So Sarah Palin has been promoting a catchy riff on freedom. Last Friday night, in an appearance on Fox News’s “Hannity,” she said, “I just pray that Americans will open their eyes between now and November when they know that they’ll have to make that choice between free stuff or freedom. You can’t have both.”
Tuesday night, she was at it again, this time on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Here’s a look at the exchange between host Bill O’Reilly and Palin:
O’REILLY: Okay. What is the Republican Party not doing based upon the convention and they — and the race so far that they should be doing?
PALIN: We’re not explaining to the rest of America who thinks that they’re going to get a bunch of free stuff from Obama that you have a choice. You either get free stuff or you get freedom. You cannot have both and you need to make a choice.
The coinage predates Palin’s recent splurge, and appeared in a Ted Nugent opinion piece in the Washington Times back in February.
Whatever the origins, it’s odd juxtaposition coming from someone who’s a resident of Alaska, a state famous for the generous dividends that it pays annually to its people out of a fund that comes courtesy of payments from energy companies. Dividend checks in recent years have run north of $1,000. “Quite a sizeable check,” notes Theda Skocpol, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University.
“Alaska is the closest thing America has to a pure welfare state,” continues Skocpol. “And it produces a lot of gabbers about freedom from government. Really ironic.”
Now let’s take Palin’s thesis overseas. Does her contention stand up to international politics?
Let’s just say that the former Alaska governor is going to have to fight the Economist if she wants to keep this freedom vs. free stuff talking point alive. Spend an hour or two with this link here [free registration required]; it’s the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index 2011,” and it provides a:
Snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories — this covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s independent states (micro states are excluded). The overall Democracy index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Countries are placed within one of four types of regimes: full democracies; flawed democracies; hybrid regimes; and authoritarian regimes.
Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden occupy the top four places (the United States is 19th). That’s a pretty good showing for Scandinavia, a region that’s also known worldwide for another distinction: “Free stuff” paid for by high consumption taxes and the like. Cathie Martin, a political science professor at Boston University, ticks off the no- or low-charge services: universal health care, major discounts on child care, subsidized university education, public transportation and public housing. “In Scandinavia, social benefits enjoy a huge amount of support across the board, and even employers want these benefits because they make their workers more productive,” notes Martin.
So how does all that free and subsidized stuff limit political freedoms? ”I don’t know. Ask Sarah Palin,” says Martin. “She’s the one that made that statement.”
Next time Palin appears with Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly, you can bet that she’ll be pressed on the viability of the freedom vs. free stuff rhetoric, given the record of Fox anchors of never allowing her to squeak by with unsubstantiated remarks. And judging from Palin’s own record, she surely has some fresh research and statistics demonstrating just how freedom cannot cohabitate with free stuff. This is a woman, after all, who’d never embrace a slogan just because it has a facile ring to it.