tell you what you’re allowed to do with your body. Heck, the Republicans supported a 1980s Supreme Court decision that allowed states to ban couples from engaging in consensual anal sex in private in their own homes. The Republican Party is the party of the war on drugs, the party that champions police use of force. None of these things are compatible with freedom. What they are compatible with is social control. The Republican Party wants to tell you what you can and cannot do.
It is maddening that conservatives have been able to so successfully shape our political narrative by claiming the word “freedom” and placing it in opposition to “socialism.” This is utter nonsense. Is going bankrupt because you can’t afford medical procedures “freedom”? Is avoiding doctor’s visits because you can’t afford health insurance “freedom”? No! No it isn’t! Nor is going tens of thousands of dollars into debt to get a college degree that, in some cases, is mandatory in order to work in your chosen field (such as teaching or nursing). None of this is freedom.
The Republican Party wants you free to starve, free to be evicted, free to have your car repossessed, and free to go bankrupt.
Look, it should be clear and obvious that having our health insurance tied to our employer makes us less free. In the old times, before the Affordable Care Act—in the old times the Republican Party wants to return us to—many people stayed with jobs they hated because, if they got a new job, they would have to change health insurance, and a health issue they need treatment for would then be a preexisting condition and would not be covered. This is not freedom.
I recently spoke with a man who told me he had decided not to run for a local elected office again because the position no longer comes with health insurance, and he needs health coverage for his family. This is freedom?
I dearly hope political messaging strategists are working on this problem, because the extent to which conservatives have been able to claim the label “freedom”—and to portray it in opposition to “socialism”—is frankly dangerous.
My husband has sometimes talked about starting his own business someday. I tend to be fiscally conservative in terms of my approach to family finances, so this makes me nervous. But I would be far more likely to throw in with this idea if I didn’t have to worry about where we would get health insurance. And it goes beyond that! The more college debt a person has, the more they need a job that will allow them to pay it off—and the less likely they are to try starting their own business, or to take a job in a field that pays less but is incredibly important to society, like teaching.
You want the truth? People in “socialist” Europe are more free than we Americans are. It’s not just that many nations in western Europe are more entrepreneurial because people know that they have a social safety net that will catch them if they fail, which makes them more free to take risks to do the things they love. There’s also the fact that the U.S. imprisons its population at over six times the rate western European countries do.
So no, the Republican Party is not the party of freedom. That’s a nonsense lie and it needs to stop. They are the party of social control. And while we’re at it, socialism and freedom are not antonyms. It’s hard to change the narrative when everyone is in their own echo chamber—and many conservatives only watch Fox News. But perhaps changing the narrative starts with understanding how badly we’ve lost control of it. Freedom is not their word. It’s ours.
(Note: conservatives frequently try to equate “socialism” with the USSR, and either completely erase or ignore the “democratic socialism” that is practiced in much of western Europe. Democratic socialism is not about state control of industry; instead, it is about ensuring that every individual has access to a social safety net, such as a national system of healthcare or a national system of welfare and workers compensation to help those who are on the down and out.)
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