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Columns

February 7, 2012

Playing Left Field: Meaning of 'liberty' lost in GOP's translation

Now, during the Republican presidential primaries, we hear a lot about liberty. It is a leave-me-alone type of liberty, suggesting the license to do what one may choose in the sacred call of business activity. Much is sought in the name of freedom.

We call this the land of liberty. In the name of business freedom, regulations affecting business practices are staunchly opposed by Republicans. Gov. Mitch Daniels accuses President Barack Obama of a "mindless piling on of expensive new regulations."

In his Republican rebuttal of the president's State of the Union, Daniels' accuses him of "extremism" and a "pro-poverty policy."

Daniels claimed that only Republicans can bring America together with privatized, pro-growth approaches. He dismisses Obama's concerns about the unhealthy schism between the haves and have-nots as a never-happen-here matter. He said Obama has driven us into a "dead end of debt," which was "already unaffordable."

The "already-unaffordable" part was what Obama inherited from Bush. In fact, Daniels was Bush's director of the Office of Management and Budget (from 2001-03). His tenure saw the government devour Clinton's $236 billion surplus, and accumulate another $400 billion of debt. That is freedom from responsibility and taking liberties with the truth.

His claiming and blaming address concludes that "a private economy" is the only solution. "Republicans will speak for those who believe in the dignity and capacity of the individual citizen; we believe that government is meant to serve the people rather than supervise them."

We cannot just ignore that the country has suffered a lot from the shenanigans of unsupervised banks and their financial manipulations, the job-exporting profiteering of corporations, budget reductions for schools, usurious interest rates for student loans, and worse for payday loans, the unchecked power of private health insurance to avoid claims, problems with toxic dumping, pollution and faulty products.

In fact, government power is the only force in the country capable of addressing corporate and wealthy interests in protection of consumers. No wonder that those special interests want government out of their hair, and they try hard to corrupt or discredit the process, in the name of freedom.

What does freedom mean, really? Basically it means the ability to make our own decisions. Such liberty carries the obligation of mutual respect and fairness with others, and is normally imbedded in the terms of community membership.

We are deeply social by nature, with a highly developed capacity for empathy. We very much need to be connected, and thus, we are nearly always dependent in various ways, upon the cohesion within our group, its cooperation and teamwork, and the exigencies of its circumstances and economic environment. This is the alphabet level of the human story.

Total dependence at birth grows into interdependence within community. Individuality is enhanced by mutual dependence and specialization in adult roles.

This leads to differentiation into membership positions of service, influence, contribution, ideally held together in cooperation, negotiation and town-hall process.

Now, our urbanized, technically complicated, highly specialized and international economy puts many, many people into circumstances beyond any individual control. The self-sustaining freestanding individual is largely a myth.

Kings and tyrants arose, and the notion of liberty went revolutionary. But we are losing that freedom. Because while we worked hard to tame and harness government, there have arisen international corporate conglomerates with more power than most governments to control and shape our lives and possibilities.

The insecurity the unemployed feel is flavored with the anger of betrayal, and we hear about the 1 percent and the 99 percent.

The party of the special interests is now the Republican Party, though the corruption of the electoral system has had a mighty impact on both parties. Nonetheless, the president has called strongly for active governmental programs to restore a sense of fairness and opportunity to all citizens.

Paying more for social justice is not going to steal Bill O'Reilly's freedom, as he fears (The Daily Star, Jan 23). It will grow a healthier community with a fair spectrum of well-being, and reduce the exaggerated polarization that mortgages our liberty to the hoarders of wealth.

We need a society and an economy where it is comfortable to socialize with each other, without this being labeled socialism in the economic system. Being dominated by economic power is no less a loss of freedom than control by a king.

Republican defenders of the new economic tyranny are cloaking themselves in the political arguments of 1776. The real freedom fighters today are 99 percent Occupiers. Let Freedom Ring!

William Masters can be reached at wmasters@thedailystar.com. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.

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