The Real Freedom Party

As I read Katie Earle’s debut column last week (With Government and Justice For All?) I was reminded of how effective the Republican Party has been in seizing the mantle of freedom.  Vote for us, they say, and we’ll protect your liberty.  A vote for the Democratic Party, on the other hand, is a vote for the so-called ‘nanny state.’  And no one wants a nanny state.

It is true that Republicans support certain freedoms: the freedom to carry a machine pistol with body-armor piercing bullets, for example, or the right of millionaires to buy bigger yachts and faster private jets without having to sacrifice some of their wealth to that same horrid government that builds their roads and protects them from invasion.

As with most political issues, the reality is far from black and white.  The vast majority of Republicans are not hard-core libertarians; they support restrictions on many freedoms.  So when you hear someone say that they’re a Republican because they believe in “freedom” and “liberty” – incidentally, the names of Rick Perry’s cowboy boots – ask them why they don’t support the freedom of gays and lesbians to marry the partner of their choice.  Conservative organizations have spent millions upon millions of dollars try to block such a freedom.  What about the right of gay men and women to serve in our armed forces?  A gay soldier who asked Republican candidates about their stance on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” received nothing but boos from the audience for his role in protecting our nation’s freedom.  Do the freedoms of gay men and women not matter to Republicans?

Ask them why they don’t support a woman’s right to choose an abortion or even the timing of her pregnancy.  Republicans in Oklahoma just passed a law that requires women to receive an ultrasound probe and to look at the image of their fetus before allowing them to have an abortion.  Shamefully, this provision contains no exception even for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, forcing victims to relive traumatic experiences that they deserve to forget.  Conservatives have also eliminated or supported the elimination of funding to clinics that provide birth control and family planning to poor women, both married and unmarried.  Do the freedoms of poor women and the victims of sexual assault somehow not count to the Republican Party?

Ask them why they support the type of warrantless wiretapping used by the Bush Administration to listen to the private phone calls of thousands of Americans.  If Republicans are really the “freedom party,” why do they support the right of the government to spy on its own citizens without just cause?

Ask them why, in a nation with the world’s most advanced medical care, they don’t support the right of the working poor to access this treatment without the fear of medical bankruptcy.  Does “liberty” really require allowing the sick to go bankrupt because they can’t afford insurance?

Earle used, as her primary example of government intrusion, the prohibition policies of the early twentieth century – which, interestingly but not surprisingly, were heavily supported by the same “freedom-loving” evangelical Protestants who make up a large chunk of the Republican Party’s base, and were later repealed with the support of freedom-loving Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  No doubt, then, as an opponent of Government intrusion, Earle also favors the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana and other drugs – suggestions that most Republican candidates wouldn’t even consider.

So which party, then, is really the party of freedom?  Is it the party that supports the freedom of Americans to live free of poverty, hunger, and despair?  Or the party that would like to shrink our government just small enough to fit inside your bedroom, maintaining Puritan values and listening to your phone conversations?  The Democratic Party supports the freedoms of every citizen, fortunate or not, while the Republicans support the freedoms of millionaires and militias.  It’s the party of those who feel Big Business and Big Brother must know best, and that those who have to ask for help must not deserve it.

As a Democrat, I refuse to cede the mantle of liberty to the same Conservatives who seek to preserve an antiquated system that denies natural rights to large segments of the population; to the Party that has drifted so far from common sense that it would dismiss Ronald Reagan as a “big-government liberal.”  The Democratic Party is the true party of freedom in the 21st century.

The Real Class Warfare

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to yell in frustration and disgust when I read the news on Sunday morning.  President Obama proposed a tax increase on people making above a million dollars, and Republicans across the country were denouncing it as “class warfare,” as if the poor and middle class – or what’s left of the middle class – were rising up to steal the rightfully earned property of their wealthy overlords.  Please.  In an economy where the top 20% of earners control 80% of the wealth, the Republicans have made yet another claim with little basis in the real world.

There is a war between the classes going on in America right now, but it’s not a war of rowdy populists versus those who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.  It’s a war of the new aristocracy against the middle and working classes of this nation.  And in that war, the wealthy are winning handily.

Over the last half-century, both tax rates and the consensus in taxes as a legitimate method of shrinking the wealth divide have fallen steadily in this country.   We’ve gotten to the point where at one of the more recent Presidential debates, all of the Republican candidates renewed their vows not to increase taxes a single penny on the so-called “job creators of the nation.”  At the same time, and with their characteristic lack of irony, pundits on Fox news and across the blogosphere have begun to decry the fact that – get this – many poor people pay no income tax.  Never mind the fact that the working class pays more than its fair share in payroll, sales, and other regressive taxes.

There is a war between the classes going on in America, and the wealthy are winning. In the name of fiscal “conservatism,” tax rates for the rich and for corporations are slashed, and then slashed again.  Conservatives speak in favor of eliminating the capital gains tax, under which the richest of the rich can earn money off the interest of their investments, while paying a lower tax rate than the men and women who spend their waking hours paving our roads or teaching the next generation.

Could Conservatives really believe that the middle class teacher is somehow less worthy of a comfortable existence than the millionaire stock broker or the heir to some corporate empire?  That kind of thinking leads something like forty percent of MIT engineers to careers in finance – they can make more money building client lists than they can building bridges;  that kind of thinking that will prove catastrophic for the American Economy in the long run.

In a sane world, where the representatives actually represent the interests of the average voter, President Obama’s modest tax proposal would sail through Congress with minimal opposition.  It stems from Warren Buffet’s laudable complaint that he pays a substantially lower tax rate than his own secretary.  More than 75 percent of Americans agree with the President, and with billionaires like Buffet and Bill Gates – raising taxes on the rich is a better solution to the deficit issue than to slash benefits to working families.  A strong America, after all, requires a strong, happy, and well-educated middle class.  Yet the tax increase won’t go anywhere fast, because the House of Representatives is controlled by a group of people who believe that taxes are the 8th deadly sin.

One out of every six people in this country – the richest in the world – now lie under the poverty line, struggling to pay their grocery bills, or to educate their children.  More than 1.5 million kids now are homeless.  While average income has increased over the last decade, median income has fallen, showing that the rich continue to gain wealth while the working classes struggle more and more to make ends meet.  How fair is that?  America has more than enough wealth for all of its citizens, but we are slowly becoming a nation divided between the wealthy “haves” and the impoverished majority.  The recession has only amplified this problem.  It’s time to raise taxes on the top one or two percent so that the same people who teach our children (or younger siblings), who build our roads, and who clean our hallways can live the comfortable lives they’ve worked so hard for.  It’s time to push back against the Conservative war on the working class.