Three Words Progressives Can Use to Win Elections

By Bernie Horn, Berrett-Koehler Publishing. Posted March 27, 2008 at Alternet.

excerpt on one word (the others are Opportunity and Security):


Where government has no proper role, because public action would violate individual rights, progressive policy should be based on freedom. By freedom, I mean the absence of legal interference with our fundamental rights — freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and the right of all citizens to vote. Compared to an individual, government wields tremendous power, so a progressive policy adds great weight — in the form of strong legal rights — to the individual’s side of the scale.

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.

Neoconservatives have incessantly proclaimed to Americans that both the war in Iraq and the “war on terror” are in defense of our freedom. Don’t believe it. Our freedom is not in jeopardy — neither the Iraqis nor al-Qaeda are attempting 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 terrorism or Iraq — it just provides a false justification for war.

Similarly, conservatives equate freedom with capitalism. Don’t believe it. 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, I think, 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 in courthouses, 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. Please, don’t believe it. Freedom is the absence of government intervention.

When defined too broadly, freedom becomes an empty platitude that can be wielded as a bludgeon to pummel any side of any political argument. My freedom to operate a monopoly tramples on your freedom to buy cheaper products. My freedom to drive an unsafe vehicle tramples on your freedom to travel the same roads in safety. My freedom to smoke in a bar tramples on your freedom to breathe clean air. “Freedom to …” and “freedom from …” gets us nowhere.

Besides, progressives have had plenty of opportunities in the past few years to rally for freedom solely in defense of individual rights. To name just a few:

* When the National Security Agency conducts warrantless eavesdropping on the phone calls and e-mails of innocent Americans, it’s a violation of our freedom.
* When the FBI’s TALON database shows that the government has been spying on peaceful domestic groups, including Quakers, the Campus Antiwar Network, and Veterans for Peace, it’s a violation of our freedom.
* When the federal government arrests an American citizen, Jose Padilla, on American soil and holds him for years without the most basic rights afforded the accused, keeping him in almost complete isolation and preventing him even from talking to a lawyer during his first twenty-one months in a military prison, it’s a violation of our freedom.
* When, just forty-five days after the September 11 attacks, with almost no debate, Congress approves the USA Patriot Act, broadly increasing government power to search medical, tax, and even library records without probable cause, and to break into homes to conduct secret searches, it’s a violation of our freedom.

After years of warrantless wiretapping, illegal imprisonments, and torture, we should all be saying the F-word with regularity. No, no, I mean freedom. Why do progressives seem allergic to this word?

read the whole article at Alternet

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