Maybe America has had enough of freedom. By which I actually mean “freedom.”
After all, “freedom” has become an ill-fitting fig leaf for every conceivable Republican policy, even those that are quite transparently freedom-limiting.
Just ask House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for whom “freedom” is now chiefly about repealing Obamacare.
“Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need,” he tweeted this week. “Obamacare is Washington telling you what to buy regardless of your needs.”
At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Vice President Pence echoed this language, promising that the Affordable Care Act would be replaced with something that is instead “built on freedom and individual responsibility.”
Let’s examine such statements for a moment. What would repealing Obamacare mean in practice?
It would mean allowing insurers to deny coverage for preexisting conditions; taking away the tax credits and Medicaid expansions that enabled more than 20 million Americans to newly obtain insurance over the past six years; and, thanks to the elimination of the individual mandate, ultimately causing the exchanges to death-spiral and collapse.
So, in championing the “freedom” that would be unleashed by an Obamacare repeal, Ryan and Pence are really championing the “freedom” for Americans to lose access to any health-care plan.
You know what they say: Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to choose.
At least one politician has explicitly rooted for a decline in the insured rate — because, duh, freedom.
“If the numbers drop, I would say that’s a good thing, because we’ve restored personal liberty in this country, and I’m always for that,” Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.) said at CPAC.
Enshrining discrimination against gay and transgender people has likewise been sold as a way of promoting “religious freedom,” at least for anyone who believes Jesus would be unhappy about compliance with public accommodation laws or, say, the Constitution.
Sometimes the freedoms nominally being safeguarded are not individual ones but those of the states. Or so White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed when explaining why the Trump administration was rescinding Obama-era guidance for schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choosing.
Financial deregulation and the repeal of consumer protections have also been puzzlingly marketed as pro-“freedom.”
“Just like Obamacare, Dodd-Frank has left us with fewer choices, higher costs and less freedom,” quoth Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. “It’s evident that Dodd-Frank has made us less prosperous and less free.”
Franklin Roosevelt once declared that the “four essential human freedoms” were freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The “freedom to get scammed by debt collectors” must have slipped his mind.
Given the quantity of American heartstrings pulled by the words “free” and “freedom,” declaring one’s commitment to “free markets” has also provided cover for all sorts of non-free-market nonsense. A sitting president ordering private companies where to locate, for instance.
“I’m a big free-trader,” President Trump has declared, while promoting all manner of protectionist measures. “I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me,” he said at CPAC, minutes after again calling the media the enemy of the people.
It is as if Americans are so easily dazzled by invocations of the f-word that merely dropping an f-bomb is supposed to shield any big-government action from criticism.
Republican state legislators have figured this out, too.
In 2011, Florida passed a law muzzling doctors. Physicians could lose their medical licenses for routinely asking their patients about gun ownership, or counseling them on common-sense firearm storage measures, on the dubious grounds that such conversations somehow limited patients’ Second Amendment freedoms.
After years of expensive litigation, last week a court struck down the so-called Docs vs. Glocks law for violating doctors’ rights to free speech.
Meanwhile, across the country, other state legislators have proposed laws that criminalize peaceful protest, a freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, allegedly to protect the rights and freedoms of bystanders.
Most recently, Republican senators in Arizona voted to allow police to criminally charge and seize the assets of anyone who organizes or peacefully participates in a protest where others could engage in violence. Even if no violence ever materializes.
“I have been heartsick with what's been going on in our country, what young people are being encouraged to do,”said state Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Republican who incidentally represents a town called Snowflake, when asked about the legislation.
If any of these policy actions seem like perversions of Republicans’ avowed commitment to personal liberty, well, dear voters: For now, you’re still free to let them know.