On and on and on I hear and read in the media various Conservatives harping upon “freedom” and “liberty.” They want to ensure we as Americans maintain our freedoms and our inalienable rights. According to the Declaration of Independence, those include Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Unfortunately, Conservatives (at least since Reagan) have co-opted and stolen our freedoms all, ironically, in the name of freedom.
What do I mean by “stolen our freedoms”?
While we might assume Conservatives and Liberals understand freedom equally, they do not. Equally unfortunate, Conservatives are often better at articulating their views (as ridiculous as they often are), the media often frames issues in terms of Conservative definitions, and Liberals into the Conservative fray. Liberals, in turn, must go on the defense. They often lose for Conservatives are much better (and pretty much depend upon) taking advantage of emotion. The emotion they rely upon, of course, is fear.
Perhaps it’s time to turn the tables. Liberals must push an alternate definition of freedom and see how well Conservatives do when the ball is in the Liberal court. No doubt, they would fail.
As for a simple definition of freedom, I turn to UC Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff, who writes: “Freedom is being able to do what you want to do, that is, being able to choose a goal, have access to that goal, pursue that goal without anyone purposely preventing you” (25).
To add nuance to such, freedom entails “freedom from” and “freedom to.” In relation to the above definition, this means freedom from that which would prevent one from choosing, accessing, and pursuing said goal as well as the freedom to ensure such access.
Freedom is about the ability to achieve.
The Declaration of Independence says Americans possess the right to pursue happiness. “Pursue” implies a goal; in this case, the goal is happiness. Happiness is related, then, to freedom.
But what happens when the pursuit is constrained? What happens when the access to a goal is curtailed?
Conservatives want us to believe their definition of freedom is the traditional American definition. Conservatives, in these regards, are full of shit.
Standard Conservative definitions of freedom are underscored by their particular worldview which holds, in general, obedience to a higher moral authority, the notion that the world (and people) are inherently competitive, obedience to authority leads to discipline believed to be necessary to compete and come out a winner, punishment for disobedience, the pursuit of self-interest, and the (false) belief that giving people things they don’t deserve is a disservice because they won’t learn the necessary discipline.
In regards to the latter, what do Conservatives (particularly those since that asshole Ronald Reagan) do? Cut programs designed to help people–help people succeed. Likewise, you promote free-market and privatization. Why? Because big-government is bad, so says the Conservatives who love to spend money on the military and love to insert themselves into the daily life of Americans by controlling a woman’s right to choose, whom one may marry. In other words (in case of the latter), inhibiting one’s pursuit of freedom.
Conservatives promote the free-market because the market was believed to be moral. Moral, that is, according to their worldview as described above. Recent history has shown such is anything but true. The free-market serves ONLY those at the top and screws everyone at the bottom. Trickle-down economic theory is one more load of Conservative bullshit. It just doesn’t work.
Of course Conservatives don’t like taxes and want to reduce them, for the rich that is.
Never mind the fact that taxes pay for schools, pay for roads, and police officers (just to name a few) which are all necessary for the freedom to pursue our goals. Taxes, in other words, help empower Americans to achieve their goals. Conservatives, on the other hand, tell us we need relief from taxes, as if they are burdens or illnesses. So who do they give the tax-breaks to? The already rich, making them even richer.
Privatization is yet another Conservative favorite. Meanwhile, corporations can destroy our environment, poison our water, limit the safety of our food and medicines. Take this an an example: thanks to Conservative underfunding, the Consumer Product Safety Division did not have enough inspectors to inspect millions of toys coming in from China. Remember the lead paint scare? As a result, when the inspectors were cut, Chinese and Americans importers were responsible for product safety. But that would cost money, right? So what did they do? Laughed their assess right to the bank as they exposed children to harmful toys. In other words, Conservative politics directly inhibited the inalienable right to Life!
Conservatives have a relatively simple understanding of the way things work in this world. For example, they consistently push the whole “hard work” ethic. As if working hard is enough to succeed. Of course, to work hard, you need discipline. If you don’t have discipline, you won’t work hard and you won’t succeed. Such is to say nothing of multiple factors at play.
It is not enough to tell someone to work hard and you will succeed. Life is much more complex. Lack of health care, poverty, and skin color are just three factors at play. I can work my ass off, but if I get sick and don’t have health care, I might not be able to get the medicine I need (let alone the care); maybe then I lose my job. Maybe I’m black and I get arrested for a little bit of weed. I get thrown in jail; when I get out, I have an arrest record. Then I’m fucked. Maybe I am born (through no choice of my own) in abject poverty where my access to good education is inherently limited. I have little to no opportunity to get out whatsoever.
All the while, if you don’t succeed, Conservatives are of the opinion that it is all MY fault because I lack the discipline and the morals to succeed and come out on top a winner.
In this manner, Conservatives betray their limited view of reality. Direct cause is all they see; they seemingly can’t imagine that reality is a complex interplay of dynamic forces in constant interaction. Yup, they take a pretty stupid view of reality and it shows in their policies.
And in so doing, they restrict our abilities to choose our goals, access those goals, and achieve those goals.
As such, Conservative policies are harmful to you, harmful to me, harmful to peoples of other nations, and harmful to the environment.
Conservative policies empower no one.
Conservatives policies, in stealing our freedoms, do quite the opposite.
They alienate our very unalienable rights.
So if you’re mad at the way things are in America and you vote Conservative, it’s time to look in the mirror and STOP voting for what is not in your own interests.
Lakoff, George. Whose Freedom: The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea.