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.